The hovercraft carried Katniss, unconscious and unwilling, over the wintry landscape below. The craft hummed softly, like a swarm of well-behaved bees, well-oiled and maintained by the people who served on board.
In her slumbered state, the white-suited men ignored her and left her unsupervised in a small, grey windowless room. There was nowhere for her to go, and therefore they thought they had nought to worry about.
They did not take into account the woman full of sass and a sharp tongue.
A faint whirr buzzed in her ears, drowning out the silence she'd been happily ensconced in. She tried to shake her head to remove the sound, but it refused to abate, continued on in its monotonous drone. Frustrated, she tried to raise her head. Was she awake? Was she asleep? Was she-
"Psst! Pssst! Wake up!" The voice broke through the fog that shifted through her, and Katniss struggled to open one eye, then the next. Heaviness threatened to close them again, but she fought against it. And slowly, the image of a woman swam in front of her.
Squinting against the lights that were embedded in the floor, shooting their bright light up towards the ceiling, she focused on the woman, whose short whiskey coloured hair was twisted about her head, her eyes narrowed. She rested her elbows on her knees as she leant forward in her seat, a thin trail of blood marring her chin.
"About time you woke up," the woman sighed. "I've been waiting for you."
"Huh?" Katniss' head was still groggy, from whatever they'd injected her-
Suddenly, vitally alert, she sat up straight, shaking her head. Glancing around the small cabin, she noted the stark silver floors studded with lights, windowless walls – and a long bench along each side, shackles suited to both arms and legs placed at regular intervals. The only other person in the room was the sharp-tongued brunette directly across from her.
"Where are we? Are we still on their transport? How long have we been travelling? Who are you?" The words tumbled out through a mouth still numb from toxicity, her words slightly garbled.
The woman snorted, and began to relay their journey in a tone full of barely veiled disdain. Of how they'd been travelling at high speed for two hours, that they still hadn't arrived at the Capitol. How the men had dragged her – and her old fashioned sled – into the craft, mocking her for being so blatant in her disregard of Capitol rules. In a snide voice, she told Katniss she had to agree with them. Anyone brainless enough to be gallivanting around on a sled deserved to be caught.
"I have my reasons," Katniss snapped. "It wasn't a joyride."
The woman waved a hand dismissively. "Regardless, they've got you now."
"Well they've got you too," Katniss pointed out. "What do they have you for? Were you out on Capitol land as well?" She itched to rub at wrists rubbed raw from her bonds, but hard as she tried, she couldn't twist her fingers back far enough.
"No," the woman replied with a smirk. "I just like playing with my axe a little too much."
Katniss glanced at her warily, then looked back down at her wrists, mulling over everything the woman had told her. Two hours of travel meant she was either closer to Peeta or further away - and as she had no idea where Peeta had been taken to, she couldn't be sure.
"I can't stay in the Capitol," Katniss announced bluntly. "I have to find someone and I know I won't find them there." The look she received was a curious one, through considered eyes and a raised eyebrow.
"Tell me your name first," Katniss demanded in return.
"Johanna. Now tell me."
So, much similar to the story she shared with Finnick and Annie, Katniss told Johanna of her trek, of Peeta being taken by the hands of a woman born of snow, of her determination to bring him home. And the more Katniss shared, the more Johanna's lips firmed.
"I know of whom you speak," she said with a shake of her head. "I know the stories of her as well as you do."
"They're not just stories," Katniss replied emphatically.
Johanna rolled her eyes. "I know that. I know of someone who has seen her, spoken with this woman. But he wasn't to her liking, and managed to stay free of her."
Katniss tried to sit up straighter, her eyes widening. "Who? How? Can you take me to him?"
"How am I supposed to do that?" Johanna stared at her balefully. "We're both a little tied up right now."
"I'm not ignorant. I know was well as you do that your bonds aren't secured. How did you manage that?" Katniss glanced purposefully at the shackles banded around Johanna's wrists and ankles, and the woman smiled.
"Well. Seems you're not as brainless as I thought." She lifted her hand, wiggling her fingers almost sarcastically, before reaching into her pocket and producing a slim, silver object. "I've learned to multi-task. But I'll help you when we arrive in the Capitol. This isn't the first time they've tried to take me and keep me there. It won't be the last. Just do whatever I tell you to do, and we'll be fine."
Katniss didn't take well to being ordered what to do, but in this instance, she knew – just like she knew with Finnick and Annie – that she needed this woman's assistance. With a simple nod of agreement, Johanna stood from her bench and knelt before Katniss, using the small silver object to wiggle and nudge the shackles apart, until she was free of them. And looping them back loosely around her wrists and ankles to give the appearance of them being secure, she waited.
It was not long before the hovercraft docked in the Capitol. And though Katniss wasn't entirely sure how it happened, or how it occurred, she soon found herself in hot pursuit of Johanna, the two Peacekeepers who had come to retrieve them unconscious on the floor of their cell.
They ran from the airfield, down snaking streets paved with silver, past houses edged with fuchsia trim. They ducked behind green hedges shaped like diamonds, flattened themselves against lime green walls at the sound of pounding feet.
They ran, and ran, through the city centre until the streets became a little wider and the townhouses larger. Until Johanna cut abruptly down an alleyway and slipped through a gate almost obscured by bushes with leaves the colour of plums. Katniss watched as her companion threw herself on the small, perfectly manicured square patch of grass, closing her eyes.
"Here you go," she muttered, pursing her lips and breathing through them swiftly.
Katniss doubled over, hands on knees, panting heavily. Almost two months of consistent travel had worn on her body. She was tired. "How do you...know...your way around...here so well?" She asked between deep breaths.
Johanna shrugged. "I already told you. I've been here a few times before." If there was any more to her story Katniss didn't push it, nor did she wish to. Some things, she knew, were better left unsaid.
"And how do you know this person?"
"He's a little bit of a rebel like me."
Katniss straightened, studying the sleek, simple townhouse that backed onto the garden. As opposed to its candy cotton neighbours, this home stood out in its simplicity, with its pale yellow render and deeper gold trim. It shone like a beacon in amongst a city of falseness and showmanship.
She watched as the wide, gleaming wooden door slowly opened and a man stood framed within it. "Hello Johanna," he said simply. "It's been awhile."
"Well, I was being good for once," she winked, yanking on Katniss' hand and pulling her towards the door. She studied the man, and he studied her back. His warm mocha skin was set off by kind eyes the colour of chocolate, rimmed in a thin line of shimmery gold that seemed to make them more friendly. His close cropped hair was dark; his body slim in a simple - and decidedly non-Capitol - outfit of black trousers and shirt. Katniss liked him immediately.
"And who is this?" he asked softly.
"This is Katniss. She needs to find a little friend of yours," she replied blithely, and stepped into his home. He held out a hand to Katniss, waiting until she placed hers in his before covering their joined hands with his free one.
"Welcome Katniss, I am Cinna. I hope I'm able to assist you find who you need to."
Katniss nodded. "So do I."
The bone china cup was warm in her hands, the plush seat comforting beneath her. Her time with Annie and Finnick felt like light years ago, and these simple luxuries were more than welcome.
She finished her story, Cinna's only reaction a slight lifting of his eyebrow. "Well," he started. "I am certainly sorry for your friend." Katniss nodded, waiting for him to continue. "This woman is not an easy one to be free of."
"How did you…..how are you not with her right now?" Katniss was unsure how to phrase the question when she didn't fully understand what she was asking about.
He placed his own cup on the streamlined table that sat between them, clasping his hands between his knees. Johanna leant back on her seat beside Katniss, tucking her legs up and crossing them in front of her. "You have heard the stories of this Queen of the Snow, I am sure. How she likes to surround herself with those like her – cold of heart and frozen in disposition. Some people are born that way. Others….it suddenly appears. One day it will creep up on them, overtake their mind and body. That is what it sounds like is what happened to your friend." He paused, wanting to take his time. "I am not like many here in the Capitol. Johanna can attest to that. I have very little in the way of…agreement in their ways, in their policies. But many citizens in the Capitol are suited to the ways of the Queen, and hence, her yearly quests quite often end here."
"But not this year," Katniss interjected.
"No. Not this year," he said gently. "A number of years ago, she visited here, and spoke with me, tried to convince me to go with her. But my heart is not frozen, and her wiles did not have the effect on me that she desired. In a fit of anger, she ranted and raved – and opened her mind to me. In that small glimpse, I knew where she lived, where she resided. And it was such an empty and desolate and cold place, I shuddered at the thought of anyone being there with her, and refused to think of it again. She fled not long after, and two days later rumours swirled that Seneca Crane, a good friend of the President, had disappeared. And I knew she had taken him, for the influence of the President had long blackened his heart."
"I'd forgotten how charming you said she was," Johanna drawled. Cinna shot her a look that said more than words could, and she rolled her eyes. "Sorry, sorry, please continue with your little conversation."
"What does she do with them when she takes them?" Katniss asked. "How many people does she have in this fortress?"
Cinna shook his head sadly. "I don't know. And I don't think I want to know. She might keep them forever, she might…dispose of them. Some things, ultimately, are better left unknown." He looked at Katniss, his hands held out in apology. "I'm sorry I cannot take you there. But I can tell you where to go, how to find her. It won't be easy, as she has hidden her frozen palace from prying eyes for many years. But you'll get there. You're determined."
"If I get there, how will I save him? Surely she is much more powerful than me, if she can convince people to simply go with her with a matter of a few words."
Cinna reached out, took the cup from her and handed it to Johanna. He warmed Katniss' hands with his own, his touch gentle and comforting.
"I'm sure you are convincing in your own way. But this much, I know. Only you can save your friend, Katniss. The fire in your belly and your heart to save him is magnificent. But the glimpse she gave me assured me of one thing. It is only your pure heart that will be able to save him. There is no-one and nothing else." Katniss frowned at his words, not altogether comfortable with his way of describing her. He sensed this, and smiled. "There is nothing to be ashamed of being called pure, Katniss. And it has more meanings than you could ever understand. But all I can tell you is what I have. I can give you directions, show you the way to go. But if you can't save Peeta, no-one can."
She shrugged. "How will I get there? I have no sled."
Cinna smiled softly. "You have to go by foot, Katniss. There is no other way. It will take you time, but you will find it. I promise."
"She's going to have to be a little more subtle about it this time," Johanna interjected bluntly.
"Oh, she will," Cinna said with confidence. "She's determined and not afraid to do what she feels she needs to." He turned his attention back to Katniss and nodded his head firmly. "I'm not a betting man Katniss, but if I was, I'd bet on you."
Katniss remembered Cinna's words as she trudged through the snow covered woods. It made her determined, made her stronger in her resolve. She knew she could do this, knew she would find Peeta. She had to.
Cinna had given her a clear set of directions, and had swiftly escorted her to the edge of the Capitol. She and Johanna had made their way into the woods quickly, venturing as far as they could together before Johanna headed for District 7 and Katniss for District 1, where Cinna had told her she would find the home of the Queen. Even as the days became colder, and the nights longer, and the outlook bleaker, she didn't let her intentions waver. And as the days wore on and the world became whiter and starker and more desolate, she knew she was getting closer.
She wrapped Annie's coat around her tighter, freezing tendrils of wind sneaking in to any gap it could find. Her shoes, worn from months of walking, were soaked through, her feet turning into blocks of ice. Her mind began to wander, thinking of her family, wondering what they were doing, whether they missed her, whether they had sent out a search party for her after she had been gone for so long. She wondered if Mr Mellark was still in his bakery, grieving over his son, or whether her journey had given him some hope, given him something to wake up for every day.
She wondered what Peeta was doing, whether he was hurt, or in pain. If a hint of concern entered her mind that he was happy where he was, she ignored it. Peeta belonged in 12, not here. Not in this frozen wilderness.
Shelter was scarce, her body shivering and freezing in the open air every evening. And as her body ached and exhaustion threatened to claim her, concern filled her that she would be too late to find him. That it would be too late for her and she would cease to exist.
With these thoughts in her mind, Katniss moved around a tree, scraping her sleeve against the rough bark. And her eyes widened and mouth dropped open as a veil seemed to part in front of her, opening to reveal a valley spread out far and wide – and displaying an icy fortress that rose into the sky proudly. It was mysterious and foreboding and magnificent all at once, with its wide and tall turrets, encased within a frozen wall of ice. It was like nothing she had ever seen before, not even the glimpses of the Capitol she would see during their scheduled programming every week. She knew Peeta would have the words to describe it, knew he would be able to tell her what every single shade of colour was called. To her it was white upon white upon grey upon silver. But he would have made it come alive with his words.
She studied her prey, for that is what the fortress was to this hunter. She scanned over the height of the walls that surrounded the main structure, tried to determine where the most fragile place to start would be. And realised there was no way to enter other than the front entrance, the tall, imposing gates barring her way.
Footsteps light, and slipping and weaving behind trees, Katniss made her way towards the gates. As she got closer, she was surprised to find that they were fashioned from silvery, interlocking snowflakes, in an intricate pattern that left no room to slide through, not even her arm up to her elbow. She pushed on them, though she knew they would hardly swing open at just her touch. They did not move an inch.
The gates remained closed, no matter how hard she pushed, pulled or yanked on them. She swore the snowflakes were glaring at her from their intertwined positions within the framework of the gate, yet who had ever heard of a gate with eyes, let alone a snowflake with eyes?
She glanced at the side of the long gates, looking for a hinge, although if there were any, they were carefully hidden. The elaborate icy panels butted up against the start of the high frozen wall that circled the fortress, closing it off from the outside world.
Wrapping her fingers around the edges of the snowflakes at her eye level, she yanked hard, again and again, until her arms ached and her fingers burned from the cold that seeped through her gloves. And, defeated, she slumped to the ground, wrapping her arms around her thighs and resting her head despondently on her knees.
This was it. After all she'd gone through, how far and long she'd travelled, she had been stopped by a gate.
Pulling her head up and propping her chin in her hands, she stared across the vast valley in front of her, winter stubbornly refusing to yield to spring. And, almost absently, began to sing.
The gates, frozen by ice and the dictation of the Queen it served, began to tremble and shiver behind Katniss, for the snowflakes that guarded the fortress were no match for the clear and open beauty of a pure voice. It was their one weakness, the one sound, which would overrule the voice of their mistress. And like the birds that stopped to listen to her, here the snowflakes cowered and acquiesced to her voice.
With an almost silent and imperceptible swing, the gates opened at her back. She turned, eyes wide, and scrambled to her feet, hurrying through them before they swung closed again. She glanced at them for a second, just one second, and the snowflakes fluttered and shifted in fear, the gate widening just a little bit more, almost as if to move further away from her.
She moved about the lowest level of the fortress, studying the wide halls that spread out in front of her, the gleaming staircases and glittering chandeliers that hung from ceilings fifty feet high. The floor sparkled like diamonds beneath her feet, but it did not matter, because its icy beauty was lost on her. There was nothing in this place that filled her with wonder, for she had never encountered such a place so cold, unforgiving and lifeless.
As she stepped through an archway, she found herself at the edge of a lake, as wide and smooth as glass. In its centre was a blur of colour, a single speck of brightness against the whitewashed world. Creeping along the edge of the wall beside the arch, she ignored the steady dripping of icy water that slid down the cold surface, ignored the thin layer of snow at her feet slowly turning to slush. She was focused on one thing and one thing only – determining what this coloured aberration was. And finally, her mouth dropped open as she came close enough to see.
There, in the middle of a frozen lake in the centre of the fortress, sat Peeta, staring blankly at a canvas placed delicately on an easel, paints resting in a tray and a paintbrush loosely held in his limp hand.
Her heart leapt, but she was hesitant to surprise him, remembering the last time they'd seen each other, and how tightly he'd yanked and pulled and tugged at the length of her braid, fury on his face. So she moved towards him hesitantly, her feet taking slow, measured steps across the ice. If he saw her, if he heard her, he didn't turn, didn't acknowledge her – he just kept staring at the white blank page in front of him. She took the final steps, moving so that she stood directly behind the easel placed on the ice. And shivered when his head flew up, icy eyes locking to hers.
"What do you want?" he hissed, face and eyes blank of recognition.
"Peeta, it's me. Katniss. Remember?" Her voice was low, pleading.
"I don't know who you are." His words were simple, but they stung. This still wasn't the Peeta she had loved for longer than she even realised.
"We're….we're friends, Peeta," she faltered, willing back the tears that threatened to overspill.
"I have no friends. Did she send you here? To keep an eye on me while she's away, finding others like me?" he spat, lip curled, the anger lacing his words hard to ignore.
"No! No, I came to take you home," she whispered.
"This is home," Peeta laughed harshly, waving an arm around. "This lake is my home."
"No it's not!" She replied forcefully. "Your home is in District 12, with your father, and Aaran and Ethen, and…."
"And what?" He demanded. "I don't know any of those people you're speaking about, and I definitely don't know you." He folded his arms across his chest, the brush falling to the ground, fingers clutching angrily at his biceps.
Katniss swallowed heavily, wondering what she could say, what she could do, to remind him. She couldn't leave him here, not now that she'd found him. Couldn't bear the thought of him being in this fortress void of colour and happiness and life – all things Peeta deserved – for a minute longer. And then she realised what he'd said - Did she send you here? To keep an eye on me while she's away….
The woman wasn't even here.
She swiped her hand forcefully in front of her, the canvas and easel tumbling to the ground. She stepped towards him, ignoring the clenching of his jaw, the darkening of his eyes, the way his hands dropped to his sides, tightly fisted. She wrapped her arms around his waist, pressing her lips to his, sliding her hands up and over his shoulders, drawing him into her. He was cold, so cold, and she pressed her body tightly to his, trying to give him her warmth, trying to bring him back to her. She could feel him fighting her, struggling to pull away, but she held steadfastly, refusing to let him go. And as her lips moved against his, as her tongue traced the seam of his lips, as she shifted her head to change the angle of her kiss, she felt it. The soft touch of a tear landing on her cheek.
It wasn't hers.
As the warmth of her lips melded to his, as the heat of her body seeped into his bones, tears gathered in his eyes. And as the tears gathered, and fell, with it tumbled the speck of shimmering glass. His heart, which had begun to beat, hard and fast and strong, dislodged the remaining speck- it too fell with his tears. And with that, he remembered her.
She pulled away as he stilled in her embrace, her eyes locking onto his, and she studied the red rims, the blue that seemed to warm in front of her very eyes. Tears streamed down his cheeks, fell onto his collar, dripped to the surface of the ice below. She could feel the way his heart thudded against her chest – realised it hadn't been beating, not properly, when she'd first pulled him to her – the way his fingers had moved around to clutch desperately at the back of her coat.
"Katniss?" he whispered, his voice breaking and cracking. She nodded, unable to find the words that had stuck in her throat. "What happened? Where am I? What are we doing here?"
"I-I don't exactly know what happened," she stammered. "But I've been looking for you for so long. I knew you weren't dead, that I had to find you."
"Dead?" he exclaimed, his eyes wide. She nodded.
"We…..we had your funeral," Katniss whispered. "They found your jacket by the river. They thought you'd drowned."
She watched him silently as he swallowed heavily, as the weight of her words fell upon him. He closed his eyes, rubbing his hand across his chest as if it ached, but she let him be, didn't move to touch him again. Then he opened his eyes, reaching up and drawing his palm lightly down the length of her braid, like he had done so many times before. And as his fingers reached the end, tugging lightly, he froze, stepping away from her. His eyes widened.
"You shouldn't be near me, Katniss," he whispered. "I hurt you too much."
"What?" She reached out for him, but he shrugged her off.
"I remember. I hurt you, I made you cry. I'm so sorry, and I didn't mean to, and I'd never want to, not in a million years, but….you need to stay away from me."
"No," Katniss shook her head. "No, Peeta, you're fine. You're not like it any more…."
Peeta took a deep breath, his eyes wild, and he glanced away from her, over at the fortress that seemed to shimmer in front of them. The ice was slick beneath their feet, not staid and strong like before, and he leant over and picked up the canvas, paints and easel, moving towards the edge of the lake. Placing them on the sturdier ground, he turned back to Katniss, his composure back in place again.
"You know I was never dead, Katniss," he started, and she nodded in agreement, but said nothing. "Those few weeks before I….left, something was wrong with me. Something had taken over my body, my heart, my mind, just everything about me. And when I saw her, I was tempted. I couldn't think of anything but going with her. And then…it was like none of you existed. I forgot about all of you. I forgot everything. I even forgot how awful I was to you that day."
Katniss nodded. "I know. I knew something was wrong. I knew you'd never hurt me like that," she told him. "But don't apologise. Itwasn't you. Whatever it was, it's gone now."
"How do you know? It could happen again, it could come back at any-"
She cut him off, shaking her head. "Don't, Peeta. Don't worry about that. We'll make sure. And if it does…. We'll overcome it." She was sure of it. Hearing Cinna's words, remembering what he said, that only she could save him, made her confident they could.
He opened his mouth to protest then stopped himself. He scrubbed his hands across his face, through his hair, making it stand on end. Pink rose on his cheeks and he breathed in deeply through his nose, nodding absently to himself. "Katniss, I need to tell you something. The day….The day when I knew things were wrong, when I knew things weren't right, I was coming home to you. I was coming home to watch the sunset with you. And then afterwards I was going to tell you I loved you." Her eyes widened, and he pushed on, didn't want her to turn him away. "And I still do, Katniss, I never stopped, even when I couldn't remember. I will never stop. But I promise I will always be your friend. And I promise I'll plant you some new primroses. And-"
She threw herself at him, catching him off guard as they fell onto the snow, Peeta blocking their fall. Her lips found his, tongues tangling, teeth bumping, breath skittering across skin. His arms banded around her tightly, one across her shoulder blades, one around her waist, fingers digging desperately into her jacket. Hers cupped his face, her fingers tracing the line of his jaw, the hollow of his throat as she refused to move her lips from his. And she knew, as she felt something rise in her that she'd never felt before, that she wouldn't be able to let him go again. Katniss pulled back, breath ragged and panting. Peeta stared at her, in shock, in surprise, she didn't know.
"Katniss?" he said jerkily. She nodded, not willing to risk her voice right now. She didn't know what to say. "You….you love me. Real or not real?"
And finally, she knew what to say.
As Katniss Everdeen spoke the word, the winter that had lingered, had covered this forgotten piece of land for longer than one could imagine, began to melt and disappear. And as the snow melted, and ice turned to water, the land around them became green, a vital green that was almost so bright it hurt Katniss' eyes. Dandelions sprung up around them, a sign of spring, of life. Of love. It spread, circling around them, the frozen pathways melting, the woods slowly becoming alive, shades of green and brown and red and orange, colours that these parts had not seen for many years. And as they kissed again, the sun broke through the clouds, its golden rays twisting and filtering through the trees, bouncing off the fortress that now shimmered like glass, no longer ice.
With a gasp, Peeta pulled away from Katniss, first staring at her, then turning his face to the sun. With a start he pulled himself from underneath her, reaching for the canvas and brush and paints he'd dropped to the ground, as eager as Katniss had ever seen him.
"What…what are you doing?" Katniss asked, watching as he frantically began to swirl colours together across the canvas, mixing and dabbing and testing. He grinned up at her, the grin that was as familiar to her as her own.
"I'm painting the perfect shade of sunlight on fur," he told her, reaching out and touching the edge of the simple, white fur coat Annie had gifted Katniss. "I remember what it is."
And he did.
So the selfless young man and woman escaped the fortress of the Queen of the Snow. The wails of the icy woman were high and long, heard for miles and full of fury when discovered that her trickery had been overcome. She was, once again, alone in her fortress no longer made of ice, but of glass.
But it would not last long, for her cold heart would not let her land or her palace betray her. Winter would, inevitably, sneak its way back in, the temporary spring would disappear. And she would soon venture across the land again, looking for a frozen heart to share her time.
They returned home to a parade only suitable for victors, though they wished for nothing but to be alone. And as they finally, eventually, returned to their homes, they went to the first place they knew they needed to go.
As the sun dipped below the mountains, setting the sky on fire before it plunged into darkness, they bridged the gap between their windows. And kissed.
A/N - Thank you for your follows, favourites and reviews, I appreciate them a lot. This story is completely different to anything I've written before, so I was definitely putting myself out there with it. :)