Chapter 1: Prologue
Panic is a truly horrible emotion; it's your heart breaking and your stomach turning all whilst your mind is trying to sort the rational from the irrational fears. Your increasing heart rate and heavy breathing doesn't help either, because if you're noticing that then clearly you're not focusing on the problem at hand. They say that to panic when you're alone is as pointless as laughing when there is no one around. This might be true but then again Johanna wasn't really alone, at that very moment every person in Panem was watching her die.
Slowly liquid sand pulled her down, inch-by-inch wrapping itself around her chest. Any movement only resulted in immersing even faster. Thoughts of death and how it might come to her had been on Johanna's mind often these last few days. She had considered some of them quite imaginative, others gruesome, but slowly drowning in sand hadn't been one of them. Surely, this was not how she was meant to go?
From the moment she heard her name at the reaping Johanna decided not to die, no mater the costs. Chance might have thrown her into the games but she refused to let it kill her. She wasn't trained like a career tribute, nor was she exceptional in any way, so reality wasn't looking very good. The only option left to her was deception. Disinformation. Every Hunger Games had its weaklings, the hopeless causes who had already given up before setting foot in the arena. No one ever remembered their names and their deaths were usually quick and uneventful. She would become one of them, forgettable filler, not worthy of a second thought.
It was surprisingly easy. She had the look: brown eyes, long brown hair, nothing that stood out. For a sixteen year old she wasn't that well developed, skinny with few feminine features. She was by no means boyish, just plain and undernourished like so many from her district. At her pre-games interview she managed to cry and during training she refrained from showing any skills. She refused to socialize, pretending to be shy, even towards her district partner Pan. It all worked. As the tributes were lifted up into the arena every one of them contemplated their strategy in those sixty seconds stuck on the launch pads; not a singe one glanced in her direction.
Johanna's first plan was simple, run, hide and let them kill each other in the bloodbath. The cornucopia stood on top of a hill so the running part would be easy. She watched the numbers slowly count down, when they reached the single digest her muscles tensed. Those last ten seconds seemed to go on forever but when the alarm finally sounded she was off, not bothering with supplies and gone before anyone noticed. The arena turned out to be a valley with a huge forest and surrounded by snow peaked mountains, familiar territory for someone from district seven. For the first time Johanna considered herself lucky. After putting enough distance between herself and the cornucopia she found some rocks to hide between and simply waited.
By nightfall seven faces appeared in the sky, sixteen more to go.
The idea was to let the other tributes fight amongst each other before drawing the game makers attention. No one was interested in her so even if the game got boring they would focus their nasty tricks on one of the more popular tributes. Johanna kept playing her part but hunger forced her to reveal at least one skill, stealing. Her mother had been injured in an accident several years ago, ever since the family had a hard time earning enough for food. That's when Johanna became creative in acquiring things. Back home her parents punished her severally every time they found out, but in the arena this skill would keep her alive. The careers occupied the cornucopia, a predictable move, and with still five of them running around stealing from them would be reckless. But they weren't the only ones with supplies. In the days that followed Johanna had little problem obtaining food and water from the smaller groups.
Four faces appeared the second evening and only one on the third, that of Pan. This truly saddened her but it also meant she didn't have to kill him herself, a huge burden off her shoulders. Eleven more to go.
It was on the forth day that it all went wrong. Johanna had been stalking the boy and girl from eleven. They had passed her hiding place the night before and she couldn't help but notice both of them were carrying backpacks. The couple made a good team, never staying in one place for very long and taking turns resting. She followed them all night and the following morning, waiting for the opportunity to grab one of the bags but they were too cautious. Eventually they ventured to close to the cornucopia and Johanna saw no choice but too turn back.
Frustrated with her failure she carefully retraced her steps. Her mind wandered through the events of the morning, analyzing the couple's behavior for future reference. It was because of this that she missed the rustling of leaves behind her and before she realized it the boy from five managed to jump her. He must have though her an easy target, hoping to stab her with a small knife. A mistake he would pay for dearly. Johanna might not have been strong but she was quick and above all, had a unbeatable will to live. The two of them struggled on the ground for a minute until Johanna was able to bite down firmly on the boy's hand. He let out an agonizing scream and realized to late that she had obtained his knife. In a quick motion she slit his throat. The blood spattered everywhere, on her hands, her face and covering her clothes. It happened so fast that Johanna didn't even fully understand what she had done until she was standing over the boy's lifeless body, covered in his blood. Her first kill.
It was the sound of the cannon that resulted in her first mistake. As she stood there, fixated on the body of her victim, the loud echoing sound trusted her thoughts back to reality and she was abruptly aware of how close she was to the cornucopia. If the boy's scream hadn't alerted the careers then the sound of the canon surely would. This was when panic struck her, disorienting her, the body at her feet suddenly made her ill and the desire to run became too great. Without thinking she ran into an unknown direction, away from the body, away from the cornucopia, away from the known dangers. She ran until her lungs hurt and her legs ached from exhaustion. When she was finally satisfied with the distance between her and the body the panic subsided. She stumbled into a clearing, hoping it might give her an indication on where she was.
Nothing looked familiar but the forest around her was quiet giving her the reassurance that no one had followed her. She gave herself a moment to catch her breath and regain her thoughts. She had shown the world she was capable of killing and much sooner then she had hoped. The game makers would now have their eyes on her. Not only that but betting people would become interested. Her life or death now mattered to more then just her relatives. Now her surroundings would become as dangerous as the tributes. Game makers loved to give the punters a run for their money.
The though had only just entered her mind when an unsettling feeling made Johanna look at the ground. She was sure it moved, not like an earthquake but it seemed unstable. To her horror she saw it liquefying, slowly pulling her in. She tried to run back into the forest but with every step she sank deeper and deeper until she couldn't move her legs anymore. Within an hour the sand had sucked her down to her hips. There was nothing she could do. The slightest movement made her sink faster. The clearing was free from any trees or rocks to hold on to and the forest only just beyond her reach. For the second time that day Johanna was struck by panic. If anyone came across her now she would be an easy mark, and if they didn't she would drown in the liquefied sand. Only a miracle could save her and Johanna didn't believe in miracles.
Breathing became harder as the sand reached her chest; she felt her insides slowly being crushed. This is where she was going to die. Not by the hands of another tribute, but by her own stupidity. Johanna wanted to scream for help but even now, in the heat of her panic she could see how ridicules that would be. She looked up at the sky and did the last thing that came to mind, the one thing she thought she would never do.
"Please… Leila!" Her voice was shaking, almost a whisper, but the cameras would catch it. "Help me! Please!"
Begging, her last resort. With her eyes close to tears she scanned the skies but no silver parachute came to her rescue. Her cry went unheard.
It was the boy from nine who found her. Tall, dark and with eyes as green as the forest itself. It was quite by accident and coming across Johanna being swallowed up by the ground startled him at first. On his belt he carried two axes and the sight of them gave Johanna the combined sensation of irony and relief.
"Thank God" she thought, and how appropriate. She'd rather die a quick death then suffocate in the sand trap. As the boy grabbed one of his axes she took a deep breath and accepted the fact that now she would die. This time she didn't panic; instead a felling of calm passed through her. However, to her surprise the boy didn't kill her. Instead he used the axe to reach out to her. The act of kindness bewildered her but she wasn't going to let him change his mind, quickly grabbing hold of the handle. With very little effort he pulled her in. Never in her life did the touch of solid ground make her feel so grateful.
"You didn't kill me?" she asked stunned and wide eyed, still catching her breath.
He simply shrugged his shoulders, "Didn't seem right, it being you and all."
Johanna looked at him almost shocked. He meant because she was so weak and hopeless. She couldn't even imagine how he rationalized the blood spatters on her face.
"If you want you can stay with me for a bit," he said.
She could see he meant it, he was going to trust a girl he didn't know in a game where everyone was out to kill you. However she figured that if he wanted to kill her he would have done so, and the sand trap utterly exhausted her. So they found a place to rest where he shared his food and watched over her while she slept.
Three faces appeared in the sky that night, including the boy from five. Seeing his face gave Johanna the chills. Eight more to go.
That night, when it was her turn to stay guard, she waited patiently until the boy was sound asleep. Then, she quietly took his two axes, some of the food, and left him. She felt horrible, but he was a fool and she wasn't. Fools didn't win the Hunger Games.
The next night his and two other faces appeared in the sky and she counted him as her second kill. Without the axes he would have been defenseless. Only Five more to go. Time to end this.
Chapter 2: Awakenings
The world around her was white and foggy when Johanna opened her eyes. As she gasped for air she felt a scraping pain in her lungs and an almost unbearable pang ran up her spine when she tried to get up. She couldn't move! Panic!
"Where am I? What happened?" her thought ran wild.
Slowly the memories started flowing back. The poisonous gas, the final battle with Amber. Did she kill Amber? Or, was she the one who died? Was she dead? Another severe pain in her back assured her that she probable wasn't. So she must have won! She let the realization sink in.
"Its over, I did it, I won." Johanna managed a tiny smile before slipping back into a peaceful darkness.
The next time she regained consciousness breathing went easier and when she opened her eyes it wasn't a hazy white world she saw, but the ugly face of Blight.
"Good morning sunshine!" he said with a big grin. "I have to admit, I didn't think we would see you again."
Blight, a somewhat short, balding man with yellow teeth who half the time smelled of liquor, once won the Hunger Games. Looking at him now it was difficult to imagine. Johanna knew little about him but she did know that he came from a logger's family, like her own. Boys in these families were strong, trained from an early age to be able to deal with the hard labor of logging timber. You saw them coming from a mile of, big strong arms and broad chest. Once Blight must have been an impressive sight. Not anymore though.
"How are you feeling?" he asked.
Johanna manage vague grunt in response.
"Oh, don't worry, they'll soon have you back on your feet. Your lungs are healing up nicely but they had to replace the kidneys."
Blight went on explaining her medical condition but Johanna just stared past him. She wasn't taking in a single word he was saying, but slowly she let the world slip back in. She won the Hunger Games, she killed Amber, she killed five people, she won the 71st Hunger games, she was from district seven… and so was Pan… something wasn't right.
"Why are you here?" she managed, her voice sounded weak and dry.
Blight stopped mid sentence as he was just explaining something about an artery.
"Why are you here?" Johanna asked again with some effort.
She remembered, Blight wasn't her mentor, he was Pan's, and Pan had died on the third night. Probable attacked by the careers. So where was Leila, Her useless excuse for a mentor? The one who had never shown any faith in her, the one who had been so against her helpless girl act! The mentor who had sent her no help when she had needed it most.
Johanna tensed with anger from the very though to her mentor. Why wasn't that pompous doll here? She didn't even know what she would do if Leila had been there. Say some smart-ass remark? Try to embarrass her? Maybe yell at her if she could bring up enough strength. But even now, when she had won the game, Leila still ignored her.
"She's been here you know" Blight said with a hint of sympathy.
"You've been out for four days. We've been taking turns staying here in case some doctor might think you would look better with a new nose or something of the sorts."
He gave her a weak smile but this didn't make Johanna feel any better. He was lying. She could see it.
In the days between the end of the game and the after-game interview the Capital held its most extravagant parties, galas and dinners. This is where everyone who is anyone prances around like peacocks exclaiming loudly what a marvelous game they had this year and how they had always known there was something special about this year's victor.
It was only the fifth day after the game and Finnick was already tired of the sentence, "I always knew it was an act," followed by an "Oh definitely! She didn't have me fooled."
He hated these parties and he hated the women attending them even more. Although, he had a hard time despising the girl he escorted that evening. She was just too naive to really dislike. Besides, he had a feeling she was being used just as much as he was. Servilia Sanders was a plump young woman around his own age with no remarkable looks but a rich father. Her father had decided Servilia should find herself a desirable man and with desirable he meant an influential one. To be even more precise, a young and upcoming politician named Atticus Hartwell. But men like Atticus, a true Capital man, needed more then the promise of wealth and an influential family. No, his girl needed to be popular and desirable, and in the Capital nothing made a girl more desirable then to be seen with the infamous Finnick Odair.
Finnick didn't mind the arrangement that much. Making other man jealous wasn't a difficult task for him, and hopefully by the end of the night he would be able to sleep in his own bed. But he felt sorry for Servilia, pawned of for money and power. At least that was one thing the Capital had not taken away from the people in the Districts, the right to love whomever you wanted to love.
His thoughts went to Annie, sweet, fragile, Annie. The girl who a year ago he hardly knew, now his very existence seemed to revolve around her. How much he longed to be with her now. But he pushed those thoughts quickly from his mind. There was no point in longing for things beyond his reach. She was safe back home; all he needed to do was get through the next few days.
Mr. Sanders plan apparently worked quite well. It wasn't long before Atticus Hartwell has Servilia on the dance floor, leaving Finnick to stand at the sideline. Not wanting to be forced to dance with some random fan he glanced around the room in hope of seeing another victor. Unfortunately they usually stayed away from these kinds of occasions. He was surprised however, not to see Leila or Cashmere, they were usually some of the few you could count on to make an appearance.
"Oh, well," he thought "Lets see what the buffet table has to offer."
As he examined the large display of fineries on the table someone came to stand next to him.
"Enjoying the party Mister Odiar?" An unfamiliar voice asked him in a thick Capital accent.
Glancing to his right Finnick noticed a skinny little man who's ears seemed slightly too large for his head. His white suite with golden lining made him look pale.
"Yes, immensely," Finnick answered, not really knowing what to make of the man.
"I don't think we met before, my name is Atlas Peck."
The name didn't sound in any way familiar, so Finnick merely answered in the standard Capital response, "Always a pleasure meeting someone new." Hoping that would be the end of it and the man would let him be.
"I assume these lovely oyster come from your district do they not?" The man held up a plate with half a dozen oysters and scooped one into his mouth. Clearly he wasn't going away.
"I suppose so."
The man smiled "I bet you're a very influential man back in your district. I mean, you're a very influential here in the Capital so I would presume it's even more so in your own district."
Finnick couldn't help but laugh at that, "I wouldn't call myself influential anywhere really."
"Oh come now mister Odair. I am sure that if you told your district to stop sending us these delicious oysters people would listen."
Finnick stared at him in shock, what a thing to say. Here, in the heart of the Capital. He was at a loss for words. What an odd man.
Just then Eudora appeared as if out of nowhere.
"Finnick! Darling! How wonderful to see you here!"
Eudora, the Capitals top socialite, was dressed in a poofy rainbow dress, matching powders wig and holding, on one arm, a purple pet of which Finnick was never able to figure out if it was a cat or a dog, maybe a bit of both.
"Are you here by yourself?" Eudora asked hopefully while touching one of his shoulders.
"Oh no! I'm here with the lovely Servilia Sanders. But someone seems to have stolen her away form me again." Finnick sighed, re-entering his role.
By now Eudora's flock had gathered around him. Eudora never left home without out at least five other girls as her entourage.
"Servilia Sanders?" Eudora uttered in surprise.
"Isn't she the girl dancing with Atticus?" asked a skinny girl with a high pitch voice and a bright orange wig.
"Yes, yes she is." He stared at Servilia with what he hoped was his most seductive gaze.
"I find she has the most beautiful azure eyes and her hair feels as soft as silk in my hands."
In truth Finnick couldn't even remember the color of Servilia's eyes, but he was sure that by tomorrow night half the girls would be wearing azure contacts and wigs that resembled Servilia's dark locks. If this was the kind of influence the man had talked about then it wasn't going to get him far. It wasn't until then that Finnick realized the man had disappeared. An odd man indeed, he thought.
Eudora and her girls had him surrounded. They wouldn't stop talking and wanted to know everything about the games, Servilia and of course the latest gossip. He saw no way to escape until finally Leila entered the room, and the girls lost interest in him for a moment. Leila could have that effect at parties. Her dress, her hair and her companion would be the height of conversation for at least the next hour. If Eudora was the capitals number one socialite then Leila was its biggest celebrity.
He took the chance and made his escape, returning to Servilia's side. He would have liked to go talk to Leila, but he could already she from a distance that she was being kept on a short leash tonight. He recognized her companion, a head peacekeeper, he doubted the man was willing to share his prize.
When the party finally ended and Finnick was on his way out, with Servilia clutching his arm, he noticed the man, Atlas Perk, again. Atlas gave him a smile and a nod before disappearing in the crowed. Very odd indeed, Finnick thought.
Atlas returned home after an exhausting party. He had drank to much ambrosia and eaten far to many oysters. He took two pills to settle his stomach and spend the next half hour in the shower. He was pleased though. The night had been a great success. He had been trying to have a few words with Finnick Odair for the last five days but he was a hard man to find standing by himself. Tonight however he had been successful and was able to plant the first seed. Finnick would be able to make everything a bit easier and he was far less dangerous then say, a Capital citizen.
Atlas removed a small box from a secret compartment in his closet. In it was a small device much like an old typewriter but with a tiny screen. Atlas typed in a passcode and the device turned on.
He typed in three words
"Caught a fish"
This was followed by another passcode and finally he typed in two numbers, 1 and 3.
A light flashed twice and then he put the device back into its hiding place. They'll be pleased, he thought, things are going as planned.
Chapter 3: Gone are the Children
For the seconded time within several weeks Johanna was preparing to be interviewed by the famous Caesar Flickerman. Last time she was a tribute with little promise of survival, now she was a victor. For some reason she felt more nervous now then a few weeks ago and her surrounding weren’t helping calm those nerves. Her prep team buzzed around her, adding layers of make-up and pulling her hair in all different directions.
She wouldn't mind it so much if they just did it quietly. Unfortunately so far she hadn't found an effective way to shut them up. They weren’t even talking to her, the conversation when straight over her head, literally. To make it all worse, she was made to wear an extremely uncomfortable, purple, glittery dress made by her stylist Dee. It itched and pinched but according to Dee fashion wasn’t supposed to be conferrable so she had to bear it. Not that she complained, the sooner the interview was over and done with the better. So what if they made her look ridicules, at least it wasn't anything like the tree costume they made her wear during the tribute parade.
Dee, whom Johanna found repulsive with his pink spiky hair and white flowery suites, fidgeted with the dress. He was always fidgeting with something, touching her with his long nailed fingers, adjusting a lock of hair or redoing her make-up. Several times he made remarks such as, why hadn't the doctors adjusted her chin? Or put a bit more volume in her lips? She wanted to slap him.
Behind her Blight nurtured a drink when the door flinging open startled him and Leila walked in, she was angry. Her flowery perfume quickly filled the room as she took in Johanna’s appearance. Leila hadn't shown herself since the ending of the game and all this time Johanna had been thinking of the things she wanted to say to her. But here she was and Johanna couldn't think of a single thing. She just sat there, staring at her.
Unlike her usual, over the top, capital attire, Leila was dressed quite plainly. Wearing simple tight black trousers and a white blouse with large ruffles around her neck and wrist. Her long red hair was for once free from any braids, wigs, clips or other accessories. Even though she was still wearing makeup and high heels, Johanna had never seen Leila look so natural, although this didn’t make her any less frightening. Unlike Blight, who gave the same first impression as someone’s favorite chubby uncle, Leila actually looked like a victor. She came across proud, confident and wholeheartedly self-centered.
"No, this won't do at all." Leila snapped at Dee after she glimpsed at Johanna’s costume.
"But…" he stammered in his defense, but Leila cut him off before he could object any further.
"The girl who chopped someone's head in two does not, wear sparkly dresses."
Johanna couldn’t help but flinched at the sudden memory.
"But it's so festive." Dee tried, sounding even more Capital then usual.
Leila rolled her eyes, "For Gods sake man, she transformed herself from a innocent little girl to a lethal killer. She can't go back now!"
Johanna was well acquainted with Leila's short temper but it usually got directed at her, never Dee. Who looked confused and slightly panicked until Leila lost the little patience she had left.
"Go! Find me something less, girly!" she yelled.
Dee sighed, "Girls, why don't you come help me find something," and he and the prep team left the room.
An awkward silence fell until finally Blight got up.
"I think I'll go find myself another drink," he mumbled leaving the two of them alone.
Leila ignored Johanna, sank into a sofa chair, closed her eyes and started messaging her temples.
"Just a few more hours and it's all over."
Johanna stared at her furiously. Now was the time. She had to say something.
"I'm fine! Thanks for asking!" she said agitated.
Leila laughed, "Your not fine, you're a Victor. Victors are never fine. You might be okay, or getting by, but your will never, be fine!"
This only made Johanna angrier, why did this woman always have to know better, always disagree with her. Was it so hard to show the tiniest bit of sympathy? Didn't she just win the freaking hunger games?
"Well no thanks to you, that's for sure!" she said, "If I had followed your plan, I would have ended up just as dead like Pan."
Surely Leila couldn't disagree with that? Pan had followed Leila's plan to the dot and died within three days.
"Maybe, we'll never know now," Leila remarked dryly and got up as the prep team came back in.
But Johanna couldn't let her leave like that. Memories of her days in the arena came flashing back at her along with the anger she felt for her mentor who abandoned her.
"Why didn't you send me anything? I was dying and you didn't send me a single thing." Her eyes tingled but she wasn't going to cry, not in front of Leila.
Leila turned around and looked at her with not the slightest sign of guilt or remorse. Johanna suddenly realized Leila had never looked at her before, never directly, but she did now.
"Because scared little girls don't get sponsors."
On her way out Leila examined the clothes Dee carried in, she gave him a nod and before she left told him, "And make her go pixie!"
Dee gasped but didn't protest.
The prep team continued their work on Johanna, taking off her makeup and all the braids in her long brown hair until she looked almost normal again. This time they dressed her in a dark tank top with tight shiny jeans and a jacked that looked like some wild animal ripped it to pieces. When finally she saw her self in the mirror, with dark makeup and the new clothes, she looked scary.
Dee pulled her hair in a ponytail, and for a moment she thought she saw a hint op pity in the man’s eyes, just before he cut it off. As she saw the hair fall to the ground she could only stand by in shock while Dee styled her now spiky hair. Her reflection showed a stranger, a scary looking tomboy, who showed no resemblance to the young girl who left district seven.
“What has she done to me?” Johanna though, this was far worse then looking like a tree.
On the television screen Amata Greer saw this year’s victor appear on stage. Almost every person in Penam was watching at this very moment. There was nothing left of the sweet girl who had gone into the arena. This saddened her. The girl reminded her a bit of her own daughter, self confident, maybe a hint of stubbornness. They must be around the same age she thought. The poor mother, she didn't even want to think about it. How would you handle it if your child had to go through something like that? Having to watch, unable to do anything. Her heart clenched at the thought.
They showed some of the highlights, the horrors those poor children had gone through.
"How can we celebrate so much evil?" she thought.
Behind her, the pounding became louder and louder. She rolled her eyes. Did they really think it would make her open the door?
Amata sat in a small control room. In front of her numbers flew across a screen. Just a little longer she thought. Glancing out of the huge glass windows she saw her husband walking through the laboratory. His white lab coat made his dark red hair stand out. She remembered that it was what made him so attractive to her in the first place. Who wouldn't love those dark red locks? The mustache came later of course, but she learned to live with that. Both their children had her light, brown eyes but his beautiful red hair. She couldn’t help but smile when thinking of her children, even though it hurt. She had to keep telling herself they would be fine, Lavinia knew what to do. The only real regret she had were the lies she had told them. That they would follow. That they would see each other again. She hoped one day they might forgive her.
Inside the laboratory five other scientists sat tied up and gagged. Colleagues they had worked with for many years. Amata didn't feel sorry for them. They deserved it for the evils they created. Some of them might agreed with her, that they were doing the right thing, if that was the case they should have no trouble dying for the cause.
When her husband finished placing the canisters around the room she knew the invisible gas was filling the laboratory quickly. She glanced at the computer screen, a few more seconds. The banging on the door stopped. Probable some technician had arrived; they were running out of time.
Her husband lit up a cigarette, a luxury even here in the Capital, and gave her a smile as he inhaled the smoke. A sign he was ready.
Again she glanced at the television and saw the faces of all the tributes that died this year, some because of things she had created. Ironically the games had made her into who she was. Naively she watched as a little girl, thinking that if she were a scientist she would invent some new medicine or better food, so that the people in the districts wouldn't look so miserable and poor. Now look what she had accomplished in her live, nothing but more evil. Except for her children of course, they might be the only good things she ever created.
Her two beautiful children, deep down inside she knew they would never forgive her for what she was about to do. But maybe, one day, they might at least understand that protecting your family is still wrong when it's at the expense of others. The right thing to do is often the hardest. Who many times had she taken the easy way? Making her family the excuse. She couldn’t undo the mistakes she had made in her life. Nor could she undo what was already created, but the very least she could was level the playing field.
The numbers on her screen stopped. The words, "Transfer completed" appeared. On a smaller screen the number 13 blinked, three more times before it was gone. She kissed her hand and placed in on the glass, it was the sign. Her husband gave her one last smile as he dropped the cigarette in the liquid puddle at his feet. Within seconds the lab was one big fireball. The glass broke. She was hit by excruciating pain and a deafening sound. One last thought raced threw her mind
"Run my children, Run!"
Haymitch was lying on the sofa in the living room of the district 12 quarters. Effie Trinket had already moved back to her own apartment when their tributes had died. No real point of her staying in the tributes building if she had no tributes to escort, and it wasn't like Haymitch was great company. Not long after she had left, Haymitch send all the staff away as well. The Avox's got on his nerves, always so silent, appearing when he didn't expect them.
So there he lay, in a dark room, television on mute, staring at the changing colors on the ceiling. One more night and he would go home, another year over. He took another sip from his glass and let the golden elixir sting his throat, savoring its numbing effect.
He tried not to think of the tributes he had lost, drowning their memories with the alcohol, but the new ones were always persistent. Their faces, their voices, they haunted him. Rochelle Sayers, the skinny eighteen year old with the salt-blond hair who died in the bloodbath. She had gone against his advice and ran straight for the cornucopia. Within minutes the boy from two had cut her stomach open with a carving knife. Her cannon was the first to go off.
Then there was Arthur Tibbett, the hungry thirteen-year-old who had lost both his parents in a mining accident four years ago. Haymitch vaguely knew his grandmother from his life before his own games. Arthur had done exactly what he'd been told. Ran into the pine forest as quickly as he could, creating as much distance between him and the cornucopia, but also the opposite direction from the only water source in the arena. He spent the next three days walking in circles and eventually died, either of dehydration, starvation or hypothermia, or maybe a bit of everything. Two more faces to the cast who haunted him at night.
Someone quietly walked into the room. The smell of flowery perfume hit him straight away. He held up his glass.
"Rough day sweetheart?"
The glass was taken out of his hand and Leila threw it all back in one go.
"I guess you could call it that," she replied returning it empty to his hand.
She picked up the empty liquor bottle from the floor and walked over to the large bar in the corner. She disappeared behind it for a second before reappearing.
"Don't tell me your trying to go sober?" she said with a slight hint of desperation in her voice.
Haymitch smirked, "Gods No! Effie took it all away hoping I'd sober up for the after-game interviews. There's a stash hidden behind the bed."
Leila left the room for a bit only to return with three bottles and a second glass. She sat down on the floor and leaned back against the sofa, her head close to his shoulder.
While she filled up the two glasses Haymitch examined her face.
"Nice shade of blue you've got there." He referred to the bruising around her right eye.
"You like it?" she replied, "I think I have a matching set on my left shoulder."
She handed him his drink and threw back her own, she had some catching up to do.
"All that for a haircut?" Haymitch asked a bit surprised.
He knew Leila would get in trouble the moment he saw Johanna get on stage but she usually had a fair idea of what she could get away with.
"Don't think so, there seemed to be a lot of commotion going on at the palace. I doubt that was because of a haircut, just bad timing I think."
Another glass full disappeared.
"Hey, hey, hey, you make a habit of stealing all of a drunken mans liquor?"
At the rate she was going he wouldn't have enough left for the train ride home.
"Don't worry. I got you a going away present, it's in the hallway." She gave him a little smile as she filled up another glass.
For the last nine years Leila had given him the same departure gift, a bottle of ice vodka, a rare liquor to come by and his favorite.
"Just don't tell anyone you got it from me okay. Ever since they gave me these improved euphoria pills they try to keep me as dry as a desert," she said. "Apparently they don't go too well with too much alcohol. I guess they're afraid I'll off myself," she grinned "If I had the guts for that, I wouldn't need a bunch of pills and alcohol."
They both fell silent as they drank their drinks. Eventually she spoke again but every bit of playfulness seemed to have left her.
"It would have been better if she died… your girl was smart, get it over with as quickly as possible."
She was in one of her dark moods, Haymitch knew better then to respond.
He let her hair curl between his fingers as he continued looking at the colors on ceiling. She was the one thing he appreciated in the Capital, her presence kept the ghosts away.