Remember Me This Way
The early morning sun felt good on Madge's skin. There was a light breeze, and if she closed her eyes and imagined it just a little, she could barely detect the odor of coal in the air. With the sky at its bluest she's seen in a while, she might have called it a beautiful day, but today was a reaping day. It goes without saying why no beauty remained.
There was movement to her right. Eyes snapping back to the task at hand, Madge cast a warning glance at her best friend.
"No peeking," she reminded, adjusting the parchment in her lap away from playfully prying eyes.
Madge and Peeta were seated on a pair of faded wooden crates in front of the Mellark's bakery, keenly avoiding discussing what's to come. She didn't want to think of standing in the square, waiting to see which district face would be ripped from them next, waiting to see if the name called would be someone she knew, waiting to see if it would be hers.
So instead, they sketched portraits of each other. As she expected, hers wasn't much but the saddest attempt at a pencil skating across paper she's ever seen.
Before she could mull over the fact she's definitely not an artist, it was time to turn their papers around and her jaw dropped at the sight of his. She's seen him draw countless times before, but his talent always managed to catch her off-guard with how life-like it was. Her penciled counterpart's eyes had a twinkle in them that seemed impossible to capture with pencil—a gleam she's not even sure she had in reality, if she was being honest—but he never failed at breathing life into his handiwork. She wanted to buy him a set of paints once to see what he could do with more material but he had declined. She hadn't asked again.
She noticed there was a small crown of flowers adorning her head in his drawing. Like the day he met her. A shy, little girl whose smile was true and whose mother wasn't so sick. A little girl she could barely remember most days.
"So..." he began casually, abiding by his earlier vow to not laugh at her. "Is there a reason I have two noses?"
"That's not another nose," she insisted, leaning forward. "That's..."
She glanced at her paper again, frown in line, but she faltered. She squinted at her own picture. "Actually, I'm not really sure what that is..."
Peeta bit his bottom lip in an attempt to keep the laughter from tumbling out. His next reply came out clipped. "It's great. Really."
"Peeta Mellark, you beautiful liar."
The laughter broke through anyway, the richness of it making it difficult to resist returning the sentiment. Soon enough, she felt the corner of lips turn up against her will. But this was just how they worked sometimes: he smiled and she smiled back, and together they laughed and argued about trivial things and, for a moment, the weight of reapings and sick mothers and bouts of loneliness didn't weigh so heavy on their frail shoulders.
"Can we have a piano competition? That's one I can win."
He shook his head in the way he did when she was being a bit ridiculous, but he was too polite to say so. "You beat me at plenty of things. But I didn't know we were competing."
"Well, we are when my masterpiece is chicken scratch and yours puts cameras to shame."
His smile only grew as he lifted one shoulder in a shrug, looking at his work of art. "I think I just had a good subject to work with."
She playfully wrinkled her nose at him before looking away. "Charmer."
"I don't know what you're upset about, it was a valiant attempt."
"Valiant attempt," she echoed in a grumble.
She made a face at her paper and in a small stab at impudence, Madge quickly doodled a mustache on her squiggly portrait of Peeta. It only made him laugh harder.
"Can I have another?" he suggested, "Y'know, since I have two noses. The other one looks lonely."
She threw her pencil at him.
Before she could fully register what happened next, Peeta and his laughter had surged forward. She yelped in surprise as she shifted backwards against the wooden porch, but before the sound could actually escape her throat, it dissolved into giggles. She tried to twist away as he tickled her, but was unsuccessful at best.
"Why is this your only defense!" she cried, gasping through her inevitable laughter that joined his.
A squeak of boot against wood and a mild throat clearing brought them back to reality.
Peeta's father had stepped outside, looking almost apologetic in his timid amusement. "I just wanted to see if you two wanted more tea."
With no words and reddened cheeks, Madge accepted Peeta's hand as he helped her up and back onto the crate she was originally perched upon.
"To be fair," Peeta said, sitting back down beside her. "She started it."
This earned him an expected scowl from Madge and his smile showed how much he reveled in it. She had to stop herself from elbowing him in the ribs.
She looked back up to see Mr. Mellark observing them with an expression Madge couldn't quite read—kind, but like he wanted to say more, like he always wanted to say more. He didn't differ from her own father in that aspect.
As he disappeared back into the bakery, a refuge of peace while his wife wasn't around, scatters of children passed by in front of the shop. Madge's eyebrows furrowed until she swiveled around and leaned over Peeta to catch the time from the clock on the bakery's wall. The 74th annual reaping will begin soon, and that fact alone left them subdued. The smiles dripped from their faces, their laughter instantly fading into the coal-soaked air around them.
"Guess I should go get ready."
He merely nodded in response, knowing she disliked dressing up, especially for such an occasion. She stood and avoided gazing at the children trudging home to wash up, and instead busied herself with smoothing her skirt. She felt him stand beside her and a moment passed before she caught the way he was looking at her.
"We'll be okay, Peeta," she said, her words suddenly sober, automatic and unmovable, with no hint of the desperation she felt. They were always okay. They had to be. The alternative wasn't something she wanted to imagine.
She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders, her fingertips brushing the fabric of his hand-me-down shirt that clung there.
Their embrace was firm and familiar and she held him to her like she was holding him together. Peeta was the charismatic one, but she'd always been good at keeping them steady on days like this one.
She sighed almost inaudibly. Just a few more years and their names would be out of the bowls for good.
She pulled back, her hands sliding sideways along his shoulders as she held him at arms length to survey the boy in front of her. He had grown so much over the past year. Even in her relatively tall height, she had to crane her neck to meet his eyes.
"What?" he asked at her silence, a slightly amused curiosity coating his face with a smirk.
"I'm just thinking of how I used to tower over you."
"Ah," he dismissed it. "You always will."
Something gently unreadable overtook his face and she smiled in the small way she did when she didn't know how else to respond to him.
Madge turned and moved away from him before she finally stepped off the front porch. With her feet on graveled ground as he looked down at her from his position above, she turned to face him and took his hand.
"So I'll see you later?" she asked, the curve of her free hand raising above her eyes to shade them from the sunlight spilling over her now. "I believe I was promised scones at some point today."
He grinned. "Of course. Mellarks are men of their word."
After a moment his smile deflated into something tentative as he looked her over. He didn't know what else to do but nod. "See you."
"See you," she echoed, the edges of her expression resembling something akin to hope. She squeezed Peeta's hand goodbye, a persistent promise she was in no position to make being clenched between their fingertips. She smiled once.
Then she let go.
Author's Note: This was kind of ridiculous, but considering the next pieces I plan to post are the angstiest ever, I figured a little fluff was needed. Had to add my smidgen of impending doom though. And so it goes. Reviews are love.