Prompt: Late one chilly fall night, teen Katniss is high up in the Mellark’s apple tree certain no one will miss a few apples, never expecting to be seen by/or to see the boy with the bread and why he’s still awake. [submitted by @567inpanem]
Trigger Warning: Implied/referenced physical abuse
She wouldn’t be doing this if Prim hadn’t looked so hopeful.
Scratch that, she wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for Prim surreptitiously glancing at the red orbs with so much intensity each time they went and came from school it looked like they would burst.
This was wrong; it was a step away from stealing, but really, there were so many! And Katniss was planning on slipping the baker at least two more squirrels and a quail next time they exchanged. When he turned his back, of course. Mr. Mellark was nothing if not fair, even giving more than her game was worth when he knew special occasions, such as Prim’s or her mother’s birthday, were close.
So, because Katniss wanted to give Prim every measly thing she could, here she was, on a school night, at almost midnight, climbing the Mellarks’ apple tree.
It was high, but not the highest she had climbed. She just hoped everyone was asleep. Katniss knew they woke up as early as her to prepare for the day, so they should go to sleep early as well, right?
She had one apple in the bag and was going for the second‒she was only going to take two‒when she noticed the room in front of the branch she was sitting on lit up, then a door slamming closed. Katniss watched, absolutely stunned, as Peeta Mellark pushed a heavy-looking dresser with just one arm, apparently, just in time. Loud bangs and yelling could be heard on the other side, but the door wouldn’t budge.
Peeta turned around, and it was Katniss’ hunter instincts that made her swallow her gasp. He had a split lip and a red eye that would surely be swollen by tomorrow. One of his hands was holding his midsection as if it hurt to simply breathe, Peeta sighed and leaned against the wall before letting himself fall to the floor and cry.
I need to run, I have to get out of here.
But apparently the baker’s family went to bed late. Lights were lit on the first floor where loud yelling could be heard. Even though she was trying to think of a solution, Katniss was starting to think she might have to spend a good portion of the night here.
When she turned her eyes back into the bedroom, she saw Peeta looking directly at where she was.
Staying completely still, she didn’t dare to even blink; Katniss locked her muscles up, and she swore her breathing slowed down to avoid any kind of movement.
Peeta kept on looking.
Her eyes were starting to hurt. She blinked.
His face said it all; he had seen her.
Katniss saw his mouth forming her name, but he quickly stopped himself, checking back at the door again and then lifting himself from the floor, with no small effort.
She saw him opening his window with one hand, still holding onto his side.
“Katniss!” he harshly whispered. “How-What are you doing here?”
She didn’t know what to say. Katniss, for some reason, felt the urge to cry because there was no way she could buy her way out of this. She didn’t believe Peeta would alert his parents about her delinquent activities, but if they did notice, she was sure his mother would gladly and joyfully take her to a Peacekeeper.
“Katniss, are you alright? Was there something you needed? Can I help you?”
Of course Peeta would ask something like that when she was the one perched on a branch outside of his window in his family’s garden.
“I just…I just wanted an apple.” Her face was burning with shame. Not only because she had been caught stealing, but because this was something Katniss would’ve never, ever done before.
Peeta seemed to understand and, once again, turned back to his door.
“Seems like my mother is going back to sleep. Can you see if the lights below are off?” She checked and nodded. “Okay, so I think your safest bet is to wait for at least ten minutes and then leave. I assume you’ll be able to get down on your own?”
“Good. Take as many apples as you want; we have tons. It’s a pity some of them go to waste.”
Seemed like neither of them knew what to say. Peeta’s eyes were still swollen, but Katniss wouldn’t even dare make fun of him for crying; after all, it seemed like he had been on the bad end of a fight. This was confirmed when he suddenly coughed but was cut short, and Katniss saw him hissing in pain, punching the window frame with his other hand.
“Are you okay?” Great question, Katniss.
He kind of chuckled, but it was a painful sound. “I will be.” He looked at her for a second. “Are you worried about me?”
They both went still, waiting to hear something. After several seconds, though, they realized it was okay.
“I think you can go down now. I’ll move the dresser again so the noise will cover yours if needed.”
Katniss felt fear. It was irrational, but to know he would expose himself and risk falling into the clutches of his mother again…
“Don’t do that. I’m very quiet; they won’t notice.”
“It’s okay, really. Look.” She proved her point by raising her arm and grabbing one more apple, then slowly going to the nearest lowest branch.
“Wow, that’s…wow. Now I know how you get them through the eye every time.” Katniss blushed again, but this time she didn’t know why. “Be careful, Katniss.”
When her feet touched the ground, she looked up one more time to find Petta still at his window. He raised his hand in goodbye; she nodded, and then ran away.
The next day, Katniss’ eyes kept searching for a pair of blue one, but she didn’t find them. It was clear that Peeta Mellark hadn’t come to school today, which made her glad for making her mix of herbs the night before.
She, first, sent Prim home, made sure she started on her homework before leaving again. Katniss had waited long enough for everyone to be back home from school. She wanted to avoid any curious gazes as much as possible.
Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the bakery’s back door.
A surprised Harland Mellark came out, but immediately smiled when he saw her.
“Hello, Katniss. Isn’t it a bit late for our exchange?”
“Good afternoon, I’m sorry to bother you. Um…Is Peeta home?”
Once again, his face denoted surprise, and Katniss started to wonder if it would have been best to leave the bag on the floor and run, but she didn’t know if they would understand how to use it or believe it would work at all.
“He is. Let me see if he’s awake. Come in.” Katniss was hyper-aware of going inside; she rarely did, and the fact that she had taken two apples the day before… “It’s okay, my wife is gone for the afternoon.” That relaxed her a bit, and she accepted the invitation.
She stood in the back of the store, still as a statue. Katniss heard something falling on the floor above her and then hurried steps and conversation. She saw the baker coming down, chuckling to himself, and he asked Katniss to wait for a bit.
Not thirty seconds later, heavy footsteps could be heard on the staircase. Peeta Mellark was coming down, and it seemed his ribs were much better than the day before, though his face was way, way worse.
“Hey, um…hi.” He awkwardly greeted her once he stepped into the room.
Katniss couldn’t help but assess his injuries. Not that she had any talent as a healer like her mother and Prim, but she had seen her fair share of them through the years and had picked up a thing or two, plus the fact that she used to get herself injured when she first started hunting.
“Hi. Here.” She shoved the bag at him, and he quickly took it, confused. “This is a mix of herbs that will help with swelling. Just brew them as normal tea, and if you have tea bags, put them inside that. If you keep them cool, like the cakes, they will last for a couple of days at least. Um…wait, so, the tea bags or the leaves, put them on your face overnight, and the swelling will subside.”
Katniss swore she would’ve strangled him if he wasn’t looking so bad. His eye was almost closed shut! And his lip definitely had to hurt.
“If you have tea bags, put the herbs inside; if not, brew them as they are. Keep them cool if you want them to last. Put them on your face overnight for the swelling to subside. Seriously, Mellark, it’s not that difficult.” She grumbled out.
“I see, I- How much is this?”
“What?” Her tone and her eyes must have been what she used to scold Prim because Peeta suddenly looked at her as if he was a caged animal.
“I mean, this is medicine, right? And if your mom took the time to-”
“I did it, not my mother.”
“Really?” His good eye seemed to sparkle at this bit of unnecessary information she’d just spilled.
“Payment for the apples.”
“I told you a lot of them go to waste, so it’s okay.” He still managed to smile. How could he smile like that after being beaten up so brutally?
Katniss remembered being naughty and getting a slap to the hand or a couple of spanks on her backside, nothing major, but this? This was too much.
And she owed him. She knew she owed him more than he could probably imagine.
“Take it as a late thank you, then.”
Neither had mentioned the rainy day, the burnt bread tossed to the ground, near enough for her to catch but far enough for his mother to notice. Though wet on the outside, the inside had still been warm, and when she finally took a bite and felt her stomach struggling with the heavy food it wasn’t used to getting, Katniss shed a tear that she quickly wiped away before her mother or Prim could see.
She owed him, because Peeta Mellark had saved her life, and thus, her family’s.
Unable to take even one more moment of the charged atmosphere, Katniss turned around and went for the door, only to be stopped by a strong grip on her arm, stronger than she imagined it would be.
Her eyes shot to her arm, amazed at the stark contrast between her olive skin against Peeta’s white. It shouldn’t, actually, for Prim’s skin tone was very close to Peeta’s. But then again, Prim’s hand wasn’t so big, with veins bulging underneath the skin and strength that could probably toss her over if needed.
“Thank you, Katniss.” He quickly let her go, but even if his hand wasn’t holding her back anymore, she stayed in place.
The sound of a voice quickly pulled both of them back. “He better not still be in bed!”
Faster than lightning, Katniss left the bakery, running towards the Seam. Her cheeks were definitely not red.
Katniss had been a bit worried the next day; she still hadn’t seen Peeta around.
It wasn’t that they were friends, because they weren’t, but now she couldn’t stop thinking about several times over the years when she had seen him come in with some kind of limp, bruise, or mark on his body. He always loudly claimed that was how brothers played, and Katniss did notice boys being rowdier than girls, so she never thought too much about it…
Now she knew that Peeta’s life wasn’t as nice as she thought. Katniss distinctly remembered one occasion when she heard his brother, Rye, complaining about only eating stale bread or pastries, as their mother, trying to sell every batch, wouldn’t give them the fresh stuff. Adding that to the fact she knew his mother beat him to the point of making him cry, enraged Katniss.
She wasn’t angry with Peeta, of course not, but with herself, for assuming Peeta was something he wasn’t, and with his mother. Who in their right mind would abuse their kids like that?
She was thinking so hard that she hadn’t paid proper attention in class, not that she needed to learn more about coal and the function her district fulfilled in Panem. However, she was startled when Prim gently elbowed her.
“What is it, Little Duck?”
“Look over there.”
Katniss raised her eyes, and there he was, Peeta Mellark. He looked much better; the swelling had significantly gone down, and she was glad. He waved at her, and she nodded back.
“Go talk to him, he seems to want to say something.”
“We need to go home.”
“I’ll go with the girls. Just tell me everything later, okay?”
Katniss rolled her eyes. “There’s nothing to tell, Prim.”
“Sure there isn’t. Say hello to him for me.” And her sister skipped ahead, joining her friends.
Katniss grumbled and glared at Peeta, which seemed to either not reach him or affect him. She quickly walked over to him and harshly asked what he wanted.
“Just to see you.”
“You could’ve done that from here without calling me over.”
“I know, sorry.” He looked down and put his hand behind his neck. “I just…wanted to thank you again. Those herbs are magic, I swear. You should’ve seen my mother’s face today.”
“Did she do something? Did she hit you again? Or took away the herbs?” All questions had come one after the other. Katniss was speaking fast, and she hadn’t even realized it. At least, not until Peeta’s gaze turned soft towards her, which again made a funny churning feeling set in her stomach.
“No, she didn’t do anything. But she was greatly impressed when she saw my eye all better; it was supposed to be a bit worse today before it started to heal.”
“She was expecting you to get worse!?” She hadn’t noticed, but they had started to walk slowly towards the path leading to the Seam.
“Well…yeah, I think we all were. That’s how bruises work; they get worse before they get better.”
“And this isn’t the first time she’s done it.”
“Doesn’t your dad do anything when she hits you and your brother?” Katniss liked Harland, but if he was just standing in the background while his kids were getting beaten up…
“Well…it’s actually just me.”
“What!?” How was that even possible?
“I think it’s because I wasn’t a girl.” Katniss looked at him, confused. “My mom wanted a girl ever since she married dad. When they got a boy, she was happy, but she still wanted to try for a girl; then, Rye was born. My dad thought that was enough, but she wanted a girl by any means necessary. She promised my dad that if the third one wasn’t a girl, they could stop trying and he relented, even if it was very unusual for a merchant family.”
Katniss knew what he was talking about. The Seam families were the ones reproducing like rabbits, for being as poor as they were, they couldn’t afford the fancy methods of avoiding pregnancy. Herbs could only do so much. “So, she made everything pink. The clothes, the room, the ribbons. She excitedly chose the name and waited for her little girl…and then, I was born.”
“You are seriously telling me she resents you for being born a male?” He nodded. “But that’s ridiculous. I mean, that’s nobody’s fault! Or, if she wants to blame someone, make her blame your dad!”
“I’m not entirely sure, but when my mother gave me…the talk,” Peeta nodded in understanding, pink coloring both of their cheeks, “she gave me the doctor’s perspective and the woman’s perspective.”
“That must have been interesting.”
“Don’t remind me. So, she gave me this old, frail-looking book. I can’t remember too much because there were lots of weird names that I’ve never heard, but the process was incredible.”
So, Katniss explained, as best she could remember, how conception worked from the medical point of view. She always thought her mother was wasting her breath, for Katniss planned on never, ever having children, but reading how a baby is formed and how a woman’s body changes to accommodate it, made Katniss respect mothers a bit more, even if they were dumb enough to have more than one kid. Peeta’s face made her task easy, because his expression told her he was paying close attention and had no intention of making fun of her, thus, she kept going. Katniss, of course, skipped all of the sex part, focusing only on how a baby was formed inside the uterus, one of the few words she did remember.
“So, you’re saying that the males are the ones that carry the gender decision?”
“Yeah, our half is always the female side, and it’s up to guys to complete the other half with a female or male chromo-something.”
“That’s awesome,” Peeta honestly said.
“It’s not your fault that you were born a male, same as it isn’t any baby’s fault that they are born. It’s the parent’s fault; it’s ultimately their decision.” Which is why I’m never having kids, so as not to bring them into this life of poverty.
Katniss suddenly looked around and saw that they were a few feet away from her house.
How had that happened!?
“This is from my dad.” He took a small package from his pocket. Katniss looked at it as if it could contain nightlock. “They’re just some apple cookies, for Prim. He knows how much she loves these.”
“Because he knows you helped me and wanted to say thank you. But knowing how closed off you are to gifts, he decided to go through your sister. There’s enough for her, your mother and you.”
Katniss scowled; she didn’t like owing people, that was it.
“Okay. For Prim.”
“For Prim. I need to go now, but it was nice talking to you. We should do it more often.”
“Yeah, I like you…r company, and your sister is sweet. I see you walking with Madge sometimes. I could join you girls.”
“Right, I, uh…”
“See you tomorrow, Katniss,” he said, with a blinding, perfect smile before turning around and leaving.
She went inside her house to find an eager Prim, who immediately asked her about her ‘date’ with Peeta. Katniss quickly shot down the notion, as it had definitely not been a date.
The cookies were given to both her mother and Prim at dinner time, which made Prim beam immensely at her and talk about doing something to thank Peeta for the gesture.
If this keeps up, we’ll be in an eternal ‘Thank you’ circle, Katniss thought to herself.
Later, that night, she went to look outside her window. The moon was full and high in the sky. Katniss couldn’t help but think about Peeta Mellark, wondering if he was safe from his mother’s clutches or if he was crying alone, a barricade in front of his bedroom door once more.
No use in thinking about him. I paid my debt. I said ‘Thank you,’ and he did, too. No reason for us to speak to each other again. His offer to walk with us and Madge was probably just his way of being polite.
Satisfied with her reasoning, Katniss Everdeen went to sleep.
1 year later…
“Are you insane!? There’s no way I’m going to be related to Seam trash, and least of all her!”
Katniss knew this was a bad idea from Day One, but really, there was no way out of it now. Not when Peeta had made her fall in love with him with his tender smiles, loving eyes and caring gestures. She knew there was a reason why she had always steered clear of the boy with the bread. But here she was, sitting in the Mellark’s living room with him, telling his parents they wanted to get married.
“Why don’t we all calm down?” Harland tried to get things under control.
“You cannot tell me you’re okay with this? Why would he suddenly want to marry her?” And then his mother turned pale, staggering back and clutching her chest. “You got her pregnant, didn’t you?”
“What!? Of course not!” But it was too late, his mother was already raising her hand to slap him across the face. What she hadn’t expected was the swift and quiet intervention of Katniss, who deftly caught her wrist in midair with all the force she could muster.
“Do not touch him. Don’t you ever touch him again,” she slowly grumbled with one of her scariest glares.
“Wha- What are you doing? Let go of me!”
“Not so brave now against someone who stands up to you, huh?” Katniss roughly pushed her hand away. “This ends now. You will never hit him again, not while I’m around.” Peeta’s mother was spluttering, trying to find something to say, but it seemed words had escaped her. “The only reason we’re here is out of Peeta’s respect for his parents, which, quite frankly, I don’t understand. How you can call yourself a mother after abusing your own child for all these years is something I’ll never wrap my head around.” Katniss then directed her gaze at Harland, who was ashamedly looking down at the floor. She knew he had never laid a hand on him, but allowing his wife to do it was almost as bad.
“You’re nothing but a Seam whore! He’ll get his fill of you and then toss you aside!”
“That’s what you told yourself when your husband was dating my mother?”
Peetas’ mother’s face turned as red as a tomato at the mention of this. “And it was true! As soon as he-”
“No. My mother fell in love with my father, and she decided to leave. She left her family, her friends, her merchant right; she gave it all up, and you can paint whatever story you want in your head, but deep down you know that’s the truth. If my father hadn’t appeared, you would’ve never gotten Harland Mellark.”
The silence that fell upon the group in the living room was deafening. Katniss could hear every creak in the air and just how hard the woman before her was breathing.
“Call me whatever you want, I don’t care. I love Peeta, and we’re getting married and we don’t need your permission. We’ll both be adults in a few months, anyway.”
“Then you’re no longer my son,” she claimed with a shaking finger pointing at Peeta. “You’re no longer welcome in my house.”
“Actually, this is my house.” This was the first time Katniss had heard Harland speak as harshly as he was. “And the bakery will eventually go to Peeta, anyway. We’ve already discussed a way to separate the house areas from the bakery rooms.”
“You’re giving him the bakery!?”
“I said ‘eventually.’ Bran is married; Rye has no interest in baking, and it’s because of Peeta that we’re still in business. He does almost all the baking and frosting for the most expensive commissions. It’s clear he should inherit the business.”
“See?” Katniss spoke again. “If I were you, I would be kinder to Peeta, seeing as he will be the one bringing in the largest part of the money. Because if it was up to me, I wouldn’t give you a single cent.”
“You ungrateful bitch. Let’s see how high and mighty you are after I tell the Peacekeepers about your secret trips outside the fence.”
“Mother, stop it! That’s enough.” Peeta went to defend Katniss, but she held him back again.
“That’s the best you got? Seam trash, whore, bitch, slut…I’ve heard it all, and from your mouth, it matters even less than usual.” Katniss took a step forward, and both men in the room did the same, Harland toward his wife and Peeta toward his future wife. “You will not mess around with Peeta ever again.” She took Peeta’s hand and started walking away, but then she remembered something important. “Oh, and rest assured, I’m not pregnant, but when we decide to have children, you won’t be allowed to come near them. I will make sure of it. Try me on this, and I will kill you. Also, if you’re going to the Peacekeepers, be sure to stay home at all times, because I’m a very patient huntress, and I know how to get my prey through the eye. Every.fucking.time.”
To see her paling once more made Katniss smirk before pulling Peeta along with her again.
They finally left the bakery, but this time, she didn’t let go of his hand.
“Um…is this okay?” Peeta asked. They hadn’t told anyone about their relationship, except for Madge, Gale, and Prim.
“We’re going to get married, right? This shouldn’t matter much.” Pissed-off Katniss was one of Peeta’s favorite Katnisses.
“Whatever you say,” he replied with a smile, and Katniss rolled her eyes.
“If she tries to lay even a finger on you when you go back-”
“I don’t think that’d be possible, after your ‘I get my prey through the eye’ threat, I’m pretty sure she’s scared shitless.”
“Good, because that wasn’t a threat, it was a promise.”
Peeta knew how much it angered Katniss that he never tried to defend himself against his mother’s attacks, but as much of a monster as she was, that woman was still his mother. He was simply happy that the girl of his dreams was such a fierce huntress, willing to protect him.
“So, what now?” he asked as they walked around, attracting gasps, looks and whispers wherever they went.
“Now, I guess we go to my house. Or, we could see if Gale has some…information.”
For a couple of months now, there had been some secret meetings happening. People speaking about standing up to the Capitol’s dictatorship ways, reclaiming the roads to once again communicate between districts and such. Katniss had been totally against it at first, but after learning her father had been part of the first group that had tried this, she was all in. Peeta, of course, would go wherever she went.
“Sure, we could ask.” They walked in silence for a while until Peeta brought up something she had hoped he didn’t remember. “So…you want children?”
“No.” She immediately answered. “I don’t know. Not for at least ten years.” Peeta beamed at this information because his girlfriend, now fianceé, had always been against children talk for as long as he knew her.
“I think ten years is great. I get you all to myself for a decade; I’m not against that.”
Katniss rolled her eyes at him. “You’re so lucky I love you, Mellark.”
“Yes. Yes I am,” he answered, with one of his blinding, beautiful smiles.