For a day that would eventually change her life, it started off relatively normal. Katniss watched with a smirk as Gale's eyes widened slightly in the early morning light. She dumped the contents of her game bag on the table, arranging the dead animals in a row for him to admire. They had gotten up and left for the woods while it was still dark that morning and their trip had been more than worth it.
"Shit. Nice haul," he sniffed, wiping his nose on his sleeve. They had hurried back to the Seam after hunting that winter morning for their catch had been large. It was unseasonably warm for February so the animals were out and about trying to scramble for food the same way they were. By splitting up to hunt they had bagged almost triple what they normally did on a wintery Saturday morning and they needed it. The winter had been long and rough, scaring most of the animals deep into the frozen woods and out of their reach. Times had been more than a little tough for them that season and they were overjoyed at their luck that morning.
Katniss knew both of them were looking rather lean after a winter of trying to feed their families; their hunting clothes hung from their bodies and their cheekbones were starting to jut out. If Katniss had to lie to Prim and say 'I'm not really hungry' again so that her sister and mother could eat she thought she might collapse into herself from hunger. She felt as though she had been hungry since the last leaf of fall had touched the ground.
The food was desperately needed.
"When did you get that rabbit?!" he demanded, reaching across the table. Katniss smacked his hand away before he could touch it, playfully narrowing her eyes at him.
"Hands off. That's for the mayor."
"The mayor doesn't like rabbit."
"How would you know? I'm the one that sits with his daughter at lunch every day. She told me," Katniss snapped. Gale eyed her again until his face broke out into a tell-tale smile and hers had one to match. As much as they teased each other she knew they would always be best friends. While she still had to go to school every day, Gale had a job in the mines and she rarely saw him. She would be turning eighteen in a few months and was in her official last year of school. Gale had been out for several years and she missed at least seeing at least one friendly face in the barren hallways of the District 12 school. She didn't have many friends.
"You still sit with Madge?" he asked. Katniss shook her head to herself as she noticed the hopeful tone to Gale's voice. Her friend had been carrying a torch for the mayor's daughter for years now, despite the fact that he acted otherwise. When they went to the back door of the Undersee mansion he could hardly be bothered to look her friend in the eye.
She nodded, her eyes flicking up to meet his. "Better than sitting alone. Not that you ever sat with me anyway."
Gale shrugged. "I couldn't sit with Katniss Everdeen at lunch back in the day when I was in school – what would people say?" he joked.
She snickered and pulled her hunting knife out of her belt. "They'd say 'Gale's finally found himself a Seam slut'," she laughed, waving her knife at him. "Come on, let's go butcher these and get to the Hob."
Gale helped her load everything back into their bags so that they could go down to the cellar of the Hawthorne home. While they could do the messy part of their butchering in the woods, they found that the rest could be done in the warmth and protection of the cellar. It was away from any prying eyes and the dry air was good for hanging up hides and pelts. A steady, comfortable silence fell over them as they worked, skinning the meat and deciding what would go for trade and what would stay. Gale would grunt at her and motion with his knife and she would place certain items to the side to keep.
"You take these to the Hob; I'm gonna head to town and see if anyone besides the Undersees want to trade," she said.
"People in town must miss squirrel meat as much as we do. I bet that baker's mean old wife would kill for a couple of fried up tree rats," she laughed. Gale didn't laugh with her. He stared sternly at the table in front of him and shook his head slowly.
"I don't think we should trade in town anymore," Gale said slowly, lifting his head to look at her. Katniss paused, frowning.
"What are you talking about?" she asked incredulously. "Of course we need to trade in town. Half those people trade twice what they should cuz they don't know any better. We make a killing Gale, come on!"
Gale stared at her from across the little table they used for their work, his steely gaze locking with hers. "We shouldn't, that all."
She stared at him, completely bewildered.
"That new peacekeeper, Thread. I've heard things in the mines, Catnip. He's here to prove a point."
She huffed. "So? Isn't that the point of Peacekeepers? To prove a point for the Capitol?"
He shook his head and cursed so low it was barely a whisper. "People been talkin, ok? He's a lot worse than Old Cray. Word has it he wasn't being strict enough and they replaced him with Thread to crack down. The Hob is safe but…I don't want you going to town to trade."
Katniss felt her cheeks grow slightly hot. Gale was bossy and arrogant, but he had never flat out told her what she could or couldn't do before. A fire ignited deep within her gut, the defiance already seeping from her.
"Who made you boss? I shot it, I trade it as I see fit, end of story," she snapped defiantly. Gale's nostrils flared.
"Katniss," he repeated sternly, "will you just listen? I'm telling you now this guy means business. This isn't Cray, alright? A guy I work with got whipped last week just for tripping a Peacekeeper. You've tripped one of 'em before, just being silly. Stupid shit we do all the time, just for laughs people are getting whipped for."
"That doesn't mean I would!" she sniped back, her voice rising slightly. "I'm smarter than that Gale Hawthorne, and you know it!"
"Do you hear yourself? These new guys coming off the train aren't Darius. They aren't laid back and fun like him, alright?"
"Since when do you tell me what I can do?" she challenged back. Gale's jaw set and she could hear his teeth grind together in a moment of pure frustration. Angry Gale wasn't something she saw often but she wasn't about to back down. No one told her what she could and couldn't do.
"Since it's becoming dangerous to do what we do."
Katniss shook her head and grabbed her bag, haphazardly stuffing the rabbit and a few squirrels into it. She wasn't sure if it was her hunger making her so crazy or the fact that some stupid man was telling her what to do. Even if it was just Gale, it still felt like she was being controlled. Every aspect of her life was controlled and she despised it. The Capitol controlled how much food they got, where they could hunt, and who lived or died. Hunting and trading was one of the few areas of her life that she ran solely on her own and Gale wasn't about to change that. They needed food and money to survive and he was attempting to tamper with that. Her temper flared as she finished collecting her kills from the table.
"How's this: you do what you want, and I'll do what I want. I'm taking what I shot and you can just get over it," she jabbed at him.
"You don't mean that."
"I"m sick of being hungry, Gale. I'm sick of watching myself and my little sister starve! Alright? I know you are too."
Gale's jaw dropped open slightly. "Are you saying I don't give a shit about my siblings? That's low, Katniss, even for you."
She sniffed to herself as hot tears threatened to spill over onto her cheeks. She hadn't meant in insult Gale like that and insinuate he didn't take care of his siblings; Gale practically broke his back in the mines five days a week just for half of what he should earn. She was out of line but so astonishingly angry she didn't care. Slinging the bag over her shoulder, she tossed him a menacing look before darting up the cellar's steps.
"Katniss…don't!" he called after her. She was slamming the front door behind her before he even finished his words.
Happy Valentine's day! Okay, so it seems a little dismal now, but this is my Valentine's day story. Parts of it will be angsty, but parts of it will be fluffy as well. Fluff and angst=Valentine's day, no?
This story will not delay updates on either Shades of Winter OR Not In Our Favor. This was just something I wrote for fun one night when I couldn't sleep. It will be completed by Valentine's day.
Twitter, Tumblr, and Blog links are available on my main page if you'd like to come play!