A/N - This is a modern AU (the first time I have ever attempted such a thing!) Also I'm afraid this won't be set in America. A) Because I'm not American and don't know anything about life in America and B) these issues are very much English ones.
The Boxing Day hunts mentioned here in the prologue are very much traditional, and despite the fact that hunting with dogs was made illegal in 2005, these monsters still do it. The general excuse is that they are taking the dogs for a run, and if the dogs happen to come across a fox, it isn't their fault. And the police don't seem interested in putting a stop to this gruesome blood sport. And the brave sabs who try to stop it are often subjugated to abuse and beatings. They are now risking their lives over the badger culls that are taking place and which could decimate the population of these beautiful animals. Sadly we have a long way to go :(
I don't own the Hunger Games, I'm not Suzanne Collins and I'm not making money.
Boxing Day, Two Years Ago
"They're gathering now," said the young blond man, watching through binoculars as the forty or so men on horseback surrounded by their pack of dogs came together. He lowered them and took a sip from a steaming thermos of tea that was being proffered by a tall, athletic, golden haired man.
"Which way are they heading?"
The blond man raised his binoculars once again and inhaled sharply. "Roughly north-east. Have we got anyone stationed that way?"
The athletic man swallowed heavily. "Just Annie."
"Shit." If a fox had gone to ground round that way, there wasn't very much that petite little Annie would be able to do alone, other than get herself trampled.
A crackle of static came from the walkie-talkie in the pocket of his hoodie. He pulled it out while continuing to watch the gathering hunt. "Yeah?" he spoke into it.
"We spotted a fox heading towards the earths," came the crackling voice.
"Do you think they've picked up the scent?"
"Dunno. Doesn't look like it. We sprayed the whole area, but I'd prefer to see them heading in a different direction."
The blond continued to watch as he formulated a plan. "Leave it with me," he spoke in to the walkie-talkie. "We'll draw them this way." He put the walkie-talkie back in his pocket, and took a deep breath before speaking again. "Ok, I'm going to double back round, try and join Annie. Use the Cotswald horn to confuse the dogs, get them away from the riders."
"How about you do that, and I'll get to Annie?"
The blond smiled a knowing smile. "You know I can't get any decent noise out of that thing. I'll make sure she's ok, Finn, so stop worrying."
The taller of the two continued to look worried but nodded. "Look after her, Peet, alright?"
"Don't worry about us. Give me say five minutes before you start to draw the dogs away. See you later, ok?"
He left the taller man alone and began making his way through the woods as quickly as he could. Every now and then he stopped, took a spray out of his pocket and used it to mark a long line along the floor. If any foxes had passed by this way the spray would hopefully mask their scent and make it more difficult for the dogs to pick up the trail.
After a few minutes a loud horn sounded, coming from the direction he had just left. In the distance the dogs started to bark excitedly as the pack tore away from the riders. Finn would know to steer clear of the pack, lead them on false trails, but the riders would not be fooled so easily. It would only take a few minutes for them to realise that the horns calling the dogs away weren't coming from their own kind, but from their saboteuring enemies. They would call the dogs back, and then Finn would lead them on another trail. Exhausting the dogs would be another line in their defence of the foxes.
It took about a twenty minute hike through the woods to find Annie. She was sat over the entrance to a fox-earth. A last ditch effort to protect the fox that would be cowering for his or her life inside; the hunters wouldn't be able to reach them without going through Annie. About twenty riders were visible through the trees approaching the area. The ploy of driving the dogs in a different direction clearly hadn't worked. The blond man ran to where the petite brunette was sat and joined her, radioing his fellow sabs for help to come and join them.
"Hey Peeta," she said nervously.
"You ok?" he replied.
"Yeah," she said, distracted by the sight and sounds of the approaching riders on horseback.
"You got a camera?" She nodded in response, pulling out a small, handheld digital camera. "Good. Scarves on, hoods up, and start filming."
They wrapped their cotton scarves around their mouths and pulled their hoods up to better hide their appearance. Even though it was the hunters and not them who were breaking the law, they knew from past experience that it was better to remain as anonymous as possible.
One of the riders broke off from the rest of the pack and headed straight towards where Peeta and Annie were sitting. "You are trespassing."
The hunters would often try tactics such as this to get the sabs to move. Maybe on some of the newer and more inexperienced sabs it would work, but not today. "Nope," responded Peeta, his voice slightly muffled through the scarf. "Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, we have every right to walk through these woods as we please. You, on the other hand, are breaking the law under the Hunting Act 2004."
"You'll find that difficult to prove."
Peeta shrugged as Annie continued to film. He was right of course. Unless they caught them in the act of actually using the dogs to hunt and kill a wild animal there was very little that the law could do. Even if they did it was unlikely to ever make it to Court. But for the South Suffolk Sab Association, the knowledge of saving even just one life was enough reward in itself.
"You want to put the camera away, little girl."
Annie flinched slightly next to Peeta, who put out a reassuring arm around her. "Don't stop," he said. "They can't stop us filming."
"I can and I will. I'll give you one last chance to move out of our way."
At that moment four other members of the SSSA appeared out of the woods and came to sit with Annie and Peeta in solidarity. The horns being sounded by Finn occasionally blared out in the distance, causing the remaining dogs to bark and howl in confusion.
"You bloody interfering little shits. Don't care about our dogs, do you?"
"More than you, mate," responded Thresh, one of the biggest sabs in the Association. The hunter on horseback shrunk slightly under his intense stare.
"Oh really. That's why you enjoy upsetting them, is it?"
"So what do you do with them when they're no longer useful to you?" Peeta said, his voice becoming heated. "Rehome them all, do you? Or do they get destroyed?"
The mounted man threw a dark look at Peeta then urged his horse forward. The sabs stood their ground, refusing to be moved or intimidated. But the man also refused to back down. He leant in towards Annie, snatching the camera from her grasp. "Give it back," said Annie, adding a tone of courage to her voice that she didn't truly feel. The hunter raised his whip to her but Peeta and the other sabs jumped to their feet and rushed forward to protect her. The movement was too much for the horse to cope with, and she reared up high, dislodging the rider from her back. But Peeta had come in too close to try and protect Annie from the hunter's whip, and had been knocked to the ground as the horse reared. As she came back down, Peeta watched in what appeared to be slow motion. He knew he was too close, far too close, but he couldn't seem to move. The horse's front legs came back down to the ground heavily, his own left leg underneath one of them.
At first he heard, rather than felt, the bones snap. Then moments later the pain exploded through him like a grenade. But his first thought wasn't for him. "Get the camera!" he shrieked. Thresh snatched it away from the hunter's grasp, turning it on him and then on to Peeta, showing exactly what the hunter had done before turning it off and pocketing it.
"We need to get him to a hospital," said Thresh. None of the sab group had any signal on their phones this deep in the woods. Peeta watched them with a kind of detached bemusement as they tried desperately to get their phones to work. In the end it was decided for Thresh to run towards the edge of the woods until he was able to make a call while the rest of the group stayed with Peeta. Annie held his hand as she radioed Finn to come back and find them. As he waited for the return of his best mate, he looked at the mangled mess that was his broken left leg, and a sickening, dizzying nausea overtook him, darkness descended over his eyes and he knew nothing more.