We head in the same direction, with them in front of me. Even though I am about ten yards away, the fact that I am behind them and neither one has looked over their shoulder in a good ten to fifteen minutes makes me want to shout at them that they're doing it wrong.
Does anyone know how to do this?
They stop, the little girl turning to the other one and saying something I can't hear until I get closer.
"Do you think we should head that way?" she points to the right.
The Girl on Fire looks down at her. She's so short—kind of petite and the younger girl looks frailer by comparison. "Well, what do you think Rue?"
Rue shrugs, smiling, "I was just wondering since it seems we're always going left."
It's true, they usually do.
"We can go whichever way—as long as we don't run into anyone, we're fine,"
"Then we should go right," she says, confidently.
She smiles as she continues to look down at the girl. I come up to the pair and she turns her head to face me, the top of her head coming to my collarbone. She is small and thin and nothing but her stare is hard.
I peer intently without thinking. They're gray—like stones.
She narrows them and tilts her head, and I note her sharp features. They rival her eyes in sharpness. Everything about her is sharp and small and nothing yet deadly.
I suddenly think of Clove's knives and something inside me twists.
"We should get moving," she says in a clipped tone, reaching for Rue's hand.
Walking from me, I stare and follow a second later, listening to their steps. All of us walk softly, treading carefully and avoiding twigs and loose brush. Neither speak, save for the occasional whisper that sounds like the wind rustling leaves. They clearly know how to blend with their environment.
No wonder they've been hard to track.
We come across a river, the water glistening in the overcast light. Kneeling before the river, Rue cups her hands in the water and I think she's about to drink but she only splashes her face. The other girl is grabbing a large canteen from a semi-worn orange backpack—ugh, it's so bright—and puts it in the water to fill. When there's enough, she takes out a small bottle containing iodine and puts a few drops in.
"We'll have to wait a while but it's better than nothing," she says to Rue.
Rue grins and stands, stretching her little skinny arms. One movement and she'd snap in two if someone squeezed hard enough.
"Do you think we should keep going this way?" Rue asks.
It takes me a moment to register that she's not talking to her but to me. Pretending I was thinking of less violent things, I answer with, "If you think that's best,"
"Don't you have anything to add?" her question is curious, eyes alight.
"I have input, I simply don't share,"
I shrug noncommittally.
"You can tell us your opinions," she says after a moment. She steps back when I look at her, as though I'd snap. Turning my eyes from her, I look at the girl still kneeling by the bank, looking at the water, crouched like she's waiting for something, or someone.
"Yes, but I don't have very good ones," I tell her.
"That would be a first," she says before Rue can speaks; she stands to her full height and slings the backpack on, the sound of the canteen sloshing its content in the pack the only audible noise she makes as she begins to walk away. Rue jogs after her, sticking close to her side and reaching for her hand.
My brows narrow and I run after them, this time coming to her right, Rue on the other side, "Did you take an extra dose of bitchy today?"
"No, I am like this all the time," she replies, eyes straight ahead.
I scoff, "Yeah, obviously," She is usually beyond irritable except at Rue, "But you're even worse today,"
"What's it to you how my attitude is?"
"Then why are you asking about it?"
"The least you can do is be cooperative,"
She barks a humorless laugh, "I have been cooperative, in case you haven't noticed,"
"You could have fooled me—acting like you have a stick up your ass—"
She glares at me, "Will you leave me alone?"
"You've been like this all day—it's a little annoying,"
"'A little annoying?'" she cries out incredulously, "I am beyond annoyed! It's been two days and you're still hanging around us,"
My hand goes to my chest, looking mortally wounded, "I am so sorry for saving your life—next time that happens, please tell me to go the other way and I'll leave,"
She lets out an irritated groan, "You're such an ass,"
"That is a pure given; you being a bitch, I think, isn't completely intentional,"
"What do you mean by that?" her eyes narrow at me.
"Oh, please, anyone who saw the Reaping can tell you're not completely heartless."
"Excuse me? Who the hell are you to tell me how I am?"
"You're not hard to figure out," I tell her, lying through my teeth. Her jaw clenches, ignoring me.
"You don't know anything about me," she murmurs.
"I know enough."
She stops, Rue tensing beside her and, before I can tell what's happening, a resounding slap is ringing through the trees. I feel the sting in my cheek but I'm more shocked that she slapped me that the sting feels more phantom-like.
"Ugh, you're so cruel! What are playing at?" she spits.
I roll my eyes, fighting back the urge to snap her neck, "Idiot—I'm not doing anything."
"Don't give me that," she yells, "Why are you here? What do you want?"
"You're acting like I'm plotting something; are you always so suspicious?"
"Yes, especially about people that will probably slit my throat in my sleep!"
"All this anger is because you miss your sister—calm the fuck down,"
She blinks before she huffs, "What do you know about family?"
I don't care how bitchy she is, how irritatingly calm she can be, how she acts like she's superior to me even though she is nothing compared to me; hell I don't even give a damn that she just smacked me on public television and I'm not murdering her for touching me—but the fact that she treats me like I'm inhuman does things to me all at once: a boiling rage, knots in the stomach, pounding heartbeats echoing in my skull.
"You think I don't have a family back home?" I ask her, my voice so low, it's dangerously soft and I want it to be louder but it comes out hoarse.
She suddenly moves in front of Rue, and her face remains impassive, "I didn't say that—"
"No, but you sure as hell implied it," I tell her, staring straight at her face, angular and unforgiving, "Look, I don't care what you think about me but I have family. Don't act like you know me,"
She keeps staring and I return the glare, Rue shaking a little, unsure of the situation. Seeing her quake makes me instinctively want to soften but we were trained not to give in to children, never into children. But she suddenly seems to loosen, winding down and she breathes out, "Sorry."
I am startled by her apology but she walks on, pace fast.
Rue had let go of her during the argument. She licks her lips and turns to me, wringing her hands. She lets out a shaky breath, "I'm sorry about her. She just has rough days sometimes,"
I stare at the little girl, dark and timid, "It's fine,"
I touch my face, still burning from where the Girl on Fire left her mark. For a skinny little thing, she can sure hit.
I sigh. I was supposed to be more collected and calm than right now. It's what I'm trained to do—the only thing I managed to complete was not killing her right there for hitting me, the way we were taught to do on instinct. She is just so infuriating! We don't talk, barely look at each other, little to no interaction yet I always feel angry around her.
I refuse to think she makes me uncomfortable because of guilt.
A movement of white comes to my vision and Rue is holding a washcloth in her hands, offering it to me. She smiles tentatively.
I take the cloth, pressing the coolness to my cheek.
Rue beams, still a little wary but all shyness is gone. I find myself smiling back, falling even though I know I should stand. Children need to feel intimidated, need to understand they should accept the inevitable because that's the outcome for them—nothing else. But I'm at her level and she's pleased that I'm pleased. It's kind of… sweet.
She motions for us to walk together and I take her lead, both of us in step.
From the corner of my eye, I see her looking at us with a gaze that's off, like she's never seen us before.
I grin at her, rubbing it in, and she stomps away, leaving Rue with me. We both know I won't do anything.
I'm worried but I smile at the child anyway. And I wonder exactly how much she reminds the Girl on Fire of her sister.