Author: Missi Marie
Rating: T
Warnings: AU
Characters: Peeta, Katniss, Madge
Summary: Peeta is picked for the Reaping. His fellow tribute, Madge. Their mentors, Haymitch Abernathy... and Katniss Everdeen, the only female Victor from District 12. It is the Quarter Quell, To remind us that even the most experienced reinforcements cannot help us...
Author Notes: So, the chapters are on the short side right now, but I've got a lot written for them on the whole. Just bear with me and I'll churn them out when I can.


There was something truly and utterly disturbing about his life. The way something horrible and terrifying makes you laugh in uncontrollable hysterics instead of the all-consuming fear that paralyzes you. The thing he wanted most—more than anything in his life—was given to him... for the small cost of the thing he wished would never happen.

He finally got the chance to talk to Katniss Everdeen...

...the day his name was pulled from the glass bowl at the Reaping.

He hadn't been paying attention. Why should he really? His name had been placed in the bowl a mere six times. Compared to many of the Seam kids, he was practically in the clear. Of course, this sort of comfort didn't offer much and even with the odds in his favor he should have known that it was just as possible for his name to get pulled out of that glass bowl as anyone else's. After Primrose Everdeen, everyone was reminded of that.

Even so, his focus had been snatched early on by the deep, faded red of Katniss' dress as she walked onto the stage with Effie Trinket and Haymitch Abernathy. It was a modest dress with a square cut neck and long sleeves that were tight at the wrists with little brass buttons in a four-button line. The dress got tighter at her waist, but even with the wealth of a Victor, she was still too slim, her ribs showing through the fabric. It dropped after her hips into long folds of fabric that hit past her knees. She hadn't bothered with little girl shoes or dainty party shoes. Her boots were fine enough in her opinion and she wore them comfortably, despite what was probably a big mistake in terms of fashion.

There was a touch of gold pinned above her left breast. Her token from her Games. She stroked it as the first name was called.

Marguerite Undersee.

Peeta knew her. Everyone knew her. She was the mayor's daughter and had her name in that bowl as few times as Peeta's own. The odds actually had been in her favor, yet still she had to march forward onto the stage and stare into the crowd with an ashen face that made her hair look like lengths of liquid gold too hot for handling.

Katniss knew her, too. Madge had been the one to give her the pin that she now stroked.

The pain in her eyes was flickering, muted down by cameras and bright lights and the terrible familiarity of doing this all before. She didn't get up to hug the girl, didn't offer a show of sympathy or even understanding. No, Katniss only sat there stroking that gold pin, because ultimately, there was nothing she could do.

So when Peeta's name was drawn and announced to a crowd that murmured of the strangeness of two Merchant children names being called, it was odd to see pain flicker in Katniss' eyes a second time. Pain that lingered and etched a frown in her face as her body stiffened.

They were not friends. Nothing was between them besides seventeen years of living in the same district. Words did not pass freely amongst them, smiles were not offered openly... there was nothing save a few vivid memories in their childhood that Peeta could not forget.

Things Katniss probably didn't even notice, much less remember.

He didn't have an answer for the panic that seemed to swell inside her, and it wasn't as though he could ask about it. All he could do was shuffle one leaden foot in front of the other and pray that he made it onto the stage without crumbling beneath the weight of death that settled upon his shoulders.

Yes, now he would finally get to talk to Katniss Everdeen.

She was watching him, everyone was watching him go up onto the stage. Because no one was going to volunteer for him or for Madge. Their futures were sealed with the Reaping. He saw his father in the crowd, sorrow clear as day on his face, standing next to Peeta's mother. There was pain in her expression, but it was mixed with other things, like a grocery list that included milk, bread, butter, and chocolate truffles. Maybe they could all be purchased at the same place, but putting them on that list made them all of equal importance.

To his mother, Peeta's imminent death was just as important as reworking the schedule with him gone, of ordering the necessary supplies to make up for what was used for the 'celebration' that went with the reaping, of wondering whether they could afford to not work the single hour he was going to have before leaving District 12 for what was probably forever.

She didn't mean to be cruel, she just didn't know how not to be.

Peeta reached the stage, made it up the steps, and shook Madge's hand. Then they stood apart, because no two tributes from Twelve would ever make a show of solidarity again. From this moment on, they couldn't really be friends, even if they were.

There was no applause, Twelve had ceased that 'tradition' the day Katniss Everdeen stood upon the stage, braver than any tribute had ever been.

The crowd was silent as Effie Trinket adjusted her blue wig and squeaked out her excitement for the Quarter Quell. Peeta tuned her out, distracted by the sense of Katniss' eyes burning into his back. He didn't know for sure that she was staring at him... but he felt that she was.

Why was it only now that she could stare at him?

They had spoken before. Or at least, Peeta had attempted to speak to her once after her Hunger Games victory. What he had been planning on telling her was... he had no idea what it was. He just wanted to offer her something, a hand extended in friendship and care, but he couldn't think of anything. So when she answered the door with a haunted look on her face, hair hanging in limp, unwashed clumps, gray eyes staring out on the verge of madness, he couldn't get a word out.

She looked terrible. She looked beautiful. She looked on the verge of death.

So he did the only thing he could think of. He offered her the loaf of bread in his hands and then turned and walked away. After that, still no words passed between them, but something had changed. Katniss had returned to the world of the living, spreading around the wealth that came with being a Victor. Her family moved in with her and while that was probably the real reason for the change, Peeta couldn't help the butterflies in his stomach that told him it was the bread.

She was still alive then.

They were escorted into the Justice Building, splitting in two directions to be left alone in separate rooms while their families were permitted visitation for the next hour. Peeta waited several moments before his father entered the room, face pale and drawn. His mother came in next, with his brothers behind him. His father opened his mouth, prepared to say something, but seemed to lose the words at the last moment. Instead, he just shook his head and hugged his son.

Peeta knew the hug was an "I love you, son," "do your best," and "come home." Unrealistic expectations. Peeta was glad his father hadn't been able to voice them out loud, it gave Peeta the chance to escape making promises he couldn't keep.

His mother sat beside him, a frown on her face. "The bakery will be fine."

Maybe it was meant to be comforting—in a way, it even was, to know that his absence would go mostly unnoticed—but he couldn't help the wish that she would, just this once, tell him that she would miss him.

His brothers offered words of encouragement and hugs for luck. A couple of kids from his school came when his family left, and then it seemed he would be alone for the last ten minutes. Until the door opened one last time and a pair of tiny feet escorted a tiny girl into the room.

Primrose Everdeen was blonde like her mother, with a fairer skin than her sister, and bright hopeful eyes.

"I like your cookies," she told him and gave him a hug. "My sister will bring you home."

When she left, he allowed himself the smallest of smiles, because she had meant what she said about Katniss, even if he didn't think anyone could bring him home anymore.

Peeta had never actually traveled by train before. No one had, really. It was a privilege offered only to Victors and Tributes and District 12 was hardly known for its returning tributes. So the only ones from home who had been on the train before were Haymitch, who was currently drunk off his ass and making inappropriate moves towards Effie, and Katniss.

She was sitting in a chair, staring out the window as the outside flashed by them in a blur. Peeta couldn't tell if she was really engrossed with the outside world or if she was just too tired of dealing with the inside one.

Madge was at the table were Effie was ignoring Haymitch to tell the girl that she was "the prettiest little thing District 12 had ever given to the Capitol!" Madge was smiling politely, but didn't seem to be paying close attention, no doubt distracted by her very obvious mortality. Originally, Peeta had been sitting next to Madge, listening to Effie rave about finally getting two pretty candidates with such wonderful manners and how she hadn't seen such lovely contestants since that young Gale who had been just gorgeous...

At the mention of the dead tribute, Peeta had to get up. Because he wanted to tell Effie that Gale hadn't been half as gorgeous as Katniss. That even Madge—her blonde hair and fair skin, her feminine curves—couldn't compare to the strength Katniss had inside her.

And he had a feeling that blurting all of that to the entire car was a very poor idea.

So he got up and moved to sit opposite Katniss. He mimicked her, turning his head to look out the window, but he wasn't watching the scenery. Instead, his eyes were focused on the reflection of her blank face in the clear glass.

She had no idea what she did to him.

A/N: Let me know what you think!