AN: Hello everyone! Yes I am still alive and yes I do still plan to complete this story along with my other WIPs even if it ends up being at a glacial pace. Thank you to everyone who has commented and asked about this story. You have no idea what your interest and support mean to me. So without further ado – enjoy chapter nine!


Present

The sky is still dark outside when the sound of running water wakes Katniss the next morning. It takes her a moment to remember where she is, but when her eyes land on a pair of familiar slacks left in a rumpled heap on the floor beside the bed, she recalls.

Something inside her sighs his name softly. Her skin burns as she remembers his touch from only hours ago. A lazy shiver runs up her spine.

Peeta.

A dull squeak sounds from behind the door to her right followed by the muffled sounds of cabinets being opened and shut. She snuggles deeper under the warmth of the covers as memories from last night wash over her. The look on his face when he asked her to stay. The way he trembled beneath her when she touched his scars.

The sound of the doorknob turning brings her back to the present as Peeta steps into view, the ends of his hair still damp and curling slightly against his neck as he runs a towel over the unruly locks. A pair of black boxer briefs are the only clothes he wears and they don't leave much to the imagination. He grins shyly when his blue eyes meet hers.

"Good morning," he greets softly, tossing the towel into a basket in the corner of the room before slipping back into bed beside her. "Did I wake you?"

Katniss shakes her head, not trusting her voice when he's so close, smelling of fresh soap and that musky scent that seems to be permanently embedded in his skin.

He worries his bottom lip lightly with his teeth, his eyes shining with contentment. "I'm glad you stayed."

"Me too," she chokes out as his hands find their way around her waist. His lips meet with hers in a gentle kiss but she pulls away sharply when she tastes the clean spearmint flavor of his tongue.

He shoots her a worried look but laughs when he notices the way she cringes before covering her mouth with a small, olive-toned hand. Katniss is out of the bed and across the room before Peeta has a moment to protest and she hears him chuckle quietly from the other side of the bathroom door once she has raided his cabinets and found a tube of toothpaste.

"You do what you need to, Katniss," he says. "Shower if you want. You're free to use whatever you can find. I'm going to go make breakfast."

She stares at the door for a long moment, wondering how on earth she's managed to find herself here, in a doctor's bathroom with toothpaste slathered on her right index finger. A few months ago she would have laughed at anyone who suggested she might one day be in this situation.

With a shake of her head, she gets to work at making herself presentable. She showers quickly, only pausing twice to inhale the familiar scent of Peeta's body wash before lathering it over her skin. By the time she opens the door to the bathroom, the scent of bacon fills the air. She pulls on the pair of boxer shorts and overlarge t-shirt that Peeta left sitting neatly on the bed for her.

She is just tying off the end of her braid when she wanders into the kitchen and hears Peeta singing along softly to some top ten hit playing on the radio. She bites her bottom lip to keep from laughing but it does nothing to conceal her smile when he hits a note that is particularly off key. The floor creeks beneath her step when she walks further into the kitchen, gaining Peeta's attention as he spins around, spatula in hand. His cheeks burn pink while his eyes rove over her exposed skin.

"You should probably keep your day job, Dr. Mellark," she teases lightly as she leans a hip against the counter.

His cheeks turn redder if it's even possible as he tugs a hand through his messy mop of curls. "I'm tone deaf. I inherited it from my father. In fact, I don't think there's a Mellark that can carry a tune. It's unfortunate since I love music and I would have loved to be in musicals when I was growing up." His blush spreads down his neck. He's rambling and they both realize it. She can't help but find his nervous energy endearing though. "So… I hope you like blueberry pancakes."

Katniss laughs quietly despite her best efforts not to. She tries to ignore the way her stomach swoops a little at his shy smile. She pushes aside the urge to kiss his jaw where his blush is just beginning to recede.

"I can't remember the last time I had blueberry pancakes," Katniss says as he flips the round cakes onto plates next to the stove. "They smell amazing."

"And I figured I couldn't go wrong with bacon," Peeta explains as he pulls the sizzling strips from their pan and plates them as well.

"Of course not," she agrees as he hands her a plate and they settle down on the stools at the breakfast bar.

Katniss groans when the first bite of fluffy, sweet pancake meets her tongue. Peeta releases a chuckle from deep in his throat as Katniss begins to shamelessly shovel the food into her mouth, barely giving herself time to breathe. She didn't realize how hungry she was until now, but she finds herself ravenous.

When she scrapes the last bits of blueberry from her plate, she glances up into a set of bright blue eyes, crinkled at the edges by the cheeky grin he's wearing. "I'm sorry," she apologizes, wiping her lips with a napkin, hoping he doesn't notice the blush spreading over her cheeks. "That was probably disgusting. I was just so hungry."

"No," Peeta laughs, clearing their plates and placing them in the dishwasher before turning back to face her. "It's refreshing. Everything about you is different, Katniss. I'm never quite sure what to expect next."

"And that's good?" She frowns in question. Her quirks always annoyed Seneca more than anything else.

Peeta smiles in that sweet, gentle way that she's come to be familiar with, the one that makes her insides warm and the butterflies in her stomach flutter excitedly. He rounds the counter and settles himself between her knees as he wraps his arms around her waist.

"It's very good," he assures her in a low murmur before placing a brief kiss to her lips.

"Oh," she whispers dumbly, unable to think of any better response while her heart is pounding so frantically against her ribs. She wants nothing more than to weave her fingers through his curls and kiss him for the rest of the morning. And that simple thought scares her more than she ever could have expected.

His lips brush against hers again but he pulls away too soon, nipping gently at her bottom lip before straightening up and brushing a stray bit of hair behind her ear.

"We should talk about last night," he says, his words like a bomb dropped in the middle of some idyllic meadow. Katniss blinks several times, trying to catch up with his sudden change in conversation.

"What is there to talk about?" She frowns, a deep furrow forming between her brows as she looks up at him. Her hands wring against one another as she wonders whether he's changed his mind, if he regrets what they've done.

"Well, a lot actually." He shrugs, reaching to cover her hands with one of his and giving them a gentle squeeze. "Relax, Katniss."

She looks down at their hands, his fair skin a stark contrast against her darker hands as though mocking how mismatched they are for one another.

"If you changed your mind – if you don't want to do this anymore - just say so, Peeta. I promise I can still be professional. You don't have to –"

"Katniss –"

"- worry about me going around saying anything. I won't say anything to –"

"Katniss!" Peeta shouts, silencing her worried rambling. Her wide, silver eyes meet his. "I don't want to take back any of it," he explains gently, his thumb brushing over her knuckles in a soothing motion.

"You don't?" she questions, the surprise in her tone impossible to miss.

"No." He says simply. The lead fist around Katniss's chest loosens a bit. His steady gaze meets hers and it acts like a balm to her anxiety.

"I just think we should have a serious talk about our lack of protection. That's not at all like me. I wasn't thinking clearly last night. I want you to know that I'm going to go get tested today and as soon as I have the results, I'll share them with you."

She stares up at him in shock. This is definitely not a turn she expected this conversation to take. She's speechless, but he doesn't seem to notice as he continues speaking.

"I don't sleep around and I never behave as recklessly as I did last night," he assures her. "I promise I'm clean but I was upset and you were there and I needed to feel you." In a whisper that she can barely make out, he adds, "I needed to remember that I was safe."

Her hands turn over and her fingers lace with his like interlocking pieces to a puzzle. She's never had a conversation like this before. Seneca always dictated the rules of their relationship so she's been on the shot ever since she first started having sex with him. He only used condoms long enough for the contraceptive to become effective and he complained the entire time about how it made everything feel duller. He never suggested they get tested and Katniss was far too naïve to even contemplate broaching the topic.

She knew that she wasn't his first, but at the time she always assumed he'd taken precautions with the others before her. She assumed that what they had was special and that's why he was so against using condoms with her. It was months after they broke up before she realized what an idiot she'd been.

"I'm on the shot!" Katniss blurts out, her mind too shocked to come up with any better response. She cringes at the complete lack of tact she's demonstrating this morning. She's so shocked by this entire conversation and there are so many thoughts bombarding her mind that she can barely think straight.

Peeta nods slowly. "Okay. Good." He gives her a smile. "That's one less thing to worry about I guess."

"Uh," she squirms beneath his gaze. "Yeah."

"I'll get tested and show you the results when I get them," he reiterates, his thumb brushing along her wrist. Katniss nods numbly.

"Will you?" he questions quietly, pulling her attention away from the unexpectedness of the conversation and back to the stunning man in front of her.

"Huh?" She blinks up at him in confusion again. He must think she's an idiot. There's no possible way that he couldn't with the way this discussion is going.

"Will you get tested too?" he asks, his words slow and deliberate as he watches her cautiously. "Then we could both be confident that we're clean."

Her cheeks burn beneath his gaze and she tugs her hands from his grasp.

"I don't sleep around either, Peeta. It's been months since I was with anyone," she whispers.

"I'm not trying to say that you do," he reasons easily, reaching for her hands once more before she can walk away. "I just think it would be good for us both to be checked. That way we both know. It's a clean slate. Neither one of us has to worry about it then."

She shrugs, but her muscles begin to relax as his thumb traces its gentle pattern along her wrist again. "Okay."

His smile is breathtaking when he hears her reply and he tugs her into his arms, holding her against his chest as he dips his head to whisper in a low growl, "Then we'll be able to continue what we started. I can't pretend that I didn't enjoy last night."

A shiver runs through her spine and she bites her lip as a smile spreads across her face. She likes the sound of that.

Past: 18-years-old

"I love you," Katniss whispers, trying to take in every bit of this moment. She smiles up at the dark-haired man beside her, memorizing the way his eyes glitter in the late afternoon light.

"You too," he replies with a smile, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her back to his chest so she loses sight of his face. She doesn't mind though, instead watching the curtain as it billows lazily in the late summer breeze.

She never expected her first time to feel like this. It hurt at first, and then it turned into something that whispered of pleasure. Seneca hadn't spoken much during the act. In fact, she blushes as she remembers the irritated look he gave her when she cried out his name when his touch sent a spear of pleasure rocketing through her. She wonders if maybe people don't normally do that. She wonders if she was too loud. She's thankful that he didn't laugh at her during their first time together. She'll learn; she's determined to make him happy.

"I need to get ready," Seneca says, interrupting her thoughts as he slides out of bed.

Katniss frowns, wishing he would lie back down and spend a few more minutes tangled together with her. The sweat has barely begun to dry from her skin. She sits up. "Where are we going?"

He shakes his head as he moves towards the bathroom off his bedroom. "I told you earlier, babe."

She is almost certain he never said anything about having plans for this evening. In fact, Seneca barely spoke at all before pulling her to his lips when she showed up at his apartment.

"I have a night out planned with the guys," he shouts from the bathroom as the sound of the tap running reaches her ears.

This causes her frown to deepen. "So you mean you're not staying here tonight? I thought we would have dinner—"

"Baby, I can't." He slips back into the room, grabbing a pair of boxers from his dresser as he passes. He bends over, tugging the cotton garment over his toned legs. "I would spend more time with you, but I promised the boys and you know how they get when I cancel."

He fixes her with a pitying look before turning to his closet and browsing his shirts. Katniss tugs the sheet over her chest, concealing her nakedness though no one is watching her. Her stomach starts to roll in a way that makes her sick. She wishes Seneca would just look at her, reassure her somehow that this afternoon wasn't one huge mistake.

He glances over his shoulder with an easy smile and her nerves relax a bit. "Do you mind letting yourself out?" he questions before turning back to his closet. "I'm already running late and I still need to shower and get dressed."

Katniss bites her bottom lip to keep it from quivering as she nods and slips out from under the covers. His words sting like a rubber band snapped against her heart. She quickly gathers her clothes, pulling them on haphazardly. She doesn't give a damn what she looks like right now.

She walks quickly out of the bedroom once she's fully clothed and is nearly through the front door when an arm wraps around her waist followed by a pair of lips pressed firmly against the curve of her neck. His thumb rubs gently against her stomach as he pulls her back against his chest.

"Thank you," he murmurs, his voice soft and deep, melting away whatever anger or irritation she'd felt only a moment ago. "Today was great, Katniss. Next time we'll have dinner afterwards, okay?"

She turns and his flint-colored eyes search hers uncertainly. "Okay." Katniss nods. She doesn't want him to leave her over something as stupid as this evening.

He gives her a cheeky grin, patting her hip before reaching for the door and opening it for her. "Okay. Thanks again, babe."

"Sure," she replies with a weak smile. "I lo—"

The door shuts behind her before she can finish the thought. She tries to deny the sting that throbs in her chest as she makes her way down the street. It's a long walk home. She thought Seneca would drive her back to her house this evening.

Present

"What's up with you?" Johanna demands, distracting Katniss from the medication she is drawing up into a syringe.

Katniss lifts an eyebrow and glances over at the sharp gaze of the brunette beside her. "What do you mean?"

"You've been quiet all day," she states, crossing her arms over her ample chest and narrowing her eyes. "But not in that 'my-mom-isn't-doing-well' way. It's like your head is in some other world right now."

"I don't know," Katniss shrugs, biting her bottom lip to help conceal the smile that has been trying to plant itself firmly on her face all day. If there's one thing she knows it's that that smile would be a dead giveaway to an observer as astute as Johanna. Katniss Everdeen is not the type of nurse that smiles through the whole shift, even if it feels like her body is trying to make her do just that. "I'm just tired I guess."

"Bullshit." Johanna counters almost before the excuse leaves her lips. "I know tired Katniss and this isn't her. You don't even have circles under your eyes. In fact, you look downright… oh shit."

"What?" Katniss demands, snapping the safety over the needle of the syringe she's holding.

"You bumped uglies with the doctor!"

Something inside of Katniss bristles at the sound of shock in Johanna's voice but it's quickly dominated by the happy quickening of her heart inside her chest when she thinks of Peeta. Her cheeks flush as she ducks her gaze from her friend's and goes about collecting the rest of the supplies she needs for her patient.

"I can't believe it. Damn, Everdeen, I didn't think you had it in you!"

"You know everything you're saying could be taken offensively, Johanna," Katniss points out flatly. There's no point in trying to deny something happened between herself and Peeta. Johanna is a freaking bloodhound about that sort of thing.

"Well, I don't mean you don't have a banging body. But damn!" Johanna steps back to take a better look at Katniss. "Even I haven't fucked a doctor that I work with. One I don't work with, maybe… So was he good? He looks like he'd leave your legs weak after he's done with you."

"I'm not talking about this here," Katniss shoots over her shoulder as she ducks out of the med room.

"Well if it isn't my favorite, most lovely nurse." Finnick's familiar voice greets her before the door to the med room has a chance to close behind her. She can hear Johanna cackling from behind the heavy wood when it finally swings shut.

"What are you doing up here, Dr. Odair?" Katniss asks curtly, in no mood to be made fun of by another coworker. She has every suspicion that he already knows what happened last night between her and Peeta. She still can't forget the smug look that he gave her this morning when she returned his car keys. She has to wonder if she's an open book to everyone around her with the way they can all guess what's going on in her sex life.

"I just wanted to thank you for bringing home my baby without a scratch this morning," he puts extra emphasis on the last word before grinning like a cat with a canary. "I hope things went okay with Peeta."

"You told him and not me?!" Johanna shrieks, flying out of the med room, hands on her hips as she makes her way across the nurse's station to stand uncomfortably close to Katniss. "You can't even take the time to share the dirty details of your romp with the doctor with your best friend but you share it with another doctor!"

Now even Finnick's cheeks are tinted pink as he glances between the two women in front of him.

"Uh, clearly I said something I shouldn't," he says, clearing his throat. "I didn't mean to imply anything."

Katniss cringes. Judging by the surprise in his tone, Finnick didn't know what happened. He does now though, and it's sure to make its way back to Peeta who's going to think she's some skank that tells everyone in the hospital about the guys she fucks.

"Oh god," she groans, letting her face fall into her hands, wishing that the floor would just open up and swallow her whole.

"Oh," Johanna says with a nervous laugh, "my bad. I thought you knew, Dr. Odair."

"Well, I had my suspicions-"

"I'm standing right here!" Katniss snaps, her silver eyes blazing with a mixture of frustration and humiliation when she looks up at the two people before her. "Can you not speculate about my sex life right in front of me?"

Johanna grins, slinging an arm around Katniss's shoulders. "I for one am proud of you, Katniss."

"Oh my god!" Katniss shouts, ducking out from beneath her friend's embrace and hurrying away from the nurse's station before her embarrassment kills her. She can already feel the blush crawling from her cheeks to cover her neck and most of her face.

She's nearly out of earshot when she hears Johanna speak to Finnick in a gleeful voice, "Okay cough up the twenty bucks. I told you they wouldn't make it through the month before getting into each other's pants."

"Everdeen."

Katniss stands, nearly dropping her purse as she gathers it and her coat to quickly join the tall nurse wearing purple scrubs at the door to the waiting room.

She left work and immediately drove thirty minutes to a clinic two towns over that performs STD checks. Johanna laughed when she reluctantly admitted where she was going after work. She was floored not so much because Katniss was getting tested – Johanna is all for safety – but because she was driving so far when she could get it done at a clinic five minutes from the hospital.

Katniss just couldn't get Johanna to understand that she would rather die than run into anyone she knew, whether personally or professionally. So here she is, exhausted after a long shift, following some perky nurse to a bathroom to pee in a cup.

She does her business as efficiently as possible, handing the cup to the same perky nurse who labels it and places it in the cooler to be sent to lab before the clinic closes tonight.

"You can take a seat in the chair over there, Katniss," the nurse says, indicating an oversized recliner with a table where she can rest her arm as the nurse draws blood for the tests. "Were you exposed to anything in particular that you know of?" she inquires matter-of-factly.

Even after all this time working as a nurse, she is never entirely comfortable when on the other side of the questions.

"Uh. No," she answers softly. "Just taking precautions. My – uh – the guy I'm with wanted us both to be sure."

The girl nods, filling out the lab forms quickly. "Smart of him. And are you using protection?"

Katniss cringes. She's always been a private person and this line of questioning is enough to kill her with discomfort. "Yeah. I mean, I'm on the shot so we don't need to worry about that and I'm here. So-"

"Have you had a conversation about whether you plan for your relationship to be monogamous?"

She wants to snap at the girl, to tell her to mind her own business and get to work, but she knows that it's just part of her job so she bites her tongue.

"Uh, yeah," she lies, hoping to get this all over faster.

The nurse gives her a tiny smile before snapping a tourniquet off of the roll and tying it above Katniss's elbow. She pulls on a set of gloves and prods gently at the crook of her arm, finding a bouncy vein before readying the needle.

"Okay, just a couple tubes of blood and you'll be finished," she says reassuringly. "One big poke," she warns before inserting the needle smoothly through Katniss's skin and into the vein.

The tubes are filled and the tourniquet is off in record time. The nurse hands her a paper that gives information on the tests done and how long before results can be expected. On the way out, a secretary who looks like she couldn't be older than 18 hands Katniss a bag of assorted condoms.

"Thanks," she says awkwardly before shoving her arms into her coat and pushing through the doors. The burst of fresh air helps clear her mind and calm her. It's done now.

She checks her phone as she turns on the ignition of her car and sees a message from Peeta.

Plans tonight?

Her fingers tap quietly against the screen in reply.

I'm about 30 minutes away. I can head to your place when I'm back in town. What did you have in mind?

It's only a handful of seconds before her phone chirps again and she opens the message to a picture of a delicious pan of shrimp and sauce on a stove that looks remarkably like Peeta's.

Dinner. I missed you today.

She smiles as she reads the words, her stomach doing little somersaults inside her belly. She's hesitant to admit that she missed him too. It seems too fast. Isn't that what Prim warned about. She falls too quickly and it makes her blind. So she settles for a more neutral reply.

I'll be there in 30.

Katniss is knocking on the familiar ebony door to Peeta's apartment forty-five minutes later. The traffic getting back across town was horrible so it had taken her longer than expected to arrive and her stomach grumbles angrily in protest.

"Come on in!" his muffled voice calls from the kitchen.

She lets herself in and groans at the scent of savory sauce and freshly baked bread. "Whatever it is you're making, it smells glorious."

Peeta smiles broadly, setting a basket of golden rolls on the small table that adorns his apartment before crossing the room to envelop her in his arms. She gives a contented sigh, reveling in the gentle strength of his arms around her.

"I don't usually have much time for cooking. Since I'm off this week, I figured I would treat you tonight," he says, his voice a low rumble in his chest that makes her insides twist pleasantly. She looks up and he takes advantage of the angle, leaning in so his lips meet hers in a gentle kiss. She leans up on her toes, tugging insistently at the front of his shirt, eliciting a growl from deep in Peeta's chest at the same time her stomach gives another grumble of protest.

Peeta pulls away with a chuckle, pushing up the glasses that perfectly frame the thin circles of blue against his pupils. He presses his lips one last time against the crown of her head.

"Let's get you fed," he suggests, pulling out the chair nearest to them so she can sit.

She settles into the chair and Peeta dashes to the kitchen, retrieving two plates piled high with pasta and the same shrimp that were cooking in the picture he sent her earlier.

"Shrimp scampi with a side of green beans and almonds," he introduces simply as he settles the plate in front of her. "And the bread is fresh."

Katniss swirls her fork in the linguini noodles, making sure to stab a perfectly seared shrimp before shoving the entire mouthful past her lips. The mixture of lemon and herbs are enough to make her taste buds think they've died and gone to heaven.

"If you keep feeding me like this, I'm going to be bigger than a house," she says, taking a generous bite of a still-steaming roll. Peeta snorts into his plate, swirling his own fork slowly.

"It would be my honor to feed you until you're as big as a house, Katniss," he says, shooting a toothy grin her way.

"You're a dork," she laughs as she kicks at his ankle under the table.

Her foot makes contact with his shin and his leg quickly sweeps behind hers, effectively pinning her calf between his and the leg of the table.

"A dork who went to state for wrestling in high school," he says, waggling his eyebrows. "I wouldn't start that battle, Katniss."

She rolls her eyes. "Please, I could take you. You've got the brawns but I'm fast. You'd have to catch me to pin me."

Katniss doesn't miss the glint in his eye as Peeta sets down his fork, politely dabbing his napkin over his lips before placing it down as well. A thrill runs up her spine and she's out of her chair in a heartbeat, dashing across the living area of his apartment and putting the oversized sofa between them.

Peeta is right behind her, laughing loudly as his hands come to rest on the back of the couch. "Come on, then. If you think you're so fast, let's face off and make it official."

"No!" she shouts, taking off towards the bedroom the second he starts to move around the couch towards her.

The problem with trying to run away in an apartment is that there aren't many places to hide. She's cornered before she can even think twice and Peeta's arms circle her waist from behind, lifting her up into the air even as her legs kick wildly.

"NO!" she shrieks indignantly as he tosses her onto the bed as though she weighs nothing. She thinks that the battle is over until he crawls onto the mattress, settling over her with a smirk that tells her she's very wrong.

"I win," he states smugly, his fingers tracing circles along her stomach as they inch under her shirt.

"You cheat!" she counters, crossing her arms over her chest in an effort to look angry.

"Admit it, Katniss," he says in a playful, lilting voice, his fingers coming dangerously close to her ribs. "I win."

"Never!" she cries and she knows she's a goner the instant his fingers brush over the tender skin of her ribcage because he's found her Achilles heel.

His fingers are merciless once they start tickling her and she squirms to try and evade him but now he really does have her pinned just like he promised. His thigh has found its way between her legs and his hands are relentless as helpless giggles pour from her lips.

"Peeta!" she begs between laughter and pants as she tries to catch her breath. "Stop it! I'm going to kick you!"

Peeta cackles like a little boy, the sound causing her heart to jump even more frantically against her chest. But his hands never relent in their assault until she gasps through tears.

"Okay!" she shrieks. "You win! You win!"

His hands stop instantly and he falls to rest his weight on his forearms as he hovers above her. Her cheeks are flushed as she gasps for air and she suddenly realizes how close he is and how wonderful he smells and how soft his hair looks in the dim light pouring in from the kitchen.

Katniss can't stop her hands from reaching up and delving into the thick curls of gold, tugging gently until his head dips so her lips can find his. She nips impatiently at his full bottom lip and he sighs, opening his mouth to her and allowing her tongue to caress his with a long moan.

His sounds of pleasure ignite something inside of her. Suddenly her skin is burning to be close to him. She arches up against him but he's still not close enough even as her hips brush against his growing hardness.

Peeta's hand moves to her side again, sliding under her shirt and quickly moving to cover her breast, kneading slowly against the soft skin. She whimpers, bowing into his grip as her lips trail a path along his neck, her tongue peaking out at intervals to taste the sweetness of his skin.

All too soon, Peeta is pulling his hand away and Katniss whines, the heat between her legs pulsing demandingly for something only Peeta can provide.

"God help me," he mutters, running a hand roughly through his curls. "I was going to ask over dinner, but I sincerely hope that you were thirty minutes away tonight because you were getting tested."

Katniss nods. "Yeah. I didn't really want to get it done in town."

"Thank god," he murmurs, letting his forehead fall to rest against hers. "I don't know how long I can wait before I'm inside of you again, Katniss. Wanting you is enough to kill me."

She blushes. The way he talks, its as though she's something special. His tone almost makes her feel like she's something to be treasured.

"I'm sure you've got plenty of willing women lined up when I'm not around, Peeta," she jokes, giving a half-hearted chuckle even though the thought of him with someone else sends a stab of pain through her chest.

"It wouldn't matter even if I did," he says, brushing his fingers gently over the end of her braid resting on the bed beside her. "They aren't you."

Katniss rolls her eyes even as her stomach flips ecstatically. It scares her how much her body responds to him, even just his words.

"I mean it," he says, noticing her dismissal of his words. "You have no idea the effect you have over me, Katniss Everdeen."

She can't contain the smile that breaks out over her face. She will never understand how she managed to find this sweet man. He deserves someone so much better than her - someone so much more whole than her. But she would rather die than give him away to some other girl.

"Yeah well," she whispers, taking his face between her hands and pressing a soft kiss to his lips. "You're not so bad yourself, Dr. Mellark."

His grin is nearly blinding as he stands, pulling her up after him and leading her back to their forgotten dinner.

Three days later, Katniss's phone buzzes in the pocket of her scrub top. She sifts through the alcohol wipes and saline flushes for IVs to grab her phone and glances at the screen. She listens to the voicemail from the clinic giving her a bill of clean health and she can't contain the smile that tugs at her lips.

Peeta's results came back yesterday morning.

She quickly types out a text to him asking if he has plans for this evening. It's almost embarrassing how her heartbeat picks up and her insides grow warm just thinking about what she hopes to do after work.

Johanna looks up from her charting and snorts. "Stop texting Dr. Mellark at work, Katniss." She reprimands playfully. "You get that dopy look on your face and people are going to question your sanity and lock you up on the second floor."

"Shut up!" Katniss retorts lamely. She knows Johanna's right. It's like she's got a schoolyard crush.

"How's Eli doing today?" Johanna asks about one of Katniss patient's, graciously taking pity on Katniss and changing the subject. "Jonesing for some heroin yet, or still denying that he does that shit?"

"He's miserable in there, but you know he'll never admit to detoxing," Katniss replies with a dry laugh. "He only fails the drug tests because the girls giving him blowjobs have been doing drugs."

"Bullshit!" Thom shouts from the medication room. The word is muffled by the thick, heavy door between them, but there is no mistaking his exclamation.

"Well, we all know that, but that's what he told his doctor yesterday," Katniss says, biting her cheek so she doesn't laugh at the look Johanna shoots her.

"You've got to be kidding me! He said that to Dr. Solomon? How did you keep a straight face?"

"I couldn't," Katniss admits. "I had to leave the room."

Johanna cackles just as the call light to room 9 starts ringing.

"Speak of the devil." Katniss rolls her eyes as she heads down the hallway, the sound of Johanna's laughter echoing over the sound of the call light.

It's not until Katniss steps up outside the door to room 9 that she can hear the shouts from inside. The door is closed, which soundproofs the rooms under normal circumstances, so Katniss knows something serious is going on inside if she can hear it from her spot in the hall.

She knocks quickly and opens the door without pausing for a response. A water pitcher barely misses her head as she steps inside, splashing water all down the front of her uniform.

"What's going on in here, Eli?" she demands, glaring at the short, middle-aged man who is standing next to the window, fists clenched in anger.

"Tell this bastard to get the fuck out of my room, nurse," he orders, his words clipped and anxious as his eyes shift from his son to her.

"Dad, knock it off," the younger man pleads. He's been through this too many times to count. He's the only child out of Eli's seven offspring who even takes an interest in the man and he's been trying for years to get his father clean of his drug habits. "You don't know what you're talking about. You're out of your mind right now."

The scene tugs at Katniss's heart. She's been in the same position as this boy plenty of times with her own mother. Of course, her mother's issue is that she isn't compliant with her medications, but it's the same emotions that underlie both situations.

"Don't tell me what to do, boy!" Eli flips the bedside table over and his son jumps out of the way as it crashes to the ground, belongings flying out of the hidden tray beneath it's surface.

"Eli!" Katniss shouts in her sternest tone, taking another step into the room. "This is unacceptable. I'll take your son out of the room, but you need to calm down."

The boy looks at her and gives a nod before stepping around her with slumped shoulders as he leaves the room. Eli's eyes shift between her and the doorway, a clear indication that his paranoia has begun setting in.

"That fucker didn't want me to have my fix," he mutters beneath his breath, but not so quietly that she can't hear him. "I know he had it. I know he did. He's taking what's mine."

He begins to pace in the small confines of his room and Katniss realizes his withdrawal is hitting him much harder than it has in his past hospitalizations. She takes another slow step into the room and tries to reason with him.

"Eli, your son didn't have any drugs. He's trying to help you get clean-"

"BULLSHIT!" he roars, turning around and reaching for the IV pole that isn't currently being used. He sends the metal hurling across the room with more strength than Katniss could have ever guessed he had and it lands with a bang, shattering the small electronic box that controls the drip rates of drugs.

"Katniss?" Lavinia asks timidly from the doorway, her eyes wide with worry. "Is everything alright?"

"Who's this bitch?" Eli demands, his voice nearly a shriek as he crosses the room.

Katniss steps into his path with a quick glimpse over her shoulder at the pretty, red-haired nursing assistant. "Have them call a security code, Lavinia," she says softly, trying to keep her voice as even as possible. "He's escalating."

In the split moment that her attention is diverted, Eli crosses the room and grabs her arm, his fingers digging in painfully. Katniss winces, trying to twist her arm from his grasp but it only causes him to tug her closer to him.

"Why is a pretty thing like you trying to kill me?" he asks, his words a threatening hiss. His pupils are pinpoints against the warm, brown irises that would normally make his gaze welcoming.

"Eli," Katniss says in the most soothing tone she can manage when his fingers continue to dig deeper into her bicep. "You're in the hospital. You know we aren't trying to hurt you, but we can't give you heroin. You're supposed to be detoxing."

"You little bitch!" he spits, his lips curled in a threatening snarl.

Katniss can just barely hear the voice of the operator calling out the security code to room 609 north. She takes a deep breath, knowing that hopefully this entire confrontation will be over in a few minutes. It typically only takes a show of force, a few men in security uniforms, to snap a patient back to reality and diffuse the situation.

"Eli, you're hurting me. Why don't you take a seat and I'll get you something to help?" she says, trying to keep her voice as calm as possible, though it's hard to mistake the tremble of pain infused in each word.

"I ain't gonna sit anywhere!" he shouts. She takes advantage of his distraction tries to pull her arm from his iron grasp but it' only causes him to dig his fingers deeper into the muscle. She's certain he has to be drawing blood at this point.

The people for the security response should be arriving any moment. She takes a shaky breath knowing she has to keep him distracted until there's more help. There's no getting out of this herself.

"You tell me where my stash is!" Eli demands, spittle flying from his lips with each word. His eyes rove around the room frantically. "Tell me or I'll kill you, you bitch."

"Eli, I'm your nurse," Katniss reminds him, her words squeaking slightly as she tries to ignore the pain radiating up her arm. "The police would have your drugs, not me."

"Katniss!" Johanna calls out followed by the sound of shoes squeaking down the hallway.

Eli's eyes, impossibly, go wider, the pupils almost nonexistent as he yanks her arm towards him, surprising Katniss enough to knock her off balance. She tries to pull herself free as she stumbles, but falls into his chest.

The door slams open and the room is a flurry of movement as Johanna and Thom burst in while Eli pulls Katniss's back against him and reaches for something at their feet.

Thom's hands are instantly in the air in front of him and Katniss's stomach churns when the cool touch of metal meets her throat.

"Whoa, Eli." Thom's baritone voice rumbles as he takes a slow step towards them. "What are you doing, man? Do you think that this is the best way to get what you're asking for?"

"Fuck you, man!" Eli shouts, his breath hot against the side of Katniss's neck, making her flinch. The blade presses harder against her neck when she does. "I want my shit. I didn't ask for none of this!"

"Okay." Thom takes another step forward, "I'll help you get it, but I can't do that while you've got a knife to a woman's neck."

Eli takes a quick step back, but the pressure of the knife starts to release. Katniss can feel her pulse pounding against the cold metal and tries to take a steady breath. Eli has always liked Thom. She has hope that he can talk some sense into Eli's detoxing mind.

"You'll get what I need?" He asks, the blade loosening further.

"Yeah." Thom steps forward again, nodding his head slowly. "You know I will, man. We're good."

"Yeah." Eli echoes. If he just loosens his grip a little bit more, Katniss will be able to extricate herself from his hold. "You're sure you ca-"

He doesn't get the chance to finish his sentence before three security guards push into the room. All at once, his choke hold tightens again and the blade presses into the delicate skin at Katniss's throat again.

"What the fuck, man!" Eli screams, backing himself and Katniss away from Thom while he looks back and forth wildly between the nurse and the security guards carrying restraints.

"Eli, they're not going to hurt you if you just work with me." Thom tries to reason, but Eli's drug addled mind is too far-gone. The blade begins to pierce the skin at her throat, the chill burning her nerves, eliciting an involuntary whimper from her throat.

"Nah, man!" Eli spits, "Nah. I got your number now. I want my shit and I want to get the fuck out of here!"

"Sir, put the knife down!" One of the guards shouts back, but this only serves to agitate the man further.

"I'll kill her!" He threatens, his voice hoarse with fear. Katniss's stomach churns at his words, knowing full well that he means what he's saying. Like an animal cornered by a predator, she can tell the man is becoming increasingly frantic. People are like animals and they will do stupid, desperate things when they feel threatened.

The guards start shouting over one another, demanding that Eli put down the knife. Eli spouts off obscenities, telling them what he thinks of their orders. And the knife continues to cut deeper into Katniss's throat, drawing blood that she can feel leaving a warm trail down her throat.

"Everyone out." A familiar voice commands, quickly silencing the room. Peeta steps slowly into the room, his blue eyes blazing with fury as he takes in the scene before him.

"That's against protocol, doctor," one of the guards answers back. "Security is to stay in the room until the situation is resolved."

"And as far as I can tell, all you've done is make things worse." Peeta says lowly, his voice a threatening growl. "Now everyone out. I need to talk to the patient alone."

Thom glances uncomfortably towards Katniss. "Doc are you sure that's a goo-"

"Out!" Peeta shouts, his chest heaving with the effort to control the anger that is clearly boiling just under the surface.

Johanna and Thom are the last ones to walk reluctantly out of the room, but Katniss is certain they haven't gone far.

"You want to shoot up?" Peeta demands harshly, his gaze unwavering as he watches Eli from across the room.

"Don't fuck with me man." Eli hisses, the knife digging into Katniss's neck.

"Peeta-" she gasps, unsure of what else she wants to say; what else could possibly help in this fucked up situation.

He doesn't glance her way as he pulls out a small insulin syringe filled with clear liquid. Eli's breath hitches when he sees it.

"You let her go and it's yours. No questions asked."

"Drop it on the bed!" Eli shouts, the hand holding the blade against her throat beginning to shake, eliciting another pained whimper from her against her will.

Peeta does as he says and immediately the blade disappears as the man dives towards the syringe on the bed. Katniss stumbles at first, her head spinning, her mind dazed. A strong arm grabs her wrist and pulls her towards the door into the blindingly white hallway.

Her ears are ringing and it's too bright. Shouts echo around her but she can't make sense of them. She looks up into eyes that are impossibly blue.

Peeta.

His lips are moving but she can't understand him. She tries to listen harder, but the ringing in her ears just gets louder. And suddenly the hallway isn't bright anymore; it's getting dimmer. Then everything goes dark.


AN: A bit of a cliff-hanger. Sorry for that! I hope you all enjoyed reading. Please feel free to let me know what you thought. Again thank you for all of your support and patience. I've been going through a lot of big life changes so writing has been put on the back burner for a while. I do fully intend to finish all of my stories though.

If you're on tumblr you can look for me at: therebelliondies. Don't be shy!