The Caged Bird Sings

Pheasant


Pheasant


I'm dreaming again. I know I am because in my dreams I'm surrounded by the people I love, free from ailment and pain and death.

My father is singing a melancholic tune, about a man who couldn't have a woman because she was difficult to have—not because she evaded and eluded attention, but because she couldn't handle love. He's holding Hyacinth in one arm, propped on a knee, and Prim is in the other, buried in the crook of his shoulder. My mother is smiling happily, watching.

Gale is laying upon the earth, looking as though he were sleeping, and the years worn on his face dissipate until he resembles a boy who forgot that he is still a boy.

I search for Peeta, who I know is here. I find him soon enough, weeping on the ground, looking lost and oddly stillborn in the warm sunlight. He glances over his shoulder and a glimpse of my captor resonates from his eyes. But it's still Peeta—his nose, the curve of his mouth, his strong build, the scent of bread and something bitter; it's all Peeta.

Yet the eyes aren't his. Almost a similar blue and not; it's Cato looking back at me.

I kneel before Peeta, searching for Cato in those eyes too.

A hand comes up to rest on my cheek and red mars my cheek, the blood on his fingers claiming me.

"You have to help me,"

I begin to cry. "I don't know how, you know I don't."

"You do know!" he whisper-screams, "You do know. Help me find—"

I wait. I prod on, "Find what?"

His mouth opens and a piercing howl reverberates into my body, eyes wide, full of rage and fear. I can't get a firm grip on him or myself because the world is collapsing atop us, the sky falling, the earth quaking beneath my feet because I don't know how to repair the little world that I needed to protect.

I awaken in the darkness of my prison—no, my safeguard—and pant shallow gasps. I hear my pulse in my ears and feel my heart hammering violently in my chest.

It's been happening for days and nights now. With every blink, every flicker of movement, I see them in the mind of my eye and before my eyes. Peeta cries all the time when I sleep and it's coming to the point where I hear him only sometimes. I frightened Prim the other day when she tugged on my sleeve, telling me that she's been asking me the same question repeatedly for five minutes before I passed out on the ground. The physician and my mother both confirmed that I'm suffering from sleep deprivation but I don't feel tired, not in that sense. Just emotionally exhausted a lot of the time; but I ignore it since I don't think anyone needs to know.

I walk out of the room, drained from the night shroud and the whimpers in my ears. My feet stop directly before Gale's room, where I feel desperate, desperate to knock and tell him to give me my little boy back. With regret of such thoughts and anger at my selfishness, I force my feet to trudge onward, away from my child.

Silently I enter into the dormitories of Prim and my mother. Prim is curled up in the fetal position; Buttercup nestled next to her as always. My mother is sleeping on the other bed, looking similar to Prim, despite being much older and wearier in appearance. They're very identical. It's a little unnerving sometimes how I can love one more than the other, even if they do look similar.

I stay no longer than I must, leaving immediately to wander about the area. I've explored almost everything and I know how the laws and rules work—these regulations mustn't be broken because anarchy is feared here, though that isn't the reason they use when explaining their logic behind such irrational decisions. I think it's horrible to keep people below the surface of earth, but that isn't my call to make. They have their ways of living here in District 13 and we have our own. Since coming here, we haven't exactly had much time to do the pleasurable activities we would do at home, mainly to drown out the screaming of those we know in the Games or to forget they existed.

There isn't much to do aside from follow rules, which I do complacently, because I do owe them and I hate owing them; but Hyacinth needs to live in an environment that can offer him protection and if that means having to cooperate, so be it. He will have the best I can provide.

It's just that he can't have me…

And I feel lonely.

Will he even remember me? He still coos and babbles when he sees me, overwhelming me with intense love. I continue to keep my distance but when he is in my arms, I give him all the kisses that my dirty mouth can offer, wishing I could go on and on until my lips are chapped and bloodied and bruised from loving him so much.

Depression sinks into my throat, a heavy stone to swallow.

When the lights begin to flicker on, representing the beginning of a new dawn, I return to the vicinities of 13, struggling from not closing my eyes. All of a sudden, I can't help but want to sleep.

When I enter my room however, Prim and Hyacinth are there, brightening the dull room with their presence.

"Hello, Katniss," greets Prim, "Hyacinth and I are going to get breakfast now. Let's go there together."

I acquiesce with no hesitation and we arrive with all the meekness of mice. I do anyway. Being underground still becomes unnerving when people touch the top of the cave, though I've never seen anyone touch it deliberately, or even able to.

Prim and I gather our food, heading to the table where Gale and Madge are already occupying. I haven't seen Haymitch or Effie in a while but I do get an occasional glimpse of Cinna when we meet. The three have been busy, which is understandable and I'm grateful that while I've been burdened with fitting an image that is not my own, but I wish to see them and know what's going on.

I feed Hyacinth small spoonful after spoonful of the mushy sweet stuff they served this morning. He eats it well enough, though occasionally whimpers from the heat of it. He fusses a little but he always does in the beginning. He'll be fine. He always does this and from the little quirk at the corner of his lip, I get the feeling he is teasing me.

Madge clears her throat, "Do you need help with that?"

"No, I got it."

A woman passing behind us makes a remark that I don't like, "The mother should be the one to feed the baby, shouldn't she?"

"I'm his mother." I grit out, a hiss escaping past my teeth, into the air, and I wish it'll choke the breath in her lungs. The woman continues on without a backward glance, but the satisfying rhythm of her walk out the door, a near gallop, was satisfactory enough.

I know Madge is trying to be helpful, so I know she doesn't take any offense, but the comments nettles me and it'll perturb Madge too, thinking I'm mad with her.

"I'm not mad at you, if that's what you're thinking," I tell her, trying to keep my voice steady from the anger in me.

"Oh…alright,"

"They probably thought he was yours because of your hair color," I tell her, trying not to have my mouth fill with the bile of regret and blood and vengeance.

She knows enough to guess my moods but she doesn't need to wonder about this. Hyacinth is nestled within the crook of my arm, tucked beneath my chin and he leans into my chest. He gurgles, sucking the spoon, and then banging it upon the table. I wipe some drool off his chin and carry him out when I'm sure he's done. I'm grateful for the fact that he hasn't seem to have forgotten me.

My mother said that would happen at times. It wouldn't make sense for a district as poor as our own, but there were families that could afford to "adopt" certain children from time to time, mainly when the families were well-connected, typically through childhood bonds. The "richer" families would take in children and give them food, clothing, the necessities they could not have. But, sometimes, this caused the children to love their "adopted" parents more than their actual ones. I never thought it too harsh—children tended to forget and adults can learn to forgive. But a large part of me is relieved, overflowing with it—that my son does not ache for the arms of another, continues to seek me as his mother.

I would die if that happened.

Does my captor wonder about that, too?

I brush the fleeting thought aside, lighter than dust.

Hyacinth falls asleep in my arms by the time I'm back in my room. I lay him on his back, watching him sleep, the way he breathes, the way his lips move when he breathes in, a soft little breath, then letting it in a quick succession of several puffs. Then he snorts. He's so adorable!

I find myself smiling deliriously at having him here with me, even if these moments are short, even if Madge and Gale will come for my child in a little while. They're kind though and they won't do it until I tell them to. But I am always unkind, to myself too. So they'll have him soon…

For now, I can watch my son forever. I look at the detail in his face, how it can look pale and pink then sunshine can dance on it, making it turn into a tender bronze color; his hair is so striking in the light, reflecting almost shades of off-white in the hues. I long to peer into his eyes because they're the feature I know resemble mine the most. He's a beautiful child, no matter where he came from. Cato would love to look at him as he is now…

I sigh heavily, drifting my finger above the bed, the tip of my digit hovering just above his hand. He feels it, I think, because he grasps it firmly, a vice on my finger that hurts and doesn't hurt; he's strong, but that's not what hurts—it's the way he absolutely clings to me, as though he is falling somewhere and he has nowhere to land. It's the death grip to life. His sudden whimper startles me and I'm tempted to wake him up when his grip slackens, his mouth parting, and he breathes quietly.

Did he die in his sleep?

Another breath…

He did. He died in his dreams.

I take him in my arms, carefully, and hold him close, listening to his breath, and my hand upon his chest feeling his heartbeat take wing beneath his shirt, beneath his skin.

It lulls me to a place I know and can't remember, with him missing and yet I'm the one who is absent. I see my captor walking ahead of me, with confident strides and an air of arrogance. But it's toned down somewhat. I walk behind him a long while, and he doesn't seem to notice me. I allow it to happen, I'm sure I'm in control of this, even if it's nothing but a dream situation.

He turns ever so slightly, Hyacinth held in his arms, and he looks so at peace that I want to kill my captor for it, for making my son look calm and for his look of peace. Where I have none…

The sun is streaming through the blinds now, the hushed breathing of Hyacinth making me tempted to fall asleep, forget the world, but the calm walk in the element of my survival, in the midst of the one who robbed me of it, cleared my head. Now all I can do is think, despite not wanting to.

Is he alright not having full capability of his mind? He certainly must hate it but with the way he speaks to me. Cold and conniving and completely remorseless, it's too much. Does he deserve rehabilitation after all that he has done? It's been confirmed that Snow had some type of role in the war, even if it doesn't seem so to the loyalists. What he said makes no sense. What my captor said made no sense. All I could piece together was that Cato is a pawn, somehow, but both are responsible for the devastation of Panem. What does Snow want? I understand that he is unstable, no one is cruel enough to send children to death without being unhinged; however, there's the matter of Cato and I bearing the brunt of force from Panem. How could he orchestrate something so terribly complicated, even if it doesn't seem to be?

Did he want to appear the fearless leader, sworn to protect the Capitol's citizens from imminent threat? And how did he choose me when there were others he could've picked to be the face of terrorism within one's nation?

How did Cato and I wind up being the cause of destruction and the solution for salvation?

There's a knock upon my door and it's Haymitch, much to my surprise. I watch him come in quietly and he looks down at Hyacinth, taking him in. There's a flicker of sadness in his eyes and I wonder what he's thinking. If he pities my son and me, if he wishes for children of his own. There's too much pain around us.

"Katniss,"

I say nothing, giving him my attention.

All of a sudden he becomes terribly quiet, almost sullen, and it frightens me. He's one of the few to ever be forthright with me. I trust him to be dishonest but I trust him to be the bearer of bad news.

"What is it?"

"Cato tried to kill himself today."

The wind could not have beaten me with how fast the air left my body.

"How did that happen?" my voice threatens to come out in a shrill pitch, only stopping when remembering Hyacinth.

"You know that he absolutely needs to take medication for the Tracker Jacker venom. When the doctors were giving it to him, they weren't as cautious, and he managed to wriggle out of the suit, grabbing one of the syringes. Before he could stab himself, they managed to overpower him and held him down to give him a tranquilizer. I had told them to take precautions since the first time he tried a few months ago—"

"Wait, you mean this isn't the first time? He's tried to kill himself before?"

"Yes. Why did no one tell you about this?"

"I'm wondering that myself."

Do people think me so weak that they keep secrets from me? Or do they fear something else—that I may care for my rapist? That's an impossible idea to fulfill.

Despite knowing that he is under the influence of Tracker Jacker venom, I continue to have bad dreams when it comes to him. There are some times when I can't pull away tragedy and pleasure, too, however. Where, in my sleep, he comes to relieve me of pain and I him, heat pooling into the core of my icy body, but it always reverts back to the hurt he gave me, the darkness he fed into the little light I had left in my life. My mind is consumed with thoughts of him and yet none at all.

"Does this mean I can see him?"

Haymitch goes back to being aloof and distant. "That's your call, sweetheart. You've never listened before."

I glance down at Hyacinth and new feelings tell me they will tear me apart from the seams of my sinew, down to the steel of my heart. How many other times has Cato tried to commit suicide? How close was my son from losing the other half of him? How close was I from being free?

I don't want to leave my son but I must know how close I was, how close we were from the ending of this sad story. Haymitch seems to sense my dilemma and immediately calls for someone to come and take care of Hyacinth. I tell him my preferred choices and Madge is there, accompanied by Prim. Madge doesn't seem to want to meet my gaze while Prim can do nothing but stare at me. I thank them quickly before heading out the door, my heart in my throat and my head charred to nothing.

My legs are burning, tempted to run and see for myself, but they are useless sticks of flesh, making me nearly topple over the very surface of the ground.

The personnel guarding him eye me with one brief glance, knowing who gave me authorization to enter. When the final lock of five clicks, the bolt unhinging and sliding away, I head in, looking at him as he looks back at me.

"Oh, fuck, you're here now?"

I tense and say nothing.

"Well, at least you're quiet."

Why does he act like this? Why does he loathe me then love me, love me then loathe me?

"Who told you, that brawny idiot from 12? I bet it was him,"

Does he mean Gale? "No, Gale didn't tell me."

He only glares at me before turning his head. His hair has been growing long, down to the end of his chin, strands of dark amber now, but there, beneath the strands of burned sunlight, is the angry slash of a man gone mad on his neck, long and thin.

My hand instinctively goes for him, to brush them aside. He doesn't move, doesn't do anything except turn to me and stare, watching me as I look down, inspecting it carefully. I run my fingers over the ragged line of skin, hearing the quiet hiss past his lips, feeling the shudder of his body and the gentle thumping of his pulse.

I sigh, a little frightened with my actions. He'll always be mine.

"It's getting to be too much," I state.

I didn't notice the way his eyes had fluttered closed until he opened them, looking almost annoyed that I disturbed him. "No, what gave you that idea?" he says sarcastically, quirking a brow.

I huff, trying to reign in patience. I don't care how badly he's been hurt by this situation too; he and I, unfortunately, need to work together to fix this. It strikes me suddenly, in this moment, how true that statement is. Because he is mine for always, I need to think of how to cure him of the disease that has taken over his mind. He can't continue to go on in this state of irrational dreaming—with the venom, it's so akin to something horrible, watching manifestations of your fears come to life, drag you under and crush you in your own screaming.

A living nightmare, one that I have to fight every night, every waking moment; just like me…

"What'd you see today?" I ask the question out of nowhere.

He snorts, "Walls and a door I can't go through."

"I meant from the venom," I reply, struggling not to blow up.

"Why should I tell you anything? It's not like you care,"

"That's true,"

He doesn't look surprised by my honest answer; just pained. It bothers me for some reason.

I flick him on the forehead, my lips pursed in aggravation, "Cat got your tongue?"

"You offering to bite me? You used to."

Red overtakes my cheeks, burning them sharply and swiftly. "No, this is serious!"

He laughs a bitter, broken and hearty 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. 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."

I don't know if this is a compliment, an assessment of my skills, a snide remark, or a combination of all three. But I accept it and get closer to him until our foreheads are practically touching. I'm not sure why I do this—there's just this feeling in me, right in the pit of my stomach, burning a little, setting the insides of me on fire. He looks a little surprised, a little pleased. His mouth hovers close to mine and he licks my bottom lip.

I never acknowledged it before, not in the midst of my waking thoughts, not in front of others, not in my dreams, not to the walls of my room that can't talk; and especially never to myself. But I miss his touches. I don't miss the roughness of those horrible and painful moments. I miss the fact I had a human to hold. I have Prim and Hyacinth, my mother and Cinna, Gale and Madge, who offer me plenty of comfort. But the physical affection is saved for Prim and Hyacinth.

My body is yearning for another kind of touch, different sensations that involve hurt and flying into oblivion. It sickens me that I might be addicted to the thrill and horror of rape.

He seems to sense this, like he senses everything about me. I don't notice how near we are now until his mouth takes mine and his tongue darts in, confident and powerful and hypnotic, like everything about him. I swallow his moan as I crawl closer, my arms around his neck, the voice in the black of my mind screaming for this to not happen—that he's a danger to survival. I feel the breath of his life on my neck, his nose in my hair.

The depression and loneliness in me, the vices that constrict my life, feel much lighter, floating about me. Still uncomfortably nearby but the heavy weight on my back and shoulders have lessened. My fingers rake into his hair, drawing him closer and he murmurs faintly about how he wishes he could move his arms.

I wish he could too.

He moans a little louder and the fire in me becomes emblazoned with want, a tightening happening between my thighs that I never truly caught before. Rapes were always dry for me.

His breathing and mine are both shallow, quick, and I pull back to breathe, relieved at releasing pent up tension.

"I thought of our son," he says then, catching me off guard.

I wait, listening intently, my fingers continuing to brush through his hair.

"I thought… of a lot of things. Mainly our child; it's hard to think about him without wanting to commit suicide. You've wanted to kill yourself, I'm sure."

I nod, not thinking, even if my mind is clearing from heady thoughts.

"It's the same. In here; where there's nothing but my thoughts."

"It's a dangerous thing."

"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?"

"Physical things, mainly; the doctors, the walls, the floor, and you… you're both real and not. But you're very real right now, and that's good."

"And what do you want?"

"Besides death…?"

Then there's a pressure beneath me, one bold quick movement followed by slower rhythms, and the grinding of his hips into me is so shocking that I crawl out of his lap, not even recalling how I'd landed in his lap, his legs straightened while mine had locked on either side of his pelvis.

His face is dark. "You shouldn't tease if you don't mean things."

"You shouldn't either."

"Since when—"

"You do it all the time," I tell him, my voice awfully low.

He doesn't answer.

"Why do you torment me?"

"And you don't torment me?" he tosses back.

"Of course not!"

He raises a petulant brow at me, smirking a little.

"Not in that usual sense… No, not in any sense,"

"You love me."

I inhale sharply. "No, I don't."

"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."

I don't say anything for a long time, only looking at my hands, curled into fists on the floor, my body wanting to heave.

"…You love me, then?" I ask.

"In a way, I do. You mothered my son. And you're a symbol of power; I can't help being attracted to that."

He's honest and I feel my heart returning to normal.

"It helps that you're actually pretty, once you're cleaned up."

I sigh, rising to head to the door.

"No, wait, come back!" he says, his voice halting me for a moment. "I… I don't mean that."

"You don't?"

"No! I mean, yes, no, I—"

He's screaming and his face turns red, eyes shut but they flicker rapidly beneath the lids. I come forward and press my hands on either side of his face, trying to call him back to me.

"Cato! Cato, you need to wake up!"

The destruction of his mind is evident, his mouth open wide, eyes staring off into some unseen horror, bloodcurdling screams wrenching the thin air in the room. Froth pours from the corners of his lips, veins on his forehead, eyes seeming bloodshot, and I can't help but shake him a little, telling him to come back.

He stops then, collapsing headfirst into my shoulder.

I'm shocked, stock-still. I wait with bated breath… and he lets out a shuddery gasp, whimpering, and the way he looks on me, vulnerable and terrified and child-like, is so unbearable I only hold onto him. I don't know how to act or react around him. Everything in him and about him is so distorted that it may take years to piece him together.

He may never be the same again.

But what was he like before?

Ruthless, certainly; deceptive and brutal, sadistic and vicious… It occurs to me that I may never know the real boy underneath the struggles and blood of a man. He'll be trapped in a world of gore and death, not knowing that he's alive.

In my arms, he resembles our child, from the hair to the skin tone, to the movement of his lips. He opens his eyes and stares at me.

"Go away," he tells me, throat hoarse, the words coming out in choked stutters.

I let him go, wondering what will happen to him while no one is here to protect him from himself.

The hallways are quiet when I step out, the guards looking nonchalant, as though they have no idea what occurred just behind them. And it could be true. The room could be sound-proof. Who would care if a dying man decided to kill himself?

No one but the few who know him…

And I'm the only one he knows.

I've never seen his family, and Hyacinth is too little to understand. I wouldn't tell him anyway. It's too horrible to say…

I go through my door and see Prim, Madge, and my son where I left them, playing on the floor.

"Hello, Katniss," Prim chirps, her eyes twinkling. Madge offers me a tentative smile, which I return. She brightens immensely and I feel a little happy to give her something good. She doesn't have to worry about me being upset.

Hyacinth gurgles, cooing loudly and banging his hands on the battered toy drum we found on the outskirts of the encampment. Then he gets up… balancing on his legs… and starts walking to me.

I kneel automatically, awed by how he's moving, the way he's assured in his steps, reaching for me as I reach for him. He almost trips before righting himself, stepping into my embrace, nuzzling into me.

Prim is ecstatic and Madge claps her hands enthusiastically.

"He walked!" shouts Prim, looking delighted at her nephew's newfound accomplishment.

"Oh, that's wonderful!" exclaims Madge, "He's been trying the past couple of months to do this. He's come close before but he did it!"

I look at her. "He's tried before?"

"Yes, it's around that time. Normally, children begin around the age of two but Hyacinth's a special boy. He just blossoms in everything."

My throat tightens. It tightens because I've missed so much of his life, even with him so close to me. The impairment given to me by his father hinders me in the unconditional love I know my children, Hyacinth and Prim, deserve. I've become hollow, empty, lacking in the ability of being the nurturing caregiver I must be. I hate myself every day. I'm disgusted with myself every day. I yearn to be touched and shun contact. I desire to be listened to but remain silent when spoken to. I can't help but think of killing myself—a constant and daily thought—and only cease when I think of the people who rely on me.

Hyacinth looks up at me, smiling brightly, his Seam gray eyes peering up at mine. And Cato's features are there too, making it all the more terrifying and heart-wrenchingly perfect.

I cry into this little one's shoulder, and I pity him, because he's the world to me, but this tiny little world isn't strong enough to hold my tears.

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