AN: Enjoy! Next chapter should be up soon, it's mostly written and was going to be together with this one, but it was getting way too massive. Enjoy!

Ch. 15

"He came to talk to you? At the hospital? Are you freaking kidding me?"

Peeta had been ranting for the past ten minutes after Katniss revealed that Snow had confronted her at the hospital. As soon as she had calmed down enough to safely drive out of the hospital parking garage, she drove straight to Peeta's house, calling him on the way to inform him she was coming over. It was so nice to be on day shift now, she could actually see Peeta on a normal schedule, though this was not the best reason to be rushing to his house at 7:30 in the evening.

"Peeta, we're going to be fine. I called Finnick, we have a meeting with him tomorrow afternoon to get this sorted out. Also, I'm going to call Haymitch, make sure he knows what's going on and to keep an eye out for anything suspicious; which should be easy since he is the most paranoid person I know," Katniss assured Peeta, who was now pacing the floor in front of her, pulling at his hair. "And you need to talk to the school, they need to know what's going on so they can help keep Eli safe."

Peeta sighed deeply, and sunk down on the couch next to Katniss, rubbing a hand over his face, which was looking far too haggard for his age at this point.

"Okay, I'll talk with the principal tomorrow morning after I drop him off at school. I don't want Eli to know about this, though. He shouldn't live in fear of being taken," Peeta said, sadness coloring his tone.

Katniss covered his hand with her own, circling the back of his hand with her thumb, hoping to comfort him as he had comforted her so many times. She knew that she was in love with the sweet baker, and she would do anything to protect him. He had worked his way into her heart in no time, something she had never allowed before, which made her think fate had brought them together; like there was this invisible force drawing them closer to each other all the time.

"You want to stay for a while?" Peeta asked hopefully.

Katniss hesitated, before answering. "I'd like to, but I need to get home for a bit. Rosie needs fed and some attention, and I need to shower because my shift was awful. I got vomited on twice, and some other disturbing things I won't share with you."

Peeta tried to hide his disappointment, but understood why she needed to leave. But her next words sent his spirits soaring.

"I could come back, though. Do you mind if Rosie comes along? I don't think I can leave her alone for the night, and she would be good to have around. She's like our own personal bodyguard," Katniss laughed.

"Of course, you should bring Rosie back with you. You can stay the night too, if you want..." Peeta trailed off, feeling shy suddenly. Which was ridiculous, they had shared a bed for sleeping more than once.

"That was the idea. I'm going to head out now, I'll be back in about an hour," Katniss said as she stood to leave, placing a light kiss on Peeta's lips before walking to the door.

Eli's feet could be heard thundering down the stairs, no doubt seeking Katniss to get her to read to him or play with him before bed. Peeta's head was still spinning with the information Katniss had relayed to him, but he made the effort to remain composed in front of his nephew.

"Where's Katniss? I was wanting to show her my drawing from art class, my teacher said it was really good," Eli asked, looking around for her.

"She had to run home real quick, buddy. But she'll be back in a bit, and she's bringing her dog with her. They're going to stay here tonight, is that okay?" Peeta asked his nephew, who was studying him curiously.

"Like a sleepover? That sounds fun!" Eli said with glee. "I really like Katniss, Uncle Peeta. When are you gonna marry her?"

Peeta's eyebrows shot up and he searched for the words to answer the child. "Uh, I'm real glad you like Katniss, but we're a long way from getting married, little man."

Eli simply shrugged before returning to his room to play with his toys and wait for Katniss to return, leaving Peeta with his tumultuous thoughts.

"Sweetheart, you just called me yesterday to make sure I was alive, so what gives?" Haymitch grumbled into the phone as Katniss rolled her eyes at the old man's unchanging surliness.

"Haymitch, there's something going on that you need to know about. And I might need your advice, so listen up," Katniss began sternly before launching into an explanation about the situation with Snow and his visit to her as she ran around her house getting her things, and Rosie's, packed for the night. When she was finished, she was met with silence on her uncle's part, making her think the call had dropped.


"Yeah, sweetheart, I'm here. Just thinking, give me a minute," was his gruff reply, his tone edged with anger. Silence followed for another minute, but Katniss said nothing; she was like her uncle in that they needed to gather their thoughts before they spoke. "I think what needs to happen is this: you stay with Peeta and his nephew for the time being, one of you always with the boy. And keep that damn dog with you, too, she's got a good head on her and will tear apart anyone trying to do anything."

"I'm packing to stay at Peeta's tonight, and we have a meeting with Finnick tomorrow, Peeta's lawyer, to see where we go from here."

"Good. You carrying your knife with you like I taught you?" Haymitch asked, knowing full well that he had taught his niece everything he knew about handling knives, in the event that she ever needed to defend herself.

"Of course. I had it in my hand the whole time that bastard was threatening me," Katniss said. Now that she had thought about it, Snow's nonchalance at her wielding the weapon was maddening, like he didn't believe she would actually use it.

"That's my girl. Now, what's Peeta's address? I think I should know in case I need to find you," he said vaguely. Katniss rattled off the address, and told Haymitch to take care of himself and she would keep him updated.

"Sweetheart, that boy loves you. You both stick together and this Snow bastard will be sorry he ever tried to get in the middle of anything."

"I know, I love him too."

"Good, he's good for you, although I have no idea what he sees in you. You've got about as much charm as a dead slug."

"Bye, Haymitch."

Katniss took a final look around her house, making sure she had everything for her and Rosie. She had decided to pack a bag for a few days, and was bringing Rosie's food, water bowl and leash so that they would be set in case she stayed at Peeta's longer than tonight. She couldn't help but feel excited at the thought of staying with Peeta for a few days, like they had in Indiana. Why was it that these kind of situations seemed to be what brought them closer? Maybe he was right, getting all this drama and hard things out in the beginning was a good thing. And just maybe forever with Peeta wouldn't be so bad either.

"Katniss! You're back! Ooh, you're doggy is here too!" Eli babbled excitedly as Katniss and Rosie came through the front door into the house, Peeta, ever the gentleman, following close behind with Katniss's bag.

"Yep, Rosie was excited to see you again," Katniss said, as Rosie rushed over to Eli, licking his face and wagging her tail in excitement. The times Peeta and Eli had been at her house, Eli and Rosie had become best friends. Rosie also loved any kind of attention, so having a small child fawn all over her was an easy way to get on her good side.

"Okay, Eli, it's time for bed. I said you could stay up to tell Katniss good night, but you have school tomorrow and we don't want you falling asleep in class," Peeta told his nephew, cutting off the protest about to fly from the child's mouth.

"It's okay Eli, I'll see you in the morning. Thanks for staying up to say good night," Katniss said as Eli threw himself into her arms.

"Good night, Katniss. I love you," Eli whispered into her ear while hugging her fiercely.

"Good night, Eli. I love you, too," Katniss whispered back, aware that Peeta's eyes were on her the whole time.

As soon as Eli let go of her, he was running to the stairs and into his room while Peeta followed to tuck him in. His absence gave Katniss a moment to think about the last few hours, and what they would be in for now. She was getting Rosie's things settled in by the back door when she heard footsteps come up behind her.

"Did you talk to Haymitch?" Peeta asked, coming up to stand behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist. She smiled and leaned her head back on his shoulder, enjoying the moment. They seemed to get so few moments like this these days, with a new crisis finding them every few weeks.

"Yeah, he's okay. He said Rosie and I should stay here with you and Eli for a while, that way we can stick together." Peeta's silence made her nervous. "I mean, it's up to you, of course, it's your house. We can always -"

"Katniss, I was going to have you stay with me no matter what. I don't think we should be apart more than necessary right now. I just didn't know how to say it, I'm afraid of driving you away," Peeta interrupted her. His words calmed her nerves a little, but she felt guilty now, that he was afraid to say what he felt. She turned in his arms to look at his face, his bright blue eyes filled with concern, and linked her arms around his neck.

"Peeta, I know I'm emotionally stunted, and that I don't always react well to things, but please never be afraid to tell me how you feel. It's not fair to you to always feel like you have to approach me cautiously, sometimes I just need people to hit me between the eyes with the truth."

"Okay, if you say so. I guess we've never really talked about our relationship, so I just have no idea what I'm doing. I should tell you, my relationship with you is the longest I've ever been in, so we're both learning here. Honesty from now on?"

Katniss smiled, glad to know that she wasn't alone in her feelings of inadequacy in the relationship department.

"Agreed," Katniss replied, laying her head on his shoulder, content to stand there wrapped in his strong arms forever.

"So I guess we're going to be roommates for a while. Let's get the guest room fixed up for you," Peeta said, his lips quirking into a cheeky grin as Katniss looked up at him, a hint of disappointment on her face. "Unless you want to skip the pretense and stay with me?"

Katniss laughed, looking into his eyes and found herself once again filled with a warm burning sensation, as she kissed him. Their mouths worked together in perfect harmony, until at last they had to pull away gasping for much needed oxygen.

"I'll take that as a yes to the staying with me, then?" Peeta asked, winking playfully at her.

"Definitely a yes. But, um..." Katniss trailed off, looking down, unsure how to continue what she was going to say. She felt his fingers under her chin, lifting her head to look at him, his blue eyes filled with such devotion almost couldn't breathe.

"Honesty, remember? You can tell me anything, babe," Peeta said, knowing how she both loved and hated that term of endearment.

"I guess, I just wanted to make sure you understood that it's just to sleep. I don't...I mean, I've never..." Katniss trailed off again. 'Ugh why is this so hard?' she thought to herself. "I don't want to have sex with you. Right now. I mean, in the future, maybe, but...oh hell, just put me out of my misery here." Katniss wished in that moment that the earth would swallow her whole, her face was so red and she had taken her arms from around his neck to wring them nervously.

Again Peeta tilted her chin to look up at him, with a kind and knowing smile on his face. He led her wordlessly to the couch in the living room, and sat down next to her, turning his body to face her.

"Katniss, let me lay this out for you, since I know you're worried. I am crazy attracted to you, but I would never take advantage of you. I hope you feel safe with me, but maybe I should tell you something, since we're doing this honest thing," Peeta said, holding tightly to her hands. "I was raised to believe in getting married before sex, and that's what I plan on sticking with. Old-fashioned, I know, but I always wanted to share that only with the woman I marry, and, honestly, I'm far from ready for that. Okay?"

Katniss looked at Peeta in that moment and knew, just knew, that she wanted to be that one woman. It was terrifying, and crazy as hell, but she knew, even after this short time, she wanted Peeta to be hers. 'Oh shit' she thought to herself, trying to keep her face impassive, which she could tell she was failing at, so she went with her usual route: action over words, and tenderly leaned toward him to capture his lips in a slow, sweet kiss. Eventually, they went upstairs to his bedroom, and once they were tucked under the covers, Katniss found that once she laid her head directly over his heart, she was safe. She was home.

A week later, after meetings with Eli's principle, as well as Finnick and his partner Plutarch, they had slipped easily into a routine. Katniss returned to her house every day to check on things, making sure her locks were secure, and picking up clothes as needed, but she and Rosie basically lived at Peeta's house. Their arrangement was working well so far, both felt more secure knowing the other was safe in each other's arms at night, and with Rosie keeping guard over Eli at all times when he was in the house, things were going well. And there had been no more sightings of Snow, as he seemed pretty good at keeping a low profile.

Finnick had suggested they contact the police to let them know what was going on, and make sure there was legal documentation of the situation. The police had been very helpful, stating they would increase patrols around the school and Peeta's neighborhood, as well as making sure Katniss had a security guard from the hospital escort her to and from her car when she was working. Peeta would not back down on that one, so Katniss eventually conceded, even though she made it abundantly clear she could take care of herself. Really, it had been their first fight.

"Katniss, I know you can handle yourself, but you even said this guy had a bodyguard with him, and that he was a big guy. Please, just humor me," Peeta said through gritted teeth. He couldn't understand why Katniss was making a big deal about this, but he knew he wasn't going to give in. He could be just as stubborn as her, even if it meant arguing for another hour.

"Peeta, come on! I don't need a babysitter to go to and from the building, I have my knife! And I really don't think he would pull that again, turning up in the same place where I'll be looking for him. I'll be fine, just leave it alone."

"Leave it alone? Are you kidding me? I love you Katniss, so you better get used to the fact that I just want to take care of you, and if that includes making sure you have someone with you in a dark parking garage in order to make sure Snow leaves you alone, so be it. Damn it, Katniss, let me protect you," Peeta said, grabbing her hand to prevent her from walking away.

Katniss looked into his eyes and saw a fierceness there that she hadn't seen before, which made her decide to give in, and put her own stubborn pride away for once.

"Okay, I'll talk to hospital security first thing tomorrow. My next shift is Wednesday, so I'll have it arranged for then."

"Thank you. I don't know what I'd do if I lost you, Katniss."

Now, Peeta was able to look back at their argument and know that he'd gotten her to agree to his request far more easily than he had anticipated. He was wearing her down little by little, making her get used to being taken care of, rather than her always taking care of everybody else. His smug grin must have shown plainly on his face as Thresh and Rue came into his office for the monthly meeting, because Rue was looking at him with a curious expression on her face.

"What's up, boss? You seem awful cheery about something."

"Nothing, just thinking. Anyway, to business. As you know, the bakery is doing well, and I've been able to hire two more staff members. I'm hoping to start taking more time off to spend with Eli, and I was hoping that you two would be up for a promotion of sorts. I'd make you both managers, and you would continue with the duties you have now, but would also be my eyes and ears when I'm not here. You proved that you could do it while I was gone for a bit this summer, and I have complete faith that the bakery will be in good hands even when I'm not here. Of course, this would come with a pay increase, also, since you would be taking on more responsibility," Peeta explained to the two young people, now looking at him with baffled expressions. Rue was the first to speak up.

"Of course, boss. We can run things here when you need us to, it's important that you spend time with Eli now. We got this, right Thresh?" she looked at the quiet man sitting next to her, who merely nodded in agreement. Thresh never did talk much, mostly because Rue always seemed to talk enough for both of them.

"Great. I'll make the announcement later today. Mostly I'm going to be off after 3:00 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but I'll be here on Saturday afternoon to help with prep for Monday. Sound good?"

"Yep, that'll work. Thanks, boss," Rue said enthusiastically. She would still never call him Peeta, he had asked her a million times to drop the 'boss' thing, but she maintained it was fun to watch him get flustered about it.

After his meeting with Rue and Thresh, Peeta informed the rest of the staff of the changes that would be taking place in the coming days, before heading home for the evening. Katniss had picked Eli up from school and was going to help him with his little bit of homework before Peeta got home so that they could take Rosie to the dog park for a while that evening. As Peeta drove through Knoxville toward his house, he was so preoccupied with the thoughts of seeing Katniss and Eli that he didn't notice the black sedan following him, and ultimately park along the sidewalk two houses down from his. Peeta looked down to unbuckle his seatbelt, and gather the mail in his hands, and when he opened his door to step out, he was immediately grabbed around the mouth from behind and felt the cool steel of a knife press into his neck, stinging slightly but not deep enough to draw blood. As he struggled against the grip of his assailant, he heard a cold voice sneer at him.

"Mr. Mellark, my boss sends his regards. I think you know who he is, so I won't draw this out. Give up Eli, or I'll show your little bitch girl friend that she isn't the only one who knows how to handle a knife. She seems like a spitfire, I bet she'd be fun to break."

At this Peeta's blood ran cold, and he was filled with rage, but the more he struggled, the more the blade dug into his skin, which was starting to draw blood. Suddenly, he heard footsteps moving quickly up the drive way toward Peeta and his attacker, and a voice calmly said, "Let him go, or I'll send you to meet your maker so fast you won't have time to think about whether or not you're going to Heaven."

Peeta felt the knife dig deeper into his neck, and thought 'This is it, this is how I'll die' when suddenly he heard the sound of an object whizzing through the air, and the arms holding him tightly loosened as the man dropped to the ground. Peeta turned swiftly to see what had happened, and saw the man lying on the ground writhing in pain with a knife sticking out of his right shoulder.

And Haymitch standing there with a smug grin on his face.

"So, how about some of that moonshine, boy? I did just save your life, after all."

AN: Shameless plug here for my Finnick/Annie oneshot that will likely turn into a multi-chapter fic once this is done. It's called Sweet Annie, and you should definitely check it out :)