sparsenicjade
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AN: Thanks to my beta, ihearttwojacks. Written for chibifukurou for her donation to Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Using the "nightmares" square on my hc_bingo.

***


It took years—and more than a few geography lessons—for Kat to be fairly confident she'd come from somewhere in Appalachia, perhaps as far south as Tennessee or as north as Pennsylvania. It was unclear. For most of her life, though, what she remembered was the mountains and the smell of the mines. She remembered the sound of men trying to explain there had been an accident, her father wasn't coming home. She remembered her younger sister starving to death on her watch, finding her mother floating in her own blood in the bathtub, not knowing what to do.

Despite all of this, she never once had nightmares in the years of being taken from the only home she'd ever known, trafficked to a city that sounded and smelled and felt wrong, locked in cells and cages and made to watch as one of the only friends she'd ever had died from a simple stomach flu. No, for all those years she'd slept "snug as a bug in a rug," as she could still hear her dad saying. It wasn't until she was given a clean, warm, safe room all to herself in the tower that sleep became the enemy.

*


The plus—and sometimes minus—of the tower, was that no matter what ass of the o'clock it was in the morning, someone was bound to be up. Usually it was Tony, although most of the time he was in his workshop. It wasn't unusual for Peeta to be fucking around in the kitchens, or Pepper to be teleconferencing with CEOs in different time zones. Jo slept like a log unless threatened, and Finn mostly powered through his nightmares while still asleep. Kat couldn't decide if she envied him or was horrified by the thought.

It was better when she slept between Finn and Jo. She didn't like enclosed spaces, but her body seemed to instinctively know the difference between body heat and locked bars. For a few years, the nightmares came once or twice a month at most.

Then Finn took the swimming scholarship extended to him by UConn, and a year later, Jo moved into a studio apartment with Ronon after graduating. Kat tried sleeping the first six nights, but after waking herself screaming all six, she decided coffee and distraction were the way to go. Tony had long ago begun allowing her to sit with him while he was creating. On rare occasions, she even managed to join in for some of his conversation with JARVIS.

If she concentrated, she could learn a lot from Pepper's English conversations, and start piecing together Chinese and Spanish from the ones in those languages. And Peeta was always willing to allow her to help him with whatever he was making. She sucked at actually cooking, but she could follow basic instructions well enough.

She went and spent time with Jo and Ronon, or hung out with the others who were still in town. She sometimes called Finn, who always seemed to make the time, even though she knew he had to be busy. At one point she told him, "I should figure out something I'm good at that doesn't involve beating the shit out of people."

Finn didn't even miss a beat. "Negotiating."

"Huh?" Kat hadn't actually been looking for an answer, more just an idea of how to start being a productive part of the household.

Finn laughed. "You're a genius at it, Kat. Half the time the other team doesn't even know there's negotiation happening until you've gotten what you want."

Kat frowned. "So?"

"So talk to Pepper about how much she'd love to take you into her meetings."

"You're crazy," she opined.

"Yup," he agreed easily. "Crazy smart."

*


Obviously, Kat had to sleep some of the time. She found it was easiest to take naps on the sofa in Tony's workshop, or the common areas when Tony, Pepper, or Peeta were around. She had more than once fallen asleep with her head pillowed on her arms while watching Peeta make something in the kitchen. She'd lived on little sleep and little food for extensive periods of her life under worse conditions than this. Really, it wasn't that big a deal.

And, to her surprise, Finn had been right. It had taken her a couple of weeks to say anything, but one of the nights the three of them had managed to catch dinner together she poked at her food and made herself talk. "Finn said, uh, something about my negotiation skills being useful?"

She watched as Pepper brightened and then visibly forced herself to calm. "Was he talking professionally?"

Huh, was Kat's only real thought. "He said you'd be interested in my help. Kind of, I mean—"

"Yes," Pepper said hastily, as if she knew Kat would talk herself out of it if allowed. "There's some stuff we need to work on, obviously, and it's going to be a while before you have all the language skills, but yes."

Tony pouted, "How come you never let me—"

"You don't want to finish that question," Pepper informed him.

*


Kat found, to her relief, that having days filled with fraught meetings and intense discussions lent itself well to catching a few hours of unbroken sleep here and there. She still wasn't even bothering to try sleeping in her actual bed, but so long as she stayed around the others and kept herself insanely busy, she could manage that much.

She was aware that almost everything was starting to seem harder to do, as though her life had become a river and the only way she knew to swim was against the current. It wasn't until Jo called her on a Thursday night and asked, "Are you seriously standing me up?" that she started considering there might be a real problem.

Kat, upon being asked the question, glanced over at her computer screen, which told her it was eight. It took her several minutes to remember what the hell she was supposed to be doing. "Oh, fuck. Jo, I'm sorry, I was working—"

"Did you forget?" Jo sounded too flabbergasted to be mad, which was something.

Kat rubbed at her face. "I've been a little, um, flakey, lately."

There was a moment of silence. Jo's, "Since when?" was part unimpressed, part concerned.

Kat bit back a sigh. "It's nothing. Lemme just—I'll be there in ten, we'll do dessert on me and catch the later show."

Without much heat, Jo told her, "Dessert's gonna involve crème brulee and other fancy shit."

"Yeah, yeah," Kat said, mostly because Jo didn't even like crème brulee—her idea of fancy was Phish Food from an actual Ben & Jerry's parlor—and hung up.

*


Less than a week later, Kat fell asleep during "movie night." It wasn't that this never happened, but it had been her turn to pick the movie, and she'd picked something she'd wanted to see for a while. She woke up when JARVIS turned the lights on. Peeta, who'd brought chocolate-covered caramel corn—basically Kat's favorite thing in the universe, as it turned out—asked, "Are you all right?"

Kat yawned. "Yeah, why?"

"Because JARVIS says you haven't slept in your bed in over three months," Tony cut in.

Kat was too tired to bother being righteously outraged at him using JARVIS to spy. Granted, even when she was fully awake, she tended to think Tony probably deserved to know what the hell was going on in his house with the kid he'd taken off the streets (close enough) and fed and clothed and basically given a life. It didn't make her like the surveillance anymore, but she saw where he was coming from.

She shrugged. "I'm just readjusting."

Peeta frowned. "To the tower?"

She probably wouldn't have said the next thing if she'd been awake enough to filter at all. She snapped, "To being on my own. The nightmares are loving it."

There was a stricken silence and she said, "Fuck, I didn't—"

"Baby girl," Pepper said softly, her eyes wet, but not a single tear falling. It was always the worst when something upset Pepper, because she was so damn kind about it.

"Have you at least talked to your therapist about this?" Tony was pacing, the way he did when he was irritated, his hands rubbing together, like if the problem were just tangible it wouldn't exist anymore.

Kat winced. "I mentioned it."

The three of them looked at her. It was Peeta who asked, "And?"

"He gave me some stuff," she admitted. "But it just got me caught. I was—I couldn't wake up."

"Okay, so, not meds," Pepper said. "Has he tried anything else?"

They'd tried lots of things. She'd surrounded herself so entirely by pillows she nearly suffocated. She'd taken to writing down everything about the nightmares upon waking up and trying again. She'd almost gotten to the point of asking Peeta if he wouldn't mind if she shared his bed a few nights a week, just to have that much rest. She was pretty certain any of them—Peeta, Tony, or Pepper—would do the trick.

Kat dredged up a smile. "Yeah, we're working on it. I just—"

Just got used to something that wasn't mine to keep. And honestly, what kind of idiot kept making the same mistake over and over again? "Just have to find the solution."

"But not alone," Tony said, sounding the way he did when DUM-E did something baffling and that suggested a coding glitch.

Gently, Kat told him, "You can't just rewire my brain." Even if she wished he could.

Peeta said, "Someone should be there. When you—when the nightmares come."

"So that more people in the tower can be not sleeping?" Kat asked. "You know I don't sleep around anyone but you guys, anyway."

Pepper and Peeta shared a look. Pepper said, "Which is why one of us should be with you."

Kat made a face. "Because adopting three basket cases wasn't disturbing enough to your marriage."

"For the record, I married a basket case. I wasn't exactly expecting stability." Pepper smiled fondly at Tony. "And our marriage has survived a hell of a lot more than a few nights apart."

Kat shook her head. "No."

Peeta was clearly trying to make himself as small as possible, even as he offered. "There's still me."

She allowed herself to sigh. "It's not that I don't appreciate it, but I don't think sleeping in unfamiliar rooms and knowing your family's just a door over is really going to help."

"Of course not," Peeta said, as though he'd never even considered it, "you'd have to be willing to let me sleep at your place."

She blinked at him. "Out of curiosity, is there ever going to come a time when you get tired of giving things up for us?"

Peeta's eyes darkened for a moment before he smiled, wide and sweet. "No. Pretty sure not."

Kat knew she shouldn't believe him, she knew. The temptation, though, was unbelievable.

*


With Peeta cuddled against her, she slept straight through the next several nights. One of the nightmares about her sister came about eight days after they'd begun sleeping together. Peeta woke her up and got her a glass of water. He rocked her a little bit and told her funny stories about Haymitch and Tony from before she'd lived in the tower.

He said, "I'm here, Kat," and it was all she needed to know.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile