Disclaimer: The following is a Panem-AU, set around the same time as the events of The Hunger Games. However, The Games are not a factor in this AU. I am not Suzanne Collins - characters and places from the trilogy belong entirely to her.
Peeta swishes the tepid tap water around his mouth, but it does nothing for the taste of bile still lingering on his tongue. All his life, he has prided himself that he never gets nervous in front of large crowds. He's always calm, collected, and as Madge used to say, "annoyingly confident", no matter how many eyes are trained on him.
Not today. Not when the crowd is this large.
He straightens his deep purple tie before shrugging on the basic black suit jacket and takes a deep, albeit shaky breath. He'd very much like to get this formality over and done with and get down to business already. The pomp and circumstance of today's festivities has the markings of the old Snow government all over it; every time he thinks about it, he gets more and more annoyed. He doesn't need a crowd and a speech and a parade; he needs a desk and a staff he trusts. He has the latter—they're stationed in desks and offices that comprise the north wing surrounding the Aula, where he'd much rather be as well. At least then he'd be getting something done. After three long months of smiling for pictures, kissing babies, and shaking every hand in the room, it's way past time to get things moving.
"You look like shit run over twice, boy," Haymitch sneers when he walks into the room a second later. Despite the comment being utterly barbed, it makes Peeta laugh to hear. Haymitch wouldn't be Haymitch if he weren't insulting him somehow.
"Sure you're not looking in the mirror, old man?" Peeta returns. His mentor grins at him.
"You drink your breakfast or something? This place reeks," the man asks.
"I didn't have a chance to eat anything. Effie rousted me out of bed at 4 and only left me alone a minute ago. When I asked her if we could stop for something to eat, she said I'd have plenty of chances later," Peeta explains with a shrug.
"Foul woman, that one. You sure you want her as your EA?"
"I trust her. Same as I trust you."
Haymitch smiles. "You forgetting something?" He taps the spot above his own heart.
Peeta looks down and nods when he notices his blank lapel. He buries his hand into his trouser pocket until his fingers close around the gold trinket. He looks in the mirror as he clips it quickly to his lapel, only stabbing himself once in the finger for as much as his hands shake.
"Don't muss up the suit, boy, what'll that look like on national television?" Haymitch taunts.
"You know you're gonna have to knock off that 'boy' crap here in about an hour," Peeta says, side-eyeing the man. Haymitch guffaws and clasps the younger man on the shoulder.
"Don't trip out there. And don't look so cocky, cripes; you want to make people like you."
"They do like me; I wouldn't be here if they didn't. Or have you forgotten already?"
"Not all of 'em. Not yet," Haymitch says soberly.
Peeta nods. "Any last minute advice?"
Haymitch seems to think carefully before he nods and says simply, "Yeah. Stay alive."
He's ushered out the door a minute later by a tall, dark haired man in a crisp Peacekeepers uniform. He's been introduced to the man before, and if he's recalling correctly, his name is...Gale. Yes, that's it.
"It's time—do you have everything?" Gale says. Peeta nods and motions to follow him out the door. The man holds his hand up to him quickly.
"I'd advise a coat. It's well under freezing out there today."
"I'll be fine," Peeta returns. He'd rather wear a coat too—the lack thereof was Haymitch's idea, to remind everyone of his youth and vitality. Putting it mildly, Peeta thought it was a dumb idea.
Gale raises his wrist to his mouth and trills an order into the elaborate communication device there before escorting Peeta down the hallway. As they walk, Peeta waits for the arm to grab him, stop him from taking another step, tell him this whole situation was a massive mistake: that at 31, he's far too young, too inexperienced, and he'll be taken home immediately so that he wastes no more of the country's time.
It never comes. He stands nervously in front of a set of double doors and tries to keep from bouncing on his toes. Just ahead of him, Leonid Boggs nods at him reassuringly. It calms Peeta slightly as the doors swing open, and a gust of cold air immediately sets his skin pebbling under his jacket. The anthem blares. A crackly bit of feedback resonates through the crowd before Gale nudges Peeta forward with a nod.
He squares his shoulders and raises his chin. He steels himself to replace the jittery grin with a genuine, confident, practiced smile as he steps onto the wide balcony. A cheer erupts from the crowd as the effervescent voice of Claudius Templesmith booms out to them:
"Ladies and Gentlemen of Panem—your president-elect: Peeta Mellark!"
A/N: The wheels have been cranking on this story for a few weeks now, and I'm finally biting the bullet and putting it in motion! The muse for this particular AU comes not only from the amazing world of THG, but also from the television show The West Wing and the 1995 movie The American President. Different aspects of all three of these mediums will factor into the overall storyline for this fic.
Many terrific folks are helping contribute political ideas and theories via Tumblr that I'll be weaving in and out of this story - I hope you all know who you are and know how eternally grateful I am for your input. I hope to have a tiny tribute to each one of you interspersed through the text as I go as an extra thank you for being so thoughtful and wonderful.
I'd be remiss if I didn't personally thank Chelzie, misshoneywell, haka_nai, and BookJunkie007 for being supportive of this story and offering their help whenever I need it. In addition to these lovelies, I have the beta/pre-reading squad of awesome and win in sohypothetically, megsonfire, and Court81981, who are making sure my ideas are fluid and my grammar isn't too atrocious. Thank you ladies for signing on for the adventures of President!Peeta. Finally, a million thanks to the incredible Ro Nordmann for my beautiful cover art/banner. I love you all dearly!
This is only the beginning of this world - I hope you'll come along with me as it continues! I'll be getting the first chapter out ASAP. Thank you for reading; feedback is my very favorite thing. Leave it here or on my Tumblr: baronesskika dot tumblr dot com.