Sunlight comes creeping in, illuminates our skin
We watch the day go by, stories of all we did
It made me think of you, it made me think of you
Oh, lights go down
In the moment we're lost and found
I just wanna be by your side
If these wings could fly
Oh, damn these walls
In the moment we're ten feet tall
And how you told me after it all
We'd remember tonight
For the rest of our lives
Winter was hard. Despite the amenities given to them by their new home, the Jacturnas had some serious warming up to do. Arden no longer complained about homework – he didn't say much about anything anymore. Flynn played by himself in his room and had trouble smiling without being prodded. The parents busied themselves with work at the power plant and the only person under the roof who would really talk to Evander was his wife.
He had the same nightmare every single night. It was as vivid in the middle of December as it was when he experienced it in the arena. He saw the look of terror on his sister's face, heard her whimpers and cries as she tried to hold on through the pain, and felt the warmth of her blood until they pried her pale body away from him. The worst part was that none of it was exaggerated. Nothing was made worse in his dreams. It had all been that horrible in real life.
Aurelia was always there to comfort him; there was no more waking up in an empty bed. He would feel her arms around him before he was even sure that he was awake. God only knew how many hours he had kept her awake, between his nightmares and the baby's needs, but she didn't complain once. She never raised her voice or told him to stop, that it was all in the past and he had to let go. She never told him to snap out of it. She let him cry or yell or stay in bed for two days straight, whatever he needed to do, and it helped him cope. He didn't have to hold anything back now that he was home with the people he loved.
Most nights, after he had awoken, she would pick up Eiko from her crib and bring the baby into bed with them. Evander would just watch her for hours, until the sun began to rise and sometimes until it was high in the sky. The way she wriggled around, how her tiny fists and feet would punch the air like she was trying to get somewhere, how she made the softest little snores after falling asleep…he had seen Sparrow do this as a baby. He had been just a year or two old, but he saw so much of Sparrow in Eiko that it was uncanny. Eiko had never met her aunt and would only come to know her from pictures and stories, and yet here she was.
"She loves you," Aurelia would whisper. She would watch Evander interact with their infant daughter and it warmed her heart to see him smile again. No one could resist a baby's laughter and her first smiles. Eiko was growing incredibly fast, it seemed, and before long she was crawling all around the house.
Evander was not an absent father by any means. He refused to allow his grief over Sparrow to ruin that part of his life. He watched Eiko closely, making sure she didn't tumble down the stairs or get stepped on or sneak outside. He fed her bottles while Aurelia slept, changed and dressed her, played with her and read to her. Had she and her mother not been by his side almost every waking moment, he would have gone further into dark places that no one should ever have to become familiar with. If he could no longer protect Sparrow, he could at least protect his family. He could make sure that Aurelia and Eiko came to no harm.
On the night before he left for the Victory Tour, Evander was awoken by a kiss, not a bad dream. The dreams had progressively become less terrible. He opened his eyes to see Aurelia above him, cupping his cheek.
"You're going to do a great job," she whispered. He could see the moonlight reflected in her deep brown eyes. "Remember that you don't have to be anyone or anything else. You're just Evander. No matter what happens, no matter what anyone says, you belong here, and here is where you'll return." She brushed some of his hair from his face, his hair having grown out a bit. He looked older, more handsome. "Don't be scared. They won't hurt you, Evvie. Not in a thousand years." She kissed his lips gently and felt his stubble brush against her face. He missed her and he wanted her. There was nothing bad about that; she was his wife and he was her husband.
So they were together again in that most natural, basic of ways. He hadn't given intimacy a single thought since before the Games, and he had never expected to feel up to it again. Aurelia was so soft and warm that he couldn't resist. It was what his sister would have wanted. She wanted him to live the life that she never got the chance to.
While on the tour, Evander saw so many different families. He saw old men, orphans, crying babies, parents with children of reaping age, and everything in between. The worst part was seeing the families of the dead tributes.
Elka, twelve, and sixteen-year old Torin from District Twelve. They had died in the bloodbath.
District Eleven had lost fourteen-year-old Petra and her partner, Fraser, who was seventeen. His sister's age.
Handsome, charming Milo from Ten. His eyes twinkled in his portrait. He had been seventeen as well. His partner was only fourteen. Her name was Ainsley.
Kendrick, fifteen, and sixteen-year-old Lyra from Nine.
Arie was fifteen and her partner, Rohmer, was fourteen. Their families stood on the platforms in District Eight, waiting for some kind of closure that Evander could not provide. He had never spoken to their children.
When he stepped out in District Seven, he was startled by the face of Ivo. Only one man stood by the screen, and he showed no emotion. His counterpart had been a gangly, pale thirteen-year-old girl by the name of Sloane.
District Six had lost a twelve-year-old boy named Phelan, but Evander could not take his eyes off the beautiful red-haired girl who had been reaped alongside him. She smiled in her picture, the redness in her cheeks complementing her bright blue eyes. She was still such a bright light, even after she was gone.
The ocean was quietly lapping at the shore when Evander talked to District four. They had lost Regen and Mira, the only other tribute who was eighteen.
Aran from District Three had been sixteen. Stella was thirteen. Evander took the longest time in Three, choking up every time he saw her wide brown eyes watching him. He could have saved her. The family standing by her picture might not be missing a daughter if he had.
Malin and Valeria, seventeen and fourteen, had been a rare loss for Two, perhaps the district with the most victors. Evander had forgotten about them until seeing their faces. Even then, they were just a shred of a memory.
Two killers stared back at him in District One. The smug, smirking Rex had a family of look-alike younger brothers. Sparrow had killed him to save Evander's life, but in the end Carina had won. Steely-eyed, dark-haired, pale-skinned, she made chills run down his spine. His throat ran dry when he tried to speak. All he could see was Sparrow defending herself and slowly bleeding out because of her.
The people of District One did not hate Evander, they hated his sister. They had cheered for her death at the hands of one of their brightest tributes, and they were quite open about their disdain for Sparrow. Evander ducked into the Justice Building as quickly as he could after finishing his speech and threw up on Antonia's shoes.
"You don't have to see them again. They're sick," she murmured, holding his head against her chest and trying to soothe him. "We can go. We can leave, Evander. It's over."
The Capitol party was mostly a blur. All the colors and chattering made him dizzy and he spent most of his time hanging around Conall, the only other man on the grounds who had dressed normally.
"It's a real shame about your sister, Evander. She was such a pretty girl," one man said, shaking his head. His group of friends agreed and murmured their sympathies. "Everyone could tell how much she cared for you. I wish she could have somehow made it. I would have paid a whole year's salary for a night with her."
Evander dropped his glass of punch, every drop of blood in his body running cold.
"Wow, Ev, you really aren't used to this stuff by now?" Conall said with a laugh. He shook his head and patted his former tribute on the back. "Come on. Let's get you another glass."
The boy was livid as Conall brought him away from the group. "Did you hear what he said? About paying for my sister?" His cheeks were red and he felt like he might explode. "I can't believe him! I want to kill him, how dare he—"
Conall put a hand on his shoulder, getting Evander to look him in the eyes. "There are thousands of men and women who would say the same thing. They've said it about plenty of tributes before and they will keep doing it until the Games are a thing of the past. They won't touch Sparrow, Evander. She's safe. She'll never have to know that kind of pain." He swallowed, seeing Antonia on the arm of an older man, fighting to keep a smile on her face. "There are some fates you just can't escape."
"Wake up. We're here."
Antonia's voice stirred Evander from sleep and he stood up, immediately being attended to by his prep team. It was the final stop of the tour, and what was hopefully his last train trip for a long time. They were home.
"You got this?" Conall raised his brows once Evander was properly dressed and made up. He excused the prep team and sighed. "You look great. A lot healthier." He smiled and put a hand on Evander's shoulder. "I want you to do something for me, kid."
The sounds of people preparing for Evander's arrival came from outside the car. Soon he would be back with his family and he could try to put this mess behind him.
"Go out there and make what she did worth it," Conall said, his voice a bit softer. "She gave herself up so that you could live and be happy, not spend every day in hiding. Take care of your daughter. Kiss your wife. Watch your brothers grow up. Make more kids. Hell, just…Do it for her. She loved you more than you could ever know." He bit his lip, his eyes brimming with tears. "She loved you more than I've ever seen anyone love another human being."
Evander had never seen Conall cry before. He nodded, feeling choked up himself. "Okay," he whispered.
They embraced for a moment before the door opened and Oberon stood outside, smiling as usual. It was like that warm summer day when he and Sparrow had first stepped onto the train, but in reverse. One less nervous tribute not knowing what lay ahead. One more wounded victor on the way to healing. The sound of a crowd outside in the square. The sun was shining and the birds were returning for the spring.
"Conall?" Evander asked, pausing before he moved toward the door. "Did you love her?"
"Sparrow?" The man smiled and scratched the stubble on his face. "I think everyone who ever met her fell in love with her."
AN: Don't worry, I've still got one more chapter up my sleeve! I'm proud of this one. I want to thank each and every one of you who's reading this right now for having stuck around for almost two years (!) to see how this story ends. Having been my first published original story that wasn't a one-shot, I'm very attached to this one. Your support has kept me going all this time and I hope to bring you the conclusion to Sparrow and Evander's story very soon. :)