Note: Hello readers! Firstly, I'd like to thank you for giving this story a 'click' and checking it out. It's AU and I've got big plans to continue if you guys like it! Please let me know!

The Assassin's Wife


"Oh no, no…this is bad…" Peeta's eyes widened and he sank down onto a stool at his breakfast bar slowly. "We're as good as dead, Katniss. You realize this," He glanced over at her with impossibly blue eyes, searching for answers that she just couldn't give him. Oh, she was the most beautiful part of his life. She was all that was good and right in his world, but they were sinners of the highest order and now were paying their dues. Just how long did they think they could keep this up without someone finding out? They were kidding themselves more than anyone else.

It had started out like every other Friday. She'd waited until noon when Cato left for the weekend, then showed up at Peeta's flat with a steaming hot carton of bold coffee to go and a paper bag of fresh baked blueberry muffins. They saw each other every day but not at his place. Her home was filled with cameras and audio recorders; she felt like she was in prison. Their conversations were general and acceptable there. But here, at Peeta's upscale flat miles away from all the security, they were free.

Yeah, Fridays were the best days.

Katniss' soft smile faded slowly, as if the life was draining from her veins right before him. Her eyes brimmed with tears but she couldn't say a word. She simply picked up her still hot and half-full mug of coffee and walked over to the sink, dumping its contents down the drain. She lost herself for a moment as she rinsed and rinsed and rinsed the ceramic under the hot water until her own tears spilled into the mixture. What did she think he'd say? He was still shocked, getting used to the news. She'd had a few more days to let it sink in. Still, his reaction had been a punch to the gut. It wasn't like they could do anything about it now. In any other circumstance it would have been the happiest moment of their lives. Now her stomach quaked with nausea and disappointment and guilt. He was right; whatever happened, it was hard to see this ending well.

She stared out at the morning sun towering over the architecture of their beautiful city and breathed slowly. Of all the places in the world she thought she'd end up, Italy hadn't been one of them. Born in New York City, she grew up believing she'd marry and move somewhere warmer and quieter to raise a family. Some of it had come true, just not the good parts.

"What are we going to do?" She thought she heard him say from the breakfast bar, but she was certain he was talking to himself. "Jesus Christ, what are we going to do?"

She'd always been swimming upstream, hadn't she? She'd been a victim before she met Peeta, but hadn't been strong enough to get away. She'd told him a million times to stay away, that she wasn't a charity case, that she could handle herself. But they were slammed together anyway, and then she'd felt it, that incessant beating of her heart when he was near, and she fell in love with the feeling. Peeta Mellark was the second chance she wasn't allowed to take. They'd taken it, alright, and they weren't the only ones who stood to suffer the consequences of their affair.

"Katniss…say something," she heard him say behind her. His hands were on the sides of her arms, his thumbs working in circles in the way that would normally have given her chills of pleasure. But her hands shook as she tried to scrub the mug and she didn't turn toward him. "Baby…" he whispered in her ear.

"Yeah, a baby, Peeta," she dropped the mug, startled, and it shattered into three pieces. As she turned to face him, she met his terrified eyes. "Your baby, our baby. I can't be more than a month along, but…" her throat was thick with emotion. And when he kissed her cheek from behind, he tasted the tears on her pink cheeks. "And yeah, I know what this means. I know what could happen when he finds out. He'll revert to that…to what he was before Avery was born. But things are different this time. I'm not alone. I have you…and if he has any decency at all, he'll think of Avery before he lifts a hand in my direction," she blinked until the tears left her eyes. "Better yet, I'll do it. I'll leave him. I can't live in fear of what he'll do. If he want to expose me I don't really care anymore. This is more important,"

"You keep saying that, but you haven't left him yet," Peeta frowned. He loved her deeply but it broke his heart that she still wore her wedding band, still went home to that monster of a man on Sunday nights when their weekends were over. She couldn't leave him.

"I wish I had, but you know why I..."

She moved her mouth to speak again but he raised his hand. "Don't…" he smiled. "I'm not saying that as a dig. It's just…we're in deep here now and we have to think about our lives. This," he glanced down at her stomach. "We're more than an affair now…we have protect this…"

"We've always been more than an affair," she swallowed. "I love you…" her voice broke. "Avery loves you,"

"I'm her uncle. She loves me by default…" he twisted the loose strands of her hair between his fingers gently. Fate had it in for her, alright…falling in love with her husband's half-brother she never knew existed. She'd thought Cato was an only child until they'd moved to Italy five years ago. "She loves me as family…"

"Yes, but she'd love you even if you weren't," she reassured him, "You're a good man who has taken good care of this mess of a family for years. She's ten years old, Peeta. She's smart enough to know her father isn't a very nice man," she squeezed her eyes closed. "She's grown up under your wing and I hate lying to her like this, pretending there's nothing going on between us. You're good for her. It might be a little hard for her at first, but eventually she'd adjust. She'd be okay,"

"We've betrayed her," he managed. "But it's for her safety, Kat," she loved it when he called her that and for a moment, she felt like she did the first time she'd seen him…when he'd been a stranger, an unlikely friend. "She can't know," he paused. It was a miracle she hadn't figured it out yet, he realized. She'd been getting more attentive as she got older.

He took a breath and continued, "And if we want this child inside of you to live and be healthy and if we want to stay safe too…you know what we have to do," the words killed him to say. "Think about it Katniss. When did you sleep with him last?"

Her stomach dropped. She never talked to Peeta about what she and Cato did in their private life. It would break his heart as much as it broke hers. "I'm not…we're not discussing that. I told you I don't love him. I've never loved him,"

"But you're married to him," he paused, turning to look her in the eyes. "And married people have sex, Katniss. If you didn't, he'd know something was wrong. So stop trying to protect my feelings and be honest. When did you sleep with him last?"

"This is your baby, Peeta," she cut in. "I'm on my pills…I just forgot them a few weeks ago when we did this," she waved her hand around at the counter full of coffee and baked goods. "I didn't realize I until it was too late, and I should've said something to you right away, but I knew what was done was done and I thought the odds of it were so slim…"

"I have no doubt of that," he shook his head. "You wouldn't lie to me. I know that. I just need to know. We need to work this out and figure out some kind of plan,"

"I will not lie about my baby," she shook her head. "This is it. This is that thing we've been waiting for…the reason to finally tell him. Do you want to spend the rest of our lives sneaking around?"

"No, of course I don't," he frowned, looking at his watch. "But my brother is a bad man and he doesn't give a fuck what he has to do or who he hurts when it comes right down to it."

"You're afraid..." she said softly with a frown. "Because of what he has on you,"

"Forget me and my shit with him! I'm afraid he'll hurt you," he insisted. "And if anything ever happened to you," he paused, afraid to continue the thought. "If I could go back in time I'd do it all differently. I would. And I don't mean the baby, okay? I mean all of it…my life before you…because if I hadn't been such a mess myself I would have been in your lives when you and my brother first met. I'd have made sure you knew exactly what kind of man you were getting involved with. If I'd been there, he'd never have touched you," There was a protective fire in his voice. He was the baby brother, the product of his mother's own affair. Funny how life worked; he'd spent feeling naturally guilty for being a bastard child, now he'd gone off and done the same thing. He pushed the evil out of his mind and focused on the big picture. Katniss. She made everything that seemed so bad feel so good. He continued with a pounding heart and said the things he'd wished for most in the world.

"You'd be mine. Avery would be ours. This baby would still be ours. All I want is to live an honest life with you but we both know that can't happen right now. He'll kill you. He won't care about what it would do to Avery because he hardly knows his own daughter. I want to get you away from him, more than ever now, but we need to bide our time and be cautious,"

"Well then the other option is to stop this, right now. To end things between us," she bit her lip, shaking. Of course she didn't want that, but what else could she do? "He'll catch on eventually if we don't,"

"Don't say shit like that," his voice broke. "That's not an option…" he pressed his forehead to hers, the sweat on their brows like glue.

"From what you're saying, it's the only option," she snapped. "Why are you asking when I slept with him?" She arched an eyebrow and pulled back. "Are you suggesting…"

"Raise it as his," he closed his eyes. "Carry it as his,"

"No….no, Peeta. I will not let this child grow up thinking his or her father is a monster. Avery has had to deal with that enough! I'm not…I'm 28 years old…I'm not giving up on what I want because I am afraid or what he'll do to me. Can you honestly tell me you're going to stand on the sidelines, watch your son or daughter grow up from the backseat? What about birthdays and Christmas? What happens when your brother does something stupid again or treats our child like garbage? You're going to stand there and let your kid take that?"

"No, of course not! And you wouldn't either. You forget how strong you've been,"

"And you forget how weak I've been," she frowned. "Yeah, I'm the victim but it's been my decision to stay the victim, Peeta. Now I've made Avery a victim and this baby and you," she ran her hand down his chest and looked up at him with a look of shame, "I should've run at the first sign of possessiveness but I wanted the attention back then...I craved something real. I just didn't know how wrong I was when I picked him,"

"It's not your fault," his words were soothing but he was just as on edge as she was. "No one knows what they want when they're 18,"

"I was off the deep end before I even found your brother," she reminded him. "That was my choice. He had nothing to do with that. He saved me from certain death and launched me into a different kind of torture. That's not the kind of man I want in my child's life. You said it yourself; he doesn't even know Avery. I had to before but I won't do it again. We need you,"

"I'm plenty involved in Avery's life. I'm more involved than he is. I'm not saying it will be easy, but I like to think I've made up for his negligence with Avery. It'll be the same,"

"No. It won't," she hissed. "You don't get it. Avery is your niece. She's not a piece of you…it's different. It will be so different. You don't get it now but you will. It's better to be upfront with him, honest,"

"Why?" He laughed bitterly, "He's the least honest person I know! Making you think I was the bad brother," He mumbled. "Please, for our child's sake. Just carry this baby as his. It makes me sick, but we'll make this right. We'll be together and we'll be honest. Just not right now. Now tell me. When did you have sex with him? Does the time frame work?"

"So that's it then, option number two?" She laughed. "That's it, we're just done? We're breaking up? You're going to say all that stuff to me about how you love me and want to protect me and then you're asking me to lie. God, I said that because I thought it would snap you back to reality, not because I thought it was legitimate plan!"

"We're not broken up. We can still…"

"No, fuck that. Either we're doing this for real or we're not. If you want me to lie to my husband and say it's his kid for our safety, fine…but we will not be sleeping together anymore because this hurts me. I love you and I can't believe you'd be so hands-off about your own kid,"

He sighed, frustrated. Either she wasn't listening or she didn't get it, he decided, but making that kind of point right now was going to send him straight to the dog house. His silence was deafening.

"Is that what you want, Peeta? After five years we're just done? You're just done? What if I hadn't gotten pregnant? Would you suggest this then?"

"No. But it's what we have to do and you know that…" he said sadly. She paused for a minute before walking away. She was certain he'd change his mind or say 'just kidding, I love you' but it never came. He was strong and she usually trusted his decision but this was different. No way. It was times like these that made her question if it'd be better for her to divorce Cato, take Avery and leave both of them behind forever. Or maybe that was just the pregnancy hormones talking.

"I can't believe you," she shook her head and grabbed her purse. "You're out of your mind. Enjoy the coffee. I have to go. This weekend's cancelled," she wiped her tears with the back of her hand and her hand went to the knob. "Call me later when you've woken up more or when you realize how much of a mistake you've made. I'll be busy after 2, picking up Avery from school so don't bother calling me. Tell Gale you need a weekend off. I'm sure he can watch us. And don't you dare try to come over tonight. I'm serious," tears ran down her face. "I expect something like this from him, but you?" She shook her head and wiped her eyes before she released an exhale of disbelief. "I can't..."

He watched her leave in slow motion. He felt heavy, drained of energy. It was best he hadn't said anything else just then. He was just no good at digging himself out of holes with her emotionally. He always said the wrong thing or nothing. Yeah, somethings never changed.

Breaking up was the last thing he wanted to do but his head screamed danger! and he couldn't see past it. He had to let her go for now. Even if it killed him, he had to be her brother-in-law. Not forever, just for now...

She'd closed the door and ran down the hall. She gave it a minute and when she was sure he wasn't going to follow her, she slid down the wall of the hallway and burst into sobs. The other tenants wouldn't hear her; they were out and about shopping, working...only the hotel staff would see her cry. They knew her well. Mrs. Hadley, Mr. Mellark's sister-in-law…the one who made his eyes light up when she came into the lobby. Yeah, they never said a word about it to either of them, but she was certain a few of them knew exactly what was going on.

She was angry, but not just with Peeta. She was angry with herself for getting involved with Cato in the first place. She'd been young, only 18 when they'd met. Just out of school, she was hungry for a job in the fast lane, to experience life a little before she'd settle down and move away from the bit city. God he'd been charming, and he still was, if you didn't know better. He was handsome and smooth, a real businessman, it seemed.

He owned a business, he'd said, and was looking for a secretary. She didn't need experience, he said, and her dirty little mind had led her to believe he wasn't talking about work experience. Yeah, she had plenty of the kind of experience men really liked, and a pimp to prove it. She'd been prostituting for just a month and was desperate to get out of it. She felt dirty and vile. She was ashamed of herself but she needed cash and she needed it fast. Her mother had cancer and her father was out of work, not to mention she had to pay for her own schooling. The bills were piling fast and they hadn't had insurance in more than two years.

Then she'd seen him; Cato Hadley. He'd had on an expensive suit and shiny leather shoes and the loneliest eyes she'd ever seen. She'd sauntered up to him with a wicked smile. Inside she'd been crying and he'd seen that, he said. He was so good with words...the kind of man who made her want to give it up for free...the kind of man who could save a girl like her...

"No woman should have to sell her body to pay for an education. Look at you, you're beautiful and young. Let me do something good for you. Let me take care of you, give you a job…a real job. You'll die if you keep this up..."

"They'll kill you. My guys. You don't understand. I can't get out of this now. I could die, or you, or my parents..."

"Oh sweetheart, you have no idea who I am, do you? Those little boys have nothing on me. I get what I want and I want you," he'd smiled brightly before he finished his sentence, "to stop doing what you're doing and come work for me," he'd brushed a chunk of her hair behind her ear and smiled at her eyes. "What do you say?"

So when a strong, powerful man like Cato offered her a well-paying job with benefits and a way out of the life she'd thought she had to live, she took it. She worked long hours in the office on the weekend and went to school during the week. At first everything looked up. No one came after her like she'd feared. In fact, she'd seen an obituary in the paper a week later for the man who'd pimped her out...

Cato and Katniss were a force but it had never been even. The scales had tipped and the power slid one way. He'd flirted and she'd been stupid enough to flirt right back. That was her mistake, letting him own her.

"You're mine, Katniss. I saved you," he reminded her with heat in his eyes. "Don't forget that…" It had been sexy, she thought, how someone so powerful and handsome would desire her so badly, even if they'd never kissed.

It was a slow progression at first, but soon he started to tense anytime she was around another man, even in business situations. He got angry, snapped, but she couldn't understand why. She'd made a move to kiss him, once, although he'd been ten years older. And when she'd gotten just inches away he'd left her hanging. She'd felt rejected back then but now she understood. He was about power, control. He took what he wanted when he wanted, and never let anyone choose for him.

But back then she'd chalked it up to stupidity on her part…as if a man ten years older than her wanted anything more than a working relationship with her. She did her job and did it well; she couldn't afford not to. She was drowning in a sea of bills from school that her parents could never pay on their own. That's why she'd needed that job. She shouldn't been smart enough to know not to fuck around with the boss.

One day she'd asked to leave work early but refused to say why. He had eyes and ears in his other employees and if he wanted to find something out about his Katniss, he would. He went to the club she'd gone to that night, and when he'd seen her dancing with another man, he'd dragged her out of that dark, smoky bar and picked her up like a little girl. He'd opened his limo door and held her as they slid into the backseat. And then he'd looked at her with possessiveness that she'd mistaken for love and kissed her until she couldn't breathe. "You're mine, Katniss,"he'd mumbled again, "Don't you ever let me catch you out with another man like that again," and she'd wanted to please him. She'd wanted to obey because he was just that kind of man. She wanted to be his, at least she thought she did.

Soon he'd made good on his reminder. He consumed her, confused her, made her feel guilty for wanting to be with anyone but him. He'd thought they had something special, he'd said. She was more than just a secretary. And for a month they were good and wild until they had a fight about her wanting to quit her job. Things had sped up too fast and she needed space. She loved him, she thought, and she shouldn't be in love with the man she worked for. Now that he'd saved her from her past, she should be free to stand on her own two feet, to keep him as her man but not expect him to pay her salary, too. Evenually it felt like he only wanted her for the sex, that he was paying her salary so she wouldn't stop sleeping with him. Yeah, she was done with that. If she'd wanted to be paid for sex, she'd never have stopped with the prostitution.

And their fight had turned wicked. He was relentless and selfish and demanded she stay. And when it had gone so far that he'd held her against a wall, held her and shook her so hard that she bruised, she threatened to leave. But then he'd said he loved her and he needed her and he was sorry, he'd never hurt her again. He just couldn't stand the thought of losing her…

And she'd been afraid, so she'd stayed. She never told her parents why, and she hoped they never found out. But it happened again and again, each time he found her trying to go out with friends or do something with someone other than him. "Please don't leave me…" He'd begged, and he was so good with words. "I can't stand the thought of someone else with you..."

Then it became nothing more than a mess. Arguments, desperate make up sex, just so she could survive. She thought about calling the cops and turning him in, but she was in a mess herself with her past and he'd threatened to expose her solicitation if she ever said a word. Yeah, and he was paying her bills. She'd be broke or in prison or dead if she didn't go along with him. As much as she hated him, he protected her from all the bad in the world except himself. She was dependent on her own worst enemy and couldn't do a damn thing about it.

He needed control and he'd beat the shit out of her the moment he'd started to lose it.

And then came Avery and the world changed. She thought the world was about to end; that just two short months after she'd agreed to work for him she'd end up being beaten to death or at least until she lost her child. But something shifted. He was quiet…really quiet. He stopped touching her at night, stopped asking where she was going. His ass was on the line, he knew. He couldn't be caught beating his pregnant girlfriend who was 10 years younger than him. It'd ruin his career, his life, his image…

Yeah he was a businessman alright, but it was a cover of the other shit he did on the side. The work that made the real cash flow he handled. He was in the business of straightening things out and sometimes that meant lives had to end. But he hid that well until the ring was on her finger and her signature was on that certificate. There was a reason he'd been able to take care of her filthy past, to wipe her slate clean.

Yeah, she'd married a hit man, and when things got too crazy in New York City they'd headed for Venice, Italy where he'd tried to start anew without the garbage, without the murder. And because she desperately needed to believe he'd been honest with her for the first time in forever, she believed him when he'd said he was done with all of it. He'd said he'd picked Venice because he knew people he could run his business with, that he had a way of making sure she and Avery would stay safe. He said he wasn't sure the shit back home was over, that he was going to get a body guard to watch Avery, to watch her while he was out doing deals and transactions overseas on the weekends. And when she asked him if that meant he was still in the business of offing people, he'd simply smiled and said,

"Would I lie to you?"

He'd never said her body guard was going to be his half-brother. And she'd never have guessed they'd meet the way they had. But love happened quick like that, didn't it? And it was easier than ever to spot when you knew what it wasn't like.

After a few minutes of catching her breath, Katniss rested her hand on her stomach and sighed. Yeah, she'd made some big messes in her life. She'd lied more often than not, and although the love she felt for Peeta was more real and pure than anything she'd ever known with her own husband, she knew he was right. Cato was still that crazy man, even if he hadn't laid a dangerous finger on her for ten years. She could still remember what it felt like to roll over in bed and ache, to beg him to stop hitting her and see the tears in his eyes as he yelled at her for even thinking of betraying him. Yeah, if he found out the baby was his brother's, that old Cato would come out and this time Katniss wasn't the only one who'd suffer. The mere thought of Avery seeing, hearing anything like that was enough.

Even if they did divorce he'd find her, expose her, and deplete her of her funds. He was too good at what he did. He was a risk until he stopped breathing. Peeta knew that too, and Peeta had a history of his own to protect. The both needed him dead, but those were Cato's kind of games, not theirs. They'd find a way around it, somehow, because they had to.

She pushed through the glass door of the hotel and breathed a breath of fresh air, hoping she could get herself together before she had to pick up her little girl. Avery was nothing like Cato. She was sweet and selfless and Katniss did everything in her power to make sure it stayed that way. She wouldn't let her daughter know what kind of man her father really was.

Up in the penthouse Peeta was a wreck. He splashed water on his face and stared at his image in the mirror, cursing himself for not being a better man. He didn't want the woman he loved with his brother for one second longer but he had no idea how to make it better. He wanted Katniss and Avery and their baby to live with him, to really be his, not just some secret. He was sick of playing house.

But Katniss had a head of steam. She snapped easily and he understood why. She'd been controlled and abused and couldn't stand the idea that Peeta insisted she stay in that kind of relationship. What kind of man told the woman he was in love with to stay with someone who'd beat her senseless for months? What the hell was wrong with him?

She was in his head, always. She had been since the first day he'd met her. It had been random. He hadn't even known who she was at first. His brother had called him up after years of nothing and made a deal. He'd take care of his little 'situation' if he did something for him. Peeta was strong and smart, he knew, and they'd never been close but he needed his skills. He didn't even know he had a niece until he'd gotten that call, let alone that her name was Avery and she was ten years old.

Yeah, if Peeta ever wanted a normal life again, he'd go along with whatever Cato wanted. He had nothing to lose.

Maybe that's why it had happened. Maybe that' why he'd found himself in love with her just months after he'd first seen her. He'd wanted her before he knew anything about her, and he wanted her more when he found out who she was….

Sick. He was so damn sick for it, but if his brother had been a good, honest man who really loved her, he'd have turned his head and dropped it. If he thought Cato treated her right, if he thought she really was in love with his brother, he would've never pursed her. But she'd stared at him a little too long the second time she saw him and there was no way he could avoid eyes like hers. They were full of heart and soul, begging to be loved and not used. Was his brother that stupid?

The memory of meeting her was still fresh in his mind. She'd been a stranger then and it had been okay to be so awed.

"Woah, hey slow down!" He'd been reading his newspaper on the patio of a café when a woman came through like wildfire and knocked his hot cup of coffee into his lap. "Damn that's hot!" He pulled his soaked khaki away from his thigh, but the material clung. "Where's the fire?"

"Sorry, I, uh..I'm looking for my daughter," she pulled her big black sunglasses from her eyes and slid them to the top of her head. "She's five. We were looking at birds in the park and I turned for one second and she was gone…." She zipped her lips. Cato would not approve of her telling a complete stranger about a lost child. Hell, for all she knew, he could've kidnapped her daughter, snatched her right from that bench…

"Avery…baby…where are you? Oh my God…" the panic in her voice made his stomach bottom out. She was beautiful and crazy and scared shitless. His pants were a non-issue.

"Okay come on," he wiped himself off with a paper napkin, "We'll find her okay?" He wanted to help and not just because the mother was gorgeous. He was a good man. Despite his past, he was a good man. "Tell me, what's she look like?"

"Like me," Katniss blurted. "Just shorter. Same hair, same eyes…shit…" she pushed through the crowd."Why are you helping me?" She asked after a minute.

"Hey, no one likes lost kids, right? Every kid's wandered off in the grocery store and panicked, right? Happened to me once and…" he was rambling, he realized, so he stopped. She'd been in such a hurry she just now realized he was an American and for a second she felt homesick.

Once they pushed through the crowds on the street outside that little café they came to an opening. A fountain was running freely and a little girl sat inside it, splashing in the water, reaching for birds. Katniss' heart stopped. Her little girl was safe. She hadn't been kidnapped, hadn't been found by some crazy drug lord or pimp or enemy of her husband. She was playing in a fountain, like any kid would.

"That's her," she exhaled and ran to her. "Avery! What were you thinking wandering off like that? And you crossed a street?"

"I followed the bird," she smiled innocently. "I just followed the bird…"

He'd approached them slowly and drank in the sight of them. The beautiful brown haired mother and her little daughter reunited. He watched the way the mother pulled her long arms around her little girl and held her close, all the anger and panic diminished from her eyes. Now there was just love and relief and it was beautiful.

They were both drenched when they stepped out of the water and he couldn't help but smile. "So you're Avery, huh?" He crouched down to the small girl's level and held out his hand to her. She shook it lightly, the gesture limp and weightless as every kid's handshakes were. She smiled and her eyes twinkled. The mother had been right. She looked just like her. He glanced up at the mother for a second and she nodded. "You should stick by your Mom, okay? And don't talk to strangers…"

"You're a stranger," she offered back.

"I'm Peeta," he said and stood, "And you're right. I'm a stranger so I should probably go. But I'm glad you found each other and hey, don't worry about the pants…"

"I wasn't," Katniss smiled.

"Right," he lifted his rolled newspaper in the air and sent her a little wave. "It was nice to meet you, Avery and…sorry, I didn't catch your name," he smiled and his blue eyes brightened.

"Katniss," she said on an exhale.

"Right, Katniss," he slapped the paper on his hand and turned to leave. "And Avery, I love birds, too. You know what would be a great idea? Ask your Mommy if she'll buy you a bird. That way you won't have to go chasing them into fountains," he wiggled his eyebrows and walked away, feeling suave. He'd never see them again, he was sure, but it had been nice.

"Hey, who are you to give advice?" Katniss shouted in his direction with a laugh.

"Hey, you don't have to listen to me," he shrugged. "I'm just a stranger…"

The memory knocked the air from his lungs. Their chemistry had been wicked from the start and only gotten stronger with time. She was the one good thing in his life.

He ran his hand through his hair and fisted a clump. Years later this would just be a nightmare. Years later, when he held his son or daughter in his lap and heard "Daddy" this would all be worth it. But it would be just that, he thought; years.

He walked his coffee mug over to the sink and watched the last bits of liquid swirl down the drain. His eyes found the framed pictures on his wall, the personal decorating touches she'd put on his flat over the years. The place had been dullsville without a woman's touch. The bachelor life had been a half-life and he couldn't do it again. He couldn't just fall out of love with her, even if it would be safer for awhile. He'd find a way to be with the. He'd find a way to finally have the family that should've been his from the start.

Author's Note: Thank you for giving this a shot. I'd love to hear what you thought about this chapter and if you'd like me to continue. Thanks for the feedback and for taking the time to read my story!