you can’t cry
“We’re victors,” she says, unprompted, one morning, when their legs are tangled in the pale sheets and the sunlight is spilling in through the curtains, flicking images forming on the bed. “but I can’t quite see what we won.”
The room tumbles into silence, his mind considering her words, and inevitably reaching the same conclusion as her – for they have both thought about this before, about the whys and the wherefores and the outcomes, he is sure. He has devoted many hours, locked in his head, to this particular topic and no matter how he tries to argue it, tries to find the logic in the illogical, he never can, always comes to one conclusion. The scientist in him knows this points to one thing – that it is the truth.
“We didn’t win anything,” he replies.
She reaches out and takes his hand, linking their fingers in a gesture of something more than these night-time trysts have ever offered before. He knows she feels the same, has the same emptiness in her soul – knows that something died in her the day everyone seems to think she should have been one top of the world; knows because they are one and the same.
They are victors.
He screams sometimes in his sleep. She guesses she does too, but she’s too far away when that happens to notice, or to give a damn.
(she won because she out-fought everyone else.
he won because he out-thought everyone else.
it gives them different scars.)
They meet in the Capitol at some party thrown by the elite.
They each know who the other is, by reputation – she’s the first victor from her district for years, and of course – viewing is compulsory so he must have watched her carve that ‘victory’ out of thin air, snatching it away from the other, more well-prepared tributes. She lost a lot of people money that year.
And she mentored the tributes who fell at his hand on his way to victory. She watched his games and she remembered her own horrors as more played out on the screen in front of her.
So when she sees him across the room, sitting at a table, his fingers tap-tap-tapping away, she doesn’t go over.
She just wonders why he’s not dead already. Surely – surely a man who looks at people and sees their darkest secrets would be an enemy of a state that deals in them.
But when she looks at him again, she realises that he’s dead already, inside, in the part that counts. He’s just keeping up appearances.
(it unsettles her, not that she’d admit it, seeing a perfect reflection across the hall.)
Their paths collide when the next games begin; because of course victory is not enough in itself – no, they must prepare others to follow in their bloody footsteps.
They stand, the haunted eyes of the youth of yesterday watching the uncorrupted youth of today, knowing as they do that they are leading them like lambs to the slaughter.
Somehow, they end up next to each other, one day. They don’t talk, only watch, a mutual understanding growing between them at the injustice of this all – at prolonging the torture they both thought was over when the final cannon sounded all that time ago.
Her tributes aren’t special, aren’t likely to survive. The outrage she feels stuns because she never cares, that’s what everyone says. She doesn’t care.
But anyway – isn’t it better to die than win, after all?
She seeks him out, one evening, when the only thing that is still in focus for her is his face, lit up by the elaborate light displays in the hall – which faded away from her vision somewhere around her sixth drink – breaking the promise she made to herself the first time she saw him here, at the one of these parties.
People wobble and jerk spilling in and out of focus, but he remains her anchor in the storm, clear as day. She doesn’t really consider why
-- she’s not sure she’ll like the answer.
“You should go home,” he says to her, when she finds him, finally, after what seems like hours of searching.
She suddenly wants another drink, and she looks at her glass; cradled in her grip gently, like a child. Then she looks back up at him, and sees the sunken eyes, the pale skin, the track marks he’s not even tried to hide.
“Fuck you,” she replies, the anger coming from somewhere deep inside her, because she’s just realised, again, just how alike they are.
He rolls his eyes at her, and shrugs as she glares at him.
She can tell people are watching; they are a spectacle, celebrity, they have no privacy anymore - no, that was forfeited the day they were reaped.
She lets her eyes flutter closed, the anger still pumping through her veins, searching for an outlet, for somewhere to explode into being. She can feel his eyes on her.
“You should go home,” he tries again, his voice not comforting or understanding, just pragmatic, just relaying the truth she already knows.
The anger finds the outlet – a hand, reached out to close the void, touches his skin with a crack.
The audience get their drama.
He avoids her after that. She’s not surprised.
When they first fell into bed with each other it felt inevitable – like she just stopped running away from something that had been chasing her all that time.
She paints, sometimes, when she has a spare moment. The things that form on the canvas are never what you could call ‘pictures’ in the typical sense. There is a lot of red, burning bright for flames and for blood.
But once, she paints him.
---that burns too
He asks her once why she does what the Capitol asks of her, why she lets them parade her like a trophy, why she doesn’t fight back.
She sees a flash, a memory, it comes back to her, slowly to begin with but then all at once.
(blood splattered on snow, in the freezing cold – the scream that rose up in her chest)
Hot tears burn her eyelids.
“The world’s corruption runs deeper than even you know.”
She’s a puppet but she doesn’t care. There’s nothing else.
---correction: no one else
(except him of course
but, shush, he doesn’t count)
He disappears, from time to time.
She never asks, he never tells.
But even then she knows where he goes.
He tumbles into a drug haze, to get away from it all, and at times like that she finds solace in the bottom of a bottle, her own way of escaping the horrors.
“We could run away,” he says, one day, the conviction in his tone surprising her.
“Where? There is nowhere to run to.” Her tone is icy, detached – she’s unable to help it. The idea is stupid, a fallacy – this is the path they are on, and this must walk it, come hell or high-water.
“Just an idea,” he replies.
“You and your fucking ideas,” she snaps.
She turns away, suddenly, leaving him cold.
He looks at her like he knows exactly what’s going on in her head, like he can read her mind and she shivers at the invasion of privacy she feels.
She steps away and when he doesn’t come after her, she runs.
(she wasn’t wrong when she said there’s nowhere to run to – it’s such a pity then there’s so much to run from)
They fall out of each other’s company after that.
It’s not surprising, they were never meant to last after all.
The conversation they had, that morning, comes back to her a lot - comes back because of the harsh truth of his words.
---they never did win anything.