Hey, everybody! This is my first real attempt at an AU story, since most of my stories are about OCs. I've had this idea for a while now: what's Katniss without her advantages? Answer: nothing. It all started with her volunteering for Prim, and from there, she was everyone's favorite, and became the hope of rebellion. But if what if the bread incident never happened? What if she was just another Seam kid pawing through the bakery's trash cans? From there on out, it all changes...
And yes, the changed events DO change Katniss's personality a little bit, but not much. Katniss and Peeta are a little OOC, but that's why this is an AU fanfic. And this story will have multiple points of view; I'm trying to cover all of the named tributes with that, and maybe even some other characters.
Hope you enjoy, and tell me what you think! :)
One: Faded Blue Fabric
Katniss wakes up early, shivering so hard that it hurts, a threadbare blanket wrapped around her emaciated body. Her silvery-gray eyes, hollow and accented with hideously dark circles beneath, flick around the tiny bedroom, looking for her little sister. It's reaping day; she must have had nightmares. But nevertheless, Katniss is always terrified that one of them will succumb to starvation soon enough. It's the dark cloud that hangs over her life. "Prim?" she whispers, her voice hoarse. "Prim?"
Then she sees little Prim, tiny and weak, snuggled up next to her mother on the other bed. Katniss's sigh of relief hisses between her crooked, yellowish teeth. Prim is okay, so she's okay. But her face contorts into an expression of barely masked bitterness when she sees her mother. Her mother, sleeping next to Prim. Her mother, who hasn't been the same ever since Katniss's father was blown to bits in one of District Twelve's worst mining explosions. Her mother, who gave up on taking care of her and Prim, leaving the two girls to starve.
Katniss rolls off the straw mattress. Her thin, callused fingers feel like sandpaper against sandpaper on the rough, canvas cover. Standing on shaky legs that one could call stick-thin, she pulls on her boots. The simple act of balancing on one foot for a few seconds almost makes her topple over.
She scowls when she sees Prim reach out for something that isn't there in her sleep. Not her mother, but her old cat, Buttercup. It was the ugliest thing Katniss had ever seen- the stomach protruding with worms, muddy fur that reminded her vaguely of vomited-up squash, the nose bashed in, barely any meat on it at all, part of an ear torn off, fleas everywhere, urinating on the floor and stinking up the Everdeen's little house. Oh, well. Prim had been crying for weeks when Katniss decided to cook the awful thing without her permission. It barely had any meat on it, but enough to give the three of them a couple meals. Probably would've been barely a meal, of course, but Prim refused to eat the cat. Its dirty fur made a good winter hat for Katniss.
Her hand automatically goes up in a weak little wave to her sleeping sister. "Bye-bye, Prim," she whispers in a sing-song voice, blowing her a kiss and tiptoeing out the room. Even the small effort makes her want to collapse. She knows very well that her family won't survive to see the winter. But she is doing everything that she physically can to keep them alive for the rest of the summer.
When Katniss goes outside, her feet instantly want to head towards District Twelve's school. But today's the reaping, a holiday of sorts. No, today she goes to the Meadow, hobbling along. She stares longingly at the fence. When she was a little girl, she used to go into the woods with her father. But now, with her father dead and her mother not helping the family, she's too weak to hunt. A short sprint takes all of her energy away. It's a sure sign that she'll starve to death soon. Very soon.
"Don't think about that," Katniss whispers almost inaudibly to herself. "Don't." But the memories float into her thoughts anyway, a wisp of fog becoming something that blocks out every bit of sunlight.
The small sum of money that the district had issued the Everdeens to compensate for Katniss's father's death wasn't enough. "We're giving each family one month," Mayor Undersee had intoned during his speech to the families of the deceased coal miners. "You'll have enough money for you to get by with a month of grieving for the dead. By then, the heads of the houses are expected to have a job. From there on out, the district will no longer offer any money." And it wasn't enough for the Everdeens. Katniss's mother was still dead to the world, and her daughters were quickly starving. At only eleven, Katniss became the head of the family, the burden of taking care of her seven-year-old sister and her mother thrust upon her weak shoulders.
She kept reminding herself that all she needed was for them to make it until May 8th, her twelfth birthday. By then, she could just go to the Justice Building, sign up for tessera -the extra slips in the reaping ball wouldn't matter if it kept her family alive- and take home some grain rations. But the closer May 8th got, the harder it seemed. It was painful just for the two little girls to walk to school. They could barely stay awake during the day, and they were up all night with bad dreams. All of them were dying fast, and it was Katniss's responsibility to keep them alive.
And one rainy day, late afternoon, Katniss was resorting to a last hope. Stumbling through the rain -why wasn't it frozen, since it felt like ice on her skin?-, she was desperately trying to trade some baby clothes for something more useful in District Twelve's market. There was hardly anyone out there in the disgusting weather, but Katniss was giving it her best shot. "Anyone?" she called through the wind and rain. "Anyone? Some baby clothes, to trade for... something?" A sob choked her voice, and she took a deep breath. "P-p-please?" Her teeth were chattering.
When no one answered, she realized that the baby clothes dropped into a puddle of muddy rain water. But she couldn't pick them up. She was too weak, and she knew that she wouldn't be able to stand up again if she bent down. Her whole body was wracked with awful shivers, and her father's old hunting jacket was soaked through. Water sloshed in her boots. Her hair was dripping.
She was giving up.
One last hope, though: the merchants. She glared at their decent-looking houses. They could afford to throw away scraps, to turn up their noses at food that didn't suit their taste, whereas the poor of the Seam had to eat whatever was available. And only the rich townspeople could afford to buy at the merchant's shops, anyway, so what did it matter? She hated them. She had to take her frustration out on something, otherwise she might just break down and sob and sob and never stop crying. Who cared that stealing carried the death penalty in District Twelve? At least she'd die with the satisfaction of bringing her mother and Prim a little bit of food. Besides, she was pretty sure that sneaking something from a trash bin didn't qualify as stealing... did it?
The smell of baking bread taunted Katniss from out of nowhere, and she realized with a jolt that she was standing by the baker's trash cans. A warm, cozy-looking shine of yellow electric illuminated every raindrop as it fell. But it killed her to see the ovens, undoubtedly with bread baking to perfection in them. Her mouth was watering, and her hands clutched the slick metal lid of the trash can for support.
Katniss could barely lift the lid of the trash can, but gathering up her strength, she managed it. And it was empty. Empty. A thousand emotions coursed through her: fury, hate, sorrow, and most of all, shame. How could she just let her family down like this? Let them starve to death with no hope? Her lower lip trembled as she slid the lid back onto the bin, her hands hands shaking.
Then she looked up. One of the bakery's windows was opening, even more light flooding out into the rain. The baker's wife was leaning out the window, shaking her fist at Katniss. "You ugly little girl! You disgusting bitch! Move on, go away!" she yelled. Katniss was numb. "Do you want me to call the Peacekeepers on you? I'm so sick of having you horrible brats from the Seam pawing through my trash like rats!"
Katniss backed away from the trash bin, close to tears by now. But through the rain and her wavering vision, she saw a blonde-haired boy, her age. He was in a few of her classes at school, and he seemed pretty since. But right now, he was Katniss's absolute last hope. As the boy glanced her way, she invested in her last-ditch effort with her best pleading look, her eyes wide. Maybe the boy would have some sympathy... maybe he'd convince his mother to let him give her a few loaves of bread...
But all that he did was turn around. A silent refusal to help the starving, shivering girl outside.
Katniss backs away from the fence, stricken with grief at the awful memory. She remembers that day well: coming home with nothing but a few handfuls of spoiled fruit from a different shop's trash. Prim and her mother hid it well -actually, her mother had nothing to hide, since she was already hidden in a way- but Katniss remembers the sadness in Prim's blue eyes. It was more painful to see her beloved little sister's tears than to be hungry again.
But by May 8th, things were looking better. Plants were beginning to grow again. The yellow-headed dandelions in the fields and backyards had edible leaves, and many other edible plants were sprouting left and right. Katniss signed up for tessera, which gave her family a tiny amount of oil and grain. Enough for a few hard biscuits and some lamplight. Several winters, Katniss was almost desperate enough to sell her body to Cray, the Head Peacekeeper, who was notorious across the district for paying all the starving young women of the Seam for a night of sex. But that was crossing some sort of line for her. Katniss knew that she couldn't be a common slut. So she just did her best, rationing the family's food, raiding trash cans, trading outgrown clothes at the public market. And she's told Prim countless times never to take out tessera. It's Katniss's job. As for when she is too old for the reaping... well, she'll have to get a job down in the dreary, dark coal mines, she supposes. The same mines that took her father's life.
After scavenging the trash bins, stuffing her loot into an old hunting bag that her father used, and after adding in some dandelion greens, Katniss heads back to the house. She needs to get ready for the reaping, which is at two in the afternoon, and she needs to help Prim get ready. It's Prim's first reaping, after all, and of course she'll need a little assistance.
When she goes inside, though, she gets a surprise. Her mother is wearing a fancy dress, back from her younger days when she worked at District Twelve's apothecary, before she married Katniss's father. And Prim is dressed up in Katniss's first reaping outfit, a pleated gray skirt matched with a white ruffled blouse. It is a hand-me-down from her mother's childhood, Katniss knows. It was almost every girls' first reaping outfit in her mother's side of the family. It's big on skinny little Prim, though, and the skirt's waist is secured with several pins. Her blouse is untucked in the back, and her small hands keep fidgeting with it.
Katniss almost manages a smile when she sees that Prim has set out a small bowl of water for her. Only on reaping day do the Everdeens get a chance to wash well. Katniss dips a cloth into the water, stripping out of her foraging clothes, letting them drop to the floor. She's sweaty and worn out from the short walk around town, which proves that she's probably close to starvation.
Then Katniss sees the dress laid out. A silky-looking blue dress, with shoes to match. The faded blue fabric is so soft, like a kitten's fur. The dress is likely from her mother's childhood. Her eyes widen. "Really?" she whispers. "For me to wear?" She's trying to trust her mother, although it's difficult, but this is too wonderful to hope for. Her mother, entrusting one of the precious relics of her past to Katniss.
Her mother nods. "Of course, Katniss," she says, and Katniss slips the dress over her head. It's huge on her -almost like wearing a tent- but with a few pins, it looks very nice. The shoes fit her feet almost perfectly. She feels her mother's hands, pulling Katniss's greasy, brittle hair back into a complicated braid. She can barely recognize the girl looking back at her in the mirror. Yes, she's still almost starved to death, and she's still a wreck as usual, but the beautiful clothes make her look... normal.
"You look so pretty," Prim says, her voice hushed with awe. She throws her arms around Katniss. "I love your hair."
"Thanks, Prim," Katniss says, smiling. Prim is the only one that can really make her smile. The only one that brings happiness in her life. She hugs Prim back. So worried that her sweet little sister will get reaped, or even herself. That would destroy the innocent, blonde-haired girl forever. But Katniss can't let the pain show. As always, she has to hide it. "You look lovely too, little duck," she adds, forcing a smile to her face. "Remember to tuck in your tail." Her hands smooth down Prim's blouse, tucking it into her skirt.
Prim giggles, her face brightening. "Quack," she says, imitating a duck. "Quack, quack."
"Quack to you too," Katniss says, leaning down to kiss Prim on the forehead lightly. "Let's have a little food before we go to the reaping. I got us some berries and dandelion greens."
Prim smiles, and the three Everdeens sit around the table to eat their quick lunch. Katniss saves the meat that she stole from the butcher's trash for dinner. Dinner after the reaping is always a celebration. That is, if your family members haven't been reaped. But Katniss prefers not to think about that, and just laughs and talks with Prim throughout the meal.
Katniss makes sure that they're out of the house by one o'clock, headed to the square. Being early to the reaping seems to help her nervousness. Like it's just another year, only this year, Katniss has to protect Prim too. They all sign in, scrawling their names on the attendance papers, and the Peacekeepers double-check by having them dip their index fingers in almost clear ink, having them stamp their fingerprints next to their signatures. As Katniss signs her name, she has an overwhelming sense of deja vu and newness at the same time. Strange.
Once that's over with, Katniss whispers a goodbye to Prim and points her towards the twelve-year-olds' section, then goes off with the other sixteen-year-olds of the district. The space gets more cramped as the citizens arrives, and she becomes just another face in the sea of people stretching out across the square. The ones who come late have to stand in the streets that branch off the square, watching the reaping on the television screens.
Katniss glances up at the reaping balls. One for the boys, the other for the girls. Her name is in twenty times. Prim's is only in once. What are the odds of them getting picked? Not much, she guesses.
Mayor Undersee, a man who's about a foot and half taller than her and is quickly losing his hair, sits in one of the three chairs. She's used to seeing the mayor, but not the woman sitting next to him. Effie Trinket, District Twelve's escort, straight from the Capitol. Her bright pink wig, perfect white teeth, and electric green suit are almost painful to look at, like staring directly at the sun. Then there's Haymitch Abernathy, District Twelve's only living victor. He looks half-asleep, his suit rumpled and his eyes bloodshot. Very, very drunk. Katniss silently hopes that he'll keep his mouth shut, otherwise District Twelve will be the joke of Panem.
The clock strikes two, and Mayor Undersee stands and begins to read. Same speech every year. The history of Panem, which is far too long for Katniss's taste. She almost has the speech memorized in some spots. Then he reads off the extremely short list of District Twelve's victors. Two people total, and only Haymitch the drunk is still alive.
Unfortunately, Haymitch chooses this particular moment to stand up, staggering to the front of the stage. Katniss inwardly groans, and she's not the only one who looks annoyed. "That's me!" he shouts, his voice thick and a little slurred from the alcohol. "Haymitch Abernathy! And I won the Hunger Games!" He grins, apparently proud of himself for that achievement. The crowd applauds a little hesitantly, trying to get things back on track, but Haymitch won't have that. He stumbles over to Effie's chair and gives her a big hug. "Hi, Effieeeee..."
Effie squeals in indignation, shoving Haymitch away. He doesn't seem to have good balance -even worse balance than Katniss- and he teeters for a second on the edge of the stage. Then he plummets over the edge, hitting his head somewhere. Katniss strains to get a good look, but she can't. Although it's pretty obvious that he got knocked unconscious.
The mayor's face flushes. His district is looking like fools in front of the entire nation. "Um, here's Effie Trinket, District Twelve's chaperone!" he says, forcing a smile, pointing to Effie, who adjusts her wig and clanks her high heels over to the podium.
The hideous Capitol woman's voice -so affected by the Capitol's trademark accent- rings out across the square. "Happy Hunger Games!" she trills. And she means it. To her, and to the rest of the Capitol, it is a happy occasion. But not to Katniss. No, Katniss is just terrified that her darling little Primrose will get reaped. "And-" People suppress sarcastic grins when they hear the start of the usual phrase. Some even whisper it along. "-may the odds be ever in your favor!"
As she goes over to the girls' reaping ball with her usual, "Ladies first!", Katniss feels her stomach twist. She turns her head, looking over her shoulder and trying to find Prim in the crowd, but she's hidden by the rest of the people. She seems far away from Prim. And she's so scared. Willing it to be anyone but Prim... anyone... just not Prim...
Effie's hand reaches into the bowl, and Katniss holds her breath as she pulls out a slip of paper. It looks so small and insignificant, but she knows that it will end someone's life. Just let it not be Prim. Not Prim... not Prim... Everyone's silent. No one dares to speak. It seems to Katniss that all of District Twelve is praying that it won't be anyone that they know, that they care about, that they love.
As soon as Katniss hears the first syllable, she exhales. It's not Prim. Prim is safe.
But then she sees everyone's eyes on her, and hears the name echoing across the square...