When Katniss wakes, she is still, listening to the air around her. Hoping to hear her mother preparing tea, the sound of men trudging to the mines. Instead she hears the metallic clang of a door slamming shut, the beeping machines that tell the doctors she is still alive. Her eyes blink open to harsh, artificial lights unlike anything found in the Seam. District 13.
The chair beside her bed is empty; Peeta is gone. She tries to sit up to look around for him, but she can't—and all of a sudden she is hyper aware of the straps holding her down, the restraints around her wrists and ankles. Her heartbeat drums fast in her ears. Katniss tries not to scream, tries not to think of the white room she is so starkly reminded of. She licks her lips nervously, her fists balled so tightly she thinks her nails are drawing blood.
"Peeta?" she calls hoarsely, desperately, eyes searching the ceiling. Louder. "Peeta?"
She hears the sound of the door opening, footsteps walking closer. Tries not to flinch away. "Don't be alarmed," a mild voice says, approaching her bed. She turns her head and sees a man in a white coat, the only expression on his face curiosity. "You're safe here."
She practically snarls, struggling against the restraints. "Obviously," she snaps.
He smiles benignly, caution in his eyes. And he uses words that scare her — hallucinations, delusions, rehabilitation, restraint. Hijacking. "But we can cure you," he says, the same bland smile on his face. "Make the delusions go away." His name is Dr. Aurelius and she thinks she hates him. She wonders what he would say if she told him she didn't want them to stop, that they didn't seem much like delusions at all.
When she doesn't respond, he tilts his head curiously. "Aren't you excited? To be cured?"
She forces herself to smile, nodding slightly. She thinks she should be. When the doctor leaves she lies back on her bed, staring at the ceiling tiles and wondering what it will be like to never see Prim again.
She waits for Peeta.
. . .
Hundreds of tiles later, the door clicks open and shuts softly; she knows him by the uneven gait. Wonders if he lost his leg in the other world, in the other Games, before he died. "Where were you?" she asks, still looking at the ceiling. He climbs in beside her, pulls her tightly to him. She closes her eyes when he smoothes her hair away from her face, tracing the line of her jaw.
"Meetings," he murmurs. "Always having meetings here. About the rebellion, the Capitol. About you."
He nods, his hold on her tightening. "They want — they want you to help lead it. You mean so much to so many people, they want to use that in their favor."
She buries her face in the curve where his neck meets his shoulder, shuddering. "How can I lead a rebellion when I'm not even sure it's real?" she whispers against his skin.
He has no answers.
. . . . . .
Her head is heavy, too heavy to lift off the pillow. She keeps her eyes closed, tries to figure out where she is. The bed beneath her, thin and lumpy and covered by rough sheets. The smell of coarse, homemade bread. Prim's voice, chattering away about her day. The sound of cooking at the stove — her mother? And above all else, the clear sound of her father singing.
"Because when he sings, even the birds stop to listen."
She still can't open her eyes, won't open her eyes, but she feels the tears escape her lids, sliding from the corner of her eyes and running along her nose. Peeta is dead, Prim is dead, her father is dead. But they're not all dead in the same place. It hurts, it hurts, it hurts. Not knowing what is real.
Her father's voice draws nearer but she still doesn't open her eyes. Too afraid to see him and love him. His voice drops to a hum as he approaches; gently he places a hand on her forehead, smoothing her hair back. She tries not to shatter.
"Wake up, little bird," he whispers. "We miss you."
Is this real? She can't tell. She keeps her eyes closed until the sound of his song lulls her back to sleep.
. . .
When she wakes up, someone is holding her hand again, large and warm and comforting. Without opening her eyes, she murmurs, "Peeta?"
The grip on her hand tightens noticeably. "Catnip?"
Her eyes blink open quickly. "Gale?" And it is Gale, but not the one she saw yesterday, dressed for duty in a utilitarian uniform. This is the Gale she has always known, the one that belongs to her. She can smell the forest on him.
She is still in Twelve. She is still in Twelve. Real.
His eyes, so much like hers, are bright. For once he is smiling. "Catnip," he says again, softer, and when she sits up on her bed he pulls her to him tightly. "Are you okay?" His hand moves to the back of her head; she winces when he makes contact. His hands move to frame her face, his eyes searching her.
Everything is moving fast. The look on his face is intense, confusing; when his face moves forward suddenly and his lips press softly against hers she doesn't even have time to protest.
He takes it as encouragement, kissing her more urgently. When she feels his tongue against the seam of her lips, she pushes him away. He looks just as startled as she is. She scoots back farther on the bed, as close to the window as she can get. For a moment, they just stare at each other.
"You don't remember," he finally says, his voice flat. "Your dad told me things were weird, but — you don't remember?"
Katniss licks her lips, looks down at the blanket. "Remember what?" Dreads his answer. Somewhere in another world Peeta is holding her. Real? She doesn't know.
Gale reaches across and grabs her hand again, his thumb rubbing circles across the back, brushing against her knuckles. "Catnip, we — we're — I love you, Katniss. And you love me. Remember?"
She swallows hard at the pain in his voice. "When?"
"God, Katniss." He frowns, pulling away to put his face in his hands. "I didn't want to believe it, I thought you'd remember us, at least. It's been—three years ago, after my last reaping I told you I loved you, that I wanted to be with you." He smiles softly, and the look is unfamiliar on his face. "You said 'I know,' and it was — awful," he laughs. "You never wanted to talk about it, you wanted everything to be the same. But then last year, about a week after your last reaping we were just — we were in the woods, and we just caught this huge buck. I was covered in blood, we were waiting for our dads to come and help us carry it back and you just looked at me. And you said, 'I love you too, you know.' And ever since—" He looks back up at her, eyes sharp. "When you woke up, you said something."
She flushes. "I don't remember that."
"It was that dead kid's name, wasn't it?" His frown cuts her. "I don't understand why you're having these delusions about him. You never talked to him. You weren't even that upset when he died, Katniss. I don't understand."
She reaches out and touches his shoulder lightly. "I don't understand, either. But I'm sure everything will be normal again. Soon."
She's not sure if she's lying.
. . . . . .
When her eyes open to the whiteness of District 13, she is not surprised anymore. Peeta and Haymitch sit in the chairs beside her bed, talking in hushed voices. When she shifts on the bed, they stop; Peeta jumps up and leans in close, his smile familiar and comforting. Alive.
"Any more hallucinations? Did you see your father again?" His blue eyes are filled with concern.
Katniss clasps her hands together tightly, not meeting his eyes. "Oh, uh. Sort of." Before Peeta can ask questions, Haymitch stands up beside him, looks at her with a frown.
"Ready to see more of the District, sweetheart?"
. . .
Thirteen is just as clean and drab as the hospital wing, a series of floors and long hallways that is more confusing than the forest has ever been. The people in the hallways are pale and thin, their expressions serious. When she walks by they give her sideways glances, hedging as far away as they can. As if she is dangerous. She hears the word hijacked floating through the air, the letters unraveling and buzzing around her mind like tracker jackers; she walks closer to Peeta, lets her fingers intertwine with his. He is real, this world is real. Real, real, real.
They take stairs and elevators, descending ever down into the earth. And then there is a door. And then there is a room.
Peeta and Gale mentioned the President, her harsh efficiency, her rigid planning. They didn't mention her cold eyes, the hair that falls like a sheet of silver, completely unbroken, the thin purse of her lips, the permanent crease between her eyebrows. Alma Coin. Katniss shivers when their eyes meet.
"Miss Everdeen," Coin says brusquely , looking her up and down. Her mouth twitches into a cool smile. "Are you recovering well?" Gestures to the chairs in front of her desk.
Katniss drops down, sitting on the edge of her seat. Uncomfortably reminded of her meeting with Snow in her home. She shrugs. "As well as you'd expect, I guess."
Coin leans further across her desk, smile dropping. "I expect better, actually." She ignores Haymitch and Peeta who frame her like bodyguards; her eyes are like lingering snow, dirty gray and frigid. "We used a good deal of our resources on you, Miss Everdeen," she continues, leaning back in her seat. "Rescuing you from the Capitol so quickly wasn't easy."
Katniss freezes; Haymitch is glowering, Peeta's hands are clenched tightly into fists. "I'm very grateful," she says slowly. Trying to understand where this is going.
Coin nods, the smile making its way back to her face. "Good. You should be."
. . .
When the meeting is over, Haymitch leads Katniss by the elbow with Peeta walking quickly behind to a closet filled with pipes several floors up; the room is warm and humid. "How you feeling, sweetheart?" he asks, his voice surprisingly gentle. They both stare at her as though she might collapse at any moment, screaming for her father. She sags against the wall, shaking. Tries to make sense of the meeting that just happened.
The Mockingjay. The symbol of the rebellion. The sketches from Cinna she just saw — Cinna. Dragged bleeding from the room before the Quell began, who planned this for her all along. His work beautiful, designed to make her stand out as always.
In the meeting, Coin had ruthlessly tossed out names of those that Katniss owed. Mags. Cinna. Rue. The man shot in Eleven, every tribute who has ever stepped into an arena. Prim. Dead because of the Capitol.
"I guess — I guess I don't really have a choice," she says, slumping down to the floor, cradling her head in her hands.
"We can figure something else out," Peeta says, crouching beside her. She is filled with a sudden rush of affection for him, a sudden thankfulness that he is here, alive, that she has him.
"I can do it," she tells him. Tries to smile bravely, tries not to hope that this will all be gone when she wakes up tomorrow.
. . .
The flight to the ruins of District 12 is silent; Katniss holds tightly to Peeta's hand, ignoring Gale and the camera team sitting across from her, trying not to listen to the hushed whispers of Haymitch and Plutarch. She reminds herself that there is a place somewhere, where Twelve still stands and its people still live. Tries not to remind herself that place is probably a lie.
Nothing prepares her for what she sees, not the scripts she's read or the lines she's run. Nothing prepares her for the smell of death in the air, the ash of dead bodies under her feet. The mines are sunken in, still smoldering. She watches as Gale stares, fists clenched. The anger on his face could launch bombs of his very own.
When she breathes, ash fills her lungs, her veins, her everything. These are the people she killed. These are the lives she ruined.
She falls to the ground.
. . . . . .
She wakes up crying with the sun shining gently through the dirty window; Prim is curled up beside her, breathing softly. The roof above her is sturdy and intact; she looks out the window. There is no ash or death, just the Seam she never knew she loved so much.
She exhales quietly, clutching Prim tightly to her. She can feel Prim, smell her little girl smell, feel the mattress creak underneath her that they've been sharing since Prim was out of the crib. She can look out the window and see the Seam, see the worn, rutted dirt road, see a small corner of the meadow. If she walks into town she can see the Hob, trade with Greasy Sae, stopping to sell Madge strawberries on the way back.
This is real. It feels real. It needs to be real.
She wants this to be real.
She thinks about the way Peeta loves her, about the gray, lifeless district far beneath the earth. About a couple of scarred, bitter seventeen year olds being asked to lead a revolution. Which seems more real?
She holds Prim a little tighter.
. . .