The whistle blew, and the crew covered in black coal dust slowly rose from the depths of the tomb they worked in. A few weeks ago there had been a cave in, which had killed half of the crew present, so they were having to work extra hard to make up for the cave in. It was really beginning to wear down on the workers, undoubtedly, but Tox Mercer was especially filled with concern.
He knew he had no choice but to risk his life everyday, but he was the sole guardian for his son now. He still had faith in Morke, that she would come home, but it was such a longshot. He knew he had to work harder to keep himself well enough to be a good and capable father to his son, but that wasn’t the only thing weighing heavily on his mind.
He watched the screens diligently to see how well Morke was doing in the training for the Hunger Games. She seemed to be doing well, whenever he saw her, and it made him so glad. Of course he was still afraid for her, but she was such a strong person that he knew she’d make it. She had to make it.
She also seemed to have found interest in someone from another district. A tragic romance, of course, and as with all the apparent romances occurring among the tributes, it was being displayed and talked about by the show hosts consistently, along with other stats and important information. Tox wasn’t sure how he felt about it, but he wasn’t angry or upset about it by any means. He just felt sort of...hurt? Maybe that was the word, but he’d known for a long time that Morke didn’t love him. She stayed with him because she had nowhere to go, and they did have a child together. It hurt nonetheless, but he was trying to ignore it. However it was difficult with the news constantly playing.
He made his way back to his small home where Triste was waiting for him with his Aunt Mira. She had been a great help, surprisingly, and she didn’t appear to have any ulterior motives. At least, not right now.
Triste jumped to his feet as soon as Tox walked in through the door. “Dad!” he shouted as he ran over and threw his arms around him.
Tox smiled and hugged him tight and then looked at Mira. “Thank you for watching him yet again,” he said as he picked up Triste and held him. “Did you have fun with Aunt Mira?”
“Mhm,” Triste said with a nod as he tried to wipe some of the black smudges off his father’s cheek. “She told me it’s nap time, but I don’t have to nap, do I?”
“Actually you do,” Tox said as he raised an eyebrow. “So go and lay down, alright?” he gently set his son back down on the floor, and Triste reluctantly made his way to his room, dragging his feet the whole way. Tox smiled a bit and then he looked at Mira. “So, everything is good?”
“Of course,” she said. “And how are you? We’ve all seen the antics Morke has been up to.”
Tox’s brow furrowed a bit, and then he shook his head. “Morke’s facing death, Mira. I don’t think it matters how I feel,” he said. “She can do whatever she wants.”
“Even if it means cheating on you with some chump from 10?” Mira asked, putting her hand on her hip.
“She’s not cheating. We’re not dating,” Tox said with a shrug as he walked over to the water basin to wash his face with the small bit of rain water they had managed to catch in it. “These are her last few days of freedom. She can do what she wants.”
“Wow,” Mira chuckled a bit. “I’m impressed. I thought most boys would be super upset about that.”
“I guess I’m not most boys,” Tox said as he glanced back at her, and then the door opened and the other older sister, Tonya, appeared. He rolled his eyes a bit, running his wet hands through his hair to try and loosen some of the dust out of it. Why were the Hurd’s showing up on his doorstep right now? He didn’t want to talk about this anymore.
“Hey Tox,” Tonya said with a wave, grinning a sly grin that just seemed...odd. Like she wanted something. God, he hoped she didn’t want anything from him.
“Hey. I suppose you’ve come to walk Mira home,” Tox said as he moved around the kitchen area, trying to find scraps of food so he could get something in his stomach after the long day at work.
“I was wondering if you knew what Morke was up to,” Tonya questioned as she sat down at the rickety old table. “She’s a slut. I thought I warned you about that.”
Tox looked at her in surprise, and then he shook his head. “My son is sleeping in the other room. If you’re going to talk like that, then you should leave,” he said. “Morke is his mother, and he doesn’t need to hear anything like that from you.”
“Ugh, you’re such a prude, Tox,” Tonya said with a smirk. “You always have been. Same with your brother.”
Tox sighed heavily and then he looked at her. “Tonya, what the hell do you want?” he asked in a rather exhausted tone. Did Mira invite her over? If that was the case, then maybe he had to set up some ground rules about who was allowed to be here while she was babysitting, or maybe he needed to find another babysitter.
“Well, I just figured you’d need someone to comfort you,” Tonya pouted. “Mira can stay here with Triste, and you and I can go off somewhere more private.”
Tox stared at her for a long moment and then he rolled his eyes. “That’s what this is about? Well, I can promise you that I’m not interested,” he said as he ate the small bit of food he had for himself. All the rest would be for Triste.
“Oh please,” Tonya said as she stood up and walked over to him. “After Morke broke your heart? You must need some attention.”
Tox frowned at her. “She hasn’t broken my heart. What’s breaking my heart is that Triste still asks for his mother, and all I can tell him is that we can’t see her right now,” he said in an irritated tone. “Morke hasn’t loved me for a long time. Maybe she never loved me, and I accept that. It hurts, sure, but I will accept it. I don’t need comfort, but even if I did you’d be the last person I would turn to.”
Tonya looked surprised and then she slapped him promptly across the face and she turned and walked out of the house with a huff. She was definitely a Hurd, because only they could slap so hard. Tox bowed his head, rubbing his cheek. He didn’t feel that he deserved that, but he was glad she was gone, anyway.
“Sorry, Tox,” Mira said with a shrug as she still lingered by the door. “She asked for a favor, so you know. I figured I’d let her have a chance at you. I wasn’t sure if you needed some company, you know?”
Tox looked back at her. “Yeah thanks, Mira,” he muttered. He wanted to tell her to not bother coming back, but he didn’t know who else to ask to watch Triste. He’d have to keep using Mira to watch him until he had another option. Whenever that would be. “Can you just...not bring any visitors over?”
“You got it,” Mira said as she started to walk out, but then she paused and looked back at him with an amused smirk. “Pretty sure the younger ones are interested in your dick too, though.”
Tox was a bit shocked, but he just rubbed his forehead. “I’m not gonna...address that,” he said. “Just tell them all no. Please.”
“Alright buddy,” Mira said as she waved. “Sorry about all that.” and then the door closed and they were finally gone. Thank goodness for that.
Tox was just tired. He just wanted to rest, he wanted to be able to take care of his son, and he wanted Morke to be okay. But he couldn’t have everything he wanted, and he knew that.
He peeked into his small room and he saw Triste asleep, hugging his blankets and resting soundly. Tox smiled a bit, and he hoped more than anything that Morke would be able to come home and continue to take care of their son, but he was afraid, too. District 12 was not known for their victors.
He finally turned and went to lay down on his own bed. His stomach was still growling and his cheek was burning from that slap, but there was nothing he could do. He didn’t have enough food for himself and his son, so obviously his son came first, and the slap would wear away eventually.
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Time to sleep. Time to forget that he was going to wake up to a new world of fresh nightmares when the sun rose in the morning.