Mornings are so much cooler now that the haze of the mines has lifted; the few that are still in operation sit far off in the distance, relieving the blossoming District 12 of its perpetual grayness.
I rouse early, just as the sky is turning silver and nature is beginning to breathe, and swing my legs over the side of the bed that I share with Peeta Mellark.
In slumber, he is far more peaceful; though the lines of worry and turmoil are still etched onto his face; a lifetime of confusion, of pain, of heartbreak has left him so. But it is in these moments where I don't fear for him. He is sound asleep, and nothing will stir him.
I bathe quickly, dress warmly and reset the braid in my hair, swiping my father's old hunting jacket from the foot of the bed. My gaze rests on Peeta for a single moment; I pull on my jacket and tug the cuff of the right sleeve down over my wrist. It still aches from yesterday, when in a fit he had seized me, crushed me in his powerful grip. A bruise has already begun to blacken, although those are nothing new. I decide to forget Peeta, forget the apologies he will shower me with when I return, and I set out down the hallway.
The children are asleep; the youngest not yet six years of age, and still so oblivious to the horror of the world they live in. With Peeta they are safe in ways I am not, so without much heed I continue out to the kitchen, grab my bow and arrows from their place above the door, and flee out into the cool morning air.
Hunting is the only thing that keeps me sane these days; while we can purchase an array of game, as well as anything we may need from the market, I feel that I may as well be hijacked myself if I was to give it up. It gives me a reason to get up in the morning, to pry myself out of bed and to see the day through to the next. Even if I don't manage to catch anything, the woods still remain as my sanctuary. I dare not tread the paths I used to, however; not the lake, not even the quiet, secret spot I shared with my best friend so many years ago.
Gale. Gale. Life is hard without him… At times unbearable. But never once has he wrote me, called me, sent word through others that he wished to ever see me again. And so, we live our lives apart. I've never tried to seek him out… I could never bring myself to. The past is the past, and I am of the belief that once something has been laid to rest then it is not to be disturbed.
But today… I feel different today. So when I reach the meadow, instead of heading east into my usual zone, I pick up west, and delve into the waiting bowers of the woods.
Nothing about it is unfamiliar; it's like I never even left. Every tree still as tall and green as I had left them, no stone overturned, no leaf on the ground out of place. It's eerie, how silent and stagnant the place is; like falling into a dream, as often I do. A find a smile — my first genuine smile in days, weeks even — slowly breaking across my features. My woods, my sanctuary, has been untouched.
The first thing I do is erect several snares along the path; basic things, for rabbits, for vermin, for anything stupid enough to wander through. As I delve further into the undergrowth, I spot a groosling creep across the clearing. The first I've seen in months; figures. All the good kills have wandered back to this place. Crouching low, I pursue it for a while, watching it wander as I notch an arrow. It stretches its wings… and I pierce it, right in the eye.
I spot very little for the rest of my session; but it's not as if it hinders me. I am perfectly happy to remain, as I am, away from the burden of what lies within the house guarded by bows of evening primrose. Returning to life feels like condemning myself to servitude; I am not free. I am not entirely happy, either. I will always be the Mockingjay, trapped within a cage, made to sing for the watery, adoring eyes of Panem. Every move I make is monitored; not by the Capitol, but by the populace. For all I am regarded as a war hero, I feel as though I am still living the war. Living the horror and the burden. And I'll never escape it.
Finally, as the sun peaks over the treetops, I realize it is urging me home. I collect my plucked groosling and adjust my bow over my shoulder, and head back through the woods with feet as heavy as my heart. Around me the trees give way, thinning as the wildlife disperses. I'm almost out — when something catches my eye. A rabbit; squirming and writhing in the bushes; I see its little legs kick out in desperation, its ears catch on twigs and leaves. I remember I'd laid down snares on my way in. As I advance, however, I become aware of a foreboding pressing on my heart. Something about this seems… wrong.
And then I catch it: I didn't lay a snare down here.
I study the trap, delicate and intricate, laid with meticulousness. My snares are excellent; but craftmanship like this is exceptionally rare, especially in these parts. A basic spring, but with an arrangement of knots and triggers that could only be the handiwork of one person. Slicing the rabbit free, I stagger back and try to comprehend the fact that Gale Hawthorne was close by.