"Hey, Peet. You're good to get going now, I'll take over."
Thom clapped his back and eased Peeta away from the grill. Peeta smiled and wished him a good evening before heading out and racing off to his apartment to shower and get ready for the traditional Friday night drinks.
Getting ready was easy for him. He was usually pretty efficient and quick, so his shower was no longer than five minutes. He shaved because he knew Katniss loved a clean shaven man; beards were a big no for her.
He was out the door in no time.
Stepping out onto the patio of the restaurant, he weaved through the tables, waving as the group all turned to him. They shouted and grilled him about it being almost nine o'clock, but he didn't pay much attention once his eyes landed on her.
It was like that every time he saw her. His body felt light and warm. He was content just by looking at her. And when she smiled at him, with her smile that showed her teeth and made dimples form on her cheeks, he felt like he was actually up in the clouds on a high.
There was an empty chair next to her, and he easily slid into it. She turned her head, a small smirk tugging at her pink lips.
Peeta smirked back. "I had to freshen up, duh."
"Yeah, yeah. Did you get off work late?"
He nodded. "Super busy. But it died down a little after eight, and Thom told me he was fine for the rest of the night."
"It's been a while since I last saw you, Mellark."
"The last five days have been a drag," he said, grinning slightly. "I'm going to have to say it...I missed you."
Katniss let out an airy chuckle, the corner of her mouth curling up. God, he loved her laugh. He loved everything that she did! It was getting ridiculous.
"Well..." she said, taking a sip from her drink that, surprisingly, wasn't a Corona. "Do you mind if we leave? There's somewhere I want to take you."
Peeta would go anywhere with Katniss. She didn't even have to ask twice.
As they both stood, he noticed how relaxed she seemed. Usually, Katniss was hyperaware of things, always looking around or fidgeting. But right then, she was...something close to oddly calm.
They said goodbye to their friends, not without a few wolf whistles and suggestive winks, though. Katniss rolled her eyes, even though he could see the blush that was colouring her cheeks a shade of red.
He smiled and followed behind her.
The sunlight was disappearing, but it was still somewhat light out when Katniss finally stopped in front of a large rock. They'd parked their cars at the bottom of the hill they just climbed, and Peeta was starting to wonder if this was just an workout routine.
But when Katniss smiled over at him, his lips twitched up despite his confusion at the rock that she ran her hand along.
"Yes, a rock," she replied with a playful roll of her eyes. "Just come sit for a second." Peeta obliged and sat up on the dusty rock with her. She lifted her hand and pointed ahead of them towards a treeline. "Look and tell me what you see."
Peeta squinted, and his eyes roamed over the green trees that stood tall. That was all he saw. Were the trees supposed to mean something? Were they special? Katniss did like nature, but he wasn't grasping the importance of the trees. There were tons of forests with tons of trees.
Katniss rolled her eyes and stood up from the rock. "Come on."
And without waiting to see if he was following, she set off down the other side of the hill that they didn't climb up. She was going for the treeline, he assumed. He got up and trailed behind her.
Maybe the trees opened up into Narnia, he thought with an inward chuckle. Maybe it'll be like that Bridge to Terabithia movie?
"Katniss," he called out as he ventured into the treeline in her wake. But the question he intended to ask never came out once he saw what was behind the tree line.
A pond, one that was big enough to be the size of two swimming pools, shimmered past the trees. There was a stretch of grass and wildflowers before the pond, and the whole scene was so utterly simple that it made for something extremely beautiful. His fingers twitched for a paintbrush.
"It's so...nice," Peeta sputtered. For once, he was at loss for words. He turned his head, watching as Katniss plopped down at the edge of the water.
Slowly, he approached and sat down beside her. He wondered why this place was so special to her, other than its beauty. The calmness that he associated with her earlier, now seemed like sadness. He watched her silently; the way her eyes scanned the pond was reminiscent. And something deep down in him ached.
"It's nice here," he said again lightly.
Katniss' lips twitched, and he watched as the muscles in her face strained to pull on a stronger smile. She blinked once and looked away from the pond, her eyes meeting his.
"I used to come here when I was little with my parents. I was five when I was last here with both of my parents," she said gently, running her hands through the grass. "We had picnics and my dad used to show the types of plants around here."
Peeta flipped a stone between his fingers, looking up at the stars that were now visible in the sky. "This place must be pretty special to you."
"It is," Katniss whispered back, her eyes trained on the dark water. Suddenly, without warning, Katniss stood up and pulled off her shirt and jeans. She made way for the water, not looking back.
"Uh- Katniss?" Peeta called, his mouth falling open.
But she didn't acknowledge him. She kept straight for the water, taking a deep breath as she waded in and dove beneath its surface. Peeta stood, going over to the water's edge hesitantly. He waited for her to surface at any moment, but the longer she didn't, the more he worried.
After standing around for another few seconds, he pulled his shirt off over his head and then kicked off his shoes and pants, wading into the water. The water was lapping at his knees, and his feet were squishing down on the muddy bottom of the pond, just as she resurfaced.
She breathed in deeply, her chest heaving.
"Katniss," he called softly, slowly wading in further. "Hey. You okay?"
Katniss stayed where the water met her shoulders. She shrugged as he got closer, averting her eyes to her hands that played with the water. "I'm fine. Just thinking about...how it used to be."
Peeta held out his hand. "Things change, I know. But I'm gonna try to make everything okay." Her wet hand grasped his dry one and he squeezed gently. "Everything will be okay in the end."
"Katniss. It's okay. Thank you for sharing this place with me." He grabbed his t-shirt and tossed it at her. "Here, put this on. You don't want to get your nice clothes wet."
Katniss looked like she wanted to argue, but he fixed her with a gentle, yet stern look and she pulled the shirt on without a complaint.
All in all, Peeta really did appreciate seeing this side of her. He loved seeing Katniss with all her defenses down, with her gates open. He loved her vulnerability, because for her, it meant trust. She trusted him.
"Its the picture perfect place to raise a family," Katniss mumbled as their fingers entwined. They stalked back through the trees and up the hill.
Peeta nodded in agreement, the image of two young children with his blond hair and Katniss's eyes, running around the area and splashing in the water.
"We can take our kids here," Peeta admitted without giving his words much thought. Katniss's abrupt stop was what made his eyes widen.
"I'm sorry...it just slipped out," he stammered, but then he wondered why he was trying to cover it up. It was what he wanted: a life with Katniss. "Wait...can I tell you something?"
Katniss was hesitant, but she nodded slowly.
"I don't care how many times you run, how many fights we get into, how annoyed we'll get...I just want that all if it means you'll be in my life for as long as my stupid heart beats," he said, his voice quiet. "I want to see you in a wedding dress. I want to see you hold our first child in your arms...I want to feel you next to me at night...I want all of you. Every single fibre of you."
He breathed in deeply. "Because you're it for me, Katniss. I can't picture another women doing those things. I can't picture a woman who'll make me so mad, yet I'll kiss her senseless in the same breath. I can't picture anyone else, because you're the only masterpiece I'll ever admire."
His hands shook and his heart thumped wildly, but it had to be said. He knew it was so scary to talk about the future, about serious things, but he didn't care. He meant every word, so there was nothing to regret.
"Peeta," Katniss whispered.
"Did I jump the gun? I'm sorry. But it's all true."
"What if I don't want kids, Peeta?" She asked, and Peeta ached with how weak her voice was.
"Then we don't have to have any. I'll take you anyway I can get you."
The thought of no kids hurt him. He wanted so badly to experience what his father did with him. He wanted to teach his young ones how to catch, ride a bike, write their name...
But if he couldn't have that with Katniss, then he didn't want it with anyone else.
"But with you I might," she said quietly, chewing on her bottom lip. "It's always a different story when it comes to you, Peeta."
"Why is that?" He asked.
And Katniss smiled that smile that made his insides twist pleasurably. She was so beautiful that he could literally melt in her presence.
"Because with you...nothing seems as bad as I thought."
They barely made it through his apartment door, before Peeta was wrapped up in Katniss, their hands roaming over each other. He wasn't sure exactly when the tension built up, but it was somewhere between their talk on the hill and their separate car rides back to his place.
He felt like a teenager again.
"Are...you..okay with this?" Peeta said between kisses as they stumbled blindly to his room.
"Yes, don't be dumb." She pressed a quick kiss to his jaw, like she always did. He threw the excess pillows off his bed and climbed onto, leaning his back against the headboard while Katniss pulled his t-shirt over her head. And seeing her in just her bra and underwear in his bedroom after what seemed like forever was breathtaking.
"God," he mumbled, wriggling out of his shorts and flinging them at her playfully. She rolled her eyes, not amused. All he saw in her eyes was desire and it made him lick his lips greedily.
The bed dipped under her weight as she slowly climbed, settling on his lap. And when he looked into her eyes, he knew what he was seeing. He had seen glimpses of it here and there, ever since she has been trying hard to show him that she cared.
But he really believed it then, and as her lips came crashing down on his and her fingers tugged at the waistband of his boxers, he was consumed with it. And there was no other feeling quite like it.
Katniss was on her back, looking up at the ceiling. It was quiet; Peeta silently watched her. They just had mind blowing sex, like it was amazing, yet Katniss' thoughts seemed somewhere else. He tried to ignore the feeling of dread that settled in him, but it was easier said than done.
"My mother's dying," she said quietly, not breaking her gaze from the white ceiling. "My dad got the call this afternoon. She has a few weeks left, they think. Sorry it's just been bouncing around in my head all day...that's why I've been so distracted, I guess."
Peeta sat up, his brows creasing with concern. "Katniss...I am so sorry-"
"Don't be. I just want to forget, you know? I wanted to take my mind off it all."
Something about the way she spoke those last words rubbed him the wrong way. Was having sex with him her way of forgetting? Did it take her worries away for awhile? Is that way she had returned back to her reclusive self, now that she had nothing to stop her thoughts?
"Is...is that why we just..." Peeta stammered and stood up from the bed. "Did you just use sex to forget?"
His words finally got ahold of her, and she sat up, her eyebrows raised as she shook her head. "What? Peeta-"
"Did you feel anything or was it all physical?" He fixed her with a look. "I know you love me, I've seen it in your eyes. But you don't hurt the people you love."
"Where the fuck is this coming from?" Katniss snapped back and stared at him with disbelief, reaching for her shirt. "Do you always have to assume the worst? Fuck, Peeta."
"Well, when it comes to you I kinda have to," he snapped back bitterly. Far, in the back of his mind, he didn't mean those words. But with Katniss snapping back at him, he felt the need to snap back this time, too.
He knew he was just being insecure. But he masked and morphed it into anger. Because being insecure was worse than being mad.
Her face contorted into an expression of hurt, followed by anger. She pulled on her jeans and reached for her bag. He quickly followed after her, because really he didn't want her to go.
"So you're just going to run away like always, aren't you?"
But his mouth betrayed him and he seemed to push her further.
Katniss' hand paused on the doorknob and she spun around. "You know what, Peeta? I do fucking love you. I did want to forget. And you always make me feel better, so I wantedto be around you. But don't you dare think you can accuse me of anything. Don't you dare think you can fucking tell me why I do things. Because you clearly don't know me then. You don't fucking know anything, apparently."
And without another word, she swung open the door and let it slam in her wake.
The smell of her lingering in the air, the taste of her still on his lips, and with her nowhere in sight, the anger fuelled by insecurity was replaced with sorrow.
Because he just fucked things up.
The sleepless night had taunted him just as much as his mind had. It replayed the whole night over and over and over. Katniss kissing him. Katniss sighing happily. Katniss' hands on him. Katniss yelling at him.
But Katniss didn't ruin things. He ruined it. With his stupid insecurities. She never acted on something that was nothing to her. So how could he dare accuse her of using him? Even after he said he knew she loved him. And she did! He'd count his lucky stars if she still did even after that night.
She didn't answer his calls or texts, much like she hadn't the first few times she ran away from him.
He called sick into work. Usually he didn't work Saturdays, but they asked him to earlier in the week. But now...things changed. He couldn't possibly be around a kitchen with hot stoves and sharp knives when he was barely focused on anything that wasn't Katniss. He needed to apologize, to tell her that he was a stupid, stupid man. That she could punch him as many times, because he deserved it.
Peeta grabbed his cellphone and pressed his forehead against the cold wall. There was a click after the third ring and he was thankful.
"Blondie," she said, unfazed. "What can I do for you?"
"Johanna," he breathed out, "I need you to tell Katniss to answer my calls. Please."
Johanna was quiet on the other line before she sighed out loud. "I would if she answered my texts. What the hell, Mellark? I thought you two snuck off last night to get wild-"
"Johanna. I don't know what to do. I fucked up. Please...please help me. Oh, God...I can't lose her. I- please, I can't lose her!"
His heart was pounding at an incredible speed, and his lungs were expanding and collapsing quickly, making his breaths short and laboured. And when he felt tears prick at his eyes, he knew he lost control.
He couldn't lose her again. He was tired of losing her.
"Please," he continued weakly, not entirely sure if Johanna was still on the other end of the line. "She's the one thing in my life that makes sense. And I don't want to lose her like this anymore, Johanna. She's the...the good in my life. Fuck- I, oh, I can't-"
"Peeta. Peeta," Johanna's voice came firmly through the phone. "Listen to me, right now. Breathe, okay? Calm down. I'll call Madge and see if she has talked to Katniss. Just relax."
And she hung up without another word, leaving Peeta with fuzzy vision and shaking hands.
Peeta stood outside the door of Madge's townhouse. He slowly raised his hand to knock, he knocked twice. They were weak knocks at that, but he couldn't do much better.
The door opened revealing Gale, and Peeta was too concerned about Katniss to even wonder why Gale was there. His grey eyes immediately narrowed, and his mouth opened – probably to rip Peeta a new one – but then he stopped short.
"I know she's here," Peeta said, his voice feeble. "Please...I need to talk to her."
Gale seemed to entertain the idea, then his eyes returned to normal and he sighed, stepping to the side. The other man didn't say anything, only following a few paces behind Peeta as he made his way to the kitchen, where he heard her voice.
He stopped in the doorway, watching as Katniss shrugged and looked down at her lap. Madge, however, stilled her movements when she caught sight of him. Her cup was midway raised and she didn't say much, because Katniss was already turning around.
Her eyes met his, still full of anger, though it was more subdued. He opened his mouth to say something, and he tried so hard to stay strong and get the words out, but his lips quivered and he shook his head, just as the tears came full force and streamed down his cheeks.
"I...I can't lose y-you. Not again."
He felt so little, so small, like he was a child again, standing in front of his mother as she cursed him out for breaking her favourite vase. Back then, the words that he wanted to use to defend himself stuck in his throat, while the tears made an appearance.
He wiped furiously at his eyes. He wasn't that little, frightened kid anymore. He had to be much stronger than that.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
Madge look stunned, seeing as how she hadn't moved. And Katniss, she slowly set her mug down and stood from the chair. She regarded him with caution, like a wounded animal. And he felt like one. He felt helpless.
"Peeta Mellark," she said softly. She always said his full name when she was being gentle. It was her way of being sentimental, Peeta knew that. "Why are you crying over me?"
Madge's chair scraped against the floor and she stood up and hurried past them, dragging Gale along with her. And it was just Peeta left with Katniss.
"Because I love you."
His voice was nasally from his congestion after crying, and he sounded so stupid, he thought. He sounded like a dumb kid.
Katniss' fingertips brushed across and trailed down his cheek and over his lips, until she finally cup his face lightly. "That's not something to cry about."
"But losing you is."
"You were acting crazy last night...really out of line," she said. "But I'm not leaving you because of it."
"You're the only thing that makes sense in my life," he said, repeating the same words he had said to Johanna. "And...I-I'm sorry for creating this whole mess. By making you prove that you want to be with me...and for last night-"
"Peeta, stop." Tears welled up in his eyes again, though he wished them away. Katniss frowned and shook her head. "It's okay, Peeta. Don't cry..."
"I'm not losing you? Please tell me I'm not-"
"You're not losing me, Peeta. Now go home and get some sleep, please. I'll come see you in a little bit."
Peeta had to blink a few times before he took notice of the dark lines under her eyes. He lightly touched them and frowned. "What about you?"
She took hold of his hand and squeezed once before dropping it. "Don't you worry about me. I'll see you soon, okay?"
Peeta didn't sleep much. He tried, for Katniss. But it never came. He slept for no more than twenty minutes. The whole day he tried, but his eyes stayed locked on the door, waiting for her to come. He had to make things better. As the sun began to set, he prepared for another sleepless night.
Katniss said she would come see him. Why didn't she? He didn't want to call her either, he'd already done enough crying and whining.
He pulled on a hoodie and pyjama pants, heading to the bathroom to wash his face just as a knock came, then the door slowly opened. He stood there, watching as she slipped in, closing the door softly. She placed the spare key, that he gave her a while back, on the stand by the door.
She was turning, when their eyes locked and she jumped a little.
"Oh-" She sighed. "You scared me. I thought you'd be sleeping."
"Not without apologizing. Katniss...I- I don't know what happened. I just felt so...insecure. I just...I feel like I'm never good enough. And I'm sorry for putting words in your mouth."
Katniss stopped and took off her sandals before coming closer to him. "I told you it's okay."
"You really expect me to believe that?" He asked, a halfhearted grin on his lips. "I made you pretty mad. And you don't usually forgive so easily."
"There were different circumstances-"
"What, because I was crying?"
He was still ashamed. Showing emotion was something he taught himself to be proud of...but that was out of control. He couldn't even calm down enough to control himself!
Katniss sighed, her eyes softening. "Yes. And I never want to see you cry, Peeta. So why would I make things harder and stay mad?"
"Because I was an asshole, Katniss," he said, looking down at his feet. "I don't...I never want to yell at you like that, or say those things."
"You were," she agreed. And he looked up. "But I don't want to see you hurt like that. We're okay now."
"But I don't want to hurt you either!"
"You made me angry, Peeta. Maybe a little hurt. But I was more angry, okay?" He looked her in the eyes, and her eyes showed nothing but honesty. "Last night I had a lot going on...but you need to understand that I wanted you. For selfish pleasure. To feel you. Not because I wanted to forget, Peeta. I wanted you simply because I wanted you."
Peeta slowly let a small smile stretch across his tired face. "I'm kind of an idiot, huh?"
"Yeah. You are."
"I was going to try and go to bed," Peeta said, gesturing down the hall. "But now that you're here...we can watch something if you-"
"Oh, no. I came to sleep." Katniss gave a shy smile, before reaching for his hand and pulling him down the hall. He stood there and watched as she opened up the bag she had been carrying, pulling out pyjama shorts and a shirt. She changed quickly, then offered him a look.
Her arms wrapped around him, her face buried in the crook of his neck. It didn't catch him off guard, because in an instant, his arms wrapped around her and his hand soothingly ran through her hair.
"You really are such a heartbreaker," she mumbled.
Katniss pulled away. "Because...when you found me...and then you cried-" she paused for a moment, then shook her head. "I actually cried in my car after leaving Madge's place."
"'Don't cry over me' is that what you were going to say?" She asked, and Peeta shrugged. She rolled her eyes. "Shut up. Of course, I cried over you, Peeta." Her voice was much softer as she spoke. "I do care about you. I care about us. Hopefully that's clear now."
"I'm sorry," he repeated again. Katniss fixed her with a nonthreatening scowl before pulling back the comforters on his bed. "What?"
"Come on. You need to sleep."
And much like a child again, he crawled onto the bed and let Katniss pull the covers over him. She slid in under the covers on the other side of the bed, facing him. Tenderly, she stroked his hair back from his forehead."
"Where did you go today?" He asked quietly.
Her lips pursed a little and chewed her cheek for a moment, then answered. "I saw my mother."
Peeta nodded, though he wished he could've gone with her. He wanted to meet her mother. It was important for him to meet the parents of his girlfriend.
"Can I meet her?"
Her voice was firm, and her tone held no room for discussion. Peeta knew he shouldn't argue, but he pressed further.
"Because," Katniss breathed out, "...because she doesn't connect with people, Peeta. She's detached. She doesn't acknowledge me, she doesn't acknowledge Prim...she doesn't even notice my dad! What makes you think she'll care for you? She won't. So drop it."
Peeta dropped his eyes from her and chewed on his bottom lip. He heard Katniss sigh with defeat, but he chose not to look up.
Her finger titled his chin. "Look, I'm sorry. It'll just make it worse, okay?"
"Okay," he whispered, even though he didn't agree. But he wasn't about to start a new fight.
They stayed silent, watching each other. Peeta watched Katniss' fingers fiddle with sheets, her hair, then the sheets again. He raised and eyebrow at her.
"Sorry," she said, stilling her hands. "I'm feeling restless."
Peeta wasn't sure what really compelled to do it, but the words tumbled from his mouth. "I can help you become a little less restless-"
"Peeta, we're not having sex."
He smirked a little, feeling the mood between them shift from serious to light. They had all of the next day to be serious and talk about their problems. But night was for something else.
"Who said anything about sex?" He asked, his hand trailing up her leg and resting on the waistband on her pyjama shorts.
Katniss tried to keep her face impassive. But then her eyebrows raised. "Are you talking about going down on me? Peeta, no. You need to rest-"
"And so do you. This will tire you out, like it always does, and then you'll sleep. And I can only sleep if you can." He looked at her with hopefulness. "So, really, this is me helping you, which is helping me."
She pursed her lips before that same look of desire and love filled her tired eyes, and she pushed sheets off. "Make it good, Mellark."
And Peeta smiled slightly. He would definitely exceed her expectations. Tomorrow was for talking. Right then his mouth was supposed to do something else.
This wouldn't make up for anything that he did, he knew that. But they could at least enjoy it.
a/n: this chapter was all over the place, a little dramatic...
next chapter is going to have some serious drama/sadness, so look out for that!
Leave a review to tell me how you felt about this chapter and predictions for next chapter.