A/N: I've owed this to you guys for weeks and I am so very sorry it's taken so long to get it up. My one week of overnights truned into three and I sleep all day when I have to work those. Also, for anyone following my other story "Humans and Heroes", I will get that update in the next few days. I'm sorta back to regular shifts so I should be getting back to the swing of things soon. Accept my apology and review. lol. I hope you enjoy this chapter. I didn't have time to edit and I wanted it all in so it may be kinda wacky but hey, that's me. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games, its characters, or places. Just a PC and an overactive imagination.
Chapter 9 – Warning Signs
Let the world stops turning
Let the sun stop burning
Let them tell me love is not worth going through
If it all falls apart
I will know deep in my heart
The only dream that mattered had come true
In this life I was loved by you
"In This Life" Israel Kamakawiwo'ole
"Alright, I'm here. Let's get this over with." Those are the first words out of Haymitch's mouth when I open the door for him. He pushes past me and into the house with his ever present frown on his face.
"It's nice to see you too," I tease as I shut the door and follow my guest.
"You're lucky I even came, Pretty Boy." Sometimes I wonder how he comes up with the nicknames he has for us. "There better be booze."
"You know Katniss doesn't like alcohol in the house."
"Oh please. You make one mistake and she bans the stuff. You know, Peeta, you need to start standing up for yourself. Tell the little woman how it's going to be. Your way or the highway or whatever the stupid expression calls for."
I just roll my eyes. Haymitch hasn't been in a romantic relationship with a woman in such a long time, I wonder if he even knows how to act around them. The things he says can be a bit alpha male. "Being married means compromising; not telling the other what they can or cannot do or have."
Haymitch chuckles to himself. "You let her do whatever she wants don't you."
I raise my brow at the older man. "What's that supposed to mean?" I ask with an edge in my voice.
Haymitch walked over to me and spoke so that only he and I could hear. "Oh come on. You want to act like you don't care about that stupid soldier, but you do. That boy is getting too comfortable around here. He's getting too comfortable around your wife."
"I trust Katniss. Why doesn't anyone believe me?"
"Oh we all believe you. We just don't believe you trust Hawthorne. He was here earlier. He was in this house with Katniss while you were at the bakery working your ass off."
"She isn't having an affair."
"I never said she was. I'm saying that boy is going to make his move and he's going to do it when you're not around. He knows she won't tell you. She won't hurt you by telling you about something almost happening. He's smart. You better be careful with that one."
"You sound really paranoid right now."
"You know I'm right. I may be old and haven't been close to anyone but you, Katniss, and the kids, but I still can see the signs of a man wanting something that's not his. Your father loved Katniss's mother almost as much as you love Katniss. He would have married her if it weren't for Katniss's father. Don't let the miner into the bakery."
All I can do is stare at Haymitch. He may be crazy, but he has a point. I hate to admit it, but he does. "I have no idea what keeping a miner out of the bakery has to do with any of this."
Haymitch throws his arms up and rolls his eyes at me. "Fine! Don't listen to me. Mark my words: you'll regret it. You'll see you should have listened to crazy old Haymitch."
I chuckle and put my arm around my mentor's shoulder. "You're not that old." Haymitch growled and ducked under my arm. "I'm listening. Don't worry. I just want to give him a chance. Maybe we're all wrong about Gale."
"Yea and I'm going to be sober by the end of the week. You want to see the good in everyone, Peeta. It's noble, but it's stupid."
Before I could say anything, Aden and Juliet came running down the stairs, screaming at the top of their lungs. "Grandpa Haymitch!" they screamed as they ran to the older man.
"There you two are," Haymitch grins as he hugs my kids at the same time. "Your old man was staring to bore me. Thank God I have you two to save me."
"You're funny Grandpa Haymitch," Aden laughs. "Aunt Jo got me another soldier!"
"Did she? Seems to be a lot of those in this house lately." I glare at Haymitch, warning him not to say another word about Gale or soldiers. "Anyway, how was Juliet's day?"
"Good," she smiles shyly. "We learned about all the jobs in the District."
"They still teach kids that?" Haymitch laughed. "Outdated idiots. Listen kid, you can be anything you want. Don't let the stupid schools tell you what to do."
"Haymitch, language," I sigh.
"I could have said a lot worse, you know."
"Yes, I know. Thank you for the refrain." Haymitch releases Aden and Juliet and they take off running toward the living room. Haymitch is about to follow when I catch his arm. "Not another word out of you about this Gale business," I warn. "I want this to be a calm, civil evening for once."
"Son, you dream big, but I hate to break it to you. It's never calm or civil when it comes to this bunch. Do me a favor and think about what I said."
"What'd you say?" Katniss asks as she comes down the stairs. She stands beside me and I put my arm around her shoulder, pulling her close to me. "What did you say, Haymitch?"
Haymitch thought about Katniss's question. He was trying to answer it without raising any flags or starting any arguments. He's learned to hold his tongue over the years.
"I was just telling Peeta that he should think about opening another business. A restaurant or something so that you can make more money off the game you bring in." I have to admit, it was a great cover up. His idea wasn't too bad either. "But I was saying he needs to beware of those that might try to take advantage of his business. They'll steal from him right in front of his face."
I roll my eyes. And there he goes. "I can handle my own," I say warningly.
"You should take the help people are offering. They just want to help."
"Haymitch, I don't need any help. There's nothing to worry about."
"I don't know, Peeta," Katniss chimes in. "Haymitch has a point. I'm not saying people from here will steal from you, but there are out of towners that will try to take advantage of you."
I can see the smirk on Haymitch's face and I just want to slap it right off. If Katniss only knew what we were really talking about, I doubt she would be agreeing with our former mentor.
"Hey, are we gonna eat or what?" Johanna asks as she pops her head into the room. "We're starving in here."
"When did she get here?" Haymitch asks.
"Nice to see you too, old man."
"I ought to send Effie to your house someday. We'll see if you still have that attitude when she's done with you."
"Still keeping in touch with Miss Manners? There's a love connection there you're denying."
"Love connection with that God forsaken woman? I'd rather chew my own leg off. No offense, Peeta."
"None taken, I guess," I laugh. "Ok, that's enough you two. Don't make me separate you."
"She started it," Haymitch grumbles.
"Did not!" Johanna shouts.
"Hey! Keep it up and no dessert for either of you," I threaten. "Now, wash your hands and march your butts to the table." Our guests stalk off as I call after them, "I better see smiles on those faces when I get in there!" I sigh and let out a low chuckle. "Since when did we have four kids?"
"I could have sworn I only pushed two out," Katniss jokes. "I think we just got stuck with the others."
"Can we leave those two in the woods?"
"No, they'll just find their way back." We both just laugh. "I love our family though."
"I love our kids. The others I have to tolerate." Katniss laughs and shoves my chest. "You know, I wouldn't mind our family growing."
"We're not getting another pet. That stupid cat lived forever and that's enough for a lifetime."
"I'm not talking about pets."
"And I'm not talking about that."
I smile and nod. We'll come back to the idea of more kids sooner or later. It took some convincing the first two times and I really don't want to push it. We head into the dining room to find that the table has been set already. Haymitch sits on one side of the table with Juliet beside him and Johanna sits on the other with Aden. The four of them are deep in a conversation about the different jobs Juliet learned about in school.
"They said a long time ago every District had a main job for the country," Juliet says as Katniss and I take our places at the table. "My teacher said District 12 was Panem's mining district and we provided the coal for the whole country."
"Daddy makes bread," Aden says proudly. I can't help but smile at how proud of me he is.
"How come you didn't become a miner?" Juliet asks.
"Well, my daddy was a baker and so was his daddy and his daddy before him. Our family has been making bread for District 12 for as long as anyone can remember. But that doesn't mean you have to become a baker. You can be anything you want."
"Did you ever want to be a miner?"
"I did." Katniss looks extremely surprised by my confession. I can't blame her. All she has ever known me to be was a baker. In District 12, people from where I grew up didn't even think about working in the mines. Our lives were predetermined, just like those in the Seam.
"I thought Daddy likes baking," Aden says.
"Daddy loves to bake."
"Then how come you wanted to be a miner?" Juliet asks.
I laugh a little. All anyone has ever seen me as – or anyone in the Mellark family come to think of it – is a baker. Yes, I am also a painter, but I am a baker by trade. Anything else is simply unthinkable. "When I was Juliet's age, I saw this very beautiful girl," I explain. "I knew that she was the one for me. When I told my dad, he told me that he knew her mommy. He loved her mommy more than the sun and the moon and the stars. When they grew up, the girl's mommy married a miner, not my daddy. I thought that if I became a miner, that girl might marry me one day too."
"But you a baker," Aden points out.
"So you didn't marry the girl?" Juliet asks.
I look up at Katniss and smile. "Actually, I did. Turns out the beautiful girl liked my cheese buns," I say with a wink.
"Momma was the pretty girl!" Aden claps excitedly.
"Momma is the pretty girl."
I hear Haymitch nearly choke at my last comment. He's about to make a snide comment – I know the man so well I know when these things are coming – when the doorbell rings.
"I didn't know we were expecting," Katniss says.
"You two never do," Johanna jokes.
I roll my eyes and push away from the table. "I'll get it," I say.
I head to the front door, really unsure of who would be on the other side. Part of me wondered if it would be Gale. Would he intrude on our family dinner and come into my home thinking I'm the only one oblivious to the fact he had been here hours before, alone with my wife? If it is him, how will I react? Will I confront him? No. Of course not. I wouldn't do something like that in front of my children. They've been exposed to so much already; they don't need to see the troubles of the past. Then again, it would make me look weak in their eyes. I'll be Peeta Mellark, their father, the push over. These are the debates I must mull over in my head in the five second trip to the door. Luckily, my confrontation debate will be held off because when I open the door, another Hawthorne is standing on the other side.
"Rory? What are you doing here?" I ask. Rory is standing on my front porch with his head hung. He is still in his work clothes and he is fiddling with his apron in his hands.
"I'm sorry to disturb you and your family so late," he says in a sad tone. "I just wanted to drop this off." He holds out the apron to me, still unable to look me in the eye. "I'm sorry Mr. Mellark. I was out of line earlier and I…I understand if you wouldn't like me to work for you anymore."
I stare at Rory for a moment. He is a grown man in appearance. He is about 5'11", broad shoulders, and a constant five o'clock shadow. But underneath it all, he's still a child. His feelings are hurt easily and he is afraid to disappoint those he looks up to. He has been missing a stable father figure nearly all his life. He barely knew his father and Gale had left just as quickly. For half his life, he has looked up to me in ways I hope that Aden will someday too.
Earlier, as promised, I tried to convince Rory to reach out to his older brother and give him a chance to at least explain himself. It quickly went downhill. Rory said some things that were hurtful and out of line, but it was when he brought up my brother I had lost it. I snapped and told him that he was a child. He was going to say anything he wanted to hurt me – which he had succeeded in doing. I accused him of using me as a scape goat and only befriending me to mock his brother. I was his form of vengeance against Gale and I wouldn't take it anymore. I left him dumbfounded in the bakery and told him I better not see him in the morning or God help me what I might do to him. Honestly, I don't know what I would have done if I was still angry.
I let out a sigh and push the apron back to Rory. "One, it's Peeta, not Mr. Mellark," I say. "I thought we went over this years ago. Second, are you quitting?"
"No," Rory says. "I just thought you wanted me to."
I laugh. "Kid, I never wanted you to quit. I was angry. We both said some things that we didn't mean, but I would never fire you or ask you to quit."
"But you were right Peeta." He finally looks up at me and I can see the heart break in his eyes. "I was being a stupid kid and you trusted me with so many responsibilities. I let you down. I'm sorry. I…" He paused and took a deep breath. "Earlier, you said that I only became your friend to spite my brother. That I never really saw you as someone important in my life. That isn't true. I never thought we would be friends, but I'm glad we are. One day, I…I hope I can be as good as a man as you."
I'm taken back by Rory's confession. I knew that I was someone he looked up to, but to have him say he wants to be like me was a shock. I had no idea he respected me that much.
"Rory, I…I don't know what to say," I say honestly.
"You don't have to say anything. I'm sorry, again. I promise I'll do better to be the man you expect me to be. Good night. Tell Katniss and the kids I send my love."
I look over my shoulder as Rory turns to leave. "Hey, why don't you come in? We sat down for dinner not too long ago. Join us."
He stops and looks at me. He shakes his head. "I couldn't."
I step outside to grab his arm and drag him in. "Sure you can. I'm not taking 'no' for an answer." I half-drag him into the dining room. When we enter, everyone looks up at us. They all seem a bit surprised, but smile at Rory. "Hey everyone, Rory came by to say hello and he is now going to join us for dinner."
Katniss and the kids say hello as Haymitch mumbles something under his breath. "Hey…Rory right?" Johanna greets. Rory opens his mouth to speak but nothing comes out, so he nods. "Here, you can sit next to me. Little dude here is just about done with his food and I doubt you'd wanna have dinner ruined by sitting next to that slob." She points her fork at Haymitch, who just gives her the evil eye.
"Th…thank you Miss Mason," Rory finally manages to get out.
I'm trying to remember the last time I heard Rory stutter or sound…nervous. I'm not sure why he's suddenly anxious until he sits beside Johanna. He can't stop shaking his leg and he won't look up from his plate. I laugh to myself when it hits me. The boy has a crush on Johanna.
"What's so funny?" Haymitch growls.
"Your face," Katniss replies on cue. Haymitch looks up at her quickly, surprised that she – of all people – made the joke. "Problem?"
"You've been married to him too long," he grumbles.
"Please," I huff, "forever isn't even long enough."
I'm thankful Johanna volunteers to clean up after dinner because, to be honest, I am exhausted. It seems like everyone wanted to tell me how to live my life today. From Rory to Johanna and even Haymitch – who tries his best to stay out of my personal affairs as much as possible. Even my weekly phone call seemed to be a bit demanding. Trying to please everyone is an exhausting task. I tell myself that I can't please everyone, but the idiot in me still tries. Letting people down isn't something I can just do. Katniss is in bed when I come stumbling into our bedroom and collapse beside her.
"Tired?" she asks as she strokes my hair.
"You have no idea," I chuckle.
"I was surprised to see Rory. I heard you two had at it earlier."
"We did," I say as I look up at her. "Who told you?"
I nod slowly as I straighten out on my side and get under the covers. "Seems she's talkative today."
"What's that mean?"
"Nothing." I let out a sigh as I lean into my pillows. "I think Rory likes her."
Katniss looks at me with a brow raised. "Who?"
"Johanna." She blinks at me silently. "Oh come on. You didn't notice how he got really uncomfortable around her earlier?"
"A lot of people are uncomfortable around Johanna. I'm uncomfortable around her sometimes."
"So am I. She still walks around naked, you know."
"Thanks for the heads up," I laugh.
"It's none of our business if they have a thing going anyway. I don't like when people are in ours so I think we should stay out of other peoples."
I continue to stare forward. Funny she should bring that up. "I guess."
"You guess? Peeta, people have had their noses in our lives for seventeen years. We have no sense of privacy. That doesn't bother you?"
"I just think that if people have their best interest at heart it's ok for them to say something." Katniss huffs and shakes her head. She obviously doesn't like my response. "If there was something going on I should know about, why not someone tell me? I mean, I wouldn't want to be left in the dark. Don't you agree?" She stays silent. She's angry with me. Again. It tends to happen when I don't take her side on things. "I swear I'm surrounded by children." That comment earns me a punch to my arm. "Oh yea, that really makes me think twice about calling you a child."
"Why can't you just take my side for once?"
"What are you talking about?" I say half laughing, half in frustration. "I'm always siding with you! When I don't agree with you, I side with you! I'm just saying that if something wasn't serious, it wouldn't be a secret."
"Whatever," she grumbles. "Is this about your stupid call?"
"Stupid call? Lovely. She asks about you, you know."
"I don't care."
"Yea, I know you don't. Aden talked to her."
"You let her talk to my son?"
"I let her talk to our son. She has a right you know."
"She does not."
"For someone that wants me to take them seriously and stop calling them a child, you sure do act like a big baby."
"Why don't you go sleep on your stupid tree couch?"
"You don't think it's so stupid when we're having sex on it."
"You're an idiot."
"Well you married me."
"Sometimes I wonder why I said yes." Suddenly, the tension in the room is overwhelming. Neither of us speaks as the words of her last statement linger in the air. After a few minutes, I hear her take in a sharp breath. "Peeta, I…I didn't mean that."
I shift a bit in my space and put some distance between us. "Well, you said it."
"But I didn't mean it."
"Yea, but you said it Katniss!" It's silent again.
A light rap on the door cuts through the air like a knife. "Everything ok in there?" we hear Johanna ask through the door.
Katniss swallows hard before struggling out a response. "Yea," she says. "Just…we're ok."
It isn't believable at all, but Johanna has no choice but to accept it. "Ok. I'm going to be in my room if you need me. You know, down the hall. Two doors down."
"Good night Johanna," I say sharply. I'm pretty sure I hear her make some smart-ass response through the door, but that's the least of my worries. "I never forced you to marry me."
"I know you didn't. Look, I'm sorry, ok? I didn't mean it to sound like it did," Katniss tries to reason.
"What did you mean then?" I shake my head. "You're not the easiest person to get along with either you know that? After I found you in that tub, I couldn't believe you could be so selfish. You didn't care about all the people that would miss you. All you cared about was yourself."
"Why do you always bring that up?" she asks in a whisper.
"So you never forget it happened, because God knows I won't."
I feel her hand touch my arm, followed by her head on my shoulder. Once again, I've managed to hurt her. As angry as I am at her, I feel even more pissed off at myself for making her feel that way. It's a vicious, vicious cycle that will never stop.
"I'm tired," I say as I turn out of her grasp. I sink under the covers with my back to my wife.
I think she's stunned by my actions because there is no shift in weight from her side of the bed, indicating she is still in the position I'd left her in. We stay this way for a few moments until she finally speaks.
"Peeta?" she calls.
"Yes?" I ask.
She lets out a heavy sigh and says, "Good night." She finally lies down and turns off the light.
I lay in the dark as she drifts off to sleep. I doubt an easy, comfortable sleep will come tonight. How can it? I just realized that my wife is hiding something from me. Our friends were right. She won't tell me about Gale. There is more to what happened today than she will let on.
I have no idea what time it is when I wake, but the room is still dark as the moon streams through the small slits between our shades. I can feel Katniss stirring beside me. It's what woke me after all. I look over my shoulder at her. The moonlight illuminates the beads of sweat forming along her forehead. Her movements become sharper, more erratic. I can hear her whimpers.
I roll onto my side so I face her. "Katniss," I call sleepily as I shake her shoulder. "Katniss, wake up."
She doesn't respond. She continues to move violently in her sleep. Her whimpers start to turn into words. "No," she moans. "No, please, no."
"Katniss," I call again, shaking her harder this time.
"Peeta. Peeta. Peeta! NO! Don't leave!" she calls out in sobs. "Please no! Don't take him!"
She's thrashing around now. Tears stream down her face as she continues to call for me, begging an unseen assailant to leave me be. I sit up, fully awake now, and take her shoulders.
"Katniss!" I yell as I shake her. "Katniss, wake up! Wake up!" Her body starts to shake on its own as the tears flow freely from her eyes. My heart begins to race and I feel my own tears threatening to fall. "KATNISS! Katniss wake up! Please, wake up!"
She hasn't had a nightmare like this in years. I can usually lull her out of them, but this one has a firm grasp on her and it is threatening to take her from me. I pull her close to my chest, holding her firmly against my body.
"Please, Katniss, wake up," I beg. "Stay with me, baby. Come on. Stay with me!"
It feels like forever when she finally clutches my shirt, holding onto me for dear life.
"Peeta?" she asks as if she isn't sure I'm real. I look down at her and see that her eyes are blood shot from crying.
"It's me," I say. "I'm right here." She buries her face into my chest as she starts to cry again. "Shh. It's ok. I'm right here, sweetheart. Stay with me now."
Stay with me. Three simple words she once told me to keep me alive. I use them now to pull her from the nightmares that haunt her as she slumbers. Who knew that three words could do so much?
I'm still rocking her against my chest telling her to stay with me when the bedroom door flies open. Johanna stands in the doorway in her pajamas with a panicked look in her eyes. I shake my head and wave her off, telling her I have the situation under control. She stays in the door way for a moment to be sure I really do have things under control before turning to leave.
"They tried to take you from me," Katniss cries. "They were going to take everyone."
"I'm not going anywhere," I assure her. "Not now. Not ever."
"He took them. Don't let him take them, Peeta."
I look up at Johanna who has frozen in the hall. She's staring at me with frightened eyes. I'm not sure who "he" is, but it's sending a chill down my spine. "I won't let anyone take them. I promise. I won't let anything happen to our family."
That's when I notice the bright blue eyes and messy blond hair peeking out from around Johanna's legs. I stare right at Juliet and Aden as I hold their mother, attempting to keep her monsters at bay.
"It's ok Katniss," I say as her sobs begin to calm. "Everything will be ok. Just…stay with me."