The Caged Bird Sings



It works and it doesn't work.

I don't know what's wrong with me.

I shouted the name of my captor, and he turns to me, looking at me with such surprise and a flicker of something human—anger or another feeling that burns just as fierce—that it throws me out of the loop. He knows what I want—the protection of my child. I could care less about myself, or him, as long as my son is safe. That's why I called him.

But in my mind, where the softest part of my heart dwells, it cried out the name to distract him, to survive, to escape, and it also knew Gale would hear, because he's readying a gun and the loud clamor of its reverberating bullet shatters the fragile air. Hyacinth is crying hysterically, and my tormentor is howling, his thigh bleeding.

Gale is coming forward, his weapon held up, finger on the trigger—

"No!" I shout, holding myself in front of the wounded man behind me, "Let's go, Gale, let's go!"

He seems to understand, even though I can tell in his posture that he's intent on finishing the job. I grab Hyacinth, holding him close to my chest, and Gale rushes the two of us out of the room. My legs are tripping over themselves, not having run for months. My lungs twist from the air that's coated with ash and debris, as well as from the exertion it hasn't felt. I run, and run, my heart pounding from it all—the sounds, the cries, the thunder of bombs and human roars. But there's a heaviness weighing it down, that I'm not sure of.

"Right there!" I hear Gale shout. I look up and see a vast hovercraft that's whirring in the heavens, blocking the rage of sunlight.

There's a ladder, people on it, and their hands are reaching out to me, to hoist me up, to carry me far away—

My feet halt instantly.

"Katniss!" Gale cries, his hand outstretched, panic in his Seam gray eyes. "What are you doing?"

I shake my head. I continue toward him, his hand resting on my back, to urge me forward, to push me on, like he always seems to.

I hold my son tighter to me as I hold on with one arm. The wind is blowing fiercely. I whimper, hoping it won't blast my son into oblivion. The din is drowning out all other noise, and my ears are becoming deaf to the world, unable to take in all the noises—it's too used to silence, to quiet, to violent, hushed whispers.

"Katniss!" The whisper has become a battle cry. My head snaps over my shoulder, and I hold Hyacinth tighter, watching as he comes out of the rubble, crawling, a dead thing that haunts my life and afterlife. He looks to be in so much pain I can't bear to look—because I want him to suffer and, oddly, I don't.


Again, his voice shocks into me, calling to a part of me that's his, filling my mouth, my mind and spirit. It's louder than all the wedding bells and emergency sirens in the world—why won't it stop? Why won't it stop!

My knees feel something hard and metallic, and I look down in dizzying relief and dread as the earth becomes farther. He continues to stare at me, penetrating my soul, pinning me to the memories of heaven and hell together, a lake of frozen water with flames lapping at my face.

"Katniss! Katniss!" There's someone shaking me, and I look into the gray eyes of Gale, his face so broken and beautiful I barely recognize him.

"Oh thank God!" he says for my ears alone, holding me so tightly I press against him a little back. Hyacinth is crushed between us. And I don't know how I feel about him hugging me.


I'm tempted to snap. Why are so many people calling my name? But I just see that it's someone yelling into a device that allows communication. They say again, "It's Katniss! We've got the Girl on Fire!"

The Girl on Fire.


I was that. Wasn't I?

I remember yes. It was the name that tainted and exalted me.

"Hey, Catnip,"

I clutch Hyacinth closer as I turn to Gale, the large hovercraft door shutting stealthily, quick and efficient. The air ceases. It sucks out the air that I have wanted to breathe. But it wouldn't have mattered. I'm holding my breath.

He just smiles at me, looking at me as though I were the greatest treasure in the world. I don't understand why.

Then his eyes rove to my bosom, where my child is cradled. They narrow.

And the next thing I know I'm pleading, calling for him to stop as I watch my son's head being bashed into the wall—

"Katniss! Wake up, wake up!"

I'm screaming bloodcurdling wails. My face is gently held in cool fingers and I see Prim looking at me. There's light streaming in. It's the last dying rays of the sunset, sinking to its temporary grave. Then it's dark, I'm breathing hard. The fingers continue to comb through my hair, thin and delicate, white rose stems.

"Prim?" I gasp.

"Shh, I'm here," she murmurs, she's pulling me into her chest, "Shh… it's all right."

"What's going on?" Gale says.

My throat is parched, tightening, and I hiss, "Where's my baby?"

Gale blinks, face innocent. "He's with your mother in the next room."

Prim pats my forehead with a washcloth. "You were dreaming. You've been in and out of consciousness for a while. Mom says that happens sometimes."

Relief swells, a blossom inside my breast. "I want my baby with me."

Gale and Prim glance at one another, but they don't question me. Prim goes, giving me a small smile that's soul shattering.

Gale comes closer. I scoot a little bit backwards, an aversion crumbling upon my skin, dusting me. I don't understand why but I'm guessing it's the dream. Gale wouldn't hurt a child, not that young, not ever. I know him. I do, don't I?

"You all right?"

"A little," I reply. The throbbing in my head is getting a little stronger. It's so annoying.

He sits in Prim's chair, hands clasped before him, elbows on his knees. He leans until he's only a few feet from my bed. "You were very exhausted. We were panicking until we had a medic look over you. It was just a lot to take in."

That could be why the dream felt so jumbled and bizarre. The intensity of it was due to the memory of my rescue, a memory that was so fast and blurring I couldn't take it all in at once.

Prim enters back into the room, holding my son. My arms extend. Prim and Gale watch me with Hyacinth for a while. My sister sits upon the foot of the bed, smiling. "He's a cute baby, Katniss."

I chuckle quietly, "Thank you, Prim."

"Isn't he, Gale?"

I turn to look at him, ready to see hostility towards my son, the same way he had taken my baby and killing him in front of my eyes. But there's nothing there, nothing of bad worth anyway. He just smiles gently, sadly, and his fingers touch mine. I make myself sure not to pull away; it's uncomfortable but it'd hurt his feelings. We haven't seen each other in so long, after all.

Gale is my best friend. The closest I've ever let anyone outside of family come into my life. Why, then, did I dream of Gale murdering the one person in the world that kept me sane, that gave me a purpose in a hellish dungeon?

I let it go, attributing it due to all the insanity that's been filtering into my life; this wretched, unfathomable poison.

I sit up a little straighter. Hyacinth coos, reaching out to tug my hair and chew on some strands. I carefully remove his fingers from the dark tendrils, shaking my head in mock reproach at the saliva on my hair.

"You hungry?" asks Gale.

My stomach rumbles in reply.

Prim giggles and Gale smiles, both bright, relieved to have me back. I look at my arms, thin and no longer as strong. I was well-fed in prison but the meals were so portion sized they may as well have been coins. Prim begins to stand but Gale reaches out, telling her and me that he'll be glad to do it. We thank him and he walks out the door.

"May I hold him?"

"Of course," I tell him, "You are his aunt."

Prim blushes a little, with another emotion skittering into those blue gems, stirring the ocean. A tidal wave.

She holds my son with such care it makes me… less anxious to know that he'll always be in good hands with my sister. She's so kind to everyone, a natural flow of empathy and grace.

"I'm so glad to have you back, Katniss," she says, holding Hyacinth and I, kissing my cheek, "We were all so terrified for you."

I sigh. "Well, I'm glad to be back home." At last. Home.

Prim shyly glances at me.

I look at her, not comprehending. "What?"

"Katniss… we're in the Capitol."

My vision dims and I don't fight the beckoning of unconsciousness.

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