“Stupid… brave… they’re really synonyms, aren’t they?” Orpheus asked, keeping his voice down so the retreating Peacekeepers couldn’t hear him. They had made their point. Not that Orpheus was going to heed it. He wasn’t going to change his plan, and as much as he loved the instrument they had taken from him, he didn’t need it to change the mind of every person who stopped to listen. Was that arrogant of him, to believe he could? Perhaps. But that wasn’t going to stop him. “Point is, I think it was brave,” he told Rue, not moving his hand away from her cheek. “Next time, though… I don’t want you or anyone else to get hurt because of what I’m planning. The whole point of it is sort of that fewer people get hurt in the long run.” He gently rubbed her back, not even looking up to see if the train was ready for them to board. He figured it must be soon, or else the Peacekeepers wouldn’t have taken the guitar yet. Orpheus frowned just a little bit, running over her words in his head. Hope makes you stupid. Had she been referring to him holding onto the guitar, or had she been referring to jumping in front of him herself? If the latter, which he had first assumed… did that mean that she’d had hope, even for a split second? He couldn’t help the tiny, proud smile that touched his lips. The pride wasn’t for himself. It was for Rue.
Of course he would think that. Of course he would think that brave and stupid were the same. It made sense of all his decisions, everything he’d done up to then. Of course...what was the difference, really? She wasn’t sure. Only that staying alive often required a lack of either one. She didn’t move away. She didn’t want to. She knew, logically, that this was stupid. But she found herself trusting Orpheus more than she wanted to. It was very hard,apparently, to be reasonable under these circumstances. “I know you don’t, but if you bring hope, it’s going to get people hurt. That’s just the way it is.” She told him quietly. “I wish there was another way, but can you really say you don’t think your plan will hurt anyone? Hope itself is stupid and painful, and it makes you do stupid things, and if people fight, then they’ll die. If you’re going to go through with this, you have to understand the consequences.” She wasn’t trying to be blunt. But she didn’t see any way to soften her words. The truth was ugly, always had been. She looked away from his smile. He’d already managed to ignite a tiny flame in her heart, and that scared her. It seemed he was bringing hope whether the people wanted it or not.
Orpheus knew his plan had flaws. He knew his plan required people to be brave and reckless. He knew you couldn’t have revolution without pain or death. It wasn’t that the Capitol was just going to get scared and back down. He knew it wouldn’t work like that. But he also thought that the people who wanted to fight would step up and protect those that didn’t. Giving people hope wasn’t going to force them to give up their lives. It would hopefully inspire some people to fight to protect the people who couldn’t or didn’t want to. “No,” Orpheus admitted softly, shaking his head. “You can’t have change without some people getting hurt. I know that. But I also know that there will be people who are brave enough to fight, who… who will choose to lay their life down if it means protecting the people who shouldn’t have to be fighting. Well… nobody should have to fight, but… I think you know what I mean. The people who are too young or too old to know the feeling of a weapon in their hand. The people who are more inclined to give support and healing and art. There will be people who rise up to protect them. And… they may be hurt. They may die. But so many lives will be saved.” Was that why Orpheus was so insistent on following through with his plan? He didn’t know. He just… he knew he couldn’t ask people to die for a cause he wasn’t willing to die for first. “Hope isn’t an easy business. But you won’t convince me it’s not worth it.”
Something shifted in Rue as she listened. And slowly, she came to the conclusion that she’d been wrong. She had met people like him, or so she’d thought. People who didn’t understand. Who didn’t have blood on their hands. Who didn’t have to lie about their age to feed their family, and consequently get entered into the games before they were old enough. Not that anyone was ever old enough. Not that anyone was ever old enough that this could be okay. She’d fallen into the trap of believing her own pain was the worst. Of believing no one else could have a history of blood. She’d felt sorry for herself, maybe, or maybe she’d just forgotten that she wasn’t the only one in this. She wasn’t angry with him. She wasn’t upset. Her cheek stung, but it seemed insignificant in the face of what he was telling her. She looked at him, expression serious, and she thought maybe she was seeing him for the first time. Maybe if she’d been someone else, she would have left it at that. Maybe she would have insisted she wanted nothing to do with him. And she still wasn’t sure he was right about hope. But it seemed he’d managed to touch something inside her, even in this brief conversation. And that’s not what she did. “Who was it?” She asked very, very quietly, holding his gaze. “Who did they take from you?”
Orpheus understood. He had been naïve, once, had believed that the world could be changed by people who wanted it to be fair, and that nobody would have to be hurt. He had believed, once, that everyone was fundamentally good. He still believed that everyone had the potential to be good, if they took a good long look at themselves, but he was also aware that nobody was ever going to just… do that. It needed to be forced on them if it was going to work, and then they needed to accept it. It wouldn’t be easy. The people that were in charge were cruel, and their cruelty benefited them. As long as it did that… they had no motive to stop being cruel. They didn’t care how many people were hurt. Orpheus had believed that the world was good, that the world could be fair. And then he’d lost Eurydice. He hadn’t lost hope, not all of it at least. And part of him was still foolish enough to believe that maybe he could get her back, but… his first attempt had just made things worse for her. Did the Capitol know who he was? Would they be keeping an eye on him because of it? He shook the thought away. If they were really keeping an eye on him, wouldn’t they wanted to avoid him being reaped? Or had he been reaped on purpose, so they could get rid of him? But in getting rid of him, they were also giving him a platform. They were going to hear him speak, whether they wanted to or not. The question caught him off guard. He blinked a little bit, brow creasing as he pulled back just enough to look at Rue in a bit of a new light. She was more perceptive than he would have guessed. Not that he had underestimated her, just that… he forgot that people could be good at reading others. He had never had that skill. He was good at knowing the right thing to say, just not good at figuring people out just by looking at them. “Her name was Eurydice,” he managed after a moment, swallowing. “I was going to marry her.”
Rue had never had the time to be naïve. She had never been in a situation that allowed such things as hope and song to exist freely. She had blood on her hands already, and she was willing to fight to survive, and, more importantly, win. If she won, her family would never worry about food again. If she won, she could finally protect them. Did she value their lives above others? Yes. She did. Above others, above her own, above her guilt. If killing protected them, then she’d kill. Not even Orpheus could convince her not to. Maybe she wasn’t good. Maybe she wasn’t a good person. But she was alive. Orpheus seemed to be a good person. He had asked her not to kill, and he had tried to help her have hope. She hated it when good people were reaped. Hated it. If she had to survive, then let her survive against people who gave what they got, not people who were genuinely trying. She had no idea that the Capitol might know who he was. She didn’t know him, she didn’t know his history or what had brought him to this moment, all she knew was that he held a rare thing in his hand and she didn’t want to see it crushed. She had spent a long time learning to read people, a skill that came fairly naturally to her. She understood how people worked. It made it even harder to do what she needed to do, though, because when she understood someone, she wanted to help them, not hurt them. She didn’t look away as he answered. It was probably cruel of her to make him remember this. She had just...wanted to know. “Dead or gone?” She asked quietly, eyes knowing. There was an important distinction between the two.
Orpheus had been lucky. Mr. Hermes had shielded him from the worst of the world, had taken him in when the world had told him it didn’t care if he lived or died. He had been sheltered, for as long as he could be, coming from the Districts. He had always known that things were bad, he had always dreaded being reaped, but his name had only ever been in the required number of times. He hadn’t had siblings to protect, and though he knew he would have to abandon music eventually to find a job the Capitol would approve of, he had been allowed to learn and play. Most other children didn’t get that privilege. But the cruelty of the world had hit him as well. Not as harshly and not as soon as it had hit Rue, but… enough. He knew what the Capitol was like. He knew idealism would get him nowhere. Idealism didn’t save lives. But there was a difference between idealism and optimism. Optimism was hope. Optimism meant believing that the world could still be saved, that people could still be kind, that a world existed where people wouldn’t be slaughtered needlessly to keep a bunch of rich people entertained and in power. Orpheus didn’t know if he was a good person. He hadn’t ever thought about it. But he knew he wanted the world to be a place where good people could exist, where people had the space and resources to be able to care about other people’s lives as much as they cared about their own. Panem was not that world. “Death would have been a kinder fate,” Orpheus told Rue quietly, risking a glance up at the Peacekeepers to make sure he wouldn’t be overheard. “She was caught collecting extra firewood. They took her. I… I don’t know what they did to her. But I hope… I hope it was a quick death.” He knew what the Capitol could do. Not all of it, but enough. And all of it… he would never wish it on anybody. Especially not Eurydice, especially not for the crime of trying to survive, trying to keep herself and the person she loved alive.
Rue hadn’t been shielded. She had never been shielded from reality, cold and bleak as it was. Her father had tried his best, she knew, and she held nothing against him. It wasn’t his fault the world was wrong. No...she held the Capitol responsible for every life, love, and innocence lost. If she were a vengeful person she might have wanted to see them go through the pain and terror she and so many others lived with daily. The truth was that she wasn’t angry enough for that. Not yet, anyway. All she wanted was to survive. If she could do that and the people responsible got away with this unscathed, that was fine by her. She didn’t want revenge, she wanted her life back. She wanted to live in a world where she was allowed to be a kid. And she was tired. She was tired of carrying her world on her back. She was tired of loss. Of pain. Of fear. She could understand why some people stopped caring. She could understand the appeal of betting on the Games and trying to forget they were real lives. Real children. She was afraid of hope, because it could hurt her when nothing else could. She was afraid of caring because that meant you had something to lose, and the Capitol was very good at taking things away. And maybe she wanted to stop caring entirely. Maybe, if she hadn’t been reaped, she would have grown up cold and heartless. Maybe she would have abandoned her passion in music, abandoned her ability to love, in exchange for safety and a warm place to sleep at night and enough food that she no longer wanted more. If she were offered that deal...would she take it? She focused on Orpheus, eyes gentle now that she understood him better. For better or for worse, she hadn’t yet lost herself. And she cared. “I’m sorry.” She whispered. “I...I hate them. I want to hate them. But mostly I’m just scared of them.” She took a deep, shuddering breath, the slap fading from her cheek, but not her memory. She knew what they did to people who broke the law. She knew far too well. “My sister was killed for singing the wrong kind of song,” she told him a moment later, voice tiny. “She was ‘harboring rebellious intent towards the Capitol’.” Her voice was bitter, and it mocked the Capitol accent without her intention. “She was nine. I was seven.”
Orpheus didn’t know what Rue was thinking. He didn’t know what she thought of the world beyond what she had already said, didn’t know that she would choose not to care, if she had the chance. Orpheus figured a good many people would take that deal, if it were offered to them. He could never be one of them. He wouldn’t be the same person, if he didn’t care. He thought people would end up a lot more like the Capitol if they chose to stop caring. The Capitol was cruel because it had taught itself it didn’t need to care about the Districts. If the people in the Districts chose to become cruel and heartless… wasn’t it possible they would start acting like the Capitol? Wasn’t it possible they would look at the kids that were reaped and shrug, because as long as it didn’t impact them, they could keep trying to find things to fill the gaping hole in their chest. They would become greedy, insatiable… humans were meant to care. If their ability to care was taken away, they would find a way to make up for it. And the Capitol was living proof that whatever alternative they found would only hurt people. “You don’t have to be sorry,” he told Rue after a moment. “It’s not your fault that we live in a place where the people in charge don’t care. Where they hurt people for trying to live. It’s not your fault for not being able to hate them, because they make it as hard to do that as possible. They want us to be scared. But… I think that’s because they’re scared of what we could do if we all got angry. If we all had hope. All… all I want to be able to do is be able to prove that caring… that having hope… that enough of us together could fight for a better future. That we could win. But I know why it’s hard to have hope.” He listened as Rue began to talk, his gaze probing for the Peacekeepers to make sure they kept their distance. He moved his hand back from her cheek, giving her just a little bit of space. It was hard, hearing of the people hurt by the Capitol. The wrongs that were so common that nobody took note of them when they happened. They were from the same district. He should have heard about her sister dying. It should have been made out as a tragedy. But those kinds of things happened so often that nobody even thought to mention it. “That was wrong,” he told her softly, voice firm. There were no words. ‘Sorry’ didn’t cut it. He was tired of being surrounded by tragedy. That was what the song was for. All of the feelings there weren’t words enough to say.
Orpheus was probably right, too. About caring. About everything. But Rue was going to be twelve years old in a few days, and she already had more responsibility than plenty of adults. Rue was technically too young even to be here. And she was tired. She was very, very tired. Oh, she wasn’t going to give up. Maybe she was wrong about what she wanted, maybe if she really didn’t want to care she would just accept she was going to die. It would have been funny if it wasn’t so sad. Orpheus, who knew caring was a good thing, who probably had more hope than all of District 11 combined...knew he was going to die and had accepted it. Rue, who wasn’t sure caring was worth it, who had lost hope a while ago...still planned on surviving. Still did everything she could to make it through. She shook her head a little. She knew what she actually wanted, if she let herself think about it. She wanted the Hunger Games to not exist. She wanted to have enough food. She wanted the world Orpheus seemed to believe was possible, enough to be able to sing. “You’re not just saying that...are you?” It wasn’t really a question. She could tell he meant it, meant everything he was saying. Somehow, he wasn’t just trying to be kind to the poor girl who drew the short straw. Not that that alone wouldn’t have been surprising, of course, people were not kind. But if they weren’t kind, then they were never, ever honest. And if they were never honest, then it wasn’t even possible for them to honestly believe the Capitol could be defeated just by people punching back when they got punched, You wanted to live? You took the hit. You did not meet their eyes. You did not cry out, She glanced at the Peacekeepers, eyes widening just a little as she saw them. She couldn’t help it, their mere presence was enough to terrify her. How she’d managed to take the blow for Orpheus...she didn’t know. It had been a split second decision. Her cheek still felt hot from the strike, and tender to the touch, and she knew she would have a bruise, but...she didn’t regret it. It seemed Orpheus was right. He had ignited a flame in her already, and whatever she told herself, she didn’t want to snuff it out again just yet. “It was four years ago,” she murmured, looking down. “And a quicker death than starving, or getting reaped. I know it was wrong, I know...I know this is all wrong. And I want to believe it’s possible to fix it.” She looked up at him, eyes wide. “Is it really possible?” She murmured, voice a little desperate. “Is it really possible that it doesn’t have to be like this?”
Orpheus watched Rue for a long moment, wishing he could know what she was thinking. Wishing he could help her have hope, wishing he could take this burden away from her, because the Games… the games were something he couldn’t fix, at least not this year. Maybe next year… maybe his plan would work by next year. Maybe there would be no more children sent to their deaths if Orpheus managed to do this right. But if he couldn’t even give hope to a girl from his district, a girl who had likely grown up just steps from places he was familiar with… how could he hope to inspire an entire nation? He wasn’t going to give up, but… it seemed that this might be harder than he had originally anticipated. It seemed like he might have been getting through to Rue, though… even if it had resulted in her getting hurt. It was a sharp reminder that what he wanted to happen was going to happen through bloodshed, whether he liked it or not. “No… I don’t tend to just say things. I mean… sometimes I say things at the wrong time or I say things before I’ve thought about whether it’s a good idea to say them out loud, but… I don’t say things that I don’t completely mean.” Although that likely meant he would start talking about revolution with someone who sympathized with the Capitol… he shook the thought away. He doubted anyone who was part of the Games would agree with the Capitol, unless they were a Career. Okay… so he’d just have to figure out who the Careers were and avoid mentioning it to them. Orpheus knew people. He had seen how hardened they were by the world – by the Capitol – and he knew what it would take to break them out. But what he didn’t believe was that people were inherently unkind. He didn’t believe they were inherently dishonest. If you were kind to someone – if you took the first step to show them you meant no ill will… a good portion of the time, they felt safe to be kind in return. Orpheus believed that the districts – and perhaps even the Capitol – were populated by good, well-meaning people. Well-meaning people who had been beaten down and told countless times it was every man for himself. So what if people thought him insane when he showed them kindness? If it meant they felt empowered to show some themselves… it was worth it. So Orpheus listened. He listened as Rue told him something she probably kept close to her chest, words she probably hadn’t told many other than her family. When a family member disappeared, you stayed silent. It was the best way to stay alive, to avoid being taken advantage of. Orpheus knew that, yet he doggedly avoided living that way. “Yes,” he murmured, hazel eyes meeting dark, “I believe it is. I believe… it will take time, and… and courage, and hope, but I think it is fixable. I think there’s a world where we don’t have to live in fear. And I’m going to fight for it in the only way I know how.”
Rue was trying her absolute hardest not to have hope. She didn’t want hope. She didn’t want to think about it, she didn’t want to imagine what it would be like to be able to fall that far. It was...terrifying that Orphhad already managed to stoke even this small flame in her heart. She could feel it burning. She wanted to extinguish it, and yet she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She’d already gotten hurt for it. She’d already been hurt for having hope. What would happen in the Games? What would happen if this person managed to infect her with more hope, managed to make her believe things had even the smallest chance of being okay? She met his eyes, expression serious. “You should, sometimes,” she warned him quietly. “Say things you don’t mean, I mean. You never know who might be listening. Who might turn you in. You can’t trust people, not...not even me.” Her voice broke a little at the last word. She wanted to be someone he could trust, but...truthfully? Was she? “And the Careers,” she added, trying to get past the uncomfortable moment. “You don’t know who might be willing to put you in danger.” Rue didn’t know people as well as Orpheus did. She tried to read people, but that was to stay alive, not to figure them out. She didn’t known how to begin to understand people l not really. She didn’t believe people were kind, not really. She didn’t think that it was possible that everyone had good intentions, or even most people. How would they be where they were now, if anyone was trying? Wouldn’t they have stopped this long ago? If the Capitol had any chance of listening, why hadn’t it done it already? Hadn’t people already tried? But she did want to believe in him, this stranger. She wanted him to be right. She wanted to know how to feel...it wasn’t fair, and she couldn’t do anything about it, and she just wanted to believe that he could. “I believe you’ll try,” she managed softly. “I believe you can do that, at least. And I...I won’t kill unless I have to. I don’t want to kill anyone, anyway, I’m just planning to stay off the ground…” She didn’t know if it was wise to trust him with that, but it was too late to take it back now.
Orpheus knew that hope was dangerous. He knew that a lot of people didn’t have it as a choice, not because they weren’t capable of it. Hope meant that you could be hurt so much more when it came crashing down. Sometimes, it was easier to be desperate, it was easier to believe that nothing would ever turn out in your favor. Orpheus knew that was how the districts lived, afraid to believe that there might be a world where their voices were important, a world where they wouldn’t have to send their children to die. A world where they didn’t have to hate themselves every year for the relief that swept over them when it wasn’t their kid, or their friend, or their sibling. “I’m not a very good liar,” Orpheus admitted, a blush coloring his face. “I find it’s probably safer for me to be genuine than it would be for me to be caught in a lie. At least then people know what they get when they look at me instead of having to be afraid that I’m hiding even more. I think… well, honestly, people are going to underestimate me. In fact, I’m sort of counting on that.” It was an odd thing to admit, but it was, like everything else he had told Rue, the truth. If the Capitol knew the kind of threat he could pose, they would never let him compete in the games. They would stage an accident and declare that it was a tragedy and probably draw someone else from his district to replace him. People underestimating him would also probably save his life. People wanted to get rid of the toughest contestants first. They would leave the weak ones alive for a while, conserve their energy and let the arena take care of them. Or, take care of them themselves in a few days when they were all weakened by being in the games. Orpheus had spent too much of his life watching, learning, hating every moment, every time a child died. “I’d rather trust the wrong person than distrust everyone,” Orpheus admitted after another moment. He knew he and Rue were very different. He knew he seemed naïve and idealistic, he seemed like someone who believed in something impossible. But he wasn’t going to stop believing in it until everyone else did, too. Until what he believed in was a reality. If he got killed because he trusted the wrong person? Well… that was unfortunate, but at least he hadn’t made any snap judgements about who to trust and who not to trust. The Games were full of snap judgements. Orpheus was determined to go against them as much as he could, even though he knew it would cost him his life. “That’s all I can ask,” he said after a long moment, catching Rue’s gaze. “You don’t have to believe that I’ll succeed. Just… have faith that I won’t stop trying. And do your best not to hurt anyone unless you absolutely have to in order to survive.” He didn’t seem to process that Rue had just given him her strategy. He wasn’t going to use it against her, and he wasn’t going to repeat it to anyone – that was her private business. He wasn’t going to make a big deal out of the fact she had mentioned it.
Rue was one of the people who were struggling against hope. She didn’t mean to, she wasn’t trying to give up, but she had to face the facts. She was small and stealthy, sure, she was good with a slingshot and good at plants, but that wasn’t enough. The Hunger Games were a misnomer. Hunger wasn’t the most common cause of death. That would have been boring for the audience. They wanted blood. And every single year, that was what they got. She watched Orpheus, expression staying quietly the same. So he was hoping to be underestimated, too. That was a good strategy. She was relying on it, though she wasn’t sure she wanted to admit that, even to him. They probably would underestimate him, to be fair. They tended to think little of anyone who looked weak or wasn’t aggressive, and Orpheus was two for two. She hoped he knew what he was doing, because being underestimated...it didn’t come without its drawbacks. Winning meant you needed to make a strategy and stick with it. She didn’t know what his was, other than challenging the Capitol, which didn’t seem...like the best one she’d ever heard. She shook her head a little. “Trusting the wrong person will kill you,” she pointed out quietly. “Not trusting anyone might not. It’s safer that way. I don’t like it. But I would rather stay alive.” He didn’t seem to prioritize that as much as she did. What would it be like, having a goal worth more than your own life? She couldn’t imagine it. He seemed so determined, so confident, and it...was hard not to let him inspire just a little hope. He’d already done it a little. She couldn’t seem to undo it. She breathed out. “I can do that,” she agreed quietly. “I...I do believe that. And I don’t want to hear anyone. That was never my plan to begin with.”
Orpheus understood why hope was difficult to have. Hope meant that you had to keep fighting, it meant that you had to believe that things could get better, and you had to be prepared to be disappointed if they didn’t. Hope wasn’t easy. Hope was something that could stab you in the back if you weren’t careful, but Orpheus believed that it only was like that because the Capitol wanted to control hope. The Capitol wanted to crush it, but it wasn’t something that could be killed as easily as children. The Hunger Games were a weapon against hope, but they weren’t the only one the Capitol employed. Orpheus knew he had a lot of work ahead of him if he wanted to be able to convince the people to believe in him. He knew… well, he knew he was going to have to become a martyr if he wanted anyone to pay attention to him. Nobody wanted to hear the voices of the living. The Capitol couldn’t silence him any longer if he was dead. Of course, Orpheus’ plan wasn’t to die, but if it happened… well, he expected it to. He wasn’t strong, and he wasn’t going to hurt anyone. The thing was, he had to make the Capitol kill him instead of another tribute. Which meant he had to catch the Capitol’s attention… and the best way to do that was to try to give hope to the Districts. He was starting small. Rue was one person, but Orpheus firmly believed that even one person was capable of changing the way the world was. They just had to believe that they could. “I don’t mean to be morbid,” Orpheus murmured after a moment, lifting his hazel gaze to her darker one, “But the chances of me making it out alive are slim to none. I would rather trust the people around me and distrust the Capitol. I would rather make my death mean something, to the Districts as well as to everyone in the arena. It’s more difficult to make friends if you don’t trust anyone, and… well… I think you’ll probably agree that I need friends here. I need as much support as I can get. Even if support is a promise that you won’t intentionally hurt anyone else. If everyone agrees… then we force the Capitol’s hand.”
Rue couldn’t decide whether or not he was making sense to her. She did feel the glimmer of hope he’d ignited in her, burning determinedly, in spite of her best efforts. But she knew it wasn’t going to be that easy. She knew, in a very deep way, that even if somehow he did succeed in being heard...it might not be enough. A spark was how a fire began, but there were plenty that never caught at all, that no one remembered. Rue knew all too well how easy it was for them to forget a life once it was gone. She knew there were no guarantees here, none at all. No promises. Nothing Orpheus could offer that would make her sure. She didn’t want to hear him tell her he was going to die. Of all the people to be taken...why him? Why couldn’t he have stayed home and perfected his songs in peace? She couldn’t do anything about that. She couldn’t even save herself. She lowered her gaze. “And what about me?” She asked the floor quietly. “If you don’t have a chance, then there’s no way I do. I can’t fight. I can run, I can hide, I won’t starve, but that’s not enough and we both know it. I won’t give up. But if you don’t think you have a chance, then you don’t think I do either, do you? You’re talking like you’ll sing your song and everyone will just...stop. Haven’t you seen the Games? Don’t you understand that they won’t hesitate?” She hugged herself, breathing out. “I think it’s a plan. And that’s more than a lot of people have. I think...it might even work. But it won’t be free. Even if it works...it’s going to be messy. Really messy. People are going to get hurt because of it. You have to be prepared for that.”
Orpheus took in a sharp breath, hazel eyes searching Rue’s for a long moment. He had accepted his own death, but he couldn’t accept the deaths of the others in the Games with him. He didn’t want to admit to himself that Rue and the others might be punished for his actions. That what he was doing might not change anything, that the brilliantly alive girl he was talking to now may not even have a beating heart in the next few weeks. He didn’t want to admit that to himself. “I think you have a chance,” Orpheus murmured, shaking his head just a little bit. “I’ve been watching the Games for a very long time now… longer than you have, I’m sure, and… being able to run and hide and keep yourself alive is a greater asset than you think it is. There are a few people – and only a few, but still – who have been able to survive on that strategy. People who didn’t make a single kill but won anyway because they were good at staying out of sight. I don’t know if you’re going to win or not. I’m not even sure if there will be a winner after I try to inspire the people. But if there is… you have a bigger shot than you think you are. And you’re not making yourself a target for the Capitol. I think that’s the main reason I’m in danger.” Orpheus glanced once more at the Peacekeepers, grateful they weren’t close enough to overhear the conversation. He would have to be more careful when he actually got to the Capitol. There would be more cameras, and those cameras would be monitored much better than these ones were. “If everything goes as I’d like it to, the Districts will stop the Games. They’ll save as many of you as they can.” Orpheus knew it wouldn’t be that simple. He knew there would be far more bloodshed than he had bargained for. But he had to believe that more than one person would survive these Games. He had to believe in hope.
Post by ®Hawkpath® on Jul 25, 2021 21:03:56 GMT -5
Rue knew it wasn't quite fair to place so much on Orpheus, but the truth was that she felt he had brought it on himself, in a way. His plan…he had to know how badly it could go. He had to understand that everything could be made so, so much worse if he messed with things. He could make this hell burn brighter than it ever would have before. Didn’t he understand that? She breathed out. She couldn’t talk him out of it, could she? It wasn’t going to happen. There was nothing at all she could do but hope he was right, and if he wasn’t, weather the consequences. She looked up as the train door opened, then glanced at Orpheus, her gaze steady. “I hope you know what you’re doing,” she murmured as she stood, and slipped away, into the train car. She hated the claustrophobicness of it. But she didn’t have a choice. She slipped into the back and did her best to disappear.
L Lawliet had not fainted because he was weak, or even out of surprise. He was crouching on the seat to prove it. He wouldn’t have sat down if he wasn’t at ease, right? In case of cameras (of course there were cameras) he has to prove he was unconcerned by this development, and perfectly capable of handling himself. If the fainting came up…perhaps he could say he was simply dehydrated. When had he last had anything to eat or drink? Perhaps…it wasn’t as much of a lie as he’d first thought. It was possible he really had been simply dehydrated. He fingered the edge of his shirt, trying to keep his thoughts from running too wild. He needed to stay calm. He just…needed to stay calm.
Crutchie had seen L faint. That wasn’t the surprising part of L’s reaping, though. No, the surprising part was that he had known the other tribute from his district. He didn’t know many people – the boys he lived and worked with, of course, the boys who had their name entered far too many times most years, but… he took in a deep breath, trying to brace himself to see a familiar face from the past. A face that, hopefully, wouldn’t recognize his. It wasn’t that he didn’t want L to know who he was, it was just that… the kid he had been died years ago. He was someone knew now, and he didn’t want who he was now to be a disappointment to L. They weren’t close now. Sometimes, it felt as though them being close was a distant memory. Something that should be left in the past with everything else. The other reason he didn’t want to be recognized was because he didn’t want L to go through what he was currently going through: the knowledge that he had just gotten a friend back, he had just gotten confirmation that someone he had cared about once was still alive, only to know that he was going to die in the next several weeks. Unless he won… Crutchie tried to bank on that. If L won, then Crutchie would be dead and it wasn’t as though he would be able to celebrate his win with him. He approached L, sitting nervously a few feet away from him. Hopefully, this would pass in silence.
Post by ®Hawkpath® on Jul 25, 2021 21:25:26 GMT -5
L was paying very close attention to his surroundings, at the moment. He was trying to make sure he didn’t miss anything, trying to make sure he would know if a Peacekeeper approached. He would know, at least, if he had reason to be afraid again. It wasn’t a Peacekeeper that approached, though. It was the other tribute, coming to wait with him for the train that would take them away to their probable deaths. He was trying not to be too dark…no, that wasn’t quite true. Watari was trying not to be too dark. L couldn’t turn the part of his brain that was unflinchingly logical to turn off, and so he was perfectly aware that his chances of survival couldn’t realistically get much lower. He kept an eye on the newcomer, watching carefully. He didn’t want a stranger to come too close to him. He didn’t want to risk it. But there was something oddly familiar about his face. He peered at him, forgetting the manners he’s tried to learn as he stated. He could tell…he could remember… “It’s you,” he said suddenly, surprise coating his tone. He wasn’t wrong. The moment he’d realized, he knew he wasn’t wrong.
Crutchie watched L for a moment, then looked sharply away and pulled the brim of his hat down. He didn’t want to be recognized. He wanted his old friend to live. He wanted his old friend to remember him, to know who he was, but it wasn’t worth the risk. It wasn’t worth the pain. What all had changed? Crutchie knew his hair was shorter, and the crutch was a new addition. His cheeks were dotted with freckles that had only just begun to form when he was little. His voice had changed, now, and he was… well, he was a boy now. Then again, maybe that wasn’t the biggest adjustment, considering that L was also a boy now. It was ironic, that they had changed in such similar ways. Although L had grown his hair out instead of chopping it… Crutchie forced his gaze to the ground, trying to appear like he wasn’t interested in talking. Knowing L, though, that façade wouldn’t work for very long. And then L spoke, and all of Crutchie’s hopes melted away. He didn’t want to hurt L. He didn’t want to be hurt by L – by his reaction, or in the Games. This was a fraught situation, the kind that was like dancing on the edge of a knife. “It’s… it’s me,” Crutchie confirmed, pulling his hat off his head and bunching it into a ball in his lap. He didn’t know what he expected. He didn’t know what to say. He knew it wasn’t right, but he waited for L to make the first move. To decide how this conversation was going to go.
Post by ®Hawkpath® on Jul 26, 2021 15:17:28 GMT -5
L couldn’t help the shock that spreads across his face as it sunk in. This…it was really…him? Him. It was him. He was alive, he was okay. And he had been reaped. It felt like a cruel joke. To learn he was alive, while he was being taken to the place he would die. The cold unfairness scorched him. How was he supposed to feel? Relieved, terrified, distraught? He didn’t know. He had no idea how to feel, now. He looked at the boy, his eyes wide and searching. He didn’t want to have this conversation, but…but he did. He did. He never thought he’d see his friend again, and here he was, just…present. Like nothing had happened, or maybe everything. Like the world wasn’t as bad as it seemed, only it was worse. He looked at him for a long moment, his gaze quiet, thoughtful. He didn’t know what to say…what could he possibly say? “I thought, perhaps, you were dead,” he managed softly, not looking away. “I’m…pleased that, for once, the worst case scenario isn’t the accurate one.”
Crutchie watched L for a few moments, waiting for something… something nasty to issue from his lips. Waiting to be lectured or told that ending up in the games together was the worst possible scenario, or even told that it was a good thing they were both in the games so they wouldn’t have to spend too much time together. He didn’t actually expect L to hate him, but… he had abandoned him, unintentionally. He had been left alone, and he had tried to leave, tried to find somewhere safe, and he had gotten lost. He had grown up, then, and when he learned his way around the city, he began to realize where he had grown up. He had avoided that part of the District, though he couldn’t say exactly why. He didn’t want to admit that it was because he was afraid of being seen by his old friend. That he was afraid of not being enough. Everyone else left the past behind them, so Crutchie thought it might be best for him to try to forget. For him to try to leave it all behind, too. “I didn’t die,” he replied somewhat awkwardly, eyes widening as L went on. So he wasn’t upset. Good. It had been a silly fear and Crutchie had known it, but that hadn’t made it go away. “My… parents both did. My sister did. I… I left. I was afraid of what would happen if the Peacekeepers found me. If I had known where you were, I would have told you, but…” he shrank in on himself. He had been so young… he hadn’t thought about it in years. He’d tried not to think about it. The past didn’t matter. Except it did. He’d just tried to deny it.
L couldn’t hate Crutchie. He couldn’t even dislike him for what he’d done…he was alive, wasn’t he? In this sort of world, that was no small feat. Despite everything he’d been through, he was alive, and he was talking to L, and… And they were headed to near certain death. Certain for one of them, anyway. Almost certain for the other, L supposed he had, in a way, left it all behind, too. He hadn’t meant to…not really. He hadn’t wanted to for a second. But when you lost someone and they failed to return for that long, you had very little choice in the matter. People had to grow. They had to grow into new stages of life, and when they were together, it didn’t matter, but when they weren’t…eventually you were left with a version of yourself they’d never met. He didn’t want to admit it, but he knew deep down that Crutchie had never met this version of him. And he’d never met this version of Crutchie. “But you were young and scared,” he finished for the other boy, shaking his head a little. “And you put your life first. And you made the right decision. I’d never have forgiven myself if you’d been killed coming to find me.” He looked at Crutchie, eyes intense. “Thank you for surviving. I know it’s not the best place for a reunion, but…I don’t know if it’s fair to call this one, anyway. It’s been a very long time. If I’ve changed, then I can’t imagine you’re who I remember anymore.” He studied the other boy. Then he offered his hand. “My name is L. It’s nice to meet you.”
Crutchie couldn’t help the tiny smile that crossed his face. He knew things were complicated. He knew that they weren’t the same people they had been when they had parted ways, but those people still existed inside of him. There was a part of Crutchie that still ached from losing L, even though the version of him that was alive now was used to the pain. Was used to a life without L, and didn’t think about it more than every so often. Growing up, he had learned, wasn’t so much about losing the people you had been. It was about covering them bit by bit until they were the foundation you stood on. Until they couldn’t be seen from the outside, even though they were still there within. Everything Crutchie had wanted when he was that little still burned in his chest, though it was muffled by the more practical wants and needs of his older self. He yearned for a safe place to spend the night. He yearned for enough food to keep his belly full. Underneath that, though, there was the silent cry of a boy who had lost his parents and his only friend in one fell swoop. “I’d still like to consider it a reunion,” Crutchie murmured after a moment, lifting his gaze to meet L’s. “There’s still a part of me who knows who you were. There’s still a part of me that missed you every day, and… and even though you don’t know most of me now, and I don’t know most of you, the part of us that does know each other is getting a reunion.” He knew what L meant, though. It wasn’t so much that they were erasing or ignoring their past together. It was that they were putting it behind them and not relying on the ties that used to bind them together. They were reforging their relationship in fire. The Games were the hottest fire there were. Unfortunately, Crutchie knew that also probably meant he couldn’t rely on L to be his ally, like he had secretly let himself hope. If L thought of them as mostly strangers, then he would have no reason to consider Crutchie’s life for even a second. “Nice to meet you, L,” Crutchie replied, reaching out his free hand and giving a tentative shake. “I’m Crutchie.”
L didn’t want to erase anything that had happened between them. He didn’t want to pretend they’d never known each other, that they’d never been close…they had been. They’d been friends, in every way. Best friends…for L, at least, Crutchie had been one of two defenses against being completely alone. Had Crutchie found others? Had Crutchie found a way to keep from being isolated? He’d survived, either way. He’d survived…only to end up here. He looked down. He wished they could have just…met before now. Run into each other on the street. L would have recognized him. He’d always been one to pay attention to every face he ever passed. He hoped they could be allies, at least. He knew he couldn’t pretend to know who Crutchie had become. But he wanted to be able to rely on his childhood best friend again. It was stupid, and it might get him killed, but he still wanted it. “Then it’s a reunion,” he agreed quietly, letting Crutchie’s hand go and pulling his back. “I hope…in the short time we have available to us…to get to know the parts of you I missed out on. If that’s acceptable to you, of course. I know you have no reason to believe I’m anyone worth talking to anymore, but I am…not boring, at the very least.”
Relief spread almost immediately across Crutchie’s face as he realized that L was coming at this with a very similar perspective as he was. It was complicated and uncertain, but they had been friends once, and they could, maybe, be friends again. They were at the cusp of what was likely the worst thing they would ever face. One of them wasn’t making it out alive. It was likely that neither of them were. Their district had some winners, of course, but they weren’t often noted as the top contenders. They weren’t Careers, that was. In the past few years their tributes had allied with the Careers, only to be stabbed in the back. If Crutchie were honest with himself, he wasn’t really sure he wanted to ally with anyone except for maybe L. L had been his best friend when he was younger, he had a feeling he could trust him more than he could trust people who knew they would benefit from his death. At least L had some sentimental reasons not to kill him. “I’d like that,” he managed after a moment, trying to force a smile. “I’d like to get to know you like I should’ve been getting to over the past several years. Chance… wasn’t very kind to take us apart.” The Capitol wasn’t very kind to put them together again, either, but he left that part out. “I think you’re worth talking to,” he added, almost without hesitation. “I don’t even know you that well, but I know it’s true. You always had the most to add to any conversation when we were kids.” He was pointedly ignoring the fact that he was still undeniably a kid.
Post by ®Hawkpath® on Aug 13, 2021 16:39:12 GMT -5
L would have done a lot to get out of this, but he’d have done even more to get Crutchie out. He knew it didn’t matter, though. They were but trapped here, and they were going to stay trapped until at least one of them died. He wanted to live, but not at that high a cost. He didn’t want anyone to die, if he were honest. The Careers might have been an enemy, but they were stuck here, too. Maybe some of them wanted this. L struggled to believe they all did. He didn’t know if they could ally, but he found he wanted to. Crutchie was his friend, for better or for worse. He couldn’t say that had changed, it wouldn’t have changed if he’d really been dead, after all, so why should it when he was still alive and mostly well? He glanced at the other boy, hesitating. He had never been the best at communicating, and now was no exception. “I think you’re worth talking to, too,” he said finally. “We should make a strategy if we’re going to work together. We should also try and make a good first impression on our mentor. If they care, it will be a lot easier to earn their help.” He knew they couldn’t both live. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to try.
Crutchie hadn’t actually thought about their mentor. Of course they would have one, but… who? It wasn’t as though their district had very many winners. More than some districts, but it wasn’t surprising in the slightest that most winners came from Districts 1 or 2. Not 8. He shook his head of the thought, instead focusing his attention back on L. He seemed to have thought this through more fully than Crutchie had. Crutchie had a basic plan, but his plan was mostly just to make it so the others didn’t think he was going to be the easiest to pick off. He wanted to survive more than just the first day. He wanted to win, though he knew that wasn’t possible. “I haven’t really… spent much time around adults lately,” he admitted, looking away. “I’m not sure I really know how to make a good impression on one. I mean… I learned how to avoid adults. If they found a group of kids living all on our own, they would have turned us in.” Implicit in the statement was this: I don’t know how to trust an adult. I’m not sure I want to. Crutchie didn’t see L as an adult. Technically, he was. Technically, he couldn’t be reaped anymore. But he had been, so that… the point was that L wouldn’t have turned in a group of kids. The point was that based on their shared history, Crutchie trusted him. “My strategy was just… prove I’m not useless,” Crutchie admitted, shifting his grip on his crutch. “If there are people who want to win, they’re going to target the weakest first. I can’t be the weakest.”
Post by ®Hawkpath® on Aug 24, 2021 14:24:10 GMT -5
L had given this as much thought as he could. It was a coping mechanism, probably. He couldn’t stop himself from being reaped, and he couldn’t stop himself from being put in the Games. So he was doing everything he actually could do. He was trying be as prepared as possible. It made it easier to not give into the terror trying to overwhelm him…it was the sort of fear you weren’t sure if you could physically cope with, so you did your best to never have to find out. He suspected he wasn’t alone in that. He didn’t really see himself as an adult, either. He knew he was one, technically. He just didn’t know how to act like one. Deep down, further even than the terror, was this: they had been spared, this year. They had been allowed to use adults. Which meant some children who would have died this year, were going to live. L was more grateful for that than he could possibly express. And of course, there was the fact that they’d reaped from the Capitol. That, he thought, had been a mistake. It broke the carefully constructed shield between the very real people in the Capitol and the very real people in the Games. If your child was the one dying, it was a lot harder to see it as a simple TV show that didn’t affect you. How odd, to wonder if this was an opportunity for change at the same time he was heading for his death and would probably never find out. “That is a good start, of course,” he replied, focusing on Crutchie again. “I’m sure I’ll need to do the same, after how the reaping went. But we’ll need a better long term strategy as well. We should leave the bloodbath immediately. We should also learn how to survive in as many conditions as possible. I thought we could try and watch previous Games, to see if there’s any pattern to the style of arena and predict what it’s likely going to be. If we can figure out a useful token to sneak inside, that would also be helpful…they won’t allow weapons, but people have gotten around that in the past.”
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Dark Sun: Great StarClan I hate hangnails...
Sept 18, 2021 22:57:46 GMT -5
Dark Sun: I had just gotten cozy in bed and it forced me to walk all the way upstairs just to trim it off, and then back down again.
Sept 18, 2021 22:58:35 GMT -5
✿𝔇𝙖𝙬𝙣𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙧✿: i hate hangnails
Sept 18, 2021 23:02:33 GMT -5
✿𝔇𝙖𝙬𝙣𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙧✿: One time I had one and it pealed off some skin
Sept 18, 2021 23:03:37 GMT -5
✿𝔇𝙖𝙬𝙣𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙧✿: IT HURT SO BAD
Sept 18, 2021 23:04:33 GMT -5