A/N: Hi everyone, this is an AU fic that's been floating around in my mind for a little while. I want to play with the idea of Katniss and Peeta being from the same hometown but connecting for the first time when they run into each other in college. For some reason Peeta's character has always made me think he'd make a great hockey player, so I'm excited to experiment with that idea here.
The premise: Peeta is a star ice hockey player with a promising future, playing for Dartmouth College before taking a shot at an NHL career. Katniss is a quiet, serious girl from his high school, from a family without much money. Her intelligence and her Native American background earn her a scholarship to Dartmouth, and she transfers there junior year. When Peeta sees her for the first time on campus, he thinks he finally has his chance to get to know the girl he's had a crush on for years. But Katniss is focused on schoolwork and is hesitant to open up to anyone, especially a star athlete whose world is so different from her own. Can Peeta convince her to smile once in a while?
Let me know what you think! I have an idea of where the story is going, but I will be more motivated to write if I know people are interested in reading it. The rating starts at T for language, but will likely shift to M in the near-ish future because I love writing lemons.
When Peeta Mellark saw her face from across the dining hall, he was sure he was hallucinating. He hadn't seen that face in two years, and he certainly hadn't expected to ever see it here, at Dartmouth College. To see her here.
Katniss Everdeen. The girl he had admired from afar for years. The beautiful, brilliant, quiet girl he'd gone to school with since kindergarten, who had always intrigued him but who had seemed destined for a different path than his own.
He recognized her instantly, her slender form in a gray sweater and slim jeans with the same brown leather boots he remembered her wearing in high school. She was carrying a tray towards the back of the dining hall to drop it off, clearly finished with her lunch, staring ahead seriously as if she was on a mission.
He remembered that look. He had always wondered if he could tease a smile out of her, since smiles were something she rarely gave. But he'd never had the chance to try.
"Peeta," a voice said. It was his friend and teammate Jack Horton. "Peeta, you're staring. You're also losing your lunch."
Peeta was having lunch with several of his varsity hockey teammates, something they always did together when their class schedules coincided. He looked back at Jack and sure enough a large bite of lasagna that he had been about to put in his mouth was sliding off his fork and onto the plate with a plop.
Jack was laughing at him. "What's the deal, man? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Peeta shook his head. "No, it's just… I'll be right back."
He was on his feet then, leaving his friends staring after him as he got up to make his way across the cafeteria, his muscular 6 foot frame pushing through the lunch crowd to where he had seen her heading to return her empty dishes and tray.
He wasn't sure what he was more afraid of—that he would miss her, or that he had been hallucinating and she wasn't actually there at all.
And then he saw the flash of a shiny, dark braid and knew he had been right. He'd been seeking out that braid since he was five years old.
"Katniss?" he called out, not caring that they were in the crowded cafeteria. "Katniss, is that you?"
The girl stopped and turned slowly, and there she was, dark brown hair pulled into a braid along the right side of her olive-toned face, her wide-set gray eyes the color of slate looking at him in confusion.
"Katniss, hi, um…"
Her eyes sharpened in recognition all of a sudden. "Peeta Mellark? From Minnesota?"
He broke into a wide grin to mask his sigh of relief and pushed a lock of blonde hair out of his face to get a better look at her. That would have been embarrassing, to chase a girl across the room only to have her not recognize him.
"Yeah," he said. "You remember me."
He thought he saw a hint of a smile tug at the corner of her mouth before her face went serious again. "I knew you were here. Everyone from back home knows you're here. Duluth's own Ivy League hockey star."
Peeta shrugged this off. "I had no idea you were here," he said.
People continued to mill around them and Katniss tilted her head to indicate that they could go outside to get some more space instead of blocking the lunch rush. He followed her willingly.
"What are you doing here, Katniss?" he asked once they were out on the steps.
"I go to school here now. I started three weeks ago."
"Yeah, I transferred from UMD when they found me some scholarship money. So, uh, yeah. Here I am, I guess."
"That's awesome!" Peeta said. "We have to hang out sometime."
She looked confused. "We weren't friends in high school, Peeta. You don't have to be nice to me just because we're from the same hometown. I can take care of myself."
Peeta felt a twinge of confusion at her words. Sure they hadn't been part of the same crowd in high school. He was on the hockey team, so he was automatically lumped in with the jocks. Katniss hadn't been part of any crowd, really. But she had always intrigued him. He had always wanted to be her friend, and suddenly here she was, at the same school as him thousands of miles from where they grew up.
"I just thought… I don't know, I've been here for two years already, I could show you around?"
"Um, we had orientation for that, but thanks."
She was a tough nut to crack, but he wasn't surprised. She'd always been tough, and standoffish.
"Trust me, there's way more to this place than what you learn in orientation. Give me a chance, Katniss?"
He hoped his charm was working, and for a moment he could see the expression in her eyes getting softer, as if she might be ready to give in and say yes.
But then her expression changed back to its hardened exterior as she looked past his shoulder to where a group of guys had just burst through the dining hall doors. Half of them wore Dartmouth Hockey shirts, proclaiming exactly who they were and what their place was on this campus. "Hey Mellark, where'd you go?" one of them shouted.
It was Jack. "Come on dude, we gotta go to the rink to meet with Coach."
Peeta sighed. "Right, I forgot. Katniss, this is my friend Jack…"
But Katniss was already walking away. "I have to run to class. I'll see you around, Peeta," she said, shouldering her backpack and avoiding eye contact. And then she was walking quickly towards the campus green, her strong legs carrying her swiftly in her boots.
Peeta watched her go, a mix of hope and sadness in his chest. She was here, at Dartmouth. The girl he had secretly had a crush on for years, the girl who had never had the time of day for him. And so far, it seemed like she didn't plan on making any time for him now even though they were in the same place.
"Who was that?" Jack asked. "She's kinda cute."
Peeta bristled at his teammate's assessment-he felt protective of Katniss-but decided to let it go for now. "That's Katniss Everdeen. She's from my hometown. I never thought I'd see her again."
Katniss stared down at her biology textbook, highlighter in hand, reviewing the materials for her class tomorrow. She was tucked into a study carrel high up in the stacks of Baker Library, a spot she had discovered on the first day of classes when she knew she would need somewhere other than her dorm room to do schoolwork.
She forced herself to focus until she finished the assigned section and then put the cap on her highlighter with a sigh. Now that her work was done, she could finally let her mind wander to where it had been trying to go all afternoon and evening—to her encounter with Peeta Mellark.
She supposed she knew he would be here at Dartmouth too. Everyone in her old neighborhood knew who Peeta Mellark was. A talented hockey player from a young age, Peeta had been on two state championship teams in high school. His skills as a defenseman got him scouted by colleges and professional teams alike, and he had the brains to get accepted at Dartmouth College, an elite school with a strong hockey program. When he was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers the summer after he turned 18, he decided to continue on to Dartmouth and play NCAA hockey to strengthen his game before taking a shot at the professional level after graduation.
Katniss knew all of this because it had been reported in the school paper, the local paper, the local news… Minnesotans love their hockey, and they love to see local boys succeed.
Katniss' path to Dartmouth was much different from Peeta's. Everything about her life was different from his, she figured, besides sharing a zip code and attending the same schools. She was shocked, really, that he even knew who she was. Peeta's family owned a nice grocery store in Duluth called Mellark's Market, one that specialized in organic foods, locally sourced fruits and vegetables, and had a delicious in-store bakery and coffee shop.
Katniss' family didn't shop at Mellark's. They couldn't afford it. Katniss' little sister, Primrose, would gaze at the delicious-looking baked goods in the display window as they went out to shop, but Katniss would steer her on towards Buy-Low, the budget grocery store where their food stamps went much farther.
Katniss and Prim's mother, Collette, was part Chippewa and had grown up on the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation west of Duluth, but she moved to the city as soon as she could, seeking a better life for herself. She got her nursing degree and married a truck driver named Terry Everdeen. They had two daughters and their small family lived a reasonably comfortable lower-middle-class life. This all changed when Terry was killed in an accident when another semi-truck jackknifed in front of his, and Collette was left to raise the girls alone. She worked as hard as she could at her nursing job in the hospital, but her income was a stretch to raise two growing girls.
Once she was old enough Katniss worked as many after-school jobs as she could to help out, but Collette wouldn't let her take on too much responsibility. "It's more important for you to graduate high school and go to college, Katniss," she always said. "You're so smart. You can go so much farther in life than I ever could."
Katniss had worked hard and received a partial scholarship to the University of Minnesota at Duluth. She spent two years there studying biology and had been prepared to spend two more before graduating, when one day a phone call from the tribal office at Fond du Lac changed the course of things.
There was scholarship money for her, because she was part Chippewa, to go to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The Native American Program at Dartmouth sought out the best and the brightest Native students in the country, and someone at Fond du Lac had thought of her.
When she asked her mother about it, Collette shrugged and said, "It might have been your auntie Sue."
It had been Sue. While Collette had moved away to Duluth to pursue a life off the reservation, her older sister Sue had stayed and become the family matriarch and a formidable figure on the tribal council. When Dartmouth contacted the tribal office to see if any young scholars would be interested in applying for a scholarship, Sue had immediately thought of her niece.
"But Aunt Sue, I'm already in my second year of college at UMD," Katniss had protested on the phone.
"I know you are, dear, but this is an incredible opportunity for you. An Ivy League school wants you, Katniss, and you wouldn't have to pay a cent. A diploma from Dartmouth would open up so many doors. You could do anything with your life with a degree from a place like that. Think about how much you could do for your mom and your sister."
That had sealed it for Katniss. Family was more important to her than anything else. She would hate to move away from her mother and Prim, but it would only be for two years and it was true that a Dartmouth degree could get her places a UMD degree couldn't. The biology program was very strong and the connections she would make could set her up for any number of future opportunities.
And so she had said yes, and filled out the forms Aunt Sue gave her, and the next thing she knew she was packing up her meager possessions and moving to Hanover, New Hampshire.
It had been a shock to her system to get here, that was for sure. The fancy old buildings awed her, with their history and their hallowed halls of learning. UMD would always hold a special place in her heart, but this was the kind of college campus you saw in the movies, old brick buildings built in the 1800s with big white columns.
The student body was also a shock. Spoiled didn't even begin to describe most of the people here, with their east coast prep school pedigrees and their senses of entitlement. As a transfer student, she had been placed in a double room with another transfer student, a girl named Stacy Glimmer who seemed to be there more to please her family and party than anything else.
Stacy's explanation of how she ended up there went like this: "I was at Colgate for a year but my dad was really disappointed I didn't get into Dartmouth the first time around so he made me apply again as a transfer and, well, here I am. Which is cool because the sororities here are way better than at Colgate anyway. Which sororities do you plan on rushing?"
Katniss' attention span had faded out early on—she couldn't handle Stacy's high-pitched voice—and of course she had no plans to rush a sorority, so Stacy soon lost interest in her, and Katniss decided she would be spending a lot of time in the library.
Luckily, the library had some great little spots for studying, so she didn't mind it. She had been here every weeknight so far, determined to keep up with her schoolwork. The classroom atmosphere was much more competitive than what she was used to, and she wanted to stay ahead of the game. She counted herself lucky if she finished her work before the library closed, which it would in half an hour.
Katniss shut her textbook and stared at the cover, seeing wide shoulders and blonde hair in her mind rather than what was actually on book. Peeta Mellark. He wanted to "hang out sometime" with her, whatever that meant. She couldn't believe he even knew who she was. Their high school hadn't been small, and people like Peeta and the other hockey players didn't operate in the same universe as people like Katniss. They were kings of the school, along with the other jocks, and the kinds of girls they hung out with had never given Katniss the time of day.
Not that she cared. She'd had a life of her own, her after school jobs and her homework, her family, and her own friends. Not many of them, of course, but she thought the popular kids didn't really have many real friends anyway. It was all just a bunch of bullshit, people trying to climb the social ladder while forming as few real connections as possible. Real friendships took too much time.
She thought of her friend Gale, who had been a few years ahead of her in school. Gale's family was from the Reservation too, although he spent more time there than Katniss ever did. Their families had lived in the same run down apartment building in Duluth and they had spent hours as children exploring the local neighborhood and playing in whatever woods they could find. After Gale graduated high school he began training to be a welder, and he now spent half of the year working on remote pipeline projects in Alaska, so she didn't see him often. They emailed when they could, to stay in touch, but she still felt far away from him, her only real friend besides her sister.
She opened her computer and found Gale's name in her Gchat window, happy to see a green circle next to his name indicating that he was online.
Katniss: Hey Gale, you there?
Gale: Hey Catnip, long time no chat!
Katniss: I know, sorry
Gale: No worries.
How's things at your fancy new school?
Katniss: Good so far.
Lots of work.
You'll never guess who I ran into today.
Gale: Hmm, let's see, famous Dartmouth people…
Dr. Seuss? Didn't he go there?
Katniss: Haha, but no.
Do you remember Peeta Mellark from high school?
Gale: Oh yeah, the hockey player whose family owns the fancy grocery store?
Katniss: That's him.
He goes to Dartmouth too.
Gale: I think I remember hearing about that from someone back in Duluth.
Katniss: Yeah, he plays hockey here.
Anyway, I ran into him in the dining hall today during lunch.
It was super awkward.
Gale: You? Awkward? No… ;)
Katniss: Shut up.
He recognized me and said we should "hang out sometime" or something.
Gale: Why is that weird?
Katniss: Uh, because he was a super popular jock in high school and I was one of the poor kids who was basically invisible to the rest of the student population?
Gale: You weren't that invisible, Katniss.
It still weirds me out.
Gale: So are you gonna "hang out" with him or what?
And why are you using quotation marks?
Katniss: Because I find that phrase to be kind of silly.
And I don't know, we didn't really get to finish our conversation.
He got sucked back into his hockey bro posse and I had to go to class.
Gale: Well, maybe you'll run into him again.
It wouldn't be bad to make a friend there, Catnip.
Katniss: Ha, these east coast kids are from another planet than us, Gale.
Gale: Yeah, but Peeta's from Duluth just like you.
Maybe you should give him a chance.
Katniss was about to type a reply when a voice came over the intercom: "Attention please, the library will be closing in fifteen minutes."
Katniss: Ok, gotta run, the library is about to close.
Chat again soon?
Gale: Yeah, you better update me if you see Mellark again.
Katniss: Fine, whatever.
Gale: Goodnight Katniss.
She closed her computer and began to pack her things up to return to her dorm. She always loved talking through things with Gale, even when it was just over Gchat from afar.
He was always bugging her about opening up to people and making more friends. A tiny piece of her inside wondered if this time she might actually take his advice.
…to be continued…