This is it, everyone! I'll post a few concluding remarks on this story in a few days. This is the final chapter. People have been asking for a sequel, and I'm sorry, but there won't be one. This is actually the sequel to a story I wasn't going to continue on, and look where that got me! ;)
When spring comes, we move back to District 12. Staying in Thirteen was never an option. We couldn't breathe in the narrow corridors. There was no light. The artificial light deep underground never a substitute for the first rays of the sun in the morning. The ventilation system could never replace the open bedroom window at night, the curtains flapping in the breeze. We couldn't live with schedules being printed on our bodies every day. Our lives have been controlled by others for too long.
Besides, I alienated Thirteen when I killed their president. I could never live there. I could never hope to be one of them. I could never be truly safe there.
Everything in Twelve is gone. We have to start all over. As soon as the hovercraft lands and I walk over the Meadow again, fresh with light green grass that is starting to cover the ashes – I feel free for the first time in months. Rosie is in the wrap that Prim gave me, snuggled close to me. When she's hungry, I loosen the wrap a bit to allow her access to my breast. When she's sleeping, she does so with her nose pressed against my bare skin, breathing in my scent. When she's awake, her face is close to mine, and strangely, it feels like she is the one to show me the world, not the other way around.
The first few months, we live in a tent. It's not easy with a baby, but still – I have never felt this free. This focused.
Our first priority is building a house. The Victors' Village is gone, along with the rest of the district. We get some help from the Capitol and from District Thirteen – perhaps they do, after all, feel like they owe us something. Yet many long evenings are spent working on the house. Our home. It is very modest, even smaller than the house I grew up in in the Seam – two small bedrooms, a kitchen, a small living room and a tiny bathroom. But it is ours, in a way that we have never experienced before. There's a large bakers' oven, of course, which we know will keep the entire house warm in winter. The house smells fresh and new, of wood and soap.
It turns out that hard, physical work and Rosie are just what I need to start healing. Together, the three of us build a new life. Slowly. There are still lost days, but having Rosie means we can't let them dominate. Peeta and I still have nightmares. There are nights when we cling to each other, desperate and terrified. But her steady breathing as she sleeps in the crib right next to our bed helps bring us back. We don't dare to let her sleep in our bed, it wouldn't be safe with my violent nightmares. But we keep her as close as we possibly can.
There are days that are so dark and terrible that I can't stand to be around anyone. When I retreat to a closet, or to the forest. When I scream like a wild animal. When I see things, things that aren't there. Living nightmares. On those days, Peeta takes care of Rosie. He holds her and wraps her in the green fabric and feeds her formula from a bottle. And when I return, he gently lays her down at my breast, and her pink lips close around my nipple. I feel the tension seep out of my body as my milk flows into her mouth, and she swallows with a concentrated look on her face. After, we both fall asleep.
On other days, I wake in the morning to find that Peeta has been awake all night, facing his silent nightmares alone. On those days, I know I need to give him space. He can't handle to be around anyone, including Rosie and me. Sometimes especially Rosie and me. He needs to work, alone, until he passes out from exhaustion. Only then is his sleep deep and dreamless.
When Rosie smiles her first smile, she makes me forget everything else. Rosie is the promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again.
The shadows disappear. One by one. So gradually I almost don't notice it myself.
I have gone from not wanting Rosie, to the terror of realizing that I love her more than anything. I know that she could be taken away from me, any day. All my life, the people I love have been taken from me. What if they take her, too? Ever since my father died, love has come hand in hand with loss for me. I've been afraid to love people, for fear of losing them. Now, a love more overwhelming than I thought possible means the potential for loss is even greater. I cry on the phone to Dr Aurelius, and he assures me that these feelings are normal for new mothers.
I'm stunned. For once, I'm actually feeling something that is normal.
Peeta plants primroses around our new house.
And every day, he assures me that Rosie won't be taken from me. He won't be taken from me, either, he says. We're safe now.
We're not the only ones who return. Greasy Sae returns only days after we do. Gale's family, too. Hazelle could never live anywhere but in Twelve. It's a relief to have two experienced mothers around to help me when I have questions, to hear my frustrations, even to hold Rosie sometimes when I just need one hour alone in bed to sleep. People start trickling back to Twelve. I'm surprised by the number who return – almost everyone who survived the bombing and the fire does. For a few it's too painful, though. There are too many memories. They can't bear to start all over again, it feels easier to stay in Thirteen.
But for most of us, Twelve is home.
In June, my mother comes to spread Prim's ashes over the Meadow. It's just me, Peeta and my mother. And Rosie, of course. It's very early in the morning, there is still dew on the grass. Prim used to go here before school with her goat, and this was her favorite time of the day. She would've loved this early summer morning.
We don't have a ceremony. There are no speeches, no one talking about how wonderful she was, or how much we miss her. It's not necessary, because we all know. Peeta and I watch in silence as my mother spreads half the ashes over the Meadow, joining all the others who died here last year. Friends, neighbors, classmates. Then she buries the rest of her ashes under a willow by the river. Only then do I allow myself to cry. But these tears aren't like before. They fall on Rosie's little face as she sleeps in the wrap. She scrunches her nose and moves her head to the other side, and I can't help but laugh at her expression as she settles in and falls asleep again immediately, this time with her nose pressed against the top of my left breast instead of the right one. My mother looks surprised at first, that I'd laugh at a time like this – but then she sees what I'm looking at. She smiles and kisses Rosie's dark hair, and then she starts to cry, too. We hold each other as the sun rises over the Meadow.
Unexpectedly, my mother doesn't return to Four. First she puts off going back by two days. Then by another four. And then by a week. To my surprise, I find that it's nice to have her around. She's a great help with Rosie, and she can answer all my many questions about babies and breastfeeding and diapers and rashes, all the things I never knew existed until I became a mother.
One day, I simply ask her: "You're not going back to Four, are you?"
She seems taken aback by my question. She blinks, as if she hadn't even considered the possibility. After a long pause, I continue: "You could stay, you know. We don't have a hospital here in Twelve, either. You could help build up a hospital here instead of in Four."
So that's what she does. It seems like Rosie was what she needed to start healing, too. I find it odd that her own daughters weren't enough to help her through her grief when father died. I wasn't enough reason for her to return to Twelve after Prim had died. But Rosie was what it took for her to come home. When I talk to Haymitch about it one afternoon, he simply says that grandchildren make grandparents crazy, in a way that their own children never did. When I ask him how he knows, he just laughs.
Haymitch still has Capitol contacts, who send him white liquor on the train. Sometimes he runs out, but mostly he's blissfully drunk. He starts raising geese. They are a nuisance, but Rosie loves looking at them. The first time she laughs, it's because one of them is chasing Haymitch down the street. Haymitch is never allowed to hold Rosie when he's drunk, but he can spend hours with her on a blanket in the shade under the trees. No one can make her laugh the way he does. It seems like she somehow associates him with laughter. Considering Haymitch's tragic and lonely life, it's difficult to believe. But his face lights up when he sees her, and he whispers secrets in her ear. He won't tell me what they are, but he assures us they are good ones.
No one says it, but he's as close to a grandfather as she's got.
There are no more coal mines, so with financial help from the new government, we plow the earth and plant food. I teach people to forage for plants. The plant book I inherited from my father was lost in the fire, but I remember enough safe plants to add extra roots and plants to people's salads and stews.
Finnick and Annie send pictures of their son. They named him Mason. He looks so much like his father. Annie writes that it looks like his eyes will be sea green.
I do get to hunt, together with Rosie, as Peeta once said I would. As long as she's close to me and her stomach is reasonably full, she's quiet. I need to adjust my shooting technique, but I manage. Hunting is different now. It's Rosie and me instead of me and Gale. We are a different kind of team.
Gale has got a fancy job in District Two, doing important business for the new government. In August, he comes to visit, together with Madge. I can see it's hard for them – to see what's left. Which is almost nothing. The Meadow is green again, although no one's sowed it. They are both wearing expensive, tailored clothes, keeping their things in a leather suitcase. They sleep in our guest bedroom, which is to be Rosie's room when she's a bit older. Hazelle's house still isn't finished, and it made more sense for them to stay with us than in his mother's tent.
There seems to be a divide between us – between their skin, pale from office jobs, and our sunkissed complexions. Between Peeta's hair, which is bleached by the sun and a bit too long because we don't have scissors, and Gale's short-cropped, dark Seam hair. Between their fancy clothes and ours. Our clothes are worn, but they are still more or less clean and they don't smell. Yet there are stains that can't be washed out in the creek, and I'm sure Effie would faint if she'd seen us.
I allow Gale to hold Rosie. I hesitate to at first because I still find it hard to trust her to anyone but Peeta and my mother. He meets her eyes. They are clear blue now, like the sky. Like Peeta's.
I see wonder in Gale's face. Sadness. Still, I see acceptance, too. That it – us - was never meant to be. Gale said once, when were out in the woods in Thirteen fearing for our lives, that he had always imagined that my child would also be his. The child who's looking up at him now, with the blue town eyes, is unmistakably Peeta's. Perhaps Madge can give him a baby with blue eyes of his own one day, but I don't bring it up. Seeing the adoration on Madge's face as she looks at Rosie, I think she wants that, but I don't know what Gale wants. Not anymore.
Perhaps I never did.
Can I forgive him? No. I know he never meant for Prim to die. But he did mean for someone to die. That someone would always be someone's daughter, son, sister or brother. It just happened to be my sister.
Still, I'm glad he came. It makes it easier to say goodbye. To end that chapter of my life. For him too, I think.
"She's beautiful," he whispers, as he looks at Rosie's sleeping, little face. He's about to leave, they are going to take the evening train back to District Two. Rosie has Seam hair, like Gale and I, but her complexion is lighter. She is the perfect mix between Seam and town.
"Take care, Katniss."
When he leaves for Two, I feel nothing but relief.
When Rosie is six months old, we get a letter. It's addressed to both of us, which is the reason why it gets opened at all. I never open my letters, but Peeta does. It's a letter from the new government, saying Rosie hasn't officially been named yet in their registries. This needs to be done within six months.
This brings on another crisis. I spend the day hiding under the bed, shaking with fear that Rosie will be taken from us. An irrational part of my brain tells me that keeping her unofficial, unnamed, will somehow protect her from being reaped. I wanted to take Rosie with me under the bed, but Peeta won't let me.
He bakes cheese buns. I do come out eventually. When we eat the cheese buns by the fire, late at night, with Rosie asleep in her crib next to us, Peeta says: "So… I was thinking. What if we name her Primrose Everdeen-Mellark?"
I have to fight the urge to crawl back under the bed again.
To my surprise, he continues: "And we can change our names as well, so we'll all have the same last name. To bind us together."
I look up at him, surprised. I never considered that option. All I knew was that I didn't want Snow to make me into Mrs Katniss Mellark. It wasn't me.
But Mrs Katniss Everdeen-Mellark… Being married to Peeta Everdeen-Mellark.
I smile slowly, helping myself to another cheese bun.
The Capitol helps us build a factory, where we can produce medicines from the wide variety of medicinal plants in the lush forests surrounding Twelve. We used to make a meager living from the byproducts of long dead plants and trees. Now what we produce is based on plants, too. But now the plants are alive, and were doing it to save lives.
The slow, constant trickle of people continues even after all the refugees from Twelve have returned. They come from Thirteen, as well as from other districts. People who never fit in where they came from, people who want a change, people who want to start a new life. Some of them come to be close to the Mockingjay, I realize.
I am still their symbol, the symbol of a new life. They see me, with my baby in the green wrap, working just as hard as everyone else. I think it inspires them. I never understood how I could have an effect on anyone, I never asked for it. But if this is the result - a district rising from the ashes - then it's worth it. The result is that Twelve becomes a curious melting pot of people. In the past, we used to be able to see which district the tributes came from not only from their clothes, but also from the way they looked. Even within Twelve, there were distinct differences between the people from the Seam and the people from the town. Now, we are all getting mixed up, living side by side. New friendships are forged as a result of it, and from them - new relationships. I know that the children born in this new Twelve will be different. You won't be able to tell where they come from. Rosie was just the beginning. She is a mix of town and Seam with her dark hair and blue eyes. Future children born in Twelve will be a mix of all of Panem, blended together into something new and beautiful.
Life in Twelve is difficult and full of hard work, but we all go to bed with full stomachs every night. There are no whippings. No bugs, whispering our secrets to the Capitol.
In November, there is an Election. No one knows quite what it is. The one they held earlier in the year, when Paylor was elected, happened to suddenly. Many people didn't take part in it because they were afraid of being punished somehow. Most people never understood what an election was all about, what its significance was. It takes several meetings in the newly built school for people to agree to holding one here. To conclude that it's a good thing, and not something they do to try to control us.
The Election is apparently a part of what they called Democracy, so long ago. I'm still skeptical, but I decide to support the idea. Not surprisingly, Paylor wins. Even I vote for her. The Capitol reporters film me as I walk to the new school to vote, with Rosie wrapped on my back as usual. I usually wear her on my back now that she's older and heavier. I don't tell the reporters who I vote for, though. In fact, I don't talk to them at all. I've talked to enough reporters to last me a lifetime.
But still everyone can see that here, at this new beginning for Panem, the Mockingjay is present. I could never be the Mockingjay that Coin wanted me to be. The perfect, strong Mockingjay that Coin was trying to control and exploit. In the end, all I could be was myself. The angry, scared, hurting Katniss Everdeen, who was trying so hard to hold on. I never asked to be a hero, a victor, a symbol for the rebellion. No one ever asked me what I wanted.
It turned out that this other Mockingjay, the broken and imperfect one, was enough, after all. It wasn't enough for Coin, but it was enough for the people of Panem. I was what they were looking for.
Peeta is here, too. He beams after he's given his vote. His skin is a patchwork of new and old, scarred and smooth. To me, that's a symbol of this new Panem, too.
On Rosie's first birthday, I'm surprised to receive a parcel from the Capitol. I don't recognize the handwriting. Inside is a tiny dress made from light pink silk. There is an embroidery of a mockingjay on the hem of the skirt.
I would recognize a dress made by Cinna anywhere. There's a note inside. "I'm betting on you too now, girl on fire. Happy birthday."
Tears burn in my eyes. I haven't known if he was safe or not. No one could tell. Cinna was officially declared dead in the Capitol's registries when he became an Avox, and there was so much chaos in the Capitol after the war. So many people were lost, and many of them were never identified. They were burned into nothing. Not even Effie knew where he was, if he was still alive.
There is no return address, but at least I know that he's alive. I'm not sure if he wants to see me. So much has changed. He has changed, and so have I. When I saw him in the Capitol, so long ago, I knew that they had damaged him. Probably beyond repair. I'm damaged beyond repair, too, but I'm learning to live again, as the new me. Perhaps that's what Cinna is doing, too. He must be doing alright if he can still make dresses. He knows where I am, and if he ever wants to find me, he knows where to look. That's a comforting thought.
When Rosie learns to walk, she does so on the Meadow, early in the summer at the age of fourteen months.
On a sunny spring morning three years later, Rosie's brother Day is born. His hair is blond where hers is dark brown, but his eyes are Seam gray like mine. Where Rosie is more quiet and contemplative, he is full of laughter and sunshine. We couldn't have given him a better name. He is like Prim and Peeta rolled into one.
Sometimes I feel a terror that feels as old as life itself when I imagine what it would be like if my children were taken from me. If something were to happen to them. If they were to be reaped. Even though there are no more reapings, they still haunt me in my dreams, and sometimes when I am awake, too. I'm not sure if I can ever feel truly safe. I know I'm too protective, and I have to force myself to give the children enough space. To allow them explore the world on their own. To allow myself let them out of my sight, to trust others to take care of them, too.
I also know that sooner or later, we will have to tell them about what happened. Why everyone knows who their parents are. They teach about us at school. We need to tell them first, before anyone else does, but I don't know when or how. My innocent children, who take their words of the song for granted:
Deep in the meadow, under the willow
A bed of grass, a soft green pillow
Lay down your head, and close your sleepy eyes
And when you awake, the sun will rise.
Here it's safe, here it's warm
Here the daisies guard you from harm
Here your dreams are sweet and tomorrow brings them true
Here is the place where I love you.
Deep in the meadow, hidden far away
A cloak of leaves, A moonbeam ray, Forget your woes and let your troubles lay
And when again it's morning, they'll wash away.
Here it's safe, here it's warm
Here the daisies guard you from every harm
Here your dreams are sweet and tomorrow brings them true
Here is the place where I love you.
My children, who don't know that when they play on the Meadow, they play on a graveyard.
Peeta says it will be OK. We have each other. Together, we can make them understand in a way that will make them braver. But one day I'll have to explain about my nightmares. Why they came. Why they won't ever really go away.
I'll tell them how I survive it. I'll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I'm afraid it could be taken away. That's when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I've seen someone do. It's like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious.
But there are much worse games to play.
Thank you to everyone who's favorited, followed, sent PMs and favorited The Other Mockingjay. I did reach my goal of getting 1000 reviews! Yay! It's mind-blowing. jypzrose actually posted review number 1000. Thank you!
I'd really love to hear from you, now that this story is officially over. What do you think? What did you hate, what did you love?
Thank you all for your support. I'll post some concluding author's notes in a few days.