Katniss stared out the window at the beauty of Paris and sighed. It was time to go home, time to try to fix the mistakes she'd made. She glanced down at her phone, fingers tracing lightly over the date. It'd been two years since she'd seen Prim and Gale, faces haggard as they stood over her hospital bed in the aftermath of her time in Darfur. Tears blurred her eyes and she blinked rapidly, trying to clear them. So much loss. It'd taken six months before she could even get out of bed and face the day, another year of therapy to relearn everything she'd forgotten while laying in bed recovering from the four broken ribs, the loss of her spleen and the bullet lodged above her kidney, near her spine. It was nearly five years to the date that she'd last seen Peeta's face, contorted with anguish and self loathing as they'd fought.
She reached for the letter that had arrived last week, Haymitch's messy scrawl barely legible.
I figure you've wallowed long enough. There's a job waiting for you here, teaching archery and music to the kids at the school. Called in a few favors, knowing you'd need somewhere to hole up after all the shit you've lived through. You may not like it here, but it's your home and it'll welcome you back with loving arms, if you let it. There's none of them fancy doctors or whatever else you've gotten used to over there, but there's me, and Prim and everyone else that misses you even if they won't admit it.
Time to face your demons, girl. You've danced with the devil long enough, time to come home and let someone else be Galahad. That dragon's bigger than you'll ever be and it'll take more than one mule stubborn girl to take it down. You know where to find me.
He was right; there were other people to slay those demons now. The news outlets had finally begun bringing to light the misery that was Darfur. It was someone else's problem to deal with. She'd had enough of death and suffering, and losing friends. There wasn't a day that went by that she didn't think of Jackson and Leeg and all the other faces from the camp that hadn't made it out of the shitstorm that Badu had waged. Most of all, it was Finnick, with the hint of lilting brogue coloring his words, telling her that she needed to live, needed to find her way home, that got her through the past year, staring at the four walls of her room, trying to relearn who she was. The Katniss that had come out of Africa was different than the one that went in. The sadness was still there, cloaking her like a shroud, but it was tempered with hope. Hope that the world wasn't as evil as it had seemed to be, hope that the future would offer solace to her wounded and aching soul. Hope that Peeta and she could find some sort of resolution to whatever it was that was between them. It wasn't love; it was too strong for that. He was the other half of her soul, yin to yang, black to white, the perfect compliment to her messy, complicated psyche.
Her phone buzzed, pulling her from her musings. A smile creased her lips as Gale's picture appeared on the screen. "Hello?"
"Hey Catnip," Gale said and she could hear the happiness in his voice. "Guess what?"
"You and Brutus are finally going to make it official?"
"Am I that transparent?" he asked and she could just see his grin stretching from ear to ear.
"No," she said, laughing. "He called me yesterday to let me know that he was going to ask you, and make sure that I'd be back in the states for the ceremony if you actually said yes."
"Did he really think I wasn't going to?"
Katniss laughed, leaning back against the wall of the window seat. "No, but he was nervous. This is a big deal Gale."
"I fucking know it's a big deal, Catnip! Hell, I've been waiting for this day for how long?"
"So, are you wearing a dress?"
He laughed and the sound was so contagious that she joined in. "Fuck no, my hairy ass legs don't need to be seen in anything but a nice tux. But you're wearing a dress, you realize that, right?"
"Damn you, that's not fair."
"You look good in dresses, Katniss, I don't."
"Again, not fair," she said, still laughing.
"So you're coming back home?"
"Yeah," she said softly, "I'm in Paris right now, but I have a flight into Pittsburgh tomorrow morning. I just got back from the Sudan; I was on a team that was helping to dig wells as part of my therapy."
His voice was quiet. "Did it help?"
She sighed deeply. "Yes and no. It helped me to realize that there is still good in the world, but it made everything that had happened come back in sharp relief."
"I'm always here if you need to talk to someone," he said softly.
"I know, Gale and trust me, that means the world to me. I have a therapist that I'm going to start working with when I get back, someone Haymitch knows who is a specialist in dealing with post traumatic stress. She works with a lot of the soldiers coming back from the war, so she's got a lot of experience dealing with what happened in Darfur."
"Good, I'm glad you won't be dealing with this alone," he said. She could hear laughter in the background, getting louder. "Are you with the rest of the band?"
"Yeah, we're getting ready to go on stage in twenty, but I wanted to make sure I talked to you before the news broke anywhere."
"I'm happy for you Gale; nobody deserves this more than you."
"You're next, Catnip," he said quickly. "It's your turn to be happy too."
"Maybe," she said softly. "At least I'd like to think so."
"He loves you, Catnip, even if he doesn't realize it anymore. And I know for a fact that you never stopped loving him."
Katniss sighed again. "Sometimes love isn't enough, Gale. Especially after all the pain I put him through."
"He's culpable too, Catnip. He's the one that lived by all those crazy rules without calling you out on your shit. Don't forget that."
"I don't, she said, picking at a stray thread on her pants. "But he never ran away from me Gale; he never left me when I needed him."
"We've all done shit in our past that we regret, that's what makes us adults. You need to take responsibility for the stuff you've done, and so does he. You'll work it out, I have faith in you."
She laughed softly. "More faith than I have in myself, apparently."
"You and I both know that being a grown up is messy, and painful but you just have to put on your game face and push through the bad times to find the good. You'll get there honey, I know you will. And even if you don't get back together with Mellark, I still think going home is the best thing for you. You've given enough Katniss. You tried to make the world a better place and nearly died for it."
"I love you Gale, you know that, right?" she asked, wiping away the tears that had gathered in her eyes.
"Of course," he said quickly. "And I love you to the moon and back, Catnip."
"Go out there and knock them dead and I'll see you when you get back to the States."
"Love you sweets! Give yourself a big hug from me every day because you deserve it. I'll catch up with you soon!"
"Bye." She closed the phone and leaned back against the wall, closing her eyes. She was so happy for him; he deserved every bit of happiness this was going to bring.
Walking to the closet, she pulled it open and took out the dress she'd bought last week for her last night here. Sebastian was taking her out on the town to say goodbye. Yesterday had been her official last day at Panem, International and while she'd miss her friends, she knew this chapter in her life was closed, and rightfully so. Her successor had started two weeks ago and she was as fresh faced and idealistic as Katniss had been twelve years ago when she'd first started working with PI. Finch Langley would fit in nicely with the crew that was heading out next week to the Sudan. She was smart as a whip and fresh out of grad school, itching to do some good in the world, not to mention she already had Sebastian wrapped around her little finger.
Shedding her clothes, she walked to the bathroom, hanging the dress on the door. Pulling open the shower curtain, she started the water, humming lightly under her breath. The steam was rising in from behind the curtain and she stepped into the stall, ducking under the spray.
Ten minutes later, pleasantly warm from the heat of the water, she stepped out, towel wrapped tightly around her. Still humming, she twisted her wet hair into a braid and tucked the end up with several bobby pins. Reaching for the dress, she stepped into it, dropping the towel before zipping it up. Walking back into the room, she pulled open her suitcase and found a pair of panties, sliding them up her hips before tucking her feet into the modest heels she'd bought to go with the dress. Simple gold hoops in her ears and a swish of blush across her cheeks and she was ready, reaching for her purse and phone.
The knock on the door made her smile. Sebastian was always punctual, almost to a fault. The clock read seven pm on the dot and she walked over, opening it with a smile. "I'm going to miss seeing your smiling face every day, Sebastian," she said as he stepped into the room and enveloped her in one of his full body hugs.
"Ma belle, you look as beautiful as ever," he said when they'd pulled apart.
She smiled up at him, cupping his cheek. "And you, my friend, are just as big of liar as ever."
Sebastian's eyes crinkled at the corners as he laughed. "Non, the cloak of sadness that has plagued you for so long has lifted. Finally, I see my beautiful Katniss again without the melancholy that haunted your eyes."
"It's still there, but I'm working on it," she replied, looping her arm through his. "Now, I believe a very handsome man promised to wine and dine me across Paris tonight, did he not?"
Sebastian laughed, lifting her hand and pressing a kiss to her knuckles. "Handsome, he most certainly is not, but he did promise you the delights of the city, ma belle. Our chariot awaits us downstairs." He led her out of the room and down the hallway and for the first time in a long time, she thought that maybe things might just be looking up.