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In That Way

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The kind of things that would make no sense in real life often make perfect sense in dreams. Katniss was aware of the fact that she was dreaming, and then suddenly she was no longer aware of it.

She had two girls at her side, two scared-looking twelve-year-old girls, and the only thing she was aware of was the fact that she had to protect them both. "Come on," she said, her voice stronger than she felt. "We have to find shelter first."

The two girls, both eerily silent, hoisted packs on their shoulders, and followed Katniss. They walked for maybe ten or fifteen minutes before they found a tree that was suitable by Katniss's standards. "Okay, come on," she said, motioning to the first girl. "Up you go."

"I don't want to." Stubborn, a little grumpy. But mostly just scared. It was a look that didn't sit well on her ordinarily bright, sunny face.

"It's okay, Prim." The other girl smiled encouragingly. "It's easy. I'll go first." With that, she was up the tree like she had wings, balancing on a branch and grinning down. "See? Easy!"

"Rue, be careful," Katniss cautioned. "I don't want you to fall."

"I won't," Rue promised, looking surprisingly cheerful. "I'm just showing Prim that she doesn't have to be afraid. See? It's working."

Prim was already climbing up the tree. She wasn't nearly as smooth and graceful at it as the other girl, but that wasn't entirely surprising, or even remotely surprising at all -- Rue had trees to play around every day, when she had the time for it; all Prim had was coal dust, coal dust, and more coal dust. Well, coal dust and the world's ugliest feline. As much as Katniss hated it here, hated the Games for putting them in this situation, at the same time she was also grateful that Prim had found someone else she could bond with even a little bit.

It would kill the two of them to be separated later. Katniss wasn't sure what she was praying for more, that the two of them would be the victors so that they would be able to remain in each other's lives, or that other people would kill them first so they wouldn't be forced to do that to each other later.

Shaking her head, Katniss made her way up the tree, positioning herself on her own branch, slightly above the girls so she could keep watch and they could have a few precious minutes of not being terrified.

But those few minutes were still too much. Shouts from the distance led to shouts from below, with the girls whimpering in fear and Katniss trying to peer past them in order to see the ground. More Tributes than there should have been stood below them, yelling things that Katniss couldn't quite make out. They shook their fists, shouted their words, lifted their weapons.

The rest of it happened in a blur. The girls fell from the tree, silent and already gone. Katniss could only stare down in horror.

Prim lay there, barely recognizable even as human. Rue was next to her, bloody and still. That wasn't how they should have been, though, not for falling from a tree... and how had they fallen in the first place? Both girls had been secure!

And that was when it came rushing back to her in an overwhelming flood of real memories that disrupted the dream.

No, not the dream.

The nightmare.

Katniss woke with a short, sharp scream that she cut off by clapping a hand over her mouth. Peeta was sound asleep next to her; she didn't want to wake him up. If he woke up, she'd have to tell him about the dream and it would only lead to the same conversation they had every couple of days or nights. Conversations always seemed to circle around to that particular subject somehow, even when they didn't really have a logical way of leading to it.

Defiantly blinking back unexpected tears, Katniss crawled out of bed and went to go make herself a cup of tea. And to mull over the dream. Not that it really needed a whole lot of mulling over, it was pretty easy to figure out. Her dream self had been trying to protect two little girls that she'd badly failed to protect. Apparently her subconscious still had issues with their deaths... then again, Katniss in her entirety still had issues with their deaths and it'd been over three years since Prim died, which meant nearly four since Rue's death.

She hadn't been able to save Rue, hadn't been able to save Prim. In the dreams and in real life. If she couldn't manage to keep safe two little girls who had depended on her to protect them, how would she ever manage to be a mother? If she couldn't succeed at that, how could she succeed at motherhood -- which was really just a long series of protecting and saving and helping and raising and praying nothing would go wrong. Sure, she could ask her mother for help, but at the same time... that just didn't seem like the right thing to do, either. She'd been the strong one in the family for so long that now it was impossible to break from that no matter how badly part of her wanted to.

And if she ever did have children, she knew she would not be able to do it without her mother, at the very least. Presumably Peeta would be there to help her just as much, but she'd learned not to count on anything for a certainty, not ever. Counting on certainties was a good way to end up dead. And until she could count on certainties for her children, she refused to have them.

A mother was supposed to support her children, yes. To play with them, but also to soothe them and ease away their aches and fears a thousand times over. But a mother was supposed to protect her children and keep them safe, love them and do anything for them.

In that way, Katniss Everdeen had been a mother for years.