I - Overture

"That bad?" Chaff appraises the tributes from Twelve via Haymitch's expression.

"You saw the reaping," he assumes. Would he really not have watched? He would have wanted to size up his competition at least.

"Your girl is thirteen."

Yes, and Seam. Panna Leez.

"Your boy is completely blind- or it partial?"

"Not quite completely, but, you know." And Seam too. He's sixteen. Derritch Cirtsen.

"M-may I say something?" Shad Atwater interrupts just as Chaff opens his mouth to answer. Shad's mismatched eyes are watery already. Haymitch remembers the first time he 'met' Shad- a grown man bawling into the arm of a couch. Four has their nice share of winners, but none of them are his. Balance that with his smaller amount of time mentoring (the older lady, Mags, and the brawny guy, Tyde, seem to monopolize it, which is all but proof that they're total masochists, but last year's kid was Mags' fourth victor so maybe it's not all for nothing) and in useless-mentor-ville (population: a lot, actually) they're probably coming up to about even by now.

"Shoot," Chaff shrugs.

Haymitch gives him a nod.

"Do you know anything about my Games?"

"Haymitch wasn't even born, you know," Chaff chuckles, which is sort of his way of saying he doesn't know either (and how old could he have been then anyway?) or doesn't remember.

Shad takes a deep breath. "Look for a repeat element."

He has to be coy of course if he knows, but why is he telling them in the first place? …Is this some kind of Career misinformation strategy? …Then again, Theo Goff's entire gameplay last year ran a pretty strong anti-Career alliance element, which, Haymitch had to admit, he had found somewhat bitterly satisfying. Theo was a cocky little twerp, which reminded him of himself (oh, damn, if only he had been a Twelve! If only, if only). There's also the matter of the damage his brush-off of the Career pack- with extreme prejudice- must have wrought on the tentative One-Two-Four banding together that has occurred to some degree for ages. A smaller pack means better odds for everyone else.

"Who told you?" Haymitch narrows his eyes at Shad.

In response, Shad pulls a fancy silk handkerchief out of his pocket and makes an unnecessary show of shaking it out to reveal an elaborate monogram: CF. Sure that Chaff and Haymitch have seen it, Shad dabs his eyes. "I can tell you really care about your tributes, Haymitch."

"Well-" that goes without saying. If Shad is a liar, he's laying it on pretty thick.

"Hey, googly eyes!" Brutus yells at them from down the hall, his hands cupped around his mouth. There's no question between the three of them who he's calling for. "Mags is looking for you! Stop giving that lady trouble!"

"Ah, yes. Sorry," Shad says in Brutus' direction. "Sorry," he says to Chaff and Haymitch. With a couple of mumbled good-byes, he trots off in Brutus' direction.

Haymitch watches as Shad quivers like a willow when Brutus claps him on the shoulder. He waits until they're out of sight. "How well do you know him?" he turns back to Chaff. "You think that's legit? Caesar Flickerman?"

"I can't see what believing will hurt. You go in blind or you go in deceived. The Flickerman angle's legit though. Shad was his first victor from when he took over the show solo. He always talks to Flickerman when he's here."

"He likes him that much? He'd give him a tip?" Haymitch is incredulous. What depraved and/or illegal thing did Shad do to win himself that?

"A warning, more like it."

"He'll flashback." Still, it's an edge of sorts. Not everyone gets to know in advance that a particular arena might have an especially bad effect on their psyche.

"…You up for a little late-late-night programming?"

"Your floor or mine?"

They laugh. They've got a good rapport.

"I don't want to bother Seeder. …Do you think your kids will sleep through it?"

Haymitch shakes his head. "They were both pretty worked up. I offered a sleep aid. They took it."

"Your place it is then."

The lights are dim on the twelfth floor of the Training Center. "Give me a minute," Haymitch asks, leaving Chaff waiting on the couch. He pads off through the dark to the quarters given over to each of his tributes. He tries Derritch's door- locked. He puts his ear against it and listens. Nothing. What did he expect?

He tries Panna's next. Her room is unlocked. He opens the door a few inches and peers in. He can make out the rough shape of her pitifully tiny body curled up in the middle of the bed. She's quiet too. Just sleeping.

When he gets back to Chaff, his friend is browsing through the television menus. "Relive all your favorite Games moments," an advertisement declares. "Twenty-nine," Chaff clicks away from the screen he was examining as Haymitch entered back to listing of every Games up to this point: One through Fifty-Five.

"Hey, wait. What were those ones that you were looking at?" Haymitch drops down onto the couch beside him.

"'Greatest Hits,' apparently."

Like usual, Haymitch wants to know something he shouldn't want to know. Always making more trouble for himself, right? "Who's that?"

"Currently it is limelight-loving Theo- but the most recent victor's always up there- pretty-with-a-machete Song Wen, our own darling genius Haymitch Abernathy-"

"Oh, shut up," Haymitch gives his shoulder a gentle punch.

"'-End-'em-with-my-own-hands' Brutus Rainier, and…for some reason Hamlet Seff. I really can't explain that one."

"…Is there something up with Five this year?" Haymitch attempts to analyze it. "Neither of their tributes specially stood out to me. …Did Hamlet do something attention-catching? Stupid? …Both?"

Chaff raised his hand and his stump in a sort of 'don't look at me' gesture. "The mind of the Capitol viewer is far from my understanding, Haymitch, and I'd prefer to keep it that way. I can tell you, however, that Ham didn't make it out this year. District Five's got another year of the Shy and Valse show to watch. ...You ready for this?"

"Keep the sound off. Fast forward. It's going to be something obvious. Something just about anyone would remember. He knows we don't know." Haymitch is finally starting to feel like he could nab a couple of hours of sleep and he's hoping not to see anything that startles him too far away from that possibility.

The recap edit, which always tries to make the best of things, doesn't have the greatest start as Shad's name is apparently drawn and his eyes go big and glassy. In front of the microphone he starts (especially strangely, it seems to his current watchers, without the sound) bawling. Haymitch appreciates the editor's sense of humor for including a shot of the equally younger Mags and Tyde exchanging a very uncomfortable glance.

"How do you think the narrator is spinning that?" Haymitch muses.

"The underdog non-volunteering Career," Chaff suggests. "Now there's a weird breed."

All this lead-up stuff is useless to them though. Chaff skips ahead and stops a little past the gong.

There are two definite, and in this context, related, traits of this arena that jump out at them immediately. It's dark. It's underground. Derritch's eyesight is still a problem, but it might not be the degree of handicap Haymitch expected it to be. And there's nothing like darkness for hiding- the ultimate strategy of the small and weak (there have been victors who only killed twice, he knows- if you can manage one kill, the Gamemakers won't deny you your chance at the final two).

Chaff flips it off. They've already seen enough.

"Why would he tell me though?" Haymitch scratches the back of his neck as he thinks.

"The odds, as they like to mention so much, are not with Four this year, as you've probably already gathered, both from the general Games karma and that snotty Theo's big Career snub. But Shad had an in. He could've thrown it away, but instead, he decided to give it to you. …And, sort of, by extension me." He considers this. "Both of us. He thought we deserved it, I guess."

"He feels sorry for us," Haymitch interprets this further.

"You think?"

"It's funny. The first time I met him, I felt kind of sorry for him." He had been trying so hard then to keep it together. Thinking how there were people- they weren't kids so much to him because they were about his age- relying on him to save them. Thinking that no matter how bad the pain (his mother, his brother, his wonderful girl!) he couldn't allow himself to sink to the bottom of that bottle.

Haymitch has told Chaff as much about it as he's told anyone, so he understands the gist of what Haymitch is getting at. "Well, we're all kind of pitiful in our own way, right? …And it's good to care, even if the caring's what makes it hurt so much. He's gotta cry, you've gotta have a drink… It helps you know you're still human."

"Thanks," Haymitch sighs. Chaff is a good guy. "Really, thanks. It means a lot to me."

"You've gotta talk to Ms. Mags sometimes. It's not just me, you know. A bunch of us would be happy to be there for you. Shad Atwater's probably one of them."

"She always seems busy."

"Ask. She'll make time for you." Chaff is sure of it. They're going to blow the lid off this jam jar someday (soon, he hopes, oh, soon) and when they do, they're going to be happy to have Haymitch there with them. He can't imagine Shad decided to give them that hint without Mags' okay anyway. She's just juggling a lot of things and people, as she does. She's been working on the Fives, but Theo's kind of a distracting, being as big a handful as he is.

"…if the kids are for it, you're up for an alliance, right?"

"I guess we'll see. We'll have to talk." Chaff rises from the couch, yawns, and stretches. "You keep an eye on that open door. This might be the likeliest year for you to get anything in-Games out of the Fours."

"Yeah," Haymitch agrees, "I know. I'll chat 'em up."

They part in the doorway with a sleepy, awkward hug.

II - Internal Affairs

"You babysat me once," Panna remembers.

"I did?" Haymitch has forgotten.

"My older brother used to play with your brother."

"Yes." In his mind he can see her now, pigtailed and pouting. He nods. "I do remember you."

"So, the first time I asked you what I should do, you told me you need more time to think about it," she fidgets, leaning back and forth on her heels and picking at the edge of her shirt.

"You," Haymitch takes a deep breath, "Panna, you're too smart not to know how bad the odds are for you, don't you?"

"…But I have you," she says, her voice tiny but hopeful, and it stabs him through the heart.

"Will you stick with Derritch? I think you'll do the best together."

"Yeah, sure," she agrees.

"…And see if you can play nice with the Fours and the Elevens, because they're our best bets this time around for an alliance."

"The Fours?" She seems awed by the very idea. "Me and Derritch in with Careers?"

"Y-you better believe it, sweetheart," he folds his arms and tries to be confident about it when he's actually reasonably unsure.

It seems to cheer her somewhat. Whether the Fours will really help or not, he'd like to be able to sell it enough so that a soon to be dead thirteen year old doesn't have to live her last few days completely miserable.

"…Is Theo here? Did you meet him, Haymitch?"

"Um, probably. But he's not mentoring. And, yes, I did."

"Is he funny in person too?"

He's honest about it. "We didn't talk enough for me to be able to tell. …He's friendly though."

"The boy from Four is really pretty," she confides, "His eyes are kind of turquoise. Also, he helped Derritch up when he tripped."

"When was that?"

"After you left us off for training, some jerk tripped him. …But the boy from Four practically picked him up."

"I see."

"Paolo will, as the Nines have said to me, 'play ball,'" Mags makes it as official as it's going to get.

Yet Haymitch's skepticism remains. "He say why?" he wonders.

"It's likely a combination. Of course he knows that this will be a rough year for our side, but he's determined to do the best he can. I'm sure you saw he was a volunteer."

"…and the other part?"

"Don't make this any harder for them than it already has to be, Haymitch," she lets slip a bittersweet laugh, "But he has a little crush."

"On Panna?" He wouldn't have expected it, but it might be mutual, the way she had talked about his eyes and everything.

Mags seems to be appraising him somehow. Is there a nice way to size someone up? Because each time the two of them have met without any Capitol audience to influence their behavior, that's what he thinks she's been doing. What would she want from him? She seems to get along well with most of the other victors, but does that make her trustworthy?

"Misa's not sure yet," Shad speaks up. "She wants to keep her options open."

Haymitch would hate to admit that he'd temporarily forgotten Shad was even there while he kept silent. He's the sort of person who fades into the wallpaper when he's behaving normally. …No one would ever suspect him of the mildest trace of treason, would they, Haymitch thinks. He's friendly with Caesar Flickerman. He's grateful for his life. For some reason, maybe watching that bit of the Games jarred his memory, Haymitch thinks he still has a mother.

Shad may never have been a popular victor and Mags may not have been in demand as anything but a mentor for decades, but they're not especially discontent with what they have, are they?

"She's having a bad time with the other Careers though because of, well," Shad hesitates to say it in front of Mags, giving a quick, nervous look in her direction, "The backlash from Theo, mainly. …But if she's not with the Careers, you don't have to worry about her chasing down Paolo and your pair, Haymitch."

"Yeah," Haymitch responds blackly, "They're hardly a priority."

"We avoid Four versus Four showdowns when we can." There's a steel in his response that was never hinted at before.

Well, there's Shad's backbone, Haymitch thinks. There's something he believes in. Must be nice to have a whole roster of fellow district victors all around you. There's something in Four you can build your solidarity on. Eve Blackley's been dead for years. Twelve's one and only victor until Haymitch never did him any favors.

He wanted Theo before, but he amends that now. He wishes he'd had Mags.

"Paolo said," Derritch begins, then backs up, not sure that Haymitch knows the other tributes by name, because he certainly doesn't know more than four or five of them, "Paolo's from Four. …He said he wants to ally with me and Panna."

Then he stops.

Haymitch waits for more. He can think of a couple ways this could be going, but he doesn't want to presume anything. "…And?" he prompts at last.

"I don't want to be dead weight for them," Derritch admits to his concerns. "I mean, I was already worried about that if Panna stuck with me she'd get killed, but Paolo… Paolo's the kind of guy who's got a real chance here."

"Derritch, you're a good kid. But the thing is, the first person you need to be focusing on in this situation is you."

"…Yeah," Derritch grumbles and rubs his eyes.

III - The Antfarm

Inside the arena, its form is not immediately clear, but the viewers outside are treated to a helpful diagram. Layers leading up and layers leading down, the well lit cornucopia dead center and darkness in every other direction. Unlike the solid cave structure Shad fought his way through, this one is more man-made, utilizing lots of packed soil and debris. In some places, it might be possible to dig through from one tunnel to another.

When the mentors of the Four-Twelve alliance talked strategy a few nights before, Haymitch got the feeling that there wasn't much new under the sun. That, and that Mags knew every Games story that had ever been told.

"Four kids can't play Sunny's opening gambit together," Mags had shaken her head. Apparently, Haymitch now knows, this means passing out during the bloodbath (or pretending too, he supposes, if it's a strategy) and being passed over as dead, and Jules Surfjan did something like it on Mags' suggestion in the Thirty-Seventh (but he died somehow before the Second Quarter Quell anyway).

Digging holes like Teejay Atticus she considered a better possibility. But no one would be advised to look for cracks in the arena, Haymitch-style, and they were already primed, via their alliance, not to wander alone like Shad.

Derritch and Panna and Paolo are allied heading in.

Misa Arrick is keeping her options open, to the best of Haymitch's knowledge. "After the bloodbath you'll know," Shad was honest and unhelpful about it, possibly as unsure as Haymitch himself. It shows in the countdown as she looks around and around and around, her mind still swirling with the possibilities.

The gong sounds.

There's a timer in the corner of each mentor's screen. The first death stops the clock at two minutes forty-three seconds- the boy from Six. There's no verbal remark from Simeon, his mentor. Simeon's used to losing them early, as much as anyone gets used to that kind of thing (the morphling helps?).

The monitor will go split screen if Haymitch's tributes separate, but Panna and Derritch are close enough together - running, holding hands- that their individual cameras are tracking what is essentially an identical scene and sending him only one image feed to reduce confusion. They don't bother trying for any of supplies. That's what Paolo is doing. This is their first chance. They ignore the Gamemaker-provided packs in the lit center point. They rush past the junk piles too. The arena's not all dirt. The tunnels seem to be supported with a fair amount of scrap material.

Panna and Derritch go further and further into the dark. Panna slows and Derritch retains roughly the same pace until she's no longer leading; they're walking side by side. Derritch stoops the tiniest bit, cautious to avoid a top of his head collision with the surface above them, but from Haymitch's strangely colored night-view version of events he can see that Derritch wouldn't need to worry. Other tunnels are likely lower, but Derritch is only just scratching five-six. He isn't going to have any immediate problems in that area.

The bloodbath goes on behind them. "Will Paolo be able to find us?" Panna worries. "I mean, I know he saw which way we went, but he could get disoriented…"

"I don't know." Derritch keeps his right hand on the right wall of the tunnel as he walks. "But we decided it together over the knot-tying station. The right way is the right way. Dumb and simple."

"As long as he picks the right tunnel to start in."

"I won't blame you if you leave me, Pan."

"…I'm not going to do that, Derritch," she says.

There's no sponsor money yet (only Careers have any at this point) and few promises of it coming later. Panna and Derritch will have to prove themselves. They'll have to kill, to innovate, to survive- the things that can bring in the money, in decreasing value, depending on how well they entertain.

The bloodbath's final count: eight down and one seriously wounded. The issue of Misa Arrick's loyalties is already a nonissue. The Careers from One and Two beckoned her in and then cut her down: casualty number eight.

Sixteen to go.

IV - Oldtimers' Interlude

Mags taps out to take a break and as she heads out of the room, from two separate locations, Kayta Hiro and Pal Fields desert their current activities (leisurely ones with their tributes out of the running) to follow her.

Before the door closes behind them, Haymitch can see them gathering- it was no coincidence- but he can't leave to follow this segment of the old guard. Mags, Pal, and Kayta. They could be just long-time friends. They've had over forty years for it.

It's funny though, somehow.

V- Lullaby for the Lonely

The bloodbath toll comes up: male Three, female Four, female Five, male Six, female Seven, female Nine, male Ten, female Ten.

Dace and Clover are quick to bail out of the mentoring center. Even when their tributes seem half capable, the Tens have awful luck. In the past they ran the worst inability to return a victor streak in all the districts (followed very closely by Six). Haymitch supposes he has something in common with Clover. They won with one victor from their district preceding them, but unhelpfully prematurely dead and unable to help them.

Maybe she feels the same as he does then. Life's a drag, but he's not going to give up and put whatever future victor (victors?) Twelve gets in the same position he was.

Look at Clover. It took over a decade, but there's Dace. When things go to hell for them, they get to go together.

The other bereaved mentors just double up to help their partners. The more whole-hearted team effort is probably what these districts need (except Four, Haymitch assumes, because Mags has got to be good enough for anyone who's really deadly or lovely or lucky). Ios and Beetee, Valse and Shy, Poppy and Simeon, Kayta and Blight, Honey and Holland.

Paolo picks the right tunnel, but he's very slow and thoughtful in his traveling and the anthem greets him sooner than his allies.

The tributes' faces and broadcast here and there for everyone remaining inside to see. Shad lets out an oddly cracked laugh that brings half a dozen pairs of eyes to settle upon him. "It's kind of nostalgic!" he explains.

Valse offers him something from a shiny pillbox ("To take the edge off"), but Shad declines.

He keeps on chuckling for a while until Mags firmly orders him to go back to their floor, or at least the nearby rest space, and lie down.

He listens to Mags, like he always seems to.

The general darkness of the arena leads to a less definite "nighttime" for the tributes. Some of them rest and others continue to wander. Seeder's girl makes it past the anthem, but not much longer. Seeder and Chaff- another team no longer splitting their attention. Since Poppy's win, Haymitch has become the only one working by himself. Every other district has at least two living victors. …which gets to him sometimes. Why can't they let anyone loan him one? He'd taken drunken Hamlet, cold-burn Luna, inferiority complex Jack Johnson, "I saw the other side" Odysseus, or "I can't on account of my arthritis," Hector, the oldest living victor. Anyone would improve upon this lonely situation.

Chrissie Warp offers him a homemade cookie.

Eight's got a decent number of victors for an outlying district- Pal and Woof and Chrissie and Jeymes and even Miranda now. Haymitch briefly considers the flight of fancy where he convinces Chrissie to come home to Twelve with him and be his neighbor-sister-cook-friend. …He wonders if it's getting both of his tributes past the bloodbath that's unhinging him slightly or it's the lack of sleep. Or maybe he just needs a drink.

He tries to focus. He glances up at the big screen showing the live Games broadcast. The ground throughout the arena isn't universally solid. The boy from Seven falls down a level and twists his ankle. On the far right side of the room, Kayta Hiro gets up and paces back and forth while bantering with a potential sponsor.

An Avox wheels in a cart of refreshments. Some wisecracks float around about "room service," although it's basically a generic spread. Brutus called in his order ahead and receives hot cocoa and a meat pie.

Derritch and Panna sit down in niche to rest and wait. Derritch starts picking at some rocks in the wall. He tells Panna to sleep if she can. She complains that he's going to bring the arena down on their heads if he keeps tugging at the wall. "I didn't come all the way here just to die in a cave-in, Derritch. I could've waited five more years for my chance at that."

"Fine. I'll stop."

When she begins to doze, he picks at the floor instead.

Various mentoring teams break up to start sleeping shifts as the tributes quiet down (Shad was just the first to go in this regard- some quips about "Mama putting the baby to bed" circulated). Chaff offers to keep an eye on things for Haymitch for a while and he accepts. Sleep might be futile, but lying down for an hour or two would make for a nice change of pace. He slinks out past Mags sipping coffee, Beetee making calculations, and Simeon drowsing in his chair. Poppy tucks her flimsy, pink wrap over her partner. Mags says something dialect-y that Haymitch takes as "good night."

"See ya in a few hours," he responds. When he gives up attempting to sleep, when Chaff gets too tired, or when Paolo finds his tributes- whichever comes first.

VI - Wake Up Call (When I'd Rather That This Was the Dream)

Shad lives up to that "googly eyes" catcall with the way he's looking down at Haymitch when he awakes. He really does have…not normal…eyes. "Paolo and Derritch and Panna are together. They're still resting." He passes on the most important information first. "Good morning."

"Um…morning," Haymitch groans. "So, why didn't anyone wake me when they met up? Because I wanted to be on hand for that."

"It was only about twenty minutes ago. Chaff sent me down, but, I don't know, you seemed like you were sleeping so well I didn't really want to wake you up…" he twists a piece of white fabric- it's that monogrammed handkerchief, Haymitch realizes- between his hands.

"Next time, please, wake me," he lays down some ground rules. Thinking on it longer, he's a bit surprised that Chaff would send Shad for him. Shad and Chaff probably don't have many opportunities to interact, what with how infrequently Shad mentors, but there's also Mags to consider. …Are Four and Eleven really that close?

"Who's in your place then? Don't tell me you left Mags up there all night?" he stretches and climbs off the small bed- it's a bit sturdier than a cot- in the temporary sleeping space on the same floor as mentor central.

"She doesn't need much sleep. We're swapping after you get settled."

"You know how spoiled you are, right?" Haymitch asks. "…Without my telling you?"

"For Mags? Hmm," Shad nods, "Yeah."

Chaff and Mags tag out when Shad and Haymitch arrive. Seeder is already elsewhere. The boy from Eleven encountered the Careers. He took the boy from One with him though. The field has already narrowed to thirteen. They're all spaced out. Things will slow now.

Claudius Templesmith blabs away over a three dimensional diagram of the arena. There are roughly four depths of tunnels (they don't all align perfectly into layers) within the arena. The boy from Seven is the only one on the bottom, since his fall. The Career trio is on the level below the Cornucopia, as are the pair from Eight, and the girl from Six, although they're spaced apart at this point. The boy from Five, the boy from Nine, Paolo, and Haymitch's two are here and there on the Cornucopia's level.

Only the girl from Three has managed to go up. She's a scrawny thing, an undersized sixteen. If there's somewhere to hide, she's probably picked the place to do it. It's no surprise that she's quick to expend more energy and interest looking at the miscellaneous scrapyard parts that litter various nooks and crannies of the arena. It's a very Three-ish thing to do.

Maybe in some respects, Derritch strikes non-Twelve viewers are equally representative of the place he comes from by the way he keeps poking at the walls. The Twos don't appear half as interested in the questionable "mining" presented by the arena as Haymitch's boy does (Haymitch has considered that between himself and Theo Goff, "that funny guy who can also stand to kill" goes down well these days, so he hopes that Derritch can continue to play that up like he did in the interview- the possible pity angle regarding his eyesight they all but ignored).

Paolo has a coil of rope and a curved sword about as long as his forearm, for weaponry, but what he's got that really pleases Haymitch's tributes isn't anything the arena provided for him, but a sponsor gift. How the Careers manage sponsored items this quickly into the Games is beyond Haymitch, unless it's some predetermined bargain. …And maybe it is.

Anyway, Paolo has water and a tin of crackers, which he happily shares. Maybe it's because of the darkness making eye contact more difficult, but Haymitch observes that he touches Panna and Derritch a lot. He says their names too. That's one of those ways that you can get to people.

Ultimately, it's going to be up to the kids, but Haymitch can't help but think Paolo is setting himself up to be very hard for either of his to kill if it comes down to it. He has a big, wide smile he doles out less carefully than his should. And he's feeding them.

"Why crackers?" Haymitch wonders. "Did a sponsor specify them in particular? Or did Mags pick them?"

"…Every year as long as I can remember," Shad shakes his head, "This guy, Aulus Strong, sponsors Mags' tribute by buying a tin of Crispco crackers. It doesn't matter how cheap or how expensive they make them that year. …Even if he's close to Mags' age, he must be starting to get up there by now."

"That's weird." It's another thing to make Haymitch suspicious. Say Shad can remember back to about the Sixteenth Games or so. That would mean this particular individual has been buying her tributes crackers for forty years. "…Does he, uh, own the company?" he grasps at straws to make this less unusual.

"No," Shad shakes his head again, gray tinged dishwater blond strands swaying this way and that, "He's just some old acquaintance of hers."

"If I may?" Pal Fields wants to interject.

"Please," Haymitch spreads his hands wide. All his tributes are doing is trying to conserve energy anyway. Along with Paolo they've decided that not pushing themselves too much too early is a good approach.

"Way back when, before there were all that many victors, we got "coaches" from the Capitol," Pal pauses to punctuate his firsthand knowledge with a chuckle, "…For whatever good they did us. And this was before sponsoring when Mags won, so there wasn't anything anyone could do for you once you were in the arena. Aulus was her coach. Now, pretty much every other one of us back then, the story ends there, but the things about Mags is that she can get along with basically anyone and they ended up friends. …Although I don't think I realize until now what good friends they must still be for him to throwing money at her tributes like that."

Haymitch isn't quite sure how to take it, because, should he really find fault with friendly? But friendly with Capitol citizens isn't something he can relate to. "…She's friends with you too, isn't she?" he settles on a more potentially productive tack.

"Since we met," he seems proud to say.

"Paaaaal," Chrissie interrupts, waving him back over to see something regarding their tributes. Whatever it is isn't up for observation on the main feed- that's the Careers, having found the hole the boy from Seven fell down by nearly stumbling into it, trying to decide whether to drop down and explore there.

"Excuse me," Pal dips his head before leaving, exposing a stretch of gray through what, from the front, seems like fairly solid brown.

He's lucky the Careers opt to explore downward. The kids from Eight came very, very close to walking into the midst of their doom.

Maybe that'll come later, but they live on for now.

Haymitch's tributes come to no harm on the second day. Two others aren't so lucky: the boy from Seven meets the Careers in a dead end (the "best" that can be said for him is that he goes down fighting and receives a compliment regarding it from one of the day's guest commentators) and the boy from Five ends up on the wrong end of a haphazard blade that swings on wires through the dark.

If there were one piece of advice Haymitch could pass on to them that day, it would have to be: don't go up.

VII - The Waiting, Part I

Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6.

Whatever the girl from Three is building becomes more and more complex. Beetee declines to explain, assuming he understands her plan. He's tentatively pleased.

The Careers bicker out of boredom. The Twos are too disciplined to break down this quickly, but among the other mentors, some hope stirred that the One girl would try something with them. Any fewer Careers would increase the odds for them.

In some quarters, the feeling extends to Paolo. Any expressions of this sentiment seem to roll right off Mags, and even Shad, who wouldn't surprise anyone by being openly wounded by it. It bothers Haymitch though and he's not sure he can pin down the reason why.

But every day his kids (there's something weird about thinking "kids" when he doesn't feel that much like an adult, but he does feel old compared to them) spend with Paolo, the closer they get to him, and to each other too. Maybe it's a double-edged sword. Mags says that they (the Gamemakers) like to see you pushed toward having to kill someone you care about. That they might be less likely to target the trio with random "acts of arena" elements because of it.

Still, Panna and Derritch haven't killed (Paolo killed the girl from Seven at the cornucopia and he hasn't told them about it- he seems to be grappling with it internally), and they've never crowned a victor with clean hands.

Day 7.

When no one manages anything interesting, there are no rewards for anyone. The girl from Three collects water that drips through a crack in the walls. She seems skeptical as to its safety, but apparently can't rig any way to adequately purify it.

The Career girls argue.

The girl from Six fights with the boy from Nine, but the skirmish ends without a victor. They're both injured and they go off in opposite directions. All the boy from Nine wants is a place to lay down in solitude and see to his wound the best that he can. The girl from Six used a board she salvaged as a weapon, several twisted nails jutting out of its sides. Nine's mentor, Holland, worries about tetanus.

The Six girl, whose heart must be pounding in her ears so loud that everything else escapes her, bungles right into a trap.

Either that, or a tiny, bobbing light, like a firefly, drew her there, dangerous as it might be.

"Wonder who?" Derritch asks at the cannon's firing.

VIII - Song for a Girl with Wires (Down Stage)

"Twinkle, twinkle little light. Luminesce and guide my sight," the girl from Three sings to herself and connects the wires to bring her tiny lamp back to life. Her gray eyes shine. She carefully resets her pendulum-based device in the wake of her second kill. The guillotine-like blade glimmers just like her eyes, almost pretty in the white light after all those shots in greenish night vision.

IX - Song for a Girl with Wires (Up Stage)

Beetee's eyes are glued to his screen. The stylus in his hand hovers over his info pad, its display filled with incomprehensible scribbles.

"A clever girl is like a melody," he half-whispers, half-sings.

To his right, Mags and Shad look at one another for confirmation that what they're seeing and hearing is real. Though she would hardly consider herself an expert about him, in all her years, Mags has never known Beetee to sing.

"…That haunts you night and day," he continues, jotting down a few more notes. "Just like the strain of a tonal refrain, she'll start up calculations that will soon control your brain."

They both can see how badly he wants this.

(That doesn't mean they don't think songs from Three aren't weird though)

X - The Waiting, Part II

Day 8. The girl and boy from Eight eschew the Three girl's tempting light.

"It's like a deep sea fish's lure," Mags says.

Haymitch will take her word for it.

Day 9. Shy Evert, among the remaining tribute-less victors, reveals her nickname for Eight's tributes: Hansel and Gretel, and has to explain it to everyone but Kayta Hiro, who's very excited to know that this old folk story exists in both their districts.

If there were a gingerbread house in that arena, Haymitch would tell his kids to take their chances.

Day 10. The Gamemakers are bored. The Gamemakers are always the first to be bored. An earthquake shakes the arena and the tributes are terrified to the boy and girl. Age and size and district make no difference. The lowest level of the arena collapses and fills with rocks and soil and debris. To the relief of every mentor, no tributes were down there at the time.

Damage on the higher levels is lesser. The girl from Three is distressed to find that part of her contraption has been broken. She immediately sets to work on fixing it.

Paolo takes an unpleasant knock to the head. No one seizes the opportunity to finish him.

Day 11. The boy from Nine wasn't moving much on the tenth day, but he seems to have recovered a bit of strength. He heads to the arena where he finds a can of tuna someone previously dropped, but he's sickened by the sight of his arm wound, which isn't looking very good, and has difficulty forcing himself to eat. Eventually he stops to avoid wasting food he's afraid he won't be able to keep down.

Holland frets over whether there's something small he can send him to keep his spirits up or if that would be a waste of funds that could have been used better later.

Haymitch thinks he should probably spend it while he's got someone to spend it on.

Paolo hears the Eights and shows his Career colors, with pragmatism that's probably right. "They may have supplies we can use," he lays out his argument with a nervously furrowed brow, "And, if not, a good fight is what's most likely to win us more sponsors."

Haymitch's kids accept this pragmatism. They're dirty and they're tired and there can't be anyone in the arena interested in challenging Odysseus Armain's place as the victor of the longest ever Hunger Games.

They decide to wait for "night," not that they're certain that the Eights will be sleeping then, with the lack of a clear day and night continuing to lead to a variety of patterns of sleep and wakefulness among the tributes. If they can't be sure of sleep, they can at least aim for quietness. Paolo stops talking early on the "afternoon" before they plan to make their attack in the interests of the element of surprise.

It is technically the twelfth day of the Games, though just barely, when they fall upon the pair from Eight.

Paolo stuns the girl with a rock to the skull.

Derritch manages in his flailing, to trip the boy, bringing him to his knees. Paolo is displeased with the inexpert slash to the boy's back he delivers as follow-up to Derritch's equally clumsy maneuver. "Odysseus made it look easy," he sighs, offering the blade to Panna to finish either the still struggling boy or the unconscious girl.

Haymitch wonders- it is only the fourth time he's had to consider this particular wondering- if it's worse to watch his tributes die or to watch them kill.

This is meant as some kind of kindness from Paolo, he assumes, giving Panna and Derritch both the chance to take credit for at least participating in a kill.

None of them are very happy afterward.

There's no food to take off the bedraggled bodies of either 'Hansel' or 'Gretel.'

The Careers are excited by the noise they hear from the fight and express their interest in engaging with whoever's left- assuming there is anyone- as soon as possible, but they can't figure out how to get to the section of the tunnels the Four-Twelve alliance is in.

The remaining tributes comprise the Final Eight. This circumstance makes good any number of sponsorship deals for the Careers, apparently. The pack gets supplies and Shad tells someone over the telephone headset that he's so pleased he could kiss them. He's near enough by at this point that Haymitch can hear the sponsor in question rush to assure him that's not necessary.

"Hang tight," reads the message Mags sends with the rations the money buys Paolo.

It doesn't strike Haymitch as either helpful or reassuring, but it's her message to send.

The rush will begin now to interview the friends and family back home before the tributes in question are dead. In light of this, no one seems to mind that the ensuing lull in the action.

Haymitch is taken out onto a picturesque balcony and asked to offer some thoughts about his tributes. They're tough enough to take the psychological pressure of the situation. They're smart kids. They have a good ally. Doesn't everyone love an underdog?

He resists the urge to beg: please, please, please, let me have one of them. Acting desperate's not going to help either him or them. He tries to act cool. This brings in a few more (small fry) sponsors.

Theo Goff apparently doesn't just know Paolo Rialto. They trained together back home. They're friends.

The Career mentors wage an oddly friendly sponsorship war, with Theo, as the most recent victor, providing a slight edge to Four.

Panna and Derritch and Paolo seem about as happy as three kids in the arena can be that night. Paolo keeps watch while the other two lean against him, sleeping.

The safer you feel, Haymitch knows, the more that can go wrong. The more you have, the more you have to lose.

He tries to believe, one way or another, Twelve can beat the odds.

XI - The Final Eight

-the remaining Career pack: the girl from One and both from Two

-the girl from Three, tinkering away on her own

-the boy from Nine, not looking good these last few days since that wound

-the boy from Four and both from Twelve in their odd outsider alliance

"In the entire history of the Games, this is only the third time both tributes from Twelve have made it to the Final Eight," Caesar Flickerman remarks cheerfully over a quiet scene on the early morning of the thirteenth day of the Fifty-Sixth Games. Paolo is twisting Panna's hair up into a fancy "nautilus knot" hairstyle, the kind that the stylists like to do for Song Wen.

"I can't say this would lead to the Twelve versus Twelve outcome of our viewer's dreams if it gets there," Claudius Templesmith answers. "The Haymitch-Maysilee showdown that could've been will be forever confined to the world of our collective imaginations."

Qualla Simone goes live on the streets, asking what final two matchup the viewers would be most excited to see. The Career girls. The pair from Two (a perennially popular option). The pair from Twelve (for the drama more than the assumed battle quality).

She's mid-sentence chatting with a Peacekeeper in front of a hair salon when the screen cuts away to something apparently too exciting to be missed.

The people watching the regular broadcast will have to be backtracked a few minutes to get up to speed.

XII - Duet and Counterpoint

Derritch and Paolo exchange tokens.

"Not for you to give to my family if I die," Paolo whispers, "For you to keep."

Haymitch's mind flashes back to the Fifty-First Games, his tributes (Ria, Tormey) who didn't last a day, and another District Four Career-volunteer who toyed, at least, with love. Russell was his name, right, the target of that love? No, Russet.

At the final four, the girl who maybe loved him took his heart permanently with her machete in his chest.

"If you could've had him-" they prompted her in her interviews. Every time she froze up on the one question she had never prepared herself before her Games to have to answer (real or false, Haymitch didn't know, but subterfuge or feelings born of the moment he agreed). The impossibility of having him made no difference. Russet Dram or Song Wen and she chose herself. The Games are like that. It's not his place to condemn her, but-

Derritch chuckles softly. "Maybe it's the same in Four? Back home, lots of kids are holding out until just after Reaping Day…"

Can Derritch see the slow way Paolo bats his long lashes or is it for the cameras, which can? This boy is the same age as Theo Goff. A fellow Career. They could have practiced it together. 'Tip your head like this to catch the light. Stay confident. Give them your best smile.' That kind of thing.

"It's after Reaping Day," Paolo laughs in return.

"Before Panna gets back," Derritch dares.

"I was very motivated by Song," Theo said of himself last year in his pre-Games interview. "I'd like to even a few scores for her. Impress her even, if that's possible."

"And there's no way for you to do this back home?" Caesar had played along with this train of thought.

"She won't talk to me. …I don't think she's into younger men."

Younger men who will only die, Haymitch thought.

Derritch and Paolo kiss.

Just because Four doesn't think they can have a back-to-back doesn't mean they won't try, and what do Careers do but learn from the past strategies? Song Wen played with notions of love. Theo Goff disdained the Careers. What reason does Haymitch have to believe that Paolo Rialto is not their perfect successor?

Mags massages her temples.

The Capitol commentators are going wild.

"I'm not sure I would want to go home and explain that to my mother," one of the older men from Eight remarks, blushing with, what, secondhand embarrassment?

"If he lives," Valse answers in a way that could mean either boy, "She'll accept it."

Derritch doesn't have a mother.

"Please remember me," Paolo asks of Derritch.

"How could I forget you?"

Around the corner, Panna listens.

XIII - Aside

"Haymitch," Panna slips back the way she came and crouches down beside a dangerously balanced pile of rocks.

It gives him a bad feeling. Haymitch just wishes she would move.

She folds her tiny, shivering hands together in supplication. "Haymitch," she begins again. He's sent his tributes parachutes before (it's funny in these tunnels to know they're dropping things down somehow). She knows that he can and will hear. "What do I do?"

What should she do?

Is this it? Is he finally going to be forced to really choose between them? (Or should he be impassive here and let them make the choice with their own actions?)

"Tell me what to do."

Tell her something? Tell her nothing? Tell her what? The decision must be hard for all of them.

XIV - Crescendo/Ensemble

"Goodnight, girlie," says the boy from Two as he jumps down from the higher level the Career pack has been traversing onto the pile of rocks.

Panna screams as they fall upon her.

The girl from Two shows her careful, Career-style mercy, taking hold of Panna's exposed one hand (her throat too inconvenient to reach), and slitting her wrist.

None of this general attack and terror goes unheard by Paolo and Derritch, though the specifics may elude them. Derritch is on his feet fast, ready to run toward the incident- in the direction Panna had gone- but Paolo grabs his arm and stops him. "You can't help her now," he hisses. There's an unspoken 'someone had to do it' in there.

"Don't just stand there," Haymitch pounds on his console, "Run from 'em or get ready to fight 'em!"

Across the room, Brutus raises a hand over his carrel in a vigorous fist-pump. "What you said!" he seconds Haymitch's demand to the Twelve-Four alliance.

Paolo settles upon backing up further before they're caught and then regrouping as a strategy. He leads Derritch along behind him, but never so fast that he falls and never so clumsily as to call obvious attention after them. Panna's presence can't serve as anything but a giveaway though. They had never given an indication that they might leave her.

Paolo leans in, against a curve in the wall. Maybe it could be even possible that in this darkness, the Career pack could pass right by them. That's wishful thinking though. …An ambush might not be.

They have a rope a short, curved sword between them. Derritch thinks Paolo should keep the sword, but Paolo insists. "It's not my best weapon and it's easier to use imprecisely than the rope should be since it's so sharp. You lead swinging. I'll loop around to get ahead of you. Don't be afraid for a minute that I'd let you go out and take the blows for me." They're eye to eye, their faces held so close together they must feel one another's breath on their cheeks.

An overpowering feeling of what those last minutes were like with Maysilee threatens to distract Haymitch from the delicate situation at hand.

Between Derritch and Paolo, Paolo picked Derritch. Or at least that's what he's saying. Haymitch ventures away to glance over at Shad and Mags. Are they getting worried? Are they holding back their outrage? - wanting to yell "Run" or "Leave him!" or "Stop that!"

They look pinched and drawn- dried fish like he saw on his Tour, about to get a good salting, maybe. What's the story then? They are that ready to let Paolo go? Shad isn't even crying.

Mags finds something on her screen and remarks upon it into her headset. If Four and Twelve are parting ways, is this where it happens?

The Career pack is growing closer.

"Marco," Paolo holds a laugh in with his dirt-smudged palm.

Haymitch doesn't recall that being the Two boy's name. It must mean something else. The Fours may not have the heaviest accent, but they have the strongest tendency toward dialect out of all of them, in public at least.

"Paolo," Derritch whispers, leaning against his comrade.

"We've got this." Either Paolo has bravado to spare, or he puts up a good show. "You ready?" He wraps one end of the rope around each of his fists and pulls what's left taut between them.

"Now, please," Mags speaks calmly into her headset, tapping on something on her console.

After a moment, a reddish light flashes to life directly in front of the Career pack. It's only brilliant for a few seconds before it begins to dim. "A flare?" one of the girls scoffs as it as it fades with all the speed, but none of the drama, of its flash of life.

"…Polo," Paolo breathes to himself. It's a game in Four he'd be playing with his eyes closed: "Where are you…?" With the best fix he's going to be able to get on his opponents out of the range of their hands and weapons, what's there to do but begin? "Now!" Paolo directs Derritch, pushing ahead in spite of his words just seconds ago about letting Derritch lead.

Paolo tackles the first person he comes into contact with. It's the Two girl. They grapple for her blade, a nasty thing with saw teeth up and down one edge. It cuts deep into Paolo's hand. He has been expected by this group, sooner rather than later, and basically in this manner. That Derritch follows with the blade (why wouldn't Paolo have it?) is the craftier part.

"Not me, you morons!" the Two girl snaps as her allies grab for Paolo in the dark and split their grasp between their intended target and their own pinned under him.

Paolo curses in melodious dialect as the Two boy gets him in his grip and slams his head against a wall. Dirt shakes loose and a few small pebbles drop out of the ceiling to strike them.

Derritch's first slash to connect nicks the Two boy's earlobe and shoulder.

It's a mess of furious action as Derritch's blade slices through the air, haphazardly, this way and that. Paolo punches the startled Two in the jaw. He staggers back a single step, but that's enough for Derritch's reach to include his neck. A spray of blood flecks the camera along with the participants.

In distant parts of the ant farm arena, Beetee's starving girl drops a worm she has dug from the wall. The rattling echoes along with the screams. Her eyes are wide like saucers. The boy from Nine shivers with fever, an infection Holland has no money to cure. He is delirious. There will be fewer tributes to outlast soon, outlasting being his only shot at victory.

The cannon for Two's boy drowns out whatever it is the Career girls yell at one another. Two's girl guts Paolo, sawing and twisting. Haymitch holds his own stomach, grimacing in sympathy. The balance on his sponsorship books will buy nothing useful. A small bandage. A roll of homemade bread. If Derritch makes it, the money should come in to aid him. A Twelve has just killed a Career, after all, but-

The One girl's metal pipe smashes Derritch in the head. He falls, unconscious, to the ground. She takes his sword. Paolo, in mindless agony, is scratching the Two girl with his fingernails while she struggles to deliver a more quickly lethal blow.

Derritch lies in the dirt.

The girl from One, Ulala Leynee, skewers Paolo and Two's girl both on the blade driving it deep to the hilt.

At Paolo's cannon, Four's mentors clasp the hands and close their eyes, bizarrely graceful in defeat.

With a stylish flourish, Ulala pulls a sharp piece of glass she saved from an earlier bit of scavenging through dimly lit rubble and slices her Career compatriot's throat.

Boom.

Ulala, Three, Nine, and Derritch.

Haymitch picks up his phone. Final Four and out cold. Twelve's sponsorship account shows little more than dregs. Where's the money they promised him?! Slimy dirtbags withholding because they think it'll get thrown away?! He can afford a cup of water; can they splash it on Derritch? Because that's the best Haymitch can come up with for what he's got and at least Ulala sees no need to rush. She's leaning against the cavern wall and catching her breath.

"Yes, Mr. Abernathy," the operator okays the request. Haymitch feels the shadows fall over him as Mags and Shad come to stand silently behind his chair.

Across the room, Brutus and Lyme are shaking hands ("Good show"), though it's no secret that they're frustrated.

"Do it pretty, Leynee," Amber Sinclair speaks to her unhearing tribute, glaring down at her through the screen.

Ulala feels around and begins to gather up weapons. She's not going to even try for the one wedged through Two and Paolo. She nicks herself on the Two girl's rough blade and sucks on her bloodied finger. "Ouch," she grumbles petulantly.

The single cup of water splashes Derritch's face. It seems so little. "Derritch!" Haymitch pleads.

His boy licks his lips. "Pao," he mumbles.

Somewhere behind Haymitch in the mentors' headquarters, Valse spits out a complex string of expletives that inexplicably make mention of battery acid and telomerase, then throws up in a trashcan. He's not known as an addict or a drunk.

Ulala squints at Derritch. She considers her mace; the jagged blade; the triangle of glass? The glass.

Derritch starts to stir as she pushes his head back. He coughs.

She jams the piece of glass into his throat and the blood burbles out of his neck and between his lips.

"Aww," little Poppy Lowell sighs in disappointment. The Twos nod thoughtfully. Once again, "good show" in their eyes.

If he weren't sitting, Haymitch is sure he would faint. Black spots dance through his vision.

"And then there were three," Claudius Templesmith announces at the sound of the cannon still reverberates. "This is District One's to lose."

"…unless a grain of wheat…" says Mags.

Chaff sits a glass of water in front of Haymitch. Haymitch starts to pick it up and nearly drops it. He sets it back down.

"You gotta let it go, sweetie," Honey strokes Holland's hair as he drops his headset onto the console. He can't stand to listen to any more of Palum's whimpering and sleeptalk.

Sponsorships get Ulala a slice of plum cake and a bottle of water. She makes her way with them back to the lit Cornucopia where everyone can watch her clean her weapons and eat. She runs her fingers through the knots in her tangled ponytail.

Seeder placates, but doesn't please, Holland by pointing out that even if he collected enough money for medicine, Palum is already too delirious to take it. Nine has to get by for now on the slim hope that Ulala and Wiress kill one another. It isn't entirely unheard of, but if they go too slowly…

XV - O Dolci Mani

Caesar Flickerman is entranced by the contraption Wiress has cobbled together, even more complex than her original design. She occasionally makes a tweak here or there, but she seems to have finally finished. Whatever it is, it's extremely complex-looking and ends in what might be a crossbow. "I'm going to be awfully disappointed if that doesn't go off before these Games are over."

Claudius Templesmith suggests if it isn't used that Caesar tries it out himself afterward. But, well-

Day Fourteen: Palum expires as a result of his infected arm wound.

Day Fifteen: Wish granted.

Three woven spikes of wire, fired like crossbow bolts into the chest of the girl who had finally made her way to the hiding place of her only remaining prey, lit by the smallest glow of homemade electric light.

From their finding their mark until the cannon fire, the official bio-reading on Beetee's screen shows that his girl doesn't breathe.

When she knows she's safe, her lips form a smile. It's not reflected in her eyes.

XVI - Curtain Call

"-we present District Three's Wiress Rosen!"

Beetee grabs Ios and swings her around, a mild feat of strength (Ios is fragile and thin, but Beetee's far from a bruiser) that no one expected. Ios, for her part, is slightly terrified by this and immediately asks to be set down. Mags and Brutus laugh.

Onscreen in Three, Nikola Rosen hugs his girlfriend. Beata Rosen collapses in blissful relief into her husband's arms. Keller Rosen holds his wife and smiles. In the background, a horde of classmates wave banners in support of the new victor.

Theo Goff, watching live in a studio with Qualla Simone and Ulalie Lime, bites his lip and stares at the closeup of Wiress Rosen, victor of the Fifty-Sixth Hunger Games, squinting and shielding her eyes as the gamemakers slowly, artificially light up the sky. His usual artifice falls away in a moment of pure fascination. "That girl," he says quietly, to no particular meaning.

Silent, happy-ish tears run down Shad's face. It's not really Wiress herself. He'd be doing it for anyone.

"You're getting all dried out, buddy," Chaff says to him. "You should come along and soak up a few drinks."

He looks down at Chaff and Haymitch, sitting side by side on the couch. "You'd both want me along?"

"Are you buying?" Haymitch jokes.

"If you'll have me, I will," Shad promises.

"We may clean you out," Chaff warns him.

"I've been frugal," Shad dries his face with the monogrammed handkerchief.

XVII - Veeblefetzer Duet and the View from the Balcony

"A Rube Goldberg device," Wiress squeaks to Caesar.

"Is it better than winning the science fair?" Photographic evidence projected behind him shows her winning thrice.

"Yes," she gives him a modest smile. "It was the most helpful thing I've ever invented."

"So smart," Beetee sighs from the wings, fawning over his mousy victor. There are so many things he wants to talk to her about, so many things he thinks she would like to say to him too. All he had to do was send her one simple tool.

"When do we tell her he was singing at her?" Theo asks Mags from their fourth floor quarters as the watch the interview together. Shad is sleeping off a hangover.

"That's up to him, dear."

XVIII - Outro

Panna and Derritch and Haymitch come home to a double funeral.

Panna's mother takes back her daughter's token.

Derritch's sisters bury him with Paolo's.

Haymitch forces himself through the funeral and goes home to commune with his unmade bed and two bottles of liquor.

He's left alone for six horrible-blissful days until Mags calls. He doesn't even know how she got his number. Someone at Victor Affairs? Or Chaff gave him up. He doesn't recall giving anyone else his number.

"Wh-what's this about?" he mumbles. He hasn't slept much.

"Just a friendly call, I suppose, ultimately. I wanted to apologize that I wasn't able to speak with you as much as I would've liked either of the last two times we've been in the same place."

The Capitol for the Games and Twelve during Theo's Tour.

"If there's any way I can make it up to you, please, just ask me."

He can tell that she's smiling, like she seems to do so much. He wonders what they've taken from her, because there isn't a victor alive who hasn't suffered some kind of loss, but she seems so…balanced. It took her twelve years to bring home Tyde, he reminds himself; he can't give up this soon. "…I can't really think of anything, but it's nice of you to call," he admits.

"…Have you checked your doorstep lately?" she ventures, which Haymitch categorizes as the polite way of somehow guessing that he hasn't been outside in days.

Maybe lots of victors do it. What's more salient is why she cares.

"…Should I?"

"Well," she sort of dissolves into gentle laughter. That's why she's saying it, of course. The Fours have a soft touch outside the arena, it seems.

"Give me a minute," Haymitch sets down the phone and heads for his front door, nearly tripping on a bunched up rug on the way over. He turns the lock and pulls his door in, revealing a slightly drooping arrangement of red and oranges flowers in a woven basket on the step. It would have been prettier a few days ago. Apparently he missed the knock. …Assuming whoever was tasked to deliver this had even bothered.

He picks up the calligraphed card. "Our deepest condolences," it reads in fancy blue letters, followed by, "Burn bright, Haymitch." On the opposite side is a whole laundry list of signatures. Shad's is the biggest, matching the writing on the front in color if not in style. Shad, Mags, Tyde, Odysseus, Song, Theo.

Flower-arranging must be someone's talent. He doesn't remember whose.

He regards the flowers again with an eye for what they could have been two or three days before. Reddish leaves on reaching branches. Tigerlilies and sunflare-stylized designer irises burst wide. There are bit of grains jumping over the sides of the basket.

They're sparks.

"It's beautiful," Haymitch says when at last he makes his way back to the telephone. "Tell, uh, Shad," he guesses, "That I love it."

"I will," she answers, "He'll appreciate it."

He brings the arrangement up to his bedroom and sets it on the side table. It keeps him company for the next few weeks as the implication of fire curls and fades and shrinks down to an indication of ashes.