I wake up with the sun on my face. The sunlight filters in lazily through the leaves. Propped on my elbows, I look around for the boy who saved my life. It's been difficult to think of him as anything else as of late. It stands at the forefront of my mind, and I hate it. That I owe him something; and I've never liked owing people.
Rising to my feet, I notice him in the corner of my eye, kneeling before some plants and leafing through them cautiously. He turns when he hears my footsteps, not saying anything. He resumes his work while I go off to relieve myself. We take a while to begin nowadays. Since our separation from the others, there has not seemed to be a point to go rushing off. It took days for the venom in my system to wear off into something tolerable, even when the hallucinations were gone. I don't know how it could drain someone for so long or if it's just my own body reacting strongly to it.
When I return, he's holding some berries in his palm before tossing them into a bush. Probably poisonous.
"You ready to go on?" I don't ask as much as state.
He nods, carefully wiping his hands on his pants. Taking one of the packs onto his shoulders, we trek into the forest and continue looking for anyone else that we know. Despite all the instincts in me that say I should kill him, I cannot bring myself to do it at the moment. I still need him to find her. It seems that whenever he's nearby, she's also going to be found. Eventually, they'll have to meet again.
Peeta walks forward, indicating that we should head in this direction. Despite that days have gone by since that moment in time, I haven't even brought it up. And neither has he. He mainly just remains quiet for the most part unless I address him or he has something important to share. We keep close for a while and decide to stop for a quick break.
He sits down on a log, stretching out his legs. The only sound for minutes is our breathing. He just remains motionless and I glance at him. For some reason, he seems more contemplative than usual. He only continues to stare at the sky, as he often does. Without moving nearer, my mouth opens to speak—
"Do you ever wonder what we're meant to do?"
I blink, unsure of what's going on in his head. "No, I don't."
"Why not?" he looks at me, chewing dried meat.
"Because it's not in my nature to question anything,"
"What do you mean? Everyone has questions about things,"
"Not me," the words just come out before I can even pause and collect myself. A part of me misses chatter and it latches onto his sentences, however mindless they may be. And if he speaks, she tends to come up in conversation. Despite all my best efforts to remain expressionless with her and him, there are parts of me that want to know what's going on between them. It's difficult to explain and the urge only grows stronger, thinking of the time he told me she can sing. And it's just memories that is both mine yet not mine—like I lived it through him even though the sound is one I never heard.
"You must've had a very hard life."
I shrug, "Not really. I liked my life well enough."
"What did you do there?"
"Trained for the Games, worked in the mountains; there was not much to do at home really other then make it here where we are."
"It sounds depressing,"
"It's the way life is sometimes,"
"Well, at least you seem pleased about it,"
He turns to me and I turn to him. I didn't mean to speak. It just comes and dammit it bothers me. I hate the whole thing—how he just seems to get the better of me nowadays. I look away and breathe out, aware of his attention. I say, for a change of pace, "How was your life?"
Finally, he's hesitant and nothing is said for a minute, "It was…alright."
"Doesn't sound like that,"
"It wasn't ideal but I wouldn't change anything."
"What did you do in your district?" A part of me almost said 'hovel' but I somehow couldn't call it that. Likely, it would offend him, even if he doesn't care, even if he's honest. I just couldn't.
"Well, I painted the cakes down at the bakery."
I look at him, "You…worked in a bakery?"
"Yes," he then meets my eyes, "Is that a bad thing?"
"No, it just seems so…girly."
"Only you would think working in a bakery was feminine,"
"You're telling me it's not,"
"No, but you act like femininity was something to be thought of as a lowly issue,"
"Not true, women have many capable abilities that I highly admire."
"Are any of them sexual?"
I look him blank in the eye, "Several."
He rolls his eyes at me but he's smiling good-naturedly, "You're such a pig,"
"Says you," I remark, "You're telling me that you didn't stuff yourself with all those sweets and shit whenever you got the chance?"
He laughs surprisingly, "It put food on the table some of the time."
"You worked in a bakery but it you only got it some of the time?"
"The best of the desserts went to the customers that could afford them. My brothers, parents and I got the leftovers that were stale,"
"Why didn't you sneak off with the fresh ones?" It's what I would've done. Fuck it, if I was hungry, I'd get food.
"It's not like we didn't try, when we were desperate enough."
My brow quirks up, staring at him, "You stole?"
"No… not really; more like… I'd think about it, and when I was younger and didn't know better, I'd make an attempt or two."
"I take it they were unsuccessful."
"Yeah, my mother would get angry."
Ah. So he was abused as a child. I peer at him more intently. With the flicker of hurt lingering in his eyes, he may still be abused to this day, living day by day in a home where he was unwelcome or simply tolerated. This would explain his mannerisms—the quiet of his steps, the silence of his thoughts, the way he'd wander and return shortly after because he must, not because he wants to; he was born to follow and not much else, not because it's his nature, but because it's been beaten into him. There may be a timidity to him that is all his own, which was there since he was born, however, children are raised to become who their parents want them to be, even when their personality is strong.
But it makes me think of my own family. Where I've been told since I could remember that I was destined for greatness. Maybe he didn't have that, even when he was bolder, strong enough to break rules for the sake of his wellbeing. It's strange, thinking of him as a child, where, in his innocence, he somehow had more courage.
It could still be here, now, where we've all thought little of him.
It's strange, thinking of how pathetic yet determined he seems. That in his weakness he somehow finds strength to commit to what must be done.
This makes him more dangerous than I thought.
He's still staring at me, waiting for me to speak but I have no words. I search for some and manage, "I wasn't hit as a child."
"No? You're lucky." And there's no resentment there.
"I suppose. Got cut up pretty bad during training sessions, though, so maybe they just saw no need to do it at home,"
"Huh. Never mind then, I take it back."
"Aw, it wasn't bad."
"It sounds pretty violent,"
"I learned how to kick your ass in there," I say, sneering a little, "I think that's what it was supposed to do,"
He shakes his head, and there's a smile playing on his lips. I find myself smirking at him and his smile breaks into a broader one. It's like he's breaking in front of me, letting me into him even though vulnerability is not a good thing but I find myself appreciating this brief glimpse of camaraderie. I shouldn't feed into the whole thing but I wind up giving in a little.
We continue on for the rest of the day, the sun setting into the horizon. It wasn't a productive day, and it tends to agitate me. Yet I feel alright, content. It's strange, how I'm here, in a place where the possibility of death remains, but I'm calm.
This suddenly strikes me—that death is a possibility for me.
It's strange. I've never thought about it. And I don't know why it dawns on me now. But…since I was saved, by the most unlikely of allies, I wind up thinking about it when I'm alone with my thoughts. My life never came into my mind until it was possible that I could die.
I turn my head, looking at him, breathing evenly in sleep. It's hard to remain detached from him when there's no one else around. Clove and Marvel have made no signs of their whereabouts, if they're even alive at all anymore. Glimmer is gone. It's odd, how much it changed and how much faster I became accustomed to it.
For all my training and conscious effort to remain emotionally distant from everyone, he seems to be rubbing off on me in the smallest ways. A person that genuinely wants to speak to me about everything that comes to mind because it's the kind of person he is—unafraid of letting others in.
I fall asleep, dreamless, and that's good. Dreams are more harm than good unless they're waking ones—where I control every aspect and make it a reality. It's the only dreams I like. Everything else, too, in my mind, lately, has been dark and decrepit when I sleep, with only the burning light of fire ahead of my train of thought. It's quick, painless, falling asleep tonight.
But then I'm rudely awoken to the bright harsh white of a ceiling. Everything is sterile, nothing out of place. I lurch forward, surprised by my surroundings and I reach for a weapon, the knife in my back pocket—
"There's no need for that, my boy,"
I turn around, staring at the man behind me, whiter than the room, if it was possible. He smiles predatorily—I recognize it instantly. I do it all the time.
But it softens into something less carnal and President Snow walks forward. "I know you're wondering why you're here and I'll make it quick. Wouldn't want the people to know where you've gone off to."
"So I'm not in the arena. That's great,"
"Great for right now, don't worry—you'll be heading back immediately; and you may get something out of it. Depending on your answer,"
"What do you mean?"
"I have a proposition for you, of course."
I can't help but be wary, even though every part of me wants to give into the demands of my country's leader. It's not that I'm not intrigued or curious—I was simply raised to trust my intuition if something felt off. It's not settling into me comfortably, the way a rock sets into water and is happily placed in the bed, immovable. I breathe in, waiting, but I speak, "What do you have in mind?"
He smiles, "Tell me: do you like underdogs?"
"No," I say readily.
"And why not?"
"Because it never seemed fair to me that the person who struggled but always failed suddenly gets all the glory when the rest of us put just as much time and effort, even more, since we're not subject to self-pity." All of what I said was true. There's something that always bothered me about that kind of fate. And it was something I've thought since forever—no one ever told it to me.
President Snow looks at me thoughtfully. Closing the last few steps of distance between us, he reaches out and pats my shoulder, "I think you and I are going to get along just fine."