Author's note: My apologies for the super-long wait! There were AP exams and graduation trip and then grad exams...(sighs). But it's all over now!
When the baby kicks for the first time, Thyme breaks down into tears again, District 2 stone be damned. She blames it on the hormones, because stone doesn't cry. But it's not supposed to be like this...Cato's supposed to be here, and he's supposed to be able to feel the baby too, he's not supposed to be fighting for his life, Clove's supposed to make fun of Cato for being such a sentimental mess, and...and...and everything's supposed to be different, but nothing is. Correction. Several things are different, in all the wrong ways. She and her family already didn't rank too highly in District 2, being healers instead of Careers, never mind the fact that her mother's knowledge of poisons could render the entire district's water undrinkable, the food inedible, never mind the fact that her father was the one who taught Clove how to throw knives. But now, almost everyone in District 2 sees her as a disgrace. She gave up being a Career for a life as a healer, despite being of Tribute age. She will never bring honor to the district. And now she's pregnant, unable to volunteer at all, despite having one year left. She can feel the glances they shoot at her, glances of disappointment and scorn, knowing the only reason that she isn't a complete social pariah is because everyone knows that the child is Cato's, and Cato's presence in any way, shape, or form commands some measure of respect.
Or not. No, apparently the fact that the child inside her is Cato's doesn't matter to the town gossips, mainly older women with Victor children, who think themselves the mothers of gods, a race above the "common folk".
"I suppose I can't say that she's stupid. Stole Cato from right under Clove's nose, how she did it I'll never know. Anyone in their right mind would pick Clove over that Thyme girl," she hears one woman declare to another at the market.
"Well, she's pretty, isn't she?" her companion ventures. "Tall, and she's got that beautiful hair. And her complexion..." She remembers this woman. Kinder than the others. Always polite to her and her parents, albeit a little distant at times. The first woman snorts.
"And what use is pretty? Pretty doesn't kill someone. Pretty doesn't make you win the Games. Pretty's just pretty. District 2's had 31 Victors, and none of them were pretty. And she's got herself knocked up, so he'll have to stay with her now, won't he? She's a slutty little coward, but you can't say she's stupid."
She can feel her body go cold. She never burns. She freezes with fury in her veins and closes her eyes and whispers to herself that they know nothing. They do not know how much Cato loves me. They do not know how much I love Cato. They do not know anything. They do not know anything.
That night, the Games air again, and again, she is watching. The fire is gone, thank God, and they've chased that girl up a tree. She sees that the blonde boy is with Cato and the other Careers. She doesn't want to see it. She doesn't want to know that everything she believed of him was wrong. She saw love in his eyes on the night of the interviews. True, genuine love. She wonders if he's gone crazy the way Cato's going crazy, the way Clove's slowly, slowly but steadily slipping. But he can't go, he can't, because this is how she remembers Cato. This is how she remembers who he used to be, because the Cato in the Games is a twisted imitation, sick and bloodthirsty with absolutely no regard for human life. The blonde boy is how he used to be. He can't go the way Cato's gone. He is what brings back memories of the real Cato, the Cato that laughed, really laughed.
They try to get that girl, who is taunting them and she wants to throw her blades at that girl's face and shut her up forever. Cato rises to her taunts (stupid, stupid Cato) and begins to climb a tree obviously too slender to hold his weight. He pays no attention to the cracking branches and keeps going up, up, up (if he dies falling off the tree, there'll be hell to pay), and, lo and behold, a branch finally snaps and they go down together, Cato and the branch. She loves Cato, she does, but sometimes, his sheer idiocy makes her want to smack him. Glimmer tries next, but stops before she goes up too far, because somehow it registers in that sparkly bubble-brain of hers that the branches obviously won't hold her weight. She tries shooting that girl instead and misses horribly. For once, both she and that girl find the same thing amusing, Glimmer's almost non-existent brain capacity, and for a moment, she wonders if she and that girl could've been friends if they all lived in the same District, in another world where there were no Games. She wonders how much would be different if there were no Games.
The blonde boy suggests that they leave that girl alone until the next day, and she breathes a sigh of relief, because she knows a bluff when she sees one, and his harsh tone carries a hint of pained desperation. He still loves that girl. And not all is lost, then. Some things are still alright.
She's working in the Training Center's emergency room, cleaning up her work station after setting a fractured rib, when a little girl, about four or five, shyly steps into the room, cautiously making her way to Thyme. She recognizes the little girl, Andrea, having helped with her delivery.
"Hello, Andy. Do you need something?" Thyme smiles down at her as she winds up the leftover gauze from binding her previous patient's rib into place. Andrea says nothing, simply continues staring up at her. She goes back to work, putting away wound-up bandages, screwing the lids back on ointment jars and putting them back on the shelves as Andy watches.
"Is it really Cato's?" Andrea blurts out, with all the candor of a child. "The baby. Is it really Cato's?" Thyme wipes down the stainless steel work table, not really knowing where this is all leading and not really sure if she wants to know.
"Yes, it's Cato's." Andrea nods, as though satisfied, before another thought grabs hold of her.
"Do you love him?"
"Yes. I love him."
"A lot?" Thyme hoists Andrea up so she's sitting on the table, and sits down beside her.
"How much?" Thyme sighs a little, wondering how much this will hurt.
"A lot. It's hard to say, Andrea. It's sort of like...like he's half of me. Part of who I am." Andrea looks up, eyebrows furrowed as she tries to grasp this abstract concept, far beyond the imagining of a five-year-old. Thyme turns around and takes an empty jar into her hands. She opens the jar and holds the two pieces apart.
"This is me." She lifts the glass jar. "And this is Cato." She lifts the steel lid. "But the jar isn't whole until..." - she screws the lid back onto the jar - "this happens." Andrea nods slowly as comprehension dawns on her.
"So...you and Cato aren't...complete...without each other?"
"That's right, Andy." Andrea pauses for a moment, waiting for this to sink in.
"Are you complete right now?" Thyme could cry right now, just break down and cry.
"Because Cato's gone?" Cato is not, cannot be gone. No, never, not ever. He will never be gone.
"Cato's not gone, sweetheart. He's...just not here right now." There are a few minutes of silence as Andrea stares into her lap and swings her legs slowly and Thyme absentmindedly bunches the hem of her skirt into her fist. Suddenly, Andrea wraps her arms around Thyme's waist, nestling into her side. Thyme starts a little in surprise, then slowly lays an arm protectively around the little girl.
"I want to be just like you when I grow up." Thyme laughs a little, ruefully.
"No you don't, Andy. Why would you want to be like me?"
"You're brave. Not like Mommy." And Andrea's mother was not brave, hadn't been since her husband died two years ago in a masonry accident. She was a shell now, caring for Andrea in a mechanical fashion, never showing any emotion besides an overwhelming grief that washed over everything else. Thyme wondered if she'd be like that when Cato died.
"Your Mommy had to go through a lot, Andy. She loved your Daddy as much as I love Cato. It's not easy to lose someone you loved so much. And some people just aren't ready to deal with it. Nobody knew your Daddy was going to die." Andrea is sniffling by this point, clutching to Thyme even more tightly.
"But I loved Daddy, too! I loved him a lot, as much as Mommy did. And I didn't know he was going to die either! But I'm not the way Mommy is now."
Thyme strokes Andrea's hair soothingly with one hand, holding her close with the other.
"That's because you're brave, Andy. You're already brave. You don't need to be like me. You just have to be yourself, and you'll be brave."
"Why did Daddy have to die, Thyme? Why?" Andrea sobs into Thyme's dress, burying her face into her side as Thyme holds the little girl who lost too much too soon tight in her arms. She keeps stroking Andrea's hair, and presses a kiss to the top of her head.
"I don't know, Andy. I don't know."
Why, indeed. Why was Andrea's father dead? Why was her mother a shell of the bright, vibrant woman she used to be? Why was Cato gone? Why was Clove gone? Why was Cato slipping away? Why was everything falling apart? The Capitol, Andy. It's because of the Capitol. But she won't tell Andrea that.