Chapter 9: Better Together

Note: I've taken liberties with Katniss' cabin. It's described in the books as being a shell of concrete leftover from the dark days, but here I've decided to make it a cozy wooden thing which her father actually built. Enjoy.

With Gale picking up spare shifts in the mines, Peeta manning the bakery's ovens each day, and me spending all of my free time hunting for the perfect turkey, the next time the three of us are all together is at the Everdeen-Hawthorne Christmas then I'm getting pretty antsy and I'm sort of hoping that Gale and Peeta will bring another naughty game idea with them, but they turn out to be disappointingly well-behaved all evening.

Oh well.

We still have a really good time. Peeta arrives with a pumpkin pie and a bag of seasoned breadcrumbs to make Gale's favorite part of the meal - stuffing. Gale himself contributes a dozen mandarin oranges and a bag of roasted chestnuts to our spread, Prim bakes basil and goat cheese appetizers using the new recipe book I gave her, Hazelle brings two steaming casseroles of mashed potatoes and crisp green beans, respectively, and I supply the bird, which my mother dresses, cooks, and serves with homemade gravy and cranberry sauce.

Oh, and Buttercup delivers a freshly decapitated rat to our back door, howling for approval until Prim strokes his ragged ear and croons, "Good baby!" I'm the one who has to pick up the headless rodent with a handful of newspaper and take it out to the bin.

Stupid cat.

After dessert, my mother and Hazelle settle in front of the fire with mugs of their favorite coffee. Prim joins them and picks up her newest hobby – knitting – while the rest of us tumble out into the snow for another Everdeen-Hawthorne tradition: a moonlit snowball fight. Peeta, Gale and I cackle and whoop along with the younger Hawthornes, hurling snow bombs at one another until our hands are too numb to continue.

The nights are so dark and clear out here in Twelve, you can look up and see every single star glinting against the black-blue sky. With all the artificial light in the Capitol, it's impossible to see even half as many. And they're especially plentiful tonight – like someone sprinkled a handful of sugar over the dome of the earth – and for a moment I wish it was just Peeta and Gale and I, alone, enjoying it together. I actually find myself looking forward to returning to school just so we can stop hiding our relationship.

We do end up getting a small moment of relative privacy, though. While everyone else warms themselves in front of the fire, the three of us take our mugs of hot apple cider from the stove and sit around the table in the breakfast nook. I take the chair beside Peeta – making sure that we're close enough for our arms to brush – and Gale sits across from us, extending his feet out so that all our toes touch under the table.

I'm just thinking of how sad it is that this is as close as we can get to being affectionate (and how pathetic is it that I'm so deprived, even these small touches are a thrill?) when I notice a mark on Peeta's skin, right where the collar of his shirt just shifted.

"Peeta!" I blurt out, carelessly tugging his collar aside, revealing the edge of a hideous purplish bruise that seems to extend out and cover his whole shoulder. "When did this happen?"

Peeta presses his cheek against the back of my hand and tugs the collar of his shirt back into place. "Katniss," he says softly with a funny, embarrassed little laugh. "It's nothing to worry about. Really. I'm fine."

I stare at him for a long time, but he determinedly keeps his eyes on his mug of cider, clutching it tightly.

"Someone hurt you," I state slowly, putting the pieces together. His mother? What did she hit him with? And what for?

But Peeta doesn't say anything.

I look frantically towards Gale for some kind of explanation. He seems disturbed by the implications of Peeta's injury, but his steely expression softens when he sees my eyes filling with tears.

I don't cry very often, really. But I have an especially hard time when it comes to watching people suffer.

I turn back to Peeta and gently pull the collar of his shirt aside once more. He makes no move to stop me, so I lay a gentle kiss on the exposed part of his bruise.

"Oh Peet," I murmur sadly, wondering if my mother has anything in her arsenal of herbal remedies that could make a bruise heal faster. But I have a feeling that the shame and pain behind this injury go far deeper than any medicine could reach.

As soon Gale sees that I've started to weep, he clears his throat and stands up, coming around the table to stand directly behind our chairs. "You know, Peet, you're my friend and you're welcome to stay at my house anytime."

"Thank you," Peeta mumbles.

Then Gale sighs, perhaps realizing that - much like him - Peeta isn't about to accept a charity offer, at least not in this case. "I want you to stay at my place tonight," he says more directly, squeezing Peeta's good shoulder and sliding his hand down to rest against his upper chest, like a protective older brother. I quickly cover Gale's hand with my own, and together we wrap Peeta up in a makeshift sort of hug.

"I love you," I whisper to him. "And Gale does, too," because I know that Gale loves whoever I love.

I look up at him for confirmation of this and he nods, adding, "And I think it's time we show him the cabin, too."

"Oh yes," I agree, cheering up a bit at the thought. "You'll love the cabin, Peeta."

"What's going on?" Prim's concerned little voice suddenly interrupts.

I hadn't seen her enter the kitchen, but the way she's anxiously clutching her empty mug and has her eyebrows all drawn up in worry over us is almost as heartbreaking to me as seeing Peeta in pain. I discreetly wipe my face on my sleeve as I jump up to usher her back into the living room.

"Nevermind. Come on," I say softly, leading her away by her shoulders, leaving the guys together at the table by themselves. Thankfully, Prim is tactful enough not to pry.

I don't know exactly what transpires between the two of them after we leave, but when Gale and Peeta finally rejoin the rest of us in front of the fire, they seem to be even better friends than before.

I'm suddenly overwhelmed by how grateful I am that they have each other.

I glance around the room, taking in Prim with her knitting, my mother and Hazelle deep in conversation, Rory and Vick peeling oranges by the fire, Posy dozing off against the arm of the couch.

I'm grateful that we all have each other.

"Well, the pump is frozen," I announce, kicking the snow from my boots as I enter the little wooden cabin.

Gale and Peeta and I had set out into the woods at first light this morning, packed to the hilt with Christmas leftovers and a bunch of extra blankets. We were prepared to spend the whole day relaxing in the cabin, just the three of us. But the hike had taken longer and been much more arduous than I remembered - probably because of the added obstacle of so much ice and snow - and to top it off, we arrived exhausted and thirsty only to discover that the handle of the freshwater pump was frozen solid.

"I don't want to force it and break it," I continue, stripping off my coat, "so I guess we'll just have to melt some snow in a pot and drink that."

"Hey Peet, look in my backpack, will you?" Gale calls over his shoulder, all but ignoring me as he tries to coax a roaring fire out of the tiny flame he has going.

"Did you hear me?" I repeat. "Pump. Frozen. No running water."

Peeta's head emerges from the loft area at the top of the cabin.

"This place is awesome! How did you come by it again?"

"My father built it with his father a long time ago. Look, we have no water," I say flatly, ignoring his enthusiasm.

"Look in my backpack!" Gale insists.

"What's so important about your…" I trail off as Peeta arrives at my side with the pack, drawing out a long-necked green bottle with a foil top. We look at one another curiously.

"Champagne," he reads.

"If you're thirsty, you can drink that," Gale says. Finally satisfied with his fire, he stands up and brushes off the knees of his pants, turning towards Peeta and I. "It's not the highest quality stuff, but I'm working the night shift on New Year's. So, I figured we could celebrate a little early."

"But Gale, I'm not twenty-one yet!" I gasp in mock horror, putting on an affected Capitol accent.

"Yes, but Katniss," Peeta counters seriously, "this is a life or death situation. Haven't you heard? We don't have water."

Then he expertly pops the cork.

The three of us make a nest of our blankets and sprawl out in front of the fire, passing around the bottle as we eat turkey-and-stuffing sandwiches. For dessert, Peeta brings out a number of (somewhat crushed, but no less delicious) Christmas leftovers from the bakery – soft gingerbread cake and marzipan and jam tarts and chocolate-dipped shortbread, and even something called brioche, coated with candied nuts and an orange glaze. It's all far too much food for us to finish, but between the three of us, the bottle of bubbly champagne has no problem disappearing.

I'm feeling a little bit bubbly myself when I decide, later, to take the empty bottle and spin it around on the wooden floor. It makes a hollow, grinding sound, but Peeta and Gale - who are lying lazily on their backs in front of the fire - don't even open their eyes to see what's going on.

"Truth or dare!" I declare to no one in particular.

"You're thinking of Spin the Bottle, Catnip," Gale chuckles, his hands folded over his chest, "but I'll still play with you. Truth."

"Mmm… How old were you when you first had sex?"

"You already know the answer to that."

"Ah, but does Peeta?" I point out.

Gale smiles, eyes still shut. "Fair enough. I was fourteen."

"Fourteen?" Peeta echoes. "Seriously?"

"Why, how old were you?"

Peeta's eyes pop open.


"Eighteen? Really?" I sputter. That means that Peeta was still a virgin just a year ago! "But you're Peeta Mellark!" I insist. "You always had a girlfriend in high school!"

"Yeah, well, you can still have a lot of fun without actually having sex. You should know that better than anyone, Katniss," he says with a wink. "Unless we're using different definitions of-"

"Wait, wait, wait. Hold on a second," Gale interrupts, opening his eyes. "Am I supposed to take that to mean that you two still haven't…" he motions between us.

"No," I admit. "Although he did tie me up with my pantyhose that night before we got on the train."

Gale's face registers such a unique combination of shock, delight and disbelief at this new piece of information that I can't help but burst out laughing.

"It's true," Peeta tells him with a smirk, lifting himself up on his hands and knees and crawling towards me. "You see, Gale, I like to torture her with the anticipation of it." He grins, grabbing my ankle and kissing his way up my calf. I'm still fully clothed, so it's more humorous than erotic – I collapse flat onto my back and start giggling afresh - but then Peeta reaches up and pops open the button of my jeans, and things suddenly take a serious turn. I fall silent.

"I like to tease her," he continues, kissing the flat expanse of my lower stomach, just above the edge of my underwear. "Make her touch herself. Make her fantasize about it."

For a second, the only sound in the cabin is that of Peeta's warm, wet lips on my skin.

"But mostly," he finishes, starting to tug my jeans down, "mostly, I just I like to watch her come."

I exhale shakily, lifting my hips to make his task easier.

Gale sits up and silently watches as Peeta undresses me. With the calmest of calms, he pulls off each of my socks, then my pants, leg by leg. He makes short work of my flimsy cotton panties, tossing them aside; my shirt and bra quickly follow, leaving me completely nude on the dusty cabin floor.

Gale catches my gaze just as Peeta rises to his knees and pulls his shirt over his head, revealing his lean, pale torso. "And how old were you, Catnip?" he asks quietly.

Gale knows damn well how old I was, but he's asking the question for Peeta's sake now. I smile conspiratorially with him.

"I was sixteen," I answer softly, then direct my attention back to the blue eyes above me. "And it was with Gale, right here in this cabin."

Peeta watches my face so intently as he pushes my knee aside and parts my legs that I find myself unable to look away. I hear his zipper descend, followed by the rustle of fabric as he shucks off his pants and underwear.

"Then it would be in keeping with tradition for our first time to be here, too," he breathes, rising up over me and planting his hands on either side of my head.

"Yes," I squeak, a little awed and intimidated by this particularly sensual, domineering side of Peeta that I've so rarely seen. I can feel the heat radiating off his naked body, just inches above my own.

"What do you think, Gale?" Peeta asks, never once breaking eye contact with me. He reaches down and grips his already erect cock, shamelessly tracing his tip through my slick folds, up and down. I inhale sharply and actually start to tremble. Yes. I've been waiting for this for so long that I'm already on the verge of falling to pieces.

"Peeta," I whimper softly, tilting my hips up towards him.

He leans down and quiets me with a sweet kiss, but makes no move to enter me until Gale speaks.

"I think she's waited long enough," he finally answers.

And with that, Peeta pushes into me.

We fuck on the cabin floor twice that afternoon, panting and gasping and cleaving to one another as Gale watches. At one point I reach out towards him, beckoning him to join us.

"Gale-ah! Ah!" I gasp out, my neck snapping back as Peeta hits a particularly sensitive spot. "Gale!"

He comes over and kneels beside us, slipping his hand down between our damp, writhing bodies, scissoring his fingers around the spot where Peeta and I are connected.

I feel Peeta lean back and slow his movements, pausing to watch Gale's skilled fingers tease my ripe, pink bud.

"Please, please," I choke out, twitching and bucking beneath his touch. I feel myself clench around Peeta's length, still buried inside me.

"God, that's sexy," Peeta groans, firmly gripping my hips to steady me.

"I like to watch her come, too," Gale tells him, "but this time, I want to see you do it." Then he withdraws his hand, stands up and crosses the room, taking a seat in one of the wooden chairs near the wall.

Gale lifts his cock from his pants and begins to stroke himself as Peeta rhythmically fills my body with his own, over and over again. I rake my fingernails down his sweaty back, trying to somehow get more of him, gasping into his ear and clinging to his shifting shoulder muscles when he hits that sweet spot inside me that makes my legs quiver.

"Katniss," he pants against my dewy skin, cradling my back with his forearms and sucking each of my sensitive nipples into his mouth, one after the other. The way his teeth almost painfully graze the tips of my breasts while he continues to pump into me below amounts to a heady mess of a sensation that makes me cry out wildly. My head falls back against the cabin floor with a soft thump and the wet sound of our bodies slapping together grows noticably louder.

"I'm close," I manage to whimper. "I'm coming."

"You're so wet," Peeta gasps. "Oh, fuck, Katniss. Katniss. Katniss."

Somewhere else in the room, I hear the low moan of Gale's release.


I clutch Peeta's head to my chest and tighten my legs around him, climaxing to the sound of him saying my name.

That evening, the three of us return to the district even more exhausted than when we first arrived at the cabin. I'm honestly too tired from hiking and weeks of pretending not to be together to even care about covering up our relationship anymore.

"Stay with me tonight," I say to Peeta and Gale when we get to my front porch. "I don't want to sleep alone anymore."

They must be as tired as I am, literally and figuratively, because they both instantly agree.

It's really too easy to sneak them into my bedroom. They don't even have to think about climbing the icy trellis that leads up to my window - my mother and Prim are already getting ready for bed, and I'm able to let them in through the back door just a few minutes later. We silently creep up to my room, close the door behind us and undress each other in the pale moonlight. Then we climb under the covers together - all warm skin pressed up against warm skin – and immediately fall into a blissful sleep.

Very early in the morning, I wake up between Gale and Peeta's naked bodies with that same rested, contented feeling that I had on the train. It's so peaceful and cozy and warm lying between them that I can't help but tangle my legs up with Peeta's and snuggle into Gale's shoulder a little more. I sigh softly. Just a few more minutes of this divine sleep…

Wait. My eyes flash open. What woke me up?

"Katniss?" wavers Prim's voice, and my heart nearly stops.

I sit straight up, clutching the sheets to my chest, only to find my little sister standing in the doorway, completely shocked by the scene before her. Her knuckles turn white as she grips the little crystal doorknob for support.

"Prim!" I squeak, my voice cracking.

She just wordlessly backs out of the room, closing the door with a soft click.