By the end of the week, Poppy and Katniss were tired. Poppy didn't want her cute purple cast anymore and wanted to go swimming instead. When Katniss tried to explain to her that she had to wear the sling so she wouldn't bump it anymore, that resulted in a meltdown.
After some Tylenol, and a cuddle, everything was almost right in Poppy's world. "When is he coming back?"
Katniss set down the washcloth she was using to wash Poppy's face with, and asks, "Who?"
"The mean—not mean doctor." Katniss can hear her frustration in Poppy's huff. "What was his name?"
"Is that his name?"
"Well, that's the only one you said was mean."
"Then, that's him," Poppy admits, sliding down out of Katniss' lap. "Where is he?"
"He texted yesterday, and said that he had to work."
"He didn't text me."
"You don't have a phone silly," Katniss says, tickling Poppy's ribs. "I have a phone, and he texted me. Do you want him to come back over?"
Poppy nods. "I want him to finish watching Descendants Two. And to ride the golf cart with me."
"Why do you like him? Is it because he looks like Uncle Rye?"
"I dunno. Why does he look like Unc' Rye?"
"They are?" She asks. Katniss can hear the excitement in her voice. "Is Peeta my Unc' Peeta too?"
Her heart flips and her stomach sinks. I wish I had more time to prepare for this. May as well just tell her? "No, baby. Peeta is your daddy."
Poppy's little brow furrows, and her big sky-blue eyes blink at her. In the moments her daughter is quiet, she can't help to think, I did this wrong. Should I have waited for someone else to be here? Should I have waited for Peeta?
"He's my Daddy?"
Poppy stands there, for a long moment. Then she turns and walks back towards her bed. She returns shortly with her wolf, Luna, under her arm. Katniss opens her arms and helps Poppy to climb onto her lap.
She tucks her daughter's head under her chin and pulls her in tight. They sit like that for a while, until Poppy says, "Is he a good daddy?"
"I think, if given a chance, Peeta Mellark will be an excellent daddy. What are you thinking about?"
Poppy shrugs, but doesn't try to get down. "But Sophie has a daddy."
Silent tears run down Katniss' cheeks. Her heart breaks because she couldn't offer her daughter anything better. She swallows hard, before she says, "She does. And you do too. Yours had to go to school for a while."
"Is that where he's been?"
"He has." She kisses the top of her head. "I know it's strange to suddenly find out that you have a daddy—"
"Will he pick me up from school like Sophie's daddy?"
Her heart stutters to a stop. "I'm not sure?"
"Will he love me?"
Katniss turns her daughter so she can meet her eyes. "Oh, sweet one. I'd be willing to guess that he already does."
"He does. Peeta Mellark is like that, if he knows you, he cares for you."
"When is he coming to see me?" Poppy asks in a small voice.
"I'm not sure." She leans back, and with her thumb, tilts Poppy's head back. "I think he's working right now." She kisses her nose, making her daughter giggle. "Are you going to let me work tonight?"
"Maybe," Poppy draws out with more giggles.
"You know, I bet your Primmy has something fun planned for you."
"Mm-hmm. I think it involved going to—"
"You want to go to the teddy bear store?"
"Yes!" Poppy exclaims, what they were talking about forgotten in the excitement of going to Build-a-Bear. "Then we can go see the fish!" She scoots off of her Mommy's lap and skips to her bunk. "I'm ready! Call Primmy!"
She watches Poppy bounce around and grins. "You know," she mutters to herself as she picks up Poppy's toys. "I'm going to let Prim deal with it, I get to go to work for once."
She drops the toys in the box they are supposed to be in, and offers up, "Let her be ok. In my stupidity, don't let there be any long-lasting damage. Please? And thank you, for whatever she just did. Just let her be ok."
Finally, alone, for the first in forever it feels, she unlocks the backdoor of the bar. Letting herself in, she locks the door behind her. It's Sunday, and since they don't open for lunch, they do open for a little while. But only because it's summer. And only because Prim and Cato want to get out of debt.
The kitchen is closed today, giving the cooks the evening off. She looks at the schedule in the office, and smiles when she sees that it's her and Rye tending bar tonight. She hasn't talked to him since she left him on the beach with Peeta on Friday night.
She turns the lights on, grabs her apron, and shuts the office door behind her. Stopping in the hallway, she inhales, enjoying the smell of the old whiskey barrels and leather that Prim used in trimming the place.
The clock on the opposite wall tells her that Rye should be along any moment. She walks behind the bar, and after getting the cash out of the safe, lets everything she's been trying not to think about come in, as she fixes the drawer.
As much as she wants to admit how good it was the other night in the hospital to be in his arms again, for her heart and her sanity, she can't let that happen again. He can come and see Poppy as much as he wants, that's what they all need, she imagines. But for her sake, she can't let Peeta touch her, want her, need her again.
Just as she can't let herself need him again.
The back door squeaks open, and she looks up in time to see Rye coming in. The first thing she notices is that his easy smile, the one that looks so much like Peeta's is gone. In its place is something—" what happened?"
He exhales, and runs his hands through his waves. "We had a good talk. I guess I'm just sad that after all this time, mother can still get to him like she did."
"Is he still listening to her?"
"No, it's nothing like that. Once he was at school, he stopped listening like he used to. I can't believe she had a hold on us like she did."
"Well, it's over now. I told Poppy."
He meets her eyes. "Really? What did she do?"
"She mostly just wanted cuddles." She grabs a clean rag, and stands there, looking down at the piece of blue in her hands. Her voice cracks as everything comes rushing in, "Am I doing the right thing?"
His long legs eat the space between them. His arms, those same arms that have held her so many times through the years surround her, wrapping her in familiar warmth. "Oh Katniss. You don't have to be brave all the time."
She sniffs. "Yes, I do. Especially when it comes to Poppy."
His arms squeeze her tight. "You have to let us help."
"I know." They stand there for a moment, and she asks again, "Am I doing the right thing?"
"I think so. It was time for all of this to happen."
"I think so, too, it's just hard."
He kisses her forehead. "It will be alright."
"I do. Now come on, we need to open the bar."
It's about thirty minutes to closing when Finnick and Annie come in. Customers have been steady all evening. Katniss and Rye stay behind the bar, while Finnick and Annie each claim a stool. Finnick looks nervous, until she smiles at him and gives Annie a quick hug who asks, "How is your daughter?"
"She's mad at the cast. She wants to go swimming."
Annie's chuckle makes Finnick smile. He never smiled at Katniss like that. The bar is almost empty, and with the clean-up long ago done, the four of them stand there chit-chatting, when the bell over the door rings.
"Well, there's my baby brother," Rye says with a tight smile.
Peeta stops just inside the doorway, and she can see his eyes roving over them, finally settling on her.
She tries not to think about how they light up like they used to.
Annie and Rye call out their welcomes, while Finnick watches her. She meets his gaze and mouths, "What?"
He shrugs, but the look in his eyes tells her that he knows more than he's letting on. Peeta comes to stand beside Annie, and he's the one who asks, "What are you two doing tonight?"
Katniss smiles at the flush that appears on Annie's cheeks while Finnick boasts, "We went to play putt-putt."
"Who won?" Katniss asks.
Annie giggles, "I did, then he did. We had to play another round but by then we were laughing so hard, we couldn't get past the third hole!"
They grow quiet at Annie's admission, and its Rye who cracks up first, with the rest of them joining in.
Katniss meets Peeta's eyes. "Do you want anything to drink?"
"Nah," he says. He looks around the bar. "This is a nice place."
"We worked so hard on this old building," Rye says with Finnick nodding. "When we first came in here, the ceiling was almost black from the tar from everyone smoking for so many years."
Peeta waits for the others to start talking again before he says, "what time do you close?"
Checking out the clock, she answers, "hey, Rye? Since it's just us, how about if we go ahead and close?"
"Yeah, no one's been in here in the last hour. Let's get out of here."
She looks back at Peeta. "Come on, let's lock up." He follows while she locks the front door. Rye hands her the money bag they counted for Prim an hour ago, and she goes to the office. Peeta waits for her while she throws the bag in her purse, then meets him back in the hallway. Rye and Finnick come carrying the garbage, with Annie being the last one.
Katniss turns the lights off, and they file out. After the bags are in the dumpster, Rye says, "It's only nine, everyone can come over to my humble house."
Finnick and Annie are quick to agree, with Peeta asking, "I guess Poppy is asleep?"
Katniss chuckles. "She said that her Primmy was going to take her shopping. They might not be home."
He pats his pants, an old habit he's never lost, feeling for his keys. It's not until she hears, "You can come over too—" coming out of her mouth, that she wishes she could grab those words back. But seeing his face light up, she can't help but to think that maybe it's a good thing that she asked.
"If it's alright—" Rye grabbing his brother in a bear hug, interrupts what Peeta was going to say.
"Of course, it's alright. Come on. Drive your truck over. You know where my trailer is, right?"
"I can ride with him," she volunteers and her heart flips.
He gives her a little smile, and she follows him to the truck. Finnick and Annie get in his. When they are in, and the doors close, she can't help but to run her hands over the old leather seats. "I can't believe you still have this old thing."
"I'm glad I do. Interns don't make that much. It's been a good truck."
"Do you," comes tumbling out of her mouth before she can stop herself, "remember that night when Murphy beat us in football? It was your first night as quarterback—"
His chuckle has lost its bitterness when it fills the cab. "I was so pissed. They were out to get me that night."
"I think they were. They might have beat us, but they never did tackle you."
Neither one mentions what happened that night after the game.
In this truck.
While parked on top of Onion Mountain.
But Katniss can still feel his fumbling touch on her skin just like it was yesterday.
He pulls into the campground. Thresh is still at the guard shack, but once he sees her in the passenger seat, he waves them on in.
"You have a guard? Can I move here?" He asks. She knows that he means it jokingly, but she can hear the underlying seriousness.
"I think there is an empty house or two? Prim doesn't advertise long term rentals, you have to know someone—"
"I think I do," he quips.
"Yes, you do." She says with a smile. He pulls up into her little drive, and parks beside her Jeep.
She looks, and says, "Yeah, they are still out with my, hmm our kid." She pulls her phone out, and hopes that he doesn't notice how her hands are shaking, or how her voice shakes, "Oh look, I owe her one, they took Poppy to Build-A-Bear and Chucky Cheese."
"We both might owe them one. What time does the bar usually close on Sundays?"
"It really depends on how busy we are." She looks around, and sees the lights on at Rye's. "Do you want to hang out here, or go over to Rye's?"
They can hear the voices of their friends drifting over to them. "Let's go over there."
"I need to tell you something first," she whispers.
His whole body, not just his head turns towards her. "Is it bad?"
She shakes her head. "No, I told Poppy that you are her dad."
He runs his fingers through his waves, and she can see his jaw clenching. "What did she do?"
She inhales, in an effort to calm her galloping heart. "She wanted cuddles, and we talked. I think it was good—"
"Damn it Katniss. I wanted to be there. Why didn't you wait for me?"
His words sear into her skin, burning her. The need for air, more than what's pumping out of his A/C forces her to open the truck door. She slams it behind her before walking away from him towards her RV. She stops, breathing in deep lung-fulls of the sweet sea air.
She feels him behind her, before she sees him behind her. Without turning, her voice is so hard that it even surprises her, "Poppy is my child, my daughter. I'm the only parent she knows. It's me who nursed her through the night. It's me who taught her how to walk. It's me who comes here in the summers to work my ass off so she can have some new clothes and toys at Christmas." She whirls on him and advances on him, making him take a couple of steps back. "You do not have the right to come in here and take over. Do I make myself clear? Damn it all to hell, Peeta, did you even think you were on the fucking birth certificate? Because you're not. She is an Everdeen after all."
He opens his mouth to say something, but she continues, "You're here, because I'm letting you be. Now, yes, maybe I should have waited for you to be there when I did tell her, but oh well. This is all new to me Peeta—she's still asking me if you are going to give her another shot."
It's not until she hears a door slam, that she remembers where they are. Glancing around, the only one of her neighbors she sees is Rye, standing out on his front porch. Peeta's croak of, "Katniss—" grabs her attention.
She looks back at him, this person, this man standing before her. As if she's being pulled by an invisible string that connects them she is the one closing the distance between them. The years have been harsh to him, and in that moment, in the light of the lights strung around them she can see his pain.
Before she even realizes what, she is doing, she is touching him, his arms are around her just touching her even though she wants him to pull her tight. "I've needed you—loved you—missed you—hated you for so long. And now you're here and I don't know what to do anymore." She doesn't realize she's crying until his wiping her tears away.
"I don't have a good excuse. So many times, I was at the airport, waiting on a seat so I could fly on stand-by. I should have come home, and gone to you— I shouldn't have believed her." He bends so their foreheads can touch. "Please, forgive me? I should have done so many things—but I didn't. I never stopped loving you, though.
"Every day, you were there. There was a girl there who was about your height, even the same color of hair. She would even wear it in a braid too. Every day, I'd see her walking and my heart would stop. I was so glad when she bleached it blonde. The nights weren't any better. You were there, in my dreams. Every night I was holding you." His breath is ragged as he inhales and she can feel his exhale moving across her lips. "I cried on graduation day. For years I almost fooled myself into thinking that you were somewhere, waiting on me. but on that day, I knew that it was a foolish dream, dreamed by a stupid man, all because I pushed you away." She opens her mouth to say something, but he continues, "Then I come here, and there you are sitting in my ER, with a little girl who looks just like you."
"I think she looks just like you," she says through her tears.
"Are you two alright?" Rye asks behind her. Peeta's hands fall away, and in that moment, she misses him more than she ever did all those years alone.
It takes her even longer to turn around. When she finally does, she says, "Yeah, just talking about things."
Rye nods. "Prim called. She said you never answered your phone. They're on the way home."
"Ok, thanks Rye."
She turns back around to face Peeta. Before she can say anything, he says, "Can I see Poppy?"
"Of course," she answers. She steps away, needing to put some space between them. She digs out her keys, and says, "you can go over and visit with Rye if you want to. I'll call you when she gets here."
"Actually," he begins, "I'll just wait here, if you don't mind. I can't stay long, gotta be at the hospital for the swing shift."
The key fits easily, and she opens the door. She steps to the side, and motions him in. "After you."
She shuts the door behind them, and turns on the overhead light. "I'm going to change clothes," she mutters as she walks by him.
His hand snakes out, and grabs her arm. "Thank you," he murmurs.
She wills herself to step back, instead of into his arms like she wants to. "Of course. I do want you to be Poppy's father. I never not wanted that. Just everything happened—"
"I wish we could start new."
"You mean, like right now, start new?"
"We can't forget the past," he says.
"No, we can't. But we can move on from here, can't we?"
"I think we have to, don't we?" She asks. "I mean for our own sanity if nothing else."
They both hear the vehicle before they see the lights. "Prim and Cato are home." She doesn't wait for him, but opens the door.
Prim appears. "Hey—hey Peeta," she says. "She's asleep."
Peeta steps forward. "Can I get her?"
"Yeah, Cato is right out—" he's gone before she has a chance to finish. Katniss doesn't say anything, but turns out the overhead light that she just turned on, and walks over to Poppy's bed. By the time she has the covers turned down, Peeta is behind her with a sleeping little one. She steps aside, and Peeta lays her down. Katniss takes off her shoes, and pulls the blanket over her.
She leads the way to the door, or thought she was, until she turns to see Peeta watching Poppy sleep. Prim motions for her to come out. she tiptoes out, and Prim asks, "Is everything ok? You've been crying."
She wipes her eyes, and says, "Yeah, it is. Will be, one day. Was Poppy ok?"
Prim's eyes go to the one coming out behind her. "She told me that she had a daddy."
"I told you that I told her. How did she act? Did she say anything off the wall?" Peeta steps up beside Katniss, and she lets his presence will her senses.
"She was worried that Cato didn't like her daddy," Prim says. "She was a little extra clingy, but that could be left over worry from the surgery."
"I'm sorry—" Katniss begins.
"Stop it," Prim says. "She's had a rough time this past week." She looks at Katniss and then at Peeta. "Do you two need to talk some more? I can stay with her—"
Peeta's cough interrupts Prim. "I need to be going." He nods at Prim, then touches Katniss on her lower back. "Can I talk to you?"
She nods, and Prim smiles at them. She lets him guide her over to the truck. He looks around nervously then asks, "I have to work ten to seven tomorrow."
"Are you coming over when you get off work?"
Seeing him here, standing in her driveway, she suddenly feels years lighter. She grins. "I'll allow it."
He returns her grin with a smirk. "You will?"
Katniss and Poppy are out on a walk when her phone buzzes.
Peeta: Can I still come over?
Katniss: Of course.
Peeta: I'm leaving the hospital. Be there in a minute.
She tucks the phone back into her pocket. "Can Peeta still come over?"
"Do I call him daddy?" Poppy asks.
"I'm not sure, Baby. What do you want to do?"
Poppy shrugs. "I want to call him daddy, but does he want me to call him daddy?"
Katniss squeezes her little hand. "He might. You can ask him when he gets here. We should head back to the camper-van."
"You should have brought the wagon, Mommy."
Katniss smiles. "Why?"
"Because I have little legs."
Katniss lets go of her hand, and crouches down in front of Poppy. "Climb on."
"Yeah, just don't hit me in the head." Katniss smiles when she hears Poppy's giggle. Poppy is still trying to get on her mother's back, when she hears the truck. "I think we are saved."
"What?" Poppy says, almost rolling off her back. Katniss stands and smiles. "Who's that?"
Katniss picks Poppy up, so she can see in the truck as the window rolls down. "Do you two need a ride?"
Poppy lays her head down on Katniss' shoulder. "What's wrong, honey?"
"That's him. My daddy doctor," Poppy mutters.
Katniss opens the door and sets Poppy down. She doesn't move until Katniss says, "Scoot, kiddo."
Poppy never takes her eyes off of Peeta as she slides closer. She hears Katniss close the door, and looks around. "I don't have a booster."
"It's ok. He's just driving to the RV."
Katniss watches their daughter take him in. He's still wearing the scrubs from his shift in the ER. "Isn't that a pretty blue?" Katniss asks.
Poppy nods as Peeta pulls into their little spot. He turns off the truck, and turns his attention back to them. The three of them sit there, taking each other in. It's her who breaks the silence when she offers, "Why don't we go in? Peeta, have you eaten supper?"
His brows raise, and he asks, "What did you cook?"
"Poppy wanted chicken."
"It's my favorite," she says.
"Well, feed me then," he replies with the smile that matches Poppy's. Katniss opens the door, and when she moves her legs, Peeta grabs the duffel bag that was under their feet.
When they are in the camper, all he has to do is hold up the bag. "Poppy, show Peeta how to close the bedroom door, please?"
"Mommy," she says in a loud whisper, "when can I call him daddy?"
Peeta looks to her, and she nods. "You can call me daddy, now if you want to." He crouches down in front of her, and smiles. "Or you can call me Peeta."
Poppy bites her bottom lip, and looks from him to Katniss. "I want to call you that now."
"Whatever you want."
Their smiles light up Katniss the camper.
Peeta continues to come over whenever he doesn't have to be at the hospital. Peeta and Poppy grow closer and closer, while Katniss tries to keep him at arm's length.
Many nights, after he leaves, she wonders what she is doing.
Should she follow her heart and welcome him back? Or continue this weird dance of them being overly nice to each other?
Since that night when she screamed at him, and cried in his arms, they've talked about everything but them.
The week of Independence Day, Haymitch, for the first time comes to the beach. Prim had told him during their weekly call, what happened to Poppy, and he had to come and check on her for himself.
And to drink Cato's whiskey at Rising Tides.
They were all gathered around Prim's back porch on the fourth while Rye and Cato fuss over the doneness of the hamburgers and steaks, when Peeta pulls up after finishing up his shift at the hospital. No one thinks anything of it, but Haymitch freezes, recognizing the old truck.
"I'll be damned. What is the boy doing here?"
"You didn't tell him?" Katniss asks Prim.
"I didn't. I thought I did. Will he be ok?"
"Who?" Katniss asks, watching their uncle get to his feet. He stomps over to the truck and without waiting for Peeta to get out, he opens the door for him. They can't hear what is being said, but they both breathe a sigh of relief when the two men hug.
Katniss doesn't let herself think any more about it until dusk when everyone starts heading to the beach. Somehow, it's Katniss and Haymitch bringing up the rear. He leans over to her, with whiskey on his breath, and says, "the boy still loves you."
She glances at him, then looks back at the road. "What are you saying, old man?"
He leans back and props his feet up. "I can tell by the way he looks at you. His eyes were always following you, or Little Bit. He also told me."
"He did? When?"
"When he first got here. You really should talk to him about this."
"Maybe I don't want him like that—"
"Nothing has changed for you either. You still love him and he loves you. What's the deal?"
She shrugs, pulling up to the parking area for the carts. "Come on, old man. Let's go watch the fireworks."
He stops her from getting out. "Are you going to talk to him?"
She shrugs. as she pulls the key out. "Come on, I know Poppy wanted you to see them."
"Is Daddy Doctor going to be there?"
"Yes, baby. He's probably already there." It's the week after the Fourth, and Poppy has an appointment with Dr. West. Peeta mentioned last night, out of earshot, that she might get her cast off today.
Katniss hopes that he's right.
Peeta meets them at the door, and ushers them to Dr. West's office. It doesn't take them long to be shown a room, and Katniss teases, "It's because you are wearing your scrubs, isn't it?"
His grin is infectious. "Maybe."
The nurse takes them to another waiting room and says, "I need to do x-rays—" Poppy's eyes widen, and she hugs Luna tighter.
Katniss sits down in a padded seat, and pulls her close. "They are going to see if your bone is all better. Remember Daddy Doctor told you all about it last night."
"I don't want you to leave me—" Katniss has to strain to hear her as Poppy hides her face in Katniss' neck.
Peeta hears her, and says, "Poppy? Let me ask the nurse if I can go with you, ok?" Poppy's eyes are wide as she looks at him. He touches her cheek, and then asks, "Can I come in, too—"he pauses as he looks at her name tag. "Heidi." He holds out his hand, and she shakes it. Katniss doesn't miss how Heidi gives him a goofy smile as he says, "My name is Dr. Mellark. Can I come in with my daughter?"
"Of course—wait, you are the new ER doctor?" She doesn't even wait for Peeta to finish nodding before she gushes, "ohmygoodness! I've heard so much about you!"
Katniss scowls, and when Poppy sees her doing it, the same scowl appears on her face. "It will be alright," Katniss whispers in her ear. "Just go with Daddy, and listen to his words."
She watches her daughter bravely take Peeta's hand. Together they follow Heidi into the x-ray room. When the door closes behind them, she digs out her phone. "Oh wow," she whispers. "I haven't heard from her in a while."
Johanna: Hey, Brainless. I hate to say it, but we won't be coming to the beach after all this year. Brue just got transferred, so I'll be spending the next couple of weeks packing and house hunting. Kiss Squirt for us.
As she types a response, her phone chimes again.
Rye: Can you stop at Fresh Market on the way home? We have some unexpected company for supper. And for breakfast too.
Katniss: Who is it?
She waits a moment to see if he texts back, but mutters, "damn it Rye," when several minutes pass. "Who could it be?"
The door opens, and a grinning father and daughter come walking out. Her heart skips a beat like it always does seeing them together. Poppy sits down beside her, then Peeta sits on the other side of her. "What happened?" Katniss asks.
"Heidi just took the x-rays. She said that it will take a minute to develop when Dr. West will let us know."
"Are you going back to work?"
"No, I'm done for the day. Why?"
She's already got her phone open, and passes it to Peeta, while Poppy tries to look. "Do you know anything?"
He shakes his head. "Nope, it could be some of Gloss' friends."
"But why would he ask me to stop for them?"
Poppy has her phone now, and opens her game app. "I'm not sure? Oh well." They fall quiet. As always, when he's near, her heart reminds her of how it used to feel to belong to him, to be held. She rubs her head, feeling a headache coming.
A touch on her shoulder, makes her look up. Those eyes that make her want to get lost are looking at her. Unable to form words, she raises her brow instead. "Are you ok?" he mutters, as if he doesn't want anyone else to hear. Poppy looks up, and Peeta says to her, "It's ok, Munchkin. I'll take care of Mommy." What surprises her is when Poppy smiles at her, leans over on her, and goes back to her game. Before, Poppy would have asked question after question, after question, clearly worried.
She can't help the tears that spring to her eyes. Somehow, he moves Poppy, and slides over next to her. His arm is around her, holding her tight and she hears, "Oh, Kitten, can I take care of you, now?"
Her next breath is ragged, and she breathes, trying to keep from crying in the waiting room. Heidi comes back out of the x-ray room and after one look at them, she says something to Peeta. He helps her and Poppy up to follow her to an exam room. the nurse closes the door behind them.
Peeta's voice is soft when he says, "sit down over there," to Poppy. Katniss doesn't even see what she does because Peeta is wrapping his arms around her. She only allows herself to relax for a moment, then she is pulling away.
She doesn't see him reaching for her.
A knock gets all of their attention and they all watch Dr. West come in. He nods at her, offering his hand. She takes it, and he says, "Ms. Everdeen."
"Dr. West," she replies.
He turns his attention to Peeta, surprise making his brows raise. "Mellark?"
"West," Peeta replies with a smile. "That's my daughter, Poppy Everdeen."
The pride in his voice, makes those stupid tears of hers come back while Poppy comes to her side. Dr. West watches her with a smile. "That's wonderful."
Peeta smiles down at Poppy, who returns his smile. "I think so."
Dr. West stands there watching them for a moment, then his grin widens. "I have the x-rays. Poppy, do you want to see your bones?"
"I can see my bones?"
"Yes, come here," he says as he flicks on the light box on the wall. Once the light comes on, he puts the film up. Peeta's sudden grin is as wide as West's as he picks up Poppy. Dr. West begins, "this is where I had to put you back together. This is where your break was, and now look at what you did, young lady. Your body healed itself."
Poppy's little face screws up as she looks at the film. "It did?"
Peeta sets her down. "It did."
"Do you know what else that means?" Dr. West asks. Poppy shakes her head. "I get to use a little saw, and take your cast off."
He opens a drawer, and the little saw appears, and Poppy looks at it with nervous excitement. West hands Peeta the saw, and he smiles. "Munchkin, can I be the one to take off your cast?"
"Yes, doctor daddy!" The adults all chuckle while Poppy says, "I can go swimming now!"
Dr. West plugs up the saw, and hands it to Peeta. He says, "Watch, Poppy." And puts the saw on his hand. He turns it on, and adds, "Look. This is a special saw. It only cuts casts and not your skin."
Katniss watches them, and is honestly amazed at how well Poppy is doing. It only takes Peeta a minute to cut down one side, then he unwraps it. She can't help but to breathe a sigh of relief when she sees Poppy's little arm again.
"I know, doesn't it feel good?"
"Can I go swimming?"
"Yes, I don't think you can swim laps yet, can you?" Dr. West asks.
Poppy's giggle makes them all smile. "No—I just like to splash and feel the waves."
"Ah, yes, well I like that too." He offers Katniss his hand again. "It was a pleasure meeting you, I hate that it was in Mellark's ER."
"Yes, I hate that too. Hopefully we won't be coming to see you at work anymore. Except, maybe to bring you some cookies."
"Those, I will accept. Mellark, I'll see you later."
"Not for a while, I'm off tomorrow."
"Well, I need to take care of that," Dr. West teases.
"No, sir, please don't."
Dr. West slaps him on the back. "Get out of here."
Katniss stops long enough to pay her co-pay, then she meets them outside. "Come on. Poppy. We have to stop at the store."
She tugs on Peeta's hand. "Can Daddy come too?"
"He can follow us, that way we don't have to drive all the way out here to bring him back."
He kisses the crown of her head. "Go with Mommy. I'll meet you there."
"Ok," she says pitifully. Peeta sweeps her up, making her giggle. He opens the jeep door, and helps her inside. Katniss has to smile when she hears Poppy say, "I can buckle myself."
"Hang on, Munchkin." She hears the snap. "We need to make your muscles strong again."
"We do." She hears him give her a kiss, and she gets in her own door. He shuts Poppy's door, and then shuts Katniss' door. She hurries up, and rolls down her window. "Fresh Market?"
"I'm guessing Rye wants seafood?"
"I think so? I'll meet you there."
She waits for him to get into his truck, then leads the way out of the parking lot. They aren't that far away, so when they get there, they are able to run in, grab what they need, and hurry out.
It doesn't take them long to get back to the campground. When they arrive, Katniss notices a strange SUV at Rye's with North Carolina plates. Peeta pulls up beside her, and they get the groceries and Poppy out.
"Should I take this stuff on over to Rye?"
"Yeah? I don't have room in my refrigerator for it."
"Me too," Poppy says.
Katniss watches them walk across the grass as she unlocks the camper. Peeta doesn't even have a chance to knock, when the front door opens. Graham Mellark steps out to embrace his son. She drops her purse on the picnic table, and runs over there.
When Peeta steps away from his father, he meets her eyes. She can see the question there, and she answers, "I guess?"
Peeta steps close to her, and announces, "Dad, this is my daughter, Poppy Everdeen."
Graham's eyes flit over her to settle on Poppy. It's not until she pulls Poppy close, that she realizes what she just did. "Who is that, Mommy?"
"That is Peeta and Uncle Rye's daddy."
"Do I know him?" She asks.
For the moment, Katniss ignores her question and says to Graham, "I promised Poppy a long time ago, that anything that would hurt her, she didn't have to be a part of. Is your wife with you?"
"No. I left he after Rye told me what she did," Graham answers.
By now, Rye has come out on the porch too. "She told them all a bunch of lies. You know how you told me that Dad wanted me to skype him? I did. That's when I just went on ahead and told him everything. He kicked mother out a month ago."
"What?" She says. "Did he tell Bram?"
The last blond Mellark sticks his head out of the front door. "I've been waiting for years for Dad here to grow—"
"Bram—" Peeta and Rye both growl at their older brother.
He looks down, and smiles at Poppy. "Hello, love. I'm your Uncle Bram."
"I have another Unc'?" Poppy asks.
"It seems that you do," Katniss answers. "Whatever will you do with all of them?"
"Make them take me to the beach!"
After supper, and the Mellarks going back to Rye's to catch up, Katniss finally manages to get Poppy in the bed. Figuring that Peeta will go on back to his place, she goes ahead and changes clothes. She's brushing her teeth when she hears a knock.
The lights are off, so she peeks through the window. Peeta looks up at the same time and waves when he sees her standing there. "Hang on," she mutters as she tugs on the oversized sweater she uses as a housecoat.
She opens the door. "Hey, Peeta. Are you going home?"
He scrubs his hand through the waves. "Actually, I wanted to talk to you some. Can I come in?"
She steps aside, and he shuts the door behind him. "Do you want something to drink?"
"No, I'm fine." His exhale is loud, and he says, "I've been thinking and thinking—I want to take you on a date."
"You mean, a grown-up date? Without Poppy?"
"Yes, a grown-up date."
"Why do you want to take me on a date?" She asks.
His mouth opens and closes until finally he spits out, "Because I still love you, and I hope that if I can finally get you alone, you will surrender to my charms."
"You do?" Her whisper is wary. "You love me?"
"I never stopped."
"I never stopped loving you either."
His grin is huge as he steps forward. She backs up. "Are you sure about this?"
"All that time at Southern Cal, when I was wishing and hoping, I was wishing and hoping that one day, we'd find each other again. And now look at us."
"I don't know what to say—"
"Then don't say anything, but yes."
"Peeta—" he steps closer, cutting off what she was going to say. For what feels like the first time in forever, he touches her. It's easy, really, the way he cups her cheek. Instead of kissing her like she expects and wants, he just runs the tip of his nose down hers. He stops when the tips touch, and she can't resist to rub hers against his.
"Go out with me."
She nods, unable to tell him no.
"But, I want to come too," Poppy whines.
"I know, but this time, let Mommy go out with Daddy, please?" She sets down her hairbrush and smirks. "But Daddy is taking me to go eat snails. Do you want to go eat snails?"
"That's nasty, Mommy."
Katniss smiles. "Then you will just have to stay here with Prim. I bet Grandpa might take you to the beach if you ask him to?"
"Yeah, he can." Poppy runs to the door, making the entire RV shake. Katniss checks her reflection one more time. He didn't say where he was taking her, but she is looking forward to whatever he has planned.
Call it superstition, but she's wearing a different dress tonight. It's strapless and red and reaches above her knee. The best part? She found it for $20.
Deep baritones of the Mellark's mix with Poppy's chipper one. She walks out, to see Rye and Peeta in her living room with Poppy dancing around them. Rye smirks at her choice of dress, since he was the one who found it after all, while Peeta looks like he needs to pick his jaw up off the floor.
After Poppy gives her a kiss, and one from Rye—and a warning for him to keep Poppy's feet on the ground, please— they walk out.
Katniss turns, meeting his eyes. He steps closer, and mutters, "You look amazing." She opens her mouth to say something, but his mouth, his kiss is there. His tongue begs entrance, and with a happy exhale, she opens to him. Instead of taking the kiss deeper, he stops, but doesn't pull away. "I want nothing more, than to tie you to my bed for at least a month," He mutters against her lips. "But for now, I'll feed you."
He takes her hand, and she grabs her purse. He leads her to the truck and opens the door for her. She lets him help her in, then closes the door. Joining her, he quickly pulls out of her drive.
Instead of going back through the gate, he heads to the other end of the campground. He stops outside of a wrought iron fence that has overgrown ivy all over it. "I know this place. Cato's grandparents were going to build a new house, and never did."
"They said we can use it for tonight." He says as he pulls out a key. Opening the gate, she goes in first, but waits for him. "Come on," his command is gentle, as he takes her hand in his. She lets him guide her to the middle of the lot. There under the sea weathered oaks is a blanket with an old-fashioned picnic basket.
"Did you cook?" She asks.
"It's not much, just fried chicken and some slaw. Dad made the potato salad."
"This is a picnic made by all the Mellark men?"
"Well, yeah, I guess. Bram made the rolls, Rye did make the chicken. So yeah, I guess we did."
"What did you make?"
"The banana pudding."
She sits down. "You made me banana pudding?"
He joins her. "I remember— "
"You know, that sounds just like you, Peeta Mellark. You remember something silly like how much I loved your pudding. Then when I'm trying to not like you anymore, you remember that, and make it for me."
"You like me?" He asks.
"Oh Peeta. the way I feel about you is so many things. I love you, I need you, I want you, I hate you." She crawls over to him, and pushes him back. When he's lying down, she pulls her dress up so she can straddle him. "It's like that poem from that movie, Ten Things when she's reading him the poem—she says, Mostly, I hate the way I don't hate you. not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all."
She leans over him, letting her lips graze his. "Really," he lets her utter before he leans up to claim her lips.
He stops kissing her long enough to ask, "Are you sure about this? Because once we start, I won't be able to stop."
"You'd better not stop."
"Damn it, Katniss," he says against her lips before he's kissing her again. "Don't you want a bed?"
"You, all I want is you."
"I'm yours," he promises as he rolls her over. He presses kisses across her chest as she starts to unbutton his shirt. She slides the shirt off his shoulders, and he leans back so he can unzip her dress. He looks around, and says, "no one can see in here?"
She wiggles the top down. "No. Prim and Cato come in here all the time."
He holds himself above her. "They do?"
"They do. I need you," she pants.
He rubs against her. "And I need you." They don't say anything else as she unbuttons his pants, and he lifts up her skirt. They both fumble for the condom someone had stuck in the basket, and with a giggle, they finally get him sheathed.
She lays back, and opens up for him, but he stops before he enters. He rubs the very tip of his hardness through her folds. "I promise you, if you let me, I'll spend the rest of my life making up for the past couple of years."
"No, Peeta. It's done and over with, remember? From now on, it's me and you and Poppy."
He finally shifts his hips, and sinks into her. She wraps her arms and her legs around him while he tries to catch his breath. "You feel—" he breathes.
"So, good," she finishes for him. He starts to pump, and she comes apart in his arms. It doesn't take long for him to catch up with her. When he can move again, he slides out, and tucks her into his side.
"You know you have to marry me now, don't you?"
"I like the sound of that—Katniss Everdeen Mellark."
I know, I know... no worries, there will be a epilogue. I'm starting on it today!
I need to thank some amazing people who helped me. i'm so grateful that my friends who are nurses don't mind weird texts from me asking weird questions. So, yes. Brittany and Tracie are real people and real nurses. Thanks you two for lending your wisdom! Dr. West is a real ortho doc. I groom his mother's dog. And she is the one who explained what being in medical school really is like.
Thank you to notanislander and cole. You helped make this fic good.
And thank you for coming back. I know there were many emotions and a lot opinions about the first part. I never thought that would cause what it did.