Weathering the Storm
Taking care of a friend might prove to be more difficult than the Games themselves. Sick!Peeta
I wrote this story ages ago. I'm not really sure that I like it but I want to post it so I can stop thinking about it. I haven't really made plans to finish it so don't get attached.
Based more on the book than the movie. I own neither.
It had been eight weeks since I had been pulled from the Arena of the 74th Hunger Games. It had been seven weeks since the closing ceremonies and six weeks since Peeta Mellark learned that our love was a ruse. Thus began the five longest weeks of my life after the last of our belongings were moved into neighboring houses in Victors' Village.
For someone I had learned to be deeply passionate and empathetic, Peeta surprised me with his ability to live as a stoic. He performed the requisite lover's tasks for the cameras but easily pulled himself away in their absence, regarding me with cool necessity. To the world he was a tribute in love. To those who knew better, he was an efficient and motivated liar. But I had stared into his eyes as we faced death together and I knew that he was both these things and more. To me, he was the man I had broken.
The guilt I felt for what I had done was overshadowed only by the doubt I felt in doing it. But, I told myself, if Peeta was able to ignore the haunting memories of the past month, so was I. In truth I knew I had an easier time of it. Back in District 12, I was again surrounded by the familiar world which had first taught me to shield myself. Trading brought me back to myself, hunting more so with Gale at my side and I was able to push the Games to the back of my mind most days. One night when Prim pushed away a plate with food still on it, I even felt the fleeting tinge of pride for being able to fill my sister's belly. If I didn't look directly at the nightmare of the Hunger Games, they became almost that; a nightmare disappearing into the light of day.
The snow whipped around my face and I reached back to tug my braid loose, sending a sheet of hair around my cheeks. The added warmth was almost imperceptible but, with my limbs nearly frozen from the hunt, every bit helped. Not that there was much of a hunt to be had today.
The traps had all been empty and, with the snow falling thickly around me, I could hardly see enough to shoot. After less than an hour I resigned myself to going home empty handed. I knew that the Capitol's rations were more than enough to keep my family fed but couldn't shake the sense of failure for coming home without meat. With my head down, I trudged homeward, in snow that had accumulated to the tops of my boots.
Once I got home, however, my discouragement quickly melted away with the heat of a warm house and the smell of baked goods wafting all the way to the front door. While I hunted to keep the memories of the past year at bay, Peeta baked. I usually came home from my morning hunt to find Prim scarfing down fresh muffins or warm bread. Peeta was normally long gone.
Today, though, Prim had stretched her long, lean body over the countertop and my mother bent over the open oven.
They smell great," Prim chirped.
"Not as good as Peeta's, I'm afraid," my mother answered with disdain. In truth the cookies were far from perfect with dark brown edges and doughy white centers, but it was like my sister to be enthusiastic.
"Why are you baking?" I asked as I removed my wet gloves. "And shouldn't you be getting ready for school?"
Prim furrowed her brow at me but grinned. "Cancelled today," she answered. "Because of the blizzard."
"I see," I said, reaching out and burning my finger on the edge of cookie. "And I suppose that's why Peeta's shirking his responsibilities too?"
My mother shook her head. "He's got a cold. He called earlier to apologize but he thought he probably shouldn't be handling other people's food."
My first reaction was to bristle. A cold was no excuse to let my family starve. Then reality quickly set in. My family wasn't starving, not anymore, and Peeta was probably right to stay away.
A thought occurred to me and I groaned inwardly.
"What is it?" asked Prim, always sensitive to my moods.
"I should probably go check on Haymitch."
Since our return from the arena, Peeta and I had made an unspoken pact to watch over our drunken mentor. In our efforts to avoid one another we had moved naturally into a schedule of alternating weeks. Whoever was 'on duty' as I considered it, would check up daily to make sure Haymitch hadn't drank himself to death. This was supposed to be Peeta's week.
"Are you going now?" asked my mother, fretfully glancing towards the window.
"I may as well. The storm's only going to get worse."
I shrugged back into my coat when I had an idea. "Why don't you pack me up some cookies to bring to Haymitch, little Duck?"
"They're not that good," my mother insisted.
"I like them," Prim declared. Defiantly, she shoved another cookie into her mouth and swallowed it with a broad grin. I laughed out loud.
"Either way, I'm pretty sure the liquor has burned off his taste buds anyway. And who knows the last time he's eaten."
While Prim prepared a bag, I pulled my wet boots and gloves back on.
"I won't be long," I told them, as I headed back out. The snowfall had picked up while I was inside and I found it hard to see even a few feet in front of me. Only muscle memory allowed me to get safely to Haymitch's house across the circle.
I entered without knocking and paused to wipe the snow from my eyes. My nose was mercifully frozen and I didn't yet have to endure the stench of the house. Although my house and Peeta's were still fresh and new, Haymitch had had years to accumulate a layer of filth and rot.
I kept my eyes trained on the floor as I made my way down the hall to the kitchen. After tripping over Haymitch's prostrate body too many times to count, I learned to anticipate him. I was surprised to find him sitting up in the kitchen, in the same seat where Prim sat at our house.
Instead of eyeing the hot stove, though, he had his face buried in his arms, moaning quietly. Peeta stood at the stove and looked up me when I entered.
"Hello," he said, in a tone that clearly implied 'what are you doing here?' His voice was a hair deeper and a bit rougher than I was used to, but otherwise he seemed alright to me.
Without raising his head, Haymitch turned his blood-shot eyes on me. "It's Peeta's week to watch me," he accused flatly.
"Yeah," I fumbled awkward, clutching at my parcel. "Oh right, well… Prim made cookies and asked me to bring some to you."
Haymitch groaned and buried his face again.
His attitude irritated me unreasonably.
"Well you have to eat something," I snapped.
He gestured blindly to Peeta who held up a spoon over his head. "He said he'd eat rice."
My inutility was tangible. Instead of feeling foolish now, I felt indignant.
"I thought you were sick," I said to Peeta.
He shrugged and turned back to his rice. "Not much," he answered. "Can you get some bowls?"
As usual, Peeta knew just how to ease the tension of a situation. I busied myself with uncovering and washing the least disgusting of the used dishes.
"What is this?" I asked as I picked a congealed bit of brown grease from a bowl.
Haymitch raised his head again and smiled evilly. "Do you really want to know?"
Before I could answer, Peeta reeled away from the stove and directed a powerful sneeze towards the ground.
"Bless," I said uncomfortably. It was a habit I'd picked up from Prim who enjoyed the comfortable formalities of caretaking. Still, hardly anyone in the Fray believed in blessings.
"Thank you," replied Peeta kindly. "I think it's ready. Are there bowls?"
I presented two sparkling, clean dishes. Disappointment flashed across Peeta's face before it was again masked by civility.
"You're not joining us?"
"I should get back." I shifted my weight uncomfortably.
"Come on," urged Haymitch. "If I have to eat this germ infested food, you should too."
"Don't be an ass," I chided him. Peeta scooped out two bowls and passed one to Haymitch.
"I didn't sneeze in the bowl." His tone was half defensive, half hurt. "But I'm sure Katniss doesn't want to get snowed in here with us."
"Why not?" asked Haymitch, taking up a spoon. "This place is a dream." With that declaration he began to shovel food down his throat. For a man who looked to be on his deathbed, he had a voracious appetite.
Peeta looked down at his own dish but didn't move toward it. Instead he dug his hands into his pockets and turned to me.
"Good hunting today?" he asked conversationally.
"Not really. Most everything's hiding from the storm," I answered. I found it hard not to look into his eyes as we spoke and harder not to notice the weary shadow beneath them.
"The animals have the sense to stay home on days like this," Peeta teased.
I shrugged. "It's habit. My day doesn't really start until I've checked the traps."
I inclined my head toward the hall, striving to examine the weather through the glass at the top of the front door. I didn't relish the idea of heading back outside.
Peeta spoke as though he had read my mind. "Are you sure you don't want some rice? I promise I didn't sneeze on it."
The few bites of cookie I'd choked down had done nothing to fill my stomach and a hot bowl of rice did sound appealing. "Maybe a little," I relented.
He smiled and pushed his bowl towards me, crossing the kitchen to fill a new bowl for himself. I noticed his shoulders tense as he silently stifled another sneeze, but this time I said nothing.
Haymitch quickly finished his rice and held his empty bowl towards Peeta.
"More?" he grunted.
"No more of that," Peeta answered.
"Maybe you should stop trading your rations away at the Hob for drinks," I said.
Haymitch sneered at me before curiously reaching forward and plucking a cookie from the bag I'd dropped on the counter. He sniffed it cautiously before taking a bite.
"Gah!" he gagged and spit the piece into his rice bowl. "Are you trying to poison me?"
"They're not so bad."
"They taste like sewage," he retorted, wiping his tongue with a napkin.
"How would you know?" I said, anger rising again.
Haymitch raised an eyebrow. "Darlin', don't you think I've woken up with my face in sewage before?"
"Fine," I snarled. "Then don't eat them."
Peeta's eyes danced merrily between us as, when Haymitch and I paused to glare, he picked up his own cookie. He thoughtfully took a bite and chewed slowly.
"Well?" I asked, turning my glare on him.
"They're… alright," he answered carefully. "A little too much flour maybe, but not really that bad."
He had just swallowed another bite when he started to cough dryly into his napkin.
"I knew it," Haymitch yelled in triumph. "Poisoned."
"They're not poisoned," I retorted as I went to fetch Peeta a glass of water. He looked at me gratefully as he swallowed a mouthful. Tears stood in his eyes from the coughing fit. As if it were a reflex, I brushed his hair out of his face and smoothed my hand across his forehead.
"I think you have a fever," I told him.
I turned to Haymitch. "Do you have any meds here? And please don't make us kiss for them."
I immediately regretted the words as I felt Peeta's arm tense beneath my hand.
"Well," Haymitch said thoughtfully. "The storm's knocked the cable out and it is awfully boring around here."
Peeta glared at him before rising and walking away from the table. He sneezed twice, bending at the waist each time.
"You can kiss me if you really want," he said with a half-smile. "But I sure wouldn't recommend it right now."
I passed him a tissue and winced as he blew thickly into it.
"Well, maybe you should stop trying so hard to entice me," I joked. He laughed along and the tension was broken.