I haven't seen rain or sky or sun in so long. It's beautiful.
The wind touches my face, ruffling through my hair and I breathe it in, eyes shut lightly, loving the way the sun dances in front of me, red light and crimson shadows with orange hues, a blurry sunset with closed lids.
Footfalls behind me crunch softly on the ground and I smile a little, thinking of Peeta.
I turn to look at my mother, flushed in her face, breathing a little hard. She's not used to the woods and I'm not used to seeing her here either.
"It's cold out," she says, coming forward with a coat.
"I'm fine," I tell her, touched by the gesture but feeling quite all right.
"Katniss, the sun may be out but it's still chilly. The wind and the distant clouds don't bode well for you,"
I can't help but laugh a little and she frowns at me, the way Prim does sometimes when she's feeling a little petulant. "It's not that bad,"
She sighs, and then places her hand on my shoulder, "I know it's not. I just don't recommend too much exertion at once, Katniss." She pauses then I watch her beam warmly at me and I wonder if I ever really knew she could smile so. "It's exciting to be out, when you've been buried away for so long,"
I nod; it's exactly how I feel. The sky beckons me, making me ache.
I take the proffered coat and, together, my mother and I head back to our new home in the Victor's Village.
With the defeat of Snow and the fact that Coin has stopped bothering the rest of us about electing her as leader, things have quieted and some of the residents of 12 have come back to live here. It's not the same amount of people that it was in the beginning. There were those who liked it in 13, others left to pursue occupations, to venture out into the other districts and learn. Either way, people were finally moving on and doing what they wanted.
All except for…
"Katniss! You're home!" Prim calls from the second story window.
I wave to her and rush into the heated comfort of our new home. It's not exactly what I'm used to, definitely not, but compared to having been confined for months and months in small spaces, it's a tier up from what my body is used to. I requested that we live in a home closest to our old one. I couldn't bare the notion of leaving it alone, even in its dilapidated state, with shingles missing and boards beginning to give way to dust and insects. It's still my home, too.
Hyacinth is playing on the carpet in the living room, banging two blocks together before stacking them. He enjoys the pastime, almost as though he was meant to build things. Mother likes to tell me that; maybe, he'll be an amazing architect. I can see it—he's brilliant with such things. It didn't occur to me until a few weeks ago that it almost seems perfect. District 2 is masonry.
I pick him up when he crawls to me, giving me a kiss on the cheek that leaves me breathless from joy. He waves his newest toy, a plastic hammer, in front of my face and I take it in my hand, making banging motions. He giggles and takes it back.
"When did Gale and Madge come over to drop him off?" I inquire to Prim.
"They came about thirty minutes ago," she informs me, picking up her sewing material. She's picked up this hobby of making things for her nephew. It's sweet of her to do so; especially since I'm a hopeless case with it, even with Cinna's patience. But Prim excels in it. "Hyacinth is really well-behaved about it,"
"You make it sound astonishing, little Duck,"
She lets out a quick laugh, short and sweet, "Well, I only mean that he normally stays with them longer but he takes this in real smoothly."
That's good. I can't stand the idea of him being upset about the routine.
In the beginning, he would cry whenever he left either home, even though Gale and Madge occupy the third house from mine to the left. He was used to either two parents or one and we worried for a long while how we were going to get him accustomed to it. Thankfully, since we all know each other, there was never any difficulty setting up different schedules.
Madge and Gale are very charitable parents. I watch them a lot with him. Gale loves tossing him into the air and catch him, which puts both Madge and I on a terrible edge, which makes him laugh and, inevitably, Hyacinth—he delights in anything fun.
He's gotten used to it and doesn't fuss anymore, back to sweet, docile and silent. Lately, Hyacinth has been spending more time in my home than in theirs. I know why and it both saddens and warms me. I had tried telling them that he really needs to be around them more often than me. They wouldn't hear of it, telling me that, as his mother, I have the right to see him every single day at any possible time, and the longer the better. It shatters me inside that their generosity is endless and I can't do anything to stop it or thank them.
"Honey," my mother says, addressing me, "Cinna is on the phone,"
It's so surreal. How much my mother and I have gotten closer where, before, she was this person who sickened me. I take the phone from her, and she leaves to give me privacy, kissing me cheek.
I don't wipe it away.
"Hello, Katniss," he answers, voice kind as usual, even through the receiver. "How are you?"
"Better than usual," I'm glad it's not a lie. I hate lying to Cinna.
"That's wonderful to hear."
"Yeah, it is,"
He chuckles on the other line; I picture his soft smile, "You've made quite the progress this last month,"
"You think so?"
"Think about it, Katniss."
And he's right.
We talk for a while, talking about my progress in my therapy sessions. It's not as difficult to open up anymore, but it's still challenging to go. Thankfully, my therapist that I had been assigned to, who spoke to me rationally all that time ago, is still the same one. I learned that his name is Cornelius, but I don't usually address him by first name.
"I'm glad that everything is working out for you with him," Cinna tells me again. The genuineness in his voice hurts me.
"Thank you, Cinna,"
There's a slight pause; then, "How is Cato doing?"
"He's not truly gone, Katniss. Not really,"
I'm pained by his sadness for me intermingling with my sadness for this broken boy. "I know. But it feels that way, a lot of the time."
I've been told already about how the brain may not be functioning, but he is still breathing, therefore he's not dead. But whenever I look at him, in the quiet of the room that is located in the small clinic that was built here, my heart aches and my throat chokes on nothing but my tears.
"It'll be difficult for years, my friend. He'll never wake up, and it's something that you'll have to face."
I sniffle, though I make sure not to let my tears fall. "I know."
We're silent for several moments, listening to one another breathe. Cinna hears Hyacinth waddle into the room, and he laughs. He tells me that he'll be coming over in a week to visit us all. We say goodbye with fondness. I hang the phone up then go to my son, picking him up and curling him into my body.
Haymitch and Effie as well, since they're still a part of district 13 and all its functions at the moment. Cinna is, currently, attending to business in the Capitol, trying to muster up a sense of order for the people who never knew what the world is truly like.
Hyacinth remains silent, a soft and pliable little gem. We've yet to hear him speak. We hadn't known what was wrong. He'll be a year old soon; only unintelligible nothings escape his mouth. Finally, we'd taken him to several doctors to find out the cause. He's incredibly healthy but they surmised that the events that happened between me and his sire have caused deep psychological and emotional trauma, hindering him from speaking. It was devastating news to hear. Withal, Gale, Madge and I left the last medical foundation with complete love for him, huddling close around him, with me holding my child, Madge holding us and Gale gathering us all into his embrace. It was a tender moment where I truly felt that my child was loved; and, in a small petty way, that I was, too.
I take my child outside to play in the garden that is our backyard. The vast amount of flora is a delight to him. He loves to frolic in the grass, fiddling with dandelions and daisies that pop sporadically upward. I hear movement behind me—old habits die hard, even if impaired—and I motion for Prim to come out, followed by my mother.
My mother sits next to me, and I feel her fingers in my hair, gently massaging my scalp. I haven't felt this secure with her in years. I can't hate her or be bitter toward her anymore; not after all she's done to try and help me, despite her own longing for death for my father. I know that, on her deathbed, that's where she'll be truly happy, knowing she'll be reunited with our father, whom we all loved for his gentleness and his voice of reason and song.
I can't hate her for wishing that. I understand her, a little better than I used to. My gaze meets hers and I give her a tentative smile, which she gladly reciprocates.
Prim is giggling on my other side, pulling Hyacinth near to her and showing him how to make a crown of laurel and rosemary. And odd combination, yet it's not surprising. She loves the smell together, and I must admit, it tastes excellent in stews.
Hyacinth takes several plants at one time, beginning his attempts. His face furrows into a frown that's so similar to Cato's that my breath hitches in my throat. I don't know if my mother felt it but she stopped stroking me for a moment before continuing, even softer.
I watch them both, listening to the sound of laughter, birdsong, my mother's soft breath and my heartbeat, where Peeta dwells quietly, calm in the storm of my mind.
I go to bed that night with my mind full, too full, overflowing with too many memories. Hyacinth is on rotation, so tonight he's with Gale and Madge, which is good—I don't think I'd be able to take care of him right now with all these terrible nightmares deciding to attack. My thoughts haven't been this rampant in a little over two weeks. It's not unusual to be bombarded with uncomfortable pains that my soul tells me about; that hardly means I like it or don't get jolted from serenity when they appear. I still suffer from night terrors, frequently; however, thankfully, thanks to the medication, my anxiety is lessening a little, bit by bit but day by day and that's really all I can expect.
My father had been in my dream this time, withal, singing a sonorous lament to the heavens, Hyacinth, Cato and Peeta dead at his feet, for my voice was gone and only he could tell the earth my pain. I don't know why I dreamt of such a thing. My nightmares never become easier—I doubt they will—yet this woke me up in a frightening chill, sweat clinging to my form.
I let out a shuddery breath. To calm myself, I look back at how I've made progress this past month and how I don't want to go back. For a month, it's decent enough, and I refuse to allow the past to define my future. With the people who tell me it's my fault out of the way, there's one less problem for me to contend with. But it still bothers me in my mind.
"What about the people who tell you such things?" inquired my therapist.
"It's difficult talking to other people. They just tell me it's my fault with their eyes,"
"You don't need to hear someone talk to know what they think,"
He didn't argue with me on that. He told me that victim blaming is a dilemma that victims face, no matter what the circumstance, there will be people who will blame the victim for what occurred to them. It made no sense to me. Did I seem so unattainable in the flames of my fire that that's what drove Cato to me? That the spark I didn't mean to create sent Snow to wreak havoc on my being? Why do such people exist to make us feel more miserable?
I sigh in the darkness, not wanting to think but that's all I can do; and wait for the dawn to chase away shadows.
The days blur together, where nightmares fester in me until my exhausted mind wishes for slumber, and worries start to prick my skin and heart during the day. I'm more content than before, but not everything is piecing itself together. I go to visit Gale and Madge, to talk with them and to see Hyacinth. At times, I return home distraught with what they and I discuss, but I know they mean well; my son is theirs now too.
I go to see Cato, too, either sitting by his bed, listening to our inhales and exhales, moving him as procedure calls for, or telling him of how everyone is doing. His heart beats faintly, a tiny chime in the room, but I try to ignore it and not dwell on the possibilities that he might finally, literally, die in front of me.
The week passed by quickly, and I'm thankful to have more company to drown out the demons in my soul. Cinna, Haymitch, and Effie are at my front door, rushing in to greet me and the others. They go around and say hello to everyone. I come back downstairs, holding Hyacinth. He beams at the adoring attention.
"Happy birthday, Hyacinth!" Effie cheers aloud first, coming over and giving him a kiss on the cheek.
"They sure grow up fast," Haymitch contemplates to no one but we all hear it.
An entire year now… September 7.
My home is lively with all the people I have left here with me. Gale's family comes to see us all, the little ones and his mother having come with us when we all left the underbelly of the suffocating earth. I love watching my son interact with Gale's sibling. He's completely gracious around them, quiet and not misbehaving in the least. Even when Rory gets a little rowdy, all Hyacinth does is purse his lips. That's it. Not the slightest bit violent. I would say that it could be due to all the adults watching but I don't believe it—when it's all of us adults around him and there are children that none of us know he becomes agitated and nervous.
But he's happy, jovial from all the love surrounding him, and I begin to cry.
We cut into the cake, giving him the biggest slice and he shoves his face right into it, licking it with satisfaction. Effie brings out a very advanced camera and snaps a shot. The color in the small screen is impressive, showing every detail on his face.
I laugh with them all, darkness receding.
Gale approaches me as I look out the window at the clear day, having come in to get some water. I look at him and wait. I know where this is going.
"Katniss, remember what you asked us for a while back?"
I nod. He'll tell me no—
"You can take Hyacinth to see his father."
I turn around to him, shocked.
Suddenly, I'm paralyzed, thinking of what Hyacinth might feel or think when he sees his father dead and dying and gone yet breathing on a white uncomfortable bed, with his body thinning out and his life extending into some stretch of space and time that no one can reach; no, it was a bad idea, it was a bad idea to ask this favor of him and Madge, oh God—
"Katniss!" his voice breaks the jumble of my mind, his hands gripping my shoulders, holding me steady. I'm shaking and he leads me to a nearby chair. Madge has entered the room, undoubtedly to see where the conversation went. She hurries to me, rubbing her hand in a circular motion on my back.
"What happened to her?" she demands, looking at Gale.
"It's not my fault!" he snaps.
"It's really not his fault," I tell her quickly, not wanting to see them fight. I know that they do fight, like any couple, but I don't want to see it. "I just… I freaked out."
She sits next to me, face pink from her outburst and her eyes peering into me. She consoles me by holding my hand. "Katniss, I thought… I thought you wanted us to say yes."
"I know, I know. I do… It's just that… I suddenly thought of it not being a good idea. That the last thing Hyacinth needs to see is a man in a coma."
"You've talked to us about it before," she reminds me gently.
"Because you're his parents now; I need your permission to take him to places that you may not agree with."
Madge and Gale glance at one another, long and hard and beautifully, the image burning into me.
"We know that we're his family, Katniss, but you are too." Madge finally lets out, her body close to mine, an arm about my shoulders, "We thought about it, ever since you asked it of us the day we left for district 12."
"You had wanted Hyacinth to see him before we left, just in case Cato wasn't allowed to be removed from underground. We've been thinking about it this whole time, not just when it gets mentioned now and then," Gale responds, scooting closer, "We're thinking that, maybe, this is one of the other steps you have to do to move on. Hyacinth hasn't seen him since he got into a coma. It might be closure for you both."
Hot tears stream down my face, heavy stains as I think about it. Their generosity is never-ending.
"I don't want to ruin our son's day," I murmur, meek from humility.
"He'll know eventually, Catnip."
"It's better sooner than never."
My breathing is still ragged as I rise from the table. I walk outside after making sure that it doesn't appear that I've been crying. I take Hyacinth into my arms, waving off Haymitch good-naturedly when he asks where he's taking the party boy. I only tell them that I won't be long with the guest of honor and head out.
When we're close enough, I lower my child to the ground, so he can better use his walking abilities. He takes to it well, loving to move fast. Surprisingly, he only holds onto my hand the entire time—no tugging, fussing, complaining, nothing.
It's eerie, how in tune he can be with the emotions of others.
The clinic looms when it's close, and even though it's only the size of a decent sized house, I find it oppressive. I calm my heart; calm it for Hyacinth and Peeta, who waits anxiously for me to take the plunge.
The staff is made sure to know who I am. We get in with no trouble.
Picking up my child, I walk into the room, interrupting the nurse there.
"I'm sorry, we can—"
"No, no, don't worry;" she replies kindly, "We just finished moving him."
"Thank you," I tell her, grateful that someone does their job.
When she exits, the room suddenly shrinks upon us, Cato laying there with no expression.
I'm at his bedside. Look down at our son, who only stares with placid intensity.
"It's your father," I gradually inform him.
Hyacinth remains stock-still. His face flickers with emotions that I wish he could proclaim.
"He's caught in a world we can't reach right now. I…" my voice halts, I shove it forward, "I don't know if he'll ever come back. I'm sorry that this happened. But I felt that you needed to know where your father has been. Despite what he's done and what's happened to him… you're both his and mine.
I'm sorry he's not here to watch you grow."
He moves forward, reaching out to touch his father's face. I lower him, Peeta grieving for me, as I try not to—I might drop him if I break.
I know that he knows who this is. He touches the eyes, ears, mouth and nose of his father, patting the cheeks, inspecting every inch, every detail. His fingers move to tug the wires around him. I firmly but gently pry them back. He doesn't attempt again. Just roving the skin…
I pull him back, my tears stinging my eyes.
Then, to my astonishment, he begins to cry with me, because he's tried and failed and tried and failed to wake up this person who we both know and do not understand. We'll never know if he was good or not, if he was ever the kind of person we would like to hope he'd have been if our world was benevolent. We are bound to him through our memories past and the future ones ahead, but we are free to live and choose what we desire.
We cry a little longer in the room, Cato remaining a statue to our silent pleas to give us a hint, to include us with a sign of his return. Our son misses him. I do, too, if only for the fact that my forgiving him allowed me to see him as a victim too, of diseases humanity unleashed.
Together, him holding me and me him, with nothing else to say, we leave the room, my child staring at the lost one with longing. I don't look back.
But I make Hyacinth a promise, whether he can comprehend my words or not, that if he wants, I will take him to see Cato if he wishes to.
"But we have to live for our sakes. The past is a startling place to be—where everything hurts in good ways and bad. The future is unknown. It's scary, but we can do it. Tomorrow might be hard. It probably will be. It might brighter too, though. We won't know unless we go for it."
The forest brush is open for all, thrushes and foliage and warm shadows flittering on the forest floor. I walk into it, not deep, just enough to bring my son into the place where I learned how to live and become who I was. This is my true birthday present to him, the forest. My gift to him is my father's gift to me—life.
"Happy birthday," I whisper to him, setting him down.
He feels the earth, holding it, smelling it and touching trees, looking up through the leaves, rustling a hum only the wind can make it say.
It's peaceful out here. I lay on the ground, staring at the blue sky that I've missed, reminiscing of the people I've lost along the way to find it again: Rue, the girl with the kind heart and the Mockingjay call; my father who compassionately raised me, a Mockingjay in human form; and Peeta, the boy with the bread, who broke his body to feed me, who sacrificed himself to save me, his blood shedding for me—all teaching me how to fly when my wings get broken and I want to fall and never try again.
I know I won't be whole, not like before. We're all broken at an intersection of our lives, crossing dangerous roads and beautiful paths.
Others will remain lost.
It can't cause the rest of us to despair—it's how we fall, even though it's how we remember. Pain teaches horrible lessons; the outcome is entirely up to us.
Optimists are the most uncertain of people, I've decided, because they knew that the future is uncertain. But that's where hope comes in. There has to be a light of hope too. It's how people can move on.
The sun is lowering a little, still an orb of beauty in the endless blue.
Propping myself up, I gaze at my son with fondness, his enthusiasm feeding into me.
He walks quickly to me, a mistake mid-step. I catch him in my arms, laughing with him.
His eyes wander, and I hear the calls of the beautiful birds. I do Rue's whistle, and they repeat it with haunting eloquence.
My heart stutters, Peeta crying out with surprised mirth and my mind reels.
He called out to me, my little boy called out to me; he's not looking at me directly, for his finger is pointing upward, where a Mockingjay is perched above, whistling the tune of another child I'll never forget.
"Yes," I hum, fingers in his hair, solid sunrays, "Mommy."
His eyes are bright skies, and I drown in them, as mesmerizing and beckoning as the one overhead.
I sing for him, for ghosts, for sacrifices, for the sky, for me.
No, I'll never be the same, not like before.
I'll wander, I'll stumble, I'll fall; in some memories, I will forever remain caged. But I'll sing to remember there's always a dawn, that there are people to love, and they're worth living for.
I'll always sing.