This little fic is inspired by several things. First, the desire to give Katniss a cupcake on her birthday, along with a little happiness. Also, the lovely May Day tradition of anonymously leaving flower baskets on doorsteps provided major inspiration for the whole plot.
Sadly, I will not be able to post the entire piece today, as I'd hoped - RL has me quite tied up at the moment. The whole tale is planned out, short and uneventful as it is, so happiness shall follow in not too long! I hope you all enjoy! :) And thank you to my amazing beta The RPGenius, for editing this at the drop of a hat!
On the Threshold
"This would have happened anyway" - Mockingjay, page 388
The cupcake, with its cheery pastel frosting, looked as alien and out of place on her doorstep as Effie Trinket looked standing onstage amidst a sea of miners and their families on Reaping Day.
The dreaded event was little more than a month away. And for the first time in seven years, Katniss would not be standing with her peers, roped in at the center of the square like so much livestock awaiting slaughter.
As of today, she was nineteen.
For Katniss, the fact that she'd avoided the Games was less cause for celebration than most others would find it. She still had to worry about Prim. And truth be told, she'd rather she was still eligible to be reaped than have Prim's slips in that bowl for any more years. So she hadn't really considered the milestone she'd reached, the threshold she'd crossed upon waking up this morning.
Still, she was free of the Games. Safe. Or as safe as one could be, in Panem.
She hadn't thought the day a particularly special one, and she definitely didn't mention it's significance to anyone. It might have slipped her mind, but for the solitary cupcake sitting on her doorstep.
Someone knew it was her birthday. And it mattered to them.
Katniss crouched down and regarded it thoughtfully. Usually, she'd be incensed to be offered a handout. But it couldn't be charity. It was too whimsical and far too indulgent on behalf of the giver to be mistaken for anything she needed.
A small part of her liked the idea of receiving a little unexpected gift. She hadn't had many pleasant surprises of this nature since before her father died, and the remembrance made the years between stand out starkly in her mind.
It was, after all, completely unsolicited, she reminded herself as she gingerly picked up the confection. That fact made quite a difference, enough for her to accept the little treat- with the promise to find and repay the giver in some small way, of course. Katniss wasn't going to owe anyone if she could help it, not even for a birthday present.
She examined the sweet in her hand. It was perfect in detail, right down to the exquisite trio of petals on the brushed sugar katniss bloom, resting delicately atop rosy icing.
The cupcake was heavier than it looked, and Katniss could only imagine the dense richness of the cake. Something like this was a once in a lifetime opportunity; she'd certainly never have extra for custom-made desserts.
Any time there was a treat to find enjoyment in, Prim got first pick of the object, at Katniss' insistence. But in this case, Katniss wanted to be a little selfish just for once, and be the one to take the first bite. It was a childish notion, and today she was leaving childhood behind. Of course, Katniss hadn't been a child for over seven years, ever since the mines took her father's life. She'd had to grow up and into his role as leader of their family when it was clear her mother wouldn't provide for them. But nonetheless, she would be officially recognized as an adult from this day forward, so any small way to pay homage to the small scrap of childhood she'd enjoyed was welcome.
Being careful to avoid the perfect flower, Katniss took a generous bite, reveling in the decadence of the gesture. She closed her eyes and held back a moan. It was moist and dense: heaven, pure and simple.
Softly re-entering the house, she gently set the cupcake on the table. As she was fetching a bowl to cover it, so Buttercup wouldn't eat any before Prim had gotten a taste, she made a decision.
Grabbing a clean dishrag, she returned to the kitchen table. Ever so carefully, Katniss removed the solid sugar flower, a confection in itself, from the swirled tower of frosting. She laid it carefully in the center of the rag and with the edges of the material enfolded it, before tucking it softly into her coat pocket.
The cupcake had clearly been a special request, if it bore her namesake. Aside from her family and Gale's, neither of which possessed the means to purchase such a luxury, who in District 12 would even know what a katniss bloom looked like?
There was only one hand capable of creating such finery, and it was that of the baker, Mr. Mellark. She'd often admired his work in the bakery windows, at Prim's insistence. It was what passed for art in District Twelve. She'd ask him who'd commissioned the treat when she traded with him later today.
Plan in place, Katniss left again for the woods, the pleasant puzzle of the cupcake's source flitting through her mind.
She rapped smartly on the baker's back door. When Mr. Mellark answered, Katniss gave him her most winning smile before she displayed the squirrels she'd bagged that morning.
He was one of the few merchant clients Katniss really liked, and he was always gratifyingly appreciative of her hunting skills. Once the standard trade had been conducted, she pulled the small, protected bundle from her coat pocket.
"Mr. Mellark, I found a cupcake with this candy flower on my doorstep this morning."
Mr. Mellark looked pleasantly surprised, and Katniss wondered for a moment that he hadn't said anything in observance of her birthday yet. He surely remembered having made the cupcake, and he was the sort of friendly soul who would always wish a happy birthday when he could, despite the fact that happy days were few and far between in District 12. "Could you please tell me who commissioned it from you?"
A knowing look entered his eyes, and his big shoulders shook as he chuckled.
"Well, I can say for sure I've never seen that before, Katniss, so I'm afraid I can't answer your question. But I know who can."
And with a heavy arm around her shoulders, the baker briskly swept her under the lintel of the door and into the warm, golden kitchen.
There was a high workspace at the center of the room, made of thick oak polished to a gleaming gold. It was covered in flour, dough, and baking implements. Standing directly behind the island was the baker's youngest son, blond, stocky, and all too familiar. She'd never imagined it was he who decorated the cakes.
Katniss' breath caught. They'd never spoken, though she'd always been aware of him since that day, eight years ago. His rosy skin shone with a light sheen of sweat in the warm kitchen, and his tousled hair, slightly frizzy in the muggy room, curled closely around his ears and collar. He belonged in this space, fit in a way that was plain to see just looking at him. It was a reassuring image, and Katniss wondered if she looked similar when in the woods.
"Peeta?" Mr. Mellark's jovial voice boomed. "Someone's here to see you."
The boy in question raised his head, his startled blue eyes landing on Katniss. When she saw recognition in his eyes, she also noted apprehension shimmering there like ripples over a deep pool. He looked nervous. Peeta had a little smudge of flour on his lower left cheek, and Katniss madly entertained the notion of brushing it from his skin. Would it be warm? Soft, or rough with stubble?
As they took each other in, Katniss felt a gentle pressure at her back, a distant distraction she stepped forward to alleviate. Having ushered Katniss in Peeta's direction, Mr. Mellark made himself scarce.
"C-Can I help you?" Peeta managed politely. Katniss nodded, and gathering her wits, reached forward to place the candy flower and towel on the work table.
"Do you know who ordered this?" she asked quietly.
Peeta stared down at the object before him. His cheeks were getting rosier with every moment, making the bit of flour stand out starkly against his heated skin. It was as though he was frozen in place, unmoving, save for the intake of breath that expanded his chest. But, she noticed, he held it, and was completely still in contemplation of the object.
"You made this?" she prompted. Peeta nodded hesitantly, his eyes flickering across the counter to her hands, still not quite able to meet her eyes. "At the request of whom?" she urged.
Finally, Peeta met her regard, a worried, vulnerable expression in his own. He seemed almost to be pleading with her, but she couldn't understand why. Why wouldn't he just tell her? She didn't want to bother him any more than he wanted to be bothered. She was clearly upsetting him, but if he just answered, she could be on her way.
"I didn't think anyone in Twelve knew what katniss looked like," she elaborated. "But this is perfect. Did they describe it to you?"
His eyes returned to the work surface. Peeta studied the dough in front of him before responding. "Um, no." He began determinedly rolling out the shapeless lump with a wooden rolling pin, but his movements no longer seemed as sure. Katniss was about to insist he stop ignoring her when he cast a fleeting glance over to the side of the room, almost as if involuntarily. She almost missed it, but she followed the trajectory his gaze had taken. Sitting against the wall on a shelf filled with bowls of all sizes, were two books. One was very old and well-used, untitled, and had bits of paper sticking out between the pages. Katniss hazarded a guess that it was the family's book of recipes. Next to it, however, was a slightly newer book entitled Flora of Panem: A Compendium.
That must have been Peeta's reference for the decorations on the commissioned cupcake. She'd never seen any sort of representation of a katniss flower before today, just the real thing. Katniss wanted to see the entry for her namesake.
She walked boldly over to the shelf and pulled down the book. Normally she'd never be so brazen in another's home and business, but being ignored by Peeta was making her feel strangely incensed, and something was telling her she should see the page on her flower. Peripherally, she heard Peeta make some token objection once he realized her intention, but it was too late: she was already flipping through the index by the time he'd made a sound. She turned back to the colorful pages devoted to water plants, but the page on katniss was missing. She could see the rough edge where it had been before someone tore it out. Like they'd kept it for themselves.
Katniss' eyes lifted to Peeta's. He stood there helplessly, like cornered prey, as pieces started clicking into place in her mind. If there was no reference page on katniss flowers, Peeta must have already known what they looked like when he made the cupcake. He couldn't have gone outside the district, so he must have seen the missing page. Had he been the one to take it? Judging by the expression on his face, she felt he had. But why?
"No one commissioned it. It was you," she realized. Katniss could see she was right. Peeta looked on, watchful, hopeful.
Katniss shook her head in denial. "No!" This couldn't be happening again. He'd tricked her. Now she owed him even more. She would forever.
And what had his intention been? To remind her of all that was yet unpaid? She could have accepted the gift from anyone else, just this once, on the most important birthday of her life, but not from him. Not from Peeta. Now it was just another line item in the ledger of her insurmountable debt, and she'd walked right into the whole situation.
She hadn't needed it. So why did he have to offer it at all? Why couldn't he just ignore her, why did that day always have to linger in his glances? She put the book back on the shelf as though it was a treacherous object, as though the whole room was one giant snare waiting to entrap her, and she'd unwittingly picked up the triggering mechanism. She looked at the perfect sugar sculpture, sitting innocently on the edge of work table.
"I don't want it," she said solemnly, raising her eyes to his. "Not from you."
He looked shattered, and opened his mouth to protest or explain, but she couldn't bear it. She grabbed her game bag and dashed from the kitchen, her braid flying out behind her.
Dusk found her angrily chucking rocks and pebbles at the tree in the meadow. She felt humiliated and restless and foolish. She just wanted to forget about that day in the rain, forget about that whole year and her eleven year old self. She never would though, and somehow she'd held Peeta responsible.
He'd probably just meant it as a nice gesture. Maybe he looked at her as some sort of little pet project, some success story of his. He had saved her, after all. Maybe he was trying to kindly emphasize how far she'd come. Ironically, it was the remembrance of katniss, of finding herself, that had saved her, and he'd inspired it, a fact he'd unknowingly commemorated on that cupcake. A tiny corner of her mind wondered if it could indicate anything more than just well-meaning kindness. She thought of that missing page in his book and got flustered and uncomfortable all over again.
As she angrily fumbled for the next stone, she inadvertently yanked up a dandelion along with it. She hurled both toward the tree, but the flower landed little more than a foot and half from where she'd thrown it.
It wasn't a pretty dandelion. It was sparse, and half-closed, and about to go to seed. Nevertheless, she felt remorseful and stretched to pick it back up. Idiotically, she felt like she had to make it up to the weed, and carefully tucked the pathetic bloom in the buttonhole of her father's hunting jacket.
She didn't know why she'd overreacted like that at the bakery, didn't want to know why, but she couldn't take it back.
Prim loved the cupcake. She raved about it for days. Katniss told her the baker had given it to her as an afterthought during an early morning trade, knowing it was her birthday. Without the flower on top, it looked like any other cupcake from Mellark's.
Katniss felt wretched for a week, but wouldn't entertain any explanations other than the richness of the cupcake disagreeing with her.
Charmed at the baker's supposed gesture and finally knowing what cake tasted like inspired a renewed interest in the bakery's window displays for Prim. Katniss had been relieved when she'd seemed to be growing out of it before, but now Prim was forever dragging her to the plate glass windows of Mellark's Bakery again.
Katniss couldn't be sure if she was imagining it or not, but she thought the cake decorations seemed a bit lacking recently. It had only been a few weeks since her birthday, but they just felt…uninspired, compared to what they used to be.
A knot of guilt settled in her stomach when she imagined she might be responsible, and Katniss irrationally worried that Prim would notice the change in artistry on the cakes and somehow sense her sister was to blame.
Aside from stolen glances, Katniss studiously avoided looking past the displays and into the bakery. Those covert looks were enough to tell her that Peeta usually left the front of the store to go out back after she and Prim approached the windows.
In late summer, after the Reaping and Games had held the nation captive yet again, Delly Cartwright got married. As a merchant daughter, she got a proper wedding cake, and it was common knowledge that the youngest Mellark was pulling out all the stops for his childhood friend. Recognizing an opportunity for a little added publicity, Mrs. Mellark insisted Peeta decorate it in the front window of the shop, and little clusters of people would come and watch his meticulous, patient piping.
The finished product sat proudly in the window the day before the toasting ceremony, and it was the finest creation anyone had seen from Mellark's. It spilled over with floral embellishment, each exquisite sugar flower looking like it had just been plucked from the forest.
There were so many types, Katniss wondered if he'd used the whole flower book as reference. But there were no katniss blooms.
As Prim oohed and aahed at the window, Katniss saw Delly enter the family establishment. The vivacious girl waited at the counter as one of Peeta's older brothers fetched him from the back, and she threw her arms around her friend as soon as his tired form appeared. Delly laughed and swayed, and happiness radiated from Peeta as he got caught up in the bride-to-be's joy.
It was hard to imagine that Peeta could ever have been truly upset that she'd rejected his gift. Katniss wondered at the inexplicable sinking feeling the thought brought her.
Accordingly, the decorative work at the bakery was back to its original standards of excellence. Whatever had been affecting Peeta's work before was doing so no longer.
As Katniss lay in bed at night, flirting with the fringes of slumber, she often got the feeling that she'd missed something important, that something essential and irreplaceable had slipped through her grasp somewhere. When startled awake by the thought, she reminded herself that besides Prim, there was little of value in her life that she could lose and not notice.
Katniss came face-to-face with Peeta again when the Harvest Festival rolled around. It had been a big year for the wild turkey population and she and Gale had made out like bandits. All the merchants were eager for a bountiful table, and they'd quickly sold all the birds they'd bagged at top dollar.
As a result, after replenishing the necessities, Katniss had a little more to spend on Prim than usual at the festival this year. Perhaps remembering the delights of the cupcake, Prim decided she'd like nothing so much as an apple dumpling, the Mellark's signature harvest-time specialty. Neither Everdeen girl had ever tasted one, and hearing they had a little extra to spend, Prim declared that this was the year that would change.
Unable to think about the gooey apples encased in cinnamon-brushed dough without also imagining the skilled hands that had potentially made them, Katniss couldn't find it in herself to be anything but uncomfortable about the idea. But she pretended to be excited for Prim's sake.
True to prediction, when they reached the little stand arranged by the Mellark family, it was Peeta filling orders, while his mother collected the money.
Katniss' distaste for his mother and the awkwardness of her last encounter with Peeta was almost enough to make her turn around and walk in the other direction. But she didn't, for her sister. She did, however, slow her steps so Prim led the way. No shame in that.
"Hi!" Prim said excitedly when they'd reached the stand. Mrs. Mellark, who'd always disliked Katniss (for rooting around in her trash that day, she supposed), also seemed to find fault with Prim, for some unknown reason, because she turned away with a superior sniff and moue of displeasure.
Prim, who never knew the exact events surrounding the two charred loaves that saved them, seemed a little taken aback, but rallied and turned to Peeta. He looked apologetic and beat her to the greeting.
"Hi, Prim," he said warmly.
"You know my name?" she asked, puzzled.
Peeta darted a nervous look at Katniss, the first eye contact he'd made with her since they'd approached the stand. "Shouldn't I?" he asked uncertainly.
"Of course!" Prim chirped, in her friendly way, "It's only…I don't know yours."
"Peeta," he confirmed, with a glowing smile in Prim's direction. It was so stunning, Katniss felt warmer just standing in its periphery.
When Mrs. Mellark huffed her impatience from the other end of the stand, Peeta schooled his features and got down to business. "What can I get you Prim? And, ah…"
Misinterpreting his hesitance to address the darker Everdeen girl, Prim hastened to introduce them. "Oh! This is Katniss, my sister!"
Peeta mumbled an inane, "nice to meet you" to the ground while Katniss growled, "He knows what my name is!" to an unwitting Prim.
Wisely overlooking the odd exchange, the youngest Everdeen pushed onward. "We'd like an apple dumpling please!"
Peeta regained his sunny demeanor in the face of Prim's obvious anticipation, and selected the biggest apple dumpling with a piece of wax paper. But Prim had one last bomb to drop.
"We're so excited to try it, after your dad gave Katniss that cupcake for her birthday!"
Peeta faltered and the dumpling tumbled to the ground. Prim made a small exclamation of dismay.
Their dumpling lay on the stone paving of the town square, and Katniss wished the cobbled pavement would open up and swallow her along with the ruined pastry.
Peeta closed his eyes in dread for an instant before rushing to pick up the fallen sweet, blushing crimson at his flustered reaction to the young girl's words. His gaze swung nervously to the side, checking whether his mother had seen from corner of his eyes. Katniss was enraged on his behalf, that even as a grown man, he had to fear his mother's wrath and displeasure over simple mistakes.
Luckily, intent on not speaking to the Everdeens, Mrs. Mellark had turned her attention to the cider stand owner on their left, and was busy conversing with her fellow merchant vendor about the availability of apples that year.
Peeta breathed a tiny sigh of relief, and placed the recovered dumpling off to the side, away from the others.
"Sorry about that," he apologized, selecting the next biggest dumpling with a fresh scrap of waxed paper. "Here you go," he said, extending the treat toward Prim.
Prim graciously accepted the proffered pastry, but Katniss couldn't help but wonder if Peeta's mother would give him trouble over the pastry that had been set aside from the other, saleable baked goods. Certainly they'd end up eating it themselves, as no family in Twelve was above consuming food that had briefly touched the ground, but it represented a loss in income for the day, and Mrs. Mellark was more than cruel enough to make a considerable issue over it.
There was still money in her pocket, enough for a cup of cider each and maybe even a piece of hard candy for Prim, but she quickly recalculated. She could help him out and still have enough to still get cider for Prim.
"I'll take that one for half price!" she blurted, far louder than the situation merited, but luckily not enough to distract the Mellark matron from her discussion. Prim turned, startled that she'd suddenly decided to join the exchange, and Peeta's eyes widened, darting up to meet hers questioningly.
"That one," she insisted, pointing rigidly at the discarded dumpling. He wordlessly slipped it into a waxed paper sleeve and tallied the order. Despite her earlier mortification, Katniss couldn't help but admire the length of his eyelashes as he did so. Peeta accepted the coins from her and handed her the change.
Following her little outburst, he couldn't keep his eyes on or off her. They kept flitting between her hands, where he was placing her change, to her face, trying to gauge her thoughts. He still averted his gaze every time she tried to meet his regard. She stood there a moment too long, and Prim, always too wise for her age, snorted in amusement and pulled her to the next stand with a cheerful, "Thank you," to Peeta.
I don't foresee this story having more than two or three chapters, but I will be posting them as soon as I possibly can. Thanks for reading, and I really hope it's enjoyable so far. I am GhtlovesThg on tumblr, should you want to pop by and say hi! :)