AN: I hope you enjoy this excuse to make Peeta a princess and Haymitch a fairy, among other metaphorical parallels. Big thanks to Estoma for beta-ing! Chapter lengths will vary. I own nothing, including Peeta's brothers' names (at least Rye, which I think is fanon?). Please let me know what you think!
1. the stepmother
He brushes flour off his damp cheek, wincing. It almost matches the rest of his face that blanched under his mother's accusing glare (and her shouting mouth), except his nose is a heated pink from stinging until tears left clumpy gray-flaxen trails down his cheeks. Without the flour concealing it, he can see in the bureau mirror's reflection a shining dark pink imprint of a hand (all five fingers and a wide, unforgiving palm).
Peeta thinks he looks really sad and knows he feels really sore.
There's a knock on the doorjamb. His brother, Bannock, hands him a rag so he can wipe his nose and eyes (in that order) and tells him their mother isn't angry anymore.
It doesn't matter, though, because the handprint is throbbing and he still is.
"Why'd you do it anyway?" asks Bannock. He sits down on their bed.
Peeta sniffs as he mops the rag under his nose, finding out that it's caked with flour and dried bits of dough from the bakery countertop when he accidentally inhales some of it. He coughs out, "What do you mean?"
"I mean you burnt that loaf on purpose." Peeta considers protesting but his brother continues with evidence. "You dropped it into the flames. I saw you."
"It was an accident." He's not bad at lying but he holds Bannock's stare a second too long.
"It sure didn't look like an accident," Bannock tells him, almost laughing. "You even glanced over your shoulder at Mother."
Pointing at his cheek, Peeta retorts, "And look how well I did staying unnoticed!"
The oldest Mellark boy does laugh now. "Just tell me why and I'll leave you to your self-pity."
Peeta glares, which looks more wounded than mean. "Mind your own business."
"Come on. Please?"
There's a holler from downstairs in the bakery. Their mother tells them to quiet down. Bannock's eyes gleam and Peeta already knows why.
"Tell me or I'll go to Mother," he threatens (bluffs). "She obviously doesn't like us burning bread on accident. So, if you did it on purpose…"
"All right, all right," groans Peeta. His hair is damp from the rain outside, curls sticking to his forehead. His hands, still lightly coated in flour, smell of mud and burned bread. "I gave it to Katniss Everdeen."
"She's this girl I like. Mother scared her off after she tried to dig through our trash. I was supposed to feed the bread to the pigs."
"Oh," is all his brother says. What else could be said? Certainly not this: "She's Seam, then?"
Peeta's handprint dims in color as his face flushes from flour white to ruddy. "Excuse you?"
Bannock holds up his palms. "Whoa, sorry. Look, I ain't saying anything bad about her. But if she's digging through our trash-"
"That's why I gave her the bread," Peeta seethes. "She's starving."
"I know!" Quieter, as Bannock remembers their mother, "I know. You did the right thing." He pats the area of bed beside him. Peeta joins him. "I'm proud of you." He loops a long arm around Peeta's shoulders to prove it.
"She doesn't even know my name," Peeta says to his hands twisted in his lap, "but she was worth it." He touches 'it' and winces again.
Of course, they both look into the bureau mirror at the same time and see themselves. Bannock smiles encouragingly at Peeta's hunched reflection, which stares glumly back at himself. His face looks exhausted and so, so sad, just like the girl he gave some food to earlier. He hopes she's smiling right now.
While Bannock is the mirror image of their father, Peeta resembles his father and - no one. No one he knows as family, anyway. He can't be related to the woman who dealt him, that's for sure.
With the newfound information concerning the facts of life learned at the age eleven, Peeta is aware how that's impossible. He just doesn't think his face could ever show that much evil unless it was inherited.