The flickering of the fluorescent lights above my head is slowly driving me insane. There's no comfort in the incessant buzzing sound they create, or in the shitty vending machine coffee I'm drinking or in the gross hospital smell now clinging to my clothes. This is not a place of comfort.
I've been sitting in the hospital waiting room for hours, so many in fact that it's nearly morning. I've pissed off the staff to the point where I'm rarely getting updates anymore. I'm over-caffeinated, anxious and going out of my mind. They said Peeta's going to be okay, that much I know, but they aren't sure whether or not they'll be able to save his leg. Something about blood vessels and tissue possibly being damaged beyond repair. Apparently if Cato had been any closer to Peeta when he shot him, he would have likely died from blood loss and if not, the loss of his leg would be a definite.
"Please, just let me see him! Please!" I try again with the nurses at the desk in vain.
"Miss Everdeen, please, you know we can't let you in there. I don't want to have to have you removed."
I feel a hand on my shoulder and I'm about to start throwing punches when I see a familiar, concerned face looking back at me. We don't say anything to one another. Instead, I fall against Peeta's father's chest and he holds me until I'm the one to pull away first.
We haven't spoken to each other in years, but he's the closest I can feel to Peeta right now and I need to be near him, I need the connection.
"How is he, what's going on?" He asks finally.
"He…he's okay," I stutter. "It's just his leg…they don't…he might." I can feel tears streaming down my face, but I don't try to stop them.
"Here dear, sit down," he says soothingly, guiding me to a nearby row of chairs. "I'm just going to talk to the nurse and I'll be right back."
I reach out for him, too overwhelmed to speak. He squeezes my hand reassuringly before turning to walk towards the nurses' station. I feel a wave of guilt wash over me as I watch him, fear and anxiety all over his face. How could I have let this happen? Peeta wouldn't have even been living in that damn building if it weren't for me. Now I have to sit here and keep telling all of my lies to a man who thought his son might die today. It's more than guilt. It's shame.
"He's still in surgery. At least that's what they're telling me," he says as he sits down beside me.
"You must be exhausted, it's not even morning yet," I manage to say.
"I started driving as soon as I heard the news, but it took me a while to get in here once I got to town. It's crazy out there. Between the crowds and the media and the police…" he says and he runs his hands through his hair, no doubt remembering the aggravation. "But never mind me, it must have been terrifying in there. Are you okay?" he asks and pats my knee gently. A memory flashes through my mind of my own father, comforting me after a nightmare or fall. I feel better having a dad around, even if he's not mine.
"Yeah, I'm okay. I just…it's Peeta, you know?" I'm worried about losing it again talking about him, so I go for the distraction. "Is your wife...?"
"No, she uh…Peeta doesn't know yet, but we're…we separated."
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't—"
"It's okay, really, it's for the best."
We sit in silence for a while before he asks, "Do you want to talk about it? What you went through in there? I mean, I can't even imagine…"
His question brings on a flood of images that I'm not ready to deal with. "Thanks, but really, I'm okay."
"It's so upsetting, the damage the actions of one man can cause."
I finally take the time to really take in my surroundings and realize there are families and loved ones of the other victims from our building here. Most have gathered together, finding solace in one another as they await any news of the wounded.
"It's disgusting," is all I can say, looking around me and thinking of Rue and her parents.
"You know, I was surprised when Peeta told us the news about you two. I mean, he'd talked about you before, but it never sounded...reciprocal."
Exactly what I'd been dreading. I don't want to lie to him. Not now. Worse, he takes my silence to mean I've been offended.
"I don't mean to suggest…I couldn't be happier about it, believe me, I was just surprised is all," he spits out quickly
I go with the truth. "I love him," I say quietly, but slightly defensively.
"That's all I need to know," he says and smiles at me warmly. I know the smile, it's Peeta's, and I'm overwhelmed with how much I miss him and need to see him.
"Mr. Mellark?" A doctor calls out and we're both on our feet and over to him within seconds.
"It was touch and go there for awhile. He lost a lot of blood and the, uh, hunting rifle caused a lot of damage to his leg. We were able to save it, but it's unclear right now whether the injury will be permanent or not."
"Meaning?" I ask, relieved but still in need of answers.
"Meaning he may need a cane or walk with a limp or never fully regain the use of his leg again. We just don't know."
"Thank you, Doctor, when can we see him?" Mr. Mellark asks.
"He's in the recovery room, his vitals are good, so it shouldn't be more than another hour or so now."
I'm finally able to take in a full breath, something I don't think I've done in the last 12 or so hours and despite myself, I encircle my arms around Peeta's dad once again and wonder how I'm going to make it another sixty minutes. He's okay. This is the mantra I repeat over and over in my head to pass the time. Peeta's going to be okay.
"Hey," I say softly, trying not to freak out about the terrifying collection of tubes and machines and medical paraphernalia surrounding him.
Peeta's face brightens and I start to cry. I hate crying and I've cried so much already tonight. This time is different though. It's fueled by relief and happiness and the look on his face.
"Hey," he answers, but it comes out as a croaky whisper.
I rush to his side, unsure of where I can touch him, but I want so badly to touch him. I find his hand under the blanket and squeeze gently, covering it with both of my hands. "I was so worried and they wouldn't let me see you and I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."
"Shh, Katniss, it's okay, I'm okay. You have nothing to be sorry about. I'm okay. You're safe. That's all that matters. It's over."
"You're the one in the hospital bed. I'm supposed to be taking care of you."
"Yeah, but we take care of each other, remember?"
I sniffle and laugh a little, "Yeah, I remember. So, how are you feeling, really?"
"I think they must have me on some pretty great pain meds. Things are fuzzy, but I'm not really feeling any pain."
"That's good," I say, running my fingers through his hair.
He hums a bit as I continue to trail my fingers along the side of his face, tracing his ear. I don't think he knows he's doing it, which makes it all the more adorable. "They told me about my leg. That's pretty shitty news."
I chuckle at the way he understates the obvious. "Yeah, it is pretty shitty. We'll get through it though."
"You don't mind, I mean, I might always be…"
"I don't care, Peeta, that would never matter to me. You're still you."
His face darkens before he asks, "What, um, happened to him?"
"He was killed…by the police. Suicide by cop I think they call it."
"And how many…"
"Seven…another four or five injured."
We let the numbers hang in the air between us. There really are no words. Now that we know Peeta's condition isn't critical and that we're both safe, there's nothing left to do but confront what we've been through. I have no idea how to do that though. Where do we even start?
"Knock, knock," Mr. Mellark says from the door, breaking our sad silence.
"Dad!" Peeta says, the wide grin returning to his face.
"It's really great to see you, son," he says, tears welling up in his eyes.
I decide to give the two some time and bend to kiss Peeta's forehead before leaving, "I'll be back in a bit, okay?"
"Don't be long,"
"Not a chance."
It's morning now and Morgantown's just starting to wake up to the day after its most horrifying tragedy.
I feel like shit and would love a shower, but I know it's not about me right now. I'll grab a coffee, splash some water on my face and suck it up.
I want to go back to the apartment and get Peeta some things to make him more comfortable, but the thought of it overwhelms me. It's likely the place is overrun with police and reporters anyway. The more I can keep my face out of the news coverage of this whole thing the better. I don't want it to follow us around beyond what's necessary.
Instead, I make the rounds at nearby shops and gather what I can. A sketchbook and some coloured pencils, some bathroom essentials, some salty snacks, his favourite cookies, some lounge pants and socks and a book I think he'd like. It's more money than I've spent at one time in, well, never, but I'm not thinking about the rent just yet.
I return to find Mr. Mellark staring wistfully out the window while Peeta sleeps soundly in his hospital bed a few feet away.
"He seems to be having a hard time staying awake with those pain meds. I guess that's probably a good thing for now though."
"Yeah, you're probably right," is what I say out loud, but selfishly I want to wake Peeta up and spend real, conscious time with him.
"You should get some sleep, Katniss, you're probably wiped."
"Yeah, but you and I both know I'm not going anywhere," I grin and he nods in understanding.
"Well, I better go find myself a hotel room for the next little while. And then I was thinking maybe I'd go back and pick up your mom and sister. They'd probably want to be here."
"Really? Wow, thank you, it would be really great to have them here."
"Just let Peeta know I'll be back a little later, okay?"
"Yeah, of course. And thank you, for everything." We smile at each other, me shyly, him warmly. And then he's off.
I sit and watch Peeta sleep, relief washing over me in wave after wave. Tears start streaming down my face again without my consent as the reality of it all crashes into me.
"Hey, hey, none of that."
"Peeta," I say, startled, "I'm sorry, did I wake you?"
"Nah, I think the latest dose of whatever it is they're giving me just wore off. Now, tell me why you're crying, beautiful."
I can't help but scoff, "Still full of shit I see…I'm a mess, Peeta."
"Not to me. Come on, talk to me."
"It's just a lot, and I think, I think I'm just starting to feel how real it all was."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," he says, patting the bed. "But what I really need you to do right now is sit here with me and let me take that braid out of your hair while you bitch at me for pulling too hard and for just a little while, we're going to pretend that we're back to just being us, okay?"
"Okay," I say as I snuggle in next to him. "For a little while."