Post-Mockingjay; Katniss and Peeta back in District 12, as they piece together their lives.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of this.
Days, nights and weeks pass and before we know it, a month has gone by altogether.
More people have returned to District 12. Before, I wouldn't have been able to fathom why. Not this ashen, scarred wreck of a place. But now, our outlying district is finally becoming someplace to live, to thrive. In the heart of spring, everything is bursting with life. Against all odds, the Meadow is green again. Friends meet up with friends, having conversations in the sunlight. And even the Capitol's machines constructing the new medicines factory bring a sense of hope. Like Plutarch said, maybe things really will stick this time.
District 12 feels like home again. Or at least, as much of a home as it can be without the family I once had.
Watching and helping Peeta tend to the primrose bushes is a strange experience. To anyone else, it would be simple gardening: typical watering, trimming and weed removal. But to us, it's something else altogether. Sometimes, it even feels more than just Prim. When we're not working on the book, we're outside and tending to these bushes as if its an extension of our project. We're maintaining what these bushes represent, much like the memories we've tried to preserve.
Peeta lives with me now. It isn't official and we haven't said it out loud to each other, but he'll leave and tell me that he'll be home later – but always this home, never his. Other than my father, I've never lived with a man. And I find that it's not as terrible of a concept as I once believed it to be. Peeta's presence brings warmth that this house once lacked. And I find that it brings a greater sense of routine to my life; it's comforting to know that he'll be there when I return in the day, and not just when I go to bed.
The time I spend hunting alone is almost equal to the time I spend hunting with Peeta. He hasn't reached a level of Katniss-competency, but to anyone else, he's actually a decent hunter. He still stomps around occasionally, but overall his tread is lighter than before. And though he doesn't shoot anything through the eye, he only misses his target one arrow out of every four.
In fact, he's handy enough with the weapon that I've given him his own set – an old bow and several arrows I got from Greasy Sae's in exchange for some meat. He was reluctant at first, but I told him to stop being an infant and accept the damn gift.
So, he'll hunt without me some days. But other days, he'll adventure on his own. I'll come home from the square to a squirrel or some larger game that he surprised me with. Three months ago, he wouldn't talk to me. Now, he's hunting for me. It's a life that I don't easily recognize.
Even more so when Peeta suggests I learn to bake. No, I say, I won't do it. And when he tells me it's only fair since I taught him to hunt, I refuse to see his logic. But then he says my choices are baking or painting, and it becomes clear that there is no choice at all.
"What's your favorite thing to bake?" I ask him one day in the kitchen.
"Cakes," Peeta replies as he pounds a floured ball of dough into submission. "Mostly for the decorating. I can lose myself frosting a cake. How are you doing over there?"
I'm sitting at the kitchen island with my personal ball of dough in front me, but it's not as malleable in my possession as it would be in Peeta's. I shrug.
"This is frustrating," I say.
He laughs and wipes his hands on his apron before taking the ball of dough away from me. Just as well – I would have let it sit there all day if I could.
"Fine then," he says when he returns to his counter space. "Of all the things I bake, what's your favorite thing to eat?"
I glare at him, upset that he doesn't already know the answer to that. But he just looks at me with one eyebrow raised.
"Cheese buns," I say deliberately. I'm about to tell him off and remind him that I've told him this already when it occurs to me that maybe he really does forget. Maybe he's regressing somehow. He must see the look of worry on my face when I say, "Do you really not remember?"
But he just laughs again.
"Of course I remember," he says. "Have you seen how many of those you devour? I was just joking around with you."
I throw a rag at him, but he ducks before it hits. He goes back to working on the bread and I smile. For the longest time, the forest was the only place to get a smile out of me. Suddenly, I'm finding that my house has the same effect.
This is what we have been like, joking with each other and spending minimal time taking anything seriously. After having spent most of our lives living in destitution, we can afford to keep things as sunny as the weather outside. Most days, we'll bake in the mornings and take a mid-afternoon walk outside when we're not hunting. We'll spend our evenings working on the book, but we're getting to a point where we've filled it up with as much as we have to offer. I get to thinking about asking others for contributions, namely Haymitch. But we haven't seen him at all.
Not that I need to see Haymitch, or anyone else for that matter. Peeta has done something to me. He's done something to make my life seem fuller, even though it's just the two of us. When it was just me and Gale, it was a friendship borne out of a need for survival; we gave each other what we couldn't provide for ourselves. We began as hunting partners, and I don't know that we ever fully deviated from that arrangement.
That's not what it is with Peeta. This is our first and only post-Hunger Games friendship. We're at a point where we don't have to worry about survival anymore. Sure, he's still not quite himself yet – there are nights when his nightmares are particularly troubling – but how much of our former selves can we ever hope to be? From what Dr. Aurelius mentions from time to time, we're improving. I'm convinced that part of it must come from the fact that we have time to spend, and we're choosing to spend it with each other. It's a thought that unnerves me, but it's a thought that visits too often.
He catches me lost in my thoughts and looking at him. He gives me a stern but obviously playful look.
"You're useless just sitting there, you know," he says.
"Just about as useless as a baker trying to hunt in the forest," I fire back.
He puts on a look of feigned injury before sending the rag and a couple clumps of dough hurling my way. I duck quickly and stupidly send a handful of flour flying through the air. We cough through our laughter.
If this is how I have to spend the rest of my life, I don't necessarily know that I would mind.
I guess we're going to see Haymitch.
The decision came a few days ago, when Peeta and I took a trip to the square. It was already a strange afternoon to begin with. I noticed Peeta waving at a girl with strawberry hair in the meadow. He explained that he saw her every now and then whenever he went down to the Hob, and his explanation only added to the strange wave of emotion that flooded my mind. I found myself inexplicably irritated with him for the remainder of our walk to the Hob.
Sae told us that she had seen Haymitch stumbling through the square, waiting for the next train to arrive. When she tried helping him, he aggressively refused. And rather than letting things escalate, she left him waiting outside for a train that wouldn't come for another couple days. But her concern remained, and she suggested that we visit him to see if we could maybe lift him from his drunken stupor.
I said no, but Peeta is determined. I don't know what it is about my relationship with Haymitch now that the war is over, but without Peeta's resolution and guidance, I would do away with the drunkard altogether. He hasn't done anything to me and I haven't done anything to him, but I think we would both rather forget – even if it means forgetting about each other. After all, whenever Peeta was gone, Haymitch and I were always involved in something together. It's a strange reality to think about when I realize he lives across the lawn from me, always so close to my life.
The day we visit him is hot and sticky, like summer has arrived early. Peeta makes honey buns to soak the liquor from Haymitch's body, but we know they will likely go untouched. Regardless, it's a generous gesture that I could probably never replicate. When in such close contact to Peeta's kindness, it's easy to feel inadequate and horrible.
"He'll be happy to see you," Peeta offers when he sees my troubled expression.
No he won't, I think. But I nod my head and let him guide me by the hand over to Haymitch's house. We've waited until dusk so that the weather might cool, but it hasn't.
We knock but we both know that there's no point. Thankfully, the door is unlocked and we let ourselves in. The stale stench of booze and filth stings my nostrils just as my eyes are forced to adjust to darkness. This is Victors' Village, where all the houses are the same. And yet it's strange to see just how differently one can live from the other.
"Haymitch?" Peeta calls out. He reaches for a switch so that we might bring light to this dark place. The overhead lamp flickers weakly before sustaining a modest glow. "Haymitch, we've brought food."
"It's no use," I half-whisper, but Peeta either doesn't hear me or pretends not to. He walks ahead of me toward the kitchen.
"Haymitch?" Peeta calls out again.
But we smell him before we see him. He's at the kitchen table holding a mug of ale, looking and smelling like he's been there ever since we last saw him. The floor is strewn with empty bottles and trash. Even his knife lies in the corner of the room, as if he'd tried throwing it at something.
"Haymitch," Peeta says tentatively, approaching the kitchen table. "We brought food."
"Food," Haymitch repeats. "The baker boy brought food."
Even in the darkness, I can see a touch of red in Peeta's cheeks.
"Honey buns," I clarify, rounding the doorway and standing next to Peeta so that Haymitch can clearly see me. His eyes widen and he tilts his head, but then he shrugs back into his hunched over position – the position of someone too drunk to hold himself up.
"What'd you call me?" Haymitch asks with a tilted grin.
I shudder involuntarily. "We brought you honey buns to soak the alcohol from your system. Looks like we should've brought more."
But he disregards me and just sizes me up, head to toe. "You came, sweetheart."
"I had no reason not to come," I say firmly. "Sae said she saw you the other day."
Haymitch's features contort. "That witch. I told her to leave me alone, and she goes off and tells the two of you. Well, trust me when I say I'm fine."
"You don't look all that fine to me," Peeta says bluntly. "Just drunk."
"You're observant. And you're late to the party," Haymitch says with a grandiose swing of his arms that causes some of his ale to spill onto the floor. "This is how I always live my life. Or have you forgotten?"
Peeta's features darken even more and I have to intervene before Haymitch says something else that could set him off.
"I'm not one for telling you what to do with your life," I tell him. "But since my mom isn't here and you're supposed to be acting as my mentor, I have a right-"
"I'm not your mentor," he retaliates harshly. "I'm not anybody's mentor anymore, especially now that you two are playing house together, acting like you've healed and recovered. So what is there left for me to do, really?"
"You could try not being a recluse," Peeta retaliates gruffly. "Now that the war is over, things are changing. Maybe you'd see if you took some time to walk through our district sober, for once. Things are getting better out there, and we're getting better, too. We're not acting."
Beneath the tray of honey buns I see Peeta's hands shaking, as if they threaten to give way and hurl the plate at Haymitch's head. But he doesn't, and Haymitch just scoffs.
"I doubt it. All of this," he says, swinging his arm around him, "doesn't just leave you. It sticks with you. And that's when you stop fighting it and take to drink."
Peeta slams the tray of honey buns so suddenly on the table that I can't keep from jumping.
"You're weak," he spits at Haymitch.
Peeta braces himself when Haymitch shoots up from his chair. But he sways so pathetically and nearly falls that Peeta backs down, giving the drunkard a look of pure disgust.
"I don't care if you think otherwise, but you're supposed to be helping us," Peeta reasons loudly. "We're all we've got here, and how can we ever move on if you're sitting here wasting your life away?"
Peeta is determined to win the argument, but I know defeat when I see it. Haymitch doesn't care at all about moving on. The only meaning his life ever had during the Hunger Games was to mentor the tributes, and even then, he couldn't do it properly. But now that everything is done and he's just as alone as he was before, there's not much more he can do. Just drink, I guess.
I rest my hand on Peeta's arm and whisper to him, "Let's just go. Maybe we can visit again when he's not as drunk." But I know that day won't come.
"Go on and listen to her," Haymitch says, struggling to maintain his balance.
But Peeta shakes his head. "You're supposed to be our family, Haymitch. We're the only ones that understand each other."
"Then you know just as well as I do that this is short lived," he says gravely. "Don't delude yourselves like those fools out there. Sooner or later, the two of you will be just as broken as I am. There is no better."
Something about that statement touches a nerve in Peeta, whose post-Capitol life hinges so much on the prospect that things might actually get better. To hear Haymitch say otherwise…it must be too much for him, because he turns around and storms out of the house.
It takes me a second to understand what has happened, but when Haymitch chuckles softly to himself, I'm brought back to reality.
"What did I tell you?" he asks, falling backward into his chair.
"Damn you, Haymitch," I snarl. "We're supposed to help Peeta together! You're supposed to help me!"
He simply shrugs and I run out of the house like an idiot chasing after Peeta. But I must have waited too long to act because it's dark when I reach outside and he's nowhere in sight. I run, hoping he'll be at my house even though I know better.
But it doesn't keep me from screaming his name out into the dark night.
AN: Sorry for the delay again! This month is really picking up because it's the last month of school, so the weeks are kind of busy for me. But I'll try my damnest to get the next chapter in sooner! As always, feedback is much appreciated! I love hearing back from you guys :)