AN: Sorry for the obscenely long wait for this chapter. My mind keeps sidetracking me with plot bunnies. Very special thanks to Court81981 who is brilliant and took this hot mess of a chapter and made it into something actually readable. You're the best!
Katniss doesn't realize they've arrived at their destination until Peeta parks the car and hurries to get her door for her. They're in a small, residential part of downtown. It's pretty bare; trees line the streets and there are less than a handful of other pedestrians in the area. There aren't any restaurants in sight, though.
She frowns as she steps onto the slush-covered sidewalk, "Is this when you actually turn into a sociopathic serial killer who's just a doctor by day?"
He stares at her for a long moment, and she begins to wonder if maybe she should hightail it out of there, but then he bursts into loud, easy laughter that immediately relaxes her.
"No," he shakes his head once his laughter is under control again, "Although, would I honestly admit to if I was? But the restaurant is just a few buildings down in the basement of an apartment."
Peeta smiles when the frown doesn't disappear from her face, and he adds, "I told you it was a hole in the wall."
"Right," Katniss agrees as they begin walking, "I just figured that it would be above ground with a sign or something."
He chuckles again, shoving his hands into the pocket of his dark wool coat, which draws her attention back to just how wide his shoulders are. She has a hard time tearing her eyes away from the gentle slope of them until he meets her eyes with his own, and she ducks her gaze shyly. A few minutes later, they pass a handwritten sign instructing them to 'head downstairs for genuine Italian cuisine.' Katniss quickly realizes they don't need the sign to direct them however because the heavenly scent of food wafts out to the street.
"Well, at least I know how you found this place," she remarks as her stomach growls loudly, and Peeta leads her off the street, down the stairs, and opens the door for her.
"My brother found it, actually," he informs her, following her into the small dining room. It's filled with quiet chatter and tables draped with checked cloths. "He's a food hound and practically sniffed the place out from a half a mile away."
Katniss nods as a waitress ushers them to a table along the wall. So Dr. Mellark has a brother. She makes a mental note of it, finding that it somehow seems to make sense. She wonders if his brother looks like him, but that's probably impossible. She can't imagine two men as attractive as him in one house.
The menu is simple, nothing fancy, which is fine in her book as long as the food tastes as good as the room smells.
"Usually, I just order whatever's on special. Everything is good though," Peeta says, folding the menu up, "And you have to try the Pinot Grigio. The family that runs this place maintains a little winery back in Italy. It's fantastic stuff."
Katniss arches an eyebrow at him over the top of the menu. "You're drinking while you're on call?"
"No!" His eyes go wide at the mere thought, "Shit, I'd like to keep my job, thanks. But it's your night off, and you should enjoy it."
She laughs softly, setting the menu down so she can rest her chin on one hand, her elbow propped up on the checkered tablecloth. "What's your motive, doctor?"
"I don't know what you mean." He frowns, deep lines forming between his eyebrows. Katniss doesn't understand how his eyes could be so blue, so deep, like she could get lost in them forever. It doesn't seem possible.
"Do you always try to get girls drunk when you take them out?"
If she thought his eyes were wide before, she was mistaken. The blue orbs now look like saucers against the whites of his eyes, "Wh- what? No- I would never-" he sputters. His innocent reaction tugs at her chest, and she nearly feels guilty for teasing.
"I'm kidding, Peeta," she chuckles and decides a change in subject would be best as she looks back at the menu. "How do I know what's on special?"
His cheeks flush a shade of red that matches the tablecloth as he clears his throat and points to a small chalkboard near the door. Different entrées are written in loopy script, and she nods, squinting to read the words clearly.
A plump, older woman wanders over to their table a few minutes later wearing a cheerful smile as she asks in a heavy accent if they are ready to order yet. Peeta glances at Katniss and nods, which she takes as a signal to go ahead.
"I'll have the Chicken Florentine, and I hear that I need to try the Pinot Grigio while I'm here."
"A good choice, dear," she commends Katniss before turning to Peeta, who orders the Spinach Lasagna.
Katniss plays with the clear plastic straw in the glass of water, unsure of what to say now that ordering is out of the way. She hardly knows the man sitting across from her. Why in the world did she ever agree to eat a dinner- alone- with Dr. Peeta Mellark? What was she thinking?
"So how do you know Finnick Odair?" Katniss blurts out once the silence between them becomes too uncomfortable for her to bear any longer.
Peeta laughs, giving her a knowing look. Shit. It must be blatantly obvious how nervous she is.
"We were residents together on the same rotation," he explains, diving into a story about their first rotation on an elder care unit when Finnick ended up with a shirt full of urine one morning and had to wear lilac scrubs around for the rest of the day because of a bet he made with his colleagues.
"What kind of bet was that?" Katniss snorts, imagining the illustrious Finnick Odair's face when the confused old man peed all over him.
"Whoever ended up covered in a bodily fluid first had to wear these god awful lilac scrubs Finnick had found at a thrift store." Peeta's eyes light up as he lets out a deep laugh from his belly, a sound that sends heat coiling in her own stomach, "Of course he thought that the bodily fluid would at least be blood or spinal fluid or something cool like that, not an old wrinkly man's urine. Not to mention he never imagined he might be the one wearing them."
Katniss makes a face at the thought, laughter bubbling up from her belly as Peeta rehashes other adventures of his residency, including one particularly adamant six-year-old girl who had demanded a kiss from him during his pediatric rotation.
The waitress returns then with the breadsticks and Katniss's glass of wine. After the woman wanders away, Katniss arches an eyebrow.
"So did you?" she questions, reaching immediately for a breadstick from the basket in the middle of the table.
"Did I…" he repeats distractedly as he reaches for a breadstick of his own, eating almost half of it in one bite.
"Kiss her?" Katniss asks popping a bit of bread into her mouth and moaning as it nearly melts in her mouth.
Peeta chuckles knowingly. "Good, right?"
She nods and gives him a look to let him know she's still waiting for his answer.
"I might have," he blushes, looking down at his hands.
"Seriously?" She tries to hide her shock but fails miserably. "Dr. Mellark a rule breaker?"
"Yes, seriously, Katniss. I gave her a peck on the cheek," Peeta confirms but then shoots her a wicked smile. "Don't tell me you never did anything you weren't supposed to during nursing school?"
"No," she says stubbornly, sipping at the Pinot Grigio, which is crisp and delicious just as he promised.
"I was the perfect specimen of professionalism."
The waitress returns, carrying two steaming dishes of food. She places one in front of each of them with a smile and scurries off once Peeta assures her that everything looks delicious.
His eyes crinkle at the edges behind the frames of his glasses as he smiles. "Right. I don't think I believe you."
"Well, you should, because it's the truth." She shrugs, shoving a bite of chicken into her mouth. This is probably best Italian she can ever remember eating.
"I call bullshit."
She snorts again, shoveling in another bite of food until Peeta reaches across the table and pulls the fork out of her hand. She scowls, chewing slowly as she eyes the doctor sitting across from her.
"Excuse you," she mutters once she's swallowed, reaching for her fork again.
"Oh, no." Peeta grins playfully, "I'm not looking to be excused. I'm looking for a real answer."
Her eyes grow wide. "No. Give me back my fork."
"As soon as you tell me one rule you broke during nursing school." Peeta's grin is so large Katniss wonders how it can't hurt. "Don't go making me feel like I'm the naughty one."
Katniss's stomach twists into a knot at the devious sparkle in his eyes. "I don't know why you assume I'm a troublemaker like you."
She reaches for another breadstick, but he slides the basket out of her reach, earning an eye roll from her. "Now you're just being ridiculous."
"One story and it's all yours again," he offers in a singsong voice, helping himself to a breadstick while Katniss continues to scowl darkly. He takes a dramatic bit, giving a ridiculous moan as his eyes roll into the back of his head. She has to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling, determined not to cave.
"This is the worst date I've ever been on," she mutters, swiping a finger through the tomato sauce on her plate and licking it clean.
Something darkens in Peeta's gaze. "Is that what this is?"
"Oh, I-" Katniss stutters, cheeks flushed with embarrassment, "I don't know. I just- I assumed…" Her face feels like it's on fire, and he's sitting there smiling wolfishly, holding her fork hostage and hogging the breadsticks to himself.
"Would you like it to be a date?" He arches a pale eyebrow, amusement easily detected in his tone.
Katniss tries to laugh it off, but her vocal cords seem to have frozen over, and all that she manages is a strangled squeak that just makes her cheeks burn brighter.
"I'd like it to be a date," Peeta says, shooting her an easy grin before adding, "but only if it turns out not to be the worst one you've ever been on."
She's quiet for a long while, wishing the floor would simply open up and suck her into a black hole. How does she always manage to embarrass herself when Peeta is around?
"Then you should probably give me back my fork," she says shortly, reaching for he utensil, which he doesn't attempt to keep away from her again.
He chuckles from somewhere deep in his chest as he passes the breadsticks back to her. "So you're not going to tell me any stories are you?"
"Oh, I could tell you all kinds of stories." She rolls her eyes dramatically as she starts to shovel food into her mouth again, "But they aren't going to be unprofessional ones."
She doesn't notice that the conversation has fallen silent between them again until she sees the poorly concealed enjoyment plastered all over Peeta's face as he watches her with rapt attention.
"What are you staring at?" she demands, covering her mouth with her hand as she continues to chew.
"Do you even breathe while you eat?" he questions in fascination, his wide blue eyes searching her grey ones.
She snorts, nearly choking herself on the food as she swallows it hastily. "Hazard of the job." She sets her fork down and reaching for her napkin. "Every time I try to eat at work, some pesky doctor shows up needing to talk to me. You learn to eat fast or you don't eat at all."
"That's inhaling, not eating," Peeta argues as he takes another bite of his own dinner. Katniss's gaze darts from his still half-full plate to he own practically empty one and realizes he's absolutely right. Laughter bubbles past her lips, filling the quiet room with the joyful noise. The smile that it brings to Peeta's lips is positively breathtaking, and a moment later, Katniss finds herself staring blatantly at his mouth, wondering what it would taste like right now.
"So," Peeta breaks the silence, shaking Katniss from her daydreams, "you didn't ever break your Florence Nightingale Pledge, but you must have at least one funny story to share."
She shrugs shyly. "Most of them are just the usual disgusting bodily fluids ones."
"I'm sure it's not that disgusting," he assures her good-humoredly.
She leans forward, accepting his challenge as she balances her elbows on the corner of the table and dons a mischievous smile. Peeta unconsciously leans forward as well, ready to receive whatever secrets she might divulge.
"I was helping clean a ninety-year-old man up the other day, and he wouldn't sit still. I ended up with shit up to my elbows. Literally."
He has a good poker face, she'll give him that much because he simply blinks at her confession. "You used extra soap when you washed your hands that time, right?"
Katniss grins, opening her mouth to respond, but is cut off by a round of sudden beeps. Peeta swears under his breath, reaching under the table into his slacks and pulling out a little rectangular pager. He glances at the screen as the message flashes across it, and sighs heavily.
"A patient in the ICU." He shakes his head slowly. "I'm really sorry, Katniss."
"It's alright," she replies, too quickly, she worries, shrugging awkwardly and sliding back in her chair, "Can't help it when duty calls, right?"
He gives a half-hearted laugh, tossing enough cash on the table to cover the bill. "Unfortunately, no. Come on. I'll drive you home before I head back to the hospital."
Peeta rises first, holding out a large hand, which she takes, and he leads her out of the restaurant. They separate briefly as they settle into his car, but his hand finds hers again, their fingers lacing as they come to rest on the center console. He gives her a sweet smile. They don't speak on the short drive home, but Katniss doesn't mind much. She doesn't think she'd be able to form a coherent sentence with his hand so entangled in hers. Her nerves are on fire, burning first up her arm and through the rest of her body until she's almost uncomfortably warm, her mind reeling.
She's pulled from her thoughts about exactly where she'd like his hand when he pulls up along the curb in front of her house. It strikes her that she didn't have to give him a single direction to get back here. He's remembered the way exactly after only one trip. "Thanks for coming tonight, Katniss. Sorry it ended so abruptly."
"It's okay. I had a good time." Katniss glances shyly at her hands before giving him a playful smile and adding, "And the food was pretty good too."
"So not the worst first date?" he asks playfully.
"Is that what this was then?" she quips, bringing a broad smile to his face.
The street light sends just enough light through the windshield, making his blond curls shine to match the spark in his eyes.
He leans across the car's console. "I was hoping it was." He releases her hand so his own palm is free to find her cheek, his thumb brushing gently over the smooth curve of skin. His fingers weave into the roots of her thick, dark hair, warm against her scalp in the cool car.
She leans into the touch, knowing that this will only make her life more complicated. It's stupid, really, to get involved with Dr. Peeta Mellark, but she's tried ignoring her feelings and clearly that hasn't worked out very well.
So Katniss is the first to move, her chilled lips, slightly chapped from her long hours at the dry hospital, warmer ones. Heat shoots through her veins as Peeta leans in closer, letting his fingers tangle more thoroughly in her hair. Her lips part invitingly, the warmth of his mouth sending quivering pulses down her spine. His tongue finds hers, and she lets out a quiet moan, one that Peeta responds to instantly. His free hand finds her waist and pulls her upper body flush to his chest. She would be uncomfortable, her body twisted over the console of the car as it is, if she weren't so wrapped up in everything about him: his touch, his taste, that lingering sweet smell about him that is definitely not from the hospital.
Katniss could probably get lost in him for hours, but another abrupt set of beeps pulls them apart. She's slightly dizzy from it all, and her chest is heaving as she tries to catch her breath while Peeta reaches for the pager in his pocket again.
His blue eyes find hers once the light on the screen dims, and there's a look of honest regret in them that she wasn't expecting but isn't at all disappointed to see. It mirrors what she's feeling at the moment, and it's comforting to know she's not crazy for thinking it.
"I really need to go," he murmurs apologetically, his fingers tugging at the tip of her braid as he rubs the sleek strands between his thumb and forefinger.
"You do." She agrees quietly with a nod, letting herself out of the car. "Go save lives." She leans down once she's standing on the curb beside the idling car, "Thanks for tonight. I had fun."
He smiles. "I'll see you at work."
"Yeah." She slams the car door behind her and making her way back to her small, dark house.
Tonight has been an escape. An escape from her quiet, lonely life where she spends her evenings alone. Girls like her don't have nights like this- at least not often. Because, sooner or later, whomever she gets involved with starts asking questions, questions she's not ready to answer. Sooner or later they always want to meet her family, and Katniss just can't handle the questions that would raise about her mother. Peeta Mellark is fun, but he'll be more trouble than he's worth, she's sure of that.
"Dr. Mellark won't be rounding today," Thom announces with a shake of his head as he settles the phone back on the cradle.
"Seriously?" Katniss asks, torn between curiosity and exasperation. She needs orders on a patient whose electrolytes are all out of whack.
"As a heart attack." He grins cheekily. "Said that Dr. Odair will round for him on the new patients that got admitted overnight, but otherwise, if we need anything to call him."
"What a pain in the ass," she mutters, hurrying out of the nurses' station to deliver discharge papers to the patient in room fourteen, "Put a page out to him then."
"Gotcha." Thom nods, quickly typing Peeta's pager number for her.
Katniss rolls her eyes. She's already tired today and having to call for orders like this just puts the icing on the cake. She'd gone to Greenfields yesterday to see her mother, who still refuses to talk to her so she'd spent most of her time getting updates from Cinna. Still, she'd gotten home late, and she's paying for it in spades today with as busy as she is.
"Line one is Dr. Mellark for you, Katniss," Johanna says, as soon as she walks past the nurses' station again, arching an eyebrow suggestively at her. Of course, she found out about the little dinner date pretty quickly when Katniss came back to work several days later with an atypical smile on her face instead of her usual scowl.
"You going to ask for a second date?" she questions. That's the other thing Johanna hasn't let go of since she first heard about the dinner.
Peeta never mentioned the date, or dinner, or whatever it was afterwards. They saw one another at work several times, but he never hinted at that night and Katniss didn't want to be the first to bring it up. Clearly he must have figured out what she had been trying to tell herself all along. She's not at all a doctor's type, and the last thing a guy like Peeta Mellark needs in his life is a girl with all her baggage. He's maintained a professional relationship with her, but she can't help but feel awkward around the man now. She must have somehow freaked him out.
It was probably the kiss, if she is being honest with herself. Who the hell kisses like that on a first date- a date that might not have even been a real first date? Katniss Everdeen does, apparently. And she sends the men running for the hills. But, oh, had it been one mind-blowing kiss that she'd fallen asleep thinking about. She can still vividly feel his lips against hers.
"Shut up." Katniss grumbles quietly, both to Johanna and her own mind, shaking her head as she picks up the phone. Johanna laughs as she walks away, hips swaying slightly and catching the eye of a grandson walking with his grandmother, a patient admitted to Room Two.
"Dr. Mellark? This is Katniss calling for orders on Miss Annabel Stinson in Room Eighteen." She greets as soon as the phone is nestled against her ear.
"Sure." His chipper voice sounds far too nasally to be normal. "What do you need, Katniss?"
Her chest tightens when he says her name. It's ridiculous, and she knows it. She's not some stupid little schoolgirl, but his voice, her name on his lips, does something to her even if he does sound like his nose is stuffed up. Even if he didn't ever follow through after that night…
"I- I, um." She shakes her head. Damn him. Why can he always get her shaken up with just a sentence? She takes a deep breath, determined to be professional about this. "I needed to get orders from you about correcting her lytes. This morning her sodium was 126 and potassium was 3.0."
"Oh-kay." He says just before a coughing fit seizes him. She waits, tapping her fingers against the counter, and eventually his voice returns. "Does she have fluids running?"
"Normal saline at fifty an hour," Katniss recites quickly, referring to the IV fluids that the patient has had running via a pump since she was admitted.
"Let's bump that up to one hundred- she doesn't have any history of CHF or anything does she?" Peeta questions.
She glances down at the short history she has on the patient, searching for any indications of heart failure, finding none. Being a hospitalist, Dr. Mellark doesn't know his patients as well as rounding physicians typically would. He only cares for them while they're on the unit, and Dr. Aurelius is their primary provider outside of the hospital. But Peeta's good, Katniss recognizes that much. He asks the right questions.
"No," she answers once she's flipped through her papers. "And her lungs were clear this morning for me."
"Alright, then set her on normal saline at one hundred and give her forty of potassium," Peeta rattles off, his voice tired as he does. He really does sound terrible.
"You want the potassium as a K-rider or oral?" she questions, jotting down the orders that she'll have to put in once she's off the phone.
"Can she swallow?"
"Then let's do that. I hate to put potassium through an IV on an older patient if we don't have to." He sighs. "Uh, go ahead and have her lytes drawn again tomorrow so we can see how well that fixes things. Anything else you need from me?"
A reason why he never followed through after their date would be nice. But Katniss shakes that thought from her mind as quickly as it enters.
She scans her papers but doesn't see any other notes. "No. That should handle things."
"Do you have any of my other patients, Katniss?" He questions quietly from the other end of the line. Normally the doctors hang up almost before she can get the orders out of them even when they're feeling well, which Peeta clearly isn't. His attentiveness now is practically unheard of.
"No, but Jo does, I think. I'll forward you to her."
"Oh." He sounds surprised, almost disappointed maybe. "Well, I'll talk to you later then."
"Sure," Katniss replies slowly before placing him on hold. She spins in her chair and announces, "Dr. Mellark is on line one to give orders for anyone who needs them."
Thom picks up almost instantly and starts his usual banter with the good doctor, leaving Katniss to mull over her interaction with Peeta. Why does he act like nothing ever happened? She couldn't have been the only one who felt something that night. Why the hell didn't he ever call her?
"Poor guy," Thom muses once he hands the phone over to Johanna who greedily wrenches it from his grasp. "He sounds terrible."
Johanna hangs up the receiver with a mischievous smile. "He does. Maybe you should take care of that for him, Katniss."
Thom arches an eyebrow curiously; he hasn't heard about the dinner date. Yet, anyway.
"Yeah, right." Katniss turns in her chair to face her computer to continue charting. "Thanks, Jo."
Johanna thrusts a scrap piece of paper into her line of vision. "I even took the liberty of figuring out his address for you from the physicians' contact information database."
"Jo!" She bats the paper away with wide eyes. "You can't do that! That database is for administration only. How the hell did you even get in there?"
She shrugs nonchalantly, twirling a pen in her fingers. "I called in a favor. Darius Miller, who just happens to be one of the IT guys downstairs, has been dying to have a go with me."
Katniss's eyes widen more as the older woman shoves the piece of paper back into her hand, "So you said you'd have sex with him to get this?" Katniss hisses, holding the paper as though it's tainted now that she knows what it took to get it. "Please." Johanna rolls her eyes. "I didn't promise that man anything. But have you even looked at him?"
She waits for Katniss to answer but smiles toothily when she doesn't. "I wouldn't mind if one thing led to another when we go out drinking on Friday."
"Jesus, Jo." Katniss shakes her head, but she pockets the slip of paper anyway. No point in throwing it away if Johanna went through all that trouble to get it for her.
"Oh, please, Brainless," she cackles, "like you aren't thinking the same thing about Dr. Blondie. I can see it in your face anytime I mention him."
"It's not like that," Katniss argue, cringing at the look Johanna levels her, telling her she's not convincing anyone.
Jo steps up close and lowers her voice so Thom won't overhear her next words, "You should stop waiting around for him to make a move. I can tell you're pissed he never called back, so you must like him. Stop worrying about what might happen if you two get together and just enjoy the ride. He made the first, now you reciprocate. He's probably afraid to do anything more until you show some actual interest."
"I'm pretty sure I showed actual interest when I let him kiss me after dinner!" Katniss spits, earning a snort from Johanna.
"You realize that he's probably afraid of sexual harassment claims, right? He's in a position of power, and the last thing he needs as the new guy is some nurse pointing fingers if she ever feels screwed over by him." Jo's brown eyes meet Katniss's grey ones in a steely gaze before she adds, "Buck up and make a move or someone else will. Probably one of those damn, perky pediatric nurses. You've seen how they are with their cartoon scrubs. Constantly adjusting their cleavage whenever one of the young, single doctors is around. It's only a matter of time, Katniss."
She realizes that Jo is entirely right for once.
Katniss knocks evenly on the ebony door and waits, listening for the telltale rustling of the apartment's occupant and trying her best not to look as completely out of place as she feels.
She had nearly changed her mind when she pulled up in front of the swanky apartment building, but though she's loath to admit it, Johanna had a point. She's going to make a move (and quite possibly make a fool of herself in the process), but at least this will give her some sense of closure. The worst thing he could do is turn her away.
A slow, quite shuffle can be heard through the door, followed by the dull click of the deadbolt before the door opens just enough for the heat to come pouring out of the apartment.
"Yes?" A miserable, nasally voice that sounds vaguely like Dr. Mellark asks.
"Hey," Katniss mumbles, scuffing the toe of her shoe against the carpeted floor of the hallway. "You sounded pretty sick today when I called for orders, and I thought you might be in need of some food."
Katniss blushes furiously as one blue eye framed by his familiar glasses pokes around the edge of the door. She might not be able to see most of his face but she can easily discern his surprise.
"Katniss?" His voice is almost comical it's so stuffed up and squeaky.
"Yeah. I – well, it sounded like a good idea at the time. I never feel like cooking when I'm sick-"
"Sure!" he squeaks, a cough punctuating his exclamation as he swings the door open all the way. "I just wasn't expecting anyone. Come in."
Katniss steps inside, toeing off her shoes and letting Peeta shut the door behind her as she takes in the roomy apartment filled with clean-cut furniture. There's a comfortable, lived-in air to the place, one she wouldn't necessarily expect from a doctor's home.
"How did you know where I live?" Peeta questions after the door is locked again.
Katniss turns to get a good look at him for the first time since arriving, and she has to place a hand over her mouth to hide the smile tugging at her lips. He looks awful in that pathetic, sick puppy kind of way. His hair, naturally messy anyway, looks like it hasn't seen a good brushing in days, curls sticking out like corkscrews around his head. He has an old afghan thrown around his broad shoulders, giving him the appearance of a sickly superhero. It's his nose that really gets her though. It's bright red, probably from the excessive use of tissues over the last couple of days.
"Jo has friends who helped her out." She replies evasively, hoping it will be enough to drop the subject.
He smiles shyly, "What?" A hand appears from under the cover of his afghan and pats at a portion of his hair, though it does nothing to tame the mess there.
"She knows a guy who works in the IT department," she confesses, her eyes dropping guiltily to the carpet between their feet. "He apparently has a thing for curvy brunettes."
Peeta snorts, though it comes out more as a wheeze with his nose so stuffed up.
"That could get you all in a load of trouble."
She glances up, the sparkle in his eyes letting her know he doesn't plan to report anyone.
"It wouldn't be Jo's first time in hot water." She informs him, worrying her bottom lip lightly with her teeth.
He looks as though he's about to say something when quickly reaches for a tissue just before a powerful sneeze seizes his entire body.
"You look awful." Katniss admits readily once he recovers. It doesn't occur to her until afterwards that perhaps it isn't the best way to win him over if he's still having doubts about whatever this is between them.
Peeta simply laughs, which quickly turns into a wheeze that leaves him groaning, pressing the palm of his hand to his forehead. "I feel like crap."
"You should sleep. You'll never get better if you don't." She makes her way into the kitchen area so she can unpack the soup she bought from Sae's on the way over. It's hard to miss the dark circles that hang under his eyes.
"Thank you, doctor," he replies with a smirk, pulling his blanket more tightly around his shoulders and following her towards the kitchen. "That's why I took today off, but the coughing kept waking me up."
Katniss nods, pulling the Styrofoam containers out of the brown paper bag. He snorts softly and she looks up to see him eyeing the containers skeptically.
"Is that from Sae's down the street?" he questions, an amused look in his tired eyes as they look up to meet hers.
"Yeah, why?" Her brow furrows as she finishes unpacking the bag.
"Nothing." He shrugs. "It's just that usually people bring their grandmother's homemade chicken soup for sick friends."
Her grey eyes meet his curiously. She's so entirely confused. What does he want from her? Are they friends? Does he want to be more than friends? Did he think that kiss was a mistake?
"Trust me," she replies after a moment's hesitation, "you wouldn't want to eat my grandmother's chicken soup. I'm pretty sure it was never chicken she used. Anyway, Sae's has the best food around, so I thought it would be safer than giving you experimental food I've cooked, especially on a sick stomach."
"Consider me warned," he says, reaching for a Styrofoam container of soup and grabbing a plastic spoon. He blows on the top of the cup before spooning a bite into his mouth. His eyes widen as he stares down at the container in his hand. "This is good."
"The best," Katniss smirks. "Now you should get back to your couch so you can convalesce like the true man you are."
"I take offense to that," he retorts, but he's already halfway back to the seat that Katniss suspects he's inhabited since his flu struck. There's a box of Kleenex perched at the edge of the coffee table and a wastepaper basket right below that with several tissues littering the ground around it. He tucks himself back into the corner of the couch, his blanket still pulled tightly around his shoulders as he spoons more soup into his mouth, slurping loudly.
Katniss tugs her bottom lip between her teeth as she tries not to laugh. He really is a typical man right now, dying from the common cold.
"Well…" She lets out a long breath, swinging her hands awkwardly, "I guess that's all I came here for so… I'll leave you to it."
"You're going already?" Peeta asks, glancing up over the tops of his glasses. His blue eyes plead with her to stay, even though it's against her better judgment, even though he's the one who's been blowing her off. The last thing she needs right now is to catch the flu, but she can't say no to him. She doesn't want to say no to him.
She shrugs. "I guess I don't have to. What do you have in mind?"
He reaches into the pocket of his sweats and pulls out the familiar black rectangle. "Up for a game? That's about all I can handle today."
A smile plays at her lips as she joins him, settling on the opposite end of the couch and tucking her knees up towards her chest. Peeta grins, making his red-nosed face appear that much more goofy.
"Doesn't really matter. I'm going to kick your ass anyway." Katniss states assuredly as she opens the app up on her phone.
"You should be careful talking smack like that." He arches an eyebrow, staring at her like she's morphed into someone else right before his eyes.
"It's not talking smack. I saw your game with Finnick the other day."
"Whatever." He shakes his head but can't wipe the grin off his face in spite of himself. He holds up the phone so she can see the screen, "What's your name?"
She rattles off the letters and numbers of her username and seconds later a request to play Words With Friends pops up on her screen.
She opens the program and frowns at his initial play. She fucking hates it when people play short words like that. It doesn't give much opportunity for her to build off.
"Run?" she demands. "Seriously, Peeta? You've got a medical degree, and the best you can come up with is 'run?'"
He shrugs nonchalantly. "Maybe that's my strategy."
"Sure, if your strategy is to suck." She spits back as she plays the word 'TRIBUNAL' off of his 'U,' earning three times the points he did after using a double word tile.
Peeta snickers, but it quickly turns into a cough that he covers with a tissue. They play in relative silence for the rest of the game, Katniss occasionally snorting or rolling her eyes at his plays. Peeta chuckles at her disdain when he continues to play short words. But a smile still plays at his lips even as she becomes increasingly absorbed with winning.
"Are you kidding me?"
Peeta lets out a raspy cackle, because somehow he's managed to surpass her score by fifteen points, and Katniss only has one letter left to play.
"What?" Peeta asks with mock innocence, trying his best to hold back his laughter. "Quasi is a real word."
"Peeta, you've been playing shit words the entire game." She kicks his side playfully with her right foot, "You can't just whip that out on the last play. It's cheating."
"Kicking your opponent is probably considered cheating too," Peeta replies, grabbing a hold of her foot before she can take it back, "This is a no contact sport after all."
She tugs her foot gently, trying to pull away from his grip, but he doesn't let go, instead letting his thumbs go to the arch of her foot, pressing gently. The touch sends a blush instantly to her cheeks, and Peeta's eyes darken as he watches her, continuing his attentions.
Katniss's eyes nearly roll into the back of her head at the sensation. After being on her feet all day, running up and down the halls carrying a never-ending line of medications to her patients, Peeta's touch is like a little bit of heaven.
His fingers slide up to her ankle, massaging the tendons that stretch tautly against the smooth skin there. He tugs gently, guiding her to slide closer to him, which she does without hesitation. His tongue darts out to wet his lips. A languid heat spreads through her veins at the sight. His fingers probe softly against her calf, pulling a whimper from the back of her throat.
"Peeta," she whispers, unsure of what she wants to say as those blue eyes look up at her through those frames. But she's spared from figuring it out when her phone pings abruptly.
His hands still as she tenses, tugging her leg back from his grip and turning to sit with her feet on the ground in front of the couch. She reaches for her phone where she left it on the cushion beside her, opening the message.
Cinna 6:48 PM
Your mom is asking for you. I'll keep her up after curfew if you think you can make it out here sometime tonight.
Katniss closes her eyes once she reads the message. Her mother always has the best timing; it never fails.
"Everything okay?" Peeta asks from beside her. The heavy heat that was in his gaze only moments earlier is gone, replaced by the easygoing look he usually wears.
"Yeah," Katniss replies with a heavy sigh as she stands slowly. "I just have somewhere I need to be."
He nods his understanding and follows her to the door once she slides her shoes back on, "Thanks for stopping by, Katniss. It was the best surprise I've had all day."
She smiles, "That's not saying much seeing as how you're on your deathbed with the plague."
"It was the best surprise I could have asked for," he chuckles, glancing at her shyly as he runs a hand through his mess of curls.
"I guess that's a little bit better then," Katniss replies with a blush. "I'll see you once you're feeling better."
"I hope so."
Katniss shoots him a smile over her shoulder. What she wouldn't give to turn and go back to him. What she wouldn't give in this one moment to have a normal life, a life where she doesn't get texts from a psych nurse who she almost knows better than her own mother.
But that isn't her life. So she quickly makes her way out of Peeta's apartment building, heading towards Greenfields as fast as the speed limit allows.
AN: As always, thank you for reading. Please feel free to let me know what you thought. And if you'd like, you can find me on tumblr at therebelliondies.