Disclaimer: The Hunger Games Belong to Suzanne Collins.
A big thank you to jeeno, asparaguseye and misshoneywell for all their help with this one shot.
This was originally a Christmas present for tigers24.
I glance down at the number written messily on paper before me then back up at the one scripted nicely on the side of the rather extraordinary looking penthouse.
This must be it, I think to myself, lifting my hips up slightly from their spot in my seat to tuck the crumbled paper inside my jeans pocket. I lean over into the passenger side of my car and roll up the window by hand, the air immediately becoming muggy and unbearable inside.
I can't help but think that my small and beaten up car must look out of place parked on the side of this upscale neighborhoods street as I walk around the car, manually locking each door up, although there's nothing terribly expensive inside to steal.
Just a couple of the belongings I managed to grab from the curb before the garbage truck could come take it away lay sprawled out in the backseat of my car.
I have no real right to be angry, I reason as I feel the familiar swell rising within me. In my landlord's (or rather former landlord) defense, he did warn me that if I was late on one more payment, they'd padlock my apartment door.
I just never thought it would actually happen.
All my somewhat expensive things they must have decided to sell for money toward my tab, but luckily they threw away some of my less valuable pieces of clothing and a ton of my old pictures from back home in Virginia.
When Mom found out from Prim that for the past week and a half I've been living out of my car, she immediately demanded I come home and knock off this "independent shit."
But by twenty-three years old, crawling back to "mommy and daddy" isn't exactly the first option that runs through ones mind.
Or an option at all, really. Not for me anyway.
Call it a pride issue, but I refuse to admit they were right. That I'm incapable of caring for myself or that I was wrong to move away fresh out of high school a couple years ago. They never had faith that I could do it, always assumed I'd come running back.
"What are you going to do in New York City?" Mother had scoffed when I first applied to a couple different schools there. She was completely taken back by the atmosphere change, having only ever grown up in a small town, never having left the heart of Virginia I have to admit I was slightly nervous too.
But in my few years of living here, it's never been bad enough to leave.
Obviously school hadn't worked out, which was the second time I disappointed my parents (the first being when I actually left) and after that, it's been one large fucking downward spiral.
They don't really give a shit what I do with my life anymore. They're sick of giving out "wasted advice."
All of these events combined are what essentially leads me to the door of this house; 6494.
I lost my job as a waitress at a fairly popular bar nearly a month ago. I got into it pretty rough with the management and quit before they had the chance to fire me.
At least if they had fired me I'd be getting some sort of unemployment.
But once again, there's that pride issue shining through.
The bar job wasn't that great anyway. Sure it paid some of the bills, but for the most part I was always going without something; heat, water, power, something. It always kept me afloat, but that wasn't the way I wanted to live for the rest of my life.
This job, this house right here, is sort of my last-ditch effort to make a sufficient amount of money with little to no qualifications.
Help needed! The advertisement had read:
Position: Full-time Nanny.
Times: Monday-Saturday 7am-9pm.
Number of Children: 1
Benefits: Housing, food, 7 days vacation.
Qualifications: We'll talk at the interview.
Pay: We'll talk at the interview.
Position available immediately! Please call -
- I press in the large doorbell and it rings out loudly for about a minute, the tune carrying on and on before finally coming to a close. The entire ad seems a little sketchy, but then again, so is using gas stations bathrooms to wash up in. I'm in no position to be picky at this point, especially when there's free housing being offered.
I hear footsteps grow closer to the door and straighten up my posture, smoothing out the wrinkles of the blouse I splurged on and fixing my braid through the reflection given off from the storm door right before the main one opens.
I'm taken back by the man who stands before me, wearing a very professional-looking tie and dress shirt which he straightens out at the sight of me. His eyes seem to widen slightly as he takes me in before a look of confusion passes over his features.
He looks exhausted.
He runs a hand through his messily arranged hair before opening up the screen door and allowing me to pass through.
"Uh... Katniss... Everdeen?"
I stare at him for a long minute, long enough for his confused expression to deepen before I snap myself out of it and finally nod shortly.
"I uh, I guess I wasn't expecting... well, I mean... you're just not what I expected," I stammer, feeling my cheeks grow red.
"You're not exactly what I was expecting either," he speaks back, his tone harsh and body language dismissive. "I'm Peeta Mellark."
"Nice to meet you," I offer, tonelessly.
The air feels nice against my sticky skin and as I cool off, I glance around the interior of the house quickly, noting how neat and organized everything seems to be. It didn't appear very "child friendly."
"This way," his voice breaks the silence and I snap my head in his direction, only to see he's half way down the hallway. I walk briskly in order to catch up with him, and he leads me down the hallway, through the kitchen and down one more smaller hallway until we hit a door off to the side which remains closed.
He presses it open effortlessly and holds it, allowing me to slip through, which I do with a timid thanks. The office is well lit, with the sun pouring in through the opened curtains off to the side and one long book case along the back wall.
Mr. Mellark (Peeta, did he say?) walks over to the long wrap-around desk and lowers himself down into the large black swivel chair before pushing himself closer in, adjusting different papers around.
Every free spot imaginable is piled high with stack after stack of folders and papers, and I note the small supply of cups and dishes tucked away in the corner. This desk is possibly the only messily arranged thing in the house.
At least that I've seen.
"Okay, okay," Peeta speaks, almost to himself. "Ms. Everdeen. Uh..."
He takes a deep breath in and his head lands in his hands immediately before he almost bashfully looks up to me.
"I don't know how to fucking do this," he admits almost breathless and leans back further in his chair. "I mean, what kind of questions do you even ask a nanny?"
I'm not sure if its rhetorical or if he's expecting an answer, but I clear my throat and sit up straighter in the chair he's pulled out from the corner for me.
"Well, um... I don't have much experience in nannying, but growing up I looked after and cared for my younger sister a lot of the time. I have my own transportation, and I'm CPR certified-"
"You've got the job."
I look to him with furrowed eyebrows and questioning eyes.
"You start now."
"Uh," I begin, and let out an awkward chuckle, gripping the armrests of the chairs rather tightly. "Don't you want to ask me more questions? Get to know me?"
Make sure I'm not some sort of serial killer or rapist before you hand over your child to me?
"What more is there to know? You know how to stop the kid from choking and keep him entertained. That's good enough for me, you're hired."
"Look," he sighs, and that same annoyed tone from earlier is present again. "I've been kind of thrown into this whole... 'parenting thing' overnight, and I don't know the first thing about it. You're hired to deal with the kid, while I deal with this," he motions to the large stack of papers I noted earlier.
I stare at him for a long moment before shrugging my shoulders, rising from my seat as he does his.
"Sure," I mutter, with so many questions left unanswered. My mind focuses in on his words; how he's been thrown into it overnight. I can't help but wonder if something has happened to his wife, or girlfriend (or ex) that gave him full custody alone. Not to mention, the fact that he apparently has no family to help.
Or who wants to help with his attitude.
Hopefully, the child is not as moody.
"Can I meet your son?" I ask as he opens the door leading out of his office. His face immediately scrunches up in distaste at my assumption and he begins shaking his head furiously.
"Oh no, he's not my son, he's my younger brother," he snorts and I swear I see a shiver run up his spine at the mere thought.
"Oh," I mumble, feeling as though it's not my place to question it any further, though the curiosity is present.
"Well, his- our parents were in a terrible car accident," he briefs me, as if talking about a story in the newspaper. "Died on the scene."
"Oh my god, I'm so sorry" I gasp. "That's horrible!"
"That's life," he replies shortly with a shrug. "I'm over the immediate shock."
It's hard to imagine this stone faced stranger ever expressing any sort of emotion, really.
"Is he?" I whisper, unsure of where the child is, but Peeta either doesn't hear me or chooses to ignore me, calling up the staircase for his younger brother.
"Rye! Come here for a minute!"
It only takes seconds for the pitter patter of little feet to sound from above and for the small blonde-haired boy to come jumping down the steep stairs. He lands in front of Peeta and looks up at him with round eyes and a winning smile. He's practically a "mini me" of his older brother.
More smiley though.
"What have I told you about running in the house?" Peeta snaps, the bags under his eyes deep and pronounced. It looks like he's gone days without sleep.
"Don't," The young boy repeats, nodding his head once in time with his words.
"So why do you do it then?" he hisses in response.
Because he's five.
"I don't know! I forget I guess," the little one chuckles with a shrug and Peeta breathes deeply with the roll of his eyes.
"Katniss, this is Rye," he introduces, his tone laced with boredom. "Rye... this is Katniss. She's going to be here for a while."
"Because I need some help."
"Because..." another heavy breath. "There's been a lot of changes lately."
"Yes," Peeta nods, pushing him forward to say hello.
I bend down to his level and look him in his bright blue eyes, smiling naturally in his direction. Immediately, his hand reaches out for the tip of my braid, which he runs his fingers over gently before grinning widely.
"Hello Rye," I say gently, hoping my calm tone will balance out his brother's harsh one. "I hope we can have a lot of fun together."
He purses his lips in skepticism.
"Do you like playing trucks?"
"Sure," I nod.
"And hide and go seek?" he continues to question, his tone getting higher with each word. His eyebrows lift in excitement as I nod my head. "Then yes, I think we can have fun."
"I think so too," I grin, patting his shoulder lightly.
"Can we play now?" Rye asks with excitement, realization finally dawning on his features that I'm really here to spend time with him.
I turn to Peeta, who's mouth opens and closes with the shake of his head.
"I have to show Katniss around first," Peeta sniffs toward Rye. "Then she's all yours buddy."
Little Rye lets out a noise of delight before running up the stairs to his bedroom. Peeta's eyes widen in annoyance before he yells up the stairs for Rye to stop running in the house!
"I forgot!" the little boy calls back and I can't help but release a breathily chuckle. Peeta's head snaps in my direction, immediately silencing me as I stand up slowly from where I was crouched down.
"So..." I begin when he refuses to speak, and I think about offering him a nap. As nice and spacious as the penthouse is, it's not a mansion by any means, and I'm sure I can find my own way around.
"So you've already seen the kitchen and my office. My office is off limits to Rye, by the way. There's very important papers in there, papers that can't be lost with personal information on them-" he stops short at what must be my twisted up expression to explain, "I'm a lawyer."
Shirt and tie. Fancy house. Impatience. It's all making sense now.
I nod only once.
"You can go anywhere in the house you see fit, although there's no real use for you in my office. Of course, you'll probably want to go home and get your things-"
"I already have them," I interrupt and he raises an eyebrow. I realize what he must be thinking and blush madly, shaking my head. "I mean, uh-"
"Confident, are we?"
"No! I mean, well, sort of."
He laughs, a forced action, and heads for the staircase, motioning for me to follow him. I do and the upper level of the home seems to be just as nicely put together as the bottom half. I have to wonder how Peeta is managing the white plush carpeting he has throughout the upstairs. I can't possibly imagine how Rye even gets a chance to breathe up here.
We pass by his room, where the door is wide open and he's deeply engrossed in a game of "dinosaurs." The t-rex is about ready to rip off the face of the velociraptor when he glances up and grows embarrassed by our prying eyes, hiding the toys behind his back.
"This is your room," Peeta speaks a moment later, leading me into the room directly across the hallway from Rye. It's medium sized, with one large bed sitting directly in the middle, a white quilt draped on top of it and a dresser with a full length mirror attached sitting off to the side. I notice two doors that are side by side on the right wall and wonder if one happens to be a bathroom.
"Feel free to do with it as you please," Peeta mumbles before shifting awkwardly on his feet. "Well... I have some work to get done and uh, you have some moving in to do."
"So are you really just hiring me? Without any real questions, any real backround checks?" I have to ask him once more, because it seems rather unbelievable. He has no idea who I am or what my motives are. For all he knows I could kill him and his little brother in the dead of night.
"Yes," Peeta confirms. "I'm really just hiring you."
And then he's taking the stairs by two before I can utter another word.
It takes only one trip out to my car to bring everything I own inside, and just as Peeta suggests, I start making myself comfortable. I give all my pictures a spot around the room, tucked into my mirror or lying on the nightstand beside my bed.
After exploring, I find that one of the two doors does lead to a bathroom and take a long and steamy shower that lasts well over a half an hour.
I'm sure Peeta is ready to kill me by the time I emerge from my new bedroom, clad in baggy sweats and a tank top. I unwrap the towel from my head and shake out my damp hair before re-braiding it down my back.
When I peek inside Rye's room, he's no longer there and his toys sit where he left them, scattered around his room. The window straight back on the wall shows that the brightness of day has begun fading away and it's almost completely dark out.
I walk down the stairs, still feeling awkward about the way the day has turned out. I know just as much about these Mellarks as they do about me - or even less so. It's hard to feel too uncomfortable though, after all I'm here to do a job.
I'm being paid to live here.
Rye is on the couch, his small feet just barely dangling over its edge and eyes glued to the television set in front of him. In his lap is a bag of potato chips, which he reaches into messily and pulls out a fist full, spilling crumbs along the leather couch.
"Rye?" I question and his eyes barely meet mine before they're back on the television.
"Where is Peeta?"
His small arm points down the hallway, which I assume means he's in his office. I thank the boy who is paying little to no attention to me before heading through the kitchen and down the hall, knocking lightly on the door.
I open the door just wide enough to creep through before shutting it tightly. Peeta continues to stare at his computer screen, flipping through some book with his one hand and typing furiously with the other. When he glances up at me, he does so twice, like he's surprised to see me.
"Can I help you with something?"
"Are you planning to make some form of dinner?" I question. It's nearly eight o'clock in the evening, but I'm not used to their schedule or if this is considered "normal" for them. Peeta eyes me like he doesn't understand why I'm interrupting him for that but I only fold my arms over one another.
"Not for me," I explain. "For Rye."
"Oh, he can find his own food," Peeta waves dismissively.
"He's eating potato chips right now," I state flatly. "That hardly counts as a meal."
"Look, if you don't like the way things are around here the you make him something," he snaps, jabbing his finger in my direction.
"Fine," I hiss, one hand on the door already. "I will."
I shut his door tightly behind me and walk briskly into the kitchen. I've never been the worlds best chef, but damnit now I have to cook something.
Being unfamiliar with the kitchen, I browse through each cabinet and peer into the fridge to see what I have to work with. Judging by the attitude he's displayed so far, it's safe to assume Peeta will not be helping out with meals each night.
Or any night, for that matter.
I find a container of rice and decide to work with that (because how can you mess up rice?) and pull out a bag of frozen vegetables that I let sit out to thaw and turn on the stoves top.
I've never actually made rice before, but it can't be so hard. It's go-to food. All you do is pour it in the pot and go with it.
"Look at me, I'm cooking here," I mumble to myself, standing over the stove with my arms crossed and head nodding with pride.
This isn't so bad.
"This tastes yucky."
Rye is the first to admit what we've all been thinking since I called Peeta and Rye in for dinner, about ten minutes ago. Turns out, rice is harder to make than I originally thought and I had to throw half the batch out after burning it. The entire kitchen reeks as an after affect.
I watch as Peeta subtly flicks charred pieces off to the side of his plate and forces the remainder down his throat, nodding with a low hum before immediately pressing water to his lips.
I wonder how long we are planning to suffer in silence. Apparently Rye has decided enough is enough.
"Rye," Peeta snaps, staring at his younger brother with wide and shocked eyes.
"Telling someone... saying those things you just said," Peeta confirms, eying me nervously. I glance down at the pathetic meal before me and sigh, a sense of hopelessness washing over me.
It's only the first day and I'm already proving to have been a mediocre choice.
Of course, that's what he gets for hiring me without asking any questions.
"But I'm telling the truth."
"You tell me not to lie!"
"Yes, but..." Peeta breathes heavily.
"You're right, Rye," I mumble. "Lying is bad."
"The food is yucky," he says gentler as if to soften the blow.
"Can I have chips now, Katniss?"
I nod and just seconds later he's jumping out of his chair and back to the couch with the bag that sits on top of the counter top.
Peeta and I exchange a long look before the sound of my chair scraping against the flooring breaks the silence.
"I guess I'll clean up then."
Peeta is still in his office when I bring Rye up to his bedroom for the evening. It's well past nine, which means it's well past his bedtime, but I figure tonight is a special circumstance. I'm still getting used to everything and all.
"Goodnight, Rye," I say, flicking off his main light and moving to crack the door so the hallway light can still flood in along with that of his night-lights.
"Yes?" I'm exhausted and want nothing more than to try out my new bed, but I lean my head against the door frame, staring at the young boy in front of me.
He's about ten sizes too small for the monstrous bed that encases him and tucks the covers up well over his neck.
"Will you be here in the morning?"
"See you bright and early, sunshine," I wink, turning to leave the room when I hear another loud wait!
"Yes?" I ask again, keeping my voice in the same forced sweet tone.
I smile in his direction, watching as he tucks his small head further into the pillows.
I wait outside his door for a long minute, just in case he calls my name out again, but he doesn't. Instead, I hear nothing and move across the hall to my room with a large breath, relieved as I shut the door for the evening.
I planned on calling Mom, Dad and Prim today to tell them the news of landing the job and housing all in one day.
Dad will be worried.
Mom will be skeptical.
Prim will be proud.
That's always how it is.
As my back hits the feathery bed, I reason that it's late and I'll call them in the morning, once I'm better rested. After sleeping in the cramped front seat of my car for nearly two weeks now, I can't tell if this bed is exceptionally comfortable or if I've just been exceptionally uncomfortable.
Either way, the second I shut out the lights, tuck myself under the plush covers and my head hits the pillows below me, I'm out cold.
I feel a persistent nudging on my back, my curled body rocking back and forth in time with it's movements before the incessant tugging on my braid begins.
I groan, digging my head deeper into the pillow. I know I set an alarm and I know it hasn't gone off yet, therefore I don't need to be awake yet.
"Huh? What?" I grunt, jumping into a sitting position with the tone of urgency that pours from small Rye's lips. The room is still nearly pitch black and I find myself wondering what time it is and why he's awake so early.
Bad dream? my sleepy mind reasons.
I glance down at my phone that rests charging on the nightstand the the numbers 5:56am flash at me.
Damnit when did the night pass by so quickly?
"Yes, Rye?" I ask him, my voice still groggy from sleep. He climbs up on top of the bed and makes himself comfortable, sitting indian style with curious eyes and hands that twist in the blankets below him.
"Are you mad at me?"
"W-What?" I stammer, unsure of how his mind possibly leapt to that. "Rye, why are you awake? You're supposed to be sleeping."
"I know, but I'm not," he answers matter-of-factly. "Are you mad at me, Katniss?"
"Why would I be mad at you?" I grumble, turning over onto my back in the bed and running tired hands over my eyes with a deep sigh.
"Because I called your food gross."
"I'm not mad at you, Rye," I promise with a yawn, turning back over on my side and pulling the covers high over my shoulder. I feel the small dip in the bed where his body sits and he moves further up toward my face to give my cheek a friendly pat.
"Okay. Night night, Katniss."
"Hmm... goodnight," I grumble drowsily.
This time when I jump awake, the room is flooded with light pouring from the windows and the ceiling fan above me. I glance down to my right to find Rye standing there with a large grin. His blonde curls are sticking out haphazardly around his head and the legs in his pajamas are pushed up to his kneecap with a sock missing.
I immediately note that his hands are covered in peanut butter along with his cheeks and part of his sleep shirt. In his hand he holds a crumpled up bagel with pride. He notes me staring and holds his arms out to me for help to get on top of the bed. With a grunt, I pull him up (Rye's a pretty solid kid) and he immediately straddles my stomach sitting on top of me.
"I made you breakfast," he smiles proudly, holding out the mangled bagel.
"Oh Rye, thank you," I grin, sitting up more fully and taking a bite as he forces it toward my lips. "Mmm, it's delicious," I give him a thumbs up as I swallow deeply.
"No one has ever made me breakfast before, you're the sweetest."
He bounces up and down on top of me at the compliment and giggles to himself with excitement.
"I can teach you how to cook," he says, again patting my cheek only this time successfully smearing it with peanut butter. "My daddy taught me, he was a baker!"
I'm taken back at the fact he's already mentioned his parents, and so cheerfully. Peeta hadn't told me much about what happened, but I know he mentioned that Rye does know.
He's waiting for an answer, and shoves another bite of the bagel into my mouth so again I flash him a thumbs up before chewing madly.
"Sounds like a plan, but right now, I think it's time for you to have a bath."
By the time we finished Rye's bath, my alarm was going off signaling the time I'm supposed to be waking up each morning. Perhaps Rye needs to go to sleep later in the evening, he has too much energy for his own good.
The young boy stands shivering and shaking wrapped up in a towel as I pick out clothing for him to wear to the park. I'm sure the he's been cooped up in here since his arrival, seeing as Peeta hasn't appeared to be the most attentive care taker around.
After he's all dressed and ready we headed downstairs where I find the expected peanut butter mess in the kitchen, along with quite the little collection of toys and food scattered around the living room. As Rye eats a quick snack, I make sure to leave the house in impeccable condition, just in case Peeta gets home before we do.
Rye has a great time at the park, I think. We decide it's more fun to walk instead of drive and take a small tour through the city before arriving at a local park downtown. Its an easy afternoon, really, all he wants to do is play.
I watch in shock as he continues to run (and jump and run and swing and climb and jump) for hours, never tiring out or losing energy, in fact it seems like he is gaining energy.
"That was awesome!" he exclaims, skipping along side me on our walk back to the penthouse. He holds my hand tightly and smiles up at me constantly. "Can we go again, tomorrow?"
"If you'd like," I respond, only feeding his excitement.
"Hey!" he nearly shouts, pointing with his free hand to the driveway. "Peeta's home!"
The second I open the front door, Rye has taken off before I can even suggest he takes of his dirty shoes. I run after him, but he's already in Peeta's office by the time I arrive, poking my head in nervously.
"We went to the park today!"
"That's awesome, buddy," Peeta speaks in monotone, staring at his computer screen with a look of distaste. The sleeves on his button down are rolled up past his forearms and his tie lies loose around his neck. I never noticed how thick his arms were...
"Yeah, it was great!" Rye elongates the word "great" like tony the tiger, jumping up as if to prove his point.
Peeta's hand searches for his brothers hand blindly before giving him two heartless pats on the head. It's obvious he doesn't give a shit about Rye's day or anything he's telling him, and I feel my heart breaking as Rye tries harder and harder to gain his attention.
"We fed birds, and played on the swings, and went down the slide and even made mud pies in the sand!" as he utters his last word, his hands fly out with enthusiasm and I watch in horror as a large stack of papers from Peeta's desk topple to the ground.
There's a large thud as they scatter and then silence.
"Damnit Rye!" Peeta hisses, jumping up from his desk and pushing his brother out of the way to examine the damage. A hand runs through his hair as he begins pacing the small area inside.
"Get out! Now!" he screams, and Rye presses his back against the wall, as if too scared to move a muscle.
Peeta grabs his arm roughly and pushes him toward the door.
"I don't ever want you in here again! Do you understand me?" he continues to yell, but Rye is long gone, tears springing to his eyes right as he pushes past me and probably heads upstairs to his bedroom.
"Fucking hell!" Peeta hisses, kicking the stack in frustration. He turns back in my direction, a look of surprise spreading over his face before his eyebrows furrow down impossibly more.
"You too! Just get the fuck out!"
"It was an accident, Peeta, you know he didn't mean to do that!" I find myself yelling back at him, ignoring his direction to leave and instead moving forward.
"I don't give a shit if it was an accident! Do you think my clients give a shit if it was an accident?"
"Well maybe if you had just paid him attention while he was speaking, this entire situation could have been avoided completely!"
"Listen, I'm not the kid's parent. I'm not even supposed to be his caretaker!That's why you were hired sweetheart, to pay him attention! I've said it before but I'll say it again, I. Don't. Know. How. To. Do. This!"
"Well obviously yelling isn't working!" I scream before silence overtakes us. He stares at me so intensely I subconsciously feel myself shrinking back.
"You're here to do a job. Nothing more," his tone is icy and quiet before his hand points toward the door.
"Now go do it."
June has faded into July and now with it being the second week in, I've officially been living here with the Mellarks for four weeks.
Prim was excited to hear about my new job when I called her and demanded to see some photos of Rye. It turns out, he's quite the ham in front of the camera and took the little "modeling session" like a champ. I used the fancy laptop I found in my bedroom to email her the pictures.
Things have cooled considerably between Peeta and I (if there was any real heat to begin with). Since the blowup literally my second night here, we've only exchanged mandatory words, like when he pays me or needs me to do something in particular.
It's as if we live in two separate worlds (mine with Rye, his with work) that only coincide with one another briefly and unexpectedly.
I leave fresh towels outside his door each morning and he leaves me a brand new (and large) cookbook on the counter top. Other than that, our only time really communicating is over the dinner table, when we sit in awkward silence that Rye attempts to cover over obliviously.
However this week, it's as if the gray cloud that's floated above the Mellark home has begun to lift and I can sense a notable change in Peeta Mellark.
For one, he's actually talking to me now, and not in that condescending professional tone but actually conversing.
"Dinner was good," he had complimented last night, taking it a step further by helping me clear the table of dishes.
At first, I wasn't sure if my mind was playing tricks on me, or if possibly I had misunderstood him, but as he turned to me, anxiously waiting a reply I couldn't help but smile back at him.
And then there was this morning, when I came out of my room and had to do a double take as I passed Rye's open door to find he was not in there alone. Peeta was bent down to his height and offering him a high five for making his bed properly.
Rye has been beaming ever since.
"Peeta, Peeta, Peeta," he sings to himself, making up a song as we walk the busy streets downtown. The crossing guard motions for us to move through the crosswalk and as people busily push and shove I pick Rye up into my arms so he isn't knocked over.
"Did you hear Peeta earlier, Katniss?" he asks, fixating on my braid as he snuggles closer into my arms.
"Yes, I did. That was a very nice thing he said to you."
"He's proud of me," Rye grins, his tiny teeth sparkling as he giggles.
Rye doesn't want to stay at the park as long today as he did in days past, but would rather go find an ice cream stand on the hot sticky day. He complains about his shoes making his feet sweat and how he wishes he had worn his sandals, but I remind him you can't play on the playground in sandals.
"Oh yeah, I forgot," his squeaky voice sounds.
"What do you want for dinner tonight?" I ask, wincing as I hand him the dripping ice cream cone. It takes only two minutes for the majority of it to be everywhere but his mouth.
He takes my hand in his sticky one and gives it a tight squeeze.
"Dinner is ready," I sound from the kitchen, placing the last plate on the table. It takes only seconds to hear the consistent pitter patter of small feet before Rye appears, beaming as his eyes take in the plethora of french fries and chicken nuggets.
"Oh boy! I think this is going to be your best meal yet, Katniss!" he exclaims, pulling his small body up into one of the chairs. I hand him the ketchup, which he points to excitedly, but make him wait until Peeta has arrived to start eating.
"Peeeetaaaa," he calls out, his voice long and almost singing. "My food is getting cooolllddd."
"I'm coming, I'm coming," his voice sounds, much closer than I expect. He falls down into one of the chairs before eying the meal in front of him.
"Does McDonalds deliver?" he teases and Rye gets a kick out of it, laughing hysterically and already shoving one of the nuggets past his lips.
"No, Peeta. Katniss made it!"
"It was Rye's choice," I respond with a wink in the little boys direction.
"That's right!" Rye nods with pride. "Do you like it, Peeta?"
"Yes, it's great. I haven't had chicken nuggets in years," he exclaims, almost jokingly in Rye's direction which causes him to gape in disbelief, shaking his head before dunking another french fry into the pile of ketchup.
"So, what did you and Katniss do today?" Peeta asks after a moment of silence, and I'm still not quite used to this "personal interest" thing. I eye him cautiously over my cup as I take a long sip, focusing in on Rye whose eyes light up at the question.
"We went to the park!"
"Again," I reply, earning a chuckle from Peeta.
"Again!" Rye says, sitting up straighter in his chair, eyebrows arched. "And it was even funner than last time!"
"More fun," Peeta corrects.
"Funner isn't a word. What you meant to say is it was more fun than last time."
"Yeah, that's what I said, funner than last time!" Rye speaks, as if Peeta is really very dumb and does not quite understand him. Peeta only shakes his head in my direction as the young boy continues on, skipping ahead to our ice cream adventure.
"That sounds like you had a lot of fun," Peeta notes, shaking extra crumbs from dinner off his hands and pushing his cleared plate back.
"We did! Will you come with us tomorrow, Peeta?" Rye asks hopefully, and suddenly both our eyes are locked onto his face.
He shakes his head from left to right quickly.
"No, I can't," he insists and I roll my eyes as the dismissive personality I was first introduced to reappears.
Rye's hopeful expression melts into one of sadness as he turns down to study his hands, twisting with one another on his lap.
"But I can come on Saturday," Peeta explains, winking as Rye's head snaps back up quickly with a look of pure happiness on his expression.
"Promise?" he asks skeptically, his eyes narrowing and Peeta holds out his pinkie, locking it with his younger brother.
It's after eleven o'clock when I've finally wrestled Rye into bed, showered and am falling down into the warmth of my own bed.
It took quite some time to settle Rye down after talk of spending all day Saturday with his brother. He had been bouncing off the walls since after dinner, and after nearly an hour past his bedtime spent playing trains he finally gave a tired yawn and allowed me to put him to bed without fight.
I think he was asleep before I even slipped out of his bedroom.
I flick off my own bedroom light and sigh deeply, falling back into the fluffy pillow behind me. I blink twice, willing my eyes to close and get some much needed sleep before whats sure to be yet another active day with Rye.
Peeta mentioned that he'll be starting kindergarten this fall. He had said it as sort of a joke, when Rye was dragging me around the house like a rag doll. He didn't understand that I actually loved it. I love that Rye loves me and wants to be around me.
If Peeta took one day... just one full day to spend with him, I know he'd love it too. Hopefully, that day will be Saturday, though I know better than to hold my breath.
Rye will do just great in kindergarten, as out spoken and happy as he is. He'll have more friends than he will know what to do with.
I wonder if Peeta has thought about how he plans to confront the teacher about Rye's delicate situation. Especially through elementary school, emphasis on Mother's day, Parent/Teacher nights, and things of those nature are large.
I would hate to see little Rye blindsided.
There's a small crash from downstairs, the sound of pots and pans which causes me to jump in my place. I wait anxiously for the rapid pitter patter of feet that often comes in the middle of the night when Rye gets scared, but he must have slept through the crash.
I'm only lying to myself if I think there's any chance of me falling asleep right now. My mind is far too active to allow sleep in, so instead I untuck myself from bed, slip on a pair of socks and decide to go investigate the noise coming from downstairs.
Delicious smells invade my nostrils by the time I've made it down the steep flight of stairs and I follow it into the kitchen, bewilderment and amusement clogging my mind as I take in the scene before me.
Peeta's typical dress slacks and button up shirt have been replaced by a pair of baggy gray sweats and a tight fitting white t-shirt (and do I also see strings of an apron?). He's facing away from me and through the thin material of his t-shirt I can make out the tight muscles of his back.
Without his knowledge, I let my eyes linger over the thick head of blonde curls that lie messily similar to Rye's on top of his head, and then my eyes trail over his broad shoulders which move quickly in time with his hands...
My gaze continues to wander over his backside and down his legs until it trains on where his feet touch the floor. I do a quick double take, noticing something I hadn't in all my weeks of living here.
Peeta only has one leg, his right one is false.
How had I never noticed?
I think back to the rare moments we spent in one another company and come to the conclusion that he is always wearing some sort of nice-looking shoes. Even when I call him for dinner, I've come to recognize the familiar clicking of the shoes against the wooden floors.
Now that I'm really looking, I definitely notice the way his right pant leg fits looser, while the left seems to cling where his thigh is. Part of me wonders how far up the prosthetic goes.
Peeta bends over, pulling a tray of cookies out from the oven in front of him, and I blink in surprise, part of me growing furious while the other part fascinated.
"You didn't tell me you could bake, Mellark."
My voice breaks the silence so rapidly his body freezes at the sound of it. He turns to me with furrowed eyebrows, most likely trying to decipher how long I've been standing there observing him. But, I only fold my arms over the other, a quiet smirk placed on my features.
He returns the smug look as he pulls the oven mitts from his hands, piling them on top of the counter.
"You never asked," he retorts.
"True," I walk further into the kitchen and pull a chair up, sitting in it with crossed legs. "I guess I just assumed..."
"You know what happens when we assume, Ms. Everdeen."
"I do," I snort. "But in my defense, you haven't lifted a single dish since I arrived."
He presses a hand over his heart, mouth opening in mock horror of my words and takes a step in the opposite direction of me. I watch his theatrics with a raised eyebrow before he finally crosses his arms over his middle.
"That's not true, just a couple hours ago, if I recall correctly, I helped you clear the table."
"Do you want a gold star?" I tease and he narrows his eyes, almost playfully in my direction.
"Well, I do bake, now that you're asking."
I snort and his smile falters.
"You just... did not appear to be the "baking" type."
"And what is the 'baking' type?" Peeta asks, air quoting "baking" just as I had.
I shrug, having no actual answer and rise to my feet, taking one of his still warm cookies directly from the pan. The chocolate chips melt on my tongue and I fight back the urge to moan with approval.
"Not you," I finally manage. "These are delicious."
"My father did own a bakery and all. I was destined to take over the family business."
"It went bankrupt," Peeta speaks nonchalantly. "Who wants to drive to a bakery for over priced bread and cookies when you can just get them at the grocery store? Saves a trip and money."
He's right of course, but it doesn't make it less sad.
"Whatever. It was his dream, not mine."
"And yours is to be a lawyer?"
Peeta shrugs, the corner of his lips twitching upward.
"Because if that's living the dream... the dream isn't very happy," I frown and his somewhat smile melts away.
"Yeah, well. Pays the bills. Put me in a position to take care of Rye when no one else could. Helped me hire you so he's not a complete fuck up."
"You would have been just fine."
We're silent for a long minute as Peeta rolls more dough, placing them on the pan after he's scooped up the finished ones.
"Why are you baking at midnight anyway," I ask suddenly, unsure of how to fill the silence.
"Nervous habit," he replies sheepishly, running a hand over the valley between his head and neck. "When I can't sleep, or work gets too stressful, or whatever... it's just, nice to sometimes... I guess."
It's slightly endearing, seeing this different side of the stone man I've grown to know over these past several weeks. Seeing him in a state of relaxation, where the bags in his eyes don't appear as deep or his lips aren't pressed in a tight line... where he allows his shoulders to slump slightly, is a nice change from the previous.
"Did you mean what you said to Rye earlier?" I ask him, stealing another cookie off the plate. Peeta moves away from me over to the fridge and pulls out a carton of milk, pouring two tall glasses and setting them on the table with the plate of cookies while the other batch bakes.
I note the way he walks perfectly normal, no limp or anything, and wonder if possibly he was born this way. He's known nothing else.
"Because if you didn't, you really shouldn't have said it," I continue when he doesn't respond. "He'll be devastated."
"I meant it."
He says the words, but his icy tone of voice does nothing to soothe my worry.
"He's just so fragile, Peeta," I continue, even though I can see the annoyance seeping into his features. "He admires you so much. All he does all day long is talk about you."
His eyebrows lift, as if this is a revelation to him and I'm about to tell him about the little song he made up earlier (only lyrics being his big brothers name) when Peeta cuts me off.
"All he ever talks about to me is you."
I snort and Peeta sort of lets out a forced chuckle before his eyes meet mine. His are extremely blue and almost hypnotizing as I continue to stare with no good reason. Peeta blinks and turns away, breaking me from my trance and I sit up a little straighter in my seat.
"I just feel like I'm failing him, you know?" he sighs, a distinct sense of defeat clear in his tone. "I have no idea how to get a handle on this whole parenting thing."
Both of us reach for a cookie on the plate in front of us and my finger tips graze his own. His eyes flicker up to meet mine and I offer a timid smile.
"That's why I'm here to help."
Saturday morning comes with a startling beginning as I'm awoken to the sounds of banging ringing throughout the house. Typically, these loud knocks from Rye are pounding on my door, but this morning, it's the one down the hall he's yelling excitedly at.
"Peeta! Peeta wake up! It's Saturday! Peeta!"
I force myself out of bed and throw a robe over the thin tank top I fell asleep in before peeking out the door. I suppress the urge to chuckle as I take in Rye's mismatched outfit as he stands pouting outside Peeta's door.
He catches glimpse of me out of the corner of his eye and breathes heavily as I motion for him to come toward me. His small feet waddle over in my direction before pushing past the door and into my bedroom.
"It's only seven thirty, Rye. Let's go get some breakfast and give Peeta some time to get ready?" I suggest and this seems to brighten his mood a great deal.
I make eggs while Rye makes bagels (his specialty). We're just preparing each plate as Peeta comes rushing into the kitchen, picking Rye up suddenly and twisting him so he's dangling upside down.
A look of joy crosses his face as he giggles excitedly, followed by sheer panic as blood begins rushing to his head and he fights to be in an upright position. Peeta lets him go, patting his head and Rye gives him a sturdy punch before pointing to the bagels.
"I made them."
"They look delicious."
Peeta's not wearing his typical business getup. His button-down shirt has been replaced with a white one similar to what he was wearing a couple evenings ago when we stayed up well past three in the morning chatting and eating cookies. For bottoms he wears a pair of athletic looking track pants.
I ignore the fact that it's nearly ninety degrees outside and he's wearing pants and liken it to the fact that it probably has a great deal to do with his prosthetic and not wanting to show it off.
He's yet to mention it.
We waste no time after eating breakfast and cleaning up getting to the park. Rye is anxious and although Peeta doesn't say it, I can see on his face he's happy we're going early so we can return home early.
I can't find it in me to be frustrated with him for rushing his brothers play date. At least he's here and coming.
He's kept his word, which is much more than I expected from him.
"Where are you going?" Peeta inquires as we begin our typical walk down the street. I turn back to look at his puzzled expression and point ahead in the distance.
"To the park."
"You're going to walk there?" he scoffs. "It's several blocks away."
"It's good for you," I snort, but he's already shaking his head hastily, reaching into his pocket for his keys.
"Come on, I'll drive."
"Yippie!" Rye exclaims, letting go of my hand to rush toward the opening garage.
My pathetic little car still sits parked on the curb. For the most part, Rye and I walk to where ever we need to go, but from time to time I still need it for transportation, like after a grocery shopping trip.
Begrudgingly, I backtrack to the car, ignoring the condescending smirk that rests on Peeta's face as his sleek and shiny toy comes into view. He unlocks it with the simple touch of a button and it makes a hardly audible noise, flashing to signal it's open.
Rye immediately climbs in, ignoring Peeta's pleas to keep his shoes off the leather interior.
"Ever been in one of these?" Peeta questions pridefully as I fasten my seatbelt and he revs the engine, exciting his little brother further.
"A BMW?" I wonder out loud, before shaking my head. "No."
"This ought to be fun then," he grins and I roll my eyes, still thinking that walking was a perfectly fine option.
Rye looks out the window with excitement, his head barely peaking over the edge with the help of the booster seat.
"Go really, really fast Peeta!"
We arrive at the park in one piece, and Peeta annoyingly badgers me about how I enjoyed the ride as Rye races ahead of us to the playground.
"It wasn't... horrible."
"So you'd do it again?" he smirks, and I know the hopeful expression he wears is only because he wants me to admit he's right.
"Perhaps I wouldn't mind taking one or two more rides."
His grin deepens ten fold as we find a spot on a bench close by and he fist pumps obnoxiously.
"I might have to get you one for a bonus or something," he mentions a little while later, a playful air to his tone. "Get rid of that piece of shit sitting outside my house."
"Piece of shit?" I scoff. "That car is character building!"
"It's a piece of shit, Katniss," he snickers and I roll my eyes, refusing to laugh at the situation even though the urge to is growing stronger with each time he does.
"I didn't think you were kind enough to think of anyone else but yourself," I sniff a minute later, which causes him to erupt in another round of cackling laughter.
"Don't get too many ideas. All good deeds are selfish. It might seem like I'm a nice guy for buying you a nice car, but really it's because I'm sick of your beaten up car dwindling the price of my property."
I shake my head from side to side, leaning back into the bench and crossing my leg over the other, getting comfortable. He does the same, spreading his arms out along the backside of it.
"So this is all you do all day, huh?" he continues. "Why the hell am I paying you twenty bucks an hour again?"
"This is not all I do, excuse you. Usually I'm out there playing with Rye, but if I see he's made friends of his own, I give them their own space."
"It's good for him to hang out with children his own age. Can't have the nanny encroaching all the time."
"Yeah, I guess that makes sense."
"This is why I'm the nanny, and you're the employer," I remind him with a wink and he actually shoves my arm playfully.
With the newfound comfort between the two of us, we fall into a surprisingly easy flow of conversation. We chat on about things as simple as Rye's laughter that fills the playground and to what kinds of treats we should attempt making next, to things like rearranging Peeta's work schedule to fit in more time with Rye.
I'm shocked when he suggests the idea, a bashful smile on his features, but he only shrugs his shoulders before anxiously putting a hand up in his defense.
"I can't say it'll work. I'm really backed up right now, summers are usually my worst... but, if I'm already backed up, what's a few more hours?"
I smile up at him in response, not sure why I felt so proud with his admission but nod in approval of his decision right as our conversation is broken by the sound of an unfamiliar voice.
"Is anyone sitting here?"
We glance up to meet the gaze of a woman who stands above the bench, pointing down to the free space off to my left. She casts us an easy-going smile and twists a natural looking red lock of hair around her finger.
"No, no, go right ahead," I say, scooting in closer to Peeta to allow her more space. She sits down easily, and pulls out her phone sending a quick message to whoever before turning back to us with a beaming smile.
"I've seen you around before," she says, pointing in my direction. "You come here often?"
"Yeah, I'm usually here a couple times a week. Rye's a very active child and loves the park," I say, smiling as she laughs lightly.
"Sounds like my Jonah."
Just as she points him out a man sits on the opposite side of her, kissing her so quickly I hardly have time to look away.
"I'm Annie," she introduces herself. "This is my husband, Finnick."
"Nice to meet you both," I say and from the corner of my eye see Peeta give a casual wave. "I'm Katniss."
"And I'm Peeta."
"We should coordinate times to come to the park," Annie insists. "It seems like our boys have become fast friends."
"Oh, um actually I think you've made a mistake," I say, putting my hands up quickly in defense. "Rye isn't my son. I-"
"He's my brother," Peeta cuts me off and all three of our heads whip in his direction. "But, I have full custody."
Peeta goes on to explain the accident, and how only Rye survived it. Annie gasps in horror and holds a hand over her mouth at the appropriate times and Finnick shakes his head solemnly.
"So now we take care of him full time," Peeta finishes, and I know he knows I didn't miss the way he said we. I shoot him a look, my head craned so far to the right Annie and Finnick can't possibly see me but he only smiles down tightly in my direction.
What game are you playing?
Rye runs up just a moment later, panting heavily with his bangs sticking to his forehead sweatily, followed closely by his new friend.
"Katniss, can Jonah come over to play sometime? He likes trucks too!"
"No way!" I exclaim enthusiastically and his small head nods up and down quickly with wide eyes. "I think, we were just about to exchange numbers little buddy."
With my words the two boys jump up and down excitedly.
"Katniss, did you bring water?"
"Right here," I say, pulling an iced bottle out from the small cooler I packed. He guzzles down nearly half of it, and I have to remind him on more than one occasion to slow down or he'll get cramps before he finally hands it back to me with a large sigh.
I push his bangs back and he squeals with surprise and delight as I pour a small amount of the water over his head.
When the boys run back to the playground, racing to see who can get to the slide first, Annie nudges my arm playfully.
"So what was that number?"
"You can't make me!" Rye hisses, screaming and running in the opposite direction as me.
I watch as he runs for the stairs, stopping midway with his hands gripped tightly on the railing and staring at me through the thin bars, a look of pure anger on his features.
I sigh deeply, leaning up against the door frame in the hallway, meeting his glare tiredly. I fold my arms and wait. He'll run out of steam, or want a cookie, or start to feel bad about yelling soon enough.
After the park, Peeta had decided it'd be a good idea to take Rye to the movie theatre, which in theory, was a good idea. He was thrilled and had a great time. But, going to the movies meant forfeiting a nap and Rye without a nap was bad news bears.
"Rye, you're not being very good right now," I speak sternly. "Now you went to the park and played all day long outside. You know that means you need a bath."
"No! No! A hundred times no!"
"No!" he screams loudly, and moments the later the click from Peeta's office door opens. Before I can stop him, Rye scrambles up the stairs just as Peeta comes into view, wearing a look of anger and frustration.
"Calm down," I warn.
"What is going on?"
"He's five. He's having a meltdown, it happens."
"Listen, I don't have time for this," he speaks, his tone softer now that he's only confronting me. "I spent all day out and now I've got to play catch up with work. I don't care what it takes... get him to calm down."
"He needs a bath. Either he goes to bed happily without one and freaks out in the morning when he gets one, or he freaks out now and gets one. Either way he needs to take a bath."
"Rye!" Peeta yells, so suddenly even I jump.
"I'm not coming downstairs," Rye retorts.
"Get down here," Peeta's voice lowers as he speaks through clenched teeth.
"No is not an option!"
Peeta's body tenses, his hands ball into fists and I can see him gritting his teeth behind his clenched jaw. He's rearing up for a yelling match, and that'll solve just about nothing. Before he can begin I take hold of his arm, breaking his resolve and shake my head calmly in his direction.
"Go back to work. Let me take care of it."
"He is a child," Peeta seethes. "He cannot tell me no. He cannot tell you no!"
"Let me take care of it."
His expression softens and he runs a hand through his hair.
"Go back to your office," I say sweetly, earning a tight (but present) half smile.
I take the stairs slowly and quietly, so quietly that Rye is taken by surprise when he turns to find me standing in the center of his room and immediately flees to the corner. Before I can even open my mouth, he bursts into tears and sinks to a puddle.
"Okay," he wallows, "I'll take my bath nooooow."
It's evidence enough in his sobs and meltdown that he's in serious need of some sleep, but he allows me to scoop him up into my arms and carry him into the bathroom wordlessly. He continues to hiccup as I wash his hair and dry him off with a fluffy towel.
"Katniss?" he asks, his voice so small and pathetic I'm not sure he's spoken for a minute. He's sitting on my lap, his head leaning into my shoulder as I trim his nails gently.
"Yes, Rye?" I ask him.
"Is it playtime?"
"No, it's bedtime," I hum.
"But I'm not-" he cuts himself off with a large yawn. "Sleepy."
"Yes you are," I chuckle.
"No I'm not."
I pick him up, carrying him into his room, and hugging him tighter to me as he snuggles in closer, playing with my long braid.
"Yes you are," I whisper soothingly.
"No," he begins, but can't manage to get out the rest as he lazily allows me to slip on a fresh set of pajamas and lift him into the center of the fluffy bed. His heavy lidded eyes flutter a couple times as I press his still damp hair back off his forehead, softly humming him to sleep.
The blood curdling cry of a young child has me flying into a sitting position in bed, heart beating heavily in my chest as I try to determine whether it was real or a dream.
It sounds again and I'm on my feet, door flying open and lunging my body across the hall into Rye's room, who is curled into a ball in bed sobbing hysterically.
Moments later Peeta comes thumping from down the hall, a rope wrapped around his body and eyes still droopy from sleep.
"I don't know," I snap, unintentionally, climbing up onto Rye's bed. He lunges himself into my arms and continues to sob without reason, his hands clutching tightly onto my nightshirt and tears soaking through the front.
Behind me, the bed dips with Peeta's weight and I see his hand reach out to soothingly run his fingers over his forehead.
"You're alright," I whisper in his ear, rocking him back and forth. "You're fine. It's over now."
He continues to shake and whimper for a long minute before finally calming down, laying limply in my arms.
"Stay with me?" he whispers when I tuck him back into bed. "I'm scared."
"Of course," I whisper back to him, moving up against the wall and slipping underneath the blanket with him.
Peeta watches the two of us carefully for a minute before awkwardly shifting in his spot at the end of the bed.
"Uh, so, you've got this under control?"
"Wait!" Rye calls out frantically as Peeta pushes himself up off the bed. Peeta turns to him, blinking in the darkness with bewilderment and Rye pats the free space on the other side of him in the bed.
"You stay with me too."
Peeta's eyes meet the little boys, who's are still stained with tears and then mine. I offer him a small shrug, because who am I to deny him what he wants right now? Peeta nervously climbs into the opposite side of the bed, jiggling it gently with the added body weight.
"All better?" he whispers as Rye snuggles down further between us, his back to me as he tucks his head into Peeta's chest with a gentle nod.
Peeta and I exchange glances before I look down to Rye with furrowed eyebrows. Peeta gives a small shrug, so as not to disturb him.
Rye never does end up telling us if scary monsters were what woke him, or maybe a distant memory of his past, but neither Peeta or I can force ourselves to sleep before his light snores fill the room.
Although my eyes refuse to open, I can feel the sun seeping through the window and shining down on the bed, warming it significantly. The tint behind my eyes turns almost red as I cock my head to face the window more head on and let out a deep sigh.
Vaguely, memories of last night come spilling back to me and I recall Rye's terrifying screams and the heartbreaking way he fell into my arms with freight. I'm not sure if he'll remember once he's fully woken up, and I'm not exactly sure how to go about bringing the subject matter up to him, but I silently begin preparing myself for the conversation while reaching out blindly to finger his soft curls.
After a couple seconds of running my fingers through his hair, a deep groan emerges from the body closest to me...
Too deep to belong to Rye's squeaky body.
Immediately, my eyes fly open and I meet Peeta's wide and bewildered expression. For a long minute all we do is stare at one another.
He breaks away from my embrace first, but I'm only about a second behind him before we're at completely separate corners of the bed, both of us bunching the covers over our somewhat exposed bodies.
"Where's Rye?" Peeta asks, and his voice is cracked and groggy.
It's then I notice his small body is no longer jammed in between ours, acting as a shield or dividing line.
I give a shrug, too embarrassed to speak. I'm sure my cheeks resemble the same shade of red his do, if not worse.
"You're the nanny," he grumbles, shooting out of the bed quickly.
"You're the brother," I retort, morning fog clogging the part of my brain that reminds me whether I like it or not Peeta is my employer and I really shouldn't talk to him that way.
It doesn't matter much. Peeta and I both know I'm not going anywhere anytime soon. Without me, he'd be hopeless and clueless.
But without him, I'd be homeless.
"Rye?" Peeta calls out down the hallway and moments later Rye's typical cheerful tone can be heard, exclaiming his favorite show is on.
"His favorite show is on," Peeta repeats with a touch of sarcasm, somewhat easing the tension and allowing me to let out a casual chuckle.
He matches the action and with the air more breathable, I'm able to drop my shoulders and relax. My mind floods back to yesterday, and the awkwardness of Peeta insinuating that the two of us were a pair... in an actual relationship, rather than the professional one, which is the reality. I never did get the chance to talk to him about it, ask him what he was thinking. Between the chaos of Rye interrupting our conversation, to the events leading up to and after bedtime, yesterday in a whole was like a tornado.
But right now it's rather quiet, and I note the way Peeta lingers in the doorway, as if he might have something to say as well. I open my mouth, figuring I might as well be the instigator, but instead it's Rye's voice who sounds out from downstairs.
"Katniss! Are you coming!?"
I turn to Peeta and he runs a hand over the back of his head delicately.
"I'm going to uh... take a shower."
"Okay," I mumble, mentioning I'll go downstairs to keep an eye on Rye. He nods in approval before disappearing into his bedroom with the thud of his door.
I'm not sure he notices the way his pant leg is stuck in one of the hinges of his prosthetic leg. It hikes the material up just slightly, allowing me yet another glimpse of the mechanics of his false leg.
I'm sure once he notices, he'll hope to god I haven't.
I cross the hallway to my own room, lazily stretching out my limbs as I yawn. After Peeta and I camped out in Rye's room, I wasn't able to get much sleep, and my neck aches from the awkward way it was twisted.
My phone is lit up with a new message when I check it on my nightstand. It's from Annie, the woman we met at the park yesterday.
Hi Katniss! Not sure if you guys are interested, but we're having some people over for barbecue and swimming. Hope you, Peeta and Rye can make it!
I stare at the message for a long time, re-reading it over before finally closing the screen and tucking the device into my jeans once I've pulled them over my hips.
I don't mention the message to Peeta as we congregate at the table for breakfast. We eat in silence, except for Rye who continues to babble on, back to his typical, happy-go-lucky self.
We play airplanes for most the afternoon as Peeta works, and Rye gets a kick out of it when I tug him onto my back and run around the room while his arms are spread out like the wings of a plane.
"Again!" he chants when I drop him onto the couch, heaving out breaths.
"Again?" I pant, exasperated.
"Yes!" he giggles, "Again!"
"This airplane needs to rest," I say, dropping to the ground suddenly, which causes him to laugh uncontrollably.
"No, silly, airplanes don't rest!"
"This one does! This airpl-"
I tilt my head back to glance at Peeta, who appears to be upside down. He cocks an eyebrow at me and I move to a sitting position, facing him and smoothing out my hair.
"Finnick just text me," he says, glancing at his phone curiously. "He invited us over. Said Annie text you this morning, but never heard back?"
I try to act bewildered, but when his frown deepens I sigh, my shoulders falling and pull out my phone.
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"What's a barbie q?" Rye asks with a tilted head.
"Well, I knew you had a lot of work to get done, and after spending the entire day out yesterday," I ramble on. The words seem to make much more sense inside my mind than they do exiting my mouth.
"What's a barbie q?" Rye repeats, louder.
"It's a cookout," Peeta explains. "Hot dogs, hamburgers."
"Are we going to the barbie q?" he asks, excitement in his tone as he sits further up on the couch. "I wanna go! I wanna go to it!"
"But I want to! I really, really, really, really-"
Peeta stares at me, apparently still looking for some sort of answer, but that's all I've got for him.
"Well, do you want to go?" he finally asks me and Rye turns to me nodding his head, as if to persuade my vote.
"Why are you leaving this up to me?" I question. "You're the one with the schedule."
"Please Peeta?" Rye begs.
"Well, I suppose if we don't stay late."
Annie and Finnick don't live directly in the city, but just off it's outskirts, over the bridge leading into New Jersey. It's an odd change of atmosphere, to go from the consistent stream of buildings to suburban life so quickly.
The streets are quiet and free of people and each house we pass is accompanied by a neatly trimmed lawn with gardens and white picket fences. Annie and Finnick's home is no different.
I can't help but feel I might as well be back in my little hometown of Panem.
"Hey, this looks like my home!" Rye exclaims, pointing to a white house with a green door and shutters as we pass it by. I turn to Peeta anxiously, noticing the way he grits his teeth at Rye's words. But he doesn't say anything, and Rye doesn't follow up on the comment.
I hadn't realized Peeta's parents didn't live in the city before their accident. I suppose I just assumed, since Peeta does.
Then again, he could have thought the same for me. I find my mind wandering, wondering why Peeta possibly left his suburban life in place of the city atmosphere. Was it for the job market? Easier commute? Or possibly something deeper?
"What's the number?" Peeta questions, breaking me out of my haze. I glance down at the small piece of paper, meeting my scribbly writing.
Peeta pulls off to the side of the house, the driveway jammed packed with cars and a long line formed just ahead of us. I'm suddenly nervous if we made the right decision in coming. Peeta and I have yet to have a conversation about what happened at the park yesterday, and would it make things more awkward now if we walked in presenting ourselves as the couple Annie and Finnick thought us to be? Would she introduce me around as his girlfriend? Tell the tragic tale of how we took in his younger brother as our own after his parent's death?
Peeta never said who I was exactly, just that we're his full-time care takers. But he certainly didn't make my position in the Mellark family clear either.
"Ready?" Peeta chuckles a little, noticing my far off expression. "Don't be nervous. It's just a barbie q," he winks.
Rye has learned the trick of his booster seat and has himself out quicker than I can, jumping out of the car and running to the other side to find Peeta. At first, the sight of him running toward the street has me panicked.
Then I remember, there is literally no traffic on this silent side street.
When we asked what we could bring, we were told just our bathing suits and selves, but as we approach the house, I'm glad we chose to stop by a local bake shop and pick up a package of cookies.
Rye's at the door, pressing the doorbell before we're hardly up the walk and I can hear Annie's kind voice answering him before I see her.
"Hi there!" she greets, noting the bakery box with false disappointment. "I thought we told you not to worry about bringing anything!"
"Couldn't come empty handed," I retort, and she takes the box from me, wrapping one arm around my side for an awkward half hug.
"Come on in, everyone is around back. Make yourselves at home. I'm so glad you were able to make it."
"Thanks again for the invitation," Peeta mentions.
"It was a little last minute," she explains. "But, it didn't take much planning anyway. We already had a ton of hamburger meat, and the pool is clean so, why not?"
I wonder if Annie is possibly looking to expand her group of friends. She's definitely out going, that was proven yesterday at the park and this morning when she invited us over after having known us for less than twenty four hours. Maybe her friends here in Jersey don't like traveling to the city for things like the park and she wants a for-sure buddy to accompany her the days she chooses to go.
Maybe she's just nice, my brain retorts, but I let it go as we glide into the kitchen. I'm just not used to people being overly friendly without secret motives.
Annie places the box of treats with another table filled with snacks.
There's about five pitchers of orange juice and water that sit out on a smaller table top, one meant for kids I presume, and then five more on the higher arch (out of little hands reach) filled with dark red liquid, rings of oranges and other fruits mixed inside.
"Sangria?" she offers and I shake my head as Peeta accepts a glass before she leads us through two large glass doors leading to the back patio.
I spot Rye immediately, running and playing with squirt guns that Jonah must have provided. He's stripped his shirt - god only knows where - and squeals excitedly, ducking behind some poor persons chair for cover.
No one seems to mind terribly though. There's at least eight children running around the lawn madly.
Music plays in the background as people mingle, sipping drinks and chatting mindlessly. No one is currently in the pool, but I'm sure as the evening goes that'll be rectified.
I spot Peeta lingering near Finnick, laughing about something as Finnick flips over a couple of charred hot dogs. There's an open table off to my right, with only a couple people, engaged in conversation occupying it.
I sit at the very end, so as not to be intrusive, but also not to appear anti-social or a complete introvert, incapable of conversation. Annie has disappeared back inside, which is a shame. I was hoping she'd stick by my side and sort of show me around a little bit.
I guess that was stupid to hope for. We only just met yesterday, after all. It was nice enough to invite us over. Peeta seems to be doing just fine making friends. Then again, Peeta's job is all about feeling people out and getting them to talk.
The afternoon drags on, and as I guessed people are eager to get into the pool. I'm relieved when Annie brings out a smaller, blow up child's pool for the children under seven to enjoy. I'm fairly confident Rye can't swim, and even if he can, there's slim chance he's good enough to be in there alone.
Or that I'd want him in there alone.
Jonah is a fish. He cannot get enough of the water and slips and slides and splashes all afternoon. My heart drops when he runs up to the in-ground pool and dives into the deep end, but moments later he resurfaces and swims smoothly to the ladder.
"You don't do that," I chide Rye, seeing on his face that he's more than eager to follow in his friends footsteps.
"But, I wanna play," he whines.
"We'll sign you up for swimming lessons," I promise. "But don't you jump into that pool today. Not until you learn how to swim, understand?"
"Yes, Katniss," he grumbles. I turn him to face me, so he can see clearly on my expression that I am being completely serious.
"Rye, do you understand?"
"Yes," he nods. I pat his head lovingly, urging him to go back and play with the rest of his buddies at the blowup pool on the grass. He does so excitedly, running until he's splashing back in.
I think back to last night's blowup over the bath and shake my head with a smirk. It'd figure he loves playing in the pool but hates baths. What's the difference? A swimsuit? Maybe tomorrow when we fall into another battle over bath time, I'll suggest he wears his trunks and see if his mood changes.
"He's a handful, huh?"
My head twirls in the direction of the voice sounding from behind me, and I'm met with a gentle smile of a shifting gentleman. He tucks his hands in his pockets before motioning to the seat next to me. I shake my head, indicating it's free and he falls down easily into it.
"Five. And he is," I say, before clarifying, "A handful, I mean."
"Just a year younger than my Rory," he says, pointing to the tan-skinned boy with jet black hair who slides into the pool stomach first. "I really like what you said, about the swimming. It's scary stuff when a kid first starts exploring water."
"You were eavesdropping?" I question with a raised eyebrow, smirking as his cheeks deepen red.
"Yeah, well, it's just nice hearing parents educate their children. I'm very sensitive about the water subject. Rory learned the hard way not to just jump into pools."
"I'm sorry," I say. "Glad he's alright though. And Rye isn't my child."
His head cocks to the side, "Really?"
"I'm his nanny," I tell him. "Peeta Mellark hired me."
I point to where he stands, not far from where he's been talking all day with Finnick and a small group of guys. His eyes meet mine questioningly when he notices me pointing, but I turn back to the man without explanation.
"Rye is his little brother. His parents were in a horrible accident and well, he was sort of thrown into the parenting thing suddenly."
The man lets out a low whistle, "Wow, big responsibility. I'm Gale, by the way. Not sure I caught your name."
"Katniss," he repeats with a nod. "So, you watch Rye every day?"
I nod again.
"He'll be starting kindergarten soon though, so then it'll only be half days, but I live with the Mellarks. It makes things easier."
Not to mention it's a definite upgrade from living out of my car.
"Ever interested in nannying for more than one kid?" he questions and I narrow my eyes in his direction.
"I'm, sort of a new single dad myself. Less tragic circumstances. My wife... ex-wife sort of up and decided she didn't want me anymore. Or any of us for that matter. It's been a little hard juggling everything on my own."
"I'm so sorry to hear," I say in shock but he only shrugs.
"It didn't come as a surprise that she didn't want me anymore, but the kids? It's been hard on them. It's a little easier to explain to my two boys, Rory and Vick. But their little sister, Posy, She doesn't understand."
He points to the olive-skinned girl with a long ponytail falling down her back. She's not grown out of her baby fat yet and her chubby legs hardly support her body as she waddles to the slide of the pool.
"I could really use some help, especially with Posy, if you're ever interested," he mentions, fishing through his pocket to pull out his wallet. "Here's my card."
I take the thin piece of paper from him with a short thanks, tucking it into the pocket of my jeans.
Both Gale and I look up to meet Peeta's stare. To the untrained eye, he looks simply curious, but I can see the annoyance behind his gaze.
"Do you want to come get a drink with me?"
We stay at the Odairs' house much longer than we had originally intended, and the sky has grown dark as we pull off their street.
After Peeta asked me to come get a drink with him, he stuck close to my side for the remainder of the evening, and I was never able to go back and finish up the conversation I had started with Gale (Hawthorne, the last name reads on the card he handed to me).
I found Peeta's behavior strange, but no more so than how he's been acting for the past couple of days. I know we still need to have a conversation about everything sometime soon, but even with Rye fast asleep in the backseat, I can't force myself to make that time now.
Even though traffic over the bridge is much better than on a typical day or evening leading into the city, it still takes a good forty-five minutes to an hour to completely cross, merging us back into New York.
The stars we could see very clearly from Finnick and Annie's backyard have disappeared with the bright lights of the buildings and posters and signs. I suppose the one thing I miss about Virginia is the comfortable summer nights.
"Fucking asshole!" Peeta belts out, slamming on the breaks and his horn at the same time. I go flying forward only to be thrown back by the force of my belt, and I turn to Peeta, startled.
"That's how accidents happen, jerk!" he continues to yell, although the only person who can hear him is me. I turn around to see if the sudden action has woken Rye but he only sits even more drooped in his seat, still snoring gently.
"Calm down," I breathe as Peeta lets out a deep grunt. He's so worked up I'm sure he's hardly realized the man has barely cut us off. Yes, he could have waited to turn into traffic until after Peeta had passed, but there had been plenty of room and time for him to get by safely.
"It's not a big deal," I reiterate, turning to face him.
"They're going to get somebody killed one day," Peeta grits out and it's only then I notice his shaking hands and trembling bottom lip.
Realization dawns and my stomach tightens uncomfortably. Although he's mentioned several times before that he's completely over the shock of his parents passing, it has to weigh heavily on his mind still. I would be extra cautious and nervous about driving if I had been in a similar situation as well.
I've never been known for expressing myself fluently, and I've come to know Peeta as being very similar in manner, so instead I simply reach out and touch my hand to his. I expect him to jerk away, or grumble that he's fine, that he doesn't need comfort of any sort.
But he doesn't.
Rye's gentle snores continue as we pull into the garage and I lean into the back seat to scoop him up into my arms. He molds into my body perfectly, tucking his head into the crook of my neck with smacking dry lips before his sleep resumes.
"I can take him," Peeta offers after we've slipped through the door and are kicking our shoes off. The air conditioning feels nice in comparison to the muggy air of outside and I feel like doing nothing more than jumping into the shower and going to bed. I can tell by the tired expression Peeta wears that he's not far behind me.
"Okay," I mumble, handing him over. "I moved his pajamas to the bottom drawer. There's a couple clean pairs in there. And you know the night pull ups are in top drawer with his undies, right?"
Peeta casts me a gentle smile before nodding, heading for the stairs. He stops, only two up and turns back to me, his expression unreadable.
"You're a very good nanny," he whispers, but for some reason his endearing words infuriate me, so instead of whispering back a thank you (like I know I ought to) I turn to him with narrowed eyes.
Apparently, I've decided we're having this conversation now.
I give him a sarcastic snort, but he only chuckles.
"What? You are."
"Never seem to mention these things around other people," I respond, my voice low for Rye's sake, but icy and distant. "Do Annie and Finnick even realize that's all I am? The nanny?"
His expression falters and he turns to face me fully, walking back down the couple steps he's taken to stand directly in front of me.
"Katniss, what... where is this coming from?"
"What are we doing?" I finally manage, crossing my arms, not angry enough to ignore the sting of embarrassment that stains my cheeks.
"What do you mean?"
I shut my eyes slowly, trying to regain composure and a grip on the situation. I can't understand all his mixed signals and emotions. The way he rushed over to interrupt the conversation today between Gale and me, or the way he suggested that our relationship was more than just a professional one yesterday with Annie and Finnick.
But none of it is concrete evidence that he's in the wrong. I have no basis for these emotions. In fact, he could totally turn it around on me and make it appear as though it is all in my head.
Maybe it is.
I'm silent and Peeta lets out a frustrated breath.
"Do we have to have this conversation right now?" he demands in a harsh whisper. "I have to get Rye to bed."
"Whatever," I grumble, with a shrug, refusing to look. He stands in front of me for a long minute before sighing and taking the stairs quickly.
I wait until he's fully upstairs, has Rye tucked in and retreats to his room before following up the stairs after him.
I know it's childish, but I don't even care.
I know I was stupid, and that's what keeps me up tonight.
I was stupid to ask that question, stupid to bring it up at that exact moment, and stupid to hope that for some odd reason he gave me the answer I was secretly somewhat hoping for.
I wonder how many times I'll have to admit to Peeta I was stupid for him to accept my apology and never, ever speak of it again?
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," I grumble to myself, running my hands over my forehead and dragging them down my cheeks, making the skin underneath my eyes droop. I let out a frustrated groan just as I hear a loud thump! on the wall behind me.
I sit up in bed, cautiously, and then hear the sound of small and uneven whimpering. It'd be nearly undetectable if I hadn't been sitting perfectly still and the house hadn't been so quiet.
Slowly, I rise to my feet and tip toe to the door, hardly poking my head out before I stop to listen again. The sounds are definitely ones someone makes while having a bad dream, but the voice does not come from Rye's cracked door nor hold his pitch. It's much lower and comes from the room next door to me.
I stand outside his door, debating entry for a long second. On the one hand, the noises and thumping coming from his room sound like he's in drastic need of being awoken, of being comforted just as Rye needed one night earlier.
But on the other hand, Peeta has a very closed personality. If I've learned nothing else about him it's that he enjoys his privacy and avoids awkward or hard conversations, both of which would be involved if I were to wake him up right now.
My hand closes into a fist, resting right above wood of the door, but refuses to move into contact with it.
I hear one sharp cry, and before my mind can fully comprehend it, I'm knocking, banging on his door.
He doesn't answer, but another troublesome groan sounds from the bedroom and without another thought I turn the handle on the door, entering before gaining actual permission.
As expected, it's pitch black, the only light coming from the hallway which trails over the top of his bed, sitting perfectly in the center of the room.
His head isn't visible, tucked under layers of blankets and haphazard pillows, and his body is twisted up in the blankets uncomfortably. With the light shining directly on him, it's evident the only form of clothing he wears is a pair of boxer shorts, which fully reveal his leg to me, for the first time unhidden by the support of his prosthetic or pant leg.
There's not much time for examining it, and after just a quick and shocked glance I make my way over to the side of his bed, shaking him furiously out of the nightmarish world he's been lodged in.
He wakes with a start, wide eyed and panting, his forehead sticky with perspiration and turns to me bewildered. I open my mouth to speak, but nothing pours forth and before I can spit anything out, he simply wraps his arms around my middle, pulling me in close to him.
"It's over," I whisper, similar to the way I did with Rye. In fact this entire situation seems oddly familiar, causing me to have slight deja vu.
"You're okay," I continue, scooting onto the bed in the space he's allowed, his body still trembling.
It's the closest Peeta and I have ever been to one another, with his head resting just above my chest, his ear in line with the skin right above my heart. Sleepily, his hand tightens its grip on my tank top and we lay like this, still, not talking or moving for so long I'm convinced he's fallen back to sleep until he speaks suddenly.
"Bad luck must run in our family," he grumbles, so gently I'm not sure if I heard him correctly at first. I push back his sweaty bangs and tilt my head to face his more fully. His eyes are shut, but flutter gently as he sinks into my embrace further.
"That, or being at the wrong place at the wrong time," he continues on with the same sleepy tone, pointing lazily down to his leg, which still remains uncovered in my view. "I was eighteen when it happened. Car hit me on my left side... obviously."
I'm not sure what to say, but I have the feeling there's nothing Peeta particularly wants me to say. So instead I stay silent, continuing the soothing pattern on his head.
"Katniss?" he asks.
"Stay in here?" he whispers.
I wake in a similar position as yesterday, entwined with Peeta's heavy body, only this time when I reach over to run my fingers through his hair, it's not by accident. His body scoots in closer to mine, and I feel the cold toes on his one foot on my calve as our legs entangle with each others.
I chance a look up at him, my head resting on his chest and notice his hard eyes staring down at me. I smile, hoping to ease whatever thoughts are running through his mind, but his only response is to turn in the completely opposite direction.
He continues to stare out the window as I sit up in surprise, frowning in his direction.
"How are you feeling?"
It's the only question I can think to ask that hints at last night without being too forward, but Peeta isn't exactly making talking easy.
Which isn't exactly a surprise.
"You should go," is all he utters. "Before Rye sees."
I stare at his hunched body in confusion, watching as he pulls the covers up over his body more fully, staring down at the stitching of the comforter intently.
"Is that all you're going to say?" I ask, cursing the slight hitch in my tone as embarrassment starts to seep in. My mind works rapidly to tear me down and hiss out different ridicules as to why I came running in here like a lost puppy last night.
Why I stayed when he asked.
I could have left as he slept. Allowed him to think this was all some dream. Kept some shred of dignity.
Peeta chooses to ignore my question altogether and again motions to the door.
"You should go."
He doesn't need to tell me again, I've received his message loud and clear.
All I can think about as I storm out of his room, making sure to slam the door loudly behind me is that anytime we seemingly take a step forward...
We take five steps back.
Rye notices a difference in me immediately as we sit in the living room playing with his toy cars. He's made an entire arena in the corner for races and shows and urges me to join him as I lazily push my singular car back and forth in the same position.
"Katniss?" Rye speaks after I'm sure I've spaced out again.
"Hmm?" I try to keep my tone pleasant, but it sounds just as forced as it feels.
"Are you sad?"
"I'm okay, buddy."
"Peeta is upset too," he whispers, scooting his little body closer to mine and placing his small hand on top of my bent knee. "He really does care though."
I have to laugh at his very philosophical and adult-like expression but the look he gives me only deepens as my laughter dwindles.
"He does," he reiterates. "He's just very bad at it."
I stare at him intently.
"My momma used to be like that too," he sighs. "She yelled a lot, a lot, a lot. But she cared."
I swallow heavily, amazed once more about how he speaks of his mother and father like they're simply on a vacation. Although, seeing how yesterday he thought we were going to visit, it's possible he actually does think that.
I'm not sure how to respond to him, just like I didn't know how to respond to Peeta's shocking words whispered to me in the darkness of his room so early this morning. So instead, I offer him the best smile I can manage.
"How did you get so smart?" I ask him, ruffling his hair. He smiles toothily at me and leans into my embrace before tugging my hair loose from his hair and pulling on it with force.
"Come on, Katniss! Come look at my arena!"
I crawl over to the opposite side of the room with him and excitedly praise all his hard work in putting together the arena to have car races in. He shows me how to move the cars (so that his always wins) and gives me commentary to say to fit in with his game.
I do so absently, his earlier words resting heavily on my mind for the remainder of the day.
With Monday, our schedules have fallen back into their typical pattern. Peeta works from home and retreats to his office early in the morning, not bothering to say a single word to me.
On Tuesday, I'm happy it's a day they need him to work from his actual office. He's gone until around six or seven in the evening, and when he comes home he needs to take more telephone calls in his home office.
Again, saying we exchanged more than three words would be generous.
So when I wake up this morning, on Wednesday (and the last day of July) I fully expect us to relapse back into our old routine, and go about my daily activities.
Rye doesn't wake up until nearly ten in the morning, oddly enough, and then lazily stretches out in front of the television for about a half an hour before livening up to his regular loud and bouncing self.
By noon he's ready for a sandwich and has decided on grilled cheese as the winner. I pull him up onto the counter, his small legs swinging with anticipation as I place the piece of bread face down on the skillet.
"Extra cheesy, please!" he requests and I salute him in response, which he copies with an impish giggle.
"Alright, here you go," I grunt, lowering him down as he rushes to the table, the small plate clamped between his hands and the bag of chips under his arm.
"Don't eat all those chips," I warn him before jogging up the stairs to collect his dirty items for washing. There's not much to collect, as Rye keeps his things very tidy with a little help, and I simply reach inside his woven basket and pull out the small bundle, placing it into my plastic one.
When I return downstairs, Rye is finished with his sandwich and downing his milk. Peeta stands over the oven, cooking another sandwich. He glances at me from behind and offers an unreadable smile, which causes my eyebrows to furrow.
I can't take any more of his foolish games.
"Want me to get that?" he offers, flipping the sandwich onto a plate and placing it on the countertop. "Just needed a pick me up while I finish up some work, but I'm ahead of the game right now."
I glance down at the basket as he scoops it up easily and heads for the staircase below. Rye and I exchange wide-eyed glances and he shrugs his shoulders in disbelief before I fall down in the chair next to him.
"Maybe Peeta is playing nanny right now," he suggests, smiling as I laugh before adding an agreeing nod.
I'm not sure what Peeta's game is, but I'm not complaining about the added help around the house if he's offering. Rye immediately takes advantage of my free time and insists on playing "horsey" which involves me crawling around with him on my back.
"Okay, but only once around the house," I say sternly, knowing full well that as soon as we round the house and he starts chanting for once more! And offers that pitiful please? This'll turn into an hour long event.
We're making our way around the house, Rye yelling for me to go faster! faster! when we make our way by the basement door and suddenly Peeta's feet are standing directly in our route. I look up at him, my bangs falling into my face and let Rye down off of me.
Peeta's cheeks are an angry shade of red and I note the way he grinds his teeth behind his clenched jaw.
"Everything alright?" I manage, still panting from the earlier exertion.
"What's this?" he questions, refusing to dodge any bullets. I glance down at his open palm and feel my heart sink as Gale's business card stares back at me. He had given it to me hastily at the cookout last Sunday, and between everything that happened afterward, I had obviously forgotten to take it out of my pants pocket.
"Why were you going through my things?" I demand instead of answering him, feeling my own heat rising as my list of unanswered questions continues to grow.
"I leave change and things in my pants a lot, it's habit to check the pockets," he answers evenly. "But you still haven't answered my question."
"It's a business card, Peeta."
"What are you, my warden? Gale Hawthorne, a man I met at the cookout gave it to me."
Peeta's expression tells me he's still expecting more of an answer, but when I refuse to give it to him, he grows more livid.
"I knew there was something fishy going on with that guy, I just didn't think you'd go along with it. That you'd leave-"
"-Rye, go to your room," I demand, knowing full well this is a conversation he doesn't need to be hearing. He turns to me bewildered, probably trying to decipher how this conversation went from zero to a hundred miles an hour in less than a minute, but I couldn't give him the answer if I tried.
Everything with Peeta goes from zero to a hundred.
"No, you know what Rye? Stay right here," Peeta hisses, grabbing his little brother by the arm before gripping both of his shoulders and pushing him in my direction.
"Go ahead Katniss," he continues. "Tell him how you plan on leaving."
"Peeta knock it off!"
"Well you do, don't you?" he grits out. "That's why you took the card!"
"What was I supposed to do?" I find my own voice rising, something I had promised to myself to keep under control. "You've treated me like crap since the moment you hired me, since before that even! You only want me here because you can't take care of Rye yourself!"
"You're not here for me, you're supposed to be here for him!"
"And I love him!" I belt back. "I do, but Peeta there's only so much I can take. So many highs and lows. I never know how to read you! I never understand how to take you!"
"You know things haven't been easy-"
"-But that doesn't give you the right!"
My words seem to echo, to bounce off the walls and silence overtakes us moments after. He's staring straight into my eyes, his blue ones piercing and hard, eyebrows furrowed downward. I match his gaze, crossing my arms before glancing further down.
"Where's Rye?" I ask.
"What?" he snaps.
"Rye, your brother," I reiterate, making his eyes roll. "He's gone."
"Shit," Peeta grumbles before pushing past me into the living room. "Rye? Bud, where'd you go?"
"Rye?" I call out alongside him, looking around in the kitchen and down the hall leading to Peeta's forbidden office.
"I'll go check upstairs," Peeta sighs, his tone lower, resembling sadness more than anything else. I'm not far behind him, rushing up the steps and looking around the dark hallway as Peeta bursts into his room, breathing out a sigh.
"What are you doing in there?" I hear him question.
As I enter the room, Peeta's arms are still crossed as he looks down into the closet where Rye sits, huddled inside. His knees are drawn up to his chest and his hands cover over his ears, his eyes clamped shut as tears escape them slowly.
"I'm scared," he finally answers, and Peeta and I exchange guilty looks. I bend down to my knees, scooting closer until I'm sitting by his side in the cramped closet. Peeta follows my lead moments later, kneeling in the closet entrance.
"Did we scare you?" I ask him and he nods his head frantically.
"Because of all the yelling," he whispers. "I don't like it when people fight because when people fight they disappear."
"What do you mean?" I ask, running my hand over the length of his arm.
"Momma and Daddy were fighting...just before," he mentions after a long moment of silence. "Now they're gone. I don't want you to leave too."
He doesn't need to elaborate more for us to understand the picture he's painted. Rye is much smarter than he lets on. He realizes his parents aren't coming back, and that he's in grave danger of losing me too. The thought of his small form, curled up in the back seat of the car with his hands resting over his ears tuning out their screams right before the deadly crash is almost too much to bear.
I wipe up the tears that bead his cheeks and pull him into my arms. He straddles my lap and rests his head in the center of my neck while I plant reassuring kisses on the top of his head, whispering gentle words to him.
"I'm not going anywhere."
"P-promise?" he hiccups, and as my eyes trail down to train on him, they catch sight of Peeta, watching me intently from his spot in the doorway of the closet. His lips are strung in a tight line and his eyes are wide and gazing.
As I speak my next words, meant to reassure Rye's shaking form, I stare at Peeta.
After a long hour of rocking Rye's heavy body back and forth on the floor of the closet, he finally falls asleep limply in my arms just as the sun begins going down.
Peeta helps me stand and gain my balance before I lower Rye down into his bed, tucking the covers over his sprawled body. After the turn of today's events, I'm happy to find he's able to sleep, even if it is two hours earlier than his normal bedtime.
More than likely, he'll wake in the middle of the night. But when the time comes, we'll deal with it.
Peeta exits Rye's room last, shutting the door until it's barely cracked open while staring down at the white carpeting that lines the hallway. He refuses to meet my gaze, but it's clear in both our forms that it's time to get past whatever this is between us once and for all.
I stand in front of him, arms crossed and shifting from side to side until he finally runs a nervous hand through his hair and turns to me with a deep sigh.
"I... should've known better than to blow up like that," he finally grumbles. "I shouldn't have made Rye stay to watch."
"No, you shouldn't have," I agree with a shake of my head. "I was trying to explain, if you had just let me."
"It's just that, I see how happy he is around you, how much he's grown to love you over the past month and a half and... the thought of you not being around anymore, having to explain another person disappearing from his life-"
I place my hand on his shoulder and his cracking voice cuts off as he shifts his gaze to rest on me.
"I was never going to leave," I assure him quietly. "I would never just up and leave you to your own devices with Rye. I know it's been difficult, and when I agreed to help out I gave you my word to stay."
He swallows heavily, offering me what appears to be a genuine smile before sticking his hands into his pockets.
"I don't want you to stay only for Rye," he whispers, his deep voice taking a huskier tone that makes my heart stutter.
"I'm not," I whisper, shaking my head from side to side.
He moves in closer to me, the space between our bodies growing smaller and smaller. My back touches the wall and his tongue darts out to lick over his bottom lip unconsciously.
"I'm glad," he says in the same hushed tone. "Because, I don't want you to be just the nanny."
"Me either," I make out breathlessly just before his lips connect with my own. My body gives out, falling into the wall heavily. My hands run over the back of his head as his come to rest low on my hips.
He lips taste sweet against mine as his tongue dances past his lips to prod at my own. His hands tighten their grip on my hips as he emits a low groan, which I match with ease. His movements are fluid and although urgent, not rushed.
I break away from the kiss with heavy pants, cupping my hands around both his cheeks to still his movements. He looks at me with confusion, his lips slightly parted.
"Maybe uh... we shouldn't be doing this," I say, noting the look of hurt on his expression before he nods reluctantly.
"You're probably right," he pants.
"No, no," I chuckle a little. "I mean maybe we shouldn't be doing this right outside Rye's bedroom."
"Oh," his tone matches mine as he smirks wickedly. He leads me to his room excitedly, only this time on much different terms.
His door clicks shut, and I immediately spin his body around to face mine, turning the tables and pinning him against the wall. I can feel him smiling against my lips as my hands snake down between us, making quick work of the buttons on his shirt.
I'd be lying if I said I never thought of Peeta in this way. From the moment I saw him, it was apparent he was an attractive young man. And after nearly two months of being around him, the tension between us building, tonight is not all that surprising.
Once I've unhooked the last button, I tug the shirt anxiously from his body, taking care to run my fingers down the length of his arms in the process with feathery light caresses.
He wastes no time removing my clothes as well. As soon as his shirt falls to the floor his hands slip to the bottom of my own shirt, pulling it up past my neck and over my body until it pools close to his own.
I watch him as he slowly trails his eyes down my body, past my collar bone and to the skin that disappears behind the cover of my bra. I can feel my nipples hardening as his hands move up my sides and come to rest over the swells of my breasts.
He breathes in sharply, his thumbs flicking over the puckered skin, running slow circles over it teasingly. I gasp and he smiles, giving each nipple a rough squeeze before moving behind my back to un-hook the piece of clothing with ease. He lets it fall down to the ground with our collection of clothing.
His lips connect with my own, one hand staying firmly planted on my breast and the other wrapping itself around my neck. His fingers glide through the hairs that have come loose from my braid. He paints my skin with his mouth, massaging his tongue down over my lips, past my jaw to land on my neck where he focuses for a long moment before dropping further, painting his way down until his lips wrap around my nipple and he sucks and nips and bites at it.
"Peeta!" I gasp, my hands rushing to his head to push him further into me as I groan. I feel him moan around me, tightening his grip on my body as he continues to suck and lather my skin, silently pushing me toward the bed.
I stumble backwards, my head tilted back in pleasure until the back of my knees hit the mattress and I fall down onto my back. Peeta tumbles down on top of me, his hands continuing their way down my body to rest over the button of my jeans.
"Katniss," he breathes. "You don't know how long I've thought about this."
"Tell me," I urge, my breath hitching as he swirls his tongue over the skin by my belly button. His hands run over my thighs, his fingertips just barely touching my center before he snakes them back up to the hem of my jeans to tug them loose from my body.
"Since I first saw you standing at my door," he groans, taking in the sight of my bare legs. I feel his hardness rest up against my calf as he slowly begins grinding himself into me. "You were so fucking sexy, not at all what I expected."
I moan, my hands tightening their grip on the sheets below me as his tongue lands on my sensitive skin covered only by underwear. His tongue darts out and begins teasingly swirling directly over my clit and I let out a long hiss, my hands finding his head immediately.
"Peeta! I can't take it," I chant, thrashing my head from side to side. I'm so wet I can feel it sticking to the inside of my thighs and as his hands urge me to spread my legs wider I can tell by his animalistic growls that he can feel it too.
As I begin losing my last trace of clothing I glance down to see Peeta still safely tucked away inside his jeans. I can't help but feel overexposed and clamp my legs closed. He looks up at me, a trace of confusion in his expression but I only motion for him to stand up.
He does so, pushing himself up from where he laid belly down between my legs and looks to me, waiting. I scoot closer, running my hands over his exposed abdomen and smiling as a rippling shudder runs over him, his muscles clenching.
However, when I reach the button on his jeans, his hand immediately grasps mine, telling me wordlessly to stop. I look up at him, my head in line with his protruding jeans, and frown.
He can undress me, but I'm not allowed to do the same?
His hands are shaking as they cover mine and I see a tint of pink rise to his cheeks as he fights for the right words to say. He shifts his weight from foot to foot.
"Tell me," I urge.
"I know you've seen it before, but it doesn't make this any easier, alright?" he lets out in a large breath, and for a long second I'm unsure what he's referring to. It hits me at once and my chest tightens.
He's referring to his leg.
My hands leave his trouser button and move down his thighs until one hand hits the metal where his flesh stops. I run my fingers over it delicately, tracing my thumb over the sensitive skin right above it and listening as he gasps.
"It's not a problem for me," I assure him. "Is it going to be a problem for you?"
He shakes his head silently, his expression unsure and his hands still shaking, not knowing exactly where to rest. Finally they fall limply to his sides.
"Good," I smirk, moving back to the button and undoing it slowly. His pants fall down to his ankles almost immediately. All thats left are his black boxers which stick out noticeably in my direction.
I trace my fingertips over the bulge experimentally and earn a quiet intake of breath from him before pressing into it harder, rubbing my palm up and down. His rhythmic gasps and moans fill the air as he begins grinding into my open palm. His moans deepen as I move the boxers from his body and lower them to rest around his ankles with the rest of his clothes.
"Katniss..." he whimpers as my palm closes around him, slowly trailing back and forth over his sensitive flesh. "Yes."
My tight hand passes over his tip and I pay close attention to the extra sensitive underside of it, making his entire body buck forward. He gasps uncontrollably as my other hand reaches under him to cup his balls, rolling them around with my thumb and forefinger.
"Stop, stop!" he croaks. When I glance up his head is tilted back and his lips spread into a wide 'o'. "I don't want to finish this way."
"Me either," I breathe, pulling him down on top of me and meeting his anxious lips with my own again. I can feel his hardness resting in-between my legs and as he begins bucking into me his tip flicks over my clit continuously.
"Ugh, Peeta, now," I grit out, scratching my nails along his back as his head comes to rest on my shoulder. I can feel his hot breath on my skin and his hands trail down to grasp my chest again.
"Katniss... are you? Do I need to..."
"I'm on the pill," I insist honestly. I've been on it since I was sixteen and my mother decided it'd be best to be sure and leave little to no room for accidents. I haven't missed a day since.
"Good," he grunts, reaching down to grasp himself, easing it inside of me carefully. I gasp as I stretch to accommodate his girth and feel myself clench around him the deeper he goes.
"Katniss," he emphasizes in between pants. "You're... so tight. Oh god, shit."
"Fuck, Peeta," I whimper, wincing just a bit as he jerks his hips particularly roughly. It's been so long since I've been with someone that it takes a little getting used to again. But between his frequent noises and his hands working over my breasts, it's not long before I'm writhing under him, meeting his movements with those of my own.
"I'm not going to last much longer," he warns hotly against my ear.
"Cum for me," I whisper back, gasping with every pass he makes inside of me.
His thrusts grow more urgent and I feel his entire body stiffen above me, his mouth opening wide and his head falling down between us as he groans and slowly begins to come undone. I'm not far behind him, and the feeling of him filling me in time with his finger swiping rapidly over my clit is what puts me over the edge with a soft cry.
I bite my lip as we come down from our highs, his body moving more languidly against my own and his hand running through my hair as his breaths grow more even.
"Stay with me?" he whispers, patting the bed beside him as he rolls over onto his stomach.
As I begin waking up, I'm not confused as to where I am, or whose body I feel pressed up against mine. The events of last night cloud my brain as I begin recalling every last detail of the evening spent with Peeta.
Part of me worries how he'll react, now that the heat and passion of the moment have dwindled. Will he be angry with me? With himself for letting me in? The thought of returning back to our silent spells and awkward dinner conversations is enough to make me begin panicking.
The fact that he's still laying here is a good sign, the more rational part of my brain reminds me, and it's true. If he were truly disgusted and repulsed, he'd be hidden away in his office, or demanding I leave, or something irrational.
"I know you're awake," I hear him breathe and he chuckles as I stiffen at his words. "Why are you smiling?"
"I'm not," I insist, biting my lip, which only makes him laugh harder.
I open my eyes and tilt my head upward from where it rests on top of his chest and my breath catches at the sight of him staring down at me. His hand runs patterns over my lower back before squeezing me slightly closer.
"Nowhere to rush off to?" I whisper, teasingly and he rolls his eyes.
"No, you see I'm trying this thing where I'm more laid back."
"All I had to do was sleep with you to get you to relax?" I scoff. "Sheesh, I should have done this weeks ago!"
We stay wrapped up in each other for a long time, not saying much of anything at all, but rather simply laying lazily with one another, occasionally sneaking a longing kiss.
I'm so relaxed that my body is willing me back to sleep just as an urgent knock sounds on Peeta's door. We both jump at the noise and are sit up straight, looking between the door and each other's wild eyes.
"Peeta!" Rye cries out and we're on our feet, rushing to collect our clothes and thanking god the door is locked as it rattles with his impatient fingers.
"Peeta! Help! I need you!"
"Talk to him!" I whisper harshly.
"Uh... er... what's wrong, little buddy?"
"Katniss is gone! She isn't in her bedroom! She promised she wouldn't leave, she promised!" He cries, his voice edging on hysteria.
Part of me wants to throw the door open and take him in my arms, let him know I haven't gone back on my promise and I'm here and he's fine, but the more rational side urges me to properly fasten my bra first.
"What are we going to do?" Peeta mouths to me, his face panic-stricken, but I simply shrug after tugging one of Peeta's large shirts over my figure.
"He's not going to leave until you let him in."
Peeta unlocks the door, peeking his head out just slightly before Rye pushes the door open with force. He stumbles in, tears staining his cheeks before his eyes light up at the sight of me.
They stay bright and relieved for a long second before furrowing as he looks between Peeta and me suspiciously. I swallow heavily, gearing myself up for a proper explanation that neither involves lying to him or scarring him for life.
I open my lips, but his words beat my own.
"Hey, what's going on here?" he wonders with a high pitch to his tone. "Did you guys have a sleepover without me?"
I turn to Peeta, who smiles uncontrollably in my direction and pat Rye's head as he wraps his arms around my body tightly.
"I thought you were gone," he says.
"I'd never leave you," I whisper reassuringly to him. "Either of you."
One month later...
"Peeta! I thought you said you were making Rye's lunch!"
"I am, I am!" he promises, flying past me and into the kitchen where he begins pulling down everything in sight, making a haphazard meal. I look to him with raised eyebrows before letting out a snort that he chuckles at.
"Don't worry, I'll have it finished before we leave."
"Ten minutes, Mellark."
He gives a thumbs up, not even turning to face me in his haste and I make my way up the stairs with a fresh pair of socks for Rye.
It's his first day of kindergarten, and although Peeta and I are trying to stay calm so he won't be too nervous, it's hard not to hope for everything to go smoothly. He barely slept last night, insisting on snuggling his way in-between Peeta and I during one of our "sleepovers."
He's asked me a hundred times what happens exactly in "kinder-garden" and how come he has to go, but once I inform him of all the cool toys and friends he'll meet, he's more eager to get going.
"Katniss! I can wear my light up shoes, right?"
He looks adorable, dressed in a brand new outfit he picked out himself last week at the mall. On his shirt is his all-time favorite superhero (Spiderman) which match his light up shoes perfectly.
"Of course," I assure him. "You can wear whatever you'd like!"
He giggles, taking the socks from me and slipping them onto his feet. He's just learned how to tie his shoes himself and insists on doing them without any help (although it takes five minutes longer than usual).
"All set?" I ask, encouragingly, slipping his Spiderman backpack over his shoulders and patting his head.
"Peeta? How's that lunch looking?" I call out as we make our way slowly down the staircase. He rounds the corner, holding out his brand new lunch bag and sticking it in Rye's waiting hands.
"Done and done!"
"Alright, let's get going, we wouldn't want to miss the bus!"
Rye insists on holding both our hands as we walk down the busy road to catch the school bus. Every couple of steps we call out: "One, two, three!" and swing him into the air, which makes him giggle uncontrollably before begging for us to do it again! again!
"All right, I'll be here waiting for you when the school bus gets back," I tell him right before he steps on. "I can't wait to hear about your exciting day."
"You promise you'll be here to pick me up?" he asks, hopefully and I plant a solid kiss on his cheek.
Peeta and I wave goodbye to him until the bus is completely out of sight and then let out one large breath.
"So, now that we have the house all to ourselves, what are we going to do?" Peeta asks me, swinging our entwined hands and looking to me playfully.
"Well," I begin, stretching out the word while pretending to think. "If I remember correctly, I think our sleepover was interrupted last night."
Thanks for reading. I'll probably end up turning this into a short story, with a couple more "one-shot" type chapters to come in the future. Hope you all enjoyed!
You can find me on tumbler (finnickshardtrident) and twitter (passtheheroin).