Just a longer one shot that's been in my head, and the words magically appeared on a word document. So here we go :)
She stands at the edge of the forest, terrified at how big it looks. It never used to look this way when her father would take her out here. Maybe that was just because he wasn't here with her now. Maybe it was because she is completely alone.
Only a month has passed since her father's accident. She calls it an accident, but she's not really sure what happened. Calling it an accident is better than saying death, so she just refers to it as an accident. It's only been a month, and her baby sister is starving.
Twelve years isn't a lot of time to learn how to raise a family on your own, it's barely any time at all. In fact, a twelve year old is still technically a child. But something has to be done. She becomes eligible for tesserae next week, and they don't have any food to last until then. The baker's son gave her a couple loaves two days ago, but it has since been sent to school with Prim, and now their bellies are empty again.
She doesn't really know why she's so nervous because she's already across the fence—that's the hard part. Going into the forest should be the easy part, but it isn't. There are creatures out there that are twice her size, maybe more, creatures that can tear her heart out and eat it for lunch.
She considers going back, but then she realizes that going back empty handed would ensure a slow death of starvation for sure. A week without food is a long time to wait.
So she sticks out her chest and heads to the hollow log with her bow. She takes the sheath of arrows and puts it around her shoulder. She knows how to shoot a bow, and she knows how to hunt, she knows how to gather.
It's only the second time she's been out here. The first time, she was so nervous that the crack of an animal on a branch sent her heading for a clearing. She was determined not to be so nervous this time. She sets her bow and quiets her pace, just like her father taught her. As she makes her way through the woods, she can hear his words in her mind; look for the animals, Katniss. Find them in their hiding places. Don't pull back the string too soon.
A flicker of movement.
She shoots the bow, hoping she caught whatever animal it was that she aimed at, and saw the animal fall to the ground. She almost skips to whatever it is, happy that she's finally killed something. A deer? She can't remember the last time her father brought home deer. She goes to pull her arrow out and…what the heck is that around its ankle?
Is that a piece of wire? She asks. She doesn't really know, so she takes the wire off the animal and stuffs it in her pocket before she tries to pick up the deer. It's slow going at first, but she makes it back to the fence before sundown. In the cover of darkness, and with many breaks, she carries the deer home to her waiting mother and sister. Prim nearly starts crying when she sees the prospect of all that fresh meat, so Katniss immediately goes to work on getting it ready and finally cooking it. She and Prim stay up late, feasting on the plump deer that Katniss brought down.
As they get ready for bed, the wire she found keeps crossing her mind. It was as if the wire had tripped the deer, just so she saw it. But wire didn't naturally occur in the woods…what did it all mean?
The next morning she decides to go hunting again, just to practice if nothing else. She walks through the woods, running parallel to the stream. She stops every so often, just to rest or pull her bow or try to practice more with the wire. Her father had taught her a few snares designed to prey on unsuspecting animals, but he hadn't taught her much. Intrigued by what she saw yesterday, hoping it could've been one of her father's, she starts practicing her own.
They're terrible. After some grunts of frustration, she finally quits and decides to start walking again. She manages to get a rabbit. It isn't shot through the eye like her father's were, but it's the neck, and that's close enough to her. Down the river, she saw some kind of animal swinging by its legs. She doesn't know of any animal that does that naturally, so she presses forward, eager to see it.
It's a rabbit, hanging by its foot by wire. She just pauses, touching the rabbit and examining how the wires are intricately woven into this trap. She has no intention of taking the rabbit—it's clearly someone else's kill. She has no doubt there are other hunters in the woods, so many whoever's trap this is was the same one that helped her take down the deer yesterday. As she walks around to the tree the snare is connected to, she hears a voice.
"You know stealing is punishable by law."
Who the hell said that? She thinks. She sees a movement in a tree above her and turns to it, "I wasn't stealing it. I just wanted to see how the snare worked, mine haven't caught anything."
The person jumps down from his perch and studies her. She knows Gale Hawthorne—just about every woman or girl in the district does. He was just 14—only two years older than she was—but everyone except her swooned over him. It was hard to like anybody when you were worried where your next meal would come from.
"What's your name?"
How incredibly rude, Katniss thinks. But she decides he can always turn her in if she isn't careful, so she whispers, "Katniss."
He laughs, "Catnip? Is that a Capitol name?"
She turns and glares at him, clearing her throat, "I said Katniss, thank you."
He laughs again and runs a hand through his dark black hair. He has the Seam look, and he's still handsome. She wonders how that works. But at the moment, the rabbit looks more attractive than Gale does. "Can you teach me how to set the snares that way?"
He narrows his eyes, studying her once again. "What do I get in return?"
Katniss feels herself smile, she already likes this kid. "I have a couple bows. I can teach you how to shoot if you want." She holds up her rabbit, showing him how close to the head she shot it.
He mulls it over for a second and crosses his arms. "Okay, Catnip. We'll split everything we catch, right down the middle."
"You know," she smiles, "stealing is punishable by law."
They meet in the woods every day, at the same rock beside the clearing. Some mornings, they'll just sit and get to know each other. It isn't really Katniss's idea of something fun, but Gale suggests it'll help them trust each other in the woods. and it works.
She knew he had siblings, but she didn't really know how many. And she knew that he had lost his father in the same mining accident that claimed hers, so it made it easier to cope. She realized his eyes were a light shade of grey, he hated having long hair, didn't like peas, loved carrots, and hated losing control more than anything. It made her want to trust him, knowing so much about him.
The more she found out about him, the more she started to smile around him. It took her a while to trust him. But she could pinpoint the exact moment she started.
Six months after Gale and Katniss had become friends, all the bears and big game were settling into hibernation, which made most of the pickings slim. They had been out for hours in the cold, and Katniss was about ready to give up, but when she commented to Gale, he'd tell her to keep pressing. She heard a branch crack behind her, and it wasn't Gale. She turned just to hear the animal charge, loading and shooting as many arrows as she could. Gale pushed her down, away from the bear and charged at it with his large hunting knife, effectively killing it and scoring a huge scratch in his shoulder.
She had taken him home and bandaged him up, but she realized she could trust Gale to have her left flank. He always had her back, and she always had his.
As each year passes, they find their time in the woods to be the only time they can truly be themselves. Katniss sees Gale smile like he never does at school, and he provokes giggles out of her that no one else can. They even start having traditions, like most best friends do.
Every morning of the reaping day, they come out to a cliff overlooking the valley. They sit and they feast on whatever they have brought that day, doing their best to make each other laugh. It's easy since it's only the two of them that they have to worry about. Their first reaping as friends, they decided that if one of them is reaped, the other will stay home and provide for the families. But they aren't reaped. They aren't chosen. Year after year.
After every one, the next morning they come to the valley and hug and cry for another year safe. Gale's hugs always comfort Katniss, probably because he smells like sunlight and the grass, one of her favorite smells.
During the summers, she takes him to the lake her father once showed her. She teaches him to swim, always making sure they spend one hot day a month in the water. They always feast at the lake house too, and Katniss pretends she has a family she gets to be the mother of.
Around the time Katniss turns 15, she starts to notice all the people around her that she never took much stock in. How all the Seam families are so much skinnier than the Everdeen and Hawthorne families, how they're all just barely surviving. And as she walks home with Gale from school, she looks into the eyes of a starving six year old, with a mother who is helpless to her.
After seeing the hollow look in that child's eye, she realizes she could never have a child while living in district 12.
Gale turns 18 before Katniss turns 16 and they feast once again. She brought down another huge buck, with Gale's arrows to help her. She secretly keeps some of the meat, trading the butcher for some extra coins that she uses to buy him a new hunting knife—he's needed one. The handle is beautiful, and she knows he will love it.
When she gives him the gift, he holds her tight in his embrace, barely brushing his lips against her ear. She wonders if he did it on purpose, but he whispers thank you and acts as if nothing has happened.
On reaping day, they come to their spot and have their feast. Gale goes on ranting about the Capitol, as he always does. When he finishes, he turns to Katniss, "We could do it, you know, run off, live in the woods. You and I, we could make it."
She briefly considers this, "We wouldn't make it five miles. They'd catch us. And besides, we have all these kids."
She sees the look in his eye, she has hurt him, and something has changed. But Gale never mentions it, so she doesn't either.
She goes home and bathes, her mother fixing her hair and giving her one of her old dresses from her days of being a merchant's daughter. She walks up to Prim, reminding her little duck to tuck in her tail.
As she walks to the square, all she can think of is her desire to see Gale, to make sure he hasn't left without her, and he hasn't. He's wearing a white button up of his father's on some brown pants, he looks as handsome as always. He sees her and walks to her, grabbing her hand, "It's going to be okay, Catnip. It's Prim's first year." He pats Prim on the head and directs her to the 12 year old section.
He squeezes her hands again, "We will be okay, Katniss. I'll find you after." He walks to his section, looking back at her every few steps.
The vile Capitol woman walks to the stage and gives her signature line. As she says it, just like every year, Katniss looks at Gale. He mouths And may the odds, and she finishes be ever in your favor. It's their running joke, and it cracks her up every single year.
"Ladies first," Ms. Trinket announces and she steps to the bowl. Katniss can feel her heart stop. She pulls out a slip. Not Prim, not Prim, not Prim, she thinks. "Primrose Everdeen."
She feels her world stop, she can't even look at Gale. All she can do is follow her little duck that she's worked so hard to feed all these years, her baby sister. "Prim! Prim!" The guards try to take her from her sister, so she says the only thing that can stop this, "I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!"
The crowd stops, except for Prim, who keeps screaming the word no, over and over again. Gale is there, he picks Prim up. He squeezes Katniss's hand, "Up you go, Catnip."
She walks bravely to the stage, gives her name to the crowd and watch as they refuse the applause, as they three finger salute her onward. She doesn't fail to notice that Gale is the first one to make the move.
Effie goes over the bowl with 42 slips that say Gale Hawthorne. She pulls out a slip, "Peeta Mellark."
Katniss can't even comprehend her thoughts as she remembered the loaves of bread Peeta had given her to keep her and Prim alive. She turned off her brain, preparing her mother for the instructions she'd have to give her to take care of Prim. She runs over it in her head, and before she knows it, she's in the Justice Building.
She gives her mother and Prim all the instructions they need, telling them that Gale would bring them all the game they needed. They say goodbye, they kiss, and they are ushered out the door.
Gale comes in next, and the first thing he does is hug her. "You're going to be fine." He tells her to find a bow, she knows how to hunt. As the Peacekeepers usher him away, he holds on her hand until he is forced to let go, as the door closes, she hears him shout, "I love you!"