I'd Fly the River
She's in the bath when the front door opens.
It'll be either Gale or Haymitch – more likely Gale, since it's barely noon yet. There's a soft thump, the sound of a game bag being dropped on the kitchen counter. Definitely Gale.
"I'm in the bathroom," she yells back, sitting up straight as she twists her hair around her fist to wring out the bathwater.
Katniss dresses quickly in a plain shirt and pants, wrapping a towel around her head to dry her hair. Gale's washing his hands in the sink when she makes her way downstairs, the catch from this morning's hunt laid out on the kitchen island beside him. "What'd you get?"
"A few rabbits, a few squirrels. And a beaver." Her nose wrinkles – beavers smell terrible, and their meat is gamey and greasy – and Gale laughs. "I left it outside."
"Good." Rising on her tiptoes, she pulls a glass from one of the cabinets, then nudges him aside so she can fill it with water from the tap.
It still surprises her sometimes, seeing Gale in this house, though he's been living here ever since they arrived. She thought he'd refuse, try to sleep in the woods or construct himself a makeshift shelter among the ruins of the Seam. Anything not to live in a home built by Capitol hands. But he'd followed her through the front door that day, and dropped his bag besides hers in the living room, and he'd stayed.
"I saw Haymitch out there," Gale says, wiping his damp hands on his pants. "He wants you to stop by."
Katniss nearly chokes on her water. "He does? Why?"
In the nearly three months since they'd returned to District Twelve, she'd been inside Haymitch's house precisely twice – and never because she'd been invited. She'd barged in there on occasion in a panic, because she hadn't seen or heard from him in so long, she worried he'd finally drunk himself to death.
"I don't know." Gale shrugs. "Didn't ask."
Her face settles into a frown, and she crosses her arms over her chest, surveying the array of dead animals on the counter. "Well, I'd better bring him one of these," she mutters. "He's probably living on nothing but white liquor."
Gale watches in silence as she selects the biggest rabbit, and throws it back into the game bag. "He's not your responsibility, you know."
Her shoulders tense, but she ignores Gale's comment. She doesn't want to get into it again. He doesn't understand why she leaves a catch from every hunt on Haymitch's front porch, or why she invites him for dinner some days, even knowing that he'll show up so drunk he falls asleep at the table before he can finish his meal.
He doesn't understand that Haymitch is family now, just as much as Gale is. She may not see him most days – may not even like him most days – but she has a connection, a bond, with the older man, and she'd die before she broke it off herself.
The walk to Haymitch's house is brief, so she doesn't bother lacing up her boots for the short trip, instead tucking the laces in around her calves. It's early spring, and the ground is still damp from last night's rain. Her father's hunting jacket hangs warm and familiar over her shoulders as she walks down the gravel road.
There's no answer at Haymitch's door, not after one, two, three knocks. She looks back to her house, where she knows Gale is beginning to dress the game, more likely than not annoyed that the best rabbit will end up on Haymitch's dinner table instead of theirs. If she goes back now, Gale wins. So she jiggles the doorknob, only a little surprised when the door opens easily.
Haymitch is asleep on the couch, an empty bottle tipped over on the ground beside him. She rolls it away with the toe of her boot, shaking her head. "Haymitch," she says loudly.
He must have only been asleep for a few minutes, because for once, it's enough to wake him. He blinks up at her blearily, recognition dawning slowly in his eyes. "Oh. It's you."
"Yeah, it's me." When he says nothing, she adds, "Gale said you wanted to see me."
Haymitch heaves himself up in a sitting position, brushing his long, messy hair away form his eyes. They regard one another in silence for a moment. "How are things going with you and that one?"
That one, she thinks, and rolls her eyes. There is no love lost between Gale and Haymitch, for reasons she hasn't even begun to try to understand – something that happened in Thirteen while she was still hiding in closets and sleeping all day, presumably.
"Fine," she says.
Haymitch nods slowly. She can practically see his mind wandering already. "What did you want to talk to me about?"
He shakes his head slightly, grunting as he stands up off the sofa. "Patience," he says. She watches in near disbelief as he opens the fridge and pulls out another bottle of white liquor.
"Don't you think you've had enough?" She snatches the bottle from his fingertips before he can protest. "It's barely noon, Haymitch."
He holds up his hands defensively. "Hey, that one was for you, Sweetheart."
She snorts, dropping the bottle on the kitchen island. "What are you talking about?"
Haymitch sighs, resting his elbows on the countertop as he leans in towards her. For once, his eyes actually look clear –and very serious. "Have you heard from anyone in the Capitol lately?" he asks.
The question catches her off-guard. The Capitol? Who would she hear from in the Capitol? The whole point of coming back to Twelve was to duck out of the spotlight, fly under the radar, cut her ties with all that and live as close to a "normal" life as she possibly could. She hadn't heard a peep from anyone back there – Plutarch Heavensbee, Effie Trinket, President Coin herself – and she wasn't unhappy about it.
"No," she says.
"That's what I thought." Haymitch sighs again. "Well, no point in dragging this out. I got a phone call yesterday." He pauses. "The boy's coming back."
The war ended in flames, just as it began.
Flames from bombs, specifically. Bombs that fell from one of the Capitol's hovercrafts, landing in a crowd of their own children, corralled together as human shields to guard President Snow's mansion. Silver parachutes, just like the ones for tributes in the Games. But those gifts opened up into death, not life. And after the medics had rushed in to treat the survivors, they opened up again.
It was pure luck that Prim wasn't among them when the bomb went off. She was in the Capitol, as part of the rebels' medical team, granted permission to join the front lines despite her young age. By some miracle her transport was snagged in a traffic delay, and they were still a mile off when it happened.
Katniss was lucky, too, that she wasn't close enough to get hit by the shrapnel or the burst of fire. But she saw it happen. She saw the blood and fire and ash, and she heard the screams.
Getting inside the mansion became impossible after that, and with people screaming and running and crying around her, her brain essentially shut down from the stress. She staggered through the streets, a living zombie, until Peeta managed to find her in the crowd. They hunkered down beneath the stoop of a rowhouse on a side street somewhere, shivering beneath layers of coats and scarves until it seemed safe enough to venture out.
By nightfall President Snow was captured and locked up as a prisoner in his own home. Following a quick trial – little more than a formality – Katniss was asked to execute him with her bow and arrow. She did so, gladly. Coin stepped in as leader of the new Panem. And the war tribunals began.
It all happened so quickly, so over her head, that Katniss never had much of a chance to step away and think about how she felt about it all. The only thing that gave her pause in the midst of change and confusion happened the day before the execution.
Coin gathered the remaining Victors together – now only seven – the day before Snow's execution. She proposed a compromise: to balance the districts' need for vengeance, and the country's need to stem the loss of life that threatened its very existence. A Hunger Games, with tributes reaped from the children of Capitol war criminals. It had to be sanctioned by a majority of Victors – the ones who suffered the greatest personal loss at the hands of the Capitol.
If Coin was expecting an eager response, she must have been sorely disappointed. Only Johanna and Enobaria voted in favor. Peeta spoke passionately about the moral implications of a final Games. Beetee, analytical as ever, pointed out the threat it posed to the unity of a new Panem. Annie spoke softly and said it wasn't what Finnick would have wanted.
Though she'd never admit it aloud, Katniss considered voting yes. The blood of twenty-three children couldn't even begin to atone for the hundreds lost over the years – yet it was something.
But when it came to her turn – when she saw the way Peeta was looking at her – she couldn't do it. She'd never been as good as the person he imagined her to be. But she could try. She owed it to him to try.
Coin's face was immovable as her steel-grey hair when the vote was finished. But Katniss never quite shook the feeling that it wasn't the outcome she'd been hoping for.
So Katniss wasn't altogether surprised when Haymitch pulled her aside in the moments after she shot the arrow that ended Coriolanus Snow's life. Her hands, so steady as she's taken aim and released the arrow, wouldn't stop shaking. She followed Haymitch obediently, hoping they'd end up somewhere she could close her eyes and sleep.
Instead he led her to a small, empty sitting room in the east wing of the President's mansion, shut the door, turned to her and said, "Sweetheart, we've got to get you out of here."
She blinked. "What?"
"Coin's in a pretty good spot right now," he said, his voice low and rushed. "So maybe she's feeling so confident that she doesn't care about the Mockingjay anymore. There's no viable threat to her power at the moment, so you aren't one, either." Haymitch paused. "That's the best case scenario."
"And the worst?"
"She's so cocky she thinks she can have you killed without repercussion."
The realization sank like a lead weight in her stomach. "You really think she'd do that?" she said. "I shot Snow, didn't I? What else does she want from me?"
"You didn't exactly prove your loyalty when you voted against her Games."
Katniss stared him down. "So you think I should have voted yes?" she demanded. "Let all those kids die to save my own skin?"
"I didn't say that." Haymitch shook his head slightly. "You'll remember I didn't vote yes, either."
He hadn't – even though his vote was last, and wouldn't have changed the outcome anyway.
"So what do I do?" she whispered.
"You keep your head down, and you go back to Twelve like a good little Mockingjay. You disappear." Haymitch narrowed his eyes. "Think you can handle that?"
Did he really need to ask? To disappear – to go home – was all she'd ever wanted, since the moment Prim's name left Effie Trinket's lips at the Reaping.
"When do we leave?"
She blinks at Haymitch slowly, letting the words sink in. The boy is coming back.
"Why?" she finally says. "His family's dead."
Harsh words, but true. The bakery where he grew up is nothing but a charred shell of the home it once was. His parents' and his brothers' bodies were found among the rubble during the early days of cleanup, and now they're buried in the meadow out by the Seam, along with hundreds – maybe thousands – of others who perished in the bombing. There's nothing left here for Peeta, except maybe his house in the Victors' Village. But he never really managed to make that cold, empty place a home.
Once she might have thought, I'm here. That Peeta could return home to her. She might have wanted it, even. But all that feels like someone else's life now – a story that she read, or a dream.
"Where else would he go?" Haymitch says.
"I don't know." She ducks her head, trailing a fingertip along a crack in the countertop. "Some other district. Make a new start."
Haymitch shrugs, scratching at the salt-and-pepper stubble on his chin. "Well, maybe he will. Maybe he just needs to take a look at what's left, and then he'll move on."
She isn't sure if he means what's left of Twelve, or something else, but she nods. "Well, thanks for warning me," she mutters.
"My pleasure." He nods towards the bottle of liquor she'd grabbed from him. "You rethinking that drink?"
She almost considers it, but she remembers the awful burn of the alcohol in her throat, back when she'd learned about the Quarter Quell, and how she'd wanted to die the next morning. "When?" she says. "I mean, when's he getting here?"
"Next supply train," Haymitch says. "Few days."
She nods again. "Okay. Thanks."
She leaves the bottle of liquor where it is and heads for the door. His voice behind her makes her pause, her hand on the doorknob. "Katniss. I think you know why he's coming back." Haymitch clears his throat. "Don't waste it."
As she expected, Gale is elbow-deep in rabbit guts when she steps back inside the house. "What'd he want?" he asks without looking up.
Katniss doesn't answer immediately, taking her time to think it over as she removes her jacket and boots by the door. She doesn't want to tell him about Peeta – at least, not right away. Gale will be suspicious, and he'll have questions, and she doesn't want to deal with that right now. She wants more time to mull it over. To consider what Peeta coming home means to her.
But if she doesn't tell him now, he'll wonder why, and this rift that's grown between them could deepen into a chasm. Something they couldn't make it across, no matter how badly they both wish things could go back to the way they were.
"Peeta's coming back to Twelve," she says, avoiding the way his gaze suddenly jumps to her face. "In two days, I think."
"Is he safe?" Gale demands immediately. She knows he doesn't mean is Peeta safe from harm; he means is Peeta safe to be around.
"I don't know."
"Well, what's he coming back for?"
"I don't know," she repeats, gritting her teeth. But Haymitch was right. She knows. She's always known. And it shouldn't be a surprise, that this is where it was all headed: Gale and Peeta and Katniss, questions she's not ready to answer, decisions she's not ready to make.
"What do you know?"
"That he's coming back here, and he's coming on the supply train," she snaps. "That's all Haymitch told me. If you've got more questions, feel free to ask him."
Gale drops the knife onto the counter with a clatter. "Hey. I'm just looking out for you."
Katniss sighs, and she tries to relax her shoulders, to let the fight drain out of her the way she knows it should. She doesn't understand why it's like this with Gale now; why every conversation deeper than what did you catch and what should we eat is like entering combat. "I know," she says, taking a deep, calming breath. "I appreciate that. But I'm…"
She isn't sure what she wants to say. I'm scared? I'm uncertain? I'm excited? She's all of those things, some more than others. Certainly Gale would like to hear some of them more than others.
"I just need to think. Okay?"
"Okay," Gale agrees, turning his attention back to the game, though he sounds irritated. "Can you help me with these squirrels?"
"Sure," she says, relieved to have something to occupy her hands.
I really should be working on my other two incomplete stories, but I couldn't get this concept out of my head, so here it is. I don't anticipate this being a particularly long story. POV will shift between Katniss, Gale & Peeta.
There will be more clarity on where Prim & Mrs. Everdeen are, the nature of Katniss & Gale's relationship, and other things in the chapters to come.
I'd love to know what you think! :)