AN: So I'm going to write a Peeta/Delly fic. That's right, I'm telling you now: Katniss and Peeta will not end up together. I'm telling you that now because I don't want any confusion about the direction of the story in that regard. This is going to be sort of long, and I don't want you wasting your time if this isn't the story you want. I personally wasn't satisfied by the end of Mockingjay, so I'm doing my own thing and writing Delly's story. It's an AU. Things are going to change. Some things will stay by the book and some things will depart completely. So if you're super protective of Collins' work, you should probably stop here. But if you found yourself, like me, thinking that maybe Peeta deserved someone who could love him a little better than Katniss could, read on!
Silver Bells and Cockle Shells
by Shiloh P. Rose
Chapter One: Not The Best of Beginnings
I have a gap between my two front teeth. I'm told it's endearing. It's not very large. I mean that it could be worse. When I'm talking you don't even notice. When I'm smiling, your eyes somehow brush right over it and, were you asked, 'Did you notice that gap?' you would unfailingly answer 'Of course not.' You can only really see it when I'm in that mood between happiness and concern, when my mouth just opens a little bit and you notice that the pink of my lips seems to connect between my teeth. I'm told I scowl when I think, that the gap is extremely obvious then, and so I do my best to not think.
But sometimes, in a quiet moment, I'll realize my tongue is pressing against the gap between my teeth, and then I'll think about the gap. Which, as I've said, makes it even more noticeable.
I'm sorry to say I was thinking about this conundrum when the first bomb fell.
I was working at our family's garden plot, one of several in an acre of land just outside of town where town families could pay a fee to rent a few square yards. Ours was predominantly vegetables, like most of the plots, though I'd always planted some of my favorite flowers, to keep fresh cut bouquets on our kitchen table. Flowers are one of the few luxuries you can grow, so why not?
I'd like to say I was working in the garden because I felt a vested interest in my family's dinner that night. That was part of it, I suppose, because our dinner did matter. But mostly I was working in the garden because it was supposed to be quiet there. It wasn't supposed to be quiet at home, where the TV had provided the background noise to my childhood, my wake up call, my good night story, my anchor for sanity on every cold and rainy afternoon. Everyone had to watch during the Games, but my father kept it on constantly. The only times the set was off were between the hours of 11 pm and 5 am, when there wasn't any programming.
Now there wasn't any programming period. We'd been abandoned by the capitol, left to our own devices. Or maybe left to die.
About a week before, the Peace Keepers had disappeared, packing into train cars like rats fleeing a burning building. The railroad tracks had carried them into the forest, back to the Capitol or maybe to another District that needed them.
If walking around town without the constant footsteps of Peacekeepers wasn't eery enough, the next morning, TV programming didn't start at 5 am. My father sat on the couch in front of the set as I prepared breakfast. The screen remained black. He kicked the set and scratched his head. As the rest of the town woke up, it became apparent that it wasn't just our set not working. The Mayor assured everyone it must be a temporary outage in the Capitol and went to place a call that, rumor has it, just rang and rang and rang.
The next day, the radio that we'd turned on to fill the silence left by the TV went dead.
The day after that, the phones stopped.
For the three days following, a silence had settled over District 12 like a heavy blanket. Most people stopped leaving their homes, nervous at change when life had been so painfully consistent for so long. A few ventured out to demand answers from the mayor or lurk threateningly around the market, the butcher, the bakery, any place with food stores. It was like the first time your parents leave you home alone. At first you keep expecting them to turn because they forgot something, but as time passes without them reappearing, you beginning to feel adult and powerful. You can do anything you want and there's no one there to see.
Parents always come home, though. Our family wasn't about to get involved in anything we could get blamed for later. So my parents, my brother and I kept our noses down and our hands clean and went about business as usual as the silence filled with low murmurs and the crowds pacing around shops with food grew denser.
As I've mentioned, for reasons I don't understand, I clearly remember that I was tonguing the gap in my tooth when the bomb dropped. I didn't recognize it as a bomb at first, of course. The ground shook, I felt a blast of hot air and then heard the faint tinkling of glass. My fear that the mob had finally blown up the bakery brought me to my feet. Far off in the distance, it felt like - but it couldn't have been that far - clouds of smoke were drifting up to the sky. The bomb must have made a noise when it exploded but I can't say that I remember it.
Within seconds, another explosion happened, this time to my left, close enough that it knocked me off my feet. I felt the heat on my skin so sharply that I thought I'd caught on fire, but when I slapped at my arms there were no flames.
Then, delayed for whatever reason, the screams finally started. I didn't instantly recognize the noise I was hearing as screams. Truly terrified or grief-stricken screams don't sound like any noise that a human being could possibly make. They punctuated the short silences between the exploding buildings.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this had all been carefully planned. The way the Peacekeepers fled like rats from a burning barn. The way everything was cut off so we'd have no idea what was happening in other districts, or what was coming for us.
The way the electric fence was left on, as though someone had forgotten to flip a switch.
But this is all hindsight. At the time, all I could think was "Bombs! Death!" and "Ali!" My little brother, my baby brother with the dark curls and the sapphire eyes, had gone to play with a friend at the far end of town where the road turned off into the Seam. That was on exactly the opposite side of the bombs.
I can't give you a play-by-play. Probably that's for the best, because either you've seen what it's like and it would be too painful to remember, or you've never seen it and you would not be able to understand. The bombs continued to fall from aircraft that hovered overhead. Chaos had broken out downtown. People poured from buildings, as though being in the streets was any safer. Buildings erupted before you heard the bomb even hit, glass and brick raining down on the mobs. It was impossible to hear or see, but still everyone raced around blindly, knocking each other over, screaming for their loved ones.
I was no different. I don't think it even occurred to me that I could get hurt. I just had to find Ali. Running, yelling for my brother, I turned this way and that, pushing through the crowds, ignoring the kicks, shoves, and punches of desperate people.
An elbow hit me in the eye and knocked me to the ground. The crowd immediately closed over me as people scrambled over my body, knocking the breath out of me. A solid stomp on my left hand left me howling in pain. I couldn't even move enough to pull my arm into my chest.
Suddenly, someone grabbed my other wrist and pulled me to my feet, nearly wrenching my arm out of the socket.
Gale Hawthorne. I had two connections with Gale, one of which took clear priority at the moment. Ali had run off with Gale's sister Posy to play this morning.
"Do you know how to turn the fence off?"
What an absurd question to ask. No one knew how to turn the fence off. An electric fence isn't much good if it can just be turned off willy-nilly.
Besides, I didn't care about the fence at the moment. I cared about my brother. I started to repeat this as the crowd tried to pull me away. A nearby building erupted. Gale and I both ducked down beneath the tide of heads to avoid the falling debris.
"He's with my family," Gale assured me, holding on so I wouldn't be swept away. "But we have to get out of here. We have to find someone who can turn off the fence!"
Somewhere in the back of my mind, a sudden memory. A slumber party at Madge's house when we were nine. Too much candy, too much cake. Everyone was asleep except the two of us. I couldn't sleep in a strange house and Madge didn't want to sleep while anyone was still awake, even if it was just Delly Cartwright. 'Want to see something cool?' she'd asked. I'd never been cool, so I agreed. A trip down the stairs. A code typed in.
A second code to turn off the fence.
What was the code?
I must have been yelling his name because Gale stopped yelling at other people, grabbed my face and pressed it against his so I could yell in his ear, "I think I can do it."
"Turn the fence off?"
"Yes." I wasn't so sure, but I sounded awfully sure. "There's a code in the basement-"
"Just go!" He pulled me back up, gave me a shove, and disappeared.
Everything up until this point couldn't have been more than a couple of minutes. I can't imagine it had been five minutes since the first bomb dropped but already the screams were mixing with wails as bodies began to get recognized. I closed my ears, held my good arm out in front of me, and ran towards the mayor's house.
Or what was left of it. Half of the house was missing; the other half was buried beneath the rubble. The door to the basement was directly in the middle, half hidden by brick rubble I knew I'd never be able to move on my own, especially with one hand.
Did I yell for help? Did I command? I have a hard time imaging myself giving orders, but suddenly people were scrambling around me, tugging away the broken furniture, the thick grey stones, the spilled bookcase.
This code was easy. Madge's birthday. I typed in 052257 and the lock inside slid open.
On the other side of the metal door was a bomb shelter. As soon as I opened the door, people in the basement began screaming - Madge and her parents.
I choose to let this part be fuzzy. It was me that opened the door. Because I opened the door, the Undersees were discovered and carried out of the basement by very crowd that had helped me unearth the door. Perhaps that had been their intention all along. But it was me that opened the door.
Katniss later attributed the Undersee's death to the bombing. I'll die before I tell her what people become when they're cornered like rabbits, when they feel death breathing down their neck and are looking in the face of someone they think they can blame. Although I guess she already knows.
The mob running into the basement to get the Undersees and to seek shelter in this metal box knocked me down the stairs but also broke my fall. I scrambled around in the dark looking for the panel I needed.
The box on the wall was smaller than I remembered and I passed it over twice in my frantic grasping before realizing what it was. I flung the door open, my hands shaking. It felt like this was taking forever. Everyone was dying. Everyone was going to die. Every second I took was more people dying. I honestly believed if I could just flip the switch, the bombing would suddenly stop and everyone would be okay.
The code! Madge's birthday had been easy. How was I supposed to remember a twelve digit code from eight years ago?
Mayor Undersee was nice, but he wasn't really any brighter than me. It couldn't be something complicated or he'd never remember it. I tried 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-1 -nothing. I tried 12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3 - nothing. 111111111111 -nothing. 000000000000 -nothing. Still the screams, still the shaking earth, still the whistle and crash of our beautiful district flying to bits.
A little green light next to the code screen turned red.
That had to mean the fence was off.
I didn't wait because it was either off or we were going to die anyway. And if I was going to die, I needed my brother.
But he was safe. My parents were the ones that needed me. Dad got confused easily; Mom rarely left the house. They wouldn't know where to go. Ali was my baby brother . . . but he was at the gate already. Gale had said so. As soon as the buzzing stopped, Posy's mom would get them through. I just needed to get my parents and follow. Could I trust Gale?
I didn't know Gale very well, but I knew him well enough to know he was one of the most trustworthy people I would ever meet.
I shoved past the dozens of people huddled around the basement and scrambled upstairs. It wasn't until I stood in the ruins of the house that I realized the silence. The whistling and exploding was just in my ears.
The air was thick with screams but no bombs. I froze and waited. Five seconds. Thirty. A minute. No bombs. The ships overhead just hung, as though preparing to leave. Was it over?
I moved towards my house, slowly at first, then more quickly. Everyone around me was still, staring at the ships, waiting to see what was going to happen next. But I knew what would happen next. I would run home, find my parents safe inside, and everything would be okay. We'd go retrieve Ali from the woods and maybe stay there.
I reached my house, stopped in front and smiled to see the familiar shoe shop still standing, practically untouched.
In the mere seconds I took to admire the fortune of my home, a half dozen bombs fell from the sky. It was the first chance I'd had to actually see one. They were smaller than I expected, long and cylindrical, but smaller than me. They dropped like water through the roofs of my home, of the milliner and Mr. Allen's pottery shop on either side, and down into the Mellark's bakery behind me.
Seconds passed and nothing happened. If felt like half a minute, but surely couldn't have been more than a couple of seconds in which everything was frozen, everyone still on the street around me waiting.
Then they went off. First the one in Mr. Allen's pottery, blowing out the windows and pushing off the roof. Then the milliner's walls pushed outwards and crumbled as everything inside disintegrated to shards.
Someone grabbed me from behind and tugged me to the side. I crumbled at the pain in my wrist. In that split second I missed the destruction of my own home. I think I saw my mother's frightened face in the window but who really knows. I've been told I have an overactive imagination and I hope that in this case they're right, although it doesn't really change anything. It doesn't really matter what you see when something like this happens; it's what you remember.
For a second I thought it was him crouched over me, gripping my arms. When the bakery blew, he fell on top of me -because of the blast or to protect me from it, I'm not sure. It wasn't him, but his oldest brother, Pann Mellark, that pulled me to my feet.
I was reeling from the explosions but managed to find my voice and yell, "We have to get to the forest."
"It's not on!"
We took off running to the forest on the north end of town because that was the closest point, but I only made it two blocks before I felt myself being pulled back. To this day I can't say why. Just once of those chance things that you can never explain but are forever grateful for. Without saying anything I spun and ran back towards our destroyed homes. For whatever reason, maybe just because he didn't know what else to do, Pann followed.
There, on the front walk of the bakery was Rye Mellark, half buried beneath rubble. Maybe I'd seen him but it didn't register for several minutes? He might have been visible from the spot I'd watched my home blow up.
Quickly, wordlessly, Pann and I shoved the bricks away; I had to kick some of the larger ones. Rye was conscious but his ankle was twisted at a funny angle that made my stomach churn.
Almost without rush, we helped him to his feet, throwing his arms around our shoulders. As we hobbled past, the rest of my home collapsed in on itself. Is it selfish to hope that the blast had already killed my parents?
There were bodies everywhere. I can't tell you how many, because I didn't see them distinctly. I just recognized that they were there and kept going. I was tiny next to tall, lanky Rye, and the pain from my hand was making my head swim, but we had to go on, so we did.
By the time we reached the furthermost block of town, two, maybe three dozen people had fallen in with us. Apparently we looked like we knew what we were doing and that was something people could latch onto. A momentary fear stole through me that the fence would still be on. If it was, then Ali- but it wasn't. Another man grabbed the wire without hesitating and was fine.
A temporary pause in the bombing led to another eery silence as our group of people pried the fence open with our bare hands and gripped it apart for each other to scramble through.
We had almost all made it through the fence when the next volley happened. Not bombs this time, though. Just bullets. Hundreds of thousands of bullets shot so quickly and from such a height that you couldn't see where they were coming from or going to. The only sound they made was the soft thunk when they hit the ground. I don't think I would even have known what it was if several people in our group hadn't collapsed as we all sprinted for the cover of trees.
I turned to see who had fallen and judge whether I could help them but Rye dug his fingers into my shoulder and pulled me along as much as I was pulling him along. I don't know who they were; they could have been my own parents and I was so busy helping Rye that I didn't even notice. I felt like I'd betrayed those fallen people by not at least noticing who they were.
Our group moved as quietly as possible deeper into the woods, gradually slowing as the adrenaline left our bodies and our weary muscles rebelled. Every twig snap made us jump. Some guy I didn't know took my place helping Rye, leaving me to try and see through the trees for anyone else who'd managed to escape.
We couldn't be the only ones. Gale had said Ali would be safe. He'd promised, hadn't he? And though I barely knew Gale Hawthorne, everything he'd ever promised me had come true, even when he hadn't meant it . . .
It could have been five minutes, or fifteen minutes, or half an hour after we'd crawled through the fence before anyone finally spoke.
"Where do we go now, Fearless Leader Cartwright?" Rye was in so much pain that I hardly recognized his voice. I glanced around and realized we were all pretty unrecognizable. Except for the guy I didn't know, who must have come from the Seam, we were all townies. What were a bunch of townies going to do in the woods? And under the leadership of me? Had I somehow fooled them all into thinking I knew what the hell I was doing? All I cared about was finding Ali. The thought that something might have happened to him made my throat close and my stomach churn.
He had to be all right. I would be able to feel it if my baby brother were dead, just the way I could feel that my parents were lost to me forever. Two-thirds of my world were gone, but one-third was left and I had to find that one-third somewhere in this forest, a strange landscape that none of us had ever even been in, much less tried to survive in. And my hand felt like it was on fire, to boot.
They were still all looking at me for a plan. No one ever looked to me for a plan. I was silly little Delly Cartwright. I was cute and silly and useless for anything other than a listening ear or a good laugh. Good at shining shoes and not much else.
'Everything for everyone,' my mother had once called me. Malleable, eager to please, spineless - it just depended who you asked. Right now, what everyone needed was a voice of reason, something to do, a reason to keep walking.
What would Katniss do?
"We need to find water," I said. "Then we can worry about food. There are others out here. We're likely to find them at water."
"How do you know there's anyone else?" Mira asked. She'd been a secretary in city hall. Her stockings were torn and she didn't have shoes.
I'd learned as a little girl that people will believe just about anything if you say it with a confident smile. So I gave her my brightest smile and insisted, "Because Gale and I had a plan. We need to go north until we find water."
I could tell which way was north because of where the sun was in the sky. I knew how to do this from watching the Games. The Capitol and the Games had taken everything from me now, everything except my brother. It seemed fitting that the Capitol would have accidentally taught me how to find my brother. Maybe we weren't so ill-equipped. Maybe everything we'd learned from being required to watch the Games would be enough to keep us alive.
If this doesn't sound like the Delly Cartwright you've heard of, there's good reason for that. But that day, at least, I surprised even myself and survived. Turns out there was a bit of a survivor in me after all.
AN: Have questions? Of course you do. But just go with me here and all things will make sense eventually. I have something like 4-5 chapters of this bad boy written, so I'll post the next one probably this weekend.