Lost Child

Author: Howlynn
Realm: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Story Title: Lost child
Summary: Mr. Mellark has a secret personal attachment to Primrose Everdeen.
Character/Relationships: Mr. Mellark, Primrose, Mrs. Everdeen , Luneeta Mellark( Peeta's mother), Peeta, Gale

I Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author notes: Totally AU – Just a little story about how Prim and Peeta look an awful lot alike and have remarkably similar temperaments. Told from Mr. Mellark's perspective.

Across the counter, my eyes do not know me. Little Primrose smiles at me, my lost child. She is walking and talking already. I speak to her mother, and then the little girl beams when I wink at her and hand her a cookie.

"I need someone to eat this one. Can you help me, little-bitty-cookie-gobbler?"

I ignore the disapproving look. She does not hold any favor of me making a big deal about her daughter. She will never admit truth to the girl. I hear my boys, roughhousing in the back. They will bring the hand of my wife to mark faces if they don't settle down. I should warn them, but I stand here, making small talk, to keep her here a little longer. I no longer flirt with Mrs. Everdeen. She will never again belong to me and I must accept that I will never belong to her daughter.

She brings her here on such a rare occasion; it shakes me for days afterward each time. I get up each morning to my broken heart and mill through my day trying to evade the truth of my fragmented life without burdening anyone around me with how much I hate all that I am.

I am a coward torn between loveless duty and the sorrow of duty free love.

I have no hope of sweet obligation to the little blue eyed child she holds. She had made her expectations of our future perfectly clear, yet I dream of that past and spend countless hours attempting to find the place in which I failed. I am sure there must be an answer. I could have changed it all, if I could just have done something differently.

In my silent heart, I know what should have been. My heart thunders blood around, but it stopped beating, in fact, when she declared that my daughter would only know her legal father. I would be a stranger to her and the tiny bundle she clutched to her breast. Her face was as cold as the day when she'd said those words to me. The older girl, the child of the husband, has that same hard scowl, but it is nearly the only thing she had inherited from her mother. My youngest boy, Peeta, my only son, is the image of this girl.

Mrs. Everdeen politely thanks me for the cookie. I wave her anxious face away at her declaration that it was too expensive. What a prideful woman of poverty she has become, while I wallow in my slightly better circumstance, knowing I would throw it all away if she would just give me the word. I would let my wife have the bakery and her two boys, just for the freedom to hold both of my children's hand and love them. Peeta and Primrose, my children.

I go in the back right after her silhouette against the afternoon light, has disappeared. Not allowing my face the luxury of showing the agony within, I tell the boys to settle down but keep my face set in my placid mask. It is always the older two who are the concern. My wife's boys, brought into being by her lust for the butcher, three doors down, seem bent on sampling every trouble to be found. Luneeta, and her affairs and my pitiful soul have given my life this cruel fate. My eyes fall on young Peeta, quiet and industrious, practicing petals and coronas and slip stars with the pale white buttercream I have given him for this purpose.

I curse my weak heart; mourn my act of kindness each day. The past eats my present with sharp fangs of regret.

She was in trouble. Luneeta sits in my parlor one day, a vapid and vicious beauty. Her parents and my own were whispering in the kitchen of some scandal that I didn't care to even know. We had been friends since before school, our mothers dear to each other, we were constant playmates once. Luneeta had always had a terrible temper, but sitting before me now, I knew the business she carried on her shoulders this time was more than she could survive.

"Tell me." I demand taking my seat next to her and slipping my arm around her waist as I have done since we were in diapers.

Luneeta falls upon my chest in tears, whispering the confession of her unfortunate condition. The father is married. There is no solution. She whispers of her probable end, working the Hob as a sporting woman. I patted her back and smiled a little. "You are too mean to be any good at sporting."

"Shut up, or I will charge you double for spite." She smiled a little through her sniffles.

"Who says I would ever pay a call. I could just marry you instead?" I whisper.

"You can't. You would do that for me? You can't be serious." Her face twinkles between disbelief, anger and hope.

"I can't very well send you off to such a career and call myself your best friend. Say yes, and I will speak to them this minute." I kiss her hand wondering if I have lost my mind.

I had just lost the love of my life to a dammed coal miner less than three months earlier. I had heard of their toasting against her parents' wishes, and had been paddling a river of loss, the strong current of hopelessness dragging me toward the falls of nothing, pushing me through the days with no purpose and no end. Luneeta and her predicament had sparked something that day. I had a plan within moments and told her I would help her.

I entered this very kitchen to the irate eyes of four adults. I smile and explain what I intend to do to fix the situation. I will marry the girl and we can pretend the child is mine. It is a simple plan. They each jumped upon my generosity for reasons easy to guess.

My father is the only one to question my proposal. He knew I didn't love the girl and demanded to know why I would saddle myself with such a burden. I convinced him it was not so terrible. Luneeta was a hard worker and even if we were not sweethearts, we had a long friendship that I was confident would grow into more. He said I was too level headed for my own good. He treats me like a man from that day until his death.

Luneeta nods and seems grateful for my intervention at first, yet she watches her butcher and his plump wife with the same envy I watch my darling grow thin and hard under the cares of her coal-dust life. The coalminer's wife is polite and cool and I return the attitude, even mustering some affection for the pretty headstrong woman I married. I play the part well, mostly wishing for a look of regret in Mrs. Everdeen's eyes as Luneeta prances around the shop our parents had gifted us with wearing clean calico, finely bound by the tailor.

The boy is born deep in the night, healthy and bawling. I deliver him. She and I were both terrified, but we figured it out together with a lot of yelling and colorful name calling. We smile at each other like we had just stolen a plate of hot cookies. He was so much better than hot cookies and she glowed at my sarcastic praise. She called me the King of Fools for wanting to be such a little troublemaker's father. It never went unsaid between us that I had not married the prettiest girl in town, but the meanest. She is gorgeous, but her features are too familiar for me to really see that.

I went with her to the butcher's shop, to show off the prize Luneeta had borne him, and he looked upon that boy with such genuine pain, that I regretted the decision to rub his nose in what he'd thrown away. His wife fussed over the tiny baby, telling us how she lived each day hoping for such joyful news of her own. The butcher knew they would go to grave with no children. They had been wed eight years by then and no child found her womb worthy of exit. My wife conceived within a month of illicit activity with him.

Though I had not taken my wife in the marriage bed, I was content. I found our life to be on the road to something nice. I wanted to win her heart and took great trouble to show her the kindnesses of flowers and gifts and all the things I thought a young woman should desire. I wait patiently to see the flicker of desire for me. Instead, I see that her belly again swells with the child of another man. The same man who for financial gain, would never leave his wife for her, but would happily burden her with the fruits of his own lust a second time.

She serves me fractious anger and little else after the night I return to our kitchen, face scuffed and eyes swelling. It did not please her when I informed her with finality that the butcher would not return to her bed. I quietly promised her that if she made this error again that I would end his life. She cries for several weeks, and I simply pretend not to notice. I began demanding my rights as a husband. I am not unkind or forceful, but her choice is to allow me to be her husband or find herself a new one. Two years after the second boy was born, she finally gave birth to a child of her spouse.

Seeing him was the pleasure of my life and I hoped so hard that we had turned a corner. The disdain she visited on that tiny beautiful boy was more than I could stand. I would make no more young pawns with the woman. She had no desire for me and any I hoped to find in her faded with our friendship. When she called me King of Fools now, there was an edge to it with ugly bitterness behind it. When I called her a witch, no affection tempered it in merry tone.

I poured my heart onto him, beings she had none to spare him. My life was drifting. I found my gaze wandering more and more to Mrs. Everdeen. She seemed to carry weight in her eyes as well. There were rumors about the nature of her husband. He is seen on more than one occasion partaking of some of the Hob's darker wares and services.

It doesn't matter how we finally were together now, but in the moment, my world was a place of lights and darks and each is exquisitely captured and sealed away in memory. They say when you die, you relive the moments of your life. I hope it is true for there are moments I would die happy if I could live once more.

I heard she was doctoring in the Seam. Her parents were enraged and made every attempt to disparage her efforts. It seems that desperate people will turn to any aid, when truth of skill outweighs rumor and innuendo. She was stepping across the clannish barriers. Campbells and Clouds and MakGregors alike flocked to the wily besom that handsome young Everdeen had snared, for the bloody tailor was gifted and soft of touch in her ministering.

The first time I appeared at her door, sheepishly holding my arm wrapped in wet dish towels, covering the grisly burn from my oven door, she'd been startled and wary. But, upon seeing the bubbling skin and the sweaty sheen on my face, she'd helped me in and seated me in her kitchen-bedroom-parlor. I had never been in her house, and frankly, I am appalled that she lives in this fashion when I could have given her so much more. Then, I realize, I would happily live this way for her.

I sit watching her. There is no pain that can break through my intoxication of casually being this close to her again. I have, in my mind, many accidents in my future. I am going be in need of the bloody tailor regularly. I paid her and as if a thought had just crossed my mind, I asked her if she could look at my boy's foot. He had a growth that pained him.

"Why did you come here?" she asks, aware of my actual need yet demanding that I clarify.

"I would rather die of infection then cross the doorway to ask your parents for a rubbing spirit." I say this with no bravado, just fact. "So, should I?" I study her face as she tries to put my oblique hint together.

Her brows knit and she leans on the doorframe, arms bracing her frame with protective fold. "Should you what?"

"Drop dead of pride rather than crawl to you for a kindness?"

She doesn't hide the sharp point of my rebuke. She has ignored my existence since she murdered my soul with her decision. She pretends we are distantly acquainted at best, as if our bodies had never found the first experiments of love in each other's embrace. I live them now, the only comfort I know of lust and passion, with my solitary excursions to the basement to keep the ovens free of ashes. In the basement, Mrs. Mellark wears this woman's face and I live again for a few moments, and then washed in guilt and embers, take my empty heart up the stairs again.

Her face hardens at the desire she sees, yet her cheeks high color tell me all is not as hopeless as I have imagined. "Bring him by tomorrow. I did not think you would be of such stubborn degree on my behalf. Who brought your children?" Her father had the only real Capitol training in the district, but there were other wise women about.

"I brought them. The one that is mine and the two who are not. There will never be another. Motherly instincts do not grace my wife any more than she begrudges her husband the things leading to future birth. How is your life Mrs. Everdeen?" I lean on a post, matching her posture.

"You have always made me blush, Mr. Mellark. It is good to see that something of who I remember still survives." She bites her lip, and then blesses me with a small melancholy smile.

"Don't be so sure. Day by endless day, I slay that stupid boy. He only wishes I could do it faster," I say with a serious mirth. Laugh at me, darling one, and twist the knife properly this time. My eyes are probably broadcasting my thoughts.

"Please don't say that," she whispers, eyes darting to the street and neighboring porches a few feet away.

"Why, it isn't as if you have any investment." I dare her to say differently.

"You always were presumptuous." Mrs. Everdeen lifts her chin slightly, steps back and swings the door to close it. "Bring him in the afternoon." The door clicks shut. I stand there listening for a moment; she doesn't walk away, so I know she is watching me through some crack in the wood. I stand there for a moment, looking at the door imagining I can see her, and then I bring my thumb to my lip as if deep in thought. Long ago it was our secret way to flash 'I love you' in public.

I lead my boy to her hideous shack the next day. My heart beats with her sweet tone as she speaks to Peeta about his shoes. She tickles his little feet and Peeta enchants her as I did once. She offers me tea and I sip it slowly, as Peeta and her tiny fearsome girl argue over sticks in the yard. Peeta is patient for his age. When Katniss yanks a prize from his hand, he bends over and picks up another, offering it to her with his face lit with sugariness.

"Are you content with your choices? Do you ever wonder?" I boldly ask.

Her deep sigh tells me the answer she wishes not to reveal. "I do wonder. In fact I wonder quite a lot. It doesn't matter."

"It matters to me more than you will ever know." My chipped cup and mismatched saucer hold my attention, but when I finally manage the courage to look, she has tears in her eyes.

I touch her face in sympathy and lean across the table; my lips find their home with a groan of madness and then she is in my arms, words saying no and body screaming yes. For a few shallow moments, I exist again.

Our want found hurried, frenzied outlet. We were two teens with nothing but now again. The children played in the yard as we let our cries muffle into shoulders, unable to stop and think of what this meant. We rearranged our garments and she clung to me as she let out five sobs of apologizing regret, and then pulled away as if this had not happened. I stood there looking at her, my breath still heavy with our sneaky passion. Words of love are on my lips, confessions of all I need in the world, but she doesn't want them yet.

"That should not have happened. We must never give in to that again." She seems to be both commanding me and convincing herself.

"I would rather drink poison, by you very hand, then know you mean that. Please. I know it is not ideal, but don't pretend any longer. We have made ourselves miserable for so long. I will do anything you want, but please, I beg you, don't send me away with no hope." My voice is more tired than pleading, but she holds her fingers to her throat, worrying her necklace, tears of fear in her eyes.

"We are married. We have children and it can't be fixed anymore."

"They say in town, he's abandon you. Where is Mr. Everdeen?" I ask with gentle authority.

"He will kill you if he ever finds out. It isn't a figure of speech. He's…even in the same room I couldn't save you. He is very efficient at it." Her hand covers her eyes, her other hand fisting to her hip and she shakes in emotional turmoil.

"Would he harm you?" I will hang if she even hesitates.

"No. He Loves me. In his way. But my pleading would do you no good. You would be Hob stew before your family missed you."

"Then let me die happy. When can I see you again?"

"Your wife?" her head shakes.

"Meet me at the tree, tonight. Like we did before. Please."

"You have to go. I can't think. I can't. You know I can't." She stands at the door waiting for me to leave.

I turn as I comply. "Midnight. Just like the song. I can return tomorrow demanding you skills in poison or I could simply bemoan our tryst to your dear mother. I hear there is a fine pork chowder served by the Sae woman. If I go missing be sure to have some." My eyes watch her, glittering in mirth at how easily I could accept that fate.

She sighs deeply twice then flicks her eyes on me for a split second as her head bounces up and down marginally. I carry Peeta home. I watch my wife. I pity us.

My wife goes to bed. I quietly stroll along the darkened lanes. I tell myself that she will not be there. Her parents could be talked into a concoction, for the right price. I am certain that to go on without hope is no longer in my ability. But as I near the tree, her shadow breaks from the trunk and I run the last of the distance.

Oh God, that was the most perfect summer of my life. We couldn't get enough of each other and I had come to the decision that I was going to leave my wife. I would take Peeta and she and I would be together again.

I waited at our tree, as I had every night of happy I had known. I had tucked a loaf of bread into the blanket I carried. I heard her running to me and I stood with a huge smile flashing in the three quarter moon. Her cheeks were covered in tears.

"What is it? What has happened?"

"He's back. I'm pregnant. I can't see you anymore." She tells me hurriedly.

I give her all the arguments. I tell her I will leave Luneeta. I begged her not to take everything important from me, but her face told me she was already gone.

"I am sorry. I am so sorry," she says.

Whatever the man had done before, she forgave him. I wanted him to leave her again and bided my time. Wherever he'd gone, he returned a changed man. He gained respect and voiced dissent. He treated her well and if he ever realized that the child she gave birth to in the early spring was mine, never a stray blink of that knowledge crossed his face in his dealings with me. I gave him every opportunity, even inviting him in the house when I bought his squirrels, rabbits and berries.

I made a nuisance of myself, dying to see our child, near psychosis with the want of her and the wee bundle. It was a cold day when finally she brought the baby. The children were at school, my wife off spending money and the bell rang, bringing my life to an end with her determination that I understand her words.

She was in love with him. I am nothing to her, but a fond distraction. Though she never meant to hurt me, I had taken advantage of her vulnerability. She is happy and I would let her be if I really loved her. She had a million cruel words to convince me.

I held my daughter and cried at the fact that she would never be mine to hold again. I clutched my tiny lovely offspring to me with the greed of a condemned man. I plant all the kisses on the tiny head that I can, knowing these would be all I was ever allowed. My grief is infinite, swallowing me whole, taking my will to even pretend with it.

I cried for the life I wanted, destroyed in the foolish dreams of a madman as he promised them freedom on the horizon and moaned his messages to the townspeople in a voice that made the birds stop to listen. When she left, I can't deny the sorrow slaughtered everything I had left and I laughed as it happened. I took on the appearance of an empty corpse. I managed over the months, not to bother to actually die. Every day, I opened the drawer in my tiny office and looked at the small bottle I had paid her parents dearly for.

Peeta couldn't be left alone with Luneeta. She would beat him to death if I wasn't there to stop her. She couldn't hurt me directly, I felt nothing for her. But she could hurt Peeta, and I owed him my protection. When I realized she and the butcher were at their grubbing secretive activity again, I only said that she was not to bring any more children into the world. She agrees, now that the oldest boy nears the reaping. She began to take over. I didn't care. I did what she wanted; the spirit I had once harbored inside was gone. Peeta and I existed separately from Luneeta and her butcher's boys. I certainly had affection for them too, but I stayed for Peeta.

Rarely did a day go by that I didn't long for the end. I put on a face of cheer for everyone, but more times than I can begin to recall, I would stroll down to the terrible tree. There were often bodies still swinging from the branches. Rebels hung in those days. My heart could have drawn flies. I would stand there, the smell gaging me, the flies buzzing and maggots giving the sometimes familiar face an unexpected gruesome life.

I would stand there and smile at them with jealousy. I took that small aqua blue bottle with me most of the time. I looked at it now with the lust I had once given to her blue eyes. I let the contents crest back and forth and sometimes held the amber liquid to the sun, mesmerized by its dusky capable beauty.

Years pass. Mr. Everdeen is killed in a cave in. My son silently watches Katniss Everdeen with his innocent cobalt eyes filled with hope. I watch her mother with no hope of any kind. I had tried at first. I brought food and she refused to speak to me. I gave her money and she let it tumble to the floor without even knowing I was there.

I didn't give up. I pleaded, begged and promised and finally one day she looked at me and said, "Go away. I don't want you. I never loved you and I never will. Now get out and leave me alone and take your damned charity with you." She threw the rolls at me. She screamed that I had ruined her life. Maybe I had.

I never went back. The fog became too deep and I stumbled through visionless days comforted by a small bottle, knowing the right day for it would come. My wife grew to hate me and even that meant nothing. The more belligerent she became, the more I rewarded her behavior with indifference. I stood on the banks, watching the river wash past, just a lost child waiting to mutely drown.

Mrs. Everdeen came in the bakery once or twice a year. Sometimes I didn't even bother to wait on her. The boys could take her order. Primrose came without her mother these days. The sister would bring her to my window to look at the cakes. Sometimes a cupcake would find its way into her hand. The scowling one didn't ever tattle on me. She refused any treat I offered her, but she allowed her sister to have my little indulgence once in a great while. I watched my beautiful daughter grow up just beyond the glass, but at least I saw her. It was more blessing than I deserved and Peeta and I began making more and more elaborate cakes. For Peeta, it was art. For me, it was enticement to get her to look in the window longer.

It began with a wave. Every day as she passed the window and stopped, she would seek me out avoiding my wife. She still has my eyes; how could anyone look at us and not know? In the deep winter she would stand quaking blue outside the window. One day I invited her in under the pretense of needing a customer's opinion. After that I let Luneeta take an afternoon nap each day. My Primrose came to me and I made tiny sample cookies and each day passed them out to the children. I give them weak hot tea in little paper twist cups, and I add a little sugar some days. I let them all come, so she will not be in trouble or singled out.

I am rewarded with something I look forward to every day. In the cold afternoons, my bakery bustles with warmth and life. It isn't perfect, but not even Mrs. Everdeen could break my tiny bond with my sweet Primrose. The world moves, and I no longer swim against the current, but I am content to float now.

I wonder what the odds are? The seventy-fourth reaping was a day in which a long dead soul watched in pure misery as the daughter he could never be allowed to even hold, was called before the world to die. My Primrose was leaving me and I stopped breathing. My daughter. Then the older one volunteers and I have to say, I know that her mother has had no change of sorrow, but I rejoice that I may still have a chance to love Primrose in some small way. I am hyperventilating with relief, my wife is giving me a curious glower of annoyance and I hear only the last name. Mellark.

No. Please. "Peeta Mellark?" He takes the stage and I look at my wife and see the hard terror in her eyes.

For a moment, Luneeta and I are almost real. Our boy is to die. I know he won't kill her. I know he won't come home. He loves that Katniss Everdeen. It would be like me killing her mother. I smile at him as we listen to the droning lies. The only truth is that when he dies, I am finally free to join him. Those deadly falls thunder in my ears. I finally have found my long awaited day.

I run to the bakery and I bag cookies. I meant them for Peeta, but somehow I wander into the line to see Katniss Everdeen. I don't know what to say to this child who just saved my daughter, so I hand her Peeta's bag of cookies. I pass Mrs. Everdeen and Primrose in the hallway. She looks through me as if I am not there. I guess I haven't been for a long time.

Luneeta breaks Peeta's heart as she tells him that the Everdeen girl is a survivor. I tell her on the way home he will die protecting that girl and smile as she rolls her eyes as if it doesn't matter. "They don't call you a witch for nothing Luneeta. Do they?"

"Did you see the other one? Spitting image of Peeta. Didn't look a bit like Seam trash." She says in an off handed way. She frowns all the way home. I have goodbyes to say.

I am out the door early the next morning, five loaves of bread and a cake boxed up and tucked under my arm. It was the last one Peeta had made. I think it would please him that his sister would have it. He won't live to know of his gift, but I will know. The door opens and Mrs. Everdeen doesn't even comment, she just stands to the side and lets me in. My daughter smiles up at me as her mother offers me a chair.

Nobody speaks. Tea is set before me, I refuse the offer of sugar, knowing it is too dear for them to spare. I set the cake on the table, carefully taking it out of the box. As I look at the little daisies, finely wrought buttercups and orange tiger lilies, I fall apart. Without thinking I huff out to Primrose, "It was the last one your brother ever…"

Mrs. Everdeen goes white with humiliation and coughs, trying to cover my error. I am too lost to care. I collapse back to the rickety chair and watch the tremors of my hands, not having the energy to lift them and brush the tears from my face. I feel skinny little arms fold me to her stomach and softly her words change my world. "It's ok Mr. Mellark, Peeta and I guessed it long ago. I know who you are."

I look up at her. "I'm sorry. Your sister and your brother. Oh Primrose."

She nods. This has already occurred to her. "Are you ashamed of me Mr. Mellark?"

My stunned face turns to her mother. "Is that what you told her, while I scheme and ache for just a glimpse of her? I give way ten pounds of sugar every fortnight, just for the few days a week she might be allowed to come collect one-"

"No. I never said anything. Prim, what gave you that idea?"

"Because Sarah says town Daddies don't like their Seam babies," she declares honestly.

I lay my head on the table, sick to every last cell. I can't speak. I reach in my pocket and take out the little bottle. I hold it tight, lest she snatch it. I wait for her to recognize what her parents put in bottles like this. I sit back up and tuck it back in my pocket. My voice is a shadow of a whisper as I strain to get the words out, shaking in the deepest fury of despair I have ever known. "Choose. I can't know she thinks that. If it is still what you would have of me, I will make it easy for you."

Her face is blank. I wait and then I stand up and walk out. I can't even glance at Primrose. I don't slam the door. I hold the bottle in my fist. No more. Both children are lost. I hear the door open but I won't turn. I walk.

Footsteps behind me tell me it is not Primrose. She grabs my arm and I stop. "I get that you never loved me, but I had no idea. If there were even an ounce of kindness in you, you would have put the bitters in my tea yourself rather than pay me in that way." I pull my arm away from her grasp and walk faster.

"Stop. Please. Come back. I can't do this out here."

I turn around and smirk at her. I step back to her and kiss her cheek softly, right in the street. My voice rumbles, "Don't bother doing anything. Goodbye, Mrs. Everdeen."

"Don't be an idiot. I have always loved you," she whispers.

"Don't pretend to care for the dead, Mrs. Everdeen. That she has thought that for who knows how long is not fixable. Nothing fixes that. I would have done anything to hear those words once. Now I hope they aren't true. I am afraid that this time you took too long to decide."

Her face pinches into anguish. "I wasn't deciding. I was trying to figure out where to start. Please. I know what I said that day. That was the lie. If you know me, how could you think I could want this?"

"This one time, what I want is all that matters." I smile and shake my head at her in disgust.

"Give it to me. Right now. I will let you tell her anything you want." She holds out her hand, wanting what is in my pocket.

"I have nothing to say anymore. I'm sorry. I need to go. I am very late for an appointment. Years in fact." I hear her saying please but I keep striding away. Her words are just noise.

"You aren't the only one who goes to the tree you know. I have seen you standing there. Please don't leave her. Not now." She is screaming the last part.

I sigh deeply. Primrose. She is desperate enough to hand me my daughter. I turn and look at her, anger narrowing my eyes. A few hours don't matter. "I will come back to your house, but I keep the little bottle. We have grown fond of each other over the years." I walk past her, leading her to the door.

"How long?" she asks. She points to my pocket.

"I bought it the day after I held her."

"What stopped you?"

I take a deep breath. I look at her and blink, trying to form my thoughts. "Nothing but obligation."

"I thought you would say hope? Or something like that."

I snort air out my nose, a mocking sound. "Haven't carried that burden for a long time. You took every last scrap of it, Mrs. Everdeen."

I don't meet Primrose's eyes as I take my seat. I sit with my eyes cast to my hands wondering what tale this woman will spin. Whatever she says, I intend to agree. I let her tell the story. I am fascinated with the events through her eyes.

"He is acting like this because I hurt him so deeply Prim, not because he doesn't love and adore you."

I finally look up. Primrose smiles at me. "Did you really give away all those cookies, just for me?"

I nod. "Your sister was too strict about the cupcakes."

I hold my family and all of us somehow melt into our shared sorrow. How we got here doesn't matter, but finally we are here. There are kisses and sad smiles, confessions and regrets, but for once in my life my heart begins to beat again. This day of agony has somehow settled into comfort and the ease of people who have loved hopelessly is beyond the calls of right and wrong. "You are such a beauty Primrose. How did you get to be twelve?"

My son has to do things I have shamelessly never prepared him for, yet he does them somehow. I do not fault him for those things. I am just thankful he had the mother he did; she made him strong enough to see it through. I give my wife credit for his ability to kill an injured girl in the dark, but I give myself credit that he has the kindness it took to perform such a task. I watch him dying slowly in the riverbed with not one gift from his mentor. My wife says she will personally skin Abernathy. I have no doubt of her ability to fulfill the threat.

He suffers so badly and I can't help wondering what terrible power holds him in the world, yet I know. She is her mother's daughter and he is my son. At the last moment, when all hope is lost, she comes for him. She gives him hope and he gives her his heart.

Peeta tells the story of his first day of school. My wife stands in the parlor, face red and nostrils steaming like a well rode horse. Her head swivels to me and the next thing I hear is her laughing. She takes my hand and squeezes it. "So, King of fools. I didn't break your heart? She did?"

I nod. What is the use in lying now.

She huffs in near celebration. I look at her curiously.

She smiles, a little kindness there for the first time in years. "You should have told me. I thought it was me. All this time I grew to hate you because I thought I had let you down. You saved me and I let you down in every way. If I had just known long ago you were broken to start with…it might have been fixed."

I chuckle at her words and kiss her hand. "No. I was broken. You didn't get any prize in husband material. I thought you might one day have some affection for me, but it isn't your fault."

She nods. "Will you leave me now?"

I look at the ceiling. "Not until the boys are grown. Then we will see. We will talk about it once our obligations are finished."

"I can live with that. Until then, do you think we could be friends again? Like when we were little?"

I grin at her. "That sounds nice Luneeta. I would like that."

"Don't get mad. But, if you didn't love me, why did you beat him up?" she asks with a shrug and a shy giggle.

I look at her a long time before I speak. "I did love you and I still do. We were best friends once. He is an ass Luneeta. He loves her money more than you. Because, he wouldn't leave her for you and you deserved better. He wanted you. I thought it would make him realize what he'd lost. He wasn't worth what you gave him." I explain.

"Wow. The King of Fools married the Queen." She kisses my cheek and shakes her head at me in silly sadness. "Thank you for beating him up for me. I am sorry."

I hold Prim and her mother the morning of the feast. Gale Hawthorne shows up and gives us an odd stare. He drops off game and asks tenderly if she lived. He closes his eyes and shivers in respite. I see him full of love and fury and I wonder if my son will ever survive the battle for the girl's heart. I smile at this man and only hope my boy has the chance to try his wits against him. His competition is as fierce as mine was. God, I hope he can't sing.

The berries bring my first public sobs. The people in my shop move to me in attempted comfort. I would swallow the damned things too. I don't breathe even as he spits them on the ground. The announcement doesn't change my anxiety; he's in terrible shape. They show the girl gone insane trying to get to him as Doctors announce each time his heart stopped. Then there is no word for days. I hear he has died. I hear he lived, but is brain dead. I hear she killed herself before they could stop her. I pass the excruciating unknown hours in a frenzy of baking. My wife watches every moment, hurrying in with updates then rushing back, fearful she has missed the obituary.

Primrose comes every day. My wife backs out and gives us the illusion of privacy, but I would be disappointed if Luneeta were not listening by the door. Nothing is said that she could not have listened to openly.

There are always winners and losers. He lost a leg but won the girl. Then he lost the girl and I watched my son's heart stop beating. His river is dragging him along with the current. I hope for him, and I sneak away to make love to his pretend girlfriend's mother.

My heart beats again. One day I take the aqua bottle out of my pocket and hold it up to her coyly. Her eyes flash fear and confusion as I open it without explanation. I smile in jest as I pretend to bring it to my lips and she franticly tries to knock it out of my hand.

I hold it out of her reach, a grin trying to take over control of my face. "Give me one reason not to."

"You know the reason!" she breathes heavy in agitation.

"I'm old. Remind me?"

"Because I love you, dammit!" she says eyes still locked on my hand.

"Are you sure this time? I have heard this story before." I shrug as if I really don't believe her.

"This time is forever. I swear it. I love you. I never stopped. Please, I don't understand."

I tip the contents and the deadly stream splashes harmlessly into the sand and disappears. "Now do you understand?" Mrs. Everdeen shakes her head and laughs at me, eyes sparkling with love, unsure what to do with the jolt of adrenaline I have just released in her. My lips demand she use it productively as I fling the bottle away for good.

Katniss and Peeta go on tour and after what we saw while they lived next door to each other, I am shocked and most of all saddened by his heartfelt proposal. She accepts, but something feels so levelheaded and broken. History repeats itself. My son is to marry a girl to keep her out of trouble.

He means well. I mean well too, but I am no comfort for him. Prim and he seem to find a peaceful place with each other. She is good for his heart. My wife chooses to continue to do business with Haymitch Abernathy, beings he managed to bring some of her son home. Some will have to do, because my boy didn't come home. A near version of him came home, filled with nightmares, hard eyes and strange duty. Peeta wears the face and burdens of a man. He paints with fanatical expertise but his revelations are all shadows and monstrosities. His cakes all look like funerals to me.

It is winter when I stand just outside the bakery and watch them beat Gale Hawthorne nearly to death. My wife cries and she doesn't even like him. Darius tries to stop the new man's whip and is delivered a blow to the head that crumples him to the snow. Then the girl shows up screaming and I flinch as the lash falls across her face. My son steps forward and my own feet move at the knowledge that he is about to do something foolish, then suddenly Abernathy shows up. He is in charge with a few rude comments and I finally see the man my son speaks so highly of with new eyes.

The crowd disperses. Gale is carried off. Luneeta and I drag the abandoned peacekeeper into our store. There is a pounding on the door, and then before we can answer, the door is broken in. Peacekeepers hold us at gunpoint as they take Darius. He is hauled out and we never see him again. My wife makes no comment as late in the night, after repairing the door; I set off in the blizzard to Victor's Village.

Peeta doesn't even pretend surprise as I quietly enter. He sits with his competition. I look down at the tattered shredded young man. My bloody tailor has done fine work. It has been a long time since this this has occurred. "Are you here to check on Mrs. Everdeen?" Peeta asks.

"And you and Primrose," I say with a soft smile.

"My sister is fine. She didn't even blink at this. She is strong but gentle, just like you, Dad. I saw you coming to help you know. I saw mother cry. Funny, she cried for him, but didn't cry when I left for the games." There is a bitter tone to his words.

"You know son, things are better between your mother and I now. She isn't as afraid all the time. She is letting out many emotions she'd long suppressed." I try to explain, choosing my words carefully.

"I am sure you sleeping with Mrs. Everdeen, is not on Mom's list of better." His eyes are steady with the accusation.

I sigh. "You resent this?"

"I don't know. I don't know what to say."

"If it were Katniss. If you spent twenty years watching and finally found a chance. What would you do?" I smile a little, knowing what he would do. "Now say she had given you up for this one here. In the mean time you found out Madge Undersee was in terrible trouble, would you help her?"

"What kind of trouble?"

I raise one eyebrow, "The kind of trouble that needs marrying."

"You mean? Oh." His face is now registering my predicament. "I guess I would for Madge or Delly."

"Would it make you love Katniss less?"

"Nothing could ever stop me from loving her." Peeta is so sure of himself here.

I wink at him and say," Don't think you're the only man who ever would have died for a girl he couldn't quite keep son. I don't want to offend you, but this isn't some sneaky thing against your mother. I am not taking advantage of some poor sporting woman. I love her. She is my heart. Your mother is my friend."

His face pauses and his eyes narrow slightly, studying me. Finally with a nod, he says, "And do you intend to leave your friend now that your lover has allowed you back in her bed?"

"Surprisingly no. Not right away. Your mother and I have settled that once you boys are grown and established we will see where we are. She is in love with another as well you do realize. She and I will find our way once you find yours." I look down at Gale, bending over to his face. "You risk your life to step in and save the very man who may steal her away from you."

"Not may. He's already won. Pretty stupid of me." He turns to hide his tears from me.

"No Peeta, not stupid. You are too kind hearted for your own good. Besides she said yes. You make me proud you know. In the games and after, even more after." I pat him on the shoulder.

I am warm and blissful, lying next to this creature of my dreams. She snuggles to me and I don't sleep so much as watch her. I am up early. My exit does not go unnoticed, but Katniss makes no comment about me. Peeta still hasn't told her. She doesn't pay a lot of attention to her mother really. I have no idea why they seem to be so detached. The storm rages outside. The trip home is hard on me and by the time I get there, I am exhausted. Luneeta puts me to bed, packing me with hot water bottles.

"I appreciate you taking care of me." I look up at her pale eyes and I see genuine worry.

"You are the King of Fools. Setting for home in a storm like this. You should have called, stayed with your woman." She has her back to me.

"You worried for me?" I ask amused and confused.

She spins and she pulls the blanket she was folding to her chest and sits on the bed. "I do have deep feeling for you. It is not wrapped in passion, but I do love you."

I take her hand. "You have never told me that in our twenty years. It is strange to hear it."

"Well, don't you think for a minute that my witchery is cured. People don't like me, but they don't think of cheating us either." She winks.

Peeta's stylists take our measurement for wedding attire. We are all meant to travel to the Capitol for this fake wedding. Mr. Undersee places a huge order for a party at his house. He looks exhausted and alludes to his many burdens. Out the window, a woman by the name of Ripper sits forlornly in the stocks. She has been caught bootlegging. They only took thirty years to notice. I take her hot cider and bread. Luneeta hands me an old tattered blanket to wrap her shoulders. The nights are still sharp.

Everyone watches the reading of the Quell Card. The pool of victors means my son will be dead soon. Even if Abernathy goes to the games with Katniss Everdeen, Peeta will stop living. He borrows sacks of flour and he makes Haymitch and Katniss carry them, hoping to give them strength to survive.

Abernathy is comical as he sneaks sips of something behind Peeta's back, passing it to Katniss with pleasure in his eyes. Katniss winks at Haymitch, amused by Peeta missing the secret drinking. I wish I had some exercise to train my son to live while dead inside. There is no preparation for it.

Peeta volunteers for Abernathy. Luneeta is livid. She takes out her anger on me, blaming the Foolish half of him on me. I accept her foul humor with pride. He was a good son. I wish I had taken him fishing just once.

I watch the train leave, my son's letter clutched in my fingers. How will I survive what must return. I order the coffin piece that afternoon, so they have time to order orange tiger-lilies and have them here in time for his funeral. They blanch at my resolved business like tone, and I probably seem cold to them, but it is an act of love for me. It is easier for me this time, knowing without question. I hope it is quick for him.

I am not sure what to make of his declaration that he and Katniss are married and pregnant. I would like it to be true, but I am sure I know better. I advise Luneeta to feign relief that we can finally acknowledge this joyful news to our friends. She pretends to be slightly annoyed that she'd been expected to keep such a delicious secret only to have the whispered telling of it stolen away. She asks friends how she could be asked to lose either a child or grandchild and survive it. She had paid her dues to the Capitol in the first games. It was a nice touch and I am proud of how well she carries it off for the cameras.

On the morning I must count down the life of my son, I return early from the Everdeen's, to find the butcher in my bed with my wife. He dives out the window. Luneeta casually gets up and tosses his cloths out after him.

I smile at her, eyes twinkling at how I had discovered them, and the cursing and cacophony still echoing beneath our window. "I take it you have not explained our arrangement to your wayward meatmonger?"

She giggles. "What would be the fun of that?" She shares her humor with me nowadays and it is much better perfected than any of her talents in the bedroom.

"Well scoot over, I am tired and want a nap before I start this day."

"Here? You never sleep here." She scoots over, question in her face.

"I won't, if you wish to be alone. I need to hold on to Peeta a little. You gave him his strength. I will make no attempt to set you to passion, my sweet. You seem to have had the daily special already." I kick off my shoes and sink into our soft bed. I have rarely spent a night up here, but we fit together and find comfort in the memories and dreams of the child we made. Peeta will die this time with certainty. He is nothing but our lost child now. I awaken, my shoulder soaking. I wonder if she cried the whole time. Her face is swollen but peaceful, so I leave her gently to her rest.

I kiss her softly on her nose and whisper, "I love you, Mrs. Mellark."

I rouse the wild boys and we make ready for the days traffic. Luneeta tumbles down stairs and sleepily sits nursing her coffee. We watch the opening while we wait on customers. Many comment about Finnick Odair swimming my boy to the beach like they are friends. Luneeta beams and says, "My Peeta has always been a popular boy. I am sure he and Mr. Odair are the best of friends."

"Evidently your daughter-in-law doesn't hold him in such high regard, Mrs. Mellark!" someone shouts later.

I turn to the screen and see the glares of death between Katniss and Mr. Odair. I wonder if I would have the power to meet either of them. They are both the epitome of skilled death. There is my Peeta, stepping casually between them, shielding both from the other. My son. He has the power to face both at once. What an amazing man we raised. I have never felt my chest swell with pride, but that moment it did.

Luneeta shrugs, then in her booming voice she says, "Foolish and brave, just like his father." She has tears in her eyes as they flick from the screen back to me.

There are less friendly comments when the handsome victor begins kissing my poor dead son. Luneeta and I cling together, both horrified and thankful he went so fast. It is embarrassing that that famous man would repeatedly kiss his dead body. The cheering hurts my feelings and I nearly toss the nearest man out on his ear as he franticly points and laughs.

Back from the dead, Peeta says, "Watch out, there is a force field up ahead." We celebrate at The Playboy's magic kisses.

We hear the anger building in town. The Seam is heading toward irrationality. There is threat of riot and rebellion. Luneeta begins packing a survival cart. I watch her and the boys discussing the needed items and how to pack them. "Just in case." She says to me and I know she knows more than she is telling me.

The next day is purely sluggish motion. Every moment feels like it is strangely absorbing all urgency. Colors are painfully, heart wrenchingly brilliant. Every breath is sweet and my shop is full of people, some I have not seen in years. I can barely concentrate on the screen for shaking hands and catching up. The butcher and his little plump wife come for lunch and we all sit down as friends. The boys are in fair brae moods and by evening, we are sold out of everything important and still people filter in and out. We have nothing but coffee, biscuits and scones and never catch up.

Long past dark the square is still packed. Primrose comes by at after ten and I demand to know what she is about, out alone at this hour. "I'm with Rory Hawthorne. It's our first date."

"You are too young to date." I hiss with a tone I never used with her.

She throws her arms around my neck and whispers right in my ear, "Oh, Daddy. Stop fussing."

My breath catches and I swallow hard not wanting her to see what she has done to me. She giggles and darts off in a run, blond braid bouncing, disappearing in the crowd and leaving me speechless, face and eyes burning in the wake of joy one little girl can make me feel. She called me Daddy. My little girl called me Daddy.

I sit down, and smile to myself. There is much activity on the screen and I watch, not understanding, but the kids are still alive. I know tonight they will die. I know it in my heart I will never see them again, yet it registers no sorrow. I feel peaceful. I feel like somehow it is going to be fine. I don't know how long I sat in this aloof consciousness of tranquil distance. All is still inside me and I am looking at the room, taking in the scuffed floor and how I had been made to scrub it as a child. I look at the creamy orange walls and remember how we had argued over the color, Luneeta wanted deep burgundy, and it was Peeta who had insisted on this warm orange, just the color of a cheese bun top.

The glass case is full of fingerprints and smears. I stand and begin cleaning them, wondering how much of my life I spent on this endless task. The bell jingles and I hear heavy breathing behind me.

"Gale Hawthorne!" I stand up and toss the cloth on the counter, smiling at him as he bends forward trying to suck air into his lungs with great effort.

"Can't find Prim. You seen her? Rory is gone too." he gasps.

I nod, handing him a cup of cool juice. "She was with your brother. On a date. About an hour ago."

He guzzles the drink in two swallows. The screen lights up and I stare in shock matched by Hawthorne's sorrowful heartbreaking moan. "Oh no. Katniss. Shit!"

We are both watching with horror as the arena seems to implode and shatter into blinding white as all the screens go dark and seconds later the electricity in the whole town fails. We are plunged into blackness. "Get your family out. They are coming. I have to find Prim and Rory." He wails.

"I will help. Where should I meet you if I find them. Gale Please. Get Mrs. Everdeen."

"At the fence. Meet me at the fence! Get as many as you can to the meadow." He is gone before I can say more. The blackness is eerie and the silence feels like doom. I scream for Luneeta to take the boys. I tell her where to go and that I am going to warn people. We agree to meet at the fence. I storm into the darkness, banging doors and shouting for people to get out.

I don't know what leads me to the Seam, to her old empty house, but I go there and they are there. I drag her toward the fence, too afraid to even explain. Gale cuffs his brother and Primrose is reprimanded by her mother. She smiles at me in relief. The first bombs fall and now the orderly becomes chaos. I can see in the light of the fires that my wife and the boys are not here.

"My Kitty!" I hear Primrose moan. There is scuffling.

I go up to her and look at her. "I have to go back anyway; I will look for your cat. I need you to help your mother. I am trusting you with what I love above all things. Trust me. Calm down." I kiss her forehead. "I always loved you forever little-bitty-cookie-gobbler."

"I love you too, Daddy. Find him?" she says just loud enough for me to hear. I wink at her.

I put my thumb to my mouth for her mother. I melt at her tears and return of my gesture. I smile to reassure her that I will be right back. "I will see you in the meadow." She nods bravely.

I trot off back toward town, keeping my eye out for the cat and searching each face for the boys or Luneeta. Where can they be? The whistling begins, like fireworks, like death. There is a flash that sweeps people away in fire. I throw my arm in front of my face and push on, past the fire and the screams. I know my skin is bubbling, then it is dark for a few moments and yet somehow I can pick out a sound among the chaos and choking airborne dirt and smoke. It guides me. My Luneeta struggles with the cart, crying and screaming at the boys to pull. I scream at her to leave the cart then realize why she won't. Mrs. Undersee is draped across the little cart. Her daughter Madge's face is grim as she pushes with all she has.

I ignore my scorched arm. "I will carry her. Let's go!" I shout to be heard. I lift her in my arms and Luneeta grabs a few things, thrusting items such as flashlights and first aid kits at the boys for them to carry.

She tosses a tent on her back and grabs two blankets and more, and then she grins. "You came back for us, Mr. Mellark?"

I laugh at her surprise. "Of course I did, Mrs. Mellark."

She tilts her head and as we run she looks over her shoulder and shouts, "I always said you were the King of—"

I lay beneath the tree on a summer night. The plaid blanket is lumpy with grass tufts, and the fragrances of flowers and straw waft on the breeze. Fireflies twinkle in the darkness. I know this night. Her skin is warm and dapple pale in the shadow of moonlight cast through the branches. This is the night my lover and I will make a little girl named Primrose. I sigh, contented, a lost child knowing the gift of heaven.

I hope you enjoyed this. It is one of my favorites. Even though we didn't see much of Mr. Mellark, I adored him. I really was mad at Mrs. Everdeen for not returning to twelve, but to me, if this story existed in some hidden place, I could almost forgive her.

We never saw enough of them to know what the whole story could be. We only saw it from the eyes of one rather self-centered girl who never appeared capable of seeing anyone else very clearly. I did give Mr. Mellark some marks of the Peeta personality traits, but I wanted him to be an individual as well. I gave young Mrs. Everdeen something of her daughter's spirit. I have named these two people in other stories, but somehow it felt sweet for them to never use each other's name here. He calls her by her formal name because it is a hint of his resentment. She uses his formal name as a form of distance.

A bloody tailor – is an untrained person who stitches human flesh in times of necessity – an old time unlicensed doctor similar to the old saw bones of the post-civil war days who went west to ply the trade they had learned in battle.

Luneeta is a variation on the French word lunette – which means little moon or crescent moon.(a fitting symbol for a witch) It is also an actual name of French-Spanish origin with some moon connotation and beings it used the last letters of Peeta –I had to use it. Lunita is an Italian variation.

Please do review – I am very interested in if, after reading this story, whether or not it opened this pairing to any possibility within your mind?