Update as of 7/23/12: This story originally began as a vignette, but thanks to request and my overactive imagination was extended to a series. I decided to keep this first chapter as it originally was intended, a short vignette, but if you read the other chapters will be longer and more detailed! Thanks!

. . .

Reaping

AU: "I never got to thank the boy with the bread. Now I never will." Alternate Reaping, vignette.

Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games.

. . .

A girl with long black hair, so much like my own, walks stiffly up to the stage, hands clutching her dress, a broken look on her face. Somewhere else, close by, I hear weeping, the sound of a family dissolving; but all I feel is the tension slowly leaving my body. Safe for one more day.

When the girl's name had been called out—Grey Rankine, a pretty girl from the Seam who looked so much like me she could be my sister—I felt dizzy with relief. It is a terrible thing, to be happy knowing that this girl would be facing inevitable death, but all I can think is, not me, not me, not me.Two more years of this mockery, this torture, and I could be free. And Prim—Prim!—is safe, easing through her first year. Six more to go.

Effie Trinket babbles mindlessly on stage, oozing with enthusiasm. Such an honor! How fortunate! Lucky girl! She is utterly oblivious to the hush of the crowd, the wobbly girl on stage with tears pouring down her face, clearly on the verge of a breakdown; ignoring the sobs that permeate the air. She smiles toothily instead, moving towards the glass bowl full of names and futures and death, and excitedly announces, "Now it's time to select the lucky boy tribute!"

Across the crowd I see Gale, his face stiff and unmoving. My mind can be selfless now, the need to think only of myself is over, and my thoughts plead for him—not Gale, not Gale, not Gale.

Effie's hand plunges into the glass bowl and carelessly grabs a slip of paper—how easy it is to send someone to their death—and zooms back to the microphone.

It's not Gale.

It's Peeta Mellark.

. . .

Everything had been going so well. I think back to this morning; the fresh goat cheese, hunting with Gale. Strawberries and fish and fresh bread, the promise of a happy meal back home once the Reaping is over. Almost like a holiday. Now the grim reality of the world we live in flickers back to life, and I am left reeling. Not him. Not Peeta.

Before I can blink away the shockwaves, before I can even think, he's on stage. His hands keep clenching and unclenching, his face void of emotion except for his eyes which contain a hopelessness I've only ever seen in the unfortunate animals I've found tangled in Gale's intricate snares. Effie Trinket dutifully asks for volunteers, but the crowd remains silent—volunteers are unheard of in District 12, where being reaped is a guaranteed death sentence.

Mayor Undersee trudges forward, reciting the painfully long Treaty of Treason; all the while my eyes are glued to the figure on stage, my stomach churning with emotion that I can't put a name to. Grey is weeping openly now, and I vaguely note that she will be written off by the Capitol as weak, scorned by the other competitors. She'll probably be dead within the first hour. Peeta, however, remains stoic, unmoving, eyes listlessly roving the crowd, probably searching for his family.

My heart clenches in my chest and I'm certain that I've forgotten how to breathe. Why the reaping of this boy should mean anything to me is beyond comprehension; there are no visible connections between us, nothing to bind my fate to his. Yet all I can think of is that cold, rainy night, drenched and defeated and starving. A red mark on his cheek, bread silently thrown in my direction. Two loaves of blackened bread pressed tightly to my chest, searing my skin. A dandelion in the spring, and then hope.

It's almost as if he can read my treacherous thoughts because, inexplicably, his eyes meet mine as if I'm the one he's been searching for all along. My hands shake and in my stomach I can feel the iron weight of a debt unpaid. I never got to thank the boy with the bread.

Now I never will.

. . .

This is only my second HG fic, and I know it's really quite rough around the edges. I'm just a sucker for vignettes. I would love some feedback, my last one didn't get any! Review?

-SWW