He is awakened by the sound of the cannon.
Jumping up from where he'd been sprawled under the tree, Jesse is immediately on his feet, peering through the branches at the sky, trying to see whose face is up there. He doesn't believe in God, but it sure feels like praying when he starts hoping that he'll see either Ramona or Lis up there.
"Geoff?" Dawn's voice sounds disappointed, rather than upset.
"That's him," Jesse nods, looking back down from the sky. "How he hell did he get himself killed?"
"We should have stuck with him from the beginning," Dawn begins saying. Jesse turns back towards her, seeing Blaine and Sheila also roused from sleep as well. The pair of them are silent, eyes wider than usual.
"We had a plan," Jesse reminds Dawn.
"One that failed," she argues. "We should have stuck together from the get-go. If Geoff and I had just done what we wanted instead of planning on that stupid double-cross..."
"We'd be exactly where we are now," Jesse interrupts. "Or Ramona and Lis would have double-crossed us instead. It doesn't matter. He's dead, and he would have been another opponent if he had made it. So we really should be thanking whoever killed him for doing it for us, because it's much easier to kill an enemy than an ally."
"Maybe we should just be silent for a while," Blaine pipes up. Dawn and Jesse both stare at him. "You know," the boy shifts uncomfortably, "a moment of silence for those who've passed. And he's... passed."
"I agree," Sheila says. She even closes her eyes and bows her head. Jesse looks over at Dawn, but the girl seems to have accepted this suggestion and is biting her bottom lip. Maybe it's to keep herself from saying something, or maybe she and Geoff had been closer than Jesse had originally thought. He looks over at Blaine, then, who had almost died already and who he'd left for dead. He hadn't acted like this for Blaine. He'd reverted right back to thinking about his own survival.
Jesse thinks that this is the sort of thing he's supposed to feel guilty about, but he doesn't.
Not really. Something has worked its way around his stomach and has clamped down on it, but Jesse pushes it back down, telling himself that it's just disappointment.
"So, what's the plan now?" Blaine asks, breaking the silence.
"The plan is we kill those bitches who got him," Dawn says immediately.
"Agreed," Jesse says, nodding. "But we don't know if it was them."
"Oh, it was," Dawn's voice darkens. "I can feel it. They've hated him from the beginning."
"They've hated all of us from the beginning," Jesse reminds her, not liking just how worked up she's getting. Dawn can't lose her cool now; he needs her to be thinking rationally or there's no way all four of them will get out alive. A confrontation with Ramona and Lis isn't something Jesse wants, because they are the only people in this arena who have a chance of beating him. And it wouldn't even be four against two; Blaine and Sheila hardly count when it comes to fighting.
"Shame they didn't project his place of death up there with his face," Dawn is now saying. "Then we wouldn't have to actually look for the bitches."
Jesse laughs, but shuts up when Dawn shoots him an angry look.
"Should we split up?" Sheila asks tentatively. "We could look faster that way, I think."
"No," Jesse says, just as Dawn says, "Yes."
"No," Jesse echoes. "Splitting up is just asking for trouble. We're strongest as a group, and there's never any guarantee of things going our way. We might not be able to find each other if we split up."
"We just need to find two people," Dawn argues. "It'll be easy. You take Blaine and I'll take Sheila and we'll each search different seasons. Then we'll meet back here."
"And what happens if we find them?" Jesse asks. "Are you really going to double back without trying to kill them?" He tries to sound as kind as possible as he continues. "Dawn, you're pissed right now, and rightfully so. But you can't risk everything for revenge. We need to stick together so we can face them together."
"I can take them," Dawn argues, and Jesse knows it's a lost cause, already predicting what she'll say next. "I'll leave you three if you don't let me go look for them, and then where would you be?"
Jesse has to fight not to heave a sigh.
"What do you think?" he asks Blaine, who's been silent this whole time.
Blaine answers by shrugging a shoulder.
"Well, that's helpful," Jesse rolls his eyes. "Fine. If you all want to split off into suicide missions, then go right ahead."
"Thank you," Dawn says tersely. "C'mon, Sheila, let's go look in the spring. We haven't been there yet."
"We'll take winter," Jesse decides. "And don't do anything stupid. Tail them; don't kill them."
"I make no promises," Dawn says, as predicted.
"Whatever," Jesse shakes his head. "We'll meet back here when the sky darkens."
He has a fleeting thought that night might come at different times in the different seasons, just like it does in the real world, but decides not to mention that. If it is true, all it means is that he and Blaine will get back here before the others.
The four of them walk together out of the autumn and out to the oak tree. Nobody else is around, but that doesn't mean Ramona and Lis aren't hiding somewhere nearby. Jesse goes out first, circling the tree, and since nobody tries to attack him, he motions for the others to come out as well. Even after Dawn and Sheila disappear into the spring, nobody else comes out. It's clear that all the others have set up camp in one of the seasons and are either waiting it out or are coming up with their own plans.
"Let's go," he then says quietly to Blaine, and the pair of them walk into the winter.
The blast of cold air hits him with such a shock that Jesse can't breathe for a few seconds. This is worse than the heat in the summer, and even when he does catch his breath it comes in gasps and it hurts going down. Blaine is having similar problems.
"Slow," he manages to choke out, putting a hand on Blaine's shoulder and trying to over-exaggerate his own breaths so Blaine will understand what he's saying. The other boy nods, and they choke down icy-cold air for what feels like an eternity. Normally it wouldn't be this bad, because Jesse has walked outside in the real winter plenty of times, but this artificial outdoors has obviously been made to challenge them more than real nature would.
"You okay?" he asks when he finally feels comfortable enough to speak.
"Yeah," Blaine's voice sounds hoarse. "This is weird."
"Tell me about it," Jesse grimaces. "It wouldn't surprise me if nobody was in here."
"Then why did you decide to search here?"
"Because spring is predictable," Jesse says as he starts walking further into this season, Blaine keeping pace at his side. "There are probably hosts of mutated animals in there, maybe some poisonous flowers, that sort of thing. And we already know about the water in the summer, and we just came from the autumn. So, winter. Time to see what this place has got up its sleeve."
"Snow," Blaine tells him.
"I can see that," Jesse smirks. The ground is covered in the small crystals, only a few inches deep, but more is steadily falling from the fake sky. There are trees here, like the other seasons, these ones with their branches covered in snow and bare of leaves. There really was no place habitable here, the cold making it impossible to get comfortable (much like the thick heat of summer) and the constant un-melting snowfall meaning footprints would be lost within minutes.
"We have to walk in a straight line," Jesse thinks aloud. "Our footprints are going to get covered, and this is the last place I want to get lost in." He glances behind them and is shocked to see that their footprints have already vanished. "Wait a minute."
He stops, squatting down to look closer.
"What is it?" Blaine asks.
"It's the snow," Jesse presses his hand into the snow as deep as it will go, his fingers spread wide, and then removes it. The imprint of his hand remains for only a few seconds, and then the snow fills back in. He hears Blaine gasp from above him.
"I think I found the treachery in here," Jesse decides. "Snow that isn't real snow. What the fuck is this stuff, then?" He scoops up a handful of it. It's light and feels powdery, and as he passes it between his hands none of it melts onto his skin. Blaine has bent down and is poking at the snow now, seemingly just as transfixed as Jesse.
"It's impossible to leave footprints," Blaine states the obvious.
"It doesn't melt," Jesse tells him, letting the fake snow fall back to the ground and brushing the remaining particles off his hands. Some of it clings there despite him brushing his hands together. "Blaine, look."
And Blaine does look, standing up and staring at Jesse's hand, at how the little white particles cling to his skin even as he shakes his hand and brushes at it with the other one.
"What's it doing?"
"I have no fucking clue, but it's getting kind of creepy," Jesse tries wiping his hand on his clothes, but that doesn't work either. So the pair of them just stand there watching until finally – finally! – the snow particles fall away. Jesse frowns down at his hand, wondering why they had fallen off at that moment. And it takes him a few moments, but then he remembers.
"I tried punching you and I hit the wall instead," he says. "Remember?"
"No, I've completely forgotten," Blaine says sarcastically.
"Look!" Jesse holds his hand out closer to Blaine. "I tore my skin when I did that. My knuckles were a mess, and they were still kind of messed up when the Games started. But look!" The skin is now completely healed, no traces left of any injury. "The snow fixed it."
"But why?" Blaine looks up at him with an expression that matches Jesse's own confusion.
"To help me?" Jesse guesses, though he isn't sure. "That doesn't really make sense, though. I didn't need any help, and this arena's supposed to be trying to mess us up as we go, not fix us up."
"Maybe it does that, too," Blaine suggests. "Maybe it's like the water, where the third sip brings you back. The snow might help you first then hurt you last, instead."
"Either way, I don't like it," Jesse decides. "But we have to keep going, to see if anyone's hiding in here."
"Okay," Blaine agrees.
They walk in silence for the rest of their time here in this season. Jesse knows it's pointless to keep going and hoping they come across a broken branch or a trail of blood or anything that will tell them another person's been here. With this magic snow there's no way they'll be able to find and follow a trail. The only way of finding out if someone else is hiding here would be if that person ambushed the pair of them or managed to kill them while remaining hidden.
Jesse thinks Blaine knows this is pointless, too, but the other boy doesn't say anything to that effect. He doesn't talk at all, just keeps pace with Jesse the whole time they walk through this season.
They finally come across a clump of evergreen trees, branches hanging heavy with snow.
Or, at least, all but one of the trees are hanging heavy with snow. Jesse instantly holds out an arm to stop Blaine from walking any closer, then drags him behind a different tree, peering out from behind it.
"Look," he says quietly, pointing at the evergreens. Blaine does, frowning at first, but then Jesse watches comprehension dawn on him. He turns back to Jesse, mouthing, "Oh."
And there's no way they can hide themselves without making it obvious that they'd gone a particular way. Judging from that evergreen tree, the snow only resets itself when it's on the ground, so if they climb up this tree to wait for whoever is over there to reveal himself or herself, it will be obvious to that person that they are hiding up here. Plus there are no leaves to hide them, just bare branches that would do nothing whatsoever.
"What do we do?" Blaine asks.
"Climb," Jesse instructs, giving Blaine a leg-up since the lowest branch is still too high to get to without a boost. He doesn't follow, instead inching closer to the clump of evergreens. If Blaine has any misgivings or is confused, he doesn't say as much and he doesn't jump down to follow Jesse, for which Jesse is grateful. While there is no way of hiding the fact that Blaine's up in that tree, it would certainly pose an obstacle to whoever is staying here, and Jesse would be able to get to them before they get to Blaine.
There are no sounds coming from within the trees, so when Jesse is finally right next to them, he throws caution to the wind and ducks under the branches. A glance tells him that nobody is here, but he hoists himself up into the tree and climbs, looking above him for signs that someone is up there. It's obvious that someone was here, for there are broken branches and, obviously, the movement had caused the snow to fall.
Jesse climbs as far up as he can go without worrying the branches won't hold his weight, and decides that whoever had been here has gone. Where they went he cannot tell, since there are no tracks to be found in the snow. This poses a new problem, and Jesse starts toying with the idea of waiting here for whoever this is to come back instead of meeting up with Dawn and Sheila at the agreed time.
If it works, and he is able to get rid of this person, that's one less person he has to worry about. But waiting here instead of going back to Dawn and Sheila risks alienating them, and Jesse doesn't really want to get rid of that alliance this early in the game.
Except it isn't his decision alone, is it?
Jesse lowers himself back to the ground, carefully emerging from the trees so he doesn't shake any snow from any others. It won't do to mess this cluster of trees up more and give whoever is staying here a clear indication that their hideout has been found. But rather than asking Blaine to come down, Jesse climbs up to join him in the other tree, not missing how the boy is shivering.
"It's freezing," Blaine tells him. "Can we go now?"
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about," Jesse confesses. "Someone's been staying in there, and it might be wise to wait here until they come back and then get rid of them."
"But we're supposed to–" Blaine starts, but Jesse cuts him off with, "I know."
"So you want to stay here anyway." It isn't a question. "I think that's stupid."
"Everything that's gone wrong has been because we followed the plan," Jesse reminds him. "Our double-cross didn't work, Geoff meeting up with us didn't work, and don't you think Dawn's going to figure out soon enough that I'm not just dragging you around because of her insurance policy?"
"Insurance policy?" Both of Blaine's eyebrows rise.
"You know, trailing you along so she's not the weakest link."
"Oh, is that what I am?" Blaine tries to turn away from Jesse, which makes him lose his balance. Jesse grabs him just in time, stopping him from falling out of the tree. Blaine grabs onto Jesse's arm, holding it tightly and not letting go even after he's regained his footing. His grip is starting to hurt.
"So I'm just some weak piece of shit you've got on a leash," Blaine summarizes.
"No," Jesse insists. "That's just what she thinks. You know what I'm doing. We've talked about this enough times for you to know what I'm doing. What we're doing."
"You keep alluding to it," Blaine rolls his eyes, "but you haven't actually said what you mean once since we got here. How am I supposed to–"
"Are you an idiot?" Jesse snaps. "You know we can't talk about this stuff openly. Someone," he emphasizes the word, hoping Blaine picks up on who exactly he means, "might overhear."
"Or maybe they won't," Blaine argues stubbornly. "Jesse, I need to know that you're still on my side."
"Of course I am."
"Really? Because it sure doesn't seem like it."
"What more do you want me to do, then?" Jesse's patience breaks, and his voice rises. "What else can I do, short of saying, 'Here, Blaine, let me off myself so you're one step closer to victory,' and then slitting my own throat?"
"Stop that," Blaine finally lets go of his arm. "Stop making it sound like I'm expecting you to kill everyone for me. That's not what I want."
"Oh, right, you want us all to hold hands and sing fucking nursery rhymes."
"And why is that so bad?"
Jesse doesn't get a chance to answer, because at that moment a rock collides with Blaine's shoulder. Looking down, Jesse spots the little boy from District Five, who apparently is the one that's been staying in the trees. It's obvious that the boy hoped to have knocked one of them out of the tree but missed his target, because no sooner does Jesse spot him than he dashes away.
"Hey!" the word escapes from Jesse's mouth, but he knows this boy isn't going to stop. He also knows that stealth and speed are this boys strengths, and if he loses him then he has no chance of finding him again. They'd found him (or, rather, he'd found them) thanks to chance. So instead of jumping out of the tree to chase him, Jesse quickly grabs the bow he has slung over a shoulder and notches an arrow. He doesn't have to kill the boy with this shot, but he does need to hit him somewhere.
And he does. When he looses the arrow, it catches the boy in the leg, making him stumble and fall. He tries to rip the arrow and keep going, but Jesse looses another one and gets his back.
"Jesse, stop!" Blaine grabs his arm, just as he's about to release a third arrow. Jesse shrugs him off and lets the arrow fly, getting the boy in the back again. He isn't moving now.
The cannon interrupts them, and the little boy's face is up in the sky.
"He's a baby!" Blaine shouts, shoving Jesse so hard that he has to grab onto a branch so he doesn't fall out of the tree. "He's just a little kid, Jesse! What the fuck?"
"Are we really going to have this conversation again?" Jesse swings from his spot on the branch, lowering himself back to the ground.
"Yes!" Blaine follows him down from the tree.
"No," Jesse's tone is firm, but he's not shouting. "This is what happens here, Blaine. We have to kill each other. That's how it works. I'm not going to make exceptions just because one of them's a kid."
"Well you should," Blaine shoots back.
"And you should learn that I'm the only thing keeping you alive, so maybe I know better than you about how this is supposed to work."
"And that's what's wrong with you!"
Jesse forces himself to breathe through his nose, focusing on a spot behind Blaine's head rather than looking at him. He counts to three on each inhale, then to five on each exhale.
"I'm sorry," Blaine says after Jesse's counted at least six breaths. "I… I didn't mean–"
"Whatever," Jesse snaps. "Let's go back to Dawn and Sheila."
They're silent again as they walk back, though Jesse keeps hearing Blaine taking sharp inhales, like he wants to break that silence but thinks better of it each time. He does that at least four times, so Jesse saves him the agony when they reach the oak tree.
"Don't worry about it," he finally says. "What happened happened, and getting mad at each other isn't going to help anything."
"Don't worry about it," Jesse repeats firmly. "Come on."
"No, listen to me," Blaine reaches out and grabs Jesse's hand, which does make him stop and listen. Blaine doesn't let go even though he now has Jesse's attention. He holds Jesse's confused gaze, his expression neutral, then he links their fingers together and smiles. Jesse looks down at their hands, then back up at Blaine's face, stopping himself from asking him what the fuck he's doing with difficulty.
"I'm sorry," Blaine says. "I didn't mean to yell at you like that." His eyes never leave Jesse's face, and Jesse's pretty sure he's supposed to be picking up on something Blaine isn't saying, but he still has no clue what the other boy is doing. "You do know better than I do about all this, because you're the one who's actually cut out for this. This isn't me, and it never will be, and even though I know we're supposed to kill each other to get out alive, I still can't watch it without…" He falters, though Jesse isn't sure why.
"I understand," he says anyway, which makes Blaine's smile widen for a fraction of a second. Then he's the one tugging Jesse back towards the autumn, still holding his hand as they continue walking. Jesse thinks he's given Blaine the impression that he understood all of what he's trying to do, but decides not to question it now and ask him about it later, whisper it in his ear while Dawn is talking, maybe, so the cameras filming them won't notice.
When they reach the area in the autumn they'd designated as their meeting place, it doesn't surprise Jesse that Dawn and Sheila aren't back yet. The sky hasn't grown very dark yet, which probably means the spring will be light for another hour at least. Maybe they should have stayed in the winter longer, looking to see if Ramona and Lis are hiding out in a different part of that season, but after killing the boy Jesse had forgotten about the two girls.
If Blaine has any misgivings or problems with being back here, he doesn't say as much. He lets go of Jesse's hand, but when Jesse sits down with his back against a tree, Blaine sits beside him, their arms pressed together, and links their fingers again.
Confused and deciding not to wait for a distraction, Jesse turns his head so that his lips almost brush against Blaine's ear, asking so softly he practically breathes the words, "What the hell are you doing?"
And Blaine actually giggles, as if Jesse's said something funny. Jesse stops himself from frowning, though he still doesn't understand. But Blaine reaches out with his free hand to cup Jesse's chin, tilting his face away from the tree trunk so that when he leans in, his face is hidden between Jesse's and the tree.
"Making it believable," is the answer that gets whispered into his own ear.
Jesse has no clue what that means, and he wishes he could say as much without fearing that a camera is filming this conversation. Or, really, nonversation should be the word, since they're hiding it and apparently Blaine's trying to make it look like… Well, Jesse's not really sure what this is supposed to look like. All he knows is that Blaine's suddenly acting like a schoolboy with an embarrassing crush, and–
Oh. He's going for the romantic angle. He's trying to make it look like they're into each other, to give the viewers an explanation as to why they've teamed up. Jesse doesn't really know why that's necessary, but he thinks back to his earlier musing about how Blaine would know how to appeal to an audience, how Blaine is likeable and different from the other tributes, how in comparison he, Jesse, must look boring and cookie-cutter.
Blaine's given him his humanity, he realizes. He's singlehandedly made their story make sense without giving away what's really going on. And while Jesse really doesn't want theirs to turn into a Romeo and Juliet-type story where the audience will think one of them gave up their life for the other at the end out of a sense of teenage infatuation (because that's all it is when you're this young and horny and stupid), Blaine is smart to recognize that they do need a cover story. They need to be interesting, to be more than just a group of four kids, two with high scores and two with lows, wandering around looking like a bunch of friends with no explanation given for that friendship.
Alliances needed to be logical, and so far none of Jesse's alliances have been logical. So it makes sense that when logic fails, the next explanation would be an emotional attachment.
Jesse thinks he can pull it off. He thinks he can make this convincing enough to last through the whole game, until the grand finale where he… does something… and reveals his true motives.
When they hear footsteps, both boys spring from their spot against the tree, Jesse shaking his hand loose of Blaine's grip. He's instantly ready to attack, in case it's not Dawn and Sheila coming back, but those two come bursting from the trees only seconds later, both out of breath.
"What happened?" Jesse asks immediately.
"They're in the spring," Dawn chokes out. "Lis is hurt. I think Geoff did it before they killed him, but we didn't stick around to find out the details."
"Why?" Jesse peers behind them through the trees. "They aren't–"
"No," Dawn shakes her head. "No, they're not chasing us. But they did spot us. Lis is in no condition to fight, and Ramona's not good enough to track us this far without me knowing. But we thought it was best not to slow down, anyway."
Jesse doesn't buy this story, doesn't buy that Ramona just let them get away, choosing to stay with her injured friend instead of getting rid of two competitors. Ramona hadn't struck him as the type who'd hang around an injured friend, anyway, but more the type who would have slit Lis's neck at the first sign of weakness. There's something wrong.
"I don't believe you," he starts, but no sooner had he started speaking than Dawn and Sheila exchange a glance and start running again, past Blaine and Jesse, going further into the autumn. And that's when Ramona jumps out at them.