Chapter 29: Separation anxiety
Author: Carla, aka cali-chan
Rating: Most likely PG-13. Nothing worse than what's in the books.
Genre: Adventure/suspense/drama/romance... again, pretty much what's in the books.
Pairings: Peeta/Katniss, Rory/Prim... and probably others. You'll see soon.
Canon/timeline: Same-context AU— this fic still happens in the same world as THG, but the actual events in the books never happened. I'm adding about five years to the characters from the age they were at the beginning of The Hunger Games. Katniss is 21.
Disclaimer: Yeah, just let me go get my transfer laser and switch bodies with Suzanne Collins. Until I find it in the mess that is my room, anything you can recognize belongs to her.
Note: I've never really tried this before (and I'm sure it will eventually come back and bite me in the behind), but each chapter will be from the PoV of a different character. You should be able to tell whose PoV it is fairly easily, though.
Summary: "Primrose Everdeen." This can't be happening, Katniss thought. She desperately pushed through the crowd. I volunteer!, she wanted to scream. I volunteer as tribute! But she couldn't, because she wasn't eligible for the reaping anymore. There was nothing she could do.
"The road to the future leads us smack into the wall. We simply ricochet off the alternatives that destiny offers." —Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
There were many things haunting Peeta Mellark's mind as he sat outside Thirteen's small medical bay.
He thought he could still hear the sound of the knife embedding itself in Chaff's back the night they stormed the arena. That was impossible, he knew; the hovercraft above them made too much noise for anyone to be able to hear it, but he could swear he heard it every time he closed his eyes.
He had been looking for Prim. Chaff had gone to a level below, to pick up the boy from Four; when the girl from Ten cut the rope she had been strangling him with, he just happened to fall on a branch instead of all the way down to the acid water. It was a miracle he was still alive. He was bruised and unconscious from lack of oxygen, but still hanging on by a thread. They thought all the kids were knocked out when Prim blew the force field, but apparently it wasn't so. Chaff had knelt down beside him to remove his tracker, and the noise was too loud for him to notice the girl from Ten coming up behind him. Peeta had turned his face just at the right moment to see it happen, and his distraught brain provided the sound effects.
He immediately went down, hoping to get to Chaff before it was too late, but the girl pounced on him the minute she caught sight of him. He didn't want to fight her, he was there to get her out, not to hurt her in any way, but he couldn't explain and he could understand how these kids would be wary of any unexplained events. You never knew what the Gamemakers could come up with.
She didn't have a weapon. He was stronger than her, but it was clear she knew how to grapple with stronger opponents. He was struggling to keep up with her and not slip off the branch at the same time. In the end all he could do was use her momentum against her— a wrestling move he'd remembered during his training with Chaff and Finnick— and he threw her entire weight over his shoulder, hoping to disorient her enough that he could get a chance to knock her out. But his center of gravity was shot, and he calculated wrong. She tumbled over the side of the branch and fell down, all the way down to the acid water.
He had killed a child.
As he helplessly watched her fall, he caught sight of Prim, slumped on a branch slightly below him and to the side, burns and blood covering a large portion of her face and torso. Chaff's body was gone, fallen down just like the girl from Ten, but he could still get Prim out of there. So that's what he did.
And then they arrived at Thirteen— which was still a shock even though they had explained the whole thing to him— to news that Twelve had been bombed. They had no way of knowing the extent of the damage or if there were any survivors (his family, his friends, everybody he ever knew), though they had sent out a rescue team that afternoon, as soon as they deemed it was safe for aircraft to fly over the district.
All of that, and the fact that Katniss was nowhere to be found. He had no idea where she was or if she was okay but she was obviously not in Thirteen and he was going insane with worry.
These were all thoughts he was trying to keep in the back of his mind. They prickled at him, a constant ache, like its own brand of torture, but he couldn't let himself dwell on any of it. Not Chaff, not the girl he killed, not Twelve, not even Katniss. Because Prim had been on the verge of death for the past three days, and someone had to be there for her.
Five tributes had survived and had been successfully pulled out of the arena. Two of them got out with comparatively minor injuries (the girl from Three and the boy from Seven), while two others had already sustained heavy damage prior to the extraction (the boy from Two, who had apparently crashed into the force field before it blew, and of course the boy from Four). Out of the five, Prim was the one in the worst condition; all the others had woken up by then.
She was in surgery for a long time. The doctors said she had internal damage from the current when she hit the force field, and then severe burns on her skin because the acid water conducted the electricity in arches around the Tributes. Even when surgery was over, she did not show signs of waking up from the sedation when they estimated she would. They'd been trying to wake her up for hours, but most of the attempts didn't work, and she had already gone into cardiac arrest once.
The doctors had informed him they expected more patients soon, and Prim was too delicate at the moment to be around that. She was moved to a separate room (a smaller one, as there wasn't much space in Thirteen to begin with), but even just moving her next door was risky in her condition, and Peeta was left waiting outside in the hallway for the doctors to let him know if she was going to be alright.
After what felt like hours, the team that was working on Prim finally came out of the room. Peeta stood up immediately. One of them, a shorter, older woman in a white coat who Peeta assumed was the head doctor, approached him carefully and informed him that they expected her to be stable, but remain in a coma state.
"We won't be performing any more attempts to wake her up until a valid medical proxy can make the decision," the woman let him know, gravelly. Peeta didn't know much about medicine, but he knew a "valid proxy" meant a parent or a guardian; in Prim's case, that was Katniss. And he agreed with that. He didn't want to make any decisions over Prim's life, not without Katniss. So Katniss had to be okay. She had to come back. She was needed here.
The doctor told him it was okay if he wanted to go in and see Prim. The group left (he thought he heard them muttering something about "GCS 6" among themselves, as one of the attendants wrote down on his chart, but he didn't know what that meant), and he went inside the small room and pulled up a chair, sitting beside Prim's bed.
It felt so strange to him to see her like this. She was always such a soft, sweet girl and now large patches of skin were covered by angry burns. The rest of her skin was pale, paler than usual, like all her blood was gone, so much that at times it was hard to tell where her skin ended and the bed sheets began. Her hair was knotted, still half in a braid, half falling out of the braid and falling listlessly on the pillow under her head. And she was hooked to all these tubes and machines— he figured the constant beeping should be some sort of reassurance that she was still alive, but she used to brim with life. The bright young girl who came to his bakery to sell him cheese and laugh with Rory. Now she was just lying there, fighting for her life inside her own head.
He stroked her matted hair, combing it lightly with his fingers so that it didn't look so strewn about. "Katniss wouldn't want to see you like this," he whispered, pushing a strand of her blond hair away from her closed eyes. "You have to wake up before your sister gets back, okay?"
As he pulled back his arm he caught sight of the schedule tattooed on the inside of his forearm. It was still the schedule from the previous day— he hadn't showered (or slept) since the day before because he had spent all his time waiting in the medical bay. He hadn't even been paying attention to it, anyway, not with Prim in critical condition, but nobody had called him out on it yet.
He looked up at the clock and saw that he probably should be at dinner at the moment. He wasn't hungry— though he knew he should eat something, he'd been running on nothing but worry for the past three days— but still, the schedule did remind him there was someone he needed to talk to. So, taking comfort in the fact that Prim was going to remain stable, at least for now, he left the medical bay for the first time in almost than 24 hours.
Walking through Thirteen was a completely different experience from walking through Twelve. In his district, everything felt a lot more open. He knew it wasn't, there was still a fence surrounding them nobody could legally get through, but at least there was earth, and fresh air, and he could see the sun. There wasn't anything particularly beautiful or impressive about it— if anything, most people who visited Twelve found it too simple or even dreary, but in his opinion even that was better than this never-ending maze of concrete walls and floors.
He made his way to the dining hall, and he could feel eyes follow him as he moved around the large room. This wasn't unusual; Haymitch and Finnick were Victors and everybody had seen Peeta's propo on TV, so it was only natural that the people of Thirteen would be curious about them. He hadn't been around much so he hadn't had to deal with it much, but this time it worked in his favor, as people were more than helpful when he asked them for directions.
He found Haymitch, not in the dining hall, but in the Collective room located on the same floor. It was a huge room, fit for more people than Thirteen even had, he figured, and as far as he understood it was used when they needed the whole population to gather in assemblies and such. Right then it was mostly empty; only a couple of men who looked to be technicians tinkering with the control panel he could only guess had something to do with the giant screens on the front of the room.
To the back there were stacks of chairs and folded-up tables (probably extras for the dining hall), and that's where Haymitch was. He had pulled out one of each and was slumped there with his feet propped up on the table, legs crossed at his ankles. He was drinking from a small metallic flask that looked like it contained liquor. Peeta had no idea where he could've gotten hold of it (one of the first things he was told when he got to Thirteen was that any production or consumption of intoxicating beverages and other substances was strictly forbidden), but regardless, it simply didn't sit well with him that Haymitch was here getting drunk while Prim, the girl he was supposed to mentor, had been a breath away from death.
Incensed, Peeta stomped over to him and slapped the flask away from Haymitch's hand. It fell with a clatter, contents spilling all over the floor. Haymitch hadn't been expecting that, so all he could do was look from his now empty hand, to Peeta, to the flask on the floor, and back to his empty hand. "Why does that keep happening?" he mumbled under his breath, sounding more sober than he smelled.
Peeta paid him no heed. "Why did you lie about Katniss?" he demanded to know.
Throwing him a scowl, like he was a particularly annoying insect, Haymitch lowered his legs from the table and leaned forward to pick up the flask. "What I told you was the truth," he sentenced, not even bothering to pretend he didn't know what Peeta was talking about. It was like he knew this complaint was going to come up eventually. "They did accomplish their goal. They killed Crane."
"Obviously that's not the whole truth!" Peeta shot back, gesticulating angrily with his arms. He wasn't here to discuss semantics with a drunk.
Haymitch left the flask on the table and crossed his arms. "We were on our way to a crucial mission," he explained. His words slurred a little, but he seemed (mostly) in control of his faculties. "I couldn't risk telling you, and you letting your feelings get in the way and screwing everything up."
The man still insisted on talking down to him even after lying blatantly to his face, and after all the crap he'd gone through in the past three days even someone as patient as Peeta would be sick of it. "The hell with that," he exclaimed, emphasizing his point by slamming his hand on the table so hard, the flask bounced with a loud clang.
"I've done enough for you people to at least deserve the truth from you!" he continued, glaring down at Haymitch. "I'm not so stupid, or unimportant, or weak that I can't handle knowing things." He shook his head sharply. "I'm a big boy, I don't need you sugarcoating things so I don't make mistakes. What I need is to know what I'm getting into. So from now on, just give it to me straight and I'll decide where my priorities lie, alright?"
Haymitch looked at him, as if measuring him up, but his grey eyes looked more tired than they had a minute ago. He looked more tired than Peeta had ever seen him, really. Then he stole a glance to the front of the room, noticing the technicians had already left. Peeta hadn't even thought of what they might think when he started going off at the older man.
"Fine, kid. Have it your way," Haymitch said, sitting up straighter on the chair. He picked up the flask again— there was nothing in it anymore, but he started to play with the cap, twisting it on and off. "The squad was captured as they moved out," he confessed. "And we lost track of them shortly after. We have no way of knowing where they are, or even if they're alive."
Roughly pushing himself away from the from the table, Peeta ran both hands through his hair. He closed his eyes tightly. This was everything he'd been afraid of. Everything he'd been dreading. He felt numb, both literally and figuratively. Katniss might be dead. Katniss might be dead. No matter how many times that reverberated in his head, it made no sense to him. It was like the phrase was in some foreign language he simply couldn't comprehend.
He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down enough that he could hear what Haymitch said over the sound of his pounding heart, and turned to the older man again. "What's the plan to rescue them?" he asked, his voice breaking because his throat was suddenly dry.
"There's no plan," Haymitch replied, subdued.
"There has to be a plan—"
"There is no plan," came the reiteration, a little more strongly. For Peeta it was almost like the words were a punch in the stomach; he had to lean his weight against the table because his legs were shaking something bad. Whether in fear or anger, he wasn't sure.
He looked down at Haymitch again, still struggling with disbelief. "Chaff said you needed her. That she was the face of the revolution," he recalled, his voice still hoarse from the sheer effort of holding back the desperation that was threatening to choke him. Chaff said she was important. That they weren't going to let anything happen to her. Or had those been lies, too?
"That's what I thought, too," Haymitch admitted, sounding bitter about the fact. "I've been working on convincing them to send out a rescue party, but Coin seems to think someone else could be a better face for it." He sent Peeta a pointed look that left no question as to who that someone might be. "She says you're what we need in front of the cameras."
Peeta's hands clenched around the edge of the table. They weren't going to rescue Katniss and they were trying to make it his fault? No way. He was sick of being used. "Well, you can tell her I won't be standing in front of one again until Katniss is back here, safe and sound," he declared, unshakeable. He was not going to play their game anymore, not with Katniss's life on the line.
Haymitch's response was a disgruntled shrug. "Already did, but I'm not as important 'round here as you think I am." He fiddled with the cap of his flask some more.
Peeta looked at him, still scared, still angry. He understood not having enough power to make things happen, he understood feeling impotent, but at this point, Haymitch's excuse wasn't good enough. No excuse was good enough. Maybe the older man noticed this in his expression, because he added: "But maybe you are." Right, Peeta thought. Everybody seemed to think he was so good at convincing people. He wasn't so sure of that. But it didn't matter; he'd have to live up to that expectation this time, for Katniss.
He sighed, frustrated. "Why do you even care? Shouldn't you want what the rebellion wants?" he threw back, tersely. It was all part of some master plan, right? That's what they all said. That's the only thing everybody else seemed to care about.
Haymitch glowered at him, eyebrows rising up on his forehead, as if resentful of the question. "Listen here, boy: I already lost one kid this year, and may yet lose another one. Least I can do is get you two idiots out of this in one piece," he grumbled. "My death count's large enough as it is and I'm not about to carry your deaths on my conscience."
Peeta thought that maybe, underneath the drunkenness and gruffness, there was something in Haymitch's words... a tendril of something, perhaps... which he could recognize as genuine concern. He felt responsible for him and Katniss on some level, he realized. He was the one who got them directly involved in the rebellion, so in a way, they were also his charges. He'd been wrong about such assumptions before, but the man as much as confirmed it with his next words. "How's blondie?" he asked, tentative, almost like he was telling himself he didn't really want to know.
Deflated— destroyed— Peeta pulled out a chair and sat down, telling Haymitch all about Prim's condition. He went over the surgeries, the sedation, that one time her heart stopped, the coma. Everything the doctors had said, from the extent of her injuries to them having to move her to a new room. It was that last part Haymitch commented on. "They expect survivors from Twelve," he pointed out. "Probably plenty injured people. It's been a while since they were sent out. They should be getting back soon."
Peeta couldn't fathom how the man could sound so detached when talking about the destruction of his own home, their home, but he figured everyone had their own way of coping. His own emotions didn't work that way, though, so after parting with Haymitch he headed down to the hangar, hoping to be there when the hovercraft arrived.
When he got down there, medical personnel were already standing by, with stretchers, crash carts and other emergency instrumentation. Peeta made small talk with them, trying to gauge if they knew something about the number of survivors or how many patients they were expecting, etc. They didn't seem to know anymore than he already did. All there was to do was wait.
Thankfully, it didn't take long. About fifteen minutes passed until the hangar door opened and the hovercraft began landing; ten minutes more for people to begin disembarking. The first out were, of course, those in need of medical attention. Peeta anxiously turned to look at every stretcher that was rolled past him, to see if it was someone he knew. Some he recognized, but so far no one he was particularly close to. In fact, there seemed to be very few survivors from Town.
Dread was beginning to build up at the pit of his stomach. There had always been more Seam people than Town people in Twelve, but the difference in numbers seemed more extreme than usual among those coming out of the craft. It was then that he noticed a familiar blond head hurrying along with the crowd: his friend Delly Cartwright, who seemed to have her arm in a makeshift sling, and was being directed to the emergency elevators by a medical attendant.
He was just about to make his way through the crowd to get to her, when he felt someone small slam into him with purpose. "Peeta! Look, Mom, it's Peeta! He's here too!" Posy Hawthorne exclaimed, excited, as she hugged him tightly.
He happily patted the top of her dark head, a bit surprised by her sudden appearance. "Hey, I'm so glad you're okay," he said, sincerely relieved, as he hugged the girl back. As he raised his head he saw the entire Hawthorne family coming up to where he was. Madge Undersee was with them, as well. "I'm so glad you all got out okay."
Rory was the first to reach him, just as Posy was letting go. "Prim. Did she...?" he asked, leaving the question hanging as if her being alright was too much to hope for..
Peeta nodded. "She's here. In a small room beside the medical bay. Just follow the doctors." Before he could even finish speaking, Rory was already moving past him. "Rory..." Peeta called at him again. The younger man stopped, turning back to look at him, but it was obvious he would rather not waste a second. "She hasn't woken up," Peeta warned him.
Rory shook his head. "But she's alive," he replied, like nothing else mattered to him. And Peeta could understand that in that moment, nothing did. The boy rushed toward the elevators.
Posy ran off behind him and Hazelle paused only long enough to lay a hand on Peeta's shoulder and give him a heartfelt "thank you" before following her children. Peeta wasn't really sure what she was thanking him for: telling Rory where Prim was? Getting her out of the arena in the first place? He didn't feel like he deserved any gratitude.
He didn't have any time to ponder on it, however, because that's when Gale reached him and the topic of conversation invariably shifted. "Where's Katniss?" he asked, getting straight to the point.
Peeta swallowed hard. He knew what the knowledge of Katniss's capture had done— was doing— to him, and he had no doubt it would be just as hard for Gale. But he also knew how being kept in the dark felt, and he wouldn't do that to him, or anyone who cared for Katniss. They had a right to know. "We split up a couple weeks ago," he admitted, his voice low and zapped of energy. Actually saying the words out loud was making the pain sharper. "I was sent to get Prim out. The rebels had a different mission in mind for her." He took a breath. "She was captured."
Madge gasped, and Peeta was about to expand on what Haymitch had explained to him before, but next thing he knew, Gale had grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and slammed him against the nearest wall. "Gale!" came Madge's second gasp in about as many seconds. The crowd around them was startled but most of them were already too distraught to be curious, or too much in a hurry to get medical attention. From behind Gale's head he could see Vick peering in, almost as if standing on guard in case he needed to pull his older brother back.
But there was no swaying Gale's anger. "You left her alone?!" he glowered down at Peeta, anger coming off of him in waves. "I let you— You were supposed to watch her back, dammit, and you left her on her own?" He pulled him by the neck slightly and then pushed him back against the concrete, hard. "How could you leave her like that? What the hell, Mellark!" he growled, right in Peeta's face.
Peeta said nothing, keeping his arms limp at his sides as he looked straight up at Gale's angry eyes, his jaw locked with tension. He wasn't going to duck away or ask the Seam man to talk about this calmly. He understood what Gale was feeling right now, and he understood the anger and resentment. He had a right to feel that way. Peeta felt angry at himself, too. And growing up the way he had, he could take a punch in the face if he had to. He'd dealt with worse.
That's when Madge intervened again: "Okay, that's enough, you two. This isn't going to help." She attempted to get in-between them, but she wasn't very strong, and Gale's feet were set as steadily as if they were made of stone. Seeing her take a stance pulled Vick into action, too, and he moved toward Gale.
"No, it's fine," Peeta let out before the boy could attempt to forcibly pull Gale off him. "He's right," he added, without dodging his gaze.
This admission only seemed to make Gale even angrier. He clenched the fabric of Peeta's shirt tighter in his fists for a second, and shoved him hard against the wall again, letting go so that inertia made the jostle even harsher. Then he stalked off toward the medical bay, throwing him a dark glare that could've vaporized Peeta on the spot if glares had the ability to do such a thing. Vick was quickly at his heels.
As the elevator doors closed behind them, Peeta let out a breath he felt he'd been holding in forever, and leaned against the wall, utterly defeated. He felt so weak, like he'd been completely zapped of all his energy, and the back of his head was throbbing from repeatedly bouncing against concrete.
Madge approached him, looking a little pale, too (surely the news that Katniss was captured by the Capitol wasn't easy for her to hear, either). "I'm sure it wasn't your fault, Peeta," she tried to console him, but it was a weak attempt.
He shook his head, his gaze low. "No, I deserve it," he confirmed. "I shouldn't have let them separate us." This was something that had been eating at him since he last saw her. He had known that night that there was something off about all of this, it all just gave him a bad feeling, but he didn't follow it through. He should've tried harder. Now he wondered if there was anything else he could've done differently, anything else that would've meant Katniss would not have been captured.
Gale was right: the only reason he had gone to the Capitol in the first place was to make sure she was okay, and he had failed spectacularly. And now she could pay for his failure with her life.
He looked up from the ground and towards Madge, who was standing in front of him, arms wrapped around herself. "I'm glad you're okay, too, by the way," he added, realizing belatedly that he hadn't even greeted her. She had gone through her own traumatic experience, as well; it wasn't fair to ignore that. "Listen, did— have you heard anything about... my family?"
Her face fell even further, and he knew what she was going to say before she even opened her mouth. "I'm so sorry, Peeta. They... they didn't make it," she let him know, carefully. His expression must've gone aghast, because she stretched out a hand to lay it on his shoulder. "Neither did mine. The bom— it... it started in Town. Very few people managed to get out in time."
He covered his face with his hands, feeling tears prickle at the corners of his eyes, and slid down against the wall until he was crouching. All of them... his whole family, they were all gone? It couldn't be. Any second now, Brith would walk out of the hovercraft and give him a hard time about following a girl to the ends of the earth. Crispen would take his ear off with all the complaints about having been left to do all the work at the bakery. Even his mother's presence would be welcome at the moment, though she would only scream at him over his feelings for Katniss and the idiocy they spurred in him.
But none of that would happen. They were gone now, just like his father. He didn't even get to see them one last time. And with his district completely destroyed and Prim in a coma the doctors didn't know she could come out of, he didn't know what was going to happen to him. He didn't know anything anymore.
Madge moved to sit on the ground beside him, and shed quiet tears. She was crying for both of them, for both their families, and he hoped those tears meant something, because at the moment all he could think of was that he had to get Katniss back somehow. Because if she died, if he failed her again, then there would be nothing left in the world for him. Nothing.
Sorry for the delay with this chapter, everyone! It's been a busy two months. February meant finals and then in March I set out to extend my outline— which, if you know me, you know it's a lot more complicated than it sounds. I've got it all rounded up to chapter 44 now, which is not the end, but a pretty big turning point and what I call "the beginning of the last stretch." I'm excited. :D
Now as for the chapter itself: CGS means "Glasgow Coma Scale" and it's a scale doctors use to measure the intensity of a coma. They basically grade three criteria according to the patient's response to stimulus: eye response (1-4), verbal response (1-5) and motor response (1-6). Then they add the three and get a number from 3 (deep coma) to 15 (fully awake person). In Prim's case, she's at 6, so she's relatively low on the scale but not quite completely unresponsive. As you may have figured, you won't be getting her PoV for a while.
I was going to have Peeta punch Haymitch like he did in the book, but then I remembered KJ had already gotten first punch and since I still feel so bad about killing off the poor kid, I let him keep that. I also considered having Gale punch Peeta. I don't know... I guess I was in a "punch-y" mood when I wrote this chapter, haha. Also, those of you who are actively looking for parallels might want to think of the surviving tributes, and how much time they spent in the arena, among others.
I'm going to be traveling over the next couple weeks so I don't know how good my internet connection will be, but keep your fingers crossed that I get the chance to write. It won't take two months, though, that's for sure! Feel free to stop by my twitter or tumblr if you'd like to see some sneak peeks (the URLs are in my profile) and please review! See y'all next time. :)