Chapter 1


"Man up, Hawthorne."

At first her voice is rough, nearly harsh, but then I look up and her eyes have a soft edge to them. I've never seen that before. Her gray eyes have always seemed so flat and dead. I didn't know she still had soft emotions underneath... not like Katniss'. Katniss always had that hidden softness in their seam gray depths. She kept it there for Prim, for her father, for Rory... for myself..

At least I like to think so. I am her hunting partner, I'm her only friend, and we've done everything together. Except recently, except yesterday when she disappeared into the reaping and I have yet to see her again, not until the opening ceremony. There is no telling if I'll ever see those gray eyes again.. but right now I find myself being stared down by different gray eyes. Ones I've never really examined, but now as they bore into mine I noticed the little highlights of blue in them, the steely gray making those spots seem almost violet. A trick of the light.

Finally though, I find myself turning back to her statement. I ignore that surprising softness and growl back, "Don't tell me what to do, Hendricks."

Hendricks shrugs her little shoulders, even smaller then my little brothers, and the hardness is back and set into her face. I hardly catch her biting comment in reply. "Guy looks like he lost a freaking limb with that expression."

Maybe I did. Maybe Katniss was like an extra arm for me. A reassurance I needed.

I sigh in frustration now, shooting a glare at Felina's back. She had now turned back around in her seat, facing the front of the room, where as before she had swiveled around to give me a scrutinizing look and then commented on the expression in my eyes. Of course it would be something insulting, that is all she has to say, a seam girl like Felina. Well more then a seam, she's got it a notch lower then some seam kids. She's from the community home where you get to see the red marks on her cheek from angry hands and then the result of it: a brash, biting result of a girl.

I tried to refocus on the board, rather then the back of Felina's long black curls, but I find myself unable to do it. Usually through my years of school, since this is my last one, I'd be able to at least pretend that I'm paying attention, but not today. My eyes keep wondering to the window and my mind flickering off and on in worry for Katniss.

What was she doing now? Was she thinking of Prim? Her mother? ..me?

I banish the thought. Of course she wouldn't be. She was focusing on survival, she would be thinking up strategies and I prayed she took my words to heart. Those other tributes don't matter, it is just like hunting. She needed to kill them for survival. I wished I could have gotten out my last words to her, I'm nearly half glad I didn't though.

At first I didn't even know what was falling passed my lips, the words were just numbly blurting themselves out. I could hardly keep up with my frantic, jumbled mind. Everything was thrown in array. My half-complete, half-content life of hunting with my Catnip and in that keeping my family stringing along was uprooted practically at the same moment Katniss had been ripped from the equation.

Revelations and ridiculous thoughts whipped at me at an uncomprehensive rate. Some of the thoughts had been weakly there before that, like the curious one from that day in the Hob when that Peacekeeper had offered a trade for a kiss. The thought was of how I minded and when she was reaped, I minded about a lot of things. I minded that she wouldn't be here with me, that she wouldn't hunt with me.. that I wouldn't get to see her.

When I went into that visitation room and saw her sitting on the velvet coach I hadn't seen a more foreign sight. She didn't belong there, not at all. With her black hair twisted up shiny and fancy, her olive complexion brightened with her anxiety, gray eyes unrestrained, and the dress hugging her perfectly poised and balanced figure. Even like that she looked all wrong in that pretty room. I could see the wild in the depths of that gray, I could just see the leaves tugging at her face and tangling into her hair, the way her body would move like water sighing over rocks in a stream as she stocked an animal...

Man up, Hawthorne.

Maybe Felina was right.. I'm turning soft. If she could see it then anyone could. I straightened up in my seat, pulling myself to my full height, but it seemed to have little effect. I still felt miserable and I knew it was selfish. Prim was still smiling, Mrs. Everdeen was still moseying around, and my family... my family needed me to be strong! And I haven't been for the last twenty four hours.

How is someone suppose to just.. man up? When their life has lost one of the most important factors? I tried to compute some sort of living without my Catnip in it. Even one with her only as my hunting partner was liveable, but without her it seemed dual and sad.

I tried to keep my mind from the words I wanted to tell her. The same words my scrambling mind had been set on saying. But they were unavoidable.

I loved her. I love Katniss, my Catnip.

It was still enough to make my mind reel, but it was like I knew it all along. It just seemed right, in my heart, you know? When everything feels set and comfortable? It was practical for me to love her, it was expected for her to love me.. shouldn't it be?

I'm half sure she does love me. She doesn't smile at me like she does to anyone else, it's different when we are out in the woods and free. She relaxes around me, she allows herself a laugh sometimes, and even as rare as it is she feels.

She allows herself to feel the rush of the hunt, she takes in the fresh air as if it revives her, and sometimes when she catches a big game or finds a particularly big patch of berries her eyes will light up with a delight that is almost child-like. And I feel like she has been given back her childhood, even for those few seconds of triumph.

I didn't have much of a childhood, but I don't care for it anymore. I can move on from that. But to know her was brutally ripped away by the loss of her father, it hurt worse to know she suffered then it does for me. I miss my father, I miss the way my mother used to light up and sing those lullabies when he would return from the mines every evening. I miss the sound of Rory's carefree laugh, everyday it grows more strained and I'm afraid it will become as rare as my own.

I fear the loss of Prim's childhood. I try to keep Katniss' missing presences from effecting her as much as possible, I try to pawn off my selfishness by putting extra hours out hunting. It isn't the same without Catnip, but when I'm out there I can imagine her silent form at my side and be reassured by it... if only a little.

Each hour that passes I feel that thought grow stronger. I feel the love beat more confident in my heart until it is just brimming full and I don't even know what to do with it.

It is different from the love I have for Prim, Rory, Vick, and Posy. With them it is more of an instinct to care for, to protect. For my mother and Mrs. Everdeen it is a respect and though I ebb with my kindness towards Mrs. Everdeen for forcing Katniss into this early life of hardship, I still know I care for them.

It is just different for Katniss.

That is all I can do to put it into words.


A/N: If this gets enough reviews it may turn into a story about how Gale moves along and then on, all through Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. Expectantly Felina would be the love instrest. Well thanks for reading! Sorry for typos, please review! -Taryn(: