Disclaimer: I don't own the Hunger Games. That'd be Suzanne Collins.
This story is set post-Mockigjay, with the epilogue being non-existant. Without further adieu, I give you...
There was nothing to fix. Even when Peeta held her each night, there was no escaping it. It? What was it? The nightmares? She was used to those. So was it the still-present threat that her life could be taken from her at any moment? No, she didn't even bother worrying about her own life anymore. Katniss Everdeen was eighteen years old, though she felt at least forty after everything she'd lived through, and she didn't give a rat's ass about her life. Not with everything she'd been through. She'd been able to endure it all, sure, survive it; but to say she was handling things would be laughable. She tried, she really did, but not for herself. There were two things that haunted Katniss Everdeen these days, and neither of them had to do with herself. Not really.
First, every night and sometimes in her waking moments, she saw a blonde braid hanging loosely down a back, pointing directly to an untucked shirt that looked exactly like a duck's tail. Before she ever had a chance to reach out and touch the face, it always burst into flame.
She couldn't call it a nightmare either; she wouldn't let herself. Not when she'd seen it. She'd been yards, only yards away from her baby sister, the one she risked everything, everything to protect, and now…
Katniss had nothing to live for. She was empty. Hollow. And Peeta couldn't help her this time. No matter how much she wanted him to, however much he tried, he just couldn't. It was no one's fault, though Katniss couldn't help but blame herself. He'd gotten better, hadn't he, stopped trying to kill her, been brought back around to the Peeta she'd loved. He was still here, just like tonight, with his big arms around her, pulling her into his stout, stocky, Peeta body, breathing his sweet scent, reminiscent of freshly baked bread, onto Katniss's neck. He was still here, but Katniss continued to use the word "love" in past tense.
Sometimes she slipped up. She'd say something to Peeta about how she'd loved him, past tense, when she was trying to tell him how much she still cared about him and he'd get that look in his eyes. A little confused, a little like a wounded animal. It was all Katniss could do not to turn away and let the sob waiting at the back of her throat rip out of her body at that look. Because she knew she was letting him down. She was always letting him down, that somehow, after everything that had taken place, her unrequiting self wasn't enough anymore. Because he wasn't the same unconditional Peeta. No, sometimes, when she'd slip up like that, she'd see a glimmer of something else in his eyes, or in his form, his shift of stance. And it terrified her.
That was the second thing. The glimpses she'd been getting of the Peeta from the hijacking. She felt it was her duty to take it without objection, to stay, to try and combat it with the unconditional love Peeta had once given her. But she wasn't good at that kind of stuff. That was his thing. Caring, that was Peeta. Not that she didn't care. Because if there was one person left in this world she cared about, it was Peeta Mellark.
So, nighttimes, lying wrapped in his arms, she had her nightmares. They made her shake and sweat and shiver and mumble and scream. Usually she woke Peeta, just like before, and he'd whisper calming things in her ear, turn her body gently to face him, kiss her forehead and wipe the sweaty tendrils of hair from clinging to her face.
"Shh, it's alright, Katniss. I've got you. I'm here."
After the first arena, it had been enough. But that was because she'd usually dreamed about losing him. Now she was plagued by any number of things; by the memories of losing Prim, of the Games, of the Quell, of losing Cinna and Finnick and Boggs and any other person she'd ever cared for. She'd dream and scream, and sometimes Peeta wouldn't wake up. He'd pull her closer, like a reflex, with a crushing force like he was trying to break her. His eyebrows would scrunch together in the same way that Hijacked Peeta's did. And it wasn't that Katniss was scared for her life, but seeing this, this loving part of Peeta forever taken away from her, this is what scared her more than anything. Because if they'd been able to take away this source of unconditional love, of joy, of hope from the world, what else could fix the broken pieces?
Nothing. There was nothing.
So tonight, she lay in bed waiting for his arms to loosen their grip. After what seemed like half the night and certainly part of the next morning, Katniss felt the iron grip subside, and quietly wormed her way out of his grasp; made her way to the kitchen. She sank into a whitewashed kitchen chair.
Here she was. Katniss Everdeen. Eighteen years old. She had once loved this boy with too much of herself without so much as her own awareness, and she had singlehandedly led to his destruction. She had been by his side as the nightmarish Peeta gave way to a ghost of his former self, and though it hurt her like crazy, there was something else to it. She was not afraid of her own death; she barely felt alive as it was. What she was was responsible. Entirely, inescapably responsible. She was the reason for making him lose himself. And maybe now, she started to think, maybe now she was ruining everything again. Maybe she was trying too hard to force this. Her staying was causing him to relapse. Because, maybe she just stayed with Peeta for herself. Her presence was making him be like that again. Maybe he didn't want her anymore, didn't want any of it, couldn't handle it without driving himself insane. Maybe she was the one breaking him again.
She couldn't bear the thought of causing this boy any more hurt.
But what about what you need, Katniss? A small voice in the back of her head asked her. She almost began to answer, that she needed Peeta, she needed someone to protect, someone who would chase away the demons in the night but –
What about me? She stopped herself, growling back in response, ripping one of Peeta's stickybuns into shreds before her. This isn't about me anymore. Because it wasn't. Looking at the buns on the table in front of her made her sure of it. Because he'd forgotten, he'd forgotten how he used to make her cheese rolls and they were her favorite. She didn't have the heart to remind him, just took it as a part of her penitence. He'd forgotten, and it almost broke her heart. Almost, she reminded herself. Because that could only happen if I still loved him. And I can't.
Katniss, you see, was trying to survive in a world of unfeeling in recent days. Numbness. She was finding it harder and harder to deal with losing Prim night after night, with Peeta being all but gone, of her direct hand in all of it, of her life being completely flipped upside down and shaken loose of anything that ever meant anything to her.
She couldn't be Peeta, and that was the one thing he needed from her right now. The one, final thing that her life demanded of her. And she couldn't do it.
She stood up with a jolt and strode to the front closet, pulled a leather jacket out of the depths and over her shoulders, taking a deep whiff of it. Shakily, she tried to convince herself of its still-earthy smell, the faint mix of spiciness and animals and something else she could never describe that was distinctly her father, trying to regain her confidence. But it only made her feel more sad.
So this is how it is, she thought. This was just how everything was. Everyone always left her, one way or another. Made some kind of grand exit from her life that left a hole. And now she was the one leaving. She was leaving Peeta. She'd come to the conclusion without even consciously doing so, but after recognizing it, it seemed like the only thing to do. She hated herself for it, but there it stood. She had to save him somehow, and this was her last-ditch effort. To cut him off from the poison in his life. There was no turning back now.
And so she walked with measured steps, body erect, out the front door, past the outskirts of the grassy, overgrown Victor Village. Broke into run. Towards the Seam, to her woods that laid beyond.
She didn't even bother to close the front door.
AN: What do you think? This is my first attempt at a multiple-chapter fanfic, and I have a few ideas knocking around in my head for its future course of action, including, obviously, a lot of everyone's favorite drunk mentor :) I'd love any feedback you want to give me, and, of course, it will motivate me to write and update with more haste. Please review?