Author's Note-Written for Prompts in Panem, Special Challenges. Prompt: Holiday Everlark

Rest of notes to follow...

I don't own THG or its characters.

"You know I'm never going to forgive you for putting my name on that stupid email," Katniss grumbles, thumbing through a third cookbook, wrinkling her nose as her eyes scan the pages for something that doesn't look ridiculously complicated.

"Oh, shut up," Madge replies gleefully, folding down another page. "It will be fun, and you'll thank me at the end of the night."

"My hips won't," she retorts. "Don't you have your first dress fitting the day before New Year's?"

"Katniss, a few fucking cookies and a couple of glasses of red wine are not gonna make or break us. When have you ever counted calories before? Besides, you could consume an entire bakery full of sweets and the scale probably wouldn't register an ounce. Stop making excuses." She tosses her blonde hair over her shoulder and shoves the book she's been perusing across the couch cushion. "These look good."

Katniss glances down at the picture. The Peppermint Divinity cookies look sinfully good; what they do not look is easy. She shrugs and pushes the book back towards Madge. "Then forget about your almond crescents, and you make them."

"You love those almond crescents," she smirks back.

A week ago, an email had circulated at school, inviting the entire third grade teaching staff—all eight women—to a cookie swap at Delly Cartwright's house. Delly had bubbled that it's something her mother has always done, and it will be a fun bonding experience.

A night of eating cookies had sounded remotely appealing to Katniss, but she had been horrified once Madge had explained how the whole thing worked: each of the guests was to bake nine dozen cookies, and then on the night of the swap, they would exchange one dozen of the kind they baked with every other woman in attendance, taking home eight different cookies from their own. The extra dozen cookies each woman brought would be set out for sampling as they chatted and drank wine.

She is not a baker; she's actually a lousy cook in general, and when Madge isn't home, Katniss eats a lot of single-serve dinners and take-out as a result. She can barely follow a recipe enough to make one batch of cookies, let alone nine times that, and she's always been more than content to deal with store-bought ones.

But Madge had needled her and badgered her—daily at lunch, and after school at the gym, and at home in the evenings—until last Friday morning, right before the bell rang, wearing a sadistic smile, she had informed Katniss that she had emailed Delly back, RSVPing for them both, and Katniss would let Delly know by Monday what kind of cookie she would be bringing.

Once she had finished cursing out Madge, she had reluctantly decided on chocolate chip cookies—fully intending to grab some of those slice-and-bake ones from the grocery store. However, when she had stopped by Delly's classroom on her way out that afternoon, the chipper blonde had politely said chocolate chip weren't allowed, and that the cookies needed to be 'more creative and more festive.'

So here she is, two glasses of wine in on a Saturday night, trying to find an acceptable cookie that is also relatively simple, since it will be a monumental enough task that she gets them to turn out edible.

Katniss's eyes land on a recipe that only has ten ingredients. She skims the list: flour, baking soda, cocoa, butter…these Marble Snickerdoodles look promising.

"What about these?" she points.

Madge grabs the cookbook and studies the page. Her nose wrinkles thoughtfully, then her blue eyes dance, and a smile spreads across her face.

"These you can definitely do," she enthuses. She flags the page with a Post-it note. "We should have most of these ingredients lying around too. Well, now that that's settled," Madge continues, draining the last of her wine, "I'm supposed to meet Gale at eight for dinner. You want to join us?"

Katniss considers the offer for about five seconds. Playing third wheel with Madge and her fiancé while they play footsie under the table and drone on about their wedding details, or put on her flannel pajamas, brew some tea, and watch something inane on Netflix? Easy decision. "Nah. I'll call for some Chinese or heat up that risotto from last night."

Madge shrugs and stands, arching her back as she stretches out. "Suit yourself. I'm gonna stay at Gale's tonight, so you can be as loud as you want with your battery-operated buddy."

Katniss takes the last swig of her wine and launches a pillow at Madge, who deflects it easily with her left hand. She doesn't dwell much on the fact that her last relationship was almost two years ago, but she's growing a little weary of Madge teasing her about her dry spell—especially since Katniss is the reason Madge and her fiancé got together in the first place.

When Madge leaves, Katniss changes into her pajamas, orders some Thai food, and queues up Orange is the New Black. She flops onto the couch with a copy of Entertainment Weekly and waits for her dinner.

The buzzer sounds about twenty minutes later, and as she pays the delivery guy and accepts her food, the stairwell door—which is a mere fifteen feet or so from her apartment—opens, and she finds herself locking eyes with Peeta Mellark. His intense blue gaze rakes her up and down briefly before he gives her a warm smile and heads down the hallway to his apartment. She slips back inside and slams the door before he reaches his unit, not oblivious to the little ripple in her belly.

Since the attractive blond man moved in down the hall several months ago, Madge has been ribbing Katniss that he has his eye on her. But if Peeta really were interested in her, wouldn't he have approached her by now? Proximity certainly plays in his favor. Yet other than the occasional smile as they pass in the hall, and one isolated conversation about the weather when they both rode the elevator up at the same time, she has had very little direct interaction with Peeta.

In fact, she only knows his last name because his electric bill once accidentally wound up in her and Madge's mailbox. Before she had walked the envelope down the hall, she had dragged a brush through her hair and swished some Scope around in her mouth.

When Peeta opened the door, she had finally gotten a good look into those impossibly blue eyes, which were framed by the longest golden lashes she'd seen on a man or a woman. On that particular day, his strong jawline had been flecked with blond stubble, and when he had stepped towards her to take the bill and murmur his thanks, she had discerned the scents of cinnamon and dill. It was an odd combination, but strangely intoxicating, and comforting too, and it had lingered in her nostrils for the rest of that evening.

As had particularly vivid, completely inappropriate images of her sexy neighbor.

Which hadn't stopped after that evening.

And still persist to this day.

And now, having just gotten a glimpse of him, hair slightly damp, gym bag slung over his shoulder, her imagination can easily fill in the blanks as to where he'd been and what he'd been doing.

She bites her lip when she visualizes him standing under the spray in the gym shower, steam rising around him, the hot needles of water shooting down…and at the first tingle just behind her navel she shakes her head and wills herself not to think of Peeta Mellark naked.

It doesn't work.

With a sigh of frustration, and damp heat lingering between her legs, she shuts off the television, goes to her room, and doesn't even bother with her vibrator. Her fingers suffice just fine tonight, moving in fast, urgent circles against her throbbing clit. She brings herself to a shuddering climax, imagining her back against the cool tiles, her fingers scraping through wet, blond hair, as the handsome man down the hall thrusts in and out of her, the water cascading over them.

She hates admitting that Madge Undersee is right about anything. She loves her friend dearly, but Madge is so infuriatingly perfect that it brings such satisfaction to Katniss to prove her wrong.

It's why Katniss has yet to confess to Madge that thinking about Peeta Mellark does things to her.

It's also why, five days later, she stands in their kitchen close to tears, refusing to acknowledge that she should have listened to Madge when her roommate suggested doing a test batch of cookies last night. She had waved Madge off, but not before she got in a little dig about Madge getting help from her future mother-in-law.

Truthfully, Katniss wished she had thought to ask Hazelle for help first. She bets Gale's mother would have gladly made the damn cookies for her.

She should have realized it was going to be a long night with her first attempt at the dough. Though math has never been her strong suit, she sits and carefully pens the correct portions of the ingredients needed to double the recipe—any more than that, and she fears she'll be pushing her luck. By doubling it, it will yield 60 cookies, and she'll just need to do a second double-batch.

She's feeling pretty proud of herself when the first tray goes into the oven, but when she removes them fifteen minutes later, lets them cool, and takes a bite, her face contorts, and she spits out the cookie. A second glance at her calculations reveals that not only had she doubled the cream of tartar wrong, she had used tablespoons instead of teaspoons.

With all that dough wasted, she starts over, and while the next batch of dough turns out fine, she mis-sets the timer and burns two full trays.

She finally gets two dozen to come out of the oven perfectly golden brown, and when she gingerly bites into one she sighs in relief. They're good. She made something good.

After she scrapes the last of the dough to form one final cookie and puts the two trays into the oven, she only counts 48 cookies. She must have made the cookies too big. Now she's still 60 cookies short. 60? Shit.

And the empty Styrofoam carton mocks her: she's out of eggs.

Anger surges first, and then frustration, and she blinks back stinging tears. How can she be so bad at something that should be so easy?

She really, really doesn't want to make the nearly fifteen-minute drive to the nearest grocery store at eight-thirty at night. But what other option does she have? She needs another dozen eggs. It's not like she has a fucking magic chicken somewhere.

She's thinking of all the possible ways that she can murder Madge and get away with the crime (even if it means dealing with the wrath of Gale) when she considers that yes, she has another option. A quick glance at the clock tells her that it's not too late to walk down the hall, knock on her sexy neighbor's door, and hope that he has a dozen eggs lying around.

Giving her black yoga pants and grey, hooded sweatshirt a quick once over, she frowns and dashes into her bedroom to change her shirt. (Madge swears the yoga pants make Katniss's ass look 'fantastic,' so she keeps them on.) She grabs a tight, silky long-sleeved jade green t-shirt and tugs it on over her bra. After brushing her hair, she gives her reflection an appraisal, and she finds her stomach doing somersaults when she starts down the hallway.

She takes a deep breath, finger-combs her hair one more time, and raps her knuckles lightly on Peeta's door. She fidgets anxiously while she waits, and after several long moments, her heart sinks when it becomes apparent that he's not home.

Of course not. Why would he be home? He's a hot young guy. He probably has dates lined up every night of the week.

Just as she turns and begins to trudge back towards her apartment, she hears the rattle of a chain and the soft 'click' of the door.


His voice is rough with sleep, and when she faces him, she inhales sharply at the vision of him shirtless, wearing just a pair of navy-striped flannel pajama bottoms, his blond hair mussed.

Shit, she woke him up. Nice job, brainless, she scolds herself.

"I-I…I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bother you!"

He rakes a hand through his rumpled bed head, and his lips curve into a smile. "What can I do for you?"

Subconsciously, she feels her eyes drift down to his defined pectoral muscles, to his taut abs, and Jesus, when she sees the fine trail of blond hair leading from his navel, she has to avert her gaze as she feels her body start to respond. "I-I-uh…" Why the fuck is she here? She can't think straight all of a sudden, and she prays that her lined bra does its job and he can't see how hard her nipples are just from ogling his half-naked body.

Eggs. Right. Eggs.

"I, um, ran out of eggs, and I was hoping that you might have a few that I could borrow. But I had no idea you were sleeping…I'm so sorry I disturbed you."

"It's okay," he says softly. "I've got eggs. How many do you need?"

She bites her lip. "A dozen? To be safe?"

"To be safe?" he asks, leaning against the doorframe. He crosses his arms across his broad chest and arches an eyebrow in amusement.

She finds herself launching into an animated explanation of her disastrous foray into baking, which in turn causes her to have to attempt to relate the details of the cookie swap, and Peeta's eyes, previously heavy with sleep, have lightened considerably by the time she finishes.

"My mother does one of those with her friends," he laughs. "But since my parents own a bakery, my father's cookies always outshine whatever the other ladies concoct."

"Your father's cookies?"

"Oh, my mother can't boil water. My father has always done her dirty work for her. Her friends know it too, but they love my dad's bourbon maple pecan gingersnaps enough to not give her shit about it."

"Well, I'm not that far behind your mother," Katniss admits. "I'm a hot mess in the kitchen."

His mouth twitches slightly, and she can swear his eyes wander to her lips. "I'll give you the eggs on one condition," he says. She furrows her brows at him, and he smiles conspiratorially. "You give me a few seconds to get dressed, and let me come help you finish those cookies."

"Peeta, oh my god, no!" she gasps. "It's getting late, and you were sleeping, and…"

"And like I said, Katniss, I grew up working in a bakery, and if I can help you get your cookies finished so that you're not up til two in the morning, I'll be happy to do it."

"You were asleep!"

"And I can still sleep later. I won't take no for an answer." He cranes his neck and looks behind him briefly. "You can come in and wait while I change, if you'd like."

She thinks about her own messy apartment and cringes. She should really run back and straighten things up quickly. But it's not like it's really going to make a difference. He'll just have to add 'slob' to the list of things he probably already assumes about her: Lousy in the kitchen. Slob. Quite the impression she's forming.

Peeta opens the door wider, and she steps inside.

"Be right back," he calls and disappears, pulling the door closed behind him.

His apartment is incredibly neat, and he's decorated for the holidays. Sprigs of garland festoon the mantle above the small gas-burning fireplace, to the left of which he has several poinsettia plants in a cluster. A beautifully adorned tree stands in the corner, though it's not currently lit, and when she inhales deeply, the sharp, fresh aroma of pine hits her nostrils. He has a live tree.

She wanders around the living room, trying not to appear too nosy while glancing at the few pictures he has on a bookshelf. Her stomach does a little flip when she doesn't see any photos that suggest he has a girlfriend.

"Ready?" She jumps and whirls about. He grins. "Sorry, didn't mean to startle you."

Damn, how does he manage to make a zippered sweatshirt and sweatpants look so enticing?

"Your place looks…lovely," she gestures. "You really like Christmas, huh?"

His eyes twinkle and he nods. "It's my favorite time of the year. Let me get the eggs and we'll go."

She watches him, and her eyes land on a ball of mistletoe hanging just before the kitchen entryway. She swallows. It's such a cliché, but how easy would it be to casually follow him in there, and conveniently stop just below the kissing plant?

But he's back within moments, a carton of eggs in his hands, and he moves towards the door. "Let's go make some cookies."

If Peeta judges her for the lack of festivity in her apartment he doesn't say a word. It's not that she's a Scrooge; school has just been so busy, and with Madge almost never around anymore, Katniss just hasn't given much thought to decorating, though Christmas is now less than a week away. They have their little fiber-optic tree on the end table, and she did pick up a poinsettia at the store last week, but it's looking neglected, and she tries to remember the last time she watered it.

She shows him to the kitchen, where bowls crusted with dough are piled in the sink, and the hand-held mixer lies on the counter, still plugged in. He glances down at the recipe, and he smiles confidently.

"These look good," he says, and she grabs one from the four-dozen that did turn out and offers it to him. He accepts it without hesitation, and his smile widens when he chews. "This is great, Katniss."

She can't suppress her own smile, and she hopes the blush she feels rushing to her cheeks isn't too noticeable.

"Maybe you don't need my help," he teases, popping the remainder of the cookie into his mouth.

She frowns. "I do feel bad about disturbing you."

"You couldn't know I'd be in bed. Normal people don't go to sleep before the sun goes down."

When she gives him a dubious look, he elaborates, and she learns that he's in the middle of his pediatric residency, and for the past few weeks he's been on rotation in the emergency room, all overnight shifts, one night on, the next night off.

She's a little dumbfounded to learn that he's a doctor. He laughs quietly and reminds her that he's not quite a full-fledged doctor yet, but when he starts asking her questions about teaching, she's even more stunned that he knows what she does for a living. She asks him how he knows that she's a teacher, and it's the first time she sees him even moderately flustered, as he hastily explains that he thinks her roommate might have mentioned it one day when they were in the elevator together.

They both grow quiet and work in tandem for a while; Katniss stirs together the dry ingredients while Peeta uses the electric mixer on the batter. When he's ready for the eggs, she cracks the first one, and immediately several pieces of shell fall into the bowl. She curses quietly, but Peeta stops the mixer and scrutinizes the mixture, using the tip of a knife to fish the bits out.

He lifts a second egg from the carton and taps the shell gently with the same knife, and the egg splits with ease, the yolk and whites sliding into the batter. She gapes at him.

"My father taught me that years ago. I dropped many an eggshell in frying pans and cookie batter until he showed me that trick." He holds out an egg, and she takes it, and a frisson of heat travels up her arm when his hand lingers on hers. "You try," he says thickly then starts the mixer again.

Following his lead, she raps the knife against the shell, and pulling slightly, just as it did for him, the egg cracks and the yolk and whites disappear into the spinning blades, a swirl of yellow lacing through the pale batter.

After both the plain dough and the chocolate dough are prepared, Peeta balances a bowl in each hand and moves towards the fridge. He sets both on the top shelf and gives her an expectant smile. "So we have about a half hour to kill while those chill. Any suggestions?"

She finishes washing her hands and turns and faces him, all kinds of suggestive things running through her mind, but the look in his eyes pins her in place. He stares at her intently, and her breath hitches when he moves towards her. His hand reaches out, and she doesn't dare breathe as he swipes his thumb over her left cheek. When he draws back, she releases the breath she was holding, and he murmurs, "You had some flour or something there."

"Thanks," she whispers, her heart thrumming a syncopated rhythm against her rib cage. It would be so easy to kiss him right now. Her gaze lowers to his mouth, tracing the full lines of his lips. Do they feel as soft as they look? God, she wants to find out so badly…

"So," he begins again, clearing his throat, breaking her trance, "like I was saying, the recipe suggests letting the dough chill for a bit…"

"I, uh, think I have a bottle of wine open in the fridge if you want a glass."

He smiles. "Sure, why not?"

She pours them each a glass of the Pinot Grigio that she and Madge had opened the other night, and she leads him over to the couch where she settles first, and to her chagrin, he sinks down on the opposite end from her. She tucks her feet underneath her and shifts to face him fully, taking a sip of her wine.

"So what do you normally do for the holidays?" he asks.

She flushes and glances down at her wine, wishing there was an easier—and less embarrassing—answer to his innocent question. "Um, I'll probably just be here."

His eyes widen in alarm. "Alone?"

"Uh, yeah," she feels her cheeks burning, and she takes another quick sip of her wine. "My dad, well, he's been gone for years now, and my sister's boyfriend surprised her with a trip to Italy for an early Christmas gift, so she'll be gone this year."

His visage becomes visibly sympathetic, and she can tell he's internally debating whether or not to ask about her mother, so she's compelled to continue, "I'll go and see my mother in the morning, but if she's not having a good day, it will be a short visit. She's…" she pauses and takes another breath, not sure what is possessing her to confide these private things in a guy that she barely knows, but there is just something about Peeta that puts her at ease. "She's been in an extended care facility for the last three years."

The fact that Peeta looks at her with no pity in his eyes fuels her to complete her confession, and as she does, he moves closer to her on the couch while she relates the details of her mother's suicide attempt on the tenth anniversary of her father's death.

When she finishes, she's amazed that she's managed to tell him the whole story without her voice cracking or her eyes awash in tears. He shakes his head and wrings his hands. "Last night in the E.R. I had to attend to a thirteen-year-old girl who had slit her wrists. It's hard to imagine being in so much pain that it's easier to end it all."

She nods and drains the rest of her wine. "My parents were high-school sweethearts. When he died, part of her died with him. She was still here, but not really. I wound up taking care of my little sister and fending for myself most of the time."

"It's why you became a teacher," he supplies, moving closer still. "That innate need to nurture."

"Armchair psychologist much?" she jokes, but her laugh dies on her lips when he reaches for her empty wine glass and sets both their glasses down on the coffee table.

"Thanks for sharing with me, Katniss."

"I bet you're sorry you asked."

"Not at all. I like getting to know you. I want to get to know you. I wish we had done it sooner." Those blue eyes bore into her, and she swallows as she watches them darken. His voice seems to drop an octave. "I'm glad you fucked up your cookies."

There's little space between them now, and there's a whiff of that spicy scent she remembers from the day she returned his electric bill, and it stirs something in her again. She swears she can hear Madge's voice, taunting her that she was right, that Peeta does like her.

But she's more than happy to let Madge be right this time, as she closes the remaining distance and hesitantly presses her lips to his, current sizzling through her veins. She pulls away slowly, searching his face for a reaction.

In response, his hands frame her jaw, cupping her cheeks, and his mouth molds to hers. His lips are hot as they move over hers, and she brings one hand up to clutch at his, holding him in place.

Her limbs feel like molten fire when his teeth nibble gently on her lower lip, then he gently probes the seam of her lips with his tongue. She parts them to draw him into her mouth, and she massages his tongue with hers. Every nerve in her body zings with energy. She's so lost in his kiss that she doesn't hear the doorknob jiggle at first.

But he must. He reluctantly breaks the seal of their mouths and leans his forehead against hers, his breath coming in short, ragged gasps. "Is…that…your door?"

They spring apart, Peeta sliding further down on the couch to a less suspicious distance, but it's not lost on Katniss how his hand migrates to his groin to discreetly adjust the crotch of his sweatpants just as Madge steps through the door, a massive shopping bag in her hand. Her blue eyes register shock at first, but then a wide grin splits her pretty face.

"What's going on here?" she says casually, but the way she cuts her gaze to Katniss, the undercurrents of interrogation are palpable.

"I thought you'd be staying at Gale's once you finished with your cookies," Katniss replies, trying to sound as equally nonchalant.

"Not tonight." Madge sets down the bag and unbuttons her coat. "Peeta, right? Nice to see you again."

"Peeta was kind enough to lend me a few eggs when I ran out for my cookies. And then he insisted on helping with them."

Madge laughs. "That's probably for the best. Katniss isn't known for her prowess in the kitchen. It's really nice of you to help her, Peeta." She draws out his name, her eyes still probing Katniss's, and it makes Katniss want to wring her slender neck.

"She's doing just fine," he praises, "but the dough is probably good to go now, so shall we, Katniss?" Peeta rises from the couch and immediately offers her his hand. She doesn't hesitate to take it, but gives Madge a stern warning with her eyes as she does so. Her roommate just continues to smile coyly at her before announcing she'll be in her room, and her door closes a moment later.

She tries not to focus on the feel of Peeta's hand clasping hers, tries not to let the fluttering sensations swarming in her belly overwhelm her too much. But her lips still tingle pleasantly from the intensity of their kisses, and she craves more. She wants to pin him to the kitchen wall and kiss him again—forget the damn cookies—but knowing her roommate is now home and could interrupt them again at any time puts a damper on her impulses.

"Preheating the oven would have been good," he says, motioning to the range. "No worries though. It can heat up while we blend the dough and prep the trays."

She furrows her brows and gives the oven a doleful look. "I thought I did set it." The last thing she needs is for him to think she's any more hapless in the kitchen than he probably already does—or worse, that he thinks she's some kind of airhead.

He gives her a reassuring smile and punches the button to start the oven.


"What the…?" she tries it, but the display remains unlit. She sighs, exasperated. "Are you kidding me? This is not happening right now!"

"Hey, it's okay," he says gently. "Let me have a look. Mine was acting up a few weeks ago too. It wouldn't turn on one night, and the next morning it was fine. These units haven't been updated in years."

But Peeta doesn't have any luck either. The oven remains dark, no matter how many buttons he presses.

It's only the fact that Peeta is standing beside her that keeps her temper in check; she's so frustrated that she really wants to take the four remaining eggs and throw them to the floor in rapid-fire succession.

"I guess there won't be any more baking tonight," she states the obvious and moves towards the cabinet to get some plastic wrap to cover the bowls of dough. She flinches when she senses him behind her and feels his strong hands kneading her shoulders. She relaxes into his touch, the tension in her body melting away under his able fingers and thumbs.

"It will work out, Katniss. Don't panic." His warm breath on the shell of her ear causes a shiver to race through her and raises the hair on the back of her neck.

His hands drop to his side when she turns to face him, swallowing involuntarily when she regards the way he looks at her. "I need five dozen more cookies by tomorrow night, and I have a full day of work and a potentially broken oven working against me. It's kind of hard not to panic."

"We can take the dough and go down to my apartment and bake them there," he offers.

She sighs and shakes her head. "Thanks for your help tonight, Peeta, but I can't impose on you anymore. You should really get going so you can get some sleep. I've kept you long enough."

"I really don't mind. It was my pleasure," he replies, leaning in. "I hope I can see you again soon, Katniss." He brushes his lips over her cheek. "Goodnight," he murmurs.

"Night," she echoes, walking him to the door. "Oh! The eggs!"

"I've got another dozen at home. Don't worry about them." One last smile, and she watches him retreat up the hall towards his apartment, her eyes following his ass beneath the sweatpants. Her stomach tightens, and when he reaches his door and turns to wave at her before disappearing inside, she closes the door and slumps against it, a maelstrom of emotions colliding within her.

And at the moment, the most prevalent one is the feelings that she's developed for Peeta Mellark.

On a whim, she pads into the kitchen the next morning, rubbing the sleep from her eyes, and she presses the 'start' button on the oven. The sharp chirp alerts her that it's starting up, and she stares at it in mild revulsion, turning it off immediately before going to take her shower.

She scrawls a quick note to Peeta; she doesn't have his cell phone for starters, and she wouldn't dare disturb his sleep twice in the span of twelve hours.

Hi, Peeta—

Would you believe the damn oven worked this morning? You were right. Guess I know what I'll be doing after school. Thank you again for your help last night. Hope you had a nice sleep.

The pencil hovers over the paper, and then she places it in her mouth and chews on the eraser as she contemplates that last line. She erases it and rewrites: Hope you got some sleep. She adds her name and shoves it under his door before she leaves for school.

It's a long day, longer than usual for a Friday. The kids are off the wall, but being the last day before holiday break, she kind of can't blame them. They're eight, and she remembers how excited she used to get for Christmas at that age, when her father was still alive, when her mother still smiled.

Most of the staff heads to Happy Hour to celebrate the impending break, but Katniss goes right home instead, knowing that she's going to have to bake until the minute that she leaves for Delly's place.

She hitches her messenger bag and purse higher on her shoulder, transfers the two bags stuffed with gifts from her students into her left hand, and climbs the last few stairs. As she fumbles with her keys, she stops dead in her tracks when she reaches her apartment door. Dropping her bags and purse, her jaw unhinges in shock.

In front of her door in a large wicker basket are neatly bundled parcels of cookies. She doesn't count them, but it's a safe bet there are nine of them. The little plastic bags are tied with shimmering red and green ribbons. She shakes her head in disbelief as she picks one up and examines the contents. The cookies are the color of molasses, with a pale tan glaze drizzled over the top and a few pecans arranged in a knot at the center. She fleetingly remembers Peeta talking about his father's famous gingersnaps, and she nearly drops the bag.

Then she sees the note. For a doctor, he has impeccably neat handwriting.


Save that cookie dough—maybe we can bake together again this weekend? Hope these are a hit tonight.


She glances from the cookies to the note then back to the cookies again, still too stunned by his act of thoughtfulness to move from where her feet remain rooted to the floor. No one has ever done something so kind for her. He had to have worked all morning and afternoon on these. These cookies are works of art.

When she finally regains use of her muscles, she sets the bag back down amongst the others and rushes down the hall to Peeta's apartment, knocking frantically on the door. When several minutes pass and it becomes apparent that he is not home, and not just sleeping, she walks back to her apartment, gathers her things, and brings the cookies inside.

And then she recalls him talking about his shift that night. He's at work. He's working the night shift at the hospital, and recognition crashes over her like a rogue wave. He spent the day baking for her when he should have been sleeping. Did he get any sleep?

She owes him. She owes him big.

Forget falling for Peeta Mellark—she's fallen for him. Completely. Suddenly, she wants nothing more than to see his handsome face and thank him in person, and then kiss him senseless.

But she's pretty sure if she shows up and wanders around the ER looking for him, it could make him just the tiniest bit uncomfortable. It's not like she's his girlfriend or anything. And she doesn't even have his cell phone to send him a text or leave a voicemail.

But she needs to do something to thank him, and when an idea germinates in her mind, she smiles. And she does have the time to do a little detective work.

Grabbing her cell phone, she does a quick search and gets the number for the hospital's switchboard. When the call connects and a monotone-sounding woman answers, she asks for the ER, but it takes several minutes of explaining that she does not have an emergency, no, she just needs to know if Doctor Peeta Mellark is on duty. The operator sounds thoroughly annoyed at this point, and Katniss assumes that the woman transfers the call just to be rid of her.

The main desk in the ER gives her the same kind of run-around before confirming that yes, Dr. Mellark is on rounds, but he's currently assisting in surgery, and he's unreachable. Katniss so much as suspected so, but she gets in one last question before hanging up.

Satisfied, she picks up her cell again and makes another call.

A soft knock on her apartment door rouses her from a sound sleep on Saturday morning. She cracks open an eyelid and peers at the clock, blinking rapidly to clear her vision, and she realizes it's nearly nine-thirty. Her head is a little fuzzy from the wine she had imbibed in at the cookie swap, but she's far from hung over.

There's a second, just-as-hesitant knock, and she sits up, running her tongue over her teeth and dragging her fingers through her long, tangled tresses. Her braid unraveled during the night, and when she glances down, two buttons of her pajama top are undone too. She flushes when she realizes just how restless she must have been in her sleep last night, her unconscious mind repeatedly conjuring up fantasies of Peeta.

Hastily, she re-fastens her hair into a ponytail and fixes her top before rushing to the door to open it.

Peeta gives her a wide smile, one hand bearing two cardboard to-go coffee cups, the other holding a white paper bag. "Good morning," he says, and in spite of his smile, she can see the exhaustion in his eyes and hear it in his voice. "How did the cookie thing go?"

"I actually had fun," she admits. "And your cookies were the highlight of the evening," she gestures for him to come inside.

"I hope you took full credit for them."

She arches an eyebrow at him. "Why would I have done that? Besides, Madge sold me out in two seconds flat."

"Well, I'm glad they did the trick." He sets the coffees down. "Thank you for the pizza. It was a really nice surprise, even if it was a little cold by the time I finally got to sit down for a second and eat a slice."

"It was the least I could do," she says. "Please tell me you got some sleep yesterday."

He shrugs sheepishly. "I'll get a few hours this morning before I start getting ready for my dinner thing later." He steps towards her and tucks a knotty strand of hair behind her ear. "All I could think about when I left the hospital this morning was coming to see you."

"You need to get some sleep," she murmurs, shivering as his palm caresses her cheek. "I'll sleep with you."

She sees the imperceptible darkening of his irises, and the implication of her choice of words hits her. "Oh…oh, god, I really meant…I meant I'd be glad to lie down with you and let you sleep."

He laughs softly and his thumb rubs along her jaw, the gentle caresses stoking a fire in her belly. "Katniss, if I lie down with you there is no way that I'm sleeping."

She wonders if he feels the same electricity crackling in the air, the same desire kindling in his veins. From the carnal glint in his blue eyes, she deduces that he does, but she hides her disappointment well when he lets go of her and walks towards the table.

"These are for you. I wasn't sure if you are a coffee drinker or a tea drinker, so I got you both. I figured you could give the other one to your roommate."

Katniss explains that Madge is gone for the weekend; she and Gale are taking his little sister into the city to see the tree and the windows all decorated.

"Then I guess those chocolate croissants are both yours, too," he adds with a laugh. "I am going to go try and sleep for a few hours. But I'm going to ask you a favor, if that's okay?" When she nods, he continues, "Come by this afternoon and keep me company while I cook?"

Even if she wanted to, she couldn't say no. After all, she owes him.

But this is a debt that she will gladly repay.

She can't go back to sleep after Peeta leaves, so she drinks the coffee and the tea, and eats both croissants, not the slightest bit ashamed for doing so, before showering and heading out for a few hours to do her Christmas shopping. There's such a meager amount of it that she has been procrastinating. Nothing she ever buys her mother elicits a reaction in the woman, so she usually just grabs some nice bath products for the nurses to use at the home, and purchases a few services from the stylist there so her mom looks nice for the holidays. But no amount of elegant chignons or painted fingernails can erase the melancholy from her mother's vacant blue eyes.

By early afternoon, she's got the gifts she needs for Prim and Rory, and for Gale and Madge, as well as something small for Gale's parents.

She also picks up a bottle of champagne and a bottle of Malbec. Madge is the wine expert, and Katniss vaguely remembers her raving about this particular red. She figures Peeta can use them with his friends that night.

She changes out of her jeans and into a pair of leggings and a silky tunic dress before going to Peeta's.

When he opens the door, the aroma of sage and onion immediately seduces her. The scent is heavenly, and to further enhance the scene, he has Christmas music piping from a small sound dock, and his tree and mantle are both lit.

"Hi." His lips graze her cheek, and it takes all her willpower not to push him up against the door and attack his mouth.

"I was doing some shopping, and I got these for you to put out tonight."

He accepts the bottles with a coy grin. "Did you know Malbec is my favorite? But the deal with my friends and our dinners is the guests bring the alcohol, so if you don't mind, I'm going to put this aside to enjoy another time, with someone special." There's a suggestive edge to his voice that makes her insides twist with anticipation.

"As for this—" he motions to the champagne, "I always cook better with a little bit of inspiration. Should I open it now?" He doesn't wait for her reply, but motions for her to follow him into his kitchen.

"What are you making?" she asks, sniffing deeply again. "'Cause it smells delicious."

Popping the champagne cork over the sink, he pours two glasses and hands her one while relating the dinner menu to her: an apple-and-sage stuffed pork tenderloin, as well as wild mushroom Wellington and a fig and blue cheese tart for his two vegetarian friends, along with a host of sides, and a spinach pomegranate salad for starters.

He clinks his glass against hers and takes a liberal sip. "I was just about to start on the red-velvet Bundt cake."

"What can I do to help?" she asks, sipping from her own glass.

"I didn't ask you to come over to put you to work, Katniss."

She watches him plug in an enormous stand mixer, one of those fancy Kitchen Aid ones, and she leans against the counter, rolling the stem of her glass between her palms. "But I'm here, and I'm happy to help," she says sincerely.

When Peeta shows her where the flour and baking powder and salt are, she measures them out and stirs the dry ingredients together, waiting for him to indicate she should begin gradually adding it to the batter that he's mixing.

It's not like the task he gives her is difficult, but as they did yesterday, they work together effortlessly, and she feels so at ease next to him, telling him about the cookie swap and listening to him talk about how much he's looking forward to the ER rotation ending right after New Year's and actually being in a pediatrician's office daily instead.

Once she's done incorporating the flour mixture into the batter, she sets the bowl aside and just admires the view as he finishes prepping the cake. He's got the sleeves of his button-down shirt rolled up, revealing the smooth skin of his forearms, and she longs to see more, envisioning those muscular biceps she caught sight of the other night when he answered the door shirtless. Unconsciously, her tongue darts out to moisten her lips, and she conjures up the memory of his mouth moving against hers.


She jumps, relieved that none of her champagne sloshes over the side of the glass, and meets his eyes guiltily.

He motions to the oven, which, from where she's standing, she's partially obstructing. She apologizes and moves swiftly, and as he slides the cake pan into the oven and sets the time for one hour, he places his hands on either side of her waist, fingers gripping the counter behind her. Almost instantaneously, he lifts one hand and swipes it along her cheek, causing her to suck in a sharp breath.

"You and flour," he murmurs, showing her the white powder on his thumb.

"You can't take me anywhere," she whispers, goose bumps rising all over, though her entire body feels as a fever rages within.

His lips curve into a lazy smile. "I can think of a few places I'd like to take you. We have an hour until that cake is ready."

"What are you waiting for then?" she challenges, hoping her voice stays steady.

He takes the champagne glass from her and sets it down, one hand finding her hip and the other cradling her neck, tilting her chin up to meet his lips. His body traps her against the counter as the kiss intensifies and his tongue plunders her mouth. She moans when he sucks urgently on her tongue, coaxing it to join his, and soon she finds her hips bucking into the bulge that's rapidly swelled in his pants, desperate to alleviate the sweet ache between her legs.

He spins her around, clutching the small of her back, holding her tightly against him as he walks her backwards, guiding her around the corner towards his living room. Their mouths remain fused together, and he only wrests his lips from hers when they reach the couch so that he can carefully lay her down, stretching out above her so as not to crush her with his weight.

"God you're beautiful," he whispers reverently, his mouth inches from her ear. His lips begin to worry her neck with soft, open-mouthed kisses then trail across to suckle on the column of her throat. Her palms splay over his back before she lets one hand wander to the nape of his neck to toy with the short hairs there.

She's not sure how long they lie on the couch, limbs completely entwined and absorbed in each other, but time seems to both slow down and race along much too quickly.

For the most part, Peeta is a gentleman, keeping his hands in more chaste places, like her waist, or weaving through her long hair. But she can feel him hard against her thigh, and she frequently finds herself angling her pelvis to rub against his erection, her clit begging for additional stimulation each time that she does. She wants more…needs more…and she decides to do something about it, but just as she grabs one of his hands and places it directly over her breast, his loud groan is quieted by the jarring beep of the oven. Have they really been making out for nearly an hour?

"Fuck," he curses softly, burying his face in the crook of her neck, his rapid breaths hot on her skin. As he disentangles himself from her, her gaze lands on the blatant tenting in his pants, and her clit throbs dully, missing the friction already.

"Give me a second." He leans down and kisses her again. "I need to get the cake out and on the rack to cool, but it can't be glazed for another hour, so…"

She nods her assent, and when he disappears, she collapses back on the couch and tries to regain some composure.

When he doesn't return for several minutes, she stands up and walks into the kitchen. "Everything okay?"

He twists around, a bowl in one hand and a whisk in the other. "Oh, yeah…" he motions to his arms, "I just forgot to make the glaze and thought I'd do it quickly. Someone got me a little distracted."

"I should probably go then," she says reluctantly. "You've got dinner for eight people to worry about."

He keeps whisking, but his face falls. "Oh, I didn't mean that in a bad way, Katniss. I knew full well when I asked you to come over that I likely wouldn't be able to control myself around you. I don't think you know…the effect you have."

Seemingly satisfied with the white substance in the bowl, he places it down and approaches her. "Do you really want to go?" he asks, sliding a lock of her hair between his fingers, his blue eyes fixed on her hungrily.

"No," she agrees slowly, "but I also don't want to overstay my welcome."

"I was actually just thinking how much I'd like it if you'd stay for dinner," he murmurs, nuzzling her neck, nibbling gently.

She bows her shoulders and arcs her spine, reflexively raising her chin to give him better access. "Peeta, no…I couldn't. I can't intrude on you and your friends. It would be…awkward for you, wouldn't it? Wouldn't they ask you all sorts of questions?"

He lifts his head and looks at her intently. "No more questions than the usual ones, like why I don't date more and how come I won't go out on this blind date or that one." He continues to say that while it wouldn't be awkward for him, he can see where it might make her uncomfortable, and he doesn't blame her for being hesitant to join them.

"But," he continues, "can I persuade you to wait up and join me for a nightcap once my friends leave? Our holiday dinner is almost always over by twelve. We save the late-night revelry for New Year's," he adds.

"Absolutely," she enthuses.

And then he pulls her to him and kisses her soundly, nearly stealing the breath from her lungs. Gesturing above their heads, he simply murmurs, "Mistletoe," before walking her to the door and giving her another lingering kiss. "I'll see you at midnight."

When she startles awake later, her apartment is cloaked in darkness, and her stomach growls loudly. The last thing she remembers is curling up on the couch with a Jennifer Echols novel, her mind desperately trying to resist flitting to thoughts of Peeta.

It's quarter to seven. She stretches and yawns, rolling her shoulders to loosen them, and her stomach growls loudly. She trips over her book when she stands, and she tosses it onto the couch and goes to heat up a bowl of soup.

She's about to raise the spoon to her lips when there's a melodic string of knocks on her door. Frowning slightly, she rests the spoon on the lip of the plate, and moves to answer the door.

Delly Cartwright stands before her.

"I knew it!" she giggles, her big blue eyes gleaming. "I knew your mysterious helper was Peeta Mellark! I'd know those gingersnaps anywhere."

"What?" Katniss blinks, gaping at her co-worker.

"My mother has known Peeta's mom for years. It's their cookie swap that gave me the idea for mine!" She begins to babble on and on about how her mother has been hosting her cookie swap for years and would go so far as to hide Peeta's dad's famous cookies from her and her father, and how when Katniss produced them last night and Madge had teasingly announced to everyone that Katniss had gotten help with her cookies, Delly suspected that Peeta had something to do with them.

When Delly finishes, she gives Katniss a conspiratorial smile. "I knew you guys would be good together. I wish you wouldn't have been so stubborn when I tried to set you up with him back in September."

She stares dumbly and Delly nods happily. "Remember when I told you a friend of mine had just moved back to the area, but you said you didn't do blind dates?" Delly pauses and grins triumphantly. "The only reason I didn't push you harder is by then Peeta had told me he had his eye on his neighbor down the hall. I just didn't put two and two together. But now—" she grabs Katniss by the hand and tries to lure her toward the door. "You're coming to dinner."

"Delly, what? No! I told Peeta I didn't want to impose—"

"He likes you, Katniss. He wants you. Trust me. He has been talking about you for weeks. Do this for him. And I promise you, our friends are normal people, and no one will give you and Peeta the third-degree," she pauses thoughtfully. "Well, maybe Johanna, but just ignore her. We all do."

Katniss bites her lip and absently plays with her hair. "I-I, uh, must have nodded off reading. I'm probably a mess. I should clean up a little"

"You look great. You always look great. Brush your hair, put on some lip gloss, and let's go."

The smile on Peeta's face when she walks into his apartment with Delly twists her stomach in a knot and resonates between her legs. He murmurs a quiet 'thank you' into her ear and ushers her into the living room to introduce her to all his friends, who sit around drinking wine and beer, talking amiably.

Delly is right—Katniss has no problem admitting it readily: Peeta's friends are normal. And nice. And easy to talk to, though she remains on the fringe of most of their conversations. At one point, she excuses herself and heads into the kitchen to see if she can't help Peeta get things ready.

She winds her arms around his waist from behind, rising onto her toes to rest her chin on his shoulder to watch him stir the demi-glace.

"I'm still holding you to that nightcap, you know," he says huskily.

"Oh, I'm not going anywhere," she purrs.

It's a tight fit around his dining room table, but it just means she sits close to Peeta throughout the meal, and at one point, his hand slips under the table to rest on her knee, squeezing it affectionately, and she immediately raises her wine glass to her lips to hide her smile.

Peeta is a phenomenal cook, and she can't remember the last meal that she enjoyed so much, and it makes her even happier that he keeps sneaking glances at her while she eats, clearly proud of his efforts.

She listens politely as Finnick and Annie talk about their upcoming wedding, and Thresh, who is a cop, tells about how he assisted in the delivery a baby on the side of the road yesterday. It earns him a reprimand from Johanna, who bluntly declares that he can share his heroics at a more appropriate time other than while people are trying to eat.

After dinner, they move into the living room for coffee and dessert, continuing to chat and laugh and share holiday plans. Peeta's hand occasionally settles over hers, his thumb moving in idle circles on the back of her palm.

If her body wasn't humming like a live wire, she'd almost be disappointed when just before midnight the first of his friends leaves, but then it's like the rest of them can't depart soon enough for her liking.

When only Delly remain, she and Peeta chat in low tones near the door, while Katniss remains on the couch, trying to get the remnants of cake crumbs to cling to the tines of her fork. Eventually he envelops Delly in a hug, and she calls over to Katniss to have a good Christmas and to enjoy her break.

Peeta closes the door, and they're finally alone.

She sets her plate onto the coffee table just as he reclaims his spot next to her on the couch, taking her hands in his. "That wasn't so bad, was it?" he smiles, caressing the back of her hand with his thumb again, sending little jolts of electricity up her arm. "They all liked you."

"I liked them."

"I like you," he adds, cupping her cheek. "You know I've had my eye on you since I moved in."

"I do know," she affirms. "Delly told me."

His eyes sparkle with laughter, reflecting the tree's lights and the candles' flames. "I should have made a move sooner."

"You can make one now," she murmurs.

His hands find her waist, and he pulls her into his lap, slanting his lips over hers. She lets her tongue trace the outline of his mouth, slipping past his teeth, and his tongue meets hers to dual for dominance.

She feels him growing hard beneath her, and she undulates her hips, whimpering her approval when he thrusts back eagerly.

He's bolder tonight than he was earlier that afternoon, because now his hands roam her body freely, one hand settling over her breast, testing its weight in his palm. His touch is like a tether to her core, and the familiar sweet ache builds below her navel.

"Peeta," she moans, and he draws back, gazing at her raptly, his pupils fat with lust, his lips swollen from her kisses. "Can we…"

He seems to immediately comprehend what she's asking, and her legs wrap around his waist as he stands and walks them into his bedroom.

"I'm not moving too fast, am I?" he whispers, as he sets her down and flicks on a small lamp near his bed.

She shakes her head. "I want you, Peeta…now." She hears an audible sigh from him.

He crushes his mouth to hers again, his other hand wending its way through her hair. She allows her fingers to graze up his sides, meandering across the sturdy plane of his chest to the top button of his shirt. Easing each one through its hole, she coaxes the shirt off his shoulders, and he assists her in tugging the t-shirt he wears underneath up and over his head.

Katniss holds him at arm's length for a moment to drink in his shirtless form. She's not sure where he finds the time to get his physique in such amazing shape, but it's a sight to behold, and he must sense her appraising him.

"Am I going to be the only one half-naked here?" he teases, gathering her hair into his fist, drawing her lips to his for another lingering, sensual kiss. The wetness pooling between her thighs emboldens her, and she reaches down to grip his hard-on, eliciting a deep groan from Peeta.

"You're not going to be half-naked for long," she retorts playfully, working at his belt.

He helps her undo his jeans; then he unlaces his shoes and pulls off his socks. And if she thought the sight of him shirtless could turn her legs to jelly, seeing him naked undoes her completely. Her heartbeat accelerates, and she clamps her thighs together staring at his cock, fully erect and ready for her. Fuck, he's beautiful.

"Your turn," he murmurs, licking his lips.

He watches her peel off her tunic dress, and his eyes are onyx when they lower to her breasts. She keeps going, removing her boots and leggings, and when she stands before him in her bra and underwear, he steps towards her. His thumb trails across the lace edging of the bra, just skimming the swell of her breast, and she shudders at the contact.

"Can I?"

She nods slowly, but he continues to run his thumb along her curves, and he lowers his head, his lips ghosting over the fabric, grazing one aching nipple with his teeth. She keens softly and arches into his mouth, desperate for him to remove the bra so she can feel his lips on her heated skin.

He smiles at her when he finally reaches around to release the clasp. "You're exquisite."

She resists rolling her eyes, because she's all too aware that her breasts are nothing special, but as Peeta eases the bra down her arms and bares her to him, the way he studies them certainly makes her feel like they are.

She fidgets under his intense stare, and when he does move, it's to hook his thumbs inside her panties and drag them down. She jolts when she feels his lips sweep over the small patch of neatly groomed hair.

His hands cup her ass, and he urges her backwards. Her knees hit the mattress, and he catches her as she falls, using his body to guide her down to the bed. His erection pokes at her thigh, and she mewls and shimmies her hips in a vain attempt to get him to settle his cock between her legs. He draws back, a mischievous glint in those darkened irises.

"Not yet," he reprimands, one finger drawing lazy circles around her navel. Lowering his mouth to her abdomen, his tongue follows the path his finger just took then continues upward, climbing her rib cage, slipping under the curve of her breast, before he licks her nipple back to a taut peak and sucks it into his mouth. His right hand gently kneads the other breast.

She cries out and arcs her back off the mattress, his tongue rolling and teasing and working her into a frenzy. Fuck, if he gets her this wet just from toying with her breasts, she can only imagine how quickly he'll push her over the edge if he…when he…


Her eyes roll back and her breaths slow to shallow rasps as his tongue laves across to her other nipple, but his hand settles between her legs, probing the damp heat experimentally, and when his fingers start to stroke her clit, she lets her legs bow to the side, opening herself to him fully.

"Do you know how incredibly sexy you look right now?" he growls in her ear, tugging her ear lobe between his teeth,

All she can manage in response is a strangled cry. His fingers seem determined to bring her to a swift climax, moving purposefully and expertly over the swollen bundle of nerves, and his touch is so, so much better than her own. As he kisses a path along her collarbone, up her neck to claim her mouth again, the tension in her belly crests, and her entire body seizes, overcome by wave after wave of bliss. She mumbles his name against his lips, and she feels them lift in a smile as he breaks away and gazes down at her.

"You're so fucking beautiful," he murmurs, his palm splaying over her breastbone; he has to feel the erratic thrum of her heart, struggling to recover from her orgasm. He shifts down, his cock grazing her belly as he goes, and he places his hands on her upper thighs, mouth poised before her entrance.

"What are you doing?" she gasps.

He grins, and his warm breath fans across her soaked core. "Making you come again. Is that a problem?"

"Ohhhhhh…god" she bites her lip as his tongue swirls through her arousal, seeking her clit. "Peeta…"


"I want…want to make you feel good too…"

He issues another slow lick up her slit and lifts his head to look at her. "Katniss, I'm so fucking hard for you right now that honestly, I don't know how long I'm gonna last when I finally get inside you. So let me have my way with you first, okay?"

Any further protest stills on her lips when he latches onto her and flicks his tongue back and forth over her clit. His arms pin her down, and within seconds, she feels the pleasure mounting once more. Heat floods her veins and blotches of color obscure her vision when it becomes too much and she succumbs to another orgasm.

She lays quiet for several moments before she can speak. "C-can I…"

"Can you what?"

"Can I touch you?"

He releases a shaky sigh. "Another time. I really want to feel you around me, okay?"

"Yeah…more than okay…" she whispers. He chuckles softly and covers her trembling body with his, peppering her temples and cheeks with soft kisses. Then he leans over and opens his bedside table drawer, rummaging around for a condom. He checks the back of it briefly and tears it open.

"Wait. Can I?"

To this, he nods, and she takes the condom from him, kissing him as she does. She can't resist wrapping her hand around his shaft first, sliding her palm up and down the smooth skin covering it. He feels amazing, and he bucks into her touch when she eases the latex over his hardened length.

She's so deliciously sated from her first two climaxes that when he tilts her pelvis up to him, and slowly enters her, the sensation of being stretched and filled by him inch by inch further sends her spiraling into oblivion. The satisfied groan that erupts from his throat thrills her, and as he starts pumping in and out of her, she screws her eyes shut and lets him take command, her fingers digging into his shoulder blades.

"Katniss…look…at…me," he gasps in between thrusts.

Lazily, she raises her eyelids and meets his impassioned gaze.

"There you are," he whispers with a sluggish smile. "Stay with me."

Their gazes are still locked when his hips begin to falter. Quickly, he snakes his hand down and rubs her clit, drawing out a whimper from her. As she feels herself start to ride out a third orgasm, he gives a final thrust before his cock throbs inside her, and her walls pulse around him.

He collapses, bracing his weight on his forearms. "Oh…fuck…oh…Katniss," her name leaves his lips in a sibilant hiss, and she vines her arms around his neck, clutching him to her.

"You felt unreal," he says when he finally pulls out of her and disposes of the condom.

She doesn't remember drifting off in the safe cocoon of his embrace, but she stirs awake sometime later and realizes that they must have fallen asleep shortly after making love because they're both still naked, and his hard-on presses insistently against her.

She feels Peeta's arm tighten around her waist, and his lips graze her ear. "Mmm, is it Christmas?"

Katniss yawns and opens her eyes, twisting her body as best she can to look up into his bleary blue orbs. "Unless we've been asleep for three days, no, not yet. Christmas is on Wednesday."

"Oh," he replies thoughtfully, nestling her closer to him, his hand mapping the curve of her waist and the slope of her hip. "Because I thought for sure it must be Christmas. Waking up with you in my arms…that's all I asked Santa Claus for."

"Peeta," she laughs.

"Oh, you don't believe me? When he made his rounds at the hospital to visit the children's wing last week, I strolled down there and asked him for the gorgeous dark-haired woman down the hall to finally notice me. I guess Christmas came early for me."

"Stop it," she says, flushing from his words.

He turns her around so she faces him, his erection now trapped between their lower halves, and he tips her chin up. "I'm serious, Katniss. You're all I wanted for Christmas."

"Well, you've got me," she murmurs, raking her fingers through his short, blond waves as he begins kissing her neck. "So now what are you going to do with me?"

"Hmm…I'm gonna keep you right here, all to myself, until I have to leave for the hospital this afternoon."

She smiles coyly. "I'm completely okay with that agenda, Dr. Mellark."

Two Christmases later…

The first thing Katniss smells when she opens their apartment door is cinnamon, and then the notes of the Nutcracker Suite reach her ears, and she can hear him moving about in the kitchen. She grins and shrugs off her coat, unwinds her scarf and sets down her shopping bags on the couch, then tiptoes in to loiter behind him, waiting for him to sense her presence.

She watches him measure out flour, sugar and baking soda before he reaches above his head and removes the vanilla and almond extracts from the cabinet where he stores his spices and things. She cocks her head and lets her eyes wander to his ass, snug in his favorite jeans, and she clears her throat quietly.

Peeta turns around, his blue eyes rounding then crinkling into a smile as he closes the cabinet and draws her to him for a kiss 'hello.'

"Did you make progress with your shopping?" he asks

She nods. "Just one or two things left to buy for a certain, handsome blond doctor." His hands skate down her sides to settle on her hips, and as he begins to nuzzle her neck, she cranes it to the side, peering around him to scan the contents on the counter. "Mmm, what are you sending me with this year?"

He laughs against her skin. "They're called Mockingjays. Oatmeal and cinnamon and pecans with some dried pineapple."

"They sound delicious. And so not something I could make alone."

"Katniss," he chuckles again, "you're not fooling anyone at that cookie swap. But like my mother, your friends don't care because they love my cookies. But I'll give you this, at least you always help me." He brushes his lips over hers, giving her a few quick pecks before he steps back and turns his attention back to his baking. "Oh, I need six eggs. Grab them from the fridge for me?"

When she lifts the carton of eggs from the shelf, she frowns and tests its weight in her hand. It doesn't feel half full. She sets them down on the counter next to the mixing bowl, and she becomes vaguely aware of the fact that Peeta, though diligently creaming the butter, vanilla, and brown sugar together, keeps darting his eyes toward her.

"I'm ready for the eggs," he says, and she swears his voice wobbles just slightly. She arches an eyebrow at him, but opens the lid.

It takes a moment for her to comprehend what she's seeing, but the longer she stares, her pulse quickens, and she blinks rapidly, her fingers shaking.

"Peeta, what…?"

He turns off the mixer and glances down at the carton, and the smile that lights his face leaves little debate as to his intentions. "Look at that," he muses softly, lifting the ring from the Styrofoam niche.

"P-Peeta," she stammers again, "what's going on?"

He gently takes her left hand in his, and when his eyes lock on hers and he uses one finger to hold her chin in place, he says, "I'm asking you to marry me, that's what's going on."

Her heart rate gallops as he continues, "I had this big long speech prepared, but I'm going to be honest, Katniss, the second I saw you standing behind me, I forgot everything I was going to say. You still see what an effect you have on me, even after two years together?"

"You're doing fine so far," she whispers, squeezing his hand.

He smiles, and she thinks that maybe his hand might be quaking a little, too, when he moves to slide the sparkling diamond solitaire onto her ring finger. He adjusts it and holds her hand from underneath so she can gawk at the ring resting there, looking like it's always belonged. "Katniss Everdeen, will you do me the honor of letting me help you cheat at cookie swaps for the rest of our lives? Will you marry me?"

Just before the first hot tears prick at the corner of her eyes, she laughs giddily and manages to nod yes, a current of elation and shock surging in her. "Yes. Yes!" she exclaims when she finds her voice.

His face breaks into the broadest grin she can ever recall seeing, and he frames her cheeks with his hands and captures her lips sweetly. "I love you," he rasps when their mouths eventually separate.

"I love you," she echoes, eyes flitting back down to the stunning ring.

He motions to the counter. "So about your cookies?"

She shakes her head deliberately and places her hands on his hips, tugging him towards her. "The damn cookies can wait."

Many thanks to Jessa (misshoneywell) for organizing and moderating Prompts in Panem. So many wonderful stories come out of these challenges, and it's her baby, so she deserves all the credit in the world. Please be sure to check out the PiP tumblr or read and review the authors when they post here.

Thanks to iLoVeRynMar, streetlightlove, and HGRomance for reading and suggesting and generally being amazing friends. ILY gals more than you know!

And thank you to the incomparable Ro Nordmann for her gorgeous banner, given the lame summary I gave her. She's a genius.

Thanks for reading! Happy Holidays! ~Court