Author's Note: This idea has been festering in my brain. To truly develop each section of this oneshot, especially the last, I would have needed to write a full story. Since that wasn't an option, I had to suffice with this. I can only hope that all my readers can simply look into my brain and know all the other things I wanted to say, to elaborate on, but didn't have the time to. Thanks for reading everybody!
My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am twenty years old. My home is District 12.
I don't believe in soulmates. Never have, never will. But I believe in true love. Only, I don't think that true love is limited to one person. For me it wasn't. There were three stages in my life, three different Katniss Everdeen's. They all made a home in the same body, but they were all different. And each Katniss has borne witness to a new true love.
Before that fatal reaping when I volunteered as tribute in place of my younger sister Prim, I was in what I call Phase One: Catnip. Not hard to guess who my true love was then.
It was Gale Hawthorne. Gale, the gorgeous older boy who was both my hunting partner and best friend. We had been driven together by need but over time it became so much deeper than that. I loved Gale as a friend. He loved me too, but in a different way. Being who I am, I didn't even know about his feelings until after I returned from the Hunger Games. But I'm getting ahead of myself; that's Phase Two territory.
The simple truth is that Gale was perfect for me back then. He was intense where I was subdued, but that didn't bother me. In truth, I loved his fire. Was he sometimes reckless? Yes. But he was passionate. I envied that. I could only muster passion for Prim, not for politics. Oh how my life would change.
We shared the same sense of humor, the same love of nature, the same concerns for our families. He made me laugh, he made me smile. He made me happy at times when I wouldn't have believed it possible. He was the one person I could always rely on. Gale was the stability my life was lacking, and I needed that. During Phase One, I needed Gale to survive.
He was my true love, only, I didn't realize it. I was so focused on simply surviving that I guess true love wasn't on my mind. I didn't take the time to notice who it was that was allowing me to survive.
My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am twenty years old. My home is District 12. I am the Girl on Fire. I am a victor of the 74th Hunger Games.
In hindsight, this all is as clear to me as it must have been to Gale back then. It was during my next stage that I got a vague understanding of it, but it was already too late. It was enough at the time to distract me from my Phase Two true love though. Which brings me to Phase Two: the Girl on Fire. This stage lasted from the start of the 74th Hunger Games all the way up until the end of the war.
And who else could the Girl on Fire's true love be but the Boy with the Bread? Peeta Mellark.
I asked Finnick once if he loved Annie from the start. He said no, that she'd crept up on him. That was Peeta. But I was too distracted by worries about Gale to ever allow myself to fully realize my true feelings for Peeta. Because the truth was that I loved him.
Not at first. But over time. I can't say for sure when I began to love him. Like I said, he just kind of crept up on me. I have a sneaking suspicion that I began to love him exactly when I told Caesar Flickerman that I did, which amuses me slightly. Well, in every lie there's a truth, right? Or something like that anyways.
Peeta was perfect, ask anyone. Peeta was the ideal boyfriend. Entirely devoted to me, loved me unconditionally. But it's not as if those were his only endearing qualities. If they were, he would have just been a stalker. No, Peeta was something special.
To start with, he had a way with words. He could paint pictures with his words as easily as he could ice decorations on a cake. In both areas, his work was exquisite. I myself was never good with words. I was closed off and cold, not friendly or witty or likeable. What was it that Haymitch told me once? That I had the charm of a dead slug?
Well not Peeta. He could charm just about anybody, but the amazing thing was that it wasn't an act. Everything I did for the Capitol was an act in the attempt to preserve my own life. Now, Peeta was definitely also fighting for our lives, primarily mine—did I mention that he's perfect?—but he was so genuine that he didn't need to put on an act.
Peeta was kind. He had a sweet, gentle spirit that truly shone through. He was a bright light through the dark times. That's why I began to need him instead of Gale. Life had become a hell I'd never before imagined, and sometimes I needed Peeta's warm light to remind me to keep fighting. To remind me that the world was not just some dark and desolate hole of death and despair. That there was goodness and happiness out there somewhere, if only I kept looking. I was damaged, and Peeta was the medicine. I needed him to survive.
Of course, before the Quarter Quell Hunger Games, I wasn't able to come to this obvious conclusion. The Girl on Fire was clinging onto Catnip's feelings for Gale, and it made it impossible to choose Peeta. And then after the Games, well, Peeta was never the same again.
Even after Peeta returned to me a broken and bitter shape of his former self, I desperately needed him. The old Peeta. The kind Peeta who loved me unconditionally. That's why I always got so irrationally angry at the new Peeta for things beyond his control. I hated myself, but what can I say. I needed the real Peeta. And to see the new Peeta, and to have him turn his once healing words into poison, killed me.
Even with this setback, I might have continued needing Peeta provided he got better over time. I might have. Except for the war. After the war, I entered Phase Three.
I guess it should have been clear from the beginning that Peeta and I would never work. I mean, I was the Girl on Fire and he was the Boy with the Bread. What do you get when you put fire and bread together? Toast. And that's what our relationship was, from the very beginning.
My new true love would appreciate that pathetic and twisted joke.
My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am twenty years old. My home is District 12. I am the Girl on Fire. I am a victor of the 74th Hunger Games. I am the Mockingjay. I am a survivor of the war.
Phase Three: the Wounded Mockingjay. There is no better way to describe the life I live today.
During the war I became the figurehead of the rebellion as their Mockingjay. Then the end of the war came. I still have nightmares about watching my sister—no longer a child but still a little duck—go up in flames. From that moment on, I shift into Phase Three. The change had been coming already but it was this event that truly altered my reality.
Peeta was no longer my true love. A part of me hated this fact. Couldn't I have it easy for once? It would be so nice to let this kind, perfect, loving boy nurse me back to health after all I'd suffered. Didn't I damn well deserve it?
But that was impossible. Because after the war, I didn't want Peeta. Yes, sometimes I appreciated his light, but more often it just made me angry. It was so wrong and misleading and sickening. Things were not okay. They never would be. I didn't need someone to remind me of all the good in the world, because it wasn't there. It had disappeared along with the old Panem. With Madge, and Finnick, and Prim. With countless other corpses. Peeta's warm light reminded me of the memories too painful to bear, of times when things weren't as bad as they had become. Peeta's determined sweetness and optimism only made me hate him. It was just a little, but it was enough. Enough to ruin anything we might have had.
I found my solace in a rather unexpected source. Someone who has suffered just as much as me and is as drowned in misery as I. Someone who understands me better than anyone else in the world. Someone who gives me comfort just with his silence. Someone who makes me laugh, who allows me to be fully myself. Someone who accepts my broken and shattered self because he is also busy picking up his own shattered remains.
Trust me, this is not how I expected my love story to end. It was always "Gale or Peeta?": that was the relentless question. Haymitch never even came on the radar.
Haymitch didn't creep up on me the way that Peeta did. It wasn't as if I suddenly realized, "Oh, the perfect man for me has been here all along, blah blah blah, sappy sentiments". Because as I've been explaining, it wasn't until after the war that Haymitch and I belonged together.
We'd always been alike. So alike in fact that it created friction between us. We both favored Peeta over the other. Understandable seeing as Peeta is in fact the superior being when all things are looked at objectively.
But it wasn't until we sat in that room before President Snow's scheduled execution that we finally realized just how well we understood each other, how deep we trusted in each other. I could never have expected Peeta to understand my true intentions when I voted yes for the final Hunger Games. And sure enough, he didn't. But Haymitch did. He understood perfectly, and he voted yes himself, saying "I'm with the Mockingjay."
Those words held so much more weight than some vote which soon thereafter became void. In his eyes I could read the absolute trust and support. I think it was the first time since waking in the president's mansion that I truly breathed.
I had been angry at Haymitch for dismissing me when I'd wanted to talk to him earlier, but he clearly had felt bad and tried to make amends. It is me who wouldn't let him. At that very moment, I decided that I'd forgiven him. And somewhere deep down I realized that this man was the only person I wanted to see anymore, after all that had happened. I didn't acknowledge those thoughts just yet.
Soon enough it was just Haymitch and me, as my subconscious wanted. After I assassinated Coin and suffered through my trial period, Haymitch and I were on a hovercraft back to District 12. Peeta wasn't coming. Good. Gale wasn't coming. Good. My mother wasn't coming. All right, I felt a bit of a pang on that one. But overall, I was grateful for the isolation.
Haymitch and I didn't fall in love right away. The war was still too fresh and love was the last thing on my mind. I didn't even begin to see Haymitch in that light until a year or so later.
For a while after the war, I'd only stayed alive because Greasy Sae came over to my house in the Victor's Village to feed me twice a day. After that period ended, I only existed to putter around the house, eat when ordered, sit in the rocking chair, and above all, have nightmares.
After months passed, I made my first trek to Haymitch's house. I don't know what prompted me to do it. I suppose I just realized that he and I were suffering the same wounds so why shouldn't we suffer in one another's company? I won't deny, a part of me just wanted someone to hate the world along with me.
We didn't say anything that day. We didn't need to. We already knew. When I left, he still said nothing. But after that it became routine. Slowly we began to talk again, healing each other with our mutual friendship. It was the first time since Peeta that I once more experienced the incredible power of words.
One night I woke up screaming and sobbing from the nightmares. A normal occurrence. A part of me wished that Peeta were still here to hold me and protect me from the night terrors. But the logical part of me scoffed at this. I wouldn't be able to stand Peeta if he were around.
Later that day at Haymitch's we sat together at his kitchen table both clutching a bottle of alcohol. Haymitch shot me a look. I knew what it meant. The sun was beginning to set. He was expecting me to leave, as usual. And I meant to, I honestly did. But my next words blurted out all too suddenly.
"Can I stay here tonight?"
Haymitch's eyebrows shot straight up and his back straightened in surprise. His grey Seam eyes searched mine and I knew that he could see what I really meant.
"Will you protect me from the nightmares?"
Slowly he nodded. My beating heart began to calm down in relief.
"I've still got them too. A body to hold might help, who knows."
Haymitch sounded as if he'd already given up. His dejected sigh certainly seemed to project that feeling. But I hadn't given up. I was filled with hope and determination like I hadn't been since before the war.
That night I still had nightmares. Rue and Prim stood together, hand in hand, smiling at me. I grinned and reached down to embrace them both in a hug. But when I leaned in close I began to smell it. Roses. I saw what I had somehow overlooked only moments earlier. Prim was holding one in her pale hands; Rue had a crown of roses on her head. But that wasn't all.
There. On their breath. The smell of blood. I screamed.
Suddenly the two girls began to melt like Messalla did, only instead of melting completely they turned into the muttation dogs from my first Hunger Games. I saw their eyes, those bright innocent eyes, lock on me, before the dogs leaped. I screamed.
I woke, a rough hand shaking my shoulder unkindly. I was still screaming. Upon this realization, I stopped. The sounds choked in the back of my throat and this somehow morphed into crying. Sobs racking my body that I was helpless to prevent.
"It's okay, sweetheart. Come on. You're alright. Shhhh. I'm here. You're safe. They're just nightmares."
Haymitch clearly didn't know quite how to act, being unused to this situation. But still, his voice calmed me some. I let him continue to hold me until I quieted down. The warmth of his body on mine was nice.
"I'm sorry Haymitch," I whispered painfully when it became clear that neither of us would be falling asleep again immediately. "I guess this failed. I'll go home again tomorrow. I'm sorry."
There was silence for several minutes. I didn't mind that he wasn't going to reply. Our relationship had never been one that needed many words anyway. But then Haymitch surprised me when his voice quietly broke the silence.
"I didn't have any nightmares. We can… keep trying for you. Maybe your body will eventually trick itself into thinking that I'm Peeta and then you'll be ok." Even in the darkness and despite the seriousness of the conversation, I could hear Haymitch's teasing tone and for some reason it calmed me. I may have even smiled. "If that's what you want. You're welcome to stay, sweetheart."
I took only a few seconds to answer because my answer was so clear.
"I want to stay."
And stay I did. Night after night after night. Haymitch had the occasional nightmare, but I always woke him (he didn't sleep with a knife anymore now that we shared a bed) and was able to soothe him. Usually all it took was my presence and a few murmured reassurances. Sometimes I got up to grab him a drink. Whatever it took. It startled me how much it pained me to see Haymitch looking so vulnerable and weak and… injured. Just like me. I was a wounded Mockingjay, and Haymitch as it would seem was no better off.
For several more nights in a row, my nightmares consistently woke us both. I felt guilty, but Haymitch told me not to. He said that as my mentor it was his job to protect me. That was a comforting thought, that even though the Games had finally ended there was still someone looking out for me. With each new nightmare, Haymitch became better at comforting me. It became more natural to him. He always held me tight against his chest. He murmured innocent words into my ear. His warm breath tickling my skin never bothered me.
"Think of a sunny day. The morning dew glistening on green blades of grass. The wind whistling softly in the trees, trying to remember a song it's already forgotten. Think of blue skies and gentle white clouds brushing against the giggling fabric of the atmosphere."
The things he said made no sense but they calmed me. I followed his instructions and pictured those sunny days. Usually with Haymitch's help I was even able to fall back asleep.
Soon my nightmares began to disappear. But Haymitch had been wrong. My body knew it wasn't with Peeta. In fact it was keenly aware of the man that it was with. And that's why I began to feel safe again. I knew without a doubt that I trusted Haymitch with all my heart and soul. That I would always be protected in his arms.
It was then that I began to realize that I needed Haymitch to survive.
That I loved him.
For the first time in my life I felt oddly in control of my romantic life. This time I wasn't completely oblivious about someone's feelings and then suddenly expected to know how I felt when the other person confessed. I'd had enough of that. This time I understood my feelings first. The feeling was so wonderful and light.
But then it hit me that it wasn't all so great. Because I had no idea how Haymitch felt about me.
Did he still think of us as a mentor and student? Did the age difference bother him? Did he even have romantic inclinations towards me in the first place? After all, why should he? We've only ever argued and grated on each other's nerves. In his position, would I simply view myself as a troublesome kid?
It struck me that I hadn't the slightest idea what to do. Part of me just wanted to ask him straight up. That was our relationship all right. Blunt. To the point.
But I couldn't do that. I was too worried that the answer would be no and our whole arrangement would be scrapped. I couldn't handle that. I needed Haymitch. Without him, I'd fade away. I'd turn into a mental Avox again and retreat from all human contact. I would probably wither away into dust alone in my unnecessarily big house.
Two weeks later, I got my answer unexpectedly. I'd had another nightmare, one featuring Snow and Finnick and Johanna, and Haymitch had woken me as usual. He went through his usual routine of talking nonsense about warm weather and beautiful days. Then he said something that caught my ear.
"Think of someone who loves you."
I couldn't say how much those words stung. I shoved against him and crawled out of bed.
"Katniss?" he called after me, concerned.
"I don't have anyone," I said bitterly, wrapping my arms around myself, to protect from the cold or the tears building in my eyes I wasn't sure. "My father died, and Prim died, and Peeta changed, and Gale left, and my mother left. There's no one who loves me anymore."
"Well pardon me," Haymitch chimed in, having the nerve to sound annoyed with me. "I'm still here with you, if you had failed to notice. But I suppose I'm too lowly in your estimations to count, is that right, sweetheart?"
This time when he uses "sweetheart", it's not the sweet name he has adopted for me recently. Instead it's dripping with the mocking patronization that it always used to carry. The change makes me sick to my stomach.
"That's- that's not what I meant!" I gasp out in shock. I wasn't expecting that response. "I just… I mean… I appreciate all you've done for me, Haymitch. I will always owe you my life, both in and out of the arena. But you distinctly said someone who loves me and… you don't… I mean…"
As usual, my words fail me. Where's Peeta when you need him. I avert my gaze from Haymitch, clenching my fists angrily when I become aware that my cheeks are aflame with a bright red that hasn't been applied by any Capitol prep team. I'm blushing quite fiercely. I hope that Haymitch won't notice, but apparently it isn't that dark.
"Look at me Katniss," he says softly. He's moved closer to me. I ignore his request. "Look at me Katniss." This time his voice is harsher, less patient. This is a demand, not a request. So I do.
Haymitch searches my eyes as he is often prone to do. As usual, my eyes give him the answer he seeks. What he sees there softens his expression. Shaking his head slightly, he lets out a chuckle. Growling, I stomp a few feet away from him. There's nowhere to go really, I just wanted to demonstrate my frustration.
"You find something funny?" I demand brusquely. His laughter vanishes but his smile does not. Without hesitation he steps closer to me.
"I'm so sorry sweetheart."
"Oh, so we're back to the nice version of 'sweetheart' now, are we?" I cut in bitterly. He ignores me. Apparently there's nothing that can faze that smile.
"I should have realized. You always were the last to know."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"I love you." Haymitch's three simple words are stated as if they're the most obvious thing in the world.
The next thing I know I'm slumped on the floor, back up against the floor, heaving breaths in and out. Haymitch's short sentence has sent me into something of a panic attack.
Ok, something is most definitely wrong with me. This can't be the normal reaction to someone telling you that they love you. Like I said, I'm a wounded Mockingjay.
Haymitch crouches beside me immediately.
"Hey, come on kid, it's alright. It's alright. I'm sorry. I didn't realize that you could possibly think that I don't love you. Of course I love you. I should have made it clear before. Hush, Katniss. Breathe in deep, alright?" Haymitch forces me to take calming breaths with him. After a minute I settle down but I make no effort to move.
"But… when you say that… what exactly… do you mean?" I ask slowly. I want nothing more than to stare at the floor but I force myself to look into his eyes. I'm not a coward. I face my fears, I don't flee.
"What do you want me to mean?" he asks just as seriously. For perhaps the first time I find myself unable to read him. Why of all moments is our perfect understanding of one another failing me now?
"I… I don't…" I love you, I want to say. I want you to love me back. Please Haymitch. That's what I want to say. What I actually say is: "I don't deserve love. All I do is destroy the lives of the people I care most about."
That's when the tears start. Haymitch slings an arm over my shoulders and leans my head down onto his shoulder, allowing my tears to soak his shirt. He calmly brushes my hair with his hand, gentler than I would have pictured Haymitch capable of.
"I'm sorry to have to disagree with you, Mockingjay…" I'm able to snort through my tears. Damn Haymitch and his sense of humor. The very idea that he would have a problem disputing me is laughable, and he knows it. Damn him. I love him. Damn him! "…but I'm afraid you're wrong on that first account. I'm not going to lie; life hasn't been easy for those around you, but look around. Life hasn't been easy for anyone in the whole of Panem. The country's just faced its second bloody revolution in seventy-five years. And you were a key component of the rebellion's success. So cut out the pity party, wipe your face of the tears and wake up. This wasn't about you. It was never about you. And nothing that happened to your loved ones was your fault. Got it?"
At first I'm shocked by Haymitch's rather brutal speech but I nod anyways. After a minute of silence, I realize that what Haymitch said was exactly what I needed to hear. He tore open the wounds in my heart just so that they could be stitched up again properly.
Even when I don't know how much, I need this man. Unfailingly. Smiling rather suddenly, I curl up into the body next to me. Though we've slept in the same bed for months now, I feel his body stiffen momentarily, as if he can feel the emotional connection to my physical action. But he relaxes, wrapping an arm around me and placing gentle kisses on my crown.
"I… love you," I slowly admit out loud. As my head is on his chest, I can't see his reaction, but his hand stops rubbing my back gently. Uh oh, I think worriedly.
"Haymitch?" I whisper. He still says nothing. I sit myself up so I can see his face. He looks unsure and mildly pained. "Haymitch, what is it?"
"Are you…" He winces. "…sure? I'm no good for you Katniss. I'm more than twice your age, I'm broken, I'm an old drunk, there's nothing for you here. You deserve someone like Peeta."
"I thought we'd agreed that I didn't deserve him?" I teased gently. Haymitch gives a very small smile.
"That boy certainly was a piece of work. A very impressive piece," he agrees.
"As for your other claim, well, I'm sorry to have to disagree with you, Haymitch… but you're wrong. You're more than good for me; you're exactly what I need. I love you. There's no way I could survive without you. Just tell me honestly. Do you… feel anything?" Haymitch gazes at me for a moment in pure silence. Finally he gives me another small smile and I can see a warm glow in his usually dark eyes.
"Of course I do, sweetheart. I love you."
After that, Haymitch and I fell even deeper in love. We still clash from time to time, but we understand each other. We've suffered the same pain and we have no delusions about a bright world beyond the doorstep. And yet, somehow, when we're together, the days do seem a bit brighter. And the world beyond the doorstep lightens daily. Somehow our witty banter and fierce love is what keeps us alive when no innocent sappy romance ever could. It feels real. It feels right.
In the end, Gale was right. I always choose the one that I need to survive. But I understand what he meant now. It wasn't a remark on my cold heart or my desire to live a long life, it was an understanding of me. Because to me, needing another person to survive is the greatest honor I can give, making myself that vulnerable to another human being. I need them to survive not because they are particularly strong or clever and will protect me, but because of one simple thing: I love them. I can't survive without the ones I love. Or, the one I love. Haymitch Abernathy.
My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am twenty years old. My home is District 12. I am the Girl on Fire. I am a victor of the 74th Hunger Games. I am the Mockingjay. I am a survivor of the war. At night, I sleep next to another victor of the Games. I need him to survive. I love him.
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