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Goner

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Summary: A recollection from Peeta's point of view of the first day that he set eyes on Katniss Everdeen.

'Disclaimer': This story has been written as fanfiction only and is for entertainment purposes. I do not claim to own any property of The Hunger Games trilogy nor do I have any relation to Suzanne Collins. Any copyright infringement is unintentional. Please note that while I am not associated with Suzanne Collins, I deeply respect the universe that she has created. Therefore, all fanfiction written by myself are written with the intention of staying true to that universe and would be considered cannon in my own respects. I do not bring back the dead or change the course of history (affecting what would happen in the epilogue). Please enjoy and feel free to comment!

GONER

I was five years old when I first laid eyes on her. Two long brunette braids that fell on each side of her shoulders. Deep grey eyes that glittered with an innocence, full of excitement and hope. A smile that spread from ear to ear. She had caught my eye in the schoolyard that day, but it wasn't without the help of my father. My first day of school, that's when I fell for that wide eyed girl. And I've loved her every day since. Katniss Everdeen, the girl who stole my heart.

My father walked me from the bakery to the schoolyard that morning. I'd already been up helping him prepare the bread for a few hours and I wasn't personally interested in having to sit at a desk for the rest of the day. I'd been his "assistant" ever since I was old enough to mix the ingredients, but what I most enjoyed at the time was to knead the dough. From time to time he'd let me shape and score it, occasionally allowing for a fun pattern across the top. It was in that bakery with him that I was most happy. At least that was the case when I was five. By the time I was ten, my father had fallen ill and over time spent less and less time in the bakery. With his lessened presence, so my interest in baking waned. My mother took over baking duties, kept me on task, never let me have any fun, and certainly punished me for my mistakes. But that's another story for another time.

My father filled my walk to school with recollections from his childhood; his first day of school, stories of his friends, favorite teachers, and reminders that doing my best was one of his expectations. He held my hand tight and I looked up at him from time to time appreciatively, for I really admired my father. I hung on his every word. And it was those last words his spoke to me that morning that affected me more than he'd ever known they would. At the edge of the schoolyard, he paused, I looked up to him to see why. He was staring across the yard, to the left corner where I searched the crowd of children to see just who or what caught his attention. He kneeled down beside me, put his hand on my back, and pointed out in front of us.

"Peeta," he said, "see that little girl? The one in the blue ruffled dress? The one with the braids?"

I searched that corner of the yard with more intent, attempting to find the girl in the blue dress, until I finally found her.

"Yes, father, I see her."

"Peeta, that little girl's name is Katniss Everdeen. She should be about your age, you're probably going to be in the same class," he said.

"Well, is she special or something? Why were you staring at her, dad?" I asked in return.

"Well, son, that little girl, she is something special, I think. I don't know her, but I did know her mother. She and I were in the same grade in school, just as you and Katniss should be. When I was older than you, but much younger than I am now, I wanted to marry her. She was especially beautiful, with the brightest blue eyes I'd ever seen. As pure a blue as the hottest part of the fire, with smooth blonde hair, just as mesmerizing as that same fire. She certainly sparked my interest the very first day that I saw her. So, Peeta, I'd venture to say that that little girl is just as special as her mother was."

As my father spoke, I watched Katniss play in the schoolyard with some other dark-haired girls. She was much more free then, before she was old enough to think about the Games, before she knew what it was to be without a father, before she knew what it was to live only to survive. When I look at her today, I can still see that little five year old girl, reduced to an occasional glimmer in her grey eyes, but I do see her. Katniss' braids danced around her head as she jumped from box to box, playing hopscotch. I took her in as I took in my father's words, she really was a beautiful sight.

"So, if you loved her so much, why didn't you ask her to marry you then?" I asked after a moment.

"Well, Peeta, it's important that you learn this lesson now. Sometimes, in life, things just don't go the way that you hope they will. In fact, this happens more often than not. I never got the chance to ask her, never got the chance to tell her how I felt. When she was old enough, she ran off with a coal miner. She married that man shortly thereafter. But you know, I'd also venture to say that she was extremely happy with her choice, no matter how disappointed I was. And it was enough for me to see her from time to time, knowing that she was happy."

I must have had the most puzzled look on my face as this point, because my father returned the same look my way.

"But... why would she marry a coal miner?" I asked.

"Because she loved him, Peeta," he said back to me. Most likely having seen that the puzzled look on my face had not yet vanished, he continued, "But how did a girl from Merchant Center fall in love with a boy from the Seam? Well, I believe it's because that boy had the sweetest voice that most of us had ever heard. When he would sing, even the birds would stop to listen. People would stop in their tracks. I imagine that many a schoolgirl had fallen in love with that voice. If I was a girl, maybe I would've," he chuckled.

"Did mother love him like Katniss' mother did?" I asked innocently. My father chuckled again, this time a bit longer.

"No, I sincerely doubt that. Your mother is a very different kind of woman, Peeta."

He sighed and lowered his head for a moment before standing up. He moved his hand from my back to my shoulder and squeezed it gently, his eyes gazing out into the schoolyard again. I cannot say what he was thinking about, what thoughts were running through his mind, but I daresay he was imagining something that he'd probably imagined hundreds of times before: what life would be like had he married that girl. And I'm sure it wasn't that he regretted having me or my two brothers, but perhaps this was my mother's fault. If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn't question it. In fact, I blame my mother for slowly killing my father, even if it was the bombs that finally finished him off. What she stole from me, from my brothers, is more than I can forgive her for. By the time of my reaping, our family wasn't much of a family anymore. Alas, that is still another story for another time.

"Well kiddo, better get going. Have a good first day. If you're anything like me, you'll have tons of friends in no time."

He patted me on the back to nudge my departure and I sauntered off past the fence and into the schoolyard. I turned to wave goodbye and he was already gone. My eyes searched for the girl in the blue dress, but I could not find her. I walked in circles with no avail. Suddenly, a buzzing bell rang in my ear, three times, notifying me that it's about time that I head to my classroom. The school is small, as District 12 could not afford more than the basic necessities. We had one book, for history, and a single pad of paper for math and writing. We started with the basics, obviously, for as far as the Capitol was concerned, school was for one purpose: learning our trade. As a five year old, I wasn't yet ready for the ins and outs of coal mining, nor was I particularly worried about learning it, my fate was set by my father. I too was destined to be a baker, if only I wasn't also destined to become a tribute.

Kids of all ages shuffled their way into classrooms, which were arranged by number according to grade. In District 12, the year you turned five meant your first year of school, so I kept my eye out for the door marked "1," which was really quite easy because it was one of the first doors I walked past. Inside the classroom, 5 small round tables were arranged around the room, with about 5 seats per table. Once everyone was seated, I realized quickly that there were many empty seats, approximately 1 or 2 per table. This was going to be a smaller class than usual. I was seated with 3 other boys, whom would later become some of my closest friends. I looked around the room, to each table, making note of who was in my class. I stopped when I saw her, sitting at the table closest to the windows, with a few other girls. There she was in her blue ruffled dress, long brunette braids, one on each side shoulder, her grey eyes, looking nervous this time. She was fidgeting with her sleeves and straightening her hem. I hadn't noticed anything particularly thrilling about her yet, besides how pretty I thought she was, but because my father had pointed her out, I would never miss her from this day forward.

We started out our day the same way that we would every day from there on out, with a video from the Capitol. It featured President Snow, welcoming us to school. This was followed by a short history of Panem that covered the years before the rebellion, a rushed account of the Dark Days, a few sentences about the war, a slight reference to the Games, and a reminder to be obedient and the Capitol would be happy. It's closing remarks by President Snow assured us that would be a fair ruler. If only things were that simple. But when I was five, I knew no different, I didn't even think to question it. This was the way we lived. After the video was over, our teacher introduced herself, went over a few things, informed us what we'd be covering during our first year in school. This was the year that we would master the alphabet, reading, writing, as well as be introduced to music, art, and athletics. She wrote out our schedule for the week, one that would repeat week after week, one that outlined which lessons were to be taught on which days and at what time. The rest of the day passed without any notable occurrences.

The next day began the same way; video from the Capitol, a quick review of our schedule. That morning, I had decided that Tuesdays would be my favorite days by far because those were the days that music, art, and athletics were on our schedule. I was particularly excited about art, knowing that I might be able to use what little skills I had learned in the bakery. I also looked forward to playing a sport. I hadn't given much thought to which, but since both my brothers were extremely athletic, I figured I would be as well.

First up was a trip to the music room. We lined up outside the door and our teacher let us in, where we quickly found seats, whispering excitedly between ourselves, predicting just what we'd be getting to do that day. The room was not filled with much, but it was more than most of us were used to at home. There were shelves filled with books on the back wall, a box full of tambourines under the window, and in the front of the room, a single guitar and a beat up piano. This was all we'd need, this was enough.

Our teacher sat down on the bench in front of the piano and started playing a few notes. She wasn't half bad, either, not that I could judge since I still can't play an instrument to save my life. Luckily, I didn't have to either. When she stopped playing, she told us that we'd be singing some songs along with her to start off.

"So tell me, which one of you knows the Valley Song?" she asked. Immediately, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a hand shoot up towards the sky. It was Katniss'. She was wearing the same braided hair that she had worn the day before, and as I'd learn, the same hair she'd wear for years afterwards. Today she was not in a dress, but a plain button down shirt and pants, honestly nothing eye-catching. This was pushed out of my mind instantly when I heard her sing. Her voice began soft and sweet, a bit trembly, but by the third line of the song she'd hit her stride. It's almost as if she'd gauged her classmates reaction and when she realized it was a positive one, she really let herself shine.

Time stood still for me at this moment. Now, it was every word of hers that I was hanging on. Nothing mattered to me but that voice, not her braids or her clothes or her deep grey eyes. And yet, at the very same time, everything mattered. Her voice echoed throughout the classroom, my heart pounded, my breath fell short, my jaw loosened. I stared at her, I watched every movement her lips made, the way she waved her hands to the melody. Her hair shone in the sunlight that came in through the window, her eyes sparkled in a way that I'd not noticed before. She looked like an angel. As she finished the song, she smiled widely and curtseyed, so proud of herself. It was at that moment that something became glaringly obvious- the room had fallen incredibly silent. Just like her father, as I was told, even the birds had stopped to listen. All ears were leant to Katniss in that moment, all eyes fell upon her. My fellow classmates were in as much awe as I, we couldn't even muster up the power to clap for her.

It was in this moment that my life shifted forever. I understood why her mother had run away with her father. I may have just been five years old, but my heart was hers. I could have ran away with her, too. It didn't matter that I wouldn't have known what to do or how to survive, none of it mattered if I could be with her. I hadn't known that day just how true that would end up being for me. I looked at that girl and I knew, I was a goner.

I lived the rest of that day in a haze. I had lost my mind, I didn't know what to think, as if I could. She was the only thing I could concentrate on. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. That was the only song she sang in class that day, but I don't remember how my other classmates fared in comparison. Obviously, I couldn't recall if I tried. From that moment on, I looked forward to school, most notably Tuesdays, when I knew, chances were, that I'd hear her sing again. I watched her when I knew I could get away with it, and even when I thought she might catch me. I was hers. I was her's long before she was mine. And, you know, I didn't mind, because eventually she was mine.

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