She kicks the small brown rock with the toe of her worn hunting boot, watching it tumble across the barren ground before it comes to a halt. She kicks another, and another, and another, each one making her feel just a little better.
She almost wishes the rocks were somebody's shin, because then it would hurt and actually mean something.
She's not looking forward to today. She wants to crawl into bed and stare at the wall, counting the warped spots on the wood until her head aches and her eyes burn. She wants to hide in the woods, to close her eyes and simply listen to the faint rustling of branches in the breeze, as if there was nothing else in the world.
But she can't. She has to venture into town, has to mingle with people she doesn't care about, will never care about. Prim had begged and pleaded until she relented, agreeing to go with her. Still only 11, she didn't like her little sister wandering around the district on her own - so in a roundabout way, it was her own fault she was going; simply for the fact she was concerned for her sisters' welfare. It was her own fault she was attending this years' wrestling tournament.
The appeal behind it is something she doesn't understand. Watching teenage boys grapple and fight and twist their bodies into awkward and uncomfortable positions, forcing someone to submit, all for a little bit of entertainment.
Almost like the Games, really.
She sets her jaw, determined not to think about them. More than anything, they're the reason she hates the thought, the idea, the concept, of wrestling. They're the reason she cringes every time the word is mentioned, every time she sees the boys in the schoolyard training.
They're the reason her best friend is dead.
They're the reason she had to watch as the tribute from District 2 held tight and fast, his arms wrapped around the neck and head of her closest friend, cutting off all vital links to oxygen. The reason she listened as that same tribute, the winner of the 72nd Hunger Games, boasted of his prowess on the wrestling mat, how his strength and power made him unbeatable, how this enabled him to defeat his final adversary - no never mind that whatever type of 'moves' he used would have been considered illegal anywhere outside of the arena. They're the reason she hunts alone, the burden of feeding two families weighing heavily on her shoulders.
They're the reason Gale Hawthorne is dead.
Most people say that he would have won, if it had been any other year. It was just a shame he'd never held any interest in wrestling. A bit of wrestling prowess would have done him good. Because no matter how stealthy, smart and cunning that Hawthorne kid had been, he was not a hand to hand fighter.
So she hates wrestling, hates the thought of it, the sight of it, even the smell of it. Because if Gale had taken just a passing interest in it, he might still be alive.
She sighs quietly as the small gymnasium comes into sight, the multitudes of people milling in and around the building, laughing and talking as if they don't have a care in the world. It was one of the few events every year that brought Seam and Town folk together, although heaven forbid they mingled. You can almost see the distinct line that separates them, invisible but impossible to cross.
She can feel Prim's excitement, and feels obliged to smile at her as they enter and take their seats. Prim wants to sit at the front; she refuses. They compromise and sit halfway up the small wooden bleachers. She looks at the rough bulletin board announcing the contestants for the tournament.
Her heart stumbles a little when she sees his name.
While she knows he wrestles, and has heard the rumours he's very good, she hadn't even considered he'd be here today. Hadn't considered how she would feel, with the rush of blood to her head making her feel faint, causing her to grip tightly to Prim's hand.
She sits and watches, waiting through bout after bout for the final match of the tournament. Watches as he wins his way through the rounds, getting closer to the final. Feeling her heart race as she watches the other boys – some of them almost men – fight and grunt and wrap their arms tighter and tighter and tighter around the windpipe of their opponent, willing the life out of-
No. She shakes her head viciously, as if to rid herself of her thoughts. No one is trying to kill anyone here. It's just for sport, just for entertainment.
So were the Games.
He reaches the final, alongside his brother. They make their way onto the fighting mat, and she hears the excited buzzing of the audience. Everyone knows it is evenly matched and that, while competitive, the Mellark brothers aren't taking it too seriously, joking and laughing with each other.
She wonders what it would be like to laugh again.
She watches as they begin and, as much as she hates it, can't look away. Her eyes are locked on him, watching as he expertly slides out of Aaran's grasp, gaining the upper hand, and the momentum. He almost has his brother pinned, but Aaran's left shoulder stubbornly refuses to yield. She's surprised at the little sliver of happiness that blooms in her heart as she thinks he's won.
Then Peeta looks up.
Her throat catches as their eyes lock, brilliant blue to guarded grey. She doesn't know what to make of the look she sees in them, can't think beyond anything other than the life that is so evident in their gaze. In that split second, Aaran takes his chance, pulling a reversal on a pre-occupied Peeta, to pin him to the mat.
He's lost. And her heart sinks.
The brothers clap each other on the back, before Aaran raises his hands in victory, letting loose with a whoop. Peeta grins good-naturedly, and sneaks a look up into the bleachers.
She's already running, running for the woods, her heart pounding. She hates wrestling. Hates the thought, the idea, the concept of it.
Hates that it took her best friend away.
Hates that it's made her fall in love with a blue-eyed boy from Town.