Glimpses of Peeta, Before

When Peeta was 12, Gale Hawthorne became his hero. Hawthorne was only 14, but word had it that the boy had been caught behind the slag heap with Vesper Beech, the prettiest, curviest girl in the whole school, who just happened to be Hawthorne's senior by two years.

Peeta watched as other kids tried to get details from the boy, but he shrugged them off with a roll of his eyes and a crooked smile. Apparently, Hawthorne didn't kiss and tell. He was probably too serious for that. His father had died about half a year ago, and at 14 he was already supporting his whole family.

Peeta wished he was as tall and strong as Hawthorne. Maybe then Katniss would notice him. Or maybe he'd have the courage to actually speak to her.

Peeta came close to talking with her a couple months before. He saw the girl outside the bakery, looking frighteningly skinny and tired. His mother yelled at her – something derogatory about Seam brats going through her trash – and she hadn't defended herself with her typical sharp reply. She hadn't even blinked. She just made her way behind the pig pen and slid down against the trunk of a tree. And stayed there.

Peeta was never so frightened in his whole life.

He knew she needed food, and he knew there was no way to sneak her anything with his mother watching. He wished desperately that his father had been on shift instead of his mother.

"Peeta! Stop daydreaming and take those loaves out of the oven," his mother snapped.

The idea came to him suddenly, and he titled his wrist allowing both loaves to slide off the paddle into the fire. He grabbed the bread quickly, but both were already blackened.

He knew it was coming.

"You clumsy idiot!" his mother had cried before the rolling pin smacked into his temple, painfully knocking him to the ground. "You've ruined those loaves! No one is going to buy burnt bread. You might as well just feed them to the pigs."

He nodded and forced himself to fight through the dizziness he felt when he tried to stand. He had to get outside before she left.

He stepped out the back door with the burnt loaves in his arms. From the corner of his eyes he saw her still sitting against that tree, watching him. He slowly broke the burnt pieces off the bread and tossed them to the pigs, until he was sure his mother was no longer watching.

He wanted to walk over to her, to talk to her, but wasn't sure he could risk it. Instead of handing her the bread, he just threw it at her feet at ran inside. He hadn't even looked directly at her; he hoped she got it.

He saw her the next day at school and, again, he almost spoke to her. He wanted her to know how sorry he was that her father died in that mining accident. He wanted to apologize for his mother and for just throwing her the bread instead of handing it to her. He wanted to tell her that if she needed anything, she could come to him.

But he looked away when she caught his eye and cursed himself for his cowardice all the way home.

"Wake up, Peeta."

A pillow flew and hit him in the head.

"Huh? What?" he called sleepily. Why had he been woken up? He had just been in the middle of a very nice dream.

"You were humping the bed and moaning some girl's name," said Oates flatly.

"Who's Katniss anyway?" asked Rye.

"No one," muttered Peeta, blushing furiously.

He hated sharing a room with his brothers.

Peeta watched wistfully as Katniss waited for her sister by the picket fence outside school. She had a way of waiting – a stillness about her – that he had never seen anyone replicate.

As she was staring seriously across the school yard, Hawthorne snuck up behind her. He said something to her and tugged on her long braid.

Peeta had been prepared to see her turn around and punch him. Or, at the very least, present him with one of her infamous death glares.

Instead, she had smiled at him. Smiled. Katniss never smiled.

Then, when her little sister arrived, they all walked home. Together.

Peeta fought down the panic that rose quickly in his chest. Gale Hawthorne and Katniss? How could he compete with Gale Hawthorne?

Maybe it was nothing. Maybe they were just friends. Or cousins. They did sort of look alike.

Nevertheless, he decided he no longer liked Gale Hawthorne.

"What's on your mind, Peeta?" his father asked gently. The two were working to ice a large order of cookies, and Peeta had been uncharacteristically quiet.

He sighed – perhaps a bit dramatically.

"There's this girl," he began. "She's…" Amazing. Different. Special. Mysterious. He didn't have the right word to describe the enigma that was Katniss Everdeen, but his father read his intent perfectly on his face and smiled. "But I think she likes someone else," he finished miserably.

His father patted him sympathetically on the back.

"Have you tried telling her how you feel?"

Peeta shook her head. "What's the point? I know she doesn't feel the same way about me."

"It's worth a try, Peeta. You'll never forgive yourself if you don't try."

Something in the lines around his father's eyes told Peeta that he was speaking from personal experience.

Peeta was relaxing with his friends after school in the meadow after a particularly competitive soccer game. The conversation soon turned, as it often did among 15 year old boys, to girls.

Just as Denny was telling them about how he had fingered Jada Steffens behind the slag heap last Saturday, Katniss passed by. She was holding her little sister's hand while she smiled down at her. Her face really lit up when she smiled. Peeta repressed a wistful sigh. He only wished she smiled more often.

Apparently, he wasn't as subtle in checking her out as he had hoped. Jacob elbowed him in the side. "Looks like someone's tastes run a little on the dark side. Katniss Everdeen, Peeta?"

Peeta tried to shrug casually. "She's nice to look at. I'd be interested in getting to know her better."

"Yeah, and you know what they say about Seam girls," added Mica. "They're very talented." He gestured obscenely with his hand and mouth. "I'd be interested in 'getting to know her better' too."

"Get real," chuckled Jacob, rolling his eyes. "Katniss Everdeen would sooner cut off your dick than suck it."

"I don't know," replied Mica slyly. "She looked kind of hungry to me. I bet there's a lot she's willing to do to put food on her table."

Peeta opened his mouth to tell Mica to shut up, but suddenly Mica was lifted off the ground. There was a crunch of bone against fist and his body flew several feet away. Standing in the middle of their group was an obviously enraged Gale Hawthorne. Somehow, the older boy had advanced upon them silently. Peeta wondered how much he had heard. It was obviously enough.

The rest of the group stared at him, frightening into noiseless stillness.

"If I see any of you even look at that girl again, I'll drag you beyond the fence and gut you. Do you understand me?"

Peeta wanted to scream that he hadn't disrespected Katniss, that he would never say anything like that about her. But he just nodded silently along with the rest of his friends.

She was there, at his father's funeral. He knew it. He could feel the back of his neck tingling as it always did when she was around. She was probably here with her sister. Maybe even Gale Hawthorne. But he couldn't look at her. He couldn't find the strength to tear his eyes away from his father's casket.

His father had been the heart and soul of the bakery. The only one who could reign in his mother. The only one he could talk to.

And now he was gone. Gone.

What was going to happen to him now?