How would one of Panem's greatest love stories play out if Kanisss never volunteered and Peeta was never reaped and Gale got tired of waiting for Katniss to return his affections and moved on? It would still be epic and dramatic. Peeta must convince Katniss that love and marriage is worth the pain that it may bring.
I do not own The Hunger Games
Thank you to my wonderful beta, kismet4891!
Love Without Reaping
Peeta carefully sits a small, red rose covered wedding cake, his latest creation, in the storefront window. It's the third cake he's done this week, which is to be expected, there is always an influx of marriages the month after the Hunger Games end. The day after the final interview of the newest victor, the Justice Building reopens and young couples from the Seam and the Merchants' sector alike line up to get their housing assignments and officially change the woman's name. To get married while you're still eligible for the reaping is illegal and having sex outside of marriage is frowned upon in District 12, despite the fact that most people have done so. That's why the slag heap is so popular for the young and in love, or more often than not in lust. There is a code of silence at the heap. No one dares breathe a word about who is seen there, because it is like confessing that they've been there themselves.
Two weeks ago to the day, Rue, a fourteen year old tribute from District 11, was announced as the victor of the 76th Hunger Games. She was nicknamed the Mockingjay, because she had spent most of the games in the tree tops with nothing but the birds for company. She had somehow managed to take out the last remaining tribute, a giant career from District 2, with nothing but a sling and a small stone. Peeta could not help but to compare it to one of the forbidden stories that his father used tell him at bedtime, David and Goliath. Most everyone in the Districts laughed when she won, thinking about all of the money that betters had lost, banking on the win of the massive, cruel eighteen year old boy. This year Peeta was able to watch the games with a little less anxiety, he was now eighteen and had survived his last reaping, as well as the girl that he worried about the most.
Peeta could only remember one other game that he had watched so closely. The 74th Hunger Games, the one where Thom Hadley, a wiley boy from the Seam had won. It made Peeta happy to finally have a victor from District 12 for the first time in twenty-four years. Peeta had been so relieved when Thom had won; his victory meant that for one year he would worry less about her and the other kids from the Seam having enough to eat. His mother had complained about the win, saying that sales would be down because of all the free food. Yet surprisingly, sales went up. People had more money to buy luxury foods like cookies and cheese buns.
Peeta is alone in the bakery this afternoon because his father is not feeling well again. It's Graham's day off, Rhyes works for his father-in-law, and his mother now more or less lives with her childless elderly aunt. She is playing the part of the doting niece, but really she is just trying be named sole heir in the will.
The bell rings loudly as someone pushes the door open. A little dark haired girl runs in, with a bag in hand, her toothless smile is wide and happy. She instantly presses her face against the glass of the display case, where the cookies set.
"Why, hello." Peeta greets the little girl warmly. He is thankful that his mother isn't here, knowing that if she was here that the Seam brat would have been sent out the door in an instant. "What can I do for you today?"
Before the little girl can answer the door opens again. "Now Posy, you can't just run into a place like that." A young man's voice gently scolds.
A young woman's quickly chimes in. "Oh, let her go Peeta doesn't mind. Do you Peeta?"
"Of course not." he replies earnestly, without looking at the speakers. When Peeta does look to the couple, he's shocked at who he sees. The man's voice belongs to Gale Hawthorne, who is with, of all people, Madge Undersee.
Madge Undersee and Gale Hawthorne, Peeta had heard the rumors, but he doesn't put much stock in rumors, especially this one. Gale and Madge are engaged to be married. The rumor mongers of District 12 had been saying that Gale had been caught by Mayor Undersee trading more than strawberries with his daughter. In the butcher's version of the rumor Madge was discovered kissing Gale in the Mayor's kitchen. The grocer's story claimed she was caught on her knees in the living room. The tailor's wife had the most lurid telling saying that they were mid-climax on the Mayor and Mrs. Undersee's bed when they were found. Peeta didn't really believe any of the tales word for word, but there had to be some truth in the milder ones, because they were standing in his family's bakery.
Madge hangs on Gale's arm as they enter the bakery. Gale is in a brand new suit and looking a little annoyed, while Madge is absolutely glowing with happiness. So if the first part of the rumor was true then the second part must be too, Peeta thinks to himself looking over Gale's new suit. The Mayor had arranged for Gale to get a good paying job within the local government so that the match was not unequal, and so he could better provide for Madge.
"Peeta we would like you to make us a cake, we're getting married." Madge tells Peeta happily in her soft voice. She pats Posy's head with her free hand.
"I get to help pick out the cake!" The sweet faced little girl volunteers proudly.
"I'm sure you'll be a big help," Peeta tells the little girl as he gets out his cake book and sketch pad.
"Yes, I have a very 'portant job." Posy says seriously. "I'm the sap-er-rone."Madge looks down and gets a little red and Gale nudges the little girl, giving her a stern look.
Knowing that the girl had meant to say 'chaperone', Peeta withholds a chuckle, sounds like it's a little late for that one, he thinks. Outwardly he ignores her comment for the benefit of the couple, shows them to the table and chairs in the back, and proceeds to show them pictures of cakes he's done in the past. There are only three chairs, so Madge offers to let Posey sit in her lap. It warms Peeta's heart to see Madge and Posy acting so sisterly, he had always thought that Madge must be the loneliest girl in the District, being the only child of hands-off parents.
Peeta lets them look through the photos while he restocks the display case, which he normally wouldn't do, but the bakery is shorthanded at the moment. His dad has been fighting some mystery illness for the last few weeks and has been resting at his son's insistence. Graham's wife was pregnant and on bed rest, he was often gone so he could take care of her and their eighteen month old. This left Peeta with the majority of the work at the peak of toasting season, he is starting to wear down and hasn't been out side of the bakery, or his home since he finished school a month ago. Peeta's life currently consisted of working, taking care of his dad and house, and nothing else.
Peeta sketched out a cake as Posy watches in wonder, "You draw good!" the tiny child states.
"Why thank you, Posy." Peeta humbly tells her. He can tell that the little girl is smitten with him, most little girls became taken with him. Secretly he wishes that another Seam girl would feel that way about him too.
Madge places the biggest order that the bakery has ever had, a cake big enough for one hundred people. Four tiers of chocolate cake with strawberry filling, decorated with white icing and yellow flowers. Gale offers to bring the strawberries, knowing how pricey they would be to order from the Capitol. Posy is insisting on pink icing, but Gale emphatically says no and Madge agrees. Posy obviously feels a little dejected, so Peeta offers her a cookie. Her little face lights up.
"We don't take charity." Gale says a little too loudly and curtly. Peeta is about to explain that it is alright but Posy speaks before he can.
"But Gale," she argues. "I brought something to trade. I want to be like Katniss and Prim and trade with the baker!" Peeta's heart skips a beat at the mere mention of her name.
"What did you bring?" Gale asks disbelievingly.
"I brought mint leaves from my herb garden," she holds her bag up for all to see.
Before Gale could deny her again Peeta quickly speaks up. "Oh, that would be great," he says cheerfully. "My dad isn't feeling well. I can make him mint tea to help him feel better." He holds out his hand for Posy to give him the bag. He opens the bag and inspects the contents, "I think that this is worth about one sugar cookie, with pink butter cream icing."
"Really!?" Posy gasps and smiles wide, when Peeta reaches into the display case and pulls out a cookie with a heart design on it. "Oh, thank you Mr. Mellark, its soo pretty!"
"You're welcome!" Peeta laughs at her enthusiasm. "You can call me Peeta."
"You didn't have to do that." Gale says quietly when Posy runs over Madge to show her the cookie.
"I know, I wanted to, besides I needed to get Dad some mint leaves anyways. It's the only thing that seems to help his stomach." Peeta simply replies.
"Is your Dad sick?" Gales asks sincerely, his demeanor suddenly softer. He is on friendly terms with the baker and has much for respect for him.
"Yeah," Peeta tells him quietly. "That's why he hasn't been here much lately. The apothecary doesn't seem to know what's wrong with him."
"Has he seen Mrs. Everdeen?" Gale asks. "Sometimes she can catch things that the apothecary misses."
Peeta weighs the idea for a moment, it wouldn't hurt to have a second opinion, the only reason that she was never considered before was because even the mention of Lily Everdeen would send his mother into a tirade. But, she was hardly ever around anymore so if an appointment with Mrs. Everdeen was kept quiet then no harm would be done. "I suppose I could ask her, but it would have to be kept quiet. My mom would be upset if it was known that my dad was seen by a healer and not the apothecary." That was a little white lie; his mom would be more upset about his dad even speaking to Mrs. Everdeen. "But, my mom is staying with her aunt now so it would be possible to have Mrs. Everdeen come see my dad without much drama."
Gale gives him a knowing smile, Mrs. Mellark's unreasonable temper was one of the worst kept secrets in the district. "Hey, I'm going past her house later, I'll ask her about it."
"Oh, okay, thanks," Peeta says a little surprised by the offer.
"Well it's the least I can do for you talking Posy out of the hot pink daisy cake and giving her the cookie. It was worth a lot more than a few mint leaves." Gales waves him off.
"Oh, don't worry," Peeta says half-seriously. "I'll just charge your future father-in-law a few more coins to make up for."
"He wouldn't notice or care," Gale smiles back. "Well, thanks Peeta."
Gale turns to the girls who are chatting and giggling looking at the pies. Madge turns to the counter, "Hey, Peeta if you're not doing anything next Friday night you're more than welcome to stay for the toasting when you deliver the cake."
"Yeah, you're more than welcome. There will be a ton of girls there." Gale adds, and Madge gives him a half-hearted smack on the shoulder. Peeta catches the flirtatious glace that is exchanged between the two before Gale asks him. "You don't have a girl, do you?"
"No, not at the moment," Peeta coolly admits, thinking of the short lived relationship with Ramona, he had broken it off the instant she had started to talk about marriage. Ramona had been yet another failed attempt to convince himself that there were more girls in the world than the one he wanted more than anything.
"You can dance with me. Madge gave a pretty dress and ribbons!" Posy offers brightly.
"Maybe I will. I'll have to see how my day goes." Peeta tells them and found it even easier than usual to smile, if anything he had to tone down his grin. The Undersee-Hawthorne cake was a boon in more ways than one. The huge order alone would be almost equal to a month's worth of profits. But, to Peeta the best thing about the cake is that it meant that Gale Hawthorne was no longer standing between him and his heart's greatest desire, Katniss Everdeen.
Peeta continues his day baking and icing cakes until seven o'clock, he had been there since three in the morning. The Mellarks no longer keep pigs, so Peeta takes the two-day old bread and lays it neatly on the trash can lid on an old news paper. He knows that the bread and news paper will be gone within minutes of his departure. In the past Peeta has caught glimpses of little grey eyes in the past, just waiting for him to leave, he always pretends not to notice them. Lastly he bags up some baked goods, only one day old, for him and his dad and locks up.
The walk home is short, just a block from the bakery. He walks through the door of his house and hears his dad talking to someone. Talking and laughing? Upon entering the kitchen he sees his dad sitting across from Mrs. Everdeen. Peeta quickly evaluates the house and he notices it's much messier than usual. Cleaning house has been the last thing on his to do list. Dirty dishes fill the sink, papers and books are stacked on the kitchen table, and a layer of dust covers everything.
"Hi." Peeta pleasantly calls to them.
"Hi there son." his dad replies happily. "Oh, where are my manners? Lily this is my youngest son Peeta. Peeta, this is Mrs. Everdeen."
Peeta shakes her hand and gives her a friendly smile, "Lovely to finally make your acquaintance, Mrs. Everdeen."
"Why thank you, Peeta," she smiles back. Peeta couldn't help but to notice how similar her features were to Katniss's, the slope of the nose and her full lips were nearly identical. Although their coloring was totally different, Mrs. Everdeen was pale, blonde, and had eyes the color of corn flowers. While Katniss had hair the color of coffee, olive skin, and her grey eyes always reminded Peeta of the color of the sky right before a storm.
"I was just telling Lily…uh, Mrs. Everdeen about how shorthanded we are and how we could use some more help around here and the bakery." His dad tells him with a stealthy wink. This was their secret code to play along with whatever the other one said. This was a well practiced skill in this house as a result of having had to walk on eggshells with his mom all of the time. "And she said that her oldest daughter, Katniss, was looking for at least a part time job."
"Is that so?" Peeta says trying to sound only mildly interested, but inside he was ecstatic. Katniss Everdeen in my house and working beside me in the bakery that's only what I've been dreaming of since I was five years old!
"Yes, I would hate to see her have to work in the mines." Mrs. Everdeen admits in a low tone.
Me too, Peeta thinks to himself. "So when could she start?" Peeta asks causally.
"Any time, I think." Mrs. Everdeen says. "She has no legal employment at the moment. But, I think you know that, being the biggest consumers of squirrels in the Merchant's sector."
All three of them share a knowing look, Katniss has a job but hunting was far from being legal.
"Why don't you have here stop by the bakery so we can talk to her about it." Mr. Mellark suggests to her.
"I'll do that," Mrs. Everdeen looks at the clock. "It's that time already…I've been here almost two hours! Well, Hank, don't forget what I told you. No coffee or spicy foods and try to relax. I'll send some medicine with Katniss tomorrow that should help with the ulcers. "
"Thank you, Lily," says warmly. "It was so nice to catch up with you."
"You too," she replies as she rises to leave.
"How much do I owe you Mrs. Everdeen?" Peeta reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet.
"Oh, nothing, it was a favor for an old friend," she insists.
"Well at least take some bread home with you, I brought more home than we can eat before it gets stale." Peeta offers her, and scans the two bags he brought home. "Here are some cheese buns."
"Alright," she concedes and takes the bag. Mrs. Everdeen seems to examine Peeta for a moment, and a bittersweet expression graces her face. "I'll have Katniss meet you at the bakery in the morning. Bye, Hank…Peeta"
Mrs. Everdeen leaves the two Mellarks with smiles on their faces. The elder, happily contented with time and memories he had just shared with his childhood sweetheart. The younger is happily optimistic about what tomorrow might bring.
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed the start. Please review.