A.N. Just in case you forgot, Betta was the one who gave Jules the tracker jacker.
Jules Surket, District 3.
"If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story." ~Orson Welles
If she had gone home...
Betta wasn't there when Jules came home. He told himself that it was a waste of time and that he didn't even care that much. After all, he hardly watched the Games (though the occasional bystander swears that they heard him yell at the television in his home whenever Jules was on the air). He didn't even want her to win. All he wanted was his tracker jacker back.
When everyone began to fawn over her about how surprised they were that she won, he scoffed at them. Jules was far superior in intelligence than the other tributes and Betta didn't mind telling people so. But he didn't care that she was home.
Then, she knocked on his door on an unusually warm evening. He was caring for his bees when this happened and he practically ran to the door. (If you asked him why, he would say he was expecting a package and wasn't at all happy to see the short, spikey haired girl on his porch.)
She smiled at him and held out the necklace with the tracker jacker so he could take it. "Thanks for this," she said. "It was a big help." Betta stared at it.
"You keep it. It was payment for fixing the steamer." She shook her head and pushed it toward him.
"This is too valuable for a job that you could have done yourself."
He put his large bony hands over hers and pushed the necklace back toward her. "It's yours."
She shook her head several times and let go of the chain so that it could fall onto the wooden floorboards. "I don't want it."
Betta picked it up and held the bug in his hands. He remembered running back to his home when he heard her name being reaped so he could make it for her and was nearly whipped for leaving early. He didn't understand why she would reject such a precious gift. So he asked her. "Why?"
When their eyes met, he almost regretted asking the question. Her large brown eyes had recently taken on the tint of insanity, similar to that of her mother's. But as she looked at him, that tint was gone and all that was left were the tears building up and a plethora of raw emotions that even frightened Betta a little. She sucked in her bottom lip and took a tentative step back. "Please just take it," she whispered.
He shook his head and gently took her arm. "Just tell me why and then I will take it."
"Because—" She swallowed and let a single tear run down her cheek. "Because it's the only way I can stop them."
His eyebrows furrowed together and he couldn't resist the urge to ask her. "Stop what?"
She looked at him as she tried to stop her hands from trembling. "The screams, Betta," she whispered, "and the images. It's too much. I can't take it anymore."
"Aw Jules..." He placed a hand on her shoulder and before he could continue, she collapsed under his touch. She let her tears run freely now and her hands went to cover her ears. Her body wracked with sobs so furious that Betta was afraid to touch her. He didn't know what to do. Finally, he built up the nerve to lift her off of the ground and bring her inside. She barely weighed anything.
He placed her on his couch and let her cry there. As she continued, he placed the necklace on the table and went back his bees. He never knew how to comfort a weeping woman and he didn't plan on learning now.
After a while, her sobs turned into sniffles and then it was silent. Her shadow appeared in the doorway as he began to walk back inside. "Sorry," she said as he walked passed her.
He grunted a little and glanced at her leg. He remembered how beaten up it was in the arena. "How'd they fix your leg?" he asked.
She glanced at it and shrugged a little. "Some Capitol junk. I wouldn't really know."
Betta moved to sit down in one of his rickety chairs. "Heard they were pretty mad that you won."
She looked down at her hands then sat in the seat opposite of him. "If they had a choice there wouldn't be a victor at all." Her eyes went distant, the same look she got multiple times in the arena. He could almost see her slip from reality and escape within her mind. But then, she came back and looked at him with a hint of a smile. "I haven't seen you recently. I thought you've forgotten about me."
He pursed his lips. Why would he think about someone that is in almost every conversation? "I had more important stuff to do," he grumbled.
"Of course." She smiled. "Were you at least cheering for me?"
He scowled at her. How could she even ask him that? "Does it look like I have time to watch a silly game?" When her eyes darted to the side, he decided to continue. "But I will admit that I didn't want that evil girl to win at the end, so I guess I was cheering for you then." There was a trace of a smile on her lips as she glanced at him.
Betta watched her as she brought her knees to her chest and took in the room like she did every time she was in his home. He would never tell her so, but it always made him a little self-conscious. "Why are you still here?" he asked her on instinct.
She blinked and looked at him, not trying to hide her hurt. "Are you going to kick me out?"
She sighed and adjusted herself so that she was sitting on her legs. "I don't like the Victor's mansion. It's too big for me," she said motioning to her short stature.
"Then don't live there," he replied with narrow eyes.
"I don't, but my parents like it there and they make me feel guilty whenever I'm not with them." She glanced out the window, her eyes going away again, but this time she came back a lot faster. "So I came here to give you your bug back."
Both pairs of eyes went to the tracker jacker left abandoned on the table. "It really is yours," he insisted.
"I don't want it." She glared at the insect with a hatred he hadn't seen on her before.
He sighed and turned his gaze back to her. "At least it helped you."
"If it wasn't for the venom, Elia would have killed me." She went away again and Betta watched as she battled the demons in her head. He wondered what went on when she fled into her mind. Her train of thought was hard enough to follow before, but now that it had an evil turn, he had no idea what to expect from her. After a few solid minutes, she blinked and took a deep breath. "They wanted to punish me for that."
It took a minute for Betta to remember what they were talking about. "I'm assuming they didn't."
She swallowed and stared out the window. He didn't know why she kept looking there. It wasn't as if he had a nice view. "Not yet," she murmured. "They thought that a threat would be alright for the time being, seeing as I'm already insane."
"You're not insane," he growled.
She smiled a little. "You're probably the only one who thinks so."
He thought it would be silly to argue against her since he had never won their arguments, but he had to try anyway. "That boy doesn't think you're crazy. You know the one with the stupid name."
She blinked a few times and met his dark eyes. "Kane." It is a statement, as if she had already known he knew of her mental status.
"Yeah," he agreed. "That one."
She looked away again and found a spot on the floor to stare at. "I don't want to see him right now."
"Why not?" He sensed that she was going to go away again, and he didn't feel like waiting this time. "Never mind," he said. "I don't really care."
She took a deep breath and wrapped her arms around herself. "You mind if I stay here for a little bit. I don't want to go back." He narrowed his eyes at her as she struggled to stay with him. Betta didn't like how difficult it looked for her. The Games was almost always a death sentence and the fact that Jules survived simply meant that she cheated death and death didn't like to be cheated from anything. After taking another moment to think, he made his decision.
"Well you're taking all of my room and I don't have much soup—"he watched as her expression wilted a little"—but I guess if you insist."
A bright smile took over her face as she nearly laughed from her jubilance on his decision. "Thank you. You don't know how much that means to me right now."
They didn't speak after that. They exchanged glances as they ate the warm spiced soup that he made a few hours before. He watched her fingers tremble as she brought the spoon to her lips, wincing every time it burned her tongue. He was curious as to why she never bothered to cool down the soup before eating it. Eventually, Jules finished eating and went to the small fireplace to warm up her hands. Betta thought that was strange considering she just ate soup. When she finished with that she settled back in her chair and brought her knees to her chest. Before she could go away again, he decided to say something.
"Go talk to that boy."
She blinked and turned to Betta from his seat at the table. "Kane? Why?" He could see her curiosity dance behind her eyes and it was almost like old times. Almost.
"Because he doesn't think you're crazy."
Her curiosity disappeared and she looked away again. He realized that it probably wasn't the best thing to say to her. "I am crazy," she whispered.
"You're an idiot if you think that."
"I'm an idiot too."
He didn't know why that made him so angry. It might be because he knew her so well and that an idiot was the farthest thing he would ever call her. Annoying, loquacious, and an overall pest, maybe, but an idiot is too far from the truth. He jolted from his seat and took in the distance between them to grasp her by her arms and shake her.
"You listen here, Jules. I don't know what was going on in that arena or anything, but you ought to know this. You are the smartest kid I've met since my boy Newton passed. And you are not an idiot. I know that you're just pretending to be crazy because you're afraid, but I know you aren't and so does that kid. So since I don't want you talking to me, you should talk to him."
Her eyes were tearing up again and he feared what would happen if she started to cry on him. "He'll never forgive me," she breathed out.
He had no idea what she was talking about, but he was sure that she was mistaken. "Please. That stupid kid wouldn't stop talking about you these past few days."
There was a spark inside of her, but it was too small to catch alight as she shook her head. "I'm a monster."
He shook her again so that he was sure he still held her attention. "You're no more of a monster than my little bumblebees."
An idea struck him as he finally released her. He snatched the chain from the tracker jacker then went to the small jars in the back of his home. He took a single bee—the queen from one of his hives—and created a pendant like he did with the tracker jacker. When he finished, he put it on the chain and presented it to Jules, who managed to get a hold of herself in the time that he was working. "Here. If you can't handle the jacker, at least take this."
She took it in her hands gently and smiled. "Do you always give insects as gifts?"
"I don't give gifts. This is payment since you don't want the other one." She narrowed her eyes at it as if she was trying to find the meaning behind the bug. He scowled at her. He didn't know why she couldn't just take it and leave it at that.
"Did you know bees are one of the hardest working animals on the planet, even though they hardly live for more than a year or so?" She was telling bee facts to the man who owned a half of a dozen hives. He rolled his eyes at the idea.
"They also only hurt the people who try to hurt them," he added.
She swallowed and put the chain over her head so that the bee rested in the same place that the tracker jacker once was. She touched it as if it was the most delicate thing in the world. "Thank you," she whispered. "For everything."
"You just remember what I said Jules." He noticed the slight tremor that began to take over her. "I don't know what you did to that kid, but I'm sure he'll forgive you."
She nodded a little and managed a brief smile. "You'll always be my friend, won't you?" Betta scowled.
"Who said we were ever friends?"
She stood up; her head held a little higher than it was before. She knew the truth. She could always see right through him. "I owe you a lot more than I could ever pay back."
"I highly doubt that."
With a soft smile, she looked outside the window again. Betta was glad that she didn't go away this time. "I think I'll talk to him. Not now, but later."
"Good," he said with a nod, "because that fool loves you. Don't know why, but he does."
She smiled at him with a warmth that hadn't been around recently. She moved in for a hug, but stopped before her arms could go around him. Instead, she put a hand on his shoulder and said, "I'll see you around Betta."
He watched her walk out of his house and toward the civilization. Before she was absorbed into the district, she glanced back and waved goodbye. The insanity was back in her eyes, but Betta knew that he didn't have to worry—not like he ever did worry about her. Jules knew that she wasn't insane or a monster or an idiot. And if she still thought that she was, then at least she knew that he didn't see her that way—if she even cared what he thought.
Betta nodded at himself and began to clean up. Jules Surket would be okay and if she wasn't, he would be there for her, even if he would never admit it.