So sorry this took so long ya'll! Real life, and all that...Anyhoo, I hope you enjoy it. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
For Charles and Jean the first two or three days go about as well as days in the arena can go. They spend the first day finding water, and branch out to food after that. There isn't much in the bag Jean snagged on the way out of the clearing—some rope, a small pack of matches they're afraid to use for fear of drawing enemies by the smoke, some dried fruit, and two empty water bottles, one much smaller than the other. Only the food is useful at first, keeping them going until they've found a small stream and can turn their attentions elsewhere.
They keep moving, but they stay near enough to the stream to hear it. Though they don't stay on the ground. Or Jean doesn't. Unless there's a reason Charles makes sure she stays in the branches and out of sight. The girl is small and nimble enough to move from tree to tree up there. Sometimes Charles can, but not always. If he has to—or to find food—he's the one to come down.
"And if anything happens while I'm on the ground, I want you to get away as quickly as you can. Is that understood?"
The backpack isn't heavy, so Charles lets Jean keep it. He wants her to have the supplies in the event they're separated. He carries only the smaller water bottle, which is just small enough to fit in one of the larger pockets of his jacket.
They sleep in the trees, close for warmth and wrapped in the thin metallic emergency blanket that was the only other content of the backpack. They have to be certain they're under enough leaf branch cover before nightfall; it wouldn't do at all for moonlight to reflect off of the stupid thing.
Charles wonders more than once why one earth they would have included such a thing—and why the backpack was mostly fluorescent green—but then again they all knew from watching the Games since they were born that the supplies at the Cornucopia decreased in usefulness the further from the center. The bag Jean grabbed was from the outside. Of course it and its contents would have their frustrating quirks. Some of the other bags he'd glimpsed had been bright orange and pink and red.
But a little mud fixed the problem with the backpack, and as long as they stayed in the shadows at night they were able to use the blanket. That was good, as cold as the nights could become, they quickly discovered.
They found plants for food, mostly, seeing as they knew enough to keep away from those that could hurt them and it was simpler than trying to hunt or catch anything else. Once or twice they managed to catch fish in the shallower parts of the stream, and it was only time the matches were used and only in the brightest part of the day. The fires were quickly put out and their remains hidden before Charles took back to the trees and Jean with the cooked food.
All the while, when Jean looks at him Charles feels nothing but trust from her. She doesn't complain that he wants her to stay in the trees and she huddles close at night, as if telling him that she knows he'll protect her.
Jean DOES need you. No matter how competent she is on her own she "wants" you with her. She "wants" you to protect her.
What Erik told him won't stop rolling around in his mind, and whether he's remembering exactly the right words or not doesn't matter.
"Do you miss him?"
Jean catches him off guard the second night in the arena, asking such a question. He's been thinking mostly about how he can continue to keep her safe, but…he has to admit to himself that hasn't been able to banish Erik from his mind. Far from it.
"Erik. You miss him, don't you?"
Charles swallows and looks away, shrugging. He doesn't want to say anything because it hurts to even think about Erik now, as much as he can't help but do it.
It doesn't help, either, that it's the middle of the night and there likely isn't much going on anywhere. If they start such a conversation, every camera in the arena will be on them. He would rather the entirety of Panem not be privy to his heartache.
Not that he can blame Jean for bringing it up. She's only concerned for him, and likely she isn't thinking about the cameras and the broadcast and never will. One thing she seems extremely adept at is pretending that nothing is wrong or out of the ordinary while simultaneously being well equipped to deal with whatever happens. It's such a strange combination, but it's Jean.
And she doesn't stop talking—or whispering, rather. Well then.
"I'm sorry you got dragged into this too…"
Charles blinks and looks at her quickly. "Don't say such a thing. Besides, if only one of us had been brought here I'd rather it were me." Then she would be safe.
The girl sighs quietly. "Yeah…if you didn't have to worry about me you could just be with Erik right now. I'm just a lot of trouble, aren't I?"
"Of course not." He'd never thought of it that way—that if she weren't here he and Erik wouldn't have had a reason to stay apart in the arena. But it doesn't matter. He never thought of it that way because he has no reason to. He doesn't regret being here to protect her.
He lets out a breath and kisses her head. "I promised I would get you home, and I will." How many times will he have to say it before he believes he can do it? When he was with Erik believing was easy. It's not so easy anymore.
It takes more than a day from the beginning for Erik to find water—a small pool that he can't go far from once he's found it. He has no way to carry water with him and the objective, at least for a while, is to stay alive.
Long enough to be sure that at least someone he cares about will be the one to get out of this alive. Charles, Raven, Jean…he can't even think about which he would rather it be. He wants all of them to live. He would be with any of them now, protecting them with what meager skills he has if any of them would let him, but he knows none of them will.
So the idea for now is to stay alive, in case he has a chance to help any of them later.
As much as he hates the idea of fighting anyone, much less hurting anyone…he would much rather go down that way, keeping any of the others from harming Charles or Jean or Raven. He would rather that than to die uselessly of exposure or starvation or murder.
Then at least this will all have been for something.
By the time Erik finds water he's already weak from thirst, and it's good he has the bread. It takes a few hours for him to regain his strength, and by then the second night in the arena is nearly upon him. He manages to scavenge plants to go with the bread before night falls, and makes it up into a tree for the night. He feels safer there than on the ground, where he stayed covered by brush the first night.
He's lucky no one has found him by now, stumbling through survival as he has been so far. He won't be any use to anyone at any time if he doesn't get his act together. He knows that.
He hopes Raven and Charles and Jean are doing much better than he is. He remembers the strange glow of fire in the distance the first night, and hopes none of them were hurt. Then again, none of their faces showed in the sky during the death report tonight. They're all alive, at least.
Tomorrow he'll put the spear to good use. If he can set a snare or two it'll be useful—both for skinning whatever he may be able to catch and for starting a fire, maybe, along with a good rock to strike it against. Hopefully. He managed something like that once or twice in training, anyway…
But he'll figure it out. He has to. He has to keep his strength up. He may be needed. He isn't sure what he could do, but…well, it doesn't matter.
He'll figure it out.
"Well if we can keep this up, we may not run into any trouble at all," Charles says, trying to keep Jean's spirits up. She's good at doing that herself, but it helps him feel more useful.
"Maybe," she says vaguely. She smiles at him, and he can't help but smile back and he wonders again if he needs her more than she needs him. But Erik wasn't wrong, and he'll do whatever he can to stay with her.
It's late afternoon, the light is beginning to dim, and thanks to the food they've gathered they haven't needed to leave the trees yet today. They have some left, but since it's quiet Charles decides to make his way down to gather more before it's too dark. He spots a patch of edible berries from their vantage point, and lets Jean know he'll be back up as quickly possible and to keep a lookout.
It's a good thing there are edible berries. There's quite a bit of Nightlock in the arena, too, he's noticed. Likely there to trick those less knowledgeable.
Charles scarcely has one pocket of his jacket full before a sudden four-note call sounds from above him. Anyone else would mistake it for a bird—and, indeed, the mockingjays around them take up the call after the first warning—but Charles knows it's Jean. Their signal. A short call used back home in District 11.
He looks up quickly, hearing noise not too far away just as he spots Jean and sees that she's gesturing frantically for him to come up.
Damn. He runs the few steps to the tree and starts up, the sounds of approaching footsteps coming closer much too quickly. Running. Are they running? Has he already been spotted? He pauses, torn in indecision and trying to see who or what is coming himself. Whoever it is isn't being quiet. Likely it's the Careers, and if they've seen him he can't lead them to Jean.
"They're chasing someone else; get up here!" Jean hisses from above.
Then they haven't seen him. But if he doesn't get high enough for cover soon they will.
Charles moves quickly, heart pounding. His mouth is dry now, and the moment he thought he'd been had made him sick to his stomach. He doesn't feel any better now. Jean stays above the leaf cover, and he can just see her. She reaches down for him as he comes up. He's nearly to her…
A faint snap. He's falling…!
No. He's not. His left foot and right hand find purchase quickly. Really he only slid a few inches.
Why is it hard to see? Why is his other hand clamped over his mouth? Why is Jean holding onto him, making sure it stays there?
Pain. He feels it now. He feels himself trying to scream into the hands muffling him, feels himself reeling, trying to catch him breath, blinking back sudden tears. He feels the trickles of something liquid down his lower right leg.
"Charles, hang on! You have to be quiet…! They're passing over there. Just be quiet and they won't see us, just hang on…" There's worry in her whisper, panic, and Charles does everything he can to make himself freeze. To keep himself quiet.
Slowly he's able to reconstruct it in his mind, while he's hanging there with his own hand and both of Jean's still clamped over his mouth because some of the quiet sounds of pain he can't stop entirely.
He tried to climb on what was left of a broken-off branch. He'd used it on the way down and it was fine, but it must have snapped. He slid. He didn't go far before he caught himself and Jean helped, but he slid quickly enough and slammed against the trunk with enough force that a sharp spike of the wood left cut into his leg. Glancing down momentarily confirms his suspicions. He looks up again quickly.
Too far. He looked up too far. He can see the tears on Jean's face now.
Charles settles somewhere in the middle, letting his eyes unfocus, waiting for Jean to tug and let him know it's safe to crawl up to the branch she's straddling—the one they've been sequestered on for most of the day. When she does she has to all but pull him up. His injured leg won't support him. When his mouth is released the pathetic sound that comes out of it scares him.
"Charles, I'm sorry! Oh…oh no, no…"
"D-don't apologize for things that…a-aren't your fault…god…! Ah…" She helps him settle back against the trunk of the tree.
"What do I do!" Her voice is still hushed, and Charles tries to keep his down after that. He's a bit too distracted at the moment to look for himself to find out how close or not the Career may or may not still be.
"I don't know…we don't have any medical supplies…"
"I know that!" Jean all but growls. Charles knows she right…he could have come up with a much more intelligent answer than that…but he's getting dizzy now…and…
Everything fuzzes out for a while, and when he comes to with Jean slapping at his face he realizes that she's tended to him as best she could. She's rolled up his pant leg, pulled her undershirt out from under her top one and tied it around the wound. The rope they haven't used much is tied around him and the tree trunk just tight enough to keep him from falling. The knot is at his waist where he can reach it.
"I've seen some of those leaves that can keep infection away around here, but I didn't want to go for them until you woke up and I could let you know."
His head is pounding and Charles swallows as what happened comes back. "No…it isn't safe…or have they gone?"
"Well…they're not gone entirely. They're just over that rise. It's the Careers, and they have someone up a tree. I can't see much from here, but there's smoke from over there now. I think they're camping out at the base." She's quiet for a moment. "And I think it's Raven they have cornered."
"What?" His heart sinks. He never had much of a chance to speak to Raven himself, but he knows Jean likes her and that Erik will be upset if anything happens to her. "Oh no…"
Jean lets out a breath. "Anyway, they're focused on whoever it is, and I'll stay in the trees until I have to go down for the plant I need. I can go in the opposite direction anyway. I'll be fine."
"You don't need to do that."
"Yes I do. And in the fifteen minutes you could spend arguing with me about it I could be gone and back, so don't. I'm losing what little daylight is left." It isn't even really daylight, with the sun below the horizon, and Charles scowls but he lets her go. "I'll stay in sight if I can," she promises.
She doesn't, but that's really only because it's getting darker. The glow from the fire over the hill doesn't help much, and thank goodness it doesn't. If it did, that would mean they were closer. But either way, Jean is back quickly, and she unties the shirt around his leg just long enough to press some of the crumbed leaves onto the wound under it.
By then it's too dim for him to really see much, and he can't tell how bad it is in the short time she has it unwrapped.
"How deep?" he asks.
She hesitates before answering. "Not as bad as it could be."
Charles frowns. "That isn't much of an answer."
Jean ignores him, tying the shirt back and drawing a sharp groan out of him when she tightens it. She winces. "Sorry." She stuffs the rest of the unused leaves into his jacket pocket where he can reach them easily. Already the leaves on the wound are helping some with the pain.
But that probably isn't going to help with whether or not he can use the leg. If he can't walk, he can't climb. If he can't climb, he can't get down from here.
If he can't go anywhere, he can't protect her.
He must still have that worried look on his face, because Jean is looking at him anxiously and he quickly wipes his expression and looks up at her again, pulling himself out of his thoughts. "Nothing. I uhm…I suppose we're sleeping here, then."
"I sure can't carry you," she answers wryly.
Charles tries to laugh, but it doesn't come out right.
No. She can't carry him.
There are still berries in his pocket, and other food in their backpack on Jean's back, but even though he feels a bit better thanks to the medicinal leaves, he really isn't hungry.
Jean waits until it's late—or early morning, rather—before moving. Maybe she didn't want to go for the leaves without Charles knowing, but then she didn't know how long he would be unconscious. He could have woken at any time and panicked. Right now, she's sure he'll sleep until dawn, at the very least, especially with that injury and whatever blood loss he sustained.
She's worried. She doesn't know what they're going to do now. It really did look bad, and with the wound caused by something as non-sterile as broken wood...
She shoves that thought away for now. Right now she's sure that the tribute the Careers have stuck up a tree over the rise is Raven, and she has to see if, maybe, there's a way she can help. Without putting herself in danger, of course, seeing as she doesn't want Charles to kill her himself. Well anyway.
She's sure she can be back before Charles even wakes. He'll never know she was gone.
A distant low buzzing and screams wake Charles just as the sun is rising, and as he straightens against the tree trunk he realizes Jean isn't with him. "Jean! Jean!"
He calls out before he can think it through, and there's a thump just above him. "Be quiet! I'm right here. Geez, you'd better be glad the Careers have other worries right now…"
Charles glares at her as she climbs down from the branches above him to sit beside him. "You should not have been gone and—and what on earth is happening over there?" The low buzzing hasn't stopped, thought it's becoming more distant, and the screams still punctuate the relative silence of the morning at intervals. He shivers.
Jean makes a face. "Tracker jackers. There was a nest above where they had Raven stuck. I pointed it out and she cut it down and let it fall on the Careers. Nasty, but not a bad plan, huh?"
Charles's heart jumps into his throat. "You went over there? Jean, how could you! If they'd seen you—"
"I stayed in the trees like always, and they were all asleep when I got there anyway. Only Raven saw me, and even she doesn't know where I went. I slipped away while she was cutting the nest down."
"That doesn't matter! You shouldn't have risked it—"
"But I saved her! They're off her tail by now, and—"
They both jump when the canon goes off, signaling that someone has died. Likely it's one of the Careers the tracker jackers chased. Jean moves into his side and Charles hugs her. "It's all right…" Not long after that is another canon.
They're both quiet for a while.
"What now?" Jean whispers.
Charles is really beginning to hate how often he doesn't have an answer.
Erik hears the commotion when he wakes up that morning, and he should have the sense to stay away but something makes him follow the noise. Carefully, but he does.
What he finds is Raven, stumbling through the trees and away from whatever happened back there, the silver bow and arrows from the Cornucopia clutched awkwardly in her hands. She doesn't even seem to see him. She's swatting at something invisible around her, twisting and grunting.
He sees the stings on her neck and arm then, swollen, and he doesn't know much about tracker jackers but he knows they're the only thing that would do such a thing so quickly and cause that strange green puss.
He grabs her arms and tries to snap her out of whatever hallucination she's trapped in, but she fights him. "Damnit, Raven—!"
He hears the crashing footsteps in the woods, and probably whoever it is is busy with hallucinations of their own—he heard the buzzing; there must have been a swarm—but he isn't going to take any chances. Maybe Raven is struggling, but she's also uncoordinated and weakening, and he's still strong even if he doesn't have many skills. It's easy enough to drag her with him and away from whoever else is out there.
When they're far enough away and he feels safe enough to stop he does, and finds a place to hide her, against a large fallen log with brush around it. He drags over limbs and other brush to complete the camouflage. By now she's unconscious, and he's able to look at the stings. She's already pulled out the stingers, and he doesn't know what else could be done for her anyway.
Erik drags the limbs and brush over her, making something of a low lean-to against the log. The brush on top makes it look like nothing more than a natural pile of leaves and plants crowded around the fallen tree.
He checks the supplies in Raven's bag, and finds her water bottle nearly empty. The pool he found isn't far, and he takes it there and fills it up before putting it back in her backpack and pushing the bag into her shelter with her, out of sight. The bow and arrows are already in there. He wonders how she got them.
He would stay with her, but he doesn't think she would take that well. So he doesn't. But he stays close.