Have you ever listened to the sound of the rain? The quiet pitter-patter that sprinkles across your tin roof as the skies overhead open up and let their tears fall?
It's an odd kind of quiet, a rare one in between Rory's snoring and Haymitch's grumbled dreams. But I guess it's expected today. I'm the last one still in bed, the only one in the room cabin as the rain falls from above and lingers over our day as though it is telling of how I feel inside.
We all knew this day would come. We never thought it wouldn't but now that it's here you can see how nervous it makes us all. Rory with his silence, Prim with her gnarled skin barely able to hide her nerves, Haymitch with his distance and finally Peeta with the way he'd clung to me all night as though I was going to disappear out from beside him.
Of course it was all silly. Where could I go with a growing belly like mine?
No, we knew this day was coming. Sometime we'd often longed for it – like the day when the pack of wild dogs had caught Prim unawares in the forest. That day, the night even more so, we'd hoped for the day that we could return to the district and rebuild our lives. She'd almost left us then though not by choice and I'd very nearly been ready to follow after her.
It had been the longest winter since the war started. The cold hung on to every branch, every root, for weeks after our food stores had run out. Off in the distance every night we could hear the dogs crying out, their desperate pleas for food falling on barren forest lands.
Prim had wandered out on her own to gather kindling. Nobody had known she'd gone until the screams cracked through the frozen beams and hit me like a wall of ice.
"Prim!" I'd screamed, my body shooting from the fragile chair we'd constructed in our makeshift cabin. I wasn't the first one out of the four walls – Rory found her first, my arrows found the dogs, and Haymitch ran her home.
A claw had caught her face, a great gash that tore at her thin skin and oft used muscles. Apart from other small wounds it was her most telling feature from the fray.
She didn't smile as much now though I don't know whether it's Prim not smiling or her smile merely coming across as more of a grimace. There was a change in her after those dogs.
There was a change in us all.
Today is the day. The one we can no longer avoid. Not after years of dousing our only fires during distant hovercraft sightings. Not after camouflaging our life from wanderers and searchers.
"Mum," a small voice, still so young, calls out to me, rousing me from the corners of my own mind. I lift my face and focus on my son, his dark hair curling around his boyish face. He's grown so much, here amongst the trees. I wonder now how he'll fare when we leave – when his five-year old self is no longer able to walk freely and scavenge as we've taught him.
It seems foolish to worry. It's a free district now where we're returning. The war is over, the Capitol has left.
"Are you getting up? Pop is just finishing breakfast," Mason chimes, shifting his feet towards my pallet.
"I am, boyo," I reply but remain on my side. Just a few more minutes. After today this bed will no longer be ours. The sound of the rain on the tin will be gone. The quiet and the familiarity of this home we've built in the forest will forever leave us.
It's funny now, I must admit, how living here has grown on me. At first returning had been difficult. A baby in tow, three more people to care for, endless nights of screaming and snoring and miserable cold. I'd barely held it together, often drifting out away from the cabin simply for some peace and quiet.
Peeta had been my rock then, caring for Mason and keeping everything together in some unimaginable way. I don't know how he managed, but he did, and he helped build onto the cabin to expand it for us all. Though privacy remained limited we never forgot the value of Prim's branch-woven room dividers or Haymitch's poor attempts at water routing.
After so many months in the forest we'd turned this cabin into a home much too small but a home none the less.
"Mum..." Mason tumbles down onto my pallet with me, his rambunctious side flaring up. "You have to feed Tad or Pop is going to come get you!"
"I know, I know," mumbling I roll until I'm nuzzling him close, breathing in the smell of him and savouring this last moment. "I love you, you know?" I want to remind him. I don't remind any of them enough. Not nearly enough, especially after all that I've lost already.
"Stop being mushy," he giggles and pops from the bed, grasping at my hands and pulling with all his might. I let him drag me up – more like need him to help me get up with this silly bump – and we head outside to our dirt floor common room where the fire burns in the center and our makeshift furniture lines the walls.
"Nice of you to finally join us, Sweetheart," Haymitch grumbles from the creaking rocking chair we'd tried to build in our first few months. It's still in one piece so I guess that's saying something.
"Katniss, I've put the rest of the fabrics in your sack for the return – is that alright or are your feet swollen again?" Prim calls from the corner of the room where she's busy tucking things into bags in an organized fashion. Rory snickers from his place against the door jam, his back to us as he watches the rain fall outside.
"No, that's alright Prim," I call out, moving into a chair by the fire where Peeta is dishing out something from the skillet.
"Are you sure we have to go today?" He asks the room tentatively as he hands me the dish. I catch his gaze lingering upon me, concern and nerves bundled behind adoration and admiration.
"For the last time boy, yes, we've got to go today. If we don't go today then we won't go tomorrow, and if we don't go then than before we know it she's going to be ready to pop and we won't be anywhere near where we could get help if we needed it," Haymitch answers brusquely.
My eyes catch his for a moment at his words, his brow tight as his tone softens. I can see how anxious he is but I can't tell if it's because of me, because of this child I wasn't prepared to carry just yet, or because we're returning to a place that has never held too many happy memories for him. Either way, when his gaze flickers down to his lap I'm glad to hear no snappy replies.
"We'll be there before you know it," Peeta whispers, breaking my focus from observing Haymitch as he finishes his tea. I smile up at him, revelling in the soft peck of his lips on my forehead while Mason calls out to Rory in the background.
"I know. Are you ready for this?" I answer him quietly, taking his boney hand as he squats down before me.
He never quite recovered from the hunger before the war – you can see it in the lines of his face and his thin frame with wiry muscles. There's also a careful mask that he wears now, one I only see him without in the last light before dark as we lay together on our pallet. His fears and anxieties still haunt him but now they're quieter, less frequent and consuming. Despite all of that, he's still beautiful to me. He's still the man I love and the one I have raised our son with, the one I will bear another child for.
I never thought that would happen – not before Gale, not after – but here I am, pregnant and planning to return to a district we left when the war began. Now we know it's over – our contacts having found us after the rebellion finally won – and we're returning to restart our lives.
"Trust me to try?" He replies and presses his cheek to my stomach.
It's these moments that remind me of all that I've lost and all that I've gained.
I lost Gale, but in a way he's never left me. I have Mason now, Peeta as well, and I doubt I ever would have had either without the man I first loved. He gave me Mason to love and brought Peeta to me as the man to hold me together. In return I grew stronger; I learned and became a mother. I love fiercely and give in return the love that Peeta has graced me with.
Before this all my life was barren – dry like the summer that lead to our harshest drought. Now, as the rain falls overhead and we look towards our journey back to the district I realize my life is no longer that landscape. Before me lay a new life to build, a great scene to watch grow, with the gifts I've received in these people.
They should tell you that when you're young; that life may seem dry and hopeless, harsh and brutal, but if you wait until the rain comes you'll see. Everything changes when the rain comes.
AN: For EucaEuca who came back four months later and told me I needed an epilogue. I figured if you're still thinking about it four months later, it is probably worth it. Hope it doesn't ruin it for any of you. Love you all.