Even before she walked through the door, she could hear her mother muttering in the family room.
"Rue, Thresh, Cinna, Mags, Wiress, Finn, Prim…."
She traipsed upstairs to her father's painting room. Knocking lightly on the door she waited for his distracted invitation to enter.
Peeta turned to face her, a smile forming on his face. "School out already, little bit?"
"Yeah," she answered, but glanced over her shoulder distractedly. "Dad, Mom's doing her dark list thing again."
A heavy sigh brought her attention back around to see shadows gathering in his eyes. Her father wiped his hands off on a rag and started for the door. "It's alright, little bit, I'll check on her. Where's your brother?"
"I sent him to Uncle Haymitch's."
"Good girl," he said, ruffling her hair as he walked past her. "Why don't you go visit for a while as well?"
She nodded, but her dad had already disappeared down the stairs. She glanced in the kitchen as she crept out of the house. She saw her parents wrapped around one another in a tight hug; her mom's face buried in his shoulder as he rested his chin on top of her head. She bit her lip and left the house, closing the door carefully behind her.
Haymitch sat on his front porch swing, a small flask in his hand. "Hey there, sweetheart."
"Hey, Uncle Haymitch," she replied as she peered into his open front door.
"Your brother's having a piece of cake and playing with one of those puzzles Effie sent out," he said, answering her unspoken question. "You want one?"
"No." She climbed up on the swing next to him.
He took a sip from his flask. "Bad day?"
She shook her head. "No, not really. It was pretty good at school, but when we got home Mom was going through her dark list."
"Ah," he sighed, tilting his head back to peer at the roof of the porch above him. "Probably should have expected that."
He gave her a half-smile. "Not you, pet. Me and your dad should have known." She frowned in confusion, but he shook his head. "It's your Aunt Prim's birthday today."
Silence falls over the porch for several moments before she turned to him once more just as he's raising his flask to his lips.
"Uncle Haymitch, will you tell me about the War?" she asked.
He jerked back in surprise, choking on his drink and spilling some. After a few minutes of coughing, he focused on her with narrowed eyes. "What?"
"We've been studying the War and the Hunger Games at school," she said. "The book talks about Mom and Dad like these big heroes, and how important they were, but they never, ever talk about it."
"Yeah, well, books can only say so much," he replied, a scowl falling over his features. He looked at the flask in his hand for a long moment before reaching over and putting it on the porch. "What do you really want to know, pet?"
She bit her lip, her blue eyes staring into his faded ones before taking a deep breath. "Why don't Mom and Dad talk about it? Why do they get so strange sometimes?"
He blew out a breath, leaned forward and rested his arms on his thighs. His eyes glared across the road at an empty house for a long moment before he gave a deep sigh.
"I'm sure your books have got the facts about the Games and the War, but facts only tell part of the story. It's different for people who lived it. Books can only tell you what happened, to who, and where. They can't tell you what it felt like, not really." His eyes lost focus for a minute before he shook himself. "Your Mom and Dad caused a lot of changes; they helped make things better, but they got hurt too. I'm not talking about the physical stuff."
When he stopped again, she scooted closer to him and held one of his hands. He turned and gave her a bittersweet smile. She did not say anything.
He took a deep breath. "The Games came first, and they both lost something of themselves there. I'm not saying they didn't do good; they did. What they saw, what they had to do; it just broke something in them…something in their hearts. The tour, the Quell, all of these did more. By the time the War really started, they had cracks and splinters breaking all through them. The War and everything around it shattered them; it messed them up completely. Took 'em a long time to do any mending. They helped fix each other."
"Why does Mom do the list thing though?" she asked.
He gave a small snort. "It's her way of remembering. The dark list doesn't let her forget everyone she lost."
"But she doesn't always do the dark list," she protested. "Sometimes Mom does her light list."
"That's to remind her of why she's still here," he answered. "Surviving isn't really enough. I did it for a long time, but it wasn't worth much. She's trying to remember to live, not just survive."
"I don't really get it," she sighed, leaning on his arm.
"I hope not," he said softly. "I really, really hope not." She gave him a frown, still confused, but he just shook his head. "You'll get it one day, pet. For right now, just let it go. The Games are over; the War is over…just be a kid for now. That other stuff will come later and there'll be time to figure it out then."
Before she could say anything, she saw her parents walking out of the house and head towards them. Both of them had smiles on their faces, and she could tell they were teasing each other about something. Haymitch chuckled and she glanced at him.
He just gave her a quirk of a smile before nodding at her parents. "Think I'll get in trouble for giving your brother the cake?"
"Yep," she said with a wink.
"I'm blaming you," he warned.
She just gave him a big grin. "But who are they going to believe? Me or you?"
"You little scamp," he chuckled, reaching out to tickle her.
She evaded his dangerous fingers and jumped to her feet with a giggle. She ran down the steps and flew into her mom's surprised arms. "Hi, Mom!"
"Hello to you too, sweetie," Katniss smiled at her daughter. "What have you been up to?"
"Nothing," she answered. "Just talking to Uncle Haymitch…he's going to blame me for the cake."
The two of them locked amused gazes, brown and blue sparkling with laughter as Haymitch huffed and grumped behind them. Before Katniss could reply, her daughter's eyes grew solemn.
"Mom, I love you."
Katniss blinked back tears. "I love you too, Teriah."