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District 4
Title: The Baker’s Son and the Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter
Author: downbythebay_4
Rated: PG
Disclaimer: The Hunger Games belonging to Suzanne Collins, et al., I just mess with them for fun; “there are much worse games to play.”
Summary: While most of District 13 slumbers, Annie sits with Peeta. A loose interpretation of the prompt ‘medical’ on my au_bingo card.
Warnings: Theology, not so heavy-handed, but it’s there, because that’s what I do. I like to imagine there are some remnants of religion (Christianity) in District 4, because Jesus liked hanging out with fishermen.


Notes: AU in that this story began in a world where I imagined Peeta and Annie as cellmates in the Capitol. I loved the idea of their idiosyncrasies playing off of one another. It began with an earlier story about that stay in the Capitol, but that story sucked. So if you like this and have any particular bent toward editing, by all means make yourself known.

~

In the darkness, there was screaming. Her own voice rising in a siren’s wail as her name was called in the crowded square. Her legs went out from under her and her body flopped like a fish on dry land as the wires on her head ripped thoughts from her mind and the air from her lungs. The silent bubbles that danced up her arms as she pushed down and tried to make herself a stone.

She sat bolt upright in bed and hit her head on the low ceiling. The pain reminded her of her surroundings, bringing her back to reality.

“Ow!” she declared, slapping one hand over her forehead.

Finnick snorted and pushed himself up on his arms. “What’s wrong?”

“Just a nightmare,” she hissed, and laughed as a welt took shape under her fingers.

“You’re alright?” he asked, tentatively brushing her arm. “Where are we?”

“The cupboard,” she said, giving their affectionate name for their sleeping-space. The bed was built deeper into the wall, affording them an extra foot of floor space in their married life, and leaving just enough space in the bed for two to sleep abreast.

A panel slid open and closed to contain their shared warmth and offered them the illusion of privacy in the close quarters of District 13. Dalton, the rancher from District 10, called it the breeding pen. Neither of the newlyweds had appreciated his crudeness; it had taken all of Finnick’s good looks and charm to persuade Annie that no one was slipping fertility drugs into her food. It took some less than subtle philandering and then outright bribery in the kitchens with Greasy Sae to reassure Finnick that his bride’s food would, in fact, go untainted.

“Let me up,” she said, having to reach over Finnick for the sliding panel, because he always slept closest to the opening, even though she was the one to rise five times a night to use the bathroom.

Annie slid one leg over him. Finnick caught her by the thigh as she rolled over him. “Now why would I do that?”

Annie bowed her head, her hair falling in a curtain around them, brushing aside a lock of his bronze hair with her fingertips. Finnick kissed her lips and ran his hands across her back and over the curve of her buttocks.

“I just want to walk,” she said, dipping her head out of the reach of his adoring lips. “I won’t be long; sleep.” She placed kisses on his chin, and the corner of his mouth. “Go back to sleep.”

“For someone with weak knees, you sure walk a lot.” He had meant it as a playful remark, alluding to their love; it was no great secret that he admired her legs. It was dangerously close to a reminder of the Games, of the torture, but the pounding in her head was stronger than the memories.

“I want to find some ice for my head, that’s all,” she said. “You need your rest.”

“Look at my beautiful wife,” Finnick reached up to run his fingers through her dark hair.

Annie smiled, opening the panel as his thumb grazed gingerly over the newly formed bruise at her hairline.

“Go,” he bid her, as she climbed from the bed. “Hurry.”

Annie knelt by the small chest of drawers at their bedside, retrieving a terrycloth robe to put on over her thin nightgown. At the back of the drawer there was a small parcel wrapped in a handkerchief. Inside, scraps of plastic wrap preserved what remained of their wedding cake. Annie broke off a piece with lots of icing, and wrapped it in plastic and tucked it into her pocket.

She ventured through the deserted hallways. There were a few guards posted about to ensure that the citizens of District 13 stayed in bed after hours, but most of them had become accustomed to her wandering.

The first thing she had learned in the arena was never to put her hands or feet anywhere she could not see them. As such, placing her arm in the machine which would tattoo a schedule onto her skin posed a particular difficulty. She had agreed to wear a bracelet, identifying her as “Fragile,” but it also had a barcode which gave her limited access to the medical ward, where Dr. Aurelius stayed.

“Doctor,” she called, knocking on the door. “Doctor; it’s Annie. Hello?”

The door swung inward away from her fist; the doctor appeared, looking haggard, but concerned.

“Annie, what is wrong?” he demanded.

“I hit my head,” she said, pointing to her brow. “May I have some ice?”

Dr. Aurelius sighed. “Come along,” he waved her down the hall, logging his credentials in the medical center vestibule. Through the first set of doors there were cabinets full of basic, reusable supplies which were not highly regulated: hot water bottles, cold packs, elastic bandages, tweezers, and goggles. He retrieved a blue ice pack from a small refrigerator and handed it to her.

“Any blurred vision?” He held a small pen light to her eyes to check for signs of a concussion. “Disorientation?”

“No more than usual,” Annie said, staring beyond the doctor to the heart of the medical center.

“Alright,” the doctor said. “Back to bed.”

Annie shook her head. “I’m not a child. I’d like to see Peeta.”

“No, I don’t think that’s a very good idea,” the doctor replied curtly.

“I was there,” Annie took him by the wrist. “In the Capitol; I know what went on there. Maybe it would help him not to feel so isolated, to talk to someone who doesn’t want anything from him.”

“It’s very late,” Dr. Aurelius protested. “I appreciate what you are trying to do, Annie, but I’ll need to check my notes before we can initiate any sort of interaction related to your time in the Capitol.”

“Have you considered, Doctor,” Annie said. “You might be able to make greater progress, if you worked according to your patient’s schedule instead of your own?” She feigned a yawn and covered her mouth against the laughter welling up in the back of her throat.

Dr. Aurelius frowned. “This matter is not up for discussion.”

“If all you do is ask questions, all you’ll get are answers,” Annie protested, and wagged one finger as the doctor rolled his eyes. “Relationships are built on mutual respect.”

“Why is this so important to you?” he asked.

“He decorated my wedding cake so beautifully,” Annie said. “That’s not crazy. The young man he was before is in there somewhere, pieces of him, at least. Someone just needs to let him know that there is room left in this world for him.”

“Five minutes,” the doctor said. “Don’t mention Katniss; don’t mention the Capitol, or the Games. You do not touch him. If he becomes agitated, you leave, no questions asked.”

“Agreed,” Annie stuck out her hand encouragingly. “Don’t feel bad. I’ve spent plenty of time around doctors in the Capitol, I know all their tricks.”

Dr. Aurelius led her deeper into the medical center to the observation chamber where Peeta was kept.

“It’s alright,” he offered his credentials to the man standing watch. “We’re trying a new course of therapy tonight.”

“The blind leading the blind, so to speak,” Annie quipped as the guard looked her over critically. He was unhappy with the change of schedule, but he relented at Dr. Aurelius’s insistence and showed them into the room. Peeta was awake and his eyes flicked up as they entered.

“Peeta,” the doctor said. “You remember Annie; she’d like to sit with you. Five minutes.”

Peeta shrugged, and tugged at the frayed corner of his blanket, his wrists and ankles confined in padded restraints. The doctor retreated, taking the guard with him. Annie smiled, and took a seat in the chair a few feet from the bed and said nothing.

Annie took a loose piece of plastic from her pocket and tore it into strips, beginning to twist them together into a long strand, careful not to meet his eyes. Techniques she had encountered in the Capitol, she hoped to use them for good. To make him feel like he wasn’t been judged, to give him the space to open up.

“You talk?” he asked.

“You listen?” she said without lifting her eyes.

“Your husband beating you already?” Peeta asked, pointing as best he could to the bruise on her forehead.

Annie laughed. “No. I did this myself. I am, as they say,” she held up her bracleted wrist, “fragile.”

Peeta turned away as best he could in the confines of his bed and Annie continued her work, staring at the glass panel in the side wall. The seconds ticked on and eventually Peeta sat up to watch her hands.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

Annie held up her work. “I can make rope out of anything with fibers. When I was little, we lived in a lighthouse. I used to polish the lens that cast the light from the oil lamp…” Her speech trailed off vacantly.

“But my mother thought I should make things. She taught me about rope; before long I was weaving mats and baskets, hammocks and nets. I think they like it here, that I can make useful things out of garbage.”

“Is that why they let you in to see me?” Peeta asked.

Annie dipped her head and returned to her work. “Tell me about your painting.”

Peeta rattled his restraints. "It’s a bit difficult to stay in practice these days.”

“What about your therapy?” she said. “In the art room, I thought you liked it.”

Peeta shrugged. “Sometimes, I just want to paint it to get it out of me, you know? Not so people can look at it and pick it apart. Before, everything I painted was just as messed up and bloody, but at least I didn’t have to show it off to anyone. I don’t know what they want from me: rainbows, puppies, unicorns?”

Annie reached out, letting her fingertips rest on the edge of his blanket. “Could you paint me an ocean? With gulls.”

“The emotion wouldn’t be genuine,” Peeta huffed and pulled against his restraints.

“How about baking? You like to bake, perhaps they need help in the kitchen,” Annie suggested. “There will be supplies coming in from the other Districts soon enough. I’m a bit tired of the bread somebody forgot to put yeast in.”

“How do you…” Peeta faltered. “I don’t think they’d let me in the kitchen, with everyone’s food.”

Annie nodded. “Still, I’m beginning to think some day-old cinnamon rolls would really hit the spot.”

“What are you doing?” Peeta shook his head, as though trying to rid himself of one of the Capitol’s illusions. “You’re like her.”

Annie held one hand up to the darkened pane of glass in the far wall, watching Peeta intently. “Wait,” she whispered. “Please.”

“You get your way. You flash a smile and people just do things for you,” he said, slamming his back into the raised mattress. “They fall all over themselves to make way for you. To get a piece of you.”

“People do things for me because they feel sorry for me,” Annie protested. “Because I’m fragile.”

Peeta breathed heavily. “It’s like I’m watching one of the big Capitol screens in my head, and I can’t shut it off and I can’t tell what’s true and what’s getting mixed up inside of me. Before, when I dreamt of the mutts, I knew that when I woke up they would be gone. And now I can’t tell. And the wolves look like me and you and the doctors and her.”

“Easy,” she said. “Easy.” Peeta seemed close to hyperventilation and Annie worried that if his body were flooded with adrenaline he might be able to slip his restraints.

“What did they do to those kids?” his body pitched forward. “They put their eyes in those wolves. The one from 8, she knew me; they wanted revenge. I should be dead.”

“Peeta,” Annie reached out, and held his face between her cold hands. “Peeta, look at me. It wasn’t them. Whatever the mutts were, I promise you, it wasn’t them.”

“How do you know?” Peeta squeezed his eyes closed.

“Because they came home,” Annie’s voice broke. “They came home, Peeta. Finnick brought the boy and girl back to District 4 himself. We washed their bodies. We keened for them. We laid them out in the little longship and set them free.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Peeta fought against her grip on his face.

“Because you need to know,” Annie kept her palms pressed to his temples. “It was a game, an evil, evil game they played to terrorize you. To terrorize all of us, to make us think that we could never be free, not even in death, but it’s not true. They are wrong. Whatever made up Deron and Lila and all the others fled that arena and went somewhere that the Capitol could never touch them again.”

“How do you know?”

Annie released her grip on his face. “Because I know.” She wiped a stray tear from his face and settled back in her chair.

Peeta flopped back against the mattress and sobbed quietly until his breathing evened.

“I’m sorry,” Annie whispered. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. I just thought it was something you should hear.”

Peeta shook his head. “I can’t sleep, food tastes like ash,” he wiped his face against his shoulder and sniffed. “It’s like it’s my fault; I let them do this to me. I wish I could go back to being what everybody wants, but I can’t.”

“You don’t have to be everything to everybody,” Annie said. “That’s the fastest way to drive yourself mad. But you can’t shut everyone out either.”

Peeta forced his head back into his pillow. “No one wants me. They all just want that kid on Caesar Flickerman’s couch. That’s all.”

“I want you,” Annie said. “Whoever you are. Finnick likes you, when you’re not threatening to bonk me on the head and carry me back to your subterranean, District 12 lair, or bakery, whichever. Johanna doesn’t hate you, and that’s nothing short of miraculous.”

“What’s that mean?” Peeta asked. “Miraculous?”

Annie shrugged. “It’s something my mother used to say, when something was wonderful beyond belief: ‘It’s nothing short of miraculous.’ We’ve all been there, you know. The couch. I know what it’s like to have to force a smile when you know you’re going to die.”

“It was different for you,” he said. “You’re from District 4; at least you stood a fighting chance.”

“You think everyone from District 4 is a Career Tribute?” she said, spitting out the last words like they burned her tongue.

Peeta shrugged.

“Does everyone in District 12 like to dance?” she asked.

Peeta shook his head.

“My village wasn’t rich, but we weren’t poor either. No one ever starved,” she said, making it a conversation, letting him know that she wasn’t there to interrogate him. “I always assumed that if my name were called, there would be someone ready to take my place, a girl from the richer parts, who had more leisure than I did, who was prettier than me. I guess that day no one was as prepared as they thought they were.”

“Did you kill?” Peeta asked. “With your hands?”

“Yes.”

“Did you have a choice?”

“I like to tell myself I didn’t.”

“I did,” Peeta said. “Both times.”

Annie nodded. “I’m sorry.”

“The girl was an accident, the one from District 5. I don’t even know her name,” he paused to consider, Annie could see him almost running through his mental lexicon. “We called her Foxface. But the others, their blood is on my hands. The one from 8, I snapped her neck; she was just lying there, choking on her own blood, her guts were in her hands and she still begged me to leave her alone. With Brutus, I didn’t even have to think about it; I just did it, like breathing. If I was as good as people say, how could I have done those things?”

“Sometimes,” Annie sat forward in her chair. “When I can’t tell what’s real and what’s in my head, I try to split the difference.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Some people say you walked on water, sometimes you think you were a cold-blooded killer,” she said. “You just assume that the truth is somewhere in between.”

“Does that work?” he asked.

“It depends,” she said.

“I’m never going to be who I was,” he said.

“No. But you can find a new normal. Balance,” she said. “You have the opportunity to be stronger and wiser, for everything you’ve been through, and more compassionate.”

“The hijacking is never going to go away,” Peeta said. “I’m going to have to live like this forever.”

“You’ll figure out how to go on. I want to thank you for my wedding cake,” she said. “It was wonderful. Have you ever seen a dolphin before?”

“Only in pictures,” Peeta replied. “Have you?”

“A few times,” she said. “In the distance, from the lighthouse…”

“My family is dead,” Peeta said suddenly. “My home, most of my neighbors, too, and I can’t even bring myself to care.”

“There’s no use in feeling guilty for what you don’t feel. There will come a time when you’re ready to face grief. Did you have a piece of cake?” she asked

Peeta shook his head and Annie retrieved the crumbling piece of cake from her pocket and set it on his bedside table.

“It wouldn’t divide up equally among all the guests,” she said. “So they let me and Finnick keep the extra, as tight as they are with food; it was a special circumstance. The little girl said it was medicine.”

“Katniss,” Peeta snarled, jerking up in his seat.

Annie held up one hand and nodded to the cake. “I’ll leave that here for you. Perhaps the doctors will let you have it if you agree not to kill anyone.”

Peeta rolled his eyes viciously. “I think our five minutes are up.”

“I guess once the ball got rolling, Dr. Aurelius wanted to see where it went,” she said. After all, they had hit on about every topic on his ‘do not discuss’ list, and disregarded his prohibition against touching, without intervention.

Annie was glad for the doctor’s curiosity, but feared any headway she had gained with Peeta was quickly slipping through her fingers. Perhaps the wedding cake had been too painful a reminder of his former life.

“You shouldn’t be so hard on him,” she said, before Peeta had completely closed himself off from her. “He’s only human, and as far as people poking around inside your head, he’s one of the better ones. Believe me; I know.”

Peeta growled in the back of his throat. Annie rose and laughed quietly to herself.

“What’s so funny,” he asked.

“It just occurred to me that sometimes your body remembers things your mind doesn’t,” Annie said.

“And what exactly brought on that revelation?” he asked.

“I was just thinking of something that Finnick told me once,” Annie said. “That after you’ve slept, actually slept, in the same bed with the one you love, you never get used to sleeping alone. He says he never has a restful night unless there’s someone beside him getting up to use the bathroom every hour.”

“I’m no doctor,” Peeta said. “But you might want to have that checked out.”

“So Peeta,” she said. “How do you sleep?”

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
strayfish
Feb. 23rd, 2012 06:25 pm (UTC)
I found this on the Mockingjay community and I just wanted to let you know that I thought it was wonderful; great characterization of crazy!Peeta and Annie. I'm gonna add this to my personal head-canon now ;)

If you wanted editing, I did find a couple of typos? I can PM them to you if you want.

Anyway, just wanted to say the fic was great, because I really shouldn't lurk if I read something good!



downbythebay_4
Feb. 23rd, 2012 06:34 pm (UTC)
That would be wonderful thank you!
youcantseeus
Feb. 24th, 2012 12:20 am (UTC)
This was great. I've been wanting to read some fic with some good Peeta and Annie interaction and you certainly delivered. Really great job with characterization.
downbythebay_4
Feb. 24th, 2012 02:56 am (UTC)
Thank you so much. I'm glad you enjoyed it!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )