Present

Katniss buries her face against her pillow with a moan when the bed shakes, waking her from one of the deepest sleeps she can remember having in a long time. The sound of feet shuffling quietly on the carpet causes her eyes to flutter open curiously.

Then she remembers.

"Hi," he greets softly when his blue eyes meet hers from across the room, and he tugs his shirt over his shoulders and begins deftly fastening the row of buttons down the front.

Her cheeks burn and her arms tighten instinctively around the pillow that she's debating burying her face in again.

Peeta must somehow guess what she's feeling because he smiles shyly before taking a few steps to close the gap between them. He leans over and his lips brush against her cheek right where the skin feels warmest.

"Hi," Katniss finally manages in a whispery croak, her throat rough from all the crying the day before.

He holds up the dreaded little black device just as its screen flashes green and a message starts to roll across it. "I got a page. There's a patient going bad, and they asked if there was any way I could get in to see him."

She blinks heavily and nods, already fighting sleep as she begins to drift off again. His lips brush against her cheek once more and she shivers slightly at the warmth they carry with them.

"I'll see you later," he murmurs, his breath tickling the sensitive skin near her ear.

"Bye, Peeta," she answers, her tongue sluggish as it forms his name. She's barely even aware of the door as he closes it on his way out of her room, or the gentle hum of his car's engine as he rushes off towards the hospital.

Her alarm goes off all too soon and she groans, screwing her eyes shut more tightly, as if by doing so she'll be able to create a few more hours of sleep. But the beeping just keeps getting louder, so she throws her hand at the alarm, slamming the button as she swings her legs out from under the covers.

Shuffling herself into the bathroom, she takes a quick shower, not even bothering to dry her hair before she braids it. She doesn't forgo makeup as she usually does however, taking a moment to put on some eyeliner and mascara once she observes how puffy her eyes still look. She'd rather not have everyone at work commenting on them and asking questions.

When she makes her way downstairs, her mother is already at the counter, staring out the window where dawn is just beginning to break. The older woman looks tired as she glides a finger around the rim of the old purple mug that has always been her favorite.

"There's coffee already made," Haymitch's gruff voice comes from behind her, causing Katniss to jump in surprise. While Peeta had told her that her uncle was looking after her mother for the night, it somehow didn't register that it would mean he would still be here this morning.

He scoots past her and produces a small flask from the pocket of his worn pants, pouring a liberal amount of clear liquid into his own mug of coffee. Katniss pretends not to notice as she pours herself a cup before adding ample amounts of sugar and cream. It's been years since she's bothered to mention anything to Uncle Haymitch about his drinking habits. She figures they each have their own ways of dealing with the broken lives caused by her father's death. Haymitch's is just unhealthy.

"You still going in to work?" he questions as he settles into the seat beside her mother, who still hasn't acknowledged that anyone else is in the room, as her eyes remain fixed on the world outside the kitchen window.

Katniss nods. "I was planning to, if you were okay with sticking around for the day."

His grey eyes meet hers in a somber stare before he replies, "Sweetheart, I'll stay as long as you can stand to have me."

"Okay," she replies, ducking her gaze to watch the coffee swirling lazily in the mug. "Thank you."

"Anytime," he declares, clearing his throat before patting her mother's shoulder affectionately. "Lilly and I will just spend the day bird watching or some shit."

Her mother doesn't respond.

"I should go then," Katniss leans forward pressing a quick kiss to Lily's forehead. "Call the unit if you need anything though, okay?"

Haymitch snorts, waving her off nonchalantly, as though her assistance would be the last thing he needs.

Katniss tries her best to block out the noises of the nurses' station around her. Effie, the unit secretary, is fighting with the Xerox machine that seems to be perpetually broken over in the corner. She's a prim and proper type of lady, but Katniss is almost certain she's heard more than a few swear words pass from Effie's Lips as she turns gears and attempts to extract the latest paper jam.

The phones have been ringing nearly non-stop this afternoon, and Katniss has barely even started her charting with only a few hours to go before the next shift is due to walk in.

A sharp sting on her upper arm causes her to turn around with a scowl. Johanna wears a guilty smirk as she twirls a pen that is missing its cap. "Line two is for you, Brainless."

"Who is it?" she asks, shooting the other woman her best disapproving glare as she reaches for the phone.

"Doctor asking about the nurse for room ten," she replies with a shrug as she turns back to her own charting.

"Six North, this is Katniss," she greets once she hits the button for line two.

"Hi, Katniss."

Peeta. His voice sends a shiver through her spine, and Katniss finds herself biting her bottom lip to keep from smiling.

"I hope you actually need something and you aren't just checking up on me," she murmurs quietly. She's alone at her corner of the nurses' station since Thom is busy in a room with a patient rather than manning the computer beside hers as he typically does.

He chuckles softly from the other end of the line and she hears a car alarm sounding in the background. "Actually, it's a really pleasant coincidence. I am just heading to lunch, but I wanted to check in on Mr. Jones. He's still just an observation patient and I was wondering if he's been stress tested yet this morning."

"Oh," she says, straightening up slightly in her chair, ignoring the slight twinge of embarrassment that she thought he would be calling for her. "Well, he went down for a dobutamine stress test this morning, and he passed it. Dr. Patel is going to round early this afternoon to change a few meds on him, but he's good to go otherwise. His heart rhythm has been fine. No further chest pain."

"Good," Peeta replies, sounding pleasantly surprised that the ninety-five-year old is doing so well. "Is there anything he'll need before going back? I'll be around this afternoon to officially discharge him."

"No, not for him," she says, shuffling quickly through her papers to the other patient he will be seeing on his rounds. "But I also have Ms. Birde and her H and H has dropped another point overnight – hemoglobin is 7.2 this morning. I figured if you wanted to transfuse her we could get that going earlier rather than later. She's been running pretty tachy on the monitor all morning – her heart rate was up to 135 this morning while she was walking around."

"Any active bleeding that you know of?" he questions, the muffled sounds of voices in the background now mingling with his own.

"No, nothing at all. No vomiting and all the stool I've seen has looked pretty normal," she replies.

"Hmm," he mumbles. She can imagine the way he's probably running his hand through his hair at the moment, that thoughtful frown creasing his forehead. "Well, why don't you order two units of PRBCs to transfuse this afternoon? We can test her stool for blood the next time she goes, and we'll plan to redraw her H and H every eight hours for twenty-four hours after the transfusion is finished."

"Okay," Katniss replies, jotting down the orders on scrap paper until they can be put into the computer. "We'll get her typed and crossed and get the process going."

"Sure. Thanks, Katniss," he says distractedly. She can hear someone calling his name in the background, and the phone disconnects before she even has the chance to say goodbye.

As she writes out the order and inputs it into the computer system, she can't suppress the disappointment bubbling deep inside of her.

She doesn't really care to think about how much it bothers her though, so she stands and leaves the nurses' station under the pretense of rounding on her patients to make sure they don't need anything. It keeps her busy for a short while, as she passes pain meds and makes sure everyone has enough warm blankets before she returns and reclaims her seat.

She's about halfway through her charting when the phone rings followed shortly by Johanna's singsong voice, "Brainless, it's for you again."

Her heart gives a hopeful jump, and she ignores her friend's knowing look as she picks up the phone and presses the blinking button.

"Six North – this is Katniss."

"Hey," he rasps, his voice deeper than it was earlier when he called. "Sorry I hung up so fast earlier. I was meeting up with Dr. Aurelius for lunch."

"Oh," is all she manages as she settles back into her seat again.

"How are you?" he asks, his quiet question melting the disappointment she felt earlier. "Are you holding up okay today?"

"Yeah." She shrugs though she knows he can't see her. "Haymitch is at home. He'd call if something happened."

Johanna walks past, giving her a curious, sideways glance as she heads to the med room. Katniss slumps further down in her chair; she'd rather not have the entire staff listening in on her conversation.

"Okay. I was just worried about you." His voice catches slightly in a way that tugs behind her navel.

"You don't need to be," she murmurs, her teeth worrying her bottom lip as she does.

"But I do," he assures her. "Someone needs to." She can hear the soft ping of his car as he gets in and buckles up. "I called to check after your mom earlier today," he confesses.

"Really?" she questions, trying to hide the surprise that he would take such an initiative.

"Sure." She can imagine him shrugging shyly. "She sounds like she's doing alright. Mentioned that she was going to see her doctor soon."

"Monday," Katniss agrees, warmth spreading in her chest at the thought of Peeta worrying over her and her family. It's something entirely foreign to her that any outsider would care what happens to any of them.

"That's good," he continues. "I'll be up to the unit shortly, but I wanted to ask you now since I won't be able to while I'm there…are you doing anything tonight? I'm not on call, so I thought maybe we could have an uninterrupted date. If you wanted to, I mean."

He sounds so uncertain as he finishes that she can't contain the smile that graces her lips. "Sure. I'm not busy. What were you thinking of do—"

She doesn't have a chance to finish, as the phone is lifted out of her hand. Katniss looks up to find a smirking Johanna holding the receiver to her ear.

"Doctor Mellark?" she questions in a syrupy voice, holding back a broad grin when Peeta answers her. "You should take her out—like, out of the house. The poor girl never leaves her home to do anything fun anymore."

There's a pause where Peeta must say something before she adds, "I know. She's looking at me like going to kill me once she gets me alone. Okay. See you in a little while!"

Katniss pales as Johanna hangs up the phone. Jo must notice her look of terror because she shrugs. "Don't worry about it, Brainless. I'm not about to ruin this for you, at least not until we get you laid first. He seems like the type who would be good in the sack."

Katniss's cheeks blush crimson. Thom rounds the corner with a look of surprise. "Do I even want to know who you're talking about?"

With a shrug, Johanna turns on her heels and walks down the hallway towards her patient's room.

Katniss has been home fifteen minutes when her phone begins to ring. She smiles at the name that pops up on the screen. How far gone is she if the sight of his name in simple white letters can bring a smile to her face?

All afternoon she had difficulty focusing, her mind lost to her imagination. She couldn't get Peeta out of her mind, the way he genuinely seems to care about her, the way he held her in his arms while she cried, the way he looked at her just this morning while she was still a sleepy mess. She imagines his smile, the broad muscles of his shoulders, those deft hands and what they could do to her.

"Hey," she greets once she presses the button to answer the incoming call.

"Hi." He sounds somber, not at all like his usual self.

"What's wrong?" She hates the way her voice is breathy when she asks the question, but her chest has suddenly tightened with inexplicable worry. He hasn't given her any reason to continue believing that he's going to leave her at any moment, but that doesn't stop it from being the first conclusion her mind jumps to.

He sighs, his voice igniting static over the line. "I just got off the phone with the doctor who was supposed to be relieving me tonight so I could have a few days off."

"Oh." She knows where this is going now, disappointment rapidly winding its way through her.

"He's sick with the stomach flu and can't get in," Peeta states dully, the regret evident in his tone. "He was going to finish the evening rounds. Now that he can't, I have to."

"Right," she agrees, trying to sound nonchalant even though she's been looking forward to their date all afternoon. "Of course you do, Peeta. It's okay."

"I'm really sorry, Katniss," he murmurs tiredly. "I wish I could take you out tonight."

"Don't worry about it," she replies, biting her bottom lip and hoping that she sounds convincing. "I'll just call it an early night and get some extra sleep."

"I'll call you tomorrow, okay?"

She can hear the familiar dinging of call lights going off in the background while he speaks, and she knows he's probably just arrived to another unit to continue on rounds. A female voice greets him from somewhere nearby.

"Okay," she agrees, her gut twisting with jealousy even though she knows it's ridiculous. Why would she be jealous of the patients and nurses that Peeta will be spending his evening with instead of her? It isn't as though they are at fault.

"Have a good night, Katniss," he says softly, probably trying to keep from being overheard.

"You too, Peeta."

A click is followed by silence as she tosses the phone down on the couch beside her. It's been a long day, and it's just turned into an even longer evening alone.

Her phone buzzes from the coffee table in front of her, drawing her attention away from the rerun of Toddlers and Tiaras, just as two pageant moms are about to have a promising catfight.

Peeta 10:17 PM

I wish I could have been with you tonight. Sorry again.

He probably doesn't think she'll get the message until tomorrow morning considering she's usually in bed by now on nights when she isn't busy. She types out a quick message and hits send.

Katniss 10:18 PM

It's been a boring night. Are you still at the hospital?

Peeta 10:18 PM

Yeah. The E.R. is busy tonight. I've been getting pages left and right. I figured it'd just be easier to stay here.

Peeta 10:25 PM

I wish you were here with me. I wish I could touch you.

She sits up, picking idly at the hem of her blue, penguin pajama pants. He must be tired. She can't imagine him normally sending a message like his last one, but reading it sends heat pooling deep in her belly.

She realizes that she wishes she were with him too. Her body aches from wanting him, pining for his touch and his kiss. She rereads the two short sentences.

The gears begin to churn in her mind. Haymitch is sleeping in Prim's old room again tonight, and he's more than capable of keeping watch over her mother. There's really no reason she needs to spend the night alone in her house watching reruns. Without another moment's hesitation, she turns off the television and hurries upstairs. If she gives herself more than a minute to think about what she's going to do, she is certain she will back out of it, but for once, she decides to listen to her body over her mind.

It's nearly midnight when Katniss steps off the elevator and into the dimly lit hallway of the hospital. It's nearly silent here, only the occasional hum of the heating vent to keep her company. She crosses her arms tightly over her chest, clinging tightly to the raincoat she'd thrown on as she hurried out of her house into the cold, early spring night.

The hallway is lined with several doors that each have a little sign on them that can be flipped to 'occupied' or 'empty,' and most of them state the former at this hour of the night.

Which room are you staying in? She types with shaky fingers, praying that no one comes out of any of the rooms and finds her standing awkwardly in this deserted hall.

Her phone buzzes after the longest minute of her life and she smiles, heading to the door at the very end of the hallway, knocking softly once she reaches it. She can hear a shuffling of sheets from inside before the lock clicks and the door swings open to reveal a disheveled, tired-looking Peeta.

"Katniss?" he asks in surprise, his eyes widening slightly as he looks her over with disbelief. "What are you—"

She doesn't wait for him to finish the question. She already knew he would be shocked by her visit. Instead she leans up, pressing her lips against his soft, warm ones. Her arms twine around his neck easily, and his arms soon find her waist, tugging her inside the room and closing the door with a swift kick.

He moans into her mouth when she parts her lips, allowing his tongue to slip past them. She shivers, dragging her fingers through the soft, messy curls atop his head. His chest is bare, she realizes as his arms wrap around her tighter, pressing their torsos together while he stumbles backwards toward the narrow cot in the corner of the room.

It's only out of necessity that she pulls away, taking in a deep breath, inhaling the sent of him as she does. His blue eyes glow as they take in the sight of her once more. Peeta settles onto the lumpy mattress, pulling her into his lap, her legs straddling his waist.

"Hi." She smiles softly, hoping that this wasn't one huge mistake, and that he won't be livid that she's interrupted his sleep.

"Hey," he laughs, his fingers digging softly into her waist, sending electricity pulsing through her. His voice is raspy when he adds, "This is a surprise."

"Hopefully a good one," she murmurs, pressing a kiss to the column of his neck. His semi-hard cock presses against her thigh, and a thrill runs through her, up her spine, to the edges of her very being.

His eyes darken, and his hands fumble with the buttons of her coat. She helps him, sliding her shoulders out of the slippery fabric, giving way to the simple, green shirt and black yoga pants she'd changed into before leaving the house.

"It's a wonderful one," he states assuredly, his voice hushed as his hands slip beneath the soft fabric of her shirt. His touch is cool against the heated planes of her skin, bringing each nerve to life as his fingers pass over her body.

Katniss watches him closely, taking note of the tiny crease that forms on his brow, the hesitant, heated spark in his eyes as his thumb brushes the edge of her bra. She leans forward, claiming his lips with her own. He releases a low, deep moan when her tongue slips along the inside of his bottom lip.

"Katniss." Her name is just a whisper, a breathless question, when they separate once again. His blue eyes, dark with need, search hers.

"I – I want you," she answers, the words stilted and not at all as alluring as she would have liked them to be, but she's never been good with words anyway. She rolls her hips against his to make her point known, the friction sending a small wave of pleasure lapping through her belly. His fingers tighten against her ribs, his pupils dilate, and she knows she's got him right where she wants him.

Before she can second guess herself, she reaches for the edge of her shirt and tugs it swiftly over her head. His hips thrust against her involuntarily as he groans, his gaze drinking in the sight of the only lacy bra she owns.

"Shit," he breathes, one large hand moving to cup her left breast, kneading gently as he does. His free hand tugs at the cup of her bra, releasing her nipple to the cool air and causing it to instantly harden.

He doesn't hesitate as he ducks his head, his lips latching on firmly to the tight bud. She whimpers, her hips rocking against him with each brush of his tongue against the pert, dusky nipple, with each nip at the sensitive skin. Her fingers delve into his rich curls, tugging him closer to her, his breath coming in quick puffs against her skin. His lashes flutter as his eyes glance up to meet hers, his tongue flicking against her nipple. His lips give a soft pop as he lets go, the chilly air meeting with the damp skin, causing her to whimper once more.

"You are so beautiful," he murmurs, his voice deep with want. Somehow, the way he looks up at her, some mixture of adoration and lust, makes her believe him. She's never felt beautiful before, but she doesn't doubt his sincerity.

Her cheeks flush beneath his words. She wants to say something back, to tell him what she's feeling, how terrifying it is but how much she wants it. The words don't come to her though, and instead she finds her fingers fumbling with the ties of his flannel pajama pants.

"Damn it," she curses, scowling at the knot that has somehow formed under her fingers. A rumbling laugh rises from deep within Peeta's chest; his eyes shine when she looks up at him with irritation. She wishes she could be one of those seductive girls who can pull off coy looks and untie pants easily. How much more embarrassing could she be?

His hands cover hers, making quick work of the jumbled strings, loosening the waist of his pants. "Sorry," she mumbles, her fingers toying with the fine line of curls that disappear into the band of his pajamas.

He chuckles, wrapping his arms around her again and pressing her chest to his. The sound of his laughter sends another wave of pleasure through her. Squirming in his lap, she reaches back, quickly releasing the clasp of her bra and tossing it somewhere across the room.

It would be so easy to get lost in the smile he gives her when their gazes meet again—one so genuine it causes an ache in her heart, one that shocks her and scares her and makes her want to hold him closer all at once.

He leans into her, her nipples grazing against the warmth of his chest, his lips finding the sensitive skin where her shoulder meets her neck, sucking gently. "Don't be sorry," he whispers, his words sending a chill through her that only makes her want him closer. "You're perfect, Katniss."

His nose nuzzles along her neck as he leans backwards, laying them both down on the cot with a quiet squeak of its springs. She lets her hands roam over his body, exploring slowly, her gaze focused as she takes in the pale skin stretched taut over the firm muscles that have held her so close over the last months.

A frown pulls at her lips when she notices the small, round scars that dot his upper torso. There aren't many, half a dozen at most, but it pulls at her heart, somehow familiar to her though she's never seen them before. His hand comes up to cover hers as her fingers graze one of the scars. He pulls the tips of her fingers to his lips, pressing soft kisses to each one. His tenderness elicits a shy smile from her.

"I don't know what you could possibly see in me," she whispers as though she's afraid he might agree. She slides down his torso without giving him a chance to answer, tugging his pants with her as she goes, encouraging him to lift his hips so she can release the erection straining against the fabric.

A flash of sadness finds his eyes, and his hand cups the back of her head, his fingers tangling in her dark locks, pressing gentle circles against her scalp. "You have no idea the effect you have, Katniss Everdeen," he whispers, the words strained as though he's willing her into seeing what he does.

Her hand finds him, wrapping around the satiny skin of his cock, gathering the bead of moisture at the tip before running her palm over his length. His hips arch into her touch, thrusting against her steadily as his breathing becomes more rapid, and he gives a pleased grunt.

His hand remains entangled in her dark hair, tugging gently when his breath hitches slightly in his chest. She likes the way he feels, the sounds he makes. It warms her belly and heats her blood in a way she's never felt before. She lowers her head, pressing a kiss to the vein that runs along the underside of his cock before taking him into the warmth of her mouth, reveling in the way his eyes roll back before those long golden lashes flutter and his eyelids close.

"Jesus," he whispers, his nails scratching dully at the nape of her neck, encouraging her to take him deeper. She hums her appreciation; Seneca always forced himself on her, often gagging her in the process — but she doesn't want to think about that — about him. Peeta is gentle, passionate, but she knows she can trust him.

"Katniss," he calls out in a guttural moan when her cheeks hollow with effort, her head bobbing over his length. "I – Katniss, I'm gonna—" He pushes at her shoulder in an attempt to convey what she already knows. His hips jerk against her, and a hot spurt of liquid hits the back of her throat. She swallows quickly, suckling his head until his thrusts still, and he collapses against the cot with a disbelieving moan.

The tip of her tongue slips past her lips, wetting the swollen skin as she sits up, watching him hesitantly. His eyes open, the piercing blue she loves so much gazing up at her with an intensity she never expected. A hand searches out hers, knitting his fingers between her shaky ones, tugging insistently.

"C'mere," he rasps, guiding her to rest her head on the pillow beside him. He gives her a lazy grin, and suddenly she can't match his stare.

Has she gone too far? Was this all too fast? Was she insane for coming here, for doing this?

"Why are you still in these?" he questions, his thumb hooking beneath the band of her yoga pants. He arches an eyebrow, tugging gently.

She bites back a smile but lifts her hips. She can't deny him anything when he smiles at her that way. The fabric slips away easily, a stark contrast to her struggles disrobing him. She kicks the pants off once they reach her ankles, leaving her in a pair of panties that suddenly feel tinier under his heated gaze. Peeta drags his fingers along the lacy trim with a smirk. His touch tickles, and she squirms beneath him. He chuckles, settling himself over her and kissing her slowly, his lips moving in tandem with hers, in no hurry for this to end.

Her lungs ache, burning for air and drowning in Peeta. Her hands glide along the toned muscles of his back, pressing him closer to her, encasing her in his warmth. He pulls away, trailing lazy, heated kisses along her neck, between her breasts, over her navel.

"Peeta," she warns breathlessly, but he kneels between her legs, reaching for her ankle and pressing slow kisses along the curve of her calf, up her inner thigh. A shallow breath hitches in her chest. She is speechless as his fingers hook around the thin fabric of her panties.

With a lift of her hips and a slip of his hands, she is bared before him. She fights the urge to cross her legs as he takes her in, his eyes lingering over ever inch of her olive skin. She closes her eyes. It shouldn't make her feel like this. She's been with a dozen men in the last several years, and she's never felt so naked, so vulnerable with any of them. Why does he make her feel like this?

"Katniss," he calls softly, his breath hot against her thigh. Her eyes snap open in shock to find him smiling softly, his pupils wide pools against the vibrant rings of blue. "Keep your eyes open. I want to watch you." His hand smoothes along her thigh, pinning her hip to the cot just as the flat of his tongue slips along her core.

"Peeta, don't!" she practically shouts, sitting up and quickly snapping her knees together. "What are you doing?" she demands, her fear sounding a lot like anger as she wraps her arms around her legs. She bites her lip, praying to God that she doesn't do something stupid like cry. Seneca's old taunts echo in her mind. You taste terrible! Why would any man want to put their mouth there? Why would you ask me to do something disgusting like that?

Peeta's eyes are wide as he sits up. His look of horror would be impossible to mistake. "Katniss, what's wrong?" he reaches a hand hesitantly to her shoulder, squeezing gently as he takes a shaky breath. "What did I do? Did I hurt you?"

She looks away before speaking again. "What were you doing, Peeta?"

"Katniss." His finger hooks under her chin, turning her head to face his once more. The frown he wears is one of confusion. "Hey, I didn't mean to scare you. We don't have to do anything. I just… I wanted to return the favor." He hesitates, taking an unsteady breath. "If you're not ready for that yet—"

"Why would you want to do that?" she questions, the tips of her ears burning with embarrassment. "It's disgusting. I know it is. You don't have to."

His jaw drops, his eyes going wide once again. "Wh – why would you think that?"

She rolls her eyes, ducking her gaze to his chest so she doesn't have to look at him when she speaks. "You don't have to play stupid, Peeta. I've been with men before. I know it tastes awful."

"Who told you that?" he questions with a disbelieving laugh. His face falls once her wide, grey eyes meet his. "Some guy actually told you that? He told you that and you've believed it all this time?"

Her cheeks flush with a new kind of embarrassment now. He's making fun of her. She slips quickly from the cot, grabbing her clothing as fast as she can manage in hopes that she might still be able to save some of her dignity tonight.

"Katniss," he calls, the word laden with sorrow. She hates his pity. She fucking hates it. "Katniss." His hand wraps firmly around her upper arm, and she turns quickly, grasping her shirt to her naked chest, her face distorted by the sour taste of humiliation.

"Just forget it, Peeta," she whispers bitterly, precariously close to tears. She needs to get out of here.

He doesn't let go though. He pulls her to his chest, nestling her against the warmth that she so craved only minutes ago, and she begins to melt instantly. He buries his face against her hair, his nose nuzzling gently against her neck, sending a shiver through her traitorous body.

"It's not disgusting," he murmurs, his lips grazing her ear. "Just thinking about it makes me hard." His voice makes her knees go weak in spite of herself. Her resolve begins to shatter the second she hears the deep groan rise from his throat. "I want to make you fall apart under my mouth. I want to make you moan my name until you're hoarse." He begins to guide them back towards the cot, lowering her beneath him once more. "I want to taste you. I want to make your thighs tremble around me."

The way he describes it makes it sound like something beautiful, like something to be enjoyed, not only by her, but by him as well. He settles her beneath him, pressing a sweet kiss to her lips, waiting until she can't help but kiss him back, her lips dancing slowly with his.

As the kiss ends, he brushes the stray hairs back from her face, watching her carefully. "Will you let me show you?" He kisses her cheek. "Please?"

She watches him silently for a long moment. His eyes proclaim his sincerity; that much is easy to see. Raising one hand, she lets her fingers travel the firm line of his jaw, the gentle slope of his nose, trace the arc of his forehead. If she can trust anyone, it would be this man. She hasn't known him long, but she can't doubt his earnestness. She nods. "Okay."

He presses a tender kiss to her lips, slowly retracing the path along her body until his mouth is once again inches away from her most private place. She closes her eyes tightly as she fights with her mind to keep the memories of Seneca's malicious words at bay.

"Stay with me, Katniss," he murmurs, pressing a gentle kiss right above the apex of her thighs. She trembles realizing suddenly how much her body wants his mouth a little lower. His hand finds hers, his fingers twining reassuringly with hers.

Slowly, she opens her eyes to meet his. He doesn't look away for a single moment as he lowers his mouth to her. His free hand moves to hold her hips still as she arches up into the wet warmth of his mouth. She lets out a shuddering breath, her eyes pinned to his as his tongue laps along her slit, up, until his lips latch onto that small bud of nerves. His tongue flicks slowly against it and she keens, her toes curling against the scratchy hospital sheets.

She whimpers, writhing against him, her hands delving into his curls as she loses herself in his touch. He laps eagerly at her arousal, the tip of his nose brushing that tender bundle of nerves, and she tugs firmly at his hair, pulling him closer. He hums his appreciation, and the vibrations send her hips bucking against his face.

She would have half a mind to be embarrassed if her every sense wasn't lost in Peeta. He smiles against her, his pupils wide with desire. His teeth graze her clit, and she bites back a scream as spears of pleasure shoot through her, igniting her with a want so carnal she doesn't think she could stop now if she tried. What's building inside of her is unlike anything she's felt before.

"Let go, Katniss," he growls, the words causing her muscles to shake. "I want to hear you fall apart."

His tongue slips through her wetness before his lips latch around her clit one last time, sucking firmly with a flick of his tongue. Her back arches and her thighs clamp against him. Her fingers tug at his soft, golden curls. "Peeeeeta!" she cries, riding the waves of pleasure crashing through her as his tongue laps gently against her. Her body shudders, her muscles twitching in the aftershocks of bliss. His thumb presses gentle circles into her thigh as he sits up, shuffling up the bed until his body is aligned with hers again.

He gives her a look that she is too delirious to truly process as she grins up at him. Her body is utterly relaxed when he leans down and kisses her, his tongue slipping to meet with hers. She is hesitant at first when she tastes herself on him, but the mixture is almost erotic as his tongue melds gently with hers.

"See?" he rasps once he pulls away slightly, his lips still close enough to brush against hers as he speaks. "That's not disgusting," he adds firmly. She leans forward, capturing his lips again in a lazy kiss.

He smiles softly when they pull apart, gathering her to his chest. She rests her cheek against him, listening to the quick thud of his heart. His hand slowly traces the curve of her waist, and he buries his nose against her hair, inhaling deeply.

"Peeta, I—" she stops, tilting her head back so she can take in the hard line of his jaw. He angles his chin down, observing her with a look that makes her belly tingle. "Thanks," she finishes lamely.

He gives her a sated smile. "It was my pleasure, Katniss. You're even more beautiful when you come."

She snorts disbelievingly, giving his chest a playful smack, but he simply takes her hand in his, lacing their fingers and pressing a kiss to the back of her hand.

"You're perfect," he whispers, his words laced with sleep.

Her eyelids grow heavy as his breathing evens out, and she snuggles closer to his chest, reveling in the warmth his body gives.

"Stay with me, tonight?" he questions.

"Okay," she agrees, nestling her body closer to his. She couldn't bring herself to leave him now if she tried.

Katniss returns home with the sunrise, Peeta having risen early to get a head start on the day's rounds. She doesn't notice the giddy smile on her lips as she slips through the doorway and tosses her keys and phone onto the small table beside the door. Her mind is too preoccupied with memories of last night and waking this morning in Peeta's arms to notice the willowy, blonde woman sitting on the old loveseat with her arms crossed over her chest.

"Ahem."

Katniss freezes, her wide, grey eyes snapping from her reverie.

"Prim!" Her tone gives away her shock at finding her baby sister sitting right in front of her. The younger woman doesn't make to move so Katniss crosses the room. "I didn't know you were coming home."

"Well, you wouldn't." The words are cold coming from Prim's lips, her eyes flashing with icy anger. "You've been lying to me, Katniss. Were you ever planning on telling me about everything that's been going on?"

Katniss can feel the guilt blush across her cheeks. They both know exactly what Prim is referring to and she knows it's abundantly clear to both of them that she was never going to burden Prim with the truth. It's always been like this. Katniss has always felt the need to shelter Prim, even as she grew older. It's become the one major source of contention between them.

"Haymitch called me," she explains once the silence begins to stretch on for too long. "He's worried about you."

Prim levels her with a pointed look. Katniss decides to ignore it, not prepared to delve so deeply into the swell of emotions that she's been keeping locked away as best she can over the last several months. It is then that she realizes how quiet the house is—not even the murmur of the television in the den drifts up to them.

"Where are they?" she questions, earning a frustrated look from the younger woman.

"I sent them out to the store," Prim waves a delicate hand through the air as though pushing the thought aside, indicating that her attention will not be swayed easily today. "I wanted to talk to you without Mom around."

"There's not much to talk about, Prim." Katniss shrugs, but she can't stop the way she shifts her weight nervously between her feet. Judging by the look her little sister is giving her, Prim doesn't miss the nervous tick.

"Liar." Try as she might to maintain a stern look, the younger woman's lips turn up ever so slightly. "Will you sit down?" She pats the seat beside her. "You're making me nervous, and I'm supposed to be the inquisitor."

Katniss collapses onto the cushion with a defeated sigh. There's no use in fighting it. If there's one similarity between the sisters, it's the stubbornness they both inherited from their father. Prim isn't going to let any of this go until all of her questions are answered.

"Uncle Haymitch told me about the other night…that Mom tried to kill herself."

"It's under control," Katniss assures her, but the shake in her voice is a dead giveaway. She takes a steadying breath. "She has an appointment Monday with her doctor. We'll see about getting her meds adjusted again."

"She should be in the hospital," Prim argues, turning in her seat to face Katniss with a look of surprise. "Don't tell me that you don't think this is really serious, Katniss?"

"Of course I do!" she spits, wringing her hands against one another to conceal the way they shake at the thought of what could have happened. "I know how lucky we were that she called, and that Haymitch was nearby when it happened."

"Then why didn't you take her directly to the E.R. after you found her?"

They stare one another down for a long, silent moment. Katniss wonders when Prim grew to be so confrontational and reasons it probably has a lot to do with her medical school training. It would difficult to remain the perfectly sweet, innocent, quiet girl that Katniss practically raised when she's dealing with critically ill patients on a regular basis.

"I have things under control!" Katniss blurts out, throwing her hands up in frustration. "We got her wrists stitched up, and Haymitch hasn't left her since it happened."

"Have you completely lost your mind?" Prim demands, standing in a swift movement and turning to face her sister with a disappointed glare. "This isn't something you should be dealing with alone – or at all! This is something for the professionals. Mom clearly isn't regulated on her meds. That's not something you can fix by trying harder."

"I know that," Katniss says softly, tugging at the end of her braid with still shaky hands.

The fact of the matter is that Prim has hit the nail on the head, and they both know it. Katniss has spent too many years trying to prove that she's capable of caring for her mother.

"Katniss…" She can't look at her younger sister because she knows she'll find pity in the younger woman's eyes. She can't stand pity.

They are spared an awkward silence when her phone pings softly from its place on the table near the door. The screen flashes brightly, and Prim turns to grab it before Katniss even makes to move. When the blonde turns around again, a small frown pulls at her pretty face as she stares down at the screen in her hand.

"Who's Peeta?"

Katniss's eyes snap from the floor to her sister's blue ones, her heart skipping wildly against her chest all the while. Prim arches an eyebrow curiously, holding out the phone so the screen faces her sister. There's no denying the little black box that flashes in the center of the screen, Peeta's name written across the top.

"And why is he texting you that last night was amazing, and he wishes you could have been there to enjoy an eighty-six-year old man's groin rash with him?"

Katniss bites her bottom lip, trying to hide the smile that pulls at her lips despite her terror over Prim discovering that she has been keeping the man in her life a secret. She shakes her head slowly, reaching out for the phone and typing a quick reply when Prim hands it to her.

"Katniss," Prim repeats, tapping her foot warningly against the floor, "who is Peeta?"

"He – he's," she pauses. How does she describe him? Are they dating? They haven't really broached the subject, but it certainly seems like he's more than just a guy she's spending time with — especially after last night; at least she thought that it was more than just a random hookup. "He's a doctor at the hospital."

Prim has never been good at concealing her emotions, another similarity between the two women, and Katniss can't mistake the shock as her words register.

"And the doctor has your number because?"

Katniss sucks in a deep breath before letting the words tumble from her lips, "We've been seeing each other."

"You're dating a doctor that you work with," Prim states flatly, clearly bothered by the notion.

"It's not like that—"

"I didn't say it was like anything!" she counters. "I just don't know if it's a good idea…" Prim settles back into her seat, letting her words trail off. She doesn't need to finish anyway. Katniss has already thought of every problem there could be with such a relationship herself.

"He's not like that," Katniss assures her, softly adding, "He was there the night Mom hurt herself. He was the one who sewed her back up for me."

Blue eyes meet grey, creating a pregnant silence. Katniss picks nervously at the hem of her shirt, waiting for Prim's final judgment on the matter, because no matter how much she tries to tell herself it doesn't, her baby sister's opinion means the world to her.

"When do I get to meet him?" she questions with a heavy sigh, her pale hand reaching for her sister's darker one.

Katniss smiles for the first time since she walked through the door, and she shakes her head. "I don't know. He's busy for the next few days."

"Busy?" Prim questions suspiciously. "He doesn't want to meet the rest of your family?"

"No." Katniss shakes her head firmly, immediately understanding where Prim's train of thought is going with this. Prim never kept it a secret how she felt about Seneca Crane. "I'm sure he would love to, but he's a hospitalist. He's on call and it makes it hard for him to get away –"

"I know what it's like to be a hospitalist, Katniss," Prim snorts with a dramatic roll of her eyes. Of course she does. Prim has worked with a handful of hospitalists herself during her clinical rotations. "But I still want to meet him," she adds firmly. "No excuses. They granted me a week of leave from school and hospital rounds when I explained what was going on."

"You don't have to do that," she says, imagining all the work that Prim will have to make up. "Everything is okay here."

"No, it's not," Prim argues stubbornly. "I'm staying, Katniss, whether you like it or not. I'm going with you and Mom to her appointment Monday, and I'm meeting your doctor boyfriend."

They stare at each other once more before an uncontrollable smile breaks across Katniss's lips. She shakes her head and stands, wrapping her arms around the slight frame of her little sister.

"When did you get to be so damn pigheaded?" she asks, breathing in the sweet sent that will always be intrinsically linked to Prim—fresh and floral and light.

Prim snorts. "I learned from the best. What would you expect?"

Katniss chuckles, pulling back slightly from their embrace to take in the sight of the woman before her once more. She's not sure how her baby sister managed to blossom under the harsh conditions of their upbringing, but Katniss is so very proud of her.

"Please tell me you brought breakfast with you," Katniss says, breaking the easy silence between the two.

Prim laughs easily, pointing to the partially obscured dining room table laden with several plates of pancakes and bacon and eggs.

"Did you really think I would drive all the way home and not feed you?" Prim rolls her eyes as Katniss quickly crosses the room, breathing deeply to take in the heavenly aroma.

The sound of the front door opening draws both of their attentions to Haymitch as he shuffles over the threshold closely followed by their mother. The corners of Lily's mouth turn up slightly as she silently removes her coat and makes her way upstairs to her bedroom.

"Have you two settled things yet, or should I drag your mother back out with me?" Haymitch questions gruffly as he hangs up his own coat.

"It's fine, Uncle Haymitch," Prim says, crossing the room and giving him a hug that he pretends not to enjoy.

Katniss watches the exchange through narrowed eyes, and he arches an eyebrow in her direction when he notices. "What's your problem, Sweetheart?"

"You knew I didn't want Prim to worry," she answers coolly. "There's a reason I didn't call her myself."

"Well," he gives an irritated huff, "excuse me for playing the concerned uncle, but I just didn't feel like dealing with two mental breakdowns in the same week."

She gives an exasperated sigh, but doesn't argue further as she goes to the kitchen and begins dishing out food.

As they sit down together, it almost feels like they've been transported back to when she was only seventeen. She can't remember the last time they were all gathered around the table together. And her mother sits across from her, staring blankly at the wall, as vacant and unavailable as ever. She wonders if any of this will ever change—if things will ever really get better


AN: Thank you all so much for your patience in waiting for this chapter. Life has been brutal lately, but things seem to be on the upward swing so hopefully updates will be more regular again. As always, I adore hearing what you're thinking about the story. Feel free to let me know either through a review or finding me on tumblr at therebelliondies dot tumblr dot com. And once again many, many thanks go out to Court81981 for her fantastic and speedy beta work. You're the best, darling. I don't know how you always manage it!