Chapter Twenty-Two: just a feeling
Word Count: 1,850
“I’m what?” It was a simple question, she knew that. It was a logical question; even a fair one, really, considering the way she’d dropped her sentence mid-way through.
“I don’t know!” It was all she had. They were the only words hanging on her tongue, the only words she remembered in the vast surplus of language floating around somewhere inside of her head.
How quickly things had gotten out of hand. How quickly they had spiraled madly out of control. She’d been keeping her own anger in check, to the best of her ability; but she’d had a number of flutes of champagne, and she still felt anxious and lively from the events of the roof before her stupid teammate had thrust himself into a situation in which he did not belong. For the first time since it had been discussed, the word hung heavy in her mind, bloated and burdensome with the weight of the choice she knew would have to be made. The choice they both knew would have to be made, but it hardly mattered that they both knew – only one of them would face it.
The other stood on the roof, still looking up at a sky full of stars, probably wondering how he’d gotten up there in the first place.
“Wow,” Silas said, and his lips moved in a mechanical, joyless smile. It felt like a knife wound to her ribcage. “That’s great.” He was moving again, moving and she couldn’t bring her limbs to respond quickly enough to stop him. He was in the elevator, the doors were closing. Her hand shot out to capture the edges of the doors, to keep them from sealing for just one more minute.
Silas’ expression had long ago closed her out, but there was a flicker of something akin to sorrow behind his virid eyes. Was he testing her? What did he want her to say? She wanted to holler back; to demand that he take one single instant out of his rage and just think about the situation. Just think. That was all she wanted.
Instead, she had a clearly-ending-friendship and no words to console him.
She wondered, what did she have to lose? And when the question came back without an answer, she let loose.
“I don’t know because I’ve never felt like this, Silas!” The pent up emotions scattered from her mind, washing down over her tongue and spilling out between her lips before she could filter them, before she could manage them and polish them. “I don’t know what to call it, and don’t you dare look at me and say you don’t feel the same way! Because if you lie to me, I’ll kick your ass.”
His eyes dropped and she knew she’d struck home, but it wasn’t enough. She wanted him looking at her. She wanted his eyes to watch what he was doing or to finally see what she was doing. There was a very large part of her that screamed at her to return to the roof. That screamed that she was being reckless and stupid and that if she stood there, holding open the elevator doors, for an instant longer, she was dooming herself in the Arena.
Everyone had to be watching. Everyone had to see what was happening.
She reminded herself that if that were true, she had nothing else to lose. They would all know the truth anyway.
The best she could do was to keep the wellspring of tears from flooding over her eyelids, but it took everything in her. She didn’t know why everything felt so final, but she was almost certain that if the elevator doors closed it was the end of whatever it was that had sprung to life between them.
Her voice hiccupped as she spoke but she ignored it. “Don’t let tonight end this way, Silas.” His eyes still bored holes into the tile; his hand rose to press the button for his floor. That was it. There was no time left. She was out of options. She sucked in a quick lungful of air and added, “Please,” but it was too late.
His voice slipped between the narrow opening as the doors closed.
There was so much fury inside of her that she actually thought she would burst. For a moment, as she stood there looking at her own reflection in the elevator doors, she thought her skin would tear open at the seams and the white-hot rage would erupt outward. Soon she would be nothing more than a charred skeleton in a beautiful dress.
She waited for the elevator to return to her floor, desperately pressing the button over and over again, and every fraction of a second ached like a lifetime.
Something vaguely resembling a stroke of sheer luck happened then. A slender, lithe figure emerged from down the hall, leaving the enormous Banquet room and heading for the cluster of elevators. She smiled at Fox politely and when the doors opened, she allowed the tattooed beauty to go inside first.
Then, she grabbed Fox’s olive-skinned wrist, twisting her arm behind her back to press, roughly, against her spine. Too close to parallel to be at all comfortable; bordering, even, on the edge of breaking.
“This isn’t personal,” Rory said into Fox’s ear as the woman struggled against her hold. “The buttons scan our thumbprints, and my print won’t take me to your floor no matter how hard I press the damn button. So, you push the button, and we walk off together, and no sensors are tripped and no arms get broken. Is this agreeable?”
The hold Rory had Fox in did not seem to be enough to discourage her, and Fox pivoted suddenly; the force of the motion was strong enough that, befuddled with the champagne roaming through her bloodstream, Rory’s fingers released and Fox was free to take a nasty swing at Rory’s face. Instinct took over, then, and Rory flung her torso backward, her spine parallel with the floor, and brought her elbow up to land a vicious, cracking blow to Fox’s collarbone.
Even with the wind knocked out of her and a searing pain encompassing her throat and shoulders, Fox did not stop. She didn’t even pause. She swung her ankle around and knocked Rory’s feet from beneath her; but on her way down, Rory grabbed Fox by the throat and they hit the tile flooring of the elevator together with a loud, ominous thud. Fox was quick on the recovery, and as Rory blinked away the white-wash over her vision from her head impacting with the floor, Fox swung, hard, and Rory felt her nose break beneath Fox’s knuckles. Agony exploded across her vision, tingling uncomfortably all over her face, but she sucked it up and opened her eyes. They scuttled and swung wildly for a few seconds, groping for a good blow or some stable position, before Rory got her bare feet beneath her and leaped upward, entirely off the floor, to drop kick Fox in the face.
The dress ripped up the side, but the sound did not break through the all-consuming focus that had settled over her awareness. Out of breath and trying desperately to ignore the trickle of blood leaking from her nose, even more determined to ignore the near-blinding agony of her crumpled cartilage, Rory got back up to her feet and lowered her eyes to Fox, sprawled on the elevator floor, sucking in uneven gasps of air.
Holding her hand down to Fox, Rory said, “I swear I won’t continue this if you’ll just push the fucking button and let me get off when you do.”
Fox studied her for a long moment, her cold electric blue orbs absorbing every minute detail of Rory’s damaged face. She could feel the blood dripping from her chin, onto the floor and her dress and down the exposed skin of her chest, but she ignored it. She continued to hold her hand out, waiting, until Fox clasped it and allowed Rory to help heave her to her feet.
Fox said, “You’re a fool, but you don’t fuck around,” and pushed the button.
Rory tried not to wonder how long they had wasted brawling in the lift, and focused only on mirroring Fox’s motions exactly as the doors opened and they stepped off. No sensors screamed in breach of security, and as her bare feet hit the smooth tile of the training floor for District 13, Rory sighed in relief.
She could see Silas’ silhouette making its way down the hall and she ignored the rush of adrenalin soaring through her, calling to her to take off running after him, and simply made sure her voice rang clear and loud in the hallway.
“You son of a bitch, get back here! I wasn’t fucking finished!”
She planted her feet apart and crossed her arms over her blood-stained gown, setting her jaw and glowering at the back of his head. She watched his step falter as he recognized her voice, watched the slow turn of his head as he shifted to see, with his own two eyes, that she was actually there.
Breaking one of the oldest and most strongly enforced rules in the history of the Games.
Fox made her way down the hall like a swift flash of light and the only sound that gave away she’d ever existed was the soft click of her chambers door locking behind her.
She met his eyes across the short distance and waited for his expression to settle as he observed the damage done to her face.
“What the - What happened?” His hand twitched at his side, and she wondered why.
“I wasn’t done convincing you that you’re wasting what could very well be the one remaining good thing in either of our lives before we’re slaughtered in the Arena,” she said, spitting it all out in one breath before pausing to take in another. “So I beat up your District partner until she helped me bypass the security system.”
There it was, then; a moment she had wondered about since she first heard him string a sentence together. She knew what his face looked like when he was flabbergasted, and for a moment, it was enough. The strange, curious light in his viridian eyes warranted everything she had done, everything she’d put on the line. It was reason enough for her, and it was that same feeling that caused her to reach out for his hand and capture his long fingers with hers.
Nothing else to lose, she thought.
She let silence hold them for a moment before she lifted her eyes to meet his and said, “I don’t know what this is, Silas, but it’s given me something to make it out of here for. That’s all I know.” She paused, the playfulness of her own thoughts causing a slow upward turn to her mouth, and added, “Well, that and that you’re an idiot for not kissing me at the table when you had the chance.”