A Fair Trade

DISCLAIMER: I do not own the Hunger Games and I am not making any money off of this story. All rights and characters belong to Suzanne Collins and her publishing company.

AUTHORS NOTE: I just thought of this story after finishing the last novel in the series. I'm not quite sure how I feel about the ending, but I have to say it didn't lack excitement. Also this is my first story that isn't rated M… would you look at that, lol.

**SPOILER ALERT** This story is based off of a memory that Gale talks about in the last book when he and Katniss are at the Hob with Greasy Sae and Darius flirts with Katniss. If you haven't read it you won't understand this little short. This story is my take on what happened 6 months before the Hunger Games when Gale first realizes that he has feelings for Katniss. I've embellished it a little bit, but not much.

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It wasn't a good catch, but for today it'll have to do. It's too cold to stay out any longer. The snow is making my fingertips go numb. I've caught three rabbits and a small squirrel, and Gale has managed a large wild turkey. We make sure to gather a bunch of wild greens as well. They look a lot like pine needles and are a little frozen, but edible. We have enough that Greasy Sae will buy them for her dog stew. She calls it beef, but we all know its wild dog. I would know because I'm usually the one who sells it to her.

Gale notices that I'm disappointed at the small catch. It's not bad really, but I was hoping to bring something more home tonight, or at least have enough to trade for something special at the Hob. Prim woke up early this morning in a cold sweat in tears and, like always, her distress caused my heart to squeeze painfully in my chest. I wanted to bring her something to chase the fear away, to make her forget if only for one day. There's only six months until the next reaping. There's little chance she'll be chosen, but she's terrified.

"What's up Catnip?" Gale asks as we stash our bows into an old hallowed log. I stare at him staring at me. I can't find the words to say something.

We take turns squeezing under the fence that separates the forest from our secluded district that we call home. Gale walks behind me and I hear his large feet crunch in the snow. He suddenly feels so real.

"Prim had a nightmare last night," I say at last. "She's terrified she'll be chosen next reaping."

I look away because I'm sure Gale will think it's ridiculous. Her name is only in one time, one time out of thousands. Gale has at least forty entries, and I have twenty. The chances of Prim being chosen are very slim.

He matches my silence as we make our way through the still meadow beyond the woods until we reach the Hob. I move to open the doors of the old coal warehouse but Gale puts a hand on my shoulder. The weight of his hand feels warm even through my heavy winter jacket. For a moment a funny feeling stirs deep in my chest. His cold grey eyes stare at me staring at him.

The deep ache I feel in my empty stomach reminds me the last thing I had to eat today was some stale bread and warm milk from Prim's goat Lady. I hope that I'll trade well enough today to get a little bit of Greasy Sae's thick stew. It's only after my mouth salivates from the thought of my phantom meal that I realize that Gale is still looking at me.

"Gale?" I ask, but his eyes are far away.

When he resurfaces from his thoughts he gives me a small smile. "Don't worry Catnip, the odds are in her favor." I think he's trying to be reassuring. I appreciate the effort and return with a weak smile.

The moment has passed and the air is slightly uncomfortable. I turn and open the doors then and a warm waft of dog stew and coal dust assaults my nostrils and my stomach cries out angrily in longing. Yeah I know, I grumble back in desperation.

We make our way into the center of the Hob and immediately see Cray in the corner drunk as a skunk buying more pungent white liquor from the poor woman Ripper. He staggers over to us and Gale holds up his wild turkey proudly as he makes his way over. Cray has always had a soft spot for wild turkey. Gale and I make it a point to know. I watch as Gale haggles a price with Cray. The price is a little high, but the head Peacekeeper is drunk, or in a particularly good mood, so he accepts.

Gale looks proud of himself as he puts the heavy coins into a pouch on his belt and turns to me. "Feel like dog Catnip, my treat?" he asks pointing over to Greasy Sae's. I want to tell him that I can buy some stew myself, but he catches my protest before I can open my mouth. "I'll let you buy next time," he reassures me, but I know he won't.

I'm only slightly irritated as I grumble in acceptance and we make our way over to the old cooks stand. Greasy Sae's old wooden cart has to be just as old as she is but I immediately feel better when she looks up and smiles at us both.

"Afternoon Gale, Katniss," she says throatily placing two steaming bowls in front of us.

"Hiya Ms. Sae," Gale says placing a few coins on the counter. She puts her hand down and sweeps them into her pocket in one fluid motion.

"Got anything for me today?" She asks wiping her hands on her old tattered apron looking me up and down.

"Nothing gets by you does it?" I ask as I take my first bite of stew. It's thick and has a strange greasy consistency, but it's hot and filling, and I suppose it's edible. She waits patiently until I have had three or four bites to sedate my hunger enough to speak again. I reach down and grab the burlap sack attached to my belt and open it and take out the squirrel and a handful of greens. She takes the greens immediately but she eyes the squirrel suspiciously. It's not her favorite, but it's not rat either.

"You can say it's chicken," I say hastily. No one here has ever had chicken so no one would know otherwise.

Her looks softens so I know she's convinced. She nods her head and pulls out a few more coins than what Gale gave to her for the stew and puts them on the counter. It's not much, and she has offered more to me in the past, but I'm too tired to haggle with her today. I go to reach for the coins but Gale stops me.

"Aww come on now Ms. Sae, you can give her a little more than that can't you?" He asks in a deep playful voice. "This is our Catnip you're buying from. You've given her more in the past, what gives?"

I'm afraid that Gale has ruined the transaction entirely when I see Sae's cheeks and face flush red in anger. I turn to Gale to yell at him but the woman before me grumbles and pulls out a few more coins and places them next to the others. I'm so surprised I forget to be mad at Gale and quickly take the money pushing the squirrel into her hand before she can take the offer back.

"Thanks," I say quickly. She nods and then takes the small creature to the cutting board behind her. Her frail hands pick up a knife. I watch as she pulls her hand back and slams it down.

Gale and I finish our meager meal in silence. I consider buying more but decide against it. I don't have a lot of money saved, but I try for Prim. I won't let her put her name in more than is necessary.

Gale and I divide the remaining greens equally and I let him have two of the rabbits. He has more mouths to feed than I do and my mother can make a stew out of one rabbit to make it spread out a bit longer. After, I bundle up my portion of greens and go to say goodbye to Gale but I see that he's looking over my shoulder so I turn.

"Good evening Katniss, Gale." Darius, another Peacekeeper, is standing in front of us bouncing on the balls of his feet with his hands behind his back. He looks a bit more cheerful than usual.

"Hello Darius," I say politely, and Gale nods his head.

"So what are you two love birds up to? Have something to trade me today?" He asks with a wide grin on his face.

I try to stop it, but my face reddens immediately and I hate it. He knows that Gale and I are not dating, but he teases us anyway. He finds it entirely too amusing to see me flush different colors of embarrassment. Sometimes I think it's charming but most of the time it annoys the hell out of me. Now is one of those times.

"No I don't," I say curtly, folding my arms over my chest defiantly but his smile widens.

"Now Katniss, you really shouldn't be such a stick in the mud. I saw you come in with some rabbits."

I wasn't going to tell him about the rabbit but I guess already knows. I roll my eyes and tell him that yes I have a rabbit but I don't know if I'm willing to trade with him today. At first he looks slightly put off, but he recovers quickly.

"Sooo, the victor's tour is soon," he says nonchalantly looking to gauge our reactions.

He seems to think this will make me want to talk to him, but I think about what happened last night with Prim, and it only sours my mood even further. The last thing I want to think about is the Hunger Games. We all think about them of course, no one can ever really escape the thought of it. This year the recent victor killed both of the tributes from district twelve. He was from district two again of course, the Careers almost always win.

Darius senses his strategy is flawed. "I heard they're going to hand out cookies to the district this year at the feast," he adds encouragingly.

For a moment I almost forget my resentment. "Really?" I ask intrigued. I can't even remember the last time I had a cookie let alone something sweet. It's too good to be true, I think suddenly. There's no way the Capitol would give us something like that. Darius must be lying to make me feel better, but the lie only makes me want to cry, but I refuse to cry over a stupid cookie. "You're lying," I say suspiciously.

"No, Really!" Darius says quickly. "Apparently the victor's family owns a pastry shop in the middle of the district, so the Capitol decided to give out cookies to kind of showcase his humble upbringing."

I snort. There is nothing humble about a kid who grew up in a family that owns a pastry shop. I imagine fat little children holding fat little pastries dripping with butter and sugar as they shove them into their fat little mouths. I heard even the mice in Two are fat.

He wasn't fat though. I remember his face from watching the games on our projector in our living room at home. He was tall and built like all the tributes from Two before him. He probably trained his whole life up until he was selected for the games. The districts aren't supposed to train, technically its illegal, but everyone knows District two is one of the Capitol's favorites that produces Careers along with one and four.

All of the tributes look healthier before they go into the games. No one would mourn the death of starving little children. It doesn't make good television.

Darius notices he's about to lose his audience so he pulls something out of his pocket and breaks it in half. He's putting it in my hand before I even realize what it is, and my eyes go wide.

"Darius," I breathe. There in the center of my palm is a cookie. It's a wonder I even know what it is let alone have one for myself. I can see fruity raisins and roughly chopped nuts poking out on its browned surface as it sits thick and still warm in my hand.

"I bought it from the Mellark bakery just a few minutes ago," he says watching my look of wonderment.

I open my mouth and babble incoherent words of gratitude but he waves them away. Hastily I break my piece in two without really having to think about it and I give half of it to Gale. He looks at me with a smirk and I don't even listen to his thanks before I'm stuffing the remainder of my share into my mouth. I groan as I savor the most delicious thing I've ever tasted and Darius lets out a joyful sound at my pleasure.

More than anything I want to trade him my rabbit for the other half of the cookie, but I know I can't. My mother and Prim are counting on me back home for the meat to eat for dinner tonight. I mourn the other half of the cookie and watch in envy as Darius eats his half a lot slower than I inhaled mine.

"If I had known you liked cookies so much I would have traded with you," he teases, and I roll my eyes.

Darius is known to be something of a flirt in our town. He can't help it really, it's just a part of who he is. With his messy red hair and tall muscular build even I have to concede he's not a bad looker.

"Really?" I ask, "and what would I have had to trade in return?"

He breaks into a wide grin again and steps closer to me. The proximity bothers me, but I know he's harmless.

"Maybe just the pleasure of your company," he teases, and next to us Gale laughs.

My head snaps to the side. "What?" I ask defiantly.

"Riiiight," he says without further explanation as if his comment explained everything. He and Darius share a knowing look and then they both start to chuckle. It's a deep masculine sound that's not altogether unpleasant. I'm taken aback for a moment but I smile. I guess I'm not really known for my winning personality.

"Are you three going to buy anything else, or are you trying to chase away other customers?" A voice barks out behind us. I turn and see Greasy Sae standing there looking stern, but she's not really angry, in fact she looks like she might actually be enjoying our conversation.

"Aww come on Sae, you know you enjoy us," I say happily. I lift myself to sit on the counter and she huffs.

"I suppose I do," she concedes patting my knee affectionately.

We all fall into a friendly conversation then and it's easy at that moment to forget everything around us; the fact that we're starving almost every day, that we all have families that need us and depend on us, the fact that in six months there will be two new tributes from our own district who will more than likely die in a horrible slaughter that is forced on us by our captors in the Capitol. It all fades away, replaced by the taste of greasy dog stew, delicious nut and raisin cookies, and the voices of my friends.

Somehow the conversation turns to Darius and the many girls that he is seen with. He tells us elaborate love stories that we know are all overly embellished but we enjoy them all the same. He leans over and picks up the end of my braid and starts to play with the end of it accentuating the most scandalous parts of his story by tickling my cheek with the course hairs at the end of my braid. Sae and I are laughing hard as I swap away his hand as he continues to tickle me.

"So Katniss," he says finally, "I still would like to have that rabbit of yours, what would you be willing to trade for it?" He asks innocently tickling my nose which causes me to scrunch up my face and pull away.

"What are you offering?" I ask giggling.

"Oh I don't know, there have been many a woman who have traded with me for a kiss or two. You see I am in high demand around here, and you know what they say about red heads." He wags his eyebrows at me suggestively and Sae and I can't take it and we burst out into laughter again. I hold my stomach as I relearn to breath.

Darius looks at us disapprovingly. "Hey, there are plenty of women who would pay far more than a rabbit to enjoy these lips missy," he says defiantly. "See? The one in the green muffler? Go ahead and ask her. If you need a reference," he says pointing to a pretty girl walking by Ripper on the other side of the Hob.

It dawns on me then that maybe he isn't just teasing me. The look in his eyes is almost hopeful as he plays with my hair absentmindedly. I've never kissed anyone before, and I'm surprised that I suddenly don't find the thought of kissing Darius all that unappealing.

A cough from beside me reminds me where I am and I turn to see Gale looking a bit more serious and a lot less talkative than he was earlier.

"Don't you think we should get home Katniss?" He asks seriously. "I'm sure your mother and Prim will be expecting you for dinner," he says looking at my pouch with the rabbit and greens pointedly.

He's right of course, but I still wish I could stay here and cling to the bit of happiness I feel in the conversation with Darius. I sigh and look to the pouting red head before me.

"Sorry Darius," I say taking my hair back from his grasp. "Looks like I have to be getting home."

Darius fakes unhappiness and exaggerates a sigh. "Very well, if you must," he says smirking.

He goes to turn to walk away, but I catch his arm. He looks surprised but somehow pleased. "Yes?"

"I don't know about kisses, but next time I'll trade you a rabbit for another cookie," I say. He smiles and touches my chin affectionately. "Sure thing Kitttty Kat," he purrs, and Sae and I burst out laughing. His smirk widens and he walks away.

I turn and look at Gale who has a hard expression on his face. The fierceness catches me off guard and I frown. "Are you ok?" I ask, but he doesn't reply.

"Goodnight Sae, have a safe night," he says in a stern voice and turns to leave without any other comment.

"Goodnight you two," She sighs turning back to her steaming pot.

After a moment more of confusion I accept the end of the night at the Hob. "Night Sae," I say halfheartedly, waving weakly, but she doesn't see.

I jog a moment and catch up with Gale and we walk back outside into the bitter cold. It's been getting darker earlier and earlier, and Gale has been insisting that he walk me home recently. I tell him I can handle myself but he never listens. He says that's not the point. I'm not sure I know what that means.

As we near my house I see a soft light on and I know that my mother must have a lamp burning. When we reach the door I look back and almost jump at the intensity that Gale is staring at me. "Everything ok Gale?"

He reaches up and, to my surprise, runs his fingers across my forehead and turns his hand to stroke the back of his hand down my cheek. The breath catches in my throat, my eyes go wide and I freeze. I don't actually freeze though I actually start to feel very warm.

Gale has never done anything like this before. I want to ask him what he's doing but now he's staring at my mouth. I stare at him staring at me like a frightened rabbit, and suddenly I'm thinking about rabbits and Darius. I wonder briefly if Gale is trying to trade me for my rabbit. I smirk and he snaps back into awareness and the moment is lost.

"Goodnight Catnip," he whispers, and before I can register what's happening, he is already gone his feet crunching once more out over the cold hard snow into the darkness.

I'm not smiling anymore as I bring my hands up and touch my cheek where his fingers brushed my skin only moments before. I will the feeling to linger but the cold bites across my flesh erasing his warm touch but not the memory of it. My hand touches the doorknob to our weathered front door and suddenly I feel a pang of guilt. I should have saved the share of my cookie for Prim. I quietly promise myself that I will catch an extra rabbit and a squirrel tomorrow to either trade with the baker or with Darius. I'm slightly inclined to trade directly with the baker, he and his son always trade with me for my squirrels and at least neither of them wants to kiss me. I sigh again and force a smile to my face before I open my front door and walk inside.

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And this would be my first Hunger Games fanfic. I remember this scene alluded to in the novel and I just had to write it. I hope you liked it ^_^

-Cricket