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May You Never Meet Her

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As the Peacekeepers pack her away into a dim, white room in their garrison, Katniss can still feel the chill nipping at her skin in spite of the coming spring. The Seam has experienced the harshest winter on record, with several feet of snows piling up in the grimy streets around the Hob and threatening to buckle the roof of the Everdeens' house. A few weeks ago, Katniss nearly froze some of her fingers off raking it away, swearing low in her throat so Prim wouldn't hear.

And that just made her angrier. Prim, shivering in her threadbare coat, her teeth chattering so hard she wouldn't speak because her stammers were too embarrassing.

No one should have to endure a winter like that. Not in the thin clothes the Everdeens had.

"So you've never seen the bow before?" The Peacekeeper seated in the chair across from Katniss is as jittery as a newborn colt, tapping the heels of his booted feet against the floor and shifting restlessly in his chair. He runs his fingers down the string of the weapon, plucking it once as if playing a guitar. Katniss's shoulders stiffen in irritation.

"No, I haven't," she replies coolly, looking away as he holds it out to her for her to take. "I told you. I haven't been selling them."

The man's armored partner stands in the corner, his shoulder blades resting against the wall. Katniss thinks he may be looking her up and down, but it's difficult to tell through the dark, mirrored visor. Katniss hates the reaping, hates dressing up for it, but she imagines her current attire is probably for the best today: a clean and fresh-faced girl with plaited hair and a simple blue dress looks far more unassuming than one in a wrinkled tunic who walks around in boots caked with mud.

It also doesn't hurt that she vaguely recognizes the pair of them as members of Purnia's unit, or at least she hopes they are: Purnia's unit buys more meat than any other group of Peacekeepers, and Katniss thinks they might look the other way. Hunting is a crime they often let slide.

"You sure sell a lot of meat for someone without a bow," the second man says, his voice muffled by the helmet.

"Everyone knows I hunt in the forest," she admits slowly, mostly because she thinks it may buy her some credibility. Hunting is against the law, but most of the Peacekeepers of District 12 are well aware of her and Gale's extracurricular activities, and trying to pretend otherwise would make her look both foolish and suspicious. Of course, she's not going to bring up any particular weapon if she can avoid it, even as her mind turns to her father's last three handcrafted bows, all of them wrapped carefully in waterproof tarp and concealed in hollow logs in the forest. "Of course anyone who gets caught would mention me first thing. Who said I sold them something, anyway?" Katniss asks, molding her face to look disinterested.

The Peacekeepers exchange a long glance. "Lenna Whittler," the one at the table replies shortly. Katniss refrains from showing any sign of recognition at the name. Lenna is a woman in her mid-thirties who lives at the farthest, seediest corner of the Seam, the area Katniss never allows Prim to enter, even to take a shortcut. The women there—the district's most impoverished, which is saying something—are accustomed to selling their bodies in exchange for food or goods or money. In return, men visiting the area tend to become boisterous and rough and solicitous of any woman passing through.

Lenna had approached Katniss to get a bow—not for hunting, like most people Katniss sold them to, but "for protection." Katniss honestly didn't care enough to ask more, and though the woman looked too stupid to know which end of the bow was the business end, Katniss sold it to her anyway. The Everdeens need the money.

Maybe it's easier for Katniss to school her features because it isn't all that surprising. Lenna isn't the type of woman who's smart enough not to get herself caught, after all.

"I've never met her, but my mother went to her a few weeks ago. Helped one of her babies with a fever. My mother mentioned that a lot of men are always hanging around the place, waiting their turns with Lenna for…you know." Katniss flushes, instantly hating herself for it. "Any of them probably did it, gave her a bow as payment. Payment in goods isn't uncommon for women there, I hear. And anyway, my mother brought her a squirrel on her last visit, so Lenna probably threw out the only name she could think of." It's fortunate that most of the story is true, just in case the Peacekeepers bother themselves to check. Except for the last part. As far as Katniss knows, her mother has never brought Lenna a squirrel, and Lenna named Katniss because she really is the person who sold the weapon.

"You sure about all that?" the Peacekeeper at the wall asks mildly, though Katniss can see them both visibly beginning to relax. The one in front of her is fidgeting less, anyway. "A man's been hurt because of it. Lenna Whittler meant to kill him."

Katniss meets his eyes—or his visor, anyway—with an even stare. "I'm sorry for him, then, but it wasn't my fault." Stupid Lenna Whittler can't even be trusted to actually kill a man and hide it, Katniss thinks. She'll have to be careful where she sells the last two bows.

The Peacekeepers have a few more questions for her, most of them as leading and as foolish as the first. No one really believes that Katniss Everdeen is supplying the Seam with weapons. Maybe they don't mean to arrest her even if she is. The punishment for a first offense like this is a lashing, which she can easily take if she has to. The punishment for attempted murder, on the other hand, is death. But Katniss can't bring herself to care about blundering Lenna Whittler.

After a few minutes, the Peacekeepers both stand—taking the bow with them, as Katniss expected, though it annoys her—and tell her to wait until she can be processed and released. They won't say how long that might be, but Katniss thinks it probably won't happen until the reaping is done and more Peacekeepers can be spared.

It is considered mandatory to attend the reaping unless you're on death's door—or imprisoned. Katniss nibbles at her thumbnail as she waits, wondering if it will be Gale this time. Wondering if it will be her. Wondering if it would be better for her to be on death's door than here as she is now.

.

There is a bitterness in Katniss, a meanness so thick she thinks it might be a part of her blood. Sometimes she wonders exactly when it happened, when she started looking out only for herself and Gale and Prim—sometimes her mother, too, if she's feeling particularly generous.

It spills out mostly in little things. Stuffing fresh bread under her coat to bring home to her hungry sister. Wheedling money from easy marks, because Katniss isn't ashamed to beg if it gets her what she needs. A strange detachedness from other people's tragedies and horrors, as though anything that doesn't touch her personally just slides off her shoulders and away into that wide open space where the rest of the world lays. Us versus them. No empathy. No feeling.

As she waits in the tiny room, Katniss has a lot of time to ponder the fact that she should probably feel guilty about Lenna Whittler, but she can't manage to muster up the emotion.

The Peacekeepers finally let her out into the grimy side street, the sun glaring down on slick, rainbow-strewn pools of oil and grease. As her feet automatically guide her toward the square, Katniss gnaws on a finger and grumbles irritably to herself about the setback. She'll have to be careful about the last bows. More than likely, she'll have to trust only Greasy Sae, who at least knows how to keep her mouth shut, even if she doesn't pay all that well. Katniss will have to see if she can craft a few more bows, quality or not, because even though winter is finished and the air around her is only mildly cool in comparison to recent extremes, the Everdeens will need money for something else soon enough. They always do.

The streets are empty. Katniss passes through the Hob on the way to the square, thinking to herself that she's never crossed beneath its roof without having to push her way through half a dozen sweaty people. It's too quiet, wares left neatly in place as though waiting for their vendors to return and pick them up again. No smell of squirrel and lettuce stew wafts from Greasy Sae's stall.

If the streets seem frozen and haunted, it's nothing compared to the people who slowly began to spill out as Katniss makes her way toward the square. The reaping must be finished, and their faces are oddly hollow, as though they can't decide which emotion to paste on. They drift like ghosts down the alleyways.

Except the ones that don't: some of them, some of the people Katniss knows, stare at her with wide eyes as she passes. Madge Undersee even stops mid-step, her mouth opening and closing as though Katniss has broken her.

At first, Katniss thinks they're staring because she obviously hasn't been present at the reaping—which is almost inconceivable for how rarely it's allowed. And Katniss hates when people stare, feels herself withering and shrinking away like a plant under too much sun.

But there's more to it than that. Something in the way that they stare but won't quite meet her eyes.

She runs the rest of the way, shouldering past people who scatter from her path as soon as they recognize her. She wants to ask, but she also doesn't, and fright creeps into her lungs. Because it has to be—

Gale. He darts out from around a corner, and they almost crash into each other. "Oh my God," she blurts, laughing suddenly as she pulls hair from her mouth. "I thought it was you. I thought…" It was stupid of her to work herself up into superstition. The fear begins to drain away.

He grabs her roughly by the arm, something in his face tight and intense. "Katniss, where were you?"

"The Peacekeepers—they grabbed me for selling the bows. Lenna Whittler ratted me out, so they—Gale, what is it?"

He runs a hand through his hair. "You need to go to the Justice Building."

"Who is it?"

"It's Prim," he replies grimly, his dark eyes pleading. "They picked Prim."

A wild disbelief bursts to life in Katniss's mind, a brief moment in which she knows that's impossible, but it dies quickly as she studies the anxious, pinched expression on her friend's face.

And then there's a sudden ringing in Katniss's ears as though her body is not equipped to receive this statement. As though it can retroactively block the words out. As though there has been an explosion, and this is part of the aftereffects, and the deafening thrum is all she'll ever have.

Gale is saying something more, his mouth moving, but Katniss's legs begin to back away of their own accord, and then she's whipping away through the crowd, shoving and pushing without even registering faces. Gradually, the spires of the Justice Building sprout up over the rooftops, and they're the only things Katniss can see.

She reaches the building and bursts through the open doors, startling the Peacekeepers into attention. "Where's Prim?" she says. They examine her for a long moment. "Primrose Everdeen, where is she?" Katniss repeats urgently. "Her family's supposed to get time with her."

"Time's almost over," one of them replies, gesturing for her to follow. He leads her down a carpeted hallway. Katniss realizes that the paintings on the walls are blurry because her eyes are thick with tears. They come to a heavy wooden door, and the Peacekeeper raps on it smartly.

"Two minutes left," he warns as he pushes the door open for her. Katniss barely hears, because she's already thrown herself forward onto Prim, wrapping her arms around her sister as though she can press Prim into her chest so they can't be separated. With one hand, Katniss wipes away her tears so Prim won't see them.

When she pulls away, Prim still clings to Katniss's arms, to her dress, as though she's afraid to let go. The light shining through the window behind her makes her look radiant, all fair skin and fair hair and glowing blue eyes. She's so small, so skinny.

"Katniss," she says quickly, voice quivering, "I'm scared."

Katniss squeezes her eyes shut and feels tears leak out onto her cheeks in spite of herself. "I know," Katniss replies, "I know. Prim, I'm so sorry. I should have been there, I meant to be there. I would have done it in your place in a second."

"I know." Even her voice is small. "What do I do?"

It's as though she thinks Katniss can solve this like Katniss solves everything else, the way Katniss manages to get them food and clothes and money just when they need it most. But Katniss has nothing to offer now, and she only stares blankly at her sister, her mind empty. Prim touches Katniss's cheek and nods. "It's okay, Katniss. Never mind. I'm okay."

Their mother is at their side, sobbing as much as Prim is. Prim reaches up to wrap her arms around both of them, pulling them all into a huddle so that they're wetting each other with their teary faces.

There's not much more to say.

Prim will die in the 74th Hunger Games because she can't kill a fly, because she's so unlike Katniss in every way that she can barely bring herself to eat the animals Katniss brings home, because she cries every time Katniss brings her hunting.

Prim will die because no one else will see her for all that she is, because none of the other tributes will team up with a teary, homesick little girl.

Prim will die because she loves everyone, loves everything in a way Katniss has never been able to, no matter how hard she tries.

As she holds her sister roughly at her side, Katniss has the foolish, crazy thought that Prim can't die alone there in the arena. It goes against everything Katniss knows to let her sister die surrounded by strangers and cameras and killers. How can anyone expect Katniss to sit and watch the television screen at home as it broadcasts Prim, a million miles away, fighting for her life?

The fabric of Prim's dress is thin enough for Katniss to feel the ridges of her sister's old scars, which sketch their way across Prim's upper back and along her sides, and Katniss has another idea that's so foolish she can't help but cling to it as it blooms in her mind, as she nurses it slowly to life. Some ideas melt away when considered too closely, drooping under the heat of intense focus until they are discarded once their difficulties and impossibilities come to light. Katniss won't let this one fade. It's all she has.

A quick rap on the door, and then it swings open. "Time," the Peacekeeper says bluntly, stepping inside.

"I love you," Prim blurts at once.

"I love you, too," Katniss echoes, her mother chorusing. "Prim," Katniss adds urgently as the Peacekeeper begins to pull them away, "Prim, I will find a way to get to you—I'll help you—I promise."

Her sister weakly fights the Peacekeeper's pull, but he shoves her out the door. As it closes, Prim smiles at her from behind him. It's an awful sort of smile. For the first time in ages, Katniss is bitterly irritated with her sister, because the smile is the kind Prim uses to humor strangers who tell her they'll pay full price for her goat milk next week.

Prim doesn't believe her.

.

For some time, Katniss considers not telling her mother that she really does mean to follow Prim.

It would be easier not to say anything. Katniss sometimes feels that they are like strangers now, both of them dancing around each other in the same house, distantly polite, tethered to each other only due to their mutual love of Prim. Maybe it's something in their temperaments, both she and her mother inclined to the same quiet watchfulness rather than assertion, but they rarely speak to each other. It often feels as though Prim uses up all of the family's pool of words.

In her sister's absence, the house is quiet, awkward, empty. As though they have finished with a wake and the guests have all gone. Katniss's mother squeezes her forearm once and heads to bed. Some small part of Katniss wants to join her, to curl up beside her mother like she did in the days when she thought her parents could make the bad parts of the world go away.

Instead, she slips out of her mother's blue dress and packs all of her clothes into a bag, topping it off with the strawberries, stale bread, and goat cheese they'd meant to eat in celebration this evening. She finds a scrap of paper and details her intentions in a note to her mother, a good halfway point between waking her up to explain in person and not saying anything at all. She warns her mother to burn the note and to tell no one that she had any idea Katniss was leaving, as it may mean trouble for her if Katniss gets caught.

I'm sorry you're losing two of us at once, but I can't see any other way, she finishes. I love you. -Katniss

Katniss can't decide if the last part is completely true or not right now, but it feels right to say the words, and she knows her mother will need to hear them. To be sure her mother will see it, she leaves the note out on the table, tucking the corner under the vase of wildflowers Prim collected yesterday.

With that, she throws on her coat, slings the bag across her shoulder, and steps out of her home for what will be the last time in her life.

.

There have been very few occasions in which Katniss has set foot into the Victors' Village. Something about the complete silence, the empty houses waiting for victors no one believes will ever come, strikes her to the core. Its connection to the Capitol makes things worse. Even now, as her boots crunch across the gravel leading up to the houses, she half expects to hear the whirr of cameras or to be flooded by the sudden glare of spotlights.

Katniss knows Haymitch Abernathy only distantly. Ever since she was younger, he has been a point of interest to her, the way he appears at the reaping ceremony once a year, and the rest of the time holes himself away at the Village. Always alone, always unkempt and filthy. Katniss hates to admit it, but she sees something of herself in him, in the miserable loner who draws himself apart from the rest of the world. A part of her envies him because while she tries to keep her bitterness to herself, Haymitch unflinchingly spits his out at the world. There's something almost admirable about his sharp, venomous statements to the cameras or quiet mutterings as he downs another gulp from his flask, ignoring the Capitol's embarrassment.

Together, she and Gale have done business with most people in the Seam and the Hob and even into the merchant's village over the years, but she's only ever come to the Victors' Village on her own.

Katniss isn't sure what made her do it the first time. She'd failed to sell a small turkey she'd killed in the woods that day, but that wasn't the real reason; she'd had to go home without selling game before. It was maybe curiosity more than anything else, an avid, hungry sort of interest. The turkey was just her excuse.

She remembers his bellowing laugh as she'd stubbornly named a price far above the bird's actual worth, knowing he had the money to pay for it. He'd let her in, to her surprise, and she'd cleaned and roasted the bird for him, eaten it with him. Neither of them had said a word the entire time.

Now, she sinks down for a moment on the marble steps that climb up to his mansion, rummaging through her bag for the bottle of whisky she'd brought as an offering, having stopped by the Hob to nick it from Frisola Hawson, who needs to buy a stronger lock for her wares. Katniss places it at the top of the bag's contents and zips it closed.

The wooden windows of the mansion are shuttered, the insides dark, but that doesn't mean Haymitch is asleep. Katniss ignores the quaint brass knocker and raps sharply on the door, leaning in a bit to listen for sounds of movement.

Nothing. She raps again, louder this time.

A loud oath resonates from the other side of the door, and heavy footsteps echo toward her. Haymitch flings the door open, leaning against the doorframe, his hair greasy and his eyes slightly bleary with sleep. He wears a nice button-down shirt that Katniss assumes he wore to the reaping earlier, and she can smell his reeking breath even from a few feet away.

Haymitch stares at her for a few seconds, and then he snorts, an odd smile on his face. He turns and walks inside, leaving the door open for her to follow. Katniss closes it and bolts it shut behind her, wondering if he'd expected her. Wondering if she has been, in fact, one of the only people to visit Haymitch Abernathy at home for the past few years.

The inside of Haymitch's mansion is as stark and gloomy as it has always been, as if Haymitch can't be bothered to throw up decorations or to add personal touches of any kind, as if the lights burn his eyes. Where the walls of Katniss's home are decked with drying herbs and sketches she and Prim made when they were younger, Haymitch's walls are bare.

He leads her into the living room, which is freezing and choked with dust. Haymitch collapses onto the sofa, and she rolls her eyes and steps over to the fireplace. While Haymitch has probably never gathered the wood to light it, the panel on the side suggests that there's a bit more to the feature than first appears. Within a few moments of fiddling with the buttons, the electric fireplace bursts to life, radiating warmth and creating a holographic image of a wood-burning fire.

Haymitch is watching her in mild curiosity from his place on the couch when she turns around, his eyes gleaming in the artificial light. Wordlessly, she unzips the bag to pull out the whisky bottle, holding it out to him.

"Ho!" he laughs, sitting up to take it. "Figured you weren't here to sell me food this time, but I didn't count on you bringing something better."

Before she can work out a reply, he pops open the bottle and takes a swig, looking appreciatively at the label. Katniss pounds dust from the back of a nearby loveseat and drops onto it, suddenly exhausted. "I need your help," she admits, feeling foolish even as she forces the words out. It's stupid to think that Haymitch will help her because they've shared a few immensely overpriced dinners, because some snot-nosed kid cooks him food twice a year at most. It's stupid to even ask him to stick his neck out for her, and it makes her tired and angry just to think about it.

"Ah. So this is payment," he returns, his voice gravelly. From what Katniss knows of him, he's at least halfway to stoned at any given moment, but his eyes are remarkably shrewd as he watches her settle on the sofa.

"No," she retorts, "I just thought the alcohol would put you in a good mood before you hear this."

He stares, then grins toothily. "Honesty. Alright. What kind of help do you need?"

"The crazy kind," she admits. "I need you to…I need to know if you can get me into the Hunger Games. I need to know if there's any way it's possible."

Slowly, Haymitch rubs his forehead with the butt of the glass bottle. "Ah. Your sister. We leave tomorrow morning, Katniss. There's nothing you can do now."

She says nothing.

"If you wanted to get into the Hunger Games, why didn't you volunteer when they called her up?"

Katniss bites her tongue to keep from spitting out a surly retort. She needs Haymitch on her side. "I would have if I'd been there," she manages finally, and she doesn't elaborate. Haymitch sighs.

"The reaping is over," he says finally. For Haymitch, it's almost gentle, though he's careful not to look at her. This is more talking than they've done in the past year, and Haymitch has rarely given her anything more than gruff nods and thank-yous.

"The reaping is over in District 12," Katniss retorts.

Haymitch cocks an eyebrow at her. "That doesn't help. Unless you want to…" he trails off, seeing something in her face. "You do, don't you?" he asks flatly. "You want to volunteer in another district."

"There's no law against it. They'll work backwards from District 12 to District 1, so I'll have—eleven days. Eleven days to register in another district and to volunteer for someone else."

He doesn't answer right away, just leans back in his chair and rubs the stubble on his chin, still staring. Katniss feels herself withdrawing in irritation.

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," he says flatly.

"I don't have anything else," she spits. "That's all I've got. It's legal, isn't it? It's possible?"

He nods slowly. "It's possible. But the Capitol won't like it."

"I don't give a shit about the Capitol," Katniss says quietly.

Haymitch snorts. "'Course you don't. If everything goes according to plan, you'll be dead before they can touch you."

Something about the blunt words—you'll be dead—finally make the plan real. You'll be dead in the arena. The weight of it all might have terrified her if it weren't for Prim, but there's no room for fear anymore, not when her little sister is alone in a room in the Justice Building, guarded by Peacekeepers, waiting to catch a train to a death as certain as an execution. If Katniss had been alone in the Hunger Games, if she'd been chosen instead, she might have been frozen in fear. But her goal is Prim now, and that centers her. All she wants to do now is to help Prim come out of the Games in one piece, or, barring that, to die at her side.

"If anything goes wrong, I'm the one they'll come after," Haymitch says finally. "Not that you care."

Katniss shrugs. "They'll only come after you if they know you helped. I don't need anything huge. Just information. If you're smart about keeping to yourself, there's no reason they'll find out."

Haymitch barks out a laugh, offering a strange, wry smile. "God, you're a real piece of work." She glares at him, watching his movements carefully as he rises and leans on the arm of the sofa to toe off his boots.

"It's possible," she says. "Isn't it? People don't leave often, but it happens—that Turrell woman, the wife of one of the miners killed in the explosion a few years ago, she decided she couldn't live here anymore. Petitioned to go to—somewhere else, I don't know where. She had to wait for approval, but then she left. It's just that I don't have time to wait for approval. I need to get to another district now."

Haymitch heaves a rough sigh, flopping back onto the couch and rubbing at his chest as though Katniss is giving him indigestion. He takes another quick swig of the whisky, which seems to calm him down.

"It goes faster if you have someone in the district ready to vouch for you, but you'll be…cutting it close getting it all approved. Really cutting it close." He frowns and is silent for a long time. Katniss is good at being quiet, good at letting things lie, but she fidgets impatiently as she waits for him to say more. To keep her hands from shaking, she takes the basket of strawberries from her pack and sets them at her side. She must have forgotten how hungry she was, because by the time she looks down again, half of them are gone. She hasn't eaten since breakfast, and by the sky outside, it must be nearly midnight.

"No," Haymitch says suddenly a few moments later, righting himself in his chair. "If you mean to do this, you'll have to go there in advance, before you're legal, or you'll never get there in time." He helps himself to a handful of strawberries, and she can't find it in herself to be irritated, even if it's some of the only food she's packed for the trip. If he keeps talking, she thinks, and if he actually helpshe can eat the whole basket.

She realizes that Haymitch is staring at her, and it's the strange, judging stare of a buyer studying a horse to decide whether making the purchase will pay off in the end. Katniss sits up straighter in her seat. "I'll do it. Tell me what to do."

He snorts incredulously and shakes his head, considering her still. It must be a full minute before he smiles wryly and replies. "Alright. I'll contact some of the victors from District 3 first thing in the morning, but the rest will be on you. Now, this is the only way this will work: you'll go to District 3 in advance of the paperwork. Make your way to the Victors' Village and find a man named Beetee. I'll ask him if—if—he'll vouch for you and take things from there. But you have to find your own way to District 3, stow away on a train on your own, understand?"

A knot winds and unwinds in Katniss's stomach. The train station in District 12 is used mostly for the transportation of goods and Peacekeepers only. No one Katniss knows has ever ridden on a train, except for a handful of miners chosen to explore a cave in District 6 that had been thought to hold mineral deposits. "Stow away?" she echoes.

"Losing your nerve?"

"No," she says quickly, though her stomach still churns. "How do I do it?"

"The trains that come and go here are rarely ever full. Take the outside of one of the last compartments. Don't try go get in by unlocking the door—unless you've got a Peacekeeper's code, it'll set off an alarm. There are ladders going up the backs of most of the cars. You'll have to hang on. It's a long ride."

Katniss nods, swallowing. "Alright. How do I find one going to District 3?"

"That part's on you, sweetie," Haymitch replies, taking another swig of the alcohol. "That's all I've got for you."

Katniss swallows again, throat suddenly dry. When Haymitch sets the whisky on the coffee table to reach for the strawberries, she picks the bottle up and takes a swig. It burns her throat, and she winces and coughs. "You leave tomorrow with Prim?" she asks.

"Tomorrow," he agrees, taking the bottle as she offers it back to him. "Train leaves first thing to go straight to the Capitol. But they won't let you see her again," he warns.

"I know. I wasn't…" she trails off before she can finish the lie.

He nods. "Sure you weren't." He gulps down the rest of the whisky and lies back on the couch again. "You know, Katniss, that's a real death wish you've got and all, but it'll be priceless to see the faces in the Capitol once they've realized what you've done. If you get there. Hell, you even make it as far as District 3 and I'll be impressed."

Something of her anger must flush across her face, because Haymitch bellows a laugh. "Nothing personal. We'll see and all."

Katniss stands, pulling the bag back over her shoulder. She feels restless, anxious, and she needs to leave soon. "You'll call…Beetee. In the morning, you'll call him?"

"I'll call him," Haymitch replies, still grinning. If he's displeased by her abrupt departure, he doesn't show it. "It's all you from here on out."

She heads for the door, leaving the remaining strawberries as the last of her pay to him, what little she can afford. Before she reaches the threshold, he calls out to her.

Katniss turns to find him peering over the back of the couch. "Even if you don't make it to District 3—even if you're cracked in the head—you're doing a good thing," he says seriously. "A damn good thing."

Before she can respond, he turns away and settles back into the dust.

Katniss lets herself out into the cold night air. She shivers as she pulls the heavy door closed behind her, turning to face the deserted village and the lonely travels ahead.

.