Title: The Troubled Pawn: Chapter One
Pairing: future Katniss/Peeta
Type: THG from Peeta’s perspective
Warning(s): THG spoilers
Word Count: 1,456
“PEETA!” comes a shout from the door – this shout half-wakes me, and in my still-dreaming state I hear the door slam open and the floorboards creak as my mother enters my room. “Peeta!” she shouts again, standing over my bed like a vulture awaiting the death of its prey.
“It’s the day of the Reaping,” I grunt. “No one wants to buy bread today.” With that, I roll over on the bed, shutting my eyes tightly and praying she’ll leave me alone.
Next thing I know, her large, calloused hands have a vice-grip on my arm that feels like she might try to snap it. She drags me from the bed and stands me on my feet. “Get dressed, get your ass out here, and do your damn job,” she commands before turning on her heel from the room and slamming the door shut behind her.
I cross to the dresser and fish two pairs of pants and two shirts from their respective drawers. My best shirt and pants are for this afternoon, when we’re all expected to appear in the square for the Reaping. The others are for this morning’s labors, because even on Reaping Day the world keeps turning.
My father is a baker, and my brothers and I assist him here as best we can. My mother is simply a nuisance, but a terrifying one. I could be sent to the Hunger Games and she wouldn’t care enough to say goodbye. She might be disappointed that she’d need to hire more help to replace me after I’d lost, but my death would mean nothing more to her than that.
The Reaping is the Capitol’s way of asserting control over the 12 Districts once a year. The Hunger Games are the ongoing punishment for a rebellion that happened before any of us had even been born. Twenty-four children, ages 12-18, a boy and a girl from each district, are thrown into an arena of the Capitol’s making and forced to fight to the death. On national television. There’s no privacy, no freedom, and no hope. Only murder and death. Your choice is kill or be killed, and the odds are never in your favor. Only one survives, so even if you and the other contestant from your District are the only ones left standing, one of you must kill the other.
We are all the Capitol’s pawns, and we are all subject to its whims.
The Reaping is nearly rigged from the beginning, with the poorest being chosen more often than not. This is because they can sign up for tesserae, which supplies them with a year’s supply of grain for an extra slip with your name on it in the bowls on Reaping Day.
“Peeta!” my mother shouts again. Clearly baking bread on Reaping Day is a matter of great importance to her.
“I’m coming,” I call, pulling my work clothes on quickly and laying my Reaping clothes out neatly upon the bed. Without looking back, I leave the room, relieved to be free of worrying about the Reaping, even if I need to bake to get away from it.
But this morning, my mother doesn’t need me to bake any bread. “You were right when you said that no one will be buying bread on Reaping Day,” she admits. “However, those who can afford to celebrate not being chosen will want to buy cakes on their way home from the square. Start frosting,” she demands, gesturing to the array of cakes and brownies before me. And for once I can’t complain about an assignment from my mother.
If there’s one task I love doing in this bakery, it’s frosting. I lose myself in the reds and yellows and blues, coating the cakes in color and life, sculpting flowers and trees and letters with sugar and a finger.
There are so many possible outcomes to this afternoon’s Reaping, and I can’t help but contemplate all of them. My oldest brother is too old to be reaped, but my other brother and I both have slips of paper with our names on them in that jar. We never had to take out tesserae, thankfully, so we only have one for each year we’ve been eligible. That’s five for me. He has seven in this year, but that means that next year he’ll be too old to be called in the Reaping. There are so many who have more slips in that jar – the odds of one of our names being pulled are very slim. But even if we’re free to celebrate our survival for this year, I will almost certainly watch two friends walk onto that stage this afternoon, and it’ll be heartbreaking.
There’s a knock on the doorframe. “Time to get ready, son,” my father mutters. He’s always been a quiet man, but even moreso on the day of the Reaping. I’m sure, in the days when his name was entered, he lost friends, too.
I seal the frosting and wipe my hands on my apron before untying it and folding it on the counter. I nod to my father on my way by him, and I could swear I see a tear trying to escape from the corner of his eye. I don’t mention it, knowing it’s best to leave the past where it is: behind us. Memories can be either a useful ally or a powerful enemy.
I change quickly, wrapping a tie around my neck without tying it properly, and exit my room. My father is waiting there for me, and he bends down and does my tie for me without a word. “May the odds be ever in your favor,” he murmurs genuinely, patting me on the shoulder and staring down at me as if he knows something I don’t know.
The boys of District 12 are in one roped-off section of the square, and the girls are in another. All of those who are too old or too young to be reaped are surrounding the square, and those who are too ill to leave their homes are watching it live on their televisions at home. As the Reaping begins each year, Mayor Undersee steps up to the podium and reads the same history lesson we hear at school, at home, and at the Reaping all the time. The Rebellion, the Dark Days – all sorts of nonsensical excuses for choosing to watch children slaughter each other.
But I’m not really paying any attention. From where I’m standing, I can see Katniss Everdeen, the girl whose voice could rival the birds. She’s wearing a lovely light blue dress that’s only slightly too big, and her hair is, as usual, in a braid, only today it doesn’t fall down her back but is pinned up on her head. It must be one of her mother’s dresses, because a Seam girl could never afford something like that and because she would have purchased something more her size if she could. Her olive skin is strangely clean for a girl who spends all of her free time hunting illegally in the woods around the District.
She doesn’t see me – she’s watching Gale, the boy whose name is in that jar more than anyone cares to count anymore. His family’s fate is a tragic one, and it would be awful to see him selected for the 74th Games.
As the mayor finishes his speech, Haymitch Abernathy – local drunk and only surviving District 12 victor – steps onto the stage. Or maybe “trips” is a better word for it. He’s grossly drunk, as usual, and I take the brief interruption as a chance to scan the crowd behind us for my family. My oldest brother stands with my mother and father. He’s laughing hysterically, and my mother is so flushed with anger it looks as if she might explode. My father isn’t even watching the stage – he’s watching Mrs. Everdeen, who’s wringing her hands hopefully on the opposite side of the semi-circle of on-lookers.
Effie Trinket steps up to address us now. She’s got a pink wig this year, and it clashes terribly with her bright green suit. I may be a boy, and fashion may not be something I’m interested in, but as a cake-froster I know how to mix, match, and blend colors. And that is not how it’s done. “Happy Hunger Games!” she proclaims. “And may the odds be ever in your favor!” She strolls over to the girls jar and announces, “Ladies first!” Her hand plunges into the mix of slips, and returns to the open air with one small piece of paper from among the thousands. She returns to the microphone to read the slip of paper.
- Current Mood: creative