prompts in panem

a seven day hunger games challenge
How to Pretend

four times Mrs. Mellark didn’t love her sons, and one time she did.

(trigger warning:  child abuse)


i.

Augusta pretends that the baby will make everything perfect.

A baby is hers from the start, and no one can steal the child away. A baby is something she can give Barm, because her love isn’t enough. A baby, she thinks, is what she needs. And she looks at herself in the distorted mirror over the bathroom sink, smiling at her reflection. Her face is pleasant and pink, and she feels attractive. Her hair isn’t as dull, and her thin, bony angles have rounded into soft, pretty curves, her breasts swelling under her cotton dress, and she thinks pregnancy suits her.

Barm comes up to stand behind her, and he runs his hands over her stomach.

He rests his chin on her shoulder, and she imagines the life that awaits them. It’s perfect.

But the little boy is born, and it isn’t what she imagined. He is yellow, his face flat, an ugly child, and he squalls through the night until she can’t stand it. She stares at him in his cradle, his fists swiping through the air, and she remembers her little brother, who cried and cried until she picked him up and tried to shake him silent, because she was four years old and she didn’t understand.

Her father told the neighbors that the baby caught fever, and he tells them that her mother slipped.

He doesn’t want anyone to know that his daughter killed her brother, or that his wife killed herself.

Augusta looks at her screaming babe, and she can’t make herself feel it.

She thought she would love her child. She thought she would hold the boy in her arms, and she would feel what her mother felt for her brother, or what Barm feels when he coos at the little child.

She doesn’t.

She is tired, and she smells like spit and shit, and she looks at herself in the mirror, her colorless hair hanging loosely around her shoulders, purple smudges under her eyes. She pretends not to hear Barm sing to Bannock. He named the child after his father. And she cuts her fingers to do it, but she manages to tear the mirror off the wall, shattering the awful thing into pieces on the ground.

Barm asks her what happened, and she snaps that she can’t think when the baby is screaming. He sighs, picks the shards from her knees, and starts to clean the mess. He asks her to nurse Bannock.

"I don’t feel like it," she says.

—-

ii.

They’re chasing each other through the bakery, scaring away customers, and she bites her cheek and refuses to pay any mind. But she hears something shatter, and she stalks after them into the kitchen. Her heart stops at what she founds. The entire floor is covered in broken, wasted dishes.

And the boys stare at her with wide eyes, looking shocked.

"Sorry, Momma," Bannock breathes. "We didn’t mean to do it."

She grabs his arm, pulling him to her, and yanks his pants off. He starts to cry, but she spanks him until her own hand stings from it, and the baby in her belly starts to kick furiously, as though he can feel her fury. “Get the broom,” she tells Bannock, who struggles to pull up his trousers. Her eyes find Rye, trying to hide. “Come on,” she snaps. His bottom lip trembles. “I won’t repeat it.”

She ends up having to drag him out, and Barm returns from the market as she finishes with him.

He looks horrified, “but children need to be disciplined,” she tells him. “It’s how they learn.”

It was the way she was raised, and it’s how she intends to raise her sons.

She can’t let Barm indulge them at every turn, or they’ll be in the poor house within weeks.

He might not like it, but she’s the reason this family isn’t starving in the streets. The boys cry through the night, and Barm leaves the bed to comfort them. She stares at the ceiling. She never used to cry. Her father wouldn’t have allowed it. But Barm is soft as the dough he shapes, and her sons are, too. Her daughter won’t be, she thinks. Her daughter will be like her, she tells herself.

She runs her hands over her stomach. Barm spends the night with the boys in their room.

—-


iii.

She remembers when her father told her that he talked with Mr. and Mrs. Mellark.

"And they want you to join their family," he said. He took her to dinner at their house, and their only son smiled kindly at her across the table. They went for a walk after dinner, and he kissed her on the cheek at the end of it. It seemed wonderful, a life married to Barm Mellark, the baker’s son.

She delighted herself with the idea for weeks.

But she found out the truth. His parents picked her for him. He didn’t want to marry her.

He wanted to marry pretty, popular Acacia Evans, who left him to run off with a coal miner.

She cries herself to sleep, but she wakes up, stares at the ceiling, and tells herself she doesn’t care.

He will learn to love her, and they’ll have a good life, the kind that Acacia Evans won’t have in the Seam. Augusta put curlers in her hair to make herself as pretty as she can for their toasting, and she bore him three sons, and she did everything she could to earn affection from her affable husband.

It wasn’t enough, though, and she hates him. She shouldn’t have have married him.

He settled for her, and she was foolish enough to let him. To be the girl from whom he settled.

He is sweet and quiet and gentle; his smile is pleasant, and he is happy as long as dough is in his hands. She watches her youngest son, his tongue caught between his teeth as he tries to decorate the cookies. He is sweet, too. He is quiet and gentle, and his toothy, four-year-old smile is pleasant.

She watches Peeta, and he shouldn’t be allowed to work on the cookies.

He is too young. He smears the icing, ruining another cookie, and she loses it; she grabs his arm, tearing him off the chair. His knee knocks into the counter, and he cries out as he falls, but she doesn’t release his arm. She tightens her grasp, and she starts to shout at him for the wasted icing.

A hand touches her shoulder. “Augusta, stop it!”

She releases Peeta, turing to Barm, who looks at her with wide, shocked eyes.

"He was having fun," Barm says. "He didn’t meant to waste anything. It was a mistake."

Her whole body trembles with fury. “It was a mistake,” she repeats. She can’t stand to look at him.

She whirls around, grabbing Peeta, holding his chin in her hands. He is crying, and she wants to smack him across the face, the stupid child with his cute curls and his chubby cheeks. “I don’t care whether or not you were having fun,” she snarls, “I won’t have you wasting ingredients, and —”

"Don’t, Augusta," Barm says, touching her arm.

She slaps his hand. “Or what?” she asks. “Or you’ll fuck another old girlfriend, is that it?”

He gapes at her, and she hates him, the kind man that everyone loves. He was kind enough to smile for her when his girlfriend fell in love with a coal miner, but he couldn’t be bothered to love his wife. “Augusta,” he whispers. He isn’t going to try to deny it. She hates him, the baker’s son.

She wishes she hadn’t married him.

She wishes she hadn’t heard Acacia Everdeen crying to Mabel Undersee about it. The child.

"I saw your daughter," she spits. "I wonder whether the coal miner will pretend to love her. I wouldn’t. And maybe he won’t, and she’ll come running to you, and you can have her the way you want. Raise your child with her, and leave me with my little brats. Is that what you want, Barm?"

He looks like he might cry. She hates him more for it. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I love you, and I —”

She slaps him across the face. “Don’t,” she breathes, “don’t you dare.”

Peeta whimpers, and she stalks from the kitchen. She cries herself to sleep for two weeks.

—-

iv.

The rain is pounding outside, and she wakes with a start at the thunder.

She rolls over in bed, and she hears the hum from downstairs. Something is watching the Games, and she frowns, slipping from the bed to investigate. It’s the television in the kitchens, and she finds Rye sitting on the counter, his eyes trained on the screen as Peeta is in the cave with Katniss Everdeen. The girl is asleep, and Peeta is watching her, stroking her hair, sighing softly to himself.

"It’s late," Augusta says. "The bakery can’t open itself in three hours. Go to bed."

Rye doesn’t move. “I can’t sleep. I want to watch.”

"It’s not as though you watching him moon over the girl will help him survive," she says.

His jaw clenches. “I have to watch, Mother. I can’t — I can’t not watch.” His voice is strained.

She stares at him for a moment. He is her tallest son, his hair as dull as hers, his features sharp and pointed. He looks like her, but Barm peaks out from his eyes, from his curls, from his smile.

She can’t have anything that is entirely hers.

He isn’t quiet the way his brothers are; he is loud, friendly, speaking to be heard, needing to have every eye on him. He used to bully Peeta mercilessly, laughing until his little brother turned purple with rage, yet his eyes are sunken in his face because he can’t stop watching the Games. He is wasting away with worry for the brother he never used to care about, and she doesn’t understand it.

"He isn’t coming home, Rye," she says. "He’ll slit his own throat to save the girl, mark my words."

But Rye shakes his head. “The rules changed, and they can make it out.”

"Don’t be stupid," she tells him. "The Capitol isn’t kind. The rules haven’t changed, you’ll see."

Rye glares at her. “I’m allowed to hope my little brother survives,” he says, forehead pinched.

She turns on her heel, finished, and clicks off the television. He hops to his feet, reaching for the television with blatant disregard for her. Augusta won’t stand for it. “Go to bed, boy,” she snarls.

He tears his arm from her grasp, but she grabs his ear, ready to drag him to bed.

He isn’t a child, though, and he shoves her away, making her stumble, and he —

He hits her across the face. It stings, stealing her breath, and he looks as shocked as she feels.

"I’ve always thought you were the most like me," she tells him.

It’s the worst insult she can hurl at him, and she knows it.

He staggers from the room, leaving her alone, and she sinks to the ground.

—-

v.

She stops at the house with the dull knives that Barm promised him.

Peeta is sitting against the wall, his knees drawn to his chest, his eyes wet. He looks pathetic. He wasn’t expecting her, and she is tempted to slip out the door and leave him none the wiser to her presence. But she isn’t about for making another trip, and she continues into the kitchen, passing him, and heaves the box onto the counter. “These are the knives from your father,” she tells him.

"Thanks," he murmurs, moving to his feet.

She nods, and she turns to leave. “She doesn’t really love you, does she?” she asks.

She can’t help it.

Peeta stares at her for a moment, and he nods. “It was for the Games. She pretended.”

He starts to unpack the knives. “I used to be like you,” Augusta whispers. She keeps her eyes trained on the wall. “I used to pretend I could make my life better. I used to pretend that something might make everything better. A marriage, a baby, a cake on his birthday. I pretended and pretended and pretended, because facing everything as it was seemed too hard for me to handle.”

He doesn’t say anything, and she forces herself to look at him.

"Loving her was nice, wasn’t it?" She smiles grimly at him. "A chance to pretend that somehow, someway, she might love you, too, and that would make everything right in your miserable life."

He runs a hand through his hair, eyes on his feet. “It doesn’t matter.”

The tenderness sweeps over her suddenly, and she steps hesitantly to him, touching his cheek.

He looks at her. “Peeta, you deserve better than to have to pretend. Don’t settle for pretending. It isn’t a life, trust me. Don’t pretend. Find something — something real.” She kisses his forehead.

A moment later, she turns away, because she can’t breathe, and she starts for the door.

"Mother," Peeta says, and she glances over her shoulder, schooling her features. "I love you."

And, in that moment, she doesn’t have to pretend.

"I love you, too."

fin.

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