"Sitting next to this gun beats your heart in your mouth."
It's the same every time, a sad grey room with a single skylight and his father looking unimpressed, tapping his foot too fast against a damp cement floor. Water collects at his feet in a dip in the concrete before streaming to the drain in the centre of the room and Babe feels this weird sense of urgency wash over him like he's forgotten something.
Footsteps run by in the hall outside and there's a shout in the distance, gunfire--pop, pop, pop--the Capitol troops are on their doorstep and this time it isn't friendly. They know everything. Babe looks at the wall and sees the mark again, a wet stain in a large blob.
There's a gun in his father's hand, an empty bullet casing on the ground.
"Babe, go and get Cy, your mother's waiting for you," says his father and he doesn't have a choice, his feet take him out of the small storage room and into one of the warehouses. He's twelve and the world crumbles beneath his feet with every step and he feels like he's Superman. Factory workers run in from outside, guns in their hands and stains all over their shirts. They support a man between two of them; Douglas is bleeding out.
His father had built walls around the factory like a fortress, he promised that no one they didn't like could get in and at the time, Babe had believed that. He runs towards the sound of fighting, knowing that Cy will be there because he is every time.
When he exits the warehouse, there are plumes of grey smoke above his head and the sounds of war wash over him. It barely phases him, this isn't his first fight, his father had him running messages to different hold outs since he was eight. He does what he always has and keeps his head down, climbing up the stairs to the top of the wall to find Cy.
Gunfire whistles above his head and from the wall, Babe can see that they aren't the only ones getting raided. The sight of Nine burning stops him in his tracks. Smoke blooms up, blocking the sky and the wall beneath him shakes, the delayed sound of artillery following after. Ash falls from the sky, already starting to fall on the ground and it's so loud that for a moment, Babe loses himself.
If the ground is below him, he doesn't know it. A high pitched note rings in his ears, taking the sound of everything but muted screams and that pop of gunfire with it. He stumbles, shoulder hitting the high railing of the top of the wall and the world flickers on and off. A hand steadies him and Babe looks up at Cy who stares back down at him in concern, "Hey little buddy, what are you doing up here, it's not safe!"
Cy is nineteen and one of the best sharpshooters in Nine. He has a girlfriend named Nessa and he showed Babe the ring he's going to give her after the rebellion three months back. One time, Cy held off six Capitolite soldiers with just a single round. Babe wants to be just like Cy when he's older.
"Dad," Babe says, "Dad wants us." He scrambles up and takes Cy's hand who follows him, no questions asked. Even in all this, the idea of defying their dad is ridiculous. They hurry down the stairs as workers gather at the gate's double doors and hold it closed as a steady--boom, boom, boom-- shakes the whole courtyard. The gates will be breached soon but Babe still has hope, he still believes that there's a plan, that they'll be ok.
Babe and Cy run through the warehouse, the sounds of battle becoming muted the further in they go. The expanse of the main storage room passes quickly and they are surrounded by concrete walls again, a single door at the end of a large hallway. Babe isn't ready, he's never been ready to face it, this final thing. So they run too long, nothing but the sound of their own breathing filling up the space now, the battle gone and long over.
Cy's voice in his ear, gentle, coaxing, "It's not gonna change a thing, Babe."
He knows that. No matter how many times he runs, no matter how fast, he knows how this ends.
The door at the end of the hall opens slowly and the grey skylight waits for them, their father with the gun in his hand and this look on his face when he sees his sons coming towards him. His brave mask crumbles, replaced by relief and Babe knows that they'll be ok, that his dad has a plan.
They're going too fast. They're going too fast to turn around.
His dad's voice is broken when he speaks, his words strained, "Tell her I love her."
"And there's a centipede Naked in your bedroom Oh and you swear to God The fucker's out to get you."
Her hand on his chest brings him back.
The pad of each finger rests flat against his skin, slick with sweat and her voice is foggy with sleep. "'s k, Babe, justa dream, sleep," she mumbles and rolls back over. He sits up instead.
Moonlight paints the foot of the bed in a splash of silver and Babe holds his head in his hands, just trying to push the memories back out. It all comes flooding in anyway, an intense cold pain shoots through the twisted scar in his chest and he sees Cy's open, unseeing eyes behind his eyelids. The sound of that final gunshot whizzes past his ear followed by the resounding thud of his father's body falling right after. The memory always insists on fully playing out.
He won't sleep after that so Babe gets up and shrugs on a shirt. It isn't that early, maybe 3 AM. Nine is either just going to sleep or getting ready to wake up, he's hit the sweet spot. It doesn't mean much, for a couple of days now, the district has been holding its breath. Yeah, the wars have been over for a couple of years now technically but the Treaty is a whole new beast. The rebellion hadn't ended, they'd all just had to become tamers.
Babe grabs a handgun from his bedside table and tucks it into his pants before leaving the room. It's got three silver notches scratched into the black barrel and the metal stamp on the handle reads 'Adroxis Ammunitions'.
The kitchen is busy, a couple of guys sit at the table playing cards and there's a pot of coffee on, still hot. They straighten as he enters and he nods at them, beelining for a mug. Then it's out the back door and there's a campfire still going, some of the gang still up. They haven't seen him come out yet and Babe watches Tara Seraphim kiss Burma Flowers square on the mouth. They laugh at each other uncertainly right after and Babe smiles despite himself.
They have war planned for tomorrow but tonight, everyone rests.
He makes his way around the circle of light provided by the fire and walks out towards the edge of the property, fingers digging into his hoody pocket for a lighter and a cigarette. He doesn't need to sneak around, it's his place, but he doesn't want to talk and the mug of coffee in his hand is enough.
They'd all just sort of trickled in, the other kids. After the dust had started clearing, the Capitol had demanded more weapons from the Adroxis factories and somehow, it'd fallen on him, a kid still healing from a bullet wound who'd lost his whole family in the span of seconds.
He'd been okay with it, only because the idea of it is too large to comprehend. So the event exists parallel with him, a different timeline leaked into his. It happened but it did but it didn't.
And sometimes it visits him in his dreams.
At least his uncle had known what to do, so he was running the factories now. All Babe has to do is sign off on shit sometimes and he has access still to anything his little group of misfits might need. It's a pretty sweet deal. The ember of his cigarette lights up the night in front of him for a brief moment before burning out and Babe wraps his arms around himself. It's pretty cold.
They're technically a gang and he knows that. Smuggling guns to other Rebel holdouts around the district can hardly be counted as legal but somebody has to do it. The infighting has gotten worse though, last time they'd been trying to get through the Lion's Den, they'd had to pay a protection fee. The heart isn't in the fight anymore, after two years of the treaty, people have begun to give up.
Tara was the first to show up on his doorstep and after her, there'd been kids coming and going since. At first, he'd said no, that he didn't want any part of the rebellion anymore, but that first Bloodbath had changed things. Maybe it had been made to crush the spirits of the Districts but Babe had just felt the emptiness inside him finally filling up with something other than grief.
Years after his father's death, he still can't decide whether or not he hates him. Babe's trauma is just another story from the rebellion, nothing new. Every single person in the house behind him has lost someone that they loved. Maybe that's the dangerous thing about kids like them, they have nothing left to lose.
He does his part with a quiet acceptance every day knowing full well that he's weaving the rope for his own noose. It's a slow kind of suicide but hope is infectious and Babe still remembers the colour of it in his brother's eyes on the top of the wall that day. It was louder than the bombs at their front door, louder than the screaming of dying men and women around them and when Tara rang his doorbell two and a half years ago, it refracted off her like diamonds.
Babe stubs his cigarette out on the side of his coffee mug, half-inhaled. He knows full well that he should be nervous right now, that he should be feeling anything but the quiet acceptance that has sat in his gut for three years but he can't. Tomorrow they walk back into war.
Maybe his father hadn't missed his shot that day, maybe he'd hit exactly where he'd meant to.