real_or_notreal: (Childhood's End)
[personal profile] real_or_notreal
This is how it goes. This is how it, always, goes.

He comes awake, seized frozen, the house not smelling of the bread and turpentine that kept him up all night, but of her blood. Her blood. Pooling on the ground. Seeping into grass. Spilling down her skin. Torrents, or rain drops, or a mist so fine it could make sunsets weep for its vibrance. Until her eyes have gone cold. Until the pain and the horror is so sharp, so unbearable he can't be asleep.

He wakes. Frozen. Her name, caught and trapped in his throat, a panicked animal trying to escape, lodge on the back of his tongue. Unable to speak, and get it out, set it free. Unable to move toward the window that's always open, and see her house, like it would be some promise. Frozen in the arms of terror. Frozen in the arms of her death. Frozen in a stupor that sees only shadows and shades.

Frozen and only capable of breathing. Labored and slow, like his lungs have forgotten, even when his heart is pounding so hard and so fast it's amazing he's not running for his life again. Frozen, while the world turns sideways, pain and panic and terror and loss, only able to lay there, pulling in the thinnest rusty breaths.

Only able to wait it out. That frozen terror. The nightmares that never leave.

The reasons they never sleep, and never stop wanting to. To drown out everything, in any way possible.

To lay there, waiting out the terror, the paralysis, watching the shadows come back together and form shapes. His closed door. The wrinkles in the blankets that must have gotten there in his sleep. The shape of paintings on the wall, devoid of color in the darkness. The ceiling. The rumple of the pillowcase half covering everything. Things before his eyes that don't change, that fade from focus even as they come in it.

When he makes himself breathe. Rusty and slow, too frozen even for gasping, as he repeats over and over that she isn't dead. Katniss Everdeen is not dead. He did not just watch her die, for the hundredth time. Even if he did. Even if it seems like it's all he ever does at night. The worst, and most prevalent, of the gifts of rest, the faces that slide freer here than ever when he's gotten paint spattered all over his skin.

He repeats that she is not dead until the mantra is just as grey and formless and part of the walls as the shapes in the room. He repeats it until the spiral of his thoughts and the spin of his heart begins to come down, until he can slowly, so slowly, feel the marginal hitch when his ribcage, his lungs can expand just a little wider, and just little wider still, finally being able to take in more air. Swallowing it slow and dry as silt down his throat.

Lays there past when his shoulders have broken free of the ice, glad beyond reckoning that he was wrong, that she isn't dead, again, and sharply aware of the inherent pain and anger in that truth. Of all the other subjects it flings at him only too readily. Months are passing, and their stylists are coming more and more regularly. The Tour will be here in a matter of weeks. Tv cameras. Trains.

Smiling and pretending that every single word, every touch is not a lie. One that he hates her for.

No. No, that's wrong even. He doesn't hate her. He doesn't hate that somehow he's alive because of her. In the dark, when he's only gathering the ability to curl his fingers into fists, balling blankets, after long breaths, he knows he would have gone along with it. If he'd known from the beginning. He would have done it all, still.

Knows it because he did it, first. Which maybe makes him the bigger hypocrite.

He admitted his feelings on national tv after Katniss sank herself, as having less charm and willingness to play Ceaser's game than a pile of firewood. Not for the sake of getting her attention to him. For the sake of getting the world's attention to upend the favor of how it saw her. As somehow worthy of a deeply hidden appeal, long lasting unrequited reverence of character they hadn't seen yet.

It was as tactical as hers. But it was not something she'd ever have believed.

That he was fool enough to believe hers, on the edge terror and death creeping closer by the minute, was his. Because he would do it, again. Still. To live. He would relive every second. He would make it count. He would make people watch them. They way they were going to be watching them in a few weeks. When they'd both know this time. It was all lies.

It was all survival by any means necessary. The continuation of the greatest lie they'd made together.

And he'd push himself out of bed, once his knees, his ankles, the muscles in his calves thawed enough to sit up, to stand. He'd dig his fingers deep in his hair, scrubbing it hard enough that his scalp shrieked, somewhere far away, and trudge toward the kitchen. The bowls, flour, dough. To spend time kneading while the world faded and collected as one thing, dragging him under and over, making consciousness as fluid as unconsciousness.

That he could watch it rise, forgetting the half hours between making and it being suddenly there ready, at the top of the bowl he just the last second put it in. Then blink. Blink and be sitting on the floor in front of his oven, nothing like the bakery's oven, and swearing to himself. Again. Today would be different. Today he would at least look at her and say he understood. That he didn't hate her, or what she'd done, or why she'd done it. He'd take away that cold, terrified, guilty, distant look he put on her face every single time he opened his mouth.

He'd let the words roll in his head, more colors and whispers of phantoms than speech, than cohesion, than true sentences, while his head rested on the side of the kitchen island and his eyes never left watching the bread raise slowly in the oven window as it baked. The too early morning, and the morning, and time, itself, melting and rising and passing without any necessity except the warming air, the enveloping smell of yeast.

The day would pass, until they'd cross paths. In delivering bread to Haymitch's house, or hers, or crossing Victor Ville as she was escaping it once more, to beyond the fences. To Gale. And everything. Everything would leave him in second. Evaporating like all the loyalties every time the canon sounded, after they were first unfrozen from their landing pads around the Cornucopia.

When every word falling out of his mouth, prized hard and harsh, like pulling teeth would have been easier, was sharp as the sword that sliced his thigh to ruin and cold as the freeze that woke him every night. When her voice. Her voice was worse than any nightmare. Any wound. Her carelessness and her coldness, the careful deference and distance, made him want each word to land, just as cold and distant, until he got a reaction.

Until she could understand. How angry he was. How hurt. How much he hated her, and her choices.

Until he watched the startled, cold, desperate, hurt thing that scurried across the back of her steel grey eyes before she was gone, again, too. And he was so much angrier at himself, with himself, than he'd ever been at her. Hating him himself so much worse for punishing her for surviving. For having the strength to save him even at the cost of this.

Especially when Haymitch was there, still there after she wasn't, laughing at their disaster, in his slop and reeking of white liquor. Like they weren't aware everything they were doing was a liberty that was swirling madly down a drain that had to be closed. That had to be. For so many more reasons more than themselves. Because the only thing they got for themselves, then, now, ever, was to be alive. To keep surviving this somehow.

No matter the graves you dug, or the lies you told, or the secrets you spilled as you hung on, or the bodies piled.

When there's so much cold anger, and the next thing he knows he's elbow deep in shades of green and blue and red, on his knees, in the upstairs room of his house, panting as some blot of clarity strikes him again, over the newest painting taking shape under a brush or his fingertips, the way it worked best. With coloring icing. With concealing himself, his skin, his face, to die without being murdered.

Until he's staring at her face. Or his hands. Or the rock outcropping, and breathing too fast.

He's always breathing. Everyone is always breathing. But it never seemed like such a heavy task before.
Living. Just living. Just surviving. Finding a way to live with surviving. Finding a way to survive living.

It's like gulps of air, when he's sinking, when he's refusing to sink. His fingers go back to the shade they'd been on, sliding in the slime of paint on a plastic sheet, or hand palette, and he slips into the colors. The perfect understanding of how to show it. What to mix to bring it out. The images burned bright and perfect in his head. This shade of the sunshine. That shadow from the light. This twist to the edge of a smile. This glint off a knife. A spear. This movement to a hand. This contour to the way skin pulls, hair falls, consciousness focuses or forgets to focus at all.

The way terror and desperation makes, and made, and molded them each into their own monsters.

The way a face looked, deep asleep, in fire light. So fragile. So young. But not children anymore, any of them.

Keeps going like he won't remember how to breathe if he doesn't get it out now. Now. Now. Now. Until the floor is spattered with every color, every necessary mixed hue, and the muscles in his shoulders and down his back are screaming with holding this position for time without end. Until he feels drunk with disorientation, dehydration, and paint fumes, even when the door to this room is never closed. When all he does, is stand, and stumble on one leg that is his and one leg that is a lie, back to his bed.

To fall on it. To reach for something beyond consciousness. Beyond recognition.

Swearing he'll do better tomorrow. He'll find a way, when still wet, paint speckled, hands are gripping his pillow, through staggering exhaustion and desperate longing to lay this all down, again. Just for a second. Just one, and he'll be up, again. Holding out against the darkness of midnight that came from out of nowhere, like the sudden storms in spring. One moment blue and bright and the next endless darkness.

And he digs his fingers into the pillow case, into his own palms, his own arms and pushes back.
Because he is only a monster if lets them win. If he gives in. Stops fighting. If he lets them be right.



About the Games. About the paintings. About Katniss and the prices of survival.



That he'll tell her. He knows. That she would die for him. Lie for him. For his survival.
That he knows he has absolutely no right to that, but that it is as true as every single other lie.

That he understands. That, when it comes to it, he would do the same thing. Will. Soon, too. Too soon.




Tomorrow, he'll try again. Tomorrow, he'll find a way. Tomorrow, if he can just sleep for a few seconds today.
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Peeta Mellark | Victor of the 74th Hunger Games

August 2015

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