Mother of Pearl
Mother of Pearl
I'm waking up in the dark. Fuck.
Why is it always in the dark?
There's a clinking sound in the distance of nothing. I move. The sound comes again. It joins my body wherever I turn.
Great. I'm chained to something. And it's not even death. Well this is fucking depressing.
Light shines on me and I hiss, trying to turn as far away as possible. Opening my eyes slowly, I stare up into the faces of people I don't know. There's a man there with blond hair and he smells of alcohol. Guards stand behind him and there, off to my right, is the one who saved Katniss from me. He stares at me hard. All of them do.
The blond one comes closer and whisky rolls off in waves into my nose. Somehow, it doesn't make me swallow or flinch from the smell. It's better than the stale air I've felt for a long time.
"So, you're the one who stole Katniss,"
I blink, exactly three times. Incapable of anything else. Lost. I look away from them, unsure of how to explain or even where to begin.
Then I'm grabbed by the front of whatever I'm wearing—it binds my arms, limiting my defenses—and he glares at me, gray eyes full of wrath, so like and unlike her own.
"Look you bastard! Whatever you did, you're going to pay for it! You might as well tell us what the hell happened,"
He's not yelling. Not exactly. He's halfway in between screaming and whispering, strangled. He must love her too. In what way I'm not sure. But I don't like it.
Even so I spit in his face, "I didn't do anything—"
Before I can delve further, his fist connects with my jaw and I see bright lights. God, I hate it.
"Gale!" the other man shouts, guards coming forward to stop him.
"He deserves to be punished for what he did!" this Gale yells back, hatred burning in his eyes as he looks back at me, "You're nothing but scum!"
I'm about to defend myself, proving who I am and sunsets shatter my world. I'm hurled into infernos and I scream, always trapped at the edges of horizons. Caught between night and day, old and new. I faintly feel something solid hit my physical body and I fight out of the sun. I'm too late. They're already leaving and I can't shout for them to come back. My mouth can't move. My voice can't make noise.
The venom is still in me, controlling me from somewhere, somehow.
And all I still want to do is see her.
Orange fills my vision again. I'm trapped.
I sigh. It's going to be like that, then and I hope this theory is not true.
I think of her and the sun obliterates all thought. I think of my Girl on Fire and flames are truly all I'll ever be able to see.
Both my weakness and my strength.
Damn it. I hate the Capitol.
I hate everything. Hate it all. Hate them, who did this to me. Hate them, who stand outside and won't let me defend myself. Hate her, for finding a way to make me love her.
Yet, even as I feel hate string viciously, I still can't help but love her. I don't think I ever will stop, even when all I want to do is blame everyone and everything. But I am the cause of my own suffering. No one else is.
I sit back against the wall and do nothing. I can't do anything. Katniss, at least, will no longer have to be abused by me. And Hyacinth isn't in the dark either. I'm the only one left here.
I breathe in, out. And, find, I don't mind.
I still don't mind.
I don't know if that's sick or brave.
The venom will block my thoughts—whether by remote control, subconscious thought, whatever the hell it is, it doesn't matter because it just will. I'm still not free yet. So I lay still and wait for the world to explode. Or nothing to happen at all.
The chains clink, like they want to remind me of the physical world too.
"You shitty things," I curse at them, having no one else to talk to.
So I decide to sleep.
And the orange is here too.
It won't end.
Peeta comes into my sleep and he cries, endlessly, a broken man who watches all he loves fall apart.
I watch Rue sing, whistling a gargled rendition of her four notes, blood coming from her mouth and wound.
Clove, Marvel and Glimmer rise from the ground, filthy and groaning sad angry things.
Katniss joins their haunted ranks by singing a song to me, a love song, a dying song, as I lay in the ground, way down deep into the earth, as she covers my body with dirt.
I wake up.
Vomit all over the floor and my lap.
No one comes until much later to clean the mess up.
And even then it's half-assed. Figures. But what special treatment do I really deserve anyway?
I failed so many people so many times, all at the important moments that count.
I couldn't protect anyone, not even myself. And I don't say this as self-preservation. I say this as a fact that if I couldn't save myself, what really made me think I could save everyone else?
I limp forward and let the orange come, unbidden. Nothing triggered it. Maybe my theory was wrong…
Oh, what does it matter? I've been wrong about everything else anyway.
I fall and sleep comes, with everything in my head blurry and clear, strange and familiar. It sucks but, at the same time, it's a welcome relief. Because I'm the only one being tormented now. I don't have to drag her down any further.
But I wake up.
And she's there.
Dark and thin, a shadow of herself, eyes reflecting mine in a way I didn't could from this distance. We're so far apart. But she's still beautiful to me.
"Hey there, gorgeous,"
The sunrise starts to come up in my mind's eye. I struggle to fight the dawn, keep time still.
As a mortal man, I lose.
"You finally got tired of being apart from me?" it says, digging into her.
"Irrevocably," she says, aloof, stance defensive.
I know it's staring at her with my eyes, but not in the way I want to. I want to stare at her with this insane love I felt so suddenly and deeply. Ensure her I didn't mean to hurt her, drag her down, and kill her over and over. But I can only stare through the orange. How much did they give me? How long will it last?
"I was told you wanted to speak with me." She says suddenly.
"I did." It says. I don't know if it's lying or telling the truth but she isn't lying. So it must be true. When was this? When I was blacking out?
"What do you want then?" she asks.
"You," it says, and this I know is true.
She kneels in front of it, all sharp angles and loathing, and she resembles the man a little who saved her, "You can go die,"
It lunges forward to press its lips on hers, and I lunge forward too, gripping fiery venom. It still hurts. But I feel her hand smack the face and I know it's mine again. She leaves her hand on the mark.
Taking the chance, I press a kiss into the inside of her palm.
Suddenly, this desperation surges up, unknown and ugly and human, "Tell me you love me."
She begins to pull away and I gently grab her forefinger with my mouth, not biting. Because I'm different. I'm not the monster everyone created me to be. I'm different. I can be different. If I try. I can. Because she's worth changing for.
I'm not a monster.
I'm human, somewhere.
Because I have hope she'll remember. Somehow, I think, maybe they had her forget me too; I remember how startled she looked when I told her I knew she could sing. So I hope because I'm hopeless.
"Tell me you love me."
"But you know the truth. I hate you."
"It doesn't matter. Lie to me."
And she does hate me. I know she does. But hope is a funny thing, in the same way destiny and fate is, in the same way life and death is.
"I love you," she lies to me, and I accept it, hoping this lie might help her find me. Because I'm still in here. Fighting to get out. But, too, she's probably the only person whose lies I will accept.
And it goes on and on. Drifting in and out of darkness. There are times when the orange is completely overwhelming when I'm asleep, and it's frightening to find myself back in that room, where I tortured her over and over.
I hang my head, staring at nothing. Trying to block it all out.
Then I hear something quiet. I raise my head and see her sink to the floor. She sighs.
She looks at me, stares right into me. The orange surges forward but I repress it enough. Even though it cocks my head arrogantly, like I don't give a shit about her, I breathe in and tell her, "Come here."
She walks over slowly. Then she sits. Pulls her knees to her chest. Vulnerable and broken.
"What's wrong with you?" I hope it sounds concerned.
"Too much crap," she shakes her head.
"Want to elaborate?"
"I don't have to elaborate anything," her voice is a harsh breath, and she retreats into herself. Where no one can touch her. Like the girl I knew in the forest and the one I know now. But it's like she's scared of me being…human, I have to say. I've been nothing but a monster otherwise.
So I shrug as aloofly as I can, "Alright, but don't blame me when you leave and you wind up not having anyone else to vent to."
She knows I'm right. It's one of the few things I'm right about nowadays.
I lean forward, "What's wrong?"
She looks at me and I find myself trapped in gray. The girl I know is there, deep inside, but there's this new girl in front of me. One that knows another harsh pain. Who purposefully seems to seek hurting herself. Maybe I'm too hopeful after all.
Her answer is a whisper, "Everything,"
I inch as far as I can go, "Tell me,"
"I can't," Her voice shakes. I keep the flames inside me from telling her that. It'll make her flinch away.
But maybe this isn't Katniss anymore.
Not my Katniss.
But I know she's there. This is just what hell wants me to think, or the part of me that wants to forget. That she is as different as I am now. That we're not the people we once were. And it's true we're not. So I go further in and I can faintly smell her, body heat coming off her. "Hey, it's alright."
And she's so still that when she suddenly gets to her feet, I'm a little startled. She's going to leave—
"I know it doesn't matter, I know you don't care but…"
Flames tickle my mind and everything burns.
Don't say it Cato.
Don't say it.
It'll hurt her.
Say it. Say it.
You've lost everything anyway.
"I love you."
She turns around and her gaze is so penetrating I feel like I'd been stabbed through the heart.
She's still there.
"You know I hate it when you tell me such things,"
I smile while I can, "You did the same for me."
"You're a sick bastard."
Fire suddenly rises from endless pits and it blocks my vision.
The body laughs as I struggle to rein it in. "You liked it when I was rough with you, you know it,"
"You hate me don't you?" she asks.
"No more than you hate me." it says.
Though I knew it to be true, her admission still hurts. The fire has a brief flicker of clear air and I reach through.
"How is he?"
"He's none of your concern." Katniss answers, voice clipped.
"I'm his father—"
"You are not his father!" she tells me harshly, stony eyes filled with hate.
The venom surges up and I choke in the poison, "You had the kid all on your own?"
"Look you sick asshole, he's mine—"
"He is mine too, whether you like it or not, Girl on Fire."
"He is not! He'll be nothing like you, nothing."
"What will he be?"
"He'll be a human being."
"I'm not a human being?"
"That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard you say—of course you're not a human being,"
She says it so simply. Like I really have been reduced to nothing, a lower life form; and for some reason, as the flames surge all around me, trapping me in my own smoke, I think I hate her a little. Because what makes her better than me? What makes her think that I'm not hurting?
"No? I don't feel things? I don't have emotions, or wants?"
"There have been plenty of times where you've clearly proven that you're incapable of feeling anything!"
I'm dazed by fiery sunsets and bitterness takes root inside.
"That's what you believe—you're always thinking you're so self-righteous don't you?"
Her gaze is forceful and angry, "Self-righteous?! You think this has to do with me proving myself right? You're more disgusting and awful than I ever thought you could be!"
I can't tell what burns more—the venom or the hatred. Maybe I feel both.
"What am I then, Katniss, what am I then?"
"No, you're nothing but a lie,"
"A lie? How can I be a lie when I'm the only person you're sure of?"
It's so annoying being stuck here, with thankless people who don't understand me, who think I'm a monster, who don't know what I've suffered, who don't know anything about me—
They don't know.
They've never bothered to know.
That's not their fault.
And suddenly I'm confused as to why I hated them in the first place.
I'm shocked but before I can say anything she leaves, and I scream for her to come back. But the body only chuckles.
I didn't get to say anything, not that it would've made much difference.
She hates me. She said she did. I don't know why it hurt me so much since I'm not the one who actually hurt her, that it's only natural she would yet… it still hurts. Everything is painful. And I've realized, fine, I can be resentful and I'll fucking admit it: I hate that everyone else, for the most part, still has their sanity and I'm here, trapped in half-dream, half-reality. And it fucking sucks that I can't do a thing to help anyone, especially myself. Who would trust a madman? Nobody. So anything I say will be null and void and people just will not give a shit.
In my sleep, though, I'm torn by many emotions. I wind up hating and loving people in all forms in sleep. Maybe I am secretly loathing everybody and can only do it subconsciously. Maybe I'm just sick. Maybe I just don't know what to think anymore.
The door slides open and the boy stands in front of me. Hyacinth.
He's little and frail. Dark and light.
"Look at me."
It's not his voice though. I look at a tall figure. A man. Everything I no longer am. The man called Gale.
"What do you want?" I say.
"You've been fucking with her brain again,"
"She comes to see me,"
"Oh I know. I've tried getting her to stop."
"Not hard enough,"
"You listen here you son of a bitch—" he growls, hand fisting into my straightjacket.
"What?" I hiss back, "What are you going to do about it? Huh? You can't help her so you decide to kick my ass because of your failings?"
You can't help her, you can't help me.
His fist knocks into my face and I know I deserve it. I couldn't help her either.
He leaves without another word.
I sleep and reality mixes with dreams and nightmares. I fall several times into thick mud and find myself gasping for air.
I wake up quietly and see her in the doorway. Actually her. I know this because I don't dream about the cell I'm in right now. And it's so good to see something that doesn't freak me out I smile and motion her over with my head.
She does it cautiously but it's better than nothing. I think of what Gale said and am torn between grinning and smiling sadly, even as the flames fire up again.
"You look better today," I say conversationally.
"You have to lie all the time on everything, don't you?" she answers.
"Who says I'm lying?"
I sigh. "I thought we got rid of that thought yesterday." Not all the crap but at least the lying. Isn't that why she comes to me?
"You know very well as much as I do that there will always be a part of me who will see you as nothing but a liar and manipulator."
I laugh and recline, "That's what you want to think—"
"No, it's what I know."
I sigh and feel the venom swirl around, coming faster and faster the longer I am with her. In desperation I'm about to tell her I'm still here and then I can't. Fire burns my lips, a hot coal. Shit. I go forward and nothing happens. It toys with her, "Why are you always scared of me?"
I watch it break her down, piece by piece. Like always. It always tries to break her down. It's terrible watching it happen. It doesn't look like she is—her face is impassive. But inside the gray eyes I know there's something churning beneath them. It's like looking straight into the eye of a storm, however rare that is. You just know when you see it.
And she cracks as the body whispers, again, "Why are you always scared of me?"
She huddles into her body, a curled up shell of her former self. She shakes, quietly. She breathes, softly. But each movement is rapid. Like she's struggling for composure. She falls apart further and further and it hurts to see her this way.
I push through the fire, feeling the burn. The cold wash of reality comes over—I recognize it more now. But when I try to tell her everything—everything—because she deserves to know, the lightning strikes deep inside my marrow. This fast nearly dizzying sensation. It just goes zap, and I find myself struggling to keep a hold on what's real, on what matters, on her.
I feel fire everywhere as I hear the venom gain control again, "Hey, what's the matter?"
"Cato, why do you do this me?"
My name carried by her voice is heavenly, like she's actually talking to me. But it's not me. Her eyes aren't looking at mine. Her hair doesn't fall before her face for me to brush away.
It's like a doll looking into the glazed eyes of another doll. Nightmarish.
Puppet-like, the body asks, "Do what to you?"
"Why do you act like you care?"
"What makes you think I don't care?"
She screams then, loud and echoing in the room. Just us two. And, for some reason, I know in this moment—this moment where I see how far they've made her lose it—that I am in control. Because I feel her hands, her skin, warm yet cold, full yet thin, bearing down on my neck. Because the face twists to show my expression, my emotion, my everything. She digs into the skin, nails scraping my flesh and I know what my face looks like above all else.
It shows fear.
And so does hers.
Of what, I can't say why for either of us.
"Stop playing games with me! What do you possibly have to gain from this?"
The body is held fast by the venom again and I struggle to go back to her. I don't know why it suddenly lurched into my hands and then got ripped away. All I know is I'm screaming in the defenseless part of my mind. I feel myself sliding down to nowhere, distantly listening.
It laughs at her, mockingly, "This is about Lover Boy isn't it?"
"What are you talking about?! Peeta has nothing to do with this—"
"He has everything to do with this! So long as his memory is here you'll never come to grip with it all!"
"Come to grips with what? What the hell are you talking about?!"
"You can't let it go—you can't let go of what you did and loving people is the last thing you want to do—"
It cuts off. I don't know why. Maybe I stopped it. Maybe it has nothing to go on right now. But what it says makes no sense. I can only look on like the spectator I am as she kneels closer, hands fastening onto the chest, angry.
"Loving people has nothing to do with anything! What do you know of it? You're incapable of feeling anything!"
"But I am not stupid!" it shouts back, chuckling menacingly at her, "You refuse to think of that part of you don't you—that you were the cause of his death and love terrifies you."
I am stumped, confused. Wondering what it's telling her. Damn the fucking fact they're lies, but what I want to know is why they're telling her what is meant only for me, only for me: that I'm the one who killed Peeta, who began to love him as another friend I didn't think I could make. I'm the traitor. It loves toying with her mind, to be sure. But why would it tell her this?
I fight the fire harder, ignoring the burns. No avail.
"Tell me! What games are you still doing?"
"Girl on Fire, there are no games except the major one happening. You think I'm an idiot—there's so much more going on in the world and you can't even see it because you're too blind to notice."
"Blind? Blind to what?"
"How Snow wants you to kill me, and you won't do it because you love me."
My heart stops.
It told her my only truth left.
It's now a lie for her.
She'll never believe it now…
"I'm not in love with you!"
I barely notice her slap across the face that looks like mine, lost in my own daze. But despite what it said, what she's doing, I still don't know why it'd tell her that she's the cause of Peeta's death.
Because I'm the one who was with Peeta. Who had Peeta's trust. Who made him a promise.
God, wait, they're—
I'm suddenly thrust into reality, but fire burns me fucking everywhere. I'm screaming and I can't tell if I'm outside the body or in. I'm in this perpetual limbo. Hanging between two halves of myself. I scream and lightning strikes repeatedly. Just crackling. And I can't remember what I was going to say…
All I know is I'm angry and violent and trapped in these goddamn flames. I howl and encourage her to kill me. It's not the body anymore. It's me. I'm telling her to kill me and nothing feels better any more than telling the woman I love to kill me, because dammit, she's not really mine anymore. Never was. But I'm always hers, she has no idea how long I've thought that and if she can kill me and make herself feel better than that's fine. I don't care. I don't fucking care—
Then her warmth leaves me and I'm crying out in the flames, alone.
"No, let her do it!"
"Let me kill him!"
I hear her say that and I struggle to get to her, orange filling my vision and I suddenly see her on fire. Flames spread out behind her like a cape and she's just this broken thing stuck in hell too. I don't know why I'm laughing but I am and I want to throw up too.
Lightning still continues to impale my thoughts, crackling and fizzling out. But then there's this new kind of electricity and it shocks me, burning. It's like rods are prodding my skin, just enough to get me away.
I don't see her anymore in front of me.
Calmed down, I am shoved into the corner of my cell. I'm locked back inside the body, too.
I know what the venom is doing.
I'm not allowed to come out.
For how long, I'm not sure.
I don't even know how they can continue to control me. And telling people about it will not help—they'll either see me as manipulating them or further subject me as the lunatic.
It's silent. For a long time.
My eyes slowly open at this faint noise, the sound of steps. Her steps. Only hers could be so quiet.
And my eyes land on those of my son's, bright, new, untouched by the harsh world. He looks so much like his mother, ironically. She comes nearer, my son just within reach. When he's close enough, these hushed words just spill out of me. I'm so happy to see him. So, so happy to see him…
I kind of want to cry.
But I don't. It'll upset him, maybe, and it'll make her angry. This moment is the most perfect one I've had in forever. Even if the circumstances are not the best. But, screw it, he's here and I feel a little better.
My child sits in the hole of my crossed legs. His weight is a gentle one. I breathe in his baby smell while he moves around. He digs his fingers into me suddenly and I almost laugh at the strength in them, "He's gotten stronger. His fingers really dig into your skin when I don't expect it to."
"He has been getting bigger too."
"Has he been eating?" That worries me a bit.
I sigh in relief inside, thoughts of the past coming suddenly, "Good. He'll need to be strengthened for the arena one day—"
"How dare you say such things?" she suddenly hisses.
I try not to sound condescending or callous but it's hard, hard when I've seen so much of what can happen if you don't prepare—not that it helped me any… "It's a fact of life, Katniss. You know this."
"But things can change—" her voice is hopeful and it hurts.
"Katniss, this is the Capitol we are talking about," I answer, staring at her deeply. Staring into her eyes, lost in gray. Trying to will her to understand. To find me. To listen to me. Because the fire is coming back.
"I don't trust the Capitol either," she answers briskly, "but to say that my son will be a contender in the Games is crossing the line,"
"I can't help but be pessimistic," I say, just thinking of the Games and how they ruined me, "I'm not exactly seeing justice being taken place in this cell. Now am I?"
"That's your own damned fault." She is right but still.
"I didn't get in here on my own." Shit. Flames just licked my mind.
"You may as well have."
More fire, more orange, no, no, no— "Because I took you for myself, is that it?" It's all I can say because the truth somehow can't leave my lips, venom making them numb to my inner secrets.
"And more!" she bites out, glaring at me and I feel my son leaving too, going to a corner. And I feel cold—
No, not the fire, no—
"This is about Lover Boy?"
No! Dammit, no!
"No, it's not!"
"You know it's your fault that he's dead. We never finished this discussion." It's not your fault, Katniss, it's not!
"There's nothing to discuss!"
"That's your problem, Girl on Fire, but you and I both know that he didn't die on his own. You sold him out to me; you led him to me—"
"I never did such a thing to Peeta!"
You're right, I did.
"He loved you and you allowed him to love you—that's why he's not here and you could've dissuaded it at any time, but you were selfish and desperate to live, so you let him sacrifice himself for you and your needs."
"It's not true!"
The body smirks and I thrash around inside. Gone. She's so near and so is my son and I can't grab them, can't hold on or speak. "Yes it is and you know it. Would he have willingly kneeled before me and allowed me to stab him just because he liked you? No, that love he had for you clouded his thinking and you let it be clouded."
Shut up, shut up!
"He made me promise not to kill you, you know," the body says, feeding her more misery. Sick. Fine. Tell her one of my deepest regrets then, you goddamn—
"What are you talking about?"
Her answer makes me look up, if I could, and she's standing anyway. I stare at her.
I told her this.
It's not a secret for her.
It's just another wound for them to salt.
But she's surprised. Frightened. And so lost.
"When he and I were fighting, he told me that he wouldn't fight. He would let me kill him so long as you lived. It was a very simple deal and I killed him instantly."
I'd like to think it wasn't instantly… God, I'm sorry Peeta.
She still looks surprised and it clenches my non-existent heart.
Then, "But he never said I couldn't do other things to you. I let you live."
She's suddenly at my throat and I feel and don't feel anything, just as lost and confused and kind of hoping, wishing, that she'll kill me and there will be consolation for her, maybe. Because it's too much for both of us to suffer and I'd rather she gets some closure than me. Because she's important. She'll always be important and so will—
I hear my son's cries and I burst through flames, "You're scaring the baby." I don't want him to see this. I don't want him to see her like this—this person that doesn't value human life, not like the way she used to. This woman who is and isn't his mother. Not like this.
"I don't care," she tells me and my heart beats fast because she sounds like she means it. Like she doesn't care that she'll commit murder in front of our son and it makes me feel sick because Katniss wouldn't do that—not the one I know. But her fingers loosen, and so does my tension.
People take her away and no one bothers me as I'm thrust behind hell's curtains again. Where everything is red and I'm my greatest torment.
So I stay here for a while. Watch faintly as people go in and out, barely feeding me and changing the straightjacket I'm in. But I don't care. I feel numb, to both reality and illusion. I'm simply here. And no one really cares.
Was I always just here and no one really cared?
There are times when it feels like it.
I'm opening my eyes—I don't remember them closing—and she's there. And I think of how she could have cared and now it's gone.
But I'm pathetic, "Katniss…"
"Shut up. We're going,"
Panic strikes suddenly. "Going where?"
"You're going to help me on a mission…"
"What kind of mission?"
Her voice is determined, more than it's been in a long time. And I see the girl I feel in love with flash before me. "It's an important one. We're going after Snow,"
"…After him? Is this a wise move?"
"Do you have a better idea?" she snaps, "Isn't this what you wanted too?"
"Of course," though I honestly can remember when I told her that, "but he has to be infiltrated from the inside, doesn't he? It would be difficult to get in, don't you think?"
"We've already worked through scenarios and compiled a list of ways to get in, especially if one backfires,"
"He's not a man to mess with, Girl on Fire. You must know that." When she glares at me, I roll my eyes at her and look away. But she is serious. So I must be too.
"I do know that. That's why you're wanted, to take him down,"
I just look at her. Torn. For some reason.
"I need an answer," she suddenly says.
I still say nothing; mind a blank out of nowhere. I just stare at her like I'm seeing her for the first time.
Then her hand touches my face, warm in the cold room. I feel surprise go through me but I find my voice, "I'll help you,"
She looks shocked that I'm agreeing and, in a random bout of my usual self, I tell her, "It shouldn't be too hard,"
I probably just pissed her off but she smirked back at me and that feels enough.
But there's no fire. No sunsets at all.
So I worry.
I worry about how I'm not burning alive.
God, I'm messed up.
I'm compliant as they clean me up and I feel…good. Well, not good. But decent. It's been so long since I've been allowed a proper bath… I didn't expect to feel as emotional about something as simple as this but I do. I've changed in some ways and it's surprising. I always thought I'd be the same forever.
But then I see the reason for why I'm changing sitting at the table. Dark and quiet and lonely. She looks at me, gray eyes piercing into me and I suddenly long to get close—
A hand smacks me back and I glare at the guard. This blond man who I've seen a few times with that dickhead Gale is there. He calls the guards off. Allows me to sit across from her.
It's like I'm looking into the face of both redemption and punishment.
Her face is focused and aloof. I feel and hear my heart beating everywhere. Just a rapid boom, boom, boom. I think of Rue and how she would sometimes curl up into me. Did my heart ever beat that loudly or am I just panicking at how Katniss might react to me in this setting? I'm without chains. And without straightjacket.
And this is why I'm panicking—the fire could come at any minute and I'd be unprepared.
But nothing happens.
I'm simply put into a room and told to sleep. For we'll be leaving soon.
So I sleep.
And watch in horror as I listen to the body move the next morning, talking the way I talk, smoothly. It touches her and I'm revolted, angry, and jealous at my own body. It tells her things I would say and not say. It stays near her and I'm terrified. I'm stuck in here—who knows what will happen to her.
We're in the Capitol, the dawn barely coming up.
And I'm about to kill her, suddenly, out of nowhere—
The fire rages around me, deafening in my ears but I push out, and I barely keep the sword from hitting her. I control the body now and flit around, taking out all my rage and pain on these people who fucked us up. Possibly beyond repair. I've never hated people more in my life.
I don't know how long it'll last. So when she looks at me, startled, I give her my first real grin, free, unbound, and gently knock on her chin, "Don't gawk,"
She almost smiles—almost, I saw it—and hurry her to where Snow should be. I recognize the halls now as some places to where he'd take me. I never thought I'd be in here. Katniss rushes in and I tell her, "Finish the job."
And, hopefully, she'll kill me immediately after.
More Capitol guards come around and some actually freeze, staring at me. Like I'm the undead. I might as well be.
I kill them all swiftly, despite the venom fighting to control me again. I nearly get impaled by a random spear but I dodge it fast enough, pushing past the burning in my brain and slash downward-
Then fire leaps out, frays the edges of my mind and I'm gone under.
I watch her face carefully. Arrow pointed at me. Snow holds a victorious smile. I scream inside as the venom makes this maddened noise with my mouth. Beyond that, I now only see fire and can no longer find anything.
There are voices fighting inside me, around me. People hover and leave, faceless flying things. Fire still burns everywhere and there's the prickling sensation in my skull. But I don't pay attention. I'm so tired…
I don't stop burning until an eon later.
Then I look at her. Right in front of me. Looking shy and out of place, "I knew you'd find a way to see me,"
She only stares at me. She looks broken. But I'm not sure if I'm imagining it. "I have questions,"
I smile anyway, "Of course you do,"
She's quiet for a long time. Like she's lost and unsure of what to do with this. She's forgotten how tame I can be. It hurts but I don't focus on that. I focus on her face, black hair framing it. She's a prettier sight than the constant brightness I'm stuck in, despite my actual eyes always being in the dark. She just remains quiet, so I delve into my thoughts, filled with all of her. God she's beautiful.
"Talk," I finally tell her. Hopefully it sounds encouraging.
"I don't know where to begin…"
"Tell me something then. We'll start small. Conversationally,"
"…the baby is well." She says then, voice small.
"Is he?" At the thought of my son, I inch closer. A distance comfortable enough for her and me.
"Yes. He babbles and coos. He'll talk soon."
"That is good. My family adored him. They loved the way his eyes looked. He also laughed a lot for a newborn, they said."
She blinks, surprised. "Did they?"
"Yes. They couldn't stop giving him things." I say. I wonder where my family is… I think of Snow. Probably dead. Another empty hole is made in my chest.
"So they…" she prods.
I look at her, drowning in her eyes, "Knew about you and me? Yes, they did. Not every detail but you were also in another part of the district, so they never saw or heard anything. Our home is on the other side of our personal Victor's Village,"
"He was never abused, then?" she questions.
I bristle, a snort escaping me. "I'd kill whatever asshole dared to touch him." But then I glance at her, "You wondered if I ever hurt him?"
"I'm not a total monster."
"You could've fooled me."
"I fooled myself as well. Venom influence and all."
"Wait, they told you about the venom?"
"All of the detail that you told them. How I was infused with it for a long period of time."
I was never told this information. I've been drifting in and out for who knows how long.
I'm still under the venom's control. Either there's someone here who continues working against us or the doctors have not been successful in taking out the poison just yet.
Ha. I'll never be free.
So I just listen to the voice of the woman who traps me with her gaze.
"How do you think Snow managed to get it into you?"
"Someone from the inside, I suppose," the body says, "I did find the sudden appearance of Antonia odd, but I never questioned it. She was useful." Ugh, I remember her. She really didn't know how to keep her hands to herself either. I shudder as I think of the way her fingers would skim down to my waist and just settle there.
Katniss tenses. And I feel my heart lurch.
"Jealous?" it asks my question.
"No, she was just a spiteful bitch whenever she bathed me."
Fire parts and I reach through to speak, "I figured. She definitely was… yeah, she was a bitch."
It's soundless for a bit. She breathes and I breathe. Nothing much else. But it means so much. I can feel the venom trying to take control again but I refuse to back down.
"So the…" her voice drifts off.
I look at her. Sadly. I hurt her so much. But she's here. Talking to me. Trying to understand. I don't know how to reply without sounding like an asshole or cavalier. But she trusts me. Me. For the first time since the Arena.
But the venom wins, "To be honest… I don't know if that was totally the venom's fault."
"We're not sure when the venom was activated right? From what I see in my head, where it's not tinted with odd colors, I took you for my own in the arena and there is no color. I could've intended to hurt you all along. There's no way to know for sure if the venom is the cause of all of this." It lies and lies. Making me the bad guy always. She'll never completely put faith in me again. Not like before. It wants me far from her.
"You mean the war?"
"Yes. What do you know about it?"
She explains what happened behind the closed doors with Snow. How he used me and her and the rest of the world. I hate him but there's no usual spark of it. I feel numb only, even as my vision splits and I can see her again. I take advantage of the fire moving away.
"It's simple. He just wanted a scapegoat for the war he meant to happen."
"But why would he want it?"
I shrug, "Madmen do awful things when they're bored, you know."
I do know.
There's a knock. Someone tells her to go back to her room.
She stands but halts. Like she doesn't want to leave me. I feel a lot of things from a distance.
"Go," I tell her, "I'm clearly not going anywhere."
She doesn't belong here with me anyway. Not in a place like this. Where I'm still far from being myself.
From being human. From being the person who can be relied on. From being a father and protector.
It's funny. I never thought I would think these things, definitely not at the age of sixteen. Am I still sixteen? I don't even know. Probably. Hyacinth took the usual nine months of pregnancy to be ready. It's a miracle in itself that she didn't have a miscarriage or he was born prematurely. Hopefully he'll have that kind of luck all his life. Even though it's doubtful I'll ever see him again, I'm fine just knowing he'll be taken care of. Even if it's by that pompous asshole Gale. I'm pretty sure, with how close they are, that he helps her with our baby.
Well, he's better than me so… I guess it's for the best. She'll always do what's best for kids. It's a quality of hers I find admirable.
I want to die so badly.
In the back of my mind, behind the curtain of flames, flicking in and out, I remember, vaguely, that I tried to commit suicide before. It was months ago while I was somewhere. Hidden under my own skin, the venom tried to do the job.
But, today, it'll be me who defeats me.
I know they'll come eventually. And they do. Doctors move around, holding medications, trying to fix something that'll never be fixed again. Instruments are strewn on a table and I look around, feeling closer to myself again. My actual self. Who scrutinizes everything, especially weapons.
I feel like I'm really close to home.
"We're going to need the dose for hallucinations. It's imperative he get fixed."
"He's kind of a lost cause though—he'd been under Tracker Jacker venom for over a year. That's the longest a human has ever been. I'm surprised he didn't die from the overdose they'd give him."
"Don't say that," the first voice says, "He might hear you."
"He doesn't even look alive to me. He's probably sleeping or, you know, completely vacant—"
"I wish you wouldn't talk about patients like this, Mercy.
The voice is flippant, "I call it as I see it."
Well, she's blunt. That's good. It just confirms my point.
So while they've been talking I moved around. Wriggled until my arms were loose. Right there, near the nurse, is a syringe. Not what I had in mind but it's better than nothing.
I lunge forward.
I almost cry out when I touch it, heart beating fast, pointing the needle to my neck and it'll be over—
Bodies pile on me, and I feel like I'm being suffocated by the dead. I squirm underneath them. My shouts mingle with theirs.
"Restrain him! He can't—"
I go into darkness again, and I feel heavy. The body slumps forward.
A blur of sentences go by my ears; I only make out 'mercy' being shouted once and then nothing else.
I just want to be left alone. I don't want anyone near. It's too depressing.
But I don't seem to get what I want. Because she's suddenly in the doorway, the door bolting shut.
Anger flares, "Oh, fuck, you're here now?"
They told her. They fucking told her what I tried to do. It's none of their business and I don't want her here while I'm like this. It's already bad enough.
She doesn't say anything.
"Well, at least you're quiet." I remark, relieved she's…well, just not talking.
But then the anger comes again, though not at her, "Who told you, that brawny idiot from 12? I bet it was him,"
"No, Gale didn't tell me."
I glare at her, hating his name coming from her mouth. I turn my head. I'm just filled with rage and I have no way to unleash it. And she's the last person I should take it out on. But it comes anyway and I choke from how angry I feel—that I'm deprived of everything, even death.
Her hand suddenly brushes my hair, my face. Her skin is warm. I notice her holding something in her fingertips. My hair? When did it get so long? I don't know why it surprises me so much but the fact my hair is long, to my chin, and I had no idea… my appearance is different now too. I have no idea what I look like anymore…
I take comfort in her touch and fall into her hand.
"It's getting to be too much," she murmurs plainly.
My eyes open, peeved, though I don't know why. I'm just pissed at everything. "No, what gave you that idea?"
"What'd you see today?" Katniss suddenly asks. Her voice is serious.
I stare at her. Confused. "Walls and a door I can't go through."
"I meant from the venom," her voice increases in pitch, like she's searching for something in my answers.
"Why should I tell you anything? It's not like you care," And she shouldn't. She really shouldn't.
Even with her admitting it, it still kind of hurts. Shit. This is ridiculous. This…thing we have. I fell in love with a sullen yet bright girl in an arena where we were sent to die. I haven't seen or felt her in over a year. This is someone foreign to me, someone who hates me. Why love still continues to pursue me is horrible. I can't possibly be in love with this girl out of pity. She wouldn't want that and neither do I. I've forgotten a lot of things, a lot about humanity, but loving someone out of pity is a worthless kind of love. You should love people for who they are, not because their circumstances are upsetting.
Katniss out of nowhere flicks my forehead, looking annoyed, "Cat got your tongue?"
I can't help it, "You offering to bite me? You used to."
She blushes, and beneath her shock, fury, and disgust, there's this flicker of something I know, "No, this is serious!"
I bark out a laugh, "Too bad I don't give an actual damn. Tracker Jacker venom is dangerous in the bloodstream, but injected with heavy doses isn't going to help any."
"You don't know that."
"You don't know how long I've had the shit in me," I'm angry, so angry and the truth is on my tongue. But the very thing that destroyed my life returns with a vengeance and the body is no longer mine, lying, "Since the Games, maybe during, maybe after, I don't know. The extended period of time will fuck you up; you were near a Tracker hive, it's a miracle you didn't die like Glimmer. Then again, you were much tougher."
But there was still me in there, though I wish it was more me. The venom is still here, asserting dominance. But I let out how angry I am in the lies, the little truths of my experience, like Glimmer dying. Too much truth and I'll be silenced.
I'm not sure why or how, but her forehead is upon mine. Dark hair falling in front of her face. I stare, surprised. Her braid falls over her shoulder, and her hands are warm. I feel my heart give this jerk inside me. Like it's trying to break out to her. Her mouth is near mine, close. And it's me she's responding to. Nobody but me. Before anything can happen that might ruin this, I lick her bottom lip.
She doesn't respond to me. But she doesn't hit me either.
She's in another place, in her mind, where she can't be reached. Same as me. She retreats into herself but her body comes closer, and I don't know if she notices. But it does. Does her body remember the touches I'd give her—not the violent ones but the ones I meant for her in affection?
I'm not sure either.
So I break the uncertainty by pulling her mouth to mine, my teeth dragging along her lower lip. I almost pause, remembering her dislike of physical tough now but… there's this gentle heat that is softer than the flames I've felt for a while. Yet it burns hotter as it goes, but I'm not in pain at all. My mouth skims her neck, and I breathe in the scent of her hair, clean and smelling of outside, of mountain-laurel and rainwater.
I moan into her mouth and then her arms are around my neck, body burning, her breast against me, soft and inviting while her hands brush through my hair. I want to pull her closer until I don't know where she begins and I end.
I breathe out, "I wish I can move my arms…"
She nods, letting out her own sigh. Then, without doing anything, she kisses me hard. Encouraged I kiss her further, her body responding. Her hips suddenly buck into mine and I groan, feeling alive. Her movements increase, fast and rapid, her breathing harsh on my neck. She nips on my mouth, her fists digging into my back and she relaxes—I feel her slip, gently, completely at ease. I feel her body heat seeping through my bindings, through the cold room and I soak in her heat.
This is how it could've been. This is how we could've been—with her on me and me giving into weaknesses I didn't know I had and could like.
Katniss pulls away, her face all I can see. Fire is everywhere but no venom is present. Her mouth is parted, eyes closed, cheeks flushed in the light…then her eyes flutter open, and the gray sparkles in a way I've never seen before. She's kind of smiling too, and I'm not telling her that either. In her daze, she looks at peace, clear, jewel-like; damn, she's a sight to see.
I swallow my breath, my feelings, just lost in her soft touch. "I thought of our son…"
She doesn't say anything. I only feel her fingers thread through my hair. Idly, I wonder what she thinks of it.
"I thought… of a lot of things," I say, licking my lips, her taste still there, "Mainly our child; it's hard to think about him without wanting to commit suicide. You've wanted to kill yourself, I'm sure."
She nods and I don't blame her at all.
"It's the same. In here; where there's nothing but my thoughts."
"It's a dangerous thing." She agrees. I wonder what her mind tortures her with daily.
"It is. Sadly, it's beginning to feel normal. Maybe it's always been. Especially when you can't tell what's real and not, what I do and do not want."
"What's real?" she asks.
I think. It's hard to say, somehow. "Physical things, mainly; the doctors, the walls, the floor, and you… you're both real and not," I peer into her face, remembering how she looked a few minute ago. Warmth spreads through my chest—I caused her to look like that, "But you're very real right now, and that's good."
Katniss' fingers twirl through my hair, "And what do you want?"
She does nothing for a few moments as I grind my hips against hers, one fast move and a few slower ones. Her eyes narrow a bit, shocked but in that daze again, where she's in my world for real. Falling to me. But then she suddenly snaps and she practically bolts from me. So she doesn't remember how she did that to me.
Heat comes in my sudden anger, "You shouldn't tease if you don't mean things." Say what you want about me, but she is not under any influence of venom. She is free to tease, to deny, luring me in and no one can tell her no. Because she is the victim so she'll be obliged and I'll just be the bad one, always…
That doesn't sound right. I don't know why I'm hostile to her suddenly. Then I notice the orange at the edges of my vision. Shit.
"You shouldn't either." She replies.
"You do it all the time," Her voice is low, untrusting. Back to square one. Did we ever leave it anyway?
Katniss pulls her arms to her chest, "Why do you torment me?"
"And you don't torment me?" The sunsets are back. I'm yelling at the sun. But I'm yelling at her too.
"Of course not!"
The body and I smirk. As one. Because the Tracker Jacker venom has been with me so long. The venom, even if it's taken out, will be a part of me forever. It doesn't matter what the doctors do now. I'm the only one who's realized this. I am, officially, battling another half of me, a darker half of me. She does tempt us. For different reasons, but there's no denying it now that she draws both of us in. She burns light and we know no better.
"Not in that usual sense… No, not in any sense," she lets out.
I've had it and so has the venom. "You love me."
Her intake of breath cuts the air, "No, I don't."
The venom surges as I'm about to tell the truth—the one it doesn't want her to know, even though it's still a hunch for me. So I tell her another truth, one the venom doesn't mind, "Not in the sense I mean. You love the people who get hurt. You're very empathetic. It's partly why you were valuable in the arena, even a little feared."
She doesn't answer me. She stares at the floor. Her hands at her sides are fists and she looks sick.
"…You love me, then?" she asks me.
Yes, I do love you. More than I thought I could. But the venom says something else in my head, "In a way, I do. You mothered my son. And you're a symbol of power; I can't help being attracted to that."
Katniss' expression is relieved, like I gave her something that made her better.
I compliment her, but the venom isn't nice, "It helps that you're actually pretty, once you're cleaned up."
She moves to leave.
"No, wait, come back!" I say quickly, pushing poison out of my mouth, "I… I don't mean that."
Her face is incredulous, puzzled. "You don't?"
I'm blinded by the horizon, struggling, "No! I mean, yes, no, I—"
I'm screaming, battling myself inside. I feel her in front of me, her face near, hands at the sides of my face.
"Cato! Cato, you need to wake up!"
Doctors come with sharp things, prodding into my skin, my brain, laughing above me. Antonia is serpent-like, her tongue roving my body up and down. Snow says nothing while he squeezes my heart through my chest with his fingers. Rue smiles as she bleeds out, Peeta screaming as birds—Mockingjays—come down and peck out his eyes. Glimmer cries beneath a tree, her skin melting away while Marvel stares off into space, half-buried in the earth. Clove just tells me over and over how I failed her. And Katniss agrees.
"Cato…" I hear Katniss, voice pleading. For me. "Come back, please."
I fall onto something small but solid. It's her shoulder. She is completely still as I breath out in whimpers. I feel pathetic, having her look at me this way. Vulnerable and not the person I was. Her arms go around me, holding me tight and I try not to cry against her.
I'll never be the same again.
The venom laughs with my voice.
I was a boy who was revered, considered a prodigy at home. I was adored for my cunning, my power. My parents, now long gone I bet, were proud of my accomplishments. Other families wished I was their son—I'd hear it. Now I'm just this thing that only looks like how I did before… Long blond hair falls in front of my vision, a slap in the face. Fuck.
In her arms I look up at her—her dark hair, her tan skin, and her gray eyes that look so much like Hyacinth's…
My heart breaks.
"Go away," I tell her.
When she leaves I let out my sobs. They're quiet. Lonely. Pitiful. I don't want even this room to hear me. I hate it.
I feel her fingers and I know it's the next day—or even later—but it feels like she was just here. Her hands leave my hair and I bare my teeth, loving and hating her. I see Hyacinth. And the room actually brightens.
But her face is grim, pitying me. I am annoyed by that. I don't want her of all people to pity me. There's little dignity I have left—if I had anything before—but still. I'd rather she not look at me this way. So she doesn't anymore. Like she could tell.
I ignore the fluttering in my chest.
"You decided to bring him here, finally." I say.
She nods, setting down my son. He's awake. He doesn't seem to recognize me. I'm sweating a little as I realize that. Hyacinth smiles and I'm relieved, grinning back. At this, he smiles fully. He joins me, sitting in my lap. I lean down, burying my face in his hair. He's so little. "He smells good. Much better than in here,"
My son tugs on my straightjacket. It doesn't loosen. That's too bad—I'd love to hug him.
He suddenly looks at me, his voice rising in pitch. A question.
"Yeah, I'm kind of stuck in this thing. Sorry, buddy."
Hyacinth babbles, gesturing with his hands and arms, fast and excitedly.
"Yes, if I could move my arms, I'd definitely be playing games with you,"
"Ooh," he says and I smile.
He moves his hands, clapping them. Blowing out spit with his mouth.
"What game is this?"
He claps again, blows. Then he pats my chest, wanting my hands. I look at the straightjacket. Fucking thing. Can't even play with my kid. But I move inside to show him where my hands are. He pats them as best he can.
"Oh, okay, so it's patty-cake," I remember some kids played that on my way to the Academy.
He coos happily, like I just won a big game by guessing right.
"Alright, then, let's try it, 'kay?"
We play for a bit and I laugh when he messes up or I do. He's really pleased and he's the most fun I've had ever. Genuine fun. Funny, that I'm playing children games at this point in time.
I notice Katniss in a ball. Hiding from people. "Hey, you alright?"
Her face flickers with lots of emotions—so fast her face can't stay on one. But then it stops. Sadness won.
"Come here," I tell her.
She obliges me, or herself. Her body lithe against me. Katniss nestles into me and I breathe her in. "It'll be okay." I tell her. She still smells the same. I like it.
I feel her braid move and look down at our son, who is tugging on it.
"Hey, you don't do that," I tell him. I move down and softly butt my head on his. Katniss looks mortified and I almost laugh. Hyacinth laughs though and he goes on talking about something random. He doesn't mind that we don't understand, I think. He's just glad we listen.
"What?" Katniss asks.
"Nothing, really," I reply, "It just feels like a long time since I've had you pressed against me. Miss me much?"
She hits my shoulder, with no real force. I laugh aloud now.
"I suppose you haven't, and I don't blame you."
"…how has therapy been going?" she says conversationally.
"Therapy? You think they're giving me therapy?"
"You mean they're not?" She sounds pissed.
"I didn't say that. But it doesn't feel like therapy," It really doesn't. I try to think of what they do; well, more like try to remember what happens; most of the time I'm out of it, "They just take scans of my brainwaves, check on me now and again, and give me my meds and the occasional dose of Morphing for the pain I get being cramped up. Don't even get me started on how they give me drugs to sleep and see how the fuck my REM patterns are going, or whatever. It gets really tedious, you know?"
"I do, actually; believe me I do." Her voice is bitter.
"Oh, they got you taking some tests, too?"
She glances at me, "They've lessened them a little but I still have them often. Been diagnosed with aggression—which I already knew," Oh is that right? "I think I was always angry; it just increased during this time. Don't even get me started on all the behaviors I've been told I have: suppression, hysteria, insomnia, panic attacks, hypervigilance, mood swings… it goes on and on."
I stare at her. One part of me, sadistic and cruel, laughs. But I, the one who cares, kiss her forehead. I slowly make my way down her face, stopping just by her lips. "I'm sorry… I can't… I can't believe I've done all this to you." I mean it. Every word. Every wound I gave her.
I know she doesn't believe me—or has a hard time trying to. I pull back from her. Giving her the space she wants. I clear my throat as I turn to look at our son. "What has he been doing out there?"
"What do you mean?"
My boy is playing with his fingers, as though he didn't know he was human. I don't look at her as I talk. "What are his activities?"
"…I'm not sure. I gave him to Madge and Gale."
Hearing that asshole's name pisses me off, so now I really don't look at her. I just raise an eyebrow, "To babysit?"
"No… to have,"
The world falls apart, hell pouring out. She pulls away from me, rushing to our child.
"You gave away our son?! To those people! Why in the fucking hell would you do that, Katniss?!"
She's trying to hush Hyacinth and I feel guilty but I'm enraged at this fact—this horrible truth.
"Why did you give him to them, Katniss? What were you thinking?"
"Oh, because we're so fit to raise him, right? Because I'm perfectly fine and you're not locked up for rape and murder and possible coercion and lack of sanity, right? Because we're just one normal couple: a family, planning to grow our family with children? Who the fuck are you joking, Cato?! We're both so messed up! How could I not give Hyacinth to Gale and Madge, who are perfect together and great candidates for raising our son the right way? We can't keep him!"
The venom and I are one as we spit out anger, listening to her defy us, not want to include us—include me, goddammit. "You didn't even consult me!"
"You're locked up! How can you have any say in the matter at all? You're my rapist for fucking crying out loud, Cato! Do you really think that this is like any other legal case? I had no choice! I thought I was doing the right thing!"
The two sides of me—the darkness and the light, the venom-me and the real-me—scream out loud. We fight and pull and tug. If I could tear myself apart it would bring me relief. Hell rages on and on. Everything sets me on fire.
Guards rush in. There's energy in the air—I feel it. All around me.
I meet her eyes, holding our son. Protecting him. Like she'll always do.
That's my girl. She's so good…
I'm thrust into this new fire. This new sense of electricity. I feel my skull split open and venom swirls around with my blood. My eyes see nothing but red and orange. A bloody sunrise. It hurts. It fucking hurts—
It breaks the dark. There's no darkness.
I'm in pain—my body crackles.
But I don't feel angry.
I don't feel spiteful.
I don't feel confused.
I just feel this overwhelming devotion to her, to our son; soft gray eyes like rain clouds.
I can tell truths.
I think I'm