Disclaimer: Nope, not Suzanne Collins. Damn.
Note: This is going to be my version of the Hunger Games from Peeta's perspective. I'll keep it as canon as I can, but of course add on what is necessary to keep it original. :) I hope you enjoy!
I wake up to the sound of my father's voice quietly trading with a customer. I sit up in my bed, momentarily confused.
Today's the Reaping, which means we should be closed. At least for the morning, that is. We use the early hours to prepare for the surge of business that comes after the ceremony. The lucky families are always ready to celebrate with decent food.
I bite back a yawn and then groan in frustration, rubbing my palms over my eyes, trying unsuccessfully to wake myself up.
It's useless, however.
"Damn Reaping," I mutter quietly to myself. It's the sole reason I haven't had a decent night's sleep in weeks.
I tell myself it's because I'm just terrified of being chosen, but my countless nightmares of an olive-skinned, black-haired beauty standing in an arena surrounded by blood say differently. It seems my sleeping-self acknowledges what I refuse to when awake—my greatest fear.
I shake my head, running my fingers tiredly through the sleep tussled strands, flat-out refusing, once again, to even consider that chance.
It won't happen. It can't happen.
A loud snore breaks through my thoughts. I glance toward the other side of the small bedroom, and can't help but smile at the sight of my older brother, sprawled across his bed, fingertips grazing the ground, and his head underneath his covers to block out the faint light.
I pick up my pillow and chuck it at his sleeping form.
"Pekar, get up," I call loudly. "Father's already downstairs."
He grabs the pillow I threw at him and puts it over his head. "No."
I laugh loudly on purpose, he's never been a morning person. "Fine, suit yourself. I'll just let mother deal with you."
He groans loudly and gives me a rather rude hand sign. "Go away, Peeta."
My father's voice is still audible. My curiosity is peaked yet again, and I slip out of my bed and pull on my leather boots. They're too small, having been worn by my two brothers before me, and it's a struggle to fit my feet in. Fleetingly, I remember the time I asked my mother if she could buy me a new pair of boots, and how I had sported a bruised face and a sensitive eardrum for the rest of the week.
Quickly pulling on my trousers and shirt, I glance swiftly in the small, chipped mirror by the door. My hair is its usual mess and I try in vain to straighten it out. Giving up, I slip quietly out of the room.
Our house is above the shop, and compared to the others in our area, it's pretty small. One hallway that leads to two bedrooms, one for my parents and the other for me and my brother.
My eldest brother, Peder, no longer lives with us. He married the tanner's daughter, Miri, around a year ago, and is now working as an apprentice to her father.
They found out she was pregnant a few months ago, and he's happy—to say the very least—so I'm trying to be too. Although why anyone would want to raise a child in a world like ours is beyond me. I could never do it—I know that much.
To say my mother is ecstatic would be a huge understatement, she is positively thrilled. Which makes sense, Peder has always been her favorite; she never tried to hide that.
Walking down the narrow stairwell that leads into the shop, I can see my father's silhouette against the doorway, but his shadow blocks the customer from my view. Their muttered conversation, however, makes it easy to guess the topic: past Reapings.
Making my way down the last few steps, I finally make out their voices.
"Last year's pick was terrible," my father says quietly, "I knew the boy's father. He used to come by the shop. Rarely see him anymore."
"Yeah, I know. Both were scarcely twelve or thirteen. Neither of them survived the first ten minutes…" But then I stop listening, because I suddenly recognize who my father is talking to.
As in her Gale Hawthorne.
He's leaning against the door frame, his dark eyes intense with emotion as he discusses the Games. If he has one fault, it's his inability to hide his hatred for the Capitol.
Especially at a time like this. It's always more dangerous around the Reapings because the district is swarming with cameras loyal only to the Capitol. One false move, one misinterpreted action that could be considered disrespect against the President, and you're shipped back to the City to be questioned. Most times you're never seen again. And when you are, it's only in the televised execution marathon they play at the end of each month.
That's why I've always been surprised by how little he tries to conceal his hatred. Especially with all his siblings depending on him. But I have nothing against him, really. He's a good guy. I've never once heard him complain about his responsibilities—ever. He takes care of his brothers and sisters as if he were their father, which he essentially is.
And even though it's preposterous, I consider him a rival for her affections. Though by those standards, he's a step from the prize while I'm still at the starting line.
My father's voice breaks through my thoughts. "And good luck to you, son. Wish the same to Katniss. You're off to see her now, aren't you?"
He nods. "Thank you again," he holds out a parcel of fresh bread. The expensive—best of our bakery—bread.
My father smiles grimly. "We all need to be generous on today of all days. Next time, though, let your girlfriend take the shot."
My hands curl up into fists at my father's casual comment, my fingernails bruising the skin of my palm. I notice the fact that Gale doesn't bother to correct him.
"Will do," I hear him say through my sudden inexplicable furry. "But I best be off." He notices me standing there, and nods his head in farewell before turning and disappearing into the early morning sunrise.
My father shuts the door, and turns around, a frown playing across his lips. It's obvious his thoughts are once again occupied by the Reaping. He notices me, and attempts to smile.
"Didn't see you there, son. Care for some breakfast?" he says as he holds up a squirrel. There's an arrow hole through the stomach. A poor shot. Not worth the loaf he traded.
"No, I'm not very hungry for meat," I say and ignore the thoughts that tell me I would have ate it if someone with long black hair and dark eyes had been the one who had shot it.
I frown at the direction my thoughts are turning and sit down at the small table in the family kitchen, which is basically a tiny room with an oven and a table, where we eat our meals. It's tucked away behind the much larger shop kitchen.
As my father makes his breakfast, I grab a loaf of yesterday's bread and cut into it. It's surprisingly not very stale, the middle still soft. It's refreshing from the usual hard bread I force myself to choke down.
"So, you nervous about today?" he asks from the stove.
"Not really," I reply, much too fast. I cringe, knowing I just gave myself away.
"Uh huh," he turns and smirks at me. "So you're not concerned at all for a certain girl with a knack for shooting squirrels, then?"
"I have no idea what you're referring to," I say stiffly but can't hold back my grin. I still curse the day my innocent nine-year-old self confided in him about my little "crush". He still hasn't let it go.
"I remember when I was a boy," he starts, as he sits down across from me. "You're a lot like me. I never thought about whether I'd be chosen. I was far more concerned about—well…you know, my brother being picked."
That's a lie and we both know it. If there was one good thing that came out of my telling him about her, it was the story he told me in return. A story about a certain someone's mother.
"Sure, father, your brother." He smiles at me and leans over to muss up my hair.
"Oh shut it, you—" he stops talking as my mother walks in. His smile slowly disappearing as he stands up to offer her his chair.
"Morning," she says briskly, more out of a habit than anything, as she pours herself a cup of coffee.
Coffee. One of the delicacies from the Capitol. Expensive, too. The peddler sells his goods only once a week in the market, and my mother is always the first in line.
That time I asked for new boots, I had said that if we didn't buy coffee that week, we would be able to afford them. Well that really blew her up. She went on and on about how she gave up everything for me and the one thing she did for herself was buy coffee, and how could I be so selfish?
Her temper set me off, and I still remember the look on her face when I asked her what exactly she had ever given up for me. And that's how I landed the bruise.
The chair squeals loudly, breaking my thoughts, as she takes a seat across from me. My father pulls up a chair, and continues to finish his breakfast. He doesn't notice my mother's sharp eyes following his movements.
"Where did you get that meat?" she questions quietly.
I try to shovel down the rest of my bread, not wanting to be here when she explodes.
"Oh, this? I traded for it this morning with one of the local kids," he says casually.
Her blue eyes narrow coldly. "But we are closed today."
He looks up finally and stares at her. "It's the Reaping, Janete. I'm not going to let some family have nothing fresh to eat tonight, if I can help it. Besides, it was a fair trade."
"This kid wouldn't have happened to be your dear, little Katniss, now would it?"
I jolt at the sound of her name, completely taken aback. It's always easier for me, if I don't let myself think about her around Reaping time. When I do, my nightmares come rushing back and my stomach fills with knots at the mere prospect of her being chosen.
"What is that suppose to mean?" he asks, his voice carefully controlled.
"Oh, nothing," she grins. "It just seems like you have a soft spot for her, but I'm being silly, it's just because you grew up with her mother, right?" she asks with a sly smile. Her malice-filled eyes, however, tell she is fully aware of the extent of her comment.
My father's face darkens visibly, but he doesn't respond. The kitchen becomes deathly quiet, the only sound being my fathers cutlery, angrily stabbing his food.
It is very safe to say my parents marriage was not committed in love. Quite the opposite, I think.
The morning before the ceremony is always a rush of preparations. My brother and father take over the kitchen, churning out loaves of bread like a machine, while I'm in charge of the cake decorating.
They'll be going into the window display, so as my mother keeps reminding me—they need to be perfect.
I line up the different colors of frosting in front of me and I can't control the sudden sense of loss that fills me.
I first discovered the art of painting when I was ten-years-old and happened upon an old book at school. The pictures were small and a little yellowed, but I was still awed. Tréy Metticanni's art—magical pieces that made you feel like the paint was alive, even when looking at it from a tattered book—changed something inside of me forever.
It was the first time I felt resentment at being born in District 12.
I had always been content with my life, but that all changed after seeing how lucky Capitol-born Tréy Metticanni was.
If only because I would never be given the opportunity to explore the creative boundaries like he did. I would never be able to hold a paintbrush and feel the thrill of the first stroke on a fresh canvas.
Here, stuck in dismal District 12, I'd never be able to get anything I yearned for.
My mother's shrill voice breaks my concentration, the cake I was placing in the window teeters dangerously before steadying on the display.
"Peeta," my mother calls, annoyed. "Hurry up, the water is getting cold!"
As I step into the deep tub, I shiver. The water has already lost its warmth. I wash quickly with the molded bar of soap we use only for special occasions.
Stepping out I quickly pull on the stiff, uncomfortable clothes my mother set out for me. The collar rubs against my neck tightly. Yet another hand-me-down.
Toweling my hair dry, I comb it so that it lays flat. Glancing in the mirror, I try once more to loosen the tight collar choking me. It barely moves, and I sigh defeatedly, before joining my family downstairs.
The walk to market square usually only takes a few minutes, but with the crowd so large it takes nearly twenty. My father signs our names into the book of signatures to ensure we don't get a call from the Peacekeepers tonight.
We wait on the outskirts of the crowd for Peder and Miri. My father stands with one hand on Pekar's shoulder and the other hand on my arm. I can feel him shaking.
"It's fine, father. We'll make it through," I say confidently, smiling at him.
Pekar grins. "Even if I am picked, I'd win for sure," he says, flexing his arms dramatically. "I mean, look at me."
"All I see is weak little baby arms," my brother Peder calls out as he and Miri walk hand in hand toward us.
Pekar, faking offense, shoves Peder.
"Pekar," my mother yells. "Don't push your brother!"
Pekar rolls his eyes at me, and I smile knowingly.
As my mother fawns over Peder and Miri's belly, my father walks up to us again.
"It's almost time, boys." He tries to smile. "We should get moving soon."
I nod, only partially listening.
Miri escapes from my mother and gives us both a hug, her pregnant stomach getting in the way. "I'll see you both tonight at dinner, right?" she asks sternly.
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Pekar says with a wink.
Peder walks up behind Miri, wrapping his arms around her waist. "Pekar, stop flirting with my pregnant wife. It's just embarrassing. Oh, and don't be late, I'm starving already."
Miri slaps him lightly on the arm. "We just ate! Not even twenty minutes ago. How can you already be hungry?"
"Alright boys, time to go," my father says quietly, his mouth twisted in a worried line, unkowningly interrupting Peder's indingnant response.
Miri hugs us once more before moving to stand next to my mother.
"Good luck," Peder calls, following his wife. "See you tonight."
My father pats us both on the shoulder before sending us back into the crowd. We work are way through to the roped off section in front of the stage.
Pekar turns to me. "We'll both make it through. I'm not worried," he says, though his usual care-free smile is clouded.
"Of course we will," I assure him. "Miri would kill us if we didn't make it to her supper."
He laughs his loud laugh, and nods in agreement. "That she would," he waves before turning and walking into the section marked off for the eighteen-year-olds.
My attention is drawn to the stage that has been resurrected in front of the Justice Building. The twin glass balls glare ominously in the sunlight. I shudder when thinking about how many slips of paper read her name.
Too many, my thoughts tell me. Way too many.
As if on cue, she walks into our section. My breath catches as I look at her. I've never seen her in a dress before. Past Reapings, she's always just donned a skirt and blouse. I feel my heart pounding in my chest. She looks amazing.
Mayor Undersee, a tall, nice man, interrupts my thoughts by starting the long, dreary speech of the history of Panem. My eyes are once again drawn to the stage. Effie Trinket, the rather eccentric Capitol escort with shocking pink hair and an equally shocking green suit is perched elegantly next to an empty chair.
I can't stifle the laughter that comes from the sight. Of course Haymitch, the only living District 12 winner, is late.
Just as I finish my thought, he walks on stage. His intoxication is obvious to anyone with eyes as he trips into his seat after attempting to hug Effie Trinket.
The Mayor, looking quite embarrassed, talks loudly over the chuckling. "Now, it's my pleasure to introduce, District 12's escort—Effie Trinket!"
The look of disgust on her face as she walks past Haymitch is poorly disguised behind a smile.
"Happy Hunger Games!" She cries out enthusiastically once she reaches the podium. "And may the odds be ever in your favor!" She puts a hand to her hair, as if checking to make sure it's still there. After righting it she then proceeds to tell us what an honor it is to be here. Yeah right. It's pretty obvious she's wished to be in another district since they first landed her with ours a couple years back.
I notice Gale. He's staring in my direction, and I turn to see that he is looking at her, and she is staring back. They seem to be talking silently. They're faces identical masks of worry for the other.
It hits so suddenly that I barely register the blinding jealousy that fills me.
She'll never look at me like that, my thoughts rage.
I'm so deep in my sudden despair that I barely notice that Effie Trinket is now digging around in the girl's bowl. I come back to reality just as she walks back to the podium.
She clears her throat and announces in a loud, cheerfully happy voice: "Primrose Everdeen."
For all of one second, I rejoice in the fact that it's not her. It's not her. Then one second later it hits me.
I look over at her. She's frozen in shock, looking almost winded.
"Prim!" She shouts, then possessed by shock and grief, she streaks past me, and shoves her sister behind her. It's then that I hear the words that cause my world to fall broken around me.
"I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!"
A/N: So I hope you liked it. Should I continue or no?