The days have been passing on with an increasingly slow pace. Exhausted and sick, I lean on my pathetic knees, as I sit on the bed. Letting out a sigh, I reach for the cup of water on the dresser and take a sip. I think for a long time.
About nothing, about everything.
Feeling sicker, I plant myself into the bed, legs heavier than lead. Grunting, I sit forward and grab the right one first, pulling the left after it. My arms, wrists and hands have, remarkably, come back to work properly much faster—there's the occasional crick when I move them, but, on the whole, work pretty efficiently. I fucking cheered when the nurses said I didn't have to be spoon-fed any longer—it was embarrassing, being treated that way, even if it was needed.
The legs still give me a hard time, though.
I practice every day with my doctors—all of them in various fields for physiological recovery, as well as what's in my head, since I did have several disorders before being even injected with venom and they don't just disappear; I told them though, when they insisted the occasional day to rest, I don't want a break—I've been on a 'break' for over ten years—and, after deliberating, they've allowed me much more freedom that, honestly, I kind of don't know what to do with; being gone for so long made me forget a little bit of what it's like to do what you want, and that was before the coma too. All there was before was survival, always making sure I was first.
Thank God Katniss comes in a lot; she's one of the few people I didn't forget.
She brought in some more books to pass the time, handing me several about weapons that she thought I'd enjoy—and I did—while she'd flip away in her own novels.
It's actually a perfect way for us to spend time together, I've realized. While we do talk to each other, we're still somewhat the same—conversing is still odd for the both of us, aloof as we are; and though we do speak about how we're handling our affairs, it can get pretty depressing. I haven't mentioned Hyacinth in a while… so we read, comfortable in the other's company in years; sometimes, she sits in the chair, and others, she climbs in the bed to lay next to me and we breathe in the sense of calm. I never feel more relaxed.
Occasionally, we'd remark about something we'd read: she'd show me a thing or two in any book she held—despite her odd like of the romance genre, she has taste; and while she wrinkled her nose when I pointed a gun out to her, I got her attention by scanning for anything about bows and arrows. She had the little thing all to herself for five minutes before I gently pried it back, her face flushing and then she just suddenly grinned widely, this silly sheepish smile.
I'm glad neither of us is in the dark anymore.
I find myself waking up to sunshine and her voice, though my eyes remain closed. I must've fallen asleep. I wrap my hand around her wrist, where her fingers are gently ruffling my hair.
"Hi," she answers, smiling back, but it still doesn't quite reach those gray eyes. Sometimes they're still gloomy, and I wonder if she'll ever fully get rid of what she fears. I know I probably haven't yet. I still blame myself for that a lot.
I raise myself up; the easy part is raising my upper body. When it comes to the legs, again, they remain difficult to move and it pisses me off, just a bit. I don't know why I always seem to expect them to suddenly just start working again when I know they won't. It's wishful thinking or some shit.
With Katniss here I know I can take my time, and do it however way I want. So instead of using my arms to lug them off, I attempt to move them on their own. It takes forever, my body tearing under all the strain I give it but I've never gone easy on it before and I don't intend to do it now during the time of my life when it needs to be pushed the most. Inch by inch, finally, the begin to fall off the edge and only then do I grip them with my hands so my calves don't swing dangerously and crash into something.
Breathing pretty hard, shutting my eyes to stop the sudden headache, a cool cloth is pressed to my head. I open them back to smile at her, really grateful that she's here even though she doesn't have to be, at all. I know not everyone still accepts her decision to help me, and even in the middle of the night, my thoughts become muddled and confused as to why she wants to. Her friend, Gale, has come with her a couple of times, his face stoic and dark, reminding me a lot of her, really: there's a seriousness to their expression that suggests that it's marked on both of them, undoubtedly from their long friendship. Jealousy comes swiftly from the heart of a boy vying for her attention—it shouldn't be there but I thought of all the moments I've missed because of the coma, the transition from the girl who hated life and people, to the woman who learned to overcome everything in her past and become better.
It dawned on me just how different we are, not just in our past but our presents, our futures: while she is still learning about herself, she's grown already, more than me. Sixteen years have stretched out before everyone, quickly entering their lives and becoming a thing of a literal past. I was frozen in time, with feelings, thoughts and hopes of a teenager.Neurologists and therapists line up to help me, each having an offer to make this reawakening simpler to deal with, but the truth is, it's harder than anyone is telling me. I'm a child in the body of a man, yet I grew up quickly, so I didn't have a childhood at all. My brain is fucked up from all the drugs given to me to save my life, dependent; muscles are atrophied and hang uselessly, unaccustomed to movement, where before I was one of the best students back home, in the past I was amazing, I was confident, I was someone. What good is all this skill in a body that doesn't respond? What future is there for someone that's been held to the past?
They've talked of giving me a cane when my recovery moves further along, but the idea makes me inwardly cringe—canes are for hobbling old folks, the people that managed to live long, full lives.
I haven't lived at all and I'm crippled anyway.
Her face comes in front of me, washcloth on my face as her hand gently dabs away the sweat. There are dark circles beneath her eyes and I wish I had them too—it suggests I was awake.
I smile at her, and she returns it. She keeps dabbing the sweat away. Her breath is warm on my face, but not unpleasant. Her skin is dark, maybe more so than it was when we met and it's beautiful. Mine has paled from being in here and it's frightening to look at. So I stare at her, tracing her features with my eyes, taking in all the details: the way her hair falls, with grey in the black; the left side of her jaw is clenched as she focuses, lips parted barely and there are new wrinkles where her forehead is scrunched together while she thinks (about me, maybe?) and I just want to drag her into my lap and kiss her until I can't tell who's moaning anymore and we're one and the same—
She blinks suddenly and so do I. Somehow, as she pulls away, even though none of that was happening, it dawns on me that, much as I want to touch her, hold her, there's too much going on right now to even consider those sorts of possibilities. She deserves a lot of things. I've messed up her life more than fixed it. And that's one of the problems.
Katniss and I head over to the physical therapy room, where my doctors are lined up to help me. There are several other people who are struggling with mobility but none with the severity I've experienced. I'd definitely rather have carpal tunnel than this.
Leaning on the handlebars, each arm bent at the elbow, I hobble pathetically to the end. Even though no one is judging me, I feel a shudder down my back—a thousand stares scrutinizing me, and I'm on a table screaming, my mind being probed and my body isn't mine anymore—
I'm on the floor, doubled over from the strain and thoughts—
"Don't help me!" I shout at them, though I keep looking at the ground, not wanting to look at anyone directly. Painfully, joints creaking, I grit my teeth and pull myself up. I want to collapse again, throw up and just die but I've been dead too damn long. I'm so fucking sick of being tired, being helpless.
If I had just listened to Snow, done what he wanted, she would've been spared. Killing her would've been kinder. But I was too weak to truly think of what she needed, even something like death. I wince at the thought but it's true. I should've let her die, I should've just let her go—the way Rue had. I allowed myself to feel attachment and it came back to tear into us.
I refuse to be weak anymore. I'm starting over. I know I can beat this. And, selfish as it is, I want the rest of whatever life I have left to have Katniss in it. I'm in too deep. I love her. It makes no damn sense—we know so little of the other still, my infatuation with her in the arena is plausible on the basis that even enemies can come together if the situation is dire enough and yet none of that fucking matters. It's not just that she's the only person in my life I have left—I simply want her in my life.
Fuck this, fuck Snow, fuck this goddamn shithole I'm in—this body is mine again, and I'm going to give it to her, finally. Even if she doesn't love me, even if she tells me that she's only helping to ease whatever messed up guilt is eating at her, even if she tells me she never wants to see me again, the fact is I want her to be the only one to possess me. Because she's worth it, more than Snow ever thought she could matter.
Fuck. His. Ass.
It's such a discordant sound.
What just happened?
I feel like I'm in the arena again.
But it's not the arena—I'm in a hospital. I'm broken, because I can't walk.
But I did walk.
A smile comes out of me, and I'm so happy suddenly, "I did it!"
Suddenly I'm enveloped in dark warmth, yet the accompanying scent reminds me of green meadows and flora in the sun. Rue sings in my ear, teasing me from brighter skies, and I smile into the slender neck, swallowing to keep my tongue from darting out to lick the fragrant skin. I let out a rush of air, my head spinning from too many feelings; for once, it feels good to feel, "Well, it was about time for that,"
"I'll say," she answers, and dammit kissing her sounds great. Her voice is low, hushed. She is going to own me for the rest of forever, no matter what she truly thinks of me.
I don't mind this at all.
Not one bit.
This thought stays with me for weeks, and weeks. I keep pushing through; the perfect guinea pig for all my doctors could label me as. I don't make a fuss, wanting to see this through. Even when it sucks, these are just the little things to a bigger picture. There's a goal at the end and it's the strangest sense of finding myself: both my past and future selves are young and old all at once, encouraging me to do what I always do best—get what I want. Some days I feel like I never left, simply aged, surreal but there nonetheless. Those are the days I cry while grinning in the bathroom, unable to control any pent-up emotions.
A day comes when I am told Katniss can take me to the woods, her woods. My heart burst with enthusiasm, excited to see her home away from home. We head to the forest's edge, tell the doctors goodbye and trudge in.
We don't stray from the path for a while, built for people who are not as weathered in this kind of terrain. Katniss matches my every step, but she goes fast enough to keep me encouraged, that I'll get better. The smells of the forest are pungent, almost aromatic and I feel calm, even when my legs sting a little, the sheer magnitude of green overshadowing every detail.
"Wow, I haven't been in a forest in years!"
"Yes, that tends to happen when life spirals down," she answers, seemingly light, but there's that tint of bitterness that she probably thinks people can't catch.
"I know—it didn't help either last time wasn't exactly a vacation," I blurt out. It just comes—the honesty. Wondering if I offended her, I glance at her. The smile on her face is genuine. I'm relieved she's not upset. That might ruin our outing and it's been too pleasant to screw up.
As we head deeper into overgrown bushes and tall trees, Katniss points out various creatures and plant-life. She must be profoundly excellent at her job when she takes them in the woods. She gestures upward, my eyes traveling up to see, and hear, the birds, mockingjays abundant. We come across trees with sap coming out of them, unusual to me. The consistency is rather thick, the substance not totally light. I nudge a dribbling trail, the texture odd but not disgusting; the smell is though. I wipe it off. Katniss laughs quietly, and my heart beats faster at the sound.
We reach a stream and the water is cold at first, but it eventually relaxes the tension in my limbs, "That feels great."
"Yes, I thought it might," There's a smile in her voice. Good to see she still loves the forest.
"Have you always known about this place?" I ask her, making conversation.
I nod, and she looks away a little hurriedly, but before I can think a bit more, she tells me, "Yes, my father showed it to me years ago."
Her father… "What was he like?"
Katniss' expression both falls and rises, "He was wonderful."
A different kind of ache comes—sympathy. Even now, I rarely feel it. But I don't have many opportunities to connect to people, being inside working on myself. But I'll probably be distant for a while yet, though I am changing. A lot of it starts with her. I brush aside her dark hair, golden light moving over body, "How old were you?"
"I was twelve." An image of her scrounging up food in the streets tightens my throat, the shield to her sister.
"It must've been hard…" I can't think of anything to say.
"It was," To this day, it still upsets her.
I can't even imagine that. Literally. My father and I were as close as son and father could be, but, when I think about it, he had been aloof at times, as though preparing himself for the inevitable possibility I might die. Did he mourn for me when I was taken? Did he and the rest of my family learn about my mental raping, or killed once Snow thought he could? These are simple questions, not a longing for closure. Maybe I'm callous, like always, or practical, like always. But I'm glad I will not have to experience such detachment with my own son. If Hyacinth will see me… maybe I'm not meant to be close to blood relations, either.
"You… um," I still feel like I should remark on this. She just told me about her father and it can't be easy to talk about.
"Yes?" her face is expectant, open.
"You came through," wow, that's all I can think of.
"Barely, I had help." Katniss replies, admitting it.
"Your friends helped you a lot," I say, connecting.
"I've found that, sometimes, I really can't do much alone,"
"It's what loners have to learn," I can't help but want to shake my head at the thought. Being divided is what caused a lot of the problems. I smile at her.
She gives it back, "Eventually,"
The quiet stretches on, though she's not bothered by it. I swallow the lump in my throat. Letting out a breath to calm myself, my arm moves over to her, hand trailing down her back; I try to keep my adolescent self from whooping and cheering and wanting to heave from anxiety. This is a date. We've been alone before, kissed each other before, hell, even snuggled sometimes, yet here I am just realizing this and suddenly my palms feel sweaty. Ugh, here I am: in my thirties and freaking out like the boy I used to be, yet still remain as. My mind and emotions are confused. I keep going though, pulling her close as I lean in. She's so fucking gorgeous, oh my God…
"Katniss…" I have to let her make the decision. That's at the forefront of my thoughts. I owe her this. I owe myself this. To be people in love and not puppets in some sick game. I breathe out slowly, even though my heart is thumping like crazy. I fight the urge to bite my lip or chew on the inside of my cheek or whatever. God, she looks beautiful today—but she looks good every day. Are women allowed to do that? My head is spinning even though I'm not doing anything.
I try not to clear the lump in my throat that obviously. I stare at her, soaring on shadowy clouds, and my breath decides to hitch. Shit. My hand skims the side of her head, and she doesn't pull away. I want this to be different. Every time, under the venom or not, it's usually me. I'm not doing the initiating this time.
Suddenly her mouth is on mine, warm and soft. The world falls in a gradual way. Responding, I just lose myself in the scent of her hair and skin, raking the tips of my fingers through her scalp, causing her to shudder involuntarily. A mewl leaves her throat and heat spreads through my core. She kisses me back fiercely, her teeth scraping my lower lip and she's probably unaware of it even though all I can focus is are the sensations. I'm unchained from walls, from psychopaths and wandering eyes that will disapprove.
It's me and her, alone.
She breathes harshly in my ear, my tongue sliding along her neck, making my way to the hollow of her throat where her heart is beating to the same pace as mine. She arches her back and my hand flutters over dark, tight skin—
Katniss pulls back. Her eyes are wide, with trepidation. I realize too little, too late, that my hand moved under her shirt. Oh dammit—
Shit, fuck. No, no, no. This was all about her making the choices. This is about her telling me to proceed or not. I've always been inconsiderate as a kid, but you'd think my experiences would've somehow made me think better. Am I still that horrible a person?
Sexual urges may be normal for humans but our situation is far from normal… Am I really no different than the monster with the venom?
"It's fine. I want it there."
My head snaps up, a tendon burning in the back of my neck.
Katniss grins, her eyes fluttering coyly, and my mouth dries up, "Unless you don't want to,"
Every bit of me wants to rush forward and make her moan, but I keep myself calm. My chest hurts from how fast my heart's beating. I close the gap between us and kiss her, encasing myself in her warmth.
The sting I have in my neck dulls itself as she pulls me to her, like she doesn't mind, and I feel so compact with emotion I might break. It's a blurring mixture of sensational heat and tender aches. She's slender and smooth, fabric rustling when I touch it or she moves on the ground. My tongue roves over her skin, responsive, alive, and she even tastes different—unlike the victim of 16 years ago. Steadily, her breaths become shallower, an urgency erupting from her mouth and muscles that I'm sure she's never had before, and neither have I, really. Her breasts are pressed against my chest, her fingers raking through my hair, sending tingling shocks through the nerves. Then she moves her hips and, shit—
My hand moves downward, trailing the taut muscles of her abdomen, the jut of her hipbone, and when I delve fingers into her body she gasps harshly, pulling me briefly back to when her cries made me disgusted with myself. But she moves when I move, her face twisted in something like agony and desire, eyes shut. Tentatively, my face blushing furiously, I rub the clit with my thumb and she lets out this unbelievably sexy moan. I press deeper in, the air traced with musk, picking up the speed just a little. I keep it slow for the most part, every gentle sigh burned into my memory. I kiss her neck, nibbling her earlobe, her nails digging into my back while my fingers rub the sensitive core.
My body is screaming to join her, aching with pent-up tension, but I don't do anything to release it. I just stroke the wet walls a little faster, and all I want to hear is her voice.
The cry suddenly bursts from her, her skin salty and warm. As she catches her breath, I pull my fingers out, sunlight catching the moisture, setting fire to her hair—red tones in the black. She gulps once, panting, and looks over at me, gray eyes dazed, relaxed and pleased.
My heart swells—I didn't cause pain for once. I smile, "You okay?"
She nods. I lean over to kiss her forehead, her scent mingled with earth and leaves, "Glad to help,"
Katniss is quiet, her brows furrowed together. My grin fades, trying to figure out if I messed up today. Is she regretting it? "Did I upset you?"
"No, no!" she says, catching me off guard, "It's just— It's all so new…"
Even after all this time, I'm still her first. The same way she is to me. I shouldn't be happy about it, but a part of me is. And it's shameful to think about it like that—when I screwed it all up. She smiles, completely at ease with me, at my mercy, where before she wanted to scream at the sight of me. I pull her close my chest, struggling not to tremble as my arms make contact with her bare skin.
"Cato?" she asks, her hand moving up my shoulder. An urge to protect her dominates all thought. Not because she's weak; I just love her that much. I kiss her again, dragging my tongue along her teeth, her lips silken yet swollen. Her face is glowing, expression hinting to lightheadedness, the way it does when she appreciates the sensations. I caress the side of her head, happy, "Think we've been gone long?"
"I think so," she answers, looking up.
"Here," I hold up her clothes.
Flushing, she takes them from me and begins to put them on. She's putting clothes back on and it just makes me want to push her against a tree and make my way down until she's shaking—
I clear my throat, knowing my cheeks are burning. I try to get the image out of my head, disturbed yet excited by the animalistic images. No, no, I am better than this. I have to be.
"Yes?" she asks. She probably thinks I meant to speak.
"Um, do you…? Uh," I can't think. What do I say?
"My beauty struck you dumb?"
Her question draws me out. I stare at the darkness of her skin, the marks I made on it when I gently nipped her collarbone, the side of her breast, and the way her form arched beneath me. Today, she let herself be mine. I was allowed to explore her body, make love to it. There was no abuse. I'm more than the past I'm always going to remember.
I get to my feet, wanting her more than ever. But I will love her differently from the way the venom made me think. I am in control of everything about me, finally. So I smirk softly when I see the awe on her face, "I was just gonna ask if I could hook your bra together,"
"Oh! Um, sure. W-What for?"
Damn, she's cute. I motion my hands, "Fine motor skills," Which is true anyway. They still can't grip much.
She's about to turn but I stop her. I lean against her, my senses in tune as I brush my knuckles against her back, noting the shoulder blades and how they angle, breathing her in. I already put the hooks together but I stay there for a bit, merely basking in her nearness. She gazed back at me the whole time.
She steadily dresses completely, and I hold open her jacket, helping her slip it on her upper body. She shivers when I stroke her neck, pulling up the zipper. She's snugly pressed into my chest, and I keep my arms locked over her, "There
"Usually taking off clothes is supposed to be more of the turn on," she tells me.
I laugh, thinking of how I nearly stumbled my own thoughts just a few minutes ago. Katniss pushes into me, my forearms upon her ribcage, just below her breasts and fondling them sounds really good but I settle for caressing her jaw, "Turned you on, huh?"
Surprisingly, she nods. She still is rather blatant; nuzzling into her neck, I kiss her cheek, teasing, "My prowess struck you dumb?"
Katniss snorts, rolling her eyes, "Only in your wildest dreams,"
Beaming, I joke, "Am I dreaming? That would explain the docile demeanor,"
She punches my shoulder and the smile becomes broader.
"Come on, Fire Girl," I hold out my hand. She takes it easily, like we've done it a million times before.
It's not until we come out of the forest that I notice I was able to keep up with her without feeling tired.
Today is freaking awesome.