"My nightmares are usually about losing you," he says. "I'm okay once I realize you're here."
On the night the train pulls out of District 4, Peeta doesn't come to my compartment.
I wait for him in the dark restlessly, my eyes trained on the sliver of light streaming in from the hallway. I watch for his shadow to cross in front of the door, for him to hesitate a long moment before entering, the way he always does, still unsure if I really want him with me. I wonder why we bother with the pretence of independence — I need him in my bed, comforting arms wrapped around me, to keep the nightmares at bay.
Usually he follows me quickly to bed, sliding in beside me not fifteen minutes after I've turned the lights out. Tonight, though, the minutes pass slowly; my eyes are heavy with sleep, and I toss and turn to ward it off. After at least forty minutes have passed by I huff, throwing off the blankets and grabbing the silky robe Cinna packed for me. I slide the door open, blinking angrily against the light. Where is he? It's not like Peeta to keep me waiting.
The bed in his own compartment is empty, the sheets on his bed pin-straight and the light in his bathroom turned off. I make my way slowly down the train, searching for him — he is not in the dining car or in the room with the large television where Effie has been intent on religiously watching the Victory Tour footage as we move from district to district. I can't help but breathe out a sigh of relief as I pass the room where his paintings are stored and find the lights off; the last thing I want to see tonight is our nightmares come to life on his canvases.
My irritation turns to concern the longer I go without finding him. Somewhere in the back of my mind President Snow's threats play on repeat, the threat of taking away everything I love. I make it to the end of the train without finding him. Worry floods me as my eyes flick over the observation room; moonlight streams brightly in, casting a silver glow over everything. Empty. I try not to panic, wondering if maybe I somehow missed him. Just as I turn to look back over the rooms I've already checked, I hear something behind me. A small, choking sound. I step back in, looking around more thoroughly.
And there he is, sprawled on a couch facing away from the door, looking out over the rugged landscape. It would be sweet, the way his broad body is hanging off of the uncomfortably small sofa, if it weren't for the stricken look on his face. His arms are rigidly locked in place, hands that are always so gentle curled into tight fists.
It is clear all at once that he is having a nightmare. He is quiet and still, unlike me, but the fear on his face resonates deep within me. His breath is sharp and labored. I know what he would do if our positions were switched — he would wake me gently, murmuring soft words into my ear. I think of the patterns he traces soothingly on my bare arms, his arms encircling me. I don't think I can be as comforting as him, don't think I can know all the right things to say. But I owe him this, for all the comfort he has given me that I will never deserve.
I drop to my knees beside him, grabbing the fist that touches the floor and curling my fingers around it, bringing it to my lips and brushing my lips over his knuckles. His eyebrow twitches slightly, but his face doesn't relax.
"Peeta," I whisper, my voice soft. I hesitate only for a moment before lifting my hand to his face, smoothing over the soft skin of his cheek, tucking a stray curl behind his ear. He leans into my touch and I cup his jaw. "Peeta," I try again, and his eyes move rapidly behind his lids. "Wake up. Please wake up."
And even in his sleep, he can't deny me, because his eyes blink open with a sharp gasp after a second, moving rapidly from side to side. He takes me in with a look of disbelief and then to my discomfort his entire face changes, his tense body sinking into the couch bonelessly. His hand moves over mine, grasping my fingers tightly.
"You're here," he breathes out, and the sheer relief in his voice makes me swallow hard. My own is quiet and afraid when I respond.
"You were having a nightmare."
Peeta smiles a little, so sweet and familiar that it tugs in my gut. "Thanks for waking me." He sits up groggily, looking around the compartment. "I was trying to get a last look at the ocean while we were leaving, I guess I fell asleep." He cocks his head to the side, looking at me in confusion. "How did you find me?"
I feel myself blush at the question, hoping it is too dark and he is too sleepy to notice. "I didn't want to sleep without you," I confess. His expression melts into something more intimate, something that makes me feel flushed for a different reason, one that I'm afraid to identify.
"Let's go to bed, then," he says gently. And then he stands up, stretching the tired stiffness from his body and grabbing my hand, intertwining his fingers with mine. We pad quietly down the hallway and slip into my room a moment later, climbing into bed with no thought. Before a minute has even passed we are tangled together in a way that has become decadently familiar, and I dread the night that this will end.
He buries his head in the crook of my neck. I'm drifting quickly to sleep when his lips brush against the sensitive skin there in a feathery kind of almost kiss. "I don't know what I would do without you here." The words are so soft I wonder if I'm even meant to hear them; either way I don't have a response. I could tell him I don't know what I'd do either, that I have increasingly frequent nightmares about it. But I don't.
Instead I let myself sink deeper into the comfort of his arms, thinking that it was nice to pay him back a little, even if it was only in such a small way.
. . .
. . .
Just a short drabble posted late on tumblr that I liked enough to make permanent. You can read more of my drabbles on tumblr: swishywillow. For those interested, the next chapter of Reaping is about halfway finished and should be up this week.