I wonder if he's sleeping.
Gently, I brush back his hair; it's longer, he says it's all right if I don't cut it anymore. He said to me one day, that it helps him feel different. I obliged without a word, and we smiled together. It's nice to see him do what he wants.
It's been several months, sweat, tears and rage a part of the process: he's found his reflexes are profoundly reduced, his alertness decent but nowhere it had been before, and his psychiatrist prescribes him medication to combat the depression and night-terrors, however, it's chosen carefully so as to not counteract the ones that are to help him regain movement and muscle. His frustration, sullenness and snaps are a mirror to my own.
Cato has always been independent, taking the therapy better but he still becomes so angered by the loss of his mind, body and time that he would upend the vicinity. His temper comes in spurts but it's hard all the same; it always ends with him collapsing in sobs. That's even harder. And despite the improvements that Cato has been accomplishing, there has been no word that my son has come to see his father. That's the hardest part about all this.
The other day, I saw Cato looking outside the window and I had walked over to see what he was looking at. Down below, Hyacinth was walking with the group of friends that sometimes accompanies him places; I noticed that he briefly glanced upward, as though he sensed someone was watching him, and when his eyes met ours, he hurried along the path. He stayed at Gale's and Madge's that day.
I do not blame my son; it has been difficult for all of us. I know that Cato becomes restless whenever the subject of our child crops up, and I assured him that once he leaves the hospital, Hyacinth will come see him.
"It's been hard," Cato told me one day, sweat pouring down his face, resting against the wall with his head between his knees, "I just… Wish this process was going faster,"
"I understand," I said to him, handing him water and soothingly rubbing his back, "it takes time,"
He scoffed, "You sound just like everybody else,"
"It's what everyone would tell me," I replied deftly, "I figured I might as well say it today,"
"Just for the hell of it?"
"Just for the hell of it— say something new,"
He laughed, and managed to hold food down very well; that made the session better.
Everything has been getting better. Despite how our temperaments match in some ways, he's much more determined than I was in the beginning stages of recovery. He talks to his doctors, as though it's natural, undiscouraged, and reads textbooks when he doesn't understand an aspect to his condition. Even on days where he's clearly hell-bent on destroying the entire building, he manages to ask questions through gritted teeth before we retire him to his room and I stay until he falls asleep. Had I been like him, I might've accelerated my own time, but all that matters is our continuity to push forward.
As I brush through his hair, his hand moves up, fingers enclosing themselves around my wrist. He opens his eyes, a brighter blue since he came back from the dead, but there's still not enough light in them to suggest that he is completely whole.
He smiles at me, "Hi Katniss,"
I smile back, "Hi,"
Cato props himself up on his elbows, slowly lifting himself, so that he can swing his legs over the edge of the bed; I don't move forward to help him—he would refuse the help, and I know that this will help him achieve his goal to walk again properly; he is a bit like me that way.
After several minutes, Cato manages, his breathing harsh and his shirt damp from the strain; I walk over to him and dab away the perspiration with a washcloth. He grins softly at me, a quiet thank you. All I am able to do is smile back; it is a feature of my face that I thought I had long forgotten how to do, at least in ease, the way it happens around my loved ones. So it surprises me a little, still, that he manages to pull it out of my heart and lace it on my lips… I can feel his stare on them, tracing my skin with his gaze, but we stay where we are, a bit wary since the last time we were so physically close to kissing. Thinking of that now, a heat spreads inside my chest, with the glow of burning iron, but neither of us have bothered, or even tried, to repeat those actions again.
There are still so many other things to take time with.
Hyacinth flashes through my mind, the spell breaks and we're two separate beings again.
The way everyone wants us to be…
The lessons go through well, and I watch anxiously, as I do, when it comes to his recovery. I want him to succeed. He suddenly falls and I jump, wondering if he's hurt but I keep my distance, even though others don't and he yells at them not to help. I bite my lower lip, continuing to stare.
My fists clench, heart pounding, with Cato pushing forward—his body splitting into two, lines of his skin breaking at the seams, translucent as he digs through flesh, and the boy I knew gasps as he shatters past the barrier of defeat that has covered him since the darkness of our lives; he raises his head at me. The boy and man are now the same.
Cato had walked alone, a completely bright smile stretching along his face.
The enthusiasm of the doctors and nurses are drowned out by the jubilant cheering within my head.
"I did it!"
I'm flying, feet barely touching the earth, and the stares of the people in the room do not matter— let them watch me defy gravity, look on while I embrace him, arms round his neck, ecstatic about his progress.
"You did it!" I say, gazing up at his face.
Briefly aware of his arms about my waist, fingers drifting slowly down the small of my back, Cato lets out a rush of air, smirking, "Well, it was about time for that,"
"I'll say," I murmur, pulling away from him, continuing to stare at the icy blue—his eyes are brighter.
Now he's really not dead.
The progress continues to grow, his efforts in gaining control of his legs and arms accelerating with each triumph, confidence returning as he walks, slowly, a child learning their first steps; then he's walking faster, able to get up from his wheelchair for longer periods of time on his own.
He's so pleased with himself, and I clap for him, the man who is no longer my rapist, or a terrible memory I relive every night: he's as broken as I was—still am in some ways—but he's finding his life in every little motion he makes.
Cato bursts into bloom when he's told that he can finally go on excursion with me into the forest. It's amazing, watching this metamorphosis.
We move at a decent pace—fast enough to keep him encouraged, slow enough to keep him safe. Once we reach the edge of green, we say goodbye to the doctors and nurses; he's alright with me, and I with him.
"Wow," he breathes, eyes wide, "I haven't been in a forest in years!"
"Yes, that tends to happen when life spirals down,"
He doesn't look affronted, smiling, "I know—it didn't help either last time wasn't exactly a vacation,"
I smile, finding his amicable nature a pleasant change of atmosphere. Everything has always been so tense in our lives…it's rather perturbing how easily he can make me grin, even chuckle, about the darkness that's covered our stories. I don't know how he does it. Maybe he doesn't want to think about it, so he makes it lighthearted—another coping mechanism. An odd one, according to therapists, but not wholly uncommon.
The sunshine flitting through the branches, past the green leaves, the chill of winter nothing but a memory in the glow of gold.
Walking along a path only I have tread countless times, I point out all sorts of landmarks: nests of mockingjays and red robins; the trees that leak the sap from their bark that my mother uses in medicines, which he pokes in fascination before turning his nose up at it, making me chuckle; the stream, clear and cool, calls to us and we soak our legs.
Cato sighs, "That feels great."
"Yes, I thought it might," I reply, lounging backwards to soak the sun.
"Have you always known about this place?"
He nods, and I see that his attention is completely given to me. I swallow as I turn to face the shimmering water, unnerved by his gaze but flattered. "Yes, my father showed it to me years ago."
"What was he like?"
My gaze is downcast, smiling, "He was wonderful."
His hand brushes my hair back, fingertips cool from the water—but it's not why I shiver.
"How old were you?"
"I was twelve."
"It must've been hard…" he trails off.
His hand pulls back and we sink into silence, yet it's not uncomfortable. We stare out longer at the scenery, fleshed out in dark green, gold, and gentle brown, the occasional rainbow fading in and out above the water when one of us disturb it, the splashes catching light.
"Yes?" I turn to him.
"You came through,"
"Barely," I murmur, "I had help."
"Your friends helped you a lot,"
I nod, "I've found that, sometimes, I really can't do much alone,"
He laughs, but his smile is sad, "It's what loners have to learn,"
I smile back, "Eventually,"
We let out sighs, our bodies still; suddenly his hand is back on my face, though more hesitant than before. I find his face leaning in, though we're apart. My body urges me to run; black memories crashing over me, acid rain and smog, and the sound of my own screams haunt me. Somehow everything is thick, black tar binding me to one place, and I can feel myself choking on bitter, terrible memories.
But I remain where I am as he closes the distance.
He stays where he is, waiting for something. There's so much blue…
"Katniss…" his voice wavers, and I know what he's doing—it's all my choice.
Old revulsion spurns itself inside me, a dying fire that suddenly bursts into flame; I drown it out by pulling him in, drinking in the taste of his skin. As we continued to bond over the course of these several months, I found that the rapes come back to twist my life, every time we connect, especially physically, trying to pull both of us under into a state worse than death: the belief that neither of us can be happy, together, with our history.
We are two broken parts.
And that's exactly why I break through the darkness fanning around the edges of my thoughts—because he is the other half to my story, and I am the other half to his.
Futures have no end, but pasts do.
Everything about us is deep, complex and unknown; everything had gone so wrong.
But there's more to life than the bad—there's good moments, cherished moments: Hyacinth learning to walk; Prim managing to get into medical school, Gale and Madge having their first child…
New lives can be made.
As I bring him closer to me, the tarnished memories surface and fade, waters lapping the shores, but, eventually, I manage to block it out and simply focus on all these sensations.
My body is not wholly unaware of them but Cato has always been the only one who has touched me in this manner—none of it good and it kept me from romance more than before.
It's all different. There's warmth settling in my chest, spreading along my abdomen and pooling between my legs. It makes me catch my breath, a moan slipping from his mouth to mine and my heart skips a beat or two. My eyes drift close without noticing for a few minutes. His breath is pleasantly warm, his mouth skimming my jaw and he nibbles the sensitive skin. I shudder, swallowing, from all this contact—
My sharp intake of breath stops us both, staring at each other.
His hand moved beneath my shirt. He draws it back.
"I'm sorry," and his voice is so sincere it hurts.
I cannot tell if it's my being sick of my inner demons or the arousal of my body, but my mouth opens, "It's fine. I want it there."
He looks stunned, jaw slack.
I smirk, and it's definitely leaning more towards arousal, "Unless you don't want to,"
There's a tension in his shoulders, and though his body screams at him to move forward quickly, he takes his time to bring the gap back to a close. He's more considerate than I ever would've thought. How many other kind aspects of his character lurk beneath the surface?
His venom-induced state makes me angry; however the motions of his body manage to purge even those thoughts away. The scent of earth is strong, lying on my back, and I breathe in slowly, quietly, though my heart pounds as his fingers trail along the skin of my stomach; his teeth nip my neck, just as his hand covers my breast and he kneads the nipple with his thumb.
A shock courses through me, my body unused to this sort of ministrations. It may have been abused sexually for a time, but it is very much virgin-like, and a strange affection for myself rises from inside me—I've been disgusted with myself so long, this, too, is surprising, but I have been told by many not to hate myself.
So I don't.
Hatred depletes me from the inside out; I'm tired of exhaustion.
The man above me is one I should hate, and should never forgive, but my arms drift upward and slide along his back. The muscles are atrophied but there's still a rigid definition from those years ago, and his current determination to reclaim back his lost time.
Gold dances off his hair, highlighting its shadows, and his mouth drifts downward, hands pulling up my shirt…
I let him, a different kind of nerve-wracking emotion fluttering in me. Looking at him, I find no disgust forming and I'm thankful for the progress. It's getting easier to distinct the victim and the rapist of the Capitol—they're not the same.
The thought dawns on me, over and over, as his tongue slides along my skin, exploring areas I didn't think could tingle and shiver. Mouth on my breasts, my back arches, liking this new territory of pleasure and his moans vibrate through me.
I don't even catch where one of his hands have gone until there's a strange movement that suddenly causes my body to instantly warm further and a gasp leaves.
Staring up at him, his eyes are severe, concerned, somehow ageless and weary all the same. I simply look at this man who'd been taken from me as a boy, forced to do dark deeds by heartless people.
There's no hate for him at all. There's just sunlight everywhere.
Some primal instinct makes me move my hips; encouraged, his fingers stroke upward and I hiss. White light flitters across my eyelids, seeing red, yet there are other colors. My body seems to glow, sighs leaving my lips in short spurts, long waves. His tongue trails along my abdomen, and I'm in the dark: tempting and quiet, unlike the shadows I know. Harsh sounds rack my form, tight as bowstring, fingers delving deeper where everything is hot and musky, an arrow waiting for release; he breathes into my ear, kissing sensitive skin. He swallows the low moan that erupts from my chest, and everything is too fast, a blur—
A cry leaves me and it's different: painful, raw, yes, but I'm quivering in wakes of pleasure, aftershocks of sincere arousal.
So this is how it's supposed to feel.
Panting hard, I swallow. My skin is flushed, warmth encompassing me: my blood's hot, his body's so close and yellow rays filter through evergreen. It's peaceful, even though my body is awake from such volatile stirrings. Once my breath slows enough, Cato grins at me, "You okay?"
Not able to speak, I nod.
He chuckles, kissing my forehead, "Glad to help,"
My inability to coherently string words together must confuse him, because he tilts his head, concern in his expression, "Did I upset you?"
"No, no!" I quickly say, surprising him. I blush, stammering, gaze down, "It's just— It's all so new…"
When I look back up, I'm shocked by the intensity of blue irises, clairvoyant, open; then he's embracing me tightly, those same hands that shook my body with powerful bursts now cradling my head with utmost care. His scent is overwhelming, earthen and musky, a whiff of lavender and sage aiding in the drowning of my senses.
"Cato?" I murmur, turning my face toward his neck, trailing my hand up to his shoulder.
He still says nothing but tilts our faces to meet, tongue roving indescribably slow, dragging my soul out with a kiss.
When he pulls apart, I'm relieved to be sitting—my knees feel weak.
Caressing my face, he smiles, "Think we've been gone long?"
I turn my head at the sky, observing the sun, "I think so,"
When I turn back to him, he's holding my clothes, "Here,"
Suddenly aware I'm the only one naked, my cheeks burn, and this embarrassment is different too—it carries no shame, no anger. Taking them, my mind forces itself to focus on the act of casually dressing and not wandering to the thought of Cato behind me and that he hasn't been satisfied... my heart thrums. I slip on the brassiere, when he clears his throat.
"Yes?" I ask, glancing over my shoulder. To my shock, his face is bright red, a hand scratching the back of his head.
"Um, do you…? Uh,"
When approached by men who do this, there's this frustration that tends to build, unimpressed by their advances, especially when I don't want them. There's none of that here—I want his attention, finding myself flattered by the tinge of crimson on his cheeks. It very much feels like the age we once were when we began to develop romantic intentions. For this moment, we're both sixteen and not wholly damaged.
I smile to ease his tension, "My beauty struck you dumb?" The urge to flirt leaps up before I even notice.
He glances up at me, the red in his face still there but his eyes narrow with an acute zeal; the gaze makes my breath shallow.
Then he slowly, painfully, gathers himself to his feet and walks over, actually moves with the fluidity I haven't seen in him since the Games, and my throat closes tightly, heart beating fast at the sight of languid steps and that his eyes still retain storms, bold and crystal blue, a glass cannon.
He's not even a foot away, mouth barely inches from mine and it's sweltering though I wear nearly nothing.
Cato's smirk tilts his lips up, gentle, "I was just gonna ask if I could hook your bra together,"
"Oh!" my mouth is dry, and when I attempt speech it's a croak; I clear my throat, "Um, sure. W-What for?"
He holds up his hands, the gesture slightly placating, "Fine motor skills,"
Fearing I'll sound ridiculous again, I turn; but his hands are on my shoulders, stopping me. We say nothing as his arms move behind me, fingers trailing up the sides of my waist, dipping into the grooves, the small of my back, between my shoulder blades. The sound of the clasp registers faintly. His eyes don't leave mine, and it's strange—this reversal of steps; somehow, my body responds more fiercely to this gesture. It's comfortable, not intrusive.
Slowly, I recall the rest of the clothing and I put them on. Once fully dressed, I turn to him holding up my jacket, opened wide. I shimmy my arms into the sleeves, Cato's hands fluttering over my neck, hands trailing downward to the zipper, pulling it up with calm ease.
"There," he whispers, breath hot in my ear; a shiver travels down my spine.
"Usually taking off clothes is supposed to be more of the turn on," I murmur; the words simply escape, my own mind bemused by it.
He laughs good-naturedly in my ear, rumbling in his chest, traveling through fabric and skin to settle into me. My body is hyper-aware of his presence, more than ever, and it wasn't just the…. A blush flares.
His finger strokes my jaw, "Turned you on, huh?"
I nod, rendered, again, speechless. All of this really is new—masturbation as well. I never had the desire to pursue sexual encounters, and it wasn't from the rapes alone, though everyone assumes that's the only case and I let them believe it. I simply never thought about any of it, even before the Games, until Cato came into my life. Even with him awake, I didn't truly believe anything would come of it, despite old feelings dredged to the surface, forgotten memories reclaimed.
And here we are, alone in the woods, where I willingly gave him my body to do as he wanted. It strikes me how much I have managed to change, especially towards him. It's the only way to live; change is part of life.
Cato nuzzles into my neck, kissing my cheek, "My prowess struck you dumb?"
Blinking, I snort, grinning, "Only in your wildest dreams,"
"Am I dreaming?" he asks, thoughtfully tapping his chin, "That would explain the docile demeanor,"
I punch him in the shoulder, a guffaw leaving him and his eyes shine with inner light that the sun could never match. He is coming out of his shell, returning.
"Come on, Fire Girl," he tells me. He holds out his hand, the boyish expression returning to his face.
I take it, and his walk keeps up with mine.