Title: Dandelion – Chapter One: Responsibility
Warnings / Spoilers: alcohol use / THG, CF, and MJ
Pairing(s): Katniss/Peeta, future Haymitch/Hazelle
Word Count: 1,163
Hunting. The one time I ever truly felt free. Even now, with the Hunger Games destroyed, with Paylor as president, with equality in the districts, I still feel at home only in the woods. And in the space that was my childhood home, before the first Games broke me.
We don't talk about the Games anymore, unless Peeta needs to play "real or not real" to combat the hijacking. I hunt to occupy the time that would be spent mourning my sister, and the hundreds – thousands – of people who gave their lives, willingly or otherwise, in my war.
And it was mine. All of it. Every person lost, no matter his/her age, was my fault, my responsibility. I might as well have shot my arrows into the heart of each victim of our war for freedom.
And I still don't feel free. I still don't feel safe. The same horrors rock my nights: the same mutts, the same explosions. It used to just be father.
The Games changed that.
And the war.
When I finally look up from my seat on our rock – Gale's and mine – I realize it's nearly sunset. Peeta will worry. He always worries.
Unless he's having flashbacks.
"I'm home," I call as I enter my kitchen, but Peeta isn't there. Greasy Sae is, and she isn't pleased that I've only brought home a couple of fish from a full day's hunt.
"Thinking?" she asks as she guts the fish.
I shrug and answer with my own question: "Where's Peeta?"
"He went over to Haymitch's. I'm not quite sure why – either drying him out or restocking his alcohol supply, I expect," she answers with a laugh.
"Well, that makes sense," I reply sarcastically. I take the bowl she hands me, wild dog stew. Not her best meal, but I haven't brought a lot home recently. I shove the food into my mouth as if I haven't eaten in days – which is somewhat true, since I forgot to pack any food when I left before dawn this morning.
"What makes sense?" slurs Haymitch from the doorway. I turn to see Peeta holding him up by one arm. He's leaning against the doorpost in order to avoid falling over.
"Do you have any you-know-what around here?" Peeta asks quietly. He continues, "He's out."
Greasy Sae digs around in one of the bottom cupboards for a few moments before withdrawing a bottle of clear-ish liquid. "Here," she says, placing it on the table. Peeta helps Haymitch to his seat, barely avoiding a couple of falls, and Haymitch begins guzzling the alcohol like it's water.
"You let him have that stuff?" Hazelle asks, herding her young children into the kitchen to get a bowl of the communal stew.
"He's in withdrawal," Peeta answers patiently, watching Haymitch with compassion in his eyes.
"Yes, because I took his alcohol away from him," Hazelle explains. "I don't want him drunk around the children," she continues, motioning to Posy as she accepts her small dinner. After Hazelle looks away, Greasy Sae slips Posy a roll and winks – their little secret. I resist the urge to giggle as the girl slips the roll in her dress pocket, smiling appreciatively.
"He can't just quit cold turkey," Peeta says quietly. "You have to wean him off it."
I jump in, "There is no 'weaning' Haymitch. If he's quitting, it's gotta be cold turkey."
"No, it doesn't," Peeta defends, still quiet, still looking only at Haymitch.
I can tell he's about to have a flashback, but I continue anyway: "That's how they did it in 13."
"And if you recall, he looked like he'd just stepped out of an arena there," Peeta growls before exiting the room quickly.
I feel a tug on the bottom of my shirt and look down to see Posy pulling on my clothes, staring up at my face. "You should go after him," she suggests. I fight back the tears and leave the room, looking for Peeta.
"Go away," I hear him mutter. He's crouched in a corner, holding his knees to his chest, hands balled into fists.
"How can I help you?" I ask quietly, kneeling in front of him, ready to spring away if I need to but only willing to do so if it's necessary.
"You drugged me," Peeta says after a long pause, eyes burning – but I know he's fighting for me, like he always has. "Real or not real?"
"Real," I answer. I continue quickly, "But I had to."
He hesitates as he struggles to remain in control. "You had to . . . to save my life?"
"Real," I say simply. "I –" Before I can explain further, I'm stopped by the sudden pressure of his hands around mine.
"I . . . understand," he says slowly, staring at my hands in his. Fear courses through me as I remember his hands around my throat, but I urge myself not to pull away. "I love you. Real or not real?"
"Real," I explain. "You told me once you loved me from the first day of school."
"You love me. Real or not real?"
I consider this for a long time, looking in to his hopeful but sad blue eyes. Finally I can't keep it in any longer, and I answer quietly, "Real."
Peeta hesitates again. Although he looks happier, less likely to strike, there's still doubt behind the love in his eyes. "I killed Mitchell. Real or not real?"
"Not real," I answer quickly. "You were out of it, and you were defending yourself. You didn't know what direction you were kicking him in, and you didn't know Gale and Leeg One hadn't taken out that pod. The Capitol killed Mitchell. Not you."
"The bombing of District 12 was my fault," Peeta continues after a pause. "Real or not real?"
"Not real," I say again. "That was my fault for blowing the force field."
"But I helped?"
"Not real. We were separated. You didn't have anything to do with it; you were just working the alliance angle to keep me alive."
Peeta looks down at our hands – his are still wrapped around mine – for a long time. "I saved your life. Real or not real?"
"Real. More times than I can count."
After another pause, he asks, "Why did I hold you on the train if I knew you were faking, or thought you were faking? Or why did you ask me to if you didn't love me or know that you loved me?"
Now it's my turn to hesitate. "I have nightmares every night," I explain slowly, carefully, focusing on his hands around mine, avoiding eye contact because I know those beautiful blue eyes are watching my grey ones now. "Except when you're with me," I finish quietly after a long period of silence.
He lifts one hand to my chin, gently tilting my head up to look into his now-calm eyes, and murmurs, "Then I'll stay with you."