Hey! I'm back, with another one-shot for the Caesar's Palace forum's monthly one-shot challenge. The prompt is below, and I hope I did this justice. Thanks for reading, and hope you enjoy! :D
Don't leave my hyper heart alone on the water; cover me in rag and bone sympathy, 'cause I don't want to get over you.
- from "Sorrow" by The National.
He made her a birthday cake, but she wasn't there to blow out the candles. He had to do it for her.
Because she was gone now.
Dylan knew he was wasting money- obviously, and his mother knew it too. Upon seeing her son in the kitchen, with his boot-encased feet propped up on their table, she'd thrown a fit, yelling about how much money he was tossing down the drain. But he'd just shrugged and blocked it out. They didn't need much money anymore, now that Pearl was gone. Besides, they'd never been poor. Being a merchant family that owned huge fishing boats, and living in District Four, it was close to impossible for them to run out of money.
His hand shook as he frosted the cake, his sweaty palm making the knife slide. "It's for Pearl," he reminded himself. For Pearl. He liked the sound of that. And he knew that Pearl would have loved the cake, even though Dylan wasn't a very good baker. Pale blue frosting, with little dots of pink and silver icing, and chocolate cake. She loved almost everything that Dylan did. Practically had worshiped the ground he walked on, followed him around like a stray puppy.
He missed the little girl following him wherever he went. He felt empty without her.
Tears blurred his vision as he struck a match, trying to light the candles with a trembling hand. Sobs were starting to shake his body, to make his throat close up. But he managed to let the flame touch the wicks of the small white candles, and tiny flames burst up. Dropping the burnt-out match to the floor, he got out the knife and stood in front of the cake.
But he couldn't bring himself to make the first cut. He couldn't just blow out the candles -whoosh, the killing breath that would make the flame disappear. Because it was like killing something. He couldn't kill anything.
Finally, though, he blew out the candles, setting the knife aside. He couldn't bear to have the candles burn out by themselves.
It was something to do with night that made him remember. Especially the beautiful, pink-gold-orange-lavender sunsets over the water.
Pearl had loved the sunsets, the ocean. "Dylan! Dylan! Come look!" her little voice had shrieked on the night before the reaping. "You've gotta see this!" So Dylan, foolishly thinking that something was the matter, had rushed down the stairs, only to find the little girl, barely twelve, standing at the window. The waning sunlight illuminated her pair of coppery braids, and her slender frame. She had one palm to the glass, although Mom and Dad were constantly nagging at her to stop doing that.
"What is it?" Dylan remembered saying stupidly. He'd been tired from a long day on the fishing boat, his hands red and raw and coated in oozing blisters from handling the rope. And at the moment, he hadn't really given a shit about Pearl's antics. Of course he loved Pearl -who, besides her, wouldn't love Pearl?- but he was stressed out and tired. Besides, being out of the reaping at age twenty-six, he had only one thing to worry about: Pearl's one measly slip.
She'd pointed out the window, opening it to let in the salty breeze and the calls of seagulls. "It's so pretty," she'd said quietly, a strand of hair curling out of one braid and over her shoulder. "See, Dylan? The sunset." Her voice was a little lisping, shy and soft.
And he'd looked at the stupid, motherfucking sunset! He remembered now; he remembered. The orange streaking the sky, the pale blue deepening into darkness, the dazzling gold of the sun as it reflected off the white-capped waves, warming the dunes on the beach to a soft yellow. He could see it now. And it hurt! It hurt like a knife... like the knife... the knife that had killed his little Pearl when she'd made it so far into the Games...
He kept the shades down now. And he hated to admit it, but sometimes at sunset, he just stayed up in his room crying.
He loved her. He loved her more than anything in the whole world. Even now that she was gone.
"Dylan?" Pearl had asked in a shaky voice, wiping her eyes on the back of her hand. Light blue reaping dress that made her brown eyes fade and her red hair stand out. Tears streaking her cheeks, which were still a little chubby. Making her look like a crying baby. Only she wasn't crying because of something childish, something pointless and stupid. She was crying because she was going to die. In the Hunger Games...
"What, honey?" Dylan had said. He was never one for words -silent, gruff except around innocent, sunny Pearl. "What is it?" His tone was much softer than usual.
Her big dark eyes were brimming with tears. "D-do you love me, Dylan?" she said almost inaudibly, her voice trembling a little with suppressed crying.
At first, he'd been shocked at her words. Then it became obvious as to why she'd asked the question. Years of him staying up late into the night, sick with worry. Pearl watching while he practically beat the shit out of her. Fighting with her, that awful bitch, with Pearl standing by terrified. Pearl as a baby, crying and crying, and Dylan had never been able to do a thing.
But that wasn't because he didn't love her. It was because Dylan had loved her -it was all for her, every bit of pain was endured for his beautiful Pearl- and because he still loved her to this day.
He'd exhaled, leaned forward in his chair to kiss Pearl lightly on the cheek. "Oh, sweetie," he'd said, and the genuine agony in his voice was obvious, raw and plain in the dim yellow Justice Building light, "you know that I love you. I love you more than anything in the whole world."
And he still did...
He hadn't been afraid when Pearl was on the chariot, wearing the shimmery mermaid-like outfit. He'd only felt pride, that the girl could be so vibrant- smiling at every hideous Capitol citizen, waving, giggling when they threw rose petals and blowing kisses, winking mischievously. Brave, brave Pearl.
He hadn't been afraid at the interviews- well, once they started. He was scared stiff that Pearl, being the happy-go-lucky kid she was, would share his secrets for all of Panem to hear. About who Pearl really was. About Dylan. About her. But when Caesar Flickerman inquired about Pearl's family, she just smiled. "I live with my mommy and daddy and my big brother Dylan," she said, looking right at the cameras. "If you guys can see me, I love you!"
The whole audience had "aww"-ed at Pearl's sweet demeanor.
But Dylan had just exhaled in relief, that Pearl hadn't told.
And he hadn't been afraid on the first day, in the bloodbath. Even though Pearl had been an innocent, smiley little girl, she was smart enough to run from the stronger tributes and hide in the arena- a mountainous place, thick with trees and cold. No, Pearl had been smart. Cute enough to get sponsors, which in turn got her matches for a fire. Clever enough to travel during the night, and find a safe place to sleep during the day.
His smart little girl.
Sometimes, though, smarts and sweetness weren't what mattered enough.
Because no one -no one at all- can survive getting their head cut off in an ambush. Not even a twelve-year-old girl who was in the final eight -sixth. Not a Career tribute like the bastard who killed Pearl and ended up winning. No one at all.
"Oh, she's the best little sister anyone could want," Dylan recalled saying, in the interviews for the families of the final eight tributes. "And I know that she's got the potential to make it."
Aside from it being the most he'd said in quite some time, it was a lie.
That night -that awful, wonderful night- had been the only time Dylan had ever drank. He'd only been fourteen at the time, and had thought it a brilliant idea to raid his father's store of liquor. But he never predicted the way it would get to his head. The way that he wouldn't remember a thing when he woke up in the morning to a hangover. The way his life spun out of control.
It took him a week or so to figure out why his parents could barely look at him. Why his classmates at school laughed at him, even during heart-wrenching Hunger Games recaps in Panem History class. Why her -the girl, Madelyn- was crying all the time and yelled at him. But once he figured out that he'd drunkenly taken Madelyn's virginity, nothing would ever be the same.
And two months later came the worst and best news ever- that she had gotten pregnant with his child. Best, because he'd always wanted a kid. And worst, because she refused to take care of her.
From the time Pearl was born and on, Dylan had lied to everyone he could, pretending that Pearl was only a little sister. For a time, he'd even lied to Pearl herself. But nothing in the world could stop him from coming into her room late at night, when she'd cry those sad toddler sobs, and rocking her. "It's okay, baby," he'd whispered. "It's okay. Daddy loves you. Daddy's gotcha. I'm not gonna let 'em hurt you, Pearl."
But they hurt her anyway. They took his sweet baby girl away from him, and killed her in front of the entire nation. And he couldn't do a thing.
The memories. They were too much for him to bear.
He couldn't swallow the cake he'd cut. The frosting was too sticky and sweet, suffocating him. The cake itself kept getting stuck in his throat.
And they kept saying that he needed to get over the loss of Pearl. That there's been so many that have lost daughters and sons to the Games. But this was different. They'd just lost their stupid bastard kids. He'd lost Pearl.
And those bitches, thinking that he could just forget Pearl. He couldn't. He wouldn't. He didn't want to, anyway. Because everything reminded him of his precious daughter. The sunsets. Little girls laughing. The recaps. And most of all, the constant sympathy. "Oh, we're sorry for your loss." "You have my sincerest condolences." "Horrible, to lose a sister."
They had no idea. But he never wanted to stop thinking about Pearl. Because she was still there in his heart. Crying for her Daddy like she had when she was very young. And he wanted to tell her that Daddy would protect her, but nothing could save either of them now.