A/N: This is my final entry for promptsinpanem to find all of my entries, you can check the PiP tumblr page, or my tumblr page (username: absnow). This story is a strange idea that hit me once about the genetic technology the Capitol had. Fringe was also an inspiration. Anyway, thanks to everyone that read my submissions this week. I'm back to regularly scheduled WIPs, I promise.
"I'd think that too. If it weren't for the baby…"
She should have known that the Capitol would call Peeta's bluff.
In Twelve, they didn't have the sorts of tools to test for pregnancy. Not accurate ones at least. Her mother had an herb concoction that she mixed with urine, but even that wasn't fully effective. In general, with the stress of death and malnutrition in the Seam, most women didn't know that they were pregnant until late into their term, when their breasts were swollen and bellies round.
But the Capitol has more drugs and machinery than they know what to do with. Of course they'd be able to tell.
"You'll feel a pinch and a little puff of air, okay?" the nurse warns as if Katniss has a say in the matter. But her legs are spread wide, strapped firmly by metal stirrups, and there's nothing she can do to protest, even if she tried.
"Please," Katniss says, tears springing to her eyes as a last defense. "You'll hurt it," she lies.
The nurse is unaffected, and she lifts a sharp looking, silver tube that catches the soft yellow light illuminating the room.
She thinks of Peeta, sick with worry as he paces the living room of their apartment, no doubt blaming himself for this.
Chaos had erupted after his grand announcement, and it had been nearly impossible to survive the riot without being separated. But they had done it, and they were mere steps from the elevator, which would take them safely to their quarters, when the Peacekeeper had grabbed her. Peeta had already passed through the doors, and before he could react to her absence, the doors snapped shut, shooting him to the twelfth floor. Without her.
She wants to be angry with him, but she can't. She knows that he was only trying to protect her. That he never foresaw this.
The metal tube plunges inside of her, invading her deeper and deeper. Katniss shrieks and thrashes against the restraints that hold her, to no avail. Then she feels the pinch and the puff of air, and then it's over.
When she's returned to their apartment on the twelfth floor, Peeta and Haymitch are waiting. Peeta's eyes are wild as he takes her into his arms and inspects her carefully.
"Did they hurt you?" he demands repeatedly.
"They know," she says, her voice broken.
"I'm so sorry, Katniss," he says. "I shouldn't have said anything. I don't know what I was thinking. I just wanted to scare them. That's all. I didn't think…" he breaks down against her, his strong arms holding her so tightly, she thinks she may break.
"Who cares," Haymitch says, sounding almost annoyed. "What are they going to do? Kill you?"
"That's not funny," she snaps.
Peeta's grip on her slackens, and his hands stroke methodically up and down her spine. "He's got a point," he says. "What's the worst they can do to us really? We've already painted giant targets on our backs from our antics during training."
That was taunting the Gamemakers though. Showing them that they didn't control her or Peeta. If there's any chance of Peeta making it out of the arena alive, they'll need sponsors. And without the Capitol's sympathies they have nothing.
"They'll turn on us if they know we lied," she argues.
"Do you honestly think Snow will announce that he allowed a couple of kids to hijack his Games again?" Haymitch says. "Think, kid."
"Haymitch is right," says Peeta. "And even so, they can say that you're not pregnant now, but they can't prove that you never were, right?"
"There are ways," Haymitch mumbles under his breath.
"We'll say you lost that baby from the stress of the Games," Peeta says. He cradles her face in his hands and looks at her earnestly. "You'll be fine. I promise."
Haymitch watches them somberly, and shakes his head. "Just be careful out there," he says.
He leaves them then, and Peeta takes her to her room, refusing to leave her side. He draws her a bath, and stays when she asks him to.
It's quiet. The only sound coming from the drip off the faucet, echoing as the droplits hit the surface of the tub.
"What did they do to you?" Peeta asks, as he rinses soap from her hair. His hands tremble, sending small ripples through the water, and she can feel the tension in his words.
"Probed me or something," she says as calmly as she can to put him at ease. "I'm not sure."
His fingers comb knots from her hair, and she catches his hand to press a kiss against his palm. "Do you think they know?"
"It doesn't matter," he says. "I won't let anything happen to you."
She has just slipped on her robe, when she becomes violently ill. There's a sharp pain in her abdomen that is so severe, she can't stand straight, and Peeta has to practically carry her to the sink, so she can vomit.
He calls for the red headed Avox, who brings a nurse. The man wears the same white coat as the woman who performed the procedure on her, and Katniss recoils from him in fear.
"Typical side effect," the man mumbles before he sticks her with a needle.
Instantly she feels relief, but it's not like morphling. Morphling fills its patient with numbing ecstasy. This makes her feel balanced, as if she were never sick at all.
"What was that?" she demands.
"Typical side effect," the nurse repeats before he leaves.
"Everything is going to be fine," Peeta promises later, as they slip into bed.
She wants to believe him, but she can't.
The stunt with the berries was one thing, something manageable. Not this. Snow won't let them play him for a fool again, and this pregnancy lie may very well be his breaking point. They've played with fire too many times now, to make it out of hell alive. Not a second time.
She could let these thoughts plague her through the night, but there isn't any point. These are their final few hours of peace, and she doesn't want to waste them worrying over things that are out of her control. So she let's it go.
"Hold me, please," she says, pressing her body flush against his.
He pulls her against his chest, his arms wrapping securely around her. She breathes in his scent, cinnamon and dill, and tries to commit it to memory. If her life were to flash before her in the moments before death, she wants to remember this. And so she rests her chin on his chest and stares into his perfect blue eyes until her lids become heavy and sleep takes her.
He murmurs something against her forehead, and it lingers in her mind like a puzzle she can not yet decipher.
Her neck is bruised and it's painful to breathe. She blames it on her wounds, but knows it not to be the case. She stands outside Peeta's cell. There's a portal window on the door for observations, and she stares through it almost vacantly, her fingers absently stroking the glass even though her fingertips are too numb to feel.
Peeta watches her too. He's practically bolted to his chair with three restraints on each of his arms and legs and a thick, sturdy strap across his chest. Their eyes are locked but neither one makes a sound. They just study one another warily, like two wild animals crossing paths in the woods, trying to determine a threat from an ally.
His eyes are different, she notices. They're cold and dark. She can't see any blue and that terrifies her more than anything. She's not sure how it's possible or why they would even do it, but it's as if the Capitol has drained the color entirely. And by doing that, they've stolen a piece of him completely.
Haymitch is beside her now. She can feel his hand hovering over her back, contemplating a concept that is wholly foreign to him. Comfort. He doesn't bother, only jams his hands into his pocket, because he knows that only Peeta can give her the comfort that she needs.
"How could this have happened?" she says, and her voice is so small she doubts that Haymitch can hear her.
"There's something else," he says after a moment of hesitation. "During the rescue mission. They ran into something they weren't expecting."
She looks at him dumbly, because Peeta is strapped to a chair threatening to kill her, and nobody had ever expected that.
He turns to the cell across the hall, and stares through the window. When she doesn't follow him, he clears his throat and gestures for her to join her.
"She was on a different floor on the other side of the palace, so even if they anticipated us coming for the boy and the others, I don't think they wanted us to find her."
Katniss peers in to see a baby girl with pink skin and tufts of dark hair, swaddled in blankets. She has no idea how to gauge an infant's age, but she estimates that the child can't be older than a few of months.
She looks at Haymitch questioningly. "Snow's?" she says. She knows he has a few offspring and that those offspring have offspring too. But using a child as a weapon? It sickens her.
"That's what we're trying to figure out," he says. He lets out a tired sigh and rubs the back of his neck. It worries her to see Haymitch this way. He never lets it show, when things affect him. "The room that they found her in. It was labeled 'Baby Everdeen.'"
The bruises on her neck scream with pain as her head snaps to look through the window. "What does that even mean?" she demands.
"They're running some tests to match the genetics," he says. "Try to figure out where she came from." He frowns. "Thought you'd like to be in the loop on this one."
"Thanks," she nods, unable to look at him.
He leaves her to process the news, and she stares into the portal at the sleeping infant, trying to make sense of it all.
"So you know," Gale says, stepping up beside her. His arm is in a sling that's secured around his waist, and although he has a few cuts on his face, he looks healthy.
"What little there is," she says.
He glances at her neck, and his face creases with worry. "I heard about Peeta."
"Apparently our relationship has hit a bit of a rough patch," she says, her tone light, but her voice breaking. She clears her throat, and holds her hand over the bruises to discreetly cover them. "So where do you think she came from?"
Gale's eyes follow hers, and they both observe the mysterious child. "Who knows. The Capitol loves their twisted science experiments. They had your DNA on file, from the Games…"
"You think she's a clone?" Katniss asks. "Like a mutt?"
He shrugs his good shoulder, then looks at the floor.
"What aren't you telling me?" she says, reading Gale's body language like an open book. She knows him too well to keep secrets.
"Her eyes, Katniss," he says. "They're blue."
"So? Prim's are too," she says quickly, as if it will erase what he's meant to imply. She doesn't know how genetics work, but it seems possible, to have a clone with different colored eyes.
He sighs. "They look like his."
"You think —?" she lets the rest of the question hang in the air.
"I don't know," he says somewhat harshly. "You tell me." He takes a deep breath and shakes his head. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I said that. Obviously she isn't yours. I know where babies come from."
She feels her face flush, and this time she's the one to drop her gaze to her shoes.
"Why would they do it though?" she says. "What do you think they were planning?"
"Maybe they wanted their own mockingjay," he suggests. "Not sure how they'd explain it though. Everyone thinks your fake baby is dead."
Besides that, given the term, Katniss would only be a few months along, and the baby before her looked to be three, maybe four months old. Snow would have had to have been planning it for a while, if that were the case.
She traces back the steps. Pregnancy usually lasted about three seasons, at least that's how they measured it in Twelve, and if the baby looked to be three months, that would mean it all started around the time of the Victory Tour.
She gasps at the revelation. Was Snow already anticipating her failure? Was the baby lie that Peeta had conjured up, Snow's plan all along? She can't wrap her mind around it, the time line doesn't add up.
"You okay, Catnip?"
She jumps at the sound of Gale's voice.
"Fine," she mumbles, almost inaudibly. "Can I have a few minutes? To myself?"
"Don't blame yourself," he says. "You didn't make her. The Capitol did. You don't have to feel responsible."
But she does feel responsible. Her actions have brought a child into the world, which has always been her greatest fear. Even if this child is a Capitol created mutt,
She studies the infant's face. Her features are delicately round and incomparable to any image she's ever seen in her own reflection. She tries to see herself, but can't. If they've made a clone of her, shouldn't they look alike?
The tapping of footsteps approach her in the heavily traveled corridor, but she makes no move to acknowledge her newest companion.
"It's a miracle, really. That you've found her again. I think she has your smile."
"Excuse me?" Katniss says.
Plutarch stands beside her, his eyes looking adoringly at the young infant through the portal.
"Your daughter," he says. "The tests haven't confirmed it yet, but one of my sources from the Capitol – she came back with the rescue, says that she was the one who performed the operation."
"The operation?" she narrows her eyes and shakes her head incredulously. "What operation? Part of the rescue?"
"No, no, to harvest your child, of course," Plutarch says.
Katniss looks at him curiously. "There was no baby," she says. "We made it up."
"That's what we'd assumed too. Imagine our surprise when it turned out to be true. I was out of the loop for most of it, rebellion and all," he says, as if everything was all well and normal. "But look at that. Here she is."
"I never had a baby," she says. "I think I'd remember."
"Not the natural way," he agrees. "Like they force you to in the districts. No one carries a child to term in the Capitol. The women would lose their figures, and nine months is an awfully long time to wait for a child." Katniss stares at him skeptically and he carries on, oblivious to her confusion. "As soon as a pregnancy is detected, they have the child removed. The incubation period is up to the parents, of course. Some prefer an authentic term, nine months, as the districts experience. Others wait a full year, so that their homes can be properly renovated. But most are too impatient. They'd lose interest before the baby was even delivered. It's my understanding that your girl was one of the more ambitious procedures. Only a week of incubation." He pauses. "They wanted to have her ready for the end of the Games. A tragic reunion, in case one of you survived."
"I doubt Snow intended on either one of us surviving," Katniss says flatly. But a poor orphaned girl made to suffer due to her parents' insolence would certainly be a powerful image.
"I don't understand though," she says. "It has to be a mutt. I couldn't have been…" pregnant, is what she can't work up the courage to say.
"The level of hormones in your blood was nearly undetectable," Plutarch says. "My source – she said that based off the size of the fetus, it couldn't have been more than a few days from conception. She was surprised you even knew."
Couldn't have been more than a few days.
The train. On the way to the Games. She never thought anything of it — certainly she had thought of it. In the darkness of night with her pearl clutched against her heated skin, but she never thought…
And then she can feel it again. The heat on her skin from where his lips had touched her neck as they embraced on the train. It had felt so good that she had buried her face against him in the same way. And they had stood there, embracing one another as the train rocked them slowly, almost hypnotizing in rhythm. Then his lips began to move against her throat. Hot and hungry and warm. It had felt so impossibly good that she was consumed by this need for him. The places where their skin touched hadn't been enough, and they hunted for more. Shedding one another from their clothing until their naked bodies were flush and tangled on the plush couch in the train car.
Not once had her mind intervened with her body's desire. There were no consequences to fear, because to suffer a consequence, there needed to be a future. And for them, nothing past tomorrow existed. And so she opened herself to the warm, and curious stirring in her chest that she hadn't felt since the cave. It spread fast, like fire. The flames wild and seemingly impossible to extinguish. Until he was inside her, containing the intense quiver between her legs with long even thrusts. Taming it, then building it into utter bliss.
They had laid there, breathless. His head resting on her breasts, and her fingers matted in his damp blond curls.
"Never leave me," she had pleaded. "Promise that you'll stay with me."
He had pressed a kiss to where her heart beat then looked up at her with a crooked grin and tender blue eyes. It made her feel complete.
"Always," he had said.
But that wasn't the first, or the last time that he made that vow. Hidden in her consciousness, they work their way into her memory.
The night when she had leapt over the fence, and he carried her to bed. He held her hand, and right before she fell asleep, she had asked him to stay, but never heard his answer.
And again, the night before the Games, she had asked him to hold her and he had whispered something against her forehead that she didn't understand.
But where was he now? The man strapped to a chair across the hall certainly wasn't him.
The child stirs and slowly wakes, looking at Katniss curiously, through the small,portal window. And then she sees them. Those blue eyes she has been searching for since Peeta's abduction are staring back at her, but they're not his.
Or are they?
None of this makes sense.
"Aeternum," she says absently, it's an ancient word from a language that has long ceased to exist. But it surfaces in her mind like Peeta's eternal promise.
"Lovely," Plutarch beams. "Is that what she is to be called?"