Part Two of @safeinpeetasarms Prompt: Katniss tells Peeta she’s pregnant and Peeta reveals he’s a supernatural creature of your choosing 😂
RATED M: Canon typical Violence, mentions of war, death, and destruction. Suspense, Thriller.
Part Two is 13,995K basically four Chapters where Peeta and Katniss meet and fall. If you missed Part One don't worry I'm posting it on AO3 by chapters. I will be updating the entire week. Special thanks to my beta and bestie @norbertsmom who without her I'd be lost.
End of June 80th Year AFR
"Are you sure you don't need my help?" Gale asked. As he gently backed up the mule between the shafts of the cart.
"Nope," Katniss shook her head. She was more than capable of finding a way to haul the things her mother bought from the Capitol for the Apothecary.
After the Hybrid war, the Capitol said the Hybrids moved up north and lived peaceably. No one knew what they looked like, except the men who fought in the war, and they said the Hybrids were inhuman beasts with the strength of five men. Most of the survivors were the men who flew the hovercrafts. The infantrymen had a much higher casualty rate.
After her encounter in the woods a few months ago, Katniss knew what the Hybrids sounded like and how their eyes glowed in the dark. She still had nightmares about that day. When she hunted, she only went during daylight hours, and she was much more cautious in the woods. For the first month, she made sure to drag Gale with her every single time.
There were times she thought she felt she was being watched, especially when she separated from Gale. There were times in the beginning that she heard that awful howl in the woods.
Gale made fun of her until one day, he got scared too. To be fair to Gale, the weather was crappy when they went hunting. It was eerie outside, windy and overcast when they heard the howl. After that, it began raining and thundering.
The feeling of being watched, the howling, the weird animal prints all tamed down from last month. She had just started hunting in the pre-dawn hours, however, she still didn't go deep into the woods; she stayed close to the fence unless Gale was with her. Since it was warmer, there was plenty of game to hunt.
"Catnip," Gale sighed.
"Gale, I can handle this. I'm not helpless."
Gale rubbed the back of his neck. "Now, I didn't say you were. I know you're plenty capable of taking care of yourself. It's just, I've got a cart, and I'm fixin' on goin' that way anyways. Delly ordered some new faux leather for the shop and they'll be arriving on the same cargo train as your mother's supplies."
Katniss didn't want his help, but it did make sense for her to say yes. Primrose said she bought a few supplies and that could be a couple of crates. Primrose was into experimenting with the newest medicines and potions from the Capitol. Their mother was more or less skeptical and wanted concrete medical trials before she purchased anything.
"Fine," she grumbled.
"Great!" Gale said, turning to make sure his mule was hooked up to the cart.
Katniss watched one of Gale's brood run from the back step of the shoe shop. The shoe shop had the same floor plan as the Apothecary. They each had a storefront, the shop floor, a stockroom, with the living quarters upstairs. In the newer rebuilt places, the living quarters were spread out in the back.
During the war, Main Street in the Merchant side of town was hard hit by the bombing. The Justice Building was destroyed. Madge's father, the Mayor, died during the last air raid and so did many of the people who helped run the district. As a result, the DDC became the provisional government; they called themselves the War Time Council. The WTC became the District Council once the war ended. Katniss' mother was heavily involved with both organizations.
When her father didn't come back, her mother's sadness was replaced with having to deal with the restoration. She threw herself into the restoration of the homes and businesses in the district, as well as tending to the wounded.
Slowly, the buildings that survived on Main Street were restored. The district suffered heavy damage during the air raids. There were a total of seven air raid attempts, but only three were successful. The Capitol sent Airmen to District Eleven and when they detected an attack coming from District Thirteen, the Capitol hover planes met them in combat.
District Twelve was resilient, while they couldn't concentrate on restoring the buildings that were destroyed in the air raids, they didn't let the destruction the Hybrids made get them down. Before District Eleven had their air station, they industriously found solutions. Earlier on when Hybrids destroyed the train station, her mother and Hazelle used morse code to contact the nearest train station, track manager. They organized carts and made a coal delivery. Because the tracks were damaged and supplies were low, Madge's mother, Maysie, helped organize the food and supply rationing.
After the war, the council made a push to make improvements; they pooled resources and slowly built up the district. They also found surviving relatives who could inherit the businesses for those who'd lost their lives during the air raids. As a result, Katniss' mother inherited the Apothecary and she and her sister lived upstairs. Delly became the owner of the shoe shop when she graduated. Gale moved in and helped her run the shop. Delly's little brother married Rooba's daughter. They were an unlikely pair. She was gruff, tall, and muscular while he was slight and diminutive.
Ten years later there were still a few empty plots on Main Street. There were people in the district that opened new shops, like Ripper who opened a spirits shop, showcasing both her alcoholic and nonalcoholic elixirs. The latest rebuilding project was a centrally located shop. Everyone speculated who was building it and what the shop was going to be. This exciting news was the latest gossip in town.
Katniss paid no attention to the gossip. She was focused on her hunting and helping her mother and sister. When she graduated she chose to move back to the small house in the Seam. She preferred to live there. It was quiet and most people left her alone.
Though she did enjoy visiting her family and friends when in town. She also enjoyed spending time with Gale and his family. It reminded her of the way her family was before the war.
"Junior?" Gale said to his eldest.
"Can I go play with Jimmy?"
"Jimmy Rivers?" Gale raised an eyebrow.
"Ahhh," his son put his hands behind his back.
Katniss watched him cross his fingers. Junior always crossed his fingers before he lied.
"Nope. I'm not allowed to play with Jimmy Rivers."
Gale gave Katniss a silent look. He was well aware of his son's tricks.
Katniss wanted to laugh out loud at Junior's horrid attempt to bamboozle his father. She was glad she wasn't facing Junior; he would see her shoulders shaking in mirth.
Katniss loved all of Gale and Delly's kids. Junior, the oldest at 8 years old, was an accident. Junior was followed by Gertrude who just turned 6, next came the 4-year-old twin's Jack and James, followed by Suzy who was 3 and as angelic as her mother, and now Delly was pregnant again - she was due sometime in the winter.
Watching Gale with his eldest sent a momentary pang through Katniss. However, as soon as that pang came Katniss mentally shook herself. There was no way in tarnation that she would ever get pregnant. Firstly she needed a man, and the odds of doing that in District Twelve were insurmountable.
The Hybrid War helped ensure there were many women like Katniss. District Twelve was considered the smallest district; it only had 9,878 residents before the war. There was a pretty even distribution between the sexes. After the war, they were left with 2637 women that were widowed or unmarried, and many children that were left fatherless or in some cases were orphaned.
As a result, there was a disproportionate amount of females to males. As soon as they became of age, the men quickly found someone to settle down with within two years of turning eighteen.
Delly caught the eye of Gale when they traded with the Cobbler. She was always nervous, one fall short of a disaster. Katniss couldn't count the number of times Gale ended up catching her before she fell into a calamitous situation. In a way, Katniss was glad Gale took a shine to Delly.
Katniss didn't want a man. She chose to be alone. Some women opted to become mail-order brides and left the district for the chance to have a family elsewhere. Other women sought company where they could find it. Not Katniss, she never again wanted to experience loss. She didn't want anyone until she saw Gale and his lookalike son staring at each other as they squared off.
"But Dad, it's a different Jimmy." Junior opened his eyes wide and said, "I know a lot of Jimmys."
"Oh really? I didn't know there was a lot of Jimmys," Gale responded skeptically. He shot Katniss a look. There weren't enough boys in the district.
"I swear it's not Jimmy Rivers. I would never play with him."
Katniss coughed to keep from laughing. Junior was trying to pull one over on his father and he didn't know it wasn't working.
Gale raised an eyebrow, before turning to the mule. He made sure the ties of the mule's harness were just right, as he spoke, "That's right because the last time you and Jimmy got together you glued your sister's favorite shoes on the roof. Not to mention you and he broke Mrs. Leaferton's window while playing stickball."
"That was an accident!" Junior had the decency to sound shocked. "No one got hurt."
"You're right, no one got hurt. However the ball fell inside of the glass dish where she kept her false teeth, they snapped in half." Gale said.
"Sorry Junior, but I do not trust any of your friends named Jimmy. But if you want, you can come with me and Katniss to the train depot to pick up supplies."
At the sound of the train depot, Junior's eyes lit up. Junior loved the trains.
"I'll be right back. I'm telling Jimmy I'm going to the train station."
Gale chuckled to himself. "One of these days, he's going to outsmart me."
"I've got news for you Gale, if he doesn't, Gertrude will," Delly said, waddling outside.
"How are you feeling?" Gale asked, putting his hand on her midsection.
"Hot," Delly said.
"Well I know you're hot, Baby-girl, but I mean how are you doing?"
"Oh, hush," Delly said blushing.
"You two are going to give me a toothache," Katniss grumbled as Junior came running back.
"Here Katniss, the list of things Gale's supposed to pick up. I have a feeling he's going to have his hands full with Junior to pay attention to the list."
Katniss laughed. She took the list. "Come on Gale, let's make sure you don't mess this up."
"Me?" Gale asked. Hefting up his son on the back of the cart. "I never mess up."
"Yup and you never get lost." Katniss stuck the list in the front pocket of her shirt.
"Now wait a minute, Catnip," Gale said.
"Gale, may I remind you, that you didn't know your north from your south in the woods when we began hunting?"
"I knew how to track, Catnip," Gale grumbled.
"I never said you didn't know how to follow paw prints in the ground, Gale. You just can't find your way out of a bag."
Delly began laughing.
"The women in my life will cause me to…." Gale began then stopped when Delly raised one of her blond eyebrows at him. "Never mind."
Katniss grinned. "Let's get going, the train is nearly here."
They set off toward the train station.
"Primrose said she wanted Delly to take it easy," Gale said.
Her sister took long-distance courses from the Capitol to become a certified midwife. Prim, like her mother, knew a great deal about medicine and healing. Katniss had no competence for medicine, at all. She couldn't even stand applying a band-aid on a paper cut. Katniss was like her father; she enjoyed the outdoors, hunting, fishing, and nature, things her sister couldn't stomach.
"Gale, you guys need help, you've got five kids all under the age of ten. The majority of them are not even in school yet."
"I know," Gale said. "Delly and I were talking. We're going to hire someone to work in the shoe shop. Ma said she'd help Delly with the housework."
"I think I might know someone, Billy."
"Billy Robins?" Gale's question was justified. Billy Robins was her biggest enemy in school growing up.
"He's married now and he's got, three kids. He was injured in the mines, and can't work there, so any job would be welcome."
"You're a big softy, Catnip."
The train whistle sounded in the distance.
"If we don't hurry we'll be the last ones to get our shipments," Katniss said.
They arrived at the station just as the train pulled in. Katniss hung back by the cart as Gale and Junior went to check out the train. This one came all the way from the Capitol and the engine was one of the sleek models that wasn't destroyed during the war. Katniss hailed her friend Michelle who was in charge of the cargo. She gave them the list Delly gave her.
"I'll see to it," Michelle nodded. "I also saw a few things for the Apothecary."
"I'm not quite sure what Prim ordered so whatever you see just pack it onto the cart."
"Will do." Michelle nodded with that efficiency they had.
"Thanks, Michelle." Katniss could now relax as she knew the supplies were handled. Michelle was the best cargo handler.
Madge stepped off the train.
"Katniss," Madge called out and waved as she briskly made a beeline for Katniss.
"Madge!" Katniss greeted walking toward her.
Katniss hadn't seen her best friend in nearly a year. Madge wanted to leave the district as soon as she graduated. She ran to become the district liaison in the Capitol. She won and was an incredible politician. Madge invited Katniss to come to the Capitol to work with her, but Katniss decided to stay back and help her mother while Prim studied. Both girls were as different as night and day.
Madge always looked beautiful, even during the war when clothing was hard to come by. Today there was no exception. Her blonde hair glistened in the light, and it fell over her shoulder. Katniss' hair was braided and was covered up by her cap. Madge wore delicate heels, and a smart white and pink printed smock dress. Katniss wore sensible second-hand clothing that was a little too big for her frame, but they were clean. Her trousers, sweater that thankfully didn't have holes, and boots were anything but delicate. They were sturdy old knee-length boots that had mud on them from traipsing through the forest.
"How are you?" Madge asked, stopping short of hugging Katniss.
Katniss didn't like to be touched. There were only three people in the entire district who could hug her, one was her sister, the other her mother, and the third was Delly. Delly was a hugger and Katniss had learned to cope with Delly's touchy-feely ways.
"Good, what are you doing back from the Capitol?"
"I came here to speak to Haymitch," Madge said.
Haymitch sat on the Council along with their mothers. "Why? Is something going on in the Capitol?"
"Nope, everything is fine in the Capitol. It's Haymitch himself."
"Apparently Haymitch wants to retire and raise geese."
Katniss started laughing.
"It's no joke, all those years of drinking didn't allow him to join the war effort and after ten years on the council, he's ready to retire." Madge squared her shoulders. "There is no one like him on the council, and the Capitol trusts him."
"I'm sure you can get it sorted out," Katniss said. Behind Madge, a group of four men stepped off the train. They were only feet away, but Katniss's heart raced as she took them in, they were all extremely handsome.
There weren't that many men in the district and she wasn't someone who usually noticed men's beauty. Gale was good-looking. According to Madge, Gale was gorgeous. However, given the number of men in the district, Katniss never paid much attention. But these men were hard to miss.
They were tall, broad-shouldered blonds, with blue eyes. The older one was looking around as if searching for someone. One of them had a set chin and his eyes shifted as if not pleased by what he was seeing, his lips were pursed. The one standing next to the sour-faced man was also looking around. His eyes darted around quickly assessing the females at the platform. Katniss swore he sniffed the air, much the way an animal did when they were sniffing to see if the scent they picked up was friend or foe. Her grey eyes then found the fourth one. He was staring straight at her, a soft smile on his face. His eyes seemed to warm and twinkle when he noted she was staring back.
The hair on the back of her neck stood up and her heart raced. Her mouth became dry.
"Katniss, are you," Madge said, waving her hand in her face. "Oh, no wonder," Madge said, turning around to look at the men. "I didn't see them on the train."
The four men turned in their direction and approached Katniss and Madge. Within seconds, they were surrounded. Someone jostled Katniss from behind and she pitched forward. The one that was sniffing the air caught her from falling. Katniss recoiled at his touch though she thought she heard a low growl. The type a dog would make when they ate and another pet was in the vicinity.
"Excuse me," the one that had been sniffing the air said.
"Hi," Madge said, grinning.
"Would you happen to know where I can find Mr. Abernathy?" The older gentleman of the group asked. "My sons and I are new to the district."
Katniss caught sight of Haymitch who was rushing toward them.
"Mr. Mellark," Haymitch gruffly said, once he reached them. "Sorry, I'm late."
"Catnip," Gale shouted. He had Junior perched on his shoulders, and was leading his mule and cart. Once he was in front of her, he said, "Hey I picked up our stuff, got to get back to the shop. Dell's is waiting for me. Oh hi Madge, Haymitch."
Katniss introduced herself to the men. "My name is Everdeen, Katniss Everdeen- not Catnip. Gale just calls me that because..."
"I couldn't say Katniss when we were kids." Gale extended his hand, "My name is Gale Hawthorne, this little guy is my oldest, Junior."
"You're tall like my dad!" Junior blurted.
Everyone started laughing.
"Madge Undersee, I'm the district liaison. I didn't see you on the train."
"It's a pleasure," the older gentleman said as he shook hands. "My name is Graham Mellark. My sons and I have moved from the Capitol for a better life. This is my oldest Wheaton, that rascal is Rye, and that there is Peeta, he's my youngest."
"Pleasure," Katniss said, and she couldn't help the way heat flooded her cheeks when she turned her gaze to Peeta.
"Hello Katniss," Peeta said.
His deep voice caused her knees to turn to jelly.
"Hello," she whispered. Katniss felt shy and unlike her usual straightforward personality. Nothing ruffled her, but this man caused chaos in her body.
"Do you live near?" Peeta asked.
Katniss was having trouble speaking. She glanced at Gale. Gale stared at her, looking shocked, but then his look became mischievous. Katniss scowled at him. Gale cleared his throat, then answered for her, "Nope she lives in the Seam."
"The Seam?" Mr. Mellark asked.
"It's what we call the home's outside of town," Haymitch said.
As the conversation flew around her, Katniss couldn't stop herself from staring at Peeta. He too was staring at her with those gorgeous warm blue eyes. She wasn't sure what caused her lips to be drawn into a smile all the while she was staring at him.
"Why are you red, Aunty Katniss?" Junior asked.
This caused another round of laughter. Katniss wanted the ground to swallow her up.
"That's enough from you," Gale said, taking Junior and putting him on the cart.
"Well let me take you to the bakery." Haymitch wiped his forehead with his handkerchief. "I'm sure you folks want to settle down."
"Yes, thank you," Mr. Mellark said.
As they left, Peeta turned around and waved to Katniss. She gave him a small wave back. Gale and Madge began laughing.
"Man I never thought I would see the day 'Katniss - I'm never getting married - Everdeen' fell for a pretty face," Madge guffawed.
"Me either," Gale said grinning. "I can't wait to tell Dells; she's going to love this."
"Stop laughing at me, you two," Katniss grumbled. "I've not done anything." They began to move away from the station toward town.
"Nope, you were practically falling over your feet." Madge wiggled her eyebrows as she walked with them.
Katniss didn't say anything as Madge and Gale teased her about making eyes at the Mellark men, especially the youngest, Peeta. Katniss wanted to defend herself but she couldn't. Because the truth was that she had found herself unable to speak to him normally. It was as if there was an invisible connection between them. Even if it was brief, it was there and she couldn't shake the way her mouth dried, her heart raced, and how her knees shook when he spoke to her.
The way his blue eyes seemed to warm and twinkle when he stared at her. She shivered just thinking about the encounter.
"Seriously, Katniss," Madge said before heading toward her mother's house. "You should go for it. He's definitely interested."
Katniss smiled tightly, glad that Madge was gone. Junior had fallen asleep on the walk to the shoe shop. Katniss followed Gale inside as he went upstairs and put his son to bed. He came back with an arm around Delly. Gale was flapping his mouth, telling Delly about what happened at the station.
"I tell you Dell's, I've never seen Katniss so bashful, and she was flirting."
"I wasn't flirting," Katniss said with disgust. She didn't flirt, ever. She had often been described as having a resting bitch face.
"What?" Katniss stared at both Delly and Gale.
"Your eyes were all googly and your face," Gale said, making a sappy face with half-closed eyes and fish lips. "Looked like this."
"Gale, stop it," Delly said, lightly slapping his chest.
"Can't help it, I've never seen Catnip infatuated with anyone male or female."
"I wasn't flirting." Katniss narrowed her eyes at Gale. The big goofball grinned back at her.
"Yes, you were."
"I was being amicable," Katniss said standing akimbo. "They're new to the district."
"Oh yea, then why was your face red as a tomato, and why did you smile at the youngest."
"I smile all the time!" Katniss felt her face heat up. She shoved her hands inside of her pockets and turned away. That was a bald-faced lie, and Gale and Delly both knew it. She wasn't one for smiling.
"Katniss," Delly said in that sweet tone of hers. She put her hands on Katniss' shoulders, turning Katniss so that they could see the other face to face. "You have a beautiful smile, but you don't smile often. You certainly grin, and you do smirk, but one of your smiles is rare, like rainbows after a really bad storm, or finding a four-leaf clover in a field of greens."
Katniss couldn't argue with Delly. "Like I said I was just trying to be neighborly." She shrugged, "I want to make a good impression because…"
"Because?" Gale said.
"Because," Katniss searched her brain, "I might want to ask them if they want to buy my game."
"This is true, meat is still too expensive to buy, even though my brother and Rooba sell it at a good price." Delly rubbed her back.
"Maybe you should sit a spell," Katniss said, frowning.
"My back has been bothering me all day."
Gale gently escorted Delly to sit on the sofa. He made a big production over her, Katniss sighed. She couldn't help it, even though this wasn't their first child together, Gale still acted as if it were. "Are you alright, do you need anything?"
Delly yawned. "I need a nap."
"Why don't you take a rest, baby-girl. The kids are napping and I can close the shop for the rest of the day."
"I think I'll be going," Katniss said.
"Wait," Gale said after he covered his wife up with a throw blanket. Delly was asleep in seconds.
Katniss waited and they both walked downstairs.
When they were outside Gale said, "I can bring over your goods later on. I know my kids; they don't nap for very long."
"Listen Catnip, if you're sweet on that Mellark, maybe I can put in a good word for you. Seeing as he's going to be our neighbor."
"Gale, really," Katniss said, exasperated.
"I just don't want you to have regrets."
Katniss opened her mouth.
"Wait, just give me a moment," Gale pleaded.
"Okay, go ahead."
"I read this poem once by a man named Tennyson."
Her eyebrows shot up. Gale wasn't a reader.
"This man wrote it was better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all."
"What does this have to do with the price of rice Gale?"
"Do you know why I chose to pursue Delly?"
"No?" Katniss supposed it was because he was attracted to her.
"When we were younger, you know I was a flirt."
"Yeah, there were rumors about you and your kissin' prowess at the slag heap."
Gale chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck. "I had my pick of girls to take to the slag heap, but after reading that, I wanted love. I asked you once if you'd leave with me to the woods."
"I told you I'd never have kids."
"Yup and I was so grateful you did. You and I are basically the same person and we wouldn't have worked."
"Yeah, it's true; we even look like siblings." Katniss wrinkled her face. "I used to get asked if I was your little sister when we were younger."
Gale nodded. "I was graduating and even though Madge and I were close, Madge was focused on getting out of the district and I don't think I was her type."
Katniss shook her head. She recalled Madge telling her whom she'd shared kisses with at the slag heap. Madge did what she wanted, despite her mother's wishes.
"Delly and I didn't make sense on paper. But as I got to know her, I can't explain it. The one girl in the district that never flirted with me, that was just friendly and nice was the one girl I thought about all of the time. Delly, well, she was light, sunshine in a bottle. She was the one I knew that if I didn't take a chance on, I'd regret it," Gale said bashfully, his face lit up with love.
"Everyone was shocked when you and Delly got hitched. They thought it was because of Junior, but then you were so in love, no one doubted that your love was real."
"And I want that for you, Catnip. I want you to fall in love. So maybe, maybe, it's time for you to take a leap. At least get to know him." He heard laughing coming from upstairs. "I've got to go, the natives are up."
Katniss chuckled. "See you later."
Before she walked back to her home in the Seam, she popped in and told Prim Gale was going to stop by later and bring her packages. Prim and her mother were busy with clients so they gave her a quick "Thank you" and got back to work.
Gale's words stayed with her, better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. Katniss sighed as she stepped into her home. Gale was coming from a good place. He wanted to see her happy. She quietly sat down in her chair facing the fireplace. She was content.
This life she'd built herself after the war was a good life. But she couldn't deny that seeing Gale and Delly together gave her a certain amount of lonesomeness. Standing, she heated some leftover stew from her fridge, then went to bed.
In the morning, for the first time, Katniss became aware of couples. After emerging from the woods with her game bag replete with fresh meat and fruits from the forest, Katniss was contemplative. As she went on her rounds selling and trading her game, Katniss noticed around her were all types of love. Why she hadn't seen it before she never knew. It was as if her head had been buried in a hole or a tree. Katniss recognized the friendship type, the familiar type, the romantic type, and she saw puppy love too. She saw the way people sought company. She shook her head at the infatuation the youngsters had with their first loves.
Love came in all shapes and sizes, just like people. Seeing it, Katniss wondered if she was missing out on a sort of companionship. Perhaps instead of romance, she needed a deep friendship. Or maybe she was just letting herself be swept away by nonsense, pure emotional crap.
Squaring her shoulders, she approached the bakery. She was a businesswoman and selling game meat was her business. She lifted her hand to knock, but the door opened.
"Ah Miss Everdeen?" Mr. Mellark greeted warmly. He pushed his blond wavy hair away from his forehead.
"Mr. Mellark," Katniss greeted.
"Please come in, we're not quite ready for business-" Mr. Mellark said but he was cut off by his son Wheaton.
"Great, you again," Wheaton grumbled as Katniss passed by his side. He had a short military buzz cut, and his eyes were darker than his father's and he looked serious. "Look, lady, I am not interested in dating-"
"Wheaton," his father warned.
"Actually, I was here to sell you my game meat." Katniss scowled at Wheaton all the while dipping into her game bag and pulling out a turkey.
Wheaton's eyebrows shot up as he looked at the wild turkey.
Katniss felt a presence over her shoulder and turned around to find Rye with his nose nearly pressed to her neck. She took a step away from him. Of the four Mellark men, he was the leanest one. His eyes were the same shade as Wheaton's, but his hair was a dark shade of blonde. He was also a creeper, the type of guy who is too handsome for his own good. He'd have a girl in one arm; while searching for the next.
Rye pointed to her game bag. He looked hungry, almost like her sister's cat when he spotted a fat mouse. "What else do you have in there?"
Ignoring Rye's question, Katniss said, "I'm a hunter and a trapper. Meat is expensive and I trade what I hunt for food or supplies, sometimes for coins."
Mr. Mellark took the turkey and looked at it. "Did you shoot this turkey through the eyes?"
"Yes," Katniss said.
"Wait, you're telling me you use a bow for hunting?" Wheaton asked.
"Yes, a bow," Katniss answered. "But I also use snares and traps."
"So you go out there to kill innocent animals," Wheaton accused.
"Are you suggesting I kill animals for sport?" Katniss straightened her shoulders.
"Well you are a hunter," Wheaton said with a growl in his voice. His growl almost sounded like an animal.
"I don't go out there to kill bears or cougars. If I'm attacked I'll shoot to protect myself, and mostly to make a quick getaway." Katniss recalled her experience with the Hybrids in the forest. She shivered lightly before finishing her sentence. "I only hunt what can be eaten."
"Like wild turkeys," Rye said amicably. He took the turkey from his father and looked at it as if he was going to fry it up and gobble it by himself.
"Yes, like turkeys." Katniss realized Wheaton could be one of those people like Ellie Elderweather who didn't eat meat. "If you don't eat meat, I apologize. I also sell strawberries, wild blueberries, blackberries, cheese, and pickled cucumbers. The pickled cucumbers taste great with cheese, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches."
"I eat meat." Wheaton frowned and said, "I thought citizens weren't allowed weapons in the district."
"My bow isn't kept inside of the district, and the council knows I hunt. They look the other way because I donate game meat to the less fortunate in the district."
"How do we-" Wheaton began.
Katniss caught Rye moving out of the corner of her eye, his hand was reaching for her bag. "Touch me and you'll regret it."
"Rye, behave yourself," Mr. Mellark said.
"Sorry, Miss Everdeen." Rye turned red having been caught. "It's just, I'm hungry and we haven't been to the grocer's yet to buy food. That meat smells awfully tempting."
"Boys behave yourselves. Miss Everdeen is not here to snare you into a wedding and she's not a food dispenser. And you shouldn't be grilling her over her chosen profession. We are not here to do that," Mr. Mellark said gruffly. Both Rye and Wheaton looked properly admonished and walked away. Mr. Mellark turned to Katniss with an apologetic smile. "Sorry, you would think they would act civilly. Also, we're a tad hungry. Haymitch took us out to eat yesterday and we had leftovers this morning, but I've been concentrating on setting up the store and haven't had an opportunity to run to the grocers."
Katniss nodded, understanding about hunger. "It's alright sir, hunger makes people act strange. Also, they don't know me from Adam. I'm sure they've been hit on by every single woman in this district."
"True, my boys have. Listen, Miss. Everdeen about the game meat-"
Katniss rushed on, trying to sell her service. "And just to reassure you, I'm not interested in that stuff." Katniss shrugged but she made a mental note never to deal with either Rye or Wheaton. "I'm a confirmed spinster, to be honest, and I'm content without-" Katniss drifted off Gale's words came back to haunt her.
"Companionship." Mr. Mellark finished for her.
"Yes." Her mind whirled with the idea of being satisfied with her life. The words content and satisfied didn't convey happiness or joy. She wasn't happy. The realization left her reeling. "Very few feel that way."
"I feel the same way. I've got my boys," Mr. Melalrk said. "But-"
"The war was hard on us here," Katniss said, thinking of her father and all of the people that were lost in the district. "We lost a lot of good people in the district."
"The war was hard on everyone."
"It's still hard on a lot of folks," Katniss said quietly. "Meat is expensive and it's hard to come by, and-"
"You are industrious," Mr. Mellark said.
Katniss nodded. "I am, but I'm fair. Sir, I'll sell for reasonable prices and I will also trade. Even though the country stopped rationing two years ago, coins are still hard to come by. Our baker died during the bombings. We haven't had good quality bread in the district for quite some time."
"That's what Haymitch said," Mr. Mellark said.
"Mr. Mellark, you don't have to buy my meat, but I'd trade for bread. I haven't had fresh bread in a long time."
The back door opened and Katniss tensed momentarily as she felt 'him' enter through the back. Hearing the door, Wheaton stepped back into the room.
"What happened to you?" Wheaton asked.
Katniss turned around to see Peeta standing there, his face red, and his shirt was muddy.
"I just ran away from a woman who called herself Mrs. Anderson. She kept on insisting I come inside her home and meet her daughter, Alison. I fell outside trying to get away from her."
"See, it's what I've been saying, dad," Wheaton said. "The women in this district are crazy!"
"Why are you laughing? This is serious." Wheaton looked like he wanted to go to war against the women of District Twelve.
Katniss cleared her throat. "Sorry, it's just that Mrs. Anderson hasn't accepted that none of you are Alison's type."
Peeta started laughing.
Katniss smiled at the sound of his full laugh. His eyes crinkled in the corners and he looked so handsome. She caught Rye staring at her, staring at Peeta. Bashful, she gazed down at the straps of her game bag.
"I should be going." Katniss hauled her straps on her shoulders. "Please enjoy the turkey as a welcome to the district gift and if you decide to trade with me…"
"No, we can't," Mr. Mellark protested.
Katniss looked up and saw Peeta giving her that soft smile that made tingles run up and down her body. "It's the neighborly thing to do. After all, Peeta was nearly snatched into Mrs. Anderson's home."
Peeta grinned, his blue eyes were filled with warmth and laughter. "It was traumatic," he agreed.
"I could only imagine," Katniss said, battling the smile that wanted to engulf her face. She hadn't noticed how they had slowly edged closer to the other until she stood looking up at him.
"On second thought Miss Everdeen," Mr. Mellark said. "I think we can trade."
"Thank you," Katniss said without looking away from Peeta.
"I look forward to doing business with you," Peeta said shyly.
Katniss nodded, her brain seemed to short circuit, and she couldn't formulate words. She gave him a small wave as she walked around him and out of the back of the bakery. It was only when she was halfway to the Apothecary did she come to realize she didn't discuss what sort of trade the Mellarks would give her for her game meat.
The bells in her head sounded. There was something about Peeta Mellark that made her turn into mush. Unsure by the feeling, she went home and pushed it to the side.
The next morning she got up and stared at herself in the mirror. There was nothing about her that was attractive. She had grey eyes, dark hair, and olive complexion that were common in the Seam. She wasn't full-figured like Delly, she wasn't classically beautiful like Madge. She didn't have the angelic look that her sister had. Katniss was short, too thin, and she wasn't pretty. She wasn't even average-looking. She was just a duck potato.
There was nothing about her that would attract anyone. Sighing, she heated up her stew and decided to go outside and tend to the goats and the chickens she kept. As she tended to the animals she noted the chickens acted skittishly; they were noisier than usual. Her goats' tails were down. The animals were acting like a storm was approaching. Katniss did her best to calm them down. When she left the chicken house, Katniss had that strange feeling she had in the forest.
Katniss gripped the feed bucket defensively ready to attack anyone or anything that came her way as she stood outside. Looking around her backyard she realized how silly she was acting. It was the middle of the morning, and she was in her fenced-in backyard.
There were woods beyond the fence, located on the opposite side was the town. There were no wild creatures or predators in the district. Other than the occasional pesky squirrel, there was nothing to fear. Her home was located such that it was close to the meadow and from her bedroom, on the second floor, she could see the land that was outside of the district.
That evening, Katniss still couldn't get over the feeling she was being watched. As she slipped into bed, she told herself that there was no reason for her to fear. She was home and she was safe. But even as she thought this, Katniss called herself a liar. The last time she'd felt safe was the day before her father was drafted.
As she drifted off to sleep she dreamt she was in the woods. It was dark out and she could hear the katydids song as she traveled deeper through the woods. The moon above illuminated the path before her. By the position of the stars in the night sky, she estimated the predawn hour.
She could hear rustling in the distance. With a will of their own, her feet took her toward the sound. Katniss frantically thought she was glad to have her bow and arrow, but when she looked down at her hands her weapon dematerialized.
Suddenly she saw the glowing blue-green eyes peering at her in the gloomy darkness. Katniss took a step back as she heard that blood-chilling howl. Her heart thundered in her chest. Glowing eyes followed her every move in the darkness. She ran, but she stumbled on a protruding root and fell to the ground. When she turned around and looked up she saw a lizard-like animal with sharp teeth peering down at her. Its foul-smelling breath was the last thing she recalled right before she started screaming. Katniss jolted awake, her screams echoing in the room.
Her body shook. Getting up, she walked to the window. Her hands shook as she pushed back the curtain. The moonlight illuminated the gently rolling hills of the woods. Sadly, at one point in her life the space outside of the fence represented freedom. She also associated the woods with her father. Now her heart and mind correlated those dark hills with fear.
Closing her eyes she pictured the way those eyes glowed in the semi-darkness. She recalled the terror she felt when she realized how small and truly defenseless she was compared to the Hybrids. Katniss stepped away from the window and turned on the lamp by her bedside. The light made her feel better.
Getting into bed, Katniss pushed the dream from her mind and thought of the Mellarks. One Mellark, in particular, came to mind. She analyzed once more her reaction to him. Even just thinking about him made her cheeks grow warm. Katniss couldn't believe she was laying in her bed in the middle of the night after having a horrific nightmare blushing about a man she barely knew.
A sentiment she could only describe as a pre-adolescent girl came over her. Where she wanted to wiggle in her bed, thump her feet vigorously like a rabbit when excited, and giggle. Exasperated with herself she grumbled and turned onto her side.
The tingly sensation didn't leave her and she fell asleep with a smile on her face.
That following week she took a break from engaging in the community for a while. When her supplies ran low, Katniss was forced to hunt so that she could get more provisions. Most of her clients were happy to see her standing at their back door with her game meat again.
Katniss decided to head to the bakery last, but this was a hard choice as the smells that wafted from the bakery permeated the air as she walked through town. Her mouth watered at the thought of freshly baked bread.
During the war years, many made bread with Tessera when the supply carts came. A lot of women made do with the corn and potatoes they grew in their vegetable gardens.
The grocers had bread imported from other districts but it was expensive and it often was stale and turned hard quickly. As she approached the back of the bakery she straightened her cap before knocking on the door.
"Miss Everdeen," Wheaton said quietly as he opened the door; his face soured when he saw her.
"I wanted to know if you and your family wanted to trade?" Katniss asked bluntly. She detected a scent in the bakery, but she couldn't put her finger on what she was smelling.
"YES!" Rye's shout came from within the interior.
Wheaton rolled his eyes. "Sorry about that."
"Wheaton why don't you go tend to the folk in the front," Mr. Mellark said, as he came to the door, wiping his hands.
"Father we don't-" Wheaton protested.
"Son, you enjoyed that turkey too, it was fresh and delicious," Mr. Mellark said.
"It's true, Wheaton," Rye said, coming to stand by Wheaton and Mr. Mellark.
The scent she picked up earlier was Rye. But she couldn't identify what the smell was.
"Meat is expensive and if we can trade a couple of loaves for her game meat, I'm all for it." Rye smacked his lips and rubbed his belly.
Katniss looked down and then sensed someone standing behind her. But unlike Rye, whom she wanted to bop on the head, she felt all tingly. She turned to see Peeta standing behind her. She looked up and her heart fell to her feet and then elevated itself to her brain as if it was on some joy ride in her body.
"Morning Katniss," Peeta said.
"Morning," Katniss greeted. She wanted to be able to find a way to control her wayward body.
"Peeta, your shirt is torn," Wheaton pointed out.
"Oh, yeah, when I went to make a delivery one of the women, Tibia, cornered me," Peeta said blushing.
Katniss should have been outraged, but she snorted. It was funny to think of Peeta cowering in a corner while Tibia tried to proposition him. Peeta was massive with broader shoulders than either one of his brothers and Tibia was a 4'10 woman, 80 pounds on a good day. Katniss was taller than her, but not by much.
"I'm embarrassed. I shouldn't have gone into her house." Peeta shrugged, slipping his hands in his pockets. "She's fast."
"To be frank, I'm tired of being objectified," Wheaton said.
"Honestly, it's going to be like that all over the district. We lost so many men folk that all four of you are in danger."
"Four?" Peeta said, raising an eyebrow.
"Even you, Mr. Mellark," Katniss said.
"Me?" Mr. Mellark said, sounding surprised.
"Yup, you're an available candidate. If I were you, I wouldn't go out by yourselves. There's safety in numbers. I would take one of Gale's kids with you."
"The cobbler's kids?" Wheaton asked.
"Delly's is expecting and it would be neighborly to help them entertain their kids. You can employ Junior or Gertrude and pay them with cookies. None of the women in town would dare mess with Delly's kids."
"I'm beginning to think we should listen to your sound advice," Peeta said, rubbing the back of his head.
"I can ask Gale, if you would like?"
"That would solve our problem," Mr. Mellark said.
"See, Wheaton 'she isn't that bad." Rye gave her a smile that made Katniss want to hit him with her game bag.
"I'm going back inside," Wheaton frowned as he stared at her. "I don't have time for all of this nonsense."
"What do you have to trade?" Mr. Mellark asked.
"I've got some rabbits, squirrels, ducks, and some fish," Katniss rattled off.
"We'll take it all," Rye said.
"All of it?" Katniss tripped up.
"Yes," Mr. Mellark said. "These boys work hard and they burn through calories quickly. And you can name your price, bread - coins, I don't mind paying. I'll be right back with the bread."
"Alright," Katniss said, taking out the rest of the game she had in her bag. She handed a few pieces to Rye, before turning to Peeta.
"You shoot them through the eyes, giving plenty more meat than anything we can buy at Rooba's," Peeta said as he took the rest of the game meat from her. Their hands brushed and she felt a tingly jolt travel up her arm and into her chest.
She choppily nodded her head.
Mr. Mellark came back out with a package filled with loaves of bread.
Katniss silently took the bread, but her eyes remained on Peeta.
Mr. Mellark cleared his throat. "I think I heard the bell."
"I didn't hear the bell," Rye said.
"I heard it. Let's go," Mr. Mellark said. He pushed his son inside leaving Katniss and Peeta outside.
"So." They both said at the same time.
He smiled at her and she gave him a tight nervous one back.
"I." Once more they said at the same time.
This time they both laughed.
"We." Once more they said the same word at the same time.
"I'm sorry I don't know why I act like a fool whenever I'm around you…" Peeta stuttered.
His words made her laugh. "No, you don't."
"I do." He shifted his feet. "For some reason, I feel like my brain goes kaput and doesn't let me say anything intelligent."
Katniss understood what he was saying. "Same."
"So," Katniss repeated.
"Will you be trading with us every day or once a week?"
"Depends on how much you guys eat."
"We eat a lot, but it's hard not eating our profits," Peeta said, patting his flat belly.
"Maybe I'll stop by a few times a week," Katniss said.
"That would be kind," Peeta said. He took a step forward, then hesitated and backed away. Katniss wanted him to get closer, though she didn't say anything. "I've got to get in, and start working."
"Okay," Katniss said quietly. She left, but when she turned around to close their backyard gate, she noticed he was still standing in the same spot just staring at her. Her heart skipped a beat. She shyly waved at him and he waved back.
On her walk back home, Katniss passed by the animal shelter. It was then that it hit her that the scent she picked up on Rye was wet fur. She shook her head, Madge told her people from the Capitol dressed funny and they wore perfumes and colognes that were unusual. Why Rye Mellark would want to smell like a wet dog was beyond her.
November 80th Year AFR
Katniss sighed happily as she warmed herself in the bakery. A few days after her first trade with the Mellarks, Rye kept on using that cologne. One day Peeta caught her wrinkling her nose whenever Rye was present.
He asked her doggedly why she had that reaction to his brother. Katniss reluctantly told Peeta that Rye's chosen scent smelled like a wet dog. Peeta laughed so hard he couldn't even stand up. He then proceeded to tell Wheaton who fought not to laugh. After that things began slowly, a shy smile when she traded for meat. It progressed to a friendly wave, small chit-chat about the weather, a friendly anecdote that always brought a smile to her face for hours after she was around him. It developed into polite inquiries about the health of her family. These small encounters at the bakery graduated to impromptu cups of fragrant tea on cold winter mornings.
"I can't believe the amount of snow outside," Peeta said, looking out of the window that faced the backyard of the bakery.
"Imagine shoveling it," Katniss grumbled.
Peeta turned around and grinned at her. He walked to the stove and poured her the hot flavorful tea.
It was snowing heavily and most people were not traveling out. Katniss headed out to hunt early before the storm struck. She made a decent haul of birds, mostly quail and grouse, and squirrels. She did manage to snag two Canadian geese, and there were a few winter rabbits in the snares. She brought a rabbit and a goose to her family, the other goose and a fat rabbit went to Gale and Delly before she headed to the Mellarks.
Katniss felt safer in the bakery than she did in her own backyard. The feeling that she was being watched had never gone away. There was no one out there in the wooded area that separated the Seam from the merchant buildings that faced Main Street. Still, Katniss didn't take any chances. Now that it got darker outside sooner she made sure to muck out the goat stalls earlier in the day so that she didn't have to be outside when it got dark. Oddly enough, the woods became tranquil again.
"I can't imagine why you stay here if you dislike the cold so much." Peeta handed her the tea.
"Cause it's home," Katniss said, plopping two cubes of sugar in her cup. "I can't imagine living anywhere else."
"Ugh, how do you drink your tea so sweet?" Peeta made a face.
She stuck her tongue out at him. "Nag."
"My sugar habit isn't as gross as your brother Wheaton finding a wife in the Capitol."
Peeta chuckled. "She thinks she knows what she's getting into, but Claire doesn't realize Wheaton is a machine."
"I swear he still thinks I'm trying to snare one of you boys into marriage." Katniss snickered and took a sip of tea.
Peeta's eyes sparkled. "I don't think Rye would mind."
Katniss spat out her tea.
"You're not right," she narrowed her eyes at him.
"Never said I was." Peeta winked as he handed her a towel and she could feel that now familiar heat rush to her cheeks.
Katniss loved spending time with him; it was the highlight of her day. She looked forward to their banter and she never knew what was going to pop out of his mouth.
"Speaking of Rye, where is he?" Katniss took a sip of her tea relishing the heat of the cup in her hands.
"Would you believe he's at the Community Home?"
"Since when did he become altruistic?"
"Since Rayanne slapped him in the face during the harvest festival."
Rayanne was the only child of the widowed Goat-man. Clive died during the last air raid in the district. Rayanne and the other kids who were orphaned went to Community Home. At the time it was run by Autumn Bronte. When Autumn got too old, Rayanne took over. She began trying to place as many kids as she could into good homes.
"Really?" Katniss was shocked. She thought Rayanne loathed Rye.
"There have only been two women who've never shown interest in Rye. Cheese bun?"
"Yes please," Katniss said, her mouth-watering at the thought of the cheesy herb-crusted bread.
"So as I was saying, the first woman is you, and the other is Rayanne. She's turned him down so many times. He's on the hunt."
Katniss found his choice of words off. But he was from the Capitol. Even the way he spoke sounded different. He and his family had an accent. Madge once told her the people from the Capitol spoke funny. Katniss supposed this was what she was hearing.
"Poor Rayanne," Kantiss said.
"That's my feeling exactly. I think my brother met his mate. Yesterday-"
"You mean match," Katniss corrected. Peeta and his family often used the wrong terminology. Just yesterday she heard Mr. Mellark say irregardless instead of regardless.
"You said I think my brother met his mate, don't you mean match?"
"Oh yeah," Peeta said. "I think my brother met his match."
He stared at her and Katniss became lost in his gaze. She cleared her throat and drank some tea. "So, what happened yesterday."
"Yes, well, yesterday he came home looking sappy..." Peeta chuckled. "This morning when he saw the snow he took a shovel and headed out to the Community Home."
The back door opened, ushering a cold burst of air.
"Katniss!" Mr. Mellark said, looking surprised. "I didn't expect you to come over with the way the snow is falling outside."
"I stopped by the Apothecary to drop off some game meat and then came here."
"Well I appreciate your dedication, but I'm afraid if you don't leave now you'll not make it to your place."
"Maybe you should stay over at your mother's place?" Peeta suggested.
Katniss walked to the window and became sad, she didn't want to leave. "I better be going then. It's getting pretty bad out there and I could get lost if that wind picks up."
"Why don't you stay here?" Peeta asked.
"I couldn't, I don't want t-to…" Katniss stuttered.
"It's alright Katniss, we have plenty of room." Mr. Mellark said. "You can use Wheaton's room now that he's moved back to the Capitol to be with his wife."
"I can lend you one of my shirts and socks," Peeta said. "There's no place warmer in the district."
Katniss felt the heat rushing to her cheeks at the thought of wearing his things. The idea of sleeping in a warm bed sounded amazing. "I guess I can stay."
Mr. Mellark's smile was genuine. "This calls for a celebration then."
"Dad, I think Rye is going to be stuck at the Community Home." Peeta looked out of the window.
"Rye will be alright. That young lady with all of those children may need his help."
That night she had a great time with Peeta and his father.
Katniss slept in Wheaton's old room. It was strange not being in her bed.
"If you need anything, I'm right across the hall." Peeta stood awkwardly staring at her. His eyes swept the room as if the pillow was going to attack her.
"I'm good." Katniss laughed.
"I can check the closet and underneath the bed for any monsters. I make a delightful hot chocolate if you're not tired."
She laughed, "I'm okay, good night."
"Good night, Katniss." He smiled before shutting the door.
Katniss sighed and went to bed. She fell asleep in the strange bedroom that smelled of bread and Wheaton.
A strange buzzing sound woke her up. Katniss sat up in the darkened room to hear the buzzing noise get louder and louder. Her hand reached out to turn on the gas lamp by her bedside. However she recalled this wasn't her room, she was at the bakery. They had electricity.
With unsteady hands, she reached out to the lamp. When she flicked on the light, the walls were moving. She looked down at the floor and the floor looked like it was moving too. Her eyes focused and she could see that the floor was crawling with insects. Her skin crawled at the sight of all of the bugs. Her horror increased when suddenly they began flying around. She ducked under the covers as the buzzing increased.
The walls of the room began to shake as she heard growling coming from outside. The windows rattled as the growls morphed into pained howls. Katniss' terror grew as she realized the Hybrids were outside. The buzzing sound grew as she crouched under the covers. She began screaming the moment she heard the distinct splintering sound of wood and the twinkling sound of glass breaking into thousand glittering fragments as the hybrids came into the room.
Katniss jumped from the bed, the crunching sound beneath her feet forgotten as she tore open the door and ran into the hallway. She ran toward Peeta's door. Just as she reached the door the Hybrid tore the doorframe of the room she'd just come out of. She struggled with the doorknob.
"Peeta!" She screamed pounding on the door.
"Katniss!" Peeta screamed back.
The Hybrid got closer to her and behind it, the insect whirled. Katniss screamed and suddenly the door to Peeta's room opened. He wrapped his arms around her and she was enveloped by the scents of cinnamon and dill.
"It's okay," Peeta's rich voice penetrated her consciousness.
Her lashes fluttered open and she found herself in Peeta's arms. His father hovered in the doorframe.
"Is she alright?" Mr. Mellark asked.
"She's coming out of the nightmare," Peeta murmured.
"Alright I'm going back to my room," Mr. Mellark said.
The door was left open. Peeta's hands gently brushed the hair from her face. He glanced into her eyes, "Are you alright?"
Katniss should have pushed him away, she didn't like to be touched. But his touch was comforting and at the moment she didn't mind. "I'm fine."
"You scared us." Peeta sighed, "I heard you from across the room."
Katniss looked away, it was one thing to have nightmares in the privacy of her own home, it was another to have them in front of someone else. Pulling away from Peeta she walked back into Wheaton's room, sat down on the bed, and wrapped her arms around her knees. Peeta followed her.
"It's okay," Peeta said as he sat down beside her. "We all have nightmares, Katniss."
"What were you dreaming of?" Peeta asked quietly.
"I dreamt I was being chased and…"
"Hybrids," Peeta said flatly. His voice sounded almost forlorn.
"And bugs, lots of bugs," she shivered.
"Well, bugs are scary."
"True," he said.
Peeta glanced at her in the same way her mother did when she wanted to tell Katniss something unpleasant. "You look like my mother when she has to tell someone bad news. You're not going to force me to drink some unpleasant unsweetened tea, are you?"
"What if I was?"
"I would rather stand outside and freeze."
"You haven't lived until you've had her garlic tea." Katniss made a face.
"That sounds nasty." He turned his head and cocked it sideways. "I thought garlic was only used in cooking."
"My mother swears garlic cures everything. My sister Prim however does not. They have epic arguments about homeopathic remedies against Capitol remedies. The only thing they don't argue over is antibiotics. They both believe in them."
"Is that why you don't live with them?"
"No, I don't live with them because they deal with people."
"You don't like people?"
"No," Katniss said. She glanced at him wondering how he managed to get her to talk. "I don't like blood and guts and stuff."
"But you're a huntress, you shoot game through the eyes."
"I do...but I can't…do what my sister and mother do. I'm not a healer." Katniss yawned.
"Looks like I've worn you out," Peeta said. He made a move to leave but she wasn't ready to be alone.
"Can you stay for a little while?" Katniss asked as she reached out a hand to him.
"Sure," he said, laying his head against the headboard.
Katniss leaned back. She turned her head to watch him, and as she did she fell asleep. Peeta never left and in the morning Katniss woke up to find herself being held by Peeta. His arm and leg were draped around her protectively. Silently, she tried to get out from his side, but as she did she heard him sleepily grumble her name. When she finally pulled away she heard him emit a low animalistic growl.
Getting out of the bed, she wandered to the bathroom that was next to Wheaton's room. By the time she was done Peeta was awake and thankfully gone. But Katniss sensed an unbreakable bond had bloomed between them.
The bond they shared that night grew tighter. After that night, they began looking for ways to spend more time with each other.
Whenever Peeta was busy in the bakery, they met up to make deliveries at the same time. It was nice spending time with him outside of the bakery. They began having deep conversations about their dreams and life experiences.
December 80th Year AFR
Katniss was chilled to the bone and Peeta invited her in for some tea. She was warming up before heading out into the cold again. It was December now and everyone was in a festive mood as Parcel Day was tomorrow, and a few days away from New Year's.
"Come on," Katniss laughed.
"Nope." Peeta shook his head, he was tight-lipped about his childhood, but from what she could glean, he didn't have a great childhood. Katniss surmised things were not easy for him in the Capitol; he spoke of hunger, he also spoke about losing his mother during the war.
"Biggest fear as a kid," Katniss said.
"How about you tell me yours."
Katniss glanced into her teacup. During the war when things got rough, the Capitol arranged for parcels of food, supplies, and simple gifts to be airdropped to the residents. Katniss recalled a time when Parcel Day held a different meaning. When a Tribute won the Hunger Games, the District was granted food gifts once a month for the entire year.
The cost of that token came at a high price, and it reminded her of the old days before the war when kids quaked at the thought of being Reaped on the 4th of July. That was her biggest fear grown up, now it was the Hybrids. "Getting Reaped."
"You wouldn't understand, you're from the Capitol. Capitol kids never had to go through the Reaping. I was a few months away from my twelfth birthday when my dad was drafted into the war. I had nightmares about it, my name being pulled out of the bowl. Having to go to the Arena and knowing the only way back home was in a pine box."
"I'm sorry that you had to go through that," Peeta said.
"All of the kids in the district feared that," she whispered looking into his eyes. "But that was replaced by the fear of the Hybrids."
"Everyone fears the Hybrids."
"I supposed you think it's silly," Katniss said. Her hands shook slightly.
Peeta placed his hands on top of hers. "We all fear something, Katniss. During the war, I feared losing my dad and Wheaton who was old enough to fight. I lost my mom in a horrible way and the fear of losing someone else I loved has stayed with me."
"I guess the Capitol was heavily bombed."
They stared at the other in comfortable silence, his large warm hands holding hers causing warmth to spread throughout her body and that tingly sensation of happiness.
"What's your biggest fear now?"
"Now, I guess I fear losing...I have so much more to lose…" he drifted off and the apple of his cheeks became pink. He bashfully looked away and let go of her hands.
Katniss brought the tea to her lips, and she revelled on how toasty her hands were after absorbing his body heat.
Peeta cleared his throat then said, "When the war was over I used to pull pranks on my brothers. One time I stuffed a potato in Wheaton's muffler."
"Peeta Mellark, you did not!" Katniss laughed.
"Rye told me to do it actually and I did, not knowing it would damage his vehicle. I got in trouble but it was funny when his car started to make farting noises."
Katniss laughed. Peeta was such a good man and she wanted to see him more.
March 81st Year AFR
SpringTime - District Twelve:
When the spring came, they decided to meet on his day off. Katniss waited nervously by the large Oak Tree in the meadow. The hum of the electrical fence could be heard.
Although she was nowhere near the spot she used to enter the district, she still felt nervous. Perhaps it was because it was overcast and it felt eerie outside like that day in the woods.
Or it could be because she was meeting Peeta outside of work hours. She tugged on the sweater Madge made her wear. Regretfully Madge was there when Peeta asked her if she wanted to take a walk in the meadow with him. Madge was picking up some fresh bread to take with her on the train, for her trip back to the Capitol. Katniss said yes to Peeta and dragged Madge to the train station.
"I can't believe you are finally going out with him."
Katniss ignored Madge; it looked ridiculous that Katniss was dragging Madge around. Madge was taller and voluptuous.
"Would you stop," Madge said, yanking back short of their destination. She stood arms akimbo.
"You're going to miss your train." Katniss hoped Madge would drop the subject.
Madge stared at her. If there was one thing Madge was good at, it was reading Katniss. Katniss looked away; she could feel the heat.
"You like him," Madge said. "Oh my goodness, you really like him. Have you kissed him? Sex?"
Katniss walked toward the station. Madge followed behind, the wheels of her carry-on rumbled as she ran to catch up with her.
"Okay, so no sex or kissing, but you want to…" Madge said.
Katniss didn't say anything, but she could feel the heat on the apples of her cheeks. "Madge!"
"You want to and that's why he asked you out. I can't believe you're going out on your first date."
Katniss stopped at one of the open doors of the train. "Get in the train, Madge."
"FINAL CALL!" The station manager shouted.
"Don't Madge me. I need to know everything!"
Katniss grabbed her hand and pushed her inside of the train. The train door slid close.
"WAIT!" Madge yelled.
"Have a nice trip!" Katniss waived.
"What are you wearing?" Madge shouted as the train slid away from the station. Katniss watched Madge giving her a determined look.
Katniss thought she'd gotten away with not having to discuss her friendship with Peeta. She was sadly mistaken. Madge got off at the nearest district and came back. She appeared at her doorstep later that night with her fancy Capitol clothing. Madge asked a lot of uncomfortable questions that Katniss was not ready to answer. Madge wasn't going to leave until the morning. Katniss begrudgingly admitted she did like Peeta. They were friends and the lines were blurring; they blurred after that night where she slept in his arms.
Needless to say, she was wearing fancy pants and a sweater forced on her by Madge. Thankfully Katniss won on the shoe argument. Katniss was wearing her boots but she had to make sure that the pant leg covered them. Everything was tighter than what she was accustomed too so she was jumpier than a bride on her wedding night.
"Sorry I'm late," Peeta said. His heavy tread long alerted Katniss he was near. She waited for him underneath a tree.
"It's no problem. Though I don't know how long we'll have." Katniss pointed up. It was cloudy outside and it looked like rain.
Just as she said that the sky suddenly crackled with electricity, and thunder roared in the sky. Lightning lit the air around them. The light reflected in Peeta's eyes, and they glowed bright blue for a split second.
"We need to get out of here!" Peeta shouted, but Katniss took a step back, scared. Lightning illuminated the sky once more.
"Katniss!" Peeta called, his voice was filled with concern.
Katniss stepped back and pressed her back against the tree. Did she really see what she thought she did? She blinked and his eyes returned to their natural hue.
"Katniss?" Peeta questioned.
She looked into his blue eyes and she saw that familiar warmth. He held out his hand, but she hesitated to take it.
Rain suddenly fell from the sky and the cold water snapped her out of her stupor. She put her hand in his and together they ran toward town. By the time they made it to the bakery, they were both soaked.
Katniss was shaking from the cold.
Peeta dragged her upstairs to his bedroom. He put a blanket over her shoulders. "I'll be right back."
Standing in the warmth of his room Katniss thought about what she saw out there. Katniss rationalized they were surrounded by lightning strikes. As if on cue, thunder rumbled outside of Peeta's window. They were in danger out there in the meadow, under the tree, and near the electric fence. Katniss reasoned perhaps, his eyes looked like they glowed because of the lightning.
Lightning always casts a strange light on things.
The door to the bedroom opened and Peeta came shuffling in a pile of clothing. "My laundry was in the dryer. There should be something in here that should fit you." He was red as he handed her the clothing. "I'm going to change in the bathroom. I'll...ah…knock before coming back in."
Katniss held the freshly laundered clothing in her hands. It was one thing to wear second-hand men's clothing that she bought or traded for, it didn't carry a scent. Peeta's clothing was still warm, like the man himself. Without even thinking about it, Katniss pressed her nose to his clothing and she could pick up the faint traces of Peeta's unique scent, a combination of cinnamon and dill.
It was heaven removing her wet cold clothes and putting on Peeta's warm ones. They were comfy. It was like getting a hug from Peeta himself. It made her feel calm for the first time in months. Ever since her encounter in the woods, Katniss hadn't been able to sleep well, she'd been looking over her shoulders as if at any moment a monster was going to appear.
The soft knock let her know Peeta was outside. "Katniss, can I come in?"
Katniss took one last sniff of his sweater before saying, "I'm good."
Peeta walked in with a towel. He stood there staring at her, his face becoming that shade of pink she was beginning to like so much. "Here, I thought you might like to dry your hair. I've got some tea brewing and I can make us sandwiches if you want."
"Thank you, but you don't have to."
"No, but I want to," Peeta said, slipping his hands in his pockets.
"If you give me your wet things I can dry them for you, this way when the rain stops you'll go home nice and dry."
Katniss nodded, handing him her things.
As they walked out of his room, Peeta stopped and said, "Katniss you know you never have to fear me. I would never do anything to hurt you."
Even as he spoke the words Katniss acknowledged what Peeta said was true. Peeta would never hurt her. In the time she'd known him he'd been courteous, kind, sweet, generous. He also saved her life out there in the meadow while she'd panicked.
"What happened out there?"
Normally she didn't like to talk about stuff. Even her sister had to pry things from her. But, she felt she owed Peeta an explanation. "I panicked. I had an experience with a Hybrid several months ago when I was in the woods," she whispered. "I got so scared and I've been having nightmares…"
"I'm so sorry, Katniss," Peeta said sincerely, with no hint of pity in his voice. He opened his arms and Katniss stepped into his embrace. She was immediately overcome with a sense of protection. She knew she would always be safe in Peeta's arms.
As it got warmer and the days became longer, Peeta's father became ecstatic about the close friendship they developed. He whistled love songs around the bakery whenever she was visiting.
He even asked her when they would take the next step. One time he referred to Katniss as his future daughter-in-law to a patron. Katniss knew her cheeks were probably red by how hot they felt. Mr. Mellark suggested she learn how to bake since the bakery would belong to Peeta.
It was sweet but alarming. Katniss wondered if she was ready for more. As they grew closer, the tingly sensation didn't go away; it grew stronger. Still, despite this, they didn't do anything more than continue to take walks in the meadow and explore the abandoned Victor's houses.
"Can you picture living here?" Peeta asked.
Katniss nodded as she ran her hand over a double sink. There was a large window facing the backyard. The kitchen was big and it had a mudroom she could use for her game.
"You have?" Peeta asked, surprised.
"Maybe, as a child." Her voice was small because for days they'd been dancing around the attraction between them.
Katniss wanted to kiss him but she just didn't know if he felt the same toward her. But she hoped he did. She was ready to find out.
Peeta stood before her. He gently reached out and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. "I can see you here, dressing the meat you hunt."
"And maybe, you can put your baked goods to cool on the windowsill?" She couldn't help the hopeful lift in her voice as she spoke.
They discussed hidden dreams, deeper, more complex conversations about their wants and dreams. This was the first time Katniss let Peeta know she included him in her dreams.
"Why, of all the women in the district, are you still alone?" Peeta put his hands on her shoulders. They slid down to her arms.
"I never needed anyone," she quietly confessed.
Peeta pulled her closer and she stared into his blue eyes.
"Katniss, I've never wanted to kiss anyone or hold hands with anyone before. Never once wanted anything or anyone more than I want you," he whispered.
On impulse, she leaned up on tiptoe and pulled the lapel of his jacket down so that their lips could meet. It was a hard kiss, and want and desire erupted inside of her like an uncontrolled wildfire.
Peeta pulled away. His hands cupped her cheeks. Her eyes traveled from his eyes to his lips. His blue eyes were dilated and focused on her as if he was cataloging every minute detail of her face. His thumb gently brushed her bottom lip and she shivered as heat and desire pooled in her abdomen and began traveling to a certain spot in her anatomy that Katniss had ignored until the moment Peeta moved to District Twelve.
"May I?" Peeta whispered.
Peeta's large hands slid to her waist, he hoisted her up and sat her on the edge of the sink. Katniss slid her hands up his chest and glided into the hair at the back of his neck. Peeta's eyes turned dark, at her touch. His hand then slid up the slender column of her back. She arched her back pressing her chest against his. They both moaned, their breath mingled as their faces neared. Peeta smelled like cinnamon and dill, and it filled her senses.
Cinnamon was a warm spice and its steamy scent wafted into her nostrils, permeated her chest, and heated her blood. Kissing was new to her but she wanted more kisses. She pecked his lips, parting her own lips, and released a puff of the warm air onto his lips. Katniss gazed into his passion-filled blue eyes giving him permission to do with her lips as he wanted.
At the brush of his lips, her feet curled in her shoes. He softly scraped her bottom lip with his teeth and a soft moan escaped from her lips. Peeta kissed her deeply and she kissed him back, her heart beating so roughly in her chest that she couldn't hear anything. She held onto him quickly, learning how to kiss back. Relishing the warm spicy taste of his lips.
Kissing, she learned, was better than cold sweet tea on a hot summer day.
Peeta pulled away, her lashes fluttered open and she knew with certainty that something primal and far more wonderful than spring after a long winter was happening between them.
Katniss felt more beautiful than the sunsets Peeta loved to look at during their walks. He sniffed her neck, his lips trailed sloppy kisses on her skin. She lolled her head to the side to give him better access.
"You smell like the meadow in the spring, filled with sweet wildflowers."
His closeness, the kisses, his scent overwhelmed her. Katniss pulled away.
He stepped away and cupped her face and searched her eyes. "Do I need to apologize for being too forward with you?"
She wanted to say yes, but didn't know-how. It was apparent Peeta was more experienced than her. Would he get tired of her and leave her? After all, she wasn't anything special. She didn't have any experience with intimacy. Katniss had nothing to offer him. Ashamed by her lack of knowledge, Katniss couldn't look Peeta in the face.
"I pushed you too hard." Peeta touched her face softly. "You are my first kiss."
Katniss could not believe what she had just heard. "I'm your first?"
"But you kissed me like you knew what you were doing?"
Peeta grinned and turned red. "It sounds old-fashioned, but I've waited for someone like you to come into my life. And you're the only one I want."
At his passionate declaration, Katniss knew she had to make a choice. It was like what Gale told her; she could grasp for happiness. Or she could live a content life that was possibly satisfying. Looking into his brilliant blue eyes, Katniss decided all she had to do was take a leap of faith.
Summoning up her courage she said, "Then have me".