Title: Love or Some Relief
Fandom: The Hunger Games
Characters: Peeta Mellark & Johanna Mason
Summary: Children spend so much time persuading--no wonder no one believes them.
Johanna hefted the dough from one hand to another, as if she had never made bread before. Peeta watched her fingers clench as she kneaded, and he realized that she probably hadn't. He bit his lip, realized once again how different his life had been, to never have been hungry.
She looked up at him, scowling, and Peeta folded his arms. "What?"
"You're a victor," she grumbled. "Wouldn't people do this for you?"
"I--" Peeta blinked at her complaint. "I don't know."
Johanna laughed; it was surprisingly musical. "No wonder they liked you so much," she said, and then she lobbed the dough at his head. It was a slow, easy throw: a friendly rebuke instead of a meaningful attack. (The snap of her wrist, he knew, was lethal. He'd seen her hunting, killing rabbits with little more than a pebble.)
Peeta let the ball of dough closer than he had to, reaching easily to catch it, an inch from his nose. She raised her eyebrows at him, and he shrugged. (She'd seen him faster, too.) "They liked me because they wanted to like me," he replied. He thought that was close enough to the truth.
Johanna tilted her head, a jagged lock of hair barely brushing her ear. "If I had a knife, I would stab you," she noted.
Peeta weighed the dough in his hand, then tossed it at her stomach.
She let it hit her, released a short oomph.
"Keep working," he ordered, and Johanna cursed, but did.
Peeta had never been comfortable walking in the woods, but he'd been charged with Johanna's company for the afternoon, and he would never shirk a duty. When she lamented the close walls of the kitchen, he assented to escape, left the dough to rise.
The boundaries of the forest encroached upon town, a verdant infestation that softened the stark scars in the earth. Johanna wandered without purpose, barely twitching back when a brace of quail burst from the undergrowth.
Peeta tucked his hands into his pockets, leaning against a boulder as she stopped to breathe the air in. She set her hands on a tree trunk, tracing the bark like she could read the tree's future.
"What did you do," Peeta ventured, "before they called your name?"
If he hadn't been looking for it, he would have missed her nails digging into the bark. Johanna didn't look at him as she answered. "Does it matter anymore?"
"It can," he said.
She moved on.
They looped back from the forest and into the market. It was still growing, for the people of the district were slow in trickling back. She dipped her hand into a barrel of peppercorns; at Peeta's prompting, she selected a wedge of cheese. The people were wary of them, but maybe Peeta was the only one sensitive to their fear.
When they returned to the bakery, Johanna heaved the dough back onto the counter.
"What do we do next?" she asked.
Peeta smiled, and he showed her.
A/N: Title and summary adapted from Grace Cavalieri's Dates.