AN: Okay guys, I'm back. I REALLY shouldn't be starting another story right now, but…I am. So I know there a lot of fanfics like this out there, but unlike those, I am literally just rewriting the book with Bade, a few little details changing to fit the show. I really hope you guys like it.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything. At all.
Chapter 1 – Part 1
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Cat's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.
I prop myself up on one elbow. There's enough light in the bedroom to see them. My little sister, Cat, curled up on her side, cocooned in my mother's body, their cheeks pressed together. In sleep, my mother looks younger, still worn but not so beaten-down. Cat's face is as fresh as a raindrop, as lovely as a daisy. My most was very beautiful once, too. Or so they tell me.
Sitting at Cat's knees, guarding her, is the world's ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Cat him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower. He hates me. Or at least distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Cat brought him home. Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with flees. The last thing I need was another mouth to feed. But Cat begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. It turned out okay. My mother got rid of the venom and he's a born mouser. Even catches the occasional rat. Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.
Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love.
I swing my legs off the bed and slide into my hunting boots. Supple leather that had molded to my feet. I pull on trousers, a shirt, tuck my long black braid up into a cap, and grab my forage bag. On the table, under a wooden bowl to protect it from hungry rats and cats alike, sits a perfect little goat cheese wrapped in basil leaves. Cat's gift to me on reaping day. I put the cheese carefully in my pocket as I slip outside.
Our part of district 12, nicknamed the Seam, is usually crawling with coal miners heading out to the morning shift at this hour. Men and women with hunched shoulders, swollen knuckles, many who have long since stopped trying to scrub the coal dust out of their broken nails, the lines on their sunken faces. But today the black cinder streets are empty. Shutters on the squat gray houses. The reaping isn't until two. May as well sleep in. If you can.
Our house is almost at the edge of the Seam. I only have to pass a few gates to reach the scruffy field called the Meadow. Separating the Meadow from the woods, in fact enclosing all of District 12, is a high chain-link fence topped with barbed-wire loops. In theory, it's supposed to be electrified twenty-four hours a day as a deterrent to the predators that live in the woods – packs of wild dogs, lone cougars, bears – that used to threaten our streets. But since we're lucky to get two or three hours of electricity in the evenings, it's usually safe to touch. Even so, I always take a moment to listen carefully for the hum that means the fence is live. Right now, it's silent as a stone. Concealed by a clump of bushes, I flatten out in my belly and slide under a two-foot stretch that's been lose for years. There are several other weak spots in the fence, but this one is so close to home I almost always enter the woods here.
As soon as I'm the trees, I retrieve a bow and sheath of arrows from a hollow log. Electrified or not, the fence has been successful at keeping the flesh-eaters out of District 12. Inside the woods they roam freely, and there are added concerns like venomous snakes, rabid animals, and no real paths to follow. But there's also food if you know how to find it. My father knew and he taught me some before he was blown to bits in a mine explosion. There was nothing even to bury. I was eleven then. Five years later, I still wake up screaming for him to run.
Even though trespassing in the woods is illegal and poaching carries the severest of penalties, more people would risk it if they had weapons. Most are not bold enough to venture out with just a knife. My bow is a rarity, crafted by my father along with a few others that I keep well hidden in the woods, carefully wrapped in waterproof covers. My father could have made good money selling them, but if the officials found out he would have been publically executed for inciting a rebellion. Most of the Peacekeepers turn a blind eye to the few of us who hunt because they're as hungry for fresh meat as anybody is. In fact, they're among our best customers. But the idea that someone might be arming the Seam would never have been allowed.
In the fall, a few brave souls sneak into the woods to harvest apples. But always in sight of the Meadow. Always close enough to run back to the safety of District 12 if trouble arises. "District Twelve. Where you can starve to death in safety," I mutter. Then I glance quickly over my shoulder. Even here, even in the middle of nowhere, you worry someone might overhear you.
When I was younger, I scared my mother to death, the things I would blurt out about District 12, about the people who rule our country, Hollywood, from the far-off city called the Capitol. Eventually I understood this would only lead to more trouble. So I learned to – reluctantly – hold my tongue and to turn my features into an indifferent mask so that no one could ever read my thoughts. Do my work quietly in school. Scowl at everyone to keep them away. Make only polite small talk in the public market. Discuss little more than trades in the Hob, which is the black market where I make most of my money. Even at home, where I am less pleasant, I avoid discussing tricky topics. Like the reapings, or the food shortages, or the Hunger Games. Cat might begin to repeat my words and then where would we be?
In the woods waits the only person with whom I can be myself. Andre. I can feel the muscles in my face relaxing, my pace quickening as I climb the hills to our place, a rock ledge overlooking a valley. A thicket of berry bushes protects it from unwanted eyes. The sight of him waiting there brings on a smile. Gale says I never smile except in the woods.
"Hey, Jay," says Andre. My real name is Jade, but when I first told him this, I had barely whispered it. So he thought I'd said Jay. Then when this crazy songbird started following me around the woods singing, it became his official nickname for me. I finally had to scare it off because he alerted game to our presence. I almost regretted it because he wasn't bad company. But I got a decent price for the squirrels I got later on.
"Look what I shot." Andre holds up a loaf of bread with an arrow stuck in it, and I laugh. It's real bakery bread, not the flat, dense loaves we make from our grain rations. I take it in my hands, pull out the arrow, and hold the puncture in the crust to my nose, inhaling the fragrance that makes my mouth flood with saliva. Fine bread like this is for special occasions.
"Mm, still warm," I say. He must have been at the bakery at the crack of dawn to trade for it. "What did it cost you?"
"Just a squirrel. Think the old man was feeling sentimental this morning," says Andre. "Even wished me luck."
"Well, we all feel a little closer today, don't we?" I say, not even bothering to roll my eyes. "Cat left us cheese." I pull it out.
His expression brightens at the treat. "Thank you, Little Red. We'll have a real feast." Suddenly he falls into a Capitol accent as he mimics Trina Vega, the maniacally upbeat woman who arrives once a year to read out the names at the reaping. "I almost forgot! Happy Hunger Games!" He plucks a few blackberries from the bushes around us. "And may the odds –" He tosses the berry in a high arc toward me.
I catch it in my mouth and break the delicate skin with my teeth. The sweet tartness explodes across my tongue. "– be ever in your favor!" I finish with equal verve. We have to joke about it because the alternative is to be scared out of your wits. Besides, the Capitol accent is so affected, almost anything sounds funny in it.
I watch as Andre pulls out his knife and slices the bread. He could be my brother. Straight black hair, similar features. His skin is darker, but that's my mother's fault. We're not related, at least not closely. Most of the families who work in the mines resemble one another this way.
That's why my mother, Cat, and I, with either red hair, blue eyes, or very fair skin, always look out of place. We are. My mother's parents were part of the small merchant class that caters to officials, Peacekeepers, and the occasional Seam customer. They ran an apothecary shop in the nicer part of District 12. Since almost no one can afford doctors, apothecaries are our healers. My father got to know my mother because on his hunts he would sometimes collect medicinal herbs and sell them to her shop to be brewed into remedies. She must have really loved him to leave her home for the Seam. I try to remember that all I can see is the woman who sat by, blank and unreachable, while her children turned to skin and bones. I try to forgive her for my father's sake. But to be honest, I'm not the forgiving type.
Andre spreads the bread slices with the soft goat cheese, carefully placing a basil leaf on each while I strip the bushes of their berries. We settle back in a nook in the rocks. From this place, we are invisible but have a clear view of the valley, which is teeming with summer life, greens to gather, roots to dig, fish iridescent in the sunlight. The day is glorious, with a blue sky and soft breeze. The food's wonderful, with the cheese seeping into the warm bread and the berries bursting in our mouths. Everything would be perfect if this really was a holiday, if all the day off meant was roaming the mountains with Andre, hunting for tonight's supper. But instead we have to be standing in the square at two o'clock waiting for the names to be called out.
"We could do it, you know," Andre says quietly.
"What?" I ask.
"Leave the district. Run off. Live in the woods. You and I, we could make it," says Andre.
I don't know how to respond. The idea is so preposterous.
"If we didn't have so many kids," he adds quickly.
They're not our kids, of course. But they might as well be. Andre's little brother, sister, and grandmother. Cat. And you may as well throw in our mothers, too, because how would they live without us? Who would fill those mouths that are always asking for more? With both of us hunting daily, there are still those nights when game has to be swapped for lard or shoelaces or wool, still nights when we go to bed with our stomachs growling.
"I never want to have kids," I say.
"I might. If I didn't live here," says Andre.
"But you do," I say, irritated.
"Forget it," he snaps back.
The conversation feels all wrong. Leave? How could I leave Cat, who is the only person in the world I'm certain I love? And Andre is devoted to his family. We can't leave, so why bother talking about it? And even we did…even if we did…where did this stuff about having kids come from? There's never been anything romantic between Andre and me. When we met, I was a skinny twelve-year-old, and although he was only two years older, he already looked like a man. It took me a long time for us to even become friends, to stop haggling over every trade and begin helping each other out.
Besides, if he wants kids, Andre won't have any trouble finding a wife. He's good-looking, he's strong enough to handle the work in the mines, and he can hunt. You can tell by the way the girls whisper about him when he walks by in school that they want him. It makes me jealous but not for the reason people would think. Good hunting partners are hard to find.
AN: Soooooo, how was it? Good? Horrible? PLEASE review! It helps me so much. I hope to post the next chapter on Sunday if I get a good response.
Oh, and if some stuff isn't clear, so far we have Jade as Katniss, Cat as Prim, and Andre as Gale. As you can obviously tell, Beck is Peeta. And instead of Panem, it's Hollywood, but that's all I'm telling you.
Thank gosh its Friday or I might have pretended to be Katniss and shoot an arrow. Well, I technically can, as I'm in a 2-week archery class as gym. So happy Hunger Games.
And may the odds be ever in your favor.