Sorry about the lack of updates on my stories –– for those of you not on tumblr it's a promptsinpanem au week! Not only that but I've been floundering in real life –– but in good news I've been cooking and baking really good food so that's good.
Everyone reading Lovefool: I'll try and get an update out as soon as possible. it means a lot that you all enjoy the story so I'm sorry about the wait.
This is for the first day's: Legendary Love. I took the Chinese myth of a red string connecting two people destined to be together. It's a really interesting myth, and there's a lot of interesting interpretations of it. I already edited some parts since I posted it for pip so there's some additional parts, but nothing too different. Anyway, enjoy.
Warnings: sexual content, character death, child abuse
When your feet are tied to hers, why search for another?
An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break.
It's an old memory of something that never happened that he sometimes wakes up grasping at. He's a young boy and there's a young girl, a scar under her right eye and he wants to ask her why she got it, where she got it from, how. There's the knowledge –– somehow –– of more scars living underneath somewhere he can't see. He doesn't ask, and he doesn't understand why he doesn't. But somehow she must hear it in his mind, must see it in his eyes because she shakes her head slow and he isn't sure what it's supposed to mean.
She holds her hands out to him and she has the first round of Cat's Cradle waiting for him. Her hands are straight up and a bit close, her fingers long and slender and worn, the dark string –– color unreadable in the lack of light –– not long enough to give good room. She doesn't say anything but she moves her hands in front of him impatiently and raises her eyebrow. He pinches the two X's that looped in between her hands, pulls the string taut, loops, scoops, and there's the Cat's Cradle in his hands.
The moon shines through the clouds for a second and he catches the sight of an old man sitting in the distance, not looking at them but seeing, knowing.
She pinches the X's then, pulls, pushes towards the middle, and the Candles are made.
The two of them go back and forth for a bit until he's struggling with one because suddenly, he can't remember what to do. He pushes towards the middle instead of pulling it taut, and the string flips from her hands and tangles between the two of them. His hand is wrapped up in it deep, he can't even see his thumb and it seems now, now that it's messed up and the game is over there's suddenly a lot of string and too much. He sees that she picks at the string her hand and feet are wrapped in. He looks over at her, the little boy to the little girl, and she smiles sheepishly and shrugs.
The string won't untie.
The moon shifts again and he looks over to see the old man looking at them. He closes the book in his hand and takes a large drink of his bottle. As the full moon winks at boy and girl, he can finally make out the red color of the twisted string between the two of them.
"No use, boy," the old man says as he turns around, as the clouds start to hide the moon again. "You're not getting out of that one."
The night is dark but the full moon hangs low and heavy in the sky, watching and waiting. Peeta Mellark looks at it for a bit as he stands on the front porch of his bakery, the trash in his hands. At eleven years old he treasures this quiet moment where he thinks he's alone.
He's not, there are others that live in this night land and they're just waiting to interrupt his life.
He sighs, his breath moving from his mouth into the space nearby and he slowly moves down the steps and to the side of the bakery, his house, not his home, and lifts up the trash as he puts the bag in. Bread that went too stale for their dinner, moldy product, goods too overpriced that no one around was able to pay for it. His mother insists on the prices, won't back them down even though his father every now and then tries to sneak some to the less fortunate when they need it. He doesn't usually get caught, and when he does she blames it on her children.
Or rather, she blames it on Peeta.
Because it's always Peeta's hand that's stretching to the miners that she catches, because he wants to feel that millisecond of connection to someone, feel how it is to be someone's saving grace. At eleven years old his heart is gold and brittle, wanting love that he's denied by his mother and hoping in vain some sort of stranger can look at him like a savior. His heart is gold but there's a bit of a hollow to it, something that he needs to fill, needs to, and he can't seem to understand how at the age of eleven. He knows he's young, too young to think like this and well, he doesn't exactly recognize it all for what it is.
He notices a loaf atop the rest of the trash that seems fine, better than fine, and he takes it without thought. It's still warm in his hands and he realizes that a new loaf must have somehow fallen into the trash as he was readying the waste. He holds it to his side, happy with this. He'll know, at least for a couple days, the taste of bread that hadn't lived unwanted on shelves for a while.
The lid of the trashcan rings out in the night like a bell of a tomb, like a bell welcoming the other souls that drift in the evening's wind, and he makes his way back to the front of the bakery.
He stops before the front porch and stares at the thing that's there that wasn't there before. Or rather, the who. It's an old man that seems older than he actually is, aged by years spent in the bottle that's held daintily by the edge in between two fingers. The low hanging moon seems to shine upon him as he sits there with a book in his other hand that he stares at absentmindedly. The stubble on his chin is prominent, more of something he forgot in his tirade to not deal with hygiene and less like a beard. His olive skin shines somehow bright in the moon's spotlight. His hair hangs low, curly, and dark, a curtain of night where his eyes peak out underneath like two orbs. He's not looking at Peeta Mellark but Peeta Mellark somehow knows that the man is waiting for him.
The man in the moonbeam shuffles his book to the next page and Peeta takes another step closer. There's a bag by his feet and Peeta tries to look inside of it but knows it's for naught. It's as dark as the night, it's darker, within the sack that sits by the man's feet, and the only way he'd be able to see it is if he went up to it and took it in his hands.
He takes another step closer to the man and tries, again, to figure out what the man is reading. He knows his words; Peeta Mellark is in school and his grades are better than what his brothers were at his age, thank you very much.
(It comes back to that hollow golden heart of his. He studies and strives, and his father claps him on the back every time he gets a good grade. He turns to his mother, waiting for just even a smile that will work into the missing pieces within but she rolls her eyes and tells him there's more important things to deal with, like feeding the pigs. His heart stays gold, his heart stays hollow.)
The book in the man's hand though is foreign. He can't understand any of the letters he reads, he can't sense any words within them. The man brings the bottle up to his lips and tips his head back as he allows some of the liquor to burn down his throat.
When he's done with his drink Peeta Mellark takes another step forward and speaks. "Excuse me, what book are you reading? I can't understand the writing."
The old man looks at the boy and he presses back a laughter. There aren't any questions about why the old man is here on his porch, and any time he shows up in someone's life and they don't question it right away is amusing.
"I don't expect you'd be able to. It's a book you'd never come across." His answer doesn't answer anything. He knows that. Peeta Mellark knows that. The man closes the book and looks at the eleven year old boy as he cocks one of his eyebrows. The boy steps a bit more forward towards his porch.
"Why not?" Peeta Mellark asks, the eleven year old curiosity bursts at the seams and threatens to spill out into the night.
The man chuckles and throws back another drink as he stands. "Let's just say it's not from around here." There seems to be an inside joke that Peeta Mellark doesn't understand with this sentence so he doesn't say a thing as he takes a step closer. "You're here early."
Now he's even more confused. Peeta Mellark looks at the man that stands on the porch of the place he lives and questions. "What are you talking about?"
The man ignores the question and continues his own talk. "Or maybe she's late." He looks at his wrist as if there's a watch but there isn't. He looks up briefly at the sky, at the moon as if it held his answers and he mutters to himself. "I should've known. Yeah, she's late."
"Excuse me but," Peeta Mellark doesn't know what to ask first. He settles on what he should have addressed when he first saw this man in the moonlight. "Who are you?"
The man barks in what the boy assumes is to be a laugh and takes another large gulp of his drink. "Who I am doesn't concern you boy, it's what I do."
So he asks the question. That one question. "So what do you do?"
The man doesn't answer but instead he takes the question that he prompted and he returns it with another question in tow. "You were trying to look at my bag before, yeah?"
Peeta Mellark understands what he's supposed to ask next, as if it's a script he memorized the lines of. Maybe it is. "What's in the bag?"
The man snorts out a laugh and bends down to open it a bit more. There's something inside it, but it's still dark. He makes out what seems like spaghetti. "I got some red string. I use it to tie to people that are destined to be together. Doesn't matter if they're foes, if there's a class difference, distance or anything. If the red thread is between them, they will be together and married."
The idea is ludicrous but Peeta Mellark can't help but grab at it with that heart of his that needs to be filled. It's easy for him to believe this, to believe in this. "Does everyone have someone they're connected to by these strings?"
The man nods as he grabs his bag and puts the strap over his shoulder. "They sure do, Peeta Mellark. Do you know why I'm here?"
He knows why. He can feel it, how it vibrates in his bloodstream. The string seems to stare at him from the dark inside of the bag, coaxing him, letting him know that his wife is waiting outside in the moonlight for him. His heart beats loud, willing for him and his fate to come now. It's waited eleven long years and it seems to open, ready to fill with whatever love is destined for him.
He knew it, absolutely. There was a reason his mother was so cruel, so unloving. It's because his heart isn't some infinite thing, his heart only has so much room for so much love. His mother did him a favor, spooning out the gunk that others have stuck in their cardiacs and leaving room waiting for his destiny to meet him.
Tonight is the night his heart would be full.
So he nods. He nods because he knows why this man that's bathed in the moon is here. He's ready to speak again, to ask another question, when he hears a sound from by the trashcans.
"Damn, you distracted me kid," The man mutters but his attention is to the side of the house. Peeta Mellark turns towards it as well and looks, and sees.
There's a girl with a dark braid in her hair that's bent over as if in half that scavenges through the waste that Peeta Mellark just brought outside. If she was a couple of minutes earlier, if he was a couple minutes later, their paths would have crashed immediately and hard. Her clothes are dark but she is dark too and the night is darker than them all. He knows she's from the other part of the town, the part he isn't allowed in, the part that breeds people that he gives out food to whenever possible. He watches her arms move, her hands sift, her head bent, and his heart beats in his chest against his ribcage as if it demands to be let out and to meet her.
He's eleven years old and dripping in moonlight, but he knows that this is love. His heart readies itself for filling, readies itself for this dark girl of the night that rummages through his trash cans. His heart readies itself for her to rummage through his arteries and pick through his muscles.
Peeta Mellark starts to walk over to the girl, the loaf of bread that he took out before in order to eat himself suddenly feeling like a weight he needs to get rid of.
He approaches the girl and she stops her movement but doesn't look up. Her stance is tense and her shoulders shake before they still as well. He holds out, slowly, the loaf of bread and it seems warmer when she tentatively reaches out for it, still not looking up at him.
They pause like this for a moment. Peeta Mellark staring at the part in her hair, the girl who he is to marry, will marry, refusing to look up, a loaf of bread between them with their hands holding onto it.
He wants to say something but his tongue feels fat in his mouth and so he just lets his hand fall and he takes steps back until he's standing side by side by the old man again. The girl, the girl who is to be the woman he marries, the girl who already is nestling into his heart continues to stand there bent over the trash but now she has a loaf of bread in her hand. She stands there and stares at it. She doesn't move.
"Who is this?" He whispers to the old man that stands his ground right next to him. "Who is this girl? Who is my wife?"
The man begins to answer as clouds roll into the night. "She's––"
His mother finishes the answer. "Seam trash!" Peeta Mellark looks up and sees the silhouette of his mother burning against the lit up insides of the bakery. He turns back to the girl, to the girl who is to be a woman, who is to be the woman he marries and sees as her head perks up and stares at his mother. Her eyes are grey and dance with the evening and he knows, he feels it, feels as that it must happen, that the old man took one of his red strings and tied it upon him and tied it to this girl because there's no other explanation. He turns to the side but the old man's not there anymore, the light from the waiting moon gone and the night is burned from the shine inside of the bakery. His eyes recognize the sight of his mother coming closer and closer to him.
"You good for nothing boy!" Her voice scratches the velvet night and he cringes from the sound, from the words and he thinks No. No this isn't what's supposed to happen. This is supposed to be the night his heart is filled. This is supposed to be the night he meets his wife.
The old man is gone, and he turns and sees that the girl he's to marry is standing there in fear. He doesn't even know her name but he doesn't care because he already loves her, and she needs to be safe. She needs to leave, needs to take that bread and go. It's in this moment, when his mother is barreling towards him and the moon is back in hiding that time seems to stop and he tries to drink in the appearance of the girl just a couple steps away. Her bones stick out, her cheeks hollow, and she looks afraid. And she's looking right at him, and she looks afraid. For him?
The sound of a hand slapping skin poured into his ears, and he recognizes the sting on his cheek just a second later. He turns to his mother, her face red and drawn eyebrows. "Good for nothing, just like I always say!" Another slap but Peeta Mellark can feel the stinging, knowing it's supposed to hurt but it can't because this isn't how the night is supposed to happen.
"Giving away our bread for free to dirty rats. How are you supposed to eat then, if we make no profit? You stupid boy, don't know a thing. You don't eat dinner with the family for a month. Now go back inside and wait for me to deal with you after I deal with this."
It wakes him up, that this she says. He looks and his mother is already looking at the girl that's to grow into a woman that he marries, the girl that he's already in love with somehow, somehow. And he knows how his mother deals with things, with problems. His red cheek shows it. And that's what makes the sting ache, makes his eyes burn, the knowledge that his mother, his mother is going to hurt the girl that he has this red string tied to.
"Wait!" He calls out when his mother takes a step to the side of the bakery where a girl stands still, struck solid by fear.
His mother rounds on him. "Go inside you little brat."
Something glints in her hands, he thinks, but he doesn't pay attention to it because he can't.
He tries to send a message to the girl, tries and sees if somehow this thread that's running between the two of them can carry words from his heart into hers and tell her. Run, he tells her in his mind. Go away, and run. Take the bread and leave.
Peeta Mellark isn't sure if the girl hears him, but she doesn't move. He is pretty sure though that she should realize on her own that she should run, so maybe she's just stubborn and has something like a deathwish. It makes sense that he'd fall in love for someone like that.
"You're lucky I never sent you to the homes. You were a mistake, you hear me?" His mother words hit him, his hollow heart empties more and he tries to not sink into them. His mother is then in front of him, pulling him up slightly by his collar and his face is too close. Maybe others have been this close to their mother before, for a goodnight kiss or a warm embrace. This is just anger and yelling and hollow, hollow pain. "Now get inside and get my rolling pin as you wait for me, you stupid boy."
He knows what that means and he knows that there's no way he can prolong any of this anymore. He nods as he's dropped back down and forgotten in the next instant by his mother. He wants one last look at the girl by the trashcans but he doesn't dare look again. Because he's a coward, he knows that, he's a coward and he's stupid and he's a mistake, mother just said so. He goes inside and doesn't watch as his mother rounds on the girl he's to marry, closes the door on anything that he can hear, and he doesn't cry. He doesn't. He stands near the big ovens, near that big table where he just before was kneading dough with his dad, and he wonders where his dad is at this moment.
Father never seems to be around when he's needed most.
The rolling pin is right next to him and he sits there not listening to the night and thinks of where mother is going to hit him tonight. She's only used the rolling pin on him a couple of times, only when he really deserved it, and apparently sticking up for the girl who is to become a woman, who is to become his wife, deems it necessary to use.
At the end of the night he's left hobbling into his room. He bleeds from where he fell and scraped his hands and he knows he'll wake up to a bouquet of bruises laying upon his chest. Scratches on his arms when he tried to move away, tried to tell her that he needed to save that girl, needed to, the red thread––
He stopped trying to reason quickly, because those words were the reason the first whack of the rolling pin came.
His door opens when he's laying down on his side turned towards the wall. After everything that happened it's now that he cries. He wonders if it's his father, his father who always comes in after to try and console the pieces instead of trying to stop them from ever breaking apart. He loves his father, his dad, his dad, but there's a part of him that he hates exists that hates him too.
The door opens to his room and he knows it's his father. He's crying but he keeps quiet because if his mother heard she'd yell. It's not what boys do, they don't cry! Just another disappointment to add to the list and he had enough disappointment for the evening. He tries to remember how he opened his heart ready to swallow whole that girl. Foolish, stupid, mistake.
But he tries to silently say something to his father, who he's sure is there looking at his form. He tries to ask him where the hell he was, tries to even use those words that adults say that when eleven year olds like he use they get soap in his mouth. Where they hell were you? When mother ran out after me? When she ran after that girl, The Girl? When she hit me with the rolling pin, when she screamed? Why are you always not around for that, but here to just try to pick up the pieces?
He keeps quiet, breathes deep but it hurts against bruised skin and bruised heart, and pretends he is asleep. His tears are silent. The figure doesn't move into the room, but finally he hears a voice and it's his mother's. "Maybe you were meant for that girl. She's trash just like you."
The door closes. His dad–– father, he doesn't check up on him.
His heart is gold and hollow, and he dreams about being young and playing cat's cradle along with a girl with no name, a girl with a scar under her eye that he can't ask about, a girl with silver eyes that pierce and tear, for the first of many nights. When he wakes he's tangled in the sheets like his limbs were tangled in strings.
"We won't be dealing with that riffraff anymore, not to worry." It's his mother's idea of a good morning. He looks up at her quickly with a pulsing cheek and doesn't say anything back. It's early and they're eating stale bread, the five bodies that make up the Quintessential Mellark Household. The three other bodies do not respond to the woman's words, and Peeta Mellark tries to not either but his heart is a traitor and pounds loud in his body. His mother watches the broken boy and tuts.
"Nope, not anymore. I took care of her."
The words are final and harsh and he wonders, he wonders, how did she take care of her? Did she beat the girl whose name he didn't even know like she beats her own son? Did she yell horrible words that were darker than any night, that suffocated her and made her spit up the food that she hasn't been eating?
Did the woman that's his mother kill the girl that's to be his wife?
He finally looks up from his bread that he can't even taste, looks up at his mother. His brothers' heads are down, his father already clearing his throat and getting ready for a day in the bakery. He doesn't want to speak but he has to, he has to because he can feel it still, that tug of a string that's somehow on him but he can't see it.
"What did you do?"
His two brothers stop their movement for a second but then go back to eating. Their heads are still down. They still don't talk. They chew, their mouths moving in a round, only opening to take another bite.
His mother's mouth curls into a smile. She doesn't hit him, she just tells him, "She won't be bothering us, or anyone, anymore." She makes to go to the counter and cleans one of their kitchen knives and sharpens it. He doesn't eat, just sits and watches the knife, looking to see if he can see any red on it. Any blood, any Fate smashed upon the sharp thing. He thinks once or twice the sun glints happily through the window and he catches that color, but he isn't sure.
It's a morbid thought but it passes through his mind quick. He hopes that whatever happened, she still had that bread. That if his mind isn't playing a trick, if that was blood on a knife and a deed was done, that she at least was able to have the taste of fresh bread. A sort of bride gift, the only one he'd be able to give her apparently.
He feels sick. He feels his bruises. He feels his heart and how it sounds like tin as it thumps against his ribcage. In his mind, grey eyes shining silver in the moonlight ask him why he couldn't do anything more to stop it.
He starts by asking his friend Delly. Delly, she knows everything about the town, so she should know. He doesn't know what to ask, or how, so he starts out just asking her if anything new has happened.
Surely, if someone was killed, that'd be the gossip of the town.
"Hmmm," she thinks. "Nothing really happening in Town," she tells him and he wants to breathe a sigh of relief. But then, "But the Seam..."
She trails off and he grasps at it like a rope. "What about the Seam?"
Delly looks at him curiously. He's never cared for gossip or stories, and she doesn't know why he is now. She shrugs. "I'm not exactly sure, you know. There's just so-and-so heard from another so-and-so talk. I think some people are moving, I'm not sure why." She thinks harder, her face solemn for the moment. "I think a couple people died, actually."
At the subject of death, his heart seems to remind him that he, in fact, is still alive. It beats hard. It hurts. Dead? Or murdered? Delly's face is still sad and his tone is creeping footsteps on eggshells. "How?"
She shakes her head. "Don't know. I think there were a couple of different reasons. Mining accidents. Sickness...Not everyone had an explanation, or they just didn't want to talk about it."
Peeta Mellark just nods his head. The Seam keep to themselves, the Town keeps to themselves. That's how it's supposed to be.
"Anyone we know?" He asks her and she just shakes her head.
"No...no one we know."
No, he agrees. But I could have.
He notices his shoelaces are untied when he trips over his step. They're red, and instead of going to retie them, to double-knot them to make sure they don't come loose again, he rips them out of his shoes. He chucks the strings on the side of road as Delly watches curiously but doesn't say a thing. His shoes flop with each step. It's annoying, and the smack he gets for losing his sneaker laces from his mother stings, but it's better that way, he knows.
When he has enough money, he buys black string.
He looks for the old man with his book in a language he can't read and his bottle of liquor. With his bag of red strings. That man could give him answers, he has to know answers.
The man can't be found. He stands outside for as long as he can every night but the streets are empty and quiet, the moon hiding behind trees or clouds, never shining so brightly as it did that one night.
He wants to ask around town about this man, but he doesn't know how. He doesn't know the man's name, all he knows is the man's possessions and how his dark skin seemed to burn in the night. He knows people will look at him like he's crazy if he asks so he doesn't. He waits at night for a man who's not coming. He waits at night for a ghost of a girl that he was supposed to come to know.
He supposes he doesn't like this thing called Destiny too much. His heart is a different kind of empty, and he mourns. No one's supposed to be a widow at eleven years old.
His mother's voice answers him. "Life's not fair. Get used to it."
Peeta Mellark kicks a stone on the side of the street and he decides it's all bullshit. It's been months and the stupid drunk never showed his face again. At school he couldn't ever pick out the girl that was at the bakery that night. He doesn't know if she's one of the families that moved, if she's dead, or if she even exists. He's not sure. He feels like he's walking around in circles.
But the dreams continue, dreams where they're little children and a red string is piled between them.
And he hates it. He hates the dreams and he hates that night and he tries to ignore it and forget it.
At thirteen years old he can't remember the smell of liquor on the old man's breath that he was able to pick up as he stood by him. At fourteen years old he can't remember the looping of the language that was written down in his book that came from some unknown place. At fifteen years old he can't remember what the girl looked like, can't remember what was so striking about her, and all he knows is that she was from the Seam.
At fifteen years old he walks the Tailor's daughter home, holds her hand, and kisses her sweetly at her front door. She's blonde with big curls and her blue eyes have flecks of green in them. Her skin is pale with reddened tints from the sun and she always wears dresses and somehow, somehow none of the soot that lives all within the town ever seems to be on her. The kiss is sweet, but maybe that's just because he took two cupcakes for them both to eat on their walk, maybe it was just the sugar in that. She smiles wide when he kisses her, blushes, and goes in to kiss him again. Her hands are in his hair and his hands stay at his sides. She whispers goodnight and he nods.
It's a cloudy night and he walks home alone.
"Did you ever love mother?"
His father stops rolling dough and looks up at his youngest son. Peeta Mellark continues his work and doesn't look at his father but he's waiting to hear the answer. He's working on a wedding cake, the icing bag held steady in his hand and his eyes concentrating hard on what he's doing. There's no physical bruises on him but he did get a lashing of words just before from his mother. Ever since he got taller than her she stopped hitting him. She still has weapons though.
"Peeta. I love––" Peeta Mellark stops what he's doing for that, so that he can look up at his father. He doesn't believe him. He doesn't believe his father loves his mother and he doesn't believe his mother loves anyone. His gold and empty heart looked for a long time for anything from the woman, but she was giving none of it. He wants him, wants anyone to acknowledge itt; wants to know that that's who she is, not a thing of love because it would make the fact that he never had a warm memory of her a little bit better.
"I love what she gave me," His father answers quietly as he goes back to work. "She gave me the three best sons I could ever want, better than I could ever deserve."
Peeta Mellark stays silent and works on the cake in front of him. He pipes the edges, dark red and like strings around all the sides.
He hates the design.
"Did you ever find a woman you loved?"
His father is quiet at the question. And then when he speaks, his voice is soft. "I did, but she loved someone more."
They don't speak again, and Peeta Mellark continues the sugared red decorations.
The Tailor's daughter is found at the Slag Heap with a miner, and Peeta Mellark starts walking home from school holding hands with the Grocer's daughter. Still blonde and a full body already in their teenage years.
(Not starving. Not dark skin and bright grey eyes. Not bony and pleading and not any of that at all, he makes sure of it.)
She takes the initiative and one day after they get to her house she pins him to the wall and kisses him full of the mouth. Her tongue is on his before he can react and his hands reach for her hips to pull her body closer. It's heated and it's sloppy, and when she steps away she smiles at him as she brushes the front of his jeans and walks away.
He walks home. There's paint from the siding of the house on the back of his shirt and jeans, and maybe he can pretend it's flour. It's not love, he knows that (he knows that), but he's a teenage boy and it's all with lust. And isn't that what he should be caring about right now? Everything his schoolmates are chasing after? Not love, not men in the moonlight with red strings that get tied to your feet and to another's, not the glimpse of a girl you can't remember how she looks but she still fills your heart in a way that makes everything about it so empty.
No, he's sixteen years old and so the next week he takes the Grocer's daughter to the Slag Heap himself. It's obvious she's done things before, and it's obvious he hasn't. He doesn't shake (he doesn't think he does), but he feels like it inside. Her mouth is on his and then her mouth finds a trail on his neck. Her fingers slide down the buttons on his shirt (a button down, she purrs in his ear, good choice), and her lips then follow again.
He thinks of stopping her, of going home, of doing time in the bakery even though it's his day off but then her mouth is on him and working him fast and the thoughts leave his mind. His one hand holds onto the wall he's against and the other finds it's way into her hair. She licks the top and slides her mouth down far and repeats the action, repeats, and he feels like he's going to burst. And he does, and she finishes him off and spits it all out on the ground when all is said and done. She smiles at him as she picks his boxers and pants back up and zips him back up.
"What about you?" He asks.
She smiles and kisses him. He tastes himself on her mouth, all of him that she spit out. "I like getting you off. Next time though." She leaves separately. He walks home alone.
He dreams the same stupid dream, back to an age as a child playing a stupid game with a stupid string.
The next time they go to the Slag Heap she has him sit down and she straddles his face, naked from the waist down and he tentatively brings his mouth onto her. She wraps her fingers into his hair and directs him where to lick and how, and soon enough her hips buck into his face and she finishes with a satisfied moan. She doesn't say his name in her moans of pleasure, and he realizes as she then bends down and undoes his zipper that he doesn't either.
It feels good though, but it doesn't mean a thing. And the next night she sneaks them instead to the edge of the woods and lays him down on the grass. Before he knows what's happening he's inside of her and she's moving up and down against him. He's lost, he doesn't even realize it, he's having sex, he's fucking someone, and so he tries to join in and not just lay there. Her hands are against his chest and he holds her hips and helps her movements as he adds in his own. She opens her legs wider and he groans. She doesn't kiss him, but brings his one hand and has him touch her so that she finishes.
She stands up, pulling him out of her and takes him in her mouth and he quickly finishes. "I didn't want you to finish inside of me," she says simply, and then she gives him a kiss, one that's planted behind his ear and tells him she'll see him tomorrow.
A week or so later, he just tells her it isn't working out. She shrugs and leaves the bakery where he's on his lone shift, where she came hoping for a quick something. It's not that it didn't feel good, because it did, of course it did. It didn't feel right, nothing of it ever did. And he didn't like how it was with her. She was in control, she always had to be in control. And that's how it always is with him: some person telling him what to do, making decisions for him. At school it's the teachers. At home it's his mother. On that one night it was the old man in the moonlight.
He curses under his breath and kneads the dough a bit too harshly. He didn't want to think about that goddamn night from years before. He was stupid then and a child. And the man was a drunk and full of lies. It doesn't do well to dwell on a drunk man's musings.
At seventeen years old his mother is hounding him to pick up the game and find a decent woman that could actually agree to marrying him. At seventeen years old he's already considered a man grown and his life should already be on its way. He rolls his eyes, almost feels sick at the thought, but knows his mother tells it true. His two brothers are already off and married, apprenticing in trades and never looking back at the bakery. It falls upon him. Being the youngest he gets the scraps of what they don't want. He's fine with it, truly, he loves working at the bakery. It's all he knows and it's all he will know.
"You need a wife to help with everything. Me and your father aren't always going to be around to pick up your slack, you know."
And he knows. About four months after he turns seventeen his mother goes to bed and doesn't wake up. The woman at the apothecary comes over with her daughter who's an apprentice and tells them that she had some kind of heart condition apparently.
Peeta Mellark waits to feel sad and he doesn't. He laughs actually, the idea of his mother having anything in her heart, of course it was a disease that could kill.
He fucks the apothecary's daughter that night in his room, his hand on her mouth to keep her quiet. He's on top and thrusts hard into her as she holds onto him. She tries to plant kisses on his chest but he doesn't want that. He doesn't want any of it, any of it with this girl. He finishes, and uses his mouth to finish her. He sneaks her out, and he doesn't go looking for her again.
His mother's funeral is a quiet affair and not many people cry. Delly comes and stands by him and goes to hold his hand and he doesn't let go. He sees his brothers and their families, going to hold the babies that are his nieces and nephews. The idea of a family of his own comes and goes in his thoughts. One of his nieces is playing with a loose string on their clothing and it's red.
Peeta Mellark makes sure to take the string out of the kid's hand and gives her a cookie. She forgets about the string instantly. It's been six years and he hasn't.
Delly stays by his side, and he notices that. She holds his hand through most of it, and he notices that. When everyone leaves, his brothers and their families too, his father going upstairs into his room for his time to mourn, the bakery closed, she still is there and he notices. She stands in front of him and brushes her fingers through his hair a bit. "It's okay to cry."
His eyes aren't burning though, and he doesn't feel like he's going to cry. Maybe he should, because it is his mother afterall. But he can't seem to, and it makes him feel worse because he should be able to cry, should want to cry on a day like this.
"I'm just going to go to bed," he tells her and he wants her to leave. She's trying to be a good friend and he's trying to be a bad one. He doesn't want company. He wants to be a bad son on his own, the mistake that surely, surely, must've caused something in her to happen like that.
"I don't think you should be alone," Delly tells him, catching him by the arm.
"Well, I know I want to." He's being so immature and he hates it, but he doesn't care because he just wants to be alone.
"What?" He asks, and he turns around falling right into her. She cups his face and brings his lips to hers and all he can think is oh, no, no no no. Not Delly. Because Delly is his friend, and this makes it all different.
But it's a slow, small kiss, and maybe it won't change anything. "Listen. Go to the Hob and get us some liquor. I'll heat up some of this food. We'll eat and drink and forget about the bad of the day, alright?"
He nods and gets some money, happy for the cold night air and to get away for a bit. His mother's words come back to him and he wonders. He needs to get married, why not to Delly? She's a good person, his best friend and has been through the years. He never wanted to kiss her though. He kissed her back –– he thinks –– when she just kissed him, but it didn't feel like anything truly.
Then again, a lot of the kisses he's had have been just that: kisses.
And he doesn't want her for just a quick fuck. The word makes him wince, thinking about it with Delly. She's not that, and he doesn't want that with her. He doesn't want any of that with her. The wind blows the clouds and the moon shines heavy upon him as he makes his way into the Seam.
He's never been to the Hob before. He has friends that have before, his brothers laughed about it, but he never did. He steps in and it's overbearing. The windows are wide in the building, and the winking moonlight shines in. It's after sundown but it's still busy in the place, and he starts walking around trying to not stick out as much as he is, with his blond hair blue eyes and fair skin. Most people in here are Seam, and most people turn to look at him questioning. He doesn't look at any of them, and instead just makes his way until he finds his way to a one armed woman with bottles of liquor all around her.
He puts his money down and she pushes forward a liquor bottle. He stays still for a bit, looking at it. He knows what will happen if he goes back to his house with this bottle of liquor. He knows that Delly will still be there. He knows that Delly will stay over.
He looks up at the woman with one arm, and her eyebrow is cocked as she stares back, questioning. "Can I have a glass?"
He gives her some more money and takes the glass she handed him and moves to sit at a table a bit away. It's near the window and he looks out it as he pours himself a glass and just stares at it for a bit. He needs to drink some of the night off but he can't go back home. Not with her there. He can't.
"You don't get drunk just by staring at the liquor, boy." The voice is familiar in a way that makes his insides curdle and he doesn't look up as the figure sits down across from him. He stays staring at the drink and then quick gulps it down. It burns and he comes up coughing and the man that sits with him laughs as he easily takes a drink of his own bottle, not opting for a glass himself.
Peeta Mellark doesn't look at the man and pours himself another glass.
The man keeps talking as the moon rises higher in the sky and shines in through the window. "I bought some stew from Sae –– got you some too, boy. Looked like you could use some."
A bowl of Sae's infamous mystery meat soup is pushed in front of him but he doesn't look at it and doesn't look at the man either. "I'm not hungry."
The man snorts at Peeta Mellark. "You better get something in your stomach if you plan on blazing through some liquor."
He sighs, picks up his spoon and takes a sip. It's hot and it's good, and he doesn't want to question what exactly it's made out of. The man that sits with him slurps his own stew and Peeta Mellark doesn't look up at him. He takes another gulp of liquor, not coughing this time, and looks down. He sees the man's feet, and he sees a bag near the man's feet. A couple of thick threads seem to be falling out of the bag, and they're the color red.
His fists clench instantly and he looks up at the man sitting across from him. He's eating his stew, almost finished already, with a content look on his face. "I've been wondering how long it'd take you to remember me."
"Why are you here?" He asks the man, demands him. He takes another gulp of his drink.
The man doesn't answer the question. "Might want to slow down on the intake of that."
"No, you don't get to tell me what to do. I have been looking for you for over about six years. Where have you been?"
The man leans back in his chair and looks at Peeta Mellark. "Well you can't expect that you're the only person that needs me, do you?"
Peeta Mellark barks out a laugh. He can see it now, this man knowing and visiting almost everyone. He probably could have at eleven years old asked after this man when all he knew was what he carried. "So why are you here now? After all this time why are you here now?"
The man shrugged and took a drink. "I like to drink here sometimes."
"You're telling me all this time I just had to come to the damn Hob and I could find you?"
The man doesn't answer again. "So is there a reason you're sitting here looking to drink alone instead of going home to that girl of yours?"
"Not my girl," Peeta Mellark growls, and he doesn't even recognize his own voice.
"I know that. You know that I know that. You sure have been messing around with some girls for the past couple of years. Making sure all of them have safe Merchant features. Is there a reason for that?"
"How the hell do you know this about me?"
"Why are you searching for another when your feet are already tied to hers?" He shakes his head. He couldn't believe the man was bringing this up to him. That he had the audacity to. "You're angry at me."
Peeta Mellark lets out a heavy breath and rubs his eyes. "I'm angry at a lot of things. You're one of them."
"You're drowning," the old man states and Peeta Mellark looks at him, surprised. "You have been for a while."
"What the hell––"
"It's partly my fault," the man acknowledges and Peeta Mellark stays silent. The man doesn't apologize. "So. You've been searching for me for six years. Tell me what you mean to tell me."
He takes a deep breath. He takes another gulp of his liquor and manages to not cough again. He looks right at the man. "I think you're a liar."
The man laughs. "Am I now?"
"You said everyone has this destined person for them to love and be with. That's bullshit." The liquor is getting to his head and he tries to eat some more stew in hopes to slow it down.
"Is that so?" The old man just asks. He's looking at Peeta Mellark fully, and all of the Hob continues to move on without even passing the two another glance.
"My father loved another woman. Years ago, I guess, but he was in love with her –– I could tell when he talked about it, however briefly, that it was still a sore subject for him. They didn't get married. He just said that she loved someone else more. He never could tell me that he loved my mother. My mother –– My motheris dead. But I don't think she loved any one of us.
"And you told me that there was someone for me," His voice is an angry whisper and he quickly takes another gulp, opting for drinking just from the bottle instead of taking the time to pour another glass. "You said that girl that was outside of my house was the one I was tied to, and then when my mother appeared you were gone. My mother beat me bad that night. My mother, I don't know what she did to the girl. She just said she 'got rid of her.' Families moved and people died all in that period, and I never heard about that girl again. You never told me her name, and then you disappeared. I didn't even know anything about her. But you told me she was for me, and I believed you. So I've been floundering these past couple of years because my heart has room only for this girl that could be dead, or not even exist for all I know. And it's you who told me this, you who did this, you and your stupid string. Dammit!"
He tries to take some calming breaths and ends up with another gulp of liquor.
"It makes sense I guess. That you'd use strings." He's scraping the his spoon on the edges of his bowl, only small bites of the mystery meat are left of his stew and he doesn't have the rumbling hunger in him that makes him try to soak it up. "They're slender, brittle. They knot up with each other and with many. They get split ends. Unravel. They rip and fall apart." His bottle is almost halfway done and his head feels like it's swimming in the night. "Tell me, is my string connected to a grave? Just tell me that. Tell me if she's dead."
The old man sighs and he suddenly does look old, the moonlight hitting his face and showing the wrinkles and even scars that litter the man. He picks up his bag. "It's getting late, and it's already cold out boy. Let's get you home before the liquor fully hits you."
Peeta Mellark just shakes his head. The man cannot even admit that he's a liar, can't even tell him if the girl he's supposedly to marry is dead.
"Sweetheart!" The man yells out across the Hob and he motions for someone to come over. Peeta Mellark doesn't look up, he just puts his bowl and spoon together and stands up as he dumps out the couple drops left in the glass so that he can return it. The man talks to the person that came over, that stands right next to Peeta Mellark's side. "Be a doll and clean this up, will you?"
He hears a woman scoff and can almost even hear her roll her eyes. "I clean up after you all the time, Old Man."
He nods. "I just need to make sure Peeta here gets home. He had a rough day." Peeta Mellark looks up at the man, questioning. It's the first time he's called him by his name for the evening.
"Oh uhm," The woman is nervous and awkward, he can tell by her voice and he finally looks over at her. He decides at this exact moment the liquor seizes his body. The woman –– girl?, it's a hard age they both find themselves at, distinguished adults or still just children –– is small but stunning. She must be his age or around it but he can't remember ever seeing her. Her skin is dark, calling homage to the Seam, and her eyes stand out amongst it, almost a shining silver with the moonlight that's coming in through the window. Her hair is in a single braid and it's an ink trail that follows down half her back. She's wearing boots, jeans and a tshirt and is swimming in a hunting jacket. The cold promise of winter even invades in here. He looks back up to her when she speaks again, and notices a small scar underneath her one eye. He's definitely drunk. He has to be at the point. "Are you okay?"
He can tell that she's uncomfortable asking this, trying to console someone and he just brushes off the idea of not being okay with a flick of his hand. "I'm fine. It's fine. It was my mother's funeral today –– that's all."
He realizes too late that that was the wrong thing to say. The old man chuckles under his breath and the girl gasps and stutters. "I didn't mean to ask, I didn't––"
"It's fine. Don't worry about it really. Thanks." He looks at her and is drowning. He's drunk, he has to be.
"For what?" She asks.
"For not saying 'I'm sorry.'" He lost track how many times he heard people tell him that. The look that most people gave him was that they weren't sorry the woman was dead. It's just a customary thing, a customary thing to feel even and to want to tell someone. But it was just an obligation and it fit worse than it usually would.
"Yeah well," She shrugs. "It doesn't help."
It's quiet in the Hob, he thinks it must be because he can't hear a damn thing. He looks at her with a slight smile on his face, he can feel it, and he's definitely drunk. It's the only explanation for how he can feel his blood running through him, for how it feels like maybe his heart isn't empty, how everything just feels warm. She's looking at him too, and then she focuses and blushes and looks away. The hint of a smile he has grows to a real smile and he tries to shake his head but when he's done his eyes are on her again.
"Alright, alright. Let's go, Bread Boy." The old man claps Peeta Mellark on the shoulder and for some reason the girl looks a little startled at the nickname and stares at Peeta a little more closely. He frowns in thought at the woman as she looks at him closer, and she just shakes her head and looks away as she starts cleaning the table. He lets himself be guided out of the place by the old man, when he hears the woman call out to him.
He turns around and she's holding up a half empty bottle of the liquor. "You forgot this."
He shrugs. "Keep it. It was for tonight and I drank what I needed to." She lets a short smile build on her for a second, but then look away again as her eyebrows furrow and she seems lost in thought. Peeta Mellark doesn't remark upon it, and instead allows the old man to continue bringing him out.
When their on the road in the moonlight, making their way to the town, Peeta leaning on the old man for support and the old man leaning even a bit on Peeta, Peeta asks. "Who was that? What was her name?" His words aren't slurred but he still feels drunk, he still must be.
The old man laughs. "If you wanna know you're going to have to ask her yourself, boy."
Delly's on the road when they get to the Merchant's area and she's worried and tells them so. "Peeta I was so worried when you didn't come home!"
The word home makes him wince, and her saying it makes the liquor all want to come back up. She says it like a waiting wife, like it's their home. It could be, he knows. And maybe that's what she wants.
But he doesn't. He shakes his head. "I'm fine. Saw an old friend at the Hob. I'm tired now so... I'll see you later?" Go home, he tells her in her mind. Don't do this, you don't want this. Go home.
She looks at him suspiciously. "You smell like liquor."
"We've been drinking liquor."
She hmmphs and looks at Peeta warily. "I'll be fine Delly. The old man here will make sure I get to my house fine. Go home and go to bed."
She sighs, nods, and leaves. He's thankful she didn't try to hug or kiss him and takes a deep breath. They continue on. When they're closer to the house, Peeta asks the man that's stayed silent. "Think I drove Delly far enough away with how repulsive I was this evening to not want anything to do with me?"
The man shakes his head. "She's got her eyes already on someone else and doesn't even realize it."
Peeta Mellark rolls his eyes as they come to the porch, the place where he first saw this man six years before. "We're not getting into this anymore. Look, it's fine. You lied to me. You're some weird drunk man that likes to fuck with eleven year olds. It's a little weird, but whatever. You don't have to keep up this matchmaker act with me."
The old man smiles ruefully and takes a swig of his liquor –– he made sure not to leave his bottle as a gift back in the Hob.
The wind picks up and clouds start to cover the moon. "That's my cue to disappear."
He just shakes his head at the old man. "Is it going to be another six years until I see you again?"
The old man shrugs. "Don't think you'll be needing me too much anymore. Maybe if you need a drinking partner again I'll be able to do that for you."
Peeta Mellark just rolls his eyes again. He thinks about asking the man for his name, but doesn't. If he was going to tell it he already would have. "Yeah well, you know where to find me and I don't know where to find you."
The old man nods and signals a sort of salute as he turns around and starts to head back down the street where they came. He watches from his porch until he disappears through the night. When he goes inside, he puts away the heated up leftovers, and makes his way upstairs, stumbling a bit, and collapses on his bed.
He expects the dream that evening. He knows it's bound to come to him. It's not the only dream he's ever dreamt but it's the most prominent and most reoccurring. Instead he dreams he's naked and knotted within a ball of yarn. Of course it's red, and of course he can't get out. He tries to though, but can't, and then someone comes over to him. He can't look up at them but he feels slender fingers run where the string is wrapped all around him and starts to undo the knots. She works at it for hours. When there's only one left, making a loop around his foot, she takes the other end of the string and ties it around her foot too.
He wakes up right before she looks up at him, but he can picture vividly the scar underneath the right eye as his hungover self slowly starts to wake.
It's innocent at first, really. It's a nagging feeling at the back of his neck. He starts going to the Hob more often. More often than never, of course, is pretty easy to accomplish, and it turns out to become once a week usually. Sometimes he's able to squeeze in more time. It's easy enough to have an excuse, being from the bakery they're always in need of something and it just helps to get it from the Hob rather than the Town's market. And there's always stew to eat. The first time he goes after his night of drinking there, he brings a couple loaves of bread and finds the girl with the scar under her eye working with the old lady that makes the stew. The old woman is Sae, and she serves him a bowl and he insists upon her taking her own loaf. When the girl comes from out back she stops for a second at the sight of him, and then offers him a muttered hello. He offers her a loaf of bread.
She stops short and stops breathing. She doesn't look at him.
"I just wanted to thank you for cleaning up after us," He tells her, suddenly nervous because she's not speaking, she's not looking at him, she's not doing anything. Don't most people react? "I uh, we had a bit to drink, you know, dealing with...things." He curses himself mentally. Where was the smooth talking Peeta with the gift of a silver tongue? He didn't understand it at all. "So I just wanted to say thank you."
Her hand is on the bread and she slowly takes it. He takes a breath in relief and she looks up at him. "Thank you," she tells him, her voice sincere. He's almost perplexed because it sounds like she's about to cry. She shakes her head and everything's in check, and he wonders if he just imagined it. "Well don't let me keep you from your stew, Peeta."
He grins and sits down, and doesn't realize until after she doesn't reappear that he never caught her name.
He learns it the next time he comes in though. He brings some cookies, and gives her one as she tells him her name. Katniss she tells him, it's Katniss. She tells him it's a plant that's found by the water that blooms three leafed flowers and he tries to imagine it so he can draw it right.
He can't draw it right, can't imagine the plant that this girl is named after. They don't own too many books, just him and his dad now, and the ones that they do are more about recipes than they are about flowers. He doesn't find them. He doesn't know of any water source that was nearby that he could find this plant and its flower and study it.
Eight balled up pieces of paper lay throughout his room until he gives it up and goes to sleep.
They dance around each other. He works at the bakery with his father, picking up hours and listening to the voice in his head that's his mother, telling him he needs a wife to help pick up the slack, he needs a woman that actually would agree to marry him.
And where are you going to find one of them, boy?
He doesn't answer the nagging voice in his head, and it's a relief that it doesn't end with him getting yelled at more or slapped.
His father looks tired, is tired, but he carries on with a smile. The days are getting colder and Mr. Mellark is walking slower. Peeta lets him skip out on some hours, does extra work. The moment he can though, he's at the Hob.
And he doesn't understand. Or rather, he does. He figures it has to do with the old man, and finally seeing him again after all this time. He confronted this man with his bag of string, accused him of lying and the man never even tried to plead his case. The spirit of Peeta Mellark felt lighter, and he knew it was because he was free of all of that.
There is no string he's tied to, no person he's meant for. It's stupid, silly talk, and he was such a child to believe it. The dreams are still there, very much so they are still there, but he didn't expect them to go away automatically anyway. It doesn't matter though, because he's not wrapped up in that stupid string and suffocating. He's not destined for anyone and whatever happens will happen.
He asks Katniss what Katniss flowers look like, if there's a way she could show him, and she asks why. He takes his sketchbook out and shows her some things he's drawn over the years as explanation. There's one of the back of a head with a dark winding flow of a braid, and she moves to the next page with a blush.
"I have a plant book, where there's a picture and description of tons of plants. Well at least descriptions."
Peeta Mellark's eyes light up. "Can I see it?"
She walks away. "No."
The world around them gets colder as they warm up slowly, slowly, to each other.
He questions her answer. "Green?" He wasn't sure what color would be her favorite, but green?
"Like the woods," She explains and ah, that makes sense. "It's where I'm free and where I like to spend all the time I can. Besides, what's your favorite color?" She probably is waiting for some pretentious answer, him being an "artist." But he just shrugs and tells her orange. She laughs. "You can't make fun of green. Orange? That color is an eyesore."
He shakes his head. "No, not a bright orange. More muted, and soft." He turns and looks out the window. "Like a sunset. Watch today's sunset and picture that dark orange. That's my favorite color."
She murmurs under her breath, "that's more of a red."
His blood chills and he feels himself still. "No, red isn't my favorite color. That isn't red. It's orange." The color red is something he hates and he has for a couple years now. It's the color of lies and it's the color of being pushed by his mom when he was young. But the main reason he hates the damn color is it's the color of those lies that lived in that old man's bag.
"It is a nice color," It's silent, but she quietly tells him this. She pauses and then smiles a bit, "but green is still better."
He manages to lift the edges of his mouth to that. He forgets about the color red for the time being.
It happens when he's at the Hob. It's been months since his mother died and it seemed her spirit lingered with how the cold winds seemed to refuse to leave the land. It's snowing, maybe the last snow of the season but a hearty one, and he's not looking forward to the walk back to his house. Once he gets there it'll be fine though, he knows.
He's laughing at a joke Sae said when Delly comes up to him. She hasn't tried to kiss him since, and he's grateful. Word is she's sneaking around with some boy named Thom or the other, but she tells him she won't kiss and tell.
But today her face is full of worry, and he knows it must be something bad if it got her to come all the way to the Hob to get him. "What is it?" He asks, and he leaves his stew half eaten but fully paid, his scarf on his chair because he's already out and leaving. People nearby watch and try to read lips as the blonde girl talks hurriedly to Peeta Mellark and people watch as they see his face crumble. Peeta Mellark stumbles but catches himself, and Katniss finds herself taking a step forward. She didn't mean to, and didn't realize so. She takes another step back and cleans up his stew as he runs off. She takes his scarf and figures she'll put it in the back until he comes in again. It won't be long, it never is.
She looks back out the door, but doesn't see anything but a white blanket of snow. She feel's Sae's eyes on her. She scrubs the table and concentrates on every speck.
His mother doesn't need to be alive to tell him that it's his fault for him to know the truth.
An accident happens when he's not at the bakery and his father ends up on the ground from a fall on black ice, unconscious. It's a flurry of time and space, he supposes, from the moment that Delly tells him to the moment he's standing there in front of his father who lays there brokenly in the office. Delly called the woman from the apothecary but it's looking hopeless.
She asks if there's others that need to be called (others that have to be here for the death) and he shakes his head. His brothers moved away to start their lives even more fresh, away from this area and everything it held them back from. His mother's already dead. He's the one that's supposed to be here, and one of the moments he wasn't led to this.
She says it's painless when she covers the body with a sheet. Peeta Mellark found himself wishing his father to open his eyes one last time as he stood there and there was a chance. He wanted his father, his dad, to be conscious so he could explain how sorry he is, how he is not the best son he knows that but he will be better. Can be better. Could be better.
But the sheet goes over and there's a shake of the head and Peeta Mellark says goodbye to his father with the woman that's tending to his dead flesh and Delly in the other room. Delly fetches a couple of men –– who? He's not sure, but he doesn't try to figure out –– and they're able to haul the body away to keep it until the funeral that he has to plan. He has to phone his brothers. He has a bakery to run, to hold down.
And, his mother's voice adds. No wife to help.
He asks Delly to go and she goes, squeezing his arm. His night alone is restless and the bakery, the house, is big. Too big for one body to live in but that's how it is now. He thinks maybe he should have had Delly stay, stay on the couch or any of the other bedrooms not being used –– no brothers around, no parents alive. Silence pounds in his ears.
His eyes burn and in the dark and alone, Peeta Mellark cries.
The doors stay closed for a couple of days. People hope for baked goods but understand and don't expect it open. They bring food again, and it feels like it was just yesterday that the food was in there for his mother's funeral.
His mother, his father. He's just a man grown and having to bury both his parents. His heart keeps beating on, that same golden heart that was there at eleven years old, that same emptiness but somehow even more empty. He sits at the kitchen table and looks at the place, the place that was left solely to him in his father's will and he thinks to himself: Look how far we've come.
His brothers came in the day before but they're staying with their wife's families, respectively. They give him a toothless smile, a shake of the head, and a clap on the back and tell him, "There's just too many memories here. We can't stay here."
And he wants to yell to them, what about me? Why are there not too many memories for me?
He doesn't, he smiles and nods and watches them leave. The snow is already melting and sunlight is trying to break through clouds and he feels like it's taunting him, how his father had to fall with the last patch of black ice, like that all had to happen and now the sky is clearing up. He finds himself in his spare time baking with no stop. It helped, it took his mind off things, although every now and then he gets lost in a memory he has to shake off. But he bakes, the opened sign is shown to the front soon enough, and everyone that comes in give him sympathetic nods of condolences, state their sorrow or share a joking time they had with his deceased father, make their purchase, and leave.
He switches the sign to close but doesn't stop baking. Tomorrow is the funeral. Then his brothers go back to wherever they sprouted their new roots. He will stay here, he will bake, and the sun will rise and the sun will set and he'll still stay right here. He adds the cheese to the cheese buns, sets them, and they go into the oven. He starts on another batch.
The bell out front rings. "We're closed," He just yells out, a little irritated at the fact that he forgot to lock the door when he switched the sign to closed. A little irritated at the fact that someone decided to overlook the sign and come in anyway. He doesn't hear the door open again so he sighs and washes his hands to get the dough and flour off of them.
"Hey, sorry but we're–– Katniss?"
She stands in front of him with a bag slung over her shoulder and looks around at everything. He tries to swallow in air and he tries to drink in her appearance. He's missed her, he knows this, and it feels good to see her. That she came and seeked him out. That's why she's here, right?
No, maybe she just wants another loaf of bread or something.
"Can I get you something?" He coughs and then asks. She looks at him, her eyes scrutinizing.
"You forgot your scarf –– when you were last in," She lets him know and she takes it out of her bag. He keeps his face from hiding disappointment and nods as he comes to the front and takes it from her.
"Thanks," He says as he takes it and he tries to move away but she grabs his arm and turns him back around, questioning.
She looks at his eyes, at the bags under his eyes, and then scans over the rest of him. He's tired. He's grieving. There's a guilty weight upon him that makes him slouch. She doesn't say another thing but instead, hesitantly, she takes him and wraps her arms around him.
He's shocked at first, at this contact, at her. But it's what he needs he realizes, most people just giving some stupid pat like he's a dog that did a trick, most people just say they're sorry but that doesn't help. He wraps his arms around her back and holds tight as if he hopes to never let go and maybe he does. Embraces are never like this for him, never acting so to hold him all together, so he buries his face into the side of her neck and her hair is all around him, still in that braid going down his back. She doesn't try to say I'm sorry, she doesn't try to say that it'll be alright. They step back from each other, both a bit slightly embarrassed by how hard they held onto each other and he fingers the scarf that's in his hands now.
"Thank you," he repeats, and it's softer.
"How are you?" She asks and her eyes trail around his face rapidly, as if looking for him to mask it up.
But he knows he can't lie, not to her. So he just looks away and shrugs.
She nods and looks around. "Lock the door so that you're actually closed," She tells him and he raises an eyebrow and does such. She takes out a container in her bag and hands it to him. "I thought you'd be missing the stew."
A smile breaks through. It's different from all the other food in his house that people gave him somehow, because it feels like it was given really just because he missed the stew, and he can look at it like that. "Are you –– are you hungry?" He asks. She smiles a bit and nods and he motions for her to follow him as he goes into the back. The cheese buns are done and he takes them out and laughs lightly at the expression that Katniss has when she looks at them.
He figures he'll clean afterwards. Taking up a plate of cheese buns and a couple other baked goods he thought he saw her eyeing –– a loaf of cinnamon bread, a couple different kinds of cookies –– they make their way upstairs and set two plates across from each other at the table. It's awkward and Peeta Mellark doesn't understand why he's stumbling so hard for words. Katniss goes through her bag and takes out a book and starts flipping around for a page. She finds it and puts it in front of him as he finishes his stew.
He's confused, trying to understand and then he does. "The Katniss plant," she tells him, and he looks up at her, questioning.
She brought her plant book.
They end up on his couch and he looks through the book, at the pages and all the information that's stored in them. Some pages just have writing, others have old plants pressed within it and others have quick sketches to show the likeness of it. But most of them are just writing, with open area as if waiting for the drawings.
"It was my mom's I guess, but really more of my dad's. He added a bunch, so it was thought of like his," she tells him quietly, and he looks over at her. She takes a deep breath. "Before he, before he died. This was his. It's mine now, I guess. But. It was his."
Peeta just nods and looks back at the pages and he understands just a bit more about Katniss. Why she didn't let him see it earlier. Why she knows not to just pat someone and tell them they're sorry when their parent dies. "You're missing pictures," he tells her off-handedly.
"I could draw them, if you want."
She takes a half-empty bottle of liquor out shortly after. She smiles sheepishly and tells him, "It's yours. It's the bottle you didn't finish and you said for me to take. And well, I didn't really have a time to drink... but you know, I just––"
He smiles at her and takes the bottle and pours them each a glass. There's small talk that doesn't breach the fact that he has his father's funeral tomorrow. He learns that she lives with Sae who was a friend of the family's. The woman took in her and her sister, and he doesn't hear more about her parents. He hears her use the past tense and tense shoulders with her sister, and he doesn't push it. She learns about his favorite things to bake, just a nice good loaf of bread, and his favorite things to decorate, when people ask for delicate work on wedding cakes.
"I don't know how I'll deal with tomorrow," He tells her as the bottle's almost done.
"I'll be there," She tells him, and he looks at her questioningly. Even more questioning, it somehow does help to know.
"I don't know how I'll run the bakery by myself," He tells her when the bottle is done, when the two of them sit close on the couch.
"I'll help you," She tells him, and he looks again at her questioningly. "I don't really have a job. I hunt and bring in meat for Sae, and I help her around the place, but she tells me I don't owe her for it. She'd probably be happy that I'm out of her hair for a bit."
So he nods and says, "Okay." And she just says "okay" back.
He cries at his father's funeral but his friend, his friend Katniss is there by him and every now and then touches his arm lightly. It helps.
People come to the bakery afterwards and tell him how great the man that was his father was, and his friend, his friend Katniss is by his side the whole time. It helps.
His nieces and nephews are growing and getting older. He still is able to pick them up and he gets a couple of them to giggle. Like last time there's one that has a loose thread that they pick at. He doesn't snatch the thread away.
People start to leave, and his brothers do too with one last hug and telling him to come visit. Delly kisses his cheek and he clasps the hand of the man that has his hand around her waist. Katniss hangs around longer and helps him clean up. She gives him an awkward smile and tells him, "See you tomorrow, boss." She leaves.
Peeta Mellark is alone but he takes a deep breath.
A routine develops. Katniss comes in and helps with the early crowd. She leaves for a couple of hours to hunt. She brings back a squirrel, for him. She helps with the afternoon and evening. She leaves.
Sometimes she stays for dinner. Sometimes she brings the plant book and watches as he draws the plants and paints, lets him know if any adjustments need to be made.
A couple people look at her questioningly but don't say a thing. Mixing Merchant and Seam isn't usual, but it isn't the first time. They know that if his mother was still alive this girl would never be caught near the bakery even.
He feels it but doesn't say anything, he feels them slowly growing together. And so when he says "goodnight" he really means "thank you," when he says "thank you" he really means "I couldn't do any of this without you," and when he wakes he wakes up alone but he thinks of her and he thinks, "I love you."
He doesn't say those words though.
She tells him she can't remember when she didn't have the scar under her eye. It's from a long time ago, a trip to the woods with her father where she played with his bow and arrow and had the evidence from pulling it too taut.
He wonders if she has any other scars but he doesn't ask. She asks about his and he shrugs them off as burns from ovens, rowdy brothers, or being clumsy.
They both know he wasn't that clumsy, but they don't dig deeper.
"I want to apologize." Peeta Mellark looks up at his friend Delly when she says this and he's confused. He arches his eyebrow and goes back to work, knowing she'll continue when she's ready. It's slow in the bakery and Katniss left to go hunt for a bit. He's happy to see Delly coming in to visit him but by the way she's fidgeting he's not sure if he really is.
She continues after a bit. "I never apologized, but I should have. I..." She shakes her head and Peeta stops his work to pay attention fully to his lifelong friend. "I was doing it to help you, truly. I wasn't thinking, but you were, and, and just thank goodness you were thinking Peeta."
"You care to tell me what you're talking about?" He is clueless at what she is getting at.
"The night of your mother's funeral." He tries to keep his face neutral. Oh. That. She smiles a grimace. "Yeah. I...I could've ruined our friendship. And I, I never looked at you that way. Not that you aren't a great guy, Peeta! But a brother, you're a brother to me. But I don't know, I wanted to help you. You were in a pain where you couldn't feel pain. You needed help in the bakery. Everyone always thought it was going to be me and you, and I thought in that one moment that I needed to help you. That someone needed to help you. And we've always looked out for each other so I guess I just thought...just thought well, why not just make it a permanent thing?"
They both swallow hard. The future that everyone else expected out of the two of them sat uneasily for them both. He tries to imagine it, if he ended up going right back to his house after the Hob. It would've just slid into place, like someone dunking a puzzle piece into water so it can fit in a spot that isn't made for it. He would've gotten back, they would get drunk. They'd end up in his bed, he knows that was her implications. Their friendship would've changed, and they wouldn't be able to just ignore each other after that. She would've helped him in the bakery, she would've become his wife.
He doesn't try hard to picture it, but still, he can't see it. As if it was never a possibility.
She smiles at him and covers his hand with hers. "We're both better off with what life threw at us instead. Or who." She quirks an eyebrow at him.
"We're not, We don't––" he starts off at her implications. He's always a blundering fool when it comes to Katniss, apparently also when it comes to just speaking of her. But they aren't anything. She's helping at the bakery –– that's it.
She smiles again and stops him. "I see how you look at her, Peeta. It's brought back something in you that I've missed for a couple years." And she smiles so he lets forth a smile himself and nods sheepishly. She looks serious again.
"Don't let her go."
Delly's walking out as Katniss walks in and he already feels himself losing himself in it all, the borderline domestic feel it all takes with her coming in bearing his dinner. Delly smiles knowingly at him over her shoulder but he ignores it. Her voice echos in his mind, "don't let her go."
No, I don't think I could if I wanted.
He gets the Katniss drawing right this time after seeing it in the plant book. It's not as good as it'd be if if he saw it in real life, but he knows it's better than nothing. It's better than his last attempts. And he's excited, feeling like a little boy on his first day of school as he waits for the work day to be over so he can show her the sketch. He wants to hate how excited he gets over it but he can't.
And it's worth it.
Her smile is big when he shows the drawing and she nods as her fingers brush against it as if it's the real thing. The sketchbook is in her hands and she moves it, causing a couple of loose papers to come out. She goes to pick them up but he tries to rush and pick them up before her, before she can see them.
One is turned upwards and she sees the starting sketch of a girl that looks alarmingly like her.
His cheeks are red as she continues to hand the papers back to him. She wants to turn them all over and see what all of them hold but she knows not to. He could curse himself for not taking the loose papers out before showing her his drawing. He fidgets, trying to come up with an excuse to why he drew her but she cuts off his thoughts by taking his hand in hers and squeezing.
"Thank you," she says with a shy and blushing smile, and he decides to not be embarrassed by it anymore.
The first time he kisses her she kisses him. It's after work and she stays for dinner. He washes the dishes and this is where she usually leaves but instead she touches his shoulder. It's quiet in the house, and he turns around and looks at her.
She takes a step closer and kisses him.
It's a short one first, and she pulls back to look at him. But Peeta Mellark's eyes are closed and there's a smile that threatens his face and so she brings her lips to his again and kisses. He's against the counter and his hand slips a bit from soapy water but he doesn't stop kissing her because he realizes that he's been wanting to kiss her for a while, maybe his entire life because that's what it feels like. Her kiss both at once sucks his entire life away and breathes life back into him, and he's not sure if he ever can stop kissing her, now that he has. His one hand plants on her waist when the other goes to hold her face.
She starts to laugh and then pulls away as she wipes her cheek where he just was holding her. He looks at his hands and sees the soapy water on them still, sees that she was trying to get the bubbles and water off of herself. He smiles sheepishly and keeps his hands back when he goes back to kiss her. He isn't looking to stop anytime soon and he hopes, oh god he hopes, that she feels the same. He thinks she does, at least a bit of it all, because she presses more into him, her hands clutching at his shirt to pull him closer.
And then they stop and just hold their faces there, foreheads pressing into each other's. She inhales his exhale and he inhales hers, and he feels like he never experienced anything so intimate. She blushes and bites her lip and his eyes train there, wanting to capture them again but holding back.
She gives him one more short kiss, a sweet and lingering one. "I'll see you tomorrow," she whispers to him and steps away and heads back to the Seam. The quiet isn't as imposing that night for Peeta Mellark.
Time passes and desire unravels between the two like a slowly falling ball of yarn. It starts with him giving her a quick peck the next morning and her blush. Goodbye kisses have more heat but stay contained. But it develops both slowly and rapidly it seems, the two of them clutching each other at off-times when she checks how his baking is doing in the back. A grab into the stockroom and bodies pushing hard against each other, a bag of sugar falling to the ground at their actions.
The two of them on his couch and fall back slowly onto it, into each other, peeling clothes away. It's come to this for him with other girls, clothes falling away and their bodies falling into each other. But it's different, and he knows it's her. It's never been so...filling.
His heart beats loud as they lay there with hard breaths, and maybe he thinks, maybe that heart of his is capable of being full.
He buries his head in the crook of her neck and they lay there for a second, unmoving, skin on skin as he lays atop of her but holds his weight away so as not to hurt her. "Katniss," he whispers, the feeling of her fingers creating a trail up and down his back like nothing he ever knew before. He is pulled to her, has been pulled to her from the first moment he can remember seeing her. He remembers how he avoided looking at her when she first came to the table and he curses himself if only for the fact that he could've known for for a couple seconds longer. He picks his head up and looks at her and she questions him with her eyes. He needs to say it. Some of it, at least. "If you don't want this, just tell me."
She smiles sweetly and he feels his heart break from it, he feels his heart fill. "I do, Peeta."
He can't stop talking though, because he needs her to know, to know at least a bit. He holds back those three words and a bucketful spills out instead. "You're not just...this to me. Just some body. I care about you, Katniss... A lot. Gosh, you're probably the best thing that's come my way and ––"
She cuts him off with a kiss and suddenly her words are shy. "I know Peeta. It's...It's the same for me."
And then she takes him in her hands and they're connected.
It's slow at first, shy and fumbling and her blush makes him feel like he could finish right there. But he holds back and pushes into her and out slowly and wants to never forget this. He looks at her skin and takes it all in, wanting to never forget it. There's light scars on her arms –– he knows from hunting, that one below her eye, and one other that's prominent, that lays upon her chest between her breasts. It wraps like a slithering thing on her skin and he hates it, he doesn't know what it's from but he wants to know everything about her, every scar and every blush. He bends down and places a slow kiss on it and he hears her whimper.
He relearns his favorite things, his favorite sounds and sights and feelings, and they all draw to Katniss.
They have no clothes on when the words come forth. It's fitting, and although she is usually uncomfortable in nudity, she is fine with it in the warm comforting cocoon that she is learning in the arms of Peeta Mellark. They're both naked and it's fitting, with her naked words and naked thoughts. Everything is raw and after promising herself all those years ago to never talk about this to anyone, she speaks.
It's a whispered sort of word vomit, with no start and no end. "My dad died in a mining accident." His hand strokes her hair and she focuses on that feeling, on running her hand lightly down his arm and not looking at his face as she talks because it's easier. "I was eleven years old and I was his special girl. It hit mama hard." She swallows back tears that she doesn't want to come because she just wants to revel in the presence of Peeta but she wants, needs, to talk about this. "She couldn't take care of me and Prim. I tried to help all I could, with food and all..." She pauses but keeps going, hoping for her voice to stay strong. "But it wasn't enough. Mama wouldn't eat. We couldn't find enough. Sae stepped in and took in me and my sister. Mama was too far gone and I knew it, even then, she was just a day away from death herself."
She steadies herself with a breath, and let's the rest out. "But Prim was sick. She stayed sick and fighting for a while." She doesn't speak about Prim anymore. "Sae helped me. Took care of me and made sure I didn't fall into grief like my mother or sickness like..." He places a gentle kiss where a tear falls.
She takes his hand and moves it to lay upon her scar. The skin is still an angry red upon her, although he can see it's been years since it first laid on her skin. The scar lies close to her heart, and with his hand on it he can feel her heart beating. "What is this from?" He asks, but he knows somehow. And he hates it.
Her smile is bittersweet and her words stay quiet. "Once when I was eleven, a boy tried to help me when I was starving. He got hurt because of it, and I did too."
He feels his own tears but he bites them back. He kisses the entire length of the scar, follows it with how it lays on her skin in what he thinks looks like a string, and doesn't ask anymore questions. Of course it's red, but he's starting to think that maybe he doesn't hate that color anymore. She kisses his scars too, the scars he has from accidents and not accidents as well, and somehow, he thinks, maybe they're healing.
She looks up from the pastries she was organizing in the front display. "What is?"
He seems embarrassed that he spoke aloud but he continues anyway. "Sometimes I feel like all I can pinpoint in my life is moments of you. Everything else blurs."
She kisses him in the middle of the day, in the middle of the restaurant. His hand captures her hair and he looks at the strands that move between his fingers as he says the words. "I fell in love with you a while ago." He finally looks at her and sees a blush stain her cheeks but she smiles, and he tells her, "I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner."
A laugh comes through softly underneath her voice. "You'll just have to make up for it."
It's a year later when he sees the old man one final time. The moon lights the way for him and her to walk, leaving the festivities and going back to the bakery. It's their bakery now, their house, and for the first time, Peeta Mellark sees it as a home.
He knows it has to do with the woman in his arms, him and Mrs. Katniss Mellark ready to spend their first evening as husband and wife.
Peeta Mellark sees the old man standing a bit off from everyone with that damn bag over his shoulder, that book and bottle in his hands. They catch each other's eyes and the man smiles as if a joke was said and raises his bottle in a cheers to him and his new wife. Peeta Mellark nods to the man as he turns and walks away.
He holds his wife tighter and she looks up at him and smiles. She holds one last bouquet from the quiet gathering they just left, made up of wildflowers from the meadow tied together with a red string.
He takes the end of some of the string in his hands and plays with it loosely. The string doesn't fray or break.