Chapter 1: Hazy
I close my eyes and open them once more to make sure I'm still really awake. Today is the first day the doctors have let me stay conscious for longer than a few minutes, and so far I haven't been able to put a dent in clearing the confusion I've had for the past few weeks. I have had no dreams, but I still remember what happened and every time they wake me up, even for just those few minutes at a time, it's the first thing my mind goes to.
Peeta is dead.
I'm still not exactly sure what happened in those last few seconds in the arena. All I know is that I made it out and Peeta didn't. I remember yelling at Cato to put him down as he cut off Peeta's air, Peeta's lifeless body slumping to the ground and then everything after that is a blur. I try to fight with my mind to let me into the rest of my memories of that night, but it just makes me feel sick to my stomach and I really don't want the doctors to put me back under.
Instead, I try to take in my surroundings. I'm in a hospital, there's no doubt about it, although it does not look like it would be a hospital at the Capitol. It's just too plain for the Capitol. Sterile equipment in cabinets and on shelves around me. A horribly uncomfortable bed. The smell of disinfectant in the air. And of course they put me in a stupid hospital gown, and a pink one at that. I hate feeling exposed, and hospital gowns are the definition of exposed. I should be completely okay with being exposed, after all the preparations before the games and having every eye in the country on me most of the time during the games, but I'm just not. I try to shake my lack of comfort as I take in the rest of my surroundings, which seem vaguely familiar. I look at the monitors beeping by my head. I notice there aren't quite as many machines in here as I've seen in the past few weeks I've been here. At least, I think it's been weeks. I'm really not sure how long it's been, what with them waking me up for a few minutes at a time. I can feel that my leg hair has grown back pretty well, so it has to have been at least a couple weeks.
As I'm feeling up my legs and trying to guess how long I've been here, a nurse walks in. My being conscious startles her, and she tries to put on a fake smile.
"Katniss, I'm glad to see you're finally awake. We've had to keep you out for quite a while to help you heal completely. I'm actually quite surprised they decided to wake you up." She says as she walks over to me to check my monitors and make sure I'm still plugged into everything. "You had a few episodes, and we couldn't risk you pulling out any more of your IVs. You're going to keep them in this time, right?"
I look down at my arms and notice how bruised they are. My "episodes" must have slipped my memory, but I can see the marks where needles used to be. I look up at her and see she's looking back at me warily and I nod, which makes her grin a little.
"Good. I hate how we keep having to knock you out, even if it's for your own good. There's just something about seeing unconscious bodies, almost lifeless… Oh! Excuse my manners! How are you feeling? Headaches and soreness are to be expected, but you should otherwise feel perfectly healthy. You're basically all healed up!"
I look at her for a second, deciding whether or not I should answer her. "How long have I been here?" I say, ignoring her question.
"Oh, let's see…" she says as she picks up my chart, "it's been just shy of two months." She glances up just in time to see the panicked look on my face before I can hide it from her. "You've been under great care, Katniss. We just had to make sure you sat still enough to heal properly. And don't worry, your mother and your sister have been contacted. I told them to let your cousin know as well. They have not been permitted to visit, but you'll be released soon enough." I look at her, confused, but she doesn't seem to notice. She squints at my chart before writing a few things and then setting it back on its hook at the end of my bed.
"When can I go home?" She looks at me, with pity in her eyes.
"I'll have to talk to the doctor about that, but I know there are a few things you need to hear before you go. You should expect to go home shortly, though, as long as things go as planned. I'll go get the doctor now so he can explain it to you." She says and then leaves without a glance back. I'm left with my thoughts for less than a minute, when a small man in a white lab coat comes in and shuts the door quietly behind him.
"Miss Everdeen? Good to see you're alert. Sorry to have to put you to sleep so often. I'm sure it has messed with your memory quite a bit, jumbled a few things around. But I'm here to help you clear everything up, alright?" He looks at me through thick glasses and I know I'm not in the Capitol. Glasses are not fashionable. Even doctors would have gotten the laser surgery and probably gotten their eye color changed to something strange, like bright orange. He must have caught me staring at him, because he has not begun speaking again. I look away embarrassed and he clears his throat, starting again. "You have been here for fifty-seven days as of today. Before you were here, you were in the hospital under the training center for two days. You were a victor of the 74th Hunger Games, as was one of your opponents, Cato…"
He keeps talking, but I have stopped listening. How is that possible? How is that both Cato and I have made it out of the Hunger Games alive? And what happened to Peeta? What the hell happened in those last hazy seconds of my memory? I saw Peeta die. I know that for a fact. But what happened after that? Cato and I were the last alive, that I know. But why didn't we try to kill each other? How did I become a victor, alongside Cato? I remembered the announcement stating there could be two victors from the same district, but Cato is from District 2 and I'm from District 12. Did I miss something in that announcement? No, I know I heard right. I remember calling out Peeta's name as soon as I heard it. I remember running in search of him; knowing all along how stupid it was to search for him in the open, knowing he was injured and would probably lessen my chances of winning considerably. And still I searched for him. I remember finding him, I remember caring for his wound, staying in that cave and almost starving because I was afraid to leave him to hunt. I remember our talks, I remember our kisses, even though I'm still not sure if I kissed him because I loved him or because it was what Haymitch wanted me to do. I remember how I felt when I thought he would die. How I risked my life to get his medicine and how he in turn nurtured me when I had that gash from Clove's knife. I remember thinking we actually had a chance in winning the games, how we had a real chance at a future. Remembering this makes my heart ache for Peeta. For the boy who loved me. The boy with the bread. I cannot stop the tears from escaping my eyes and soon, they're running down my cheeks. Then I remember the doctor is still in the room and I look away, wiping my face before turning around to face him. He has stopped speaking. I don't know when he stopped; just that he is no longer talking.
He hands me a tissue. "It's alright. I know it's a lot to take in. But it's better for you to hear everything at once. As I was saying—"
"How did Cato and I both become victors?"
"Oh, right. I should have known that would be what you were stuck on. I guess I should have explained better. After Cato broke Peeta's neck-" I wince and he notices, "-I mean, after Peeta died, Cato just sat down. It may have been from exhaustion; the two of you sustained life threatening injuries, and neither of you moved. But I believe you were in shock; the look on your face was blank. And Cato may have gone into shock as well, because he looked right at you and then put his head between his knees. I remember watching it on television. The whole country went silent, just waiting. It was as if the two of you had given up. And since you two were the only two surviving tributes and you were both on the verge of dying, Seneca had to end it before you both bled to death and we were left without a victor. They tried to patch you up as best as they could at the Capitol, but the two of you needed a lot of intense surgeries that I so happen to specialize in. Are you following so far?"
"You mean to tell me Cato is here? In this same building? With me? He came here with me?" I begin to feel anger rise into my face and I cannot help but clench my fists and teeth. Cato killed Peeta. If it weren't for him, Peeta would be alive and here with me. Peeta wouldn't be dead. Gone, forever. Cato had no right to take his place. He had no right to breathe air if it meant Peeta would breathe no more. Cato was a monster. He enjoyed killing people. Peeta didn't want to hurt a soul. He never should have been in the games. He never should have died. He should have been back in District 12, decorating beautiful cakes for Prim to admire as she passed his father's bakery every day. I fight back tears, but I'm so angry and upset that they just come pouring out again. What have they done to me? I'm never this emotional.
"Oh dear. I've seem to upset you again. Would you like me to sedate you? We can always try this conversation another day when you're feeling more up to it." He looks at me, I can the concern in his eyes as he studies my face, I can see that he cares that he's upset me but it just angers me more that he wants to knock me out again.
"No!" I try to calm myself down. "Do not sedate me again! Please. I don't need it. I can handle this. Just continue." I stop crying. I have to. If he sedates me again, I'll just have to go through this entire conversation with him another time. I wonder how many times he's told me this same exact thing and if I reacted the same way, basically begging him to sedate me once again. I know I'm acting like a crazy person, but I can't seem to control my emotions. I have to fight with myself to stop crying as I nod at him, reassuring him that I'm stable enough for him to speak to. I clear my throat. "You were saying?"
He peers at me over his glasses, sighs, and begins again. "As I was saying, the two of you were brought here after the games. Cato has been awake for about two weeks now, but we haven't been able to release him yet. His mental state is not, for lack of other words, desirable. I have been trying extensive therapy with him, but he refuses to talk to me or any of the nurses. I was actually hoping maybe you could speak with him, if you're feeling up to it. Maybe a familiar face would snap him back to reality." That did it.
"Are you serious? You want ME to go talk to the guy who killed Peeta? Who killed the one boy I might actually have loved? The one person who actually loved me? You must be off your rocker! If you put me in a room with that monster, I will kill him!" And before I could get another word out, everything gets blurry and then nothing.
I blink my eyes a few times, adjusting to the brightness of the lights in my small room. I know where I am. I remember the conversations I had with both the nurse and the doctor. They must have given me a less potent version of the sedative they were using for the past few weeks. The sedatives that let me sleep peacefully and dreamless. The sedatives that have helped me forget that Peeta is dead. And that his killer is alive and well, in the same hospital as me. That we were both named victors. I can feel my anger rising, and I bite my cheek, trying to distract myself. I cannot freak out again. I cannot have them keep putting me out or I'll never get to go home and see Prim and my mother and Gale. Home. Where Peeta will never be again.
Damn! It's so hard for me not to focus on him. But I have to try. I have to focus on Prim. I really hope my mother has kept it together for her. Prim won't last if our mother checks out on her again. I'm sure now that Peeta is dead, his father will be too busy to check up on Prim and make sure she's okay. Gale will still be there for her, but will he be enough? He barely has enough to support his family, much less mine. But still, I know he will do everything in his power to make sure Prim has enough to eat. I need to hurry up and get better so I can go take the burden off his shoulders. So it's time for me to focus.
I look at my surroundings. I'm in the same room I was in before and I slowly realize I am no longer hooked up to any machines. I must be well enough to not be monitored 24/7 anymore. I wonder if they're still keeping an eye on me. I test by swinging one leg off the bed, along with the other. I listen, but don't hear anything, so I inch myself all the way off the bed until I can feel my feet touch the cold, clean floor. I take quiet steps, like I would in the woods hunting with Gale. Just as I'm about to touch the door handle, I can see it jiggle a little and I sprint back into my bed and try to cover myself up before the door opens. The same doctor from before steps in and shuts the door behind him.
He smiles kindly at me before taking a seat on a stool by my bed. "You look like a deer in the line of fire. It is okay for you to be up and around, Katniss. Otherwise, we'd still have you tied up to all those machines. You can stand up and walk around in here if you'd like while we have a little chat. We can even go for a little walk, get some fresh air."
I shake my head. As appealing as fresh air sounds right now, I don't think I want to be around others while we finish our conversation from before. "I'm fine here."
He shrugs. "Suit yourself. How are you feeling? Think you could handle a quick conversation with me? Lately, I think I've caused more stress for you than the entire games." He chuckles to himself a little before continuing, only glancing at me to see me nod. "Our last conversation ended with me asking you if you would be of help to Cato. And before you get upset, just hear me out. Cato has been through the exact same thing you have. He had to kill people; he had to watch his fellow tribute get killed. I know he went into the game as somewhat of a killing machine, but the games have changed him. I think if you could just give him a chance—" he pauses to look into my eyes before I can look away and then continues, "you may be his only hope for recovery, Katniss. We can't bring in his family, and you're the only other familiar face he would know in this entire facility. We tried his mentors, but I think he may blame them to some extent. But you went what he went through; you saw what he saw." He stops to check my expression, surely with a needle full of sedatives in arms reach. But I don't speak. I barely breathe for fear of exploding again. "What do you think, Katniss? I can't force you to speak with him; I can only hope you'll understand how he feels." It feels like hours before he sighs and gets up. As he's walking towards the door, he turns around. "I expected more from you. I thought a girl who would volunteer to take her sister's place in a district where the hunger games are a nightmarish thing would want to help out a fellow tribute who is having a hard time coping." And right before he shuts the door, I jump up.
"Wait!" I shout. He pops his head in. "I'll do it. I'll speak to Cato. On one condition: I want to see Haymitch."
He smiles. "See? I knew you had it in you. This isn't some plot to be in a room with him so you can kill him, is it?" He says it with a smile, but I consider it for a second, making sure I leave my expression blank so he doesn't see. "I'll arrange for Haymitch to come visit you during your lunch and then after that I'll have someone escort you to Cato's room, if that's alright with you." And as he says that, he leaves me alone with my thoughts. What the heck am I thinking? Why should I help the guy who killed Peeta right in front of me? The guy who ignored my pleas to let Peeta go; the guy who snapped Peeta's neck; who took his spot in being a victor with me. I shake my head. I know I had to agree to speak to him if I ever want to see Prim and Gale and District 12 ever again. I have no idea how I'll be able to control myself, but I'll have to. I have to be strong for Prim. She needs me. I need her, maybe more than she needs me. And the way to get home is to talk to Cato. Hopefully when he sees me, he'll go into a frantic stage and try to attack me, and they'll let me go home at once. It's a large possibility that it could happen like that. I am the reason Clove died. If Thresh had never heard her taunting me over Rue's death, she never would have gotten her head smashed in by him. He probably would have let her finish me off first before he attacked her. And by then, Cato would have been close enough to save her. Then she could be here with him, instead of me.
What am I thinking? Clove and Cato are monsters! They don't deserve to be alive while innocent people like Rue and Peeta are dead. But then again, who am I to decide who deserves to live and die? I killed Glimmer and Marvel. I didn't even second guess myself when I killed them, either. So I guess that makes me a monster too.
Wait. This hospital must be doing something to my head. It makes sense, with all this crying I've been doing. Why else would I try to identify myself with Peeta's killer? Why am I sympathizing with him? I should be planning his death. But then again, he was fighting for his life and so was I. Death is just a part of the games and I can't really hold it against him for killing someone he didn't know. We all did it. But he volunteered to do it. I did too, but that was only to save Prim. He did it for the sport. It was a true game for him.
Just then, the door opens and the food cart comes in. I sigh, thankful for something to interrupt my thoughts. It's no use arguing with myself. So instead, I focus on the food in front of me. As I'm biting into a stale piece of bread and trying to remember what Peeta said about the different types of bread from each district, the door opens again. I expect it to be the doctor or the nurse checking up on me, but as soon as the smell of booze hits me, I know who it is. Before I can contain myself, I jump off my bed, spilling all of my food all over the floor, and throw my arms around Haymitch. I know I took him by surprise; we aren't the type to hug. He gasps a little before he pats my back awkwardly. I pull away, embarrassed. But I know he loved Peeta too, and I know he has to feel the same way I do about Cato. If anyone can get me through this, it's Haymitch. After all, he helped me win the Hunger Games and that in itself is a huge plus.
"Looks like you ruined your lunch. Let's take a walk, Sweetheart." He grabs my arm and pulls me out the door before I have a chance to protest.
I try my best to keep the back of my gown closed while keeping up with his quick pace, and Haymitch notices my struggle. He hands me his coat. "That should cover you up." And then he's dragging me through hallway after hallway until I finally see natural light shining through a door. We push through it and the fresh air hits me hard. I hadn't realized just how stuffy my room was until now. I try to stop and breathe in more of the fresh air, but Haymitch grabs my arm and drags me out into the sunlight. He doesn't stop there. We continue until we're at the edge of the courtyard, near what looks to be the beginning of woods. By time we stop, I am out of breath. The games probably had me in the best shape of my life, but laying in a hospital bed for two months deteriorated most of my muscle and stamina.
I glance up at Haymitch and am surprised to see that he doesn't seem at all winded by our walk. He does, however, have a strange look on his face. It looks like he's about to yell at me.
He takes me by my shoulders and I get a whiff of stale alcohol. I prepare for him to yell at me, but instead he whispers. "Sweetheart, you're in deep trouble."
I look at him, confused, waiting for him to go on but he doesn't seem like he wants to continue. He looks around before moving closer to me.
"Snow thinks you and Cato planned on giving up together to show him up. There's talk of rebellion in some districts, like your friend Rue's district. Snow is losing his grip on the districts and he's blaming you for it. Right after the games, Enobaria and Brutus found me and we decided to try the whole star struck lovers angle."
I can tell my face is turning red with anger. Of course he would do this to me again! It's like Haymitch is trying to be my own personal cupid or something! I clench my fists, getting ready to attack him. Then he chuckles a little and continues.
"Oh, Sweetheart. Calm down. I know what you're thinking. But think about it. They were willing to let you and Peeta win together because you were in love. If they thought that love was forbidden, just think of how they'll view this love. You and Cato met during training. Although you belonged to another, you still fell for him. The two of you tried to push that aside while in the arena and although you loved Cato, you knew you could actually be with Peeta. Then when the two of them are fighting to the death, you decide you need both of them. The crowd ate it up when we talked about it. They blamed it on all those teenage hormones or something."
Haymitch is about to continue with his explanation when I hit him square in the jaw. Enough is enough. He has made me look weak more than once, and now he's making me look like an indecisive whore! Before I can punch him again, he grabs my arms and holds them down at my side. I'm in awe that he is so strong. I expected him to be completely out of shape due to his almost constant state of drunkenness. But he has no issue holding my arms down, no matter how much I struggle.
"Listen. You cannot fight with me on this one. You can't let Snow know that this is not real. He wants to use you and Cato as examples and kill you and everyone you love."
"What am I supposed to do?" He's going to kill my family! I can't let him touch Prim. Or Gale. Or my mother. Or Madge. But why? It's not like I meant to be a big fat baby and chicken out on killing Cato, or whatever happened in those last few seconds that I still cannot remember. I stop resisting his hold and he slowly loosens up his grip. "He can't do that, can he?"
"Believe me, Sweetheart. He's done it before and he'll do it again without a second thought. You humiliated him in front of the entire country." The look in his eyes says he knows from firsthand experience, but I can't bring myself to ask him about it. I'm too worried about what will happen to the people I love because of something I didn't even do.
"But how? I didn't even do anything. I was weak. I must have blacked out or something."
"That isn't what it looked like to the audience. You and Cato sat down and stared at each other. It was as if you two had a secret plan to be the last two left so you could give up together."
"That's not how it was! I didn't speak to Cato once during training. And the only direct speaking I actually did towards him was when he was trying to climb a tree to kill me. The whole country saw all of this, so I don't know how you plan on convincing them that we're secret lovers."
Haymitch smiles a little. "Don't worry about that part. Brutus, Enobaria and I took care of it while you two were sleeping the weeks away. The whole country is waiting for the two of you to be back together so they can learn about your secret love affair. Which brings me to my second point. You have to talk to Cato about this. His mentors haven't had a chance to take him out here and speak with him, and the inside of the hospital is too closely monitored. I know he killed Peeta, but he's at risk of losing everything too. So you need to try your hardest to get him to cooperate with this plan. I'm sure he won't need much convincing, once you tell him how much trouble the two of you are in. Are you ready to see him?"
He looks me in the eyes and I know he's right. As much as I despise Cato, I can't let that put my family, or his, in danger. I nod and he puts his arm around my shoulder, walking slowly with me as we make our way into the building. After walking through hallway after hallway, we're back at my room.
Haymitch hugs me tight, and whispers in my ear quietly. "I know you can do this, Girl on Fire. Just stay strong and be careful. Everyone is watching you." And with that, he's gone and I'm left waiting for the escort who is going to take me to see Cato.