My Soul to Keep
"You're going to have to stop dreaming about me eventually."
I peel one eye open to look at her. She's lying on her side, her face propped up with an open hand. I reach out and touch her other cheek, glowing bronze with the sun. She is soft and warm and so real that I have trouble believing her. "I'm not dreaming," I say, but I don't feel my mouth moving with the words.
She smiles sadly at me. Her hand covers mine. "You know you are."
It's a weird sensation knowing that I am dreaming. This meadow - the sun, the flowers, the grass tickling the skin of my arms - none of it is real. Rue isn't real. Maybe it's the powerful desperation in me that keeps me from waking up. I wish I had that kind of control over the nightmares. That's why I don't bother arguing with her; these dreams are so few and far between that I don't care at this point that it's fabricated.
"Yeah." The word slips on the edge of a sigh. I shadow my eyes from the sun and watch clouds race overhead, like I'm watching a film on fastforward.
Rue falls onto her stomach and plucks tiny purple flowers from the ground. Her dark fingers begin weaving the stems together. I had never seen her in clothes that weren't fashioned specifically for the Games, but here she is wearing a cream sundress and no shoes and she is beautiful and young and alive. An ache I am far too familiar with begins cementing in my chest.
"Rue." It comes out as a sob and here, in this place with her, I don't feel bad about it. I reach for her again. She looks at me and smiles, taking one of my hands in both of hers and shushing me softly.
"It's okay, Katniss. You can cry."
I don't want to cry. This isn't supposed to be a nightmare.
"I miss you." It's a whisper. The breeze dies to nothing, as if to keep my words from blowing away. "I miss -" My voice hiccups, but I'm not embarrassed. This is the only place where I trust myself to feel less than brave. "I miss Prim."
"Why isn't she here, too?"
I shake my head, pulling my hand away and bending my arm over my face. "I never see her in my dreams. It's just you. Sometimes Finnick. Never Prim. I don't know why."
"You're afraid it would do more harm than good."
My arm falls away. Rue is taking pieces of my hair into her hands and stringing the long line of flowers she's woven together to make a braid.
"I don't want to wake up, Rue."
"Don't say that." She looks at me sternly for a moment before returning to her task. "Prim wouldn't want you thinking that way, Katniss."
"There's nothing left. I'm not the Mockingjay anymore." My voice is rising. I catch it just barely, not wanting to uproot the fragile dream. "I served my purpose, Rue. And so many people died for it. But it's over and now there's nothing - there's nothing left. Mom's moved away. I don't speak to Gale anymore. Peeta -"
"Katniss. Shh. Listen."
My mouth locks shut. I sit up on my elbows and look across the meadow, far over the hills where the land meets the sky. Rue moves closer to me. "What is it?" I ask, craning my ear forward.
"Don't you hear it?" Rue points to nothing.
"I don't -" And then I do. Gunfire. Distant booms in rapid succession punch the sky until it's bleeding red.
"Katniss," Rue whimpers, clinging to me. I grab onto her, panic swelling my chest to the point I can't breathe. "Katniss, do something! Katniss!"
It's not gunfire. It's cannons. I look to the sky to see a dozen faces glaring down at us. Their expressions are distorted with agony.
"No." I shake my head, wanting to close my eyes but I can't seem to remember how. I see Finnick, Thresh, Cinna, Mags, Wiress - every ground-trembling boom pulls forth a new face, every Tribute, every Panem citizen, all the blood that is on my hands. "No! No!"
I twist to look at Rue, but it isn't Rue in my arms anymore. My mouth rips open with a scream that tears me straight from the dream into my bed, arms and legs thrashing. I fall with a painful thud onto the floor. The blankets are twisted around my legs and it feels too much like arms trying to pin me down so I kick them violently away.
Gasping, crying, I pull my knees to my chest and try to contain myself. Like it matters - there's no one in this house but me. I try to take comfort in that, my well-deserved and self-inflicted solitude, but the dream was so vivid, those cannons were so real -
Three rapid bangs have me staggering to my feet. I hold my breath and listen in anxious silence and then - again, this time with more fervor.
I check the clock as I move into the hallway - it's nearly two hours before sunrise. I figure it has to be Haymitch since he's the only one who ever visits me anyway, but at this hour he's usually long since passed out. Maybe he's in one his emotional fits again which I pray to every god I can think of isn't the case, because drunk Haymitch I can handle, but drunk emotional Haymitch is a different matter entirely.
It's winter and the house is cold, the wood floors cracking beneath my freezing feet. I grab a cardigan from the closet and bundle it around my chest. The knocking comes again as I near the door, this time bordering on frantic. "Coming!" Maybe Haymitch forgot his shoes and locked himself out of the house or something - he better be dying if he's going to scare the crap out of me at this time of night.
I grab the doorknob and pull it open, Haymitch's name on my lips, but it never makes it any further. Because it's not Haymitch standing nearly frozen at my door, dressed in a long sleeved thermal and sweatpants. It's not Haymitch holding one arm over their stomach with the other raised in a fist, ready to knock again. It's not Haymitch sobbing open-mouthed on my porch.
It's Johanna Mason.
Having Johanna in my house is an even weirder experience than I could have imagined - which I never have, because she is the last person I would have ever expected to pay me a visit. 'Visit' seems like the wrong word, though, because that implies there was some kind of planning beforehand and, you know, some general knowledge of the event happening, of which there was none. I almost think I'm still dreaming as I sit across from her at the table, passing her a mug of steaming coffee. She takes it greedily, ignoring my warning of its probably scalding contents and bringing it straight to her lips.
"I don't know how you do this," she says, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. "This winter shit. Seven gets cold, but we rarely have snow. It's proper bullshit, Katniss."
She stopped crying as soon as I let her in, but her eyes are still ringed red and swollen. She's even thinner than I remember from the last time I saw her - what, eight months ago? Had it only been that long? Her hair has grown some but it's still short enough that it doesn't need a brush, coming in wild and dark with the tips ending below her earlobes.
I don't realize I haven't said anything until I feel her eyes all but tearing a hole in my face. I open my mouth in an attempt, but I can't come up with anything even slightly normal because Johanna is talking about the weather at my dinner table in the middle of the night and, honestly, that's as bizarre as it gets.
"Why -?" is as far as I can manage.
"Nice to see you too, Katniss. You look well. Me? I'm fine. I'm fucking peachy." She raises her mug and smiles so I can see her teeth. "Never better."
"I'm sorry." I shake my head and spread my hands on the table. "I just - I'm sorry. I just woke up. You scared me."
"I thought I heard you screaming." She sips at the coffee again, setting it down so she can peer inside. "Didn't know you were so jumpy."
"It wasn't -" I stop. Talking about my dreams with Johanna is where I draw the line for tonight. "It's fine. Are you -" I don't finish the question because the answer is obvious. Clearing my throat, I try again. "How have you been?" It comes out more awkward than I intended. She shoots me a knowing glance that I squirm under.
"Oh, you know. Living the life in the New Panem. Got my own place, working in the lumber yards, building houses and schools and libraries." Johanna dips a finger into her coffee. She's shivering, but as I stand to grab her a blanket from the closet I realize she's crying. Silently, carefully contained, and she's biting her lip so hard I fear she might actually break the skin.
"Hold on." I move quickly to the closet, grabbing a blanket from the top shelf and coming back to drape it over Johanna's shoulders. She tightens her hands at the edges and draws it closer to her chest.
"I fucked up, Katniss. I really, really fucked up."
I ease into the chair beside her. A hand tentatively comes to rest on her back. One would think that the amount of time I've spent around grieving people would make me at least semi good at comforting them, but it is still a lost art to me.
Prim would know what to say, what to do.
I swallow the thought down.
"Jesus." Johanna presses a hand to her face and tries to take a breath. "Fuck. I didn't know where else to go. I just - I just got on the train and went. Straight from the health center, I got right on the train and came to twelve because there was no one else." She lifts her head and looks at me so intensely I'm having trouble breathing, too.
"It's okay." I'm not sure if that's true or not. Part of me feels bad for not knowing; after everything we went through it only seems natural that she would think of me as someone she could turn to for help. And I do want to help her because I know Johanna lost everyone before the Revolution even began, but I am so exhausted of helping. "Johanna, really. It's fine. Are you okay? Are you ... are you sick?"
Johanna shakes her head and the relief that floods me is stronger than I expected. She shifts away from me and comes to a stand, still holding the blanket around her body. It follows her like a wedding train to the window where she presses her forehead against the glass. "Katniss," she says, dark eyes falling closed. I watch as one hand releases the edge of the blanket and travels down her torso, thin fingers splaying across her stomach.
And I know, then, but I refuse to believe it for a second.
"No," I say, pushing myself to a stand. I'm shaking my head, slowly rounding the table so I can approach her. "Johanna -"
"I didn't even think - it didn't even occur to me." She laughs, a sound like gravel in her throat. "Like, after the Games, the Revolution, the war, I thought - I don't know what I thought. That it could never happen? That it just wasn't possible? That after all that bullshit I could be spared of ever having to worry about this happening to me but no, fuck, that would be too generous of the goddamn universe, wouldn't it? That would be too - fucking - much - to ask for." She punctuates each word with a slam of her fist to the window.
I don't know what else to do. I come up behind her, taking her by the wrist and trying to pull her away from the glass. Johanna cries - or screams, I can't tell - and collapses against me, dragging me with her to the floor.
"After everything," Johanna gasps, her fingers clawing for purchase at my arms like she's afraid I'll run. "After everything, a baby is the cruelest joke I've ever heard."