Chapter 45: December 25th Part III
He gripped Katniss' hand as he pulled her away from the living room, desperately trying to gauge how the conversation between Katniss and his mother had fared. He knew he'd been certifiable to leave his mother in the room, alone with Katniss, but what else could he do? While his girlfriend was a fearless goddess in her own right, he viewed his mother like a fierce lioness, looming over her cub. He gulped, realizing he was the cub in that equation. And he had no doubt his mother would do whatever she had to do to communicate her protective right over him. But what could he have possibly done? Refused to leave her side and been left to deal with his mother's wrath? He shuddered. No thank you.
"I…I think I want a drink now," she muttered, her eyes flicking up to his. He saw turmoil floating in her silvery orbs, the expression she gave him almost unreadable. Was she angry? Crazed? Ready to flounce out of the party and never give him another thought? His brothers would just love that. His mother sending a girl screaming from the house!
Shit, Peeta thought.
"We can do that. Um, here," he said, gently tugging her towards the kitchen. While a stealthy war of nerves had been going on in the kitchen, the rest of the party went on. Glasses clinked and Chistmassy music played throughout the house, and the voices and laugher of his relatives echoed through the large kitchen. He ushered her past a few curious looking family members, waving them off with a friendly smile that silently begged them not to ask more. He hoped Katniss didn't just tell him to forget this whole thing after talking alone with his sometimes less than charming mother. He had nightmares about her throwing up her hands and telling him to go to hell because it wasn't worth the effort of dealing with her. While he loved his mother dearly, she was difficult to read and even more difficult to win over. Sometimes he realized she could be less than a peach.
Peeta ushered her over to a metal pail on the side bar that was full of iced down beer.
"Thanks," she sighed, accepting a beer after he twisted off the cap. Peeta spun it nervously against the granite countertop as the laughter and conversations around him faded away. His only focus was now Katniss.
And whether or not she would tell him to fuck off and forget it.
"Well?" he gently prodded.
Katniss held up a hand as she took a long drag from the still-dripping bottle. His eyes bulged slightly as she downed chug after chug of the amber liquid, efficiently draining more than half before setting it back down onto the counter. Heaving a sigh, she pressed her lips together and nodded at him.
Peeta held his breath.
He raised his eyebrows in surprise. "You're shitting me."
"No," she shook her head, taking another long sip. She quirked an eyebrow at him. He didn't usually swear.
"She was….different at first," she said, lowering her voice. "She brought up my dad."
Peeta rolled his eyes and felt his heart start to pound. The tips of his ears grew instantly hot. "She did what?"
Katniss shrugged. "She brought him up. I think to see what my reaction would be. And it was…neutral. I mean, I just didn't let her get away with it."
"Katniss, I'm sorry-"
"She wanted to get a rise out of me. I expected that. Honestly, I did. I wasn't sure how she was going to do it, but I knew she would try at least once to make me…uncomfortable."
Peeta felt his stomach practically fall to his feet. "Wait, she brought up your father who…"
"Yes," Katniss confirmed. "She did. She knew he was dead, Peeta. I don't know why, but she just…I think she wanted to get control of the conversation. Throw me off and upset me."
"Sounds about right," Peeta fumed quietly. Reaching over to the container full of iced down beer beside him, he grabbed one and twisted the top off as Katniss continued.
"She just….wanted to show me she was in charge I guess. And that she wasn't going to take any crap from me when it came to you. Typical mother stuff, just…intense. Which I knew she would be, I mean…" she trailed off, shrugging. He watched her lips wrap around the top of the bottle as she took another long sip. Damn it, he thought, why couldn't his family just be normal?
"Peeta, I expected her to be a little….different. You warned me about that. I was prepared…somewhat."
Peeta groaned. "So….I guess you want me to take you home now, right?"
His girlfriend scoffed, eagerly accepting another beer from him. Peeta popped the cap and handed it to her, still slightly amazed that she could down them as easily as any football player. Her lips curled around the frosty bottle, her shoulders shrugging.
"Uhm…no. We talked a little and she apologized."
"She apologized," Katniss repeated. "To me. I mean she knew she'd brought him up to kinda…level the playing field. Let me know I wasn't going to have it easy with her. Noted," she said rolling her eyes slightly. "But I think she's just nervous about losing you and really….overprotective, I guess."
"You don't say," Peeta muttered, rolling his eyes. "Well…of what happened after that?"
"Nothing really, I mean you were only gone twenty minutes."
"My mom can do a lot of damage in twenty minutes Katniss; I mean….I think we both know that. What else did she say?"
"We just talked about you. I told her how I felt about you, and why I liked you, and…and that I understood you were important to her. She still sees you as her baby, Peeta. I mean yeah, she was intense and kinda crazy but I get it. She's just an overprotective parent who I think…wants you to be the best you can be. And have priorities. And some of those priorities might not always include me as far as she's concerned."
"Well they do, so tough shit," Peeta snapped, his ears turning hot again. Of course his mother would bring up the idea that she thought he was too young to be in such a serious relationship. Just because she'd managed to go and get herself pregnant before her life plan as she called it dictated, she thought he would screw up his life by doing the same. He gazed at Katniss as she nervously began peeling the label off her beer bottle. Didn't his mother get it? As far as he was concerned, Katniss was it for him and he had absolutely no qualms about telling her that.
"It's fine, okay? She wasn't that bad. I think I at least understand her now Peeta."
He gave her a questioning look. "You sure?"
She nodded. "I'm sure. Now can we do our presents?" she asked hopefully.
Peeta glanced around the noisy kitchen, suddenly very interested in getting her away from all the curious looks from his relatives and loud voices of the party around them. He'd been waiting for days to give her Christmas presents to her, and now it was finally time.
"Sure," he nodded, leaning in to sweetly peck her nose. "Come with me."
Peeta led them back into the secluded living room again, pausing in front of the tree. Now that Peeta's mother was long gone and their talk was behind them, it seemed like Katniss could full take in the splendor that was his family's Christmas tree. She leaned back on her heels as he watched her admire it. While he'd originally hated the idea of getting something big and fake and pre-lit, even he had to admit it was a thing of beauty of behold. It stood in the corner of the room, in front of the fireplace. It could be seen through the tall windows facing the front of the house, the white lights glowing brilliantly in the otherwise darkened room.
"Let me go grab my bag," she said, giving him a bright smile. He darted around the back of the tree, arranging her small pile of gifts for when she returned. A few minutes later, she hurried back into the room and produced two packages; one slightly large, one small.
"Here are yours," he said, motioning to the stack.
"These for me? Aw, Peeta," she laughed awkwardly, shaking her head at him. She'd finally grown somewhat used to him showering her with gifts, but he figured as long as he paid for them with money he'd earned himself she couldn't really complain. After all, he only wanted to spoil her with things she would never get for herself. With all the studying she'd been doing lately to try to get her scholarship, he figured she more than deserved a little spoiling.
Katniss opened a few of the boxes from Victoria's Secret, eyeing him speculatively when she saw the familiar pink on pink striped design. However, her face melted into adoration when she touched the soft fabrics of the lounge pants and shirts, a smile cracking through her façade of mock horror.
"These are really nice. Soft," she mused. "But Peeta, you didn't have to do that. Geez, did you actually go into the store?"
He nodded meekly, trying to forget the memory of his father holding the nightie that was for his mother.
"Eh, yeah, I did. My dad and I…never mind. It's the last time I shop in that store…ever. Anything else you get it coming from online," he chuckled.
She gave him another uncertain look before pushing a present at him. He ripped it open to discover new slippers for the dorms and a pair of Captain America boxer briefs. He gave her a questioning look, his mouth twisted up.
"These look a little…small?"
Katniss smirked. "I know. But…I saw them and I know he's your favorite, so I couldn't resist."
"You want me to parade around in a pair of too small underwear?"
She raised one eyebrow. "Perhaps."
Peeta chuckled, shaking his head to himself as he pushed an envelope with a gift card to a bookstore towards her.
"Books!" she exclaimed, bouncing up and down slightly where she sat. "I always love books."
"Hence the present," he joked, noting her enthusiastically happy smile. He only hoped she kept that up when he gave her the next present…
"Last one," he promised, pushing it towards her. It was a small box, but he knew Katniss wouldn't be fooled. It was the size of box that clearly screamed jewelry whether he wanted it to or not.
"Now before you start, just listen. I saw this, it was perfect, I bought it for you and you're keeping it. End of story."
Katniss gave him another look before slowly wrapping the paper away from the box, turning it over in her hands. Peeta gave her his best firm look that silently told her not to argue. Well, silently pleaded with her not to argue, that is.
"It's sentimental. Special. I put a lot of effort into this, alright Everdeen?" he laughed. "Just open it, will you?"
She opened the box, her eyes fixating on what was resting on the black velvet. Peeta had snuck so many peeks at the delicate necklace that the image of it was burned into his mind at this point. Her face was blank as she stared down at it in her hands.
"Well…do you like it?"
There was a long pause as she stared down at it. The world seemed to stop for a moment as he waited for her to speak. Finally, she nodded.
"Peeta…I love it."
He blew out a breath of relief, happy that she wasn't fighting him on it. It was a tad extravagant, but it was worth every penny in his eyes.
She nodded, her eyes slowly moving up to meet his. "Will you put it on me?"
Peeta felt his heart hammer happily in his chest as she handed him the box. Pulling her braid to the side, she turned around and allowed him to place the pendant around her neck and fasten the clasp. When she turned back around, the shining diamonds on the cupcake sparkled in the lights of the Christmas tree. Her olive skin made it stand out as she reached down to touch it.
"It's so pretty," she breathed, turning the little charm over in her fingers. "What made you get this?"
He gave her a shy smile. "Remember that time at camp when we had the date on the lawn?"
She nodded. "You brought me hot chocolate in the thermos and…and the cupcake. With a Katniss flower. Oh Peeta…"
Peeta watched her smile and swallow, the motion looking choppy. Was she about to cry, he thought? He hadn't expected his gift to get quite the reaction it was, but he certainly wasn't complaining. He was touched that she remembered the night at Camp Panem when they'd had their first official date of sorts. He had poured his heart out to her and instead of running away like everyone else, she'd stayed. That had meant the world to him then and it still did.
"That night was….perfect," she sighed. "I want to go back this summer."
"Me too," he agreed. "It was the best summer of my life."
He smiled at the memory. As they'd been sitting under the stars on the soccer field, he'd pulled thermos of hot chocolate and a special cupcake he'd made her. He'd spent nearly an hour on just one cupcake, but it had ended up being the cupcake that had won him the girl he loved and adored. Baking to the rescue for once, he thought sheepishly.
"That was what made me fall in love with you, you know," she told him with a shy smile.
Peeta felt his heart swell in his chest as he spied the sparkling pendant around his girlfriend's neck. "I think I knew that. Baked goods…man, they always win the chicks over."
She snorted and lightly shoved his shoulder, pulling her braid back over to toy with it.
"I know I have to say 'you shouldn't have' because this was probably way too expensive and nice for me, but….while you shouldn't have, I'm…I'm really glad you did for once. I'll never take it off, Peeta. I love it."
He gave her a soft smile as he watched her fingers still touching the delicate cupcake. It was clear he'd made the right voice in buying the necklace, and he already couldn't imagine her without it. The dangling charm against her dark skin was the perfect reminder of the night that he'd fallen completely head over heels for her.
"I'm glad. You deserve it."
She nodded at him with watery eyes, and he heard himself inhale sharply. "Don't cry," he urged. "People will think I got you something really lame."
Katniss laughed, swiping at her eye. "I'm not crying, I'm just…misty with emotion," she insisted. "Come here Mellark, let me thank you."
Peeta allowed her to pull him against her in a deep kiss, her tongue instantly meeting with his in an act of gratitude. He groaned inwardly as the flavor of sugar cookies and beer melted against his tongue in a weirdly sensual way. He pressed his mouth to hers, cupping her chin to hold her against him. Katniss kissed him back with urgency, and he felt the need to take their Christmas make out to a much quieter setting. Sliding his hand down her neck, his fingers brushed the cool metal chain and the rough texture of the diamond cupcake against her collar bone. He broke away from her mouth, panting.
"This reminds me…what are you doing for New Year's?"
She gave him a quizzical frown. "Nothing…why?"
He grinned. "Cuz have I got plans for you. Merry Christmas, Katniss."
He felt her smile against his lips as he kissed her again. Baking to the rescue indeed.
Merry Belated Christmas! I hope you enjoyed Peeta's 'baking to the rescue' thought - that's a Hunger Games reference for when Peeta thinks his baking skills will be useless to save him.
Many of you commented about Peeta's mother - I've said before that I've styled his parents after Phil and Claire Dunphy from Modern Family - thoughts?
If you'd like to see the necklace Peeta gave Katniss, head on over to my Tumblr! I'll put it on the Shades of Winter tag so that you can all see.
Thanks for reading - I hope you all had a nice holiday! Please review!