Chapter 15: The Games, Day 7
They had been walking for an hour or so when a cannon blast broke their comforting silence. Maysillee tripped and landed on her knees in the thorny brush. Haymitch reached forward to help her up, but she slapped his hand away as she stayed kneeling over, her breath quick.
"May?" he asked, kneeling down next to her. He laid a hand on her back, and she flinched, pulling away. Her fleeting eyes met his for a moment, but with a few more breaths she soon calmed down. There was no mistaking her wet eyes.
"May," he said again, his finger grazing her cheek, wiping away a tear. She scowled at him and got up quickly.
She shifted her backpack, and pulled her hair into a messy bun as she brought her face to a scowl.
"Didn't say a word," he said.
He stared at her for a second or two and then grabbed one of her hands, bringing it close to see if she had cut her hands on the thorns. The one he held was unscathed and he looked to her other, which she moved quickly behind her back.
He raised an eyebrow.
"It won't event take a second to add some antiseptic…" he said slowly, frowning.
She frowned back, and then brought her hand out, a prominent abrasion from her finger to her thumb on her palm, bleeding heavily.
He pulled a strap off of his backpack, bringing it forward so he could rummage through, finding the First Aid kit and bringing out the cream. He rubbed it on gently. She let out a sigh and he added a few more deep massages with his thumbs, avoiding the cuts, before he drew back.
"Let's go," she said gruffly, walking away. He only shook his head, hiding a smile as he put the cream back and re-zipped his pack, sliding his arm through the other strap as he followed.
A few hours later Maysilee stumbled on a branch, the crack echoing around them. He stopped and turned, frowning. She drew up short, mirroring his frown.
"You're too loud."
"Your footing, May," he said, looking down at her boots, the same as his, but surprisingly smaller. He looked her up and down, only now noticing how petite she really was. But she was still here, beating more than thirty other tributes to stay alive.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" her shaky voice broke his thoughts.
He shook his head.
"You need to be light on your footing. When you're running, just run, don't care about the noise, I know you're fast enough. But when you're walking like we are, you need to check your surroundings. Avoid branches sticking up from the ground, twigs, things that make noise. For your heavy step-"
"Heavy?!" she shrieked.
Haymitch jumped and brought his hand to cover her mouth. She only glared at him.
"Looks like we'll have to train that voice of yours too," he said, grinning while he shook his head.
Her tongue struck out, and he felt it graze the middle of his palm. He brought his hand back, surprised and thoroughly humored.
"Just… watch your step. The noise will bring other tributes right on our path. You don't want that."
"Why are you Cassie-ing me?"
"You're being Cassie. You're mentoring me. We're still allies, and it's not like you're dying. Why are you trying to teaching me?" she asked.
He furrowed an eyebrow, caught at the question. He honestly didn't know why.
Fuck that, he did know.
He wanted her to win. Equally as much that he wanted to survive this as well. It was a continuing war inside his mind.
He only shook his head and then shrugged, taking the least emotional way out.
"If you're my ally, I want a lighter step. Don't want you to bring unnecessary trouble my way."
She let out an exasperated sound, and continued forward in the general direction they were going. However he noticed she didn't make that much noise as they continued.
They walked until the sun started dissapearring behind the now dormant volcano. The trees were as thick as ever, and after going on for so long, he started to think that just maybe the Arenas were endless during the games. The advanced technology the Capitol had, the acres and miles of land that were uninhabited in Panem...
Maybe the Arena was really endless and the Gamemakers used things such as Volcanoes, poisiounous butterlfies, and deadly squirrels to lead the last tributes to the same general area to finish the Games. Then, perhaps, the border was created to make the 'monument'.
That was his best guess; they were so deep into the forest, and there was no end.
The snapping of a twig - not from Maysilee - drew him up short and he threw his arm out to stop May. She grabbed onto his arm to steady herself and looked around.
"What-" she started.
They stood still in silence. That snap had a short echo, meaning it was close by. When Haymitch heard distinct yet faraway voices, he knew whoever made the sound was heading straight towards them.
He ran and jumped to the nearest tree, grasping onto a low hanging branch and pulling himself up. He straddled the branch and looked around to see Maysilee still on the ground, standing still, looking up at him.
"They're coming!" he hissed.
She brought out her bamboo stick, a feathered dart sticking out of one end. Haymitch shook his head, his heart beating quickly, his fear for her growing.
"No! Save those for when you need it! We can circle behind them, take them by surprise. Goddammit, climb a tree now!" his whisper rose in volume.
She stood there, as though shocked into a frozen state.
"Just come here!" he whispered louder, almost at his normal tone as he bent over, sticking his arm down, "Run and reach for my hand."
The voices drew closer.
She then moved, faster than he expected. She sprinted towards him, kicking off the tree trunk to hoist herself up, her arms reaching out for him. When her fingers brushed his, he grabbed at one arm with both hands and pulled up. She let out a grunt and swung herself up and onto the branch with him. She landed straight on top of him, the breath draining out of him at the impact. He let out a distressed noise but held his breath when he heard the first voice.
"Did you hear that?"
It was a boy. He came into view, his dirty blonde hair pulled back into a short ponytail. Haymitch frowned.
The last boy alive from District 1: Oren.
Stacked with weapons; a bow slung over his shoulder, one hand holding a flail with two metal spiked heads as big as pumpkins and the other held an axe. His boots gleamed with proof of many knives.
"Mitch-" he heard May whisper. He turned his head and almost drew back at how close they were. He then noticed how she was plastered against him: chest to chest, her legs straddling him. He swallowed his breath and brought his hand to rest a finger against her lips.
Her cheeks grew pink.
"They'll leave soon," he lipped. She gave a small nod, their gazes still locked. They stared at each other, not at the Tributes below.
"Hear what, Oren? I swear, you're becoming more paranoid by the hour," a whiny girl's voice broke their comfortable silence.
They both turned their heads to look down at the small crowd now forming. Haymitch counted five.
The girl who spoke had choppy hair, as though someone had cut it with shears. It was bright red, he figured a shave would have been better since she stood out like a sore thumb. District 2: Maya. Haymitch recalled her taking down all of the trainers in hand to hand combat.
The other three he didn't know who or what district. As though reading his mind, he felt May's breath brush down his neck. He kept his gaze on the crowd down below who were pointing in different directions, planning where to go. He flinched slightly when he felt the form of three fingers press down onto his arm. She paused, and then rested one flexed out hand, all five fingers pressing into his skin before giving another pause, this time resting both palms on his arm and moving a hand to press one finger against his skin.
Three, Five, and Eleven.
"Eleven is also good at hand to hand, the other boy," she barely whispered.
Haymitch nodded, his nose brushing her hair. He laid his head back against the tree trunk, taking in a deep breath, keeping his gaze on the crowd but needing to be as far away as physically possible from May - which wasn't that much given their proximity.
She let out a small hum.
"Don't do that," she whispered right into his ear.
His hands involuntarily rested on her waist as he looked back at her, her eyes inches away.
"Do what?" he lipped, worried about making noise. May frowned, and let out a breath. He then noticed how he felt that breath, from a body flat against his own. He almost groaned.
"Should we set up camp?" one of the girls asked.
"No, stupid. This is the perfect spot for an attack, we'll be sitting ducks."
Haymitch grinned. He noticed May was still holding her bamboo stick.
He used her method, and held two fingers against her shoulder. He pointed to Maya.
"Hand to hand," he lipped, and she nodded.
He held one finger against her shoulder, and then pointed to Oren.
He felt her whole body shiver, the movement reverberating against his body, making him take in another breath.
He shouldn't be enjoying this as much as he was, considering the situation.
She moved slightly, bringing a second dart out of her pocket. She held the second dart flat against his chest as she brought the projectile to her lips, and aimed.
"Blondie first. He has the arrows," he whispered. She gave a short nod, and took a short breath before bringing the bamboo to her lips. The dart flew out, landing right into Oren's neck. He grunted at the impact, and instantly started chocking, white foam emitting from his mouth as his knees buckled and he fell over.
Maysilee quickly loaded the other dart, shooting again, and the next one landed in Maya's shoulder. After a second she keeled over too, also choking on white foam. The three others all scrambled in their step, looking around frantically - almost hopeless now that the two tributes keeping them alive were now gone.
Maysilee looked over at him, panicked.
"How many darts left?" he asked.
He turned his head to the remaining three.
"Your call," he whispered.
He waited for her decision, and turned back when he felt her pocketing the bamboo stick.
He smiled at her choice, and kept her gaze as he yelled out.
"You have exactly seven seconds to leave," he shouted.
They all jumped, one of the girls letting out a shriek.
"Seven… six… five…" he started.
They all ran, giving small shrieks.
He waited a few more seconds, the both of them listening as the remaining three scrambled away, making so much noise that Haymitch figured out who to thank for warning them in the first place.
"I think we're good."
She nodded, and - thankfully - used the tree trunk to push herself back.
"Should I go first?" he asked.
She rolled her eyes, and threw her other leg over, expertly not kicking Haymitch in the face to do so, to propel herself off the branch. She landed in a crouch on the ground, and stood up straight. She went right to Maya's body, who had the backpack.
Haymitch jumped down as well and took the weapons from Oren. Maysilee had just stuffed the last food into her already overstuffed pack when they heard the whirr of the hovercraft coming to take the bodies away.
They ran together behind the trees, waiting until the sounds of the claw descending and ascending two times stopped and the hovercraft left. Haymitch let out a held in breath.
"I was never good with arrows, how about you?" he asked, weighing the steel bow with wooden detail in his hand.
Maysilee shook her head. He sighed, and tried to break the bow in half, but with no success. He climbed a nearby tree and hung the bow high in the branches, along with the quiver of arrows. He jumped down, and they both looked up, making sure the weapons were well hidden.
"What about this?" Maysilee asked, holding up the flail with obvious struggle. It looked heavy.
"That's gonna slow us down, drop it."
With a relieved sigh she did, and then motioned to her pack as she zipped it closed with a struggle.
"Some food packs and water. I grabbed a knife," she said, turning her boot to show the first addition to her boot straps. Haymitch worked on hiding the flail with broken branches and dirt. It was too heavy to hide in the trees.
"You good to go? We'll move in a different direction than the others."
She nodded, looking around warily.
"It'll be fine. We'll reach the edge… wait for the others to-" he continued.
"Don't," she stopped him.
He raised an eyebrow. She was still denying the inevitable.
He felt the same, but the nudging feeling to get as far as he could still grabbed at him more.
"Fine. Just keep going, we'll find a campsite when night falls."
They kept walking and when the first stars peeked out in the sky through the branches they found a large tree to set up camp. They harnessed the branches down to make a sort of shelter and rested against the trunk as they ate small portions for dinner.
"How did you find the bamboo and darts?" he asked.
She swallowed the last of the beef jerky, and shrugged.
"It was in the small pack I fought for. It took me a while to figure out what it was."
"I would've never figured it out."
"I thought it was to be for torture… I remember reading that the Asians would use bamboo splinters as a torture device – they would put splints under fingernails. It was reported to be the worst kind of pain... I was fooling around with it when I brought it to my mouth. The first dart flew out to hit a tree, I found a couple more in a hidden pocket."
"Did they come with poison?" he asked, now intrigued.
She gave a half smile.
"Not really. I used some flowers to coat the tips. I used a rabbit as a test subject, it died within a few seconds. Then I found out that everything here can kill you."
He let out a laugh.
"Yeah, you can say that again."
She took a gulp from her canteen, and wiped a hand over her mouth.
"What about you, fighter boy? I saw you were good with a spear, but had no idea you could do hand to hand combat. You could've taken those three guys down yourself if they had no weapons."
He shrugged, feeling stupid at how the compliment affected him.
"More-so just luck with the weapons I was lucky to have. And that last one, about to kill me, was much stronger."
"Stop being modest."
"Don't be so… indifferent to the compliment. You moved quickly, knew when to punch, stab, and duck. It was kind of scary, watching you."
He looked at her, surprised.
"Please, as if I can be scared of you. The way you told me about Maggie let me know who you really are," she continued.
He tilted his head.
"And what is that, exactly?"
"Not only a fighter, but a nice guy, too. Who would've thought?" she said, grinning. Before he could react, she yawned and lay down, using her backpack as a pillow.
"You take the first watch."
He smiled, and watched as her breathing slowed and she fell into a deep sleep. He turned a knife around and around in his hand as he killed time, waiting for any noises to disturb them.
After getting used to the night sounds, the hoot of a faraway owl, cricket's that he was convinced was a projected sound - there was no consistency, nothing in the variance of the speed of the chirping - which fluctuated with the temperature of the atmosphere.
He heard a soft whimper and turned to May, barely lit by the moonlight. Her face was scrunched up and she let out another whimper before she let out a small cry.
He dug in his pack and brought out one of the blankets. He spread it out and draped it across her small body, tucking it under her shoulders. She burrowed into the blanket, sighing in her sleep, calming down.
He sighed, taking a knife from his boot. He lifted the blanket at her feet and slipped the blade into one of her boot straps; the second addition. He pulled the blanket down, tucking it under her feet.
He rested back against the trunk, grabbing his bigger knife to rest in his hand. He listened to the music of the nightlife as he waited for the new day.