"Ally." Peeta says the words slowly, tasting it. "Friend. Lover. Victor. Enemy. Fiancee. Target. Mutt. Neighbor. Hunter. Tribute. Ally. I'll add it to the list of words I use to try to figure you out." - Mockingjay
I'm writing this after a very long break from the world of fan fiction. I've just recently discovered The Hunger Games trilogy and it's really inspired me to write again! I'm also writing this without the aid of any pre-readers, so hopefully it's not too much of a disjointed mess! Enjoy!
Rated M for later chapters, though there's a small taste of it in this one!
Disclaimer: All characters and settings in this story are the property of the brilliant Suzanne Collins.
I want to hate him so badly.
I want to rage at him for leaving me alone under a rose-tinted sky during the Quarter Quell. For letting President Snow break him. For his weak, fluctuating mind that challenged us as we snuck through the underbelly of the Capitol.
I want to lunge at him, grasp at the angry burn scars that gnaw at bits of his face and reprimand him for coming with us into the Capitol square, right up to the spot where carefully crafted double-exploding bombs ended a war and my thin veil of sanity all within moments.
Mostly, I want to hate Peeta Mellark before he comes to his senses and remembers all of the reasons why he should hate me.
I assume the reasons have not entered his mind yet, or they haven't become prominent enough in his mind for him to care, because he's standing in the kitchen of my house in Victor's Village once again.
He ladles a new, odd stew concocted by Greasy Sae into a bowl. My bowl is already in front of me at the table. Another lukewarm serving sits in front of Sae, who is waiting expectantly to see our reaction. Peeta doesn't bother to ask what our dinner actually consists of, nor do I.
Though I refuse to look straight up at him, I wait until I can see out of the corner of my eye that Peeta's situated himself at the table before taking my first bite.
The stew tastes.. unusual. I try to figure out the different ingredients. There's something that looks like meat and has a bitter flavor, but I know that Greasy Sae didn't get it from me. I gulp down the bite and try to stop thinking about it. As the aftertaste settles in my mouth, I realize that- whatever it is- it isn't half bad.
I take the quickest of glances in Peeta's direction. It seems he's also accepted the new dish, hungrily scooping up another spoonful. I turn to Sae and give her at nod of approval.
Not that we would ever complain. Even if I suspected that Greasy Sae was serving me vegetable soup laced with poison, I wouldn't dare say a word. She's come to my house twice a day to prepare meals, usually with her granddaughter in tow. She never questions me, gives me concerned looks or stays past her welcome. She enters, she cooks, she cleans, and she leaves.
I don't exactly know how Peeta became part of the arrangement.
One day, he was just there. He came in for breakfast just as Greasy Sae finished cooking. I assume Sae had invited him over. He left again before she even finished cleaning, but he was back again that night for dinner. So has become our mealtime ritual.
I've wanted to pick his brain, to ask him what he's feeling and if Dr. Aurelis had found a cure that relinquished all signs of his hijacking.
"Can you pass me a cheese bun?" I ask instead.
My only true opportunity for discussion came and went when I first noticed Peeta was back in Victor's Village. He was planting the evening primrose that now line the side of my house. I should have asked him then, but I ran away instead, desperate to scourge myself of my demons before confronting Peeta's.
We have not been alone together since. Peeta has not allowed it.
I refuse to chase after him. I never purposefully put myself in a situation where I have to confront Peeta. I only considered making the short walk to his house and knocking on the front door one night: I went to check on Haymitch and found him unresponsive next to a puddle of his own vomit. I was certain that the bastard had finally managed to kill himself. Right before I ran out the door to find Peeta, Haymitch's knife swung at me from the floor, tearing a hole in my pants.
I don't know why Peeta can't speak to me now, when I am perhaps more accessible than ever. There's got to be a good reason why he's turning his back to me. Honestly, I'm not sure I want to know what- or who- it is.
In my second chat with Dr. Aurelis, he suggested I reach out to former friends and acquaintances to form bonds with my loved ones once again. He gave me a list of suggestions. A list that did not include Peeta.
Surely the doctor assumed that having Peeta as a neighbor, along with a momentous list of shared experiences, brought us together again easily. If only that were the case.
All of the conversation between Peeta and me is mediated via Greasy Sae. It's mostly small talk: the weather, the house, new government appointees of no importance, food, Haymitch's bad habits, and the like.
Occasionally, on days when the curiosity is too difficult to overcome, we ask her about the people arriving in District Twelve and those who never returned.
"How is Mrs. Everdeen doing?" Peeta asks today. "Will she be coming back to the district soon?"
I look up slowly, surprised to see Peeta asking me about my mother. But when I follow his gaze, I see his eyes firmly locked on Greasy Sae. He's asking her about my mother.
I scoff at his audacity. His eyes flick to mine for a fraction of a second, register my death glare, and look back to the now uncomfortable elderly woman across the table.
"I hear she's doing all right in District Four," she replies wearily. "Helping them start up a hospital out there, they say."
"The plans are brilliant," I blurt out, keeping my eyes affixed on her. "They're running out of some abandoned buildings now, but my mother told me they're building a state-of-the-art facility there that'll match what they've had in the Capitol all this time."
I shove another bite on stew in my mouth and begin speaking again before I finish chewing, waving my spoon around the in hopes of better expressing my faux enthusiasm. "They plan on having decent medical wards in every district within the next five years. Very interesting stuff."
I don't know why I suddenly speak like this. Perhaps it's the aching feeling inside that's been further disturbed by Peeta asking a near stranger about something that feels so undoubtedly mine.
There's no need to tell them that I gathered this information during the only conversation I've had with my mother since I left District Thirteen with the Star Squad. The one where we cried over Prim until both of our throats and hearts were raw from admissions of guilt and neglect, from claiming different ways in which we could have saved her. The one where my mother ended our talk by giving me a laundry list of excuses why she could never return to District 12 or look into my eyes again.
"Who's the new healer in the district?" Peeta questions, breaking through the muted depression settling over me. "Unless she's coming back once the hospital's done?" I don't look in his direction, gobbling up the last bits of my stew instead.
I want to ask him why. Has he been sick? I forget my worries quickly, remembering that Peeta and I are victors and symbols of freedom in the new Panem. We've got Dr. Aurelis and the rest of the country's doctors at our disposal for the rest of their unfortunate lives.
After too long a pause, I shake my head slightly. "Not sure," I hear Greasy Sae mumble.
The conversation wears off. Deep down, I know Peeta doesn't really worry about what new healer could be sent to Twelve. He's asking specifically for the whereabouts of my mother and whether she'll return to me.
He's asking whether or not I've been left alone for good. He's concerned.
He stays longer tonight to help Greasy Sae with the dishes, but still makes his exit first. He thanks her with a wide smile and quickly, silently waves his hand in my direction as he treads backwards toward the door before turning and passing through the threshold.
He's concerned, but not concerned enough to stay. He leaves me alone with my twisted nightmares for yet another night.
I hate him for it.
Checking on Haymitch is not a pleasant task.
I don't plan on doing it often, but there's a troublesome crash and an even more offensive smell emitting from his house as I pass by on my way to go hunting.
It's still quite early. Most people won't be waking up for hours, so nobody else is able to look into it.
My nose is tucked into my jacket before I even enter the house. On a good day, his residence reeks of liquor and sick, but I realize as I enter the hall that today is particularly awful.
I tiptoe to the end of the hall, through the parlor and into the kitchen where the culprit awaits.
Haymitch has tried his hand at baking. He's failed miserably.
Flour and sugar cover almost every inch of the countertops. An odd mix of herbs and spices are laid out on the table, including many that should never, under any circumstances, be used for baking.
There's a half solidified mess of the most foul looking bread I've ever seen on the floor next to an abused oven dish. Haymitch lays on the ground next to it in a drunken stupor, picking at bits.
"Shut up!" he grumbles before I say a word. "Your boy's stopped bringing me bread."
I should be angry and cursing, filled with sorrow over Haymitch's pathetic excuse for a life, but instead I'm laughing for the first time in ages. It's a hearty chuckle that isn't particularly loud, but makes my body shake is I try to suppress it.
"And so you made this?"
"It's the one with the berries," Haymitch defends. "I like that one a lot."
The crouch down near the mess. After a closer inspection, I notice that Haymitch's "berries" are in fact beans. I'm not entirely shocked that he can't tell the difference in the state he's in.
"You're pathetic," I tell him as I clutch his arm and begin dragging him away from the mess.
Knife still in hand, Haymitch falls on the couch in the other room, a crumpled pile of a man.
"Where's my housekeeper?"
"District Two, I guess."
"Ah," he licks his lips and barks out a laugh. "With your other boy."
I hadn't really thought much about Hazelle or her children, other than Gale. It only makes sense that they'd be in Two with him, but I never bothered to ask anyone.
"Saw him on television, you know." I can barely make out his words through the excessive slurring. "Cut his hair."
"I honestly do not care."
The knife is ripped out of Haymitch's hand before he has time to react. I hastily walk back into the kitchen and toss it into the sink. I leave the mess on the floor. I think about saying goodbye, but I figure Haymitch has already passed out.
The morning air is less bitter than it was the last few times I've gone hunting, signaling that spring is in full bloom.
"I don't care," I mumble to nobody. I honestly believe it. As long as Gale has found some peace, I'm going to try my best to do the same without him. Our relationship wasn't the same in the end. I want him to be happy.. somewhere far away from me.
My little visit with Haymitch has delayed me. By the time I reach the square, recovery workers are already starting to emerge from their homes. From what I've noticed on my sporadic walks, they managed to collect the bodies and fill in the meadow sometime last week.
Thom, a member of Gale's old mining group, is wheeling a barrel across the square toward the mayor's house. He's become some sort of manager in the recovery effort, so he seems to be working here from dawn until dusk each day.
"How's it going?" His head nods in my direction.
"Just passing through!" I reply, pointing out toward the fence.
"It's fine! We're heading to the mayor's house to clean out the last of the rubble. The plan is to rebuild it." Perhaps it's because I'm the Mockingjay or just because Thom has always been friendly, but he always feels inclined to give me updates, even when I don't ask.
"Apparently, they plan on getting some new local officials to step up in the districts. There will be an election soon enough."
"Really?" The surprise in my voice is genuine. There's been very little news as to how our new government would be run. I'd begun to think Boggs' talk of a republic had been lost.
After his confirmation, I feel invigorated as I make my way into the woods. My hunting skills have dwindled since my time in Thirteen. My arrows never hit my prey in the spots where they should and I actually scared off a sizable buck on my last trip. It's extremely frustrating, but I am making slow progress.
I trek into the woods for a half hour before I take down two overconfident squirrels. As I gather them up, I realize that I've gotten one through the eye.
My hoot of joy scares away all of the surrounding prey.
I move on to the lake. It takes me ages to get there and I know I'll be late for breakfast. I'm too worn to hunt for waterfowl, so I spread out an old net, dip my feet in the water, and begin to fish.
When I return to the house, my hunting efforts seem futile. The table is filled with a scrumptious arrangement of foods that I know Greasy Sae didn't scrounge up herself.
"Train came in this morning!" she chirps as she gages my reaction from the table. Everyone in the district has received food rations and basic supplies for the next several weeks.
Peeta and Greasy Sae's granddaughter are already eating with her. They're welcoming themselves into my home when I'm not even there.
I want to be angry, but there's a giant plate of sausage waiting at the table to be devoured. The words come out lightly, a smile playing on my lips. "Glad you've let yourselves in!"
Among the feast, I see that Peeta's brought berry bread. I laugh aloud, gargling orange juice and earning worried glances.
I stuff a bite of egg into my mouth before taking the bread off the table and setting it aside on the counter.
"I made that!" Peeta says dumbly. Oh, now he notices me!
"I'm donating it to Haymitch." I turn around to face him, my body blocking the bread from his sight in a defensive position. "You've stopped giving him bread for some reason," I accuse.
Peeta's face puckers in distaste. "He doesn't deserve it, the way he treats us. Why do you care, anyway?"
"He nearly burned his house down trying to recreate this loaf," I explain. "He put beans in it. Beans!" I involuntarily gag at the memory.
"He can have that one," Peeta concedes, "but I'm not baking him fresh loaves every day."
"He needs our help!" I don't know what I've gone on the defensive. My hands clench the countertop. "I don't know why you're so stubborn!"
Greasy Sae has become very interested in her oatmeal.
"If you knew half the things he's said about you..." he sputters over the words, "about us! He thinks he can do anything."
"He can! He saved your life! That was his call!"
Peeta's eyes lower. I can see him trying to calm himself, trying to avoid the blowout that I'm oh-so-ready to instigate. "Fine," his tone is low and defeated. "Do whatever you want."
Suddenly, I'm not very hungry.
I turn to Greasy Sae. "There's fish and squirrels in my hunting bag. I know it's not much now."
I catch Peeta's eye again and the words spill out. "I got a squirrel through the eye. Just the way your father liked it."
Snatching up the bread possessively, I storm over to Haymitch's house. He's still on the couch, twitching in his sleep. I don't wake him.
Peeta has always tolerated Haymitch, even when I haven't. What was said to change that?
The stench from the kitchen is still as potent as ever and it seems I'm Haymitch's only ally today, so I grab his broom and begin to clean the mess.
It's a good thing I have a strong stomach. If I still had my bow on me, I think I'd put an arrow in Haymitch's head for this.
I consider heading back to my house, but quickly change my mind. I'm sure the others are still lurking inside. But as I watch Haymitch deflate on his couch, I realize I don't want to be here either.
I have nowhere to go.
Walking back to the square seems like a good option until I'm about halfway there and the wasted energy from a day of hunting takes its toll. I double back.
Along the way, I see dozens of residents lugging supplies back to their homes, but I never actually see the train the goods came in on. Is it one of the old Capitol trains that was used for the Hunger Games or Victory Tour? The trains that brought Peeta and I together?
Why do I care?
Greasy Sae gives me a curt wave as she strolls home with her granddaughter, but I barely manage to smile in their general direction, lost in a haze of memories.
Back home, the kitchen is pristine. My plate is right where I left it, waiting for me to finish. It feels odd to eat alone and the food's gone cold, but I bask in the lack of human interaction. Until I hear it.
"He said you'd given up on us."
I choke a bit. It's a struggle to keep up my composure as I turn toward the archway leading out of the living room, where Peeta sits on the sofa.
"How long have you been there?" I sputter, realizing he has been watching me gouge on my breakfast for quite a few minutes.
He acts as if he never heard me. The strained look in his eyes tells me that he stayed here to speak, not to listen.
"Haymitch said Coin sent me into the Capitol to kill you," the words pierce him. "She thought I'd snap and kill you all, and you knew that even if I didn't. That's why you killed her. It was revenge for that plot."
I bite my tongue rather than correct him. It occurs to me that neither Haymitch nor Peeta know my theories on the bombs.
His voice gets shaky as he continues. "He said that you could never trust me or him, no matter what we did for you. You think I'm still out to get you and you think he's still too busy trying to keep me alive to see it. He said I should have stayed out of District Twelve."
"You had other options?" I raise my eyebrows at the revelation.
"Not many," he adds quickly. "Plutarch wanted me to do some work with him in the Capitol, maybe some public speaking. I wasn't interested."
"He also said you never really wanted to save me. You only tried in the Capitol because you had no other choice besides killing me." Peeta pauses, waiting for my response. I don't give him one, because I know how selfish I was in Thirteen after he returned to me. Maybe he's right.
Eventually, Peeta puts his hands down on his knees and pushes himself up into a standing position. He stomps toward the hall, but stops next to my game bag.
He reaches down and begins to rifle through it. His arm yanks out a squirrel by the tail- my perfect kill. "I'm taking this."
He's gone again before I can fully grasp what's just been said.
Peeta doesn't come to dinner. Nobody mentions his absence. The night provides no comfort as I think of all the ways I've let Peeta down.
Perhaps it's better off like this. Not talking. Not pretending to be friends. Just two neighbors, nodding to each other in silent passing for the rest of our lives.
It would most certainly be the better path to take.. for Peeta.
In my dreams, Peeta is illuminated.
His bright blond hair falls carelessly over his forehead, his eyes are a startling ice blue, and his skin is iridescent in the darkened room. It's as if he's glowing.
I can barely make her out as I watch from the doorway. Her back is facing me, but it's obvious what she's doing.
The faceless woman is on top of Peeta, writhing slowly as she pushes her naked flesh down on his over and over again. His eyes are open wide as he feels her skin. He's grunting with heated exasperation as she moves. The glow from his skin highlights her ample breasts and shapely curves.
I don't know why, but I begin to inch my way closer to them. I'm unsure if I'm feeling embarrassment, rage, or jealousy when I see the fervor with which Peeta's hips jerk up to meet her movements.
They're moving faster now. Peeta takes control. Her noises change from the occasional squeal to uncontrollable moans of pleasure. He's gasping for air, silently struggling to keep his strength up for just a few moments longer.
I'm suddenly standing directly next to the spot where they lay on the bed. That's when he notices me.
"Katniss?" Peeta asks confusedly. He abruptly stops moving, staring at me with the greatest concern imaginable. His eyes move to the woman he is with and I follow his gaze.
I have just enough time to register the bright red hair of the Avox girl, Lavinia, before she plunges Haymitch's knife into my heart. She smiles at my sheer terror as the blood begins to seep down my shirt. The sound she makes is a bit off, but I'm sure it's laughter.
I wake with a start, ripping the blankets off my body as if they were on fire.
The screams echo through my house and all throughout Victor's Village, making the room pulse around me.
It takes a moment for me to realize that the screams are not my own. Equal parts haunted and curious, I tiptoe to the window of the dark bedroom.
The screams stop. The night becomes still. It's as if nothing ever happened.
I'm about to walk away from it all when a light flicks on in the distance. Peeta's house.
I watch his shadow sit unmoving in his bed for a moment. Then he stands, pacing back and forth along the edge of the bed before coming to the window.
He's facing the direction of my house, but I can't say for sure what he's looking for.
I don't know if he can see me, but with an ache I've never felt before, I hope he knows I'm here.