Healing is messy business.
Scabs form. Scar tissue develops. And sometimes—more often than you care to admit—you still bleed, long after you think the wounds have already closed, and you wonder whether it’s even possible for them to ever mend completely.
In the early days, I’m the one to reach for him. I’m the one to curl into him in the darkness like a dying animal seeking refuge, knowing instinctively that the nightmares that chase me—that are closing in on me with each second that passes—can only be kept at bay if I hold on to him throughout the night.
Later, his own nightmares come. Distorted memories that tangle with real ones: flashes of mutts and of fire, and a hunter who shows no mercy as she pursues him in cold blood. He wakes up trembling, fists clenched, turning over so his back is to me as he forces his breath to slow. I always give him an extra second or two before reaching out to touch him, brushing my hand over his arm at first to gauge his reaction, and only when he threads his fingers through mine do I press my cheek into his shoulder blade and curve my hips over his, closing the space between us.
We take turns, Peeta and I. Being strong while the other is weak, holding up the other when legs falter, speaking when the other’s voice is nowhere to be found. On our own, we are broken and altered, pieces missing and gaping holes where there were none before. Together, we fill each other’s gaps, pull each other forward along this stretch of winding, perilous road.
Together, we are invincible.
One morning, when the darkness descends on me again, and the weight of it threatens to crush me, suffocate me, I feel his hand close around my shoulder, his lips press against the crown of my head.
“Come back to me, Katniss,” he whispers. “Stay with me…”
I squeeze my eyes shut, but tears leak out anyway, rolling down my cheeks and soaking the pillow. The lump in my throat swells, lodges itself there until I can barely swallow, but I manage to force a single word out.
He tightens his hold on me, loosening it only when I turn over to face him, tilting my chin up so our eyes meet. His thumbs sweep over the apples of my cheeks, fanning away the wetness that’s still there.
“I’ll say the list with you. We’ll recite it together.”
My hand reaches up to close over his wrist, tries to find the strength to push him away, but instead, it only grasps him that much more tightly. As though it knows he’s my only lifeline.
When I try to mumble an apology, to ask him why he chooses this—why he chooses me, when there are far easier paths to walk, far easier burdens to carry—he only says, “That’s what you and I do. We take care of each other.”
Tomorrow, he may be the one to curl up in my arms, clawing at demons that his mind has invented, images he won’t know how to catalogue. And I will be there, just as he is here for me today. Tomorrow, it could be my turn.
And we’ll continue to take turns. Because Peeta is right. It’s what we do. Whatever happens, we will always take care of each other.