Song Suggestion: Rudimental- "Not Giving In" Ft. John Newman and Alex Clare.

The Natural Order of Things

The Next Morning

The next morning peacekeepers summoned Prim out of bed. They pounded on the door before the sun rose until she crawled from sleep, gripping a tattered grey shawl to her chest. Their white, polished uniforms looked out of place against the backdrop of dilapidated houses. She recognized one of them—Charlie. He had been a patient of her mother once, coming in for a spider bite. He gave a tight smile in recognition.

"You need to report to the train station in exactly two hours. Leave your mother at home and…" He glanced at her mangy, woolen shawl. "Dress nicely."

The next hour was spent with a knotted stomach. Right before she set out the door—hair braided, and her blue dress ironed—a calm settled over her body.

"Give me your courage, Katniss," she whispered, exiting into the brutal morning. Grey clouds hung low over the town, threatening to suffocate it. The winter roared in with hostility. About a foot of snow must have fallen over night, and she struggled to step through it.

The crowd at the station was sparse, and the collective waiting people held a scowl, hating they had to stand in terrible weather. The camera crews shivered while working with the equipment. Small wisps of smoke rose from both the waiting train and human beings.

"There he is," a crewman whispered frantically. They twisted their cameras to catch a glimpse of their golden victor.

Prim refused to turn her head until the last possible moment. When she did finally look, he walked past her without even an acknowledgement. Whoever ordered she trudge out here this morning, he didn't seem to be a part of it, or if he was, he certainly didn't want her here anymore than she wanted to be here. Brutus and his styling team walked side by side with him.

He walked onto the gangplank. Brutus grabbed his shoulder before he entered. Cato stopped in his tracks, rolling off the offending arm. The glare he gave would have wilted a lesser man, but Brutus just gave a sneer and returned the scowl with a fiercer one.

"Fine," she heard him whisper. He pivoted, picking through the crowds with his eyes until they landed on her. The crowd waited impatiently for him to speak—this did not seem to be what was expected by the excited shivers of the capitol media crews. Cato took a deep breath.

"From this day onward, I plan to provide for the little sister of the tribute, Katniss. The sister who she fought for, the sister whose name was her last word before dying, the sister whose death made me a victor."

The last sentence lanced through her as if he stabbed her.

He took a deep breath as the small crowd gave positive exclamations. Even the people who booed last night in anger nodded their head in agreement. This was a good thing to them, something unheard of. Districts never helped each other out, especially tribute to tribute, even posthumously. She could read their expressions like a book—maybe he was as caring as Katniss, as selfless.

Prim couldn't believe people assumed this was genuine. He obviously hated every word exiting out of his mouth. His expression suggested loathing: lips thinned to sharp lines, wrinkles in his forehead, nostrils flared.

Was she the only one who noticed?

But he wasn't finished.

"Each year, I will send a care package with enough food and provisions, so she will not have to enter the Tesserae. And on her eighteenth birthday, I will return to give her and her mother a new house with my future earnings."

A new house? Her breath caught in her throat, and she thought she might stop breathing.

Did he know that in District 12 building a house was a marriage proposal? Maybe not, but the random District 12 individuals in the crowd, including some peacekeepers, took a collective inward breath.

If a man went as far as building a house, the answer of the female didn't matter to the community. They must marry. Love didn't matter as much security. A woman would be shunned if she refused something most of District 12 did not have the funds to possess. Most houses had been passed down from generation to generation.

A new house? It was almost unimaginable.

Prim didn't want it. Not for all the comfort in the world. She'd rather sleep in snow.

She didn't notice the sneering smile he gave her as the crowd cheered, cameras flashing wildly; she didn't notice Cato walking stiffly back into the train; she didn't notice the train puffing away until it was a black dot on the horizon; and she didn't notice the crowds dispersing, leaving her alone.

Prim came to awareness on an empty platform, the wind whipping her freshly pressed dress around her ankles. A single tear dripped from her eye. She felt too much in shock to give any other reaction.

Marriage? To the monster who murdered Katniss? Her life had become a sick joke, and she surely wouldn't accept. She didn't care if the order came straight from President Snow... she wouldn't.

She stood there until Gale came to get her.

Six Months Later

"Look at it while it's dying." Gale held Prim's head in the direction of the deer. It had an arrow sticking out of its neck, stumbling around, giving pathetic mewls of pain. Prim wanted nothing more than to heal the wretched creature, but even she knew there was nothing to be done. The deer would die with or without treatment, and they needed the meat.

Finally, the deer gave up and kneeled in the soil, burying its nose under dead brown leaves.

Gale had been holding her back, gripping both arms firmly around her stomach. When the deer died, he released, leaving an odd warmth.

"I hate doing this. I wish..." She didn't dare mention her wish aloud. Not to him.

Gale understood anyway. He clenched his jaw and looked past the trees to the opening in the forest, revealing a small patch where light filtered through, and they could glimpse the rolling hills far beyond.

"You can't be sheltered anymore, Prim. You need to learn to protect yourself."

He meant when Cato came to kill or marry her, whichever he wanted at the time.

She couldn't stand the anxiety it brought on, sinking to the rich forest floor. The closer to the earth she got, the more it smelled of dew and decay. She placed her head in her hands, trembling, breaking down for the first time since Cato left her at the train stop. That had been six months ago, and it was still all anybody talked about. School was unbearable with the questions and stares.

She was surprised that many of the younger girls seemed envious of her position. Prim grimaced when one of the popular girls told her she was lucky.

"He killed my sister."

The girl frowned. "Well, yeah, but what did you expect he could do? Not kill her? You can't blame him for something he was forced to do. Besides, he's taking care of you. That's something...and he's so handsome."

"He wasn't forced to do anything. He volunteered."

That shut them up for a little while, but not for long.

Peeta's family understood her pain, so did some of the Hob. And Gale...

Prim glanced up to see Gale leaning over the deer. He made a quick slit down the stomach and let some of the guts slide out. Now that the deer was finally dead, the corpse no longer made her feel queasy.

"You're all dirty." Gale's grey eyes glanced at her scuffed knees. "These new peacekeepers are looking for anything suspicious. We don't want to give them a reason." He lifted his arms to the back of his neck and peeled off his shirt. "Clean off with this." He tossed it to her, and she only caught it with luck.

Prim blushed at his naked chest and tried not to show how much it affected her. A brilliant warmth, starting in her toes, zipped to her head, and she was sure she was bright as the sun. Prim had never told anyone, not even Katniss, how much adored Gale. And not in a platonic sense.

"But then you'll be dirty."

"Better you than me." She wanted to argue with him, but the look he gave her provided no such avenue.

She scraped off the dirt from her knees. Then suddenly stopped. She couldn't do this anymore—act like nothing was going on inside her.

"I'm scared."

He didn't even look up from gutting the deer. Blood pooled up to his elbows as he yanked and pulled at the innards. He stopped for a moment to wipe the sheen of sweat pooling on his brow with his upper arms.

"I know."

"He might hurt me next time he sees me."

"He won't." Then he went back to work.

She knew she was starting to annoy him, but she had to get answers. She fiddled with the end of one of her braids. Gale looked up once more, leaning on the back of his heels.

"Cato will die in the Quarter Quell. In two days, you'll never have to think of him again."

"How do you know that? He could—"

"He has to go up against Finnick, Cashmere, and Gloss. Enobaria from his own district is a tough competitor. He's really lucky Brutus isn't against him. Even the weakest victors are a threat. During his Hunger Games, he fought against inexperience. Now he's playing with the big boys. I don't think he has what it takes."

She couldn't shake the awful feeling from her.

"But—"

"Look…" Gale interrupted, turning to Prim. "I made a promise to your sister to protect you, and I don't intend to break it. Even if he lives, Cato still needs you. He's using you as his story this year for sponsors. Killing you after would upset the districts. By the time you get old enough, he'll have forgotten. He's just speaking for the ratings now."

"And if he remembers?"

Gale stood, and his nostrils flared. It was determination in its rawest form. She knew this face because it matched her sister's

"Then I'll take matters into my own hands, Prim. I'll marry you myself. That cancels any claim he could have on you. I dare him to try and kill you on my watch."

Silence vaporized the rest of the surroundings. Prim could no longer think properly, her heart beating pathetically fast in excitement. But it quickly faded when looking at his face. He only planned to marry her out of duty. Out of his love for her sister.

She berated herself for getting upset. Why would Gale, the most sought out bachelor in District 12, want her—a skinny little thirteen-year-old girl? He was the type to go for a Katniss: someone strong-willed, beautiful, and capable. Prim could barely throw a rock and hit her target.

"And what if he kills you?" Who'll protect me from the monster then?

"Then you'll need to learn to use this." He tossed his knife at her. She couldn't catch it, so it landed with a crackle amongst the foliage.

Prim picked up the bloody knife with shaky hands and held it in the air.

Six Months Later

Cato won the 75th hunger games, the Quarter Quell. One lone man out of twenty-four other lethal tributes, and again he broke through the odds. His last kill had been Enobaria, a terrifying tribute from his own district with flashing teeth. He mauled her with his bare hands, ripping her throat from her body with her own flashing teeth. Blood sprayed everywhere, and for the second time she saw his victory smile, stretching ear to ear, enjoying the kill, enjoying the terror, enjoying the pain. It brought her to her past and her future: Katniss with her head hanging off, and her own body covered in blood, begging him to leave her alone.

She tried to ignore the ticking inside herself that began in her heart when he won. It took a few months to realize the ticking was time getting closer and closer to Cato's victory tour.

The day of his arrival to District 12 came sooner than she wanted.

The crowds weren't as antagonistic as the last time. They didn't open their arms in welcome, but there was food on a low table by the stage, and a light scattering of applause followed his descent from the train.

A tribute who killed their own was despised, but a tribute who won the games twice was not a person to offend.

When Prim walked into the largest building of the district, a peacekeeper led her to the front of the seats, forcing her to sit next to the family of the only tribute who had to be reaped, a girl from her class named Georgiana, since district 12 did not have any female victors. She barely stepped off the foot pad before another tribute stabbed her in the chest. The mother wept into a handkerchief in the few moments she was allowed before the cameras turned on.

Cato walked on the stage with Brutus, using the same tired routine. The speeches sounded the same as last time, contrived and practiced.

He looked older than the last time, having lost some of his baby face. His demeanor glinted harder and crueler, if that was possible. The beauty was still there, except it was spoiled by a new scar traveling from one ear to another, a gift from a lowly District 7 tribute who came out of nowhere and nearly lopped off his head. As if Prim's thoughts were a beacon, his eyes skimmed over the crowd before speaking, meeting her own.

He sneered, and then spoke into the provided microphone with a gravelly voice. She couldn't find it in herself to sneer back, so she turned her head to the side, refusing to look at him the rest of the night.

By the time all the speeches ended, and the cameras clicked off, night already fell on the district, and the bitter winter winds slapped against raw cheeks.

Prim feet crunched in the snow on the way back to her house. She learned her lesson from last time. Once she reached home, not even Lady could entice her outside when the threat lingered.

"Hello, little bird"

Prim jumped from her thoughts. The night was so cold it was hard to think, so it took a minute to recognize Cato leaning against a tree just a few feet in front of her.

How did he get out of the parties meant for him? And how did he manage to get in front of her? She tried to be the first to leave, pressing herself against the mass of people to wiggle out. However, the road was lonesome now. All the people who attended were from the town, and she lived in the outskirts.

He stumbled close, and she smelt the reek of alcohol even from this distance. Why was he drunk? He seemed the type to want to be in control of situations at all costs.

"You've gotten bigger." He reached out a finger, and Prim forced herself not to move. He just flicked her braid off her shoulder. She'd been training with Gale for this moment. She was abysmal, but Gale tried to make her feel better about it. However, practicing against a stuffed dummy, or even Gale, was nothing compared to the real thing. The real thing was raw and angry. Muscles bulged against the tight cloth of his shirt.

He brought his hand up again and brushed it along her throat, rubbing against the ribs of her esophagus. With one simple twist of his hand, he could end her life and be done with it. He knew, and so did she.

"So frail. It's amazing to me how something so tiny could survive into adulthood. You were made to be prey."

His hand never closed fully. It was just a promise.

"Why are you still doing this? Why do you hate me so much?"

He wrinkled his brow in thought. The exhale of his breath made her feel as if she was sipping a drink for how potent it was.

"It's not about hate, little bird, It's about the natural order of things. Some are born to rule, some are born to follow, some are born to kill, and some are born to die."

Prim had no doubt as to which categories he believed they fell into. He tormented her because he enjoyed the chase, and when the time came, he would enjoy the kill.

"What was my sister?" She didn't want to stir up his anger, but she couldn't help herself. Katniss didn't fit any of those categories very easily.

His eyes flashed. They would be pretty blue without his heavy eyebrows drawing them down into darkness.

"The girl on fire was born to be hated."

"That's funny." She almost clapped a hand over her mouth. Where was this courage springing from? She hoped he would be too drunk to hear, but luck was never much on her side.

"I'm curious as to what you mean, since I wasn't trying to be funny."

If nothing else, she had to stand up for her sister.

"Well, from what I could tell, you only hated her because she was so loved. Loved to a level that you will never know. That's why you promised to take care of me, right? Because everyone hated you."

The hand on her throat tightened, and he bared his teeth at her as if he'd bite her in rage.

"You can't kill me." Prim threw up her hands on instinct as his hulking figure closed in on her.

"Can't?" He tilted his head to the side. "I can do what the fuck I want. I'm twice the victor. I don't need you anymore."

He placed both hands on the sides of her jawline. Though his movements were less refined, the alcohol didn't dull his strength. She felt the power.

"I'm going to do what I was born to do, and you'll do what you were born to do. Little birds always die before their time, and fate demands I set things in order."

Prim gave a little gasp.