anythingbutgrey: (thg; i can't withdraw your)
[personal profile] anythingbutgrey
i need to stop writing fics about bad YA novels instead of researching bangladesh.

none of us are going back
the hunger games. katniss. katniss/gale, katniss/peeta, katniss/character resolution. ot3 times.
post-mockingjay, up to, through, and after the epilogue. for this prompt at the THG comment ficathon. it may have spiraled out of control.
Katniss still sees Gale on TV. Sometimes she wishes he were dead. She knows what to do with the dead.

It’s decided: after Buttercup dies, Katniss is not getting another pet. She keeps him for Prim, nothing else.

One day, Peeta brings catnip home from the Hob. Katniss throws it in the trash and spends the evening locked in her fancy bathroom with her forehead pressed against the tile floor, breathe in, breathe out.

He spends the evening leaning against the bathroom door, telling her stories. She loves when Peeta tells stories, the lilt in his voice at the exciting and mournful parts. But he doesn’t understand why she’s so upset, and is there something wrong with the catnip? Katniss bites her tongue until it bleeds and wishes he wouldn’t use that word.

She hasn’t heard from Gale since the war died. He didn’t say goodbye to her. It was out of respect, of course. She’s glad of it. There’s enough anger in her to power an arena in her own right, but he’s still the person who knows her best, and she’s still not sure what she would have said.

I hate you, probably. I love you, it’s possible. She doesn’t know exactly how she means them, the color and texture of those heavy, short words, but she means them in one way or another and it’s best Gale doesn’t know.

He must know.

The funerals come late. There are few bodies but many ceremonies. Katniss starts whispering we are gathered here today in her sleep. Someone in District 12 decides they should go in chronological order, and so Prim’s is nearly last. Katniss’ hands are so tight around Peeta’s already scarred wrists that she leaves bruises. He doesn’t even wince.

Peeta is too pure, too good. When he’s inside her she wonders if she can absorb some of that goodness, if it can bring some light back into her, if she can steal it away. But that’s not fair to Peeta, though he’d give it to her if he could. Peeta would do anything for her if he could.

“You love me,” Peeta whispers in the dark after another one of his nightmares, knees at his chest like a child. She brushes the damp strands of his hair off his forehead. “Real or not real?”

Katniss does not hesitate. “Real.” Because she does, in whatever way she can offer. The truth is, whatever love is for her burned up the day Prim did. These men keep asking it of her and she only has a paler version to give.

But she does give. To Peeta, she gives. It’s the least she can do.

Gale storms into her head even when uninvited. Especially when uninvited. In her mind, he’s always the same. The war changes everyone, but she thinks of Gale and still imagines him laughing in the woods.

It takes Katniss a year to go back to the woods. The first time she does, she vomits. The human body can only handle missing a person so much. At least with the dead there’s an ability to mourn, to look at the empty grave and feel it.

Katniss still sees Gale on TV. Sometimes she wishes he were dead. She knows what to do with the dead.

When she gets home, Peeta holds her hand on the couch. The sun is out in District 12, bright and calm. It makes Katniss’ eyes hurt, then her head. Peeta pulls the blinds.

“We can go visit him if you want,” Peeta is saying, even though Katniss hasn’t said Gale’s name in months. Maybe it spills out in her sleep. Katniss still wakes up screaming.

Katniss shakes her head. “I won’t see him.”

Gale is on television the next evening while Peeta is cooking. Peeta doesn’t see. Katniss breaks the screen. They don’t really need one anyway; better to read a book.

She buys a new one the next month. The house is too quiet without it, when Peeta goes to the bakery and Katniss reads novels about adventure and wonders what she hopes for. And, besides, she misses him.

They’re invited to the Capitol for some Panem Day celebration each year. Katniss doesn’t go, ever, but sometimes Peeta does and brings her back lamb stew in little cartons and recipes for Capitol desserts. Some things change, but Capitol food remains the same. If he ever sees Gale, he doesn’t mention it.

But on the eighth Panem Day, Katniss decides to go. It’s summer, and too hot, and she waves two handheld fans against her face and says, “Let’s go to that party. It’s like death around here.”

Peeta buys her a dress. It’s orange and red. She thinks of Cinna, wonders if the dead ever truly leave us. Sometimes she wants to keep them, these ghosts, but they’re killing her too, they’re pulling her down alongside and Peeta can only do so much to keep her afloat.

But, God, she loves him for trying. She’ll owe him for the rest of her days.

He still doesn’t know what’s real sometimes. “The first time I held your hand we were on fire.”

“Real,” she whispers, blowing on her tea. They’re on the train. Her dress hangs beside her and wisps against her shoulder when the tracks curve.

His mouth lifts. “I remember thinking — I am going to die for this girl. And it’s the only way I’m going to get to hold her hand.”

Katniss puts down her tea mid-sip and kisses him with her tongue still burning. The Games never leave them. She hates the Games, however useless that thought is. But yes, it was the fire that did it, welded them together. She wouldn’t survive without him. Gale was right about that.

Gale is at the Panem Day party. She doesn’t know why this surprises her. Of course he is: he won them the war, he knows about battle and the world and he will have his name in history books long after she becomes a simple picture, a statue of victory, wings on her back. Or maybe she will be remembered by facts, not by folk tales, though probably only for the love story that brought tyranny to its knees. The public story, of course. None of the grim maneuvering of the Games that came before she loved Peeta. That doesn’t make for a good legend, she supposes.

They stare at each other across the room and she gulps at him like a fish. His eyes narrow for a moment; he’s trying to read her lips before he realizes she’s not saying anything at all. There’s a blonde on his arm, tall and thin and disposable. Gale is the most eligible bachelor in Panem, people laugh at the Hob, in District 2, in the Capitol, but rumor has it he’s still in love with the girl back home. It’s just that outside District 12, no one knows who that girl is. Everyone in District 12 knows who that girl is.

Later, he talks to Peeta. It’s across the room and away from her and they’re both casual enough about it to make her think they have indeed seen each other at these events before, or maybe on some occasional visit back to District 12. Gale must have come home at some point in the last eight years. No one would tell Katniss. Everyone knows better than that.

As he speaks to Peeta, Gale looks over her husband’s shoulder and right at her with tiny, split second glances. Gale doesn’t know what he wants to do. Katniss doesn’t know what she wants him to do either. She stabs at her cake, says, “Yes, it’s delicious” to everyone that asks.

She sees him one last time on his way out the door. It’s an accident; she’s just trying to get her coat and there he is with what she assumes is his date’s large fur coat and his plain black one. Her eyes automatically tick to the window. His date is outside, tapping the ashes off a cigarette with a cold arm around her waist. These Capitol people. They don’t know how to even be chilly.

“Katniss,” he says, and sounds surprised. She’s surprised too, since he’s a foot away from her and she wasn’t ready for it. He sounds the same. He looks older, more tired, but not by much. She wonders if he’s happy. She has never wanted Gale to suffer. She doesn’t know what she wanted of Gale, but she didn’t want that.

“Hi,” she says. Katniss hasn’t said Gale’s name in a long time. Peeta knows better than to use it too. Pronouns are best. He, a pause beforehand, the emphasis too long.

“How are you?” he asks after a moment, though it’s a stupid question and they both know it. He probably didn’t even need to ask it; he probably took one look at her across the room and figured out her entire emotional spectrum. The thing she hates most about Gale is how well he understands her. It’s cruel sometimes, the things he says and knows.

“I’m fine,” is what she says, because he can figure it out for himself, and then she brushes past him and hands her coat check number to the clerk with shaking fingers. Gale doesn’t move. She can sense him behind her, silent as the trees outside. You can take the man out of the Seam, she thinks.

“It’s nice to see you,” he says, and there’s something in the way he says it, something so terrible and alone and Gale that she almost spins around and hugs him before she gets the better of herself. Hating Gale is a task of hers; she has to remind herself to do it or she won’t. It’s not instinctive. It doesn’t come easily to her because performance rarely has.

But she does get the better of herself, and she keeps her back turned, and by the time she has her coat and has turned to say a polite goodbye, he and the blond are long since gone. Outside, there is a half-used cigarette on the pavement.

This is what Katniss doesn’t talk about.

She realized a long time ago that she needed both of them. Peeta to keep her together; Gale to understand the wiring. Peeta to talk things through with; Gale to speak to when she didn’t have words. Peeta to remember the Games; Gale to remember everything that came before. Peeta to love her; Gale to know her. Gale to love her too, but Katniss tries not to think about that.

But the world never gave her a choice. After Prim, there was no choice.

She has a primrose bush in the garden. It’s the only plant she makes sure never dies. Their tomatoes rot, but the primrose blossoms each spring. She dries some between book pages and uses them as bookmarks.

Peeta starts asking about children. She’ll never name anyone after her pretty, kind, dead little sister. He knows.

Gale comes back to District 12 for Rory’s wedding. This is ten years after the war. Katniss is going to be sick.

“Hey, Catnip,” he says, just above a whisper, looking at her the way he has always looked at her, and Peeta stills next to her. Maybe he remembers that night now, the night she shuttered herself into the bathroom and forgot how to speak. Maybe now he understands.

“Hi,” she says. Her voice cracks. She’s looking at his hands and wondering if they still feel the same. Instead, she takes a step back and presses her spine into Peeta’s palm. The boys — men now, long since — nod at each other. Gale moves to talk to someone else and Katniss stares at the spot he was just standing in. It’s only when Peeta tries to reach out to her that she realizes her fingers are shaking. Not just shaking, not just quiet tremors, but visible quakes in her hands, obvious to everyone. Peeta takes both her hands in both of his, says, “You can forgive him if you want.”

It doesn’t matter what she wants. She grew up in the Seam; wants are not a currency she understands. Ability is a language she speaks; need, she can compute. What does Katniss want — Katniss dreams of all the things she wants and leaves them against her pillow.

“Dance with me,” she asks Peeta because she doesn't have an answer. He pulls her to the dance floor and she spins and spins and spins. The world blurs and she laughs, head back, free for the moment. Katniss has learned to love to dance.

The world keeps turning when she stops, but she can somehow still see Gale through the haze in her head. He may be smiling a little, a tiny lift at the corners of his mouth. But he turns away before the world goes steady again, before she can be sure, and then he spends the rest of the evening sitting with his family and keeps his back to her.

She’s pregnant.

She feels it before the doctors can confirm it. It’s hard to mistake morning sickness for much else after the first couple incidents.

“You’re going to be a great mother,” Peeta sighs, fingertips against her still flat stomach. She thinks, No, you will be a great father, and I will try to learn.

But there are no Hunger Games. They will not starve. Her children will have a better life than she ever dreamed for them, and Peeta deserves this, she owes him, and she loves him, and she wants him to be happy no matter what it takes.

It doesn’t keep her from having nightmares for the next nine months, but her second pregnancy is easier, calmer. Her daughter’s bright blue eyes remind her of Prim and sometimes Katniss looks at her and cries.

That’s the thing about war. It doesn’t end when the bombs stop falling or when people stop dying. It ends when people learn to live again. That takes Katniss twenty years, and even then it’s tenuous, but it does happen. She has Peeta and her children and she will owe them for this the rest of her life.

Gale is still on television. He has his own show now, about global politics. It’s nice to see Gale talking about the outside world he wanted to witness. Sometimes he looks straight at the camera and Katniss is convinced he’s looking at her, like he speaks directly to her the way he would in the woods lifetimes ago. Katniss turns the TV off. Her daughter suggests she read a book.

Katniss writes one instead.

Wars end when people learn to live, but forgiveness comes later.

This is later. It is after she learns to think of her children as playing on a graveyard. It is after she has rescinded to her quiet little life. It is something. It is hers. No one in 12 thinks of her as the Mockingjay anymore. The Mockingjay is someone else. Someone from a story book, maybe, but certainly someone else's life. She's seen the pictures in history texts; the statues hardly look like her. Now, at least to the people that have seen her, Katniss Everdeen is just a woman. A woman with a book and a house and two children and a husband who loves her. She has her own phantom limb of an old best friend to watch on television whenever she wants. She does not call. She does not say his name. And she has a gravestone for her sister not far from her front door, where she goes every day. As it turns out, time heals very few wounds, or at least very few of hers. All the same, Katniss lives with the stitches. She does it very well for a woman with a cavern in her.

Now, she is visiting her ageing mother on her deathbed and her hands don’t shake. Katniss is tired, and she knows enough about death to be grateful for the ones that come from natural causes.

Peeta will be arriving tomorrow with the kids. Katniss is here now, early, alone, a small suitcase stuffed with sweaters. It’s winter. She knocks on the door of her mother’s small house and waits. It could be a while before her mother makes it off the couch and lets her in. It would be easier, of course, if she had just left the door open, but her mother always keeps the house locked.

But the door opens almost immediately, and Katniss jumps because she wasn’t expecting it. Then, she drops the handle of her suitcase, and it flops forward like a dead fish because there’s Gale. Gale standing in the doorway, Gale still looking at her like he knows her even though she doubts that’s the case anymore, Gale still looking sad but so happy to see her, surprised but alight. Gale with the same shoulders but an older face, completely recognizable, and would be to her even if she didn’t still see him on TV.

“Catnip,” he says, gentle as the rustle of a willow tree. So he hasn’t forgiven himself either. Good, Katniss thinks for a moment, but it’s a weak whisper of rage. Before she can help herself, she glances at his hands. They’re smoother now than she remembers, but there’s no wedding band there. She’s ashamed to admit it’s a relief. Not because she wants him for herself, but because when it comes to Gale, Katniss has always been childish, possessive. That doesn’t change. Maybe some things don’t. She likes to think of him and his thin blondes who will never be enough. Gale is mine, she remembers. Whatever that means.

“I didn’t expect to see you,” she says, because it’s true, she didn’t. Not in a million years. Not here. Even as she speaks, she feels her body soften, her jaw relax. Maybe Katniss isn’t angry anymore. Maybe it finally burned out. Or maybe she burned out, and this is what’s left.

Gale nods. “Your mother asked to see me. It’s been a long time for both of us. I was supposed to be gone before you arrived, but I see you’re here early.”

Katniss shuffles on her feet, something she hasn’t done in years, toes pointed in and shy. “It’s my mother,” she offers, even though Gale wasn’t looking for explanations. He knows that.

Gale looks at her with too much sadness. He has every time he’s seen her since the war, and sometimes she thinks she sees it in him on television too. She doesn’t want him to suffer. That has never been her plan. She just couldn’t look at him, and this fact killed her, kills her, laces into her blood some days and burns like acid under the skin. Still.

“I can leave now if you want,” he offers and means it, but Katniss finds herself shaking her head. The dead are dead and the war is over and Katniss is tired. She wants to know if there’s any spark left in him, or if he too is tired, if he remembers who she once was, dreams of it too, carries it with him, can remind her. Sometimes it takes the people who know us best to remind us of who we are. Maybe Gale can still be that person. Probably not. But she can try now. She can try.

“Help me with my bag?” she asks even though it’s lighter than a knapsack. For the first time in decades, she watches him grin. It reminds her of the boy she knew in the woods. When she smiles back, she wonders what he sees.
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