"Can I go in?"
Haymitch looks at me skeptically, as if debating my sanity, before sighing wearily and nodding. “Go on,” he mutters, rubbing his jaw. “He’s waiting.”
I smile and open the door.
Peeta is no longer shackled down, and he seems healthier; less gaunt, and the color has returned to his face. His eyes are not the same, still. They still look guarded and haunted, as though the real Peeta is beneath a sheet, lurking.
"Hello," I say quietly.
He is decorating something (a cake?) and I sit down across from him at the table.
"Katniss left today," I hear myself say. Stupid, don’t bring her up…
He looks up, surprised. I try to keep the shock at this response - something other than screaming or derisive comments - out of my expression, responding with: “Yes. She went to the Capitol.”
"To fight, of course."
“Why?” he repeats, and he almost sounds angry.
I hesitate for a fraction of a second before I retort, “Because Snow did this to you.”
He stares at me, the icing all but forgotten in front of him. His eyes are conflicted, and those always were his weak point. I used to be able to read him so well - like a book - and now he is so shady and unresponsive and…
And then I see it. The light.
It’s small, perhaps, but I can still see it: in his eyes there is the flicker of the old Peeta. The one who was in love with Katniss, who would have never wanted her to go to war, but who wouldn’t of stopped her either way. The one who offered his life countless times in replace of her own.
"She loves you, you know," I whisper.
Peeta’s shoulders slump and he stares at the half-done cake in front of him. “I don’t understand what’s going on,” he murmurs.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean…" He ruffles his hair, sighing. "I mean, I can’t figure out what’s real and what’s not. And sometimes, I see Katniss, and we’re… we’re on a roof, and I think it’s the training center, and I’m making her a crown of flowers, and she’s laying with her head in my lap…" He smiles faintly. "And then sometimes she’s hurting me, torturing me, and I…"
His voice breaks.
"I don’t know which one is the real her."
"No, you don’t… you don’t see how she looks at me, now. I can’t tell if she’s terrified of me or if she hates me or…"
"Peeta." He looks at me, and I notice that old Peeta seeping through the cracks. "She loves you. But she is scared, yes. Because Katniss doesn’t… she fears love. She’s been abandoned far too much, and she’s afraid that if she lets herself love you still, that you - the old you - won’t come back."
He stares at me. He blinks.
"I want to go after her."
I sigh, tucking a strand of hair behind my hair. “Well, then,” I say, “you’d best get to work.”
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