AN: I wanted to do an AU, in which Peeta and Katniss's lives were reversed. The more I thought about it, the more the two of them would have been completely different people living out their lives according to more stereotypical gender roles. Instead of Katniss being the warrior and hunter who grew up in the seam with her best friend Gale, Peeta would have. Katniss would have grown up in town, and taken on Peeta's characteristics of peacefulness, selflessness, and charm. It makes for a much harder edge to Peeta, and a much softer Katniss, though she is not without her resiliency and her desire to protect. I threw in a few curve balls to the plot to move the story along. Let me know your thoughts. Thanks!
Mrs. Arabella Mellark was not a kind woman.
Everyone thought so, though you'd be hard pressed to find someone to admit it. The people of District 12 always remained tight lipped on the matter. Arabella may have only been the wife of the late Borin Mellark, the baker, but she was notorious for never letting an unkind word go unpunished. She made friends with all the detestable people, and used her connections to her benefit in the cruelest of fashions. Everyone in district 12 equally hated and feared her.
It's a wonder how Katniss ever happened. There was a common joke amongst the town's people, whispered quietly to each other behind closed doors, that Arabella desired to be the nastiness human that ever lived, and in so trying gave birth to Katniss, finally riding her body of any remnant of goodness. Because that was the only plausible explanation of how something so beautifully pure and decent ever came from a woman like Arabella Mellark.
The whole town pitied the unfortunate spawn of the Mellark matriarch. It was no secret that Katniss had it bad. The bruises, the screaming that came from the back of the shop, the hateful and demeaning comments dolled out in public. It was all quite sad.
And though the girl had been dealt a crap hand in life, she somehow managed to bare it with such incredible grace. Her gentle heart had often got her into trouble with her domineering mother, though, managed to cement her as a town favorite by everyone else. Her smile was contagious, her laugh was musical, and if a vote should be cast, she would easily win most liked in the district.
There would likely only be two votes against her, her mother's of course, and that of one Peeta Everdeen.
Peeta's vote would always go to his cherished little sister, Primrose. Katniss's vote would easily go to Primrose too.
Maybe it was because they were so alike in nature, but in the little amount of free time they both had, the two girls were inseparable. Katniss couldn't explain why she was so attached to the little Everdeen girl. Perhaps it was because Katniss never had any siblings. Or furthermore, maybe it was because Prim had so much love to give, and since the death of her Father, Katniss didn't really receive any from anyone else. She dearly loved Prim in return and took it upon herself to ensure as best she could that the girl and her family always had bread, so that they never went too hungry.
Reaping Day: Morning
A pale and hollow light ghosted over District Twelve the morning of Prim Everdeen's first reaping. Katniss crept from her home at the first rays of dawn with her contraband basket of baked goods. She lingered in the westward facing shadows that clung to the buildings as she made her way towards the Seam.
Knocking quietly on the weathered door of the Everdeen home, Katniss looked about for any sign of life on the street. It appeared deserted. But things were never really as they appeared. She pressed her ear to the cracked surface of the door at the sound of stirring from with in. The door opened a crack to reveal the deep blue eye of Mrs. Iris Everdeen. If she was surprised to see the young woman on her doorstep that morning, it didn't register in her troubled eyes. Opening the door wide, she pulled Katniss into a strong boney hug.
"Good morning Kat," She breathed in her ear, "Prim is still asleep. I didn't want to wake her just yet." She motioned to the bed in the corner that she shared with her daughter. Prim's sleeping form could be made out, clutching a sinewy lump of orange fur that she had named 'Buttercup'.
"Of course," Katniss smiled. The bed in the opposite corner was empty and unmade. Peeta was either at the early shift at the mines, or out hunting with Gale Hawthorne. Either way Katniss was glad he was out. It never escaped her notice how he balked at her handouts of bread. She didn't intend for her gifts to their family to make him feel like he couldn't provide for them, but never the less that's what they did. She knew this of course, but she wouldn't allow the young man's pride to put his family at risk of starvation. Besides, it wasn't a handout… not really. It's not that Peeta was a cruel boy. On the contrary, he was a doting and affectionate older brother and son. Yet never the less, he was nearly always overtly cold to Katniss. There was a distance between them, that no amount of kindness on her part could breech. "How's she doing?" Katniss whispered.
"She had a horrible nightmare in the night. Peeta had to hold her for hours before she finally fell back to sleep." Iris Everdeen's hands were shaking. But they did every year on this morning. This was the first year that both her children would be entered. It had been hard enough to bear with Peeta, but now that Prim was old enough, she wasn't sure she could face the day. Katniss reached out and took Iris' hand firmly, offering her a reassuring smile.
"It will all be over in a few short hours." She sought out her blue eyes, "You can do this."
"Oh Kat, Peeta's name is in there so many times," Tears sprang to her eyes. Katniss, started gently pushing Iris towards the back of the house into the kitchen. She didn't need Prim to awake to a sobbing and broken mother when she was already so anxious about the reaping.
"Iris it's going to be alright." She wrapped her arms around the impossibly thin frame of the older woman as she began to sob in her shoulder. Katniss made soft cooing, and shushing noises and rubbed circles into her gaunt back. Out the dingy and cracked back window she saw Peeta and Gale coming up the lane, their game bags not nearly as full as usual.
"So…" Peeta started. It had taken all morning but Peeta finally had mustered up the nerve to ask, "How many times are you in today." Gale smirked at his friend, but it was hollow.
"Too many times, Pete. Probably almost as many as you." He sighed.
"It's likely going to be one of us."
Gale paused in the middle of the lane. He started to say otherwise, but stopped. The odds were definitely not in their favor. He made a terse nod, and shuffled awkwardly.
"You're my best friend Gale…"
"Peeta, … don't." Gale always did struggle with emotions.
"No, this has to be said," Peeta insisted evenly, "At least it will give us some sort of peace if one of us should go in." He sucked in a long breath. "If anything should happen to me…" Suddenly it was as if an icy vice was clamped on his heart, he sucked in a shallow breath, "Prim… and my Mom…"
"I know." Gale said quietly, not needing him to go on. His hand rose to his friend's shoulder. "I'll look out for your family, the same way you'll look out for mine."
Peeta made a simple nod in response, and turned back towards the row of shanty houses. Just then down the crooked lane, he saw Katniss usher his mother out the back door of the kitchen, her arms s were slung around the older woman's shaking shoulders.
Peeta let out a curt grunt. Of course she would be here. She was always hanging around. Gale cast a sideways glance at him.
"I'll never understand that." He laughed quietly, running a calloused palm through this disheveled dark hair.
"What?" Peeta scowled, his blonde brows pulling in and wrinkling his forehead.
"If I had the lovely Katniss Mellark hanging around my home I'd…"
"Oh, come off it." Peeta rolled his eyes.
"Peeta, she's the most beautiful girl in 12, maybe even Panem, and she's kind, and funny, and she loves your family… why have you never tried…"
"Knock it off, Gale." Peeta spit out like a growl of warning. He was becoming increasingly annoyed with the turn in the conversation. Shifting his game bag up higher on his shoulder, he started once again towards home.
"Seriously… you can't tell me you're not even the least bit interested…"
"I'm not." Peeta said resolutely, as he tried to forget his dream of her from the night before. He had found comfort in denial. Gale was staring at his back and couldn't tell if there was any truth to his friend's admission.
"So… you wouldn't mind if I tried?" This caused Peeta to stop short. All the joking was gone from Gale's voice. Brown eyes met blue as he searched Peeta's face intently.
"Why are you asking me that? You know I'm not interested in her." He was a talented liar.
"I know you say that… but…"
"Go for it." Peeta interrupted with his brows down cast, his permission should surely put an end to the ridiculous conversation. He started walking again, though more briskly, and soon he was within earshot of his mother and Katniss.
"I made your favorite pasty puffs this morning." Katniss smiled brightly at his mother, her tone placating.
"Oh Kat, you shouldn't have." Iris attempted a weak smile of gratitude, as she wiped a remaining tear from her cheek.
"How about we wake Prim up to a big plate of them? They should still be warm."
"What would we do without you?" Iris, smiled sadly as she followed the young woman back into the house.
At his mother's words Peeta stopped up short, and involuntarily clenched his fists.
"Easy Killer." Gale laughed, "You know she didn't mean it like that." He was right. Peeta knew that. But it still stung like a back hand. He was suddenly acutely aware of his half filled game bag. They weren't able to scrounge up much that morning.
Walking into the back of the house they loudly dropped their bags into a heap inside the rickety door.
"Peeta!" Prim came bounding over and threw herself into his arms as he scooped her up as though she were a toddler, and not a young lady of twelve.
"Morning Munchkin." He smiled broadly down at her, happy that her fears from the night before were forgotten, if only for the moment. Kissing her forehead, he deposited her unceremoniously on his bed.
"Katty, brought us pasty's and cheese buns! And she gave me these pretty blue ribbons to wear in my hair today!" The ribbons in question were clutched in her small hand.
"That was kind of her," my tone was flat, but Prim didn't notice or at least pretended not to, "Did you say thank you?" Prim nodded as she dangled one of the ribbons in front of a bored Buttercup. Prim might not have noticed his tone but Katniss was aware enough to. She was at the door in a moment.
"Well, I will see you all later, I need to get back."
Prim suddenly bounded from the bed as she went over to hug Katniss. Katniss smiled brightly down at Prim, and wrapped her up into a fierce hug. Peeta's frown deepened.
"Can't you stay for breakfast? You went to all the trouble to make it for us?" Prim pleaded. Katniss dropped to her knees in front of Prim, and smoothed out the little girl's wild bed hair.
"You know I can't, Primmy." That's all she needed to say. They all knew what she really meant. She couldn't be caught outside the shop by her mother. "I really should go, it's getting late." She kissed both of Prim's cheeks, and tapped her nose with her index finger as she stood.
"I'll walk you back to town." Gale suddenly announced from behind Peeta. All turned their eyes towards him, both Peeta and Katniss competing for most shocked.
"Uh…" Katniss stammered momentarily at a loss for words. Her need to be forever polite finally kicked in as she mumbled, "Okay… thank you." Gale slapped Peeta on the back,
"I'll be back in a few, and we can head over to the Hob." Gale patted Prim on her head as he moved towards the door. Peeta just nodded dumbly as he watched them at the door. Katniss smiled shyly up at Gale, who offered to take her basket from her.
As Peeta watched them go, a small dark fury began to hedge its way between his lungs and heart. Assuming they both survived the reaping today, he was likely to lose his best friend to that damn girl too.
(To be cont.)