anythingbutgrey: (ats; this could be the thing)
[personal profile] anythingbutgrey
come and find me lying in the bed i made
katniss' mom. before, through and immediately post-the hunger games (book)
featuring many, many textual liberties. title from anaïs mitchell's Flowers (Eurydice's Song). for the THG comment ficathon, but I realized I made a couple errors after people had commented, so immediate repost it is.
Katniss scolds her and tells her to keep it together. Katniss has never been the forgiving sort. Or maybe Penelope has just never deserved it.

She has a name.

Says it to the mirror, says it to her reflection in windows, says it to her friends who still refer to her in pronouns, she, like the dead. The official government documents have it; the Capitol knows who she is. It wasn’t always this way. She used to wear bows in her bright blond hair.

“Penelope,” she says to the wind that whistles it back. “Penelope.”

Sometimes she’s worried she’ll forget. Everyone else seems to.

Penelope is known for her hands. Healer’s hands, her husband used to whisper, kisses soft against her fingertips. She can do wonders with those hands, but she can’t bring back the dead. The day he dies she considers burning her fingers, singeing off the identifying marks, becoming nothing and no one. Instead, Penelope rescinds to some corner of herself she never accesses again (she doesn’t want to; she doesn’t remember what it looked like and it scares her, an arena in its own right, her own black, cavernous hole). Prim tries to shake her awake until Katniss pulls her grabbing hands away, lifts her by the waist and carries her out of the room.

This is all Penelope remembers of those months: the dark screams in her head and then Katniss one morning a week after he died, Prim’s wails still echoing from the room next door. Katniss seems older already, aged almost overnight, her shoulders too solid for a girl her age and size.

“I’ll do it myself,” Katniss spits. “Prim needs one of us, and it’s obviously not going to be you.”

Penelope doesn’t protest. It isn’t going to be. She forgot that when she had children she gave up the right to be selfish, and remembering this infuriates her most of all. Or it would have, if Penelope wasn’t so tired, but Penelope is so very, very tired.

He was the only one to ever call her Penny. He stole bows from her hair and tied them to wind chimes. Penny shouted across streets, Penny laughed by the stream, Penny said against her throat.

Katniss always liked him best. Penelope doesn’t blame her for this. She liked him best too.

Prim likes Penelope best. Prim ties bows in her hair while Katniss goes out to get money or food. Sometimes Penelope would dream of this and not know if it was real, but later Prim would say yes, Mommy, it’s real; I take care of you and Katniss takes care of me.

Penelope takes care of no one. Penelope gave up everything for a man who died under the earth. When Penelope crawls her way out of the dark, the first thing she finds to be happy about is that she’s too sad to be angry. It seems like that’s an either/or of the Seam. Sometimes she dreams of her father’s sofa, the plush fabric beneath her fingers, the smell of chamomile in the kitchen, citrus on birthday mornings. She should have made him move to the town, taught him how to work in an apothecary, made her own way. She didn’t have to move to the Seam. She didn’t have to give everything up.

But she did, and she loved him, and she’d do it again even though he’s dead, the son of a bitch.

Penelope begins to move again. Penelope plucks herself up and finds that the world kept moving without her. Katniss always looks her in the eye now, like a challenge, like the preparation for a fight. But Prim is soft, Prim is kind, Prim sings to her like she sings to Buttercup, like an injured animal on the verge of scratching out a stranger’s eyes.

Penelope goes to work. Sets up a small service and buys whatever supplies she can scrounge up. Promises to pay Katniss back for the loans, does. Tells Katniss she wishes she wouldn’t go to the woods anymore because she thinks she should, but they both know Katniss needs to go to the woods. Penelope heals, Katniss hunts, Prim loves them both. Prim is better than them. They don’t deserve her.

(Penelope will remember thinking this later, vomit in a bush.)

The Reaping makes her hands shake. It does every year, even after she was eligible and before she had children, but especially after she had children. She shouldn’t have. She shouldn’t have agreed. People don’t get to have things in the Seam, or even in the District. Everything belongs to the Capitol: houses, lives, loves, children. Her husband had insisted the odds were in their favor; there are plenty of children born in the District each year.

Looking back, Penelope thinks the odds were just never in their favor. Or, at least, not in hers.

When Prim gets called, Hazelle grabs Penelope by both elbows. It’s only then that Penelope realizes how she sways on her feet. “There’s nothing you can do,” Hazelle is saying, but Penelope already knows that. Why else would she be sinking into the earth?

But before Penelope can tell her knees to bend, to run forward because she needs to see, she hears, “I volunteer!” from the crowds ahead. Katniss. The worst part about it is that Penelope feels relieved. On a certain level, it’s logical. Katniss might survive the games; Prim never would. But it still maker her feel like sin, like there’s now mud on her skin she will never wash clean, coal dust in her lungs she can’t cough out. She’s a sinner, Penelope Everdeen. She’s traded one daughter’s life for another and she’ll pay the price.

Hardly anyone else in District 12 believes in God anymore. Penelope can’t afford not to.

Katniss scolds her and tells her to keep it together. Katniss has never been the forgiving sort. Or maybe Penelope has just never deserved it.

Prim clings to her wrist on the way down the stairs of the Justice Building, which is where she runs into Peeta’s father. Maybe she should have married him once, but the truth is that she just didn’t love him quite enough, quite the right way, and she learned what the real thing felt like. If only she had been smarter. Penelope used to think with her heart first. Stupid girl.

They stare at each other for what feels like a long time before either of them speaks. Prim is too upset to even notice the awkward silence, and stares out the dusty window.

“Your girl is a strong one,” he says first, struggles to say, chokes on half his words until they come up and out of his mouth. Penelope nods. Everyone knows that.

“Your boy too,” she murmurs because it seems like the polite thing to say and, say what one will about Penelope, she is polite. But he just laughs.

“He’ll keep her alive,” he says, and Penelope frowns, doesn’t understand, and he walks past her up the stairs to Katniss’ waiting room.

She figures it out later. When Peeta confesses on screen, she and his father are perhaps the only people in the country who aren’t surprised. Some things run in the blood, she supposes, her family and his.

They watch the Games together: her, Prim, Gale, Gale’s brothers and sister, Hazelle, all wrapped together in front of one television screen or another. The Capitol always makes sure they have working televisions during the Games. The Capitol wants them to see. In this particular case, it’s really just that they can’t look away. Gale and Prim seem terrified of what would happen if they ever close their eyes and sleep in shifts, as though they too were in the arena. He barely hunts. Rory sneaks out and collects what he can from Gale’s snares and Gale half-heartedly scolds him for crossing the fence. They ration everything. It’s almost over, Penelope thinks each day. One way or another.

“Do you think she loves him?” Gale asks her one evening while Katniss presses her lips to Peeta’s and tends his wounds. “Do you think it’s real?”

There’s no one else around. The Hawthornes sit in silence in the living room, their quiet more out of respect than anything else. They all love Katniss, but they love Gale more. Prim sits shaking in front of the television. Neither she nor Gale have eaten much this week. It makes food rationing easier.

Penelope stirs the stew she’s attempting to create from what borders on thin air. “I think Katniss does what she needs to survive,” she says.

Gale nods beside her. “That’s true. Doesn’t really answer the question though.”

He leans forward, hands against the counter, and wrinkles his nose at the smell of the stew. She’d be offended, but the smell of food makes him dizzy these days. None of them are used to it, okay with it, seeing him like this. Penelope remembers what it feels like to love someone this much, so that it takes over your body, lives in your skin, uninvited and untamable. It’s nice to see it carried on someone else, like there are some things in the world the Capitol can’t touch. But the Capitol has touched this. If Katniss does make it out, she won’t be the same.

She presses two fingers against his wrist for less than a second. Still, he starts. Penelope isn't prone to touching anyone other than Prim unless her work demands it. She's certainly not the affectionate kind, and she definitely doesn't mother other people's children. All the same, Gale is as close to family as someone can be without the same blood. She wants him to be happy. She wants him to be safe.

“You’ll ask when she gets back,” Penelope says, and Gale’s eyes widen even more. It is the first time Penelope has dared to think she can win. Everyone else has been too afraid to even wish it, except Gale, of course. It’s all Gale can do, and it’s written across his skin at every moment, even when asleep. People in town evade his eyes these days; in the house, people speak too quietly. They don't like it, him, like this. He’s supposed to be the strong one, but Penelope supposes even the strong ones are allowed to falter.

But it is the first time Penelope thinks that Katniss could win this, and it hits her like a rush, like a storm, like a hurricane in her bones because yes, yes, she loves her daughter, she wants her to come home, there it is.

“I suppose I will,” Gale says, and then leans in toward the stew again. “Smells good, Mrs. Everdeen,” he continues and seems to mean it. Maybe she can get him to eat today. Probably not.

Katniss does live. Katniss lives, thinner than she’s ever been, braver than she’s ever been, a lift in her chin that makes Penelope think she’s faking it. They move into the Victor’s Village and Katniss screams in her sleep every night no matter what Penelope gives her. Katniss might not even take the medicine; sometimes people need to feel pain if they’re going to feel anything at all. Penelope knows about grief, about guilt, how it never quite leaves. But Penelope knows how to heal. She can heal this; just give her time. Give her the tools. She can do it, Katniss will see. Penelope is better now, and Katniss is home, and they will live.

Penelope holds Katniss’ shaking body in her hands. “It’s okay,” she says as Katniss screams at the air. “You’re safe now. We’re safe. Everyone is safe.”
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