A/N: Ok, this is my first Hunger Games fic, but it was bubbling around in my brain so I thought I'd write it down and see where it goes. The basic premise is that Katniss' father didn't die in the mines and I wanted to play around with how this would change her personality and the rest of THG. So, anyway, here goes…
Oh, and please review!
Disclaimer: I am not Suzanne Collins, if I was this would be published in a shiny, pretty book cover, have fewer mistakes in it and my bank balance would be nicer to look at.
Little Ducks and Mockingjays
Birdsong. It was the one thing I remembered clearly, later, when I thought about that day. The soaring, joyous chatter of birds; the noise of creatures whose greatest care was where their next meal would come from and what the weather would be like tomorrow.
As I scuff my feet through the dense carpet of leaves and pine needles crunching beneath my feet I have bigger problems.
I don't know why I'm wasting the last of this beautiful day worrying about something I can't change. I can rage and despair as much as I like, there certainly won't be anyone to hear me out here, but none of it will alter whose name they choose from the Reaping Bowl. And I know it will be mine. Call me a pessimist, but I have a horrible feeling about today, not that Reaping Day is ever a happy one, but I just know. I know that when they call out the name of District 12's tribute this year they will say mine. Katniss Everdeen.
My father tells me that I need to have a little faith. I just can't understand how he can say such things, but then my father has always been a marvel to me. Missing an arm and most of a leg he is virtually house bound and he can't walk across a room without his lungs almost collapsing, wracked by fits of coughing after a mine explosion five years ago. Despite all that he can still find cause to be cheerful, to sing and cling to what little hope is to be found in the Seam. Every day I try to be more like him.
The sun is high in the sky now and I know that I should head back to the fence, cross that border from the freedom and solitude offered by the forest into the grey world of District 12. Everything is grey there: the buildings, coated in a thick layer of coal dust, the clothes worn and faded with age and the faces of the people, impoverished and downtrodden.
Slowly my feet begin to lead me home, I slip under a hole in the fence and wind my way through the quiet streets. Almost everyone is inside preparing for the Reaping. I catch sight of a familiar face in a window. Gale Hawthorne, my best friend. His family weren't as lucky as mine. The blast that crippled my father killed his leaving Gale to care for his family. He sees me, smiles encouragingly and waves. I can't help but return the gesture. In this whole world there are three people guaranteed to make me smile. Gale, my father and my little sister, Prim.
She is sitting on my bed when I reach the house, swamped inside an old dress that used to be mine. Her tiny frame is lost inside shoulders that are too wide and the hem drops further below her knees than fashion would ever dictate. Not that either of us know a thing about fashion; that is a luxury reserved for the Capitol, or the daughters of the merchants who live in town.
"Mother wants you to put this on." She gestures to the swathe of blue cloth lying beside her. "She says you should hurry up and get ready."
"Does she indeed?" Obediently I begin to strip out of the clothes I had been wearing and pull the blue dress over my head. "You know, you're incredibly bossy for someone so small."
A small, radiant smile lights up her face. "Father says someone needs to keep you all in check."
I laugh and smile too, pretending that today doesn't matter, that it is just like any other. Except it isn't. On no other day would I allow my mother to come in and sit patiently whilst she braids my hair, it's not that the two of us don't get along, it's just that I'm far too restless normally to ever sit still for long enough. Afterwards I go and speak to my father.
His face has more lines on it than it should, the grey in his hair isn't just from the coal dust and when he speaks his voice cracks and whispers. His eyes however are still alive with the same dancing light that they always have been. He takes one look at my stony-faced expression and breaks into a wide smile, so like Prim's.
"Cheer up, Catnip." He heard Gale call me the same stupid nickname once and has used it with irritating regularity ever since.
I try to plaster a smile across my face, but it doesn't stick, and he knows me well enough not to try and force me to. Instead he reaches out his good arm and smoothes some imagined wrinkle in my collar. I know there isn't one there, the amount of time my mother spent fussing over the dress I'm surprised there is any collar left at all.
"Your mother wore that dress when we first met."
I glance down at it. "It's beautiful."
"She was." His voice sounds as though it comes from whatever distant place his grey eyes have gone to. Suddenly they snap back to reality. "And so are you."
I do more than smile, this time I laugh. "If you say so."
He rolls his eyes at my response and pulls me into a one-armed embrace. "I do." There is a pause, during which we both grow serious.
His voice is rough and scratchy in my ear. "You know I am proud of you Katniss, don't you?"
Now I am the one to repeat his words. "I do." I struggle to keep the slight catch from my voice.
"The way you've looked after all of us these last few years, especially Prim. Well…" He pulls back and I feel a gentle kiss against my forehead. "I love you."
My father is not usually this sentimental, even on Reaping Day. "I love you too." I probably don't tell him that often enough.
Our moment is interrupted as mother and Prim come into the room, bustling around and preparing a little meal for us all. The best of the food is being kept for our celebration meal tonight. If we have anything to celebrate.
I pull my mind away from such morose thoughts. I can't let myself think like that; still, my uneasy feeling refuses to budge.
The end of our short time together comes too soon and before I know what is happening we are all making our way towards the square where the selection of District 12's tributes will take place. We move more slowly than other families, on account of Father's crutches, but it is still not slowly enough. I hug them all one last time, sign my name in the book after Prim and then shuffle towards the roped off section. Everything seems to be happening around me as though in a haze. I'm not fully aware of the crowd getting larger, of the silence that slowly begins to descend the closer it gets to two o'clock. A few people whisper words of greeting, Madge Undersee the mayor's daughter catches my eye and nods; I do respond, but barely. All of my attention is focused on the glass ball up on the stage. The glass ball that contains twenty slips of paper with my name on it. What are the odds of my being chosen? A hundred to one? Two hundred? They're not in my favour anyway.
Something is happening now; people are sitting down on the stage and the mayor is speaking, saying the same thing he does every year. Then Effie Trinket, that brilliantly blithering, overly powdered woman from the Capitol takes to the microphone. I don't really pay attention to what she is saying, it's all nonsense anyway. Instead my eyes seek out Gale; he's already looking in my direction and gives me another encouraging wink.
"Now," all eyes suddenly snap back to Effie Trinket as she reaches into one of the Reaping Bowls. "Ladies first I think." There is a breathless silence as she rummages around with her emerald green talons. I can feel my heart thudding in my chest as I know what she is about to say. I can feel the words forming on her lips. Katniss Everdeen. Effie takes a breath during which I swear I can sense the world stop entirely just for a moment.
I think my stomach may have been vaporised, certainly it doesn't seem to be where it should anymore. My fingers clutch at my skirt, I'm not sure if I want to tear at it or hold myself steady. I try to focus on something. Breathing would be a good start. In out, slow, steady.
How can it be Prim? My mind is in freefall. She had one slip, of all the thousands that are in the bowl. How can Prim be the chosen tribute? As my swirling, clouded brain starts to catch up with everything I see the tiny, terrified form of my sister approaching the stage. The tiny duck tail formed by her shirt.
I'm not sure when I decide to move my feet, but they are. I'm pushing past the other kids, even though they're already moving to make room for me. "Prim!" My voice cracks over her name and I can hear someone else shouting. My father? "Prim!" I've reached the stage now, she is approaching the steps. "No!" I'm not sure what I'm saying anymore, what I'm doing. My arm reaches out and sweeps her behind me before she even has a chance to turn.
"I volunteer." It is a breathless whisper so I repeat. Louder this time; there is less of a tremor in my voice. "I volunteer as tribute."
There is confusion. People are shouting and whispering. Prim is clinging to me before being dragged away by Gale who looks angrier than I've ever seen him. I'm up on the stage with Effie Trinket hastily trying to salvage the situation, babbling away, before I know where I am. I think she asks my name and I mumble a response. She indicates that the crowd should applaud, but none do, a fact which afterwards I am profoundly grateful for, instead they all begin to raise their hands in the three fingered salute of our District. It is something I will need to process later though. Right now my eyes are too busy sweeping the sea of people, trying to find my father's face.
There he is, up at the back. My mother is sobbing uncontrollably and clinging to his arm, but he is gazing straight at me. His grave grey eyes and my wide, panicked ones. They seem to speak to each other and I can hear his words from earlier. "I am proud of you Katniss." I straighten my back slightly and school my expression to blankness. I will not show weakness in front of the crowd, in front of the whole of Panem who are undoubtedly watching. I will not be afraid. I force myself to listen to the rest of the ceremony. Haymitch Abernathy, the only victor District 12 has to offer is being carted away on a stretcher. I blink; what happened there?
"What an exciting day!" Effie is screeching as she nervously pats her insane pink hair, which now that I am closer I can see is almost definitely a wig. "But more excitement to come! It's time to choose our boy tribute!" Clearly hoping to rectify the rapidly unravelling Reaping she plunges her hand into the bowl and with barely any searching draws forth a slip. From where I stand I can see the name before she even reads it out.
My stomach, which seems to have returned, performs backflips until it is knotted so tightly that I doubt it will ever unravel.
As though drawn by a magnet my eyes hone in on him making his way through the crowd. He is blonde and stocky, a little taller than myself. He has serious blue eyes that right now look as terrified as I feel, or would if I allowed myself. He moves with careful, deliberate steps that are carrying him towards the stage. He once saved my life with a loaf of bread.
Why did it have to be him?
Until he reaches the steps his eyes remain downcast, but when he begins to climb they flit upwards to my face as they do so often in the hallways at school or across the counter when I barter with his father in the bakery. I pull my gaze away, trying to break the sense of connection I feel to Peeta Mellark. We're entering the Hunger Games; I can't afford a connection to anything anymore.
Effie makes us shake hands and I notice despite myself that for all he seems afraid there is no tremble in his, not even a sweaty palm. She then sweeps us from the stage before the last strains of the national anthem have even finished and before I know it I am alone in a small, but luxurious room of the Justice Building.
All of the furnishings seem to be made of the richest velvet. I know this because my mother has a dress which she wears on special occasions and the collar is made of the stuff. It is my father's favourite and I'm not sure if that is why, but the feel of the material is comforting as I sit there anxiously.
I am not alone for long.
Prim comes first, flying into the room and clambering onto my lap as she did when she was small, or smaller. My mother and father sit on either side of us and for a long moment no one says anything. Then, slowly, we begin to speak. It is difficult though. What can you say? I try though. I tell them about my pact with Gale to help provide for them. Father's lips purse up at this, he found it difficult enough when I became the one to feed the family, but he doesn't make comment for which I am grateful. I tell them I love them and that I will try to do my best, that they can always rely on Prim's goat for income if things get bad and mother's job doesn't cover costs. I also make Prim promise never to apply for any tesserae. Father wouldn't let her of course, the only reason I managed was that I did it without telling him first. Still I feel better for saying it.
Then it's Prim's turn, she tries to convince me that I have a chance and makes me promise that I will try to win. I agree for her sake, but as I meet my parents' eyes over the top of her head I can see they hold a fear that it won't be true. Then it's my father's turn and that is when I really have to try not to cry.
"Remember everything I taught you Katniss. You're a good hunter and you can handle a bow. More importantly, you're quick and you've got a good head on those shoulders. Use that to your advantage. There will be plenty of tributes who have trained with weapons every day since they were tall enough to carry them, but you can outthink them." Then comes the clincher. The one that really does have me blinking back the tears. "Trust your instincts, they're good ones. And remember, that whatever happens, we love you and we'll be proud of you."
And then the Peacemakers are back and we're all hugging and my mother and prim are crying. The last thing I'm aware of is my father's gentle fingers on my cheek and then they are gone. I am almost composed again when Madge Undersee comes in to visit. For some reason I find this unexpected, even though she is my friend, the only one I have other than Gale. Even more unexpected however is her gift to me of a mockingjay brooch. She is quite insistent that I wear it in the arena and I agree. Mostly because I think she is about to cry. We hug and she kisses my cheek and then she is gone and my last visitor slips in through the door.
Neither of us says a word. He just holds out his arms and unhesitating I walk into them, resting my head above his heart. There is nothing romantic between us. I think my mother would be pleased if there was, but Gale will always only be my friend however special our bond is.
As fast as he can he starts telling me how to stay alive in the arena. To get a knife. Make a bow, even a badly made one.
"I don't even know if there'll be wood," I murmur into his chest.
"There's almost always some wood." His voice is practical. "Since that year half of them died of cold. Not much entertainment in that."
He tries to convince me that it will be exactly like our weekly hunting sessions. I'm not sure whether or not I find that comforting.
Then the Peacekeepers return, dragging him away whilst I try to cling to his hand.
"Don't let them starve!" I yell.
"I won't! You know I won't! Katniss, remember I -" The door is about to close on him and Gale pushes back against the white uniforms trying to restrain him. "I love you!"
The door slams and I am left alone with his revelation.
A/N: So there. What do you think, is it worth continuing? It wasn't really the direction I had intended the chapter going in, but as I was writing I found that Gale had other ideas. He's headstrong like that.