A/N: Hello, this is my first fanfiction based on the wonderful trilogy by Suzanne Collins. A few things I want to point out. 1- I write long chapters, usually three thousand word plus and sometimes that gets a little drawn out, but it's just how I write. 2- I also want to apologize to all Gale fans out there. For what? You'll just have to keep reading to find out. 3- I love reviews but I won't hold my story hostage in exchange for them. That's not a knock on those people who do, it's their story so it's their right to publish new chapters whenever they want. I just know I hate it when authors to do it to me, so I won't be doing it to you. But still, please review... It makes me happy.
Disclaimer: I do not owe the Hunger Games or 90 percent of the characters in this story. This is simply written for entertainment purposes only and in no way meant to ignore copyright laws. Only payment I hope to receive are reviews telling me what people thought of the story (hopefully).
I sit up in bed, my heart pounding in my throat. I try to pry myself from the nightmare that seems unwilling to let me go.
"Breathe, Katniss," I tell myself harshly. "Breathe."
And I do. Slowly, shakily, I take in deep breaths and release them. As I find my heart rate settling, I catch a glimpse of myself in the large mirror hanging above my dresser.
My prep team were going to have their work cut out for them this morning. Last night was particularly gruesome, but that wasn't a surprise, considering what today was.
It's a big, big, big day, as Effie was so fond of saying, but I never could see reaping day as anything other than a horror waiting to happen. Especially after last year's…
No. I will not think about that; he wouldn't have wanted me to dwell on it. Besides, there's nothing I can do about him, and there is something so much more pressing demanding my full attention.
In spite of wishing to spend the rest of the day in bed, I know that would be impossible and dangerous. I have a job to do and I am determined to do it well. I will not give him any reason to become upset with me again. My lesson was learned.
I slip out of my room into the hallway, noticing that Prim was not in hers. She probably snuck into our mother's room last night, looking for comfort. I feel a pang at that thought. I used to be the one that she turned to when the nightmares came, but it had been years since then. Not since… Well, not since we moved into the house in Victor's Village three years ago.
A shrill noise coming from downstairs makes me jump and it takes a few seconds to realize that it's the phone ringing. A growing dread comes over me as I approach it. There are few people that I know with access to a telephone and even fewer that I would like it to be on the other line.
I pick up the phone, knowing it would be best to just get it over with. "Hello?"
"What are you wearing?"
I have to laugh. Leave it Finnick to make me laugh even on a day like today. "You are terrible."
His voice drops to an octave to his trademark seduction tone. "There's not a stitch of clothing on me."
He chuckles, dropping the act that so many women have fallen for. "Good morning, I was just calling to check up on you."
"You know me."
Suddenly he's serious. "I do. Another nightmare?" I don't speak but he takes my silence as an affirmation. "What about Prim, how's she doing?"
"I don't know, I haven't seen her yet," I tell him. "But it's her first reaping, so I can imagine how she's feeling."
His voice is reassuring, or at least it is trying to be. "Prim is going to be fine. She won't get reaped."
"How do you know?"
"Because she only has one slip, Katniss. The odds are in her favor."
"You know as well as I do that sometimes it isn't up to luck who gets chosen." Finnick stays quiet and I continue, "Remember last year? That wasn't chance, that was a punishment."
"You're right." That's what I love about Finnick; he is always honest with me, no matter what. "But you have done nothing to be punished for since then."
"Are you sure?"
"You have been a perfect Victor all year. And you know if you had upset someone in the Capitol, I would have known about it."
This was true. Finnick was always in the know, and he had been the one who had warned be about the consequences of my actions last year. I hadn't listened to him then; such a fool I had been.
I need to change the topic and definitely not to the one that Finnick probably wanted to talk about next. "How's Annie? Do you think she'll be able to get to the Capitol this year?"
"Katniss…" Finnick's tone is weary; he knows what I am doing, but he plays along. "She won't even be at the reaping. Mags will take her place, again."
"That's too bad. I love Mags, but I haven't seen Annie in a while. I had been hoping to spend some time catching up with her."
Finnick has had enough. "You wouldn't have had time for it, anyway. I know you don't want to talk about it, but you need to listen to me. You're sixteen, now, which means you're fair game and I know that Snow's has a lot of buyers lining up to take advantage of that."
I feel the bile rising in my throat. It takes me a few seconds to respond and even then I can barely recognize my voice. "I don't know if I can do it."
"You will. Because you still have people you love and want to protect from Snow's vengeance. Think of Prim and you'll be surprised by how much you can endure."
I nod, in spite of the fact that I know he can't see me. "Think of Prim."
"And cheer up," he says, suddenly reverting to his usual jovial tone. "Reaping day means that you, once again, get to be in my presence."
I can't stop the turn of my lips. "Thank you, Odair. You truly are the one bright spot in my meager existence."
I can imagine his sea green eyes twinkling in the early morning light. "And don't you forget it."
"Give Annie my love."
"Will do and wish Prim luck for me. And Katniss?"
"Wear something pretty, okay? You know, something to distract from your ever-present scowl?"
I hang up on him without saying goodbye and turn to find my sister standing there silently. I nearly jump out of my skin.
I clutch my chest. "Prim! You scared me!"
She lowers her head apologetically. "Sorry, I didn't mean to. Who were you talking to?"
I wrap my arms around her. "It was just Finnick. He was just being his usual annoying self. He did wish you luck, though."
My little sister's eyes light up at the mention of his name. Much to my chagrin, Prim has developed quite a large crush on the man. "He did? I can't believe it! I can't wait to tell Lesse. Oh! She is going to be sooo jealous!"
I have to smile at that. That's two Everdeen girls he's managed to distract today, even for a short while; I remind myself to thank him for it when I see him. He'll probably want something outlandish and ridiculous, but it will be worth it. But for now, I need to get dressed and out the door if I want to make sure I finish all my errands before my team shows up.
The smell of the warm cheese buns makes my mouth water, but I have a few more stops to make before I head back home. It still feels odd to be able to walk into a store empty handed and walk out with what I want. It used to be that I had to trade game for bread, but that was before the fence leading out of the District was electrified 24 hours a day and patrolled more often. Now I get my meat from the butcher and I make my purchases with coin instead. It's not as good as what I was used to, but it wasn't like there was any other choice.
It's not like I am allowed many choices any more.
As I make my way out of the square with my purchases, I am, once again, saddened by the transformation it has gone through in three short years; all because of me and my actions. What once used to be one the few pleasant places of District 12 was converted in to a collection of reminders of the Capitol's increased attention on us. Instruments of punishments litter the streets with an increased number of Peacekeepers keeping an eye on the populace. Of course, no one blames me outright, as I am sure that fear keeps people quiet; but every now and again I get a seething glare or a silent accusation from people I pass on the street.
Once I enter the Seam, I am struck by how much I miss living there. My old house didn't have any of the luxuries that the one in the Victor's Village has, but at least it felt like a home. But now, in my luxurious clothes made by my friend and personal stylist, Cinna, I feel like an outsider here.
I quicken my pace and arrive at the Hawthorne household in no time. Hazelle greets me warmly, wrapping her arms around me for a long hug, and for just a single moment I almost forget that I killed her son. But then the whole horrible memory hits me and I have to look away from her in shame.
As I hand her some meat that I bought at the butcher shop, I apologize, again, that it is not as fresh as what she had been used to, knowing that she would understand what I mean by that. Hazelle shakes her head at this and gives me a small smile. "Thank you, Katniss, but you know that you don't have to keep doing this."
"Yes, I do!" I have to force myself to keep myself from crying. "I have more money than I know what to do with and there's nothing I would rather spend it on than on you and your family."
"It's not your responsibility and-"
I cut her off afraid of not being to keep myself together if she kept talking. "I promised Gale that I would take care of you. That I would make sure that Rory never had sign up for tesserae. I couldn't keep him alive in the arena, but I can at least keep his family from starving!"
Hazelle grabs my shoulders and gives me a shake. I keep my head down and she gives me another shake and I lift my eyes. "Now, you listen to me; it's not your fault that Gale was reaped and it definitely wasn't your fault that he died. You need to stop blaming yourself for his death."
She was wrong, of course, but what could I say? President Snow had made it very clear to me that chance had played no part in Gale's reaping; instead it had be perfectly orchestrated as a consequence to my actions. And once it became obvious that he actually had a good shot of winning, the Gamemakers released muttations that were trained to track and kill him. No, of course I couldn't tell Hazelle that. That information could put her in danger; and she was in enough of that just by associating with me. Besides, I couldn't risk her shutting me out of their lives. I would never get to see Rory or Vick or even little Posy ever again; and I wouldn't have been able to handle that. They were all I had left of Gale. Selfish, I know, but I have never claimed to be noble. No Victor could ever claim to be.
So I just nod, for once knowing the best course of action is to keep my mouth shut. Thankfully, Hazelle nods herself and places a kiss on my forehead. "You take care of yourself in the Capitol, okay? Don't let them make you forget who you are and where you came from. They can't control you."
"I know," I tell her but that's a lie. They do own me and that's why in a few short weeks, when the Hunger Games are over, I'll be auctioned off and sold to the highest bidder and I won't do a thing to stop it. "I'll make sure that Prim keeps up with the deliveries while I'm gone."
We say our goodbyes and I head back towards Victor's Village. A quick stop at Haymitch to make sure he's all right and I'll head home. I let myself in and nearly gag at the stench. I hold my breath as I search for my former mentor. It doesn't take long to find him sitting at the kitchen table, unconscious with his head in a pool of vomit-scented drool. I have tried to rouse Haymitch so many times before that I already know the only thing that will work is water.
I dump the basin full of icy cold water over his head and hide under the table. A smart plan considering Haymitch's habit of sleeping with a knife. The same one he is currently swinging around widely shouting obscenities. I wait for him to settle down before I reveal myself from my hiding spot.
"You," he seethes. "Why did you do that?"
"Because it's the only way to wake you up."
He glares at me, droplets of water dripping from his hair. "I didn't ask you to wake me up."
I back away from him, hands up in surrender. "No, but I figured you preferred me waking you up instead of Effie."
Apparently that wasn't good enough of a reason because he's still shooting daggers at me when suddenly, as if on cue, we hear Effie coming into the house. Her heels clack on the floor as she makes her way into the kitchen.
"Oh!" She stops short when she sees me, her atrocious pink curls moving stiffly. "Katniss, what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be with your team, getting ready? It's a-"
"Big, big, big day, I know. I was just dropping off some bread for Haymitch." I make a big show of setting some loaves on the table, trying my best to keep them as far from the puddle of saliva as possible. "And I'm done. Guess I'll go home now; you two have fun."
I feel his stare all the way out of the kitchen and I can't help chuckling a bit to myself. And then I remember what I have waiting for me at my house and suddenly the situation loses all of its humor.
Hours later, after some truly torturous time with my prep team, I was deemed worthy for public viewing and sent on my way back to the square. The reaping is set to start at two, but I was expected there a half-hour before that, leaving me little time to scarf down a pair of cheese buns before heading out the door. As I climb onto the stage and take my seat by Effie, I am unsurprised to see that Haymitch is missing.
Seated on the other side is Mayor Undersee, who acknowledges my arrival with a small nod. We share a sad look, neither of us really enjoying the festivities of the reaping. I glance out over the children and find Rory and Prim standing close to each other smiling and laughing about something.
Please, please… Please not them.
I look away from the lot of the potential tributes before me. One girl and one boy would be chosen and they would probably be dead by the end of the month; and there was nothing that I could do about it.
The minutes passed slowly as the square filled up to capacity and it's a few minutes before two, when Haymitch finally staggers to the stage and falls into the chair next to me.
I shoot him a glance. "So nice of you to join us."
He doesn't even glance my way. "Don't start with me, Sweetheart. I still haven't forgiven you for the water this morning. Or for leaving me with that infernal woman, for that matter."
At least he's sober, a huge improvement over how he was the day that I was reaped. He had been so drunk that he had thrown up all over Effie's shoes and then fallen off the stage and knocked himself out. He had not instilled me with much confidence back then, but now I know better.
I look up with dread when the town clock strikes two, signaling the start of the ceremony. Mayor Undersee walks up to the podium the read the history of Panem. Every year we have to suffer through it and even though we can almost recite the thing by heart, we all try to pretend to listen.
"It is both a time for repentance and a time for thanks," he says, reaching the end of the speech and begins reading the list of past victors from District 12. There have been 73 previous Hunger Games and we have a list of three names. Only two of us are still alive- Haymitch and me. In other districts, like 1,2, or even 4, the lists are much longer and more time-consuming. But now he's introducing Effie and we can get right into what I have been dreading for the past month.
"Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor!" She waits a second to see if the crowd would respond back to her, but we don't. And perhaps she should finally realize that we never will. Her smile looks slightly strained but she continues rambling about who knows what because it is difficult to understand over my heart pounding in my ears. But I force myself to calm down because the next few things she says are going to be very important.
"Ladies first!" Effie announces as she does every year and then she crosses over to the area where two identical large glass balls are located; one for the girls and one for the boys. Each of the clear orbs are filled with thousands of slips, each of them printed with the name of a 12 to 18 year old who is at the moment, silently wishing not to get chosen. And among those thousands there is one, singular slip with the name Primrose Everdeen on it.
Please, please, not her.
Effie reaches into the glass ball with the girl names in it and starts reaching around. She giggles as moves her hand around before clutching a slip. This is the same routine every year and I hate her for it. Slowly and deliberately she pulls her arm out and makes her way back to the microphone.
I have to control myself not to rip that pink wig off her head for taking her time with this. Being from the Capitol, she had no idea what kind of torture it is for us and I have to remind myself that Effie is just a player in a much larger game that we all have our part to play.
But still, if she doesn't hurry up, I am going to tear that paper away from her and read it myself.
Finally, she reaches the microphone and opens the slip. A deep breath from her and I'm hoping against hope that it is not my little sister's name.
And it's not Prim. I see Mayor Undersee sigh in relief, probably thankful that it hadn't been his daughter, Madge, and I feel a tinge of guilt that I had forgotten all about her. I look for her in the section of sixteen year olds and we meet eyes. She smiles and I nod and I am grateful that my only real friend in the district wasn't called. Haymitch reaches over and gives my hand a reassuring squeeze.
And as I happy I am that it wasn't Prim or Madge, I can't help but feel sorry because it was somebody. Misu Teeyer was somebody who had a family and friends and would most probably never see those she loved again. But to her credit, she does not cry as she makes her way to stage. I don't know her personally, but I had seen her plenty while I was growing up in the Seam. I know she's 18 (the age Gale would have been this year had he survived), and fatherless, and possessing of a large number of younger siblings she had to take care of. She stands stiffly by Effie who warbles on about what a great honor it is to be chosen.
Effie asks if anyone would like to volunteer for her spot in the Games. Her only answer is the silence from the crowd. That wasn't really shocking to anyone. No one ever volunteers in District 12, not when it is akin to suicide.
But no matter, Effie's already off heading towards the glass ball with the boys names. Again, she takes her time drawing a name and my heart is pounding still, hoping for the safety of Gale's younger brother.
And there she is at the microphone again, the small paper slip in her hand. She reads it and leans into the microphone. "Peeta Mellark."
My body grows cold and I have to bite my lip to keep from screaming.