"I hope you're happy."
"Katniss, wait!" Gale yelled after her.
"No! You had no right to do that! To put me in that position."
"I told you, I just needed to kiss you, once."
"Peeta never has to know. You're over exaggerating."
"Of course he needs to know. I'm not going to lie to him or keep things from him. I love him too much for that."
"You're not in love with him, Katniss. You care for him yes, but that doesn't mean you're in love. I've told you before, it's just the games that have you fooled into thinking you love him. You don't owe him anything. It doesn't have to be this way."
"You know you're always telling me stuff but do you take the time to listen? When will you move on? You can't keep holding on to the fact that one day I might love you back. I won't, not like that. I'm going home to Peeta."
Katniss turned and headed back to victors village. She dreaded telling Peeta but he deserved to know. She worried what this would do to his self-esteem and trust issues. She knew he always worried about her relationship with Gale. How could she make Peeta see that Gale's feelings were one sided?
When she reached victors village she noticed that Peeta's house was dark, not a single light turned on. Maybe he had gone to his parents' house. She didn't remember him saying he had plans with them though. She really wanted to see him. Better to get this discussion over with sooner rather than later.
She made her way to her own house hoping her sister could distract her. To her disappointment no one was home. Her mother had left a note saying she was in the Seam helping set a broken arm and Prim was with Rory. Katniss looked in the fridge but wasn't hungry for anything particular. She glanced out the kitchen window that faced Peeta's house but no lights had come on. She sat in the living room and watched some government channel about the history of Panem. A good hour had gone by and she couldn't stay in the house alone any longer. Her last resort was going to Haymitch.
She walked next door to his house and stood at the front door ready to knock. It was then that she heard laughter, very loud laughter. She pushed opened the door and slammed it shut to announce her presence.
"Well look what the cat drug in!" Haymitch barked.
"What the hell is going on?"
"What does it look like sweetheart? Someone needed to let loose." Katniss looked around the living room and noticed the bottles of booze.
"I don't think he wants to talk to you." Peeta's older brother Bran shouted out while placing himself between Katniss and Peeta.
"Get out of my way," Katniss said as she tried to push pass Bran.
"No you listen here! You make out with some other guy in the woods then you have to nerve to come in here making demands towards my brother."
"Bran, take it easy," Peeta said. He didn't bother to get out of his seat or make eye contact with Katniss.
"I'm not gonna let her treat you like that!" Bran yelled.
"Peeta, please. Just let me explain."
"Not right now Katniss. I need some space. Just go home."
"Just go!" He had never raised his voice like that to Katniss. She backed away without saying another word. She made her way out the front door, stopping to lean her head against it, regret filling her heart.
"Maybe I should go after her," Peeta said as he struggled to get up, the alcohol making him a bit wobbly.
"Don't be stupid boy. What she did was wrong. She needs to know that," Haymitch said.
"We all know you'll take her back. What's wrong with making her feel bad about herself for a while. Think about how you felt when you saw her kiss that dude."
"I'd rather not, Bran."
"All I'm saying little bro is that you should make her wait. Make her come to you. And when she does, you take her from behind and show her who's boss."
"It's not like that, Bran."
"Don't tell me she has the control in the bedroom , too."
"I'd rather not hear yalls boy talk!" Haymitch yelled as he covered his ears.
"Then leave the room cause I'm curious as hell. We all thought little Peet would be a virgin forever."
"Thanks for the faith, Bran." Peeta rolled his eyes. He took another swig. He would definitely need some liquid courage to have this conversation. Haymitch made his way to the kitchen and pretended like he wasn't listening.
"So when did you start fucking her?"
"I wouldn't call it that but it was after the tour."
"Wait till I tell Rye! Did you take our advice?"
"Some of it." Peeta blushed.
"What advice was that?" Haymitch asked.
"I thought you didn't want to know!" Peeta yelled back.
"Guess it's just you and your hand now little bro."
"Guess so," Peeta tried to drink down his disappointment. He knew his brother and Haymitch were right. He shouldn't go after her right away. What kind of message would that send to Katniss?
Katniss paced back and forth in her living room. She fought the urge to look out the window every few seconds. How humiliating would it be for Peeta to catch her spying? Eventually, she heard a loud ruckus and watched Bran help Peeta over to his house. He was clearly drunk. Katniss had seen him drink before but never get drunk. He had too much self-control for that. Clearly Katniss had pushed even patient Peeta too far. She just hoped she hadn't lost him forever.
She eventually went up to her room. She tossed and turned for hours before she just couldn't take it anymore. She slipped on some clothes and walked over to Peeta's house. She opened the front door, it was never locked, and found Peeta passed out on the couch softly snoring. She brushed his blonde hair out of his eyes and let her hand linger on his cheek. With the way he was laying, she couldn't join him on the couch. Instead, she went to the loveseat and managed to get a few hours of sleep.
When Peeta awoke in the morning he was slightly confused. He never slept on the couch and more times than not, he awoke with Katniss in his arms. He sat up too quickly and regretted it. His head was between his hands when he heard Katniss shift from her position on the loveseat.
"Hey," she meagerly said.
"Hey." Peeta was still trying to piece together the situation. He then painfully remembered the events of yesterday. Was it just yesterday that he took Katniss in the bathroom and by the lake? Hadn't he just slept with her without a condom, a huge step in their relationship? But all of that was tarnished the minute her lips locked with Gale. Peeta tried to shake the thought away, worried he would throw up his stomach's contents if he dwelled on the situation.
"I hope you don't mind me sleeping over." Katniss made no attempt to approach Peeta. He clearly hadn't warmed up to her yet.
"Well, I can't really do anything about it now, can I?"
"I guess not. Look, Peeta, what happened yesterday…"
"Save it Katniss! I saw the whole thing."
"If you saw the whole thing then clearly you would know why I did it! He was desperate. I wasn't doing it for my pleasure!"
"Well you sure as hell weren't thinking about me!"
"Yes, I was," she now made her way to kneel before Peeta who was still seated on the couch. She grabbed his hands as she began to pour her heart out. "I thought about how he didn't kiss like you. He wasn't as gentle and he didn't know what I liked. He didn't smell like you. He didn't feel like you and I just wanted it to be over." She wiped a tear from her face while Peeta averted his eyes from her. "I wanted to get to you as soon as could so I explain what happened. I never planned on keeping it from you."
"Really. I could never keep something like that from you."
"You are a horrible liar."
"I know," she said with a slight laugh. Peeta smiled too but quickly wiped it off his face.
"This doesn't change the fact that I'm hurt."
"I know it doesn't." Her heart began to quicken with the hope that soon all this would be over, only to stall out with his next statement.
"I think we need some time apart."
"I need some time and space to get over this Katniss."
"But Peeta, I already explained everything to you. What more do you want?"
"I want my space. And I want you to figure out what Gale means to you."
"I already know! He's nothing to me compared to you! I already choose you!"
"And now, I want to know that you made the right decision. I want to know once and for all that you have no feelings for him. I want to be able to trust that the two of you can be together without something like this happening again." There was silence for a few moments as Katniss tried to digest what he was asking.
"So what happens next?"
"You leave. Give me some time."
"When's enough time?"
"I can't say, Katniss. Just be respectful of my wishes."
"My feelings aren't going to change, space or no space. I love you, Peeta."
"And I love you. But you have to go." He couldn't look her in the eye when he said it. He knew he would cave if he did.
She sadly nodded her head and stood up. "Can I kiss you before I leave?"
"Yes." They brought their lips together and kissed. He didn't taste like his normal sweet self but in that moment she didn't care. She wanted to absorb every ounce of him she could. She threaded her fingers through his hair and gently tugged. She licked his bottom lip before pushing her tongue in his mouth. He broke the kiss as soon as he moaned, afraid that if he didn't stop now he wouldn't be able to stop at all.
"This isn't a goodbye kiss," she told him.
"I hope not."
"I know not." And with that she left his house.
Over the next few days, they each tried to occupy their time without each other. They spent time with their siblings realizing they had neglected them since the start of their romantic relationship. Katniss didn't know how serious Prim's relationship with Rory was and she chastised herself for not taking the time to ask Prim about it. Peeta recognized that neither brother took as much interest in the bakery as he did and that he should become more serious about taking over the business after his father.
On one exceptionally hot afternoon, Katniss spend time in the garden at the side of her house. She wore an orange shirt because she knew Peeta loved the color and hoped he would catch a glimpse of her. He was watching, of course, from the confines of his painting room. He had to fight the urge to run across the street and fuck Katniss' mouth. She looked amazing, all hot with sun kissed cheeks. Her tank top exposed her arms and he knew she would have fresh freckles on her skin. He wanted to lick the beads of sweat from her neck but he refused to give in to his urges. Instead he decided to paint a picture. He didn't have to paint this picture but he figure it was one step closer to letting go of the past.
He began with a green background then textured the ground to mimic that of the forest. He painted her first since it would be easier. She was the focus of several of his painting. Some were his favorite moments with her, others were his fantasies or the future. He then focused on a masculine figure very different from his own. This man was not a boy and Peeta envied his height. Their coloring was not the same, it was closer to Katniss'. They looked perfect for each other and it utterly broke Peeta's heart. He painted Katniss' first kiss with Gale.
Katniss nervously pulled on the end of her braid as she entered the bakery. She prayed Mrs. Mellark would not be there. At the front of the store was Rye smiling at a pretty merchant girl. You could definitely tell him and Peeta were related. They had the same strong jaw and blonde hair but Rye had dimples in both cheeks, unlike Peeta who had one on his chin.
"Katniss. What can I do for you?" He sounded polite enough. He wasn't going to be rude to her but at the same time he wasn't going out of his way to be friendly. He had heard what she had done to Peeta.
'"Hi, Rye. I was hoping to talk to your dad."
"He's in the back. Help yourself." He brought his attentions back to his girl while Katniss made way to the back of the bakery. She found Mr. Mellark mixing together large batches of dough in an industrialized mixer. He looked up and his warm smile reached his eyes when he saw Katniss.
"Katniss! What a pleasant surprise! What brings you here? Peeta isn't here you know."
"Good, I'm glad he's not here. I wanted to make something for him."
"Oh?" Katniss couldn't tell whether or not Mr. Mellark knew of her infidelities, if you'd even call it that. He was a nice enough guy to not lecture her or make her feel bad about it.
"I wanted to bake Peeta's favorite cookies."
"Well I can definitely help you with that."
"Thanks, I appreciate the offer, but I'd really want to do this on my own without the help of a baker. Do you think you could give me the recipe?"
"Of course I can my dear." He was beginning to think of Katniss as a daughter. He knew she had her faults, but who didn't. He was glad his son could find happiness with the one he loved unlike him who had missed out on the opportunity to be with Katniss's mother.
Katniss left the bakery with a basket full of ingredients to make Peeta's favorite cookies. She was so excited she almost walked right past Madge.
"Hi Madge. I haven't seen you forever."
"I know. It must be nice to not have to attend school."
"Yeah, there's really no point for victors. How have you been?"
"Good. How's Peeta?" Katniss couldn't stop her face from falling.
"What is it Katniss? We may not have talked each other's ears off at lunch but I know when you're upset."
"We're just going through a rough patch."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not really, but I do have a project to do at home." Katniss lifted up her basket. "Would you like to help with that?"
"Of course!" The girls made their way to Victors Village. Madge was sure to let Katniss do most of the work, only giving input when she absolutely had to. She figured Peeta wouldn't enjoy cookies with more salt than sugar. When they were finished, Katniss filled the basket with the warm treats. The girls walked over to his house and placed the basket on his door step. Katniss kissed two fingers before placing them on the door and knocked softly. They ran back across the street feeling proud of what they had accomplished. They peaked out the window and waited for him to go to his door. He looked confused at first before looking down and finding the basket. He smiled and waved in the direction of her house. Both girls giggled and ran to the living room, collapsing on the couches.
"Gosh! Did you see him? He looked so handsome. Was he always that handsome in school?" Katniss asked.
"Yes, Katniss. You were the only one who didn't notice."
"It's not that I didn't notice, I just didn't have time for that."
"Well, you have time for it now. Is he a good kisser?" Madge blushed when she asked.
"An amazing kisser. I miss his lips so much."
"You still haven't told me what happened."
Katniss took a deep breath before she spoke again. "I kissed Gale."
"It wasn't like that! I swear!"
"Why would you do that?"
"Because he was desperate, and begging, and I figured if I did it once he would get it out of his system."
"How was that kiss?"
"Nothing like Peeta's."
"Because you're not attracted to Gale."
"I wouldn't mind kissing Gale."
"Yeah, really. He's so manly."
"I guess, if you're into that kind of thing."
"How far have you gone with Peeta? If you don't mind me asking."
"We've done pretty much everything. He's the only one I feel comfortable doing those things with."
"I've never had sex."
"Well, it's amazing. But only if it's with someone you really care about."
"Would it be weird for you if I tried to talk with Gale?"
"Not at all. By all means, he needs to move on."
"I don't want to be some backup plan for him though."
"Just be his friend."
Madge stayed for several more hours before Katniss walked her half way home. When she came back to her house she found a familiar basket, this time filled with her favorite cheese buns. She breathed a sigh of relief hoping that their time apart would soon be over. She knew he still cared about her and that he was watching for her just as much as she was him.
Author's note: Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? What else can Katniss do to get Peeta back?