Tenuous Winners


I still sat in a stupor when the camera crews left Victor's Village. Every morning and night Greasy Sae came and went, filling me up, providing a warm body in the house where nobody else but me would step foot in. My prep team, of course, packed up and left. There was no more need to dress me up. My role as Mockingjay was over for the moment and their devotion to Cinna was strong, but not strong enough to keep them from moving on to Plutarch's new music reality show. They still call sometimes. Sometimes I answer the phone. Our relationship had few rules anyway.

I took comfort in the cat for a while. He took comfort in me and then we too drifted apart and became what we once were. I feed him entrails from my hunts. He protects the house, perched, angry on the edge of my bed. Sometimes I wonder if those dreamless nights happen because he caught the sorrow before it could enter my room. Did he eat it, gnawing on its bones like a mouse or a sparrow? Does he know in his little feline brain that Prim died for the wrong reasons? Does he know that Coin finally did the one thing that could be done to completely break me?

Peeta sleeps here now. We cradled together one night after he returned from the Capitol and lay awake, reliving the last years over and over until our exhaustion became greater than the fear of sleep. In his arms I don't feel safe, never safe, since the games, but I do feel some connection to life, some rope that keeps me tethered against the yearning, overwhelming need to join those who died. His arms make the darkness only just bearable.

Here in the shambles of District 12 the returning refugees still pull bodies from charred buildings even while new, sturdy Capitol buildings rise where the Hob once stood. Everyday some new name or face is added to the list of those who died that terrible night District 12 was fire bombed. I can't even weep for them now. I can only say small apologies as each mangled or singed body enters the mass grave on the edge of town.

Only now do I feel some stability in my life. I feel it when I sit quietly by the lake in the woods or I watch Peeta paint his troubles onto blank canvases. He tries to ignore the visions he gets and sometimes we still must play 'Real or not real', but the tracker jack venom damage has mostly disappeared. We settled together easily, because the games gave us an understanding of the world that only another Victor can have. Kill or be killed. Survive or Die. Run or fight. We both fought. We both killed. We are both changed.

Is that the reason I can finally admit I love Peeta? I don't know the answer to that, only somewhere along the way when we were trying to keep each other alive, love grew organically and I didn't have to fake my smiles or my tears anymore. His presence now is enough to make me realize that I need him more than most things. I need the feeling of being held at night while a mangy old cat sleeps at our feet like a sentinel. I need to look out in the morning and see Haymitch grumpily feeding his geese because yet again the supply train to the District is days behind schedule. I need strong arms around me that can lift heavy bread pans and paint sad memories, arms that have the ability to damage, but no heart for the pain.

I always came so close. I came so close each time to ending it. I came so close to letting my family starve, to giving the Capitol what they wanted in the first game, to killing Snow, to seeing a new world where Prim's life would be prosperous, not shorter. Did I fail? Did I succeed? Maybe I did both, because there are always failures and success in the games. Only, my failures seemed more fatal to other people than myself. I am the Mockingjay. Even now, insane, pardoned, televised, I am the symbol of the rebellion, a symbol against Snow's machinations and the Capitol's frivolous lifestyle. Only I know the truth. I know that truth that whoever anybody may think I am it's not the real me. Peeta comes closest to knowing, but he still has the thing that was stripped from me. The explosives that killed Prim, the spear that struck Rue, the venom that hypnotized Peeta, the war that enflamed Gale, the mutts that ate Finnick and the games that ruined us all took something utterly vital away from me. They took my hope. They stripped away the childlike notion that I could just live my life providing for my family, hoping the reaping would not take away Prim or Gale. Snow and Coin wanted most of all to break me and they succeeded. My failures, their successes. Well, here I am.

The night is the hardest. I cling to Peeta. Whether from the games or the revolution, the horrors keep me awake, keep him awake to cry and comfort. I slip into their deaths like I did back then. I relive their lives and see the orchards and seas and the breads and the people. Then I feel the fear coursing through their blood as death becomes suddenly very certain. There is no escape, but to scream. Gasping for breath in the dawn I realize there is no amount of scrubbing or self-mutilation that will rid my skin of them. So Peeta and I just try to resist the urge of falling, of yelling in frustration, irritation that our lives have not been what we could handle, but one hopeless tragedy after another. We wonder how two people can hold themselves together for so long after being so utterly, irrevocably damaged.

I realized the first night that Peeta returned to my bed that he gives me a sense of security that nobody else can. Gale, who was my friend, my confidant, my trusted ally, changed so much during the revolution that I could not recognize that boy that found me in the woods so long ago. I can't blame him, of course. I can only look at myself and try to remember the person I once was, because I am the same as him. I changed more so than others. I can't remember how many times I shattered. They didn't break Gale though. He never had to see the games, but he had to live through the destruction of District 12. Maybe that is what ultimately led to his decision at the Nut. His ruthlessness reminded me of the Capitol, of Coin who named me publicly as a threat to the rebellion. How could he kill people the way our fathers were killed? How could he stand by imagining the darkness and the slow suffocation without wondering if that is how our fathers felt at the end? Gale did not kill Prim, but I have no doubts anymore that Coin did using a method he designed so now that memory is always connected to Gale. Prim's death will forever shadow our friendship.

That night in Tigris' cellar he and Peeta talked about my choice. Even then they made me seem cold, animalistic, but in the end it was Gale who made the choice for me. He gave up on me. He left and he never returned. Now he has some fancy job in another district reforming the new Capitol. He has forgotten the hovel from whence he came. He has forgotten our camaraderie. Gale always loved the revolution more than me. I knew that even before I knew he had feelings. Even when he asked to escape the reaping, to go live in the woods with our families he probably never intended to stay. Really what was there to keep him? Would the trees block his path? Would the animals drag him back? His reason was me? No, Gale could not live while the government starved his home and sent the District's children year after year to certain slaughter. Gale wanted to live in a free place, but I never had such lofty dreams. The moment my father died and my mother checked out of reality my mission was survival. I wanted Prim to live and for that I had to sacrifice pieces of myself every day. Living? What a joke. Gale understood hunger. He understood desperation, but he never understood the mere desire to survive any better than a person born and raised in the scandalous Capitol of Panem. We were fundamentally incompatible, but we had companionship and between us, in those early days, we mostly had truth. Then even that truth disappeared under the crushing reality of the Hunger Games. It never returned, never revived, because only a Victor knows how to understand a Victor in the aftermath of reality.

What is my future now then but to eke out an existence in the ruins of District 12 with my cat, Peeta, and a mostly sober Haymitch? Peeta wants children and he keeps a constant stabilizing clutch on my hand, but I refuse again and again. The fear of the reaping is seeded so deep within me it penetrates the marrow of my bones. Maybe someday the games will stop replaying over and over in my head, but I am not counting on that. Little by little in this place I am broken down again. Piece by piece I rebuild myself, because the Capitol and the rebellion forced me to grow crooked the first time. Even now I'm not entirely sure I'm straight.

I don't have to tell Peeta, sweet anchoring Peeta, why. He knows that I try just as hard as he. He knows that I carry my fair share of responsibility on my shoulders. There are many lives that I must live. Every person I killed; every loved one that died; I live for them. I dream their dreams and meet their expectations, because I can't bear to do nothing.

I add more pages to the medicinal book and I don't run from the wounded people now brought to my table even though I still have more of my father's hunting blood in me than my mother's healing blood. That honors little Prim, my little duck.

I sing each morning to the sun. Sometimes it's a lullaby. Sometimes it's the hanging song, but each tune I believe Rue sings with me. I believe the Mockingjays repeat the melodies and give hope to those who need it.

Sometimes I open the drawer beside my bed and I pull out the sketches Cinna left me and marvel over the soft colors and the mystical patterns. I mourn my friend, my mentor, the man who held my shaking body in the time I needed it most. He bet on me in his heart and I hope what I am now meets his expectations. Of all the people I've lost, I can't bear to be a failure in Cinna's eyes.

Finnick's child is innocent. He shares his father's features and smiles at the best times. His mother allowed me to teach him to swim. He's like a fish and I know Finnick would be proud. I wonder what he would say to me. Would he be disappointed with how I turned out or would he of all the people in my life understand how easy it is to let go of reality. When the nights are especially rough I take out the rope he gave me. Tick Tock. I tie knots and think of him. I try to forget the muttations.

I mourn for them and I live for them, because their lives meant so much. I may have been the spark, but I was not responsible for the wild fire that encompassed Panem. These people, their deaths, mean so much more than everything I am. Did the people of Panem know that or were they blinded by propos and hovercrafts?

By living this way I gain back what was stolen. I heal. I hope.

I will never be the girl on fire again.

I hope.

I hope.

AN: Okay so I would like to say that yes, I finally read The Hunger Games and I ABSOLUTELY LOVED the series. I hope you all can forgive me for once again creating a one shot rather than updating my other existing stories, but I just had to get this one out. I went to see the movie and I totally recommend that as well. Anyway, you guys know the drill. Read and review. I'm eager to know what you all think about this one.