Rated Teen for Mild Language
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Thank you to Wildharp for Beta-ing, and as always a special thanks to SheepAmongstWolves12 for her hilarious and encouraging commentary.
Reviews are loved and happily received!
The Other Hawthorne
The air was cool as it traveled through the loose strands of hair that had escaped her braid, the ends tickling the skin at her neck and cheeks.
Her steps were deliberate and precise as she trekked through the natural mazes of the trees, as they held their place like mythic creatures that commanded respect.
She never grew tired of the beauty that the forest held, like a mother who held her offspring to her bosom providing the nourishment it would need to thrive.
The wind picked up, sending crisp leaves to weave their way through the breeze, and around her body.
The tickling sensation at the back of her hand slowed her stride, grabbing her attention.
She peered down at her hand, her eyes widening from her confusion regarding the hand before her.
The size of it had shrunk to that of a child's, and even more so the usual calluses and scars, she had appropriated from years of handling the wire for snares, that shown on her skin were recognizably absent.
She could feel her pulse race as confusion set in, her cheeks already flushed by her elevated heart rate.
The soft trickle of rain fall reached her ears as droplets of water fell onto her face, momentarily cooling the warmth collecting there.
A loud clap of thunder sounded around her, rattling through the branches, and dirt of the woods.
She continued to stare dumbfounded at her hand as sheets of rain circled her body.
The strands of hair that had been hanging around her face were now plastered to her skin as a result of the downpour.
She could feel the material of her long sleeve button up already form to her shoulders and arms, the rain water seeping into the thread count.
Another round of thunder startled her, the sound echoing through the desolate surroundings absorbing any other noise.
Her knees gave under the terror, sending her body to the saturated ground; her palms sank into the mud before she was able to recover her bearings.
She could feel the burn from her newly skinned knees riding up her legs towards her stomach when she noticed the pool of water that had collected in a ditch above where she hunched over the waterlogged dirt.
With determination she crawled through the layers of mud toward the gathering of rain, the heels of her hands lacerated by the stray sticks and sharp rocks on the forest floor.
The rain water fell on the crown of her head to travel over her forehead and into her eyes as she peered down into her reflection, ripples occurred around the lines as new drops collected in the pool.
She took in a deep breath as she struggled with the reality of seeing the face staring back at her.
The eyes were wider set and still held a sense of innocence, something she had lost long ago.
She reached up, touching her skin with muddy fingers, the skin beneath smooth and unscathed, the scars she had gained from learning to master her bow were also gone.
She could feel her body begin to shake, but not from the rain water that seeped through her clothes to chill her skin, it was the realization that she was looking into the face of a child.
The same child she had been before her father's death, the wide eyed dreamer who would sing because she discovered how butterflies kept in flight, not the young woman who silenced her voice from fear of the grief choking her.
A sharp sound a few yards away alerted her to another presence, her head shot up towards the direction of the sound, fearful of a starving animal.
She kept hunched over, settled on her hands and knees, when the familiar back covered in the leather jacket she knew well came into view.
She held her breath as he turned around facing her, his bow arm extended, before he laid the side of the riser against his thigh.
A warm smile formed at his lips as his free hand pushed the dark hair back away from his eyes.
"There you are my flower," he laughed lightly, motioning her over as the rain rushed down the olive skin of his face,"Come Katniss, there's so much more we need to do."
She watched him turn around, the sheets of rain becoming thick causing her view of him to become obscured.
Katniss could hear his footsteps, the crunching of brittle leaves underneath his boots sounding further away with every breath she took.
Frantically, she pushed herself off of the drenched earth with her petite frame, the loss of strength in the younger body evident.
Her feet sank into the mud as she righted her footing, her arms stretched out to her sides trying to find balance.
The rainfall had become clear sheets separating her from her father, her hands tangling in them like curtains that had blown in front of a window.
Katniss pushed her childhood frame forward, her fingers clawing the clear sheets of rain out of her way.
She could still hear her father call out her name beckoning her forward as she ran through the obstacles of fallen branches and downpour.
"Come Katniss, come."
She nearly missed the moment when the color drained out of the world around her, the greens and earthy browns of the forest replaced by muted lifeless shades that depicted emptiness.
Her legs becoming heavy from the weight of the dried mud shaping to the curve and muscles there.
She began to tremble as tears streamed down her cheeks mixing with the dirt and rain already covering her face.
Her voice was weak, the tones escaping her mouth were higher, that of a young girl,"Daddy! Please daddy, don't leave me!"
Finally the sheets of rain began to clear, as darkness surrounded her, covering her in a shroud of the unknown.
Katniss collapsed against the first solid base, other than the ground, that she had encountered. Her small hands clawed at the rock exterior, as the thick air entered her strained lungs.
She began to weep uncontrollably,"Daddy! Daddy, where are you?"
His voice was clear as it rung out through the dark earth,"Come, my flower."
Katniss struggled to stand up straight, her legs shaking.
She laid her palms flat against the wall, as her eyes adjusted to the darkness.
The man shaped walls of the mine forming around her, as they threatened to swallow her whole.
Katniss forced herself to walk forward as she searched for her father, his voice floating through the tunnels, calling her to him.
However, every time she felt as though she was gaining ground, his voice seemed to be further in the distance.
Her feet and legs ached from the impact of the hard stones colliding with her body as her feet dropped down onto the earth, as she ran.
She stopped when she heard him call her name, the sound coming from around the corner.
Katniss breathed a sigh of relief, but her content was short lived when she came face to face with another wall.
She beat her small fists against the dark soot walls, until the skin around her knuckles began to bleed, the flesh there torn.
The ground began to rumble beneath her feet, her small body tossed to the ground, the air fleeing her lungs as the impact rattled her.
With her head hanging down towards the ground, Katniss looked up in enough time to see the rolling wave of flames rush down the tunnel towards her.
She could once again hear her father calling her forward when the fire over took her, the heat burning her from the inside out.
Katniss awoke, her grey eyes wide, as a scream threatened to leave her lips, the taste of death metallic on her tongue, but only silence surrounded her.
A sheen of sweat covered her forehead, mixing with the already existing perspiration that had formed due to the warm weather.
Katniss lay on her back staring up at the wooden slats that made the ceiling of her room, as her paralyzed limbs slowly regained feeling.
The tingling sensation traveled up from her legs to settle at her chest, she could feel the pulse rate at her neck throb, the vein there swelled as the adrenaline ran through her.
It was difficult for her to recover quickly after she experienced her nightmares, the effects done to her psyche by experiencing how her father died were much more long lasting than any physical pain could manage.
She inhaled through her nose before exhaling out her mouth, her lips chapped, and her tongue as rough and dry as the sandpaper Gale used when he would refinish the meager and worn furniture her mother used.
She closed her mouth, trying in vain to wet her tongue; however she couldn't manage to produce the saliva needed to do so.
She sighed loudly, clearly annoyed with herself for allowing her emotions to effect her so drastically, she wasn't a whimpering quim who fell apart at the first sign of distress.
Katniss' side was jarred when the impact of a knee pressed into her ribs with enough force to earn a quiet groan from her.
Blindly she reached down taking hold of the petite kneecap pushing it to the side gently, with the back of her head still lying on the pillow, Katniss turned to her left where golden strands of hair came into view.
She laughed lightly to herself before turning on her side to brush the mess of hair from the owner's face.
Soft features, and fair skin came into view as Katniss cleared the hair from her sister's face, a small smile on the young girl's lips, the sides upturned enough to help her appear to be angelic but mischievous enough to produce a sense of cleverness.
Katniss ran her fingers down the length of the strands; her jagged nails tangling in the knots created by sleep before unraveling them, Katniss laid the hair above the girl's head to fan around her face.
There weren't many things in her life that she handled with care; she had a deliberate and at times blunt way of going about things, causing her to forget she had a grace when it came to dealing with her sister.
Katniss pushed a strand of blond hair that had stuck to the moisture of the girl's lips,"I love you, Primrose."
Prim stirred in her sleep, her legs tangling in the thin sheet, as she turned on her side before settling on her stomach.
Katniss waited for her sister's breathing to become steady again before she sat up, using the heels of her bare feet to push away the remainder of sheet that draped over her calves.
She assumed during her sleep she must have pushed the bedding off of her, the heat troubling her even with her being in an unconscious state.
The back of her head colliding with the clay wall lightly as her body righted its posture, a quiet oomph fell from her lips as she kicked the sheet further down towards the end of the bed.
She could feel beads of sweat tickling her skin as they traveled down her throat to collect underneath her nightgown at her breasts.
She was thankful that she had remembered to braid her hair back before retiring to bed the night before, still strands had come loose from the woven design, they now stuck to the sweaty skin at her neck, and Katniss pushed them away with an aggravated sigh.
The temperature was abnormally warm for this time of year, affecting the residents of the already morose district, tempers were exposed like a sensitive nerve, the usual indifference of the peacekeepers was replaced by over vigilance due to the rise in altercations, and Katniss hoped the weather would soon cool.
If not to boost morale, then to improve her hunting experience, because like humans, the game had been reluctant to swelter underneath the scorching sun, causing them to stay in their burrows and the shadows to ward off the heat.
She had grown tired of the meager catch she had been returning home with, and she knew something had to break, Katniss prayed it was the rising temperature instead of their need to eat, because she was starting to see the effects on Prim's body.
Katniss had to hold back a sob from the memory, afraid she would wake her sister, the image of the youngest Everdeen's floating rib jutting out had made Katniss want to vomit, the dread and grief flooding through her body was almost too much for her to handle.
Katniss reached up forcing her hands into her hair to fight off the tears threatening to choke her, the strands pulled back to form the braid were now pulled halfway out, the top of her head now a messy, tangled collection of hair.
Katniss swung her legs over the edge of the shared twin bed, the springs holding the mattress in place squeaked and rattled, exposing their age and use.
The sheet hung on one of her big toes, causing it to travel over to the floor, Katniss bent down pulling it free to throw it back onto to the bed where Prim rolled her body onto the other half.
A cool breeze blew through the window, lifting the tattered curtains to ride the wave, the skin at her bare arms rose at the light touch.
She breathed in deep, inhaling the much needed change in temperature, the heavy scent of burning coals hovered below her nostrils, and Katniss fought the urge to sneeze from the sensation.
It was barely dawn and the residents of the Seam were already preparing for the day; Katniss straightened her posture to peer out the opened window.
Normally, she was more than vigilant to keep any unwanted visitors out of the house, animal and human alike, but the warm weather permitted for her to lax on her paranoia.
Katniss could see smoke stacks covering the length of space, stretching from the border of the Seam to where she knew the trail to the mine began.
She inhaled once more, the musky, dry scent of a new day floated through the air, wrapping around her body in a familiar scent.
She lowered her feet to the wooden floor boards, laying them flat, her balance steady before she stood.
Katniss cringed when she felt the dampness of sweat between her shoulders blades, the perspiration holding the material of her nightgown there.
She reached over her shoulder, pushing her braid to the side before pulling the material free, she had joked the previous night with Prim about sleeping in the nude, for a moment Katniss was granted a reprieve from her daily worries when her sister's laughter filled the room with a sense of lightness.
Katniss smiled to herself, letting the memory fill her up, before she turned towards the corner of the room where the ladder sat.
Her bare feet padded across the room with the skill of a hunter, with only her toes, and the area directly below, touching the wooden boards.
Katniss reached out for the railing, clutching the weathered wood, before turning her body to set her feet on the rungs of the ladder.
She could feel it trying to give underneath her weight, before the wood settled, Katniss was worried that it wouldn't be able to withstand their weight anymore, and even Prim who weighed almost next to nothing had elicited a deep moan from it.
Katniss slowly climbed down, the pads of her feet landing on every level, she held on tight not wanting to fall and injure herself.
She reminded herself that she would need to ask Gale if he wouldn't mind building them another, preferably one that wouldn't fall apart or leave splinters in the palms of their hands.
Katniss jumped down onto the first floor, landing on the pads of her toes, with only two steps left, her fingers still curled around the sides.
She knew her resistance to replace the ancient piece had to do with the fact that her father had built it.
Katniss held onto the memory of her father with an iron grip, but even then it was becoming more and more difficult to remember the sound of his voice or the musk that would fill the house when he would return from work.
Her nightmares were the only time she had with him anymore, the memory of him haunting her was familiar, and Katniss knew only struggle and grief, she was comfortable with these feelings, she knew how to manage through them.
The only time she felt as though she was living, not just surviving, was when she was out beyond the fence, where she could truly breathe, and be more than the girl from the Seam who had lost her father in a mining accident.
She could rise above the label she had been given, in the woods she could hunt and provide for her family, she was a huntress, a fierce animal of pride, and not the girl who shrank into the background when around people other than her family and close friends, in the forest she could spread her wings and fly.
Because beyond the fence, beyond the strife of the district, Katniss could walk the trails he had walked, forage from the trees he had touched, in the forest she was with her father.
He had been the only one to truly understand her, even Gale who she trusted with her life, had trouble completely empathizing with her. Not that Gale was particularly gifted at such a thing, but he was one of the few people she felt calm around.
Although, perhaps because of how passionate Gale could be about his views or just in general, it was necessary for one of them to be the cooler head.
Katniss let go of the ladder, patting it lightly before walking through the first floor.
It consisted of a single room that had been halved up to be used as a dining area and family room, an iron stove sat in the middle with a pipe traveling up to the ceiling, a low groan filled the room as the iron of the stove settled.
Her mother had left it on at a low flame, because even though the need for the fire to be lit wasn't present, it had become difficult to get the fire restarted in the old stove recently.
Katniss walked pass the stove, eager to escape the low heat it emanated, the warmth reaching the left side of her calf, the skin there flushed for a few seconds.
Her hand reached out to the thread bear sofa that sat across from the fireplace that hadn't been in order since she had been an infant.
Lightly her fingers traveled along the top of the worn furniture as she walked the length of space to the small room that they used as a place to bathe and relieve themselves.
She stopped short when she reached the mantle above the abandoned fireplace, her eyes going to the single picture frame that sat at her eye level.
He looked out of place in the pauper's suit, the jacket frayed at the lapel, bits of thread displayed, and his hair neatly combed back.
Katniss disliked the picture of her father, it seemed so unrealistic, the man she had known had been earthy and proud, and before her all she could see was a man who in that moment had been uncomfortable in his own skin, tight lipped smile and all.
With an eye roll of disgust, her attention flitted to the couch where he mother slept, her golden hair, the locks of a merchant, were pushed above her head to hang over the arm of the couch.
The usually pinned up strands hung loosely around her, her legs tucked into her stomach, Katniss assumed she must have arrived home late again.
It was rare for her to sleep in the bed that was pushed up against the wall at the far side of the room underneath the landing that served as Katniss and Prim's makeshift living space.
Her mother served as the district's midwife and general healer, a thankless job at times, but Katniss was thankful that it gave her mother a purpose, even if she was bitter that her mother would rather serve strangers than make her own daughters her priority.
However, Katniss would rather have her mother neglect them over something such as a trade, that seemed to make a difference, than have her obsessed and lost in her grief over the absence of their father.
Katniss shook her head, trying to clear it of any excess worry, it was a daily fight not to be overtaken from all of the strife around her, and she didn't need to take on her mother's mistakes as well.
She turned back to the makeshift door to the washroom, deliberately washing over the framed shot beside her.
She didn't need memories of her father haunting her; she would wait until she made it into the forest to think of him, because there the memories weren't painful reminders of her loss.
Katniss placed her hand on the withered wood, a whine from the ancient hinges echoed through the first floor.
The humidity of the windowless room washed over her, causing her nose to scrunch up in disgust, however she was thankful she and her mother were so active about keeping the small room clean.
She could only imagine the smell, if waste was left to fester in the tiny space. Katniss sighed as she walked through the door fully, the wood shutting behind her.
The heat formed around her as she padded over to the cast iron tub, she was prepared to groan in annoyance, assuming she would have to venture outside to the well.
Her brow knitted together when she noticed the tub had been filled with water, Katniss bent down trailing her fingers just above the water, her nails skimming the top.
The temperature was relatively warm, but the water still held coolness to it, she inhaled deeply, Katniss was pleasantly surprised that the stench of mildew didn't seem to be present.
She sat down on the edge, the lip of the tub barely holding her upright; a quiet sigh escaped her lips as her eyes wandered over to the closed door, her mother sleeping beyond it.
She must have filled it before retiring from her late evening, Katniss felt irritated with the sudden guilt that came over her.
She was aware of the cold exterior she presented when dealing with her mother, and at times she felt justified, even more superior.
However, when she would commit small gestures that could be interpreted as nurturing Katniss felt held down by the overpowering sense of guilt that filled her.
Katniss tore her eyes from the door, the sweat at her back collecting rapidly as she sat in the humid room.
Even with the sun barely up, the heat was already beginning to rise, which wasn't a good omen for hunting or functioning in general.
She stood up careful not to tip into the water fully clothed, her right hand gripping the edge as she found steady footing.
Reaching down around her knees, her fingers curled around the hem of her gown before bringing the material up to her waist, and eventually passing her chest then over her head.
Her long braid caught in the material, earning an aggravated groan from her lips, before she pulled it free, the collection of hair hitting the bare skin of back with a low thud.
Katniss discards the soiled clothing to the floor at her feet, the toes on her right foot catching in the material to kick it farther away.
She now stands in the small cramped room naked, her body bare and revealing, even though she's alone, Katniss can't help but feel vulnerable.
She shakes her insecurities off as she turns around to face the basin full of water, her left leg bending at the knee, before she lowers it into the water; a shiver goes up her body to rest at her hip as her toes vanish beneath the surface.
The change of temperature is refreshing as the cool water surrounds her naked form as she lowers her body into the tub fully.
The water sloshes over the lip of the tub as she settles in, her hands gripping the sides. She reaches back to unravel her braid, most of the strands have already come undone, her fingers catch in the tangles, but most of it now is surrounded by water.
Her body relaxes as the water forms around her like a second skin; Katniss closes her eyes for a second relishing in the cooler temperature.
The humidity from the room still lingers around her; Katniss takes in a deep breath, the air heavy and stagnant.
The reality of her time allotted to relax sets in as she begins to rub the bar of soap beside her over her body and hair.
The soap is heavy in her palm, and the aroma it gives off is strong and minty like the leaves her mother and Prim use for infections of the mouth.
When her body is covered in suds, Katniss closes her eyes and sinks below the surface, she can feel the water rise as her body lowers, it isn't until she can feel the rush of water around her ears that she tenses.
Her nightmare from before still lingers at the forefront of her mind, and Katniss can feel her fear of closed places threatening to strangle her.
Katniss likes to pride herself in her strengths of perseverance and resilience, but claustrophobia is a reality she has to live with.
She has to remind herself that being underneath water to bathe or swim isn't the same as being trapped in mines carved out of the earth.
After a few seconds of holding her breath, she allows herself to relax, her hands working over her scarred skin.
The areas of raised skin are familiar, and she barely notices the texture underneath her fingertips, as she rises out of the water.
Her breath comes out strangled and rushed as the air leaves before filling her lungs once more.
She opened her eyes, before rubbing them to clear her field of sight, droplets of water fall from her lashes onto her cheeks to trail down her jaw line, then land back into the pool of water.
She took a few more minutes to enjoy the cool water before pulling herself out of the tub, her bare skin dripping with water that collects around her feet as she stands on the wooden floor.
A piece of linen is hung up on the wall with an iron hook, Katniss walks to it, leaving a trail of sudsy puddles behind her, her footprints visible.
Her fingers curled into the rough fabric, and she tried to ignore the uncomfortable texture against her skin.
Although the idea that her scared skin would be sensitive to a piece of material is almost laughable to her; that any part of her physically or otherwise, could be affected by now is improbable.
Katniss hung the linen back up to dry as she walked over to the wall where a rickety table sat with her clean laundry sitting on top.
Katniss let a small smile grace her lips, the corners lifting slightly as she separates the clothing out, thinking of how neat Hazelle arranged the stack of clothing.
Gale's mother the laundress for the Seam and most of the merchant quarter had been doing her family's laundry for as long as Katniss could remember. The sweet smell of oranges, or at least an artificial aroma of the fruit that was laced through the soap that Hazelle used, filled the air.
Katniss reached for the simple white tank top, holding it to her nose, she breathed in deeply.
Katniss set the tank top down reluctantly, pleased with the feeling of warmth it brought her, even though Katniss had issues with her own mother, Katniss respected Hazelle and her ability to provide for her children even when her own grief was threatening to swallow her whole.
She searched through the clothing when her eyes landed on a pair of cotton panties that were beginning to wear at the seams and a simple bra, that her mother insisted she wear when her body began to blossom.
After putting on undergarments begrudgingly, there wasn't a way out of wearing a brazier or even panties when the temperature was so warm allowing for thinner clothing to be worn, Katniss pulled the tank top over her head pushing the material down around her hips.
She pulled on a pair of slacks that Gale had grown out of; Hazelle had donated the article of clothing and had tailored the waist line so that the pants wouldn't fall off of Katniss' hips, which were significantly narrower than Gale's.
After buttoning them and bringing up the zipper, she bent down rolling up the cuffs, stopping above her knee.
The heat was going to rise, and Katniss didn't want to have to suffer through the experience of having sweaty legs.
She walked over to other side where she had left her boots from the night before after she had changed into her nightgown, the weathered leather was familiar and she liked the way they formed to her feet.
The soles hadn't started to wear thin, and Katniss was thankful that at least something in her life was dependable, even if they were hunting boots.
She pulled the boots on after her feet slipped into socks that already had holes through the seams, the material worn thin from multiple uses.
She reached behind her, gathering the damp strands of hair together to weave them together down her back, before tying the ends together with a piece of black leather that she had left on the table beside the laundry.
The humidity in the windowless room was causing her to sweat through her clean top; she shuddered when the memory of how warm it had been the day before came to her.
With a deep sigh she walked out of the bathing room, the hinges squeaking once more as she vacated, and made her way into the main room.
Her mother had begun to stir in her sleep, she quietly mumbled something incoherent in her sleep, Katniss assumed she too was dreaming of her father, but it was likely their dreams were quite opposite in content.
She made her way to the front door, her hand firmly on the knob when she heard her mother call out to her lost love, her voice broken and fragile.
Katniss gritted her teeth and squared her shoulders, reminded of the pain that love brought. The affection she felt for Prim was understandable it came out of a sense of protection, and she and Gale had grown together out of a need of necessity, but romantic love was something she didn't see the use for, it only brought heart ache and grief, and Katniss already had her fare share of both.
She could feel her stomach begin to knot underneath the weight of her mother's grief, it still lingered through their house, unspoken but present all the same.
The heat that presses into her skin is almost nauseating as she opens the front door, stepping out onto the front porch.
The boards beneath her feet creak loudly, as she stepped off and they settle back into place.
Katniss jumped down the wobbly boards, that make up the front steps, taking two at a time, her arms extended out on each side.
Her braid swayed with her movements, the damp strands soaking through the fabric of her already thin tank top, she could feel a deep blush rising up her neck, although she wasn't positive if the flush was from her embarrassment or the heat.
She tried to push her insecurities down, as she made her way through the Seam.
The smell of coal burning had already filled the air, as well as aromas of bland breakfasts, riding on the wind to travel through opened windows.
Each house reminds Katniss of the one before it, the roof slightly crooked, paint flecked off of wooden boards, and porches that are in need of mending.
Katniss' boots kicked up dirt around her as she lightly jogged, down the dirt path, the stone path that covers the length of the town square and merchant quarters ended a mile back, presenting the difference between the two classes of people who reside in district twelve.
She didn't have long to ponder on the visible and metaphorical divide that separates the coal miners and their families from the merchant class, when she came upon the familiar wooden shanty.
The grey paint had already flaked off mostly, leaving only a couple of places on the side of the house where the wooden boards still held the color.
She slowed her pace when she rounded the front of the house; she assumed Gale would still be helping his mother with rousing his younger siblings, the day starting for them early, like it did for most Seam families.
Usually when Gale's to meet her in forest she's the first to arrive, so it was likely that he was still home, she thought as she neared the front of the house.
Perhaps she could mention to him the possibility of building her a new ladder, Gale can be crass sometimes but he lives for taking care of those he cares for, and simple tasks such as building a ladder for her and Prim, would bring him a sense of pride.
She finally rounded the corner, the front of his home now fully visible, Katniss smiled when she saw him in the yard bending over the trough that they use to water Lady, her sister's goat.
The sound of water splashing was apparent from where she was, a few yards back, Katniss couldn't fault him for wanting to cool down from the already sweltering sun, and her own desire to cover her face in water was growing.
However when she stepped closer she noticed the subtle differences, where Gale's shoulders and build are narrow, the body in front of her was more sturdy and broad.
It was also not until now that she noticed the absence of a shirt, olive skin covered the man's back that held long angry scars spanning the skin there.
Katniss couldn't take her eyes from the bare skin, she could feel the blush from before rise up her chest to stop at her hair line, and she had to assume the heat was already taking her over, because anything else would be childish and ludicrous.
She was so lost in her inner battle that she almost missed the moment when he stood up, and turned halfway, only his profile visible to her.
He moved his still damp hand through his dirty blonde hair, wetting the strands there to smooth it back out of his eyes.
Katniss stepped back in the shadow of the house, moving her body to the corner where she could watch the man, or she should say young man, in secrecy.
Her eyes landed on his muscular upper body, the skin there taut and firm, so much it sent a warm rush to her stomach until it settled below her waist.
Katniss fidgeted with the wood of the house, as she observed him closely, from her place she could spot more scars on his body, and her mind questioned their origin.
She tried to build enough confidence to ask why he's outside of the Hawthorne's home, using their property to cool off, but she couldn't find the courage to leave from behind the safety of the house.
Although there was something that seemed oddly familiar about him, a trait she couldn't seem to place.
Finally after what felt like hours, but was surely only minutes, the boy rubbed a hand over his face, and with a sigh he bounded up the rickety steps, his feet landing on the porch.
Katniss pressed her luck, stepping out from around the house to watch him closer, she was relieved when he doesn't notice her, but instead entered the house without any indication that he was aware of her intrusion.
The sudden realization of her actions came to her, and she suddenly felt foolish for acting like a mindless simpleton.
She prided herself in not behaving like the other girls in the district who would fawn and blush over a handsome boy; it also didn't escape her attention how they reacted over Gale, with his dark hair and air of mystery.
And here she was every bit the hypocrite she hoped she wasn't, her real concern should have been about a stranger entering her friend's home, not the way his muscles tensed around his ribs when he moved his arms.
Katniss could feel the warmth from before that had waned now beginning to intensify, but with it her irritation with her behavior did so too.
She was being vain and indulgent spending the time she should be using to hunt and provide for family, but instead allowing a bare chest boy to cloud her judgment.
Katniss pushed herself off of the side of the house, her pace quicker than before as she started off in a run towards the quarry that would lead her to the meadow and the fence that separated the district from the woods.
Her mind was back to the task at hand, and she was so focused that she missed the boy from before watching her from the second story window.
His eyes trained on her fleeting form, and even though the heat had taken him over from before as he moved his things into the small home, he didn't credit the heat rising up his body to the temperature, but to the girl with the raven hair that fled from the Seam.
The heat had begun to settle, reaching its apex for the day, as the sun loomed above their heads casting light through the space between leaves and branches.
She was thankful that the trees served as at least a minimal reprieve from the harsh light.
The skin at the back of her neck was already drenched in sweat, and she had to push her discomfort away so that she could concentrate on the task at hand.
She kept her bow arm extended while the other bent at the elbow, keeping her arrow properly nocked, while having to resist the urge to shield her eyes from the sunlight as she skimmed the trees above.
Her stomach had already let a low growl of hunger escape, a deep blush came over her, positive he had heard it, it would have been impossible for him not to, she assumed it had been loud enough to scare off any game in the area.
However, she had noticed when she arrived at their meeting place that he had been distracted, when she had questioned him about it; he had given her his usual wave of dismissal and a low mumble she couldn't deduce.
Katniss had decided not to push any further, she was well aware of Gale's moods, and for the most part it was best to let him wade through them in peace.
However, the silence was troubling her, because even though she and Gale respected each other for their dislike of in depth conversations, they would occasionally tease the other during their time in the woods.
It worried her how he kept to himself, his expression unreadable, which for Gale meant his mind, was in a place he was afraid to share with anyone else, and for someone who was for the most part an open book of passion and opinions, this made her stomach tie in knots.
Katniss didn't want to press the issue so she resumed, trekking through the forest with a silent, deep in thought, Gale by her side.
It wasn't long before she had a couple of rabbits at belt, she had found them scurrying out of their burrow, most likely looking for water in the warm weather.
She could feel a slight sense of relief wash over her, as the animal's back legs knocked against her thighs as she walked.
Her bow was slung around her shoulders with her quiver, her shirt already soaked through at the back with sweat.
Gale walked beside her with the few squirrels he had found in his snare lines, they weren't as thick as they would have preferred, but the meat would be useful when trading later at the hob.
He kept quiet as he held the animals in one hand and used the back of his free hand to wipe the sweat from his brow.
She could see his narrow, muscular shoulders pushed down by the heat, the satchel he brought with him to the woods was slung over his shoulders, and Katniss could see where the perspiration had collected beneath and around the canvas of the bag, as well as the thin material of his undershirt.
He walked ahead of her leading their way to the clearing that they would rest in after they had finished hunting and gathering, it was a tradition by now after years of routine.
The trees were no longer present to provide any shelter from the sun, but thankfully a breeze of cool wind had begun to work its way through the field of high grass and wild flowers.
It could be seen as a sign that the soaring temperatures were about to break and Katniss felt hopeful about the change.
Gale was first to sit down, his body hitting the ground with a hard thud, he had already pulled the strap of his bag over his shoulder laying it on the ground with his kill, before Katniss had attempted to sit.
She inhaled deeply, the floral scent moving through the air; it was peaceful here away from all of the pain that existed in the district.
She could feel her legs begin to shake slightly from the fatigue, the heat wasn't helping her stamina either, Katniss sat down slowly, concerned with falling onto the ground roughly.
She pulled the rabbits from her waist laying them on top of the squirrels that Gale had just sat down.
Movement from her right grabbed her attention; Gale's arms were nearly fully extended, when her gaze fell on him.
The material of his undershirt stuck to the perspiration on his skin, the olive tone of his complexion glistened underneath the sweat.
She couldn't help but compare his chest to that of the boy she had seen earlier on in the day, their builds were different, where one was broad and firm, Gale's was more narrow with defined muscular structure.
He also didn't seem to posses the amount of scarring that the other boy had. Gale's body wasn't exactly soft, he had acquired a number of injuries from his snare lines and a few fights he had been a part of through the years, but his skin was still more virginal than the boy from before.
Gale looked over to her his brow furrowed, as one of his hands smoothed back his dark hair, the gesture reminded her of the boy again, and she mentally scolded herself for allowing someone she had seen for a total of three minutes cloud her mind to such an extent.
He was still watching her when he pushed his discarded shirt into his lap,"What?"
Katniss could feel a blush forming at her cheeks, as her eyes looked to his bare chest,"Huh? Oh, nothing sorry."
Gale shook his head, a wry smile playing at his lips,"If you say so."
Katniss leaned back settling on her palms for support," Not to mention, I'll try not to make such a fuss over this being the first conversation we've had the entire day."
Gale leaned over picking blades of grass from the ground only to throw them out to the side,"I appreciate it."
Katniss nodded before attempting to press the conversation on,"You know I couldn't help but notice how you were out beyond the fence before I was this morning," she wiped her hands on the material of her second hand slacks, attempting to seem indifferent," I can't remember the last time that happened, you're usually at home helping with Posy and the boys, and then join me out here later."
Gale turned back to her, his grey eyes hard," Maybe you don't have to know everything about me, Katniss," he sighed when he noticed how her expression was beginning to look hurt, the guilt rising through him," I just didn't want to be home this morning. Can we leave it at that?"
They sat there in silence once again, but Katniss noticed out of the corner of her eye that he would sneak glances at her.
She nearly jumped when she felt his hand on the side of her neck, pulling the strands of hair free that had been held to her neck by sweat.
His fingers lingered there for a few seconds before he pulled them away, to rummage through his satchel.
His hand came out of the canvas bag with a water pouch, he handed it to her mutely, his eyes grazing the skin at her waist that was now visible due to her tank rising up.
She took the water cautiously, the blush that had formed before was becoming uncomfortable now, and she cursed her body for reacting to something as innocent as Gale watching her.
She wasn't a stranger to his eyes on her, and wondered why now it felt different as she tipped her head back placing the spout to her lips.
With a slight squeeze the water passed her chapped lips to coat her mouth in liquid, she sighed loudly, pleased with the sensation.
When she was finished she handed it back to Gale who studied her face before pressing the spout to his own lips.
Something passed over his face before he directed his attention to the water from her.
Before long they began to make their way back to the fence that separated the district and meadow that led into the tree line.
She tried to look the other way when Gale pulled his shirt back on, but her mind was foggy with thoughts and sensations that she wasn't sure she even understood.
The walk was tense as Gale worked through his own issues, he still wouldn't tell her why he seemed so bothered, and she was comfortable with not knowing.
Her own mind was churning as the boy from before kept pushing his way in, the way he had looked with his bare chest and damp hair was enough to take the strength out of her legs.
She felt foolish walking beside Gale while she had inappropriate thoughts about someone she hadn't even met yet, it was childish and unlike her.
When they made it closer to the meadow that led to the fence, Katniss stored her bow and quiver in a hollow tree trunk, her kills from before still hanging around her waist, while Gale waited for her at the edge of the tree line.
She tried to meet his eyes as she walked past him, but something felt off, she assumed he was still troubled from before, and she hoped the issues he was dealing with didn't have anything to do with her.
As they came closer to the fence, Gale kept lookout until Katniss was safely on the other side, before he too slipped underneath with finesse she couldn't help but admire.
She could see his shoulders tense as they walked the dirt trail that led up to the hob, district twelve's black market trading facility.
It had been originally used to house coal, but the locals had found a use for it, that insured their survival.
Most residents of the Seam were unable to afford the goods that were sold in the merchant square. So the hob was a place that was often busy, and rarely empty.
Gale was at the door first, his grip tight around the handle, Katniss could see where his knuckles had lost all color, and if she didn't know any better she would think he was hyperventilating.
Katniss reached out placing her hand over his,"Are you okay?"
Gale flinched underneath her touch, his other hand gripping the tails of his kills,"I'm fine, Katniss."
She tilted her head to the side,"You don't seem fine."
He pulled his hand free from hers,"I said I was fine," he opened the door, the humidity from the cramped building hitting her," I don't need you looking out for me."
Katniss narrowed her eyes at him before walking up to his side, "Yes you do," she pushed him aside so that she could enter," And don't pretend nothing's wrong with you."
She ignored the retort coming from his mouth as she made her way through the building, customers and traders milled around her, focused on their own business.
The hob held its own heartbeat, a living thing with a pulse of gossip and interaction.
Katniss glanced once behind her as she made her way through the crowds of barterers, the room was tight and uncomfortable in the heat.
Gale was a few feet behind her, and she sighed deeply at the turmoil in his eyes.
However, she had regretted her action when she was reminded that most of the residents who frequented the Seam weren't able to bathe as often as she was, and she noted that perhaps breathing through her mouth from now on would be wise.
Katniss was stopped abruptly when she notices a group of elderly women from the Seam, all huddled together, their voices low.
She could feel her irritation rising until she heard the last name Hawthorne being thrown around, Gale's last name.
Katniss angled her body so that it appeared she was looking through a table of fabric rather than eaves dropping, but she felt justified in her intrusion, after all Gale and his family were her family.
"I heard he moved in this morning."
"Oh my Lord, why would that woman even agree to that?"
"I'm sure that boy is as troublesome as his mother. I never did like that girl."
"Well his father wasn't any better, running after a harlot like that while his baby and young bride waited at home."
"That boy should have been left at the orphan home in nine, if you ask me."
"You just wait, that boy will be making his way through all of our innocent girls yet, and it's a sickness that can't be stopped."
"It just makes me sick that the Hawthornes are from our neck of the woods, this behavior is something that you would expect from those merchants."
Katniss could see Gale walk to the far side of the hob where she knew they usually traded their kills, she could see by the way that his shoulders slumped that he had heard everything.
Katniss was curious to what most of it meant, but it was clear to her that these women had hurt someone she cared about, and that was the surest way to enrage, Katniss Everdeen.
With a mischievous smile she pulled the rabbits from her belt, holding the dead animals by their ears, her arms extended out to her sides as she pushed through the wall of bodies the women had formed.
She could already hear the remarks of disgust as she walked through them, the rabbits even hitting a few of the women in the face.
"Oh sorry ladies, it's important I trade these before they start to stink from rot."
She smiled to herself pleased with her display until she could hear one of them speak,"See, that's exactly what happens when residents of the Seam mix with Merchants. A complete waste."
Katniss gritted her teeth, slowed her pace before she proceeded to walk towards where she saw Gale retreat to.
She held back her remark that without her, most of them would never know what fresh game tasted like, but instead she held her tongue and went about her business.
As she made her way through the crowd she could hear more gossip about Gale and his family being spread around, and finally it occurred to her that the boy, the one that so many already held distain for, was the same boy that she couldn't seem to get out of her head.
She finally spotted Gale talking with Sae, while he eats a bowl of stew, his shoulders hunched over.
Sae occasionally reached over patting him on the shoulder, earning a genuine smile from him, something that is rare from Gale.
When Katniss neared the bar that Sae had put up, she can see that Gale's kills from before have already been skinned, and are laying on her cutting board ready to be sliced and cubed.
Something wrapped in white paper sits beside him; Katniss eyed it before looking to Sae who gives her a polite shake of the head.
Katniss understood Gale's need for privacy, and she trusted the older woman's judgment, instead of questioning the parcel, Katniss placed one of the rabbits on the bar.
The older woman eyed the creature before reaching into the pockets of her skirt, and coming out with a few coins, her hand extended towards Katniss.
Katniss shook her head,"You haven't even weighed it yet, and I know I'm killing myself here but I doubt its worth that much."
Sae pushed the coins towards her,"Take it girl; I'm sure you and the boy here will make up the difference when the cold weather fattens the game up."
Katniss took the coins before stuffing them into her pockets, and nodded her thanks before turning towards Gale,"Are you ready? I have some stuff I need to do before tonight."
Gale looked over to her, his dark hair falling into his eyes as he held onto his spoon, "No, I think I'm going to stay a little while longer," he could see Katniss question him, even she could still hear the hushed tones of the people around them when they looked towards him, "But I'll see you tonight?"
Katniss nodded, a small smile on her lips,"Oh yes, and the weekly Everdeen and Hawthorne dinners."
Gale tilted his head to the side,"No you mean, Hawthorne and Everdeen?"
Katniss shook her head,"Are we always going to argue about whose name comes first?"
Gale nodded his head his lips curling at the sides,"Probably."
Katniss waved to Sae before turning on her heel to leave the cramped building, she pushed her way through the bodies, and she couldn't help but pay attention to how the whispers stopped when she drew near.
Katniss prided herself in the lineage that her father left behind for her, his skill with the bow was now hers, as was the strength she had to exercise to keep her family going, but these were the times, when others were causing pain through words towards those she cared for, that Katniss hated being from the Seam.
The temperature had dropped enough that the humidity wasn't choking her as she worked behind the house, a blade in one hand as the other held the kill firm while she slit the animal from belly to sternum.
Her knees were pressed into the dry ground, dust settled into the material of her slacks, as she hunched over preparing the animal for storage.
Usually she would be using the meat for dinner that same night, but Sundays held a sense of tradition in her house, when her family and the Hawthornes would come together once a week to share a meal.
At first it had occurred when Hazelle had noticed how emaciated the girls had become while Lily Everdeen stared lifeless out the window, waiting for her deceased husband to arrive home.
But after awhile as Lily gained her strength and realized her responsibilities it became a way for the two families to come together.
It was during this time that she felt more like part of a family, and not someone who was merely holding everything together.
Those few hours out of every week allowed her to feel like a child, and she had a great deal of respect for Hazelle Hawthorne for making that possible.
After Katniss had arrived home from the hob she exchanged short greetings with her mother, teased Prim, and made her way to the cold stone where she prepared her kills.
She had been concentrated on the task at hand when her mother came down the back steps, her hands ringing in the dish towel she held.
Katniss tried to hide her irritation at her mother's intrusion, but she found it difficult to mask the years of disappointment she held in regards to the woman.
Katniss took in a deep breath,"Do you need something?"
She continued to work as her mother shook her head, blonde strands escaping her braid,"No, I just wanted to let you know that we'll have someone else joining us tonight."
Katniss nodded, she tried to push down the warm sensation that traveled up her body,"I know. I saw him move into the Hawthorne's this morning," Katniss stopped her movements with the knife to look up at her mother,"I was beginning to think the old ladies at the hob would go dry mouth by all the jaw jacking they were doing about him."
Her mother waved her hand in the air, "Well you know how they like to talk," she pushed her hair behind her ears, the dish rag brushing her cheek, "Anyway I didn't want you or Prim to be shocked by it and make a big fuss, as it is I think the boy is overwhelmed by it all already."
Katniss nodded her agreement before going back to her work; she hoped her mother had gotten the hint when she began to ignore her attempt at small talk.
The tension began to ebb as she heard her mother retreat back into the house. It wasn't long until she found her pace from before the interruption, the air around her settling.
The low hiss of the cat beside her caught her by surprise, her knife sliding back, an inch from cutting the inside of her hand.
Katniss slammed the blade down, before pulling some of the entrails out to throw in the cat's direction. The organ landed a foot from the animal before he was above it, inhaling quickly.
"There you go you stupid waste of space! I should fatten you up so when I cook you there'll be some sufficient meat!"
Katniss picked her knife back up as she made the last small cuts, before the carcass was ready to be hollowed out.
The sudden sound of footsteps behind her caught her attention, her posture righting.
Katniss grip tightened on the knife, the tread was heavier than her mother's or sister's, and she had grown accustomed to recognizing the sound that Gale's made.
Fear settled in her stomach, occasionally one of miners would celebrate their leisure during the weekends too much, and problems would ensue.
Katniss took a deep breath when the footsteps neared her, before she whirled around, jumping to her feet, the knife prone and ready to jut out.
She couldn't hide the shock on her face, or her wide eyes, when the boy from before came into view.
He held his hands up, causing the hem of his shirt to rise revealing an inch of olive colored skin,"Whoa!"
Katniss kept the knife extended out in his direction; she could see his eyes widen as he took her in.
She could only imagine how she looked with animal blood staining her clothes, her hair mussed from the heat and exhaustion of the day.
She couldn't stop the familiar blush that seemed to be present anytime he's seen or thought of lately, and it's then that she took in his appearance; his features are more striking up close.
His jaw line extended up to a high bone structure that only enhanced the startling blue eyes staring back at her, as dirty blonde hair hung around his cheek bones.
However the deep cut below his eyes was hard to avoid as was the bruise that marred his olive skin, the tone was lighter than most that come from the Seam, and it spurned her curiosity of where exactly he was from.
Her posture had relaxed, and she followed his eyes to her hand, she felt embarrassed for putting on such a display, but it seemed he already had a way of making her feel foolish without really trying.
Katniss lowered the knife before tossing it next to the skinless rabbit.
His voice came out lower than she would have expected, and it ignited the blush that had settled at her chest, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have startled you," he reached up moving his hand through his hair nervously, it caught Katniss by surprise how enthralled she was by the simple action, "I'm Peeta."
Katniss ignored the way her pulse quickened for a few seconds before slowing back down, "I know who you are," she shook her head, rubbing her filthy hands on the sides of her slacks, "Well, I didn't know your name, but it seems the district can't speak of anything else. You seem to already be quite popular."
He lowered his eyes, the side of his mouth lifting but the smile didn't reach his eyes, "Popular isn't what I would call it," he looked back up catching her gaze once more, "So, it looks like I'm at a disadvantage since you seem to know me, but I don't know you."
Katniss tried to advert her gaze, but she couldn't bring herself to pull away from his eyes,"Katniss."
Peeta's small smile faltered; something close to disappointment appears in his eyes,"So you're Gale's Katniss?"
Katniss narrowed her eyes,"No, I'm not. There's no possession before my name. I'm just Katniss."
Peeta nodded and the smile from before formed at his lips, "I'll have to remember that, just Katniss," Peeta ran his hands through his hair again, as sweat collected at the back of his neck, "You know next time you want to watch me when I'm half naked all you have to do is ask. I really have no problem with you watching me. There's no need for you to hide beside the house."
Katniss let out an aggravated sigh before speaking,"I wasn't watching you, and maybe you should remember that bathing should be done inside, not where everyone can see."
Peeta shook his head,"I wasn't bathing, and I don't think it's inappropriate to cool down," his eyes moved over her body, and it wasn't until then that she realized how thin her tank top really is, the perspiration from before making her skin underneath visible, this sent her skin to new heights of warmth," but I'm sorry if I offended you."
Katniss watched as he turned on his heel to walk back down the dirt path, before speaking over his shoulder,"I'll see you around."
She rolled her eyes,"Of course you will, the Hawthornes only live a few houses down the path."
Peeta stopped to turn around, his light colored hair falling into his eyes,"Well then I guess I'll be seeing you sooner than I thought."
Katniss nodded," Tonight actually."
Peeta stood there watching her before what Katniss could describe as a blush reaching his cheeks," I can't wait."
There was something in his voice that took her a back, and the way that he looked at her made her breath catch.
Katniss followed his form as he walked backwards, their eyes locked before he turned around.
She felt a sense of loss when the view of him was obstructed by the side of the house, and this only further irritated her.
Katniss hated not being in control and it only seemed that the longer she was around this one particular young man, everything seemed to be anything but predictable.
A/N: I should have an update posted in a week or so. I'm also writing another Everlark fic, so keep an eye out for it also. Thank you. And Remember to Review!