Hey! So, I know, I know, this is later than I intended to update. I have had a rough time these past couple days, so this chapter was symbolic of letting go. Trying to get by, you know?
Disclaimer: I do not, nor have I ever, nor will I ever, own the Hunger Games.
Enjoy the chapter!
I glance up from my work, ceasing the movement of my hands. Still, I keep the sharpened stick and knife clenched in a strong hold, ready to resume my task.
"Prim," I greet. She nods, sitting down gently beside me on the log.
"Gale," she acknowledges. She peers down at the entwined fingers that rest on her lap. Carefully avoiding my stare, she breathes out heavily.
It is quiet as I study her and wait for her to say something. To say anything. Ask me for help, for a favor, for some advice. Maybe she just wants to sit and talk our situation over, but there is nothing. She is quiet and mute. Even after a few moments of a tense and long quiet, the silence stretches on.
It comes to the point that I start making uncomfortable insinuations.
Maybe I should get her mother? Or my mother? Is it a… girly thing? Is it something about boys? Could she be pregnant?
I feel my face contorting into fear and shock already. Could little Prim be pregnant? She is only thirteen! How can we care for a baby in this environment? Who is the father? Is it Rory? I am going to kill him.
I shake my head, willing those thoughts away. That can't be it. Prim is too innocent and soft for anything of that nature. My face still has an expression of distress as I try to puzzle through any and all possibilities.
"Prim, what is it? What's wrong?" I question, somewhat frantically. I need an answer. I need to know my suspicions aren't correct. Katniss will kill me if she finds out I let Prim get hurt or do something stupid.
"Well, I just-" She stops talking as she tilts her head up to look at me. "Why are you looking at me like that?" she asks, thoroughly confused.
I gulp and will away my anxiety, replacing it with a mask of calm. "No reason, just… stressed," I reply, making sure my voice stays even and composed.
She seems to accept this as an adequate answer as she nods sympathetically. "Anyway, back to what I wanted to talk about," she prods, pushing us back toward whatever it is she needs to tell me.
"Go on," I prompt.
"It's about…" She wrings her hands together nervously. "It's about Madge." I'm still and quiet, unmoving and unspeaking. If it were anyone else I might have brushed them off or just got up and left, but I stay. If Prim says something, she says it with love and honesty. She's not trying to open me up and inspect my insides. Prim keeps to herself. She only interferes when she thinks she is needed. Her wisdom often exceeds her age. If she thinks I need to talk this over, then maybe I do. So I remain on the log and wait for her to go on.
"Yes," I respond, my voice carefully cool and detached.
My mother may have heard about what happened with Madge, but she wasn't there. She doesn't know how it feels to watch someone willingly go into the hands of death. She doesn't understand how it feels, knowing you could have done something to prevent a death.
I have put the incident in the back of my mind, but I still remember it more than I would like to.
"The way she died… it wasn't right," she begins. I bite the inside of my cheek, silently agreeing with her. "But it wasn't your fault. It wasn't mine or my mother's. I was just that, a death." I place the stick on the ground for fear I might break it with my grip. After sticking the knife in my belt loop, I turn fully to face Katniss's little sister. "She made a choice, Gale. I'm not saying it was her own fault, Gale, I'm not. But you have to let it go. Her actions were her own. She was of sound mind when she died. You couldn't have done anything to prevent it."
I sigh, unclenching my fists and furrowing my brow as I begin to speak. "Prim, she was right there. What could have been so damn important that-"
Prim stops me by patting my arm as if I am a small child in a big, big world. "I wonder about that too, Gale. I do, but I also know that I may never know. I've come to terms with that. You should too." I'm about to question her, how does she know? She might have been there, but… I was the one that could have done something-should have done something. Done more.
She sighs, gripping the top of the log to keep steady as she leans forward. "When Katniss volunteered for the Hunger Games, I felt guilty. I felt really guilty. What if I had shown her I was stronger? That I might have been able to win, even I didn't? Would she have stayed home? What if I had found a way to deny her the chance to take my place in the games? I thought about that every day while she was away. Why wasn't I good enough? Why did she take my place? How was I worth more than her in her eyes?" I see Prim's eyes filling with tears. I realize that these wounds are still fresh. Her sister is in the Hunger Games a second time, still fighting because of the actions in her first game. Prim still has to deal with this on a day to day basis.
I suddenly feel ashamed. Here I am, wallowing in my own regret and guilt, when Prim still has to deal with so much.
She cuts me off, staring at me softly. "I know that the situation isn't the same, but the point that I'm trying to make is, sometimes you need to let go. Let go of the people, of the questions, of the guilt. Just try."
I nod and stand. What Prim has said has helped me, but I am not person that easily lets things go. I let them simmer and burn inside of me, fueling my anger and passion. Using them to help keep my family safe.
I pause before taking a step away. I turn around to squeeze Prim's shoulder lightly.
"Thank you," I murmur quietly. She smiles faintly.
I hear her mother calling her, beckoning her over to help her pick herbs and plants. As soon as Prim gets up, I walk off, my thoughts churning in a complicated swirl inside my head.
Let go? Can I do it? I know I've been holding on to more than just what happened with Madge. I've been holding on to our family's fears, to the anger and pain I felt from my whipping, to my father's death. Can I get over it, get over everything?
I bury these thoughts as I see Thom and Bristel heading my way, smiles on their faces. They seem relatively happy, even if I can see a shadow of sorrow looming over them.
"Hey, man, we were thinking of maybe going back to Twelve, seeing if we can salvage anything," Thom informs me. I blanch just thinking about my old home.
"Gale, come on," Thom whines.
Bristel steps forward, her eyes softer than Thom's, but still resilient. "Gale I know it's only been a few days, but the sooner we check it out, the sooner we can leave it behind us." Her words hit home, as if she has listened to my conversation with Prim. Isn't leaving behind and letting go what I'm supposed to be doing? Still, it's risky.
I shake my head. "No, it's too dangerous. The Capitol would have sent people to check out the grounds, make sure we're dead. We might run into them. And with all the stray people out here, we're likely to get jumped if we're alone."
"You've gone hunting alone since the bombing," Thom points out.
I growl. "That's different, I was armed, you aren't."
"So, just bring your bow and come with us," Bristel suggests.
I'm nearly seething. Why do they not get this? Not get the danger? How are they so calm and naïve?
"The Capitol, what about the people they would have sent to execute the extras, make sure the job was done?"
They are silent, contemplative, and longing. I get it. They want to see their home. They want to let go. I feel that need now. I see what Prim was talking about-how letting go can be healthy. How can I deny them that? But maybe, if they'd just wait a few more days…
"We scope the place out, search for any officials. If we see anything, even a footprint that looks the slightest bit fresh, we'll get out of there." I run a hand through my hair.
Should we go? Is it safe? No, but it might never be safe.
"We get in there, and we get out," I huff, giving in. I'm unprepared as both Bristel and Thom throws their arms around me. None of us are affectionate, so this is a surprise, but not an entirely unpleasant one. "Alright, alright, get off of me!" I gruff, smiling.
"Thanks," Bristel breathes, running over to grab a small satchel she tries to keep with her at all times. Her father gave it to her a while ago, so it is beaten and old, but she loves it.
I turn to Thom. "Nobody can know about this. If they find out we're visiting District Twelve, more people will want to go. We can't afford the risk right now."
He nods and goes over to Bristel, whispering my message in her ear. I go to grab my bow, dodging any curious stares. As far as anyone knows, we are just going for an afternoon hunt or a walk in the woods.
We stick together, setting out towards District Twelve.
It is time to visit our home.
I don't think to check my surroundings as we stagger onto the desiccated land of what was once District Twelve.
Everything, everything, is burned. Most houses, there is nothing left. No trace that anyone even lived on the property besides the scorched ground and smoldering ash of ruined homes. Only the mayor's house, the largest of all, is still standing. Only just barely though. Blackened wood and foundation are all that is left. If I didn't know District Twelve like the back of my hand, I wouldn't be able to recognize the place. I wouldn't know that the burnt down structure in the far left corner of Town was the Justice Building. I wouldn't know that the seared pile of wood smack dab in the middle of District Twelve was where the whipping posts were. I wouldn't know that the little mountain of ash in the back of the Seam was once my home.
I know without checking that there will be nothing to salvage.
Steam rises up from the ground. The earth is still hot, and though it is not winter, the air is a cool outside. I feel the heat from the bombs. It has not yet gone away, though it has been days. Right now, seeing my home like this, I don't know how we will ever recover. How do we build new homes, a new life, after this?
I experience no sensation of relief as I stare upon the ruined land. Is this what letting go feels like? As if someone has taken everything away from you and there is not even the slightest chance of getting it back? As if a piece of you is missing, a piece that is essential to function, to live?
No, coming back here, it isn't healthy. It is torturing ourselves with the past.
Bristel's eyes brim with unshed tears. Our feet rest on the ground where her home used to stand. I have never seen her cry and I had never planned to. But now, I think she is on the verge of a breakdown and I am at loss as of what to do.
We are lucky the Capitol hasn't sent anyone yet, because we are too emotional and distracted to watch our backs.
Thom sidles up next to me. He remains solemn and quiet, not commenting on the destruction around him. I feel it though, we all do. The loss, the pain, the memories.
I can only mange a whisper as I make a much needed suggestion.
"Maybe we should head back."
The trip back was silent and grief filled.
We did not talk about what we saw, but I feel as if we might need to.
As we stumble back into the temporary camp, our heads down and our shoulders slumped, I feel as if something is off. My instincts notice it before I fully do.
Something is wrong.
As if in sync with my thoughts, Bristel and Thom raise their heads, eyes wide with confused expressions. People sit together quietly, whispering and murmuring back and forth. As we enter, coming out from the trees and into the crowd of people, everyone stills instantly. They cease their talking and mumbling, eyeing us warily.
Bristel goes to her father, whether for comfort or information, I am not sure. Thom follows her. I don't think he has anyone else to go to.
I am the first one to break the long, troubled pause.
"What's going on? What happened?"
Everyone seems to cower into themselves and back away, it is only Greasy Sae who answers. She stands up, still tall and proud after everything that has happened. Her face is serious as she examines me.
"Mrs. Everdeen and Prim found a girl in the woods today," she informs me gently. I nod, but I am sure my eyes betray my wariness and uneasiness.
This couldn't have been too long after I left Prim to tend to her herbs and set out for Twelve, but the fresh worry on everyone's faces makes me think it happened only a moments ago.
A part of me is afraid to know who it is, afraid to have my suspicions confirmed or disproved. I refuse to ask a name. "What's wrong with her?" I question after a lengthy stretch of time.
"Dehydration, shock, we're not sure. She was unconscious when they found her," Sae explains, her silver eyes soft. She pauses for moment, as if unsure whether she should add onto her statement, but she finally shrugs to herself and goes on. "She's over there," Sae says. She jerks a thumb to her right, the distance is a ways away, not far from the group, but far enough to give the person some privacy. "Still out cold."
I make my way slowly to the girl. I see my mother placing a wet rag on the girl's forehead and Prim listening intently to a pulse. Mrs. Everdeen inspects her body, searching for broken bones or injuries.
The yellow hair, Town hair, reflects off of the sun that only barely peeks through the branches of trees. Pale skin, dirt covered and tired looking, matches that of another I am constantly reminded of. She is maybe my same age, maybe a little younger.
I near closer, close enough to see the smile lines on the corners of her mouth. Close enough to see her pierced ears, a trend that exclusively stuck to Townies. Close enough to see her tear marks.
I finally look at her face as a whole and I hold back from showing my disbelief.
I know this face.
I know this girl.
I hope the conversation with Prim was okay? I really hope I didn't confuse you all or make you think "this conversation is stupid and not at all relatable". I know that her story, what she was trying to convey was completely different, but my main point was letting go, and the struggle it is. The different ways people let things go.
And who is the girl? Is it Madge, huh? Perhaps.
We'll just have to wait and see!