Disclaimer: I claim no ownership to the characters depicted in this story. The Hunger Games trilogy and the characters therein, are all property of their creator, Suzanne Collins.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to read this. I hope you enjoy! Thank you to Danalos the Lady Chaos (.net/u/35728/) for being my beta reader.

This story takes place about 1 ½ years into Katniss' exile and return to District 12, and also after the events of my previous story, Something Lost, Something Found. However, this can be read as a standalone story.

Chapter 1

"What are we doing again?" Haymitch asks as he trips over another broken branch. Haymitch isn't quite sober, but at least he's not completely incoherent. I've seen him in worse conditions and he's still able to perform basic duties, like walking, so he should be okay once we get to the fence.

"We need to make sure I can find her if something happens," says Peeta.

It feels strange, to bring someone, or should I say anyone, with me beyond the meadow, beyond the fence, into the woods. But ever since my unannounced all-day trip to the woods last week, he insisted that he come with me the next time I go hunting. "Katniss, obviously I'm not the best person to go hunting with," he said, "but would you please let me come with you the next time you go out? I'd go mad if something happened to you out there, and I wouldn't even know where to find you." I've seen him go mad before, and it wasn't something I'd want to see again. I told him that I wasn't sure if that was a good idea, that there are still many dangers out there that could be a problem for both of us if I were hindered by him or vice versa. I knew it wasn't something he'd want to hear, but I didn't want to lie to him.

"It's not like I'm going to out there armed with a paintbrush, Katniss," he said. "I just want to know that I can find you out there if anything happened. I promise. This is not going to be a regular occurrence. I know you don't need me to hunt with you." He said it cautiously, as if to make sure I understood he didn't want to take Gale's place. Gale, my hunting partner, or former hunting partner.

Gale is in District 2 now, or at least that's where he was the last I heard. I think about him sometimes when I'm hunting. I try not to, though, only because it causes a whole mountain of sadness to wash over me. It didn't used to be that way. When things were different, when there was still the reaping and The Hunger Games, we were as close as friends could be. He made me happy, smile even, when there really wasn't much to smile about during that time. We'd hunt together; share our game and whatever else we were able to get throughout the day. We'd talk a lot, sometimes he would rant about the Capitol and its barbaric ways and I'd listen. Back then, those were the only times I felt free, in a way.

But then I was reaped and things completely changed soon after. I didn't have the anger that fueled Gale to rebel and want to defeat the Capitol. I would've much preferred to be left to our own devices and continue living life the way we did, hunting beyond the meadow, trading in The Hob, having my mom and Prim with me. But complacency never wins and I was forced to fight, to fight for myself and those that I cared about. Even though we were victorious and had defeated the Capitol and many people's lives are all the better for it, I still lost. Now, I am glad I have been left alone to lead as normal a life as possible, even if it means being in exile.

No, I don't regret my ability to leave Gale behind, away from my current life. There's just too much hurt between us to pretend we were the same two people that found a way to survive together beyond the fence that surrounds District 12. He knew that, which is why he left the way he did. Without so much as a goodbye. I don't hate him, though, but we no longer needed each other to move on. I found Peeta, and Gale found… what? Retribution? Vengeance? Who knows? I do hope he found, or finds, peace. Maybe love, even.

"Okay," I told Peeta. I agreed to it last week, but now I'm having second thoughts. Would this be safe? "Let's bring Haymitch, too," I suggested. Peeta looked like he was about to object to the idea, but instead agreed to it, telling me that we had to ask him first.

So, here I am, about to go under the now unelectrified fence and into the woods, with Peeta and Haymitch in tow. It's weird how I still check the fence to hear for the buzzing sound of electricity, knowing that ever since we've come back, it hasn't been turned on. Force of habit, I suppose. We are no longer bound in by the confines of this fence in District 12, but still, hardly anyone goes out into the woods, especially when food has become more readily available on a regular basis from other Districts and the Capitol, and also when it's the coldest time of the year. Winter. Luckily, it's not the coldest winter we've ever experienced, and in actuality, it's quite warm today, which is probably a good thing. There still is snow, but it's not snowing now and there are patches of brown and green around the woods.

"Maybe I didn't clarify, what am I doing here?" Haymitch emphasizes. He is not enjoying himself in the least, but Peeta allows him to gripe, because a griping Haymitch gives both of us a little break from the tension that we feel as we start in the woods.

"C'mon Haymitch, this is good for you! We all need some time away our homes, to breathe the fresh air, take in the beauty of the trees," counters Peeta. Haymitch just mumbles something under his breath about seeing enough beauty to last a lifetime. I wonder if he's thinking about his time in the Hunger Games. It was the 50th Hunger Games, also known as the 2nd Quarter Quell, and there were twice as many tributes in that game than usual. 48 tributes, to be exact. The arena during that game was the most beautiful anyone had ever seen. It didn't take too long to figure out all that beauty was a façade, that everything living in there was out to kill you. Maybe Haymitch doesn't trust the beauty of the trees. I've never seen him be in awe of anything.

Ironically enough, Peeta did bring along a brush and a small tube of orange paint. He wants to mark some of the trees along the path to avoid getting lost if he ever has to go in here again to look for me. I doubt he would have to, but I don't tell him to stop marking the trees. It's like a way to reassure him that I allowed him into this place, my hunting grounds.

After about an hour of trekking through the woods, I decide we can stop for a break. There's a little clearing with some large rocks around it, so we sit there. Peeta's sitting next to me on the largest rock, while Haymitch plops himself down on the bottom of a tree. He looks miserable, exhausted, and annoyed, but he doesn't say anything. Peeta takes off his pack and opens it to reveal a fresh loaf of bread. He breaks off a piece for each of us to eat. It's full of grain and seeds and has the scent of cinnamon and dill on it. We each take a sip from our water containers. For a few minutes, we just sit there in silence, listening to the wind rustling through the leaves, or the flaps of wings first on one branch about my head, then on another branch about 2 yards away. I look up to see if it's what I think it is. Sure enough, it's a mockingjay. There are several of them around on various branches in the trees surrounding us. I whistle a tune. A four-note tune, the same four notes that little Rue used to whistle when it was time to end the harvesting for the day back when she was in District 11. The mockingjays listen, and then a chorus of the same tune goes around and around, making their own song.

Haymitch looks at me from across the clearing and says, "Geez, girl, you are a freak of nature."

I give a half-serious scowl in his direction, but Peeta just laughs and nudges me with his shoulder before he plants a playful kiss on my temple. "You're perfect," he says. My scowl fades.

"So, this is what you do when you go hunting? Sit here and whistle to the birds?" Haymitch spouts in irritation.

"No," I retort. What's with him anyway? "Sometimes, but not if I'm really hunting."

"Right, no hunting today, because who can hunt when you have two useless victors with you," he says with a biting sarcastic tone that I haven't heard from him before. "I don't know why you dragged me with you two anyway. What am I, your mentor for life? You don't need me anymore, or haven't you figured that out yet? Are you just trying to include me into your games?" Then he changes his voice to a higher pitch, obviously to mimic me, "Yeah, poor old Haymitch, let's bring him along so we can flaunt our emotions in front of him, too! He doesn't have anyone anyway." He yells up toward the sky now, like Johanna Mason did in the arena at our Quarter Quell. "Yeah, I sure don't!" Yelling as if there's a camera on him showing all of Panem of his displeasure. But there is no camera. There's no one but me and Peeta and the mockingjays.

We're speechless. I never thought about it that way. I never thought Haymitch would come to resent being around us. I thought he enjoyed our company, eating with us at times, even playing chess every once in a while with Peeta. I don't know what prompted this outburst of frustration. It's not like I've never seen Haymitch mad, but his anger seems more directed now at both of us instead of just me. The branch that Haymitch had in his hand has now been thrown several yards from the clearing. I'm again holding Peeta's hand, white knuckled, unsure of what to do now. Do we go to him? What do we say? Peeta, of course, makes the initial move.

"Haymitch-," he says cautiously.

"Forget it. Just… leave me alone for a second," and he walks away, following the path of the thrown branch.

We give him a second. We give him as many seconds as it takes for him to come back. When he comes back, I try to look at his face, but he's looking downward, as if to look at where he's stepping, making sure he doesn't trip over anything. Then he stops in front of us, with a determined expression on his face, like he has something important to say. What's interesting is that he's looking at me.

"I had a girl once, yes. Sylvia. I was gonna marry her. She was the most beautiful girl I've ever seen. For me, she was everything. She was perfect," he glances at Peeta. "Long, red hair and beautiful green eyes. She definitely didn't look like any of us. She was unique. We spent hours together just talking about stuff, what we liked, what we didn't like, our families, school." He pauses, as if struggling to pull out the memories he'd been hiding for so many years, and then looks up around us. "She sometimes would talk about running away into these woods, away from District 12. She would talk about it every year, right before the reaping. But she knew we couldn't just leave. I had family, she had family. It would be too hard to hide all of us. Then one year, my name was called…" he stops.

I don't know why he's telling this to us now. It seems an odd situation and place to start opening up about his past, but whatever the reason, I'm not sure if I want to hear more. Even though we never asked him to, and Haymitch is freely telling us of his own accord, I still feel like I'm intruding in his past, looking into something I shouldn't be looking into. But I continue to listen, to find out where this is all leading to, because if I know Haymitch, there's a point to this. Or is he finally willing to be vulnerable?

"Yeah, I was only 16 years old at the time, but I had my life set and Syl was it. Just like you, Peeta. I knew she was it for me," says Haymitch.

I guess she knew it, too. They had planned for their future already. I wonder, had I gotten to know Peeta years earlier, before our names were called in the reaping, if I would've made plans for a future with him, to marry him and have children with him. Probably not. Maybe that's why I never made an effort to make many friends at school. We were all on the list of potential people to be reaped. To make friends with anyone at that time was just another possibility of losing someone you cared about. Madge was a perfect example, and she was the mayor's daughter. You would've thought that gave her an advantage, but no, she died like most of the others in District 12. It didn't matter if you were on the better part of the district or if you were in the Seam.

No, I wouldn't have planned any future with anyone. I didn't with Gale and he was my best friend. I guess you can never plan when to fall in love, though. Sometimes it just happens, sometimes it just creeps up on your before you realize it. I guess like Haymitch with Sylvia. Or like Finnick with Annie. And like me with Peeta, too. I'm just lucky enough to still have him with me.

"Then Mimi called my name," Haymitch continues. Mimi was Haymitch's escort from the Capitol, like Effie Trinket was to me and Peeta. "But I didn't cry about it. No, actually, I had already planned it out in my head. I was going to play this game and I was going to win. I wanted to win. I had to win, for Syl, because I was going to have her marry me and live with me in the Victor's Village and we wouldn't have to worry anymore about anything," Haymitch shakes his head, conceding to the fact it was all futile.

Haymitch had his idea planned from the beginning. He knew he was smart enough to win, and he was determined enough. He had the love of his life to think about. Haymitch played the game because of love. And he won. Unfortunately, he was too smart for the Capitol and he broke the rules. I mean, there really were no set rules in the Hunger Games, but if you played it and gotten something out of it that they hadn't planned, that they thought could threaten or undermine their authority, that's just something they couldn't let you get away with. They certainly didn't with Haymitch. His girl, Syl, along with his mother and brother, were killed two weeks after he won the games.

"I would've married her as soon as I got the chance. I would've," says Haymitch to no one in particular. He's no longer looking at us, because his body's turned away from us. "And you two, I don't even know what you two are. Are you for real or are you still playing a game?"

"We love each other," Peeta says. "That's real." Peeta squeezes my hand reassuringly and Haymitch turns around again to look at us, his gray Seam eyes looking directly at me. I don't flinch and the expression on his face eases just slightly. He nods.

"Good. Love each other, then," and then he turns to leave.