Chapter III: Static Existence

Reality comes slowly, as if through a funnel, widening in its clarity as I swim up and cut a smooth path through the choppy, tossing waves of blood and darkness and heat and pain and cold. My awareness widens in its scope and focus as I scramble to the top of the tornado.

I have to hold on. I have to.

Every nerve in my body – my unfamiliar, unnatural, too big, too warm body – implores me to sink back under. Close my eyes again. Let the blackness seal them shut. Drift down, down, down into the safe, numb, empty solace I've been hiding in for so long...

I fight it. It takes all my strength to resist it, but I do. I blink and let reality come back into focus. Visions dance in front of my eyes, like dust being shaken off of long-dormant memories, falling in grey sheets across my vision.

The images drift by, crashing like fresh waves over me. I grit my teeth and snap my eyes shut, but it doesn't help. I can still hear the heartbeat, quickening with my stress.

Thumpah-thumpah-thumpah...

The breathing is still here, too. Like some machine, artificial and strained.

Gasp. Snort. Gasp.

I almost scream as the memory of the reaping flashes by. No one to volunteer for me. No one who cares. A crowd without applause, making a collective sigh because I'm young and typical, and it'll be boring to watch me die.

Thresh stepping up, silent and confident, and looking at me as if to say, I'm not going to let you die.

But I did. I did.

Who killed me?

I remember... pain. A weapon inside me. Bleeding. Screaming. Praying for it to stop...

Memories hurt. I want to drown them, to seize them and crush them with my bare hands. Maybe this is why so many of the victors who actually survive end up ill. Addicted to morphling or alcohol.

I once heard that 12's last surviving victor, the one from the Second Quarter Quell – Haymitch Abernathy – still shrieks and rails at the Hunger Games in his sleep every now and then.

I resist. I will not break. I will not surrender.

Time ticks by. I can hear Claudius Templesmith counting down the seconds. Welcome to the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games! 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...

Make it end. Make it stop.

I listen to the heartbeat.

Time passes. After a small eternity, I seem to have broken free. Numbing weight no longer restrains me. The memories have withdrawn, but at the back of my mind I still feel the sharp point of a blade tearing me open, still hear Cato's cold, feral laughter.

Reason gradually returns to me, dawning like the golden disc of the sun over the fields of District 11.

I'm in a small, square room, alone. There is no furniture. The only light comes from two rows of dim, dusty florescent tubes overhead and a single window that's locked with the blinds half-open, sending jagged shafts of sunlight against the white wall. The paint is new, but the air is old and stale.

I breathe deeply. It doesn't hurt, but it feels... wrong. I feel my lungs expand and contract with an unfamiliar, heavy, heaving motion. Inhaling stings my nose and the back of my throat as a pungent medley of sharp, potent stenches stabs my chest.

The air smells like acids, medicines, and chemicals. I'm impressed by how many I can distinguish. Antiseptic. Morphling. Sedative. Blood. Tracker jacker venom.

And a mixture of everything else that I can't name, burning me with every harsh inhale and exhale.

Save for the reeking medical air, nothing hurts. I feel stiff, and perhaps a bit tired, but young and strong. Strong enough to break out of whatever freak show I've found my way into. I can fight my way out. Go home. Tell my family I'm alive and well...

I can't remember them right. Part of me is expecting to see a happy mother, a proud father, a relieved crowd of siblings, in my mind's eye. But something strikes the memory, or fantasy, or whatever this image is. It shatters into a thousand broken shards like it's been hit by a hammer.

A mental blow crumples me to the rock-hard, ice-cold floor. My bones dissolve into liquid, my heart pounds - if it is my heart making that unnatural rhythm - thump, thumpah, thump - and I can't breathe.

Gasp. Snort. Gasp.

And I see everything.

They're dead. All of them. Pale and limp and cold, lying unresponsive in the blood-soaked dirt of the fields. Their mouths are still open in screams that will never end. My mother is curled into a fetal position, her frozen fingers tightly clutching a rod that protrudes from her T-shirt. Sprawled out on the crimson ground. With an arrow, an arrow, buried in her chest.

It killed her. She's dead. The arrow killed her.

What Peacekeeper carries a bow? What Gamemaker? What Capitol enforcer? Unless, unless -

Unless it wasn't the Capitol at all.

Another memory hits me with all the force of a moving train. The sharp metal point of a weapon driving into my stomach, crushing me to the dirt, leaving me bleeding in an inescapable mesh of netting. I'm dying. Trying to remember how to inhale. How to move. How to scream.

I remember. I remember...

The face of the female tribute from District 12, her long, auburn hair braided down her back, her empty gray eyes watching me die. Katniss Everdeen. Her name flashes across my mind's eye like the faces of the dead in the skies of the Arena.

Katniss Everdeen.Hanging over me like a ravenous vulture.

She had the bow, she was supposed to be my ally, and she shot me, impaled me, stood by the whole awful, endless time to make sure I passed on in pain. She played with my hair, toying with me. Almost crushing the bones of my hand with her triumphant squeeze, just to watch my expression twist and contort with anguish.

She taunted me. Sang about home, about hope, about a meadow I'd never see.

In the meadow, under the willow...

A bed of grass, a soft green pillow...

She stood over me until, until, until -

My memory goes blank like a television shutting down. I'm panting. No. This can't have happened. It can't have. It can't! My heartbeat is so loud it pulsates in my ears.

I open my mouth to shriek, and a long, mournful wolf's howl sounds out.

I'm losing my mind. I'm going insane. What's going to happen to me? Have I already gone over the edge? Are the walls actually closing in on me, or am I hallucinating?

I stare down at the tiled floor to calm myself, but my vision swims, my throat hurts, and all I see is a pair of massive, furry paws, claws extended like switchblades. I back away, slam into the wall in manic fear. The paws move with me. I'm breaking from self-control now - charging into walls, raking the metal door with my claws, howling and yowling and growling, head-butting the window.

Get me out of here. Get me out. Get me out!

I try in vain to yell for help. All I hear is a stream of shrill, canine yipping. I open my jaw to bite like an animal, letting my huge, shining fangs tear uselessly at the metal door, at the baseboards, at the lock on the window, at the tiles forming the floor.

Then voices. One male. One female. Close.

"It's awake."

"Hurry! It may be in shock, yet. It may need to be calmed."

"Come on, then!"

I'm tearing at the threshold at the door so hard, blood is seeping beneath my claws, through my fur. I throw up my head and howl again.

Frantic footsteps sound in the hall.

I want to go home. No, not home, not back to, to, to - I resist the agonizing flashback. Can't go back. Can't see their bodies, strewn about the field, beaten and bloodied...

In the next second, a man crashes through the door in my room. He has a ghostly face, pale skin that you can see all the veins through, dark circles under his eyes. His gray hair is thrown about in every conceivable direction. His white lab coat is too long for his short body, and he nearly tumbles over his own feet in his haste to get through the doorway.

A woman pursues him in earnest. Her strawberry blond hair is in a simple bun. Her face might have been beautiful once, but it's hard to tell through the gold eyeliner, overdone blush, cherry red lipstick, and surgically altered features. Her face is so flawless it's nightmarish.

"Doctor," she gasps, "sir, please... Its condition may not be stable, sir..."

I look to the man. He seems to be the one in control. He raises a latex-gloved hand for silence.

Can you help me? I try to say, but I only whimper. Like the day in the arena. Shot with an arrow. Whimpering.

"Hello, Rue," the man says, calm and clipped. "Don't be afraid. We're your friends. It's Katniss who wants to hurt you, but I promise you she's far away now. You're safe. Don't be afraid. Katniss is gone. She's gone, Rue. We're only trying to help you."

Katniss.

Everdeen.

The voices of my captors become a backdrop to her name as it bounces around the inside of my skull.

Suddenly, no one is themselves. I'm not me – I'm furious, raging, some kind of bestial, instinct-driven thing, wanting just to kill her. To kill Katniss. To rip her archer's arms from their sockets and take her arrows in my teeth and impale her with them.

I'm not even here. I can see the trees all around me, smell the foliage, feel my slingshot in my human hand that's really a paw, now, somehow. And Katniss is beside me, watching me die. Watching me beg her to end this. And smiling.

All I see in the expression of the perfectly hideous, Capitol doctor woman before me is sadistic bliss as I bleed to death from her arrow.

I'm lunging for her before I have time to think.

A/N: I just finished Mockingjay, so I incorporated the concept of hi-jacking into this with the reference to tracker jacker venom. I won't spoil what that is for those who haven't made it to book three. Please realize that Rue is losing her sanity by this point, so her memories are merely constructs made by the Capitol.

There are references in books 1 and 2 of THG to the fact that the mutts weren't really the dead tributes, as far as Katniss knows. However, this is not proven, so I'm not breaking canon.

I'm having so much fun with this!

Thanks so much to those who reviewed. Oh, and Whistlewind Wolf – I weighed your two suggestions against each other, and I know, I chose the one you liked the least. I just thought that would make more sense for a hi-jacking situation. Easier to manipulate Rue into thinking Katniss killed her than to make her borderline insane because Katniss didn't save her life. Not that the other option was bad. Just not my personal preference.

Thanks everyone, and R & R!