Always and Forever

Footprints in the Sand

I slowly reopen my eyes, not wanting to face the fact that everything is not good and perfect. Curiosity gets the better of me and I take in my surroundings. The man that just a few moments ago had been pointing a gun at my head is dead and the sand is now stained red around the three dead men. But the four of us are not in perfect condition either.

Peeta is sprawled on the sand, unmoving, and Gale and Finnick are nowhere to be seen. With a groan I stand up and move quickly to Peeta’s side, looking him over to find where he has been wounded. I see the blood before I actually find the injury and it makes me want to vomit. It is mostly just a flesh wound because the bullet went clean through the skin on his arm but there is a lot of blood and it must have been pretty painful if Peeta is unconscious. I take off my tank top, leaving me in just my bathing suit top, and rip the fabric around his bicep, trying to staunch the bleeding until I can get to some medical equipment.

Once that small task is completed I stand up again and look around, trying to spot a light from Finnick and Gale in the darkness. I assume that it is early morning, then remembering my watch I look at my arm to see the numbers flashing: 2:37 a.m. No wonder I feel like I could fall asleep right now on my feet. The fire from the camp has gone out so I can hardly see anything now. Finnick and Gale could be closer than I think. I decide against shouting out to them just in case more of the captain’s men are nearby, and just plop down beside a limp Peeta laying my head on his chest, careful not to disrupt his wound.

I don’t fall asleep because I want to stay awake just in case of an attack or if Finnick and Gale come back. I eventually just sit up because I can’t keep my eyes open while lying down. Glancing once more at my watch it shows: 3:02 a.m. I groan and stand up, deciding to take a short walk down the beach, keeping Peeta in sight at all times, in hopes that I’ll be able to see Finnick and Gale. I don’t find anything and so a few minutes later I make my way back to Peeta who still is yet to move and give me any indication that he is okay.

I drop back down next to him waiting for the guys to get back so that we can go look for Madge and Annie. Maybe that’s where they went. I’m just surprised that Gale didn’t tell me or leave a message or anything, that could only mean that they were taken against their will. My eyes suddenly fall on some scuffled up sand and I hurry over to investigate, squinting in the dim morning light.

There, lying in the sand is the backpack that the guys must have brought with them from the island. I sling it over my shoulder and quickly return to Peeta. Sitting cross-legged on the sand I dump the contents onto my lap: A dagger, a few arrows and my bow, Gale must not have taken it with him wherever he went, and a change of clothes for Annie, Madge and I. Looking around to make sure that no one is in sight, I quickly slip out of my dirty clothes and swim suit and put on the clean mostly dry shirt and shorts picked out for me, then lounge back down beside Peeta. My watch now shows 4:00 a.m. They’ve been gone for an hour and a half now. I am almost positive that they were either captured or found where the girls are located. Hopefully the latter.

Just then I hear voices. Not sure whether they belong to Finnick and Gale or some of the bad guys, I put the backpack on my back and grabbing Peeta’s ankles so as not to hurt his arm I begin slowly and painfully dragging him the short distance to the trees where we can be more secluded. I am thankful for the moment that Peeta in unconscious because, even though I’m trying to be super careful I’m sure that being dragged on the sand isn’t very good for his arm. After what seems like forever we come to the trees and a clump of bushes. I pull him further in until we are out of sight. The voices now are very close, but not close enough for me to hear what they are saying or decipher whom they belong to.

I then realize that there will be a big mess of sand from where I dragged Peeta all the way to our hiding place, so I just sit there with sticks digging into my back and Peeta’s head resting on my lap. I am hoping that it is either Gale and Finnick coming ever nearer or that if it is someone else that they are dumb enough not to notice the marks and footprints. It is still dark by this point, being as it is only 4:15a.m. but I can barely see two forms walking towards where Peeta and I were just a few minutes ago. As they get closer I recognize Gale’s voice and immediately breathe a sigh of relief. I hear Finnick’s a moment later and after laying Peeta’s head gently on the ground again I jump up and hurry over to them.

Gale greets me with outstretched arms and I immediately run into my best friend's embrace. He gives me a squeeze then pushes me back a bit.

“Are you okay?”

I nod, “Yeah, I was just worried that you and Finnick had been captured or something. Did you find Madge and Annie?”

“Yeah we’re fine.” Finnick assures me.

“And no we didn’t find them.” Gale adds, “But we brought all of the supplies from the tents, it just took us longer because two guys decided to take a little break right there on their way to the ship so we had to wait it out.”

“We did get some information on where they are holding the girls though.” Finnick says and I feel my hopes rising.

“What about Peeta? Is he okay?” Gale asks suddenly.

“He was shot in the arm but I think it’s just a flesh wound. He’s still out cold though.” I point to where I left him and they follow the direction of my finger with their eyes.

“What do we do now?” I ask, contemplating all of our current options.

“We go find the girls of course.” I practically jump out of my skin when Peeta says this so close to my ear.

“Peeta! You’re okay!” I squeal and jump into his arms, completely forgetting about his injury. He grunts a little but doesn’t say anything, giving me a kiss, he then turns to Finnick and Gale, “So you heard about where the girls might be located?”

Gale nods, “Yeah, they aren’t at the ship, but at a cabin nearby.”

“I hope they’re okay.” I whisper and Peeta puts his arms around me protectively.

“I’m sure they are fine.” He assures me and I rest my head on his shoulder.

“Are you good to walk?” Gale asks him and Peeta nods. “Yeah, I think I’ll be fine.”

“What about your arm?” I ask.

“The bleeding has stopped and doesn’t hurt much.” He tells me and I look at him skeptically. Instead of trying to convince me that he is okay he leans down and kisses my lips, leaving most of my worries behind.

“Okay then!” I say with a laugh. “Let’s get going.” Linking my fingers with Peeta’s we follow a little behind Finnick and Gale who are walking very fast.

“How far is it?” I ask a few minutes later, beginning to feel quite tired from being up all night.

“Not sure, but this island is small and there can only be so many places to put a cabin.” Gale says, giving me a little more hope than I had a few minutes ago.

“Should we split up?” Finnick suggests and I shake my head.

“I think we’re better off together that way, if we’re attacked we don't have to worry about each other. I don’t like not knowing if you are alive or not.”

“I agree with Katniss.” Peeta pipes up, giving my hand and encouraging squeeze.

“Course you do.” Gale smirks, “But I guess we can do that.”

With a smile of triumph we begin walking down the beach once again, keeping closer to the trees even though it is still quite dark for 5 a.m. The sun is barely peaking out from the far waters, giving off an orange glow to the sky.

“We’d better pick up the pace unless you want to go snooping around in broad daylight.” I call up to Finnick and Gale.

“Yeah, yeah, we know.” Gale grumbles but does start walking faster. I hurry to catch up, practically being dragged by Peeta who, of course, has longer legs than I do.

“You know the cabin is not going to be out here in the open so we should probably head into the trees.” Finnick announces after we’ve been walking for quite a while already and haven’t seen anything, not even footprints in the sand.

“Good idea.” Gale agrees and we change direction and begin walking through leaves and between dense trees. I notice in the morning light that the leaves and brush in this small forest on the island are quite a bit different than the one I am used to on our island. I wonder if there are different animals here as well.

Peeta doesn’t let go of my hand the whole time we are walking and I’m glad he doesn’t; although I wouldn’t have let him even if he tried. The birds in the high umbrella trees are beginning to sing their morning song and it feels so peaceful out here. So normal. But it’s not normal. Somewhere close two pregnant women are being held in a dingy old cabin and probably haven’t even been fed. Or maybe they have. I was given food in the tent I was left in last night so maybe they are getting treated equally as well. I hope.

“How far is it now?” I ask Gale at precisely 6a.m.

“Shouldn’t be too far now.” He replies. “I just hope we can find it.” I nod in agreement then stay silent, not wanting to alert any of the bad guys to our arrival and rescue plan. Then a thought comes to mind. Do we even have a rescue plan? Have Finnick and Gale thoroughly thought this through. Is there a plan B? C?

All these questions run through my head but I decide not to bother the boys with my worries. But even though my mouth is silent, my mind is busy with plans. My free hand reaches down to make sure the dagger is still secured to my belt loop. It is, and the bow and arrows are in the pack that Peeta is carrying now. I didn’t see any guns but they would have been useless after getting wet anyway.

All of a sudden, Gale stops dead in his tracks and the rest of us skid to an abrupt stop as well. He holds a finger to his lips so all the questions that had immediately rushed to my mouth to ask him, diminish away almost as quickly as they had come. My hunter senses are in full use and I look around us, trying to see or hear what made Gale stop. Then I hear it. Voices. Male and Female. A woman’s scream pierces the silence and I see Finnick’s face pale a considerable amount. It must be Annie. I can’t imagine how much self-control he is using right now to stay where he is. If it was me and I just heard Peeta crying out I probably would have run out without thinking and gotten us both killed in the process.

We must be too far away because even though we can hear the voices even I can’t make out what they are saying. I can tell that Gale is trying just as hard as I am to comprehend the voices and even more so to find Madge’s. I can’t decide whether it is good or bad that we haven’t heard Madge. It could mean that she isn’t there, she hasn’t been given a reason to scream, or maybe she’s gagged or hurt too bad to scream. I can’t bare to think of what they are doing to them. I wish that I could take their place since I’m not pregnant. I heard being pregnant makes women more emotionally vulnerable too.

Peeta lets go of my hand but brings it around my shoulders, drawing me nearer to him. I bury my face in his chest, willing myself not to cry or think about what my friends are going through. He tightens his grip and we just stay like that, waiting for Gale to give the ‘all clear’ signal. I then realize that I had been holding my breath and release it in one big exhale, a little louder than I intended.

Then, before I know it Gale has started moving forward, and since he hasn’t told us to stay behind we quietly follow him, watching where we put our feet and steering clear of dry twigs and leaves. Peeta takes my hand once more and I give it a squeeze as we continue our trek.

I am beginning to think that we must have passed the spot unawares when Gale halts sharply again and the rest of us follow suit. Once again I don’t try and speak but try to read Gale’s body language and also listen intently to the sounds around us. I don’t hear anything at first but Gale must have heard or at least sensed something to cause him to stop. I watch him closely as he releases the dagger from his belt and feeling that he is preparing for battle I slip the backpack off of Peeta’s back, slowly and quietly, and extract the bow and three arrows.

Finnick has his dagger and so does Peeta. Gale turns around and nods his approval, then without a sound, he goes charging through the brush. It takes a moment for the rest of us to respond but a few seconds after Gale has disappeared we follow after him, running full speed into the unknown. I have an arrow ready on the bow and I keep it pointed in front of me while I run. We burst into a clearing and I am not ready for the sight in front of me.

Gale has done his work quickly and already killed one guy; the remaining man has Madge in a headlock cutting of her oxygen and holds a knife to her throat. Where’s the gun? I think to myself but then focus on the task at hand. I don’t want to shoot the arrow because by the time it would reach the guy holding her he could have already slit her throat. Gale’s face has paled immensely and I turn around to find Finnick with his eyes on Annie. She is tied to a large tree and the ropes look tight. She looks as though she may faint at any moment.

Gale glances back at me and I give him a: ‘What do we do now?’ look with me eyes. His focus moves to the bow in my hand and he nods his head. My eyes go wide in shock at what he seems to be proposing, but with all of our years speaking with our eyes I know what he wants me to do, no matter what the risk. Finnick moves toward Annie, dagger in the ready to untie her bonds and I realize that he could also provide the distraction I would need to shoot the man holding Madge before he has a chance to hurt her.

Sure enough, as soon as Finnick reaches Annie, the captor sees him, “Hey! Get away from her or I slit this little lady’s throat.”

Gale goes even paler, if that is possible. He looks like a ghost and I have a feeling that he is not totally in his right mind at the moment. The man holding Madge takes his eyes off of me for just a second, but it is all I need. I loose the arrow and it goes right into the arm around Madge’s neck. He hollers in pain and instantly releases Madge. She falls to the ground but Gale is already there. He stabs the guy in the heart, leaving the dagger imbedded in his jacket then goes to pick up Madge's limp body.

She is still conscious but doesn’t look so good. Finnick has Annie untied and is currently holding her tightly while she sobs into his chest.

“We need to get them back to the island.” Gale says, carrying his wife over to us.

“But we’ll need a boat since they won’t be able to swim.” I say logically.

“What about the ship? We could go home!” Finnick suggests enthusiastically.

“We don’t know how to get there, let alone drive a ship.” Gale puts in.

“I know, but maybe someone on the crew would help us.” Peeta proposes.

“Possibly.” I muse.

“Should we try?” Finnick asks, not willing to give up on his idea.

“The ship is not far from here.” Annie mentions weakly and Finnick grins, giving her a kiss on her forehead.

“Let’s go.” Gale says with finality in his voice.

“I guess we’re going to find a way to get home after all.” I say with a smile and Peeta gives me a hug.

“It looks that way.”

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