Title: Stitching, Knitting, Weaving
Fandom: Hunger Games
Rating: M eventually
Summary: I'm covered in wounds that can't be stitched back together. It would be so easy if Peeta was the balm, but I can't afford to think that way.
Author's Note: Spoilers for all three books. Begins pre-epilogue.
Stitching, Knitting, Weaving
We learn to keep busy again. To try and take comfort in routine like Dr. Aurelius suggests. It's not comforting exactly, but it does fill the hours of the day.
Peeta bakes. At least, that's what I hear from Haymitch, who scowls at me and delivers news of Peeta's comings and goings, knowing I avoid him as best I can. There's no reason for me to hang around his house, watching him bake cakes and ice cookies, I tell Haymitch, so I hunt, and he can't do that with me. Besides, I don't much like the idea of a hunting partner anymore.
What I don't say is that being around Peeta is too much like digging up a part of the past that I have no right to miss. I never deserved his love, but for some reason I'm as uneasy with its absence as I once was with that burden.
Peeta asks to go hunting with me just once. He's lurking on my doorstep, when I emerge in the morning, and there's no way to avoid him without turning back around. When he asks, I know it's a bad idea, because everything between us initially is strained and unsettling, and I can't imagine spending several hours alone with him in the forest. I don't respond, not wanting him to come and not knowing how to say 'no' to him either, still feeling forever in his debt and frozen by the earnest look in his blue eyes that still isn't the one I find myself searching for. I grit my teeth and spin on my heel, hoping he'll take the hint as I silently stalk off, but he doggedly follows after me anyway. I know it, because I can hear him. Stone deaf Athys, who shuffles around where the Hob used to be, smiling vacantly, could hear Peeta.
When we're deep in the forest with the sounds of his footfalls reverberating in this quiet place like thunder, I spin on him. "You're scaring away the game!"
The way he twitches at my explosion and reaches out to steady himself by holding onto the trunk of a skinny, stunted tree makes me immediately regret my anger. He doesn't need my anger. Doesn't deserve it. He came back to District 12, and while I don't think he came back for me, but he certainly didn't abandon me the way everyone else has. He worked hard to learn real from not real so that he could come back home without snapping my neck, and I'm still unkind and unfeeling. There was always something wrong with me, but now I'm completely broken.
For all I know, my temper triggered a flashback of an altered memory, since he's looking down at the damp forest floor and his knuckles are turning white, but if it is a hijacked memory, it passes without incident. He doesn't launch himself at me and wrap his hands around my throat, squeezing until little stars pop behind my eyelids.
Instead, he looks back up at me with lucid, clear eyes and apologizes. "I'm sorry. I'm wasting your time."
"Why would you want to come out here?" I ask on a loud exhalation, because I really don't understand. He's better at home, in his kitchen, working with dough. Why would he want to spend time with me at all, when I couldn't even muster a thank you for his gift of the primroses? We're better off in our mostly separate worlds.
"I don't know," he says, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "I wanted to see what it was like for you out here, I guess, where you find peace. I thought I'd watch."
It makes me uncomfortable when Peeta is open like this. It always has. Particularly now when he looks at me with those eyes that seem to plead for understanding. It reminds me of the way he used to look at me before the Capitol eviscerated whatever we might have become, and I can't afford to think about that sort of thing anymore. It wouldn't be right.
"I can assure you that there's nothing to see. I'm just trying to be useful." By giving the game I catch to Greasy Sae and her simple little girl or Haymitch, who has something of an appetite when he's tending his geese more than nursing a hangover, or Peeta, who still needs to put on more weight. Of course, he's right: I also do it because hunting helps my mind go blank and maybe that's as much peace as I can ever hope for.
It's a disastrous day. I don't catch anything, and overcome by guilt, I walk him back to his house hours before I planned to go back. With my gut twisting with remorse, I still manage to sound ungrateful, when I tell him in his kitchen, "I'm the hunter. You're the baker. That's what you're good at. That's what you should do." I hold onto that—that he's the boy with the bread even though I know he's not that boy anymore, anymore than I am the girl he loved. I'd just rather Peeta not ever have to kill something again.
He leans on the counter, where he works his bread in the mornings, staring back at me, as he says, "Two different worlds."
"Two different worlds," I agree.
Even I know that's a lie. If Peeta and I ever came from two different worlds—Town and Seam—the differences between us were much smaller than the differences between Capitol and District. So small in fact that they didn't much matter once we were two kids thrown into the Arena together, and those differences certainly don't matter now. The Arena, Capitol, and war forged us into a pair of beings that are more alike than they were ever different.
Peeta and I have been formed by the same forces. Two of the Capitol's last projects. A pair of mutts. I don't know whether I want to be reminded of that, which is why it's easier to just be separate. So, that's the end of it. I pretend we're different, and I hunt alone. We're busy, but separately. I'm aware that he's there and it's obvious to even me that he's aware of me, but we lead the separate lives I do my best to want, because wanting anything else would be…wrong.
But as the days pass and turn into weeks and months, Peeta is at my door at night more often than not with a basket full of cheese buns. My favorite. I try to look thankful when he turns up, because they taste just as good as before, but I was never any good at faking things and it's hard to take pleasure in anything anymore. It's hard to get over the feeling that while we're supposed to be safe and Peeta is here and the bread is still warm as he presses it into my hands, we'll never be safe and somehow this will all be taken away.
Peeta will be taken away.
And then I'll be alone, and even if I don't deserve him, there's something that crawls under my skin that wants him near, that requires it. A basic, driving need—even if that's so very, very wrong.
It's the bread that keeps bringing him back to me, and while sometimes I think all I'll ever be fully comfortable with for the rest of my days is sitting alone, punishing myself for everything that is both my fault and not, and numbly staring into space, once I stop fighting it, there is a kind of contentment in having Peeta sitting beside me. Even if we just silently stuff ourselves with bread. I don't quite trust the feeling, but it gets harder to close the door in his face with every passing day. I only did that a handful of times anyway.
This odd companionship, these moments we spend together are something new. The time we've spent together in the past was always highly charged with either fabrication on my part or fear.
Peeta must feel the newness of it too, because one night he says after swallowing down a piece of bread, "We never did this before." His face is a wordless question, asking me whether he's right, whether the Capitol stole some memory from him that duplicates these quiet moments.
"No, we didn't."
I barely even saw Peeta when we came back from the 74th games, let alone sat alone with him, bumping elbows while we hunch over a table, and although I know why it was the way, I wish there were memories like that, which I could share with him.
"Then this is better."
I know what he means. He means this aspect of life is better than before. And maybe it is. Maybe there are things about this new world we created, which are measurably better even for a burned up girl like me.
When something is good, you want more of it, and after a while, I find myself wanting to prolong those nights even after the buns are all eaten. Nights go by when I wish he would stay a little longer but I can't bring myself to ask. Not directly at least. I'm not good at asking for the things I need. Particularly when needing them makes me feel weak. I wish I had the right words to say so I could get what I want without opening up my veins to the world. I've bled enough.
"Do you want some tea?" Innocent enough, I tell myself, swallowing hard.
Surprise flickers across his face.
I don't think I've ever offered him anything. If Greasy Sae isn't here to feed us both, he doesn't get much hospitality in the Everdeen house. But I can make tea. I know how to heat up a kettle, and it doesn't feel like too much of an effort.
He glances at the clock over the mantel, at the late hour. "It's late for tea. We won't sleep."
I stand up, brushing off his concern as I move towards the kitchen. "I don't sleep anyway," I admit, and suddenly I'm overwhelmed by the memory of Peeta's strong arms around me. How I slept better in his embrace on the train, during the Victory Tour, in the Training Center, how he helped hold off the nightmares, and my chest vibrates with my loneliness.
I'm lonely for Prim. She's never far from my mind, my little sister with her ducktail shirt. I'm lonely for Gale, who once knew me better than anyone, but is someone I'll never be able to truly trust again. I'm lonely for Finnick. Cinna. Anyone who would understand. But, I'm lonely for Peeta too, and he's actually here.
I grip the handle of the kettle, staring across the room at him, when I say, "You probably don't sleep either." I think I can hear him scream sometimes from across the Victor's Village, when I'm laying awake, staring up at my bedroom ceiling. I'd think I was imagining it, but I'm not the only one that hears the noise: it makes Buttercup hiss at the foot of my bed.
"No, I don't sleep, Katniss."
I know not to reach for the sugar. Peeta never takes sugar in his tea, and neither of us need worry about losing the sleep that already escapes us.