Just a quick oneshot that I had to write. This book was seriously amazing. Peeta's POV.
The morning of the Reaping seems no different than any other day. In fact, for those first few minutes I don't even remember the significance of what I am waking up to. Before I crawl out of bed, however, it all comes crashing down on me.
Has it really been a year already?
As I drag myself out of bed, I can't help thinking that every year just keeps getting worse—the stress, the worrying. If anything, you'd think I would get used to it after sixteen years of going to these damn ceremonies. Of course, I don't think anyone could ever get used to it. There's just something about watching loved ones being torn away from their families that you don't forget.
My dad, bless him, always pretends like nothing's out of the ordinary. My mother does the same. She doesn't hide her anxiety well, however, and it always leaves her in a bad mood. There is one thing to be thankful for this year, though: Myles is nineteen now, out of the Reaping for good. That's one family member I no longer have to worry about.
I struggle down the stairs, still half asleep, knowing that Dad's going to need help in the bakery today. Even though the morning sun is just now peeking over the horizon, people will be lined up, looking for a bargain on Reaping Day. One thing I've discovered over the years is that parents will go to any lengths to convince their children that the Reaping is nothing to fear. They seem to think that having a full stomach helps.
Sure enough, when I enter the bakery there are at least a dozen people present, bartering for bread with both my Dad and Myles. I quickly slip on the apron I'm forced to wear, and head over to help.
"Peeta, good," my father says upon seeing me. "I was just about to send Myles up to get you. Have you seen Sibba? We really need all the help we can get."
Myles smirks in my direction at the mention of our brother because we both know that even if my father looked, he wouldn't find him in his bed. Sibba's eighteen and even though it is his last Reaping, the chances of him being chosen are higher than ever. This being the case, there's no way he didn't spend the night with his girlfriend, Eliisa.
"No, Dad. I haven't seen him," I say.
"Let him sleep!" My mother calls from the back room. "It's a big day!" Sibba's always been her favorite…
My father rolls his eyes, but turns back to the customers as I help the next person in line.
As the minutes pass by, the crowd in the bakery slowly begins to lessen. I notice Sibba slip quietly in the back door, but he just nods his head to me in acknowledgment and continues up the stairs. There's very little chance he actually slept last night.
Just when I think the morning rush has ended, the door opens once more.
"Gale!" my father greets cheerfully. He's always had a soft spot for the boy, although I never could figure out why. Probably because he's close with the Everdeens. My father always did say he used to have a soft spot for Katniss Everdeen's mother…
"Hi, Mr. Mellark," he says, smiling brightly at my father. I've never liked Gale. It's probably not his fault, though. It's just the fact that he's friends with Katniss; a feat I've never managed. The way she smiles around him, the way I see them talking at school—I've never wanted anything more than I've wanted that.
It's probably that fact that has me seeing straight through Gale's cheerful demeanor. No one's that genuinely happy on the day of the Reaping. He's just looking for a good deal.
"Looking to trade, I assume?" my father questions.
"Sure am. I've got a squirrel for you. Anything that you can give me would be appreciated greatly." My father takes the limp squirrel in his hands and examines it quickly. Even from a distance I can tell it's not worth much. Normally the squirrels Gale trades are shot cleanly through the eye; this one is not.
"I know it's not the best," Gale quickly explains, looking not at my father but at me. I always forget to conceal my emotions when he's around and therefore I've become his best tool for bargaining. One look at my face tells him what he should be willing to offer. I've really got to work on that… "But Katniss is usually the one who shoots and she wasn't with me this morning. I was hoping to bring her some bread as a surprise."
At the mention of Katniss, my father's face lights up. I turn my own face away to hide my frustration. What does Gale have that I don't? He's older, sure, but I have more potential than he will ever have. He's destined to die in the coal mines—is that really the kind of companion Katniss wants?
"Katniss! Now, how is she doing? She was in here just last week—well, you'd know that; you were with her!—but she didn't look too good if I do say so myself. Is her family doing okay?"
"Yeah, they're doing fine. She's probably just worried about the Reaping. And having enough food to get her family by, you know?" Gale's hint doesn't go unnoticed by my father, but rather than get angry, he laughs.
"You know, it's not very often you get two people coming in here together—willing to split what they're given. Katniss must be very special to you if you're willing to share."
I turn around to judge Gale's reaction to that statement more accurately and my jealousy burns as I notice that his cheeks are flaming. If there is nothing between them, then why would he react in such a way?
"I'm just thankful she's willing to share with me, Sir. With this squirrel as proof, I don't shoot nearly as well as Katniss." Everyone in District 12 knows that hunting is illegal. Pretty much everyone in our area also knows that Gale and Katniss hunt. No one cares considering they supply half of us with meat. They're not the only ones, of course, but they are the ones that stick out in everyone's minds. Especially since they're still young and "cute" enough to play the pity card. Just two kids from the Seam in need of food.
"Well, I'll give you a full loaf, how does that sound?" my father asks politely. I do a double take at his offer. He can't afford to just give away food like that.
"Um, Dad?" Myles asks from across the room. I'd forgotten that he was even there.
"No, no, it's okay boys. I made extra this morning." Myles and I both don't say another word as Gale thanks him profusely for the loaf. I can't help but wonder if that loaf was actually meant for our dinner.
"And good luck today, Gale," my father adds as Gale heads for the door, his tone no longer jovial.
"Thank you," Gale answers. "And you too," he addresses me. I only nod in acknowledgement. He leaves without another word.
"Such a nice boy," my father mutters, disappearing into the back room.
"You know, it would have been cheaper if he'd just married Katniss's mother back in school," I comment. Myles laughs.
"Yeah, but then Katniss wouldn't be here, right?" he laughs, nudging me with his elbow.
"Shut up," I groan. Myles has been making fun of me for my "crush" for years. Little does he know that it's far more than a crush now. It's nearing a full-fledged obsession. He only laughs as I head back up the stairs.
I'm in love with a girl that I can't even talk to. How embarrassing is that? Not to mention the fact that she's from the Seam and my mother would probably kill me for even considering it. My Dad would probably just consider it fate.
And maybe it is.
My Dad couldn't win over her mom, so I get her. That makes sense, right? Yeah, maybe not…
The hours pass by—whether slowly or quickly, I'm not sure. Time loses all meaning. It always does the day of the Reaping. Sibba comes in around noon to wish me good luck before leaving once again.
But the thing is that I am honestly not worried about my own name being drawn. I mean, of course I would never wish that upon myself, but the fear that my name gets drawn is nothing compared to the fear that Katniss's does.
Even though we're in the same year, she's been signing up for the tesserae since she was twelve. And that scares the living hell out of me.
Even though I've never said a word to her.
When I can feel that two o' clock is drawing nearer, I get out of bed and change into something presentable. My father and mother come by about twenty 'til to wish me luck and head on over to the square. I stay sitting on my bed until Sibba and Myles come in and drag me out of the house.
"Stop worrying," Myles commands, still clutching my arm as we head to the town square. "You're as safe as anyone—safer than most. I mean, think about it. If anyone in our family gets chosen, it's going to be Sibba."
"Thanks," Sibba mutters. I look over to find that his face is a great deal paler than it normally is. But Eliisa's the same age as Myles—she's safe—so I know his fear is only for himself. And maybe a little bit for me too, but I wouldn't count on it.
And I'm not blaming him for it. I'm pretty damn worried about my own ass, too.
"You're both going to be fine," Myles assures us, his voice rising several octaves as he speaks. Sibba and I both look at him humorlessly. The square's too packed with spectators for Myles to get in far, but he wishes us luck on the outskirts as Sibba and I continue to push through to find our year.
I find the sixteens in a close pack around the stage and make my way over, not saying a word to Sibba as we separate. Neither of us are really in the mood for talking at the moment. I scan the group quickly, but don't find Katniss. Following the path my brother took, I find the eighteens. Gale is comfortably situated among them. Well at least Katniss isn't with him at the moment. I hate seeing them together.
It takes a few minutes, but I finally see Katniss in the large crowd of people. She's holding her younger sister's hand tightly so as not to lose her, and trying to push through the crowd. She finally gets the young girl where she's supposed to be and walks over to join the other sixteens from the Seam. Without a word to anyone, she stands on the outskirts of the group, closer to the eighteens than anything. I look at Gale, looking at her, and my jealousy burns once again. Katniss, however, doesn't seem to notice his gaze.
The crowd stills as Mayor Undersee and District 12's representative, Effie Trinket, take their seats on stage. One seat is still empty—the seat of Haymitch Abernathy, the only living victor of the Hunger Games from District 12. As the clock strikes two, it becomes obvious that Haymitch is not coming. At least not on time. He's probably passed out drunk by this time of day.
Mayor Undersee recaps the history of Panem and the rules of the Hunger Games, but I quickly stop paying attention. I've heard it all before. Instead, I turn my gaze onto one of the large glass balls in the center of the stage. Five of those slips have my name on them. Seven have Sibba's.
My attention is pulled back to the stage as Haymitch makes his entrance, drunk as ever. There's scattered applause in the square and several short bursts of laughter as he tries to hug Trinket, but the majority of us remain silent. As much as the Capitol wants to, they can't force us to be festive.
Effie Trinket, still slightly shaken from Haymitch's full-frontal assault, takes the podium.
"Happy Hunger Games!" she greets, opening her arms wide as if expecting applause. We reamin silent. "And may the odds be ever in your favor!" Those words will be etched on her gravestone, no doubt about it.
My eyes find Katniss in the crowd once more and I can't help but think of her chances for surviving this Reaping. She's only sixteen—her name should only be in there five times. But I know it isn't. I heard her and Gale discussing it one day in the bakery. Her name's in that glass orb twenty times. Twenty!
How is it even possible that she hasn't been chosen before now? Honestly, I'm more worried about her than I am for myself. Twenty times…I wouldn't be able to live under that amount of stress.
"Ladies first!" I hear Trinket's voice, as if from a distance, ringing in my ear. I watch with bated breath as she reaches into the ball and pulls out a slip of paper. As she walks to the podium, I send one silent prayer out to whichever God might be listening.
Not Katniss…please, not Katniss.
"Primrose Everdeen!" Effie Trinket calls. I let out a sigh of relief; it's not Katniss.
And then I register the name.
One look at her shows me all I need to know. No, her name wasn't drawn, but the God I was praying to must have one twisted sense of humor.
Katniss's face is pale and she stands motionless. We turn to look at her as her eye's find her sister in the crowd. Without warning, Katniss begins moving towards the stage.
"Prim!" she cries. And I feel my heart break for her. The crowd is also voicing their displeasure at a twelve-year-old being chosen. "Prim!" The people clear away in front of her.
As Katniss meets Prim on the side of the stage, I expect her to embrace her younger sister. She does nothing of the sort, however. Pushing Prim behind her, she bounds onto the stairs herself.
"I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!" she cries. This time my heart really does break. The love of my life just voiced her death sentence. I can't even concentrate on anything besides the look on her face. Although I can tell that she's scared, it doesn't show—just in her eyes. And although I know it's unhealthy, I fall even deeper in love knowing that she's the kind of person who would give up her life for her sister's.
I would never do that. Not for Sibba. Not for Myles. But then again, they are older than me. But would I expect them to do what Katniss did? Not in a million years.
I snap back to life at the sound of Prim's hysterical screaming. I glance over to see her holding tightly to the back of Katniss's dress. Gale makes his way over and quickly removes the screaming child. Lifting Prim into his arms, he says a quick word to Katniss before helping her onto the stage.
How can he just give her away like that? I would never let her go! They would have to kill me to get her out of my arms! In fact, I take a step towards the stage. To do what, I don't know. Surprisingly, someone holds me back and I look around to find Sibba clutching my arm tightly. He gently shakes his head.
God, I must be the most obvious person in the world if even Sibba knows I'm in love with her. He's normally so oblivious.
I hear Katniss introduce herself, her face stoic.
"I bet my buttons that was your sister. Don't want her to steal all the glory, do we?" Effie Trinket laughs. I've never wanted to ring someone's neck more in my life. "Come on, everybody! Let's give a big round of applause to our newest tribute!"
No one claps.
And then, slowly, like a wave across the crowd, people begin showing her their respect. The gesture for admiration in District 12 sweeps across the multitude. Without question, I place the three middle fingers of my left hand to my lips and hold them out to her. It feels wrong, though. I've only ever used that gesture at funerals and I'm not ready to say good-bye to Katniss yet.
Haymitch chooses that moment to bring the attention back to himself, and I'm glad because I can see the weakness in Katniss's eyes and I know that she doesn't want people staring at her. I don't care, though; I keep staring.
Should I go see her after the Reaping? To say good-bye? She'd probably think I was insane. But then again, I don't really care.
My eyes are pulled away from Katniss as Haymitch falls right off of the stage. Although I know it's not funny at all, I have to withhold my laughter. It's a nervous habit, I think.
"It's time to choose our boy tribute!" I hear Effie intone. I no longer care. Nothing could get worse than this. My life is over. Effie walks back to the podium slowly. Rather than waste my time praying to the God that apparently hates me, I simply wish that the name is not Sibba's.
I look around to see who will head to the stage before I even comprehend the name. When I do, I do a double take. Peeta Mellark? Me? Damn it to hell! Does this God have a personal vendetta against me or something?
Sibba's grip on my shoulder loosens and I turn around to see him as white as a sheet. I want to reassure him, but I can't make the words come out of my mouth. I can't do this. Even if I somehow make it to the end, I can't kill Katniss. I'm as good as dead and he knows it.
"I'm sorry, Peeta," he mutters quickly. "I would, but…Eliisa…I can't."
"I know," I answer. I turn towards the stage and take slow steps forward. The last thing I need right now is to collapse like Haymitch.
I take my place on stage, right next to Katniss and tune the rest of the ceremony—the Treaty of Treason—out. It doesn't matter; nothing matters.
The only comfort I can take now is that maybe I can get to know Katniss a little better before we die. Or before I die. She's strong enough to win this thing if she really wants to.
As the anthem of Panem plays, I make a promise to myself. No matter what happens in the arena, I will do whatever I can to keep Katniss alive. Because no matter which way I spin the situation, she deserves life so much more than I do. And, quite frankly, I don't think I could live without her.
Review, please. And who do you like better: Gale or Peeta? I really want to know the overall consensus.