Emir and I aren't boyfriend and girlfriend. But we're a lot closer than just friends. It's odd to explain, you know? It deserves a word of its own.
So we chose a word. Comrade. We're comrades. Maybe it's pretty much the same as friends, and maybe it's had some other weird connotations over the years, but it has a nice ring to it. It seems to put us a little more together than friends, but without the romance we've never had and never will have.
I say never will have because we're both in the Hunger Games. Just by chance, although I'm sure we would have volunteered for each other anyway.
We've made it surprisingly far. Impossibly far. Sure, we're from Ten, so we're pretty good when it comes to strength. Emir's the biggest guy I know despite being only sixteen, and I'm not the scrawniest thing either.
If you want the scrawniest thing, you'd have to look at our other ally. The only other competitor left at this point, actually. She's a twelve from 12. Thin, faint, timid little thing. Emir and I can't bear to kill her. I can't even think about killing, and while Emir has a decent amount of blood on his hands, none of it was from someone innocent. His murders weren't completely justified; we both know that. And that's why he wouldn't dream of killing little Raine any more than I would.
Of course, no one could kill his comrade. And Raine has always been far too afraid of most everything to even touch the handsome knife in our alliance's possession. No one else is left to kill us. So we're just going to starve.
I don't think Emir and I ever would have thought we would be starving. Emir's from a fairly high-up family, so he has plenty of eat. And he eats plenty. It's hard to get that much muscle without eating truckloads every day. I'm not of quite the same social status, but I've never starved. I bet Raine has, though. I don't think that girl's had enough to eat any day of her life before the reaping. I'm not even sure how she has enough fat or muscle in her to keep her going at this point.
We all knew she would be the first to wither to nothing when we decided. Raine pretended she didn't, pretended we could just sit quietly until someone came to save us. But at one point she couldn't keep it out of her head. She's always been prone to freak-outs, as long as I've known her. She'd scream bloody murder and jump halfway up a tree if she saw a spider. She'd try to hide when she heard footsteps approaching, even if she knew it was us. But that was little danger. That was just fear of the unknown.
But then it was fear of death. Death she always knew she couldn't avoid, except then it was right at her doorstep.
She had a breakdown. Boy, did she have a breakdown. Emir and I tried to comfort her somehow, but there was no stopping her. She couldn't hear us through the screaming and crying, anyway. I don't know how long it was she was like that. But I still remember how suddenly empty it was when she stopped.
Not stopped screaming. Not stopped crying. She just stopped. Something in her head snapped, and she just gave up. She hasn't moved since. She hasn't responded to anything we've tried to do or say. Raine has been dead for a few days now. Emir and I are just waiting for the cannon to tell us when her little heart finally gives out.
There's not much else for us to do. Sit. Reminisce. Wish the Gamemakers hadn't announced they had removed all food from the arena. Pretend the water in the stream next to us could fill our stomachs like food would. Sit some more. Keep wasting away.
At one point we stopped talking. Neither of us felt strong enough for it, I guess. But Emir... Emir, used to eating his fill even through the first part of the Games... I guess the hunger started to get to him before me.
"Esther?" he had finally prompted while staring at me blankly but unnervingly.
"Please keep talking." He had rested his forehead on his hands. "I just looked at you... And I saw you as meat..."
"...All right. What do you want me to talk about?"
Since then, he's been a bit more stable. This is still taking its toll on us, though. Apparently I keep smiling for no reason. I've burst into nonsensical laughter a few times. I'm not sure how crazy I have to be to get to that. I don't feel crazy. But that probably means I am.
So Emir and I are sitting here, keeping our mouths going as our fat, muscles, and minds are eaten away.
Raine's cannon finally fires.
Emir immediately turns to check on her, though she doesn't look much different. He stays frozen for a second before leaning over and wrapping a shaking hand around her ankle.
"...Can we eat her?" he says.
I watch silently, not completely sure whether I'm shocked or contemplative.
"There's almost no meat on her left, huh? We should have... We should have cut her up while she was still alive..." He scrutinises her leg, desperate hunger still in his eyes.
"Esther, tell me this is wrong."
"This is wrong."
Emir stares at the withered thing in his grasp for another second before finally gaining the strength to let go. The hovercraft that had been humming over our heads picks up Raine's body and vanishes.
Emir is still staring at the spot where she was. He only moves to wipe away some of the saliva dripping from the corner of his mouth. He and I both sit silently for a while, whether in memorial of Raine or concern for our sanity I'm not sure.
"Esther?" Emir finally starts, just able to make himself pivot to face me.
"Can you... hand me the knife?"
He stares at the knife by my side rather than me, so luckily I don't have to look him in the eye.
So, I don't trust him anymore? My only comrade, whom I've known all my life? Just because he's a little unwell? I'm probably no better. Does he still trust me? Yes. So I don't have good reason not to trust him.
I drag my hand over the ground until it rests on the knife handle. Not feeling like picking it up, I just make a motion and slide the blade towards him. He has to lean over to pick it up, and then he doesn't quite sit back up. He just sits, contemplating, for the longest time until he finally looks up at me.
There must be some fear in my eyes, because he assures me he isn't going to kill me and eat me.
"You don't have much left on you anyway," he breathes, wrapping his fingers around the knife's handle. "But I..."
He trails off, staring at the knife too hard to realise he's started to drool again. And before I know what's happening, he shoves the blade into his calf.
His eyelids give a faint twitch of pain, but he's too determined to get out the chunk of muscle still in his leg. I can only look on blankly as he rips the muscle away from the skin and nerves and stares at it. His arms are shaking madly, but he's not going to wait. We can't build a fire. And I'm not sure he remembers meat is supposed to be cooked. And not from people.
He starts eating. I'm not sure what good it does. His body was eating his muscles, anyway. I guess it's just nicer to chew and swallow. Or he's completely insane.
Emir finishes, not even registering the pool of blood gathering beneath him as he reaches for the knife again.
"Stop. You'll bleed to death."
He stays frozen, though his hands still twitch.
" 'Kay," he gets out, lowering his hands to the ground. He stays in this pose for a little while before resting his hand on the knife. He looks up at me and slides the weapon back. I look down at the blood-slicked thing questioningly.
Emir laughs. Normally I like his laugh. This isn't his laugh.
I look back up at him uncomprehendingly.
"I'm still hungry. And you won't die. I didn't!" He puts his hands on my shoulders and grips, the blood and drool on his fingers soaking into my shirt. "And it's no big deal, right? Because comrades do things for comrades, right?" That laugh again. "Comrades do things for comrades...!"
"Yes, they do." I grasp the slippery handle of the blade and make myself lift it.
And I ram it straight into his throat.
The thing that used to be Emir looks at me, wild confusion in its eyes, before it falls to the ground convulsing.
"But you're not my comrade."
Emir and Esther. The comrades. The two who would be comrades to their last days, even in the Hunger Games.
Unfortunately, they both died before the last cannon fired.