Lost Hearts

Author: Howlynn
Realm: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Story Title: Lost hearts
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, Haymitch

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 but in canon – Just a little story about how Prim and Peeta look an awful lot alike and have remarkably similar temperaments. Told from Mrs. Everdeen's perspective.

I stand at the fence desperately searching for one face. My heart could not comprehend that he wasn't coming. I had felt it and I knew. The moment he left the world, I just knew. But, I couldn't accept that he had finally left me for good. My Mr. Mellark is as dead as my heart.

Gale finally forces me. Hazel tries to comfort me with sweet lies. Only she can really understand, but she doesn't understand. It is the blood that let me slip away from the sorrow. Injured people need me more than I need my tears. I couldn't change what I know but if I shut it off, I can change the small things in front of me. I can stop others tears of pain if I just close the door on myself.

With a deep breath and a small nod, I begin setting up my focus. Prim is in charge of triage. The most critical have to be helped first. We had a simple organized hospital area within an hour. I begin my work in earnest. I was no longer a woman named Everdeen who just lost all joy in the world. The Bloody Tailor is 'In' and the customers are as endless as the night.

There was little I could do for so many of them. Prim sent them to me; she didn't have the heart to not pretend to try. I was lucky that we had bandages and a lot of sleep syrup. The bombing was over before my open air hospital was even set up, but the fires lit the sky all night long. When the skies finally lost the terror and returned to stars, people went back for survivors.

There were a few who had somehow made it out unharmed and straggled in by their own power. They all mumbled and sobbed the same words. There is nothing left. Why did they do this to us? Everyone is dead. I can't find my children, parents, wife, husband, sister, life. There are some who stumbled aimlessly about the camp, wandering in madness already. I glimpsed big strong men who cried like babies and children who were in such shock they couldn't do more than stare at the sky with lifeless eyes and dirty faces. There were others like me who didn't cry at all. All our sorrow was bashed and stomped deep and far away with work.

Hazel always had a terribly squeamish stomach, but she never falters. She heaved, cried and worked without a single complaint. Dear old Sae got busy figuring out how she was going to feed everyone and made a trip with the rescue teams to rescue any useable cooking pot, utensil or scorched useable carcass. Three and a half of the Mellark's partially grown dead pigs arrived on a make shift pole sledge pulled by a string of goats. I am glad Prim has dropped of exhaustion by this time and is safely tucked into a little quilt. I hiss to Gale and he realizes which burnt creature has to be field dressed first.

By the light of day, we see that the only places still standing are out in Victor's Village. My daughter's house is the only hope I have to keep patching up the ruined scraps because I was out of bandages and even plain silk for stitches. I have to use boiled sewing thread, but it is better than nothing. Haymitch's house was an unexpected life saver. There was enough booze horded in his basement to fill a mine shaft and for many, it is both wound cleaner and pain killer. For me, it is the only thing keeping my stiffening fingers from losing all function. I dealt with cramps in my fingers, hands, neck, shoulders and the arches of my feet.

Pain was good to some degree because it kept my mind crisp. I delivered one baby who did not live. It was far too early and it never drew a breath. By noon, some men have built me a table out of a door and an old cook stove frame. It is the ugliest thing ever created, but it feels like a luxury to not have to bend over or work on my knees.

Sae hands me a bowl of something and I couldn't stomach it at all. All I could see was poor Lady, head dangling from the pole sledge and those damned pigs Luneeta had loved so much. It reminded me of his words to me once. He stood there, just moments after I warned him that an affair with me was suicide. I told him what my husband would do if we were ever caught.

"I hear the Sae woman serves a fine pork chowder. Have some, if I go missing." All these years later, those words still gave me nightmares. My husband would have fed it to me with a sweet song and waited for the truth to dawn on me. He wouldn't have given me the luxury of knowing soon enough to vomit. He would have waited weeks then revealed the contents of the meal with a casual humor and memorable lyrics. The man I married had a lot of monster deep within him.

The man I didn't marry ruined me. I never got him out of my head and he terrified me with the things he made me feel. He could say more with those eyes of his then anyone I ever knew until I met Primrose. Every day I looked in his eyes and fell deeper. Though they were situated delicately in my daughters face, the eyes belonged to him.

God, Mr. Mellark could be such a bastard with his angelic face and pastoral blue eyes. I feared his quick mind that could destroy all argument with the force of lightening in his temperate words. He should have hated me for the things I did to him. I gave him twenty years of regret, a daughter I forced him to pretend he didn't love, and I let him suffer for my own wounded pride rather than admit why I betrayed him. But he twisted it all into a forgiving bundle and handed it back to me wrapped in love and hope.

He could twist any situation and find something good. I told him my husband would kill him and he used even that against me. He threatened to tell my mother of our one indiscretion. I think he really would have done it too if I had been strong and said no. He knew my mother would have had the news all over town faster than a Capitol mandatory viewing. My husband would have had a baker in Sae's pot within the week of his return. I had seen him do it before.

There would have been speculation about that poor sweet baker escaping or being robbed, attacked by dogs or perhaps even the walkabout madness striking him. I would have known who killed him and why. My husband was handsome, gentle and so very sly and dangerous.

Missing? He is missing now. I couldn't stand the smell of the pork and tuber stew. Burning human and burning pig were not mutually exclusive aromas. I knew it was not his body, yet they were his wife's pigs, fattened by his unsold labors. Pieces of his life were in this meager bowl.

I stare at the duck taters in the soup and they look like eyes. My husband had taught me the correct name for Duck Taters is Katniss. Is she missing too? Or, is she part of the soup now with him? I take a collapsing graceless seat; my legs just gave up and let me drop. I land hard, nearly spilling the soup. I set it down. I will starve before a drop of it passes my lips.

I hear Sae tell me to eat. I tell her to give it to someone else, that I am too tired to lift the makeshift spoon. She smiles with pity and offers to save some for me in case I want it later. I lay down quickly, before I scream. Just like tears, if I let them out they may not stop. Tears and screams are Kudzu, they will take you over if you let them root.

I lie next to Prim in the soft grass and close my eyes. People near me whisper so they won't disturb me and I hear Hazel stir and deflect people from waking me. I lie perfectly still and drift with the moans and sorrows that hum all around me in baritones while birds trebled false octaves of blue sky and joy.

I meant to tell him all of it someday. I had been deciding what I should say. "You waited too long to decide, Mrs. Everdeen." His words move forward in truth and time.

"As soon as she heard me sing, she was lost to me" What pretty fairytales we weave for our children. It was only a little while ago. How could time have passed? How could so many years be gone and three of the four things that ever cared for me, all be nothing but memory? How can the whole world be gone and my thoughts so focused on the past when we all have little if any future.

How do I survive this time? Why bother? Why even try when we will just starve. There is no way to feed this many, care for the injured and have any hope of rebuilding. I could give Prim sleep syrup and drink it as well. I would rather not see what happens when we stragglers get truly desperate. There will be some wise enough to break away in a few days. The Hawthorns will leave once Gale really assesses this situation. Seam boys are survivors. Seam boys.

That seam boy is looking at me again. He has been looking at me for some time now. He has no hope. I will marry my pretty baker. He is already approved by my family and most of all he is approved by me. He and I have gone too far to ever go back. The first time, was confusing, but we have made remarkable progress. I meet him at our secret tree in the dark. Nobody would ever look there. Nobody ever goes there on purpose. We do have terrible guests sometimes who jealously watch our night dances. So long as we keep the guests downwind of us, they don't bother us much.

We welcome the guests actually. They are better than guards. Nobody but blue eyes and I are brave enough to disturb them in the dark and they would never tell our secrets. It is harder if we knew them while they were alive, but we give them a friendly smile and a wave and test the wind, and then we giggle about how we must shock them.

Winter is the hardest time. It is harder to find a lovers roost in the cold, but Victors Village has only one crabby old soul and he doesn't even stay there much of the time. When the crabby old Victor is away, the future Mr. and Mrs. Mellark can play. There are eleven empty houses out there that twenty people could stay in without sharing rooms. We only borrow a little space and only when it's cold.

I have been secretly engaged to him since we were eleven. As soon as we are out of the reaping, he's going to buy me a ring. My best friend Maysillee Donner says I am horrible and will pay for my crimes, but she is just jealous because she has had a crush on this other Seam boy named Haymitch Abernathy for half her life and he doesn't have any interest in her. He has a little Seam girl he saves all his flashing gray eyes and smiles for.

Poor Maysillee hasn't even noticed how a certain Undersee boy can't take his eyes off her. He isn't bad looking, he just isn't put together like Haymitch, but as far as I am concerned he is far far nicer. What does she think that Haymitch boy is going to grow up to be besides a coal miner? He's just a damned seam boy. She should keep her eyes on her side of the fence and fall madly in love with the Mayor's son. He has prospects.

I love my husband to be. He is funny, kind and I have never felt so close to smiling at my future as when he holds me. Sometimes things lead us off the path of life and even love can't help us. In my case, my path collapsed out from under me and I determined that there was nothing in me worth saving. My baker tried so hard to throw me rope and I shunned every offer, dooming us both.

We were to meet this warm spring night, but something delayed him. I wait at the tree, until I realize that I am afraid. I do not like it here alone at night. Every shadow sends goose bumps down my spine. I begin the walk home at a dead run, thinking if he is on his way I will meet him. I come up from the darkness into the town proper and feel relieved. With him there the place is wonderful, but maybe it was the moon or the ankle deep mist that had me running like a pixie child, afraid of the place nourished in human tears and misery.

I have grown too comfortable with the ease that we have found in passion. I have escaped my house into the darkness so often it feels like the rule doesn't even count anymore. I make no attempt at sly movement, because I am too stupid to be afraid while right in the middle of town.

I see the white peacekeepers uniform hidden in the darkness of the alley a split second before his chuckle warns me of my error. I am caught out past curfew and my parents will be alerted at the very least. My heart pounds at the thought of what they will say. My father, it will take months of charm and perfect obedience before he will even speak to me again. My Mother will be the opposite; she will never give me a seconds rest.

"I know you. You are that snooty little apothecary's snippy slutty daughter," the peacekeeper says, smile wide and horrible.

"Please don't tell. I won't ever-"

"Oh now, I know you sneak out like a slut every night. I have watched you girlie. Been following you and watching what you like for a long time. That baker boy has it pretty good. Now it's my turn," he says. He looks to my left and nods, "Boys, I think we may be in for a real good time."

I turn and realize there are two others behind me. These are not peace keepers, but town boys just a little older than I am. I make a small attempt to run but they have me without even giving me time to scream. Down the alley, I am assisted without mercy. Down to the ground, I am pleasantly requested at gun point. Down a new path in life, I am given a terror of men.

They take their time cutting my clothing to shreds and making me lie quietly as they touch me and laugh, warning of all they intend to do. Once they finally get down to their business, there is no more laughter; they are diligent in the degradation. They are somewhere on their third round with me as I begin to slip away. I sprawl without caring anymore, waiting for them to kill me but they begin discussing what they should make me do next time and promising me lots of future encounters if I want to keep my happy little baker happy. They explain carefully that if I ever turn any of the three of them down at any time in the future, that they will take him for an educational tour of the things I do for them and we will see how he loves me then.

They let me go and made me walk home holding scraps and tatters of cloth as my only small relief from the glances and the assurances in the eyes of all three. They warn me what will happen if I tell. I go up to my room and can't wait until morning so that I can wash them off me. I don't dare fill the noisy tub at this hour. I sit on the edge of my bed letting the nothing take me as brutally as the men and then it is morning.

My back is scuffed as are my knees and elbows. I dress, I work in the store. My father notices I have not spoken and when I can't remember how, he looks down my throat and announces that I have damaged my vocal cords in some way. I know the event that did the damage. One of them is standing in the front of the store as father asks me, but I just shrug. Father orders me to bed and I am thankful he didn't check the other end for damage. I curl into a ball and my mother brings me warm soups and cool fruit drinks.

The blue eyes I love visit me and I can't meet them. I can't explain. I can't keep him safe from what I know will eventually come out about me. Expecting him to forgive me for not dying of embarrassment is more than my damaged hope will allow. He seems to know something more is wrong. He feels me tense under his secret touches.

When father pronounces me well, I resume my duties at the store and the men resume their controlling games. I am slipping slowly away with each encounter. They aren't brutal anymore. Why should they be? They don't even hold me at gunpoint any longer because I am too broken to care.

The baker tries everything to see me, talk to me, and find out what is wrong. I don't go out in the dark anymore to meet him and I don't give him any explanation. I am slowly disappearing. People laugh at me and call me spacy. To block out the men, I have to block it all. I miss conversations and sometimes react so slowly to questions by the time I speak the asker has given up and left.

By the time of the reaping, I pray they will call me. I almost volunteered for Maysillee. I was walking to the stage and blanked. My reactions were just too slow and they were calling the next name and the next. My eyes meet hers in pain as they call her little seam boy up to die with her. I sigh watching that boy, Haymitch, smirk at the crowd as if he doesn't care. I see why she is so crazy about him. They will die together I suppose. At least she has that. Then my mind catches at the most terrible thought I can imagine for her. What if he kills her? For me, death from the baker would be a gift. His face being the last thing I see in the world would be such sweetness, but I don't think in their case it will be the same. I walked away from the justice building and I have no idea where I am going. My mind wanders and my feet follow.

I sit down on a crate near the Hob, watching people come and go. I know I am in the Seam. Father says the Hob is a dangerous place. I just don't care. He sits next to me and I know the Everdeen boy has been watching me.

"So, how long are you going to let it go on?" he asks soft and low, his voice compelling.

I study his lips and chin, which is as high as I can go, the eyes being too intimate. I sigh; he can only be asking one question. I never say a word.

"It surprises me you don't fight them a little? Do you like to be treated that way?" He runs his hand down my arm and leans close as if he is all ready for a demonstration.

"Get away from me." I am truly hopeless now. Others know and there is nothing I can do about it.

"No. I don't think so. How did it start? How did they entice you to let them all do that?" His face is so intense. How could he have seen? What has he seen?

I just stare straight ahead. How dare he ask me things like this? How dare he know it? Does everyone know it? I feel like every person who passes must be thinking of the things those men make me do.

"You just going to let them use you all up? Maybe I can help." He is looking at me and I just want to die and never look in anyone's eyes again. His hand is rubbing my back and he reaches up and takes my hair between his fingers and smells it.

"I don't need any help. You can't help." My fingers twirl my reaping dress belt.

"Ok. So you do like it then. You seem willing enough. Do you like it that I watch. I have been watching for some time now. It does things to me, seeing you like that. Maybe I will take a turn." He is glaring at me, trying to make me look at him. I can't stop the tears. Is he bragging to me that he is with them? He's going to be there next time, I can feel it in my blood.

I slap him and run. He has just made me so sick I can't even think. I have to kill myself. I have to. He has just taken my last tiny hope that if I pretend this doesn't exist, it will somehow go away. I am sure it is my only way out if this hell. I realize that if he knows, others will soon. I can't live with this.

As I run, I hear footsteps behind me. I dash down alleys and through weedy lots until I can't run any longer. I slip into a storage building and hide. The footsteps follow me, slow and cautiously. The door creaks open and he peaks inside seeing me crouched in the darkness. He closes the door behind him and stands above me for a long time. He takes my hand and pulls me to my feet. I can't look him in the eyes and I am too afraid to talk.

I know what he will want and I will have to let him, or he will tell. It doesn't take him long to kiss me. He murmurs softly how pretty I am and then his hands are at the buttons of my dress. He tells me how he won't hurt me. He says he's cared for me for a long time. His hands touch me gently and I don't participate, but I don't stop him either.

He is on top of me and I am engaged with a crack of light streaming through the walls. He never threatens to tell on me, but I know he will, so I just spread my legs and pretend I don't exist. I dream of what I will look like in my coffin. I think of the four people reaped and I wish I was there. He is not like the men. He is gentle and he touches me in the ways that my first love used to. He brings me to heat with his gentleness and it pleases him that he is disgracing me with response. He keeps telling me how beautiful I am and how the thought of me drives him crazy.

I can't stop what happens to me, the feeling I found so easily once with my blue eyes, rocks me with this seam boy who isn't forcing me but could. At least he doesn't hurt me. He holds me afterward, and says pleasant things to me. They mean nothing to me but I don't dispute anything he wants to say.

That night I am required to sneak out of the house. One of the boys is waiting on me and leads me to a small house on the edge of town. He tells me to take off my cloths and I do. There are four of them tonight and they laugh as they show me off to a man who is a friend of my fathers. The gleam in his eye as he forces me to my knees is sickening. He tells them afterward that I am worth every penny. He says he will be back with a friend. They have sold me like a whore before. This time it was to a man I see every week. I don't cry at all because it won't matter when I am dead.

They take turns as usual, discussing how much money I was going to make them over time. There is a market for slutty town girls that brings a much better price then the little sporting girls of the hob. They let me go. They don't bother to walk me home now. I walk slow, hoping for a crazed murderer to jump out and stab me in the heart.

The Seam boy falls silently in step with me. He slips his arm around me and leads me toward a dark shack. "Been a busy girl tonight. I want you." He whispers his breath ragged. I feel that horrible need and I kiss him. I cry out in the pleasure of him and he smiles at me. "You don't cry out for them. I would never make love to you and not want to see your pleasure."

His words are nothing but humiliation to me. I watch Haymitch and Maysillee align and I see how she looks at him. My baker boy, is getting more angered each day. He doesn't know why I won't meet him or why I can't even speak unless forced. He demands I meet him at our tree and I go early, standing in the dark hoping some horror will get me.

He kisses me and begs me to tell him what is wrong. I long to blurt out the truth and cry on his shoulder. I wish I could just tell him all of it and let him hate me, but the disappointment and disgust in his eyes would hurt worst then what the men do to me. I won't be around much longer, so I decide to just not tell him. I lie. I tell him that the reaping is just too much for me this year. I tell him how close I was to taking her place and he collapses in tears. How could I think of such a thing he demands? I look up at the branches of the tree and I know. I am afraid of my father's poisons, they are not always reliable and they can be diluted on rainy years to the point they cause great horrible pain for hours before death.

This tree loves me. I feel warm inside under its branches. This tree will save me.

I don't explain to him. I just make love to him. I gave him all I had left in me that night, knowing it is goodbye. I feel peaceful for the first time in weeks afterward. I look up in the branches and the moon sparkles. I smile knowing that soon I will fly from those branches.

His eyes are watching me and I soak in all the love they radiate. "Are you going to tell me what has made this distance between us?"

"I can't," I say after a few moments.

"Then it is worse than I thought. Is it someone else? Am I losing you?"

I don't say anything, but the fear in my eyes sets his mind that he's found the answer. "No. Oh please. God don't. I can't lose you. I love you. I will give you anything. It will kill me, I swear."

I look at the tree. There is no reason to explain really. It will be easier on him if he thinks I died because some unknown person broke my heart. If I tell him that it isn't true and the truth comes out after I die, he will hate me anyway. If he knew the truth he would not even be here. I mean what I say back, but not how he thinks. "I am so sorry. I will love you forever. We can't see each other anymore."

He stands up, his whole body is trembling. "So this, tonight? This was goodbye, wasn't it?"

I don't look at him, but I nod. I hear grass rustling. He has walked away, leaving his blanket, his things and me. I watch him, knowing the last of my life goes with him. I look at the tree branches and lay back down on the blanket. The sobs are quiet, but I can't stop them. If I had rope, I would go now.

The weight on top of me startles me. The Everdeen boy is there. His face is angry. "You're such a slut. The others don't matter. You don't enjoy them. He mattered. I heard you. Moaning and begging him for more. This is more, sweetheart."

"Please don't. Please?" I whisper. Then I am silent.

He is rough and I cry the whole time. I must be insane, because the way he is treating me makes me respond. Maybe it is because I plan to die here tomorrow, I don't know. Maybe I am a slut. But, I groan and cry and then I feel that peace, I have only found with him and that boy I can never be good enough for again. He stands over me afterwards and I am afraid of him. "No more. You belong to me now. From now on, anyone else touches you? I am going to kill them."

I cry more. He leaves me there to my tears, naked under the stars. I am exhausted and I can hardly face the amount of time until I can sleep here forever. It will be tomorrow.

I float through the day. I mean this to be my last. I try to be extra kind to my mother and father. The baker waits for me. I cherish each word he says and finally whisper that he will understand tomorrow and all I ask of him is that he be happy and forgive me.

"Whatever this is, please. Tell me. Please." He begs me to explain.

"Just try to forgive me," I whisper sadly.

I see the Everdeen boy watching me. He seems pleased that I am doing as he's asked. I go to the hardware store and buy a stupid amount of rope and he looks at it as he matches my steps.

"What's that for? You hanging someone?" he snickers.

I look at him, annoyed. "Maybe," I say in a teasing tone.

He grins at me and his whole face looks angelic. "Meet me tonight. Bring that and I might let you tie me up." His eyes dance.

My face falls. "I can't tonight. Company, can't get out." I feel brilliant at my quick thoughts. The last thing I need is to be followed. This night is just for me.

His eyes narrow. "Tomorrow?"

I shrug. "Sure. See you tomorrow." He might see me, if I am found that quickly.

He smiles and then he does something odd. He begins to sing. People turn around and listen. My mouth falls open in pure awe. He sings a love song. He sings it to me, in front of everyone. I stand there with the rope in my hand I plan to kill myself with and my baker stands with his father across the street, and even the birds stop to hear the Everdeen boy sing his love to me.

Haymitch Abernathy wins. I think it is nice in some ways that Maysillee and I will die so close together. We had done everything together our whole lives. I hope people put that together as they bury us. I hope that they put us close to each other. I don't mind her dead, knowing I have someone waiting is nice.

I go home and bathe. I say goodnight to my parents. I put on my nice reaping dress. I make sure my room is spotless. I leave a note that says I am sorry. I take my rope and realize I can't tie the proper knot, but I make a slip knot that will do and I slip into the night. I feel giddy with excitement. The night is perfect and I don't feel sad at all. There will be no more men who force me to do those things. I worry about the set of blue eyes, lost in dreams up above the bakery, but this is for the best. He can't marry me now that I have been ruined and he will forget me. I blow him a three fingered kiss of goodbye and I turn to my fate without another regret.

I am focused on the tree. I have discovered I have a problem. I didn't bring anything to step off of and now I stare around, trying to figure out what to do. I have just hiked up my skirt to climb the tree and pulled myself up one step when I am yanked out of the tree backwards and fall hard.

I have the wind knocked out of me and can't even scream. The faces lean over me and smile. "Forget about us?"

"Maybe she's been pining for us and thought she'd end it all because she felt so neglected." The Peacekeeper uses his rifle barrel to raise my skirt. "Let's make things up to our girlie. She needs a lesson in finding out how mad we can be when she thinks she can get away with getting away."

"I will scream!" I threaten. I don't see the foot arch towards my face, but I know when it knocks me so hard it rolls me over that I may die tonight, but it won't be in the easy way I planned.

"Scream? Scream all you want. Who will hear? Boys, she just made us a fine offer. Anything we want tonight and she wants to scream for us. Hold her down." My arms are yanked over my head and my own rope is used to bind me. I am hanging from the tree, begging them to stop, by my arms not my neck.

They rip every button and cut the rest. "Don't mess up her face. She just graduated from slut to full whore. Let's break her in good."

The peacekeeper goes behind me and once I realize what he intends to do I give them their wish. I scream. The pain is more than I can stand and I cry in anguish and horror as he invades me again and again in a way I never imagined. There are more horrible surprises as the other uses me at the same time, licking my face and biting me. I wish I could just pass out until they are done. They let me down and the horror continues. I still scream, but it sounds like the whirr of a grasshopper.

I hear a scuffle, and figure they are arguing about who is next or what new terror they should give me. I wait and suddenly the weight on top of me crushes me and begins to shudder as if he's a drunk denied his spirits. He is still in me as he goes still. I feel warm liquid all over the back of my neck and hair. I just lay there waiting for him to stop pouring the warm liquid on me. My head rests in the dirt and I get the whiff of blood. I realize something is wrong. It is too quiet and the only breath I hear is too far away.

It dawns on me the man on top of me isn't breathing. Boots appear in front of me. "Your company has departed, sweetheart. Necrophilia is a rather dark pursuit, don't you think? I will wait if it is working for you."

I am frozen by what he's telling me. I panic at the thought of the dead thing still invading me and then I vomit and I can't get out from under him. I wiggle and twist and suddenly his weight shifts and I am free. I huddle up to the tree and whimper. I glance back at the Everdeen boy and he has a terrible smile on his face.

"I warned you."

I begin to chant softly. He looks confused and moves closer. His face changes as he hears my words. "Kill me. Please. Kill me. Kill me. Kill me." There is barely a sound but I beg him with my eyes. He can be as angry as he wants so long as he ends this. I can't live with this. I am covered in their blood and I am leaking more between my legs and I am not really sane anymore.

He cocks his head. "Oh shit." he says, "Your face. They were hurting you? I don't get it." He reaches out toward me tentatively.

I can't breathe and skitter away. "Kill me." I whisper as loud and desperately as I can.

"I am not going to kill you. I'm sorry, I thought…" his face crumples into tears. "I killed them. Nobody can hurt you now. I won't ever let…"

I can hear a sound that calls me. I smile and stand up holding myself and running toward it. I can hear it and all its promise. The fence is buzzing. I laugh in the whisper of my lost voice as I run to the freedom. It doesn't matter that they will find me charred and naked. The last of my sanity propels me toward my last option. I am a few steps away when he tackles me.

I lay still, pain singing in every crevice of me both inside and out. I see a face. That boy who stares at me is speaking, but I just lay there and wait to die. I feel myself lifted and his tone is soft, but I can't understand the words. There is a shabby little room and an older boy looks at me with shock and pity. He is five or six years older, a man really. I wonder what horrible things they will do when I am set down in tepid warm water and I feel their hands on me, scrubbing the red away. I don't struggle. It is all far away and none of it matters at all.

A strange man feeds me. There is sweet in the spoon. Sleep syrup. I take the little bottle and turn it up before they can stop me. There is some fuss going on, but I sigh and smile, whispering 'Kill me."

My eyes open and I am too warm. I kick the heavy quilt away and I have nothing on. Something is rolled up between my legs and I look down and see the blood but it all hurts too much to care. I moan and the two sets of gray eyes turn my way. One turns quickly away as if embarrassed. I stare at the face of the one who is speaking. I look away and cry. He didn't kill me.

He offers me a drink and it burns. I drink more and try to say what I need. "Kill me." My voice is more clear and he wraps his arms around me and doesn't.

He rocks me and holds me saying over and over how sorry he is. Then a sweet sound begins and I listen to it. I have heard the song. A boy sung it to me once. He loved me. I chant the two words I need. There is soup brought to me. I just look at it. He lifts it to me spoon by spoon and a strange grin forms on his face as he hums softly to me.

They have me up and dressed in some horrible old dress. It belongs to some seam woman and is clean, but little more than patched rags. I am not bleeding anymore. Papers are set before me and I look at them to be polite. There are a few people in the room and I have no idea what is going on, but they hand me a piece of toast and I am shocked and frightened when they all start clapping. He is there and I hide in his shoulder. Later he lies next to me and calls me his wife. I curl to the warmth and go to sleep.

The men are after me again. I struggle and then open my eyes and it is the singing boy. He is whispering to me that it is fine. We are married now and he loves me. I just lay there and watch him. He groans and then smiles at me. I look at him and say, "Sing?"

Days are in the shack. Nights are him on top of me whispering things I don't understand as he does things that don't hurt anymore, but I don't want. Then I dream of places I can't remember and in the morning he is on top of me again while the man across the room pretends to sleep but watches us. Sometimes when my husband leaves the other one takes his place and I accept his thrusts without comment.

I dream of blue eyes. If I close my eyes and think of them when my husband and my not husband are filling me, I can't keep from feeling something so nice it sweeps my heart into joy and then there is such pleasure. I don't ever want to open my eyes again. It makes them both smile as they finish.

My husband comes home one day when my not husband is just groaning and shuddering on top of me. The not husband doesn't come back home after that. My husband is mad at me, but I don't understand. He takes a whip to me, and I just crouch down and wait for him to finish. No matter how hard he hits me, I don't scream. When he is finished, he leaves. I don't move. I lay down on the floor and it hurts me that he is angry. I wish I could understand what I did wrong.

It hurts. The thirst is terrible. I lay on the floor where he left me. I dream of blue eyes and cake. The longer I lay there the closer they get. I am not thirsty anymore. I am not going to breathe much longer and then the blue eyes will love me. I close my eyes and feel my shallow breath, hoping it will be the last of it.

Someone is saying my name loudly. I can't see well but it isn't the baker so I close my eyes again. The boy who whips is crying. I swallow the water. He sings and I cover my ears. I swallow the tea. He wants to be on top of me but I curl to my spot on the floor. I swallow the soup. The boy takes me to the bathroom. He gives me baths and feeds me. I don't look at him and cringe at his touch. He whipped me and I don't speak now at all. I curl up and try not to breath.

One day I dream of the baker's boy with the blue eyes and I know he found his forgiveness for me. He takes me in his arms and I know that I am safe. I hear him tell me he loves me and I believe him. I was stupid.

I take a deep breath and I sit up. I try to make sense of where I am. I stand up and look outside. There are no leaves on the trees. I look around the shabby room. I have to go home. I start out the door and he is on the porch. He catches my arm and stops me. It dawns on me that there is something I should know about him.

"Hey where are you going?" He smiles at me indulgently.

"I need to go home."

"Sweetheart, you are home." His head tilts a little.

"No. My Parents don't know where I am. I have to let them know."

He guides me back into the shack and sits me down at the little table. "Sweetheart? How do you feel?"

"I am fine but I don't belong here. I need to go home. My parents must be beside themselves. They must think I am dead." I explain to him carefully.

There is pain on his face. "I can't believe you're back." He touches my face and his eyes fill with tears.

I start to say something then the words stick in my throat. "My husband."

"Yes, baby. That's right. I am your husband." He smiles and it lights up the whole room. "I killed them all. Do you remember? Then we got married because I couldn't keep you here and I couldn't let you go back. You were so far gone. They said I was crazy to marry you. But I didn't care. It was my fault you broke. If you had just told me they were hurting you I would have killed them before."

I process all this and I feel like I really did die. I am married. They are dead. "How long have I been here?"

"Just over five months." He smiles again and wraps me in his arms, explaining things to me.

I am Mrs. Everdeen now. I got married and it is a scandal that I ran off with a seam boy. He loves me. He's killed to protect me and it had to stay a secret, what the peacekeeper and the two town boys were making me do. He thinks those men were going to hang me that night. They already had the rope. He saved my life. He only wanted to protect me and not be hung for their murder. They are just missing in the eyes of the law. He knows it must be a shock, but he loved me enough to marry me even though he expected to have to care for me for the rest of his life. I have not spoken since except to ask him to sing. Now that I am better we can live happily ever after.

The Mellark boy married Luneeta Hainger and they are expecting a baby.

I would have rather been dead. She must be the happiest woman in the world. She took my life. It belongs to her now. They got married and made a baby. I wonder if she was a virgin. I am crushed for a few hours. I just want to go back to my deep place, but I have lost that now too. I can't go back and I can't find the deep place.

Hours or days, who knows. Forever goes by.

Mr. Everdeen is patient. "Did you love him that much?"

"I want to see him."

He nods and helps me take a bath and combs my hair. Hazel Hawthorne brings me a nice outfit. It is like walking into town with a sign that says how poor I am. I won't go in the bakery. I sit outside and watch the new couple. When Luneeta steps around the counter and her stomach is rounded with the child that should have been mine, I feel like I never existed.

I go to my parents and they pretend I don't exist too. My mother hands me three boxes and orders me to get out and don't bother to come back. My father stands with his hands in his pockets looking up at the grandfather clock and never acknowledges that he sees me.

I bring the boxes home but I don't even look in them. I let them just sit and I sit on the porch thinking that I really died and this is some horrible nightmare. I remember things and try to put them in order.

His brother doesn't live with us anymore. Nobody knows where he went. People offer my husband sympathy and tell him things about hoping for the best. I look at my husband and I know.

"Your brother took me behind your back, didn't he? You whipped me for it and left me on the floor. I didn't understand you know. You whipped me like an animal after you and he treated me like one. Just like the men you killed. Both of you using me when you knew I didn't understand. Why? I didn't even scream at your whipping. I just took it. How could you do that? " I say in a daze looking at the spot I remember.

"I thought you were coming back to me. I thought you did understand. I swear I thought you wanted to be with me. The way you looked at me. When you began finding pleasure, I was sure it was helping. More and more you seemed to be alert. I had no idea. He was my brother for god's sake. At first I just stood there and then the two of you were making sounds and it just shattered me. I am so sorry baby. I was wrong. I have just been winging it here and I lost it."

"How long did you leave me here?"

He sighs and stands behind me touching my shoulder. "A week. I am sorry and it will never happen again. I will never hurt you again. Please give me a chance. I have been lost watching you like this, knowing I could have prevented it."

"What did you do with the men? How have they not been found?" I whisper in terror.

"Sae made Hob stew out of them. What do you think we ate the first two weeks you were here? You enjoyed it very much." His eyes glitter darkly as he smiles expecting me to find pleasure in the irony.

My hand goes to my mouth and I run outside and empty my stomach. I heave for a long time. He watches me carefully. His face darkens.

"You don't want to be my wife do you? I did the best I could you know. I mean you were crazy and not exactly a virgin. Do you think your little baker would have over looked that? Think he would have killed them to protect you? He didn't wait long if he was all that broken hearted you know. He didn't even come looking for you." He is studying me, filling his face with that betrayed look.

"Why would he come looking? I broke his heart before I went to the tree. How did you marry me? I wasn't competent?" I wipe my hand on my mouth.

"Hazel Hawthorne, she went to sign the papers with me. We had a toasting. I made sure you were properly wed. I was not using you. I love you. I have cared for you every day. I fell apart a little seeing that. I have never been but gentle with you the rest of the time. Perhaps I have been wrong. You liked those men. Went with them, even that night. Instead of me. I could have let them hang you, baby."

I make my decisions quickly. "I was raped by those men one night and they blackmailed me. They threatened to spread the word and they sold me to others sometimes. You watched and said you wanted a turn. I never thought to tell you because you laughed at me. Then followed me to the shed and took your turn. Just so we are straight, and you know it all, they were not there to hang me. I couldn't take what they were doing any longer. You aren't the only one who tried to sneak me off for sport. If I had fifteen extra minutes I wouldn't have been a concern or burden to anyone. You saw me buy the rope. That was why I couldn't see you. I didn't meet them, they followed me."

He shakes his head. "I see. You tried to run to the fence that night. You couldn't talk but you whispered for me to kill you for weeks. You downed a whole bottle of sleep syrup. Then after I caught you with my brother, you just lay on the floor to die, exactly where I left you."

"I won't say I am in love with you. But you saved me. You are the only one who tried. That does count," I say quietly.

"It isn't what I wanted to hear from the woman I married. Does it mean you will stay?"

"I don't think I have any other option. I am not even sure I want one. I intended to die because I had no other way. You took that need away. I mean the only boyfriend I ever had was Mr. Mellark. Like you said, he didn't wait long. Maybe he and she were in front of me all that time. They said they were best friends. Now she's having his baby. While you fed me, dressed me and took me to the bathroom, he wasn't even sad."

"I didn't know. I am sorry." He is trying so hard.

"It's ok Mr. Everdeen. I can live without them all. I have to now. You seem to be the only one who gave a damned. For that, I do love you. I am overwhelmed, yes. I am sad. There is one thing I will add. Now that I am awake, if you ever take a whip to me again, I will poison you."

He laughs. "Fair enough. I ever catch you with the baker boy again; I will put him in the soup too."

"I guess that is where your brother is?" I shake my head. "I never even knew his name."

"Sae doesn't name her pigs. Welcome home Mrs. Everdeen." He holds his arms out to me.

I look at him and step forward and he holds me. "By the way, I don't know your name either."

We made a life together. I was not a perfect wife but I did fall in love with him. He was no perfect husband. I never doubted that he loved me.

I learn how to make do and I learn what hungry is. I learn that my husband fights and I learn how to stitch him up. I remember the things of my parents and he teaches me his plant lore.

Mr. and Mrs Mellark welcome their second child. He waits on me when I have enough extra for his fancy bread. His wife is as mean as ever. There is tension between them and it pleases me to see him a little unhappy. Our past is never mentioned even casually. He doesn't ask how I could love him so much and marry another and I don't say how his ease in finding my replacement eats my will to inhale nearly every breath I take in a day.

I am in the hob one day and Haymitch stands there watching me. I am looking at the books in a stall and there are three on healing and old fashioned remedies. They are painfully expensive. I stay as long as I can, trying to memorize the things in the books. The book seller runs me off and I turn and bump right into Haymitch.

"I'm so sorry," I mumble. I can only meet his eyes for a second, before I think of Maysillee.

He picks up the three books I was studying and my heart sinks as he buys every one of them. I am sick at seeing the books swept away and take a seat at Sae's stall. I don't hear him behind me. The three books are flopped down on the makeshift table in front of me.

He never says a word to me. He just stomps off. I tell my husband what he did. "He's crazy they say. He used to be my friend."

I go to his house the next day. I knock on his door. He is drunk and glares at me. "What do you want?"

"I came to thank you for the books." I feel awkward out on the porch.

He grins and shakes his head. "Mission accomplished. Anything else?"

"No. I do wonder why?" I say honestly.

"Is this the part where you realize I killed your friend?" he leans forward and winks at me.

"I was walking forward to take her place. Wish I had." I drop my eyes.

He hiccups. "Would you like to come in? Have a drink?"

I follow him into his kitchen. It smells like a garbage can on a hot day. He digs glasses out of his cabinet and pours them full. "To all our lost things," he says holding the glass up.

I take a drink and make a face which amuses him. "So Mrs. Everdeen, done being crazy?"

"How did you…" I study him.

"I know many things about many people. I know a lot about you. I know what was going on before I left and what was no longer going on when I returned. I also know what you have been up to lately." He watches me with his calculating eyes.

I stand there with my jaw clenched waiting for him to drop the hammer. Oh god, if he knows he must have been there and now it will begin again. "What do you want?" I set the glass down and try not to burst into tears.

He bursts out laughing. I look at him, hatred flaring. I know he will win if he attacks me, but my husband won't let him enjoy it for long. Those books were a trap.

"Crap on a cracker, relax. I want to help you. Town needs a healer and you are it. You are getting a reputation, Mrs. Everdeen. They call you the Bloody Tailor. Any books you need, I want you let me know." He pours more in his glass.

I glare at him. "And the rest of it?"

"The rest of it? You smell of fear, sweetheart." His eyes narrow and he sighs with a slight head shake. " They did a hell of a number on you didn't they? There is no rest of it. I don't want to sample your charms or whatever it is clanking around in that pretty little head of yours. If you must pay me, consider yourself on call to anyone I send your way and if some little seam turd's brat needs treating, you treat them. I will pay if they can't." He hands me the glass back. His eyes widen. "That's it?"

I nod. I am still wary of him, but I do attempt to stop envisioning him holding me by the throat as he performs some lustful violence. We sit at his small kitchen table. There is quiet between us for a while. My danger radar resets and my shoulders drop to their normal place.

He cocks his head. "Better? Your breathing is almost normal again. Did it take you that long to figure out I am not going to drag you to my bed by the hair?"

I smile a little at his words and indulgent expression. "Still haven't decided for sure, but I am feeling a little hopeful you might be hiding a gentleman under all that scruff."

"If you only knew how well I understand, I would be the last person in the world you would fear." There is no jest behind his words.

"How did you know? Were you one of them? You had to be there to know." I ask, trying not to accuse him, yet knowing it sounds that way.

"No, sweetheart. I have not participated in your degradations. Let's just say I can cook when the need is presented." His eyes are direct though his words are oblique.

"Sorry. Had to ask. Some of them are still around. Lots of people think I am to be sported with." I take a long drink from my glass, to calm my hands small tremble.

"You survived. It is more than the other three girls managed. Don't be ashamed of doing what you had to do. Never forget who the brutes were. You wear a deep guilt for things that don't belong to you. Let it go." His voice is so deep and gentle that I feel drawn to believe him.

"It's easy to say when it isn't you." I look right in his eyes and I wish I hadn't said it. I see pain leak into his features for a split second and he at once forces the blank smirk there again. "But you aren't giving me just words are you? You are like me in some way?"

He picks at the corner of his eye with his index finger. He isn't going to elaborate. He looks in the bottom of his glass. "We were in the training center. She told me her best friend was in trouble. I laughed and mentioned our own situation. She was terribly frightened for you. I will never stop hating myself for letting her walk away."

I sigh. "She would have been happy you know." I sip my drink and meet his eyes. "She had a huge crush on you for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I thought she was insane. She would have been glad it was you. Haymitch, she wouldn't have lasted a month if she'd had to kill you. If you died, she would have never lived anyway. "

"That is very kind of you, but it doesn't help much. I am sorry they hurt you. It wasn't your fault and you were not the first. You were the last though, weren't you." He smiles like we have become great friends. "But, it doesn't help much does it?"

"There is an old book called Grey's Anatomy. It is hard to find," I blurt.

He winks and nods with approval. "Be here next week at the latest. Now run along little Seam wife, before your husband tries to slit my throat and you end up a widow."

I laugh. He sees me to the door. "Our arrangement is just between us, of course. I have a reputation to uphold too, sweetheart."

I turn to him and really look at him. "I just bet you do, Mr. Abernathy," I say in the first flirty tone I have used in years.

I studied anything I could get my hands on and Haymitch kept me well supplied. It wasn't long before my parents were saying terrible things, but it didn't stop people from showing up at my door. My husband was proud at first but he soon got over it. He had no problem with butchery, but he was damned squeamish when it came to illness.

When I told him I was pregnant, my husband invited half the Seam to celebrate. He was delighted when Katniss was born. He drug her through the hob and out in the woods with him. He taught her that awful song about the tree and even after years, I am terrified he may be hung.

Then he began his disappearing. I made a mistake by letting my feelings for Mr. Mellark run free. I rejoiced that he and Luneeta were far more broken than they seemed. He confessed that she was pregnant when he married her. I had run off and gotten married and he'd died inside. He doesn't ask me to explain. He says nothing matters but now. I began to dream of blue eyes again. Our tree is a blissful place again. The pleasure of him is all I can think of. Surviving it all was worth those few months we snatched away from the fates.

My husband seemed to be gone. Then he wasn't gone. When he returned, my pure fear for the sweet baker gave me the strength to turn him away. I couldn't live if he was murdered for love of me. I got to have a tiny piece of him and I was so thankful my husband assumed she looked like me.

When my husband came back, he had changed. He was perfect and I put my heart to the side again. I lived the life I was given and yes there were days it hurt, knowing what could have been, but I was not unhappy. When the mine caved in, the way I was when I got married all came back to me and I fell apart. Katniss never forgave me.

When I got better I waited for Mr. Mellark to give me one look that said he cared at all. I had been crazy when he'd come. I had to put it together who he was once I was awake. It took me over a year to get back this time. I had let my tears take over and I was so afraid that men would come now that my husband was not there to protect me. I didn't understand he wasn't there to hurt me. I told him I never wanted him. I thought he was handing me money for sport. I though he was just one of the town people looking down his nose at me.

I wanted those blue eyes to just look at me. He wouldn't even wait on me any longer when I scrounged money to go to his bakery. He saw my children starving and I didn't know what I was saying when he'd come to the house. I did everything I could to make him just look at me after that and it was like he was not even in there.

By now it is all over. Maysillee has been dead longer than she was alive. Haymitch, her little seam boy, won and turned into an alcoholic. He was so far gone that nobody even cared anymore. I tried to be kind to him. He was a good person to talk to. Many thought he was a loser who let all the children die, but he had an odd humor I appreciated. My parents died one winter, never speaking to me again or wanting anything to do with their grandchildren. Life had moved on and the love he and I promised each other moved on as well. I was a Seam woman by then. I was the Bloody Tailor and it was enough.

I didn't know about Peeta and Primrose having suspicions of their mutual paternity. I didn't have any idea that his son Peeta and my Prim even knew each other. I didn't know about the bakery visits or the after school cookies.

They were both reaped on the same day. Prim is called. Katniss never looks my way, she just marches up on stage and looks above everyone, cold as the flinty eyes of her father. Peeta Mellark was the spitting image of the boy I had loved my whole life. It wasn't just strangers up there or friends; it is a boy wearing his eyes and my daughter.

Haymitch looks down at me and then he starts screaming in the camera and plunges drunkenly off the stage. I am consumed with holding Prim back as she demands she be allowed to go. Gale holds her and sooths her. Hazel tries to soothe me while her oldest son turns to rock before our eyes.

I looked back all those years and knew we had been reaped as well. My life and his had been stolen. Now they were taking our children and I just wanted to go back and have an extra fifteen minutes at the tree. I wanted this vision to have been prevented.

He came to my door the next day and I am so stunned I can barely speak. All this time and being near him makes my soul scream for his arms. I am mortified that Prim has some idea in her head that Mr. Mellark is some beast incapable of loving her. She had never said one word to me and I feel such astonishment that I can't seem to get a word out.

He pulled the bottle of bitters out of his pocket. It had to be old; my parents had been dead ten years. He was so empty when he asked me to choose. The whole nightmare went through my mind. How I had caused this, by falling apart, sent shards of guilt and such livid remorse through my spine that I couldn't even breathe. I was drowning in the whole horrible mess. Terrified of Prim knowing so much of it, I was for a few seconds back in my deep place. When I realized he'd walked out and I knew his intention, I almost let him go. I had hurt him too much and what right did I have to tell him not to. But I couldn't let him die not knowing.

I chase him down and beg him not to leave me. I finally promised that he could tell his daughter anything, to keep him. I beg him not to leave her, not me. I know I am not worth staying for. I couldn't believe he'd thought of it every day. He had always been so cheerful and oblivious until just recently.

Haymitch proved he can still do the impossible. He brought two kids home from the games against all odds and the rules. I spent some time with him and I grew fond of him. We talked about what I should expect. Katniss was different, farther away from me than ever. He helped. He somehow took the place of the kids' broken parents. He became our expert on all and our lovable burden.

He saves Gale from being whipped to death and Haymitch becomes family. He watches me take the tiny stitches just to tack the loose damaged bits back in place so we can hope they keep a blood supply. We talk of the days when this was normal and we laugh about the flies and make maggot jokes until we were ashamed of our mirth.

He smiled at Mr. Mellark acting like a sheepish school boy around me. Haymitch manages to have an opinion about everyone. The smiles end for everyone when the Quell card is carefully read. Again, our children are to die. They are gone without a wave.

He is going to the florist to order Peeta's favorite flower for the casket piece. He offers to order something for Katniss and I shake my head in horror. He is so business-like, I know he's in shock. I felt so guilty for wanting him when our kids were about to die, but I needed him more than ever.

Primrose and Rory sneak off. Gale is about to come unglued as the streets become more dangerous. I can't believe he shows up with such a fatherly look on his face and Prim in tow by the arm. He is going back for his family. He has to of course. He will be right back. He will be right back. The bombs. Please no.

I am watching the bombs in terror. I know exactly which one because I felt him pass through me like light and then all was darkness in my world and my heart didn't hurt anymore, it just didn't exist.

The arena blew up and I didn't understand. The bombs came and I couldn't understand. The wounded, I do understand. Katniss has to be dead. I wondered if they would torture dear Haymitch.

I never did tell him the damned story. Just as it all finally was our moment, the world fell apart again. Our kids went back to the games and as far as I could figure, they died there.

I should not have gone back to town on the third day after the bombing. They had almost made it. He died to save her. Luneeta was near him. Mrs. Undersee was still in his arms. I stood there looking at what was left for a long time. I tell myself that it is better that I know. I tell myself that he is a hero. He tried. But all that is in my gut just screams that he is gone and I never told him. He died thinking I had betrayed him. He left without knowing how deeply he existed in me.

Nobody else could have recognized him. Between the fire and the concrete shards that had killed him, there wasn't much that could be called pretty. The sun and the birds had made him gruesome. He was left in worse condition then our guests looked at the tree. The whole town is a choking noxious fume filled with the smell of char and corpses rupturing in the heat.

I sit next to him for a while. I reach out and move his head a little. Most of his beautiful thick hair burned off, but I reach in my pocket and use the clippers to rescue the one pristine lock. I fold it in paper and tuck it in my pocket.

"Damned it. I can't even bury you. I am sorry. I should have told you. Where ever you are, I don't deserve it, but forgive me. I don't know how there can be any reason for me to stay except for Prim. Thank you for her. She's as beautiful as you and at least I will have you with me forever, just like we meant to be. It wasn't enough Mr. Mellark. We got moments instead of a lifetime. How do I breathe now that you stopped? I can't find my heart. I guess you took it with you, because it was always yours"

I leave and I look at other people I grew up with. Gale stands off in the distance, not crowding me, but watching. From here he looks a little like my husband. I know he is going mad with worry for Katniss. I am worried to, but I have to say that if there is any hope of survival, she is her father's child and she will find it. When the mine caved in, I couldn't imagine my husband and Hazel's had not found some impossible escape.

"Can I ask you a question? Do you think she's gone?" Gale doesn't look at me as he walks beside me.

"I don't know Gale. I felt him leave. With Katniss, I don't feel any sure answer. Why? What do your instincts tell you?"

He worries with his foot on a dirt clod. "I think she's alive but in trouble. She's been falling apart for some time now, you know?"

"Those games. If she survived, there isn't much telling what we would get back." I shake my head.

"Mom said that you might be checking out any moment. What's keeping you going this time?" Gale is turning to the sky, cocking his head.

"Nothing. I just don't have time." I wonder what has him so fascinated.

Gale cups his hands behind his ears turning in several directions. His eyes widen. "Shit! Hover-crafts. One of them is over heating or I wouldn't have heard. Come on!" He begins dragging me toward the clearing. The warning is out and twelve hundred people panic.

I stand in my hospital area. I have five hundred people here who can't run. I'm not leaving them. I turn toward the noisy craft trying to land. Whoever is flying it is either terrible at it or it has lost maneuverability with whatever damage that is creating that ear splitting grinding. I stand waiting, legs wide, arm crossed. If they are landing, they at least aren't attacking. A few of my patients manage to rise as if to back me up.

A door opens and a ramp slides out. There are twenty people dressed in white and gray, others in greens and dark blues. They are Medics and doctors. A tall man in a rumpled capital suit leads this army. There is something familiar about his bow-legged amble. The walk that reminds me of a cowboy, who spends too much time guiding the carts in and out of the mines, is suddenly clear. I squeal in girlish delight and run toward a startled Haymitch Abernathy.

He chuckles. "Careful sweetheart, people will talk." He gives me a friendly squeeze and doesn't make me ask what I want to know. "She's in pretty bad shape but alive. I need to speak to the Mellarks, before anyone else gets to them. Peeta was taken by the capitol."

I turn my face to him and see how hard he's trying to hold himself together. "They're gone. All of them. There are no Mellarks, Haymitch."

He swallows and nods. He looks at me, pity and understanding on his face. "My deepest sympathies for your loss, Doc." He is the first to acknowledge that I have lost my heart out loud. "We are going to evacuate everyone to District 13. Can you estimate your wounded?" he asks, back to business.

I give him the rundown of critical, ambulatory and dead without immediate intervention. "Oh and your basement treasure has been raided and looted dear man. It was all I had to work with."

He sighs and snatches his arm off me. "Another beautiful friendship gone to hell. That was my retirement fund you know." He looks so angry, but the upturn of his mouth corners and a slight twinkle let me know he's trying to be funny.

I wink at him. "If you were flying this thing just now? I don't think retirement will be much of a concern."

His eyes widen in genuine offence and he says, "What are you talking about? I am an excellent pilot."

I smile. I take a deep breath as the medics begin making rounds and taking my patients. "Haymitch? I know you did your best. You always do when it counts. Thank you."

He sets his jaw and blushes. Jamming his hands in his pocket and raising his shoulders, he gives me one of his typical self-critical answers. "Fat lot of good it does anyone. My failures are all that really counts. They took my little Jojo too. They probably have things in store for her that will make me want to rip my eyes out." His flask comes out and he empties it, curses and stoppers it.

"Johanna Mason? You're in love with her?" I ask placing my arm on his shoulder.

"Of course I am. She wouldn't be in this nightmare now if not for me. She'd be safe up north somewhere, bedding lumberjerks and chewing on trees. Instead she made the horrible mistake of trusting me and I have…she's my…" Haymitch is holding his breath shaking.

I pull his head to my shoulder and he never releases a single sob or tear, but his abdomen jumps and I know there is a horrible battle raging in his heart. "Haymitch, it isn't your fault. You still have hope. You fight until every tiny crumb is gone. You have to take care of Katniss right now. I think you and Gale are the only two people she's ever trusted. Now stand up and be strong before they really do think your installing an elevator in my mine."

He snorts at me a little and there is a look of pure unruly trouble on his face as he pulled me to him and kissed me with mind stopping appetite. It was so out of character for the standoffish grouch, I knew that I should push him away, but it felt sweet and comforting too and somehow I slipped my arms around him and pulled back forgetting where we were. It was not lustful, but more tension release, a kiss of life for two old friends.

Haymitch pulls away and sighs with a smirk. "That ought to keep the tongues wagging for a while. Thanks Doc. You are quite a concoction for the soul."

I playfully poke his chest. "To bad I didn't know this back when you bought me my first medical book? Who knew you could have let me skip all those chapters on reliving depression with your own bourbon transfer technique." I patted his cheek, noticing the scratches. "What's this?"

His fingers ran over the wounds and his head shakes a bit. "That would be a little token of your daughter's appreciation, during her one somewhat lucid moment."

My face falls. "She is breaking?"

His eyebrows pull a double line above his nose. "She wants to. Hasn't quite reached her mother's degree of flair yet, but she's damned stubborn so I expect her to keep at it until she's blowing spit bubbles and incontinent. Maybe Hawthorne can head her off a little." He sighs, shakes his head with frustration and gives me a quick kiss on the forehead before heading off to help organize the chaotic evacuation.

I end up on a separate hovercraft, but medics who come with my most critical patients assure me that the ride to twelve had been the equivalent to letting an angry raccoon drive. I don't see much of District 13 at first. They are very nice in the first few hours, but soon there is a little snobbery at the fact that I don't have any capitol training or formal medical certificate. I have been called Doc for so long it is a bit off putting that they take great pain to call me Nurse Assistant Everdeen.

Three hundred and six of my patients do not make the transport. They died of what I term Rescue Bliss. Pain keeps you alive and when it is suddenly relieved, it is easy to relax and float away. I was furious that these medics could be so stupid.

My district people stubbornly act with overboard distrust looking at the little tablets and capsules handed to them and informing the white coats that they sure appreciate it but can't take anything without my approval. "I will set that right here and as soon as Doc comes by, I will ask her if it is ok." It makes me feel good and makes Prim giggle, but I think the loyalty serves little other than to create confusion. The reaction is understandable, after all they knew I had kept a lot of people going with nothing and the fancy coats helped many friends to death within hours.

Prim is repeatedly waved away, but there is such demand for Little Doc, that eventually they made her a tag and coat that say Nurse Prim. I tell her I am only designated as Nurse Assistant and want to know how she rates. She teases me about being my boss.

Katniss won't acknowledge anyone, but I know broken and she isn't. Katniss is pouting. She is in a light aftershock, but I see the spark of anger and I know for a fact she is punishing Haymitch. I don't have time for her antics and leave her to Gale. I have my own problems frankly. I have over three hundred patients and have to create medical histories for them. My terms for conditions and District 13's terms are not easy to transcribe because we have different names, boundaries and treatments.

Haymitch is a basket case after we discover that 13 is dry and I am pretty sure he got into the rubbing alcohol and poisoned himself. I have him sitting in an exam room, he's complaining about things I don't understand, but I can see they are putting him under unbelievable stress, while he heaves into a basin miserably. He has an aversion to being touched I find ridiculous and after a great deal of begging, I finally get his shirt off to take all the normal vitals. He is sweating and rubbing his left arm obsessively while barking to three people into a bracelet on his wrist, and I realize he's in real trouble.

"Haymitch, I need you to put this under your tongue, give me this, and lay back." He is distracted compliant until I take his communicuff and switch it off.

"Hey. You can't do that! Have you not listened to a word I told you? That's it…" He is trying to get up and I can't stop him if he does.

"You are about to have a heart attack old friend. Please don't waste all the books you bought me. You walk out on me and drop dead, do you think the war will end? Are you really that important to them? Because you are that important to me and my selfish daughter. To the son of my heart and to a scary little girl who is counting on you for rescue, you are life or death."

"I am fine I tell you!"

I blink my eyes and tears rush out. I know he won't listen and if he doesn't it is just one damned goodbye too many for me today. "No sweet man. You are not ok." I hold his eyes, until the stress and anger and past and future melt away and it is just a man who hasn't been on speaking terms with his body in so long he can't hear it any more.

He doesn't want anyone to know he's not bulletproof, so it becomes a huge hush, hush operation and the rumors are spread that he is only suffering from withdrawal. He has three stints put in and recovers beautifully, even laughing at the wild rumors of his violence and insanity during his forced intervention. Katniss finally ask about him about three days before he is fully recovered. I am disappointed that she is so wrapped up in herself that she hasn't even missed someone who has risk his life often for her safety. It would have meant the universe to him if she'd demanded to see him, but she was too busy wanting to feel sorry for herself to even notice.

I try to help her, but I get frustrated that she won't lift a finger to help herself. Everyone is just hopping and jumping to please her and she seems to be in her own little world and suspicious of everyone.

I begin medical training and I am determined to sail through the courses just to rub it in the noses of the little egotistical clowns who think studying medicine for three years is more valid than practicing it for twenty. I take seven tests in two weeks to jump their courses and three more oral evaluations along with a demonstrating skills test. On my stitches, they inform me I did it wrong, but once the Dean looks at my technique, he asks me to teach him and they agree to dismiss the failing mark.

Gale grows hard here. Under his care, Katniss seems to be a bit better. She worries for Peeta. She is determined to butt heads with everyone. Even Gale begins to question her ability to make rational judgment. Anything can set her off and she seems to have half of this place cowed and the other half planning to kill her. Haymitch is a swing vote on any given day.

There are broadcasts of Peeta and it makes me sick. I do feel for Katniss at this time, for it is just a small leap for me to see his father in the same place. Yet to me, alive was better than my heart's dwelling and it was only Prim and Haymitch who thought of my sorrow. I obsessively work and study because three spare minutes in my day mean three minutes of despair at knowing it all feels like a waste of time without him.

During the bombing is the worst for me. It feels like the night he died combined with the way my husband died. I sneak away from my cube and Haymitch holds me together and I finally give into tears for both of them. We play cards and sometimes Prim joins in.

"She looks like him you know." He says quietly after Prim heads to bed.

"Who told you?" I whisper.

"I have eyes. And she has his." He smiles like it is a trick question.

I become a doctor while Katniss becomes a Mockingjay who lives in a gilded cage.

Peeta becomes a monster. Haymitch becomes hard again when his Jojo falls for a younger man.

The Playboy of Panem becomes the perfect husband. Gale becomes pure focused hate.

We all revolve and spin around Katniss while she looks in the mirror.

I thought her getting shot was a blessing because for the first time she was focused on something besides herself. She trains and she is interacting with people again. Prim sails through all the nursing courses and they finally agree that her experience must be held above her age. She gains entrance to the advanced healer course which will lead her directly to the physician course. I am thrilled for her because she would never have had these opportunities back in District 12 unless Katniss pulled strings. Katniss loved Prim enough that she may have thought to try, but here, Prim is free to make it on her own.

They said it was the end of the war. It is the end of all for me. Haymitch is having chest pains when he loses contact with the squad 451. I rush to him, somehow unaffected by the loss of Katniss. I am not surprised by the depth of his pain. Almost everyone he loved was gone and everyone who loved him has been wiped out of his life. I get the pills under his tongue and speak as calmly as I can. I return to the hospital to find Prim is on a transport to the front lines. They can't do that. She is too young. I franticly try to get her removed.

Tears in his eyes, Haymitch gets me an answer. Requested by President.

Annie Cresta shows up and assures Haymitch and I that the team is not dead, she would know. We indulge her and thank her for her assurance. A smile of fondness passes between Haymitch and I. We both adore Annie and think her husband walks on water. We don't laugh at all when half a day later in the wee hours of the morning, Annie begins to scream.

Her voice carries in the airshafts in an eerie way that makes me recall stories of banshees. Her Finnick is dead she screams. He has left her. She begs him for hours not to leave, until we are all about to go mad. They try sedating her and it just makes it worse, she now sounds like a drunken banshee. There is no explanation for the carry of her voice. It can be heard on five levels like waves of sorrow unable to crash to shore. It leads to more than one death threat because it frightens people. I stay with her, adding my voice to hers when my last link to love, burns from the world.

The war is ended. I have to leave Annie. Hazle and Haymitch travel with me to the capitol. Primrose has gone to be with her father. Katniss is horribly burned. Peeta is badly burned. Gale has been shot and it is not known if he will survive. The rest are dead as well as five of our doctors and sixty of our best medics, my daughter among them.

I can't help thinking that the last reaping has not yet come. The children had fought for the right to live, yet they burned too brightly and now darkness had settled in the lives of everyone.

There are months of pain and tears. Her burns on the outside are hideous, but inside she is burned to the soul. She says it is Gale's fault and I am so sad that my poor little Duck Tater is crazy. My Duck Tater and Duck Tail are both lost to me.

Katniss missed her mark and nearly began another war. I know why she did it. Primrose should never have been there and Katniss didn't have the ability to forgive. She still hadn't forgiven me, though she'd followed me into the nothing. They put her on trial. Haymitch fights tooth and claw for her while they nearly succeed in killing her behind closed doors. Even Haymitch can't get in and he fumes and rages and he drinks. But red-eyed and hung over like a bridge, he fights for her.

There wasn't much to be done with the shell. I let Haymitch decide what to do. She had been more his than mine for a long time.

"If you take her there, I can't go Haymitch. Come to four with me. Annie is there and you never know…" I didn't say the name that was so painful to him.

He looked up daring me to mention that there was still hope with Jojo. Johanna Mason was acidic on a good day. She blamed Haymitch for her torture, seduced Gale and that was the end of it for them. Haymitch wasn't very forgiving either. He and Katniss are alike in that.

"I am taking her home, Doc. Don't fight me on this one." His voice sounds firmly hopeless and just bitter enough to be a little frightening.

"That is no life for her. It is empty. How will you care for her? What will you do all day?" I am having a trickle of dread as I look at him.

"Look at her. How much of her do you really think is left? I am not taking her home to save her. I am taking her home to die. Maybe she will surprise us, she always has. You go to District 4. Start your hospital. I want to do this for her and we both know nobody else can." He says this as if speaking at a funeral.

I didn't like it. But I knew he was right. I waited outside the room, but when Haymitch carried her out, she didn't recognize me. Gale stood next to me and she didn't know him either. She clung to her mentor and I didn't blame her. I gave Haymitch a letter for her. I watched them take off and I expected it to be the last time I would see her. I wondered if I would lay eyes on him again before he followed her. He wasn't good at keeping secrets from me anymore and there was implicit truth in his eyes.

Gale never said a word, he just left, guilt and loss making his steps heavy. I understood him, he had to work or fall apart, like me. He can't control what made his world fall apart, but there are needs greater than his tears. Hazel and the kids went to four with me. She keeps her son updated, though her words are more hope filled than truthful. Gale isn't deceived. I threw myself into work, often sleeping less than three hours a night.

I would call Haymitch late at night and he gave me no soft words or pretty pictures. She was in the same fugue I had been in. Katniss didn't even know him some days. She had been violent to Haymitch actually shooting him with an arrow. He told me to relax, if she'd wanted him dead, he would be.

Sometimes he didn't answer the phone and I would panic every time. Dear Sae would calm me and demand to know if I was eating properly. That always made me smile considering the things she'd fed me over the years. I kindly tell her, "No Sae, not like your vittles keep belly." I do not add that People Porridge is not available in District 4.

I hear Peeta is to be released. Haymitch tells him that if he would like to say goodbye to her, he'd better hurry. I call too often but Peeta is my hope. His father lives there in that boy. Somehow I know our children must save each other.

I have not spoken to her in months. When she calls me and says she read my letter, my face needed an appointment for a frown. Haymitch has once again pulled off the impossible. There are visits and smiles and forgiveness. It is more than I dreamed.

I did go back to District 12. It was horrible for me, but a certain half-drunk seam boy held me together. He walks my daughter down the aisle for the wedding and I pretend not to notice how he stares at me. Just a damned Seam boy. After the wedding, I suddenly find myself pulled into a closet. I kissed that idiot drunk Seam boy and noticed it was a little more than friendly.

"So have you gotten up the nerve yet?" I ask.

"No, I haven't." His eyes say otherwise. "I was thinking I might just drag you up by your hair."

"Really? I find people who buy me books far more appealing than hair pullers," I say sweetly.

"Perhaps you would like to see my library?" he asks, narrowing his eyes in calculating entertainment.

"You don't have a library, Haymitch." I flirt in my suspicious doctor voice.

"Care to place a small wager, my dear? Just for sport?" he purrs.

Haymitch has one room upstairs that is the most outrageous secret I could have imagined. His house had degenerated to pig wallow with minor clean spots. Up we went to a hatch leading to a fold down stair. I could smell the books before I got all the way up the stairs. I look around the room and my imagination is astounded.

I have watched him drunkenly shuck through the trash for years. People made such ugly comments. There seemed to be no reason, but here his gleaned items have been pieced and transformed into new beautiful things. There is a coffee table made from the very door I used for my open air hospital examination table. I recognize a vase from my parent's apothecary shop he has made into a reading lamp. Every place I look is a tiny broken thing he has put back together, keeping some bit of a memory clean and whole.

The books are endless. This must be his entire attic. There are no broken bottles or clutter. His voice is soft at my side. "Do you like it?"

"Was this here before?"

"This is where I live. The downstairs is just frosting. I do have a reputation to keep up. We are both too old and broken for heartstrings and hoopla, Doc. But if you are willing, perhaps there are a few secrets we can share between us that they didn't know to ruin."

I had only been with one man in my life, completely by my own choice. He had been a baker. I knew Maysillie must be laughing at me. I loved a Seam boy once. This time, I picked one.

The kids don't suspect. They pity us old fogies who putter around together during visits. I laugh at the geese he pretends to shepherd. I throw my head back in delight as he tells me every one of them is named Katniss. His eyes fill with cruel glee as my daughter immerges to yell at him and threaten to cook them if he doesn't keep them out of her flower beds. There have always been little secrets between Haymitch and the Bloody Tailor. We don't put any forever between us. We are an odd couple. He sneaks out of District 12 and I sneak in, but it suits us just fine.

There are nights I dream of all my lost hearts. Sometimes it is that monstrously beautiful voice that kept me safe for so long. Sometimes I dream of blue eyes waiting for me by the terrible tree. Someday I will go to them all in joy and perhaps forever will find us after all.

The first time I held my granddaughter, I realized that it was all worth it. A grandson followed. Every moment was worth it for these little shining hearts. My baker's grandchildren and my grandchildren and Mr. Everdeen's grandchildren were our grandchildren. Haymitch is called Grampa and he pretends to be annoyed as he slips them sweets and little toys. Just as it should be, it has become. It isn't the way we expected it to be, but it is still perfect. All our lost hearts have knitted back together.

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Please review and if you see an error – point it out and forgive me - hope you enjoyed my tale of lost things.