A/N: So i got the idea for this story in an inbox message from eckles who wanted me to run with it, so i have! It's going to be a longer story, and it's taking priority over my other stories for now! I hope you enjoy, give me some reviews to let me know what you think! :)
A mockingjay sings in the distance, and I have to make a concentrated effort not to get Katniss to sing. We've been tracking a deer all day, and one wrong move would send it scampering into the woods, never to be seen again. Katniss has been obsessive about this particular animal—but I can't blame her, considering we need the meat. The deer makes one misplaced step into our view, and within two seconds, he has two arrows in his neck. I take a step towards our kill and slit its throat cleanly to ensure the kill, "Nice shot, Catnip," I call.
Katniss walks toward me with a huge grin, something that is unfamiliar unless we just brought down a huge animal, "Not bad shooting for you either."
I flex my muscles toward her and wink, "These are the real guns you should be worried about."
She shakes her head and begins cleaning her arrows and preparing to carry the deer (along with the two rabbits and three squirrels) to the Hob so we can trade them. Only two weeks left before the Hunger Games, and we know that we won't be able to go into the woods every day, so we have to stock up. The week before the actual start of the games belongs to the Reapings and the opening ceremonies and the tributes' training. The poor citizens of the districts have to watch all these stupid things, so there is an extra amount of Peacekeepers.
Which makes hunting difficult.
We walk the familiar path to put up our weapons before sneaking into town with the deer. Katniss and I are both in a good way with the local Peacekeepers, who often turn the other way as long as we bring them game, but we don't want to appear like we're showing them up by bringing in huge game and not bothering to conceal it. Illegally hunting to feed our families is one thing—subconsciously bragging about it by bringing in a huge deer is another.
The woods are full of life today, and we hear the mockingjays sing again as we take a different route than normal to the Hob. Instead of being visible from the road, this one is deeper into the woods, so we won't be seen until we are at the backdoor of the old warehouse. The sunshine spills through the trees, so I start to whistle along with the birds song, and Katniss's smile gets wider and wider the more we walk.
"Penny for your thoughts?" I ask her.
She laughs at me, "I'll need my penny up front, Hawthorne."
"I've taught you well then," I reply.
I know better than to try to pry whatever she was thinking from her, besides, she can't keep a secret from me. So I just keep walking at my brisk pace and whistling until Katniss finally decides to tell me what she was smiling about.
"I'm just excited that we're going to have so much meat. It's more than we've ever had during the games before," she admits.
I laugh, because I knew she'd end up telling me eventually. "What did you think, we'd starve? You know better than to think that."
Katniss just rolls her eyes at me and comes through the tree line, checking to make sure no one can see us, before heading into the Hob. The talking quiets as soon as we walk in, and the silence takes over for a few seconds before the whispers start. Katniss ignores them as usual and looks for the butcher, but I can't help but listen to some of them.
Since we started hunting together when I was 14, the whispers have always been there. At first it was the talk of two kids actually going out to hunt together. Since then it's been bets on the two of us—if we'd get together, when we'd get together, etc. I don't really mind, because although I'd actually like to have Katniss for my own, but she doesn't think that way, so it's more annoying than anything.
We give the deer to the butcher, who assures us that she will skin, gut, and cut the creature for us. "You know I have to take 20% of the meat, Gale," she says.
Katniss looks at me and I nod. I pride myself on never paying more or less than something is worth, I don't like to be cheated and I don't like to cheat other people. Most of the people in the Hob know this, so they often give me a fair price up front. I feel like 20% is fair, considering all the work the butcher has to do.
We leave the butcher's table and walk to Greasy Sae's to eat some soup and trade some of the squirrels. The quieted whispers seem to be growing louder to me, but I just chalk it up to my imagination and sit on a stool next to Katniss. Darius is on her other side, and instead of teasing her (a rabbit for a kiss) he just sits, looking very solemn. Katniss notices too, and she looks back at me, her look saying What's up with him?
I shake my head, I don't know, ask him.
Katniss nods and turns to Darius, "What's wrong with you, Peacekeeper?"
He looks at the two of us and sighs, "Bad news I have to talk to you kids about. I need a favor for the next week." Katniss and I look at each other and I nod, so she motions for him to keep going. "I need you both to stay out of the woods next week if you can. The Peacekeeper's Recruitment Agency is coming in next week, and if they see something like that, it'll be my ass and Cray's."
"We'll do our best, but why is the PRA coming so early? Don't they usually come after the Victory Tour?" I ask him.
Darius nods, "Usually. But recruitment numbers are down, and they think that doing it after the Victory Tour only places the pride in one district rather than all of them."
"That makes sense," Katniss comments.
"They're also expanding the ages," Darius continues. "Hoping to get younger men and women, but you two will find out all about it today at school—don't let me ruin your surprise." He grins, and before long, he's back to teasing Katniss about trading a rabbit for a kiss. He keeps twisting the end of her braid up to tickle her face, and although this isn't the first time this has happened, I start to get more and more annoyed with his giggling.
"She's not going to give you a kiss," I snap.
Katniss and Darius both turned to me surprised, and Darius leans closer to me, "Didn't realize she was claimed, Hawthorne."
My hands ball up into fists, and I can feel the blood rising through me, "She's not," I spit, "I just know she wouldn't want your kisses if they were water and she was dying of thirst."
I put a coin down on the bar for both Katniss and I and get up, heading back to the butcher's to get my meat. I know Katniss will follow, so I don't even bother looking behind me. She puts a hand on my shoulder motioning for me to stop, "Gale, what the hell was that?"
I shake my head and elect to not answer her, because honestly I'm not even sure what that was. Darius always messes with Katniss, and it's never mattered to me before, but for some reason it does now. Jealousy? Maybe, but for now I don't want to think about it, so I don't.
We get our meat and start to head back home, my anger fading with each step. Before long I catch her smiling at me, so I smirk back. "You know, Gale," she begins with a light and teasing tone. "If you're jealous of Darius kissing me… All you have to do is say so."
I roll my eyes at her, "I wasn't jealous, I was just sick of hearing you tell him no."
She smiles sweetly again, "Whatever you say, Gale."
"Wouldn't you be jealous if a female Peacekeeper was trying to kiss me?" I counter.
Katniss just shakes her head, "I have to put up with that every day, Gale."
Every day? "What do you mean, Catnip?"
"The girls at school," she rolls her eyes. "'Oh that Gale Hawthorne!' Their swooning almost makes me sick on a daily basis."
I let the comment drop and just keep walking. We come to the place in the road where we have to split off to go to our houses and I notice the thick silence between us. I'm not really sure what else to say, "I guess I'll see you after school?"
She smiles, "You'll have lunch with me today, because of that Peacekeeper presentation."
Oh right. Fuck. "Right, I'll see you at lunch then." And we go our separate ways to get ready for school.
When I get home, Mom already has breakfast on the table and greets me with a warm smile. Rory is less than happy about being up so early and groans at me before plopping down in a chair, unsuccessfully fighting sleep. Vick has his nose in a book and barely acknowledges me, while Posy attempts to throw her oatmeal at me with a spoon. I kiss them all on the head and since the meat has already been packed, I go back to the bathroom and try to clean myself a little before school.
My appearance at school hasn't ever been something that I really bothered with, in fact it's something I've always tried to avoid. I never really wanted girls everywhere when I walked through school, but it never mattered how disheveled my appearance, girls still came calling. But it seems as if lately that I'm trying to look nicer and nicer wherever Katniss is concerned. Mom caught me trying to smooth down my cowlick before going hunting one afternoon, and at the time it didn't really mean much to me, but after this morning's incident with Dairus, I'm starting to get a little confused.
Of course, I've always loved Katniss, but mostly in the sisterly way. Sure, I've noticed she's gotten really pretty in the last year or so, but she's only fifteen—she hasn't started thinking about boys yet. In fact, it's beginning to become clear to me that she might not start thinking about boys at all. But they've always stared at her, that Mellark kid especially. Normally I just move a little closer to her and he stops, but it's always bugged me that he looks at her in the first place.
I finished getting dressed and head to the kitchen, not needing to eat since I already had something at Greasy Sae's. The boys pick up their backpacks, and at 7:45 we start walking to meet Prim and Katniss on our way to school.
Since Prim goes to the same school as Rory and Vick, Katniss and I usually take the honors of walking them all to school and picking them all up, today being no different. As we walk, Prim starts talking to Rory about something a girl said in her class, so Katniss and I hang back to talk to each other.
"So I tried to dress a little nicer today in hopes that the girls would swoon even harder," I joke. She just rolls her eyes so I know that she's still pissed over this morning, but eventually she ends up cracking a smile.
"Just dying to see me throw up, aren't you?"
We hug and kiss the kids goodbye and send them to school before heading in the opposite direction to our secondary school. It's a little drearier than where Prim, Rory, and Vick go, but nobody really cares there anyway. As long as your attendance is good and you don't kill anybody while you're there, none of the teachers really mind if you don't pay attention. Because for girls in our district, their future is really as a wife and mother, and all the boys are destined for the mines, so what's the point in an education for Seam kids?
If the whispers in the Hob are bad when Katniss and I walk in together, the whispers in school are way, way worse. It seems like all the boys are jealous of me for being so close to her, and all the girls are jealous of her because they think we're sleeping together.
As if I could be so lucky.
But Katniss ignores them just as easily as she ignored the people in the Hob this morning, and we make our way to her homeroom class, same as always. She leans up against the door and faces me, smiling for the first time since we walked through the door. "That Peacekeeper thing is this morning, you know," she states.
"Why do you keep reminding me?" I tease, "Trying to get rid of me so early?"
She just laughs and hugs me before walking into her class, so I smirk at her and begin walking the hallways to my own homeroom. I sit down at my assigned desk, which has always been too small for me. I notice an unfamiliar Peacekeeper standing at the door, and judging by the stripes on his arm, he's very important.
And he keeps staring at me.
The teacher asks all of us to sit down quietly so we can watch the special broadcast introduction before heading down to the auditorium for the assembly. The television turns on, the symbol of Panem shows, and before I know it, I'm preparing for a well-deserved nap.