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Rent Control

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So, for some reason, I love to torture myself and my readers by writing new stuff.

Rent Control

“No…” Katniss scrolled down the ad on Craigslist, checking out the pictures of the apartment. The place was…small. She could live with that. However, the dimly lit bathroom and the questionable safety of the building’s laundry room were enough for her to click away from the ad. “Okay, onto the next one—”

“Katniss! Your break is over!” Johanna, her boss, called out from the front. “We need you!”

Locking her phone, she slipped it into the pocket of her jeans and stepped out of the backroom. Johanna was waiting for her at the cash register, an impatient smile on her red-stained lips.

“Johanna, there’s no one here…” The clothing boutique was empty except for the two women whose feet she could see behind their fitting room doors.

“Yeah, but I need to go!” Johanna bounced to emphasize her desperation. Katniss chuckled before waving her away. “Check on them, won’t you?”

Nodding, Katniss went to the dressing room area. “How is it going, ladies? Do you need any different sizes? Anything you want to get rid of?”

“Oh, yes!” A light voice called out as a pretty, light-haired woman peeked her head out and smiled at Katniss. “I don’t think I’m really into this.” She handed Katniss the simple black shift dress. “I’m just not into such basic colors!”

“No problem,” Katniss replied. “Are you looking for anything in particular?”

“My husband has a work event,” the woman explained. “It’s kind of high-brow and techie as all of San Francisco seems to be. Black seemed like the obvious choice.”

“It’s formal, right?” The voice in the room to Katniss’ right responded. “I thought black would work on you.”

“I know, Alma,” the woman in front of her said. “It’s just not me though.”

“It doesn’t look great with your coloring, to be honest,” Katniss told her. “You would do well with a jewel tone.” She walked over to one of the racks close by and pulled out the dress that she had been admiring since it was delivered to the boutique. “Would you consider this?”

Katniss held out the fuchsia dress for the woman to examine. It was floor-length with flutter sleeves and a flowing skirt. The top has a modest V-neck with a gold band underneath the ribcage.

The woman clapped excitedly. “Yes! It’s perfect! Thank you…”

“Katniss,” she told the woman. “Give that a go and I’ll check back in a few minutes.”

The dress turned out to be perfect and Katniss was thrilled as she rung the woman up. The Michael Kors dress would add a little more to her commission—she needed it.

As soon as the two women left, Johanna walked over and gives Katniss a congratulatory clap on the back.

“Want to grab us some coffee?” her boss asked. “I know you want to see your friend.” Johanna waggled her perfectly penciled brows at Katniss.

“You’re too much.” Katniss grabbed the credit card from Johanna’s hand. “But I can’t afford coffee so I’ll take you up on a freebie!”

++++++

“My favorite shop girl!”

“God Peeta, you make my job sound as pathetic as it actually is,” Katniss growled. “And, that’s coming from a guy who just stands around and makes coffee.”

“But, I do it with a smile,” her friend replied with a charming grin. “Chin up. How’s the apartment hunt going?”

“It’s not. Either I’m looking at an apartment where I’m sure someone’s been murdered or it’s in a decent neighborhood but I’m practically sleeping sitting up. Fucking techies!”

“Hey, they pay for this overpriced coffee!” Peeta argued.

“But they’ve jacked up the rent…” she whined. “I’m going to have to move back home if I don’t find a place soon.” Her parents lived in her childhood home in a neighborhood south of nowhere.

“I’m right there with you,” her friend told her. “My landlord is upping the rent in three months.” Peeta handed her usuals, a vanilla latte for her and a triple espresso for Johanna. “Hopefully, this will get you through the end of your shift—on me.”

“Thank you, my friend,” Katniss said gratefully and without a thought, she leaned over the counter to press a kiss to the man’s cheek.

Before she ends up embarrassing herself even further, Katniss rushed out of the coffee shop.

Thank God, Johanna didn’t see that.

She would never hear the end of it.

++++++

It was too good to be true.

Katniss read over the ad once more: $28001 bedroom, 1 bathroom in gorgeous Noe Valley. Spacious living room with fireplace, in-building washer/dryer. Must agree to one-year lease for rent-controlled price as well as meet landlord’s tenant requirements.

Below the ad was the address for the building as well as the date for the open house which happened to be today of all days—which happened to be her day off! This was more than generous for rent; it was practically median rent on Treasure Island.

The doors of the MUNI lightrail opened and she stepped down quickly to get to the sidewalk. The building was a block from her stop and Katniss hurriedly rushed in the appropriate direction. Hopefully, no one had taken the unit yet, though she could imagine that this ad would bring many desperate renters to the building.

Her gaze reached the brick building and Katniss stopped abruptly to stare up. The building was beautiful; it had ivy covering one side…there were bay windows…a stained-glass front door…

“Shop girl!”

Whipping around, Katniss was surprised to see her favorite barista slowing down to meet her.

“Coffee boy…” She groaned and nodded at the building. “Don’t tell me that you’re looking at the same place!”

“It really is too good to be true,” Peeta replied good-naturedly. “It’s probably already taken.”

“The door is still open,” Katniss informed him. “…but I really need this place!”

“So do I!” His sweet cornflower-blue eyes suddenly went somber. “My roommate is moving out in two weeks. Kind of left me in a lurch.”

“Damn it.” Katniss bit her lip, her eyes again going to her hopefully soon-to-be place of residence. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt for both of us to look.”

Peeta nodded, a small smile brightening his handsome face. “Come on.” Putting an arm around her shoulders, they walked through the open door of the building. “It’s probably going to be a shithole, anyway.”

But it wasn’t.

As soon as they stepped into the foyer of the building with its marble floor and walked up to the mahogany staircase, Katniss knew that this was no ordinary building. The available apartment was on the second floor and together they ascended the stairs, reaching a white-washed hallway with a lone window at the end.

“Shit—we’re both going to like this place, aren’t we?” Peeta said, a grimace on his face.

“I guess it’s a fight to the death for it,” Katniss quipped as they walked into the open apartment.

Hardwood floors…bay windows overlooking Church Street…a gorgeous fireplace—she swept her hand over the mantle and found her fingers surprisingly dust-free. The landlord was a cleanly one; most of the places she had seen had been grimy. An open archway led into a nook where Katniss could imagine her humble IKEA table being set for Sunday breakfasts and the kitchen—neat with fairly-new appliances—had an island.

“Imagine how many loaves of bread I could bake in this oven,” Peeta murmured to himself.

“We are torturing ourselves,” she groaned.

“We’re not done yet.” Peeta took her hand and they went into the hallway adjacent to the entrance. The walls were painted white as well and they took a peek into the pristine bathroom with its clawfoot tub. “Seriously?”

“I can’t even look in the bedroom after this,” Katniss protested as her friend pulls her along.

The bedroom was immaculate; the afternoon light shone in through the wide windows and the opposite wall was a closet obviously made for someone of Carrie Bradshaw’s standards. Katniss could picture herself just lounging on her bed and catching up on her Netflix shows.

She looked to Peeta. “So, what do you think is the catch?”

He shrugged. “We might as well find out. The landlord is across the hallway.”

After a final wave to the dream apartment, they walked out just as the adjacent door opened and a disgruntled woman walked out.

The woman, impeccably dressed in her pantsuit, glared at them. “Good luck with them.”

“Ah, there’s the rub,” Katniss said to Peeta as he knocked on the door. “The landlord is a nightmare.”

“Now that’s a little harsh—” They turned to the dark-haired man before them, dressed casually in a flannel and worn jeans. “At least get to know me before hating my guts.” He widened the door for them. “Come in, come in…”

They stepped into the apartment; the sage-green walls and plush furniture immediately calmed Katniss’ senses. A record player crooned Creedence Clearwater Revival to the succulents that lined the windows.

“I’m Haymitch Abernathy,” the man said to them. “Owner of this humble abode. The wife is just grabbing more treats for potential couples.”

“Peeta Mellark.” Her friend held out his hand and Haymitch shook it firmly.

Katniss also reached out, shaking the man’s hand. “Katniss…you said couples?”

“The tenant requirement is that anyone living there must be married,” Haymitch stated. He settled down on the beige couch and reached for the glass on the apothecary coffee table. “How long have you two been hitched?”

Married?

And without thought or reason, Katniss found herself replying, “A year.”

She could practically feel Peeta’s stabbing stare.

“Hello, hello!” A familiar voice called out and they both turned to see a woman rushing over to them with a tray. The woman stopped and met her eyes. “Katniss?”

It was the Michael Kors dress…Katniss quickly pulled the memory of her holding the credit card of the woman in front of her.

“Effie…how did the dress go?” she asked congenially.

Effie beamed as she placed the tray of drinks on the coffee table, before sitting on the arm of the sofa next to Haymitch.

“It was a hit!” The woman looked between them. “I didn’t realize you were married.”

“Oh yeah…” Katniss nodded at the gob smacked man next to her. “This is my husband, Peeta…Mellark.”

She should really remember his last name.

“You two are adorable!” Effie gushed. “So young…but so were we—” She looked affectionately at her husband. “And here we are still tolerating each other.”

Haymitch smiled tenderly at his wife. “Well, you put up with me and that’s saying something.”

“Excuse me,” Peeta abruptly called out. “Out of curiosity, why just married couples?”

“We found that single renters tend to break their lease agreement within six months because they can’t afford the rent,” Effie explained. “And roommates often leave after awhile while non-married couples sometimes end up splitting up—it just becomes a mess. At least with a married couple, it’s two people who are bound by law and we can count on them being in the apartment for some time.”

“Longevity and loyalty are important to us,” Haymitch added, seriousness in his steel-eyed stare. “The people in this building are like our family. So, we’re very protective about who we let in.”

“That is definitely important,” Katniss replied. She looked to a stone-faced Peeta before beginning her appeal for the dream apartment. “We would love to be considered. Obviously, you know that I work at Johanna’s and Peeta works in the coffee house next door. We’ve been at our jobs for more than a year. We can get paystubs as proof of income—”

“I have a feeling about you two,” Effie said. She looked to her husband who nodded in agreement. “Pending the deposit and if you two agree, we would love for you to make your home here.”

++++++

“Are you insane?” As soon as they stepped out of the building, Peeta turned to her. “Why would you say we’re married?”

“I don’t know!” Katniss exclaimed. “It just happened.” She peered at him. “You’re not married already, are you?”

“No!” He burst out. “But still—you didn’t need to lie.”

“Tell me where you’re going find a place and price like that,” Katniss pointed out. “Might as well move to Treasure Island.”

They walked away from their future home. “So, what are we supposed to do now?”

“We pretend,” she told him bluntly. “And after a year when we’ve saved a little bit more money, we move out or just say we’re splitting up.”

“And, you think this is going to work?”

“It does or we’re homeless,” Katniss replied.

They walked in silence towards the lightrail island. When they reach her stop, Peeta turned to her.

“Fine. We do this,” he agreed. “One year.”

Katniss let out the sigh of relief. “Deal.” She took his hand. “You now have yourself a wife.”

Peeta chuckled quietly. “Just one thing.”

“Yes?”

“What’s your last name?”

++++++

One week later…

“I seriously cannot believe you’re doing this,” Johanna muttered as they walk up the stairs leading up to San Francisco City Hall. “I know that you’ve had a thing for Peeta—but pretending to be married to get an apartment? That’s just wrong.”

“It’s not like that. All of us aren’t like you,” Katniss replied as she held her bag open for security before walking through the metal detector. “We didn’t get a house from a divorce.”

“I earned that house!” Johanna followed suit through the metal detector. “Do you know how many blowies I gave him before he decided that it was my fault that he couldn’t get it up? I can stick the hard end of a banana in the back of my throat and feel nothing.” The security guard chuckled as he handed Johanna her purse back. “Tell me that’s not devotion.”

“That is a little more than I needed to know about my boss.” Katniss reached into her purse and pulled out the fragile hairpiece. It had been lying in her drawer since she moved to California. “Can you help me?”

“Give it.” Johanna takes the hairpiece, clipping it on each side of Katniss’ raven waves. She arranged the lace so that it subtly brushed her cheekbones. “This is gorgeous.”

“It was my grandmother’s,” she said quietly. “Her and Gramps married during the war. It’s the one thing she left me after she died…I hate to think that it’s being used for something not real.”

Johanna placed her hands on Katniss’ shoulders, her eyes affectionately concerned.

“So, for now, pretend that this is real. Most marriages turn out to be shams, anyway—and you get a smoking-hot husband out of it.”

Katniss snorted. “Thanks for the pep talk.”

A wolf-whistle cut across the air, echoing throughout the main floor, and she turned to find Peeta in a grey suit approaching her. A tall, dark-skinned man followed behind him dressed in a navy suit.

“Mrs. Mellark…” Peeta slowed in front of her, looking over her fitted lace dress before meeting her veil-eyed gaze. “You clean up nice.”

“That’s what happens when you work in the best clothing boutique in San Francisco,” Katniss replied, her hands reaching to adjust his red tie. “You clean up nice, too.”

“That’s so cute,” the man behind Peeta said with an amused smile. “Y’all are already taking care of each other.”

“This is Cinna, my soon-to-be ex-roommate,” Peeta informed Katniss. “He’s ditching me for New York, but I don’t blame him since his cushy executive job is paying for his flat.”

“Nice to meet you,” Katniss said and shook the man’s hand. “I guess it worked out in my favor that you were leaving.”

“No problem, sweetheart,” Cinna replied. “Peeta showed me the apartment. What a sweet deal for San Francisco! I wouldn’t mind pretending to be married to this guy for such a place.”

Johanna coughed and Katniss pulled her forward. “This is Johanna, my boss and pretend MOH.”

“Nice to meet you both,” Johanna said. “And, thanks for the coffees, Peeta.”

“No problem,” Peeta replied. He looked around at the crowded floor. “Should we get on with this?”

Katniss nodded. “Right.”

Together, they walked to the wide staircase that led to the mayoral offices. It was a popular spot for ceremonies and pictures. There were already several couples taking their post-ceremony photos.

Cinna reached into his pocket, taking out a small digital camera. “Let’s get you two together.”

Awkwardly, Peeta took her hand as Katniss pressed herself against him.

“Is this alright?” she asked Cinna.

“No. You look like you’re having an edema,” Johanna said bluntly as Cinna chuckled in agreement. “Come on, make me believe that you’ve seen each other naked!”

Several couples stopped to stare at them.

“Alright!” Katniss wove her arms around Peeta’s neck as he pulled her close, his strong arms encircling her waist. Through the lace of her dress, she could feel his heart pounding and she met his sweet blues. “You okay, Mr. Mellark?”

Peeta grinned and the breath suddenly left her body. He really was a good-looking man.

She could never get someone like him in real life.

He leaned forward, their lips a breath apart. “I’m perfect…Mrs. Mellark.”

“We got it!” Cinna called out.

Johanna looked over Cinna’s shoulder at the picture on the camera’s screen, nodding in approval.

“Not bad…not bad at all.”

Together, she and Peeta sighed in relief.

They could do this…this was after all for the perfect apartment.

“We’re not done yet,” Cinna told them. “We still have a year’s worth of your marriage to document.” He smirked, looking at the photos—some good, some awkward. “These are going to look good. You better name your first fake baby after me.”

++++++

Effie had been there to meet them at their front door a week later. Haymitch couldn’t take the time off to join them as Effie informed the couple that he was stuck in meetings for the startup he was managing.

“I have no idea about those sorts of things,” she said as she held out their key. “Why don’t you give it a try? If there’s an issue, we can just hop down the block to the hardware store on the corner.”

Peeta took the key, inserting it into the bolt and turning it easily. “Looks like we’re good to go.” He opened the door and turned to Katniss. “Before we go in—”

He quickly scooped her up and she wrapped her arms around his neck, mostly out of fear of faceplanting on their new floors.

“What are you doing?”

“This is our home now,” Peeta said, giving her a winning smile. Behind them, Effie cooed. “I have to carry you over the threshold.” He leaned closer to her ear. “We’re supposed to be in love, aren’t we? Just go with it.”

Katniss nods before placing a light kiss on his lips. He started at the motion and something inside her bellowed in triumph at the thought of making him come undone.

“Well then, carry me over, Mr. Mellark. We have a lot of unpacking to do.”

Together, Peeta entered their place before placing Katniss gently back on her feet.

He winked. “I’ll start bringing in the boxes.”

Nodding, she went to open some of the bags that they were able to store in the apartment before their official move. Effie and Haymitch were generous for allowing them to do this.

“Is that your wedding photo?”

Katniss turned to see Effie behind her, her gaze on the black-and-white photo that she had just placed on the mantle.

“Yes. It was a small wedding,” she explained. “My family is all the way in Connecticut and Peeta’s family is in D.C. so they weren’t able to make it. The whole idea of getting married was very spur-of-the-moment.”

“Really?” Effie was an obvious romantic, though Katniss found it an endearing. “Oh, to be young and so spontaneous. So, how did the proposal happen?”

“Well…uh…”

Shit. They never really came up with a story.

“Katniss was staying over at my place.” Peeta placed a box on the floor in front of them. “We were having breakfast and discussing what we should do that day. She suggested that we get to the mountain of laundry in my room—and I suggested that we get married.”

A snort escaped Katniss’ lips before she could stop it.

Effie’s bright eyes went wide and she looked to Katniss. “And, what did you say?”

“I kind of just said…sure,” she answered.

“It was more of a—” Peeta gave them a half-hearted shrug that looked believably like something she would do. “—followed by a less-than-enthusiastic ‘Sure.’” He put an arm around Katniss’ shoulders. “As if it were the most natural thing in the world for her to marry me.”

“You do love me.” Her head went to his shoulder. “Surly traits and all.”

In response, Peeta placed a kiss on her temple.  “I wouldn’t have you any other way.”

“You two are just too good to be real!” Effie exclaimed. “I’ll leave you to finish unpacking. Also, tomorrow we’ll be having a little get-together in the backyard so you can meet the neighbors. I think you’re going to fit in here perfectly.”

She smiled at them dreamily.

I’m just going to leave you to…christen your new place. Let me know if you need anything.”

With that, Effie closed the apartment door behind her.

“Did she give us permission to bone all over the apartment?”

Peeta smirked. “I’m game if you are.”

Katniss reached into an open box, throwing a cushion in his direction.

He chuckled, catching the cushion easily.

“I’ll take that as a no.” Going to her, Peeta pressed a kiss to her cheek. “Welcome home, Mrs. Mellark.”

 

 

End of Part One…

 

This was inspired by a meme about dating in the Bay Area. Also, I’ve been watching Tales of the City on Netflix.

The current average rate for an one-bedroom apartment rental in San Francisco is $3,609, while rent in the neighborhood of Noe Valley runs at about $3,206. The lowest rental rate is in Treasure Island, which is the halfway point across the Bay Bridge, and is $2,616.

Just some food for thought on how ridiculous it is to live in the Bay Area…but damn do I love living here.

Next: Meeting the neighbors

Till then, JLaLa

 

Chapter Text

 

Rent Control

Part Two

It was stupid that they didn’t think about this earlier.

Katniss and Peeta stood in the bedroom, eyes on the mattress in front of them. It was covered with a plush comforter—soft blue with grey tones—purchased by Katniss in all her excitement. The dresser adjacent to it was whitewood and atop was a flat screen television, brought from Peeta’s former apartment.

“Why did we never talk about sleeping arrangements?” she asked.

“Maybe because we’ve been so busy concocting a fake marriage that it slipped our minds?” Peeta responded.

“There’s always the couch,” Katniss said. “I can bring my blankets there.”

“No, I can sleep on the couch,” Peeta told her. “Only…”

She turned to him. “Only what?”

“Do you have a couch?” he asked. “Cinna is taking ours.”

“Shit!” Katniss smacked her palm to her forehead. “My couch didn’t belong to me…it was part of my apartment. Just another thing that we forgot.” She crawled onto the bed and laid back. “Let’s get a sofa next Saturday. We’ll rent a van and go to IKEA.”

“And, until then?” Peeta questioned from where he stood in front of her.

“The bed is big enough,” she told him. “If you promise to not sleep naked, fart, or snore—you can just sleep here. It’s not a big deal. I used to share a bed with my little sister, Prim.”

“Yeah…Prim doesn’t get morning erections.” Peeta scooted himself into bed and laid back next to her. “But damn, this is comfortable.” Their eyes met and he flicked her chin. “Are you sure? I can sleep on the floor.”

“No, we’re a team now.” Katniss twisted to meet his eyes. “We have to take care of each other as all fake couples do. Also, beautiful as this place is, sleeping on the floor sucks.”

“Okay, as long as you’re not weirded out,” he relented. “So, out of curiosity and because I should probably know this, why did you come to San Francisco?”

“Don’t laugh at me,” Katniss warned. “I followed a boy here. He went to San Francisco State while I went to University of San Francisco. I thought I was in love and, for a while, so did he.”

“USF, huh?” Peeta mused, his eyes on her laid out form. “Then, what happened?”

“Gale realized that there was more out there than the girlfriend that followed him all the way from their little Connecticut town. He told me he needed to find himself…aka date other girls.”

“Was this recent?” Peeta asked.

“No. That was years ago during my Freshmen year.” She sighed; it had been a long time since she thought of Gale. “Thank goodness there are so many crevices in this city to avoid your ex in.” Her eyes met his and Katniss smiled ruefully. “And, what’s your story?”

“My family owns a pretty prominent bakery in D.C., and I wanted to expand the business here,” Peeta explained. “I have a business degree from State and I’m still trying to convince my mother that opening a Mellark Bakery in San Francisco will be profitable.”

“Any nightmare exes that I should know about?” she questioned.

“I dated Delly,” he said.

“Delly from the bagel shop down the block from Johanna’s?” Katniss frowned. “Their bagels are shit! I don’t know if I’m more bothered by you dating her or by the bagels.”

Peeta guffawed. “Why would you be bothered?”

“I literally got the runs from there and Delly was not very nice when I told her about my bagel poisoning.” She grimaced, remembering her frequent trips to her not-so-clean commode. “I’m only telling you this because every husband should know about his wife’s one-time food poisoning.”

“Yeah, I think she was very insecure about you,” he explained. “You know Delly didn’t get that job at Johanna’s and then you swooped in. Me and you were…are pretty tight and she didn’t appreciate me giving you coffee for free.”

“I’m guessing that she thought ‘coffee’ was code for your penis,” Katniss said. “Can’t imagine what she thought cream was code for.”

Peeta snorted. “That’s been over for a long time. However, I’d avoid the bagel place now that we’re ‘united’ as man and wife.”

++++++

It had been a long time since Katniss had slept so comfortably.

The morning light was still low, just barely shining threw the bamboo curtains, and the room was still comfortably warm. In her last apartment, her nights were usually stuffy and warm while her mornings were frigidly cold.

Here in her new apartment, Katniss felt like the Goldilocks of San Francisco—this place was just right.

There was a shift and her gaze went to Sleeping Handsome, peacefully dozing next to her. Peeta shifted, an arm going over his eyes, and her own wandering eyes went to the small expanse of skin that had been exposed in his stretch.

Right above his belly button and just above his hips was smooth skin except for one bit—the happy trail leading down…

This arrangement was going to be harder than she thought.

It had also been way too long since anyone, including herself, had touched her lady bits.

Katniss, against her better judgement, lifted the comforter for a quick glance. “Huh.”

True to his word, Peeta did indeed have morning erections.

“Keep looking at it and I’ll have to charge you.” Her eyes met his sleepy smirk. “Good morning, wife.”

“Good morning…you,” she managed to stammer. “Just wanted to see if you were just bluffing about the morning wood.”

“Nope,” he responded. “Just a little factoid; it’s a bitch to pee with.”

Katniss rolled her eyes. “You’re making my mouth water.”

Peeta sat up and growled. “It likes your voice.”

She chuckled and ruffled his already mussed locks. “I’ll turn around so you can go to the bathroom first.” There was a shuffle and quick steps heading to the bathroom. Katniss turned back around when she heard the bathroom door close. “Any plans for today?”

“I took two days off for the move so pretty much opening up the rest of the boxes,” Peeta called out from behind the door. “Can’t wait to get all my baking stuff into the kitchen.”

“Does this mean that I can expect breakfast pastries every day?” she asked.

“Maybe if you’re a good girl,” he told her.

Katniss laughed. “Ohh…kinky.”

Peeta suddenly let out a shout. “Damnit!”

“What happened?”

“I told you,” he replied. “It likes you.”

It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him that she might be getting fond of it herself.

++++++

“So, this is your sister?” Peeta stared at the teenager with the sunny hair and even sunnier smile, hugging a newly graduated Katniss in the photo. “You two look like you’re close.”

“Yes.” Katniss placed the freshly cleaned frame to the side before reaching into the box for another framed photo. “These are my parents when they first met in the 70s.”

She handed the frame to Peeta, who sat next to her on their newly placed living room rug.

“Your dad had a killer moustache…and those bell-bottoms!” He peered at the photo before looking to her. “You look a lot like your mom, except for the coloring.”

“I have that crochet halter top that she’s wearing,” she told him. “It’s kind of how I got into fashion. My mom kept all these great pieces from when she was a teenager. I used to rework them for me to wear. That halter I kept the same because it was the top that she wore when she met my dad.”

Peeta smiled, his blue eyes warm.

“The more I hear about your life, the more fascinated I am with you,” he said. “Why haven’t we really talked the whole time we’ve known each other?”

Katniss shrugged. “We’ve been so busy trying to survive that I guess we just never thought to.” She went back to organizing her photos. “I like getting to know these little bits of you.” Her hands reached for the plate of scrambled eggs and bacon to her side. “I like that you spent a whole summer with your dad trying to make the perfect scrambled eggs…and that you go to the deli to get your bacon.” Then, her gaze went to the beautiful watercolor hanging on the wall adjacent to the fireplace. “I like that you learned to paint to impress a girl but ended up just loving to paint.”

“Just one of my many quirks.” Peeta stood up, taking her frames, and going to the mantle to place them. “I have a box with some photos of my family, too.” He paused for a moment. “My mom and I…well, we’re not exactly as close as you are with your parents.”

She joined him at the mantle. “Why not?”

He placed the photo of her parents on the mantle distractedly, his gaze somewhere else.

“I’ve always been trying to prove myself to her,” Peeta explained. “I’m not the smart one. That title belongs to my oldest brother, Bran and I’m not as successful as my lawyer brother, Alex. I’m just…me—and that doesn’t seem to be good enough for her.”

Her hand reached for his shoulder, squeezing it gently. “You, Peeta Mellark, are the good one.” He turned to her. “You offer free coffees to a girl because you know she can barely afford bread and you pretend to be her husband so she won’t sleep on the streets. Those are all the qualities of a good heart…and a good husband, even if it’s not real. You’ve saved me in so many ways.”

Suddenly, Katniss found herself in his arms.

Peeta pressed his nose into her hair. “Thank you, Katniss.” He took a deep breath and she shivered at the sensation. “You saved me, too.”

“How exactly did I do that?”

Peeta sighed into her skin. “I’m not sure yet…but I can’t wait to find out.”

++++++

“Katniss! We have to get going!” Peeta buttoned his lightweight flannel before suddenly stopping halfway up. It was a bit warm for a San Francisco afternoon which was fortunate for this welcome party, but annoying on the clothing front. “Do you think I should button this?”

“No, just leave it open,” Katniss replied as she entered the room. “I love the V-necks on guys nowadays. The manbun however—what?”

“You’re wearing that top?” he managed to sputter.

Katniss twirled, allowing him to enjoy the sexiness of the top on his pseudo-wife. The burnt-orange linen skirt she wore danced around her ankles, and on her feet were a pair of camel-colored sandals.

“We were talking about it and how it really got me into fashion, so I pulled it out of my closet,” she replied. Katniss caught his wide eyes and her smile fell from her lips. “What?”

“It’s just…wow.” Peeta circled her closely, taking in the cream crochet top that covered everything that needed to be covered quite strategically. “You just look beautiful. Shit—I really can’t stop looking at what that top is covering! I’m really sorry I’m such a perv—”

Katniss chuckled. “No, this top is just made to be looked at. How do you think my mom got my dad?” She grinned wickedly. “Thank goodness for the NuBra…because my mom didn’t wear anything under this—”

“Way too much information on my fake mother-in-law,” he told her. “And what the hell is a NuBra?”

“It’s basically like bra cups with some stick.” Katniss held her hand up like cups to demonstrate. “And you’d just lean over—”

Peeta put his palm up. “Okay, stop. I’ll never be able walk down there comfortably.” He let out a breath. “Just give me a minute.”

“It’s not horrible for us to look like we’re sexually into each other,” she informed him carefully. “It’s human nature to be attracted…to feel heat when people are so close together. Trust me—we’re going to have a lot of these moments.”

His hand went to her shoulder and a shock of electricity rushed through her.

Then, she felt that telltale twist in her pelvis and her knees suddenly felt weak.

Her throat felt dry. “Peeta…” Her voice came out low, that last syllable trembling as it escaped her lips.

His mouth suddenly replaced that spot on her shoulder, that roughness of his lips exciting her to the tips of her toes. “Katniss, you’re making this really hard on me.”

She closed her eyes. “I’m trying not to.”

Fingers played with the strings tied at the nape of her neck.

Just one tug and it would all fall down…

There was a knock on the door.

“Katniss! Peeta!” It was Effie. “We’re just about ready. Come down soon!”

It was Peeta who found his voice first. “We’ll be right down!” His eyes went to Katniss’. “This isn’t over.”

She found a smirk rising on her lips.

“God, I hope not.”

++++++

They stepped into the backyard and Peeta’s hand reached to clasp hers. “Whoa.”

“It’s like we’re in a secret garden!” Katniss practically squealed as they walked under the flowered archway. The scent of roses immediately danced on her nostrils. “This is gorgeous.”

“I’m glad you like it.” They turned and found a dark-haired man with tortoise-shell glasses at the grill. He walked towards them and Katniss couldn’t help but admire his elegant gait. “I’m Beetee Latier. I tend to this garden and I also live right above you.”

Peeta reached to shake his hand. “I’m Peeta Mellark and this is my wife, Katniss.”

Beetee looked to her, a small smile on his lips. “Katniss…interesting name.”

“You know your plants, obviously.” She turned to Peeta. “In case you forgot, my name comes from an edible plant in wetlands.”

“So, I can eat you,” he responded bluntly.

Katniss had the good grace to blush.

“Ah, young love,” Beetee interrupted with a light laugh. “I’ve known Effie and Haymitch even before they bought this building and you both remind me of them—spunky.”

“And we love spunk.” Haymitch walked over, meat patties on a plate. “Here you go.” He handed them to Beetee. “I see you’ve met our resident genius horticulturist. Don’t let his soft-spoken nature fool you. He’s done a lot for the city of San Francisco.”

Katniss looked to him in interest. “Really?”

“Nothing illegal and also I’m not at liberty to say. What Haymitch didn’t mention is that I’m retired now,” Beetee added, taking the plate and placing some of the patties on the grill.

Haymitch grinned. “Yes. Now, he sings Motown to the flowers to make them grow.”

“Hello, hello!” Effie rushed over to them giving them each a kiss on the cheek. “Finnick, Annie, and Jack are on their way down. Annie’s just walking a little slower these days.” She looked to Katniss and Peeta. “They’re having twins.”

“Sorry we’re late!” A handsome man with a shock of red hair entered the archway, a bowl in one hand and a dark-haired toddler under his opposite arm. “Here’s some potato salad, Effie.” Their landlord rushed over, taking the bowl. The man then went over to Katniss. “Here’s Jack.”

He held out the little one and instinctively Katniss took him into her arms.

The man chuckled. “I can’t believe you actually fell for that. Now he’ll never let you go,” he told her. “I’m Finnick Odair and the craziness in your arms is Jack.”

“Katniss…Mellark.” She nodded over at Peeta. “Peeta, my husband.”

“Nice to meet you both,” Peeta said, shaking Finnick’s hand and waving at Jack, who had now settled in Katniss’ arms, playing with the delicate design of her top. “Careful with that, Jack. One tug and that thing will dissolve into dust.”

“So, you’ve had experience with that top,” a light voice said. A pretty brunette in a cerulean maternity dress waddled over, a bright smile on her face. “I’m Annie Odair—and this is my huge stomach.”

Jack pointed at his mother’s tummy. “Twinsies.”

Finnick went to his wife, helping her into a lawn chair.

“Careful, love. One move and you might jostle them out.”

“Sometimes, I wonder how they even happened,” Annie groaned before looking to Effie.

The older woman was suddenly very interested in the buffet setup at the far end of the yard.

“What did Effie do?” Katniss asked as she settled into the seat next to Annie, Jack in her lap.

“We moved in a few months ago,” Annie explained. “Effie offered to watch Jack so we could unpack…and christen the apartment.” She waved her hand over her belly. “And, here we are.”

++++++

“So, Effie and Haymitch told us how you got engaged,” Finnick said, a sleeping Jack in his arms. “How did you guys meet?”

It was later in the day and they had just finished eating. Beetee was a whiz at the grill, explaining that he once worked at a Mel’s Drive-In. Annie, who owned her own restaurant, had been the one to make the potato salad, which was delicious, and Katniss had her fill. Effie and Haymitch were currently preparing dessert—homemade sorbet with assorted fruits.

“Well, I work at a boutique nearby and Peeta works at the coffee shop next door,” Katniss said. She turned to Peeta. “But for some reason, I can’t recall…”

Peeta grinned at her. “She was so distracted since she was training. I just kind of waltzed into her life,” he told her, taking her hand. “I do remember the first time I saw her.”

Katniss shifted in her seat. “You do?”

“Of course. How could I not remember the day my world turned right side up?” he replied, not quite meeting her eyes. Peeta turned back to their neighbors. “I was heading to my shift and my eyes caught the display window of her store…and there she was. Katniss was, of course, distracted because she was changing the mannequin into these really wide pants—”

“Gauchos,” Katniss supplied. “My first window display.”

That was nearly two years ago—had it been that long?

“Oh right—and I just thought to myself that if I could get this beautiful girl to just look at me—maybe even smile at me—then life would be nothing less than perfect,” he told them.

Katniss remembered that day; she had been setting up the display when the hairs on the back of her neck suddenly stood up. Her eyes went to the street only to find no one, just the backside of a blond heading into the coffee shop next door. She brushed it off, thinking that she was nervous about what Johanna would think.

Later that night, Katniss headed into the coffee shop for her 15-minute break. Peeta had been at the counter to take her order.

And, she remembered—that same electricity happened, her hairs stood on their ends at the sight of him.

“Thank you for telling me that,” she murmured, her eyes feeling misty.

Peeta blushed. “My pleasure.”

“I love that,” Annie said, her green eyes glazed at the romantic tale. “It was meant to be.” She nodded at Finnick. “I met old what’s-his-face because he was one of my waiters.”

“I was a horrible one,” Finnick explained. “It was only because Annie as a chef is really scary…but sexy. I just got so nervous around her.”

“Finally, I had to fire him,” she told them.

“And, when she did, I asked her out.”

They all chuckled at Finnick’s words as Effie and Haymitch approached, trays on their hands.

“Everyone seems to be getting along,” Effie said as she placed dessert on the table in front of them. She looked between the group as Haymitch and Beetee settled into their own chairs. “I’m just so happy that we all found each other…that Katniss and Peeta have completed our little family.” Her eyes shone and Effie wiped her eyes hastily. “So, before Haymitch tells me to quit with the waterworks, I’m just going to say welcome home, Katniss and Peeta. We hope one day you’ll think of this place as your own and us as your family.”

++++++

“I feel like the shittiest person alive,” Katniss said, later that night. She shifted in bed, turning to Peeta. “Are we the worst?”

Peeta sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe? The thing is that I do like it here. I like everyone.”

“You know that Annie and Finnick offered their old couch to us?” she told him. “They’re getting a sectional so that Jack and the twins will have somewhere to lounge around. Finnick even offered to help you bring it down here. Beetee said that he’ll help when the cable-and-internet guy comes over next week.” Her head went to his chest. “I like them, too.”

He put an arm around her, pulling her close. “Worst of all, lying to Effie and Haymitch…”

“They’re like our cool Aunt and Uncle,” she added. “Maybe we should move. I can beg Johanna to let me stay at her house—”

“No,” Peeta interrupted. He suddenly looked to her; his expression anxious. “Katniss, everything I said out there…it was real.”

“What do you mean?”

He reached, brushing a tendril of her hair away to tuck it behind her ear. The sudden gesture was so familiar yet so tender.

“Seeing you look at me—even smile at me that first time we met—it made me feel like life was nothing less than perfect,” he told her thickly. “And, it’s been that way ever since. Life is perfect when you’re with me, Katniss.”

Her hand found his cheek, her thumb grazing the stubble on his chin. He closed his eyes, savoring the sensation of her caress.

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

Peeta shrugged. “I was afraid. Afraid you would reject me…afraid to lose your friendship. I would have rather had you as a friend than not have you at all.”

Katniss let out a breath. “Peeta, why don’t we just admit that there is something here?”

His lips found home against her temple. “Because we don’t want to break…us.”

“We should give us a chance,” she admitted quietly.

Pushing up on his elbow, Peeta looked down at her, his eyes glowing in the dim light of the room. He leaned forward before suddenly stopping and chuckling softly.

“What?”

“I was just thinking about that crochet top,” he told her.

Katniss raised her a brow. “What about it?”

“Just wondering if I’ll get a chance to see it on you without that damn NuBra.”

She couldn’t help but laugh.

“Of course! Now, get over here!”

Without another word, Katniss pulled him down so their lips could finally meet.

 

End of Part Two

 

 

So, this seems pretty fast…but this was almost two years in the making for them.

Not like I’m going to make this easy on them, though.

Just an FYI—the boutique is based on one that I worked at many years ago. I loved the store and the product, but I hated the whole cutthroat aspect of trying to earn commission.

Mel’s Drive-In is a diner created in San Francisco that was originally a car hop. It’s mostly associated with the movie American Graffiti. Or, if you love older movies as I do, Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn visit one in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Anyway, I digress.

I’m not sure, but there might be a small time jump.

Also, I bet you’re wondering how this will end. I have three scenarios in my head and I’m not quite sure which it will be.

Till I decide, LaLa

P.S. They did end up “christening” the apartment.

Chapter Text

Rent Control

Part Three

One month later…

“Hey there, Mrs. Mellark!”

Katniss grinned at the dark-skinned man at the front counter. “Hey, Thresh! Is Peeta ready?”

“He’s just in the back finishing up with the inventory,” he informed her. “Feel free to go in and check on him—make sure he hasn’t drowned in coffee beans.”

She nodded, waving before rushing into the back room, her thoughts on everything that had happened since that first kiss. It had been an interesting month for them. They had decided to give ‘dating’ a try—and by dating she meant fantastic make-out sessions and mind-blowing sex.

If Katniss had known how great sex could be in her pretend marital bed, she may have considered marriage much sooner.

Part of her knew that it wasn’t all about the sex, there was also the ‘after’ of it all. The kisses against her sweaty temple, the feeling of his strong arms encircling her waist so she could play the small spoon. When Katniss was in her husband’s arms, she felt safe…and loved.

Ahh…love. That was a much more complicated subject between them.

“Peeta?” she called out as she opened the door to the breakroom. “You ready?”

Silence.

Katniss walked further down toward the open doorway of the stockroom, finding it empty.

“Where the hell is he?”

There was suddenly a set of arms rounding her waist and rough lips against her ear.

“Tell me—” Katniss groaned as teeth nipped gently on her lobe. “Does the smell of coffee do anything for you?”

She chuckled quietly, her hand reaching back to run her fingers through his pomade-maneuvered locks.

“I do adore a blond roast,” Katniss said as her hair was moved aside, and soft kisses were stamped on her neck. “Or a Sumatra…”

“Hey!” She turned as an indignant Peeta pulled away. “That’s Starbucks!” He put his hand to his forehead dramatically. “How could you?”

Laughing, Katniss wrapped her arms around his neck, her lips in a mock pout. “I’m sorry.”

Peeta grinned, his blue eyes shining at her. “At least you love a blond roast.” He planted a full kiss on her lips. “Hello, wife.”

“Hello, husband,” she greeted back. “Are you ready?”

“Peeta!” Thresh suddenly called out. “I’m heading out, locking the door behind me!”

“Got it!” Peeta called out. “See you tomorrow!”

Peeta turned back to her. “Just going to save my inventory numbers, then we can go.” Katniss nodded in agreement. “But, first…would you be interested in learning about our variety of roasts?”

She raised a brow. “What?”

He placed his hands on her shoulders, leading her towards the stock room.

Peeta’s mouth went behind her ear—her weak spot!—as he pressed himself against her backside.

Suddenly, she had a deep need to learn about coffee.

++++++

“You dirty, little sex monkey!”

“Mommy?”

Annie turned to Jack, playing on the rug adjacent to them.

“Sorry, honey…just excited about Aunt Katniss’ story!” After a wide-eyed Jack went back to playing with his blocks, Annie turned back to her friend. “I always wanted to try doing it at work.”

“You own a restaurant, so I’m sure it’s possible,” Katniss responded. “On the other hand, it sounds totally unsanitary.”

Annie and Jack had wandered up into the apartment when Finnick had cajoled Peeta into a game of one-on-one at a nearby park. It was the great part about living in the building; everyone had an open-door policy and it wasn’t unusual for the Odairs—or anyone else, for that matter—to just pop in. Katniss was more than happy to welcome the very pregnant mother and son into their much-more-decorated apartment.

More photos lined the mantle, including one from their welcome party featuring everyone in the building, gifted to them by Effie. The couch, previously owned by the Odairs, was charcoal grey and so plush that Katniss often found herself sinking into the cushions for a nap after a long day at the boutique. Peeta often found her passed out on it when he got home and would have to carry her into their bedroom.

Not like he minded.

Their cream and grey rug matched it perfectly and it had been cushy enough for them to lounge on when they had no furniture. Now Jack sat on it, looking up at Katniss adorably with his sea-green eyes.

“Yeah, but it’s the thrill of being caught.” Annie sighed; her eyes closed. “Oh, to be young and in love…”

Katniss laughed. “Annie! You’re the same age as me!”

“I know, but it’s hard to have alone time when you have a toddler starfishing in your bed,” her friend responded.

“Starfishing?”

Annie threw her arms and legs out. “See? Like a starfish. Finnick would have to maneuver over Jack to even hold my hand!”

“Poor, horny Annie.” Katniss patted her arm. “If you ever need us to babysit Jack, we would be happy to. Especially before the twins get here.”

Annie blinked back tears. “I would love that…I really am terribly horny.”

The two women burst into laughter.

“So, this is where the hot girls are!”

They looked to the doorway where Finnick and Peeta stood, matching grins on their faces.

“Daddy!” Jack ran to his father and Finnick easily scooped him up. “Horny.”

Peeta turned to the women on the couch.

“What exactly were you talking about?”

++++++

“So, why primroses?” Beetee asked as he knelt in front of the patch of soil. “I think they’re going to look great in the spring.”

Katniss settled next to him, handing him a spade so he could continue tending to the garden.

“Primrose is my sister’s name,” she explained. “And, besides Peeta—she is the person that I’m closest to.”

“That’s lovely.” Beetee sat back and gave her a gentle smile. “They are a perfect addition to our garden.”

Effie had informed her and Peeta that each new tenant contributed to the garden by picking out a plant or flower to be added, courtesy of Beetee. The tradition started when she and Haymitch first bought the building. They planted a lemon tree that stood in the back corner of the yard and it was used regularly by tenants as well as neighbors.

“How’s it going?” They turned to find Peeta walking over. Holding a hand out to Katniss, he helped her up before pressing a kiss to the top of her head. “The primroses look beautiful; your sister will be flattered that she’s an addition to the garden.”

“I’m going to send her a picture later,” Katniss informed him. A sweet breeze swept through the yard and she closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. “It’s the perfect weather today.”

“I agree,” Beetee said. “As an old girlfriend of mine said, this is date night weather.”

Peeta chuckled. “Seems like she was majorly hinting.”

Beetee shook his head. “Maybe that’s why we never passed the six-month mark. I was a bit dense in the romance department.” He grinned as he stood up. “What was your first date night like?”

“Uh…” Katniss suddenly felt jumbled, her brain going through many scenarios but not quite landing on the right one. “So…I can’t remember.” She turned to Peeta. “Sorry, babe.”

“Yeah, well, it isn’t your fault,” he told her easily before looking to Beetee. “We never had a real official date. It was more like coffee hangouts and movie nights.”

“Well, get on that boy!” Beetee pronounced.

Peeta turned to her. “How would you like to go on a date?” His cheeks were tinged pink with embarrassment. “One without coffee or Netflix.”

Katniss found herself beaming at him. “I’d love to.”

++++++

“I like that dress,” Peeta said from across the dinner table.

Katniss looked down at the flowy rust-orange dress before meeting his eyes once more.

“I borrowed it from Effie…actually I think she gave it to me. She said I had the hips for it—whatever that means.”

“I bet you it was better than the little talk that Haymitch gave me about not getting fresh with a lady,” he told her.

She leaned forward, making sure that he could see the bit of cleavage from the V-neck opening of the dress.

“But what if the lady wants to get fresh with you?”

“You’re going to get me in trouble,” Peeta replied as he reached for his very full glass of wine.

“I know, but I haven’t steered you wrong so far,” she told him. Her eyes looked around the cozy restaurant, furnished with wood tables and vintage chairs. “Annie did a great job with this place. It could use a greenery wall in the back to give more of that homey feel that it already has.”

“You’re definitely a Design Major.” Peeta gazed at her, his eyes lit with warmth. “Why did you decide on Johanna’s instead of going for a design firm? Not like it’s not great place or anything...”

Katniss shrugged. “I didn’t want to work under anyone. I always wanted to design on my own.” She met his eyes. “At least with Johanna, she gives me some sort of creative outlet. She’s less of a boss and more like a friend who happens to pay me.”

“You have free rein on the apartment, you know.” He reached over and took her hand. “Maybe when I finally get Mellark Bakery over to the west coast, you can design the layout for the space—if you’re not too in-demand by then.”

Katniss squeezed his hand in response. “I will always make time for you…for us.”

Peeta leaned down to press a kiss to her knuckles. “I hope that’s for a long time.”

She really…really hoped so, too.

“Katniss?”

Looking up, Katniss almost fell off her chair. “Gale?”

Her high school boyfriend stared at her nervously, his grey eyes fleeting between her and Peeta.

“I’m here with some work colleagues,” he informed her before nodding at the bar where a group of similarly suited men stood, along with a pretty blonde in a black dress who seemed to be staring her down. “Just a little catch-up with the firm.”

“Our neighbor is the executive chef and owner,” Peeta suddenly piped in.

Katniss gave his hand an assuring squeeze before looking to Gale. “This is Peeta Mellark—my husband.”

Gale looked taken aback but gathered himself quickly. “Gale Hawthorne—a friend of Katniss’.”

He held out his hand for Peeta to shake.

Peeta took his hand, shaking it, his own stare firm.

“Oh, come now—you’re a little more than that. Katniss and I don’t keep secrets from each other.”

“Yeah, I followed him here.” Her eyes went to Peeta, her lips rising in a smile. “But if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have met you.”

“Then, I guess I owe Gale,” he replied, his own gaze on her. Peeta looked up at the man. “Thank you for bringing her to me.”

“No problem…I guess,” Gale said tightly. “Listen, I have to get going, but it was great seeing you again—and it was great meeting you, Peeta.”

“Of course,” they chorused together.

Katniss met Gale’s eyes. Once upon a time, she couldn’t look at him without swooning and after they broke up, she couldn’t think about him without her chest squeezing in pain.

Now, as she looked at him, she felt nothing.

“Goodbye, Gale.”

Giving her a tight smile, he stumbled off to rejoin his group.

Peeta looked. “You okay?”

Katniss nodded, cupping his cheek before leaning across the table to place a gentle kiss on his lips. Her heart leapt hearing his content sigh against her mouth.

They pulled apart, their eyes never straying from one another.

“I’ve never been better,” she told him as they stood to leave.

Together, they walked hand in hand out of the restaurant.

They didn’t even notice Gale frantically texting on his phone.

++++++

“Do you think you got enough flour?” Katniss teased as they walked into their apartment building. “I mean, I can understand one bag, but four…you are insane.”

“You have to understand that these are not just any old flours,” Peeta said, his arm reaching around her waist to pull her close. “One is regular white flour, one is coconut, one is almond, and the other whole wheat. They may seem the same, but they have different effects. Plus, they are all local. Imagine if I opened Mellark Bakery, I would need a place to buy flour and why not local?”

“Farmers’ Markets have never been this interesting.” Katniss reached into her bag as they reached their floor. “I have to drop off some stuff to Annie and Beetee. Come with me?”

“Of course.” Together, they walked up the flight of stairs and into the open door of the Odairs’ apartment. “Hello?”

On the weekends, everyone usually left their door open for visits from one another. It had been an interesting first weekend for them when Effie came knocking and they had to scramble to make themselves presentable.

“We’re in here!” Finnick’s voice came from the back of the apartment. “Bedroom!”

“You better not be naked!” Katniss responded as they carefully walked down the hallway to the room. “I brought the honey that Annie wanted.”

“Please don’t tell us that you’re doing something that you’ll need the honey for!” Peeta said as he closed his eyes.

Katniss peeked into the room, letting out a sigh. “Open your eyes, Peeta.”

Annie, Finnick, and Jack were all on the bed, their friend’s belly exposed.

“Hey Mellarks,” Finnick greeted with a jaunty smile. “We were just listening to the babies.”

It was then that they noticed the pair of earbuds resting on Annie’s stomach along with a small box.

“It’s to catch the fetal heartbeat,” Annie explained as she scooted up. She turned the box over to show them a small probe as she placed an earbud in one of her ears. “All I do is move it…here.” Annie handed Katniss the other earbud. “Listen.”

Carefully, Katniss sat on the edge of the bed next to Annie and took the earbud, placing it in her ear.

“Hear that?” Annie said to her. “That galloping is the heartbeat of one of the twins.”

Katniss felt her heart pound when the sound of galloping hit her ears. “I hear it!” Her mouth rose into a grin. “That’s amazing!”

Her eyes met Peeta’s, warmth in his own. For a moment, Katniss wondered how he might be like as a father. Probably great—better than she would be as a mother, anyway.

She turned back to Annie, who beamed at her. “I know that look.” Her friend nodded at her husband in the doorway. “It’s that look guys get when they’re trying to figure out how to plant their seed in you.”

“That’s…descriptive,” Katniss replied. “But, it’s still so early for that.”

“Are you sure?” Annie questioned, peering at her curiously. “We’re the same age and I had Jack about three years ago...but it might be different for you two.”

Looking back at Peeta, Katniss felt her heart sink at the thought that maybe later he might be having children with someone else.

“Yeah, maybe,” she managed to muster.

++++++

“Gorgeous artichokes,” Beetee said as he peeked into the bag that Peeta handed him. “Thanks for bringing these over.” He placed them on his kitchen island. “An old friend of mine is coming down from Portland and I’m cooking her dinner tonight.”

“Friend, huh?” Katniss chuckled seeing the man go scarlet.

“I’ve known Wiress since forever,” he told them plainly.

“But sometimes it can become more,” Peeta said. “Katniss and I were friends for a good few months then, all of a sudden, it was like I couldn’t live without her.”

She whipped around. “Really?”

Peeta went to her, lifting her chin. “I mean, who could live without these smoky eyes?” His hand went to her cheek. “Or these freckles?” Leaning down, he traced her lips with his thumb. “Or this bow on her lip?”

“Very descriptive,” Beetee told them with a small smile. “I will keep that in mind.” There was a beep and the man reached into his pocket to pull out his phone. “Effie is calling you down.”

“We have to get these into our place and then we’ll head over,” Peeta said. “I’ll bring up a loaf for tonight’s special dinner. It will go great with that raspberry spread that we got you.”

“Thanks.” The man waved them off. “Now, go—you’ve made me nervous!”

They laughed as they walked down the flight of stairs to their floor.

“I wonder what Effie wants,” Peeta said as they took their last step down.

“Probably just wondering what our plans are for tonight,” Katniss said.

He put an arm around her. “I was hoping for a quiet night of me and you—and The Great British Bake Off.”

Katniss quickly pressed a kiss to his lips as they stepped into their apartment.

“As long as you cook then I’m game for anything.”

“Katniss Everdeen—how could you!”

She turned to find her mother standing in front of them, the framed photo of their ‘wedding’ in her hands.

++++++

“Mom?”

Katniss was definitely the spitting image of the woman standing in front of them.

Except this woman looked pissed.

“Katniss!” A young blonde suddenly appeared and hugged his wife. Peeta recognized Prim immediately, despite the fact that she wasn’t wearing pigtails like her photo on their mantle. When Prim pulled away, her blue eyes were panicked, and the girl got closer to Katniss. “I was texting you…”

“My phone service sucks,” Katniss said, quietly bewildered. “It’s hard to get a signal when you’re on the train.”

Prim looked between them. “Why did you never mention…” She looked to Peeta. “…him?”

Katniss turned to him. “We are so fucked.”

The sound of laughter echoed in the hall and they all turned to find Effie and Haymitch, accompanied by a dark-haired man. They were all holding glasses of what was looked like Haymitch’s favorite rum.

“Katniss, your father is such a charmer,” Effie said as they entered the apartment. The woman went to her, eyebrows furrowed. “You look grey.”

“Stephen.” They all looked to Katniss’ mother, still gripping the wedding photo. “Look.”

Katniss let out a pained moan and Peeta pulled her close to keep her from keeling over.

Her father took the photo, staring at it for a moment before giving it back to his wife.

Silently, he walked over to them and Peeta braced himself. Katniss’ father was a burly man and he had that look about him—like he could hurl his daughter’s fake husband down the building’s stairs.

“Congratulations, baby,” he said softly before holding his hand out to Peeta. “Stephen Everdeen—your father-in-law.”

Carefully, Peeta shook his father-in-law’s hand—just in case it was a trick and he was actually going to break his wrist.

Katniss lifted her head from his shoulder to look at her dad. “You’re not mad?”

“When Hazelle called and told us that Gale insisted that we come to San Francisco, I thought the worst!” he informed her.

“This isn’t the worst-case scenario?” his wife suddenly burst out.

“Katniss, Peeta—you hid this from your parents?” Effie scolded. “For a year?”

“You’ve been married for a year?” Katniss’ mother screeched.

“Robin, you made it seem like something terrible happened—like she had married Gale!” Her dad said. He looked to where Katniss and Peeta clung to one another. “This I can deal with. I mean, he looks completely harmless.”

Peeta wasn’t sure if he felt insulted or flattered. Behind him, Haymitch guffawed at the man’s words.

“I didn’t realize that you hated my best friend’s son that much.” Katniss’ mother had crossed her arms, scowling at her husband.

“Honey, that is not what I meant.” Stephen went to his wife. “You know that he was a tool who dropped our daughter like a hot potato as soon as he discovered the joy of college girls. Is that what you wanted for our girl?”

“No,” Katniss’ mother said petulantly. “But, married for a year?” She looked to Katniss, her eyes watering. “Why not tell us?”

“We’re sorry,” Katniss said quietly. “We planned to, but then it just got too hard.”

“And, before we knew it, it was a year,” Peeta finished for them. “My parents don’t know either, if that helps.”

“It doesn’t,” Prim told him bluntly. “I’m Prim, by the way…your sister-in-law.”

There was a sharp whistle and they all turned to see Haymitch at the doorway.

“Now that we are all caught up, might I suggest that we get some rest and then meet up for dinner in the backyard,” their landlord said. “Mr. and Mrs. Everdeen will stay in our guest room. Prim can stay on Katniss and Peeta’s couch, if that’s okay with her.”

“I’m cool with that,” Prim said, eyeing the couple.

“Robin, would you like a drink?” Effie asked, approaching Katniss’ still shell-shocked mother.

The woman nodded and, with a wink from their landlord, Robin was whisked off to the Abernathy apartment.

Immediately after the apartment door across shut, Prim turned on them.

“Now, what’s really going on?”

++++++

“Oh shit.”

Peeta set down the plate of buns and homemade jam before joining Katniss and Prim on their couch.

“Yeah, I know,” Katniss agreed as she took Peeta’s hand. It had taken an hour to explain the whole complicated tale that they had woven to Prim—enough time for Peeta to start therapeutically baking. “But, we’re happy.”

He kissed the side of her head. “We are.”

“But, you’re lying,” Prim replied as she took a bun and tore it open. “Everyone thinks you’re married!” She looked to Peeta as she took the butter knife on the plate and smeared jam all over the bun. “Your parents don’t even know. How long do you think you can keep this up?”

“We had agreed on a year,” Katniss told her sister. “But, you’re right, we should tell everyone.”

Prim took a bite of the bun and her eyes went wide. “Oh damn! This is delicious!” She looked to Peeta and grinned through her chews. “Now I can understand why my sister pretend-married you. She can’t cook anything.”

“Hey!” Katniss looked to her sister incredulously. “That’s not fair. His family has a bakery!”

“I’m not with Katniss because of any of that,” Peeta told her sister. “I care for her. I want to be with her—for as long as she wants…”

Katniss felt her eyes burn at his words. “You do?”

Peeta pressed his forehead to hers, his blue eyes glowing. “I do.”

“You two are just the cutest fakest couple ever,” Prim concluded as she polished off the last of the buns. “Are there any more?”

++++++

It was during dinner that the other shoe was dropped.

“I’ve decided that you’re going to have a proper wedding,” Katniss’ mother pronounced.

Everyone had gathered except for Beetee who was having his dinner with Wiress. Their neighbor had introduced her on everyone, a blush on his cheeks that matched the shy woman’s scarlet complexion.

The Odairs had joined them and, at Katniss’ insistence, Johanna. She could always count on Johanna to keep things civil—or be a distraction.

Katniss looked over to where her mother sat next to Effie, who apparently, she had become quite buddy-buddy with. “What?”

“Since you decided to leave us out of your official wedding, I think it’s only right that we have another ceremony with both our families,” her mother informed her.

“I think that’s a wonderful idea!” Effie agreed, her eyes bright. “However, that does take a lot of time—planning a wedding.”

“I used to be an event planner when the girls were still little,” Robin explained. “So, it’s a no-brainer for me. Getting it done in two weeks might be a little difficult, but we can’t take any more time away since Stephen has so many patients that need him at the clinic.”

“Two weeks?” The comment came from Peeta, who had suddenly gone pale. Underneath the table, the grip on Katniss’ hand had suddenly tightened. “And, I haven’t told my parents—”

“No need,” Katniss’ mother replied. “I have already called them and introduced myself. They should be arriving in a day or two.”

“How did you even get their contact information, mom?” Prim asked, next to Johanna.

Haymitch cleared his throat. “I might’ve had Beetee get their contact information.” He avoided Katniss’ glare. “Also, Google.”

“I have a great idea,” Effie said. “We can do the ceremony here in the garden, along with the reception. There’s more than enough room…and I know someone who can design a lovely arch for the ceremony to take place under.”

“I can do the catering,” Annie added from her seat. “I know a few bakeries willing to make a wedding cake for me, too.”

“I’ll take care of the music,” Finnick said, rubbing his wife’s back. “Beetee can help with connecting a sound system.”

Robin nodded in approval until she reached Johanna. “And, what will you contribute?”

For the first time since Katniss had met Johanna, she could tell that her friend was flustered.

“Um…I guess bridesmaid dresses and such?”

“What about a wedding gown?” her mother probed.

Johanna squirmed. “I don’t think I have anything like that—"

“Wait! Katniss can use mine!” Effie called out excitedly. “It was awhile ago, but I think the silhouette is still in fashion.” She smiled warmly at Katniss. “It would be an honor if you would.”

Katniss could see the tears in Effie’s eyes—how could she refuse?

She turned to Peeta who looked like he was about to faceplant into his plate any moment now, before turning to her landlord.

“I would love that.”

++++++

“I’m exhausted.” Katniss flopped on the bed, closing her eyes as Peeta joined her wearily. “You okay?”

“Other than the fact that both of our families have swarmed into our lives like locusts?” He chuckled quietly. “I guess I’m okay.” She opened her own eyes to find him gazing at her. “Come here. I need to hold you.”

She shifted to lay her head on his chest, her arm splaying across his stomach. “I’m sorry that this is such a mess.”

“When do we tell them?” he asked her.

“When your parents arrive.” she suggested.

Peeta turned his head towards her. “Katniss, I’m not ready to give you up.”

She looked up at him, her hand reaching for his cheek. “Neither am I…does it have to end badly though?”

“Effie and Haymitch…everyone else…they’re going to hate us,” Peeta replied. “I don’t want them to.”

“I know.” Katniss swallowed the lump in her throat. “They’re like…”

“Family,” he finished for her. “And, Katniss, you know…” Peeta stopped to sit them both up, his expression serious before meeting her stare. “You know that I lo—”

“KATNISS! PEETA! Open up!”

They shot out of bed, pulling open their door and heading down the hallway to the frantic knocking coming from their front door.

Prim sat up sleepily from the couch. “W-What’s going on?”

Opening the door, they found Finnick with Jack in his arms and a panting Annie, holding a bag.

“It’s time,” he told them before handing Jack to Peeta. Thankfully, the little boy was fast asleep. “We’ll call you guys as soon as we can.”

“Of course,” Peeta agreed, patting Jack’s back.

“Do you have everything?” Katniss asked. “Or, do you need us to call anyone?”

“No…” Annie breathed out. “We have no other family…just you guys…”

Katniss felt something tighten in her chest at her friend’s words.

“Of course.” She gave Annie and Finnick a hug. “Don’t worry. We’ll take care of Jack.”

“Good luck,” Peeta added.

Closing the door, they looked at one another then at Prim, who was already falling back asleep, before their eyes went to Jack.

“I guess we have another addition to our bed,” Katniss whispered.

Peeta shifted the toddler in his arms. “Guess so.”

Prim snorted, somewhere between dreams and sleep.

“Perfect birth control for those imaginary children that you’re trying to prevent!”

Katniss chuckled, ignoring her sister’s words. “Let’s get him to the room.”

It was later that night as she watched Jack and Peeta sleep that she realized just how much Prim’s remark had affected her.

Katniss did want children. Deep inside—in that small vulnerable space that she kept hidden away—is where she admitted that she maybe wanted them with Peeta.

++++++

Within the next few days, there were several new additions to the building.

Sarah and Rose Odair arrived in the wee hours of the morning. While born early, both were perfectly healthy, and sporting their father’s fiery locks. Annie and the girls were released after a day or two and everyone, especially Effie, were excited for their arrival.

Peeta, along with Stephen and Haymitch, helped build the nursery since the parents didn’t have the chance. It was then that Peeta got to know his faux father-in-law. He was an oncologist at a prominent hospital and clinic where his hours were long, but the job was fulfilling.

“What do you want to do career-wise?” Stephen asked as they sat in the half-done nursery, which was also Jack’s room—whenever he decided to sleep in it.

“My parents own a bakery in Washington D.C. It’s called Mellark Bakery, of course,” Peeta started. “And, I wanted to expand it to the West Coast. I majored in Business and created a pretty solid plan…but they still need convincing.”

Stephen chuckled as he finished bolting one side of the crib that the twins would be sharing.

“I’ve been there,” the man told him. “My parents were unsure of my plans to go to medical school. I was a bit of rebel—caused all kinds of trouble in high school—and so they also needed convincing. Hand me that flathead?”

Peeta handed him the necessary screwdriver. “And, how did you convince them?”

“I didn’t. Robin did,” Stephen said. “She has a lot of conviction—like Katniss.” He went back to tightening the bolt. “Maybe you might want to have Katniss convince your parents.”

Peeta shook his head. “I wouldn’t want her to do that. I mean, I’m glad she supports me, but I need them to have faith in me—if this business plan is going to work.”

Stephen stopped, placing the screwdriver down, before turning to him.

“That’s how I know you’ll be good for my girl. You want her to walk beside you, not behind or in front. You’re equals. I love my wife, but she had a lot of work when she took me on!” The man laughed. “And if Katniss had been with Gale, she would be his little wife, playing hostess and such. I never wanted that for her.”

“If anyone really knows Katniss, they would know that she was never meant to be on the sidelines.”

The man grinned at him, patted his shoulder, before they both fell back into working on the crib.

++++++

The Mellarks showed up the day after the twins came home. They arrived in a black Sedan, smartly dressed, and obviously curious about Peeta’s life in San Francisco.

Peeta’s father, Christopher, was tall and sandy-haired—it was obvious where Peeta had inherited his kind, blue eyes and bright smile from. Katniss almost swooned; she would never admit it to anyone though, thinking that Peeta would be the mirror image of his father when he was older.

Peeta’s mother, Daphne, was petite and slender with ice-blue eyes and a sharp face. However, when she saw Peeta, her mouth broke into a wide smile, bringing warmth to her expression.

“Darling!” She kissed her son on the cheek, pressing a bright-red lip imprint on him. “You look wonderful!”

Peeta raised his brows in confusion. “I do?”

“Happier,” his mother said before looking to Katniss. “This must be Katniss.” Daphne reached out her hand for Katniss to take. “I’m Daphne Mellark—your mother-in-law.”

“It’s wonderful to meet you, Mrs. Mellark,” Katniss said congenially.

“Please, call me Daphne…or Mom!” The woman told her.

“Daphne! Is that you?” Katniss’ mom was suddenly embracing the woman excitedly; the two were practically bouncing. “You’re just in time! Effie and I were just working on Katniss’ dress!”

“I can’t wait to see it!” Daphne exclaimed.

The two rushed off, hand in hand and skipping away.

“That was…weird,” Peeta said.

“Like watching two cheerleaders pumping themselves up for a competition,” Katniss added with an amused smile.

“Your mother is just excited to have some female company,” Peeta’s father informed the two. He hugged Peeta before extending a hand to Katniss. “Christopher—your father-in-law.”

Katniss shook his hand. “Nice to meet you, sir…and can I just say—wow.”

The man laughed before pressing a kiss to her cheek. “I think you’re going to be a great addition to the family.”

“Where are Bran and Alex?” Peeta asked.

“They were heading up when Prim and Johanna accosted them in the backyard. Couldn’t resist that Mellark charm,” his father replied with a grin. “I’m going to head to Effie and Haymitch’s. Your father and Haymitch promised me a great whiskey tasting while your mothers take over your wedding.”

“Oh good,” Katniss said weakly.

Peeta put an arm around her. “Let’s go see my brothers.”

They all separated in the hallway and together, Katniss and Peeta made their way downstairs.

“I have to warn you,” Peeta started. “My brothers can be…boisterous.”

“That’s fine,” she replied as they walked into the backyard door. “I just saw our moms bouncing like two sorority sisters on spring break.”

Peeta laughed, kissing her affectionately on the cheek.

“PEETA!”

Katniss yelped, seeing the two figures rush towards them. She hurried away, joining Prim and Johanna, both staring shamelessly at the three blonds.

“Bran! Alex! Quit it!” Peeta yelled.

“Oh no, little brother!” one of them responded.

“It’s time for the Mellark roundup—and you get to be in the middle!” the other added.

Katniss along with Prim and Johanna watched as the brothers jumped, Peeta helplessly in the middle, and began to shout:

“Mellark! Mellark! Mellark!”

“It’s like an all blond rugby match,” Katniss said in amazement.

“Or a really hot Swiss porn,” Johanna added.

“Can you see them in lederhosen?” Prim asked.

Simultaneously, they all tilted their heads trying to imagine the Mellark brothers in the get-up, suspenders and all.

They weren’t disappointed.

When the brothers separated, Peeta embraced them both before leading them to Katniss.

He reached for her hand, giving her a happy smile. “Bran, Alex—this is my Katniss.”

A rush of warmth engulfed her—she was his Katniss.

The taller blond in a business suit and leather loafers approached her. “Bran Mellark, the oldest…and the best.” He pressed a kiss to her cheek. “Congratulations. I can tell that Peeta has himself a great girl.”

Alex bounced over to her. His hair was much lighter, and his blues were more like Daphne’s. However, the roundness of them were Peeta and Christopher’s.

“Sis…” He lifted her off the ground. “I can’t believe that Peeta snagged you. You know I’m still available.” Alex winked flirtatiously.

“I much prefer this particular Mellark,” Katniss said, her hand going to Peeta’s shoulder.

“Well, now that you’re part of the family…” Alex looked to Bran and nodded.

“You have to be part of the Mellark round-up,” Bran finished.

Katniss shook her head. “I’m good.”

However, they were already sandwiching her and Peeta between them.

“This is like a fantasy and a nightmare all at the same time,” she told Peeta.

Peeta grimaced. “This is my nightmare.”

There was nothing she could do about it now because they were already jumping.

Prim rushed over, tripping over her feet. “Let me join in! I’m your sister, too!”

“Wait!” Johanna was never one to be left out. “Me, too!”

Katniss met Peeta’s eyes as both her sister and friend joined in on the chanting, their arms wrapped around their very own Mellark brother:

“Mellark! Mellark! Mellark!”

Katniss smiled wryly.

Now this is my nightmare.”

++++++

“Good evening, everyone.” Katniss’ father stood at the head of the table. “If we haven’t been properly introduced, I am Katniss’ father, Stephen. My wife along with Peeta’s parents, Christopher and Daphne, want to thank you for welcoming our families into your homes.” He looked out at the table of people, assembled outside in the backyard of the apartment. “We also want to thank Effie and Haymitch, who have welcomed our children, Katniss and Peeta, to become part of their makeshift family.”

Effie beamed and Haymitch put an arm affectionately around his wife’s shoulders.

“I know that it might seem fast to be having this wedding in a mere few days,” Stephen continued. “But, I guess that’s just the way things have fallen into place. From what we’ve been told, that’s how the first wedding happened.” He eyed Katniss and Peeta affectionately. “I am not too surprised, however. I know my girl, Katniss, and she has always instinctively known what was right.”

Immediately, Katniss’ chest began pounding. There was a slow balloon of air filling her chest and she swallowed it down, giving everyone a tight smile.

“Katniss was named after her grandmother, a woman of great conviction and bravery. A woman who was never afraid to tell the truth—even if it hurt…”

The balloon was getting bigger and Katniss gulped trying to catch her breath.

“…and when I first looked at my baby girl, I knew that she would be just like my mother—”

She couldn’t breathe!

Abruptly, Katniss gasped and pushed up from table. “E-Excuse me!”

“Sis, are you okay?” Prim asked from across the table.

She nodded, though her head was spinning. “I-I-I’ll be right back!”

Turning, Katniss rushed out of the yard and sprinted into the building. Gripping the stair railing, she pulled herself up towards her floor and practically flung herself into her apartment.

With a slam of the door, she felt the tears escape.

She was a fraud.

“Katniss?”

Peeta was closing the door behind him and she reached for him.

Immediately, he wrapped his arms around her, his hand going through her hair. “What’s going on?”

“All of them there…acting like a family…and us lying to them…” Katniss swiped her hand across her hands. “They’re all going to be heartbroken when they find out.”

Peeta nodded in understanding.

“Then…we don’t tell them.”

Katniss started at his words. “What?”

“We do the ceremony,” Peeta said. “And like we agreed, we move in one year…or just break up.” He looked torn. “It’s what we agreed on.”

“Well, that was before—”

Before she had fallen in love with him.

The realization hit hard.

And, she couldn’t breathe again.

 

End of Part Three

 

Thanks for reading y’all!

Until the end, JLaLa

Chapter Text

Rent Control

Part Four

“Katniss! Get out here!”

Effie was getting impatient.

“I’m coming!”

Katniss stared at herself in the mirror, her hands dancing over the delicate fabric. Effie was right; the silhouette was still in fashion. Thanks to her mother, Daphne, and Effie, the gown fit perfectly to her body.

However, when she looked in the mirror, Katniss felt like a fraud.

A beautiful couture fraud—but a fraud, nonetheless.

“Come on! Come on! Come on!”

This time it was her mother.

With a sigh, Katniss stepped out of the Abernathy guest room and into the living room.

There was a collective sigh as the three older women gazed at her in all her bridal glory.

She turned to the mirror that Effie had placed in the room to take a real look at herself.

The gown was off-white, sleeveless, with a modest V-neckline. The skirt was made of tulle while the top half was a satin bodice with a tulle overlay. It suited her olive coloring, making her skin look even richer and her dark hair lustrous.

Her mother’s contribution was the periwinkle blue band on the gown’s waist so she would have her ‘something blue’ while the jeweled flower resting on one side of the band was from Daphne. It would be her ‘something new.’

“It’s missing something,” Effie said as she approached her. Reaching into her pocket, the woman pulled out an ornate pearl hair clip. “This was my mother’s. She wore it on her wedding day—” Effie swallowed shallowly before continuing. “—I wore it for mine.” She then arranged it so that it clipped back one side of Katniss’ long locks. “And, now you’ll wear it for yours. It’s your ‘something old and borrowed.’”

“Oh Effie.” Her hand went to the delicate clip. “I couldn’t possibly—”

Effie shook her head. “A long time ago, we found out that it would be difficult for us to have children.” She let out a shaky breath. “And, now it seems unlikely—but I’d like to think that if I had a girl, she’d be similar to you. I mean, you have Haymitch’s coloring and your scowls are very alike!”

Katniss wiped her eyes before giving Effie a smile in the mirror.

“I’d be honored to be your pretend daughter…even though you would have to had been around 17 when you had me!” Katniss replied.

Effie tapped at her nose. “Somewhere around that age.” She kissed Katniss’ cheek. “You look beautiful.”

Katniss looked at herself in the mirror; she did look beautiful—as radiant as the sun.

It wasn’t real though.

And, then she could no longer face her reflection.

++++++

Peeta knocked on the closed door of Johanna’s boutique, spying Katniss in the window. Giving him a drawn smile, she placed the till back into the register and rounded the counter to let him in.

He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something had shifted in their relationship. Katniss was different; it wasn’t that she was any less affectionate. When they were alone, they had more than their fill of passion—lately, maybe even more so.

That fire in Katniss, however, seemed to have dimmed since that first dinner with their families.

“Hey,” she greeted him as the door was opened and he walked in quickly. “Johanna just left and I’m finishing up.”

“Do you need help?” he offered.

“You just finished up next door,” Katniss responded. “You still want to help?”

“Of course—if it means we get some time to ourselves,” Peeta said. “What do you need? I can fold or arrange the shoe display…”

He gave her a playful grin and Katniss let out a laugh—it felt good to hear it. She had been off in her own world, at times, and Peeta wanted nothing more but to make her smile.

It wasn’t hard to admit that he lived and died for that smile.

“How about you wipe the mirrors in the dressing rooms and then run the dry mop through the floor?” she suggested instead. “Cleaning supplies are in the back.”

Before long, they fell into silence. Peeta could hear her arranging the hangers on the various racks in the store as he wiped down the mirrors.

“Katniss?” he found himself calling out.

The shuffling of hangers stopped. “Yes?”

“What’s going on with you?” Peeta knew that he was treading a thin line. There was no response. “I can feel it. You’re pushing me away. Not physically—” He placed the rag down and pushed himself onto a seat in the small dressing room. “It’s just that I wake up every morning and then we lock eyes…you used to give me this smile—a smile just for me. You don’t do that anymore…”

He looked down at his folded hands, waiting for her response.

However, there was only silence.

“I’m sorry.”

Peeta looked up to find Katniss in front of him, her gaze on his hunched figure.

“Did I do something wrong?” he asked her.

Katniss knelt in front of him, her hand going to the nape of his neck. “No, you didn’t do anything.” She pressed her forehead to his. “It’s just been hard with our parents, your brothers, Prim…the fact that we’re supposed to get pretend remarried in like three days. It’s a lot.”

“I miss you,” Peeta admitted. “I mean, you’re with me—in my arms, in our bed—but you’re also a thousand miles away.”

She bit her lip anxiously before looking into his eyes.

“I know that I’ve been distracted, but there’s been a lot on my mind,” she said. “This whole wedding…and our families being so bonded now…it’s become bigger than us.”

He nodded in understanding. “I just don’t want to lose…us.”

“Scoot over.” Peeta shifted to give her space on the seat. Instead, Katniss sat on his lap. “You haven’t lost me. I guess I miss what we had before all of this craziness. I miss waking up to quiet mornings, lounging in bed and binge watching something on Netflix, Farmers Markets…you know this is the first time in almost two weeks that it’s just been us.”

“It has, hasn’t it?”

Katniss wrapped her arms around his neck. “Right now, I’m part angry, part exhausted, part horny…”

“Why are you angry?” he asked.

“I just want to find Gale and punch him in the nuts,” she muttered. “Him and his dumbass mouth—”

“Find me an address and I’ll come along with you,” Peeta said and Katniss grinned. “As for being tired, Prim told me before I left for work that she’s going out with Johanna and my brothers tonight for some sightseeing. I can draw you a bath so you can get some of that tension out.” He pressed a kiss to her shoulder. “As for being horny…”

She shifted, straddling him, and Peeta groaned.

“I’m wearing these new linen pants,” Katniss started, her lips going to the side of his mouth. “They’re supposed to feel like I’m wearing nothing at all.” She moved along him and a sliver of heat ran up his spine. “What do you think?”

“How about you close that curtain and we make a comparison?” Peeta countered, his hands already reaching for the button on her waistband.

Katniss grinned. “Of course. Anything for a customer.”

++++++

“I hate you so much right now,” Johanna told Katniss the next morning.

Prim, who was shuffling through Katniss’ closet, turned to her sister and new friend.

“What did Katniss do?”

“You had sex in my store!” Johanna looked to Katniss, who looked down at the bridal magazine on her lap. “Don’t deny it! My morning lead just texted and asked why there’s handprints all over one of the dressing room mirrors! She says it looks like someone was trying to recreate that car sex scene in Titanic!”

“Glimmer is so dramatic,” Katniss replied. “It was not that bad.”

Johanna turned to her; arms crossed. “So, you don’t deny it?”

“No, I don’t.” Katniss closed the magazine before meeting her eyes. “It’s been weeks since Peeta and I have been alone. There are people in every nook and cranny of this building—and it was either against the mirror or on the seat. That cushion is disgusting!”

Johanna suddenly pulled her to her plush chest.

“I’m so proud…my little Katniss has finally done the dirty at work! It’s a milestone, you know.”

Katniss snorted. “Don’t get too excited. We did it at the coffee shop before all this craziness happened.”

“Gross!” Johanna grimaced. “Which roast was it on? I prefer no jizz in my coffee.”

“That was more than I needed to know,” Prim said. She met her sister’s eyes. “So, how are you doing? I know you and Peeta have agreed to continue on after…but this ceremony has kind of thrown a monkey wrench into your plans.”

“It has,” Katniss agreed. “But, what can we do?”

“I don’t know. How about admit that Peeta is stone cold in love with you?” Johanna said. “I mean, come on!”

“Love?” Katniss had a sudden interest in the bedspread. “We like each other, and we lust for one another, but love is a whole different spiral that we can’t get into.”

“Can’t or won’t?” Prim questioned. “I know you. Ever since that dipshit Gale broke up with you to sample what California had to offer, you’ve closed off. You were a romantic once—you followed a boy all the way to San Francisco—”

“And, what did that get me?” Katniss burst out.

“Open those pretty grey eyes, Katniss! It got you Peeta!” her sister countered. “And he is a hell of a lot better than Gale Hawthorne ever was for you.”

“I know.”

The bedspread was suddenly stained with tears.

“And it’s because we’ve stayed within the bounds of friendship. Anything else could be a disaster.” Katniss met her sister’s somber eyes. “And I’d rather have him everyday just as he is, than to not have him if it all falls apart.”

“Shit.” Johanna wrapped her arms around the Everdeen sisters. “This just became more complicated than a simple screw in my dressing room.”

++++++

“Where’s Katniss?” Peeta’s mother asked.

“She, Johanna, and Prim are having some girl time,” he informed her as they walked down the busy neighborhood, full of storefronts and restaurants.

“I think Katniss is going to be a great addition to the family,” Daphne told him, linking her arm through his. “She’ll be really good for you. She is really good for you.”

“Mom.” Peeta turned to her in e. “I want you to be happy for me because I am doing things for myself and I’m trying to prove that I can run a Mellark Bakery all on my own here. I don’t want you to be happy for me just off of who I married.”

“Peeta, I am happy for you,” his mother responded. “When we first arrived, there was a look in your eyes. I could see that you have come into your own. Katniss—she might not be all of the reason, but she is some of it. The Peeta I remember couldn’t even commit to a time to visit his mother and father.” She stopped and turned to him. “Now, he has committed himself to the love of his life.”

Love. There was that word again.

More and more the word played in his mind. It was the whispered word that escaped his lips whenever he woke up to see Katniss lying next to him.

“Thanks, Mom.” Peeta stopped to look around the busy street. “Where are we?”

“Your business proposal somehow made its way onto the breakfast tray that Effie and Haymitch gave your father and me this morning,” his mother said. “There was also a printout of this listing.”

Peeta looked up at the storefront. It was a two-story brick building with large display windows flagging the entrance door. It wasn’t much; but with a good layer of paint and from what he could see of the inside, a good layout and design for the interior, it could be something great.

“What do you think?” Peeta turned to his mother, who watched him in anticipation. “Do you think that this would be a good location for the first west coast Mellark Bakery?”

“It’s perfect,” he said in awe. “Good neighborhood, close to retail, and easily accessible.” Peeta grinned at his mother. “Who gave you the printout?”

“There’s only one person who would know where you kept your business proposal,” Daphne said, a small grin on her lips. “Consider this a wedding present.”

++++++

“Katniss!” Peeta slammed the door behind him. “Are you home?”

“Yes!” came the response from their room. “Are you alright?”

“I’m perfect! Wonderful even!”

The papers had been signed just this afternoon and he, Peeta Mellark, now owned his own bakery space. Yes, he would be paying his parents back until the end of time, but it would be all worth it to run his own business—and Katniss would have their space to design the best-looking bakery that San Francisco had ever seen.

Not to mention, he made a kickass cheese bun.

He froze in his tracks, sensing something…off. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing.”

He whipped around at her voice and the air left his body.

There Katniss stood in her wedding dress. She awkwardly held the skirt as she walked towards him.

“Effie and my mom did the final fitting,” Katniss explained. “What do you think?”

His mouth rose in a grin and Peeta reached for her hands, his eyes roaming the satin and tulle gown, before meeting her anxious eyes.

“You’re beautiful.” Katniss flushed at his words. “I thought I wasn’t supposed to see the bride in her gown.”

“Well, we’ve pretty much said ‘up yours’ to tradition,” she replied. “What’s a few minutes of you seeing me in this get-up?”

Peeta lifted her chin to look into her deep, slate eyes. When did he start caring for nothing but her happiness?

It might have been forever.

It probably would be forever—even when this charade ended, and they separated.

And, suddenly he ached.

“May I kiss the bride?” he asked, bringing her close.

Katniss nodded. “Of course.”

Their lips met, chastely at first, before his bride pressed forward to deepen the kiss.

He lost himself willingly to the taste of Katniss…an eternity could have passed—and he couldn’t give a flying fuck.

The knock came abruptly.

“Peeta! Get your ass out here!” It was Bran. “We’re meeting up at Beetee’s for beers!”

“I forgot that our parents demanded that we spend the night apart before the wedding,” Katniss said. “Prim and Johanna should be here any minute.”

“Of course,” he replied as they pulled apart.

Hesitantly, Peeta walked backward towards the door, his gaze on her.

She raised a brow at him. “What?”

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sight of you in that gown for the rest of my life.”

Peeta quickly turned to walk out the door before she could even respond.

++++++

Katniss couldn’t sleep.

Next to her, Prim and Johanna were knocked out. Her sister wore a tiara in her tangled locks while Johanna sported a hat with an outrageously large penis. A half-eaten tray of cookies baked by her in-laws laid between the two.

It was while watching The Wedding Date that they had drifted off. However, sleep did not come for her so Katniss remained awake, tense in the thoughts of tomorrow.

Getting up, Katniss reached for a sweater from the closet, carefully leaving the bedroom so she wouldn’t disturb her sister and friend.

She couldn’t breathe…she just needed to get out.

That’s how Katniss found herself walking down the stairs onto the main floor and into the backyard.

The sight before her almost brought her to her knees.

White chairs had already been set out for the ceremony; a good number of friends and neighbors were excited to attend. To each side of the apartment building, long buffet tables were set up as Annie’s staff would be arriving midday to set up for the reception. At the end of the right side was a singular table for the wedding cake.

It was unbelievable how it had all fallen together.

She continued down the aisle and towards the lush flower archway where the ceremony would take place. Haymitch had set up a platform before it so that Beetee, who had volunteered as officiant, would have a place to stand before them.

At the end of the aisle, Katniss settled on the steps of the platform, looking around.

It was exactly the kind wedding she had dreamt of—except in her dreams, she wasn’t drowning in guilt.

A breeze hit and she wrapped her sweater tighter around herself and let out a breath.

“How the hell did I get here?”

“I was about to ask myself the same question.”

Peeta.

He made his way down, smartly wearing a puffer jacket and not the flimsy crap that she had donned.

“Couldn’t sleep?” she asked as he joined her on the step.

“Nope.” Peeta looked out at the scene before him. “I couldn’t sleep after all the marriage advice our dads and Haymitch decided to give me…by the end, it was extremely graphic.”

“Gross.” Her head went to his shoulder. “So…tomorrow?”

“It’s after midnight so more like a few hours from now,” he replied.

“I wish it could’ve been different.”

The admission had come out suddenly.

“How?” he asked after a moment.

“Like we would have actually been dating and then you do the whole shebang—tell me how deeply you’re in love with me and get down on one knee.” She sighed. “Isn’t that how all love stories are supposed to happen?”

“I think love stories are what a couple makes of them,” Peeta said.

“And, how do you think our story would’ve gone?”

“I’m not sure.” He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “I just know that I would love you till there was no breath left in my body.”

Katniss swallowed the sob threatening to escape her lips.

“That’s all anyone could really ask for—someone till the end.”

“Ride or die,” Peeta agreed.

She snorted. “How very Fast and the Furious of you.”

Tell him.

The treacherous thought screamed in her brain, but her logical—fearful—thoughts fought it. Her heart couldn’t bear the thought that he might not feel the same, that they would hurt each other, and that she would lose him.

So instead, Katniss pulled away.

“I better go up. Prim and Johanna might sleep eat all your parents’ cookie and choke to death. That would be a real bummer on the wedding.”

Peeta nodded. “I’m just going to spend a few more minutes here.”

They reached for one another, their mouths meeting, and Katniss pressed everything she felt into that kiss—the happiness, the fear, the pain—but most of all, the love.

When they pulled apart, Peeta’s eyes were closed, a smile on his lips. “Wow.” He met her eyes. “I’ll see you at the end.”

Katniss stood. “I’ll see you at the end.”

Shakily, she made her way down the aisle and was halfway through when—

“Katniss?”

She whirled around to see Peeta staring at her.

“Sunset. It’s my favorite part of the day. Our families and friends would be there. I probably wouldn’t get down on one knee though—”

“Because you have a trick knee from a track injury,” she said. “And, your favorite color is that orange that happens to the sky at sunset. I wore—”

“You wore that dress on our first date because it resembled the color,” he finished for her. Her breath caught seeing that look in his eyes. “And, you looked beautiful—but well to me, you were always gorgeous, inside and out.”

Katniss managed a smile. “Goodnight, Peeta.”

“Sleep well, Katniss.”

But, for the rest of the night, sleep did not come.

++++++

“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit…”

Katniss was getting married today.

Okay—not really married, but really recommitting herself in front of her friends and family.

Not to mention, the film and camera crew her parents hired.

Prim and Johanna had given her a few minutes to herself so that she could settle her nerves. Her hands moved over the skirt, smoothing non-existent wrinkles.

She made a picturesque bride; her makeup had been done perfectly, just some eyeliner, lipstick, and concealer because Effie had almost fainted at the dark circles under her eyes. Her mother and Daphne had sprayed and pinned the pearl clip into her hair before putting one more ‘protective’ layer of hairspray—a bird could crap on her head and the stuff would probably slide off from the slickness of her locks.

Johanna had given her a NuBra to wear and Katniss chuckled knowing that Peeta would have more than likely insisted on removing it.

There was a knock on the door. “Katniss, are you ready?”

It was her Dad.

She rushed to open the door and her father stepped in, looking rather dapper in his tuxedo.

“My God, sweetheart,” he breathed. “You’re a dream.”

Katniss looked at him nervously. “Really?”

“Okay, it’s kind of my nightmare. I’ve been dreading this moment for twenty-four years,” her dad admitted. “But your mother and I couldn’t be happier. You picked a good one.”

Katniss nodded in agreement. “I really did.”

Her father held out his arm. “You ready?”

Taking a deep breath, she took his arm. “Let’s do this.”

++++++

Stepping out into the backyard, Katniss let out a breath, a tremble rushing through her at seeing the number of guests.

Together, she and her father began their walk. Somewhere—violinists?—her mother’s influence she was sure, played ‘La vie en rose’ as they made their way down the silk carpet sprinkled with pale pink rose petals.

Her eyes went to the guests; Cinna had come all the way from New York while she saw that some of her parents’ colleagues had made their way over from Connecticut, as well. Closer to the front, Katniss saw Wiress—invited by Beetee as his date—who gave her a bright smile. Thresh, who stood next to Glimmer, was eyeing the pretty blonde.

Her eyes watered seeing Effie and Haymitch. Effie immediately burst into tears seeing Katniss in her gown and she thought how her landlord must be imagining what might have been for her and Haymitch—if life had been fair on them. Haymitch with his protective nature would have made an outstanding father and she had no doubts about Effie’s maternal instincts.

Katniss realized how much she had come to love them like family.

Then, there were the Odairs; Finnick looking dapper in his navy suit while Jack matched him perfectly with his own miniature version. Annie had recovered nicely from pregnancy, beautiful and glowing with Sarah and Rose in her arms.

Johanna and Prim were her bridesmaids, wearing sage green dresses and matching chignons. They both beamed seeing her. Bran and Alex made dashing groomsmen in their grey tuxedos, each swoonworthy in their own right.

Then, there was Peeta.

Katniss couldn’t help but tremble at the sight of him.

“You okay there?” Stephen asked his daughter, feeling her shiver.

“Yes, just more nervous than I thought,” she replied.

He chuckled softly, pressing a gentle kiss to her cheek.

“How can you be nervous when you have a man looking at you like that?”

And, yes—Peeta looked unbelievably handsome, wearing a suit matching the charcoal of her eyes.

However, it was the look in those blues of his—that earnest, full look that made her feel like she was floating on air.

Peeta stepped forward and her father embraced him before taking both their hands to clasp them between his own.

He looked between them. “Take care of each other.”

Quickly, her father joined his mother’s side.

Her eyes went to Peeta’s, who grasped her hand. “You okay?”

“Are we really doing this?” she asked as they stepped up the platform where Beetee waited.

“Whatever happens,” Peeta said, his eyes already knowing her thoughts. “I’m with you.”

Her hand went to cheek. “Just trust me.”

“Of course.” He turned to press a gentle kiss into her palm. “Always.”

They both turned to her guests.

“We have something to say,” Katniss began.

“Can’t this wait?” her mother asked.

“No…no…” They stepped down from the platform as Katniss shook her head. “We can’t.”

“What is going on?” Daphne said tightly. “Are you having second thoughts? It’s a little late for that. You two are already married.”

“No, Mom.” Peeta looked to her and she nodded. “We lied to you…to everyone. We’re not…actually…married.”

“You see,” Katniss started. “My lease was up at my last apartment and Peeta couldn’t afford his since his roommate was going to be leaving. Then, we both just happened to see this ad for this wonderful apartment—”

“Except that tenants had to be married and so we told them we were,” Peeta finished. “We made up this fake love story and took pictures at City Hall. And, it just snowballed when everyone showed up and you all planned this beautiful wedding.”

Katniss’ gaze went to Effie and Haymitch, their expressions unreadable, and she felt her heart squeeze in pain.

She and Peeta betrayed them and they would most likely never forgive them.

“And, we just couldn’t bear to hurt all of you,” she said. “Because we fell in love with you.”

Finnick furrowed his brow from his seat. “Me? Sorry guys, but I’m taken.”

Katniss choked back her laugh. “Not you! Well, kind of you and Annie…and just everyone.” Peeta squeezed her hand. “We grew to love every one of you and you became family to us. This building, all of you—you are home to us.”

“But, what about you two?” Her father asked. “You’re not in a relationship?”

“That’s kind of tricky.” Her eyes went to Peeta’s. “But the point is that the marriage was not real…we’re…not real.”

There was silence.

A long silence.

Somewhere there was the faint sound of an ambulance—probably coming just in case there was bloodshed.

“Bullshit.”

Katniss shot up in shock. “Excuse me?”

Annie looked her straight in the eyes.

“Bull. Shit.” She shifted, handing Sarah to Finnick, who had just made Jack cover his ears. “Hold on.” Annie adjusted Rose against her chest, undoing the buttons of her dress before guiding the baby to her nipple. “Okay, I’m ready to continue. It is absolute bullshit that you two aren’t honest-to-God in love!”

“Annie, I’m honestly having a hard time computing your words with your boob hanging out,” Katniss retorted.

“Well, I’m feeding my child, Katniss,” Annie argued. “Because I love her and that’s what you do for people you love. You take care of them—just like you and Peeta take care of each other.”

“You know…” She and Peeta turned to Beetee in front of the archway. “She does have a point.”

“You too?” Peeta replied incredulously.

“Actually, we all find it surprising that you’re not in love with one another,” Christopher informed them.

“We do like each other,” Peeta assured him.

Daphne shot up. “You’re lying!” She pointed an accusing finger at her son. “I know you, Peeta. I knew you were lying when you were eight and told me that the neighbors’ dog ate your father’s birthday cake and I know you’re lying now about not being in love with Katniss.”

“Mom, I think there’s a big difference between eight-year-old me and me now,” Peeta responded.

“You were a better liar before,” Bran pointed out with a smirk.

“It’s all over your adorable Mellark face,” Alex said.

Peeta turned to her, his complexion pink at his family’s blunt assessment of his feelings.

“You know I care for you, right?” he asked.

Katniss took his hand. “Of course, I do.”

Peeta started, his gaze on their joined hands and something shifted in his stare.

He suddenly shook his head, letting out a small laugh.

“I really am an idiot.” Peeta looked to her, his eyes warm. “Katniss, I am in love with you.”

Katniss felt her chest constrict at his words. “What?”

“I think about how after this you’re not going to be next to me when I wake up in the morning—”

“Aww,” Prim cooed.

“And, those nights when we’re in bed—”

“Yeah, nobody needs to hear the details,” Stephen interrupted.

“But the point is that I want you in my life,” Peeta said. “I want to be with you for as long as you’ll possibly have me.”

Katniss stood silent, her hand dropping from his grasp, as those last words fell from his lips.

“Katniss Everdeen!” Her mother stood from her seat. “Say something.”

Peeta loved her.

And then, as sudden as a flash of lightning, she realized what she wanted.

“Effie, Haymitch.” Katniss looked to her landlords, she and Peeta’s practically surrogate parents. “Do you forgive us?”

The couple look at one another, communicating silently, before turning to them as she held her breath.

“We do,” Haymitch said finally.

“However, you can only stay in your apartment…” Effie’s lips rose in a small smile. “…if you continue on with the ceremony.”

Katniss turned to Peeta, taking his hand once more. With her other hand, she lifted the skirt of her gown.

“What are you doing?” Peeta asked.

Slowly, Katniss knelt, going on one knee in this gown seemed impossible but she was making it happen, before him. “It’s sunset.” Her eyes went to everyone in front of them. “And, we’re with our family and friends…and I love you. So, Peeta, will you?”

After a moment, Peeta replied, a wide grin on his lips, “Get up here so we can finish this.”

Carefully, they got Katniss to her feet before joining Beetee in front of the archway.

Beetee looked between them. “You two realize that this isn’t an official ceremony, right?”

She and Peeta look to one another, before nodding at Beetee.

It was real enough for them.

 

End of Part Four

 

 

Next: One year later…

Right now, I’m a glass case of emotion.

I’ll see you at the epilogue.

-JLaLa

Chapter Text

 

Rent Control

Epilogue: One Year Later

“Rue, I want the buffet to go here.” Katniss pointed to the back of the space, adjacent to the living wall. “Presents will go on the round table that we’re setting up at the entrance. The table linens are coming with Annie and Finnick—I found them at this awesome vintage shop in Oakland. They’ll be great if we ever decide to have any other special events…” She turned to the young girl. “Anything else that I’m missing?”

Rue chuckled as she ticked things off the iPad she carried in her hands.

“How about breathing? Seems like you missed it during that entire conversation.”

“Very funny, smartass,” Katniss retorted though she smiled fondly at the girl. “Sometimes I wonder why Peeta and I hired you.”

“Because I am the S-H-I-T…and because I can make a kickass Kouign-amann,” Rue replied, her grin just as affectionate towards Katniss.

Katniss nodded. “True.” She took a deep breath. “I just want everything to be perfect tomorrow for them. They’ve waited for so long…”

“It’s going to be great,” Rue assured her. “Now, you need to relax…have you even eaten?”

“No, just been busy and it escaped my mind.” Katniss sighed. “I could go for a cheese bun.”

Rue scrunched her nose. “Oh God—is that what you and Peeta call it now?”

“No, she’s actually really into my buns.”

Peeta appeared before them with a tray in his hand. Pressing a quick kiss to Katniss’ lips and placing the tray on an empty table, he presented her with a cheese bun which she took and began to eat with relish.

“I do love Peeta’s buns…” She winked at the man before her, cheeks full of food. “Among other things.”

Rue rolled her eyes at them. “You two disgust me. Go get a room—or an alley.”

“Now why would we do that when have those awesome mirrors Johanna gifted us in the back?” Peeta said with a smirk.

“I thought you said those were there so we could all keep an eye on each other in the kitchen!” Rue exclaimed. “Now I will never be able to make anything in there!”

“So, we’ll see you tomorrow?” Katniss asked, finishing off the rest of the bun as she wrapped an arm around Peeta’s waist.

“Yeah…but only because I really like cake!” Rue told them as she gathered her things off the counter next to her. “And, Annie’s potato salad!”

In a huff, the girl marched through the revolving door going to the back of the building.

Peeta and Katniss looked to one another, identical grins on their faces. Hand in hand, they went to the front where a long communal table stood and Peeta helped Katniss step onto the adjoining bench to sit on the wood surface before joining her.

When they were settled, they turned to one another.

“Happy Anniversary,” Peeta told her.

Katniss smiled and took his hand. “Happy Anniversary.”

Together, they turned to look out the front window of the Mellark Bakery, content in the moment and with one another.

++++++

“You won’t even tell me?” Katniss asked as she followed Peeta out of the kitchen.

“No,” he responded firmly as he went to the buffet table. Taking the piping bag, Peeta examined the three-tier cake before going to the middle tier and adding another perfect white frosting flower. “You also made me promise not to tell you.”

“You’re mean!” she responded petulantly. “See if I ever go down on you again.”

“Gross.”

Annie and Finnick, along with the rest of their brood, entered the bakery. Jack—now four—immediately went to Peeta to show him the Pokéball that he had in his grasp. Sarah and Rose dispersed to run around the bakery to which Finnick managed to wrangle one of the twins.

“Rose, we don’t run around Uncle Peeta’s bakery!” he told the girl in his arms.

“Sarah!” the one-year-old replied.

“Oops—sorry, kid,” her father replied sheepishly.

“I am so glad that we decided on that vasectomy,” Annie said as she went to hug Katniss. “Also—really gross. Why were you talking about ‘going down?’”

“Peeta won’t tell me,” Katniss informed her.

“Yeah, well that’s why we’re having this shindig—” her friend said as she placed the large bowl on the buffet table. “—so we can all find out as a family.”

“Actually…” The tips of Finnick’s ears went red. “Peeta kind of told me already.”

Annie’s brows furrowed at her husband. “Well…no head for you, either!”

“Are we interrupting something?”

Beetee stepped into the bakery along with Wiress, bright smiles on their faces.

“No, just some marital corporal punishment,” Peeta told the couple. “Speaking of which—congratulations on the engagement!” He placed a kiss on Wiress’ cheek before shaking Beetee’s hand. “Santorini must have been good for you.”

“And, check out that rock!” Katniss said after embracing Wiress.

“Beetee knew how I felt about diamonds,” Wiress explained with a gentle smile. “So, he came up with this lovely thing…and I couldn’t be more thrilled.”

“It originates from the 1920’s,” Beetee said as they stared at the ring. “The ruby is still in great shape and that design for the setting—they don’t make them like this anymore.”

“Wow…” Katniss was impressed; the ring was a work of art with its intricate carvings and a setting made to look like the ruby was the center of a golden-petaled flower.

Her gaze went from the ring to meet Peeta and she found him staring at her, a strange expression in his eyes.

Katniss could usually read him like a book—but this look was different.

“Hello! Hello!”

Everyone cheered as the celebrant entered the bakery.

Effie was glowing.

In the voluminous emerald dress, she looked like Mother Earth herself.

Well, her belly was about as round as the earth.

Haymitch followed, looking perfectly respectable in a dress shirt and slacks, his dark hair tied back.

Taking a deep breath, she looked to Peeta whose gaze went tender as he reached for her.

Together, they went to greet the soon-to-be parents.

++++++

“You two did really well,” Daphne said to Katniss and Peeta as she looked at the buffet table approvingly.

It was a great array of food; Annie’s potato salad and fried chicken—signatures from her restaurant, empanadas from a nearby Spanish restaurant, fresh salads created by Katniss’ mother, and Peeta’s three-tier cake with the ‘Hey Baby!’ topper made by Prim, who was a master calligrapher.

“We’re actually going to be partnering with Annie’s restaurant to create a new lunch dish,” Peeta said, his arm around Katniss. “Katniss thought about it. My brioche buns with Annie’s fried chicken. Robin taught Katniss how to make her slaw, so they’re pairing it with that. Should debut by the end of the month.”

“Perfect,” his mother replied. “I’ll have your father update the website to announce it.”

“I’ll take a picture when it’s out for our Instagram,” Katniss offered.

His mother beamed at Katniss. “You found yourself a good partner.”

“Don’t I know it,” Peeta agreed.

“Oh! There’s your mother,” Daphne told Katniss. “We went to Manhattan for a girls’ night and ended up backstage at Hamilton! Can you believe it? I’m going to see if she brought the pictures!”

With that, she rushed over to Katniss’ mother and the two hugged excitedly before they began to peruse Robin’s iPhone.

“That’s so creepy,” Katniss said.

Peeta grinned at her. “What? The fact that they had a girls’ night and are so far from that? Or that whenever they are with each other they become teenagers?”

“I don’t know…I didn’t think that they’d be so close…after everything,” she admitted.

Katniss looked around at the crowd of people who had come to Effie and Haymitch’s Baby Shower and Gender Reveal—the motif was a sage (and neutral) green.

A lot had changed; she was no longer at Johanna’s, instead becoming the designer for the bakery. Peeta had convinced her that it would be great for her portfolio. Together, they had come up with a cohesive design that gave the bakery its homey yet eclectic vibe. There was soft wood and greenery everywhere; there was no disposable ware, only large, thick mugs and glazed plates—very hygge.

Eventually, Katniss had transitioned into Business Manager to do the hiring. Rue was a recent graduate from the San Francisco Culinary Institute, and she couldn’t come more highly recommended as a candidate for Assistant Baker. She was creative and kind, eager to learn, and they took to her immediately. She hired a few more people for front-of-house including Finch, Rue’s roommate and Thresh, who decided to follow Peeta after he quit the coffee shop.

Johanna, who was currently chatting up one of the Haymitch’s co-workers, a tall drink of water with thick-framed glasses, encouraged her to spread her wings. Prim, bored with the East Coast and longing for adventure, took Katniss’ place at the boutique and was living in the Mission District above a bar that she occasionally bartended for.

Katniss’ gaze drifted to Effie and Haymitch. Her landlords looked jubilant; Effie caressing the bump that had surprised all of them seven months ago.

The Abernathys were celebrating their anniversary at the time. Everyone had joined them for dinner in the apartment’s backyard. Wine bottles were opened, some questionable things were smoked…and by morning, the Abernathys were found under their lemon tree, covered in a picnic blanket and wearing nothing under it.

A few weeks after that, Katniss and Peeta had their grand opening.

It had gone perfectly—until Effie vomited at their front entrance.

They assured her that she was ‘christening’ their new business when, in actuality, a little peanut was currently lounging in her uterus.

It had happened—the long-awaited Abernathy child had come.

“I think it’s time for them to do the reveal,” Peeta said into Katniss’ ear.

She nodded in agreement. “Everyone’s had their fill. I’ll let Rue know to grab the cake knife in the back.”

Peeta went to the couple to lead them over to the cake that would tell them their baby’s gender.

He winked at her before guiding Haymitch and Effie away.

Then, there were herself and Peeta.

Financially and in their work lives, they were doing great.

However, after their pretend nuptials, they had gone into a standstill. They were perfectly content for a while, unmarried and living in sin.

Lately, however, she had felt a longing.

And, as Katniss looked around at their family and friends, moving along in their personal lives, she realized that she wanted more.

She wanted them to be real.

Katniss wanted to get married.

++++++

“Before our soon-to-be parents cut the cake, does anyone have guesses on the gender?” Stephen called out to the crowd.

Everyone had gathered around the cake table excitedly waiting for the cake to be cut. His mother and Robin were already taking photos on their phones of the couple as Thresh—a budding photographer—took a few shots on his old Canon. Prim was quietly taking bets; the pool was already in the mid-hundreds, and the bets went from how much Baby Abernathy would weigh to how long into labor would Effie finally snap at Haymitch for impregnating her.

“I’m pretty sure, girl or boy, it’s going to be a dick,” Peeta’s father responded with a smirk.

“Christopher!” Effie put her hands to the sides of her belly. “Not in front of my baby!”

Haymitch guffawed. “He’s got a point there. No matter what gender, he or she is coming out with a set of balls and a penchant for rebellion.”

“Well, you’re as ready as you’ll ever be,” Beetee assured them good-naturedly. “So, come on—just do it already!”

“That’s what Effie said,” Finnick cackled.

Effie looked to Jack. “Cover your eyes, sweetheart.”

The little boy followed instructions and Effie immediately flipped Finnick the bird.

“I thought you said no cursing,” Finnick retorted.

“I wasn’t speaking, I was gesturing,” Effie said testily. She whipped over to her husband. “Now give me the knife.”

“No, I think I’ll keep any weaponry for now, sweetheart,” Haymitch said.

Together, they turned to the cake, and Haymitch quickly cut into it revealing the bright blue of the delicate sponge.

There was a collective scream as everyone rushed forward to congratulate the couple.

Peeta and Katniss hung back, content to watch the jubilee by one of the posts of the bakery. His girlfriend leaned back against him and he wrapped his arms around Katniss’ waist.

“You happy?” Peeta whispered into her ear.

“Oh yeah,” Katniss mused. “How could we not be happy about a little Haymitch in the world?”

“You know that kid is going to be all Effie,” he responded. “She is going to spoil the shit out of him!”

“True, but they deserve to,” his girlfriend said. “They waited for so long.”

Peeta looked around; their world was changing rapidly. Almost two years ago, Katniss was just the pretty girl from a boutique who he low-key had a crush on—and fantasized about during cold San Francisco nights.

Now, they were running a business together, living together, and just falling more for each other as time wore on. Peeta couldn’t even remember a time when he wasn’t waking up next to her gorgeous face. He didn’t want to imagine it.

He had always wanted Katniss in his life—and Peeta hoped that she wanted the same.

Because locked in his desk in the back was a ring.

Beetee wasn’t the only one who went vintage.

++++++

“You are stressing out, sis,” Prim remarked.

“I know, I know…” Katniss admitted as they walked around the CityTarget. “I’ve been so busy with the bakery that I haven’t had time to buy stuff for the apartment. We ran out of toilet paper last night—and it was during a time when one of us was prairie dogging.”

“Egads!” They reached the aisle with the toilet paper and Prim threw in several value packs into the cart. “Take as much as you can! Geez, you’re making co-habitation real appealing.”

“You lived with me for years,” Katniss retorted.

“Well, I was a kid for a majority of it—I didn’t know any better,” Prim said with a grin. “Really though, you seem kind of…not-so-fresh looking.”

“I’ve been feeling not-so-fresh.” Katniss pushed the cart towards the health aisle. The bakery needed more bandages for the first aid kit. “Now that the baby shower is over, I thought I’d feel better, but I’m not.”

Prim peered at her. “You getting sick? Peeta holding out on you?”

“I’m fine,” Katniss insisted though she yawned. “And, Peeta never holds out, especially since I’ve been super into him lately.”

Her sister raised an interested brow. “Explain.”

“Like for the last week, I’ve been obsessed with his…scent,” Katniss told her as she grabbed a value pack of bandages. “Literally, I wanted to lick the sweat off of him.”

“You freak nasty!” Prim bounced next to her. “I’m so proud.”

“So, that’s not weird?” Katniss asked, continuing down the aisle as she looked at the list on her phone.

“Well, we all have fluctuating hormones during our cycles,” Prim informed her.

“Hmm.” Katniss checked off the bandages, her next destination was dental floss.

She stopped, her brain connecting every symptom she had been experiencing into one realization.

Her eyes darted to the display in front of her.

Pregnancy tests—and they were all on sale.

Prim looked to her then to the display then to her sister once more. “Ohh…shit.”

Katniss could only agree to the sentiment.

++++++

“How long do these things usually take?” Katniss asked as she sat on one of the couches in Johanna’s boutique.

“Pretty quickly,” Johanna said as she looked at the three sticks assembled on the counter. “They all say ‘Pregnant.’”

Katniss shot up and rushed over, her eyes bulging as she looked at the three identical tests. “No.”

“That explains the whole sweat obsession,” Prim said.

Johanna looked to Prim. “Do I want to know?”

“Not really,” she replied. Prim put a hand over Katniss’ trembling one. “So…are we happy?”

Katniss took a deep breath, closing her eyes for a moment to just regroup.

She had always wanted children. Yes, it wasn’t expected and it was pretty early in the relationship; they were practically infants when it came to the relationship game in comparison to everyone around them.

However, Katniss couldn’t imagine having children with anyone but Peeta. She could see him with their child, teaching him or her to bake bread. Other images of their life with their little bun flashed in her mind…walks through Golden Gate Park, picking out the best ingredients for the bakery at Farmers’ Markets, falling asleep on their cozy couch in front of the fireplace during Christmas…

Finally, Katniss opened her eyes.

“Yes. We’re happy,” she told her sister and Johanna.

Prim reached over to embrace her. “Congratulations!”

Johanna joined in, a wisp of a tear in her usually sharp eyes.

“He or she is going to be the best dressed kid in San Francisco, thanks to Auntie Johanna!”

Prim pulled away to look at her sister. “So, how are you going to tell Peeta?”

“I don’t know—” She gathered them back together. “Just keep hugging me!”

++++++

“This is a bit of a surprise,” Robin remarked. Next to her, her husband flipped through a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle as his own father looked through an old copy of People that had been lying on their coffee table.

“I know!” his mother, who joined Robin on the lounger, added. “We never get invited here!”

The door opened and Prim stepped in along with his brothers.

Peeta had told Katniss to expect Bran and Alex as they wanted to check out the bakery, having missed out on the grand opening.

“Sorry! I get so confused at SFO!” Prim explained as she took of her coat and when to greet her parents and his own parents. “Took me forever to find the right terminal!”

Bran and Alex immediately tackled Peeta, sandwiching him before he could stop them.

“Guys!” he yelled. “You’re here because I have something serious to talk about!”

“We know,” Bran replied. “But there is something important that needs to happen.”

Peeta shook his head. “NO.”

Alex smirked. “Yes, little brother—the Mellark round-up.”

Together, Bran and Alex began to jump up and down.

“Mellark! Mellark! Mellark!”

Then, if Peeta wasn’t embarrassed enough, his mother and father joined in.

“Mellark, Mellark, Mellark!”

His mom was getting incredible jumps despite being in the sharpest heels imaginable.

“What is going on here?” Effie had arrived, along with Haymitch, who was greeting Stephen and Robin. “Daphne, you’ll destroy your Louboutins!”

“When there is a Mellark roundup, you must roundup,” his mother replied simply as she stepped away and rushed forward to hug Effie.

“Annie and Finnick should be coming soon,” Effie told the group as she plopped down on the space that Robin made for her on the couch. Katniss’ mother helped put a pillow behind Effie’s lower back. Their landlord sighed in contentment. “You’re a lifesaver, Robin. It takes me forever to get off our couch…”

“Won’t be much longer, I’m sure,” Robin assured her.

“Good, because I’m seriously done with this,” Effie said.

Finnick and Annie, along with Beetee, followed along a few minutes later. Wiress would be watching the Odair children who were all having their afternoon naps.

Once everyone was seated, Peeta settled himself in front of the group.

“First, thanks for coming,” he began. “I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I—”

“You want to propose to Katniss,” Haymitch stated. “I mean, it’s not exactly brain science.”

The door clicked and Johanna rushed in. “Sorry, I’m late! What did I miss?”

“Captain Obvious just stated the obvious,” Alex informed her with a wink. “Or in the simplest of terms, my baby brother is finally proposing to the woman who he was supposed to be married to a year ago.”

“Oh.” Johanna looked to Prim, who shook her head. “That’s great…”

Peeta immediately sensed something wrong in their expressions.

“What?” He took a gulping breath. “She’s not ready, right? Or, maybe she’s having second thoughts?” A sharp squeak escaped his throat. “I think I’m might be hyperventilating—”

“You’re overreacting,” his mother said, interrupting his moment of panic. “If you know Katniss like I know you do, you will know that she loves you.”

“And, that she wants more than anything to be with you forever,” Robin added, a tender smile on her face.

Stephen put his arm around his wife before looking to Peeta. “So, what do you want us to do?”

“Help me figure out how to propose to her,” he replied, his eyes going around the room. “Everyone in this room knows Katniss and me better than anybody else in the world. And, I just want this to be…perfect.”

“It will be, because it’s coming from you,” Beetee said sincerely. “However, if we’re trying to get organized, we first have to establish when.”

“That’s simple,” Stephen said. “Katniss’ birthday is in two weeks.” He looked around the room. “It would be the perfect excuse if she asks why everyone is here.”

“How about we all meet up again in like two days or something?” Annie suggested. “Before then, let’s all come up with some ideas to talk about during the meet-up.”

Everyone agreed to her plan.

“Peeta, why don’t we talk about Katniss’ likes and dislikes?” his father suggested. “Might help get everyone’s minds going.”

“Sure,” Peeta replied as he began to pace. “She’s not big on loud functions or anything where she’s in big crowds…can’t stand artichokes—thinks they’re wasteful…hates people who talk on those earbuds that aren’t connected to anything.” He paused, smiling to himself. “She loves sunsets…cheese buns…and—”

“Your penis?” Prim interrupted.

“Primrose Everdeen!” Her mother scolded.

“Come on, mom,” Prim said. “What did you think they did—sleep side by side in spacesuits?”

“No, but no need to be crude,” Robin admonished.

“So…two days?” Johanna called out.

“Two days!” everyone agreed.

+++++++

Prim grabbed Johanna’s arm as soon as they walked out of Katniss and Peeta’s apartment. Her parents and the Mellarks were already congregated at Haymitch and Effie’s for drinks before heading back to the rented home they were sharing while in the city.

“What the hell was that?” she asked her boss. “You almost gave the news away!”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know I was coming into a meeting like that,” Johanna said. “I actually thought it had something to do with Katniss’ birthday.” She blew out a breath. “They’re going to have so much on their plate.”

“Well, it’s not our plate to worry about,” Prim told her firmly. “Just keep cool until Katniss figures out how to tell Peeta the news.”

“What news?”

They both jumped and turned to find Bran and Alex before them.

“Nothing!” they chorused together.

“Please.” Alex put an arm around Johanna. “How can you resist a Mellark?”

She threw his arm off her shoulders. “Very easily.”

“Come on, sis,” Bran pleaded. “Katniss has news? She’s not really breaking up with him, is she?”

Prim snorted. “Get a grip, bro. My sister is so into to Peeta that she told me—just a few days ago—she literally wants to lick the sweat off him.”

“More than I needed to hear,” Bran said.

“I want to hear more!” Alex responded. “Just more stuff I have on little brother.”

Prim walked towards the stairs, ignoring the Mellark brothers as they started a chorus of ‘Please!’. She was never good with being pressured and had a penchant to snap.

Katniss was much more impenetrable—except when it came to Peeta, apparently.

“Please leave it be! Katniss will tell Peeta about the baby when she’s good and ready!”

Her eyes squeezed shut when she realized what she said—SHIT!

The door of the Abernathy apartment opened slowly.

Taking a deep breath, Prim prepared herself for the onslaught of questions.

“Five, four, three, two, one—”

Her mother responded first, tears thick in her voice. “Your sister is pregnant?”

Swiveling around, Prim saw the heads of her parents, the elder Mellarks, and the Abernathys sticking out of the apartment door. In front of her, Bran and Alex stood, their jaws hanging open to which Johanna tried to push Alex’s up.

She turned to respond to her mother.

“Yes, Katniss is. No, I don’t know how long. She went to an appointment to confirm it today. I don’t know anything else. Above all—no one can tell Peeta!”

There was a collective nod and everyone stepped back so Haymitch could close the door.

With a wink at her, he closed it behind him.

“You are not good at keeping secrets,” Alex concluded with a grin.

“I know…” Her hopefully-soon-to-be brother walked over and gave her a hug. “At least I’ll be the baby’s favorite aunt. You and Bran can fight over who’s favorite uncle.”

He pulled away. “Not fair! Bran can actually get the kid a pony! He has a fucking pony guy!”

Johanna quirked a brow at the eldest Mellark brother. “Why would you need a pony guy?”

“We’ll worry about that later,” Bran said. “How about us brand new Aunts and Uncles have a drink?”

With a tired nod, Prim allowed Bran to lead her down the stairs and to the closest bar.

++++++

Katniss sighed, allowing for just one second the feeling of contentment to flow through her.

There it was, six weeks and five days old; a peanut of a thing, really.

A peanut with a heartbeat.

Stepping off the lightrail train, she walked onto the street island and headed in the direction of the bakery. It was already closed for the day and Peeta was probably in the midst of closing paperwork. He was diligent about being there everyday to make sure that everything was tip-top. She loved that about him; his constancy in all things.

Peeta had promised his parents that Mellark Bakery would be a success on the West Coast. He had achieved it, putting a new spin on his parents’ bakery, with gluten-free pastries and vegan-accessible food that broadened their customer base.

Getting her key out, Katniss unlocked the front door of the bakery and stepped in just as Thresh walked out from the back.

“Hey Katniss,” he greeted her. “Peeta’s in the office.”

“Thanks, Thresh,” she replied. “How did it go today?”

“Pretty run-of-the-mill, for a weekday,” Thresh informed her. “Great morning rush, decent lunch, and then kids coming in with their parents after school.”

“Maybe we should have discounted pastries from 3:30-5:00—” she mused. “—for the kids and their parents. Great time to get rid of the current day’s batch.”

“Great idea, boss lady.” Thresh gathered his things from the counter. “I’m off but let Peeta know that I checked and we’re still good on almond flour.”

Locking up after Thresh, Katniss headed into the kitchen. She loved the smell of it; the flour, sugar…even the scent of chocolate—that must be the baby’s doing as she was not into the cocoa bean.

Here, she felt wrapped up in this beautiful life that she and Peeta created for themselves.

Would it still be wonderful with the three of them?

Pushing her thoughts aside, Katniss went to the open doorway of their office. Peeta sat with his back to her, his shoulders hunched and deep into the spreadsheet on the screen in front of him. Next to him, his phone rested, the rough voice of Tom Petty singing about Mary Jane on its speaker.

She knocked against the doorway.

“Did I ever tell you how sexy you look with a spreadsheet in front of you?”

Peeta met her eyes, his cheeks coloring. “Probably not as sexy as you look taking counter orders.” Swiveling his seat, he patted his lap. “We’re low on chairs.”

Katniss obliged, primly sitting on his lap and wrapping her arms around his neck. “Hello.”

“Hi.” Peeta pressed a kiss to her lips. “How are you doing today? You headed out pretty early. Everything okay?”

“I’m great,” she told him. “Just had an appointment.”

Here it was, the moment when she should tell him of their impending offspring.

Peeta yawned suddenly. “Sorry, I’m just exhausted. It’s been a very long day for me. Did Thresh tell you whether or not the almond flour was okay?”

Suddenly, now was not the time to tell him especially when he was tired and processing spreadsheets—

“He said the flour was fine.” A familiar tune wafted into the air and she abruptly stood up, holding her hand out. “You want to dance?”

Peeta nodded, taking her hand and rising from their ergonomic and expensive office chair.

“This song always makes me feel like I’m in a 90’s romantic comedy,” she told him as The Cure filled the room.

Peeta met her eyes, his own crinkling in laughter. “Aren’t we?”

She chuckled and nodded, her head going to his shoulder.

“The good kind, like Reality Bites or 10 Things I Hate About You—with witty dialogue and a kickass soundtrack.”

“Well, we have the witty dialogue,” Peeta told her. “Just need that soundtrack—” He stopped for a moment and looked into her eyes. “There’s something different about you. You look…sparkly.”

Katniss rolled her eyes. “Real witty.” She pulled him closer. “Just keep dancing.”

Her birthday—it was coming up.

She would just tell him then—and he couldn’t say anything bad because it was her day.

Somewhere in her head, Katniss swore she heard the baby call her a chicken.

++++++

Two days later, the group gathered once more sans Beetee, who would be watching the Odair kids. He had already sent Peeta an ample outline of his suggestions that included recreating he and Katniss’ first date down to the dress she wore for it.

Katniss was at the bakery for evening inventory. Rue agreed to pretend she needed help to give them ample enough time to discuss their ideas.

“Okay, Annie and Finnick—what do you got?” Peeta asked, a clipboard and pen ready in his hands.

“Well, we thought it might be cute if the kids helped in some way,” Annie said, looking through her own list. “Like maybe Jack could hold the ring for you or the girls can give her flowers…” She looked through the rest of her notes. “Sorry guys. The girls are teething and Jack is going through a phase of just waving his little Jack around, if you know what I mean. Our ideas are not so good.”

“So, your kid likes to be naked,” Johanna replied. “Everyone goes through a naked phase.”

“When did you get over yours?” Prim quipped.

“I haven’t,” Johanna simply replied.

Peeta jotted down Annie’s suggestions.

“No, they’re fine. I take everything into account.” He looked around the room, stopping on the Abernathys. “Haymitch? Effie?”

“How about you do something in the garden?” Effie said. “I mean, I can decorate—”

“You mean I can decorate,” Haymitch interrupted. “There is no way in hell that I’m letting you on a ladder.”

“But I have all the streamers from the baby shower and Katniss loves green!” his wife protested.

“Before this turns into a fight that Haymitch won’t win—” his mother told them. “—Peeta, just note it and let’s keep going.”

“Okay then.” Peeta wrote down the suggestion before going to his mother and father. “Mom? Dad?”

“Well—” His mother turned to look at Robin, who practically bounced in her seat. “We thought that we could blow up some pictures of you and Katniss sequencing your relationship!”

“And then we could do like a few them of your future,” Robin added. “Like one of you two getting married and one of you and Katniss with your baby—”

Prim, who had been drinking a glass of water, suddenly coughed.

“M-Mom!” she sputtered; her blue eyes wide with shock at the possibility of her mother revealing Katniss’ secret. “They don’t even have kids!”

“Oh pish.” Robin waved her hand easily. “Nothing that can’t be photoshopped.”

Peeta wrote down the suggestion. “That sounds pretty cool. I mean kids seems a little far—”

“You don’t want to have kids with my Katniss?” Stephen suddenly asked.

Peeta’s head snapped up. “Of course, I do! It’s just—”

His father suddenly towered over him. “Just what?”

A whimper suddenly escaped his mouth.

“I just thought that I would first like Katniss to accept my proposal before actually thinking about children…”

Bran jumped up, his hands going to both fathers’ shoulders.

“Chill, Dads.” He gave them pointed looks. “I mean, let them work that out when they get to that moment.”

“Anyway, before the parents decide to hijack your proposal, Bran and I came up with something,” Alex said. “We think that you should do something musical for her.”

Peeta shook his head vehemently. He already knew where this was going.

“No, bros.”

Prim scoffed. “Yeah, like Peeta can sing!”

“You’d be surprised,” Bran told her. “I mean, we—”

“Stop!” Peeta jumped from his seat. “I’ll put it into account but…”

“You know her favorite song, right?” Alex asked.

Peeta nodded, his cheeks burning. “Of course.”

Alex put an arm around his younger brother. “Then, just think about it.”

“Fine,” Peeta told him begrudgingly. “But I’m not making promises.”

“Just make it romantic,” Johanna told him earnestly. “Because in the end, Katniss is just like any other person; she enjoys a good romance once in a while.”

Peeta suddenly grinned, thinking of his conversation with Katniss the previous night as they danced in their small office. “A romantic comedy…”

Then, it came to him.

++++++

This was hell.

Katniss put a cool washcloth to her forehead as she sat on the floor of her bathroom. Peeta had offered to stay home with her, but she assured him that it was just ‘female issues.’ There was no need for him to miss out on work and Prim would check on her in the afternoon.

The moment he left, after promising to call at lunch, she immediately rushed into the bathroom to throw up the contents of her stomach—maybe her stomach itself—into their toilet.

She didn’t know how long she could take doing this, keeping this misery to herself.

Peeta got her into this. He should suffer, too.

“A few more days…” she told herself.

In a few more days, it would be her birthday and she could tell Peeta about their baby.

With that thought, Katniss laid down on the cool porcelain floor and fell asleep.

++++++

“She’s a wreck…”

Katniss blearily opened her eyes hearing her sister’s voice.

“What did you expect?” a deep voice asked. “She’s carrying my brother’s spawn.”

A washcloth was placed on her forehead.

“Just let her rest. She’s stressed out, keeping all of this from your brother.”

Katniss was soothed at Johanna’s words.

“Should we get her to their bed?” asked Alex. “She looks a little peaked.”

“I’m fine,” Katniss finally grumbled, her eyes opening to find Johanna, Prim, and Bran on the floor with her. Alex leaned against the doorframe. “If you take me to the room, I’ll just end up here, anyway.” She glared up at Johanna. “I can’t believe you told them.”

Johanna gave her a mock scowl. “Me? I didn’t say anything. It was your brainless sister.”

Prim gave her a pout. “Sorry, Katniss. You know I can’t keep secrets.”

“It won’t be a secret much longer,” she informed them. “I’m going to tell him on my birthday next week.”

“Your birthday?” Johanna repeated. “When did you decide that?”

“Once I got the confirmation that there was a little peanut-sized being inside me—also, when I chickened out on telling Peeta that same day,” Katniss replied and sighed. “We can never get married now.”

“Why not?” Alex asked.

“Because once I tell your brother, he will propose to me. Not because he wants to, but because he’ll feel obligated to. I don’t want to trap him like that. I mean, we can raise the baby together—”

Bran reached over to give her shoulder a squeeze. “Oh sweetie, my brother would never marry someone just because of obligation. Every move that Peeta makes, he makes with love.”

“I know.” Katniss sniffled. “Damn hormones. I just don’t want him to regret me…or the peanut.”

“He would never,” Alex assured her.

Katniss suddenly shot up, twisting in the direction of the toilet before retching into it.

The four other occupants reared back before Prim gathered herself to hold her sister’s hair up.

“Let it out,” Prim told her soothingly.

“I think I just threw up a lung,” Katniss replied miserably. “Help me up. I feel so gross. I need to change my shirt.”

Bran, the brawniest of them all, scooped the nauseous expectant mother up easily. “I got you.”

“Thanks, bro…” Katniss closed her eyes. “You smell like Peeta…but I’m not even turned on.”

He guffawed. “Gee, thanks.”

Everyone else followed them down the hall to the bedroom and Bran gently placed Katniss on her bed.

“Let me grab you a shirt, sis,” Prim said quickly before going into their closet and returning with an oversized white t-shirt. “Do you need anything else?”

Katniss shook her head. “I have a bottle of water by the bedside. I’m just going to lay down for a while. Peeta said he would call soon.”

Nodding, Prim went over to kiss the top of her sister’s head. “Get some rest, okay?”

Katniss nodded before closing her eyes. She was out before Prim even closed the door.

As soon as the door was closed, Prim turned to the other three.

“Fuck the plan. Peeta needs to propose like right now,” she informed them.

“Are you kidding?” Alex said.

“No, I’m not. Katniss is unpredictable and moody…she might tell him right when she wakes up for all we know. We have to beat her to the punch,” Prim told the three before looking to Bran. “Text all of our parents. Johanna, alert the building. Once this is all done, then we go to Peeta. Agreed?”

They all agreed quietly, not wanting to awaken Katniss, before getting to their duties.

++++++

The door of the bakery had barely closed for the day before the group barreled in. Peeta and Katniss’ parents, and well—the whole damn building were suddenly standing right in front of him as he was putting pastries away.

“What’s going on?” Peeta demanded to know.

Prim stepped forward. “You need to propose—now.”

He froze, a half empty tray in his hands. “What?”

Johanna took the tray from his grasp so she could have one for herself.

“If you don’t, there’s a chance that Katniss might say no,”

He looked at everyone’s anxious expressions. “But, the plan—"

“We figured it out,” his father told him. “It’s all set up.”

“How did you manage that?” Peeta asked.

“Katniss’…female problems knocked her out cold,” Alex offered. “At least, that’s what Prim told me.”

“We worked quickly and quietly,” Beetee assured him. “It looks great.”

“But…this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen,” Peeta said in disappointment.

“Peeta.” Robin lifted his drooping chin. “When did anything between you and Katniss ever go as planned?”

Peeta looked into her eyes—Katniss’ almond eyes—before giving her a kiss on the cheek. Reaching into his pocket, he handed her a set of keys.

“Will you get the ring? It’s in the bottom-left drawer of my desk in the small petty cash box.” His gaze went to his mother, her own eyes glittering with tears. “My mom knows the combination.”

Then, Peeta turned to the rest of the group.

“Let’s do this.”

++++++

Blinking slowly, Katniss finally opened her eyes. She was relieved to find that her stomach was no longer rumbling. She carefully sat up, her gaze going to her side table where a note in Prim’s writing laid on a packet of Saltines, saying ‘Eat me’.

Katniss opened the packet quickly and scarfed down the crackers while texting Prim to thank her. She was surprised to find that she had slept late into the afternoon.

Her phone dinged with a response. ‘Are you okay?’

She typed back, ‘I’m feeling much better.’

The next message came quickly: ‘Johanna and I are downstairs in the lobby. Come down and meet us! Also, can you wear that dress that you wore on your first date with Peeta? Effie was telling us about it the other day and Johanna is thinking of having it recreated exclusively for the boutique.’

Katniss swore that she had worn it at some point in front of Johanna but typed back in agreement, letting Prim know that she would be down in a few minutes.

Going to her closet, she pulled out the rust dress that she wore that first date. Without that date, she may have never run into Gale and he wouldn’t have texted his mother like a little bitch.

However, if he didn’t, then maybe her and Peeta might have still been living that lie.

In some ways, she should be thanking Gale—right after punching him in the nads.

Quickly, Katniss threw the dress on. She still fit in it nicely, her boobs filling the top a little better, but their little bun was still well hidden. After making sure that she didn’t reek of vomit, Katniss made her way out of the apartment and down the stairs.

Stepping onto the main floor, she found Prim and Johanna missing—but the door leading to the backyard was open. It wasn’t uncommon to find a group of them congregating for a glass of wine or just to talk about their day.

She loved this about their building; it was a community—a family.

As Katniss stepped into the backyard, her mouth fell open.

She didn’t see Prim or Johanna but found something entirely different.

To both sides of the door were easels with blown-up photos of herself and Peeta. She continued down seeing that first photo at their City Hall ‘wedding’ to a photo of themselves in front of the Mellark Bakery on its grand opening. It was easy to piece together that they were all set up to show the sequence of their relationship.

However, the last two before the archway of the garden showed two images of what was supposed to be their future.

One was an actual wedding, their faces photoshopped—masterfully—on a bride and groom in front of beautiful rose archway. The guests all happened to have the faces of their families and friends.

Then, there was the last one; the one of herself—with a very nice rack she might add—holding a baby in her arms. Photoshopped Peeta stood behind her, gazing adoringly at their little one.

Her hand reached to the little one’s face and with a sigh, Katniss wondered who their actual little one would look like.

She moved forward, entering through the thick archway where she was greeted by Beetee and the Odair girls.

In front of her, a large white curtain going from one side of the yard to the other had been drawn up, keeping her from seeing what was behind it.

Katniss looked to her neighbor. “Hey Beetee, what’s going on?”

He smiled at her before reaching behind him and presenting her with a delicate daisy crown.

“The girls—” Beetee looked to Sarah and Rose, who giggled and bounced excitedly. “—and I were in charge of this lovely crown.” He placed it carefully on her head. “The girls chose the flowers.”

Katniss looked to each twin. “Thank you, Sarah. Thank you, Rose.”

Beetee held out his arm. “Shall we?”

Tentatively, she took it. “I’m a little scared of what I might find behind that curtain.”

The man next to her chuckled as the little girls ran ahead.

“Now when has that ever stopped you from leaping forward?” he asked her, a softness in his dark eyes. They stood in front of the curtain and Beetee parted it with just enough space for her to walk through. “Go ahead.”

Taking a deep breath, Katniss stepped in.

The beginning strains of her favorite song came on and she let out a breath of shock at the sight.

Her family along with the Mellarks were there, all gathered to one side as the Abernathys, Odairs, as well as Beetee and Wiress stood to the other side. She walked down an aisle of rose petals gazing up at the streamers creating a beautiful sage-green big top.

Then, her eyes went to the stage in front of her. “Holy shit…”

 

“I don't care if Monday's blue

Tuesday's grey and Wednesday too

Thursday, I don't care about you

It's Friday I'm in love…”

 

It was Peeta…on stage…singing into the mic—and why did she not know that he could sing?

Katniss felt her lips turn up in a grin when Peeta winked at her, his mouth against the mic.

 

“Saturday, wait

And Sunday, always comes too late

But Friday, never hesitate...”

 

And, was that Bran on the drums behind him…and Alex on bass?

“I don’t know if Peeta ever mentioned that he and his brothers had a band,” Daphne said suddenly next to her, blue eyes bright with mirth. “They were quite the thing in our neighborhood.”

“I can imagine why,” she replied breathlessly, watching as Prim and Johanna sang back-up to Peeta’s lead vocals. “He’s good.”

Daphne gave her a kiss on the cheek. “He stopped singing for a long while—until you came along. Now, he would only do this again for you.” She moved Katniss forward gently. “Go on, listen to his song.”

 

“Always take a big bite

It's such a gorgeous sight

To see you eat in the middle of the night

You can never get enough

Enough of this stuff

It's Friday

I'm in love…”

 

Katniss didn’t know if it was the baby or just her, but she could feel the butterflies flutter in her stomach as she walked towards to the stage.

Oh shit—her stomach lurched; it was neither her or the baby.

It was her stomach.

Katniss could feel the bile rushing up and she lifted her skirt with one hand and used the other hand to cover her mouth before rushing to the left side of the garden. The music stopped abruptly in a jangled mess as she reached the end and let the vomit erupt from her mouth.

She was barely aware as someone gathered her hair up as she continued to throw up into what looked like a set of begonias.

“Oh God…whose flowers were these?” she choked out through tears and vomit.

“Don’t worry about it,” Haymitch said off-handedly behind her. “Those tenants were huge douches.”

A cool hand went to her forehead. “Are you okay?” It was Peeta. She realized as she leaned back against his chest that he had been holding her hair. “I didn’t think that it was humanly possible for someone to vomit that much in such a short span of time.”

Katniss closed her eyes, feeling the relief of being in his arms after such a trying day.

“I didn’t know you had such good voice,” she breathed into his chest, exhaustion taking over.

“Just one of my many talents,” Peeta told her and she could hear the smile in his voice. “You wanted romantic comedy, right? Don’t all good romantic comedies come with a kickass soundtrack?”

She laughed wetly. “They do, but they don’t usually come with vomit.”

Peeta chuckled, his chest contracting as he let out a shaky breath.

“No, they don’t. Some of them do come with one of these—” Peeta pressed his mouth to her ear and her skin tingled at the warmth of his breath against her ear. “Katniss Everdeen, will you marry me—for real this time?”

Her eyes opened and Katniss sat up, her gray ones suddenly watering at his words.

“Are you only asking me because I’m pregnant?” she managed to blurt out.

His eyes suddenly widened to a degree that could break world records—or cause a major headache.

“You’re pregnant?”

“Uncle Peeta?” Jack suddenly stood in front of them holding out a tiny red box. “Your mommy told me to give this to you.”

“Thanks, Jack.” Peeta ruffled his unruly locks before the little boy went to join his family. He turned back to Katniss. “Take a look.”

Shakily, Katniss took the box and opened it. There laying inside was a beautiful pearl ring surrounded by small diamonds on a thin band.

There was no way in hell, with a ring like this, that he did not plan this proposal.

“This is real.” She met Peeta’s eyes. “Are you okay…about the baby?”

Katniss felt her chest swell as tears lined his deep-blue eyes and his mouth split into a grin.

“We’re going to have baby,” he said thickly.

Peeta kissed her soundly, despite what Katniss was sure was the most rancid-flavored kiss.

But if that wasn’t love, then she didn’t know what was.

When they pulled apart, Katniss beamed at him.

“We’re having a baby…and getting married as soon as I brush my teeth.”

Peeta helped her up and she adjusted her skirt, brushing bits of grass off.

“Sweetheart, I don’t think that’s possible,” Peeta said. “We’d have to wait until tomorrow—”

“Actually—” Beetee approached them and handed Katniss a piece of paper. “Signed by the mayor herself.”

It was a marriage license, their names already on it with today’s date as their official wedding date.

They both looked to Beetee and he shrugged. “I came prepared.”

++++++

Many months later…

“Come on, little mama.” Peeta rubbed the small of her back. “Just a bit longer.”

Katniss groaned as she trudged forward. “I am so sick of being pregnant.”

“Really?” He gave her a smile. “I couldn’t even tell.”

“Why did I marry you?” she asked, grinning at him.

“Because I’m adorably irresistible,” Peeta told her as they reached the front. “And, I have a huge—”

“Ego,” Katniss finished for him. She pressed a kiss to his lips. “And your penis is not so bad.”

“Better curb your tongue,” he warned. “Our daughter might come out with a sailor’s mouth.”

“Help me up.” Holding Peeta’s hand, Katniss carefully stepped onto the bench and onto the flat surface of the table. The table creaked as she settled. “Oh, that doesn’t sound good.”

Peeta joined her quickly, pulling her close.

“We can’t stay here for too long. Haymitch and Effie are expecting us. It’ll be their first date night since Luke was born,” Peeta told her.

“I know. Effie told me she’s been ‘aching’ for Haymitch.” Katniss blanched. “When she is really tired, she has no filter.”

“That was more than I needed to hear,” Peeta replied. “I guess it’s better than hearing about Alex and Johanna.” His brother had finally worn down Katniss’ friend and was now happily shackled after being married by an Elvis Presley impersonator in Las Vegas. “I don’t think my parents have forgiven them for eloping.”

“Well, they’ll forget once this one is born,” Katniss assured him, her hand on her swollen belly. She looked to Peeta. “Do you regret that we didn’t have a big wedding either?”

“Hell no!” he exclaimed. “I married you at sunset in front of our friends and family and it was actually official—”

“After I vomited in the middle of your performance.” Katniss leaned back against him. “I can’t believe I married the Nick Jonas of the Mellark brothers.”

He groaned. “Please stop with the Jonas references.”

“Okay…but when our daughter is sixteen, you can bet your ass that I’m playing the recording for her,” she responded.

“Deal.”

They sat back, looking out the window of the Mellark Bakery, content in the silence of the moment.

The silence didn’t last very long.

“Oh crap.” Katniss turned to her husband. “Help me up.”

He looked to her, used to her frequent trips to the bathroom and sudden need for pastries. “Why?”

“Because my water broke all over this table and it will cause water stains!” she burst out. “We just finished paying it off!”

Peeta jumped off it immediately, almost breaking that perfect Grecian nose in the process.

“It’s time?”

Katniss nodded, a bright smile on her face. “It’s time.”

 


 

I hope this sated your appetite. I wish I could go into each character and tell you what happened to each but that would be like…ten more pages. I’d by happy to tell you via message on Tumblr.

For now, just know that Katniss delivered a healthy baby girl—and Peeta’s nose ended being broken, anyway. Next baby, he’ll be sure to not suggest that Katniss hold off on the drugs eleven hours in.

They’re still deciding on a name having vetoed Primrose the Second and Johanna the Great.

Suggestions for names are appreciated as well as presents for the newest tenant of the building.

Just a few other notes:

-A kouign-amann is actually a really flaky cake but here in San Francisco, they’re sold in a donut size so I think of them like cronut. Whatever it is, it’s flippin’ delicious.

-We have CityTargets in San Francisco, which are smaller versions of Target, and they’re basically made for urbanites or if you’re by the one next to San Francisco State University, college students.

-The current mayor of San Francisco is London Breed, I figure she’s still mayor in this timeline of the story.

Song: “Friday I’m in Love”-The Cure

Thank you for sticking around and reading!

With love, JLaLa