AN: Happy Birthday Katniss Everdeen, Girl on Fire! (Yes, beware my schizophrenia.) Here's something lighter for Katniss, who suffers a lot at my story's expense. :p
He's only sixteen years old, my age.
Something was off about him, however. The fear that reigned supreme in the eyes of all the other tributes wasn't there. There's something calm about his demeanor, the way his shoulders relax into his frame, at ease from the waist up. From the waist down was another story: the legs were tense, knees bent, one foot arched and another planted—ready to sprint into which ever direction will assure him of victory.
I'd seen this behavior on the television, the screen a little fuzzy but all of him stood clear in my mind: the way he moved, breathed, spoke, and behaved.
He frightened me terribly and I'm forever grateful that no one I cared for had been chosen to enter into the Games.
He stood, towering over the last tribute that needed to be slain and the cheering from the people in the Capitol was so horrid I couldn't bear to listen to it. The shout that escaped his lips, soaked in a mix of his blood and another's, was just as unnerving.
Prim came to hold me tightly and I returned the hug. She's relieved, as she should be, that she didn't get called upon—her first year. To face that monstrous excuse for a human being would have be unbearable for anyone and I looked to my left, where Gale was watching at the table, eyes harder than steel.
He glanced at me and they softened, though their intensity diminished; or did it increase a little when they focused on me?
He didn't have to say it—it resonated throughout the cottage, escaping into the wind that can do harm because it only listens, it doesn't accuse: They're such beasts.
I agreed completely as I turned back to the screen and watched the tribute called Cato exit.
A beast indeed…
That's why is so mind-bogglingly awful to see him before me, leaning against the wall on the Victory Tour. A bit of me is screaming at myself to run because I've seen him do awful despicable things, I've seen the ruthlessness of his hands, the way he can kill without the slightest remorse.
But another part of me refuses to back down—I can't and I refuse. This is the champion of Panem, a murderer used by the Capitol. For some reason, irrational as it may be, I want to stand up to him and show him I'm not afraid of a Capitol pawn. Even though I am scared of him—the nightmares are detailed when it comes to this Victor: this being of silver and sunlight that kills with a sword of lightning. He's something I don't understand because I've never seen anything so horribly real, so horribly presenting humans as we may be: destroyers and nothing more.
"You look awfully scared,"
The smugness in his voice is sharp and it stabs me into reality. "I'm not scared."
"You sure," he says, walking towards me, "You look it to me."
I hold out my chin, "What are you doing wandering around in my district? Victors are supposed to be with that entourage."
"I decided to play…hooky for a little bit."
I sniff derisively and raise a brow. "What could possibly be of interest to you here?" There's nothing here that could be of remote significance to him. The fact that District 12 is a beacon of ridicule and painful humiliation is there for a reason—we're at the farthest border, the farthest from minds, the farthest from it all, even in districts where, most likely, it's a lot worse.
"Nothing in particular; I just wanted to do something else besides follow someone's orders."
I shake my head internally and begin to turn, to walk away with nothing more to say to a killer. It's not a very smart move since I don't know what he'll do. What he does is unexpected for certain. I hear a groan escape him and when I look back he's holding onto his head, a crazed look entering eyes the color of skies, ruining the clarity with distortions of a storm I can't see.
When he falls onto his knees I can't help but run over, even if he does freak me out.
"Hey, you all right? Do you need to see a doctor?" and my first thought is to find one, honestly. If the Capitol finds out that I've allowed their imprisoned Victor to suffer some sort of fatality, they may find out and come after my family and I. The Capitol is always something to monitor as it monitors us back.
After a few silent minutes, his shaking ceases and he blinks rapidly before letting out another groan. He sits on his haunches and tilts back his head.
He stays like that for a while. I'm not sure what to do but seeing's how he's stopped going through whatever it was, I take this as my chance to leave. My hand is suddenly grabbed and I almost let out a scream because my hand is being touched by stained ones.
Human being or not, there's something in him that's so out of balance that the air he breathes radiates with it.
"Is there some place you can take me…?"
"For a doctor?"
"No," he murmurs, "Someplace quiet."
The only place that comes to the forefront of my thought is the forest; and that place is sacred. It's where my father lays, singing to the mockingjays from his grave; it's where Gale and I become one perfect unit of thought and body, in tune to the nature that would not destroy unless it's called for; it's who I am.
Who is this boy to ask to invade me?
The horrified gleam is there in his face, fleeting as it is.
"There's no place to go,"
"Not even that forest?" he inquires, jerking his head in the broad expanse of green's general direction. I shake my head. I don't want him there to coat everything with violence and dread.
"We're not allowed in there."
He sighs, "You're not very good at lying."
"We're not allowed in there," it's not a lie—we're not supposed to be there.
"But you do go in there, don't you?"
That is a truth I can't afford to spill onto the fragile community of District 12. The Peacekeepers may not be too big of a threat, but the individuals from the Capitol that accompanied this boy are.
Yet the forest is whispering to me, to share something.
"I'll take you, but it has to be fast."
He grins. "I can do fast."
A little bit of me inside quakes. That's unpleasantly odd.
We're soon in the forest and I'm already dying to drag him back by the hair and throw him out—this is my place. However the birds are calling such lovely songs, at the forest has never felt more peaceful, harmonious even, then at this moment.
"I've never been in a forest before."
I look at him. "Never?" I can't imagine life without wood and soil.
"No. There's one nearby my district but we don't go in there. Does your fence always stay off?"
"No," I lie, "This must've been a fluke."
He chuckles, "Well, it's a well-executed fluke."
I turn to ignore him, waiting for this to be over when he speaks again.
"This forest is a lot better than the one in the Games."
And I agree with this statement—there were too many grotesque happenings occurring within that arena. My forest is a haven, as though created for perfection, for protection; the forest of the arena is manmade, deadly, and a deathtrap.
The young man slumps down to lay against a tree trunk. His face is too at ease here, completely quiet and his breathing becomes even too quickly. The minutes pass and I do wonder if he's actually fallen asleep. I come closer and kneel down. His eyes snap open and a scream is tearing away from him. It jars me and I'm tempted to scream too but I manage to hold it in through whatever willpower I never knew existed.
"What is wrong with you?" I holler, shaken.
He holds his head in his hands, "…flashbacks."
My brows furrow together, even if it makes sense. I don't understand other than I often wake up screaming for my father to run; and recently I've been waking up in cold sweats at the thought of Prim being chosen, ever more prominent, ever more real, due to her name now being entered.
"I hate these," he whispers as he rises.
I'm beginning to hate these too.
I tell him that it's probably time for him to go back and he reluctantly agrees. We head back in silence to the place where we met.
"All right," I say, anxious for him to get going, "You get to go now."
He turns to me and it happens so fast I can't react properly—a swift peck on my lips drenches me, lighter than a breeze, hot, a scorching wind.
A smirk is all I receive before he heads off, leaving me to contemplate, alone, what just happened.
My brain logically responds: It's just a kiss.
My mind rationally responds: It's a thank you.
My heart irrationally responds: It's a death sentence.
I don't believe any of them. It's something more than that. It's a sign of humanity. Cato is not justified for this; but he is pitied, for the glimmer of another person that was so different from the persona that was shown across the nation.
One thing I'm sure of: even killers, then, have their fears.
Now I know no one is safe, not even the Victors; especially the Victors.
Because these may be fears that will never leave.
I'm fearful for those to follow.
But I'm glad he now fears.
I haven't been afraid of him since.