Chapter 1

"setting fire to our insides for fun, collecting names of the lovers that went wrong."

14-15: Freshman year

Peeta Mellark first sees Katniss Everdeen the first day of ninth grade from across the courtyard.

He notices her immediately, his eyes scanning the crowd for Finnick who was waiting for him by entrance but landing on her instead. Her skin was pale, olive almost but her hair was dark, eyes grey like the kids from the Seam. But he had never seen her before. There was no doubt he would've remembered the beautiful girl who sat quietly by herself, her nose in a book that probably weighed more than she did.

She must be new. He had lived in Panem all his life and it wasn't a big town. He would have noticed her. He sure as hell noticed her now.

Finnick tugging on his arm breaks his attention away from the mysterious girl. "Come on man, we have to get to class," he groans.

Finnick Odiar has been his best friend since Miss Trinkets kindergarden class nine years ago. Finnick had matured much before Peeta and his other friends, already gaining a large amount of attention from the female student body of Panem High. His swimming abilities had also put him in with most of the upperclassman. Already, he was someone you wanted to associate yourself with. Peeta was glad he had been all these years. It was making the transition from his older brothers shadows into his own light much easier.

"What's got your dick all hard," he jokes. But Peeta takes a quick glance down to make sure. The last thing he needed was to walk through those doors with a hard-on for all of Panem to see. His brothers would surely never let him live that down.

"Do you know who that is?" Peeta asks, nodding his head over to the girl who has begun to pack her things into the worn leather book bag she was carrying over her shoulder.

Finnick shakes his head, his eyebrows knitting in confusion. "Looks like a Seam kid," he mumbles below his breath. Peeta checks anxiously over his shoulder, making sure no one heard the remark. It was true. Most Seam kids had the grey eyes and dark hair she had but the comment could easily unsettle someone if they were overheard, make for a tense first day which Peeta wasn't looking forward to. "She's probably new."


As luck would have it, when Peeta walks in to his fifth hour class, she's sitting alone in a seat by the window, absentmindedly playing with a strand of her hair which has come lose from her braid. Peeta wishes he had taken the piece of gum Marvel offered him at the end of lunch.

Before anyone else has the chance, Peeta takes a seat beside her, ignoring the calls from Thresh in the back of the room that he's saved him a seat. Peeta discovers she's even more beautiful up close, her face dotted with freckles but other than that, completely clear. She doesn't paint her face with makeup like Glimmer and Clove do. She doesn't need too.

She stiffens when he sits down, obviously hoping she would be able to keep the table to herself. There were plenty of open seats around the english classroom, ones that might suit him better like the table in the back with his friends. But he has no desire to move away from the girl with the braid.

"Hi," he says after awhile, the bell cutting him short and he's not sure if she heard him. "Hey," he tries again.

She just smiles, not genuinely but just enough to be polite. Her eyes darting back out the open window where two birds are making a nest in the tree that grows just outside the classroom.

Miss Scranton begins to speak then, passing out syllabuses and pieces of paper that ask generic, first day of school questions that no one answers seriously. He pulls a pen out of his bag, scribbling his name along the top line, answering the questions with answers that he believes will suffice the teacher, occasionally darting over to her paper which remains blank, not even a name on the space provided.

"Do you need to borrow a pencil?" Peeta whispers into her ear, relinquishing the one writing device he has in his possession. But he doesn't mind giving it to her.

She accepts it hesitantly, as if the pencil were more than just that. His fingers graze hers as she does so, a fire igniting throughout Peetas body, heading straight for his groin. He groans inwardly, wondering how he is ever supposed to have sex if he's unable to even touch a girls hand without going hard. He should ask his brothers, start training his body so that when the day comes, he won't embarrass himself or the family name.

Thinking about Miss Scranton's plump body momentarily distracts him from his arousal, killing the previous state he was in and making it easier to focus on the words she says as she explains the concept of Pre-AP English I. His eyes dart over to the girls paper, not a single thing written on the sheet of paper. Nothing but the fact that she has one sister under her "siblings" category on her paper. Her name is Primrose.

Miss Scranton moves to the back of the classroom, whispering something to Thresh about not accepting inappropriate answers on the questionnaire, scolding him for drawing penises under the section which says "my favorite things". Peeta can't help but laugh and when he looks to his right, the girl is as well, a real smile.

"Thresh is a jackass," Peeta jokes, dodging the waded piece of paper that comes flying his way from the general direction. She laughs, unrolling the ball of paper, reading aloud the message Thresh had written on the inside.

"He says 'not my fault she's never seen one before'." She laughs, a real laugh, her face going red. Miss Scrantons' eyes flash towards them, Peeta shoving the note into the pocket of his jeans before she has a chance to spot it from across the room. After a while, she goes about her business.

When Peeta chances a look back at Thresh, he fakes a jerking off motion in his general direction, not stopping until Cato, who Peeta hadn't even noticed, joins in, resulting in their automatic detention. Peeta shakes his head. The first day of school is going well for them.

"You have interesting friends," she says, nodding towards the two boys who now have to sit in the front of the classroom.

Peeta nods his head excitedly, pleased she is actually speaking to him and not giving her attention towards the birds still hard at work outside the window. "I'm Peeta Mellark, by the way," he greets, moving his hand from his pocket to shake hers. Her fingers are cold and nimble, a ring on her middle finger shining in the sunlight that falls from the window. He wonders who it's from. A boyfriend, maybe?

"Pita? Like the bread?" Everyone always asks this, mostly because they know he is the bakers son and they find it strange. But his brothers name is Rye. The others is Wheaton. Peeta feels like he got the good end of the stick on that one.

"Yes. Believe it or not, my parents own the bakery in town," he informs her, watching the slow smile that spreads across her face. He's convinced it's the most beautiful thing on earth. "But you spell it P-E-E-T-A. They did try and add some variety."

"Well my mothers name is Lilly and my younger sisters name is Primrose," she tells him. "We're a family of flowers." But yet she still doesn't tell him her own name.

"And what is your name?" Peeta asks. "Let me guess. Rose?"

She shakes her head from side to side, her cheeks blushing over. "Katniss. Traditional spelling."

"Like the water plant?" Peeta asks, remembering his father mentioning it once when they went to the lake on the other side of town.

"Yes. My father used to tell me, 'as long as you can find yourself you'll never go hungry'." Peeta wonders if there was a reason Katniss would ever go hungry. She was skinny but not the point where Peeta would think anything of it. Her pants fit a little loose, her shirt too but then again, that could just be the way she likes her clothes.

The bell rings then, chairs shuffling along the freshly waxed floor, the urge to escape the classroom nearly too much to bear. But Peeta doesn't feel it. In fact, he's reluctant to leave, not wanting Katniss to disappear into a sea of faces.

But Cato and Thresh wait for him by the door, yelling something at him about a vending machine. He doesn't listen. They can go on without him. And eventually, after it's become clear he is in no hurry, they do.

Katniss falls into step with him as they walk out of the door, talking to him about her classes. They have no more together but Peeta would have to take his luck with just one. "Where did you move from?" He asks. He's traveling in the opposite direction of his own class that he shares with Finnick but he doesn't care. He'll take the detention.

"Iowa," she groans. "My mother got a job at the hospital here so..."

So her mother was a doctor. She had yet to mention her father other than the one comment about the katniss plant and Peeta had a feeling he wasn't around. But it was no place to question. He had just met the girl and she seemed pretty weary about human contact. He didn't want to scare her away.

"That's nice," Peeta comments. "If she ever wants breakfast really early in the morning, tell her to come by the bakery. I usually work in the mornings if I don't have football practice." That was if his mother was not there. If she was, he would get a beating for doing something so stupid.

"You don't have to do that, Peeta," Katniss whispers, looking a little uneasy about the predicament. "She usually works nights anyway."

She goes into her Literature Class, waving to him over her shoulder before the door shuts. The bell rings and Peeta has to sprint to class, sweating through his shirt by the time he rushes through the door.

Finnick saved him a seat in the back of the class thankfully.


He falls in to the swing of things quickly. High-school isn't nearly as bad as every one made it sound; at least it wasn't for him.

His brothers show him the ropes, who to avoid and who to get friendly with. He charms his way out of detention the fourth day of school, managing to get Cato and Thresh out of trouble as well. A senior, Alta, gives him her number one day at lunch, winking as she tells him to call her which is seen as a big achievement by all of his friends.

He gives it too Thresh.


The best part of high school thus far is easily Katniss Everdeen.

After the first day of school, he took the trip home with his brothers and immediately fired up his laptop, searching every social networking sight he could think of. She wasn't on any of them. He tried google next, only finding an article on her middle schools homepage about her achievements in environmental science. There is nothing else on her and he curses the internet, for once, not doing him any justice. "Damn you Steve Jobs," he whispered shutting down the Mac, joining his family for dinner.

He didn't know much about her even after sitting next to her every day for a week; she wasn't the most outgoing person. She laughed at his jokes and commented every once in awhile on the way he curled his "p"'s. But other than that she kept to herself, only speaking to him if spoken to and even then not ever saying much.

Peeta didn't mind. He just liked the thought of her. He was the only person she smiled at and that was good enough for him.


On a day with particularly bad weather, his mother drags him into the bakery in the early hours of the morning.

He makes the bread while she takes the orders.

She never asks Rye or Wheaton to help her in the bakery, not even on days when Peeta is so sick it may not even be safe for him to touch food. But she doesn't really ask Peeta either. Just drags him from the covers and into the car.

When he finally makes it school, he's already been up for almost eight hours. By the time lunch rolls around, he chooses to spend his hour sleeping in the backseat of his brothers pick up truck versus in the cafeteria with his friends.

He wakes only by the sound of a laugh and then the soft feeling of nails scratching against his back to wake him. This couldn't possibly be his brothers who didn't even have this lunch. Probably just Finnick looking to make a joke out of everything. He swats his hands away impatiently. "I'm not in the mood right now."

"I just thought you'd want to know lunch is over," Katniss says, jumping into the bed of the truck where Peeta lies. There isn't much room and their bodies have to mold around each other. Peeta feels the pull in his groin he so commonly feels around her, trying his best to shift away from her slender body, not wanting to make her uncomfortable. She had just started speaking with him outside of English. The last thing he wanted to do was compromise that.

"Sorry," he mumbles, wiping away the sleep from his eyes and hoping he doesn't look too horrid. She looks beautiful. Her hair down today, the tips skimming the bottom of her hips, sleek and straight with curls here and there. Her face remains makeup less, her eyes almost blue in the sunlight that was just peeking over the clouds. "I thought you were Finnick."

"Is Finnick your model friend?" She asks, her eyes going over her shoulder to where, in fact, Finnick and the rest of his friends were standing, all looking confused and envious. Peeta nods, raising a hand to wave in their general direction. Upon being spotted they all look away, busying themselves in random things. "He's very handsome."

Jealousy flows through him, making him clench his fist. Finnick was sometimes the best thing that ever happened to him and sometimes the worst. "I guess," Peeta whispers.

"Not my type though," she retorts, grabbing the apple from her leather sack which was nearing the end of it's life from what Peeta could tell. The thing was old, raggedy, smelled of something you may find buried deep in his grandmothers closet. He wondered why such a pretty girl would carry around such a thing. Maybe that's how they do it in Iowa.

"What's your type?" Peeta asks, his voice sounding nonchalant but the redness in his ears giving him away. It was a good thing Finnick was more than a hundred feet away or he would surely have a field day.

"I don't know. But not him," she says, biting into the apple finally, juice falling down her chin and onto the black shirt she wears. How badly he wants to lick the sweet juice off of her chin and so much more...

"We should really get going," she tells him, throwing the bag around her shoulder, hoisting him up into a sitting position. She doesn't move past the trucks tire until he too has gotten his bearings.

They walk to class together, no conversation between them but nevertheless, together. Cato and Thresh join, making it a crowd. Peeta has never enjoyed crowds and by the way Katniss cowards to his side, she doesn't either. They talk enthusiastically on Peetas position on the football team, then go on to say how easy it will be to gain a starting position once his brothers go off to college next fall. "You're a Mellark," Cato says, clapping Peetas shoulders with excitement. "You already have the world in your hands and this is just the beginning."

Peeta just nods, not even listening to the words. Just watching the silent blush growing deeper on Katnisses face.


Finnick heckles him all throughout math about her. Wanting to know in vivid detail about every interaction they've ever had, anything she's ever said, if they've ever had sex. Peeta nearly punches Finnick in the face when the last question comes, not even bothering to join in on the annoying hoots and howls Finnick gives.

"She's hot, Peeta," he says. "You better get her before someone else does. Cause you know how quick fresh meat goes."

He has a problem with Katniss being referred to in such a barbaric way but he says nothing. Because Finnick is right. All the girls in his grade and beyond had grown up in this town. It was the same faces, same people, and Katniss was something new, something exciting that Panem hadn't seen in a long time. He heard the boys in the locker room talk about her like she was a prize to gain; not the beautiful, smart, generous person she was. Gale Hawthorne bet fifty dollars he would sleep with her by the end of his senior year. He'd almost punched him too.

But when Peeta did see Katniss, she was always alone or with Madge Undersee, the mayors daughter. She was pretty quite too but much nicer than most of the student body. He was glad Katniss had found a friend in her, at least.

He was also glad she found a friend in him.


She gives him her number the third week of school, right before classes let out for the Thanksgiving holidays. She says she needs a pie, not a big one but just enough to feed four people and Peeta promises to bake her one.

"That's too much trouble," she counters. She was always shaking off his kind gestures, always making them seem unimportant.

She had flat out refused the lunch he'd made for her the Friday before, saying she couldn't possibly take the turkey sandwich as if it was anything more than a turkey sandwich. He had plenty at home, it was no problem, he had tried to assure her. But this only unsettled her more. She ran away shortly after, linking onto Madge Undersees arm. She didn't speak to him in English that day either. He'd pondered all throughout the weekend where he went wrong. His brothers had promised him it was a great idea, told him he'd surely get his 'dick wet' for that. But that wasn't his plan; at least not yet. He just wanted to be nice but maybe his gesture had done the opposite.

But when he arrived to fifth hour after lunch that Monday, an apology already on the tip of his tongue, Katniss silenced him with her own apology. All was forgiven for then at least.

When she'd agreed to let him bake her family a pie for thanksgiving, he was surprised to say the least. He had expected more of a fight. Even if she had given him one, he might just do something crazy like stalk her down and leave it on her doorstep. Regardless, when she's scribbles her seven digit number on the top of his hand, his heart stops. He forgets for a moment to breathe. "Call me if there's a problem. I'll be by Thursday morning to pick it up, if that's okay?"

Of course it's okay. Three in the morning would be okay for her. "Yeah, Katniss, sure."

"Have a good break," she says, her arms wrapping around his body. It takes him a moment to respond, a moment to gather his head enough to tell his body to move, to recuperate. But when he does he knows he's home.

Thresh and Cato stand behind him, their eyes wide with shock. Thresh mouths something, probably something crude and completely unoriginal but Peeta doesn't catch it, to enveloped in the smell of pine that followed Katniss everywhere she went. He loved the smell and would love it forever.

When she turns to leave, he fights the urge to run after her. Only breaking out of his trance when Cato claps his back, enveloping him in a hug of his own. It doesn't have the same effects Katnisses had and Peeta wishes the moment to be over soon. "You dog!" He yells, drawing more attention than Peeta would care for.

"How come you didn't tell us you were hitting that?" Thresh asks.

"Because I'm not. We're friends," he tells them, unable to stop his blush.

"But you wish you were, no?"

Boy did he ever.


He's at the bakery by four am on Thanksgiving, wanting to make Katnisses pie fresh while all the others that had been ordered were made last night. He makes her three, more than she asked for but he couldn't help himself. He places the apple, pecan, and pumpkin in a white tin, writing 'Everdeen' in big blocky letters. He hesitates a moment before adding the word 'prepaid' on the ticket. His mother was at home preparing dinner, she wouldn't be in the bakery all day. She would never know.

He tried to busy himself as much as he could but once the clock struck eight, he found there was nothing else in the bakery he could do. He'd waxed the floors, fixed the lightbulb, dealt with the few customers that had arrived early, and made a few breads for dinner. He'd dusted the blinds, wiped down the tables (twice), and cleaned the glass windows inside and out. There was nothing left to do in the small bakery but wait. Wait for her.

His brothers come in around nine to help with what the Mellarks like to call 'The Rush'. All the first time holidays cooks usually arrive somewhere between nine and ten, distressed when the chilling pies they had left out the night before did not come out the way they'd hoped, needed a quick solution that is more appetizing than the store bought pumpkin pie that tastes like molasses. So his brothers deal with that and Peeta sulks in the back, watching from the window for Katniss to come along.

He finally spots her when she's a good half mile down the road, tugging a sullen blonde girl along with her. "Rye, Wheaton! Go to the back!" Peeta hisses, wiping the flour from his face and hoping he doesn't look to worn.

"Why?" Wheaton mumbles, crumbs from the half eaten muffin he has falling atop the countertop Peeta has just washed-twice. Peeta just rolls his eyes, ushering his brothers to their feet and into the back room he just emerged from. The door locks just when the front door opens.

"I was beginning to wonder if you'd changed your mind," Peeta mumbles, smiling once to Katniss and then to Prim who is looking less than thrilled. "You must be Prim. I'm Peeta."

With a quick shove from Katniss, Prim places her hand in his grip. "Hello Peeta," she says. "I've heard so much about you."

The light in Peetas eyes in undeniable as he smiles down at the young girl, a million questions rolling through his mind. She had heard about him? What had she heard about him?

As the three of them talk, Peeta begins to notice how drastically different the two sisters are.

Prim looks nothing like Katniss. With her blonde hair and blue eyes, she looked more closely related to Peeta and his brothers than to Katniss. She was talkative, obviously in a bad mood for some reason, but more personable than Katniss was. Prim had taken five minutes just to thank him from saving her from Katnisses attempt at cooking.

"Well I'm glad I could help!" Peeta cheers, placing the bag atop the counter, not bothering to take the money Katniss has in her hand. "It's on the house. Happy Thanksgiving." Katniss is hesitant like he knew she would be but Prim accepts the pies with urgency as if at any moment they'll be taken from her. Peeta tries not to let his stare linger to long.

"You really don't have to do that, Peeta," Katniss says, once again trying her best to hand him the forty dollars in her hand. If his mother was here, there is no way the forty dollars would cover the charge of all three pies but he says nothing. "Twenty?" She compromises, handing him the bill. He accepts it.

"Have a nice holiday, Katniss," he calls after her retreating figure. "You too, Prim!" Prim waves goodbye, the white dress she wears flapping the wind.

"Peeta, you've surely done it now!" Rye yells before busting through the doorway, his eyes wide with surprise, Wheaton close behind. "We didn't know you were hitting that!" But he wasn't hitting anything and why he was constantly having to remind everyone of that, he didn't understand.

"She's just a friend," Peeta says. He could call her a friend, right? She had called him her friend once, not to long ago when he asked her how things were going here. Yes, Katniss Everdeen was just his friend and for now, that was more than enough.

"Just a friend?" Wheaton calls, his eyes wide with questioning. He shakes his head from side to side, whispering something into his twin brothers ear that wasn't meant for Peeta to hear. They often communicate like this. It no longer bothered Peeta. "Moms going to have a field day when she hears that you gave a friend three pies for twenty dollars!"

Peeta face burns. His brothers won't sell him out, he's sure of it. They had a silent agreement to have each others backs, at least when mother was getting angry. "You wouldn't."

The boys look at each other, their eyes locking for a few strong moments and Peeta knows he's in for something. That is what all the whispering was about. "Three weeks. Laundry. We won't say a thing."

Peeta agrees without complaint. He could care less.


He doesn't hear from Katniss for the rest of break. He does exactly the opposite of what his brothers tell him, texting her the day after Thanksgiving asking her if she enjoyed the pies.

Much to his embarrassment, she did not reply.


The first day back at school is the worst.

Peeta is used as a punching bag for the better part of an hour during football, coming out of the locker room with a bruised ego and about five broken ribs, he's sure of it. His brothers told him to suck it up and stop whining.

He's behind in all his classes, forgetting in two that he even had work to do over the holiday. The teachers scold him and threaten to call Coach Abernathy but it's an empty threat and even if they did, he doubts the head football coach would do anything but give him a quick scolding and send him on his way.

At lunch all his friends talk excitedly about the game-the first game-that's fast approaching. Only Finnick and Peeta will be playing on Friday night, all the rest of the boys are on the freshman teams. But his friends will be in the stands and they promise to cheer him on but he won't get an ounce of playing time being Rye has been the starting quarterback for the past three years. The only way he's going in is if Ryes arm becomes detached. Maybe not even then.

"So party at Peetas house after the game?" Marvel cheers, volunteering Peeta for a party he didn't even want to have. He doesn't protest though.

His parents will be out of town, going to some wedding in the city for a few nights. He's sure his brothers have already conjured up something that will involve lots and lots of alcohol. They were notorious for such parties, half the town showing up by the end of the night. The cops didn't even bother coming anymore.

I suppose since Peeta was on the football team now and he was in high-school, this meant for once he could go downstairs while the party was actually happening, invite a few of his friends over. Rye and Wheaton wouldn't care. And if they said anything about it, he would just threaten to tell mom and dad. Simple.

"Maybe you could invite Katniss," Thom offers, nudging Peetas shoulder.

"Oh, would you, Peeta? I would invite her but it is your house..." Marvel states, shrugging his shoulders in a way to be indifferent. Did Marvel know Katniss? Were they friends? If so, how and when did this happen?

"I haven't seen her today," Peeta says randomly, receiving curious stares from everyone at the lunch table. His gaze wonders around the cafeteria for her but she is no where to be found. He doesn't see Madge either so he can only assume the two are together, probably having lunch outside.

"We have class with her next period, Peet," Thresh offers. "You okay, man? You seem a little out of it."

Peeta nods.

The bell rings and they all shuffle away, Peeta running ahead of Cato and Thresh so he can get to class, speak to Katniss before anyone else can. She's already sitting in her seat, her back in it's usual braid. She smiles at him as he sits down.

"Hey Peeta," she says.

"Hey Katniss." Do it, Peeta. Ask her about the party. "So my brothers are kind of having this party after the football game on Friday and I was just wondering if you would quite possibly-"

"Oh, Rye actually already invited me earlier this morning," she says. "That is his name, right? Rye?"

"Yeah. Are you friends with Rye?" He asks, his eyebrows knitting together in confusion. Rye would be the one to try to publicly humiliate Peeta if he had the chance. He makes a mental note to shrink all of Ryes clothes when he gets home.

"No. He actually came up to me when I passed the bakery this morning when I was dropping Prim off at school. I didn't recognize him at first but he told me he was your older brother and knew you were already planning to invite me so he would just go ahead and do it," she explains. He notes the way she uses her hands to talk.

Wait. Had Rye done him a favor?

"Oh," Peeta mumbles once he realizes he's been quiet for some time.

Now Katniss looks confused. "Do you not want me there or..."

"No. No!" Peeta rambles. "I do want you there I just would never expect my brother to do something nice for me."

"Isn't that what brothers are for?" Yes, but not Peetas brothers.

"Yeah, I guess," Peeta mumbles, moving his body around to face the front of the classroom where Miss Scranton has begun her lecture about god-knows-what. Peeta and Katniss have already tuned out the first ten minutes of class. They were both playing catch up now.

But every few minutes, Peeta couldn't help but peer at the girl beside him. The way her eyes would squint because she could not see the board, or the way she chewed on her bottom lip ever so often. He was entranced by the way her tongue would dart out to moisten her lips, her fingers making a tight fist around the pencil she wrote with. He was instantly hard.

He put his head down on his desk in defeat, thinking of nothing but Miss Scranton and dead puppies for the remainder of class.


Friday comes much quicker than Peeta had expected it too.

Before he knows it, the roar of the crowd rages on as the leather skinner football is kicked high into the air, the jerseys from the other team looking awfully similar to the ones Panem High wore, making the game hard to follow, at least from the sidelines.

Like expected, Peeta and Finnick sat on the bench, talking carelessly side by side as our men made tackles and their team made touchdowns. Peeta winced a few times as Rye hit the turf, his mind racing. No one was defending him. The other team was cutting through the offensive line with ease. They were fast and quick and Rye had almost no time to throw the ball. The one time he did, it was intercepted. The other team scored a touchdown.

At half time, all the boys are hauled into the locker room, given a stern talking to by the coaches who look just as exasperated as the players do. Rye removes his helmet, blood running in thick streams up and down the side of his face, making him look less than appealing. He winces as the trainers attend to him and Peeta worries that his brother may have to sit out the rest of the game. That would mean he would have to go in, get pummeled by 300 pound linemen who would, more than likely, break all the bones in his body. For the moment, he doesn't mind riding the bench. He almost prefers it.

They end up losing by ten, letting the other team score late in the fourth, handing the victory over to the Cedar Ridge Tigers. A few boys kick things around, the others try their hardest to encourage the rest of them. Either way sprits are pretty low as everyone showers. Peeta doesn't need one. He hadn't broken a sweat.

He waits outside of the locker room for Rye and Wheaton.

He's been waiting for almost twenty minutes and thinks about beginning to just walk home when Katniss appears out of the shadows. Her face isn't painted and she hasn't dyed strips of her hair red in celebration of the game like most of the student body had. She wears her typical black t-shirt and jean combination, her hair in a simple braid, standing out more to him than any of the adoring fans in the stands.

"Hey. Good game, Peeta," she says, coming to sit beside him. He fights the urge to tangle his fingers into hers. He takes a quick sniff of his armpit, now wishing he had opted to take that shower.

"I didn't know if you were coming for sure; I would've looked," he lies. He had asked Madge Undersee at least thirteen times if Katniss was coming. She had promised him she was but Peeta wasn't sure if that was to get him off her back or she actually knew. Peeta had spent the better half of the third quarter, his eyes scanning the stands for her. When he hadn't been able to find her, he was positive Madge had lied to him.

"Yes, well, I'm trying to be more of a teenager. Do things teenagers do and what not," she tells him, toying with the tip of her braid.

"How's that working out for ya?"

"Better than I thought but if I'm being honest with you, I really don't like football at all," she admits.

He has too laugh because after sitting on the sidelines for two full hours, he has to admit he doesn't like it all that much either. "Yeah. It can be a bit slow some times."

"You're brother is very good but I've heard you're better," she says, her eyes meeting his.

"Who told you that?" Peeta asks.

"Oh, I would never reveal my sources Mr. Mellark," she says, doing the worst impression of a british accent that Peeta has ever heard. He laughs, shaking his head along with her when his brothers finally make their way from the locker room, Rye with a bandage over his eyes and Wheaton with four bruised fingers.

"Hey Katniss," Rye greets, giving her a small smile. Peeta flinches, not liking the tone in his brothers voice when he speaks to Katniss. He never thought he would need to stake claim on a girl, at least not with his brothers. But it seemed it was slowly getting to that point. He made a mental note to tell Rye to fuck off tomorrow and to keep a close eye on Katniss all night. "Are you coming to the party?"

Katniss nods, getting to her feet and dusting the back of her jeans. Peeta watches the way her hands fly to her waist, her waist which she can so easily encircle. He gulps, looking up and meeting Wheatons eyes. He says nothing, just makes a quick kissy face that no one will see; at least he hopes not.

"Do you need a ride?" Peeta offers, knowing the car will probably already be filled with all of their teammates but Katniss can squeeze. Or sit on his lap...

"No thanks. I'm going with Madge. She's waiting for me by the front actually. I was only supposed to come say hello," she says, smiling at Peeta before bidding farewell to all the Mellark boys and promising to see them tonight.

As soon as she's out of ear shot, Peetas brothers begin to talk in vivid detail about the 'things they would do to that body'. Peeta grabs ahold of Ryes shirt with one hand, hitting Wheaton in the balls with the other. "Don't talk about her that way," he threatens. He's not taken seriously and both boys just laugh, rustling Peetas hair as they make their way to the car which is, in fact, packed.

Finnick, Peeta, and a couple of their team mates, Phil and Roger, sit in the bed of Ryes pick up truck as they take the short six minute drive back to the Mellark home. Finnick talks about Annie Cresta, a girl they've all known since kindergarden, the entire ride. "She's gotten extremely hot over the summer. Don't tell me none of you have noticed?" None of the boys had.

Annie was a nice girl and Peeta had always thought she was pretty. She had been in almost of all his classes up until this year, only making an appearance in one or two of them. He had to admit, her acne had cleared up quite a bit but even without it, she still had the same bright green eyes and dusty red hair she always had. Finnick just never took notice to her.

"She'll be here tonight, right man?" Finnick asks, shoving his thumbs into Peetas side. This was okay to do when Peeta still had a thin layer of body fat but now that most of it was compact muscle, it hurt. Peeta shoves him away.

"Yeah, man. I invited her. I think she's coming with Delly Cartwright," he tells him, noting that he did, in fact, invite her. "Don't try anything tonight, Finn. You know how she is." All of Panem knew how she was. A little strange at times, often off or confused or just absent from the present.

Finnick just groans, making an obscure thrusting motion that gets all the boys in the truck bed to laugh. "I'll tell you what; she won't be like that anymore after she gets a piece of this!" Peeta rolls his eyes at his best friend, wondering how in the world he was going to make it in life outside of this town with the things he says and the way he acts.

The party in in full swing an hour later, music blaring loudly over the large lawn that Peeta had mowed just this morning in preparation. Peeta has already seen two couples sneak upstairs, probably claiming stake on his bed room being it is the first door you see. Either that or the bathroom.

Peeta chokes down the beer Finnick had given him earlier in the night, telling him to act like a man. He didn't care for the taste. Never had but the more of it he drank, the less it actually mattered to him. He was buzzed but tried his best to stand up straight, keep his voice together if someone spoke to him. The last thing he needed all his team mates to peg him as was a light weight.

"Peeta, I've been looking every where for you," Marvel slurs, coming to his side on the stairs at once, throwing an arm over his shoulders. His ashy brown hair is plastered to his forehead, his eyes glassy and inattentive. "This is the best party ever. How long have you been here?"

Peeta laughs, bringing the cup to his mouth once more and sipping on the contents. When the cup is empty, he decides against getting another. "Well, it is my house so for a few hours I guess," he says, ushering Marvel outside where the rest of his friends are standing, all reliving in vivd detail every second of the game.

Peeta doesn't want to hear any more about it, knowing his father will also want a play by play when he comes home tomorrow, but doesn't move from their circle, not wanting to get lost in an array of people. He's not in the mood to really talk to anyone right now if their name isn't Katniss Everdeen.

His eyes scan for her, moving over every surface of the lawn but he can't spot her. He sees Rye, talking to some blonde who Peeta has seen around the house once or twice. At least Katniss isn't with him, Peeta thinks bitterly. He hopes he'll be able to find her whenever she does get here. It has to be nearing ten now but people keep piling in, people that he has never seen and he wonders if word got out to the town over. Probably. It always did.

"Have any of you seen Katniss?" He asks, interrupting Catos reenactment of the final play of the game.

"Yeah. Got here a little while ago with Madge Undersee who is looking good," Thom says, slapping palms with Thresh.

"Where are they now? Have you seen them recently?" His voice sound desperate and even he hears it.

"Last I saw her she was chatting it up by the pool with Gale Hawthorne," Cato says, nodding towards the crowded pool area. Peeta makes a mental note to tell Rye and Wheaton they should start covering it up. Sooner or later someone is going to be drunk and fall in and that they'll have no choice but to tell their parents.

Peeta wastes no more time talking to his friends, stepping around Marvel who is now fast asleep on the grass. He moves fast.

Sure enough, he spots Katniss, a red cup in her hand, Gale Hawthorne at her side, speaking softly in to her ear. She laughs, laughs the way she laughs at all of Peetas bad jokes, and swats away at Gales hands which are making a grab at her waist. It's all playful though. She's enjoying this.

Peeta manages to escape Glimmers drunken claws, weaving swiftly in and out of the sea of people, trying to get to Katniss as soon as possible. She can't be alone with Gale for too long. Surely he'll lose her then. Not that he had her but...

"Katniss," Peeta says breathlessly, grabbing ahold of her hand and hoisting her to her feet, away from Gale Hawthorne who looks less than thrilled with Peeta.

"Oh Peeta! I was looking all over the place for you," she says, moving to wrap her arms around Peetas neck. He's once again lost in the smell of her and the way her arms feel around him. But the hug means nothing. She is just being friendly and she pulls away all too soon, leaving him looking expectant. "Gale was just keeping me company."

Peeta looks to the junior boy who has a smug smile on his face, sipping ever so often from the red plastic cup in his grip. He raises his eyebrows, not once but twice. Peeta knew things that Katniss didn't. He knew about the $100 Gale would be getting if tonight went the way he was planning in his head. But Peeta was here now and that wouldn't happen.

"How long have you been here?" He questions, trying his best to get a peek at the contents of her own cup. "I've been trying to keep an eye out for you."

"Not too long ago. Maybe an hour or so ago. I lost Madge when we walked in though. I should really find her," Katniss says, her eyes roaming over the ever growing party. It would be nearly impossible to find one person in the crowd that was forming.

"I'll look with you," Peeta offers anyway, grabbing a hold of her elbow. "Bye Gale!" He calls over his shoulder, ignoring his pleads to stay. For the moment, Katniss seems to forget too, wrapping her hand around Peetas bicep as he pushes them through the masses.

"You have a beautiful home," Katniss says after awhile. Peeta just nods. He was always hearing that. "Peeta, we can find Madge later. I'm sure she'll call if she needs me."

She pulls the two of them to a stop, sitting on the benches neatly placed by his front door. It wasn't the safest place to sit with the constant array of people moving in and out but it didn't matter. The two of them were completely wrapped up in the fascination of one another.

Once you got Katniss talking, it was hard to get her to stop. But Peeta didn't mind. He gladly listened while she spoke about life back in Iowa, and the way she used to hunt in the woods, and Prim. She was endless about Prim, never coming up short when speaking about her beauty and kindness and bravery and Peeta wishes he and his brothers had formed the relationship they had.

He loved to hear her talk and that's all he did that night.


His brothers wake up with a massive hangover as do all his friends. He's alone in the cleaning process and almost takes Katniss up on her offer to help clean up in the morning but he doesn't want to wake her.

His parents will be home in less than an hour and it looks like a tornado has run through, a few of his mothers vases even broken over the course of the night. He will, inevitably, take the fall for it. Tell her some bullshit story about playing baseball in the house and their being a few accidents. His mother will scream, his father will ground him, and his brothers will sneak him out. It was an endless cycle.

He's just finished disposing of all the red cups on the back lawn when Finnick gets his bearings together, offering to help. Every thing moves faster with two people. They don't speak, Finnick still feeling like a train had hit him and Peeta doesn't either, not really having anything to talk about.

"You have a good time last night?" Finnick mumbles, the ray bans on his face slightly easing his mood.

"I did," Peeta says. "What about you?"

"Peeta, man. I had two beers and I feel like a train has run over me and speared my body in half," he explains, getting to his knees and relinquishing in the feeling of the cool grass under him. "Remind me to never drink again."

"It was your first time. You'll get a tolerance to it," Peeta explains, running the trash bag full of party remains the half mile to his neighbors trash can just in case his parents decided to check. "My brothers could each probably drown a hole keg separately and not feel a thing." It's true. He'd seen then do it.

"Is that why Rye is puking his guts out in the upstairs bathroom?" Finnick counters.

Peeta shrugs.

Serves them right.


A week before winter break, Katniss asks Peeta if he would like to come over after school to work on an assignment for their english final.

"If you don't want too that's fine but I feel so bad always taking up room in your house," she says.

Peeta agrees and that day after school, he tells his brothers to leave without him and goes home with her. It's a short walk, a mile or two at the most. They pick up Prim from school and she is more than delighted to have Peeta over. She asks him all types of questions on their journey home about working at the bakery.

"Do you get to eat all the cupcakes you want?" That question excites her the most but Peetas answer is less than satisfactory.

"No. My mother will yell if we take anything without paying for it unless it's going in the trash," he says.

"What good is food that's going in the trash?" She asks. Katniss scolds her quietly.

"That's the point. Anything we can make money off of, we try too."

Peeta doesn't really understand his mothers viewpoint on this. When Ripper, the only begger on the streets of Panem, comes to their door begging for scraps of food, he always has a hard time turning her away. His mother would have his head if he gave her anything without making her pay for it but regardless he always leaves her with at least one piece of the stale bread he probably would've eaten himself. Mrs. Mellark was not one to give out charity as if the Mellarks did not have enough on their own.

She had always told them it was for college, so that they wouldn't be tied down to this town like she was but that answer was no longer doing her justice. Rye was getting a full scholarship to Alabama in the fall; Wheaton one to Oregon. Peeta had surpassed his brothers athletically and would no doubt be getting at least a partial to whatever school he chose. All of the boys colleges were paid for and yet they couldn't give to Ripper or hungry kids from the Seam.

But he didn't question it much.

The Everdeen house is small, maybe half the size of the Mellark residence. In the front yard is a large oak tree, a makeshift swing hanging from one of the sturdier branches. There are primrose flowers planted along the sidewalk, beautiful even in their dying state as winter fast approaches.

Katniss fishes for her keys in her pocket, unlocking the door. She removes her shoes before entering so Peeta does the same, watching as she pads barefoot through her home, wandering off into what Peeta can only assume to be the kitchen. "Are you hungry?" She calls too him.

"Not really," he says. But he was. Katniss never accepted the food he kept in his home, out of courtesy he supposed. So he did the same though his stomach betrays him moments later by growling. Only the Everdeen mangily cat is there to hear it though, hissing before clawing at the expanse of Peetas leg.

"Just ignore the thing," she tells him, using one of her toes to send the poor animal flying towards an opposing wall. This upsets Prim but Katniss ignores her, motioning for Peeta to follow her into her room.

Peeta is right with his assumptions about Mr. Everdeen. There is no room for him in the home, no photos of him. Dead-beat most likely. Most were.

Her room is nothing like Peeta imagined but he decides he likes the real thing better. There are no pink curtains, or flamboyant patters. Just a bed in the corner of the room, a book shelf filled with every book imaginable, and a a small TV that sat on her dresser. It was Katniss. Simple and clean.

"You can sit on the bed if you like," she says. But she has already sprawled out on most of it. There is no way the two would be able to coexist comfortably. He takes a seat in the computer chair by her desk, spinning in it like he was a small child.

They don't get much work done. Peeta is to distracted by the way Katnisses shirt hangs lower than it should and she is to busy catching up on another reading assignment for history.

In fact they don't do any work. Just laugh and talk and, eventually, eat.

He could get used to this.


Katniss is slowly becoming a regular at the Mellark residence, even more so than Finnick who is giving her tough competition.

His father thinks she's a nice girl. His mother thinks she's dirty.


"What are you getting Katniss for Christmas?" Wheaton asks during a forced family shopping trip after church one Sunday. All the Mellark boys are still dressed in their sweater vests and polos, looking completely out of place in the department store their mother dragged them too.

"What do you mean?" Peeta asks, not having given it any real thought. He didn't get any of his friends Christmas presents mostly because his mother didn't want to waste the money and he had none of his own.

"C'mon, Peeta. Get with it. What are you getting your girlfriend?" He asks again.

"She's not my girlfriend," Peeta whispers though he wishes she was. The more time they spent together the more he hated being apart from her. He had thought he'd fallen for her the first day but he kept falling for her everyday. He had told Finnick this and Finnick had slapped him across the face, telling him he was in too deep. He was.

"Sure," Rye says mockingly, picking up a baseball from the shelf, turning it in his hand. "Peeta, you'll never get her in bed if you don't start spending a little cash on her."

"I'm only fourteen. What business do I have being in bed?" Peeta hisses, trying to avoid having his brothers see the shade of red his body is turning. He had thought about it but, like he said, he was fourteen. It had only been a couple of months since he even started experimenting with himself. There was no way he was ready for anything with anyone else.

"Peeta, when I was sixteen I had my first threesome," Wheaton says. Peeta is sure it's a lie. "When I was your age I was bagging chicks left and right."

"And luckily for you, you have the Mellark charm," Rye says, winking to a sales associate who has been eyeing the boys for quite some time. "You're not quite as attractive as your big bros over here but that isn't your fault. You can still make it work."

Peeta wishes the earth would swallow him whole now.

Wheaton picks up a bra, one with lace and leopard print that Peeta thinks is tacky. "Buy Katniss this. Have her model it for you," he jokes, placing it over his own chest and earning a few laughs from Rye. Peeta doesn't find it funny in the least bit.

"Katniss would never wear anything like that," he mumbles.

"And how would you know? Have you seen her bras?" Rye teases.

He's seen bits and pieces of them when they protrude from her shirt but, no, he had never seen them directly. His silence is answer enough and his older brothers sit him on a bench, kneeling down to his eye level. For a minute he thinks their going to give him advice that may actually help him gain Katnisses attention.

But he's wrong.

"The silent ones are the freakiest ones in bed, Peet," Rye says in all seriousness, looking to Wheaton for support.

Wheaton nods. "It's true. I bet little miss Everdeen is into crotchless panties and all that shit."

Peeta makes a split second decision and punches Wheaton in the windpipe, Rye next. He gets a good shot and they both fall to their knees, gasping for air for a moments time.

Peeta takes the moment to walk away and adjust his erection.


He only sends her a quick text on Christmas, not wanting to spoil her time with her family by distracting her. But he had been distracted all day by thoughts of her. In fact, he's missed the entire conversation over dinner, not responding to any of his grandfathers questions at the table. His mother was quite angry with him and even his father was annoyed by his absence.

"He's just distracted by his girlfriend," Rye mumbles, shoveling the last of the potatoes into his mouth, looking up at me with a sorry expression.

"Girlfriend? What girlfriend, Peeta?" His mother asks, dropping her fork onto her plate dramatically.

"I don't have a girlfriend," Peeta says, not caring that he just flicked his brother off in front of his aging grandparents. Rye shoots it right back which gets them both excused from the table immediately. Wheaton goes ahead and leaves as well.

He says nothing to his brothers as he stalks up the stairs, not turning around when they call up to him. He slams the door, loud enough so only they would be able to hear because if nothing else, slammed doors peeved his mother to the breaking point and he didn't want to hear from her for the rest of the night either.

What a great Christmas, he thinks to himself.

But when he pulls his phone out of his pocket, Katniss has replied.

You too, Peeta! Merry Christmas. Thanks for being the best friend.- K


On New Years Eve, Peeta is invited to a "soiree", as Finnick had put it, at Marvels house. He had no problems convincing his parents to let him go being they had their own formal event to attend.

Peeta wondered if Katniss would be there. She and Marvel were friends he had discovered. They sat next together in the mandatory art class at Panem and had become friends just after she and Peeta had. He had no doubt she was invited but didn't know what she would do with Prim. Bringing her along wasn't an option.

When he arrives there isn't much to do, just sit around and sip on what little alcohol Marvel was able to smuggle from his parents.

All of his friends are drunk by the time midnight rolls around. Peeta is fine.

Katniss never shows up, much to his disappointment so he sulks on the couch next to Annie, the only other person in the house that can still form a coherent thought.

"What's wrong with you?" She asks, her eyes never leaving Finnick as he saunters around the room with Glimmer who looks overdressed in the silver dress she wore.

"I don't know. Just not really into all this party stuff, I guess," Peeta answers. Really, he isn't in to this party stuff without Katniss. If she was here, he would be having a great time.

"Me either," Annie whispers.

So they sit side by side for the rest of the night, not saying anything, each sulking in their own self-pity.


"I'm thinking about cutting my hair off," Katniss tells him, grabbing a chunk of her long chestnut locks. She holds it up to the light, bits of red and gold flickering off like a spark.

"Why?" Peeta asks, finishing off the sandwich he had bought for lunch. They eat lunch together almost every day, always away from his friends because their obnoxious and loud and he doesn't like the way they all look at her like she's prey. He likes Katniss all to himself not matter how selfish that may be.

"I'm getting tired of it," she replies.

He isn't. "It's beautiful," he says, reaching out his own hand to grab the end of her braid, using the pads of his fingers to run against her ends. She says nothing but the rosy tint to her cheeks is undeniable. He pulls back immediately.


Clove kisses him behind the stairs one day on their way to class early one morning. He is chatting with her about football when suddenly his back is against the wall and her mouth is on his, her tongue quickly making it inside his mouth even against his protests.

He puts his hands on her hips to still her but it only seems to rile her up more.

It isn't his first kiss or even his second but it isn't pleasant like the others were. It isn't slow and calm and steady. It's needy and quick and sloppy.

And he doesn't like Clove. He has always thought she was pretty but other than that she had no other qualities to her. She was shallow and vain much like her best friend Glimmer was and thought way to highly of herself. He'd never understood the boys infatuation with her and even now, as she practically mounts him in the staircase, he still doesn't understand. His body isn't reacting either. Not the way it would if this were Katniss.

With that thought Peeta pushes her away from him, not hard enough to hurt her but hard enough to put some space between the two of them. When he pulls apart her lips and red and swollen, her eyes lustful and dark. He can't imagine he looks the same way. He is just confused and uncomfortable.

"What's a matter Peeta? No one will see," she says, taking another step towards him, her lips puckered and she's ready to make the attack. But he now expects her advances and moves away swiftly, taking the stairs two at a time to get away from her. She calls for him up the stair case but it is too late. He is long gone.


Word spreads quick about their kiss in the stairwell. Apparently, Clove told Glimmer who told every other person in Panem. She left out the part about Peetas escape and how he, actually, didn't enjoy it in the least bit.

When he gets in the car at the end of the school day his brothers hound him, winking at him as they ask him if kissing is all they did in that stairwell. "Did Clove go ahead and drop to her knees? C'mon Peeta, we won't tell," Wheaton teases.

Peeta contemplates jumping out of the car at the next stop sign or maybe even while it's moving but he refrains from that, putting his hands over his hear because his brothers are starting to make awful moaning noises.

"I don't even like her," Peeta hisses, grabbing his backpack from the truck bed and hauling ass upstairs. He ignores his fathers calls and his mothers screams, slamming the door with as much force as he can because he doesn't even care in this moment wether he gets grounded. No one comes for him, his brothers no doubt telling his father about the few days he's had. Everyone leaves him alone.

His phone rings when he's preparing from bed, Katnisses ringtone playing loudly from his backpack. He was planning on not taking calls for at least a month but for Katniss, he would answer anytime. The line almost goes dead but he gets to it just in time, answering on the second to last ring.

"Peeta, hey," she greets, her voice lacking the interest it usually holds. He knows what she's calling about. It's what everyone had been calling about but she was the only person who needed to know the real story. She was the only one he cared about hurting.

"Hey, Katniss. What's up?" Peeta asks, rushing to the other side of the room to lock his door.

"So, what did I hear about you kissing Clove the other day in the stairwell?" She asks, her tone light hearted.

"It really wasn't what you think. She pretty much attacked me and I kind of was just shocked for a moment I guess. I didn't push her away fast enough so maybe she got the impression that it was something I wanted too," Peeta says. "But it was the exact opposite actually."

Katniss laughs. "Oh please. You know you loved it. She's a pretty girl."

Clove was a pretty girl but she was no Katniss. "Yeah but there's nothing else there." He almost thinks about telling her how he feels, telling her that he's about 99% sure he is in love with her. But when he opens his mouth to say the words, nothing comes out but a quiet squeak.

"The right girl will come along, Peeta," she says.

She already had.

"So, the real reason I called was ask your opinion on something." This quirks Peetas interests. She rarely asked anything of other than the occasional ride home or to bring her a cheese bun on days she's craving them.

"Yes?" he asks.

"Gale Hawthorne asked me on a date and I said yes. Do you think that was a good idea?"

Oh no. Oh no no no no no.


It wasn't a good idea. It wasn't a good idea but he tells her it is because he doesn't know what else to say. He surely can't tell her what Gale says in the locker room. That will put him on Gales bad side and he really needs those blocks if the team has a chance of winning a game next year.

He watches Gale for the next few weeks, watching the way he talks to her and the way he interrupts their lunches. He watches his grey eyes watch hers and the way he tucks her braid behind her shoulder sometimes. The way Katniss laughs ever so often, her cheeks blushing like they so commonly do.

Katniss was smitten. Smitten with Gale who was only using her for one reason and Peeta knew what it was. He would tell her one day, just not today or tomorrow. He doubts Katniss would actually have sex with the guy. She told him just a few days ago the only thing they did was kiss and it was once or twice, maybe.

But even that made his blood boil.


He can't eat or sleep on Valentines Day, knowing Katniss is out to dinner with Gale who picked her up from her house in the fancy sports car he drives. How was Peeta supposed to compete with the man if he had a car? Peeta had almost seven more months until he got his own license but by then, it would be too late. Gale would already have Katniss in bed and $100 in his pocket.

He sits on Finnicks couch, eating a whole bag of chips over a span of thirty minutes. Finnick is impressed and is convinced they should train him to be a professional hot dog eater. Peeta cracks a smile.

"You see! I've been waiting for that," Finnick cheers, slapping his best friend on the back. "All you've been doing is sulking ever since Katniss started dating Gale."

"They aren't dating," Peeta corrects. He had a long conversation over the phone with Katniss just the other day on reasons why Gale would not ask her to be his girlfriend. Of course, Peeta knew the real answer but he kept her at bay, telling him he was just really busy with football and was probably focusing all his attention on that. It held her over for now but it did little to ease the pain in Peetas heart.

"Hooking up, whatever their doing, but man! You've got to get back out there. I know Clove is still interested," he says, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. It had taken weeks for the rumor to go away and Peeta did not wish to rehash it.

"She's not my type," Peeta says, flipping through the channels on TV.

"What is your type then?"

Katniss was his type.


Peeta is near his wits end with hearing Gale speak in the locker room. He even moved his locker so his obnoxious voice couldn't be heard but it was no use. It seemed it followed him every where he went.

"Dude, she's easily one of the hottest girls in this school," someone says, probably one of the upperclassman Peeta doesn't associate with. "And that ass! Whew!"

"I'm still trying to teach her a thing or two before we take a trip down that lane if you feel my drift." The locker room erupts in roars of both praise and laughter and Peeta wonders how many times he would have to hit his head in order to knock himself out.

Then his name is being called by Gale and it takes all he has to compose his features by the time he turns around. The boy is in his face, his minty breath washing over Peetas. Peeta keeps his stance tall though Gale easily towers over him. He tries not to think anything of it.

"Where do you think Katniss would like to go Friday night? I have a feeling we'll be very, very busy." Is he taunting him?

"I don't know, Gale. Why don't you ask her?" Peeta spits back, turning around to shove the rest of the weeks clothes into the hamper he takes home.

"I guess the back of my car could work too though, huh?"

Peeta slams his locker door with as much force as he can muster, cursing his entire way out of the locker room.


He finds it hard to talk to Katniss now, to look at her without becoming angry. His face reddens whenever he sees the bruises on her necks, no doubt left there by Gales lips. Or the one time she came to class ten minutes late, her braid a wreck and her lips swollen. She looked to much like Clove in that moment and he so desperately wanted to run far far away.

"Do you want to see a movie tomorrow night?" She asks him, tucking her feet under her so she can sit as tall as him.

He shrugs. "Gale won't mind?"

She tells him he won't.

So he meets her at the movies the following night. They watch some chick flick that she picked out but he could care less about what their watching. What he does care about is the proximity of her body and the way her fingers brush his arm as they sit on the arm rest between them.

He doesn't watch the movie. He doesn't even know what the movies about but during the expanse of it, he memorizes every curve and freckle on her face and neck. He bet Gale doesn't even notice the heart shaped mole that lies right below her left ear, or the way she chews on her lips periodically. He would never notice the small things because all he cared about what was underneath the clothes. Not that Peeta didn't but he liked so much more about her than that.

At the end of the movie, Ms. Everdeen gives him a ride back home. He brings out a dozen cheese buns he had made the night before, knowing it would delight Prim and, though Katniss would never say anything, make her equally just as happy. And that was all he wanted, really.

"How was your date?" Rye yells from the date, an Xbox control in hand as he and Wheaton play the new Madden game they'd gotten for Christmas.

"It wasn't a date," Peeta remarks, going to sit on the couch opposite his brothers.

"Oh, right. She's dating Gale Hawthorne," Wheaton remarks.

"Yeah, sorry about that one bro but look on the bright side. He'll be gone by this time next year and then you have two whole years to make her fall in love with you," Rye says.

He had never said anything to his brothers about liking Katniss but somehow they knew. Maybe it was because he didn't bother correcting them when they said things like this anymore. But Peeta was an open book, always had been.

It seems everyone could read him but Katniss.


"We've got to put a stop to that," Marvel whispers in his ear one afternoon as they sit on the front lawn of the school. Peeta eyes had been trained on Katniss and Gale at the far end but he hadn't realized Marvels had been as well. He looks over at the boy who looks over at him. "He's not a good guy."

"No, he's not," Peeta agrees. "But what are we supposed to do? I can't tell her anything. I don't want her to get mad and I really am not trying to get on Gale Hawthorne's bad side either."

Peeta would be the starting quarterback next year now that his brother was leaving. He would be young and it was already hard enough to form relationships with the upperclassman who didn't really look at him with much respect. But he needed their respect and starting fights and stealing girlfriends wasn't the way to get it.

"He'll show his true colors eventually."

At least he hopes so.


"Get up, Peeta. We're going out," Finnick declares, bursting through the door to his room, Thresh and Cato flanking his sides. He'd thought he locked the door.

It was the beginning of March, the air was beginning to warm up and the boys were tired of Peetas sour mood to them. Sure, they had given him one or two weeks to be alone but his growing depression was also beginning to depress them. No one had any fun without Peeta around, even if he was just there. He was always the mediator and everyone began noticing the obvious decline in the art of making rational decisions.

"I don't want to go anywhere," Peeta said, not even bothering to move from his bed as the boys circled him, pulling clothes from his closet and throwing them in his direction. This was the fourth weekend he had spent alone, Katniss out with Gale and he didn't feel like spending time with Finnick and the guys.

"We weren't really asking you," Cato says, taking it upon himself to put socks and shoes on Peetas bare feet.

"Taking me against my will would be kidnapping and I could call the police," Peeta threatens, fighting off Finnick as he rips the shirt from his body.

"Put this on or we'll take you outside naked," he says, throwing Peeta plaid polo his way. The one he had worn the first day of school. The first day he met Katniss... "Dude! We can't take this shit anymore. C'mon. We're having a boys night. Katniss will be here when we get back."

"I really don't want to go and I don't know if I'm even allowed to go out tonight." That much is true. If he went out without permission, he'd surely get grounded but he could care less about that. He had pretty much been voluntarily grounding himself.

"We talked it over with your dad, said it was fine," Thresh tells him, unplugging his phone from the charger and shoving it in his own pockets. Peeta asks for it, not that it's rung all night, but just in case it does. He wants to be able to reach it as soon as possible if Katniss does get around to calling. She probably won't but there is still a chance.

"No. The phone is staying with us tonight."


Peeta actually ends up having a good time. He gets drunk enough to forget about Katniss for a few hours and crashes in the basement of Finnicks home.

When he wakes up, his head is pounding and he throws up in the bushes outside of Finnicks home. He fishes his phone from Threshs pocket, sneaking out of the backdoor without saying goodbye to his friends, just wanting too get home and shower.

He checks his phone.

Katniss called him not once, not twice, but three times.

He feels guilty when he shuts his phone off and doesn't call her back. For the first time, he doesn't want too.


He avoids her when Monday rolls around.

Throwing himself into his football workouts and actually making the effort to talk to his friends. It's good to talk to someone but even when he is speaking, his mind is constantly formulating thoughts about Katniss. He sees her in the cafeteria, sitting with Gale and his friends at a table not to far away from his own. He feels her eyes on him all throughout the hour but he fights the urge to look up.

When fifth hour rolled around, he contemplated not going, running to the parking lot and hiding in his brothers car. Hell, he could probably spend the 45 minutes in Coach Abernathys office. He doubts he would care. But he needs to make better grades this semester or so his mother tells him. So when the bell rings he walks slowly to the classroom, not caring that he walks in three minutes late.

Peeta sits down next to Katniss. "Why didn't you call me back?" She asks right when he sits down, not giving him a moment to gather his bearings. "Or answer my texts. Did I do something wrong? Are you angry with me?"

"No, Katniss. I was just really tired this weekend," he tells her. Tired of what, he didn't know. He just knew he was getting tired.

"You're angry with me," she says. She doesn't say anything else, turning her body towards the front of the classroom, her eyes everywhere but on Miss Scranton.

Was he angry with her? No. He wasn't angry with her, per se, but he was angry about something. More angry at himself for letting himself feel this way. Then he was angry at Gale for being an asshole. Then angry at Katniss for being naive.

"I'm not angry at you," he says but he's taken to long to say anything. She doesn't believe him now.

So when the bell rings she leaves without another word. Well shit.


He actually tries to call once when he gets home from school that day but she doesn't answer, her phone going straight to voicemail.

She doesn't talk to him the next day during fifth period or the next day.

The third day she doesn't even bother coming to class.


He's throwing a ball around with Rye in the backyard, trying his best to learn all he can from his brother before he goes away to college soon. As much as he hates to admit, he will miss his brothers when they leave. They give him a lot of shit but they also save him from a lot of trouble.

He doesn't know how he'll manage being in a home alone with just his parents. Peeta supposes he'll just start spending more time with his friends at their homes where they still have siblings and sane mothers.

"Try to move your feet, Peeta. C'mon. Get your head in the game," Rye yells, waving his hands frantically as Peeta sends the ball flying. It falls short at his feet and Peeta groans in defeat.

"His heads just not in it," Wheaton yells from the porch where he is engorging himself in what looks like last nights potato salad.

And Peetas head wasn't. It was on a whole lot of other things. All of them including on grey eyed huntress.


Peeta makes the decision to go to her house late one night when his parents are asleep and he should be as well. It probably isn't safe for him to leave, being there are lots of things that wonder the town this late at night but he can't stop himself.

It had been four days since he last spoke to Katniss and he felt that he could ripe his hair out at any moment. His brothers told him too mind his own. Finnick told him to suck it up. But his heart told him to fight for her.

So he makes the ten mile journey to her home on the edge of the Seam, ignoring the looks from her neighbors and the few he gets in town. He sneaks around to her window, knocking his finger on the glass hoping Prim hasn't climbed into bed with her.

Peeta watches as she slips her head at the sound, one hand running through her long locks while the other rubs her eyes. The loose tank top she wears covers little, and in the chill of the spring night her nipples stand at attention.

Get it together Peeta.

She sees him then, her eyes full of surprise as she rises to her feet, crossing the room to lock her door before opening the window too him, helping him maneuver his large body inside. "What the hell are you doing here, Peeta?" She whispers, pushing him onto her bed as she takes a seat in the computer chair opposite him.

What the hell was he doing here? Now his idea seemed foolish.

"I want you to know I'm not angry at you," he says.

"And that couldn't wait till morning, Peeta? You could've been killed out there! It isn't safe to walk here at night," she scolds. He realizes now walking in the Seam without any sort protection in the middle of the night was just as bad as wearing a neon sign above your head asking to get jumped. But for Katniss, he would do it.

"I'm not mad at you," he says again, running a hand over his face. He was wide awake but yet he felt he could drop at any moment.

"Well that's great Peeta but you know what, I'm mad at you!" She spits, crossing her arms across her chest, the scowl he was so used to seeing in the beginning stages of their relationship returning.

"What are you mad at me for?" Peeta asks, standing to his feet.

"Ever since Gale and I started dating you've been MIA!" She yells, keeping her voice down so that he won't be heard but making it loud enough to emphasize her point. "I don't have many girl friends here Peeta. Hell, I don't have many friends here. You're my best friend and I can't count on you anymore."

Looking in her eyes, Peeta realizes that that was all he was. Her best friend. The way she acted, the way she talked, the way she laughed... It was all because she had found a friend in him, not because she felt the same way he did. Katniss was holding onto the hope of friendship while he was fighting to hold onto the thought of love.

Peeta doesn't say anything else as she parades around her room, throwing her hands up when something truly angers her. He lets her speak, yell at him, and curse at him until his hearts content. Not hearing in of the words. Just hearing the slow cracking of his heart.


Gale and Katniss begin officially dating at the end of March, one or two days before Peetas birthday, he can't remember. But when Katniss shows up to his dinner, Gale is by her side, dressed nicely in a button up shirt. Katniss in a dress Peeta had never seen before. She never looked so beautiful.

All of his friends are there. His brothers are there. His parents leave them alone for most of the night. His mother only interrupting once or twice to comment on the fact Cato is dripping sauce on to her expensive linens.

Peeta doesn't taste any of the food but all of his friends reassure him it's delicious.

He gets a good amount of money out of it, a football from his brothers, a flat screen from his parents, a frame from Annie, and a card from Katniss.

He can't bring himself to read the card, not in front of every ones watchful eyes.

Cause then he just might do something stupid like cry.


"Guess who totally sucked my dick last night," Thresh asks the group of boys as they lounge on his couch late one night, playing a distracted game of cards. Distracted mostly because the boys cannot stop their constant chatter about an endless array of girls their seeking.

"No one because you're lying," Marvel says, cursing when Peeta once again wins his hand. "You've got to be cheating here, Peet."

"Johanna Mason," he says proudly, leaning back in his chair as all the boys stare at him in amazement. He was the first of them to do something outside of just making out with a girl and maybe some light groping if time permitted. They all believed it would be Finn but low and behold, Thresh was the first one to cross the doorway in to manhood.

They all congratulate him enviously.


"Mellark get your ass over here!"

Peeta exhales loudly, removing his helmet and giving his wet hair a slight shake, ridding the excess sweat that is beginning to drip into his eyes. The summer days are fast approaching and football was becoming worse and worse as the days progressed. Mostly because Peeta was now having to work directly with Gale being his brothers we're seniors and weren't required to train in offseason. Though they stayed through the class, they mostly sat through the 45 minutes just to bark orders at Peeta who was never good enough as far as they were concerned. And today they were right because Peeta has yet to throw one complete pass to his receivers.

"Warm up that arm, Mccoy!" Coach Abernathy yells to the backup quarterback who looks quiet startled even being called upon. He runs though, fumbling with his helmet and barking out orders at the line who look just as exhausted as Peeta felt. Though he knew he was about to get an earful, he was glad for the momentary break.

"What the hell do you think you're doing," Coach Abernathy mumbles below his breath, his eyes looking straight forward. He chewed on a piece of straw, his snagged tooth hanging from his mouth making him look like a savage beast. He was always hard to deal with but Peeta was finding it as even more of a challenge today.

"I'm sorry sir. It's just really hot out here," Peeta mumbles.

"Oh! Oh, you hear that Roy? It's too hot for little Mellark! That's why he's playing like shit!" He no longer tries to keep his voice low to spare Peeta of embarrassment. "Listen here, Mellark. You are making a fool out of me. Out of this program. Out of your family name. The last thing you want to do right now is mess up your chances of starting next year or all those college letters coming to my door? Yeah, they'll be long gone. You hear?"

Peeta heard. Peeta heard loud and clear.


Katnisses birthday is in late May.

She doesn't do anything but that morning, Peeta arrives on her doorstep with three dozen cheese buns and a bucket of fresh made almond butter because he knows how much she enjoys it. "This is really sweet Peeta," she says graciously, hugging him close to her body for longer than usual.

Things had been weird between the two lately but he was thankful for this. He was thankful for the now and he never wanted the moment to end.

But it did as soon as Gales car parks in front of her home, him with at least a dozen roses in one hand, a box of god knows what in the other. He bounds up the steps, standing at Peetas side. He doesn't acknowledge him.

"Look at what Peeta dropped by. Isn't it sweet," Katniss offers, showing him the baked goods. "He had to have spent all night making them." He had but that wasn't worth sharing.

"Thanks a lot Peeta," Gale replies, giving him a forced smile. "See you in football," he dismisses with a flick of his wrist, his hand coming down on Peetas shoulder.

"Yeah, see you in football, Gale. Bye, Katniss," he whispers, lightly jogging to his brothers car parked about a mile down the road. Rye is asleep in the drivers seat when Peeta makes his way in the car, out of breath and out of hope.

"She like it?" Rye asks, staring the cars engine. Peeta nods his head.


"You see, Mellark, I've got a little problem."

Peeta had been in the locker room for approximately three minutes before Gale bounds up to him, making a much bigger scene then is really needed. By this point, all of the locker room has grown silent to hear the show down that would have come at some point. Peeta had to remind himself for a moment he was just a freshman and if he threw a punch, there would be nobody on his side except for Finnick and maybe his brothers.

"And what's that, Gale?" Peeta asks, continuing to rearrange his pads in his locker in order to be able to fit more of his books.

"I'm sick and tired of you coming around Katniss all the time," he snarls.

"We're just friends," Peeta reassures. He doesn't like the eyes on him. He wishes them all gone in that moment.

"Just friends? Maybe for her but it's different for you. I can see it in the way you look at her and I really don't appreciate my girlfriend being ogled at by-"

"Don't talk about her like you really even care, Gale," Peeta snaps, slamming his locker door shut and spinning on his heel to face Gale. He's grown a little, not much but there isn't such a height deficit. "We all know what game you're trying to play with her."

A spark lights in Gales eyes. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah," Peeta mumbles. "I should just tell her everything. Tell her about what a liar you are and how the only reason you're with her is because of that stupid little-"

He doesn't get to finish his sentence because Gales fist collides with the upper side of jaw before he gets the chance. Peeta has taken many hits before. In fact, he believes his mother may have a better arm. But he can taste the blood in his mouth, feel the worried looks from all around him as Gale beats the lockers like a mad man. Surely he's lost it.

"I'll tell you how she sounds under me, Mellark. Give you something to play into you're fantasy."


"You should've beat the shit out of him, Peeta! You know you could have," Finnick tells him on the walk home, being one of his only friends to actually witness what the whole school was now calling "a beat down". It had been a matter of minutes and everyone knew of it. Peeta could feel the eyes on him as he made his way to his locker at the end of the day, avoiding his brothers in hopes he could escape their teasing for at least another two hours.

Gale had denied having interaction with the whole thing but the dark purple bruise on Peetas jaw was hard to disguise. The small chip in his tooth was too. But he had taken it like a champ or so some of his teammates told him.

"I'm not going to hit him, Finn. I don't fight," Peeta says, reaching up to rub the raw spot.

"But you should've! God, I was about to hit him but you're a lot stronger than me and I probably would've done more harm than good," Finnick says, running his hands through his hair like a mad man. He is right. He would've done more harm than good and Peeta is almost happy no one decided to stand up for him in that moment. The last thing he needed was for the team to be divided.

His parents are furious when he returns home, forcing him to explain in vivid detail everything. But he doesn't want to get Gale in trouble for reasons he cannot understand. Maybe just another way of protecting Katniss, he doesn't know. But he tells them his helmet wasn't on the right way and that he landed on the ground strange. Neither of them believes him. When his brothers get home, he'll have to relay the story to them to make sure they get the right information.

When the knock comes on his door a short time later, he's expecting it to be the twins, anxious to hear the story of what actually happened. They had not been there at that moment and he was glad. No doubt they would have done something irrational.

But the head that peeks around the door doesn't belong to Rye nor Wheaton. It's Katniss.

Her eyes are red, puffy as if she's been crying and without hesitation she bounds across the room, throwing her arms around Peetas neck as he struggled to sit up in bed. She's crying, sobbing, actually, into the neck of his shirt, whispering words he doesn't understand and shaking. He's worried. Is she hurt?

"Katniss, what's wrong?" He asks, guiding her shoulders away from him so he can look into her eyes. Their glassy, wondering as they pass over his face, stopping on the mark on his jaw. She raises her hands to touch the bruised area, one hand flying to cover another sob that threatens to spill out of her mouth.

"I'm so sorry," she weeps. Weeps as if she was the one who took the swing and wounded him.

"It wasn't your fault, Katniss. I'm okay," he says. And he is. Other than the slight pain he feels, he's fine. Never better, actually, with her practically lying on top of him.

"I should've..."

"What could you have done, Katniss?"

She kisses him then. Her lips press tightly to his so unexpectedly he almost doesn't respond. Much like what happened with Clove in the stairwell all those months ago but this is much different. This is something he wants. Something he has been dreaming about for months now.

When he opens his eyes for a moment, hers are closed, his eyebrows knitted tightly together as she works her lips against his. He worries she may be able to feel his growing erection, the one that she is practically sitting on. But if she does, she says nothing.

Peeta could die happy now. He would gladly take a punch every minute of every day if it meant he was able to relive this moment with Katniss over and over again. And he's sure he would relive it over and over and over again.

"Peeta, where are-HOLY SHIT!"

Finnicks loud roar pull them apart. Katniss falling to the floor as she rolls from his lap, Peeta scattering to find a piece of clothing to hide the tent in his pants. Their faces grow red under Finnicks stare, a slow grin growing on his face by the minute.

The scream had alerted his brothers who were, now, also standing in the doorway, Rye with his mouth hanging open in surprise and Wheaton with his a hand in his hair. There were no words spoken for what felt like ever.

Finally Katniss grabs her discarded purse from off the floor, pushing through the wall that the boys have created much to Peetas displeasure. "Katniss, wait!" He calls after her but it's too late. She's already gone and he watches from the window as she sprints across the lawn.

"Well, well, well. Here I was thinking my best friend was going to need a little cheering up but much to my surprise, Ms. Katniss Everdeen was already doing that for him," Finnick jokes.

His brothers laugh. Peeta screams.

"We'll leave you alone to rub out your frustrations."


A million questions swam through his head that night.

What had become of her and Gale? Had they broken up? Were they on a break? Had he told her about their fight or had she heard about it from someone else? Why didn't she go to Gales aid first? He was her boyfriend. Did she kiss him out of pity or because she wanted too?

He's questions are answered the next day during lunch when she sits by his side at the table he shares with his friends, lacing her hand through his for all to see.

He smiled at her and she at him.

What an interesting summer the two would have.

Another story? I know but bare with me. I couldn't get the idea out of my head. Each chapter will depict a year.

the song in which this story is based off of is "Youth" by Daughters. I would recommend listening to it. It's a beautiful song. Thanks!