rainforest floor

Ashton Imagine: Hunger Games AU Part 3

Author: Rhine

Part 1 / Part 2

-

It’s silent.

Peaceful, almost.

Everything is muffled – the screaming and shouting, the bodies falling and spears meeting their target and missing – everything is muted by the water, and if you closed your eyes, they were nothing but splashes of pebbles that you threw on the pier.

If you closed your eyes, you can’t see the red the taints the water; the blood that rises from the bodies in smoky puffs before disintegrating into the clear blue water, leaving behind a faint cloud of red.

If you closed your eyes, you could almost pretend you were back home.

Almost.

-

You would’ve chosen to have the water be your grave – it would’ve been your choice and your choice alone and it would’ve been the waves that carried you to a better place like you always hoped for – if it weren’t for him.

Ashton.

You would’ve gladly let the saltwater rush into your lungs and flood from the inside – you weren’t meant for the world and its blood and its cruelty; he always said you were made for the sea – if it weren’t for him.

He was still up there.

He was still fighting. Still alive.

And while the voice in the back of your head tells you that in the Hunger Games, nothing was a surety, you knew for a fact that Ashton was still alive.

No, you knew him best – he wouldn’t go down that easily.

The water and its lulling silence and peaceful goodbye would’ve been an easy way out, but you knew – you had to brave the surface for him.

You had to live for him.

So even as your lungs burst, you forced yourself towards the sun again even though every fibre of you wanted nothing but to collapse.

Your head broke the surface of the water and your mouth took in large gulps of air even though your mind was pleading for a circuit of saltwater in your veins just moments before.

It’s a funny thing, how your body breathes in air to survive while your mind – well, you had to work on that part.

Your head is spinning and your vision is out of focus, but you can see enough to see the bodies that float around you, to see the bodies that are sprawled out on the spokes and around the Cornucopia.

You’re swimming in a sea of blood among bodies that floated like driftwood.

You’re sick to your stomach and you can feel the panic starting to seep in, but you had to check – a quick glance at a body pierced by a sword, eyes lingering on the face of another person whose life ended too quickly, too unfairly – a promise broken, hopes lost, a life gone.

But he’s not one of them.

He’s not any of the lifeless eyes staring back and his body isn’t one slumped over with gaping holes and neither are you; neither are you.

Your heart is still pumping – frenzied and irregularly – but you’re still alive you’re still alive and that was enough for you now.

-

You’re afraid.

You don’t know what lurks in the shadows; in the depths of the waters.

You don’t know if it’s man or mutation; but all you know is that both are monsters thirsting for your blood.

You’re afraid because you don’t know – you don’t know if you’ll live to see another day, you don’t know how you’re going to die, you don’t know if you want to see another day, not when the next one is just a repeat of hysteria and fear and panic that leaves you dizzy and mad.

This wasn’t living; no, this was survival.

And you weren’t sure if you could – if you, a broken, chipped girl who barely recovered from her last Games could survive this one with bigger monsters and bigger nightmares.

You’re afraid of dying and you’re afraid of living another day.

-

He finds you.

He whispers your name and you think you’re starting to hear things; that somehow the red that smears your vision somehow seeped into your ears as well.

But he calls your name and you peek your head out from one of the spokes – you didn’t want to leave the water, not when that was the only place you could escape to, the closest thing to home you had – until he came.

Until he came back. For you.

And there he is, jumpsuit ripped and hair a tousled mess, chest heaving irregularly and a nasty cut on his cheek but he’s there he’s alive.

You have to blink twice to make sure you’re not dreaming, to make sure you’re not hallucinating, that this isn’t a cruel trick that the Capitol was playing on you.

They have quite the habit of getting your hopes up before tearing them down.

But no, he’s there and he’s only a few meters away, hazel eyes searching frantically for you among the fallen weapons and tainted waters.

He lost you after the Games started – it was all a blur of running and slashing and red in his vision and screams in his ears and maybe it’s nothing but his blood and his shouts, but all he knows is that when his eyes clear again, you’re gone.

The Cornucopia is littered with bodies and he holds on to the thin hope that one of them isn’t yours.

Not her please not her anybody but her please please please –

Because the cannons don’t ring for another nine hours and the last thing he wants to see is your face in the sky, so far away from him.

To know that he could’ve saved you but that he was too late; to know that in your last moments you were alone when he promised to protect you and he promised and he would rather die than to break that promise.

He would rather he died instead of you.

He’s whispering your name across the eerily quiet Cornucopia, arms tense as he grips his trident – he wants to hold out to the hope that you’re there, but he can’t rule out that there could be someone else with a less than welcome embrace.

But when he walks towards the spoke you were hiding under, you lift your head towards the surface silently, your voice quiet enough to be the soft waves rippling the water.

Ashton?

He looks down and he sees you with your wide eyes and sunken cheeks, hair sprawled out in the water around you as your head bobbed slightly from the waves.

To see you alive – to hear your voice again, to know that you were still breathing through those lips he loved so much, to know that the heart he cherished was still beating in your chest – he thinks it’s the first time he’s breathed since he entered the arena.

My mermaid. I should’ve known you would’ve been hiding in the waves.

You manage a small quirk that would’ve once been called a smile, and he crouches down while you reach up, wrapping your arms around his neck while his snake around your waist.

He holds you close, completely lifting you out of the water and off the ground when he stands up, his strong arms locking you close to his body.

You can’t tell if it’s the saltwater or your tears that stain his jumpsuit, but all you knew was the familiar pounding of his heart against yours, the breaths he inhales from your skin.

All you know is that you might not have another day, but you still had this moment.

For this moment, you had Ashton.

And you couldn’t ask for anything more.

-

You believed.

You believed, for a night or two, that things would be okay – or as close to it as it could get.

With Ashton by your side, it was easy to have hope.

He had his trident in one hand and your hand in his other as he guided you through the rainforest – we need to get out of the open, we need to find cover – and you had just as much knowledge on where he was going as he did, but it didn’t matter as long as it was with him.

You trekked through the leafy trees and sweltering water and your sword trailed behind you but your grip never left Ashton.

You hunted food – hardly dinner date material, I’m sorry – and sipped water from the Cornucopia that diminished at a rate that made you uncomfortable, but you made it through the night and you lived to see another day.

You watched as the cannons rang for the fallen tributes, gaze upturned towards the sky as the faces of the dead were projected for you to see.

Their unsmiling pictures are displayed, but all you can register are their unseeing eyes when you turned over the bodies at the Cornucopia, looking for Ashton.

And it’s easy to forget when they’re just pictures, but it’s harder to rid your mind of the image of a spear impaling a body or a gash through a throat; a reminder of a violent death, of another cost for survival, for entertainment.

You start to shake but Ashton’s hands are sturdy and warm on your back and you allow yourself to lean on him, to let the loose fragments of yourself fall onto his lap, just for the night.

He takes first watch, trident in hand and eyes alert at his leafy surroundings, but he finds that his gaze always goes back to you.

Your chest heaving up and down, your troubled expression even in your sleep, your ashen face and tangled hair, curled up in a ball on the hard rainforest floor.

He plays with the ends of your hair and his fingers trace your jawline – you’re beautiful even in the dark moonlight that casted strange shadows in the hollows and curves of your body – but something in his heart still sinks.

It’s the thought that you deserved better – that you didn’t belong in this world, not in this harsh and bitter world where death was an entertainment and injustice was a regularity.

He was all hard lines and tense muscles; animalistic instincts with his trident and a mask that he slipped on too easily when he needed it.

But you?

No, you were so much better than that – than this broken and twisted world, than this sick practice – you were better than him.

You shouldn’t have been here.

But there’s nothing he can do – god he wishes there was, he wishes there was a way to keep you from all this and there’s nothing he wouldn’t do if there was – but you’re here but you’re still breathing and Ashton will fight to make sure you continue to do so.

He made a promise to you, after all.

I’ll protect you.

-

It happens too fast.

It’s quick – nothing but screams and slashes that flash before his eyes before his mind can process it – just how an ambush should be.

All he knows is that it’s three to two and you were caught by surprise by three armed tributes and there’s screaming and he thinks it’s you oh god, it’s you.

He’s surrounded by two other tributes and they’re hacking and stabbing but they’re missing him every time; agile movements and swift reflexes dodging every blow.

But then a cannon rings and he can’t hear you and something’s wrong something’s wrong and that cannon’s enough to fuel his adrenaline, injecting fear and worry and panic into his veins that channels into a frenzied combat that leaves the two tributes dead at his feet, blood dripping from the prongs of his gold trident.

And then he sees you.

He sees the silver blade that protrudes from your stomach, but your chest is still heaving rapidly; shallow breaths as you tried to cling onto life.

There’s another body next to you, your sword through his skull – it was his cannon – but that doesn’t matter to Ashton, he could care less about him when all he sees is your blood staining the dirt right before his eyes.

No no no this can’t – no, please no no please please

He’s kneeling next to you and he doesn’t know what to do, he doesn’t know what to do when you’re dying at his feet – no, not you, not the only person who’s kept him sane, not the only person he’s ever truly cared about, the only person he’ll ever love.

He can’t lose you.

But your breaths are getting shallower and there’s a transparency in your half-lidded eyes that reflect his desperate ones.

Ash…

No, please you have to hang in there you have to live please stay with me, please don’t go I can’t do this without you I need you please you have to live –

He doesn’t know when the tears started but they cloud his vision and they drop into the gaping hole in your stomach, mixing in with your flowing blood that gushed from the wound.

Ashton, I –

Your words are barely a whisper, choked with the blood that leaves your lips; your beautiful lips that he was just kissing mere days before, sealing the promise he made to keep you safe.

I’m sorry.

Because he was just like them, he was just like the Capitol who couldn’t keep their promises – god, did he try –  but he didn’t do enough to keep you alive.

He wasn’t enough to keep you alive.

And it’s all he can say, over and over again to your bleeding body as he clutches your hand, sobbing into your hair, hands gently caressing your smooth cheeks, too pallid and too clammy but beautiful all the same; you’ll always be beautiful to him, too beautiful for a world as hideous as this.

Your mouth is moving but you can’t choke out the words and your eyebrows can barely furrow in pain – everything is numb and everything is burning and you can barely feel Ashton’s touch through the twisting agony that runs through your gaping bloodstream, exposed for the world to see.

But somehow, you manage to lift your arm up, even if it felt like lifting a thousand weight – and shakily, you cup Ashton’s face, wiping away the tears that streamed from the beautiful hazel eyes that you loved so much, your touch leaving a streak of red on his cheeks.

He holds onto your hand but he can’t hold in an anguished cry at the sight of you so weak, so in pain, dying – when just a few hours ago you laced your hands with his effortlessly as if it belonged there, when you were just curled up on his lap just the night before, trying to find shapes in the leaves above you.

He can’t bear to see you dying, no, not when you were his life.

You had a piece of him – you had all of him – and if you took that with you, if you left –

He doesn’t want to think about it.

But he knows, Ashton knows he has to face it – and soon – but the tears swim in his vision and something broken leaves his throat and you’re a fraction away from death while he’s a fraction from falling apart.

Your lips form one last word, one last breath of your life leaving your mouth in a soft puff.

Live.

And the very word makes Ashton want to laugh maniacally and cry bitterly because this isn’t living, not without you.

But your hands go limp in his and your eyes gloss over and the fact is that he’s breathing while you aren’t.

The cannon that rings afterwards – your cannon – feels like a bullet tearing through his heart.

He didn’t want to hear the sound of your death; he didn’t think he’d ever have to.

This isn’t living, no, Ashton knows – this is surviving, this isn’t living – not this horrifying cycle of killing and running and fearing and crying, inside and outside the arena.

And he knows that what you wanted for him – god, he doesn’t want to think of you in past tense but you’re gone you’re gone – was for him to live.

Not dragged days and clinging onto sanity; you wanted him to live, you wanted Ashton to wake up to a life he wanted to be in.

But he can’t do that, not without you.

Not now. Not ever.

And the truth remains that he’s still in the Hunger Games, a weapon in hand but a piece of his heart and a portion of his mind lost, gone with you.

He’ll walk to death with open arms and a bitter smile if it meant walking to you – he did it once before when he volunteered, but it wasn’t supposed to be like this; you were supposed to be the one he protected and you were supposed to be the one got out even if his body was left to rot.

Not the other way around.

And while he’s tempted to run into the nearest spear, he can’t forget what you said.

Live.

He doesn’t want to, but you wanted him to, and god did he wanted to go against that, but he could never say no to you.

Not to you. His mermaid. His girl.

But for now – for now, he just needed to grieve. He just needed to caress your cool arms and close your eyelids and let his tears mingle with your blood; he needed to let the cries leave his body but he can’t let the memories of you leave him; he can’t forget.

He always said you belonged somewhere else, but not like this.

He always thought it would be someplace with him.

-

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