IMPORTANT PLEASE READ!
First, I would like to start by apologizing for the wait. The last time I updated this story was in August of 2014, right before the next semester started at my local community college. When I updated, I had every intention of continuing this story because I really do love this concept and story I am crafting and I am genuinely proud of the little I have accomplished in the few chapters I have written so far. However, like I'm sure everyone can relate to, the real work and all its responsibilities quickly took all of my attention and before I knew it a few months had gone by and I had only gotten halfway through this chapter. Still, I prevailed, chipping away at it slowly but surely, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, word by word.
The point at which things went sideways was probably midway through the following semester. I got so caught up in school, in trying to be an adult and spending all this money for classes and books that was supposed to be pointing me in one direction or another despite the fact that I had no idea which direction I really wanted to be pointed in to start with, that my writing started slipping. My anxiety and stress levels were at an all time high, to the point where I stopped writing altogether in a misguided attempt to try and get my life together while also trying not to admit my own weaknesses to anyone, including myself.
I am currently on a break from school and doing better. I do feel slightly ashamed, having poured myself into my academics and yet forced to put everything on hold without anything to really show for it while the people around me went on to do the things they wanted. It's something I will have to figure out as I move forward, wherever that may be. I will, however, say that this break has allowed me a chance to get back to doing what I enjoy, my own personal outlet for all the whirling thoughts and ideas. I started writing again, first for a different fandom to get my feet wet once more and test the waters, in the latter half of last year but I have been shamefully staring at this unfinished chapter sitting on my computer for far longer than I am willing to admit.
This chapter is way overdue, for that I apologize, but I finished it yesterday and I couldn't wait to be able to post it and share it with you all. It was supposed to include much more, but since I ended up being way more long winded than I had originally planned, I have instead decided to split the contents of the originally outlined chapter into two separate chapters. I apologize if this chapter doesn't live up to expectation (it was supposed to be the slower lead up to the contents of the next chapter) but please stick with me a little longer.


Loving a military man is not hard. The distance is hard, the worry is hard, the sacrifice is hard. But loving him . . . that's the easiest thing I've ever done.

Chapter 7

The Easiest Thing

Katniss was already at work the next morning when she spied Peeta outside the restaurant window. The lunch rush was very small that day, the annual fair a few towns over drawing the crowds away from town. As a result, the day had been really slow and knowing that after she got out of work she would be able to see Peeta again made the day seem even longer. Katniss only had a few tables in the lounge area and was standing around at the bar with Cashmere when she spotted him.

He and Finnick were both dressed in sweatpants and loose t-shirts. They were talking to Annie, who was dressed in a pair of jeans and a sweater. After a few moments Finnick leaned forward and kissed her before she turned away and entered the building. Katniss smiled at her from her perch on one of the barstools, glancing at the window briefly to see both Finnick and Peeta still there. They looked to be stretching.

Annie joined her then, settling herself at the barstool next to her while she greeted the two ladies. She glanced out the window once more while Annie and Cashmere politely exchanged pleasantries, reacquainting themselves from the night before. Finnick and Peeta were still outside, probably affectionately ribbing one another by the looks of things. Peeta gave his bronze haired friend a small shove that resulted in a laugh from the both of them.

"Are they coming in?" Katniss asked, gesturing weakly at the boys.

Annie glanced at them and then shook her head. "They are going for a run. Finnick's been bouncing off the walls since five this morning, too much bundled up energy that he needed to release with his best buddy. They will be back in a little bit, no doubt smelling like gym shorts."

"Lovely," Cashmere remarked, idly cleaning some martini glasses. "Doesn't everyone just love the smell of nasty, crusty gym shorts," she drawled out sarcastically.

Katniss only scrunched up her nose at the visual while Annie laughed. "Hmm, nothing better than that," she joked. "But count yourself lucky, you've never had a group of about six equally sweaty and rowdy Marines barreling through your apartment after PT and raiding your fridge. I don't care how many candle you light, the smell lingers for awhile," Annie joked.

Cashmere leaned across the bar, resting her hand over Annie's and gave a comforting squeeze. "I'll pray for you," her sarcastic tone almost sincere.

She then looked over at Katniss, tipping her head and giving a little teasing smile. "You sure you're ready for this life?" Cashmere asked her, moving back to the little sink where more bar glasses awaited to be cleaned.

"Do you always have to tease me?" Katniss questioned, her gaze still lingering on the front window where Finnick and Peeta were still stretching and limbering up. Katniss couldn't help but note how nice the shirt looked as it moved and stretched over Peeta's taut, broad shoulders. Cashmere followed Katniss's gaze, in time for Peeta to bend forward to stretch out his legs. Cashmere hummed at the view of his ass he unknowingly was presenting them, prompting Katniss to throw a stray straw wrapper at the friendly bartender, who only smirked and gave a shrug.

Annie, however, was regarding Katniss much more seriously. Her striking eyes were zeroed in on her face, studying her in a way that slightly unnerved the young server. It was as if it was last night all over again, Katniss's chance to make a first impression a good one and prove herself worthy of them somehow. Now, however, it was as if the slightly older woman was attempting to look into her soul and test her somehow. It was as if Annie was attempting to see if she had it in her to handle being a Marine girlfriend, maybe something more someday.

Truth be told, it was something that Katniss herself worried about. Since meeting Peeta, she had been happier than she had ever felt before, more complete in a way when she was with him. He had come into her life in a whirlwind, suddenly stopping in and shaking up her world from the ground up and yet she couldn't find it in herself to care. Instead she found herself living in the moment, living in the happiness he gave her, and wondering when she was alone where this was going. She wanted to have more with him, she didn't want his leaving to be the end of whatever it was that they had going. Even if they hadn't talked about it yet, hadn't even discussed whether or not they even felt it was the right thing to do between them, whether or not a relationship between them was what they wanted.

Still, she found herself worrying incessantly in recent days, in the darkness in her room when she was alone, if she had what it took to be with him when she couldn't always be with him. Did she have what it took to carry a relationship when he was stationed on the other side of the country? Could she cope with inevitable deployments? She had seen the movies, heard the stories about the stress of having a loved one potentially be in harm's way at any given time while they served their country.

Katniss was just a small town girl, her little world almost stupidly closed off from the rest of the world. She had never imagined herself as a military girlfriend, never had to worry about whether or not she had enough internal strength to handle this sort of relationship. Despite it all, she had almost subconsciously resigned herself to the fact that she was probably destined to marry Gale, from lack of option alone, and then suddenly found herself looking outside their little world by Peeta's sudden reappearance. Sure, she had somehow been lucky enough to capture his attention now, but a part of her worried if she had what it took to keep it and be his pillar. Looking at Finnick and Annie, she could see that the give and take relationship between them both, how they drew from one another in ways she had never seen before, and she had really only just met them and yet it was so obvious. Did she have what it took to be that kind of partner for Peeta?

Whatever answer Annie got, she leaned closer to Katniss and began to speak. "In all seriousness, it's not an easy life, being the partner to a Marine. It's hard work and it takes a certain spirit, but it's all worth it for the right guy," she told the younger female.

Katniss glanced out the front window once more as Peeta and Finnick began their run, jogging away and gradually picking up speed. She didn't exactly know how to respond to that, the words churning slowly over and over in her head.

"We haven't even really gotten to that part," Katniss found herself saying. "We haven't talked about what's going to happen when he leaves, if we are even going to try to last beyond these blissful days we've had here."

She paused for a moment, trying to get her thoughts together to try and figure out where exactly she was going with this. Annie was patient, a sort of understanding look on her face that didn't leave her feeling rushed or foolish in any way. She took her time, needing it in order to try and decipher her jumbled thoughts. Everything was sort of spinning wildly, disconnected thoughts about this or that popping up and then disappearing as quickly as they came. Like the way Peeta's lit up when he talked about being a Marine and his Marine buddies. Or his fascination with the USS Arizona. Or how he had the perfect big smile and how it always disarmed her every time he flashed it at her, making her heart flutter and this strange feeling bubble up in her.

"Being with him, these few days we've had together now," she started, trailing off after a moment and shaking her head. "I don't know. Just being with him is the easiest thing I've ever done."

And it was. Being with him just came naturally in a way she didn't know was possible. Being with Peeta wasn't like being with Gale or any other guy for that matter. Conversation came so easy, not because of years of practice but because of this natural chemistry she didn't know she could have with anyone else. Her heart fluttered and she just felt lighter with him. She hadn't ever experienced anything like she was feeling now with Peeta and it scared and excited her all at the same time, giving her courage and yet leaving her wavering in place. All the complicated emotions, and family or town drama that came along with being with Peeta was strange and difficult, but actually being with him, actually liking him, came so naturally to her she almost didn't know how she ever coped before him.

Annie smiled softly at her, placing her chin in her hand and leaning casually against the bar, somehow seeming pleased with her answer. Cashmere, whom Katniss forgot was standing there, nosily set down a large margarita glass. Katniss jumped at the sound and looked sharply at her bartender friend. The blonde only shook her head in wonder.

"You are so screwed. You're already head over heels in love with this boy," she finally said after a moment.

Katniss stared blankly for a moment before she pursed her lips together into a scowl. "Don't you have things to prep or drinks to make?"

Cashmere batted her eyes innocently. "Oh, am I bothering you?"

"Go away now," Katniss practically barked, resulting in Cashmere laughing as she walked away, moving towards the opposite end of the bar.

Katniss hesitantly looked back at Annie, fighting a blush at her friend's bluntness. Annie was still leaning up casually against the bar, still smiling at her. She seemed amused by the interaction, almost like she was used to seeing things like that all the time. And after seeing Peeta and Finnick together last night, Katniss didn't doubt that she had seen many teasing banters.

"He's serious about you," Annie said after a long moment of comfortable silence. Katniss glanced up quickly, unable to say anything or even process what the other girl had told her. Luckily it seemed Annie wasn't done talking yet so it spared Katniss from answering right away.

"He's a relationship kind of guy, so if he's interested in someone he tries to make it work. But he doesn't fall into a relationship like he did with you. He takes his time, the Corps always comes first for him and then a relationship is secondary. He's a Marine first, friend second, and boyfriend third. That's just how he is. He'll give everything in himself away, spread it out the best he can but the Corps always get the first pick of him.

"But he lights up with you. He's just different with you, like he's fallen so deeply in you that he can't even see the Corps looming over him. He's so lost in you that's he's not even thinking about how he's gonna be across the country by next week."

Katniss hesitated for a moment, raising a brow. "I'm not sure if I'm following. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" she questioned.

Annie leaned forward suddenly and lightly gripped her wrist. "It's a good thing, a very good thing. I've known Peeta for a while now and a part of me has always worried he was never going to find someone. With him, it's like he found himself, or the man he was always meant to be, when he became a Marine and that has never made him happier. It was like he was so happy just being a Marine that he didn't care if his relationships worked out because he still had the brotherhood if they didn't. I just always worried that he was never going to find someone that made him happier than being a Marine and that he was just going to be alone for the rest of his life. Just seeing him with you, or even talking about you, that's the happiest I've ever seen him. You just swooped in out of nowhere and stole his heart."

Katniss shook her head, choosing to focus on Annie's last statement rather than the giddy butterflies that had erupted in her stomach from the ones before that. "No, you have it the other way around. He's the one that swooped in out of nowhere and shook up my entire world."

Annie only smiled at her words, like they comforted her somehow. Katniss wasn't sure what her face looked like at the moment, probably arranged in some dumbstruck, flustered expression, but it seemed to please the slightly older woman. She flashed her a bright smile and laughed sort of sheepishly.

"Peeta will probably kill me if he found out I told you all this, but I like you, and I think you're good for him. We need a girl like you in our little group. The boys have far out numbered the girls for a long time and you'll help even out the score a bit," she said lightly, easing the tension brought on by the serious subject.

Katniss couldn't help but smile too, taking the easy out Annie had given her and running with it. A lot of things were still up in the air at the moment, too much for Katniss to truly feel comfortable with, but now wasn't the time to overthink everything. She was still at work, in Annie's presence, and with a good day planned out ahead of them, no doubt. She could overthink things later, when she was alone in her room at night, probably not sleeping because her heart was still fluttering from Peeta and her mind still whirled. Now, however, wasn't the time.

The restaurant was terribly dead, hardly anyone in the lounge at all and only a few people in the dinning room. However, it allowed Katniss time to simply hang out with Annie. Now that the more serious conversation was already had, everything Annie had wanted to say spoken, she had moved on to simpler topics. It wasn't like talking with Peeta, where Katniss always had something to say and she didn't ever feel the need to censor herself in any way. But talking to Annie was easy in a different way. They laughed, keeping to safe topics now, and joked, getting to know one another. Both were still somewhat shy around one another, hesitant because they each wanted the other to like them so they were trying to put their best foot forward.

Still, despite it all, the girls were having a good time with one another. Cashmere helped too, her blunt, snappy personality easing the tension at times. Katniss was grateful for this, a weight lifted off her shoulders after spending more time with Annie. She felt better seeing that Annie seemed to like her, like she was integrating her way into Peeta's life by taking this step. She didn't know how this would all turn out (it wouldn't matter if Peeta's friends liked her if he left on Monday and she never saw him again, after all). But it felt important somehow.

They wasted the hours away this way, hanging out at the bar in between taking care of the few customers that came in for a meal. At one point, about a half hour before Katniss's relief was scheduled to come in, Katniss did notice something peculiar. The lounge was on a raised platform, only a few steps up, but it did allow for a good view of the rest of the restaurant. For the better part of a half hour the young waitress had a strange feeling creeping up the back of her neck, like she was being watched or examined. Katniss had just brushed off, called herself paranoid.

After a particular loud burst of laughter as a result of a particularly raunchy story the escapades of Peeta and his Marine buddies, however, Katniss did happen to look out over the restaurant and she couldn't help but notice someone was indeed watching her. Madge Undersee was sitting down in the dining room with her busybody perfectly blonde posse of flippant girlfriends sharing drinks, daintily watching their figures by eating salads only with perfectly manicured hands, and obnoxiously giggling over one thing or another. (No doubt nothing like what they had just been laughing over. Knowing them, it was the result of some "juicy" gossip in town.) Madge seemed distracted, unlike her friends who seemed to be enjoying their lunch date. Katniss could practically see her unease from her position at the bar, could see she was warring internally with something, and judging by the fact that Katniss was the focus of her stare, she had a creeping suspicion it had something to do with her.

Katniss held her gaze for only a moment, looking away hurriedly and turning back to the conversation she was having. But the damage seemed to be done, the few seconds of contact-however accidental on her part- seemed to be what Madge needed to gather up her courage. She stood, spoke something to her friends quickly, and then started slowly towards the bar where Katniss stood. Katniss froze, feeling dread fill her stomach. Whatever Madge had in mind, Katniss was sure she wasn't going to like it.

But Madge didn't get the chance. Just as she approached the host stand area, the area you needed to go passed in order to head towards the lounge, the front doors opened and she froze. Peeta and Finnick entered, both dripping in sweat but seeming to be in good spirits as they nudged one another and laughed heartily. They walked by Madge and the host, not even seeing them, and walked up the steps to the lounge as if they had done it their entire lives, coming up and standing next to their respective women.

"Hey," Peeta greeted simply before he leaned in for a chaste kiss. Katniss couldn't stop herself from savoring the feel of Peeta's lips against hers.

"You're sweaty," she muttered, glancing back towards where Madge still stood, watching them closely.

Peeta chuckled once, leaning in to give her one more kiss before he leaned away from her, removing his sweaty body away from hers. Katniss glanced over to see Annie pushing Finnick away, who was trying to rub his sweaty body all over hers despite her protests. Cashmere was shaking her head, filling up glasses of water and sliding it across the bar to each boy.

Peeta gulped it down readily, giving Cashmere a quick thank you. The five of them chatted easily for a few moments, talking about the run the boys took and somehow veered off topic after Cashmere made a raunchy comment about the boy's running "form". Katniss was only half-paying attention, watching Madge. Whatever courage she had gotten disappeared at the sight of Peeta and Finnick and she had retreated back to her table. She hurried her little posse of girls out of the restaurant after that, not even stopping to glance back at Katniss. Still, Katniss was able to finally breathe a sigh of relief when she was gone.

"You're almost done with work, right?" Peeta asked after a few minutes of conversation.

Katniss glanced at the clock, noting that her relief, Rue since the kind-hearted girl had traded shifts with her, should be getting there soon. She nodded, glancing back at her one table. "Yeah, Rue will be here soon, and I just have to wait for my last table to finish up. Shouldn't take too long."

Peeta nodding. "Well, Finnick and I are both disgusting and in desperate need of a shower. How about we head back, you finish up here and then go home to change out of your uniform and do whatever you have to do. You can meet us back at the bakery when you're ready. We can have dinner there and then we can go out."

Katniss readily agreed and the group didn't linger long after that. Peeta kissed her goodbye, being careful not to rub his sweaty body against her clean uniform. Annie went with the boys, wanting to get a little more dolled up for whatever they did tonight. Before the left they did extend an invitation to Cashmere if she didn't already have plans tonight, and though she didn't commit to anything she did seem interested. The trio left with the promise of seeing her soon and Katniss was more than eager to get out of there.

Rue showed up soon after, all excited for her and wanting to gush about how great of a guy Peeta was and how cute they looked together. It didn't take much longer for Katniss's last table to finish up their meals and allow her to cash out, Rue trailing behind her while she did her side work and helping her restock things for the night so the older girl could get out quicker. Katniss was determined to make it out the door in record time, much to Cashmere's amusement as she was taking her time working her way out, but very soon Katniss was rushing out to her car. Katniss had to run a few errands before she could return home, stopping at the bank to deposit the tips that had been stacking up in the bottom of her purse, and then stopping at the local store.

She had a few items she needed to pick up, things that had been accumulating during the week but she had been too busy with Peeta to stop and get it. She needed another tube of mascara, and eyeliner since she had been stealing Prim's for a few weeks now when she bothered with eyeliner at all. She needed a new coin purse, too, since the zipper on hers broke so she's just been fishing loose change out of her serving apron for weeks now. She was toying with the idea of possibly wearing heels tonight and if she was even going to consider that she was going to need some band-aids to prevent her feet from being shredded.

A few more random items from the perfectly crafted mental list of things she needed, Katniss found herself in line, behind a couple of teenage boys and in front of a mother and her two wiggly children. Of course, Katniss hadn't thought to grab a little basket when she first entered the store so now she stood holding all her items against her chest, trying not to drop them. And of course, standing in line waiting as an elderly woman and her thousand coupons tried to cash out, her gaze began to wonder, looking at all the items stacked by the cash register for impulse buys. There were the regular items there, candy bars and packs of gum, chapsticks and lip balms, tashy gossip and soap magazines. But there, on the top shelf like they always had been out of the reach of curious children, Katniss found herself fixated on a the row of different kinds of condoms.

Sure, her mother had given her the sex talk and her health class had covered the basics. And she had sex before and done so safely even if she had been really drunk on one occasion; she still had the right frame of mind to demand a condom before anything went any further with Seneca. But she herself had never bought a box of condoms, never felt the need to. With Gale, he had been the one to initiate things and he had been the one to take care of being safe. With Seneca, she had demanded he break out the condom he kept in his wallet. Sex always just sort of happened, it hadn't been something Katniss had been really thinking about enough to get excited about, or crave enough to actually prepare herself.

But now, she just sort of fixated on the condoms. She didn't necessarily think that this was where her and Peeta's relationship was going; they had only been on one date and actually been together for only a handful of days. She didn't want to be presumptuous in any sort of way. But on the other hand, Peeta did stir things in her in ways other men never had. She was thinking about it all of a sudden, and she found that sort of telling.

So she awkwardly shuffled her items around so she could quickly swipe the nearest package of regular, non-latex just to be safe, condoms and tried not to cower when she remembered she was sandwiched in line between teenage boys and a mother and her kids. And judging by the looks each gave her she knew they had noticed her impulse buy.

Katniss was grateful to get to the register, cash out as painlessly as possible and quickly hightail it out of the store with her items safely in bags and out of sight. She rushed home, looking at the time and knowing Peeta was waiting for her. She made sure to text him, telling him that she had just made it home and she needed to get ready. His response came before she was even out of her car, saying to take her time because Annie was getting all dolled up and the Marines were just hanging out over beers while they waited.

"You look like you're trying to hide something," came Prim's shout from the kitchen as soon as she entered the house.

Katniss clutched the condom bag a little closer to her chest and glared at her sister. "Shut up. And come and help me, I have to get ready for a night out," she called to her sister, hearing the younger girl immediately jump up from the table and chase after her.

Prim worked her magic on her, sitting her down to curl her hair into loose curls and throwing out ideas about what to wear. She sighed after a moment. "I can't wait to get older and be able to go out with a handsome guy trying to woo me too."

Katniss only smiled, staring up at her sister through the mirror. "Your time will come, Little Duck, though I don't know why you keep pretending Rory isn't going to be your handsome guy trying to woo you."

Prim blushed, looking flustered for a long moment before she redirected the conversation by asking about their plans for that night. The plans themselves were sort of vague, leaving plenty room for flexibility. As far as she knew, all they had talked about was eating dinner at the bakery and then piling into a car and driving a few towns over. There was a fairly decent nightlife a few towns over considering they happened to be in the middle of nowhere, a small strip of bars and clubs, restaurants, and other little shops that came alive when darkness fell. It wasn't anything too grand, but there was a small university not far from there so all the kids flocked there and you could have a decent enough night out if you wanted.

And depending on how drunk they got tonight, the bunch had tentatively planned to go to the fair a few more towns over the next day. Of course if they got a little too wild tonight they might be too hungover to even consider the small fair and would instead stick close to home and hangout together while they nurse their hangovers. Katniss did make sure to extend the invitation to Prim to tag along with Rory or Rue if they ended up going, something that made the teenager beam brightly at her.

With her hair done Prim set out to give her a coat of makeup, giving her a smoky eye and subtle color on her lips. Her outfit was the next thing to be decided, Prim holding up different tops in front of her before scrunching up her nose and trying another. Prim ultimately decided on a pair of Katniss's darkest, skinniest pair of jeans that hugged her curves in all the right ways and accentuated just how long her legs were which she paired with a rich red strapless shirt that hugged her bodice tightly until the smallest part of her waist and then flared out in a sort of peplum manner. A pair of black pumps, a leather jacket and a black and red studded clutch completely the outfit, Prim once again working her magic on her and making her look stunning.

Prim was both giddy with excitement and green with envy as Katniss texted Peeta that she was just about ready and was about to head over to the bakery now. Annie was just about ready as well and Peeta had already started dinner and it wouldn't take long now. Prim stood in the doorway and waved her off as Katniss climbed into her car and drove off, kicking off her heels so that she had better control of the gas pedal as she drove. The drive to the bakery was short and she parked around back right alongside Peeta's old car.

Katniss kicked open her car door, turning so that her legs were outside the car and quickly tried to shuffle back into her heels. She took that moment to quickly grab some band-aids and apply them to her heels, preventative steps preparing for a long night ahead of her. She wasn't one of those girls who regularly wore heels and could handle a night in them no problem. Preventative steps were a must, even if she looked like a fool all dressed up in her night-out outfit, awkwardly hanging out of her car and putting on Hello Kitty bandages on her heels (the only bandages they had in the store, stupidly enough). Still, Katniss couldn't help herself from flushing in embarrassment when she finally got back into her heels and unsteadily climbed out of the car and spied Mrs. Mellark staring scornfully at her from the kitchen window. Katniss froze, knowing that this woman didn't like her, as she thought she was better than the daughter of a lowly farm hand and hated her more since she had taken Delly's place beside Peeta.

Thankfully Finnick saved her, opening the back door to the bakery and yelling out with an exaggerated wave of the hand. Katniss grabbed her clutch from the passenger seat of the car and entered the bakery kitchen. Both of Peeta's brothers were there, sipping on beers as the prepped for the next morning's batch and closed down the kitchen for the night. Peeta's father was there too, greeting her kindly with a big welcoming hug that surprised the brunette. Mr. Mellark had always been kind to her, kind to everyone almost to a fault in fact and it was always asked why the kindest man in town ended up with the meanest woman in town. Mrs. Mellark had moved away from the window as soon as she entered and closed herself away in the small little office just off the kitchen, determined not to even look at Katniss at all. Finnick, ever loud and full of energy, chugged the last of his beer and said his goodbyes to the Mellark boys (even stopping to invite the two younger Mellark boys out for drinks with them once they finished up their work for the night) before he led Katniss up the narrow staircase to the apartment above, leaving the boys to their work.

Peeta was in the small kitchen when they entered, finishing the last of the dinner and quickly greeted her with a deep kiss. He dragged his eyes down her frame as soon as she entered the small room, and then pressed his lips close to her ear after they pulled away from their kiss. "You look beautiful," he whispered huskily.

Katniss couldn't help the immediate blush that spread across her face. She still marveled at how exactly she got to this point, dressed up with looks to kill, standing in the apartment kitchen of the bakery, Peeta's large warm hand pressed to her waist. It was all still for foreign to her, getting dressed up not because she felt she had to but because she wanted to be beautiful for someone (and herself), and the rush she felt when Peeta whispered in her ear that the effort was worth it. It was so foreign, this excitement and how alive she felt with his hands on her, with him standing so close to her, but it also felt so natural. The chemistry between them, the ease with which she found herself letting him into her normally guarded heart, was extraordinary, and she was both simultaneously filled with excitement and terror as to what this all meant.

The glaring deadline of his inevitable departure was all too real to her once more and her heart skipped a beat at the thought that this could be the end. She hadn't ever imagined that she would find herself in this position, unknowingly letting Peeta into her heart, but now that she did it all felt so right. Just weeks before she never would have imaged ever being so close to Peeta and feeling this way, about him or anyone for that matter, but now that she felt this way she couldn't imagine going back. It just felt wrong to think about, that after this weekend Peeta could jump on a plane, fly across the country, and she would have to just go back to her little happy boring life like none of this ever happened. And somehow, if Peeta did walk away from her without looking back, even then she somehow knew that she wouldn't be able to simply go back. No relationship, especially the one her father was continuously trying to push her into with Gale, was going to compare to this fling they had going.

She didn't want to let him go, she didn't want this weekend to end. She knew it was inevitable, he had his orders that he would gladly follow, having chosen this life knowing what it would mean for him. This is who he was, after all, and it was part of what she really liked about him even if she simultaneously disliked it knowing it would take her away from her after she had gotten so attached. She was scared, everything up in the air between them while she waited anxiously for the pieces to fall as they may and hoping for the best. Hoping that, despite the little time they had together, that he felt as she did and would want to somehow continue this in any way they could. She hoped, the sudden onslaught of realizing of exactly what she wanted taking her breath away, and she desperately wanted to tell him all of a sudden but she couldn't find the words or the courage. This was her moment, standing at the edge between the safety of the familiar and the want of this huge leap of faith and she wanted to be brave like he was, to be able to feel this fear holding her back, acknowledge it, and then push on despite it, but the words stuck in her throat and her emotional constipation prevented her from doing it despite her willingness she felt.

So she surged forward and kissed him instead, pouring the words she couldn't say into the kiss. Peeta made a noise of surprise, having been seconds away from pulling away from her so he could pull the pan off the stove, when she all but attacked him and she tried not to blush or back away in response. The intensity of her kiss obviously took him off guard as he stood rigid in her arms for a long terrible moment before he was gripping her back just as tightly and kissing her back with equal fervor. She melted easily in his hands, pouring her heart out as their lips meshed together in a passionate dance. His hands found their way back to her waist, holding on tightly and pulling her closer until they were flush together and Katniss could feel every hard ridge of his body. Katniss's hand initially started at his face, cradling his stubble-filled chin close to her, until one arm drifted back and reaching around his neck, holding him at the nape. Her heart thumped wildly in her chest and her mind screamed at him to just understand what she was feeling at the moment.

She didn't ever want to let go and that scared her but she was tired of letting her fears hold her back.

Whatever was cooking on the stove began to pop loudly, sizzling and soon to be on the risk to burning. They pulled away from each other slowly, hesitantly, but Peeta seemed really reluctantly to actually let her go despite the sizzling food. He pressed his forehead against hers, his lips hovering above hers and his hands still holding her waist with no signs of letting up. It comforted her that his breath was as uneven as hers and when she slid her hand down from his face down the front of shirt she could feel his heart beating thumping wildly in his chest to match her own.

Katniss had honestly forgotten about Finnick still standing there until he was maneuvering around them in the small kitchen to get to the stove. "Ya'll are crazy, about the burn the food," he was muttering, but even then Katniss couldn't bothered to feel embarrassed, too caught up in this moment with Peeta to care that Finnick had witnessed such an intimate moment between them.

Peeta gently rocked them side-to-side gently, letting out a little almost disgruntled groan, surprising her. "I don't want to go back," Peeta muttered suddenly, continuing to rock them slowly and making Katniss heart completely skip a beat.

"I don't want you to go back either," she muttered just as quiet as he did, but with no hesitation. She was idly aware of Finnick still cursing and puttering around with the pan on the stove, moving things around nosily so she was somewhat assured that despite being so close this moment was private between them.

Peeta seemed to hesitate for a moment, pausing their rocking and opening his mouth as if to begin speaking. Katniss held her breath, somehow feeling like this could be the moment where this could either make or break everything that has been building up between them. But the moment was ultimately ruined when the distinctive clomp of heels coming down the hall and the outside world seemed to register to Peeta once more. He pulled back, looking immediately towards the stove where Finnick had removed the pan from the heat and was stirring the contents to assess the damage. Peeta cursed and pulled away completely.

Katniss fought the wave of disappointment she felt, taking a deep breath and trying to shake it off. Despite wanting to finally get some answers, to somehow not feel so lost as to where this thing they had was going, she realized that maybe right before they went out for a night out wasn't the time to have this conversation. They would definitely need to have it, and soon since he was leaving the day after tomorrow, but now wasn't necessarily the best time. Because if it didn't exactly go the way she hoped it would she didn't exactly see herself being able to go out afterwards and pretend like everything was okay when, despite any reservations she had about love and relationships before this, she (surprisingly) wouldn't be okay with letting him walk away from this.

Instead, she turned her focus to Annie whom had just come from down the hall and entered the small kitchen. She look amazing, Katniss couldn't help but notice with slight envy. She was wearing a simple black pair of short, not too short but just short enough to show off her toned legs along with the black five-inch pumps. Her shirt was pretty simple, a loose fitted gray tank top with the slightest bit of shiver embedded into the fabric that complimented her small frame and hung loosely enough to show off the stunning strappy bralette she was wearing underneath. The simple dark, fitted jacket hanging over her arm, along with a soft smoky eye, a bold matte dark lip, and loosely curled hair, completed the look and had Katniss staring at her in envy had how simple yet daring the outfit was. It looked perfect on her and it made her look like what Katniss thought a Marine girlfriend should be, beautiful and put together, but strong and able to hold her own.

But when the Marine girlfriend laid eyes on Katniss it was as if she was the one staring in envy. Her eyes bulged out and her lips parted in a delighted surprised 'wow' look. "You look amazing, Katniss! God, I wish I had legs like yours," she exclaimed, looking down at her own slightly shorter legs.

Katniss blushed at the comment but was quick to wave her off. "You look amazing, Annie. That bralette is beautiful."

It seemed to be the right thing to say as Annie instantly lit up and fingered one of the straps. "Thank you, I got it at a little hole in the wall boutique on the coast last year around the 4th of July."

"Ay, Peeta didn't burn the food too bad. Come sit," Finnick called to them as he and Peeta were dishing out the simple stir-fry into four plates.

The girls wasted no time, moving over towards the small circular table in the center of the kitchen. Looking at the plate, Katniss felt her mouth start watering and her stomach growl in protest to remind her exactly how long she had gone without eating. Even slightly burnt, the food looked simple but delicious and Katniss had learned in the short time she had spent with Peeta that even the simplest of meals was going to be delicious if he made it.

They settled down easily, enjoying good food and good company. It still took a moment for Katniss to shake off the almost moment with Peeta, to push it aside for the moment so that she could simply enjoy the night. But almost as soon as they sat down she found herself relaxing to the surprisingly soothing crass verbal sparring between the two Marines. Peeta and Finnick picked at one another constantly, in a friendly affectionate sort of way that was both astounding and oddly beautiful. The familiarity and the odd camaraderie between them was an amazing thing to behold, this one-of-a-kind brotherhood that had formed from serving together. All Katniss could do for a moment was sit back in awe, but she was comforted by the fact that when she looked over at Annie she could see an understanding look on her face, like she too still marveled at his friendship and life she had somehow gotten herself into.

This could be her future someday, Katniss realized, if things went well of course. This, the four of them sitting around one table or another, sharing laughs and food, and just enjoying the little moments they had together. Maybe more loud mouth Marines would join them, or even Prim's quieter happy presence. She knew it wouldn't all be wonderful happy and fun times, it would have it own fair share of torment and frustration, more than your average relationship as it wouldn't just be the two of them in a relationship but rather three; her, Peeta, and the Marine Corps. But she could imagine the little things like this, the four of them or even just the two of them sitting around and just living in the moment, and she knew instantly and without a doubt that it would all be worth it in the end.

Peeta looked over at her, giving her that perfect small smile that made her heart skip a beat, and she smiled back instantly. She wanted this, now more than ever as her mind conjured up happy fantasy images of them together as a couple, and found a newfound desire to fight for it.

Because for Peeta, it would all be worth it.