Warning: this one got a little darker than intended, there're some threats of violence and sexual innuendo, but I don't think it's too bad.
Trading Troubles--"Will you wait for me, Katniss?"
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"Hey pretty girl, what you got there?" A young man with greasy black hair called to Katniss as she walked by.
"Go away, Cadd," Katniss said, holding her bag tightly in front of her and focusing on making it to the Hob. Cadd was a low-life who made his way by stealing and swindling in the streets of the Seam.
"Where's your boyfriend this fine evening?"
"Gale's not my boyfriend." She was not in the mood for their antics.
"Come on, we're just curious." He called as he ran up to her, his friend Scrapper following closely behind. "What would a sweet girl like you be taking to a place like that at this hour?" His voice dripped with mock-concern.
"You're not up to no good, now are you?" the other taunted.
"No," Katniss said with a heavy breath, looking down.
She realized why Gale kept telling her not to go to the Hob alone. She could practically hear his voice ringing in her ears...I don't want you to go alone, Catnip.
Why? You think I'll gyp you? she'd said almost playfully back at him, but her smile flickered when she saw a shadow cross Gale's eye.
He took a deep breath, "Katniss, will you wait for me, please? We can go tomorrow?
"I guess," she'd huffed, before leaving Gale to deliver the coal he sometimes did for extra money. She was halfway home when she decided to just go to the Hob that night and get the trading over with. This will save us both time tomorrow, she told herself, and Gale is just being ridiculous, though now, she wasn't so sure.
"You're not headed to the Hob, now are you?" Cadd was uncomfortably close to her.
"No," she said again, huffing resolution and trying to stay focused.
"It attracts criminals and such," Cadd cackled, his smile like a slice in his skin.
"You'd know about that more than me," she said.
Cadd laughed and clapped, as if to tell Katniss she were doing a good job. "Is that so?"
Her eyes darted to each man, uncertain, but also challenging. "Yes."
Scrapper agreed. "You won't mind if we just have a little looksie, then?" Scrapper giggled gleefully as he snatched for her bag, but she pulled it away from him, knocking his arm as she did. "Ohh," he mouthed with an impressed smile, "feisty." But as she moved against Scrapper, his friend, Cadd was able to grab her bag, twisting it from her as the loop tangled her arm.
"Oww," she gasped more in surprise than pain as she turned her attention to Cadd and tried to wiggle free and reclaim it. "Let go!" she said with a rising voice, but Scrapper put his hand over her mouth and pulled her around the corner.
"Now we can do this the easy way, or the fun way. We'll let you decide," He almost purred, his breath running across her skin and making her stomach sink.
She stopped fighting for her bag and let Cadd have it.
"Aww," he said, somehow sounding both gleeful and disappointed, "I was hoping you'd pick the fun way," he laughed as he dumped out the content of her bag. "Now, what do we have here," he said, kicking the items with his foot: two pelts Gale'd made, several folds of herbs from her mother, some arrows and dried meat.
"Anything good?" Scrapper said, his breath slogging across her skin again. Katniss felt the need to control her gag reflex. Why hadn't she just waited for Gale like he wanted?
"Nah," Cadd said, kicking her stuff to the side and stepping on it as he walked over to Katniss. Katniss tried not to let her fear and anger show. "You're not a very good criminal, are you?" He said, voice dropping as getting close. "No smokes, no booze. Tell me, pretty, you got anything else we might like?" He flicked the end of her braid and got uncomfortably close. Katniss tried to break free, but Scrapper was holding her tight.
"Let go of me," Katniss tried to say, though the words barely made it through her lips as she tasted Scrapper's grimy finger as he forced it in her mouth. She tried to mumble again, but the grip just got tighter.
. . .
Gale wiped the sweat from his brow and waved goodbye to the Marple's after dropping off his last load of coal for the evening. Despite his perspiration, he could feel the cold night air curve around him, and he tightened his jacket as he pushed the wheelbarrow back to the mines. A few pieces rattled in the bottom as he walked. This is what Gale had been counting on-he not only volunteered for this job for the few coins tossed his way by the mine's foreman, who'd been a friend of his father's, but also for the scraps he could take home to his family and Katniss's. Gale collected what turned out to be a decent amount of coal from the bottom. This is going to be enough to get us all through the week, he thought happily as he scooped the coal shards into his bag.
"Thanks Mr. Tucker!" Gale said, returning the wheelbarrow as he stuffed his blackened and cold hands in his pockets, holding the coins tight in his fist so they didn't fall through the hole he felt in the bottom of one. He marched off to Katniss's house to give her her share of the coal.
"Gale," Mrs. Everdeen said, surprised to see him at the door. "What brings you by? Is Katniss okay?"
Now Gale was surprised, "Umm, she's not here?"
"No," her mother said, her mouth twitching from warm smile to a worried frown. "I thought she was still with you."
"Oh, she's probably still trading at the Hob," Gale said, trying to reassure Mrs. Everdeen and knowing exactly that's where Katniss must have gone, "she likes to drive a hard bargain, you know,"
"Right…Well, thanks for the coal, Gale, you really didn't have to."
"Of course I did. Take care." His face didn't betray his concern and he said goodbye.
"Good night dear." Katniss's mother waved.
Gale held the smile until the door shut, and as soon as it did, he broke into a jog directly towards the Hob.
Gale cursed silently as his pace quickened towards the Hob. Of course Katniss didn't listen to him, she never did, she was so stubborn, though, to be fair, he thought, he didn't really explain his reasoning, he just didn't want scare her. But he knew the things people were staring to say about her, and he knew what the guys were thinking were always worse. What the guys at school had said was bad enough, the one's who'd noticed she'd developed and liked her look of dark mystery. He'd heard the occasional comment, seen many eyes linger too long, the licked lip, breathy mutter. Gale tried not to overreact when he'd first heard the comments, he didn't want to overstep his bounds or imply anything. But one day one of his classmates went too far, and before he'd even had the chance to think, he fist was in the other boy's face. That boy got one good punch in, giving Gale a black eye, but one punch only. He made sure it'd be the last good punch anyone ever got on him. And the last sleezy comment anyone made about Katniss. But that was only at school, and the guys at the Hob...Now, Gale was running.
. . .
The harder Katniss struggled, the tighter Scrapper's hold became and the more Cadd laughed. "Ohh come on," he said, "we just want a looksie," he laughed as his hand began to slide up her shirt.
Katniss tried to scream, again causing Scrapper's hand to cup her mouth. Which is exactly what's she been hoping for. This time she bit down, and hard.
"What the, damn!" he cried, in shock and pain he let go.
Out from his control, Katniss swiftly hit Cadd, nearly breaking his nose the way Gale'd taught her too after she'd asked him how to fight. He too was caught off guard and cursed as his hands cupped his face.
"You little-" she kicked him swiftly in the shin, and before he could finish his insult, he lost his balance and tripped over himself as he tried to restabilize.
Katniss frantically grabbed her bag and a handful of her things, leaving the rest behind, she stuffed them into her bag and quickly ran out of the alley.
As she turned the corner, she could hear them recovering themselves and coming after her.
"Now, you're going to get it." Scrapper threatened. He was angry. His friend wasn't.
"So you do choose the fun way," Cadd said in a singsong tone, he laughter already assaulting her.
Katniss picked up her face, and looked back, seeing them gain on her, as she turned the next corner.
She nearly smacked into Gale.
"Whoa..Catnip?" Gale said, completely surprised. He held her at arm's length and looked down at her. She looked horrified, on the verge of tears.
"Gale!" her first tone was desperate, "sorry," she quickly followed, recovering herself.
Gale's brain was trying to figure out what'd just happened when Cadd and Scrapper nearly tripped over themselves, halting as the turned the corner. He looked down at her near-tears and the one bloody nose.
Gale knew it. He immediately guided Katniss behind him and stood protectively in front of her.
"Well, if it isn't the good giant himself," Scrapper said thick with disgust.
Gale didn't say anything but stood solidly in front of her, his eyes almost daring either to take a swing at him.
"Hey, we don't want any trouble."
"Is that so?" Gale said in a cutting voice.
"Yeah, we're just out having a little fun," Cadd said, laughing again. "But you don't look like you're in the mood for fun, so we'll just be on our way." He reached out to his friend and they headed in the opposite direction, leaving only his laughter with them.
"Are you okay?" Gale turned to her, voice suddenly soft. "What happened?"
"I'm fine. They just wanted…" Katniss couldn't make herself look him in the eye. her voice cracked, "they just tried to get my bag."
Gale saw her hands shaking as she held it out to him, as if it were proof of her story and that she'd protected it.
He brought her into a tight hug and for the first time, she didn't push him to let go.