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Strange things at Midnight

I waited for Haymitch to come, but he didn't. He never came unless they called him and made him. I think he won't come here, to make me leave my house. Today I was just going to sit. By evening his liquor called me. I went to his house.

He smirks as I enter. " Miss me sweetheart?"

"No. Missed Ripper's mash."

"Well buy your own then." He says holding it above my head. His eyes are good-humored but my need is bright now and it feels like spitefulness.

I cross my arms and glare at him. He stands there looking smug so I sigh and turn around and walk out. I hear him calling to me.

"Katniss. I was kidding. Come back. Don't make me chase you. It is getting dark. Please, Katniss." His voice is weary and defeated.

I stomp toward what used to be a town. Haymitch follows me. Not that he wants to, but he gets sick of people calling him, asking if he will come retrieve me. I tend to wander. At first, those who ran across me, tried to leave me alone.

I sat on the burnt steps of Peetas bakery for three days watching them gather the skulls and little finger bones of my friends. They spoke to me from time to time, but I just look at them and they leave me alone. I try to guess who the skulls belonged to as I find them, but every time I really know, I get sick.

I sat there all those nights too, until Greasy Sae told Haymitch where I was. He carried me home. Haymitch is a lot stronger than he pretends to be. After that everyone just came and got Haymitch when I seemed to get stuck somewhere. The drinking helped. When I was drunk I stayed with Haymitch. I got used to waking up to the mess and I didn't smell any better than him now.

He had started bathing me and I let him. I couldn't remember to do it. Sometimes he was angry with me and would wash me too hard, then my skin would break open and he would cry. I didn't feel anything when he cried, it was just interesting to watch him cry. Sometimes he was kind and so gentle.

I was funny about being naked. I knew I was ugly so I knew it didn't matter any more if he saw me and after you have been all but naked on national television, it's hard to get upset about anyone seeing you. In fact, if he didn't dress me, I would probably forget to bother. I know he dresses me in fear that I will go wandering around town, melty skin shiny, if he didn't cover me up.

I am ugly.

Only Haymitch can stand the sight of me. I don't know where Peeta is. I want to see him again. I am going to leave soon, but I keep waiting until someone comes who will love me a little. Gale was in two before my trial even started. He didn't wait around to see me hang or be fed to the beasts. He didn't kill me and he knew I wanted him too, but I didn't deserve that sort of sacrifice.

I could have done it myself, if Peeta hadn't stopped me. Maybe what the capital made him, his mutt soul wanted to see me tortured. I wonder if he felt as cheated as I do that they had not made me pay for his pain. They said I am a lunatic.

I wish for Gale sometimes but he is as gone as my mother. Prim's cat came home and I feed the ugly thing bacon. I am not so mad at him for being ugly any more. Now we get along better.

I think Haymitch is getting tired of me. He saved me again. He took me away so they didn't put the lunatic in an asylum for the criminally insane. He can barely take care of himself. But he does his best to take care of me, even though it must be pure torture for him to be cooped up with a repulsive lunatic. Everyone who loves me must hate me to want to send me home for Haymitch to take care of me.

I tie knots sometimes. I have them hidden all over the house. I tie the hangman's knot, but now I don't tie the same one twice. I make them out of yarn and string. I have rope ones too but Haymitch tends to take those away from me if he finds them. I don't tie them at his house, because he bellows mean things at me.

Haymitch tries to get me drunk first so that he doesn't have to fetch me with a hangover. It's really only safe for him to drink once I am safely passed out on his couch. Sometimes he holds me and I cry. I wake up with him most of the time now.

I am not drunk yet, but I am in his arms. He has given me a shower and himself one. I feel relaxed and exhausted. The tears won tonight and he tries to be kind then. It has been a nice evening since I stopped crying. "Haymitch, I am still a virgin."

"I know sweetheart. It's ok."

"I guess I always will be now. Who wants ugly."

"Your not ugly."

"Even people who I thought loved me…..they don't now."

Haymitch hugs me and strokes my hair. "That isn't true. Lots of people love you."

"Do you love me Haymitch?" I ask after a few seconds of silence.

"Of course I do sweetheart. You're like my own pet child." He says smirking.

"No. I mean. Do you love me in that way." I ask serious.

He inhales deeply. "No. But I could very easily, so lets head away from this topic."

"But if nobody ever comes back Haymitch. Could you then?" I lean up and twist around to see his face.

He laughs. I lay my head back on his chest and don't say any more. I blink the tears away, but as his shirt gets damp he makes me look at him. "I am not trying to hurt your feelings Katniss. You are not going to be stuck with me, I promise you. But if I ever were lucky enough to be stuck with you, I could love you in a heartbeat."

He pulls my face to him then and he kisses me. I smile.

"Katniss, I never dreamed it could be so easy to make you smile." He cups my face and I study this grouchy, old awful person and little spark of hope fizzes in me.

I move to him and kiss him. It is nice and gentle, but sweet in a way I had no idea that Haymitch could be. "Thank you Haymitch." I whisper and lay back down on his chest, listening to his heartbeat. I can hear his breath like the sound of waves.

I sing softly, drunkenly, to the drum I hear under my head. "are you, are you…"

Haymitch's voice joins mine, still fierce and deeply pitched. "coming to the tree…" We sing the old air, and repeat it, laughing.

I feel the blessing of the liquor and the morphling finally begin to wash away all the fear. It washes away my hammering visions of Prim as I tried to reach her. Haymitch moves carefully, beginning his own medication, secure that I am safe from wandering away in the night. I would have to crawl over him to get away. There isn't much room on the narrow couch, but somehow he and I have begun to fit together.

I never heard anyone invade our private little hell house, but I wake, head pounding and thirsty, lying on the couch in Haymitch's arms. I realize we are not alone. I close my eyes against the terrible light. Who opened those curtains? Sae must be in the kitchen but the smell is strange. She is making bread and the yeasty scent reminds me of Peeta.

Sae is usually noisy in the kitchen, she stomps around and slams doors, making no effort to let us rest. These footsteps are soft and they have a distinct off beat, as if someone limps slightly. I slit my eyes open and wiggle out of the grip Haymitch has clasp me in. I peek over the back of the couch and rub my eyes to see who is here now. "Is Greasy Sae sick?" I croak hearing the oven door close but not able to see who is making the sound.

A fluff of messy blond hair sheltering hard blue eyes underneath pops around the doorway and leans, shoulder butting the doorframe, arms crossed. He smiles like a pond ripple, without much life in the storms fury. "Hi Katniss, you looked so comfortable, I decided not to wake you." His eyes flick a fraction to Haymitch.

I look down at Haymitch and realize what he must see. He came home and found me nestled in the arms of someone who betrayed him once before.

"Your home?" I ask.

"It's not home. It's just another place gone to ruin." He says looking at the floor.

I crawl over Haymitch and he jumps alert. "Where are you going sweetheart." He mumbled and grabs my hand, not noticing Peeta.

I point at Peeta and he sits up and focuses one bleary eye toward the kitchen. "Did the drapes fall down again." he complains trying to shield his one open eye from the brilliant assault. "Oh? Well look who has arrived in the nick of time."

Peeta grimaces and his eyes look away as if he's caught the two of us in a situation that he finds embarrassing. "I didn't mean to interrupt. Maybe next time I will just knock until you two can finally crawl out of your booze long enough to notice." He turns flipping a dishcloth over his shoulder and says, "The rolls are done. Come get something in your stomachs and maybe it will absorb some of your dinner from last night."

Haymitch and I pass a look between us both feeling the chill coming from the baker in the kitchen. He shrugs. I wave my arms at him indicating how we were sleeping when he had arrived. Haymitch smirks and grunts as he gets up from the couch. "We have to start sleeping upstairs Sweeheart." He says holding his back as if he cant' quite straighten up.

A cabinet slams in the kitchen. I glare at him and make my way to the angry noises. I try to think of something to say to Peeta but instead I swallow a drink from an uncapped bottle trying to stop the throbbing in my brain. I hope he will say something. Brooding, he sets plates on the table. The kitchen smells nice, clean for once and full of good things. I reach out and pick up one of Peeta's rolls and inhale it feeling the warmth radiate into my fingers. My finger traces the crumpled top, where the cheese looks a little like, most of me.

Haymitch flushes the toilet and he has splashed water on his face and combed his hair. "So when did you get here?" He asks observing wide-eyed, the sparkling kitchen and the three kinds of rolls in pretty bowls sitting around the jar of wildflowers.

"I got here about four hours ago. I went to Katniss' house and Sae said I would find her here, that this is where she stays," He pours hot water into a pitcher with Yarrow flowers, making a strong tea. "at night."

Haymitch scowls at Peeta's implication. "Well it is more convenient for me then having to go drudging around in the dark to track her down."

"I bet it is."

I look up at Peeta and see the deep pools of blue, rolling like thunder clouds. I sip the bitter tea and blow on it, not addressing his complaint. I can't explain what makes me wander. I keep my eyes locked on his and Haymitch settles into the seat next to me.

"Well, I for one, will be tickled to have a good days sleep, without having to wonder if she'd stuck in some ruined building that threatens to fall down any moment. I delightfully hand Katniss and her tethers to you now."

Peeta seems confused. He shakes his head and glances my way. "What's he mean?"

"Oh nothing serious," Haymitch answers. "She just tends to wander off, and can't or won't, find her way home unless I go hunt her down. I get her drunk and hold her, so I don't have to waste all my time searching. I really hate it when she takes off at night. She's much harder to locate then. I don't like wandering around that place during the day. At night it…gets worse."

"I don't think drinking herself into a coma is the best plan Haymitch. I can't say I think you sleeping with her is any better." He says in disgust.

"By all means boy, implement any new plan you think will work. It's your turn now. I am done. As far as me sleeping with her, as you put it, that is all it was. Sleeping. I don't think I like what you hint toward." Haymitch sits cocky and slouched in his chair almost as if he's daring Peeta to say more.

"I don't much like it either. But two half-dressed drunks pressed together with the curtains drawn is pretty clear to me." Peeta says shaking in anger.

"Half-dressed? Is that all the thank you Haymitch you can muster?" Haymitch reaches for the bottle and refills his tea with the clear liquid. He doesn't need to ask, he simply pours some in my cup as well.

Peeta, his face rage and rancor, knocks the nearly empty bottle from Haymitch's hand.

I stir and sip this new healing brew and sigh. I nibble the bread from my plate but the conversation is as meaningless and far away to me as the taste of Prims goat cheese. The thought of goat cheese, makes me ill now. It reminds me of Prim and a distant place I heard about before the game. I don't really feel like I was ever there, stuck in an isolated childhood, full of a mother and sister and best friend. All those things belonged to someone else. I could see them, and pretend they were my memories, but I knew they are only stolen possessions of another girl who I don't see anymore.

I slowly rise and head for the bathroom. I close the door and relieve myself then slip out the window still holding the bit of bread in my hand. I hear heated voices inside, but they don't belong to me either. I walk to town determined to find that girls skull in the ashes.

I want to find her remains and bury them so she will stop telling me the stories of who she might have been. They say she burned.