The Caged Bird Sings

Swan


Swan


Hyacinth is snuggling close into my chest, his breath even.

I stare out into the distance, watching the sun rise, creeping golden fingers out onto the world. Each new dawn is especially frightening, for reasons I'm partially aware of and others that I'm not. The blue sky that stretches for centuries is tinged in soft pink before blinding me with this intense azure color.

I've been looking out for hours. I haven't been able to sleep properly in years and the toll of the events that have happened within the past year or so have almost obliterated any kind of attachment I had left to the place where I can allow myself to talk to the dead ones I love.

I just sight quietly, lying carefully onto my back and I give the ceiling a thousand yard stare.

My fingers stroke through my son's hair and he sniffles in his sleep; the strong beat of his heart on my rips causes me to cry, and I hold back the sudden urge to sob uncontrollably. It's not working too well so I gently, sweetly, carefully, place my little boy on the bed, watching him become a haze of beauty in my blurred vision.

I head to the bathroom in my new and shockingly clean room and as soon as I close the door, my very body is racked by weeping. I make sure it's nearly silent, so I won't wake him up, but it doesn't take away the power of it. I'm shaking hard, fingernails digging into my palms, grinding my teeth so hard the clenching is harsh in my ears.

The world is tipping off balance.

It falls, falls into the void of black and lands on something solid, a curving shape that stabs the earth yet holds it in more place than it could ever have on its own.

I hear singing, shafts of light breaking the dark, and I look up, searching for the sun but it's not the sun—it's something brighter, more surreal, more akin to a feeling of deep love.

It's just my imagination and the denial of such a heaven nearly causes me to throw my head back and give a long mournful cry.

I plant my face into the tile, exhausted by emotion.

Once I'm sure I've collected myself, I walk out of my little dark corner and back to bed.

Prim is sitting on the bed, demure and delicate, holding onto Hyacinth's hand. He's still sleeping.

I walk over to her and she peers up at me intently, because I can't hide the truth from her. I have to pity my sister in some ways, even though she's incredibly strong on the inside. I don't know how she can do it. Dealing with my mother who still wanders into the past because it's less painful than the present; being one of the caretakers of my son; dealing with me, a pathetic nothing that doesn't know the difference anymore from living and death because everything is so unrealistically painful that I've done nothing but cry for days.

"You want to talk about it?"

I shake my head. She doesn't need to be burdened with any more than she already deals with. It abhors me that she attends to me more now than I can ever do or compensate for her. My little girl, not even a woman, living the life of a caretaker in silence, never voicing against it, never whining; she's grown significantly during the time I've been gone and it hurts to see her this way now. I left and she was a small little duckling, fearfully and courageously stepping into the world. Now she's this person I don't know, this beauty that came and replaced my Prim with a girl who's older, vastly wiser and yet still Prim.

She still would rather curl up with Buttercup than go charging into battle, but she still is someone new.

I look at the back of her shirt as she moves to look at the surroundings, then Hyacinth.

No ducktail.

Not in months.

"Haymitch sent me to get you. Something about an appointment?"

"Oh… the therapist,"

"How have those been going for you?"

I shrug.

Prim licks her lips, "Do you want me to tell them to stop?"

I look at her, slightly aghast, "You're going to tell them to leave me alone?"

"Why not?" she asks, a defiant tone taking on her sweet voice that I've never heard before, "I can help you—we can help you, if you'd just let us,"

"It's not that simple, Prim,"

"Life is never that simple, Katniss. You know that better than anyone,"

She covers her mouth with one hand, staring at me in shock, "Oh, Katniss, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to say—"

"Don't apologize for the truth, little duck. You have a point. It's just difficult to remember for myself."

She doesn't appear to be the slightest bit consoled by the harshness of her words. I know that I do need to hear them now and again, and since she's one of the few people who have any reign over me I don't mind if it comes from her.

I place my hand upon her shoulder. She's gotten taller, barely brushing my chin now. I kiss her forehead and I wipe a tear that comes out. She sniffles and holds me tight before going over to Hyacinth. He doesn't stir.

Heading out into the hall, I listen to the footsteps that belong only to me.

Ever since I killed Snow, things have died down further considerably. The few people who remained loyal to our past president had finally come out their stupor of devotion and took into the fact that he was always a sociopath. They didn't like to admit it—many of them were too used to the entertainment that they received from children murdering children. This high that made them feel superior to the rest of us. They don't say it but it's what most of them would think: where would they go to be entertained now? What will happen?

About two weeks ago, a month after that bastard's execution, we had all gone to a meeting: Haymitch, Effie, Cinna, me; Gale and Madge; and the woman who ruled all of 13, Alma Coin.

She had come in with cordiality, daring to come up and pat my back with something tied between both pity and congratulations. Needless to say, I disliked her immediately, not appreciating her easy candidness towards me. She knew that she had done the wrong thing and did not make amends. She only took her seat and had no objection to being reserved, which didn't bother me. She just unnerved me terribly.

She looked at each one of us before she opened her mouth to speak. "It's good to see that you've finally agreed to a meeting,"

Effie almost pales and I see in my peripheral vision Haymitch squeeze her hand and Cinna gently touch her elbow.

"With Snow out of the way, we figured it was time," Cinna answered, all poise and quiet grace but he was the farthest person from a fool.

"The Mockingjay looks well rested," said Coin.

We all knew she was lying: I was and still am the least presentable creature in the whole of the district. I was an aversion to some women in the district, a completely useless individual when it came to anything of importance for functioning and helping in said district; I had never bothered before to make myself presentable but it had gotten to the point where I would simply put on whatever raggedy garment was nearby, fearing my body and fearing people looking at; my hair vastly thinner, feeling brittle in my anemic digits—overall, just a terrible guest who misused their generosity. There was a part of me who would occasionally feel guilty but the indifference was always vastly stronger because I hated almost every living soul that breathed and could move through time; I'm just stuck in one moment.

"You've considered my proposal then?"

It took me a moment to notice that she had addressed me.

I looked at my three guardians. "What does she mean?"

I catch her eyes narrow slightly and her shallow smile slips.

Haymitch turned to me, "Why don't I have Coin mention that to you?"

"Of course," she told us all, and the smile looked worse when worn very, very thinly, "I had proposed to Haymitch and the others that we should consider taking precautions to future Games being done in the future—to ensure that such violence will never be done to the people of the districts,"

Cinna tilted his head to look at her and the bleakness in his eyes was enough to make me hold my breath, "The people of the district are our only priority?"

"Most definitely," she affirmed, "It's only fair that the children of the Capitol be put through the same punishment—"

"No!" my voice rang out with such wrathful finality that I had to wonder if it was really me who spoke.

"Everdeen—"

"Absolutely not," I almost cry out, "I won't stand for it."

"The Capitol must learn that it is no longer in control. It's merely a stratagem to employ the power of the districts,"

"Then we will be no different than the Capitol. I am the Mockingjay still—I forbid such an action to take place!" I quietly screamed, my voice harsh to my own ears.

"It's not that bad of an idea," Gale said to my left on the opposite side.

"What? Of course it's a bad idea!"

"I'm only thinking aloud about what they had done to us for decades. I think it would be fair to deny them the liberties that they stole from us for so long,"

I seethed in silence, looking at my best friend with horrible bloodied new eyes. He simply could not be serious. Gale and I know each other better than most people could ever hope to. He is still headstrong, eager to find the justice and equality that he's yearned since I've known him; but he can be vengeful and absolutely spiteful when he desired to be—traits that I attribute to myself frequently.

But the darkness in my life stills suffocates me and the burden of it weighs so heavily that I abhor anything that could possibly feed it.

"Gale, you would tell me often how you wanted to be different from them—this will be the exact same thing!"

"No, Katniss, it wouldn't be. It's justice,"

"It's despicable," intervened Madge, looking between the two of us, "I am in full agreement with the Mockingjay. It may seem justified now but say what if the Capitol decides to rebel against us down the line and then another full-fledged war comes about. How can we possibly preserve our race with war?"

Gale glanced at her then back to me, caught between worlds. He and I know how difficult it can be on the streets of poverty—gray upon gray with no food or water or shelter. However, thankfully, Madge could be convincing and it looked as though he may change his mind after all, even if for her. The last thing I want is for him to fight again. I can't bear it.

"I refuse to be a part of something so terrible! What good will it do to punish the children of the adults who put us through such pain?" I rebuke, looking at everyone with frantic panic.

"Grief is a very powerful emotion," Coin said to me, "But it has to be used accordingly."

She was right. When someone dies, it's not the person who's gone who is consumed with an overwhelming sense of loss but the ones who are left behind. If the children are punished, it keeps the adults in line because nothing is stronger than grief and fear—these are the emotions that are so renowned throughout the world that everything makes sense when a person is enveloped by it.

Then I thought of Cato's face—the way he looks to be sleeping in the whiteness of his living coffin.

About all of us who went through the destruction of the Games, the war, the endless death caused by such an authoritarian society. No one here is a stranger to the hurt that death likes to cloak over us. Peeta cried into my soul and objected vehemently to the idea of punishing any more innocent souls.

In the darkness of my body, the empty void, Cato screamed loud and resonant that he doesn't want it to happen to anyone else either.

"I don't want it,"

"Are you prepared to be the leader of the world?"

Coin had inquired it to me again and I looked at her plainly, heat in my very skin. "No, but I will not follow anyone who suggests an idea so counterproductive to what we strived and bled for. This is not what I am about."

"Then what are you about?"

"Finding and keeping peace with the enemy because the children are innocent; especially for the children. I fight for life."

No one said anything for a long time, stretching into such a thin line that the tiniest of breaths could've swept it into the air.

"I agree with the Mockingjay," Haymitch finally said.

I looked at him, grateful. He and I had never seen eye to eye yet, during the past couple of months, he had proved to be an invaluable companion to me and I had no question of his motives.

"I do too," Effie agreed, Cinna nodding his head, green eyes staring off into the distance.

Gale finally came to our side with much convincing from Madge. I couldn't hate him for being part of the opposition. This was something that he always believed in—a cause that no one but his own memory and heart could understand. But he glanced at me and when our eyes met, I swore there was a flicker of something tumultuous in his gaze, asphalt on fire, then it died down and I felt his compassion.

Coin was on her own and she didn't take it well, with the way she stormed off, in a calm and diplomatic manner, of course, out of the conference.

Afterward, the feeling I got from her increased terribly, and I would often keep Prim and Hyacinth close to me. There was no way I wanted to leave them alone in her company, even though I didn't see her after that.

With the war officially rendered final, I pleaded severely with Haymitch that we all go back to 12.

He agreed readily, telling me that I didn't have to beg at all.

We haven't moved yet, but I know it will be soon.

I find him waiting for me at the end of the hallway, drinking spirits out of a much thinner flask.

"You're cutting down some,"

He smiles a little, "Yeah, Effie bitches about it a lot,"

I found the relationship between the two of them a little bit of a surprise, considering the way they tore at each other during the time Peeta and I were in the Games. They are both far from being completely changed—she's still spastic about punctuality and manners and he's still gruff, but they work it out well.

Nothing has been said as to how deep the relationship between them has gotten but I can tell that they're much closer than before. She's mellowed out, stopping wearing the fascist and ridiculous wear of the Capitol and he really has been reducing his alcohol intake, much to the relief of us all. We would never tell him—he hates preaching—but we don't want him to go too soon.

We need both of them more than they know.

"You ready to go to your appointment?"

"As ready as I'll ever be,"

"You can handle it," he tells me, softly patting my shoulder, "You're a strong girl,"

I don't feel that way so much any longer.

The chair is lumpy and not comfortable at all. My back cries out for something more solid as my eyes begin to droop. It's peaceful yet I can't relax.

"How are things?"

I don't say anything.

"...Your execution of Snow is still the raging news,"

"I know,"

"Ah, a response,"

"I don't need counseling,"

"Most people in your situation believe that they don't,"

I find myself offended and shut up.

"You have a child, yes? How is he doing?"

"Better than me,"

"Oh?"

"He's not stuck listening to someone ramble about my feelings,"

"This will only be as difficult as you want to make it,"

"It will only be difficult because there's nothing for me to say,"

"You're saying things now. No, don't be silent again. I'm here to help you,"

"I don't need anyone's help. I've made it on my own for years with no one to help me and I can do it again just as easily."

"You don't need anyone's help?"

"No, I do not."

"So the support that you've been getting from your friends and family doesn't count as help?"

"No, it counts as pity is what it counts as,"

"Pity? How does that count as pity?"

"Because they didn't go through what I went through. They don't know anything about how it hurts to just breathe; it's good that they don't."

"You suffer from anxiety?"

"Much of the time,"

"Ah, I see. And do you take medication for that?"

"Not so much anymore. I'd rather not become a junkie on top of everything else in my fucked up existence,"

"You're angry,"

"Excuse me?"

Petulant and irritatingly patient silence…

"Fine, of course I'm angry. I don't need to be here. I've told people many times before—if they just leave me to my own devices, I'll be perfectly fine. I don't understand what the problem is with me being alone."

"There's a different between being isolated and choosing isolation; the same way there's a difference between being alone and being lonely.

A lot of us believe that we can be just fine on our own, but we can't do it all the time. Humans are naturally social creatures,"

"This is coming from someone who used to murder children for fun."

"We are not here to talk about my background, Miss Everdeen."

"Well your background is exactly my problem. All of you sickened me—the way you threw us to die for your own amusement and left us to rot in our minds. You think you're so great, don't you?"

"Not at all; your xenophobia is quite normal, I think, from what would happen,"

It sounds like something Cinna would say. I turn to look at him, this man with slightly pale skin and defiantly green locks, shades of leaves. I can't tell if he genuinely means it or not but I can't seem to be completely aloof anymore, not as much.

"…well, I don't believe in being sociable so I must not be human."

"You certainly have feelings however. There's nothing wrong with feeling,"

"Yes, there is! It's exhausting being torn up by your own emotions. Do you know that, huh? How men and women either look at me with disgust or pity and then my friends are too overprotective and doting and my family is still trying to patch itself together and then there's my rapist to contend with."

"…Let's take this a little bit at a time. What bothers you about these men and women?"

"Just— just the way they look at me. When it's not a pitiful stare it's an accusing one. It's not exactly unknown that I didn't try to run away from my captor and that I have chosen to sire and raise his son. I don't respond when they call me a whore for trading up my body for life, because that's their business to rot for, but that doesn't mean I don't hear."

He jots down notes quickly; I try not to react negatively.

"What about your family and friends?"

"My son and sister are as wonderful as ever. I've nothing against them. It's everyone else—Gale gets too overprotective now, Madge has this ability to fight now when, before, I would be the one guarding Gale's back, and I just don't think anyone understands."

"No one will truly know how to understand. As you said, it's not their experience but your own that you must trudge through. With Gale, he's your best friend? Well, there you have it. You feel pushed out of the way by her because you used to guard Gale's back and now this girl, seemingly weaker, is now your successor. These two must be close to you, at least Gale, but you had been gone for a long time, therefore, they developed a relationship you never saw, one none of you probably saw coming, so now it's something threatening. Am I getting it right so far?"

Slowly, I nod. "But I don't even understand why. I don't envy Madge at all, not in the typical sense."

"And what is the typical sense?"

"Looking pretty and shit like that,"

He snorts out a laugh; the side of my mouth is tempted to twitch.

"So, why do you envy her then?"

"…I don't know. Probably that she got to live. So she's better at raising my son too,"

"Have you told her this?"

"Yes, I gave my son to her a long while back."

He's silent for a few moments, staring at me and his eyes soften, dark coals that burn warmth. "That could be another part of the issue involving them. Now, about your rapist, Miss Everdeen…"

"What about him?"

"Everything about him! The way he smells and would talk and hit me then I find out that he's actually under the influence of Tracker Jacker venom. How can I hate someone who had destroyed my very existence in a single moment when none of it was their fault?"

"You don't."

I pause and stare at him.

"You don't hate."

"…then what do I do?"

"You forgive him."

"I've done that."

"Then what's your problem, Katniss? Who are you angry at?"

"I'm angry at myself! Okay?!"

I'm seething, hot, hot tears burning the sensitive skin near my eyes, the fatigue of no sleep accompanying the sting. My insides are balled into a tight coiled rock of shame and I'm trying to let it go, just allow it to release, but it nestles deeper into the core of my soul and it cackles, an evil stone crying out.

"Why?"

I can't breathe, the room closing in, squeezing me into this tight ball of despair—because all I can do is remember the despair I feel every day: it's the only thing that keeps me going.

I don't hear the name of the girl who has left my soul, the one who could sing.

These feet are carrying me out of the room and down the hallway, listening to the rapid of the steps, rushing through life, trying to find meaning and significance again.

I finally collapse onto my knees, breathing shallow gasps.

It's true. I've been angriest at myself this whole time. Everything is just my fault but no matter how hard I try not to play the victim, not to let myself continue to be victimized by myself and my past, I always come out beneath the earth, dying in decay.

Why?

Why?

Why?

It just bangs in my skull, that one dead word thrashing violently in me. The thing is, I don't know why, not completely—

But then, I may be lying.

I probably do know why and just refuse to admit to the cause of the why.

My emotions are frayed, pulling into me, and I'm screaming fire, my throat burning itself hoarse. My body begins its convulsions, as it usually does when pushed to the limit nowadays. A strangled cry of rage pours out into the ground and I hold onto me, trying to keep myself together. The shaking doesn't stop for a while; when it does, my body is still, so still I wonder if I've died: a statue that can't recall the meaning of life and blood.

Once I've regained my composure, I stand to full height, wiping the beads of sweat off my forehead. Leaning against a wall, I let out a quiet sigh, listening to it drop in the air, completely noiseless and yet it speaks to me.

I didn't expect those answers to burst out of me back there. The whole ordeal is emotionally exhausting. I feel too drained to even think and yet that seems to be the only thing that I not only want to do, but have to do. My head falls into my arms, wrapped around my knees, curled up into my chest.

I don't think for a long time. I desire to but no thoughts come. It's silent everywhere inside me. My hand feels the faint pulse beneath my ribcage yet I hear nothing, not even the slightest rhythm.

It frightens me, the quiet of my heart and soul but it's almost…fulfilling, in a way. As though I'm meant for this to happen to me; that what I am getting is truly what I deserve.

My heart suddenly screams into my being, Peeta yelling at the top of his lungs and it shocks me out of my stagnant state of mind. My fist is pressed tightly into my chest, heaving from the suddenness: the organ thumps with a frenzied passion, fast and strong, scared of its own power.

Incredulous, I rise and continue to tread through the hallways, heading back to my room. Entering into it, seeing no one, I flop down onto the mattress, wishing that the pillow could just suffocate me and be done with it, but it doesn't work like that. My head automatically turns and I take in a deep forlorn breath.

The toilet flushes and I swivel my head to look.

Prim holds her nephew close, kissing his cheeks, "You did well this time! Yes, you did!"

He lets out pleased coos, bubbling with joy. When he sees me, his arms reach out and I welcome him into them, holding him close. Prim climbs onto the mattress and sits right next to me, her head on my shoulder. They both smell of lavender and fields. It's aromatic, very nice.

"He's going to be a pro when it comes to using the bathroom,"

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yes! I've been teaching him whenever I can. You know, so he can start early,"

I pull her close and kiss her forehead. Hyacinth and Prim begin to play patty-cake on the bed, my son in my lap and Prim near to us both. I try not to think about the whole incident at the shrink's office. There was too much pain back there but it seems to be the only thing going through my head, aside from the beauty of my children.

I don't understand myself at all, my captor less so and my heart weeps because of it.

I dream often and I hate it because too many of these dreams revolve around people I cannot help—Cato included; yet being with him in my dreams are on the edge of malice and tenderness, this sweet blade that makes me bleed joy. There are dreams when he's this black shadow marring the darkness of our past however he doesn't approach—my father and Rue sing lullabies so he's lulled before he even breathes on me; others when he's perfectly normal, as normal as I could ever picture him, at peace, holding our son to his chest and he laughs because he's free from the poison in his life.

The ones where he's realest to me are when he still forces me to have sex with him; but they teeter on frightening, more frightening than they ever were in real life because he's screaming at me in utter emotional torment to rival my physical pain, that he needs me to help him, our cries shattering the earth and fire is roaring fumes that blur our vision and monsters laugh and it always ends with him saying that he's sorry—

"Katniss!"

I'm pulled out of my mind, relieved and broken.

Hyacinth is whimpering beside me, looking at me with expressive skies to rival the world's; Prim has me by the shoulders, her face twisted in terror, anger, and relief.

"What happened?"

"You left us, Katniss—into your mind! What the hell are you thinking?"

I'm shocked at her tenacity, her slender healing fingers digging into my skin. "I'm sorry—"

"You promised me that you would never become like mom, and you're sitting here doing just that. You can't leave us,"

"I'm not going anywhere! I just… I was thinking too hard to remember anything around me."

Prim continues to hold onto me, white stains on flushed cheeks, pink from the emotion. I brush them away and she's suddenly weeping in my arms, holding me tight. She must be so scared, and I never even thought much about it. She's a child, she has moments of dread, but she's always been this light in the cruel world; it isn't fair to her or my son to be the saviors of adults—no child should have that responsibility on their shoulders. There are too many Games where children's welfare has to be considered and weighed for the sake of the elders and it's not fair, not at all, and I begin to cry for taking her for granted.

She's helped me so much and I was grateful, appreciated how much she loves Hyacinth and has been one of the few to remember me but she must be going through pain herself—my absence must have forced her to grow up even faster, stuck with our mother who had continued to abandon her for fantasies that will never happen; my little Primrose, beautiful in the bitter frost and I find her so courageous, I always have—it's miraculous that she never withered.

"I'm sorry," she says to me; voice a breathy low, "I shouldn't be crying when you're in trouble,"

"There's nothing to be sorry about, little Duck,"

This makes her smile sadly but it's genuine, and I hold both her and my son for a long time.

When they fall asleep in my arms, I slowly rise to exit from the room. Walking down the hallway, I make my way to the only place where I can think and be alone.

Cato is as still as ever, a corpse with a heartbeat.

I wonder if he's been moved yet. I look at the clock that hangs above his head. It's a quarter until four. If I recall what I was told right, he was last moved five hours ago.

Anger flares into me. I bet they haven't induced the hypothermia yet.

Not bothering to look around for people to stop me—they never do—I move him from his current position, from side to side, as they told me and I had been observing. I try to be careful, lifting up the dead weight of him, my breathing a little shallower from still having not recovered from my own bodily weaknesses and the shock of how he's lost weight. He's still heavy but dead things usually are. I can't help him with the other issue—which perturbs me anyway—but the least I can do is move him around.

Afterward, I brush hair from his face and sit down next to him, wondering if he's even aware of his surroundings, if he's caught in some catatonic sleep and if he is, what is he dreaming about? Do people in comas even dream? I just imagine him being trapped among the darkness with no escape, no air to breathe, nothing to imagine. It's horrifying. It's too similar to dying away from the sky.

I bury my face in my hands, trying to ignore all around me.

My sniffling catches me off guard and I brush away the tears hurriedly away. The world is dim in this room, even though it's significantly brighter than they normally light it. They don't normally do so, having given up on him from coming back. However, I do request often they put the light on full blast; they rarely do, because I know they don't like my attentiveness to him—but I would think that if the light was burning on his face, searing into his eyes, he'll yell from the intensity of the fake sun. I'm sure I'm the only one who cares about him coming back, and it's not even for me, it's for my son.

No… even if our reasons differ, I want him back for both of us.

I continue to look at him, just wondering. My face moves closer, placed on the edge of his bed, and my fingers slowly climb then latch onto his wrist. Watching him makes me sleepy, and I've done it several times, though I try not to—there's this innate fear that if I sleep near him, being connected the way we are, I'll be trapped with him, then who will care for our son and my sister and those who need me?

I don't know why I'm so attached to him. There are too many moments when I wake up in cold sweats, dreaming of his death and liberation, often at the same time, and they're painful because I feel what he feels. It angers me that he and I are so close, even with all those dire circumstances.

I still tell myself, when no one but Peeta is there, that I hate him, hate him for what he's done to me. Yet, I can't put the whole blame on him anymore. Ruthless he might've been, even psychotic or, at least, a little sadistic before the Games, but the venom is not his fault. He was as much a pawn in Snow's vile plan as anyone else, maybe more so. And, realizing this every single minute of my waking life, my hatred drains itself from me into shredded emotions of forlorn longing and sadness.

The biggest question is if I love him, truly love him.

I'm frightened at both spectrums—the one where I do, and the one where I don't.

His breathing is quieter than the rustle of leaves, just as raspy and wispy.

"Hyacinth's birthday is in month or so,"

Silence.

"A whole year old; I can't believe how big he's gotten!" I say to the dead man, my voice barely audible; dead people like the quiet, "He's pretty tall, well, for a child's standards, I think. Did you know that a child reaches half their adult height by the time they're two? That's what that pediatrician said. At this rate, he'll be so big; taller than you… even Gale…"

He doesn't move at the mention of our son. I flinched when I mentioned Gale, half-hoping and half-fearing that the sound of Gale's name, who Cato objected to so passionately, would make him rise and unleash a father's fury.

But then, I've never spoken to him aloud before.

My eyes remain downward, and I sit back in my seat.

"I, uh… I haven't brought him in to see you. I'm sorry about that. I don't know how he'd respond. He hasn't talked yet. Shocking, I know, but, I'm not much of a talker either. I'm not sure if you were or not either, but he's a healthy little boy.

Personally, I think the doctors are stupid, saying our son is unfit to be around others. He's fine with me, and as far as I know, he was fine with you. We've looked at him physically and he has no damage done to him. He's boisterous and considerate around others he knows, just not strangers. So, it's probably a shyness thing, but no one hears us out on it."

My voice suddenly goes higher in pitch, laughing a little.

"He tried to help out Gale with dinner the other night. It didn't go too well—there was some mush stuff, I think it was baby food. Hyacinth absolutely hates the baby food, but I guess he really didn't want it and, wham! His hand hit the little bowl and it flew pretty high, landing on Gale's head and he was splattered with it. Hyacinth just burst into giggles, all of us did, then Gale wiped himself and he reached for Hyacinth and kissed his cheek—"

I halt. Recalling the memory… how it pained me to witness it.

"…I'm sorry about that, too—that I gave him to my friends. And I didn't tell you. It's just… I really thought and do think it's best. You're here and I'm constantly being seen by doctors for medication. You're probably the last person who needs to sleep, with the venom still in your system. I barely sleep anymore.

It's hard falling asleep and harder, at times, to wake up.

Hyacinth is happy though…! He's…"

I begin to cry, my hands covering my face, unable to look at him right now.

"Our son is really beautiful. He's loved by so many, I know it—I see it every day. Even Haymitch treats him kindly, and I think it's because he could never have children either.

God, Cato… the thing that bothers me most is that we'll never know how to feel about each other."

I finally look at him and he doesn't move.

"The thing is, I don't love you and yet I do.

I don't love you because you remind of everything dark, everything evil—sadism and sociopaths and abuse; but your circumstance, that we weren't even aware of just… it breaks my heart. That one part of you is this, this light that I never knew could be there—that you are innocent at the same time…"

And I remember black nights with no stars, how I would shiver in the depths of nothingness and feel his arm curl about me; even if it was possessive, even if it was to prevent my escape, I still felt secure, and blankets would crawl up my skin, warm pain. How he would sometimes, out of nowhere, bring me an extra bowl of food without my begging him to.

Was he fighting the venom during that time?

This just cracks my last resolve and I weep; I bawl.

My hands tighten and I reach for him.

"The thing is, I don't love you, not that way, and still I can't help but love you that way. I know it's pitiful and you'd hate it, because it's impossible. You've never been really sentimental…

I've never heard of anyone falling in love with their rapist either; never. But… yes, maybe I love you out of pity, maybe I love you and forgive you because I can't do those things for myself—I never could… still, all I know is that I love you. I'll never be sure of the why or the how, but I love you, deeply, because I forgive you. Alright? You hear me, right—I forgive you and I love you…!"

I stare at him through blurred vision and see a child with no real thought to what's going on; I look and there's a resemblance to Hyacinth, hair messy and skin a little sallow compared to the boy's, but I see two precious people in this one man, overshadowing the face of death and despair that I would often look at when it was him and me and insanity. He's evil incarnate only because childhood doesn't exist for us, for his own little heaven that, like it should be, was his mother's womb, and it's gone instantly when we're birthed into this world where death began the moment we breathed.

I have to accept this aspect of my life.

That I love my rapist and protector… disgusting and endearing at the same time…

He's caused me nothing but grief, stolen time and life and joy from me, but he's given them back to me—the time I've lost I've found again, even if it's in the expense of him in this coma; I found life again because I realize that his soul was in torment due to poison, killing me only because he was dying himself and I can forgive him, forgiveness is life. And I found joy in my son, our son.

I don't deserve anything, the way I've been all my life—spoiled and arrogant and bitter toward the world. But I've been given this child and I'll be damned before I lose him.

Even if I have to let him go, I know my only world where everything is gentle is safe.

My hands lock down, clamping onto the unmoving, stiff wrist. He doesn't feel anything, doesn't even know I'm here. I dig my nails into his skin, wishing he'd wake up, wanting him to hear everything and know that he doesn't have to dwell in the darkness anymore. He can come to the light—it's less heavy than the black.

I hate this; I hate that I love him so dearly.

I break in the quiet of the room, falling hard onto my knees, the pain jolting up and making me hiss out as I struggle not to weep.

It's difficult to leave, my heart bleeding all over my sleeves, my body, my soul, staining everything in a dark red. I want to tell him so much, there seems to be so much unsaid.

I can't say anything. Everything seems to final of a sudden.

My hands shake as I grip the handle of the door, walking out and leaving my corpse on the bed.

When I enter my room, Prim and Haymitch are conversing, Hyacinth playing contently on the floor. I can't help but smile a little. A menace, my ass…

Prim turns to me, a smile place then it's immediately removed by a frown. I know she sees the red in my eyes. She approaches me cautiously, extending a hand to me, treating me with compassion, the way she does to all creatures that don't know what to do.

Haymitch comes up to me as well as I take my daughter into my arms. He places a hand on my shoulder.

"Start packing, sweetheart," he tells me softly, "District 12 is clear."

I cry harder and their arms burn beautifully around me, Peeta crying from longing and it only makes me lament further, not knowing if I was leaving my home or finally going home. Either way, nothing is the same; life can be very ungraceful.

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