Author's Note 1: This is an AU version of 'The Hunger Games.' In this world, Gale and Katniss became a couple a year before the reaping for the 74th games. Gale is reaped instead of Peeta. A couple other things I've changed for this story (I'm hoping the reasons for these choices will be clear when you read it): Katniss is 18 like Gale, their fathers died when they were both 12, Rory is 15 instead of 12, and Posy is 6 instead of 4 (this one is mostly just a consequence of having their fathers die 6 years ago instead of 4).
Author's Note 2: This is my first attempt at Hunger Games fanfiction. I hated the way 'Mockingjay' ended and found I couldn't get this version of events out of my head, so I decided to take a shot at writing it down. I've got the whole story outlined and the first few chapters written. I'm going to try to keep to posting a new chapter every 5 days or so, RL permitting. This is rated M for a reason - there will be lemons, and the occasional bad word. Reviews are greatly appreciated!
Disclaimer: I own nothing and am not making any money off of this. Everything is the property of Suzanne Collins and her publishers.
When I wake up, the sky is only just beginning to lighten. Dawn is still a while off, a fact for which I'm grateful. Normally I would not have to be up quite this early, but today is Reaping Day, and that means I'll have to set off for the woods earlier than usual, in order to make it back in time.
I rub the sleep from my eyes and look around the tiny bedroom in my house in the Seam, the poorest area of District 12 where most of the coal miners' families live. My little sister Prim is curled up with our mother in the bed across from me, her ugly old cat Buttercup lying across their feet. She seems to be sleeping soundly, and I move quietly, not wanting to disturb her. She needs the rest, having woken up several times throughout the night crying out in fear. At 12 years old, this will be her first reaping, an understandably terrifying prospect.
This is my 7th and last time as a potential tribute, since I turned 18 two months ago, and will no longer be eligible next year to serve as tribute. Only children between 12 and 18 years of age can be selected as tributes to represent their district in the Hunger Games - a horrible annual event where 24 children from the 12 districts of Panem are forced to fight to the death for the amusement of the Capitol and as punishment for rebelling against its rule three generations ago. In District 12, being selected as tribute was almost always a death sentence. Each Hunger Games can have only one victor - one survivor - and in the 73 previous years of games, District 12 had produced only two victors. Tributes are selected on Reaping Day, when all individuals of eligible age have their names entered into random draws - one for boys and one for girls. With Prim now eligible, I find I am more afraid for her than myself, even though her name will only be entered in the draw once, whereas mine will be in there 28 times.
Sighing, I slip out of bed and quickly put on my usual hunting outfit - faded leather jacket, light t-shirt, slim tan pants, and well-worn black boots. I pull my dark hair back in a long braid and creep out of the bedroom as silently as possible, not wanting to disturb Prim or my mother. In the kitchen I find my game bag and sling it over my shoulder, before noticing a small bundle on the table next to a piece of paper with 'Katniss' written on it. I pick up the note, and smile - the bundle contains a bit of goat's cheese that Prim had left out for me as a gift. I put the bundle in my game bag and head out the door.
Once outside I begin moving quickly, eager to get to the woods. I make my way across the Seam, and through the meadow at the edge of the district, heading straight for the loose spot there in the wire fence that rings District 12. I listen for the tell-tale hum that would mean the electricity has been turned on and the fence is active, but I hear nothing. The fence is rarely turned on, but with the reaping today, I have to be extra careful. When I hear nothing, I duck underneath it after taking a quick look around to make sure that no one is watching me.
Entering the woods is illegal, and hunting in the woods is considered poaching on Capitol lands, a crime punishable by death. But living in one of the poorest districts, I am willing to take the risk to keep my family from starving. It helps that, while most others in District 12 are not brave enough to venture out here themselves, they are generally willing to look the other way, particularly since they also benefit from trading for some of the game I bring in.
As soon as I enter the woods, I can feel some of my anxiety lifting. I am in my element here and my worries about the reaping this afternoon seem a thousand miles away. I move swiftly through the forest, stopping first to grab my favourite bow and arrow from its hiding place in an old hollow tree trunk before heading along my preferred path. In short order I've managed to shoot a squirrel and two fat rabbits, who must still be a little slow from sleep as the sun is just now appearing on the horizon. It is bad luck for them that they happened to be emerging just as I came through, but very good luck for me. The rabbits will be worth a good trade at the Hob, the black market that runs from inside an old coal warehouse. The squirrel isn't quite as valuable, but meat is meat and I can't afford to be picky.
I'm cleaning the gore off my last arrow when I hear a twig snap behind me. Reflexively I spin around, readying my bow as I turn. The woods are mostly safe, at least for someone as familiar with them as I am, but every now and then a bear or bobcat or pack of wild dogs wanders through. And of course, there is always the possibility that some Peacekeeper will get it in his or her head to start actually enforcing the anti-poaching laws and track me into the forest. Under the Capitol's rule, predators come in any many forms, and I instinctively brace myself for the worst.
What I find, instead, is Gale Hawthorne, about 10 feet away from me, holding his hands up and giving me a look that somehow manages to be both sheepish and cocky. I mentally relax immediately, but do not lower my bow.
"Oh good," I say coolly, "I had been hoping to shoot something larger than a rabbit today."
He quirks an eyebrow at me, and begins slowly closing the distance between us. "Now, now, Catnip. No need to do anything rash just because you're mad at me for sneaking up on you," he teases.
"It would serve you right. Hasn't anyone ever taught you not to startle people engaged in illegal activities?" I fire back, though I let the bowstring go slack in my hand.
"Just trying to keep you on your toes," he smirks, now standing almost directly in front of me. At over 6 feet tall, Gale is almost a full foot taller than I am, and would appear quite intimidating if I didn't know better.
"I doubt it's my toes that you want me on," I grin back, finally lowering my bow completely as he eliminates the remaining space between us.
He laughs, "You know me too well, Catnip," before sweeping me into his arms for a searing kiss, which I eagerly return.