Disclaimer: I don't own the Hunger Games trilogy; this is just an attempt at fun by playing with someone else's toys.
Author's Note: I'm really having fun writing Hunger Games fics. I hope you share this fun with me.
Coming back home never felt worse. As Katniss tries to adjust to her new life, Peeta also wants to rebuild his own. After Mockingjay, pre-epilogue. All the things we wanted between those thin pages.
I watch as the butterfly enters from the ajar window, followed by the calming light from the early spring. Soon the town will be full of those charming creatures flying around, giving life even to this enormous graveyard. Mine are not the only pair of eyes fixed on the bright yellow wings; yellow feline eyes are also studying their movements, watching the insect dancing in front of the long-extinguished fireplace. I glance at him as his head monitors the bug, watching as it circles in the air and raising his flat ears in anticipation of a likely deathly attack. It was another night spent in the living room, and after a month or so, I'm used to sleeping on the almost comfortable couch. Buttercup's presence is something I'm now accustomed to, mostly from the past few weeks. Since he got back here, we kind of built a bond together. He came back longing to find his beloved owner and just found, well ... me. Our night spent mourning Prim together was a surprise for me, but the cat was the closest being that understood my sorrow. So, here he is, crouched besides me as the light from the wee morning enters the room. But his devotion to me is nothing close to how he was connected to Prim. Even though we agree now, it's like there's still that memory about a young, dark-haired teenage girl trying to drown a gaunt kitten in the back of his mind ... so that's why it is so easy for him to ignore me and concentrate on the uninvited butterfly spinning in the air around us.
He hisses lightly, almost warning me that he is going to catch the thing, but also not loud enough so it would fly away. His back fur stands on end, and he stalks forward with the caution of a predator. The happy butterfly don't know what is coming for it.
My thoughts drift to the weeks that passed since I got to District Twelve after my trial and indescribably unpleasant stay at the Capitol. Some memories are still unbearable to think about. My sorrow consumed me for the first weeks; those days are all just a blur. I could not know what was just a dream and what was reality, and my only concrete memory is of scrambled eggs with toast on a cold morning. I know Greasy Sae was taking care of me, helping me to eat and to get to sleep, but even if I could respond, I never did. It was like I was a psychological Avox again. Sometimes, the thought of taking my own life ventured into my mind ... but it was like I was waiting for something, a confirmation. I don't know what. I was exactly the same being I hated for so long; I was the reincarnation of my mother after my father's death. I was just randomly living, a corpse, breathing and eating but not feeling and wanting. Not even the signs of the end of the winter or the idea of going back to the woods helped me. Nothing made me move from my almost catatonic state.
Then he came. Pulling me out of a nightmare, the sounds of his shoveling brought me back to reality. The sight of his thin, yet strong body made me catch my breath. He was here; he was real. The scars of his fire mutt body matched with mine, the sweat from his work combined with my damp forehead from my nightmare. His eyes were not clouded, divided between loving and destroying feelings. They were secure, blue shadows of hope from the boy with the bread. The primrose bushes were fresh, and he spent the rest of the morning planting them in my yard. Peeta coming back to the Victor's Village was the ignition of life for me. I shut my eyes at these thoughts; that's one part of my mind that I'm not ready to deal with now.
But then, after that, I felt different. Eating was not tasteless, breathing was not a task. A week ago, I went back to the woods. It was different, of course, my body not used to the weak sunlight or the long path back. I needed some help getting back home, but Thom was willing to help, carrying me home on his cart. As I passed the debris from the town, I looked away. There are already enough ghosts in my own house without searching for new ones. The day after that, I couldn't get out of bed as my skin was burning from the unprotected exposure. But I heard him. I heard him come in and talk to Greasy Sae and even play with her little granddaughter. I smelled the fresh bread and ate it after he was gone. He wanted to be close to me.
The sudden hiss catches my attention again. Buttercup is ready to make the mortal jump, to attack the tiny shining creature and end its life. His rear paws' muscles are rippled, ready to explode as he jumps for his prey. A small smile crosses my lips as he goes for it, claws extended, meow echoing in the living room, fur flying around him.
Only he misses and ends up falling in the fireplace, lifting ashes around the previously calm room. The slightly shaken butterfly flies out of the window, almost annoyed with the silly cat's attempt.
I can't control it. My small smile bursts into a heavy laughter as the thin cat crawls back from the ashes, his kitten meows showing his embarrassment. He looks up at me questioningly and hisses, seeing I'm still laughing; something Prim would never do. My arms are still around my stomach as he walks away, trying to maintain his pride. As I see the grey footprints he is leaving behind, I make a mental note to try to give him a bath. He'd just hate me even more.
And it is like this, my hair in complete disarray from the night, my laughter still echoing in the room, the ashes floating from the fireplace, and no butterfly around; this is the scene Peeta finds as he opens the door, a warm loaf in his hand and a puzzled look on his face. It's the third time he sees me since he came, the first when he planted the primroses and the second a quick breakfast we shared a couple days ago. I'm sure that if he had any doubts, now he's absolutely certain that I'm nuts.
He keeps looking at me as I try to recompose myself, clearing my throat and adjusting my shirt around my skinny torso. When I look back at him, he's smiling.
"Good morning. Nice to see that you're in a good mood." Always the right words. That's Peeta.
"It was just Buttercup. He stumbled into the fireplace trying to catch a butterfly." My words are weak, and I can't hold his gaze. I don't know why ... maybe he knows that before he got here I was just another ghost in the house? Does he know he is the reason I try to get out of the bed and face life again? Do I know?
"It was probably very funny and ... messy." He motions to the trail of ashes that Buttercup left behind. "I brought some bread. I started to bake again."
I accept the offer as I leave my cozy nest on the couch, headed for the kitchen. One quick search in the fridge leads me to find some butter and cheese, and I know Greasy Sae bought them. For the first time, I wonder who is paying her for all the services. As we sit around the kitchen table, I take a better look at Peeta. His eyes are live, but somehow restless. I can feel he didn't have a good night's sleep, but who am I to question him? My nightmares still wake me up in the night, and something tells me that they will never actually go away. His arms are scarred, just like mine, and his hands were not spared either. But his face is almost as before ... except above his right eye, where I can see a languid flame licked his forehead. The brows had grown again, light golden hairs molding his expressions.
"How was it in the Capitol?" I ask without any specific intention, wanting to have something to talk about instead of looking at how I destroyed the once beautiful boy.
"Dr. Aurelius wanted to run some other tests after you were gone. He just let me come back last week," he says between bites of his cheese and butter sandwich.
"What kind of tests?" I know the question was wrong as he stares back at me, sandwich halfway to his mouth. Of course I should not ask these kinds of things for the same person who tried to kill me only months ago. The same person who once loved me, but was wildly tortured and hijacked to hate and fear me.
"About ..." He swallows hard before continuing. "About some memories I still have. He calls them episodes."
"Like when you asked to be handcuffed?" I really should just shut up right now, but I'm not controlling my words. I never have.
"Yes." The answer is simple, and we finish our breakfast in silence. He excuses himself after, claiming he needs to go back to his house, though I don't pay attention to his motives. I know the truth. He needs to be away from me. Honestly, most of my days I share his feelings.
I call my mother. The second time I've done that, the first being after I found Buttercup. It was just a sort of weeping, as we mumbled excuses and our sorrows for Prim. But this time is different; we're both calmer. She tells me about the new hospital, and I tell her I'm getting up in most of my days. That's the best I can offer as news. She finishes the call saying that she loves me, and I don't have the courage to ask for a visit. I know that the ghosts are worse for her ... and like Peeta, maybe she can't stay close to me right now.
Greasy Sae comes at dinner, frowning, seeing that I barely moved from the couch. I want to tell her that Peeta was here, that we had breakfast, that I'm better, but nothing comes out.
"You should check on the boy later. He didn't show up in the market today to sell his bread. Though I smelled it."
I wonder about her words. Yes, Peeta baked today; I still have some bread left from the morning. No, I didn't know he was a constant visitor of the new small market that is working in town, with the few hundred Twelve residents that had the courage to come back. Yes, he seemed fine in the morning when he visited me. No, I don't know why he didn't go there, but a small ache in the back of my head tells me I should worry.
The phone rings. I look around for Greasy Sae, but she's already gone. How long was I wondering about Peeta?
The kind voice of Doctor Aurelius answers the phone, though I wasn't expecting it. He calls weekly, and lately I was actually answering the phone, but today is not the right day. At least I don't think so; being able to track time is not a quality I share anymore. His voice is steady, asking about my day. He feels my confusion and says this is not our appointment, that he is calling as a friend. I say my day was calm. I didn't break anything and ate. I omit the breakfast and Buttercup's episode, though they were by far the main events of my day. He listens, and then asks about Peeta, and how am I dealing with him now that he is back. Of course, he is Peeta's doctor too. I answer with a deadpan "okay" and wait for him to continue. He reassures me that Peeta is not violent anymore, and at his words, I shiver. Why is he telling me that? When everything is fine, you don't need a constant reminder. Doctor Aurelius waits for my response, but I just stand there silently, the unpleasant memory of fingers closing around my throat coming to life.
"Katniss?" His voice alerts me, and I clear my throat. He has been talking for some time, but I wasn't paying attention. "What I mean is that you are the closest thing he has to a family." Oh, he's still talking about Peeta. "You and Haymitch. Though Haymitch is not someone you can always count on. Peeta will ask you questions about his life before, and I'm counting on you to help him through his old and new memories. That is, if you are willing to, of course."
"Okay." My voice is rusty, and suddenly I want to hang up and run to my bed, hug a pillow, and cry until I fall asleep.
"Just don't push things. Let him come to you, and I believe it will be a pace that both of you will be comfortable with." I'm glad that the conversation is coming to an end when a thought crosses my mind. Why is he calling me? To talk about Peeta? To say that he's not violent, but at the same time needs me to help him through—
"Did something happen—with him?" The question is out of my mouth before I can even think about the consequences.
"He is fine now, Miss Everdeen, but I just wanted to make sure you know about his condition and—"
The phone is still hanging beside the wall as I rush to the door. What have I done? Did Peeta freak out because of what I asked him this morning? My feet brush on the scattered soil of my yard as I jump my small fence, the pain in my knees warning me that maybe it was too soon to start running and hopping again. The sun is long gone from the sky, and my fragile skin is thankful for that. I reach Peeta's house at the same time an almost sober Haymitch is opening the door.
"Oh, sweetheart. I've heard you're moving again." His breath smells like liquor, and I think he is thinner than the last time I saw him.
All of a sudden, my urge to go find Peeta leaves me, and I stop on my tracks, with Haymitch between me and the door. A chill runs down my spine. "Is he all right? What happened?" I don't mean to sound desperate, but I'm really guilty right now.
"He's asleep now." He walks to me and places a hand on my shoulder. I squint at him but don't jerk away. "Just let him sleep. It was nothing serious, but I called the fancy doctor in the Capitol. He says it will happen for some time, but it's nothing he wasn't expecting."
"What ... what happened?" I start to lose my patience with ... everyone actually, and I don't realize I'm gnawing my nails as Haymitch turns me around to usher me back to my house.
"Ask him later, sweetheart. Right now, just try to get some sleep too."
The nightmares come with full force that night. Birds fly above me as I drown, each one of them representing someone that died because of me. "No, Katniss! No! You can't go!" the bird yells as its claw buries deep down my chest. I struggle to get free, and I grab the bird by its throat, crushing it between my sore fingers. And then the bird is not a bird; it changes, grows, and transforms. My breath is tight in my throat as the animal morphs its wings and wild features into human limbs. I sink my nails in the rosy flesh; I watch the feathers pooling around me, sensing the metal smell of fresh blood. And then, as easily as it spoke, the creature opens its eyes, revealing a sea of blue.
I wake up screaming with the image of my scarred hands around Peeta's neck still fresh in my mind.
Thank you for reading. Your reviews is always appreciated. Feel free to criticize; a good critic always helps the writer.
Special thanks to the betareaders: EsmePlatt95 , GracefulWhispersFindsTheTARD IS and the Project Team Beta.