“We’re going home,” He says, almost smiling. You can taste the word in your mouth. It’s warm, like freshly baked bread. The thought of it makes you frown. “What about—” Your voice breaks when you see the way his face falls. “Katniss—” He says slowly, stumbling to a halt when he sees the realization on your face. He shrugs almost imperceptibly. He doesn’t say he’s sorry, and thank god for that. You don’t think you could bare it if he did.
You get home without a hitch. Or, well. You get to the Victor’s Village, which has never been home, but which has to be enough. Everything is so empty Sometimes you think you hear footsteps, or Prim’s laughter. Even the first time, you know it’s just a trick of your mind. You still look, though. Everytime.
You last half a year. Half a year of silence, broken only by your memory’s echoes and the noise of your own breathing. It’s enough to drive one mad, but you probably were already. It doesn’t take much else to prod you into marching across the street to Haymitch’s. You let yourself without knocking— you have an open invitation. Or, well. You would if you ever talked about it. As it is, you have a silent agreement. You have a lot of those.
“Haymitch!” You call out. Your voice, rusty from disuse, rattles around the seemingly empty house. A few moments of silence pass, when Haymitch’s slurred voice calls back. “In here, sweetheart!” He calls from the kitchen. You almost roll your eyes, but you know too well how tempting it is to drink away the memories and nightmares, which are practically one and the same, except for the odd one out. You opt instead for a sigh, and stomping into the kitchen. Haymitch looks up when you enter and salutes you with his half empty glass.
“This is ridiculous,” you say, looking around the kitchen, which looks like a wild boar ran through it. “I can’t live alone. And neither, it seems, can you.” Haymitch smiles, and it’s almost real. “Yours or mine?” He says. “Mine has bigger rooms,” you answer, and he nods. “Alright,” he says, holding out his hand. This time you do rolls your eyes.
But you’re grinning when you heave him out of his chair.
You have nightmares. Always, they are permeated with the sickening sweet smell of white roses. You don’t start screaming until you wake up, the smell still clinging to you.
The first time Haymitch comes running you slam the door in his face. And the second, and the third, and the fourth. The fifth time you do too, but only after a yelling match that leaves you feeling empty. The sixth time, you let him in. He sits down awkwardly by your bedside, avoiding eye contact like a thief. Finally, he grabs one of the books on your bedside table. His dry voice is soothing and you soon drift off to sleep. You dream about your father, about him telling you a fairy tale when you were little. He smiles when he finishes, and you ache with grief. “I am very proud of you, Katniss,” he says to you. “I hope you know that.”
When you wake you have tears in your eyes, but it’s ok. They’re good tears.
Haymitch brings it up first. “We can’t live here forever,” he says. He’s more sober than usual. That’s a little worrying. “Yeah,” you agree readily. It’s too quiet here. He breathes out slowly as if he was expecting you to disagree. “Ok,” he says, and that’s that.
You don’t talk about it until one day he suggests you write a letter to Johanna, ask if she knows anyone, or if she herself wouldn’t mind helping. Your letter is sparse and truthful, as usual. Johanna shows up on your doorstep a week later with a small group of people shifting and muttering behind her. She raises an eyebrow when Haymitch peers over your shoulder. “You’re more sober than usual,” she observes dryly. “I know, isn’t it disconcerting?” You ask, almost laughing. Johanna smiles sharply at you before turning on her heel and pushing through the group of lumberjacks and builders. “So, where do you want it built?” You glance at Haymitch. You haven’t talked about it yet. He shrugs at you. When you don’t say anything for two minutes she turns around slowly. “No way,” she says, anger written across her face. “You dragged me all the way down here and you haven't even picked out a spot?” She scowls darkly when you both nod sheepishly. “I have a baby to help take care of, ok? Ugh!” She storms off, and you follow her helplessly, Haymitch trailing behind you. “What about the woods?” She spins around, stomping her foot. “ Where in the woods?” You think carefully. “There's this clearing with a little brook that runs through it, I can show you where it is.” You watch as she deflates. “Lead the way, brainless.” She says without any fire, and you grin.
The swing and thud of the axes sound like a song. You sing along, and gradually the other's join you. Before long the woods are echoing with the sound of your voices as the Mockingjays sing back to you. Johanna rolls her eyes. “You just had to set them off, didn’t you?” She asks, but she’s grinning widely. You feel it curl warm in your belly. The feeling is almost something like pride.
“So, how’s Annie?” You ask one day down by the river. Johanna keeps her gaze focused somewhere on the horizon. “I never said I was with Annie. What, did you just hear the word ‘baby’ and come to that conclusion?” You roll your eyes. You should have expected this. “Annie writes to me.” You answer. Her rigid shoulders slump. “Ok, well then don’t you already know the answer to that?” You laugh quietly and she glances at you, confused. “Not really,” you say between laughs. “She mostly talks about you, or Peeta and Gale.” Johanna huffs a quiet laugh, and that’s it for a while. It isn’t until you’re packing up and walking back to the woods that she answers. “She’s—” She breaks off, struggling with her words. You wait silently. “She’s doing good,” she says finally. “She has bad days, bad weeks, sometimes, but…” Johanna shrugs. “She’s doing good. And she’s got people there to help her when she isn’t.” She smiles weakly. “She’s got me.”
The house is small. Two bedrooms, a living room/kitchen area, and a bathroom. It’s small, but it’s good. You spend your days reading and hunting and your nights writing and dumping out Haymitch’s alcohol before he gets too drunk.
It takes you a week to find another cat. She couldn’t be any more different than Buttercup: small, sleek and black with a white patch around her nose. She loves you. You don’t know what to do with her, and Haymitch won’t stop laughing at you. You write your first letter to Gale after that. It reads: Gale. I adopted another cat. Help. The return letter is very smug and very Gale and you almost cry. Oh Catnip, it says. Have you tried feeding it? Washing it? Naming it? You can hear him laughing at you. Peeta says hi, it continues, and visit us soon. Bring Haymitch. We miss you, he doesn’t say, but you can hear it anyways. You write back: Thanks for the very unhelpful advice. Tell Peeta and everyone else I say hi. I’ll visit, someday. When everything’s settled.
Someday. You’re surprised when you realize you mean it.
A couple days after the exchange, you name the cat Primrose, because Primrose would have loved her. And it isn’t until you walk into the living room to find Haymitch sitting in your old armchair with the cat sitting on his lap, the book dropped on the floor, head tipped back in sleep, that you realize you are finally, finally and truly home. You tiptoe out of the room with a smile.