Together By Chance, Together By Choice

Chapter 2

Peeta

If I didn't think I was in a dream before, I know that I am now. I take in the image before me. A beautiful girl stands before me leaning over a desk signing her name to a document. But it's not just any girl. It's Katniss Everdeen, the secret love of my life. And it's not just any document, but a marriage license. One which states that Katniss is my wife. My wife. I am married to Katniss Everdeen.

It is just one more in a series of surreal events that have occurred in my life the past few months…

The rebellion beginning wasn't too bad. At that point my life was going on as usual…work in the bakery and go to school. I was even happy that it was happening, because like most people in the districts, I was tired of seeing people all around me die of starvation and children being killed in a ruthless arena every year. It was time for the Capitol to be taken down.

I had no idea that their punishment on the districts for our actions would be so severe. The night the bombs came, I was the only one not at home. Instead, I had been holding down the fort, and almost done closing up the Mellark Bakery. It had been a good day and I was almost finished reconciling the register, when I began to hear screams in the street. I went out, only to find complete and utter chaos. I ended up following what seemed to be a small crowd looking up in the sky. We could see that there were about ten hovercrafts slowly making their way towards the district square. It was terrifying seeing their large shapes creeping closer with each second. It couldn't be for any good.

I wasn't sure quite what to do, when I felt a hand pull on my shirt to get my attention. "Peeta," a voice called. I turned to see my longtime friend Delly Cartwright. It was obvious that she had been running by each panting breath. She continued to tug on my arm and pulling at my shirt. "Come on. There is a group of us getting out and heading into the woods. Gale Hawthorne is leading. It's not safe to stay here. We've got to go. Come on!" She grabbed my hand then and pulled until I had no choice but to follow in her direction.

After a few minutes, we met up with a crowd of young people mostly my age, along with a few older residents and a sprinkle of children. I recognized most of them. I could see Gale with a backpack on, motioning for us to follow him. We all did and ended up in the forest of trees outside the district.

The walking went on and on for miles and the group only stopped when all of a sudden there was an eerie silence. We all looked back just as the sky above District 12 exploded into flames. We all stood still, completely horrified at the sight. Somehow, it was only then that I remembered my own family. Did they get out? I hadn't even gone to the house to check on them in all the madness.

I looked around for a few minutes in vain hope that I had only missed seeing them before. Quickly, though, I realized my eyes hadn't deceived me. More than likely they were gone. I could only stand in shock, not even able to get any tears out.

After catching my breath, I eventually took in the faces around me once more. This time, I was trying to find a completely different face. A face that was the focus of my dreams at night. Over to the side, I finally noticed Katniss Everdeen, sitting with her mother and sister on a large log. They looked pretty ragged, but no real worse for wear, and most importantly, alive. I gave a sign of relief at that.

Within the group of survivors, there was mostly silence for a while, and no one wanted to move. But as we were getting ready to head out again to go deeper into the woods, the sound of hovercrafts once more filled the air. We all were about to run for cover, when an older gentleman in the group, Haymitch Abernathy, called out. "They aren't from the Capitol!"

And they weren't. They ships had come from District 13, shocking most of us who had believed that place to have long been destroyed. The soldiers from that place had been dispatched to all of the districts to pick up any and all survivors of the bombing and give us refuge. I got on with the rest and we were quickly flown to the underground area that is now District 13. As the transport landed, I noticed other similar craft. Those of us left soon learned that not only our home, but every one of the twelve districts had been destroyed by Capitol bombs. Hovercrafts from 13 had been ordered to each to try and find survivors. From the amount of people I saw walking around on the ground, the numbers were few compared to what they must have been.

An intercom rang out eventually over the din of various people talking. All refugees were instructed to line up, give their information to the authorities, and be assigned to quarters and work. We were expected to pull our weight in return for their generosity. I joined in and waited until I was at the front of a table with officials writing information down.

"Name?" one of them asked me without even looking up.

"Peeta Mellark."

"From where did you come from Mr. Mellark?" the woman continued as she wrote.

"District 12."

"And how old are you?" she went on.

"Eighteen." I wondered at this point how many questions she was going to ask me. I was exhausted, starving, and grieving. Even with all the patience I had, it wasn't going to take much to frustrate me at this point. But, the official continued on and on. She inquired at length about my experience at baking and marital status. Through the inquisition, I also learned that I seemed to be the only one in my family that survived. Eventually I would have to find time to process that.

Finally, I was given a card which assigned me to a single compartment, and would be working in the food dispensary. I was given directions to the singles dormitories and went to find my way through the maze of rooms. When I finally found Room S-117, I placed the card in the door lock and it immediately opened. I didn't even think, but just went straight to the bed and laid out on it. With all the emotion that had been stored up finally allowed to come out, my exhausted body passed out.

The next thing I knew it was a good 12 hours later. I slowly woke up and sat in my bed for a while, trying to let myself accept at least some part of the fact that my family was gone and that I was alone. I cried for what seemed like hours, until I felt that I absolutely had to eat something. I found my way to the main eating hall and after making a plate I ended up sitting with a very gorgeous and well-tanned couple. He was tall, muscled with bronze hair, while she was pretty in a sweet and quiet way. Finnick and Annie were from District 4 and very much in love, but until now had not been able to find a way to get married. They hoped that here in these new circumstances they would be able to do so.

"I wish you all the best in that. I think that it's great that you have each other through all this." I told them honestly. I could tell that they felt sympathy for me being all alone, but what could I do? That night I went back to my lonely compartment, but after that first night I began a habit of sitting with the young lovers at most meals.

Over the weeks ahead, my routine began to come together. After the first day on the job, the management of the dispensary quickly found out about my skills and placed me in the baking area each day making the bread. I actually relished it because the work kept my mind busy from the loneliness and grief. A daily schedule began to appear on my arm each day, and as with all new things, I began to get used to the life I was now leading.

I tried every once in a while to find out where Katniss was, but wherever I went I never saw her. No one would give me any information on her or her family's whereabouts. I only wanted to know that she was okay, but it seemed that they were adamant about protecting all the citizens by keeping personal information secure.

"She must be in another section of the district," Annie posed one night trying to help me come up with a solution. "Each section has its own eating area and compartments. She's fine, Peeta. I'm sure. Please don't worry." The petite woman placed her hand gently over my tired and callused ones.

"Yeah," Finnick put in confidently. "You'll find her sometime. As determined as you are, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before you see her again."

I nodded, but the days continued to pass with no more luck. Everything seemed to go by the same each day, until the big announcement about the reaping of young men and women age 18 to 35. With the population desperately low, those in charge decided to match together couples, marry them, and give them the task of conceiving children as soon as possible. It was nothing short of absolutely insane, but it had been decreed, and it was going to happen.

Of course, I didn't like it, but after thinking it through over the next week I knew I had to make the best of the situation. I would try my best to be kind and loving to the girl I would be matched to, and pray that somehow we would be able to form some kind of connection. Finnick and Annie, of course, immediately wed upon the news, so that their fate would be set before someone could change it. I was the only one in attendance, and was honestly happy for them.

On the day of the reaping, I put on a clean white shirt and dark pants. It was the nicest clothes that I had at the moment. As I headed into the district center, I quickly found my favorite couple. Annie gave me a hug while Finnick gave a heavy pat on my back for good luck. They were with most of the others not involved on the outside of the auditorium, and with a nod at them, I quietly made my way to the middle with the other poor souls.

The ridiculous Effie Trinket came toddling up on her idiotic looking high heels to introduce herself and begin the reaping. Name after name was announced, and I found myself at a point kind of tuning out. It wasn't until I heard her yell "Katniss Everdeen!" that my ears right away perked up again. I looked all around for movement, and finally saw it to my far right. There she was in a simple blue dress, her braids all done up almost elegantly. She looked absolutely beautiful and took my breath away. I was more than envious of the guy who would be lucky enough to get her. I was so entranced in watching her that I almost didn't hear Effie call out the next name.

"Peeta Mellark!" Wait a minute! Did she just call me? Have I really been matched with Katniss? I must be dreaming. Stunned for a moment, I finally begin to take tentative steps toward the stage. All eyes are on me as I ascend the stairs. She is there, but just keeps looking ahead, refusing to glance in my direction. I try to will her to look at me, to let her know that it will be okay. I wouldn't hurt her. But, she just continues to stare out into the crowd. My first nervousness now starts to become determination.

We are ushered back through some hallways and what happens next goes quickly. An official promptly gets our basic information, says some words that we respond to, and has us sign papers saying we are man and wife. At least we are asked to hold hands during it. I take Katniss' little hand and it feels so tiny in mine. It's cold, and I know that it's not because of the temperature. I give a gentle squeeze to try and give her some comfort.

After the quick official ceremony, we are then taken to another room where the two of us are given a card that assigns us new quarters and work zones. In a third room, we are given quick medical exams and the doctor tells the waiting official that both Katniss and I are healthy and should be able to conceive children. What a detached and cold way to treat something so beautiful. Having a baby is more special than that.

Finally, my new wife and I are dismissed to find our new compartment together. We walk the hallways, with me in the lead and Katniss following a short way behind. I read the number M-213 and after a few wrong turns, finally accomplish finding it. Neither one of us has said anything to the other at all during the long walk.

I break the eerie silence as we reach the door. "This is it," I tell her quietly.

"Let's go in then," she replies without much emotion. I place the card key up to the lock and the green light comes on. Turning the knob, it opens and I hold the door for Katniss to go inside first. She does and I follow right after. It is clean and sparse like my first quarters were, but a little more spacious. There is actually a kind of sitting area with a couch and a small kitchen. I see that there is even some basic food stuffs that have been stocked. We continue looking around, finding a lovely marble and tile bathroom and finally the fairly large bedroom.

It is simple like the other rooms, with a couple of dressers, and a queen sized bed. I am about to mention something about how nice the accommodations are, when I take a quick look at Katniss. She is white as a sheet and almost visibly shaking. What could possibly be wrong? Why would she be scared of a bedroom? Then I think of it. We are now married. That would mean she probably thinks that I am expecting a wedding night…a true wedding night.

I give a sigh of understanding and take her hands to face her towards me. "Katniss, it's okay. I'm not going to force you to do anything now. We don't have to do that tonight or even for a while if that is what you want."

"But they want us to make a baby," she explains. "And I've…I've never…" her voice trails off, unable to finish. I know what she is trying to tell me, though.

"I understand," I reassure her. "I've never done it either." Katniss finally looks in my eyes at that admission. "The way I see it, right now, we're in this together. Let's just take this step by step. They said they are giving us a year. If we don't do anything right away I think we will be just fine. We don't even really know each other. Why don't we work on that first?"

Katniss looks at me, obviously processing what I said. She must see the sense of it, because she nods. "You're right. We should try to get to know each other first before anything else." I visibly relax and smile at her at those words. It gives us a place to begin, at least.

"I saw some ingredients to make some bread and a few cans of soup in the kitchen." I offer. "Why don't I make us something to eat? We can talk over dinner if you want." I turn to walk out of the room and she follows me. I get what I need down from the shelves and begin to work. My wife stands there for a minute or two, but then surprises me by getting up on the counter to watch me. I begin to put some dough together. I continually notice her grey eyes on me as I go about my business. I continually wonder what she is thinking, but finally she lets her thoughts known.

"You really do know your way around a kitchen," Katniss remarks.

"Years and years in a bakery, what can I say?" I reply with a chuckle. Katniss gives a little laugh with me.

"Is that where you are assigned here?" she asks.

"Yeah," I tell her. "They heard about my skills and pretty quickly got me set up making loaves for everyone. At least they can use me. Where did they place you?"

"Food gathering," Katniss replies. "I told them that all I was really good at was hunting, so that put me in the group that collects and hunts different food to bring in. At least it lets me get out. Gale goes with me, too, so I have someone to talk to." I wince for a moment at Hawthorne's name being mentioned. I know how close they are and have been secretly jealous of it for years.

Katniss must realize how weird it must seem to talk about your male best friend with your husband, because she doesn't continue on about him. She does talk animatedly, though, about the different plants, trees, and animals here as compared to back home. I listen with rapt attention.

As I set the simple dinner on the table, we continue the conversation as I regale her with stories from the kitchen. I talk to her of the interesting coworkers there, and also about my friendship with Finnick and Annie. Katniss is intrigued by their story and tells me that she wants to meet them. I will have to remember the next time I see them to make sure that happens.

After we finish eating, we wash the dishes, and then settle in for the evening together. Katniss finds some books on a shelf, and picks one that she takes to a chair and begins to read. I find some paper and pencils, and begin to sketch. It's another one of my little talents. It is actually fairly peaceful and quiet as we both do our own thing. Both of us seem comfortable, not necessarily needing to talk. I do steal glances at her every couple of minutes, though. I think Katniss catches me, too.

Eventually, she gets up and comes to look over my shoulder. I have drawn her in the chair with the book in her hands. I look up at her to gauge her reaction to it.

"It's good," she finally says. "It's been a long day. I think I am going to go to bed."

"Fine." I respond. "Why don't you wash up and get ready? You can have the bed. The couch here is long and wide enough for me. I'll be good."

"Okay," she says quietly. With that, she walks into the bathroom and closes the door. I hear water running, and after a time she emerges in some night clothes. Obviously someone had our meager belongings brought over here.

Katniss gets into the bed and I take my own turn in the bathroom. I wash up then open some drawers to find my own sleepwear in one of them. After changing, I turn the lights out and walk through the door back into the living room. As I am about to leave the bedroom, I hear her sleepy voice.

"Goodnight Peeta."

"Goodnight Katniss." I call back into the dark of the night towards her direction. I lay down on the couch, but even though it is a fine size for me, I find that I cannot sleep. The events of the day keep my mind full.

I simply can't believe the situation I am in now. Married to Katniss. If she only knew how I had longed for this for so long. Of course, I had imagined it quite differently from the way it happened today. All I know is that the girl I have loved forever is in the other room sleeping, with a ring on her finger as a sign that she is at least in name mine. As for the rest...I can only hope that over time that somehow, someway she could come to care for me. I was going to try and be the best husband possible to her. No matter if we were forced together, I wanted desperately to find a way to make this work.

After so much tossing and turning, I eventually rise up and pace around the rooms. I make a path to the doorway of the bedroom where I just stand in amazement watching Katniss sleep. The gentle rising and falling of her chest, and the soft look on her face in sleep that makes her only more beautiful.

As I am gazing upon her, though, she begins to thrash around. Katniss is calling out. Yelling and screaming. I can tell she is in the throes of some nightmare. I am stunned in place for a moment, but decide quickly that I should take action. I walk over to the bed and lay down, placing my arms around her waist to wrap her body closer to me. She fits against mine like a glove.

"Shhhh, it's just a dream. Calm down. You're right here. I'll keep you safe." I keep whispering what I hope are calming words into her ear. After about ten minutes, I feel her body loosen, relax, and go back into sleep. I am about to get up and leave the bed when I feel her lightly grab my arm.

"Stay with me," Katniss asks.

I can do nothing but obey her request. I place my arms back around this beautiful girl, and in moments finally find my own way to sleep.

The morning comes quickly enough, and I am always scheduled to work early. I rise out of the bed, gently letting go of Katniss. I go to find my uniform to put on. Once I am dressed, I walk back over to Katniss and softly touch her face. Her eyes flutter open a little. I know that her duties don't start until later, so I don't want to wake her too much.

"I have to go to work now," I tell her. "I'll see you later." I begin to turn and leave when once more Katniss stops me with her voice.

"Peeta?" she calls.

I turn back around. "Yes?"

"Thank you, for being there for me," my beautiful girl says.

I smile back at her. "You're welcome."

I walk out then and head out the door to my new work assignment. As I go over all the events that have transpired since yesterday I only have one thought.

At least it's a start.

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