Peeta's Games - Chapter 1 - igsygrace - Hunger Games Trilogy (2024)

Chapter Text

I am a wrestler.

So it says on the locker, in blurry ink on a piece of tape. So it says on the tournament schedule. So Mom said - "you're a wrestler" - when she eagerly signed the permission forms. That was more a command than a benediction, by the way. All of her sons are wrestlers. And in this world that is so restrictive of opportunity, of victory, it's important to her, I guess.

It just is not something that ever meant much to me. Wrestling takes time away from everything else I'd rather be doing with my day, first of all. And I grew up with two older brothers, a forced witness to a hundred little daily competitions. Everything was a game. Every. Little. Thing. The easier chores, the larger portion of meat - the fastest to school, the first to kiss a girl. I was the witness and wager-handler and glad I had no more to do than to pretend to be enthusiastic.

And as for the tournament itself? I have no taste for elimination competitions. Mandatory viewing. Winner takes all.

Yet - I would be lying if I claimed that I am unmoved by the buzz and chatter of the growing crowd that I can hear just on the other side of the locker room door. As it builds in volume and excitement, I can feel it. Whether they are for or against me, their energy fills me. I am not anxious for the day to be over, win or lose - I am eager to perform, for a moment, for the crowd. To be … something.

And I honestly think I have a chance at winning this thing. There's just one competitor left. I know his every trick; I know his every vulnerability. I've been watching him for years – my older brother, Rian. And yes, he's a little taller than me. He's a little stronger. But I have surprise on my side – the baby brother he's been roundly ignoring for years. I've seen the shock on his face as I've won round after round this week. Clearly, he hasn't really been paying attention to the way I perform.

I look down the locker room – he and I are alone in here right now. He's slumped down a little, eyes closed. I don't even know what time it was last night when the door slammed and mother started yelling at him and he finally pushed his way into our bedroom. It felt pretty late.

As if sensing my gaze, he looks up suddenly and half turns to me. So, I can see the shiner – god damn it.

"What did you do this time?" I ask, exasperated.

He shrugs. "Does it matter?" Then, resentfully: "I'm eighteen. I can stay out as late as I want."

It doesn't work that way – and he knows it. He's still in high school. There's a curfew. And it's not just that he's her son – he's an employee of the family bakery, and she's his boss. Why does he do it? If it's Will's example … but Will's fights with mother always managed to be righteous ones. When he left, he did it on his own terms. Rian compounds her sins by committing his own. She hits him when he defies curfew, when he skips school – that one time – that one really dreadful time – when he was nearly busted for shoplifting. But at the same time, I suspect that he wouldn't be this way if it wasn't for her heavy hand in the first place. He's surly and rebellious, and every strike she blows seems to entrench him even further. I can defend her no more than I can defend him; it feels as helpless today as it ever has.

"You've got to get along with her," is all I can say. "What are you going to do if she throws you out of the house after school?"

He shrugs again, but the look on his face speaks volumes. It practically shouts out how bleak he must think his future to be. He really doesn't like working at the bakery, but since Will is estranged, and I can be no more than part-time, it is going to fall on him like a hammer as soon as school lets out. No more wrestling – for which he has been the star and darling of the school the last couple of years. Just working for mom and dad, his life filled with the tedium of making bread.

"Maybe I'll get lucky and get reaped to the Games this year," he says, wryly.

"Why would you even say that?" I ask him angrily.

He opens his mouth, but his answer is lost to opportunity, as coach enters at that moment and gestures for us to follow him.

My eyes sweep the gym as I enter behind my brother. The student body is collecting on the bleachers, individual voices rising in chattering laughter. It is the best time of the year. Spring is full on – finals are still a couple of weeks away – the Reaping ages away, barely to be thought about. Everyone is, of course, divided into their cliques, which makes it easier for me to look for … yes - there. I have no idea – if she cares, really, about the wrestling; she's compelled to be here, same as everyone else. There are people who do care – my friends, some girls who have started to take notice, now that I'm a "jock." But isn't that how life is? The one person you really show off for probably doesn't even notice. Probably isn't even impressed. Yet – despite myself, despite all reason or any rational pep talks I might give myself – I perform for her.

Before I know it, our names are announced, mine and Rian's. The Mellark brothers, competing for the championship. I stare at him as we wait in the neutral stance, and he gives me an ironic look. I get a good look at the black eye, and I swallow, ruefully.

The first round goes exactly as I pictured: because he's taller than me, he goes for the head lock. I attempt the suplex, grappling forward for the bear hug. For what seems like forever, we are locked together, holding our stances – at a mutual impasse. But I use my better center of gravity to get the leverage and I finally throw him down.

He really didn't expect this, and there is now anger, as well as surprise, on his face. In the second round, he lunges for me almost quicker than the count, overpowers me – for a second we are struggling evenly, but my feet slip out from under me, and he wins the point.

Before the third round, it feels like we stare at each other for an eternity. The crowd noise is intense, amazing – yet it starts to recede into a strange near-silence between us. I can hear him breathing heavily – angrily. He wants this, more than anything; and he is off-put that he has to beat his little brother to get it. It's not just that he's underestimated me. He's underestimated the game – how painful it can be to win, as well as to lose. I understand. It's all knotted together. The fact that he's being thrown into life, all unprepared and unwilling. This final match perhaps the last experience for him of pure joy, for a while. The years of an angry upbringing: maybe we chose different ways of dealing with it, but at the core it is a mutual experience, and we should have been allies – all this time – but we weren't. The fact that I don't care – not really – about winning. Not at his expense. Not to impress some girl. Not to satisfy my friends. To win would be every bit as painful as to lose – maybe more so, this time.

He's quick at me again, but he used up so much of his strength on the last round that he doesn't quite get a good grip on me. I plant my feet and envelope him in a hug: my brother. Both love and defeat in the gesture; the incredible thing about wrestling: the strange intimacy of the struggle.

I am strong – a wall against him; I feel it. But I soften my stance, just a little, and my body twists as he gets the head lock. I'm pinned to the mat, my nose flat against it so I can hear my breath sucking in all around me. He wins.

He wins.

I smile through the award ceremony. I have the silver medal and two years left, anyway, to wrestle in school. I'm good at it, and, in this world that is so restrictive – so narrow of opportunity, and perhaps of happiness – that's something to grasp. It's in losing to my brother that I actually see the true value of the thing. Very strange.

My eyes sweep the crowd again. She's still here – she hasn't wandered out, bored of the spectacle. I tell myself that in my current state of heightened self-awareness it really doesn't matter to me whether or not she was impressed or even entertained by the sport.

People tell themselves things.

Peeta's Games - Chapter 1 - igsygrace - Hunger Games Trilogy (2024)
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