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Alone in a Crowded Room

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Peeta knew good and well that particular cake stand was loose. It also happened to be the only one large enough to support the base of the four tier wedding cake he was decorating for the banker's oldest daughter. He should have been more careful. Should have paid attention to how far he was turning the stand. If he had, the entire turntable wouldn't have come off; wouldn't have slid off the heavy base and sent the entire cake toppling to the floor.

 

“Oh fuck,” Rye muttered, shrinking back from the mess at his feet, looking up at his younger brother's wide eyes. They both knew this was a disaster under any circumstances, but the custard filling for that cake used the last of the expensive powdered cocoa from the Capitol and there was no way to replace it in time for the wedding tomorrow. The bell at the front door rang, signaling the exit of the customer the boys had heard their mother waiting on. Peeta looked to Rye for help, but the older boy just shook his head, his eyes going as wide as Peeta's as their mother's footsteps approached.

 

“What the hell is going on back he-” Lilith Mellark cut herself off, stopping short at the sight of the smashed cake on the floor, the bowl of freshly mixed frosting that had tipped and landed face down on top of it. Just to underline what a colossal job Peeta had done fucking up this order.

 

“Mom,” he started, backing up around the corner of the worktable, holding up his hands. She took a step forward, her eyes still locked on the mess, her shoulders beginning to tremble with rage. “Mom, please. I'm-”

 

“You're what,” she snapped, her voice tight and low, the words squeezed through clenched teeth. “Are you sorry? Is that the bullshit that was about to come out of your mouth, boy?” Peeta stammered, glancing at his brother again and finding nothing. He wished his father were home, even though he'd still be in trouble he wouldn't have to fear for his safety. Lilith advanced on him, snatching the rolling pin off the counter.

 

“Please,” he breathed, shaking his head, sinking back against the ovens, ignoring the feel of the hot brick against his back. The last time she'd used that rolling pin she'd left him with deep black bruises up and down his torso and a fractured rib that took a month to heal.

 

“Do you know how much that just cost us?” Lilith's voice was rising too high, too shrill. She leaned down into his face, her lip curling as if being that close to him was too vile to bear. “What a fuck-up like this does to our reputation? Do you?” She slapped the side of his head. “What am I going to say to Michael Fisk when he shows up here tomorrow morning looking for that fucking cake? Do you think we can afford refunding that kind of order? What about the fucking cancellations we're going to get when word gets out that my god damn cake decorator is an incompetent waste of space?” Lilith brought the pin down against his side. Peeta curled in on himself protectively, taking the brunt against his ribcage.

 

“Mom! Please!” Peeta curled his arms over his head, ducking down. The next blows fell against his forearm, his fingers, his skull. He fell to the floor. The last things he registered were his mother's sharp little shoe colliding with his stomach and Rye's panicked shouts from the other side of the room.

 

“Please, Peeta,” his father's voice broke through the fog. He registered the warmth of his father's arms around him, his big, warm hand cradling the back of his head. “Please. Open your eyes. Look at me, Peet.” Peeta's eyes fluttered open, catching sight of his father, the fear in his face, the vivid red stain down the front of his shirt. An odd color, much deeper than he'd ever been able to achieve with the mixes of powdered dye and berries he blended in the buttercream. He did have a long way to go before he'd catch up with his father, though. Peeta shuddered, cold sweeping over him, unable to keep his eyes open any longer.

 

“I told you he was fine,” Lilith snapped, her voice distant and echoing.

 

“God dammit woman I thought I told you to get the fuck out,” his father's voice rumbled through him, and Peeta slipped away again.