Please note: A "fae" is known as a very young faerie (or fairy). From what I've learned, there are different kinds of fae legends. So I've created this world to fit the plot, mixing inspiration with lore. If that works for you guys, enjoy!
Thank you to my betas, DustWriter and Chelzie. And my sweet husband made me a stunning Fae banner for Valentine's Day. Check it out on my AO3 account.
Disclaimer: I do not own THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy. It belongs to Suzanne Collins. I merely want to spend more time with her characters.
Music: "Signs" by Bloc Party.
Once, there was a girl...
Whose mother was sleepwalking again.
The girl was torn from a dream, ripe with magical places and people, and beset by the creak of the house's front door opening and closing. The rusty sound, tremendous yet gaunt like her mother's face, made the girl want to cry. She hated nighttime.
She burrowed deep into the bed and hid under the blanket, one eye poking out and peering at the inky sky through the grid of her window. She had a pretty bedroom, with ruffled sheets in different shades of green and a paper-lamp displaying an enchanted forest. The cut-out silhouettes of coiled flowers, an unearthly bird in flight, and human-like figures playing pan flutes were spotlighted against the four walls of her room, revolving like a carousel: familiar and safe.
The girl knew she needed to rise and catch her unconscious mother, yet this chore always terrified her. She dreaded having to bring the woman back home and start the cycle all over again the following night. She hadn't told anyone about her mother's problem, fearing that she and her sister would be taken away, living Mom-less somewhere, the leftovers of their family split indefinitely.
Grunting, the girl swung her feet out from the blanket and down to the floor, lacing her shoes and draping a sweater around her nightgown. As her little sister slept peacefully in another room, most certainly clutching her stuffed cat, the girl tiptoed out of the house, her long braid swishing like a horse's tail. She hurried down the narrow street of their sedate, red-bricked town, knowing her mother's bare legs were sweeping toward the cemetery.
In such times as these, the girl missed her father most of all. He would know what to do, because he could fix anything. She had worshiped him like the first signs of spring, the act of loving him as natural as pointing out north, south, east, and west.
But then he died. And when he died, the girl's mother also died. Her heart shrank and wrung itself dry. She spent hours fidgeting with her wedding ring, too engrossed in being a widow to remember to be a parent. She wore her grief like something she'd easily pulled off a hanger, an emotional illness that fit her to perfection.
And even though the mother often times sat on the porch with her two daughters, huddled together in the arms of the cracking wicker love seat—and how funny that it was called a love seat—she no longer saw them. She'd fallen blind to their suffering, so lost that not even their feeble pleas unlocked the mother from her catatonia.
For the eldest daughter, life became harder. Being a caretaker scared her. She was young, only ten years old, and she didn't know how to peel potatoes much less boil them, so how could she nurture a mother made of glass and a six year-old sister?
The mother's sleepwalking episodes took root soon after the father's death. They were unpredictable. Life wasn't fair.
The girl's feet carried her through town.
Until the faint but animated strum of a fiddle stopped her. Encircled her.
And there was more.
A regal, mystical, floral scent—something like a blue flower.
The confetti-like burst of someone giggling. Yet there was no one around, for it was the middle of the night.
The girl wondered if her magical dreams were following her. How very odd.
She caught up with her mother, wrapped in a robe dyed a mournful lavender hue, stumbling like a stringless marionette toward the cemetery's gate, beyond which the father was buried. The pitiful sight no longer broke the girl. She'd seen it many times by now.
The moment she reached the wrought-iron partition, the peculiar laughter, music, and blooming scent all vanished. She shook off the sensations, shoved them back into the treasure chest of her mind until she could return to bed. She gently scooped up her mother's hands, stared into her mother's unseeing eyes, and felt her mother's smooth skin but not her love. Not anymore.
The girl tried to coax her mother home. As usual, the woman flinched like a sparrow, not wanting to leave, because the headstone was so very close, only a few yards away.
"Please," the girl said. "Mommy, please. It's alright. Come home."
The mother wouldn't budge. The girl frowned, frustrated and still sleepy. That's when sound of his voice drifted from behind, weightless and unexpected as a breeze.
"Sing to her," he said.
And then there was a boy...
Who had been standing near the gate, behind the girl and her mother. The girl whipped around and stared into a pair of magnetic eyes, polished as jewels, open and unyielding, twin beacons of light mining their way through the dark and flashing blue. He peered at her, a prolonged inspection, as though she was not what he expected.
What she saw surprised her, too. Small ears peeked beneath shaggy golden hair. Dusty pants, too large for him, the hems puddling around his ankles. Hands with scabbed knuckles and dirty, chewed-up nails.
And those defiantly blue eyes. Eyes that had probably never seen their own mother do something embarrassing like sleepwalk.
"Who are you?" she hissed. "What are you doing here? Were you sneaking up on me? Playing a trick or something?" She raised an eyebrow. "Go on. Get out of here."
The boy didn't move.
"What are you staring at?" she asked.
"I'm no one. I was escaping from my family. I wasn't sneaking up on you. You were making a lot of noise, so I not-on-purpose heard you, and you looked scared, so I followed you. I play games but not tricks. And I'm staring at you."
This made the girl angry. Her grip on her mother tightened as she tried to lead her away, but the woman made an infantile noise of protest.
The girl glanced sideways at the boy and grated, "What do you want?"
"I already told you. I said, sing to her."
"And I said, go away!"
"I bet singing will help."
"There's nothing—" her throat cracked, but she tried to cover it up. "There's nothing wrong with my mom, okay?"
"I know," the boy answered. "She's just sad. Like you."
The girl blinked. Her eyes watered.
"Sing to her," he urged.
It might have been his kindness or the accuracy of his words. But mostly, it might have been the relief of having someone else know about the sadness, the length and width and shape of that sadness, and for someone to care, and for the girl to have company in her sadness, because her sister had retreated into her cartoons and needed to be fed, and their mother was here but gone, and it hurt so much to be alone. So to have someone else know, just know, filled the girl's body with unshed tears.
She gazed at her shell of a mother, who seemed to be listening, maybe waiting for a song...maybe for the lullaby they used to hum together. And so the girl cleared her throat.
Deep in the meadow, under the willow...
The lyrics bubbled out, tentatively and tiny. When she noticed how the boy gazed at her, her voice steadied. It expanded and floated over the street.
Here it's safe, here it's warm.
Here the daisies guard you from every harm.
And finally, like an outstretched hand, the lullaby reached her mother. She stirred, the lines in her face smoothed out, and her eyes closed. And she opened her mouth. And she sang with her daughter.
Forget your woes and let your troubles lay.
And when again it's morning, they'll wash away.
The girl could barely continue, because it had been so long since they did this together, so long since her mother did anything with her. Hope blossomed within the girl, tall and natural as a vine. The woman was still adrift, still did not see the source of the music, the child calling out to her, but she heard, she remembered. She let the source guide her from the cemetery and down the road, one foot, then the other.
The boy helped. Gently, he held the mother's left hand while the girl held the right one, and together they took the mother home. No words were spoken, but the girl suddenly felt as though she'd found an ally.
Their squat home had a wooden door, a stone walkway leading to the porch, and whole bunch of things she'd never paid attention to before, like chipped paint, a busted light bulb in one of the sconces framing the entrance, and weeds suffocating the lawn. The girl fretted over letting the boy inside, where things looked even worse, but then she glanced at his tattered clothes and realized it didn't matter.
The boy waited in the living room while the girl put her mother to bed. She did so in a hurry, revived by the presence of another kid in the house, a new thing in this place where newness had long been forgotten. Her insides fizzed like sparkling water, making her feel effervescent and giddy.
After tucking her mother in, the girl bounded across the carpet, eager for more of him. He stood in the shadows by the front door, his gaze finding hers the moment she emerged from the corridor. It was easy to look upon him.
"Thanks for helping me," the girl said. "I owe you."
The boy cocked his head. "Why?"
"Because that's how it works," she guessed. "A favor for a favor."
He half-squinted, half-smiled. "You don't know, do you? The effect you can have."
She hesitated. "Are you making fun of me?"
"You're moonlight. How could I ever make fun of moonlight?"
She didn't understand. She didn't understand his bright eyes, his honeycomb locks, or the clarity in his voice, fresh as a dewdrop, or what he meant by moonlight. Or why he charmed her.
The boy watched her with the curious expression of someone who didn't need answers. A gatherer of questions, of imaginings. That expression belonged inside her paper-lamp, with all the other ethereal beings she could not have conjured up on her own, not even in dreams.
He tapped his chin in thought. "Okay. I have a favor. I want to be friends with you. And your voice."
"You want to be friends with my voice?"
"I want to hear more of it."
Maybe he was a little crazy, the girl thought. Maybe that's why she liked him. She normally didn't like boys. Boys were stupid.
Without asking, he took the girl's hand and squeezed. The touch jolted them like lightening as they gasped and stared at each other. The peachy complexion and tender angles of his face set her thoughts off course while her heart did something weird in her chest. If she was moonlight to him, then he was sunset to her. She told him so.
He grinned. "That's what you'll call me: Sunset."
He really was funny, the girl thought. And so she squeezed his hand back and said, "I can be Moonlight."
And from that moment, they were both goners.
And after, there was a game...
Which they played every day. A game of hide and seek in the woods. A game where they had to guess each other's favorite colors. A game where she talked about archery and he talked about art.
A game where they took turns listing their woes, passing them back and forth like a ball. How the girl's father went hunting one morning and never made it home, supposedly cornered by a bear, or a wolf, or who knew, because all that was found was his quiver of arrows. How the boy's parents abandoned him and he'd been dumped with his wicked foster family, who treated him cruelly and made him work in their bakery, even during his home-school hours.
"I sneak out of the house at night," the boy told her. "To escape and explore."
"Is that what you were doing when I first saw you?" the girl asked.
"I like to pretend I live somewhere mysterious. Somewhere they can't get to," the boy said.
"I can do that with you," the girl volunteered.
It became another one of their games, to invent fantastical worlds where kids could play forever and anything was possible, including happiness. Whenever they were together, she recognized the mysterious sounds and scents—opulent (and possibly blue) flowers and instruments and naughty laughter—following them. She longed to ask the boy if he noticed these things as well, but she worried the sensations would disappear if she mentioned them.
Instead, she told him about her dreams of enchanted forests. And he told her that his foster mother once warned him about faeries, how they're known to kidnap children and take them to their realm.
"She says they steal your memory and turn you into one of them," he mused. "Children become fae—young faeries."
"That's a lie," the girl pouted.
"I would never want to forget you."
"She only said that so you wouldn't run away."
"No, she just wanted to scare me because she can. She makes me work, but I don't think she cares if I run away. I'm replaceable," the boy sighed. "No one needs me."
I need you, the girl thought. But she held her tongue.
Yet the next time the girl's mother sleepwalked, the boy wasn't out on one of his "escape" walks to help, which made the girl feel powerless, even though the singing worked again. The following day, she wept when she confessed to him how lost she felt without him. And from then on, the boy crept into the girl's room and shared her bed, entangling himself with her—"Goodnight, Sunset," "Sleep tight, Moonlight"—and taking turns, one of them drifting off while the other listened for the mother's footsteps in the hall.
They played a game in which Sunset helped Moonlight with the cooking during the pockets of free time his foster family gave him. Occasionally, they played a real board game with the girl's little sister, who liked Sunset very much.
"Do you two kissy-kissy each other?" the little sister once teased.
The girl and boy blushed at each other across the scattering of plastic pawns and dice.
One night, she rested her head on his shoulder and asked, "Why do you call me Moonlight?"
He shrugged. "It's a secret."
She scowled. "Fine. I won't tell you why I call you Sunset."
"Aww, shucks," he chuckled.
She socked him in the arm. He tickled her.
They were too busy laughing to hear the footsteps, the whine of the front door, and the click of it shutting. It was the little sister who alerted them, hiccuping and shrieking because she'd wanted a glass of milk and gotten out of bed.
"Mommy's gone! Mommy's gone!"
The boy and girl fled after the woman, but she was not to be found at the cemetery gate, nor the fountain at the center of town, nor the main street, nor the church, nor the school. Terror spiked the girl's blood, because this was not a game she wanted to play.
She began to cry. The boy hugged her, his breath against her skin. "We'll find her."
The woods were the only other place they hadn't searched. The closer they got to it, the more insistent the otherworldly sounds and smells became, the sensations that always followed them around. But for the first time they felt less majestic, more distrustful.
The boy and girl paused at the edge of the forest. They stood beneath an apple tree, the pink scent of the blossoms ruining her, because they didn't smell as pleasant as they should.
"We need to split up," the boy said, and when the girl wavered, he touched her cheek. "We'll meet here. I'll come right back. I promise."
"Okay," she whimpered.
His blue eyes caressed her face. His lips comforted hers in a brief yet soft first kiss. She watched her Sunset vanish into the trees, his blond hair fading along with the rest of him. The sight iced her from head to toe with something akin to foreboding.
As she prowled the wilderness, the girl thought of her mother wounded or inanimate somewhere, prey for animals or other spectral threats in this untamed arena. Instead, the girl found the woman sitting in a meadow and singing their lullaby. The girl clung to her mother, then ushered her back to the apple tree to wait for the boy.
Only the boy wasn't there.
They waited until the mother got anxious despite her hazy state, which forced the girl to bring her home before returning to the tree. When she got there, the girl realized what was different. The sounds and smells that accompanied her and the boy were gone, had been gone since they split up. Her foreboding escalated to certainty, certainty to dread.
Those sounds and smells had never been following them. They had been following him. She'd merely been a witness to their penetrating, deliriously stunning call.
Where are you? What have I done letting you go? What are they doing to you?
The girl paced by the apple tree. She ripped out the blossoms and sent them tumbling to the ground, along with her bitter tears.
Days passed. People in their wee town speculated the boy might have run away. Or was attacked by a nocturnal beast. Or stumbled in the dark, fell into the river, and drowned. The girl refused to believe these tales. She went out every evening, retracing his nightly escape walks, hunting for him.
A week later, the search party found something. His sweater matted with blood.
The girl's legs gave out that day.
His foster parents only showed enough sorrow to satisfy bakery patrons. They didn't have a funeral because he wasn't their real son, and they couldn't have paid for it anyway.
The girl buried his memory beneath the apple tree. She brought dandelions for him, used a flat rock to mark his grave, and wrote on it with a stick of orange chalk.
He liked to play. He liked art. He deserved a family.
She turned her burning gaze on her mother, who stood a short distance away, beside the little sister, who clutched her stuffed cat. They'd been quiet, granting the girl privacy but wanting to pay their own respects. For the first time, the mother's gaze was sober. Understanding her daughter's pain, the woman had returned from the abyss and pledged to take care of them, give them a full life.
But it was too late. To her shame, the girl could not decide whom she would have rather lost that night, if given a choice.
The mother knelt beside her daughter and smoothed her braid over her shoulder. "Come home, Katniss."
"Just a little longer," the girl pleaded.
The mother and sister left Katniss to soak in her grief. Her fingers curled over the stone and clenched the cold surface. She stirred up an image of his face, trying to memorize it, realizing she did not have a picture of him. His foster family had given his only photo to the police.
All she had of him was a sketch in her mind. It would have to last.
She missed his cinnamon aroma. She missed his dirty golden hair. She bowed her head, parted her chapped lips, and sucked up a valley of air…
I love you.
...and the wail that bled out of her thrust itself into the wind.
No one had ever told him that. Not one person. She had the chance but would never get it back.
She screamed until her lungs flamed. She curled up against the headstone, where she sobbed herself to sleep, intent on waking up by his side.
As the months passed, Katniss's face turned to stone while her ability to feel emotions shriveled to the size of a hard pearl. Yet she kept dreaming of far off places. Purple skies, emerald green moss cascading down the necks of trees, white lights buzzing through branches, glittering petals, the strings of a fiddle, lagoons that whispered secrets if she listened close enough.
Years later, when she traded her ruffled sheets for flannel ones, her storybooks for textbooks, and her virginity for a bad homecoming date, the dreams tempted her with words.
Come closer, the magical land beckoned.
He waits for you.
Always, he waits.
The plea dug a well into her heart, but Katniss didn't respond to it. Because those dreams revealed a strange place, full of strange things and perhaps even stranger folk. And she didn't believe in fantasy anymore. Nor did she trust it.
For it reminded her of him. The boy who vanished just like her father, the boy she never forgot, whose grave she visited every year with dandelions and new orange chalk to touch up the headstone. Her first love, whose face slowly began to fog, whose birth date she didn't know, whose name she never learned. All because of those stupid games they played.
Katniss hated the illusions and their insistent call. She ignored them until, finally, the summons waned and gave up…or maybe lost patience with her. And thank God, she thought, because she was a teenager now, not a little kid. This was real life. Where the sky was either gray or blue. Where the forest was just a forest. Where people didn't come right back. Where games weren't fun anymore.
Where boys like him weren't real. And neither were dreams.