Prue walks towards me, her bright grey eyes as radiant as the moon as she grins. I gulp. Prim and Rue reminded me so much of each other, but Prue is like the image of them both. Whereas the Mockingjay was a symbol of rebellion, she is my symbol of hope. Living proof that we were more than just a pieces in their game. That despite the odds, we could overcome oppression to create something beautiful.
Her tread as light as Rue’s, her expression as thoughtful as Prim’s, she carefully walks up to me. “Mummy?” she asks, eyes wide with concern. “It’s time”.
I nod and gently run a hand through the folds of her hair, watching my scarred fingertips glide across the silky darkness of her plait. Strands of hair entwined like the braided bread that Peeta often crafts on the weekend. After we killed President Snow all those years ago, everyone openly wore their hair like mine as a symbol of thanks. Now it’s become a trend; so ingrained in society that little girls across the districts don’t know their hair means more than a pretty style. But I don’t want to tell Prue, not yet, so instead I simply teach her how it’s done, like mum did me. The truth hurts, and I want to spare little Prue as much pain as I can in this brutal world.
The kitchen door swings open and the heavenly scent of bread floods the room. Laughter like the fresh plashes of a stream rebounds from the walls as Prue gently unfolds from my arms and dashes behind me. “Daddy!” I turn to see Peeta standing in the doorway, flour speckling his face like freckles. He swings her effortlessly onto his shoulders. I grin.
Even after twenty-two years, he still hasn’t lost his strength from the Games. Her tiny olive hands clasp the bottom of his jaw, comfortably resting her tiny face on his, like a fluffy pillow. Thick and flowing, his hair has become browner over the years, but still flops lazily across his forehead.
He lost his childish demeanour years ago, ninety-seven percent of it during the Games, but one thing stayed the same: his eyes. An eternally blue sky, yet with flickers of glowing golden speckles that seem orange, like the sunset. I still can’t disguise the enthralling enchantment I get when I look into them, reassuring like a wave of cool water that’s been washed over my body. He has no idea, the effect he can have. Eyes like a book you’re desperate to read. A window into his soul. And he has such a beautiful soul.
Yet at first I pushed him away from me, I didn’t want to let myself love. Or live. Those were the dark times, when all I could think of was Gale. The flames feasting on his maimed body as he saved Prim from a bomb that President Snow’s supporters threw at her in a last act of defiance. Last act to break me.
It nearly did, but I still had Peeta and Prim. Alive. They kept me sane. Gradually, desperately slowly, the new districts brought me a sense of hope I couldn’t describe. It even made Haymitch stop drinking for a while; for the first time reality being better than drowning his sorrows with alcohol. When Prue was born, and he was presented as Godfather, he managed to stop completely.
Peeta showed me how there were no more Reapings, how the mines were closed down, how people were free to travel and live in districts other than the ones they were born in. Over the years- witnessing people so unlimitedly jubilant- it made some of the shards of ice Gale’s death lodged into my heart begin to melt. Slowly, but surely.
Now there’s a new district for the people of The Capitol too. Equal to ours. No extra luxuries than the rest of us have. The hierarchy has been broken, and equality is almost as common in society as poverty used to be. Effie lives with us in 12, always popping over to spend time with Prue, her treasured Goddaughter.
Prue grows taller every day. She’s fairly thin, although she loves to eat, and has the strength of her dad. With the ability to nimbly make fish hooks that we call ‘Mags Hooks’, I’m glad Mags’ has been able to pass her skills through the generations with this small legacy.
Prue’s eager to learn everything. To decorate. To bake. To heal. But I refuse to let her hunt. Her wrinkled button-nose and wet eyes betrayed her sadness at the prospect of killing an animal. Little hands clasped round a bow and arrow that rested awkwardly in her arms, I could tell she was only trying to do it because she wanted to be like me. But it wasn’t right. It was unnatural. I didn’t want to teach a child to kill. An image shot to my mind of Rue, innocent brown eyes staring and unseeing as she fell to the Earth, an arrow in her stomach. No. I didn’t want arrows anywhere near Prue.
So instead she collects herbs from the forest to make medicine. Ever so good at it. Prim teaches her and their heads bob in unison as they search the wilderness, the wind playing with their plaits.
She never comes with me to hunt. I go by myself and sell any kills on the District Market, because despite everyone being free to go where they want, very few people know how to hunt. Gale and I were the only few that dared to escape the boundaries of the districts due to starvation, and now there’s only me left to teach. The mines took our dad’s lives. The bomb took his. Although I no longer need to hunt to provide for my family, it’s the one thing that truly makes me feel as though I’m connected with Gale. Not even Peeta comes with me when I hunt, though his clumsy steps would probably scare off animals anyway.
“Katniss?” Peeta says lightly, and my thoughts whisk to the task at hand, realising he’s been calling me for some time. “Are you ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” I reply, my voice sounding like a child’s amongst the walls of the house. He reaches for my hand, gently tracing the patterns of my palm whilst keeping his other hand securely behind Prue’s back. She’s small, but she’s strong, and we both now she’s able to hold on by herself. We just can’t bear the risk. The mere thought of hurting her.
Walking from the house, we’re greeted by the frostiness of the evening air. Prue springs down from Peeta’s shoulders and dashes ahead of us; after eight years of weekly pilgrimages to the same place, she knows the route well. Her skirt flowing outwards like the petals of a blossoming plant as she runs, I see the centre of her attention: Casper. Finnick and Annie’s little son. Only a few years older than Prue, they get on with an understanding that reminds me of me and Gale’s first years together in the woods. At first this terrified me, but Peeta reassured me they were safe. No one can come and destroy their friendship. His green eyes are mischievious under a torrent of ginger hair as they whisper and giggle at nothing in particular.
Soon Finnick and Annie appear through the folds of the meadow, arms interlocked as if subconsciously afraid of some unknown force that’s destined to separate them. The Games still have that effect on those who survived them, I realised, becoming aware of my fingers so naturally intertwined with Peeta’s.
The Odairs are both originally from District 4, but most of the survivors came to live with us in 12 when it was rebuilt after President Snow’s execution. It was the closest thing we had to building a family despite the many loved-ones that’d been mercilessly killed.
My eyes meet Finnick’s and we glance to our children playing in the meadow, silently thanking each other their part in preventing future children from being forced to play the nightmarish game.
“Finnick, still as irresistible as ever,” I joke, remembering the pose he once pulled that was so ridiculously provocative, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing, despite everything.
“Katniss, you have no idea,” he laughs back, winking as he recalls the event from all those years ago.
Peeta coughs and raises an eyebrow. “Seriously, you two, don’t mind us,” he grins, gesturing to us with a flick of the head and looking at Annie in mock exasperation. She looks up at me, the intense greenness of her eyes gently holding my gaze. We embrace. She’s so thin that I’m almost afraid to squeeze her too tightly. “Katniss,” she smiles, “you’re still as radiant as the sun. Time has been kind to you.”
“You too, Annie,” I beam. Not only has her pure beauty remained the same, but through years of therapy a lot of the trauma has been dissolved; it's still there, if you dig really deeply, but Casper and Finnick have managed to evaporate the raw salt of her pain, leaving only water, fresh and pure. Only once has Prue asked me why Cas said he heard his mummy crying during the dead of night.
“On your way to the forest?” Finnick asks knowingly. It’s more of a statement than a question. Only he and Peeta truly understand. “Prue can stay with us whilst you’re there, it’ll give you two some privacy. Besides, she and Cas seem to be inseparable lately.”
I pause, processing his offer. Sometimes it’s difficult to mask my emotions with Prue there, but I hate to be away from her. Annie nods, perceiving my discomfort. “You know we’ll take good care of her, Katniss.”
“I know. Thank you, we won’t be too long,” I reply, knowing I can trust them to treat Prue with the care they have for Casper.
We say our goodbyes and Prue shrieks with delight when we reveal she can stay with the Odairs for a while. She obedient comes with us to the forest often, but she doesn’t understand its true value. For her, it’s just another of those things I like to do.
Aware of the darkness creeping in on us, we quicken our pace, leaving Prue and Casper laughing amongst the daisies in the meadow. Crunching and cracking, twigs and overgrowth is crushed beneath us. Soon we reach the clearing, the grass of the path flattened from frequent visits.
This is it.
I crouch low, inhaling the warm, musky scent of the Earth and clutching my hands as if in prayer. Eyelids automatically covering my eyes, I run my fingers over the rough wetness of a nearby tree, crumbs of bark crumbling at my fingertips. In. Out. In. Out.
My breaths come in a rhythm, as if in meditation, softly humming the songs that help me remember. The Hanging Tree for my dad. Deep In The Meadow for Rue. The poignant notes echo across the woodland as if nature’s sharing my songs. My pain. The words infuse into the forest and eventually disappear into the night. I pray for Gale. For Thresh. For Mags. For Wiress. For Beetee. For Cinna. So many names. So many people. So many stories. So much potential purposely and irreversibly crushed by President Snow.
Under the full moon, I imagine the Primrose Blossoms and Ruta Graveolens that bloom close at night. Under the full moon, I imagine Rue as a cherished young woman, like Prim is now. Under the full moon, a salty tear trickles from my eye as I bury my head in the folds of Peeta’s shirt.
President Snow once told me that it's the people we love most that destroy us. Yet it's the people I love most that have healed me. I was tired of playing his game, and guess what Snow?
Despite everything, we've won.