Written for promptsinpanem everlark challenge on tumblr for the deadly sin sloth and based on the blog "Forty Days of Dating."
Her phone vibrates violently on top of her desk and her hand snaps out to silence it.
"Your vibrator looks an awful lot like a phone," Peeta says dully, flipping through his portfolio of photos one last time. "And it seems to have a mind of its own."
She blushes furiously but quickly regains her composure, rolling her eyes at his crassness.
"That's the fourth time it's buzzed in the last fifteen minutes," he says, and it comes off as a casual observation when she knows that he's secretly prying. "Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, fine." She picks up her phone and scrolls through the settings to put it on vibrate. "It's just this guy."
"Oh," he says, closing his portfolio and turning his attention to something impossibly fascinating on his shoe.
She feels guilty and she doesn't know why. "It was this casual thing. We only went out a few times and it didn't really go anywhere."
"Besides straight to voice mail," he comments when the screen on her phone lights up again with an incoming call. She flips it over and covers it with a stack of papers. "Does he know you two aren't seeing each other anymore?"
"He's getting there," she says and begins to minimize and maximize windows on her desktop in hopes of dropping the conversation entirely.
Peeta finally gets called into her editor's office, giving her a reprieve from his questioning.
It's nearly 5PM and as usual she's been checked out since 4:30. She hits refresh on her e-mail one last time and decides it's a good a time as any to fill out her time sheet.
"Happy hour tonight?" Peeta asks when he's returned from his meeting.
Thursday night happy hour at the Hob has been a ritual since college. It's a complete dive bar and everything on tap tastes terrible, but it's the only time she consistently sees Finnick and Johanna these days. "Wouldn't miss it," she says, gathering her things.
"Do you need a ride?" Peeta says before his phone begins to ring.
"No, I drove today." He's already answering his phone and he nods, mouthing see you there, while he backs away towards the break room.
"Hello, Delly?" she hears him say into the phone as he moves farther away. "No I'm not too busy, what do you need?"
Katniss rolls her eyes. Peeta and Delly haven't dated since high school, in fact, Delly's been dating this guy Thom for years now. They may even be engaged. Yet, every time she calls, Peeta drops everything for her.
It's not just Delly though. It's every girl he's ever dated. There was Bristel for a year in college, and Clove for only a handful of months, and Glimmer who she swore she only met one time, their relationship was so brief. All of these girls, and more, seem to pop up on his phone periodically, and he tends to them as if they were good friends and not virtual strangers. One date with Peeta Mellark gets you a lifetime membership it seems.
Katniss doesn't know why it bothers her. Peeta is a caring and compassionate person, and she's the polar opposite in that regard. It's hard for her to care about people the way that he does. Sometimes she wishes that she could be more like him, but she doesn't know how to open herself up like that. She doesn't trust as easily as he does.
She gets to the Hob after Johanna and Finnick and they sit at their usual table, sharing a pitcher of a bitter tasting IPA. Peeta arrives about 20 minutes later, and slips into her side of the booth. It's a tight squeeze and he drapes his arm across the back of the bench so that it's resting across her shoulder. It's a somewhat affectionate gesture, but that's the norm between the two of them. This type of contact usually makes her uncomfortable with others, but with Peeta it's second nature.
Finnick asks why Peeta was late and Katniss can't help but drop a snide comment about Delly's phone call.
As usual, Peeta's wit is quick to dissuade the situation back onto her. "Will phone guy be joining us? Or are there not enough bars in this bar to make a connection?"
Katniss rolls her eyes and drains the rest of her second beer before pouring another.
"Who is phone guy?" Johanna asks with mild amusement.
"No one," Katniss says shortly.
"Kind of like Darius," Peeta says.
"Who's Darius?" Finnick says, his eyes narrowed as he tries to put a name to a face.
"Exactly," Peeta says with a triumphant grin.
Darius was a guy that Katniss went out with for a few weeks — mostly coffee dates. She never brought him around Finnick or Johanna because she never really mixes her personal life with her personal life. The only reason Peeta even knew about him was because Darius had stopped by her magazine during the time she had been subtly trying to break things off with him. Peeta had held her hand and kissed her until Darius got the point. She still feels sort of awful about the whole thing.
"How many secret boyfriends do you have?" Johanna teases.
Katniss scowls. "I don't have any secret boyfriends," she mumbles, her blunt nail scratching furiously at a fading water ring on the table.
"Katniss only has secret flings," Peeta says. "The idea of an actual relationship is too terrifying for her."
"And Peeta keeps an extensive harem, because he thinks that every girl is the one, even though they just want to borrow $20 and get a ride to the airport."
"That's not true," he argues. "It was an Amtrak station."
"You two are such relationship-sloths," Finnick says after taking a long swig from his beer.
"I think you mean relationship-phobe," Johanna says.
"No, they're not afraid of relationships. They're just too lazy to have a real one." He calls their waitress over to order another pitcher while they stew over what he's said. Then, unexpectedly, he elaborates with: "You two should date each other."
Peeta and Katniss straighten in their seats in an instant, too incredulous to speak.
"He has a point," Johanna says, as if the idea weren't the most shocking she had ever heard. "Peeta needs a girl who doesn't take advantage of his emotional availability, and Katniss needs a guy who is patient enough to chisel through her harsh personality."
Katniss scowls at her friend and tries not to humor the idea.
"You two have been friends for years, you've already overcome those hurdles, now reward each other with sex," Johanna concludes.
"That's an awful idea," Katniss says.
"Yeah? Are you attracted to Peeta?"
It's not something she's thought about, consciously anyway. She doesn't know what to say and that scares her.
Maybe it's because she's halfway through her third beer, but without really thinking she finds herself nodding in reply. "Sure," she says honestly.
Peeta is being uncharacteristically quiet, even when Johanna asks him the same question. He hesitates, his eyes seeking hers as if looking for approval. "Yeah, I guess," he says.
"Then what's the problem?"
"What happens when we break up?" Katniss argues.
"Then Finnick and I will get two Christmases," she says wryly and swipes Katniss's glass when she goes to reach for it.
"Give it a month, like a 30 day trial," Finnick suggests. "Relationships take a lot of work. If Annie and I weren't completely committed to one another, there's no way we would have lasted."
She sneaks a glance at Peeta to gauge his reaction to the idea, but for some reason she can't look at him. Thankfully, the subject is dropped after this, and they spend the rest of the night taunting Finnick over his impending engagement.
The thought continues to creep up on Katniss though. She catches herself admiring Peeta's smile for a moment too long. Or enjoying the feel of his elbow on her shoulder when he rests against her. Everything between them is the same, yet suddenly, totally different.
It's dark out by the time they leave. Katniss is parked a few blocks away and accepts Peeta's offer to walk her to her car. They linger beside her car door beneath the faint yellow glow of a streetlamp.
"How would this work?" she asks him abruptly.
It takes him a moment to catch up with her train of thought, but soon his eyes light up with understanding. "I don't know. We'd go on dates, I guess. And see each other more often. Try doing things that couples do."
"Like sleep together," she says, assuming that he's already thinking it.
"If we wanted to," he says, and this time he's the one who can't hold her gaze.
She sighs. Being in a relationship has never been something that's interested her. It takes trust and some level of dependance and those are two things that Katniss does not do easily. But Peeta is someone that she already trusts and she thinks she could depend on him too, if she allowed herself.
"30 days?" she says.
He seems confused again. "You want to try this?"
"I don't know." She feels anxious and excited at the same time, like something awful or wonderful could happen in an instant. "We'd have to have rules. In case things go wrong, so we won't lose this," she says, gesturing between them.
"30 days," he says. "We try to see each other every day, maybe try things that we wouldn't usually do, and when it's over, either one of us can end it. No questions asked. And if we want to, after, we can see where it goes."
She feels it again, this spark of energy. In this moment, floodgates are breaking and there's a change in their relationship that will never be the same, even if they take back this foolish arrangement.
"Okay then." She extends her hand, intending for them to shake on it.
"Okay," he says with a nervous laugh and accepts her hand.
But then something happens and she's not sure exactly how, but she's pressed against her car and he's pressed against her and they're kissing frantically. There are too many conflicting emotions to make sense of, and wrapped around him in this instant, she doesn't want to.
They spend day one in bed. He works for himself and she calls in sick from the magazine and they tangle themselves in her sheets and attempt to do all the sorts of non-friendly things they never would have done in the past.
It's surprisingly easy, this transition into intimacy. She thought she'd feel embarrassed or stupid, given how well they know each other, but the familiarity makes it better. She's not afraid to tell him what she wants, directing his hands and mouth to the places that make her call his name. And Peeta barely needs any guidance. He's attuned to when she's being genuine, accepting nothing less until he's certain she is satisfied.
She could easily spend 30 days doing this, but even in her lust fueled haze, she knows that this type of connection is fleeting, and will implode if they aren't careful.
Day 2, Saturday, she runs into Johanna at the grocery store. Johanna is coy, as if she already knows what has happened, and Katniss is such a bad liar, she immediately folds.
"That's a lot of Gatorade." Is all Johanna has to say as she casually addresses the case in Katniss's cart. "You need any condoms with that?"
Katniss's face turns so red, there couldn't be another answer.
"Phone guy?" Johanna asks with a wicked grin.
"Peeta," she admits.
Johanna is shocked and practically drags her out of the store to the nearest coffee shop.
"That's not dating, that's friends with benefits," Johanna tells her bluntly after Katniss has relayed the series of events. "I can't believe you actually went through with it! Do you honestly think you can go back to being friends?" Katniss shrugs. "You think Peeta can go back? Technically, I think he's still dating most of his former casual hookups."
She doesn't know what to say.
"And what about you? When's the last time you sent one of your exes a Christmas card?"
Katniss begins to panic. When this ends, how will she ever look him in the eye? This is why she doesn't do dating, she doesn't know how to deal with the aftermath.
"Was it good at least?"
Katniss buries her face in her hands and bangs her head against the table.
She feels guilty for the rest of the afternoon. She's spent years feeling animosity towards these girls that Peeta devotes his loyalty towards, and now she realizes that she's become one of them. Only difference is she'll bleed Peeta dry until there's nothing left and then abandon him without a word. Maybe she can still fix this. Maybe the tides of their friendship haven't yet changed.
That night she goes to Peeta's, where they'd agreed to meet after her errands. The kitchen is lively with a chorus of pots and pans on the stove. Instantly, she can smell the sweet symphony of cheese and garlic, and her mouth begins to water before her eyes even set sight on his world famous cheese buns.
"You're cooking," she says, and she isn't disappointed, despite what her tone implies. He's cooked for their group before, but never for her alone.
"Yeah, lamb stew," he says, dipping a wooden spoon into a bubbling pot. He slurps the stew quickly and then extends the spoon towards her, offering a taste.
Lamb stew is her favorite dish, one that is complicated to make, as indicated by the mass array of ingredients cluttering the counter. She hesitates, looking at the spoon and then back at him before she declines.
"I didn't do anything for you," she says, feeling guilty again.
He drops the spoon into the sink and wraps his arms around her waist. "You've done plenty for me," he says, nuzzling his stubbled chin against her neck.
She grips his shoulders to keep her knees from buckling. "Let me do the dishes at least," she says, gasping when his mouth closes over her pulse point.
"Later," he murmurs into her ear.
"Maybe I could cook next time."
He chuckles, low and gruff, before pinning her to the counter. She lifts herself to sit on the edge, clearing the box of raisins that are in her way.
"You can buy me dinner, maybe," he says, settling between her legs.
"I can cook," she protests.
"Hot flavored water."
"Delicious hot flavored water."
"The best," he says. He dips his head to kiss her, his tongue making smooth languid strokes against hers and she melts completely. She hooks her ankles together behind his legs, drawing him closer.
His phone begins to ring and he groans. Pushing himself from the counter, he struggles to slip his phone from the pocket of his jeans. His smile is apologetic, but it does nothing to wane her growing ire. She can't believe he answers it.
"Can I call you back?" he says quickly then ends the call.
He settles back to their previous position, but the heat she had felt moments before has evaporated entirely.
"Stew's done," she says coldly and pushes past him.
They eat in relative silence, and when she goes to clean the dishes, he insists on washing, giving her the menial task of drying. It bothers her, but she's not sure how to express it.
She had planned on staying at his apartment, but by the end of the night, she'd rather go home. He, of course, insists that she stays.
"You have a phone call to return anyway," she says, and it surprises her that she's still bothered by it.
"It can wait," he promises her.
She wants to hold her ground and to stay angry with him, but then he kisses her and her resolve fades away.
That night, she takes control, pinning his hands over his head as she rides him. He struggles to touch her but she doesn't let him. She wants to be the one to take care of hm. It makes her feel better.
She enjoys the time they spend together. They go hiking, and cook meals together, and marathon through television shows they've been meaning to watch. When they meet up with Johanna and Finnick for drinks, she lets him play with her hair, even though she usually hates public sort of displays, and occasionally, she sneaks a quick kiss when she thinks nobody is looking because there's something exciting about the whole thing.
It's cold out, the first snowflakes falling from the sky as they're leaving the Hob, and although there's a bus that's scheduled to hit that intersection at any moment, which is a much faster route to his apartment, she can sense that he'd rather walk. He doesn't verbalize it, but his eyes are as shiny as the snowflakes when he stares wondrously at the tiny falling clouds.
Katniss's fingers are nearly frozen. She hasn't worn practical gloves and her coat pockets aren't doing much to warm them. She shivers and looks helplessly between him and the bus stop. It would be so easy to be selfish and warm, and she knows he'll go along with whatever she wants without protest. That doesn't seem right though, so she takes his hand and guides him down the sidewalk for the longer journey home.
His smile fills her with a pleasant heat, and she decides that maybe she can do this relationship thing. Maybe she can even be good at it.
But as the days pass, Katniss begins to feel suffocated. He's always there. In her kitchen, in her bed, in her shower. She misses the days when nights were simple and she could eat a bowl of leftover rice and an ice cream sandwich for dinner before crawling into bed. Now everything is about what they want to do. Together. When all she wants to do is be alone.
She let's the tension bubble inside of her, and she senses how moody and short tempered she has become around others. It's when her mother calls that the dam breaks and everything begins to crumble.
She turns off her phone and buries it deep in her purse. Out of sight, out of mind, she decides. And that night, when she's supposed to go to Peeta's, she goes straight home instead, locking the door behind her and wrapping herself in her comforter like a protective cocoon.
She's listless as the sun sets and the world shuts down around her. It's comfortable. She enjoys the silence.
It's hard to tell how much time passes, it feels like minutes, but it's actually hours. There's a loud knock at her door and she makes no move to answer.
"Katniss are you in there?" she can hear Peeta's muffled voice shout. "Katniss, if you're in there, you should open up now, because if not, I'm assuming you're dying, and taking your silence as explicit consent to knock this door off its hinges to rescue you."
The inconvenience of having her door repaired is enough to get out of bed. She drags herself through her living room and flips the deadbolt.
"Are you okay?" he says, his eyes wide and wild.
"I'm fine," she says, and she can barely look at him. "I wasn't feeling well."
"You should have called."
"My phone wasn't working," she says with a disinterested shrug.
He pursues his lips, his face hardening with understanding. "So I'm phone guy now," he says.
She feels ashamed and can't seem to look up from her feet.
"It's not like that," she says, and it's not very convincing, because even she doesn't believe her tone.
"Is this what's going to happen? When it's over?"
Her eyes meet his and her heart shatters in her chest. She tries to imagine her life without Peeta. His humor that always makes her smile. His arms, which always put her at ease. His sturdiness. His devotion.
If this is how she decides to treat him, she'll never see him again.
Without realizing it, she's crying. Her arms circle around his neck and she buries her face into his chest. She can't lose him.
"I need space," she says, watching her tears bleed into his white tee shirt.
His fingers tangle into her braid and his hand settles at the nape of her neck. "You just had to tell me that," he says gently. "Take all the time you need."
She spends the next three days in her own bubble. She's a zombie at work, and completes her assignments almost robotically. Her mother calls each day and on the third day she leaves a message.
"I've met someone," is all she says.
Katniss hasn't spoken to her mother in years. When she went to college she essentially broke all ties. It was difficult for her mother when Katniss's father died. She became nearly catatonic in her grief, leaving Katniss to care for the family, which included her young sister. After a few years, her mother's mental health improved, but the damage was lasting. Katniss's sister, Prim, is the only family that Katniss still acknowledges.
"She wants for us to meet him," Prim tells her over the phone. "She wants for us to be a family again."
Katniss is reluctant. A month ago she would have burned all bridges and never looked back, but now she feels a longing for this broken connection.
She calls Peeta to ask if he'll come with her, and he agrees.
Dinner with her mother is tense. Katniss isn't sure what to say and her mother seems to be just as perplexed. Peeta and Prim carry the conversation, skating around safe topics like work and the weather.
Later, when they're cleaning up, Katniss finds herself alone with her mother.
"I didn't know how to be a whole person anymore," her mother admits when confronted about her breakdown. "When you love somebody, it's easy to lose yourself in them."
Katniss understands. It's why she's spent years building a wall between herself and anyone who tries to care about her. To protect herself.
Her mother touches her cheek gently. The contact is calming and Katniss finds herself leaning into it. "It can be so wonderful, though," her mother promises.
Katniss is silent during the drive home. All of the events from dinner are troubling, and she's not sure how to process them.
"You internalize too much," Peeta says.
"I'm just thinking," she says tiredly.
"We can talk, if you want to."
She doesn't know where to begin, and she doesn't know how Peeta could help her. He wouldn't understand.
"It's fine," she says shortly.
"It's not a burden, you know," he says. "Sometimes it helps to vent."
She looks at him skeptically. "I think my mother has ruined my ability to have a healthy relationship," she says bluntly.
"Mine too," he says with a nod.
She muffles a bitter laugh. "Yeah right!"
"Have you met my mother?"
In all the years she's known him, she can't remember meeting his mother once. Maybe during their college graduation. She vaguely recalls an impatient, silvery blonde tapping her foot through the reception. She had scowl lines deeper than Katniss's.
"All my life I was constantly disappointing her. Nothing I did was ever good enough," he says. "I felt worthless."
Without thinking, she places her hand over his on the center console. "That's not true. You're so loving and generous with everyone you've ever met, even when they don't deserve it."
He smile sadly, and the lights from the streetlamps that buzz by shimmer in his round eyes. "I like to feel needed, I guess."
He pulls into the parking garage beneath her apartment and kills the engine when he's reached her spot.
Katniss is stunned silent at his admission, unable to move from her seat. She refuses to accept that he thinks this way of himself. That he doesn't appreciate how wonderful he is. That everyone doesn't appreciate it. All the Dellys and Bristels, and Cloves in the world. But most importantly, her.
She turns in her seat and forces him to look at her. Her fingers trace every line of his face until every detail is memorized.
"I do," she says. "I need you."
"You don't," he starts to say, but she doesn't want to hear it. She crushes her lips to his and kisses him with frantic abandon, trying to show him how every ounce of her being needs him. It's absolutely terrifying but it's something she wants — no, needs to give him, and in the end she feels wonderful.
"It's almost our anniversary," Peeta says on day 25. He's sitting on the couch, scrolling through the channel guide while Katniss finishes the dishes in the kitchen.
She leans her elbows on the kitchen island and smiles teasingly. "What are you going to get me?"
"That depends," he says, settling on some movie on Comedy Central. "Day 30. Are you showing up for the date?"
She feels a nervous tick in her heart. At this point, it should be easy. She cares about him. She's falling in love with him. The future should be clear.
She dries the last dish and takes her time placing it in the cabinet.
"We don't have to wait for day 30, I guess," she says.
He bites back a smile then stands from the couch with a stoic nod, picking up his shoes in the process. "Okay," he says, heading towards the door. "We gave it a good shot." He sighs dramatically along the way, and she doesn't want to amuse his pity party, but suddenly she finds herself darting after him.
She stops him before he can reach the handle. "Let's see where this goes," she says, wedging herself between him and the door.
"30 more days?" he asks, a beaming grin already tugging at his lips.
"And maybe a few more."