The 76th Hunger Games

Ashby is the daughter of Katniss Everdeen. She has been told barely anything about the Hunger Games purely because of her mother's fear. This puts Ashby in a dangerous position. She and her family are being followed and it's up to Ashby to find out who they are and what they want. But what if ... they want her?

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6. The Games

Author's notes: Okay my fellow Hunger Games fans (btw the film was awesome and I went to see it WAY to many times), I sincerely apologise for the late update because sometimes I just get awful writers block with the story even though I love writing it. It's a pretty long chapter so... enjoy and you know, feel free to post ideas and thoughts below :)

 

Chapter Six

The Games

I watched the T.V. intently as Mr Coin strolled onto the stage, his face forming a cocky smile. Instinctively, I rolled my eyes.

“Hello, ladies and gentlemen!” He announced cheerfully. The crowd whooped and wolf whistled. His grin widened and played coy somehow.

“Thank you, thank you.” Mr Coin’s grin died down a little as the crowd quietened. “Now, I’m sure your all itching to know the scores!” The crowd went insane again. I stared at the T.V., unable to look away. I would never admit this to anyone, but I desperately wanted to know the scores too. I wanted to know what I was up against. 

“First of all, Angelyna de Briscoe.” A picture appeared on the screen of her, the same skinny blonde girl in that puffy pink dress when I first saw her. In this picture, there was no smile though. Her mouth was in a straight line, the gleam gone from her eyes. Her hair was pulled back in a neat ponytail which highlighted her cheekbones.

“With the excellent score of 9!” The crowd screamed their approval. I began to wonder how she’d got a nine. I knew from school that the training scores went up to 12, just like the districts (aside from district 13). Nine’s a pretty respectable score.

“Braden Riddell with a score of 8!” He exclaimed as the image of boy with gingery brown hair and large hazel eyes flashed on the screen. I remembered those two from the large hall where everyone had met. They were the two sitting in the corner, as if in their own little bubble, just talking. If only life were that simple, I thought bitterly.

“Rae Hylen with a brilliant score of 10.” The image of Rae popped up. There was no smug look on her face. Her hair was lying perfectly at her shoulders, her big black eyes glinting prettily. I hated her. With every inch in my body, I despised this girl. I just couldn’t figure out why exactly. Was it because of her score?

“Leonis Coin, my son, with the outstanding score of eleven!” That was the final straw for the crowd. They went completely bonkers, people jumping up in their seats, screaming out their happiness for Leonis. Then I realised that when I got my score, they would laugh if it was low and boo if it was high. Either way I would get embarrassed. And I could tell that’s what Mr Coin was counting on.

My heart wrenched painfully in my chest as an image of Leonis appeared on the screen. His hair sparkled like spun gold and his beautiful eyes glinted with laughter, even though his mouth was in a tight line. I basically died right there.

They showed other tributes, the scores varying largely between 3’s and 8’s, but never any higher. I felt happy to see that Siena got a low score. She would last in the arena for that. Her picture was pretty too. I was pretty sure mine would be a mug shot.

They showed Danyell’s score before mine and I could feel my heart thudding. Maybe I don’t want to know, I told myself. Maybe I want to be blissfully ignorant. But apparently that wasn’t an option. Danyell got a 7 and as his picture faded I could hear the whole crowd die down and wait in suspension.

“And, for the score I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for...” Mr Coin smiled secretively and I knew it was either really high or really low. “Ashby Mellark with a score of eleven!” The crowd remained silent. Then suddenly there were ripples of whispers rushing around the audience.

Mr Coin waited patiently for them to die down but they didn’t. People were confused, angry or outraged. Shouts began to ring out from all sides of the room. Shouts of abuse, all directly aimed at me as they knew I would be watching. And the comments stung. So I rushed to the T.V. and hit the off button so hard that I was sure I’d bruised my fingers.

I knew something like this was going to happen and there was no way I could have prevented it. Leonis would have actually tried to kill me if I hadn’t fought back... or maybe it was one of his acts again.

I lay down on the bed in complete darkness, feeling incredibly sorry for myself. Get over yourself, my head muttered. But I couldn’t. Those people hated me. I hadn’t done anything but still, they hated me. Hated me so much that they shouted rude and untrue things about me that everyone in the whole of the Panem would hear. That’s when I started to cry. I cried for a long time, longer than I can ever remember crying for. My head began to throb but eventually, I fell into a deep, empty sleep.

Pounding on the door jolted me awake. Today’s the day, I thought, a vicious shake running through my body. I pulled myself wearily and opened the door.

“Yes?” I asked in the politest way I could muster. The guard glared back at me, completely unimpressed.

“You’re coming with us.” He replied shortly and took hold of my arm.

“Now?” I asked, baffled. “Can’t I at least get changed?” He shook his head roughly and dragged me down the hall.

I was shoved into a car, shaking from head to toe in my short sleeved top and shorts that had acted as my pyjamas for the last couple of days.

When I stepped out of the car, I found myself at the door of my stylists again. I wasn’t sure what I was doing there but I did know it meant Mr Coin wanted me looking a certain way as soon as I entered the arena.

My face broke into a smile as soon as walked in. Frank, Mansy, Glora and Hostella were all sitting on the lush red sofas, having a debate over what was the ‘new pink’. They heard me and looked up.

“Oh sugar, it’s you!” Frank cried, jumping up quickly. I smiled and went straight into his outstretched arms. Hostella, Mansy and Glora decided that was the perfect moment to join in and squish me half to death in their bear hugs.

“Where were you guys?” I asked as soon as I was released. Frank exchanged a look with Hostella.

“Sugar, Mr Coin wanted another stylist to get you ready for your interview. I think it was Leonis’s original stylist.” They then began to debate over whose stylist the man had been.

Once they had finished arguing, Frank led me to the wardrobe where my outfit for the Hunger Games was. I wondered what freak show of costume Mr Coin had opted for this time.

Frank opened the doors to the wardrobe and I was surprised to see a black waterproof coat, a long sleeved top, thick combat trousers and some stiff looking hunting boots.

Mansy and Glora helped me into the clothes whilst Hostella and Frank argued over what hairstyle I should have. I coughed loudly and they both turned to look at me in surprise.

“Can I please just have my hair in a plait?” I asked them. Frank considered this for a moment and then his mouth broke into a smile.

“Sugar, that is a fab idea.” He cried and ordered Hostella to plait my hair in a single braid down my back. She glared defiantly at his back and then set to work on my hair. After awhile, she began to talk to him and I could tell she really didn’t mind being bossed around by Frank.

As she plaited my hair, Frank applied some touches of mascara and a few dabs of foundation, which personally, I thought were unnecessary. Even so, I kept my mouth shut and listened to their endless chatter.

Once they were done with me, Frank led me to the mirror. I stared back at a perfected version of me. My skin was perfect. My eyes were way brighter than before, which is saying something. My hair was plaited down my back and looked shiny and beautiful. I gasped.

“Oh, Frank!” I laughed happily. “Thank you!” Frank wiped a fake tear from under his eye and scuttled off, claiming ‘it was all too much for him’. I smiled at him. If in a bad mood, count on my stylists to cheer me up.

“Right, we need to get you into the elevator.” Hostella told me, pushing me towards the back door, towards the cars.

“Elevator?” I asked, confused. Hostella looked quizzically at me.

“To lift you into the arena, silly.” She replied and shoved me into a car. Once all of us, my stylists and me, were cramped into one of the cars, they began to argue again. This time, it was about the Hunger Games.

“This is insane. She shouldn’t have to go through with this.” Hostella sighed all of a sudden. The tension in the room began to rise. Mansy and Glora stared at her in shock.

“Hostella, that talk will get you killed!” Mansy cried, practically jumping up in her chair.

“I don’t care!” Hostella yelped. “She’s just a child.” I stared at them, astounded. They were talking about the Games. Out loud. Mansy was right. Hostella could be killed for what she was saying.

“You can’t just-”

“Guys, stop it!” I yelled. “Stop it. I don’t want to hear any of you say anything like that ever again. Not for me.” They stared at me. And suddenly there was complete silence. It was like that for the rest of the car ride. It was only five minutes long but it felt like forever.

As soon as the car stopped, I was yanked out by two guards. Hostella was seized by another two. I realised with a jolt what was happening.

“No!” I screamed. “Wait!” The two guards turned to me.

“Quiet. She has committed treason.” One snapped, glaring at me.

“No, it wasn’t her. It was me.” They stared at me, uncomprehendingly. Then, the other guard stepped forward and slapped me. I felt the metallic taste of blood rush into my mouth as I fell to my knees. The guards released Hostella, shaking their heads, and walked off.

“Ashby!” They all cried, running towards me. “Are you okay?” Frank muttered, lifted my chin up. My lip was badly cut but otherwise, I was okay. I managed a nod. I noticed Glora looking over in the direction of the cars and spotted Leonis and Rae staring, gobsmacked, at us.

“Just get me inside.” I whispered. Glora met my eyes and nodded, clearly understanding what was happening. The other two guards stepped back and let my prep team drag me into the building.

Once inside, Frank dabbed at my lip with a wet cloth and the others redid my makeup. No one said a word. Not one. And I was glad for it. This room was probably bugged too. If they thanked me, they would be punished. So we all kept quiet.

My prep team set me down in a hard metal chair. The chair was the only object in the room, aside from a long tube that I assumed was the elevator.

Hostella caught my eye, a grateful gleam in her own. And that was all I needed. All I needed to push my nerves away, forget the voice in the back of my head telling me I couldn’t do this.

I pushed up from the chair, determined to be stronger, braver than I had ever been in my life. Glora and Mansy hovered nearby, for which I was grateful. I felt rather faint.

“It’s time.” A guard told us gruffly from the doorway. Frank stared at me, tears becoming more prominent by the second.

“You’ll do great, sugar.” He choked out, seizing me in a fierce hug. I decided I never wanted to let go. Letting go meant going into the arena. And I never wanted to go there.

“Frank, I can’t do this.” I muttered into his shirt. He tutted noisily.

“Of course you can.” He told me, flicking away the tears rolling freely down his rosy cheeks. “You have to.” We let go of each other and I knew there was no going back.

Frank pushed me gently in the direction of the elevator. For a moment, I stared at it. Then, summoning all the courage I had left, I stepped inside it. The glass doors sealed immediately.

The circular platform I had been standing began to rise. My prep team stared with tear streaked cheeks, as I ascended into the arena. Keep it together, I muttered to myself.

At first, I was blinded by the sun. My feet were still firmly planted on the circular platform.

50 seconds...

All of the tributes were placed in a straight line facing the Cornucopia, which was in the middle of a field. Behind it was a large cluster of rocks.

40 seconds...

Well that’s not an option, I thought. If I fell from there, or was pushed, I‘d be dead in seconds.

30 seconds...

I took a look behind me and was relieved to see a huge forest. A river ran alongside it. Better avoid that too, I told myself. I could find another water source.

Around of the Cornucopia was everything you would need for survival. There was weapons, tents, food, everything. I knew I had to get one or two of the back packs lying around the outside. I was fast enough. I could get there and back with no problems.

20 seconds...

I waited patiently on my platform. I could hear my heart thudding against my ribcage. The adrenaline was coursing through my veins. For once since I’d been kidnapped, I knew exactly what I was doing.

10 seconds...

Some of the other tributes had turned around and I knew they were going to make a run straight for the forest. I found Rae a few tributes along from me, her steely gaze placed firmly on the Cornucopia.

5 seconds...   

I turned my head away and got into a good running position. Seconds turned into hours. But still I waited. And waited. Until finally...

“Let the 76th Hunger Games begin.” A loud boom echoed across the arena. I took off. The wind rushed through my hair as I ran for the Cornucopia. I felt my boots pinching into my toes. They’re the wrong size, I thought, a wave of anger rippling through me. I grabbed the first two backpacks I could reach, one black and green, the other brown, and turned on my heel in the other direction.

Other tributes were still running towards the Cornucopia. They weren’t fast like me. Or they just weren’t trying to be as fast as me. Still, I shot past them with ease, hoping to avoid the initial stage of the bloodbath.

I was halfway across the field when I heard the rough footsteps behind me. I dared a look back. Rae was in fierce pursuit, a spear gripped in her hands. Crap, I thought. She raised her arm, a mad look glinting in her eyes. My breathing quickened. Oh god, oh god. She was going to throw it at me.

My feet pounded on the ground, the tight boots digging into my toes. Veering sharply to the right, I sprinted with all the energy I had left. Rae let of a cry of annoyance and I heard her footsteps slowing down. Suddenly, I realised what was about to happen. Dropping down, I rolled on the ground, dodging the spear. Or so I thought. The metal shot past me, catching the back of my ear. Blood began to flood out.

But I didn’t stop. Clutching my ear, I scrambled up just in time to block a punch from Rae. Her glare bored into me. Reacting upon instincts alone, I twisted her arm back, waited for her face to scrunch up in pain and bolted into the forest, my hand practically glued to my ear.

The rucksacks were heavy so I was hopeful that there might be something useful in them. Something that would save my life. Keep me safe in the arena.

Canons sounded from everywhere as I raced through the forest downhill. My feet crunched on the dry leaves. I guessed it didn’t rain much here. That crossed off one source of water from my list.

I knew I couldn’t stop running until I found a good place to sleep, near a water source. If I did, there would be complications for tomorrow. Like dehydration. Or death if someone found me.

My feet were already on fire. The tight leather shoes were pinching tightly on my toes, making me wince every time my feet slammed on the soil. I was mad. I couldn’t believe Mr Coin had actually given me the wrong sized shoes. What kind of childish sabotage was that?

My breath started to come out quickly. I needed a break, needed to start walking instead of running. I wasn’t used to running so far. I had a stitch. Things were already looking bad.

Another canon sounded. Another person dead. Another family left to grieve. Was it Siena? If so, how had she died? Did I even want to know? Of course not.

I slowed my pace to speed walking. I needed my energy if I was going to survive this. I remembered something and laughed bitterly.

I was taken back to that day in class when we learned about the Hunger Games.

“May the odds be ever in your favour” Yeah, I thought. Because the odds were always in my favour. Not. I wouldn’t be stuck in an arena with god knows how many kids trying to kill me if the odds were in my favour. The odds hated me.

It took me four hours of walking to find my spot. There was a large willow that concealed a pond. Perfect, I thought. A hidden water source and a sleeping place far away from anybody and everybody.

I pushed my way through the thick amount of leaves and clambered up the trunk of the large, droopy willow. It was huge and offered a perfect hiding and sleeping spot.

Shuffling to get comfy, I pulled the two rucksacks onto my lap. I needed to check what I had. I unzipped the brown pack first, spilling the contents in front of me. There was a pair of gloves, wool, an empty water bottle and a penknife. Score, I thought.

The second pack, a green and black one, held a thin blanket, a packet of dried fruits, some plant samples (all edible) and a small, stale loaf of bread. I stared at everything I know had. I could do this, right? These things were all helpful.

The gloves were perfect. I could keep my hands warm at all times. The wool would help with making traps for food. The water bottle was obvious. A permanent water storage for when I wasn’t near the tiny pond I now had. The penknife could be used as a weapon – like a throwing knife – or just to clean the animals I killed.

The thin blanket was another obvious one. I had an extra thermal layer. The dried fruits were backup food for when I couldn’t get food anywhere else – emergencies only kind of thing – and the stale loaf of bread was the same.

But the plant samples... It struck me. I’d been provided with what plants I could eat. These three stalks I held in my hand were the only edible plants in the whole arena. If I used these, I’d pretty much always have a food supply. The odds were starting to look up.

I repacked the backpacks carefully and hung them on a high branch, concealed in the leaves of the willow before hopping down and crouching by the lake. Was there a good way to test if the water was poisonous or not?

I sighed. There wasn’t. So I got out the water bottle, unscrewed the lid and filled it to the brim with the lake water. It looked clean enough.

I took a tentative sip and paused, as if waiting for the pain to strike. But there was nothing. The water was fine. I grinned, put the lid back on and put it back in the backpack. Time for traps, I thought to myself. I couldn’t just rely on the food from the packs; I had to hunt my own.

As I walked, I gathered up twigs and sticks to build my traps with. I set about five or six of them, all at least 15 minutes away from each other. It was a good pass time and I immediately felt more secure about my food income.

Around two or three hours later, I began to head back to the willow. I’d been careful about where I walked, making sure I left some kind of sign so I wouldn’t get lost.

Once under the protection of its falling leaves, I sat next to the bark wearily. Tonight, I’d have to eat something from my backpack and tomorrow I’d reset the traps and eat whatever I’d caught from there. I just hoped the traps were good enough to catch something.

I nibbled at a chunk of bread I’d torn off. It was definitely stale but better than nothing. I finished all the water from the water bottle and refilled it. The water was fine so I figured I should stay hydrated.

I looped my belt around the tree and then around me, like Mum had always told me to do, and snuggled under the blanket. No matter how thin it was, it was better than nothing.

The air was cold, making me shiver, and I could see my breath wisp out in front of me. Were they trying to freeze me to death? Considering the circumstances... probably.

Despite the chill, I could still feel myself being lulled into sleep. After a long day, I was in desperate need of sleep, feeling the seriousness of my situation weighing down on me. The chances of me making it out alive were slim to none.

Before long, I was asleep.

 

I was awoken not long after and found myself staring at the Capitol seal in the sky. I counted the tributes faces on the screen. There were no Careers, a girl from District One, both from District Three, a girl from District Four, a boy from District Five and Six, both from Seven and Eight and finally a girl from Nine. The rest were still out there.

That made... eleven dead tributes and seventeen living ones. Even so, the odds were starting to look up. But that only made me feel sick. Who could bear the thought of killing someone else to keep themselves alive? Certainly not me. The very thought of blood made me dizzy.

 

The next morning, I was barely awake when I heard crunching of leaves nearby. I sucked in my breath. Oh god, oh god, oh god. Someone was nearby. I reached for my penknife, for all the good it would do me, undid the belt and perched nimbly on the branch. If I could just see...

I almost fell out of the tree. The next time I saw him, I had been expected a Career pack... but seeing him alone... what was he thinking?!

He must have heard the branch shaking as his head snapped in my general direction. My breath caught in my throat. What if he found me? Would he kill me or would he drag out my death for the cameras? The mere thought of it made me stomach turn.

“Ashby?” He whispered, almost soundlessly. Ha, as if I were going to answer him. Leonis quietly made his way backwards into the safety of the willows branches, causing me to back away. If he looked up...

 He looked up. Why did I even bother? Shock registered on his face before I saw what I was surprised to notice as relief. Why would he possibly be relieved to see me?

“Hey,” He muttered softly. Of all the things I’d imagined him to say, ‘hey’ was not one of them. I was absolutely dumbstruck, something that did not occur often.

I clutched my penknife harder.

“I’ve been looking all over for you but you made yourself pretty hard to find.” He rambled on. I tried to follow but I was too confused. He’d been trying to find me? Why? So he could kill me?

“That was rather the point.” I managed to snap. I tried to glare at him too but I was far too puzzled to carry it out. Leonis smiled as if I’d said something rather hilarious. Oh, I was too tired for this.

“I’ve got your bow.” He waved the sleek, silver bow in the air and held up a quiver full of arrows. Suddenly, he turned meek. “I had to challenge Rae for it, which didn’t exactly please her...” Was this some sort of trick? Was he trying to lure me down so he could kill me? I checked him for weapons. He had his axe strapped to his back but otherwise, aside from the bow, he was unarmed.

He noticed what I was doing and shrugged.

“I didn’t think you’d believe me.” Leonis sounded rather careless.

“You didn’t give me a reason to.” I hissed, holding my penknife in plain sight. His eyes flicked to it for a moment before he made another shrug. Annoyance washed over me.

Suddenly, he was tying a slim rope around an arrow from the quiver. I moved further up the tree, watching him carefully. He grabbed the bow and I realised too late what he was doing. I heard him loose the arrow, which caught my trouser leg and then, I was falling.

I landed heavily on my left side and groaned. He was definitely going to kill me. I didn’t bother trying to move and it seemed I didn’t have to. Leonis grabbed me by my arm and shoved me against the tree, his hand reaching for his axe.

Before I knew which way was up, its point was at my throat. And then he was leaning in, teasing me like he always did.

“If I wanted to kill you, I would have already done it.” He whispered in my ear. To be honest, I would have believed him if not the bloody axe digging into my skin.

“Is that why you’re holding an axe right now?” I asked nervously. Our noses brushed. What was wrong with this boy? One minute he was pulling me down from a tree and shoving an axe at my throat, the next he was trying to be Mr. Romantic? Make up your mind!

“You’re kind of impossible to talk to when you get like this.” He replied huskily, still too close for comfort. I snorted in an unladylike fashion and nudged his nose with mine, because the rest of my body seemed frozen solid.

“Like this?” I asked, the words barely even forming. He grinned, those swoon worthy eyes lighting up.

“All stubborn and self righteous.” He moved closer still. I noticed his axe had dropped to his side. If I wanted to run, now was the time... and yet, somehow I couldn’t.

Ah, this is insane, I thought. This boy is making a fool out of me on live television. The mere thought of us alone in the forest being shown on television jolted me back to reality.

I pushed Leonis away from me and grabbed the bow he had dropped. For a moment, I saw hurt register in his eyes before his grip tightened on his axe. Leonis raised it up before... setting it on the ground.

“Do it.” He challenged. “I dare you.” The glint in his eyes told me he knew I wouldn’t. Couldn’t. I sighed and lowered the bow. This was beyond ridiculous. I should have shot him by now and had done with it. But I couldn’t.

“Why are you here?” I asked, exasperated. Leonis made his way over to me and pried the bow and arrow from my hands, which he dropped on the ground. I felt naked without them. I felt naked every time he gave me a one over with his dark eyes, like he was doing just then.

“What do you mean?” He asked, frowning a little as if the answer were obvious. I sighed and gestured around me.

“I mean why are you here with me when you should be with the Careers?” Again, he gave me a puzzled look. Urgh, boys were so dumb sometimes. I couldn’t hide my impatience.

“I don’t think I should be with the Careers.” He replied simply. What the hell did that mean? Of course he should be with the Careers. That was his only chance of making it out alive.

“You must have hit your head if you seriously think that.” I told him, one eyebrow raised. “They practically guarantee your survival.” He laughed quietly and moved closer, catching my hand in his. I froze, uncertain of what to do next.

“I didn’t hit my head,” He murmured, tugging me towards him. “And maybe I don’t want to survive in a world without you.” I could feel him moving in, dipping his head but I stood motionless. I couldn’t move or speak. The words were lost in translation. Was there some kind of ulterior motive to it? How could he possibly mean that he liked me? He liked Rae!

I jerked back suddenly. I couldn’t do this. Not with him. Not right now. Leonis looked rather unsurprised, but none the less hurt.

“I can’t,” I spluttered. “I just-” He silenced me.

“Ashby, you don’t have to explain.” He replied, giving my hand a small squeeze. “I get it. You don’t feel that way.” If only that were true, I thought. To tell the truth, if he had kissed me, there would have been no doubt that I would kiss him back. Which was exactly the problem. Falling for Leonis was not part of the plan. One of us was bound to die and losing someone else would kill me.

“I-”

“Just forget it ever happened, okay?” He snapped, making his way to the edge of the small pool of water. He sat down in a stony silence and made no sign of wanting to talk. I hesitated for a moment before climbing up the tree to grab my rucksacks.

I brought them down to show him. At first, he looked confused before I spilled the contents out in front of him. He smiled proudly at me.

“Ashby, this is brilliant.” He cried. “You got these at the Cornucopia?” I nodded shyly, wondering if he was still mad at me. To be honest, I’d always be confused when it came to Leonis but that didn’t make trying to figure out where I stood any easier.

“I set some traps too.” I told him. “I’ll need to check them soon. Do you want to come too?” He hesitated for a moment. He’s still mad, I thought. Not mad, but hurt, I corrected myself. I hurt him, and that knowledge stung.

“Yeah, we’d best stick together,” He replied unenthusiastically. I nodded and began to repack the rucksacks. The sudden outburst of happiness faded as quickly as it had come. I sighed and threw one pack over my shoulder.

Leonis got to his feet and held out a hand. When I didn’t respond, he took the other pack from my grasp and shouldered it, walking ahead as if he couldn’t bear the thought of engaging in conversation with me.

But, awkwardly enough, he had no clue which direction we were going in and had to stop and wait for me to pass him. I didn’t bother trying to talk. He clearly didn’t want to and let’s be honest, I had no desire to hurt him further.

I knew the walk would take awhile and having Leonis on my trail didn’t help. I was on edge, the awkward silence falling over us, feeling rather choking to me. If he felt the same, he kept it quiet.

Eventually, I got used to silence and focused on my surroundings, listening to the breeze ripple through the trees, the birds tweeting. Everything was alive around me and I couldn’t help but worry about how far another tribute was away from us.

The walk seemed longer than the last time I’d taken it but we made it to the first trap. I went around it carefully to see what I’d caught. A rabbit was entangled in the first one. Perfect, I thought. Every bit of food was beneficial. I went to the trap and untangled the poor creature. Hopefully, it had died quickly.

Leonis held the rabbit whilst I reset the trap and we moved on. We went to every trap. Some were unsuccessful, others had small creatures trapped. All in all, we weren’t doing too badly.

We packed them in our rucksacks and started the long trek back and this time, Leonis walked at my side.

“So are we... like allies or something?” I asked, confused. Leonis’ motives were still quite unclear to me. I just couldn’t comprehend why he’d leave the Career pack to come and find me. Was it so he could gain my trust and then kill me in my sleep?

“Yeah, I guess so.” He replied. “I mean, I don’t plan on killing you any time soon.” Liar. I bet he was planning it in his head right that moment. We fell into another silence, an uncomfortable atmosphere settling over us. Wasn’t there anything I could do to make a lasting conversation?

“Hey, Ash?” He muttered softly, so softly I almost didn’t hear. I looked at him. “I’m serious. I won’t hurt you.” The intensity of his gaze took me off guard. What was there to say to that?

“Leonis, you can’t promise something like that-”

“I can,” He interrupted. “I promise I’ll never hurt you, not intentionally anyway. And please, call me Leo.” I hadn’t realised we’d stopped walking until he came over to me, entwining our hands. My throat was dry, my head swimming. Feelings I’d never felt before were building up like a tidal wave inside me.

“Okay... Leo,” I smiled awkwardly, looking at my feet. What were we doing? He grinned too, as if me saying his name was something special.

“Don’t worry; I’m not expecting you to promise me anything back.” He told me, giving me a quick one armed hug before pulling away. He began to walk away and all I could do for a moment was stand there, staring, completely dumbstruck. Urgh, what was he doing to me?

I followed awkwardly, too confused and overwhelmed to even notice anything happening around me. My heart was racing; I could hear my pulse beating loudly in my head. My skin was on fire from his touch and it was like he couldn’t even tell. “I get it. You don’t feel that way.” Urgh, if he only knew.

Everything happened too quickly. A twig snapped to my left, something came flying past me. I was on the ground with Leo on top of me before I could even attempt to respond.

“Stay down,” He growled before getting up again. Ha, as if! He had his axe out and began to aim. Leo was about to let the axe fly until I caught sight of who was standing only metres away.

I let out a yelp and shoved into Leo, grabbing hold of the axe.

“What are you doing?” He hissed angrily. I ignored him.

“Siena!” I yelled. She looked at the two of us properly for the first time, relief flooding into her face. I began towards her, feeling a smile grow on my face. Siena made towards me too, looking tired but alive.

I was in arms reach of Siena when I saw Rae behind her. I began to shout a warning but was too late. Rae flung a knife our way and it lodged itself in Siena’s back. Blood came flooding out of her mouth and she started to choke, falling forward into my arms.

“Siena...” I stammered. She looked at me, her eyes wide with pain, coughing up blood. Siena convulsed in my arms, her body having a spasm of pain before she collapsed in my arms, her eyes empty and still. A canon sounded.

“No... no, please. Don’t go.” I choked, feeling tears flooding down my cheeks, dripping onto her face. “Siena? Oh god, no.” Leo made it to my side and yanked me to my feet but I felt paralysed. He was dragging me away and I managed to stumble after him even though I felt as if I were being torn apart from the inside.

I realised blindly that Rae was in hot pursuit of us, but even that couldn’t jog me into reality. My eyes were glued to Siena’s body, which lay lifeless and unmoving on the forest floor. She hadn’t deserved that. She hadn’t deserved to be here, in this hell.

Leo veered to the right sharply, and I fell to the ground, hit my head. The pain didn’t register. I felt nothing, nothing expect Leo’s arm around my waist dragging me to my feet once again. I tried to protest but there was nothing I could do.

“Ash, come on,” He muttered in a panicked tone. “She’ll kill us both if we don’t move.” I managed to scramble up what wits I had left and follow Leo through the woods as we charged away from Rae. I couldn’t say exactly when we lost her exactly, just that when I finally had the courage to look back, she was no longer there.

I fell to my knees, shaking. Leo went to his knees in front of me, his face crumpled in concern.

“Ashby?” He asked wobbly, his voice thick with worry. “Are you okay?” I couldn’t form an answer, let alone think of one. His hand went to my cheek.

“I-” There were no words. “She-” Leo made a hushing noise and pulled me into his arms. All I could do was lay my head on his chest and listen to our breathing.

I couldn’t say how long we stayed like that for. My mind was too scrambled and everything felt numb, void. But eventually, Leo let go and helped me to my feet. We shouldered our rucksacks, he fastened his axe in its sheath, I shouldered the quiver and bow and we set off towards the willow.

It took us a long time to find it again and by the time we’d cooked the creatures we’d trapped, it was nightfall. We stomped out the fire quickly, finished eating and both climbed the willow.

We found that if you climbed high enough that where all the branches met, there was enough room for two to sleep. We hung the rucksacks from the branches higher up and then settled down next to each other.

When the Capitol seal appeared in the sky, I turned away. I couldn’t bear to see Siena’s face in the sky along with other fallen tributes. It turned out there were only three, Siena, who was from Two, a boy from Four and a girl from eleven.

“Ash, you need to sleep.” Leo whispered once the sky had fallen quiet again. I shook my head, not even bothering to lie down.

“I’ll take first watch.” I insisted. For a moment, I thought he’d argue with me, but he didn’t. His eyes just shone with something that looked suspiciously like understanding and he lay down to sleep.

I replayed the moments I’d had with Siena in my mind, not even bothering to fight the tears that came immediately to my eyes. From the moment I’d met her, she’d been nothing but lovely, nothing but trustworthy. She might have been the one thing keeping me sane because of her complete normalcy. And now... now she was gone. The next time I saw Rae Hylen, she was a dead girl.

Without my consent, my thoughts wondered to the boy lying next to me. I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d been wrong about him the entire time. I mean, he had saved my life and when Rae had shown up, he’d run away. If you’re working with someone, you don’t run away, right?

But, on the other hand, it could have been a ploy to earn my trust. The moment I went to sleep, there was nothing stopping him from sticking his axe through my skull. I shivered uncomfortably.

Asleep and bathed in moonlight, Leo looked more peaceful than he ever did in his waking hours. His golden hair looked dishevelled yet more than perfect. I sighed, wishing I could trust him more than anything.

It was like he sensed I was thinking about him because his eyes flickered open and he sat up wearily. He looked at me with his tired eyes.

“You should have woke me.” He murmured, rubbing his eyes and yawning loudly. “We were supposed to rotate watch.” Leo shivered and zipped up his jacket, feeling the cold hit his skin.

“I never said anything about rotating watch with you.” I replied indignantly. Leo sighed and prodded me in the stomach.

“I didn’t think I’d need to tell you to wake me so you could sleep.” He teased, eyebrow raised. I moved closer to him, fighting the smile that threatened to appear on my face. He pretended not to notice.

“I’m not tired.” I told him but a yawn betrayed me. Leo raised both eyebrows and laughed quietly.

“Yeah, okay.” He replied, unconvinced. “Sleep, now.” I rolled my eyes and made a small salute before lying down next to him. Needless to say, I was beginning to feel rather uncomfortable. We turned on our sides to face each other but I began to really wish I hadn’t. I found myself staring at his features, his lashes, his perfect nose, his blonde hair which was starting to curl slightly.

“I can feel you staring.” He laughed, not bothering to open his eyes. I blushed heavily, embarrassed beyond description. Leo reached out, grabbed my waist and pushed me up against him, making me catch my breath.

“Go to sleep, Ash.” He kissed my nose before falling silent again. Leo’s hand around my waist kept me planted where I was. I could feel every part of me on fire from where our bodies met but it was like Leo hadn’t even noticed, his casual demeanour preventing me from knowing how he felt at that moment.

I tried to steady my breathing and ended up managing to fall asleep, listening to the outside world which felt so distant as I lay there with Leo beside me.

 

Leo woke me up as he shifted in his sleep. The sun was just rising and I dared not moved for the fear I’d wake him up. Not that I could move anyway. Leo’s hand was still on my waist but my leg was lodged between his legs, making me blush every time I thought of it and my hands were holding onto his jacket as if my life depended on it.

I sighed silently, wondering how on earth I could get out of this awkward situation without having to talk to Leo about it. He was sure to find it hilarious when he woke up.

Maybe I could just pretend I’m still asleep, I thought to myself. But before I could shut my eyes, Leo’s started fluttering open. Urgh, why do I even bother?

“Morning,” He muttered huskily, his eyes meeting mine.

“Morning,” I managed to reply shakily. Leo’s eyes travelled to his hand, and then to our legs. I held my breath, not daring to move. I saw him turn a light shade of pink before he looked at me again.

“Uh... sorry.” He murmured before he moved his leg away. I quickly shuffled back a few spaces, immediately missing the warmth emitting from his body. We both sat up, trying not to meet each other’s eye in case either of us practically died from embarrassment. How much of that had the cameras caught? Presumably all of it, I thought miserably.

“We’d better check the traps at some point.” Leo told me after awhile. I nodded.

“Definitely,” I agreed. “But we’ll go round a different way round. Rae might still be there.” Leo met my eyes, his face a frown, and nodded.

He climbed down the tree first, looking around to check the coast was clear. He reappeared at the base of the tree and nodded, giving me the thumbs up.

I passed him the two rucksacks and shouldered my quiver and bow before continuing down. As soon as I touched down on the ground, I went to help Leo with the food left over from yesterday. It was already cooked so we didn’t bother making a fire again.

We ate quickly, wanting to set off towards the traps as quickly as possible. I felt nervous, the prospect of death feeling closer than ever since Siena had died in my arms.

Leo gave my arm a reassuring squeeze before heading off in front to scout ahead. I grabbed an arrow from my quiver and placed it in my bow, ready to shoot anyone who came near us.

Specifically Rae...

Anger tore through me as I remembered Siena crumpling into my arms. The grief followed shortly after, and suddenly I felt like all the energy was being drawn away from me.

Rae will be dead soon, I reassured myself. I’m going to kill her myself.

Leonis must have somehow sensed my thoughts because he reappeared moments later and offered me a sympathetic smile. But I didn’t want his sympathy. All I want from him was trust, which I was sure he already knew.

We found the traps again and I stripped the meat from the catches we made, storing it in the packs. There were some bushes of berries along the way but I didn’t dare pick any. Mum tried to teach me which ones to eat but Fir had always been better at that.

Leo seemed to know of one berry that was edible though. He called it a ‘blackberry’. It was very nice but I was really scared that I was eating Nightlock without realising.

Leo wrapped up some of the berries and put them in the small pocket at the front of the pack. A torn look flashed across his face and he leaned against a tree for support.

“How are we gunna do it, Ash?” He sighed, clearly exhausted. At first, I wasn’t sure what he meant. That is until I remembered we weren’t having a cheerful walk in the woods or something. We were still in the arena. We were still pitted against at least 11 other tributes. We were still against each other.

“How are we going to kill all these people and still have a soul left at the end?” Leo carried on. I wanted him to stop, needed him to stop. I couldn’t bear listening to it, I didn’t want the truth.

“Leo, don’t-”

“No, Ash. I won’t drop it.” He insisted, turning on me. “We just saw someone die. And I’m expected to kill people like Siena and not care. I can’t do it.”

“Neither can I.” I replied honestly. Jeez, the first truthful thing we say to each other and it’s completely morbid and depressing. Leo cracked a sad grin.

“So we’re screwed then?” He laughed, but I could hear the sob he was holding back. Oh god. I was no good with crying people. Thankfully, Leo took a deep breath and walked away, dropping the topic.

I decided to wait for him where I was. He’d find his way back after he’d calmed down. To be honest, I needed to collect myself as well. This confusing relationship I had with Leonis had to stop. My mind was more scrambled than it had ever been before and every time I even thought of his name, I could feel a shiver course through my body. Embarrassing or what?

I’d tried to avoid this very situation I was in: walking around an arena with a boy I wasn’t sure I could trust. But he hadn’t killed me yet... did that me Leo was telling the truth? Or was he playing it out and leading me to an incredibly painful death by the hands of Rae and the rest of the career pack? He’d have to have some pretty epic acting skills for that but trust me, nothing was beyond that boy.

So either the crowd was furious at Leo for becoming a traitor and ‘falling for the enemy’ (which is just doubtful) or they were laughing at me with Leonis at this very moment.

Thinking of Leo as a traitor stung though, and I really wish it didn’t. I’d desperately tried to detach myself from him but somehow, he’d managed to crawl back into my head every single time. Even when I was sure I desperately hated him, he was at the back of my mind, all brilliant brown eyes and golden hair.

I wasn’t sure I could do it anymore. I just wanted honesty. Was that so much to ask?

The ironic thing was, the only one who had been completely honest with me from the start, other than Siena, was Mr Coin. Of all the people.  

I was jolted from my thoughts when the last person I expected to see again crashed through the bushes towards me, sword raised, a bloodthirsty look glinting in amidst their eyes.

“Danyell?”

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