Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Castle, Once Upon A Time, El Internado or anything else. I might own something in the future, when I write my own books, but for the moment nothing.
The sun wakes me. That, and my dream. I am surprised it was not a nightmare. Instead, it was a good dream. I was with Peeta, and we were sitting on a beach, with sand of the same color of his hair, and the sea as blue as his eyes. I was sitting on his lap, and he was hugging me from behind and kissing me softly in the neck. I feel my cheeks blushing as I think about it. My dreams with Peeta have become intense lately.
The reason why I am surprised I did not have a nightmare? The Reaping. The day of the year I hate the most. The day I know that might end up with either me or someone I love sent to death. Sure, there is supposed to be a chance for everyone that participates in the Hunger Games to win, but here in District Twelve, we think of it as a death sentence. No District Twelve has won since Haymitch Abernathy did in the Second Quarter Quell, and he only comes out of his house at the Victor's Village once a year ever since then. Today.
What the Capitol lovingly calls Tributes, we call walking corpses. Because that is what they are. People that are dead, but do not know it yet.
Today is worse than other years for me, though. Prim is twelve now, which means that she is now eligible for the Reaping. At least, her odds are minimal: one entry in thousands, because I forbid her from taking tesserae out. I have twenty entries in total. Five from each Reaping I have attended (including today's), the rest from the three tesserae I have taken out since I was twelve. Gale has forty-two entries, but at least this is his last Reaping.
I look down at my little sister, who is still sleeping – we sleep together to preserve heat – and a smile comes to my lips. She looks so innocent and happy. Even in the worst moments, she always looks chipper. I can say that it is thanks to me that she still maintains her happy disposition. I am too jaded and cynical from having to be the head of the household and taking care for my mother and Prim, but I know it is worth it every day I see Prim smile.
And here I am, hoping that she will never be Reaped. Because she is so nice that she would die in the first few minutes of the Games, or lose that innocence in the unlikely case she won.
Carefully getting out of bed without waking her up, I clean myself with cold water as best as I can and I put on my hunting clothes. It is early in the morning, and I want to catch some food for today, both for us and for trading. I will be able to make a small feast to celebrate that we have survived another Reaping.
I do not want to think of what might happen if we cannot celebrate surviving a Reaping.
My sister's cat, Buttercup, hisses at me as I pass near it, and I just decide to ignore it. We have never been close, in fact we hate each other. It all stems from the moment I tried to drown it in a bucket. It was so ill that I thought it would never survive, but Prim managed to convince me to give it a chance to live, and she managed to heal it. I admit that it is useful, because he kills any rats and other vermin that may happen to be around, but apart from that there is no love between us.
I take my foraging bag and I leave my house, not surprised to see the streets are almost completely empty. Any other day, this place is full to the brim with men and women walking to the coal mines, ready to extract the mineral for a meager salary. However, today the mines are closed, and the Reaping will not take place until two in the afternoon, so many just sleep in, content to bask on those few extra hours of calm before any of them lose their child forever.
Our house is at the edge of the Seam, which is good, because this way I only have to pass a few gates to reach the Meadow, a plain where only a few weeds grow. Crossing the Meadow means reaching the large chain-link fence that surrounds the entire District Twelve, topped with barbed wire loops. It is supposed to be electrified the entire day, as a deterrent both towards the dangers outside, like cougars or bears, and to keep the people inside and prevent them from escaping.
Fortunately for us, theory and practice do not always coincide, and electricity is only on for a couple of hours every day. The bad part is that it forces us to illuminate our houses with candles when it is off, but it also means that I can get through it without a problem. I first have to check whether it is on, because if it is, it means that I am unlucky for the moment, and will have to try later.
As soon as I reach the fence, I pay attention and listen, but there is little noise beyond that of the birds outside and the wind blowing. That means that the fence is off right now. I find the hole in the fence that has been here for as long as I remember, and make my way through.
I feel right at home here in the woods. I have been here so many times that I could find my way around blindfolded if I wanted to. Everything that I have required to support myself and my family has come from here, from this forest, either directly or by trading.
Picking my bow and arrows from their hiding place, I begin to move into the forest. I have already done my magic to mask my scent, as well as a little trick to listen better. Sometimes, the animals I hunt are so silent that it requires extra attention to find them. Since Gale is going to be coming soon, I do not want to try again the camouflage trick.
I listen something rustle to my left. It is small. I slowly turn my head, and see it is a rabbit. Rabbits sell quite well as a norm, because their soft skin is very good for making things like caps and gloves and their meat is tasty. As it is spring right now, they are even better, because they have already accumulated fat from eating.
I carefully ready my bow, nocking her bow with an arrow and pointing towards the animal. For a few seconds, both of us stand in our place, looking at each other. The rabbit's nose and whiskers twitch and I hold my breath, making sure that the arrow will fly straight.
I let go, and before the rabbit can move, the arrow penetrates its head through its right eye.
I smile, and move to get the rabbit and put it inside my bag.
"Morning, Catnip," someone says next to me as I pick my trophy up. I roll my eyes.
"Good morning, Gale," I reply to my best friend, slightly exasperated. He likes to call me 'Catnip' ever since we met: when he asked me my name, I was so nervous that I said it very low, and he misunderstood me. Trying to get him to stop using it was useless, so I decided to let him call me that. And, besides, I am already used to it.
"So, already making use of your free time?" he asks me with a grin, his bow ready as well.
"Like you are."
"Well, at least it seems that you are not losing much time. One rabbit in, what, a quarter an hour?"
"Ten minutes, actually."
"Not bad, Catnip."
I stick my tongue at him. I may be sixteen, but I still can find ways to behave like a little kid. "How's Rory?" I ask him, knowing that he, being the same age as Prim, is going to be in this year's Reaping for the first time. I know that he had to take out tesserae, because the food shortage affected the Hawthornes a lot.
"Worried. He has six entries this year, and he knows that he might have to take more tesserae next year."
"Well, at least he is not like both of us. Between my twenty and your forty-two, that would be more than enough to compensate."
"I hope so," he replies.
"'May the odds be ever in your favor,'" I say in the snotty accent of the Capitol, making Gale chuckle. "So, should we continue with our hunting? And maybe we should try to find berries to sell," I ask him before we become too sad at the possibility that one of our siblings may not return at all.
In three hours, we manage to kill four more rabbits, we get three more from Gale's snares, a few birds and a big groosling. We also get some nuts from the trees, and pine bark as well. On our way back, we find a bush with berries of which we eat a few before picking many more in a bag to sell, and to my delight, several wild strawberries. Both of us eat one, and the rest goes into a second, big bag.
Unfortunately, by the time we have finished collecting all the strawberries it is time to go back. There are many things we have to do. We have to do the rounds to sell everything we carry, clean up and get ready for the Reaping. Attending the Reaping is obligatory for everyone: you can only stay at home if you are so ill that you might be about to die.
Our first stop is home. We drop the groosling, half the nuts and a few berries at his house. Tonight, after the Reaping takes place, we will pluck it and make dinner for both of our families, to celebrate that Gale will never have to go through the Reaping again and that both Prim, Rory and me have survived for another year.
Then, we go to the Mayor's house. We know he will be busy with the preparations for the Reaping, so we are not surprised when we see Madge open the door.
"Gale, Katniss! Good morning!" she says.
"Morning, Madge," I reply with a smile.
"Morning," Gale says, somewhat gruffly.
I resist the temptation to roll my eyes. I find the situation a bit comical. Madge likes Gale a lot, and Gale is nice to her and all of that, since she is my friend and she is also a good client, but given his general distaste of every person of the Merchant class in the District, it does get compensated.
"So, I guess this is not a social visit," Madge asks.
"No. We found this, and we thought you might like it." I show her the bag of wild strawberries, and she smiles.
"Thank you so much," Madge says, and she hugs Gale. "You are great, both of you. I'll go for the money."
She saunters inside the house, and I look at Gale.
"Why does she hug only me?" he asks aloud.
"I think that there is something interesting going on there, Hawthorne," I tell him, grinning.
"Ha, ha, yeah, that's a good one, Everdeen. As if," he replies.
Poor Gale. So oblivious to what Madge feels. I wonder if I should tell him about it... no, no, no, it would not be nice to tell him how Madge would like to kiss him, and besides, that was something she told me in confidence. Better if she surprises him.
Talking about the devil, there she comes back.
"Nice dress," Gale comments, finally noticing what Madge is wearing.
"Thanks. I... if I get Reaped, I want to look nice."
"Doubt you'll get Reaped. You've never taken out any tesserae."
"I still have five entries in there. Big enough of a chance."
Gale is about to answer, but I drive my elbow into his side before he can say something hurtful.
"So, how much for the strawberries?" I say, hoping to forestall what might be a very bad conversation. Madge names her price, and Gale and I start to haggle with her for the bucket. In the end, we can agree on a price, and she hands us the money. She then hugs Gale again, thanks us again for the strawberries and returns inside.
Gale's dumbfounded look stays with him until we reach our next stop, the bakery's back door.
I am knee deep in making some bread and buns for tonight when my Katniss sense – as I like to call it – activates, and three seconds later, someone knocks on the door.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," I hear Dad say. Wish I could be the one to open the door, but being busy means I cannot answer. Well, I can see her in two minutes, when I finish with this. And maybe I will be able to sneak her a few somethings. A couple of cookies for her and her family? Perhaps a bun?
"Good morning, Katniss, Gale," Dad says, and my spirits dampen a bit. It is not that I have anything against Gale Hawthorne, on a personal level, but I am jealous of his close relationship with Katniss. I would also love to be alone with her, so that I may have a chance to really speak with her. Of course, considering my total inability to confess my feelings in the last five years, it is a miracle that I am actually considering the possibility.
Tomorrow. I will tell Katniss Everdeen that I love her tomorrow. I will just have to hold hope that neither Katniss nor me will be reaped. And that she will not laugh in my face or something like that.
"Morning, Mr Mellark," Katniss replies. Just hearing her makes my heart beat faster. Does she know the effect she has on me? This constant wish to be next to her that I have to suppress because I do not know if she feels the same way? I have to breathe deeply and attempt not to think on who is just a few meters from me in order to finish what I am doing right now.
"I hope that you have been able to enjoy yourselves," Dad tells them. "Especially considering what this day is."
"Yeah. At least, this will be my last Reaping," Hawthorne replies.
"Then, I must wish you good luck. Nasty business." I can almost see Dad shaking his head. This year is Rye's last Reaping, too, which he is glad about. Unlike my mother, though, Dad will not be wholly glad for the next two years, until I get through my last Reaping and we can be happy that our family is, at last, free of that weight. "So, what have you brought me now? Hope there are a few squirrels in there."
"Of course, Mr Mellark. And we also brought a few rabbits and berries with us."
I hear some rustling, and Dad laughs. "Bless you two, kids. People are going to love the tarts we can make from these. You are getting a good price out of these, no doubt about it. Come inside, I am sure you want to sit for a bit before heading back again to sell your things."
Thank you, Dad, I think, half-sarcastically. On one side, I want to see Katniss, but, on the other side, I am not exactly wild on the idea of her seeing me covered in flour. Well, I doubt it matters. She has seen me with smudges of flour on my clothes already, so I doubt this is worse. At least, I am finished with the buns.
Dad chooses this moment to enter the part of the bakery where I am working, and smiles when he sees me.
"Good job, Peeta. Those buns look delicious."
"Why don't you take a rest? I'll put these in the oven. Invite them to a cheese bun." There is little doubt that, when he says 'them', he actually means 'her'.
"Like this?" I ask, pointing out my current state.
"I doubt Katniss will care about it, son," Dad replies, winking at me.
I blush. Out of all my family, Dad is the only one that knows about my true feelings for Katniss. I have not told my brothers because they would probably try to tease Katniss and me – Rye the most – which would certainly blow my attempts to keep it secret, and my mother has an inherent hatred for all Seam people that I have never understood, so telling her I love a girl that is pure Seam stock is bound to make her ear-shatteringly angry with me.
"Dad," I mutter, and Dad laughs.
"Don't worry about these, Peeta. Just get the buns and eat one each. I doubt anyone will care about the buns to notice one or two going missing."
"Mother?" I say.
"She's outside, with her friends. She probably won't be back until an hour before the Reaping," Dad replies, and he moves into the store part to pick three buns, which he gives me before pushing me into the backroom, where Katniss and Hawthorne are waiting.
"Hey," I say, lamely, and I look at both of them. Hawthorne looks bored and tense, as if he is ready to get out of here as soon as Dad pays him. But Katniss is not.
She has had a lot of fun running in the woods. She slept well, but with some agitation at some point. She is worried about the Reaping. She hopes that neither she nor her sister will be picked. She likes being here in the bakery, even if it reminds her of how near she was to death, perhaps because it also reminds her of how she was saved.
She looks away, and I can see a faint blush in her cheeks as she does so. It is almost a ritual, and I love the color that adorns her face when it takes place
"Mellark," Hawthorne says, in a neutral tone that hides some hostility.
"Hi, Peeta," Katniss says, more friendly than her partner.
"Hope you two are OK," I say, offering them what Dad has given me. "I brought you some cheese buns."
"These part of the pay?" Hawthorne asks.
"No. These are on the house. A thank you, if you will."
I hand one to Hawthorne, and then I look at Katniss, who smiles to me before picking the second bun from my hand. She bites into it, and I can see that she really likes the taste by the way her eyes close and her lips curve up.
"Tastes great," she says.
"Thank you," I answer.
"You did them?"
"Yeah. One of the things I do in here, in fact."
"Well, you are good."
"Thank you. Again."
She smiles at me, but then Hawthorne clears his throat, breaking the moment.
"So, what are you going to do now?" I ask, trying to get my bearings back.
"Same as always. Some trading, and then back home to get ready."
"Then, we'll see each other at the square?"
"Sure, why not?" Katniss replies, my heart soars, and I smile at her again.
"Very good," Dad says, entering the room again, and carrying a sack with him. "I think this should be more than enough to cover what you have brought me. And, if you come over here tomorrow, I will give you a berry pie."
"That's... more than generous, Mr Mellark," Hawthorne replies, a bit surprised as he checks the bag.
"I can hardly let the purveyors of my favorite dish go without properly compensating them, right?"
"Thank you, Mr Mellark," Katniss says. "Thank you for the bun, Peeta."
I can only nod before the two of them leave the bakery, probably going towards the Hob, to sell what remains of their hunt and forage. The Hob is the worst kept secret of all of District Twelve. Many Merchants would blast its existence in one breath and slyly trade with them on the next. Dad does not have the same problems with them, although all trade he makes with them is done in secret to avoid angering my mother.
When the door closes behind them, Dad turns around and smiles at me.
"How did it go?"
I shrug. If she had been alone, it would have been easier, but with Hawthorne there, it was impossible.
"Peeta. You should tell her, son. Before something else happens."
"I know. I want to, Dad. But... it's not easy."
"Life's too short, son. If you never tell her, then you'll always wonder what could have happened if you had spoken up."
"And she could reject me. Tell me she loves Hawthorne."
"At least, you would know that you took the chance. I did try. And, yes, it was painful to see her marry another man, but I think it was worth the attempt."
Silence settles for a moment.
"You really loved her. Didn't you, Dad?"
"I'm telling her tomorrow."
"Good." Dad messes up with my hair. "I'm sure she likes you, too. Call it instinct. Now, let's go and finish up before closing and getting ready."
After a series of negotiations at the Hob, Gale and I go back home and see goodbye to each other for now. We have to get ready for one of the things we hate the most, but that we have to do nonetheless.
Fifteen minutes before midday, Mom, Prim and I are walking towards the Main Square, where the Reaping will take place. I am wearing a blue dress from Mom, one from her days as a Merchant girl, from before she married Dad and went to live to the Seam. I dislike wearing dresses, preferring a good set of shirt, pants and boots over anything else, but Mom insisted, and I chose to let her win this one time.
The great influx of people coming to the square from other parts of the District means it becomes a bit difficult to get through as we approach the square, but the adults let us through with just a few words when they see us.
We have to leave Mom behind when we reach the Square proper, because Prim and I must register. Prim has never done this, so I reassure her that it is easy. Just a little prick on the finger to test your blood and confirm you are attending the Reaping.
Just another way the Capitol likes to control our lives. Force everyone to see how they are losing their children and they cannot do a thing about it.
After being tested for our identity, we enter the part of the square that has been cordoned off to hold the children of Reaping age. Girls to the right, boys to the left. I have to let Prim go, because twelve year old children have to stand next to the podium, to better introduce them to the horror of this ceremony. I stand with the sixteen year old girls, next to Madge, who is wearing the same dress I saw her when Gale and I visited her. The only change is a golden pin currently attached to her dress collar. It looks like a bird of sorts.
From my vantage point, I can see Gale with the eighteen year old boys. He waves at me, and I reply. His brother Rory is up in front, with the boys of his age, and I am sure that Prim has already waved at him.
A gaze on the boys my age easily find my other objective.
Peeta Mellark. He is looking at me. His blue eyes are looking at me. I like them. They remind me of the sky, of the lake in the forest. But now, they hold a resolution that I did not see this morning, when Gale and I went to trade to the bakery.
And I have the feeling that this resolution has nothing to do with the threat of the Hunger Games hanging over our heads.
It seems that everyone is already here, because the square falls into silence. The Mayor, Madge's father, steps on the podium and begins the typical speech over the Dark Days, the Rebellion, the Hunger Games, why they happen, why the Capitol has to do all of this and all that tripe no one believes about participating in the Games being an honor. At most, the only honor the tributes have is that of giving the families of those who are not chosen another year with their children, staving off their deaths.
And this is the moment everyone dreads. Effie Trinket steps on the podium and walks to the microphone. Sitting right behind her is Haymitch Abernathy, already drinking from his flask of white liquor I know he buys at the Hob. By the way he is swaying around, I can guess that he is already drunk. I wonder how hard it is for him. For twenty-three years, he has been living only with the company of his alcohol, and he has been forced to train two kids every year just to see them die days later. If it were me, I might probably also go a bit mad.
Effie Trinket, with a garish pink dress and an ugly white wig that makes me wish for my bow and arrows and a fire to shoot it down, begins to speak on the microphone. Same drivel as the Mayor, about the honor that being here in District Twelve is for her. As if. Anyone with a brain can see that she hates this place, and would love to get out of here and stop being our District's escort. But, until someone from here wins, it is unlikely to happen.
"And may the odds be ever in your favor!" Effie says, bringing her speech to an end. "Now, let's see who are the lucky boy and girl who will become District Twelve Tributes!" she says, cheerfully, ignoring the sullen looks she is getting from everyone in the square. "Girls first!" she says, moving for the bowl that contains all the girls' entries.
I start chanting on my head. Not me, not me, not me, not me...as Effie Trinket picks up one of the entries and moves to the microphone to read it.
And her next words prove to me that, not only are the odds not in my favor, but that, if there is some kind of spirit of luck or something, it certainly hates me, or has a very bad sense of humor. Because the chosen entry is certainly not me.
As soon as I hear those two words, I look towards Katniss, knowing what this is going to do to her. She loves her sister more than anything else in the world, and she is going to be crushed. It is always tough to see this happen, but personally knowing the Tribute, or a relative of them, makes it harder.
It is a minor thing, nothing when compared to this, but I find it hurtful when I realize that trying to tell Katniss about my feelings would not be a good thing. And then I am disgusted with myself for even thinking that is minimally important. I just hope that Gale will be there to support her.
When I look at her, I see her panicked face, her open eyes. And she is moving forward, trying to push everyone out of her way, her lips moving in silence. At first. Because then, she begins to speak up.
"No, no, no, no. Prim! Prim! Stop! STOP RIGHT NOW!" she shouts, pushing people out of the way in her attempt to reach her sister.
My heart breaks for her. The desperation in her voice is audible to everyone in the square. But Prim is now the Tribute for District Twelve. She tries to step between Prim and the podium, but there is nothing she can do...
"I VOLUNTEER! I VOLUNTEER AS A TRIBUTE!"
… except for that.
Volunteers are something that mostly happens in Districts One, Two and Four. They are called the "Career Tributes" because they train for participating in the Hunger Games since the moment they become eleven, even though it is technically illegal, and they actually consider participating in the Games an honor, instead of an horror, like everyone else. When in the arena, they will almost always join in a team, only to go after each other when everyone else is dead. There is a reason why those three Districts are the ones with the most Victors (District Twelve, with two winners in total, is the one with the least).
Out of those three Districts, though, volunteering is hardly done. If someone does get chosen, then all other children will feel glad that they were not. In District Twelve, no one has ever volunteered in seventy-two editions of the Hunger Games.
Until today, that is.
I see a crying Prim trying to hold onto her sister, only to be taken away by a crying Madge Undersee and Gale Hawthorne. Everyone is looking at the image that is now present before them, amazed and terrorized in equal parts. Many here know Katniss, and many know how much she dotes on her sister, but taking it so far so as to volunteer herself for the Games... it is nothing short of heroic.
"What is your name, dear?" Effie asks, oblivious to the dramatic situation that has just taken place.
"Katniss Everdeen," she replies.
"Oh, my. I bet my buttons that that was your sister. Am I right?"
"It was very nice of you to do this for your sister. One applause for Katniss Everdeen, the girl tribute for District Twelve!" Effie exclaims.
No one applauds. No one ever applauds in here when someone gets Reaped. It is one of the few ways we can express some kind of rebellion against the Capitol.
But then, I see Madge putting her left hand to her mouth, and slowly everyone else does the same. I imitate them, kissing my left hand's three middle fingers. The whole square does it. And then we hold our fingers out towards Katniss.
It is an old gesture. Normally, it is only seen at funerals. It means thanks. It means admiration. It means goodbye to a person you love. And Katniss is receiving this treatment from all of District Twelve. Because, with this gesture, she has become a hero to us all.
I do it because I admire her. Because I think she is the most magnificent girl I know. Because it might be the only way I can tell her I love her. I try to fight my tears as I feel how she is already slipping away from here.
I look at her. She is looking at her sister, but then she looks at me, straight into her eyes. I can see she is scared, but determined to not show it. That she would prefer to be anywhere else but over that podium. I wish I could take her from there, to carry her away and make sure she will never have to go
"I like her. She's got... spunk!" Haymitch, who has stood up from his chair, drunkenly shouts, to everyone's surprise. The silence had been almost overwhelming, and his interruption shocks many. "More than you. Than any of you!" he says, pointing out to no one in particular – although I think he is looking at the camera – as he waves his other arm. He becomes interrupted when he trips and falls from the podium.
I think that it is too much of a coincidence that he has chosen to interrupt things just now. His shouting and flailing makes everybody look away from Katniss. Was he doing this to give her a few seconds to compose herself? Or to distract the Capitol cameras from the salute? Either way, it does help. I see Katniss close her eyes for a few seconds and breathe, and when her eyes open up, she is the huntress that fears nothing in the world.
Once Haymitch has been taken away in a stretcher to make sure he has not broken anything and the commotion he has caused dies down, Effie recovers her cheerful disposition.
"Let's see who is the one boy that will accompany Miss Everdeen!"
As Effie moves for the boys' bowl, I keep looking at Katniss. I think about how much I wish I could be up there to hug her, to take her away and make sure she does not have to go through the Games...
If there is some kind of spirit that chooses the entries, it certainly has a very bad sense of humor.
As I walk towards the podium, I realize what this means. I am going to die in the Hunger Games, at the age of sixteen, at the hands of another teenager.
As I move up the stairs, I look at Katniss, and I see that her earlier determination has mellowed a bit. I wonder if that is good, but I soon push that thought away.
As I shake hands with Katniss, I cannot avoid running my thumb over the back of her hand. I am sure I am imagining it, but there is a slight blush in her face, but she is still looking at me instead of away.
And, as Effie Trinket presents us both as the Tributes of District Twelve, I realize that, even if I die, I still can do something for Katniss.
Anything to make sure Katniss survives. Until the moment I die, I will work to ensure that Katniss Everdeen becomes the Victor of the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games.
They take us to the Justice Building, surrounded by Peacekeepers. They want to make sure that we do not try to escape our "fate". Of course, I am not stupid enough to try it, especially after the stunt I pulled. If I did and was successful, then Prim would again be the one on the way towards the Capitol. And I cannot do that to my sister.
The last I see of Peeta before we are put in separate rooms is him looking at me. He is sad, yet determined. Is he already preparing himself for what lies ahead? For the bloodbath that will ensue as soon as we enter the arena?
For killing me?
Just thinking about that hurts me. I do not know why. I wish I could read his mind, to know what thoughts are running through there.
The room I am in is sparsely decorated. Quite functional, but with high quality furniture. I snort. A gilded cage for the soon-to-be corpses.
The door opens, and I am tackled by Prim, who is crying a river. I pick her up, holding on my tears. I need to be strong. At least, until I can be sure I will not be interrupted. I need to be strong for my little sister, because I know that she is going to need to feel that I have some hope of actually winning.
Mom stays a step back, but then sniffs and holds us both in a tight embrace.
It has been a lot of time since Mom last hugged me of her own volition. Just the same morning of the day Dad died in the explosion. She had helped me and Prim put on our coats, hugged and kissed us both, and sent us on our way to school with a smile. The last we have ever seen of her.
"I'm so sorry, Katniss," I hear Mom say between sobs. I try not to be angry with her. I am, actually, but I try not to show it. It will not be worth the effort to show how angry I am with Mom. For abandoning Prim and me when we needed her the most, and for forcing me to become the head of the household and work to ensure that none of us went hungry.
When we finally calm down, I look straight at Mom. "Mom, now I need you to be strong. You can't just fade away like you did when Dad died. Prim is going to need you now more than ever. You have to get back on your feet and become the apothecary again. Can you do that?"
Mom is struggling, but she knows I am right. "I can."
"Good. Now, Gale and I had a deal. He will bring you meat and plants every Sunday. You can make a small patch for medicinal plants in the backyard. With that, and Lady's milk, you can survive. It will be tight, but you'll be able to do it. And Prim, I forbid you from taking out any tesserae. At all. Do you understand me?"
Prim, her eyes red and her nose sniffling, looks to me. "But, what if..."
"No, no what ifs, no buts, no maybes. You are to stay away from the Justice Building. Mom, make sure she does not do it, please."
"I will, Katniss."
"Katniss," Prim says. "You have to win, OK? You have to win and come back home."
I do not have the heart to tell her that I will probably die in the arena, hopefully from something that kills me as painlessly as possible, but if it is a Career then he will probably try to draw it out. I just hope that Mom or someone will cover Prim's eyes when that happens.
"I'll try to win, Prim," I say instead, and that is the best thing I can do.
Someone knocks on the door, and it opens. It is Darius, one of the Peacekeepers.
This triggers more tears from Prim. It is going to be the last time she sees me, unless I achieve the almost impossible and win. I hug her, kiss her two or three times in the cheek, and then let her on the ground, trying to make her go before she is pulled away forcefully. Mom manages to pry Prim away from me, and soon they are leaving. The last time I will probably ever see them.
I sit down on a chair and try to rein on my emotions. I do not want anyone to know that I have been crying. If I have to, I will wait until I am in the train, where I am sure I will be able to find some place to close myself in and cry to my heart's content.
The door opens again, and I am not surprised to see it is Gale. He takes me into his embrace. Desperate embrace.
"Catnip, why did you do this?" he asks me.
"I couldn't let Prim go there! She would die way too soon!" I reply, angrily.
"I know. I wanted to make sure you didn't do it for some stupid reason."
Despite myself, I snort.
"Look, you have to get your hands on a knife and a bow."
"Knife, sure, but a bow? I doubt that the Gamemakers will put a bow in there."
"Then, make yourself one."
"Are you sure there will be any wood?"
"Given that the last time there was no wood nearly all the Tributes died of hypothermia, I doubt they will risk it."
I remember that one. It was one of the first Hunger Games I remember seeing. The Tributes had been dropped in a land covered with snow and no trees at all. The Victor was a Career that managed to steal the clothes from the two Tributes he killed, staying warm for long enough to see how about three quarters of the others died because of the weather. He actually lost several fingers and toes because of frostbite. The Gamemakers thought it was boring, though, because from that moment on there would always be some trees.
"It will be a weak bow."
"Better that than no bow."
He is right. We stay hugging for a few more moments.
"I'll hold up to my end of the deal, Katniss. Don't worry about it."
"Thanks. At least, I can be glad that I'll have my big brother taking care of my family," I try to joke, something hard when I know what is going to happen to me.
The strange sound that comes out of Gale is certainly not a laugh.
"Is... is that how you think of me?"
OK, that is really not the comment I expected.
"Well... yes." I look up, and I see that Gale is looking at me in a really weird way.
Darius opens the door. "Sorry, Hawthorne, time's over."
"Damn it, Darius!" Gale shouts, angry.
"I'm sorry, but you have spent here more than enough time to tell her whatever you wanted to. Up you go, before I have to get you out on my own."
Gale glares at the Peacekeeper, but he seems unaffected by it, so he turns to me.
"Katniss, please, come back. Win those damned Games and come back here."
"... Right," I answer, wondering what is going on with him. It looked like he was going to tell me something important, and then just gives me a comment that certainly does not deserve such anticipation. Gale leaves the room then, pushing Darius out of the way.
Before Darius closes the door, someone else manages to enter.
"Katniss!" Madge says, passing through the door and hugging me. I return the hug my only female friend is giving me. "I thought I wouldn't get to say something before you left."
"I'm glad you are here, you know. I wanted to ask you something. Try to give Gale a chance, please. I know you like him, and I am sure he will realize soon that you are great for him."
She smiles a bit, and I get the feeling that she knows something that she does not want to share.
"I would love to do it. I just wish he would actually notice me."
"He does notice you. He's a boy, so that's probably why he doesn't show it."
Madge snorts. "I think there's other reasons for that, but thank you." She puts her hand in her pocket. "I came here... well, you know how they let you wear one thing from your District in the arena, to remind you of home? I would like it to be this." She takes her hand out, and I see the pin she was wearing before, during the Reaping. Now that it is near, I can see what it is.
A small golden bird, attached to a ring by its wing tips, carrying an arrow in its beak. A mockingjay. A mix of a jabberjay muttation and a mocking bird. Dad loved mockingjays, because they would always reply to him whenever he sung.
"It was my aunt's. Maysilee Donner. She was one of the tributes in the Quarter Quell, with Haymitch Abernathy. She placed fifth then."
"Madge, this... this is a lot." And it is. It looks like it is made of pure gold. Just by selling it, I am sure it could keep a family fed with bread for several months.
"I know what you are thinking, Katniss. It is unfair that I have something that could help so many people. Thing is, I doubt anyone would accept this as a payment, not even in the bakery. And, well... from what I know of my aunt, I'm sure that she would have loved to see you carry it. Here, let me," she says, and puts the pin on the neck of my dress. "There. You are ready to show the Capitol you are Victor material."
"Thank you." I do not tell her that I think I will not be close to that. Instead, I hug her.
"Come back, OK? Wish you and Peeta could make it, though."
I suddenly wonder how Peeta is. I have been so overwhelmed by this situation that I have paid no thought to him. I know he is a fellow tribute, and as such a potential enemy... but he is also the boy that saved me twice. And I owe him for that.
"Yeah," I reply, softly. Madge has to leave, though, and soon I am alone again, waiting for the Peacekeepers to take me to the train.
However, the door opens again, and I find to my surprise Mr Mellark is the one crossing the door.
"Hello, Katniss," he says, gently. I can see his eyes are red. "I wish I could be meeting you again in better circumstances."
"So do I," I reply, thinking of my barter visits to the bakery's backroom. Mr Mellark smiles sadly, and shakes his head.
"I think we are not talking about the same thing, Katniss. Anyway, I wanted to tell you... whatever happens in the arena, whether you win or you lose... I'll keep an eye on your sister. I'll make sure she and your mother are well fed."
"Thank you," I whisper, shocked. Here I am, ready to go somewhere where I will have to fight his youngest son to death, and he comes to tell me that he is going to do what I will be unable to do anymore. I can see where Peeta gets his generosity from. The same generosity that saved my life years ago.
Mr Mellark steps forward, and hugs me. This is an even greater shock to me. I try to return the hug and keep my tears in. For years, the only man that has hugged me is Gale, but Mr Mellark's embrace reminds me of Dad, of how he would hug me every day, whether it be when he came from working in the evening or when it was Sunday morning and he brought me to the woods with him.
Before I break down, he stops the hug and kisses me on the top of the head. "Don't worry about anything, Katniss. You take care of yourself, and I'll do what I can to take care of your family."
I nearly point out that taking care of myself might involve his own son's death, but I shut up. He also gives me a small package.
"I had brought this for Peeta, but he thought that you might like it better."
I nod and sort of smile to him, which he answers with a smile of his own, and he then leaves, closing the door behind him.
I was visited by very few people while in the Justice Building.
First, it was my family. Dad, Marko, Rye and my mother. Dad hugged me and asked me to be as careful as possible, which is a bit ironic considering the situation I am in, and also subtly pointed out that I have many abilities at my disposal. Marko just tried to make me remember better times. Rye said that, considering my wrestling ability, I could just tackle the others into the ground.
Mother just said that she was glad District Twelve would finally have a winner. For a second, I actually believed she thought I had a chance. But her next words clearly showed what she thought.
She's a survivor, that one.
I mean, Katniss is a Seam girl. It is not that I hold that against her, in fact I love everything about her, but... my mother irrationally hates all Seam people, and still thinks Katniss has more chances than me. Not that she is not right, but some support would have been nice.
Next came Delly Cartwright. I could easily see that she was devastated. I wish I could have reassured my sister in all but blood that I will not have to go to the Hunger Games, that I will come back from there, but it is impossible, so I settled for talking with her and calm her down. She gave me a leather and thread bracelet we had made when we were little children: when we did it, it was far too big for either of us to wear it, but now it surprisingly fit in my wrist. She asked me to use this as my District token, and after I told her I would do so, she kissed me in the cheek and said goodbye.
My last visitor was a bit of a surprise. Gale Hawthorne came in, really furious, and told me quite clearly that, if I either let Katniss be harmed or I played a role in her death, I should count on not living more than a day after I arrived to District Twelve as a Victor. He calmed down a bit when I told him that my plan was to ensure Katniss survived, but I am not sure that he actually believed me. Considering the look he gave me when he was saying that, I suspect that his reasons for wanting Katniss to return home are not entirely friend-like. I wonder if Katniss actually knows this, because, as far as I know, she has never given any inkling about knowing what Hawthorne feels for her.
After a few hours enclosed in the Justice Building, they finally let us out. We are taken to a car, where we are sitting with Effie and Haymitch, who looks unaffected by the fall he took during the Reaping. Effie talks non-stop about what we should be expecting to see when we arrive to the Capitol, but I pay little attention to her. I just look at Katniss, who seems equally uninterested in Effie's prattling, preferring to look out of the car's window as everything passed by.
When we are in the middle point of our travel to the train station, a small bump on the road shakes the car. Katniss stops looking outside, and chooses to look at me. I try not to blush at the fact that she has caught me staring at her, and she produces the first smile since we were Reaped. It is small, hardly noticeable, but it makes her face illuminate. I look down for a second at her hand, wishing I could grab it, but I do not know how well she would take it.
We reach the train station, and I see that there is a lot of people here that have come to watch us two go. Whether it is to say goodbye, or to wish us luck or our safe return, I do not know. Effie is the first to get out of the car, waving at everyone in the station as she comes into the train. Haymitch goes next, almost tumbling around because he is still drunk, but manages to get on the train without falling again and wave at the people.
Then, it is Katniss' and my turn. I get out first and wait for Katniss to come out of the car to close the door. We walk in step towards the train door, and we are met by Effie when we step inside.
"You two, stay there and wave until the door closes!" she says. I stop myself from fully entering the train, and do as Effie says. Katniss takes a second longer, but she does the same.
As we wave goodbye, looking at the people we have lived with for our whole lives, and who we – at least me – will probably never see again, my left hand seeks Katniss' right hand. It is something completely accidental, involuntary. But today has been the nearest I have been to the girl I love in years. Just shaking her hand before has left me wanting for more.
I want to hold her hand.
I want to hold her in my arms.
I want to kiss her until we both need to breath.
I want to worship her entire body.
I want to make love to her.
I want to have a toasting with her.
I want to have children with her.
I want to grow old next to her.
I want her to be my everything.
I want me to be her everything.
And now, I will not be able to have any of that.
Is it any wonder that I am trying to find just a little bit of solace?
My little finger seeks hers. A small gesture, to draw comfort from her presence. My finger finds hers, and carefully hooks up around it.
The feeling is more than enough to make my heart beat just a little faster. I am sure that, if I look down, I will see the sparks flying.
But it does not end in there.
As we begin to lose sight of our home, her finger slowly disentangles from mine. The loss only lasts a few seconds, though, because, as the door finally closes and the train begins to move, her fingers interlace between mine.
A/N: Well, that's Chapter 1!
I hope that it was good enough for you guys, because you know I love it when my chapters are loved.
The entire story is going to be written from the point of view of both Katniss and Peeta, alternating between the two of them. I'll make it so that Katniss relates the first scene in every chapter and Peeta does the last one.
There are things in here that I am sure you are going to claim are showing the characters a bit OOC, and I cannot help but have the feeling that Peeta sounds a bit strange, but, if you want, you can put it down to the fact that Katniss has actually noticed him and they speak with each other (yeah, it's not a lot, but, well, better that than nothing) and the actual connection between them.
As you can see, events played out quite similarly to what happened in the book, but there are enough different elements to show how things have changed because of magic. You can also easily imagine what was Gale about to say when Darius interrupted them ( why he does not say it? He got uncomfortable with the idea of saying it in front of someone else).
And, now, something that will be interesting for you guys: a recommendation for a The Hunger Games fanfic. Since I am sure many of you already know the excellent "When the Moon Fell in Love with the Sun", I'll give you one that is probably not as well known: "Rebel" by HGRomance (Story ID: 8609804). Peeta is a rebellious boy that gets in trouble at every moment, while Katniss is an eighteen year old Amish girl. None of them is likely to change paths, but when Peeta is sent to help at the Everdeen's farm for the autumn harvest, things will change for both of them in ways neither would have imagined.
Finally, the answers to the reviewers:
DaynetheGamer: if/when I reach the Tracker Jacker part, there will be a bit of a magical twist, I assure you of that.
Nightwing 509: I am glad you liked it. I also hope that this chapter is also to your taste.
DeliciousBlood: glad that you have such a good opinion!
pumpkinking5: if you are a Harry Potter fan, then you can recognize this (magic suddenly acting in the moment a child needs it most) as "accidental magic". That's where I drew the idea of how Katniss and Peeta discover their magic from, actually. However, the similarities between HP magic and MDB magic more or less end here: in Harry Potter, a wizard/witch has to use a wand and a set of precise incantations and movements to do most magic (Animagus transformations and Disapparation being among the few exceptions), while in here, the sorcerers/sorceresses mold magic up to their needs, and it is through experimentation that they make new ideas (which both Katniss and Peeta have done already). Their parents would have learned about this sooner or later, as Katniss or Peeta would have been in such a situation where their accidental magic activated. And, well, there are more reasons for the connection Peeta and Katniss feel than just that. Also, I did not want to use wizard/witch to define magic users because I'd rather use it to define Peeta's mom.
Guest: first place, would it hurt so much to give a name? Second place, I am sorry for using the numbers given by the film to state Katniss' height and weight, but it was the best thing I could do. Maybe I could have shaved off a few inches from Katniss' height (3-4 inches), but, well, now it is going to stay there. I do hope that, in spite of this, you will still keep reading.