Post-Mockingjay; Katniss and Peeta back in District 12, as they piece together their lives.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of this.
PART ONE: RECOVERY
I stand in front of the looking glass, examining my naked body in its reflection.
It's not me, I think stubbornly. It might not even be human. The contours are womanly enough, or at least, whatever contours this gaunt and tortured body can afford. But everything else registers as unfamiliar. These scars mark me forever as some sort of undesirable. Ragged and raw, they tear away at my neck, forearms, and hands. At least my face was spared, Effie had said, and that I could hide these scars – the awful, pinkish tissue – that have ravaged my body.
But what about the other ones, the ones that can't be seen?
I don't let the thought linger. After all, Dr. Aurelius suggested looking forward for the sake of progress. And what kind of progress could be made if I spend ten minutes of my day staring at these hideous mementos of trauma?
I lift my shirt, a billowy blue thing, from the floor and I pull it over my head. The change is remarkable. Clothed, I can pass for normal and on the road to recovery. Unclothed, I render myself naked physically and mentally, forced in the darkest recesses of my mind.
Once my pants are on and my hair arranged into a tighter braid, I draw the musky curtains open and let sunlight fill the room. It's sparsely decorated with minimal accommodations for my livelihood, yet the yellow light makes everything seem even fuller and better. Had I been on the outside looking in, I might even consider this to be a beautiful day.
Some days, it feels like hypocrisy to be living in my Victors' Village house, this "gift" from the Capitol. How could I live in a remnant of a time I wish so desperately to forget?
But other days – most days – I tell myself it's all I have left. It's the closest reminder I have of a time when I wasn't so utterly alone. When I had…
I can't bring myself to think of her. Otherwise, my mind burns and my eyes go red with endless images of fire, of burning. And then I ruminate the cruel irony that I had once been the Girl on Fire.
Like I do most mornings, I tend to the primrose bushes that Peeta planted outside the house. Against all odds, they've grown beautifully. It's all I can do to keep myself from fussing over them all day. Like Dr. Aurelius said: forward.
As I water the yellow blooms, my mind wanders to Peeta. These days, he lingers on my mind. But I hardly have a choice in the matter. For all that is wrong with Peeta, he still represents much of what light I have in my life. Haymitch rarely comes around, and my mother lives so far away and so afflicted with grief that she is nearly detached from my existence altogether. The rest of District 12 exists as anything else does in the aftermath of something as horrible and affecting as we have gone through. Gradually, life springs from the ashes. But only slowly and reluctantly.
Occasionally, I'll fruitlessly look over to Peeta's house. The only signs that he remains in District 12 are few and far between. Every now and then, I'll see a light from his windows, leading me to believe that he'd rather spend most of his time in darkness. But the air nearby smells of bread and warmth, leading me to believe he's been baking from his kitchen. And on the luckiest of days, I'll wake up to loaves of bread at my doorstep.
When I visit Greasy Sae, she tells me that he'll stop by with bread and other pastries. He's managed to make something of himself since we've returned home, and he might be doing even better than I am at going through the motions. Dr. Aurelius would be proud.
I can't deny that I've missed him. But then I ask myself if missing him now is any different from missing him before he was hijacked. And usually, I'll convince myself that it is. Before, he was still my Peeta, the boy with the bread. Now, he is just as ruined as I am. I refuse to believe that we will ever grow together again. I'll convince myself that he's just not the same boy who used to live in that house, and I'll stop missing him as much.
But it rarely keeps the loneliness at bay.
Two weeks have passed when he reaches out for the first time.
I'm cooking stew when I hear the knock at the door. And I'm almost embarrassed by how breathless I'm left when I see him standing in my doorway.
"It's you," I say.
He's not as gaunt as I remember him, and I suspect that the baking has had something to do with that. He's not exactly smiling, but his expression is soft and vaguely familiar. I'm relieved when I see that his eyes are clearer than ever, and then I come to understand that we're making direct eye contact.
"Hi. I brought you something," he replies, and I worry that he's examining me too carefully. Then I realize he's holding a loaf of bread in one hand and a bag of cookies in the other. "Can I come in?"
I move aside so he can get past me. Shutting the door behind me, I watch him carefully as he looks around the house with a half-frown.
"What is it?" I ask.
"It's…empty," he decides. "I thought you would've decorated a bit."
"I haven't had the time," I say somewhat defensively, and I walk back to the kitchen, leaving him alone.
I stir the stew vigorously, hoping that these motions are enough to distract me from the situation. Suddenly, everything is shaken out of place with Peeta's arrival. Perhaps somewhat foolishly, I'd resigned him to a part of my life I figured I would never be able to visit again. It has been two months since I've last seen him, since he planted those bushes outside. The notion was enough to make me think he was making his goodbyes. But now he's here again, and I'm nauseous.
When I hear him enter behind me, I don't acknowledge him. Instead, I stare at my stew, watching as the wild carrots bob near the top and fat simmers to the sides, where I must skim it from the liquid. I wish he wouldn't speak, but at the same time I'm agonizing to hear his voice once more.
"Dr. Aurelius says I'm getting better," he says tentatively, like he's getting a feel for the waters. Then with a half chuckle, "But I don't really know. He might just be growing tired of talking to me all the time. He'd love to talk to you, you know."
The last time I picked up a phone was three weeks ago, when I first decided to start the book.
"I will," I lie. I feel like there's more to say, but whatever it is gets stuck in my throat.
I feel him move closer to me, but I'm sure he's as wary of the situation as I am. I hold my body closer to the stove.
"I was wondering if you'd be able to help me. With my memories," he adds quickly, as if pausing will only give me more time to push him away. "Like I said, Dr. Aurelius thinks I'm improving. But the gaps are still there."
I clear my throat to let him know I'm listening, but I still keep my mouth shut. I'm pouring as much of my patience and dedication into this stew as I can muster.
Soon, he's standing next to me so that I can see him in my periphery. I don't want to look him in the eyes again, afraid I'll see something I don't like.
"Haymitch said you're working on a book."
That catches my attention and I look at him. He looks startled by my sudden attentiveness.
"You've seen Haymitch?"
"Just once," he says quickly and earnestly. "Last week. I figured I'd bring him something to eat, something to soak up the drink. He was still pretty drunk when I saw him, and a little combative," he says, pointing to a light purple mark on his cheek. "But he mentioned your book, and I thought that might help fill in some of the blanks."
I look intently at him, expecting him to lash out or do something that would betray the moment. But he looks like the same Peeta, more or less, and that's as much as I can ask for. Doubt creeps inside me, but I remember the loneliness.
"I haven't started," I admit. "The thoughts are there, but I'm having trouble starting. I hunt to clear my mind, but nothing ever really leaves."
He nods, and something tells me he understands the burden of a heavy mind. And then I wonder how much more difficult it must be to have it clouded with falsities and deception. My heart starts to ache.
"You can help if you want. That might help put things into place. We can even start tomorrow, if that works for you."
Light shines through Peeta's features, as if this is what he's been waiting to hear.
"I would love that," he says. He smiles at me, and there's a strange bubbling in my stomach that threatens to outweigh the doubt. But the prospect of fighting the loneliness is too great to rethink the situation.
I nod and I consider asking him to leave, but instead, "Do you want to stay for dinner? It's not much, but it's stew."
Surprisingly, he shakes his head. "I've eaten. And I should get to bed. I wake up early to start baking. But I'll come over around noon."
I lead him to the front door, where we stand in silence for a few moments. I consider how, if we were in a better place than this, he might not be leaving. Instead, he would be going upstairs to a bed we shared together, where he would hold me and keep the nightmares at bay. But we're both too weak for any of that.
He looks at me with strange determination. Then he says, "I've missed you, Katniss."
That becomes too much for me to bear right now, and I open the door.
"I'll see you tomorrow," I say. And the words sting as they fall out.
AN: So, this is my first Hunger Games fic, and I've always wanted to try it out. This story is essentially just going to be filling in the gaps of everything that Suzanne Collins left for us to interpret at the end of Mockingjay. Let me know what you guys think! I have some things written out after this, but I want to know if it's worth following up. Give me as much feedback as you can!