The Stalker

This is based off a snippet of a story I heard on the radio, about a guy falling in love with a girl who works at a store. I know Katniss working at a sports good store has been done before, but I got a lot of Everlark feels when I heard the story. (FYI, Scheel's is a sporting goods/outdoors kind of store. Think LLBean, and add team sports as well).

Lots of clichéd Christmas fluff for ya'll. Happy Holidays everyone!

Peeta walked into the giant Scheel's store quickly in order to escape the bitter winter winds outside. He shoved his hands deep into his coat pocket and jogged the rest of the way in. He was here to buy a Christmas gift for his older brother Josh, who had suddenly decided that camping and living in the Great Outdoors was his calling, despite being a complete novice. But the appearance of a new girlfriend, who dragged Josh from one National Forest to another, and suddenly he wanted nothing but camping equipment to fund his new-found dedication to all things that Wool or Sweater or whatever her name loved.

Once inside, Peeta tried to figure out where to go. The place was huge, and everywhere he looked, he saw equipment he didn't even know the names of and dead stuffed animals, staring at him with glassy eyes and a look of nonchalance. Not that Peeta minded the idea of dead animals – he enjoyed his meat and potatoes diet like every other warm-blooded Midwesterner – but he preferred not to see their faces pointed directly at him.

He sighed in relief when he saw a counter off to one side, with a large sign above that read "Help Desk." There was no one there as he walked over, but he rang the bell and rocked on his heels, wanting to get this shopping trip, any shopping trip really, over as quickly as possible.

A tall girl with a spiky pixie cut came out from the back. He was pretty sure that she saw him, but rather than approach the desk with a friendly hello, she seemed to purposely keep her back to him as she rifled through some papers on the back counter.

After almost 30 seconds of this, Peeta cleared his throat. The girl waved her hand towards him, but didn't turn around. "Be right with you!" she says over her shoulder towards him, in a voice that was somehow surly and seemingly professional at the same time.

Another minute goes by, and at this point, Peeta is about ready to walk out the door and hand Josh an envelope of cash. But then the girl turns around and stares Peeta in the eye. "Hey Brainless," she shouts. "Got a customer."

She winks at Peeta as she walks by. "Sorry, not my department. Happy Holidays!" And Peeta swears that she looks him up and down once before sauntering off across the store.

When Peeta turns back around to face the counter, he is met by a pair of silver gray eyes staring back at him. His breath stalls in his lungs and he immediately thinks to himself, I'm a goner.

This girl, whom the other called Brainless, had rich chocolate brown hair pulled back in a long braid, dangling over her right shoulder. Her skin was a smooth olive, with just a speckle of light brown freckles across her nose and cheeks. She was petite and thin, but definitely not frail, and she stood with her back completely straight and rigid. He noticed a blush growing across her cheeks and her mouth moving, which made her even more beautiful, which made him want to reach out and stroke her face, but he was so dumbfounded that he didn't catch what she was saying.

"I'm sorry, what?" he shook his head in attempt to clear away the fog he just entered.

"Can. I. Help. You," the girl repeated slowly, her eyebrows raised.

"Yes, sorry, I, um. Yeah, I need some help," Peeta stumbled. Pull it together, man, he told himself.

"I think we've established that," she said, tilting her head to one side and still looking at him like he was a moron.

"Yes, sorry, um, I need to buy a gift. For my brother."

She looked down and started flipping through a thick catalog on the counter. "OK, so what do you want to buy?"

Think, Peeta, think, he told himself. "Um, camping stuff, I guess. Sorry, I don't really know what I want to get him."

"You don't have to keep apologizing, you know," she said, looking up at him through her thick black lashes. God, those eyes are going to be the death of me, Peeta thought.

He sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, yeah, I know. It's, uh, a bad habit, I'm sure."

The girl smiled, and went back to looking at the catalog, flipping to the camping section. Peeta took the opportunity to glance down at her nametag. It read "Katniss" in large black letters, and she had a large sticker of a kitten playing with a ball of yarn placed on the top corner. It was an opener, at least.

"So, Katniss, do you like cats?"

"Excuse me?" she glared up at him with a scowl on her face. Peeta pointed to her nametag and she snorted. "Oh, that. Gale likes to call me Catnip, and he thought this would be funny. Sick sense of humor, I suppose."

He? Shit, Peeta thought, boyfriend. "Oh, so Gale is your…"

"Hunting partner. And best friend, until he put this on my nametag this morning. I haven't been able to peel it off yet."

Potentially no boyfriend, Peeta plotted. "So Katniss, that's an usual name."

She rolled her eyes. "Yes, it is," she sighed. "I get that a lot. It's a plant. My parents were into that sort of thing."

"Could be worse," Peeta smiled. "At least you're not named after a piece of bread." She turned her head curiously toward him, and Peeta unzipped his fleece jacket to reveal his Mellark's Bakery polo, complete with "Peeta" embroidered neatly on his chest.

Katniss chuckled, and Peeta immediately decided that he wanted to hear more of that laugh. "A baker, huh?"

"Yeah, it's the family business. Really mine, at this point, since my father is basically retired. But yes, I was named for the business, I suppose."

"So what's your brother's name, Rye?" she smirked sarcastically.

Peeta let his face go completely blank. "Yes," he deadpanned.

"Oh," Katniss blushed, and shook her head, looking back at the catalog. "I'm sorry, that was rude. Um, so what kind of camping equipment does Rye already own?"

Peeta couldn't stand how cute she was when she got flustered. "Katniss. I'm kidding, his name's Josh." Katniss let out a laugh in relief and seemed to relax. "Um, I think he has the basics, tent, grill, sleeping bag. I don't want to spend too much, but I thought something different, that maybe he hasn't thought of before?"

"Sure," Katniss said, and turned a few pages before flopping the catalog on the counter before Peeta. She leaned in and pointed to a few items, and Peeta had to stop himself from breathing in her scent too deeply. She smelled like pine needles, and her breath was warm and sweet. He caught just the faintest glimpse of her sports bra as she leaned over. Peeta held his own breath in, worried that if he let go, he would kiss her right here in the store.

He barely processed what she said to him, and before he knew it, he had agreed to buy whatever it was that she was showing him. She stepped out from around the corner and waved for him to follow her towards the camping section. Peeta took the opportunity to admire the rest of her body, and it didn't disappoint. Her work shirt was tucked haphazardly into a pair of thin corduroys, which were tucked into a pair of tall hunting boots lined with fleece. He could tell that these weren't the fluffy suede boots that every single girl seemed to own, but actual functional boots, worn and covered in mud around the edges. But the way her lean body still curved itself inside those pants…This girl was something else, he surmised.

She stopped in front of a display and started handing him plastic sleeves. "Here, if he doesn't have a good multi-tool, he might as well not even bother. Leatherman is a popular brand, and this one has…" and she rattled off a bunch of different features for each one. But all Peeta could think about was her lips, and watching the way that with each pause, she would curl her bottom lip inside her mouth and how much he wanted to do the same to her. Don't be a creep, don't be a creep, he chanted inside his head, and he hoped that she didn't catch him staring the way he really wanted to. He found himself nodding at almost everything she said.

Before he knew it, he walking back with her to the counter and purchasing a $150 steel pocketknife for his stupid older brother.

"OK, here's your gift receipt and your gift. I hope Josh/Rye likes it. Have a good day," she said, handing him a small plastic bag. He stood there for a moment, just holding the bag in his hand, and Katniss gave him that look again. "And, Happy Holidays."

"Right, right, thank you for your help, Katniss." Shit, he thought, there's really no reason for me to keep talking to this girl and I really don't want to go.

"No problem," she waved.

"Bye." He stepped away from the counter, walking backwards a few steps, before chastising himself and forcing himself to turn around and walk away. At least she knows my name, he thought sadly as he walked back to his car.


The next day at work, Katniss was once again at the help desk. She was relatively new, and therefore didn't have the seniority to negotiate for a better position. She had originally filled out the application because Gale had worked there forever and was already a shift manager. He had told her to just apply, had told her that with her skills and knowledge of all things outdoors, she would be in archery or behind the gun counter, and it would be an easy paycheck. And since she needed the second job to pay for Prim's nursing school, she took the chance.

But by the time she got interviewed, hired, trained in a mindless 8 hour day with HR, and filled out her paperwork, it was the Christmas season, and all the college kids with more experience at the store were back wanting their positions and as many hours as possible. So Katniss was relegated to the help desk, where she stood for hours on end, showing people over and over again the same things, the same buy one get one free waterproof gloves, the same plastic circle sleds that were advertised week in and week out.

Today was a slow, she thought, as she leaned her elbows against the counter, waiting for something to happen. She wasn't supposed to leave her post, but what else was she supposed to do on a Monday morning? Everyone was at work or in school, so Katniss grabbed a piece of scrap paper and a calculator to figure out what her paychecks from Scheel's and her tips from her waitress job would produce this month. No matter how many times she wrote out the numbers, she never seemed to break even.

She was so deep in crunching numbers that she didn't hear the customer come up to the counter. Eventually, she saw something out of the corner of her eye and jumped.

"Oh, sorry, I didn't see you there." It was Peeta, the cute blond baker from the day before. Johanna spent the rest of yesterday's workday teasing her about him, saying how she'd love to deck his halls, much the chagrin of Gale, her supposed boyfriend (but really, her fuck buddy). Katniss ignored her taunts, and told herself that handsome blond men do not pick up girls like her at, of all places, Scheel's. Though she couldn't help herself but imagine what it would be like to actual act out some of Johanna's fantasies about him.

Katniss looked up into his deep blue eyes and found herself exactly where she was yesterday – flustered and sweating. Who has blue eyes like that anymore? And a mop of adorable blond waves? Weren't they extinguished from all places except Sweden?

"Oh, hi Katniss. Gosh, what a coincidence, you working here again today," Peeta said rapidly. Off to the corner, Johanna snorted.

"Yeah, I've been picking up extra shifts when I can. So I basically live here," she told him.

"Well, at least I know where to find you then." Katniss blushed deeply and looked down at her hands. Why were her palms so sticky right now? And why does he have to be so ridiculously cheerful and adorable? Most of the guys who came in the store were older, balder, and sporting at least a small gut. Or they were complete douchebags, dressed from head to toe in North Face gear and spouting off snowboarding slang.

Katniss realized she and Peeta had been staring at each other in silence when Johanna spoke up in her usual blunt tone. "So, can Brainless over here help you with something?"

"Yes, yeah, um…so I have another brother. Also not named Rye." This earned a smile from Katniss, and made Peeta's smile even wider. "You were so helpful yesterday that I was hoping you could help me check another gift off my list."

"Of course!" Katniss said a little too enthusiastically and then cringed. At least he was here to shop, she told herself. Of course he was; why else would he be here? She went into her corporate-sponsored schpeel of how to narrow down the options, and lead Peeta towards a display of men's field watches.

"This is great!" Peeta told her after she had rung him up. "Paul will love it, I just know it!"

"You're welcome. Have a nice day."

"Thanks, you too, Katniss. I'll, um, see you later." Katniss noticed that he seemed different, almost forlorn as he walked away, clutching the plastic bag in his fist. Just before leaving the store, he turned around one last time, but Katniss was already looking down at the counter, filling out some paperwork.

But Johanna saw.

"You really are brainless, aren't you?" Katniss turned around to find Johanna, leaning against the wall behind the counter.

"What?" she scowled. Katniss didn't exactly like Johanna, but she didn't hate her either. She more or less tolerated her, mostly for Gale's sake, and saved liking her for the nights they all went out drinking. Johanna, drunk or sober, was a lot of fun while one was drunk. Sober, however, was another story.

"Blondie over there has the hots for you."

Katniss waved Johanna away and went back to her work. "OK, Johanna, whatever you say," she said, rolling her eyes.

"I'm serious, he likes you. A lot. Why else would he come in two days in a row? And stalk the perimeter of the store until you were up here? It's not like he needs help finding a freakin' watch. They're right there." She pointed to the display about 10 feet away from the counter. The watches were indeed one of the first stops in the store.

"Johanna, he does not like me. He, he just needs some help, that's all."

"No, trust me, he likes you. And you, missy, need to get laid."

Katniss turned bright red. "I get laid!" she exclaimed, turning around.

"No, you don't. Battery-operated toys don't count."

Katniss scrambled to defend herself. "What about Darius? I slept with him."

"HA! Katniss, you dated him almost a year ago, and slept with him once. And from what I remember, you said it was like kissing a dead tree." Katniss looked to the side, hoping, praying that no one could hear Johanna exploit the details of her love life…or lack thereof.

"Look, Katniss, I like you. Sort of. And Gale loves you. You're like his weird little pet that follows him around, picking up dead ducks and getting patted on the head." Katniss scowled at her. "But you need to get out there. Life is too short to dwell on the past."

"I'm not-"

But before she could protest, Johanna cut her off. "Yes, you are. I've been there, Kat. You lost your father. I get it. But do you think he would want you to live like this? Make his life count by living yours. He would want to see you be happy." She pushed herself off the counter roughly. "Think about it, ok? Besides, I'm sick of seeing your ass on our dates. You need a man."

Katniss was left standing behind the help desk, completely stunned. And also thinking that she just might like Johanna after pictured her father grilling her dates while cleaning his rifle, like he always said he would, and it made her smile. Her father would have liked the nice, young baker.


By December 23, Peeta was running out of excuses to shop at Scheel's. Besides the gifts for his brothers, he also got his college football-crazed father a MSU sweatshirt, his sister-in-law a yoga DVD, his mother an overpriced Fossil travel bag (which she would probably return anyways), and a pound of candy cane fudge for each of the bakery's employees. He even bought that sweater girl – her name was actually Cashmere – a guidebook of local camping sites, hoping that she wouldn't drag his brother away from his share of bakery duties.

Everyone on his list was crossed off, but Peeta still felt himself drawn to the store. Really, just drawn to Katniss. He hadn't gone in to the store yesterday or today, after going there literally every day for the past week, and he missed her. He had made it his mission to learn as much about her as he could. He learned that was 23 and lived with her little sister in town. She worked at Chili's as a bartender as well, and she hated it. She loved the outdoors, especially hunting and fishing, and was "pretty decent" with a bow. He learned that she always smelled like pine needles and a little bit of peppermint chapstick, and that she played with the end of her braid when she was nervous. She always wore the same hunting boots, and was the only person he ever met that loved white chocolate. Her favorite color was green (as was his mother's new purse), and she had a smart-alack sense of humor that he loved. When he said something particularly funny (and he spent all his free time lately trying to come up ways to make her laugh), she snorted and covered her mouth with her hand.

He couldn't stop thinking about her.

The last time he was in Scheel's, he had brought a white box of assorted cookies from the bakery for her, including some recent experiments with white chocolate. As a thank you for all her help, he told her. She had turned pink in her cheeks and tried to hide her smile, and Peeta found it all the more adorable. He invited her to come to the bakery some time, promising her the employee discount of "free." She pursed her lips and told him, "Maybe." It wasn't a no, though, and it gave him hope.

But that was two days ago, and she still hadn't come in. And he was afraid to show up at Scheel's without a reason to be there. What would he tell her, that he was there just to see her? She would obviously think him some sort of creepo stalker, and report him immediately to her manager. He could show up at Chili's, but that would be even worse. Maybe once Finnick comes in to town to visit his folks, he could convince him to go out for a drink there. Of course, there's always the chance that Katniss would be more interested in Finnick, who can't help but charm women away from Peeta as he had since high school. Finnick could be your best wingman or your worst enemy, depending on the girl. And Peeta didn't want to take any chances with this one.

He sighed and tried to return his throats to the sugar cookies he was decorating. Maybe today would be the day she would come in…


Katniss hated her job. Both of them, really, but at least at Scheel's she could lie to herself about having some interest in the commodities she sold. But she really, really hated working at Chili's. She hated the greasy food, the kitsch-in-a-box décor, the over-priced drinks, the kiss-ass waiters with their eye on assistant manager positions. No, she hated this job more than any other.

But it paid well, at least for this area, and for some reason, the customers liked her surly attitude. Chalk it up to a lack of 90s-era TGIFridays or something. Haymitch, her manager, let her do whatever she liked, and left her alone; then again, he left everyone alone, since at any given moment he was either half-drunk, full drunk, or trying to get drunk.

The restaurant was fairly crowded, mostly with shoppers carrying ridiculous paper bags on their arms, desperate for a table and a reprieve. Katniss had made an impressive number of drinks for an afternoon, and her feet were killing her. Between Chili's and Scheel's, she was working about 60 hours a week, and while the money was coming in, she was regretting her decision to burn the candle at both ends. She was looking forward to Christmas just so she could have a day off.

The hostess was starting to seat people at the bar as well, and Katniss saw two men being sat over at the corner of the bar. Without looking up, she grabbed two glasses for water and starting scooping ice. "What can I get you ?" she said unenthusiastically.

"Hi Katniss." She stopped, recognizing that voice, and her stomach fell to her feet. Shit, she thought. I look like hell.

"Oh, hi Peeta." Those eyes, dear lord they will be her undoing. She could feel herself getting wet just looking at him. What the hell was wrong with her? She placed the glasses in front of him and his friend and started toying with the end of her braid. "What, er, what brings you in here?"

"Food," he replied with a grin, holding up his menu.

"Right, sorry, of course." Pull yourself together, Katniss told herself. She tried to smooth out the front of her shirt, only to find that it was mostly covered in liquor and clung to her stomach.

"Katniss, this is my good friend, Finnick." Peeta pointed to the guy sitting next to him. He had copper hair with way too much product in it, and was far too handsome for Katniss's taste. A pretty boy, she immediately thought.

His friend reached out a hand to her. "Finnick Odair, me lady, and let me say, that your reputation precedes you." He went to kiss the back of her hand, and Katniss roughly pulled it away, scowling hard at him.

But Finnick only winked at her and laughed. "You said this one was sassy, didn't you Peet?"

Peeta blushed and stumbled a few words out, which only made Finnick laugh harder. Katniss crossed her arms and glared at him.

"Hey now, don't put me on your shit list yet, honey. I'm just here to support my best buddy," he slapped Peeta across the back, "and to enjoy a fine dining experience here at Chili's. How about a couple of beers? Whatever you have on tap."

Katniss leaned over to grab a couple of pint glasses and she felt two pair of eyes on her. She was used to men ogling her from behind the bar, but this felt different. She wished she had worn her nicer work pants that day.

While she filling their glasses, her good friend and coworker Annie sidled up to Peeta and Finnick's bar stools and gently laid two coasters down. "Hi, I'm Annie, and I'll be your server today. Can I start you guys off with some appetizers?"

Finnick looked up and Katniss swore that she saw him turn pale, and for the first time since he sat down, he seemed speechless. "Um, ahh, we, um…"

"We need a few more minutes," Peeta interjected, and Annie nodded, giving Finnick a weird look before she turned around to check on her other tables. Finnick watched her walk away and then grasped his shirt.

"Be still my heart. Who was that lovely creature?" he asked no one in particular, and Katniss rolled her eyes.

"That's Annie, and she's my friend, so lay off, Casanova."

"Why Katniss, we just met and already you have me pegged for a player? Tsk, tsk."

Katniss pointed a finger in his face. "I know your type, and I know how to shoot a gun. So watch it."

Peeta laughed and waved in Finnick's direction. "Pay no attention to him, he's harmless, really."

Annie had headed to the cash register and Finnick leaped from his seat. "I'll be back. I need to make a second first impression on the future Mrs. Odair." Katniss began to argue against him, but it was too late. Finnick was already standing next to Annie, who was trapped between him and a wall.

"Don't worry, I'll keep an eye on him. He means well, he's just, ah…"

"A man whore?"

"Friendly, I was going to say."

Katniss laughed nervously, and felt a bit more relaxed. This was the Peeta that she knew from Scheel's – laid back, funny, and his eyes never leaving hers. Somehow the thought of him made her more nervous than actually being around him.

Other customers kept pulling Katniss away, but she kept a close eye on Peeta and his friend, who, unfortunately for Annie, kept an eye on her. But somehow, all his charm and persistence paid off, and by the end of their meal, Katniss caught her writing out her number for him on the back of the receipt.

"You better not give this away, now, Finnick?" she teased him.

Finnick folded the receipt into a tiny square and slipped it into his shirt pocket. "It's close to my heart already. As are you." And he bent over to gallantly kiss her hand. Annie giggled; Katniss scoffed audibly.

Peeta shoved his hands into his coat pocket and stood up from his bar stool. "Again, I apologize for my friend. He's been like that since the 8th grade."

Katniss smiled. "Don't worry about it; as you can see, my friend doesn't seem to mind." An awkward silence soon followed.

"So, uh, do you have a lot of plans for the holidays?"

Katniss shrugged. "Not really. Just hanging out with my sister, and maybe go over to Gale's for dinner. His parents are sort of my surrogates in town. You?"

"Same. I mean, family and food. Lots of baking to do beforehand, tomorrow's going to be killer at the bakery." He rubbed the back of his neck and looked down at the bar. "You should, uh, stop by, if you want. I can still give you that discount."

"OK!" Katniss said a little too enthusiastically. "I mean, sure, maybe. If I have time."

"OK, well, if I don't see you, have a Merry Christmas, Katniss."

"You too, Peeta." She wasn't sure what to do next – they were both still standing there, the conversation hanging in the air. Should she hug him? No, that would be weird, you don't hug customers. But do something, she told herself.

She thrust her hand towards him for a handshake. As she did, she kicked herself – a handshake, really, Katniss? This isn't a business negotiation. Peeta smiled and slipped his hand into hers. Her hand disappeared into his warm, calloused one, and for a second, he rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb. Then, just as quickly, he withdrew his hand, and Katniss felt her own hand grow cold. He continued to linger, and Finnick was already motioning for him at the door to hurry up.

Another server walked up to the bar, asking for two margaritas for table 10. Katniss nodded and started making the drinks. "OK, so I'll see you around," Peeta said and she waved up at him, not wanting to glance up, not wanting to acknowledge what she knew she couldn't have. Looking up would mean she would have to see those blue eyes again and she couldn't bear to look.


This is so stupid, Katniss said as she paced outside the bakery shop window. He's just some customer. What if Johanna is wrong? He probably has a girlfriend that he bought diamond stud earrings for, nothing that a "outdoors lifestyle store" would sell. She probably wore cute little outfits and nightgowns and didn't snort at jokes. Why am I even here?

She was there because she couldn't stop thinking about those blue eyes, that half-cocked smile, and him. And since Johanna hadn't stopped bugging her after she devoured that box of cookies all by herself, she summoned up the courage to go visit him at the bakery. He had invited her, after all, and hadn't he seen her at both of her jobs? It was only fair, and it was only a visit. Plus, she did need something to bring to the Hawthorne's tomorrow morning.

Eventually, though, the cold air won its battle against her, and she decided that there was no harm in going inside just to warm up. She didn't even see him through the window, so he wouldn't know she had been there. Just a quick cup of coffee to go and then she could forget all this nonsense.

It was Christmas Eve, after all, and according to the sign on the door, the bakery was going to close soon. The streets were starting to empty out, and the only person in the bakery was a young teenager sweeping the floors. Katniss had to admit that the bakery was charming. Some places try too hard to be bohemian chic, but this one had just the right amount of comfort and practicality. She passed a few tables and booths, canisters of coffee beans, and a long glass case. Along the walls were old black and white pictures featuring the bakery and the town, long before the suburban sprawl and mini-marts had taken over. Katniss found herself peering into them, finding one blonde baker after another, until she reached a faded color picture of a little boy and his father. Both of them were wearing white aprons, although the boy's pooled on the stool he was standing on. The father was beaming from behind the boy's head, and the little boy had shoved a whisk covered in batter into his mouth, smiling despite it. She recognized that little boy and those big blue eyes immediately.

Katniss was startled by a voice shouting from the back. "Thom, I can finish up, why don't you go on home? And turn the sign over on the way out." The teenager apparently didn't want to waste any time and was out the door in a flash.

Katniss stood awkwardly in the middle of the shop, unsure of what to do. She decided to explore her options for the Hawthornes, and leaned over at her waist to get a better glimpse at the cookies behind the glass. Her hunting ears heard footsteps coming . "Sorry, we're almost closed up for the night. Can I help you with something?"

Katniss stood up and once again, found herself staring at Peeta, who seemed just as surprised to see her.

"Katniss," he said in an almost whisper, as if he was speaking to himself.

Katniss pulled familiarly at her braid. "Hi."

"Hi. You came."

"Yeah, I, um, was hoping to get some Christmas cookies. You know, so I could pass them off as homemade since I can't bake."

Peeta laughed. "So you want me to help you with a Christmas lie? I'm not sure how I feel about that."

Katniss crossed her arms and pretended to be angry. "Well, I would think that after all that holiday shopping for your family that I did…"

"OK, OK, you got me. I tell you what. Those cookies have been in the case since 4:00 this morning, and I have to make up a few more batches for my own family. Why don't you help me, and then you can actually say that you made them yourself."

Katniss got quiet for a moment. She didn't come in here expecting Peeta to make her cookies from scratch; she wasn't sure what she expected, but her heart was racing and her body was telling her to say yes! yes! yes!

"Or, I mean, if you have plans, it's ok, it is Christmas Eve after all."

"No plans," Katniss admitted shyly, pulling at her braid.

"Well, come on then!" Peeta gestured for her to join him in the back. Nervously, even shaking just a little, she accepted.


A hour later, covered in flour and sugar, wearing his father's apron, Katniss found herself listening to Christmas music and laughing in Peeta's kitchen. Peeta may be handsome, Katniss decided – and look damn good in a white tshirt and apron – but it was his personality, his sense of humor that drew Katniss to him. He told her stories of growing up in the bakery, of dough fights with his brothers and exploding coffee makers. Peeta did most of the actual baking, but Katniss prided herself on measuring and cutting out shapes of rolled cookie dough onto the greased sheets.

Peeta had decided that she should decorate her own sugar cookies, and what a sorry mess she was making in the process. The bag of frosting that Peeta had handed her was flopping over in her hands and she couldn't control it the way he showed her to. She wiped away some loose hairs around her face and huffed in frustration.

Peeta glanced over from the sink of dishes. "What's wrong?"

"This! I mean, how can you sit here and patiently fill in these little stars and snowmen and not want to end yourself!" She let the bag, already leaking red frosting, slump onto the counter.

Peeta wiped his hands on a towel and came over to her station. "Here, let me show you." He picked up the bag and stood behind her. "Hold your hands like this, and I'll guide you." Peeta placed her hands under his and, wrapping his arms around her, slowly began to fill in the cookie shapes in front of them.

She couldn't pay attention to anything except how good he felt, how good he smelled, how her back was arched ever so slightly into him. She dared to peak up at him, and saw that his tongue was sticking out between his lips in concentration. As her neck turned towards him, his hands stopped, and he peered down at her with hooded eyes. "Katniss," he said once more, and then…

She wasn't sure who made the first move, maybe it was her, maybe it was him, but in any case his lips met hers and she was on fire.

He moved against her slowly, softly, leaving her wanting more. But when she tilted her head slightly to the side, he took advantage and deepened the kiss, stroking her bottom lip gently until she granted him entrance, and then their tongues wove against each other, causing a moan to emit deeply from his throat. She spun around, still in his arms, and reached up around his neck. The kiss became deeper, more sloppy, more passionate, and his hips, with a mind of their own, pushed against her until she was flush between him and the counter.

Without breaking away from her mouth, he swiftly lifted her up by her thighs and sat her on the counter. She could feel some of the cookies she had just decorated stick the sides of her jeans, but she didn't care. He stepped forward in between her legs and she spread them apart further to accommodate him, eventually pulling him closer to her with the backs of her ankles. He kissed her until she was breathless, and when she finally had to pull away to catch her breath, he kissed and sucked his way down her neck.

"Peeta," she whispered, still out of breath, still trying to register what was happening. He stopped what he was doing – oh, please don't stop, she thought – and came up to face her, his forehead resting against hers.

He sighed. "I wanted to do since the moment I first saw you."

Katniss pulled back slightly, shocked. "Seriously?"

"Of course," he laughed under his breath. "Did you really think that all of my Christmas shopping needed to take place at Scheel's? I was sure you thought I was stalking you or something."

"I just thought you were really, really into sporting goods."

Peeta smiled and kissed the tip of her nose. "No, just really, really into you."

The harder Katniss tried to hide her smile, the bigger it got. She looked down at her lap, then up into Peeta's admiring eyes, and bit her lip.

"God, you're beautiful," he whispered, both to her and to himself. She was starting to realize that Peeta had a way with words that not only made her blush, but that she couldn't return. Not that she didn't want to, but the thought of saying such things out loud was out her league. Damn it, Johanna was right – she was really, really into Peeta too, and it scared the shit out of her.

Actions, however…

She leaned forward, grabbing the back of his neck and pulling it in toward her, and starting the kiss over again, which Peeta seemed more than happy to comply with.


And afterwards, lying and facing each other in Peeta's warm bed upstairs from the bakery, legs tangled together, flannel sheets pulled up close, he intertwined his fingers with hers and asked her.

"You want to be with me. Real or not real?"