CH 18: The Way
The silence was disquieting. Unnerving in a way that sent chills down her spine, made her hair stand on end, and her stomach twist in pain. When Boggs had come to retrieve her from Camille's house that morning, the last thing she had expected was to be escorted to a newly arrived hovercraft, and within it: her old prep team and escort, Effie Trinket.
They were gaunt. Their Capitol roundness clearly starved off of them. While clean, they no longer possessed the whimsical flourish of appearance and style she remembered: little makeup, no outlandish hair or clothing, even Octavia's once pea-green skin, so meticulously dyed for visual effect was muted and patchy…little swaths of natural pink flesh beginning to peek through. It made her look sickly; the worst of the bunch.
Finally, Effie stood and broke the silence. "We do have a job to do, and a schedule to keep."
Jane's mouth opened, but still she couldn't find words for the confusing picture in front of her. The fastidious timekeeping was very much something that Effie Trinket would say, but the tone from the woman in front of her was dead, no sing-song voice or a clap of the hands…familiar, but a complete stranger at the same time. She, more than the others, seemed but a shell of her former self. And in that moment, Jane knew without asking, that their appearance wasn't just from a stark adjustment to a more spartan life than they were accustomed to in the Capitol. It was hard for her mind to agree to the word torture, knowing what Hoyt had put Maura through in the Capitol, but the flighty creatures in front of her, skinny and trembling with uncertainty in their eyes, had certainly been harshly mistreated wherever they had been.
The prep team swarmed around her, ushering her to a seat as they lapsed into a familiar buzz, pulling at her hair and dabbing at her face, peeling at her drab and dirt-stained clothing layer by layer.
"Oh, this hair," Flavius mumbled as he ran his fingers through her dark waves. But, as he did, Jane couldn't help but notice that his hands still trembled, and his attention to the knots that developed in her hair was less dexterous than she recalled.
"The footage was awful, just awful…but…but…we can help, yes, we can help," Venia's speech was fast and frantic. When she caught Jane's eyes focusing on her, she looked away nervously.
"We are glad to see you, Jane. We are, we are," Octavia assured her, kneeling in front of the still stunned Victor as she examined her nails. "It was an extra roll! That was it! Just and extra roll…or two! Of course you didn't know, I said you never would have let them…"
"Octavia!" Effie snapped, drawing the stilled attention of all three of the stylists. "Perhaps we should focus on the task at hand and save the chit chat for later; we are on a time table after all. You do know how President Tamaro is about her schedules."
Silence again settled between them all, an awkward, blame-filled silence that filled Jane with a deep and abiding sense of guilt. She held Effie's cold stare for a moment before her once-escort squared her shoulders and exited the hovercraft.
It had been two days since Maura had seen Sean Cavanaugh in the infirmary. And immediately after tending to him, she had withdrawn. Shedding the lab coat and tossing it on the bed, I'm done for today, she told Lucius, waiting impatiently for the guard she knew was outside the door to take her back to her room. She had barely spoken to him in the two days since, refusing his offers to assist with patients, refusing his offer to take her for a walk outside the infirmary.
So, when the words she had just spoken hit his ears, he had no response, and stood dumbfounded, mouth agape in front of her, "Say again?"
"I'd like to see my mother," she repeated.
He raised his eyebrows, surprised that what he'd thought he had heard was in fact true, "I can arrange that," he assured her.
"No," Maura cut him off before he could say anything else. "You're manipulating me. I'm quite certain, the things that you tell me are true…but I'm also quite certain you're not telling me everything I should know. So, I don't want you to arrange anything. I want you to take me to see my mother, wherever she is, right now."
Lucius stood for a moment, appraising the woman in front of him. Bringing Cavanaugh in two days earlier had been a test of sorts. He needed to know if the intensity of Maura's reactions to people from before her abduction had subsided to any degree. He looked her eyes, and from everything he knew about her, from how she had been to who she had become, he did not see ill will in the eyes looking back at him. Confusion, yes. Uncertainty, that too. But, he felt sure in that moment that Maura meant no harm towards Constance, and instantly Lucius was emboldened by the progress he knew he had facilitated; even if to a certain degree Maura was correct: he was manipulating her.
"I'll take you to her," he walked towards the door and opened it, stepping aside to allow her to exit ahead of him.
"What else aren't you telling me?" Maura finally asked, after they cleared the medical wing and had been walking for several minutes down some generic hallway that she tried to mentally map as they proceeded.
"Did you always tell your patients everything?" Lucius asked elusively. "Did you tell them when they were on the verge of death?"
"Am I dying?" Maura asked deadpan.
"Of course not, it was only an extreme example to make a point."
"No," Maura ceded, stopping abruptly in the middle of the hallway, eyes closing as a memory flooded back to her. The young woman before her was ghostly white, drenched in sweat, and barely conscious, but with what she knew would probably be her last breaths she pleaded: Save my baby, cut him out. And Maura had held Landy Foust's hand and squeezed it, telling her she would be ok. And it was a lie. A lie that sent a rash spiraling around her body as she made the incision that cost the young woman her life, though it saved the child. She shook free of the memory and looked at Lucius, "but then, I thought I was more than your patient…I thought we were friends."
"We are," he answered, "And because you're my friend…because Jane is my friend too…I only want what's best for you, even if that means that in the end, for one reason or another, we can't be friends anymore."
"So, you've been trying to fix me."
Fix. The word struck Lucius at once as wrong and made him cringe. Not fix…restore.
"You think I'm broken," he started to speak but Maura wouldn't let him, "I'm not broken."
"I don't think you're broken," he answered. "I've seen broken. Broken doesn't survive. It dies, literally, or little by little it wastes away into nothingess. He didn't break you, but that doesn't mean you didn't…that you don't need healing."
"He…" Maura mouthed the word softly, but audibly, and Lucius could see her body tense and tears well behind her eyes.
Lucius took her by the hands and turned her towards him, "A professor of mine, a pathologist of human behavior you could call him, once told me that men are the products of their experience. I thought that was true for a very long time, in a very literal way, until I came to be a physician at the medical center, which served the Victors of the Games. And there I saw people whose experiences should have broken them, should have destroyed them…but they survived…they lived. It took a while…too long for me to recognize what I was seeing. It took treating Jane for the second time, when she volunteered to go into the Quarter Quell to save you, that I realized how wrong my old professor had been. Our experiences shape us, but they are not the sole force in the construction of who we are. So, no, Maura, I don't think that you are broken. Because, as horrific an experience as what you went through back in the Capitol with Charles Hoyt was, you are not the sum of that singular period. You have so much to live for, so much worth overcoming that one experience for. And even though you still struggle with what she means to you; Jane has let the experience of you in her life supercede all of the other pain and suffering that has been wreaked upon her. Everything that I have done is because I owe her the humanity within myself that she allowed me to discover, and as a result of owing her, I owe you…everything that I can do, not to make you love her again, because only you can find that place, but to lay the groundwork to give you back yourself, in whatever shape that takes. Because in the end, what she wants is for you to find a life that gives you happiness, even if that life is not with her. So, if there are things that I have kept from you, it's all been in service to that higher goal. But, now, I think my role as your doctor in that regard has reached its end, and the time for rediscovering the person that you are or will be has arrived."
He reached out and wiped the steady stream of tears from her cheeks with a reassuring smile, "You'll find your mother in there," he pointed towards a door and pulled it open as the steady hum of scores of sewing machines spilled out into the hallway.
The whispers cascaded down the aisle from the door, reaching Constance's ear and inclining her to look up. She gasped, punching down hard on the machine's pedal and sending the fabric under her fingertips feeding wildly under the pistoning needle. One by one the mechanical whir of the machines in the room faded as heads turned to watch the rescued Victor walk slowly towards her mother.
"My darling," Constance whispered in shock as she stood, fighting the urge to gather her daughter in her arms and hold her.
Maura tensed in the presence of the woman, her arms crossed tightly across her chest. She knew her eyes were still red from the tears shed in the hallway and self-consciously she reached to wipe at the dried tearstains on her cheeks, "Can we go somewhere…to talk?"
"Of course," Constance nodded, beckoning for Maura to follow.
The journey to the arboretum was silent. At every turn, Maura noticed the eyes of passerbys fixate on her and stare. It didn't surprise her and she didn't blame them for shrinking to the opposite side of the narrow hallways. Sometimes, when she looked in the mirror she stared at herself, trying to see past the layers of pain and confusion…to find some clarity in the past that she saw in her dreams. She wanted that past to be real. The past that came to her in spontaneous waking memories or in the deep throws of sleep. The past that flashed fleetingly in her mind of soft skin against her own and thoughts of Jane that comforted instead of repulsed her. Weeks ago she had been convinced that it was Jane that had hurt her, now, so many things she thought were true had been chipped away at, little by little by memories that asserted themselves with frightening strength that dared her to deny them.
Maura smiled as manicured grass softened her steps. Shrubs and flowering bushes lined paths that twisted through the large, indoor park. At the far end she could hear the bubbling of a stream parting over rocks. A few small trees, no taller than maybe half a foot over her head stood fenced off on small mulch hills. The overhead synthetic light could only do so much to nurture growth, that and the systemic damage from the previous war had probably rendered the collected plant life somewhat anemic.
"This is lovely," Maura finally spoke, directing the words towards her mother.
"It is," Constance agreed, continuing to walk until they reached a bench situated next to the small stream. "I think it's the one unnecessary thing District 13 allows its people. Angela and I come here often, even if only for half an hour. It's so peaceful and everyone that comes here seems to have an understanding that everyone else has come for reflection or meditation. Various people volunteer their free time for the gardening upkeep. Jane has even brought back some wildflowers to plant that she found growing outside the perimeter…"
Jane. Instinctively, Maura reached for her left ring finger and rubbed the bare skin.
"Missing something?" Reaching into her pocket and extending her hand, Constance unfurled her fingers to reveal a ring.
"That's not mine," Maura murmured, hesitating before she allowed her mother to gently take her hand and slide the ring on her finger.
A tear welled up in Constance's eye as she nodded, holding Maura's hand between her own, "It was mine. She asked me to hold onto it…in case…" she paused as recognition flashed across Maura's face, "…in case she doesn't make it back."
With a start, Maura jerked away, standing and stumbling several steps back from her mother. The ache in her finger from a few moments earlier had turned into a searing burn. Warmth flooded through her entire body, and her eyes grew heavy, slipping shut as the memory of arms and tears and sobbed I love yous filled her ear. As the weight of the memory settled: the train platform in District 8, the cluster of cameras surrounding them, the crisp breeze that rustled by, she saw her mother slide her own wedding ring onto Jane's finger. Perfect fit.
"No…" Maura choked out, pushing the ring from her finger and letting it fall silently to the ground at her feet.
The whisper was light and airy in her ear. We waited so long for each other. Maura collapsed to her knees, shaking as she cried, her finger reaching out to circle the edge of the ring as it lay softly atop the short grass. I'm yours. All of me. Yours and only yours.
She didn't even realize she was in her mother's arms until she opened her eyes and the tears cleared and she could make out the fabric of the rough hewn blouse that covered a shoulder under her cheek. Constance slid the ring back onto her daughter's finger and held her tightly.
"I can't make sense of my own memories," Maura murmured as she relaxed in her mother's embrace. "I don't know what's real and what's not real. When I close my eyes, I hear her voice and I feel her skin against mine, and a part of me tells me to hate her…but when you said she might not make it back, I…" She stopped, clenching wads of her mother's blouse in her fists as she sank deeper into the embrace surrounding her.
"You haven't lost the truth, sweetheart," Constance reassured her. "Deep down, you know what's real. The whispers when you close your eyes, the comfort of her touch when you were sleeping. You know what's real, and it will make sense again."
"What if it's too late? What if everything as it is now is how it will always be?" Maura pulled back and looked at the ring once again on her finger.
"Never," Constance shook her head. "Look at you now, here with me. You're finding the way a bit more as each day passes. And what Jane means to you, it will make sense again."
"Why is it always about Jane?" Maura withdrew from her mother, disorienting confusion weighing heavily on her mind, as if that was the only altered reality that plagued her understanding of the new world she found herself in. Jane.
"Oh, darling. Because you're a part of each other."
Silence took over with only faint bubbling of the stream filling the void. Maura pulled her hands back from her mother's touch and let them rest on her stomach. "Will you tell me what Lucius is keeping from me? Will you tell me the truth?"
"I…" Worry was evident in Constance's eyes as she looked back at her daughter.
Maura looked down at her hands and then back at the woman in front of her, "Am I pregnant?"
She was small for her age, yet very adept at climbing. Jane smiled as the young girl scampered up the tree, transferring lithely from branch to branch, balancing with fearless skill. Cocking her head towards the sky, she whistled a tune and smiled as the Mockingjays in neighboring treetops echoed the tune back. A few apples were tossed down and Jane helped Camille gather them up as the child climbed down just as nimbly as she had gone up. In Rue's soft brown eyes, Jane could see the promise of the future that had led Barry Frost to volunteer in his cousin's place.
"I wish I could have known him outside of the Games." Jane took the apple Camille offered her and bit into it. "I wish he was here, to still be my partner in all of this. Without Maura, I feel so alone, and yet I have to keep fighting. Seeing Rue, it reminds me why we started all of this in the first place, what your son gave his life for. But, it's hard to do by myself."
"You're not alone," Camille reached out and took Jane's hand and squeezed it.
Rue settled down on her other side, hooking her arm through the Victor's and resting her head against Jane's arm with a relaxed sigh.
"We're all here with you," the older woman assured her. "Every man, woman, and child in Panem that's out there fighting for the cause you started is with you. And Maura…" Camille ran one hand through Jane's hair to comfort her, "…you can take a lot of things from a person. I've seen men lose their dignity, their sense of self-worth…but I don't think you can take someone's love away from them. Through oppression and torture that's the one thing the Capitol never took from us. They couldn't make us stop loving one another, stop loving our families, our friends, our people. If they had taken that away, we wouldn't be here right now; we wouldn't be fighting. She still loves you, and she's going to find that place again. Don't give up."
"I won't," Jane looked off in the distance where Korsak stood at the field gate waving. It was time to go. She looked at Camille and smiled, "I can't give up, because I can't stop loving her."
"She'll find her way back." They all stood and began to make their way towards the hovercraft. Camille let Jane set the pace, purposefully slow. "Where to next?"
"District 9." Jane looked down and smiled as Rue took her hand as they walked. "The fighting is still supposed to be pretty intense there."
"Your father's there too?"
Jane nodded. "Communications are down though, we haven't been able to get more than short typed message back and forth for a few weeks. I don't know if he's…" her voice trailed off; she didn't want to think about another loss.
"Will you come back some day?" Rue finally spoke, prompting Jane to stop and drop to one knee in front of the girl.
"I will," Jane promised. "When the fighting is over, I'll come back. You can show me how to call out to the Mockingjays."
Rue smiled, the last of the setting sun twinkling in her eyes, "Barry told you to tell me that when they sing back, one of their voices will be his…do you think it's true?"
"Yes, little bird" Jane whispered through a tear as she wrapped her arms around the child, "I'm sure of it."