A/N: Written for Our District 13 "Missing Moments Challenge". Rated for adult language.
Miche – [mich] an old term used to mean a plump, round loaf of bread
Rye – any of various breads made entirely or partly with rye flour
Pita – [pee-tuh] small round bread that can open into a pocket for filling
Miche & Rilee
I glance at the box he's carrying, thinking he dropped it. It's still cradled safely in his arms. He's staring up at the ceiling in the foyer, his jaw slack and hanging open. He needs to pay better attention. There's some breakable stuff in that box. His neck remains craned up toward the ceiling. There's a huge stained glass skylight that sends flickers of orange and yellow throughout the space. Miche's eyes are wide, as is his mouth, as he takes in the impressive sight. Everything here is different from what we're used to, from what we grew up with. I mean, we were never starving. We each had our own bed. But skylights? And stained glass to boot? No. That never would have made sense in our stocky little house. Although, compared to the things I've seen, this is tame. But looking at it from his point of view, I understand his use of the expletive. Yes, holy shit. Holy shit, indeed.
"I mean, God man, you walk past these houses all your life, but you never set foot in one. You never think you'll live in one," he murmurs, still awe-struck.
I set my box down on an odd round table that stands directly beneath the skylight. I don't understand what the purpose is for the table. It sits in the middle of the room doing nothing. You can't eat at it. It's too small to use to play a game or to write on. If anything, it gets in the way of traffic. It's pointless. Half the furniture in the house is pointless.
"Who says you're living here?" I ask as I take the box from Miche. I don't trust him not to drop it. His mouth is still wide open.
"You wouldn't take me in, little brother?" he pleads jokingly. He follows me as I walk into the kitchen.
"You have a house," I remind him.
"Yeah, but ten of my houses could fit in this house." He's exaggerating. This house isn't that big. Sure, it's one of the most impressive pieces of architecture Twelve has to offer, but this is equivalent to a cardboard box compared to the Capitol.
"I don't want to live with you and your wife," I mutter. Only married seven months. Newlyweds. Ugh. The word makes my stomach churn.
"Yeah, I guess I don't want you around either," he says automatically as a playful jab. Both of us freeze. There is a definite and empty pause that follows. His teasing smile falls into a distasteful frown. We're brothers. We always give each other a hard time. The Games touched parts of my life I never even thought of. Miche clears his throat. He moves on without addressing the silence. "Well, what about Rilee? Are you going to leave him to live with Mom and Dad?"
"Am I moving in, too?" Rilee calls out as he enters the room with three boxes. The box at the top of the stack wavers precariously as the weight throws his balance off. He's either trying to show off or he's trying to get done with this chore as quickly as possible; no matter how bad a job he does in the process.
"No. You're not," I say unapologetically as I open up one of the boxes.
He grunts as he sets his stack of boxes on the floor. Lift with your knees, idiot. "Why not?" he asks while rubbing his lower back.
"I just dislike you in general," I scoff. I begin pulling out items and setting them on the counter. Cookie cutters, a rolling pin, colanders, a glass mixing bowl—thankfully, not busted—and a few spatulas to name a few. A strange assortment of items for a guy my age to have; even stranger considering they were all gifts from my mom. They were really just additional items for the bakery's use disguised as presents. Even birthdays had to have a sense of practicality to them. At least we always had a cake.
"Why is the youngest one always such a brat?" Rilee whines.
"Because his older brothers were never willing to share with him."
"I shared with you."
"Please. Only when mom was around and only when it made you look good." He was always playing for mom's affections, and it usually worked. He was the only one of us who got coins on his birthday.
"Speaking of siblings," Miche interrupts, ignoring the biting nature of our insincere argument. "When do we get to meet our new little sister?"
"What do you mean?" I hedge. I know what he's talking about. For God's sake, it's cruelly obvious. And a few days ago, I would have been excited to answer the question.
"Uh, you're 'star-crossed lover?'" he needlessly explains. I cringe. There's something disturbing about my older brother saying the word "lover".
"I don't know," I answer vacantly. I haven't seen her in days, though she hasn't been out of my thoughts for a second. Even when I make an attempt to stop thinking about her, she's always there. She's been there for years. In all that time I mutually hated it and enjoyed it. Enjoyed it because she is beautiful and special and I knew once I got to know her all my unfounded reasons for caring about her would be validated. I was so sure. That's the thing though, I was sure, but I didn't know her then. That's why I hated it. It was my own fault, my own cowardice, and I cursed myself over and over for not manning up and just saying something to her. A simple, "hello! How are you? How did you do on that history paper?" How many times did I run that scenario in my head only to never act on it? I have to admit, I was never sure how she'd respond. In my wildest imagination I thought of her hiding behind her books shyly, concealing her seldom seen smile. Then she'd blush when I offered to walk her home. I knew even from only observing her, it was far more likely she would have scowled in confusion, rolled her eyes at me, and politely pushed all my advances away. She wouldn't have even understood I was making advances. Fate seemed to have intervened on my behalf, but what I have now, this is worse. I know her now. And she knows me. She knows everything. This is the first time in my life I wish that wasn't true. It didn't make a god damn difference.
"She's busy with her family right now," I lie. Well, it might not be a lie. I have no idea if she's busy with her family or not. There's no reason to think she wouldn't be busy with her family. We just came home. That's who she'd want to spend time with.
Rilee peers out the window that faces the house next door. "Looks like she's moving in, too," he observes. A couple houses down there are some guys about my age moving boxes in, just like the three of us are doing. I vaguely recognize the guys; probably kids from the Seam that I've seen in school. I don't see her anywhere.
"You'll be right down the street from your girl. That'll be nice, huh?"
"Yeah," I agree. I struggle to throw them a smile, but I am successful. I can smile on command with the best of them.
"Just try and stay out of trouble," Miche warns, speaking from experience. He was caught more than once breaking curfew by his father-in-law while he and his wife were going out.
Don't worry, Miche. Not much chance of that.
I open one of the upper cabinets to put the mixing bowls away. The shelves are already filled with bright white ceramic bowls with an intricate braid pattern along the edge. The next cabinet is filled with matching dinner plates; the next with coordinating glasses and mugs. I open a drawer, already predicting it will be filled with ornate silverware. It is. They shine in a way that things from District 12 simply should not. Why are the cabinets already filled? They couldn't have been while the house sat unoccupied. The stuff would have been stolen for sure. In fact, all the furniture would be looted as well. They must have furnished it right after the Games concluded. They must have assumed I would not want to bring any of my belongings with me. I can see why. My well-used mixing utensils look worn and shabby compared to these items. Nothing I own will fit in here. All the space in the world and nothing fits.
"I guess I could have left all this at home, huh? Maybe you should just take it back with you."
"No way!" Rilee barks. "We moved it all the way over here. We're not taking it back."
"Let's take a break," Miche adds. He hasn't done much work, but neither has Rilee or me. Most of the boxes are still outside.
We all take a seat at the kitchen table. It's nestled next to a set of three large bay windows. Even my brothers, who grew up in town, look out of place within all this luxury. Their clothes aren't coated in coal dust, but they are decorated with grease stains and burn marks. They're faded from numerous washings. It's evidence of a lifetime of hard work even at our age. They look like my wooden spatulas in a crystal mixing bowl. It's all wrong. I shift in my chair, knowing I look like I fit in. Portia left me with a trunk of new clothes. My denim trousers are clean and my button down is bright blue, though I've mucked it up some from packing and moving. Do my brothers see the difference between us? Whether I'm comfortable with this house or not is irrelevant. I'm a victor. This is where victor's live.
I can change things for my brothers though. Along with the honor of being a victor, I have money; more money then I know what to do with. My mother is so excited about it. She was happy to see me, I think. She did the mother thing when we came in on the train. She hugged and kissed me. She patted my back and beamed proudly. She ate and drank to excess at the banquet at the mayor's house while bragging about everything she would have now. It was because my mother couldn't stop talking about the money and the house that I knew she was proud of me. To her, love means keeping food in your belly and a roof over your head. I would be able to ensure those things for my entire family now, which meant I was something to be proud of. That same night, I noticed Mrs. Everdeen sat quietly and chatted with Madge's mother, periodically squeezing Katniss' hand and asking if she felt well. Katniss' new wealth never came up in her conversation.
I adjust my leg underneath the table. Still getting used to it. Still getting used to not being able to wiggle my toes anymore. Everyone else is still getting used to seeing it.
"So, how's the new leg?" Miche asks carefully.
"It's an adjustment." It's really not bad, preferable to being dead. The rate at which I was able to walk again was pretty phenomenal. Had it happened here, as it often does in the mines, I would be stuck in a chair for the rest of my life and a burden to my family. My mother would have hated me if that were the case. She hates any poor, unfortunate thing that needs a little charity.
"You seem to getting around pretty well."
"That's the Capitol for you. They can fix up just about anything." They can destroy just about anything, too.
That awkward silence falls around us once again. We should have so much to say to one another. We were separated for weeks. I have so many stories, even ones not directly related to the Games, that I could share. They would really enjoy hearing about the appearances of some of those Capitol residents—what with their multi-colored hair styles and dyed skins. But the words don't come. I know I'm behaving the wrong way. I'm supposed to be normal. Better than normal. I'm supposed to be happy, in love, and celebrating the fact that I'm alive. I've been acting the right way when I've been in public—then again, I wasn't always acting. But when I'm here, in this extravagant house filled with items I'll never use or appreciate, with my brothers, who will never understand what I went through to get it, there's nothing I want to say. Nothing that will make a difference.
"What do you think you'll do now?" Rilee cuts into the tense silence.
"Aren't the victors supposed to have random job or talent or something?"
"Maybe I could work on my soccer skills," I say flatly while adjusting my leg again.
"You could learn how to cook. Become a chef. You already know how to bake," Miche suggests.
I immediately shake my head at the idea. I don't want to be surrounded by food all the time. It will make me think about when I was most hungry and all those who are still hungry.
"What about all that doodling you do?" Rilee interjects.
"Yeah, you were always scratching away with your pencils, drawing stuff. Mom would throw them out and tell you do your homework." Most parents hang up their kids' artwork. My mother threw it all away. "That's something useless you could spend your free time learning," Rilee teases. He's right, in a way. Most of the talents the victors learn are something impractical, something only the people of the Capitol who have disposable income can appreciate. I wonder what Haymitch's talent was when he won the Games? Maybe his goal was to be a wine and spirits expert and he's still in training.
I never took drawing seriously and my mother always insisted it was a waste of time. That's why my dad lets me decorate the cakes. He knew that I enjoyed it and would find ways to let me do the things I liked without upsetting Mom. He did that with all of us. Miche is the smartest of the three of us and likes to read; so Dad assigned him to watch the shop when it wasn't busy. Miche could easily read with no customers around and without getting hit with a spoon for being lazy. Rilee likes games so Dad made up guessing games he could play while they'd knead the dough. That's what my father did. He gave. While my mother frugally kept every penny, crumb, or scrap of fabric she could, my father gave it away. Not always blatant hand-outs of course; you can't do that and hope to survive, but he would take the lesser in a trade, he'd "accidently" include an extra cookie. For a long time I thought a baker's dozen meant sixteen. I don't know what parts of my mother's personality I inherited. I try hard to not see her in myself. I will be proud to be half the man my father is. I wonder if he saved any of my drawings. One thing is certain; my mother would hate it if I spent my days drawing. Sometimes I like to do things my mother hates.
"I'll think about it," I finally say.
Quiet surrounds us once again. It's not like the house in town that's constantly bustling with people and merchants. Someone yells something outside the window—something about finishing up. The Everdeens must be all moved in. It took them even less time than it did me. Ten of one of the houses from the Seam might actually fit in here.
In the distance, I can see Prim Everdeen gracefully walk into her new house carrying a scruffy ball of fur which must be a housecat. She's wearing a white summer dress that looks nice against her pale skin. Her bright yellow hair reflects the sunshine that's fading away with the dusk. She fits into the lifestyle easily. Mrs. Everdeen follows behind holding a large canvas bag. It's probably her medicines; wouldn't want the kids getting their hands near that. Even the homemade stuff is liable to be stolen.
Then I see her. My stomach bottoms out despite what my head already knows. She's staring at the ground as she walks; dressed in the normal clothes she wore to school day after day. She seems pale. Maybe the sight of all this excess is making her sick to her stomach. Her hair is falling out of her braid. She must be stressed. It's obvious to me, as it would be to anyone; she doesn't fit here, not like her sister does. And it's not because her clothes are frayed, she's poor, or that she's from the Seam. It's because this means nothing to her. A fancy house, ornate furniture, glass ceilings, it's all meaningless.
I wish she did care. I wish there was something about her I could hate. I want to hate her. But I can't. I can only hate myself. I hate that I fell for it. I hate that I feel this hurt about something that meant nothing to her. I hate that I'm not right for her. I hate myself because I still want her.
She glances toward my house and pushes her hair back. Barely a second later she rushes into the house and disappears from sight. I wonder what expletives she uttered.
Miche leans forward onto his elbows and scratches at the stubble on his cheek. "I'm sure you don't want to talk about it," he says lowly.
"Not really," I respond. Truth be told, I've been talking about it for several days now. I've been saying the same preset comments since the Games ended. I didn't begin to despise them until the moment we stepped off the train in Twelve. I suppose it is because prior to that, I thought all those answers were real.
My brothers can sense my loss of interest in this conversation. They can also tell how different I am behaving now compared to what they must have seen on television. Haymitch would scold me. I'm not doing my job. I swore I would protect her, and no amount of self-loathing is going to make me go back on my promise.
"Is there something you want to know?" I ask, trying to sound more upbeat or at least less miserable.
"I suppose to ask you what it was like would be a stupid question," Miche says with a nervous grin.
"It's just what you see on TV." Yes, even they have to believe the lie. I'm not going to endanger them more than they already are. For them, ignorance is best.
"I guess I don't really need to know. I can't imagine being in so much danger, being that close to death."
"I don't want you to know what it's like," I say quietly.
"I understand. I'm sure you want to put it behind you as best you can. And I'll help you do that. We can do the normal things we did before. You can spend as much time with me and Rilee as you need. We're here for you." Rilee nods his head in agreement. Funny, considering how many times he told me I cramped his style. "But, I need to say something."
Silently, I brace myself, unsure of what he's going to say. Is he going to express his disappointment in my hand in killing Foxface and Cato? There aren't too many bakers out there who can say they've murdered someone. Maybe that's what has caused the awkward silences between us. Miche and Rilee don't know how to behave around me anymore, not after the things I've done.
Miche swallows once. He deliberately looks me in the eye. "Peeta, what you did in the Games. It was just unbelievable, extraordinary. And not just because you won. You really wanted to protect her, didn't you? You really would have died for her."
So he did believe it. And why shouldn't he? It was real. Despite the editing of the footage, the exploitation, the strategy, and the showmanship, everything I said was true. So does this mean my brothers are impressed by me? Proud of me? I never expected that. What I did is unusual. No one has a noble cause in mind when they take part in the Games. I suppose I was noble, but it was more important to me I go into the Games doing everything I could to prevent being manipulated by the Capitol. I wanted to act on my own free will; especially after they decided my life could be so easily thrown away. If it had been Prim in the Games with me, I would have the same thing. I know my actions were genuine. That's why this reality is so hard to accept. It's why I was so easily fooled. I'm no better than those idiots at the Capitol watching it unfold. I believed it was real, too. Only since we came to Twelve have I been acting. So in the end, I have been manipulated by the Capitol. I have to pretend to keep myself alive. It leaves me feeling sick.
Miche and Rilee look at me expectantly. I run my hand absent-mindedly over the edge of the table. "Yes. I'd do anything for her," I say barely above a whisper. I have to say it. For one, because it's part of the continual show. I expect the words to feel empty, but I'm surprised by the rush of honesty I feel in speaking them. I made that promise a long time ago; long before the Games. Back when I first laid eyes on her when we were five years old. Of course, when I was five it meant something very different. I didn't know I would be willing to give my life for her. Once again, I hate myself for holding on to these feelings. I want to let them go, but I don't think it's possible. They've been part of me for most of my life. I'll just have to keep trying. See if anything changes. I can't expect it to change overnight. However, I'm not going to break my promise to her. I'm going to protect her. If the Capitol wants her dead, well then, the only way I'm going to keep from becoming a pawn is to do everything and anything to keep her alive.
I glance to the window again. I feel like staring out my windows is going to become a trend. The sun has gone down and only one window from her house shines with light. Being economical, I'm sure.
"I can't wait to meet her," Rilee says with new excitement.
"Yeah, me too," I mumble. I'm actually not sure when I'm going to be ready for that, if ever. Nevertheless, a smile floats to my mouth when I imagine the scene. Katniss would be so uncomfortable, perhaps more so than when she was facing the Capitol crowds. My brothers would give her a hard time for sure and part of me really wants to see that.
The smile fades quickly because I remember. Despite the unfamiliarity I have with the house, everything is going to make me remember. I don't know how I'm going to stand living here. It's a constant reminder of our victory, of my failure.
She doesn't love me. She never will.