A/N: This is an experiment. I have never seen this done before this way in this fandom with the Hawthornes, so I was intrigued to try it.
I want to acknowledge silvercistern, as I have used her name for Gale's father in this and she is certainly a source of inspiration to me.
Disclaimer:The Hunger Games and all the characters in this fic are the property of Suzanne Collins.
"Hey, Everdeen! I don't mean to sound like a jerk here, but the humming is grating on my nerves!"
The statuesque man did an exceedingly poor job of disguising the mischief dancing in the platinum depths of his Seam eyes, the half dozen men surrounding him and the target of his ludicrous witticism snickering in response, as the irony of the hyperbole was not lost on any of them.
"Ugh, Hawthorne! Jealousy is so unbecoming of you. Really, it makes you hideous!" The corresponding bout of boisterous laughter to this rebuttal actually seemed to make the cavern the men were currently excavating reverberate ominously. This, in turn, made the mirth cease abruptly.
Looking around warily, the august, marginally older man continued tenuously, in a much softer voice to his friend, "What has you in such a great mood anyway? You figure out a way out of this deathtrap?"
Setting down the auger he'd been taking to the rock face, his younger counterpart turned an impossibly radiant smile, swiping the back of his wrist across his sweat-streaked brow. "My girl brought down three rabbits yesterday. Didn't even need my help. Just pointed and shot. Clean, too. I'm telling you, Jasper, that girl's going to be something with that bow in a few years…"
Letting out a mock-amused scoff, the taller man slapped his friend on the back. "Well, I'm glad your replacement son is working out so well for you."
Immediately shrugging the offensive hand off, the kneeling man stood to his full height and graced the other with a withering sneer. "Katniss is not a 'replacement son', Hawthorne! Neither of my girls are and you darn well know that! She loves going out there with me! It's like she's a creature of that forest herself, for God's sake! You're such an arrogant bastard! Just because all Hazelle pops out are boys, don't mean they're a lick better than my girls! I'll wager my Katniss can outrun, outshoot, out-" He stopped short, narrowing his eyes in irritation at the low chuckle emanating from the taller man.
Letting out an exasperated breath, he leaned back down to pick up his auger. "How far along is Hazelle with your fourth kid again, Jasper? Don't you think it's about time you started acting older than your oldest boy?"
Giving a callous shrug of one shoulder while shoving off the wall in the direction of the cart to unload the massive boulder in his hands, the elder Seam man shot over his shoulder, casually, "I don't see that happening even if I'm seventy, Spruce. That kid outgrew me maturity-wise once he turned six. I think he gets it from his momma, 'cause lord knows, he ain't get that from the likes of me. And, I wouldn't take you up on that bet about him outrunning your girl, but I'll wager he can outthink her any day of the week! He's sharp as the business end of my knife, that kid! All I had to do was take him out and teach him three or four basic snares… he's got about fifteen variations out there! He's got traps for everything from gofers to lynxes! Kid's got and amazing instinct for figuring out the weaknesses in animals and using them to his advantage- not even I coulda taught 'im that…"
"So… have either of you mentioned to them that they could be flogged or hanged for these little forages into the woods you take them on?"
Both men turned to another member of their crew, who was gracing them with a knowing half smirk, while leaning casually on the end of his pick and eying them expectantly.
Before they could conjure up a response to the thinly veiled accusation, however, another member of their crew- a broad, burly monster of a man by Seam standards, turned heated eyes on the instigator, spitting out defiantly, "Don't be stupid, Ezra. Every child in the district learns the consequences of crossing that fence the moment they set foot in a classroom! We all saw it before Cray came along! My boy came home terrified his first day of school, 'cause some older boys told him about when all three Harrison brothers were strung up for poaching and he's already out of Reaping age. These kids know what they're signing up for going out there and you're a jerk for putting Jasper and Spruce on the spot like that! Don't try to make yourself feel like any less of a coward for not doing it yourself by making them feel raw 'bout bringing their kids in on it. At least, these youngins have a way of helping their families not to starve!"
Ezra had the decency to lower his eyes and return to his task after that, murmuring a barely discernible apology before turning away.
Considering the subject tabled, the older man turned back to his friend with another wisecrack on the tip of his tongue, when suddenly he froze at the feel of the rock shifting violently under his boots. They both exchanged horrified looks before training their eyes on the rest of the crew, who were already dropping their tools and getting up to move toward the exit of the tunnel.
They'd all felt the tremors before. They were commonplace in the mines. After centuries of excavation, the depth at which they were forced to dig, made the caverns highly unstable and excavating them far more prone to accidentally puncturing highly volatile gas pockets.
They were the only crew working this far down in the tunnels, however, and they knew it wasn't them who hit the pocket. That meant whoever punctured the seam that was causing this collapse was above them.
And every level below that was coming down on them within the next few seconds.
As the men made a frantic dash through the two hundred yards of cracking, splitting rock face for the elevator shaft, their headlamps only barely making a dent in the ever-increasing dust and ash- they also became keenly aware of the exponentially rising temperature.
Then, they saw it.
Thirty feet from where they stood was the shaft that should have been their salvation, only from it descended a wall of brilliant blue-white flame, its edges the color of the sun itself.
The inferno's surge was so subitaneous, their minds barely had time to register those final thoughts…
…the unvoiced pleas that their families would find a way to survive without them.
She moved as swiftly as her swollen feet and ankles would propel her through the moist ground.
What she'd been capable of doing for the past eight weeks could hardly be called walking so much as waddling, after all. However, the instant she'd heard the siren indicating there'd been a collapse in the mines, she'd taken off at her top speed.
There was already a crowd congregated at the entrance to the caves as she approached. It seemed as if the entire town was already there and she inwardly cursed her current condition for making her so sluggish.
She started circling the amassed crowd, looking for that familiar lanky frame, instead. It didn't take her long to find him. He was looking for her, too- his seven-year-old brother propped on one of his hips and held securely in one arm while his five-year-old baby brother sat high on his shoulders, sobbing quietly at the commotion.
Even amidst the uncertainty of the chaos surrounding them, she couldn't help looking upon her eldest with proud fondness the moment they met up. This boy had proven to be special. He'd made it through his first Reaping two summers ago with six slips in that bowl to his name. He'd stood straight and proud, a full head taller than all the other twelve-year-old boys around him, who seamed even more diminutive, sniveling in fear of being called. He was brilliant and strong-willed, that boy. She could see why his brothers so worshipped him.
Turning her gaze from her boys to survey the seemingly impenetrable wall of anxious bystanders, she let out a slow, exasperated whistle. "Looks like it'll be a while before we know what happened to your pa…"
The fourteen-year-old swept his steel gaze over the congregated onlookers briefly before replying with fiery conviction, "If you want to get through to the front, Ma, I can get you through. Just say the word."
She snapped her eyes to lock with his, searching for a trace of jest in that previous statement. Upon finding none, her brow furrowed into a chastising scowl. "Gale Hawthorne, I'll not have you bullying your way through a mass of terrified people, you here me?" She realized the statement was voiced with undo harshness when the boy winced in response.
Her hand immediately shot up to smooth over her oldest son's cheek in apology at the sudden outburst. Her hormones were simply getting the best of her these days. Letting out a tired sigh she added softly, "It won't change the outcome where we are when they pull him out of that mine, anyway. As the survivors come up, the crowds will thin. We just have to wait it out…"
Placing his one unoccupied hand over the one his mother held to his face, the Seam boy huffed out frustrated, "You can't stay on your feet that long, Ma. What if it takes hours?"
Hazelle stroked her protruding middle thoughtfully before responding with a hopeful smile. "Then, you go back home and get me a chair and some blankets so this little one won't make me too uncomfortable while we wait."
Gale sent another hesitant look in the direction of the mines. "What if they pull him out while I'm gone? He'll think I wasn't here to meet him."
At this, the Seam woman couldn't help but let out a soft chuckle. He was so big for his age; it was so easy to forget this boy was still so very, very young. She could understand him innocently wanting his father to know he was worried for his safety. She graced him with the brightest smile she could muster. "I'll tell you what, then: you make it home and back here as quick as you can. And, on the off chance your daddy makes it out while you're gone, I'll distract him until you get back so he never realizes you ain't even here. Sound fair?"
Even though one of his dark eyebrows shot up in clear indication of his skepticism of her reply- her boy was no fool, after all- one end of his mouth still quirked up in an unbidden smirk, as he nodded his assent.
"I wanna stay here with momma!" Tiny Vick finally decided he remembered how to speak through the wailing.
"Me, too!" Of course, Rory was not about to be outdone in the inappropriately timed petulance department by his younger brother.
"Heck, no! Ma can't carry either of you and stay on her feet! You're both coming with me!"
Hazelle allowed a sad smile to split her features as both her youngest boys started crying and struggling against their older brother, who adamantly carried them off in the direction of their home.
He'd be a good surrogate father to them if worse came to worse.
As she turned back to face the mine, she tried to squash that growing premonition in the back of her mind that kept telling her she was about to test that theory.
The Seam fourteen-year-old stood on that stage as Major Undersee prattled on about bravery and honor and lord-knows-what else.
Truth be told, he was too terrified out of his wits, too stricken with grief and too hollow with loss to be bothered with paying attention to whatever empty platitudes the major of this backwater nightmare of a district that had murdered his father could possibly offer.
He was also so very angry.
Standing there, next to his very pregnant, very recently widowed mother- he felt a righteous indignation flow through his veins like burning lava… all-consuming and oh-so-dangerous.
He was livid at the reality that- ever since that explosion at the mines- his mother cried herself to sleep at night when she thought he was asleep, enraged that his baby brothers asked when their pa was coming home and he was stuck with the impossible task of explaining the infinity of death to them.
It was just too unfathomable- the sheer unfairness of it all.
Then, he ventured a look at the other families that formed this pitiful showcase of the felled miners' bereft and his stomach plummeted impossibly even further.
He hadn't realized the healer lost her husband in the collapse, as well! She appeared bloody despondent!
This was not good!
His mother was about a minute away from giving birth! This woman was the only person he knew to turn to if either the baby or his ma didn't do well during the delivery! She barely looked aware of her surroundings!
As panic surged up within him, he began to quickly assess his alternatives.
If the baby was ill and passed away, it was one less mouth to feed. He cringed at the coldness of that thought, but he had to be practical as much at it'd hurt to lose a baby sibling that way. They'd just lost their father. They couldn't afford to be too sentimental right now.
If he lost his ma… he swallowed hard the sob that particular thought instantly evoked, furiously fighting back tears. If he lost his ma and the baby lived, he could always find a nursing mother to feed the baby in exchange for game.
If they both died during the birth… well, then he, Vick and Rory would go to the community home. He'd protect them there, same as he always had. He'd figure out a way to get out to the woods to forage and hunt.
He'd keep them alive. He owed his father that much.
Once his mind settled on an adequate contingency strategy for his family's survival, should the worst happen during his mother's labor, his steel eyes traveled to the traumatized healer's children.
Whoa! This family was in rough shape!
The eldest daughter was a tiny, barely there wisp of a girl, who looked petrified to have so many eyes on her and clung to the shell of what was once her mother as if tugging on her would bring her back to her senses. The youngest had a knowing, pained expression no seven-year-old should ever wear. She looked as fragile as a glass doll.
The Everdeens were dead.
Pity, too. His dad had introduced him to their father once in the Hob. He was a darn decent man.
As his eyes surveyed the other six families, he realized only one was capable of maintaining themselves properly without the support of the breadwinning patriarch, since the eldest son was just out of Reaping age and could work in the mines. Either all the others had children who were too young to take tesserae, were only composed of an elderly widow, or now only had orphans destined for the community home.
In that instant, he made a promise to himself to keep his family alive, no matter the cost.
He would make for the woods every day after school. He could triple or quadruple his snare lines. He wasn't afraid- not if it meant food for his brothers. His father had taken him to the Hob enough that he knew how to bargain a trade well enough. If he was any example, his brothers would start growing like weeds soon. They'd need shoes, fabric and thread for clothes- an ever existing demand for nourishment that his measly ration of tesserae grain and oil would never satisfy…
As he stepped forward to accept the medal from the major for having his father entombed within the bowels of that mine because of the despicable demands of some faceless Capitol, one determined thought ran through his mind, pulsing with the same intensity as the rage flowing though his veins…
'It's okay, Pa. I will find a way for us to survive without you…'
A/N: For now, this is a one-shot. I have a few ideas as to how I could continue this. However, as with all my stuff, since I'm so busy with my actual work and life, I will only continue this if I get an encouraging response. Therefore, if the idea of what I'm doing here intrigues you and you would like to read more…