She holds onto her paperwork tightly, trying to figure out where exactly she's supposed to be. The train station is more than a little bit hectic, but she sees more than a few of the girls and boys from the train being led around by brightly dressed citizens and feels embarrassed that she can't figure out where it is that she's supposed to be.
Even just that would be bad enough, but everything about this place is incredibly hard to take in. All of the colors are too harsh, too bright, and hard to look at. The colors are everywhere, really. Saturating hair, clothes, skin. She wonders what color her husband will be. How she's supposed to act if the man that picked her out is some strange shade of purple. What she's supposed to do if he expects her to get dyed some strange shade of purple once she's settled into his house. Is that the sort of thing she could say no to?
It's while she's thinking about this that she notices the man looking at her from about twenty feet away. She shifts uncomfortably under his gaze. He's normal looking. At least, compared to some of the other people that she's seen today, he is. His hair is carefully styled, sure, but it's a shade of blonde that she's positive is natural if his eyebrows are any indication. Even his suit, which is much nicer than anything she's ever seen in District Twelve, is almost understated in its simplicity.
She just can't quite figure out why it is that he's watching her. Sure, she sticks out like a sore thumb here, but not so much more than the other people from the Districts. She's even wearing the dress that her mother had sent with her, and while the blue isn't close to the vivid hues that surround her, it's not even tattered or ripped.
Finally, the man reaches into his suit pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper, which he quickly unfolds and holds out in her direction.
Katniss Everdeen Mellark, it reads in careful, almost familiar cursive. When she glances up and sees the way that his eyebrows are drawn together, she wonders if the paper is missing a question mark. Either way, she nods, taking a hesitant step towards him and watching for his reaction.
He's some sort of hired help, she decides. That would certainly explain the lack of alterations. Her husband must have been busy, must have sent him here to pick her up and have her waiting at the house for him when he gets back.
So she's really far too relieved when he smiles at her, but the thought that someone from here could at least pretend to approve of her is a nice one. He refolds the note and slips it back into his pocket, taking a few steps towards her. He opens his mouth as if to say something, but before he has the chance to, a woman jostles Katniss from behind, knocking her down onto her hands and knees and sending the envelope of documents skidding across the floor.
Someone kneels down to pick them up before she has the chance to chase after it and she feels completely helpless. What happens if she has no forms to present to her husband? Will she be permitted to leave the station at all?
She's more surprised than she really should be to look up and see the man from earlier in front of her, envelope secure in one hand and the other stretched out to her. She hesitates but winds up taking it and letting him help her to her feet. His hand is big and warm and soft, not small and cold and calloused like hers. She wonders if maybe that's why he's so quick to let go of her and hand the envelope back over.
"I'm sorry. Katniss, right?" he asks in a voice somewhat lacking the Capitol affectations other than the way that he says her name. Kahtniss.
"Excellent," he says, giving her the same smile that he did earlier and digging into his other pocket to produce a receipt that he presents to her almost shyly. It's fairly basic; Peeta Mellark has purchased Katniss Everdeen from District Twelve through the Ordered Spouse registry, confirmation code 6483316291810. She pulls her receipt out from the top of the stack inside of the envelope, sure that he doesn't want to bring back the wrong bride. He scans it quickly and then smiles, handing it back over. "If you don't mind my asking, where's your luggage?"
"It's . . . they lost it. In District Six."
He frowns. "I am so sorry. I'll get that straightened out for you, I promise. In the meantime, can I get your papers?"
She's just afraid enough of being knocked over again to hand it over. He slides the stack out and shuffles some of the papers around, probably checking to make sure that everything is in order, and glances over one of them for a second before looking up at her. It's the first time that her eyes have directly met his and she's taken aback by how blue they are, but they suit him just well enough that she doesn't think that they're artificial, like the sort she saw advertised on the train. "Are you ready to get going? It isn't a terrible drive to the apartment, but traffic tends to get pretty bad after the trains come in."
She nods and follows him as he begins to lead her out of the station. He keeps glancing over his shoulder at her. She wonders what the man he works for is like. He's obviously concerned. She doesn't blame him, honestly. It would be an awful investment, really. Buying a bride and having your worker lose her in the train station before you even meet her.
He pushes the door open and hangs back, waiting for her to go through. She can't help but to pause once she's outside. It looks nothing like home, all pavement and spindly, candy colored buildings. It's much brighter than it looks on television. She almost feels sick.
"What do you think?" the boy asks. She notices the way that he's examining her and tries to keep her answer diplomatic.
"It's not what I'm used to."
"Oh, I can't even imagine," he says, and she doesn't doubt it for a second.
"Are there no trees?" she asks before she can help herself.
"Trees?" he asks. "There are some in front of the buildings and in vases. We have some national parks too, though, and they're not too far of a drive. I imagine you'll like those a little bit more."
She looks over at him and he gives her a smile that's almost shy.
"I will say, though, that the skyline gets a whole lot more interesting when you know which building is which. We'll have to get you out there so you can see what I mean."
We? She wonders how much time this boy will spend around her and her husband. She hopes that it's a lot, because he seems kind and she doesn't dislike him. Maybe that's all she needs out here. Someone who she doesn't actively dislike.
"Is the house close to town?" she asks.
"Oh! The complex is actually – if I'm not mistaken – right behind that blue one," he says, stepping a little bit closer and hesitating a little bit before his finger stills in front of the right building. After a second, he chuckles. "You'd think I'd be sure by now."
She looks over at him, not entirely sure how she's supposed to respond to that.
"I parked over here," he says, nodding towards the lot. "So, if you're ready . . ."
She nods when he trails off, not wanting to get him in trouble for being late.
It's impressive, honestly, how quickly he locates his car in the sea of them. He has her in front of an orange one within a few minutes. He unlocks it and opens the door for her, waiting for her to get in.
"Do you need help with the belt?" he asks once she's seated, and she wonders if it's obvious just how uncomfortable she is. She's never been in a car before, but it doesn't seem like particularly interesting information, so she doesn't bother telling him, she just nods.
He reaches behind her to pull part of the belt around and across her lap to connect on the other side of the seat with an almost shy smile. "My brothers hate these things, but I don't think you can ever be too careful. You know? All right, could you do me a favor and lean forward? Just to make sure it isn't locked."
She does, surprised that she can actually move.
"Perfect," he says, closing the door and coming around the front to get in on the other side. She realizes that she could have probably figured it out herself when she watches him buckle himself in. "How was your trip, Katniss?"
"Fine," she says automatically and then changes her mind. "Long."
He smiles as he pulls out of the lot, glancing over at her. "You had to go through every District, right?"
"Right," she agrees. She gets the distinct impression that he's waiting for her to continue, but she's not entirely sure what she's supposed to say.
"We aren't far," he says after a moment.
He isn't lying. He's parking in the lot of a tall building within minutes. She's surprised when he comes around to open the door for her.
"It's the red button," he tells her, nodding towards the belt. She locates it easily enough, pressing it and freeing herself. He offers her his hand, helping her out of the car and down onto the pavement.
"Thank you, Mister . . .?" she trails off, waiting for him to supply his name and he looks confused and maybe disappointed.
"Mellark," he says after a moment. "I would really prefer it if you called me Peeta, though."
She feels her eyes widen. He's Peeta? But he's so young! Why would he resort to ordering someone like her so early? "I . . . oh, I'm sorry."
"About what?" he asks. "I'm sorry. I should have introduced myself. I can't believe I didn't, actually. I guess I just figured you knew."
She shakes her head. "Sorry."
"Don't be," he says, and she's surprised that he doesn't let go of her hand. In fact, he keeps hold of her hand all the way through the parking garage and the lobby, only letting go once they're in the elevator. . Katniss has been in an elevator exactly two times in her life. First to accept a medal for her father and then again to sign up for this and that elevator had been absolutely nothing like this one.
He presses a button, completely nonchalant. What sort of a life must he live for this to be commonplace?
It shoots up, leaving her stomach feeling strange, like it was left behind. It's almost thrilling. If she wasn't sure that it would sound absolutely childish, she might ask if they could ride it again. It opens to a hallway and he smiles at her and then begins to lead her down it. She glances at all of the numbers that they pass, sort of astounded.
"Here we are," he says, unlocking one of the doors and opening it for her.
She looks around, surprised at how big it is. The living room alone must be at least twice as large as her – old – house. The walls are a spotless white. There's not only a huge black couch but two matching plush armchairs facing a huge television tied together with a black and white rug.
There's a huge canvas hanging on the wall with a sunset painted on it. She takes a step towards it before she can stop herself. It's gorgeous, really, mostly oranges with just a hint of red. When she glances over at him he's studying her, much the same way as when he showed her the skyline.
"Sorry," she says, feeling her cheeks heating up.
"For what?" he asks.
"I'm . . . I didn't mean to hold you up."
"Hold me up?" he asks. "I've already seen the place, you know. And I'm never going to get mad at you for wanting to look at a painting, especially not one of mine."
Suddenly she feels embarrassed about being caught looking at it for so long. "You painted this?"
"I did," he says.
"It's . . . very pretty," she says.
"Thank you," he says, smiling. "Would you like to see the bedroom?"
She nods, following him down a hallway and into the bedroom. The bed is gigantic, topped with a fluffy dark blue blanket and a tall dark wooden headboard with all sorts of pillows propped up against it in varying shades of blue.
"That's the bathroom, over there," Peeta says.
There are three white doors on the wall that he motions to, and just outside of the two that are closer together is a huge dresser that matches the headboard, complete with a mirror above it. A silver picture frame rests on top of it, proudly displaying a picture of three blonde haired boys that she can't quite make out.
"Are you hungry?" he asks.
"Sort of," she admits.
"I have some steaks marinating in the refrigerator," he says. "I'll go get them started."
"You don't have to," she says, but the way that he looks at her makes it clear that he thinks that he does.
She follows him into the kitchen, amazed at how shiny everything is. He starts to pull things out of the tall icebox that must be the refrigerator that he mentioned.
He turns and gives her a small smile. "You don't have to stay in here with me, you know."
"Not that you can't," he hurries to amend. "You just don't have to. You can go find something to watch on TV if you want to."
She heads for the living room, and she means to try to figure out how to use the remote, she really does. She just doesn't get around to it. She winds up just taking her boots off and curling up on the couch, head on the armrest. Her eyelids are heavy within moments and she's most of the way asleep when she feels a blanket settle around her and she's just tired enough not to look up.
She thinks she murmurs thanks. At least, she hopes that she does.
When she wakes up, she sees that it's the quilt she noticed in the bedroom around her. She stands up and folds it carefully before she drapes it over the back of the couch.
She heads for the kitchen next, not surprised that Peeta is still in there, humming to himself as he works on stirring something on the stove. She watches him for a moment, alternating looking between his back and the table full of food behind her.
"Can I help with anything?" she asks.
He actually jumps, taking a moment to take the saucepan off of the heat before he turns to face her.
"You're very quiet," he says.
"Sorry," she says and he frowns.
"It's not a bad thing. And everything is actually pretty much done in here. I was just heating up the béarnaise sauce."
She nods, opting to pretend like she knows what that is rather than making him explain it to her.
It's quiet for a moment. She tries desperately to remember the advice that one of the girls from District Four had given her on the train. She said that it was twelve years of lessons condensed into one. Make him like you.
"You . . . um . . . you said you had brothers?" she asks.
"Two," he says. "Dylan and Ryan, but everyone calls him Rye, like the bread."
"You're the oldest?" she asks.
"Oh, no, I'm the youngest. They still tease me about being the baby, actually, even though we're all only a few years apart."
She examines him for a moment. He's so tall and stocky that it's hard to imagine anyone teasing him at all, let alone about something like that.
"They can't wait to meet you, you know. It was hard to convince them to let me come to the station by myself," he chuckles.
As she listens, she realizes that there's something different about his accent compared to the other ones that she's heard today. It's a little bit fainter and underneath all of the silly affectations it almost sounds like there's a hint of the drawl that she's used to from home. She tells herself that she's being ridiculous.
"What about you?" Peeta asks. "Do you have any siblings?"
She closes her eyes, remembering the way that Prim had sobbed when the Peacekeepers came to collect her.
Katniss! You can't leave!
"I am so sorry," he says. "You don't have to answer that. I wasn't thinking at all."
"A sister," Katniss forces the words out, her voice shaky.
"Please. Please don't feel like you have to answer that. I really shouldn't have asked," he says. "What can I get you to drink?"
"Water would be good," she says, sitting down in the chair he pulls out for her. He's back in a moment with a glass of water for her and starts to fill her plate, starting with the steak and then going through each of the sides that he's made, sure to tell her what they are.
"Macaroni and cheese," he says, and there's absolutely nothing condescending about it, but she's grateful because she's never had it before in her life. "Let me know if there's anything you don't like. Okay?"
She nods, but by the time her plate is full almost to the point of overflowing, she hasn't come across anything that she would even dream of saying no to.
Other than that, he doesn't really speak during dinner. She's positive that she's ruined everything. That she should have just gotten over it and told him about Prim.
"I didn't mean to fall asleep earlier," she says by way of apology and he smiles at her.
"With the trip that you've had, I doubt that anyone could fault you for being tired. If you don't want to sleep in that dress tonight, you're more than welcome to any of my clothes. We'll get you some clothes that you don't have to swim in, but in the meantime . . ."
"Thank you," she says.
"Oh, of course," Peeta smiles, as if she could have expected him to be so generous. "There's a shower in the bathroom, too, if you want to use it. There are some towels hanging up."
"Thank you," she says again and he nods.
"You can go ahead and start getting ready for bed, if you'd like," he says.
"Are you sure?" Katniss asks. "It's pretty early. I can stay up."
He smiles. "Don't be silly. What time is it in the time zone you're used to? Midnight? One in the morning?"
She shrugs, looking over at the kitchen clock that displays 7:15 and feeling ridiculous.
"There's a toothbrush on the counter for you, too," he says. "I hope you don't mind sharing toothpaste."
The thought of being alone –if only for a few moments – is just nice enough that she thanks him and heads for the bedroom.
His closet is enormous. Almost as big as her old room, she thinks, the one that she shared with her mother and sister. It's filled with clothes, too. There are four suit jackets in the back, like the one that he had worn earlier today.
She winds up finding a red plaid flannel shirt hanging up and tugs it down. Her father had had one like it, though it was much more worn by the time it was passed down to Katniss. She had even packed it, but it doesn't do her much good now, lost somewhere in District Six's train station. She digs through the drawers until she comes across a pair of black pants with a drawstring. She changes first, pulling the string as tight as she can when she ties it. She winds up hoisting the waist up above her belly button, but the bottoms still pool at her feet. The shirt comes down to her thighs, but as much as she would hate to admit it, it's more comfortable than the dress.
She feels ridiculous, but she sits down on the floor in front of her mother's dress and she cries long and hard and probably far too loudly. She cries for her sister and for her mother and for the Hawthornes. She cries for the bag of clothing that she lost and for the plant book that she had left at home in the first place and she cries for the fact that her last name isn't Everdeen anymore.
She finally realizes that Peeta will want to use his bathroom eventually and stares up at the ceiling until she manages to calm herself down enough.
She brushes her teeth next, having a little bit of trouble getting it out of the package, and squeezes some of Peeta's toothpaste onto it, cleaning her teeth and refusing to look at herself in the mirror until she's finished. Her face is red and puffy even after she washes it, but there's nothing else she can do.
Peeta has already remade the bed and changed into his pajamas when she finally emerges and he's crouched in front of the dresser, going through one of the drawers that she had closed as soon as she realized that it didn't have clothing in it.
He looks up at her and offers her a smile, but it's just weak enough that she knows that he knows what she was doing in there.
"Did you find everything okay?" he asks, and she's more relieved than she should be that he doesn't ask if she's okay.
"Yeah, I did," she says. "Thank you."
He nods and pulls whatever it was he looking for from the drawer.
"I'm glad," he says, nudging it closed with his knee. It's when he opens the device on the dresser that she realizes that it's there – and that it most definitely wasn't before. He pulls a disk from the case he retrieved and pops it into place. The second that he closes the device again, music begins to play.
"Folk music," he explains, glancing between her and the player. "My father really likes it."
She nods dumbly, wondering what he's getting at.
"I just need to grab a pillow and then I'll be out of your hair," he announces, heading for the bed.
"What?" she asks.
"I just need to grab a pillow," he reiterates.
She shakes her head, unable to understand why in the world he would go to the trouble of setting up music to fall asleep to if he doesn't intend to stay to listen to it. "No."
"No?" he asks, looking almost amused.
"Stay in here," she says. "I can sleep on the couch."
"I am not making you sleep on the couch. Especially not on your first night here," he says, and she can't believe the words she's about to say but she says them anyway.
"Then stay in here with me."
A smile plays on his lips. "Are you sure?"
"Because if you aren't –"
"I am," she says, her voice slightly more harsh than she means for it to be because she's nowhere near sure and it would be almost alarmingly easy for him to talk her out of it. "Thank you for the clothes."
He chuckles. "Don't mention it. In fact, you should keep them."
"Oh, no, I couldn't," she says, shaking her head.
"I insist," Peeta says. "That shirt looks much better on you."
She reaches down and plays with the hem. "Then goodnight, I guess."
"Goodnight," he agrees with a smile. He pulls the blanket back for her on his way to the bathroom and she settles in while he's in there.
Now that she's really listening to it, the music is strangely soothing. The guitar sounds almost like one of the songs that would be played at the Harvest Festival, but not enough to make her heart ache.
Her eyes are closed when she hears the bathroom door open, but she notices the difference when Peeta turns the light out and joins her in the bed. He doesn't say anything for such a long time that she's nearly sure that he's asleep until he sighs.
"I really hope you can be like it here, Katniss," he says, his voice so gentle and kind that she feels the tears pricking at her eyes again.