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All Grown Up

Chapter Text

It was a beautiful day in Panem. The impossibly blue sky carried almost no clouds, and the singing birds flew free through its immenseness. I had really missed that, I thought to myself. The peacefulness, the blue of the sky, the fresh smell.

Working in a big city had its financial perks, but skyscrapers would never have the grace of suburban family homes.

I took a deep breath of fresh air and smiled. This was no time to mourn, but to enjoy my long-awaited four-week vacation.

Woo-hoo!

My colleagues back in Seattle considered me insane when I told them I was going to my hometown, especially because no member of my family still lived there. The life of a neurosurgeon was far from easy, minutes of rest were rare, and now I would have four whole weeks. I could choose anywhere to go, they kept reminding me, but there was no other place in the world where I wanted to be.

"Peeta? Peeta Mellark? Is that really you?" The voice of my old friend, John Everdeen, echoed behind me. "Well if it's not a hell of a surprise!"

I turned to meet his always gentle mercury eyes. John was a tall and robust man, and though he looked quite intimidating with his night black hair, he was one of the kindest people I had the pleasure of meeting.

"Johnny Bravo!" I exclaimed and pulled him into a hug. "Good to see you, man!"

"Good to see you too, Peeta Parker!" He backed away just enough to measure me from top to bottom. "Look at you, a big-city neurosurgeon! Mr. Mellark must be really proud up there."

He pointed up to the blue sky.

"I like to believe so." I smiled bashfully. "But pleasing my dear father was never a problem, right? The actual challenge was to make the infamous Victoria Mellark at least satisfied."

He laughed.

"It's true. And can I be honest with you?" He whispered. "I'm still afraid of her."

"Don't worry, I am too." I whispered back and we both laughed. "But I can assure you that after my nephews were born, she became less and less demanding. In fact, she's not demanding at all these days."

I couldn't even put into words how nice that was. Being there, standing in front of my old house, talking to my childhood best friend. Of course I had been back in Panem a few times since I left, when I was accepted into Medical School in Cambridge, but it was always a privilege to see a great friend.

"Where are Lavender and the girls?" I wanted to know.

"Lav went to the grocery store with Prim, my youngest. Which, by the way, is already seventeen." John said. "They should be coming back by now."

"Seventeen? Holy mother of Jesus! When I left Panem she was still inside Lavender's belly." I said with surprise. "But where is the other kid? Katniss, isn't it? I still remember her in that little red dress and pigtails. She had quite the temper."

"Oh yes." Jonh's eyes brightened at the mention of his eldest daughter. "She's here, actually. She's spending college break with us, Katniss is a junior year of PE. She'll open her own Pilates studio as soon as she finishes college."

"Wow! This is amazing!" I said sincerely. "But man, we're getting old, aren't we?"

"Ugh. Don't even remind me." John grunted. "Look, I know you just got here, but come in for a minute and meet Katniss. She's in the back, probably reading by the pool area. She's an avid reader, that one."

"Of course." I promptly said. "And by the way, reading is one of the best qualities a person can have."

"Funny, Katniss keeps saying the same thing." He smiled. "I'm sure you two will get along."

We yet had no idea how much.

John led me to the kitchen, where the back door was, pointing out all the changes they have made in the house over the years. On the outside the house looked the same, but everything else was different. Much more elegant and modern.

My friend inherited the house from his parents and he and Lavender did a wonderful job with it. John became one of Panem's finest architects while Lavender was an interior designer.

Together they were quite a pair.

"You have a really nice house." I complimented. "By the way, I'm sure I'll need your services, and Lavender's as well. I just realized that my apartment is boring and bland."

He laughed, "It will be our pleasure."

We arrived at the pool area and I whistled loudly while scanning the place. The pool itself was interestingly shaped and surrounded by a beautiful garden. The whole work made it look like a small lake of crystal clear water in the middle of a forest and I found myself mesmerized by it.

And I had not even seen the most beautiful part of that scenario yet.

"Katniss, honey, come here for a second." John said to a certain someone. "I want you to meet an old friend of mine."

I instinctively turned in the direction John was looking and then I froze. Before me was the most beautiful creature I had ever laid eyes on.

Her eyes, gray as John's, but much less gentle and more intense, met mine. He had mentioned her being a PE student and all, but not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine she would look like that.

There was nothing, absolutely nothing about her that was out of place. She was perfect from head to toe. Big and expressive gray eyes. Long dark wavy hair. Olive skin. Perfectly symmetrical nose. Fleshy and luscious lips.

And my God, that body. The tiny black shorts and white tank top weren't doing much to hide it.

"This is Peeta Mellark. I think you may have heard of him once or twice." John smiled. "And Peeta, this is that little girl with the red dress and pigtails."

The hell she was.

"It's nice to meet you, Mr. Mellark." I almost moaned at the sound of her hoarse, sensual voice.

Fuck.

"I... um..." I forgot how to speak for a second. "The pleasure is all mine. And please call me Peeta."

If John noticed the way my forehead was profusely sweaty, he made no comment about it.

"The last time I saw you you were... this size." I lowered my hand a few inches off the floor. "I can hardly believe my eyes now."

"I must have grown an inch or two." She was intently staring into my eyes.

The two traitors traveled to her cleavage, but I immediately averted my gaze.

"You certainly did." I cleared my throat.

"Peeta will also spend his vacation in Panem." John happily announced. "I think we were presented with an unexpected reunion."

His cell phone chose that exact moment to ring and he had to excuse himself. It was Lavender, apparently she was having a problem with her car.

"You live next door, don't you?" Katniss asked.

"Technically I live in Seattle, but yes, my family's old house is next door." I explained.

"I always wondered why nobody ever sold it." She walked past me and I closed my eyes at her delicious scent. "It's a cool house."

"Yes it is." I agreed. "That house has tremendous sentimental value for my family. Although we no longer live in Panem for work reasons, we would never be able to get rid of it."

"I understand." Katniss grinned. "It's the same as this house for my parents. They never wanted to live anywhere else."

"And it has always been so." I smiled. "I'm not surprised to see that John and Lavender are still living here. Your father has the life he always dreamed of. I still remember the day he found out Lavender was pregnant with you. Any other man in his place would freak out and, well, he did freak out, but with happiness."

"Just my weirdly-in-love parents could be happy with an unexpected teenage pregnancy." She joked and I laughed.

"Indeed." I smiled as I remembered the hormonal young couple they were. "And speaking of your father, he mentioned you want to open your own Pilates studio? Is that right?"

"It is." Katniss flashed a beautiful smile. "But I haven't decided where yet. I'm thinking of initially opening the studio in San Francisco, where I live, but then I want to open one here in Panem as well. I know it's a relatively small city, but I'm sure it could work. Besides, I love this place."

"It's a great idea." I tried my best not to stare at her. At that moment I found that she could look even more beautiful when she got excited.

"Do you really think so?" Katniss seemed interested in my opinion.

"I do." I said. "I feel the same way about Panem. I wouldn't have left here had it not been for the circumstances."

"What about your wife?" I frowned. "Does she like it here?"

"Well, I'm not... I'm not married." I chuckled. "But if I had a wife, I bet she would love Panem too."

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have assumed." She bit her lower lip nervously and captured all my attention. "I just figured a man like you could only be married."

"A man like me?" I smiled curiously.

"My Dad mentioned you are a great neurosurgeon." Katniss started by saying. "And, well, you're a handsome man. I just put two and two together."

Hearing that beautiful young woman say she thought I was handsome did wonders for my ego. I'd be hypocritical if I said I didn't like what I saw in the mirror, but from her that compliment took on new meaning.

"I appreciate the compliment." I could have sworn I was blushing. "A doctor's life can be complicated sometimes. I guess I focused so much on my work that I didn't find time for my personal life."

Some women have been through my life, of course. But none ever aroused in me a feeling strong enough to make me want to exchange vows.

And I've always been fine with that.

"That doesn't look healthy to me, Sir." She warned me. "In Grey's Anatomy all doctors have a social life."

That comment made me laugh out loud and Katniss smiled back.

How could a human being gather all the beauty in itself?

"In real life things are a little different." I explained to her. "I wish I could work in a hospital like the Grey Sloan Memorial."

"Oh my God, you actually watch Grey's Anatomy?"

"Guilty." Katniss laughed and it sounded amazing. "I'm quite behind right now, but I watch it whenever I can."

"I figured you would prefer a show like House or something." Katniss said. "But I like Grey's Anatomy better."

"That makes two of us."

"You're proving yourself to be a real box of surprises, Mr. Mellark." There was that beautiful smile again. "I like it."

Oh my God, why was she looking at me like that? Was she trying to kill me?

"I'll have to go get Lav and Prim." John returned and broke our trance. "Starter problem."

"Do you want me to come with you? Maybe I can help." I offered.

"Lav already called the insurance, but thank you, man." John picked up his wallet and keys. "Is it okay if you keep Peeta company, honey? I won't be long."

"No problem, Dad." Katniss answered politely.

"No need to worry, I really need to fix some things in the house." I said. "But we can have a drink later."

"Perfect. See you later then?" John asked and I nodded.

He kissed Katniss's forehead and hurried to his car. A few seconds later we could hear it drive away.

The silence that stood between Katniss and me was deafening.

"Are you alright?" I must have been distracted for a while because Katniss was snapping her fingers in front of me.

"Um... yes?" I rubbed the back of my neck, trying not to look so nervous with our unexpected privacy. "I just... I think I'm going now."

"I'll go with you." My eyes widened when she said. "I mean, you said you had some things to fix in the house. I can help you."

The thought of being alone with her in my house gave me chills.

"Oh yeah, I did." I answered a little breathlessly. "And I appreciate the offer, but it won't be necessary."

"If you say so."

Although I said I needed to go, I made no effort to move a single muscle.

"Well..." I coughed. "Ask John to let me know when he arrives, yes?" I took out a card and handed it to her. "Here's my number, I don't believe he has it."

"Sure." She said.

Our hands briefly touched as she took the card and currents of electricity spread throughout my body. I don't remember ever feeling that way next to a woman.

Just stop it, Peeta.

"Well, I think we'll see each other around." Katniss smiled wickedly. "At least I hope so."

"I, um... I hope so too." That girl had quite an effect on people, and something told me she was aware of that. "Thank you for the brief but pleasant company, Katniss."

"My pleasure." She wet her lips. "If you change your mind about my help, well, you know where to find me."

The way she said the word pleasure -painfully slowly- made my blood boil. Everything about her made my blood boil.

"Thank you." I said. "I'll let you know."

We started a staring competition and it lasted longer than it should be considered normal. And then I forced myself to leave.

Sitting on my dusty couch I was strangely missing Katniss's presence. So much so that I almost considered going back and inviting her to my house, but fortunately my common sense spoke louder.

You have to keep your distance, Peeta. It's John's girl.

Well, contrary to what my fellow colleagues back in Seattle thought, those weeks in Panem would be somewhat... interesting.

God help me.

Chapter Text

"Good morning, neighbor." I got up so fast that gravity almost pulled me back. "I thought you could use some water."

Katniss carried a plastic bottle and had an annoyingly beautiful smile on her face.

She looked absolutely radiant in a simple green sundress and comfortable sandals. Her hair was tied in a side braid, which kind of reminded me of when she was a small child, and I swear I've never seen anything so ethereally beautiful.

Lucky for me to have the vision of paradise so early in the morning.

"Thank you." I wiped the sweat off my forehead and squinted at the sunlight. "Exactly what I needed."

She smiled contentedly and started walking on what used to be a garden.

"Will you do it all yourself?" She was scanning the place. "Wouldn't it be easier to call a gardener?"

"Well, I'm on vacation, so I'll have a lot of free time." I said before taking a sip of water. "Besides, I always enjoyed taking care of the garden."

She shrugged and moved closer, staring at my wet shirt. "You should take it off. You're melting."

I swallowed hard and took a deep breath. She had just suggested that I take off my shirt and that made my imagination go far.

Perhaps too far.

How sinful was it to imagine my best friend's daughter licking me?

"I wouldn't want people to think I'm an exhibitionist." I said. "Besides, I'm not in my best shape."

Katniss appraised me without the slightest scruple and looked me in the eye as she said, "You look great to me."

Girl, girl.

"I wish." I said with fake modesty. "But thank you."

We stood in a comfortable silence this time, just enjoying the breeze and the birdsong.

"Did you fall out of bed?" I teased. "It's quite early."

"I'm always the first to wake up." Katniss said. "Early risers win the day. My paternal grandmother used to say that."

I nodded and drank all that was left in the bottle at once.

Ahh. Refreshing.

"Your grandmother was absolutely correct." I said. "But how did you know I was here?"

"I was spying on you." I raised my eyebrows at that honest confession. "You seemed really committed to cleaning the garden and, well, I didn't see a bottle of water near you. A doctor should know it's important to stay hydrated, Sir. Anyway, I decided to bring you some."

It was the second time Katniss referred to me as Sir while lecturing me. She was kind of bossy and, God, she was beautiful.

"Yes ma'am." I raised my hands defensively. "Thank God you showed up to save my life."

I still had no idea how much those words would gain meaning.

"Can I help you with something?" She asked. "You already declined my help plenty of times, but I see no reason not to accept it now. Unless, of course, you're trying to avoid me."

Which I was, but not in the way she thought.

"I'm just clearing the ground and getting it ready for new grass." I said. "I'm almost done actually, but your company will always be welcome."

Wrong words, Peeta. Wrong words.

Without giving any explanation Katniss walked away and soon after returned with a small wooden bench in her hands.

Was she going to watch me?

"I'm glad you will take care of the garden, even if you won't stay for long. The garden is the most beautiful part of a house and my favorite place to read." She said as she sat. "I like to lie face down on the grass, open a book and forget about the world."

I couldn't resist imagining that scene. For the sake of my mental health, I really hoped she wouldn't do that while wearing a dress like the one she was wearing now.

Especially since my balcony had a privileged view of the Everdeen garden.

"You really are an avid reader, aren't you?" I brought the conversation to a safe topic. "What are you currently reading?"

To my surprise, Katniss's cheeks turned crimson and she looked away from me. For the first time since we met she looked shy.

"You will laugh at me." She accused.

"What? No! Why would I do that?" I frowned. "I would never laugh at you."

"It's a stupid book." She rolled her eyes. "My perverted friends insisted that I read it and, well, I'll never confess them that I'm already finishing the second book and going to the third. Have you heard of Fifty Shades of Grey?"

I had never read the thing, but surely I had watched at least half of the first movie on some random channel. It was kind of... spicy.

"I, um, sure." I didn't know what else to say.

"So..." Katniss stood up and sighed. "I'm not exactly liking the book, I mean the main character, who is also the narrator. But at the same time I'm kind of enjoying it, you know? It's unnerving."

I just nodded silently and that was the cue for her to continue.

"I don't have a problem with sex in books, I actually love sex, but the problem is how the scenes are written, do you see my point?" I was trying to ignore my tachycardia when I muttered a yes. "Anyway, I shouldn't be boring you with this nonsense."

"It's all right." I tried to loosen the tie I was not even wearing. "I don't mind."

But I had to mind. This conversation was taking a dangerous path and this was Katniss Everdeen. Everdeen. Her last name would always remind me that her father was my best friend.

Or worse, that I was literally old enough to be her father.

"Sometimes we may not like the writing of a book, or even the story per se," I cleared my throat. "But I think avid readers are driven by curiosity."

"In my case, I'm driven by pride." She said and I laughed. "I started reading the book and promised myself that I would finish it. But the point is, I didn't want to like the book, because I had decided before reading that it was stupid. And in fact it is stupid, I wasn't wrong about that, but I can't stop reading it. What does that say about me? That's right, I'm a hypocrite."

"You're not a hypocrite for reading a book and being confused about how you feel about it. It happens to everyone." I guaranteed it. "But anyway, your secret is safe with me. To all intents and purposes you are the biggest Fifty Shades of Grey hater I've ever met."

Katniss tried to hold back a laugh but failed beautifully. That could easily become my favorite sound in the world.

"Thank you, I guess." She looked at me with those huge, expressive gray eyes.

"What are you thanking me for? I don't know anything." I winked at her playfully and she laughed even harder.

I took advantage of the few seconds she threw her head back to admire her without getting caught. Katniss was mesmerizing. A true force of nature.

Poor of my friend John. Surely boys -and maybe even girls- should give him a headache because of his firstborn.

Little Prim was equally beautiful, like a younger version of Lavender, but there was something about Katniss that I would never be able to put my finger on.

"You're funny." Katniss said with admiration. "I thought surgeons were always serious and pragmatic."

"Inside an OR, maybe." I confessed. "But outside I'm just a human being like any other."

"Except you don't have a social life." She reminded me.

"Exactly." I laughed. "You're going to give me a hard time because of this, aren't you?"

"You bet." She said without hesitation.

She shouldn't be looking at me that way. And I definitely shouldn't be looking at her that way. But there was this force between us that made me unable to reason correctly.

Jeez, she was just a girl. I've been around girls before and never been inconsequential.

"I promise I'll try to make the most of my life outside the hospital." I found myself saying. "And... I won't forget my water bottle ever again."

"Better that way." She smiled.

A jovial voice called Katniss's name and we both looked toward Prim, who was approaching us.

"Good morning, Mr. Mellark." She flashed a kind smile. "I mean, Peeta."

"Good morning, Miss Primrose." I answered and she scowled. "I beg your pardon. Good morning, Prim."

Looking more satisfied, she smiled a little and turned toward her sister. They were absolutely different and somewhat similar at the same time.

It was fascinating.

"Mom is looking for you, she needs help in the kitchen." She said.

"Tell her I'll be there in a second." Katniss answered. "I'm just helping Peeta here with the garden."

Prim glanced between her sister and me a few times and I can swear I saw her lips curl into an almost imperceptible smile.

"Okay." She said. "But don't take too long. Bye, Peeta."

"Bye, Prim."

It was impossible not to notice the way Katniss's eyes sparkled as she looked at her younger sister.

"I think I need to go now." She said with regret. "Mom almost never asks for my help in the kitchen, since I'm a total disaster, so it must be something important."

"It's all right." I smiled.

"Um..." Katniss bit her bottom lip and seemed to want to ask something, but hesitated a few times before building up the courage. "Did you say you're on vacation?"

"Yes." I said, a little confused.

"So you'll have plenty of time to binge watch Grey's Anatomy?"

"Yes...?" I repeated, this time slowly, waiting to see how far she would go with that.

"Is it okay if I bring my dvds for us to watch it together sometime?" I held the air involuntarily. "I really wanted to watch the first seasons again and it would be nice to have company."

Say no, Peeta. Say no.

"Um... sure." There I was, sweating again. "It would be nice."

All the reasons why I shouldn't have agreed with that were forgotten when Katniss smiled.

If that smile always had that power over me, I'd be in trouble.

"Great." She said. "I'll bring some snacks."

Okay, Peeta. You can do this.

There was no age limit for friendship, right? Besides, a man and a woman could be friends and have a healthy platonic relationship.

I was friends with Lavender, for God's sake. All my concerns were unfounded. John himself said that Katniss and I would get along, maybe he was already predicting our friendship.

"Right. Are we settled then?" I said a little more relaxed.

"We are." Katniss nodded. "What day is better for you?"

"Any day." I answered.

"Okay." She looked a little agitated. "I'm going now, before my mother loses her temper."

She rolled her eyes and I smiled. From what I knew of Lavender, that was highly unlikely.

And then, before I could even think, Katniss hung over my body to kiss me on the cheek.

The gesture was so unexpected that it made me gasp.

"See you soon, Peeta." She whispered in my ear and then ran off.

"See you soon, Katniss."

I answered to no one.

Chapter Text

As we reached the end of our morning jog, John and I stopped to hydrate and try to catch our breath. Or rather, John tried to catch his breath while I was leaning against a tree. He was bent over with his hands on his thighs, seeming to have run a marathon when in fact we only run a few laps around the block.

It was obvious that he hadn't exercised in a while, but for some reason his physique was still amazing. Bloody Everdeen genes.

I was smiling when I said, "Out of shape huh, Johnny Bravo?"

He looked at me like he was trying to say ha ha, very funny.

"Ask me that when you are married with two daughters." He splashed some water on his face and then drank it. "Especially when they reach adolescence."

Shaking my hair to remove the excess sweat I just laughed.

"Katniss is already in college, yes?" I made sure to remind him. "And soon it will be Prim. Then there will be no excuses."

"Just so you know, teenage Prim equals two teenage Katniss. I'll need a few years to reestablish myself." John vented. "All the worries I didn't have with Katniss I'm having double with Prim."

I tried to look less interested in that statement than I really was, "Um, what are you telling me? Wasn't Katniss a wild teenager or something?"

She certainly seemed to.

I then forced a casual laugh to make that question look unimportant.

"What? My Katniss?" He seemed to find it funny. "She couldn't be quieter and more reserved if she tried. I've been introduced to at least three different boyfriends of seventeen-year-old-Prim, while Katniss has only dated one single boy in a lifetime. Gale Hawthorne, a good kid."

I imagined this Gale guy kissing and touching Katniss's body and suddenly he didn't look that good to me.

"And what, um, happened to them?" I couldn't disguise my curiosity. "I mean, they're not dating anymore, are they?"

I wasn't sure if I really wanted to hear the answer.

"No, but they remained good friends." John smiled. "And here between us, I still believe they can get back together one day. I know Gale still has feelings for my daughter, but I'm not so sure about her."

Yup, I officially didn't like Gale Hawthorne.

Now that was interesting. Katniss didn't seem at all quiet and reserved to me.

Not wanting to sound oddly inquisitive, I kept to myself the dozens of questions that were dancing in my head.

John and I decided to remember the old days and have breakfast at Sae's. I've been to some places and no one has ever made such delicious coffee or pancakes.

I was devastated when I learned that she had passed away and just didn't attend the funeral because I had major surgery on the same day. I was glad to hear they wouldn't close the place.

A blond waitress who was about the same age as Katniss took our orders. She looked at me curiously, but I didn't pay too much attention to it.

"That's Madge, daughter of the Undersees. She's working here during the summer." My eyes traveled to Madge, who was still looking at me funny, but soon she looked away. "She and Katniss are best friends since forever."

"Oh. Miros and Elena's daughter?" I asked. "That's nice."

"It is." John smiled.

A few minutes later Madge returned with our meals and John introduced us.

"Madge, this is Peeta Mellark, he's also a good friend of your father." He said. "Peeta, this is Madge Undersee."

"I know who he is. I mean, nice to meet you, Mr. Mellark." She soon corrected herself, her blue eyes wide.

I frowned in amusement, but John didn't seem to notice anything abnormal.

"Nice to meet you too." I said. "Please send my regards to Miros and Elena."

"I will. I... I need to take care of the orders. Excuse me." The girl muttered and ran behind the counter, where she was now typing frantically on her cell phone.

"These young people today." John laughed. "They can't stay a second away from those devices."

I made an agreement sound, but remained curious about Madge's strange behavior. It was as if she was surprised to see me there, but already knew I would come.

Or maybe it was just my imagination.

We finished our delicious meal, I paid our bills and then John and I followed each one to its home. It was good to have my friend back in my routine, albeit provisionally.

I took a long, cold shower and changed into comfortable clothes. Then I decided to spend some time on the balcony.

I swear I wasn't expecting to see anyone next door, but my eyes insistently looked for her. I was almost back inside when I noticed, in my field of vision, a movement next to the Everdeen pool. She didn't seem to notice me as she untied her bathrobe, untied her long hair from a messy bun and... oh my God.

Luckily there was no enough time for me to appreciate Katniss's body inappropriately before she made a perfect jump into the pool.

I considered entering the house, I should have entered the house, but instead I found myself bewitched by her, swimming freely like a mermaid. And even singing like one.

"Who are you girl?" I muttered to myself. "And what are you doing to me?"

I knew it was humanly impossible for her to hear me, but Katniss turned toward me and smiled. A beautiful, cruel smile that would be able to knock out even the strongest of men.

"Hello." She mouthed and waved.

"Hi." I grinned like a fool and waved back.

Without a hint of self-consciousness about my presence, Katniss kept swimming and swimming and I wondered how she had so much breath until I remembered that she was a PE student. Yes, I found myself unable to stop watching her.

Improper, I know. But it was too late to try to remedy.

I instinctively wet my lip as she stepped out of the pool like a wet goddess, her perfect body shining against the sunlight, completely showing except for the tiny black bikini she was wearing.

"Beautiful." I found myself whispering and again, I knew she didn't hear me.

When Katniss put back her bathrobe and passed through the gap of her garden fence to mine, I knew I needed to get down.

And I did it.

She didn't look angry that I'd been watching her, but I knew it had been inconvenient of me. What if she was coming to lecture me?

Or worse... what if John had caught me staring at his daughter like that?

Ugh. I was a terrible friend.

"Hello again, Peeta." Katniss smiled when she saw me, completely unaffected. "It's a beautiful day, isn't it?"

"Gorgeous." I wasn't looking at the sky when I said that. "You... you swim very well."

"You think?" She shook her head and smiled. "I've thought about competing once, but swimming isn't for me. At least not professionally."

"If you didn't tell me, I would never notice." I said. "And, um, you sing very well too."

"Oh my God, did you hear that?" Katniss was mortified. "I didn't think… I don't… oh my God."

She hid her face behind her hands and grunted.

"Hey, don't be embarrassed." I dared to touch one of her hands and take it out from her beautiful face. "Your voice is beautiful. I confess I couldn't understand what you were singing, but you seemed quite in tune."

"Thank you." She said shyly. "I almost never sing in front of other people."

"Well, you should." I smiled as I said. "Because people have the right to be graced by your beautiful voice."

Katniss said nothing, but the way she smiled with her eyes made me understand that she was grateful.

"Peeta..." She mumbled my name in such a delicious way.

"Yes?"

Tell me what you want. I'll give you anything.

"Did you hear anything I said?" Katniss asked sportively. "At all?"

"Um... sure?" She eyed me suspiciously. "Fine, no. I'm sorry."

"Your mind has traveled elsewhere, Sir." She smiled.

Yes, to a place where your last name was not Everdeen and I could want you without feeling guilty.

"I asked if Dad invited you to dinner tonight?" She repeated. "Mom is preparing something special."

"Oh yes, he did." John even apologized for the delay in inviting me, Lavender wanted everything to be perfect. "I can't wait. I've heard wonders about your mother's culinary talents."

"Mom is really good." Katniss said proudly. "I wish I had inherited it from her, but Prim was chosen to have that honor instead."

"Oh come on, I bet you're exaggerating." I said. "I'm sure there's nothing in this world that Katniss Everdeen can't do well."

I had not paid attention to what that sentence might mean until I repeated it mentally. Shit.

Katniss approached a few steps and said in an absolutely tempting way, "I can be good at many, many things, Peeta Mellark." Had the sun come closer to Earth? Because I was on fire. "But cooking is not one of them."

We were closer than we should be. Her bathrobe was looser than it should be. If anyone saw us like that they would surely be suspicious. If this person were John, well, I'd be done.

I pulled back like I'd been electrocuted and Katniss looked at me in confusion.

"Um, the garden is getting really nice." She ignored my sociopathic behavior. "It looks like you yourself are very good with your hands, besides the surgeries of course."

"I... I do..." I started to stutter. "I mean, thank you."

I needed to get out of there as soon as possible or I would end up saying or doing something that I would surely regret later. It was unbearable to watch the drops of water disappearing through the valley of her breasts without being able to take them with my tongue.

"I met your friend Madge today." I practically threw up those words. "I was having breakfast with John at Sae's."

"She told me." Katniss said nonchalantly.

Did she?

"She looked a little nervous." I said without revealing much. "Is everything okay with her?"

"Yes it is." Katniss smiled. "She just gets a little nervous around hot men."

I choked on my own saliva and Katniss started patting my back. A few minutes later I was already recovered.

What the hell?

"Oh my God Peeta, are you ok?" Katniss looked genuinely concerned. "You got all red."

With all that mess her bathrobe opened completely and she was left wearing that almost nonexistent thing. All my blood went down to my dick and I prayed, prayed really hard so it wouldn't get too... enlivened at that moment.

Katniss tried to touch me to make sure I was all right and I practically threw myself away from her... again. By now she should be thinking I have some kind of psychological problem.

"I'm fine and I need to go now. I forgot something in the oven." I blatantly lied. "I like to bake sometimes."

Nobody asked.

"The Mellark bakery was famous around here." She said. "What are you baking?"

"I, um... cheese buns?" I knew they were her favorites.

Katniss's eyes brightened when I said that. And it was a lie. I was really a bastard.

"I can take some for you later."

What are you doing, you idiot?

"Really?" She asked with surprise. "I'd love some. Thank you."

"Don't mention it!" I scratched the back of my neck. "Well, I better get going before they burn, right? Or there will be no cheese buns at all."

"I guess so." Katniss said with amusement.

"O...kay." I said to myself, trying to figure out how long it would take me to go to the grocery store to buy the ingredients for the cheese buns and how long it would take for them to be ready.

If something went wrong, I would just make up some excuse and say they tasted terrible.

"I think you better run, the grocery store becomes crowded at this time." Katniss said with a smile on her face and turned to leave.

"It's true." I agreed. "Wait... what?"

Did I say that out loud?

"You promised me cheese buns, and now you have to make them." She shrugged. "This time for real."

"Katniss, I..."

"See you at night, Peeta." She looked at me over her shoulder and smiled mischievously. "And my cheese buns."

I opened and closed my mouth countless times, unable to mumble a word.

It was official now, I was fucked.

Chapter Text

Dinner was uneventful and extremely pleasant. It was as if John, Lavender, and I had never spent more than a day apart, except now they casually had two beautiful daughters. One of them, which tantalizingly sat right in front of me, was also annoyingly attractive.

Katniss remained silent for most of dinner while Prim, whom I learned, had quite a sarcastic sense of humor, didn't stop talking and asking questions throughout the whole meal. She wanted to be a doctor and she was taking that conversation very seriously.

I kind of understood John's point now.

Still, I wasn't convinced about Katniss being quiet and reserved. At least that wasn't what it looked like when we were alone.

"The cheese buns were delicious, Peeta. Thank you." Lavender said. "I didn't think I would ever eat these wonders again. My belly is so full that I'm suspicious that there's a third Everdeen baby inside it."

"Is there anything you want to tell me, honey?" John joked.

"For God's sake, no!" Prim soon intervened. "I'm the youngest and adorable Everdeen child and it should stay that way. Besides, I don't like to imagine you two still... ew. No."

Prim pointed to John and Lavender, who were mortified.

"Primrose Everdeen!" Lavender said scoldingly. "Where are your manners?"

John looked at me as if to say told you and I shrugged.

My eyes were drawn to Katniss, who seemed to be biting back a laugh. I wondered if the Everdeens would ever have a quiet and boring meal and I suspected the answer would be no.

Well, good for them.

Katniss was wearing a tight black dress that enveloped her as a second skin and her long locks were loose and slung over her shoulders like chocolate cascades. She wore little or no makeup at all and yet remained flawless. She was naturally beautiful and I doubt any makeup would do her justice.

I had nothing to say about her cleavage, which left a mouthwatering portion of her breasts showing. I was not looking.

"Cheese buns have always been Katniss's favorites." John smiled as he said. "She was your test subject, remember Peeta? The first person to ever have the privilege of tasting Peeta Mellark's newest invention. And oh well, it was a success. Even after you left."

I would answer if Katniss hadn't been faster, "Wait, the original recipe is yours?"

I just nodded, avoiding staring at her. I was afraid that John and Lavender could see right through me.

"I started randomly mixing ingredients in my father's kitchen and voila!" I giggled blandly. "I decided to trust your two-year-old judgment and we put them up for sale at the bakery. What can I say? There were days when we couldn't even handle the orders."

Those memories were so precious. Longing was euphemism close to what I felt.

Katniss went silent for a moment, seeming to contemplate that revelation. It was no big deal to be honest.

"I think I owe you a big thank you then." She finally said. "My life wouldn't have been the same without your buns."

A deep heat struck me with that innuendo, but apparently no one else had noticed anything hidden between the lines. Maybe the problem was me and my polluted mind.

I needed to calm the fuck down.

Half an hour later I was thanking and praising Lavender for the delicious dinner and shaking John's hand goodbye. Prim waved from afar before going to her room and Katniss was nowhere to be seen.

I tried not to look so disappointed at the fact that she didn't care to say goodbye.

How old was I again?

Before I could reach my door, I almost had a heart attack when I saw her sitting in the rocking chair at the entrance of the Mellark house.

"Hey." She opened a shy smile. "I hope you don't mind. I like reading here sometimes."

She liked to read, period. No matter the place.

A part of me was truly happy that she chose that place, though. It was as if she were keeping the house company in the absence of its owners.

"Don't worry about it." I answered.

I was going to make a general comment about the weather, but I thought better of it.

"Dad wouldn't let me take the chair to our house. I tried to convince him several times, every time I came to Panem." Katniss said and I laughed. "He even bought me one, but it's not as comfortable."

"It was my father who made this chair." I revealed. "I suspect none will ever feel so comfortable. But hey, it's yours if you want."

"What?" Katniss looked discredited. "No, I can't accept it. You just said it was your father who made it and, well, I like to stay here anyway. The Everdeens can be a bit noisy, especially my sister."

I laughed and nodded in agreement.

"Well then feel free to read here anytime you want."

I found myself not knowing what to do. It didn't seem right to enter the house and leave her there to be, and it seemed even less right to invite her in.

I know, I know. I agreed when she suggested we binge watch Grey's Anatomy together, but it was different in that context. Right?

When in doubt, I sat on the wooden bench next to her.

"How's the book?" I made small talk.

Katniss bit her lip and marked the book's page before closing it.

"He had a reason to be like that." She said and I frowned in confusion. Noticing my strangeness, Katniss explained, "Christian Grey."

Oh. Oh?

"Still, I don't know if it's enough." She continued. "I mean, you may have suffered something in the past, but that shouldn't dictate who you will be in the future. I know it's easier said than done, but that's how I see things."

"And I agree with you." I said, although I didn't have much idea what she was talking about.

"I'm already finishing the third book and I still don't know how to feel about the whole thing." Katniss seemed really annoyed by that. "I think my pre-judgment interfered with my enjoyment of the story. Anyway, I still find it all very silly. I mean, there's a lot more about BDSM and consent than that. I'm happy that I'm about to finish it. "

"And I'm happy for you." I said in a relieved tone and she smiled.

"Can I ask you a question?" Katniss asked and I nodded. "Forgive me if it's too personal, it probably is, but I'll ask anyway. Have you ever done anything like that in your life?"

"Done what?" I was confused.

"Sexual roleplays such as BDSM and stuff." Katniss acted like she was asking me the time. "I was always curious, you know? I was wondering if it's as good as people make it look."

"Um, Katniss, I don't think it's appropriate for us to talk about this." I cleared my throat while acting like the adult I was. My tone got a little too serious, but it was necessary. "Just for the record, no. I never did anything like that."

What was what I saw on her face? Sadness?

"I'm sorry, Peeta." She said softly. "I know I'm being quite inconvenient, but it's just that you make me feel comfortable and I don't know why. I'm usually not that open with whom I don't have intimacy, I promise. Anyway, I think I'm going. Thanks for letting me borrow your rocking chair, even though I didn't ask for permission to begin with."

"Wait!" I found myself holding her by the wrist. "You... you don't have to go."

Just let her, Peeta.

"It's already late." She offered me a small smile.

"I didn't mean to be rude, Katniss." I decided to explain myself. "It's just that you're John's daughter and, well, I'm much older than you. I don't know if your parents would like to hear me talk about sex with their daughter."

"Don't worry, you weren't rude at all." Katniss said as she walked away. "I was crossing the line and you did well to warn me."

Did I?

Yes Peeta, you did.

So why did I want to hold her tight and not let her go? Why did I want to keep hearing her talk about that stupid book and answer all the questions she asked?

And why, for God's sake, were my eyes fixed on those oh-so-kissable lips?

"Katniss..."

"I won't bother you anymore, I promise." My heart broke in a thousand pieces when she said that. "You're friends with my parents and I shouldn't be talking about inappropriate things with you. Or being around you at all. God, my parents say Prim has no boundaries, but I'm not that different, am I?"

Please, don't say that.

"You can be around me, Katniss." I was almost begging and I couldn't care less. "We can watch Grey's Anatomy together and we can be friends. You don't have to stay away from me or anything, it was never what I wanted."

"I don't know if I can." I stared into those beautiful gray eyes. "Be your friend, I mean."

"And why not?"

"Because..." She looked away for a moment, seeming to choose what to answer. "Because I'm barely twenty-one and you are my father's age, right? Besides, I already have several friends my age."

Ouch.

"Anyway, I'm sorry for wasting your time."

For some reason I found myself unable to say anything, suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of emptiness.

What the hell was going on with me? Why did it feel like I'd been punched in the stomach?

"Oh, and I almost forgot." Katniss turned toward me and I looked at her expectantly. "Pretend I never said anything about us watching Grey's Anatomy together. It was a stupid idea anyway."

And then she stormed off and I stood there, watching her get farther and farther away from me, even more unreachable than she was before. One second she was openly talking to me and the next she was asking me to forget everything.

But I didn't want to forget. And even if I wanted to, I don't know if I would know how.

Because watching her go made it real what I was trying so hard to deny to myself: I wanted Katniss Everdeen.

I wanted her like I never wanted anything in my life.

Chapter Text

I hadn't heard from Katniss in two days and it was killing me.

There was no sign of her reading in the garden. Or swimming in the pool. Not even a casual bump on leaving the house, considering we literally lived next to each other.

She had simply vanished before my eyes. And I knew that because they were hunting her everywhere.

On the morning of the third day I decided that I needed to run until my lungs explode. I called John, inviting him to our morning jog, but he had a meeting with a client and wouldn't be able to accompany me.

Better this way, I thought. Maybe he wasn't the best of companies while I was pining for his daughter.

I ran and ran and ran and only when I was physically and mentally exhausted, I stopped by the lake, practically drowning in my water bottle. Even that damn thing reminded me of her.

I was so engrossed in my martyrdom that it took some time before I realized that I was not alone. Katniss was sitting on a rock, quietly reading, and it took all the strength in me to keep me from running to her.

How pathetic would that be?

I tried to be as noiseless as possible as I watched her from afar, but the branches on the ground had another idea. My mother kept saying that I walked as quietly as an elephant.

As soon as she saw me, Katniss's relaxed posture gave way to a visible and almost palpable tension. I hated to be the cause of her distress.

"Hi." I ventured to say. "Forgive me for disturbing your reading, I didn't know you were here."

She just shrugged. I wasn't even worthy of her words and it hurt me deeply.

"Are you okay?" I insisted. "I haven't seen you in two days... I was worried."

Katniss looked at me as if silently asking why do you care?

"I'm fine." I finally heard her beautiful voice.

She closed her book and stood up, but when she tried to pass by me I stopped her. I didn't know why I had done that, I just did.

"Sorry." I said, releasing her immediately. "You got here first, it's me who should go."

"I was already leaving." She said, her eyes darting from mine.

Having her so close after all those torturous hours felt like a gift from heaven. That made no sense, but it was how I was feeling.

My fingers ran the length of the side braid she wore and then along her beautiful features. Katniss closed her eyes and I tried to memorize every little detail of her face.

"You are so beautiful." I muttered. "So, so beautiful, Katniss."

Gray finally met blue and we stared at each other in silence for what seemed like an eternity.

"You can't say things like that." She whispered.

"I know." I leaned my forehead against her left temple and inhaled her delicious scent. "Believe me, I know."

"I'm trying, you know?" Katniss gave in to my caresses. "Staying away from you. It's not easy."

"Then don't." I said. "Don't stay away from me, Katniss. I had a taste and I hated every minute of it."

"Why, Peeta? Why do I feel this way when I'm around you?"

"I have no idea." I answered sincerely. "But I feel exactly the same way about you."

"And are you scared?" She bit her lower lip.

"Terrified."

I don't know who approached who first, but our lips collided with such intensity it made my head hurt. Every little part of my body burned for her. Never, in the forty years I've been alive, had a kiss ever made me so whole.

Our hands became out of control. They were everywhere. I released her hair from that braid and twisted my fingers through her locks as my other hand pulled her closer by her firm ass.

She felt so small against my large body. And I was sure she was being able to feel exactly what she was doing to me.

At that moment there was no right or wrong, that would be for later. It was just Katniss and me and an overwhelming desire.

I wanted to rip her clothes off and fuck her right there, but I controlled my momentum. Instead, I kissed her senseless.

"You have such a delicious mouth, sweetheart." I moaned against it. "I want to suck your lips and never let them go."

"Do it." She ordered. "Suck them. Bite them. Do whatever you please."

"Fuck, Katniss." I pulled her even closer. "You'll kill me."

Our lips found their way back to each other and I carried her, pressed her against a tree and brushed my erection against her center. The sounds she was making would torment me for life.

"You said you wanted us to be friends." She laughed. "I don't think it's appropriate for friends to kiss like that."

It was even less appropriate to kiss your friend's daughter like that, but I didn't want to think about that right now. I just wanted to worship the young woman in my arms.

"Just for the record, I really hope you don't kiss your friends like that." I tried to contain the jealousy in my voice. "Especially not Gale Hawthorne."

Her eyes widened in amusement when she asked, "Has my Dad been gossiping about my life with you?"

"Maybe he commented a thing or two." I looked away.

"And why did you sound jealous to me?" Katniss bit my bottom lip and then sucked it for long seconds. "Because you shouldn't be. Gale is just a friend."

"I'm not jealous." I lied. "But your father also said something about this Gale guy still being in love with you, so I'm just saying."

Katniss pulled me by the back of my neck and gave me a breathtakingly hot kiss. My God, she felt like a dream come true. And maybe she was.

"I don't care about how Gale feels about me." Katniss made me look at her. "I know this sounds cruel, but it's the truth. I do care about you... about us."

Her honesty was something I truly admired. She was so transparent about her feelings. I hated myself for trying to ruin it.

"I missed you so much." I leaned my forehead against hers and laughed. "How is this even possible, Katniss? I just met you and two days away almost made me go crazy. What are you doing to me?"

"What are we doing to each other?" She rotated her hip teasingly.

I was very close to losing control.

"I've wanted to do that since the first day I saw you." I bit and kissed her exposed neck. "You were the prettiest little thing I've ever seen."

"I would've let you." Her hot breath brushed against my skin. "I'd let you do whatever you wanted with me right there."

"But your father..."

"Shh." She silenced me with several pecks. "Don't. Let's pretend it's just you and me."

"What will become of me now, Katniss? Of us?" I couldn't stop kissing her. "I won't be able to resist you anymore."

"You don't have to." She pulled back a little and lowered her dress, revealing her perfect, perky breasts for me. "I'm already yours."

"Fuck me." I cursed.

I looked like a caveman when I held those two precious things in my hands and sucked them as if my life depended on it.

"I'd looove to..." Katniss tried to speak as she moaned. "Yeah... just like that..."

"Girl, girl." I warned her after bringing one of her nipples between my teeth. "You are playing with fire."

"So?" She nibbled on my earlobe in response. "I'm known as Girl on Fire for a reason."

I mentally cursed the universe as still distant voices began to grow closer and closer. Reluctantly, I pulled away from her and we began to straighten up fast. This was in vain, however, because anyone with the least intelligence would be able to realize what had just happened.

Katniss's messy hair and swollen lips wouldn't deny that. I was feeling stupidly proud that I was the one who had left her in that state.

"Prim will come after me any minute now." She pouted. "I better go."

"Okay. But not before this..." I pulled her by the waist and kissed her again and again. "Now you can leave."

"Yes, Sir." She joked and my dick got even harder-as if that were possible. Someone would definitely have the blue balls.

Before I sent everything to hell and ate her alive right there in the middle of that park, I forced myself to stay away.

"Can you promise me a thing?" I asked before she left. "Never run away from me again."

"I won't. And I don't know if I would be able anyway." Katniss promised.

She then blew me a kiss and left. I kept smiling like a teenage boy while admiring her from behind. Damn. I wasn't proud of myself, but Katniss was a woman-shaped sin.

And I, ladies and gents, was the sinner.

"Talk about peace and quietness huh?" I asked skyward. "Good job!"

Chapter Text

I was once asked what was the moment in my life when I felt most alive, and I didn't even have to think twice before answering: The first time I removed a brain tumor.

It wasn't my first surgery, of course, but it was the most impactful. My patient, a sixty-year-old woman, had a massive brain tumor that even some senior neurosurgeons had refused to operate on.

But not me.

It was hours after hours of surgery. I was physically and mentally wrecked. But I still remember leaving that OR and telling the family "the surgery was a success" and I will never, not even in a million years, forget the expression of genuine happiness and gratitude on their faces.

You are my hero, this little girl said. I think it was the woman's granddaughter.

At that moment I was never more certain that I had made the right choices for my life. I was where I should be, doing what I loved and what I was born to do, and all my sacrifices had paid off.

I really thought nothing would ever make me feel that way again. Not the second brain tumor I removed, not any other surgery I had.

And I was right. At least so far.

"Hi." I murmured against her sweaty hair as she opened her beautiful eyes for me.

"Hi." She answered, her eyelids still heavy with sleep. "Did I fall asleep?"

My smile grew so ridiculously big that my jaw hurt. Maybe it was from smiling so much... maybe it was from kissing her so much. I don't know.

"Yes, sleepyhead." I kissed the tip of her nose. "You forbade me to sleep in the middle of a Grey's Anatomy episode, but look who slept first."

From the naughty look she gave me, I knew she was thinking the same thing as me.

Grey's Anatomy who?

We actually started watching season one as two civilized people sitting side by side on the couch, eating popcorn and Fini candies. The whole thing seemed so innocent that it made me think aww, look how cute we are.

I was really willing to put my desire for her aside to just enjoy her company. At some point though, just as our first kiss happened-instinctively and unexpectedly, Katniss started riding me on that couch like a pro as we dry hump the shit out of each other.

I made her come. Twice. And that was the reason why she was such a tired, beautiful mess now.

Katniss tried to return the "favor", but I insisted she didn't have to. This was her moment. Either I was a perfect gentleman or a complete idiot.

"I blame you." She said lazily as she sat down. "It was you who sucked all my energies."

And other parts of your body.

"You're right, it was my fault." I decided to tease her. "I promise I'll never do it again-"

Even before I could finish that sentence Katniss pulled me over her body and once again made me lose my damn mind.

She liked to kiss. A lot.

"It's late, sweetheart." I forced myself to remind her. "Maybe you better go home."

"I told you, when I left home my parents and Prim were already sleeping." Katniss said as she licked my neck. "Don't worry."

You see, I was trying to do the right thing there. I was trying to slow things down and not be selfish about my wishes.

Because if it were up to me, Katniss would never come home again.

"That's not what I'm worried about." I pecked her lips. "But you need to sleep at your usual time or your biological clock will go crazy."

"But I literally just woke up." Katniss complained.

Don't look at me like that. I'm not that strong.

"I know that." I put her on my lap and kissed her cheek. "But it was just a nap and you need to actually sleep."

Katniss rolled her eyes and tried to get up, but I pulled her back.

"Don't be mad at me." I begged as I inhaled her scent. "I'm already being a son-of-a-bitch friend to your father, at least I have to do it the right way. If that's any possible."

"We are adults, Peeta." Katniss countered. "I'm twenty-one, I pay my own bills-at least most of them, and I own my own body."

"You're absolutely right, but put yourself in my shoes." I tried to reason. "John and I grew up together, like brothers. I saw him fall in love with your mother. I saw her get pregnant with you and bring you into this world. I held you in my arms, Katniss, when you were just a baby. My best friend's baby. And now I'm sticking my tongue in your throat."

Saying that out loud made me feel even worse. Not about kissing her, because I could never regret that. But for being such a shitty friend.

Still upset, but seeming to understand my point, Katniss sighed, "Okay. But we don't have much time, Peeta. In a few weeks you'll be back to Seattle and me to San Francisco."

I didn't want to think about that just yet. We'd agreed this was a summer crush-or whatever she called it, but I didn't know how to feel about it.

The only certainty I had was that I wanted her, and that she wasn't like any other women who had gone through my life. I didn't want to fuck her and say "okay, bye". I wanted every little thing she could give me.

That thought alone scared me more than anything.

"Ugh. Why do you have to be so annoyingly perfect?" I laughed when she asked. "I don't know if it makes me mad at you or want to kiss you even more."

"I really hope it's the second option." I joked.

"My Dad is very lucky to have you as a friend, just know that." Katniss's serious tone caught me off guard. "What we both have seems… wrong. I know that. But nothing ever felt so right to me."

"Not for me either." I confessed in a whisper.

"But I understand your concern and I'm glad you care so much about my Dad." She smiled. "Even if it means I won't feel you inside me today."

My cock twisted under her and I mentally cursed myself for being so corny.

"I swear to you, girl..." I grunted and she smiled.

"What?" She challenged me. "I'm being a naughty girl and you are going to teach me a lesson? It's the wrong cliché, Peeta. You are a doctor, not a teacher."

"Katniss..." I warned her.

"But I really think you should, you know? Teach me a lesson." She continued. "My naughty ass deserves a spanking."

"Oh for the love of God!" I pulled her into a desperate kiss and tried to stick my cock inside her through the fabrics of our clothes. "You want to kill me? Is this your plan?"

"I wanna take care of you, Peeta." Katniss whispered in my ear. "I'm going home, but let me take care of you first."

What did she mean?

I wasn't able to answer anything, but I didn't stop her when Katniss got down on her knees and started to lower my sweatpants... and then my underwear. I held my breath in anticipation of what was to come.

When she first touched me I felt that adrenaline rush again. I felt alive and invincible. My cock was so hard and thick and it felt even bigger wrapped in her delicate hands.

I wouldn't be able to bear it.

"What... what are you doing?" It was a rhetorical question, of course. I began stroking her hair with affection. "Katniss, you don't have to-"

"Shh. Just chill." She asked. "I want you to feel good, Peeta. Today I'm your doctor and you are my patient."

And then that delicious hot mouth wrapped around the tip of my cock and I moaned awkwardly loudly.

It had been so long. So fucking long.

"Oh my God." I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. "What a nice little mouth, baby... this is perfect... you're perfect..."

My eyes were still shut, but I felt Katniss smile with my cock in her mouth. She seemed to know what she was doing, because it had never been so good. She stimulated my cock with her hand as she sucked and swallowed deeply. Never too fast or too slow, her pace was perfect, as if she already knew my body. Little bites here and there and a lot, a lot of tongue.

I was falling apart.

"Katniss, I'll..." I tried to say, but she didn't stop. "Katniss..."

"Just let go, Peeta." She mumbled and enveloped me again with her talented lips. "I want to taste you in my mouth."

And that was enough for me to explode like never before. I moved erratically and pulled her hair while my cum filled her little mouth. When she swallowed every last drop and smiled at me, I threw my head back and muttered obscenities.

I brought her up and kissed her. I repeated over and over how wonderful that was. Good enough to make me wanna cry.

"That was... wow." I was sweaty and panting. "You were amazing, beautiful. I know it seems wrong to thank you for that, but I feel like I should."

"No need to thank me, your taste is really good." She ran her tongue around her lips. "Hmmm."

Fuck. I had just come and I was already hard again for her.

"You're a perdition, did you know that?" I asked. "You drive me crazy."

"You drive me crazy too." She smiled. "Crazy horny."

I laughed out loud and laid successive kisses on her sweaty face. Her cheekbones were flushed and she never looked so beautiful.

Every time I looked at her she was even prettier than the last time.

"I wish you could sleep with me." I said willingly. "I don't think I can let you go now."

"The last thing we would do would be sleep, Sir." She laughed. "And this is the orgasm speaking for you, so I think I'll make the decisions for now. Even if it was me who wanted to stay in the first place."

"But..." Now I was the one pouting. "Forget what I said before, I wasn't thinking clearly."

Katniss laughed and walked away nonetheless. I groaned in protest.

"Good night, Dr. Mellark." She wiped her lips with the back of her hand and winked. "Dream of me."

"Always." I answered.

Always.

Chapter Text

To say that I was in an unpleasant situation would be an understatement.

Miros and Elena Undersee organized this barbecue in my honor -when I said in my honor, I was not exaggerating- and virtually everyone I knew in Panem was there, including a former girlfriend from school days, Delly Cartwright, who now had one arm entwined with mine. And no, she didn't ask me for permission before doing it.

If on one hand it was good to see all those people, people who were part of my story, on the other I was feeling suffocated. Because there were a pair of mercury eyes fixed on me and Delly across the yard, and although I knew the owner of those beautiful eyes was upset, there was nothing I could do about it.

And that was eating me inside.

"You haven't changed a thing." Delly said. "Except that you grew a few inches here and there and, well," She bit her lower lip as she stared at my chest. "Have you been exercising? Because it shows."

I didn't want to be pretentious, but it sounded an awful lot like she was flirting with me. Any other man in my place might be flattered, Delly was an attractive woman and she knew it, but the truth was that I was feeling extremely uncomfortable. Especially because she was fucking married.

"Thom is traveling for business." It was the second time she had said that. "I'm feeling a little lonely, you know? Maybe we could go out sometime for a drink."

"Delly, I don't think-"

"Come on, Peeta." She interrupted me. "It's just a drink, yes? For the old days."

My eyes instinctively searched for Katniss and I was surprised to see that she was no longer looking at me. She was now well accompanied by Madge and a tall dark-haired boy who would easily pass like her big brother if he wasn't undressing her with his eyes.

"Who the hell is he?" I only realized that I asked that out loud when Delly looked at me in confusion.

"Who are you talking about?" She turned her head in the direction where my eyes were focused. "You mean Gale Hawthorne?"

So that was the idiot who was in love with Katniss. Great, just great.

"Um... yes?" I cleared my throat. "I don't think I was introduced to him."

If Delly noticed the irritation in my voice she didn't show it.

The three young adults were talking and laughing merrily, and I knew that Katniss could feel my gaze burning over her, but she didn't even mind paying me a second glance.

"So, what you tell me? Do we have a date?" Delly smiled. "A platonic date, of course."

I could hear her voice, but I wasn't paying any attention to what she was saying. In fact, all my attention was focused on one single person, and the damn Romeo that was beside her.

I clenched my jaw and closed my fists tightly as I realized Madge was nowhere to be seen, which meant they were alone now.

"Peeta, are you alright?" Delly smiled awkwardly. "It's like I'm talking to a concrete wall."

Her tone was forcibly amused, but I could notice the disappointment between the lines. Well, too bad for her, because she was flirting with another man while she was married and I had no obligation to be conniving with that.

"Delly, I'm sorry, but I need to talk to someone." I pulled my arm free and looked at her before leaving. "And no, we don't have a date. Don't get me wrong, but I have no interest. Besides, I don't think your husband would be comfortable with that. At least I wouldn't."

She seemed surprised by my refusal, because she opened and closed her mouth a few times without saying anything. I had no time, much less patience for that.

Without thinking about what I was doing and where I was, I walked straight to Katniss and Gale. She was leaning against the wall and Gale was facing her, one hand resting on the wall beside her head.

Their position was too intimate and I felt the bile reach my esophagus.

"So, babe, when are you going to stop playing hard to get and accept my invitation?" His tone was gallant. "I miss you, Catnip. I miss us."

They hadn't noticed me yet, and I took the opportunity to hide behind a huge potted plant so I could hear them better.

I know, I wasn't proud of myself either.

"Gale, you know I adore you, but-"

"Please, babe, no buts." Gale said. "You adore me, I adore you, that's enough."

Stop calling her babe you wretch.

Katniss giggled and continued, "I adore you, yes, but as a friend. You know that."

"I know, but I still think we're great together." The idiot insisted. "And I won't give up on you so easily, babe. I never stopped loving you, and I never will."

"Gale, please..." Katniss sighed deeply. "Don't make things even harder. What we had was amazing, you'll always be special to me, but it's over."

The arse snorted sarcastically and I realized that his patience had run out.

"Is there another guy?" His voice now carried a tone of anger. "Are you fucking someone else? Is that it?"

"For God's sake, Gale, lower your damn voice." Katniss said through gritted teeth. "And what I do with my life is none of your business."

"You're my girl, of course this is my business." Gale countered. "I love you, Katniss. I want what we had back. I want your mouth on me, your body under mine, I want you."

Get in line, sucker.

"I'm not your girl, Gale." I was surprised at how calm she was dealing with that. "If you keep this up I'll be forced to stay away from you, and I really didn't want to get to that point."

Katniss tried to get out, but the idiot cornered her. I wasn't seeing them, but I could hear her.

"Let me go." She asked. "You're drunk and behaving like an asshole right now."

"I'll let you go if you give me a kiss." I felt the fury taking over me. "One kiss and you'll be free of me. I just need to feel you one more time."

Really, John? Was this the nice kid you talked about?

"Let me fucking go-" Katniss tried to say, but her voice was drowned out by something.

Or by someone's lips. Gale's lips.

At that moment I only saw red.

"You heard the girl." Katniss's eyes widened when she saw me. "You better let her go for good or I'll have to intervene and believe me, boy, you wouldn't want that."

"Who the hell are you?" His alcohol breath hit me.

"And does it matter?" I grunted. "Let her go."

"I'm just talking to my girlfriend, man." He had the audacity to say. "Mind your own business."

"I'm not your fucking girlfriend!" Katniss practically shouted, calling the forewarning of the nearest people.

She pushed him so hard that I was puzzled to see that boy-shaped closet staggered backward. He was caught off guard, of course, but still.

"Leave me alone, both of you!"

And then Katniss rushed off aimlessly.

I considered running after her, but besides Katniss needing time for herself, that would draw even more attention. I straightened my shirt and Gale stood like an airhead as John approached us.

"What just happened here?" He asked both of us, but his gaze was fixed on Gale. "Why did Katniss run off like that?"

Gale at least had the decency to look ashamed. The little shit.

"This guy here tried to kiss her by force." I said and I felt my friend's body tense up. "I tried to intervene."

"What the hell is your problem, Gale?" John roared and the boy bowed his head. "If I see you near my daughter again, I won't have the same consideration for Hazelle I'm having right now. Go home, take a shower and make a damn coffee for youself. You stink."

"Yes, Sir." Gale responded almost inaudibly. "And please, apologize to Katniss for me. I didn't mean to hurt her."

"Just go." John ordered again. "I can't even look at you now."

Gale nodded sadly and walked away.

"Thank you for defending my daughter, man." John patted me on the back and that made me feel like shit. "Did you see where she went?"

I had an idea, but I shook my head no.

"I can go look for her." I volunteered. "Lavender and Prim are apprehensive, just go stay with them and explain what happened."

John looked at his wife and younger daughter and squinted.

"Yes, please do that." He sighed. "When you find her, please send me a text message telling if she's okay. Thank you again man."

I nodded and bolted in the direction Katniss had disappeared. I was desperate to see her and I was barely able to disguise.

My suspicions were confirmed when I found Katniss sitting on the same rock near the lake from the other day, her bare feet in the water.

Like last time, she was beautiful. And like last time, my heavy gait denounced me.

"Leave me alone." She said without looking at me. "I don't want to see anyone right now."

"I came to see if you are okay." I was slowly approaching her. "Your parents and sister are concerned."

And well, me too. Not to mention I'm missing your scent.

"Well, you've seen that I'm fine. You can go now." She fired.

I had no idea why she was being so hostile to me, but I wouldn't leave her like that. She could scream at me or scold me, but I'd stay right there.

"Are you mad at me?" I felt small asking. "Please, Katniss, talk to me. You promised you wouldn't run away anymore."

The blank look she gave me made me shiver.

"I'm running away from you?" Katniss laughed in disbelief. "You really are something, Peeta Mellark. You spent all that damn barbecue avoiding me and parading that... that... that woman in your arms, like a fucking trophy. And now you come here and tell me that? You know what? Fuck you!"

Damn. She was pissed.

"She's married, you know that?" She looked at me and her eyes were red. "Everyone knows she cheats on poor Thom, but I didn't realize you were one of those. You're making me sick."

"What are you talking about, Katniss?" I moved closer to her and knelt down. "I was just being polite to Delly, but the instant she started flirting I cut her off. You were too busy laughing with Gale to notice."

After what had just happened I immediately felt stupid for using that against her.

"Sorry, I didn't mean that." I soon explained myself. "But I didn't lie when I said I cut Delly off. I don't want anything to do with her, or with any other woman. Don't you realize that?"

She still looked upset, but at least now she was looking at me.

"And I wasn't avoiding you, sweetheart." I took her hand in mine. "I just don't trust myself to be around you without hugging you or kissing you anymore."

Those beautiful teary eyes were fixed on me and I allowed myself to stand before her and nestle between her legs. Holding a toned thigh in each of my hands, I pulled her close into a hug.

"You have no idea how hard it is to be around you and not be able to touch you." I murmured against her hair. "I'm so fucked, Katniss. Fucking crazy about you."

"I... I got angry when I saw you with that woman." She confessed. "I was never the jealous type, but I couldn't stand seeing you with her."

"And I got even angrier when I saw you with Gale." I confessed back. "You smiled at him and I caught fire. I know it sounds possessive and stupid, but I wanted to carry you away from him, take you somewhere and kiss the hell out of you. I wanted to show you that you were mine."

"But I'm yours." She murmured softly. "And I suspect I've always been, from the first day you held me in your arms. All these years I've heard of you, I've seen pictures of you, and I never understood why, but I knew I needed to see you again."

"This is so fucked up, Katniss." I closed my eyes. "You were just a baby, I would never..."

"I know, I know." She soon said. "Don't get me wrong, but I just knew I was connected to you somehow, and when I saw you... when you showed up in that garden... well, I was sure."

"Sweetheart." I hugged her tightly. "My sweet girl."

"Kiss me, Peeta. Just do it. Now." It was an order.

An order that I as her serf would never deny.

That kiss felt so different. Not a desperate kiss like the others, but equally overwhelming. We explored each other very slowly, as if we were doing it for the first time.

And in a way it was the first time, because I was kissing her with my soul. It wasn't just lust, not just passion. It was something else, something bigger, something I was terrified to think about.

Katniss had her hands in my hair as I held her face with both of mine. I pulled back a few times just to kiss the other parts of her face that seemed to be jealous: Her eyelids. Her perfect little nose. Her cheeks. Everything.

"I need to feel you, Peeta." Her nimble hands went to the button of my pants and she tried to open it clumsily. "I need to feel you inside me. Please."

I really wanted to say that I would be able to resist this time, but I had lost that battle a long time ago.

"Katniss..." I closed my eyes in a plea. "We can't... not here..."

"Yes we can." She held my hard-as-a-rock cock possessively. "Make me yours once and for all."

And I would do that. I swear I would, if it wasn't...

"KATNISS?" A second voice called for her and our bodies froze. "OH MY GOD!"

We both jumped apart and I didn't know what to do with myself when I met Prim's inquisitive blue eyes. Katniss went completely pale next to me, for a moment I thought she was going to faint.

Prim looked quite shocked by the scene that she had just witnessed and I was about to open my mouth to explain, to say anything, when the blonde girl happily exclaimed, "I KNEW IT!"

Chapter Text

"Prim, this is not what it looks like!" Katniss shouted like a husband being caught cheating on his wife.

For a moment I forgot the gravity of that situation and allowed myself to almost smile. Almost.

Because she looked even more beautiful when she was embarrassed.

"I was... we were... Mr. Mellark and I were..." Katniss opened her eyes toward me, silently asking for help. "Um..."

"Talking." I said the first stupid thing that came to my mind. "We were just talking. "

Beside me I could hear Katniss growl and hide her face with her hands. In my defense, I had a degree in medicine and not in performing arts.

It's not like we were going to convince Prim anyway.

"Do you think I'm stupid or what?" Miss Primose put both hands on her waist and narrowed her eyes. "You had your hands on his... thing and Jesus, Peeta, you look at my sister like she's a Renaissance work of art, it kinda makes me nauseous sometimes. I honestly don't understand how no one else perceives it, it's not like you two are being discreet."

Katniss and I looked at each other and I just shrugged.

Right now, in the midst of this chaotic situation, all I could think about was kissing that hot mouth she had. It was stronger than me. So, yes, Prim had a point.

"But I'm genuinely surprised I caught you two in the park, of all places!" Prim spoke in a funny way. "Who would've thought you had it in you, huh, big sis? Dad thinks you're pure like a saint. And here you are, exchanging saliva -and other fluids- with the hot doctor."

My ears got impossibly hot and Katniss immediately straightened up herself, "Prim!"

Katniss was really out of her mind and I was feeling bad that I couldn't remedy the situation that was basically caused by me.

"Prim, please," I started by saying. "Nothing happened between your sister and me. She was a little nervous about what had happened at the Undersee's and I was just trying to calm her down."

"Is that what you kids call it these days?" The devilish little girl smiled.

Yup, that was a lost case.

"Jesus Christ, Primrose Elle!" I confess that seeing Katniss so mortified was secretly amusing. "Stop talking like that."

"Like what, Katniss Grace?" Prim challenged her sister. "With honesty? I'm not a child anymore."

"You're not being honest, you're being inconvenient." Katniss replied. "And for me you'll always be a child, so cut the bs."

The dynamic between the two was really interesting. They were like opposite poles of the same magnet.

"First of all, you should be grateful that I was the one who caught you and not our parents." There was a truth. "And second, do you really think I wasn't suspicious about... this?" Prim gestured between Katniss and me. "Since the day I saw you two in the garden I've been watching you. Did you forget that my room is literally next to yours? I know when you escape through the window and for the love of God, I know you don't go out to meet Madge let alone that idiot you call your ex boyfriend, so don't even try it. Besides, you look at each other in a way... I don't know... "

"What... what way?" Katniss swallowed hard.

"Like Mom and Dad look at each other." Prim grinned as she said. "And the funny thing is, you don't even realize it."

For a moment we all fell silent and I tried to absorb the meaning of those words. If Katniss and I looked at each other like John and Lavender, then we were... no, I couldn't say it, not even mentally.

Admitting that would only make things harder when we had to go different ways. And it wasn't like John was going to allow me to date his daughter or anything.

Like it or not, what was happening between Katniss and I couldn't and wouldn't last beyond that summer.

"And oh, before you have to beg, I won't tell them anything." My chest filled with relief when Prim said. "But don't think I won't want something in return, sissy. Maybe you'll have to do the same for me someday."

At that moment all I could think about was I'm so sorry, John.

"Deal." I looked at Katniss in surprise when she said.

I thought she was going to keep denying the obvious, but she knew Prim much better than me and even I knew the girl wouldn't believe anything we said.

Prim flashed a quick smile of satisfaction as she approached Katniss.

"Apart from the fact that you almost fornicated in public, are you okay?" I started coughing and the brunette grunted. "You ran off, Mom is a nervous wreck from so much worry."

"I'm fine." Katniss said quickly. "I didn't want to worry anyone, because nothing much happened. Gale just drank a little too much and behaved like an idiot."

"As usual." Prim rolled her eyes and I almost gave her a high five. "Seriously, Katniss, I don't even know how you could stand him. Even Posy keeps telling how stupid her brother is."

"He's my best friend, Prim. At least I thought he was..." Katniss's voice faltered a little. "I didn't think he was going to... do what he did today."

"He forced himself on you." I caught myself clenching my fists instinctively. "It wasn't like a small mistake, he disrespected you the worst way."

"Peeta is right." Prim held Katniss's hand in hers. "That boy has always been obsessed with you, and I don't say that in a good way, if any. He was toxic. Outwardly he was a good boy, but I've always seen his true colors when it concerned you. I never said anything because, well, Mom and Dad seemed to love him and so did you. Besides, Hazelle is a family friend and it was not her fault that her son was an asshole when all three others were decent people."

I tried to ignore the part about Katniss loving Gale. Imagining her so fond of another man was painful. That sentiment was unrealistic, but...

"When did you grow up so much, Little Duck?" Katniss allowed herself a smile. "Thank you for taking care of me."

"I told you I was no longer a child." Prim said smugly. "And you always took care of me so nothing fairer."

They hugged each other tightly in a really lovely way. It was good to see that my friend's daughters loved each other so much, it was an extension of how they were raised: with love and respect.

I was feeling like a piece out of the puzzle right now and figured they'd want some privacy, but before leaving I looked at Prim and she was watching me curiously.

I knew she was evaluating me so I let her do it.

"Do you like my sister, doc?" She asked me and I found myself nodding without hesitation.

That wasn't the way I would like to admit it, but I'd never be able to deny it. I didn't know how to call what I felt for Katniss, but it was definitely more than just liking.

"Then I like you." Prim said. "Anyone who likes my sister likes me for osmosis, so I like that person too. Just so you know, I haven't seen her this... happy in a long time. You have awakened her inner goddess, and she's really naughty."

I wanted to say "I know that", but it didn't seem appropriate at all.

"Prim!" Katniss scolded her sister again, but this time with love. "What do I do with you, girl?"

"For starters, convince Mom to let me adopt a cat." I laughed as Katniss widened her eyes. "His name is Buttercup and he's beautiful. We have plenty of room."

"But I'm allergic." It didn't take a genius to know that Katniss was lying.

"No, you're not. You're just not a fan of cats." Prim shrugged. "But I doubt you won't love Buttercup eventually."

"Why are you so sure I'm going to convince Mom?" Katniss eyed her suspiciously.

"Because you never ask her for anything and that's all I do every day." Prim admitted. "Aaand... you owe me that. I know your dirtiest secrets."

"Are you blackmailing me?" Katniss pretended to be offended. "Your own flesh and blood?"

"See it as a business." Prim winked. "A win-win situation."

"You know, you would make a great businesswoman." I joked.

"I was told that, but medicine is in my future." Prim said with a certainty that I saw in myself years ago. "Dr. Everdeen is on her way, Bishes!"

I laughed out loud and Katniss shook her head, looking at her sister in adoration.

"She'll be the terror of the interns." Katniss whispered.

"I don't doubt it." I whispered back. "And, Prim," I turned my gaze to the younger girl. "I don't want you to think badly of me. I know I'm your parents' friend and that doing it... hiding it from them is not necessarily something a friend would do, but I'm just waiting for the right moment to tell them."

"I won't lie that I'd rather you were honest with them," Prim confessed. "Especially since you are adults -and single- and I don't think age is a big deal at all, but I'd never think badly of you, Peeta. And I don't say that it's going to be easy at first, but they won't think badly of you either. Maybe Dad wants to punch you, but it's fine. My sister is worth a broken nose, isn't she? "

"She's worth a lot more than that." I said and Katniss flashed me a beautiful smile.

I found myself smiling back and we were stuck there at that moment.

"Can you two stop it?" Prim complained. "It's annoying."

Katniss and I laughed, we knew exactly what she was talking about.

"This is so exciting!" The girl suddenly said. "There will be two doctors in the family."

While that should scare me to hell, I enjoyed hearing Prim calling me family. In a way that was exactly the way I felt.

"My God, Prim, you talk as if Peeta and I are getting married." Katniss dismissed it quickly and I tried not to look so disappointed. "Calm down, crazy."

Was it such a bad idea for her to marry me? I mean, I had admitted to myself that this was a casual thing and all... but was it really? Because I didn't know if I wanted it to be.

Everything was so intense and confusing. My head was about to explode.

"I just say what I see." Prim looked up at the sky. "I think we better get back, it'll be dark soon."

I wanted to be alone with Katniss for a while but after we got caught, I didn't think that would be a good idea. I just didn't want to let her go just yet, the days were ticking by and I could no longer think of leaving without enjoying all the time I could with her.

What did that say about me?

"Are you alright?" Katniss looked worried when she asked me. "You got serious all of a sudden."

"I'm fine." I smiled. "Just a little tired."

I wasn't sure if Katniss had believed it, but if she suspected something, she didn't show it. The truth was, my heart was starting to break at the thought of not seeing her anymore.

I was in deep shit.

Chapter Text

I couldn't fall asleep.

I worked out, I tried to read, I drank warm milk and even took a sleeping pill, but it was all in vain. No matter what I did, nothing could ease my body and mind.

There was only one thing-person that could make me feel at peace, and that person was probably asleep in the house next door.

I could still taste her in my mouth, the softness of her skin against mine, the length of her hair through my fingers... God, I was completely crazy about Katniss.

I had already accepted my fate and everything was becoming harder and harder to control.

"I came to Panem to turn everything off and rest." I repeated to myself. "And here I am, madly in love with my best friend's daughter. The last thing I can do is rest."

I could hear her gasp before hearing her voice.

"What did you just say?" I immediately sat on the bed and looked at her incredulously.

Katniss was standing in my bedroom door looking perplexed... and gorgeous.

"Katniss, I-" I blinked once, twice, three times until I was sure she was real. "What are you doing here?"

"It doesn't matter what I'm doing here." She came closer and crawled on the bed to me. It would have been one of the sexiest scenes I've ever witnessed if I wasn't so nervous. "Did you say you're in love with me?"

I was suddenly sixteen again, and I was anxious like never before. In front of me was that girl, that woman, who in just a few days made me feel what no other woman could do in years. My heart was about to jump out of my chest.

"I... I..." I just couldn't say the words.

I was terrified that it might scare her and that she would run away from me. And I still wasn't absolutely sure my mind wasn't playing tricks on me.

Who the hell falls in love in such a short time? Well, apparently this guy.

"Katniss, I don't want to scare you." I confessed. "I was thinking out loud and I didn't want you to hear that, not like that."

I was so afraid of her reaction that I didn't even allow myself to look her in the eye, so I didn't notice the smile she carried until she spoke again.

"Scare me?" Katniss got to her knees on the bed and only then did I notice she was wearing a black satin kimono robe.

May God have mercy on me.

"Why would that scare me, Peeta?" She continued, slowly opening her robe. "It just makes me even more sure of what I came here for."

I was sweating uncontrollably and my breathing was completely erratic.

Was she saying what I thought she was saying? Because I wasn't in position to reason.

"And what, um... what did you come here for?" I decided to ignore the part of how she got in. And I knew the question was rhetorical, but I needed to hear it from her. "Because I... holy shit, Katniss!"

Katniss giggled at my reaction when she let the robe fall completely and she was wearing a black lace lingerie that seemed to have been molded into her perfect body.

My dick got hard so fast that I was embarrassed.

I probably must have mentioned once or twice that she's perfect, didn't I? Still, she kept me mesmerized every damn time.

"I came here to give you what's yours."

And obviously she didn't have to say what, but she definitely showed me.

Katniss climbed over me and started kissing me deliciously slowly. I was hard, I couldn't stop moaning, and apparently she was enjoying seeing the effect she had on me because she was bent on making me lose my mind.

Her long dark hair fell all over me and I wasted no time before intertwining one of my hands between it, my other hand was glued to the area between her buttock and thigh.

I was squeezing her with such passion that I was afraid to leave marks.

"You're so beautiful..." I managed to mumble. "I don't know what I did to deserve someone like you, but surely Someone up there is happy with me."

"So gallant, Mr. Mellark." She smiled at me and started to rotate her hip. "Always so damn charming."

"Katniss..." I moaned her name with devotion. "Baby..."

"Yes?" She answered my plea in a hot whisper.

"I'm in love with you." I took it off my chest all at once. "I'm completely in love with you and I need you to know that."

"You already said that." She joked.

"I know, but I wanted to say it looking into your eyes." Katniss stared at me with her magnificent gray orbs. "I don't know what tomorrow holds, but I know that right here, right now, there is nothing in the world I want more than to be with you."

"Me neither, Peeta." She undressed herself entirely and I did the same. "Me neither..."

She was a goddess, and I would worship every little part of her being.

I spun our bodies so that I stood over her and she squealed at my sudden movement.

There was still one thing I needed to know before we continued. I think I already knew the answer, but I needed to be sure.

"Katniss, love, have you already..." I paused, not knowing how to ask her that. "You're not a..."

"Yes Peeta, I've had sex before." My face warmed and she smiled. "No need to take it easy on me."

Imagining her with another man was painful, but I needed to make sure I treated her the way she deserved to be treated.

"Hey look at me..." She cupped my face with both hands as she felt my discomfort. "I just told you what you wanted to know."

"I know, I know." I closed my eyes and sighed deeply. "It's just... you don't owe me explanations, Katniss. It's unbearable to imagine you with another man, but I had a life before you too. I just wanted to be careful if this was your first time."

"But it is my first time." She said and I looked at her in confusion. "I've never had sex while being in love before."

Now it was my turn to gasp. She chose the most overwhelming way to confess her feelings.

"I fucking need you." I grunted and then I took her in a ferocious kiss.

My need for her was such that it scared me. Our lips explored each other in an almost vital way.

Ironic as it seemed, at that moment I could understand what John meant about having sex with the one. I had never experienced such a powerful thing in my life and I wasn't even inside her yet.

My hands traveled between Katniss's legs and I almost came when I felt how wet and warm she was between my fingers.

She was soaked. For me.

"Fuck, Katniss, you're dripping." I kissed her belly and slowly climbed up. "I want to have my time with you sweetheart, but I don't know if I can wait any longer."

I sucked one of her breasts while petting the other and then I reversed the roles. Her nipples were beautiful and pinksh and I was completely enamored of them.

"Don't you think we have waited long enough?" She bit her bottom lip and my cock throbbed. "Fill me in, Peeta."

We kissed passionately once more, my impatient cock against her belly.

"Condom?" I murmured against her neck, but when I tried to get up, she held me.

"I don't want barriers between us." Katniss said resolutely. "I'm on the pill and I'm clean, and you're being the first man I've had sex with in a while. You?"

"I'm constantly tested in the hospital, I'm also clean." I kissed her temple. "And you're being my first too... in a long time."

And it was true. Casual sex was getting less and less interesting.

"So I want you bare inside me." She pulled me even closer with her legs. "Make me yours."

And then our bodies had become one.

She was so impossibly tight that I had not even thrust half of my cock into her, I was already holding back not to come. Not before her.

"Damn it." I moaned. "So hot, so... tight. You're delicious, Katniss."

"And you're bigger than I imagined, doc." She smiled wickedly and I groaned. "Oh my God, we became one of those cheap book couples, didn't we?"

I laughed out loud and felt the urge to kiss her. I was inside her, making it impossible not to come and she still made me crack up.

Katniss was the vividness my lackluster life needed.

"And who cares if we did?" I smiled and started to move slowly inside her. I immediately stopped talking.

Oh fuck.

"Yes... like that..." Katniss's eyes were closed and she looked dreamly. "You feel so good, Peeta."

Her words only served to encourage me to go faster and faster.

At one point my thrusts became so hard and fast and Katniss was moaning so loudly that I feared the whole neighborhood would be able to hear.

Another thing I found out about her: Katniss was loud during sex. She couldn't be more perfect even if she tried.

I kissed her and swallowed all her moans, and she did the same for me.

"I'm close, Peeta." Katniss looked at me and the lust I saw in her eyes made me shiver. "I'm so... close."

"Let it go, love." I whispered back. "I'll be right behind you."

We were still kissing when we came together. Katniss pulled my hair hard and scratched my back and the pain was strangely wonderful.

Even after exploding inside her, I refused to leave her for a few minutes. I wish that moment was eternal.

We were sweaty and panting, but the smiles on our faces were huge.

"Hi." I muttered and kissed the tip of her nose. "Are you alright?"

"I'm great." Katniss closed her eyes and smiled. "Jeez, that was intense."

"It was amazing." I got off her and enveloped her with my body. "It has never been so good."

"I feel the same way." She said.

I could see my cum dripping between her thighs and that scene was erotic and heartwarming at the same time. I was aware of my actions and the consequences I would face, but now I felt stronger to confront whatever came.

"Stay with me, don't go home." I whispered in her ear.

Katniss looked at me in surprise, "Do you mean for me to sleep here with you tonight?"

Tonight. Always.

"Yes." I smiled. "I won't be able to sleep away from you."

I rubbed my nose on her neck and inhaled her addictive scent.

"Okay." Katniss muttered under her breath and I settled into bed so she could lay her head on my chest. "You make me feel so safe, Peeta."

Those words kept dancing in my head and when I thought about answering, Katniss's body relaxed and her breathing got heavy.

She fell asleep in my arms and I didn't want her to ever leave.

"I will always take care of you." I muttered even though I knew she couldn't hear me. "No matter what happens."

Chapter Text

I woke up a happy fucking mess. I think that was the perfect definition for my current state. Flashbacks from the night before invaded my thoughts and it was hard to keep it from showing on my face.

Katniss and I made love twice more after she fell asleep in my arms. When I woke at dawn with her on top of me, and in the shower before she left, when I pressed her against the wall and took her from behind... hard and fast, as she vocally commanded. The region between my legs was sore as hell and my back burned from the scratches. Doctors usually don't like pain, well, nobody does, but that pain was deliciously welcome.

Before we went to the shower we stayed cuddling in bed for long minutes, no words being said, just listening to each other's heartbeats. I've never been so content in someone else's company before, for the simple pleasure of being.

The world could end at that very moment and I would die the happiest man.

"Was last night that good?" John's mocking voice echoed. We were having a drink at The Hob. "I was talking to myself for at least five minutes straight."

I avoided looking at him at all costs. I was afraid he might notice the guilt in the blue of my eyes.

"What, um, do you mean?" I asked as if it was nothing. "You were talking about renewing the vows with Lavender, weren't you?"

"Yes, twenty minutes ago." He laughed and my face started to heat up. "Come on man, you don't have to lie to me. You've got a stupid smile on your face since you got here and your mind seems to be somewhere else... or was it someone?"

The strength I had not to think of Katniss riding me and moaning in my bed was beyond what I thought I was capable of. Her scent was impregnated in me and if John approached a few inches he would be able to smell it.

I was the worst kind of friend anyone could have.

"Sorry man." I cleared my throat. "I'm just a little distracted thinking about... my nephews. I miss them."

John eyed me as if he didn't believe a word I said. I was a terrible liar and everyone knew that, he better than anyone.

"I don't doubt you miss your nephews." He calmly sipped his whiskey. "But that certainly doesn't justify the massive hickey on your neck."

I spit my drink back into the glass and my hand automatically covered the stain.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Katniss tried to hide it with makeup earlier, but apparently it didn't work out very well.

I honestly didn't know where John got that she was calm and reserved, besides the fact that he knew his own daughter better than me, but the girl knew how to be wild.

My dick got happy just remembering.

"Does the vampire have a name?" He teased.

"Allergies." I blatantly lied. "Sorry to disappoint you, but there's no vampire. I must have eaten something yesterday that I shouldn't have."

I swear to God that it had no double meaning.

I wouldn't be able to leave Panem before telling him about what had happened-what was happening between me and Katniss, but never under those circumstances. Like, dude, it was your fantastic-in-bed-daughter who left that mark on my neck. We had sex like rabbits last night and this morning, and just for the record, I'm hopelessly in love with her.

I may be a scoundrel, but I don't want to die just yet.

"Whatever you say, Peeta Parker." He shook his head. "But if you want friendly advice, you shouldn't do it again."

Holy shit, did he find out?

I hope not because I can't imagine John referring to his little girl as a vampire.

"I shouldn't do... what?" I tried not to stutter. "I don't know if we're on the same page here."

"Everyone saw the way you and Delly were close at the barbecue." I didn't know if I should be relieved or frustrated with that piece of information. "And I know you two have had a story in the past, but man, Thom is a nice guy. Delly isn't a bad person either, but it's no secret that she looks for other men to warm her bed when Thom is traveling. It's not fair to him."

I may not be seeing myself but I know for sure I'm carrying an offended expression on my face.

Does John really think I could do that?

Well, I had sex with his daughter and I don't know if that's any better, but I would never sleep with a committed woman. Much less Delly, with whom I never really had real chemistry.

It wouldn't be worth it at all.

"John, man, I swear on my father's memory that I didn't have sex with Delly." I stated with vehemence. "God, I didn't even get close to her after the barbecue. I won't lie that she kind of suggested it, but I immediately refused. I have no interest in her, the slightest."

He seemed to believe me now.

"Maybe there are a few things I need to tell you about, yes, but I don't know if I'm ready." I confessed. "Just know that I would never sleep with Delly. And I honestly don't understand why Thom is still married to her, since she clearly doesn't respect their vows."

John looked at me guiltily and said, "Sorry, man, I didn't mean to offend you. You looked quite happy and then I saw the stain on your neck and I put two and two together. I really thought you... well, it doesn't matter now. I'm really sorry."

Maybe this was a good time to open up to him about everything, but I didn't want to do that before talking to Katniss. John was the coolest guy I knew and I really didn't want to lose his friendship, but what I was feeling for his daughter was stronger than any conscience I could have.

"You don't have to apologize for anything." I softened. "But tell me, when are you and Lavender visiting me in Seattle?"

And in the blink of an eye everything was forgotten and we got back to talking amenities and laughing.

~

"Your father saw the mark on my neck." The smile died on Katniss's lips and she frowned.

She surprised me at home by taking a slice of blueberry pie that Lavender made and I couldn't say anything before kissing her until we both ran out of air.

I wondered if anyone missed her every time she came to meet me, but I didn't want to ruin the moment with my psychoses.

Unfortunately I had to ruin the moment anyway.

"What?" She got off my lap and sat beside me on the couch. "What did he say?"

"He thought I had slept with Delly." Katniss's expression turned grim. "I obviously denied it, but I know he was suspicious of something. I was smiling like an idiot, Katniss, and you're all over my body."

She grinned satisfied and bit her bottom lip.

Little tease.

"I bet all those people at the barbecue are thinking you slept with Delly." There was jealousy in her tone. "You were too close."

She was clearly upset and as much as I didn't want her to have any questions about me, I couldn't help but find it adorable.

Because if she knew the power she had over me, she would never be jealous of another woman ever again.

"I'm sorry it looked like this, I was just trying to be polite." I pulled her back into my lap and started kissing her scowl off. "If all those people could see what you did to me, they would have no doubt about who I'm sleeping with."

"Sleeping with?" She arched an eyebrow.

I could feel the desire emanating from her warm body, to which my own body was uncontrollably drawn.

"Making love with, is that better?" I whispered in her ear and bit her lobe. "Fucking with."

She moaned softly and rode me before kissing me deliciously. I was completely at her mercy.

"We did make love." She said against my lips. "And we definitely fucked."

Ugh. She would be the end of me.

"And I loved doing both with you." I muttered. "Everything with you is wonderful."

"But what if Delly wasn't compromised, would you sleep with her?" Katniss asked.

If there was one thing I learned in my life was that sometimes words just weren't enough. And in that particular case, I'd be happy to show her that no, I wouldn't sleep with Delly.

Because she ruined me forever for any other woman.

And I mumbled those words to her over and over as I pushed her panties away just enough to lose myself inside her.

"Ah..." She closed her eyes and moaned temptingly. "I love the way you fit me, Peeta. It's perfect."

"You're perfect." I said with adoration as she moved up and down around my length. "Oh God, yes."

Katniss did things with her body that seemed humanly impossible. Her flexibility was something out of this world.

I was a lucky son of a bitch.

"I wish Delly could see us now." Katniss's movements went erratic and she began to moan really loudly. "Fuck me, Peeta! Ah! Fuck me hard and show Panem who your dick belongs to."

I never imagined her to be so kinky and possessive, but it was a delicious surprise.

If she kept that up I would come in three seconds.

"Katniss, sweetheart, people will hear us." I smiled as I watched her lose control over me. "As delightful as it is to hear you say these things, we need to be silent love."

"I want to be able to fuck you without having to worry about it." She complained breathlessly. "I wish I could scream your name while you make me come."

Okay, that was being too much for me.

I pulled her by the hair as I increased my thrusts and kissed her hard.

"I promise we'll get there, baby." I said as she reached the apex. We were a sea of sweat. "One day we won't have to hide anymore."

I hope soon.

Those words came out so naturally that they left me with no reaction. Katniss looked at me strangely, probably trying to understand the meaning of all that, but her beautiful gray eyes sparkled as she kissed me again.

And then it was all clear as the day: it wasn't just a summer romance for me. It never was.

I wanted Katniss in my life permanently. I needed to have a serious talk with John.

Chapter Text

"What do you want from her?"

The sudden question sounded hostile and came from the last person I imagined meeting at my doorstep. Gale Hawthorne was staring at me with anger in his gray eyes and I hated the fact that they reminded me of Katniss's.

"Excuse me?" I answered scornfully, closing the door behind me. "If you don't mind, there are important things I need to do."

Like going to my best friend to say that I'm in love with his daughter and that I want her in my life. The distance between Seattle and San Francisco was just a small detail.

"Don't change the subject." The boy grunted, as if he had a right to demand anything from me. "What do you want from Katniss?"

"Your question makes no sense. And even if it did, I wouldn't have to answer it." I countered.

I tried to walk out but Gale stepped in front of me, blocking my way. The little shit was starting to really piss me off.

To be fair, Gale was anything but little. He was tall and sturdy just like John, but I was definitely stronger. My defined muscles did not appear randomly, years of training and martial arts have paid off.

Not that I was eager to put my techniques into practice, but just in case.

"Get out of my way." I said simply.

"Are you fucking her?" I tried to keep my expression neutral when Gale asked. "Does John know that?"

"Who the hell do you think you are, boy?" I approached him imposingly. "You're at my doorstep bothering me and accusing me of things for nothing."

"I just asked you a question." Gale answered sarcastically. "But your nervousness just confirmed what I already knew."

"And what the fuck do you think you know?" I raised my tone of voice, but not enough to draw my neighbors' attention. "Enlighten me."

I was afraid of the answer, but I would never admit it.

"I know what's going on between you and Katniss." He flashed a sickly smile. "I've been keeping an eye on her. I'm always keeping an eye on her."

"So you're stalker?" I accused him. "Leave her alone, she doesn't want you anymore."

I tried to keep up and look calm, but the reality was that I was about to explode.

I didn't know if Gale was just bluffing or if he really knew anything, but it made a bad feeling settle in my stomach anyway.

"At least I don't pretend to be someone's friend just to fuck his daughter." He distilled his venom. "You think you're so much better than me, Peeta, but the truth is you're worse. You're old enough to be her father, did you know that? It's disgusting. You're disgusting and I'm sure John will agree with me."

At that moment I lost my composure and held him by the collar of his shirt, "You have no proof and your word isn't worth much. You're nothing but an obsessed, crazy little shit."

Gale laughed out loud and shook his head.

"Peeta, Peeta, do you really think I need to prove something?" He calmly took my hands off him. "I just need to plant the seed of doubt in John's head and boom, the rest will be history. Katniss is his little girl and you know it. When he confronts you and believe me, he will, you won't be able to lie in his face. And even if you're low at this point, Katniss won't be."

I hated to admit it, but he was right.

"What do you get from this Gale?" I was really impressed by his coldness. "Why don't you let Katniss move on with her life?"

"I'm Katniss's life." He stared at me when he said. "I'm her past, present, and future. I was the first man in her life and I'll surely be the last. You're just an obstacle in the way."

"Why are you so sure that there's something going on between me and Katniss?" I wanted to know. I needed to know. "We're just friends."

I didn't have to give Gale any satisfaction, but I would never admit the truth to him before admiting it to John. I owed that imbecile nothing.

"Friends who jump out the window and go to each other's house in the dead of night?" He questioned. "Do you really think I'm that dumb?" Yes, I wanted to answer. "I saw when Katniss came into your house wearing nothing but a robe. God, I knew what she was up to and for the first time in my life I felt hatred for her, but I wanted to see how far that sneaky bitch would go. It'd be fun to throw in her face when you rejected her for being a spoiled brat, but guess what? She didn't leave your house until the next day. Are you going to tell me what, you guys were playing cards and she fell asleep? You two fucked and that's pretty clear to me, but I thought at least you would be man enough to admit it."

"I don't need to admit a damn thing to you." I said. "And if something had really happened between me and Katniss, it wouldn't concern to you."

"And apparently not to John either, since you are clearly doing this behind his back." He snorted. "I know that slut rode your dick, but Katniss has rode my dick several times before. I know how she likes to be fucked, sucked and I know how loud she moans when she's enjoying it. You got my leftovers, man. And in the end of the day, she will always come back to me. She loves me in her own twisted way, but she does, and now she's just trying to hurt me by fucking you. But I forgive her. Of course I'm going to have to spank her while I fuck her ass and she'll love it while I teach her a lesson."

"You son of a bitch!" I pushed him hard and knocked him down without any difficulty. I wanted to break his face, but I was afraid I wouldn't be able to stop. "Wash your damn mouth before you talk about her."

Gale's laugh was manic and I shivered. Maybe it was my clinical look, but that boy certainly had some level of sociopathy. It was so obvious to me that I honestly couldn't understand how other people didn't realize it.

"Oh my God, you fell in love with her didn't you?" Gale asked as he stood up. "Oh man, this will be even more fun than I thought."

"What the hell do you want?" I wanted to scream. "Leave Katniss alone or I swear..."

"You swear what, Peeta? Are you going to punch me? Kill me?" Gale interrupted me. "I want you to get away from her and we'll both pretend this conversation never happened. I stay with Katniss, you keep your friendship with John, simple as that. Do we have a deal?"

Only in your despicable dreams, asshole.

"You are sick." I said.

"Yada, yada, yada." He rolled his eyes. "The decision is quite simple: you walk away from her life and I won't tell John anything, or you insist on this idiocy of wanting my girl and you lose her and John in a combo. One way or another you won't be with her, so make the smart choice."

I was trying to convince myself that it wouldn't be worth going to jail for killing that worm.

"Is this a threat?" I challenged him. "Because I'm not afraid of you."

"I don't think you're afraid of me." Gale smiled. "But I think you would be afraid of losing your best friend and ruining the relationship between him and his daughter in the process. A young cunt is really worth it? I know Katniss's cunt is divine, but still."

Each time Gale opened his filthy mouth I had more and more will to beat the shit out of him.

"How dare you say you love Katniss and refer to her like that?" I was disgusted. "If you love her as you say, let her go."

"Let her go... so she can fuck you?" Gale asked in disbelief. "You gotta be kidding me."

"Katniss isn't fucking anyone, stop being paranoid!" I reiterated. "She came to my house a few times, yes, but nothing happened."

"And I'm the damn Santa!" Gale threw his arms in the air, completely insane. "I saw the way she looked at you when you stepped in between us the other day. And I know you went after her in the lake. Will you stay away from her for good or I'll destroy your lives, mark my words."

I was about to send everything to hell. If that bastard wanted to report me to John, so be it. I was about to do it anyway. But under no circumstances would I clear the way for him to approach Katniss.

He would just put those toxic hands on her ever again over my dead body.

"You know what, Gale? Go ahead." I shot. "Go over there and tell John what you supposedly know, with no hard evidence beyond your delusional thoughts. It's going to be his best friend's word against those of his daughter's obsessed ex-boyfriend."

"Your words won't mean anything when John finds out what you did, Peeta." I tried not to be swayed by those words, but it was in vain. "You can't fool anyone with this good-boy speech."

"Fuck you-"

"What's going on here?" John's voice cut through mine before I could even answer.

At that point I was so out of my mind that I couldn't even control my tone of voice. Obviously he must have heard us.

My friend approached with a frown and Katniss came running right after him. My whole body reacted to her presence and as soon as she spotted Gale, she knew something was wrong.

I stared at her and tried to say with my eyes that it would be all right, but the truth was, I didn't know anymore.

"Hello my love." Gale walked over to Katniss, but before he could get closer, John stepped in front of him. If he hadn't, I would. "Hello former father-in-law, how convenient we are all meeting here," He looked at me and then back at John.

"What are you doing here Gale?" John asked firmly. "I thought I told you to stay away for a while."

"You did." Gale shrugged. "But that was before you knew that I discovered a few things you would love to know about."

"Explain." John demanded.

The confusion in my friend's eyes made me feel terrible. John had no idea what would hit him.

Katniss looked at me in panic and I felt completely useless when all I could do was swallow hard.

"Ask your great friend Peeta." The sarcasm in his voice was evident. "Don't worry, you'll love it."

The time had come, I thought to myself. I already knew that, but I never anticipated it would be under those circumstances.

Anyway, I wouldn't let Gale ruin that moment any further.

"John, there is something I need to tell you." I started by saying.

I hesitated for a few seconds just so I could take a deep breath.

From that moment on nothing would ever be the same.

"Last chance, Peeta." Gale smiled as if this were an inside joke between us. "Are you sure about that?"

No, I wasn't sure. I hated the fact that John would find out that way, but there was nowhere to run.

Continuing this farce would only make everything worse.

"Okay, can either of you please tell me what the hell is going on?"

I looked at Katniss and gave her a small smile, which she replied with a slight nod. It was subtle, but she gave me her consent.

And suddenly I felt stronger. Certain.

"John, I-" The words died in my mouth as in an act of impulse Katniss ran up and stepped in front of me.

I had no idea what she was doing and by the expression on her face, she didn't either. The only certainty I had was that we were in this together.

"Dad," Katniss took one of my hands in hers and stared at her father. "I wanted you to know that... I want you to know that... I love Peeta Mellark."

My heart was pounding so hard it was hard to breathe. Did she just say she loved me? Did she?

"What kind of joke is this?" John didn't seem to believe it.

Despite the complicated situation we were in, I could only feel happiness. I never thought I was going to live something like that, but there I was. And there was Katniss-there was my one true love.

I would face the world for her. Including John.

"This is not a joke." I stepped forward. "I'm sorry you're discovering everything this way, that's not how I was planning to tell you, but I'm in love with Katniss. I love your daughter, John, and that little time next to her was enough for me to make sure. I want her in my life, and I want to do that with your blessing."

John was surprisingly silent, but I knew him well enough to recognize the look of disappointment on his face. I had betrayed him and I knew that wouldn't be easy for him to forgive me.

"You and my-" John pointed to Katniss, who was teary-eyed. "You and my daughter? No, Peeta, it can't be." He paused, completely bewildered. "It can't be. You're supposed to be my friend. You held her in your arms when she was a baby. She's my baby! You had no fucking right."

Seeing him like that, saying those words, broke my heart. But I had broken his heart first.

We were like brothers and in John's mind, the idea of me and Katniss was inconceivable. It was like incest.

"Dad, please..." Katniss muttered. "We didn't plan it, it just happened. It wasn't Peeta who came to me, I went to him first. I love him, Dad. He's a wonderful man and I want to live by his side. I'm not a baby anymore, I'm twenty-one."

"Shut up!" John screamed so loudly that Katniss jumped with fright. "Just... shut up. I never thought that you of all people would let me down like that, Katniss."

Prim and Lavender rushed out of the house and I couldn't look the older woman in the eye.

"What is this shouting about?" She asked. "John, honey, what happened?"

Prim certainly knew what it was about, so she remained silent. I knew she wanted to do something, but she just couldn't.

"Peeta disrespected our family the worst way." John answered mechanically, practically not blinking. "He took advantage of our friendship and our hospitality to touch our daughter."

"What do you mean to touch our daughter?" Lavender was genuinely confused. "John?"

"It means she spread her legs for him, Lavender." I shook my head and squeezed Katniss's hand even harder. "I thought he was fucking Delly, but it was our daughter Peeta was fucking all the time. I'm such an idiot."

"You're not an idiot, John. Don't say that..." I tried, but stopped as soon as he looked me in the eye.

"Peeta? Katniss? Is that true?" Lavender asked us.

"It was never my intention to disrespect Katniss, Lavender. I give you my word." John snorted when I said. "I truly fell in love with her. You know me, I would never get involved with her if I didn't have good intentions."

"Good intentions? Good intentions?" John came after me like a lion and pulled Katniss away from me. "What were your good intentions when you stuck your dick inside my daughter, Peeta? Because honestly I can't think of any."

I saw in Lavender's eyes that all she wanted to do was run to her daughter and hug her. I hated to be the cause of all that pain.

"I'm sorry John." I repeated once again. "I know I was a terrible friend, but I acted with my heart. I never felt for any woman what I feel for Katniss. You know I'm a terrible liar, I wouldn't lie to you about that."

We all fell silent trying to process it all. It was overwhelming.

So overwhelming that I didn't even notice Gale's absence until I saw the panic in Prim's eyes when the girl shouted her sister's name.

Everything after that happened so fast and I couldn't even assimilate. I heard the deafening sound of a gunshot and in the blink of an eye, my whole world collapsed.

Chapter Text

I watched as everything happened in slow motion around me until my doctor self was activated. I ran over to Katniss's small, slumped body and tried to provide first aid when all I wanted to do was to hold her in my arms and cry.

If I had any doubt of my feelings for her -and by the way, I didn't- at that moment everything would become clear as water. Because I realized that I didn't go to Panem to find peace and quietness at all. I went to Panem to meet the love of my life, and life itself was trying to pull her from me.

Katniss was unconscious, but I tried to keep her eyes open-or something close to that, and put her body on its side to prevent choking and drowning. She was hit in the stomach area and from what I could see by turning her body, the bullet had come out the other side. That's good. I tried to mentally repeat.

Lavender and Prim were kneeling beside me and the scene was heartbreaking. The hardest thing I had to do was ask the older woman to step away while the paramedics didn't arrive, when a visceral pain emanated from her pores that only a mother could understand.

I felt like the worst person in the world. And maybe I was.

An apathetic John had immobilized Gale, who tried to escape after the shooting. I've never seen my friend so wrecked, so dead inside. His baby girl had been hit by a freaking gunshot. Drawing a parallel between the day he found out Lavender was pregnant and now, I just wanted to serve as a punching bag so he could take out all the anger, all the pain on me. Because hell, it fucking hurt. I wouldn't ever compare my pain to his, but if I was about to collapse, I don't even want to imagine what was going on in his mind.

"Why did you do this to her?" Lavender stood abruptly and began slapping Gale haphazardly. Young Prim ran to her mother and tried to hold her. "Why, Gale? Why?"

Gale's eyes were red-hot. Clearly he was out of his mind and I had to hold on not to pick up the gun from the floor and unload it on him. In all my existence I've always cherished people's lives, I made it my goal, but at that moment all I wanted was to end his with my own hands.

"I was going to shoot him!" He snapped as he glared at me. "I was going to shoot him and Katniss threw herself in front of this son of a bitch! It's all his fault! I would never shoot her, Lav. I love Katniss with my life."

I couldn't breathe. The realization that Katniss may have shielded me from that gunshot was even more dreadful.

It was supposed to be me, I repeated over and over again and at some point I must have said that out loud.

John wrapped his hand around Gale's neck and squeezed tightly, "Shut the fuck up!" He ordered. "Shut the fuck up or I'll kill you before the cops arrive. Believe me, Gale, I wouldn't hesitate a bit."

The mention of the cops made Gale's eyes widen, probably realizing the gravity of what he'd done.

Yes, you little shit. If there's justice in this world you'll rot in jail.

"John, man, you have to believe me." Gale had the audacity to act indifferently. "I love Katniss. I would never hurt your daughter and you know this. This is just a big misunderstanding."

If John didn't punch that bastard, I'd do it myself.

"Never, ever dare to mention my daughter's name again!" The anger in my friend's voice was palpable when his fist met the worm's jaw. "You only love your damn self and I'm so sorry that I allowed you to get close to her. I'm so, so sorry my girl..."

John was no longer talking to Gale when he began to sob uncontrollably. That was the moment my friend caved in, and I didn't want Katniss to witness it, because I knew that would destroy her. I started stroking her beautiful hair and whispering words of encouragement.

She was going to live, even if I had to trade my life for hers. She still had a lot to live on while I had lived it all, thanks to her.

"Hi baby." I tried to smile at the sound of the sirens got closer and closer. "Everything will be fine, okay? They'll take you now, but I won't leave your side even for a second. Your Mom and Dad will be right behind us with Prim. By the way, you'd be so proud of your little sister, babe... of the maturity she's showing. She'll be a great doctor and you'll be here to witness it."

I didn't realize that John was watching us as I kept talking, "Do you trust me? I know you can't answer, but I can feel you. And I know you'd be saying something like: of course I do, you silly man. So, just know that I'll be taking care of them, all right? Then you can be at peace. The only thing we want is for you to get well soon, and to smile again in that way that makes my heart beat fast. Thank you for showing me what real living was like, Katniss. Now I won't know how to live without you by my side, so come back to me, because I don't think I can face your angry father alone. You just have to do that thing with your eyes and he'll melt right away."

I heard a muffled laugh and when my eyes met John's, there was something different about his gaze. You could tell he was physically and mentally exhausted, but he was standing again for his daughter.

Gale wasn't where I could see him, so I assumed the cops had already taken him. As the paramedics prepared Katniss to put her in the ambulance, I dared to approach John.

"Is it okay if I go with her?" My voice was weak. "I just want to make sure they're doing the right thing, but if you prefer I can-"

"You can go with her." He interrupted me. "Lav and I are going to talk to the cops anyway, so I'd rather you stay with her. Besides, I don't know if I can stand to see her like that..." He paused, mustering a superhuman strength not to collapse again. "Just... take care of her, okay?"

"With my life, brother." I said resolutely. "I'm not going to ask how you're feeling, because I know words would never be able to describe it, but I just want you to know that I'm so sorry, John... for everything. And that she'll be fine. Katniss will be fine, and I'm not saying this because I know that's what you want to hear. I'm saying this because I know she will. She's strong just like her father."

John nodded and stared at me with teary eyes, "You know Peeta? I can't blame you for loving her. It's impossible not to."

Those were the last words he said before getting in the car with his wife and younger daughter. I immediately ran back to the ambulance and sat next to Katniss, holding her cold hand in mine.

"How is she?" I asked one of the first responders. "I'm a doctor. Dr. Peeta Mellark from Seattle Neurology Center."

"I'm Castor. Those two up front are Pollux and Cressida." He introduced himself and his team. "Her blood pressure is low from the bleeding. Her weak pulse, paleness and purplish lips indicate a likely shock, but she's breathing, which is a good prognosis." He went on to describe her condition for a few minutes. "She was lucky to have you around, doctor. The girl will be fine."

I felt like saying no other possibility would be acceptable beyond that, but I didn't want to sound rude.

"Thank you." I told him. "You guys were fast and are doing a great job so far."

The young man smiled and nodded, "Are you her father?" I laughed out loud at the irony and Castor looked at me in confusion. "Um, sorry if the question was iconvenient."

"No, no, it wasn't." I soon explained. "But I'm not her father. I'm her father's best friend though... or at least I was, before I fell in love with his daughter."

It took a few seconds for him to put two and two together, but he did. And he made no comment on that, which I was grateful for.

"She'll be fine, Dr. Mellark." He assured me once again. "But I can't say the same about your jaw when your friend punches you."

That got another laugh out of me. I was devastated, but it felt good to smile, "As I said to her sister once, she's worth a lot more than a broken nose... or jaw."

"I bet she is." He smiled.

We exchanged trusting glances and the drive remained silent until we reached the hospital.

Despite being unconscious, I knew that Katniss was smiling too.

Chapter Text

I was restlessly sit in the waiting room when I spotted a desperate Lavender running toward me, John and Prim following close behind. They looked completely drained, and I recognized myself in them.

I immediately got to my feet and wiped my sweaty hands on my pants when the woman asked, "Where is my daughter? How is she?"

Doctor or not, here in Panem I would have no choice but to wait. I hated being on the other side, waiting for news while my colleagues did the work. I wish I could be taking care of Katniss myself, but I knew I wouldn't be able to, even if I could.

"Stable. Breathing on her own." My throat was completely dry and I could hear Katniss complaining that I had forgotten to hydrate. "The bleeding has been contained and within hours she'll be moved to the room."

"Oh, thank God." Lavender began to cry heartily as she hugged her husband. "Our baby will be fine, John. She'll be fine."

"I told you, love." John smiled through his own tears and kissed her.

Prim was unusually silent, though she smiled in relief. A seventeen-year-old girl trying to be strong for her parents.

"I know it's going to be pointless to tell you to go home for a shower." Prim said to my friends. "But you at least need to eat something."

Lavender offered a hand to her youngest and pulled her close, "You too. You had to deal with so much today, my girl."

"I'm fine, Mom." Prim guaranteed. "I just... I want my sister back. It's the only thing that matters."

For the first time Prim seemed to be the age she really was. She always looked so much older in my eyes, but the fragility she allowed herself to show now revealed the frightened and vulnerable girl she carried inside.

"Soon she'll be with us again." Lavender said and the three embraced each other. "Our family has indestructible ties."

That was true. And it had always been something I admired... and envied.

"Go to the cafeteria with your Mom, Primmy." John kissed his daughter's temple. "I need to sort some things out and then I'll meet you guys there."

Lavender looked at us with apprehension. She knew very well I was the "some things".

"I won't be long, yes?" He caressed his wife's chin affectionately. "Just go and I'll be there in a minute."

Still unconvinced, the woman nodded, "Will you want something from the cafeteria Peeta?"

"No thank you." I refused, but soon remembered. "I mean, if you can bring me a big bottle of water I'd be grateful."

Prim flashed a genuine smile that made me deeply pleased, "If Katniss wakes up and you have that dry voice, she'll fight you for days doc. That girl takes hydration really seriously."

A silence immediately set in when Prim spoke of Katniss to me so openly. Lavender seemed to hold back a smile as she stared at John.

"I, um, know that very well." I ventured to say. "And she's right, by the way."

"My sister is always right sir." Prim gushed. "Learn how to handle it if you want to marry her one day."

If I could see myself at that moment I would surely be staring at a completely flushed Peeta. The Primrose we knew and loved was partially back, and it felt wonderful. Even if I was mortified.

"Prim, baby, shall we?" Lavender still had tears in her eyes, but her voice carried some amusement.

John remained silent during that dialogue, and that silence lasted for at least a couple of minutes after the girls left. We'd never been so quiet around each other.

"How did it go with the police?" I was the first to speak. "I'll testify as soon as I get out of here."

"Gale will remain in prison until the trial." John rubbed his hands over his face. "It was hard to see Hazelle so desolate."

"I'm sorry." I said sincerely. "But her son needs to bear the consequences of what he did."

"I know." John's gaze stayed distant. "And I'll make sure he pays for what he did myself, but... it's not easy. I saw that boy grow up, he was like a son to me. And Hazelle was always such a good mother and friend, she didn't deserve that. "

I wanted to have John's kind heart because I couldn't feel any compassion for that worm. So I remained silent.

"How are you doing?" His question surprised me.

I knew things between us were still not well, but still he wanted to make sure I was fine. I didn't deserve John.

"Angry." I answered without thinking. "It was supposed to be me and not her. She didn't-" I paused, my throat tightening. "It was supposed to be me."

"Peeta-" He tried to speak, but I interrupted him.

"Katniss saved my life, John." My eyes were burning. "And I don't mean just today. She saved my life in countless possible ways. If I could go back in time, if I knew she was going to throw herself in front of me I would have-"

I didn't even realize I was sobbing until I felt John's hand on my shoulder.

"I had no right to have acted behind your back." I looked at him. "Never, not in a million years, did I imagine I would fall in love with one of your daughters. That was unimaginable to me, sinful even. But then I saw her in that garden... and I knew, I just knew that my life would never be the same. When it happened, when I found myself in love with Katniss, I was terrified." My body was shaking. "I tried to fight it, I tried to pull her away, but I failed. Because for the first time in my life I felt whole, and she was the missing part."

John's eyes were watery, but he said nothing.

"I was coming to your house to tell you when Gale approached me." I continued. "Apparently he was stalking Katniss for days and went there to threaten me, to mark territory. I was determined to ignore him until he started offending her and I lost my mind. That's when you showed up and ..." I tried to pull myself together. "I shouldn't have acted that way. You wouldn't have to leave the house."

"Don't blame yourself for that." He asked. "Not for what Gale did."

"But if I hadn't came near Katniss, or if I hadn't acted on impulse when he approached me-"

"That would have happened sooner or later." John said firmly. "Since that day at the barbecue I couldn't recognize Gale. He's sick, Peeta. The breakup was just the trigger for it to explode. There were signs here and there but no one was able to notice. No one but Prim, now I realize."

I was silent trying to process those words.

"She was happy like I haven't seen her in years you know?" My chest tightened when John said. "Katniss, I mean. I thought it was because she was home, because of her plans to open the studio, but the truth is that I'd seen her happy for those reasons before and still she was… different. I couldn't explain why until I saw her with you. The way she faced me, the way her eyes sparkled when she said she loved you. My girl had never been so vocal about her feelings and it caught me off guard."

"I'm so sorry John." I begged him. "I should have done things differently. I should have acted as a man and not as a reckless teenager. I won't apologize for loving your daughter, because I don't regret it at all. But I regret that I failed you."

"You didn't pay attention to what I said, right?" It made me shut up. "All a parent wants is for their children to be happy. It's our only goal in life. My daughter was happy, Peeta. And instead of being happy with her happiness, I let my selfishness speak louder."

"John, no." I demanded. "I won't allow you to take this blame on yourself either."

"But if she had..." Now it was his voice that failed. "If she couldn't make it, Peeta, my last words to her would be that I was disappointed in her. Disappointed that she was happy? That she have found love with my best friend? I just thought of myself at that moment and it hurts me so much. I love Lavender and Prim more than anything in the world, but Katniss is my own life."

"Your reaction was totally justified, John. You were feeling betrayed and hurt." I softened. "And I know Katniss thinks that way too. She loves you and admires you so much. You're her hero... and mine too."

We were silent until he pulled me into a tight hug and we cried together. We never had a problem doing that.

"I really love her, John." I muttered.

"I know." He replied. "And I love you for loving her. I'll still need some time to digest all this, but I hope someday we can go back to where we were."

We were still holding each other when Dr. Paylor appeared.

"John, I'm really sorry for what happened." She said and John thanked her with a nod. In Panem it was not difficult for people to know each other. "But your daughter is a tough girl. She's already being taken to her room and soon you'll be able to see her. She's still heavily sedated, but will wake up in a few hours."

John smiled excitedly and thanked her vehemently.

"The bullet was not lodged in her body and didn't pierce any important part of any organ." Dr. Paylor continued. "Whether it was luck or miracle I don't know, but Katniss was reborn today. The bleeding was quickly contained and fortunately her brain didn't run out of oxygen from the shock. In short, your girl will be brand new in a matter of days. Of course I say physically, because mentally... well, that is another story . I will refer her to Dr. Aurelius, he's an excellent psychiatrist and therapist."

"Thank you so much Paylor." John thanked her once again. "Is there an estimate when we can see her?"

"I'd say around an hour, but she'll probably be sleeping." Paylor said. "I suggest you take the girls home for a shower in the meantime. You can also bring some of Katniss's belongings, she'll be in the hospital for at least a couple of days until she's released."

~

I was sleeping in the armchair of Katniss's room when I heard someone approaching. We had already gone home and changed, but she had not yet woken up. We took turns in keeping her company, so she wasn't alone when she did.

Assuming it was someone from her family, I got up to make room for the visit but was surprised to see that it was Delly.

What the hell was she doing there?

"Thank God, Peeta." She ran to me and hugged me. "How are you?"

I immediately pulled her away and looked at her disapprovingly, "Katniss was shot and you ask if I'm ok?"

Only then did Delly seem to notice the unconscious girl in bed and to her credit, she looked embarrassed.

"Oh yes, of course." She cleared her throat. "How has she been?"

"I don't want to be rude, but how did you get in here?" I ignored her question.

"Lav said I could." Delly answered. "Other people came to visit her too."

"Yes, to visit Katniss. But you seemed more concerned about how I was." I countered, really annoyed. "And I found it quite disrespectful to Katniss and her family."

"Forgive me, Peeta, I didn't know that would make you upset." She approached a few steps. "It's just... my marriage to Thom is not going well. I'll file for divorce as soon as he returns and and I got really worried about everything that happened. Rumors said Gale tried to shoot you and inadvertently shot Katniss. In that instant I realized that I could lose you and I know you'll be gone in a few days, so I just wish you knew that I love-"

What the actual fuck?

"I was never yours to lose, Delly." My voice was firm. "And hell, Gale didn't shoot Katniss inadvertently. Katniss threw herself in front of me to protect me. She saved me. And you want to know why? Because she loves me. And I love her too, more than anything. You should have a little self-respect and consideration for Thom, who is a great guy, for Katniss and for her family."

"What do you mean you love her?" It seems to have been the only damn thing she heard. "Katniss is... well she's a child."

"No, she isn't. She's an amazing woman." I was on the verge of loosing my mind. "And I really can't believe you came here for this. Please, just get out."

"Well, I-"

"Peeta?" My heart stopped beating when I heard her voice. "Peeta, is that you?"

I must have been faster than the Flash when I ran over to Katniss and started to smile and cry at the same time. The gray eyes I loved so much were wide open and inquisitive and I couldn't hide how happy I was that she was there.

That she was alive.

"Yes baby it's me." I said, feeling like a boy again. "I, uh, I'll call your parents and Prim and-"

"What is she doing here?" Katniss was looking at Delly, who still looked horrified at my statement. "Where am I, Peeta?"

"You're in the hospital baby." I knelt before her. "You got shot, but you're okay now. You're okay and I'm here with you. I will answer all your questions, but I need to let your family know that you have woken up."

My heart grew small at how lost Katniss was and how much Delly's presence was bothering her. By God, she was the first person Katniss saw when she woke up.

Delly, of all people.

Without thinking twice I leaned over Katniss and kissed her. It was a soft kiss, a reassuring kiss, to let her know it was all right.

"Ignore her presence." I whispered.

Delly gasped behind us and I saw in Katniss's face that she had been pleased. That was my girl.

Katniss pulled me by the collar of my shirt and gave me a delicious kiss. I as a doctor knew that was extremely inappropriate, but that day I was not the doctor. I was just a man madly in love.

"What on earth?" Delly asked.

And at once the door opened. Of course, John, Lavender, and Prim were there.

Great timing.

"Why do I always catch you in awkward situations?" A smiling Prim asked and ran to her sister.

Chapter Text

I couldn't look John in the eye. I know we had a heart-to-heart talk not so long ago, yet it was still too early for him to have graphic evidence of me... with Katniss.

But I think it was too late now.

The room fell silent except for the screams and laughter of Katniss and Prim. The younger girl was hugging her sister tightly, who complained amusingly that she was crushing her bandage.

Seeing them so happy soon made John's dark expression soften. I know he was very close to punching me in the face seconds before.

Whew.

Lavender approached the girls and joined them in a hug, kissing Katniss's face all over again and again. It was as if she didn't believe her daughter was there: alive, smiling, unapologetically beautiful. Even in that hospital gown.

Delly was forgotten in a corner of the room, still unable to believe what she had seen, while John was teary-eyed, watching the three women in his life with true adoration. And also... a little fear.

"Come here, stranger." Katniss took him by surprise. "I don't bite."

Prim and Lavender looked at each other and smiled, moving far enough away for John to approach his girl. When he did, not only him but everyone in the room -Delly was still forgotten- wept along. He was broken and renewed at the same time, if that's even possible.

He cupped Katniss's face in both hands and pulled away as she smiled through her tears, then pulled her back to him, muttering apologies like a mantra.

"There's nothing to be sorry about, Daddy." Katniss wiped away the man's tears. "You're the best person I know and not in a million years would you be able to hurt me."

"I was so unfair to you, my girl." John said. "And I would never be able to forgive myself if my last words were about me being disappointed in you, because I'm not. I'm just old and jealous and I couldn't handle my own prejudices. I love you more than anything in this world, Katniss."

"I love you too, Dad. I love you too."

It was a very emotional moment and I felt that we all needed a relief.

"What you mean old?" I allowed myself to joke when they pulled away. "Speak for yourself, Johnny Bravo."

The words escaped me without my realizing it and my cheeks soon flushed. It used to be so natural for John and I to tease each other that I had completely forgotten about the circumstances in which we found ourselves.

I wish I had the power to teleport myself.

"Um... I..." I tried to apologize, but the laughter of Katniss, Prim, and Lavender filled that place like a lovely song.

If I knew my friend well, he wanted to laugh too, but his pride would never let him.

"Stop it, none of you are old." Katniss said matter-of-factly. "And I have full knowledge of the cause. Right, Peeta?"

"Sure." Wait, what?

Was she trying to kill me? Or rather, cause John to kill me?

"I mean, he always beat me at the races." She explained herself and I breathed a sigh of relief. "And look, I'm the PE student here."

"Okay, right, what the hell is going on here?" Remember Delly? Yeah, she was still there for some reason. "I mean, I'm glad you're fine, Katniss. And I'm really sorry for what happened. But what does that mean?" Delly pointed between me and Katniss. "Are you going to act like Peeta Mellark didn't stick his tongue in your daughter's throat, John? Lavender? Is that even allowed in this country?"

God forgive me, but I came very close to dragging this woman out of the room by the arm. Delly couldn't be more inconvenient even if she tried.

"Delly..." Lavender started to say, but Katniss was faster.

"First of all, why are you even here?" She ran out of patience. "Thank you for your fake words, Delly, but I think it's pretty clear you're not welcome here."

"Katniss!" Lavender tried to scold her daughter, though it was clear in her tone that she only did it politely.

John remained silent, letting his daughter speak for herself. He knew she was capable of, and so was I.

He was right about Katniss not being vocal about her feelings often. But when she did, it was better that you pay attention.

"No, Mom, let me finish. Someone needs to say that." She asked and looked back at Delly. "Why are you trying to get into my family business when you can't even handle your own marriage? Everyone in this room knows you cheat on poor Thom, but no one ever said a word because it was nobody's business. But here you are demanding explanation about something that doesn't even concern you, right after I almost died." I tried to hold back from smiling, because she could look even more beautiful when she was pissed. "I can tolerate your lack of empathy, because who cares? But not your petulance. Not with my family."

I honestly didn't know how Delly had the guts to stay there, I'll give her that.

"But since you're dying to know, here goes..." Delly folded her arms visibly embarrassed. "Answering your question about this being allowed," Katniss gestured between us. "I tell you that yes, it is. I am of age, owner of my own life, and I fucking love this man. And to your disappointment, he loves me back." Too bad we weren't alone because all I wanted was to fill that smart mouth with kisses. "As for how my parents should or should not act, well, before you judge anyone you should look at yourself. How about being honest with your husband about not loving him anymore? How about you stop hitting on my man, because only over my dead body will you have him. And as you can see, I'm not easy to kill."

We were all speechless -Delly included, and the silence had only been interrupted by Prim, who was giving Katniss a standing ovation.

"This is my fucking sister, everyone! Woo-hoo!" The girl shouted proudly. "She's definitively a keeper, Peeta."

Once again my face caught fire, but I couldn't help but smile and say, "I know that."

Because I did. That short time was enough for me to be sure.

"Will you let her talk to me like that?" Delly tried to use the offended card with the Everdeens. "Well, I never-"

"Are you really still here?" Now it was my turn to speak. "For God's sake, Delly, just have a little pride and leave. You've been inconvenient enough for a day, don't you think? You disrespected everyone in this room and you keep doing it for some damn reason. I don't want you. I'm sorry if I'm being rude, but I never wanted you." I took it off my chest. "I love Katniss with all my heart and I won't allow you to disrespect her like that. Not the woman I love, nor anyone in this room, who is like family to me. So please, leave. I promise we will all wake up tomorrow convinced that this was collective delirium."

The woman was reluctant for a few seconds and when she saw that no one would defend her, she turned to leave.

"You are all insane." She muttered as she did.

Hallelujah!

"That was so badass! You are my favorite couple of all time." Prim fired. "Sorry Mom and Dad."

This time even John smiled. Prim was really something else.

Paylor and her team arrived shortly after and provided the necessary care to Katniss. We all got a scolding from her about Katniss not being able to stress, but it was certainly worth it.

She really looked pleased with herself.

"Come on, Katniss, you need to rest." Paylor complained as she pulled me in for another kiss after everyone else left. "Just let me do my job, Dr. Mellark. You as much as I know what the recommendations are. Kissing is certainly not among them, by no means."

"But I slept for hours, Dr. Paylor." Katniss pouted and I felt like biting those lips. Jeez, I needed to fucking chill. "Just let me enjoy my man."

Apparently that was my new nickname. And I loved it.

"Paylor is right, love." I tried to act with reason. "You are still very debilitated and all this stress has drained your energy reserves. You need to rest and do whatever Dr. Paylor asks, so soon you will get out of here."

"But you will leave on the weekend." Her words tore through me. I was trying not to think about that. "I want to enjoy every minute by your side."

I held her hand in mine and stared into those beautiful gray eyes that I grew to love more than my own self, "We'll still have many minutes together, baby."

"Do you promise me?" The way she sounded vulnerable nearly broke me.

"I do." I said resolutely. I still didn't know how, but we would. "But now you need to fully recover so we can think about it together, okay? Just be a good girl and rest."

"Yes sir." She bit her lip and I almost moaned. Little tease. "I'll be a good girl. For you."

If Paylor noticed the naughty way Katniss said that, she was completely professional about it. One way or another, I needed to get out of here as soon ass possible before my pants got tight.

I was back to being a teenager and I wasn't proud of it.

"Well then I'll go now." I made myself say. "When you wake up, I'll be here."

"You better." Katniss pointed a finger at me.

There was so much I wanted to do. So much I wanted to say. But all that would have to wait.

Ignoring Paylor's scrutiny I approached Katniss and took her for another kiss. God only knows when I could do that again.

"I love you." I whispered.

"I love you too." Katniss touched her forehead to mine.

"No more than I love you." I continued. "Which is a lot."

"You kids in love." Paylor shook her head. "It's time to say goodbye, Dr. Mellark. I really don't want to call security."

I knew she was joking, but I widened my eyes anyway. "No, that won't be necessary."

I gave Katniss one last peck and ran my ass off before I gave up. I could still hear Katniss's laughter even as I closed the door.

"You really love her, don't you?" Prim was staring at me with a knowing smile.

"So much." I answered silly. "Can you tell?"

"You look really happy." She told me. "The first time I saw you you just seemed to... be, you know? Now you seem to be alive."

Well, before I came here I just lived for my work and now I had gained a new purpose. I lived to save lives, but I had never realized that I also needed salvation. I had given up on love before I even sought it.

Katniss turned my world around, left everything out of place, and yet nothing had ever felt so right.

She saved me. My one, true love. Unexpected, but oh so welcome.

"Yes." I answered simply. "And the culprit that I'm so happy is in that room giving Dr. Paylor a hard time."

"She's an Everdeen after all." We laughed. "Well, I just wanna say I'm glad my sister found you."

"And I'm glad I found your sister."

Prim hugged me and then walked away. I was left there with my own thoughts and a permanently tattooed smile on my face.

Who would have thought that being in love was the damn best feeling in the world? Certainly not me.

Chapter Text

The day Katniss was discharged from the hospital came faster than I anticipated, causing a bittersweet feeling to grow inside me. If on one hand I was ecstatic that she was finally-finally leaving that place, on the other I was not proud to admit that my heart was aching.

Because, in the blink of an eye, I would leave Panem the next day.

It was Saturday and the sky was cloudy, completely opposite to the day I arrived, and it more or less reflected how I was feeling at that moment. Katniss was lying on my chest as I stroked her hair, and we were in absolute silence, just enjoying each other's company in the Everdeen's futon.

"A penny for your thoughts." She murmured against the fabric of my shirt. "Are you okay, Peeta?"

I didn't want to scare her or sound too dramatic, because we had already agreed that we would try to make it-us work, at a distance, until we figured out what to do. But the thought of not seeing her every day was no less agonizing. I was being irrational and selfish, and I was fully aware of that, but having her in my arms, even in a hospital bed while she was recovering, still seemed less painful than not having her at all.

Once again, I wasn't proud of myself for feeling that way.

"I'm fine, babe." I kissed her head. "Just enjoying every second I have with you before, you know..."

After a long breath Katniss settled into the futon so she could face me, and I could see in her expression that she was still in pain. A pain I'd do anything in my power to stop her from feeling, but even the painkillers couldn't. Not at all times.

"We already talked about that." She said as she caressed my face. "This," Katniss gestured between the two of us. "Will work, Peeta. This will have to work, because I can no longer imagine my life without you."

I couldn't either. Maybe she still had no idea how much.

"Any other possibility is unimaginable." Her lips brushed against mine and I moaned. "Unthinkable."

God, all I wished I could do was carry her to the bedroom, could be mine or hers, and show her exactly how much I would miss her. How much I was missing her already. But I would never risk hurting her, since she was still weakened from her injuries.

Let's just say that Katniss Everdeen wasn't easy to resist. And she didn't make things any less challenging for me.

"I have no doubt that we will, but what can I say?" I tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear. "You got me so... addicted. So..." I said between kisses. "Completely... bewitched."

God, her taste. It was good in a disturbing way.

"I hope that's enough to keep those pretty nurses away from you." She joked. "Because believe me, Dr. Mellark, I don't like to share."

"Thank God, because I don't like to share either."

I couldn't make love to her, no matter how much our bodies were begging for it, but nothing kept me from kissing her as if my life depended on it.

"No woman is even competition." I assured her. "I'm completely yours in the most permanent way."

Katniss overcame my strength and soon she was riding me on that futon, kissing me almost aggressively. I'd never felt so wanted in my life, and I definitely never wanted anyone so much. She made me feel invincible. She was my elixir.

How could I live without that? Without her?

"Be careful love, or you'll get hurt." I reluctantly pushed her away. "By God, Katniss, I'm already abusing my luck with your father here, I don't want to leave you a widow before we even get married."

The way she smiled and bit her lower lip drove me crazy.

"Was that a proposal, Peeta Mellark?"

"Definitely not." I pressed her gently against my growing erection. "The day I propose to you, missy, you will definitely know. Now I beg you, Katniss, don't tempt me that way. I am just a man."

Katniss rolled her eyes as she got off my lap and then pouted.

"I hate that we can't say goodbye the proper way." She said. "With lots of cuddling, and lots, lots, lots of delicious sex, the way only we both can do. God, how I'm going to miss this..." She pointed to my rather tight pants. "Your cock buried inside me... your blonde hair through my fingers while I..."

By that point I was already sweating cold. I knew what she was trying to do and Jesus Christ she was going to get it.

"Katniss..." I could barely whisper. "You're killing me."

"Then let me reward you." She suggested full of ulterior motives. "I promise you won't regret it."

I would definitely need to exercise more to keep up with her energy in the future. That was already in my plans by the way.

"No one more than I would love to be rewarded by you." I brought her lower lip between my teeth. "But, as much as it hurts me, the answer is still no. Your welfare comes first."

Katniss threw back her head and complained, "You're no fun."

"I know." I smiled. "I'm sorry."

We kissed and spooned for a few more minutes, until we were interrupted by a throat clearing from John, who still couldn't look more than three seconds at us without swallowing hard.

Poor of my friend.

"Katniss, honey, your mother and sister are looking for you." He said. "Time to change the bandage."

"Ugh. Of course they are." Her mood was getting worse by the second. "Just leave me here to die."

John and I looked at each other and smiled.

"Come on, drama queen." He helped her to her feet. "I hate it as much as you do, but the sooner the wound heals, the faster you get rid of your private nurses."

"They're impossible." Katniss vented. "Please, Dad, let Peeta take care of my bandage today. He's leaving tomorrow anyway, and it will be totally PG, I promise."

If I had something to drink, surely that would be the moment I would spit it.

"I, um... I have to talk to your father about something babe." Now it was my turn to clear my throat. "I know Lav and Prim may be too much, but they're just worried about you."

"Great, now you're on their side." I held back a smile as she made the most adorable scowl. "I hate you all."

"We love you too." I answered when she was already entering the house.

My eyes followed her until she disappeared from my field of vision and I'm sure I was smiling like a fool.

"God, she really put you on a leash, didn't she?" John asked as he sat down. "I'm sorry, man, I should have warned you about the Everdeen women's charm."

It was still uncomfortable as hell talking to him about Katniss, but nothing that time wouldn't be able to heal.

At least that's what I liked to believe.

"That would be nice of you." I laughed. "But I would never be immune to Katniss's charms."

"Don't tell me that." He grunted and leaned back against the futon. "From the first time I held her in my arms I knew she would charm any soul."

A comfortable silence settled between us, and John was the first to break it.

"How are you feeling?" He paused. "About tomorrow. About... everything."

"Honestly?" I asked and he nodded. "I came here thinking I loved my job more than anything else in the world." I distracted myself in my own thoughts. "I still love what I do, don't get me wrong, but I was shown a life different than I was used to. A life I didn't know it existed, and maybe I would never know if it wasn't for Katniss. And I thought I was ok with that, but now... one month was enough for her to show me that I was completely wrong. I'll miss her, John. I know you know that better than me, about the effect she can have."

He seemed to absorb my words for a moment before murmuring, "Yup."

"So much has happened in a single month." I said. "My life has changed in these thirty days more than it has changed in the last ten years."

"So what now?" He wanted to know. "What are you going to do about it?"

Before I could answer, the owner of my thoughts appeared. Katniss had changed, her hair was wet, and she was holding a tray with two glasses of what looked like whiskey.

"To the two men of my life." She bit her lower lip. "A peace offer for my bad mood earlier."

God, I loved her.

John and I each took a glass and we both moaned as we took the first drink. Nothing like a good twelve years.

"Thank you dear." John grinned and moved away so she could sit between us.

I immediately wrapped her in one of my arms and held her hand in mine. It was impossible to be near her and not touch her, even if John was right beside us.

"I just hate that the vacations are ending." She murmured and laid her head on John's shoulder. "I just wanted this moment to last forever."

"Me too." I nodded as kissed her knuckles. "Me too babe."

When I felt her breath get heavy, John helped me place her head on my lap carefully and picked up a blanket so he could coat her.

"She's sad because you're leaving." He said as he watched Katniss in her sleep. "I'd hate myself for being responsible for having you spend your last night here away from each other. You can sleep here if you want, but no locking the doors or I swear to God I'll kill you."

It made me laugh out loud and Katniss moved a little, but fortunately it didn't wake her up.

"Well that's embarrassing." I muttered. "We used to talk about girls and now you're cock-blocking me."

"Your fault for falling in love with my daughter." He shrugged. "Oh well, now I'm your father-in-law and I'll love nothing more to be a pain in your ass."

My best friend as my father-in-law now... that would be interesting. And ironically, that was the best thing that had ever happened to me.

"My ass will be flattered, Johnny Bravo." I joked and he rolled his eyes.

Despite everything that happened last month, and though I'd be leaving the next day, I've never been so happy. I knew things weren't going to be easy, that I had made commitments in Seattle and that I couldn't just abandon everything the way it was and leave, but having Katniss in my arms at that moment allayed any doubt I might have about what I would do.

My priorities had changed.

"I'll run some errands now and then I'll get some rest. Lav will make a farewell dinner for you later."

"You guys are seriously the best." I smiled.

"Maybe, but you'll still have to sleep with the door open." John said. "See you later."

I shook my head and laughed, "See you later, buddy."