Her Best Friend's Brother

I, Rory Hawthorne, do not pride myself on being the smartest of guys, or the best planner, thinker, plotter or military champion, but there is no other way to describe this guy King Pyrrhus than as being a complete idiot. I mean, yes fine, he did defeat the Romans in the battles of Heraclea and Asculum, but the cost of such victories was an overwhelming and devastating defeat in the Pyrrhic Wars and the loss of his whole army. Honestly, all it would have taken was some forward planning, seriously.

I am fascinated by history, and spend many happy hours reading the rare books that Madge Undersee manages to smuggle for me from her father’s library. I am amazed by the progress that had been achieved by our forefathers, hundreds of years before the Fourth World War, and also bemused by the complete disregard of their achievement by my generation and the ones preceding it. Before Panem was rebuilt from the ashes of the War, there was another continent, called Europe and thousands of years before that, the Roman Empire, against which this poor guy Pyrrhus sought to flash his scrawny ass. Winning one battle, but with a devastating loss that will make you lose the War - now I know what a Pyrrhic Victory is. What perhaps is unusual is that I gained this piece of knowledge by sticking my nose in a book (which I so smartly disguised with the cover of Panem’s Most Influential) during the Annual Wrestling tournament which all the school had to attend.

I hate wrestling.

Not that I have much of a choice really. With our tall, lanky frames, us Hawthornes are not made to be wrestlers. Instead we are born dark, broody and mysterious. Or at least, so I would like to think. I achieved the “dark” genetically through birth, but the broody is still confused with whiny, and the mysterious part is as yet dormant. My brother Gale, however, has perfected all three and added, somewhat unfairly, the sardonic rise of the eyebrows which I will never be able to achieve. Quite annoyingly, my face is unable to force one eyebrow up without the other, resulting in my best sardonic expression looking like the impersonation of a round eyed ginger bread man. Gale however, generally broods and attracts, but is at the moment making this wrestling tournament a living hell for all those sitting next to him.

“Come on Thatcher!! Seriously?? Beaten by the Bread Boy?!” he yells, as our neighbour Niall Thatcher is pinned down easily be Peeta Mellark. He snorts in disgust while Mellark helps his opponent up with a friendly shake of the hand and an apologetic smile. I am not sure why my brother dislikes the Baker’s son so much. I haven’t spoken to him often, since we obviously move in different circles, but he does seem to be an extremely decent sort of chap, and I never heard anything bad about him, not even from my fellow Seamers. And truly, we can be quite a bitter bunch of people. Hunger makes you grumpy I guess. Gale however, seems to be taking Peeta’s obvious physical propensity towards wrestling quite badly, and his brow furrows into a more pronounced scowl with every match that Mellark seems to be winning.

Speaking of scowls, Katniss Everdeen is sitting with us, and is the usual epitome of joy, with her only contribution to the event being a mindless gnawing of the end of her braid. I am pretty sure that my brother is taken with her, though honestly, I do not see the charm. Personally, I’m more appreciative of a lighter sort of girl, or at least one whose lips have the ability to conjure a smile. Katniss Everdeen scares the crap out of me, and I try to stay in her good books as much as possible.

I’m just about to share the story of King Pyrrhus with Gale and Katniss, because I do find it highly educational and of general interest, but I’m interrupted by the over-enthusiastic announcement of Principal Applethorpe, who introduces the finalists of this year’s Wrestling Competition.

“And in an exciting twist, as they get ready to fight as brother against brother, give a warm applause to our two finalists, Barley and Peeta Mellark!” he cries, as he pushes forward the two Mellark boys. Peeta has the grace to look extremely uncomfortable, while Barley, with his trademark grin and inbuilt cockiness, dispenses winks and attention to the female crowd indiscriminately. From the corner of my eye, I see Katniss shift in her seat, and hear Gale growl under his breath.

Huh? Wha-at?

The two brothers shake hands and Barley grabs Peeta and whispers something in his ear, gesturing rather conspicuously at our area of the stands and mouthing very obviously “she is looking at YOU”. Peeta flushes and glares at his brother, his eyes narrowing in a rare display of annoyance. We are surrounded by many girls, including Delly Cartwright, who I usually see hanging around him, but somehow I’m starting to think that Delly might not have been the girl that Barley was referring to. Gale sits next to me, straight and stiff as if he has just been presented with a painful pole that was stuck up his ass, and randomly yells, “Go get him Barley Mellark!!!”, to the surprise of the fifty odd people who hear his shout, and who turn to look at him with blank faces and obvious what the hell? expressions. Katniss stops gnawing at her braid and frowns.

Oh Gale …

For someone as minimally bothered with wrestling as I am, the match is still extremely interesting. Both Mellark brothers are strong, stubborn and determined to win, and for some minutes both opponents seem to have an equal chance of success. After a while however, Barley’s two year advantage gives him the upperhand, and he manages to pin down Peeta, accentuating his win with a cocky grin and a friendly wack on his brother’s head.

Gale is just as smug as Peeta is crestfallen. “A bit over-ambitious weren’t you young Bread Boy?” he mocks snidely and extremely loudly. Peeta looks at us but does not reply. Instead he and Katniss catch each other’s gaze, and share a small, sad smile, and a similar blush. Their eyes hold each other’s rather more than I think necessary before Katniss looks down, her all too familiar scowl softened slightly by her flushed cheeks. “A miss is as good as a mile, isn’t it Mellark?” my brother continues, seemingly on a smug roll. Peeta doesn’t even hear him. His eyes are still stuck on Katniss, and his reaction to her sympathetic smile is nothing short of adoration.

Stupid Gale. Stupid, simple, oblivious Gale.

I wrap my arm around his shoulder in a rare show of public affection. “Brother,” I begin, “have you ever heard about this guy called Pyrrhus?” I ask breezily.

Gale Hawthorne needs a lesson in Pyrrhic Victories it seems. And I, Rory Hawthorne will take all the time necessary to give it to him.

Following that, I’ll practice brooding.

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