Again, I'm sorry I took so long with this. There's just too much going on... Like, seriously, there should be a pre-summer break. That would be great.

Anyway, thank you guys who reviewed on the last chapter. I'm forgetful, so I don't think I responded to all of you, but I was very grateful that you guys seem to like this story. :)

On with the chapter! Read and Review!


Chapter Five - The System


Katniss sat on the bench next to the window, glaring up at the smiley woman in front of her. It had taken close to an hour to calm her into silence. Only, now, she refused to even speak to any of them. It was decided that she would begin her therapy sessions tomorrow, but Effie Trinket- always one to follow her schedule no matter what- insisted that she would still speak to Katniss, even if the girl wouldn't respond.

"Twenty five floors!" Effie chirped. "Can you believe that? Have you ever been in such a building?" Katniss said nothing. "Well, you are now! If you don't believe me, just look right out the window!"

She huffed, as she continued to stare at Effie. It took all of her strength to sit so still and keep her mouth shut. She only wished she could yell at Effie to go away, so that she could find a way out of this place. She still couldn't believe that her mother had betrayed her. And to make matters worse, she sat there and did nothing, as Prim was kidnapped. No. Katniss promised herself that she would never call that woman her mother again.

"Katniss, dear? Are you listening?" She looked up but said nothing. "Today was a very good day for you to check in! We're getting haircuts done tomorrow! Do you want to get your hair cut, Katniss?" She stared at her blankly, and Effie's smile faltered. "Well, you can decide when they get here..."

And with that, she welcomed her to the hospital and, finally, left Katniss alone. She sighed and turned to face the window, as she pulled her knees up to her chest. She knew that she wouldn't let them cut her hair. Prim had complimented it so many times, she even wished to have the same hair.

"Katniss?"

Her head shot up at the sound of her name, and she instinctively hugged her knees tighter. Before her stood a tall, blonde-haired boy with blue eyes that she knew well. Katniss just stared at him in complete shock. She had always wondered what had happened to him. And now, she knew.

"Peeta..." she mumbled, as if she was speaking a foreign language. Something she had read so many times but never ventured to say out loud.

"Yeah..." He nodded and smiled his too-familiar smile. "Can I sit with you?"

She said nothing, so he sat down next to her, anyway. He was holding onto something, but Katniss couldn't tell what it was. And she certainly wasn't going to ask him that. There was a question in her head that was much more important.

"Why are you here?"

He looked at her, as if her question surprised him, and his smile disappeared.

"It's a long story..." He sighed and, again, took her silence as a cue to continue. "Well, about seven years ago, I was... kidnapped."

"I know," she said quietly.

"You do?" He looked surprised for a moment, but then he composed himself. "Sorry... Anyway, I can't really remember much about it... I just remember that it was awful. They beat me and kept me in the dark for hours, even days at a time..." He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, trying to control himself. "And when they found me, they brought me to a hospital, and they said that whoever had kidnapped me had given me some kind of brain damage... Sometimes, I lose control of myself because of it. That's why they brought me here."

Peeta looked down, avoiding her eyes. Katniss stared at him, almost feeling bad for him. She couldn't imagine what it must be like to be beaten and trapped in dark rooms for three years. And more importantly, she couldn't imagine being away from Prim for so long.

"Sorry," she finally said.

He smiled sadly, even at this half-hearted apology.

"It's all right... You learn to like it here." He sat up straight and looked at Katniss carefully. "The people are all right, too." At this, he showed her what he had been holding. "When I was in the fourth floor, a girl named Annie made this doll for me. But you can have it, if you want."

"No."

"What?"

"I don't want that."

"Oh..." Peeta looked down at the rag doll in his hands. "Sorry, I just thought you might like it."

"I don't."

"Okay." He smiled weakly, trying not to show how embarrassed he felt. "So, did they tell you about the system yet?"

"No," Katniss muttered.

"Well, it's pretty simple." He moved closer to her, but she leaned away from him, as he looked out the window. "We all start on the top floor, and then, if we get better, they move us down. And the people that get all the way to the ground floor are the lucky ones."

"Why?" she asked, interested in what he was saying, even though she wished that she wasn't.

"If you get to the ground floor, that means that you have one more evaluation. And if you pass, they send you to a better home. More freedom, more room..." He smiled slightly. "We call them Victors, because they're so lucky."

"You said you were on the fourth floor," Katniss said, staring at her knees. "Doesn't that mean you're better?"

"No..." Peeta sighed and shook his head, as if he was ashamed of himself. "I actually got all the way to the second floor... But then, this one day, I started to lose control of myself again, and this guy named Brutus started egging me on. And... long story short, I ended up attacking him. They didn't care that he had provoked me. They gave me a quick evaluation, and then they just sent me all the way back up here to start again."

"What happened to Brutus?"

"He made it to the ground floor..." Katniss felt another twinge of sympathy, as a look of sorrow appeared on Peeta's face.

"Is that the only way out?"

"What, the ground floor? I think so... I'd have to ask Annie. But they sent her back to the fourth floor, so I don't know when I'll be able to see her again."

"Well, we need to talk to her," Katniss insisted, suddenly excited by the possibility of escaping. "I need to get out of here."

"Katniss, I know it's hard at first, but you don't have to leave. Really, you can learn to love it here-"

"No, I need to get out of here," she said angrily. "They have my sister, Peeta. They kidnapped her." His eyes widened. "I need to find her."

"You're right," he said slowly. "You need to find her before she gets hurt... And I'll help you. I'll get you out of here."

"You will?" she asked warily.

"Of course, I will!" He stood up and looked around, as if he intended to get her out of the hospital at that very moment.

"Peeta." A little girl with dark skin and black hair sauntered over to them, smiling slightly. "Calm down. Don't you remember what happened last time you got this excited?"

"Right... Thanks, Rue." Peeta sighed, as he sat back down.

"I'm Rue," she said to Katniss, as she picked up the doll that Peeta had left on the window sill. "What's your name?"

"Katniss." She stared back at the girl, almost smiling, as she realized how much Rue resembled Prim.

"Katniss." Rue smoothed down the black yarn on the doll's head. "I think we'll be good friends."