When the Quarter Quell cuts off abruptly before its conclusion, the fear floats through the air like pollen, clinging to every surface. Before the day is over the whispers have started, rumors of danger and retaliation.
"I heard some miners in the Seam are planning to escape," Bannock whispers. His wife clutches his hand nervously as they gather around the table in the bakery. Proja Mellark is not surprised when Farl's eyes widen in excitement.
"Escape?" he asks in a hushed voice. "Are we—"
"Those idiots wouldn't escape the district if the President himself sent them the plans," Agatha interrupts. "And neither will we."
She waves her hand dismissively. "I'm going to bed," she says coolly, eyes sweeping across the room to meet her husband's. As soon as she leaves, Bannock turns to him urgently.
"Dad, we could be in real danger. I've heard some things—"
Proja sighs deeply; he knows the fear his sons feel, feels it lying low in his stomach coiled like a snake. He allows himself a moment to dream of escape.
"You heard what your mother said." He can't bear the looks of frustration, the disappointment, the thinly veiled terror on his family's faces. So he turns and walks the way of his wife, as he always has.
They're in this together, after all.
"But where's all your stuff?"
Agatha sneers at Peeta as they tour his new house in Victor's Village, the family granted the first private moment since he and Katniss arrived hours ago. "Did you really think we would move into this place with you after you made such a spectacle of yourself with that trash?" She tsks softly, ignoring the stricken look on Peeta's already pale face. She looks around, taking in the wealth with a discerning eye. "It's a shame, really."
"Dad," Peeta begs quietly. "You can't leave me alone here."
"I'm sorry, son." He wonders not for the first time if he's been going about this the right way all these years. "You heard what your mother said."
They watch the games every night in their living room; Agatha is too haughty to watch in the square with everyone else so they spend their nights in silence, crowded around the old TV set. Bannock comes over alone, leaving his wife at home.
"I think they can win," Farl blurts out one night, speaking over the commentators as they nightlock berries that killed the girl from District 5. "They're really close now." The family hasn't talked of the possibility of Peeta's return at all, not once. Before Bannock can even smile fully in agreement their mother scoffs.
"How could he?" she asks, not even moving her gaze from the screen. "Peeta is even stupider than you, he has no chance. He's only gotten this far because of the girl, and she'll turn on him soon." She doesn't look up when Farl leaves the room silently, doesn't flinch when he slams the door to his bedroom so hard the house shakes.
Proja frowns but doesn't say anything. It's probably best not to jinx it, anyway.
"What happened to the rolling pin, dear?" he asks one morning; the handle is suddenly splitting, ready to break completely in a few days time.
"Someone dropped it," she says venomously. He takes note of the narrowed eyes, the white knuckles, and chooses not to say anything more.
He does notice, however, that Bannock limps for several days, wearing thick pants despite the July heat.
Peeta comes home after his first day of school, eyes bright with hope at the dinner table as he recounts the day's adventures. When he tells of the girl who sings so beautifully even the birds stop to listen Agatha's eyes narrow, fist clenching tightly around her silverware. "Where did you hear that?" she asks him quietly.
Proja feels his stomach sink, knows he's really done it this time; Peeta is sweetly unaware as he tells his mother about the woman and her daughter his father pointed out. He cries for hours after; Proja wonders if he is more hurt by the slap or by his mother's cruel words. Either way when he tucks him in that night he kisses the spot where she hit him gently, making his son promise never to mention Katniss Everdeen again.
When their third child is born Proja warns his sons to be very quiet; labor was hard for Mommy, he explains quietly, eyes shifting to the bedroom door as he remembers the arduous hours of screaming, the blood and the crying. This one had been harder than the others, leaving her exhausted and distant; he left her a few minutes ago holding little Peeta, a numb look on her face.
At first they make a game out of it, playing at who can be the quietest while setting the table, taking their baths, making their beds. But Bannock is just six, after all, and Farl has just turned three, and after two long days the silence breaks. Proja is holding the baby carefully in his arms when he hears a shrill, childish scream from the kitchen. By the time he makes it downstairs Farl is crying as Bannock cowers in the corner, a sharp red mark across his cheek. Agatha has her back turned to him but he can see her hand trembling with anger. He gently touches her shoulder; when she turns and scowls fiercely he motions for her to go upstairs. The three of them watch her disappear up the staircase. Farl's cries grow louder the minute she is out of sight.
Proja looks at them carefully, frowning sadly. "I told you boys to be quiet."
Laurel Everdeen walks by and he allows his blue eyes to follow her for a second too long. Agatha frowns severely, squeezing his hand clasped in hers so tightly his knuckles crack. She softens when Proja winces, caressing his fingers delicately, smoothing her thumb over the back of his hand.
"You shouldn't have been looking at her," she admonishes softly, reaching over to brush a golden curl off his forehead.
She was right, he realizes the next day as his hand aches while he frosts the cakes in the bakery under his father's watchful eye. He shouldn't have been looking at Laurel.
It's his fault, really.
. . .
. . .
Written backwards because I do what I want. Inspired by the lovely penelopeweaving's writing and a discussion with bohemianrider, and special thanks to sabaceanbabe for the help! Originally posted on tumblr and AO3.