Word Count: 3657
Pairing: Everlark, (mentioned) Gadge, (mentioned) PrimxRory
Trigger Warning: abuse
Notes: Modern Day AU. All characters are like six years older than they were in the book.
As a rule, the Mellarks didn't talk much at dinner, preferring instead to focus on the food. So everyone flinched when Peeta spoke after swallowing a bite of mashed potatoes.
"I was thinking about opening my own bakery," Peeta said.
Peeta's oldest brother, Briton, dropped his fork. "Uh," he stammered. "Really?"
His father frowned. "But it would be difficult to go into competition with us, Peeta," he said. Not to mention Peeta's expertise with the decorating would be sorely missed.
Sebastian, Peeta's other brother, nervously watched their mother as Peeta answered.
"I was actually thinking I would move," he explained quietly. "To Zwölf. They don't have a bakery there, and I thought maybe I should stand on my own feet for a while." He tensed and stared at his plate. He wanted to look at his mother, but he had no idea how she was going to react. Somehow it seemed better if she didn't have the ability to stare him down.
She didn't say anything for a long time. Instead, she kept cutting her meat. When she finished, she started eating, completely ignoring everyone.
Slowly the rest of the family began eating again, last of all Peeta. He knew he wasn't in the clear yet. More likely, she was trying to make him nervous by making him wait.
When everyone was finished, she spoke. "Seb, Briton? Please clear the table. Abraham, I think there's a pie that needs baking downstairs."
Peeta clenched his fist under the table. He knew his jaw was ticking the way it did when he was angry or scared. Mother hated it. He did his best to keep from chewing his lip and drawing more attention to it.
His mother left him sitting in the room and followed Seb and Briton into the kitchen. She returned without her apron and sighed, sitting down in the chair next to Peeta's.
He foot started bouncing. Don't run, he told himself. You'll make it worse.
"I can't say I'm surprised," his mother sighed, sounding resigned.
For a brief moment, Peeta imagined that she might actually let him go without a fight or an ultimatum.
She examined her nails. "You never were very dedicated to this family."
Peeta's shoulders tensed. That wasn't true and she knew it.
"It was only a matter of time before you left." Without warning, She slung her hand out, catching the side of Peeta's face with her palm.
His cheek stung. That would bruise.
She brought her hand back to his face, and he tried not to flinch. This time she was gentle, dragging her nails softly across his cheek. "You are tearing this family apart," she told him quietly, and dug her fingernails into his cheek. "I want you to pack your things and leave tonight."
He only bled a little.
"Hello?" came the tinny voice on the other end of the phone.
"Gale Hawthorn?" Peeta asked. "It's Peeta Mellark. Any chance I could buy that building off of you sooner? Like tomorrow?"
"Sure, no problem. Do you want me to meet you there?"
"That'd be great. I appreciate it."
"Okay. I'll see you tomorrow. Ten o'clock?"
"Absolutely. Thanks again."
Peeta hung up the phone and dropped it in his bag.
Briton was sprawled on his bed. "Can we come visit?" he asked quietly.
"If Mom doesn't catch you."
Seb walked into the room and wrapped an arm around Peeta's shoulder. "We'll come by, then." He hesitated before adding, "Are you sure this is what you want?"
"Positive," Peeta answered. "I've been thinking about it for a while."
Briton nodded and sat up. "I envy you," he admitted. "You're the first one with the guts to leave."
Peeta sighed. "Is it bravery, though?" He didn't think so. He was just running again.
Briton observed him quietly before holding out a hand. "It is, baby brother. You're keeping yourself safe. That's good."
Peeta shrugged and shouldered his bag. "Good, maybe. Brave? Nah."
Seb grabbed Briton's still extended hand and pulled him to his feet. He wrapped his arms around both of them and sighed. "We love you, Peeta."
Peeta nodded and did his best not to cry.
"So what are you going to do with the place?" Gale asked, handing Peeta the keys.
"I'm going to open a bakery," he said. He slid he key into the the lock and twisted.
"What's your specialty?"
Peeta paused, considering it. "I know a bit of everything," he said. "I was basically raised in a bakery. But decorating cakes is my specialty."
"Sounds great. If you're looking to hire, I know a girl who could work here. She's really friendly, so she'd be great to work the cash register."
Peeta nodded. "That'd be great. Send her over some time."
"Sure. Have a nice day," Gale said, smiling pleasantly as he walked away. He hadn't commented on the bruising on Peeta's face, so at that moment, Peeta decided to like Gale.
He opened the door. "Well," he said, huffing. "We have work to do."
Peeta spent the first day knocking down the wall that divided the dining area from the main entryway. He left the walls around the kitchen and bathroom up. It couldn't hurt to have a bathroom available.
The next day was spent wallpapering. He hired someone to do the flooring because he frankly didn't trust himself with that. While they were doing that, he drove out to the nearest city and bought an industrial sized oven.
That cut his savings in half, but he still had enough to buy a display case and some wood to build a counter.
Now all he wanted was a table, maybe three. And some chairs. So he went to the only thrift store in town, parked his truck, which was still full of wood and an oven, and went inside.
A blonde girl in a white dress was behind the counter. "Good afternoon," she said, glancing up from her book for only a moment.
"Do you guys have furniture?"
"In the back of the store," she answered, and then turned a page.
He grinned wryly at her focus. "Thanks."
He called Gale after picking out some tables and coming to the conclusion that he would not be able to fit them in his truck, and besides that, he needed help to move the oven.
Gale laughed when he heard the problem, but agreed to come by with is brother. "We'll be there in a few minutes."
The girl set her book down and rang up the items. "$125, please," she said.
"You guys take debit cards?" Peeta asked.
She nodded and he handed her the card. She swiped it and handed it back. "If you'll just sign here...Do you need any help moving these outside?"
"No, it's fine. I called a friend."
"Okay," she said, smiling for the first time since he'd walked in the store. "I'm Madge, by the way."
"Peeta," he said, returning the receipt and tucking his copy into his pocket.
Apparently, Gale was dating Madge, and the girl he'd recommended Peeta hire was his best friend's little sister, and his little brother Rory's girlfriend.
Gale, Rory and Peeta carefully carried the oven into the store while Prim, Rory's girlfriend, shouted instructions.
Once it was in place, Prim sat down at one of the new tables across from Peeta. "I hear you need a cashier," she said, smiling.
Peeta glanced at Gale, who gave him the thumb's up. "Not any more," Peeta said, smiling. "I'm opening next Saturday. When can you start?"
The final thing he had to do to prepare the store was get groceries. And then bake. And bake. And bake.
He hired a girl named Delly, who was recently married and in a bit of a financial rut. She would work when Prim wasn't, which worked out to be six to three, with a lunch break at noon. She thanked him profusely after he gave her the job, and he figured it was worth it.
He couldn't afford to hire anyone else, though, so he'd be working when neither of the other two
Gale came over all the time during his lunch breaks to hang out with Peeta while he baked. Peeta was suspicious about it at first, but when he figured out that Gale was just interested in taste-testing, he didn't mind so much.
"I'm pretty much broke right now," Peeta told him the Thursday before the grand opening. "Do you think people will come?"
"Dude," Gale said, biting into the cupcake Peeta had just handed him. "I've been eating your food all week and telling everyone in the office about it. They'll be here."
"Yeah?" Peeta asked.
"Totally," Gale agreed.
Peeta texted Briton and Seb on Friday. "I open tomorrow."
Predictably, Gale is his first customer. "Peeta, get out here," he hollers, even though Prim is perfectly capable of handling the counter herself.
Still, Peeta comes out, smiling at the guy he's come to consider a friend. "Hey."
"I need some bread for spaghetti," Gale confided, leaning forward on the counter and wiggling his eyebrows. "I got a date with my wo-man."
Prim giggles at the face Gale is making.
"Try the basil wreath," Peeta suggested.
Gale nodded. "Also cupcakes. The pink ones, please. Valentine's Day is fast approaching."
"You know what to do, Prim," Peeta said, grinning and returning to the kitchen.
Business went well that first day. They made twice as much as Peeta expected, apparently because Gale had really been chatting him up, and because Zwölf really missed having a bakery.
He baked up a storm and grinned when he realized that, with a few more days like that, he might break even.
He met Gale's best friend Sunday afternoon. Peeta is working the register, having spent all night baking so Prim and Delly wouldn't have to come in. But business was still booming, so he moved around quite a bit.
During a lull, Gale slips behind the counter. "Peeta," he said, smiling. "This is Katniss."
Katniss had elected to stay on the customer's side of the display case. She offered him a tight smile. "I wanted to try the cupcakes Gale has been raving about," she said. "And thank you for hiring Prim."
"It's no problem," Peeta said, smiling warmly. Katniss looked nothing like Prim, but he guessed that she was Prim's older sister. "Prim's been great. How many cupcakes?"
"Three," Katniss said, smiling. "White, please."
He rang them up for her. "Anything else?" he asked while boxing the cakes.
"Do you have a recommendation?" Gale asked. "Katniss is a forest ranger and needs stuff with carbs."
"Cheese buns?" Peeta suggested. "I can give you a sample, if you'd like."
"Uh, sure," Katniss said. "No sample necessary. I trust Gale."
Peeta smiles. "Okay." He grabs a six-dozen bag of cheese buns and hands them to her. "Eight dollars," he says.
She raises an eyebrow, but pulls out a ten dollar bill. Her radio beeps, and she grimaces. "Everdeen," she barks into it.
"Just found an injured bear. We need you to report," came the buzz from the radio.
"On my way," Katniss said. She took the bag and nodded to the box. "Will you take that home for me?" she asked Gale.
"No problem," Gale replied.
She left the shop, and Peeta thought he was a little bit in love with her.
It might have shown, because Gale reached across the counter to clasp his shoulder. "No worries," he said conspiratorially. "The way to her heart is through her stomach. You've basically won already."
"Peeta, someone is asking for you," Prim called.
"Is it Gale?" he yelled back.
"No," she replied. "Some blond guy who finds your choice of wallpaper appalling."
Peeta frowned, set down the dough he was punching, and walked out of the kitchen. "I like the wallpaper," he said.
Briton grinned at him from the other side of the display case. "I do, too," he admitted. "I just said what Mom would have."
Peeta grinned and walked around the display to wrap his arms around his brother. "And Mom would have hated the tables, too."
"A bakery's not for sitting and eating," they said together, and smirked.
Turning to Prim, he said, "Prim, this is my brother, Briton. Briton, this is Prim, one of my best employees."
"You only have two," she said tartly.
"And you're both wonderful," he said, shrugging. To Briton, he said, "Come see the kitchen."
"Did you get a cool oven?" Briton asked, and it was a testament to how different their childhood was that he actually sounded excited about it.
"Yeah, man, come check it out."
On Wednesday, Katniss reappears, looking a little sheepish. "Hi," she said, twisting her fingers in front of her.
Delly was working the register, but Peeta was restocking the cupcakes in the display case. They were probably the biggest hits in town, and he'd started doing more elaborate designs. Sales continued to expand as word spread about his shop.
"Hey," he said, standing. "How are you?"
"I'm good," she said, a little shyly. "You?"
"Great," he said honestly. He was out of his mom's house, had his own (booming) business, and the girl he liked was standing in front of him, asking him how he was. "What can we get you?"
"Twice as many cheese buns as last time," she said. "They're incredible."
He beamed. She might have been complimenting his cooking, but she was still complimenting him. He'd take it. "I'm glad you like them," he said. "I actually have a fresh batch. Let me go grab them."
Delly rang Katniss up while he bagged a baker's dozen of the buns.
"Thank you," she said, taking the bag from him with a tiny smile. "I'm sure I'll be back."
"Cool," he said. "See you then."
She nodded. "Bye!"
After she was gone he went back to the kitchen to start another batch of frosting for the cooling cupcakes.
Delly leaned in the doorframe after him. "Peeta, oh my gosh. You gave her fresh buns." She paused to titter. "You gave her your buns."
"I'm going to pretend you didn't say that."
"I bet you gave her a baker's dozen. No one does that any more."
"You never talk to any of the other customers."
"Okay, fine. You don't smile and subtly flirt with the other customers."
"Look, I think you have a chance," she said. "The way to her heart is—"
"Through her stomach," he broke in. "Gale told me."
Delly's eyes widened. "Gale told you? He basically gave you permission to date her. Holy crap, Peeta. This is a big deal! Gale is super protective of Katniss."
Peeta raised an eyebrow. "Does she need his permission to date people?"
"No," she said rolling her eyes. "But would you date someone your best friend hated?"
"Not for long," he admitted.
"Keep making her cheese buns," Delly said, smirking. "She'll probably marry you in a month."
Seb came in the next Sunday and wordlessly tied on an apron to stand behind the counter with Peeta.
Sundays were becoming his busiest days, so Peeta appreciated the help. Pretty soon he'd need to hire a third cashier just to manage them.
During a lull, Seb walked into the kitchen and nodded approvingly at the oven. "Nice," he said. "The whole place is."
"Does Mom know?" Peeta asked.
"What, that you're successful?"
Peeta nodded and shrugged.
"No," he sighed. "Briton made sure she couldn't hear when he told me and Dad about it. Dad won't be able to come…you know how busy he gets."
"I do," Peeta agreed. "I haven't had a day off, either."
"Yeah?" Seb said. "That's too bad. Pick up a girlfriend yet?"
Peeta rolled his eyes. "You know as well as I do that Mellark men have terrible luck when it comes to women."
Seb laughed. "That's true." He side-eyed Peeta mischievously. "Maybe that's not true for Briton, though. He met some girl named Cashmere. I think he's smitten."
"Really?" Peeta asked, grinning. "He would."
The bell above the door rung, and Peeta hurried out of the kitchen to assist the customer.
And of course it was Katniss, hair tucked into a simple braid. Before she'd had it tied up, presumably to keep it out of the way while she wandered in the forest. He hadn't realized just how long her hair was, and for a moment, he was mesmerized. "Hey," he said, tearing his eyes away from the braid. "What can I get you?"
She smiled and played with the end of her braid. "Cheese buns?"
Seb leaned out of the kitchen. "Hullo," he said, raising his eyebrows.
Peeta shot him a look. Don't. "Baker's dozen of cheese buns," he snapped. He smiled at Katniss. "Off work today?"
"Yeah. And not on call, which is a rare treat," she replied.
Seb brought the bag of buns out, and set them on the counter. "I'm Sebastian," he said, offering a hand.
Katniss shook it. "Katniss," she said, glancing at him momentarily before returning her attention to Peeta. "How much?"
Seb raised a single eyebrow and kicked Peeta.
Peeta studiously ignored him. "Six," he answered. "That must be nice. I haven't taken a single day off."
"You should close your shop on Mondays," Katniss suggested. "Take a day off."
"Nah," he said. "When I have enough money, I'll hire another baker and get time off."
"That will be nice," Katniss said, offering a full smile.
He couldn't breathe for about two seconds. "Yeah," he agreed. "It will be."
After she left, promising to be by again soon, Seb grabbed his shoulders and shook him. "I thought Briton had it bad. Dude. Dude. Please tell me you're not going to let her get away."
"What? Man…I…hope not."
Seb grinned. "I'm so telling Briton. It's only fair. I told you about Cashmere, yada yada." He glanced at his watch. "Mom's expecting me soon. But dude. She barely even looked at me, and I'm clearly the good-looking one here. Hey, can you hire me?"
Peeta blinked. "Uh."
"Because maybe I'd have more luck with girls here," Seb mused.
Peeta shrugged. "I'll let you know when I can afford it. You let me know when you're actually ready to escape."
Seb sighed. "Yeah…Mom doesn't even know we came out here. She thinks we went to the Capitol."
"Oh," Peeta said, nodding. "Well, thanks for coming. It means a lot."
Seb shrugged. "You're family. And this place rocks. Also, that girl? She's clearly incredible. Don't screw it up."
"No way," he agreed.
When Prim came in for work the following Monday, she asked Peeta why he hadn't asked Katniss out yet.
"She barely knows me," he said, not turning around from where he was elbow deep in bread dough.
"She's in love, Peeta," Prim said, frowning. "She is hoarding the cheese buns and keeps zoning out, claiming that she's thinking about work. But I know my sister, and that's not what's happening."
"If I give you a cupcake will you leave me alone?" Peeta asked.
"Hmph. Maybe you should give Katniss a cupcake. And ask her out already!"
After two months, Peeta was finally putting money back into his savings account and was considering hiring someone else. Keeping his brothers in mind, he sent them a quick message. "Just if you're interested," he typed. "Don't feel like you have to."
Katniss settled into the pattern of reappearing every three days or so to buy more cheese buns, and she stayed longer each time, to the point that Peeta started inviting her into the kitchen so they could talk while he worked.
She found the place mesmerizing. "Peeta, you have so many cool things. Like this," she said, pointing at a dough hook. "It's cool."
He laughed when she said things like that, because it was obvious she'd never spent much time in a bakery before. He started showing her how to do simple tasks on days she didn't have work.
Gale came pretty frequently, too, stopping by for breakfast about three times a week. "Have you asked her out yet?" he asked without fail. "You should."
Peeta hated everyone.
(No, he didn't.)
Thanks, bro, but I think I should stay here for now. Cashmere and I are getting kind of serious and I don't want to be so far from her.
Not ready yet.
After the third month of Katniss buying cheese buns, he shook his head. "I don't think I can sell you these any more," he said.
She looked horrified. "Peeta, what did I do?"
He sighed. "You didn't do anything. It's just that I'm in love with you."
She gaped at him.
He winced and rubbed the back of his neck. "Too soon?"
She shut her mouth with a click, and shook her head. "Oh," she said. "So now I get free cheese buns?"
Ouch. "Uh, yeah."
Katniss' face became resolved. "Good," she said, and kissed him softly. Her lips tasted like the buttercream frosting on the red velvet cupcake she'd just eaten. She pulled back slightly and nodded. "Good," she whispered.
He stared at her. "Um."
She stared back. "Don't make me say it," she pleaded. "I'm bad with words."
"Say what?" he asked nervously. He wasn't sure why she'd kissed him—for the cheese buns? Did she actually like him? Or was it a thank you?
She groaned. "I love the cheese buns a lot. But they're not why I've been coming here twice a week for the last three months, you idiot."
He waited, holding his breath.
"You are," she clarified.
"Oh," she agreed.
That kiss lasted a lot longer.
I think I'm ready.
When can you start?
Disclaimer: I don't own The Hunger Games.
A/N: I got off schedule! To be fair I did literally nothing but school work yesterday. I translated an essay from French to English for no less than ten hours. Hopefully I'll be able to post two one-shots tomorrow.
And I'm sure this seems out of character but I was kind of in the mood to write a bromance, which is why this seems to focus more on Peeta's relationships with Gale and his brothers. I just really love friendship.