The grocery store is usually quiet around this time of night which is why Peeta likes coming so late. He never sees anyone other than the occasional teenager on a beer run, sometimes a drunk college student in desperate need of carbs. It's uneventful, quiet, almost serene.
Which is why the scream coming from aisle eight sends him into a panic.
Peeta startles and waits for the danger that is inevitably coming his way. He abandons his empty basket and assesses his surroundings, planning his next move carefully. But nothing ever comes. There is not another sound except for the soft exhales and echoes of whomever also appreciates the silence of a grocery store at midnight.
He's always prided himself in being a good, honest person, so it's not even a thought in his mind when he rounds the corner, following the voice of someone in obvious distress. He rounds the corner of aisle eight in a fully spring and that's when he sees her.
Her head is bent, her dark raven hair hidden under an old baseball cap. The tip of her braid skims the rim of her hips as she works furiously on her hands and knees, scooping piles of eggs (or what used to be) off of the floor and into their battered carton. When his heavy footsteps finally reach her, she stops working long enough to catch his eyes. "Finally, someone-"
She stops speaking all at once and he knows she recognizes him. It's only then, when her face isn't hidden, that he can fully appreciate her beauty and he feels his heart constrict in the way it so commonly does when he passes her in the hall, when they share an elevator, when their together in the laundry room…
The girl from apartment 1210. The one with the crystal grey eyes, a throaty laugh, and a constellation of freckles that cover the bridge of her nose.
The girl with the big, strong, rugged boyfriend…
"Sorry," she mumbles, sitting on her haunches, unable to meet his eyes. "I'm sorry. I must have scared you. I just dropped these eggs all over the floor and-"
"I just wanted to make sure there wasn't any trouble," Peeta says, bending down to her level, expertly scooping the remains the way she was just moments before. The tensions rolls of her body in waves. He can feel the tears before he sees them and, never the best person to offer comfort, awkwardly works in silence until her breathing slows.
"You're good at that," she comments after a long moment, nodding her head towards his handy work. Her eyes are, in fact, rimmed red and he wonders what has her so upset. It can't be the eggs. He has to remind himself not to just stare at her.
"I own a bakery, actually," Peeta says. "I drop three cartons of eggs a week. I've gotten pretty handy at making quick work of the mess."
"A bakery? Really?" He nods, suddenly embarrassed. "That's ironic."
"Ironic," she states. "I'm here because Gale's parents are coming in for the weekend. They aren't the biggest fan of me and I just thought, I don't know, if I could make them a batch of fucking cookies they'd warm up to the idea that I'm mooching off their son."
Gale must be the boyfriend. Such a masculine name, Peeta thinks to himself. Fitting. "And you came up with this brilliant scheme at one in the morning?" He asks lightly. She laughs and it's the laugh he's heard a million times in passing but the sound does something to him now he didn't know was possible.
"The anxiety of the situation was caving in on me. I had to do something or I was going to scream. But obviously I'd already reached the tipping point."
"This place has probably seen worse," he mumbles.
"I'm Katniss, by the way," she says, reaching her yolk stained hand out to touch his arm. The name suits her, he realizes. The uniqueness fits her aura well. "I know we live in the same building, on the same floor for god sake, yet we've never really been formally introduced."
"I'm Peeta. Peeta Mellark." They shake hands, both groaning when they come in contact with one another. "I'm never really home. I don't know when we would've had time to be introduced."
Really, there had been plenty of times. Peeta just hadn't taken any of them. He almost introduced himself when he saw her moving in the first week of July all those months ago, shifting all kinds of large boxes from room to room as she hummed quietly to herself. That's what he remembered most vividly of all. Her voice, soft and sweet, humming the tune to some song he didn't know but it quickly became his favorite. He was captivated from the start. He'd meant to say something, anything, to her when he passed the apartment on the way to his own that day.
But then he discovered it wasn't her apartment. It was their apartment. Gale grabbed her around the waist and spun her around in the middle of the hall as she squealed with delight and gentle "put me downs!". He'd shaken Gale's hand politely and smiled at her, always the gentleman his parents had fought to raise. That was as far as their interactions had gone since. Up until this point, he'd believed that was as far as they'd ever get.
"Right. Baker and all," Katniss teases. "Well thank you for the help, Peeta. I really do appreciate it. I'm not… I hope you don't get a bad impression of me. I'm not normally like this."
"Of course not," he says. "In-laws bring out the worst in everyone."
"Oh, are you married?"
Peeta can't help but laugh at the absurdity of her question. Peeta Mellark? Married? When hell freezes over, maybe. "No, not married. I just… I know parents can be a hard breed to deal with."
"You have no idea," she agrees. "I'm not even a good baker. I don't even know what I'm doing here. It's one in the fucking morning and I'm standing here in egg yolk, with my next door neighbor, trying to bake cookies for a dinner I don't even want to have."
"You're having the dinner for someone you love because it's something they care about. That's something special and that's a reason to be standing in your pajamas covered in egg yolk at one in the fucking morning."
He almost can't believe he said it. Peeta was never one to curse or even retort with something witty. He wasn't ill-mannered or, honestly, even funny. He almost apologizes but then he watches the slow smile spread across her face and can't help but return it.
"I think you're funny, Peeta Mellark," Katniss smiles.
"You might be the only person on this planet to think that. I'm sure my friends would think pigs had started flying if they heard you say that."
The silence grows deafening and her stares grow longer. She's studying him the way he studies her, only, he's not sure it's for the same reasons. "Well, it was nice to-"
"Come to the dinner tomorrow." Peeta's eyes widen. She couldn't be serious? "I'm serious," she says, as if reading his mind. Or maybe just his facial expressions. "We just moved here and we're always looking for new people to befriend. You're the only person in the apartment complex near our age and… and I know it'd be nice for Gale to have some male companionship outside of his work buddies."
Gale, Gale, Gale. It was too bad Peeta Mellark couldn't give a rats ass about what Gale could use. He was so irrationally jealous of the man, even hearing his name made his cheeks flush. It wasn't fair. Surely, for Katniss to love and care for him so greatly, assuming she did, he would have to have some good qualities. "I think it'd be lovely to hang out with you guys some time but, I just don't know if dinner with the in-laws is the time for that to happen."
"What better time than the now?" She challenges, hands on her hips. She looks like his mother, just for a moment, and he has to close his eyes to rid himself of the image. "Look, Haymitch will be there. I will be there. Johanna from down the hall will be there. It isn't 'dinner with the in-laws'. It's 'dinner and the in-laws will be there too'."
"Katniss, I really don't know…"
"Well, if you decide you want to, you know where to find me Peeta Mellark."
And with that, she's gone.
Peeta doesn't know why he's here. Or really how he got here. Or what devil must have possessed him tonight. But he stood in front of apartment 1210 with a box of chocolate chip cookies from the bakery, dressed in a carefully ironed button down with a pair of slacks. Over dressed for dinner, no doubt, but wearing jeans and a t-shirt just put him on edge, forever his mother's child no matter how much he tried to detach himself from that.
He doesn't knock, not for awhile. He simply stares at the chipped green paint on their door. It's old, ugly, and should be replaced. Gale should do it and do it soon. And the metallic paint on the numbers was slowly fading as well. Hadn't they thought to call the apartment managers? It wouldn't be too much to fix it. Maybe he could go to Home Depot tomorrow and-
"Earth to Peeta," Johanna growls in his ear, her sly hands wrapping around his waist as she leans her body into his. Out of habit, he jumps, nearly sending her tumbling over in the pair of blue heels she wears. He catches her before she can fall, an apology already on the tip of his tongue. "Oh. You like it rough, huh?"
"Johanna," he mutters, not feeling all that bad for pushing her. "I thought we already talked about personal space."
"Save me the lecture. I'm a grown women. I can do what I want."
Peeta scoffs, feigning annoyance though he is fairly entertained. Johanna lived just across the hall, alone expect for her obnoxious grey cat, Sparkles, that lurked the halls day and night. Both single and married to their work, they'd become friends over the past few years.
"I didn't know you knew Katniss," she says, nodding towards the door. Peeta takes the bottle of wine from her hands as she sways unsteadily.
"I don't," he replies. "We saw each other in the grocery store last night and got to talking. She invited me but I think she was just being nice. I don't really know why I'm here."
"They're nice people." They're. The word sent another shudder through Peeta's body that he tried hard to suppress. He knew he was being ridiculous. He barely knew the girl yet he felt some sort of claim over her. Like an imaginary line was holding the two together. He shook his head. They hadn't spoken to each other for five minutes. It was nothing more than a crush. Just a crush.
"What's up your ass, Mellark?" Johanna snaps. "Will you knock on the damn door, already? I want a drink."
He doesn't have the chance to knock. The door swings open as he raises his arm, a flustered looking Katniss standing before him in a soft blue dress and short heels. All the nerves Peeta felt before evaporate. Her smile nearly knocks him off his feet. "I thought I heard you guys out here."
"The party has arrived," Johanna calls, bypassing Peeta's large body to give Katniss a soft hug. Peeta, with full hands, simply bends down to give her a soft, polite kiss on the cheek the way he'd seen his father do to many women over the years. She returns it readily, his whole body turning to flames.
"Hi, Peeta," she whispers once they've pulled away. "I'm glad you decided to come. I was telling Gale all about you this morning and he's really excited to meet you."
"Likewise," he mumbles. "Where should I put these?"
She leads him to the kitchen, which is much less expansive than his own but it's whats to be expected. She must notice his scrutiny. "Not too impressed, huh? I don't know what a bakers kitchen looks like but I expect it's a lot better than this."
"No, it's lovely," he comments, running his fingers over the marble countertops that he knows must have cost a fortune. "A bakers kitchen tends to have a lot more appliances. But for the average person, you're doing okay."
"Average person?" Katniss huffs, putting her hands on her hips in mock disappointment. He laughs. "I can't even argue with you. God, we've been here for almost four months and I've never even touched the place. I'm at work all day and usually just eat in the cafeteria and Gale gets home from work so late… We've just never found the time."
Peeta nods in understanding. "Where do you work?"
"I'm a teacher. I work at the elementary school. I teach music."
"Oh. So there will be singing tonight?"
"Oh no," she says sternly. "Not unless you want me to teach you a creative version of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."
"I've never been fond of that one."
"That's odd. Neither have I."
They laugh quietly for a moment, unable to look away from one another, before a catcall from the other room breaks them from their trance. Katniss smiles shyly, running her hands over the front of her dress before grabbing a few wine glasses from the pantry.
The other room is full of guests. A few neighbors, a few of their friends (Peeta assumes), an older looking couple who must be Gale's parents, and, finally, the mysterious Gale.
He's more handsome than Peeta remembered, the kind of guy that girls like Katniss ended up with. Rugged good looks with a presence that captivated a room. When he flung an arm around her waist, Peeta couldn't help but realize what a good - at least good-looking - couple they made. Something in him deflated and he knew, in this category, he'd lose to Gale Hawthorne every time.
"Everyone this is Peeta," Katniss announces, unscrewing the top of the wine. "Peeta, you know mostly everyone. These are Gale's parents Hazel and William. And these are our friends Anna and John."
He shakes hands and says hello. He shakes Gale's hand with enough force to break it but his ferocity is returned with equal strength. A power move. "So nice to meet you Peeta. Katniss has told me so much about you."
"You too, man," he smiles, moving away with ease. "I love what you've done with the apartment."
"Thanks. Katniss is great about all of this stuff, the decorating in all. I couldn't tell you jack shit about any of it."
"Well, she's done a great job then."
"What about you? Are you married, engaged, girlfriend?"
"Oh god, you sound like my mother," Peeta jokes. "No. No girl in my life right now. I just opened a bakery a few years back, just out of college, and have been focused on that. You know, work and stuff."
"That's great," he says. "How'd you get into that?"
By this point, Katniss has joined them with a glass of wine, taking a spot in-between the two. She looks at Peeta with a shy smile. Suddenly he loses the ability to talk. Licking his dry lips, he shrugs. "It was actually my parents business back in Santa Clara. I just brought one to the east coast because, well, why not? I've always loved it."
"We know all about family businesses," Katniss says. "Gale is working for his father now. They have a coal mining business. He's going to take it over in the fall of next year so his dad can finally retire."
Peeta's eyes widen. So Gale was handsome, smart, and rich. How lovely.
"Enough about that. What do you say we take some shots?"
"I don't think I've never been that drunk in my whole entire life, I promise you."
It'd become a tradition of sorts that after a long night of partying, whether that be together or separate, Johanna and Peeta would meet at Patty's Diner at eleven o'clock sharp to indulge in greasy food and good coffee.
"I promise you, you have," Peeta mumbles, taking a hearty bite of his whole wheat pancakes. "I've been there. I mean, point number one, last year's birthday party? I had to give you a bath you were so wasted."
"You see, I forgot all about that night so I guess you have a point. You had fun though, right? After you were done pouting and all."
"Yes, Johanna, I did have a good time." And he did. Katniss was witty and kind, Gale was actually a really smart, interesting guy with a lot of opinions but a pretty open mind. His father, William, was a riot, never too serious about anything and that perfectly evened out his mostly ill-tempered wife. It was a mix of good company with good alcohol.
"Gale, he's not too bad looking, huh?"
"Johanna," Peeta scolds already knowing what direction the conversation is taking. "He's in a committed relationship."
"And that means I can't look? It doesn't seem to stop you from eye-fucking Katniss all night."
"Just finish your fucking lunch."
There are about a million and one things to do at the bakery.
Peeta had taken the weekend off, the first one in about a year, to get his mind right, get some new ideas and gain a fresh perspective. Two uninterrupted days away from Mellark's had been, well, nice. He slept until seven (a great feat for a baker), went for a run, and lounged around his apartment for the first time since he bought it. It was a good feeling. But Monday was a rude awakening to his irresponsibility and he'd spent the past five hours going over the books and fixing his employees mistakes.
At three, Rue knocks on the door to his office, peeking her head in without waiting for an answer. "Peeta?"
"What's up, Rue?" His eyes never leave the computer as he taps away.
"There's a women out here for you. She said not to bother you if you're busy but I figured one break couldn't hurt, right?"
Peeta scoffs. Yes, he'd thought that too but that was what had gotten him into this mess. His curiosity gets the best of him, knowing it's not Johanna and it's not his mother. He frowns. Madge, perhaps?
He's more than a little surprised to see Katniss.
"Hey Peeta," she greets, throwing her arms around his shoulders when he's within distance. "I hope this isn't weird! I was just really interested in checking this place out. Everyone has such nice things to say about it."
"Not weird at all, Katniss. I'm glad you came by." He hesitates a moment before adding, "Is Gale with you?"
She shakes her head, her free flowing hair creating a halo around her from the way the afternoon light hits her. "He's working. And I don't have classes in the afternoon so what better to do on my walk home then stop by the amazing bakery I hear so much about?"
"Touching sentiment," Peeta jokes, knocking shoulders with her as he wanders behind the counter. Rue watches the two with curious eyes, offering Katniss a soft hello before finding her way to the back office. "Well what can I get you? I must say, the scones are superb today."
"Then a scone it is." When she places a five dollar bill on the countertop, Peeta slides it back into her waiting hand. He can feel the fire pass through them as their fingers touch. From the way she shivers, he knows she's feels it too. "Just take the money, Peeta. This is a business."
"One scone isn't going to send us down the hill," he promises. For good measure, he eats one with her. "How was school today, Ms. Everdeen?"
"A complete drag but what can I say?" She mutters, mostly to herself. "Enjoying scones with actual grownups is what I yearn for. I love kids but, my god, after spending all day with them I want to pull my hair out."
"And you aren't even their teacher."
"Can you imagine the horror if I was?"
They laugh softly with one another, the slow wall Peeta had built to keep himself protected falling away with each flick of her tongue across her plump bottom lip. How lucky Gale was that he got to kiss her, hold her, love her. What he wouldn't give for just a taste.
"We really enjoyed your company the other night. Thank you for coming," Katniss says after a long moment. "Gale's parents thought you were a riot. You're such a people's person."
"My mother used to tell me I could charm the pants off of a nun," he admits, his cheeks flaming. "I had a really good time, Katniss. You and Gale make a lovely couple and all of your friends are great."
"That sounded like a Hallmark card," she jokes, tearing her used napkin into the shape of a flower. A primrose, he thinks. "This is such a clinical, adult conversation. I almost want to cry. When did I get so old?"
"How old are you?"
"I'm twenty-five," she answers with ease. "I'm going to be twenty-six in May. What about you?"
"I'm twenty-six. I'll be twenty-seven in March."
"Good. Because I like older men."
It's just a joke, that he knows, but her words still send a shock down his spine.
Do you want to come over for dinner?
The unknown ten digit number lights up the screen of his normally silent iPhone, an odd message for the time of night. He frowns.
Who is this? He types back swiftly.
He only waits a moment for his answer. Katniss. Sorry. I got your number from Johanna earlier. I lied and said I wanted you to cater something for a party.
Peeta's heart beats so fast that he's barely able to write out his reply, his fingers shaking, his head a mess. Sure. What about tomorrow? I have off.
That sounds lovely. Plan for Dulce at seven?
Dulce at seven, he replies after several tense minutes. His thoughts were getting the best of him, he knew that. He could feel the compulsive, obsessive tendencies of his taking over what should be a feeling of happiness. What did this mean? Was it friendly, was it more? Did she know how much he wanted her?
To avoid any confusion, Peeta clarifies before he goes too far down the rabbit hole. Gale too?
Yes, if you don't mind. Why don't you bring a friend? We'll make it like a double date.
Peeta sighs. Well fuck.
Peeta thought about flaking out all day. In fact, his finger was poised over the number about two hours ago, right before he'd left to pick up Delly from her apartment across town, ready to make up some elaborate story about a stomach bug or a fire at the bakery or absolutely anything that would be probable cause to get him out of this night.
Naturally Delly, always the voice of reason, talked him out of his hysteria and promised him they'd have a good night. "What are you so worried about?" She'd said on the drive to the restaurant. "I thought you said you liked them."
And that was the thing that turned his head to mush. He really did like them. Just not together.
"What are their names again?" She asked as the valet took the keys from Peeta's hand. "Katniss and what?"
"Gale," he says, trying to keep the disdain out of his voice. "Gale Hawthorne."
They are already seated when Peeta and Delly finally make their way inside after one more trip to the bathroom and one last cigarette (for Delly). Katniss and Gale stand to meet them, both dressed to the nine, Gale in a fitted suit and Katniss in a form fitted dress.
"You look beautiful," Peeta compliments, kissing her cheek just long enough to be a little more than friendly. If Gale notices he says nothing. He's too busy looking at Delly with an expression that Peeta can't quite make out. Shock, maybe? Surprise?
There isn't too much time to think about it before Katniss is pulling him into the seat next to her. "Delly, you sit next to Gale and Peeta can sit next to me. He promised me he'd give me the recipe to his scones."
"His scones?" Delly coos. "Peeta and I have been friends since we were children and he still won't give me any of his secrets. You're a lucky girl."
"You've never asked, Delly," Peeta mumbles. "Delly used to help out at the bakery back in our hometown. She was never allowed to bake because she'd burn everything. And I mean everything!"
"We all aren't born perfect like you, Peeta bread!" She counters with a light laugh. "Peeta's mom used to joke that as soon as he was born, he complimented the nurse. Always the charmer. Always so perfect. It's exhausting being your friend!"
Katniss laughs, reaching her hand out to grab ahold of Gale's seemingly shaking arm. His face is contorted in a way Peeta had never seen. The anger in his eyes was concerning but Katniss didn't budge or seem alarmed.
"Are you feeling alright, Gale?" He asks after a moment, the silence getting a little stifling. A swift kick to the shin, his eyes meet with Delly's who plead with him silently. It was a look she'd been giving him since they were kids. He knew it well and he knew what it meant but didn't know why it applied now.
"Long day at work," Katniss answers, effectively closing the conversation.
"Long day at work indeed," Gale mutters.
He is not ashamed to admit that when Katniss tells him she's a Kansas City Royal's fan, he spends six hundred dollars to buy the two best tickets he can find for the game in town a month away.
Johanna tells him he's crazy. Annie spends the next two hours lecturing him about how inappropriate it is. Finnick is the only one who seems to think it's a good idea. That fact alone should've given Peeta a small inclination that the idea was a bad one. But he went with it, placing the tickets in the neat foil wrapper he'd stuffed with cheese buns, her new favorite.
Nothing would ever replace her wide smile when he'd opened his apartment door after two minutes of insistent knocking. The way she threw her arms around his neck and let her face fall into the crevice. The smell of her hair, the sparkle in her eyes. Nothing that made Katniss that happy would ever be a bad idea.
So on the day of the game, they make the thirty minute trek across city in a town car Peeta had rented. "You really rolled out the red carpet for me today, Mellark," she says, accepting the champagne the driver offers her. "What did I do to deserve such a good friend?"
He tries to hide his obvious dissatisfaction with the word friend. He wanted to be more than that. That was all he wanted. He shifted through all the bad things he'd done in his life, wondering what he was being punished for. How on Earth had he met the love of his life when she was in love with someone else? What kind of shit as that?
Love of his life? He shook his head to clear his thoughts. He was getting ahead of himself.
"You're not even going to make fun of me for being a Royal's fan?" She asked, motioning to the bright blue shirt she wore that was a stark contrast against his own white jersey. "Look at us. A house divided."
"You probably get enough shit. I won't bother telling you things you already know."
Katniss rolls her eyes. "Peeta, I still can't believe you're doing all of this for me. I don't think anyone has ever been as kind to me as you have. At least let me pay you back for the ticket!"
"No, no," he says sternly. "I saw a friend selling the tickets and knew I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to see you cry because your team sucks. That is priceless."
"Aw, little girls crying is funny to you, Mellark? What kind of sick, twisted mind do you have?"
"Oh Katniss, you have no idea."
A tap on the window tells them they've reached the stadium. Their driver smile brightly. "Afternoon Mr. and Mrs. Mellark. I hope your ride has been satisfactory."
Flustered, Peeta tries to compose himself long enough to tell him of his mistake but Katniss doesn't seem bothered at all. She thanks the man, looping her arm through Peeta's and following the flow of traffic as they find their seats. "Mrs. Mellark, huh?"
"I'm sorry. I swear I didn't say anything. It must have been-"
"Peeta, it's fine," she laughs. "If I could only tell you how many times I've been called Mrs. Hawthorne. I've forgone even correcting anyone anymore. But Mellark. That's a nice change of pace. I could get used to that."
Peeta has never been a fan of baseball. His dad used to take him and his brothers to local games every now and then, when they had a little time to spare, and made it a tradition of hot dogs, Cracker Jacks, and, when they were of age, beer on tap.
His father had loved it and his oldest brother, Wheaton, had too. So much so that he became a minor league player straight out of college. "I don't believe you," Katniss says when he tells her so after the third inning. "That seems like a pretty important piece of family history that has been seamlessly left out."
"It's true," Peeta smiles, finishing off his beer. "For only a year or two, I can't remember. He played in high school, was pretty good in college, and had some ridiculous dream of playing on the Dodgers. He didn't make it that far but he did try."
"You have to commend him for that, at the very least," she applauds. "A lot of people don't follow their dreams, especially not ones like that. You Mellark boys really have a knack for picking the oddest jobs. You're a baker. Wheaton is an baseball player. Rye is…?"
"A movie star."
"And Rye is a mystery," she finishes, laughing quietly at his joke. "Your mother must be proud."
Determined not to fall into the family drama that is his mother, Peeta changes the subject, asking her simple questions about the game and her interest in, of all teams, the Royal's. Her dad loved them. He grew up in Kansas City and they used to fly down all the time when they were little girls. Her grandparents died a few years ago within months of each other and the house is still there. It's hers now, she says. She would move back if it wasn't for Gale.
"If it wasn't for Gale?"
Looking sheepish, Katniss takes a moment to shake her box of peanut butter cups. "That sounded a lot worse than it did in my head. I just meant if he didn't have the job, and the business was anywhere, or could be anywhere, that's where I would want to go."
"Yeah, I get that," Peeta lies. If Katniss was his, he'd follow her anywhere. They could live on a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean for all he cared. He'd go where it made her happy, where she wanted to be. But, in his heart, Peeta knew the stress Gale must be under, the expectations placed on his shoulders. Not everyone had a multi-million dollar company waiting for them at the finish line.
When the game is over, Katniss insists they go anywhere but home. Peeta doesn't need much convincing at all and they go to the bar across the street. By the time they arrive, half of the city has already found their refuge, celebrating a victory.
By luck, Katniss finds a booth in the corner of the bar and orders two of the most expensive beers they have on tap. "My treat," she smiles, placing the dark ale in front of Peeta. "You bought the tickets, after all."
"Thank you but, really, it was my treat."
"You sound like the businessmen I have sit at my dinner table," she comments. "I'm your friend. We're friends. I do you a favor, you do me a favor. We're even."
"Even," he mumbles. "Okay. If we're friends, can I ask you a personal question?"
"Is it about sex?" Peeta chokes on his beer and shakes his head, his cheeks blazing under her suspicious glare. "Ask away then."
"You said something about those business men sitting at your table?" She nods her affirmation. "Can you tell me what it's like to have that?"
"To have what? What is "that"?"
"Do you mean what it's like to have money?" He nods. "Being I am a teacher, I'm sure it's not the money I make you are referring to. Gale's money is Gale's money."
"But it'll become your money one day, no?"
Katniss shrugs her shoulders, seemingly bored. "Maybe one day but no time soon. I'm not ready to be anybody's wife, surely not Gale's. There is a lot that comes with the money that I'm not… that I'm not ready for and Gale knows that."
Peeta feels so guilty that his heart actually leaps. So the perfect couple isn't so perfect after all, huh? He wants so badly to further the conversation but they are interrupted with an anxious tapping on the table next to them and a boy who looks to be no older than twenty. His eyes trained on Katniss, he ducks into their space.
"Hi," he says softly, dipping into Katniss's booth to shake her hand. Polite as ever, she whispers her own greeting before sharing a look across the table with Peeta. "Hey man. I'm Ben."
"Peeta," he greets, the smell of alcohol overwhelming his senses.
"I was wondering if I could buy you a drink?" Ben's attention back to Katniss. "You happen to be the most beautiful girl in the room and I would be doing myself a disservice if I went on with my night without showing you how beautiful you really are."
"Oh for the love of God," Peeta groans, rubbing his temples. It was like being transported back ten years in time to Finnick Odair in his prime. The thought is sickening.
"I'm fine, Ben, thank you very much," she whispers. "Peeta and I were actually just leaving."
"No, no, no," he calls. "I can't let you go that easy."
"Well, we're ready to go," Katniss responds, getting to her feet and grabbing her purse. Peeta latches onto her elbow possessively, taking a firm stand by her side as she tries her best to get around Ben. "Excuse me."
"You're not getting away that easily," he mumbles.
"She's ready to leave, man," Peeta says, putting his body in front of Katniss. "Can you just get out of the way so we can leave?"
"No, man, I don't think she's ready to leave just yet."
"You know, she kind of said she was so if you could get the fuck out of our way, that'd be great."
"Ooooh, don't get to possessive now, big boy," Ben taunts, running a hand down Peeta's arm. "One drink, Katniss."
"Are you being serious right now?"
"Peeta, it's fine," Katniss soothes, tucking herself into his side. He ignores her obvious warmth and mistakes it for his own anger. "Excuse us. We'd like to go."
"Come on, baby. What are you doing with him? You need a real man in your life. Stay for a drink or two, huh?"
Peeta prides himself on being a pretty cool-tempered guy. He'd only been in one fight and that was because Finnick had gotten himself into some shit back in undergrad. Maybe it was the earlier conversation about Gale or the fact that Ben's words echoed Peeta's own thoughts. Whatever it was, Peeta is angry enough to throw a punch. And throw a punch he does.
It's a little past one when the sheriff of duty, Hank, finally calls his name from the other side of the cell, paperwork in hand, a smile on his face. He happened to be a regular at the bakery. "Peeta, you're out of here."
"Thanks, Hank," Peeta mumbles, running a hand through the mop of curls atop his head. "Next time you come into the bakery, whatever you want is on me. Thanks for keeping me company tonight."
"Try to keep your hands to yourself, boy," he laughs, shifting his glasses back up his nose, focusing intently on his crosswords book.
In his twenty-six years on Earth, Peeta had never been in an ounce of trouble. But tonight, of all nights, he chose to make an absolute ass out of himself in public and, worst of all, in front of Katniss. There were many times in the hour after the fateful punch that he wished he'd just die; when they were handcuffing him, when they put him in the back of the car, when he had to call his parents for godsakes. A good night had turned into one of the worst of his life.
Expecting to see Finnick, or maybe Rye, Peeta is more than a little surprised to see that Katniss is the one waiting for him on the steps of the jailhouse when he's finally gotten his belongings back. Dressed in what she wore to the game, she taps her toe against the curb, leaning against her darkly tinted BMW.
"Hey there, Rocky," she smiles when he finally comes into view. Peeta laughs, not because it's funny but because he's relieved he hasn't sent her running for the hills. "Look at you. You don't even have a scratch."
"Please tell me you did not bail me out."
"I bailed you out."
Groaning, Peeta rubs his temples, wanting the ground to swallow him whole. "I called my parents and gave them my account number and everything so they could get the money, Katniss. You really didn't have to do that."
"So pay me back later, whatever," she grunts, seemingly offended. "As you pointed out earlier, I'm sitting on a dynasty so your five hundred dollar bail is not going to send me into bankruptcy. Calm your tits and get in the fucking car."
Thoroughly scolded, Peeta numbly climbs into the front seat. "Sorry. I'm a little grumpy and I smell like cat piss."
"You were in the slammer for a whopping three hours, Mellark," she smiles. "You don't smell any worse than you did before and there's no reason to be grumpy. It was very noble of you to punch that guy in the face. I don't blame you for it."
"Katniss, I don't do things like that. I've been in one fist fight that I didn't even start! I hardly raise my voice, I don't ever really even get annoyed! I don't know what happened."
Really, he did. What happened was quite simple. She happened and he'd do anything for her at this point. But in order not to scare her more than he already had, he doesn't profess his undying love and sticks to apologizing until he can barely speak and her car is parked in their apartment building.
When the elevator reaches the twelfth floor, Gale is waiting for them outside their apartment and Peeta is sure he could just about faint. Any more stress and he might explode.
"Peeta, thanks for tonight, man," he says, standing to shake Peeta's hand. "Katniss told me what a jerk that guy was being. I'm glad you were there."
"I'm sorry you had to come bail me out," Peeta apologizes sheepishly, feeling decades younger. "I thought my parents would call Finnick to come and bail me out but-"
"They did. And Finnick called Johanna. And Johanna came over to see what the hell was going on but Katniss was already hauling ass to the police station."
"Thank you," he whispers to Katniss who only smiles. "And thank you. I really appreciate it. I'll pay you guys back tomorrow when the bank opens and-"
"No, no, no," Gale says. "It's the least I can do for you protecting my girl."
Right. His girl.
"You're in some deep shit with mom, man."
As luck would have it, his brothers decide to drive down to the city for the weekend to spend some quality time with their "little bro". Growing up, Peeta would've given anything for time with his brothers like they so frequently have now but, nearing thirty, he wasn't so sure Xbox on Monday nights was the way he should be spending his time.
"Give me a break, Rye," Peeta says. "Mom and dad have bailed you out of jail more times than I can fucking count!"
"I'm pretty sure they bailed you out ten times your senior year, you remember that?" Wheaton chimes in. "Oh god, mom could've killed you when they found you with that pot on campus. You were a real fucking idiot, I'll tell you that."
"Or when the cops found him having sex with Laura Phillips in the parking lot," Finnick adds with a roaring laugh. "You were the man! Everyone wanted to be Rye Mellark that week."
"Enough about me," he growls, growing red. "I'm just happy to not be the problem child anymore. When mom picked up the line from the county, you could tell she was surprised it wasn't me on the other line."
"I can't believe they arrested you for punching the kid," Wheaton says, never taking his eyes off of the game on the big screen. "I mean, at most a lawsuit but fucking arresting you? Seems like they took it just a little farther than they needed to."
"Doesn't matter," Peeta huffs, taking a swig of his beer. "I shouldn't have done it. I don't know what had gotten in to me. The kid was an ass but I've seen worse."
"And the girl that bailed you out is the girl that lives down the hall, right? Tall, pretty, skinny?"
"Katniss, yeah. She was the girl I took to the game."
Peeta hadn't seen Katniss since late the other night after he'd been thoroughly mortified. She'd texted and called, even come by with a case of beer that she left on his doorstep when he didn't answer. She was worried. She told him not to worry, it was okay. She asked if they could hang out and get a beer. He wasn't an asshole and simply texted her back telling her he needed to work overtime. She believed him.
"Doesn't she have a boyfriend?"
"Yeah," Finnick answers. "Yeah, she does."
About a week later Peeta hears the shouts from the other side of the door after another late night trip to the grocery store. He doesn't mean to be listening but, truthfully, the voices are so loud they're hard to ignore. He tries to talk himself out of literally stopping but he can't help it. He perches his hip against the wall, careful to slow his breathing, and listens.
"You won't even try!" Gale shouts. "You have no desire to even try!"
"I'm trying now, Gale! What more do you want from me? This is what I can give to you! This is all the energy I have to give to you right now."
Gale says something else. A glass breaks. And then she is crying so loudly he wonders if she's hurt.
In a moment of irrationality, Peeta almost breaks the door down. He's preparing to when he hears the crying soften. Gale's soft voice is reassuring Katniss of something though he can't hear any longer over the pounding in his ears.
Before he does something stupid, he goes back to his own apartment and starts to put things away.
An hour later, a knock on the door wakes Peeta from his spot on the couch. It's insistent and he would recognize it anywhere. Katniss waits on the other side waiting with red rimmed eyes and a baseball cap. "Hi," she says, suddenly shy under his gaze. "Are you busy?"
"I was just asleep, actually," Peeta answers truthfully. "Long week."
"Right. Overtime." Something in her tone tells him that she knows just how full of shit his bullshit excuse was. He's about to apologize when she invites him out to dinner.
"Now?" He asks. It's almost two in the morning.
"Now," Katniss clarifies. "I need someone. I need you."
If Peeta had any reservations before, the simple statement throws those straight out the window. Slipping on the first pair of shoes he sees by the door, he follows her down the hall, sparing a glance at her door, listening for any kind of movement on the other side. There is none.
"Is Gale asleep?"
"He went out."
They find a twenty-four hour diner around the block, the only source of light for what seems like miles. Katniss orders a short-stack, Peeta orders a coffee. For a long time, they don't say anything but the silence isn't stifling. It's comforting.
Peeta remembers watching his mother and father sit like this in the morning before the boys would get up on weekends. He'd watch them, from behind the kitchen wall, simply sit with each other, stare at each other and steal secret glances like they were teenagers. His mother looked so young in moments like these. Happy, calm, content. Everything she wasn't.
"Love is sometimes accepting silence," his father would say. "Love is being okay with silence."
"Gale asked me to marry him," Katniss says when their food arrives, focusing intently on her pancakes. Peeta's stomach drops. He feels the air rush out of him like he'd been hit by a train, his mind going at a mile per minute as the seconds pass by. He sure he's about to faint when she adds: "I said no."
"You said no?" He asks, both astonished and relieved. He recalls the conversation he heard earlier. Gales' words about her lack of "trying" and her promises that she was.
"I'm not ready," she shrugs. "We've been dating for five years and I'm not ready to be his wife."
"That's okay, Katniss," Peeta whispers. "You don't have to do anything you aren't ready for. Marriage is a big step. If you're not ready, you're not ready. That's not… That should never be something you're pushed into."
"He's about to take over the company. And he can't have a girlfriend when he's announced as CEO. In the next three years it will all be his and then his life will be a mess. He'll be so busy, so tired. He'll be rundown like his father in five. And he can't have a girlfriend, he needs to have a wife before all of that happens."
"He loves you, Katniss," Peeta says, surprising himself by almost lobbying on Gale's behalf. "There's no denying that."
"God, Peeta, but what if I don't love him anymore?"
She's crying again, her face falling into her hands as the sobs overtake her and he feels his heart break under the force of her emotions.
Worst of all, Peeta feels almost… happy?
"I can't believe I just said that," Katniss sobs, beautiful even in misery. Without thinking, Peeta joins her on the other side of the booth and wraps a comforting arm around her shoulders, pulling her into his side until she's breathing softly into his neck. "I can't believe I just said that."
"Katniss, that's how you feel," he soothes. "It's okay if that's how you really feel. It's only not okay if you're saying it because you're angry."
"I love him. I love him but I don't think I love him in the right way. But what is the right way?"
"I think you just know when you know."
He wanted to tell her so badly that he knew. He knew about her. He knew he loved her in the right way. He loved the way she talked, the way she laughed, the way she danced. He loved the way she ate, the way she sang. He loved her generosity, her kindness, her compassion. God, he knew he loved her from the start. The real love she was searching for.
He wanted to tell her he knew Gale was not for her. Gale Hawthorne was not meant to be with Katniss Everdeen. He wasn't sure about a lot of things but he was sure about that.
"I've spent five years loving him and all my life knowing him," Katniss mumbles after a moment. She's stopped crying but hasn't moved. "How do I just walk away from that?"
"It's never easy to walk away from anything," Peeta tells her. "But I don't think love is something to give out of obligation."
"I don't think so either."
It all happens so fast that Peeta doesn't have a moment to actually process what's happening before it happens. Her lips on his. His lips on hers. He doesn't know who starts it, he doesn't even care. He's paralyzed by the taste of her cherry Chapstick. The way her hand comes to cradle his jaw while her eyelashes wash against his cheeks. It's perfect. Everything about the kiss is perfect.
Until it's not.
This isn't right. She isn't his to kiss. This is… this is cheating. The mildest form but, nonetheless, cheating. Peeta pulls away faster than he ever thought possible, his heart breaking as he does.
"Katniss," he stresses, keeping his eyes closed and he leans against the back of the booth, his head resting against the uncomfortable plating. "Katniss."
"Oh god," she mumbles. "Peeta, I'm so sorry. I'm just upset and-"
"I know," he interrupts, not wanting her to finish. "I know, Katniss. Lets just forget about it."
"I love Gale," she says. She wanted so badly to believe it, Peeta could tell. But she didn't. He could see it in her eyes.
He blinks and by the time he opens his eyes, she's gone.
His dreams are haunted with Katniss. The feel of her lips on his are permanently engraved into the deepest crevices of his subconscious and he spends his nights, and most of his days, wrestling with surreal thoughts of her.
Peeta hadn't mustered up the courage to call her. Not yet. And neither had she. He knew when she got home from work, she knew his hours, for the most part, at the bakery. They danced around each other and he'd even gotten in the habit of going to the grocery store during the day to be sure to avoid her in their shared aisles.
It was ridiculous. That he knew. They were neighbors for Godsakes. Eventually they would cross paths and have to face what happened. But Peeta decided he wouldn't push it.
He goes through the motions of the next week. Wedding season is fast approaching so he's able to devote a fair amount of time to work but even the array of cakes he has to ice runs out. And then he's left to his own thoughts.
Peeta doesn't see Katniss during this time. He knows it's for the best but he still lingers by the door every once in awhile, ready to knock but not ready to face reality. No matter what, he knew she loved Gale in one way or another. She was sad, confused. He had no place in her space until she discovered what she wanted.
It's Gale he sees first.
Lugging himself up the stairs after a particularly hard workout, Gale stands, painting his door. He turns his head slightly, smiling when he sees Peeta approaching and lowering his tools.
"Hey man," he greets when Peeta is within range. He smiles. "It's been awhile! We miss you."
We. Peeta tries to hide his obvious annoyance. "Yeah, I know. I've been super busy with wedding season and all."
"Yeah, I can imagine," Gale mumbles. "Who knows? Maybe one day you'll be designing a cake for Katniss and I."
He doesn't say it to be mean, Peeta knows that, but his insides still twist. It was obvious Katniss hadn't told him about the kiss or he expects this meeting would be going a little differently. It's also obvious Katniss hadn't been honest about her feelings or he wouldn't be suggesting an impending marriage Peeta was almost sure would not be happening.
"Knowing Katniss, she'd just want cheese buns."
Peeta doesn't see Katniss for another week.
He's changing the displays out front of the bakery when a cold hand perches on his shoulder. He jumps, only slightly, but startles when he sees her grey eyes staring up at him. She frowns. "That wasn't exactly the reaction I was hoping for."
"Sorry," he apologizes. "I was just kind of in the zone. I wasn't really expecting to see you here."
"Yeah, well, impulse decision," she clarifies, taking a seat at a wooden table. Peeta goes back to work, though more distracted than before, while she plays with Rue's folded napkins. She breaks the silence. "Is this going to be weird now?"
With his back turned, he closes his eyes, taking calming breaths before turning to face her. She looks defeated and tired, curious and anxious. "Of course not, Katniss."
"It feels weird," she says. "And it shouldn't be, okay? It was a moment we both had and now that's over. We can just… just forget about it."
"Just forget about it," Peeta repeats as if that was something he was capable of. All he thought about was Katniss, every minute of every day. There was no "forgetting about it", not for him.
"I'm sorry, you know."
Peeta nods. So was he.
Johanna's birthday falls on a Friday, an excuse for pure anarchy.
She invites all of her closest friends and Peeta invites his, her small apartment filled to the brim by the time the clock hits midnight and her day is officially over. Katniss is there, staying mostly to herself but occasionally catching Peeta's eye from across the room. He tries not to watch her but it's nearly impossible, the black dress she wears leaving little to the imagination. When, at last, he can move away from his place on the beer pong table, he finds her.
"Where's Gale?" He whispers, causing her to jump.
"Some dinner in the city," she answers with a soft smile. "Beer pong, Mellark? I didn't know this was the frat house."
"Eh, well," he shrugs. "Once you've got it you never lose it."
"Oh, is that what they say?" Katniss laughs, the most beautiful girl in the room. "I like your friends. They're all very kind."
"They're okay," Peeta agrees, surveying the room. "I've known most of them since college, Finnick and Annie all my life."
"And they're together?"
"Yes. Getting married next fall."
"My ears are ringing," Finnick interrupts, coming to stand between the two, putting a friendly arm around Katniss' shoulders. "The mysterious Katniss. How nice it is for you to join us tonight!"
"Well, I couldn't miss this," she says, motioning to a drunken Johanna awkwardly grinding on Cato. Peeta laughs. "Finnick. Nice to meet you. Congratulations on your pending nuptials."
"And congrats to you on yours?"
"Oh, no," Katniss mumbles awkwardly, playing with the ends of her hair. Peeta brushes her nervous fingers away and gives her an encouraging smile. "Anyway, I've heard so much about you. It's nice to finally meet you."
Before he can respond, Thresh and Thom wonder their way, drunk and disorderly. Peeta wonders if his friends would ever grow up. Hell, would he?
"And who do we have here?" Thom smiles, throwing a friendly arm around Katniss tense shoulders. She smiles, nursing her beer and oddly shy for the moment. The tension is deadly. "Peeta, this the new girlfriend that keeps you occupied?"
He could kill Thom but manages to keep his anger in check. His old friend knew that wasn't the case, no doubt just trying to embarrass him or, even worse, trying to help. "Nope."
"No?" Thresh interrupts, his eyebrows pinched together obnoxiously. Peeta looks to Finnick for help of any kind but, naturally, the boy idles. "You guys sure do look like a couple! A good-looking one at that."
"But we're not," Peeta seethes. "So let's all shut the fuck up now."
The group slowly disperses and Peeta feels his blood pressure rising which each second that ticks by. Katniss stares at him with wide eyes, not used to the angry side of Peeta that rarely made an appearance. If she has any reservations, she says nothing.
The ringing in his ears gets so loud he thinks his head might explode. He narrowly manages to excuse himself before his next outburst. It's when he's standing outside the apartment complex, completely alone for once in his fucking life, that he lets all the frustration of the past few weeks go. It takes him a few swift kicks and one obnoxious grunt before his heart is able to stop beating and he can actually think clearly. It's then he feels like an absolute idiot.
Peeta couldn't even pinpoint his anger, no matter how hard he tried. He wanted to be mad at his friends for making an uncomfortable situation unbearable. But then he wanted to be mad at Katniss for giving them a reason to make it uncomfortable. Then he wanted to be angry at himself for falling for Katniss in the first place. How did everything get screwed up? How did she become so intertwined with his being that not being around her almost killed him? How did he let it get this far?
She wasn't his and that is where he felt the most anger. Tonight had concreted that. She may have stood next to him but she did not stand with him. She never would.
Peeta isn't sure when Katniss joins him but eventually she does. She sits on the sidewalk while he continues to pace and they melt into each others silence. She's beautiful and light, even in the dead of the night. He loved her. He knew it.
"Peeta, I'm sorry." Her voice is soft and childlike. He doesn't bother looking at her, knowing whatever resolve he may have would crumble. "I really am."
"Katniss, whatever it is we're doing isn't right." The words come out effortlessly, somehow. She doesn't flinch. She came to this conclusion herself.
"I know," Katniss whispers. "But how do we stop? You're my best friend."
In the course of the weeks and months they'd known each other, Peeta finds it hard to dispute that. She'd become his best friend too. He doesn't have an answer. He rarely does. So instead he sits beside her with enough distance to be friendly. And it's different but it's not so bad. They pass the rest of the night in silence.
Delly insists on making him dinner the next night, a practice they had started back in college but one that had slowly filtered off in their adult years. But when Peeta wasn't working and Delly managed the night away from her busy night, they made sure they made time for one another.
She is running up the stairs at half past seven, already late and already flustered.
"Bad day?" Peeta asks, taking the grocery bags from her arms as she descends up the stairs to his apartment.
"You'd be surprised," she answers, bypassing all kinds of pleasantries. "It's amazing how inconsiderate and plain rude people can-"
The door to Katniss and Gale's apartment opens before she can finish that sentence, the two of them shrugging on their light jackets, talking softly amongst one another. Delly and Peeta stop, only for a moment, but Katniss seizes the moment. "Hey guys!"
Peeta thinks, if he looks really close, that there's a bit of shock that passes over her features. When he looks a little closer it's not there. He chalks it up to wishful thinking.
"Hey," he mumbles, sending Gale a friendly smile and kissing Katniss's cheek. "What are you guys up to?"
"We're going to a movie," Katniss answers, hugging Delly as if they were old friends. For once, Peeta notices, Delly is almost a little cold. "Why don't you guys join us? We haven't gotten tickets yet and-"
"I think we're fine," Delly interrupts. Peeta eyes her, frowning slightly. The last time the four of them they'd been together, though it'd been months ago, he thought it'd gone well. Had something changed? Did Delly know something he didn't know?
"Oh," she smiles, obviously uncomfortable. Katniss looks to Gale for help, for an escape, but again his eyes are trained on Delly whose eyes are trained on the floor. Peeta frowns. "Well you guys have a nice night then. We should get going. Gale?"
Peeta doesn't have the chance to apologize before she is physically pulling Gale down the hallway at almost a jog. When he is sure they are gone, he turns on Delly with sharp eyes. "What is your problem?"
Delly blinks. "Did you really want to go? With her and Gale?"
"No, I didn't! But there are ways to handle that situation that don't involve embarrassing Katniss! She was just being nice."
"I was being nice," she seethes. "I was being straightforward about what I was feeling Peeta, you should try it sometime!"
Stunned into silence, he can't even find the words to bid her goodnight as she turns on her heel in the same direction Katniss and Gale had just taken. It's not until she's downstairs, out of the door, that Peeta even gets the notion to follow her. When he does, she's down the block, hauling ass towards her car.
"Delly, come on! Calm down," Peeta calls after her, breaking into a light jog. She doesn't stop until he falls into step with her. It's then he sees the tears.
"Just leave me alone, Peeta," she snaps. It's so unlike Delly, he isn't sure what to say. Something in his eyes must give away his nervousness because, within a minute, her anger is gone. "I don't want to talk about it."
"No. I can't."
"You can't or you won't?"
She doesn't say anything else and this time, when she walks away, he lets her.
When he hears the knock on his door at almost one in the morning, he's sure it's Delly. They had been friends since they were children and staying angry at one another was something neither excelled in. He's more than surprised to see Katniss.
She's changed, in pajamas that consist of an old college t-shirt and a pair of purple lounge pants. Her hair is tied back in a braid and her face is free of makeup. Her reading glasses are tucked into the front of her shirt and he is jealous Gale gets to see her this way everyday.
"Hey," Peeta greets, self conscious in his shirtless state. "I wasn't expecting visitors."
"I wasn't expecting to visit," she whispers. "Is Delly here or…?"
"Just me," he answers. "She left a few hours ago. I'm sorry about whatever happened. I don't know what's up with her today but she did say she wasn't having the best day so-"
"I really don't care, Peeta," Katniss says. "I've heard worse."
Peeta blinks, thrown off by the aggravation in her voice. Today was not turning out to be a very good day for him. "What's up, Katniss? It's late."
"I saw your light on when we were coming back from the movie. And I have a few a question."
"Peeta, I thought we were friends."
Peeta shrugs. He thought so too. "We are, Katniss."
"Well, you haven't been the best friend lately." He tries to think back to all their interactions within the past month and there isn't much to go on. Maybe he hadn't been a good friend but he had his reasons. She had to understand. "Is something wrong or am I reading into this situation the wrong way? What's up?"
"Nothing's wrong," Peeta answers honestly because, really, nothing was wrong. Nothing other than the obvious but the underlying sexual tension had always been there. He was just starting to come to the realization it was misguided.
"Something must be wrong."
"I am telling you, nothing is wrong."
They both jump at the tone of his voice and wait a moment to hear any commotion. The walls weren't the thickest. Surely someone had to have heard. Probably no one other than Haymitch, always front row to their lovers quarrels. No one speaks for a long time.
"I don't know what changed," Katniss says finally. "I don't know what changed but all I know is that I really value your friendship and don't want to lose you."
Peeta can feel his blood pressure rising and fights to keep his emotions at bay. He takes a deep, steadying breath before answering but he can't think of anything to say. "Katniss…"
"Is this it? Because if this is it, you owe it to me to at least tell me that."
"I owe that to you?" He asks, frowning despite his best efforts not to. "Katniss, I don't owe you anything. I'm not your fucking boyfriend."
"So is that the problem? Gale?" She crosses her arms, standing to attention likes she's ready for war. Peeta might just give it to her. "No, you're not my boyfriend! But you are my-"
"You're friend! Yeah! I got it."
Katniss falls quiet, sinking into his couch with a look of defeat. She puts her head in her hands, her fingers knotting and unknotting for what feels like hours. Peeta is tired and the weight of the day is caving in on him but he stands. He doesn't know for how much longer but, for now, he stands.
The way she says his name breaks something in him. With a deep breathe a moment to think, he says it. The words he's been holding in for months.
"Katniss, I love you."
He can't bear to actually look in her direction so he focuses his attention on the light fixtures that need repairing. He breathes.
"I love you. I've been in love with you for months now and I don't know what else to say. I'm captivated by everything you do. I love you. I have loved you." When she doesn't respond, he continues. "I love you and maybe this is getting weird because… because it's getting harder and harder to separate the friend you from the you I want to marry. From the you I see a future with. From the you I-"
She cuts him off with a kiss. It isn't quick like the other one and he wouldn't even say it's passionate. It's soft yet firm, a kiss of affirmation and, in this moment, that is all he needed.
Peeta is the one to deepen it, grabbing the back of her head and pulling her as close as humanly possible until he can feel her heartbeat. It takes Katniss a moment but she returns with the same amount of fervor and there is no place he would rather be.
He doesn't know how it happens but they end up in his room, on his bed, with little clothing between the two of them. Katniss's shirt has long been discarded and the tent in Peeta's pants is hard to ignore. She lets out a soft moan when he starts to kiss the delicate skin at the column of her neck and he looses himself in the smell of her soft skin.
"Peeta," she moans, running her fingers though his curls, tangling and untangling, lost in lust. God he loves her. Good god he loves her. "Peeta, take off your pants."
He doesn't question her, Katniss a woman of her word, and sheds the last piece of clothing between her before moving to untie her own shorts. His nimble fingers work in tanget with hers until they are both down to their underwear, as close as two humans beings can be. He takes this opportunity to look at her, to admire her, and he is sure his dreams could have never measured up to his reality.
"You're beautiful," Peeta tells her, running his hands down her legs, over her flat stomach, through her hair. "Katniss, you're so beautiful."
"You make me feel beautiful," she smiles, running a comforting hand down his cheek. "Peeta, I want to have sex with you."
The words barely process through his head. There are so many thoughts, so many options, that run through his mind at the moment he can't even begin to comprehend what the actual fuck is happening. All he knows is he's happy. He's happy and, even if it is just for this moment in time, that is all he needs.
Peeta doesn't waste any time grabbing a condom from his nightstand. Her eyes follow his movements and he feels he should explain but he knows he doesn't have too. It would be unrealistic of her to be upset if he was having sex with another person. After all, she was.
He pushes the thought away before his judgement catches up with him. He wills himself to stay in the moment and focuses on rolling the condom onto himself without shaking. It useless and Katniss carefully grabs it from him, soft and gentle, sending him an encouraging smile that wasn't the least bit emasculating. It was loving.
"I haven't had sex in awhile," Peeta prefaces, running a hand through her folds, groaning at the contact. All of his wildest dreams could never live up to the moment he was in now. He waits for her to say something, anything, but she kisses him instead.
"Neither have I."
Peeta doesn't dwell on it, taking the moment to run his length up and down her wetness. They both openly moan and he knows he can't wait any longer. Without second thought, he pushes inside her.
He stills for awhile, adjusting to the feeling of being inside another human being. It had been awhile, a long while, and he'd almost forgotten how good sex was. It was never this good, he was convinced. It was only this good because it was Katniss.
"Peeta," she moans his name, her hands clawing at the side of his face when he moves after what feels like hours. She's so tight, so wet, so beautiful. Peeta squeezes his eyes shut in an effort to last longer.
Always the gentleman, he finds her clit and rubs in slow circles. Her walls seize and she shuts her eyes, leaving openmouthed kisses on his neck as he continues his work.
He's not sure how long they're connected but eventually she comes with a breathy sigh and his name on her lips. She urges him to move faster once she's done but, at the pace he's going, it was only a matter of time before he meets the same fate.
"God, Katniss, I love you!" The words leave his mouth before he can stop himself. He falls to her side in a heap of exhaustion and admiration. If she wants to reject his declaration, she doesn't try. At least not now. Katniss breathes heavily beside him and pushes the damp curls out of his forehead until he falls asleep.
When Peeta wakes up the next morning, right at four o'clock, she is gone.
Peeta doesn't bother knocking on her door the next morning. He knows she is there, with Gale, in their bed. He isn't sure what he'd expected but it wasn't that. He wants to be so angry at her for embarrassing him that way but he can't. He knew what he was getting himself into. There was little he could do now. She loved Gale. That much was obvious. And Peeta loved her. That much was obvious.
In the end, the odds weren't in his favor.
"Peeta," Rue whispers, tapping on the frame of his door with a shy smile. She almost looks frightened to come inside. He couldn't blame her. He'd been a tyrant all morning.
"Yeah, Rue?" Peeta mumbles, attempting to smile. It wasn't her fault his heart had just been ripped out of his fucking chest.
"There is someone out front looking for you. A man," she says, opening the door just a little wider. Low and behold, it's Gale. Peeta's eyes bulge.
"Does he seem angry?"
Rue frowns. "No, not at all. He said he was a friend and just wanted to ask you something really quick. He said it would only take a minute."
Peeta dismisses Rue with a slight shake of his head, telling her to head out back for her break. If Peeta Mellark was getting his ass kicked in his own bakery, he at least wanted her to be away from it all.
He wasn't exactly sure when he'd ever see Gale again. He hadn't thought that far ahead in the midst of all his self pity. He wasn't sure what he would say or how he would act because nothing Peeta said or did these days was much like him. God, in the middle of everything he'd forgot about Gale, the only person that could truly be hurt by what he and Katniss had done. He wanted to be mad, to be furious at the guy, but there was no reason. There never had been.
Peeta smiles when he steps out from his back office and Gale does the same, reaching his hand over the counter like they were old friends. "Peeta, man! Hey," he smiles. Peeta can tell it's a real, genuine smile. He sighs a breath of relief. He doesn't know. "Sorry to barge in on you like this! I just had a question and didn't really want to talk about it over the phone."
"No problem at all. I love visitors," Peeta sighs. "What's up man?"
"Katniss just didn't come home last night," he begins, checking over his shoulder to see if anyone is listening. Of course, Mr. Jenkins in the corner is too concerned with his Sudoko to notice much of anything. Gale continues. "She uh, well, I don't know. She was pretty upset earlier in the night about some stuff and then she just bolted when we got home. I waited up all night for her but she never came home and I called the school earlier and they said she'd called in sick? I know you guys are pretty close so I just wanted to know if maybe she mentioned anything."
Peeta blinks. Katniss hadn't gone home? She surely hadn't stayed with him. He shakes his head. "I don't know where she is. I saw her late last night but it was only for a second. She wasn't… she wasn't dressed like she was going anywhere."
Gale nods. "She laid down for bed then just got up, said she had to do something and never came home. It isn't like her."
At this point, Peeta begins to worry. While he and Katniss were close, closer than even Gale knew, they weren't old friends. He surely shouldn't have been the first person Gale asked about her whereabouts. "I'll try her cell. If she picks up, I'll give you a call. Alright?"
Gale nods and thanks him, leaving shortly after purchasing some day old coffee for half-price.
Peeta rings her cell half a dozen times with no answer. It isn't until almost eight o'clock when he's about to call the fucking police that she texts him.
Meet me at the diner.
She's sitting in the same booth they shared pancakes in that one night, when she admitted she didn't love Gale. Again, she looks distraught. Her tired, defeated eyes make no attempt to look at him when he sits down, her slim fingers pushing him the cup of coffee she'd already sweetened. Peeta takes it without comment.
"Katniss," Peeta mumbles, his hands physically shaking as he reaches for his mug "Katniss, where the fuck have you been all day? You've got everyone worried-"
"I went to the graveyard," she answers. "To, you know, talk to my dad."
Peeta doesn't know so he stays quiet. He father was a sore subject, one he learned very early on in their relationship not to bring up. In the same wavelength of his mother, her father was something they left untouched. Peeta knew he was dead and knew Katniss loved him very much. According to her, that was all he needed to know.
"Peeta, he would be so ashamed of me."
The line hurts more than she means it to. The kind of pain that starts in your throat and creeps it's way into your chest until you feel like you can't breath. Peeta fights to stay upright.
"I don't hurt people," she continues after a moment, finally looking up from her black coffee. Her eyes are rimmed red, her cheeks blotchy and tired. "I don't hurt people intentionally. And last night I did. I hurt Gale."
Peeta couldn't argue with that. Only hours ago, he was having the same moral dilemma. He takes a breath, treading lightly. "Katniss, you don't love him."
"But I do," she cries. "I love him in some kind of way. I don't know if it's the same way he loves me but, either way, I love him."
Again, there is the stabbing. Peeta closes his eyes. How fucking stupid he'd been. How blind.
"Whatever happened last night, it can't happen again."
It's something he already knew but it hurts to hear.
Peeta leaves a ten on the table and leaves a crying Katniss to figure out this mess by her-own-fucking-self.
Peeta finds himself in a bar the next block over, downing the own draft beer with little thought about what the morning would bring. He's turning into his mother. He stares at his reflection in the bathroom and sees his bored, drunken, abusive mother. He hates himself.
When he's leaving the bathroom, he hears his name being called. "Peeta, boy! Over here." Sighing in self pity, he amuses old drunken Haymitch by wandering over to his booth in the corner. Peeta was pretty sure the old man lived here and that only made Peeta feel worse. "Why the long face?"
Not in the mood to reiterate the day he'd had, all the highs and lows of the past twenty-four hours, Peeta just shrugs his shoulders. The art of deflection. He was getting too good at it.
"Nothing to do with that pretty brunette down the hall, huh?"
Peeta stares. That was the thing about Haymitch. While he never had much to show for, he was observant and smart. "She's got a boyfriend."
"Yet she's leaving your apartment at three in the morning." Peeta stares blankly, not wanting to give himself away. "You see, that boyfriend of hers came pounding on my door today, when I was taking my afternoon nap, wanting to know where that girl was. Said she didn't sleep at her apartment. Me, being the loyal neighbor I am, told him I knew nothing. But, like always boy, I knew something."
"Shhhh," he quiets, drunk and a little too loud for Peeta's comfort. "I won't say nothing. It ain't none of my business."
They sit in silence for a long time. Peeta doesn't know what to say and Haymitch doesn't care to say anything more. In the time they'd lived down the hall from one another, Peeta couldn't recall a time they'd been in each others company more than this very moment.
"Is this what you do all day?" Peeta asks, the silence becoming unbearable though Haymitch doesn't seem to notice through his liquor induced haze. A life of ignorance. How nice.
"All day," he answers with a cackle. "I sleep, sometimes, when this place gets too quiet."
"What did you do? You had to do something at one point in your life in order to afford that apartment."
"Army," he says though, by his tone, Peeta can tell he doesn't want to say too much more. He nods. Explains the drinking and delusion.
"You really didn't say anything to Gale?"
"Is that the boyfriend who looks like he could beat your ass to next Tuesday?" Peeta nods. "Didn't say a damn word, boy."
Peeta should thank him but the words get caught in his throat.
"Messing with another man's woman is never the way to go."
"She's not his property," Peeta snaps.
"No. But she chose him," he burps. "Now you have to chose you."
Haymitch then vomits into a bucket and Peeta excuses himself for the night.
He takes the long way home to clear his head, rounding the corner of 15th when he sees them.
He isn't sure what he's looking at, not at first, but he sees Delly step out of a black car and then, following suit, Gale. He moves slowly to grab her hand, almost playfully as if they were old friends. Buzzed and confused, Peeta is about to call their names when Gale kisses her. It isn't a friendly, drunk, innocent kiss. It's a kiss of passion. The very same one he shared with Katniss not too long ago. It was a kiss only lovers share.
Gale pulls away and whispers something into Delly's ear that makes her laugh. She runs a hand through his hair, tugging at the ends and softly kissing his cheek.
It all makes sense then. The tension, the stares, and snarky comments.
"Hey!" He yells, bounding down the street. Gale and Delly pull apart, eyes wide with fear.
"Peeta," Delly screams, putting her hands up to stop whatever is coming next but she can't. Peeta swings his fist, connecting squarely with Gale's jaw, sending him flying towards the ground.
A few passerby's on the street stop to watch the scene but no one makes a move. Peeta could very well be on his way to his second trip to jail for fighting but, for Katniss, it was worth it.
He sends another punch but Gale is ready this time, blocking his fist and sending one of his own. Delly is screaming and Gale is cursing but all Peeta can hear is the pounding in his ears.
Eventually, someone pulls the two apart. Gale's lip is bleeding and Peeta can barely see out of his left eye. Delly is crying hysterically on the side of the street, begging the two of them to "fucking stop!". He can't even look at her.
"What the fuck is wrong with you!" Peeta blares, loud enough to get the attention of the neighborhood. "Are you two fucking crazy?!"
"Why don't you shut the hell up, Mellark, huh?" Gale booms back, pushing him. "Mind your own business and stop making a fucking scene!"
"Mind my own business? You want me to mind my own business but have the nerve to bring your mistress in front of the apartment you share with your fucking girlfriend? Good God, Gale, you asked the girl to marry you!"
"And she said no, alright?" He sneers. "There are things you don't fucking understand. Stay out of my relationship!"
"And you!" Peeta interrupts, turning his attention to Delly who has fallen silent. "How could you do this? How could you do this to someone else?"
"It started before you even knew them, Peeta," she cries, covering her face with her hands. "I didn't… I didn't know what to tell you. I didn't know what to say, alright?"
"How about: "Hey! I'm fucking Gale!"," he suggests, rolling his eyes to the moon. "I have known you all my fucking life and I never knew you to be a whore!"
Delly gasps and Gale grabs Peeta by the collar. "Don't fucking talk to her like that, man!"
"Get the fuck off me you stupid piece of shit!" Peeta yells, flailing his arms like a mad man.
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Gale says. "This is good for you, isn't it, Mellark? This is the shit you've been waiting for! Don't think I haven't seen the way you look at Katniss! I know you. You wish you were me."
"You don't know a good thing when you got it, Gale. You know that?"
Peeta turns, the rage in him slowly dying as the confusion sets in. Gale is right. This is what he's been waiting for. Only now, there was so many layers to the lies and deceit. Peeta couldn't place it all together and he didn't really want too. He'd known Delly all his life. As angry as he was at her choices, that was still his friend. His lifelong friend. He couldn't throw her under the bus, he couldn't hurt her.
They keep yelling but he doesn't listen. He stays at Finnick's that night.
He doesn't see anyone for a month. Other than going to work, the grocery store, and to his parents, he mostly hides out in his apartment, ignoring his phone when it rings and ignoring the persistent knocking from Johanna. He can't even bring himself to face her.
He never said a word to Katniss about that night and he plans to keep it that way. From the look of things, her and Gale are still together. Still together and in love and happy. He doesn't know how but Peeta doesn't question it anymore. That is just the way things are, he convinces himself. And that was enough for him.
They run into each other in the stairwell. The elevator breaks and the apartment building refuses to fix it until the weekend is over, not wanting to pay the maintenance people for overtime. So he is stuck hauling ass up and down the stairs day after day. It's a hot Sunday when they finally come face-to-face.
She's wearing a green camisole and her hair is down for once. There is a box in her hand, a hammer attached to her belt. She looks like herself just… tired. He would imagine she would say the same.
They don't talk for a long time, just stare. A lot had happened in the month that had passed but neither wanted to share. Peeta had news he knew would ruin her life. He was never a good secret keeper so he just stayed away, convinced that in the long run, Katniss would be grateful for it.
She is the first to speak.
"So Gale has been cheating on me."
Oh. So she knows.
Peeta looks closer at what is in her hands. He realizes they're moving boxes.
"And you knew."
The lump in his throat is back, this time better than ever. He meets her eyes and she's actually angry?
"I know, yes," Peeta answers after a moment of waiting. She rolls her eyes, huffing as she tries her hardest to push past him but he isn't so quick to let her go. "What the fuck do you want me to do, Katniss? What the fuck was I supposed to do?"
"You were supposed to be my friend and tell me, Peeta," she sobs, throwing the box to the ground. "You let me look like an idiot!"
"I haven't known for long," he says. "I didn't know. I swear. I saw them kissing on the street one night. Literally punched Gale in his goddamn face. And it wasn't as if we were on speaking terms."
"You should have told me the minute you knew! Things could have been different! Things could have-"
"Things could have what, Katniss?" He yells, throwing his hands up in exasperation. "I get that you're mad, but how is what he did any worse than what we did? What we've been doing? It's the kettle calling the tea black!"
"That's not the saying."
"That's not the fucking saying! That's not the right-"
"Ah!" Peeta screams, loud enough that his voice echoes off the wall for a solid minute. His head is spinning, his blood pressure rising as the seconds turn to minutes. She had no right to be angry, not at him. "How can you be mad when we've done so much more?"
Katniss wipes her tears away with an expert hand. "It's been going on for years, Peeta. I was just the fool who didn't see it."
The hurt in her voice is evident and no matter how he angry he wants to be at her, again, for choosing Gale over him, he can't imagine the pain she must be feeling. She pushes past him with ease then, the fervor of their argument fading, leaving nothing but hurt and regret in it's wake.
He wants to call out to her. He should. Be instead he watches her leave for (probably) the last time.
Johanna sleeps on his couch that night, her tone light and joking but her eyes worried and anxious. The whole floor knew about Gale and Peeta's late night brawl and it seems they weren't exactly alone in the stairwell that day. Peeta tries to ignore the stares and whispers, the grave feeling of high school desperation threatening to suffocate him again. So when Johanna comes over, acting normal, he doesn't stop her.
"So she moved out?" She asks, running her fingers through his hair as he finishes the last of the wine. Peeta shrugs. He'd assumed. He didn't know. "And you're okay with that? Her being gone."
"It isn't the 19th century, Johanna," he burps, drunk. "Her number is still the same. There's Facebook. I could go by the fucking school if I wanted too. Just because she doesn't live here doesn't mean she dropped off the face of the Earth."
"That maybe so but you guys didn't end things on the best note," Johanna explains. "And maybe she doesn't want to be found. Maybe she doesn't want you to look for her."
"Maybe I don't want to look for her."
"Don't be so cynical. It doesn't suit you."
Gale comes by the next week with a case of beer and an apology. He doesn't come in and he and Peeta don't talk for more than five minutes but the tension in the air is cleared.
He loves Katniss, he explains, but not in the same way he loves Delly. He didn't realize that until now.
"Delly's a good girl," Peeta concludes, opening one of the beers from the case. He waits to sip until Gale does. "But so is Katniss."
Gale nods in understanding.
"Anyway, sorry about punching you."
"Don't worry about it, man. I kind of fucking deserved it."
Delly is more than a little surprised when Peeta shows up at her office the following day with a box of fresh baked goods for her floor and her coffee order. He'd seen Delly in her best of times and her worst, but nothing could have prepared him for the emotional wreck that was "post-affair Delly".
Her office was a mess, her makeup smeared, her dress rumpled. She looked like she rolled out of bed and just barely made it work. When he points this out, she assures him after a few choice words that was in fact the case. "It's been a week, okay?"
Peeta takes the seat across from her desk without asking. He never had too, they had been friends a long time. Yet, looking at her now, he wasn't so sure he knew the first thing about her. They had always been transparent in their dating lives. There was no one on this planet he trusted more with all of his secrets than Delly-fucking-Cartwright. And as sorry as he was for saying the awful things he did, the hurt he felt still hadn't subsided. She had lied to him. That fact was not lost on him.
"So," she starts, her eyes never leaving her computer screen. "To what do I owe the fucking honor?"
Peeta smiles. "I came with apology breakfast."
"I have a meeting I have to get too. You can't stay."
"I am your meeting," he answers, nodding towards her electric notes. Mellark Bakery INC., 12:00. "You don't even read your own notes anymore?"
"I don't need to," Delly concludes with an eye roll. "I'm the boss."
The two sit in silence for what feels like eternity but Peeta really isn't sure what to say.
Delly had been his friend since childhood. He loved her in ways he didn't love anyone else. He couldn't take the silence but he also couldn't look at her without a sinking feeling in his stomach.
"Peeta, look," she huffs after a while, pushing herself away from her desk. "You don't need to apologize, okay? You're right. I'm a whore."
"You're not a whore," he sighs.
"Yeah. I am."
"I do need to apologize," Peeta says, rubbing his temples. "Delly, this all just got so fucked up and I really don't even know how. You're an adult who can make her own choices. I'm not here to judge you for that."
"But you're right. He was with her. He's always been with her. It was a bad choice."
Peeta couldn't disagree. It was a bad choice but Delly wasn't a bad person. He long ago learned the art of separating the people from the crime. This time would be no different.
He hugs her close to his body and she does the same.
He sighs. At least this was something he could fix.
The days go by faster than he'd expected. The seasons change as they always do. The sun rises and sets. The world keeps on moving though, for awhile, it didn't feel like it was going to.
There are days when all Peeta can think about is Katniss but even those get fewer and fewer.
Johanna fills him in on little aspects of her life here and there but never anything major. Peeta isn't sure if that's because she is also keeping a low profile or because Johanna doesn't want to hurt him. Either way, he doesn't want to know.
"You know, you could call," she says one day over breakfast. Peeta doesn't look up from his pancakes. "She asks about you. And you ask about her. It's obvious you both still care and-"
"And nothing Johanna, okay?"
But Johanna was relentless, if anything, which is why he should not have been surprised to see Katniss on her doorstep that Friday afternoon.
Her hair is knotted at the base of her neck with a few tendrils falling down to graze her shoulders. She shifts a grocery bag from hip to hip while obnoxiously pounding on Johanna's door, mumbling obscenities at her friend's absentmindedness. She doesn't notice him, not for awhile, but when she does, his whole world stops.
"Peeta," Katniss mumbles, swallowing the lump in her throat. She's smaller than he remembered, her clothes hanging loose on her body and her eyes sullen.
"Johanna lock you out?" Peeta asks once he's found his voice. He tries to mask his nervousness with a soft smile of his own but he knows it's no use.
"She gave me a long speech about wanting to have dinner and then doesn't even bother to open the door," she shrugs. "But should I really be surprised? I am five minutes early."
"But being on time is late." Peeta knocks once on the door, pressing his ear against the wood to listen. There's only silence. "Well, she may have ditched you."
Katniss gives a tight-lipped smile, her eyes subconsciously shifting towards her apartment. Well, what used to be her apartment.
"Does he still live there?" Katniss asks after a moment.
Peeta shakes his head.
Nodding, Katniss shifts the grocery bag in her arms and, without another word, turns towards the staircase to make her trek back downstairs.
Peeta watches her back retreat and wonders if he would ever move on. Maybe he could if they had a proper goodbye? If they could just find the closure he longs for when nightmares keep him up at night. And what better time than now?
He follows her down the stairs and out towards her car. It isn't until she's reaching in her purse for her keys that she finally acknowledges his presence. "What, Peeta?"
"Katniss, we need to talk."
"There has been time to talk. I don't have anything to talk about now."
"Well I do," Peeta shrugs, already feeling his blood pressure rising. "I can't keep going on like this."
"Going on like what? It's over," she huffs, frustration getting the best of her and tears welling at the corner of her eyes. "You kept things from me, Peeta. You kept things from me that-"
"What was I supposed to do? I knew an entire five minutes before you did. And you loved him. You sat in that diner and admitted to-"
"Of course I loved him, Peeta! You can't hold that against me."
"I don't hold it against you! I just don't know what you wanted me to do."
"I didn't want you to shut me out," Katniss answers tearfully. "I lost everything, everyone, in a matter of days! I lost my apartment, I lost my boyfriend, I lost my friends… Good God, Peeta, I lost you! Everyone I loved left. Left me to just-"
"I didn't leave you Katniss," Peeta pleads, reaching around to stand before her. "I didn't leave you. I love you. I've loved you. I just... I wanted to give you time to heal because everything got so complicated."
She laughs then, the kind of throaty laugh that never fails to make him smile though in this moment it makes him angry.
"Explain to me what's so funny, Katniss."
"Everything got so fucking complicated."
He's quiet for a moment, and maybe it's pure exhaustion, but eventually he starts to laugh too.
"God, Gale cheated on me," she laughs, wiping away her tears with her one free hand. "Peeta, he cheated on me with Delly and you brought her on our double date!"
Peeta laughs even harder. "He looked like he was about to stroke out. That should have been our sign."
Katniss laughs so hard she doubles over, a carton of eggs falling at her feet.