Title: Paradise City
Chapter: Seven

Katniss found herself staring up at a fuming, irate woman from the floor where the sucker punch had sent her sprawling. She pressed her fingers tenderly to her nose, pulling them away coated in the sticky wetness of her blood. She paled at the sight of it. She had never been good with blood.


She flinched, suddenly aware of someone kneeling in front of her. Katniss looked into Peeta's eyes, finding concern there. It was then that she also realized his hand was lightly resting against her left cheek. His eyes flooded in anger as he took in her bloody nose, and Katniss was momentarily afraid he was angry with her. But Peeta glared up at the woman still towering over them after a second.

"What the fuck, lady?!" He barked out and Katniss realized she didn't like him sounding angry. It sounded wrong.

"This bitch ruined my wedding!"

Katniss shook her head and regretted it instantly. Peeta's hand on her cheek pressed a little closer as she swayed where she sat. "I didn't."

"Oh no?!" The woman screeched. "You weren't the whore bartender serving my fiancée last night?!" Katniss closed her eyes at the level of the woman's voice. "You weren't the one that got him so drunk he didn't show up to his own wedding today?!"

Peeta's hand was suddenly gone from her cheek, causing her to have to put her hand out to balance herself. Katniss opened her eyes, staring for a moment at her bloodied fingers staining the expensive carpet. She glanced up to find Peeta standing face to face with the raging bride.

"You mean the asshole that was salivating over every woman he saw last night?" Peeta asked, his voice surprisingly calm. "He didn't seem quite like the marrying type to me."

"How dare you!" The woman was screeching again, much to Katniss' dismay.

"And how dare you attack a woman who was only doing her job." Peeta's calm was slipping a bit. "It's not Katniss' fault your husband doesn't know his limits." He snapped his fingers. "Oh wait! Not your husband yet, is he?"

A laugh bubbled out of Katniss, partly at Peeta's words and partly because this conversation was having a not so eerily familiar feel to it. She glanced up to see the not-wife giving her a death glare.

"I'm going to make sure you get fired over this."

"Don't quite see that happening."

Katniss winced as Haymitch's voice broke into the conversation. She looked up over her right shoulder at him. He didn't bother to look down at her. Hey grey eyes then took in the crowd that had started to form, and just past them a figure making a beeline for her.

She groaned, moving to collapse down into the plush lobby carpet. A hand on her shoulder kept her upright and she looked up to find Peeta kneeling before her again.

"Hey, you-"

"Katniss!" Gale's voice cut off Peeta's inquiry, the volume of it causing her to flinch again. He knelt down next to Peeta, ignoring the presence of the blonde. His hands found her cheek and she noted how much rougher his touch seemed.

"Catnip…" Gale sighed, moving to help her stand. She leaned into him with the sudden change and felt a gentler touch on her arm.


"I got her, kid." Katniss felt the hand on her arm being pushed away. She frowned. There he went, calling Peeta a kid again. "And Haymitch has bridezilla, so why don't you-"

She reached out a hand. "Peeta?"

Gale tensed as Peeta took her hand. His arms fell away in surprise when Katniss pushed off of him and Peeta pulled her to his own chest. She closed her eyes. 'Not as rough.'

The tell-tale sigh that let her know Gale was far from pleased came, and then-

"Let's go."

Pain shot across her face with every dab Gale was making at it with a damp washcloth. Katniss kept leaning back every time he'd move in again to try and wipe the blood away.

"Dammit, Catnip, stop moving."

"Gale, stop." She winced as he dabbed exceptionally hard once again. She knew he wasn't doing it on purpose – that he was just mad over the whole thing in general. But he was definitely hurting her. Feeling less disoriented since they'd settled in the employee lounge, Katniss reached up and stilled his hand.

"Let Peeta do it."

Gale's grey eyes flashed with disapproval. If that wasn't enough to convince her he wasn't happy with Peeta being there, the way he turned away and tossed the washcloth at the other man definitely did.

"Fine!" He snapped, stepping over to the lockers angrily. Katniss ignored the heated glare he started to give her from where she watched. She, instead, focused on Peeta's blue eyes as he moved to resume cleaning up her face, taking a seat on the low table in front of her.

She still winced at the pressure of his fingers, even though they were far gentler than Gale's had been.

"Sorry." Peeta whispered, his brows furrowing in guilt.

Katniss brought her hand up to caress the inside of his wrist. "It's okay. You didn't punch me."

He titled his head and blinked dramatically. "Yeeeah…" His blue eyes found hers. "You really have a knack for getting into trouble, don't you?"

"You really have no idea." Gale piped up from behind Peeta.

"I thought you had gone upstairs." Katniss said, continuing to stroke his wrist. Her fingers kept brushing over a small scar there. She wasn't going to justify Gale's petulance, allow him to get away with what was mostly misplaced anger. She was hoping she was convincing Peeta to do the same.

Peeta pulled back from her, letting the soiled washcloth dangle between his knees. "The doors were closing and I saw her hit you. My hand shot out to stop the doors before I could even think about it."

"How heroic of you." This time, it was Haymitch that commented. All three of them looked up and around to see him striding towards them. Katniss shrank back against the couch at the look he was giving her.

"Really a piece of damn work."

Peeta stood, thrusting his free hand out towards Haymitch. "Hi, I'm Peeta."

Haymitch shook his hand, but continued to give Katniss a pointed look.

She frowned guiltily. "Peeta, this is my… boss… Haymitch."

"Katniss isn't in trouble for what happened, right?" Peeta asked.

Haymitch finally broke his stare from Katniss and looked at Peeta. His eyes seemed to appraise him where he stood.

"If anything, she's at fault for doing her job," His grey eyes turned back to her. "Too damn well."

If it was possible, Katniss shrank even further back into the cushions.

"But that's for us to discuss in private." Haymitch looked back at Peeta. "So while you've been a gentleman to sweetheart here, we need to talk shop."

Peeta frowned and then nodded reluctantly. He dropped the washcloth on the table he'd been sitting on, and then looked down at her.

"You'll be okay?"

She nodded and offered a reassuring smile she didn't really feel. He nodded back, moving around Haymitch and the table. As he moved to walk past Gale without a word, Haymitch piped up again.

"Why don't you help Peeta back to the lobby?"

Gale glared from Peeta to Haymitch. "What?"

"Your mouth won't be needed in this conversation." Haymitch said matter-of-factly. He pointed at Peeta. "And he doesn't need to be caught down here alone, not being an employee and all."

After a few moments of a heated stare down, Gale let out an annoyed sigh and pushed off the locker. "Come on, blondie."

Gale moved out the door with an angry stride, but Peeta stopped in the threshold. With a hand on the frame, he glanced back at Katniss.

"You ruined it, you know."

Alarm overtook Katniss' face.

Peeta smiled. "The quiet and relaxing evening." He rolled his eyes dramatically as he turned away. "Completely ruined!"

She felt her lips pull up in a smile. But it was gone the instant she looked at Haymitch.

"Do you ever fucking listen to anyone, girl?!"

A week and a half suspension from the resort, with no pay. That was her punishment. Not because the woman hitting her had necessarily been her fault, but because she had been the Panem Resort employee that had been the cause of a scene in the middle of the lobby. Seneca Crane was not an advocate of bad publicity, and it wasn't the first time Katniss had been in the middle of something like it. If it hadn't been for Haymitch, she probably would've gotten more.

Not that she was Haymitch's most favorite person either. Katniss had deliberately ignored him in regards to leaving Peeta alone. If she had done as he'd asked, she wouldn't have even been at the resort to take a punch to the face. And he wouldn't have had to hear it from Effie Trinket, Panem's hospitality manager, about the bloodstains Katniss had left on the lobby's carpet.

Yet he couldn't punish her the same way Seneca had. She in the middle of a contract with the very guy she wasn't supposed to be spending the evening with. It was just her being a good employee – his best, right? Haymitch warned her not to push it, that a lot was riding on her contract with Mellark. That she was going to ease up with Peeta – he was the job, first and foremost.

She had agreed.

But three days into her suspension, with only text message contact with Peeta, and Katniss was bored out of her damn mind. Johanna had been busy filling in for her at the resort. And Katniss' relationship with Gale had only gotten worse after the Peeta thing.

"You're really layin' the g it on thick with that kid."

"Stop calling him a kid!"

"So fucking defensive over a guy you just met who's nothing more than your fucking paycheck."

Katniss hadn't spoken to him since, when he'd given her a ride home the night she got punched. It made it awkward when he'd come to pick up Prim for school that morning, since Katniss was still parked at the resort.

No car. No Johanna. Definitely no Gale. And now Prim was at school. Katniss was already going stir crazy.

She bounced her knee, staring out at the mass of tropical trees that almost surrounded the back porch of her house. The phone against her ear continued to ring and she bit her bottom lip, squinting at the glimpse of the beach that was just visible through a break in the treeline.

'Pick up, pick up, pick up…'

"Okay, why 'Don't Stop Believin''?" Peeta answered after another ring.

Katniss smiled. "You don't remember?" She couldn't keep the relief from her voice upon hearing his.

"Tequila is an effective memory eraser on the Mellark brain, unfortunately."

"Or fortunately, depending on the circumstances."

Peeta laughed. "Very true."

Katniss relaxed back against the couch, enjoying the sound of it. "Busy with bakery stuff today?"

It had worked out perfectly, actually. Peeta had found himself caught up in the negotiations for the bakery following Friday night. It effectively helped Katniss keep her word with Haymitch while not making Peeta feel like she didn't want to see him.

"I might be able to get out of it." His voice was playful. "If I had enough incentive."

"Is a lonely girl with a bruised face incentive enough?"

There wasn't any hesitation from the other end. "Absolutely."

Feedback and comments are always appreciated!

A/N: Oh Katniss... always bringing the drama!

And I apologize for the way Gale seems in this chapter. I don't hate him and I don't intend to make him come off like the biggest asshole in history… I'm not trying to make him into that kind of Gale… I do have plans for him, and it's certainly not to be a brooding douchenozzle the whole time. So please, bear with me while he works out his issues.