Trigger warning: If you have ever been in a life-or-death situation, and especially if you have PTSD because of it, then you may not be able to read this fanfic. This occurs in a Hunger Games arena from Rue's point of view.
Spoiler alert: Almost all of this story is headcanon, so if you're reading this fandom-blind, then please don't take much of this as what actually happened in the book. But I do include some parts that did actually occur in the book.
I am stuck in a tree.
Last night the Careers found me while they were searching through the woodlands for Katniss, and after I had ascended into this tree to get away from them, they set up camp, and have been at the base of my tree ever since.
I peer down at them through the leaves. I'm in a position where it's difficult to see me from the ground, but if I lean just a little, I have a clear view of my enemies below. They're difficult to see in the grayness of the pre-dawn morning, but not impossible.
They first found me yesterday while I was striking the match to light the third signal fire, and I had climbed a tree to escape. But before they could figure out how to get to me, their attention was drawn away by the sound of explosions. I wince at the memory, and pray again that Katniss wasn't harmed. I know she didn't die because her face wasn't projected on the sky last night. But what if she was terribly injured?
I look back at the sleeping Careers as dawn's light becomes brighter. I spent the night on a branch in the sleeping bag - Katniss had insisted that I take it - strapped to the tree trunk with my belt, but the Careers have nothing. No sleeping bags, no blankets, only their jackets. The District 2 tributes fell asleep in each other's arms, but the boy from District 1 was supposed to be guarding me. I can hear him snoring below, and I can just barely make out the shape of his body sitting on the ground, resting his back against my tree.
They're not like Katniss and me. They don't know what it's like to be hungry and have to find your own food. And the soft life has obviously not taught them how to do a job well, either.
I quietly dig my backpack out of the foot of the sleeping bag and pull out my breakfast. After quenching my thirst, I eat some rabbit meat, nuts, and roots. As I eat, I ponder my position. The Careers obviously know I helped Katniss destroy their supplies; why else would they have camped out here all night? I could easily escape them, but they could just as easily follow, so I guess that's not actually an escape. Or maybe Katniss is okay and she'll come to my rescue. I never was able to make it to our rendezvous point, so if she was able to get back there, she'll probably come searching for me.
The light is getting brighter as the sun gets closer to the horizon, and the girl from District 2 begins to stir. I quickly shove the rest of my food into my mouth, close my pack, and slip it onto my shoulders. She sits up, rubs her eyes with the back of one hand, and looks at my would-be guard. Standing, she stalks over to him and slaps him across the face. He jerks into wakefulness, his arms swinging wildly. As his bundle of spears clatters to the ground, the girl begins to scream at him. The third Career, the boy from District 2, sits up, spear in hand, a confused look on his face.
As the girl turns to him and very loudly and angrily tells him how the District 1 boy fell asleep while on guard, I unbuckle my belt from around myself and the tree and then refasten it around my waist. I crawl out of the sleeping bag, fold it, and slip it into my backpack, then close up the bag and return it to my back, settling the straps comfortably on my shoulders. I'm pretty high up in the tree, but I go up another level, the shouts from both District 2 tributes echoing through the trees around me. I'm being as quiet as I can be, although with my enemies yelling the way they are, I probably don't have to be as careful as I normally would be.
I edge around the trunk, taking great care as I step over the empty space between 2 branches. One slip, one misplaced hand or foot, and I will go plummeting to my death. I can only hope that if I do fall, I die on impact, or at least get a severe enough injury that I lose consciousness; I don't want to find out how the Careers plan on killing me.
I make it to the next branch and carefully walk down its length, curving my feet around its width and holding my arms out from my sides slightly for balance. I can hear the Careers quieting down; if I'm going to escape, I have to do it now. I walk as far to the end of the branch as I dare, grateful for the traction the rubber soles of my leather boots provide.
I look over at the closest branch of the next tree, gauging the distance. I can make it; I've actually jumped farther than this back home in the orchards of District 11. I bend my knees slightly, swing my arms, and jump. As I successfully land on the next branch, I hear exclamations from the Careers, followed by the sound of running feet. I cannot jump between the trees without rustling the branches, unfortunately, so they now know my secret, and how I earned a score of 7 in my private session with the Gamemakers.
I scramble to my feet and work my way up the branch to the trunk. I spot the Careers at the base of the tree, searching the leafy canopy for me. The girl points at me as I work my way around the trunk to a branch on the other side. As I work my way down this limb, the boy from District 1 throws a spear up at me, which of course misses spectacularly and instead crashes down towards my enemies below. The tributes from District 2 start yelling at him again as the 3 of them dodge the falling weapon.
I hastily jump to the next tree, and as my feet leave the branch I feel dread spread through my body. Before I reach my destination I know I'm going to fail in some way on the landing because I wasn't careful enough. When I do land on the limb, I slip, and a shriek escapes my lips. I frantically grab at the branch, the rough bark scraping my palms. I manage to cling to it with my right arm and leg, but my left side has nothing but air between it and the ground below. I can see the Careers waiting for me, and fear floods through my body, causing my limbs to tremble. They've gathered directly below me, ready for the kill.
I don't think I can pull myself back up onto the branch, and I don't want to die. I look around frantically, ignoring whatever the girl is saying to me. I have to find some way to escape.
Right below the branch I'm on is what's left of a branch that was broken off at some point. About 5 much smaller stems have sprouted from it, proving that it's still alive. It looks to be about as long as I am tall, and thick enough to hold my weight. If I can get myself to the trunk of the tree, I can drop to the broken branch, work my way around to the next closest whole branch, and get to the next tree.
I take a deep breath, look at the limb I'm clinging to, and swing my left arm and leg up, grabbing it from underneath. I can hear the Careers muttering below me, but I block them out of my mind and focus on the task at hand.
I carefully move my right hand up towards the trunk of the tree, making myself take measured breaths. I grab the branch and try to still my shaking body. I am terrified, and this is much harder than it looks. I make sure that I have a firm grip on the branch, then move my left leg up towards the trunk, struggling to stop shaking. I can't do this!
From out of nowhere, an image of my family watching me on a television screen pops into my mind. My siblings watching me, pleading with me to come home. I feel my body still. I have to do this. The thing I can't do is give up. I have to do everything I can to survive and make it home to them. I block out the thought of what that means for Katniss and instead keep an image of my family in my mind. And I climb my way up the branch to the tree trunk.
It's gotten to the point where I can barely reach my arms around the branch when I feel my head touch the trunk. Finally. I glance over my shoulder to make sure I'm right above my goal, then I release my legs from around the branch. I dangle for a moment by my hands, then drop to the broken branch below. I collapse to my knees, then lay down. I have to curl up some, but that's okay; it's much better than dangling in mid-air over a group of teenagers who want to kill me.
The bottom branches of this tree are a good 8 feet above the ground, and as far as I can tell, none of the Careers know how to get up to those branches, anyway. I'm a few levels above the lowest branches, so I know I'm safe. I allow myself to relax, and the trembling in my limbs returns. I have to get away from them. But how? They could follow me all over the arena; they can walk between the trees faster than I can jump between the branches. I wish Katniss would come find me; all she'd have to do is climb a nearby tree and shoot them all with her arrows.
But she told me yesterday that I'm clever. And if I'm going to win these Games, I have to be able to save myself. Be resourceful. Show everyone how clever Katniss believes me to be.
Again, I push the thought of what it would mean for Katniss if I won. I can't let thoughts of if we were the only ones left at the end distract me. Losing means certain death, and I can't afford to think about Katniss dying right now. I shake my head to clear it. I hope she's okay.
I need to just focus on getting away from the Careers. I close my eyes and think. How can I lose them, though? Maybe if I could get them tangled up in some undergrowth...and I remember a grove of trees that I came across right before I teamed up with Katniss. A smile spreads across my face. It's in between the first and second fires and is about an eighth of an acre in size. The whole area is covered in poison ivy and thorny bushes. If I can lure the Career pack into the undergrowth, I'll be able to get away from them while they're busy trying to untangle themselves from the plants.
I'm up on my feet and working my way around the tree to a branch on the other side, determination stilling my shaking body. Once I get to the branch on the far side, I find that I can easily climb up to the next level of the canopy. As I scramble up to the next limb up, I hear the girl call up to me again. I roll my eyes and ignore her.
I carefully walk down the branch, focusing on the task at hand. I am going to be much more careful from now on; I don't want to risk falling again. I may die next time. And I can't let that happen. I cautiously gauge the distance between this branch and the next, then jump. I make my usual clean landing, and breathe a sigh of relief. I don't think I have to worry about falling as long as I'm prudent and don't hurry.
I work my way up the branch and around the trunk, then down the next branch and over to the next tree. The Careers follow, as I hoped they would.
This goes on for about half an hour. I'm a little surprised that the Careers are still following me. This confirms my suspicion that they have figured out that Katniss and I were working together. They must be desperate to kill or capture me so they can lure Katniss out from wherever she is. I can't let that happen, either.
As I pause and get a drink from my water skin, I see the grove only 4 tree jumps ahead of me, and then I'll only have another 2 trees until I'm in the center of the grove. I take another swallow of water, then put the lid back on the water skin and slip it into my pack. After settling my bag on my back again, I work my way down the branch I'm on and jump to the next tree. I can hear my pursuers on the ground below. They're panting kind of heavily; I can hear them from up here. They probably haven't worked hard a day in their lives. Another benefit those of us from the poorer Districts have over the tributes from the more popular Districts. We know how to work hard.
As I make my way down the next branch, I feel a smile tease at my lips. This may work. I pause, close my eyes, and take a deep breath. Yes, my plan might work, but I still have to be careful. I need to not take any risks, especially not this close to freedom. I open my eyes, walk down to my jumping off point, and leap to the next tree. And when I land, I don't slip.
I finally reach the tree at the edge of the grove. Climbing down a level, I whistle at the teenagers below and wave in what I hope is a sassy manner. As the girl tries to climb the tree, I scramble up a level and work my way down the branch to the next tree. As I land, I hear a crash and some colourful swear words. I look back and chuckle. The boys are helping the girl up to her feet. She must've slipped from the trunk and fallen onto her back.
I work my way around the tree and into the next, then I climb down to the lowest branch. I'm only a few feet off the ground now. I pull out my sling and a pine cone I found a few days ago. Fitting the cone into the tongue of my sling, I lob it at the boy from District 2. It hits him square in the face, and he claps a hand to where it struck him and yells. As they charge into the undergrowth, I climb back up into the tree canopy and stuff my sling into my pocket.
As their shrieks fill the air, I look back. The sight of them all flat on their faces, trying to escape the undergrowth while failing to keep from getting stabbed with the thorns, makes me chuckle again. My plan worked! Filled with a feeling of accomplishment, I work my way down a branch and leap to the next tree.
I continue to do this until I have left my enemies far behind and I can no longer hear them. I now change my course and head towards the spot of the second fire. If Katniss is okay, then she has definitely made it back to our rendezvous point by now and noticed that I wasn't able to make it back. Then she would've traveled on, and if she had gone to the third fire, she would've discovered that I was never able to light it. Then she'll really come searching for me.
A twinge of doubt causes me to pause, and I stop in the tree I'm in. As I pull out some berries and my water skin, I lean back against the trunk with a leg dangling on either side of the branch. Katniss would come searching for me, right? I mean, she's not going to abandon me once our little plan is over...would she? Why am I thinking this? She volunteered for her sister at the Reaping; she obviously is not disloyal. Is she?
My thoughts drift back to life back home in District 11. Working from sunrise until sunset in the orchards, picking fruit, chasing away birds, spraying for bugs. Having to give my 5 younger siblings some of my rations because we are never given enough and I didn't want them to starve; people starve in my District every day, even though we grow the country's food. Foraging in the wild meadows and hoping that the Peacekeepers don't decide that I'm doing something illegal. They once shot a boy, Martin, who wasn't quite right in the head, all because he wanted to take a pair of night vision goggles home to play with. So why would they hesitate to shoot me if they were suspicious that I was doing something illegal?
I also remember how my classmates and neighbors used to make fun of me because my dream is to be a music teacher when I grow up. We're all so poor, they tell me, so what's the point of dreaming about a "someday" that may never happen? I think they're also jealous because I have gotten some praise for doing my work so well, and because I have the important job of harvesting from the tops of trees, where they can't reach.
But Katniss hasn't done anything like that. She's only helped and encouraged me. She shared her food and other supplies with me. She even insisted yesterday that I take her sleeping bag, even though there was a chance that we wouldn't be able to meet back up before nightfall, and she may not have been able to get another bag. And the nights here are so cold. I pull out a piece of the roasted rabbit that Katniss shot the day before yesterday. No. Katniss would never betray me. She's nothing like the others.
As I bite into the rabbit, I realize that I need to relieve myself. So when I finish my meat, I wipe my hands on my pants leg, close my water skin and put it back into my backpack, then cautiously climb down to the ground. Nothing jumps out at me, so I hide in a bush because I don't want all of Panem seeing me.
With that business done, I climb back up into the tree and settle onto the branch to rest. Jumping from tree to tree is harder than it looks, and I could use a break. So I sip water and listen to the woodland sounds.
I realize after about 15 minutes that, what with being treed and chased by the Careers, I've forgotten to do the 4-note signal song that Katniss and I agreed upon yesterday. The one that means we're safe. So I sing it now, and am rewarded by quite a few mockingjays repeating it back to me. I smile. At least something in this arena isn't potentially out to kill me.
After another half an hour, I pack up all my things, resettle my bag onto my back, and begin working my way towards the second fire again. I make sure to pause in every tree and sing the 4-note signal. The mockingjays echo it back to me, just like I knew they would. If Katniss hears it, she'll know that I'm safe.
It's noon by the time I get back to the site of the second fire, and there's no sign that any human has been here since I lit the fire yesterday. It's now just smoking embers. I sing the signal, but only the mockingjays answer me. So I hide myself in an especially leafy tree to wait. Hopefully Katniss will come soon so we can go to somewhere else in the arena. Somewhere far away from the Careers.
As I sip some more water and nibble on some nuts, I remember some of the nice things back home. Like singing with the mockingjays while I harvested in the orchards. Nights in my house with my family, laughing and playing guessing games. Helping my friend, Rosalie Mae, as she struggled to learn a harvesting song. I wish I could go home, and that I wasn't stuck in this stupid Hunger Games arena.
A movement on a nearby branch catches my attention, and I smile as a mockingjay twitters at me. I sing the 4-note signal to it, and after a polite pause, the bird sings it back to me. I repeat it, and so does the mockingjay. I add a note, and the bird copies me. Back and forth we go, with me adding, subtracting, and rearranging notes, and the mockingjay repeating them back to me.
Another bird sings nearby, and I realize how late it's gotten to be. I had totally lost track of time, and now I see that it's late afternoon. Where on Earth - or, more accurately, in the arena - could Katniss be? Her picture wasn't in the sky last night to show that she had died, I haven't heard any death cannons fire at all today. Maybe she was injured in the explosions yesterday and is laying somewhere in a coma? Or isn't able to travel for some other reason? Or maybe she is searching for me, but she hasn't been close enough to hear the mockingjays singing our signal. Could she be waiting for me by the place where I set up all the wood for the third fire?
I think I'll go look.
Before I go, I pull some mint leaves out of my pocket and drop them from the branch. Katniss and I gathered them in a different part of the woods, so if she sees them, she'll know I was here and that I'm okay, while they'll mean nothing to any of the other tributes.
As the mint flutters to the ground, I jump to the next tree, working my way back to the place where I set up the wood. Halfway there, though, I realize that I need to relieve myself again. I sigh, then cautiously climb down and head into a bush.
That done, I start to walk back to the tree I had been in so I can continue my journey. A noise sounds behind me. As I turn to look and see what made the sound, a spear thuds into the soil beside my right foot.
It's the boy from District 1! He has another spear raised and ready to throw! I shriek and dodge to one side, then I run to the nearest tree. Just as I'm reaching it, a spear lodges into the trunk. I bolt away on foot, on the ground, and I can hear the boy chasing after me.
If I can't get into a tree soon, I will die, and I don't want to die! But he keeps throwing spears on either side of me and into the trees I'm trying to climb. I realize that he's trying to keep me grounded, and terror floods through me.
My breaths start to come in short spurts as I try to figure out a way to get away, but panic is making it hard to focus on anything other than running. And I'm going as fast as I can.
He's going to chase me down and catch me and kill me, and I don't want to die! I'm only 12, I have my whole life ahead of me, and I don't want to die!
I keep running, and he keeps chasing me. His spears keep thudding into the ground on either side of me, keeping me from escaping into the trees. Just ahead of me I can see that the ground slopes downwards, and a little ways beyond where the ground levels off again there is a patch of violet and yellow and white. It has just registered in my mind that it's a patch of flowers when I feel my foot catch on something and I tumble down the hill.
The world twirls around me once, then I am wrapped up in something black. I realize that it's a net, and I can see the world spin past the holes in a blur of blue and white and green. I come to a stop at the bottom on my back, and I thrash and kick, but that only tangles me up worse. How many layers are there between me and the world? I can't tell and I can't get loose and I can't reach my stone knife and I know that I am about to die!
The boy is standing over me, his last spear raised for the kill, and I scream. I scream for Katniss because I can't be brave anymore and I need her to come save me because I don't want to die.
I hear her coming, then I see her, sunlight flashing off of her mockingjay pin, an arrow notched on her bowstring. I reach towards her, my hand slipping through the holes of the net. I am just saying her name when I feel something hit my stomach, and pain spreads through my body.
Katniss shoots her arrow, notches another to her bowstring, and whips around in one fluid motion. I have to tell her multiple times that there is no other enemy nearby.
There is no one else here, and there doesn't have to be. The boy from District 1 was enough. I am dying with his spear in my stomach. I roll onto my side, away from him, and stare at the weapon.
I am dying, and there is nothing Katniss or anyone else in this arena can do. The Gamemakers could save me; they could send one of their hovercraft to come swoop me up and whisk me away to the hospitals in the Capitol. But no. They won't. They have a show to put on, and letting a 12-year-old girl be murdered on live television is what the Capitol citizens want. They only care if they bet on me to win.
A tear trickles from the corner of my eye to the ground as Katniss cuts the net away from me with her knife. I reach for her, and she holds my hand with both of hers.
All of my wishes, all of my dreams, have crumbled to dust.
But Katniss reassures me that she blew up the Career's supplies, so maybe she can win. She has to win. For her sister that she loves so much that she volunteered to take her place in the Reaping. And now also for me.
A cannon fires, probably for the boy from District 1, and Katniss pulls one hand away. I cling to her remaining hand harder, but she's not leaving me. She's gently lifting my head onto her lap and tucking my hair behind my ear. My fear melts away, and I am comforted.
Yes, I am dying.
Yes, I will never see my family again, and I won't be able to achieve my dream of being a music teacher.
Yes, The Gamemakers have allowed me to be murdered, and I am yet another of the countless victims of their Games.
Yes, I am going to die.
But I am not going to die alone.