Hey, so I'm back with this new AU fic. I've enjoyed writing it so far, and it's given me a challenge since First Person isn't my strongest suit. I know a few fics have gone this route, and I just thought I'd take my own route on the idea. I hope you enjoy!
I also apologize if there are any grammatical errors. I just wrote this on a whim, and though I've tried to catch everything, there are probably things I've missed.
Disclaimer for the rest of the story: I own nothing. All rights are with Suzanne Collins
It's hot out.
It's the first thing my mind picks up when we leave the Seam for Gathering. How is it so hot out and it's only March?
"The Gods must not be too happy," Prim sighs, fanning herself with her Reflection notebook. My little sister looks so tired after a long night with our mother taking care of Kip, one of our half-brothers, that I want to suggest we skip Gathering altogether. I wouldn't mind. It's not like we would miss much.
Prim wouldn't want us to skip, though. I know she wouldn't. She would worry about being cited, and really, I don't want to get her in trouble for making her skip. The Keepers are always more alert the closer we get to the Reaping and Sacrifice anyway. We'd be cited for sure.
"Who would have thought the God of Fire would make it so hot?" I tease, nudging her affectionately. She laughs and we continue our walk in silence.
I don't mind. It's a comfortable silence that only my sister can ever bring.
We pass the Wall on our way and I look down at my worn prayer books as I try to count how many times I have been cited this year. Twelve, I think. Adding that on to my already fifteen citations from past years and I'll only have twenty-seven slips in the bowl this year. That's not too bad compared to some. Hopefully that means I'm safe from the Wall another year.
"Do you think we could stay in Town a bit longer?" Prim questions, looking straight ahead instead of at me. She always refuses to look at me when asking for something that involves staying in Town.
"What do you need?" I couldn't hide the disdain from my voice. Town has never been my favorite place in District 12. Ever since my father died and they forced the Everdeen household to the Seam, a place where all those who couldn't afford their housing and criminals who were close to being banished were sent, I've had a sour taste in my mouth for the place. No one batted an eye to actually help us keep our home, or to help feed us. They didn't bother helping me and Edvyn, my father's newest wife, feed six kids. No, instead, people prayed for our souls to be redeemed by the Gods and that perhaps the Cull would make amends for new marriages for the four women Sage Everdeen was married to before his death.
The Cull did not allow any of my father's wives to be remarried, and the prayers fell to deaf ears because how were prayers going to feed ten mouths? It wouldn't and didn't, and they could talk all they want about those gods. Wasn't going to make feeding my family, clothing them, and supporting them any easier.
People in town had no sense. Hell, the people in this country had no sense. Prayers weren't going to get me and my family anywhere.
"I want to see if I can afford a ribbon for Acacia's birthday." Acacia, our half-sister, the first kid to my dad's second wife and only two years younger than me, was going to be turning fourteen in a few days, and of course Prim would want to give her a present. It was in her nurturing nature to want to give. "Her ribbon on her bonnet is shredding," Prim defends, already knowing we can't afford something like that.
It breaks my heart to deny my sister anything, but with ten mouths to feed, things like ribbons seem silly. "You know we can't," I say, not leaving room to argue. Her blue eyes look crushed and I try to make her feel better. A sad Prim is too much for me to bear. "We can look at the pretty cakes, though. After Gathering. If you'd like." That seems to cheer her up.
"Is Peeta making them again?"
Ah, Peeta Mellark. The boy who makes the pretty cakes for the bakery's front windows. The boy who is so sweet to everyone he meets. The boy who was the only one with enough sense to understand my family needed food after my father's death. The boy who I've been in debt to for the past four years.
The mention of his name makes my stomach twist like it always does when I think of Peeta, and I nibble on the end of my bonnet's string, a nervous habit my mother insists I should stop before my future husband catches me doing something so childish. "He's started his Service."
"Mr. Mellark's cakes are just as nice," I try.
We're reaching Town now and we both bow our heads out of respect for being in the presence of men. The streets in Town are loud, filthy, and infested with people rushing about to get to Gathering before the Keepers close the doors on those unfortunate enough to be late and have to suffer the citing procedure.
The bells in the Sanctuary, the largest building in the entire District that lies right in the heart of Town, ring throughout, signaling the two minute warning of when Gathering starts. I pull at Prim's hand to hurry up, weaving through the crowd as fast as we can. We couldn't be late. I refuse for Prim to be cited for something so ridiculous as being late for stupid Gathering.
"Come on, little duck!" I shout over the noise.
I push through the large crowd on the steps to the Sanctuary, ignoring the comments of how rude we're being (And on the Gods' doorstep at that!), and we get there just in time. Cray, the head Keeper who is notorious for citing people with a sick thrill, closes the door as soon as my skirt blows in.
"Well isn't it the lovely Everdeen sisters," he laughs, refusing for us to pass. Prim presses closer to me, but I'm not scared of him. He's more annoying and rude than frightening, but now wasn't the time. And isn't it his job to make sure people were attending these things on time? "Where's the rest of the clan?" He pulls out a small electronic book, his citing pad. "Looks like I'm gonna have to make a lovely visit to that home of yours."
"Fine," I growl, annoyed already. "Visit our home again. It's not like you're going to convince them to come." The rest of our family never come to Town anymore. If it weren't for Prim I wouldn't blame them. There were too many memories.
He moves as though to touch my cheek but I pull away before he can. "Ain't those girl schools supposed to make you sweet?"
"Excuse us, Master Cray," Prim smiles, interrupting us before my big mouth can get us into trouble. "I have many things to Reflect on before Father Benning begins." She doesn't leave my side and I place my hand on her shoulder as a silent thank you.
The gapped tooth blonde smiles at her, bringing his full attention back to her, and making me feel uneasy. I hold onto Prim's shoulder harder, ready to pull her behind me, and hoping Cray gets the idea that I will attack him if he gets any ideas. "Got lots of Reflections?" He tries to take her black notebook we are forced to purchase every month from her. "Come on, let me see if there ain't nothing bad in there."
"Leave her alone," I spit. I know it's uncalled for. I know I'm going to get in trouble for talking back to not only the head Keeper but a man, and I don't care. He needs to leave her alone. "We just want to go to Gathering like the good citizens we aim to be."
He lets go of her notebook and lets us pass, but not before he grabs my arm and hisses, "I would be nice to me, missy. Marriage ceremonies are coming up, and I know this is your year." I tear my arm away from his grasp and flee into the Sanctuary, not chancing to look back because I don't want him to see how what he's said affected me.
Marriage ceremonies were in less than three weeks and I've been biting my nails down to the point of bleeding just thinking about them. Just the thought of being auctioned off to one of the older men in our District makes me want to throw up.
Marriage ceremonies weren't always bad. At least least that's what I got when we used to study about it in school. It was created by the Capital during what we call the Holy Years. It was supposed to show how we love our gods so much that we were willing to bind ourselves with another soul, to cleanse and protect from Evil before Judgment Day. During the Holy Years, we've been told how peaceful and wonderful everything had been. Women and men worked together in powerful fields; the government and church were run by multiple people instead of one man; and our Gods had blessed us with good crops, plentiful rain, and lots of resources to protect our new country, Panem.
Then Lucille Fawst decided to be possessed and ruin it all for generations to come.
Lucille Fawst was the founder of District 13, she was the founder who spoke with their God, God of Atomics, and grew power hungry. She and District 13 rebelled against the other twelve founders who resided in the Capital, declaring for their own independence from Panem. This rebellion of power stirred what is known as the Dark Days, where the entire country was in ruins because of this woman.
I had never figured out how one person could do so much destruction, so much damage, in so little time but Lucille Fawst did. People were starving because the Gods were not happy with our behavior. Everyone was being punished because of this woman, and her army of followers grew until a majority of the Districts wanted their own independence, as well. Then came the great Father Martin who led the country into peace, who told us about a greater God, the God of Supremacy. Who instructed the bombing of District 13 to rid the nation of its Evils, and to send a message to the other Districts that if Evil such as this became too present again in any District, the Capital had the right to rid of it.
Father Martin became Panem's first Holy Father and killed all those who rebelled. He changed the course of history with an iron fist and new laws were created to prevent another rebellion. Women took the hardest blow in the reconstruction of our country. We had to prove ourselves to the Gods again. We had to prove we were worthy of working with those who spoke to the Gods, who knew better than us.
We lost the right to choose, to live.
All because of Lucille Fawst.
Marriage ceremonies were now mandated by the Cull, a man selected by the Gods who determined how we live our lives, instead of being allowed to choose. For seventy-four years now, girls at the age of sixteen have been forced to marry and join their husbands' households, to bear two children before the age of twenty-five, and men above twenty-one were told what number wife they would be receiving.
The lucky get married to men who have just turned twenty-one, like my mother, but many are the fourth or fifth wife to husbands who aren't so idealistic on the terms of marriage. Many of those women keep to themselves to hide the bruises.
I had just turned sixteen a few weeks ago, my birthday a month shy of the ceremonies, and have been dreading the day I would have to give up the little power I have to a complete stranger who would most likely hit me for speaking my mind, who would hit me again for trying to fight back.
I hate Cray for reminding me of my place.
I find Prim sitting next to a few of her classmates and consider going to sit by myself, to stew in my own upcoming misery in solitude, but I catch her eye and she waves me over. Sighing, I reluctantly make my way to the front pew, pulling out my own Reflection notebook and prayer book.
She asks what's wrong when I sit down, but I just shake my head and tell her to start Reflecting. Her smile assures me she believes I'm telling the truth since we're in the Sanctuary and all, but I'm not. I can't get Cray's filthy face and words out of my mind.
This hour and a half was going to be long.
"The God," Father Benning gestures dramatically behind his podium, "The God of Supremacy, my citizens, has told me that Evil is afoot." Murmurs erupt throughout the Sanctuary, and I even see Prim start looking around, all startled and such. I roll my eyes.
"He tells me that Evil is coming," he continues after two Keepers step forward to silence us. "He tells me that this Evil walks around killing innocent souls, feeding off them, but we are not to fret! Evil will not prevail!" Someone shouts an "Amen!" and a Keeper escorts the poor man out for a citation. We are forbidden to say anything during Gathering if not instructed to. "As our wonderful Father Martin so eloquently spoke," Benning continues as though there were no interruptions, "'We have fought Evil and we will continue to fight Evil until we conquer!'"
He looks down into the open Creed, sending the message that we should follow suit with our prayer books, and starts to recite our beliefs for a better life for ourselves, for our souls, for Panem. I stumble along, not really caring about any of this, when my eyes settle on Peeta Mellark's.
He's seated behind Father Benning on the small platform stage the man preaches on, waiting for his cue to help with Gathering. He looks bored up there, all in his grey robes all Services require when working in the Sanctuary, and I wonder what he thinks about while up there. Is he nervous being in front of all these people? Does Peeta pray the Cull won't give him old Father Benning's calling when he turns twenty-one? Does he want to bake those pretty cakes like his father?
The grey makes his blonde locks look blonder, I notice, and for a moment I wonder if his hair is as soft as it looks. I imagine running my hands through it like I do Prim's for a haircut and maybe he would laugh⎯
I am staring too long. He spots me and his lips quirk up into that half smile of his before I am able to look down and continue with the fire prayers.
I'm embarrassed to say I smile back instead, a warm feeling bubbling low in my stomach.
"Citizens," Benning closes, breaking me out of my own day dreams. "It is not enough that we sacrifice only one dark soul a year." I shift uncomfortably in my seat, all thoughts of Peeta and his stupid hair gone, when the man's focus lands on me. I don't like thinking of the Reaping and Sacrifice. I'm not entirely sure anyone enjoys the thought of sacrificing a small child to ward off this unknown Evil. "Two dark souls will be chosen this year as the Sacrifice in penance to how many have sinned this year." What? That can't be.
I want to argue. I want to say how that's not fair, but I am obliged by law to look down when a man is speaking. I have no choice but to look down at my shaking palms and bite my lips to prevent myself from speaking.
I can still feel his beady brown eyes on me.
Does he see my resentment? Probably. I'm terrible at hiding my emotions. I force my face to calm down, thinking of Prim and her sweet laughter, to pretend I am somewhere else.
Benning's eyes linger for another moment before moving on to his next victim, and I clasp my hands tighter together in prayer. Oh powerful and mighty God ofSupremacy... "I encourage you to Reflect over your sins, citizens. Men keep your women well in line, for many of our sinners are women. Women, remember you are still not in the Gods' favors and Judgment Day is upon us. Think about whether your souls belong to the Gods or in the fiery pits of Hell." He closes the book and leaves through the backdoor of the Sanctuary, leaving us to weigh in his warnings.
Everyone starts to murmur their prayers aloud, asking for forgiveness, and I'm stuck thinking over what I'm going to do after Gathering because the thought of marriage ceremonies and sacrifices seem too much right now. Think about anything, I command. Prim wants to stop by the bakery to look at the cakes. Mom wants me home to try on her marriage ceremonies' dress that she had worn for her own ceremonies with my father. I'll probably have to look after the kids again. Cook dinner. Help the kids with their Reflections.
The bells ring throughout the Sanctuary, and I say a quick prayer for Mom and Prim. Just in case there is a God up there.
"Peeta Mellark is staring at you," Prim giggles.
I look up and start looking for him when I spot him on the small stage, snuffing out the candles from Gathering.
"No he's not."
"He always stares at you during Gathering," she giggles again, putting away her Reflection notebook.
I arch my eyebrow in accusation. "Aren't you supposed to be paying attention?"
"Aren't you?" she counters, and I really can't argue with that.
I look back at Peeta and wonder if there's still enough adult supervision in the room to talk to him. "I'll meet you outside, okay?"
She leaves with a group of her friends as I make my way up to the stage.
He looks up in surprise and smiles. "Hey."
Why am I up here again? "Well," I start, rocking back and forth in my boots. "Gathering was...great today. Lots to think about." What?
Peeta laughs and puts down the candle snuffer. "Yeah, Gathering is always interesting."
We don't say much after that, but I did come up here for some reason. I look around the Sanctuary, noting only two adults left. My time was limited.
I swallow and look down at my books. "I hope you're enjoying your Service," I say instead of...well what did I want to say to him? I get the image of running my hands through his hair again and shake my head in disbelief. Peeta and I were just friends, and there was no point getting involved in anything because of the Cull and marriage ceremonies.
"I am," he smiles, stepping down from the stage.
Biting on my lip, I'm about to tell him I have to go, but he asks, "Are you and Madge sewing tonight?"
I'm a bit surprised he would ask that in the Sanctuary, but Peeta believes in this stuff as much as I do. I shouldn't be surprised.
"Great." The sun from the high windows shines through, dancing off us, and making us look more holy than we actually are. With the sun on him, I notice Peeta's deep blue eyes stare straight into my steel grey ones, like they're trying to reach into my soul for something I don't want him to find.
It's a bit unsettling.
"Do you need any shirts buttoned?" I ask, confirming we'll all be meeting tonight. "Edvyn just got some new buttons," I fumble, trying to make the rouse more believable. I'm terrible at the code stuff. Why do they even let me speak?
"I'd like new buttons," he nods. "I'll ask Gale if he needs any new buttons, too." Right. I keep forgetting Peeta and Gale share a room with six other guys at the Service Home.
"Are you sure they'll let you out? To get buttons," I add, wincing because even I notice how terrible I am at this.
He tells me not to worry about it. "You should get going, Katniss. We're alone and we wouldn't want your husband to get mad because I ruined his wife." I know he's joking, Peeta always jokes knowing it'll make me uncomfortable, but why about this? It's not funny.
"I'm not married yet," I argue stubbornly, pulling on my stupid bonnet. "And like I care what anyone thinks!" He laughs at my outburst, knowing how to mess with my temper.
"I'm just joking."
"It's not a joking matter!"
"No," he agrees, suddenly somber. "It just is." He pulls on my bonnet's string, smiling again, teasing again. "I see someone decided to keep the Evils out of her head and wear her bonnet today." I slap his hand away.
"Don't you know you're not supposed to touch a lady until you're married?" I sneer, mad at myself for blushing. Peeta always assumes my blushes are for him. They aren't and never will be. I'm just mad. He always seems to make me mad.
He bows mockingly, amusement written all over his smug face. "Forgive me, Miss Everdeen. I didn't know you followed the laws of our country so closely. I'll bribe the Cull right now to make sure you are my lovely bride who will cook and⎯" I stomp on his foot and leave the Sanctuary in a huff, ignoring his laughter echoing about the large room. Peeta Mellark is so frustrating; I don't even know why I put up with his stupid antics.
Because he's one of the few nice boys around here, a small voice whispered in my head.
Well so is Gale Hawthorne, I argue with myself. He's nice and knows when to shut up.
Peeta saved your family.
I tell the voice to shut up.
Prim is waiting outside on the top step for me when I burst through the doors, my anger pumping my adrenaline.
"How's Peeta?" she asks when I huff out a "Let's go."
Peeta's annoying, I want to say. Peeta's cocky. Peeta's Peeta. "He's fine."
"Did he say something?" Always the perceptive Prim. I crack a small smile and pull on her blue ribbon.
"You know how Peeta and I argue a lot." Prim nods, understanding I don't want to talk about it anymore, and I love my little sister even more for it. "Let's go see those cakes, little duck."
The streets are a lot less crowded now that people are back at their jobs as we weave our way to the Mellark Bakery across Town. The place is rundown, and like most of our District, it is old and caked with a thin layer of coal dust. But the windows are nice and clean for anyone walking by to admire the pretty cakes that line them.
The cakes are Prim's favorite thing to look at while in Town, only adding to Peeta's cockiness knowing the one person I would lay my life down for adores his cakes.
Prim starts to run toward the bakery, but I stop her, looking over at the Keeper standing guard by the nearest corner. "I hope his cakes are as good as Peeta's," she says as I make my way across the street.
Before his Service began a few months back, Peeta would always decorate the cakes with such precision it probably felt like a sin to eat. His cakes were always delicately painted with pretty flowers that Prim always ooo-ed at and even I had to admit they looked like the flowers we would see in the Meadow. His cakes were the only thing that didn't stress about the Gods, a breath of fresh air compared to the rest of our District.
But Peeta was Servicing under Father Benning, living at the Service Home with all the other boys above sixteen, and his father ran the cakes now. Bara Mellark's cakes all show some shape and form of the Capital's influence, though, and I wonder if Peeta was put under Father Benning's Service as punishment for his cakes. To get him "back on track."
Prim waits for me by the corner while I check to see if Mrs. Mellark is anywhere to be found. If there is one person I avoid besides Cray it's her. She's never liked me and I will never know why. Peeta used to tell me whenever I asked that the Evils had started up on his mother since she doesn't wear her bonnet outside like me, but I just hit him and settled the impression the woman was a heartless person who didn't deserve the breads her family provided and ate.
Whenever Prim and I would show up, she would yell at us, screeching how we're not supposed to look if we don't intend to buy.
Prim didn't deserve to be yelled at, so I would go check for her before giving her a thumbs up or down on Mrs. Mellark's presence.
Today I give a thumbs up and she dances over as subtly as she can.
"Oooh, look at that one!" Prim points out, looking at the purple shaded cake. I nod absentmindedly, keeping watch for Mrs. Mellark. "I wish we could afford one," she sighs, taking her pressed face off the window.
I don't like denying her anything. If I could, I would steal everything for her, just to please her in the one way I can't, but stealing is punishable by death and I could never leave her like that, having her live with my shadow of guilt for the rest of her life. I hate how we have eight other mouths to feed at home, barely scraping by, forcing me to deny her this. Sometimes I hate Dad's three other wives and their children. They shouldn't be my responsibility.
Instead of apologizing for all I can't give her, I say, "We should get going." It's best to walk away from the situation altogether. "Mom wants us home."
Prim gives one last longing look at the bakery window before following me into the gravel street.
I start to relax when we turn on to the barren road that will lead us back to the Seam, and am amazed at how tense Town makes me. Rolling my shoulders forward and back to make myself a bit more relaxed.
We have a good hour before making it home, and I'm glad. A lot of people don't like the long walk from the Seam to Town and back, but I find it nice, comforting. No one is watching me on this deserted road. No one cares, and it's always quiet. I like quiet.
"Why didn't they all come to Gathering?" Prim wonders aloud when we are halfway home. "Why does it seem like we're the only ones who go?"
We are, I want to say. "You know they haven't left the house since Dad died."
Ever since Dad had died in the mining accident five years back, Mom, Francine, and Min have barely left our house for any of the required District outings such as Gatherings and ceremonies. I'm still astonished that the Keepers haven't banished them from the District for refusing to leave, but Prim seems to think they feel sorry for our family and are being nice by not banishing them. I always scoff at this because if the Keepers wanted to be nice they'd banish the three for refusing to show their children the Way instead of feeding us their pity. I don't need their pity, and the less mouths to feed the better.
"Maybe we need to be more encouraging, show them we love them and that the Gods miss them at Gathering."
I bite my tongue. I still resent them all for abandoning us, their own children, because of the loss of Dad. Besides me, Edvyn was the only one who seemed to care about our family's well-being, who seemed to want to help feed us.
"Perhaps," I force out, my voice a bit strained.
"And maybe we should bring some of the other kids along next time," Prim suggests. "So they don't get cited any more than they have to." It's hard to tell Prim that I don't really care about the other kids. She's my only blood, my only priority.
She's fine with my answers and, to my relief, starts to sing a hymn she'd learned in school, dropping the matter of our family entirely. I join in after her pestering me, and we sing about the beauty of the Gods and the hope they bring to our country. The song is hopeful and bright.
It is everything our world is not.