The Secret Life of Bees

Disclaimer: The Hunger Games belong to Ms. Suzanne Collins, Scholastic, and Lionsgate Entertainment. The Secret Life of Bees belongs to Sue Monk Kidd. Suzie Blue is by Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, and they belong to themselves (thanks for getting me through high school, guys. And yes, I know I'm dating myself).

Thanks to: SavannahHershey (my beta and fangirl-in-crime) and excitedlime!

Ships: Katniss/Peeta, (Haymitch/Effie, Delly/Thom, Gale/OC)

Summary: Post-Mockingjay, pre-Epilogue. Katniss comes to find that the Capitol has taken something very dear from her, but spending more time with Peeta helps her find her true vocation and path in life. And what of Peeta? This is my (slightly non-canon) take on how Katniss and Peeta grow back together and learn to share life in the new District 12 and Panem. This will be an extended story with as many as 20 chapters—so get in it to win it.

Rating: M for mature language, violence, and explicit sexual situations.

A/N: I would like to thank everyone who reviewed or favorited my story, The Rites of Spring, as well as those who added me to their favorite authors list! I was so overwhelmed and flattered, and it absolutely gave me the inspiration to write more for this fic! As always, any and all constructive comments, criticisms, and concerns are very, very welcome! I really appreciate the love, and hope that this delivers for you!

Chapter 1: Suzie Blue

Won't you sing me the blues,

Won't you sing me the blues?

Sing me something my heart can use;

misery loves a symphony.

Well, this is just great, I think to myself, sulking in the tree branches. A huntress who can't hunt. That's like a painter who can't paint. A baker who can't bake. A mother who can't love. Heh. I laugh out loud. Story of my so-called life. But I can't hunt. I really can't. And I've been trying to make a kill since I returned to District 12. (Which is now known simply as "Appalachia"—who the hell comes up with these names? Plutarch says it has something to do with the history of North America, but I think he's talking out of his ass.) And every single goddamn time, I can't. It's like I'm—what would Haymitch call it?—oh right, I'm cock-blocking myself. So I just sit and hide in trees or in the underbrush, or hell, sometimes I just perch on a rock and watch the animals. One time I got so lost in thought watching the fish swim in the lake that I didn't notice when the sun went down and the moon came up and I didn't get home until dawn. But mostly, I just sit and watch and think, and then I think some more, and then when I raise my bow and set my arrow to catch my prey, my arm goes limp and my head throbs, right above my left brow. I'm pathetic. How am I going to survive if I can't feed myself, feed my fam—heh. I don't have a family anymore. It doesn't matter if I survive or not. I'm starting to think that the animals in the forest are laughing at me. Losers.

Does your face, your pretty face get lost in a crowd?

And you say no one's there

to hear you cry out loud-

What will you do, Suzie Blue?

I return home empty-handed, the same way I have every afternoon since I was dumped in this forsaken hell hole three months ago, right before the dead of winter. I put my hunting gear away in the "mudroom" and hang my father's jacket on its proper hook. (I will never ever forgive the Capitol and Effie for making me learn all of the useless names for these useless rooms in this giant empty house. It makes me feel superficial.) I go upstairs (there are sixteen steps, in case anyone was wondering) and I throw myself in the shower. Full steam ahead! I joke to myself as the shower fogs up. I really, really hate being naked. Nothing good ever came of being naked. Before I can really think about it, I'm out of the shower, toweling off, and I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. At least my hair is finally one length, even if it does only graze my shoulders. My hair; my beautiful hair; my one true beauty. Flavius insists that it will grow back, but I think he's full of shit. Even though I am still damp, I tug on a pair of jeans and a tee and shove my feet into my shoes. I can hear Greasy Sae downstairs, starting dinner, and I really don't want to be late.

It doesn't matter what Sae is cooking, because I am starving. As usual, Haymitch stumbles into my living room completely hammered, and Peeta follows him quietly, rolling his eyes and trying to hide his laughter. We've been doing this every night since he got home, what, maybe a month or so ago? The company leaves something to be desired, but I am grateful nonetheless. Without Sae and Peeta, I'm likely to starve to death and Buttercup would eat my face off. But every night, Sae cooks us dinner, and every night (at least since he planted the primroses), Peeta joins me. Tonight is like any other night. After Sae leaves, we serve ourselves (and Haymitch, because he is consistently too drunk to function), and talk about our day. My day is by far the most dull. And pathetic. Always. Peeta always chuckles.

"Well, did you see anything new today? Any wildlife returning?" he asks excitedly (just like he does every other night).

"Lot of tracker jackers," I answer, without even thinking. Oops. I know how much this is going to upset him. He nods and narrows his eyes and strokes his chin. I'm worried that he's about to have an episode and there's Haymitch, pouring his wine on his potatoes.

"Sucks to you."

Where did you learn to do that so well?

Where did you learn to do that so well?

I guess that would be like kiss and tell.

If it's a secret, why did you show me?

Unlike me, Peeta keeps himself busy. He bakes. He paints. He goes into town to help with the rebuilding efforts. He's helping with the plans, but I know he'd rather be in his kitchen. But this work gives Peeta a sense of purpose, a sense of value, a sense of worth, and most importantly, belonging. He talks with everyone in town and always makes cookies for the families returning. This labor, this work—it fills him out. He has broad shoulders and muscles and a strong straight back, and sometimes when I look at him I get this feeling in the pit of my stomach. And he's still growing, so now he's even taller than me. But now, maybe I think his time in town is keeping his mind off shitty things, and I've gone and brought them up again. I'm so dumb.

He puts his fork down and takes a sip of his wine. It looks like he's musing about something in his head. "It's funny you should mention that today, Katniss," Peeta says finally. "This afternoon, I was talking to Thom about the forest and getting some more lumber, and he told me that the men are having a tough time getting wood because they keep getting stung by feral tracker jackers. Without the Capitol to keep the population in check, they've been running wild. It's becoming a big problem." And then he looked at me with those baby blue eyes and I am overwhelmed with guilt.

"Sucks," I reply, finishing my wine in one gulp. We finish the dishes in silence and let Haymitch sleep it off in his chair before heading to the dining room. Every night, we work on the Tribute book. I write something, he draws something, and together, we remember. Some nights are harder than others. This is one of those nights.

But you're far away from the love you used to hold,

don't sit and watch your self grow old-

The day is new, Suzie Blue,

The day is new, Suzie Blue.

"Katniss, what's wrong?" Peeta asks, biting his lower lip. I'm looking at his hands, his beautiful, calloused hands; the hands of a baker and a painter and a lover…

"Nothing," I say, smoothing down the page. Think unsexy thoughts, Katniss, think unsexy thoughts. I blow on it to help the ink dry. Worst. Seduction. Ever. I think in my brain. I am flirting subconsciously, but I'm doing it really, really badly.

"Nope, something is wrong, what's bothering you?" Goddammit Peeta, why do you have to be so good and nice when I'm such a bitch?

I look up at him. He's propped up on his elbows, blue eyes looking right at me.

"I'm shit for hunting, Peeta. What good is a hunter who can't hunt? I'm lame. I'm barren. I'M GOING TO DIE ALONE WITH MY CATS." He smirks and pushes some golden hair out of his eyelashes.

"I think you're really jumping the gun with the cats thing, Katniss. You only have one cat. And you're the best hunter I know. That District 12 has ever known—"

"I'm going to die alone by starving to death because I can't take care of myself because I'm not a functional human being." He shakes his head.

"Nope, wrong again. You're not going to die alone. You can't die alone. You have me."

Oh God, now we're going to play Twenty Questions. At some point, every night, our conversation devolves into Real, Not Real, and I want to drink all the wine.

Real life has let you down,

Real life has let you down.

Someone stripped the jewel from your crown

Everybody owes somebody something.

"I'm going to die alone," I hiss under my breath.

"Not real," Peeta hums. "I'm going to be there with you, because we protect each other."

"Real," I gulp. Now he's holding my hand and rubbing it and my God, my hand's on fire… "Because we take of care each other."

"Real," he says, never letting go of my hand. "Because we need one another to survive."

"Real," I mutter quietly, gazing at his calloused hands. "Because we lo—" I choke on my own words. I look down at the book. We've just finished Glimmer. He made her hair look so shiny. Peeta knows what I was going to say and just smiles.

"I'll see you tomorrow morning," he says, and lets go of my hand. "Sleep, okay?" It's never "sleep tight, sweet dreams" with us, it's always just "try to sleep for the love of all that is good and holy, okay?"

I nod grimly. We're so full of shit. "You, too. You know how to find me." It's his turn to nod, and then he's out like a thief in the night. Heh. Sleep. Sleep is overrated. I walk by a snoozing Haymitch on my couch, and hope that Buttercup eats his face off.

Kissing from heaven in your arms

And we'll make love to the memories

They will always see us through, Suzie Blue.

The day is new, Suzie Blue,

The day is new, Suzie Blue.