Sorry for the delay in posting this chapter. Real life had taken over for awhile in the form of visiting family and friends so I didn't really have a lot of time to work on this chapter over the past week. But never fear, a new update is here! There's not a lot of action in this one, just a bit of plot development!
As always, thank you to everyone who took the time to review the last chapter. Your words of encouragement is definitely inspiring and it's helping me to enjoy this writing process so much more! Thanks don't seem to be enough! :)
Fic Recommendation of the Week: If you haven't read it yet, check out Sparks Fly by salanderjade. It's such a delightful read! And make sure to leave a review for her :)
Chapter Six: In Which Our Tributes Have a Conversation.
He drifted in and out of consciousness, unable to tell what reality was and what wasn't. All the things he dreaded the most, all the things he dreaded for others, manifested in such vivid details that he couldn't help but believe they were real. He was trapped in a world filled with darkness and no way out. Every which way he turned, ran, there was only darkness. He fell to his knees in despair. It was terrifying.
There were times when it was glaringly obvious that the world to which he had entered wasn't real… reliving the nightmares of times past when his father had died and his mother becoming catatonic. These onslaught of nightmares weren't reality. He had never witnessed his father's brutal death. These were moments of his past that he knew had already happened, that he had already been able to move on from. These were the moments that he realized he was lucid enough to know that the tracker jacker venom was still working its way through his body. The reality that he was still in The Hunger Games.
Then came the nightmares in which he witnessed Prim dying in all sorts of ways. Dying from starvation because he hadn't managed to find food, her cold body on the ground and her lips blue while he was beside her, begging her to wake up. There were times when he was watching Prim's death as she entered the Games, watching as Cato pierced his sword through her heart and laughing manically as he stood by and watched helplessly, screaming. Was this reality? It felt real. Too real.
And then came the singing.
These were Peeta's favorite moments in which he didn't care if his dark surroundings were his reality or not. Whether the singing was real or not. It came at different times, most often when he was living through his worst horrors. He couldn't make out the words, didn't know the song or the melody but when the singing started, he knew peace. He knew he was loved. He felt it, the wholeheartedness and warmth that flowed through the melody that calmed his soul. And most importantly, he felt safe. He didn't fear the darkness when he could hear the music.
If only the song could play forever.
He blinked awake, his senses on high alert as he tried to figure out what was going on around him. He was on his back, the sight of the bright blue sky and vibrant green trees greeted him as he gazed upwards. There were sounds of crickets chirping nearby and rushing water in the far-off distance. He laid still, waiting for the next assault of nightmares to plague him, to pull him back into the darkness.
Eventually, Peeta accepted that the poison must have finally worked its way out of his system, leaving his body wracked and feeble. His throat was parched and he was lying on his back, wrapped in his sleeping bag. Piles of green leaves mixed with brown dead ones fell off of him and onto the ground as he slowly sat up and even stretching his limbs required an enormous effort since so many parts of his body hurt. He rubbed his eyes and was surprised when he pulled his hand back and found clumps of dried dirt on his hand. His rubbed his face and more dirt fell off. Confusion filled him. What was dirt doing on his face?
He looked around and found that he was completely alone.
He was currently in a shallow hole, partially hidden by logs and branches. His clothing was damp, probably from all his sweating while he lived out his nightmares. His backpack, along with his bow and arrows laid close to his side and slowly he reached into one of the pockets and pulled out his water bottle. He took slow, small sips from his bottle and desperately tried to figure out what had happened.
How long had he been out? It had been the middle of the night when he lost all reason, now it looked to be late afternoon, nearing evening. The stiffness in his joints suggested that more than a day had passed, possibly even two. He had no way of knowing which tributes had survived the tracker jacker attack. And where was Katniss? Where had she disappeared off to? Was she alright? He distinctly remembered her saving him right before he blacked out. Or had that been a hallucination from the tracker jackers?
A twig snapped.
In one motion, Peeta grabbed his bow and one of the arrows to his shoulder, ignoring the dull ache on the back of his neck as he pulled the string backwards. A minute passed and no one appeared but still, he didn't relax his posture. His blue eyes surveyed the scene around him carefully and when he spotted the tip of a child's boot just peeking out from behind the trunk of a tree, his shoulders relaxed and he grinned. She was definitely sneaky, he had to give her that.
"Rue?" He called out.
For a moment, there was no response. Then slowly, one of Rue's eyes edged around the trunk. She stared at him and Peeta could see that the little girl was wary of trusting him. He was glad to see that Rue was being cautious.
Footsteps could be heard coming from his left at a brisk pace, leaves crunching beneath their shoes. Katniss suddenly appeared, looking completely disgruntled as she carried a small pouch in her hands. As soon as she saw him however, the disgruntled look disappeared and a wide smile replaced it. Her eyes lit up and she rushed forward, kneeling beside him, the pouch in her hands forgotten. "Peeta!" she cried happily as she reached forward and hugged him. The gesture caught him off guard. Despite feeling slightly awkward, he hugged her back, glad to see that she was alright. She pulled back and blew a strand of hair out of her face. "I'm so glad to see you're awake! Are you okay? How are you feeling? Are you hungry?" she fired off the questions all at once.
He blinked and ran a hand through his hair. "Well," he winced, feeling the pain on his cheek. It didn't hurt as much as before, but the ache was still there. "I've been better. The stings from the tracker jackers still hurt and I guess I am pretty hungry." Suddenly, he noticed the rumbling in his stomach.
If possible, her smile became wider. This was something Katniss could help fix. "Oh, I know what we can do about the stings! Rue?" She called out as she looked around. "Where are you Rue?"
Slowly, Rue's head peeked out from around the tree trunk once more.
"What are you doing hiding behind there, silly?" The brunette grinned at the little girl. "It's okay, you can come out! I know he looks scary since he always has that scowl on his face, but Peeta won't hurt you."
He frowned. "I do not always have a scowl on my face."
Katniss gave him an amused glance. "There's one on your face right now."
He stared at her for a minute before realizing that Katniss was biting her lip to keep from laughing. This brought a smile to his face and it was another minute before he began chuckling. "You're something else, Everdeen," he told her.
More twigs snapped and Rue approached them slowly, her eyes watching him warily but she seemed to relax the moment she reached Katniss' side. "Did you find more of those leaves?" Katniss asked her. Rue nodded and reached into her pocket and pulled them out. She silently handed them to Katniss. The brunette gave her a smile and then turned to Peeta. "This is going to be kind of gross," she told him. She plopped a leaf into her mouth and began chewing. After a minute, she pulled the gloppy wad from her mouth and placed it on his cheek. It was gross, but he couldn't afford to be picky.
The relief was almost instant, as if the leaf was actually leaching the pain right out of the sting. He sighed contentedly as he maneuvered out of his sleeping bag. "Oh, that feels nice."
Katniss grinned and began chewing on another leaf. "Rue said it was a good thing you had the sense to pull the stingers out or you'd be a lot worse." She placed another gloppy wad on his neck. "We've been doing this every few hours for the past two days," she checked his knee before placing another leaf on it. "The swelling has definitely gone down, which is good."
He gave a start. "I've been out for two days?"
Katniss nodded. "The tracker jackers got the Careers pretty good as well. Rue and I have been spying on them, they've got a base camp by the lake. They made it back before they collapsed from the stingers. I think they had it worse than you did."
"How much did I miss?" he asked. "Whose left?"
He sat by and listened as Katniss recounted the events that had happened while he had been out. Glimmer and Nerissa, the girl tribute from district four, hadn't survived the attack and their canons had fired shortly after he and Katniss had fled into the woods. Even though the Careers had been otherwise distracted, Katniss had managed to drag them on for another six miles after he had passed out from the pain, only stopping when she felt comfortable that they had put enough distance between them and the Careers. With him out of commission, she wasn't taking any chances on running into the fierce tributes from the upper districts. From that point though, she had been at a loss of what to do as to where to find a safe hiding place for them.
Her first thought had been to climb a tree but had quickly nixed that idea when it dawned on her that she couldn't get him up into the tree in the first place. And with him thrashing around from his nightmares, it probably wasn't a good idea anyway since he probably would've fallen off a branch. And so, she had leaned him against the trunk of a tree and sat with him while she figured out what to do. She stayed up all night, keeping an eye on him, doing her best to take care of him as he fought through his hallucinations.
It was near dawn when she happened to look up and spotted Rue sitting in a nearby tree, watching them. At first, Katniss hadn't been sure of what to do or what to say, but when she saw Rue eying her hungrily as she ate a sandwich that she had managed to steal from the Careers right before the tracker jacker attack, she knew she couldn't just let the little girl starve. She gave Rue half her sandwich, and thus, an alliance had formed. With Rue's help, they had managed to find the safe hiding spot that they were currently in now. Katniss had disguised him, covering him with dirt, in case any other tribute had passed by during the times she went to go look for food while Rue kept watch.
"And I'm so glad Rue was here," Katniss told him as she handed him a wet cloth to wipe off the dirt on his face. The fabric looked to be a torn-up shirt. "I was panicking because your hallucinations seemed so terrible. I tried rubbing that medicine that Haymitch sent you onto your wounds but it did nothing! I had no idea what to do until Rue said she had something that would help. The minute we put the leaves on your stings, you stopped thrashing around as much."
Peeta turned to the little girl that sat next to Katniss. Rue eyed him apprehensively but seemed to relax a little more when he smiled warmly at her. "Thanks for helping me Rue."
"You're welcome," Rue gave him a shy smile and he felt a pang in his heart. The look that the District Eleven tribute was giving him completely reminded him of Prim.
Suddenly, the growling from his stomach rang loudly causing his female companions to look over at him with amused glances. Peeta blushed. Rue gave a tiny giggle.
Katniss grinned at him. "I guess after two days of eating nothing, you'd have to be starving." She reached for her backpack and pulled out a couple of plastic containers. "This is the last of the food that I managed to steal from the Careers. We might as well eat all of it today, otherwise it'll spoil. Rue picked a bunch of berries yesterday so we still have some of that to eat." She held up the pouch that she had been carrying earlier. "And I managed to catch some fish! Took me about three hours. Fishing is extremely difficult, I almost fell into the river!"
He couldn't help but grin at the pouting look on Katniss' face. It was hard to imagine the baker's daughter standing at the edge of the river, fishing for her food but if the last few days were anything to go by, Katniss was definitely tougher than she seemed. He knew she had no experience with living in the woods but she hadn't let that stop her. With a start, he realized that even though they both came from different worlds – him from the Seam and her from Town – Katniss was a survivor. Most merchant girls put in her current position would've floundered by now. But not Katniss, she endured.
There was just something about her that he admired, he couldn't put his finger on it just yet.
Katniss had caught about half a dozen fish and combined with the food she had swiped from the Careers, it was one of the more filling meals he'd had since the Games had begun. They had built a small fire, cooked the fish quickly and stamped out the remaining flames before any heavy smoke could fill the air. It wouldn't do to give away their location to any of the remaining tributes.
"I went to the Careers' base camp right before I came back here," Katniss told them as she munched on her fish. "Clove and Marvel got stung a lot more than you did Peeta, so they're still having their own hallucinations but they've got a lot of sponsors. And I don't think Cato got stung as much as the others, he ran off pretty fast. He was slowly moving around when I went to go spy on them, so he's definitely recovered a lot faster. They're no telling when the rest of them will be lucid again – I'm guessing it'll be soon though."
After a few more minutes of discussion, it was decided that they would begin moving first thing in the morning. It was near dark now, the sun had long since set. Katniss yawned and in the dim lighting, he could suddenly how tired she looked. "You haven't gotten much sleep in the past few days, have you?"
Katniss shook her head. "It's hard to sleep when you're stuck with the Careers. I was taking naps here and there, but I was too afraid to really sleep. What if they killed me? It was really stressful."
"How did you end up with them, Katniss?"
A dark look crossed her face and she bit her lip before shaking her head once more. "Is it okay if we don't talk about that?"
Concerned filled Peeta as his gaze slowly ran over his fellow tribute. The brunette still had bruises on her cheek and he could see the exhaustion in her expression. He nodded. "Alright. Why don't you get some sleep now? I'll keep watch."
"You don't need to tell me twice," Katniss gave him a soft smile, relieved that he had dropped the subject of the Careers for now. She crawled over to where the sleeping bag was and climbed in. "Wake me when it's my turn to keep watch, okay?" She closed her eyes and within minutes, she was asleep.
Peeta turned to Rue. "Why don't you get some sleep too?"
The little girl shook her head. "I'm not that tired yet. I'll keep you company for a little while."
They sat in silence as the night time fully descended on them and the crickets began chirping. He leaned against a log and silently observed Rue as the little girl sat by staring at the sky. It was strange, he thought, to find himself with this sort of an alliance. When the Games had started, forming an alliance hadn't even crossed his mind. Considering there would only be one winner, what was the point? Still, he couldn't deny that Katniss and even Rue, had saved his life. Rue had pointed out the nest up in the tree to him even though she didn't have too. If she hadn't brought it to his attention, he wouldn't have known to cut it down. Rue was smart, she had to have been if she had survived this long.
He allowed his gaze to drift over to Katniss' sleeping form. She had saved him yet again. She was always saving him. His debt to her was getting longer and longer every day. He had no idea what he had ever done to deserve someone like her in his life. There were just no words to explain the feelings he had towards the baker's daughter.
"She didn't sleep at all while she was taking care of you, you know."
He looked over at Rue, who was watching him with an earnest expression. His heart began beating just a tiny bit faster and that foreign-yet-familiar feeling filled him again. "Really?"
Rue nodded and leaned forward a bit. Clearly, Rue trusted Katniss wholeheartedly and talking about his fellow tribute made Rue a lot more comfortable around him. "When your hallucinations got really bad, she would sing to you and it calmed you down a lot."
He frowned, distinctly remembering the melody from his nightmares. "She did?" He had no idea that Katniss sang at all. He looked at her sleeping figure once more.
"She was really worried. All she wanted was to keep you safe and help you get better."
"She's something special, Rue." Affection filled him and involuntary smile came over his face as he watched the brunette sleep. He never took his eyes off her as a sudden realization came to him. "She's probably the most amazing person I know."
Fun Fact: According to several sources on Google, it takes about two hours to walk six miles. Yikes! That's a lot of walking.
Also, I have a question for all of you. I was thinking of including an interlude chapter from Haymitch's point of view of the games somewhere down the line for this fic. Would that be something you all would be interested in reading? Let me know in the review! Thanks! Until next time :)