Chapter 1: Trading afternoons

Author: Carla, aka cali-chan
Rating: Most likely PG-13. Nothing worse than what's in the books.
Genre: Adventure/suspense/drama/romance... again, pretty much what's in the books.
Pairings: Peeta/Katniss, Rory/Prim... and probably others. You'll see soon.
Canon/timeline: Same-context AU- this fic still happens in the same world as THG, but the actual events in the books never happened. I'm adding about five years to the characters from the age they were at the beginning of The Hunger Games. Katniss is 21.
Disclaimer:Yeah, just let me go get my transfer laser and switch bodies with Suzanne Collins.

Note: I've never really tried this before (and I'm sure it will eventually come back and bite me in the behind), but each chapter will be from the PoV of a different character. You should be able to tell whose PoV it is fairly easily, though.

Summary: "Primrose Everdeen." This can't be happening, Katniss thought. She desperately pushed through the crowd. I volunteer!, she wanted to scream. I volunteer as tribute! But she couldn't, because she wasn't eligible for the reaping anymore. There was nothing she could do.



Katniss adjusted the strap of her bag on her shoulder as she walked away from the Hob. Normally her satchel would be much lighter after trading in the Seam, but that morning had been good for hunting. Probably because summer was kicking in, she figured. She had been able to find some ripe berries already, so that made her loot even better.

She sold a baggie of black raspberries to Peacekeeper Mendel- not without going through the mandatory "...And young lady, I hope you've learned your lesson and will not be going out to the woods again. It's illegal, you know, but oh, we wouldn't want these to go to waste..." routine, of course. Mendel liked to fancy himself the strong arm of the law, and liked to at least pretend he was doing his job whenever she tried to sell him something, but eventually he'd just hand her some coins and walk off with the bag of berries. Katniss humored him as long as he paid fair price for the fruit. She also had a small bag of fresh strawberries, but she was saving those for the Mayor's family.

She did well with game, too. She caught a raccoon, which she traded with Greasy Sae. The older woman was also interested in a squirrel, but Katniss knew she'd get a better deal for it in Town. She had a rabbit she'd sell to Rooba, the butcher, along with a rare treat: a grouse, which had wandered into one of her snares. All in all, she was pretty sure she'd managed enough just that day, that she wouldn't have to worry about the rest of the week.

If she had to be honest, she hadn't felt that anxiety about food and necessities in quite a while. Not since their mother had killed herself. Prim would be appalled if she knew she was thinking this way, but it was a lot easier to put food on the table when it was just the two of them.

It happened a few years back, a few weeks after her eighteenth birthday. Ever since their father died in a mine explosion when Katniss was just eleven, her mother had fallen into a deep depression. Her work as a healer was inconstant, and most of the time she could barely help with things like buying groceries or mending torn clothing. When you looked into her eyes you could see: it was like she had died herself.

From that day on Katniss became, for all intents and purposes, the head of the family, and carried the burden of providing them with sustenance and organizing most basic household chores. Their mother was never the same. Prim didn't know how to help her, and Katniss simply couldn't afford one moment for sentimentality. It didn't help that she resented her mother for giving up when she still had two daughters she was responsible for, forcing her eldest to grow up too fast and become a parent while she wallowed in her grief. It shouldn't be the teenage daughter taking care of the mother. It was wrong.

Even so, she was her mother and while Katniss never wanted to be like her, she wasn't ready to lose her, either. She did it one spring morning, while the girls were in school. As the daughter of the Apothecary, she had a wide knowledge of herbs, including those that were poisonous. Their neighbors would later report to Katniss they'd seen her mother walking out of the house and crossing the fence toward the woods. Katniss didn't even know her mother knew how to do that, let alone dared to.

They found her in her room, slumped in her bed. Probably had been there for hours. Luckily Katniss was the first one to get there, as Prim had taken a detour to greet her pets. She still remembered feeling her heart in her throat as she bent down to check her pulse, then hurriedly rushing outside to keep Prim from coming in and seeing it. The younger girl broke to pieces when Katniss gave her the terrible news, struggling to go into the house and see it with her own eyes, but Katniss wouldn't let her. She quickly carted her off to the Hawthornes', where Gale barely managed to catch her as she passed out on their doorstep. Him and Rory had to carry her inside.

Gale accompanied Katniss to her house, to help her with the body and with the organization of the burial. It had to be done quickly, as there was no such thing as a morgue in District Twelve. All that was left when they moved her was a piece of paper that had been lying beside her, which Katniss hadn't noticed. It was a note in her mother's efficient calligraphy, which said simply: "I'm sorry. I love you."

Prim cried herself to sleep for weeks. Katniss never shed a tear during the daytime, but sometimes at night, when she knew nobody was watching and she didn't need to be strong anymore, she would let herself weep very quietly for her sister, her parents, their screwed up lives and how unfair everything was.

Still, they had survived, and they were now in a fairly stable place compared to their struggles in the past. Katniss could've gotten a permanent job with a permanent salary, but Prim was still terrified of the mines from their father's death and to be honest, she wasn't too keen on them either.

Their "official" story was that they had both decided to continue their mother's work as a healer, but in reality Prim was the one who did most of the work on the patients, as Katniss didn't really have the stomach for it. Prim wasn't as savvy as their mother had been, but she had studied all of their mother's notes, their father's plant book and Katniss' friend Madge would smuggle her an actual book on Medicine from time to time. She was really growing as a healer, all through her own effort.

For her part, Katniss stuck to what she did best: hunting. Since she wasn't in school anymore, she had more time to devote to it. Hunting and gathering was a lot of work, especially since her usual partner began working in the mines. But she established a routine that provided more than enough for her and Prim, and even a little surplus for Gale's family. They weren't by any means out of poverty, and they still lived on a day-to-day basis, but since they were only two mouths to feed now, it was slightly easier. It was still a risk, as it was illegal, but given that the people who were supposed to enforce the law were some of her best customers, she figured she would do it for as long as she could.

As she came to the edge of the Seam, it occurred to her that she usually traded her squirrels at the town bakery; the Mellarks had a taste for squirrel meat. She hadn't been there in a while, though, out of respect for the loss they were going through. She wondered if she should try going there now. It had been three weeks already, since the Baker had passed away.

Figuring it was worth a try, she made her way to the town bakery.

She kept an eye out for the Baker's wife as she approached the store. She didn't really need to; the horrible old woman had developed some sort of chronic arthritis-like disease a couple years back and she could no longer work at the storefront. Since then the Baker had started receiving her through the main entrance instead of the back, like he had when his witch of a wife was still around. The baker's sons, who were manning the store now that their father had died, didn't mind her coming in through the front as far as she knew. Still, better to be safe than sorry.

When she got to the entrance she saw that it was the Baker's youngest son who was tending the store. Peeta. He was her age, had been in her same grade through all their years at school. She'd never really spoken to him, but she knew his name from roll call. She hadn't seen much of him since they'd graduated, either. Mainly caught glimpses of him as she did her rounds through town, or a few times at the train station when she'd accompanied Madge and he'd be there getting supplies for the bakery.

The last she'd seen of him had been a couple of months back, when he'd taken his father to her house to see if Prim could help with his illness. The Baker had been diagnosed with cancer- a particularly vicious type, since his prognosis was dire- and there wasn't much Prim or even the town doctor could do for him, but his son had been hoping some herbal remedies could at least help with the symptoms.

She had caught sight of them as she was walking into the house, and they were just leaving. Peeta seemed at the ready to help his father walk if need be; the older man didn't look too steady on his feet, but insisted on moving forward on his own. Peeta had nodded at her, eyes averted, as they passed her by on their way out the door, and that was the most they had ever interacted in almost fifteen years of being acquainted.

Well, the second most, really. He'd also saved her life once. He probably didn't remember it as it had happened almost ten years previous, but she did. And she had always been unsure how to approach him with that immense feeling of debt hanging over her head. Today was no exception.

But that didn't matter. She came to town to trade game, not to have a heartfelt conversation with the guy. And she wasn't going to get any progress on that front by standing awkwardly outside, so she set her shoulders and walked into the store.

There were no other customers in the store. He didn't notice she'd walked in, not at first, as he was bent over the counter, writing on what looked like a ledger with a No. 2 pencil. Waves of ashy blond hair fell over his forehead, obstructing her view of his face. She cleared her throat lightly, alerting him of her presence, and he put down the pencil between the pages with something of a sigh. "Hi, can I help you with anyth-" he started, almost automatically (she wondered how many times a day he had to use that line), but then his blue eyes locked in on her and the phrase trailed off.

There was silence for a couple seconds (What? Katniss thought, a little annoyed at his staring), but then he shook his head almost imperceptibly, like he had forgotten what he'd been about to say, and he started again. "Hi. Can I help you with anything?" he asked, closing the ledger with the pencil in the middle while giving her a friendly smile, which she figured he also gave every other customer that walked through the door.

She did not beat around the bush. "Your father used to trade me bread for squirrels," she stated, somewhat bluntly. If he was bothered by her mentioning his late father, he didn't show it. "I was wondering if you'd be interested," she finished, rearranging the strap on her shoulder.

The movement drew his eyes to the satchel she carried. "Oh. Squirrels. I see," was his immediate reply, as if he hadn't been expecting her to bring up that particular topic. Nonetheless, he took a moment to ponder her offer. "Uh... yeah. Yeah, some squirrel would be good," he let her know, with a nod. He pointed at her bag. "Did you catch one today?" She nodded. "Okay. Um, let me go get that bread, then." He gestured for her to wait a little bit.

He went to the back of the store, presumably because the bread they kept there was warmer than the one on display at the counter. His father had always done the same thing, but Katniss had never asked. In the minute or so he spent out of the room, she took the squirrel out of the game bag, holding it up by the short length of rope she had tied around its hind legs. When he came out again, she handed it to him and he passed her a paper bag containing bread. "Your father always gave me two loaves," she said, noticing that there was one more loaf in the bag than usual. He probably made a mistake.

Once again he seemed caught off-guard for a second. "Right. Well, if I'm honest I always thought your squirrels were worth more than that," he explained quickly, taking a moment to run a hand down the front of his apron. It had splotches of flour in it, which she hadn't noticed because he had previously kept to the opposite side of the counter. "Fresh game is hard to come by. In fact, if it weren't for you we wouldn't have any," he finished.

It was her turn to stare at him for a moment, measuring whether he was telling her the truth or not. It's not like he had stumbled over his answer or anything. And what reason would he have to give her extra? She couldn't shake the feeling, though. Did he remember the first time he had given her bread? Did he think her and Prim were still in such a precarious position that they'd accept charity? Because she wouldn't. She didn't need anyone's help.

Some of her suspicion must've shown in her face, though, because he hastened to add: "Really, I mean it. And now the bakery's doing better, so I can actually afford to offer you fair trade. Take them." She scrutinized his expression, but he seemed sincere. She begrudgingly relented, with a nod.

Transaction completed, she started to walk out without any other comments. She had to go to the Butcher's next. As she was crossing the threshold, though, she thought of something she did want to say. She turned back to look at him; he was still standing in the exact same position, squirrel still hanging from the piece of rope held in his hand. "I'm sorry about your father," she practically blurted out, not very delicately.

But it was true. She had felt sorry when she heard the Baker had passed away. They may not have interacted much outside their trading, but he was a good man. He never looked down on her and Prim for being from the Seam (which was more than she could say of certain others like, say, his wife), and he always gave fair trade as far as she was concerned. He didn't deserve to die like that.

Peeta's easygoing smile fell, his lips drawing themselves into a tight line. Katniss understood. She knew what it was to lose a father, and she knew he must've heard people say those words to him a thousand times, and it never made anything better. She knew. And still, he nodded. "Thank you," he said, actually sounding like he meant it, like her offering her condolences really did help on some level. She didn't know why.

She made to leave, again. When she was only a few paces away from the building, she heard his voice call out. "Katniss." She wasn't surprised he knew her name; he probably learned it in school, much like she had his. She was, however, surprised that he remembered it still. She looked back over her shoulder. He was leaning against the doorway, arms crossed. He must've set the squirrel down on the counter. "Can I ask you something?" he questioned.

She did not reply in the affirmative, but turned fully toward him, implying she was listening. He seemed to understand. His expression serious, he began: "How do you-" He cut himself off with a frown, like the words hadn't come out right. After a short pause, he tried again. "How can you stand it?" Before she could ask what he meant, he clarified. "Having to support your entire family, I mean," he said, sounding almost pained.

The question surprised her. Why would he ask that? Could it be that there was something in common between their lives, other than the fact that both their fathers were dead? The mere idea sounded ridiculous to her. Town people and Seam people could not be more different. Even if he did have to support his family single-handedly, his situation would never be as low as hers had once been.

But then she felt bad for thinking that way. The struggles her family had gone through were not his fault. Even if he hadn't gotten to the point of pawing through someone else's trash, if for some reason what he implied was true, it had to be hard on him. She shouldn't dismiss that. No one deserved to be dismissed like they didn't matter- he'd taught her that lesson some ten years ago. "...I had Prim," she admitted, with a half-shrug. It was that simple.

He let out a mirthless chuckle, and nodded. "I see. Well. I don't even have that," he stated, his tone dry and self-deprecating. It didn't suit him, she thought. "Anyway, I'll see you around," he told her, the corners of his lips crinkling up politely, but this smile wasn't real. He walked inside before she had time to ponder about it any further.

She didn't stay there a second longer. She went off and completed her trades with Rooba and sold her bag of strawberries to Madge, picked Prim up from the Hawthornes' and got home with enough time for them to cook a decent dinner without any hurry.

But she'd be lying if she said her exchange with Peeta Mellark didn't stay in her head for the rest of the day.



Author's note-

I've read many, many AU fics where Katniss or Peeta take the initiative to talk to the other before or without the Hunger Games, and I've loved many, many of them (this fandom is so talented, wow). However, when I set out to write my own take on AU, I couldn't see either of them taking the first step just because they wanted to. They needed something that made them talk to each other. So I set out to kill a baker~ xD I feel bad for Mr. Mellark 'cause he's such a nice guy, but well, I did what I had to do. ^^;;;

It's exactly two months to the movie premiere TODAY! Is everybody excited? I'm so excited about this movie, it's a miracle I haven't jumped out of my skin yet. I am THAT hyped up about this. It's going to be epic, I feel it in my bones. So I thought, in celebration of the two-month mark in the countdown, I would post this. Whoo!

This is a big project I'm embarking on, and I'm kind of a little scared, to be honest. I have written up to chapter seven, and carefully planned up to chapter... twenty-one. And that's not even halfway through. So yes, it's going to be a long ride. Since it's AU I have to do some world-building at the beginning, so you know exactly where the characters stand. That means the actual plot won't actually start rolling for a few more chapters- the reaping (which the summary is from) happens in chapter seven. I hope you'll bear with me here, though; it'll take a bit of time, but it'll be worth it!

I can't promise an updating schedule, but since I have a few more chapters already written, what I'm going to do is I'll update every time I finish one of the later chapters. If I see it's taking a bit too long, I'll just upload another one of the pre-written chapters anyway so you guys aren't left hanging forever. BUT, with the movie coming up soon, I anticipate I will be VERY inspired to write in the coming months. ;)

Please let me know how you liked it! Reviews are always encouraged and appreciated. See you next chapter!