Chapter 1- "Falling Apart"

Alone and denied.

Two words, which can sum up my last four months… of loneliness.

Jack's gone. Another family… a high end family that owns one of the biggest factories in District 8 took him in. They're peacekeepers. They'll raise him to be one and they refuse even to let me see him. But… he's fed at the very least, I guess.

Not something I can say for Felicity and Arthur though. I tried to adopt them, like the other family did for Jack, but I was refused. City hall and the mayor denied me the option, even though I have a house big enough for ten people and enough money to feed everyone in town. They say I'm too young and I can't handle taking care of a child.

Plus Aunty Ethel refuses to release them to my care, even if I pay her. She claims to the mayor they are her pride and joy, while I know really she just wants the monthly pay the District must give her, since she is the community home care taker.

I spent weeks running around city hall, arguing with every peacekeeper and making my case to the mayor. And still I don't have anything to hold onto.

Aven and Bud are too old to be adopted. I know it is a lost cause to even try to change that fact.

I hardly get to see any of them, Aunty Ethel has pulled out a restraining order against me, claiming me a potential predator to her children. She just doesn't want the mayor to see how much they would like to live with me.

I manage to catch glimpses of them, flash a smile once or twice, when I'm out walking. Strolling passed their school or the factories they work in.

I feel as if that's all I do now a days. Just wander around the Districts streets, I tell myself I'm just exercising, that I'm just getting fresh air.

But really that huge victor's house kills me. Staring at its walls, its vast emptiness. I have no neighbors, I'm Districts 8's only living victor.

I also know I'm out searching.

Searching for my missing best friend, Caleb.

I heard rumors. That he was finally taken to execution. That one of the peace keepers had whipped him one too many until he bled out. That they sold him to the capitol. That he starved. That he was killed in a prison fight.

So many rumors, so many spine chilling horrors.

Yet there is no way to know. Nobody would ask about him, no one is supposed to know him, let alone care if he has suddenly disappeared.

I go to our factory every day though. I sit up in the attic room for hours, just waiting for him to show up.

Sometimes I'll go at night, when the nightmares get bad. When I just can't get the images of blood and Eric and… around the time I wake up screaming.

I'm falling apart now a day.

Without my family. Without my best friend.

Not seeing Jack kills me. Not being able to even talk to the other kids, is like they have taken away the whole point of my Hunger Game victory.

And Caleb!

I miss him so much it's like a physical ache in my chest. No one is with me now… I don't have any friends. Not truly.

I have those kids that admire me, who like me because of the image the capitol has made me out to be. I have a group of teenagers who talk to me or walk with me sometimes, but I don't see the same playfulness and warmth in their eyes as I had seen in Caleb's.

Adults around town give me respect, everyone knows my name now. Everyone treats me with… kindness and some even suck up to me.

I don't hate it, but it's not… I'm not… they see me how I acted in the game. The girl who was too sweet to kill, the girl smart enough to win and not kill. But I'm not just that simple, they don't want to know me, how I feel… they think they already do know it.

The closest thing I have to a friend now, someone who doesn't have a restraining order against me, is Sirius.

I sit with him in the factory, while he works. I help sometimes, but I'm not supposed to. As a victor I don't need to work, but I take up a special skill. I chose sewing, since I had been in rope making and it's the same basic concept.

Sirius never got a new work partner. They said he already had one, and one was enough. I feel bad about him having to make up for all the work and that's why I started showing up. But I've warmed up to him, he's pretty much the only one who can get me to laugh or smile.

He's so much like Eric, its crazy. Maybe Eric was like him. They both have that kindness in their eyes, but Sirius is more confident, more laid back then his brother had been. We don't talk about Eric though… at all, ever. And it is like a heavy weight in the air when we're around each other.

He doesn't understand how much the games still mess with me, how much damned pain it is to have my family ripped away from me. I could tell him… but it's not something I would tell anyone, only Caleb.

I sigh as my thoughts round back to Caleb and shake my head to clear it. God, I miss that boy.

"Keera?" I hear the soft voice from my right. I look up at the kindly old women, with a hunched back, short curly gray hair, and crooked teeth. "How long have you been standing there?" She half scolds, in a motherly way.

I shrug slightly. "All morning, I couldn't sleep. Besides, I like my bread freshly baked."

She clicked her tongue in disapproval, opening the shop door wider. "You need your sleep, child. You're a growing girl."

I grin now, straightening my posture. I was leaning against the wall outside her bakery shop, one foot propped up, my hands in my pockets, and a hood hiding my face. "All the more reason I need my bread."

Mrs. Collins rolls her eyes, holding the door open and motioning her arms forward for me to enter. I gratefully push myself up off the concrete wall, drop back my hood, and saunter into the cramp little bakery.

It's got light blue tiles on the floor and as the small windows pour in the dawn's sunlight, it's a nice little sight, warm and inviting.

The owner scuttles in behind me, walking behind the display and counter, and then disappearing into a back room.

I take a seat on one of the two stools set next to the counter, propping an elbow up and leaning into my hand, watching her bring in the bread and different assorted goods.

She places a fresh piece of toasted sourdough bread in front of me and I pick at it as she goes back to baking.

I sit in here every morning, because I love how warm it is and the mouth watering smell of her food.

I started coming in here when the rain, that was a result of springs coming arrival, had forced me to seek cover one defeated day I had lost yet another attempt to adopt Felicity and Arthur. Mrs. Collins took me in and I stayed here, waiting it out.

She was a kind woman. Though old and abused through her long life she is the kind of women I wished Aunty Ethel to be.

"Have you had any luck getting those children out of that awful home yet?" Mrs. Collins asked, coming back to the front counter and placing herself in front of me, hands on her hips. True concern and care in her voice.

I shake my head, dropping my eyes to my bread. "No. I might drop by City hall again today, to pester him about it. Though I don't think it'll ever come to be. Once I reach eighteen and become a full adult, Felicity and Arthur will be too old to take in."

"Well if it was up to me, I'd hand those kids to you in seconds." She huffs, taking a ratty rag and wandering around to the glass display, scrubbing at it with vigorous care. "That little wretch they are with now, does them no good. If I didn't own my shop, I'd take those little angels in. I hate what they have to go through." She adds.

I frown at the woman, watching as she scrubs away, when there is absolutely nothing to clean on that spotless thing. Her frail curls drop over her matching gray eyes and her cheeks have reddened from the anger the current subject causes her.

"Me too, me too." I mumble, turning away and taking a small bite of bread.

We fall into silence then and as the early morning costumers start arriving I begin to just space out, staring at the wall, thinking about what I'll do next. Though I pretty much know I'll end up going to City hall for another argument over the kids, wander back to the factory and sit with Sirius, then slip away around the time the kids will get out of school to catch a glimpse of them, and then spend the rest of the day sitting in the weapons factory.

I probably won't go home tonight, just stay in the factory… get some sewing done. Then waltz through town, checking down random allies for Caleb on my way and stand outside the shop again, waiting until the sun rises and I'll be let in. Again.

The routine drives me mad and the lack of any sign of Caleb… the fear that he really is gone forever builds with each passing day.

I keep my eyes open though, always in search of a letter he may have left. In search of him, hiding under his black hood.

How will I ever know?

The frustration of it was getting to me and I decided I had to get up and do something, I toss down money on the counter for Mrs. Collins and get out of the bakery before too many people for comfort start coming along.

Once I'm out in the street I pull my hood on, so no one will pay me any attention or try to ask some stupid question.

I take a brisk walk around the people that have already begun to gather, trying to get to work or school on time.

I'm heading in the opposite direction of the horde, city hall is across town from the factors. The peacekeepers prefer not to live in the smog enveloping that part of town. I'd grown used to it though and now in the victor's part of town it seems too clean.

I pass by a couple peacekeepers walking around a block and they all give me strained smiles. I recognize one as Rankin. He had to drag me out of city hall just a few days ago when I started threatening the mayor physically.

He shoots me a suspicious look and I just merely keep my face averted.

I approach city hall and it's just the same as every time I've seen it. Dark stone and heavily protected. I walk passed the peacekeepers by the door and they glared at me too.

I smile at the woman sitting outside the mayor's office and she immediately gets up stepping in my path. "No- no -no. You will not be seeing the mayor; he is a very busy man Keera."

I shrug, rolling my eyes. This woman was such a fool; it wouldn't take much of a lie to persuade her out of this. "I know. I just came by to drop off a letter." I looked over her stance in front of his office door and then casually turned back around, pacing towards her desk and leaning against the side of it.

Her dark blue eyes glare at me suspiciously for a minute and I flash her an innocent smile, swinging myself like a child, and placing my palms on the ledge of the wooden desk behind me.

There is a moment and then her professionalism over comes her and she nods curtly walking back behind her desk, she pulls out a pen and jots down my name and then holds a hand out for my 'letter'.

I sigh exaggeratedly and my eyes wander to the right. "You know, I think I left it back at my house actually."

She pursued her lips, standing straighter. "Then go get it." She snapped.

I shrug and turn to go, I take only two steps before she's seated and then I whirl around running for the door.

"Miss. Grooves!" She shouts in a stern voice, but I've already opened the door and slipped inside it. I lock it behind me and the sectary hovers behind it.

"I see you've out smarted yet another one of my workers."

I smile slightly, turning to the mayor. He is seated behind his desk, his blunt featured face glaring at me. His eyes a crude icy blue and his hair is a peppery black buzz cut. His hand rubbed subconsciously across the shadow of the beard he had.

"I do what I must." I murmur, approaching him. His eyes narrowed as I took a seat in the chair across his desk.

"Don't we all." He nearly growled.

I nod, my eyes becoming serious. "Don't you think it would just be easier to give me the children, sir?"

"I cannot!" He hissed, his large meaty hand slamming down on his desk. "I have told you over and over, I cannot give you those children."

I watch him cautiously, not truly believing his lie. I know he could give them to me with just one signature, he just refuses to. "Don't take me for a fool." I say, my voice calm but sharp.

His anger rises, and his short temper has been pushed to its limit. He looks ready to get out his whip and beat me, but then he reframes himself forcing a strained smile. He gets to his feet shakily and walks around the desk. "I will tell you one last time, Keera, you will leave out that door and you will not come back. You hear me? There is no chance. Just get out."

He's stopped right in front of me and I grit my teeth, my hands cling to the chair stubbornly and I meet his glare with defiance. "Not until I get my children."

"They are not yours!" He shouts grabbing me by the shoulder, even despite my best efforts; he hauls me up and very disgracefully drags me to the door. It's opened and next thing I know I land very inelegantly across the floor outside, the loud slam of the door echoing around me.

The secretary smirks at me as I sit up, rubbing my shoulder where no doubt his hand will have left a bruise. I sneer at her and hiss, "Bitch," under my breath when I pass.

I flush a deep red once I am met with the crowd of young Peacekeepers standing at the entrance.

"Go well did it, Keera?" One of them mocked.

I sent him a murderous look and he grinned eagerly. "You want to fight, is that?" He taunted. "Oh wait," His eyes flickered about his friends who laughed with him. "You're too sweet to do that. Maybe you'd like to give me a kiss instead. Hmm?" He raised an eyebrow ducking closer to me as I passed, tapping his cheek and I half-heartedly swat him away.

"Go to hell!" I cry, as I skip down the stairs outside of City hall. My embarrassment and yet another defeated rejection was eating at me like a ravenous hunger. My nerves were reaching a breaking point and my throat was tight as I was on the verge of tears.

The first ten times I had been thrown and/or dragged out of that office had been nothing to me, but now after the twentieth… it was getting degrading. Soon I would have nothing left and I already lost everyone I had clung to.

I finally get control of my emotions when I reached Sirius's factory. The other workers don't even give me a glance as I slip over in the stool next to our old rope making station.

He's in the middle of twisting when I drop down near him and he throws me a smile, but his eyes are concentrating on his work.

"How'd it go this time?" He inquired, his voice strained as his fingers moved very quickly. I knew if he didn't finish the amount that was required for the day he would get a whipping, like every other worker, so I didn't mind that he was distracted.

I shrug, slouching forward, picking up three strands and start making some rope for him. "As any other time."

"Hmm…" He hummed, his brows knitting together as he began making the end knot. "That sucks."

"Yep." I say, popping my P. Then I watch curiously as he finishes, he folds it nicely placing in the box to his right a blinding smile gracing his lips in triumph.

"First one done." He barks happily moving along and collecting the strands he needs to make another. His eyes though slide over to me in concern, his mouth opens and I can see it is a great effort for him as he tries to determine what exactly he is trying to say. "I-I…" His eyes dropped back down and then he abruptly blurted out. "Do you want help with that?"

I shrug again, and I can feel it again as his fingers glide over mine, grasping his hold on the rope and we begin twisting it together like old times. I can feel the heaviness around us, it's almost suffocating and it makes me want to say drastic things. Things that might just anger him, or make him want to break off this feeble friendship… and I'm not so sure I could handle that.

His hand brushes across mine and each time it does my muscles coil tighter and tighter. I don't know if he feels it too, but his eyes are avoiding mine.

"So… how's your mother?" I murmur, remembering last time I was here she had stopped by and chatted with me. She was such a kind woman, and knowing she had watched me with her son in that death arena killed me as she sat smiling at me politely.

Sirius still refused to make eye contact. "She's okay, everything's okay n-"

His words cut off and his face hardened, but his fingers never once faltered. My stomach settled uneasily as I could just hear the end of that statement. "Now," Now that Eric has had his proper funeral just a week ago, now that they had a chance to say goodbye… but not really, he hadn't said it because it wasn't okay. Because Eric was still here with us, like a haunting memory that just wouldn't rest.

His nails ran lightly along my palm and the hair on the back on my neck stood up. Damn it all.

I wanted to stay, yet I couldn't risk it. If I stayed longer I would say something and I would probably never get to come back.

Once the rope was finished a stood up and this time I wouldn't meet his gaze as I mumbled a pathetic excuse. He accepted it readily, like each day, and I turned and left.

It was strange, because usually I would last longer than that. Maybe that too has reached the point where it had begun to grind away my spirit.

I exit the factory and I have a couple hours before the kids are released from school so I wander over to my new house. It's gray and fancy as I approach I stomp up the steps and open the door, swinging it open carelessly to smack against the inside wall.

I don't close it behind myself and I make my way to the bathroom. I get in the shower… that I used to despise because of its foreignness, but now it was a relaxation necessity. I make it scolding hot and I stand there, my eyes closed, for an hour at least, maybe more.

I get out; pull on a long sleeve white shirt and black pants before slipping on boots. They're not the clothes I'm used to and the boots were not built for comfort so I stray down to the kitchen pacing back and forth trying to wear them down.

I'm not hungry and I continue to pace, my thoughts turning slowly. I think about the kids, Sirius, and Caleb. All that I have been doing it seems is just think about them. It tires me, but what else can I do?

The clock on the wall chimes and I jump. Flashes of at least ten faces, covered in blood run through my mind. I see knifes on the counter and another memory, one of Cornelia, blooms in front of my eyes.

I shake it off, rubbing my shoulder, remembering where she had cut me and then I turn towards the door. I leave before anything else can trigger the memories. Though there is always the chance something else will.

I run down the streets until I'm at the school and I wait outside there, leaning against a nearby building.

It is at least another ten minutes until they start clambering out, I spot Aven clutching onto Felicity's hand as she fights her way through the crowd. One kid elbows her in the gut and Felicity had begun to cry when Aven had to tug her away from a pair of younger twins that pulled her hair.

They are finally free of the traffic and Bud shouts to me, he is walking away from my direction and he holds Arthur, straddling his side. He waves and I smile in return.

He walks forward into the crowd and I lose him in seconds; that will be it until tomorrow.

"Keera!" Felicity squeals, letting go of Aven and running to me.

I duck low and hug her tightly, kissing her forehead. "How are you?"

"We're holding out." Aven murmured, and then I glance up and my heart jumps.

"Aven!" I hiss. I let go of Felicity and stand, my face slackening in horror. "What happened?"

She smiles slightly, but then cringes, the bruises on her face causing her pain. It wasn't just the purple splotches spreading across her face that pained her, but her swollen lip and deformed nose must also sting. I step forward and try to envelope her in a hug, but she flinches away and my eyes sweep over her clothes that had poorly attempted to cover her beaten body.

My face darkens. "I'll kill her."

"No!" Aven shouts snatching my wrist. "Please, she'll just want to hit Bud or Felicity or Arthur! She knows we've been seeing you and this is her warning. She's told me that I'm to come and tell you that this will happen to all of us if you continue this." There was a slight whimper in her voice at that last part and my eyes dropped down to Felicity, who clung to my leg.

And now I lose another piece of myself. I can't risk even glimpsing them each day without having them show up beaten half to death each day. I wouldn't be able to bear to see Felicity's pale, almost flawless skin marred in such a way. Her blue eyes shine up at mine and I frown, ducking once more to kiss her forehead.

"Then tell her it won't continue." I mumbled, looking up to Aven and picking Felicity up into my arms. "Tell her I won't come back, so long as she stays her hand." I pass Felicity into Aven arms and her brown eyes are sad.

"You still love us don't you?" She whispered, true fear seeping in her voice. The fight and non regret that had always remained in those depths thinned then and I worried suddenly.

"Of course!" I nearly shout, I gently touch her shoulder and look between the two. "I'll always be watching out for you guys." They nod and I sigh slightly, looking at the now thinning crowd. "You should get going, tell Arthur and Bud I love them too."

"Okay." Aven agrees turning to leave though Felicity had begun to struggle. I watch them until they become too distant to pick out once more. I stand there still though for at least an hour, my mind utter turmoil. It takes at least that long for myself to accept the fact that I could not see them again, not without inflicting them pain.

I turn to leave as soon as that sinks in, my stomach burning with guilt. I was half way down the street when a sudden thought struck me.

Was this what Caleb constantly felt like?

A/N: I know, I know. It's long! And cut off stupidly, but it was really long! I hope you like it and all it's ANGST. It will get better though, trust me, I just needed to lay out a bottom line of like what has been happening. Hope you guys will review! Pretty please! Thanks for reading. -Taryn(: (sorry for editing mistakes)