Author's Note: Welcome to recursive fanfiction, the fanfiction written about other people's fanfiction! Spoilers for GreenWithAwesome's The Selection and the Spy are herein, and I would recommend reading the first 67-68 chapters of that to make sense of this. I feel beholden to apologize for the language; sometimes a character's voice calls for words I would normally avoid in stories that I know my Dad occasionally reads.
Katrina woke up with an awful ringing in her head and an intense desire to strangle Walter Wolanski. That thought retreated from the forefront of her mind as she realized she was no longer kneeling on the floor. She didn't know where she was, or even which way was up. Her limbs felt oddly heavy. When she opened her eyes all she could see was pink. What felt like a hand clamped down on her wrist and she jerked away, but she couldn't break free.
"Hands off, asshole!" She shouted, but it came out muffled.
"Calm down, I'm trying to help!" That was a woman's voice, but Katrina didn't recognize it. She did stop, though, if only because she was still disoriented. The hand let go and Katrina caught a breath. Silk sucked against her mouth, and she realized the pinkness was a sheet. It started to slide away, streaking red as it did, and Katrina remembered that she'd just been shot in the head.
The sheet gave way to a person bending over her, looking down with a mix of concern and irritation. She looked about Katrina's own age, and oddly enough had the same hairbow-made-out-of-hair style that Katrina herself favored. She winced and grabbed the corner of the sheet, wiping the blood away from Katrina's eyes. Katrina's entire face felt sticky, and there was a spot right in the middle of her forehead that tingled unpleasantly.
"I can fix this, but it might end up reopening depending on how well you can adjust to being here," the stranger said, passing a hand over the wound. Heat flared up from the spot, intense but not painful, and when it faded so did all the other unpleasant sensations except for the sticky, drying blood.
That raised some questions, but Katrina wasn't sure she wanted to ask them. She wasn't stupid, she'd already figured out that she was dead and…in heaven? Maybe? She hadn't really put a lot of thought into the afterlife. She glanced around at her surroundings. No fluffy clouds or pits of fire, just what looked like a bedroom suite. It wasn't far off from what the Selected girls were staying in, actually.
Which reminded her…
Katrina bolted upright, almost headbutting the stranger, and grabbed the lapels of her jacket. "Maeve and Ambrosia and Camilla and Elise—Wolanski hasn't hurt any of them? Tell me that they're okay!"
"They're still alive," the woman said.
"Okay. Okay, good. They'd better be." Unlike her, apparently. "…who are you, anyway?"
"My name's Aika. I'm here to help you. Get you used to living here, take care of any unfinished business from the other side, whatever needs doing," the woman said.
The other side. Okay, then.
"Can I haunt Wolanski?" Katrina asked immediately.
"No, sorry. Your world isn't really designed for supernatural intervention," Aika said with an apologetic smile. "Believe me, if that was an option we'd have people fighting each other for the privilege."
"Then can I watch what's going on?"
"Sort of. You want to go now or get cleaned up first?" Aika asked.
Katrina touched her forehead. No hole, thankfully, but her fingers came away bloody. "All right," she said, swinging her legs out of bed. Aika moved back to give her room. "I'm going to wash my face and you're going to explain what 'sort of' means."
The bathroom was just as nice—and just as pink—as the rest of the suite. Marble countertop, rose gold faucet, mirror ringed with lights, and that was just the sink. Katrina got her first good look at herself in the mirror and winced. She looked like she'd just gotten out of a horror movie. Switching on the sink, she splashed her face a few times to get rid of the blood that hadn't dried yet.
"So the way things work is that each of us is assigned to one of you," Aika began. "We read your lives and then when they're over we decide how to help you get over yourself, basically."
"So you're like a guardian angel?" Katrina asked, taking up a washcloth.
"I guess so. We don't really do any guarding because we can't intervene, we just read your lives," Aika said.
"That's the second time you've mentioned reading. What exactly are you talking about?"
Aika's face lit up as if she'd just remembered something, and she darted out of the bathroom. Katrina paused partway through lathering up her face, but she could already hear Aika coming back so she went back to it.
"I brought it with me when I came to get you," Aika said, pushing the door open again. Wiping her face, Katrina looked up to see a book in Aika's hands. The words Katrina Berg were written in swooping white text on the cover, and behind them a photo of a woman in a pink gown. "This is just the latest volume—there's a new one every year," Aika said.
Katrina threw the stained washcloth in the sink and leaned in for a better look. "Is that me?" She asked.
"Yeah, from the Masquerade Ball," Aika confirmed, handing it to her. The book was hardcover and the title was actually embossed. The woman was wearing a mask, posed looking over her shoulder, but Katrina still recognized herself. She felt the sudden urge to take a picture of it for her Instagraph before she remembered. Did they have Instagraph in heaven? She couldn't think of any reason they wouldn't, but at the very least she might need to make a new account.
"The rest of the series is in the library. That's where everyone else is right now."
"Everyone else being…?"
"If you're ready I can just show you."
"Let's go, then!"
The suite opened into a hallway, one that again reminded Katrina of a hotel. The walls were lined with doors, all numbered, and in the distance a stairwell backlit by huge windows. A green carpet ran the length of the floor, bringing out the green in the paintings hung between each of the doors. Thankfully there were still elevators here, wood-paneled and run by some sort of touchscreen instead of buttons. A few taps on it and Aika stepped back as the elevator hummed to life.
"It can be hard to navigate around this place when you first arrive, and honestly you won't be here that long so you don't need to worry about trying to learn," she said. The elevator shifted, feeling almost as if it had just gone sideways. "This place is just for you to get your bearings and resolve any leftover issues from life. Kind of like homework, but the deadline is just when we think you're ready to leave. The library's a big part of that too."
There was a ping and the elevator stopped, its doors opening a moment later with a soft whoosh. Admittedly Katrina didn't spend a lot of time in libraries, but this one still had to be the biggest one she'd ever seen. The shelves rose up past two tiers of balconies toward a vaulted ceiling. Windows longer than she was tall filled the building with golden light. Some of them were open, letting in a breeze that smelled of autumn leaves to mingle with the smell of old books. It was oddly peaceful, despite the crowd.
There were easily hundreds of people in the library. Men and women of all ages sat or sprawled across the library furniture, reading intently. Some were moving books around, stacking them on carts or reshelving them. Most of them wore the same blue jackets that Aika did. Some of them looked up or greeted Aika as she led Katrina past, but most were too engrossed in their books to look up.
Despite the size of the place Aika seemed to know exactly where she was going. She wove her way between study circles and bookshelves without hesitation. Her final destination finally became clear: a group of young adults, all reading together in a circle of chairs and beanbags. Most of them had books, but a couple were reading from tablets or even a laptop in one case. One sat a little further back from the group and was reading aloud to a couple who looked to be in their forties. They seemed familiar to Katrina but she couldn't place them.
"Aika!" One of the girls exclaimed. She was already scrambling to her feet. The others' heads popped up one after the other, focusing on the two newcomers with expressions of shock, concern, even excitement.
"Oh my gosh—Katrina?!"
"Are you okay?"
"Why would you ask her that? Nothing about this is okay!"
Katrina saw the girl coming but the bear hug still took her by surprise. The corner of a tablet poked into her back.
"You were incredible," the stranger said softly. "You've grown so much."
Katrina didn't normally engage in PDA, let alone with strangers, but there was something reassuring about this embrace. From the moment the rebel attack started and even through waking up here, everything had happened so fast she barely had time to think. The other girl was taller than her so all Katrina could really see was the shoulder pressed up against her face. Everything else was shut out.
She was dead. Dead and in heaven, apparently, but still dead. Done. Cut off from everybody she knew and cared about. No more days in the Women's Room with the Selected girls. Their trip to her family villa in Italy wasn't going to happen. No more picking on Roy when he needed it. Her unspoken competition with Mimi to be the most fashionable and most pink woman in the palace was over. One bullet and all of that was gone for good.
"Katrina?" It was Aika, her voice soft, right on Katrina's left. "Whenever you're ready, we can tell you what's going on with your friends."
Oh, yeah. Just because everything had stopped for her didn't mean the rest of the world would grind to a halt. The people she cared about were still in danger. Katrina took a deep breath and ended the hug, stepping back and turning to Aika.
"Well, Wolanski just gave an ultimatum—"
"Oh god, don't remind me," one of the other girls muttered, plunking back into her seat and burying her head in her hands. "Has anyone asked Fil or Meuric or someone what's happening with the royal family?"
"I think Roy's gonna go," the hugger said, though she didn't sound happy about it. "He'd want to save the Selected."
"And just let Wolanski get what he wants?"
"What else are they supposed to do? Plan and launch a rescue mission in under an hour? I don't think anyone but Cami knows how to get around the place—"
"Please don't talk about those stupid blueprints anymore, they've caused enough trouble."
Aika spoke up again, to just Katrina this time, as the other girls started arguing about spies and secrets and how obvious they were or weren't. "Maybe you should have a seat. This could take a little while."
"Do you have anything to drink in this place?" Katrina asked. She was starting to put together what the other readers were talking about and she didn't like where it was going.
"I'll see what I can do. Go sit with the Daughertys," she gestured to the older couple, "I think Mila's reading out loud for them."
One strawberry lemonade vodka and a lot of explaining later, Katrina was as up-to-date, and as grim, as the rest of the group. Roy and his family were safe, but Wolanski had demanded he trade himself for the lives of the remaining Selected, and he was on his way to make the swap. She'd also learned that all of this was possible through the work of a spy, and finding out who that was had been more of a shock than getting shot. Now she sat between her guardian angel and Cami's parents (!), clutching a glass of melting ice and listening to some girl named Mila read out snippets of what her friend was doing. Other readers had gathered slowly with the group, men and women of various ages, all following along with the lives of the people involved. Roy's had the same hair he'd had before the twerking contest and had apparently lost his coat somewhere. Wolanski had a grim-faced, quiet older man who gave her an apologetic look when he met her gaze. It was almost weird enough to distract Katrina from the sick, furious feeling she got listening to her friends suffer.
As Mila began a cringe-inducing description of what it felt like to break your own fingers, one of the other readers screamed. Katrina started and looked back at the group to see her drop her book, hands clapped over her mouth. It was open to the middle, but the pages were blank. Bound in blue leather, decorated with gilded swirling patterns, it looked like a book of fairy tales. Katrina didn't even need to see Elise's name on the cover to know who it belonged to.
Gasps and shrieks rang out all around her, and Roy's reader screamed "No!" Looking resigned, Wolanski's reader sighed deeply and turned the page. Katrina was on her feet before she'd even thought to do something. She made a beeline for Elise's angel, who had snatched the book up and was flipping frantically through the last few pages.
"She's going to wake up somewhere in this place, right? Where?" The girl's head snapped up, staring blankly at Katrina. Then her eyes lit up and she stood, clutching the book to her chest. Instead of answering she just left, moving as quickly as she could without actually running. Katrina followed her, hitching up her torn skirts to keep up, and Aika trailed behind her. She was saying something but it didn't sound important. Only inside the elevator did the three finally stop to catch their breath.
"Uh, this is Shava," Aika said, with a gesture towards the other reader, a wispy blonde who looked like she was on the verge of bursting into tears. "You already know Katrina."
"This is so unfair," Shava said thickly. "First she gets arrested for no reason—"
"Roy was trying to find the spy and she got framed, it's a whole thing I didn't have time to explain," Aika said with a rapid flutter of her hand. "We all know what it's like, Shava, but right now we need to be strong. She's going to need it."
"I know, it's just—" Shava took a deep, shaky breath, "Sh-she never even got to do her philanthropy project. She worked so hard on it. And Roy—"
"Don't start," Aika cut her off. "You'll just get yourself more worked up. Breathe."
Shava nodded and looked down at the floor. A little harsh, but Katrina couldn't entirely disagree with her point. She still gave her own guardian angel a frown. Aika responded with a tiny shrug as the elevator stopped. This floor was decorated in blue, but otherwise looked identical to the one outside Katrina's room. Shava made a beeline for a door near the stairs, fumbling for a key tucked into her pants pocket.
"Let her go in first," Aika said in a low voice to Katrina as they came up behind Shava. "Some things only your angel is allowed to know about you and Elise is going to need the privacy."
"You don't think she'd rather be greeted by a friend than a total stranger?" Katrina retorted.
Shava unlocked the door and slipped inside. Quickly Aika interposed herself between Katrina and the closing door, stopping her from going inside. Katrina got a glimpse of wide windows and drifting lacy curtains before it swung shut. Aika planted a hand on it.
"Waking up here is an intensely personal experience. Elise just went through multiple betrayals, a broken heart and a painful death. If you go in there, she's going to put on a brave face for you, try to be the friend you know. She needs someone who knows exactly what she's going through and can help her deal with it. You needed someone who could calm you down and prod you into figuring out for yourself what was going on, but Elise might need a shoulder to cry on or just someone to tell her it's okay to scream profanities for a while."
Silence fell. If there was screaming going on, it was inaudible through the door. Katrina broke eye contact with Aika, nodding and looking down. There were still bloodstains on the front of her dress, turning brown as they dried.
"Okay, sure," she said. "I follow you. Give them some space."
They waited in silence for a long time. Katrina started to feel mildly disgusting, especially since the trip up had left her sweaty, but without being asked Aika produced a compact and helped her untangle the mess her hairstyle had become. Just as Aika finished a tidy French braid the door cracked open and Shava gestured for them to come inside.
Like Katrina Elise had apparently woken up in bed, judging by the tangled and bloodstained sheets, but she wasn't in it anymore. The windows Katrina had seen turned out to be a pair of French doors, which had been opened to reveal a balcony. Elise was standing out there, her back to the room, hugging herself.
"Have you tried yelling into the earrings? They told me we can't haunt people back on Earth but I still think maybe we could hit some kind of weird low frequency to mess with the rebels," Katrina said, crossing the room, and Elise looked around. Her face was blotchy from crying, but it lit up as she saw her.
"Katrina! You're here too!"
"Uh, yeah, where else would I be?" Katrina retorted, raising her eyebrows. She was anticipating another hug and Elise did not disappoint, bounding into her arms for a quick, light embrace. Then she stepped back so they could look each other in the eye. She was smiling.
"It feels so weird and kinda wrong to say, but I'm glad you're here. Have you seen the view?" She didn't wait for an answer, pulling Katrina to the balcony. Not that it mattered once Katrina got her first good look outside, and found herself at a loss for words.
The hotel looked like a skyscraper tipped sideways, extending out in either direction almost as far as Katrina could see. They were at least thirty stories up, the building plunging down into an autumn-struck forest. The reds and golds were so brilliant it almost looked like a sea of fire, rippling in the wind. Above the trees little flocks of birds rode the air currents, wheeling and gliding as the breeze carried them. They looked black against the cloudless, deep blue of the sky. Faintly in the distance Katrina could make out the shapes of buildings that gleamed gold in the afternoon sun. Despite how high up they were the wind was almost gentle.
Elise spoke again, and Katrina looked back at her. "Looking at this I almost believe I could really move on." Her expression became pained. "Even from Roy."
Assuming he didn't join them. Neither girl said it but they both realized it at the same time.
"Did Shava tell you about the library? We can go listen in on what's happening," Katrina said. "Someone mentioned the army's putting together a counterattack already, it's not completely hopeless." Elise nodded, but the worry showed on her face. There wasn't anything either of them could do to help the people they loved. All they could do was decide how to respond. With that thought, Katrina decided that she didn't want to be scared anymore.
"Look, whatever happens it'll probably be over by tonight. Let's have a sleepover. If it's just the two of us then great, if not…then it'll be like old times."
Elise finally looked at her, and her mouth flickered up. "Do you think they have the Princess Diaries up here?"
"Would this really be heaven if they didn't have the Princess Diaries movie?" Katrina retorted, making Elise laugh, and for a second everything felt normal again. They might have died, but hey, maybe that didn't have to be the end of the story.
Want some trivia? All of the angels' names are the oldest version I could find of their charge's names. Elishava for Elisa, Aikaterine for Katrina, etc.