Set during Catching Fire. Katniss is not the narrator.

The Hunger Games belongs to Suzanne Collins, Scholastic Press, et al. No copyright infringement intended.

To my NC readers - more is coming soon, promise.

My alarm wakes me with its usual cheerful song before the sky outside my train car has even begun to pale. But unlike my usual self, I do not leap from bed, ready to tackle the day. I gently turn off the alarm and roll over, one thought running through my mind: I dread today.

I have always hated District Twelve. Hated the long train ride from the Capitol, hated its grimy streets and sour residents. Hated its tributes, who refuse to play the Games the way they are meant to be played, who seem to have no will to survive. Hated its one, drunken mentor, where there should be two. Hated that every year I do my very best to propel District Twelve to the top, and every year I am disappointed.

I never let my hate or my disappointment show, of course. I'm a professional, and the very best I could hope for was to be moved to a better District. That's what I believed until last year, that is.

Last year, the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games, was finally, finally a good year. I had tributes with promise, for the first time in ages. They even managed to rouse Haymitch from his drunken stupor. And new stylists to boot, with ideas that first seemed crazy to me, but once I saw how the crowd reacted, I knew Portia and Cinna were gems.

And oh, when Peeta declared his love live on television, I felt that maybe I finally had a chance to prove my worth as a District escort. The sponsors started pouring in, faster than Haymitch and I could manage. I really began to believe that she might win.

The rule change shifted everything, brought my two tributes back together in the arena. Neither Haymitch nor I breathed it, worried that even saying it aloud would jinx it. But the words were never far from my mind, in those last days of the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games: they could both win, they could both win. I would be the first escort in nearly a quarter century to bring a win for District Twelve, and the first ever to produce two winning tributes in the same year.

At the last moment, when we nearly lost them both to their tragic love for each other, I couldn't even breathe. But when the trumpets blared and Claudius Templesmith declared them both the winners – why, I actually hugged Haymitch!

He said something to me that night, as we watched the medical teams patch up our poor battered tributes. He wasn't the only living victor in Twelve anymore, he said. We would finally have a second mentor, like all the other Districts have.

And it would be her.

I watched through the glass as she slept, as the doctors healed her wounds and erased her scars. I liked her. Had liked her from the beginning, from the moment her voice cut through the sodden crowd, volunteering in her sister's stead. And now the future opened in front of me. I would get to work with her, for years even. I would introduce her to the Capitol, take her to parties, show her all my favorite little boutiques. Together we would devise strategies, court sponsors, and bring more wins to Twelve. She would be someone to trust, someone to bond with over many years of Games. Someone to temper Haymitch. Someone… who could be like a sister to me.

So when the job offer came to be the escort for the much stronger District Four, I turned it down. They seemed surprised, and asked me which District I wanted. Twelve, I said. I wanted Twelve.

I had no warning about the Quell, of course. No one did. I saw it live on TV, the same as everyone. It took a few seconds for the truth to sink in. The tributes would be reaped from the existing pool of victors. District Twelve only has three victors, and only one female victor. The future that I had imagined was suddenly gone. Snuffed out, stolen from me.

And I began to dread today.

I do get out of bed eventually. No amount of hiding in my room will keep today from happening. I shower and dress, and secure the wig I bought especially for today. It's the same gold as her pin, the most solidarity I can show her now that she's a tribute again.

District Twelve is as dirty and downtrodden as ever, sweltering under the sort of humidity we never see in the Capitol. The crowd in the square is nearly morose, which I can't understand. None of them, none of their children, none of their friends are up for the Reaping today. Only my friends.

I climb the same rickety stage as every year, and see with horror that they're using the same huge glass balls for the Reaping as they always do. But instead of being piled high with names, they are each practically empty. Only two slips lay folded neatly at the bottom of the glass ball nearest me. Haymitch and Peeta. And in the far ball, only one.

I listen to the Mayor's history of the Games without really hearing it. And then it's my cue, and I stand and cross to the far ball, glinting emptily in the hot summer sun. My hands are shaking and I can't seem to get a grip on the one small slip of paper. I don't want to get a grip on it, I don't want to draw it out and call her name, I don't want—

I take a deep breath and force myself not to burst into tears. Not here, in front of this grimy District and the crowd's judging eyes. Not on TV, in front of all of Panem. My hand stills and I feel the paper brush my fingertips. I pull it out, unfold it and smooth it in my hands. Her name is printed in her neat handwriting, and I have to clear my throat before I speak, tears threatening to choke me.

I take a breath, hating this moment I've dreaded for the last few months. Hating this District, the heat, the coal dust. Hating whoever came up with this Quell seventy-five years ago. Hating myself for caring. But not her. I don't think I could ever hate her.

My voice is stronger than I hoped for, though I wonder if anyone besides me can hear the sadness in it when I read out the name on the slip:

"Katniss Everdeen."

I hate today.