A/N - For artistic purposes, I have aged everyone up a year. This means that Prim is eligible to be reaped in the 73rd games.
It's mornings like this I am so bitter and angry that it's almost beyond my comprehension. The breeze in the woods is brisk, and I've spied at least a dozen wild animals that I could take down easily. But hunting is not a necessity anymore, or a means to survive, and therefore I feel my heart isn't in it.
Almost a year ago I won the Hunger Games, and I've got more money and food than my wildest dreams could have ever imagined. I don't need to hunt to survive, and it's almost killing me.
It also doesn't help that every time I raise my bow, or stare at the animal in my sights, I see Rue. Her small, broken body and her eyes filled with tears as she asks me to sing. Her final breath as the games takes another young life.
I'll hate the Capitol everyday of my life for doing that to her and taking the joys of everyday life from me. Of course, today of all days, my hate burns brighter than ever.
It's Reaping Day.
12 months earlier
Looking out over the skyline of the Capitol, I can't believe the words that escaped my mouth earlier today.
"I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!" I wasn't even 100% sure what I had been saying, but I'd thrown myself forward into the arms of the Peacekeepers marching Prim up to the stage. Prim's eyes staring up at me in horror, her piercing screams ripping at my barely controlled composure. My mother sobbing uncontrollably. Gale, his grey eyes full of regret and disbelief, gently picking Prim up and mumbling "Up you go, Catnip."
Even watching the replay with Haymitch and Effie, the District 12 Mentor and Escort respectively, on the train to the Capitol, it hadn't really hit me. I didn't take note of the begrudging admiration on their faces – it had been a long time since District 12 had someone volunteer for the games. So long, in fact, no-one was even sure it had ever happened. But now, in the solitude of my room, it hit me. I was going into the Games. I had volunteered. I was going to die. But at least I had saved Prim.
I thought of my co-tribute in the room across the hall. Baden Woodhouse was a Townie, the son of the butcher. We had never spoken before today – Town and Seam folk don't mix – but he was nice enough. Although I didn't hold much hope for him considering I hadn't seen him stop crying since that morning. A part of me was sorry for him, the other frustrated beyond belief, wishing he would man up. I held on to the latter feeling, as feeling sorry for him would make it all the harder to return to District 12 without him. Because that is what I was going to do. What I had to do.
Prim made me promise to win, and I don't break my promises.
I sigh. I hadn't broken my promise. Against the odds, I returned home to District 12, but not as the same girl who left. Everyone could probably attest to that. My mother, who comforts me in the middle of the night when I wake screaming from my nightmares. If there is one thing that improved after the games, it was the relationship with my mother. Finally, she had the opportunity to look after me, and she held onto that responsibility tightly. I think part of her knew she was trying to make up for 5 years of neglect.
Prim, whose happy demeanour had always cheered me. Now she had to put more effort into it than she ever had before. And I knew a part of her felt guilty every time she saw me curl myself in a ball on the couch, staring blankly at the wall, thinking that she was the cause of the changes in me. No matter how many times I argued this point against her. It wasn't her fault, and she had no right to feel guilty. It was the Capitol, nothing more, nothing less. But the seed had been planted and I knew it festered in her.
My best friend, Gale. My hunting partner, my confidant. We had spent practically everyday with each other over the last 4 years, since our fathers had died in the same mining explosion. We had met unexpectedly in the prohibited woods surrounding our district. Food was a limited commodity in the Seam, and most families only had the option of signing their children up for tesserae or starving to death. Tesserae won out - most of the time. But my father – as well as Gale's, it seemed – had been determined not to live and die by the rules of the Capitol, and had been experienced hunter gatherers. As we grew, they both had the same idea to pass their skills and knowledge onto their children just in case. My father patiently taught me to use a bow and arrow, to swim, to identify plants, flowers, anything that was edible – or poisonous. Gale's father had taught him how to create elaborate and crafty snares, and instilled in him a stealthiness that enabled him to creep around the woods silently. I don't think it was either of our father's intentions to die so soon, or for us to inadvertently team up together as we continued to hunt illegally to provide for our families. But it happened nonetheless.
But I can see now how my lack of comfort and familiarity in hunting is affecting Gale. He stares at me forlornly, as if his old hunting partner would magically reappear if he wished it hard enough. I feel bad for this, but I can't help it. I'm not Katniss Everdeen, District 12 resident and illegal hunter anymore.
I am Katniss Everdeen, Victor. And as of today, Mentor.
I leave Gale to trade our meagre spoils in the market and head back to my home in the Victors Village. Mother and Prim live with me here, making it bearable to live in. As a Victor, I was afforded the privilege of living in a beautiful house with all the Capitol luxuries you could think of. Which was nice, but there were times when I felt the walls were watching me, and to be honest, I wouldn't put it past the Capitol.
Our only neighbour was Haymitch Abernathy, the second victor in history from District 12, and the only one other than myself to still be alive. Although in honesty, he seemed to live a half–life, one filled with alcohol and an overwhelming desire to drink himself into oblivion. For many years, I had judged him like every other person in 12. After experiencing my own horrors though, I can now understand why he chooses to live that way. It doesn't make him any easier to deal with.
I prepare myself for this afternoons reaping, and find myself remembering Haymitch prepping me on the train returning from the Capitol….
He eyed me beadily, and took a swig from the flask that seemed permanently attached to his left hand.
"Now the hard work begins," he started. I turned to him surprised.
"You've got to be kidding. The 'Arena' doesn't ring any bells?" He shakes his head and sighs.
"You did good in the arena, Sweetheart. Sometimes I still don't know how you did it." I do. It's called murder. "But now you have to come to the realisation that although you were the victor, you didn't win. Your life will be an endless cycle of reapings, and mentoring, and watching the kids you lead into battle die. Trust me, it's gonna happen. This is the first time in 23 years that I'm talking to someone on the train home that isn't myself." He pauses, letting the words sink in. "In 6 months, we'll go on the Victory tour, where you'll have to face the families of those kids who died in the arena. Smile and wave while your heart is breaking and you're wishing to god you had died in there with them. 6 months after that, you'll stand up next to yours truly and see the next two lambs we'll lead to the slaughter." I feel like there is more than he wants to say, but is purposely holding it back. His eyes, rheumy with alcohol and lack of sleep, break the contact we've inadvertently held, and he looks out the window to the approaching woods of 12. "The ride isn't over, sweetheart, and there's some days you'll really wish it was."
12 months later, and I'm sitting beside him on stage in front of the Justice Building, just as he said, watching Effie pull names out of paper-filled glass bowls. He's trying hard to be on his best behaviour, as I know he feels some sense of responsibility to making sure I handle this all ok. The female tribute is a girl from the seam, but surprisingly I don't know who she is. She looks around 14, and as she steps up onto the stage I can see a sense of pride in her. I'm confused by this, until Haymitch leans over, his breath hot and laced heavily with alcohol.
"She thinks she's the next Katniss Everdeen," he hisses, and my heart drops. No-one should want to be the next Katniss Everdeen. I turn my attention back to Effie, almost wanting to smirk at the elaborate electric blue outfit she has on. But the next name she calls wipes the smirk from my face, and every thought from my head.