A/N: Hi! Welcome to this story. This is my first in the Hunger Games fandom, so I hope you all enjoy it. For the purposes of future plot, I have slightly altered the rules of the Quarter Quell - there are four tributes for every Quarter Quell, instead of that just being a one-time twist. Chapters will generally alternate between Haymitch and Effie.

Chapter 1

The day of the reaping, Haymitch woke early and headed into town.

He met Lily in front of her father's shop. Her father, Mr. Finch, was District 12's carpenter.

She'd cleaned up for the cameras. Her lion's mane of dark curls had been brushed down, and possibly even treated with some sort of product based on how flat it was. She was wearing a clean, gingham dress he'd never seen before.

But she was still barefoot, like him. There was his girl.

The first thing she did, when they saw each other from across the street, was run into his arms and cling to him tightly.

He breathed in her familiar scent, which was grass and wood shavings. Her hair tickled his nose, and he pulled on a lock lovingly.

"I'm scared." Her voice was muffled into his shoulder. "Haymitch…"

She looked up at him, eyes wide and full of fear.

"I know," he told her. "The odds aren't in our favour. But they never are, and we've gotten by so far."

Their hands entwined, but they stopped hugging and began to walk. They only had so much time, after all.

"With the Quell… Our odds are worse than ever, you know. Nearly everybody in the district takes tesserae."

He remembered the announcement. It had been mandatory viewing, and he'd been sat in front of the television with his family. They'd watched President Snow pull a slip of paper out from an envelope and read out the twist of the fiftieth Hunger Games.

"On the fiftieth anniversary, as a reminder to the rebels that even the most powerful of their ranks cannot overcome the power of the Capitol, the four tributes will be reaped exclusively from a pool of children who have not taken tesserae."

His mother had wailed, his father had thrown a book at the image of President Snow's face.

Haymitch had stayed where he was on the sagging couch, hugging his younger brother tightly. He was glad Harland was still years away from being eligible to participate in the Games.

He must have been the only child in the Seam to have never taken tesserae. There had been times, during the harsh winters, when he had wanted to, but his parents had never let him. Between his father's job as the leader of a mining division, his mother's laundry work, and the errands Haymitch ran for people, they had just enough to scrape by.

How that had backfired.

Lily was right; their odds were disastrous. District 12 had a small population to begin with, and a majority of them were so poor that they had no choice but to take tesserae. The pool of potential tributes would be a tenth of its normal size.

"Tell you what," Haymitch decided. "They reap the girls first. If they reap you, I'll volunteer for the boys and I'll make sure you win, okay?"

"No." Lily shook her head. "Don't."

It was a big promise to make. People didn't volunteer for the Games unless they were sure they were going to win – which was probably why District 12 hadn't ever had a volunteer.

They hadn't ever had a Victor either, except for Shale Trinket. But nobody considered Shale a Victor of 12, because ever since she'd first left for the Capital, she'd done everything in her power to distance herself from the district. She wore Capitol clothes and spoke in a Capitol accent and spent most of the year in the Capitol with her Capitol friends. Her daughter, Effie, was just as bad, if not worse. Neither of them wanted anything to do with District 12, and District 12 didn't want anything to do with them.

"I couldn't live with myself if I didn't."

He wouldn't be missed much. He had a small circle of friends, restricted only to Lily and Pickett Everdeen, and his family would have more money to spare without him.

Lily was the girl he would marry. They'd have two children and live by the meadow, and defy the Capitol by being happy even in the face of their oppression.

Except that couldn't happen if Lily wasn't there.

"Then I'll volunteer too," she decided stubbornly, sticking her nose into the air. "That's the deal. If I'm reaped, you volunteer. If you're reaped, I volunteer."

"Don't be stupid."

"It's your idea. You're the stupid one." She shoved him in the side.

"If we're both reaped, I'm going to die so that you can live. We'll have no other choice if they pull out your name. But if I'm reaped and you're not, that means I'm going to try and live so that I can come back to you. So by volunteering then, you'd just be killing me. Understand?"

They were within view of the meadow now. It being summer, the meadow was at its most beautiful. The flowers were in full bloom, and butterflies were fluttering through the air. Somewhere, a mockingjay was singing.

Lily came to a stop, facing him with her hands on her hips and her feet shoulder width apart. He recognised it immediately as the stance she automatically took when she was challenging him.

"What's all this about you protecting me?" she demanded. "Who's to say that you wouldn't only be dragging me down by participating in the Games?"

"Please, Lilypad," he drawled. "We both know that out of the two of us, I'm the athletic one."

"Oh yeah?" she flashed him a smile which told him trouble was coming. "Fine then. Let's see who's faster. Race you to the oak tree!"

And she was off, sprinting over the remainder of the dusty road and into the long grass of the meadow.

"Hey, no fair!" He called after her, and then he gave chase.

They both ran past the oak tree, circling the meadow, shouting and laughing as they tripped over each other until, finally, Haymitch caught her by the waist and the two of them collapsed onto the ground together, rolling through the flowers.

He found the ticklish spot behind her left knee and was ruthless in his attack, until she was laughing so hard that she was crying.

And then they weren't laughing anymore, they were kissing. It was soft and gentle, and a little awkward, because both of them were new to the kissing thing and they weren't that good at not bumping noses.

When they'd tired of kissing, they lay in the grass side-by-side, hands intertwined once more. Both were breathing heavily, and Lily's cheeks were pink and flushed.

"Look," Lily said, pointing at a cloud in the sky. "It's a turnip."

He squinted but couldn't find anything remotely turnip-like in the cloud. "No way! That's obviously a squirrel. You gotta be blind."

"No, I'm serious! Look, that short bit there is the end, and then it curves around…" she pointed with her free hand, tracing the shape.

"I dunno, I just can't see it…"

"Yeah, look! Over there. And then the one next to it looks like a bear!"

"That one? No, that one looks like my girlfriend when she's angry. But those are very similar, so don't worry, it's an easy mistake."

She punched him lightly on the shoulder. "Ass. You're the bear here, all grouchy and grumbly."

"I guess I am," he smirked, pulling her on top of him. "Give the bear some honey, Lilypad. Grrr!"

She pecked him on the lips, and then they stayed where they were, looking into each other's faces.

There were gold specks in her eyes. A scar on her forehead, from when he'd been thirteen and she'd been eleven, and he'd accidentally pushed her out of a tree. Freckles were scattered everywhere, like constellations of stars. He'd tried to count them numerous times, but she always distracted him before he could finish.

"Do you think this is goodbye?"

He pushed her off, springing to his feet. "Dammit, Lily, why do you have to ruin this?"

She looked hurt, but he couldn't apologise. It was about pride. She wouldn't have apologised in his place, either.

"I had a dream, last night," she continued. "We were trapped in a reaping bowl together, and there was an audience clapping but I couldn't see them, and I realised the reaping bowl was an arena. We were the last two tributes and we had to kill each other. I said I couldn't kill you, but you said I already had, and then my hands were covered in blood and you were dead."

"Good thing reaping bowls are so small then," he said. "I don't think they could fit both of us in , they let you say goodbye to people after you're reaped."


He pulled her into his arms, hugging her tightly. "It was just a dream," he promised her. "It didn't mean anything. And even if it did, dream you was right. You get into the arena, you do everything you can – I don't care what it is – to win. That includes killing me."

She shrugged him away. "Shut up."

"I'd do the same in an arena. Kill anyone, do anything, if it meant that I could win and come back to you."

Her face was horrified. "Can you hear yourself?" she asked. "You're disgusting. That's not winning. It's just becoming one of them, submitting to the Capitol and their Games. It makes you no better than them. I'd rather die than have you do that for me."

"Then you're an idiot."

"Maybe I am then," she said, and then walked away in a huff.

He watched her leave, unwilling to call after her. She'd calm down on her own, eventually.

There was the distant rumble of peacekeeper trucks in the distance. It was getting late, and his mother wouldn't be happy if he didn't clean up some before the reaping. He set off home.

"Good, you're here!" His mother greeted him when he entered, immediately walking over to fuss over his hair. He let her. "How's Lily?"

"Annoying. She's worrying that one of us will get reaped."

"That's a valid worry and you shouldn't make fun of her for it."

"I didn't!"

His mother ignored him, frowning at his clothes. "You're a state. Go have a wash, I'll prepare some clothes for you."

"What's the point? Why should I make an effort to look good when all they're doing is trying to kill me?"

She huffed. "One day, that mouth of yours will land us all on the whipping block. You'll make an effort to look good because you don't want to shame your mother on national television, that's why."

Scowling and muttering under his breath, he headed for the tiny corner of the house which was curtained off, where a bucket of water would be awaiting him.

The clothes his mother had selected for him were simple. The pants were the only pair he owned that wasn't patched, although the fabric was thinning drastically in some areas. The shirt was cotton and had been white once but was now a sort of greyish-yellow. There was even a thin, green jacket somebody must have passed on to her.

He'd be wearing his normal shoes, the only shoes he owned. They were in fairly good condition, because he only wore them to school and reapings, and otherwise walked around barefoot. They were beginning to pinch his toes, but the pain was bearable.

Harland definitely wouldn't be appearing in front of any cameras, but he'd also been cleaned up. His dark blond hair had been smoothed over, the dirt on his face wiped away.

But if Haymitch's shoes were bad, Harland's were a disaster. The soles flapped in the wind, exposing grubby toes.

Next year, Haymitch promised himself, he would take tesserae and they could use the extra money to buy Harland new shoes.

"Don't you look fetching," he teased his brother, tousling his hair.

Harland scowled, smacking his hands away. "I just fixed that!"

"Calm down," Haymitch rolled his eyes. "You look fine. You'll have all the eight-year-old girls from your class throwing themselves at you. If you're lucky, maybe even somebody from the grade above."

"How was your date with Lilypad?"

"Great. We kissed a lot."

Harland screwed up his face in disgust. "Yuck!" He began to make gagging sounds.

"Boys." Their father entered the room. His hair, for once, was recognisable as the same blond as Haymitch and Harland's.

Their father had been from a merchant family originally and they'd owned a clothing shop, but they had to sell it because it cost more than it was earning them. The Abernathys had to move to the Seam and become miners, like most of the rest of the population, and that was how their father had met their mother.

He was so sombre, Haymitch and Harland stopped squabbling. It was worse for their parents, Haymitch reckoned. They had all the dread he did, and they would be helpless to do anything for them if they were picked.

Maybe he didn't want kids. Not if they were going to die.

"It's time to leave."

Haymitch ignored the deep need to run as far away as he could and followed his father and brother out of the room.

The square was packed, as usual. The population of District 12 had been even smaller than it currently was when it was built, and there'd never been any renovations.

Haymitch elbowed his way to the section for seventeen-year-old males. He searched the crowds and waved at Lily when he finally found her. She ignored him.

Typical. She'd get over it sometime after the reaping.

A bead of sweat trailed down his brow. Between the cramped square and the heat, it was boiling.

"You need a 'kerchief, hay-brain?" A familiar voice teased.

"I actually wouldn't mind one, Ever-dumbass," Haymitch admitted as his friend slid into the space beside him. "I'm about to freaking melt over here."

Pickett handed him something silky and white.

"Where'd you get something this fancy?" Haymitch asked, inspecting it after he'd given it a swipe over his brow. "Wow, it's monogrammed."

"Iris keeps leaving them lying around," Pickett told him. "I'm always finding them in my pockets."

"Who knew blondie could be so territorial?"

"That's my girl you're talking about, Haymitch. Be careful."

"I've barely said anything. Speaking of girls, mine's in a right mood with me."

"What did you do now?"

"I told her that if she got reaped, I'd volunteer and make sure she won. You'd have done the same for Iris, right?"

Pickett hesitated. "I love Iris, but… I don't wanna die, Haymitch. Not when I don't need to, and neither of us has good chances. You've only been dating Lily for five months. Is five months worth dying for?"

Haymitch glared. "It may only be five months, but we've been friends for fifteen years. And you would have a good chance – you poach all the time. Which, by the way, is also risking death." They were deep enough in the crowd that he wasn't afraid of being overheard by peacekeepers.

"Those are two very different risks."

"Does it matter? Whatever the risk, the odds are never in our favour. We'll probably be dead by thirty."

"Well, with that kind of attitude…"

A loud screech echoed throughout the square as District 12's escort, Hubbell Hark, tapped the microphone. He was a gangly man with bright yellow hair and a red, sparkly suit.

"Welcome to the 50th annual Hunger Games and Second Quarter Quell!" He paused for a round of applause that never came. "Before we begin, there will be a video, as usual."

Haymitch and Pickett looked at each other, argument forgotten, to mouth the words. War. Terrible war.

War, the video boomed. Terrible war.

The two hid their smiles.

"Wonderful!" the escort beamed as soon as the video was over. "Now for the reaping. As this year is a Quarter Quell, there will be four tributes – two young men and two young women. Every Quarter Quell has a twist. This year, tributes will be reaped from those who did not opt to take tesserae. Ladies first!"

He pranced over to the girls' reaping bowl. It was shallower than usual, but he plucked out a name without much trouble.

"The first female tribute for District 12 is… Maysilee Donner!"

There was a dreadful cry from the girls' section, and Haymitch saw three near-identical girls clinging to one another. To his own surprise, he recognised one as Pickett's girl, Iris. Was this her sister?

He wouldn't have been able to bear it if Harland was reaped.

With some prodding from the peacekeepers, Maysilee untangled herself from the other girls and made her way up to the stage and shook the escort's hand. She looked like she was about to faint.

Hubbell Hark dipped back into the bowl. "The second female tribute for District 12 is… Euphemia Trinket!"

Lily was safe. Haymitch managed to release a breath he hadn't known he was holding.

Effie Trinket practically skipped to the stage, a smile plastered to her face. Haymitch knew, from listening to her talk at school sometimes, that she was a big Games-supporter, having been as good as raised in the Capitol.

It was ironic, given she'd always been guaranteed a spot in the Games. Victors' children were often reaped and being the only Victor's child in 12 had probably secured that.

Shale Trinket's daughter or not, Effie would not be able to survive the Games. Haymitch once saw her cry over a broken nail!

"Now for the boys!" Hubbell Hark announced. "The first male tribute for District 12 is… Sash Pine!"

A brunet boy with ears that stuck out stumbled out from the younger male section. He was obviously town, because he seemed relatively well-fed and his clothes were new.

"Congratulations, Sash," the escort told the boy as they shook hands. Sash was pink in the face and looked like he might cry.

Congratulations. Yes, what an honour. Capitols were idiots.

"And the final tribute..." Hubbell sang. "The second male tribute for District 12 is Haymitch Abernathy!"

His heart skipped a beat.

The air left his chest.

That was him. He was Haymitch Abernathy.

His eyes met Pickett's, just as wide and afraid.

"Good luck, man," his best friend whispered. "You gotta come back to us."

And then peacekeepers were prodding him forwards, and he was shrugging them off, and he was walking towards the stage. Hubbell Hark shook his hand and stood him next to the others.

"This is Hubbell Hark, with District 12's tributes: Maysilee Donner, Euphemia Trinket, Sash Pine, and Haymitch Abernathy," he said to the cameras, and after they'd stopped rolling, he turned around to face them with a smile. "Time for your goodbyes, darllings!"

He searched Lily out from the crowd again. She mouthed the familiar words to him, all the anger from earlier gone. I love you.

He was going to get back to her. He was going to win, for Lily. So they could have their two kids and the house by the meadow. So he could wrestle with Harland and teach him how to climb a tree properly.

He was going to fight the freaking Capitol and win.