Stay With Me

Chapter 21

Chapter 21


It's not quite pain that I'm feeling, I'm not actually feeling a whole lot other than cold and so, so tired. My body is shaking; I can't control it. All I can do is run over everything in my mind over and over again and then hate myself for not being able to do anything about any of it.

Breathing is becoming more and more difficult. The fact that I just let Katniss walk out the door with a murderous psycho on the loose doesn't help. She could be killed. He could hurt her and it would be my fault. How could I let her risk her life for me?

Who am I kidding; there was no stopping her. There's never any stopping her. It may be the thing I love most about her, her strength and bravery. She's not a woman who needs a man to save her. She's not looking to be completed or to be just somebody's wife. Which begs the question, what is she looking for? Why me?

I want to be the partner that makes her life better by being in it. The kind that supports her and is there for her when she succeeds or fails. Is that enough? Am I enough?

I know she cares for me, it's not easy for her to recognize or admit it, but I know that much. I guess it's just hard to believe it's for real, hard to believe it's the forever kind of real. I want to, I want to believe it so badly. Especially if I don't make it…

Instead of continuing to rehash everything that I wish I'd done differently over the last ten years or worry about what I am and what I'm not, I try to focus on the future, the future I'd want to have with Katniss if we make it out of this thing alive.

I would marry her, with the house and the kids and the whole deal. I can see us spending quiet Sunday mornings in the woods, see me teaching our kids to paint and bake, see Katniss putting together beautiful meals for us from all of her hunting and gathering. It would be a quiet, simple life but it's everything I want. It's all I want.

Five minutes have definitely passed. Where the hell is she? I have to get out of here, have to go after her. I try to move, but it's no use, I'm not going anywhere. I'm trapped in this injured body and in my overactive mind. It's the worst kind of hell.

Finally, just shy of my going completely insane from the wait, Katniss slips back behind the laundry room door. Without saying a word, she pushes the washing machine that's keeping the door from opening fully back a little further to widen the opening. She then darts back out into the hallway and comes in again carrying a young girl. I recognize her as Rue, the daughter of the couple two doors down from the laundry room. She sets her down beside me then grabs two bags also left just outside the door and pushes the machine back in place, securing us safely in our little makeshift fortress.

Rue doesn't look good, but I can't see where she's been hurt from where I am. I can see that blood is covering most of her clothes, but can't see the source. Katniss pulls a small pillow out from one of the bags that she places behind her head, followed by a blanket that she gently covers Rue's small frame with. "There, let's get you nice and comfortable. You're okay now, you're safe here with me and Peeta," she says in a soothing, quiet voice. "I just have to check on him and I'll be right back, but we're both right here." Rue lets out a small whimper of acknowledgement, but doesn't say any actual words.

Katniss grabs a belt and a scarf from the bag. She pulls the blanket I'm currently using as a tourniquet away and wraps the belt around my injured leg; tightening it enough to stem the blood flow. Then she uses the scarf to create a sling that she ties to a pipe to elevate the leg.

When she's done with the practical business of slowing the bleeding from my wound, she lowers herself down to my ear and whispers, "She's been shot in the stomach, it's really bad. Her parents…they're already… they're gone. I don't think she's going to make it, Peeta, and I couldn't just leave to, to…alone." The panic and feeling is obvious in Katniss' voice. I want to comfort her, fix it, make everything better, but instead I'm only contributing to the current crisis.

"Of course," I say. "I was going out of my mind when you didn't come back right away. Thank god you're okay. You're okay, right?"

"Yeah, I'm okay." She kisses my cheek then pulls back from my face. We share a look that says everything we need to. Giving this child the last few moments of life she deserves becomes our new priority and I can't think of a nobler one.

Before returning to Rue's side though, Katniss covers me in a throw blanket and coaxes me to sip from a bottle of water. My vision is coming in and out now; sometimes there are spots, sometimes everything get blurry and sometimes I can see with complete clarity. I don't know what it means, but I try not to overthink it.

"I've called the police, they know we're in here. They're working on a way to safely take Cato down without anyone else getting hurt. They don't think it'll be long now," Katniss explains out loud to no one in particular.

My breathing is still shallow, like it needs to be preserved, but I start to talk to Rue anyway while I've got breath enough to reassure her.

"So you finally met my beautiful fiancée, huh Rue? See? She's not as intimidating as you thought. I was really scared to talk to her at first, too, but now look at us – we're getting married soon! Maybe you can be one of Katniss' bridesmaids."

Katniss looks at me with sad eyes. I can only imagine what she's thinking sitting between a girl only a handful of years younger than her sister who's lost everything and is about to lose her life, and me, the guy she's pretending to be engaged to who she's finally starting to care for, also likely fatally injured. She's right; it's a pretty sad situation.

"That's right, Rue, we'd love to have you be a part of our happy day. We'll find you the perfect dress."

"And you can help us with the music," I add and Katniss looks at me curiously. I guess I've never talked that much about Rue to her, but I do know she loves music and is learning to play several instruments along with her singing. Her parents decided to go back to school so they could give her a better life, one that included all the music lessons and instruments she could ever want. The awfulness of what's happening washes over me and I can feel a single tear escape my eye. What kind of a world is it when a sweet, loving family like Rue's gets wiped out so easily by one severely broken, disturbed man? I have to live through this and prove to Katniss that there's still goodness left in this world. I can't leave her to deal with this shit on her own.

She reaches out and wipes the tear from my face, cupping her hand to my cheek. "It's okay," she mouths and I internally marvel once again at her strength.

She adjusts the way she's sitting so that her body is still touching mine but she can also have Rue's head resting in her lap. She begins to stroke her hair lovingly while she sings softly to her.

I haven't really heard Katniss sing since we were kids. Every once in a while, when she thought no one else was around, she would sing to herself walking home from school. It's always been one of the most beautiful sounds to me. Her low, soulful voice turning ordinary words into heartfelt melodies. I close my eyes to take it in, thinking that if this were the last thing I heard it would be okay.

Rue starts to cough. It's a sputtering, wet cough and I know without looking that it's blood that's causing the unsettling sound. My suspicions are confirmed when I hear Katniss' voice waiver as she sings. I can tell she's trying desperately not to give into her fear and fall apart.

"You have to get out of here," Rue chokes out, "Have that perfect wedding just like you told me, Peeta. And Katniss…thank you…" And that's it. She forces the words out, lets out a final gasp and is gone.

Katniss lets go of whatever composure she was holding onto. She begins to sob, deep, sorrowful sobs that reverberate throughout the small space and there's nothing I can do but witness her intense and instant grief.

Fifteen or so minutes later, she's sitting in front of me, her knees tucked up under her chin, her hands raking through her hair like they're holding her head together. Her sobbing has given way to a quiet, steady stream of tears. She still hasn't said anything, nor have I.

Reality settles around us like a heavy fog that we can't navigate our way out of. I want to say the right thing, something that will reach her, but I know that if help doesn't get here soon I'll be the next person who leaves her. Helplessness becomes the prevalent feeling again. It's not about not being able to protect her physically anymore, now I'm horrified by what I'm leaving her to deal with emotionally. My heart is shattering faster than my mind is and the pain of it is taking my breath away in a way my injuries never could.

I need to make things right, make this time with her count. Like her bringing Rue here to die with us with some measure of comfort, she needs to feel like she's given that to me too. I want her to feel like her coming to find me to be here with me was worth all that she risked. I need to finish what I started to say before she left to get help.

"Katniss," I begin, "thank you."

"For what?" She asks, wiping the tears from her face.

"For these past few months. You have no idea… They've meant everything to me. You need to know that."


"Can you, can you come over here?" She doesn't hesitate to tuck herself in beside me, resting her head on my chest. I take her hand and place in over my heart. Holding it there, I continue, "I feel like I've been looking out for you my whole life. For so long I've felt like that was my job, you know? Like I was put on this earth to protect you."

"What are you—"

I keep going, cutting off her question, "I don't feel that way anymore, you know, I mean here you are trying to protect me."

"Because that's what you and I do. We protect each other," she states simply. And I know as soon as I hear it that it's true, that it's what's real.

"Will you sing to me?" I ask, my voice barely above a whisper now.

In answer she begins to softly sing one of my favourite old songs, one my dad would play in the bakery when I was little.

Should I try to hide

The way I feel inside

My heart for you

Would you say that you

Would try to love me too

In your mind could you ever be

Really close to me

I can tell the way you smile

If I feel that I could be certain then

I would say the things I want to say tonight

But till I can see

That you'd really care for me

I will dream that someday you'll be

Really close to me

I can tell the way you smile

If I feel that I could be certain then

I would say the things I want to say tonight

But till I can see

That you'd really care for me

I'll keep trying to hide the way I feel inside

I concentrate on the sound of her voice and begin to let go, feeling my body relax for the first time since being shot.

Everything becomes peaceful, so much so that it's jarring when I hear the door being banged repeatedly into the washing machine that's blocking it.

"Anyone in here? We've got medics standing by." A deep voice bellows.

"Yes, yes we're in here!" Katniss yells and I can hear her scrambling to her feet beside me. I don't have the energy to open my eyes; can only hear the sounds of activity around me.

Before everything goes black there's a weightlessness, like my body's being lifted and I hear Katniss' voice in my ear saying, "We did it, Peeta, we made it. This will all be over soon."

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