Chapter 23: Peeta POV

When I think back to that day now – that first day I woke to greet the world with her by my side, I realize that is the day I usually remember when I think about my life really starting.

Don't get me wrong – I had nice moments up until that point, I'm not trying to write off anything that happened before that. Don't start feeling sorry for me, I had a good time before I met her. I would always remember my dad bringing home my first ten speed bicycle, the first real thing I ever owned that wasn't hand me down from my older brothers, and the day I graduated college. I would remember surprising my mom and dad on their twentieth anniversary and being best man for my brother in his wedding.

Like I said, I had a lot of nice moments leading up to where I was now. But little did I know at the time I'd just woken up for the first of many mornings with the girl who was my unlikely soulmate.

I guess that's the part of all this I liked. Everything about Katniss was so unlikely, and so unlike me. Before her, I'd imagined myself meeting someone a bar or at a mutual friend's party, you know how people do. I'd meet someone that I really liked and would grow to love over time before settling down like my brothers had. The girl in my mind had been a faceless blonde, with a kind smile and who didn't mind that I was just simple bakery owner.

Instead, I'd found Katniss.

Or the other way around – she'd found me. I'd thought that the girl I would someday love would be special because I loved her – but Katniss was special in a way that was entirely her own that had nothing to do with me. Maybe that was part of what drew me to her. No, she wasn't what I was expecting but in the best way possible. The girl I fell for came to my bakery and loved that I was a baker. She didn't make grievances for it or think I should do something else. In fact, a small part of me had always thought that was the reason she always came back. She wasn't anything like the women my brothers married. She was raven haired with steely silvery eyes who made me earn her smiles and laughter. Goodness knows Katniss didn't do anything for the sake of manners. And she was taken. Or, she was at the time.

Katniss was what I didn't know I'd been looking for all along and yet somehow, I'd known it the second I looked at her. Perhaps you're wondering if that's the reason I'd been acting like a lovesick puppy since I'd met her. I'm sure at some point in the past year anyone who knew me wanted to shake me or slap me and tell me to snap out of it and move on.

Maybe I don't have any idea – I'd never felt that way about anyone before, but when I met her I just knew. That's why it was so hard for me to forget about her. Maybe that's why, even though she had been engaged to one of the richest men I'd ever laid eyes on, a type of guy who I'd thought was better than me in every single conceivable way….I still didn't give up on her.

What I'm trying to explain is just that I hadn't been expecting her but she'd turned my life upside down. I'd been drifting before her. My life wasn't one to complain about, but it was boring before her. She made me want to pick up my life and start living it. That's the amazing thing about the point in your life where you meet that person that makes you sit up and jump into action and take chances and risks. They motivate you to go outside of your comfort zone and really fight for what you want but in my case, for the first time in my twenty something years that was a good thing. I was motivated to do something to win over the girl who'd walked in my bakery that day.

Only, it wasn't work. It wasn't hard to fall in love with someone like Katniss Everdeen. It was easier than breathing.

I should have been afraid, or at least skeptical.

But I wasn't.

I was too in love with the idea that I'd found the other half of my heart that I didn't realize how high she'd lifted me up.

Looking back on everything now, I guess that's why it hurt so hard when she woke up in that hospital bed and basically asked who the hell I was.

I'd been too busy riding the clouds with Katniss to realize how far I had to fall.

The pain of losing her for what I would come to consider the second time after her accident was the lowest point in my entire life. Did it hurt when I first met her and she rejected me? Oh sure. It stung like a bitch. Did it absolutely suck to know she was engaged? Yes. But I didn't even know what it was like to be in love with her at that point. Looking back, I didn't even know what pain was back then. Nothing could have prepared me for the feeling of knowing what life could be like with Katniss before having it ripped away from me when she fell out of that tree and hit her head, effectively wiping her slate completely clean of any memory of me or us.

Or our life.

I hit a low point after her accident, I won't lie.

And it's times like those that I would go back in my mind and memories and revisit mornings like these.

I awoke the next morning with a crick in my neck and one of my arms half asleep, but I wouldn't be complaining.

Opening one bleary eye and then the other, I realized I had slept in a wonky position because there was a girl sleeping curled into my side.

Not just any girl.


Neck ache and tingly arm…worth it, I realized with a silly grin. Blinking a few times, I rubbed my eyes and with my free hand and did my best to wake up. Of course I held bakers hours most of my life, so anything after quarter to five in the morning was sleeping in to me. Slowly, I untangled myself from a sleeping Katniss and stood up from the couch, my joints cracking and popping in protest. My couch was comfortable enough, but I'd never slept on it with a girl before. With a sleepy grin I realized she must have pushed me over to the very furthest corner of it, as she was now sprawled over a majority of it, leaving only about the space of a foot in the corner I'd woken up in.

Katniss made a grumbling noise in her sleep, her dark hair spilling over her face as she turned and shift to get comfortable again.

Shaking my head, I laughed to myself and realized again that it had been completely worth it.

Padding my way over to the wood burning stove, I quietly shoved another log onto the still-burning embers to provide a little more heat. I planned to get central air and heat in the place someday, but for now it was the cheapest alternative to just burn logs. The loft above the bakery was still a lot of exposed brick and tall, uninsulated ceilings.

I shivered slightly and pulled the blanket up around Katniss' shoulders before making my way to the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator, I groaned internally and silently kicked myself for not being more prepared. I was a bachelor and the contents of my refrigerator and cupboards perfectly reflected that sad fact.

A dark head popped up from the sofa, drawing my eye over to the living room. The space was still pretty much one big room with the exception of a small hallway off to one side, making the main room that housed my couch look pretty much empty. Katniss turned her head and gave me a sleepy yawn.

"Morning," I called over to her. "Hungry?"

She nodded, stretching like a cat. Standing, she made her way over towards me and looked around with an unimpressed glare. The coffee pot, bless it, was on an automatic timer and already sputtering out a fresh pot in the corner of my kitchen.

"Coffee," she grunted. It wasn't a question.

Okay, so we could cross morning person off the list of things about Katniss Everdeen.

"I do have that," I said, thankful to at least be able to provide her with caffeine. It was basic and very caveman of me but I was happy to provide it. I had a steaming cup and was pressing it into her hands within the minute.

She sniffed it and answered me with a stern glare when I asked if she wanted anything in it.

"Fancy shit is for afternoon coffee. The first dose has to be black, black as it comes," she muttered.

I suppressed a laugh. I'd been a baker practically my entire life, so mornings never really bothered me anymore; Katniss' reluctance to face the day made me chuckle. She was dark and crabby and completely cute.

"Coffee's not just it. I can cook for you too."

She was hunched at my solitary bar stool, gripping the hot cup like it was a lifeline. Opening the refrigerator, I winced. Breakfast might have to wait.

"I have eggs and well….I have eggs. I need to go downstairs," I muttered to myself. "Do you need to be anywhere today?"

She shrugged. "Got no plans."

She smiled when she said, it, but the tone of her voice made me pause. It sounded dull and…flat. "You sure?"

Katniss was quiet again, simply nodding. I wondered what that was about, but didn't press it.

After directing her to the bathroom off the kitchen, I hurried upstairs to my upstairs bathroom and took care of business. I emerged freshly shaved and showered and utterly thrilled at the prospect of sharing a day with Katniss. Having her to myself for an entire afternoon was something I hadn't dared hope for until a few days ago, so I was a little anxious. But in a good way. I wanted this to work.

It had to work.

I shot a quick text to my dad with a tiny request, grabbed her a to-go cup of more coffee from the bakery downstairs, and then we were off.

She tugged at the ears of the hat I'd loaned her, snorting to herself. "You gonna tell me where we're off to?"

The wintery morning was cold and crisp, with so little humidity in the air it made everything look so sharp and clear. The sun was shining so bright it was making me squint as I drove, the old van sputtering as I made my way carefully down the country road. The fresh snow had been plowed away, giving us a safe path to our destination.

"Somewhere fun. I promise."

Her nose wrinkled slightly, but she didn't say anything. She seemed content to just enjoy the view as we drove. It was a spectacular sight – our destination was a good twenty miles outside of town, taking us through some winding backroads that were lined with the fresh, sparkling snow. I couldn't have planned it better, really.

"I think I've been hunting out this way before," she muttered, half under her breath.

"I still think its crazy you love to hunt. I mean, not bad-crazy, like….erm, what do you like to hunt?"

"Deer, mostly," she said, twisting the end of her braid. She'd showered after I had, but somehow the smell of my shampoo in her hair was ten times better than it ever smelled on me. The warmth of the bread van only made it permeate the dry heat coming out of the vents.

"How do you haul those huge things out after you shoot them? You don't go alone, do you?"

Katniss opened her mouth, then closed it as if she wasn't sure what to say. "I…sometimes I go alone. I hunt deer because I like to eat most of it. Not really into hunting for the sport of it. My dad, he….didn't like that. He taught me to use whatever I could from the animals we shot. I guess….I guess if I couldn't manage to carry it I wouldn't feel right about killing it," she cracked a smile, twisting her braid again. "It's a struggle sometimes."

"Have you gone lately?"

"No, not lately," she sighed, her pale eyes scanning the scenery. "I only go when I know I need meat, or if I have the freezer space. And having an apartment isn't really conducive to hunting. Where would I butcher it?" she laughed, waggling her eyebrows at me. Just the thought of actually killing an animal and then having to butcher it had my stomach turning into knots, but I didn't say anything. She sounded like a responsible hunter and I wouldn't begrudge her of something she loved.

With only a few more minutes to go, she turned to eye me. "You aren't driving me out here to murder me and hide the body, are you? Sheesh, where are you taking me?"

A guffaw ripped out of me before I could stop, my head shaking swiftly. "No, I am not, Katniss. In fact, quite the opposite. Instead of murder, I plan to take you to do something so sickeningly sweet and cliché that I'll probably seem a bit lame, butttt…." I drew out the word as I turned off the lane and into the lot, "I think you'll approve of this."

Her eyes did light up when she saw the sign for the Christmas tree farm.

"I was thinking about what you said last night about me not having a tree and…well, I thought it might be fun if you helped me pick one out. Get me in the holiday spirit. I think we could maybe both use a little of that," I explained putting the van into an open parking space.

"I think…." She began, glancing around the lot, "that this is probably the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me in a long time."

Aw, nothing like some Christmastime cheesiness, right? I'll try to squeeze in one more Christmassy chapter for you on top of this one. Happy Holidays! Thanks for reading.