Sorry I've been away for a while. New job, lots going on. You may thank the guest who told me to 'Update. Now.' for this...I felt guilty enough to write a chapter as quickly as possible! It's been too long, I'm sorry.
District 12 was nothing like my home. I returned from the glitz of the Capitol with an ache for familiarity and found nothing as it was before.
I thought my debt towards the Capitol was paid in full by selling mine and Peeta's relationship for the nation's scrutiny. I thought it was enough. I was wrong.
When we sat together on the train home, my stiff fingers curled tightly around Peeta's thumb, he smiled as a Capitol attendant called over the speakers that we were an hour away from District 12.
"We're almost home. No more cameras, no more stupid fashions, no more Games. They're over, we made it." He swooped in to kiss me, hard, on the lips.
I wondered if he could tell by my stone lips that something was on my mind.
"We can be alone," he continued, smiling. "Finally just you and I in our stupidly big Victors' house and they'll leave us alone forever."
Haymitch scoffed across the carriage where he sat soaked in liquor. "How you managed to make it out of the arena, I'll never know boy!" He guffawed. "Actually, I do know – you'd never have made it out without her!"
"Thanks, Haymitch!" Peeta said sarcastically. "To what did I owe those kind words?"
"You think they're going to leave you alone?" He broke into another hysterical laugh. "They're never going to leave you alone! Nor me! We're their puppets now, don't you see! They'll make you dance and when you marry they'll make you dance down a Capitol altar, and when you have your first child that just-born creature will dance all over Capitol screens. First steps. First feed. First word. All for them."
"That's enough, Haymmitch." I snapped, the lump rising in my throat. I shook Peeta's hands away from me and rushed to the intersection between carriages where a light breeze calmed my senses. I slumped against the carriage wall and felt the minute vibrations of the train underneath me. How could I have sentenced the only man I loved to this life?
I could hear Peeta and Haymitch arguing through the thick glass of the carriage door, but nothing of their words; just mumblings of angriness and hatred – not for each other, but for the situation. What I had chosen for them, unbeknownst to them. They hated it, and if they knew, they'd hate me.
The carriage door slid open noiselessly but I raised my head at the heavy tread and stench of liquor that accompanied Haymitch.
He leaned on the wall next to me. We were both silent – I, lost in my own thoughts, he, trying to voice his.
"He doesn't know, does he?" He began.
"Doesn't know what?"
"The choice you made."
I floundered for a second, my mouth open but my tongue tied as an Avox's. "What – what are you talking about?"
"While you were in the games, there was a lot of talk. I don't really know how to say this, Sweetheart. Hate to say it but I've grown a bit fond of you. You're- well, you're like my little girl. And there were a lot of men talking about the things they'd like my little girl to do to them. For money."
My head spun.
"And I don't like to say I'm high up in any circles. But I know people who are. And one of those people told me that President Snow was going to let those men buy you."
"He was." I whispered.
"And I dreaded you coming out of the games. I thought, for all of my stupid caring this time around, everything I tried not to do every other year, the one year I go and give a damn about another child going in that arena to be murdered!" He howled and smashed his glass, still half full, into the apartment door. "I wanted you to win. I wanted to save you. And I thought that everything I did was just going to bring you back into a harsher reality than you'd been living in before."
"Peeta came back too." I interjected.
"Exactly. And I have no doubt that the price you paid for not – well, doing those things….I'd imagine it had a hell of a lot to do with selling yourself and Peeta to the Capitol."
"Not like that!"
"I know, not like that. But everything I said, about your wedding and your children, you don't seem to give a care. You already knew."
"I did, yeah." I mumbled. "But I'd appreciate if you didn't tell Peeta what I did."
"It's what he wants, anyway." Haymitch placated.
"Not like this."
District 12 was anew. The train station was a marble façade. The Justice building had grown taller and even more overbearing. Peacekeepers roamed the streets ready to dole out penalties. The Hob had shut down. My district, previously in the throes of poverty, was now starving quicker than it ever had before. Because of me.
And when Peeta curled up against me in our new bed, in a new house, it was in an entirely different world altogether.
"We're finally alone," he whispered, his breath tickling the nape of my neck as I faced away from him. "Just you and me. Forget what Haymitch said – it's not true. I won't let them have us."
"The Victory tour is in six months."
"And after that, we don't have to worry. We can just be us."
"I love you," I whispered, for that was the only thing I could say that wouldn't be a lie.
"I love you too." He exhaled loudly and I felt him jump up in bed – stiffly because his mechanical leg was still taking some getting used to. "You'll never understand, Katniss, how happy you make me."
"Peeta…" I started.
"The only thing I've ever wanted, since the moment I saw you, was to spend my life with you. To grow old, and to have children. To watch our children grow up. Maybe work in the bakery like I did, but without a mother so cruel." None of Peeta's family would live with him in the new house, and he was trying not to show he cared so much about it, but I knew he did. "And now we can have all of that. Our private slice of paradise."
"I love you," I repeated, knowing that it'd never be private again.
I woke the next morning alone in bed, to the door bell ringing. The concept of having an alarm throughout the house to let me know there was a visitor was disconcerting, but I assumed I'd grow accustomed to it. I trudged down the stairs, recognising the smell of fresh bread as my stomach growled. Peeta had been baking.
I reached the door, noting through the frosted window that a dark figure stood outside. Looked like someone from the Seam.
I opened the door to find Gale Hawthorne. Across his face ran an inflamed scar, and coal dust had settled on his skin, in the pores, making his grey eyes shine like jewels in the setting of his dark face.
"We need to talk."