Almost the end...
I can't see ahead of me, whether for the birds that fill the space or the blurriness that fills my eyes I am unsure. I can smell blood, but I know that it's more mine than Snow's and I cling to the wall to find my way out. The path jumbles in my mind, but it doesn't matter if I get it wrong, I suppose. I can't imagine making it out alive anyway, not like this, so there is no point in second guessing my steps. I just run the way my instinct takes me – no thoughts allowed to interrupt.
I can feel the ground humming and the rubber soles of my boots softening with the heat. It burns to touch the cave wall, but I don't dare separate yet. I can't tell if I'm running or walking. I hope that I'm running, but this speed is as fast as I seem to be able to go. The very last bits of adrenaline are being overpowered by weakness and dizziness. …Why am I even trying?
My head is pounding louder than my heart, my brain throbbing against my skull, but I will continue to race upwards. I keep seeing flashes – Snow, the knife in his chest, his eyes staring up as his soul disintegrates. Wings. Screams. I can sense closure, but it feels weary and heavy in my chest. My hand can't handle the heat anymore, but I can see now – only slightly and definitely for my eyes because there are no more birds near my head.
Wait – is that light? I swear I can see it, a small break ahead of me. Dim, dark moonlight. It gets bigger and my feet push harder. I must be so close. I'm not sure just how far or how fast I've run, but I think I'm there. Yes. I can feel air, fresh air. I inhale deeper and my lungs can barely handle it. I can't believe I've made it – I can't believe I'm this close.
The walls begin to shake harder and I know it's not just my body. I haven't come this far to get lost at the end! My feet pick up and I push with everything left inside of me towards the light, the air, the end. It's so close and yet I can't seem to get there fast enough. My body screams, everything is wrong inside of me.
I keep running, it has to be close – it has to be! I won't stop. Nothing can stop me, I have to make it. The whole earth seems to be collapsing around me and I can't even lift my arms to protect myself from falling rocks. Something slips behind my foot and I don't look back, but I imagine the earth caving in at my heels. Everything is so hot, like fire. I don't want to be consumed! I can't be!
I can't hear. I can't see. The roar around me continues to develop an extraordinary image in my mind and the idea of District 13 caving in behind me controls my brain enough to chance a look behind. I try to focus with the rush around me, but I'm confused. It takes a moment to understand and stops me in disbelief.
There is no tunnel! There is sky! I'm outside! Everything is shaking; a violent earthquake as the ground behind me is burning, glowing and screaming and boulders rumble and dump themselves into a strange, spinning vortex at the center of it all. I don't even know what I'm seeing anymore. I try to look around, but I can barely see beyond the smoke and dust. There would be no sense shouting for anyone else. Not one would hear. Maybe this is my end, to watch /the ground swallow me back in like some glorious dying star.
It's a spectacular sight, really, and for the first time since we've landed I feel like my mind is right with me again. The earth moving beneath me, the sweat pouring off my body from its heat…I am in awe at the display; I am in awe at my life and my part in this, and I am peaceful that Snow's body is buried in the boiling rubble.
But I begin to sway, it's all catching up. If I had kept running I might have been able to stand a minute longer, but I can now tell that I am soaked with my own blood and I graciously give thanks to the universe for letting me kill Snow and provide hope for a future world. With this thought, my body is limp and I feel myself falling towards the caving earth.
I have woken up in a hospital room too many times to count. I remember falling to the ground and then feeling stuck in midair as the hovercraft lifted me out of District 13. I remember a blur of faces and a lot of shouting. I remember confusion. I even remember dreaming of Prim and my mother and Peeta and our little house with the big windows to be filled with loving friends and family. But as my eyes adjusted to the bright lights and low beeps this time, I felt different. Unrepaired. Lonely.
Amazingly my limbs seemed to be intact, even though my arm was wrapped tightly with thick bandages. Maybe it was never as bad as I thought. I began to recall my wounds, thinking about the first gash, the second hit.
I try to lift my head, but it feels attached to the table. My neck aches with weight. I can move my fingers, but my toes make my belly ache. I try to lift a heel and my side splits open with pain. An audible groan escapes my lips and the sound of my own voice startles me. I moan again and rotate my head towards the side to try and get a better glance. I can't see. I can only feel it throbbing.
The beeping in the room gets louder, quicker. Like a siren to my aching ears.
What about my baby? What happened? Is it still here? I can't feel, I can't tell. I can't sense anything. My heart races wildly and I try to lift my head again.
The door slides open. Haymitch's face is both weary and fresh, but there is a concern and swiftness to his movements that makes my heart begin to pound harder.
"Katniss, Katniss. Stop. Don't move. You'll just hurt yourself more."
He looks more pained now. My mouth feels dry. It's hard to speak.
"Tell me," I manage to get out.
Two doctors are over me now and I want to yell but I can't seem to open my mouth far enough. They're talking to each other. Haymitch says something. The door opens again and I see Peeta's face. It's red and puffy and I know that he's been crying, but everything goes black before I can even consider why.
In my dreams I can see everyone I love and they are well. My father and mother are laughing together as Prim picks flowers from a field outside. Gale is strong and beautiful, his black hair smooth and his neck strong. I can almost feel his arms around me and his smile makes the sun feel even warmer on my cheeks. Haymitch looks sober, Plutarch seems easy. Finnick's smile is a bright light in against the blue sky. However, Peeta is not near me and even though there is color in his face and no limp in his walk, he seems to have a weight on his shoulders. He's watching a small child running towards the woods, but he doesn't follow. I feel the urge to call towards him, to not let the child get any further, but for some reason I don't feel like I can stop it. The sun is fading and the clouds are getting dark. I must stop the child – its going too far away. Why is Peeta letting it run? I open my mouth, but I can only wheeze. I cannot form words, and I begin to panic. Everyone is watching the child now. Will no one stop it?
I'm ripped from this dream world to a confusing real one at the sound of my name being called.
"Katniss! Can you hear me?"
It rips me away until my eyes slowly open to focus on Haymitch's face.
"Katniss, stay with me. Oh god, stay with us."
It takes a moment to see the panic on his face, and the panic behind the doctor's face next to him.
I sense a swarm around me, but everything is fuzzy and numb. Slowly I sense pressure around my shoulders and stomach. I feel a hand on my face, another wrapped around my own. The images from my dream are floating around behind my eyes and slowly pieces of a puzzle are coming together.
I let my eyes turn towards Haymitch and allow them to focus. My lips move and quietly a few sounds escape.
"I lost the baby."
Haymitch looks back and nods. And then he's pushed back by the doctor and I close my eyes again.
I haven't left this chair in two days. I don't eat the food they bring to me, I only drink the water. I accept the medication they force into my mouth in silence. Sometimes Peeta comes and sits with me and we do not say a word. He took my hand only once and I did not push it away, but I could not close my fingers with his. I just left my palm limp until he left me again.
I had been stabbed three times – once right after we landed, and twice more times by Snow in the Hiveline. I don't remember him attacking me more than once, and how I managed to escape after that no one seems to know. The hovercraft saw me shortly after I emerged and managed to raise me right as I collapsed with the rest of District 13. Haymitch said he was certain they would never see me again, that the figure emerging from the smoke was a ghost.
When I got into the hovercraft and they prepared to greet me with cheers, I was a mess of blood and bone and Peeta started screaming as if I was dead. Of course no one was surprised that I lost the baby in all this, but exactly at what point my body gave in, I don't know. I imagine it happened early in the mission. This would explain the pain and sickness and weakness that didn't make sense from just an arm wound. It doesn't really matter when, though. Wondering and dreaming about it doesn't bring it back.
I woke up three days after that barely able to move. The doctors told me it would wear off and I would just be sore.
Amazing. After all that, I can wake up and simply ache.
I wonder how long it takes before the ache in my chest goes away. Will it go away with the pain in my body?
It's been a week now and we are back at the Capitol, back in the room Peeta and I had discovered our child. In the same room we have to say goodbye to it.
When we first got back here I tried to sleep at night, but I would always see the same dream. The same images of a child melting, limb by limb, in front of me as Snow lit it on fire. So I got out of bed, walked to this chair in the window, and haven't left since. I stare out at the rubble, sometimes at the people wandering down below in search of a place to start rebuilding, sometimes at the children playing in the distance. Sometimes I am angry, sometimes I am relieved. Most of the time I am numb.
Gale comes and visits me and I welcome it more than anyone else. He survived, amazingly, just like I did, and with great thanks to Peeta for carrying him quickly and carefully out. We don't have to try and make awkward condolences to each other, and we can both feel justified in our bitterness. It could have been worse, but Gale would rather die than have to be confined to a wheelchair, and this is what he now has to live with. The doctors say he'll walk again, but to Gale that's just a hope, not a promise.
We don't have to say any words to understand each other's wounds. Neither of us will ever be the same. We can sit in the stillness next to each other and know that our nightmares are the same. But we cannot support each other for it when we are both in sorrow. Instead we wallow and let the memories feed until they have eaten away at everything and we do not remember anymore.
It was Johanna that convinced me to wake up when she came by earlier this afternoon.
"Stop it," she had said. "These people have grieved enough for you and your losses. It's time we all started moving on. We won't celebrate this moment in our history – we will forever mourn it. But we will mourn it in a way that allows us to feel alive and grateful in the place we are now. This year: taking one brick to build a house. Next year: painting the bricks and planting gardens. Always moving forward. Thank you for your sacrifices, Katniss. But don't make yourself pay for them."
And then she got up and left. She didn't try to touch me or say something gentle. She told me to stop and lift my eyes to her and acknowledge that the clock was still beating seconds forward, that my heart was unbelievably pulsing life into my flesh.
So when my foot finally touched the carpet beneath the chair I take a second to remember what it feels like and thank the universe for toes that can feel it. I inhale and walk towards the bathroom, my legs stiff and creaky. The shower haunts me with the memory of the first moment I had taken pale branch and learned of the small creature in my belly, but I let the steam from the hot water fill the room and blur it away. It feels good to shower. As I wash away the stink off my skin, I notice the scars along my side and make it a point to look away when I clean my stomach. I try to ignore all the times I had gently touched this spot imagining the child inside pushing back and let the soap run off on its own. Every day will be an effort. Every hour even more so. But Johanna is right. I am alive. I should not let myself die.
Peeta's voice distracts me from these thoughts.
"Katniss?" he calls quietly.
I clear my throat. "Yeah."
"I brought you some dinner…" he says meekly, as if I'll return with fire.
"Thank you," is all I can manage. I still don't know what to say to him. I can barely even think the words to say to myself. How strangely I went from being incapable of keeping secrets, to completely unable to even hold his gaze without shame. I know that Peeta is grieving with me – I can hear him crying at night when he thinks I'm asleep. I just try to pretend like there's a different reason he cries, one that doesn't involve me.
I let the shower run until the water turns cold. I didn't bring a towel in with me – I hadn't thought of it. I don't care. I walk naked into the room and see Peeta looking wide-eyed and awkward back. My closet is close and I disappear into it looking for comfortable clothes as he clears his throat. I don't think he knows what to say to me either.
When I emerge our eyes meet, even though I have tried to avoid this every chance I get. I can't handle the pain that shoots through my body – his eyes strike me as if they're clubs made of metal and sharp spikes. It's strange the void that has developed between us, like air that makes it difficult to press in – a bubble directly between our chests that pushes us backwards when we step closer.
He shakes his head, as if to shake off his dreams, and points at a tray of food. "They asked about you again…"
"…that's nice," I reply quietly.
We're still standing here in awkward air. I take a step back towards the window and Peeta steps forward.
Katniss…" he starts, but his voice trails off.
I watch him for a moment, almost cowering like a dog about to be abused. I can feel the pain surging again and I can't decide if I am strong enough to withstand the blow. A million thoughts run through my mind – happy and sad, hopeful, frustrated, lonely, lost. I feel like I've let him down, like I've lost an important part of his soul I never knew about before. A part of my own soul that never existed until a few months ago. But I can't control it – my chest begins to heave. The space between us begins to close and the pressure around the bubble is so tight I can feel it about to pop and launch us into each other's arms.
"I'm sorry," I finally say, and tears swell in my cheeks and begin to pour out of my dark eyes. "I'm so sorry."
Peeta rushes to my side and throws his arms around me. "There's nothing to be sorry about Katniss. It's okay. It's okay."
I feel his heart pounding as I wrap myself into his embrace. I can hear him crying with me and I don't know how long we go that way. It doesn't matter. How selfishly I try to forget that Peeta has lost his child as well. How inept I feel to apologize for it. This baby that I had loved, this child that I had dreamed of was not just mine.
Somehow we end up in a puffy-cheeked pile on the bed, my head resting tightly against his chest. I can feel my eyes closing in the safety of this position. No one will ever make me feel as safe as Peeta does. No one will ever soothe my pain like him. I can sit in silence with Gale, suffering together, but never healing. With Peeta I seem to forget the way that my wounds stitch themselves closed.
I take in a deep breath. It's funny how you can lose something and feel so incomplete, when just a couple months ago you never even imagined it could exist.
Peeta exhales and kisses the top of my head. I let my eyes seal shut and decide not to open them until morning. I have a feeling that tonight I won't have anymore nightmares, but I ask the universe for dreams. Maybe one where I can follow the child into the woods and find where it's hiding. Not to bring it back, but to enjoy it where it has wandered off to. I'll never have the same life or this same child again, but I will always have my heart to recall the losses in love and peace.
Thank you for sticking it out! The final, closing chapter almost ready. Thank you SO much for reading and being faithful reviewers and returning fans. You're all wonderful.