I let Glimmer kill the tribute in front of us, Clove motionless, Marvel looking on in silence, the boy from 12 standing a good distance away; I hand her the sword and see what she'll do.
She has been the only one not to kill anyone since the fight at the Cornucopia and, for some reason, curiosity got the better of me and my hand thrust the weapon out to her. In the heat of fighting for your life, she responded, yet, I feel like she's getting a little soft.
This morning, when the dawn came, she showed a particular kindness to Clove that surprised us all.
Clove didn't know how to respond, but she accepted the offer graciously. She's been quiet since, and I feel a sliver of caution take place into me. It's one thing to be on the same side, however allowing oneself to get too comfortable with people isn't going to help in the end.
I also want to watch the boy in particular.
The young girl whimpers, tears pouring down her dirty face, leaving white streaks; her breathing is harsh and rapid, chest rising and falling. She pleads in ugly, broken sobs, words incomprehensible. In her terror, she hurls up nothing, dry heaves that make me want to kick her in the stomach, and it's disgusting.
I glance at the boy, his hands curling at his sides, watching the distant sky, looking a little green. Like he's trying not to hear, trying to deny what's about to happen; he hangs his head as the tribute begins to cry for mercy, and how she wants to be home and how she can't die. I bite back my retort that that's now how the world works.
Glimmer ends it swiftly, the screams gurgled from the blood that spurts into the air.
We're all looking, except for Lover Boy back there, in total silence. Something feels different…
Clove comes up to her, patting her shoulder, "Good job,"
The blonde beams at the praise.
That's what's different…
We're becoming comfortable.
It angers me that my plan didn't work.
A few days ago, when the sun was hotter than usual, and the humidity increased, Glimmer began to breathe a little harder. Marvel, the simpleton that he can be, showed concern immediately. She explained that she's always been sensitive to extreme heat, but she fought it and kept going with us. With the water supply so low, we couldn't afford to give any of ourselves too much, even in her case.
Out of nowhere, the boy from 12 offers her his own container, the water not even sloshing loud because it's so full. He usually takes the smallest of sips from it, and only when he must. We looked on with, I think, a shared astonishment from the action.
Cautiously, she took it from him, and drank, long and deep. And when she gave it back, she had the nerve to look a little touched. Though he didn't smile, it showed in the lack of tension in his shoulders, in the sudden languidness of his steps—a relief that he could be compassionate to someone, anyone, and he could suddenly breathe.
Though he was the one who showed her consideration, compassion is a deadly and contagious thing. The little generosity given to her went out to Clove, who she's been fighting with since we all met. And here was the girl I've known all my life, who I've watched since childhood, unresponsive to charity, patting another tribute on the shoulder with easiness that I can only call camaraderie.
Marvel looks pleased, but he's always been the one to give her encouragement. He's a better mood than usual, since he turns around and says, "Hey, man, we're ready to go," to the boy from 12. There's nothing in his tone that says he is growing fond of the boy, but the lack of animosity in it is a bit disturbing.
I turn to look at him, his steps slow, eyes not wavering from the ground, trying not to look at the slain tribute. He may not have the brutality that we do, but, in his own way, he's…dangerous.
The others talk quietly for the next few hours, with an ease that was never there before, like they're linked. A part of me has to fight down the sudden urge that's torn between telling them none of us are friends and joining the conversation.
This is as astounding as the realization that the boy is powerful in his own way.
But I don't lie to myself, and it's definitely there—this desire for companionship, however brief it may be. Clove is talking animatedly with the tributes of 1, something I never would've thought possible for her. She only usually talks like this with her family or me… I feel a little sick suddenly.
Lover Boy is walking next to me, and every ounce of my being wants to hurt him, beat him senseless until he's dead. He's never been a threat but with this newfound knowledge of the extent of his kindness, I feel him next to me with heightened awareness. In less than a few weeks, he has somehow broken past some of the defenses that I didn't even know we had, much less could get broken into.
But I think he understood my silent message, if the way he keeps looking at me is any indication.
To watch the girl he showed charity to kill another human being; that, above all, we're all competitors and, the main thing for me, was to watch him squirm. That he could dare to be so different, so impossibly vulnerable and be fine with it…
"Next time," I say, voice casual, "We should see how you do."
He stiffens but doesn't break his stride.
The little shit.
"Hey, Cato, which direction should we head to next?"
It's Clove addressing me, her eyes a little brighter than normal. A part of me wants to squash it but I can't seem to do it. I want to talk nasty to every one of them, but Glimmer and Marvel weren't the ones who spoke. And it's Clove, who I could never seem to treat too badly out of all the people I've known. My hand curls tighter around my sword, trying to find sanity in it.
"We could try heading that way," I respond, motioning to the right.
They all comply readily, something that's been happening more as of late; and I don't know now if it's because they find me commanding as the leader or if they're listening to a friend's suggestion.
I suddenly push the boy in front of me, rougher than I do otherwise. This doesn't escape their attention, since they all blink in surprised unison. They just assume that he's done something to piss me off, which isn't too far off the mark, so they don't question it.
He keeps his eyes on his feet, but he speaks to me, "You could've just asked me to take the lead,"
"I'm not putting you in the lead," I bite out, immediately taking the front, "You're just lagging behind; it's annoying,"
He's a little bolder, which irks me, "I think I've been more than the compliant prisoner,"
I turn on him, "Ooh, what do you want, a medal?"
We're aware of our audience but I can't seem to shut him up and he doesn't want to. He just glares at me, "No, you just don't have to be an ass whenever you don't get what you want,"
There's a collective intake of breath from the others.
I'm both intrigued and bothered by this turn of his personality. "Well, someone's testy today,"
"Anyone would be with the way you are all the time," he tells me, voice irritatingly calm, but I can tell I'm striking nerves, even if I don't know what they are completely yet.
I wave him off with my hand, "It wouldn't be like this if you weren't so goddamn sensitive all the time,"
"That was another human being!"
"That was another tribute—in case you haven't noticed, we're supposed to kill them here,"
"How could I not? The issue here is how inhumane this all is; don't you ever wonder how wrong it is?"
Walking to him, I tower over him, "That is not our concern. Is it wrong to fight for your life?"
"No, it isn't," the boy is red in the face, wired on emotions and sympathy, "But there's a difference between killing when there's no choice and—"
"We have choices here—the other choice is allowing yourself to die."
"Or you could not be a part of the Games."
We all stiffen.
He doesn't understand and it's not surprising.
To him, to everyone else, the Games are bloody and merciless times that they dread; but to us…it's everything we are. It's all we know, it's all we've been trained to do. It's our life—the one time our lives ever fucking matter to anyone else besides ourselves.
And he mocks it to my face.
But something is nettled inside me, that wants to think about what he's saying, and I press it down with violent force.
I don't know if I'm winning or losing and this makes my temper flare, "What do you know about needing to do what must be done? What do you know about anything?"
"I don't know much but all this—" he gestures wildly with his hands, "—is wrong and for someone who is smart, I don't know why you can't see it!"
"Who are you to lecture me on survival?"
"I am lecturing you on goodness!"
"Save your breath," I snort, "I don't know what kind of world you live in where you're all altruistic and shit, but it's not going to help you make it out alive here,"
"I'm fine with that."
"The hell you are," and he must be lying, about this; because why wouldn't he care about his life? He's different from us but in some ways, he's no better. His life matters, it's been evident since the first day when he was Reaped; how he shook and wept while she stood there and accepted her fate. But that's why he won't die. She matters. "You wouldn't be able to live with yourself if your girlfriend dies,"
"I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I killed anyone!"
The sincerity in his voice grates my nerves, "Oh, what, you're better than me because I'm willing to fight?
"No, I'm saying there has to be something better—"
He straightens and keeps looking at me, the calmest and angriest I've seen him, "You can't deny the truth,"
"Shut up, Peeta!"
My scream echoes in the trees, the caws of birds shattering silence, and I'm stared at with many eyes, peeling me back, trying to delve into my skin. His gaze is the most unnerving, because the anger is there but beneath it, there's something like…pity.
My fist connects with his jaw and he falls on his back. He doesn't get up, only props himself on his elbows, staring up at me. Clove and the others wait with bated breath, looking back and forth between the two of us.
Finally, Clove steps to me, her hand resting carefully on my shoulder, "Cato, we still need him,"
She's right, of course, and I want to kill him but, instead, I drag him up by the front of his shirt and haul him to his feet. "Find her,"
His eyes flicker with emotion and he continues on. I let him lead, lost in my thoughts.