A Gift For Self-Destruction

For neurocritis

 

Peeta’s supposed to be the one I can’t survive without, so that I even care about the letter is surprising. It comes in a white envelope, with the address in the Victors’ Village in the same blocky hand I’ve always known. They let us send letters now, the Capitol. Everyone pretends this is a good thing, rejoicing over how it’s possible now to get a communication from someone in 2.

My husband, who is one of everyone, grins and waves when he hands it to me.

“Open it here,” he says. He grabs me around the waist in a hug, the way he does, nuzzling my neck with his nose. Some days it tickles and is romantic.

Other days, it feels like a vise.

I shrug him off—incautiously, too fast. We spin away from each other in the massive kitchen—the one that has never felt like mine even though I’ve lived here ever since the first Games. I end up flattened against the wall cabinets, and I think briefly of Buttercup, who died six years ago, and the way he would back into a corner and flatten his ears. I figure I must look like that.

Peeta’s face falls for a fraction of a second before he throws the stupid wide smile back on. This is how it works. He hugs me; I turn him down; he pretends it was all a joke.

We both act like we don’t hurt each other.

And the sad thing is, it works.

I stuff the letter in my jacket.

“I told Haymitch I’d visit,” I say.

~||x||~

After ten years, I don’t even need to look for the breaks in the walk, the little piece of tree root that decided to grow across the path. My feet know it on their own, and they make the journey without tripping.

When I get there, Haymitch is watching the television, some technology program from District 1. The new televisions have a little box you can use to change the channel. It picks up programming from across Panem, and each district has its own special programming to broadcast to the others. Thirteen districts now and not twelve, but we’re all still separate, even if it’s no longer by force.

One frighteningly aging hand reaches for the bottle on the end table and lifts it to lips I can’t see from behind.

Whether it’s the District or Haymitch, old habits die hard.

I watch him for a little bit, at the way the television light glows around his head, like a halo. As though Haymitch would have a halo.

“You know, I can hear the door,” he says when I laugh.

“So why don’t you answer?”

The bottle lifts again and makes a little clink when it lands back on the table.

“Why bother? It wouldn’t make you ring the bell.”

He’s like this. We talk a lot, like we did ten years ago between the two Games. He’s easier than Peeta, and not because he hasn’t ever been Hijacked.

I sink onto the ratty couch. Everyone in 12 is better off, but the three of us Victors still have more money. Nobody understands why Haymitch still keeps his house in such disorder. But I get it. Disorder is familiar. And after the Rebellion made everything go haywire, familiar feels good.

“I got a letter from Gale,” I tell him.

He raises his eyebrows. I lean forward and shove the letter into his hands, then look away while he reads it. I’ve only read it once, but unlike my husband, memory is not something that fails me.

Hey, Catnip,

Just writing to say hello. Still strange how easy it is to do, now.

Work goes well over here. Wonder what you’re up to in 12-still hunting? I miss it sometimes. Think about running up into a blind and sitting there.

Anyway. I wanted to let you know that Resel and I have some news.

That was the part where I stopped, because there is only one thing that follows that. I skimmed the rest.

…boy…

…June…

…wonder if we should name him after my father…

The letter is wet from where my hand sweat on it while I read it and walked the short distance to Haymitch’s. Haymitch does a better job than Peeta at recognizing when I’m rattled, and when he finishes the letter, all he does is hand me the bottle. I take a swig.

Peeta wants children. He’s always said that. He wanted them even when they might have needed to put their names into the ball, when we didn’t know how this would end.

Of course, who could predict how this would end?

Stupid and irresponsible, I told him. Reminded him of my mom, who I see once every second, third year, maybe. Reminded him of how she sat stock still until the day I screamed at her that she had to take care of me and Prim. Reminded him of how she left us to go back to 12 on our own. She still won’t set foot in 12, but we can get a train out now without too much hassle.

I’m a lot stronger than my mom, he reminded me.

I reminded him I’m smarter, too. And I know better than to pretend to be someone I’m not.

“I’m not supposed to be a mother,” I say, and this is aloud, and makes Haymitch chuckle.

“Nobody said you had to have a kid, too, Catnip.

He leans back in the chair. The top, I notice, is rubbed away even more from all the years of his hair against it. We sit there for a long time. He picks up the bottle, and then I do. It’s like a conversation, except the only talking is the technology guy on screen.

The show changes. Then it changes again. Eventually, between us, the bottle ends up drained and so we turn the television off.

“I guess I should go,” I say, and stand up.

Haymitch stands, too, and goes toward the kitchen. One thing that changed-he throws his bottles away now. It goes down the chute and clanks against the others when it lands. We both stand there and listen.

“You gonna answer him?” he says, when the bottles are silent.

“Gale?”

He shrugs. “That might be who I meant.”

~||x||~

I check my snares after I leave Haymitch. Across the meadow and into the wood, through a fence that not only now is not electrified but also has a gate. It takes hours, and by the time I get home, Peeta is asleep.

We both still have nightmares, but nowadays sleeping together only seems to make them worse. The Victor’s Village house has plenty of rooms, so I have mine and he has his and it’s only if one or the other of us falls asleep after lovemaking that we bother to share a bed. Without the rocking of the Victory Tour train, it doesn’t feel the same.

To say nothing of all that’s happened since.

His mouth works like he’s saying something. One of his legs twitches and kicks, and the blanket wraps around it. Peeta sleeps lightly, so I don’t dare unwind it. I once did it, many years ago, and the boy who woke up wasn’t my husband but the one under the influence of the tracker jacker venom. He screamed; I screamed; we hurled things, and I ran.

He lived in his own house for two weeks after that.

A moment later and he’s settled down again, his chest rising and falling in a slow beat. Peeta looks like a little baby when he sleeps, with his eyelids fluttering and his hands balled into fists and his knees folded almost to his chest. For a second I think of Gale and of Resel, his wife with the dark hair like his, who will produce little dark-haired babies that will look like they could be mine just as much as his.

Maybe I’ll go visit them after June.

~||x||~

Back in my room, there’s a dresser with the few things I keep: the memory book, a vase with a primrose from our hedge, my father’s coat, Madge’s pin. Other than that it’s spare—one sheet on the bed that Peeta changes once a week.

I turn the light out and lie down. One thing that hasn’t changed about 12 is that it’s always dark here. I never could get used to that anywhere else-the way a little bit of light, from a building, or a train, or someone’s clock or television would seep into the darkness. Not enough to be bright, and certainly not enough to see, but it’s not like 12, the way the darkness is impenetrable. I raise my hand to check and am relieved that I can’t see it.

Familiar.

I always sleep later than Peeta. I know that in the morning, I’ll wake up to him cooking breakfast. He still likes to bake—doesn’t do it because he has to, but because he can. Like ten years ago on the Victory Tour, he’s still good at making it seem to work. Like I wake up in his bed instead of down the hall. Like we never wake each other up screaming. Like Gale went to 2 for a job opportunity and not to get away from the fact that I can’t forgive him.

I stand up and fumble for the dresser without turning on the light. I’ve flopped into bed without taking the Inhibitor, the little injection that used to only go to women in the Capitol and the wealthy Districts, leaving the rest of us to chart bleeding and count days and pray we didn’t end up with too many mouths to feed. The Inhibitor works on its own; you just jam it into your side each night and a little dose of whatever it is shoots in through the skin. It feels like a little slap, the way the skin warms after, and after all these years, I find it soothing.

But as I lift it, I think again of Peeta, sleeping, with his eyelids fluttering like a little boy. I think of Gale and Resel and the child they wait for. I think of how my husband will wait forever, will give me everything I need, will never encroach on my space for anything he needs or wants.

The one I can’t survive without. It was mean when Gale said it, but in the decade since, it’s made more sense.

As I go to jam the little injector into my side, I remember my husband’s arms there this afternoon, as I kept my friend’s letter from him at arm’s length. They are there, like ghost arms in the darkness, still causing my skin to tingle.

I can’t hug him back. I can’t not flatten against the cabinets like a hissing cat. I can’t give him my letters to read. And I need my own room.

But the Games are gone, and 12 is almost nice again. There are other people here who have children. They play outside in air that isn’t choked with coal dust. They don’t starve or sell their luck for tesserae.

And if I budge on a big thing, will it make up for all the little things I’ll never be able to do?

I move the injector to my left hand and grab the lamp cord. A yank, and the dresser is bathed in warm, yellow light. I keep a pad of paper there, mostly for scribbling things I remember before I forget them—the way Cinna’s eyes crinkled at the edges when he laughed; the way Finnick’s hands glistened when he sobbed into them. The way Prim looked in her Reaping dress.

Tonight, though, I don’t scribble that. I write a letter, instead:

Dear Gale,

Congratulations. I’ll look forward to meeting him when he gets here.

K

I put down the pen, but I’m still holding the injector in my other hand as I reach for the lamp. And oddly as its light disappears, it’s not Gale at all but Plutarch who swims suddenly in my mind. On the train home from that awful spell in the Capitol, with Haymitch and a promise of Peeta, and no Mother and certainly no Prim.

“We’re fickle, stupid beings,” Plutarch tells me in my thoughts, “with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.”

My left hand grasps the Inhibitor, closing around it so tight my knuckles hurt. The phrase describes my husband. But he’s happy.

I take the injector in my right hand, but I don’t jam it into my side. Instead, I walk by memory to the trash chute and toss it in, listening to it clang its way down to the waste disposal area in the basement. Then I lie back on the bed, and stare out into the familiar darkness once more.

A little self-destruction never hurt anybody, I think.

~Fin~

§ 4 Responses to A Gift For Self-Destruction"

  • Jen says:

    You legitimately made my heart ache with this. Your pitch is perfect, the relationship between Katniss and Haymitch, spot on. Great work – thanks for writing.

    • giselle says:

      Thank you! I really was happy to get this prompt–it was healing. I didn’t love the end of MJ–I thought Collins sped some things up WAY too much, and skipped over so many things about who the characters were and would be after all they’d been through. So it was nice to get to play with them as I really felt they would be.

  • RachelCarlson says:

    I really wish you would write stories about Katniss and what happens to them after the games. Your writing is phenomenal. I love all your Twilight writings as well. Your take on Carlisle is very insightful. Stregioni Benefici is my favorite book. Thank you!

    • giselle says:

      Thank you! I’ll think about it. My first fanfic priority right now is finishing “One Day,” (once I’m done with this idiotic degree) but I really do like the THG world a lot, and it’d be fun to explore it more.

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