A/N: I am so sorry for this freakishly long wait! I literally hate myself. It's been a full month. And after everything you guys have done for me with all your reviews and alerts and favorites (many of which I do not deserve) I feel like a big let down. And to be honest, I'm disappointed in myself with this chapter even though nothing seems wrong with it. It's just that I've taken some time off: I'm currently in a different country, working in my dad's shop that takes a good 8-10 hours out of my day (and is greatly responsible for this delay in writing) and it just hasn't been going great for me stress wise. I apologize, I'll just stop ranting. Please, read on and enjoy!
Also don't forget to review, alert, or favorite and all that jazz. If you're interested, my Tumblr name is "gamesofayoungcontrarian"
Special Thanks to Fnur, therebelliondies (for the amazingly appreciated advice!) and so-amazing-here (for the many PMs and ego-boosters) and all you people on Tumblr who read my story after it was recommended by everlarkrecs. You are all too wonderful.
Disclaimer: I sadly do not own The Hunger Games. Fuck my life.
Hospital For Souls
And then I found out how hard it is to really change. Even hell can get comfy once you're settled in.
Once Peeta is out of the room, I'm left alone with only my thoughts and the memories of the past twenty minutes. And that is the last thing that would do me any good in my current state of mind.
I try to keep myself busy—I've learned over the years that one of the best ways to take your mind off a topic is to distract yourself—but there are only so many ways to do so whilst strapped to a bedpost and stranded in a hospital. Luckily, I'm able to reach the call button—which I hadn't even noticed was there before—on the bed's arm. I don't know who's on the receiving end of the line, but I'm hoping beyond hope whoever it is proves to be a worthy distraction.
I'm a little surprised when I see the two orderlies arrive not long after, simply because I didn't hear them enter the room. Moving unnaturally quiet is something I've perfected in my teens and take great pride in, but it seems even the hospital staff can give me a run for my money.
They smile politely, asking me some basic questions. How am I feeling? Am I hungry? Is there anything they can be of service to? Nothing personal or medical-related. I tell them I'm famished and that the tightness of the straps is killing me.
They smile at the former, but grow nervous at the latter, exchanging furtive glances that don't go unnoticed by my confused gaze. It takes me a few moments before their actions finally dawn on me. They're frightened, because I'm the unstable deranged patient who attacked a group of nurses. Word spreads fast in these circles apparently. Though I wince at the memory of my actions, I hold no regrets. I needed to get out of this place. I still do.
Eventually, and half-heartedly, they acquiesce to loosening my bounds, being cautious in handling my injured wrist, before fetching my meal. I almost moan in relief at having the painful restrictions lifted and the extra range of motion in my arms. But they don't remove them fully. The bright red marks on my wrists finally peek out, and I rub them to soothe the sensitive skin.
I can't complain though, at least I'll be able to feed myself with my own hands now.
The orderlies come back with a bowl of chicken soup, toast and jam on the side, and a bottle of water. The food isn't terrible, albeit it's a bit far from the most appetizing meal I've had. The soup is lukewarm and under-seasoned. I tell myself it's only because I haven't eaten anything since yesterday that I find myself drooling over it.
They leave me to eat in peace, and I hungrily gobble the entire tray of food in under five minutes before it's taken away. Stomach satisfied, but still immobile, I have nothing left to fill in the long hours ahead of me. I should've taken my time with the meal instead of inhaling it.
My thoughts wonder, aimlessly, taking everything around me in. It's not… a completely uncomfortable setting. The room is designed for functionality, not luxury, at yet it gives off a feeling of privacy with its shaded—and permanently shuttered—windows. It's oddly comfortable. After living a reclusive, almost hermetic, lifestyle for the past month, it also feels somewhat strange being in a new environment and speaking to people again.
The thought doesn't last long. This is a hospital, my mind notes. This is where people come to die. It's their job to take care of me, and I've never needed taking care of before. That's not about to change. I've gone years without needing people, it's just the way my life has played out. Peeta Mellark has no right to keep me here against my will.
If it wasn't for these damn straps.
I throw my head back against the pillow, utterly frustrated, rubbing my face to at least give my arms something to do with their newfound semi-freedom. I almost laugh out loud. Free is the last thing I'm feeling. This is a four-walled cage, and I am its songbird, forced to live behind metal bars, performing, till someone unlocks the gate and releases me into the open sky.
That will never happen. They think I'm sick, they think I need to be here. Peeta thinks I need to be here. As much as I have missed the boy with the bread—and even that is difficult enough for me to admit to myself—he and his opinions on my health are not a priority I give.
I will think of a way out of this cage. Peeta is just another obstacle trying to keep me here, no better than those nurses holding me back. He won't hurt me, but he's hardly an ally of mine. This will more likely end up hurting him more than me.
A pang rips through my chest at the thought of him in pain, causing my throat to constrict. I've done enough to that boy—or man, I should say—so it's probably best I do leave instead of torture him with my presence.
But for now, I'm growing tired, and the drugs still haven't fully exited my system. I'll rest on it and hope an idea comes to mind on the details of my departure.
Sleep does not come to me easily, for good reason, but the emotional and physical exhaustion of the day is pulling me under. Within an hour, I drift off, burning out like candlelight.
I'm standing in a dark tunnel, at the center of a busy railway. The sound of an elevator shaft grinding and creaking fills the background. Vehicles carrying grimy men in dull uniforms and thickly smudged hard-hats pass by as if they don't notice the grown, out of place, woman in their midst. Judging by the cold, vacant stares, it's hard to tell if they could notice me at all. I have to squint to fully make out their silhouettes. They blend so easily to the shadow, with their gray attire and dark skin it's no wonder that the first word that comes to mind in describing them is ghostly.
If I'm being honest, I'm not surprised to find myself here of all places. This is where all my worst nightmares begin. In a coal mine, half a mile underground.
The walls are hard and black, smothering what little illumination is provided at this depth. I decide it suites the atmosphere perfectly. Everything here is dead, or dying. Nothing grows in these inhabitable conditions, even the camaraderie among workers only goes so far.
I take slow, tentative steps, even though I have no sense of direction. Every wall and crevice looks exactly the same in this cold underground labyrinth. But then a flash of color catches my eye and I'm forced to blind rapidly at the sudden brightness against the dark backdrop. I follow its path, picking up speed until I'm practically running.
A botch of blonde runs through the edges of my vision, forcing me to constantly turn my head in whichever direction, only to find nothing. I know what I saw. It's the one that's evading me—far too successfully for my liking. This game is quickly becoming frustrating, and agitating, but I can't seem to stop chasing the brightness in this sullen place.
As I'm turning my head for the hundredth time, seemingly lost in the maze, the mysterious object comes to a halt in the distance not too far away. Without its sudden movements, I realize it's not a botch of color at all.
It's a girl with flowing golden hair and gracefully fair skin. Her back facing me, giving me a view of the untucked shirt that forms a duck tail. And she's not alone.
An older miner kneels in front of her, hands resting on her upper arms, near the shoulders of her painfully white blouse. He's covered in earth, but doesn't leave a smudge of dirt on her pristine clothing. He's smiling, like a child would receiving a surprise present on his birthday. And even after so many years, after so many sleepless nights without him, I recognize the miner as my father almost immediately. I can never forget his beaming face. It's permanently etched into my nightmares, like a bad scar.
The identity of the girl, if not before, is now blaringly obvious. My father reserves that countenance for a select few people, but it's always its biggest and brightest around two special, specific persons. His daughters.
She looks so beautiful, and so much younger than when I last saw her. Gone are the rapid mid-teen growth spurts and womanly curves and voluptuous beauty of her full face. She looks no older that twelve right before my eyes. The picture of pure innocence.
My breath catches in my throat in wistful awe. My lips are quivering for no absolute reason. "Prim," I breathe, almost inaudibly. I don't even hear it myself.
She snaps her head in my direction, our eyes locking. Her cerulean blue meeting cloudy gray. Father drops his arms to allow her to turn fully and he sends me a lazy grin from behind Prim. I notice her lips are moving, and I catch the word she's mouthing as it leaves.
"Katniss," she whispers.
And then, the entire room goes up in an explosion of earth and fire.
I watch, helplessly, as the two people I love most in this world are incinerated before my eyes.
Whether the blood curling screams I release is from the terrifying scene I've witnessed, or the sudden sharp pain that stabs my body from the fire that's burning my flesh, I do not know. But either way, I have shattered. My body is wracking with cries and shouts. Agony and pain take over my senses while I writhe for an escape that will never come. I am engulfed in flames, destined to burn till my being is as black and scorched as the coal.
My sister's last word rings in my mind like a cruel incantation.
Katniss. Katniss. Katniss.
And then, just to torture my mind and body further, the mantra takes on an achingly familiar male voice. Peeta Mellark's voice.
I'm shouting now, shaking her shoulders so roughly her back is lightly bouncing off the bed, as her gray eyes fly wide open. Tears had been spilling out long before they opened up, causing rivulets to stream down her face in weird angles. But the worst is finally over now that she's regained consciousness. It was terrifying enough watching her like that.
I was making my usual rounds, a bit more anxiously than normal. This isn't even my ward, but that didn't stop me from taking my sweet time walking past her sleeping form every hour or so. The first time I checked in, she was dozing off soundlessly, calm and relaxed. I couldn't help the smile that tugged at my lips at the way her unkempt hair messily spanned out across the pillow like a halo. The second time I came around was not nearly as pleasant. She was tossing and turning so violently I was having trouble believing she was still asleep. But I recognized a night terror when I saw one. I approached with caution, fearful that with her straps loosened she might lash out in an episode and hurt herself.
Sweat stuck to her brow and her features were contorted in pain as she breathed in heavily. The heart monitor was sounding off erratically.
She stilled for a brief moment, and then she started screaming.
It would've been almost comical at how much it startled me if the situation weren't so direly serious. I crossed the room in two quick strides and gripped her tightly in my arms. It served to both pin her down and shake her out of her night terrors. But she was still squirming and crying her head off. I had to shout her name five times before she finally awoke.
And here she is, staring up at me with tear stained eyes, searching my face as if she can't believe I'm here in front of her. I dare not let go of her in her precarious state, even though the position of our bodies—her forearms trapped between our chests and my hands gripping the sides of her biceps—probably isn't the most comfortable one. But by the way she reaches up around my neck with her arms, pulling me into an improvised impromptu embrace; I realize she needs a different kind of comfort.
I return the embrace around her middle, my fingers trailing slowly up her spine, whispering, "It's over. You're okay. You're okay," and other soothing words. Then something unexpected happens: Katniss Everdeen begins to cry—really cry—in my presence. She's shaking with silent sobs like a leaf in a thunderstorm, but her hold on my neck is like a vice. It's alright though, I don't think I want her to let go.
A group of nurses headed by Octavia (a plump but short woman who's responsible for manning the nurse's station in the reception hall) is standing by the doorframe, all eyeing me with looks ranging from curious to shocked to fearful. I wave them off as discreetly as I can, not wanting to disturb Katniss, and thankfully they scatter out of the way like ants under a magnifying glass. There are sure to be rumors swarming around what they've just seen by the time I leave this room. But I'll deal with them later, for now Katniss is the only person I need to be concerned about.
Moments pass before her sobbing dies down to sniffles and hiccups, and her grip on me goes slack as she lowers herself to sit up on the bed.
She tries to compose herself as best she can in front of me, wiping her nose and puffy eyes with the back of her hand. I'm ready to give her all the time she needs. She isn't exactly the best speaker, so it comes as a surprise when she finally initiates the first words of a conversation.
"I didn't want you to see that," she says simply, her voice cracking again.
"I know… but I did."
"Well, I wish you didn't." And then she goes silent again, taking deep breaths as her heart monitor evens out. It's not a statement she's expecting a response to, and I can't find one that's appropriate enough. She's refusing to look at me. From this angle, her hair provides a curtain of protection from my gaze, covering most of her face. My fingers twitch to push it behind her ear, but they remain on my lap.
I eventually find words. "Still… I don't want you to feel like you can't come to me when you're in need." She scoffs, but otherwise remains unresponsive as I continue. "And I know how you feel about showing any sort of vulnerability. I just need you to understand that I'm not going away. I'm here for you."
Katniss, at last, graces me with an unwavering glare that does nothing to break my resolve. "You shouldn't be helping me. I'm trouble, Peeta. You and I both know that." She sounds almost sad.
"And what if I want to help you?" I counter, leaning forward challengingly.
"Then you'd be wasting your time," she replies, nonchalantly. "Nothing good is going to come out of this."
My brows furrow. "If it means you can be healthy and functioning again without having to harm yourself, then I think its damn well worth a shot." I state emphatically.
She grimaces with frustration, shaking her head. "You can't just… fix people like they're made of glass, Peeta." Her voice is shaky, brimming with emotion in her undertone. "Sometimes the pieces are just too broken up."
I want to reach out and touch her, to grab hold of her the way she clung to me and whisper in her ear how wrong she really is. But I've already done that once today and it just doesn't seem like a second time is a good idea with her inconsistent, mercurial nature.
"Katniss," I reply, gathering my words with as much firmness as I can muster. "You're not broken. Just… bent."
But she doesn't look convinced. We've reached a stalemate, an understanding that neither of us will back down. She's being more stubborn than Haymitch, an act previously thought impossible, but I should've expected nothing less. She will fight me on every turn, every step toward her recovery and therapy, always at loggerheads. And she's not above playing dirty.
Surprisingly, I actually find myself up for the challenge that is Katniss Everdeen. She deserves a long, healthy life even if she doesn't realize it herself, and I will do everything in my power to make sure she gets one.
"How long have you been having night terrors?" I ask suddenly. A raw determination is running through my veins like liquid courage, and not of the white liquor kind.
She turns her head away, ignoring me as if I'd said nothing.
"What are they about?" I prod with growing conviction. "Why do you think they torment you?"
"Why do you keep asking questions you already know the answers to?" she seethes, a sneer twitching her upper lip.
Now I'm the one that grows silent. Suddenly I'm transported back to those long school mornings sitting one row back on the other side of the classroom from the girl of my dreams. I would watch her for almost hours on end each day, noticing the subtle details of her features and the emotions reflecting them. Her eyes were heavy with discolored bags underneath, her dark hair messily and hastily braided, a scowl or cool expression plastered her face, and slow uncaring movements characterized her arms and entire body. All evidence of sleep deprivation. It had started not soon after her father passed away and then continued plentifully so. After a few months however, those moments became less and less common, until they arose again occasionally, but infrequently.
It was at one of those moments of restlessness that we would have our first real face-to-face conversation. But the memory passes, and I'm drawn back to the present with the messy haired woman in front of me as if she'd never changed over the years.
"Because things are different, Katniss," I reply, evenly. "You've been gone for a long time, and I imagine you've had your fair share of new, unresolved issues."
She rolls her eyes, dismissively. "And how would you know? You said it yourself; I've been gone a long time. You don't know me."
To her surprise, I grin at her vitriol, shaking my head wistfully. "Well, if there's one thing I remember dearly about Katniss Everdeen, it's that she was—above all else—a survivor. As long as she had someone or something to focus on, she would always find a way to keep going. Even if the odds were never in her favor."
She audibly swallows, a grimace contorting her expression, and she seems to have trouble getting words out. My grin falls and I eye her with concern. The room suddenly feels colder, tension thickly weighing down the air. I'm about to reach out for her, and then she takes a deep, shaky breath and says, "You'd be right. Things are different now." Another deep breathe, and a slight hiccup escapes. Her eyes are drawn so tight she's almost on the edge of tears again. "T-there's no life for me here. I-I have no one in my life to focus on…to live for now. I don't think I'll ever be happy again."
I search her face anxiously. She believes every word she's saying. But confusion and curiosity takes over before I can think of any other responses. "I don't understand." I say, my tone softly questioning.
"Peeta…" she whispers. "There's no one else anymore. My sister is dead."