Hello all! So, after reading many, many fabulous Hunger Games fanfiction, I've finally decided to try my own hand at writing a story! I'm sure this version has been done many times before, but I thought I would put my own twist on a story that we all know and love! This is my first fanfic, so I would love to know what you all think! I apologize in advance for any spelling or grammar errors - if you catch any mistakes, let me know and I'll fix it right away!

Disclaimer: Hunger Games and all recognizable characters belong to the brilliant Suzanne Collins. I'm just playing in her playground for awhile :)

Did you ever know that you're my hero,
and everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
'cause you are the wind beneath my wings

- Wind Beneath My Wings

Chapter One: In Which Katniss Everdeen Makes a Decision that Changes Her Life Completely.

The morning dawned cool and misty when Peeta Mellark woke up that morning. There were angry, gray storm clouds in the sky and outside his window; he could hear a strong gust of wind blowing wildly around the trees in his backyard. All and all, the weather seemed to match perfectly with what was to happen later that day. Not really willing to leave his warm bed, but knowing he'd have to; the sixteen year old teenager slowly pulled back his covers and dragged himself out of bed, careful to not disturb his still sleeping sister. The reaping wouldn't be until two o'clock that afternoon but there was still plenty of work to be done and it would be a waste of a perfectly good hunting day if he didn't leave now.

Getting dressed and quietly pulling the front door closed behind him, Peeta made his way to the edge of District Twelve. With their house almost at the edge of the Seam, he arrived at the meadow within minutes and silently slipped through the high chain-link fence and into the woods. He could see his breath forming small white clouds as he walked and although the wind had calmed down significantly, the morning air was still a bit chilly. He pulled his father's hunting jacket around him tighter. Walking along the worn down path, he made his way further into the woods, pausing to stop at a hallow log where he stashed his bow and arrows and slinging them over his shoulder, before continuing on his way. The bow and arrows had also belonged to his father, weapons that Peeta took on as his when his father passed away in a mine explosion five years earlier. Trespassing through the woods was illegal, but Peeta did what he had to do in order to help his family survive. There were few other choices.

Up ahead, he spotted his best friend waiting for him and he could feel himself relaxing a bit. Gale Hawthorne smiled as he approached and held up his morning kill. "Look what I shot."

Peeta whistled as he admired the large dead fox that Gale held. "Let's see if we can find anymore game." That morning hunt turned out to be a good one. By the time they were done hunting, Peeta had managed to shoot down five squirrels and a raccoon. Between him and Gale, they had a dozen fish, a bag of greens and had collected about a gallon of strawberries. Heading back home, they decided to stop by the Hob where they traded half a dozen fish, their greens and the raccoon to Greasy Sae in exchange for things that they needed. It was a good arrangement for both parties involved.

As they made their way towards the mayor's house, Peeta began noticing Gale's face becoming more and more sullen as they approached the town square, a frown on his face. There were Peacekeepers milling around, setting up the stage and getting things ready for the reaping that afternoon. The tension across Gale's shoulders was noticeable and Peeta elbowed his friend in the ribs, hoping to get Gale to relax a bit. Gale's opinion of the games and of the Capitol was well known to the blonde but the last thing Peeta needed was Gale's temper going off and exploding. It was treason to speak out against the Capitol.

The brunette let out a long drawn out breath. "I just hate this," he muttered quietly.

"I know," the blonde muttered back. And indeed, Peeta did know. He hated it just as much but he held his opinion back because he didn't want to cause trouble for his family. They were already breaking law by going into the woods to hunt regularly. And without Peeta, who was going to feed Prim and his mother?

They walked up to the back door of the mayor's house to sell half the strawberries they had collected, knowing that the mayor had a weakness for them and could afford their price. The mayor's daughter, Madge who was in Peeta's year at school, answered the door. Her blonde hair was done up with a pink ribbon and there was a gold, circular pin that adorned her dress.

"Pretty dress," Gale remarked with a hint with disdain in his voice.

Peeta elbowed his friend once again. Madge Undersee was one of the few merchant girls in their district that was actually pretty nice. Being the mayor's daughter would lead one to assume that she was snobby but she was friendly to everyone, seam kids included and she never treated anyone different. She and Peeta weren't friends by any means, but he had nothing against her like Gale seemed to have a grudge against all kids that weren't from the seam. "Hi Madge," Peeta greeted, shooting Gale a dark look. "Want some strawberries?" He held out the bucket he was currently holding.

Madge glanced at Gale and nodded, choosing to ignore his comment and focused her attention on Peeta. "Sure Peeta, hold on," she disappeared for a moment and returned a minute later. She pressed a handful of coins into his hand. "Good luck today."

"You too," the blonde replied and together he and Gale turned and walked back down the steps.

Walking towards the bakery, Peeta began to feel the apprehension that he always felt when he came here. The Everdeens were one of the merchant families in district twelve that were definitely better off than most and while the baker, their two sons and daughter were alright, it was the baker's wife he tried to stay away from. Candace Everdeen turned up her nose at all seam families and she especially hated Peeta because he had what she called a "mixed heritage."

It was no secret to all of district twelve, the love story between Peggy Rhimstone and Patrick Mellark. It had been somewhat of a scandalous affair at the time. Peggy had been born in town and came from a well off family. With her blonde hair and blue eyes, she had her pick of men vying for her attention. And then she met Patrick (who was from the seam) and the rest as they say, was history. The two fell deeply in love and Peggy left behind the life she grew up in and married Patrick.

Peeta's parents were as happy as any couple in love could be. They had a happy marriage and for the first eleven years of his life, Peeta was surrounded with laughter and smiles all around him. He and Prim looked like their mother, with blonde hair and blue eyes, but people from town looked down upon them anyways. The Mellarks never had a lot of money but it was alright because they had each other and there was so much love, that the whispers and gossip of "bad blood" and "his merchant mother married someone from the seam, can you believe it?" never bothered him as he grew up. And then one day, it all changed.

He could still remember the Peacekeepers in his living room delivering the news that his father had died in the mine explosion and the devastated wail that came from his mother. He had just turned eleven and it had been hard to digest the fact that he would never see his father again. Something in his mother had died that day and although she was still physically there, she was no longer the mother he remembered. She had shut down and fallen into depression, forcing Peeta to grow up quickly and take care of Prim who had only been seven at the time.

"Is the witch around?"

Gale's question brought Peeta out of his thoughts and back to the present. The blonde took a quick peek through the window. "No, but let's go around the back anyways."

As they made their way around the building, the backdoor opened and something yellow darted past them. Feeling his instincts kick in, Peeta reached out and grabbed the cat by the neck and held it out in front of him. The cat meowed angrily at having its escape thwarted, its paws swinging in the air.

"Buttercup! Come back here! Oh - !"

Katniss Everdeen came into view, her features etched out in surprise. The baker's youngest child and only daughter was already dressed for the reaping that afternoon in a pale blue sundress and her long chestnut colored hair pulled into a single braid. There was a white apron pulled on over her dress and her right cheek was covered with a smidgen of flour. Upon seeing the two of them, she stopped short and blushed.

Peeta stepped forward and handed her the cat that was currently squirming to get free. She held out her arms. "Thanks," she whispered as he placed the cat in her arms.

He nodded dismissively. It wasn't that big of a deal. "Is your dad around? We were wondering if he wanted to do some trading today."

"Um," if possible, Katniss blushed even redder. "No, he went to go see Mayor Undersee but I can help you. Come with me."

Peeta and Gale followed her through the backdoor of the bakery, watched as she dropped off her cat in her living room, and continued to follow her into the kitchen where dozens of loaves of bread were sitting on cooling racks. He inhaled the smell of fresh bread and felt his stomach rumble. He loved the smell of fresh bread.

"Um," Katniss turned to face them. "H-how many squirrels did you bring today?"

Gale held out the bag that had been hanging off his shoulder. "There are three in here."

Katniss reached for the bag and nodded. "Okay." She placed the squirrels next to the sink and then busied herself as she grabbed a couple of paper bags and reached for a few loaves of bread that were to her left. When she turned back around to face them again, there were two bags with three loaves of bread in each.

Peeta frowned. The baker usually traded one loaf of bread per squirrel – Katniss had given them too much. He took a step forward. "Hang on, your dad usually gives us one per squirrel."

Katniss' eyes widened. "O-oh," she stammered. Then she shook her head, her nervousness was obvious in her demeanor. "It's alright, you can have them."

Peeta felt Gale's temper before he saw it. His friend stepped forward and pinned Katniss with a glare. "We always get one loaf of bread per squirrel, that was the deal," Gale snarled. "We don't need your charity!"

The baker's daughter involuntarily took a step back as Gale's sudden anger was unleashed upon her. Peeta inwardly sighed. Gale always acted like this every year on reaping day. Before the blonde could intervene though, Katniss stepped forward again and held out the bread to them once more.

"It's not charity, okay?" Her gray eyes flashed with annoyance as she glared back at Gale. "I don't know how much bread my dad normally gives you but I've eaten your squirrels before and they're delicious! I think they're worth more than just one loaf of bread!"

Peeta raised his eyebrow in surprise. He had never heard Katniss speak to anyone like that before – in fact, he hadn't ever really heard her speak period. But then again, Peeta never paid attention to his surroundings unless it had something to do with Prim and hunting. Katniss was also in Peeta's year at school and she was known for being notoriously shy. She often kept to herself, partnering up with Madge Undersee for school activities. The look in Katniss' eyes though, reminded him briefly of a moment five years earlier…

Letting out a breath and shaking his head before he could go down memory lane, he stepped forward and accepted the bags of bread, shooting Gale a dark look as he did so. Although incredibly shy, Katniss was also kind and he knew she never intended to offend them. Gale just needed to let go of his pride a little bit. "Thanks Katniss. We'll bring you an extra squirrel next time for all this bread, alright?"

For a moment it looked like Katniss was about to protest but then thought better of it as she bit her lip and looked down. "Okay," she whispered, reverting back to her shy nature one more. For some reason, she could never look at Peeta in the eye.

They turned to leave and as they made their way back towards the seam, Peeta nudged Gale with his shoulder. "You didn't have to talk to her that way, you know. She's never been around when we traded with her father, maybe she really didn't know how much bread we normally get."

Gale snorted. "Yeah, right. She has been around, you've just never noticed her."

He shrugged in response. "Whatever. We better get going." Once they reached the path that separated them towards their homes, the two boys divided their trades and purchases – splitting the fish, bread and money evenly between them. "See you in the square."

Gale rolled his eyes as he walked off. "Make sure to wear something pretty."


The air was warmer when Peeta arrived home a few hours later. As soon as he walked through the front door, he heard whimpers coming from his room and he quickened his pace. "Prim!" Peeta knelt by the side of her bed and gently shook his sister's shoulder. The little girl's eyes opened and upon seeing her older brother, tears filled her blue eyes and she launched herself into his arms. "It's okay Prim," he wrapped her tight in a hug. "It was only a bad dream." Peeta dreaded this day when it came around. The Hunger Games were a cruel annual event in which one boy and one girl aged twelve to eighteen from each district were chosen to compete in a televised battle to the death until only one person was left. This would be Prim's first year being eligible for the reaping and in the weeks leading up to the event, his little sister had begun to have nightmares almost on a nightly basis.

Prim began sobbing uncontrollably. "I dreamt that it would be me!"

His arms tightened. "Shh," he soothed. "Your name has only been entered once. You're about as safe you can be. The odds are in your favor Prim, it won't be you."

"Then what if it's you? I don't want you to be reaped, Peeta!"

"Oh Prim," he sighed. "It's been four years and my name hasn't been called yet. Maybe I'll be lucky again this year." He continued to soothe Prim until she calmed down. "Come on, little flower," he began pulling away. "We need to start getting ready."

Their mother chose that moment to come into their room. Peggy Mellark was already dressed for the reaping and looking exhausted, sadness still etched on her face. Peeta ignored the pang that he felt at seeing his mother like this. She had come a long way from when his father had first passed away but she would never again be the happy, carefree mother he remembered. "I've laid out an outfit for you."

He looked over his shoulder and saw his father's old dress shirt and pants and swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. "Thanks," he answered.

At one o'clock, they headed for the square. Attendance was mandatory and it was frowned upon to arrive late. Despite the bright cheerful banners that were hanging on the buildings surrounding the stage in the middle of the square, the air was thick and filled with heavy tension as people filed in silently and signed in. Prim's hand was held tight in his own and he could feel his heart pounding rapidly. For the last five years, Peeta had done all he could to protect his sister every way he knew how. But there was no way for him to protect her from the reaping; all he could do was pray that Prim's name would never be called.

Glancing around, he spotted Gale's younger brother standing with a group of other twelve year olds. He bent down towards Prim. "Look, there's Rory. Why don't you go stand with him? I'll come find you after the reaping, okay?"

Prim's watery eyes looked up at his and she nodded. She gave him a hug and he watched as she went to go stand next to Rory. Then he turned and made his way towards where the other sixteen year olds stood. His blue eyes swept the area once more, this time catching Gale's gaze and he nodded to his best friend. Peeta then looked forward towards the stage that was set up before the Justice Building. There were three chairs, a podium and two large glass bowls that held the slips of paper with all the names of the children that were eligible for the reaping. Two of the three chairs were filled by Madge's father, the mayor of District Twelve and Effie Trinket, District Twelve's escort, fresh from the Capitol with her scary white grin, pinkish hair and her magenta two-piece suit. There was a commotion and Peeta watched as Haymitch Abernathy, District Twelve's only victor from the Hunger Games, stumbled up onto the stage and threw himself onto the last empty chair. It looked like he was already drunk, which was a common occurrence.

The clock struck two and the Mayor steps up to the podium to begin his speech and then introduced Effie Trinket. Bright and bubbly as ever, Effie trots to the podium and gives her signature, "Happy 74th Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor!" before going on to say what an honor it was to be there in District Twelve. Peeta inwardly rolled his eyes. Who was she kidding?

Finally it was time for the drawing. Effie reaches into the glass bowl with all the boys' names. "Boys first this year!" She digs her hand deep into the bowl and pulls out a piece of paper. The crowd draws in a collective breath and it is so silent that Peeta swears he could hear a pin drop. And then his world stops as Effie calls out the name written on the little piece of paper.

"Peeta Mellark!"


Katniss Everdeen shut door behind them as Gale Hawthorne and Peeta Mellark left the bakery. She let out a sigh as she leaned against the door, closing her eyes in defeat. No matter what she did, it seemed as though she could never bring herself to say more than two words to the boy she was in love with – if she said anything at all. And other times she did stupid things – like offend his best friend by offering them extra bread. She sighed again, she felt like such an idiot.

"And how was Prince Charming's visit today?"

Katniss looked up as her father came into the room. Bruce Everdeen gave his daughter a knowing grin as he approached and Katniss blushed heavily. Sometimes it didn't pay to have her father know about her secret. When she had seen Peeta and Gale approaching the bakery, she had begged her father to all but disappear and let her handle the trading. Her initial plan had been to strike up a conversation with the blonde boy but as soon as she had opened the door, Buttercup had raced outside faster then she could catch him.

That stupid cat had ruined her planned conversation starter!

Katniss sighed once more. Oh, who was she kidding? As soon as she saw Peeta, she had chickened out and went right back to being the coward that she was. "I got scared again. I just never know what to say to him!"

"Oh, honey. He's just a boy," Bruce wrapped his daughter into a hug. "I admit, he's a little rough around the edges but you shouldn't be so afraid to talk to him. He's just one fish in a sea full of fishes."

"But dad," she whined. "He's the fish that I want."

Bruce Everdeen only shook his head and hugged his daughter even tighter in his arms. "You take after me Catnip – you're exactly like me in every way. When you love someone, you love them with all of your heart. You're younger than I'd like you to be when you found love, but I guess the heart wants what it wants and there's nothing you can do to stop it."

One of the favorite things that Katniss loved most about her father was the way he understood her. He didn't find it silly that she had loved the same boy since she had been five years old. Instead, he supported her and listened to her problems and gave her encouragement whenever she needed it. "I wish I could be brave and tell him how I feel but I'm scared he'll just laugh at me."

"You'll have plenty of chances to talk to Peeta, I promise. Have courage. You'll be brave when you have to be and then you'll be able to do whatever you set your mind to, accomplish whatever goal you want," Bruce pulled back from his daughter and looked at her. "Catnip, any boy would be lucky to have you and don't you ever forget it. You're the best girl in the entire world."

"Dad, you're only saying that because I'm your daughter," the smile was beginning to appear back onto Katniss' face though. Her father was right. After all, there was always next time Peeta came to trade at the bakery, right? She could talk to him then.

Bruce winked at Katniss. "But you're my favorite daughter."

She let out a laugh. "Dad, I'm your only daughter!"

Father and daughter continued to joke around for a few more minutes before Bruce finally ushered Katniss to get cleaned up. It was getting close to the reaping time and they would have to leave soon. Katniss bounded up the stairs and quickly washed up, making sure all the flour was gone from her arms and her face. She grimaced as she spotted the small patch of dried flour on her cheek – had Peeta really seen her like that? She groaned out loud. At times like this, she wished she had a sister instead of two older brothers. As much as Katniss tried, she just didn't know how to be girly. She was just plain and simple Katniss. And she thought this fact might be one of her disadvantages when it came to getting Peeta's attention. She just didn't know what to do or how to act. Being a teenage girl was pretty tough sometimes.

The square was crowded with people by the time the Everdeens arrived. Her oldest brother Nathan was twenty-one and was no longer eligible for the reaping. Her other brother Tristan, was eighteen and this was his last reaping year. Katniss hoped for Tristan's sake that he wouldn't be reaped – he was almost free. After saying goodbye to her family, Katniss went to sign in and then joined the group of sixteen year olds, standing next Madge Undersee. The two girls exchanged brief nods but no words as the air around them was so thick with tension that no one dared to break the silence.

Katniss stood quietly and looked around, her eyes immediately trained on the blonde boy standing a few feet away from her. She watched as he gave his sister a hug and then sent her off towards the other twelve year old children. Katniss' heart broke for Peeta's sister and she caught a glimpse of the scared face on the little girl. It made Katniss want to give that little girl a hug.

Her eyes then went to Peeta as it always automatically did. It seemed she could never stop looking at the blonde hunter. She continued to observe him, dimly aware of the fact that Mayor Undersee had begun the reaping ceremony. The speech was the same every year and they also studied the history of the hunger games in school. Katniss was sure everyone knew it by heart by now. She was pulled out of her day dreaming though when Effie Trinket approached the podium. This was the moment that Katniss always dreaded the most every year. Her heart began to pound rapidly as she watched Effie's hand reach into the bowl with all the boys' names. Please not Peeta. Or Tristan. Not Peeta, not Peeta, not Peeta. Not Tristan. Not Peeta. Please not Peeta.

"Peeta Mellark!"

And then Katniss Everdeen's heart shattered into a million pieces.

Beside her, Madge let out a horrified gasp and Katniss could see her friend glance at her out of the corner of her eye. Katniss was too stunned to even offer a response, couldn't focus on anything other than the fact that the boy she loved was currently making his way towards the stage. Medium height, stocky build and ashy blonde hair that did not hide the shock that was currently on his face, Peeta was doing his best to remain emotionless. He climbed steadily onto the stage and took his place beside Effie.

"Isn't this exciting?" Effie's voice cheerfully rang out across the still silent square. "And such a handsome tribute this year! Are there any volunteers?"

A wail rang out and Katniss turned in time to see Primrose break into a heart wrenching sob and she collapsed to the ground. She watched, feeling helpless, as Gale suddenly appeared and helped pick Prim up. Save for Prim's cries, the square remained silent. District Twelve hadn't had a volunteer in decades, if ever. Katniss felt her eyes welling up with tears. It wasn't fair!

After a moment, Effie nodded. "Alright! And now for the girls!" Her arm reached into the left glass bowl that held all the girls' names and pulled out a slip of paper. Her eyes widened. "Well, isn't this just marvelous! Two chances for your family to try and bring some honor to District Twelve! Primrose Mellark, come on up here!"

In that moment, Katniss hated the hunger games more than she ever had before. She hated what the games stood for, hated that the Capitol forced these games on innocent children, and hated everything it represented. Peeta's stony expression had cracked and he stared at Effie in horror. "WHAT?" His voice thundered across the square.

The crowd began to murmur unhappily as they always do when a twelve year old gets chosen. Katniss could see that Prim had stopped crying momentarily, her shock evident. And then slowly, the twelve year old girl pulled away from Gale and began making her way towards the stage. Seeing this, Peeta became hysterical. "NO! NOT HER! PLEASE, NOT HER! PLEASE, SHE ONLY HAD ONE SLIP! PLEASE, NOT PRIM!" Two peacekeepers ran onto the stage and held onto him, preventing him from rushing towards his sister.

"I'm sorry young man, but rules are rules," Effie turns to face the crowd once more. "Are there any volunteers?"

Katniss stared at Peeta, the tears finally spilling over and trailing down her face. The blonde was still struggling against the peacekeepers, devastation on his face and looking like his worst nightmare had just come to life. She glanced at Prim, the little girl bravely making her way up to the stage. She looked at Peeta once again. Tears were making their way down his face and the sight startled Katniss. Peeta was so strong, she just couldn't fathom it.

Have courage.

Her father's earlier words came back to her.

Katniss took a deep breath, wiped the tears from her face and took a step forward.

"I volunteer!"

Every head in the area turned to look at her. Peeta stopped struggling. She could hear Madge's horrified cry.

Katniss held her head up high. "I volunteer as tribute!"

Please Review! Go easy on me, okay? :)