Title: Slow Dancing
Fandom: The Hunger Games
Summary: Peeta settles down to relax with a few friends at his favorite watering hole, not suspecting that a certain someone will come walking back into his life.
Rating: M for language, alcohol use, and sexual content in later chapters.
Spoilers/Warnings: Modern AU. Characters and themes from multiple THG books.
Author Note: This story was inspired by the song Slow Dancing by Lucero. This fic was intended as a one shot, but I do have plans to continue the story if there is interest. Aside from a few mini-fics that I have written for friends, this is my first attempt at writing for the HG fandom. Feedback and comments are greatly appreciated.
Music by various artists is mentioned regularly in this fic. I created a YouTube playlist if you would like to listen to any songs that you might not be familiar with. The playlist can be found at:
"Six months. Six months to the day." Peeta said to no one as he idly rocked himself on his front porch swing, listening to a beat up little radio play old country songs. He took a long, deep drag from his cigarette. Despite the cool autumn air, Peeta wasn't wearing a shirt. The cool breeze bringing goose bumps to his flesh helped to remind him that he was still alive, this wasn't a dream, and that everything he was experiencing was real.
He blew out the smoke clouding his lungs. Coughing slightly, Peeta brought his right hand to his chest, over the mockingjay he had tattooed there about a month before he and Katniss broke up. Peeta had brushed off his brother's advice to never get a tattoo that reminded him of someone that wasn't family.
"Girls come and go, bro. Tats are for life." Peeta snorted at the memory and then took another pull from his cigarette.
Peeta never regretted getting the tattoo. He wanted Katniss in his life, for the rest of his life. She was everything to him. He was hurt beyond words when he found out that Katniss and Gale had kissed. Peeta tried to understand, be patient, knowing she and Gale had a history together, that he was practically family to the Everdeen clan. He was even willing to work through her feelings for Gale, hoping it was just a momentary lapse in judgment. Katniss felt that maybe they should take a break so she could figure things out. Katniss "figuring things out" involved not returning phone calls and cancelling plans. When it became clear that she was spending a lot more time with Gale, Peeta decided to back off completely, hoping that maybe she would eventually come to him.
Peeta found himself humming to the song playing on the radio, Garth Brooks' More Than A Memory. He loved the song, but right now it hit a little too close to home. Peeta sat up, flicked his cigarette off into the grass, and then reached over to the radio, switching it off. Getting up to stand, Peeta winced as his left knee cracked and popped. It still hadn't healed completely from the motorcycle accident he had on the night they had broken up. Peeta thanked whatever angel might have been watching over him that he had remembered to wear his helmet that night. If he hadn't he might have been in worse shape than a hyper-extended knee, a concussion and a nasty case of road rash.
He wished his Triumph Bonneville had fared as well as he had. It had been trashed, but not totaled. The perks of family owning a motor sport performance shop meant parts for cost, and access to all of the equipment he needed to do repairs. While his job happened to be bodywork and painting customer vehicles, Peeta had become handy with a wrench over the years.
The majority of his weekends since the accident were spent repairing and improving the Triumph. Peeta had finished the repairs to the bike last week and the new paint job on the bike today. It was a two-toned black and scorched orange paint job that he had designed himself with great pride. Now that he had his own blood, sweat and tears in the Triumph, he truly felt like it was a part of him and better than new.
Sitting around on a Saturday night, listening to old sad songs on the radio isn't going to help, he thought to himself. He walked inside, and grabbed his white t-shirt off the back of a chair. It had a small amount of brake fluid on it, but doubted that anyone would notice if he tucked it in. A quick trip to the bathroom to clean up, and then he was out the door, helmet and jacket in hand.
The Triumph roared down the highway, it was the first time Peeta had gotten a chance to really open up his bike and get a measure of the improvements he had made. At some point he could have sworn that he saw blue lights behind him, but the cop had either given up or was going after someone else. Twisting the throttle a little more, he made his way in to town.
The parking lot outside of Haymitch's bar was packed, with a line forming at the door. Despite the fact that from the outside the place looked like your generic, dingy hole in the wall bar, the inside was fairly respectable. It was well lit, clean, had comfortable bar stools, and a very nice selection of beer and liquor at reasonable prices. The pool tables were in good shape, and the jukebox was never so loud that you had to shout in order to have a conversation. The only thing that seemed to match with the outside of the building was the small, scuffed up dance floor with a tiny disco ball overhead.
Peeta waited in the queue, chatting with the various people in line to kill time. Once he made it to the front of the line, he saw that it was Johanna Mason working the door.
"Hey there, stranger." She said in greeting. "ID, please."
"Hi yourself, Johanna. Also, you know for a fact that I'm 25." Peeta said grinningly, as he reached for his wallet.
"Oh, really? It must be that sweet little baby face of yours." she quipped, grabbing his ID with one hand and ruffling his hair with the other. Peeta groaned in protest, as he smoothed his hair back down.
"Trust me, Helmet Hair. It's an improvement." Johanna handed Peeta's ID back to him, and with a flourish, waved her hand towards the door.
The smell of tobacco, warm bodies, along with a variety of perfumes and body sprays greeted Peeta as he crossed the threshold to the building. The jukebox was cranking out the chorus to Def Leppard's Pour Some Sugar On Me, which the majority of the bar was belting out, off key. Peeta walked up to Haymitch who was working behind the bar.
"Hey, Haymitch. Three shots of Jack, and a Coke, please." Peeta requested.
Haymitch raised an eyebrow at Peeta. "Good to see you. You look like you're doing better since I saw you last, but if that's how you're starting off the night, you might as well go ahead and hand me your keys."
Peeta didn't protest as he placed his keys on the bar. Haymitch quickly scooped them up, putting them in his pocket as he turned around to grab a bottle of Jack Daniels.
"So, what brings you to my fine establishment this evening? It has been a while," Haymitch said over his shoulder.
"I had to get out of the house. I was starting to get kinda down, it's been six months today since Katn…" Peeta trailed off. Haymitch nodded, and gestured in a manner that suggested he skip that part. Peeta shook his head briefly, and continued.
"Uh, anyway. I finally finished all of the repairs to my bike, so I thought I'd take her out for a spin, and then I came here. I was hoping I'd run into some friendly faces," Peeta said, as he glanced around the bar.
Haymitch placed four shots and Peeta's Coke on the bar.
"I'm not much for friendly faces, but you're always welcome here," Haymitch said as he clapped Peeta on the shoulder. Grabbing one of the shots, Haymitch tipped the glass slightly towards Peeta. Peeta grabbed one of the shot glasses before him, and clinked it against Haymitch's.
"Cheers," they both said, as they tossed the shots into the back of their throats. Peeta picked up the remaining two shots and his Coke, and then sat down at one of the booths.
The jukebox was now playing some pop song from the 90's. Peeta watched as a group of girls gathered on the dance floor, leaving their dates standing awkwardly at the bar, trying not to mumble the lyrics under their breath. Peeta sipped on his Coke and enjoyed the spectacle off the girls singing and dancing.
"I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want." Peeta jumped slightly and looked towards the female voice that called his attention. As he turned, he realized his face was exactly at chest level of the girl before him. He stopped himself short to avoid a collision.
How did she get so close without me noticing? Peeta pushed himself back in the booth a little to give himself some space. The girl standing before him was tall, had long blonde hair, and was wearing a sheer golden dress. The way the light overhead was shining around the booth Peeta realized the dress was not her only article of clothing that was somewhat see-through.
Eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes, Peeta thought for the heartbeat it took to compose himself. Looking up into her emerald green eyes, Peeta smiled as he replied, "Well, Glimmer, I take it that you really, really, really want to zigazig ah."
Glimmer took his reply as an invitation to slide into the booth next to him.
"Ten points for you," Glimmer said as she placed her margarita on table. "I haven't seen you in here for quite a while. How have you been?"
"I keep hearing that. I guess I should get out more." Peeta paused to gather his thoughts. His brothers would have told him to not to mope about a girl, especially to another girl when it looks like she might have plans for you later. Peeta wasn't particularly interested in whatever plans Glimmer might have for him, but decided at the very least that the not moping part was decent advice. He was trying to get his mind off of Katniss, not talk about her.
Glimmer nodded, waiting for Peeta to continue.
"Well, I've been okay, I guess. It took me a while to heal up from the accident a few months ago. With my bike wrecked, I haven't had much of a chance to get down town without going with one of my brothers. I finally finished repairing my bike last week and I finished with the paint today.
It's a nice night, and I didn't feel like sitting around the house by myself. I thought I'd take the bike out and come down here. I was hoping I'd run into some people I knew, and we could find something to do."
Glimmer pressed in close to Peeta, sliding her right arm behind his shoulders. With her other hand, she grabbed one of Peeta's shots sitting on the table, quickly knocking it back. She brought her lips next to Peeta's ear.
"If you want to go back to my place, I'm sure we could find something to do," she then leaned back with a seductive smile on her face. Her hand slid back from behind Peeta, running down the length of his arm, and down to his hand, where she slowly stroked his index finger before returning her hand to her drink.
Peeta coughed slightly, covering his mouth. He prayed that he wasn't blushing.
"Not that I don't mind the direct approach, but wouldn't Cato take issue with me going home with you?" Peeta said in an attempt to deflect her offer.
Glimmer shrugged, "He's out of town this weekend, and what he doesn't know won't hurt him."
I somehow doubt that, Peeta thought to himself.
She sighed a little and then continued, "Besides, he's not really my boyfriend. We just like to fu…"
Glimmer was cutoff by a cry of "Away with thee, vile temptress!"
Peeta and Glimmer turned, looking up to see Finnick Odair standing next to the booth, making shooing motions with his hands. He was in the company of Annie Cresta and Delly Cartwright.
"Oh screw you, Finnick. Like you have any room to talk," Glimmer spat.
Finnick clutched at his chest, as though he was deeply wounded "Oh, your words, they sting me so." He let out a chuckle and continued. "Go on, Glimmer. I haven't seen Peeta in ages, his ass is mine tonight." That comment drew raised eyebrows and incredulous looks from everyone within earshot, Peeta included.
"Uh, Finnick…" Peeta started to say.
Finnick cut Peeta off as the connotations of what he had just said clicked in his head. He put his arm around Annie as he said, "Dude. You. Me. Pool. Rematch. I lost thirty bucks to you last time, and I want it back."
Peeta grinned, "Not that you need it."
"Not the point. I want a rematch."
Peeta considered the request for a moment. It was an easy way for him to get out of his conversation with Glimmer, plus Peeta enjoyed taking Finnick's money.
"Alright, a rematch it is." He looked at Glimmer. "Sorry, I think this is going to be a catch up with everyone kind of night."
Glimmer nodded, Peeta could tell that she was trying not to look disappointed. She slid out of the booth and bent over to pick up her drink. He tried not to notice the amount of cleavage that she was putting on display. From this angle, he definitely could tell that it wasn't just a trick of the light that made her bra look so sheer.
Peeta quickly redirected his attention to her face, "It was nice catching up with you. I hope the rest of your evening is enjoyable."
Glimmer barely managed to smile, "You too, Peeta." She then turned to walk away, but not before shooting Finnick a death glare.
"Annie, Delly, it's great to see you!" Peeta said with a smile.
Delly returned the smile, "I'm so glad that you're feeling well enough to come out. I thought today might be a little rough on you, and you'd stay home."
Delly, you know me so well, Peeta thought to himself.
"I considered that, but in the end I had to get out of the house, and now I'm really glad I did," Peeta replied.
"There was talk about playing Pool? Lets play in teams. I want some of Finnick's cash too," Delly said with great delight.
That was Annie's cue to chime in, "You're not going to see a dime, if I have anything to say about it. Game on."
Finnick clapped his hands together, "Well, I think that settles how the teams are going to be split." Finnick looked down at the table, "Oooh, shots!" he reached for Peeta's lone remaining shot and drank it down before Peeta had time to stop him.
"Hey, I was going to drink that," Peeta protested.
Finnick brushed the comment aside. "I'll get us another round of drinks. Ladies, if you'd be so kind as to select a Pool table. Peeta, you go feed the jukebox."
Everyone scattered to do his appointed tasks. Peeta browsed the songs available on the jukebox for a few minutes before he shoved two dollars in and selected his four songs. Finnick came buy a moment later, his arms full of drinks. Peeta followed him over to the pool table that Annie and Delly had selected.
Finnick passed out drinks and shots to everyone at the table.
"What shall we toast tonight to?" asked Annie.
Finnick raised his shot glass, "We may not always get what we like, just as long as we don't get what we deserve!"
"Screw that, here's to taking all of Finnick's cash," cheered Delly.
"I'll drink to that," said Peeta, clinking his shot glass with Delly's.
Annie called to Finnick, "Let's get `em, honey."
Finnick nodded in agreement. "Down the hatch!"
Peeta made a face after drinking his shot. "What the hell did I just drink?"
"A Red Headed Slut, they're good to the last drop. Just like me." Finnick said with a grin. "Okay, who's racking and who's cracking?"
Peeta pulled a quarter out of his pocket, "Annie, would you like to call it?"
Annie nodded, and Peeta flipped the coin into the air. "Heads!" The coin landed on the Pool table, tails up.
"Okay, Delly. We won the toss, should we go first or let them?" asked Peeta.
"Lets go first, but I want you to break. I'm not very good at doing that."
"Alrighty. Finnick, rack `em."
Peeta walked over to the side table and took a cautious sip from the glass that Finnick had brought him.
"Long Island," said Finnick when Peeta looked at him questioningly.
"Not bad, but I'm buying the next ro…" Peeta trailed off.
Not waiting for Peeta to finish his statement, Finnick retorted "It puts the booze in its mouth. It does this whenever free drinks are offered."
Not getting a reply from Peeta made Finnick look up. This caught the attention of Annie and Delly as well. Peeta was seemingly frozen in place, starring towards the entrance of the bar. Finnick looked over his shoulder in an attempt to discover what had caught Peeta's full attention.
"Shit. Not tonight," Finnick muttered as he rubbed a hand down his face.
Katniss Everdeen had walked through the door, and much like Peeta, had stopped dead in her tracks as they locked eyes. Rue pulled on Katniss' arm, dragging her over to a booth close to the bar. She purposefully sat Katniss down in the bench facing the door, and away from Peeta.
Finnick waved a hand in front of Peeta's face. "Peeta, you're going to set Katniss' hair on fire if you stare any harder."
The comment seemed to snap Peeta out of his reverie. He blinked a few times and then blew out a sigh. "Yeah, you're right. She's here, there's nothing I can do about it, and I just need to deal." Peeta looked around the bar for a moment and saw Haymitch walking towards Katniss and Rue, a pitcher of beer and three glasses in hand.
"C'mon, Peeta. We've got a game to play," Delly urged.
He nodded in agreement, took a large gulp from his drink and then lined up his opening shot. As three striped balls landed in different pockets, Lucero's Tonight Ain't Gonna Be Good, this first of his song selections, started to play on the jukebox.
The next three hours went by quickly. Peeta and Katniss made sure not to be in the same part of the bar at the same time. They did on occasion catch each other stealing a glance, but otherwise tried not to acknowledge the presence of the other person. Contrary to his expectation, Gale never showed up. Delly had gone over to talk to Katniss during a break between games. From everything Peeta could tell, the conversation had been short, but polite.
He drunkenly walked up to the jukebox to put a few more quarters into the machine. It was playing the last few notes of Nina Simone's Do I Move You, and then moved on to Wicked Games by The Weeknd. He was standing behind Glimmer who was going through the list of songs on the touch screen. She must have seen his reflection in the monitor because she said "Sorry, it looks like you probably won't get to listen to whatever you plan on playing before closing time. I'm not sure if it'll even get to mine, but I've got a few songs queued up and we've got less than half an hour before Haymitch kicks us out of here."
"Oh, okay. Thanks for letting me know." Peeta turned, weaved himself through the crowd and back towards his pool table.
Finnick was trying to pull off some kind of ridiculous trick shot that was more likely to send the cue ball flying across the room than get one in a pocket. Just as he predicted, Finnick sent the cue ball soaring onto the booth table next to him. The ball bounced on the table one time, ricocheted off a pint glass and landed in an empty pitcher of beer.
"Impressive, but it doesn…" Peeta didn't get to finish his taunt because he suddenly found himself hurtling towards the floor after being shoved from behind. His bad knee, eight drinks and a couple of shots didn't go very far in terms of helping Peeta get up with haste. He grabbed the edge of the pool table and clumsily hauled himself up. Once he was standing again he saw Finnick squared off with a rather large fellow wearing a San Diego Chargers Jersey, with the number 5 emblazoned on it. Finnick was brandishing his pool stick around as a diversionary tactic to hold the man at bay. Annie had grabbed a beer bottle from somewhere and slipped behind Number 5. She flipped the bottle in her hand and was reaching her arm back when Peeta found himself jumping between Number 5 and Finnick.
Peeta's hands and arms went up in a gesture of pacification. "Hey, big guy. Can't we talk about this?"
Number 5 looked down at him, "Make it quick, Blondie, because I really want to punch this pretty boy's teeth in."
"Look, I've taken plenty of this guy's money tonight playing pool. He was desperate to get some of it back and not embarrass himself in front of his girl. You know how it is, and he tried throwing a Hail Mary with that last shot. How about I buy you another pitcher and we call it even?"
Number 5 thought it over for a second. "Alright, but none of that cheap shit you kids drink these days."
"Anything you want, man. C'mon, let's go get it," said Peeta, motioning towards to bar.
As they walked to the bar Peeta took a moment to glance back towards Finnick. He had slung his arm around Annie. "I love you," said Finnick. Annie replied with "I know," and then kissed him on the cheek.
Peeta placed the empty pitcher of beer on the bar and tried to get Haymitch's attention. Haymitch eyed the pitcher and then looked at Peeta.
"Just in time. What can I get you?"
Peeta placed a $20 on the bar. "A pitcher of whatever Number 5 here wants."
Haymitch nodded, then reached under the bar and pulled out a microphone. "Last call, last call. Last call for alcohol."
Peeta made his way back over to Finnick. "I think that pretty much called game."
Finnick nodded in agreement. "Well, you and Delly won most of them. Good job. Delly, you're a much better shot than you let on. Nice hustle." Delly beamed at the compliment and gave a mock curtsey from where she was sitting.
The jukebox changed songs, and Annie raised an eyebrow. "Nina Simone, The Weekend, and now Glory Box by Portishead? Wow, somebody is trying real hard to get someone in the mood."
"Well, it's working on me. Let's dance, I love this song," said Finnick as he lead Annie to the dance floor.
Peeta shrugged, looked at Delly, and questioningly leaned his head towards the dance floor. Delly hopped off of her barstool and teased, "Alright, mister. No funny business and keep your hands where I can see them. I am a lady, and I expect to be treated as such."
Peeta laughed, bowed deeply, tried not to fall over, and then offered his hand. "My good lady, would you offer me the pleasure of your company for this dance?"
They walked over to the dance floor and Peeta joined hands with Delly as if they were at an Eighth Grade prom, and shuffled his feet back and forth for the rest of the song. The disco ball turned on as the jukebox started playing Sade's No Ordinary Love. Peeta felt a tap on his shoulder and in a familiar female voice he heard "Delly, do you mind if I cut in?"
Delly let go of Peeta. "Not at all, I think my toes need a break from being stepped on." Before Delly walked away, she gave the woman behind him the universal sign for "I've got my eye on you."
"K..Ka…Katniss?" stammered Peeta.
"Is this okay with you?" she asked, coming around to face him.
"I, I don't know," sighed Peeta. "Let's just see how this goes."
Katniss put her arms around Peeta's neck; his hands went to her waist automatically. She pulled him closer as they started to move.
Peeta managed to lose himself to the music and his thoughts. How can this be everything I do and do not want at the same time? I mean, I know this exactly what I want, but once she walks out that door, how is it not going to wreck me? He blew out an audible sigh and opened his eyes. Everyone around was gawking at the two of them; the only exception was Rue, who had a little smirk on her face. She winked at him and took a sip from her can of Sprite.
Peeta looked down at Katniss. She had her eyes closed, a slight smile on her face. The starts shining from the disco ball reminded him of their late night rides on his bike to no place in particular. She winced just a little and opened her eyes.
"I can tell the accident hasn't made you a better dancer." She laughed lightly.
Embarrassed, Peeta apologized for stepping on her foot. "No, not really. Not to mention all of the drinks and the scuffle from earlier isn't exactly helping. Sorry about your foot."
"It's okay. Things wouldn't be the same if you didn't step on my toes at least once." She took her arms from around his neck and slid them under his arms, around to his back. She pulled him even closer and then laid her head on his chest. Peeta felt her inhale deeply. "You still smell like motor oil and cologne, but I think the cologne is new?"
"It's Euphoria by Calvin Klein. It was a gift from Finnick." Peeta tried to impersonate Finnick as he said "It's perfect for the single man out on the prowl."
Katniss laughed. "Why am I not surprised Finnick would say something like that about a cologne? I like it though." She took in another deep breath.
"Well, it is Finnick. He's just looking out for me, even if his methods are a little odd at times."
Katniss nodded as they continued to dance. Drive by The Cars was coming to an end on the jukebox.
Katniss lifted her head from Peeta's chest. "This song is making me want to ask who is going to drive you home tonight. You are in no shape to drive right now."
"You're right. Haymitch has the keys to my bike. I'll hang out here for a while, and hopefully he'll let me have them back before he decides to go home. It's my turn to ask, who is going to take you home tonight?"
"Rue agreed to be my D.D. tonight. Peeta, promise me you won't drive home drunk. I can't take the thought of you getting into another wreck. You scared me half to death when I heard you were in the hospital."
Peeta looked Katniss in the eye. "I'd get Finnick to take me home, but I think he came in a cab. I promise I won't drive home drunk. Scouts honor."
"Okay. I'm going to hold you to that. For now, you should hold me."
Peeta wrapped his arms around Katniss, laid his head on hers, closed his eyes, and tried to keep time with the music. The lyrics from Adele's cover of I Can't Make You Love Me were all too moving to him in this moment. Peeta choked back a sob, tried to play it off as a cough, but a tear still ran down his broke the embrace. He could see that her mascara was starting to run.
"God, I knew you looked like trouble the moment I laid eyes on you tonight," she said while grabbing his shirt and pulling him in for a kiss.
The music shut off and the house lights came on an instant later, Peeta jumped as Haymitch's voice boomed over the PA system. "Alright kids, you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here. Thank you for coming out tonight. If you are too drunk to drive, please let me know and I'll be happy to call you a cab. Now everybody out."
Peeta and Katniss both sighed, and looked around awkwardly, the moment lost. Peeta thought it was probably for the best, but wished he could feel her lips on his again.
"Well, this was really nice," Peeta said while shoving his hands in his pockets.
"Yeah, it was, but I have to go." Katniss reached for his face, and with her thumb wiped the tear away. She then quickly kissed him on the cheek, turned and briskly walked towards Rue, who hooked her arm as they walked towards the door.
Finnick walked into Peeta's field of view. Finnick mouthed, "Are you alright?" Peeta nodded. Finnick gave him a thumbs up, pointed at Annie and Delly, then motioned towards the door, indicating that they were leaving. Peeta managed a little wave.
"God damn, that was nice," he said quietly, then shook his head and walked over to Haymitch at the bar. "Tell me you didn't do that on purpose."
"Okay. I didn't do that on purpose." Haymitch said as he slid a shot of Jack across the bar to Peeta.
Peeta picked up the shot and started to bring it towards his mouth, and then stopped. "You know what, I think I'll go to the diner across the street and sober up," he slid the shot back to Haymitch.
Haymitch reached into his pocket then handed Peeta his keys. "Good man. Now get out of here."