Title: "Growing New Wings"
Summary: Following their return to District 12 after the war, Katniss and Peeta grow back together.
Rating: T (for a sexual situation which is not descriptive, but T rated)
Length: 8 parts, approx. 30,000 words
A/N: Here's my version of how Katniss and Peeta grow back together. It's an elaboration on the last pages of pre-epilogue Mockingjay, and ends with "Real."
Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games.
"…people don't need wings to survive."
Then how am I surviving, Peeta? If I ever had wings, they're gone by now. Burned off when that fire licked across my back. All I'm left with is a small, very human body. Ridged skin, bones that are too prominent. I'm not starving these days but I don't have much of an appetite.
Am I surviving? I suppose that must be what I'm doing. My heart is beating, I have air in my lungs, my eyes are open. I see, I hear. I feel pain sometimes, like when I accidentally catch a nail on one of my scars. That is an all too real reminder that I am still alive. Still surviving.
I alternate between days when my eyes are never dry and days when they burn from dryness. I have a habit of crying. Sometimes I sob, other times it's silent and I don't realize it's happening right away; I have to feel tears falling on the hands which are neatly folded in my lap as I stare at nothing. Other days, I'll go without blinking for too long, not on purpose, just because I forget to. It's painful when I connect my lids again. I usually rub my eyes after this and make them sore. Once I rubbed so hard that some sort of lesion formed on one of my eyes, and it swelled, making blinking painful.
The nightmares are now accompanied by visions during the day. I try not to focus on them too much or let them consume me, but they keep coming back. I imagine myself sinking into the floor of my empty house and staying there. I want to lie down and slowly start to melt through the floorboards, until I'm beneath them. Trapped, hidden, alone, safe. Safe?
I don't know why I think about things like that. I don't know if I actually want it to happen or if I still have some kind of hope left. It doesn't feel like there's much of anything left in me. I don't want to die, I want to disappear. I want to have never existed.
But, I remind myself, if I'd never existed I could not have taken Prim's place in the Games. She would have died in the arena, rather than in the Capitol. It probably would have been worse for her, to die in the Games. I like to think she didn't suffer at all when the bombs went off. No, wait… she would have starved, after our father died. I suppose it's good that I was around then, so that I could save her from some suffering.
And Peeta would be dead now, if not for me. He never would have won the Games. He also never would have been tortured in the Capitol.
I think of when I saw him, planting the primroses. For Prim, he said, but really for me. I hated the way he eyed my oily hair. I hate that he doesn't understand.
…doesn't understand loss? Doesn't understand sadness and pain? Doesn't understand what it's like to feel completely alone? Of course he understands those things. He must.
Another thing I've taken to doing: internally arguing with myself and questioning every single opinion I manage to form. Or did I always do that? It's hard to remember. It's hard to remember what I used to do, how I used to be. But I try.
When I was ten, I still spent time with my father. Hunting in the woods, swimming in the lake, learning to shoot. When I was eleven, I nearly starved, but didn't because of him. When I was twelve, I met Gale and eventually became close to him in ways I never thought I would be close to anyone. When I was sixteen, I took my sister's place in the Hunger Games. I was burned, stung, deafened, cut. Then repaired, superficially.
I don't want to think about what happened after that. I don't want to think about the time between the Games and the Quell, or what happened in the Quell. Letting myself be separated from Peeta was the worst mistake of my life.
I can't help smiling sardonically. What a ridiculous thought. The worst mistake of my life? How could it be? More accurately, it was the start of the bad things. The really bad things, that is. Because even being a tribute in the Games, for the first time, was nothing compared to -
Prim. Letting Prim die was my worst mistake…only, did I let her die? Was it my fault? I wish I could go back to the day Gale told me about the bomb he and Beetee were designing. I wish I could scream at them to stop and tell them they were going too far. I wish I hadn't been so passive.
But what if it wasn't Gale's bomb? Is that a possibility? Maybe there was nothing I could do. Maybe Prim's fate was sealed the moment I shook those berries out of the pouch and into Peeta's and my hands. That was the spark that lead to the rebellion which lead to what happened to Prim. I should have done something differently in the arena during the Games, but what? At the time, I couldn't imagine doing anything other than what we did. I couldn't kill him and he was refusing to kill me.
I have to remind myself that it doesn't help to think like this, because sometimes I harm myself physically while I obsess over the past. Now, I've bitten into my lip and can taste blood. There's nothing to do but swallow it, even though that makes me nauseous. Or was I nauseous already?
Over and over and over, these thoughts run through my head. There doesn't seem to be an end in sight. I get headaches for no apparent reason. Sometimes I wonder if they're from thinking too much.
I bite at my bottom lip again, this time peeling off the skin on the outside until it's raw. Sometimes I bite at the insides of my cheeks and my tongue too. When I run the undamaged tip of my tongue along my cheeks, I feel texture, little craters made by my teeth. It's senseless, but I don't do it on purpose. I do it while I'm thinking. I wish I could say it was a distraction from the thoughts, but it isn't.
I feel droplets falling onto my hands. Another crying day.
I wonder what he's doing right now. Is he thinking about me? Does he hate me? No. Even though he should hate me, I know he doesn't. But doesn't he remember that every bad thing that's happened to him is my fault? I dropped the tracker jacker nest on him and he got stung and was in no condition to fight Cato for me. I had to get the medicine for him, because it was my fault he had the cut and infection, and I still owed him because of the bread. I didn't protect him enough at the end of the Games, so he was wounded again, and nearly bled to death.
I didn't protect him in the Quell either. Finnick had to restart his heart. I didn't stay with him, and then I didn't try hard enough to find him again. I let him get captured. I let him be tortured and hijacked. He told me once that I was his whole life. Once he was hijacked, and hated me, he had nothing. Though come to think of it, if I was all he had, he had nothing before the hijacking either. If I'd been different, maybe it would have been more difficult to make him hate me. Maybe it would have been impossible.
But I'm not different. All the hijacking really did was enable him see me the way he should have seen me all along. But he was blinded by something, something I've never really understood.
He. I'm not sure why I so rarely think his name. Peeta. There. Maybe I don't need to use his name, in my mind, because he's the only he who matters to me. The only person who matters to me, really.
My mother and Gale are out of sight, and mostly out of mind. Haymitch is here but I would never worry about him. Peeta is the only person who might…what?
Whose life might be improved by having me in it? Maybe. Not because of me, but because of how he might still feel about me, on some level. I know that the way he used to care about me was never about me. How could it be? We have nothing in common and all I've ever done is hurt him.
For some reason, he liked my singing voice and thought I was a cute child. Then he got into the habit of liking me and eventually loved me because I took care of him in the Games. That's all it was. He remembered the little girl who had a relatively easy life. The girl with two parents and a baby sister at home. He was sucked in somehow and unable to forget about me, even though it would have been in his best interest to just give up, and never have anything to do with me. The girl who caught his eye, years ago, has been gone for a long time.
I don't understand why he still wanted to be with me after we got to know each other. Even after I told him, during the trip home from the Games, that I basically wanted nothing to do with him. That would have been the time for any normal person to begin hating me, or at least trying to move on. Why didn't Peeta? I've never understood him, but I've never really tried before. What was the point, when I didn't have to do anything to earn his love? When it was always there, constant and dependable…until the hijacking. He doesn't make any sense to me. How could he love so unconditionally? How could he be so forgiving?
…what does it matter? I really can't afford to think about him, not when I still have to struggle to get out of bed each morning. Earlier today, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror for the first time since getting home. I wasn't sure what to make of my face. It's thin, paler than usual but not pale like him, and it looked blank. I don't know what other word to use. I don't like the way I look.
I remember after the Games when I was desperately watching the doctors start to work on Peeta. People in the hovercraft were keeping a safe distance from me and when I caught sight of my own reflection and saw that I looked mad and feral, I understood their evasiveness. My face now isn't as unnerving as that one was, but it's comparable. Different, but still squirm inducing.
I touch my hair again and glance down at my clean clothes. Until you're clean again, you don't really realize how unsettling it is to be unclean. I'm going to try to stay like this. It's not as if I have anything else to do. There's plenty of time to shower. Every day, even.
I know that I think too much, but there's nothing to do besides think. What else do you do when you're alone, with so many memories? A lifetime's worth, squeezed into a few short years. Now that Peeta's back, he's just one more thing to consider. He doesn't feature too prominently in my thoughts, not compared to Prim and the others who have been lost, but he's there.
I've started to come back to life. I do what Dr. Aurelius says, just going through the motions. Occasionally one seems to have meaning. Peeta comes over for every meal now but we don't talk much. He brings bread and I thank him. Sometimes I find myself staring across the table at him while he eats, unable to look away. I keep asking myself why he's even here. I tell myself it's because, like Haymitch and me, he didn't have anywhere else to go. But a part of me knows that's not all there is to it. It's hard to accept that he's here for me. I still care about him and I don't want to disappoint him, but I know I will. It's what I do.
I recover enough to go hunting without collapsing and having to be brought back in a cart. I stop expecting to see Gale materialize magically when I open my eyes. I give the game to Sae and she cooks it for us. Peeta and me. Us.
I don't spend time in my closet anymore. In fact, I find another place where I like to go. It seems a bit strange to go straight from the confines of the closet to the complete freedom of my new spot: the roof. But I love it.
The first time I go out there, it's a day that is more or less like any other. I feel cooped up in the house, but don't feel like company, so I don't want to go to Peeta's or Haymitch's. I'm too tired to walk into town or to the woods. I'm in my room, fidgeting with my braid, on the verge of screaming or crying or something. The room seems stifling, so I go to the window and push it open. A balmy breeze sweeps over me and I feel like I can breathe again. I lean my head out and take a deep breath, then look down at the roof outside my gabled window. It's slanted at first, then is straight for several feet before the edge. There's plenty of room. I lean my upper body back inside, stick one foot out, then the other. The window frame scrapes against the scars on my lower back and it hurts enough to make me cry out. I'll have to be more careful climbing back in.
I slowly walk down the slope and reach the flat part of the roof. I stand there, looking all around. I have a good view of all the other houses in the Victor's Village. Some trees, some open grassy space in the distance. It's nice, so I decide to stay for a while and sit down. I don't know how long I spend there, out in the sun and wind, before I hear him call to me.
"What are you doing?"
I move closer to the edge of the roof to look down at him. "Nothing," I say, watching as Peeta's arms raise from his sides. "What are you doing?"
"Getting ready to catch you," he says.
"I'm not going to fall."
"I know you won't fall."
I glare at him and scoot away from the edge, so that he'll have to move away from the house in order to see me again. I can't really blame him for thinking I might jump, but he's wrong. If I was going to jump, I would have done it already. And jumping would be stupid anyway, because I'd probably live and might end up paralyzed.
"Katniss!" He's not shouting exactly, just calling to me again.
"Leave me alone." I close my eyes and tilt my face up toward the sky, letting the sun soak in. It isn't too bright out, but I can see red through my eyelids.
I tilt my head back down and look at Peeta, who has moved away from the house enough to see me. "You don't have to worry about me, all right? If you're so scared, just come up here."
He looks distraught as he stares up at me. I wonder what he's thinking. But then he nods his head and walks toward my house, disappearing from my view again. I wait patiently, wondering why I asked him to join me. This was supposed to be my special place to be alone. I didn't think it through, before the words were out of my mouth. I'm not sure if I really want him up here with me but it's too late to send him away now.
I see him at the window. He tentatively sticks his good leg out and, more carefully than I, climbs through the window frame. Peeta has a bit of a hard time walking down the slope because of his leg. I find myself standing up, thinking I might have to be the one to catch him, but he reaches me safely and we both sit down.
"Perfectly safe," I say with a dismissive wave. Peeta doesn't respond, he just looks at me. "What?" I ask, once his stare has started to make me feel uncomfortable. I would be lying if I said I wasn't still a little nervous around him. He never used to look at me like this.
"I worry about you," he says softly.
I surprise myself as much as him when I reach out and place a hand over his, which is resting on his knee. I keep my eyes locked on Peeta's as I say, "Don't." I'm not going to do anything foolish, I'm not that far gone…not anymore, at least.
He smiles just a little and says, "Can't help it." He glances away from me, toward the edge of the roof. "I do worry, Katniss. Whenever we're apart, I think about you and wonder what you might be doing."
It seems like it's hard for him to admit this, though I'm not sure why. We still spend most of our time apart. Peeta comes over for every meal, along with Sae, but other than that I spend all my time alone, and I assume he does too.
I decide to tell him about my idea and about the large box of parchment sheets that arrived from the Capitol yesterday. "I got the idea from the plant book," I say, and Peeta looks riveted as he watches me explain, "I was thinking we could make it a kind of tribute to all the things we should remember, about…the people who we won't see again. If you want to help, I thought maybe you could draw pictures of everyone I don't have a photo of."
When I feel his hands take both of mine in his larger and warmer ones, I realize that my eyes are watering and my voice had started to shake. I lick my dry lips as the tears start to overflow.
"I would love to work on that with you," he says softly, and with a smile. "It's a great idea."
I nod and swallow hard, pulling a hand away from his in order to wipe the tears off my face. I press my lips together tightly and look away from Peeta. I want him to hug me, but he doesn't.