Title: Becoming Ice
Rating: R for language and violence
Word Count: 50,000+ (written for NaNoWriMo)
Summary: The Hunger Games told from Gale and Peeta's point of view.
Disclaimer: This is a fan fiction of The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I did not invent this world or the characters I am using. It is canon, so there are events in this that appear in the novel, as well as pieces of conversation taken out of the novel as well. Anything recognizable is not mine.
A/N: There are spoilers for the first Hunger Games novel in this story! Also, this is unbeta-d. All mistakes are mine and I take full responsibility. :)
The moment the words slip out of her mouth, filled with that false cheeriness officials from the Capitol have, I know my life has ended.
My heart plummets into my stomach, bile immediately rising in my throat. I struggle to inhale, struggle to appear normal and uncaring, to stop the shock from showing on my face; to stop the feeling of dying on the inside. Cameras are trained on the crowd of children, occasionally picking up the expression of faces in the crowd. There are faces of shock that a twelve year old has been chosen, looks of pity from mothers in the crowd, and even a few people that have already begun to weep. I know it will make me a victim to show shock, to show weakness. The other candidates will target me after watching the footage.
I tune the microphone out, refusing to listen anymore. For a moment, I remain frozen, wondering if I can step forward with hundreds of eyes watching me. Why do I still care? I walk toward the stage, forcing my feet to move, pushing others out of my way. My eyes are trained on one thing: the stage. They sense my distress and move to the side easily, allowing me to pass, their murmurs falling silent as I do. I feel a gentle hand on my shoulder, no doubt a friend from school giving an early condolence. I brush it off.
As I get closer and closer, my heart picks up speed, beating so fast it has become a quiet hum, like the heart of a hummingbird. I remember my father explaining it to me as a child: a tiny bird that apparently had flitted from flower to flower, so fast your eyes couldn't keep with its movements. A bird that had gone extinct shortly after the War, now only in textbooks. I feel the same way, weaving through the crowd, heading towards death. The crowd of children thin, then disappear, and I'm now standing at the foot of the stage, my eyes barely able to take in my surroundings.
I search for the one person I know will be here.
And there she is. My gray eyes meet her equally terrified ones as I stepped forward, my arms circling around Prim. I pull her away, tucking her close to my body. She thrashes in my arms, kicking her legs as children do, trying to reach out to her sister, but her small frame does nothing to my six feet, her kicks and small fists hardly noticeable against the pain thundering through my body. I stare, trying to convey my emotions, trying to appear optimistic.
Primrose Everdeen is my declaration of death, even though I know she herself will live. But Katniss Everdeen, her protective sister, will take her place.
Will take my heart.
Will take my life.
Because I've loved her since the day I met her, and nothing will ever change that.
Not even death.
Chapter One of Thirteen:
I can't help but take in the sight of Katniss, in a light blue dress that compliments her hair as it gleans and sparkles, freshly washed, a rarity in the Seam. She's gorgeous, commercially gorgeous, but not the Katniss I know. The one with dirt under her fingernails, her hair messily pulled into a braid and a look of determination and concentration on her face as she pulls her bow back, taking aim. That Katniss is far more beautiful to me.
I may never see that Katniss again.
I nearly laugh out loud at myself. My name will be called next. In that giant glass bowl, 42 of those pristine white slips have Gale Hawthorne written on them, waiting to be picked by the pink-haired woman. Of course I'll get to see my Katniss again.
And then I'll have to kill her.
But I could never kill her. I will die to protect her, killing all the other tributes to let her live.
She's going to survive. I'll make sure of it.
With that thought in mind, I nod to the stage, barely realizing that during my thoughts, Prim has gone limp against me, small whimpers leaving her mouth as she clutches at my good clothes. I take a deep breath to steady my voice.
"Up you go, Catnip."
It comes out weaker than I wished for, badly strained and trembling. Katniss' face blanches at the sound of it. Unable to say anymore, I make my face into stone instead, a gentle reminder for her to do the same. She nods, her face quickly becoming an emotionless mask as she steps up onto the stage. I see her hands tremble slightly before she clenches them tightly into a fist. I want to run on stage with her and protect her from the grinning faces and harsh lights, but I have to take care of Prim. She has to be priority right now.
I step back, pulling Prim with me, her face blotchy and streaked with tears. I walk steadily backwards until I hit the edge of the audience, the lucky ones who don't have to be herded into a pen, waiting for the slaughterhouse. Hands reach out to brush against Prim's arms, her blonde hair, any part of her they can reach. Their eyes are already filled with pity.
That's when my anger emerges, and I pull Prim protectively back towards me, waiting as her mother pushes her way through the crowd. These people have no reason to pity her. Her sister is a survivor, a fighter. She's going to win. Her neighbours and community did nothing to help Prim and Katniss when they were starving, instead watching on as they slowly withered away. Only now do they want to help. Only now do they show kindness because of the Games, probably because of the cameras watching. I'm so completely blinded by anger, outraged at their behaviour. My eyes turned to slits at the people watching and a few actually recoil.
Katniss' mother arrives, her blonde hair so similar to Prim's and nothing like Katniss' shiny dark tresses. Her eyes are rimmed with red and her mouth trembling, so I tower over her small frame, blocking her from the panning cameras and allowing her to compose herself. She sniffs wetly a few times before raising her chin up a notch, pulling Prim towards her and gently stroking her hair.
"Thank you," she whispers to me, and I know it means more than bringing Prim to her.
I open my mouth, searching for a reply, but nothing comes out. What do you say to a woman who is losing a daughter? Even worse, a mother who has to watch her own daughter become an animal, murdering others on national television?
It turns out I don't have to reply. A hand clamps tightly around my arm and I turn to face a Peacekeeper, his face hidden by a protective shield. His voice was a controlled monotone, completely indistinguishable or unique. He's just a body with a gun.
"Get back into your place. They're about to announce the male tribute".
Back to my place in the slaughterhouse line, then. Katniss' mother reaches her hand out, but I've barely touched it before I'm being pulled away, back into the front of the male crowd.
On stage, they're still congratulating Katniss for volunteering, and my stomach rolls at their happiness. Katniss picks strawberries every week, special for the mayor, and yet he smiles along with the rest of them. Hatred courses through me. This is no special honour - it's a sacrifice.
The pink-haired woman turns to the audience, her thrilled expression completely incredulous.
"Come on, everybody! Let's give a big round of applause to our newest tribute!" she shouts out to the crowd.
But nothing happens, silence spreading across square. No one wants to play this ridiculous charade. A twelve year old girl was called only minutes before, and now her sister, a major part of our community, has volunteered to die in her place. The only explanation we get is because it's 'fun'. It's nothing that deserves clapping.
So I do the first thing that comes to mind. Something I've only seen once in my life, at my father's funeral. I hold my three middle fingers on my left hand as far out as I can - gaining attention from the audience - bring them to my lips gently, then raise them to Katniss. Slowly, amazingly, others follow, and soon the entire audience has done it.
A gesture to say goodbye to a loved one. My loved one.
The moment is broken by old Haymitch, the only living District Twelve winner of the Hunger Games, throwing his arm around Katniss. I see her flinch. He probably smells horrible.
"I like her! Lots of...spunk!" he says.
With that last word, he falls off stage, unconscious. But my eyes, as always, are on Katniss. I watch as she allows herself only a second for fear to escape before she pulls herself together, clasping her hands tightly behind her back, her posture stiff. To the audience, she looks like she's preparing for battle. Only I know this is a sign of anxiety.
Now it's the boys turn, and I take a shaky breath. The cameras pull away from Katniss to follow the pink-haired woman, whose wig is slightly tilted now, as she moves towards the giant glass bowl. The boys around me draw a collective breath. We're all eighteen, and all our names are in there at least seven times, if not more. But coming from the Seam, I know I have the most. My eyes are trained on Katniss when the woman plucks a slip of paper out of the bowl. I lift my foot, preparing to step forward.
My foot is still in mid-step when she cries it out. Peeta Mellark. There must be some mistake. She read it wrong. But how could Peeta be confused with Gale?
It's not me. I wasn't called. Relief floods into my veins, but only for a second. It stops when I focus back on Katniss.
I watch relief flutter over her features as her hands unclench ever so slightly. I know she's thinking about me. I know her so well. She's thinking now that I can take care of her family and mine while she's away. That District Twelve didn't lose both of its hunters.
But I've lost my chance to protect her.
Peeta, a stocky boy with dark blonde hair, slowly walks up the steps to the stage, and I can see he's as nervous as Katniss is. He's desperately trying to conceal it, tightening his lips, avoiding the crowd. From a hunter perspective, I know he has no chance of surviving. To me, he's an innocent lamb who knows nothing of the world. As the camera zooms in on his face, he looks familiar, but I can't place him. Possibly the son of someone I sell my game to. But as he steps on stage, Katniss' face leaps with recognition and somehow turns paler than it already is. Her mouth becomes a thin line, and the giant screens pick up on her face as she turns away from him.
Somehow, she knows him - probably before my time - and she doesn't want him on that stage. But even my curiosity doesn't stop the hurt inside me. Peeta is turning a little green on stage, and I know he won't protect her.
For the first time comes the raw fear that I might actually lose her.
I spend the rest of the reaping bouncing on the balls of my feet, wanting to leave immediately to visit Katniss. As soon as it finishes, Katniss and Peeta are ushered into a room in the Justice Building (to keep them from fleeing) and the stage slowly empties. I stand for a moment, watching her leave. Then I quickly fight my way through the crowd. She only has an hour to say goodbye, no more than ten visitors, and I have to be one of those people. I have to be.
I fight through the throngs of celebrating people, happy their own children were spared, annoying me with their demeanor. They don't know the importance of the girl who was chosen. Katniss could have been the girl to save District Twelve from Panem. For all I know, Peeta might have, also. And now one, or both, will die. Yet they celebrate on.
Out of nowhere, arms are flung around my neck. I stumble back surprised. My immediate reaction is to shove the person away, but then a whiff of perfume evades my senses and I know it's my mother. She bought the perfume from Katniss' mother ages ago, before having five children, and only wears it during the Hunger Games ceremonies. She calls it her lucky charm, for each year I, and now Rory, have been spared.
She buries her face in my neck, clutching at my sides. I can only hear one phrase out of her, repeating itself over and over, like a television program with bad reception.
"You're saved. You're saved. You're saved."
That's when the realization hits me. I had been thinking about it all morning, convinced I was walking into the square toward my death. But now it's different. I'm eighteen. My last Hunger Games reaping is over and I've survived. I never have to put my name in the bowl again. I never have to stand in the boys section, moving closer to the front every year, nervously waiting for them to pull out one of forty-two pieces of paper.
It's all over.
I should feel happy, but even that notion doesn't seep through the numbness. It only means my siblings names will increase as they get older, even if I get a job to stop them from paying for the tesserae. It doesn't stop the fact that Katniss is walking into the Hunger Games, a tournament where District Twelve is weakest. Where they often die first.
I hold my mother at arms length, staring at her happy features, wondering if I can ever feel that way again. Then I gently pass her off to Rory, my younger brother, and step away as she pulls him into a fierce hug. Amidst the chaos I see the Everdeens and the Mellarks together, stony silent and staring at the dirt ground. I drag my feet slowly towards Prim and her mother, who are tightly holding hands. They both turn to face me as I approach, and we all stare at each other, understanding every emotion that passes through the silence. The unspoken agreement to be strong for her. Then Katniss' mother nods, and we set off in the direction of the visitor's entrance.
It's not a long walk. I've only been here once before, ironically also with Katniss and her mother, as we received medals for our father's deaths. The building is loud, echoey and cold. Soon we're lining up outside a dark-stained door, Prim and her mother sliding in first. I strain my ears to hear Katniss' voice, but the doors in Capitol buildings are too thick, so much different from the warped doors at home, where every minute rustle is heard.
The minutes go ticking by, one after the other, and intense nervousness settles in my gut. I wipe my sweaty hands on my pants, wincing at the wet stains that appear. I can't let Katniss see how scared I am. Not when she's already terrified. I quickly make an inventory in my mind of what to tell her: be strong, you'll win, make a bow, fight. I'll have to force myself not to beg her to come home to me. I chide myself not to seem desperate and act like it's the last goodbye. Because it won't be. Because she's a fighter.
Men go into the room to escort Katniss' family out and I hear her mother sobbing her goodbye. My heart clenches with fear and anger. Fear that I might also break down in front of her. Anger that they couldn't be brave for Katniss. But as they emerge from the room, I see it's only her mother crying, as mother's do. Prim's eyes are watering, but I know those tears won't be shed. She's standing strong for her sister and I've never felt so grateful.
Before I can walk to the door, the baker of the town slides in, skipping the line. What is he doing visiting Katn- my mind suddenly places Peeta Mellark. The baker's son. My confusion immediately turns into panic. What is he doing in Katniss' room? He's the father of her enemy! Is he trying to poison her? I try to press myself against the door but the Peacekeepers quickly shove me back.
Nothing happens. After a few moments, he slips out again, nodding to the guards as he makes his way down the hall, presumably to Peeta's room. It's strange that he chose to visit Katniss first instead of his own son, but I dismiss it. It's my turn.
I steel myself once again to walk through the doors, but a small hand on my shoulder stops me. I turn around and Madge is standing there, looking scared in the large building.
"Gale, do you mind if I see her first?" she asks. "I'll only be a minute. I just want to make sure I see her before..."
Before she dies. The words hang between us, and I swallow tightly and nod.
I'll take up most of Katniss' precious time and the few people who want to see her, for whatever reason, should have their chance now. Although I have no idea what Madge and Katniss could possibly say to each other, it doesn't matter. People are coming to say their goodbyes.
Madge is honest, and has barely entered through the doors before she is leaving them, giving a tight-lipped smile to me as she passes. I check behind me to see if anyone else is there, but the halls are empty save for the Peacekeepers. I hurry inside before anyone can object.
There isn't much time now.
And there she is, standing in a room far too extravagant for her simple blue dress. I see a small gold object shimmer in the corner of her dress, a pin, and wonder if it was given to her by the Hunger Games coordinators. But it's only a cursory thought, as now she is running towards me. I open my arms and she flies in. Where she belongs.
For a few moments I can do nothing but hold her. She's so different from the Katniss I know in the woods, her body trembling in a way I've never felt before. I press my head down to her hair and inhale her clean scent, a trace of smoke and wood from our trip to the forest only hours ago.
This is as romantic as we've ever gotten and it's practically nothing. But it's enough. It's enough.
We don't have time for this. I have too much to tell her. I quickly find my voice and begin to read the list in my mind.
"Listen," I say. "Getting a knife should be pretty easy, but you've got to get your hands on a bow. That's your best chance."
Still in my arms, Katniss stiffens, as if she thought we wouldn't discuss strategy. But of course we will. Who else knows her strengths? Who else can tell her this?
"They don't always have bows," she replies, biting her lip.
She's right. The last three games have had no bows. Only swords, daggers and other close range weapons. The audience prefers a personal, bloody death. I shudder inwardly. I don't want Prim to see her in that light. I do not want her that close to her opponent.
"Then make one," I say. "Even a weak bow is better than no bow at all."
She rolls her head closer to my neck, and I feel her hot breath against it. A lump beings to form in my throat. Do not cry, I think.
"I don't even know if there'll be wood," she replies meekly.
Now I just want to shake her. Excuse after excuse, not giving me time to dispense advice.
"There's almost always some wood," I point out. "Since that year half of them died of cold. Not much entertainment."
The last sentence was supposed to be sarcastic humour, but instead it falls flat. The type of humour we used to have, before this event, is useless now. Because now it's not just for a laugh: it is actually happening to her. It's real.
The conversation has fallen since that last remark and Katniss quietly picks it up again, as if she just wants to listen to my voice one last time.
"Yes, there's usually some."
I close my eyes against her defeated tone, feeling the sting in them. Do not cry.
"Katniss, it's just hunting. You're the best hunter I know," I say.
I pull back to stare into her features, driving the point home by gazing directly into her eyes.
"It's not just hunting. They're armed. They think!" she protests angrily.
"So do you. And you've had more practice. Real practice." I swallow. "You now how to kill."
She just shakes her head.
"Not people," she says.
Not people, no. But if she doesn't know them, doesn't learn their personalities and lives. . . "How different can it be, really?"
Katniss stares back at me, shocked, and I realize what I've said. I just told her to forget these are people and go against everything I believe in. But she has to do it, to protect her soul. Otherwise she'll be as broken as Haymitch when she returns.
I want to say so much more to her. I want to tell her not to get involved in the first fight and to hide in trees if there are any. To find a cave if the landscape is rocks and learn quickly how to blend in the environment. To not make alliances. To not grow attached. But I don't even know where to begin, searching her eyes for the start.
I open my mouth to tell her all this, but the Peacekeepers appear in the doorway, striding towards us.
"The tribute has to depart. Visiting time is over."
"No!" I cry out. "Just a few more minutes. That's all I need..."
But they ignore me, grabbing my arms and pulling me away from her. I see the panic quickly spread across her face and I know she doesn't want to be alone. I don't want to leave her alone. I grip her hand as tightly as I can, but soon they're ripped apart as they drag me backwards towards the door.
"Don't let them starve!" she cries. Her voice is high-pitched and shrill. I nod rapidly.
"I won't! You know I won't!"
Say it, just say it.
"Katniss, remember I-"
They practically throw me through the door and slam it shut before I can finish what I want to say. Dread settles in my stomach. I hope she knew how to finish that line. I hope she understands what she means to me, and how she has to return.
So I whisper it to the closed door, wondering if it's thin enough for her to hear.
I know it's not.
I can't stop my mind from replaying my last few minutes with Katniss. It's a never ending circle of pain, horror and fear. Her frightened eyes as they pulled me away will haunt me forever. It's an expression I'll never forget, as long as I live.
But I remembered to tell her about making a bow. That was the most important piece of advice. I also promised her that I'd take care of her family, and I intend to keep that promise. I'll watch every damn minute of the 74th Hunger Games, silently cheering her on, and when she comes back home I'll tease her about her techniques. It'll stop me from pulling her into an embrace and never letting her go. My arms already feel empty.
I walk through the celebrating courtyard, trying to drown out their happy voices. I refuse to get caught up in the celebrations. This is not a mass birthday party. It's twenty-four children fighting for their lives.
As I walk by, a cluster of girls giggle and whisper after me, thrilled they survived and equally thrilled I did. They want to celebrate our lives, as they say. The most births in the Seam occur exactly nine months after the Hunger Game reapings, when people are giddy and eighteen year old girls want to celebrate and solidify their safety. I briefly consider bringing one home with me, a distraction from the pain. But these girls will never be her. They'll never come close to her. And I'll never forget her. It was just a fleeting thought.
I follow the main road into the marketplace, the smell of fresh baked bread overwhelming and so much different than the hard, grainy bread we make at home. Katniss and I had just traded game for two loaves of bread earlier in the day. Her interaction with Peeta Mellark should have stopped there.
Peeta's family have a healthy business, so he must have only had four slips of paper in that bowl, one for each year since twelve. For him to get picked is an oddity, as it's usually the oldest and poorest with the most tesserae taken out. People like me. But it's also odd for Prim to have been chosen, too, with only a single slip in the glass.
This year is just a year of strange occurrences. I hope it doesn't continue throughout the Games.
I follow the road as it thins and its surroundings become dingier and darker. Just when you think it couldn't possibly get worse, you reach the Seam. Home.
I kick open the front door, the place unusually quiet and empty. My mother and siblings, Rory, Vick and Posy, are most likely celebrating in the square with the others. I should join them, but I don't feel like celebrating this year. I celebrated with a feast this morning, with Katniss.
And look how that turned out.
I lay on the small cot I share with Rory and Vick, staring up at the ceiling, listening to the replay of the scene earlier on the small television built into the wall. I wish I could turn it off, but there's no off-button. It plays whenever it wants to and we're forced to watch it.
I hear Katniss' voice cry out over the tinny speakers. "I volunteer! I volunteer!"
My hearts falls into my stomach once again. I place my hands over my ears childishly, closing my eyes and going back to this morning when everything was okay. When I was positive she would be alright. The scene repeats in my mind:
I had stopped earlier in the day to buy fresh bread from the bakery, a pre-Hunger Game treat for us during our hunt. I had made sure it was the glazed bread Katniss loves the most. Quickly pocketing it, I had run for the woods to meet her there, going up the hill to our usual spot. She hadn't arrived yet and I had settled down to wait.
Katniss only ever smiled in the woods. In the Seam, at school and even at home, her face held an expressionless mask. I'll never understand why. Maybe because of her father's death. Or maybe because there's nothing worth smiling about when you live in the Seam.
I live to make her smile. There's something about her face when she smiles that makes my heart melt. It's not a perfect smile by any means - objectively, nothing even close to the perfected smiles the girls in school flash at me between classes. It quirks up too far on one side, and one of her front teeth is just slightly crooked, hardly noticeable unless you're standing close to her. When Katniss gives you a real smile, her nose wrinkles, dimples appear in her cheeks, and sometimes her tongue childishly peeks through her teeth.
Don't even get me started on what her laugh does to me.
I finally saw her at the bottom of the hill, her bow in hand, and hurriedly executed my plan. I took an arrow I had stolen from her earlier in the week and shoved it through the bread, hiding it behind my back. I'd only just finished when she reached the top of the hill, silent as a lynx. Her faces changed when she reached me and my heart skipped a beat. I'm the only one who gets to see that face.
"Hey, Catnip," I said, my special nickname for her. I told her it's because I misheard her name the first time she spoke it, but really it's because she is catnip to me: addictive and always leaving me wanting more.
She smiled at me, but it wasn't a full one. Not yet. I pulled out the bread from behind my back, putting on my most comical grin.
"Look what I shot!"
Lame, but effective. She had laughed, a deep rich laugh that is so rare in the Seam and even rarer from her. Her eyes squinted as she shot me a look of pure happiness and heat rushed through my body, straight downwards, but I ignored it. I will never push it with her. I'll take what I can get.
She had taken the bread from me, murmuring about its warmth as we settled down to eat. Prim had given her cheese for our little feast, and I mindlessly sliced the bread and spread some soft cheese on it. We toasted each other sarcastically with the Hunger Games toast ("May the odds be ever in your favour!") and began to eat, disguising ourselves amongst the rocks.
At that point, I thought it would be the last time I would ever be alone with her. I was positive my name would be called later that afternoon. So positive I had been slowly stocking up on meat, drying and hiding it in the house so my family could survive for long enough after my death until they could get back on their feet.
But I didn't want to leave her. I was sick of my family doing nothing for themselves, and for once I wanted to be selfish. I watched her eat her meal, lost in her own thoughts, and wondered how I could bring up my deepest desire without scaring her.
"We could do it, you know," I had said quietly, not sure she had heard me. But she did. Her hearing is excellent.
I glance off into the forest Katniss and I know by heart. "Leave the district. Run off. Live in the woods," I said. "You and I, we could make it."
And we could, too, if she had taken me up on my offer. Right now, we could be running through the woods on our own adventure, free from the eyes of hidden cameras in the Seam.
But instead she had stared at me like I had lost my mind, her bread halfway to her mouth. I immediately felt ashamed for even bringing it up. She could never leave her sister. She loved her far more than I loved my own siblings. In fact, I loved her sister more than my own siblings. It was an awful thought.
"If we didn't have so many kids," I quickly added, trying to pass it off as a dream and not a possibility.
Her eyes flicked away from me, searching the forest for something out of our grasp. Silence had settled upon us and I desperately wanted to know what she was thinking. But I said nothing, allowing her to tell me only if she wanted to.
"I never want to have kids," she replied suddenly, jarring me out of my thoughts.
I had thought to myself it was a strange topic to bring up and idly wondered if it was a subtle rejection.
"I might. If I didn't live here," I added casually. I might want to have kids with her, if we ran away.
"But you do." She cast me an annoyed glance.
The conversation was going nowhere. I was irritated with myself for even suggesting the idea.
"Forget it," I had snapped, and stood up to hunt.
We never brought up the topic again. I wonder if she thought about it now, wherever she was, and if she wished she could go back and agree with me. Is she even thinking of me at all?
No. I don't want her thinking of me. I want her concentrating on the Games. On strategy.
I'll fantasize enough for the both of us.