Actions

Work Header

The Magnificent Mellark Mermaid

Chapter Text

Peeta stood at the edge of the boardwalk, his hands stuffed in his pockets, and a deep frown marring his handsome face. He stared into the calm water, searching for answers but it seemed to be the wrong place to be looking. Voices pierced his head, turning the once-gentle hearted boy into an angry, emotional man.

It wasn't fair. None of it. His father's untimely death. His mother's accusations against him, barring him from inheriting the bakery as his father had wanted. His brothers both turning on him and declaring themselves on their mother's side. He couldn't blame them, not really. He knew his mother had stuff on all three of them. But then his girlfriend had left him for being too "moody". As if his father's death wasn't enough reason to turn him moody. And all of that had made him snap, causing him to wind up here, at the end of the boardwalk his grandfather had built.

None of it was fair. He knelt at the edge and sighed. His bags were all packed, he was ready to be far away from his mother and brothers but he wasn't quite ready to be away from the lake. The lake that he and his father had spent countless days and evenings fishing, swimming, and just sitting on the boardwalk, dipping their toes into the water.

Peeta had another reason to want to stay near the lake. All his life, he had seen a face peering back at him. His father had laughed it off, saying he was such an imaginative boy but Peeta swore it was true. His sketches and paintings always infuriated his mother, leading her to scream at him that mermaids weren't real. But Peeta knew better. He had seen her, with his own eyes. She had stayed close and he found himself talking to the water, hoping she could hear and understand him.

"Are you there," he whispered to the water. Of course, there was no answer. There never was. Sighing, he stood back up and dusted his pants off. His eyes narrowed and he winced as the voices became louder. His father's, his mother's, his brothers', his therapist's, his ex's, his lawyer's, the people in town… he groaned as he reached up to hold his head with both of his hands.

"Stop it," he said through gritted teeth. "Please go away." His head was aching, the world was spinning, and he just wanted it to end. He closed his eyes, stepped off the ledge, and waited.

The voices stopped. Under the water, things became silent. He opened his eyes and watched the boardwalk fade away. He was falling fast, weighed down by his fancy clothes from the funeral. But he wasn't afraid. He was at peace.

The burning in his lungs alarmed him somewhat but he succumbed to it. The intense pain in his head faded away and he closed his eyes. He would see his dad again. The only person who had really cared about him, not his last name. He briefly wondered if his mermaid would find him here. He felt himself seizing up, his brain shutting off and his air completely gone.

He was fine. He succumbed to the darkness, welcoming death.

One last look at the world above and he could barely make out the surface. He noticed a dark shape moving over him and he closed his eyes again. Let him die at the bottom of the lake that he loved so much.
__________________________________

Peeta found himself on his stomach, on soft grass, with a hand gently hitting his back.

"I shall go find a petal of life if I need but I don't want to leave you. Please wake up. Please don't die." There was something strange about her voice, a slight lilt or song quality to it. He opened and closed his mouth, trying to rise up on his hands. When that didn't work, he slowly twisted onto his side and his eyes landed on the most striking silver eyes he had ever seen. They widened and he felt a wet hand on his cheek. It felt odd.

"You're alive!" The voice was soothing and beautiful.

"I think I must be dead," he said in a croaky voice. "Or dreaming at least."

"Neither. You're alive and I'm so happy for it. Are you feeling alright?" He tried to sit up and wet hands gently pushed him back down.

"Not yet," the voice said gently. "Wait for your strength to return." Lying on his back, he opened his eyes wider and blinked several times, making sure he wasn't imagining things.

The voice belonged to a young woman, her eyes once again taking Peeta's breath away. She leaned over him and put her hand to his cheek again. He reached up to cover it with his, and he felt webbed fingers… scales?! His hand dropped to his side and he leaned up on his elbows.

"You're a… a…" he blinked rapidly.

Her skin was a deep hue of green, while her white hair rested over her shoulders. His cheeks flushed when he noticed she was topless, her hair barely covering her curves. Her lips were pink and curved into a sad smile. Her torso was slender and ended in a… he squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head frantically. When he opened them again, she was still in front of him and it was unmistakably a tail protruding from her body. She had green scales all down her body and her tail fluke was the softest shade of orange. He leaned back further, drinking her in.

She was stunningly beautiful, he decided. Her eyes bore into his and they reminded him of the storms he had encountered here on the lake.

"Some call me a nayad," her voice sounded like a bell. "Others call me siren. To many, I'm known as a mermaid. You are free to call me what you wish."

"What's your name," he asked, surprising them both. She cocked her head before answering.

"Katnisshashira."

"You have katniss flowers in your hair," he said with a smile, noticing the white petals. "May I call you Katniss?"

"If you wish."

"Katniss. My name is Peeta. And I do believe you just saved my life."

"It was difficult to get you back to the surface," she said, sounding ashamed. "I am just a small nayad and you have muscles like that of our mightiest warriors." He blushed again. He'd always thought his body acceptable but hearing this mermaid appraising his muscles made him swell with pride.

"Well, thank you all the same. For saving me," added. She nodded and flipped her tail upwards.

"Why did you need saving in the first place? What is so bad that you could no longer deal with life? Is the death of your father what drove you to our waves?" Peeta started.

"You… you know about that?"

"I can read emotions. Not thoughts exactly but I sensed you grieving, and I remember seeing you on our lake with your father quite often. I just thought-"

"That was you?" He sat straight up now. "That was you I saw?"

"Why do you have a tone of surprise? I thought you knew who I was when you saw me, that is why you were staring so intently." Peeta sighed. Yes, he had to have known. As soon as he had seen her eyes, he had to have known. He squinted in the distance, seeing he was a long way from his home.

"Are we… in another part of your lake?"

"I brought you to my private island," she shrugged. "If the others saw you, they might become angry. No one disturbs me here. I come here often to think." Peeta pushed himself to his feet and held out his hands for balance. It was a small bit of land but well hidden underneath the trees.

"It's lovely," he finally said.

"Are you going to answer my question?"

"Oh… what was the question?" She scowled and Peeta had to stifle his laughter at seeing a scowl on a mermaid.

"What drove you to the water? Your father, or something else?"

"it's just… a lot of things going on. A lot has happened and we just buried him today. My mother told me as soon as the funeral was over I needed to get out. I barely had time to pack my bags but I'm leaving as soon as I return to the boardwalk."

"Will you come back?" He saw the hopefulness in her eyes.

"Maybe someday. I don't know."

"Why must you leave?"

"It's complicated."

"Uncomplicate it," she said flatly. Peeta chuckled and sat back down. He started to speak but his stomach grumbling cut him off.

"You are hungry," she said, sitting up. "I should bring you food. Stay here, I will return."

"But-" she leaped back into the water and he saw her tail rise up and splash back down before she disappeared under the water. Peeta stared after her, his head spinning. He decided he had better get a fire going to cook whatever she brought back. Looking around, he saw there weren't a lot of resources. A ways into the trees, he found dead branches and slowly started to gather them.

When he returned to the spot, Katniss was still not back so he threw the wood into a circle and looked around for some rocks. He wasn't the best boy scout but his father had taught him a few essentials during camping trips. Scraping the stones together, he soon had a small fire and he proudly sat back on his hands.

He heard a splash and tensed up immediately but relaxed when he saw the katniss flowers emerge from the water.

"I am sorry it took so long. There is not a lot that dwells in this part of the lake." She threw the still wriggling fish into his lap and he gasped.

"What is that?" She asked, her wide eyes locked on the fire.

"Oh, I made a fire so I could cook the fish."

"Fire?"

"I guess you wouldn't have fire under the water. Here," he held out his hand and she took it, scooting closer.

"You have to be careful, it's very hot and can be dangerous." She hissed loudly as she put her hand too close and yanked her hand away.

"Oh shit, I'm sorry, Katniss. Let me see it." He held her palm flat for him to examine and noticed she was staring at him in confusion.

"Um, sorry," he muttered, dropping her hand. He used one of the sticks to skew the fish and he held it over the flames. She frowned and turned her head, ripping into the fish with her teeth. Peeta gulped and felt sick to his stomach.

"I'd like to cook for you one day," he said loudly, drowning out the sounds of ripping flesh and gnarling. "People say I'm a pretty good cook."

"Cook?" He glanced at her and was relieved to see most of her lunch was gone.

"Yeah, it's when we… do this," he motioned to the fire. "We make food…edible. Humans don't eat raw fish." Ok, but there was sushi…

He told his brain to shut up. He hadn't realized how complicated it was, to teach a few words.

"You… make fish edible?" She indicated the fish in his hands and he nodded, pulling it away from the fire.

"Makes it safe to eat, so we don't get sick. Here, try a bite." He handed the cooked fish to her and she sniffed it warily. He smiled when she tore a big bite off, but his smile faded when she coughed and spat it out.

"You ruined the fish." Peeta couldn't help but laugh when he pulled it back to his mouth and took a bite. He wished for some kind of spices but it was pretty good nonetheless.

"Thank you for hunting for me."

"I'm the hunter of my pod. My father taught me when I was very young."

"That's impressive, given your size and stature." The scowl was back and Peeta was starting to find it endearing.

"I'm sorry. Didn't mean to offend you. Here, come closer to the fire so you can warm up a bit." She was starting to shiver so she did as he said and held her hands closer to the fire. Peeta grasped her wrist and brought them back just slightly so she wouldn't get burned. Her tail curled up under her and Peeta couldn't help but stare.

"You may touch if you wish." He hadn't realized his hand was drifting toward her and he gasped, balling his fists.

"I'm sorry," he said quickly. She shook her head and brought his hand to her fin, where her thigh would normally be. He swallowed, stretching his hand out and gently caressing the scales. She removed her hand from his and allowed him to explore. He trailed his hand lower, gasping at how strong her tail seemed to be. When he reached the fluke, his touch became even more gentle, almost hesitant.

"Orange is my favorite color," he whispered, raking his knuckles over the orange hues. Katniss smiled.

"Green is mine."

"Do you choose your color? I mean… are you born with these colors, or can you choose as you grow older?" She laughed and explained that she was born with it.

They fell into easy conversation and Peeta couldn't believe how simple it was to talk to her. It was as if he had known her his entire life. They laughed, they shed tears for his father, whom she remembered, and she held him when his body shook with the sobs he had held in during the funeral. As the sun went down and the stars came out, they lay on their backs, their fingers intertwined, and their words had become soft whispers.

"I don't even know how late it is," he said, his breath appearing before him.

"My sister will be anxious if I don't return soon." He flipped onto his stomach, his chin resting on her fin.

"I wish we could stay here all night. I wish I could just freeze this moment right here, right now, and live in it forever."

"As do I," she said softly.

"I'll come back tomorrow," he promised.

"I thought you have to leave."

"My mother has made this a public lake now. She can't keep me away. I'll bring a boat to your island." She chewed on her lip.

"You promise?" He pulled her hand to his lips.

"I promise." Their eyes locked, Peeta leaned in closer, so close he could feel her rapid breaths on his face. He closed his eyes and waited. He was leaning in but no one was there. A splash made his eyes dart open and his face fell when he saw he was all alone.

Good job, way to scare her, he scowled, kicking himself. He stood and walked toward the edge of the island. Now how the hell was he going to get back home? The night had turned chilly and it was way too cold to swim. He wished he had blankets or something to keep him warm, he didn't mind sleeping on the island but he feared his mother would find his bags and throw them away.

If she hadn't already.

Sighing, he squinted, trying to gauge the distance. He was a strong swimmer, he thought he could make it.

Another splash made him jump and nearly fall backwards.

"Here, get on this," she pushed a raft toward him. He knelt to study it.

"Is this-?" He saw his father's name on the corner and he laughed.

"It is! We lost this raft years ago! Just figured a gator ate it."

"Some of our younglings were found playing in it and we hid it away. But you can sit and I will pull you to the boardwalk." He was about to protest but he didn't see any other option really. Nodding, he stepped into the raft and pulled his knees to his chest.

"Ok, I'm good." She nodded and wrapped the rope around her midsection, diving into the water and pulling the raft quickly.

In no time at all, he was stepping back onto the boardwalk and he turned back to her.

"Damn you're fast." She splashed her tail and leaned up on her elbows.

"I will see you tomorrow?"

"Yes. I promise."

"Promise. What is promise?" He knelt on the wood in front of her.

"It's when… you can trust someone. I trusted you to bring me home safely. I trust you. So now I've made a promise to you, do you trust me to keep it?"

"I… trust you," she bowed her head. He smiled and cupped her chin. He made to stand but her hand shot out and her fingers wrapped around his arm.

"Peeta, earlier, when you were close to me…" he was glad of the dark because his cheeks were burning. It was too much, too fast, he knew.

"What were you doing?"

"I uh… I wanted to kiss you." Her tail splashed the water and she cocked her head.

"What is… kiss?" He blushed even harder.

"Um… well, it's what happens when… two people like each other and want to show the other affection… they press their lips together and that's called a kiss."

"This seems pointless," she said impatiently.

"So I guess you don't kiss under the water either."

"No. We…" she trailed off, pressing her hands together and entwined her fingers together. She started to clap her joined hands together and Peeta cleared his throat.

"You… have sex?" She looked confused and he shook his head. Animal terms. She had explained things tonight in animal terms, and she was part animal, after all.

"Um, mate. You mate?"

"Mate," she nodded. "We do not kiss."

"Kissing sometimes leads to mating, but not always."

"You wanted to kiss me… so we can mate?" Peeta released a choked gasp. His eyes trailed down to her exposed breasts, as her hair was thrown over her shoulder. He closed his eyes and took several calming breaths. When he felt her hand on his cheek again, he opened his eyes.

"I just wanted to know what your lips feel like," he said truthfully. She rubbed her own lips, frowning.

"They feel fine." Peeta chuckled and shook his head.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Katniss." He turned to walk back down the boardwalk. When he turned, he saw her fluke far off in the distance. His eyes widened at her speed and he stuck his hands in his pockets, stepping back onto land.
___________________

He found his bags on the front porch and sighed in relief that she hadn't done anything to them. He dragged his bags to his car and drove into town, to the only hotel he knew of. The manager had known his father and gave him a sympathetic look as he passed him a key.

"First night is on the house, kid." Peeta looked up at him in surprise.

"Beg your pardon?"

"Your dad was a good man. And you were always a good kid. It's not right, what your mom is doing. When I heard that she was kicking you out, I had a feeling you would show up here so I saved you a room. First night is taken care of. Stay as long as you need." Peeta picked up the key and stared.

"Thank you." The old man nodded and handed him a map of where his room was.

Once in his hotel room, Peeta dropped his bags in the corner and collapsed onto the bed. He burst into laughter when he realized it was a waterbed. Oh the irony.

He decided he would get up and have a shower but his eyes were closed as the waves of the bed drifted him to quick sleep.
________________________

When he woke again, the sun was streaming through his curtains. He groaned as he flipped over but then caught sight of the clock. Damn! He never slept in that late.

He leaped out of bed and hurried to the shower, his excitement for the day growing. He couldn't wait to see Katniss again. He had learned so much about her the previous night. She had a little sister named Primroshenonya (he had weakly asked if he could call her Prim and she had just laughed) and she was known as the Hashemahara, the "Huntress", she had explained. She was the one who took several soldiers out into the waters and hunted for the entire pod.

Peeta had been curious as to why her pod only stayed in a lake, as most stories of mermaids he had heard of were in the ocean but a dark look had crossed her features and she had merely mumbled, "we're safer here". He hadn't pressed on.

There was so much more he wanted to learn and he found himself thinking of that almost-kiss. The way she spoke about mating told him that she didn't enjoy it. Would he be able to convince her that a kiss could be very enjoyable?

He was grinning from ear to ear as he got dressed and jumped into his car. He decided to go the back way to his house (his mother's house, he reminded himself) so he wouldn't have to go near the front yard. There was a path that led to the lake and he frowned when he saw there were already several people there. He hated to think how it would be once summer came. The lake full of kids learning to swim and the wildlife disturbed by stupid teenagers. His father must be shuddering to see what's become of his beloved lake.

He slammed the car door shut and strode toward the boardwalk. There was one boat left and he looked around to see if he needed to pay someone before he jumped in. The boat was more of a raft, really, with a quiet engine. He steered himself in the direction of the island, never taking his eyes off the small spot of land in the distance.
_________________

For a moment, Peeta was nervous that she would not show up but once she knew it was him, she jumped onto the island and hugged his legs. He dropped to his knees and embraced her tightly.

"I knew you would come," he said into her hair.

"There are many people around. I had to be careful." She glanced behind her and sighed.

"More will come?"

"Yes," he said sadly. "My mother is turning this lake into a public recreational spot. There will be more people soon." She sighed sadly and shook her head.

"My father would weep to see this." Peeta caught her wording and cupped her chin.

"You mean your father is…?"

"Humans," she snarled. "Humans are responsible for his death." He gaped at her.

"How?"

"It does not matter," she said dismissively.

"But… you saved me. And I'm a human." She turned away from him, wrapping her arms around herself.

"You are different." Peeta stared at her back, his hands twitching at his side.

"I, um… we can talk about something else, if you want to." It took her a moment to coax her to look at him but once she had turned around, it was just as it had been. She told him stories of the water and he told her stories about his dad.

He noticed she did not say anything about her mother either and he bit his lip but he really wanted to know.

"What about your mother?"

"It is just Primroshenonya and me," she said sharply.

"You're orphans?" She hissed and scowled.

"Sorry, sorry," he said quickly, raising his hands in a defensive stance. "I just… I just want to know everything about you." She sighed, flipping onto her stomach, and lifting her fin into the air. The orange fluke caught the sun and he was taken aback by the beauty and colors.

"Even things that make me sad?"

"Well… you know about my dad and my parents' horrible marriage and how everyone is treating me right now." Katniss's shoulders deflated. He spoke truthfully and she knew he was hurting.

"Very well." She rose up on her elbows and he settled himself across from her. "My mother and father were King and Queen of the Lake. When I was eleven petals, my father was invited to conference with other Kings in the far-off seas. Lord Poseidon, King of all the water, gifted him with a necklace made of shell and coral and pearls. He wanted my father to rule over the ocean as well as the lake but father had always done everything he could to keep us safe. He said the lake was the safest because your great-grandfather had vowed to him that the lake would always remain our home, and that we were safe." Peeta held up his hands, his eyes wide.

"Hold up, are you saying your father spoke to my great-grandfather?"

"And your grandfather. And your father after him. There was to be a day when he would speak to you." Peeta's head was swimming and he felt dizzy.

"Anyway, Father thanked Lord Poseidon for the gift and made his way back to our lake. He traveled by land, deciding it was easier than traveling in another King's domain."

"Traveled by…land? You mean you can… you can turn human?!"

"Only those with royal blood," she corrected him. "He traveled by land until he came to a small town on the edge of the sea. It was Father's cousin who ruled this area so he decided he would eat and swim the rest of the way under the cover of darkness. In the human tavern, men saw his necklace and demanded he give it to them. He refused and ran from them. They chased him to the sea and he jumped in. They shot at him with sticks more powerful than his trident. His cousin returned his body to us." Peeta's jaw was wide open and he struggled to find words.

"Katniss," he reached out to touch her shoulder. By some miracle, she didn't pull away. "I am so sorry. Humans can be awful, really, but not all of us are bad." She looked at him and her eyes were glassy.

"You are different." He managed to unstick his throat and opened his mouth uncertainly.

"Then… what happened with your mother?"

"Mother was devastated when the King was returned to us. She stayed by his tomb and refused to eat, to move. I pleaded with her, I was too young to hunt on my own but she faded away. A year later, she followed him in death."

"God Katniss. I can't imagine… you were eleven years old and you were…" he trailed off, his eyes wide.

"You're a princess! I mean… no… you're a Queen!" He stared out over the lake and shook his head in disbelief. All this time there had been a royal family living in his lake. And he never knew.

Dad knew, a bitter voice said in the back of his mind. Dad knew and he never told you.

Peeta returned his gaze to his sweet mermaid and tears welled up when he saw her hunched over, crying into the grass. He gathered her to his chest and kissed her tears away. He let her cry, as she had done for him. It was long overdue, he thought. Had she ever allowed herself to grieve?

"Your father was distraught," she said against his shoulder. He pulled away, giving her a bemused look.

"Your father… loved my mother. When they were both young. One of the King's soldiers brought your father news of my mother's death and I heard him weeping all night. I watched over him, frightened that he would fall into the water and drown." Peeta lowered his head and squeezed his eyes shut.

"It all makes sense," he said to his knees. "The way he spoke of this lake, taught me to care for it and all the wildlife. He made me promise to care for it and everything in it once he was gone. It's why he never allowed strangers on the lake. Mom pestered him to turn it into a recreational spot but he refused. I can't believe… I can't believe he never told me." She caressed his cheek and he grabbed her hand and squeezed. Looking back up at her, he gave her a watery smile.

"Thank you for telling me."

They stayed there, talking, and ate dinner again. Katniss refused to let him cook the fish for her but watched with a smile as he cooked his. She lay in his lap while he braided flowers into her hair. When she sat up suddenly, his hands flew into the air. Katniss leaned over him and smiled.

"If you wish to feel my lips… you may." His jaw dropped and he sat up, taking her face into his hands. His thumb trailed over her bottom lip and her eyes locked on his own lips, which he wetted with his tongue. He swallowed before he leaned in and met the softest lips he had ever felt. Her eyes were wide as he leaned back.

"Your eyes were closed. You do not wish to look at me?"

"No, no, it's… it's just something we do when we kiss. I think it's to take a moment to cherish the feel of our lips together." He had never really thought of it before. Why did people close their eyes?

"It means I'm imagining doing more with you," he said honestly.

"More… like mating?"

"Touching you," he replied as his hands trailed over her smooth shoulders. He had expected her skin to be much rougher, or wrinkly, from the water. But it was neither. She was smooth all the way down to her scales and Peeta found his lips on her shoulder, then her neck. "Tasting you." He kissed down her nape and placed open mouthed kisses over her chest. He brought his hands up to her breasts and gently cupped them in his palms. Her breasts were small and round, perfect for his hands.

She gasped and dropped her head backwards when he leaned down to take her nipple into his mouth. He wasn't sure how she would taste, being from a lake but he groaned and decided he could never get enough of her. "Hearing you," he whispered against her skin.

"Peeta," she said breathily and his lips that were closed around her nipple curled into a grin.

"Yes, exactly like that." She fell backwards and his hands immediately helped her to lie down. He leaned down and pressed his lips to hers again.

"Close your eyes and just enjoy the moment, Katniss," he said before raking his tongue across her lips. Her eyes slammed shut and she arched her back as he palmed her breast again. His tongue found its way into her mouth and she was about to let out a cry of protest but Peeta gently coaxed her tongue with his. Her hands slipped into his hair and he groaned loudly when he felt her pull.

"How do you find pleasure, Katniss?" He tore his lips away from hers to lean back and look at her. "Please tell me. I want to pleasure you."

"I… I don't know. We aren't concerned with that. We mate to make babies."

"We mate because it feels good," he propped himself on an elbow, brushing her hair out of her face. "I want to make you feel good. Humans have… certain spots that if we touch or stimulate, it causes a big reaction called an orgasm. Mermaids have nothing like this?" She shook her head slowly so Peeta decided to experiment. He ran his hand down her fin, pressing harder in certain spots. It didn't have the same response as a human girl would have though. He huffed and turned his attention back to her breasts.

"I'll figure out a way," he said confidently. Maybe he should do some research on marine animals and how exactly they mated.

He rolled his eyes, feeling silly. He sat up, pulling her up with him. She stared at his lips, smiling.

"I think I like kissing." The tent in his pants would have told her he liked it too, if she understood such things.

"Wait a minute… earlier you said those with royal blood can turn human." She pulled her hair over her shoulders, playing with the ends.

"Katniss… can you become human?"

"They say I can. But it does not happen when we are near our lake. We have no need. We can become human if we are away from the lake, on land. It has never happened to me, I do not even know if I can." Peeta pursed his lips and hmmed.

"I guess I had better get back. It's getting late again." She glanced up and Peeta sucked in a breath as the starlight danced in her eyes.

"Come. I'll take you back to land." He stepped into the raft and they were off.

He leaned over the edge of the boardwalk and kissed her again.

"I'll be back tomorrow," he promised.

On his way back to the hotel, he realized how dangerous it was becoming. He had briefly thought about bringing her back with him, even asking her to leave the town with him.

You're falling in love with a mermaid, he said to himself. And you'd better snap out of it.
_________________________________________

The next day when he returned, there were even more people in the water. Peeta hadn't thought to ask Katniss if her people ate… well, other people. He hoped they just stuck to fish.

He looked around for a boat and groaned when there wasn't a single one in sight. He hoped Katniss would understand as he sat on the boardwalk to wait.

"I see you're back again," a voice said behind him. He jumped to his feet and gaped at the familiar face.

"What are you doing here?"

"I could ask the same thing from you. Pretty sure Mom banned you from coming back here."

"She made it a public lake, she can't stop me from visiting," he replied icily. His brother nodded and shoved his hands into his pockets.
I'm really sorry about how everything turned out, Peet." Peeta looked everywhere he could but at his brother.

"What does she have on you, Brian?"

"Don't do that. Don't try to rationalize this."

"Rationalize," he snorted. "She beat you two just as much as she did me. She should be locked up. But instead you both tell the judge that I was the one who hit her and declared that I was removed from Dad's will. I have to assume that you're fucking insane, or she has some shit on you."

"Leave it alone, Peeta. And stop coming here. You don't think she knows?"

"I don't care if she knows. This is all I have left of Dad and I'll visit when I want to." He spotted a raft floating close to the boardwalk and he leaned down to grab the rope.

"See you," he spat at his brother and jumped into the raft.

He wasn't completely dry when he made it to the island but he sighed with relief when Katniss's tail emerged from the water and he met her on the grass.

"You're upset," she said immediately.

"Ran into my brother," he said dismissively. She moved closer and caressed his cheek.

"You're angry. Like you want to hit something."

"You're perceptive. But let's drop it, ok?"

"I have never seen such rage in you," she said carefully. "Almost like…"

"Like I could kill someone? Yeah, you detected that correctly. I hate my brothers and I hate my mother. My brother told me to stay away from here. But I'm not doing that. My mom testified that I hit her, when she was the one who beat me as a kid. All my life, I've been hiding bruises and scars and burns. Just because my mom hates that I wasn't a girl. I wasn't her perfect little daughter that she always wished for so she tried to drop me when I was a baby. Dad saved me and took care of me. He didn't know Mom was hurting me. I didn't want to tell him. When he found out, he was furious. He yelled at my mom all night and the next day, Dad took me into town to meet his lawyer to make sure I would get the house and the lake. Mom was so angry she knocked me unconscious. I hate her, Katniss. I wish I was strong enough to kill her."

"Strength does not equal brutality," she said softly. "Your mother is horrible and should be punished but not by you. You are gentle and kind and a Protector. Killing someone would change that."

"What do you mean, I'm a Protector?"

"Your father was our Protector, and your grand-father, and your great-grandfather. The Mellark line are Protectors. You keep us safe and the strength in your heart will allow you to deal with your tribulations. I am the Queen and you are my Protector. You must think of a way to make the lake private again."

"I can't protect you, Katniss," he said miserably. "I have to leave. Get out of this shithole of a city and go somewhere where people don't know me or my name. I'm tired of being treated differently, just for being a Mellark. I can't keep putting it off; I've just been staying in town because of you. But I have to go." Katniss lifted her chin and her eyes turned cold.

"Very well. You must be going then." She pulled the raft forward and he stared at it for a moment.

"Katniss-"

"Get in," she said sharply. Exhaling deeply, he stepped into the raft and nearly fell out when she started to pull.

"Be careful," he called out to her as they neared the boardwalk. "There's a lot of people around." The raft came to a screeching halt and he was thrown forward onto the boardwalk. Groaning, he sat up to look behind him but there was no trace of a green head or orange tail. Moaning into his hands, he rose to his feet and trudged back to his car.
_________________________________

He didn't even feel the sting of the hot water as he showered, staring at the blank wall. He felt horrible for how he'd spoken to her but he wasn't lying; he needed to leave this town.

He was flipping through his phone when there was a knock on his door. Frowning, he unlocked it and pulled it open.

His heart started to race as anger flowed through him.

"What the fuck do you want?"

"Really, Peeta, is that any way to speak to your mother?" His hand squeezed the door tightly.

"We just want to talk, Peeta," his elder brother said gently.

"Talk? I think we talked enough at the trial. I don't have anything else to say."

"You might." He stared at his mother, seeing red.

"What is that supposed to mean?" She threw something white onto his bed and when he turned from the door to look, his heart became ice.

A single white katniss lower rested on his comforter.
____________________________________

"You wanted to talk," he said as he propped his feet up on the bed. "So talk." His mother sniffed in disgust as she lowered herself into one of the old chairs. His brothers were standing side by side against the wall.

"Do you know what that is, Peeta?"

"None of us are blind, Bannock, so we can all see that it is a katniss flower."

"A water plant, is it not?"

"That's what Dad told us, yes," he gave his mother a hard look.

"Cut the shit, Peeta. I know what you have been doing at the lake these past few days."

"Is it against the law to go off to think?"

"You think me an idiot," she snarled. "You've been seeing a mermaid." There was silence until Peeta burst into laughter.

"An idiot? I think you certifiably insane. And you two, going along with it," he chuckled as he opened his water bottle.

"We know there's a mermaid in the lake, Peeta," Bannock said firmly. "And you're going to help us catch her."

"Ok," he continued to chuckle. "Can you find me a fairy to help me? I hear they're good friends."

"Peeta-"

"Or an elf! Maybe an elf is living in those woods."

"Peeta, stop-"

"I've got it! A unicorn! I can ride the unicorn and capture the mermaid. Sounds like a plan. Now, when-" he gasped as a hand wrapped around his throat and held him still in the chair.

"For heaven's sakes," his mother rolled her eyes. "If you're going to kill him, do it more discreetly."

"You understand this isn't a game," his brother growled, tightening his grip. Peeta gasped for breath, bringing his hands up to fight against the hands that held him.

"We're going to find this thing and you are going to help us. Or else." Peeta was starting to see black, when his brother released him. He lunged forward, coughing and choking, massaging his sore throat.

"What the fuck," he said croakily. "Why would you think there's a mermaid in the lake and more importantly, why would you think I could help you?"

"Dad's diary," Brian flung a book at him and Peeta cleared his throat as he grabbed it. Flipping it open, his eyes widened in horror at the page he had stopped at. He skimmed, catching words like "King and Queen of the Mer-people" and "Protector" and "Beautiful Lady of the Lake". His hands shook as he lowered the diary.

"You're like Dad, their Protector or whatever. They trust you. All we need is one. And we know you've been meeting one."

"Because a katniss flower proves I have seen a mermaid," he said angrily as he held up the flower.

"Why was a katniss flower in your raft?"

"And why did so many people say they saw a fin splashing through the water, going in the opposite direction where a raft had just been speeding by," his mother smirked.

"They're seeing things," he shrugged.

"I'm no fool, Peeta Mellark. Your father spent so much time on that lake that I finally did some digging. It didn't surprise me at all that the old fool left the lake to you."

"He left me the property," he slammed his fist on his bedside table. "The house, the bakery, the lake, all of it! He knew I was the only one who would care for all of it."

"And that's why we think you'll be interested to hear what we have to say," his mother said calmly, though her smirk made him uncomfortable. He rolled his eyes as he took a swig from the bottle.

"Help us catch a mermaid, and I will sign the property over to you." His jaw dropped and the open water bottle fell from his hands. She withdrew a stack of papers from her purse and held them up.

"All of the deeds, all yours if you do this. Your brothers and I will be rich and can finally leave this godforsaken town. We'll leave you to tend to your bakery, your lake, and your mermaids."

"Take the deal, Peeta," Brian said eagerly. Almost pleadingly. "Do you really know these things anyway? We just want one and it doesn't even have to be the one you have been seeing. You know what will happen if Mom doesn't get what she wants." Peeta glanced at his mother and gulped at her evil grin.

"I will bring explosives over every inch of that lake, do you understand me? Your father's precious lady of the lake and yours and every living thing in there will perish. Do you want to be the cause of that?"

"We'll leave you to think on it," Bannock grunted. "Meet us by the boardwalk at 10 tomorrow." His mother rose delicately, as if she were a Queen, and Peeta stared them down as they exited his room. When they were gone, he slammed the door shut and slid down into the floor. His elbows rested on his knees and he gripped his hair tightly.

"This isn't happening," he sobbed. "This can't be happening." His eyes locked on the katniss flower on his bed and he squeezed his eyes shut against the throbbing of his heart.

"Katniss," he sobbed into his arm, his tears keeping him awake the remainder of the night.
_____________________________________

Peeta's mind was racing as he drove to his mother's house. He parked in the back and saw his family already waiting on the boardwalk. Off to the side, a truck of what looked to be hunters, were waiting with a large net in the back. Swallowing, he looked straight ahead as he made his way to the boardwalk.

"Good morning, Peeta," his mother said pleasantly but he held up a hand to her off.

"Cut the pleasantries. I want to see the papers with my name on them." She withdrew the papers and unfolded them. Her name had been whited out and his name was written in. He went through them to make sure she hadn't missed. According to these, he owned the bakery, the house, and the lake.

"I'm not sure how I am going to get one this close to the boardwalk," he stuffed the papers into his pocket. "Ka—the mermaid is mad at me. She won't come near me."

"So lure another one."

"I don't know how," he said angrily. "I've never tried to lure a mermaid, you know."

"Be imaginative," his mother snapped.

"When she came to me, I had tried to drown myself. I don't think that will work again."

"Oh. But I think it will," his mother said, her smile widening. Before Peeta knew it, he was on his knees with thick rope binding his hands behind his back. Material was wrapped around his mouth so he couldn't scream for help. And how EXACTLY did they expect him to lure a mermaid if he was dead?

"Stop fussing," his mother hissed as he thrashed around in his binds. "You will show the men where to find one, they will throw you overboard, and pull you back in when they have caught one." He glared at her in hatred as the men tossed him into a boat and climbed in after him.

One of the men unwrapped the material from his mouth.

"Now tell us, where do we need to go?" Tears streamed down his cheeks as he shook his head.

"See that little island in the distance? Just beyond there."

"Right. Hang on." The engine was quiet as they moved across the lake. When they were well past Katniss's island, Peeta nodded.

"Right here." The men nodded to each other and Peeta took a deep breath as they flung him overboard.

He crashed through the water, blinking to see through the murky dark. He struggled with the ropes around his hands and he thought he heard a soft voice.

"Katniss?" It came out in bubbles but he turned, squinting his eyes. He hoped other mermaids swam out here, since Katniss had her own little spot. He started to kick, swimming for another spot of land, quite a ways away. He made it to the surface and inhaled a breath of fresh air.

"Hey," he heard the men behind him. "Get back here!" Peeta groaned when he heard the engine start again and he kicked as hard as he could. He saw a tail fluke in the distance and he gasped.

"There!" The men turned their attention to whatever Peeta saw and he heard excited yelling, which meant they had seen it too. His arms ached and he was tiring quickly but he had to make it to land. There was a splash behind him and the men all spoke at once. He didn't risk a glance backwards, he was almost to the island.

"Primroshenonya! NO!" Peeta swallowed water as the familiar voice shocked him to his very core. He turned and saw the men throwing the net down.

"Katniss! Get away from here!" The men cheered excitedly as they pulled a mermaid onto their boat. A mermaid with an orange fluke.

Peeta cried out and shook his head in disbelief as the men hauled him onto the boat and sliced his ropes.

"No! No! Let her go!"

"Sit down boy," one of them pushed him backwards and he nearly tripped over the bound mermaid. Peeta pulled at the netting and his hands flew into the air as he found himself staring down the barrel of a shotgun.

"Behave yourself," the man growled. "Now we got her, we'll take you both back to land." He lowered his forehead onto her hair.

"I'm so sorry, Katniss, I'm so so sorry." She jerked away, her eyes hardened with such hate that it made his own eyes well up with tears.

"I should have known… you're just like the rest of them," she spat, thrashing her tail.

"Kat-Katniss," he whimpered, pleading with her. She thrashed her tail again and one of the men jumped to his feet.

"Don't make me shoot you," he snarled at the mermaid.

"You won't shoot her," Peeta yelled back. "She's too valuable."

"Watch me," the man said, stepping on her tail with his heavy boot.

"Get off of me, human," she snarled and hissed, slapping her tail against him.

"Katniss, don't!" One of the men stood over her with a gun and Peeta's scream was too late. She sank to the bottom of the boat, her eyes closed and her tail falling to the floor.

"She'll be out for a couple of hours," the man grinned. "Plenty of time to get her to the aquarium."

"The aquarium," Peeta repeated in shock. "You're taking her to the aquarium?"

"Sit down and shut up, Mellark," the man hollered, kicking Peeta in the chest. He fell with an oomph, landing beside Katniss's head. He heard a distant cry, as if someone was crying. A fist clenched around his heart as he realized what it was.

"Prim," he said softly. It had been Prim's fin he had seen, and whose name Katniss had called as she broke the surface. Prim was the one who was about to be captured…

And of course, her big sister would come to her rescue. The Queen would risk her life for her people. His heart felt even heavier as they made it to the boardwalk. His brother helped him out of the boat his wide eyes locked on Katniss.

"You really did it."

"I never want to see any of you again," Peeta pushed his way through his family. "Take her and get out of here. Don't come here again." And he stomped into his house and watched through his tears as they loaded Katniss into their truck and drove away.
___________________________________________

As the weeks went by, Peeta felt more and more horrible. He often contemplated jumping off the boardwalk again, but that would only make him think of Katniss and what he had done. His heart ached for the young princess who was now in charge and undoubtedly searching for her sister.

He didn't deserve to live.

Meanwhile all he saw when he turned on his TV or heard when he listened to the radio was the news of a real live mermaid who could be seen in the aquarium in the city. She was being called the Magnificent Mellark Mermaid, which made him sick to his stomach. Peeta threw the remote at the TV so hard it broke it. Well, at least there would be no more advertisements.

Peeta fell into depression and with him, the property did too. He hadn't been to the bakery, he hadn't visited the lake. He just stopped caring. None of it was worth this. None of it was fair. He would wind up back in bed, sobbing her name into his pillow.

He hadn't been to the aquarium. How could he? But he wondered how she was. Peeta scoffed; he knew how she was. Miserable.

But still, he couldn't move from the bed. People whispered that he had died. No one had seen him in weeks.
__________________________________

Peeta grumbled to himself as the incessant knocking at the door made his head ache even worse.

"Go away," he called, pulling the covers over his head.

"Peeta! Open the door!"

Cursing up a storm, he clutched the blanket around his shoulders as he stomped to the door. He blinked in surprise but a dark expression crossed over his face.

"What the fuck are you doing here?"

"Just hear me out," his younger brother held up his hands, pleading.

"I thought I said I never wanted to see any of you on this property again."

"Peeta… I came because…. Because of her." His brow furrowed even deeper.

"Who are you talking about?"

"You know who," he said patiently. "She's dying, Peet. She refuses to eat. She won't move. I requested that they let her out and walk around at night but she remains curled up in the corner."

"You requested-?"

"Yeah," his brother shrugged. "I own one third of the Magnificent Mellark Mermaid." He glanced up at Peeta, looking miserable.

"Get the fuck out," Peeta snapped.

"Peeta, I thought if you come to see her, she might… cheer up. Eat something. Want to live."

"Of course, yeah, cause you and Mom and Bannock can't lose your meal ticket."

"I sit with her sometimes," he said quietly. "She doesn't talk to me but she gets sadder when I mention your name. I'm worried about her. As a living thing, not a meal ticket." Peeta buried his face in his hand.

"I can sneak you in to see her." Peeta stared at his brother.

"Mom and Bannock won't stop you?"

"They're both in Los Angeles, negotiating with a big aquarium out there. They have been getting offers from everywhere. Every aquarium, circus, theme park, talk show host, and actor wants to buy her. The military even made an offer, so they can do experiments on her." Peeta's blood ran cold and he covered his mouth with his hand.

"I don't want that to happen to her. Come see her and help me come up a plan."

"A plan? A plan to do what exactly?" His brother's face lit up with mischief.

"A plan to bust your mermaid out of there."
______________________________________________

Peeta had arrived at the aquarium early and needed to kill some time. He had already eaten lunch and he was impatient to see Katniss. He paid the woman at the box office and entered the large aquarium.

There were signs everywhere advertising the Magnificent Mellark Mermaid. He scowled as he passed the signs, resisting the urge to kick them down. He strolled through the aquarium, glancing here and there.

When he came to the large tank, his heart sank to the bottom of his stomach. There were at least a hundred children surrounding the glass. Adults strained to get a good look. All he could make out was a still figure in the corner of the tank.

An adult moved and Peeta surged forward. He stifled a sob as he raised his palm to the glass, where her hand was pressed. Her fin was curled underneath her, and her hair had turned shocking white. Her vibrant green scales looked sickly and all of the orange had seemed to fade from her fluke. A tight white band wrapped around her breasts and her head was lowered so he couldn't see her face. He nearly sank to his knees in despair.

"Katniss," he whispered. She shivered, as if something had come over her, and she lifted her head slowly. Their eyes met and she gave him a scowl. But her pain was more painful than her rage. He pressed both hands to the glass and mouthed her name. Katniss squeezed her eyes shut and turned away.

"That's the most she's done all day," a child exclaimed. Peeta felt bile rising up in his throat and he hurried away from the tank.

Brian found him just before the aquarium closed and he handed him a name badge.

"Did you see her?" Peeta merely grunted. Brian led the way back to the tank and motioned for Peeta to go ahead of him.

She was right where he had last seen her. It didn't look like she had moved, even though there was fish food floating in the water. Her face was pressed against the glass and her hands were in her lap.

"She's too skinny," he said sadly.

"That's what I was thinking too. And the color of her tail. I've noticed it looking a little dull. I told you she doesn't look well."

Peeta sighed as he sat on the ledge of the bench in front of the tank. He pulled his knees to his chest and merely stared at her. She finally lifted her head and her eyes widened, flicking from Peeta to Brian back to Peeta.

"I'm going to save you," Peeta muttered though he knew she couldn't hear him through the glass. She cocked her head and pressed her webbed palm to the glass. Peeta followed suit, their palms aligned. Brian knocked on the glass and gestured upwards. Katniss looked at him blankly, then swam away.

"C'mon," Brian pulled Peeta to his feet and started to run down the hall.

There were many doors and many stairs but finally, they burst through a steel door and Brian flashed his ID.

"Mr. Mellark," the security attendant greeted him. "And who is this?"

"This is my brother. We want to speak to the mermaid."

"Not long this time, Mr. Mellark. Mrs. Mellark gave explicit instructions over the phone that no one should be visiting with her."

"We'll make it quick. Thanks Harry." Brian led the way around the tank, away from security. Peeta saw a smaller tank, where Katniss waiting for them, her arms crossed over her chest. Brian climbed up a small ladder and unlocked a padlock, opening a panel to the glass. Katniss was able to hoist herself onto the ladder and flipped her fin so that she was completely out of the tank. Peeta rushed forward and pulled her into his arms, so that he could lay her on the floor. He made to lean her against the tank and then let go but she clung to him, her wet arms soaking his shirt. His arms tightened around her and he released his sobs into her hair.

"I'm sorry," he panted. "I'm so sorry."

"Your brother told me what happened," she said softly. "It wasn't your fault."

"The hell it wasn't. I should have refused. I never should have led them out there."

"And then your mother would have destroyed my pod. She would have killed Prim," her eyes were glassy as she leaned back to look at him. "Have you seen her?"

"I haven't been able to walk onto that boardwalk since you were taken," he shook his head, his blonde curls dropping into his eyes. "I can't face the water." He felt her cup his cheek and he blinked back tears.

"I'm glad you came," she finally said. "Your brother has been kind." She nodded towards Brian and he gave them a sad smile.

"Katniss-" he was cut off by her sharp gasp and she released her hold on him.

"Oh, back up Peet. This really hurts her."

"What," Peeta cried out as his brother pulled him back. "What's happening? What's hurting her?" She released a high-pitched scream and Peeta jerked in his brother's arms.

"She's changing," Brian said soothingly. "She'll be fine, it just takes a minute or so. She's just had time to dry off." Peeta watched with wide, horrified eyes as her green skin disappeared and her white hair darkened. He winced when he heard bones crack as her tail disappeared and human legs appeared, blood spraying when her legs snapped apart. Her back arched painfully and she screamed loudly as the transformation was finally complete. She panted into the floor and Peeta, blushing madly, pulled his jacket off and draped it over her. She weakly sat up on her hands and knees and their eyes locked. His eyes raked over her form before locking on hers again.

"You are the most incredible being I have ever met." She smiled and lowered her forehead to his knee. He wrapped his arms around her again and pulled her into his lap.

"I'm going to talk to Harry for a moment," Brian stammered. "I'll be right back." Peeta smiled gratefully as his brother left them in private.

"I've missed you so much," he whispered, pressing his forehead to hers. "I have hated myself for weeks." She shook her head and reached for his face. Her lips met his and he gasped against her mouth. Cupping her face, he tilted his head to change the angle and Katniss's hands found themselves in his hair, tugging at the curls.

"Katniss," he tried to get out, never wanting to separate from her and at the same time, knowing they needed to talk. "Katniss, wait." She pouted when he pulled away and laughingly, he raked his thumb across her lip.

"Believe me, beautiful, if I could, I would go on kissing you for days. But I need you to listen to me. I'm going to get you out of here. But you have to tell me where I can take you. It's not safe to go back to the lake."

"The lake is my home. My pod is there. My sister."

"I know," he said sadly. "But it's too dangerous. When my mother finds you gone, she'll know it was me and she will burn down the property. We have to get your pod to safety. Is there any way they can get to the ocean?"

"Father always said there was a way. But I don't know it. They won't leave without me. I'm their Queen."

"I can't take you back there. Can you think of any way to communicate with them, through me?" Katniss shook her head sadly, but her eyes locked on her ring. Peeta had noticed it when they had first met but he'd always just assumed it had belonged to a family member.

"This is the Queen's ring," she pulled it from her finger. "Many queens of past have worn this. Take it to the water and call for Primroshenonya. She will talk to our soldiers and come up with a plan."

"Peeta?" He heard his brother call and he knew they were out of time.

"We're going to get you out of here, but it will take some planning. I might have to hide you in my hotel room before we make it to the ocean. It's kind of far." He kissed her forehead and moved down to her lips.

"I'll be back soon. I promise."

"Promise?" His heart clenched again.

"I know I shouldn't ask for your trust.., but will you allow it anyway?"

"I'll allow it," she said with a smile. Peeta pulled her to her feet and held her close when he felt her stumble.

"Do you sleep out of the tank, or…?"

"Brian allows me to change but I am clumsy on these things," she lifted a foot and flexed her toes. "I prefer to be in the water." He helped her up the ladder and before she stepped into the tank, she turned back to him.

"You are our Protector, Peeta. Remember that." He smiled and nodded as she lowered herself into the tank. Peeta watched in horrified fascination and she started to change again. It looked excruciating and Brian shut off her agonized screams as he closed the panel and locked the padlock. Katniss's dark hair became white again and her legs fused together, becoming a green and orange tail. Peeta pressed his hand to the glass and she followed suit.

"I promise," he mouthed before following his brother out.
______________________________________________

When he returned to his home, he walked out to the boardwalk with newfound purpose. He clenched the ring in his hand.

Kneeling on the wood, he lowered his face to the water and dipped his hand under the surface.

"If any of you can hear me," he said in a strong voice. "I need your help to save your Queen. She has sent me here, for your help. Please, come to me now. Don't be afraid." He could hear the voices under water. Some angry, some sad, some panic-stricken. He heard a familiar cry and his eyes widened.

"Primroshenonya! Please come to me. Your sister needs you!" A face burst through the surface, surprising Peeta and knocking him backwards. He fell off the ledge and gasped as he struggled to hold onto the planks.

"You are not good with water," he heard a girlish giggle before he felt himself being pushed from the water.
"It is funny that you love a mermaid."

He shook his hair out of his eyes as he focused on the creature that was speaking to him.

She was undeniably Katniss's sister, though she hardly looked like her. Her eyes were blue rather than silver, and her skin and scales were a pinkish gold. She propped herself on her elbows and her fluke emerged from the water. Peeta saw it was a deep rose color and that her entire body was much smaller than Katniss's.

"You are Katnisshashira's Protector?"

"Um… yes. I'm… Katniss….shashir—"

"My sister told me you shorten our names. You call me Prim. I like it," she giggled. Peeta rubbed his face and sat up.

"You know what's happened."

"I feel her despair, or rather, yours. You are connected and I can feel her through you."

"You can read emotions too?"

"Only when they are very strong. Like the sadness coming from you. I have been feeling sadness and guilt and pain from you for weeks now."

"It's my fault your sister was taken in the first place," he shook his head miserably.

"I was coming to your rescue, Peeta. Your hands were bound and you could not swim. How is it your fault?"

"It's… complicated."

"Uncomplicate it," the young mermaid said simply. Peeta couldn't help it; he burst out laughing and she watched him, puzzled.

"Yep, you are most definitely sisters," he wiped the tears away. "Wow, that felt good. I haven't laughed since…" he bit his lip. When HAD he last laughed?

"Since I met your sister."

"You carry her ring. You have seen her?"

"Yes. She's being held prisoner a long way away from here. I've come to ask you. Can you and your people make it to the ocean from here?"

"Our lake is large. We can hide if we need to."

"No," he shook his head, pleading for her to understand. "You need to leave this lake. My mother will kill everyone living here. Katniss said there might be a way to the ocean. Your father said there was."

"Then I don't know it, but I will ask my advisors. They have been helping me since my sister was taken."

"I will take Katniss to the ocean, but first I have to figure out how to get her out of the aquarium." Prim dove back under the water, promising him she would discuss it with her advisors. Peeta returned to his house, pulling out a sheet of paper and with a look of determination, set to making plans.
______________________________________

It really wasn't as complicated as he imagined. With Brian's help, they were able to sneak Katniss out of the aquarium, dressed in one of Peeta's outfits.

"How long do we have until security discovers she's gone?"

"It's a large tank," Brian tossed him the keys. "I took care of the cameras, Harry won't wake up until morning, and no one else will check on the tank until morning anyway. Get her out of town and don't look back, you hear me?" Peeta swallowed as his brother embraced him.

"You'll get into so much trouble, Brian," he said softly. "She'll use whatever she has on you once she knows you were involved."

"With any luck, she'll think it was just you. And you'll be long gone from here. So get going." He hugged his brother again and climbed into the truck, next to Katniss.

"Thank you, Brian," she said, leaning over Peeta.

"Be safe, Queen Katniss." Peeta cranked the engine and drove straight out of town, not once looking back.
______________________________________________

"I don't suppose you've ever driven," Peeta yawned for the thousandth time. The sun was high in the sky and he had lost track of how many hours had passed.

"I have not been human more than a day," she replied, speaking slowly as if he were a child.

"I know, I'm sorry, I'm just exhausted." He punched something into his phone and drummed his fingers on the wheel.

"Perfect. There's a Comfort Inn at the next exit. We can sleep, get some food, and get back on the road in a few hours. That ok?" She nodded and he followed the directions to the hotel.

The lady at the front desk was elderly and kind. She gave Katniss a sweet smile as she offered her a freshly baked cookie. Peeta accepted the cookies for both of them with a thank you, and took the key from her.

"I hope you and your wife find this room comfortable."

"Thank you for your help," he said, pocketing his change and picking up the suitcase.

He unlocked the room and stood aside so Katniss could enter.

"Gahhhhh, that bed looks wonderful," he said behind her. He suddenly froze and she glanced back to see his face had gone slack.

"Peeta?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't even think to ask-"

"What's wrong?" He gestured toward the bed and his hand went to the back of his neck, rubbing nervously.

"I forgot to request two beds. I'll go get it fixed."

"Peeta, you must rest. I don't mind lying beside you." He nodded and set the bags down beside the wall.

"I bought you some dresses, some shorts and some tops, and some…ahem, some underwear." He cleared his throat, his cheeks pink.

"Why does underwear make your cheeks change a different color?" He squirmed under her scrutiny.

"It's um… what we wear to cover, ah, our private parts. Your breasts, for example. They make bras for women, and I bought you a few of those."

"You wear a bra too?" He choked.

"No, I don't have… uh, breasts, I mean I do, they're just not as big as yours. As women's, I mean. I don't need to wear one."

"What is this?" She was digging through the bags and Peeta blushed so hard he felt like he was going to pass out.

"That's… women's panties. Uh, they go under your dress or pants or whatever you wear. To cover… this area," he waved his hand over his lower half and Katniss cocked her head.

"You don't have a fin to cover that anymore, and humans wear an extra layer. Which is what you're holding in your hands."

"And this?" Peeta grabbed his boxer briefs from her hands, moaning in internal panic.

"Those are my underwear."

"You are not wearing them now?"

"I am, these are just an extra pair. Um, you're wearing yours, right? I packed them with the clothes."

"I did not know what they were," she shrugged. "They are in your car." Oh god help him, he turned away and hid his face in his hands. How was he supposed to sleep beside her, knowing she wasn't wearing anything underneath?

You need to chill, his brain scolded him. Take it slow. She's a mermaid, going back to the ocean. Stop freaking her out.

Katniss did not look freaked out, however. She dug through the suitcase enthusiastically, examining each item she pulled out.

"Peeta, what is this?" She pulled out a row of plastic and he blanched, sitting straight up.

"Oh my god. Those are, um, those are called condoms and I did not pack these, Brian must have slipped them in, the asshole, I'll just put them away—"

"What are they for?" She cocked her head and scowled. Peeta found himself reaching for her, addicted to that scowl.

"Umm… I mentioned to you that we mate… for pleasure. Condoms are what men put on themselves to ensure the woman doesn't get pregnant. Um, make a baby," he offered lamely. Katniss's scowl deepened.

"You don't want your women pregnant?"

"Well yeah of course but sometimes, it depends on the timing of it all. Like if you're too young or not ready to have a baby, or you're not ready to settle down with one person, or—"

"You are not ready to settle down with one person, that is why you have condoms?" Peeta's throat closed off.

"I haven't been. Maybe… that's changing." He stroked her cheek with his knuckles and she closed her eyes, nuzzling into his hand.

"We, uh, we better sleep."

"Yes." She lay on her side and rested her head on his chest. His arms hovered in the air, frantic for a place to rest them, until he brought them down around her. His hand rested on her shoulder and he used his other to push a strand of her hair away from her eyes. She was snoring softly and Peeta suddenly felt all the danger and the fear of the last seventeen hours catch up to him.
_______________________________________________

When Peeta awoke, he could tell it was dark outside. Damn. Well, he guessed he needed it. He glanced down and saw Katniss no longer slept on his chest but she had moved to the side of the bed. His eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw that she had shed her shirt and pants in her sleep. She was sleeping beside him, completely naked and Peeta's body responded immediately.

"No," he told his dick firmly. It did not cooperate and he groaned as he pulled the blankets over himself. She moaned in her sleep, and turned to her other side, facing him with her hand tucked under her chin. Peeta watched her sleep, determinedly not looking away from her face. But his eyes drifted downwards, disobeying his brain.

"Behave!" It yelled. He didn't listen. His gaze locked on her rounded breasts, which he had already tasted and touched. His eyes wandered down to the shapely ass on display as her legs were crossed, hiding the rest of her from him.

He gripped his hair tightly and continued to chastise himself. He could deal with this in the shower, he reasoned. Doing his best not to wake her, he sat on the edge of the bed and pulled his shirt over his head. Standing, he unzipped his jeans and they slid down his legs. Bending down to find some fresh clothes, he started to move away from the bed but a soft hand on his arm made him freeze.

"You are leaving?"

"I was just going to take a shower," he said quietly. "You can sleep some more."

"I have slept plenty," she sat up and stretched her arms over her head. He looked away quickly and she noticed.

"You do not wish to look at me?" She sounded hurt and he waved his hands in the air.

"No, that's not it. I don't want to… make you feel uncomfortable by me looking at you. You're so beautiful and I'm just—"

"Imagining doing more with me?" He gulped audibly at his own words.

"Yes," he said, nodding. "I can remember what you looked like and what you felt like and what you tasted like. I need to stop imagining."

"Why must you stop imagining? You are free to imagine, if you wish." His restraint snapping, he sat back on his haunches and placed his hands on her thigh. He sighed when he felt skin, not scales, and he pulled her closer.

"I want to see all of you," he whispered. Her dark hair was spread underneath her like a halo, her hands were stretched over her head, gripping the pillow with white knuckles. Her breasts were round but still rather small, with hardened pink nipples. Her torso was still slender, with a cute little belly button and wide hips. Between her luscious thighs was a triangle of dark curls barely hiding her wet folds. Her legs were long and shapely, and he immediately imagined them wrapped around his waist. His eyes moved back up to hers and he saw the nervousness there. He leaned down to give her a reassuring kiss. He moved between her legs, spreading them wider, and his hand went to squeeze her breast. She released a breathy whine as he tweaked her nipple between his fingers.

"You still find me pleasing to look at?"

"Katniss, you are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen in my life. Fin or legs, you are so beautiful it makes me ache for you."

"You are in pain?" She looked concerned, reaching up for him, but he smiled and pulled her palm to his lips.

"No," he assured her. "I'm not in pain. I ache for you means… I want all of you. More than anything."

"So what is stopping you from taking me?" He hated how that sounded and he leaned back.

"I will never "take" you, Katniss. I want you to give yourself to me because you want to. I would never force you to do anything." She didn't say anything as she reached up to palm his chest. Her fingers trailed down his stomach and around his belly button. His stomach flinched and she jerked her hand back. Chuckling softly, he kissed her fingers and brought them back to his stomach, allowing her to explore.

"This is how you find pleasure?"

"It's how we start to. Touching each other, bringing each other pleasure. That's what makes us feel good." She pulled his hands to her breasts and arched her back.

"Make me feel good?" He answered by conquering her mouth, his tongue meeting hers in a frenzy. His hands squeezed and rubbed, as his lips moved down to her nipples. He lavished her breast, twirling his tongue around her areola. He could see her saliva-soaked skin shining in the moonlight and he moved his tongue down her belly. Her stomach flinched when he dipped his tongue into her belly button and he left kisses across her hipbone as he moved lower.

"This is how women feel pleasure," he said into her thigh. "Right here." She gasped as he trailed a single finger up her slit before his lips moved to her curls.

"What are you doing," she panted.

"I'm still just kissing you, Katniss." He gently licked up and down her folds, moaning when he felt how wet she was. He moved up to suck at her clit and she nearly arched off the bed.

"Peeta!" His cock swelled even more at the sound of his name echoing off the walls. But he asked her, weeks ago, how he could pleasure her and this, he knew this well. If this was her first orgasm… this wouldn't take very long. He slowed his pace, wanting to cherish it and wanting her to feel everything. He alternated pushing his tongue inside her and gently tonguing her folds. He pushed a finger inside and felt her tighten around his digit.

"Fuck," he moaned. "Katniss, you feel amazing. I need to be inside you."

"You are inside me," she pointed out, though admittedly her eyes were rolled to the back of her head and she wasn't really aware of what she was saying. She reached down to grip his hair and he grunted as she pulled, hard. His fingertips dug into her thighs as he held her open, his tongue flicking rapidly at her clit while he pushed two fingers inside her.

"Peeta…. oh, Pee—OH!"

"Don't fight it," he pressed a kiss to her inner thigh. "Enjoy the moment, Katniss."

"Is this… an… or-or—orgasm?"

"Yes. I want you to cum for me, sweetheart. I want to taste your first orgasm." She shuddered, her eyes rolling back, and her back arching so much that she was almost curled up completely. He gently tongued her until she came back down, her hips jerking uncontrollably. He smiled and placed a tender kiss on her breast before moving up to lie beside her.

"That was incredible," she said in a shaky voice.

"I'm glad I was able to make you feel that good."

"I wonder how to feel that once I am in the water again." Peeta felt a sharp pain in his heart. He wouldn't be with her. Someone else was going to be giving her pleasure and he hated that thought. She noticed he had gone quiet and she turned to face him.

"Now tell me how to give you pleasure."

"It's not necessary," he said dismissively but her eyes flashed.

"I wish to learn."

"Ok," he said uncertainly. "Humans have certain spots on them that make them feel pleasure, like I told you before. I just showed you yours. This is my main spot," he pulled her hand down to cup him over his underwear. As soon as she touched him, his eyes slammed shut.

"Oh fuck."

"Fuck? This means it feels good?"

"Yeah. It's… well, it's a bad word. But when we feel intense emotions, it sometimes comes out."

"You are feeling intense emotions? I am making you feel intense emotions?"

"Yeah," he said shakily, pressing her hand down over him. "You make me feel good." He pulled his boxer briefs down his legs and kicked them off. Lying under her, completely naked, his entire body flushed red.

"I want to see all of you," she rose up on her knees and stared down at him. His hands rested on her hips while she appraised him with her stormy eyes.

"Do you find me pleasing to look at," he tried to tease but it came out shaking.

"You are beautiful," she said simply, trailing her palms down his chest and stomach to the part of him she had just been touching a moment ago. She wrapped both hands around him and squeezed. He let out a cry as he threw his head back into the pillow.

"You are in pain?"

"N-no," he gasped. "So good. Keep going." She had no idea what she was doing but she moved her hands up and back down again, hearing him release a long moan.

"Our men do not have this," she tugged on him and he let out a choked gasp. "Is it meant to go in this hole, here?" She reached down and touched herself and Peeta nearly passed out. Damn she was clever. Still trembling, he nodded.

"I would go inside you and we would both feel pleasure."

"Show me," she tugged on his cock again before flopping on her back. Peeta scrambled to his hands and knees.

"Are… are you sure?"

"I want us to both feel pleasure," she nodded. He gripped her thighs and settled himself between them, lining himself up with her core.

"This may, um… a woman's first time sometimes hurts. I don't want to hurt you but I just… wanted you to know."

"Do you need a condom?" He could have slapped himself.

"Shit! Yes, I do. Thanks for remembering." He reached the row of condoms and tore one off with his teeth. Katniss watched closely as he fitted it over himself, and stroked himself twice before his hands went back to her sides.

"Ready?" She reached up and draped her arms around his neck.

"Yes."

Peeta slowly pushed into her, feeling resistance. When it became too much, he backed out slowly and pushed back in, easing the way. She grimaced once but she hadn't said anything so Peeta continued. He pushed through and heard her gasp but still, she did not speak. Pushing into her again, he moaned at how tightly her walls were squeezing him.

"Fuck Katniss," he gasped out. "You feel so amazing. So tight and… holy shit, I'm not going to last long." He reached down to where they were joined together and his fingers found her clit. With a sharp gasp, her hips jerked and he groaned at the sensation.

"This… gives you pleasure?"

"More than I ever thought possible," he moaned, tilting his head back. "You are everything to me, Katniss. You're my world now. Oh my god, I'm going to—" his hips jerked against hers and she felt him grow even larger inside her. Panting and gasping for breath, he collapsed over her and she wrapped her arms around him. His body was shaking and she leaned up to kiss his shoulder. When she tried to move, she felt something wet splash her chest. With a start, she realized he was crying.

"Peeta, what's wrong?"

"I can't lose you," he said, lifting his head. His blue eyes were full of tears and she reached up to wipe them away.

"I can't, Katniss. I can't let you go. I know you're the Ruler of your people but I'm weak and I need you."

"Peeta," she pushed his damp hair out of his eyes. "You said yourself your mother will never stop hunting us. The ocean is the safest place for me. And this… Europe. Is where you will be safe." It had been Brian's idea. He had given him his rightful share of his father's money and told him to stay in Europe until his mother's death. Peeta hated the prospect. To be running and hiding for that long. But he had secretly hoped that he could convince Katniss to stay with him.

"Please, Katniss. Stay on land with me. We'll go to Europe together, and we can be together, for real! Just stay with me."

"I'm the Queen of my pod, Peeta. My people are counting on me. Prim is much too young to rule. I must go back to the water. I have no choice." He wanted to argue that of course she had a choice and she should choose him, but he knew that made him enormously selfish and he could never ask her to leave her people behind. So with a heavy heart, he told her they should dress and go get something to eat before getting back on the road. He glanced at the map on his phone.

They were almost there. Close to freedom and close to losing his mermaid forever.
________________________________________________

"Ok, we're here," he said sorrowfully. "The beach is right down there."

"I can try to walk-"

"I can carry you," he was already opening his car door. "You were stumbling all over the place and we don't want to draw any attention."

"The beach is empty, Peeta," she waved her hand.

"There's still a lot of cars. I'm not taking any chances and it will be my last chance to hold you." He scooped her up and pressed his forehead to hers.

"I love you, my sweet mermaid," he whispered. She stroked his cheek and he took a deep breath before turning and walking down to the beach.

He was on the sand when he heard it. The cars were revving up and spotlights were focusing on the sea.

"Peeta Mellark. Release the mermaid at once and return to your car."

"Shit," he bit his lip in panic. "I have to get you into the water."

"Peeta, be careful," she pleaded as she clung to him. Peeta's feet moved faster, doing his best to run through the sand. He heard gunshots and barely dodged a bullet. He tripped and fell forward onto the wet sand, the tide coming low.

"Go on," he said as Katniss struggled to her feet. He jumped up and threw his arms around her.

"Be safe, my Queen. Don't forget me."

"Never," she assured him, giving him one last kiss before she turned and dove into the water. Peeta watched her disappear into the darkness, when he felt a sudden pain in his back. He cried out, dropping to one knee. Blood soaked through his shirt and he pressed his hand to his stomach. His body started to shake and pain lanced through every inch of him. He fell forward into the water, his eyes fluttering.

"Peeta!" He heard her scream but couldn't respond to it. She cradled him in her arms and gasped at the sight of the blood on her hands.

"Peeta, stay with me! Please stay with me!" His eyes could barely focus as they locked on her face. He tried to smile but his head dropped backwards and she shook him violently. She sniffled as she pulled him out further into the ocean. When he could barely keep his head over water, she pulled him down. His wound was agonizing, his lungs were burning, he couldn't keep his eyes open. He heard something strange… singing?

Katniss brought the flower closer to his lips, her voice echoing through the depths. The flower started to glow as her song grew louder. His pallor was improving, the blood had disappeared, but why wasn't he opening his…

Blue eyes darted open, wide and confused. His lungs no longer burned as he drew his first underwater breath.

Chapter Text

EPILOGUE
------------------------------------------

Peeta's mind wasn't as hazy as it had been a few seconds ago and the first thing he registered was his beautiful green-skinned, silver-eyed mermaid staring back at him.

"Katniss? What happened?" She smiled and held a glowing flower to his lips.

"You're alive," she said before crushing her lips to his.

"I-I don't understand-"

"I know but I will explain later. I need you to swim as hard as you can, alright?" He nodded and she tugged on his hand, leading him through the dark water.

The deeper they went, the more Peeta was able to see clearly. He had a million questions but Katniss was moving fast, her powerful tail speeding them through the ocean. Unfortunately, his human legs were nowhere near as powerful as a fin and he tired quickly. Katniss noticed him lagging and she spun to face him.

"Peeta, I need you to keep going, alright? I need you to swim."

"I'm sorry, Katniss," he shook his head, his eyes closing. "I can't." Katniss pressed her forehead to his and sighed. She wasn't strong enough to carry him to where they had to go. But she wasn't about to just leave him here.

"Come, child. Let me help." Katniss gasped as a burly merman swam past them and grasped Peeta's left arm. Katniss shouldered his right and they sped through the waves.

Everything was passing way too quickly, and the speed they were traveling made Peeta dizzy. He essentially passed out over the merman's arm. Katniss was exhausted and the merman placed a hand on her shoulder.

"Allow me to carry him, my child. You are weary and weakened." She nodded, her eyes fluttering but she shook her head, fighting to stay awake.

She was glad of his company because she did not know the exact whereabouts of her new home.

When they finally reached the underwater palace, they swam through the halls and the merman deposited Peeta on a bed. Katniss bowed low, clasping her hands in front of her.

"Thank you, my Lord Poseidon."

"My child, you need to rest. I will ensure safe passage for your pod. When you wake, your pod should be here and we will discuss your… companion." She bowed again and he patted her head once before he swam off. Katniss draped herself over Peeta, her fin curling around him protectively. She had very nearly lost him tonight but now… now, they would always be together. She fell asleep with a calm smile on her face.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Peeta opened his eyes and noted that a mermaid tail was wrapped around him like a blanket. He peered down and saw Katniss sleeping on his chest and his heart started to race. She looked so peaceful… and happy. Her lips were curled into a sweet smile and he was happy to see her dreams were sweet.

He slowly started to register his surroundings and tried to sit up.

"Am I… under water?" His eyes darted around the room and noticed a steady stream of bubbles coming from Katniss's mouth. Ok, that answered his question.

He reached behind him and tried to feel his back but found no trace of wound or blood. She had healed him, then. It was strange; he was still human but he was breathing normally. He saw no bubble or anything around him, so how was this possible? He knew Katniss needed rest but the list of questions just kept growing.

Luckily, Katniss started to wake but unluckily, she flipped her fin. Peeta grimaced as his hand flew to his side.

"Owww. Damn Katniss, that is one strong tail."

"I am so sorry," she said, looking horrified. "I am not used to sleeping with other people! Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," he smiled, sitting up. "But, um… I have a lot of questions."

"I can imagine. We need to find Lord Poseidon first because he has some questions for you as well. And he said my pod should be here."

"Wait… Lord Poseidon? As in the god of the sea? He's here?"

"He carried you here, Peeta. I was weak and he brought us to safety."

"Ok, but… where are we?"

"This is to be my palace. I must find out if my pod made it. Come." She pulled him to his feet and he found he could both walk and float through the halls.

"So weird," he stared at his feet as he moved.

He followed her outside, where a large group surrounded a tall figure. Mermaids and mermen of every size and color, and so many brightly colored tails. Peeta was happy to see that Katniss's fin had returned to her rich colors as before.

"KATNISSHASHIRA!" Katniss spun around, her eyes wide and hopeful. A smaller figure zoomed through the water and straight into the mermaid's arms.

"Primroshenonya!" The sisters rolled through the water, embracing and their tails entwining.

"You made it," Katniss exclaimed. "You're safe!"

"We all are, thanks to our Lord!" Poseidon, who was in the middle of the group, flipped his tail and bowed his head to Katniss. Her hand went over her heart as she returned the gesture.

"Thank you, My Lord. A million times, thank you."

"Your father spoke highly of you, Katnisshashira. Your people look to you. I am glad you have left that lake behind. I tried to tell your father there was poison in those waters but he spoke of the humans who looked over your pod and said he did not want to force his daughters to live in the open sea."

"We were forced out of our lake, My Lord. By a human." Mermaids hissed and snarled at Peeta, who tried to move closer to Katniss. Katniss hissed and yelled something Peeta could not understand. Did merpeople have their own language?

"And yet a human cowers behind you. Why have you saved him, child?"

"This human is my Protector, Lord Poseidon. As his father and grandfather and great-grandfather were Protectors of the Lake before him. It is his mother that has poisoned the waters with her hate but Peeta saved me." A merman approached, holding a giant spear, which he pointed at Peeta's chest.

"Why is he here?" Katniss hissed and gnashed her teeth.

"He was injured. I used a petal of life to save him, thus now he is bound to the water." Peeta's eyes widened as Posiedon looked him up and down.

"Now you say it… this one is different." He swam closer to Peeta and held his trident high. Peeta audibly gasped as he faced the god.

"Hold out your hand, human boy." Peeta did as the god asked, his palms shaking. Poseidon put the tip of the trident to Peeta's hand and Katniss's eyes widened as lines of light appeared on his palm. They were gone as suddenly as they had come. Poseidon's face softened and he nodded.

"As I thought." He turned to the curious crowd and spread his arms. "He is one of us!" Peeta's and Katniss's jaws both dropped.

"Wait, what?"

"I do not understand, Lord Posiedon," Katniss stammered.

"He has the blood of a mer. Only slight but it's there. I can detect it. The first Protector mated with a mermaid."

"My great-grandfather," Peeta asked in shock.

"No boy. Many years before that. The Protector line goes back further than you know. And you are descended from my people and the Protectors." Peeta gaped at Katniss as she swam closer to him.

"That is why… I have always been drawn to him?"

"You, my child, are the daughter of King Potamoi, a friend to Humans. It is in your blood." Katniss blushed as she reached for Peeta's hand.

"The petal of life binds him to the ocean and to you, Katnisshashira. Do with him what you will."

Peeta's hand shook in Katniss's but she squeezed, giving him some comfort.

"Then hear me. This human is a Protector and should be treated as such. Any threats toward him will result in the harshest of punishments. Your Queen has spoken." All the mermaids and mermen bowed their heads and muttered something in their language. Katniss pressed a quick kiss to his hand before anyone could see, then released him.

"And now, My Lord Poseidon, we shall offer a sacrifice for your protection and love."

"No sacrifice needed, my little queen. I trust you to rule these waters as your father would have." He bent low and patted her shoulder. "He would be so very proud of you." She bowed low and Poseidon lifted his trident into the air. They all murmured something, Katniss along with them, and in a flash of light, the King of the Sea was gone.

"Hear me," Katniss spoke loudly and clearly. "This is our new home. Scouts, divide and inspect the territory. Hunters, I will lead the Hunt this evening. Let us settle and offer tribute to our beloved lake." The group scattered, except for Katniss's sister, who swam close to Peeta.

"It is good to see you again, Protector Mellark."

"Um, you can just call me Peeta. But it's good to see you again too… Primrosh, ah, um…" Prim giggled and held up her hand.

"I like Prim. It will do." Peeta sighed in relief.

"Sister, you will assist the Guardians in preparing the palace. Peeta and I must speak alone." Prim bowed to her sister before swimming off. Katniss grasped Peeta's hand again.

"Come."

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Back in the palace in what Peeta assumed would be Katniss's bedroom, he sat on the bed while Katniss swam back and forth. Another form of pacing. Peeta still didn't like it.

"Hey, hey, why are you so nervous?" Katniss didn't pause in her pacing.

"You are bound with no choice in the matter. I have trapped you here, without asking, and I am sure you did not wish to stay with me, for you will never-"

"Katniss, Katniss," he grabbed her arm and pulled her closer to him. He stood and cupped her cheeks in his hands.

"Katniss, you saved my life! But more than that, I love you. I would have stayed with you, had you asked. I told you I want to be with you forever."

"And you shall have that. But I still feel as if you are trapped."

"I'm not trapped. You set me free. I was looking at a life alone fleeing from my mother's rage. You saved me from that. I'll follow you wherever you go, as your Protector, your friend, your… whatever you want me to be." He pulled her in and kissed her softly, giving her the chance to pull away if she wanted. But she moved in, her tongue raking along his lips to beg entrance. Peeta gladly let her in, his hands running down her back as they kissed until they needed breath.

"I just need to ask a few questions first." She opened her eyes and nodded.

"You may ask me anything you wish, Peeta."

"Ok, well first thing. Do I get to sleep in here with you, or will I have to have my own room?"

"What do you wish, Peeta?" She cocked her head. "Do you prefer to stay by my side?" He smiled and took her hands.

"I'll stay by your side forever, if you allow it. I'm yours, my Queen. Always." Her eyes softened and her face seemed to glow.

"I'll allow it."
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

---Later---

"Katniss?"

"Yes Peeta?" He bit his lip before he continued. He felt stupid for bringing this up but he wanted to know. He needed to know.

"Am I ever going to… I mean, can I ever grow a fin?" She snorted and sat up in bed beside him.

"What?"

"I mean… back on land, when I taught you about pleasure… you said that you don't really feel good under water. But I want to make you feel good. I figured, if I'm like you, I could learn." She laughed and leaned over him.

"My sweet Peeta, you don't need to pleasure me."

"But I want to," he protested. "It's been weeks since I was with you and I want to… make you feel like that again. This human body doesn't do me any good. With a fin, I would be the same as you." A hum came from the back of her throat as she placed her hand on his chest. He placed his hand over it and reached up to push her hair out of her face.

"Do you feel desires the same way I do? Or do you suppress them?"

"I used to," she admitted. "Until we mated… no… made love?" He nodded, smiling. "Until we made love. Now I think of you often. Those desires are still there."

"Really?"

"Peeta… you really think this human body is useless?" He was about to answer when a choked gasp escaped him. She was stroking him through his pants and leaning down to suck on his chest.

"Oh m-my god," he tried to watch her but his eyes slammed shut. She tugged his pants down and spread his legs wide. Peeta didn't realize she was hovering over him until he felt her tongue on his tip. His hips jerked upwards and he gasped loudly.

"On the contrary," she purred. "I quite like this human body. I wouldn't be able to do this if your body was like mine." His head tilted back into the sponge as she closed her lips around his head.

"Oh fuck Katniss," he whined as his teeth dug into his bottom lip. She released him with a pop and her tongue lavished his shaft all the way down to his balls. She cocked her head and tapped his sac curiously. He laughed before inhaling sharply.

"I am exploring," she shrugged.

"Explore away," he said weakly. "I'm yours. God Katniss, whatever you do, feels incredibl-OH SHIT!" She took him completely, opening her mouth wider. Peeta's eyes shot open as he felt her soft lips meet his skin.

"Holy fuck," he whimpered, leaning up so he could watch her. He almost came undone at the sight of her swallowing him whole.

"Do you still wish for a tail like mine," she asked teasingly.

"No. No, I love my human body. Thanks for reminding me." She giggled around his cock, making him grab her hair, anchoring himself to reality.

"Fuck Katniss, I'm going to cum!"

"You will… orgasm?"

"Yes! Oh shit, Katniss, fuck! God you're amazing!" His hips jerked and his arm flung over his head, gripping the sponge while the other tangled in her hair. Katniss pulled away as streams of white flowed from him, dissolving in the water. His body shook as he flung an arm over his eyes. Proud of herself, Katniss curled up beside him, her tail wrapping around his leg as they usually did when they slept. She left soft kisses on his face and forehead as she waited for him to come down from his high.

"Do not ever wish to be different, Peeta. For I love you just the way you are." He was still fighting for breath but her words hit him like a train and his eyes were wide as they focused on her. She hadn't said those words to him before, even though he said them every night. His orgasm was making him emotional and he furiously wiped at the tears at the corners of his eyes.

"I love you so much, Katniss." He curled into her chest and her tail made a protective cage for him to settle into, so she could guard him with her love.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

-A Year Later-

Peeta flung the bag over his shoulder and waved goodbye to the Hunters as he entered the palace. He grinned, thinking of Katniss's face when she saw what he had brought her. She had been so busy with her Queenly duties that she hadn't had time to lead a Hunt. But she had trained her Protector well, and he was now leading the Hunts. Or, assisting with them at least. He didn't like to let his self-consciousness get to him but sometimes, it stung that he was still a human in a merworld. He wasn't nearly as fast or strong as the other Hunters. Luckily, he had smarts and could come up with ways to trap and ensnare.

Really, though, Peeta was more of an artist than a Hunter. He found that he loved peaceful mornings in the kitchen with Prim as he turned seaweed into something even he could enjoy. He still couldn't bring himself to eat raw fish though. Some lines he wasn't ready to cross.

If he wasn't in the kitchen, then he was in the throne room, turning the palace into a tribute to Katniss's father and forefathers. He was currently working on a giant portrait of Katniss herself, which he planned to present to her at her birthday celebration next week. Unfortunately, hunting had taken precedence, and the portrait was hidden under their bed.

When he saw the bedroom was empty, he headed down to the throne room. Sure enough, his Queen was pacing the room, her hands folded behind her back. He cleared his throat and the way her face lit up made his heart race.

"My Hunter has returned."

"We were successful. That haul will last us awhile."

"Well done. Thank you for taking charge on Hunter duties."

"You're a busy Queen," he said, caressing her cheek. She smiled and tilted her face into his hand.

"And I managed to catch this for you," he held up the bag, which she surveyed excitedly.

"Sea urchin?"

"I know it's your favorite," he handed the bag over and her hand dove inside. She pulled out the live sea urchin and tore into it with her sharp teeth. Peeta still couldn't figure out how she ate the things but he had discovered they were her absolute favorite and tried to find one whenever he would go on a Hunt.

"Has anyone told you that you are my favorite human of all," she asked, batting her lashes. He chuckled.

"You may have mentioned it a time or two." She swallowed the treat and swam in for a passionate kiss. Something was tugging at her and she leaned back to look at him.

"What's wrong, Peeta?"

"Hm? Nothing. Who said anything is wrong?" She placed her hands over his bare chest, where his heart was beating faster than normal.

"I need no verbal confirmation, for it's what I feel. You are upset. Now tell me what's wrong." He swallowed and looked around to make sure they were alone. Katniss caught the nervous look in his eyes and tugged on his hand.

"Come." She led him to their bedroom and she closed the door behind him, motioning for him to sit.

"Now speak."

"Please don't get upset."

"I can't be upset with you. You know this." He shifted nervously and huffed.

"OK, well… I heard some of the Hunters talking and… they said Mating Season is coming up soon." Katniss cocked her head and he huffed again.

"I know by now how mers mate… I mean, I sort of do. And they were talking about how an heir is needed. They said… our Queen must mate and conceive this season." Katniss didn't move but her eyes had softened.

"I don't have a fin, Katniss. I'm not a mer. Which means you have to mate with the other mers while I wait for you up here. I just… don't like it." She swam to him, draping her arms around his neck.

"I do not wish to mate with anyone else."

"But you have to. Even Prim talked about it. You have to produce a child. A full-blooded merchild." He pulled away from her arms and hung his head.

"I can't ever give you that. And I don't even have a fin for the mating ritual. I wish-"

"I thought I taught you to never wish to be different," she said sternly, reaching down to cup him over his shorts. He moaned but he shook his head, gently pushing her hand away.

"Except this time, it's not just for pleasure. It's to mate, with my love. And protect you. Fight for you. But because I'm different, I'll have to wait in the palace while you go out and mate with… whoever you deem worthy. I'll have to sit here while the love of my life makes a baby with someone else. And then what happens? Will I always be just your Protector? Prim is the only one who knows about us. I know some of the Elders suspect. Is your child's father going to be ok with a pathetic human just hanging around the palace all the time?"

"I have heard enough," she said firmly. "Do not speak this way. I said I do not wish to mate with anyone else and I meant it. Now I must go and speak with the Elders about the council meeting. I will see you at dinner." Even though he couldn't read emotions like she could, he knew he had, in fact, upset her. His head hung low as she swam away quickly without looking back.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

At dinner, it was as if nothing had happened between them. Katniss preferred to dine with just Peeta and her sister, electing to sit in a private chamber rather than the luxurious dining hall. Prim chatted happily as she helped herself to more seaweed salad.

"Sister, it is a full moon tonight! Might I go…" she trailed off at the look Katniss was giving her.

"You know of the dangers."

"I won't go too close to land. I only want to see the light. Please, Your Majesty, let me go to the surface."

"I can escort her, if you like," Peeta offered. Katniss huffed and looked down at her plate.

"Very well. If Peeta goes with you, you may go to the surface. But do not linger! Peeta, you will dress in your Hunter garb and keep a close eye on my sister."

"With my life, Katniss," he bowed his head. Prim was too excited to eat so Katniss excused her from the table.

"Thank you so much, Katty!" Peeta grinned at the nickname Prim had given her sister. Katniss blamed him for all the nicknames but she did not seem to truly mind.

"We would always go to the surface with Mother and Father to see the moon," she said quietly. Peeta reached for her hand and brought it to rest on his knee.

"I'll keep her safe, Katniss. I promise."

"I know. I wouldn't trust her with anyone else. She has such a fondness for you."

"I adore her. I always wanted a sister." Katniss smiled as they returned to their dinner.

After the dishes were cleared away, Peeta went to the armory to change and ready himself for the journey. Katniss firmly told Prim to stay in his sight and do not approach land. Prim promised to stay with Peeta and Katniss slipped her ring on her sister's finger.

"To protect you. If anything should happen, I shall know."

"I'd expect you have to have more faith in your love, Sister," Prim said with a smile. "He will keep me safe."

"He will," she nodded in agreement. "Go, and have fun." She escorted Prim to the courtyard, where Peeta was waiting for them.

"I always forget how handsome you look in this garb," Katniss whispered in his ear. He blushed but smiled. He lovingly stroked her cheek and she pressed a kiss to his palm.

"Be safe. Enjoy yourselves."

"Thank you, Sister," Prim gave her a tight hug and took off.

"Prim, you know I can't swim as fast as you," Peeta called after her, adjusting his spear over his shoulder as he set out to follow the young princess. He shot Katniss a grin over his shoulder before he swam up and both of them disappeared from Katniss's sight. Sighing heavily, Katniss returned to the palace to finish some of the documents she needed to work on.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
They returned quicker than Katniss expected and she swam out to greet them.

"Did you enjoy yourself, Primroshenonya?"

"It was so much fun, Katty," her sister positively glowed as she returned the Queen's ring to Katniss. "I did exactly as you said and stayed in Peeta's sight. There was even a large ship with loud music and fireworks. It was all wonderful!"

"I didn't let her go near the cruise ship," Peeta assured her. "The moon really is beautiful tonight, though. I wish you had joined us."

"I had work to tend to," she shrugged half-heartedly. "I am glad you both had fun. We should retire now. Prim, I will see you in the morning."

"Good night, Sister. Good night, Brother!" Peeta was surprised when she flung her arms around his waist. Katniss beamed as she watched her sister swim up to her room.

"Will you let her go on land one day?"

"Perhaps. When she is older and more able to defend herself. She knows it is painful, though. She likes to go to the surface but she has never really expressed interest in going on land."

"She sounded pretty eager tonight." She turned to face him, surprised.

"Really?"

"Yeah. I hope I didn't just betray some kind of sister code. She said she would ask you one day."

"Then perhaps I need to bring her on a Hunt soon. So she may learn and prepare." Peeta nodded and tried to stifle a yawn.

"You want to go to bed?" The smile she was trying to hide, and failing miserably, intrigued him.

"Actually, I'd like for you to accompany me somewhere."

"Of course." It was one of the reasons she loved him so much. He would follow her anywhere, no questions asked. She grasped his hand and started to swim.

"You must tell me if you start to tire," she said gently. "After a journey to the surface, you might be too weary to do this tonight."

"I'm fine," he assured her. She squeezed his hand and they swam through the darkness.

Peeta was about to ask her how much further when he saw they were close to the surface and he released a little sound of surprise.

"Are you alright?" She asked, concerned.

"Yeah. I was just here though, wish you had told me to stay up here." She gave him a small smirk.

"For what we are doing, I do not want Primmy anywhere near." He was definitely intrigued now. He continued to follow her, breaking through the surface and swimming to land.

"Katniss, are you sure this is safe?"

"Yes, we are safe. The Elders told me of this place." She ducked back under water and Peeta followed. The island they were approaching actually dove deep down into the ocean, and Peeta could see a cave up ahead. He followed her inside and her hand went to the walls.

"This place has known magic," she muttered to herself.

"Katniss?" She turned at his anxious tone and saw him fidgeting. She swam to the floor and curled her tail underneath her.

"Come sit." He obeyed and she turned to face him. Taking his hands into hers, she gave him the most loving smile. Despite how much he loved seeing her smile like that, all of this was making him nervous.

"Is… everything alright?" He asked, clearing his throat.

"I am sorry, Peeta. I do not want you to be uneasy. I brought you here for a very special reason."

He waited. "That reason being…?"

"When you spoke earlier, of me mating… you are correct. I do need to conceive an heir." He felt his throat tighten.

"And… have you… mated before?"

"No," she shook her head and he let out a sigh of relief. But she had just told him she had to. The lump in his throat remained.

"I have been consulting with the Elders… they have been around for many, many years. They know ancient laws and magic, and I asked them for advice. I have learned that mers can mate two different ways… in the sea, and on land." His eyes widened.

"Wait, what?"

"Apparently my ancestors visited land often. Mers and humans coexisted together. The Great War sent us back to the sea but there was a time when mers could return to land to mate. The way you showed me."

"Wow," he felt himself turn warm but his curiosity won over. "Did… any of those mers mate with… humans?"

"No." His heart fell and he tried to keep the sadness off of his face.

"I thought… Lord Poseidon said… I was descended-"

"You are. But that is hundreds of years ago. I speak of more recent times. 40 years ago, the Elders created a place where mers could mate safely. The land is protected and they can return to the sea when conception has taken place. The Elders say some mers found mating underwater too unpleasant and sought a better way. With pleasure, as you showed me."

"So you're saying a mermaid and a merman can become human on land, mate, and return to the sea, where she can have her baby?"

"Correct. That is what the Elders tell me." Peeta gave her a baffled look.

"Why were you consulting with the Elders about all of this?" She pulled his hands to her heart.

"Because I love you. And as I told you, I do not wish to mate with anyone else. I sought a way to be with you." Peeta's breathing sped up.

"And… did they help?"

"They told me what I already knew. There is one way, but it must be your choice, not mine."

"What are you saying, Katniss?" She took his face in her hands and he saw the storms tossing in her eyes.

"I brought you here because this cave knows magic. I have the power to change you, if that is what you wish. I never wanted it for you because it will change you, inside. But you were so melancholy today, expressing your desire to be like me, that I wanted to bring you here and give you the choice."

"Are… are you saying…" his eyes flicked downwards to her fin and his mouth went dry. He had wished for it, multiple times. He always wondered why he was still human, even though he had expressed his love for her a thousand times. Now that the choice was before him, did he really want it? She said it would change him on the inside. What exactly did that mean? Would he develop a taste for sea urchin, or would something more serious happen?

Then he thought about it and realized, he didn't care. He would be like the strong Hunters who vied for her attention. He would swim faster and would be able to protect Katniss and Prim from danger. He could actually be with her; as nice as the Hunters were to his face, he knew the mers still whispered behind his back. He could ask her to marry him… he could…

He gasped and his eyes widened as he realized he would be able to get her pregnant. Him, not some other mer who didn't really know her.

When he faced her again, he saw her smile had faded slightly.

"It is your choice," she said again. He nodded eagerly.

"Do it." She blinked in surprise, her eyes wide. She cocked her head, as if unsure she had heard him correctly.

"You are certain? Once you transform, there is no going back. There will be no-"

"Katniss," he cut her off, pulling her hands to his lips. "I want this. I want you. I want forever." She blinked back tears and pulled him in for a kiss. His hands wrapped around her, holding her close as he deepened the kiss. When she pulled away, she pressed her forehead to his, her eyes squeezed shut. He reached up to wipe a tear with his thumb.

"You could have asked me a long time ago, sweetheart. I would have done it as soon as we arrived at the palace."

"You needed to learn about the ocean, about mers, and about me. When I saw how protective you were over my sister tonight… I knew I wanted to carry your child. You will make such a father and I want to be the only one you are with."
"Katniss, it's only you. It's always you," he kissed her forehead and cradled her close. She pulled away and straightened up, her emotions vanished.

"Very well, let us begin." She unhooked her golden dagger from her sash and unsheathed the blade. Peeta cried out when she cut a deep line down her tail and frantically tried to stem the bleeding.

"Be calm. This is a part of the magic." She set the dagger down and motioned for him to stand.

"You must strip your clothes away." He blushed but quickly did as he was told, pushing his shorts down his legs. He no longer wore a shirt, going bare chested as the Hunters did. When she motioned for him to sit back down, he pulled his knees to his chest. She pressed her hand to her wound, then moved her hand to his thigh. She picked up the dagger and he tensed.

"Give me your hand." He glanced at his palm before thrusting it towards her and winced when she sliced a clean line across his palm.

"Now press your hand to my fin," she indicated her wound and he obeyed. It was then that he noticed she was wearing a beautiful shell necklace, complete with pearls, which adorned her slender throat.

Her father's necklace, he realized. The necklace seemed to glow as Katniss continued with the spell.

"This will be painful," she warned as smoke started to gather from nowhere. Peeta took a deep breath as he felt odd sensations overtaking him, especially his legs. Katniss removed her hand from his thigh and leaned back as the smoke engulfed him. Pain lanced through him as his legs snapped together and he arched his back, feeling the unpleasant sensations spread through him.

"He who has accepted the mer blood shall now be called a child of the sea, Protector to the Royal Family, and chosen mate of Queen Katnisshashira. Let it be done." Peeta hollered out as pain ripped through his entire body, then was gone. The smoke cleared and Katniss was staring at his lower half. Blushing, he looked down at himself and his jaw dropped.

His chest and torso were a brilliant shade of gold, ending in an orange fin. His fluke was beautiful, a mixture of reds and oranges, like the sunset. He held his hands in front of him and gasped when he saw webbed hands with golden fingers. His hands explored himself from his chest to the end of his tail. He looked up at Katniss, his eyes wide with shock, and found her gazing at him adoringly.

"You are beautiful," she said simply. He reached up to touch his hair and his brow furrowed.

"What color is my hair?"

"I have a fondness for those golden curls of yours," she grinned as she tousled his hair. He laughed as he lifted his fin into the air. He looked at her pointedly and she shrugged.

"I remember you saying orange is your favorite color."

"It is. This feels so weird!"

"But the pain is gone?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. I- whoa," he tried to stand but went crashing to the floor.

"Swim as you normally do," she said gently, swimming over to help him. He wobbled in her arms and groaned.

"This is going to take some getting used to."

"It will, but I will help you. Do you feel weakened?"

"No, actually, I feel… really strong. Like I could lift a boulder." She smiled as her fin wrapped around his.
"Then you are not too tired to mate with me?" Something between a whine and a gasp escaped him and he shook his head.

"Never too tired for that."

"I will show you how we mate. And then we will return to land, where we will try your way. I wish for you to give me a child, Peeta."

"I'll certainly do my best," he said a little too eagerly. She smiled as she pulled him up and showed him how to wrap his tail around hers, so it was rubbing in a certain spot. Peeta had to admit, it felt good but nowhere near as good as when he was inside her. She held him so that their chests were pressed together, her breasts crushed between them. He leaned back slightly, so that he could cup one of her breasts.

"Slap your fin against mine," she instructed. He cautiously lifted his tail and slapped hers. When she did the same, it was much harder than he had done. Wincing, he rubbed his scales.

"I can see why your ancestors went to land to mate. This feels more like we're fighting."

"In the water, we fight. Males submit to females. It is sometimes painful. I told you, we mate to make babies, not for pleasure." Peeta, always thinking of her first, spent the next hour discovering where his fin was supposed to rub hers and he did so tenderly and lovingly. He laid her down on the cave floor, cupping her breasts and kissing her passionately while his tail wrapped around hers.

It was the strangest thing he had ever felt. He wasn't sure how he was supposed to get her pregnant because he had no idea how to ejaculate. It felt good, the tender touches, but if she wanted to get pregnant, this wasn't the way.

"My Queen, I think we should go to land," he said softly, pushing a strand of hair out of her eyes. "I am so confused as to how this is supposed to happen. Perhaps I can do some research and try again another night?" He was blushing and she hated the look of shame on his face. She cupped his chin and smiled.

"It's alright, Peeta. I prefer your way." He laughed as he followed her to the surface.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"It will be painful when you reach land," she warned him as they came closer to the island. "Give yourself a moment before you try to move." He nodded, following close behind.

They both crawled onto the island and Peeta started to hear bones cracking. She screamed as her tail was torn apart and the skin of her hands melded together. Peeta grimaced as he felt himself being ripped apart, his new beautiful tail separating and transforming into a more familiar form. The transformation did not take long but they both buried their faces into the ground, panting. She reached out, fumbling for his arm.

"Are you alright?"

"Yeah," he grunted. "I'm actually really pissed at Brian now, for making you transform every night."

"It was my choice. As is this. Can you move?" He sat up shakily, using the strength in his arms. She was spread out in the grass, her arms above her head and her legs crossed at her ankles. Peeta let out a soft gasp. He had almost forgotten how incredibly sexy she looked as a human. He wasted no time in crawling over to her and bending down to suck at her breast. She tossed her head, whimpering his name.

"I hope there is no one around," he said slyly, as he kneed her legs apart. "Because I want you screaming my name until morning."
------------------------------------

True to his word, Peeta had made her cum three times already and had already released inside her once. Feeling her without a condom in the way was unbelievable and he was already ready for another round.

"Come here," he gently pawed at her head. She released his cock with a POP and he pulled her on top of him. She cocked her head, blinking down at him.

"How is this done?"

"I'll show you. There are many positions that people try."

"Show them all to me." He laughed and stroked her cheek.

"I don't even know them all. I wasn't… I didn't do that much on land."

"You mated with others, yes?"

"Very few," he admitted. "I really… it wasn't a strong connection for me. It was just loveless sex."

"It is different with me?" She cocked her head again and he sat up to wrap his arms around her.

"So different. I love you more than life itself. Even just slapping tails with you a few minutes ago, I felt a connection. And when we're like this," he moved her back until she was lined up with his cock and he slowly pushed inside her. The sight of her with her head thrown back, her long dark hair cascading down her back, and her eyes squeezed shut in ecstasy was one he would never forget. He sat up a little, changing the angle and causing them both to cry out. He cupped her breast in one hand while his tongue lavished the other.

"When we're like this, Katniss, it makes everything worth it. Years of abuse from my mother, my family's betrayal, my father's death, nearly dying in your arms… this right here makes it worth it to me."

"I love you, Peeta," she gasped out as she twisted her hips.

"Oh fuck, Katniss. I'm so close." She moved up and down, her breasts bouncing in Peeta's face and her fingers entangled in his curls and it was all so much and yet not enough and he jerked his hips upwards, slamming his pubic bone into her. She released a long unintelligible wail as his fingers dug into her hips, pulsing inside her and emptying his seed into her welcoming womb. Panting, he collapsed on his back and she lowered herself over his chest. He hadn't even realized they had fallen asleep until the sunrise woke him. He made love to his Queen once more before they returned to the sea.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Trumpets sounded and people were rushing about, chatting excitedly. Prim waited in the courtyard, her teeth digging into her lip in anticipation. Lord Poseidon himself swam above the crowd, his trident held high. When someone caught sight of movement within the palace, someone screamed "they're here!" Prim's head jerked up as her sister and brother-in-law swam out into the courtyard to greet everyone. The King held a bundle of blankets close to his chest and Posiedon approached the couple.

"Lord and Lady Mellark," he bowed, which the couple returned. "This is a joyous day indeed. The oceans are safe and each part of the sea is celebrating your precious one today." Peeta beamed down at the blankets.

"Lord Mellark, if I may?" Peeta bowed his head and passed the bundle to the sea god. Poseidon cradled the blankets and swam up over their heads, holding his trident high in the sky. People cheered as rainbows appeared.

"This little mer will rule these oceans one day. And one day, gods willing, she will return to the lake her mother was born in and make sure the waters are cleansed. I present to you, your new Princess! Hail, King Peeta."

"Hail, King Peeta!" The crowd repeated.

"Hail, Queen Katnisshashira!"

"Hail, Queen Katnisshashira!" Peeta wrapped his arms around his wife and she leaned into his embrace. She glanced up at him, smiling, and he kissed her nose.

"And we gather as a kingdom to watch the new princess take her first swim!" Everyone seemed to be holding their breath as Poseidon opened the blankets and lifted the babe. The tiny mermaid blinked her silver eyes and reached up towards him. Poseidon let the baby float for a moment before settling back down into the crowd. Katniss and Peeta watched their daughter with baited breath, Katniss's hand squeezing her husband's tightly.

"She'll do it," he whispered in her ear. "She's her mother's daughter." Katniss swallowed thickly as the little princess flipped her blue fin and swam in a little circle. She swam lower, over the heads of the crowd and she flipped upside down. Peeta watched his daughter with a broad smile, though his heart was full of fear. He stood tense and ready, in case he had to catch her. He was her Protector and she already had his heart, just like her mother.

The tiny princess flipped her fin again and swam sideways and upside down. She seemed to be looking at the crowd, as everyone waited. She opened her mouth and emitted a cry, a mer-scream only a mother would recognize. Katniss held her hands straight up and the princess swam straight into her arms. Everyone cheered as Katniss hugged the giggling babe to her chest, Peeta cradling her head in his large hand.

"Hail to the royal family," Poseidon lifted his arms again.

"Hail to the royal family," the mers repeated. Katniss opened her mouth and a sweet melody flowed out, causing her daughter's eyes to drift shut. The song wrapped around Peeta's heart and made him sigh contentedly. As the crowd cheered, Peeta's focus was locked on one thing and one thing only: his beautiful mermaid, holding their daughter close to her heart, her siren song captivating him completely. A memory then flashed through his mind; a young boy and his father sitting on the boardwalk, dipping their feet into the lake.

And a beautiful melody, coming from the water. He'd had no idea what it was but it had captivated him completely.

He was a goner, as he peered into the lake and saw a beautiful green face gazing up at him.

END.