Chapter 6

"and if you're still breathing you're the lucky one.

Cause most of us are heaving through corrupted lumps."

Sophomore year: 19-20

The new school year was starting good for Peeta, his introduction from bench player to superstar doing a great deal in aiding his confidence. All the praise he got from the radio stations as well as a few parting words on ESPN aren't hurting the boy either. He tries his best to stay humble, not get a big head like some of the players on the team.

It's working well for him. Things are going well for him.

It had been tough leaving Panem after such a stay at the end of summer. Hard leaving Katniss much earlier than he had wished he would have had too but it had to be done. His brothers had come home some time in mid July, graduated with a diploma in hand, ready to handle the bakery, at least until their father could manage some time away from their mother.

Mrs. Mellark was not well, not well enough to walk without a great deal of pain and she barely even had the energy to speak anymore. This meant dinners were much more quiet and as soon as she was finished with eating whatever watered down, medicine enriched, concoction Mr. Mellark had prepared, she went right back to up to bed. She spent a lot of her time knitting and sowing and reading and catching up on all her hours of reality television. She was refusing a second round of chemo in hopes that when she died, she may have some real hair left on her head.

In the three months Peeta had spent at home for summer, he had tried his hardest to connect with his mother, feel something for her. She didn't have too much longer left, they all knew it. She hadn't met her death bed but she was coming close and they recommended they boys get everything in order.

The day the people had come to manage the will had been a hard one on everybody, mostly because the reality of the situation was beginning to dawn on all of them. Peeta didn't feel sad, just worried. He was worried for his father. His father who was losing someone he had loved and cared for all these years.

When his mother passes, he hopes it's peacefully, nothing dramatic that would scar them for life. He hopes she falls into a deep sleep, comfortable and, maybe, with a smile on her face.

...

Talk about the NFL for Peeta has been growing greater with every passing minute, every time the boy touches the ball in training camp in front of cameras. He feels like it's high school all over again except this time, there are a million other fish in the sea just as big and just as ready as he is.

He tries not to listen to what they say, mostly because the last thing Peeta needs is to get a big head, over think what he is already achieving. He's young. He doesn't need the NFL now. It will be there in another three years, once he has finished his education.

Brett and Gloss envy the boy. Peeta can tell just in the way they talk to him, the way they ride him about the few passes he doesn't complete or when the play he calls isn't a good one. But the two boys are seniors and their NFL careers don't look to bright. Gloss could get picked up, maybe.

It looked like the two of them would spend the rest of their lives in their own small towns, watching Peeta and Finnick and Thresh on the big screens and reminiscing about their own glory days. Looking at the boys, Peeta prays he doesn't end up like them. Even if football isn't in the cards for him after his last year here, the last thing he wants to do is be bitter about it.

Peeta tries not to let their comments get to him, mostly because he knows they don't mean them. They are upset. They want to be shown off. They want to be in front of the cameras where Peeta is but maybe, they were always supposed to be behind them.

But when ESPN asks if they can question him after a training session one day, he makes sure to thank the boys in his closing statements.

...

"Are you going to fucking help or are you just going to sit there," Thresh booms, looking over his shoulder to Finnick who is, of course, taking no part in helping the boys move their belongings from the dorm room to the moving truck waiting for them downstairs.

They were moving from the dorms today and to an apartment less than a mile down the road, closer to the stadium and campus. One that would actually have three separate rooms, a kitchen, and two bathrooms. It was a little pricey but the boys agreed a few added zeros on their bill was worth the privacy they had been deprived off for almost a year.

"I'm trying to catch up on my news. I will help when the program is over," Finnick answers, sipping on the beer he had smuggled from some neighbors, his eyes trained on the tiny black box reporting something on the issues in the Middle East.

If there was anything that Peeta knew about his friend it was that, in a time when manual labor was required, there would be no help. It was always guaranteed so Peeta no longer argued with him about his lazy behavior and simply looked him over. Thresh was not so patient and took three long strides over to the TV, unhooking the cable with one hand, the receiver with the other.

"We have a couch to move, Finnick," he huffs, forcing the boy up by the collar of his t-shirt and hoisting him to attention, forcing him to lug the sagging half of the couch down the three flights of stairs.

By the time they reach the bottom, all the boys are heaving as if they've run a marathon which, in Peetas opinion, they might as well have.

"Well, that's the last of it," Finnick comments, hands on his knees as he tries to steady his breathing. The truck is full, everything but their beds already packed into it and ready to go. Tomorrow, they would be living elsewhere and Peeta couldn't be happier about it.

"Aren't you guys going to miss this place?" Thresh asks, looking up at the building.

Truthfully, no. Peeta had not had a single experience in this place that would be worth remembering but for his friends sake, he agrees, nodding his head as he climbs into the drivers seat of the truck, starting the engine and calling for his nostalgic friends.

"We're off to a new adventure."

...

In a month, it seems everything has changed for Peeta. Even the things he had wished would never change.

When he left Panem to come back for training, he had thought things with Katniss had gotten better. Sure, at moments things were silent and sometimes the jokes fell short but in the summer they'd spent together, he had never felt more in love with the girl.

But once he'd boarded the plane to come back, he could already feel the air pressure between them closing in and it scared him. The further and further the plane sailed, the more and more he could feel the line connecting the two straining, just a few strands holding the once perfect line together.

Peeta was at a loss for what to do. It was rare to hear from her twice within the same day and most weekends he didn't hear from her at all. Other than a text here and there, they could sometimes go days without actually hearing the sound of one another voice. They were becoming used to the time apart and Peeta didn't want that.

His friends were little help in terms of advice, telling him it was normal to have these feelings after being away for a little bit of time. "You just got used to seeing each other every day and now that you're apart again, things are a little weird," Thresh tells him. "Don't worry. You'll get it back."

They always got it back but sometimes getting it back took a little more time and heartbreak than Peeta really wanted. He didn't want to lose her.

...

"You know what you should invest in," Finnick announces one day at breakfast, circling the table like an excited dog about to wet his pants.

"What?" Peeta wonders.

"A vibrator," he says excitedly.

Peeta stares up at his friend dumbfounded, his mouth hanging open as Finnick nods his head up and down rapidly, clapping his hands together like some type of animal. "Finnick. I'm going to pretend like you did not just-"

"Give me a second! Buy Katniss one. Make it a surprise. Send it to her dorm room and, BOOM! You're in there. All awkwardness out of the window," he explains. "Then, maybe, you two can have something to spice up your sex life."

"My sex life doesn't need any spicing up, Finn. Jesus," Peeta growls, throwing his bowl in the sink and shaking his head from side to side. He can't keep the blush off of his face at the thought of Katniss with a vibrator, cursing himself for feeling anything at the moment.

"Come on. Almost all women have them," he says. "I bet your mom has one!"

Well, there goes his arousal.

"Okay, that may have been too far but the point is," Finnick continues. "You have to be open to a lot of ideas when you're so far apart. You know, as lonely as you get I bet she's feeling the same way. The only difference being it's a lot harder for her to itch that scratch versus it being the other way around!"

Peeta puts his head in his hands, massaging his temples as he tries to imagine himself in any other room, in another world. The worst part is, it's not a bad suggestion.

...

With the help of Finnick, he does, in fact, purchase one, sending it to her dorm.

He paid the extra ten dollars for rush shipping.

...

"Peeta Mellark, what have you done," are the first words out of her mouth when Katniss calls him two days later, the first time he's heard from her other than a text about a class or what she ate for dinner. He closes his eyes, knowing instantly what she is talking about and from the tone in her voice, he knows she is not pleased about it. Not the way Finnick assured him she would be.

That was his first mistake. Trusting that Finnick was making a good judgement call.

"What-"

"Do not play dumb!"

He takes a deep breath. He should just start apologizing. That would be the logical things to do and get all of his other thoughts in order before he begins to speak.

The words are on the tip of his tongue when Katniss begins a rant of her own, not stopping for a moment to breathe, her words spewing without any pause. "Why would you buy me one of these things without at least consulting with me first, Peeta? Do you know how embarrassing it was to open this in the middle of my dorm room in front of my roommate thinking my sweet boyfriend probably bought me something nice like the shoes I wanted? Did you-"

"Finnick talked me into it!" He screams when he finally has a moment, hoping that will be explanation enough. Finnick - who Peeta had believed to be at the gym - pops his head into Peetas room, his eyebrows shooting up to his hairline as he sends suggestive winks his way.

Get out, Peeta mouths, watching as he laughs his way back into the front room where, he is sure, the boy will continue listening to the conversation. But it isn't like Peeta has much to say.

"So is that supposed to make this entire situation better? Why were you listening to Finnick in the first place?" She seethes.

"I don't know. I really, really don't fucking know," Peeta mumbles, running a hand over his face. How simple it had been to punch in a little card number only to get himself into a deep pile of dog shit. "I'm sorry Katniss. I thought it could be nice."

"Nice for you or nice for me?"

Peeta hadn't really thought about that one. "Nice for you, of course," he tells her. "I don't know, a lot of people have them. And you know, I know things can get hard being so far away. Things get hard on me too so I figured maybe I could give you something to aid-"

"I don't need help getting myself off, Peeta," she snaps.

"I don't know why you're mad at me for sending the gift! I was a nice gesture," Peeta pleads. "You don't have to use it if you don't want too."

The other side of the line is silent for a long while. Peeta checks to make sure she hasn't hung up but he only finds she's been digging into him for a good twenty four minutes. Oh great.

"I'm not mad at you, Peeta. Just embarrassed," she admits. "My roommate had a forty-five minute conversation with me on how to use it as if I didn't know."

"Maybe she was trying to be helpful," Peeta suggests. He sighs. "Look, I hadn't meant for it to make you uncomfortable I just wanted to get you something that could be of use in the time I'm away. Finnick promised me it would make things better."

"Do things need to get better?" Katniss questions. When Peeta closes his eye, her perfect scowl which is forever engraved into his mind stares back at him. He can't help his smile.

"No, Katniss. I just feel like you've been distant from me. I don't want you to be distant and I figured this could be like an icebreaker of some sort," he explains. An ice-breaker? Had he really just said those words? He cringes.

She giggles. "I'm sorry if you've been feeling that way, Peeta. I'm just so busy and I know that you're so busy," she says. "This is a big year for you and I don't want to get in the way of that."

"You'd never get in the way of anything. You're the only non-football factor in my life and I actually really appreciate it," Peeta says. "You're a welcome distraction if you really want to consider yourself one."

"I miss you, Peeta," she whispers.

"I miss you too."

"Now go buy a webcam so you can help me figure out how to use this thing."

...

The day before the first game is a busy one for Peeta, one spent with a lot of time in front of cameras smiling into them as snobby reporters ask questions completely unrelated to anything from a football stand point. Most are about his brothers and their mysterious reasons for choosing not go to the NFL. A few are about his teammates. He does actually get one or two about his playing ability - not many.

By the time he's allowed to disrobe his jersey and head on home, he is exhausted. He digs his forgotten phone from his pocket, dialing a familiar number.

Peeta waits and waits and waits but is rewarded with nothing. Just Katnisses voice telling him she's busy and to leave a message. This was about the most he'd heard from her in three days.

She'd started a new job in Austin, at a newspaper or small printing company or something. Peeta can't remember. He hadn't really been listening. They talked about how excited she was and how this would really do something for her journalism career.

Peeta doesn't remember much after that. Mostly because he fell asleep on the phone a short time after, the weight of the day taking him under in no time. He'd woke up with the device still wedged between his ear, xbox controller in one hand, and a half empty bottle of gatorade in the other. This is what his life was becoming.

She hadn't answered any of his calls since then, none of his text either.

Peeta worried but everyone assured him not too.

...

They win their first game, not by ten or fifteen but by thirty, a large difference from the way they were playing the previous year.

Peeta gets a good chunk of playing time, splitting it with a senior who only came off of the bench after Peeta had successfully thrown for four touchdowns. The coach decide he couldn't do any harm to the team and put Peeta to the side for the last half, let him sit and talk to his team, some of the fans.

His parents had flown down for the game though it isn't safe to really have his mother out at events like this one. But Mrs. Mellark wouldn't have it any other way so they flew the short hour and a half to Penn to see their baby boy play. Mr. Mellark because he was proud of Peeta. Mrs. Mellark because she wanted the special treatment that would come along with Peeta.

...

That night, the Mellarks go out to dinner. The three of them all shuffle into Peetas small jeep, his mother in the back, and make their way to the nicest restaurant Peeta knows of in town, somewhere he'd been with Katniss when she had come down for her visit last March. She'd loved it.

Thinking of Katniss makes the boy lose his once prominent appetite. Still no call. Not even after the text he'd sent her to let them know that they'd won. He always got a reply to those but it seemed not this time.

Peeta tried his hardest to convince himself that she'd broken her phone. Maybe lost the charger and the thing had died on her.

iPhone chargers aren't all that hard to find, Peeta...

"Well, if this is not the best meal I've had in a long time," Mr. Mellark cheers, taking a large swig of the wine he ordered and another hearty bite of the steak. It had been the best meal Peeta has had too but he says nothing, the meat suddenly tasting like sand paper in his mouth. "You played a hell of a game today, boy."

Peeta nods his head, not up for much talk about football. He gets that enough on a regular basis. The only person he would want to talk football with now was his girlfriend who hadn't been acting much like his girlfriend at all.

Had they broken up and Peeta not even known it? Had he been so tired the last night they talked that he didn't hear the words come from her mouth? What was the last thing he had remembered her saying? Something about bats under the...

"Peeta," his father says, his sturdy voice breaking him from his mental lapse.

"I'm sorry. I'm just a little distracted," he admits, holding the plastic straw between his teeth as he speaks. Katniss hates when he does this. He has to learn how to stop doing this. Jesus Christ, who was he becoming?

"Probably that Everdeen girl," his mother says, her lips barely moving as she says the words. His mother didn't have energy for much anymore but she had more than enough to speak mean words about everybody who crossed her path. "I'll tell you what, I've always thought you could do better."

"It has nothing to do with her," Peeta lies, looking towards his father for help. It was clear he wasn't getting any. "I'm tired, is all."

"Oh Bannock, his sudden depressed manner has nothing to do with the girl, he is just tired," she mocks. "We've been hearing that since you were fourteen, boy. We would've thought you'd have learned we, as parents, know everything about our child's mood. What is it now?" She asks. "Shacking up with another Hawthorne?"

Peeta rolls his eyes. "That's enough, mom. You don't know anything about her."

"But I know enough. Peeta," she says slowly. "Some couples are never meant to work long distance and the sooner you learn that, the better."

Peeta had to admit maybe she was right about this. Maybe being long distance wasn't in the cards for most couples but he was determined to make it right for the two of them. Mostly because if it went the other way, he wouldn't be able to handle it. He hated himself for being so dependent on her for his own happiness but he couldn't help himself. He was an addict.

"The sooner you leave that girl in the dumps, the better," she continues, once she sees that Peeta is actually giving her words an ounce of thought. "You're young, and an athlete, and smart. You'll find another girl."

"I don't want another girl," Peeta mumbles.

"Oh look!" Mrs. Mellark says, completely ignoring his statement. "That girl over there has had her eyes on you since we walked in here. You should go talk to her, maybe ask her to dinner or something."

Peeta follows the direction his mothers frail hand is pointing, his eyes locking with none other than Madison, her hair no longer blonde but almost red, her heels hoisting her up to the ceiling, her makeup too heavy. He hadn't seen her since he returned to Penn from break but it seems she had been spending her time here. He groans.

"Look. She's making her way over here. Act charming, Peeta," his mother tells him, grabbing onto one of his curls, shifting his head until he seems to be sitting a normal position. For losing most of her strength, Peeta is pleasantly surprised with his mothers ability to manipulate his body.

"Peeta," Madison is politely, smiling to his mother then to his father who looks shaken and uncomfortable. "My name is Madison."

"Oh, how do you and Peeta know each other?" Mrs. Mellark asks, smiling at the girl in a way Peeta had never seen. He has to stop his mouth from hanging open as he watches the two exchange quick conversation with one another. He had never seen his mother act so kindly to anyone.

"Peeta and I meet last year. We were in the same biology class, share a few friends," she explains. That much was true. Peeta hopes and prays the girl doesn't expand much farther than that.

"Oh, Peeta. How come you never mentioned the girl!" Mrs. Mellark cheers, grabbing ahold of one of Madisons hands, showing the girl more attention and affection than Peeta had ever received. He turns wide eyed to his father who simply shrugs.

They talk and laugh and share a few jokes at Peetas expense as he sits there, bewildered at how quickly the two had become friends.

But then again evil knew evil.

...

As Peeta waits to pay the check, Madison comes, sits in the now empty seat beside him, perching her feet on his lap. He squirms.

"Your mother is so sweet, Peeta. I wish you'd have mentioned she was sick sooner," Madison says, honesty in her voice. Peeta curses. Everyone will know now and that isn't something he really wanted. He liked being treated normally and once people knew about the state of his mothers health, surely it would be different. But what could he do now?

"Madison, really," he mumbles, pushing her feet off of his lap.

His life had been blissful for the most part, Madison being far, far away for the summer holidays. But she was close now and there was nothing Peeta could do about it now.

"Oh, c'mon, Peeta. Don't tell me you haven't thought about my offer," she whispers, her eyes dark, lustful. Her blue eyes don't resemble the grey ones he loves so much and he's repulsed by the girl sitting before him.

"Aren't you supposed to be working?" Peeta sneers, not bothering to hide his disgusted gaze as he glares at her.

"No. I was actually on my way out for the night when I saw you come in and I knew I had to stay," Madison responds. "You know, Peeta," she starts, "it's inevitable."

"What is?" He seethes.

"Your breakup." A look of shock passes across Peetas face at the girls words that she doesn't miss. "Trouble in paradise already?"

Yes. But Madison didn't need to know that. That would only give her more reason, more drive, more truth to her words. So instead, Peeta says nothing, staring at the girl before him with cold, lifeless eyes as she drones on and on.

"We would be so good together. You, with football. Me being a cute little sorority girlfriend," she continues, her eyes twinkling. She'd obviously given it a lot of thought. "I'm the one you're going to want on your arm when senior year rolls around and your going straight to the NFL."

Peeta rolls his eyes. "No, I'm going to want Katniss on my arm when, and if, that even happens."

In return, Madison rolls her eyes, getting to her feet. "Why don't you call me when that girlfriend of your finally sidesteps out of the door?" She whispers. "You know where to find me."

He did know where to find her and he hoped he never needed to.

...

Peeta is dropping his parents off at the airport when his father pulls him to the side, a serious look on his face as the attendants tend to his mother who is making quite the fuss about being man handled. He pays no attention to it. Neither does his father. All just an attempt to get boarded first.

"Have you spoken to Katniss?" He asks, his eyes downcast, almost as if he's ashamed to ask.

Peeta shakes his head slowly, unable to stop himself as he admits to the father the silence he's received in the weeks he's been home. His father doesn't look surprised, just sad.

"How long has this been going on?" He questions.

"A good week now," Peeta answers. It had actually been six days, four hours, and thirty seven minutes but who is really counting? "I don't know what I did though. That's the thing. I don't know what to apologize for."

"Maybe it isn't you, son," the old man sighs. "The little one came into the bakery the other day asking for a job, something to do around the bakery. Can't hire her because she's a little young but I let her come in some days when your mother isn't around, sweep the porch and things of that nature."

Prim? Prim had gone to his father for a job? She was barely fourteen. She had no business having a job other than school. Peeta wants to tell his father all these things but then again, who is he to deny the girl money if she needs it.

The thought pegs at Peetas heart during his drive back to the campus. Did they need the money? Katniss was barely having to pay for anything out of pocket but was that a stretch for them? They didn't make a lot, but they weren't poor. Not like some of the people in the Seam, he knew that much. If they needed money, why didn't they just ask? Peeta had more than enough saved to help them, if they truly needed such things.

But like Katniss had told him many times, what did the boy know about being poor. Not a thing.

Maybe that is where the silence had come from. She had been embarrassed, nervous about asking for something she knew she could never repay. But Katniss wouldn't have to repay a thing, she should know that by now.

Was that it? Was it her pride blinding her from all things logical yet again?

Peeta tries his hardest not to let the guilt claw at him for the rest of the night.

...

That night he calls repeatedly, again. For some reason, feeling like his girlfriend is in danger though he knows she's not. His mind has just manipulated himself into believing it.

Nothing but the answering machine yet again and by midnight, the boy is in a full blown panic. Why? He didn't know. He knew she was safe, alive, well even. But that didn't stop the shakes from flowing through him, the blankness in his eyes, the constriction in his throat.

Surely he was having a panic attack. In the midst of it he self diagnosed himself, placing the phone on the beside table, sitting on his small twin size bed, looking around his small room which was shrinking by the minute around him, closing in on him, his body trapped in a cage.

Peeta was losing his mind. He was sure of it, there was no other explanation.

He should call someone. The small voice in his head that he couldn't block out no matter how loud he screamed was whispering to him, telling him to call someone. Call someone. Call someone. Call someone...

But it wasn't necessary because a moment later, impatient hands are banging on the door, loud voices from his friends on the other side begging him to open it. The door that was locked. As hard as Peeta concentrated on the small contraption that even toddlers knew how to use, he couldn't bring himself to open it, his hands not coexisting with his mind.

"Peeta," Finnick roars on the other side, his voice calling out, his hands banging on the door. "Peeta! Are you okay?"

As he opens his mouth to respond another wave of nausea and terror and doom pass through him and bring him to his knees, his hands cupping around his ears to silence his own screams that wouldn't stop.

His ear muffs are to little to muffle the sound of wood breaking the next second. Peeta feels a few pieces splinter his leg, the one closest to the door but in the moment he feels no pain. No physical pain. All he feels is emotional pain.

Thresh is breathing heavy as he stands in the doorway, his hands bloody from the force it had taken to take the door of the hinges, Finnick looking down at his friend with sad eyes. It takes the two boys a moment to bring Peeta back to the moment, assure him he's not crazy and he's in no danger - also putting no one in danger - and that he is safe. Finnick even makes it a point to wrap the boy in his arms for a moment, rock him back and forth like a child until his breathing has returned to normal, his eyes losing their gloss.

"Peeta, you need to breath or we're going to call an ambulance," Thresh threatens, phone already in hand. Neither boy knew how to really handle this. The smart thing to do would have been call for help but it was too late for that. One door was already broken, two people already bloodied. The hard part was over.

But Peeta was still agitated, his body shaking though his mind was clear. Now it was mostly embarrassment. Embarrassment and maybe the slightest bit of anger.

"Peeta, you have to tell us what's wrong," Finnick stresses, a tone that tells Peeta he has probably already repeated himself several times. He hadn't heard the boy speak. Not since he was on the other side of the door.

He looks towards his phone, the one that lied untouched on his dresser. The one that hadn't rung in what felt like years. "She won't... she won't answer," Peeta grunted, his voice dry, scratchy as if it hadn't been used in days. "She won't answer my calls and I don't know what I did or where she is and.." he trails off because he is beginning to get hysteric, his heart picking up pace, his palms sweaty, just like before.

His friends notice the change too and each place a hand on his shoulder, their eyes weary. Peeta feels like a freak show on display for the whole world to see. Had a girl really brought him to a panic attack? Had his obsessive mind brought him to the point of hysteria? He hadn't been this upset, not since he was a kid. He hates himself.

"Do we need to call your dad or brothers or-"

"No," Peeta says impatiently, shaking his head like a disobedient child. "No. I'm sorry I scared you guys. You should just go to bed. I'm okay."

"You're obviously not okay," Finnick says.

"We're not leaving you alone, c'mon man. Who do you think we are?" Thresh reckoned, his eyes moving over the room. "Why don't we all sleep in the living room tonight, just for comfort?"

Peeta is uncomfortable with the idea. As much as he appreciates his friends for being there, he doesn't need a crew to watch him. "No, man."

The three are silent for a long moment, all three wagering within their minds what the appropriate thing to say would be.

"Did you guys fight?" Finnick finally inquires, breaking the silence and Peeta out of his own battle in his head.

Peeta shakes his head. "The last time I spoke to her I kind of fell asleep on the phone."

"Maybe she's just been busy with her job and stuff," Thresh offers.

"To busy to shoot the boy a text?" Finnick asks, an eyebrow raised at his friend.

"Finnick," Thresh groans.

"I'm sorry but he-"

"I'm right here, guys," Peeta reminds his friends. All the possibilities had crossed his mind but not one had stuck. He was clueless. "I don't really want to talk about this right now."

"Do these...these attacks happen often?" Thresh wonders.

Peeta shakes his head. The two were his best friends. They, if anyone, would know if these panic attacks happened before.

"I should really just sleep it off," Peeta says once again. He was feeling tired now and all the boys had football bright in early in the morning. Maybe tonight he would be granted a full eight hours of sleep.

Finnick looks to Thresh who looks to him, both boys stuck between denying their friend of what they all needed or just giving into him. "Fine," Finnick finally mumbles. He looks to walk through the doorway, careful to step around the hinges and splinters of wood they'd left. In the morning it would all have to be cleaned up.

"Keep this door open, Peeta," Thresh jokes, smirking to himself. There was no way Peeta could do anything else. So much for privacy.

The boys leave but both wait outside the door, just until they hear the soft snore coming from Peeta. Once their sure he is asleep, they make their way into Finnicks room silently.

"We have to get to the bottom of this, now."

...

Peeta wakes with a sour taste in his mouth and a pounding in his head, his eyes not adjusting well to the light coming from his window. Light? His alarm should have went of a quarter to five. It was still pitch black outside whenever he roused himself.

In a panic, his fingers reach for the alarm clock sitting beside him, a big red eight shining in his face. He scrambles, just for a moment as he reaches for anything and everything he can see within his direct vision that is football related.

It wasn't like Finnick and Thresh to not wake him up if his alarm didn't go off or he overslept. In fact, he's furious with his friends for not waking him up. Surely, their gone. Finishing up the workout that started hours ago. Probably on their way back with breakfast and stories and protein shakes. He could punch the two in the face if he wasn't so busy trying to think about what he would say to his coach. What could he say?

There was a very small chance he would kick Peeta off of the team but there would be no end to the punishments waiting for him.

Just as he's opening the door, Finnick and Thresh appear on the other side, not in their workout clothes but in normal ones, bagels and coffee in hand as they push past the frazzled boy and into the warm comfort of their apartment.

"Hey Peeta," they both greet in unison. "We brought breakfast," Finnick continues.

"You brought breakfast?" Peeta asks in disbelief. "Where the hell were you guys? We had to be at workouts hours ago!"

"They got cancelled. Coach has the stomach bug. Didn't you check your phone?"

Of course not. Peeta rarely took the time to check his phone anymore. Every time he did he just felt sicker and sicker. But when he reaches into the pocket of his shorts for the small black device, there are two messages.

One from his coach telling him workouts have been cancelled. Another one from Katniss asking him to call.

...

"Hello?" She asks, picking up on the third ring. It had gotten close to the end and Peeta was beginning to fear she wouldn't pick up at all, that maybe he'd missed his chance completely.

"Katniss," he nearly screams before he can stop himself. "Katniss," he repeats.

"Peeta!" She says equally as excited. "Peeta, what is wrong? Are you okay? Finnick called me in a full blown-"

"Finnick called you?" That would explain it.

"Don't be mad, Peeta. He was worried," she scolds. "What's wrong?"

What's wrong? Did she really just ask him what was wrong? If he wasn't so happy to hear her voice he would be angry. No, he'd be furious.

"I..." He mumbles, at a loss for words, not knowing how he'd be able to put this nicely, without letting the bitterness he felt within him seep through into the conversation. The last thing he wanted to do was fight with her, make her angry, give her a real reason not to answer his calls any longer.

Peeta takes a deep breath before trying again. "I just get worried, you know," he mumbles. "Worried like when you don't call me for a week and can't even reply with a simple text to let me know you're okay."

Katniss is silent on the other line, sensing there is more that needs to be said. She waits to let him say it.

"You can't just do that, Katniss," Peeta continues, the emotions he didn't want coming out surfacing. He can't hide them. He was never good at hiding anything, he should know that by now. "We aren't ten miles down the road anymore. I can't go run off and find you whenever you decide you want to shut down on me. I'm trying here. I'm trying to make this work and I am stressed," he admits. "I am so stressed with everything and the one thing I don't need to be stressed about is wether or not my girlfriend is going to answer her fucking phone!"

When she stays silent on the side, he continues.

"I need you, Katniss. Way more than you need me and I know that. I know you have this whole other life you're trying to build in Texas but I need you here. Not physically, but emotionally. I just need you to be here for me and I don't think I'm asking too much but tell me if I am!" He seethes, aware of the eyes on him from the other room. But he doesn't care.

"Peeta, I'm-"

"And don't tell me you're sorry because if you were sorry, you wouldn't have shut me out for a week, dammit!" He yells, cutting her off. He can hear her gasp from the other end of the phone. "I don't know what I've done to you, but if I have done something, let me know now because I cannot keep..."

His voice trails off at the sound of sniffling on the other side, her soft cries barely there but loud enough. Peeta sits on the edge of his bed then, his head in his own hands as he, too, begins to cry. He doesn't regret his words, just the way they've made her feel. But does she regret how she's made him feel? Has she felt the same way he has, desperate and alone?

"Peeta this is so hard," she whispers through the tears. "This is all so hard and I'm so bad at this. I'm so sorry. It's not you, it's never you."

"It's hard for me too, Katniss," Peeta mumbles, careful to keep his voice steady. "I just want to hear from you, that's all. I don't need anything else."

"I'm so sorry," she repeats, like a chant. "I never wanted to hurt you, Peeta. I feel like my mother and I hate the feeling."

"You'll never be your mother," he tells her for the hundredth time.

"But I need you like she needed my dad and that scares the hell out of me, Peeta," she admits. "I never expected it to get this far, get this deep."

Peeta hadn't expected it either but he'd welcomed it. Because he loved her.

...

He won't be staying home for long, not this Thanksgiving break. They have games to play, practices to attend, places to be. So when he boards the plane back to Panem, it's already the day before Thanksgiving, five o'clock in the afternoon.

By the time he gets there, it'll be almost seven, his mother will be in bed, his brothers will be closing the bakery, and his father will be putting the finishing touches on everything before it goes in the oven for the next day.

Katniss was there too. Had been for a little over a week and his brothers had been flooding his phone with pictures of the girl in the bakery, in the library, in the grocery store. It angered him that his older brothers were getting the opportunity to spend more time with his girlfriend than he was but he tried not to let it bother him too much. Once he got there, she was all his.

The thought gets him through the plane ride, Finnicks obnoxious comments on the way home, and through Johanna and Threshs dramatic display of affection in the airport. Peeta couldn't wait till it was Katnisses turn to pick up and he could have one of his own.

He heads straight to the bakery once arriving within the city limits, mostly because he'd gotten a text from Rye almost an hour ago saying they needed some real help in the bakery tonight. Peeta laughs. It wasn't a surprise. Things got crazy around Thanksgiving.

But when he arrives, there is not a soul within ten miles of the bakery, everyone already in bed or by the fire, warding away the cold. "Rye! Wheaton!" Peeta yells upon entering as if the obnoxious bells above the door weren't enough.

"In the back, Peeta!" He hears Rye yell.

Peeta hops over the counter the way he had when he was a child, hearing his mothers voice in the back of his head as she scolds him. But she isn't here to say anything now.

He makes his way to the back, knocking once on the side of the door out of habit before entering. He had once caught Rye and one of his many girlfriends in the middle of a heated make-out session in the seventh grade and had never really been able to recover from the vivid images.

His brothers smile at him, knee deep in dough, looking sheepishly lost. They had never been all that great at baking. It was always Peeta with the magic touch.

"You're still baking?" Peeta questions, washing his hands over in the sink and taking Ryes place in making the pie crust. He'd already messed up this one pretty bad and Peeta couldn't stand to see perfectly look baking material go to waste.

"Mom wants us to open early tomorrow," Wheaton says. "Just in case but I don't see any of this being sold. I'm pretty sure the whole town already came by."

"It was only to catch a glimpse of Peeta, I'm sure," a voice from behind him says.

A smile breaks out onto Peetas face as he turns, Katniss leaning against the island in the middle of the kitchen, her arms outstretched as he launches himself into them. Things had gotten better since their teary confession. In this moment he really feels how much it's gotten better.

She kisses him softly, her lips lingering on the corner of his mouth for just a half second. "I've missed you," she whispers.

"I know," Peeta says. "Do you want to go somewhere? We could go eat if you-"

"You aren't going anywhere, Peeta," Wheaton interrupts, shooting his brother a tense glare.

"Yeah, you have to help us. You know we can't do any of this shit on our own," Rye finishes. "Katniss is more than welcome to stay but-"

"No, I do have to go home, actually," she says, meeting Peetas sad gaze. "I'd promised Prim I'd just be coming to grab some cheese buns," she tells him, holding up the canister. "But you'll come over for dinner, right?"

Peeta nods his head. He would go anywhere for her. "Of course."

"Tomorrow then," she pecks, leaving him in a rush then.

The twins don't miss the change in demeanor in their brother after she leaves.

"Don't worry, bro. There will be plenty of time to get your dick wet."

...

Peeta doesn't waste any time.

After a short, tense lunch with his family, he heads over to the Everdeen home, anxious to spend the joyous holidays with people he actually wants to be around. His brothers invite themselves and he doesn't have the heart to deny them of it. They really have grown to love Katniss and her family just as much as Peeta has.

Prim is grown, her face painted in makeup, a cloud of doom hanging over her head as she hugs Peeta, mumbling some greeting before retreating back to her new room. He looks to Katniss for help but she just shrugs, giving a dramatic eye roll and nodding towards Prims room.

"Where's your mother?" Peeta asks, the only one missing from the equation being Mrs. Everdeen.

"Where else would she be, Peeta," Katniss answers, not trying to hide the anger in her tone as she does so. Peeta couldn't blame her. He was getting pretty fed up too. "Left some time after dinner, probably about a half hour ago. You barely missed her."

"Oh darn," Peeta remarks sarcastically, sending a shy smile her way as she leans against the door, waiting to hear the soft click before sauntering over, moving her arms to wrap around his neck, her lips craning into his own.

Oh god. He could just kiss her for hours. He would kiss her for hours if it wasn't for his own two brothers and her little sister being on the other side of the door.

"We don't have long," Katniss mumbles against his lips, moving to work the green and yellow flannel from his body, her fingers moving over his defined abs. "God, I missed you."

A moment later when her own shirt is discarded, Peeta feels the same way, tremors running through him as he drinks in the sight of her naked upper body, the sweater she wore not needing a bra. He moves to kiss her again but her hands tug impatiently on his pants, then on her own.

When he pulls away with a look of hurt in his eyes, she shakes her head from side to side. "We don't have time today, Peeta," she whispers. "I just really want to be with you right now."

But when would they ever have time to fully love each other in these intimate moments like each deserved? Not this time around due to Peetas schedule. By the way luck would have it, Katniss would be the same once the Christmas holidays came. The thoughts overwhelm him and he comes out of it only when he feels her tugging him down on top of her.

Peeta couldn't live in his head. He had to live in the moment. And in this moment his girlfriend wanted him to make love to her.

So that's what he did.

...

"You should really try adding raisins to these things," Prim suggests the next day at breakfast, her muffin in one hand, phone in the other. It was her and Rorys four month anniversary, he'd learned. They were going bowling later.

"You should slow down," Peeta warns. "That's your third one in ten minutes. A record, I think."

"You should put my name on the wall and get me a certificate then," she jokes, giving him the closest thing he's seen to a smile since he's arrived.

It's Peetas day to run the bakery, Black Friday, the day before he leaves but when his brothers beg him, he can't say no. After spending all summer doing it alone, he knows how nice it can be to have a break, if just for a moment. He wasn't bitter about having to miss out on seeing his friends. He would have plenty of others time to do so in later holidays. For now, he needed to help his family, something anyone could understand.

Katniss, on the other hand, had opted to go play a game of basketball with all their friends from high-school, not leaving until Peeta practically had to shove her out of the door. She didn't enjoy the bakery but no one but Peeta really did. The last thing he wanted was for her to spend her break somewhere she didn't want to be though she assured him a place with him was better than anywhere without.

He wished that was true in so many other ways.

But Prim had joined him, mostly because she needed a ride to the bowling alley but also because she had actually grown to love Peeta. In a different way than her sister but all the same, love is love.

"I wish you didn't have to leave so soon," Prim whispers. "I know Katniss does too though she won't say anything." With a dramatic eye roll, she licks the crumbs with the pads of her fingers. "You can't really blame her for the way she is."

"I don't blame her for anything, Prim," Peeta sighs.

"I know you don't. She did tell me about the whole 'not calling' fiasco. I am on Team Peeta for that one," she says.

It's Peetas turn to rolls his eyes. He would prefer to forget the entire week but everyone was hell bent on reminding him as if the scenario wasn't imprinted into his mind. All he thought about was the seven days of isolations she had given him and how he never wanted to feel the way again. There was the ever pending sense of doom he felt, like it could happen again at any moment, this time for good.

Finnick hadn't forgotten either and in the little time he, Katniss, and Finnick had spent together, Peeta could feel the tension, as if Finnick hadn't yet forgiven the girl when everyone else had. "I'm just looking our for you man," Finnick had told him. Peeta appreciated the extra pair of eyes but the last thing he wanted was two of his favorite people being at odds with each other over something that had nothing to do with either of them.

"You don't have to be Team anyone, Prim," Peeta says after a moment. "We're fine. It's over."

"I sure hope so."

...

There was no one home when he was leaving, his parents both at the bakery, his brothers enjoying some time with some of their friends, the ones who'd come back to settle in Panem. Peeta tries not to mind it too much. All this meant was he got to spend more time with Katniss.

When she knocks on his door a quarter to right, the Sundevils cap she'd given him what seemed like a million Christmases ago atop her head, a bright smile on her face. She greets him with a kiss that leaves him wanting more.

"We have a plane to catch," Katniss reminds him, moving to grab the suitcase he brought. He's more than capable of doing it on his own but in an effort to not damage to her pride, he lets her take care of it. "Finnick and Thresh are at the Odiars so we only have to make one stop there."

"Is Annie with them too?" Peeta asks, knowing Finnick would be in a pretty shitty mood for the rest of the day if she wasn't. As much crap as he gave Peeta about being dependent and whipped, he was equally as hooked to his own girlfriend.

"I think so," Katniss says. "We're going to be taking her van so she better be there."

The drive to Finnicks is mostly silent, little conversation here and there about the weather and sports and the job Katniss has. "I love it," she tells him. "I love Austin too. I wish you could go back down there sometime soon."

"Maybe I can," Peeta says half heartedly, knowing for sure he would never be able to take more than a three day break to see her, maybe a weekend some time soon if he could manage the airfare. "Football is crazy around this time you know."

Katniss nods her head tersely. "Yeah, I know. I'm so proud of you Peeta," she tells him with a smile. "I see you all over the news. People don't believe me when I tell them you're my boyfriend."

Peeta blushes. "People don't believe me when I tell them you're my girlfriend either," he whispers, leaning over the console to capture her lips in a kiss. They've made it ten minutes ahead of schedule. There was time now.

"Oh yeah? Is it my incredibly good looks?" Katniss jokes against his lips, the words not making any sense to Peeta. He just nods.

Just when her tongue slips into his mouth, a knock on the window breaks them apart, Finnick standing on the other side with a smug look on his face, his hands on his hips like an angry mother.

"Here we all were, worried that maybe you two had gotten yourselves into some kind of trouble. Low and behold we find you in my front yard, tongues down each others throats and who knows what-"

"Oh Finnick, leave them alone," Annie calls from behind him, running a hand up his side as he pulls her closer.

"Yeah, leave us alone," Peeta grunts, shoving his friends shoulder and moving from the car, grabbing his bags from the backseat. "We are not late either."

"On time is late. Didn't Coach ever teach you anything," Thresh comments from his place on the porch.

"He came by the store yesterday," Annie says. "Probably looking for you boys though he'd never ask."

Peeta regrets not seeking the man out during his short stay. He would make time for Haymitch. How could he not? The man was the reason for everything he is.

"Well he'll still be around for Christmas," Katniss says as if reading his thoughts, putting her hand in his, sending shy smiles all around. "Now, we really do have to get this show on the road or we won't make it."

They pile into the van, all of them, Thresh in the very back, angry and annoyed, while the couples sit next to each other in their respective spots. Peeta looks back at the man, catching his scowl in the rearview mirror as he twiddles with his phone, obviously in a heated conversation with whoever was on the other side.

When Peeta looks down to Katniss in the passenger seat, she shrugs. "Probably Johanna," she mouths. Peeta nods. He assumed that was over for good. The last he heard she had a new boy in Colorado where she was going to college. He hadn't gotten a chance to speak to her this break so maybe that had ended. Things seemed to change quickly within this group.

"Stop!" Katniss screams suddenly, throwing her arms forward in exaggeration as in to stop herself. Peeta slams on the breaks, sending everyone forward, into the seat in front of them, Peeta into the steering wheel hard.

"What?" Peeta questions loudly, looking around for any signs of danger, whatever she saw and he didn't. But their on a deserted road, no one around but miles and miles of high trees, all their leaves trickling down as fall comes to an end and winter begins.

She gives him a shy smile, moving around his body for the control switch on the radio, turning the volume up as high as it will go. "I didn't mean literally," she whispers embarrassed.

"Oh my god!" Annie calls in the back just as loud, a smile forming on her face as she disentangles herself from Finnick who had caught her in an effort to ensure she didn't hit the windshield.

"What?" Thresh asks bewildered, his breathing uneven, his eyes frantic.

"Listen to the song!" Katniss exclaimed, her eyes going wide as the music begins to fill the car now.

"I haven't heard this song in forever," Finnick chuckles after a minute, his once annoyed expression being replaced with one of amusement.

Peeta can't help but smile too at the look that passes over his girlfriends face, her hands going to her sides in a dramatic gesture, her head tipping to the side to flip her long, dark locks that were let down for the day.

"My loneliness is killing me," she sings, loudly, but probably better than Britney Spears. Peeta laughs, loving the carefree Katniss he gets to see now.

"I must confess, I still believe," Annie pipes, bouncing to the beat in her place in the back, shoving Finnicks shoulder.

"Still believe," he shouts in an amazingly high falsetto. Everyone in the car turns to look at him with a look of amusement on their faces. Finnick just smirks.

"When I'm not with you I lose my mind," Katniss sings.

"Give me a sign," Thresh rasps in the back, not even able to finish he's laughing so hard.

"Hit me baby one more time!" They all shout in unison, sounding completely off tune, something short of a dying whale and two cats mating. But they laugh. Laugh hard to the point where tears are running down their faces.

These are the moments Peeta lived for. This is what made it all worth it.

"Would you guys still be my friend if I told you I know all the choreography to this album," Katniss laughs.

"Hello no!" Annie pipes up, wiping the tears from her cheeks. "Britney is queen."

"Always has been, always will be," Thresh agrees.

Finnick and Peeta both turn to look at their friend, shaking their heads from side to side.

"I'm going to pretend you didn't just say that," Peeta whispers.

"You might as well turn your balls in now, man," Finnick urged.

"Don't pretend like you guys didn't love Britney Spears when she was popular," Katniss broke in, buckling her seat belt as Peeta started the car because, by the time displayed on the dashboard, they were really going to be late.

"I was Team Justin," Peeta jokes, sending Katniss a smile. "I had to stick with my boy on that one."

"Oh, I almost forgot about your unhealthy with Justin Timberlake. Please excuse me," Katniss smiled, crossing her arms over her chest as she leans into her seat.

Peeta can't keep the smile off of his face for the rest of the day.

...

"You know, I'm getting real tired of all this resistance, Peeta."

The voice makes him cringe, a fresh layer of cherry flavored gloss covering his exposed ear, sending a shake wave through him - the bad kind.

"Jesus Christ," Peeta groans, jumping up from his seat in the library, his books along with the iPod he was listening to fall to the floor with a loud smash. "You can't sneak up on me like that."

"Sorry," Madison whispers, taking a seat opposite the boy. "I actually did come over here because I needed help."

Peeta looks up at her through his eyelashes. He tries to judge her face, judge her reaction. He doesn't know her well enough though, to know if she is joking or being serious. His gut tells him to be on the defense. He always listens to his gut.

"Oh, stop looking at me like that, Peeta," she snaps. "I'm not always after your dick though if that is on the table, I'm more than willing." She laughs but after the look of pure disgust that passes over Peetas face, she stops, her lips coming into a stiff line, her eyes losing the sparkle they once had. "Oh c'mon. Learn to take a joke. I'm not that bad if you had bothered to get to know me."

"I might have wanted to get to know you if you aren't so crude and obnoxious," Peeta tells her. "Not in the way you want but maybe we could be friends."

"And we can't be friends now?" Madison asks with mock confusion.

Peeta looks at her, deadpanned. "I'm not even supposed to be talking to you," he says honestly, remembering Katnisses harsh words months ago. He hadn't been speaking to her, not unless absolutely necessary.

"What girlfriend doesn't know won't hurt her," she offers, her eyebrows shooting up. "I commend you for being so faithful. A lot of men wouldn't waste their time on a girl so far away."

"Yeah, well, Katniss isn't just any girl," Peeta mumbles. "We've been together for a long time, you know. I just can't see myself with anyone else."

"Have you ever been with anyone else?" She questions.

Peetas face blushes. "In what way?"

"In a sexual way," Madison whispers seductively, leaning across the table, coming uncomfortably close to his face. He can smell the gum on her breath and the small scent of her lip gloss. He doesn't like this.

Just when he opens his mouth to speak, a hand claps him on the back. Looking up, Brett, Gloss, Brutus, and Finnick take a seat. Peeta looks to his best friend in question.

They had an exam to study for and originally, it was only supposed to be them so they might have a shot at getting some real work done. With everyone else seated at the table, Peeta loses faith in getting anything accomplished.

"Oh, hey, Madison," Brett greets. "I didn't know you would be joining us."

"Neither did I," she says, not bothering to hide her annoyance with the crowd forming. No doubt she'd hoped she'd have Peeta to herself, at least for a little while. Make her move without extra eyes to watch her but it didn't seem that would be happening. "I saw Peeta sitting here all alone and couldn't resist coming to sit with him."

"I'm sure you couldn't," Finnick mumbles, mostly to himself but Peeta picks it up. He can't help but smirk.

"So what were we talking about?" Gloss questions. "You guys seemed pretty entranced."

"Big word," Finnick jokes. "Where'd you learn that one?"

"Yeah, yeah. Eat my shit, Finn," Gloss growls.

"We were just talking about Peeta and his girlfriend," Madison says, winking.

"Katniss?" Brett says. "Yeah, she's cool. Pretty hot, too, Peet. I see why you keep that around."

Peeta smiles, watching the look of anger pass over Madisons face, her hands clenching and unclenching. "She isn't all that pretty," she seethes.

"Prettier than you," Brutus says, mostly joking, but it still manages to piss Madison off and entertain Peeta.

"Don't you guys think that Peeta should dabble?" She asks. "I mean, he's been with the same girl since high-school. He should try something new."

"I don't want anything new," Peeta mutters through gritted teeth. "Thank you for your opinion though, Madison."

With that, she leaves. Her strawberry blonde hair following her like gold light as she almost runs from the library, not saying a word to the boys. Peeta just watches her go.

"She's a drag, no?" Brutus finally mumbles once Madison is no where is sight, far, far away.

"Complete bitch," Gloss agrees. "She's just really fucking hot."

Peeta tunes out the conversation once it picks up on some sorority girl that Brett fucked last week. He doesn't care to hear the raunchy details like his other friends, his nose in the book he'd been studying, his eyes shifting over to his phone which vibrated every once in a while with a text from Katniss.

"Peeta!" Finnick calls loudly, his hand coming down on his wrist.

Peeta jumps, almost falling back in his chair but managing to correct himself before causing any embarrassment. No doubt he would be the laughing stalks of social media.

"I said, we're going out tonight and we wondered if you would like to come," Brett huffs, obviously annoyed with the boys absence.

"No thanks," Peeta mumbles. "I have to rest up for practice tomorrow. Didn't do so hot today." He choses to avoid the preachy talk, not mentioning that the other boys should also get their asses to bed versus getting blackout drunk. He's surprised Finnick agreed to such things; he, at least, was always pretty responsible. Not Peeta responsible but, responsible.

"Whatever, man."

...

Thresh and Johanna begin to date again, officially.

The boys are sitting at dinner when Thresh tells them, not sparing all the details about their reconciliation when they were both in Panem.

Peeta is genuinely happy for Thresh. He had been a wreck when they'd broken up all those years ago but, really, they never stopped seeing each other. They just didn't put labels to what they were which was a tricky thing to do in college. But Thresh was always happy with Johanna, even if they did fight.

He saw a change in her and a change in him, both for the better. They balanced each other. And Peeta was happy to see his friend happy, smile on his face as he pronounced to the whole football team he was off the market.

There are a lot of protest from within the crowd. Thresh was pretty popular, not a bad looking guy, fun to be around. He had no shortage of female admirers, not shortage of sorority sisters on his trail.

"I don't care about any of them," he says. "I only want to be with Johanna. I've known that for a long time."

"You Panem boys and your girlfriends," Darius, a red headed boy on the team, huffs. "You guys just can't let em go."

Peeta didn't know the boy that well. Other than the occasional conversation in the shower or by the water cooler.

"Cause Panem produces some very attractive, very sweet, very patient women," Finnick says, throwing his hands behind his head like he is posing for a women's magazine. "We don't need to set em' loose."

"Can't argue with that," Brett says, bringing an arm around to hold Peeta close. "Our QB over here has a straight dime."

Peeta smiles, not caring what the boys say because Katniss was his.

She always would be.

...

When his coaches finally mention to Peeta he has a real strong shot of making it in the NFL, he almost doesn't believe them.

The team had a good season, one better than previous ones. Nothing extraordinary but it definitely put their names back on the board, made them more of a household name. They were no longer swept under the rug. All because of Peeta but he would never take credit for it. He was much to humble.

But soon enough, he is in the newspaper almost every week, his face on every page of the sports section, the local TV news wanting to do a story on him.

Then ESPN calls his parents, asking their permission to do a story on the boy, his backing, the bakery, his rise to stardom. He almost can't believe it. It all seems like a dream, one he'll wake up from at any moment.

"You'll never believe what I'm doing," Katniss tells him one night on the phone. He can hear the humor in her voice.

"What?" He asks, toying with the remote, trying to find something to watch other than the Real Housewives of Wherever-the-fuck they were.

"I'm watching my incredibly sexy, boyfriend on the TV right now, throwing around balls to his sweaty, significantly less attractive teammates," she laughs.

"You're kidding," Peeta says, sitting up in his bed, a hand in his hair. He was used to seeing himself on local television. Football was all this state had to look forward too. But being on in Texas? Did that mean he was on national television?

Just as Katniss begins to answer him, he hears Finnick shout from the other room, Thresh too as they parade around the living area, their loud noises surely going to piss off the old lady downstairs. Peeta runs to the area, heaving by the time he gets there, Katniss in his ear asking him if everything's alright, his friends jumping up and down like idiots.

"Peeta," Finnick shouts when, finally, he notices the boy there. "Look! Look!" He says, pointing to the large flat screen that is mounted on the wall.

And there he is. Peeta Mellark on ESPN. The picture he was forced to take freshman year upon arrival on the bottom of the screen as the commentators discuss strategy, his movements, his plays.

"Katniss we made it!" Thresh screams and Peeta listens to Katnisses soft laugh on the other end, smiling at his friends excitement.

And this is why they would always be his friends. His success had really nothing to do with either boy but here they were, both celebrating as if it was them.

Peeta falls asleep happy that night.

...

Peetas first week back in Panem for Christmas break is quite lonely, classes in Texas not being let out for another week meaning Katniss was spending her days there in the warm sunshine. Looking out at the snow from the couch, Peeta was quite envious whens he relayed to him that it was nearing eighty degrees where she was.

He talked himself out of working at the bakery, telling his father he needed a break from work. He had been doing enough of it back at Penn and needed just one week to relax. His father bought in easily to the excuse. His mother not so much.

"You need to be pulling your weight just as your brothers are doing," she scolded. "Do you think it's fair to them that they slave away their lives in the bakery while you lie around here eating all day?"

His brothers tried to defend him, tell them it was okay that he was gone if only for a week. But she wouldn't hear any of it.

"You think because you're famous now that you don't have to work," Mrs. Mellark seethes. Peeta cringes at the work famous though that is what he was quickly becoming.

He never wanted to hear anyone close to him say it. He was having a hard enough time adjusting to the camera phones that came out wherever he went or the time in the grocery store last week when a preteen girl burst into tears at the sight of him. The last thing he needed was his own family reminding him of his ever growing fame.

"I don't think that, mom," Peeta mumbles. "If it's really that important to you, I can take over one of the boys-"

"Nonsense Peeta, you deserve some time away," Mr. Mellark interrupts, sending his wife a look that will quiet her, at least for now. "He'll be home for a whole month, dear," he tells her. "One week away won't kill the business."

No, it wouldn't. His mother would do that all on her own.

...

It's not until Christmas Eve that Peeta can tell something is wrong with Katniss, the way her eyes hang low whenever they are together, her hands shaking and he knows it isn't from the cold.

But when he asks her, she turns away, telling him that it's nothing. Peeta tries to recall the last time he had seen her so visibly down. The anniversary of her fathers death? Her fathers birthday? Her parents anniversary? All revolved around one factor but never had he seen her this way during the Christmas holidays. It was always one of her favorites.

So that night when they are in his bed, Peeta inside of her, her on top of him, he can't help but ask her to go slowly, to make the moment last.

"We don't have to rush anything," he grits through his teeth trying his hardest to keep his composure. He runs a hand through her hair, the silky waves that fall down her back, covering her breasts, almost like a mermaid.

"Don't you want to fuck," Katniss breaths, slowing her rhythm down until she's stopped moving completely, her breath coming out in short pants.

Peeta shakes his head. For the first time in his life, he doesn't really. "I want to make love to you the way you deserve."

And he doesn't know why those words open the flood gates but they do, Katniss pulling off of him and running to the bathroom, locking the door with a soft click as Peeta lies, naked and exposed atop his covers until, finally, he gets the right mind to move. Reaching for his discarded boxers, he calls out to her.

"Katniss," he calls quietly, knocking on the door as he listens to her soft cries on the other side. "Katniss, did I hurt you?"

"Go away!" She screams, her voice cracking under the pressure, her cries louder now.

"Katniss, I'm not going anywhere. Please talk to me," he pleads, his head resting against the door frames. Peeta listens to the clink and clatter, the sound of the shower mixing with the sound of her cries until they both run together.

She's blocking him out in his own home and he feels helpless to the situation.

Katniss finally remerges a whole hour later, dressed in one of Peetas dress shirts, clothes in hand, hair wet. She says nothing as she moves around the room, leaving him to his own devices as he sits there watching her.

"Are you going somewhere," he asks once he sees her preparing her bag. She had told him she would spend the night, his mother at the hospital for some tests, her mother not really caring where she was.

"I need to go home," she mumbles. "Prim needs me to go home."

"Is that what has you so upset?"

She shakes her head. "No, Peeta. I just really need to go home," she snaps, moving over him to grab her jeans.

When she turns to tug on her boots, Peeta grabs onto her arm, finally forcing her to look up at him, eyes puffy, lips worried between her teeth. Katniss was never any good at hiding things from him and he wasn't good at hiding things from her.

"What's wrong?" He worries, his eyebrows knitting together, hand coming to rest on her hip though it falls on her flat stomach. At this she flinches away.

"Don't touch me right now," Katniss whispers. She doesn't want him to touch her but moments ago they were having sex? Seemed odd.

"Katniss, whatever it is-"

"I'm late."

...

He didn't know what late meant, not at first. It was only when she broke down into tears a moment later, her head in her hands, screaming about her inability to be a mother at nineteen did he understand. She was late.

"How late?" Peeta asks, his hands shaking. He tries to sound strong but from the desperate cry she gives, he's unsuccessful.

She's a week late, not too much but enough to cause her some worry.

"But I thought you were on birth control," Peeta mummers, following her suit and joining her on the ground, his hands coming to pull at the unraveling carpet which, in the moment, was an accurate portrayal of his unraveling life.

"What are you suggesting Peeta?" She seethes, her eyes flashing up for a moment, hard and angry and closed off. All things Katniss rolled into one.

"No. NO," he nearly yells, jumping to defense as his hands secure themselves around her slim arms.

"I said not to touch me!" She screams, scrambling away from him as if he'd hit her, as if he caused her physical harm. "Are you trying to suggest I trapped you?"

No. Peeta was never trying to suggest that. He simply wondered how they'd fallen into the 1% category when it had worked for them for so long. Thoughts of his mother creep into his head...then his father...then his brothers warnings and the minutes it takes for him to sort these thoughts is long enough for Katniss. He finally breaks from his moment when he hears the door slam.

As fast as his legs can move at the moment, he's after her, nearly running down the hallway, knocking over an expensive lamp his mother would surely yell at him for. But she wouldn't be yelling about just that...

"Katniss!" He calls after her, chasing after her retreating figure but it's too late. She's gone. Her lights shining in the distance as she speeds away, much faster than she should with the amount of ice on the roads.

Peeta takes a moment to sit in the snow.

...

He doesn't know exactly where he is going. Not at five in the morning but after spending hours in the safety of his own room, he had to get out.

Katniss hadn't answered a single one of his texts, not one of his calls. He would go by her house but he knows that will just upset her even more. And pregnant women aren't supposed to be upset...

Where does he go? Where does he feel safest?

His car moves before his mind does and before he knows it, he's standing outside the Cartwrights, knocking obnoxiously on the door waiting for someone to answer. When Mrs. Cartwright finally does, she looks at Peeta with worry, her eyes taking in his form as he stands before her.

"Peeta, are you alright?" She asks, stepping forward and rubbing the boys bare arms. Oh. That's what he'd forgotten. A jacket.

"Is Delly home?" He asks quickly. "I really need to talk to her. I need to talk to her right now."

Mrs. Cartwright nods her head slowly, inviting Peeta inside as she wraps a blanket around his shoulders. "Let me go wake her," she whispers timidly, as if she's thinking about telling the boy she's not home.

Peeta says nothing, just stands in the doorway, comforted by the wool blanket but not by the burning in his heart. He feels sick, as if at any moment he'll throw up. He wouldn't be surprised if he did.

"Peeta?" A voice breaks him from his thoughts, Delly standing before him in her robe. "Peeta, what's wrong? It's five-thirty."

"I need," he begins but breaks off seeing Mrs. Cartwright standing in the door. As much as he probably should speak to an adult and as nice as the older women was, he didn't wish to share the story with anyone other than Delly - maybe Finnick - for now. "Can we go to your room?"

Delly nods, taking him by the arm and leading him up the stairs. Mrs. Cartwright doesn't follow them. They've been friends for so long, there is no longer any need for worry.

"Peeta, look at me," Delly says once the door is closed. "What's happening? Are you alright?"

Peeta nods his head, thinks for only a moment then shakes his head. Of course he's not alright. He's never felt more... The thing was he didn't know how he felt.

"I..." he begins, unable to meet his friends eyes. She'll be ashamed of him. Everyone will be ashamed of him.

"Peeta," she warns.

"Katniss..." he tries again. "She's... She's..."

Delly doesn't need any more explaining and her eyes go wide, a gasp falling from her lips before she has realized what she has done. She tries to cover it up the best she can but she doesn't do a very good job.

"Oh God, she's pregnant," she mumbles, a hand coming to Peetas back to rub smooth circles.

Peeta shakes his head. "Just...late," he says. There was a difference. Right?

"So she hasn't taken a test yet, no?" Delly questions. Peeta shakes his head. "You know, it's not strange for girls to be a little off."

It wasn't unusual but it was unusual for Katniss.

"Were you guys not using condoms?" She presses, sounding more like a counselor than like his childhood friend.

"At first," Peeta whispers. "She's been on the pill since junior year and, I don't know. It was working." He hears how stupid he sounds.

"Pills can offset a girl sometimes too," Delly assures. "You really need to take a test to be sure. I can go get one for you if you'd like."

Peeta would really like that. How would it look, him walking into a store to buy a pregnancy test? Everyone would know who it was for. Everyone would know it's him. "Would you?" Peeta asks.

Delly nods her head, offering him a small smile.

"Everything will be okay."

...

Everything was not okay. Two days later and he still had not heard from Katniss. The one time he did go to her home, she wasn't home. Prim had told him she was out with friends but Peeta knew she was hiding. Hiding where, he didn't know.

The day he and Delly go to get a pregnancy test, it's a cold one. Both having to sneak away from the rest of their friends, go to a general store twenty miles outside of town, just to be sure.

The ride is silent, awkward, filled with a few tense words. Delly has run out of encouraging things to say and Peeta has lost his ability to speak. Dreams of unborn children had been filling his mind lately. He can't remember the last time he had more than four hours of sleep.

When they get to the Walgreens, it's empty for the most part. Just an oddly familiar Mustang sitting in one of the parking spaces, a few mini vans. Nothing to raise any alarm but even so, Peeta puts on a baseball cap and sunglasses.

"Which one should we get," Delly asks, looking at the wide range of ones they could look for ranging from ten dollars to almost fifty.

"Maybe we should just stock up on the cheap ones, four or five of em, you know?" Peeta suggests. It seemed like the best bet though he never believed he would have to take a chance on something like this.

Delly nods, grabbing a few off the shelf, putting them discreetly into her basket and moving around Peeta into the next aisle. "I need to pick up some shampoo while we're here so I'm going to-" she's cut off as the basket tumbles to the floor, a stranger mindlessly walking into the small girl, the tests scattering all over the tile. Peetas eyes widen.

"Shit," he curses below his breath, first attending to Delly, then to his desired item. But it's already been retrieved for him and when he looks up, he stares into the eyes of none other than Gale. Fucking. Hawthorne.

"Gale," Delly squeaks in surprise, grabbing the tests from his hands and shoving them beneath her shirt. "What a surprise!"

"So you finally knocked Everdeen up, huh," Gale smirks, wiggling the purple packaging before Peeta who sees nothing but red. What kind of luck did he have?

"That's none of your-"

"Actually there for me!" Delly pipes up, cutting of Peeta thus ending the heated confrontation that was bound to happen at some point.

It's clear Gale doesn't believe her but he says nothing, relinquishing the item back to her, obviously not having the heart to be a dick, at least not to someone as sweet as Delly.

"Well good luck with that," Gale mutters to Delly but his eyes locked on Peeta. "What a shame. Such a waste of talent."

This plucks at Peetas heart strings but he tries his best not to make a spectacle out of it. The last thing he needs to do is give Gale the satisfaction of knowing he's hurt him in any way, shape, or form.

"Good luck," he whispers, finally moving to leave. "You know, with the baby and all," he says, looking directly at Delly who nods, giving him a sad, convincing smile.

"Let's go!" Delly screeches once their out of ear shot.

...

He shows up unannounced that night, not waiting for Prim to invite him in or even open the door all the way. Simply walking past her and into Katnisses room where she lies, watching trash on the television. Upon seeing him she sits up.

"PRIM!" She screams at the top of her lungs, a frightened looking Prim coming into the doorway.

"He just barged in here," she defends, looking to Peeta with sad eyes.

"She's right," Peeta says. "I did. Prim, please go. Katniss and I need to speak for a moment."

Without a word she shuffles away, her head down as she hesitates before closing the door behind her, leaving them alone.

Peeta holds up the bag of pregnancy tests, his eyes hard. "You need to take these," he says finally, holding them out to her.

Katniss looks at him with sad eyes, obviously not in the mood to fight him. Not today. She grabs them wordlessly, going into the bathroom. "Do you want to come in with me?" She asks, her head peeking out from behind the door frame like a child. For someone who had been ignoring him so much, she sure wasn't all that angry to see him.

"Do you want me in there?" Peeta asks. She nods so he follows her, standing awkwardly as she pulls the first one from the box, squatting over the toilet.

They have to wait five minutes between each one or so, that's what the box tells them. She pees on all five and they have nothing to do but wait, Peetas heart beating so loudly he can hear it, Katniss chewing on her nails.

"What are we going to do if those things say I'm pregnant?" Katniss finally asks, unable to look up.

"Whatever you want to do," Peeta rasps, his voice failing him in the moment. But truthfully, he didn't know what the hell they would do if that little plastic tool showed up with two blue lines within the next two minutes.

"I can't be a mother," she whispers so low Peeta almost misses it. She'd said this before but that was before and this was now and there was a big possibility she might have to be. But then again, she didn't have to be.

But Peeta couldn't be a father either. Not now, not at twenty. He didn't know how to take care of himself, let alone someone else. But what would he feel if nine months from now, there was a little baby in his arms with brown hair and blue eyes? He couldn't not love it. He couldn't not love something that was both him and-

Her sigh breaks him from his thoughts, his eyes going up to her face where she sits, shorts still at her ankles, test in hand, one hand covering her mouth.

Oh no. Oh god. Oh-

"We're safe," she mumbles, going to clutch her chest. "We're good. I'm not... I'm not..."

"You're not," Peeta repeats, the words coming from his mouth, a smile spreading across his face. Should he be smiling? Was that appropriate? But looking up at Katniss she was doing the same, launching herself into his arms without a second to waste, her tears making marks on his shirt.

"Oh god, Peeta," she cries into his neck. Happy tears this time. "You don't know how-"

"You can't just run away, Katniss," Peeta says, crying too. "We have to be in this together. What would've happened if-"

"I know, I know. I just thought you were trying to accuse me of-"

"Never, Katniss!" He shouts, cutting her off yet again as their lips meet.

It takes them what feels like hours to finally stop crying, stop telling each other how much they love one another, and just calm down, retire onto her old bed and relish in the feeling of being in each others arms.

"I love you, you know," Katniss finally says. "I want it to be you, if anyone."

He's not sure what this means but it sounds nice enough.

"Me too."

...

Before he knows it, he's back on a plane, heavy mind and sweaty palms.

Katniss hadn't come to say goodbye at the airport. Prim was sick with some kind of stomach bug and couldn't hold anything down. Peeta knows this is true being he had been over the night before to spend his last remaining hours in Panem with the only reason he still came home to Panem.

But still.

...

"They want you to do a magazine cover," coach tells him one day after practice, January coming to a close as was the season.

"They?" Peeta questions.

"Some sporting magazine is running a big article on you," the man explains, pulling Peeta off to the side and away from his teammates. "Of course, you won't be paid for it but it would be good notoriety."

Peeta didn't want nor did he need any notoriety. He was a private person, at least that's what he liked to believe. The last thing he wanted was to give someone introduction into his life, his family, his friends. It's when that starts to happen that things get blurred, lines get tricky, relationships fall apart.

His relationship was falling apart all on it's own and the last thing he needed was nosey reporters digging into his past for the sake of getting a crappy news story for their crappy articles.

"I don't know why people are so interested in me," Peeta admits, looking sheepishly at the turf below his feet. "I'm not all that special."

"That's just it," coach responds. "You don't see how special you are. You aren't a showboat, you don't go out, you play a goddamn good game of football. You're an all American boy. People want to be like you and the media just wants to make people want to be like you."

A good American boy who just, almost, got his high school girlfriend pregnant...

Yeah. Seems about right.

...

It is actually Katniss who convinces him to do the cover. "What'e the harm in it?" She says. "I can get a poster made, put it up on my wall."

Peeta smiles. "I don't know, Katniss. It's just not me."

"No one is saying you have to make it you," she whispers. "It's one time, Peeta."

"Finnick would be much more made out for this," he argued. Finnick was made for this type of stuff. If the magazine had any type of management, they would absolutely put Finnick on the cover. That would sell.

"No," Katniss corrects. "They want you on the cover. Do it, Peeta! Please."

...

"Okay Mr. Mellark, now a little to your left."

It was simple enough when you hear the words. All Peeta had to do was dress in his jersey, take a few pictures, pretend to throw a few balls, answer a few questions, then he'd be out of there. Three hours top, Finnick had assured him when they'd arrived on the set earlier this morning.

But six hours later and they had yet to even get to the interview portion of the day. Peeta was exhausted, hungry, and his body was cold from being exposed for so long in the winter air.

Finnick and Thresh had come along with him, looking bored out of their minds as they sir behind the camera, eating the food that was supposed to be for the crew but had been relinquished to them after hours of sitting untouched. Finnick gives Peeta a thumbs up from his chair, encouraging him to continue.

"Okay Mr. Mellark!" The photographer cheers, snapping his camera a handful of times before, finally, putting it to his side. "I think we have what we need."

"Thank you," Peeta says, almost sarcastically. "Please, call me Peeta. Mr. Mellark is my father."

The photographer smiles, nodding his head. "Do you mind if we just knock this questions out of the way right now? It's getting late and I know you probably have somewhere to be."

Peeta had nowhere to be but his couch. He nods his head anyway.

"Okay Mr - Peeta," he croaks. "Is all the media attention you've been receiving affecting your life at all?"

"No," Peeta says. "I mean, I have to take pictures sometimes and sign a few napkins but for the most part, everything is the same."

"Do your friends treat you any differently?"

Peeta shakes his head. "Not at all. I grew up in a small town, everyone knows everyone. They all treat me the same for the most part. Sadly, I can't be around as much but-"

"And a girlfriend. Do you have a girlfriend?" The reporter interrupts.

Peeta is hesitant. "I do, actually."

"How does your stardom effect that relationship?"

"It doesn't at all. We're still the best of friends. I love her, she loves me. We've been together for four years," Peeta explains.

"That's sweet. In a time when seeing two young people stick by each other for so long is so rare," the reporter coos. "You truly are an inspiration."

Peeta almost laughs.

...

His brothers come in the weekend of Valentines Day, both anxious to be away from home now that they've been there for so long. Peeta is more than happy to see them, really missing the two in the time he's been away at school.

"Man, do I miss college," Rye mumbles, holding a beer to his lips as his eyes navigate across the bar, landing on a group of girls, obviously all in the dumps about Valentines Day, looking to drown their sorrows in cheap beer and cigarettes.

"You're telling me," Wheaton agrees. "The hottest chick I've seen in a year is probably Mrs. Dartmouth that runs the car dealership." Peeta laughs, remembering the women with her orange skin and the pungent smell of motor oil that followed her everywhere she went.

"I wish Annie was here," Finnick sulks in his seat in the booth, eyes on his telephone, most likely a text from his girl. Peeta doesn't even want to think about what it says.

Johanna was here so Thresh was missing. She'd come in two days earlier, her school having a random two week break in the middle of February so she and Thresh worked out a schedule, one that would mean they could both see each other and spend Valentines together. They were all banned from the house for, at least, six hours.

"I know. I miss Katniss," Peeta sighs, his eyes running over the missed call symbol on his phone. He would call her later. Away from the noise. Away from his friends.

"You guys are being total bores," Rye screams. "We came here to fucking party! Not to sit around and whine about our girlfriends!"

"Maybe you would understand if you had a girlfriend," Peeta teases.

"You think I want a girlfriend right now?" Rye challenges. "I'm having the time of my fucking life fucking any girl I want, whenever I want!"

"You're not fucking anybody," Finnick says. "Or else you wouldn't be so angry all the time."

"I'm not as angry as you two over here who are getting your dicks sucked on a regular basis," Rye counters. That was true but then again, no one was getting their dicks sucked on a regular basis because everyones girlfriend was millions of miles away or so it seemed.

"I don't even remember what it's like to not have a girlfriend," Peeta finally mumbles when the silence becomes too much. And he doesn't. He can't think back to a time before Katniss.

"Is that healthy for being nineteen," Wheaton whispers.

Was it? No. Probably not but it was the way things were for him and he wouldn't want them any other way. A life without Katniss wasn't a life at all, he knows that.

"You really want to live your life only being with one person," he presses again when Peeta doesn't answer.

"Yeah, dick heads, I do," Peeta curses, shooting his brothers dirty looks. Why would they think any differently? They loved Katniss just as much as he did.

"I don't know, Peet," Rye whispers. "Things have been weird for the two of you ever since going-"

"We've had a lot going on, okay," Peeta seethes, not caring to hear his brothers opinions. His brothers who had never loved anyone but themselves.

"Like?" Finnick asks. Peetas eyes grow big. Whose side was he on?

"We had a little scare," Peeta finally whispers after a while, his eyes going to the table, finishing off the beer in his cup.

No one speaks for a long time.

"A scare as in the condom broke?" Rye finally asks. Peeta shakes his head. "A scare as in you momentarily forgot the condom?" Peeta shrugs. Kinda, sorta. "Peeta, god-"

"They haven't used condoms in years," Finnick pipes up, coming to his rescue. "Katniss is on birth control and-"

"Do you at least pull out?" Wheaton screeches, his eyes going wide.

"Why would I need to if she's on-"

"Because you had a scare and nothing is 100%!" Rye nearly screams. "Jesus Christ, Peeta! You're a football star. You can't be-"

"You're acting like it's someone other than my girlfriend, Katniss, who I've been with for four fucking years!" Peeta argued. "We made a mistake, okay? Everything's fine. It was all clear. There's nothing-"

"There are a lot of things to worry about. You're never having sex without a condom again, I can-"

"Don't tell us what we will and will not-"

"Peeta we're just-"

"You're not my fucking parents so stop-!"

"We're just looking out for you! The last thing you need is to end up in that sorry-"

"Enough!" Finnick finally booms, bringing the brotherly tension to a halt. "Now is not the place nor the time to talk about this." Looking around the bar, Peeta can tell their booth is getting a fair amount of attention. Wether it's from the outburst or just because of Peeta, no one knows.

"What would you have done if you had gotten her pregnant, Peet?" Rye asks, his voice quieter, almost ashamed.

What would he have done? Moved back, no doubt. Spent the rest of his life in Panem making a healthy living with the mother of his child, take over the bakery, grow old there. Would he have been happy? Maybe, maybe not. But he would be happy with wherever Katniss was.

And wherever their possible, maybe someday, child would be.

...

It's a few weeks later when she brings it up.

"You know, I went to the doctor today," Katniss says on the other end of the phone. It was late, nearing midnight and both had to be up in the morning but neither had the heart to say goodbye.

"Are you alright?" Peeta worries. His family had not had good luck with doctors, not recently.

"Fine. They think it's the stress," she confirms. "You know, why I'm not having periods. Going so far from home, being away from Prim, being away from you. My body is just reacting to it."

"Are you going to be okay? I mean, is there anything they can do to get it up and running again?"

Katniss laughs. "More medicine but I can deal with that," she whispers.

Peeta says nothing, just listens to her breathing, wishing he could hear her heart right now like he would back home, lying on her bed, her hair covering his face, his ear on her heart, listening to the slow steady beat.

"I just don't want to mess up your life, Peeta," she stated.

"Katniss, you would never-"

"Just, let me talk," she starts. "I hate myself for doing the things I've done to you and lord knows, I'm no good at this. I don't want to mess up your life."

Peetas heart sinks. Is she saying what he thinks she is?

"Katniss," he pleads. "Katniss, you're not-"

"I'm not breaking up with you, Peeta. I just want you to know that if one day you wake up hating me, I understand," she whispers. "I'll never be able to be what you need me to be."

"Katniss, you're all I want," he assured. "Nothing else. Take everything else away from me, all I want is you."

"I love you, you know that, right?"

"I love you," Peeta confirms. "You could never mess up my life, Katniss. You are my life."

"I shouldn't be."

No, she probably shouldn't be but she was. She always would be.

...

Twenty. Peeta counts the number of candles on the cake Finnick had made for him, amazed that his best friend had actually listened when he asked for a quiet night out with just a few friends.

They all, much to his embarrassment, sing happy birthday at the top of their lungs, then force him to open his gifts in the midst of the restaurant. He gets a few shirts, a football from his teammates, a hat, a watch from Finnick and Thresh.

"Oh but that's not all," Finnick cheers a smile on his face as he points to the door.

...

"I can't believe you're here," Peeta pants, Katnisses lips moving to caress his jaw, her tongue sliding along the hollow of his throat. '"Katniss I'm-"

"Stop talking," she commands, moving down his body to shuck what little clothing he has left. She, on the other hand, is completely naked. "We have all the time in the world to talk, but not now."

When Katniss runs her hand up and down his shaft, he almost comes right then. It had been way to long. "I don't... I don't have a con-"

"It's okay," she promises, pulling away to look in his eyes. "It's okay, okay?"

It wasn't okay and his sub-conscience told him to tell her it wasn't okay. They had just feared their lives less than five months ago, this wasn't okay. But when she sinks down onto him, Peeta has no complaints. No room in him left to complain.

Home. This is home.

...

"I did actually get you a present," Katniss whispers, moving around the kitchen, preparing breakfast for all the boys in nothing but her underwear and the long t-shirt Peeta had provided. He'd already punched Finnick for staring.

"No sexual acts are allowed to be preformed-"

"Shut the fuck up, Finn," Thresh and Peeta say at the same time. He laughs.

Katniss rolls her eyes, moves to her bag and pulls the wrapping from her suitcase. "For you," she smiles, sitting on his lap, her hands going to tangle in his hair as she pulls him in for a kiss. "Happy birthday baby."

It's the magazine that Peeta had forgotten he'd even done. His smiling face on the cover, the pages that talk about him marked. Katniss highlighted here and there, mostly leaving comments in the margins about silly things he said. Peeta smiles.

"Thank you," he whispers, kissing her yet again.

"Peeta, I have some bad news but you look real fucking ugly," Thresh whispers, laughing hysterically as he pulls the magazine from his grip.

"Literally, Peeta, it's the worst thing I've ever seen in my life," Finnick jokes.

Peeta can't help but laugh, Katniss too.

He could live this way forever.

...

She leaves April 5th, on a nice day that would have made for a good trip down to the beach.

They hug in the middle of the airport, arms wrapped around each other, not saying anything for a few moments.

"I have to tell you something," Katniss whispers finally.

"If you're breaking up with me I don't want to-"

"I'm not breaking up with you, Peeta," she promises, running a hand down his face to caress his cheek. "I love you."

"This sounds like the beginning of a break up," Peeta jokes, at least he hopes.

Katniss smiles, moving away from him to look him in the eyes. "I got a job offer, internship," she starts. Peeta smiles.

"That's great, Katniss, I-"

"It's over the summer."

Peetas face falls. "Oh. For how long because I could probably go to-"

"I'm won't be able to come home at all."


How did you guys like this chapter? Leave me a review and let me know how it is.

Also, I've been looking for new books so if you have any recommendations, please let know!

Two, possibly, three more chapters left? Thanks!

Also, I'm so sad to hear about the passing of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Such a brilliant actor! Pray for his soul and for his family and that he finds happiness wherever in this universe he may be.

-B