Disclaimer: The Hunger Games series belongs to Suzanne Collins. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: Hey, thanks for checking out my little one shot! I apologize in advance if it's not up to par cause it's my first time writing fanfic in years. (Coincidentally, if you enjoy the TV show The Office, I am going to make a shameless plug for myself and tell you to go check out my fics from that genre.)
This particular fic takes place before the series when our dear Hummus and Pita Bread are roughly age 11, and it's told in his POV, third person. Enjoy!
Almost done, Peeta thought to himself as he closed the hot door to the oven. One of the things he enjoyed most about baking was being near the warm fire, especially when the rain came down in icy sheets, as it had all day today. Walking to and from school with it beating down on his back was a nightmare, and Peeta felt lucky that he could just stay tucked inside the cozy bakery all afternoon.
With a small sigh, he sat back down at the kitchen counter and tried to focus on his Literature homework, but whenever he thought of Literature, his mind automatically drifted to her.
It always did this, because they were always inevitably in a class together—with only a hundred or so students in each grade, Peeta shared a class with just about everyone. Sometimes he would get lucky and be assigned to a seat behind her, which would allow him to admire her without making it look too obvious. This was the case with Literature class.
Being inconspicuous when it came to admiring Katniss was a necessity for two reasons: first, although he'd had feelings for her for the better part of six years, he didn't want to face the sting of rejection if she ever did discover that he had a crush on her and she didn't feel the same. That would surely be more painful than Peeta could wrap his mind around, and so it had always been easier to regard her in secret.
The second reason his anonymity was so necessary was his fear of those around him. What would his friends say if they knew he liked a girl from the Seam? They'd humiliate him relentlessly, tease him for slumming it, and the chance he would've had with Katniss or any other girl in District 12 would be gone. And the torture that would come from his mother if she ever found out! She would make the mocking from his friends look like a walk in a meadow. Peeta wasn't sure if she'd beat him for something like that, but he'd ben hit for far less, and so he was almost positive he wouldn't come out of that encounter unscathed.
And so, for those reasons, Peeta had kept his feelings locked tightly inside himself. The only one he had ever breathed a word to about it was his father, who understood the pain of unrequited love…
"Dad?" Peeta, then aged eight, asked for his father's attention. His dad turned to him with a kind smile and crouched lower so he could see Peeta eye-to-eye.
"What is it, son?"
"I have a question for you," young Peeta stammered, embarrassed to inquire about this to his father. "Um… how should I tell a girl that I'm in love with her?"
Peeta's father gave a hearty chuckle and stroked his sandy mane as he replied, "Well, that is a difficult thing to figure out, isn't it? You sure about this girl?" Peeta gave an enthusiastic nod. "Well, what is it that you love about her?"
"Well," Peeta pondered this for a moment. "She's beautiful and brave and kind and—" he stopped himself from saying anymore, because it would give away too much. Peeta quickly sized up his father, deducing whether or not he could divulge this information. With his mother, surely not, but his father had told Peeta secrets that he was sure his mother didn't know, and so he decided he could trust him with this information.
"And?" his father asked, raising an eyebrow.
"And when she sings, even the birds stop to listen."
Peeta's father sighed and looked upon his youngest son in reverence. "Ah, yes, well those are wonderful qualities that the girl you love should possess. I can see why you would want to profess your feelings for her. But why do you want to tell her that you're in love right now?"
"I dunno," Peeta answered, a light blush creeping over his cheeks. "I guess I just can't stand it anymore. I love her and I want her to know it."
"I understand that feeling, son," Peeta's father told him as he looked off into the distance and recalled a far away memory. "Certainly you don't want to wait too long to tell her, or… or else you may miss your chance completely and have to settle for another girl. But trust me when I say that you have plenty of time to tell her. You don't want to say it just for the sake of saying it. It should be a meaningful experience."
"But how will I know when it's meaningful?"
Peeta's father smiled and put a hand on his shoulder. "You will feel unearthly calm and shaken to your core at the same time. That is when you know a moment has true meaning."
The words of his dad echoed in Peeta's mind as he thought of Katniss. It nagged at him that she had become so frail in the past few months since the passing of her own father. He had heard the rumors that her mother couldn't bring herself to even leave their house, and that the threat of a community home was looming over her family. It worried Peeta to no end that the fire in the girl he had loved for all these years could potentially flicker out, and he felt that the time he had left to profess his love for her was slowly depleting.
Maybe knowing that he loved her would help her to survive… somehow.
All thoughts of Katniss were squandered as Peeta's mother stomped into the room. Peeta quickly buried his head in his book and pretended he was diligently completing his homework. The one thing that was nice about his mother was how heavy-footed she was—as long as he heard her coming, Peeta could get away with his daydreaming.
She hoofed over to the oven and pulled the door open to peer inside. "That multigrain in there?" She asked Peeta.
"No, nut bread. I added raisins to it as well."
"Raisins?" his mother screeched as she shut the door loudly. "I hope you put in the right portions." Peeta didn't dignify his mother with a response; for being the baker's wife, she could barely toast bread.
He had almost begun to actually focus on the book in his hand when he heard his mother suddenly shriek.
"Ahh! You there!" she bellowed as she raced out the door to the backyard. "You get a move on! Do you want me to call the Peackeepers on you! You little brats from the Seam, I am sick of you pawing through my trash!"
Peeta's head jerked up at the word 'Seam;' it had become one of those words that he reflexively reacted to, simply because that was where she lived. He wanted to know about the place she called home, even if it had a reputation for housing the lowest of the low.
He would not have guessed though, that when he looked through the window to see his mother yelling, that she would be yelling at the object of his affections herself. There was Katniss, so weak and defenseless and broken by his mother's words as she held open the lid to their garbage cans, and a swirl of emotions hit him so hard that Peeta wanted to shut his eyes and wake up from this terrible nightmare. But he couldn't close his eyes, not now, not when Katniss was clearly in need. He at least had to make sure his mother didn't lay a hand on her.
When she locked eyes with him, it was like a blow to the stomach. She looked ready to give up, and that frightened Peeta to his very core.
He barely registered his mother slamming the door as she came back into the house, shaking off the excess water from her hair and ordering Peeta to get the bread out of the oven or else it would burn. He could only focus on Katniss as she practically fell behind the pen that housed the family pig. He had never experienced such pain and such fear as he did in that moment, and he felt in his bones that she would surely die if he didn't do something.
But what could be done?
"Are you deaf, boy?" his mother yelled. "Get the damn bread!"
The sadness hit Peeta like a ton of bricks. There was nothing that he could do to save Katniss. Not now, not with his mother right here. As Peeta opened the oven door, he thought about how he would've given her all the fresh loaves of bread that she and her family could ever need, how she would look healthy again, how she could live long enough for him to build up the courage to profess his unconditional and undying love for her. But that was never going to happen. His mother would surely—
Peeta's head snapped up, and his eyes grew wide. In that instant, he knew what he had to do, and how he would suffer for it, and how it didn't matter to him that he suffered. As he reached for the bread peel to fish the loaves out of the oven, his father's words consumed the far reaches of his mind:
"You will feel unearthly calm and shaken to your core at the same time. That is when you know a moment has true meaning."
The bread peel firmly grasped in his hand, Peeta shoved the tool in the oven and knocked the furthest two loaves into the open flame. They knocked against the oven floor with a thud, and Peeta's mother rushed to him in an instant.
"You stupid, sorry excuse for a boy!" she hollered as she grabbed him by the collar and struck him against the cheek with the back of her heavy hand. "That was perfectly fine merchandise you ruined! Fish them out, fish them out!"
Peeta grabbed a pair of tongs and quickly removed each loaf from the oven. Both were charred and black, and as his mother took in the sight of livelihood being jeopardized by incompetence, she smacked her son against the cheek again, this time landing her blow dangerously close to his eye.
"Take them outside!" she shouted after Peeta as he made his way into the icy rain. "Feed it to the pig, you stupid creature! Why not? No one decent will buy burned bread!"
Suddenly, Peeta found himself closer than he had ever been to Katniss, and he stopped short as he was struck with an entirely new fear. What could he possibly say to her now, in this situation? Yes, there was no doubt that this was a meaningful moment, but it would feel so wrong to try and tell her that he loved her now. She surely didn't want him to profess his love when she was at her lowest, and that was not something Peeta wanted either. He began to break off small chunks of a loaf and fed them to the pig, if only to buy him some time to think.
Maybe, instead of telling her that he loved her, he would simply be able to show her. Maybe the bread would be enough to make her see. Another wave of earth-shattering calm washed over him, and he knew this would be his next course of action.
Off in the distance he could hear the light tinkling of the bell on the front door of the bakery, as well as his mother's grumbling as she made her way back inside. He quickly glanced over his shoulder to see that she had indeed gone to tend to the customer, and then tossed a loaf over in the general area where he knew Katniss was watching him. It was invigorating and frightening, and he couldn't stand to stay outside for very long after discarding the second loaf of bread.
With the cold rain pounding on his backside, Peeta hurried back into the warmth of the bakery and up the stairs to the room he shared with his brothers. There, he collapsed on his bed and let his emotions overtake him. He fell asleep crying over seeing his love practically dying in the street, and hoping that what little he had to give her in that moment would be enough to sustain her.
The next day at school, no one asked about Peeta's swollen face. His friends knew not to ask, and others at school had seen enough scrapes and black eyes on the Mellark boys to infer what happened in their home. It had swelled so much since the night before that he barely noticed Katniss passing him in the hallway on his way to lunch, but he could sense her. It felt like he was always at least acutely aware of her presence, especially now.
During Literature class, he sat in his seat in the back and studied her like he always did, but this time he was looking for a sign that she was healthier, that she was going to survive somehow. It still worried him so much that he couldn't do enough for her, and that she was going to waste away without ever knowing the depth of his feelings. The small hope he had was that the bread had somehow reignited her fiery spirit, but it was hard to deduce that by only being able to look at the back of her head.
By the end of the day, Peeta couldn't take it anymore. He had to look Katniss in the eyes in order to make sure she would be okay. In he past, for fear of anyone around him catching on to his interest in Katniss, he would avoid looking at her at all costs. But now that he had locked eyes with her as she had practically died in the rain, that fear seemed so trivial. And so, as the both of them lingered outside in the front of the school for their siblings, Peeta dared to gaze upon her face for longer than a fleeting moment.
She still looked tired and frail, but as her sister came skipping toward her, a hint of a smile passed on her face. It was brief, but radiant, and it made him fall in love with her all over again. She took her sister's hand to lead her away, and as she glanced around the schoolyard, her eyes locked with his. Again, Peeta felt emotions crashing against him from all sides, and he had to look away so that they couldn't overtake him. He took a deep breath and glanced back in her direction, and found her leaning over to pick a dandelion from the ground. He could see a spark in her eyes that he thought was all but lost after her father died, and hope swelled in his chest as he watched her hurry her sister away.
"I love you," he whispered to her, knowing that she wouldn't hear his confession but feeling that the moment was meaningful enough for him to finally say it out loud. He only hoped now that the years that followed would provide him with an opportunity for another moment that would be just as profound.
So, I hate to be that girl who begs for reviews, but I'm just gaining my fic confidence back and I'd love some motivation to post more stories. Any thoughts you have, from "god, you made Peeta such a wuss," to "OMG that story was awesome" is really appreciated.
Thanks for reading!