A gigantic thanks to the wonderful bigbigbigday006, populardarling, alexabee, and 78bathsheba for holding my hand, listening to my ideas, and encouraging me to push this story to completion. Without them this story wouldn't be the same! (so you know who to blame if you hate it) And of course, thanks to jeniezee for taking time away from being a genius to be my beta/best friend/peanut butter — you rock!
. . .
Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games, or the concepts borrowed from Joss Whedon's "Normal Again."
. . .
The last thing she remembers is the sky falling apart; now she is flat on her back, naked except for a thin white gown, strapped to a cold metal table. Everything around her is so pristinely white she can't tell where the walls end and the ceiling begins.
She doesn't even realize she's crying until her chest heaves with a sob; all she wants is Peeta. She wonders how far away he is, if he's strapped down too. If he's surrounded by all white, imagining whispers in the air around him.
Or maybe he's dead. She hopes he's dead; she doesn't want him to be as terrified as she is right now.
A door opens — she freezes and closes her eyes. Maybe it will all go away. She hears several sets of footsteps echoing across the floor, getting closer and closer. Hushed whispers, the tinkling of glass, a soft swish of liquids moving.
Something cold and wet touches her arm, swiping across the sensitive skin in the crook of her elbow; a minute later, a sharp pinch. Something cold seeps into her veins.
"They'll be here for her soon, you know," a cool voice says. She wonders if they think she's asleep, or if it just doesn't matter anymore.
"He's counting on it."
Everything fades to black.
The last thing she remembers is a cold pinch. She is flat on her back, the familiar prick of sticks and rocks digs into her skin and the sounds of the woods echo in her ears. This can't be right. She can't trust it. She's in the Capitol, she's been captured, and Peeta—
Her name is being called from far away. "Katniss? Katniss!" A hand shakes her shoulder gently, but everything hurts. Her whole body feels splintered into pieces. She doesn't want to open her eyes, doesn't want to see what the Capitol has in store next. She just wants to die.
"Little bird! Wake up!" She knows that voice, that sweet name. She hasn't heard it in a long time.
And before she knows it, her gray eyes are open. Her father smiles down at her, worry written all over his face, tears on his face. He smoothes away the hair from her brow.
She had forgotten how beautiful her father was, and seeing him feels like coming home. "Daddy?" Her voice wavers; this is a crueler torture than she expected.
He swallows hard. "Oh, god, little bird. I was so worried about you. Are you — are you hurt? Is anything broken?"
She can feel the panic swelling up in her lungs, taking over her senses. "You're dead," she whispers, and his eyes go wide. "You're dead."
Her father shakes his head. His hands are still on her face; she feels them trembling. They are just as perfectly callused as she remembers. "Katniss? You — do you remember what happened? You fell out of a tree. We were hunting, and you…the branch snapped and you fell. I think you hit your head. Do you remember?"
Her eyes dart up above his head; a canopy of leaves sway in a warm summer breeze. She doesn't understand.
"Where's Peeta?" Her voice is quiet and frightened, and her father looks even more confused at the question.
She feels like screaming; all she wants is Peeta. She wants this torture to end. "Mellark. Peeta Mellark. Where is he, Daddy?" She knows he's not real, but she just wants him to answer.
Rutherford Everdeen's face falls, filled with concern. His hand travels to the back of her head and when he pulls away, his fingers are wet with blood.
"Peeta Mellark is dead, Katniss. He died in the 74th Hunger Games."
Before she can even cry out, everything fades to black.
The last thing she remembers is her father's face; she is flat on her back, propped up on what feels like a soft cot. Somewhere close by a machine beeps steadily. She wonders if Peeta is dead, if her father is alive. If everything she knows is a lie.
"Daddy?" She is afraid to open her eyes again, doesn't know if opening them will ever be safe again.
A gruff voice answers her. "Not quite." Before she even cracks her eyes open the scent of white liquor washes over her like a tidal wave and she doesn't know whether to sob or laugh. She thinks both would hurt too much.
"Haymitch." She turns her head and looks at him, surprised by his haggard appearance. They are in a small room. The ceiling is so low she thinks she could touch it if she tried. "Where are we?" Her voice cracks and he offers her a swig from his flask that she refuses.
"Hovercraft," he says tersely.
She knows there are other questions she should ask — her mother, Prim, Gale. The Quell, her dream of the white room, her father. Why they're on a hovercraft. But her mind is numb and empty and all she can think of is,
"Peeta," she asks. One word, a whisper. She would swear Haymitch smiles.
"Anxiously awaiting your arrival," he says with a roll of his eyes; something releases inside of her, an iron weight. Peeta Mellark died in the 74th Hunger Games. She wonders what is true.
She knows she should talk to Haymitch, should tell him about her father and the Capitol, but she's afraid. So instead she sits there quietly, counting the rhythmic beeps of the machine beside her until sleep takes her once more.
The last thing she remembers is the low ceilings and dull roar of the hovercraft. Now her eyelids feel heavy; someone is holding her hand tightly. She feels her fingers twitch.
"Katniss?" The voice is quiet and soft and familiar, the one that she wants to hear more than almost anything else. She feels herself smile.
"Little duck?" Her eyes flutter open and there she is, golden and smiling hopefully at her, skinny fingers clutching her hand as if she never wants to let go. Her mouth feels dry and cottony, and her voice cracks when she speaks. "God, Prim, what's happening? I don't even — where are we? You wouldn't believe the dream I had, Dad was alive and Peeta was dead, the Quell—"
Prim's smile drops, her thin lips pursing with worry. She reaches forward and places her hand on Katniss's forehead. Prim's hand slips to the back of her head; Katniss is suddenly aware of a large bandage wrapped tightly around it. She looks up and notices her surroundings for the first time — home in District 12. Not her new home in Victor's Village, but the one she grew up in.
"Katniss," she says gently, "I think you hit your head really hard when you went hunting. Daddy said you fell from a tree. Do you remember?"
Katniss feels a lump form in the back of her throat, her whole body tensing with fear. "Prim — the last thing I remember is the hovercraft with Haymitch, and before that…" She swallows hard; suddenly her entire body hurts. "I remember waking up in the forest, but that, that wasn't real, it can't be. Dad died, remember? The mines, there was an explosion. I was eleven, and Mom—"
Prim shakes her head, eyes wide with concern. She reaches across her to the rickety bedside table and grabs the mortar and pestle sitting on it. "I think you hit your head harder than we thought," she whispers. Her eyebrows are crinkled far up on her forehead with worry. Prim grinds whatever herbs are in there hurriedly. "How do your stitches feel?"
For the first time in a long time, Katniss's eyes sting with tears. "Prim—" her voice is low and urgent. "I think the Capitol is doing something, I think — where's Peeta? Please tell me where Peeta is."
Prim frowns; she is silent for a moment as reaches forward and unwraps the bandage on her sister's head. Katniss cringes when she sees the dried blood covering it.
"Peeta Mellark," Prim says quietly, gently dabbing the herbs on, "died in the 74th Hungers Games. He was reaped with Levy. Levy—" she shakes her head, "Levy died at the blood bath but Peeta made it all the way to the final two. It was the closest we've come in a long time, but he was killed by the boy from 2 at the last moment."
"No." Katniss leans forward, puts her hands over her eyes until everything goes black. "You were reaped, and I volunteered in your place, and Peeta and I both won, don't you remember?" She feels tears slip between her fingers, and she swipes them away angrily.
"Katniss," Prim says, her voice gentle. "How could two people ever win the Hunger Games? That's not real."
The world spins — the last thing she sees before everything fades out is her mother walk in, humming a song she hasn't heard since her father died all those years ago.
Katniss wakes up feeling sick to her stomach, unable to open her eyes. All around her she hears soft whispers, the hum of machinery; the air smells slightly stale. She wonders what is real, where she is, who is alive and who is dead.
And all of a sudden, she can't breathe — the world spins and her chest heaves; her stomach turns but she can't move, not even when she begins to retch. She hears herself sobbing, but she still can't open her eyes.
There is a cold, familiar pinch at the crook in her arm.
Everything fades to black.
When she wakes again the whispers are gone; there is a weight on the bed beside her. Someone is holding her hand again. Her eyelids flutter open and there he is, curled up in a chair beside the hospital cot she's on, head resting on the bed beside their clasped hands as he sleeps. She can feel his breath on her fingertips.
And all of a sudden, the thought of Peeta Mellark being dead is unthinkable because here he is, real and solid and breathing and holding her hand. She knows if his eyes opened they would be a bright, perfect blue; she can't fathom never seeing them again.
She wonders what her father would say, the one she saw in her dream. She wonders if she cares.
Katniss squeezes his hand hard. "Peeta." Her voice cracks from disuse; she wonders how long she has been sleeping. "Peeta." She sees the lashes that she has always been so secretly fascinated by move against his cheeks.
Then his eyes are open and they are even bluer than she remembers; the world speeds up. He sits up so quickly she smiles a little. And then he is close, his hands cupping her face gently, thumbs tracing the lines of her cheekbones.
"Katniss?" His voice is incredulous; he grabs her hand again and presses soft kisses against her palm. Peeta's eyes look her up and down, drinking her in as if he will never see her again, as if he is unsure whether she is real at all. She wonders if he knows she is thinking the same thing.
"What happened?" she whispers. "Where are we?"
Peeta swallows, looking suddenly serious. "What do you remember?" Her eyes fill with tears at the question. She is silent for a moment, shaking her head, squeezes her eyes shut at the things she has seen lately. He climbs onto the bed beside her, wrapping her tightly in his arms. She knows he feels her shaking.
After a long pause, she exhales sharply. "I've been so confused. There was — I remember the sky exploding in the arena. And then…then I was in a white room, and I knew it was the Capitol. They were whispering but I — I can't remember. And then there was a pinch, a shot of something? And then I woke up and I—" She looks up at him, eyes searching. "You won't think I'm crazy?"
He shakes his head reassuringly, holds her tighter. She closes her eyes and whispers the things she saw, a world where he was dead and her father was alive, a dim hovercraft with Haymitch, Prim telling her their games weren't real. She doesn't even realize she is crying until his fingers brush her cheeks.
"Are you real?" The question is barely even audible, but she knows he hears her. Peeta sits up and pulls away from her so he can look at her fully; his expression is unreadable.
"Real," he affirms. And then he bends down, hovering over her, and presses a light kiss to her lips that feels impossibly real. His hair shines like spun gold in the harsh overhead light.
She cries again.
. . .
They sit like that for a long time, silent and wrapped up in each other. A machine beside her beeps every few minutes, but they are undisturbed. On one wall there is a large, rectangular mirror that seems strangely out of place.
"Where are we? What — what happened?" Peeta frowns at the question.
"Katniss," he begins cautiously, not quite meeting her eye, "I don't know if now is a good time. You're still—a lot has happened and—"
"Peeta," she says sharply, pulling away. "What happened?"
He slips off the bed, back into the seat beside it, and takes her hand in his. He sighs deeply. "When you shot the arrow at the force field, everything went crazy," he says slowly. "I was so — god, Katniss, I heard you scream and I thought you were dead, and then the whole world exploded. I started running to where I thought you were, but there was a hovercraft and it—" Peeta pulls away from her, putting his head in his hands. "I saw them pick you up, the Capitol. And then this other hovercraft appeared and I let them take me because—" He looks back up at her, blue eyes wet with tears, and she knows. This is real.
She grabs his hand again and squeezes it tightly. "The Capitol—"
Peeta shakes his head. "I thought it was the Capitol, but it was Haymitch. The whole thing, the arena exploding, it was all planned." She sits silently, unbelieving, as he explains about the revolution, District 13, the plan to get her back. She feels suddenly claustrophobic, realizing just how far under the earth she is.
"How long was I—"
"Three weeks," he says softly. "They had you three weeks. And you've been here two days, under observation." She looks back at the mirror and understands.
"It's weird that I only remember that one moment in the Capitol," she muses. "And that — Peeta, I'm not even sure that was real."
He shrugs. "I don't know, Katniss. I guess we should be glad they didn't do anything worse."
Katniss thinks about seeing her father, feeling his hand on her head, the fact that she never went into the Games, and knows Peeta will never understand.
"Does Prim know I'm awake?" Her eyes dart toward the mirror again.
Peeta swallows hard. "Katniss, there's — there's something else you need to know."
. . .
He tries to hold her but she screams, pushes him away, kicks and punches and bites and wails. People rush in, hold her down. Peeta is crying.
A doctor pulls out a needle, injects something in her arm.
Sleep mercifully takes her.
. . .
Mrs. Everdeen finds her staring at the wall, eyes red and swollen and glazed.
"I'm sorry I couldn't save her," her mother whispers, standing near the door. She wrings her hands nervously. Katniss doesn't answer.
After a moment, she walks back out. The door shuts quietly behind her.
. . .
Gale comes to see her, dressed in an official looking uniform. Flinches when she jerks away from his touch. He tells her about 13's militia, about his hopes of defeating the Capitol, about working with Beetee designing weapons. Tells her about the bombs, about how he tried to save Prim. About how he didn't make it in time.
Tells her he's sorry, that he loves her.
He leaves the same way her mother did — quietly, without hearing a word in response.
. . .
She doesn't know how many hours have passed when Peeta comes back in and sits in his chair beside her, taking her hand in his. "I'm so sorry," he whispers ruefully.
Katniss squeezes her eyes shut, shaking her head. "It's my fault," she gasps, starting to cry again, choking on her words. "If I hadn't—"
He climbs back up beside her and holds her again. She presses her face against his chest and sobs.
She falls asleep like that, in his arms, wondering if this is the price she has to pay, if wanting Peeta is worth losing Prim. If it's wrong to hope this isn't real, that the next time she wakes up will be in 12, to Prim.
She is trapped between real and not real in her dreams, walking with her father and visiting Prim's grave as bombs fall silently all around them.
"It doesn't have to be like this," Mr. Everdeen tells her softly. "Come back to us, little bird."
And she wants to. More than anything.
End part 1.
This story will roughly be two or three parts long; it is completely outlined and shouldn't take too long to complete. Feel free to follow me on swishywillow on tumblr!