Fallen from Grace (Hunger Games)

68th Hunger Games

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6. Stupid Perfect

    “District 8 really has the shortest end of the stick, doesn’t it?” Liam said as he stared at Emily from across the table, his head resting in his palm as he played with his breakfast.

    “Yeah,” she sighed and bit into something sweet she couldn’t quite identify. 

    Their mentor nodded in agreement. District Eight had no plant life and hadn’t learned any skills that would help them survive, let alone wield a weapon. Perhaps the only helpful thing that their district could teach them was how to sew a gash and first aid for times something went wrong in the factory. “Survival is the best you two could do. Whatever the arena has to offer, you two should be prepared to fight back.”

    “What about weapons? Self-defense?” Liam looked to Phox.

    “You have all day for three days to learn something. Make good use of your time,” was all he said. That was it? Make good use of their time? The best they could do was stay at a station the whole day and learn something. But that was one thing. There was no way they could learn and remember everything in three days to help them . . .

    Emily pursed her lips and poked her eggs with her fork. Out of the two of them, Liam had what it took to survive. He was a fighter, physically and mentally. He had hidden strength no one would guess a lean build like his could carry. He fought before when they were kids and brawled with his brothers. He was a survivalist . . . Emily was an escapist . . .

    When the two finished breakfast, Phox shooed them away and traveled down the elevator to the Training Center. Liam looked down at Emily, noticing how quiet she had been at the table and took her hand. “You’ll be okay . . .” he reassured her.

    “We can’t know for sure . . .” she muttered.

    “They can’t hurt us here. The Capitol wouldn’t let them—”

    “That’s not what I’m worried about . . .” she interrupted him and squeezed her hand, her tiny fingers trembled in his large warm hand. “They’ll watch us . . . they’ll study what we’re capable of . . . they’ll figure out what makes us tick . . .”

    “Em, hey,” he stopped her and took her face between his hands. They burned like fire against her pale face and she felt safe against his warmth. “We’ll be fine . . . they won’t find us interesting. We’re the most boring district in Panem,” he joked to lighten the mood. “The worst we can do is knit them a scarf.”

    The redhead chuckled and took his hands. He always felt so warm, somehow he always radiated heat compared to her cold skin. Emily lightly smiled and looked up at him from under her dark lashes. “We DO knit scarves rather threateningly . . .” she added.

    Liam smiled at her and pet her hair before the elevator doors opened. They walked in side by side, immediately noticing the Careers eyeing them when they entered. There were only a few other outside district tributes gathered around one of the trainers. The three Career districts stuck to one side while the others stuck to another. It was as if being near the trained killers would get them instantly killed. 

    “Maybe breathing in their breath is poisonous,” Liam leaned in close to her and whispered.

    Emily stifled her laughter and continued closer into the group.

    Turned out that natural causes were more common than being murdered. Not that any of the “natural disasters” were natural to begin with in the arena. It was still genocide no matter what. Emily listened carefully to the terrible facts, even if she was aware of a majority of them. Ignoring the trainer’s words would get her killed.

    Once he was done speaking, the tributes scattered around the Training Center and went to whatever was deemed useful for them. The Careers, unsurprisingly, went toward the weapons and showed off what they learned in the academy back in their districts.

    The redhead meekly walked toward the edible bugs and plants station, knowing it would come in handy. Emily looked over her shoulder to Liam, finding him all the way in the archery station. She hesitated and watched him in confusion, what was he thinking? The Careers would target him if he learned how to shoot. They’d find him as a threat!

    She swallowed the lump in her throat and turned back to the trainer at her first station. 

    “Come on, try to punch me,” Liam told her.

    Little eight-year-old Emily blinked at the boy, confused and fearful. “No.”

    “Come on. I’m helping you.”

    “How is this helping . . .?”

    “In case you get in trouble. Then you’ll be able to protect yourself. I’m not gonna be there for you all the time.”

    Emily pursed her lips, her eyes changed from concerned to hurt. He wouldn’t? Why? How come?

    “Don’t look at me like that . . .” Liam sighed. “What I mean is, what if I can’t get to you on time? You’re not just going to stand there and take it, are you? Or run away?”

    Running away was always the easiest. “I don’t know . . .”

    “The answer is ‘no, I’m not going to run away or stand there. I’m going to hurt people to protect myself’,” he said.  The ten-year-old boy watched the fidgeting redhead. “Say it.”

    “Oh!” she nodded and scrunched a handful of the end of her dirty dress. “No . . . I’m . . . not going to run away . . . or stand there,” the little girl repeated and changed weights from one foot to the other. “I’m going to . . . to hurt people . . . to protect myself . . .”

    “Okay,” Liam nodded. “If you say so. Now hit me.”

    “Right now?”

    “Yeah right now,” he nodded. “You have to throw a punch or kick, or something without warning. They’re going to hurt you, you have to do something before they do.”

    “But I’ll hurt you!” she argued.

    “I’m going to hurt people to protect myself, right?” Liam raised a brow at her.

    “Yeah, but—”

    “No buts, Em. Hit me.”

    “But—”

    “Hit me!” he repeated, close to losing his patience by the obvious sign of his tone. “Just throw a punch—Would it make you feel better if you hit my palms instead?” the boy tried instead and raised both his hands in front of him.

    Her green eyes stared at his palms for a couple of seconds then to his blue eyes and nodded without a verbally agreement. 

    “You’re such a lamb,” he rolled his eyes at her with a smile.

    “Am not . . .” she pouted and punched his palm.

    “Are so,” Liam chuckled.

    “Am NOT.”

    “Are SO.”


    The rest of the day went on and Emily stuck to the survival stations while Liam stayed at the archery station until they were all dismissed to rest for the night. The two Eight tributes left together once it was there turn to go and Emily didn’t look up at Liam. She was mad. Of course she would be. Sure, he meant well to learn a weapon, but she saw how well he did. He was good . . . too good for a beginner. If the Careers didn’t notice their first day, they’d notice their second day if he decided to train how to shoot again.

    The elevator doors opened to District Eight’s floor and Emily walked out before he did. “Hey.”

    “I’m not talking to you . . .”

    “You’re talking to me now.”

    No response.

    “Will it make you feel better to hit me in the face?”

    “No.”

    “Yeah it will.”

    “No, it won’t . . .”

    “You’re mad at me. I get that. But we both can’t go into survival stations. One of us has to learn how to handle a weapon.”

    “But then the Careers will notice you,” she fought back and turned toward her best friend. “I think you’re a little too oblivious of your appearance.”

    “Huh?”

    “You don’t exactly have the physique of a normal District 8 citizen,” she nodded and pointed at him with her hands. “You have broad shoulders and have a triangular hourglass figure, which means that you have more upper body strength. You may not have the bulk of the muscleheads from the Career districts, but you’re unusually strong for your build too. I HOPE the Careers are dumb so they wouldn’t notice you. You’ve been a threat the moment they saw you,” Emily growled at him.

    “What am I suppose to do, Em? Just pray that they won’t target me when we get in the arena? Completely ignore other useful skills I could learn? Whether you want to believe it or not, but everyone is a threat to them. Even if we appear like easy kills to them, they’ll still come after us. We’re the only things that keep them from coming out alive. You do what you have to and I’ll do what I have to,” the man argued. “Please understand, we both can’t learn the same things to survive together. One of us has to know how to fight and the other has to—”

    He was immediately stopped short when he felt a blinding pain in his ribs. Liam groaned and doubled over as he held onto his side and stared at Emily, now staring at her eye level. “You TAUGHT me how to fight,” she reminded him. “You and your brothers have been doing so since I was eight. ONE of us has to know how to fight? So you’re saying I don’t know HOW or that I’m not as good as you?”

    “I’m not saying that at all . . .” he growled.

    “Then what?”

    “What I MEANT is that you don’t have the mentality to kill . . .” he sighed and straightened himself, rubbing his side where Emily hit. “No matter how many angry growls you spew at me, I KNOW you’re not ready to murder. I think you’re a great fighter. Not as good as me,” he shrugged, “but breaking someone’s bones is drastically different and you’re more than aware of that . . .”

    Emily pursed her lips and looked away from him. She didn’t know how to respond. How COULD she respond to that?

    Liam ran a hand through his hair and poked her nose. “Did that punch make you feel better?”

    “A little . . .” she muttered angrily.

    “I said you could punch me in the face, not my ribs,” he joked.

    “I can’t reach your face. You’re tall,” she narrowed her eyes at him.

    Liam lowered himself so he was eye-to-eye with her once more. “How about now?” Emily stared at him with annoyed eyes and pursed her lips. She let out an exhaled breath through her nostrils gently slapped his cheek before she turned away toward the bedroom. “That was a weak punch.”

    “You’re too pretty to punch,” she called back and rolled her eyes. Emily could hear his chuckle. He somehow always knew how to brighten the atmosphere after a fight. It was unfair how he wouldn’t allow her to be mad at him more than five minutes.

    Stupid perfect friend . . .

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