no one here can make a sound; we're all ghosts in this town
Katniss says, "Be careful. Don't stop running."
Prim shoves at her hair, falling into her eyes. She remembers how the mayor looked, scared and tired and worn. "They never meant to win," she says. The revelation hits her hard, in the chest. "This was never meant to--"
"It's all about you, baby girl," Katniss says. Her smile is tearful and splintered. She kisses Prim's forehead.
Prim flings her arms around Katniss' neck. Don't leave, she thinks.
Eventually, of course, she lets go.
It's like, when Katniss died, all of her skill with the bow came to Prim. 'Cause Prim knows how to shoot, Katniss taught her when they were younger and hungrier; she never liked it, never could stomach killing something alive, but she had a good eye, like her sister, like her father. It takes skill to miss on purpose; she'd feel guilty, but do it anyway.
Now-- now she doesn't have that issue.
Now, when Prim puts her fingers around the wood and the string and narrows her eyes looking down the arrow's shaft she is aiming to kill; she is death and she knows it.
Now, she does not miss.
They are District Twelve's lost ragged children. Their home was on fire; now it is ash.
It takes two weeks to get out of sight of Twelve-that-was. They stick to the shadow of the mountains, where there are always caves they can melt into, overhangs that will mask them from above.
If anyone is dreaming of fire, they do not say it. (The first three days, ash drifted into their hair, into their food. No one slept easy. No one turned around to look at the flames.)
The place they stop at is by a river. The water runs clear and bright and bubbling, in front of a cave. Thankfully, pretty much no one was used to running water at home.
They set up tents, because when you've got nothing left all you can do is survive.
Rory teaches everyone to hunt; Prim collects all the scrap paper and makes a poster of edible herbs.
It is spring.
This is horrible but: more than anything, Prim misses her cat and her goat. At least Katniss chose to go back; at least her mother fell in love once upon a time.
Lady was just a goat: she probably didn't even know enough to be afraid. Buttercup was just Buttercup, and he probably died alone.
They spend the first five weeks hunting all around, taking two-day expeditions to find where the water begins, where the deer live.
They build up stores to supplement the food they took from Twelve; in lieu of any instructions from the mayor or Katniss or God, all they can do is build something like society, like structure, like safety.
Prim and Rory end up in charge of expeditions into the woods, and things that come back from it; this makes sense because no one else left the District, other than their siblings. Delly Cartwright and Vale Ashebrook sort of organize distribution of resources. Delly is the nicest person ever and Vale is scrupulously fair, so things work out.
This is something Prim never told Katniss:
When she was very young, her father taught her to make bows. Her hands were clumsy and unsteady but there was a knack for it, and she had it. Katniss never ran out of their father's bows, but Prim never really forgot how.
It comes in handy, in their cluster of trees by a river by a cave. There is enough wood for everyone to have a bow; it takes her forever but it works.
Spring is when the best of the herbs are out. Prim takes Rory, a tent and a bow and spends a week exploring, getting the best of the flowers and roots and berries that she can. She fills her pack with arrowroot and does not tell him what it's called.
He says, "What are you going to do with all the seeds?"
She says, "I've always wanted a garden."
They don't talk about their siblings, or about the world beyond the woods. There is nothing to say.
(Sometimes, at night, she twists towards him and rests her head on his shoulder; but that is the night, that is the darkness.)
There is a dark-haired girl, sharp and quick and tiny, who follows Prim around quietly on bare feet, her tattered dress fluttering behind her.
"I like flowers," she says, when Prim stops and shades her eyes to look at her. "You know what to do with them."
Her name is Violet.
Prim says, "You had better not eat anything if I don't tell you you can," and finds herself sort of smiling.
By summer they have built houses, sort of. Reed's father was a carpenter; he's sixteen, with two sisters and a little brother, and he knows how the wood works. They figure out how to mine stone from the caverns, for solidity, and an earth-cellar where they put Prim's roots.
They build a series of shelters (five-- north, south, east, west and the middle house, which is a kitchen/dining area) that fit into the trees and cannot be seen from above; they fit into thickets and natural tree clusters and are low-ceilinged, but dry. It takes them four months to fix them so the roofs don't leak.
Prim and Rory and Vick and Posy share a small curtained section of the west house. It has two sort-of mattresses; Prim and Posy, Vick and Rory. Nobody in the forest wants to live alone.
When autumn rolls along Delly calls a meeting of everyone; "I think it's about time we gave this place a name."
She is much thinner than she used to be. Her hair is always a crown of a braid, too dirty to be properly blonde anymore.
Violet says, "What about Haven?"
The first winter is hard. They tried to store food but the smokehouse didn't work very well; they end up living on tubers and mushrooms and what's left of the rations they brought with them from Twelve. Arrowroot saves them, in soup and raw; she thinks, thanks for watching my back, Katniss.
There are at least twenty children with fevers at all times; they designate west house the sickhouse and Prim is in there all the time. Despite her best efforts they lose about a fifth of their population and use up a lot of firewood in cremation and run out of the energy to say dearly beloved; almost no one cries, since Twelve. She keeps a list of the dead, in her head, because someone has to, and because when she was very young she found a little book under her mother's bed, neat weary cramped handwriting filling up the pages with names and dates and nothing else.
It is like winter back in Twelve, only worse, because in Twelve there were apothecaries and occasionally food; here there is only Prim and the barest amount of roots and tree-bark and rabbits they can forage.
It's a surprise to no one but her when she gets sick; it is when she is feverish and coughing that she allows herself to miss her mother and her sister. It hurts; all she can do is cry, and throw up, and occasionally, when she is exhausted enough, sleep. Sometimes she tries to get up, to help; but she can't, she's fragile and limp and inside she's screaming if I stop I will drown.
Rory sits with her, through most of it; once she calls him Gale and he says, oh, Prim, and holds her hand tight, even though there's sort-of-quarantine in place, and no one healthy is supposed to touch anyone who's sick.
Violet dies in the fourth week of winter. Her tiny body was curled up on the mattress, into itself; even as they covered her in sticks and set fire to her body.
It should not hurt more than the deaths of the rest of them, all of them, the sheer multitude of all the dead children her hands have touched this season. It is like there was a pyramid of corpses piled at the door to Prim's emotion and when Violet joined it she burned the whole thing to ash, and now all Prim can do is feel.
She hates everyone. She thinks about home, thinks you could have lived. There is a part of her that blames it all on the boy on fire.
Prim dyes her hair with crushed walnuts and the berries from the mahonia that cools the fevers; it falls purple-black-brown around her face, dirty and messy and finally not blonde.
Isla says, "Prim?" There is a mockingjay on her shoulder.
It was probably not a good use of Prim's time. She does not care. She says, "I can do yours, if you want."
There is a part of Prim that refuses to believe Katniss is dead. Gale, she buys; Gale was always a firebrand, always bright and fierce and angry; not Katniss. Katniss was always fierce because of her love; Katniss was always steady and stable and forever. A world without Katniss is like a world without gravity: impossible.
(But there is a part of Prim that is absolutely sure one day her father will come home, will knock on the door of west house and swing Prim up into his arms and say, oh darling, I'm sorry I was gone so long. This is grief, she supposes. She hates it.)
They make it to spring again. The sun stays out longer; people stop getting sick.
Prim sits outside, toes in the dirt of the square of land she's calling a garden, fingers sifting a handful of soil, over and over.
Rory laughs at the flowers pushing out of the ground, bright-eyed; "Did you ever think we'd make it this far?"
She lets the dirt fall out of her palm, runs her fingers through her hair. "Not really." Her mouth quirks up at the edges but it isn't a smile.
"I want to go back to Twelve." Rory's staring at his feet, hair falling into his eyes. He grew too much this year, shot up like a sunflower despite the malnutrition and the stress. His summer shirt is tight around his shoulders, wrists showing way ahead of the cuffs.
Prim stops. "What the fuck." Part of her wants to cover her mouth, as her mother would have. "Rory--"
"There's got to be some of the stuff left," he says. "It's been a year. We could use the supplies, the books--"
"The Capitol attention," she says. Her fingers tighten, reflexively, around her father's (Katniss's) bow.
They are standing under a tree. A leaf drifts from a branch to Rory's hair, bright green, vivid.
"They could be alive." His voice is all yearning.
"We don't have the time." There's an edge of desperation in her syllables. She has tried not to think of Katniss, but she cannot stop.
"We'll make it," he says. "Don't you want to go home?"
(It was a low blow. That does not mean it wasn't effective.)
They tell everyone it is a plant-collecting trip. Since Prim's plants saved a lot of people in winter they get hugs and good lucks and be carefuls, no disapproval.
Prim would feel guilty but mostly she doesn't have the energy for that; she kisses Posy and Vick, murmurs, be good and we'll be home soon. There is a sour taste in her mouth when she says home.
Rory's hair is shaggy, too long. He ruffles Vick's hair and swings Posy up into a hug and for a second her heart's on fire and she thinks, Gale. But the set of his shoulders is all wrong: this is Rory, and he is her friend, and she loves him. He is not the boy who destroyed District Twelve; he is not the boy who broke the world.
Her shoes crunch through the leaf-litter. Try as she might, she has never been as quiet as Katniss; the woods are not where she belongs. Not for the first time she thinks, wrong sister lived.
The day after Katniss left, Twelve burst into flames. Rory and Prim were on watch at the rear of the group; most everyone was trying to sleep.
Prim shaded her eyes against the brightness of it and thought about her sister, about her mother; about her cat and her goat and her teachers and everyone she'd ever known. Her mother had sometimes dealt with burns; she remembered the way the skin peeled, crisped, went raw. She closed her eyes but the flames played on the insides of her eyelids, and all she could see was her sister's calm capable hands turning slowly black.
Rory shook her shoulder. "Come on," he said, face pale, mouth tight, "we have to get everyone moving."
(So they did. they made it out; they stayed alive.
It does not stop Prim dreaming about fire.)
& the lost sheep grow teeth, forsake the lambs and lie with the lions
Last year Rory made a map. It crinkles under his fingers as he spreads it out on the nearest log.
He traces the lines of their route, of the woods. "We're going west," he says, frowning.
"Oh fuck," she says, grins. "We are so lost."
"Shut up," he frowns; flicks a piece of bark at her.
"If we die," she says, ducking neatly, "you are explaining it to Delly."
"Deal," he counters, "but you're explaining it to the other dead people."
It's not like they could starve; the two of them found enough food to feed nine hundred kids, in winter. It's just-- uncomfortable. He's never been lost in a forest before.
They snap at each other more than usual, blame each other and make a lot of noise.
There's a cave system. She rolls her eyes at him, at the sunset, at the forest; "I'm sleeping here," she says, mouth tight, "you can join me if you like."
Of course, he does.
He wakes up because there is water dripping on his forehead, and because he was dreaming of fire and it was kind of a shock, firestorm giving way to a flood. It is dark. That's a common feature of caves; just because he spends a lot of time in them doesn't mean he likes them.
He thinks: oh shit.
There is a man standing too close to them. His shoulders are so straight there could be a bar in his back.
Rory doesn't have to look to know that Prim is fumbling an arrow to the string, that her hands are steady and sure. They have been hunting partners for a year, a year that forged them together better than any smith could; he knows she doesn't have to check to know that his knife's in his hand, to adjust her target for his movements, for his blade at the man's throat.
"Jesus," the man says, stilling. "Who the fuck are you?" He's wearing grey, to match his hair; even in the darkness, even from behind him Rory can tell the blue of his eyes. There is a gun at his hip.
Rory raises an eyebrow. "Rory Hawthorne," he says, calm, flat, confident. (He might be dead, anyway.) "What District is this?"
"Jesus," he repeats. "Gale's brother?"
Rory can't breathe. Blood is running through his heart, through his head. His hands are shaking; he forces them still. Part of him can tell: that was not malicious, not conspiratorial, not you will be dead soon; it was curious.
Prim’s voice is calm, light, clear. "That’s irrelevant," she says. "What District is this."
"Thirteen," he says. There’s a thread of urgency running through his voice. "You have to come with me, Rory."
Rory sucks in air like he's drowning.
Prim hesitates, but it's too slight for anyone but him to notice. "Thirteen’s dead," she snaps. "Stop bullshitting."
"So is Twelve." His voice is sharp, too sharp. He grins. "Well, this is just Lazarus day all around, isn't it?" Which is awfully cocky for a man with weapons trained on him, but Rory's not even sure he could move if push came to shove. (This is a lie: Rory knows that if push came to shove there would be blood all over his hands.) "Welcome to District Thirteen, kids. I'm Boggs."
The soldiers melt out of the shadows; there are too many of them.
Rory drops his knife; Prim swears under her breath. They gravitate towards each other, like there are magnets inside of them; he's incapable of feeling stable or even remotely safe without her.
They ask Prim her name. She digs her nails into Rory's palm and twists her mouth at the edges and says, Katniss Everdeen.
So it turns out Thirteen isn't actually dead, that it's the heart of a revolution that got fanned into life by Gale burning to ash. It turns out that everyone is dead, not just we didn't find the body but we found the body, went in with a helicopter and firebombs and brought it back. And now it's hooked up to a respirator even though its brain isn't working, heart isn't beating. They tell him his brother's brain-dead like that's supposed to mean something, like he's supposed to care.
Rory feels like he should feel something but he really just wants to go home, but they can't, of course. (He thinks: I wonder if Katniss is here, too. Of course she isn't.)
He and Prim have an unspoken agreement; neither of them can trust people who live in caves.
She lies about her name; he lies about everything else. None of them mention the world in the woods, the people they love who will be missing them.
They say they ran when the fire started falling. It is a terrible lie but she's close to crying and so is he, and that's not even acting.
They are, nominally, free to leave. When Boggs puts his hands on their shoulders they can tell he's thinking there's nowhere to go.
He's right, actually: if they went back to the riverside, they'd bring people. And that is the last thing they want.
There are no guns to their heads (anymore), but there might as well be.
Here's the thing: neither Prim nor Rory likes caves. Their fathers died in mines; they had that nightmarish trek through the mines out of Twelve, thinking everyone I know is dead.
This means District Thirteen is basically the worst place for either of them to be, except maybe (maybe) the Capitol.
This means Rory cringes every time he looks up, looks around, and seems no windows, no breeze; this means Prim bites her lip every so often, choking on the stagnant still air.
The skin on Rory's wrist is dark purple, to match the skin on Prim's.
It doesn't take very much for them to be assimilated into Thirteen: there are databases left over from Twelve so it's not hard to verify identities. Prim doesn't look anything like her sister but thankfully neither does Katniss' school picture, blurry and black-and-white. Prim's hair is short and dark, her eyes are too old, their bone-structure is sort of similar; it's close enough to pass.
Rory didn't lie about his name. He looks at the picture of him on the screen: he is very, very young; it's like a century ago. They are older and better now; that's not who he is anymore. The boy in the picture has not lived through a winter in west house without his older brother; he has not seen his whole world fall into flames.
The officials in Thirteen try to move them into a group home for orphaned children. Prim tucks her arm through Rory's and says, "We're used to being on our own." There's a hint of something neither of them have really touched in her voice; he flinches a little, inside. They don't have many years on them, after all.
He wonders when they (she) got so good at lying.
Their room is tiny, but it has two beds and two desks and a bathroom down the hall. There are no windows, but it's not like Thirteen exists to make Rory's life bearable.
She is lying on her back, staring at the ceiling. "It's like," she says, "my sister took all the ruthlessness, and I took all the light. It's like Pandora's Box, like she held everything bad so I wouldn't have to. And when she-- it came back to me when she couldn't hold it anymore." She laughs, hollow. "It's like: I'm better at it than she was. I hate that."
He doesn't know what to say. "I don't think that's how it works."
Badly-dyed dark hair falls into her eyes when she shakes her head. Blonde roots are starting to show. "I guess not," she says. "I started killing things pretty quick."
"It's kind of-- what we had to do." He bites his lip; he knows necessity excuses nothing.
"Yeah," she says. Her eyes are very blue. "I miss your sister."
There is a camera in the corner of their room.
He thinks about Posy, gathering roots with the sun on her shoulders filtering through the leaves. He says, "She's in a better place."
They ask if he wants to see his brother. He's not quite sure how to say, I'd really rather not so he stands next to the bed with the bandage-wrapped figure on it that used to be Gale and lets the air settle in his lungs, just staring.
Prim whispers, "Rory." Her hand brushes against his.
He shivers, steps away from her. He feels electric; there is a storm inside of him, lightning in his veins. He should say something.
Gale's eyelashes are dark against his red, scarred skin. The machine whirrs, over and over again. It's probably a waste of power but he's the messiah or some shit, the boy on fire but that leaves scars.
There are people at home who would have lived if they'd had a hospital.
Rory says, "Thanks for nothing," and turns, and walks away.
She says, "He isn't going to wake up."
He says, "You hate him too." He opens his eyes to look at her.
"He isn't my brother." Her eyes are calm, steady.
"You have a sister." He's staring at his hands, thinking about his older brother on that bed and his younger brother at home. There is a world stretched between them, all of them.
She shrugs. "My sister left us too."
"To save us." Katniss Everdeen, he thinks, is nothing like Gale Hawthorne. Katniss at least died protecting people.
Her hair tickles his ear when she kisses his cheek. "Rory," she says. "Hate's got its place, but here isn't it. He'll always be your brother."
"Not if he's dead." His voice is dry, to his own ears.
She tangles her fingers in his. "Don't lie to me," she says. "It will only confuse you."
There is a man with dark hair and a crooked nose. His smile is sharp and sweet and warm. "Hey," he says. "How're you liking Thirteen?"
Prim taps her fingers against Rory's wrist. "It's underground," she says, wryly, with that edge of look how small I am that she is getting devastatingly good at.
"I miss the air," Rory says, dramatically, and then pauses, remembering television. "You're the man who set Gale on fire."
His gaze flickers for a moment, away and back again. "Sorry about that," he says, sort of raw, sort of shattered.
Prim squeezes Rory's hand. "Hey," she says, voice wavering and very young, "is there any footage of it?"
Rory thinks, what the fuck. But she knows him, sometimes better than he knows himself. He swallows. "Yeah," he says, "I’d like to-- it would be nice to know."
Gale’s mouth is set and determined, but his eyes are tired. He is alive, though, still: he is a world away from the man on the bed.
Madge Undersee is sharp like the diamond they made her. "Do you think they'll remember us?" she asks, desperate, hurried.
"Not a chance," Gale says, weary.
The fire is circling around them, flames bright and terrifying and hungry.
Rory thinks, yet another thing you were wrong about, big brother. He closes his eyes, sees only firelight.
There is a small hand on his shoulder, bringing him back to himself. "Hey," Prim says. "It’s done."
"The fire was us," Cinna says, careful, too slow. "It was the only way we could get a transport in, we didn't have enough time--"
"That worked well," Prim snaps. Her chair is between Rory and the television. She weighs like five pounds and it's on a screen but Rory appreciates it all the same.
"Actually," says the man in the doorway, "it kind of did." Hs eyes are seafoam, teeth bright and white.
"Holy crap," Rory says, emotion flickering through for the first time since they got to this godforsaken cave, "you're Finnick Odair."
His smile is a legendary thing, but it's faker than Prim's terror these days. "And you're Rory Hawthorne. Pleased to meet you."
Rory shakes his head. "Everyone died."
"Not everyone." Cinna's voice is calm, soft. "And their deaths would have been longer if it had been the Capitol."
Rory is going to throw up.
There's a voice, light, careful. "Rory," Madge Undersee says, in a wheelchair next to Finnick, "some of us made it." Her hair is golden in the light, like Prim's was once upon a time.
Prim stands up. "We'll see you around," she says, catching Rory's hand, brushing past Finnick and Madge. "It was not nice to meet you."
"You were sort of right," Rory says, because there's something sick and destroyed in his stomach, which means it's worse for her. "I did need to watch that."
She's running her hands through her hair, frantic, like a caged animal. "Fuck," she says. "Fuck. This is-- I’m sorry, Rory."
"Hey," he says, hand on her shoulder, like a mirror image of them in front of the television. "It was my idea to go back to Twelve--"
"It was my idea to sleep in the cave," she snaps. "They killed your brother, Rory."
Rory swallows. "My brother killed himself," he says. "You saw it, he was convincing everyone-- it doesn't matter why, he knew what the consequences would be. For him and for us." (But Gale was scared at the end, and somehow that soothes the anger in Rory’s chest, calms him a little: Gale was terrified, and vulnerable, and maybe he regretted it: he was Rory’s brother and Rory loved him.)
"Fuck," she says, and she's sort of crying, tears trapped in her eyelashes. "I don't even--"
His arms fit around her like they are puzzle-pieces, designed to be put together. The fluorescent light flickers across the hallway and his lungs feel like they can't hold anything but her face is pressed into his shoulder and she's making these tiny hiccupy little sounds, and he thinks he can maybe feel her heart beating, against his chest.
Her nails dig into his shoulders and she whispers his name and does not let go.
They get put to work, of course. They’re underage so it's nominally school, but learning to disassemble and then reassemble firearms isn't something he ever learned in Twelve.
He’s good at it, of course he is. What he isn't good at is not flinching when he calls Prim Katniss, at not feeling vicious and violent every time the rebellion effort is mentioned.
He asks her once; do you think we could leave?
She says, Rory and shakes her head, hard.
(He could, he thinks. But he wouldn't without her.)
One day, Madge Undersee asks to talk to him. They sit in an empty office and her mouth settles in a firm line as she says, "That isn't Katniss Everdeen."
Rory shrugs. "It might as well be," he starts, and then relents. "It’s her sister."
Madge bites her lip. "I won't say anything," she says.
"Thanks," he lies. He gets up to go, and stops. "Who else made it out? From the arena, I mean, not the Capitol."
Her eyes won't meet his; her voice is shaky, hesitant. "You’re looking at her."
His mouth makes an o. He swallows, murmurs, "I'm sorry."
Every so often there are pieces of encouraging television, clips from Gale's game, the furious too-quick suppression of Twelve (just flames; this was one situation where Thirteen didn't interfere), Madge Undersee with her eyes diamond-hard looking into the camera saying We have no choice but revolution.
Rory hates them. He always tries to change the channel, but Prim always puts her hand on his wrist and her chin on her other hand and narrows her eyes to stare at the screen.
He wants to say it's a surprise when she gets reassigned to a different division, one she can't talk about, but Rory's not an idiot: he saw it coming.
He wonders if she has stopped dreaming about the sound of the river, about the smell of the air, about the place they used to love.
It’s been two months since they left the river's edge; Rory wonders if his brother and sister have decided he's dead, like Gale, like Katniss. He hopes they didn't send out search parties.
Prim says, "So I work in intelligence."
He pushes his food around his plate. "Yeah."
"We’re getting interesting data out of the Capitol." It's like she thinks he cares, or something. "It’s like the whole place is held together by the president, like--"
He eats a potato. It’s dry and it sticks to his teeth, but that's what you get for things that grow well underground.
"We’re training assassins," she says. "I was wondering if you would be my handler."
He thinks: this is the way the world ends. "You’re fourteen," he says, thinking: all we do is leave each other. "They’re psychopaths but even they won't let you kill yourself."
She bites her lip. "Rory--"
"I have to go," he lies, making a show of checking the schedule on his forearm. "I’m late for gardening duty."
She says, "I never meant for us to fall apart."
"Sure," he says, "Katniss." He isn't sure why he's so angry, why he can't do what she does and hate the Capitol instead of this place that's all grey and broken and stifling.
She doesn't flinch. "Rory," she says. "This is the only way to fix anything. This is the only way we can make up for leaving all those people behind." (She means: this is the only way we can keep them safe.)
In that moment, she looks just like her sister, before Katniss left to fight in Gale's war.
"I love you," Rory says, calmly, and then he closes his eyes, gives up, because it's true. "No matter what, I’ll always be on your side. I just can't promise I’ll be happy about it. What do you need from me?"
"Come with me tomorrow," she says. "And-- thank you, Rory."
He opens his eyes to stare at their lightbulb, too bright: there are spots on the inside of his eyes for a second, and then her lips are brushing his mouth just briefly, just the once, and he knows this is I love you too.
Johanna Mason is wearing a loose button-down shirt and tight pants. Her hair is tucked behind her ears; she's sitting on the edge of the desk at the far end of the room. "Hi, Rory," she says, languidly extending a hand, "we haven't had the pleasure."
He takes her hand. "Yeah," he says, "I'd call this a pleasure."
Prim kicks his ankle, like they're kids for a second, like they're just friends and this is just a favour she asked of him. "That means nice to meet you too, in Rory."
It turns out there is pretty much zero chance of Prim getting to do anything dangerous; they might think she's sixteen but it's an underdeveloped sixteen and no matter how sharp and smart and dangerous she is they aren't the Capitol, they aren't the people who throw children into a war.
This is what they are telling themselves, Rory thinks, wondering how long it will last.
Later Prim tells him that they are shifting from a planned all-out revolution to something quieter, something they haven't trained for. There's something deadly and bright in the back of her eyes: something unpredictable.
He loves her, but that not does not stop him being afraid.
Madge says, "Rory, this world doesn't make sense anymore," and she's running her hands through her hair and when he looks closer, there are long scars all down her wrists.
He says, "Maybe it never did," and closes his eyes and keeps on breathing.
One morning they are in the mess and she is saying, "There's only so much time before the window closes, before Snow's death doesn't make a difference." She's got a piece of bread in her hand and her elbows are on the edge of the table. She looks bright, confident, alive.
"I’m sure they'll figure something out," he says. "Johanna’s pretty smart."
"Yeah," she says. "Someone'll think of something."
That day they let him out hunting, because of good behaviour. It doesn't make him feel any less trapped but the air in his lungs is sharp and clean and it's the best thing he's felt in forever so he doesn't complain.
He gets home with a game bag and some flowers for Prim, the herbs she sort of likes. There is a note pinned to the door. He drops his bag, and pulls it off.
Rory, it says, in her steady print, I thought of something.
His heart is thrumming like music on the radio. He pushes forward, through the air that's thick like water, like molasses, dragging on his limbs. He can't think anything that isn't her name. "Prim," he says. It unfamiliar in his mouth, awkward but not wrong. "Primrose--"
The first thing he notices is the red, all over her mouth. She is lying on the bed, and her eyes are closed, eyelashes dark against her skin that's too pale, and there is red smeared all over the bottom half of her face.
He has forgotten how to breathe. He says, "Prim?"
Her hand falls open. There’s something sticky in her palm, a lump of flesh.
"Oh fuck," he says, and realises: her hair is red.
there is a house across the river, but alas, i cannot swim.
If there is one thing Primrose Everdeen knows, it is plants. First it was her father who took her to the forest, showed her what she could eat and what would make her sick; later it was her mother, fixing people with what she'd send Prim to collect from the woods. Prim never stopped wondering, is there something out there that will fix you? But she never once asked. Maybe she should have.
She is standing in the kitchen and there is a flower in her hands. It isn't poisonous, has no adverse effects; it's just pale purple, and beautiful. Unless, of course, it reacts with certain antivenoms; for instance, the kinds of antivenom you would find in someone's mouth if they were used to eating poison in small amounts. For instance, the kind of antivenom you'd find in the sores in a certain President's mouth.
There’s a window over the stove. She can see herself in the glass, a transparent wavering reflection. Her eyes are blue and her hair is falling crimson down to her shoulders and her mouth is firmly closed.
Her fingers are shredding the petals into tiny thin strips. She is dropping them into a stew, and they are separating into long fibrous strands, dissipating unnoticeable into the meat and liquid.
She closes her eyes for a moment, and then she turns the tap on, and washes her hands.
The water is cool and clear. She scrubs under her fingernails.
At first, they didn't want to let Prim do her job.
Johanna Mason said, "Fuck no," and Rory said, "How could this even be an option," and even Plutarch Heavensbee looked at Prim as though she had done something wrong.
Prim wrote, I am the only one who can do this on her notepad and held it up so they could read it.
Cinna ran his hand through his hair and sighed and said, "She’s right, you know."
She woke up and her mouth was numb, stuffed with cotton wool. She couldn't feel anything. She blinked, three times.
"Hello," Rory said. His hair was falling into his eyes; his hands were gripping the side of her bed, too tight.
She tried to say hello yourself but then she remembered and waved instead.
"It’s your fault I look like shit," he said. "Just so you know."
She wrinkled her nose.
"I brought you this," he said, passing her a notebook and a pen. The notebook was tiny and spiral-bound.
Her fingers were clumsy but she wrote thank you in blue ballpoint anyway.
"Hey, kiddo." That was Cinna, on the other side of her bed. His face was paler than usual; he was composed but a little less than normal.
She turned and tried to smile, but that didn't really work.
"You’re pretty doped up," he said. "I wouldn't try and-- move my mouth at all if I was you."
Oh really she wrote. Because I hadn't noticed.
"You," Rory said, frowning at Cinna. "You helped with this."
Cinna breathed out and it was like an ancient sad creature, something made of stone and vines and blood sacrifices. "And I set your brother on fire. I dyed her hair, I helped. This is something-- this is something that needed to be done."
It happened really fast, or maybe Prim was just on drugs so that was how it felt. Rory flew to his feet and grabbed Cinna's collar and punched him in the left eye, hard.
She would have said, Rory, what the fuck if she could, but: small problem with that. Instead, she fumbled around for the panic button (bright red, nice and obvious) and pressed it.
"She is fourteen years old," Rory spat. His chest was heaving.
She wrote, you're fifteen, but no one was looking at her.
Cinna was shaking, but he hadn't made any moves to get Rory off him. "Her file says--" he swallowed. "I could tell you it matters, but it doesn't."
"What the fuck," Rory said. "This is-- her name is Primrose. She borrowed her sister's name and hair colour and she's--"
She breathed out through her nose, grabbed his sleeve. Stop, she wrote. Just for now. Just stop.
He closed his eyes, but he sat back down and he took her hand when she stretched it out.
It was like a temporary peace, cease-fire.
She thought, I love you so much and fiercely, angrily, refused to cry.
Before she put the knife against her tongue and yanked, there was a meeting.
It went something like this:
"No fucking way," Johanna said. "You are sixteen years old."
"Finnick was fourteen," Prim said, tucking her hands into her pockets. "He was fine killing people."
"He isn't fine," Johanna hissed. "He’s married to a lunatic and he barely functions and-- sorry, Finn."
He was sitting on the edge of Johanna’s desk, hands braced against the corners. "No problem," he said. "I get what you mean."
"Katniss, there is no way we are becoming them to win this." Johanna’s voice was steady, firm, like there was something she meant in it, some kind of truth.
"Why does it matter," Prim asked, her sister's name stuck in her head, "as long as we win?"
"Jesus," Johanna said. "No. And that's the end of that."
(Spoiler alert: it wasn't the end of anything.)
Rory said, "How the fuck is she the only option here?"
Prim wrote, Thirteen can't risk exposure, slid it along the table so he'd see.
"She can do it," Cinna said.
"You’re a stylist," Rory countered. "Forgive me if I don't give a flying fuck what you think." He looked scared, more than anything else, and young.
She’d have felt sorry, if this wasn't something she had to do. I’m the only person who can't be identified as either Thirteen or a Capitol rebel, she wrote, neat and careful, and everyone here has been trained for conventional war, not spying. And I'm very, very good at this.
Johanna’s shoulders slumped. "Plutarch," she said, "this is not okay."
Prim wrote, people hesitate before hurting me.
Plutarch closed his eyes briefly. "Nothing’s okay," he said. "This is a war. We don't deal in absolutes."
I’m going to learn Avox sign, she scribbled, legs crossed under her on her bed in their room. Want to learn with me?
Rory said, "Primrose, you cauterized your tongue."
I’m going to need someone to interpret for me, she continued. I might not be able to write.
"I might throw up."
(She had breathed in deep, thought you have done this before, Primrose; she had been wrong. It was nothing like amputations: it was her own self, and it had hurt.
She had been afraid.)
It took them three weeks to learn sign. It took him longer than it took her, but it wasn't his primary form of communication so she cut him some slack.
The Avox who taught them was named Pollux; he looked at Prim like she was crazy at first. After she got better at sign she told him this is the only way I can do anything and he signed back you're an idiot but he also said, there's an Avox rebellion, underground. If you find-- he had to write the name on a piece of paper, and it looked like an eye. His name is Theta. He’ll help you. If he's still alive.
I’ll cross my fingers, she signed. Thank you.
It was easier than she thought it would be. They slipped her into the Avox underground (she marvelled at the breadth of the Revolution, as she always did a little) with a packet of seeds in her pocket next to a Nightlock pill.
She’d thought Thirteen was awful, claustrophobic; here was worse. Here there was actually no way out, nowhere she could run: she let that certainty bleed through her veins, icy, and did her job.
Hi, I’m Cat, she wrote in the dust on a window she was cleaning; the girl she was paired with wrote Lavinia and smiled, sort of gentle, sort of careful, before wiping all the dust away.
Point number five hundred in favour of Prim's young, tired face. She left a note in the arranged pickup spot: I'm okay.
Theta was not hard to track down. His hair was dark rose; his eyes were deep calm pools.
Pollux said I should talk to you, she signed, spelling out Pollux in letters. About making a difference.
He stared at her for a long time; there was pain in his eyes, too old, too infinite. She didn't know his story but she didn't have to: he was tongueless, just like her. Voiceless, but not broken, despite the world's best efforts.
But she had cut out her own tongue, watched her world burn to ash. They sort of matched.
Do you have a plan? he asked.
She was not her sister, she thought. She had spent so much time trying for Katniss she'd lost track of Primrose. She took a breath. Yes, she signed.
Finnick said, "How am I supposed to know what's in Snow's mouth?"
Johanna coughed, delicate. Her eyelashes caught the light.
Prim signed, Someone must have given you symptom descriptions, we can do the research from that.
Rory said, "Just tell her what the symptoms were of all the poisons you can remember. We’ll go from there."
She stared at the page, with all the symptoms staring at her in black and white, and all the poisons and their antidotes in a neat list.
Mother, she thought, don't fail me now. There was this flower, she remembered. This one flower that her mother liked for flavour, for body. She’d have to ask family members before she could use it--
She could always find a knife, she figured. But this way would be better for everyone. Less messy.
When she was younger and brighter and better, she had wanted to be a doctor, had wanted to help people, like her mother.
This was kind of that, she told herself. It was a lie.
She took Rory into the forest and sat on a log and signed, I love you.
"I told you I’d always have your back," he said. "You think I wouldn't do that if I didn't love you?"
They picked flowers together. There was no surveillance: she thought, privately, that Johanna wanted her to run away. That would certainly have made everyone's ethics easier.
She signed, they’re okay.
Our family, she said. We taught them well, they'll be okay. She hoped she wasn't lying; the flicker of relief in his eyes made her heart hurt. For a moment she desperately missed the sound of the river, the running water so bright and cheerful and there, ever-present, no matter what.
He kissed her cheek and said, "You're really very sweet sometimes, Primrose Everdeen."
Katniss had used to call her sweet. She bit her lip and twisted her face around and pressed her mouth to his.
She thinks about Gale in his bed, with his bandages and his bleeping machine; about Katniss leaving her bow on Prim's bedroll; about Rory's careful smile.
Lavinia signs, this is going to work, be ready and takes the pot from her hands.
It doesn't work, because nothing ever works. There is a back room and of course Snow uses it, vomit spilling out and with it Prim's flower.
Lavinia signs, we're fucked, and it's pretty funny that Avox sign has a specific gesture for fucked but of course it does.
Prim says, I’m going for reinforcements. This is something she had not wanted to do: it will fill the tunnels with mutts and anyone who doesn't run, (anyone who isn’t with them) will be dead.
(She thinks, Katniss, you probably should stop watching me right now.)
She rings the bell, anyway. She wonders if Thirteen is listening.
"Hello," President Snow says. He stares at her, deadly like a viper, like the snakes they had to eat that one winter.
She swallows and thinks about cutting off their heads, about how satisfying that felt. She doesn't speak.
"Your rebellion burned alive," he informs her. "This is a stupid move."
She signs, This is the smartest move anyone's ever made.
He can't read sign; of course he can't. "If I die, so do you. So do all of you."
Her knife fits neatly into his throat. His blood gets all over her hands.
She thinks, you should have kept the soup down.
The sound of revolution batters down the door. "Prim," Rory says.
Snow’s blood is all over her, wet and hot and sticky. The gravel is digging into her knees. She thinks she might be crying.
Rory’s knees are bumping against hers. His hands are on her skin like he doesn't care that she's a mess, that he's smearing copper-crimson where he brushes his thumb along the line of her cheekbone.
She can hear herself breathing, sucking in great gulps of air. She can feel herself swaying into Rory’s hand, like he's an anchored magnet and she’s metal shavings, loose on the wind. She can't open her eyes.
His forehead rests against hers, grounding her, keeping her safe. "Primrose," he says, gentle, sweet, calm, "look up."
She tilts her head up. Water hits her eyelids, face, shoulders.
Oh, she signs, shakily. It’s raining.