Katniss woke feeling surprisingly well-rested on Saturday morning. With all that had happened at Finnick's party, that awful argument with Peeta that had culminated in humiliating tears, she had expected to lie awake in bed for quite some time. However, instead of crying herself to sleep, she had fallen asleep almost as soon as she got home and didn't wake up until almost ten AM, which was unusual for her. Most weekends, she was awake at six, just like on schooldays.
She rolled out of bed and got to her feet, placing her hands on her lower back and pushing her shoulders back and hips out, stretching her body awake. Rolling her neck from side to side, Katniss made her way out of her room into the living room where her sister was watching TV.
"Morning," Prim said, glancing up at her over the bowl of cereal in her lap. "How was the party? You got home way earlier than I thought you would."
Katniss groaned. "It was awful. I was only there for like half an hour before I bailed."
"Peeta Mellark." Katniss flopped down on the couch next to her sister and let her head loll back against the back of the couch.
"Uh oh." Prim raised her left eyebrow, pursing her lips. "What did he do now?"
"I don't want to get into it right now. Let's just say it was bad, okay?" Katniss looked over at her sister, who nodded, looking happy to not just be completely dismissed. She felt a surge of affection for Prim and scooted closer to her to wrap her arm around her. "Sorry I've been kind of unpleasant toward you lately."
"It's okay." Prim shrugged and smiled softly. "You've been really messed up over Peeta. I get it."
"Yeah." Katniss sighed. "But still, I'm gonna try to be kinder to you, okay? You're pretty great, Prim."
"Thanks!" Prim beamed up at her. Katniss smiled and ruffled her hair a little as she shoved herself to her feet. Prim scowled up at her and looked so much like Katniss in that moment that she surprised a laugh out of her older sister, who stopped suddenly and cocked her head when she remembered Peeta saying that Prim had been a bitch to him.
"Hey. You know, Peeta actually said something about you last night." Katniss watched Prim closely. "Did you guys talk yesterday or something?"
"Oh. Well, we may have exchanged a couple of words," Prim said evasively. Katniss cocked an eyebrow at her and Prim sighed. "He tried to talk to me and act like his being an ass to you had nothing to do with me. As if. I have to watch you be sad all the time. How is that not going to affect me?" Prim scowled at the memory and Katniss felt guilt clawing its way into her belly; she had certainly never intended to upset Prim this past week. "So, I ignored him and then called him an asshat for ignoring you and complaining when it happened to him."
"Prim." Katniss stopped, took a deep breath, and then beamed at her little sister. She threw herself back down on the couch and wrapped her arms awkwardly around Prim, trying not to knock over her cereal. "You are officially the best kid sister ever."
"Thanks!" Prim beamed, looking pleasantly shocked. "So, you're not mad at me?"
"What? No." Katniss pulled back and regarded her sister before tilting her head to one side, considering. "I mean, you probably shouldn't have said that to him, but I really appreciate that you did."
"Well, as long as you're not mad at me for it, I'm happy I did it." Prim gave one short, sharp, decisive nod of her head that had Katniss smiling at her.
"Why did you say that to him, though?" The thought of Prim saying anything even mildly unkind to anyone was hard for her to swallow, and Katniss knew that Prim had always been really fond of Peeta. She must have been really upset to tell him off like she did.
"Because it's true. And because he hurt you and it made me mad at him that he could make you so sad and then try to talk to me like he wasn't breaking my big sister's heart." Prim picked idly at the cereal in her lap as she met Katniss' gaze with soft, caring eyes. "Like it shouldn't hurt me to see you hurt."
"Yeah, you're definitely a great little sister," Katniss said after a moment, clearing her throat against the emotion blocking her throat. "Now I'm going to fix myself some cereal so I can park myself right next to you."
"Careful. Mom and Dad are in there." Prim made a mildly disgusted face at her. "They're being very… affectionate today."
"Thanks for the warning," Katniss said as she made her way to the kitchen. She paused just inside the kitchen, eyes covered, and knocked lightly on the wall. "I've been warned that you guys are feeling frisky this morning. Is it safe to enter?"
Katniss heard two chuckles and peered hesitantly through her fingers. Her parents were sitting side-by-side at the kitchen table, looking up at her.
"Someone's in a better mood than she has been," her dad said as Katniss stepped further into the kitchen and shrugged. "I guess the party was good, then?"
"Uh, not so great, actually." Katniss opened the pantry door and stared up at the top shelf where the cereal was stocked. Nothing looked particularly appetizing, but she figured she should still probably eat something.
"What happened?" her mom asked from behind her and Katniss shrugged noncommittally.
"Just some stupid drama," she said. Really stupid drama. Stupid, stupid Peeta Mellark.
"Did you stay long?" Her mother sounded way too casual.
"No." Katniss stood up on the tips of her toes and stretched her arm as far as she could to reach the box of Cheerios. Box in hand, she turned to face her parents, raising an eyebrow at their expectant looks. "I got home around ten-thirty."
"Oh!" Her dad nudged her mom lightly with his elbow. "I told you I heard her coming in. I think I won our bet."
Her mom giggled and slapped his arm away from her. Katniss wrinkled her nose at them and carried her cereal to the counter. She didn't think she wanted to know the terms of their bet. Prim was right; they were being sickeningly adorable today.
"So, what kind of drama was there?" her dad asked.
"Oh. Um. Well, I guess you could say that things got worse with Peeta last night." Katniss didn't look around, instead focusing her attention on reaching for a bowl from the cabinet next to the sink, but she sensed her parents' shared concerned glance. "It's fine, though. I'm fine."
She had been saying it all week but somehow, today, after the situation had grown ever more complicated, she truly meant it. She had come to terms with the fact that she had done nothing wrong; all of this drama was Peeta's doing and it wasn't helping for her to be constantly blaming herself and prodding at him to talk to her. Plus, he was a total jackass at the party and Katniss wasn't sure she even wanted to be with him anymore after their fight in the basement if that was how he was going to act every time he got insecure. She was pretty sure she was going to start making her best effort to just get over him.
"Well, you sure seem to be fine?" Her dad's voice pitched up, unintentionally, Katniss knew, at the end and she finally turned to face her parents, looking at them expectantly.
"You were very upset all week." Her mother's voice was patient and soothing, like she expected Katniss to take offense at her obvious statement, but Katniss just nodded. "Why are you suddenly fine?"
"Not that being fine is a bad thing!" her father was quick to insert. Her mother nodded quickly.
"I just realized that it isn't the end of the world if Peeta doesn't want to talk to me." Katniss shrugged as the doorbell rang. "I mean it still makes me sad, of course, but it's okay. I'll get over it. I'll get over him."
The doorbell rang and Prim's voice rang out from the living room, "Someone get the door! I'm eating!"
Katniss rolled her eyes and started to leave the kitchen, but her dad stood up and motioned for her to relax. He pressed a kiss to her head as he passed her and murmured, "That's my girl."
"So, do you want to talk about what exactly happened with Peeta last night?" Her mom watched as Katniss pulled the refrigerator open and got the milk out.
"Not really," Katniss answered as she walked back over to the counter, pausing before pouring her milk to look up when her father re-entered the kitchen, followed by a young man who almost looked like he could be her father's son with his dark hair, olive skin, and grey eyes that matched Katniss' and her father's. "Gale. Hey."
What was Gale doing at her house? He had texted her last night right around the time Finnick's party was starting and asked her to hang out, then had invited himself along when she told him she already had plans. She had been surprised at his forwardness, but even more shocked when he barely spoke to her for the short amount of time they were all together, instead bestowing most of his attention on the pretty, blond Madge. When Johanna had followed Katniss out of Finnick's house and brought her home, Madge and Gale were nowhere to be found. She wondered if his unannounced visit had anything to do with that.
"Hey, Catnip," Gale said easily, sending her a small smile before he turned to her mother. "Hi, Mrs. Everdeen. How have you been?"
"I'm just fine, Gale." Her mother's eyes were just slightly wider than usual, the only sign that she was surprised to see her daughter's one and only ex-boyfriend standing in her kitchen, but her smile was genuine. "It's good to see you. How have you been?"
"Oh, I've been great, ma'am." Gale leaned a shoulder against the wall as Katniss' dad slipped past him to make his way back to the table.
Katniss met her dad's eyes and he raised his eyebrows at her in a slightly suggestive expression. Katniss scowled at him and rolled her eyes as Gale turned back to study her.
"I was wondering if you wanted to go for a hike today," he told her. Katniss finally took in his outfit: his faded, worn jeans, scuffed up hiking boots, and a plain grey T-shirt that almost matched the shade of his eyes. It was his typical hiking outfit, she knew; they had done a lot of hiking when they were dating.
"Um. Sure." Katniss glanced down at her long, tattered, purple and pink striped pajama pants that she only owned because they had been a Christmas present from Prim several years ago, and the oversized white T-shirt she had thrown on over them. She cleared her throat and blushed lightly. "I just need to get dressed."
"Sure. I'll wait," Gale said as Katniss nodded and slid past him, dashing through the living room to her room.
Prim giggled behind her back, obviously under the impression that Gale's presence had her all flustered, but Katniss ignored her.
She was honestly just mostly excited at the prospect of going for a hike. She hadn't been getting nearly enough fresh air lately and she figured a nice, long, quiet walk through the woods with a nice, quiet friend who wouldn't push her to talk about anything was a good way to clear her head. As much as last night had led her to the conclusion that there was nothing for her to do to get Peeta to stop being such an ass to her, she had to admit that she still wasn't completely at peace with the fact.
Although, she would be lying if she said she wasn't a little curious about Gale's sudden reappearance. They had agreed to remain friends after they broke up, and they had kept in touch well enough, but Katniss hadn't seen Gale since the summer since he'd been away at college and spent all of his time with his family when he was in town. There had to be some reason for the fact that this was the second time in as many days that he had shown up to hang out with her. For some reason, she couldn't shake the thought that it had something to do with Madge.
When Katniss emerged from her room less than five minutes later in a pair of old jeans, a green T-shirt, and her favorite pair of brown hunting boots, Gale was in the living room talking to Prim.
"…that you should tell her," he was saying as she walked up. Prim's eyes widened as she looked at Katniss and shook her head.
"What's up?" Katniss looked between the two of them as Gale turned around and saw her.
"Oh, good! You're dressed. Ready to go?" he asked. Katniss nodded. "Cool, come on."
"Alright. Should I grab some food? How long will we be?" Katniss never did fix that cereal she had planned on eating and she was sure her stomach would start protesting before too long.
"No, I got food and water in the truck." Gale gestured toward the front door and Katniss nodded.
"Good. Let's go." Katniss paused to let Gale lead the way outside.
"See you later, Prim." Gale's voice took on a teasing tone as he opened the front door and Prim blushed as she nodded curtly. Katniss eyed her sister curiously, but Prim carefully avoided her gaze. Gale noticed her confusion when he turned to wait for her to close and lock the front door and he laughed. "So I may have just found out the other day that she's kind of dating my little brother."
"Rory?" Katniss' mouth dropped open and she had half a mind to go back inside and demand the details from her little sister, but Gale turned and started walking out to his truck, so Katniss had no choice but to follow or be left behind.
"No. Vick. The ten-year-old," he deadpanned as he unlocked his truck and climbed in, reaching across the bench seat to unlock the passenger door. "Of course Rory. He said she told off some guy on your behalf yesterday."
"Ah. Yeah." Katniss tugged with all her might to open the tricky door, situated herself in the passenger seat and fastened her seatbelt. When she looked up, Gale had started the truck, but was just sitting there watching her expectantly. She sighed. "'Some guy' would be Peeta Mellark."
"Peeta?" Gale looked, and sounded, completely surprised as he pulled away from the curb, which told Katniss that he wasn't surprised at all as Gale's look of true surprise was usually just one raised eyebrow and puckered lips as the corners of his mouth pulled inward. "I thought you guys were best friends."
"Apparently not anymore." Katniss smiled knowingly at him across the middle seat. "But you already knew that, didn't you?"
Gale dropped his surprised act and shrugged. He never was one to keep trying the same tactic when he had been caught. "Madge may have suggested that your disappearance last night could have had something to do with Peeta."
"I disappeared? Funny, I didn't see you guys anywhere when I left." Katniss crossed her arms over her chest. Gale glanced at her and sighed.
"Yeah, well. I don't know." He shrugged helplessly and then faced forward again to watch the road.
"Uh huh." Katniss rolled her eyes. He was never very good a diverting unwanted attention, but he was usually stubborn enough that most people gave up trying to get him to talk when he didn't want to. The only problem was that Katniss was just a stubborn as him. She knew they were both going to end up cracking the other sooner or later. So much for a quiet, peaceful walk through the woods.
"She was pretty worried about you." Gale said after a moment as he pulled onto the narrow gravel road that led to the trailhead they were heading for. "Mellark's being a real dick, then?"
"Eh, yeah." This time was Katniss' turn to shrug. "I guess so."
"What happened?" Gale angled his truck off the road and parked a few yards away from the trailhead. He pulled the keys out of the ignition and turned to look at her expectantly.
"What, didn't Madge tell you?" Katniss forced the door open and jumped out of the truck to escape his gaze.
"Har, har." Gale paused for a moment to pull a brown back pack out of the narrow space behind the front bench seat, then hopped out of his truck and came around the front to meet her.
"Fine. We'll compromise," Katniss said as they made their way toward the path side-by-side. She glanced up and over at Gale to make sure he was listening. He raised his eyebrows as he met her gaze. "I'll tell you about Peeta if you'll tell me about Madge. Deal?"
Gale paused and was silent for a moment as he contemplated her proposal; he sighed. "Deal."
Katniss saw the familiar car in front of her house the second Gale turned his beat-up truck onto her street several hours later, and her heart began to beat a quick, nervous drum in her chest. The driveway was empty, and Katniss guessed her parents had probably taken Prim out for a late lunch, or to see that superhero movie she had been begging them to take her to see lately. Gale turned to look at her as he rolled to a stop behind the car, recognizing the form sitting hunched over on her porch.
"You gonna be okay?" Gale's eyes were narrowed on her face, his mouth taut with concern.
"Yeah." Katniss glanced past him to see Peeta watching them dolefully from where he sat on the top step of her porch.
"You can do this, Katniss." Gale reached out and patted her bracingly on the shoulder. "Just don't take any shit from him, make sure he hears you out, and try to hear him out, too."
"Wise words, Hawthorne." She reached for the handle and braced her shoulder on the rusty door to shove it open. She hopped out of the cab and turned around to send Gale a smile that felt more like a grimace on her lips. "Thanks. I'll talk to you later."
"See you." Gale smiled reassuringly as Katniss swung the door shut. He rolled his window down as she crossed in front of his truck, speaking quietly when she passed by him. "Good luck."
Katniss nodded at Gale over her shoulder and slowly picked her way up the paved path towards her front door, and Peeta. He stood as she approached and she heard Gale's truck thundering away down the street behind her.
"Hey." Peeta rubbed the back of his neck, angling his head down toward the ground as he toed at a crack in the cement at his feet, but his gaze was slanted up toward her, a hesitant and apologetic expression on his face.
She had half a mind to just walk right past him and pretend she hadn't heard him –give him a taste of his own medicine– but her heart constricted in her chest and her stomach did some familiar loops when he peered up at her like that. Plus, Gale's advice was pretty fair; she should probably at least consider following it. She sighed and bit the inside of her cheek as she stopped a few feet in front of him and stared at her feet. "Hi."
She couldn't keep her gaze trained away from him for long –she never had been able to– and found herself looking up at him again after far too short a time. Peeta looked pleasantly surprised that she hadn't hit him or walked right past him, but no less nervous than before. "Um. Can, um…" He cleared his throat when Katniss raised an eyebrow at him, her lips pressed firmly together. "Can we talk?"
A wry smirk stretched her lips as she considered the irony of the moment. She had been asking him to talk to her for a week and had been steadfastly ignored and now here he was asking to talk to her. It was tempting to tell him that the time for talking had past, but Gale's words echoed in her mind: Try to hear him out. Plus, as he had surprisingly pointed out to her on their hike, it hadn't even been a week since this fiasco had started. Gale hadn't exactly defended Peeta, but he had certainly taken a diplomatic stance on the situation and tried to see the situation from both angles. She took a deep breath to calm herself; she didn't want to make any hasty, proud decisions and end up regretting her choices.
"Okay," she ended up saying with a shrug as if it didn't matter to her. The shamefaced look on Peeta's face told her that he at least had an idea about where her thoughts had been, but he sent her a tight smile when she accepted his overture.
She considered sitting down on the top step where Peeta had sat to wait for her, but it was really hot out and she was thirsty, damn it, so she swept past him to unlock the front door and gestured for him to follow her inside. Without pausing to see if he was coming, Katniss walked quickly to the kitchen and fixed herself a glass of water.
Hearing Peeta's heavy footfalls entering the room, she hesitated, then got down a second glass and filled it with cold water from the filtered pitcher in the refrigerator. Turning around, she placed the second glass of water on the kitchen table and then sat down across from it, watching Peeta hover uncertainly in the doorway over the glass that she raised to her lips.
After a moment, Peeta walked haltingly to the table and sat down in front of the water she had fixed for him. He wrapped a hand around the condensation-coated glass and made a quick spasming motion with his mouth that Katniss thought was probably intended to be a smile. For a moment they just stared at each other across the table, then Peeta lifted his glass and took a huge gulp, probably just for something to do.
"Thanks." His voice was hoarse despite the water he had just drunk. He cleared his throat and dropped his gaze to the table, opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again and forced himself to look at her. "So, I guess I just wanted to let you know that I know I was a complete asshole last night and that I haven't been fair to you this past week. And I'm sorry."
"Okay." She picked at a small crack beginning to form in the old wooden table for a moment. When she looked up, Peeta was watching her despondently. "Um, thanks for saying that."
"Sure." Peeta nodded. "You deserved an apology."
Katniss agreed, but she thought it might be poor taste for her to say that, so she said nothing, but met his gaze slightly less awkwardly.
"And I guess I should explain some things to you." His voice went up in pitch towards the end of his statement so that it was more of a question than a statement, but Peeta didn't wait for her to give any sort of answer before he started talking. "I kept telling my dad and Finnick all week that I didn't want to talk about it with anyone was thinking about everything, but the truth is that I've been avoiding thinking about it because I was afraid that maybe what happened on Sunday meant two different things to us and then I guess I avoided you because I wasn't ready to have that confirmed. Which was really flawed logic because it meant that I also could never have my fears disproved. Also, it was a really shitty way to treat you because, regardless of your motives on Sunday, you still deserved acknowledgement if for no other reason than that you're my best friend."
Katniss' eyebrows rose minutely when he addressed her as his best friend. Was she still his best friend? From the slightly shy smile that Peeta sent her, she figured that he still considered her as such, and was wondering if she still thought of him in the same way.
"So, that leads us to what it meant to me, doesn't it?" he continued after a slight pause. "Um, we've been best friends for a real long time and I would be lying if I said that I had never acknowledged, to myself, at least, the fact that I am insanely attracted to you. But I always tried to ignore it because I thought it was just simple attraction and I didn't want to risk ruining our friendship over something I could pretend I didn't feel. But when you kissed me, um, I realized that I'm not just attracted to your body. I'm attracted to everything about you. Literally, everything. Your smile, your laugh, your stupid sarcastic comments, the fact that you can't do math without constantly tapping your pencil and distracting me."
Peeta's gaze was intense and passionate on Katniss and she felt her heart skip in her chest. If he would have just told her this a week ago, they could have avoided all the drama of the past week.
"I realized that I like you, Katniss. A lot. More than I've ever liked anybody." Peeta dropped his gaze to his hands and he started drawing a pattern in the condensation on his glass with his finger. "So when you said that you, um, you only kissed me because you were bored…"
"I didn't say that." Katniss blushed when Peeta looked up at her disbelievingly. She shouldn't have interrupted him, but she couldn't let him keep thinking that. "I never said only, Peeta."
"Okay. Right. That's true. So. So, when you said that you were bored…" Peeta paused and raised an eyebrow at her, but Katniss had no objection to his correction. She had said that, damn her stupid mouth. "Okay, when you said that, I guess it made me think that was the only reason you did it, which made me think that maybe you were just attracted to me physically. And that hurt me because that was what I had been trying to avoid doing to you, um, risking our friendship just to have some fun."
Katniss wondered if it was her turn to explain herself now, but Peeta glanced up at her through his long, pale lashes in a pleading gesture. "Can I keep going? I kind of just want to explain it all now."
She nodded and Peeta took a deep breath.
"Alright. So, I thought you just wanted to make out with me for purely hormonal reasons, I guess. And, well, Finn and my dad both suggested otherwise but, like I said before, I was too afraid that I was right and they were wrong to just ask you. So I made a totally stupid decision and avoided you and ignored you and just… hurt you. And I am sorry."
Peeta looked across at her with such sincerity that Katniss felt her hands trembling to reach across and take his hand, tell him that she understood and that she forgave him. But she couldn't do that yet. She was still confused, and hurt, and Peeta still wasn't finished talking. And, truthfully, she didn't forgive him, not yet, at least.
"And then last night. Oh God, last night." Peeta groaned and dropped his head in his hands. "I don't think I can apologize enough for last night. That was exponentially worse than an entire week of avoiding you. I don't even know why I said half the things I said. But, um, so I saw you there and I thought about going to talk to you, but then I saw Gale. And I just got really jealous."
"Gale and I are just friends, Peeta." She knew that she had agreed to let him explain without interruption but, just like his misinterpretation of what she had said to him on Sunday, she couldn't let this one slide. Even though she knew she wasn't ready to even think about dating Peeta right now, she couldn't stand the idea of him thinking she was with anyone else, especially Gale.
"Yeah. Okay." Peeta nodded, biting his bottom lip, and Katniss knew he didn't truly believe her.
"Really." She should probably just let it go. What did it matter if he thought she was interested in Gale? He was probably just here for closure, anyway, but she couldn't help herself. "He's dating Madge now, apparently."
"Oh." Katniss saw the question in his eyes, but wasn't sure if he was wondering how that happened or why she had been with Gale this morning if that was the case. She felt a twinge of frustration at the fact that he was still doubting her.
"Yeah, that's why we were hanging out today, so he could break the news about him and Madge," Katniss said, leaving out the part where they had first talked about Peeta for over an hour. She silently vowed not to discuss Gale anymore, and just let Peeta get on with his explanation. "Anyway, go on."
"Ah, right. Um." Peeta paused and drummed his fingers on the tabletop as he visibly racked his brain, probably trying to remember where he had left off. "So, I was jealous. And then I started drinking and then I started thinking these really stupid thoughts about you and Gale and… well, and myself. And, well you know the rest."
Katniss nodded, but didn't say anything because she knew Peeta and she knew he wasn't finished yet.
"Look, I'm really sorry about all the shit I said. Especially about Prim, that was completely out of line. And I'm sorry I got stupid and tried to fight Finnick in front of you. I know for a fact that I scared Annie, so I probably freaked you out too." She had been scared for a minute there, but mostly because Peeta was drunk and Finnick was getting so frustrated and angry with him that she was sure Peeta was about to get his ass kicked. Peeta may have been the best wrestler at school, but he was really uncoordinated and clumsy when he was drunk, and Finnick had gotten himself into enough fistfights, and won them all, to prove his competence. "But, most of all… I'm sorry I made you cry."
Katniss froze. He knew she had left crying? She had been so sure that she'd fled the basement before he could see the tears gathering in her eyes. The last thing that Katniss wanted was for Peeta to know how badly his words and attitude had hurt her last night. It would be better if he just thought she was angry with him. But if he knew she had left crying, then he already knew just how hurt she was. Katniss never cried, and Peeta knew that.
"I don't… What?" she stammered, her heart racing in her chest.
"Um, Johanna may have mentioned it. She… had some choice words for me after you left the basement." Peeta winced, but Katniss didn't bother wondering why. She was too preoccupied with the fact that Peeta knew she had cried over him. Damn it.
"I didn't… That wasn't…" She didn't know why she was so reluctant to admit that she had cried. It wasn't as if she was afraid of his reaction to the news. In fact, it seemed that her tears had been exactly what had spurred him to come here and finally talk to her. It was just sort of a point of pride for her; tears made her feel weak and embarrassing, especially if other people witnessed them.
"Kat, please. It's okay." Peeta covered her hand with his own across the table, and then withdrew it immediately when he remembered that they didn't have that kind of friendship, not anymore, not thanks to him. "I just wanted to apologize for the fact that I hurt you so bad. I didn't mean anything that I said. I guess I was just… I was still hurt, so I hurt you too. I realize now that I should have just talked to you about it from the start and none of this would have happened."
Katniss waited for a few long seconds, but Peeta didn't say anything more, just stared at her. She sighed and hunched her shoulders as she stared down at the floor.
"I'll apologize for the fact that I said something to hurt your feelings last week," she said slowly, "but I need you to know that it was unintentional. I was joking and I didn't realize that you would take me seriously."
"Thank you," Peeta said quietly. "I'm sorry I overreacted."
Katniss had the feeling that he was waiting for her to say something more, something specific, and she finally realized that he still didn't know what had been going through her mind when she had kissed him.
"Uh, and now, uh, I guess," she started haltingly, then stopped and took a deep breath. "I guess you want to know why I kissed you."
Peeta didn't say anything. When she finally tore her gaze from the floor and looked at him, he shrugged in an indifferent sort of way, but she saw the truth in his eyes. He was dying to hear her explanation.
"I kissed you because…" Nerves had her throat constricting and she couldn't speak, could barely breathe. She coughed once, then cleared her throat and felt her face heat up as Peeta watched her closely. Still, she was proud of herself when she didn't break his gaze again. "I've liked you for years," she confessed. Maybe even loved, but she wasn't going to say that.
The way his eyes immediately went huge would have been comical if she wasn't so worried she was going to start sweating through her shirt. Not that it would have made much of a difference as she had been sweating for three hours on her hike with Gale, but it would still be embarrassing to start again here in her cool kitchen. After a moment of gaping at her, Peeta groaned and dragged his hands through his hair and dropped his forehead heavily to the table. Both of their glasses jumped a little as the table jolted at the sudden impact; Katniss was sure that his head must be hurting, but Peeta didn't seem to mind.
"I had no idea," he said hoarsely when he lifted his head to look at her again, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he looked at her sadly. His tongue flicked out to wet his lips. "I fucked everything up."
Katniss stayed silent and stared back at him as her heart settled back to a steady pace.
"How did I not know?" Peeta groaned. "God, why didn't you just tell me?"
"I thought I was telling you when I kissed you." Katniss shrugged and Peeta nodded slowly. He knew she wasn't good with words; she had always preferred doing things rather than saying them. Peeta didn't seem to know what to say, so Katniss took a deep breath and kept speaking. "When you broke up with Leevy, I decided I should probably try to win you over before you got another girlfriend. I spent months trying to get you to kiss me. When you almost did on Sunday, then backed off, I figured I'd just… go for it. It didn't exactly have the desired effect."
Peeta grimaced apologetically at her, then dropped his gaze and glared at his water. Katniss could practically hear the awful things he was thinking about himself. While she personally felt that he deserved at least a little beating up, she still hated to see him beating himself up. She cleared her throat again to get him to look at her. When he did, he looked about ten years older, his face etched in misery and regret.
"I probably shouldn't have followed Finnick into the basement…" She let her voice fade away as she tried to think of where to go from here. She didn't really know what she was saying. "I knew you would be an asshole. You hadn't been ignoring me for no reason."
"I just needed time to…" For one brief second, Katniss could see the spark of self-defense light up his face before he trailed off and the regret came rushing back.
"I'm not saying it's wrong that you needed time to think, but I don't think it was too much to at least want an assurance that you would be willing to talk to me eventually." She didn't want to make him feel worse, but there were things she needed to say to him. Sometimes, words were more effective than actions; she was learning that.
"I know. I'm sorry. I should have told you I just needed space. I'm sorry." Katniss was pretty sure she hadn't heard Peeta apologize as much in ten years as he had in the past half hour. But then, he usually wasn't an asshole. "Can, uh… I mean, is it… I… Is there any way that I'll ever get another chance?"
"What kind of chance?" Katniss said carefully. If he meant a second chance at their friendship, that was one thing, but if he meant another chance to try to move past friendship, she needed to do some thinking.
"A chance to be with you."
"I don't know." It hurt Katniss to say; she had wanted him for so long and here he was, asking if they could ever be together and she couldn't tell him yes. She just couldn't pretend the past week hadn't happened.
"I know I messed up!" Peeta said quickly. "I know I have to make it up to you. And I will. I promise. I will make it up to you whether or not you think you'll ever let me be more than just a friend to you. But I want to know… I need to know… if holding onto the hope for a relationship with you is useless."
"I just…" Katniss bit her lip. She really wanted to tell him that she would give him another chance in time, but she didn't know if she would be able to do that. "I don't know if I can trust you to not freeze me out again the next time I put my foot in my mouth."
Because she would put her foot in her mouth again, there was really no getting around that.
"I won't." Peeta's voice was low and sincere and it sounded more like he was making a vow than trying to reassure her. It made her heart and mind race, but she shook her head to clear it. Now was not the time to allow herself to be swept away; she needed to think logically.
"But how can I know that?"
"I promise I won't do that to you again, Katniss." Peeta reached out and took her hand in his again, but this time he didn't draw away awkwardly. Katniss' skin almost burned where he made contact. "I can't promise I'll never misunderstand your intentions, but I will always hear you out from now on. I swear it."
"Peeta." Katniss sighed. She closed her eyes against the mesmerizing force of Peeta's sincere, pleading blue eyes so that she could concentrate. "I can't promise, but maybe… maybe we can try. In the future."
"Thank you." Peeta beamed when Katniss opened her eyes. He didn't let go of her hand, even when she tried to draw back. Instead, he held on tight and smirked at her. "Although I do think you should take into consideration that a nutshot is a very serious punishment. Very painful. I've probably already paid my debt ten times over."
Huh? Katniss felt her eyebrows contract as she stared at him. Why was he suddenly joking about nutshots?
"What are you talking about?"
"Johanna." He said it simply, matter-of-factly, as if a name was explanation enough, but it just made her even more confused. What did Johanna have to do with anything?
"What about her?"
"Oh my God. You don't know." Peeta's eyes widened and his mouth fell open as he released her hand. He rested his forehead in his palm and groaned quietly. "Well, now I wish I hadn't brought it up."
"Well, you did. So explain, please." Peeta sighed and closed his eyes.
"Johanna kind of kicked my ass last night after you left… crying." He grimaced, whether at the memory of the ass-kicking, or the idea of her crying, she wasn't sure. "Well, actually… she aimed a well-placed knee to my groin. I was down for at least ten minutes."
"Jesus Christ!" Her mouth dropped open of its own accord and she unwittingly glanced downward towards his crotch, though she couldn't actually see anything through the table. She didn't know why she was so surprised; Johanna had even told her at school that she, Katniss, should kick Peeta in the balls. She had just never expected Johanna to actually do it herself. She glared at the air behind Peeta, imaging Johanna standing there to feel her wrath. "I had no idea she did that. Are you okay? She had no right to do that!"
"I'm fine." Peeta shrugged, then smiled at her. "Even if I weren't, the fact that you're concerned for me right now would definitely make me feel better."
"Well, I guess I still really care about you, no matter how big an asshole you can be." Katniss blushed and dropped her gaze again.
"I care about you, too, Katniss. A whole lot." His soft voice drew her attention back to his earnest face. There was a pregnant pause as neither of them could apparently think of a thing to say as they watched each other. After a minute, Peeta cleared his throat and spoke in a more normal tone. "And I swear I am going to make this up to you, and I am going to win you over again."
"Peeta…" Katniss trailed off when he grinned at her again.
"Just giving you your fair warning," he told her and slapped his hands over his knees as he sighed and looked around. "Okay, well I think I need to go sort things out with Finnick now."
He stood up and Katniss jumped to her feet after him.
"Yeah, that would be a good idea," she said. "He didn't bring me down to confront you. He didn't even know I was following him. That was my own bad idea."
Peeta didn't say anything, but his face grew pinched again and she knew he was once again beating himself up over his actions the night before. He nodded and they turned to walk to the front door.
"I'll see you later, Katniss." Peeta paused with his hand on the doorknob and turned to look at her. He looked like he wanted to say, or do, something. When his gaze flickered to her lips, she knew he was wishing he could kiss her.
She cleared her throat and he averted his gaze. "Bye, Peeta."
Peeta smiled at her quickly and opened the door; she closed it as soon as he walked through, but then rushed to the front window to watch him walk down the front walk. She watched as he got into his car and drove away, then turned to her phone with a scowl.
She and Johanna needed to have a little chat.
Okay, first things first. I have some things I wanted to say about the last chapter (5). I didn't get a chance to respond to reviews because I was kinda high on painkillers for most of the week following posting the chapter and then I just got busy and didn't get a chance to respond, so I'll do it here instead.
A lot of you liked the last chapter, but a lot of you hated it and some left kind of mean(ish) reviews. A lot of you thought Peeta was out of character, but that was kind of the point. He's been acting out of character since the end of chapter two. He had himself convinced that Katniss was using him and it was breaking his heart, which had him depressed. In my experience, being depressed can do that to a person. It makes them act differently than they normally would. You were supposed to be angry with him during the fight and find him irrational and just plain wrong. But now he's back to normal and he's determined to make amends and make things right.
Some of you also hated Prim last chapter and thought she was out of character and out of line, but my Prim is not just a kind-hearted little healer. She's a little sister who looks up to her big sister and was angry and hurt to see Katniss heartbroken over a boy, especially one that Prim had practically accepted into the family and looked up to as a big brother. She felt betrayed to realize that Peeta could be a jerk, so she decided to give him a taste of his own medicine. You don't have to like it, but that was my reasoning behind Prim's confrontation with Peeta.
And some of you hated Johanna. I can't really blame you for that. She was way over the top and out-of-line for what she did to Peeta, but I think she's fiercely loyal to and protective of the few people that she lets into her heart and Katniss is one of those few. She lashed out to see Katniss finally crack and cry as a direct result of Peeta's actions. She was absolutely wrong, but she doesn't see it that way.
Alright, I think that's about all I've been wanting to say about chapter five, so let's get on with this!
So. They finally talked, huh? I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter. I know the past few have been pretty rough, chapter five in particular. It's all uphill from here, though! :)
While Katniss is pretty cautious, Peeta is one determined boy, so you know she'll have problems holding out against him.
Thanks so much for reading and for all of the favorites and follows and reviews so far, even if some of those reviews weren't exactly glowing. Lol. I truly appreciated it all.
As always, you can follow me on tumblr. I'm ilikewatchingyousleep. Feel free to talk to me! I actually just got my first ask about WaHtS earlier today, and I guess it inspired me to finish up the chapter! Lol.