Author's Note: Alrighty! I must say that I'm psyched to be publishing my first Hunger Games fanfiction! I'm new to the HG fandom, writing it at least, so I hope you guys won't hold that against me.

That being said, I have some explaining to do before we get to the chapter. If you guys don't want to listen to me blab and defend myself for the changes I'm making, feel free to skip ahead to the chapter. For those of you who are going to stick with me and my rambles, thanks, and I hope it provides at least some form of amusement. :D

To me the most important part of a story is not the story itself. It's the characters. If you've got great, multi-dimensional characters, the story will tell itself. I love writing huge character arcs. I like having my characters go from point A to point Z and all the points in between. I feel as though Katniss didn't really change at all. That, and, well, I really didn't like her much. I didn't like how, well, for lack of a better term, robotic Katniss seemed. It was like all the hormones and emotions of a sixteen year old girl eluded her, and I refuse to believe that any girl is that emotionally oblivious and confused, no matter what childhood trauma or naturally reserved demeanor. So, safe to say that in this story, Katniss will be a little different. Will she still be completely badass, emotionally confused, stubborn, insulting, and rude? Yeah. Don't panic. :)

Okay, moving on to Peeta. I'll warn you guys now, I ADORE Peeta. I think he's lovely and everything that Katniss needs. However, I think that in canon he was a little too one dimensional. Collins played him as the 'super-nice, moral guy, that is the complete opposite of Katniss,' way too much. Sure in Mockingjay we got a little bit of a twist with the hijacking sub-plot, but, well, I'll tell you that I'm a huge fan of that 'super-nice, moral guy' having a dark side that only comes out when the odds are in its favor (hehe, pun). Now, onto my darker version of Peeta. . .

In this story, I'm making Peeta a little bit bolder, a little bit more confident, and a little more prone to violence. We know that Peeta was beaten by his mother for giving Katniss that bread. Now, I know that it's fanon, but I've read a lot of fics where his mom hits him with the rolling pin. So, I'm thinking, if she's freaking hitting him in the face with a rolling pin, it's not her first swing at him. In my story, Peeta is consistently abused by his mother. Now that, to me, definitely changes his character a little. I mean, being abused has a profound effect on someone. So, going with that, I'm making Peeta a little bit more prone to violence. Is he still going to be the sweetheart we all know and love? Definitely. I'm just adding a layer to the onion. I'm gonna make him tougher too, because frankly, the way canon is written he looks like a wimp compared to Katniss, and I like my characters to be on a little bit more of an even playing field.

And on just a basic story note, I'm a hopeless romantic. So my version of HG is going to focus a lot more on Katniss's feelings for Peeta and things will progress much faster than in the books. Hopefully, though, it's still a believable emotional arc.

Believe me when I say that this is the longest (and probably most boring) author's note I have ever written and I never plan on writing one this long again. For those of you who actually read this entire thing, you deserve an award. A big one. . .like a Peeta Mellark frosted cookie. . .

Sooooooooooo. . . . . . . .

I guess that's it.

Now, on to the first chapter! Woo!

Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games. I'm just using them as my puppet pals for a while.

Chapter One

It's cold. The wind is blowing so fiercely that I fear it will blow my starving, skin-and-bones-twelve-year-old body to the muddy ground. Frozen bullets of rain fall from the sky, beating me down, causing my shoulders to hunch.

I clutch some tattered old baby clothes in my hands. They were my little sister's, Prim. I tried to sell them in town, but everyone knew that they were worthless and wouldn't even give me a penny for them. We needed money, my sister, my mother, and I. My father, my wonderful father, whom I loved more than anything, had been blown to smithereens in the mines. There hadn't even been anything to bury.

The Capitol had given my mother enough money for a month, to keep us alive until she found a job. The only problem with that plan was that my mother died along with my father, not literally, but figuratively. I could see it in her eyes when she'd just sit and stare at the wall, oblivious to mine and my sister's cries.

The cold is seeping into my weary bones, and I'm desperate for food. It's been days living only on boiled water and mint leaves and I know that we won't last much longer. I won't last. My family will die. Prim will die. And it will be all my fault.

I'm passing by the alleyways in town where the merchants live. I see trash cans and a glimmer of hope warms me a little. I'd take scraps any day of the week. The first set of trash cans I see are behind the bakery. I realize this because as soon as I'm within range, the tantalizing smell of baking bread hits my nostrils and I feel my body shake with hunger.

I scurry as quickly as I can to the trash cans. Moldy bread would be god-sent at the moment. I open the lid and my hope flickers out completely. It's empty. . .like so many things in my life now. Empty. Gone. Nonexistent.

Suddenly, a loud, screeching voice reaches my ears, startling me so much that I almost fall. The baker's wife is yelling at me, calling me a brat from the Seam. I'm worthless, pawing through people's trash. She threatens to call the Peacekeepers on me. Eventually, when she sees me try to scurry away from her and her words, she leaves, thinking she's done the job.

But I can't go home. I can't go home without something. I can't face my living dead mother. I can't face my starving little sister's face. Sunken cheeks and cracked lips. I just can't.

My feet carry me beneath a barren apple tree, and I feel the baby clothes slip from my hands. I leave them there in the mud. They're worthless. Like me. I sink to my knees in defeat, knowing that I'll probably die. Right here. Under this apple tree. In an alley behind the bakery, the food I so desperately need having never been so close—yet so far.

I hear screeching again and look up. From the golden light of the ovens I see a blonde haired, blue-eyed boy. He's my age in school, Peeta Mellark. My attention focuses back on the screeching and I know it's coming from his mother. I'm shocked when I see her whack him across the face with something. A rolling pin? Even more shocking to me is how he simply takes the hit, like he'd known it was coming and had accepted it. What had he done?

I hear her words carry on the wind as Peeta steps outside, clutching two loaves of bread in his arms. "Feed it to the pig, you stupid creature! Why not? No decent person will buy burnt bread!"

I watch as he begins to tear off chunks of the loaves and toss them to the pigs. Suddenly, he looks my way and those blue eyes meet my grey ones. We've never talked in school. Never said a single word to each other. But in this moment, we're communicating like we've known each other since birth. Simple eye contact is all that is needed.

Peeta glances back towards the bakery and then back at me. Suddenly, he's running toward me, the loaves clutched protectively against his chest. He reaches me and I'm completely stunned when he speaks. "Here." He places them in my hands and I immediately grab them to my chest and enclose them protectively in my father's hunting jacket. "It's the best I could do."

I look up at him, shocked. He'd burnt them on purpose? For me? "Why?" I ask, surprising myself.

He looks at me, as if debating his answer. "Because it was the right thing to do."

I open my eyes and blink rapidly, trying to bat away the dream. I know it's fruitless. This will not be the last time I relive this dream, this memory. The moment with the bread was a turning point in my life. It was a new beginning. It forever linked me with Peeta Mellark, much to my irritation.

I remember how, the next day at school, I'd watched him. I had to hide a wince every time I saw the large, red welt on the side of his face. Evidence of his punishment. Punishment for doing the right thing, for showing the greatest kindness.

I'd tried to work up the opportunity to thank him, but every time the opportunity presented itself I chickened out, my courage fleeing out the door. I had so many opportunities. The hallway. The cafeteria. We had science together that year and I'd sat two rows behind him. I could have easily flicked him a note, but I couldn't even do that.

Finally, the bell had rung, signaling the end of the day and I'd gone across the schoolyard to a scraggly old tree where I waited for Prim. And then, like the night before in the rain, when I looked up, I was staring into a pair of blue eyes. He was across the yard, apparently having stopped walking home. We stared at each other, and I knew that this was my chance. I opened my mouth to speak. I willed my feet to move.

I remained silent and still. The best I could seem to manage was to simply mouth the words. Thank you.

Apparently, he'd understood because I'd been able to see the corner of his lips quirk up into a smile and he nodded his head slightly. It was then that I finally ducked my head down, my courage all but run out. However, the new object of my gaze was a yellow weed. A dandelion.

And suddenly I knew how to survive. The lessons my father had taught me. The woods. I could survive.

I owe Peeta Mellark my life, my renewed hope. Unless there ever came a time when I had the opportunity to save his life from certain death, I would be forever in his debt.

I hated owing people.

Shaking my thoughts away from a certain baker boy, I realize that the bed is not as warm as it should be. I look to the pillow next to mine and realize that Prim is not with me. My eyes immediately zone in on the bed across the room and sure enough, there she is, cocooned in our mother's embrace. She must have sought our mother's solace sometime during the night. After all, it is reaping day.

I take the time to gaze at my little sister, Primrose, who is affectionately nicknamed Prim. Prim is, in one word, delicate. Her skin is fair and a rosy blush colors her cheeks. Parted in an 'o' shape are pretty pink lips, making her look younger than she already is. Behind her closed lids are big blue eyes. Her golden hair fans out across her pillow, looking like a halo. If there were any angels in this harsh world, Prim would be one of them.

My gaze moves to my mother. We don't have the best relationship. It could have something to do with the fact that she sat by and stared blankly at a wall while her children begged and pleaded for her, slowly starving to death. That would drive a wedge into any relationship, I think. I doubt I'll ever forgive her, and to be honest I'm not the forgiving type.

People tell me that she was beautiful once and it's in times like these where I can see it—when her face is relaxed in sleep, when she's escaped reality. Her beaten and weathered face lessens slightly. However, I know that the moment she wakes, I'll be greeted with a tired face and dull blue eyes. Her blonde hair, so like Prim's and yet not, will hang lank. She'll look like the dead walking and I figure that she basically is. She died when our father did.

Judging by the light in the room, or lack thereof, I can estimate that there's between one and two hours before dawn. I swing my legs out of bed and stand, quickly getting dressed. I throw on a pair of jeans and a tattered t-shirt. My feet slip into the supple leather of my boots. Quick, practiced fingered twist my long, dark hair into a braid that I let rest over my right shoulder. I shrug on my father's hunting jacket and cross the room.

On the way out I pass the ugliest cat to ever exist. Affectionately named Buttercup by Prim, he resembles nothing of his namesake. He as a smashed-in face, half of one ear, and a mangy yellow coat with matching dull yellow eyes. I hate him and he hates me. His hate might stem from the fact that I tried to drown him when Prim first brought him home, all flea-bitten, wormy, and pathetic.

He hisses at me as I pass him, and I resist the urge to hiss back.

I make my way into the kitchen and stop at the kitchen table. I lift the overturned bowl on top and find a present to me from Prim. I know that it is goat cheese wrapped in basil leaves from her goat, Lady. I pocket the cheese carefully and head out the door, grabbing my game bag on the way.

I step out into the Seam, my home that I share with the poorest of the poor in District 12—the coal miners. Everything is covered in coal dust, there's no getting rid of it. On a normal morning, I'd see tired men lugging their way home after a long day in the mines. Hardworking women that walk hunched over due to their invisible heavy burden. Always fighting starvation. Always fighting to provide enough for their families. This was the Seam of District 12.

However, on this day, the streets are bare. I don't pass a single soul, but this doesn't surprise me. No one will work today—might as well try to sleep in. The houses I pass are locked up tight, as if anything could hold off the impending evil of the reaping, which would occur today at two o' clock in the town square.

Today, two children, a boy and a girl from the ages twelve to eighteen would be chosen to die.

My destination, the Meadow, looms in front of me and I quicken my pace slightly. It isn't a true meadow. It isn't lush and green. It isn't pretty. It is simply a small expanse of barely alive grass that is riddled with weeds.

A tall chain link fence comes into view as I pass through the Meadow. Supposedly, the fence surrounds the entirety of District 12 to keep the occasional cougar, rare bear, or pack of wild dogs from getting into town. But, honestly, I wonder if it's really here to keep us in.

Ideally, the fence is supposed to be electrified twenty-four seven, but since we're lucky here in 12 to get even three hours of electricity, the fence is rarely live. Still, I'm always cautious, and I pause to listen for the tell-tale hum of electricity. I hear nothing but crickets.

Large, menacing loops of barbed wire adorn the top of the fence, so going over isn't an option. You can't go around it either. So, the only option left is to go under, and that's exactly what I do. My favorite weak spot in the fence is only two feet in length, but it is more than enough space for me to slip under. I flatten out on my stomach and slink under the fence, and once I'm in the woods I feel myself begin to relax. The woods are safe. They're my haven. It might have something to do with the fact that I have many fond memories of me and my father in these woods, and I always feel closer to him here.

Treading a path through the trees, I make my way surely to a specific hollow log. Once I reach it, my hand dives into its depths and I retrieve my father's hunting bow and a sheath of arrows. My father could have made some decent money selling his bows. They were all hand-crafted and I had a couple more hidden throughout the woods. However, selling the bows would have been a death sentence, and the Peacekeepers would have shot him on the spot for inciting a rebellion. If you put a weapon in the people's hands they might use it.

I begin my hunt with a practiced ease. My feet make no sound as I stalk through the forest. A flurry of fur catches my eye and I spin around, string an arrow, and then let it fly—all in one, smooth motion. I hear a thud, and I know my arrow hit home. I retrieve the arrow and put the squirrel it skewered into my game bag. Within fifteen minutes, I have two more squirrels.

I retreat back to the hollow log, carefully placing my bow and arrows in their waterproof covers. I slip back under the fence and quickly make my way back to the Seam. Except I do not return home. I keep walking towards town.

When I reach the outskirts of town, I am not surprised to find that none of the merchants are up. They rose later than the Seam anyway, and on a day like today they won't open up their shops. I pass the apothecary shop, the one that my mother's family used to own. My mother is originally from town, and she'd met my father because he'd come by and trade herbs. They fell in love and she left the town for the Seam—for my father. This is why my mother's and Prim's blonde hair and blue eyes contrast so much with the rest of us from the Seam—dark hair, olive skin, grey eyes.

I smell my destination before I see it. The aroma of freshly baked bread hits my nostrils and the excess saliva that floods my mouth causes me to swallow convulsively. My stomach rumbles in hunger, but I ignore it. I approach the bakery cautiously, making sure that the witch isn't near. I see a familiar figure through the window and know that the coast is clear.

Silently I enter the bakery, and yet, much to my chagrin, he somehow notices.

"If you were any quieter, you'd have to be dead," Peeta tells me as he turns to face me, a small smirk playing at the corner of his lips.

Peeta Mellark hasn't really changed much since our first encounter when he threw me the bread. He still has blonde curly hair that hangs over his forehead and he still has the brightest blue eyes I've ever seen. However, he's now much bigger than his twelve year old self. He's a whole head taller than me. I only come up to his shoulder. All the years of hard work in the bakery, tossing around hundred pound bags of flour have given him broad, muscled shoulders and strong arms. At school, from what I've heard at least, Peeta Mellark is considered the cream of the crop of District 12.

Even I can't deny that he's handsome. I'm a girl too. Not a normal one, but still a girl.

But that's not important. My mind focuses back to the present. He's mocking me and my silent tread that he knows I'm proud of. I remember what he said. About being any quieter and I'd have to be dead.

I scowl, both at the dig and the fact that I really don't want to hear anything about being dead. Especially not today. As if reading my thoughts, Peeta frowns and immediately apologizes. "Sorry. Bad choice of words."

I almost laugh at the irony. Peeta Mellark has a way with words. Aside from his natural charm, he could use words in a way that I didn't know possible. He could sway a crowd into thinking that the sky was green and that pigs flew. I wonder if he had any clue about the effect he had on people.

"No problem," I say before getting down to business. "I've got squirrels."

"I've got bread."

This little exchange refers to our mutual agreement. The Mellark's are fond of squirrel, and the only thing they have to trade for it is bread. Two squirrels usually equal a loaf. "Well let's see them," he says and I set the squirrels on the counter. Peeta examines them silently before nodding to himself. "Good shot."

He says this every time. I don't answer.

Peeta and I aren't friends. After the bread incident, we didn't even talk to each other until a few years later. The bakery had hit a rough spot, and Mr. Mellark had to raise prices, even though I knew it practically killed him to do it. I knew Mr. Mellark to be a fair and kind man. He always gave me a good trade, just like his son.

At school I recognized the symptoms of hunger in Peeta and I knew I had to do something, like how he had done something for me. I had to, figuratively of course, find a way to throw him some bread. And so I journeyed into the woods and hunted overtime for weeks. I would lay the squirrels on their back steps and never took more than a loaf of bread in trade, no matter how many squirrels I brought them.

Thus began the silent scoreboard between Peeta and I. Somehow, we spawned a game of paying each other back. It was like how one day, Prim had dragged me to the window of the bakery to look at the cakes. Admittedly, they were the prettiest cakes I'd ever seen, even if they were the only cakes I'd ever seen. Prim's 10th birthday was the next day and she mentioned, with a slightly dreamy quality in her voice, how she wished that one day she could try a frosted cookie.

Of course, in the next second, I made it my new goal in life to eventually make that dream come true.

Imagine my fury when I found a brown paper bag on our front porch the very next morning, containing a single, primrose-frosted cookie. The only reason I didn't throw it out was because of Prim. I couldn't deny her anything, even if it meant me owing Peeta Mellark even more.

It didn't help that every year after on Prim's birthday I found an identical brown paper bag on my front porch, holding an identical primrose-frosted cookie. I never told her that they came from Peeta. If I did that would mean that she would do something nice and considerate, like run up to him at school with a big smile on her sweet little face and thank Peeta with a multitude of giggles and 'thank you so much.' This would mean that I, by extension, would probably be required to say something, and I didn't really want to talk to the boy. He always made me uncomfortable. My emotions, always kept under firm control, seemed to fly into a frenzy anytime I was near him. I blame the fact that he saved my life. It was because I owed him. That was the reason he made me uncomfortable, because I knew I'd never be able to pay him back. So, to avoid all of this, I simply told Prim that I'd worked out a deal with Mr. Mellark, a trade for the cookie.

I'd gotten Peeta back though, when I'd dropped off a thigh from a doe that I'd been lucky enough to come across. The happy coincidence that it was on his birthday, or so I had learned the next day, just made my win a little bit sweeter.

These little attempts to one-up the other resulted in a few stilted conversations over the course of the past two years. We'd typically stick to monosyllabic conversations, usually consisting of "Hey" or "Hi." Yet, lately, I'd been doing my trades with Peeta instead of his father, so that forced us to say more than a single word to each other.

I return to my senses when I hear his footsteps. I look up and see that he's right in front of me. How had I not noticed his approach until now? I take a small step back and reach for the bag he hands me. It feels heavier than it should be, and I glance inside.

"This is too much," I say. He's given me a single loaf and two cheese buns—not our normal trade.

"You gave me three squirrels," he shrugs.

"I can't take them," I say, referring to the cheese buns.

Peeta gets this look on his face, like suddenly he's so much older than me and I'm just a kid. I hate it when he looks at me like this. "Sometimes Katniss, people do something just because they can, expecting nothing in return. Life's not always a business deal."

I purse my lips. I hate that he's right. He's proven this fact to me, and I hate it because it conflicts with my own inner rules that help keep me sane. I have to see life as a day to day thing. I make trades. Business. Business and trades keep me and Prim alive. I don't have room for random kindness, but Peeta, whether inadvertently or purposefully, though I assume it's the former, has taught me that sometimes people do things out of the kindness of their hearts, expecting nothing in return. Peeta proved that to me when he gave me that bread four years ago.

"Fine," I say with a scowl and a hint of a smile plays at his lips.

"I know they're your favorite anyway," he says. "Knew you'd cave."

I scoff. "Shut it, Mellark." I've only ever called him by his first name once. "You don't know me."

I begin to stalk out of the bakery, but his voice calls me back. "Katniss!"

I spin back around to face him. "What?" I hiss.

Peeta's expression is serious and solemn. "Good luck."

My face softens without my permission. "You too."

And with that I'm out the door and heading toward the Seam, toward the Meadow, toward the woods. The first tendrils of light are beginning to break through the night sky, and I slip under the fence just as the sun begins to rise.

I retrieve my bow and arrows once more, but I don't hunt. I carry them and the bread to a special place. Gale is already there, waiting for me. Our little hideout isn't much. It's just an enclave of rock that allows for us to see everything, but remain invisible to everything else. It looks out over the valley, lush and green and full of life. I love this place. I love the woods. Gale says it's the only place where I ever smile.

He hears me approach and turns a little bit in my direction. "Hey, Catnip."

Gale calls me Catnip. The nickname goes back to our very first meeting when I was twelve, braving the woods by myself. He was fourteen, only two years older than me, but he was already built like a man back then. He'd asked me my name and I'd whispered it so quietly, he'd thought I'd said 'Catnip.' Of course, the nickname officially stuck when a lynx started following me around.

"Look what I got," I say as I sit down beside him and open up the bag. The aroma of the bread wafts up between us, and I can't help it when my eyes close and I sigh. I open them when I hear Gale's voice.

"What did you trade for this?"

"Three squirrels," I answer.

"All this for three squirrels?" Gale is suspicious, and I placate him.

"He was feeling generous, I guess," I say by way of explanation. I've never told him about my trades with Peeta, and I've never mentioned the silent game of payback that we play. I don't know why, but it's never struck me as being right. I associate Peeta and Gale in completely separate areas of my mind. Gale is safe. Gale is my hunting partner, my best friend.

Peeta is . . . something . . .

I sigh inwardly and purge all thoughts of Peeta from my brain. He always gives me a headache.

Gale doesn't notice my internal turmoil and accepts my explanation. "It's reaping day."

I nod, fishing Prim's gift out of my pocket. "Prim gave us cheese."

Gale grins. Everyone is fond of Prim. "Thank you, Prim," he says. "We'll have a real feast."

I take a knife from Gale and begin to slice the loaf of bread and slather it with Prim's cheese while Gale picks some blackberries from the bushes around us. Suddenly, Gale slips into the hilarious, uppity Capitol accent of Effie Trinket, our district escort. "Oh, I almost forgot! Happy Hunger Games!" He tosses a blackberry in a high arc toward me as he says, "And my the odds—"

I catch the blackberry in my mouth and reply, "—be ever in your favor!"

It's easier to joke about it than to accept it as our near reality in only a few hours.

We eat in silence for the most part, having come to the understanding without words that we would leave the cheese buns for later tonight. That's how things are with Gale and me. We don't need words. We have our own silent language that no one else understands.

After a while, Gale speaks. "We could do it you know . . . make a run for it."

I know what he's referring to, running away into the woods. He's mentioned it before, but my answer will always be the same. "No we can't."

The idea itself is ridiculous.

"We know these woods, Catnip," he says fervently. "We could live out here on our own, away from the Capitol, free."

"Prim—" I begin, but he interrupts.

"Of course we'll bring the kids," he says.

They're not our kids, but honestly they might as well be. I have Prim and Gale has three younger siblings: Rory, Vick, and Posy. Our mothers might as well be added into the brood since me and Gale provide for them too.

The idea is simply too flawed, though, and I don't know if any place is truly out of reach of the Capitol's claws.

The fact that the reaping is today hits me again, and I think of the children who are at risk, not just me, but Gale and Prim and all the others. I'm surprised when Peeta comes to mind. When did he end up on my list of people to worry about?

"I never want to have kids," I say before I can stop myself.

"I might," Gale admits and I'm surprised. "If I didn't live here."

"But you do," I argue irritated.

"Forget it," he snaps and I slip into a mess of thoughts in my head.

Running away into the woods. Prim. But even if Gale and I did escape into the woods, what's all the talk about kids? Admittedly, I brought it up unintentionally, but I expected him to agree with me. Why hadn't he? It only made sense to agree with me.

Things had never been romantic between us. After we'd begun to trust each other, I'd come to see him as an older brother. He's my best friend. I pause to look at him. He has sharp, angular features—a rugged look. Dark hair, olive skin, grey eyes—the typical Seam look—but no one can deny that he's good looking. If he wanted kids, Gale wouldn't have trouble finding a wife. I hear the whispers at school. There's more than one pair of female's eyes on him.

We finish eating and decide to fish and gather. By noon we've got six fish, some greens, and most importantly, a gallon of strawberries. We hide our weapons and go to the Hob, which is the blackmarket of District 12. We trade with Greasy Sae, an older woman who can make a soup out of anything, and she gives us a few chunks of paraffin in return for the greens.

Next, we head through town to Mayor Undersee's house. Madge answers the door and she offers us a soft, but genuine greeting. Madge is probably my only friend aside from Gale. Even though she's a townie, she doesn't act like it. She's quiet like me, which causes us to end up together a lot at school. Projects, sports, lunch, things like that.

She's also a huge fan of strawberries.

We sell her the entire gallon, and she gives us a fair price for them.

As we walk home, Gale's mood becomes more and more sour. The reaping is in less than two hours and all his rage for the Capitol is beginning to surface. I may hate the Capitol, but I don't harbor the rage against them that Gale seems to. I know that if we were in the woods, where no one could hear us, he would be yelling, on one of his rants about how the reaping is just another way for the Capitol to control us.

See, the reaping isn't entirely fair. Once you turn twelve, your name is automatically entered once. But for a meager year's worth of grain and oil, you can take out tesserae. The catch is that you get your name entered another time. You can do this for each family member as well. So, when I turned twelve, my name was in the reaping ball four times.

Getting a little extra food in a starving place like District 12 outweighed the higher probability of you getting reaped. This year, my name would be in the reaping ball twenty times. I've taken out tesserae every year. Gale, who is older than me and providing for four others, will have his name entered forty-two times.

When we reach my house, I turn to him. "See you in the square."

"Wear something pretty," he says flatly.

I walk into my house and find that Prim is already dressed. She's wearing my first reaping outfit. A straight grey skirt and white ruffled blouse that is too big for her, but mother has made it work with pins. Still, despite her efforts, the back of Prim's shirt hangs out and a genuine, soft smile graces my face. "Tuck in your tail, little duck," I tell her.

She looks and me and smiles. "Quack."

I laugh, something that only Prim can get me to do. "Quack yourself."

I leave her in the kitchen with my mother and go into the bathroom where a tub of warm water awaits me. I scrub the dirt and sweat from my body and wash my hair. I towel off and step into my bedroom and see that a blue dress from my mother's apothecary days is lying out on the bed. I'm shocked when she comes in behind me. Her dresses are very dear to her.

"Are you sure?" I ask, wanting to make sure. I notice that she's looking a bit more alive today.

"Yes," she replies. "I can do your hair," she offers quietly and I nod my consent. For the longest time I wouldn't let her do anything for me, my resentment of her overpowering any need I had for motherly doting and love. I know she treasures little things like doing my hair and so I say nothing in complaint as she towel dries my hair and puts it up into an elaborate braid.

When I'm dressed and ready, I look into the cracked, dust-covered mirror that leans against the wall. I don't recognize myself. "You look beautiful," Prim tells me softly.

I bend down to her height. "And nothing like myself," I reply. "You, on the other hand, look very beautiful."

Prim beams.

After a brief attempt at lunch and pretending it's just another day, we head out toward the square. Since it's logistically impossible for District 12's eight thousand residents to cram into the square, they occupy the side streets, watching the reaping from the big television screens that are littered throughout the main part of town. The reaping is required viewing and attendance. If you're not knocking on death's door, you're supposed to be here.

Of course, according to that thought, I suppose we should all have just stayed home.

All the kids are roped off into sections by age. I move up front while Prim stays in the back with the rest of the twelve year olds. I'm in a group of Seam kids and we all nod to each other, acknowledging, but no one speaks.

I look in front of me to the Justice Building. The Capitol has set up a stage. On the stage is Effie Trinket, our district escort, who, this year, is sporting light pink hair and a spring green suit. Her face and smile are as pale as ever and I can't believe that her overall appearance is considered remotely fashionable. There are three chairs on the stage. One for Effie, one for Mayor Undersee, and the third is for our only living victor of District 12, Haymitch Abernathy. He has yet to make his typical drunken appearance. Last, but certainly not least, are the two giant glass balls that hold the names of all the boys and girls in District 12 from ages twelve to eighteen. I glare at all those slips of paper, knowing that twenty of them are adorned with my name.

Finally, the Mayor goes to the microphone and begins to speak. He talks about the history of Panem and how great storms and droughts and floods caused the land once known as North American to fall. From the devastation rose the Capitol and the thirteen districts that surrounded it, creating the nation of Panem. He goes on to tell of the Dark Days, the days when the nation's districts rebelled. The Capitol won, defeating the districts and obliterating District 13 entirely. As punishment for the rebellion, the Capitol created the Hunger Games. A tournament held each year where two tributes from each district, a boy and a girl aged twelve to eighteen, are selected to fight to the death in an immense outdoor arena that could be anything from a frozen wasteland to a burning desert.

The last one standing was the winner, and as reward they were showered with gifts, along with their district—mostly food.

This is just a way to torture us all. We are required to watch the Games. We are forced to watch children murder each other all for the sake of a Game. The message from the Capitol was clear. They are in power. We had no hope. They have the power.

It is always about power. They have it. We don't.

"It is both a time of repentance and a time of thanks," the Mayor finishes. I practically have the whole speech memorized. I've heard it more than enough times.

Next, he reads the list of past victors. We've only had two and only one is still alive—Haymitch Abernathy—who chooses now to make his drunken appearance on stage. We all watch as he tries to give Effie a hug. He ends up falling into his chair, but not before he'd messed up Effie's hair. I bet it is a wig because her curls look off-center. The Mayor is trying to get things under control. He knows that Haymitch is making a laugh-stock of District 12. But then again, no one cares about our district anyway. Everyone knows that the term tribute in District 12 is just another word for corpse.

Effie goes to the microphone, trying to rein in her dignity, if she has any. She certainly doesn't lose her peppy demeanor. "Happy Hunger Games!" She's practically bubbling in excitement, like this is the best day ever. "And may the odds be ever in your favor!"

"Ladies first!" she intones before going over to the girls reaping ball.

I think of how I have twenty slips. I barely give a thought to Prim. I never let her sign up for tesserae and she's only twelve so she only has one slip. One slip of thousands. Just one. I don't have to worry.

The crowd's breath hitches as Effie Trinket finally plucks out a single slip of paper, some pour girl's death warrant. I hope it's not me. She goes to the podium and announces the name in a crisp, clear voice.

It's not my name she reads.

It's Prim's.

I can't breathe. I can't think. The world tips on its axis and I feel someone grab my arm. Maybe I'd been about to fall. Nothing makes sense to me right now. It can't be true. This can't be happening. One slip. One single slip. One single slip amongst thousands. The odds were supposed to be in her favor.

I look up and see her moving slowly toward the stage. She's fighting back tears, I can tell, but her hands are clenched into tight, little fists at her sides and she's walking bravely up to the stage. She passes me and I see that her shirt has become untucked in the back. A duck tail. My little duck.

This spurs me into action.


I begin to make my way through the crowd. They make room. They don't stop me.


My voice is stronger now. I'm yelling. "I volunteer!" I don't pause to question my actions. I have to protect Prim. It's my whole purpose for living. "I volunteer as tribute!"

Effie begins to go on about procedure, but I don't listen. I've caught up to Prim, and she's clutching at my waist. Tears are pouring down her face as I try to get her to let go of me, but she won't budge.

"No, Katniss! No!" she cries and it's taking all my willpower to hold back my tears.

"Let me go, Prim," I say. I can hear Effie calling me to the stage. I have to go. "Let me go, Prim!" I repeat harshly, my emotions choking me.

Suddenly, Gale appears and he sweeps Prim into his arms. She's screaming her protests, still crying, still reaching for me, but I turn away and approach the stage.

Effie Trinket is having a field day. She's even bubblier than before, if possible.

"Well bravo!" she gushes. "I'd bet my buttons that's you sister, hmm? Don't want her to steal all the glory? Come on everybody, let's give our newest tribute from District 12 a big round of applause!"


Suddenly, I see a man raise three fingers to his lips and then hold his hand out to me. Then another follows his actions, and another. Eventually, the entire square is saluting me. It's an old gesture, usually only seen at funerals. It means admiration, it means love—it's a good-bye.

This action almost brings me to tears.

Ironically enough, Haymitch is the one who saves me from showing such emotion on live television. He throws his arm around me and I can smell the reek of white liquor on his breath. "I like this one!" he says. "She's got lots of. . .spunk!" He glares toward the closest television screen in front of us. Pointing an accusing finger, he begins to yell. "More than you!" He stumbles drunkenly. "More than you!"

I don't know if he's accusing the Capitol, and I'll never find out because he takes a nosedive off the stage and knocks himself unconscious.

This is great because all the cameras are now on him and not me. I have a chance to compose myself.

Effie tries to soldier on. "Well, isn't this exciting?" Her wig is practically hanging at a ninety degree angle. Secretly, I'm hoping that if falls.

"Now, on to the boy tribute!"

She barely pauses. She plucks out the first slip her hand touches. I'm anxious to hear who it is, who my district partner will be. I pray that it is no one I know. It will be easier if I don't know them. If I do know them, it will be harder to kill them.

Effie unfolds the slip and reads the name. For the second time today, my world stops and I can't breathe.

Peeta Mellark.

Why? I think. Why? Why? Why?

My eyes immediately zone in on his familiar figure. I see his broad, muscled shoulders cutting through the crowd. His blonde curls are a dead giveaway. I watch him approach the stage. His face mainly shows shock. However, when our eyes meet, that shock is immediately overtaken by fear and worry.

Effie babbles on, but I don't take my eyes off of Peeta. When he finally comes to stand next to me, it's as if for the first time I notice how much bigger he is than me. He's a whole head taller and probably has a good hundred pounds of muscle on me.

I vaguely hear Effie telling us to shake hands, and when my hand grasps his, he gives it a squeeze. I know Peeta. He's trying to reassure me.

We turn and face forward as the anthem begins to play, and I don't give a thought to the fact that we haven't let go of each other's hands.

There you have it! The first chapter. Most of the chapters will not be this long. The first couple are, but that's because it's a lot of background and stuff. When the action starts I'll shorten the chapters to make it seem faster paced. Don't worry though, my chapters will still be at least 3500 words, with the occasional shorter chapter.

Anything that you recognize from the book, mainly dialogue, is supposed to be there. Some of the dialogue is just too good to rewrite.

If you haven't noticed, I'm very thorough in my rewrites. This thing will read like a book. Though this chapter is a lot like the book, there really wasn't much I could do to change it. The main difference that you can see, I hope, is the tone and how different Katniss is. I mean, Peeta's already 'something.' Progress!

I hope that you guys are enjoying my versions of Peeta and Katniss, and if you're a little wary, stick with me for a few chapters and you'll see their characters flesh out a little more. Since this is an AU, anything OOC is purposeful and I've explained my reasoning (I've found that when tweaking beloved characters, reasons for doing so are appreciated). Peeta simply has a little bit more of an edge. He'll say and do things that he wouldn't normally say or do. Katniss simply isn't as emotionally oblivious and stunted. . .that will change a lot.

Though this is an AU, I'm trying to stay as canon as possible. Think of my version of events as totally different and yet basically the same as the book. Okay, that's probably a little confusing. It actually made a convoluted sort of sense in my head . . .

You'll probably just have to stick with me to see what I mean (and please stick with me!) :)

Anywho, I think I've bored you enough with my author's notes! I swear from here on out, I'm pretty short and sweet and to the point! :D

This entire thing is written already, so I'll post consistently. Tuesdays and Saturdays expect an update!

Review? Pretty please? I've never been more wary posting a fic! (bites nails nervously)

Lots of love,