Hello everyone! I'm in the process of uploading a lot of my one shots from AO3 onto . If you follow me on there, you've seen a lot of these before, so I apologize, but it seemed unfair and inconvenient to keep them all on there. Despite issues I may have with this site, the fact remains that a lot of my readers prefer it, so it seemed ridiculous to not have everything here. I still prefer AO3, and with the exception of Le Couperet et Le Collet, any WIPs I have will only be posted there until they're completed. Thanks for reading, and I apologize in advance for the flurry of alerts you may receive for stories you may have already read.
He was going to talk to her. The girl who stood up and sang.
Peeta wasn't shy. Not at all. He liked to play with his brothers and their friends, a rough-and-tumble group who made loud jokes and were never afraid of anything. Every once and awhile, he even managed to get them to laugh, even though he knew he was just a little kid. Sometimes his father let him make little neighborhood deliveries with Delly, and he was always polite and friendly to the shopkeepers as she talked their ears off. They called him a charming little gentleman.
But when the dark girl with two braids (the one who Peeta already had some suspicions about) stood up and sang, all of the words that normally came easily flew away and sat in the trees, staring back at him, silent as the mockingjays. And for the first time in his life, he found himself unable to talk to someone.
He tried during story time, when their knees nudged together in the circle, but it was no good. The words dried up on his tongue.
He tried during morning exercise, when she chased after a girl named Leevy, her braids streaming behind her. He couldn't bring himself to speak loudly enough to get her attention.
He even tried during lunch, a tiny cheese bun, ("A special secret between us," his father had winked) held behind his back in trembling fingers. He was ready to offer it to her as she munched on a bit of cold turkey and a tiny wild carrot. A small lunch, by all accounts, but much more than most of the Seam children had.
But by the time he had worked up the courage to approach her, the teacher had rang the bell, and Katniss Everdeen pranced like a fawn across the schoolyard and into the building.
The cheese stuck to Peeta's fingers, and the bun was crushed.
He was going to talk to her. The girl who ran so fast.
Peeta had never been very quick. "Mellarks were made to lift things," his dad would chuckle, slapping his broad stomach after easily tossing two full hundred-pound bags of flour off of the train car and onto the pushcart. Even though Peeta was only eight, he could lift the fifty-pound bags easy, same as Rye who was ten.
But he wasn't very fast at all.
So it was somewhat of a surprise that he was standing in line to run the footrace that ended Game Day this year. But Rye had made him promise he would, instead of doing the coal toss. His brother had said something about impressing a girl with how far he could throw, that he was definitely going to make Gale Hawthorne look like a sissy… as long as Peeta didn't mess things up by winning himself.
Peeta didn't even really know who Gale Hawthorne was. He knew he was an older Seam boy, but not which one. They all seemed nice enough. It was his guess that Gale Hawthorne probably didn't care about impressing girls the way Rye did (no one did, really), and only wanted to have fun. Peeta certainly didn't care about girls like that.
Well, maybe just the one.
She stood nearby in the small crowd at the starting line, not talking to anyone, just clenching and unclenching her fingers and gnawing at her lip. He noticed that her hands were covered in strange callouses, and he looked down at the burns that crossed his own. They almost matched.
He was taking a breath, the one right before the word hello, when the teacher blew her whistle, telling them to all get ready. As they made to stand in line, one of Katniss' braids grazed against his shoulder. He noticed how long it was.
The thought that they were touching made his heart race in a way he had never experienced before.
So much so that the teacher's whistle took him completely by surprise. He started from the line a few seconds after everyone else was off and running. Although he hadn't really expected to come in last place, he laughed it off as he crossed the finish line. His friends thought it was hilarious, and teased him as he shrugged.
But since she came in first, he didn't actually mind much at all.
Pushing through the other kids, he worked up his courage. He was going to do it, finally, and he knew just what to say. She stood, surrounded by a few other children and the teacher, smiling bashfully, unsure about what to do with all of the attention. It was a gappy smile, with two teeth only half grown-in. He was ten steps away. Nine… Eight…
"Peeta!" Rye called nervously.
He stopped his approach and turned. His brother looked uncomfortable, but there was a blue ribbon in his hand. Several feet behind Rye, his oldest brother, Will, tapped his foot nervously.
"School's over. We have to go or Mother will…" he trailed off. There was no need to finish. They all knew what Mother would do.
The words "Congratulations, Katniss!" burned in his throat for the rest of the night.
He was going to talk to her. The girl who was starving.
Mother was in a particularly horrible mood that day. The rain always made her more irritable than usual, and months of the dreary season made it even worse. This winter, they were under quota. The explosion in the mine had stopped production long enough to keep people from buying most things. It made everyone scared. Even the merchants hoarded their money.
Needless to say, Mother had been in a horrible mood all winter.
He had spent the day dodging her, making certain everything was done perfectly before she even had a chance to notice it needed done. After almost twelve years, he was pretty good at anticipating what made her angry. By the end of the afternoon, there was nothing left to mess up. The floors were swept, trash taken out, the pig fed, and the last batch of loaves was baking in the oven. Soon the storefront would close and Mother would retreat to her perch in front of the television, while he gathered with his dad and brothers in the kitchen to play cards.
So when she burst like a cyclone through the back door, he expected the worst. Had he left the pigpen open? The lid off the bin of garbage?
But it was just another starving Seam kid. They came sometimes, digging through the trash. He always left the freshest bits of half eaten food on top, hoping that they'd be able to find them quickly and then get away, but most of the time there wasn't much else he could do when Mother was around. Once a rack had broken, scattering cookies all over the floor and breaking most of them. In her rage, his mother had demanded he throw them to the pig, instead of saving them for dessert as his father had mildly suggested. But Peeta had sat them gently on the top of the trash when she wasn't looking.
Peering behind her into the rain as she screamed now, he realized it wasn't just any Seam kid this time.
With trembling hands, he pulled the batch of bread out of the oven, and then grasped two of the loaves and held them into the fire. The heat seared his hands, but he had to hold steady until the crusts were blackened enough. He counted to himself, the way he did when Mother was pulling his hair or grinding the foot of a chair into his toes.
The way he did a few seconds later, when she hit him across the face with the rolling pin.
But the blinding momentary pain didn't matter, because his plan worked.
He saw her the next day in the hall where he was surrounded by his friends. None of them had commented on his face, they never did, but he didn't want to even glance at her for fear that they might somehow make the connection, and embarrass her. Seeing her out of the corner of his eye, she seemed better. She walked like a person who wasn't about to die.
That afternoon in the schoolyard, though, he couldn't stop looking. If he hadn't known what to say before, he really didn't know now. Was he supposed to ask if she was okay? Bring her more food? He had no clear idea, but saying nothing seemed incredibly cowardly.
The instant she saw him staring, he looked away, feeling at the same time overwhelmed and humiliated. He had to say something. He needed to say something. But his words were completely gone, as was all of his courage. By the time he worked up the nerve to glance at her again, she was crouching down to pick up a dandelion. Clenching his fists, he looked down at his shoes.
"Hi," I'll say, he stared at his own laces. Just one word. It's not hard.
When he looked up, she was gone.
He was going to talk to her. The girl he didn't know.
Peeta had been to the slag heap with a girl or two, but, if the rumors were true, Gale Hawthorne pretty much owned about half of it, he was there so often, or at least used to be. He was absurdly tall, like a full-grown man, really, and when he walked into a room, the girls all took a deep breath. They called him handsome, with dreamy eyes and that hair. They'd been talking about him for years.
And now he walked home with Katniss every day.
Peeta tried not to think about it. He had never even spoken to the girl. They didn't know each other. There were things about her that seemed obvious: she was incredibly strong, taking care of her family like that, and brave as well. It was clear she really loved her sister. She was really pretty, in a raw sort of way, and he hadn't been the only boy to notice. But that was all he knew.
It didn't matter, of course, because there was that something that nagged at him whenever he tried not to think about her. A little voice in his head that wouldn't shut up, no matter what he did or who else he kissed.
Unfortunately, no matter how insistent it was, that voice didn't know things like her favorite color, her favorite things to eat, or the million other little details that would make her real. He could guess based on observation, but it all felt sort of intrusive and unfair. So the older he got, the more he tried to find other things to take up his time, other hands to hold. He figured that if he couldn't get the balls to talk to her at fifteen, he could at least attempt to have a full life otherwise. Katniss seemed to be with Gale Hawthorne, and would probably end up with him permanently. That was just the way things were. Peeta had to resign himself to that fact, and he'd been trying to do so for the past few months. Maybe, if he did, he could relax enough to talk to her. Maybe they could be friends.
But despite his resolutions, he ended up pushed up against a locker with Gale Hawthorne breathing down his neck.
"She's not that kind of girl, Mellark," the Seam kid growled, looking as intimidating as possible, which was actually kind of, sort of, incredibly intimidating.
Peeta pushed back just enough to disengage himself, which, given the situation, had to be pretty hard. The force sent Gale spinning.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he said, as his assailant tried to regain his balance. When the boy stood upright again, Peeta could see that Gale looked surprised, as though he hadn't expected a town kid to have that sort of fight in him.
"I know how you are," he muttered darkly. "I've seen your brother with a different girl every week. Thinking you can just get your kicks and then leave, just 'cause she's Seam. Katniss isn't like that. So stay the hell away from her."
He couldn't really blame Gale. Rye was beginning to have a reputation. It was one that, though it was based on a general misunderstanding of his brother's nature, wasn't entirely undeserved, especially given the way men from town traditionally treated Seam women. Nevertheless, the accusation stung.
"I'm not like that," he smiled disarmingly, fighting the urge to take advantage of his superior strength and knock the older boy to the ground. "Katniss is… I mean, we've never even spoken."
"You stare at her often enough. Don't think I haven't seen."
Peeta blushed, not at all on purpose, "Well, she's… I… respect her. I mean, don't you? You know her better than I do. And you hunt together. Everyone in the district knows she's the one keeping her family afloat. It's sort of awe-inspiring."
Whatever Gale was expecting, it hadn't been that. He glared through narrowed eyes, as though he didn't quite believe what he was hearing.
"And, I mean," Peeta shrugged, "she is pretty. I guess she's just a girl I'd like to get to know. But, obviously, she has you, so…"
Gale made a noise that sounded something like a snort and a tiny little flame leapt to life in Peeta's heart. He promptly stomped it into the dust.
"She's my hunting partner. I have her back, she has mine. Don't want her getting harassed by stupid kids who don't know what kind of life she's had," Gale began angrily. "But… at least you're honest. So… sorry," the last word took an eternity to come out of Gale's mouth, like he wasn't used to saying it and it rankled.
Peeta, though he could have easily said more, just shrugged. It seemed the appropriate thing to do. They could both just forget this ever happened.
When Katniss, instead of Gale, showed up at the back door of the bakery the next morning, he made himself immediately scarce.
It seemed the appropriate thing to do.
He was going to talk to her. The girl in the blue dress.
"There are only two more Reapings after today," his dad told him as they kneaded the dough for the morning's bread. "Two more, and then we can talk about you taking over for your old man in a few years."
Peeta smiled, even though his heart was all knotted up. Today, even more than all of the other years, he felt terrified. But within that terror came a sort of clarity. Life could be short. He, or anyone he knew, could be cut down with a flick of Effie Trinket's wrist. And his father's talk of his own retirement didn't help matters at all.
They walked to the Justice Building together, his dad and brothers and him. Like she had for many years, his mother stayed behind "to close up." She wanted to arrive as late as possible. She didn't want to stand with them until it was time to line up.
It was probably for the best.
As they approached the crowd, he saw Katniss standing with her sister, wearing a lovely blue dress that no Seam family could afford. It must have been her mother's. He glanced up at his father and briefly wondered if he had seen her in that very same dress when he had loved her.
How could anyone live with that sort of regret? To have settled for something, only a shadow of what his life could have been, because it was expected of him. Expected that he would settle down, marry, have children to take over the bakery. And he would live, hoping that each one would dodge the Reaping simply because the extreme poverty of the Seam existed.
It was unbearable in a life that was already too dull and colorless to be worth fighting this hard to preserve. Not only were the two kids reaped today pawns in a larger game, but every single one of them, who lived and bred and functioned the way the Capitol insisted. They were all just pieces in a game that none of them were actively playing.
He needed color. He needed life. He needed to try, at least, to have some sort of control over how he lived and, if not that, how he died.
Come hell or high water, I'm going to talk to Katniss Everdeen today, he promised himself.