Disclaimer: A lot of medical jargon in this chapter. Some of it is factual; most of it is entirely fictional. Take it all with a heaping spoonful of salt.
Building back Peeta's memories proves to be an arduous, time- consuming task. The days we spend together in his tiny hospital room fly by in a blur of conversations about nothing and everything, accompanied occasional bursts of both laughter and tears. We work diligently together to sort through his clouded memories, revisiting not only the past year and a half of our lives since our fates crossed on that fateful reaping day, but our childhoods as well.
The more we talk, the more I feel that pull towards him, the achingly primal hunger that has absolutely nothing to do with food. I often find little reasons to touch him- brushing a stray eyelash from his cheek or nudging his leg with my own- but I do not try to kiss him again. I'm not willing to jeopardize what we have gained by moving too quickly.
It turns out that Prim was right. Focusing on Peeta's recovery has benefitted me so much that I have been officially cleared to move out of the mentally disoriented wing of the hospital and into Compartment 307 with my family.
When he heard this news, Peeta smiled and congratulated me, but his enthusiasm did nothing to cover his jealousy for my improved situation. After his protracted stay underground, he is positively itching to be freed from his hospital room, too. Dr. Aurelius has promised to recommend that he be allowed to join me and the other soldiers in training a couple of times per week. Once the Board clears the request, he will be permitted into the fresh air for the first time in months. For his sake I hope they move quickly. Just being allowed above ground and breathing in fresh air was a huge comfort to me in my point of deepest depression.
The approval can't come soon enough for Peeta, whose pale skin has acquired a chalky, sallow look in its long deprivation of sunlight. He is also significantly thinner than he was before the Quarter Quell. Much of the bulky muscle mass he acquired during our training was lost to starvation in the arena and then to his torture in the Capitol. His slow recovery here has not allowed for much physical activity, so getting back into training will be good for him. With time, I'm even hoping the Board will allow us to go out into the woods together. Not to hunt, but to get away from this place for a while, just the two of us.
But until 13's officials have decided whether it is safe to allow Peeta out in the open again, we are stuck in the hospital. The one small improvement is that he's permitted to be un-cuffed full time now, provided a nurse is on call and ready to deliver a knockout dose of morphling into his bloodstream if things should get out of hand.
Mostly we sit together and talk, playing various rounds of Real or Not Real to help Peeta tell the truth from the lies fed to him under the influence of tracker jacker venom while he makes use of the contraband items I stole for him.
Soon the grayish notepad is filled with portraits of his entire family. "I don't want to forget them," he tells me. "I'm afraid if I don't draw them now, a day will come when I can't remember their faces." I know how he feels. As I've grown older, I have found it increasingly difficult to remember certain details about my father. His voice, his smell, and most of all, his face. The different expressions when he hunted or came home from the mines or kissed my mother and hugged Prim and me. Those things have a tendency to fade away over time, and I can't fault Peeta for his proclivity to cling to them. Apparently this desire extends even to his mother, although her portrait has a stiff, cold quality to it, lacking the warmth and passion that exudes from those of his father and brothers.
My face is not absent from the sketchbook, either. From what I gather, I am still a frequent fixture in his nightmares, and on occasion he will show me a scene he's drawn in the middle of the night, but he keeps most of those to himself. One time he actually asked me to pose for him. ("I want to draw you as you are, not how you appear in my nightmares.") The resulting portrait was different than any he has done of me in the past. The crease between my eyes, the scowl on my lips, and the lingering scar on my cheek from the Quell were all glaringly present, and yet that drawing is somehow better than all the rest. It feels the most authentic.
Today Peeta is working on a pair of hands with its knuckles deep in dough. They are large and pale and a long scar runs down the length of one wrist (I assume this to be a burn from the bakery ovens), and most likely belongs to his father, or maybe one of his brothers. I don't get the chance to ask because he suddenly stops shading the picture to meet my gaze.
"We've done this before, real or not real?"
"Real," I tell him. "We spent a lot of time working on my family plant book at your house."
His lips curve into a reminiscent smile. "Yeah, I remember some of that. You're picky about your drawings."
"Well, I had to make sure you got them right! An extra leaf on a plant or something could get our future descendants killed," I retort teasingly. I neglect to add that there were many times when I kept him sketching just so I could observe him longer. When he first started drawing again, I was pleased to find that the same tiny crinkle still appears between his eyes when he's concentrating hard, and his tongue still pokes every so slightly out of his mouth when he's displeased with his work. Those little quirks, at least, have gone unchanged.
If Peeta notices the sudden rush of heat to my face at this memory, he doesn't say anything. He seems too intent on something else on his mind to notice, casting a frown at the picture he's drawn. His head snaps up to look at me again, all traces of teasing gone from his face.
"You regret having sex with me on the beach in the arena, real or not real?"
My mouth goes dry. Of course I knew this discussion would come eventually, I just did not expect that it would catch me so off guard.
The night we let go of our inhibitions and made love in the arena was the last piece of footage we watched, and the only one we saw out of order from the rest. To say that it was difficult to watch would be an understatement of epic proportions.
Once again the cameras had lingered on us during the entire exchange, unwilling to miss a single shining moment. The tender kiss that evolved into something animalistic and unstoppable. Peeta's feeble attempts at resistance melting away under my insistent touch. Him rolling me over in the sand, taking charge, and eliciting between us the best pleasure of our lives.
As we watched the scene play out, my entire body felt like it was on fire with a bizarre mixture of humiliation and an odd buzzing between my legs. I could not so much as glance in Peeta's direction the entire time it was on the screen. Afterwards, he lost the ability to speak for several hours. He's in shock, the doctors told me. For a while they were worried it was a setback that might be detrimental to his recovery, but Peeta eventually agreed to speak to Dr. Aurelius about it.
I was not present for that conversation, not even behind the glass in the observation area. The doctor told me afterward to let him bring it up to me when he was ready. Hence, we've been tip- toeing around the subject for almost a week. Until now, that is.
The room is uncomfortably silent for a long time as we hold each other's gaze, Peeta sizing me up, and me trying to find the right words to answer his question.
"Not real," I finally say in a choked whisper, reaching automatically for his hand to lace my fingers with his. It means I love you. Peeta knows this and I hope it is enough to convey the feelings that I can't put into words. Rather than looking reassured, however, he narrows his eyes in suspicion.
Why? Because… it was what we both wanted- needed- to do at the time. Peeta and I both. And no matter how embarrassing it is to know that the entire country saw it, that our families saw it … I have not been able to regret doing it after all this time.
Because nothing on the outside matters anymore when you're thrust into the arena. Not friends or family or anyone else. Your whole world condenses down to that hellish dome and the people in it, most of whom are out for your blood.
Because it was our last chance to be together.
Because I love him.
Suddenly there's a soft knock on the door of his hospital room. Both of us jump at the unexpected intrusion as my mother enters.
"Katniss? They're asking for you," she says.
Who they are and what they want I have no idea. It's probably just Plutarch again with another one of his Mockingjay meetings. There is nothing of the sort inked into the schedule on my am, but I know that he has been kept informed of Peeta's progress, including the fact that he can now stand to be in the same room with me for extended periods without succumbing to a venom- induced rage. Our propo from Finnick and Annie's wedding was a huge success and the general public is clamoring to know more about us. It was only a matter of time until the former Gamemaker pounced on the many fresh advertisement opportunities our circumstances have to offer.
"Can it wait?" I snap at her, thoroughly irritated. Peeta and I were having a moment.
Mom shakes her head. "I'm sorry, no. It's urgent," she says.
Reluctantly, I turn back to Peeta. "Look, I'll try not to be too long," I tell him. "I'll come back as soon as I'm done and then we'll talk. Promise." His eyes search my face for any sign of a lie before he gives a short nod. I give his hand one more reassuring squeeze before reluctantly following Mom out of the room.
To my surprise, she leads me not toward Command, but in the opposite direction, deeper into the medical ward. We walk in silence down a maze of twisting hallways until she opens the door to small and unassuming room, beckoning me inside.
Like everywhere else in 13, this room is very bare- boned and sterile, the only furniture being a stainless steel table and 5 straight- backed chairs. Three of them are already occupied. Based on their white uniforms and medical insignias, I recognize two of the occupants- a male and a female- to be doctors, though their faces are not distinguishable among the scores of medical professionals I have met here. Haymitch sits in the third chair for some reason. Across the room is a door with a tiny window marked Incubation, although I can't see what lies inside.
Something tells me this is not a typical Mockingjay meeting.
"Hi, Katniss. Please have a seat, " says the female doctor. She's blond with a kind face and soft blue eyes. I'd guess her to be in her mid- forties.
"This is Dr. Collins," Mom says, indicating the woman who just greeted me, "And this is Dr. Hart." She points next to the man. Older, with a salt- and- pepper beard and receding hairline. "Both were part of the team of doctors that assisted in your recovery after the arena, remember?"
I nod my head, even though I don't remember. Dr. Collins gestures to Haymitch and my mother. "We have a few things to discuss with you, Katniss. We thought it would be nice for you to have some familiar faces here. For moral support," she clarifies, perhaps noting the blatant confusion on my face. Her smile is non- threatening, but her words send sharp streaks of panic lancing through my chest anyway. My heart rate skyrockets, pounding a violent tattoo against my ribcage. What could they possibly have to tell me that requires moral support?
"What's going on? Is this about Peeta?" I blurt. "Is something else wrong with him? Is he-"
"No, no, nothing like that," Dr. Collins says. "Dr. Hart and I are fertility and obstetric specialists."
"When you were rescued from the arena, you were given a full medical exam. There was some concern amongst our colleagues that after your miscarriage, you might not be able to conceive children again in the future." Heat rushes to my face and I know that I am glowing red. Why the hell is Haymitch here for this? "You'll be happy to know that's not the case," the doctor says kindly.
I shrug my shoulders, but give no response otherwise. I don't know what kind of reaction they were hoping to get from me, but they needn't have bothered. I am never having children. Very few things in my life are filled with absolute certainty, but that is one thing I know for sure. Last time I was a fool and let myself hope. That will not happen again. My heart can't take that kind of pain twice.
"During the exam we found the bacteria in your bloodstream that caused the miscarriage and weakened your immune system, but only in trace amounts. It seems that you did not ingest enough of the stuff to cause more pronounced symptoms."
"I know that," I interrupt. Haymitch already told me the poison was in the food on board the hovercraft before the Quell began. I vaguely remember taking a mouthful or two of the lumpy, tasteless stew that was all I could manage to eat in my nervous state. I had vomited it back up just moments after it slid down my throat… after Cinna was tortured in front of me.
Dr. Collins continues, "Right. Well, we also discovered that the embryo had not been expelled from your womb when the initial bleeding occurred. Before we could attempt to perform the procedure necessary to remove it, our monitors detected a heartbeat. Two heartbeats, in fact."
I freeze in my seat; unable to move a muscle while my heart starts pumping a million miles a minute.
"One, of course, was yours. The other… was the baby's. Erratic, very feeble, but it was there," says Dc. Collins.
"What are you saying?" I croak, my voice barely audible. A heartbeat? Does that mean my baby was still alive when I left the arena?
"Katniss, have you ever heard of an artificial gestation period?" Dr. Hart asks me, speaking up for the first time.
"Well if you'll just humor us for a few minutes and allow us to explain," he says, and I nod slowly. "Artificial gestation is a highly advanced medical procedure that originated in the Capitol, though it has been adapted for use here in Thirteen for entirely different reasons."
"What does that mean?" I ask, entirely confused.
"A regular period of human gestation- that is, the amount of time it takes for a baby to fully develop in the womb- is approximately 40 weeks. That is the norm in the districts, but over the years it has become very rare for a woman living in the Capitol to carry a baby to term once she becomes pregnant. Most women prefer to skip the side effects of pregnancy- weight gain, mood swings, pain, and general discomfort- so they take alternative measures. Typically, this is done more out of vanity than medical necessity."
They're losing me. My concussion still leaves many of my thoughts scrambled in my mind, and this is not helping. I have no clue why they are telling me this, anyway. I was pregnant only for the briefest of moments, and that was months ago. Far too late for the information they're giving me now.
Glancing around the table, Haymitch and Mom are both watching me raptly rather than paying attention to the doctors' explanation. Neither of them seems perplexed in the least by the purpose of this meeting. It's just me then.
"You know already that District Thirteen suffered a bad pox epidemic some years back, which left the majority or our citizens sterile and unable to reproduce. Our numbers have been greatly depleted and it is only becoming more difficult to maintain substantial population growth, so when a pregnancy does occur, we leave nothing to chance. We employ the artificial gestation technique perfected in the Capitol. At about ten weeks of a pregnancy, the fetus is removed from the uterus and placed in the incubation tank to mature."
Here, Dr. Hart pauses in his explanation to gesture towards the door on the other side of the room. "This process allows for full fetal development in a much shorter time span than a natural pregnancy. Usually about four to five months or so. The fetus is able to grow much faster without relying on the mother to share her supply of energy and nutrients. This procedure has had a very successful track record of producing healthy babies in a sterile environment, seeing as the infant spends less time exposed to outside elements and illnesses through the mother."
"I still don't understand what this has to do with me," I say, annoyed now. My hand goes nervously to my hair, toying with the frayed end of my braid in frustration. My mother sits stoic in her seat, but Haymitch reaches out to touch my arm gently.
"Just listen, sweetheart," he says. His rough cadence is much softer than usual. I turn my attention back to the doctors, willing my brain to keep up with them.
"Yours was one of the riskiest procedures ever attempted," Dr. Collins says to me. "You were only eight weeks along in your pregnancy and you had already lost so much blood, not to mention the significant emotional and physical traumas you experienced in the arena. We usually like to wait until at least ten weeks of natural gestation have passed- once the embryonic stage has been completed- to remove the fetus from the womb. But yours was a special circumstance. The baby would have been lost for good if she'd stayed in your womb any longer. We got her out just in time."
"Go have a look," Haymitch says, standing and leading me toward the door with the tiny window. Placing my hands on the cold metal, I lean up to peer through the glass.
There is a lot of machinery and lights blinking on screens and tubes and wires, and- "There. Right there," Haymitch says, pointing to what appears to be a tiny, pale something enclosed in a clear dome in the very center of the equipment. I squint at it, unable to discern what it's supposed to be. And then I see it. The miniscule pink hand resting against the glass. Knuckles curled in a tiny fist.
"Your daughter," he says. "Congratulations, sweetheart."
For a single, heart-stopping moment, words fail me. My voice is lodged somewhere in my throat. It can't be true. I accepted long ago that my baby was gone. Dead, like so many others in my life.
I whip my head around to glare the doctors, both of whom are observing me intently. "How do I know it's mine?" I spit, a little too much venom in my voice.
"We would be happy to conduct a DNA analysis for you," Dr. Hart offers. "We can test her DNA against Peeta's too, if you need proof that he's the father."
The implications of this bring me up short for another minute.
"No, that's not… I mean… Peeta is- no, was- the father," I stutter. "That's not what I meant when I said… My baby is gone." If I say it loud, it will be true again.
"Wait until you see her up close, Katniss," Mom says, speaking up for the first time since we entered this room. "She's yours."
"That's not good enough!" I shout, startling the small group of people around me, but my temper stops me from caring. I am more than angry. I am absolutely livid. Apparently I was the only one left out of the loop. I shrug away from the comforting hand Haymitch has placed on my shoulder. I don't want any of them to touch me right now. "You said this takes months," I accuse. "If that really is my baby then why wasn't I told before now?"
"Like we said, this procedure in particular was a very risky one. Until very recently we couldn't be certain that it would be successful at all. We didn't know exactly what we were heading into when we began the process and no one wanted to instill false hope…" but Dr. Hart trails off under my steely glare.
Of course no one wanted to further upset the crazy, depressive, potentially suicidal girl who'd already lost everything. No one bothers to tell Katniss anything unless it benefits the rebellion or the stupid propos. I'm tired of being a pawn, something to be used and cast aside by these people. I'm sick of their games.
And I don't care what they say. That baby is not mine. They're pulling one over on me. They want to use it as a prop for the stupid propos. Or maybe they think it'll help me get back to normal, whatever that means for me. But whoever's baby is in there it is not mine.
I saw the blood trickle down my legs into the sand. Felt the stabbing, agonizing pains when I lost her.
"Maybe if you went in and saw her, it would help you to accept it," Dr. Collins suggests, not unkindly.
I'm adamant on this. No way in hell am I going near that baby. I can't do it. My body does not have the capacity for that kind of agony. The pain of it will tear an even deeper hole in my heart, and this time there will be no chance of recovery. To go see that baby up close would be to let myself hope. And I can't afford to think like that.
All I want to do is go back to the hospital to Peeta and help him get his memories back. That is what I need to be focusing on right now. Not some random replacement child they're trying to throw at me.
"The baby is in the final post- incubation stages and under careful observation at the moment," says Dr. Hart. "If all goes well- and we suspect it will- she will be ready to leave incubation in one week's time. The date of her release will be her official birthday. We thought you might get used to the idea in that time."
I gape at them, unable to believe what I'm hearing. Almost 5 months I've been coping with this loss and now they expect me to forget that and take care of a baby as though it never happened?
"Please, Katniss," Mom pleads with me. "Just go in and see her."
"You can do it, sweetheart," Haymitch says.
It takes several more minutes of encouragement from the four people in the room before I finally concede to go in just to look at the infant. Even then, I'm doing it more to quiet them than anything else, really.
When the door to the Incubation room is opened, I tiptoe inside as though there are bombs lacing the floor. In a moment of complete insanity, I'm brought back to my first Games. The Career's stock of food and weapons piled high into a deadly pyramid and rigged to explode with a single misplaced step.
Every step I take towards the infant is the wrong move; I can feel it in my bones. Any moment the blast will trigger and my heart will collapse. There will be no saving it this time.
Upon closer inspection, the infant lies upon a clean white surface enclosed by a clear dome. Like a mini arena, I think morbidly. Only this dome sustains life, whereas my arenas were made to destroy it. Holes in the bubble (force field) allow wires and tubes to pass through, and these are hooked to strategic areas on the baby- forehead, nose, tummy, arms, and feet- but otherwise, this looks just like any other baby I've ever seen. Wrinkly. Pink. Indistinct. The only feature that really distinguishes this child in any way is the tuft of dark hair atop her head. I know she's not mine, though, and something akin to despair surges through me at the realization because no matter what I told myself before coming in here, I couldn't help hoping.
I would feel something for her if this were my daughter in front of me, I'm certain of it. Before he died, my father often spoke about two of the happiest days of his life being when he met Prim and me as newborns for the first time. He always said how he knew in that moment that he would do absolutely anything to protect us. Of course he would. That's how he died.
It's parental instinct, that protectiveness, he told me once. Like a mother bear and her cubs.
I feel nothing but emptiness when I look at this child. No innate instincts, no urge to protect, no love.
I am just about to turn away from the clear bubble, about to go in search of one of my secluded hiding places and succumb to my inevitable breakdown in peace, when it happens.
The baby's eyes flicker open. Brilliant, piercing blue eyes stare up at me. Peeta's eyes.
As absolutely positive as I was seconds ago that this is not my child, I am sure of this fact now. I've looked into those eyes a million times. I've seen determination, laughter, love, and more recently, hatred, anger, and confusion in them. Now they hold only wide- eyed innocence, keeping me captivated for several seconds before the baby blinks sleepily and the spell breaks.
Boom. This is the explosion I was waiting for. The blast shatters my insides and deafens the voices of those around me. Any of my remaining composure is obliterated in the aftermath and I turn on my heel and bolt from the room before Haymitch, Mom, or either of the two doctors can stop me.
Out through the little conference room, down the twisting passage of hallways, and past the door that would lead me to Peeta. How badly I want to go to him now! But he's still so unstable at times, so entirely unpredictable, that I have no way of knowing how he would handle the news, or even me, hysterical as I am. For now I head for another closet in the medical ward. The door slams shut behind me, my chest heaving to catch my breath.
Despite my efforts, I can physically feel all the progression I've made up to this point melt away as the fragile threads that hold me together unravel at the seams. I sink to the floor, curling into a ball and attempting to make myself as small and insignificant as possible.
Several different voices call my name. The sounds grow louder, dangerously close to my closet, but then Haymitch's gravelly bark interrupts. "Stop! Let her be. Just leave her alone for now." He's spent enough time hunting me down and dragging me out of my strange little hiding places by now to know exactly where I am, but I get the feeling he's choosing to let me remain here. "She'll find us when she's ready," he insists.
There's a grumbling murmur of assent as my search party dissipates. Then footsteps approach my closet and Haymitch's voice warbles through the door, muffled by the metal barrier. "We're here when you need us, sweetheart." The footsteps walk away again, leaving me in silence.
My name is Katniss Everdeen. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. I was pregnant. Peeta is alive. Our baby is dead.
No, no that's not right anymore.
My name is Katniss Everdeen. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. I was pregnant. Peeta is alive. Our baby is alive.
Not real not real not real.
My mind simply refuses to accept the fact that I've been wrong all these months. It rejects the very idea that I have a daughter, nevertheless one who is alive and well. My hand goes to my pocket, groping desperately for my pearl and when my trembling fingers locate it at last, they it clench tightly. Clinging to the last shred of sanity I have left.
Deceived. Betrayed. Utterly and completely blind sighted. That's how I feel hours later when, still crouched in the supply closet, I am finally able to wrap my head around the situation.
I don't know the doctors here well enough to be angry with them, but Haymitch and Mom… both of them lied to me. Neither of them bothered to tell me about this, and lying by omission is still lying. It's old news for Haymitch, I suppose, but it's not something I saw coming from Mom. Maybe I'm just disappointed that she failed my already low expectations for her.
In either case, I have no desire to see them. The only person in the world who I want to see, the only one who could possibly empathize with me right now, is Peeta. I promised him I'd come back right after the meeting, but that was hours ago. He's probably worried sick by now. Or he thinks I'm an evil mutt that has abandoned him, depending on his current mood.
The last thing I want to do is cause one of his flashbacks if he is angry with me, but if I don't show up at all it might take me weeks to earn his trust back. I don't think I have it in me to go through that a second time. So it is for his sake that I unfold my arms from around my body and rise on stiff legs from the fetal position, exiting the closet at last.
He looks up in surprise from his tray of food when I enter his room. My stomach confirms with an angry growl that it must be dinnertime.
"Where have you been?" His voice is a mixture of worry, a hint of anger, and a lot of confusion. There is no trace of the hijacked victim behind his eyes, but the expression on his face warns that it is not safe to tell him what has happened. Not yet. Not when I haven't accepted it myself.
"I'm so sorry, Peeta. It was another Mockingjay meeting. Plutarch has all these ideas…" I ramble, knowing it is not a complete lie because I'm sure the last part at the very least is true. Plutarch always has a never-ending list of ways to exploit the star- crossed lovers.
Peeta considers this, a slight frown on his lips. Watching him with bated breath, I wish I could see his thought process now, but it is entirely impossible to discern what he is thinking. The best move is to remain silent and let him speak first.
"Well are you hungry then?" He asks eventually. He holds out the slice of bread on his tray, and even though it is just the standard District 13 stuff- tasteless, coarse, and grainy- my eyes fill with tears at the gesture.
A tentative smile curves his lips. "No problem."
When I reach forward to accept the bread, his hand does not shake at all.
A/N: I have always wondered just how far medical technology could go in Katniss's Panem. We get little hints in canon with all the body modifications of people in the Capitol, but this is my little foray into exploring the topic further.
Huge, endless thank- yous go out to every single person who has read, followed, favorited, and reviewed More Than Words. You have all been so wonderful and supportive and you give me the encouragement I need to keep writing. I'm so excited to finally share this chapter with you, and I'm dying to hear what you think! Let me know in the reviews, and as always, come talk to me on tumblr.