I left Thorn sleeping. I am not sure how in 3 days time she has become so important to me. Maybe it is the intensity of the situation, maybe it is how often I have been absolutely vulnerable in her presence, or how intimately her hands have touched me but my arms ache to hold her. I try to sleep, all I can think of is Thorn, I toss and I turn. Finally, I fall to sleep, but the nightmares follow. It is useless. At 7 am I head to the dining room. I ask an Avox for a tray. I grab 2 plates and fix them. I fix 2 cups of coffee. Then I head for the remake center. I hope Thorn is still alone and asleep. I enter as quietly as I can, there are no lights on. I walk to the bedroom. She still sleeps quietly, I trace the stem that runs along the side of her face, passing a leaf on her cheek, a thorn at the corner of her eye, and a simple bud at her temple. She stirs, stretching lazily, she yawns, and sits up. I hand her a cup, her fingers wrap around it and she sips. "You were supposed to check in here last night." I just grin "I did silly, who do you think put you to bed?" She teasingly slaps at my shoulder "That's not checking in and you know it. We have work, I need to clean up your face a little. By tomorrow I want pink new skin. What time is it?" As if in answer, there is a knock and Ezera's capitol voice rings out "20 minutes to breakfast. " we both break out in laughter. I hand Thorn a plate "Ezera appears to be off schedule, breakfast is served."

Thorn is quiet as she starts to work on my face. I close my eyes. She feels tense which is odd when Thorn is working. Then she speaks and I know why "I want to put faint bruises back on your arms. I won't if you say no." The thought is slightly un-nerving, "Why?" Is all I can manage. Her voice is soft "I want you to wear a sleeveless shirt. I want to show that your healing. If you can't or won't I understand." Thorn doesn't understand, I will do anything within my power that she asks. I remain quiet. When she finishes on my face, she hands me a mirror. I hand it back without looking, I get up and grab the platform. I set it up so I can sit and rest my arms comfortably on the bars. It is my answer. "Would you put that soft music on again?" I simply relax and allow myself to enjoy Thorn's hands on my arms. When she finishes she gets up and turns on the shower. I know the drill, I finish stripping and head for the bathroom. Thorn steps in front of me and leans into my chest, she tilts her face up to kiss me, I step back "Who am I kissing? My groomer, responsible for the care and comfort of my body, or Thorn the woman who makes me so crazy I can't think straight, so crazy the only thing I can think of is how I feel with her in my arms, how soft she is to hold, how safe she makes me. Until I can kiss Thorn, just don't." I get into the shower. I can hear her weeping as she lays out my clothes. I may have asked for something she can't give, but it is the only thing I want. I am toweling off, the dryer is quicker but I like the feel of a towel against my skin, when Ezera knocks "20 minutes to first group." It brings back the memory of dressing in front of her. I dress and head for the door. Thorns voice follows me "Back here after training" I slam the door.

I am in our launch room with 10 minutes to spare. Samme is the mentor in the room. She gives me an update. Both girls are already in the arena and Sage is sleeping. I tell Samme about sending the Gamesmakers squirrel stew from the game I hunted. She immediately zooms to the platform, we are all getting better at rotating the view, the camera is set so its looking at the buffet table, Samme will see the Gamesmaker's faces. But I am headed into the arena this is going to be one of my required group sessions. I will be hitting 2 weapon and 2 survival stations for 45 minutes each. I look for Ruthie on the view, she is in specialty weapons again, I put the view back. I need to talk to Ruthie so that will be my first stop. I enter the arena and take the most direct route to specialty weapons. Ruthie is practicing with a slingshot, she is propelling spiky nuts at one of the practice dummies. She hits the face and neck repeatedly. I look around at the different weapons. When Ruthie empties her basket and goes to retrieve her ammo I saunter over. "Wanna go to the lake right after second group session." Ruthie looks up grinning "I thought you forgot." "Never, about you. What's the plan with the nuts?" I whisper "Launch room" is her answer. She heads out of the station.

I notice an interesting weapon hanging on the far wall. It is about the length of a mans arm, there are three hand grips along the curved back edge, each end has two curved spiked blades. I walk over and take it down. I hold it by 2 of the handholds, it is well balanced and lighter than I anticipated. I want to catch the eye of the trainer. I will definitely be watching this demo. When the trainer comes over rather than asking for a demo I ask about the history of the weapon. All weaponry experts love to talk about the weapons, but are rarely asked. The weapon is called a Bat'leth, it was developed for a 20th century entertainment show about aliens. It was never actually a battle weapon, although many were replicated by fans; some of which were used in crimes. He takes the weapon and makes several swings at a dummy. It is now missing parts of each limb and has a gaping wound in the side. He recommends watching the demo, I smile.

I notice rings that appear to have a sharp outer edge on the table under the Bat'leth. I ask the trainer about them. He picks up the largest of the rings and begins spinning it around his index finger. He explains that the origin of the weapon is an ancient country known as India. It is effected little by the wind. A Master can use it in hand to hand, grip is essential. When he has thoroughly explained the weapon, he releases it with a flick of his wrist. It cuts the throat of a hanging dummy cleanly. "Its called a chakram. Practice with one of the plastic ones or you will lose fingers." I spend the next 20 minutes just spinning the plastic ring . When I am finally able to keep it on the tip of my finger I ask the trainer to show me how to throw it again. It takes several throws before I can actually release the ring with any aim. I only throw the real thing once. But I cleanly cut the throat of a second dummy. Time to move on. I am satisfied with the impression I made. I am surprised that not a single other tribute uses this weapon station while I am there.

I jog to the firstaid station. It is interesting, there are victims everywhere. Some makeup artist has done an amazing job. I know how to deal with most injuries. Mine accidents are a reality, we deal with it all. I am interested in the medicinal plants. One of the male tributes from 11 is reviewing plants. He is just shorter than me, but he is much broader and thicker. His skin is deep brown, his hair is dark ringlets on his head, his hands are huge, and his eyes are brown with ribbons of gold. He is heavily muscled. He handles the plants with amazing gentleness. Then I remember the primary industry of District 11 is agriculture. I watch him with the plants. He looks at each side of the leaf, he feels its texture, he looks at the edge, he runs his finger tip over the veins and then along the stem. He handles every flower, root and tuber with the same thorough care. I ask the trainer about the plants while I observe him. I ask about the versatility of the plants and the plants with the most diverse climate suitability. I only spend 15 minutes in the station I learned what I need to know, more from the other tribute,Consus, than the trainer. I will check out the plants more closely at a different time. I can learn about the plants from the manual but correctly identifying each plant will take the same type of examination I watched Consus do.

The short swords are next on my agenda. I want the most proficiency with weapons that are smaller and easily carried. The station is interesting, it has 2 weapons displays, one of straight swords, they all appear European in origins. The other has all curved swords, they all appear Asian in origin. There are 4 sparing circles, 2 are being used by the girl tributes from District 2. The girls could be sisters they are both about an inch taller than me, so they are over 6 feet. Each wears a pink sleeveless peacekeeper uniform, although the shades are different. Both have rich golden brown hair in a single braid, grey/blue eyes, very straight noses with a little upturn at the end and pink lips, soft pink lips. What am I doing thinking about lips again. They are each sparring with a mutt, short for mutation, some genetically created creatures of the Capitols. The origins are some primate, so distorted its hard to tell which one, but its moves are very human.

The tribute on the right is using a curved blade about 18 inches long, it has a wood handle. Comparing it to the ones on the table it appears to be a Pinuti. The information identifies it as a wooden handled farm implement from the Philippines, sharpened to a bright steel when used as a weapon. I pick up the weapon off the table. Its D-grip handle is a single hunk of wood, the handhold carved in the center. The blade itself is a little more than an inch wide and curves to the tip for the final 4 inches of the length. It is sharpened along the curved edge. She moves very smoothly almost like a dancer, her swings are graceful yet extremely powerfull. She has made contact with the mutt on several parts of its body. There are no cuts but red lines in various widths appear. If she were fighting another tribute they would be long dead. I put the weapon down and move to the other table.

As I look at the weapons, I watch the tribute on the left, she is using a straight sword called a Gladius, it is shorter, about 15 inches. I pick up the one on the table. It has a wasp waist handle, simple ivory and rope. The sword is sharpened on both edges, it is pointed at the end. The center is a raised ridge. Its name comes from a flower, the gladiolus, which has sword shaped leaves. Funny how something beautiful can lend its name to something so deadly. They are using a different type of training weapon. The handle appears solid but the blade is a projection. She is actually full contact sparing with the mutt. A tone sounds each time one of them makes contact yet there appears to be no impact. Again each time the tribute scores a hit, a bright red line appears on the mutt in varying widths. The tribute is skilled but seems clumsy in comparison to the other girl. Her swings are hacking, brutal, almost out of control. Liability number 2 to the career pack, her rage is too close to the surface. She will make mistakes. I put the Gladius back and pick up a different weapon. It is the one I intend to use, its called a Cossacks dagger. It also has a wasp waist handle, hard wood with engraved brass over the pommel, cross and rain guards. It is shorter still at just over 14 inches, the blade appears steel. It tapers over a distance along a concave arc, to a sharp point. The ridge is less distinct, but the blade has engraving on either side of the ridge line. No one but Cossack will catch the specifics of the weapon I choose. But I will not give this weapon away yet. I pick up a Swiss dagger although it has a curving cross gard, it is of similar length and weight to the Cossack dagger. I find the trainer.

My finale station for the session. Survival at its best, shelters. Along with turning common objects like, plastic sheets, tree limbs, and wild grasses into shelter. There are tips and examples of natural shelters. Where they are likely to occur, how to camouflage the entrance and how to secure your supplies. It is a busy station, I love the examples of caves, they even have a small pool and it must have an under water cave. I see a trainer emerge, so I just dive in. I swim to where I saw the trainer emerge. I take a dive along the submerged rock face. I feel my way along, pulling myself head down, running my hand as far as I can reach to each side. About 2 body lengths down and a full arm to the left I felt the lip of the cave. I pull myself to the opening and surface straight up. I will need to take a full breath, I have no idea how long the passage to the cave is. But I am sure it is there. The trainer surfaced from no where and he did not enter the water in the 25 minutes before he surfaced. I rest cockily, on the rocks, watching the other tributes. I take a deep breath and dive fast. The entrance is tight my shoulders repeatedly rub the rocks. My lungs are hot, my chest feels like its on fire, my brain is shutting down, then I feel it. I feel the rim of the exit. I grab with both hands and propel myself out of the tube, and surface, gasping for air barely able to tread water. I am in a cavern about 30 feet in diameter, the ceiling here is only a foot above my head. In about 15 feet the ceiling rises like a wall to about 10 feet. There are two ledges, the lower ledge is about 5 feet wide, the second is just above the high tide line and appears about 3 feet deep. As soon as I catch my breath I will swim to them. I only spend long enough to rest on the ledge. I swim back to the opening, treading only long enough to breath normally. It is much easier going out as the tide is still ebbing, in fact I am almost pulled out, jarring repeatedly into the walls. I control my surfacing even though I desperately need air. I follow the wall and allow only my nose and mouth above the surface to take air. I follow the rock wall to the edge of the pond, I crawl out on to the shore. No one seems to have noticed me. I shake off and head out of the station. I am jogging for the entrance when one of the trainers from shelters falls in beside me. "Nice catch." Then he simply falls back and I am jogging alone again.

Lunch in our launch room seems fairly mundane. As I asked we are served rabbit stew. Which reminds Samme to tell me about my surprise for the Gamesmakers. She stares at me oddly as she talks, but I am getting used to that. Several choked never having eaten wild game. But in general it went over well. I wondered how it will go when game is included everyday. The only significant thing is a scheduling change by Cossack, he decides I should sleep first and meet Ruthie later. She agrees, but she can't seem to look me in the eye. I wonder if she has been coerced. As this is the shift change Samme left as soon as she gave report. So now I am headed back to 12 and that means the remake center and Thorn. I am going to try to go to my room. It is highly unlikely, I have yet to get past Ezera. I push the button almost as violently as I had the slammed the door. Ezera actually meets me at the elevator, so much for escaping. She is staring at my face and arms, "Oh, I thought they were taking the marks off of you." Her voice is low and agitated. "What?" I growl. She touches my face gently, when her fingers come back tacky with blood she gasps. "What happened to you?" I realize, I must show the wear of the cave entrance. "I am just a little worse for the wear today. I didn't even notice, I've had worse wrestling with my sister." We are at the remake center door. I have to act normal, this is between me and Thorn. To put Ezera back in her own mode. I add "Cossack wants me back in the arena at 9:00. See you at 8:50"

I open the door taking a deep breath as I enter. Thorn is curled in the chair, she is holding something very small in her fingers. She holds a fine brush in her other hand and is contentedly painting. I stand leaning back against the door, just watching her. She smiles gently as if pleased with her work. She looks up at me and beckons me over. "Come see" I walk to the chair, I lean over her shoulder, her hair brushes against my face, and I breath her in. She holds a miniature oval picture frame made of porcelain on which she has painted a single peace rose bud, the stem and leaves curving around the edge. It is so tiny it is hard to believe she painted it. "Will you let me frame the Mockingjay on your ring?" I pull her from the chair, I have to kiss her no matter the cost to my heart. She is in my arms, she gasps and her empty hand is on my face. I do not get to kiss her. It is the first time she has really seen me since I entered the room. I can see some scratches and gouges in my shoulder but nothing that should cause alarm; But both women have gasped and touched my wound. "What caused this?" She is practically dragging me to the table. "I can hardly feel it why are you and Ezera freaking out. No one freaked at lunch. I guess Ruthie looked scared but I thought it was the swimming lesson." She hands me a mirror. My cheek bone is exposed, the skin has curled back, there is a slice separating the muscles. The bottom edge is seeping but there is very little blood. "Can you stitch it?" She turns my face carefully."I can, but you have to choose. I can use an ointment that will numb it, and if you need them, get pain killers. Or I can use powder to heal you completely in less than 24 hours but I can't give you any pain medication not even the numbing to stitch you. And the healing is very painful. "I'll deal with the pain. Please put on the music. But, no songs, I want you to just talk to me."

"I had a friend of mine make this for you. It is from the live feed of the reaping. I know it means some thing important to you." She speaks softly as she turns on music. It is Cedaris, Jaxon and the Mockingjay's whistling taps. She walks over takes off my shirt and examines the wounds in my shoulders. "Thorn," my voice is shaky, almost wrenched "please, talk to me." I wont be able to hold tears much longer. The strains of taps still play, I am desperate for her to distract me. Then Cedaris' is singing just the first verse.

"Day is done, gone the sun, From the hills, from the lake, From the skies. All is well, safely rest, God is nigh" and the song ends.

For the first time I can remember tears are streaming down my face. My chest is heaving, and sobs are trying to escape. I don't cry, a single tear occasionally, but I have never cried, not even as a babe, according to my mother. Thorn's hands are gentle on my shoulders. I know she can feel me shaking. Finally, she starts to speak "These aren't as bad as your face, I only have to stitch a couple of them. I'll clean them all first, then..." I grab her hand, without turning my head to look at her. "Really talk to me." As I am waiting for her to speak again I feel drips of wetness running down my back. Then she starts cleaning the wounds, and I realize the wetness is her own tears. "I don't think I can. Seeing you injured makes this all too real."

"Tell me a story then, a love story, one with a happy ending." My voice comes out tight and strangled, almost unintelligible.

It takes a few more minutes before she starts the story. "He was born too early, he was so small, smaller than any baby that had ever survived in his district, barely a pound. The healer and a doctor worked hard to save him. He was barely breathing, they had already lost his mother, she'd bled out, she was one of their own, a medic, a Peacekeeper, but a medic all the same. The Doctor snapped at the healer "We don't lose baby peacekeepers, get the Capitol hospital on the phone." Oh, babies died here, just not peacekeeper babies, this is district 2, only merchant and stone cutters children died as infants. Peacekeepers were too healthy and well fed. The brain trusts too protected in the mountain. When the word from the Capitol came, it was shocking, "Let him die." Both wondered what his parents had done to earn him this fate.

Neither, the doctor or the healer felt right about the edict. But, they did as was protocol, they provided only nourishment. If he was going to make it he'd have to do it on his own. No one held the infant. They hadn't even named him. But, he grew with each passing day. He was almost 4 months old when the doctor proclaimed, "he will survive." Another pound and he would be assigned to a Peacekeeper pod. Peacekeepers were raised in academies by professionals. Peacekeeper children have no parents. They are trained from before they can walk. The healer had become very attached to the baby boy with no name. The day she knew they would eventually add him to a pod and send him to the academy, she asked for a transfer. If she waited someone might figure out why she needed it, and then it would be denied. No one loved peacekeepers, not even other Peacekeepers. He was Cadet 206 - 12 otherwise known as 12.

He was 4 before anyone heard his voice, even after that it was rare. Actually, it wasn't just his voice that was silent, it was everything about him. Even in a silent room you couldn't hear him breathe or move. He saw the healer daily because he still took medicine to help him grow. Apparently being 4, only 30 inches tall and 22 pounds was unacceptable. He was physically gifted even as small as he was. The first time he spoke he asked a simple question of the healer "D'airia why don't I have a name?" She couldn't tell a 4 year old "you weren't supposed to live so no one bothered." Instead she simply asked "would you like one?" He nodded his head. D'airia promised she would find him a special name. It took her almost another year to give him one.

He was 5 that day, most peacekeepers didn't know their birthdays, after all, Peacekeepers were manufactured not born. Peacekeepers all aged up on reaping day. But, D'airia knew his and she had made it special each year. He was tumbling in his first session of the day, he had managed his whole routine, it was his last pass, handspring, handspring, cartwheel, cartwheel, back handspring, round off. But he didn't quite make the final rotation, he slammed to the mat. The only sound was a slight thud, when he stood, his arm hung skewed at his side and his shoulder was dislocated. He headed off to the infirmary without a sound.

As she healed his shoulder she quietly told him a story about an ancient people. They had lived in communities around the borders of their homeland. They protected the homeland from all others. They were an honorable people and lived by a strict code. But, from time to time, over several thousands of years the government of the homeland would try to take their land and impose rules on these people. And although they were true to their homeland they would not be ruled. So they rebelled often, and kept their independence. Finally, she whispered in his ear the name of these people, these strong protectors, with great loyalty, duty, and honor. And then said "And that is what your name should be." They kept it their secret.

She stayed with him, she loved him, and he her. But it was hidden, as were all good things in Panem, no one would take him from her. By the time he was 8 he was the best in his age group, still the smallest but the best. He never missed a target, lost a race or a fight. Just after his 15th birthday he began to grow. He was always hungry, so hungry he felt hollow. D'airia gave him as much of her food as she could sneak but it wasn't enough. Then when he grew 4 inches in a month the commandant issued him a free pass to the kitchen. He grew 16 inches and gained 125 lbs in 6 months. He was over 6 ft and 200 lbs, but he still moved silently and spoke rarely.

He was technically 18 on that reaping day, but it would still be several weeks before the really day as D'airia called it. Everyone knew he would be the male tribute. It was no surprise when he climbed the wall to the stage and was the first to stand. The only surprise came just moments later when the escort asked his name. It was the first time he had ever said it, of course D'airia whispered it in his ear when she told him something important, but his name had never been spoken aloud. So when he straightened his shoulders, lifted his chin, and stared straight into the camera and spoke loud and clear "My name is Cossack" there was a collective gasp and then absolute silence. The boy known as 12 had both a voice and a name. He became the Victor that year."

Thorn paused in her telling of the story. She had been cleansing and putting antibiotics on the small wounds for almost an hour. She had me face down on the table, apparently the rock tunnel did a real number on my skin. I will have to be more careful. I wonder why I didn't feel the damage. "Do you want to eat before we do the powder on the deep wounds and close them? You are going to be in a lot of pain for the next 24 hours, you may not want food later." I sat up, I was already beginning to feel the wounds, and more pain might turn my stomach, so I nod yes. I watch her go to the panel, and push the buttons. "Will, Cossack be upset because your telling me this story?" I ask, Thorn clearly knows Cossack very well. "No, he won't be upset. But, he wouldn't tell the story either, at least not that part of it." I am sure she is right. Both of them have spoken of Cossack being the best since he was 8, he however had not mentioned his tiny stature.

We eat quietly, the silence isn't as comfortable as it once was. I am more than half in love with her, she isn't in love with me. I eat 4 plates of food, no matter the pain it will sustain me. When I finish I simply return to the table and lay face down. I am glad I don't have to look at her just yet. As she cleans the last 3 wounds on my back and shoulder, she starts to talk to me again.

A'leela was a very small woman, delicate since birth, she had barely survived. She was 19, barely 4' 2", and well under 100 lbs, she looked about 8. But, she had fallen in love hard. He was a large young man. The son of the bank president. When they told his father they wanted to be married, he approved and gave A'leela a job at the bank. But, insisted they wait until Arlo returned from college in the Capitol. A'leela knew he hoped Arlo would find someone different in the Capitol. Even so, they respected his wishes, so for the next 4 years, they called each other daily and spent vacations together.

After he returned to the Capitol for his final semester, she missed a period, and then two. She went quietly to the healer, who confirmed her suspicion, she was indeed, pregnant. She wasn't yet 10 weeks pregnant and already her flat belly was starting to round. How was she going to hide this, another 14 weeks, until Arlo was home. She always wore well fitted clothing to offset her stature, if she went loose and flowy, everyone would notice.

She was surprised the day, Arlo's father invited her to his home for dinner. He was a widower and she an orphan, since the epidemic 2 years prior. They rarely spoke if Arlo wasn't home. They chatted about mundane things for most of the meal. Just after dessert was served, he reached across the table and took her hand. "A'leela, am I going to be a grandfather?" She almost bolted. Her hands started to shake, her eyes filled with tears. But then the most amazing thing happened. "A'leela, children are a blessing, no matter when or how they come to this world." She moved into the big house on the hill the next day. Arlo and A'leela were married quietly in June. He was assigned to the Mayor's office, Deputy Mayor, an impressive position for a young man.

Thorn stops the story again. This time to warn me she will be putting powder in the wounds. I am glad she warned me. As the powder fills the first wound it burns like fire. It is even worse than being whipped. I am biting my lip to stay silent. I taste the distinct coppery tang that is my own blood. The fire widens and burns more intensely. So, intensely that at first I don't even realize she is actually stitching the wounds. Then she continues the story.

"It was reaping day, A'leela woke with pain in her back. Her heavily rounded belly made moving difficult. It was important she be there to support Arlo, so she pushed herself. The day went on and on with endless responsibilities. The pain and pressure in her back just got worse. Finally, the reaping was over, she just had to get through the official dinner and she could rest. She stood, and collapsed, at first no one even noticed. When they did she was laying in a puddle of blood and fluids barely breathing. The healer did her best, but A'leela died that day in the square. The healer grabbed a knife from the closest Peacekeeper, before anyone realized what was happening. She cut the child from A'leela's already dead body. Angle was born in the District 8 square on reaping day.

When Angle was 1, the Mayor retired and Arlo was promoted. Arlo and his father continued to raise Angle in love. But, the Capitol put pressure on Arlo to find a new wife, 2 years later he was still a single Mayor. So the Capitol sent him a wife, her name was Jamison. Arlo paid her little attention. It was just too painful to be home. Jamison, ran the house, was a wonderful hostess and kept Arlo's bed warm. But, he didn't love her, heck, most of the time he was still so grief stricken he didn't notice anyone or anything but work.

Jamison hated Angle, she treated her badly when no one was around. She even beat her with a hair brush often. Her little sister was born when Angle was almost 6. Gabby, hated Angle, but Angle knew it wasn't her fault. That evil woman had poisoned her own sister against her. Her father and grandfather were the only bright spot in Angle's day.

Angle woke early that day. She would be 18 today, her last day in jeopardy, it was reaping day. Angle sat on her bed sketching away. She was going to the Capitol in a few weeks to start college. She was going to design school. Jamison, entered her room without knocking. It wasn't new but it still grated on Angle's nerves. Then she began to speak. "If Gabby is reaped you will volunteer, or I will kill you myself. You are a worthless piece of crap. You should simply be the tribute, but there are rules." She turned on her heel and left. Angle hated that woman, but there was little to worry about. Gabby was just 12 and only had 1 entry, Angle herself at 18 only had 7. Others had many more entries. As the Mayor's children they had never needed tessera. It was highly unlikely either would be reaped.

Angle pulled the long silver dress from the closet. It was one of her own designs. She knew all the styles from school. This one was Grecian in design, it showed her off well, just in case. She went to the official breakfast. But that was all the responsibilities she had till after the reaping. She hated having to act happy and supportive of the Hunger Games. But she was the Mayor's daughter and it was required. She waited at the house till the last possible moment. She could enter through the VIP gate even though she would report to the pen for 18 year old's. She stood next to her best friend Mindy, they were holding hands. Mindy, was the daughter of a mason, not even a stone cutter. They were poor, very poor, at 18 Mindy had 56 entries. Even so, she looked beautiful. Angle had made her a dress for today. It was a style know as a bandage dress. It showed off, Mindy's tiny hourglass shape perfectly.

Then the Escort was yelling Ladies first. Then she was calling the name "Gabby Voltier, Gabby Voltier please step to the stage." Angle was shocked, but she did not move, she did not volunteer. She could hear Jamison yelling "Angle Voltier volunteers" over and over but everyone was ignoring her. You could not volunteer another person and the yelling was not coming from the pens.

When the reaping was over Angle, found her father. He pulled her close, kissed her forehead. "I wouldn't trade you for Gabby, just as I would not have traded Gabby for you had it gone the other way." They all went to the Justice building together to say goodbye. Jamison was practically hissing and spitting at Angle. It was hard seeing Gabby trying to be brave. Trying to comfort Gabby, Jamison had shown her true colors for once, right in front of Arlo she said "You shouldn't be going. Angle, should have volunteered she is a piece of worthless crap anyway. It wouldn't matter if she died. Don't worry she'll pay." It was harder still when Arlo slapped Jamison, he was a gentle man, pushed too far. Angle ran from the room without even speaking.

Angle made it through the rest of the day. She crawled into her bed and let sleep bring her peace. She woke when the liquid soaked her bed. She was still trying to clear her head when the heat and pain overwhelmed her. Every inch of Angle's body was burned. She would not have survived but a hovercraft was in the area and Angle was air lifted to the Capitol. Arlo was enraged, one daughter reaped, the other burnt. When the head Peacekeeper, informed him his house had burnt to the ground and his wife was in custody. He looked at him coldly, "when you pronounce sentence I will carry it out."

As Mayor he had the right to carry out any criminal sentence. They both knew the sentence for attempted murder or arson was execution. The Mayor was going to legally get revenge and kill his wife. Justice was swift in the districts. The horns sounded calling the residents to the square just before day break. Those assembled were shocked, the Mayor's wife stood naked shackled in the middle of the square. They could see she had several serious burns, her face was tear stained, they had removed all of the hair from her body. Only those sentenced to death were presented in such a manner. Hair burned during electrocution and that was how prisoners in 8 were executed.

The head Peacekeeper stood at the podium, read the charges and pronounced sentence. The people of 8 were used to the rich and powerful being pardoned for their crimes, before Arlo it was a regular occurrence. Arlo had never pardoned anyone, but this was his wife, they expected nothing less. He stood at the podium, he looked up, she caught his eye. She had a smug grin on her face. Even she expected him to pardon her. His eyes were cold as ice his face an expressionless mask. "I proclaim that the method of execution will be beheading. The execution will take place immediately, I claim my right as Mayor to carry out the order personally. "The crowd was silent it was the last thing they expected. A single piercing scream rang through the square.

Thorn is finished stitching my shoulder. It hurt, it burns hot enough that my whole body trembles, and she hasn't even started on my worst wound. She helps me sit again, it is hard to breath through the pain. She goes to the panel and taps buttons. She lays a blue gel pad on the table and has me lay on it. It is cooling, much like the snow pack the healer used the winter I was whipped for gathering kindling. It is much better. I lay as still as possible. Thorn is probing and cleansing the injury to my face. She leans in and whispers "I am sorry" then she begins putting the powder in my face. She resumes her story.

It was the 38th Hunger Games, Cossack wasn't supposed to be the males mentor, but when the boy from pod 206 was reaped he volunteered. He was an honorable young man. Cossack promised he would bring him home. Cossack was a man of his word, the boy was the victor, well what was left of him, was. Cossack wasn't sure even the Capitol could put him back together.

Cossack was striding quickly through the hospital halls. A woman's screams brought him to a halt. He followed the sound, he looked through the window into her room. God, he hated those windows when he was here as Victor. He wanted to turn away but he couldn't. She had been burned on every inch of her body except the palms of her hands and the center of her face. She was standing with her arms and legs spread, and they were debrideding the burns. He heard one of the women working offer her morphling but she refused. They were torturing her. Whether they meant to or not. Whether they were healing her or not. He stood for a few more minutes just watching, it was impossible for her not to scream, it was just too painful, but there was bravery in every sound. She refused to kill the pain, she chose to endure.

He walked past her room again that evening. He knew he shouldn't, he wouldn't have wanted to be seen but he felt compelled. This time she lay perfectly still on her bed. She was in what looked like a clear hard plastic shell molding her body. A man sat at her bedside. He looked worn and haggard. His whole body trembled and his shoulders visibly shook. He was silently sobbing. He must be her father.

He couldn't help himself, he had to see her, know that she still lived. Everyday it was the same. Every morning they were torturing her, and she endured. Every evening the man sat at her side. Then on a Monday the man wasn't there, he wasn't there again on Tuesday. Wednesday Cossack entered her room, he sat at her bedside. She never opened her eyes, she never made a sound. Yet, he sat with her again the next night and the next after that. The man was back on Saturday and Sunday, so Cossack just looked at her for a moment. The man was gone again on Monday, clearly he had to returned to work. So, Cossack continued the vigil at her bedside. After 3 more weeks they no longer debrided the burn. She was always there in her case, asleep or in a coma he didn't know, but her eyes were closed.

The Monday he returned from the District Victors tour, he saw her eyes open for the first time. She didn't speak, she didn't make any sound. She looked at him, really looked at him. His heart almost stopped, at that moment Cossack realized he loved her. What if she wanted him to leave? he hadn't even thought this far. He just knew he had to be with her. Her gaze accepted him, she wasn't asking him to leave. He could breath again. He sat at her bedside nothing more that evening. The next he brought a book and read to her. He read to her everyday, she listened, she appeared to try and smile occasionally, but the skin they were growing on her, was simply to tight to allow it. It had been almost a year the first time he heard her voice. It was a Friday and he was leaving, the man would be here tomorrow and he would miss her terribly. It was so quiet he almost missed it, cracked, strangled and painful she said one word "tomorrow." It was time for him to meet the man.

As he strode towards her room he saw them through the glass. A Doctor, 4 healers and the man stood around her bed. He almost just kept walking but she had asked him to come. When the Doctor asked him to leave, all eyes were on him, but every head snapped to her, when her one word "no" filled the room. They unmolded her that day, she couldn't move, her whole body was limp. The muscles unused had no strength. He could see her need to be less alone, less helpless, he lifted her and sat on the bed with her in his arms. The doctor tried to stop him. It was his turn to simply say no. The doctor left, there was nothing more for him to do today. The rest of the evening he held her and the man read from the book.

Cossack had recognized the man the moment they stood face to face. He was the Mayor of District 8, Arlo Voltier. As they left her room, Arlo asked him to dinner. Cossack agreed. Before Angle, Cossack rarely spoke, but reading aloud to her everyday had given him strength. He had learned that words were important. Even so the 2 men sat in silence at first, the only conversation with the waiter. Then Arlo made a simple statement and asked a very difficult question. "You love my daughter, why?" Cossack understood the depth of the question. Arlo knew Angle hadn't spoken before, she had only spoken 2 words since the fire. And Arlo had only heard 1, no, when they asked Cossack to leave. How could Cossack love her when all he knew of her was the silent young woman in the hard plastic shell. Cossack wasn't even sure why or how. Only that he did and it was forever. But, he tried, "she endures and I am compelled by my heart to stay."

It was 2 weeks before the 40th Hunger Games almost 2 years had passed but Angle was finally going home. Cossack rode the train with her, holding her hand, she was terrified. She hadn't left the hospital, and only Arlo and Cossack had visited. Her face was so scared she didn't know how she would look at anyone. Then it happened right there in the train car. Cossack kissed her, really kissed her. Not a brush on her cheek or forehead, not just grazing her lips. Crushing her to him, deep, strong, all encompassing, devouring her. Then he said words she had never imagined "I love you, be my wife." She whispered back "Yes, now and always."

Thorn ties the last stitch as she finishes the story. Tears are running from my eyes, my face is on fire, it is near to impossible to keep from screaming. She walks to the panel and punches buttons again. When she come back she places a blue pack on my face. It molds and adheres it self to my cheek. The pain almost instantly becomes more bearable. Thorn has me sit up, it is a struggle. She leans into my chest and gazes into my eyes. Her words stop my breath "I can't love you now, not here, not like this. I lost everything when we lost Bud. I wouldn't survive losing everything again. You have to come back to me." And she kisses me. It is Thorn, it tastes of compassion and care, it promises love and passion. She is more than half in love with me too. My body screams, but my heart sings.

She finishes undressing me. She has me lay face down again. The added pressure of the face support seems to relieve even more of the pain. She is placing three small blue packs on my 3 stitched wounds. She begins massaging my body with oil, it smells of lavender. Almost every moment I have spent in her presence our body's have been in contact. I relax under her gentle touch. I am becoming accustomed to her care, I miss her smell and touch every moment I am not with her. This time when she taps my hip, I roll over without hesitation, my arousal evident, I am not embarrassed, Thorn would have been surprised if I wasn't. She works her way over my entire body. She heads to the shower and prepares it. Then she helps me to the shower. The stool is in place and I lean on it as she washes my body, once more cleansing my wounds. When she kisses my back as she works I decide I will take whatever care and comfort she offers my body. I can wait for her heart, I am coming home, she will be mine. We sleep, her curled in my arms. Safe from the world, for just this moment.

I wake, it is already dark I am late. Thorn stretches and mummers "Cossack said report at lunch. Ruthie and Sage went swimming, are running the snare lines and will have dinner on a rock. Whatever that means. Go back to sleep." I do.