Disclaimer: All Hunger Games characters are the property of Suzanne Collins. I own nothing, nor do I plan on profiting from using her work. No copyright infringement is intended.
A/N:This is a rather not so complicated concept to understand: The Capitol keeps the dead tributes from the Games (reject tributes) in an identical arena to the one they died in. They revive them whenever they're hurt. They give them the things they need. The Gamemakers jobs are extended to year round care of these other arena, going back all the way to the First Hunger Games. The only way to escape the entrapment is to die of old age, years and years later. Any questions? Just review and ask. Thanks for reading, sorry for typos. -Taryn(:
I wake, startled. I can not place what is going on, or where I am, or why my body aches so much. There is whispering around me, like the fluttering of a birds' wings. A familiar sound, that at first soothes me, but I feel someone is touching my brow. Light, undemanding fingers petting me through the hair. Finger nails sending little shivers down my spine and goosebumps up my arms. I wonder for a moment if I had dreamed it all. All of it had been just a nightmare; the pain of the spear impaling me, the hopelessness of being ensnared in the net, and Katniss...her song...her lullaby.
But as I recall all of those things I know that I couldn't have made them up. I remember specifically the smell of pine, my face lying so close to the dirt, and I could taste the mint leaves lingering in the scent of Katniss' breath as she soothed me into death. I couldn't have made those things up. That wasn't the dream.
This has to be.
I know the light is dim around me. I don't have the courage to open my eyes to confirm this. Where am I? Who is with me? How many are there? I demand myself the answers to these questions, knowing that Katniss would be doing the same in my shoes. I need to be brave like Katniss.
As much as I want to curl in a ball and feign sleep, I force myself to listen to their words.
"Is she alright?" say a boy.
Then a girl farther away, whispers, "Why isn't she moving?"
"I told you we should have just left her where they put her!"
"Shut up!" cries the person hovering over me. The same one who is running silky fingers down my cheek. Their voice is viscous, despite the gentle touches, and I instantly dislike it. It's not Katniss. Katniss has a beautiful voice. But it is definitely female, high-pitched and shrill. "She's scared."
"You yelling over her won't help," puts in a bitter voice, the furthest one away than the others. I know that voice more than the rest, though. I stiffen, paralyzed with terror. It's hisvoice. The boy who killed me, who put that spear through my body, who caught me in that trap.
The boy from District 1, Marvel. And I find my courage flees from me, and I no longer care the answers to those questions. All I want is to be out of here. But I can't move.
"Both of you, stop it," hisses another female voice. This one is softer, younger. She can't be much older than me, I know. It reminds me of one of my sister's voices from back home.
Oh. At the thought of home, I feel something in my gut tremor. It's like I've just been punched. District 11, am I there? No, I know I'm not. Not if Marvel is here. Why is he here in the first place? Didn't he die also? Before me? Katniss shot him through the throat with an arrow. I wince remembering it, but it's true. It's real. How is it that he's here, where ever this is, talking and talking to me, who has also died?
The hand soothing my face pulls away and move to my shoulders, shaking them lightly. "Get up, kid," the viscous, ugly girl voice says. "I didn't drag you to this cave for nothing!"
My eyes open. The shaking causes my brain to rattle around inside my skull, gives me an intense headache. My whole body feels wrong, but I don't have time to assess that, because the second my eyes make sense of the dim surroundings about me, they are focused on one of the prettiest faces I've ever seen. And I've seen this face before.
Her long, shimmering blonde hair is falling down her back as she kneels at my side. Her pale skin is flawless, so unlike the last time I saw her; dirty, mud caked under her fingernails, green eyes gleaming determined up at Katniss perched in a tree. There is no mistaking this girl for anyone else, but Glimmer of District 1.
"But you're dead," I say, before I can stop myself.
Her saucy face darkens. "I was."
"Before we figured out how sick the Capitol really is," adds another and my face swings around to find someone kneeling on my opposite side. I don't know his name. He's another tribute from my Hunger Games though, from District 9. He died in the Bloodbath.
"What do you mean?" I whisper, prone and trained to dislike the insulting of the Capitol. Back in District 11 this boy would be executed with the snap of our Head Peacekeeper's fingers for saying that.
"Don't overwhelm her! She's younger than us," exclaims the soft feminine voice. She sounds frantic though, and locate her on her knees at my feet with two other figures sitting behind her shoulders. There are seven in total, all around me, the very last of them seated at the entrance of what Glimmer referred to as a cave, and it's Marvel, who looks bitingly at his hands.
I blink several times. I have to be dreaming. None of this is making sense. What would Katniss do in this situation? I ask myself, more out of habit, then anything else, because of the Hunger Games I just spent with her. I remember saying this to myself multiple times during training days, following Peeta and her around.
Be like her, I will. But my hands are shaking.
"I–I don't understand," I mumble, sitting up. I get a major head rush. Everything splotches bright and black and when it clears I find we are in some sort of cave. Large rocks form over our heads and it's not very big. It's claustrophobic with the seven of us in here. I recognize them all as tributes now, from all different districts. I hear the sound of running water close by, and the floor is covered in pine needles. The mouth of the cave is a source of blinding light, compared to the dimness of being where I lay. I move a hand to cover my eyes.
"Where am I?" I press when no one says anything. I look to Glimmer, but she and the boy from District 9 are sharing a weighty stare above and across my head, and I can't make any sense of it.
Then someone grasps my knee and gives it a reassuring squeeze. "You're safe now," murmurs the kind girl.
"Hardly!" scoffs Marvel. I'm surprised to find he has wide pale blue eyes, and they look overwhelmed, angry, but under control at the same time. He is a ruthless Career, I remind myself. Then I'm struck dumb with the realization that Glimmer is just as ruthless and strong and tall. I'm surrounded by Careers, because beside the kindly girl is the dead District 4 male.
Instantly I want to run. I crave to escape, leap into the familiar of the trees and use my erratic flight to get away from them. But there isn't a tree in sight, I'm trapped in by tributes and walls of rock. And I can't say which one is worse.
"Whoa, there," says the roguish boy from District 4. He smiles kindly at me, I almost believe it's sincere, almost smile back, but I know it must have been because he noticed my frantic eyes. "Don't get any crazy ideas, we're all friends here."
Friends? The Careers as my friends? The other tributes...friends? I only trust Katniss. The others are all out for the same thing. The thing I wanted, but hardly knew I could have. They are going to kill for survival. No one's a friend in the Hunger Games, even I know that, as hopeful and as young as a twelve-year-old seems to be.
I wait for the others to look at him as crazily as I do... and I wait... and wait.
Glimmer rolls her eyes, but says nothing. The boy from District 9 snorts, as if that is amusing, and the girl with the soft voice, whose face I now realize was the girl's from District 8, the same one that Peeta finished off for the Careers, looks uplifted by the statement.
Marvel mutters darkly under his breath, words that I don't catch.
The girl from District 8 clutches a hand to my ankle this time, meaning to comfort me. Her pale heart-shaped face, and those exaggerated pink lips is so girlish, that I feel like she couldn't hurt a fly. I couldn't hurt a fly. If she trusted the Careers, should I?
"It's hard to take in," she says to me. "None of us understood it at first. Especially not right after the Bloodbath, but now we do. Can you remember the last thing that happened to you? Do you know how you got here?"
No. I don't have any clue what is going on. It's the reaping all over again. I'm dizzy and everything is one big blur. I'm tongue-tied for a minute as I sit there, hands wringing together in my lap, remembering my final moments over again. This time they're clearer. Katniss definitely sang to me, the spear definitely impaled me, and Marvel definitely got shot through the throat.
Then I divulge deeper into my sluggish memory. I remember a white room. Faces with masks. Sterile tools working around my limbs and body, as needles pinched through my arm. Unconsciously I touch the crook of my elbow. It's still as frail as I remember, then Glimmer dumps something heavy on my lap and I snap my face up to examine this.
I'm looking at a pack, heavy duty, with zippers and ties and straps around it's slick dark green exterior. Supplies overflow from the pockets and two filled water bottles on the outer slings, a sleeping bag strapped across the very back. Vaguely at first, but then building, another memory strikes me. I remember feeling something heavy on my back, as arms are wound around my torso, dragging me, until I'm laying across the cool stone of the cave.
It was given to me, I know for certain, the backpack came here with me, before Glimmer, like she said, dragged me into this cave. But where is here? Why was I given a pack? Was I remembering the Capitol doctors as they healed my mangled body?
My head is pounding. "I remember Katniss, and him–" I fleetingly look over at Marvel, still getting a terrifying chill whenever I did "–he killed me. She sung to me, told me about ruining the Career's supplies. The rest gets fuzzy. I remember people with masks...medicine in my mouth..."
"Good," the girl from District 8 encourages. "What else?"
"Nothing," I say. To all their disappointment.
"Just tell her already!" finally, Marvel says, breaking the silence. "You blurted it out to me, why is she so special?"
I flinch when he moves in closer to the cave, nearly shoving District 8 out of his way, but District 9 shakes his head tersely. "Don't listen to him. He's still in shock."
"Shock!" Marvel shouts in disbelief. "I'm not in shock, I'm fucking pissed!"
"Oh, get over yourself," says Glimmer, flicking a wrist.
"At least I was fast enough to get away from those tracker jackers. It's your fault Katniss got me. You gave her those arrows! Why did I ever ally with you? Now I'm stuck her–" before he could finish the words in his mouth Glimmer lunged for him. Hands barreling into his chest, they go tumbling and rolling into the brightness at the mouth of the cave, completely out of sight, but not ear shot. Hisses of outrage, accusations, the tear of someone's shirt. And I feel a cold sweat spreading across my skin. The fighting is starting again. I have to get out of here before it's too late... before they kill me, drop the ruse.
"Rue," the boy from District 9 says, drawing my attention away from the mouth of the cave. "You're not dead."
"Or going home," whispers District 8.
"Or in danger," says the male of District 4 and female of 3, in union, seated to the sides of the kindly girl.
"Then what's going on? Where am I?"
They exchange glances, but suddenly I hear Glimmer shriek. I jump up, crouching on my feet, so not to hit the ceiling of the cave. I hear her voice muffled as if her face is being shoved into the dirt. Marvel is saying something, threatening her, and I know I have to leave. They're wrong. There is danger everywhere. Katniss wouldn't trust this one bit, and I can't afford to believe otherwise.
Skittishly, avoiding their attempts to swipe me back to the ground, I dive towards the exit. I am thinking I could get around Marvel as his priorities are on Glimmer, but the thought is naïve. The second my foot hits something over than rock, two rough hands latch onto my tiny shoulders.
"Katniss!" I shout, out of instinct. I don't want to die... again. The pain was too much last time, and I hated the feel of my limbs slowly growing cold, colder and colder until there was not even warmth in my lips, and my breath rattled one final time...
I didn't want to feel that again. So I fought those hands as much as I could, spitting, twisting desperately, kicking and elbowing, anything that made holding onto me harder. But, instead of wrapping around my neck like I thought or pulling out some unseen weapon, the hands only rip me further out of the cave and engulf me in the light. Sunlight, I realize as the warmth soaks into the black jacket I'm wearing, identical to the one I wore when first starting my Hunger Games.
My eyes adjust nearly immediately. The sound of the water is louder, and out of the corner of my eye I can see a stream flowing over stones. The same stream Katniss and I had been at before. Right in front of me is the forest carpeting the ground of pine needles and grass and low-growing shrubs.
"See," Marvel hisses into my ears from behind, shaking me sharply. "You're not free, you're not at home. We'll never be free. We're trapped, they'll never let us escape. Never let us die. It's always been like this, don't you see? Tributes are in for a life of torment. Don't you see? They're trying to make it easy on you, but it doesn't matter. They aren't ever going to let us go."
The feeling in my legs grow weak with fear, at the feel of his breath against my neck, and my knees quake together as one extreme emotion crashes into me after the other. His words are hard to digest, but the sights around me are confirming ever single syllable. I'm young, but not stupid.
I'm still in the arena, there is no doubting. We are in the arena with the same pine-scented breeze, the mockingjays flitting from branch to branch, and my apprehension is immediate. On instinct I desire to flee, to hide in this area that is now burned into my mind as bad and dangerous and littered with death. Except his words hit me like a speeding train, stunting me into place, his hands the only thing holding me upright.
"They'll never let us escape."
I'm stuck, and I'm stuck in this arena forever. With all the others who have been killed for the screen time, healed by the doctors on an order and have been placed into this identical looking one for the rest of our existence. Somehow I knew that if we try to kill ourselves, or another tribute tries to murder us again, it would be fruitless. They'd only be saved again, just to endure more torment. Passing away their years in this suffocating arena, not truly living, until one day our bodies grow old and our hearts so battered, they give out, and no manner of Capitol technology can get them to start again.
And while that processes through my thoughts, the 'they' Marvel mentioned brings on a surge of unfamiliar emotions, that overwhelms the fear, momentarily. Emotions that I can't process into my tiny limbs and heart, because they're so searingly hot and angry, very, very angry, and I don't like to feel them. Is this what hatred feels like? I wonder to myself.
If I was capable of hate, then I know exactly who I would be directing it at; the Capitol.