Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games. *Sigh* All I have to say is… *Sigh*
I know, I know, I deserved to be murdered, placed on a stake, and put out for all to mock. Figuratively of course, please don't do that… But I do know that it has been longer than forever since I last updated. I had a lot of crap going on, and then I just lost all inspiration for my story, and I can't believe it's been so long, and… then my laptop broke a couple days after I posted Sacrifice…
*Sigh* All I can really do is apologize. I am so, so, SO sorry. Especially to all my reviewers, readers, and fans. I really let you down. So here is the next chapter. I don't really deserve for you to read or review this, but if you do, I will take it as a beacon of hope that you do not completely and utterly hate me. I am a disgrace to all the fanfiction authors on here and to Suzanne Collins herself. All Hunger Games fans can commence betrayed glares at me now.
I let all my air out in one harsh breath, effectively blowing away the strand of hair in my eyes. I'm starting to regret not going back for my ribbon, but it doesn't matter. It's probably long gone by now and we're too far away to go back for it. My thighs and sides ache from the way I'm pushing my body. The weight on my hip shifts and I try not to topple over from exhaustion. I can feel the little girl I'm holding start to drift off.
How far will we get at this rate? Not very far.
My stomach grumbles, reminding me of my early breakfast and nonexistent lunch. I feel bad. I made the kids only eat only one more granola bar each. We need to ration are food out and stretch it as far as it can go, but how can I resist their hungry faces and skinny figures? A deep, almost maternal, need inside me makes me want to pamper and coddle them. I can't though, and it's frustrating me. The sun is setting and I'm still unsure if we should stop. I insisted to them that we set out today. The sooner we began our trip, the sooner it's over. Now, I'm not so sure. Maybe we needed a day of rest?
No, I shake my head. If I allowed us a day to relax, I would've never set out. I would've stayed there, came up with an excuse day after day of why we couldn't travel.
Still, it's a hell of a lot harder trying to support my earlier decision when I feel as if collapsing on the ground is a good idea. We've taken many breaks and I don't know how far we've gotten or if we've gotten very far at all. I look to my left and see Carson practically dead on his feet. His chin is propped up on his chest and his eyes flutter as if he's trying to stay awake. I have to admire him though, because his legs are moving and he's keeping up with me. Even if it feels like we've barely put any real distance between us and District Twelve.
I nearly drop to my knees when I see a cave in the distance. I don't fall, but only because I feel if I fell down, I wouldn't be able to get back up. With even more perseverance, I add a little more purpose to my step and persistence to my pace. The cave is small, so small you could walk right past it, but three people should be able to fit inside.
We're only a few feet from the entrance when I mentally smack myself. There could be bears or snakes or anything in there. I should check before we go marching in there like we own the place. Without a word, I place Avella softly on the ground. I wince a little at the dirt that gets on her clothes. I need to get over this aversion to being dirty, we're not in some Capitol beauty pageant, we're in the forest. Still, the pond did get most of the dirt out of our clothing and I hate to put it back.
I sigh, because of course, even at a time like this, I still manage to think about clothing. As someone born in Town, I'm used to this train of thought. I never concentrated on my appearance as much as other Town residents, but mother and father had always preached the importance of always appearing proper and well put together at all times. It was essential that we looked our best. And when the Capitol people visited, it was even more vital.
I cautiously inch closer to cave, cocking my head to the side in an effort to hear something. I don't know what to listen for, so all I hear is the sound of the forest. Birds chirping, trees swaying, and wind whistling. Taking a bolder step, I move toward the cave's entrance. I glance around at the inside. It is relatively dark and the lowering sun doesn't help much. I warily walk further into the small cavern. Dead leaves litter the ground and the smell of dirt is more prominent than in the air outside.
I sigh and crouch down. I take a minute to catch my breath.
I want to give up so much. I just want to lie down and never get up. My parents are gone, my only family is gone. I have no one. These kids have no one. How am I supposed to care for them when I don't even know how to care for myself? Why didn't they get stuck with someone who could protect them better? Katniss or Gale always knew what to do. I shouldn't have survived the bombing. I was meant to die with my family, but somehow, I cheated fate. A weak, meager, and spoiled little rich girl who only just managed to escape her doom.
A light brush on my shoulder makes me jump to my feet. I whirl around and instinctually lean back.
I sigh in relief. I thought it had been some kind of animal. Carson and Avella both look up at me with half closed eyes.
"Is this where we're going to sleep?" Carson asks in a heavy voice. I look to the entrance where there is almost no light anymore. This cave is probably safer than anywhere else.
"Yeah, I think so," I say softly.
"I don't like it in here," Avella whimpers. She is tired and close to tears. I feel horrible that I can't provide a safer environment for them, but I can't.
I lean down to her short height. "Can you sleep in here, just for tonight?" She shakes her head no. "Please?" I beg. Finally, after a moment of great deliberation, she nods. "Thank you," I sigh in relief.
I brush away some of the leaves off the dirty floor and take off my pack. I sit down against the wall and to my surprise, Avella snuggles in next to me. I don't say anything about it for fear of scaring her off. I peer over at Carson who is stumbling over to the opposite wall. He keeps a wary eye on both Avella and me. I know he still doesn't trust me, but it's only been a day. Maybe he will, in time.
As Carson settles down, the sky turns blacker. The small opening to the cave is so dark, I can barely see the trees outside.
It's hard to sleep. I'm tired. My legs and body are sore. My cuts are red and swollen. My eyes feel as if they're going to close any second, but they don't. I stay awake. The beautiful, yet haunting, sounds of the night reach me. The rustle of the trees, the chirping of crickets, and the occasional hiss or growl keep me from closing my eyes.
Walking through the woods today was so different from anything I'd ever done. I had to force myself not to jump at every crunch of leaves made under our feet. It was an endless array of green and brown out there. It was so foreign and unfamiliar.
It was isolated and remote. Even with the infrequent word between the kids and I, it was still strangely secluded. Sure, we came across a few small animals, but it felt like we were all alone out there.
And we were.
Finally, with my head whirling, I fall asleep.
I'm glued to my spot, my feet stopping movement of their own will. It is a vast contrast from the running and fleeing people around me. Some yank on my arms or shoulders as they run away, trying to get me to follow them. They stop when they realize it is a futile attempt trying to convince me to escape. I'm rooted and unmovable. The square is almost clear when I start screaming. I'm screaming for my father. I'm cursing and crying and yelling all at the same time.
My mind catches up with everything going on. Even though in my heart I know it's useless, I run for the burning building. I can feel the intense heat and noxious gas, and I ignore them. I ignore it when I'm close enough that the flames start little licks on my skin and I ignore it as my head dizzies from the smoke.
Suddenly a lone figure appears in front of me. He grabs my shoulder and holds me still. Now I can't run for my father. I can't save him. I need to save him.
"Madge you have to stop. He's gone," Gale says firmly. I struggle against his grip, but it is useless.
"I need to save him," I cry. I go limp as my tears increase.
"You can't. You can't save everyone."
Suddenly Gale's face is twisted into the scowl of President Snow. "How can you? You can't even save yourself."
The last thing I feel is a pale hand wrapped around my throat.
I shoot up off the rough ground. I'm gasping for breath and wet marks are drying on my cheeks. I scoot away from Avella and wrap an arm around my torso. I reach a shaky hand up to wipe my eyes. I need to make sure I'm here, that I'm alive. I don't know if I was meant to survive, but I know that I did. Snow was wrong. I'm alive.
And what did Gale mean I can't save everyone? Doesn't he know that I already understand that? I know I can't save everyone. I know. I sigh deeply. It was just a nightmare. It doesn't mean anything. The feeling of fear and desperation linger in me, but I know, I know, it doesn't mean anything. It was just my scarred mind taking a memory and twisting it into something even more terrible than what it already was.
I look at the children sleeping deeply around me.
Maybe I can't save everyone, but I have to save someone. I have to save them, protect them.
I clasp my head in my trembling hands. It is so much to deal with. All of it is coming crashing down. I do the only thing I know how to. I am-was-the daughter of a politician. In politics, you need to know how to bury every feeling you have. You need to take it all and shove it under the rug. You need hide it until you're convinced it doesn't exist. I take everything, everything horrible and everything miserable, and trap it behind a front. A front that will stay up no matter what. A front I will keep up until I believe it is real.
My apologies to all my readers again. Apologies, apologies, apologies…