I know I am.
I'm in a different place.
This completely different world.
It's not dark here, or even bright.
It's just the right amount of sun and shadow.
I find myself just drifting. Enjoying the sensation of flight. It's frightening but not in the way I've known terror. It's the graceful and comfortable gliding of birds. Where you're thinking you're going to fall, then you remember you're the one in charge of yourself, and only you can decide whether to go on or plummet to the ground.
It goes on for a while. Flying.
Then I see her below. In this green sea. A field. She's just a black speck but I know it's her.
And, to my surprise, she sees me.
So I float down. Walk over to her.
She falls into me, arms snaking their way around my waist, hands digging into my back. I kiss her deeply, drowning in her. She's warm, like holding sunlight.
I press her to the earth, and she responds, body igniting up. She slowly turns from comfortable warmth to an unbearable heat. I lick her throat, trailing down, murmuring her name while the day dazzles on. We push off our clothes and she bends into me, skin hot. It's like a dream. It's all too surreal as she moves, pulling me deeper into her, both of us no longer afraid. Her mouth travels along my jawline and I groan as we slip further into something I didn't know we could experience, and her body is not dry, there's no pain for either of us. I don't close my eyes. I've seen her in the dark too long, and she makes that face I gave her before when we were alone—where her eyes looked dazed and she was smiling gently.
Life passes on and we come to terms with what we've done.
But the past is vengeful. It refuses to be forgotten.
She sometimes cries out at night, and, on occasion, she'll strike me in fear, forgetting that we're not those people anymore. For a moment or two, like eternity, she'll forget where we are, who we are becoming and she'll pull from me, hands clenched to her chest and full of terror. Slowly I'll go closer, until she is near me again. We can be different. The same way society created us into something new, something unknown, we could do the same.
So then she'll pull me close, kiss my hair and say she's trying.
I'll wake up, too, night or day, screaming, holding onto solid things. It's usually Katniss. I'll shake from memories of hurting her, hurting friends, hurting everything I care about. Though she knows I will no longer damage her, I still apologize, and she'll say there's nothing to forgive anymore.
But it's hard.
I wake up in red.
Nothing but red—the color of blood and it seeps from tall stony rocks.
And I don't see her. Can't find her anywhere and I feel myself going crazy. Because if they took her—
I whirl around, calling for her, the sound and feel of flames all around me. It's hot as I sprint. I choke on the sulfur, breathing harsh. It's intense but I keep shouting.
I feel my hands burning. They're scorched, bleeding from a path of brimstone and hot coals. I can't see past the smoke, a black mass. I push through, coughing violently.
I trip, feeling something grip my foot. I kick it off but it clings tighter. I roll onto my back. My blood runs cold as ice, even in heat, fighting off this reptilian beast that bites into my skin, unlike anything I've seen yet it's familiar.
It's me. Though it doesn't look it, I know it's me—the way it moves, breathes, laughs, everything about it reminds me of me. And Snow, and everyone else I hate.
I have no weapon. I can't kill it.
It leaps at my throat.
Then there's a whole swarm and they cackle and claw, yellow eyes glowing everywhere—
It's dark. A relief.
I feel a hand touch my shoulder. I leap away.
It's her. She tells me so. Her hands move closer until they're on my face. I bury myself in the crook of her neck, breathing her in, alive and not smelling like burning flesh. I breathe hard, struggling to gulp in air.
We hold each other, shaking, until the sun comes up. The same way I do it for her.
It's not a nightly occurrence, but it's enough to cause some insomnia.
Many wonder how we can do this.
By all accounts, she should hate me until she dies. And I should avoid her, having been the cause of my own fall and endless guilt.
"It's sick, how can she forgive him?"
"The rape victim is with her rapist? That's not possible,"
"Do you think he's still faking it? I don't buy that he was under venom the whole time,"
"I think she's an idiot, not to mention a masochist."
"Their son is going to grow up confused,"
"In a way, she caused this to happen to him—he shouldn't forgive her either."
"The point is both are far from well; we should keep them from the rest of us,"
"They're disgusting. I wouldn't want to be them for anything,"
And, sometimes, we wonder if people are right. They make valid arguments. They are faceless people, but we hear them. Their voices are loud, rivaling Capitol audiences. They shove us in our own corner, a white wall that shows us their long shadows. We're condemned. We'll never be understood by everyone. It's always easier to just label people, ignoring details.
We'll fight, angry, hurt. She'll yell and I'll yell right back. We're not really mad at each other, but at everyone else. Remembering all of it. Because we are told to remember the past—it's something to hold onto. But what good is a past with nothing but hurts? It's something we need to let go.
So we do it, every day. Every day.
And we're usually better for it.
A lot better for it. I refuse to let us lose.
I watch Hyacinth grow up. His eyes sparkle like his mother's. He grows up strong, fast little legs carrying him, under the protection of everyone he loves. She says he's like a bird. I laugh because it's perfect. Rue would love him. There's many who do and he's coddled a lot. A childhood I never saw before. He is happy. He is alive and well. He plummets through fields, a natural runner—so quick and agile it's like watching him fly—then he jumps onto us, squeezing tightly. I think of how much better this world seems than before.
He thanks us for bringing him into the world, grinning widely. Not knowing pain.
She and I cry when he tells us this, and we hold our little boy tightly. Close, until we're all inseparable.
I look down at his face.
He looks just like me when I was little. His teeth grow out the same way too, smile wide.
I love that his eyes are like hers.
Crying, I shut my eyes, tears falling out. I'm not ashamed of them.
I'm so happy.
And I think of how everything else will be—he'll become a man, proud and full of confidence, everything she and I want him to be and more. He'll be good. He'll pursue what he wants with joy. He'll live to see adulthood. He can live a full life. She and I will be so glad and grateful. We can look at our aged hands in awe, never thinking we'd get here either, a time of life that none of us ever really see. She'll have gray hair, stark against dark skin and she'll still look beautiful to me. I love and adore her so much.
We rest in peace, and it'll all be well, because I lived with her. I've never desired anything more, anything else.
I open my eyes back up, feeling full, and I'm staring at myself.
I'm astonished to see my own face, blearily staring up. It's been a while since I've gotten to look in a mirror. But I don't feel surprised.
"You're awake," I tell me.
I blink, confused. My eyelids feel heavy. "Yes…"
The other me moves back, shock still uncontained, and I wonder why I'm acting so strangely. The image of me falters a step, and I stare at my own form, peering closer.
I don't have gray eyes.
A heavy feeling sinks into my chest. I try to get up, feeling my body immovable. And I can't. For a moment, I panic. My breath hitches.
Until I see her. I don't breathe at all.
Washed in sunlight, she is not as dark, both different and the same. She is the girl I love and someone else.
Her eyes widen and her voice is just a whisper, "Cato…"
"Katniss," I answer. My voice is ragged, unfamiliar and deep. Like it hasn't been used in too long a time. But I hear a love so profound that maybe that's what choked my voice. I try to reach her and fail. "Shit…"
She rises from her chair, approaching me. Her hand reaches out; still thin but new lines are there. It grips mine. She helps me sit up, carefully. My back aches like a bitch. Then her hand touches my face and I see her crying. I try to reach up to touch again but I feel tired for some reason. All I want to do is hold her close. It feels like forever since I've seen her.
"You're here," she says, tears continuing to fall down her cheeks, "I can't…"
I continue looking at her, "Back? Where have I been?"
She cries harder.
The other one, my doppelganger, steps closer, gray eyes intent on mine. Otherwise he's the spitting image of me. His voice is low, "You've been gone for a while,"
I swallow thickly. My throat is dry. "…How long?"
He swallows too, "It's been sixteen years."
I feel something inside me break. I didn't think there was anything else left to break. But I'm wrong. Always wrong.
And the world gets this sudden splash of clarity—I look closer, and there's gray in her hair, though lighter than her eyes. Not the gray I at all imagined. I turn to the boy at her side, staring at me with this continued sense of awe, shock and something deeper, something painful.
I turn instinctually to her. Her face calls to my hand and I finally move it. My arm screams, not used to moving, muscles twitching. But I ignore it. She gasps when I do but she holds it there. She's warm. Always seems to be. She doesn't fight me, there's nothing in her eyes that shows anger at me. She accepts it. Like how I've always dreamed of her doing.
"I… We… I can't believe you're awake. You're back. You're back,"
This is all she can say for a while. But I'm fine with that. I'll eventually find out—right now I'm just content to be so close to her body, her voice, her being.
The boy, quietly, leaves.
I feel my heart twinge.
That's my son.
I never saw him grow up…
I am suddenly crying too and she pulls me into her shoulder, her tears trickling down into my hair. I glance at and see no long locks. It's the way it used to be. I cry harder.
The doctor who has been the main contact for my care comes in with Katniss, and there's no one else. Somehow, I've never felt lonelier.
I'm told everything.
How I fell into a coma straight after when they electrocuted me. The times I almost died while in the coma. The times people have tried to come into my room to see the one who imprisoned the Girl on Fire—publicity will always be an issue. There's not much else to tell. Sixteen years of stationary silence is like that. Nothing.
Katniss doesn't leave my side until it's time to go home.
"I'll be back tomorrow, alright?"
I nod. Watch her go.
While it's been an endless nothing for me… it's everything for them.
I've missed sixteen years of life, of laughter, of growing up. Becoming someone new. Everyone's moved on without me.
I think of my son, who looks healthy but not at all like how I thought he'd be. I wonder if it was hard for her—to watch our son morph into me, with the only reminder that he's his own person being his eyes.
I didn't get to grow up either. I guess no one will ever get everything they want.
A nurse comes into the room, "Good evening. I'm just going to take some extra notes,"
I give him a nod. Talking hurts my throat.
He scribbles down a few things, inspecting the IV and the heart monitor. I hear the steady beeping, lethargic almost.
"Can I ask something?"
He turns to me, "Of course,"
"Do you know where my family is?"
He suddenly looks uncomfortable, "It's too early to push a lot on you—"
"Please," I say, "I'd just like to know." It'll give me some peace.
"…They've been dead a long time. I'm sorry."
"Alright," I answer, looking at the ceiling. The monitor for my heart skipped a beat. It's normal again. One less thing to patch up though… I guess that's good. Depending on how you look at it. Yeah. Depending how you look at it…
He leaves me to sleep. But I feel like I've been sleeping for too long, even though it wasn't really sleep.
So I drift in and out, waiting for Katniss to come back.
She enters the room in the earliest hours of visiting times. I smile at her, "Hey,"
She smiles back, "Hey,"
The monitor skips a beat again.
We both ignore it.
She takes a seat next to me, pulling the chair close, "Sorry that it's just me. Hyacinth is in school."
"That's alright." I look at her for a while, and she holds my gaze, "I'm happy to see you,"
"Cato…" she says, turning away, "It's been a long time."
"I know. It's been forever."
"Not everything will be the same," she is straightforward, looking at me in the face.
"I appreciate the honesty," I croak, "But it's fine."
"…You still love me." There's a lot in her eyes, her face, both distant and near, always within and out of reach. Something in her eyes that makes her hesitant.
I don't hesitate, "Yes,"
She breathes out a short quiet laugh, her fingers skim my face, "You're too much,"
"I try," But I'm confused by her treatment of me and open my mouth—
The door opens and the same doctor from last night comes in. He greets us.
"You're quite lucky," he tells me, getting to the point, "Most coma patients don't come out of it at all,"
I swallow. No shit. I breathe out, "What exactly is going to happen now?"
"Well," he says, looking at his clipboard, do all doctors do that? "We need to slowly emerge you back into the world. It's been over a decade so the muscles and joints in your body need to be immersed in a physical therapy regime. Since you were in the coma for a long time we also need to make sure that you have no leftover venom, though that is unlikely. We checked and it's gone. But it harmed your mind in a way that may or may not be reparable. A psychiatrist will be in order and—
"Hold on," Katniss interjects, "He just woke up. Let him take it slow,"
"Katniss, it's fine," I tell her.
"No, it's not; he's bombarding you with too many things at once—"
"Please, I can handle it—"
"You can't go and absorb all this in one sitting—"
"I've been in 'one sitting' for too long, Katniss, let me do this!"
She and I glare at one another for a few minutes. Her brows are furrowed, mouth pursed, and I'm angry. Because I know, for some reason that I don't want to analyze right now, that she is just trying to help. But she got to move on as best she could and I'm still stuck in the past while living in a present I never thought could be my future. I'm so angry—
"Miss Everdeen, please," the doctor states, voice quiet but firm, "I know it's hard not to help, but let him hear what he wants. This is all about cooperation."
She relents, not looking at me.
I turn my attention back to my doctor.
"Cato, I want to stress the importance of time. There is no rush," he holds up a hand when I make to speak, "I know it's been a long time. And you're impatient to get to the end. But you cannot rush the body and mind into healing itself at the speed you want. As I just said, this is all about cooperation. If we follow everything steadily and you don't pressure yourself too much—at this beginning stage—recovery can happen well enough."
"Yes, I am not going to lie and supply false hope to my patients. I don't do that. But there's always a chance."
Always a chance…
So there might be none at all.
We take our time—the months feel like years.
I'm impatient to get up.
It hurts to move though. I don't say anything about it but it's evident on my face I think. Everyone watches me carefully. The dead don't get nearly so much attention.
I move, stepping forward. My leg feels heavy, like lead. A sharp pang goes up my right thigh and my left leg holds fast for it. I stumble. Holding myself up by the two rails on either side of me, I feel sweat begin to form. I feel like puking. I feel pathetic. I feel her eyes on me and I feel ten times worse. The pain doesn't settle at all. It just goes up until there's a dull ache in my hip. I'm panting heavily, breath coming slow and harsh.
I can't move.
Fuck, I hate this.
I can't move. At all.
I finally vomit from the exertion I put my body under today.
Sliding me into a wheelchair, they take me to get cleaned up. I stop myself from crying until I'm alone. I used to be able to walk, to breathe easily, to fucking move around in general without anyone's help. I used to be so independent.
I remember when they took me to the bathroom, pain everywhere as I moved. I had sat there, in the cold room, and when I got up to look in the mirror, I was staring at a corpse. The man was a stranger in the mirror, even though I knew he was me and I was the reflection. My face looked sunken, preserved in an unnatural way. I had touched my hair, something Katniss kept the same, just for me—the only thing about me I recognized. I was dead and alive all at once. I was someone who died and came back as another person. It took all my willpower not to burst into tears in that room, because I knew people were outside that door, waiting for me to come out.
I should've killed myself years ago.
I should've left a note or something saying I'd rather die than feel like this—useless and decrepit and not myself.
I fucking hate this.
I hate this.
I'm pounding my legs, numb and unfeeling, with my fists. I want them to move so fucking badly and they just won't move and it fucking sucks, it's terrible and tears flow hot and fast and unbelievably human that I'm laughing as I cry. I don't know if sleeping-death is better than this. I honestly don't know. At least I wasn't aware of not being able to do anything.
In my mind, in that other world, everything was better. She was mine and I was hers; and the only thing I can offer her here is my burdensome self. I can't walk. My limbs can barely function. I've lost the ability to really move. The only compensation for all this is my cognition, still the same as it was—a miracle in itself, I'm told—but what good is being able to think without a body to perform the thinking?
I slam my fists harder into the calves, the thighs, the dead weights keeping me bound to this coffin-like bed.
I don't remember falling asleep. I wake up to the doctors and nurses overlooking my self-inflicted injuries. They don't reprimand me. On this matter, it's not their place to. So they leave and I see her in the doorway, nodding politely as the others go.
I feel her by my side. Soft and inviting, even after all this time. Her gray eyes are on mine, peering into my face. I look away, ashamed and feeling bitter, resentful, and disgusted with and at myself.
I push myself up in the bed. I continue to look away. It's painful to look at her, now that I'm out of the stupor of drugs and a very long coma. All that I've ever done to hurt her comes back, fresher than life itself—like it refuses to leave. But she still comes to me, like she's gotten over it. Though I don't understand how she could be over something so deep and dark and tragic.
But she did. Or so it seems.
She has done nothing yet that is antagonistic. She's been nothing but supportive.
I haven't seen my son in a while.
He hasn't come to see me.
I'm too busy trying to get the feeling and movement back in my legs so maybe that's best. I would not want him to see me like this, something worse than someone in a coma. Someone who is living yet can't do anything that normal living people can do. In the coma, there was nothing I could do. Here, awake, in a world I don't know, I have to try and I just keep failing, and failing.
Was I always destined to be a great failure?
Was this always who I was meant to be—nothing and no one?
I think of my parents, my grandmother, everyone I've known back home as I'm wheeled out into the bright sunshine. They don't think it's best for me to go out into public yet since the sight of me will cause some panic in one form or another. It's not that I'll pose a threat but the community here knows who I am.
But Katniss is the one who insisted I come out to get some air. She said that I've been cooped up long enough. I didn't argue with her and said that I would very much appreciate that. She's not here with me yet, she's planning on meeting me and my escort here—my nurse, in civilian clothing for good measure—in the center of their district.
I look around and it's changed from the feeble little dark mining district it once was. People have access to medicine here, more than before, so there are not very many who are sickly and weak. There's even more elders than before, which was rare in any case, save for the Capitol.
I glance to my left, catching sight of her in the distance. I'm hidden under a hood to block the sunlight from my eyes and to guard me from unwanted people. While I'm known from my past, only the people in the hospital and whoever Katniss informed knows about me coming back from the dead. This is good, since I'm a little nervous about being out here, if I'm honest with myself. The noises are loud and everything is bright. An improvement from my time but unnerving in its own alien way.
As Katniss gets closer, I keep my mouth shut. I'm tempted to call out to her and wave a little but I don't know if that counts as breaking my cover or not. I mean, it's not like I'm exactly an abnormality here, right? Everything here is much better but I've seen some other people in wheelchairs today…
I watch as she is stopped by a man I don't know. Blinking slowly, I watch them interact. The stranger's body is open, gesturing casually, talking in an excited way. His body leans in her direction, confident in its attraction to her. Her body is guarded, and though she smiles, it's polite and only that. Her hips are stiff, not even facing his. She walks a bit more but he keeps his pace with her, chatting all the while. Suddenly she laughs, not loud, but certainly not soft and my heart's in my throat. It was only one loud burst—it could either be amused or incredulous. He seems to take this as a good sign though, fully animated in every sense, until she gets even nearer to us and then she tells him something I can't hear.
He tells her goodbye and she comes forward, closing the distance.
She smiles at me, then my escort, "Hi,"
"Hello Miss Everdeen," says my nurse.
"Who was that?" I ask. Dammit. My voice kind of croaked.
Katniss blinks, "Him? He's just this guy Gale works with."
"Yeah, he's pretty nice,"
Jealousy swells inside me, unknown yet not after all this time. My heart clenches possessively, looking down at her feet beneath my hood.
"He talks a lot though, and he's kind of pushy, now that I think about it."
The rage inside me subsides, calming down almost instantly. The left corner of my mouth lifts up in a smirk—strange, how good and familiar that is. Another feeling rises up when she puts her hand on my shoulder, and she's suddenly kneeling in front of me, her eyes brighter than usual in the sun, and everything feels warm.
"You ready to go around more?"
I find myself smiling wide now and nod.
She shows me a bit of their new additions, simply allowing me to get a general look of the area. It's nice and peaceful. My nurse only plods on when we walk. Apart from that, she gives Katniss and me time alone to speak. Whatever they're paying her, it's not enough. Katniss is as silent as ever, though, but with a more solemn air when we reach certain areas.
"My father used to take me and Prim here," she murmurs as she touches a cruddy-looking shack, "He knew the merchant before he died."
Then we're in the middle of the area where the Reaping was held. It's painfully eerie and sad how I know nothing about this place yet I feel like I have been here. Because, deep down, I know that this is where her life changed. This is where she sacrificed herself, valiantly, for her little sister. This is where she got on that train, that chariot of flames, and met me. This is where she, unknowingly, would have to deal with me for the rest of her life.
When we get back to the hospital, I'm in a surly mood, though I don't show it, and have no inclination to take it out on anyone but myself. Because that's who I'm angry at: myself.
It's quiet. It's always quiet.
I find myself incapable of moving. There are dark things in my dreams, either slithering or crawling by, snakes, spiders, and creatures made up only by the evil thoughts of man. I'm not uncomfortable from their being there. I'm uncomfortable because I know there's someone here with me—someone worse than mindless beasts.
Snow emerges from the black, white and deadly and the scent of roses with blood overwhelms my senses. There's nothing more frightening than someone who can, and wants, to think of all the terrible ways they can hurt you.
He does—over and over, toying with my mind. He pulls me under, people laughing, and Katniss is beneath me, tied and held down by chains. She screams, voice echoing into my ears as though she's close, making me cringe, as harsh, white light dapples her features. She looks so angry and scared that I rush to get her but I'm held up by some unseen force, dangling me right above the shadows; my pleading yells for her are unheard as I watch her suddenly fall to her death, consumed by darkness while this cry pierces the void, animalistic and tortured and it's mine—
I jerk myself awake, gasping. My legs hurt. Even though I haven't ran in years, it's that familiar burn I'd feel if I could. I turn, feeling eyes on me. I look up into the face of a young woman, her hair falling over her shoulders. She looks startled but she reaches for my shoulder.
"Are you all right?" she asks.
"Yes… I think," I tell her, still getting over my daze.
She turns around to the bedside table and then she's handing me some water. I take it gratefully. I drink long and deep. "Thank you," I didn't realize how thirsty I was.
She smiles, "You're welcome. It's no problem,"
Something about her seems familiar. Like I know her even though I'm very sure I've never met her before. She tilts her head to the left, bird-like, "Do you need anything else?"
This is her sister.
I swallow, "No, thank you,"
As she turns around to gather some things, putting them in their places, I watch her closely. She's dressed in nurse garbs, or maybe she volunteers here? I clear my throat, "Do you work here?"
"Yes," she answers, "Though I don't usually work on this floor."
"Where do you usually work, then?"
"In the emergency room, or bandaging up really bad wounds,"
I chuckle a bit, "Not scared of blood?"
She smiles back, "No, not really. My sister thinks it's impressive but I just...tune it out, if that makes sense,"
"It does, though I wouldn't have expected Katniss' sister to be able to handle such an occupation,"
Her brows crinkle, frowning, but she doesn't look upset, "Did she mention me to you?"
"Once, a long time ago,"
"You remember all the way back then?"
I look to my right, her blue eyes intense, "All the time."
Her face falls in a way, but she still doesn't look angry or anything like that. She walks over to me and sits by the bed in the chair, "Do I remind you of Rue?"
My throat tightens. It's dry again. "Yeah. The same way she reminded Katniss of you,"
Her hands are set daintily in her lap, "Katniss said I would've liked her a lot,"
I nod, "She's very similar to you. I don't doubt that if she lived she'd be like you, still,"
We stare at each other for a while. I wonder what she's thinking, about the man who loved and raped her sister. I look at her and I do see Rue—alive and well and happy. Rue grew to like me, maybe even love me, and I did her. She was this child I didn't expect to have or care about. Taking a deep breath, I ask, "Do you hate me?"
"No," she answers.
Seconds tick by.
Then, "Not like I used to."
There it is.
"I understand why you would hate me," I tell her, not shocked or hurt at all. It was just nice to confirm, to be able to ask people what they think of me in general. After not being myself for years, I find it a bit refreshing in a sick, masochistic and lonely way.
"Yes," she murmurs, looking at her hands, "Though it left pretty fast," She then smiles, bemused, "I've never been really good at hating people,"
"That's a good trait," I tell her, meaning it, "I wish I had been like that—was like that."
She leans forward, "What was it like?"
"All of it."
She is questioning my sanity, loyalty and character all at once. And, again, I don't find myself blaming her, the same way I would've done if I was younger, prouder, less hurt by the world. "It was painful."
She blinks, the same way her sister does, "You loved my sister, even then?"
"I still do," I add in a whisper, mostly to myself, "I don't know how, but I still do,"
Suddenly she's beaming at me, so like Rue my heart clenches at the sight of it, "I believe you."
She nods, and she's serious, almost solemn. "Yes. I can tell,"
I stare at this strange woman who is and is not Rue, a little sister I never thought I'd have. So this is why it hurt Katniss so hard…
"Katniss told me that the two of you went out,"
Interrogation time. I clear my throat, "Yes, we did."
"How'd that go?"
"It went well… for the most part."
She leans forward on her knees, "What didn't you like about it?"
My self-loathing was something I didn't want to talk about with her—as much as she is alike to Rue, this is a new girl, a woman in lighter skin and hair and eyes; and I didn't want her thinking about the darker parts of my psyche. But…
"Well, the beginning was awkward."
"Uh, yeah," I swallow a lump in my throat, "There was this guy following her for a bit. You know, trying to get her to go out with him or something,"
"Hmm…" she says, finger on her chin in thought, "Yes, my sister does have that effect on men."
I try to keep my expression neutral, "Lots of guys go after her, then?"
"Not usually, but my sister's very pretty."
I nod, not bothering to disagree, "Yeah, she is."
"She's never gone out with anyone though,"
My heart leaps so painfully I wonder if it went through my chest. Nope. No blood and gore on the walls…
"She's never tried?" I can't help but ask."
"It's not so much she's never tried but that she's not interested in anyone here. It doesn't matter what kind of relationship it is—it takes a lot to catch Katniss' attention."
I stare at her sister, puzzled yet light. "Has she always been like this?"
"As long as I can remember," she answers, her gaze becoming a fond one, "But once she remembers you, it's hard for her to forget,"
She meets my eyes, both of us wrapped in our thoughts, trying to speak without speaking.
The door opens and she walks in, holding some flowers in one arm. I try not to think of all the scenarios of where she got them and possibly from whom; because, hey, Prim never said she doesn't accept things…
"Oh, Prim! You're here."
"Yes, I'm on break, and thought I'd check up on him for you."
I glance at her. Does she do this often?
"Thank you," she tells her sister, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. The sight of it warms me inside. It feels good to see unconditional love. She turns to me, "How are you feeling?"
"Good, I'm glad," she says, smiling softly. She places the flowers in the empty vase I just noticed. Was that always there? Wow, my senses are dull.
"I should go back to work," her sister, Prim, says.
"You busy today?"
"Well, yes and no. It's not usually so chaotic anymore but we did get one terrible case that almost left this man scarred all over—"
"Stop, stop," Katniss says, holding up a hand and looking down, "I still don't understand how you don't get nauseous from this job,"
Prim laughs good-naturedly, "Oh, it's not so bad. Although, Mama does agree I have the stronger stomach."
"Both of you do."
Smiling, Prim moves toward the door, "Are you still going to be here until I'm done with work?"
"Most likely," she answers, sitting by me, where Prim was.
"Alright, we can head home together,"
"Sounds good, little duck,"
Their relationship is something to watch. It's so calm and loving, just like how she was with Rue.
Prim waves goodbye and head down the hall, the sound of her shoes fading slowly. I suddenly feel a little nervous, though I'm unsure as to why. I guess that talk with Prim got my feelings looser than I expected. I feel my chest tighten and I glance up at her. She meets my eyes and smiles in that fragile way. I think one of the worst parts about having been in a coma for sixteen years is that I didn't get to mature emotionally and mentally like everyone else. I fight the blush that wants to come to my face and make me look like an idiot.
"Nice flowers," I say, wanting to think of anything else.
"Hmm? Oh, yes," she replies, looking at them appreciatively, "I went out to the meadow today before coming here, which is why it took a little long. I thought it'd look good in here."
I feel a little better at the information. "Do you go there a lot?"
"Yes, I love it there."
I stare at her, "What else do you love?"
"I guess…not much."
Her face furrows a bit, looking at the vase. She stares at a daisy, "I suppose I enjoy other things."
She puckers her lips, pointedly staring at me, "Aren't you tired?"
"Nope," I answer.
"Are you sure?" she asks, less sharp than before.
"Yes, I thought that's why you'd come here—to give me company." And maybe obligation, or guilt, if people drilled it into her head, like in my nightmares, but I don't dare bring that up.
She stares back at me, and I sink like stone, "We…don't actually spend much time together, do we?"
I think, and confirm, "No, we don't."
We're usually too busy trying to get me on my feet and walking, and I wonder about Hyacinth, my son who I haven't seen since I awoke, and how he's doing at school and how she's doing during the day. We're usually together but not in company like this, where the atmosphere is quiet and I can talk to her at last, the way I've been wanting to all those years ago.
She smiles as she sighs, "I love gardening,"
I return her grin, "I would suck at it,"
"Not much of a gardener?"
"Not at all. Well, for one, we lived in the mountains, so there wasn't much to start with. Whatever my mother tried to make would usually die eventually. It would get pretty cold sometimes."
"That's not good at all—we'll have to go to the forest together so I can show you,"
I don't do a good job ignoring how my heart beat faster at that. Good thing I'm not hooked up to a monitor…
"What do you love?"
My first thought is her. I don't say it. I think, trying to remember my other life, "I used to read a lot,"
Katniss chuckles, "You read?"
I snort, "I am not as uncultured as all that, Katniss Everdeen,"
"No, of course not," she answers, "So what would you read?"
"I liked reading about science,"
"Yeah, even though lots of us complained about it in school. But I thought it was useful, a little neat, since we didn't get much books, despite what the other districts might've thought,"
She tilts her head, peering at me, "You didn't?"
"Some of us could afford to learn—I got lucky,"
"What was your favorite part about science?"
"Ooh," she teases, "So refined!"
I grin at her.
"…I had a book about weapons,"
Another laugh and it feels so good to hear it, "It figures you would. I'm not much into science myself,"
"What do you read?"
"Don't. Laugh." She enunciates, looking at me intently.
"Lips are sealed," I tell her, pretending to zip my mouth.
"…I sometimes read romance novels."
I burst out laughing.
"I told you not to laugh!"
"But, I just… Ugh, Katniss!" I say between breaths, "Romance novels, of all things?"
"I can't help it!" she says, crossing her arms, "It's the words."
I wipe my left eye, "The words? Sheesh, did porn get better while I was out?"
She smacks my shoulder, half-serious, half-joking, "No, it's not that. It's just… that…" she suddenly looks a little nervous, tugging her braid; that didn't change, "I like the way it's written. It's rather… ornate? I'm not sure how to describe them. They get rather poetic in the books, which is why I read them."
"Ah, so you just like how descriptive they are,"
"Yes, I suppose," she answers, pleased by my help, "I found I much like those sorts of books,"
"You don't care much for the people in the books, though?"
"Honestly, most of the characters are rather idiotic."
I nod, sympathizing, "Yeah, stupid characters tend to ruin good novels,"
"Unfortunately," she replies, "Which is terrible, since I didn't get to read all that much beforehand,"
Propping myself further up, pressing my back to the headboard, I ask, "Why is that?"
She shrugs, "There didn't seem to be a purpose for it outside of class, and even then it was only out of necessity. My father taught Prim and me a little more than most children received in their education. I didn't even know I liked to read until a couple of years ago!"
"Reading can be a fun activity; what else do you like to read?"
"Fantasy is pretty enjoyable,"
I make a face.
"Not a fan of the genre?"
"Not exactly. They were interesting as a kid but, at the same time, it felt so unreal."
She laughs, "That's why it's a fantasy, Cato."
"Yeah, I get that, but a lot of the ones I'd read involved a hero going on some grand quest, not because he wanted to, but because of some predestined outcome that absolutely had to happen at some point,"
Katniss stares at me for a bit, "Do you think fate and destiny are the same thing?"
"I don't think so," I tell her, "Fate… it's kind of like saying an event or action had to happen and it didn't matter who tried to fight it—it was going to happen anyway; destiny is saying that someone had to do something and the outcome is whatever that person did,"
"So, fate excludes human involvement while destiny is all dependent on choice," she says, her eyes penetrating into me. She doesn't question me, waiting for me to talk.
"That's how it seems to be, at least when I think about it,"
"They're often used interchangeably, though,"
"No doubt about that, but when are words not used interchangeably at some point?"
"That is very true. It's fascinating, isn't it?" she says, "How we've come so far technologically but if I or you spoke of all this to someone it'd likely cause a heated debate,"
"To be honest, Katniss, we humans can bitch about anything and never be happy,"
She smiles, leaning comfortably in her chair then she asks, "Did you always ponder these sorts of questions?"
I look down, knowing a blush is coming, "Not usually." I wasn't one for much of this sort of thing but I'm not the same person I once was. It all changed when I met her. Life became something unknown and forgotten. I meet her eyes again. We don't look away for a while. The quiet is heavy but not uncomfortable, at all. I wonder what she's thinking. I decide to ask something more conversational, "Do you write?"
She suddenly looks bashful, and it's so uncharacteristic of her usual self, I wonder if I imagined it, "N-No…"
I poke her shoulder, "Most readers try writing," It makes sense, after all. When you read a lot, it's only a matter of time before you try to do the same.
She puts her index finger to her chin thoughtfully, looking at the ceiling, "I've been working on my father's book about plants; does that count?"
"I think so, in a way, though I meant books completely with words,"
"Then I haven't."
"You should try it sometime,"
She smiles, "I'll keep that in mind,"
"So, you said you're working on your father's book?"
"Yes, when we were little, he'd work on this massive book filled with all sorts of plants and herbs, ranging from their uses to their colors and size. It's very detailed."
"On the contrary, it's simple to understand. It had to be, for Prim and I to understand the context at our young ages,"
"Do you write in it often?"
"When I manage to discover a new plant or remedy, then I do. Honestly, what it needs are illustrations, which I know next to nothing about being able to do,"
"Maybe that can be a hobby of yours to pick up,"
She shoves my arm playfully, "Or you can pick up that hobby,"
"I'll keep that in mind,"
We smile together.
"What plant would you like to see most?" she asks.
"I'd like to see what the namesake of your sister and our son look like,"
"I'd like you to see them too," she murmurs, staring at my hand.
I open my palm, inviting her, if she wants. She takes it. Peace takes over me. The first time since waking up.
"Just wondering," I say, rubbing circles with my thumb on the back of her hand, "Is your name a plant, too?"
She laughs a little, "Yes, I'll show you that one, too, though it's not as pretty as theirs, believe me,"
"It does sound kind of weird,"
"Oh, shut up,"
"What's your favorite color?"
"Such a simple question, Cato—I'm in awe of your wit,"
"Thank you, Miss Everdeen. Yet it seems to be one of the most vital questions in anyone's life,"
"Ah, yes. It could largely determine who befriends you and who will become a foe,"
"Exactly my point,"
"My favorite color is green," her eyes become a bit dreamy, fond of a memory.
"That's not surprising," I tell her with a smile of my own. I don't care how much I'm doing it—I haven't done it in years and, I'm guessing, she hasn't either, even though she seems a lot better… I feel really happy and, strangely, I don't hate myself for it.
I have to think. I've never considered this question, at all. "Maybe blue…?"
"Blue?" she heard the question in my voice.
"Or gray," I tell her, more sure, definite, and I'm sure it's true.
She stares at me, eyes on mine, not moving. She's a little close, and I feel the heartbeat in her wrist, right beneath my thumb. I feel it quicken as mine does. My other hand, free, no longer trapped, reaches for her face. I caress the side of her head, trailing my fingers down to her jawline. Her hair is soft as I bury my hand in the thick of it, slightly tugging the base of her braid.
I feel her move forward, her face close to mine, breath warm… I stop though. I don't know what to do. There's a lot we could do, and say, and remember. I just want her near me.
She doesn't seem to have an issue with this either. She doesn't pull away. She only stares at me, and then, very briefly, I feel her mouth brush mine. Like she had something to prove, not to me, but to herself and I want to let her. I want her to become close to me again. Comfortable and unafraid. I don't move. She whispers, "Gray's a nice color,"
"Yes, it is," I murmur, still caught up in her scent, her movements and voice. I still sound like some lovesick teenager. Maybe I always will be, around her.
Her voice is soft, private, "Does it remind you of home?"
"Green reminds me of home, too,"
"We found something in common,"
She chuckles lightly, breath tickling my face, "I guess that question really is important,"
I move on instinct, brushing my lips on her cheek, and I pull her closer with the hand I'm holding. Her lips hover closely, skin smooth and warm. My mouth opens, heart speeding up. I can practically taste her in the air as I take her mouth in mine and she's more amazing than I remember, and she's never been dead; she's always been alive—
A knock at the door pulls her from me. Damn it, now what?
I watch as her sister opens the door. Well, at least she knocked.
She gives us an innocent stare, having no clue what was going on. She smiles at the two of us, "I'm done with work, Katniss,"
"Oh, good," she replies, and I hear this tone in her voice. Like she's hoping Prim can't guess. I can understand why and it doesn't bother me. I'm just in shock that she didn't fight me off. That's a good sign.
I'm about to ask if I'll see her tomorrow, when she turns back to me, "I'll come back tomorrow,"
"Okay," I reply, grinning widely and not giving a shit how ridiculous I look.
I watch them leave and let my smile gradually fall as I think of everything that's happened. There's this lightness in my chest where it used to be really heavy. I'm thinking of Hyacinth and why he hasn't come to see me yet. I know that it shouldn't hurt, because it makes sense why he wouldn't, but… I miss him. My son… And I know I shouldn't pity myself for it because, if I was him, I would hate me too. He most likely does.
Sixteen years of absence, even if in a coma, doesn't excuse that it's still been that long since I've seen him. I'm also the reason his mother suffered so much. I'm the reason we got into that escalated war that we all feared would happen again. He was fatherless for nearly two decades. No, I don't deserve to see him at all. Do rapists ever get visited by their children? Likely not…
My sleep is restless.
I'm falling into a dark void. I struggle to wake up and I can't. Everything swallows me whole. Even though it's pure darkness, I feel burning sensations twinge up and down my arms and legs. Suddenly I'm being ripped apart in half at the hip and I'm looking around in dazed horror at slain bodies. Bodies I've never seen but I know who killed them—I did.
Katniss is among them.
Towering over me, while red ash blurs my eyes, is myself. Large and furious, there's no mercy there. The eyes are gray. Hyacinth stands. He holds my sword. He is me. So like me it's frightening.
"You abandoned us,"
"I didn't," I choke out.
"You did," he hisses, "You didn't try hard enough,"
"I did everything I could for you!"
"I don't believe you. Why did you fall in love with her? Everything could've been avoided,"
"No, it couldn't have. It was… it was supposed to happen. I was meant to love your mother,"
He laughs. The sound is cold, like ice and snow on your face. "Did you mean for her to be raped, too? Did you mean for me to be born without a father in my life? It's sickening, how love made you so weak."
"Hyacinth…" I reach for him, bleeding all over redder soil.
"It's too late. I hate you."
He swings down—
I jolt up with a start. Sunlight shines through the window. Why is that blasted yellow thing always mocking me when I wake up? Am I even awake? Am I still in my coma? Where am I? Why am I lost? Who am I?
Glancing around, I see a book on the stand. Shaking, I take it, propping it up to look at it. I don't remember this being here. Swallowing, I open the book… there's nothing but plants in there.
A scrap of paper falls out. Words are written on it.
Sorry, work took up more time than usual today. You were asleep so I didn't bother you. I'll be sure to visit soon. Enjoy the book. It's bound to be more interesting than staring at walls. – Katniss
I touch the pages gingerly. The paper is smooth, illustrations for each plant taking up space, listing their remedies, uses, and their poisons. Leaving my dark dream, I smile while the sunlight plays, knowing I have some time before physical therapy. It even smells like her, just a little bit. I wonder about her and her father. She and he must've been close. As I go through the book, each sketch done with care, words written precisely and the movement of trepidation, I can tell she must have. No one is this cautious unless it's something very special.
Yeah…she must've been close to him.
And she entrusted it to me…of all people.
I shake my head, clearing my thoughts. I come across a page where a hyacinth flower is written about and drawn. Apparently, the bulbs of the plant are poisonous to humans, so it's important to hold them with protective gloves or the skin breaks out.
She did a particular bit of research on this one, compared to the rest.
Originated in some far off place called Greece, from a myth, which is kind of like a fairy tale or something.
Okay. I know there were other places in the world aside from Panem but I doubt it exists today. The country could be a myth, too, at this point. And…let's see…the man, who the hyacinth flower is named after, died from a blow to the head from a discus, sent astray by a wind deity who was jealous of how much time he spent with this other god called Apollo.
Well, shit. That's pretty nasty business. If this god-person loved the man like it was so claimed, the man wouldn't have been killed for something like that. Life's a bitch.
From the blood grew this flower. Represents rashness, games and sports. It could also represent sincerity. There are different colors, apparently: blue, which means 'constancy.' A pink or red one means 'playful nature.' And if you receive a purple flower from a friend or loved one that you fought with, it's a way of saying sorry and learning to forgive; purple ones also mean 'sorrow.' The one in the book is purple.
I wonder if she knew about this when she named our son.
She must have, in some way.
I lean back and stare at the flower for a time.
Or maybe she wrote about it after she returned home, to her loved ones. Who I stole her from… she lost a lot of time with them.
I'm not better than that one god, then; he managed to fuck up lives by scattering the wind.
I lie down, holding the giant book above me. This book that belonged to her father, which she is letting me hold, letting me read and get to know. Like I'm being allowed to look at this other part of her, where not very many people can enter. Her father must've been kind, and he drew quite a bit—she said she couldn't illustrate; he must've found time to take her where she needed and taught her loads of things. Loved her deeply.
He reminds me of Peeta, in this sad, quiet way.
Life is too ironic for my taste.
Guess that's deserved, too.