Blood on the Flowers

Chapter I: Hunting Song

Alright, Rue, I tell myself. You can breathe now.

Two fires down, no one in sight, now I need to keep moving. Everything's working like we planned. I can breathe now. Inhale, Rue, I instruct myself. Exhale, Rue.

I take in a big gulp of oxygen, but it's almost too much for my over-exerted lungs to handle. Suddenly, my chest is heaving – I'm choking, spitting out the air, panting. It hurts my throat in a strange way, stinging the dry skin of my throat.

Oh. I must be thirsty. Very, very thirsty. I can't remember the last time I had something to drink.

I'm far enough ahead of whoever might be tracking to pause for some water, aren't I? I take my water skin and try to unscrew the cap. It takes a minute because my hands are slick with sweat, and covered with dirt and mud. I notice that I have a splinter in my palm from one of the trees. I try to pull it out with my other hand, but it's stuck fast. And now my palm is bleeding.

I wipe the blood on my shirt. When I get home, I think, the first thing I'm doing is taking a shower.

Ignoring the splinter for the time being, I finally unscrew the cap of my water skin. Good thing I snagged this much at the Cornucopia. It does me a lot of good when I'm moving about in the trees, far from any water source on the ground. I lean against the trunk of the tree and take a few sips. The liquid is cool and refreshing, reviving me, re-awakening my sore limbs.

I close the bottle after a short drink. Best to ration the water as much as I can. So long as I'm not dizzy or about to pass out, I'm fine.

I can't help but feel a rush of pride at having come this far. Take that, Careers! Remember that little kid that you expected to die within the first day? The twelve-year-old scavenger from District 11, the little dark-skinned girl who earned a seven from the Gamemakers, the underdog that helped drop a tracker jacker nest on your heads?

She's outsmarting you, after all, I think, and I feel a trickle of new energy from mocking the enemy gang, even if they're bigger than me, and they can't hear what I'm thinking.

For the first time in what feels like years, I actually smile. It feels… wrong. Like I haven't used the muscles necessary for a smile nearly enough for a twelve-year-old. My smile fades after a moment, and the panic is back. Adrenaline shoots through my whole body. My heart begins to race, pumping out a nervous, erratic beat.

Mixed with my survivor's pride is a stinging fear, a fear that floods my mind, swamps me, leaves me thrashing as I struggle against the current of terror that's pulling me under. What if the Careers figure out our deception? What if I get lost in the Arena? What if Katniss is killed? What if I'm killed?

If I can just hold out just a little longer, just a little longer, this will all be over, and I can go home.

Home to what? I can't help but mentally snarl. Home to harvesting more food I can't eat. Home to tree-swinging and grain-gathering and public whippings.

At least, if I get home, I remind myself, everyone won't be trying to kill me.

District 11 might not be heaven, but it's better than this hell.

I need to put these thoughts out of my mind. They won't do me any good. I need to focus on having my slingshot handy at a moment's notice. There might not be any tributes in sight at the moment, but there's no way to tell. I should be able to get away, but if I get cornered, I'm going to need my only weapon more than ever. If I have the element of surprise on my side, I should be able to send a stone into any Career's skull before they have time to think. But if I'm caught off guard, I could be dead in a heartbeat.

You can do this, Rue. Come on. You can do this, I think to myself, but it doesn't help much. I remind myself why I'm fighting. For my family. For my district.

For Katniss.

I take a deep breath, sucking in all the air my lungs can hold, and then let it out in a rush as I lean forwards, perching on the tree branch like a falcon before takeoff. I bend my knees and leap, almost dive – but I'm diving up, leaping into the sky. The wind rushes past me, and for a split second, I'm flying. I see the clouds, the sky, the treetops, and I'm soaring above it all, free as a bird.

I catch the next branch by feel. My fingers close around it, and I can already tell, though I haven't opened my eyes yet, that it's too thin. It'll never support my weight.

In the same second that I think this, I'm instinctively swinging my legs around the tree trunk, gripping crevices in the bark with my toes. I spin up, towards the top of the tree, where it's stronger. I land perched solidly in the leaves with a crystal-clear view of the surrounding arena.

It's strange because as I look up, I almost expect to see the sunset over the fields of District 11, and the golden yellow of the rows of grain, and the countless workers milling about below me – workers I know by name, every one of them. As I look out over the Arena, I almost expect to see them, listening for the resounding call of the mockingjays that signals the end of the day's work.

At the thought of the signal, something nudges my mind, like the ghost of an old memory, or a wispy voice on the wind.

The signal!

Of course! I'd promised Katniss a signal at repeated intervals so she'd know I was okay. I quietly hum the four notes to myself a couple times. Not because I've forgotten them, but because they remind me of home, and I'd kill to go home.

I might have to do just that.

Trying to clear my head, I sing the notes out loud. A mockingjay attempts an echo. It's off-pitch, just slightly, so I repeat myself to the bird. It takes up the melody, and soon another joins in, and then another, and another, until the whole forest is ringing with the sound of my friends, the mockingjays, ever loyal.

At least I still have them. They're the closest thing I have to family out here in the wilderness. I wish I could set one of the birds loose and tell it to fly home, singing my melody. It might give my parents some comfort, knowing I'm thinking of them.

Oh, crap. The tears are starting again. My throat feels tight and my heart is skipping beats and I can't breathe, I can't think, and my vision is misting over. I swallow hard and set my jaw.

Panem is watching you, Rue, I tell myself. Focus, Rue. Think! Don't be a child, I add, but I have to fight back the thought that I still am a child, still am just a kid, still just want to go home to a warm bed in a warm house with a warm lullaby on my lips as I drift into a peaceful sleep.

Cut it out! I mentally berate myself. Look brave, Rue, and maybe District 11 will send you some bread.

I hate this so much. All of it. I'd let myself cry it out, if only there weren't all these cameras watching my every move. I can't ever be alone out here, even in the wilderness. I hate the Hunger Games. I hate the Capitol. I hate the Districts; I hate Panem; I hate this. Every secondof it.

I clench my fists hard on the branch above me – so hard that my stupid splinter sends pain shooting through my palm. If I were clutching the tree branch any tighter, the edges would cut into my hand, and my fingers would probably start to bleed.

There's a snapping sound. I jump. Then I belatedly realize it was me. The branch I'm gripping has snapped into two splintered halves, and I realize I'd better cool it before I bring half the tree down on my head.

I blink my tears away. Once. Twice. I take a sharp, shaky breath, afraid to trust my own self-control, and I'm taking in oxygen in big gulps like someone's strangling me. I face the sun and quickly swing to the next tree.

This is easy. One hand in front of the other, seize a branch, leap, catch my fall, one hand in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. Swing. Land. Swing. It's mechanical, natural, and even subconscious by now, but it's familiar, and any sort of familiarity is comforting.

Once I'm sure anyone who might have caught my trail is far behind, I pause at the top of one of the trees. Even from here, there's no sign of any of the other tributes. Part of me wishes I could catch a glimpse of Katniss or Thresh. A face of someone I know would be comforting.

I miss Thresh. He's probably out to kill me now, but I can't help but think of him. He's the only one who spoke to me since the reaping, apart from Katniss. He's… decent, I guess you could say. He has a kind of moral code, and there's something to be said for that.

He's independent, though, and I have no doubt that he would repel any thought of allying with Katniss and me. He's strong enough to fend for himself, which is good, because he's perfectly content – even happy – with riding alone.

Thresh is strong, and tenacious, and he could probably win the Hunger Games. Maybe he will. He's different, though; different from all the others. Not different like Katniss. He's still in this for blood, to be sure, but he has a good heart. He doesn't like to owe anyone anything. If you help him, he'll pay you back.

Should Thresh take the win in the games, he'll at least grant his victims merciful deaths. If I don't win, I'd like him to win.

Not as much as I'd like Katniss to win, of course. I just don't like the idea of her having to kill him.

"You might be young, but you're fast," Thresh told me just before the start of the games. "Play that up to the Gamemakers, and you could go far in this thing. A good score is all you need. That'll get you sponsors, and they're what will keep you alive."

Sure! Sponsors! I have this urge to scream at the top of my lungs, "Some food would be nice!" in the hopes that my supposed sponsors would hear me and send a parachute down. You know, Panem, there's a reason these are called the Hunger Games. I could go for some decent food. Anything besides wild berries.

I've become lost in my own head, again. I need to keep moving. I take one last glance around me, still vigilant, checking for enemy tributes – and then I freeze.

I can't move. I can't breathe. I'm a statue, an extension of the tree that I'm white-knuckling now with my good hand.

Nearby, close enough to see me, almost close enough to kill me, is the boy from District 1.

I think his name is Marvel, but I couldn't be sure. A chill shoots through my spine and radiates through me, but I'm still sweating like an animal. Marvel. A Career. A murder machine.

The District 1 tributes might have ridiculous names, but they're bred to kill.

Has he seen me? I can hear my own heartbeat. Does he suspect anything? I doubt it. He can't have seen me, he can't have. He can't have. But he's too close for me to move now. I'll give myself away, I'll get myself killed. I have to watch, and wait.

And ready my slingshot.

I frantically grip my weapon with slippery hands, (my left palm still stinging from the splinter,) and place one of my small, sharp stones in the sling. A second rolls to the ground, landing with a clatter. Oh, shoot! I pray that Marvel didn't see that. Why am I such a klutz? Why did they choose me for the tribute? Why won't my hands stop shaking?

I'm freaking out. I'm going to give myself away. Stay calm, Rue!

I must be about to snap, I must be breaking away from sanity, because I start humming to myself, like I would when someone at home was being whipped, and I couldn't look away. Whenever it became too much, I would sing.

I sing now. Quietly. Too quietly for Marvel to hear, but loudly enough that the mockingjays take up my song. Crap! Katniss will think I'm fine. No one will get me out of this.

Ten minutes pass. There are the longest ten minutes of my entire life.

Eventually, Marvel crashes through the brush. I crouch down in the leaves of my tree and pretend this isn't happening. Marvel is glancing around for threats, and I'm trying not to breathe, but my heart is hammering so hard and fast, and all I can think is I don't want to die, I don't want to die. I'm too young to die. I can't die. I can't!

And then I'm pulling back the slingshot and aiming for his skull. The rock snaps out of my weapon and towards Marvel.

But his reflexes are better than I predicted.

He ducks with precision timing, his fist clenching tightly around the shaft of his spear that's longer than I am tall. In a split second, that same spear is hurtling towards the trunk of my tree.

There's no time for me to jump to another branch. The trunk of my tree snaps and splinters and cracks apart in every direction, and I'm not sure if I'm jumping or falling or if I've already hit the ground, or if I will ever hit the ground, because everything is happening in slow motion. Then I hit the dirt, finally, and it feels like running headfirst into a stone wall.

I'm too winded to move.

Marvel suddenly has a net. I don't know where he got it from in the first place. I don't know where he pulled it from just now. And while I'm still trying to comprehend what's happening, unable to understand why it's happening, that net is flying towards me. I suddenly regain my senses, and I'm thrashing about, but the net has already landed and I'm hopelessly entangled in the mesh.

I find my voice in the same second. Against all rational thought, I let out a piercing scream at the top of my lungs.

Marvel retrieves his spear from where it's lodged in the remains of the tree stump. He backs up, leaning heavily on his back leg, and I just know instinctively that he's getting into a good position from which to launch the thing at my heart.

I screech again, my voice leaping up an octave with unbridled terror. I'm so afraid. I've never been so terrified. I'm going to die – I'm going to die! Somebody help me!

Katniss. Where's Katniss?

Her name finally reaches my lips. "Katniss!" I wail. "Katniss!"

There's an answer from somewhere in the trees, and I'm praying she's close, forcing myself to believe she's close. "Rue!" Katniss shouts. "Rue! I'm coming!"

"Katniss!" I yell back.

Then she breaks into the clearing, her bow raised to attack, the string pulled taught, an arrow at the ready. I reach through the mesh of the net, desperately trying to get her attention. "Katniss!" I'm over here, I'm over here…

Without warning, there's a whistle of something arcing through the air. Before it can register in my mind that Marvel has thrown the spear, the point stabs deeply into my stomach.

A/N: I will continue up until Rue's death, with Katniss' song, but I don't have time to complete chapter two now, and I thought this was a good place to cut it off. Please review. Please. This is my first Hunger Games FanFic; I just read book one for the first time, and I'm becoming obsessed, so no spoilers, please, and give me your honest opinions. Constructive criticism is welcome. Flames, on the other hand, will earn you a trip to the administrators.

Thanks! Review, please!