AN: I made an executive decision to make And So We Run a two part story. Part I, as you can see, is about their escape from Twelve. Part II will focus on their time in the Underground. And, you know, wreaking havoc on those Capitol tools.
Also, see Quintus here http://apricotteacup(dot)deviantart(dot)com/art/Quintus-161087407. I am thrilled with this artwork! Meghan/apricotteacup is the best!
Nobody asked any more questions about what happened by the creek. Bristel and Rory returned late in the afternoon, grim-faced and dripping with sweat. I could guess what they'd been up to, burying the body, and it made me feel nauseous. I spent the rest of the evening before it grew dark letting Prim practice braiding my hair. It helped relax me, though less so when Posy wanted to help. Her little fingers have a mean pull. Yet, Prim somehow managed to teach her how to hold the strands of my hair gently and the little girl managed to finish one braid by herself. Posy crowed and ran around bragging to her brothers, who were indifferent, of course.
It's so different being with Prim. I like her; she can tell what I'm feeling without having to say it. She's always been empathetic and intuitive, unlike Katniss who often needs things spelled out for her. But still, she isn't Katniss, my best friend.
I feel strangely grateful as the sky fades from indigo to black. It brings solitude and concealment. I feel like everyone stared at me all day. I don't mind going to sleep. Even if my dreams are filled with Liquor, I know that when I wake up, he won't be there. I hold on to that thought to guard against fear.
The man makes an appearance, just to spite me, I'm sure. The visions in my head are fearful. In my sleep, I'm trapped under water and unable to breathe, just like when he first grabbed hold of me. I struggle but can't surface.
It's dark when I open my eyes, but for the muted orange coals in the banked fire. A soothing feeling comes from someone running his fingers through my hair. Where did my braids go?
I roll over on my other side, already guessing who it is. Gale staked out a patch of grass across the fire last night when we all went to sleep, but now he's sitting beside me with his legs crossed. His eyes reflect the dim light from the fire pit; the irises disappeared with nightfall, making his eyes look black.
"You're awake," I croak.
"Yeah," he whispers.
Getting him to elaborate on anything is like pulling teeth. "Why?"
"Oh." I sit up and comb my fingers through my hair. "Me too." Then I ask, "What are you doing over here?"
His calloused fingers make a soft, rasping sound as they scratch his beard. "I woke up. Heard you shaking."
"You did not," I scoff, trying to maintain a hushed tone.
"Maybe not." He shrugs. "But you were shaking."
And you were looking out for it, I realize. It makes me feel a little googley. "What were you dreaming about?"
"Stupid junk," he says off-handedly.
I give a soft laugh for his stoicism. "Do you often dream about junk or is there something more interesting going on in your head?"
"I don't dream much. Usually too tired," Gale says, evading the question. "What were you dreaming about?"
He has the decency to look guilty. "Oh."
"I knew it was a dream because in the scenario, it wasn't your fault." I tease him because it makes the nightmare feel less horrible.
"Wench," he huffs. "Do you have bad dreams a lot?"
I shake my head. "No, but there are a few that keep coming back lately."
"What are they about?" He takes my hand. I squeeze it as I think of the answer.
"The bombing, my parents, and of you getting whipped."
His eyebrows shoot up to his hairline. "Me?" he splutters. "Why would you dream about that?"
"I can't forget seeing anything that horrible."
"Hell's teeth." Gale is getting pretty good at reining it in when I tell him something big. He doesn't yell, but he does have to pinch the bridge of his nose for a minute. "You saw me get whipped? What the hell were you doing in the square?"
Bitter laughter rattles in my throat. That afternoon I'd been spreading the word about Thread. Not fast enough, though. But I can't bring myself to tell him about it, so I say, "Just passing through. The crowd blocked me in and then I just couldn't move."
"You saw all of it?" he asks, his voice dark as the night.
I can't really tell what's going through his mind. Is he angry?
"I stayed until Katniss came," I tell him.
Gale rubs his temples. "I don't remember when that was."
"You were unconscious by that time." My chest squeezes tight, remembering it. Not just Gale's suffering, but my guilt. I can't ever bring myself to tell him about Darius and my foolish role in getting the Peacekeeper…in trouble. Or worse. We never did find out what happened to him. And I know that Darius was a friend of Gale's and that he had a certain quality about him that Katniss would call Hob. I shudder, imagining what Gale would think of me, knowing that I put his friend in harm's way. My own self-loathing is bad enough. I swallow convulsively, which makes my voice shake. "I saw part of your shoulder blade –"
Gale kisses me. I mumble then give up.
"Let's not think about it, okay?" he says. "It's late. We need to rest up for tomorrow."
No way am I going to sleep well with the memory of him tied to the whipping post. I can still hear the way he gasped in pain as Thread hit him over and over. "Yeah right."
"Maybe we'll sleep better if we're together?" He gently eases me down with him, adjust the blanket over our bodies.
Lying in his arms. "Um. I normally wouldn't let a guy do this on the second day together." Then I remember the nap we took by the creek just before…things went downhill. Well…the sun was out, so it's different. Right?
Gale laughs softly. "Dire straits," he replies. "I mean, most people don't start their first date with a…the way we did," he finishes lamely.
With a death. But I say, "Awful swimming lessons?" because I'd rather not let the bad memories get any closer.
His shoulders shake. "Yeah." Then he says, "Sorry. I didn't think you were really that scared of water or that you would sink like that."
"Well, what did you think?" I ask.
"Just that you were kind of, uh, missish."
I huff. "Honestly, Gale, when I tell you something, you need to believe me."
"I learned my lesson. Anyway, I figured since we're out in the middle of nowhere with no concrete idea of what's to come, we could skip all the preliminary 'holding hands only' polite stuff. We don't really have the luxury."
I'm starting to wonder what sort of post-preliminary stuff he's got in mind. "Are you seducing me?" I ask bluntly.
Gale chokes on something and coughs into the blanket. "What? NO!" he snaps after he recovers.
"Good, because I'm not that kind of girl." I try sitting up but his arm is in the way. I compromise by leaning back on my elbows, not quite sitting up nor lying down. Ha. "I don't know what your family will think if they find us lying like this." I say, returning to my protest about sleeping next to him.
I hear the smiles in his voice. "Still worried about them?"
"What will they think in the morning when we're together?"
"Go to sleep and we'll find out." His arm cinches around my waist, making my elbow pose feel a little ridiculous.
Clearly we're on different wavelengths. "Don't you feel the slightest reservation around your family?"
"Nope. If they don't already have an inkling about us after today then an announcement would probably be lost on them."
"Gale," I chide.
"Look, my family isn't that uppity. But if it'll make you feel better, fine, we'll make a formal announcement tomorrow."
"Hmph. It will make me feel better. And I think your mother wouldn't mind so much, either," I say, trying not to sound so stiff after Gale called me missish.
"Course not." Gale yawns.
I lie down, turning on my side facing opposite. Gale settles in behind me, my back against his chest. I stiffen when I feel his nose press against the nape of my neck. It really is different in the dark. My cheeks heat up in blush. It'll be okay, I think to myself, about how close he is. I'll just stay awake until Gale's asleep and then I'll scoot away to a more comfortable distance. Not that I want to sleep by myself. I like the idea of him near me in case the dreams come back. But I'd hate to know what my parents would think. Or everyone else when we wake up.
Simple. Just stay awake long enough to edge away…
I wake up with my cheek pressed against a moist spot on my pillow. Ugh. I hate that. I pull my arm loose from between me and my mattress, wiping the back of my hand against my mouth without opening my eyes.
"Nice. She drooled on him. Heh."
Huh? I crack open one bleary eye at a time and startle. I didn't move away last night! And to make matters worse, I turned around and snuggled into Gale. I'm pressed against his chest and there's a dark gray oval where I…drooled. My stomach sinks. Keep it classy, Madge.
I stew in my mortification for a moment, just staring at the wet patch hoping it will dry before Gale wakes up. My eyes flick up to his face, slack and peaceful in sleep. He looks deceptively innocent, but that might be accentuated by the crown of fresh daisies on his…
I gulp and hear a giggle behind me.
Five heads appear in my view as I twist around to look behind me. Rory beams at me. Vick holds a clump of tufty yellow flowers and Posy's hands cover her mouth while she giggles. Prim looks curious and maybe slightly alarmed, and Bristel rather smug.
Hell's teeth. Or whatever.
I quickly twist back into place and try to extricate myself from the tangle of arms and blankets.
"Wait a minute, Madge, or you'll ruin it," Rory whispers. "Go on, Vick." He nudges the younger boy forward.
Vick gives me a gap-toothed, urchin grin. I blink at him, wondering what he's up to just before he selects a dandelion and proceeds to rub it roughly over his brother's cheekbone. Gale's hand flies up to shoo Vick away as though he were a fly, but he doesn't wake up. Vick giggles nervously and throws the smashed weed away. He grabs another and leaves a yellow smudge down Gale's nose.
Gale's face twitches and my slow, just-awakened brain starts to realize that a pranked Gale is probably not a pretty Gale. Especially when the prank wakes him up in the morning. And the person in closest proximity to the beast is none other than myself.
Self-preservation kicks in. "Vick, I don't think that's such a good idea," I whisper as the boy pulls his third dandelion from the bouquet. This time he aims for Gale's upper lip, no doubt to create a golden effect on his moustache. But Gale turns his head just then, and half of the flower's head jams in his nostril.
Gale blusters and sneezes. His eyes snap open. They're the color of steel and just as sharp as a blade. The flower falls out of his nose when he swipes at it.
I sit up and scoot away.
"What is this?" Gale hisses, snatching the offending weed off his chest.
Vick, frozen in place after the dandelion got stuck, glances at the rest of us for help as he faces the eyebrows of doom solo. The little boy bites the inside of his cheek, either in fear or trying not to laugh.
I take pity on the boy.
"Oh, sorry," I say to Gale without thinking too hard. "I dropped it."
Gale faces me, looking incredulous and affronted. "You?"
Behind him, Vick sags in relief. I pluck the dandelion out Gale's hand and smudge the pollen onto his forehead. "Much better."
Vick's relief is short lived after what I do next. His mouth forms a perfect O, like I've just taken this a step farther than he thinks wise.
I guess he's right. Gale's eyes grow wide when I tuck the flower behind his ear. His jaw drops. He blinks. He splutters. The daisy chain falls down around his ears, resting on the bridge of his nose. His eyes cross when he tries to look at it.
Rory rips a gut laughing. I can't help it either. Gale looks like a king trying to play with a crown that's too big for his head. Utterly absurd. A few reluctant giggles escape and when Gale rips the crown from his head, tossing it aside, I can't hold back wave of laughter. It continues until my ribs ache and I double over, laughing against Gale's chest. He sits ramrod straight and stiff, suffering the indignity of it all.
I sit up, wiping tears from my eyes. "Good m-morning."
Gale sniffs, looking down at me beneath hooded eyes. "Are you done?
"For now," I reply cheerfully, despite how sour he looks.
"Huh," he grunts. Then he eyes everyone standing around us with displeasure. "What are you guys looking at?"
Vick wrinkles his nose as his eyes glance between us. "Are you going to marry Madge?"
Now my jaw drops. The little boy's bluntness makes my cheeks burn. I give Gale a look which means he's on his own for this one.
"Uh…" Gale looks out of his depth. For all his protests about his family being fine and unfazed, he seems to have a hard time answering the question. "Vick." He clears his throat. "It's a…bit soon for that kind of talk. We…well, we were going to say something about what's going on between…"
"Save it, Gale. We figured it out yesterday," Bristel drawls.
Gale glances at me. "Oh, well."
"Awkward, isn't it?" I whisper.
"What is going on here?" Hazelle appears before us. She looks curiously at her children, then Gale's new look. She turns to Rory. "Dandelions? Really?"
"Why do you assume it's my idea," he complains.
"It would be," Hazelle replies, but she's watching us. She eyes the single blanket puddling around our waists. "We need to discuss something." She reaches out for Posy. "Come here, honey." And settles the little girl between us on top of the blanket. She clears her throat. "Boys, Prim, can you give us a moment?"
Bristel gives Gale a sly grin. "Sure, Mrs. Hawthorne." He winks at me. "Later."
The atmosphere grows a touch uncomfortable as the others walk away. Posy plays with the ruined dandelions, chattering to herself and trying to put it in my hair. Mrs. Hawthorne – I have a hard time calling her Hazelle all of a sudden – folds her arms across her chest.
"Mom?" Gale asks with trepidation. "It's not what it looks like—"
"I figured, but I wanted to say something before you two found yourselves in a compromising situation." She gives us a stern glance, then adds thoughtfully, "After all, the wilderness is no place to bear children and who knows when we'll reach Thirteen."
Bear children? My eyes bug out. Oh god. Oh dear. I just got my first real kiss two days ago! Where is this talk of kids coming from?
We hear a snort from Rory's direction and I flinch.
"Blast it, Mom," Gale growls petulantly. "They're listening to everything you say."
Hazelle looks over her shoulder, when she turns back I barely catch a glimpse of a scary mom glare aimed at her other sons. She presses her lips together in a friendly smile.
I blink and blush and wish Gale would go away. "Uh…" I garble. "Mrs. Hawthorne, I'm not, we're not, you know…trying to have kids or anything like that. I had a nightmare last night and he just sort of…nothing happened."
Mrs. Hawthorne nods her head. "Just making sure, Madge. I know you're a responsible young woman and we can have a talk when you two are ready," she smiles brightly, "to get married."
I'm getting a headache not married.
Mrs. Hawthorne's eyes narrow. "Until then, back off a little, Gale."
Strangled sounds emanate from Gale's throat, but Mrs. Hawthorne doesn't seem to notice. "Keep it in your pants like a good boy and everyone will get along fine."
"Hell's teeth, Ma!" Gale looks horrified. Like he wishes the earth would swallow him up. That's sort of how I feel too. Gale scrunches the hair on the back of his head. "What kind of a guy do you think I am?"
"A male one," she replies. "I've got my eye on you." She wheedles her finger at him.
"We're not doing anything wrong. Like Madge said, she wasn't sleeping well." He grouses, "I thought you'd be pleased and all, what with the way you were ripping on me for not being nice to her."
"I am pleased." She nods. "But your sleeping arrangements weren't really what I had in mind for nice, Gale. I also know what young men are like. Your father never could keep his hands off of me, and I don't want you getting carried away with Madge. Besides, as the oldest you set an example to Rory, Vick, and Posy."
"Don't worry, Mrs. H. I'll keep an eye on them," Bristel calls.
Gale and I both groan. This is so humiliating.
"You weren't supposed to eavesdrop, Bristel," she replies in a cutting tone.
"Sorry." But he isn't.
Hazelle's attention is back on us. "Behave."
As Hazelle tells Posy to stay put between us, I cringe, not wanting to think about what my parents would think. I watch Hazelle's retreating figure, cheeks burning. It's one thing to hear it from a parent – certainly bad enough – but it's so much worse to hear it from my boyfriend's mother.
"Huh. Nobody lectured Peeta Mellark after he spent weeks smarming up to Katniss in a sleeping bag. One night…just one…and my mom practically pulls out a chastity belt," he hisses under his breath.
"This is your fault." I jab him in the chest. "I told you!"
"Ow." He rubs over his shirt. He stops and inspects his fingers for a second, then pulls his shirt out to find the wet mark I left, looking confused. He casts me a suspicious glance, but doesn't mention it. "What did you want me to do? Leave you alone with your nightmares?"
"I wanted you to be a little more conservative in front of your family until we announced our relationship. You said they wouldn't care, and clearly we've managed to scandalize your mother!"
"She's not scandalized." He says, "Though I'm feeling that way myself."
I stand up, shoving the blanket onto his lap. "I'm getting breakfast."
Behind me I hear Posy blow a raspberry with her tongue and pad after me. Ha. Girls sticking together.
I join the others, careful not to make eye contact. My cheeks are permanently stained – not yellow like Gale's – but just as obvious. We eat stewed tubers in a gopher sauce while the kids banter on about odd things. Gale wanders over and takes a plate. He settles in next to Bristel.
I hear Bristel mutter, "Seems to me that the sister routine isn't working so well for you. Bit of a hypocrite, aren't you, Hawthorne?"
Sister routine? Is he referring to Hazelle's little talk? Or something entirely different?
"Nope. I said Rory and Vick should treat her like a sister. Besides, she doesn't look remotely related to me," Gale replies in a hushed voice. He sets his plate aside.
I feel utterly confused and maybe like I should be offended.
"Yes, I've heard that before. It didn't make sense then. Doesn't make sense now," Bristel replies. "But whatever happened to not being affected by the women on this crew?"
Gale pares away a fingernail, looking unconcerned. "Bristel," he says genially, though I can hear the smirk in his voice. "When you drag a woman out of a burning district, you can keep her too."
What?! I drop my fork in the grass and have to clean it off, pretending that I am not hearing their conversation.
Bristel snorts. "Fair enough. We were only pulling your leg anyhow."
"I figured that." Although, Gale doesn't sound completely convinced.
Vick pipes up. He's sitting on the other side of Bristel. "That means Rory has to marry Posy, because he carried her out."
Posy giggles into her hands while Rory throws a rock at Vick. "Gross."
"What were you two talking about?" I ask Gale.
Gale sets his plate down, purposefully ignoring me. "So, how about that snare run?"
"I'll tell you later," he says.
"Fine," I grumble. Then I say, "By the way, you might want to wash your face. You've got pollen all over it."
I get back on my feet and flounce away. When I look back, Gale's gaping at the reflection of himself on the bottom of a snap tin.
Everyone's packing up their things, eating the last bits of food that won't last, or cleaning up the snap tins. Posy, Prim, and I take a trip down to the creek to wash, though I swore to do the contrary yesterday. As it turns out, I do smell. A little. On the way back I realize that I've left the cake of soap, and go back, waving the younger girls on.
After all, Liquor's dead. I chant this to myself. The likelihood of anyone else popping out at me from nowhere is very un—Ahhh!
A hand clamps over my arm, which is what caused my scream. Another one covers my mouth. It smells like wood smoke and salt. Despite the shock my mouth waters a little.
"Go on the snare run one more time with me before we leave?" Gale asks from behind me. His arm wraps around my waist and I feel his nose against my wet hair. His chest expands against my back as he breathes in. "We're not going to be alone for a while once we start walking."
"I'm going to kill you," I garble against his hand. He removes it and walks around me. I glare at him.
A lopsided grin sprawls over his face. "Sorry. You never hear me coming."
"You and your ruddy velvet tread," I huff, stepping around him.
"Velvet tread? Sounds like a name for someone in the Capitol," he says, stepping along side me. "Wait, Velvet Tread…wasn't that an escort of District 1 once?"
I ignore his jokes. "And why do you always cover my mouth?"
"Because you always split my ears with your yowling."
I stop abruptly and he nearly trips over my heels, that's how close he's walking. "Well, stop sneaking up on me!"
"I didn't. That's how I walk, Madge," he says. "If I had a heavier tread we'd be eating birch bark for dinner instead of meat."
"You aren't hunting right this moment so I don't see why you can't do me a favor and just clod around like the rest of us mortals," I reply irritably.
Gale puts his hands on his hips. "Are you coming on the snare run or not?"
"Who else is coming?" I ask.
He looks around. "Nobody."
"That's a bad idea."
Oh please. "Gale! Your mom just gave us a dressing down." I cross my arms. "I don't think being alone is such a good idea."
He shrugs. "Yeah, I know. So?"
"Weren't you listening to her at all?" I gasp.
"Please?" For a second I think he actually tries to make his eyes look wide and innocent, but then he slips in a cheeky grin.
Drat. The puppy eyes I might have resisted. But that smirk, it speaks to the part of me that gets a thrill from sneaking newspapers.
I follow him up the bank, noticing that we leave the thicket at a point further upstream than usual. Coincidence? I think not. Way to avoid the camp and the moms – oh bugger.
I remember the soap. "Gale, we have to go back. I left something by the creek."
"Forget about it," he says without concern, grabbing my hand.
"But it's the soap. We can't waste it."
"We'll get it when we come back." I let him pull me along.
The first snare is empty. Rotten luck. Gale collects the supplies and stows them in his pack. The second snare is also empty. In fact, they're all empty!
"Imagine that," he says as he dismantles the last one.
I don't think this is a coincidence. "Somebody's already been to collect them, haven't they?"
Gale shrugs from where he's crouching on the ground. "We've been here a few days. Game's drying up."
"Not likely," I say, shifting my weight from foot to foot while I stand over him. "Your snares always work."
He smirks. "Yup."
It takes me a moment to catch his meaning. I gasp. "You did that on purpose," I accuse. "Your mother's going to kill us."
He looks up at me. "She won't."
"When Hazelle finds out we snuck off like this she's going to shun me from your family and leave me out here to rot in the wilderness for acting like a tramp."
"Madge, that's impossible. One, I'm pretty sure she thinks I'm the guilty one. This little trip is no different from when I showed you how to make a fish line. Two, you've already wormed your way into the family. Posy adopted you from day one. And the kids already have you covering for Vick. No going back now."
I blink at him. That was really sweet, but how did he know about Vick? "Covering for Vick? What?"
He snorts, heavy eyebrow arched. "Oh come on, Madge. He had a clump of the weeds in his hand still."
"Well," I cry, "I'm not good at being on the spot and he looked scared of you."
"Vick's not scared of me," he denies. "The kid just knows I could string him from his ankles if I needed to."
Well, that should comfort the boy. "I didn't want him to get in trouble and I didn't think about him holding the stupid dandelions."
Gale sits down in the long grass. It's taller than his head that way. "You'll learn to think fast. You already are."
I sit down next to him. "How?"
"You made it this far, didn't you?" he asks.
I nod. "But I had some help."
"Everybody needs help. Doesn't mean they aren't clever or cunning. Learning to adapt is the hardest part, but you did. I'll never forget seeing you all covered in poison itch. That idea was a stunner."
I'm still scabbing over in some places, but I'm not telling him where.
"I should have come up with a better plan."
"Don't bother with shoulds. You did what you could. You got away," he says, his eyes earnest. "And you've learned other things, like spear fishing. And swimming, to a lesser degree. Plus, we survived the worst obstacle course in Panem."
"Maybe not the worst…" I say, thinking of all the Hunger Games I remember seeing.
"The firebombing was pretty damn bad."
I can't disagree. "I guess we're not done yet, either. Not until we find Thirteen. If such a place even exists still."
"I hope so," Gale says. He pulls off the tufty end of some Indian grass to play with. The seeds fall off the stalk when he runs it through this fingers.
I lean against his shoulder, pulling up a few blades too. "What if we don't find it?"
Considering that I only found out about the existence of a rebel stronghold in Thirteen a few days ago, I'm banking an awful lot on it. When I really think about living in the wilderness forever, I feel overwhelmed. Am I cut out for it? We won't have anything.
"We'll build a cabin somewhere," Gale says, like he doesn't feel an ounce of uncertainty about it.
"For all of us?" It seems a bit crowded.
"Well, cabins, I guess. But I thought we were just talking about the two of us." He winks at me. I blush.
What is it with the Hawthornes getting way ahead of themselves? "Isn't it a bit soon to think about sharing a cabin?"
He gets that superior look in his eyes. "We're constantly on the verge of dying, in case you haven't noticed. Nothing's too soon."
Well, when you put it like that.
His hand brushes down my back. "We'll make it," Gale murmurs. "Even if the rebellion doesn't exist and Thirteen is a pipe dream."
"You could make it," I tell him. "We're just following you. I didn't last long on my own."
"I'll take care of you," Gale vows. His hand cups my cheek. I close my eyes and feel his lips cover mine, sealing the promise.
I decide to believe him, but I can't shake how bleak it seems. Even as he presses a kiss against my forehead, can't help but think about the kids and Bristel. What kind of a future will they have if District Thirteen is a sham? I have Gale now, but who would they have? Bristel's older than Gale, but far too young for…the moms. Prim is too young for him.
"Do you think Rory would go for Prim one day?" I ask.
That wasn't Gale's voice, though he's looking at me with his nose wrinkled in disgust. He looks at someone behind me. "Rory, what are you doing here?"
"Bristel, do you mind?" Gale grouses at the boys, unhappy about the interruption.
"Just doing my duty," Bristol replies. I can hear the cheer in his voice. "Er, hands in the air, Hawthorne."
Gale glares at the miner beneath craggy eyebrows.
Rory steps into view. "Mom wants you two to come back to camp so we can head out."
"Right." Gale curses under his breath and helps me to my feet, our conversation on hold. He pulls me along by the hand at a quick pace. His legs have a few inches on mine. I nearly trip over his heels trying to keep up and decide to drop his hand.
Bristel falls in step with me as I find my own pace.
"So, is it too late for you and me?" Bristel asks, wrapping his arm around my shoulder.
I smile, thinking how he's late by five or six years! "It was always too late for us, Bristel."
"Hm. Well. Once you realize what an ass Gale is, I'll be there for you."
I laugh. "You two are such odd friends. I can't remember ever seeing you two get along."
"It's the secret of our charm."
We reach camp shortly. Everyone is set with their packs. Posy takes my hand. She looks like a new person, scrubbed clean just this morning. That won't last long, I think. Then I remember that I left the soap behind.
I give everyone an apologetic grin. "I forgot the soap again. I'll just run down again and get it," I say.
I start down the bank, making more noise than usual. Or is it that the thicket is unusually quiet? The buzz of the insects and the bird songs are gone. Then I hear it: a tell-tale shrill note of alarm. The trill of a mockingjay. Within seconds I hear the crashing and trampling of hurried feet behind me. I turn and see my family scrambling with our packs through the rhododendrons. Gale's behind them, urging them on. He's got Posy over his shoulder and I immediately worry about his injured arm.
"What?" I ask when he reaches me.
Gale's eyes look grey as slate against his pale face. "Trouble. Hovercraft. Everyone get down."
We crouch in the undergrowth, hoping that between the shrubs and trees, they won't see us.
No such luck. Even though we have all our things, traces still linger from our camp. The blackened fire pit. The trampled grass. Out of nowhere the hovercraft decloaks. A huge one. It dwarves the plain as it descends. The displaced air whips through the open space. The wind in the thicket kicks up bracken and causes our hair to fly around our heads.
I feel a horrible chill, fearful that after all this time the Capitol has caught up with us. Foolishly, I believed that we'd left Panem behind when we fled from Twelve and that was the last we'd have to see of Peacekeepers. With so many other things to worry about, I'd never given a thought to capture.
My hand reaches out and connects with Gale's. He gives it a squeeze. Guess we had the same idea. I feel a little better now and force myself to face the danger with my head up.
It's difficult. I'd rather bury my face against Gale's other shoulder and pretend that if I can't see the bad guys, then they can't see me.
The hovercraft lands and the stirred air calms down, clearing my vision. Our gazes lock on the ship, waiting for our doom. It seems like my eyes are about to burn a hole through the side of the craft when I notice something. An insignia, only partially within view, painted on the side of the hovercraft. It takes me much longer than it should to place the image.
Is it possible?
I laugh out loud, a deep belly laugh, and dart out from under the brush.
"Madge!" Gale hisses. "Are you crazy?" I hear him getting up to follow.
"It's all right," I cry, breaking into the sunlight. "Look!"
It's the mockingjay insignia. It has to be. And part of a name...one I know so very well.
I start waving my arms to get the attention of anyone who might be watching from inside, now terribly afraid that they'll decide nobody's here and take off. I'm jumping in place, but then my wrists are seized by Gale and I'm being lugged off into the thicket again.
"Knock it off, Madge." His fingers bite into my shoulders as he spins me around to face him. "It could be a ruse of the Capitol," Gale growls in my ear. "You want to get yourself killed? And the rest of us, too?"
"It's not," I shout. "It's a rebel craft. It has to be."
A hatch opens in the side of the hovercraft, issuing a ramp.
"I guess we'll find out," Gale growls.
The end of Part I
Thanks for reading! I'll be taking a bit of a break to have a bit of a life and gets some plotting done for Part II. It'll be a bit more involved than I originally planned. ;)