The past builds the future.

Decisions made when people are young create who they become. Yet, many times individuals are told to leave the past exactly there, behind them. For some, this is actually a possibility, but others are incapable of doing so.

Because the past plays an integral role in who they choose to engage with, fuels relationships and ties to who they are, and ultimately who they become.

People will always linger in the past. Sometimes for tiny slivers of time during particular memories, other times in inescapable doubts and traumas that haunt them.

But since they can never fully escape their past, why not embrace it?

...

There wasn't much thinking happening- in fact for the first time since he was five, Peeta Mellark was blissfully unaware of anything going on aside from what was happening in the moment. Thoughts of his tyrant of a mother, pressures of school and athletics, and images of one raven-haired girl that typically invaded his waking and sleeping hours were now obsolete.

The girl underneath him was exceptionally pretty. She had a slender waist, round hips, soft features, and lovely dark blonde hair accentuated with bottle highlights streaking the crown of her head. She was beautiful, and while she had many suitors seeking her affections, she had chosen Peeta.

No one ever chose Peeta.

Well, that was not entirely true. Many friends sought him out when they needed help with a project, or wanted him on their sports team, or possibly just wanted to score free treats from the bakery. This girl, though, was different- she simply wanted to be around Peeta. He didn't know how to deal with this, and he didn't really know what to make of it.

It should be reiterated that no one ever chose Peeta just to have him around. Not his father, brothers, or the girl of his dreams, and especially not his mother. His mother was even fond of reminding him of this particular fact, that she had not chosen him at all.

Four weeks ago Peeta knew very little about the girl beneath him now. Most of his information revolved around the fact that somewhere between their sophomore and junior year her cheerleading sweater fit tighter, and the baby fat had left her cheeks. He had noticed her, like he had many other girls, but he hadn't given her much thought before she approached him after weight training to ask if he wanted to accompany her to get some ice cream.

Peeta had another girl on his mind most hours of the day. A certain quiet girl with grey eyes and dark brown hair, who paid no attention to him, but was always at the forefront of his mind. However, the cheerleader had been insistent, and Katniss Everdeen wasn't interested in spending any time with Peeta.

Katniss Everdeen's angelic voice brought comfort to young Peeta when he was only five years old. He had finally reached that precarious age where the cherubic quality was lost from his countenance, and his cognitive functioning was advanced enough to understand how very disappointed his mother was in him. Barely free from the grasp of toddlerhood, young Peeta was capable of perceiving how his mother felt about him, but not yet mature enough to understand the fault was not his to bear.

However, he could understand the way Katniss Everdeen's voice made him feel. It made him feel happy, it made him forget, and it was the reason music class was the one thing he anticipated most in the entire world. Interestingly enough, Peeta's voice cracked when he sang and he couldn't carry a tune; his talents were really with paint and paper, but he counted down the time to music class with bated breath.

At seventeen, Peeta's preoccupation with the reserved girl developed into something resembling an infatuation, he was enamored with her yet knew little of who she really was. He thought of her frequently, yearned to speak with her (but never did because his tongue felt tied and heavy at the mere thought of approaching her). He often used thoughts of her slight, petite frame to fuel desires while touching himself in the shower, but he had never actually held her hand, brushed hair from her eyes, and he had definitely never held his lips against hers.

He did not know Katniss; they did not run in the same circles or take the same classes (she was in honor's courses, his efforts focused mostly in athletics), but that didn't prevent Peeta from stealing lingering glances at her, or practicing what he would say to her in the mirror.

At this particular point in time, the time that must be mentioned to truly understand how Peeta Mellark's history immediately defined his future, none of that mattered. It was as if Katniss Everdeen, her magical singing voice, and serious grey eyes did not even exist.

Peeta lost himself deep inside the cheerleader, slipping in and sliding out, climbing closer to the edge. His senses were overwhelmed, his breathing ragged and shallow, his eyes squeezing shut as he spilled into her, letting the blackness overtake him. He collapsed on her chest, struggling to take in air, not necessarily noticing that his stocky frame was crushing her smaller one. She squirmed beneath him and he rolled off of her, pulling her tight to his side.

"That was…" Peeta trailed off as he realized that she was studying him carefully, breathing evenly, obviously not experiencing the bliss that he was. Color flooded his cheeks as realization rushed to his brain, "It wasn't good for you? I'm sorry." His mortification ran deep. She had given him so much, and he had repaid her with a truly shameful performance.

Unlike Peeta, this had not been the girl's first experience with sex, which really made his less than stellar performance all the more horrible for him.

"It's okay," she reassured. "Here," she spoke softly as she took his hand and guided it between her legs, "like this."

When she came it was an almost silent event, her body slightly trembling, her breathing becoming just a tad irregular. When she achieved completion it was so quiet that Peeta continued touching her much longer than necessary.

She pried his fingers away, reassuring him that it was good, and she had enjoyed herself, though he was not completely convinced. Frankly, Peeta had been expecting something far different than the reality of the moment. It wasn't anything at all like the shuddering, screaming climaxes he saw on the internet. Believing her was easy though, considering the alternative was an embarrassment he was not quite ready to admit.

When his orgasm-induced fog cleared, awareness struck. It hit him hard, despite what he had been so eager to believe in the moments now passed, he knew that they had messed up. He knew enough about sex and the workings of the human body to know that not using a condom was really not okay. There was pregnancy, and horrible diseases, and many other things that Peeta had never even considered.

Despite the image that he projected to the rest of the world, Peeta was not the self-assured almost man that everyone thought he was. He had insecurities, fears, and an overall low sense of self-esteem brought about by years of emotional abuse at the hands of his mother. He didn't really want to broach the subject, so much as he had to broach the subject.

"So, it's really okay that we didn't use a condom?" He had been inside the girl only ten minutes previous, but Peeta could not look at her when he asked this. She was sitting beside him, using a discarded work-out t-shirt to wipe at her inner thighs and between her legs (Peeta knew that he should tell her the shirt was anything but clean, but he was still so nervous just talking to her). She tossed the shirt back down on the floor where she had found it before working her underwear and pants back up her legs.

Peeta was positive he had spoken loud enough for her to hear him, but it took her so long to answer he considered dropping the topic all together. He was so very anxious, completely perplexed as to how to deal with things of this nature.

"Oh yeah, they make me itch and my period was just last week." She spoke nonchalantly, as if she discussed things of this nature every day, but for Peeta this was the very first time the word period had ever been said directly to him.

"Everyone knows you can't get pregnant right after your period- next time just pull out, okay?" Her words stung, her response sounded condescending, and Peeta nodded despite never remembering hearing this particular fact in health class. All in all, he could really only focus on the fact that she said there would be a next time.

There was a next time, and he was better. He even brought condoms with him. Better for Peeta meant this time he lasted longer than the previous time, and at one point he was able to elicit a moan from her. The condoms remained unused, still packed tightly into the box in which Peeta had purchased them in.

This time she wasn't recently off her period, but she pouted and promised it would be okay if he pulled out. She pleaded that she liked to feel their skin move together, and insisted that Peeta would just hate the feeling of latex on his most sensitive skin.

He knew he shouldn't be so complacent, but it was hard not to be when someone wanted to be with him; and it felt so good, which helped him forget. When he did allow himself to linger on the possibilities, he knew what the risk was, the predicament in which they could find themselves, but feeling wanted seemed worth the risk.

It felt like they were playing with fire, and they were, but he didn't really want to stop, so when she said that it would be okay, he chose to believe her.

The dark-haired beauty only came to him in dreams now. He felt foolish for believing that he had once loved her, especially now when he was actually in love, and regularly making love, with his girlfriend. (Even though they really didn't do much talking aside from the things that they said to each other in the dark of night, he was almost positive this is what love was).

He looked forward to being with her, and counted the minutes before he could be inside her again, similar to how he used to count the minutes until music class. It didn't really seem like the love that was portrayed on television and in songs, but this was real life and real life was always different he surmised. His parents weren't the best couple to compare his relationship to, because they often didn't have much to do with one another and had slept in different rooms for as long as he could remember. He knew it didn't feel completely like he expected it would, but he was sure it was love. Peeta's mind wanted to linger on this disconnect, but his heart wouldn't let him.

No point trying to analyze something that wasn't worth analyzing.

Late at night when he could no longer escape the worries that nagged at the corners of his mind, he rationalized that surely she loved him, too. Her legs parted easily and she panted his name. If that wasn't love then what was? So on one muggy night, as the air was heavy with sex and the beginnings of summer, he told her as much as he spilled onto her stomach. Breathing the words was easier than he thought it would be, but he did not anticipate her response.

The girl quickly climbed out from underneath him and moved to the furthest end of the vehicle. Peeta pursued her, moving to be close to her, when she looked directly at him, tears threatening to fall, as the words, "I'm pregnant," fell from her lips instead of the phrase 'I love you, too'.

He knew this was a possibility; it was a small nagging fear at the back of his mind that he had often been able to quiet when he thought of the way she looked when she rode him in the back of his car. Peeta really didn't know what to think except that if this was really happening he would always take care of her.

The girl quickly ran through the options, even though they were both already aware of them. As he often did, Peeta felt useless, but this time the matter-at-hand was so much more important than the other things for which he often felt useless. There was nothing trivial about an unwanted pregnancy; this was not like forgetting to take out the trash or not putting out the right amount of dough to rise at night. No, this was a real fuck-up. One that made every one preceding this seem ridiculously insignificant.

Peeta felt that the decision was hers and hers alone. She would not be alone though, he promised her with a giant lump in his throat. He meant this promise more than any he had ever made before.

The decisions to be made were not easy ones.

Every single one was life altering and huge, threatening to make or break her future- and honestly, his too. She consulted her friends and the internet, and everyone had an opinion, but not Peeta. He remained as neutral as he could be, not wanting to infringe or impose upon a decision he really did not understand.

It must be expressed that he had a bias, a way in which he wanted her to choose, but not once did he share this with the girl.

At this point in time, it is important to consider that 'girl' is not the right word for the woman who was carrying Peeta Mellark's child. No, she was a woman now, and had been since the drugstore test read positive. She could be referred to as woman, Peeta's girlfriend or even expectant mother, but never again would she be considered a girl.

Peeta was there to listen and he held her while she cried, and complained, and begged for someone to tell her what to do. It was not his place to tell her what to do, and he reminded her of such, as he constantly reaffirmed the one thing that he knew to be true.

Whatever you decide, I'm here for you the entire way.

For this, his girlfriend was grateful. She knew he thought that he loved her, and at one time she thought that she loved him. This alone was enough for her. They were going through enough stress to break a couple who had been together for years let alone merely months, but Peeta never wavered. He was there for her in a way that no one else had been.

He did not judge, he did not blame (even though he could have blamed), he was not disgusted, he was not hateful, and if anything, he was sweeter to her than anyone else had been before. By the time she had made her decision, she knew without a doubt that Peeta was not going anywhere. He meant what he said, and he stood by it.

Peeta was there when they told her mother, who called her a slut, and worthless, and many things that a mother should never call a daughter despite making a life-changing mistake. What was done was done, and she was in need of support, not criticism. When her mother informed her to pack her bags, Peeta helped her. When the mother followed them to the car, berating and blaming him, he ignored her and helped the girl into the car.

Angry mothers were nothing new to Peeta. In fact, ignoring the barrage of hateful words emanating from his girlfriend's mother was an unimpressive feat for Peeta. He'd been doing the same thing with his own mother since his childhood. His own mother was another obstacle he knew they would eventually have to face, but he wanted to wait as long as he possibly could.

Peeta had a plan, and it was a rather good plan that his girlfriend whole-heartedly agreed with.

They would get an apartment together, a place where they could raise their child and be the family that neither Peeta nor his girlfriend had ever really had. In the meantime, Peeta would need to make money by taking extra shifts at the bakery and possibly another job if he could find one, while she moved in with an aunt who was much more forgiving than her hateful mother.

Peeta was there when they heard the heart beat, steady and unyielding, a swooshing, fluttering sound that filled the room and his heart. He couldn't believe how fast the sound was, and he held his hand over his own heart to see if the beating matched.

It didn't.

Even in his excited state the palpations in his chest did not match the ones echoing through the small room. Together they learned that the rapid heartbeat was actually what it should be and was to be expected. In many ways, this one moment made their situation really hit home. Peeta quietly reflected over what the heartbeat meant.

He was to be a father.

He had known this before, but what he thought to be true was confirmed with the sound. Tears threatened to fall. He held them in though, because tears were pouring from her eyes, and not in a way that said she was feeling the same excitement he was.

With the help of the local health department, his girlfriend and their unborn child were signed up for state medical assistance and a food program that helped make sure that she was eating correctly for the health and development of the life inside her. What should have been a relief to Peeta weighed heavily on his heart. The fact that he was seventeen and unable to provide these things was hard for Peeta to admit to himself, but he was happy to have the assistance.

He attended every nutrition class with her and frequently prepared her dinners and lunches, wanting only the best for the both of them. (His girlfriend had a different lunch period than him, so unbeknownst to Peeta she would often toss his carefully handmade lunches in lieu of the pizza line). Peeta picked up extra shifts at the bakery, claiming that he was being a good brother and son, when in reality he was padding his savings, working towards the day when they could afford a place of their own.

Peeta was there when the ultrasound tech pointed out three lines on a screen and announced, "That right there is proof that the little one you are carrying is a girl." This time when the tears fell he could not stop them. She was in there, his little girl, and she was real, and he was pretty sure that being in love had found an entirely new meaning.

The time to tell his family was rapidly approaching, as his girlfriend was beginning to physically pop, and her state would have been obvious to everyone had it not been for the chilly winter air and baggy wrestling sweatshirts she stole from Peeta that hid her stomach. However, Peeta did not anticipate his mother finding the small grainy ultrasound photo that he kept hidden underneath his pillow.

That was not a good day.

Peeta was banned from his home and the bakery. His father looked at him apologetically but did nothing when his mother took his only source of income and his home from him with one stream of hateful words.

His girlfriend was not there for him when Peeta had to pack his bags and find a place to stay. She did not offer him refuge, or hold ice to his rapidly swelling cheek. She did not even know that it had happened because she did not respond to the texts that Peeta sent her. Instead, she was out with her friends, trying to forget that the bulge under her sweater was not going away anytime soon.

There was an unlikely source of comfort during this time, someone whom Peeta did not consider an enemy, but most certainly did not expect to be the one to offer him comfort or a place to stay in his time of need.

Gale Hawthorne was a complicated young man who, like Peeta, was forced to grow up at a time when he should have been selecting colleges and paying for graduation tassels. The dark-haired man's plight was much different than the blonde man's, but both men could most definitely respect the other's situation.

Gale's story is tied to that of Katniss Everdeen's, and is important to Peeta's history, because if it weren't for what happened to Gale and Katniss, then Peeta may have found himself without a place to stay on that icy winter night.

Peeta sought his brother's comfort, knowing that he could most likely stay the night, possibly even longer until he got his situation worked out. The only problem was that he and his brother did not always see eye-to-eye and often could not be in the same room together without arguing (this is usually the case with brothers who are close in age). Peeta was surprised to discover Gale there, he did not even realize Gale and his brother were friends, although it made sense seeing as they were the same age.

It wasn't that Peeta didn't like Gale; in fact, he really knew little of Gale except that he and Katniss were always together. Even though Katniss was the furthest thing from Peeta's mind that night, he could not help but be uncomfortable in Gale's presence.

His brother did not appear happy to see Peeta when he opened the door. Similarly he did not seem unhappy to find his baby brother on his porch; really he just seemed indifferent to it all. The story that Peeta had to tell, and the small photograph he showed his brother of the tiny life growing inside his girlfriend's stomach, did little to affect his brother, but Gale Hawthorne was a different story. He carefully held the photo in his hands and nodded when Peeta pointed out her tiny legs, bulbous head, and the blurry cavity that denoted where her tiny heartbeat fluttered. He was the first person who regarded the photo as something important and worth being excited for. It was enough to make Peeta cry, though he managed to hold himself back.

There are many possibilities that could have caused Gale's genuine interest in the photo, all of which most likely pertained to his precocious baby sister who was born merely weeks after his father's unfortunate demise. The bond between Gale and young Posy was one that was nearly indescribable in the way that beautiful things often are, and despite the gruff exterior of the eldest Hawthorne he really became mush when it came to adorable little girls (even ones who currently resembled an alien in grainy black and white).

While Gale and the rest of the Hawthorne's story is one worth telling and contemplating, that will be saved for another time, because the story at hand is one about Peeta and the roads and avenues that led him to become the man he was eventually destined to become.

It just so happened that Gale had a room for rent. He had recently moved from his mother's home and into a home of his own, but found that the winter months had proved more expensive with less work coming to his and Katniss' lawn and garden business. Yes, it was true that they were expanding and could be hired to clean gutters and hang Holiday decorations, but for the time being all of Gale's earnings were going into keeping his mother's house running with little left over for the place he had to himself. The room was small, and Gale couldn't promise that he would be able to maintain the house much longer if business did not pick up, but he could promise that for the time being the room was Peeta's if he wanted it.

When he offered this, he hadn't expected Peeta to be able to hold his own in terms of rent and utilities, that just so happened to be a nice bonus. Gale also hadn't realized that Peeta would become invaluable to running the business. His easy-going charm and likeable demeanor would help them win and maintain customers.

Similar though to the Hawthorne's and the Everdeen's story, this is a tale for another time perhaps. For the one at hand has many turns to take before fate took hold of Peeta's life and left him in the circumstance he now finds himself.

The months passed in a blur.

While Peeta had lost employment at the bakery, he had picked up hard-working shifts with Gale putting up and then removing Holiday lights, scalping yards, clearing brush and cleaning planters out for the coming spring months. His girlfriend seemed ambivalent now about getting a place of their own, but was happy to help Peeta arrange a crib and diaper changing table in his bedroom at Gale's.

They were no longer intimate, and many times she seemed to even cringe when Peeta went to kiss her goodnight. It did not deter him though; he remained steadfast in his promise and was there for her in every way that she would allow him. At the time he did not realize what her ambivalence meant, although now if you were to ask him he would tell you he knew in the back of his mind.

College applications were not sent, but Peeta did pass all of his classes and graduated.

While there were many people at his graduation, only a handful were there for him, and only two of them shared his last name, his brothers. The small gathering that was there for him was also there for Katniss Everdeen. He had become close with the Hawthorne's and even Katniss's sister, Prim (even though the dark-headed girl who used to star in his dreams could not be bothered to hold more than polite conversation with him). She was a smart girl, destined for scholarships and studies at a major university. In fact, it was her absence from Everthorne Lawn and Landscaping that had allowed Peeta an opportunity to make money when he was no longer able to work at the bakery.

His girlfriend chose to have her diploma mailed to her aunt's house instead of walking with the rest of their class.

Truth be told, Peeta was just thrilled to have a few people to cheer his name, and he felt far more love from that handful of people than he felt throughout his seventeen years in the Mellark home. Prim and Posy made cakes for him and Katniss, and they shared a graduation party even though they barely exchanged a word. To Peeta, the hastily decorated, dry box cake tasted much better than anything his father had ever produced because the girls who had made it did so with love.

Peeta was there when she went into labor, holding her hand and helping her throughout the worst of the pain before an epidural could be administered. She cried and panted and cursed his name, making a lot more noise than she ever had the entire time they had been together. All the while he held her leg and promised her he would always be there for her and the baby who would soon be arriving.

When the small creature finally pushed free from between her mother's legs, Peeta was shocked to realize what a tiny bundle of wrinkles and mess the baby was. It wasn't as if he expected her to come out wearing pigtails and a smile, he just did not anticipate the state in which she would be delivered, (despite having read all of the books he could find at the local library). The nurse cleared the baby's airway and the infant mewled loudly, the sound delighting Peeta and terrifying the young woman from whom she had just come.

A move was made to place the infant on the mother's chest, who vehemently refused this contact and asked to be left alone. All the while Peeta stood rapt watching the scene unfold before him that included his little girl (perhaps not noticing as he should what was going on with the little girl's mother). He cut where he was directed and followed the baby, his little girl, observing as she screamed her way through her first bath, then he learned how to tuck and fold the edges of a miniscule diaper so it did not rub against her delicate umbilical cord stump.

The mother was a lot less interested in the infant crying in the corner than most new mothers are, eventually asking for more pain medication and dozing while the doctor worked to deliver the placenta and stitch her up. The nurse shook her awake to ask if she was ready to see the baby, because despite the father being ready to hold his child she should really try to nurse first. The mother violently moved her head back and forth, insisting that Peeta would be just fine feeding the baby, whom she had yet to refer to by name.

Finally the time had come, and the baby had been put through all the tortures the nurses could devise to subject a newborn to and was ready to be held. Peeta's arms stretched wide and the petite, swaddled bundle was placed there, tucked close to where his heart beat nervously in his chest.

Peeta stared into her eyes, finally, truly understanding what love was and knowing that he would never be the same again.


...

"My little girl, look what you've done. You've gone and stole my heart and made it your own."

Jack Johnson, 'My Little Girl'

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