The Caged Bird Sings



The last couple months, watching Cato learn to be mobile has been difficult. He manages to bring himself closer to the way he used to be—powerful and independent. Finding him under the semblance of what Snow formed him to become was a relief. Finding the memories that we shared together in manmade woods was more than I ever thought it could be.

I find myself becoming more like my former self in the time he's awakened from his coma. My therapist has noted my demeanor is more relaxed, at ease; my family says I smile more. All of this I have been subtly aware of, and I'm glad that it is turning out this way. As though I'm finally receiving closure for everything that had happened.

Angling my head, I face Cato, who has his fingers twined in my hair, taking in the calm, "How did it go today?"

"It went well, I think," he answers, reclining against the tree, "I was able to move further and could even jog a little,"

"That's wonderful!" I exclaim, "That's the second time you've managed it,"

Cato grins widely, thumping his forehead lightly on mine, "You encouraged me,"

"I can only do so much. In the end, it all depends on you,"

He chuckles softly, "Right..."

I shudder from the tone of his voice, his mouth brushing against the shell of my ear. Cato's fingers glide along my jaw, taking hold of my chin. I tilt my head back, staring up into blue eyes, bright, alert, as he leans in.

Our mouths touch, soft and careful, before I pry his open with mine. Boldly, I let my tongue push in, gentle heat spreading through. My fingers glide into his hair, pressing my lips against his, feeling his palm slide underneath my shirt.

Moaning, I draw him in, his frame pushing down on mine as my back touches the warm earth. His hips press into mine, a hiss escaping past my teeth, a quiet fire lighting me from inside, wanting to be closer; withdrawing from my face to kiss along the curve of my neck, he gasps into my shoulder as my hands move lower down his spine, settling at his waist, thumbs hooking past the edge of his pants.

The phone in my pocket alerts me of the time, ringing shrilly. Cato frowns, sitting up completely, dragging me with him into his chest.

I lean against him, "I have to go to my appointment,"

"I understand," says Cato, wrapping his arms around me.

I giggle at him, "Right now, I mean,"

Groaning, he scrunches up his face, kissing my cheek, the corner of his mouth tipping up. I know he doesn't like it when we're interrupted, I don't either, but I'll make it up to him later.

Released, I stand up and hold my hand out for him to take, fingers lacing with mine, comfortable. We begin the trek down the path into the town, staying side by side the entire way. His time with me has been helpful with the physical therapy. He is able to bend his knees much better, naturally, and the doctors assume it's because of the walks into the forest; the sunlight and fresh air helps, it never fails to improve our demeanors.

We halt in the middle of the square. I turn to him, "I'll see you later, okay?"

"Yeah, I'll be wandering around here,"

I nod, kissing his cheek, only to meet his when he angles his head quickly; I mold my lips completely into his, feeling his thumb circle the inside of my wrist, groaning quietly, dragging his breath from him, expression dazed. Winking as I head down the street to my therapist's office. It took some convincing but with the way Cato has been improving, they decided that allowing him to have time out in the world, alone, will be as beneficial for him as it is being with me, or being tended to in the hospital. Eventually, I might be able to bring him home…

Entering the building, I head down the familiar hallway, my therapist sitting in his chair. He looks up when he sees me, "Afternoon, Miss Everdeen,"

"Hello," I reply, taking a seat opposite him.

"You appear to be in a good mood," Cornelius says to me.

I smile, "I am in a much better mood, that's true,"

"I am glad to hear that. And you have been taking the prescribed medication as well,"

"Yes, I don't skip. And I get reminders from Hyacinth, even though it's rare I forget,"

"Well, that makes you more conscientious than the rest of my patients, which is a relief. Hyacinth's birthday is coming along soon isn't it?"

"Very shortly, it's coming up in a few weeks. And I've making plans in my head for it."

"What sort of ideas do you have in mind?" Cornelius inquires, leaning on the desk.

"Cato might be released from the hospital very soon…"

"I see… And you would like for Hyacinth to interact with him,"

"He had promised me that he would make an effort when Cato was out of the hospital. He'll be out before Hyacinth's birthday."

"You think that's wise to have him in your house,"

"Of course I do. Cato is different. He always has been," I say, trying to sound calm, despite bristling defensively.

"And I stand by you on this, Katniss. You make the best choices when you can. Others might not be so lenient,"

"It's not up to them to make my decisions,"

"It certainly isn't. It's up to you. And you want Cato to be a part of your life."


"But also part of your son's life."

"Yes… that's the difficult part,"

Cornelius' shoulders slightly drop, staring at me, "I know it's going to be hard. But you've come a long way since you escaped. Since you began therapy. You will find a solution to this. Hyacinth will understand—he's young still after all."

"I do wonder if he will accept his father in the way that I hope."

Hyacinth has become more receptive when I talk about him, and has begun asking questions once more. The same ones he would inquire as a child, mostly how he is doing. Simple, but effective; with enough detachment that leaves room but allows him to know what is occurring in the hospital.

"Do you believe that Hyacinth will continue resisting?"

"He does take after both of us. My son is stubborn. But I believe that, once he begins talking with him, it'll begin to improve,"

"That is usually one of the best ways to let everything out in the open. Time-consuming, which is best not to rush it, but Hyacinth and Cato will eventually talk. Hyacinth cannot run from him forever."

"And Cato is persistent when he wants something."

Cornelius nods as I sink further into my seat.

The session ends soon after that, with lighter conversation about the week. Heading into town, I find myself coming to several conclusions: I will need to talk with Hyacinth sooner or later about how he feels. Despite what I desire, his feelings are important. And Cato will sympathize as well. Another aspect to consider is the potential dilemma of Hyacinth refusing to allow Cato in the house; I would very much appreciate him being with us. Prim is fond of him and my mother holds no ill will towards him for the nightmares of the past.

Hyacinth is reluctant. He has his reasons, though I wish it wouldn't overpower his senses. What will I do should my son deny this part of himself?

I will make an effort not to dwell on the negativity. Life is turning around for Cato and me.

Strolling towards home, I come to the house, laden with flowers in the front yard. Unlocking the doorknob, I call out to my mother.

"In the kitchen!"

I find my mother at the sink washing dishes. Prim and Hyacinth are at the table, plastering cookie dough on a tray.

"Hey, Mom!" Hyacinth greets me.

I lean down to kiss his forehead, "Hello, sweetheart,"

Prim waves at me, her fingers glued together from the dough.

"Are these the cookies that we're choosing for your birthday party?"

"Yeah, I'm sure these will be great," Hyacinth answers, rolling a blob and slapping it on the sheet.

"I'm glad you don't think you're too old for these parties," my mother jokes, wiping her hands on a towel.

"I don't mind them at all," Hyacinth responds, "It gives the three of you something to do,"

I gasp dramatically, hand on my chest; Prim feigns shock as my mother lightly slaps his shoulder with the towel.

He grins widely, "These parties are great. I get to be around the people I love,"

"I remember when you were five and you fell asleep on top of your cake," my mother reminisces.

"You sure loved the cake more," teases Prim.

"Of course I did, I was a kid,"

I brush his hair from his face, "What else to expect from a child I suppose,"

Hyacinth nods, "Hell yeah,"

I reach over to pick up a small orb, dropping it onto the cookie sheet with the rest of them. The silence is comfortable, with my mother bustling over to the stove, removing the kettle and pouring the tea into mugs for each of us.

I glance around the table and make eye contact with my sister; her gaze remains on mine for a moment, fingers daintily curling around her mug, lifting it to her lips, with her eyes peeping at Hyacinth. My head nods minutely.

No better time than now.

"Honey," I begin.

"What's up, Mom?"

"There's something I've been wanting to discuss with you,"

"Sure," he states, despite the heavier note in his voice, the way it drops when he's wary of the query.

"Cato gets out of the hospital very shortly,"

"And?" his tone is clipped.

"He has nowhere to go—"

"I don't want him living here."

I sigh, "I understand. But do you know why?"Hyacinth's movements slow, setting the last ball onto the tray. Smoothly, he stands up, carrying it to the oven and placing it inside. The three of us watch him for several quiet moments, his mien expressionless as he shuts the oven closed. Setting the timer, he lets out a hushed exhale.

"It's not…"

I wait for him to continue, my mother and sister remaining mute.

"It's not that… I don't understand he's important to you. But it would feel… awkward."

"Because you don't anything about him."

"Yes. I know from what you've told me. But I've never interacted with him before."

"It's not too late to give it a try," I nudge, hoping my son will make an effort.

"I guess…" Hyacinth answers, "But it's difficult to think of him when I know everything else."

"I've forgiven him for everything in the past, love, and none of it was his fault. We were both victims in Snow's plans."

"I know that. Yet I can't seem to get over it."

"Maybe if you spend some time with him, you'll comprehend him better,"

Hyacinth takes a deep breath, shoulders slouching as he stands; his eyes close momentarily before facing me, "I'll think about it."

"Take your time then, sweetheart,"

Hyacinth nods before returning to the table, grabbing his mug and heading upstairs, the steps creaking with each footfall. Quiet pilfers our voices, my hands wrapped loosely around the base and handle of the cup. Prim stirs hers, the clink of silverware inside the mug occasionally chipping the lull.

My mother reaches out to touch my arm, "He's getting there. I think he's nervous,"

"He always seems so angry whenever I try to discuss it with him,"

"He's as stubborn as you, Katniss," Prim tells me, "But he is coming around to the idea."

"I want to believe that…" I murmur.

"As soon as Cato comes to live here, there's going to be a change," my mother assures me.

"But will it be good or bad?"

"Unfortunately, that depends on them, but Hyacinth has always been a sweet boy. He can't hold grudges for long."

I nod, "There's always been a sense of confusion due to all of this."

It is not that Hyacinth lacks the ability to forgive, or to think rationally about things that have happened in the past. He simply has never been very accommodating to strangers. He was an open and bright child to everyone who would come to visit me, yet Cato he's never known at all—only stories, all of which vary from person to person.

Prim and I are the ones fondest of Cato, with my mother being comfortable; however, there are also my other friends. Gale, who distrusts everyone who harms me, and continues to hold the greatest amount of skepticism when regarding Cato. He, too, knows that Cato has no intention of damaging any of us, but that is the way Gale has always been. Protective.

Hyacinth picked up his characteristics as well, enough to be not only be his adopted son, but nearly biological in demeanor.

Is that what bothers him too?

He considers Madge and I equal in many ways, as she had helped to take care of him when I couldn't. Though he doesn't call her anything aside from her name, we are imperative aspects to his life. With Gale, that is still the only father figure he's ever known. To intrude on that, it would bother him in several ways.

The timer alerts us to the food being done. Prim rises to remove them, the smell wafting in the room.

Suddenly there's a knock at the door. Getting up myself, I tap my mother's shoulder before extricating myself from her hold. Opening the door, I find Gale and Madge standing on our porch, their children strewn between them. Madge smiles, enveloping me in a hug, which I return.

"Catnip," Gale says, wrapping one arm around me, affectionate.

"Hi, Katniss!" Cyprus says, pecking my cheek with a quick kiss.

"Hyacinth's upstairs," I inform him immediately, knowing that's where he'd like to be.


Liv and Heli bounce past us, rushing after Cyprus.

"You're not going to say hi?" Gale calls after them.

The twin girls whirl around, chirping together, "Hi!" then scurrying off.

I laugh at their antics, "Restless as ever."

"We should've had them much sooner," Madge laments.

"You should've told Gale not to give you twins," I tease.

Madge pouts, glaring at him, as he pretends not to notice, heading into the kitchen to acknowledge my mother.

"We didn't mean to have Cyprus at a young age either," she resumes with me.

"It was surprising but he was born during a good time. And Hyacinth was welcome of the company,"

"Now they're practically inseparable," Madge grins, folding her arms, "I'm glad our children adore each other,"

"I am too—imagine how much harder it'd be if they didn't,"

"Our boys would be rivals,"

"Over what I wonder…"

"Certainly not over girls, or boys,"

"No, they're too mature for fighting about that," I agree, walking alongside Madge into the kitchen.

She rubs her arms, "Kind of cold,"

"It's still warm outside,"

"I haven't been feeling too well lately," she explains, pulling out a chair.

"Here," Gale speaks, placing a mug of my mother's tea in front of her.

"Oh good," she breathes, inhaling the scent, blowing on the liquid then tipping it back to take a long drink.

Gale's eyes soften, moving to sit next to Madge, who gives him a gentle smile.

It's good to see them comfortable this way, content in their marriage and one another.

I take a seat opposite the pair, folding my fingers together, "Work went well?"

Gale reclines into the chair, relaxed, taking the proffered cup from my mother, "Work was fine, and then I took an interesting break."

Madge's eyes slide to him briefly, lifting the mug back to her lips.

I shift my gaze furtively between them, attempting to be as casual, "Oh?"

"I ran into Cato in town," he finally states.

My mother and sister's motions have stilled as I freeze in place, undesirable thoughts pushing inside my head, wondering how bad the confrontation might've been. I look over his face—no sign of a struggle or fight. They didn't harm each other did they?

Softly I clear my throat, "You did? What did you say?"

"We talked for a short while about things," Gale answers, the response too vague for my liking.

"What did you talk about?" I press.

Sipping his drink, he finally settles it on the table with a gentle thud, "We talked about you."

My entire frame tightens, staring at Gale with a sense of dread. He has a resilient ability to carry grudges… I don't want this happening. Not when I'm trying to keep building my life.

"Was there fighting?" I ask. Something in the village would've spread—gossip will always travel quickly—but I need to hear it from him.

"It was an argument, yes," Gale admits, "But we didn't actually fight. He and I discussed certain part of your relationship, ended it and then we went our separate ways."

"Gale, I told you before he's not out to hurt me."

"He told me that…" my best friend murmurs, staring down at the whirlpools of the wooden table. He sighs, "He said that he loved you. More than even me."

I wait with bated breath, knowing with Gale he has to say things alone.

"He was sincere when he said it. And while I don't like him—for reasons entirely unrelated… he truly does seem to regret what happened."

Air leaves me in a silent rush, "I'm glad that worked out."

"You plan on bringing him here tomorrow?"

"Yes. He'll be living here from now on,"

Madge nods compassionately; Gale's frown deepens.

"Not that I need your permission," I begin, "But you still don't seem fine with my idea."

"Like I said, there's parts of him I'm going to continue to dislike, however I will support you in this. And it will be good for Hyacinth to… finally come to terms with his father. We all know what being without one feels."

All of us here have lost our fathers too early in life. While unbearably tragic, we have all managed to bypass the circumstances, come to terms with our feelings of loss, and kept moving onward. Hyacinth has never felt that, with Gale filling that role in his life. But Cato remains an integral part of this existence, whether Hyacinth wants to accept it or not.

Bobbing my head, I murmur, "It'll work out."

The topic ceases there, transforming into a respite that leaves us mixed with a sense of apprehension and optimism. No matter what Gale thinks, he does want it all the effort that's been accomplished to thrive as much as the rest of us—my family and friends care for my son, but they want it all to prosper for me as well. There is no telling of the outcome of Hyacinth's deliberation, once he finally speaks with his father. But nothing has been attempted yet; all that can be done is hope.

Madge and Gale's family stay here for supper, the atmosphere cheerful, conversation untroubled and pleasant. Hyacinth and Cyprus get into a playful fight after dinner is done, Liv and Heli rough-housing with them in the living room before heading out to the front, engaging in a game of tag as the rest of us tidy up.

The boys come in back into the house, each holding a girl on their backs, completely asleep. Gale takes Liv from Hyacinth, Cyprus keeping Heli steady. They all say goodbye, heading to their home in a cluster of dark figures on the pathway.

My family and I head upstairs, all of us retreating into our rooms. I am about to step inside my space when I catch my son standing in front of his, staring at me.

"Something the matter, honey?" I ask.

He shakes his head. But he doesn't go inside.

"You sure you're alright?"

"Yeah…" he utters, voice and gaze low; he suddenly looks back up at me, "Love you, Mom."

"I love you too," I declare.

The night passes by in languidly, dragging time through its dark shroud. And yet it is not foreboding, lying here in my bed and thinking of retrieving Cato tomorrow. Is he excited to come here? Is he worrying about meeting our son officially? He has expressed anxiety over that, though I shouldn't be focusing on that.

My thoughts flow to other things. Such as where Cato would be sleeping. My hand smooths over the blankets subconsciously, images of his body beneath mine surfacing, and I let the idea drift until I give into slumber.

The dawn comes, though I rise before it does, my entire being on edge, excited and giddy. I head out before the rest of my family can wake up, knowing they'll understand. The crunch of my feet on gravel is the only sound to fill my ears, until it is finally accompanied by birdsong.

Arriving at the hospital, I sign in, slipping through the hallways, familiar in memory, traipsing through them one final time down to his ward.

Opening the door, I flit over to his side, the sunlight peeping through the blinds, shifting over the contours of his features. He's always so peaceful when he sleeps… I comb my digits through his hair, airy, feather-light, though I know he won't stir.

He awakens minutes later, gazing up at me.

"Morning," I tell him.

Releasing a yawn, Cato stretches on the bed, "It's morning? So I'm not dreaming?"

Delicately, my hand outstretches on its own, fingers flitting over the surface of his skull, where the darkest of his memories are kept, yet he can smile brightly as the dawn. Shifting close, I press my lips against his, thinking of the ideas that conjured up inside my head last night. I prod his mouth apart with mine, feeling his chest rise under my hand, his limbs moving to keep me in place. I glide my thumb over his cheek, withdrawing from him, smiling, "That feel like a dream?"

"It's nice like one," he responds happily.

My head is weightless, extending my hand to him, a song caught in my chest, where I hold all my love for people I care for, "Ready to come home?"

"Yes," he answers readily, honestly.


He's part of home.

There is nothing for him to take—he possesses nothing but himself. We exit from the building into a crisp atmosphere, the sun dazzling in the expanse of blue. Unbidden, a smile cracks over my face, and I let it stay the entire way back to our home.

Marching up the short amount of steps, Cato and I are abruptly greeted by my sister, who is absolutely delighted to have him with us.

"Welcome home!"

Cato grins at her as she embraces him, "Thanks, Prim,"

"You want anything to drink? Eat?" she inquires immediately, ever hospitable. She remains better at that than myself.

"Water is fine, if that's alright,"

"Of course it is, you live here now," Prim exclaims, flitting into the kitchen for us to follow. I love my little sister and her gracious nature.

"Cato, you're finally here," my mother comes in too from the back, her expression warm, smelling of earth and herbs.

"Thank you for taking me in," he says to her, his entire posture speaking deference, grateful that she holds no ill will towards him either.

Washing her hands at the sink, she pats them dry, "Of course we would."

She crosses the threshold of the space with her hand extended, holding it out for him to take. He doesn't glance at me, though his brow quirks slightly up, and I too am curious about the exchange before she pulls him into her chest, affectionately slapping his back, "We're family now, no need to be formal,"

"Right, Mrs. Everdeen," replies Cato, a light blush dusting his cheeks, which makes me smile wider; I tenderly place my hand on the small of his back, his form moving backwards slightly in response.

The four of us take places around the table, Cato's manner at ease around them, chatting animatedly when questioned, rejoining enthusiastically when they inquire as to his thoughts on a subject, and he, too, makes a seamless effort to ask about their lives. I recline into the chair, listening to their repertoire with my hand on his knee. His leg shifts under the table, his foot nudging mine.

"Oh Katniss, do you want to show him around the house?" my mother asks.

"I'd love a tour," he informs us gaily.

Rising from the table, I guide him through the halls of the first floor. The stairs, as we had thought, were an issue. I matched him, step for step, not urging him to move any faster than he had to. He is better, however, it's likely hurting his legs. He shrugs it off, saying that I should too, and while it concerns me, I accommodate, pointing out where we enjoy being the most, where we sleep; his face slightly falls when I indicate Hyacinth's bedroom, though it doesn't last long when I sneak a gentle thump on his rear, playfully urging him to follow me. He laughs, wrapping his arms around me, chin on my shoulder and nuzzling into my neck, kissing me on the mouth, and several times afterward.

At last, I take him outside, standing in the midst of blossoms adorning multiple hedges, the sky stretching out above as we settle into the small paradise that was created here, smelling of sweet beginnings in the quietude of its haven.

I show him several plants that I enjoy and their uses; I think of my father, who would collaborate with my mother in their knowledge of the earth and its healing ability. His hand entwines with mine as I say, "I'll show you my father's book sometime—he has a lot of information about flora in it,"

"I'd be happy to see it,"

Beaming, I tug him into my side as we go back inside the house, resting my head on his shoulder, where he places a gentle kiss into my hair. The smell of cooking meat and vegetables wafts around, mother stirring the cooking pot while Prim begins to set the table. Cato steps forward to help, taking the dishes from the cupboard without hesitation, managing, in a short span of time, to squeeze into our daily routine, no issues made. He is meant to become a permanent fixture of our household.

I hear the front door open, and I know my son will not be thinking the same thing.

Hyacinth meets his father's gaze with a dispassionate countenance, frighteningly parallel when they appraise an individual that they do not care for but want to keep it hidden. The tension within the vicinity falls flat, growing palpable by the minute.

Easily, I break the friction as best as possible, "How was school?"

"Fine," replies Hyacinth, placing his belongings in the edge of the doorway, marking his place—that this is his home and he doesn't want anyone else invading. In my periphery, Cato nods his head, attempting to make his face as balanced as our son's but the zeal is not there, not wishing to intrude where Hyacinth says he wants to be left alone.

"I'm going to go wash up," Hyacinth says, immediately going up to the restroom on the second story, despite there being one down the hall to the right.

A heaviness creeps inside my spine, turning me rigid from the inside out as I walk over to my lover, placing a hand over his. His hand unclenches, revealing bright marks clashing the white skin, pale from holding onto the silverware too forcefully. Cato makes his way around the other side of the tabletop, putting them besides plates, organizing them neatly, attempting to divert his attention from what occurred.

He is deeply bothered by the encounter. He could've handled hostility, but indifference is an entirely different feeling of rejection.

Hyacinth returns to the kitchen, his outfit different, yet his visage is the same. He treads over to my mother, opening the cabinet, holding out a bowl, "Can I eat up in my room?"

My heart can't help but fall.

Silently, my mother takes into account his actions, questioning him mutely, "You always eat with us,"

"I know…" replies Hyacinth, shuffling on his feet.

I know I want this to progress efficiently, however I can't help the words, "I'd rather you stay here,"

My son's eyes are pleading when they contact with mine, wanting me to not force him into this. And I don't. Shoving an individual into a sudden situation can be discomforting, threatening; but I know what he's doing—he's running. And he'll continue to run if I don't try to slow him down now and then.

"Eh, let him eat upstairs."

Whirling around, I ogle Cato's easy posture, casually interrupting the strain with his statement. For a short moment, I'm upset, "You don't want to talk to him?"

"We can talk later. He probably had a busy day and wants to relax by himself."

Turning back to my son, I catch the glimmer in his eyes—it's barely there, but it changes his appearance completely, denoting surprise but also… gratefulness.

"I do want to be alone," our son states, edging towards the doorway.

"Well alright then, but mind the comforters," my mother adds, taking his container and filling it to the brim with the broth.

Having received his meal, Hyacinth trudges to his room, and I watch him head up, not ducking my head back into the kitchen until I hear the shutting of his door.

"I wanted you two to talk…" I finally admit, having wished it'd gone that way.

There's a gentle caress up my arm, Cato standing beside me, "He will talk to me sooner or later. Right now, I want him to know I won't push."

That is the wise and logical decision to make, which, too, I know would be best for everyone to do. Sighing, the four of us gather our bowls and fill it with the stew, hot in my hands and on my tongue but I relish the taste of it, needing something warm all of a sudden. Soon, Cato and Prim are conversing away about the hospital, as he has been there long enough to discuss with her the time slots of most of the employees, engaging in the fluffiest of gossip. My mother and I occasionally bring in our own opinions, though the both of them don't mind being the ones to provide the dialogue for our evening.

Soon, we all feel the hefty weight of tiredness after eating, pitching in as one to tidy up the kitchen. My sister and mother go to their rooms first, Cato handing me one of the remaining platters to place inside the cupboard. Prim suddenly shoves her head back into the kitchen; I stare at her, bemused. She suddenly winks, glancing at Cato's back, and I grin good-naturedly.

Ascending the staircase, his grip on my shoulder solid, Cato and I reach the second floor, our footsteps hushed on the carpet draped down the corridor. Keeping up with me, he lets out a sigh as we near the bedrooms. I don't blame him—he is likely exhausted as well.

"Which room's mine?"

A smirk twists my lips, peering at him suggestively, "Thought we would share one,"

His expression is surprised but he grins at me widely, "Couldn't keep me out of your sights huh?"

"More like we don't have space," I reply. There could be space if we wanted, but I'd much rather have him with me… my heart thumps inside my chest as I wonder too many things at once.

"You lie," he says, knowing we have spare chambers, his fingers sliding up my spine.

"Just a tad," I mutter under my breath.

"Your seduction is very blunt," he whispers into my ear.

"I thought you of all people would appreciate forthright flirting,"

"Always," Cato says, trailing after me into my bedroom. Even though he had seen this place before, he eyes it with earnest, making note of the surroundings, taking in the details as I scrutinize his actions, wanting to be near him all the time.

"Snug," he declares at last. His gaze meets mine, and the blue burns into me as he takes a position on the bed, "Gonna take a shower?"

"We can," I tease, walking over to him.

His hand settles on the side of my leg, "Together, I like it."

I close the rest of the distance, my hand on his knee, possessive in a way I didn't think I could be with someone else, "I like it too."

Our eyes meet, simply admiring one another's forms in the dim light. My gaze falters, sliding down his waist, settling on his groin for a moment, then flickering back to his face, expression resembling mine in earnest. The silence wraps around us in an entirely different manner. We move together, mouths parting at the same time, a warmth swallowed by my body from his. His caress is gentle in my hair, dragging his tongue over mine, teeth scraping my lower lip. I push up his shirt, setting my hand on his abdomen, lightly touching its surface.

Subtly, I push Cato onto his back, having him settle into the folds of the sheets. Heart thudding in my ears, blood growing hot, I settle over his hips, legs locking around him. His body stiffens, save for his arms, which wrap around me, sliding up my spine.

"You still want that shower?" he murmurs, mouth barely fluttering against my cheek.

Kissing down his face, taking in the feel of his skin, I shake my head, "Later,"

He moves toward my face, dragging me into the kiss, tongues stroking over flesh and bone. He draws my body into his, a fervor growing in the center of my being, his hands inching down my form, lithe, soft, but the desire in me grows. I shove down my hips in a rhythm I didn't know I had, a shock of pleasure coursing down my spine.

His moan is a trail of fire down my throat, his body grinding back into mine, responding to the tide I created, beginning to match me beat for beat, each one faster than the last. His hands travel down the side of my waist, and I note the rustle of clothes being pushed down.

Kicking off my pants, I give a hushed exhale as Cato removes my blouse. Scathing along his upper body, my hands cup his face, tilting back his head, wanting the kiss to deepen. A whimper vibrates from me, and Cato presses harder into my hips, craving to burn.

Placing kisses down his neck, nipping at his shoulder, moaning; his shirt ruffles as I move it up, his actions swift when he removes it. His body sweltering, I kiss his collarbone, causing him to shudder from the contact. His hips lift up, unbearably slow.

Bra unhooked, I feel it slither down my arms as his hands flutter up my stomach. Quietly gasping, his thumbs rub over my nipples, palms soothing as he covers them. My eyes shut, taking in the sensations, traveling back into a world that's black and silent, completely devoid of everyone but me and one other person. It's no longer a confinement—it expands, the feelings around me soft, inviting.

"You're so beautiful," Cato whispers from the dark.

I stare down at him, his eyes the brightest source of light, blue as the sky on a day when the world doesn't hurt. Reaching out, I caress down his chest, entranced by the way he shudders, giving into my touch. I begin to unbutton his pants, and a flash of that life I had before halts my movements. I hate it. This is my life now. The one I want, and he needs to be in it.

Cato props himself up, his stare thoughtful, open, wanting this as much as I do. I pull them down, the breath leaving my body as we stare at each other. Here, we're exposed, in all ways. I shove thorny thoughts aside, leaning in as he kisses down my stomach, hands burning down my thighs, flitting over the swell of my hip.

I gasp when his hand descends, stroking down, sending tingles up my body. His thumb moves lower, languid pressure on the clit. Shivering from fire, his presence pulls me in, the point of gravity, and my hips respond in kind, rolling with the tempo.

Writhing, I bite my lip, feeling his fingers slide through folds, his frame close to mine. Sounds emit from me that sound foreign, harsh gasps and breathy moans when Cato twirls his fingers around the clit, gliding easily along the folds of skin. His mouth is hot, sucking on the tip of my breast, pace increasing. Raking my nails down his back, I listen to the hiss from between his teeth.

"Cato, a bit… more in," I beg, wanting this to feeling to expand.

His hand continues to fondle the clit, agonizing, brushing it with even motions. Then I feel his other hand rove downward, massaging the tip, fingers sliding up—

Spine taut, I bend, inhaling abruptly.

"You okay?" Cato questions, hands reducing in pace.

I don't want them to slow, "Yes, don't stop."

Suddenly he twists his fingers inside me, unhurried but they keep the sensation going. My body starts to move on its own, feeling everything become easier, slipping over his hand. Huffing, I feeling down his body, stretching them to find the source of his own ache, and then I grip the erection firmly.

Cato groans, a low growl in his chest, hunching forward, his hair brushing against my chest. Carefully, I stroke down the length, watching his body tighten, loosen, then coil again. He keeps up his ministrations to my body, both of us staring directly into each other, equal.

I smirk, relaxed, feeling airy, "You holding up okay?"

His brows furrow, panting slightly, "I always hold up."

I'm about to joke something else, my hands growing slick, when he smiles to himself, his fingers pushing deeper. I freeze for a fraction of moment, breath rushing out. Swinging my hips into his palm, I maintain touching the head of his cock, flushing from scorching sun inside my head, the lewd thoughts I didn't think I could have.

I'm regaining everything that had been ripped from me before I could experience it.

So I ask if I can, wanting it to finally happen.

Cato's face is thoughtful, touch careful, voice sweet, "Of course,"

With that, I push him down onto the mattress, slightly creaking beneath our forms, anticipating the feeling, and a little nervous. But watching him, his gaze smoldering my skin, I know that this will be better than fine, my body pulsing. Perspiration beads down the side of my head, heart thudding inside its bony cage, raising my body towards the ceiling.

In a fluid motion we connect, our gasps mingling together in the air.

I halt.

It doesn't hurt.

Nothing hurts.

There's throbbing, but it's comfortable. There's a dampness that I never had before. A consent we needed to build.

Nothing hurts.

"We don't have to—" I hear Cato begin.

"Wait…" I shush him, finger on his lips, the mouth that's only pleasured me the last several months.

In the midst of flares, I find myself wanting to cry. Tears aren't coming, but the heaviness they bring arrives. But I don't feel sad. I simply roll my hips, experimenting, wanting to feel my walls crumble down, settle in this fever that threatens to overtake me.

"We can do this," I murmur.

"You're fine then?" he questions, his hands resting on my hips. His voice only adds to the desire, lacking the threatening loom I had once associated it with.

Cinders stir inside my chest, panting when I shift down, "This feels… good,"

He responds by thrusting into me, speed matching my own. Arching my back, I begin to wheeze, swaying my body over his. There's so much of me on fire, friction rough, rubbing faster against him, gasping, clenching my teeth.

"Shit…" I hear him say, propelling up, his fingers digging into my thighs, his breaths fast, groaning. I roll my hips in one move, deliberate yet jarring. Cato whimpers, squirming, his fingers holding even tighter onto me, feeling them press into drenched skin.

Huddling over, I put my palms on his shoulders, the different angle causing me to sigh. Lifting my lower body, I drive them up and down, groaning aloud, tightly shutting my eyes. Black bonfires consume my soul, sizzling past my senses, listening to his moans mingle with mine, my name his favorite word, tone reverent as he obliges me when I say to move faster. There doesn't ever seem to be enough—it's so much all at once, the intensity incapable of being dismissed.

I feel him bend below me, moaning, murmuring my name, feeling our bodies constrict. I look down, his eyes consuming my body, blazes snaking down my spine, snared by aromatic fumes, plunging into a place all our own. Cato's entire body beckons for me to join him, feeling each pounding wave, our voices uneven.

Then they're one singular note, clenching onto each other, feeling embers engulf. Soon there's a gentle heat, our chests heaving. I crumple onto him, muscles spasms quaking throughout my form.

Content, I close my eyes. His fingers brush down my back. I smile into his chest.

"You got pretty into that," he jests.

I laugh a little, "Like you didn't enjoy that,"

"I don't know. Maybe if we went longer, than I could be sure," he replies, kissing my forehead.

Craning back my head, I snuggle closer, nuzzling his face, "Funny, I thought the same thing."

"So we can always do that shower later," murmurs Cato, his hand gripping onto my hips possessively.

"We have all night," I tell him, wanting to feel it again, not caring about the exhaustion.

Sometime we fell asleep with the early dawn, our night restful. When we wake up, the sun is bright outside, birds tweeting outside the window. He pulls me into an embrace, smooching my face, jovial as we head into the shower, steam shrouding us as we ignite.

The house is quiet, my family having set about their business for the day, and likely it will be when we're not here that they come back, sometime in the late afternoon or early evening.

I head to the counter, taking out mugs to pour coffee, "You and me today,"

"What are we going to do?" Cato asks.

I hand him one of the cups, "I'm going to work too in a little while. I told my class I would start later today because I was getting you,"

"Oh." is his response.

I can't help but smile at the crestfallen look he's trying to hide. I lean down to kiss his face, "I'm bringing you with me, silly,"

He brightens immediately, my mirth for him growing, "I'm your assistant today?"

"The best kind," I say, "Tall and gorgeous."

"I thought the best kind was competent," ripostes Cato.

Grinning, I reply, "You're sure to be that too—know your way around handling weapons, right?"

"That's one thing I'm definitely good at,"

Humming tunes my father taught me, I trek with Cato beside me, keeping at a pace that he can manage, but also allow him to keep improving with his therapy. He's not breathing as hard, which is a good sign. Coming to the clearing I told my students to arrive at, we all greet each other.

I tell that our lesson will be split into two sections: identifying poisonous plants, with an archery lesson concluding it. My students come in a range of ages, the older students capable of finding what berry will kill and which will help them survive when lost. The children are excited for the archery lesson, and I help them make sure they tighten the strings correctly.

Aris is struggling with her bow today, pouting as she tries to keep the string strong. I walk over to her, only for Cato to intercept first, explaining to her that maybe another wind will help. And with other children, he comments their posture. For someone who never learned, he's doing well.

"You going to help her from now on?" asks Aris.

He looks over at me, questioning if this will be permanent.

I smile at her, "Yes, Aris, he's going to be helping me for a long time,"

Then we look at each other, his mouth mirroring my grin.

Mornings and nights pass by in an affluent, serene routine. He comes with me to work, helping out when there is someone who needs assistance and I am taking care of another pupil. At the same time, I teach him, and he's a quick learner, wanting to help me as best he can. I am grateful for his aid and how he strives to understand what I say.

Our son's birthday finally comes, and I am slightly anxious about the outcome. I distract myself by focusing on the preparations and nothing else, making sure everything is cleaned up, the fridge is stocked and nothing is out of place. Somehow, this increases my sense of dread, which bothers me. I try not to be pessimistic anymore but not everything changes too much. Hyacinth's feelings about his father certainly haven't.

Everyone arrives around the late afternoon, and we welcome them inside. Madge and Gale greet me with hugs, their daughters pecking my cheeks with kisses, talking animatedly about seeing Hyacinth later. They've always adored each other.

I glance at Cato, who is conversing with Madge, his demeanor relaxed, though he had glared at Gale earlier, but that's to be expected. At least it's nothing worse.

"Katniss! There you are sweetheart," Haymitch jeers.

Effie and he embrace me, asking how it has been going here at home.

"Great, a lot has been happening but it's great," I tell them, smiling.

Effie's eyes skim over to Cato, "He lives here now, yes?"

"He does," I say, hoping they won't try to convince me it's a bad idea.

"He looks well," she states instead, "Therapy has been helping him it seems."

I nod, relieved, "It's been a tough time but he pushes through."

"I'm glad it's all working out for you, sweetheart," Haymitch mutters, patting my shoulder, sincere.

Gale's siblings file in as well, greeting me cordially, with Rory heading to the kitchen, and the rest dispersing throughout the first floor. I smile at them all, then my lips lift higher when Cinna enters through the door. He holds me tightly in his chest, glad to see me.

"It's so good to be here," Cinna tells me, pushing a strand of my hair back.

"I'm happy you're here too,"

"Ah, hello Cato," Cinna says, turning to face him, stretching out his hand.

"Nice to meet you," he replies, shaking hands.

It's all passing by smoothly. The conversations are frivolous, with all of them finding locations to relax. Haymitch jokes about being able to chug an entire bottle of whisky, Effie shaking her head. Gale and his siblings dawdle in the living area, my family setting food down in the kitchen. I walk in there, coming across a discussion about Hyacinth.

Prim shuts the oven, turning to Cato, "He actually doesn't care whether people get him gifts or not,"

Nodding safely, Madge adds, "It's true. He mostly likes it when we're around is all."

His smile comes but remains uncertain. I step up beside him, touching his shoulder, offering an encouraging look.

Soon, Hyacinth is home and I rush over to greet him, the lot of us cheering happy birthday. His smile outshines the sun, going around and saying hello, the pleasant boy we all know. Then he gapes behind me, his expression falling.

Cato and he stare at each other, the atmosphere dwindling into a less jubilant one.

Suddenly, Cato wishes him a happy birthday, tone neutral, waving.

My son thanks him, in a similar careful quality.

Sighing to myself, I trace my son's steps into the kitchen, meeting his father's eyes. Cato nods at me, though neither of us want it to be this way.

While everyone else is preoccupied with other things, Cato informs me later that he's going to simply sit outside.

"Are you sure, hon?" I question.

"Don't worry about it. Fresh air is healthy anyway," he replies, kissing me before heading to the backyard.

I am able to talk with the others with outward ease, though I am worrying about Cato distancing himself. But he told me not to push and I won't. Our priority is our son. But even so, there has to be a shove from one of us. And it won't be Cato.

When there's a lull in his talk with Cyprus, I walk over to him, "You having a good time?"

"Yeah, the party's great, like usual," Hyacinth says.

"That's wonderful, honey. But I want to ask you to do something."

Hyacinth's eyes narrow, "Mom—"

"You had made a promise," I interrupt, "When he is out of the hospital. You will try. I am not asking for you to bare your soul to him. I am only asking you to chat with him for a few minutes."

He crosses his arms, "I know I said that…"

"Come on, man," Cyprus says suddenly, "Your mom doesn't ask much from you."

"This is hard for me, Cy,"

"I know this might be difficult," I tell him, touching my son's face, "But it could do you some good, to get to know him."

"You want me to do this for you."

"I want you to do this for yourself."

Exhaling a rush of air, he nods, stepping between us. I gaze up at Cyprus, "Thank you,"

He nods, though he continues staring at Hyacinth's retreating form, "He's stubborn. But he's been wanting to talk for a while."

I blink, "Really?"

"Yeah. He doesn't say it, but I can tell whenever it's mentioned. He thinks about it more than he wants to admit."

I smile at Gale's son, "I wish you two would date already. You'd be a handy son-in-law."

Cyprus laughs, winking, "Who knows? I might ask him out soon."

"The sooner the better for me," I tease, but I recognize enough of Cyprus' mannerisms to know he's the one to go through with intents.

Cinna returns from the backyard, walking over to me, "I'm going to be heading out,"

"Aw, so soon?" I inquire.

He smiles down at me, "Don't worry. I'm going to be here for a few days, a bit of a vacation. Besides, the birthday boy is preoccupied."

I peer over his shoulder, "I hope it goes alright between them."

"It will. Cato's different from who he was before. I don't doubt something will happen."

"Yes… but the outcome could be anything."

Cinna's hands settle onto my shoulders, comfortably warm, "It will work out, Katniss."

He kisses my forehead, embraces me, then I lead him to the front door, waving goodbye. Soon, the others start to disperse for their respective households. They thank my family and I for a fun time, telling us to wish Hyacinth another happy birthday and to visit their homes soon.

Gale holds me close, breathing quiet, "You okay, Catnip?"

"Yeah… I'm fine."

Gale pulls back, a cautious look crossing over his features, and I know his paternal instincts are struggling inside him. But finally he sighs, his countenance calm, "I'm glad he's finally talking."

"Are you?"

"Like I said before. It's best for kids to patch things with their fathers, if they can."

I pat his forearm, "He'll always look to you too, you know."

He smiles at me, warm and gentle. Liv comes over to him, asking to be carried. He lifts her into his arms, and they all finally leave.

My family and I clean the kitchen in silence, arranging the furniture where it should be, picking up dishes and washing them thoroughly. I wonder what they're talking about, though I'm pleased it has been longer than a few minutes.

Suddenly I hear a shout from the backyard, causing me to jerk. Prim and my mother turn in the direction of the noise too, the three of us hearing intently.

"Guess something intense was said," Prim mumbles, aligning platters, clinking indistinctly.

I busy myself with cups, drying them slowly.

"I'm glad you're not checking," my mother tells me, "Sounds like progress might be made."

"I wouldn't interfere. I'm not nosy."

Prim rubs my back, "We know, but you worry."

"I trust that everything will work out."

I know it will.

Soon, there's nothing to do. The two of them bid me goodnight, doors closing unobtrusively. It's only me with my thoughts.

Sighing, I sit at the table, hands clasped together on the tabletop. I lift one hand to nudge the flowers in the vase. I have an urge to do something, but have no idea what. I get up, striding over to the living room, when I catch Hyacinth standing on the porch through the window.

I eye my son for a moment, watching him sit beside Cato.

Extricating myself from the spot, I go to the couch, settling there with a book from the shelf. I read the same sentence repeatedly for a while, unable to concentrate as much as I'd like. Soon, I find my eyes growing heavy, head resting on a pillow.

The moonlight shimmers over my face, waking me from a dreamless sleep. I glance at the clock, finding myself tired. Blearily, I walk to the door that leads to the backyard, wondering if they're still outside.

Upon opening it, I wonder if I'm still asleep. Cato and Hyacinth are wrapped in each other's arms, wiping tears from their eyes together. They're grinning, resentment and discomfort absent in their postures.

They see me, and they reach out to me together. I fly over to them, heart soaring even when I stop, trapped between them, all of us holding each other, wondering if this is how it will be from now on. It has to be. Hyacinth has stepped forward to be with not only me, but Cato. It's been something I'd been hoping for, for so long. I wanted this to happen.

It's not a dream at all. It's grander than that.

My son soon departs into the house, fully grown, capable, an adult. The age where he would no longer have to worry about the games.

"You two had a good talk?" I ask.

He bends, kissing me, his hand soft upon my face, and I can feel him smiling against my mouth.

Cato pulls back, his arm draped around my form, "The best talk."

None of us will ever have to worry about the games again.

Our lives start now, together.

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