A/N: Hello! This is my first attempt at a multi-chapter fic, so please leave some feedback if you can! I'd love to work on my skills, and I think the best way to do that is through practice and reader feedback. I do not have a beta, so I apologize for the errors I'm sure are lurking around here.
All right, on to the story. I was particularly inspired by Max's backstory in The Book Thief by Zusak, so I attempted to combine TBT with Hunger Games characters and a bit of my own ideas. I'm sure there are Nazi Germany HG fics out there already, but I hope you can enjoy this as well.
And one final note, last names have been changed to fit in with the time and place. (Mellark will make an appearance eventually!)
The Hunger Games is owned by Suzanne Collins. The Book Thief is owned by Markus Zusak.
There was a time when everything was good.
To the children playing ball in the sticky heat of summer, the biggest worry was getting home for dinner on time. Perhaps it's best they never knew what was smoldering on the horizon. Children have a right to live without fear.
Unfortunately for the children growing up in the midst of two world wars, that luxury was revoked.
For all of her young life, people were people and that was the end of it. It wasn't until she was eleven-years-old, Katniss realized she was different from her best friend. And nothing would be the same again.
"I'll race you home," Gale said. "Ready? One, t… " and he was off like a shot down the street.
"Hey!" Katniss shouted in protest, but her feet were already carrying her swiftly down the asphalt.
Gale was two years older, two years stronger, and two years bigger. And he was always leaving her behind. She learned how to adjust quickly, though. Her lithe frame was fast and she soon conditioned her lungs and muscles to outrun even the fastest kid in the schoolyard, which Gale was not.
She passed him that night within seconds and kept going all the way to his front porch. She even had an extra minute to set herself down on the chilled cement step and act as though she had been waiting for hours.
"About time you showed up," she said as he rounded the corner.
Gale collapsed in half at the waist, hands on his knees. "God damn, kid," he panted, nearly wheezing.
Katniss cocked her head to the side. "That's what you get for cheating," her voice lilting as if in song. She sat up straight, taking on a scowl and more serious tone. "And don't call me 'kid'."
After catching his breath and soothing a bit of the burn in his throat, Gale walked Katniss down three houses to her own home. He was half-listening to her recap of the day in school when he saw the ugly red paint splashed across her front door. He moved to shield her from it, to keep walking, but it was too late. Her innocent eyes already lighted upon the Jewish slur angrily marking her home.
Unwarranted hatred had been running rampant through Germany since 1933, but once the Nuremberg Laws were enacted earlier that year, there was no stopping it.
But it had never followed Katniss home before.
The sloppy red curses momentarily vanished as the door swung inward and Mrs. Ehrlichmann appeared in its place. She carried a bucket of soapy water and a sponge in her hand. The paint would never wash out that way, but it would at least fade the hatred until they could save up for a can of fresh white paint.
"Oh, Katniss, you're all right," Mrs. Ehrlichmann exclaimed at the sight of her daughter and rushed to pull Katniss into her arms. The water sloshed in her bucket, but only a few soap bubbles spilled over the side.
Katniss' father was a fighter pilot in The World War. Despite being injured and taken prisoner, he made it home safely where he recovered and began to hope for a better future. When he was killed in a plane crash years later, his wife and two-year-old Katniss were left to fend for themselves, clinging to the dreams he so wished for. Her mother was plagued by depression, but was generally able to pull herself together enough for her only daughter. On the days she couldn't quite vanquish the monsters in her head, Katniss stayed home from school and took care of her. She liked the responsibility, and wasn't even that scared anymore when her mother seemingly checked out of the world.
"I'm fine. Are you okay?" Katniss' voice was muffled in the fabric of her mother's dress.
Mrs. Ehrlichmann sighed. "I am now."
"Who did this?" Gale demanded.
"Who knows?" Mrs. Ehrlichmann released her daughter. "But I have a feeling it will only get worse from here."
And right she was.
Mrs. Ehrlichmann's small apothecary shop, their only source of income, was all but deserted in the coming months. No one willing to give their business to a Jew, despite the fact that she was the best in the entire area.
They were hungry. Starving. And there was nowhere to find food. No one would serve them. Gale did his best to sneak scraps to them, but with his large family, there were rarely any leftovers to spare. Katniss could no longer keep up with the boys at school during recess. It was all she could do to drag her feet along as her body seemed to shrink, her cheeks hollowing, ribs easily counted through her sides where a good layer of muscle used to be.
One night as she wandered around town, shivering in the icy sheets of rain, she wondered why exactly any of this was happening.
She thought of Gale, of his similar dark hair and gray eyes. He could have been her brother. And yet, he was still held in as high regard as ever while she and her mother wasted away. Why was he part of the Hitler Youth and she wasn't? Why could he move up in school and she couldn't? Why could he walk into any store he wanted, greet the shopkeep with a 'heil Hitler', and buy whatever he needed? Why couldn't they be seen together in public anymore?
It's because he's a Catholic, her mother tried explaining to her once. But Katniss couldn't understand how that possibly factored into anything.
The rain fell hard and pierced her thin skin like needles, but she couldn't work up the energy to move on. She was entranced by the aroma of cinnamon and fresh bread floating from the bakery in front of her. Before she had time to think about what she was doing, she walked up the steps and into the warm building. On the counter sat a large box filled with bread loaves and rolls. And no one to guard or claim it. She glanced around and dashed for the box. It was barely within her grasp when she heard the shrill sound of the baker's wife behind her. She and Gale heard it often over the years whenever they passed by. She was always screaming about something or another. And now her anger was directed squarely at Katniss.
"What do you think you're doing, you filthy little Jew?" she exclaimed.
"I… I," Katniss stuttered, flinching away as the woman entered her line of sight.
"She was holding that for me, mom," a young boy said. It was a voice Katniss recognized from school. The blue-eyed boy with the blond curls who always sat near her in music class. Katniss turned her head to confirm the source of the voice. Peeta. He was still in his Hitler Youth uniform from that afternoon. Katniss barely had time to wonder why he was covering for her when his mother's hand smacked him across the face. He didn't even stumble or stutter over his next words. "My hands were full and she was in here looking around, so she helped me. She wasn't stealing," he asserted. Katniss knew she should run, but felt frozen in place.
"You should know better than to hand anything over to this trash," Mrs. Mellher all but spit at him. She turned to Katniss and ripped the wet paper box from her grasp. "You're not welcome here, girl." She pushed the box at Peeta. "Go feed this to the pigs. She's ruined it all." Mrs. Mellher dashed off into the kitchen to tend to something burning, but not before slinging curses at Katniss to get out before she called the cops.
Katniss turned to run, tears stinging her eyes when she felt a hand firmly wrap around her arm. She winced, preparing for a hit when Peeta wheeled her around and thrust the box into her arms.
"Go. Now," he whispered harshly. "Run."
She didn't need to be told twice. She took off running with more energy than she'd had in months. This treasure chest he had given her would save both her and her mother, she knew. She didn't even give herself time to wonder why the boy in the Hitler Youth uniform would risk worse than a beating from his mother just to save her. All she could think was thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
When she finally got to her street, the sight of a bright yellow dandelion poking up through the brown grass actually made her smile. It was like a tiny, tangible ray of sunshine, just like Peeta himself.
If only that feeling could have lasted forever.