Monday, February 25, 2013

Life Lessons 21: Sacrifice

A week ago Nickel had been absolutely thrilled when his teacher announced that they would be beginning to study the Rebellion, starting with the 74th Hunger Games, in history. Regardless of who his parents were, his knowledge wasn't much better than his fellow classmates on the subject. He knew the basics just like everyone else, but it wasn't something openly discussed with his parents.

Seeing the familiar names of his parents in a school book was thrilling. It made him feel special and proud. Yet his feelings changed a bit as the week went on. Nickel imagined kids in other Districts didn't feel quite the same as he did while learning this stuff in school. Sure, they were affected by the war. They probably knew people in the war. But they'd never met the Mockingjay and Peeta Mellark like everyone in his class had. More importantly, they weren't their parents.

The class didn't go into much detail on all of the events. It was apparently believed that young children just needed to learn the sugar-coated, short version of history. The darker, more complicated parts could be shared with them later in life. There was just one little problem. Although Nickel could tell that Mrs. Power tried to disguise the grittier parts, it was hard to hide everything. A hundred years from now children learning the same thing would have a glorified picture of the events they were studying, but for Nickel and his peers it was too recent. This wasn't like the faraway historical figures they'd studied earlier in the year. This was the pain they could see on every adults' face whenever the Rebellion was mentioned. Even the normally cheerful Mrs. Power taught with a pinched look.

The aftermath of the 3rd Quarter Quell hit Nickel the hardest. He suddenly began to wonder what District 12 had been like before the catastrophic bombings. He'd heard of the event briefly in the past, but the true destruction they'd caused had never been in the forefront of his mind. What had the relatively new buildings that he knew as his home taken the place of?

The Quarter Quell aftermath was also when he discovered a truely shocking piece of information: his father had been held captive by the Capitol. The book was unclear about what had happened to him while in the hands of the corrupt government. Apparently, neither Peeta nor any other person in-the-know had ever spoken openly about it. Mrs. Power's face showed great curiousity when she shared that little fact, and Nickel could tell by the look shot his way that she was hoping he could tell her everything. Nickel would have felt slighty offended at the way his teacher and classmates looked at him as if they wanted him to confess all of the "family secrets," but all he felt was shock. He knew his parents had been through hard times. He knew that they had killed and seen death, but it seemed like their horrible pasts just became worse and worse the more he learned.

Even at nine years old Nickel had the discretion to know that his parents wouldn't want to know what he was studying. He could picture their faces. They'd wonder what he thought about their horrible pasts. It was just better to stay quiet about the whole thing. Yet Nickel found it difficult to not bring it up when it seemed to be on his mind constantly.

On the day Mrs. Power finally began to teach about the final day of the war Nickel finally learned just what had happened to his Aunt Prim. He knew of her from passive mentions by his parents and from her pages in The Book, but his understanding of what had happened to her had been nonexsistent. Mrs. Power was obviously unaware of this fact and had no problem matter-of-factly telling the class that Primrose Everdeen had exploded in a bomb along with many other children and medical workers. She didn't use those words of course. Things had to be muted for the young children's ears, but Nickel had a feeling he was the only one really picturing it.

The picture didn't give him any emotional distress. He'd never known his aunt afterall, but it hurt him to think of what that must have done to his mother. Nickel couldn't imagine what it would be like if something like that happened to Dani. That's what made him go straight for his mother after school. Katniss seemed confused, but she accepted the hug nonetheless. Nickel remained sure of the fact that he was doing her a favor by not mentioning his history class, but he wanted to let her know he was sorry all the same.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Life Lessons 20: Waiting

Nickel didn't like waiting. When he wanted things, he wanted them at that very moment. That didn't mean he threw temper tantrums whenever he didn't get something he wanted. No, his parents would never stand for that. He'd been taught not to complain about what he did or didn't have. If he was told he couldn't have something, he'd wipe it from his mind, and it would be forgotten. Tell him he could have something but at a later date, however, and he would be on edge until the moment he finally got it. Nickel didn't appreciate the anticipation. He didn't understand why some people, such as his sister Dani, seemed to enjoy it. He wanted things to happen immediately. What was fun about waiting?

That's why he had his bags packed for their trip to District 2 a whole two weeks early. He wanted to get on the train immediately. He just wished his parents could be convinced to do the same. Katniss was a bit shocked to come upon him stuffing his socks into the only available space in his crammed suitcase.

"Nickel?" she questioned from the doorway. Nickel spun around quickly as if he had done something wrong. "It's a little early to be packing, isn't it?" A part of her wondered if she should be praising her son. Didn't most parents have trouble getting their children to pack at all? But she just couldn't fathom why it was neccessary to be packed two weeks early. Chances were he'd be needing quite a few of those things she saw squished, very unneatly, in the suitcase.

Nickel stopped packing and sat on the bed instead, where Katniss joined him. "I'm ready to go now though."

Katniss laughed a little at his earnestness. "Honey, we can't leave yet. Your father's got work," she cut Nickel off before he could speak. "And no he can't just leave the bakery in the hands of his workers two weeks ahead of time. Plus, you and Dani still have school."

Nickel offered his mom a meek look. "We could always make up the school work later..."

Katniss let out a laugh, but her voice was stern when she answered. "No. You're not missing school. Two weeks isn't that long of a wait. It'll be over before you know it."

Nickel's suitcase recieved a dejected look. "Can I at least leave my things packed, so I don't have to later?"

"Sure," Katniss smiled. "But you might be needing some of those clean clothes." She directed a pointed look at the almost empty closet that was wide open on the opposite end of the room.

"Well," Nickel's face scrunched up in thought. "I'll just pull them out of here then, if they're needed. I'll see how much I can keep packed." The boy's face lit up as if he'd just challenged himself to something. Katniss mentally reminded herself to make sure he was wearing clean clothes each day until the trip.

"You might want to try and make it a little neater too," Katniss said. "Otherwise you're going to be wearing some pretty wrinkly clothes in District 2." She noticed that Nickel didn't look too pleased at the thought of folding all of his clothes.

"Two weeks," Nickel sighed as Katniss left the room. He turned to his messy attempts at packing and unhappily pulled out some shirts. He might as well have had to wait an eternity.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Life Lessons 19: Dreams

Dreams were an interesting thing. Nickel had long known of the complexity of dreams. It wasn't something he really understood. His young mind wasn't able to fully grasp what dreams even were, but he saw first-hand the wide variety of emotions dreams could bring. Like everyone else, Nickel experienced his own dreams. They weren't usually anything special. He had happy dreams, sad dreams, and, occassionally, nightmares. This would have been enough to show him just how different dreams could be, but he knew that his own dreams were just the tip of the iceburg. He may have been young, but he heard the screams that rang through the house on a regular basis. Funnily enough, he'd never given it much thought. When something happens from the time you're born you never stop to ask if it's normal or not. He was six before he realized what the screams meant. They were nightmares. Only these weren't like the nightmares he'd experienced. Nickel began to realize just how sinister dreams could be.

Now eight years old, Nickel knew without a doubt that something about his mom's nightmares weren't right. There was something different about them. Katniss wasn't dreaming that she was being chased by wolves or something like Nickel had in the past. These nightmares sounded much more terrifying. They were few and far between, but they'd been on Nickel's mind for several months. It had been three months since Nickel had last heard the screams. He was sure there were more than that. No doubt he'd become so accustomed to them that they often went unnoticed during the night. On this particular night though, curiousity overcame him, and he decided to go investigate.

His hands shook as he treaded down the hallway as quiety as possible. His mother's light gait was a welcome trait he'd inherited. He wasn't sure what he would find, and he wasn't sure how is parents would react if they discovered him. The thought made his heart pound. Nickel could hear whispers from his parents' bedroom that were distinctly his father's. Nickel's parents always left their door open a crack, and Nickel was pleased to see that there was just enough room for him to make out their bed in the darkness.

Nickel's ears began to pick up on the quiet sobs that were coming from his mother, and he recognized his father's whispers as reassuring comforts. The pain on his mother's face was evident, even in the darkness. Nickel knew without a doubt that she had faced something unimaginable to him just minutes ago.

Now that he was standing there, Nickel became unsure of what to do next. He hadn't really thought this through. Part of him wanted to go and hug his mother, but an even larger part of him wanted to run back to his bed and hide under the covers. The horrible pain he saw on his mother's face scared him, and he was worried about how his parents would react if they discovered what he had witnessed. After a minute of watching his parents while his mind went through his options, Nickel decided to go with the larger part of him. His feet hurried him back to the comfort of his bed as quick as they could without giving him away. Nickel burrowed his way deep under the covers, something he remembered doing since he began sleeping in a bed as opposed to a crib. He enjoyed the warmth and security that the blankets provided. Tonight, however, they failed to provide the same feeling of security. His mind was preoccupied, and he coudn't help but worry. If he fell asleep, could he have a nightmare like the one he'd just witnessed the aftermath of? Nickel had always thought of his dreams as fascinating. Most of them provided great amusement when he reminisced on them the next morning, but if dreams were capable of being that horrifying, Nickel wasn't sure he wanted to dream at all.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Life Lessons 18: Eyes

A/N: I don't really know what this is, but it's cute I guess...

Dani considered her eyes her favorite feature. When she was really little she could remember staring in the mirror sometimes and noticing how blue they were. It had just been a small observation then. She hadn't paid it much mind. Her mother had told her several times that she had some of the prettiest eyes in the world. After hearing it over and over, Dani even started to consider that it may be true. There was something beautiful about the intensity of her blue eyes.

Yet what really made her eyes her favorite feature was that they were the only physical feature she shared with her dad. It wasn't that she didn't want to look like her mother, but she enjoyed having something from her father as well. Her interest had been piqued when their teacher had started going over genetics in class. Dani and Peeta were in the kitchen baking cookies one day when she mentioned it.

"Mom's always saying we're such similar people," she told him. "But our eyes are the only thing similar on the outside."

Peeta chuckled. "We may be similar in some ways, but you definitely have your mother in you too. Not only on the outside but inside too."

"I know that," Dani conceeded. "Like how both of us don't really like talking to people, but Mom says I'm more of a people person than she is. I don't go out of my way to talk to people, but if I do, she says I have the same way with people as you." Dani thought for a moment before adding. "She also said we have the same heart, which is kind of weird."

Peeta laughed softly at the expression on his daughters face. "I've heard eyes called the 'windows to the soul' before. Maybe that's why we have the same eyes: we have the same souls."

Dani's face was tight in concentration. "Maybe. It's a little confusing though. Genetics are complicated. Can you even inherit souls?"

"Who knows," Peeta shrugged. "I don't really understand it either. Some people don't even believe in souls."

"Do you?"

Peeta seemed unsure how to answer for a moment. "I honestly don't know. Actually, I'm not even sure what a soul would be exactly."

"Me either. Maybe I'll ask in school tomorrow when we talk about genetics again. Mrs. Coles might know."

"It wouldn't hurt to ask," Peeta told her. "But I don't know if she'll know anything about that. A top scientist might not even know much about souls. They're more something you just believe in without proof. They aren't the same thing for everyone either."

"Well, if there are souls," Dani said. "I think I got most of yours, which is why I got your eyes, and Nickel got most of Mom's so he got mom's eyes. But I still got part of mom's, and Nickel got part of yours because we both have similarities with both of you."

Peeta smiled, "Sounds good to me."

Friday, February 15, 2013

Life Lessons 17: Stars

A/N: I don't like this one at all. I really don't. I don't know what it is, and it seems cheesy and weird. I just didn't know what to do with this theme. Hopefully it's not too horrible...

Peeta wasn't entirely sure what made him decide that they needed to have a "guy's night." He'd seen something similar on TV and thought it was a good idea. Plus, it gave Katniss and Dani the opportunity to spend some quality time together as well. It wasn't anything fancy. He had decided to just take Nickel to the new movie theater that had opened in town to see some movie. On a whim, he'd decided to invite Haymitch along, since he was practically a member of the family as well. Besides, there wasn't another shipment of alcohol for a week, and a grumpy Haymitch was doing everything he could to occupy himself.

After the movie, they decided to stop by the meadow for a little while and watch the sunset. Haymitch was grumbling on about this being a "girly" activity, but Nickel was always thrilled to spend time in the meadow. They found themselves staying even after the sunset. As the first stars began to appear in the sky, Peeta would point out different constellations and other things of interest.

There hadn't been much interest in stargazing while the Games had been happening, but astronomy (and, especially in the Capitol, astrology) had become a somewhat popular hobby in recent years. Apparently, it had always been a little popular in the Capitol where there were several large planetariums where citizens could enjoy the night sky without leaving the glaring lights of the city. Now, citizens from across Panem were starting to pick up the hobby as well. Peeta had only learned a few things, but he found the concept of the universe fascinating. It was something he remembered briefly discussing in school, but it wasn't until after the rebellion that he learned people had actually went up into space in the years before the disasters that destroyed North America. After the disasters, it hadn't been as important as rebuilding civilization, and humanity's fascination with the universe had kind of died except for the small group that liked to stargaze occassionally. Things were changing now though, and many people wanted to attempt to visit space again. Peeta thought that was being a little crazy, but it was fascinating nonetheless.

"That star right there," Peeta pointed, "is the brightest one in the sky. It's called Sirius or the Dog Star."

"The Dog Star?" Nickel questioned.

"It's in a constellation that's supposed to look like a dog." Peeta tried to trace the outline in the sky, but it was a bit difficult and he wasn't even entirely sure if was pointing to the right stars.

"And that there is the North Star. It's the star that's almost directly over the north pole. People used it as a guide to know what direction they were going on ships and long journeys back in the days before technology."

They stayed there for several hours, just looking into the sky. Even Haymitch seemed to become interested after a while. It wasn't until Nickel fell asleep that Peeta realized they should be heading home. Nickel didn't protest as he didn't have the energy to even try. He did, however, ask, "Dad, can we come back tomorrow night and look at the stars again? Maybe Mom and Dani can come." Peeta smiled and assured his son that they would come back soon.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Life Lessons 16: Night

The darkness had settled in several hours ago, which at this time of year meant it was just cool enough outside that Dani felt snug in her light jacket. She had managed to pull it on before quickly following her father outside to where a very drunk Haymitch was squatting among a gaggle of geese.

"Haymitch," her father called to get the man's attention. "What are you doing out here? It's almost eleven o'clock at night."

Haymitch looked up at the moon that was gaining height in the sky before replying sarcastically, "Is it really?" He turned his attention back to the goose he'd been inspecting. Dani really had no idea what he was doing. Haymitch didn't usually bother the geese when he was drunk, and he never bothered to actually touch them drunk or sober. "How did you even know I was out here? Been spying on me?" Haymitch sent her father a glare, and Dani wasn't sure whether it was meant to be a joke or not.

She could just barely make out her father's eye roll in the dark. "We were watching a movie in the living room. Katniss spotted you through the window."

Haymitch muttered the word "movie" in distaste. "With the kids?" He motioned at Dani who had kept herself a few paces behind her dad. "As you pointed out, it's pretty late. Isn't it past their bedtime?"

Dani was surprised Haymitch thought she needed to be in bed. He usually didn't pay much attention to those sort of things.

"Nickel fell asleep on the couch, and Dani was about to fall asleep when Katniss spotted you." Peeta informed him. "Besides, it's the summer. Staying up late won't hurt them."

Haymitch grunted and turned back to the goose. "Haymitch," her dad caught the drunks' attention again. "What are you doing?"

It took Haymitch a second to respond. "I think this goose is sick. I'm giving him a check up."

This caused both Peeta and Dani to look slightly amused. "Since when do you know how to care for geese other than tossing them the occassional meal?" Peeta asked his old mentor.

"It doesn't take a doctor to tell when something's sick," Haymitch growled.

"Of course not," Peeta replied in a slightly mocking voice. "But it does take a certain type of person, namely a vet, to decide just what exactly is wrong with the animal."

"I'm more than capable of taking care of it," Haymitch snapped. "I've only raised this thing since it hatched. I've had plenty of sick geese over the years."

"And most of them were dead within several days," Peeta muttered under his breath. Dani tried to suppress a giggle. Haymitch let his geese breed freely, yet his flock had remained more-or-less the same size since he'd bought the first batch, all because so many ended up dying prematurely. It was definitely a case of survival of the fittest. Whichever goose was able to get the most of their meager nurishment got to survive the longest.

Haymitch didn't seem to know what to do with the goose now that it had been inspected. Regardless of his assertions otherwise, Haymitch had no idea how to heal the animal.

"Right," Haymitch stood, goose in hand. "I'll go take care of him in the house. See you later." With that, Haymitch marched back inside with the goose, sqwuaking loudly, under one arm.

Dani turned to her father and saw him attempting to suppress a grin. He looked down at her, and they shared a small laugh before heading back into their own home. Dani was already planning to run over to Haymitch's house the next morning to see just what his "diagnosis" of the goose had been.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Life Lesson 15: Flower

The whole family stood admiring the new painting adorning Dani's bedroom wall.  The large painting showed a wide open field full of dandelions, Dani's namesake and favorite flower.

"I love it!" the girl exclaimed.  The enthusiastic eleven-year-old threw herself in her father's arms as a thank you for the painting he'd done just for her birthday.

It reminded Dani of the meadow, one of her favorite places in the world.  During the springtime it was always full of the small, yellow flowers.  Dani remembered her parents reminding her that she'd been named after the very dandelions in that meadow since she was little.  She'd always been able to tell dandelions were special to her parents, especially her mom, but she had never really understood why.  Whatever the reason, they'd named her Dandelion after them, and Dani had grown up having great respect for the flower that most people considered just a common weed.

When she was about five, Dani had noticed dandelions in their own yard as well.  She'd dug some up and placed them in with the primroses that were constantly growing in their garden.  Her mother had gently explained that dandelions were a bit more independent than primroses.  Their seeds rode through the wind and settled wherever they pleased.  They might not want to stay in the small little flower bed year after year.  It turned out her mother was right.  Every so often, a dandelion would grow in their garden, and there were also at least a few scattered across the yard.  Still, none of those small patches of dandelions compared to the dandelions that grew every spring in the meadow.  For some reason those had always been the "real" dandelions to Dani, and she could just tell that these were the dandelions her father had captured in the painting.  They just looked like meadow dandelions.  Something about the independence and their ability to grow where ever they pleased dispite their small delicate shape filled Dani with pride for her namesake.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Life Lessons 14: Happiness

A/N: As far as all of these one-shots go, this is the one most connected to another. This one-shot takes place just several days after the last one. While all of these go in chronological order, these are the only ones that are really connected in any way. That being said, reading the last one isn't really necessary to understanding this one either.

Nickel had always known his grandmother to be a morose sort of person. The only smiles she offered him were fleeting and quickly dissappeared. This trip, however, she seemed different. or she had for the past few days at least. After Nickel had let her in on the secret of Dani's birthday present, Mrs. Everdeen had suddenly begun smiling more. It was a strange but not unpleasant change.

Dani and Nickel had been rather surprised to find their grandmother in their father's company when he came to pick them up from school one day. Mrs. Everdeen had brushed it off. "Oh, I just thought some fresh air would be nice. I hadn't gotten out of the house much while I was here." None of the other three bothered pointing out to her that she almost never left their house when she was in District 12. On one of their few trips to visit Mrs. Everdeen and Annie in District 4, their grandmother had constantly accompanied them places, but not even Nickel, in his young age, had missed that Mrs. Everdeen seemed just a little scared of District 12. It had been something that had sparked Nickel's curiousity for a few years now, but he knew better than to question it. He didn't think it was something his grandmother would want to talk about.

Nickel began observing his grandmother as they walked back home at a very leisurely pace. Mrs. Everdeen still seemed slightly nervous as they walked through town. She threw sporadic glances over her shoulder as if waiting for something to jump at her, but she was outside of her own free will. Nickel was still marveling over that. Not only that, she was actively involved in the conversation and seemed more lively than Nickel had ever seen her in District 12. It was like she was suddenly the District 4 grandma that he didn't know as well but loved just as much.

"It is a nice day. Isn't it?" Mrs. Everdeen smiled at some newly planted trees as they walked. "I'm so glad I decided to come out and enjoy it."

Nickel looked at Dani who was shaking her head in fascination from behind their grandmother. She seemed just as confused about today's events as Nickel. Dani caught Nickel looking at her, and they both had to work to suppress giggles out of excitement.

"District 12 really is an entirely new place," Mrs. Everdeen continued. She'd been through town at least twice every trip as she came to and left the district, but she seemed to be seeing it for the first time. She actively inspected things now. It was the first time she'd realized just how new everything was. She'd been stuck in Victor's Village every trip here. The only part of District 12, she now realized, that had remained the same. She would have been better off leaving to visit the town every day. It was a much less haunting place.

The new District 12 was much more lively than the place she'd once called home. There were well-fed, happy children running around everywhere. Mrs. Everdeen supposed many of them were also on their way home from school. The houses looked well-maintained instead of the rundown shacks that had previously occupied the area. Many people had beautiful gardens that contained everything from vegetables to flowers. One thing that stood out in particular was the love for trees the new residents of District 12 must have had. They seemed to grow in every yard. The whole district seemed more connected to the forest than ever before. Mrs. Everdeen had never thought about the fact that trees must grow very well here. After all, most of this was probably part of the forest before it became a district. There were small animals everywhere as well. Mrs. Everdeen spotted several rabbits and quite a few squirrels. You didn't see those types of animals in District 4. This was a District 12 she could grow to enjoy.

Mrs. Everdeen turned her attention to her grandchildren and son-in-law only to see them all three watching her as if she'd grown a third head. "What?" she asked feigning ignorance. They all smiled at her and just continued walking. Mrs. Everdeen continued to join in the happy conversation as the headed home. The old District 12 had always been a place of sorrow in her mind, but she was finally starting to realize just how much happiness the new one held.