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Time After Time

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Katniss yanked the hood of her jacket over her head, trying her best to hide from the bright lights and cheery bustle surrounding her. The hood was pulled back down as quick as she’d pulled it up. Katniss turned a scowl on the perky bane of her current miserable existence.

"Oh stop it." Delly laughed before turning her attention back to the rack of flimsy shirts she was perusing. "It’s bad enough you wore that thing out in public," She eyed Katniss again briefly. "You look like that scary zombie thing from that game."

"It’s called a hunter," Katniss mumbled, shoving her hands deep in the pockets of the hoodie. "And I wasn’t out in public until you dragged me here against my will.”

Delly shrugged, stepping lightly over to another rack of clothes. Katniss grudgingly trudged after her. “I wasn’t going to let you wallow because you had a fight with your boyfriend.”

"I wasn’t wallowing," Katniss argued. She made a face at the frilly polka-dotted dress she stood by. "I was napping." She closed her eyes and sighed. "And I told you, Peeta and I didn’t just fight, we-"

Delly spun on her heels and slapped her hand over Katniss’ mouth. Katniss gave her a wide-eyed glare. “If you say you two broke up one more time, I swear to all things holy.”

Katniss pushed away Delly’s hand. “But we did." She sighed again. "We’re done. We had a nasty argument that lasted well into last night, and then he stormed out. So my exhausted ass was trying to spend the day catching up on sleep-"

"Trying to wallow."

Katniss pursed her lips at Delly’s interruption. “But then little miss fucking sunshine kidnapped me and,” She waved a hand at Delly, who smiled brightly at the moniker. Her grey eyes rolled before she turned and used the same hand to gesture towards the store around them. “Brought me to my least favorite place on the planet - the mall.”

"Where else do you expect to get ‘feel better’ clothes?" Delly shrugged, turning back to the rack of clothing.

"I don’t want ‘feel better’ clothes!” Katniss grumbled.

"I know - you want your boyfriend back." Delly pulled a little black number off the rack and examined it closely. "You’re trying this on." She thrust it at Katniss.

"The hell I am!"

Delly stomped her foot and made an exasperated face that could rival Katniss’. “Gosh, the two of you are so damn stubborn! One pathetic fight and you both turn into grouches!” She jabbed a finger into the dress Katniss was holding against her chest. “Now you’re gonna go try that on. If you don’t like that dress, we’ll find one that you do. Because we are going out tonight, whether you like it or not, so you can loosen up and have fun.”

Delly flung her arm out, pointing towards the line to the dressing room. “Move it, missy. I want to be ready and pre-gaming by 9!”

Katniss gave her another eye roll, but stomped off towards the dressing rooms regardless. Once she was sure her sullen friend was far enough away, Delly pulled her cellphone out of her purse. There was one message waiting to be read.

Cranky 1 is here. Three beers in, and he’s finally agreed to go out tonight.’ It was from her boyfriend Thom. 'How's Cranky 2?'

'Got her to go to the dressing room.' Delly typed out, maneuvering through clothing racks and eyeing dresses as she passed. 'This night is happening whether their stubborn asses like it or not!'

She was pulling a soft, pale orange dress off the rack when her phone vibrated. 

'If there's anybody that can get them drunk and screwing like bunnies again within a day, it's you babe.'

Delly grinned. Damn right it was her.

Chapter Text

-----

Gale stomped through the maze of trees and brush, not caring that he was disrupting the usually peaceful woods around him and likely scaring away any game meandering about. He was bitter and annoyed and he wanted the world to know it. Possible food be damned.

 

“Not that it matters,” He muttered, slamming his booted-foot down exceptionally hard into a patch of dandelions. “My traitor family will just get food from him.” The image of golden-haired, golden-tongued Peeta Mellark flashed in his mind and he felt his anger build.

 

Peeta fucking Mellark - the bane of his existence, threatening every corner of his life. Offering food to his family, which his gullible mother easily accepted. Never doing a single thing that was actually worthy of Gale’s hate, only making Gale hate him more.

 

Enrapturing the heart and mind of his best friend, causing her to go all doe-eyed and giggly and make her cancel on him yet again for their usual weekly hunt.

 

Gale gritted his teeth, pushing through the familiar cut in the overgrowth that surrounded his favorite tiny nook of the forest. It was a rare little place, with lush green grass and a brook babbling nearby that drew all the furry woodland creatures like a moth to flame. He continually set his traps there, often coming away with enough game to make a small killing at the market in town.

 

The frown he’d been sporting since he’d been ditched for a doughy smooth-talker deepened into a scowl.

 

All but one of his traps were empty. And the one that wasn’t had some weird…he didn’t know what strung up in it.

 

Tossing his bow to the ground, Gale unslung his arrows from around his back and threw them beside it. He snatched the knife from the sheath on his belt and made his way over to the thing hanging from his tree trap.

 

It was grey and oozing and he wasn’t even sure he could tell which end was front and which end was back. And it reeked something terrible. It was likely the reason no other animals had ventured into the little grove. Which meant he had to cut it down and dispose of it. He needed his honey hole to provide if he was going to show up the blonde usurper.

 

Gale reached up his knife to see if he could wiggle the thing free without having to cut the rope. He grimaced at the way the knife squished against flesh, making an even more putrid smell burst forth. He worked the knife every which way in little motions, but no amount of wiggling seemed to budge the carcass.

 

His frustration built and before he could think what he was doing, he reached up his free hand and grabbed the thing full on. He tugged angrily at it, still trying to work it free with his knife. A growl built up in his throat when nothing continued to happen.

 

A small rustling to his left broke his attention away from his task. Gale whipped his head in the direction of the noise. He didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Just the same bushes that sat on the banks of the peaceful brook. He squinted, waiting to see if something moved that he could chuck his knife at.

 

Yet there was nothing. Not a flutter or a twitch.

 

Furrowing his brow, he let out an aggravated sigh and slowly turned his attention back to the carcass in his trap. He’d just settled his gaze back on the foul thing when the unyielding knot unraveled and the mass of oozing mess tore disgustingly from his hand and onto his chest.

 

He closed his eyes, dropping his raised arm to his side. The filth slid down the front of him, plopping to the grass in a belching heap. The decaying smell seemed to penetrate his very being.

 

Gale opened his eyes to look down at himself, making a face at the bits of grey matter that marred the front of his tunic and pants.

 

He sighed again. Another perfect addition to any already wonderful day.

 

A plop of water had him looking to the brook once more. Ripples pooled out from where something had fallen, likely an acorn from the tree branches that hung over it. He tilted his head, eyeing the water curiously.

 

Then he looked down at his dirtied clothes.

 

And back to the brook.

 

Suddenly, he had the overwhelming urge to dip himself into the water and clean himself off. Sheathing his knife, Gale took the few long strides that brought him to the water’s edge. It looked so clear and inviting, little golden orange fish milling about in the patches of sunlight that filtered through the trees.

 

The crisp, clean water was a stark contrast to the muck and noxious fumes covering him. Without a second thought, Gale waded into the brook. The cool water seeped into his clothes as he pushed out towards the deeper middle. He stopped when the water was just above his hips, dipping down underneath the surface.

 

He resurface with a deep breath a few seconds later, suddenly feeling the most refreshed he had in his life. All worry and angst melted away into the water around him, and he let out a relieved sort of sigh.

 

Reaching down, he pulled his one boot off and tossed it to the shore. The other boot was next, followed by his tunic. Feeling free, he dipped below the surface again. He came up, brushing his hands through his dripping hair, enjoying the tingle of breeze on his wet chest.

 

His eyes snapped open at a tinkling sort of noise bursting quietly over the rustling of leaves. He looked towards the shore quickly, eyes wide. If he didn’t know any better, he could’ve swore he had heard…giggling.

 

Like before, nothing moved or made a peep.

 

‘Just water in your ears.’ The thought seemed foreign in his head, but also right. Like it had come from someone else, but belonged and made sense in his own mind.

 

He decided he wouldn’t question the thought, shrugging and returning his focus to the pleasant feel of the water on his skin. It felt so good that he knew he needed to experience it in all its glory.

 

And his pants were hindering that.

 

Gale brought his hands to the belt. He unlatched it, then moved to the clasp holding his pants closed and unhooked that as well. He moved his thumbs along the top of the fabric, stopping at his hips. He was just about to push the material down when another tinkling, giggling sound erupted from the bushes.

 

“Okay, that’s not just water.” He said loudly, ripping his knife from its sheath once more. “Katniss, if you and your doughboy are watching me, I swear on all that is holy-”

 

“Katniss?!” A soft, musical voice laughed from inside the bushes. “That’s a very insulting implication!”

 

Gale’s eyes widened as a petite woman emerged from her hiding place.

 

“I am nothing like that scowly-faced sourpuss.” She declared, setting her hands on her hips.

 

Confusion overwhelmed Gale. “Who the hell are you?” He took her in - the mass of long, blonde curls that fell far past her shoulders, the beautiful face dominated by a pair of rich blue eyes that beyond enchanting. She was clad in a flimsy white dress, barefoot, and wore an intricate crown of leaves, twigs, and flowers. She was beautiful. More than that - she was ethereal.

 

She huffed out a brief sigh of annoyance. “All these negative words you use. Katniss, hell…” She moved into the water as if it didn’t exist - she was met with no resistance as she stepped lithely towards him.

 

Gale thrust out his knife when she was just out of reach. It was yet another move that made her giggle.

 

“I’m not gonna hurt you, silly.”

 

“You didn’t answer my question,” Gale growled. “Who are you?!”

 

Her shoulders shrugged with mirth. “I’m Madge.”

 

“Madge?”

 

She grinned. “Yep.”

 

Gale tightened his grip on his knife. “Why in the fuck are you here watching me, Madge.”

 

Her hypnotic blue eyes rolled. “Well that’s a silly question!” She tapped the edge of his knife like it was a plaything. “I’m watching you because you’re pretty and funny. And I’m here because I have no other here. This is my only here.”

 

“What?!”

 

“Do you like the water?!” Madge gasped suddenly, reaching down and cupping two handfuls. She smiled as she held them up, letting the water spill over them. “It’s always so wonderful and soothing!”

 

She turned and sprinted over to the large tree, hugging up against it. “And this. It’s especially shady and inviting. All the little animals love it.”

 

Madge frowned and looked at him guilty. “And I’m sorry about the…” She gestured towards shore where the nasty carcass was. “The thing there.” Her eyes got wide. “I couldn’t let you hurt anymore of them. My home is open to them and I couldn’t let even you, with your very pretty…well, everything… ruin that for them.”

 

Realization dawned on Gale. In that moment, he knew what this was. What she was. And he knew he had to leave. Because he’d grown up hearing stories and knew what she was capable of - suddenly realized he had already started succumbing to it.

 

“I have to go.” He said suddenly, splashing out of the brook with determination.

 

“No!” Madge whispered, rushing after him. She flitted around him nervously as he hastily dressed himself. “No, you can’t!”

 

Gale deliberately kept his gaze away from her overwhelmingly gorgeous face. He ignored her quick movements and words as he stepped over to his bow and quiver. He had to leave. He had to.

 

“Please don’t leave. Please.” Madge begged, touching his arm.

 

He jerked away as if burned. “I know what you are. I know what your kind do and I won’t let you ensnare and consume me.” He muttered to the ground, fighting off the thoughts and images trying to press on his mind. Thoughts of tangled limbs and sweaty skin and…

 

Gale growled and forced his legs into moving him out of the grove.

 

Her hand on his arm had him whirling around again, ready to yell as loudly and meanly as he could to scare her away without any remorse or regret.

 

But it was cut short by the softness of her lips on his, the brush of her hands cupping his face. His eyes fluttered closed as an indescribable warmth spread through him. He felt his heart speed up, felt everything everywhere all at once. Gale dropped his bow, grabbing her hips and pulling her flush against him. He sighed into her mouth as she parted his lips.

 

The euphoria lasted into her tongue brushed against his languidly and she let out a deep moan.

 

Gale shoved her away from him with such force that she went sprawling backwards, her butt thumping hard on the grassy forest floor. He staggered backwards, pressing his fingertips to his lips in an almost lucid kind of daze.

 

He dared to look at her. Her face was innocent and inviting, and he found those blue eyes to be more enchanting than ever. But he also saw the gleam of something there. Something territorial and slightly sinister.

 

“No,” He gasped, stumbling back through the overgrowth, out of the grove and out of her sight.

 

Madge’s innocent look morphed into a soft, yet gleeful smile.

 

“Yes, Gale Hawthorne,” She whispered knowingly. “You’ll return to me.”

 

Chapter Text

Peeta pulled the truck up along the curb in front of Katniss’ apartment complex, killing the engine. He glanced up warily towards the third story window before shifting his attention to her in the passenger seat. She had her head resting back against the seat, eyes shut and mouth hanging open slightly. 

In the four months since they’d first met and started dating, Peeta had never seen Katniss this trashed. They’d had a couple drunken dates here and there, but this… this was brand new territory for him. He was still trying to wrap his head around the fact that Johanna had managed to get his girlfriend so drunk, so quickly. In a bowling alley no less. By the fourth game, Katniss had been weaving all over the lane, chucking her ball at the pins like she was playing dodge ball.  

It had been adorably hilarious. But now he had to carry her up three flights of stairs. 

With a reluctant sigh, Peeta unbuckled his seat belt and stepped out of his door. He slammed it shut, watching through the window to see if it would rouse Katniss. She merely jerked in her seat, sinking down further into the cushiony upholstery. He smiled fleetingly at how adorable she looked even now. 

Moving around to her side, he pulled the door open. He moved in closer to her, reaching a hand out to sweep the loose wisps of hair out of her face.

"Katniss," Peeta said loudly, tucking the hair behind her ear. She groaned, trying to shift away from his touch. "We’re here."

"Where’s here?" She mumbled, not bothering to open her eyes.

Peeta reached across her to unbuckle her seat belt, maneuvering her arm out of the way. “Your apartment. It’s time to get you to bed.”

"But I gotta win the game!" Katniss whined.

"Game’s long over, sweetie." He leaned in low, pulling her by her left arm so her top half was hanging over his shoulder. Wrapping his arm under her legs, Peeta hoisted her up and took a step back. Once he was sure he was clear of the truck’s roof, he adjusted his hold on her so she was better situated. 

Katniss groaned dramatically at the shift of position. “Did I win?!” 

Slamming the door shut, Peeta pressed the lock button on his keys. “Yeah, you absolutely won.” Or rather, they’d thrown the game and let her have the win. But it wasn’t all that important. Watching her face light up in drunken glee at her fake victory would be one of the highlights from the evening. 

Peeta turned and started to make his way up the walkway towards the complex’s entrance. He barely managed to make it a handful of steps before Katniss started squirming. 

"Kat, please stop moving." Peeta sighed when he reached the door. He tried to reach into his jean pocket to fish out the key card he’d snatched off Katniss before they’d left the bowling alley. "I don’t wanna drop you."

"Put me down then." Katniss wriggled her butt. "I can walk."

Peeta bounced her on his shoulder to try and keep his firm grip on her, inching the key card slowly out of his pocket. “I don’t really think you can though.”

"Yes I can!"

"No, you can’t." Peeta sighed in relief when the card came free. He slide it quickly through the reader, not hesitating to yank the door open and step inside. With his one hand free for the time being, he placed it on Katniss butt to further halt her attempt to escape his hold. 

"I’m not a child!" Katniss’ voice echoed around the stairwell. Peeta winced at the loudness of it. 

"Sweetie, you’re very drunk. You already took one spill tonight." He was thankful when she stopped moving at the grunted reminder. 

"I did?" She tried to whisper. 

"Yep." Peeta trudged up the stairs slowly. "Outside the bowling alley. Johanna was trying to help you, but the two of you were so uncoordinated that you managed to take her right down to the ground."

"Oh." Katniss relaxed considerably and Peeta grunted again at the dead weight. "Okay." 

He couldn’t help but smile at her acceptance. “We’ll be in your place in a minute. Then you can stumble all around if you want.” Peeta stomped onto the third floor landing, letting out another sigh of relief when he saw her apartment door just a few down from where he stood. He carried her to it.

"You’re the best boyfriend." Katniss giggled as Peeta lowered her down off his shoulder. She fell back against the wall next to her front door and he reach out a hand to steady her. With his other hand, he reached into his pocket to get her apartment key. 

"I certainly try." He mumbled, pulling the key out and jamming it into the lock. He had enough time to turn the key and start to open the door before Katniss was barreling past him on unsteady legs. She weaved a few steps before gracelessly falling to her knees and spreading out on the floor. 

"My carpet always feels so nice and perfect." She moaned loudly, running her hands back and forth around her.

Peeta smiled again, easing the door shut behind him. He dropped the apartment key, her card key, and his car keys on the table right beside him. He then stepped over to his girlfriend, who was busy humming some off-key tune into her aforementioned perfect carpet.

"You are so absolutely obliterated," He laughed, running his hand over the back of her head. He then stood back up and made his way towards the kitchen. Peeta was hoping he could get some food and water into her before she passed out. He wasn’t sure if she was the kind to get sick after drinking too much. He hoped not. 

"Not the worst I’ve been, by far,” Katniss called out to him, stretching out the last word dramatically. 

"Oh yeah?" Peeta called back, pulling open the fridge. He eyed the cheddar in the drawer and decided grilled cheese was a decent choice for his drunken girl. 

"Yeah!" Her voice was less muffled and he leaned back to see she was struggling to her feet. She righted herself, wavering for a moment, and then started to amble his way towards him. 

Katniss reached her arms out to him like she was Frankenstein’s monster. He stuck his arm out and pulled her to him, holding on tightly when she stumbled the last couple steps. 

"I definitely don’t plan to shit all over the place this time!” Katniss grinned up at him triumphantly. 

Peeta raised his eyebrows, his eyes wide. “What?”

"My freshman year of college, Johanna was my RA and took me to this party. She wasn’t supposed to, but she was a fucking rad RA and not some incense nazis like the rest of them," Katniss dropped her half-lidded gaze to his chest, pulling lightly at the fabric of his shirt. "You’re shirt is so soft."

"Thank you," Peeta frowned around his baffled laugh. "Back to the shit story, please?"

"Yeah, so…we went to this party and," Katniss pulled the ‘and’ out on a dramatic sigh. "I got super fucked up on Jagerbombs. I mean I’d been a little drunk before, but not like that.” She giggled again, hiccuping at the end. “Anyway,” She looked back up at him, her head flopped sideways onto her shoulder. “Johanna dragged me back to the dorm and into the shower and apparently,” she rolled her eyes, shaking her head. “I was very confused and really had to poop and…well…just…poop everywhere!” Her hand flung up from his chest to emphasize the action.

Peeta jerked his head back to keep from getting smacked in the face. He grimaced but laughed nonetheless. “That’s really disgusting.”

"I don’t really remember it and I swore Johanna to secrecy because damn, why wouldn’t I right?!" Katniss laughed, looking back at his shirt. "And I vowed that nobody would ever know that story, ever. No matter what happened."

Peeta opened his mouth to say something, but Katniss beat him to it.

"I really like you, Peeta." She glanced up at him and grinned the dopiest drunken grin he’d ever seen. "Like a lot."

He smiled softly at her. “I like you too.” He shrugged. “A lot.”

Katniss giggled for a third time. It was probably the most he’d head her giggle since he’d first met her. He was quickly realizing he liked it. She pushed herself up on her toes so she could press a kiss to his lips. She ended up more near his cheek, but Peeta helped ease her lips onto his for a wet, affectionate kiss.

"I promise you won’t have to clean up my shit." She mumbled against his lips.

"Thank you for that." He whispered back, pulling away from her. She shrugged and grinned at him like she had given him the best gift in the world. Peeta figured she wouldn’t remember much of this conversation in the morning. He was already imagining her mortification if she did and figured he’d have to reciprocate with ‘nobody will ever know this happened’ stories of his own. 

"How about some grilled cheese before you pass out, huh?" He raised his eyebrows and quirked his mouth up in a crooked smile.

Katniss’ eyes lit up at the suggestion. She moaned so deeply, it was almost sinful. “Grilled cheeses sound so fucking orgasmic right now!”

Peeta grinned, leaning in to place a kiss on her nose. 

Chapter Text

"Katniss…"

She sighed at the muffled, nasally call and dropped her red pen down onto the table. At the rate Peeta kept hollering for her, she’d never get these paper graded before midnight. 

"Katniss…" Peeta whimpered, louder this time. Like she wasn’t a mere five feet away from where he was sprawled on the couch and hadn’t heard him. She was beginning to wonder if he really was dying. Lord knew he’d been carrying on that he was for the past two days. That’s how long he’d laid up sick. And that’s how long she had been putting up with his dramatics. 

Her usually endearing, empathetic, helpful boyfriend was reduced to a sniveling, whiny baby by some cold. 

"Katniss!" Peeta called for a third time and Katniss let out a frustrated growl. She pushed back her chair loudly, rising to her feet and stomping the short distance to the couch. 

"What, Peeta?" She barked, crossing her arms over her chest tightly. "What could you possibly need now that I haven’t already got you? I got you the cookies and the milk you ask for, even though you probably shouldn’t of had those. I brought you tea, which I can see you’re not even drinking…" She nodded with her head to the mug resting on the coffee table. "I told you I have papers to grade. I want to not be up all night doing that. I may not be on death’s door like you, but I would like some sleep tonight. So what is it now?!"

Peeta’s dopey expression crumbled at her little rant. “Oh…nevermind then.” He mumbled pathetically, squeezing his eyes shut and burying his head in the pillow it was resting on. 

Katniss sighed loudly, arms falling to her sides. “Just tell me what you want so I can go back to it, please?” Now her voice was taking on a petulant tone. Who knew she’d be yearning for time with her students instead of with Peeta. It was often the other way around. God, she hated sick people. She didn’t have her far nicer sister’s perfect bedside manner in any way, shape, or form. It was a miracle she’d been patient with him for as long as she had.

"I just wanted you to sit with me is all…" Peeta whispered with a turn of his head. One red-rimmed blue eye peaked up at her timidly. 

Katniss fought to keep her eyes from widening at the request. Goddamn, how could she resist that wounded puppy look? She felt the guilt building up in her chest and dammit, did she wish he wasn’t sick so she could slap him in the back of the head without feeling like an ass for doing so.

"Please?" Peeta pleaded, taking advantage at her clearly weakening resolve. Fuck, he was right. She had the worst poker face ever. No wonder she could barely win a hand when they played.

Sighing again, this time reluctantly, Katniss threw her arms into the air and sank down so she was crouching in front of him. “You were right.”

Peeta blinked at her in confusion. 

"You’re gonna die…" Katniss mumbled begrudgingly, though the smile she was struggling to keep at bay was breaking free across her lips. She shook her head and reached out to brush her fingers through his sweaty blond curls. "Because I’m probably gonnajust kill you myself, Peeta Mellark."

The triumphant little smirk he gave her made her want to punch him and kiss him at the same time.

Chapter Text

At first he thought maybe he was hallucinating. It wasn’t a completely far-fetched idea. He had taken a few big hits from his bong already and ‘seeing things’ was definitely a side-effect he’d experienced a time or two while baked. He’d never forget the time he’d eaten a whole bowl of tomatoes, totally sure they were rich, delicious apples.

But no. This time, Rye Mellark wasn’t so stoned he was imagining things. He really had seen someone descending the ladder of their dilapidated old tree house. A distinctly female, dark-haired, olive-skinned someone - Katniss Everdeen. Best friend to his younger brother, Peeta. Who ambled out of the tree house not ten seconds after her. 

Rye sank down in his lounge chair, glad the pitiful porch light didn’t quite reach to his little corner of the porch. Bathed in darkness, he watched the pair just on the fringe of the pool of light with rapt curiosity. Usually, they would sit awkwardly on the couch and watch movies while his and Peeta’s parents weren’t home. He found it quite hilarious watching the virginal pair pussyfoot around their obvious attraction. Rye often teased them about it. 

It seemed they were in another awkward situation. Katniss had her arms crossed tightly across her chest, and even from where Rye sat spying he could see the tension in her tiny frame. Peeta had his hand pushed into his blonde curls, a clear sign that he was nervous. He was also speaking rapidly. 

Too bad they were just out of earshot. Rye wished he could hear what the kid was rambling on about. A thousand different scenarios ran threw his foggy mind, picturing all the ways his inexperienced little brother had tried to make a move and horribly failed at doing so. 

They all flew out the window when Katniss flung herself at Peeta suddenly, hands grasping at the sides of his face as she pulled him in for a kiss. Peeta seemed momentarily caught off guard, but quickly recovered. Rye’s eyes widened at the heated lip lock. His mouth fell open a few seconds later when one of Peeta’s hands came around Katniss’ backside to squeeze at her ass.

"Oh my god!" Rye hissed, slinking even further down in his seat. He felt like some sort of intruder, watching his little brother make out with his best friend. But he couldn’t look away. It was just so weird and…and… and weird!

They broke apart quickly, both grinning like dopey idiots as they did. Katniss placed one more quick kiss on his flushed brother’s lips before she dash off across the yard. Rye followed her progress until she disappeared along the side of the house. He returned his attention to Peeta.

The sixteen year old stood there, stunned, scrubbing his fingers into his hair. His blue eyes were locked to the damn grass under his feet. Peeta stayed that way for several long moments before he laughed disbelievingly and shook his head. He then started to make his way towards the house.

As he came fully into the light, Rye could see just how disheveled the kid looked. Hair more mussed than usual, shirt wrinkled and only partially buttoned, boots on but untied. It was clear the two had been doing much more than kissing in that tree house.

"You fucked her!" Rye burst out with a chuckle as Peeta ascended the stairs.

The younger man jumped at the loud outburst, whipping his head in the direction it had come from. “Jesus fuck, Rye!” He cried, hand flying into his hair again.

"You totally just fucked Katniss!" Rye laughed, unable to keep the mirth from spilling out of him. 

Peeta flushed a deep red, standing rooted to the spot at the top of the steps. “I…I don’t know what…” He eyed the bong on the table and pointed at it. “You’re high, dude.”

"I may be loaded, but you," Rye wheezed, pointing back towards Peeta. "You look one hundred percent fucked!" 

Deflating, Peeta took a few steps towards his brother. “Rye, you can’t…please don’t…”

Rye swiped at the tears pooling in his eyes, glancing up at Peeta from where he was bent over from laughing. “Don’t worry, kid. I’m not gonna tell anybody you banged your bestie.”

Peeta collapsed into the couch next to Rye’s chair. “I can’t believe you just saw that…” He looked warily at Rye. “How long have you been out here?”

Reaching for the bong and lighter, a small bit of laughter still bubbling out, Rye shrugged. “Long enough,” He lit it, took the hit, and held onto the smoke for as long as he could. “To know my wittle baby bwodder lost his v-card.” He coughed out the smoke, grinning at Peeta like the Cheshire Cat.

"I hate you." Peeta muttered, slouching down and crossing his arms. 

"How was it?" Rye was already moving in to take another pull from the bong. It bubbled as he built up the smoke. He pulled it in quickly, watching his brother expectantly. 

Peeta could only grimace and shrug in response. His hand flew up into his hair yet again. 

Blowing the smoke out, Rye handed the bong off to his brother. Peeta eyed it for a moment before taking it and the lighter. As the younger man leaned over the pipe, prepared to light it, Rye laughed.

"Considering you did it in that stanky ass tree house, I’m not fucking surprised."

Chapter Text

Peeta jumped up from the couch, throwing his hands up in the air in triumph as another Cleveland player pounded across home plate. “Yeah, that’s right!” 

He did a little victory dance and then turned his head to glance down at his roommate. “What’s that make it now? 10 to 3?” 

Grey eyes refused to budge from where they glared at the tv screen. “This is why I don’t watch baseball with you.” She scowled, crossing her arms. “You’re such an ass about it.”

Peeta fell back down into the couch cushions, bringing his face close to hers. “Aw, is Katniss a poor loser?” He poked at her side gently. “Is she sad her little Tigers didn’t show up tonight?”

She shoved his face way from hers, scrunching up her nose. “You smell like beer.”

Shifting so he was resting his back against the couch’s arm, Peeta grabbed his half-finished beer from the floor and took a swig. “And you smell like a poooor loooser,” He mumbled around the hoppy liquid in his mouth. He pressed his toes against her sweatpants-covered thigh, pushing playfully.

"Stooop!" Katniss batted at his ankle, trying hard to fight the smile his antics were causing. 

"Aaand you’re a whiner like baby Miggy too," Peeta smirked, resting his beer on his chest. He settled his free arm behind his head. "A match made in shitty baseball heaven."

With a gasp, Katniss jumped at him. “You’ll pay for that, Mellark.” She muttered with faux menace, reaching her slender fingers out to his ticklish stomach as she moved between his legs. Peeta laughed, bringing his arm back down to grab her hands in his one large one. He then closed his thighs around her, pinning her in place. 

She shrieked and struggled, laughing all the while. “Not fair! You’re bigger than me!”

"You’re the one who pounced on me like a kitten!" Peeta retorted, still holding her in place. "Kinda like your infant litter of a baseball team."

Katniss’ eyes widened at the dig. She twisted one of her hands erratically until it was free and then made a fast snatch for his beer. Before Peeta could react, she was pouring it all over his chest. 

"Shit!" He released her, jumping at the contact of the cold liquid. He pushed himself up the couch’s arm, pawing at his sopping shirt. "Personal foul!" He cried, mirth in his tone belying the frantic words.

Grinning victoriously, Katniss sat back. “Now you really smell like beer!” She winked, turning back towards the tv and the game.

Peeta shrugged, his laughter finally starting to taper out. “Yeah, well…your team keeps bombing the way they are, and you’ll be stuck washing my beer-soaked clothing for a month.” 

He moved to take his shirt off, but Katniss’ hand shot out suddenly and stopped him. Frowning curiously, Peeta took in the thoughtful look on her face, her eyes still trained on the tv. 

"What if we up the ante?" She whispered.

Peeta snorted. “You’re already losing, Katniss.” He pushed her hand away. “You really wanna add more to laundry and dishes for a month?” 

Katniss was in his personal space again in an instant, hand once more on his to stop him from taking his wet shirt off. He swallowed at her closeness. It was far more than just jovial wrestling this time. 

"How about…" She breathed, running a finger softly over his hand. "Starting now, for every point the other team makes, we lose an article of clothing." Peeta licked his lips and watched her eyes flick down to his mouth. "And first person to touch the other takes out the trash for a year?"

A rough breath shuddered its way up from Peeta’s chest. “Okay…” He whispered. 

Smirking mischievously, Katniss nodded. “Okay.” She released his hand and moved backwards slowly until she was resting on the opposite end from him. She brought her hand up to the zipper of her hoodie and started to inch it down slowly. She stopped it halfway and Peeta eyes flashed back up to hers.

"Good luck." Katniss winked and then turned her attention back to the game.

Shit. Shit shit shit. That was all Peeta could think in that moment. The Indians were on their way to winning the game, but he knew he’d lose long before the ninth inning rolled around. And he knew she knew it too.

Damn, there was gonna be a lot of trash in his future.

Chapter Text

"This is really stupid," Katniss mutters, arms crossed tightly over her chest. Her eyes are fixed on a point several feet above. 

She doesn’t wait for those around her to chime in on the matter. ”Really, really fucking stupid!” This time she shouts it, loud enough for the three idiots on the rocky ledge to hear.

"Aw pull that stick out of your ass, Catnip!" Gale hollers back down, the words pouring clumsily off of his beer-loosened tongue. It’s another clear sign that what’s about to go down is in no way a smart idea. Nobody in their little group is sober enough to deal with the multitude of consequences that could happen if something goes wrong.

Which it would. She was sure of it.

Katniss holds up her middle finger in response, and then shift her grey eyes a bit to the right. They meet with familiar blue. 

Nodding in a reassuring way, Peeta mouths ‘it’ll be okay’ down to her. The very subtle wink he shoots her is almost enough to convince her he’s right. She takes in the long distance between where he’s standing and the unmeasured natural pool of water she’s standing on the edge of. 

Yeah, right.

'No it's not!' She mouths back when she looks back to him with an angry shake of her head and a scowl. 

"You pussies jumping or what?!" Johanna bellows from where she sits on the pool’s edge. Her legs swish back and forth in the cool water. "Some of us would like to start swimming again!"

Gale points down at her. “Pussy?! Don’t see your ass up here, Mason!”

Johanna laughs. “No shit!” She thrusts a thumb in Katniss’ direction. “Brainless is right about ‘fucking stupid.’ I’m not looking for a hospital visit.”

"You know calling her ‘Brainless’ and saying she’s right is a bit of an oxymoron," Finnick points out from his spot up on the ledge. "Not really smart, ya know…"

"I’m not the jackass-" Johanna starts, but Katniss cuts her off

"Just fucking jump if you’re gonna jump!" Katniss shouts, her voice cracking at the end. She’s so frazzled and nervous and she wishes Peeta would come to his senses and come back down. But he won’t because he thinks he has something to prove or whatever. So she wants it over with so they can go back to their routine of close but not too close as to be suspicious. She likes that. Not this ‘he’s about to kill himself and it’s really making me feel some sort of way’ bullshit.

"What happened to ‘really fucking stupid’?" Gale yells back. It’s clear he’s just stalling now and the bravado brought on by too much beer and testosterone is puttering out. "You know, you women are ‘really fucking confusing’ if you ask-"

His words die as Peeta comes flying past him. Everyone stares as he leaps from the ledge. Katniss actually yelps, her heart feeling like it’s turned to stone in her chest. She watches as Peeta plummets towards the water and a bunch of ‘should’ves’ run through her head. They should’ve checked the depth, they should’ve stopped them from going up there, she should’ve just kissed him and distracted him and-

Peeta hits the water with a resounding ‘splash’ that makes Katniss wince, and his captive audience applauds and cheers loudly. She holds her breath, watching his distorted figure in the water anxiously.

It seems like an eternity when he breaks the surface a few moments later.

"Ow…" He croaks. 

Katniss is jumping into the water in an instant. “Peeta…” She gasps in concern, pulling herself over to him in a couple quick strokes. “Peeta!” Her hands cup his face and she brushes the sopping curls of his eyes. 

"Why did you do that?" She whispers, resting her forehead against his. "You’re so fucking dumb. Why did you jump?!"

He shrugs. “You said to just do it.” 

Laughing, hating the tears pooling in her eyes, Katniss presses her lips to his. She feel his arms wrap around her waist, pulling her in tight against his bare chest. Her fingers rake through his blond tendrils and god, the feel of his tongue sliding into her mouth is so wonderful.

A pair of disgruntled shouts come from above, and then Johanna is cheering. Peeta and Katniss break apart and turn their attention to see her now on her feet, arms in the air in triumph.

She points up to the two idiots still on the ledge.

"Pay up, motherfuckers! That’s a hundred bucks from each of you!"

Chapter Text

Peeta scrolled through his Twitter feed for what seemed like the hundredth time in the last five minutes. He was desperate for something to curb his boredom. Gale really did owe him majorly for this. He’d had a whole day of Halo playing planned. It was gonna be an epic gaming sesh. And then Gale had to come groveling for a favor. A favor that was seemingly going to eat up Peeta’s entire day.

Flopping his head back against the wall, Peeta squinted at the stark white ceiling. He started to contemplate how he’d make his roommate pay for this. Several different scenarios popped in his head and he let himself get lost in them. He’d just settled on making Gale the DD for the next month, at the very least, when the door across the room eased open.

"Sir?"

Peeta lowered his head to look at the nurse smiling patiently at him.

"She’s all finished."

The nurse stepped to the side, revealing a dazed looking woman standing unsteadily behind her. Peeta jumped up from his seat and took the few long strides over to where they stood. Grey eyes shifted slowly from the floor up to meet his blue. Peeta had to fight the shit-eating grin from spreading across his face when he saw how glassy and unfocused they were.

Katniss Everdeen, best friend to Gale Hawthorne and the thorn in Peeta’s side since their freshman year, was zonked out of her damn mind. She squinted at him, opening her mouth to say something, and promptly swayed into his chest. Peeta laughed, wrapping his arm around her to steady her.

"She’s still a bit woozy from the general anesthesia." The nurse offered gently, lightly brushing a hand over Katniss’ hair. "But everything went well. All you gotta do is go over to the window and get her care instructions and her prescription for pain killers."

Katniss made some sort of sound against Peeta’s chest. “I canno dat.” She stubbornly pushed away from him and stumbled her way over the receptionist window.

Peeta gave a dramatic roll of his eyes for the nurse, who nodded as if she understood. She sure as hell didn’t, but Peeta had been playing it up like Katniss and him were an item since they’d arrived. It was easier than explaining their…complicated relationship.

The nurse patted him on the shoulder and then stepped back through the door she’d come through. Peeta waited until it clicked shut before he turned his attention of his charge. He finally let the grin break free as he watched Katniss struggled to understand what the nurse at the reception desk was telling her.

Oh man, this was gonna be more fun than he’d thought.

——

"I haid dat ids you."

Peeta grinned at the disgruntled, mumbled words that carried over from the passenger seat of his car. Katniss had been surprisingly quiet since he’d gotten her buckled in and he’d almost started to think he’d get nothing blackmail worthy out of her current state.

"An I haid Gale and mads for nod bin here." Katniss slunk down further in her seat, her head thumping lightly against the window. "Probly off fugging somewhere."

Turning the car down the street that would lead to the pharmacy, Peeta gave her a quick glance. “Oh come on, sweetheart. This is a good bonding experience for us!”

Katniss snorted. “Ya, oday.” She uncrossed one of her arms and flopped it out towards him. “Don call me dat!”

"Okay, how about Mumbled McGee then?" Peeta laughed. It earned a groan from Katniss.

"Nod funny, Mellark!" She whined. "God, you’re suds an addshole."

Peeta pulled into the CVS parking lot. He eased into an empty spot and killed the ignition. “You know you love it, Everdeen.”

"I do nod!" She exclaimed, sitting up in her seat abruptly, turning watery eyes towards him. "I do nod lide dat you made fun of me all da dime! Becaud i don know whad i did do made you hade me lide dat! Becaud i rely rely lide you, oday!?"

Peeta stared in shock at her admission, his bravado deflating completely. Katniss stared back for a few moments until realization slowly dawn across her face. A dark blush crept up her neck and across her already flushed cheeks.

She collapsed back in her seat and covered her face with her hands. “Oh god!”

"Katniss…" Peeta was at a rare loss for words. "I…"

"Can we predend I didin jud say dat, pleads?!" She whispered harshly.

Peeta swallowed thickly, hating the level of emotion in her voice. This wasn’t fun anymore. This…this was real. And he really didn’t know how to handle it.

Chapter Text

Peeta closes his eyes and shakes his head slightly, hoping to clear it. When he opens his eyes again, his reflection remains just as blurry in the dingy bathroom mirror before him as it was before. 

'Maybe that last shot with Finnick was a bad idea.' He muses to himself with a snort. He pushes up from the sink he's been leaning against and runs a hand over his face. 

"You can do this, Mellark." He points at his reflection with determination. "You can finally talk to Katniss Everdeen like you’re not a loser!”

Nodding at his own personal pep talk, Peeta spins on his heels and yanks open the bathroom door. The music thumping from the other room grows infinitely louder as he steps out into the mass of people that have filled Finnick’s house. He’s caught off guard by two girls rushing past him into the now empty bathroom and stumbles sideways.

"Easy there," A hand on his arm steadies him before he completely loses his balance. Peeta whips around at the familiar voice, almost losing his balance a second time. His eyes widen as he takes in the person helping him stay upright. 

"Katniss!" He exclaims. Then grins wide, proud of himself for already doing what he’d told himself to do. 

"Peeta." She greets, much more softly then he had. And with a much gentler smile. "You look like you’re having a good time."

"And you," His gaze wanders downwards, taking in her tight outfit. Her very tight outfit. He didn’t think he’d ever seen her in anything so tight before. "Look like…wow. Damn."

"Are you staring at my boobs?" Katniss laughs.

His eyes snap up to her face. “Huh?” She raises her eyebrows and waves a hand over her chest. It causes Peeta to look downwards again. “Oh yeah, this view is nice.” 

After he is greeted with silence, Peeta glances back up at Katniss. She’s staring at him, eyes wide and mouth agape. And that’s when what he’d just said catches up with his brain. 

"Oh shit!" He cries, hand flying up to slap over his mouth. "I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean," He mumbles against his hand before moving it up to grab at his messy hair. "Fuck, Katniss, I-"

Katniss bursts out laughing and Peeta freezes at the sudden shift in her demeanor. 

"Oh my god, Peeta," Her shoulders shake with laughter. "You’re really drunk." Her hand rubs up and down his arm.

He lets out a groan and buries his face in his hands. “I really am.”

Peeta drops his hands when her laughter suddenly stops and the rubbing stops on his arm. She’s smiling widely, but there’s a look in her grey eyes that seems to make his heart stop. 

Katniss reaches up and brushes his sweaty curls away from his forehead, her eyes watching the movement of her own hand. “Me too.” She giggles, sipping from the cup in her other hand. 

Her eyes find his again. “Wanna go outside, get some fresh air and sober up a little with me?” She’d been exerting confidence since he’d practically run into her, but now she seems…nervous. 

"Yes." Peeta doesn’t hesitate to agree.

Katniss bounces a little in place and smiles again. “Good!” She latches onto his wrist and pushes off the wall she’s been leaning against. It’s then he notices that she’s not much steadier than he is. He lets out a breathy laugh as she starts to pull him through the crowd.

As the pair make their way outside onto the back porch, another pair watches from the kitchen doorway across the way. 

"We should collaborate more often, Mason," Finnick turns his attention his companion, holding up a shot glass.

Johanna smirks, clinking her own glass against his. “Who knew your tequila and my wardrobe selection could make the perfect equation.” She winks before throwing back the shot.