Burnt bread V
Realm: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Story Title: Burnt Bread
Summary: Peeta battles infection and overhears his real prognosis. He wishes for Katniss, but forbids anyone from telling her. He realizes his last glimpse of her could be her heading toward him. Haymitch has a word with Peeta's brother.
I Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Come out Katniss, don't let me wait
You Victor girls start much too late
aw But sooner or later it comes down to fate
I might as well be the one
well, They made you a statue, told you to play
They built you a temple and locked you away
Aw, but they never told you the price that you pay
For things that you might have done...
Only the good die young
Haymitch watches the bakery. The oldest tosses a clean white apron over his head and Mrs. Mellark stands running her lips at him for a while. Finally she steps out the door, smiling smugly and head covered in a gaudy scarf. She turns her piggy little nose up and follows it toward the upper merchant district, a list clutched in her fist.
Haymitch rubs his hand across his face, forcing the smirk muscles etched in his face to relax and letting his features take on a more pleasant countenace or more truthfully continence. He made an effort not to look so pissy.
"Good morning, Mr. Abernathy, how may I help you this fine day?"
"Looking for Peeta. Hasn't been by since the Undersee's party. Figured he must be helping out here."
"What?" The kid says, face trying to not look too wide eyed. "No, he's not here. I haven't seen him."
Haymitch leans on the counter. "Sure hope he hasn't come to harm. Tricky thing with us victors you know. We are considered capitol property. So any damage we come by, well it is a capitol matter. If I don't find him, I will have to report him missing I suppose. Said he was on his way here. When did you see him last?"
The boy looks a little ill as he seems to have trouble recalling. "Oh, the day of the party. He stopped by then. Haven't seen him since."
Haymitch crooks his finger at the young man, inviting him to come close for a more intimate discussion. He's surprised he is fool enough to do it rather than try to run away. "Hmm, that's not quite…right is it? I am not really looking for him, am I? " Haymitch motions him to lean in still more closely and he purrs just in his ear, "Someone left your brother to die in the dirt after fucking him, and beating him to death? That is a capitol murder. They are examining him right now, gathering the evidence."
The boy looks up at Haymitch, genuine pain crossing his face. "Are you saying, my brother…is…is..?
"There was one witness, me. Want to take a guess what I am going to do to them. Want to take a guess why I haven't handed them that name? I do understand the pleasure of raping someone and beating them to death, of course I have much darker plans. Did you know that he and I, were more than friends? I was his mentor and that is bigger than mommy and daddy and lover all combined. There is nothing like it. When they win you win. When they hurt you feel it deeper. When they die..." Haymitch wobbles his head and bounces his eyebrows.
The blue eyes and peachy complexion flush pink and his face fills with the first genuine torment Haymitch had seen. He has no idea if it is fear he actually killed his brother or fear it's his ass on the line right now. "Peeta died? No. No. He's my baby brother. They…" The baker's boy makes no sense to Haymitch. He takes a step back and crumples into a squatting sorrow. Head in hands he lets out a mournful wail. He loses his balance and is in such grief he doesn't even seem to understand he's in danger. He shakes in silent sobs. He doesn't run or offer Haymitch any excuses, he just falls apart on the floor of the bakery.
Haymitch squats down next to him and looks with cool curiosity at this less attractive version of Peeta. Why isn't he denying it? Why isn't he understanding what else was said. God could he do that to someone he genuinely cares for?
."Please, were you with him when he died? He wasn't alone was he?"
"What if he was? You left him to die?"
"No. I waited. I went back for him. He was gone. I thought you… I thought he…" He looks Haymitch in the eyes, "I went back. I went back for him."
"I had a kid brother one time. Someone killed him too. Any big brother who would let them get away with it… I would feel obligated to punish in a more personal setting. A brother who helped me get the one's responsible might have some redeeming value in my eyes. I might let him keep his shame rather than hand him to the capitol. I do want you to know I spend a great deal of time in the capitol and I am known for certain unspeakable activities there. I will be looking forward to requesting you personally." Haymitch studies the boy as his words fall into his circuitry.
" He was gone by the time I got back. My baby brother. Oh God. The last thing I said to him. You're not such a big deal now, are you? I didn't know they hurt him so bad. I knew it was bad but…why? Why?"
Haymitch puts his hand on the boys shoulder. He hands him a piece of paper. "Names. All of them."
The young man, face pulled into pure ugly snot dripping sorrow, writes the names down and hands the paper back. " Stan killed my brother. He was the last. He kept kicking him after. How did I let this happen?"
Haymitch is yanked out of his perfectly terrible plans. He had expected denial, and pleading. He never expected the bastard to be in such grief that he would admit it all. He had not ever considered the kid cared enough to have gone back to help his younger brother. He speaks more kindly, questioning, trying to make all the puzzle pieces fit.
Haymitch leaves the bakery with five names on a list, in Mellark's handwriting. He finally told him Peeta was still alive, if he didn't go septic, he had a good chance of making it after all.
It is hard to walk away. The brother said a little bit too much, like he knew he was atoning for the life he led. He wasn't even mad that Haymitch had lied. He thanked him, for saving his brother. He would see him harmed, but the same heart that allowed that, rejoiced that Peeta lived. He told Haymitch to go ahead and kill him if that was what he came for, he deserved it. Strange bunch, the Mellarks.
These boys on the list and the sniveling one behind the counter were monsters, but monsters are usually made. Peeta had an Uncle. Haymitch would bide his time. The pack of monsters would pay at his leisure over time. Each would receive their eye for an eye, but Peeta's brother cared about him in some twisted way. Even laying close to death Peeta wouldn't betray the brother who did this to him. He has plenty of time to reason it all out. A rush to retaliation isn't always the best action. Haymitch is a patient man.
The message was delivered. Peeta was no longer on the menu. But a man breathed life into the young brutes who had done this evil and that was interesting enough to play revenge with caution. Haymitch didn't know the uncle, but he wouldn't barge in killing the leaves. He wanted the root.
The brother could have only been thirteen years old when this supposedly began. That was old enough to have gone bad, certainly, but instincts told Haymitch that there was more to the story. The brother was no shining example of brotherly love, but he hadn't run away. He fell apart, felt responsible, mourned for the boy. He was not the hateful cowardly being Haymitch had expected to find. He was a victim of his own experience. He knew it was wrong deep down, but he somehow didn't know any better.
Haymitch hated number one son still, but he could understand broken. The Mellarks were all broken. Peeta was already broken before he was reaped. It explained a lot. He had announced that he would not try to win. He had no will and no interest in coming home. Haymitch had mistaken it as the romantic folly of a love sick boy. He was love sick, but maybe he had other deeper motive for his affinity to martyrdom. Maybe it was there before he found his excuse to play the tragic hero.
Haymitch strolled toward victor's village with his head down, contemplating all the permutations of his intended actions. He almost missed the girl as she passed him.
Her eyes flashed to his, then darted away. She wasn't ignoring him, but she wasn't seeking him out either. Haymitch at once, pulled his face into his drunk disguise. It was habit. "So, sweetheart, you're too good to speak to me now?"
She stops and sighs, at once taking in his slight leeward sway and slips her arm around him. "Come on, you old fool. Let's get you home."
Haymitch smirks. She was taking care of him, as if he was her personal burden. That spoke volumes to him. She couldn't say things out loud any more than he could, but the actions are as clear as a Capitol propaganda video. He leans on her just a little, accepting her unneeded but most welcome attention.
Peeta's mad at me. He won't even, open his door to me," she confesses suddenly.
"He isn't home."
"Where is he?"
"He is staying with me. He's not doing so well, sweetheart."
"I guess that's my fault?" she tenses, waiting for me to agree so she can bolt away.
"No. No, sweetheart. It has nothing to do with you, actually. He got in to a fight and he didn't do too bad considering the odds, but he couldn't win against that many. They did a real number on him."
She frowns and chews her lower lip. "Was it? About me? Did Gale…"
"Your dear cousin was not involved. You were not the subject of the brawl as I understand it. Some of his school friends got it in their head he was a little too big for his britches or some such thing. He could have backed down, but…"
"He didn't care enough to?"
"Maybe, or maybe he felt that he'd taken all the crap he could stand. I don't know."
She nods. "He's ok, right?"
"I think he will be. He's out of the woods."
"My mother didn't tell me."
"He didn't want you to…worry." Or see your pity, or make you feel obligated or worse, let you see him and take a chance of you figuring out the truth.
"I didn't mean to hurt him."
"I know that. But you should fix it soon. He isn't in a very good frame of mind. It would probably not kill you to at least let him know that his existence matters to you."
"I'm not so good at that sort of thing. I would probably just screw it up more."
"Well, I doubt that is possible. Give it a shot, sweetheart. You couldn't do much worse. You might refrain from sneaking off with your cousin every time Peeta's around. That would be a good start."
"What the hell are you saying? I haven't even spoken to Gale, except for five minutes at the party. He's avoiding me. Everyone is. Except Madge. Peeta just abandoned me the other night. So did you. I went to Madge's room and when I left you were both gone."
I try to control my surprise. " I was scraping Peeta bits off the sidewalk at the time. Forgive me for mixing up my priorities. We crashed your housewarming too, you know. The guest of honor was rather conspicuously absent from the festivities. The other cousins were there in prominent hordes. One wasn't. Imagine what conclusions Peeta might have jumped to with those facts bubbling in his mind and not a soul crossing the threshold of his house."
"Why didn't he have a party? He said that the other night? I didn't throw it or anything, the stuff was there and people just started showing up. I had a headache and was up in my room. You could have at least sent Prim up to say you were there."
I shake my head and laugh a little. He'd jumped to the same conclusion as I did. "Alright, that was our mistake then. As far as his party. Have you spent much time around the Mellarks?"
"Oh. I see," she admits easily.
"They are …" I pause, having too many colorful adjectives to land on one.
"Total jerks?" she fills in.
"Something like that. Yes."
"Except his father. He's nice. Like Peeta."
"Peeta could be the greatest of us all. Too bad people fail to see that. They take him for granted. That could easily become a terrible regret." I hope she appreciates how vital it is she understands.
"Maybe. I could stop by later? But, don't tell him. Can you make it from here? I have to get to town. Mom gave me a list and it's going to take me forever."
"I'll be fine, sweetheart. Thank you, for seeing me home safe and sound." I wink at her.
She shrugs, but her normal frown fades into an almost smile. "Who else would? Nobody else can stand you."
"Ah, but the quality of those who can stand me makes up for the quantity who can't."
"Sober up. You get all mushy when you drink, Haymitch." She turns and takes a few steps then, still walking backwards ads, "Thanks. For taking care of Peeta."
"It's my job. It always will be. It's in the mentor's handbook." How I wish that were true.
I hate being useless. I hate being in Haymitch's house, though this room is surprisingly clean. They moved me while I was so sick, when I became a 24 hour a day job. I have been nothing but a bother as usual. I appreciate all Haymitch has been doing for the last few days, but I wish he'd just walked on and let me be found murdered. It would have been so simple. They would have accepted it in the capitol. People would have maybe whispered at my condition, but nobody would have ever been caught, and other than a few extra peacekeepers on patrol, my wish would have come true with no consequences that amounted to much in district twelve.
I was feeling much better now, thanks to Mrs. Everdeen. She gave me her word that Katniss would remain outside any whisper of what had happened. She assured me she would speak of my shame to no one other than Haymitch.
They said the third day was the worst. They were afraid my insides were ruptured, rather than just severely bruised. They only told me afterward, how close I had come to escape.
I should have recognized it, from how kind Haymitch had been after his little explosion that I wouldn't tattle on my idiot brother. I kind of hate my big brother, I have every right to hate him more, but I know why. I know it isn't his fault. Not really. He can't help what my mother's family festers. They are evil. My Mother pretends. I wonder what she went through sometimes. Something made her cold and cruel, but I don't know if it is just a family gene or if she was put through so much that who she is now is all that's left.
I am aware that they have screwed me up forever. The one thing I have in common with my mother is that I pretend well too. We will never be close. She will never love much of anything, least of all me, but she is my mother.
I can't tell Haymitch what he wants to know. I can't ruin her little pretend world. It's all she has really. The bakery, the perfect house, full of perfect dutiful children who smile at customers and make the world believe that we have it all. Now her son is a rich victor. Now she can relax a little and gaze at the finish line of a successful motherhood. She can hold her head up and have her moment when the town forgets how they treated her, because of who she came from. She can look my father's people in the face and imagine they regret how they took delight in telling him what a mistake he'd made by marrying a townie slut. She could have her pride.
If the truth were ever to slip away from me. It would kill her. She would be horrified, but it would be deeper than regret, she would never survive the misery of her pride taken again. She treats my father like dirt, but if she loves anything in this world besides having more money than the neighbors, it's him. He gave her pride when he married her. He gave her a place that was shiny and clean. She became the baker's wife and the mother who taught her boys manners. She washed her hands of her past and I think it is her appreciation that makes her guard her place with a fist of iron.
I wanted more than that. I wanted a life filled with smiles and love, rather than appearances and hard fear of losing everything. I am the best baker of the three of us, but the shop will go to my oldest brother. The second son is meant to marry the butcher's daughter. I was the third child. I was useless. I was a bother and a burden to the future. The best they could hope to give me was a marriage to a merchant family full of daughters and no sons to split an inheritance.
They didn't want me to remain a bachelor much past my last reaping. They said, I could always work for my oldest brother, but he could never pay me enough to marry a poor girl and expect the income to keep me and my brattlings from starvation.
It was not cruelty that made them say this to me, just the truth of our economics. There was plenty of stale bread, but the thought of counting on it for a lifetime was depressing to say the least.
I knew my place and what was expected of me by the time I could walk. But when I was six years old, I told them I was going to marry a seam girl and it had been an unspoken battle since that time. As I neared manhood the battle lines became more vivid.
Marry Madge and be the mayor someday, my mother had whispered to me like words of love. You are so good at speaking, so popular, a natural politician, and Madge is the most beautiful girl in town. You deserve the most beautiful girl in town at your side. Show them Peeta. Show them all. Make them all pay for looking down their noses at us. Madge is your chance to make me proud. Forget the seam tramp and marry above your station. Don't throw your life away pining for an amusement you can buy on the side for that one need of all men. Put your children in Madge's belly and your spare coin in the seam girl's hand.
Madge and I had become friends. In my mother's mind I was already pledged to her and she and I would marry the second our last reaping was called. In Madges mind, I was kind of a goofy brother to her. In my mind, Madge was Katniss Everdeen's only friend and my only opportunity to hear of her and learn tidbits and treasures of the girl I was sure I would have died for.
Then the reaping and for a moment there, life stopped for me. She was being taken away. She volunteered to take her sisters place and though I loved her even more for doing that very brave thing, I instantly knew my life would be nothing from that moment on. I took a deep breath and prepared to make some kids day the luckiest day of his life. Having to kill Katniss never crossed my mind. I would test my boast that I would die to please that girl.
I glanced at my oldest brother and was thinking about the fact that as a bonus, I would escape him and his friends. I was shocked to see his eyes screwed shut and him mouthing silently, "please don't take my brothers," over and over.
I was so focused on that event and the out of character sight of him showing a vulnerable moment, that I didn't honestly hear who they called. His eyes snapped open and he focused on me with such a strange look of sorrow, horror, regret, pain and love, that it dawned on me, I had no need to volunteer.
Tears sprang to my eyes as I held his and took that first step forward. I nodded to him and smiled a farewell. I had no idea he would not laugh as he watched my death in the games. It shook me, to know I was really going to have to die to see him be my brother. Just that one time. It hurt no matter how precious the glimpse was.
Then I was on stage and she stood there hard and defiant. More tears tried to hit me at how proud I was of her. This was not a moment of being sad for me. It was more joy than I had ever imagined. I am probably the only tribute in the history of the games to cry tears of joy after the reaping ball spit me up for slaughter. But, I wasn't needing to win.
My plans really did put the odds in her favor. She had one less kill to make and a spare set of eyes to watch for danger. She had a second body to stand between her and death and I would do anything to send her home. Haymitch stole the show that day, but I liked him at once. I felt lucky that even fate would announce I was meant to die for her. It was the happiest, most content moment of my life. Peeta Mellark, no longer the baby of the family or just one of the baker's sons. I saw my mother no longer imagined me as the future mayor. Now, and for all time, I would be that boy who saved Katniss Everdeen.
I am that boy. Most realize she saved me back, but I did save her. She was right there in that tree, when I killed the campfire girl. I nearly fainted from recognition and the horror that if they were just able to stop bickering about how to kill me for a second, they would have never missed the shivering willow tree behind them.
I hurried them out of there. Then the battle with Cato. That gave her time to crawl away and hide. If he had found her tugging at the quiver and bow, he would have happily lopped her head off right then. I stood between her and death, just like I had meant to.
I had accepted my death so deeply that the idea is just hard to give up on. I tossed it away for a while when she played her own game of pretend. I might never see her again. I debated about leaving her a note. Would it give her comfort? Would she care? Laugh? Or would I just mess it up getting sappy. I already knew I would leave Haymitch a note. It would be a private one. It was pathetically sappy.
I hate for my last mind's picture of Katniss to be her walking up the stairs toward him. She supposedly didn't know I was injured, but if she did or didn't, she had not stopped by. Even if I were asleep, that would have been information Haymitch would have jumped to tell me. He would say anything to make me believe the lie has some hope of being true. If there were no Gale, I might be less certain of my plan. I might have hope. But I can't compete with him. I have no more to offer her than he does. Less in fact. He can hunt and feed them, protect them, love them with a pure heart. I can make silly flowers of sugar and lard as fake and useless as I am. I have coins now, lots of them. She has them too, not that it would matter to her even if she didn't. He is a man of few words. I talk too much. He's a manly handsome rugged guy who the girls all fall for. I'm a joke who is so pretty in a not manly way that boys take me and call me terrible names for girls. I have just depressed myself even more with that list.
I look at my bedside. There is a bottle of pills on a tray with several others. There are antibiotics and healing agents sent all the way from the capitol. Nothing is too good for us victors. They want to keep us nice and healthy. There are pain pills too as well as sleep pills and other things that work magic on a damaged body. Some make my heart beat with more power, I'm told to make the blood reach the tiny healing capillaries better. Haymitch was warned that the dosage must be precise. Too much could stroke me out or cause my heart to hold a beat indefinitely. He has stayed sober and charted each pill for this very reason.
I read the label carefully. I hold up the bottle of pain pills too and my mind wanders into the land of combinations. Pain pills for the discomfort, sleeping pills to make me too drowsy to call for help, and then the final act, my heart breaking once and for all. I sit up and look at the three bottles. It had to work in some way that Haymitch could not be to blame.
I can't think of any and have just placed them carefully back on the tray as I hear his footsteps on the stairs. He is surprised to see me sitting up and a huge smile leaps to greet me. His eyes dart quickly to the tray at my side, but return at once seeing all is in place. "Well, look who might stick around after all. How do you feel?"
"Hurting a little."
He looks at the clock. "Meant to be back before now. Time for your pain pill," he lifts his book and adds, "And the red one to help you breathe and the expectorant inhaler to help you get rid of the blood in your right lung. And your kidney pill is due in the next hour so I will go ahead and fix you up early." He fumbles about with several bottles squinting at the fine print, before handing me my little capitol cocktail of tablets. He waits expectantly as I down them and reach for the glass he holds out. "That's a good boy. So much easier when you can do it from this end."
"What are you talking about?" I say grinning.
He flushes a little and with a snooty curl to his lip advises me of how he'd been required to prepare rectal suppositories for two days.
"Ewww." I say mortified, but the image is funny. I flutter my eyes at him and coyly ask, "Did it get you hot?"
He tries to smile and enjoy the joke he knows I was making, but his breath hitching and his weight shuffling as he clears his throat and shakes his head, makes me hurt for him a little. "No. sweetheart. There may have been a few tears, but there wasn't much I could say would make me want to deal with the stitches more than I already had to."
I look down, embarrassed. "They itch."
"I know. Believe me. I'm a fucking expert on them." He sets his expression to a more casual face and busies himself around the room. I know better than to ask. He drives me nuts with his little glimmers of real, then his determination to tuck further revelation out of sight.
"Someone was asking about you today. She helped her poor drunken mentor home."
"But you aren't drunk." I say confused and heart beating furiously all of a sudden.
He smiles mischievously and his eyes twinkle with his self-satisfaction. "Rested my arm on her shoulder and she slipped hers around my waist. It was magical, for me. That got me hot. I think she may have liked it a little too. Tried to piss her off and she let it go. Even explained herself."
"God, she was practically throwing herself at you. What did she say?" I teased then tried to sound casual.
Haymitch and I have hashed the highpoints of his conversation with Katniss. He's gotten me into the shower and dressed me in real cloths or at least pajamas. I can't explain how happy I am to be out of the diaper things. That was almost as humiliating as the event or being discovered after the event or finding out I had stitches in a place that should never ever have stitches or finding out the mother of the girl I love had put them there. Or that Haymitch had medicated me with suppositories. Ok, humiliated and I were now best friends but I was still delighted to be out of the diaper.
He is feeding me, though I am capable of it myself, he's happy playing feed the helpless little baker boy and I am happy with his gentle attention.
"Is there any bread?" I ask.
"I thought you went to the bakery?"
"So was it not open?"
"It was open, but I had other things on my mind. Forgot to get the bread."
I swallow. "What did you do? Who was working?"
"I don't know. You boys all look alike to me," he says daring me to keep asking questions.
"Haymitch." I say too full of fury to get out more.
"Oh, what. If I left bodies in my wake they would have been here by now to drag me off to the big tree that bears the terrible fruit."
"Not funny." I say,
"What's not funny?" Katniss says from the doorway.
Haymitch wipes my chin quickly and stands as if delighted. I never hear her come in. I have no idea what to say. I look at her and my mind blanks with emotion. She came? She came to see me?
"Peeta doesn't get my highly developed sense of humor. I told him I got the stew in the hob really cheap and there were rumors some peackeepers are missing." Haymitch bats his eyes at her.
Katniss stands there for a second, then another and a smile begins to crawl up her face like a tick up a pant leg, slow and determined. She suddenly burst out laughing and her eyes are merry and twinkle. She's so beautiful when she smiles. I sigh trying to memorize every smile line and the colors of her contour.
"Oh, Peeta. He's teasing. Shame on you Haymitch. Poor Peeta. " she enters and carelessly flops on my bed. I wince but turn it into a smile before she sees.
"It's all in the set-up, sweetheart. Doesn't work if you don't have the patience to let them put two and two together. Luckily he seems of adequate intelligence most of the time."
I glare at him, knowing he means more than his surface comments.
"So, nice black eyes, what else did they try to mush out the opposite side?" She pretends to peek down the front of my blanket.
Haymitch's eyes narrow. I am going to kill that man.
"Lung. Broke ribs. You'll have to be gentle with him for a while, sweetheart." He says heading out the door. "Going to give the two of you a little privacy. If there should be screaming, ought I return or let you take your chances…"
Katniss is blushing. "I think I will be safe." I say kindly, hoping he hasn't spoiled her mood.
"He survived you taking care of him. He seems pretty tough to me." Katniss flashes annoyance at the back of our mentor. He mumbles something, but I don't even want to know what it was. Katniss is here, with me. She worried about me. She hasn't been with him.
She takes my hand and looks at me closely. "I'm sorry they hurt you. Do you know who it was?"
Yes, I do. And, I love you anyway.
Thanks for all the sweet reviews - far far far nicer than I ever expected - I appreciate your kind thoughts. As always I am experimenting and wanted to show a glimpse of a Peeta that has never been done - A Peeta who was Happy at the reaping - a Peeta who had motive to to die for her - yes he did love her and he was sweet from her view - but people are rarely the image they project. That happy perfect home rarely is - sometimes people air the laundry, but most often it is neatly tucked and pressed with the linens. Hope you like it - my eyes are blurry from screen time so any mistakes - I don't own glasses and can't blink enough to clear the gunk. Point it out and I will fix it. Maybe.
And the song - lol - billy joel was wrong - only the young die good - hehehe