I apologize that this took me so long to post, but I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who liked or reblogged on Tumblr. I can't say how much I appreciate your support.

Written for Round 5 of Prompts in Panem.

Disclaimer: The Hunger Games belong to Suzanne Collins.


Peeta Mellark was my first kiss.

Gale had tried it once when I was nine and he was eleven, but I slugged him as soon as he leaned in, especially when he opened his mouth and I could see his tongue lolling there like he was an overeager golden retriever.

His look was thunderous and he rubbed his arm where I hit him, complaining that he just wanted to see, that boys and girls were supposed to do this, so why not do it together? I told him that girls and boys might do that, but not this girl, and not with a boy who was more like her brother. He stormed away and didn't talk to me for two weeks. But when he showed up at my house to play video games like nothing had happened, I realized that he had forgiven me and the universe had realigned itself— also, that Gale had found another girl to see with. Over the years, several girls, if the gossip was to be believed, which it probably wasn't, but it was best for our friendship that in that department, Gale seemed more than content.

At 12-years-old, Gale dragged me to my first boy/girl party. Because he was a freshman in high school, I was mostly surrounded by people I didn't know— kids who were too good to talk to the "baby" in middle school. I didn't care what they thought. I was never very good at making friends anyway. Even the few kids my age who managed to be invited as well— Peeta Mellark and Madge Undersee— merely smiled shyly at me and went back to their conversation. I thought about approaching them, but I'd snagged a seat on the couch, a prime spot in the basement near the chips, and I counted down the time on the DVD player beneath the TV, waiting until it had been long enough that I could climb the basement stairs and walk home without Gale getting on my case.

"Come on, this is boring," someone whined, turning down the music that no one was dancing to. I turned my head to see that it was a blonde girl wearing too much makeup, making her look way older than her 14 years. "Let's play a game or something. Cato."

A hulking boy with dirty blonde hair gelled into dangerous looking spikes, reinforcing the square shape of his head, threw his arm around her, his smile becoming wolfish despite her whining.

"All right," he said, bringing his cup to his lips and pretending to contemplate it. "Let's play…Spin the Bottle."

My hand froze halfway to the jar of salsa. I'd never played the game, never really been to a party like this before, but I wasn't that innocent. I'd watched enough TV to know what this game meant. All of a sudden, a torrent of images flooded my head— lolling tongues coming at me from over-wide mouths, except this time, they didn't belong to Gale. Or not just Gale. They belonged to the beefy looking douche who'd suggested the game. To the boy in the corner who had orange Cheeto powder lingering around the corners of his mouth.

To Peeta Mellark, whose panicked eyes met mine from across the room, then flitted away, color filling his cheeks. God knows what I looked like in that moment.

"Gross," the blonde girl said, pushing Cato's arm off of her playfully. "Fine, let's do it." She rolled her eyes, but found an empty bottle in a suspiciously short amount of time.

Kids started plopping down in a circle, scooting back to make room for others. I was probably one foot from the bottom of the stairs when someone stopped me.

"Hey, you! Gale's friend!" I turned to see a girl with dark eyeliner and heavy black boots pointing an accusing finger at me.

"Katniss," I supplied, my tone surly.

"Well not so fast, Cat-nip." I tried to correct her, but she wasn't easily talked over. "There aren't enough girls as it is. So just sit down, pucker up, and think of England."

I had no idea what that meant. But even if the last thing I cared about was what these strangers thought of me, I hated being the center of attention. And every last set of eyes was staring at me expectantly. The only way to get them to stop was to make my way over to the circle and plop down. So I did.

The hooting and hollering made me cringe. Every time the bottle landed on someone new, the group broke out into giggles and whoops like they'd never seen two people press their lips together before. Like this was the height of some sacred mating ritual. Most of them looked like they were trying too hard, boys pawing at the back of some poor girl's head, some of them tilting their heads so far to the side that they looked like they were performing CPR.

When the bottle landed on me, I was barely paying attention. In my curious examination of how everyone was interacting, I forgot to be afraid. To feel the nervous panic of knowing that, not only would I have to kiss someone, I'd also have to do it in front of an entire group of people. When Madge nudged me, I froze, my cheeks heating as the realization hit me. My eyes dropped to the bottle pointing straight at my shoes. I followed the line of it up to meet the eyes of everyone sitting across from me, all of them wearing shit-eating grins. Except for Peeta Mellark. He looked terrified.

He also had his hand poised in the air. Kind of like he had just spun that sinister amber bottle.

"I—we—" Peeta couldn't get out a sentence, not more than one word, really. But he was shaking his head and I knew what that meant.

My eyes dropped shamefully. I wanted to be angry. To tell him that this game was stupid and that I hadn't wanted to play anyway. But my gut twisted with something else. I didn't cry easily. Not since losing my father. I had real things to cry about. Not dumb party games and boys. But my eyes burned and I thought dreadfully that if there was anything worse than kissing someone in front of a group of people, it was crying in front of them.

"Aww, come on, man. Don't make the girl feel bad," I heard Cato's amused voice urge. I couldn't even feel gratitude for his meager defense. It was too slick. Too full of pity.

"Yo, what's the problem? You think you're too good for my friend?"

My head shot up. Shut up, I urged Gale with my eyes, my expression fierce.This is only making it worse.

"I'm sorry, Katniss." The warm voice didn't come from my best friend, however. Reluctantly, I moved my head to meet Peeta's gaze, which was still terrified, but apologetic. "I didn't mean—"

"Let's just get this over with," I said, already moving to my knees and walking on them to his spot.

Again, he scarcely moved, his mouth dropping open and his eyes widening in shock again. It looked unnatural, eyes that big, but it balanced out his nose, which was slightly rounded at the end. And it was pink. As pink as his flushed cheeks. And his lips.

My gaze had darted there, as if without any command from me. But that was my target, wasn't it? Just lips. Pressing my lips to another person's lips until everyone stopped watching us and life could go on. They were upturned, even when he wasn't smiling. Which Peeta did a lot. Not at me, necessarily. But in general, it was something I noticed over the years. Even if he fell off the swings in kindergarten, or had to explain to the teacher about the bruises he got from wrestling with his big brothers, his face would fall only for a second before he smoothed it over with a bright smile, as if nothing had happened at all.

If only he didn't seem so terrified of me.

When my gaze darted up again, I found his eyelids drooping as if they'd been weighted. They made his eyes look normal again, just like any other person's; except for that shade of blue. It was the kind of color you could see from across the room. The kind that, even in class pictures where there are 30 students crammed together on bleachers and they're all squinting into the sun, someone could look at the photo and go, "Oh yeah, that blue-eyed kid. What's-his-name."

They were intent on my lips now. And I don't know if we were taking a million years to do this, or if it just felt that way. All the noise from the group buzzed around me, indistinguishable. And the quickest way to end this would be to start it in the first place.

So I leaned forward and basically mashed my face into his. But I did it so quickly that I lost my balance and before I could grab desperately for Peeta's shoulders to keep us both from toppling over, his hands found my waist and steadied me. He gently pushed me back so I could regain my center of gravity, his form following mine fluidly, his lips a hair's breadth from mine. I didn't see the reactions of the people in the room, and whether they were laughing even harder at how totally inept we were. I didn't see because I don't think Peeta and I broke eye contact even for a second. I don't remember blinking. His eyes just held mine as steadily as his hands did my waist. As soon as I was sitting straight on my knees again, his hands released me.

At that moment, I caught up on my blinks, letting my eyes flutter rapidly while I tried to catch my breath. Because we still hadn't kissed. And all I could do was stare at him like a moron.

A moment before he leaned in, I felt a warm pressure on my hand. Peeta's fingers curled around my palm and gave it a reassuring squeeze. I gripped them back and his lips met mine.

His lips were soft and dry. It almost made me self-conscious about my own which were wet from the way I'd nervously licked them at the last moment. And my eyes were still open, which I only noticed because Peeta's closed slowly as I watched him. They didn't screw up tight the way I'd seen some of the other kids do, especially the few girls who had to kiss Cheeto-boy.

They just drifted shut, kind of like mine do when I get that first sip of hot chocolate from Hazelle on a cold day.

So I closed my eyes. And I forgot how many senses I was supposed to have because all I was aware of was soft. How soft his lips were. How they puckered against mine but didn't push for more. And his fingers, the pads of them slightly callused like he spent a lot of time on a rope swing, but the rest of his palm was so soft. Soft and dry against my own sweaty hand. But he didn't let go.

And there was scent, too. His smell. Clean, not like most boys my age. Clean like soap and laundry detergent and a freshly scrubbed face and soft, thick hair that brushed my forehead. And a hint of spice like he wore the bakery on his skin. On his soft skin.

"All right!" Out of all the noise, Gale's hard voice was enough to cause me to rear back. Pulling away was like dunking my head in cold water and I met Peeta's eyes as they opened, hazy and unfocused. "You guys have enough of corrupting my best friend?"

There were titters amongst the girls, and guys telling Gale to lighten up, and Madge had to tug on my arm to remind me to sit back in my seat.

I tried not to look at Peeta the rest of the night. Not when the rest of the group was occupied and I was bored of watching Cato shove his tongue down Glimmer's throat (that was the blonde girl's name, I discovered, and it was so perfect I didn't know whether to cringe or to laugh, but I did not look at Peeta to see what he thought). And not when the bottle landed on me a few more times and I got to my knees to deliver a cold, hard peck just off center of those random boys' mouths. Just enough to get it over with. And definitely not long enough to do anything ridiculous like smell them.

But it was difficult. Especially when I could see him looking at me out of the corner of my eye, and when I half meet his gaze, we'd both look away nervously again, which was nothing quite so new for us— except for the lingering half smile on his face.

And it was even more difficult the few times Peeta had to kiss another girl and I studied my cuticles, or the soles of my sneakers where the rubber was wearing down. And if I did happen to look at him, it was only to find him looking at me with his mouth pulled to the side sheepishly. Almost apologetically. As if he had anything to apologize for! We were all forced to play this dumb game. If there was anything redeeming about it, it was that it served as a great equalizer, because everyone had to kiss someone they didn't like or didn't know, and only once in a while did they get to kiss someone who they did

Anyway. I definitely didn't look at him, not more than I had to. I didn't really look at anyone except Gale and that was to shoot him a murderous scowl. He had the good sense to look contrite.

I had to look at Peeta when I left though, because we found ourselves at the bottom of the stairs in our coats at the same time. He just smiled sheepishly at me again and gestured for me to go up first.

We made our way outside and to the end of the drive without a word. When I turned to leave, knowing my house was in the opposite direction of his, I gave him a wan smile, but he stopped me with a tug at my sleeve.

"Hey, Katniss—" he started, before clearing his throat, likely trying to clear out the adolescent boy squeak, because when he spoke again his voice was deeper, if a little scratchy. "I'm sorry about before, um…"

He trailed off and kicked the edge of the lawn with his toe, just missing the yellow weeds that had sprouted up.

I thought he was apologizing for kissing me, and it made me want to wipe my mouth with the back of my hand in shame.

But then I remembered before the kiss, the way he looked scared and reluctant, just like right now. And my shame didn't flee.

"Oh, yeah," I shrugged stiffly, "It's not a big deal. It's a dumb game anyway."

"No, but," his head lifted and he moved closer to me, his eyes so wide and earnest they were almost pleading with me. "That's not it! I just—"

I waited for him to finish, feeling the canvas of my jacket cool the heated skin at the back of my neck.

"That was my first kiss." His voiced dropped to near whisper and my eyes widened in surprise. He must have taken that for some kind of unspoken judgment, because his cheeks pinkened again under the light of the streetlamp.

I laughed. I didn't mean to. I laughed and his brows furrowed like he was upset, or disappointed, or betrayed or— I don't know, but I tried to choke down my laughter and reassure him.

"Peeta," I started, and he shook his head to himself like he had earlier that evening. Before he could turn on his heel and never speak to me again, I finally managed to finish. "That was my first kiss, too."

For a moment, he just breathed. I could see the air fill his lungs and lift his chest before he let it all out. "Oh."

I shrugged again and kicked the same spot he had, unsure of what else to say.

The silence went on so long, I had to look up to make sure Peeta was still even there.

He was there. And he had a big, dopey smile on his face.

I narrowed my eyes at him and he tried— and failed— to wipe the smile off his face.

"It is a dumb game," he offered with a shrug, but his upturned mouth refused to turn down, so much so that his cheeks must have been hurting. "But I—I'm glad it was you."

My mouth dropped open and my eyes did that thing where they wouldn't stop blinking, like they had gone as dry as my mouth.

"I mean," he added quickly, "that one girl Johanna looked like she could kick my ass, and most of the girls smelled like, I dunno, a Jolly Rancher mixed with rubbing alcohol."

I giggled, a foreign sound coming from my mouth, and I tried to swallow it just as quickly as it escaped.

"So are you, uh, okay to get home?" he asked. It was clear he had no way to remedy this if I wasn't, as I was pretty sure he had walked here himself. But he tucked his hands into his coat pockets and swung them like he was nervous, so I didn't point this out.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Gale said I could catch a ride, but I don't feel like waiting for him," I said, remembering the smug grin on his lips after that eye-linered Johanna girl ended their kiss with a bite to his lower lip. Gross. "I'm only a few blocks away."

"Oh, okay. Cool. Um—" he left off, bobbing his head to some silent beat. "Well, goodnight Katniss."

His lips turned up again. Soft. Pink. Blue eyes far too wide in his face.

"Yeah, goodnight," I replied, giving him an awkward wave.

I turned on my heel and started walking home, my hands clenching and unclenching in my pockets. I tried to relax my face as it occurred to me that the muscles ached from being stretched into some sort of grimace. I don't know why I felt so…out of sorts. He said he was glad it was me.

I turned my head after a few paces to find him watching me. He looked down quickly and started to shuffle away, but it gave me the courage to say it.

"Peeta," I called. He stopped and turned. "I'm…glad it was you, too," I mumbled, turning and scurrying down the sidewalk before I could see his reaction.


My palms were sweating. I kept wiping them on the knees of my jeans, hoping no one would notice.

Every time I looked up, Peeta Mellark's eyes were on me. But then, every time he looked away and then looked back, my eyes were on him. It was hard to know who even started it, but clearly neither of us had any intention of ending it.

This was more eye contact than we'd shared in two years. In some ways, things had gone on as they always had— I would walk into a room or down the hallway at school and look up to see Peeta watching me. Except before, his eyes would flit away as if he could pretend I hadn't caught him at it, and I'd scowl, wondering what this boy wanted. If it were anyone else, I'd have worried that he wanted to hide a toad in my locker or give me a cootie shot, but I'd known Peeta since kindergarten and if he were going to bully or tease me, he'd have done it by now. Besides, Peeta wasn't a bully. That idea was laughable.

But now. Now, when I caught him looking at me, we'd both look away, cheeks heating like we had some shared secret. Which was silly, because yes, we'd kissed. But we'd done it in front of a bunch of people on a night where everyone was kissing everyone, and we'd even kissed other people!

But I guess it was a secret, because we were each other's firsts, and I didn't think anyone else knew that. And they definitely didn't know that I hadn't kissed anyone since then.

Not that I cared. I was in high school now and I needed to take it seriously. I remember asking Gale the summer after middle school if high school was hard. He wiped his greasy hands on a rag, stared blankly for a minute before answering succinctly: "Yes."

That wasn't comforting. I didn't expect him to say it was a breeze, but I hope he'd shrug it off like, Eh, you know how it is, Catnip. School is lame. You get more homework. But you'll be fine.

But instead, I got a solid "yes" before he went back to working on his shitty old car.

And he was right. It was tough. Honors classes guaranteed even more assignments than usual, so that on top of babysitting Prim and making sure dinner was on the table every night, I had priorities that did not include finding some horny teenage boy to suck face with.

Not that kissing was gross, per se. At least, in my limited experience of it, it was mostly…not gross.

It just shouldn't be that big of a deal, is all. Aside from my parents, I didn't really know any adult who had found the love of their life in high school— and look how that one example turned out.

And who knows? People like Peeta Mellark may have kissed several different girls already. I know Gale had by this age. And if this stupid game demonstrated anything, it was that this was all interchangeable. Interchangeable body parts and names and faces.

Which is why it made no sense for my palms to be sweating like they did when I lost my footing on a high tree branch.

Madge was sitting next to me again. We did that a lot— sat next to each other without saying a whole lot. It was nice, though. Comforting. We liked each other, obviously, otherwise we'd find other people to sit next to or to work with on group projects. We just weren't particularly loquacious. We weren't like Peeta Mellark, for example. Peeta, who chatted happily to just about everyone except me.

I blew an errant hair out of my face. This was dumb. Just as dumb as it was two years ago.

Dumb, dumb, dumb each time the bottle spun and Peeta and I had to kiss. Which was twice.

The first time Peeta had to spin it (immediately after Delly had kissed him chastely on the cheek during her turn and people had booed), he looked up at me before he did it. Like he was aiming for me. I wish he hadn't done that. It made it look to all these people like we had some secret thing. Aside from that other secret thing, I mean. Being each other's first kiss. And now my second. Which I didn't mind so much because he didn't shake his head this time or look scared. He just looked down at the bottle as it slowed to a stop in front of me and let a sheepish half grin take over his face, one that he tried to hide when he looked up. So I huffed and rolled my eyes at him good-naturedly, hoping that we looked like any other couple from the circle so randomly put together.

But when we reached each other in the middle, his eyes went hazy, just like they had the last time. I didn't doubt that mine probably looked the same because being this close to him brought back that memory so vividly.

I learned in freshman Biology that your sense of smell is the one most strongly linked to memory, and I never realized how completely true that was until my eyes dropped to the collar of the white undershirt peeking out from his sweatshirt— that spot was the culprit of all of this. Clean, laundered cotton. A hint of spice at the hollow of his throat. Not the product of some manufactured, bottled scent from the drugstore that boys wore to impress girls. Something else. Something as natural as the breeze carrying the smell of grass and wildflowers through the air.

He nudged my nose with his just slightly before our lips pressed together. Like last time, he didn't press too hard or move them at all. Just set them against mine like it was their natural resting place.

"Okay, now you, Katniss!" Delly called.

Which immediately brought us to the second kiss. (Or third, if you want to widen the scope.)

Peeta laughed once, a surprised sound that caught in his throat. I just huffed and made a face like, Can you believe this. Which I couldn't. I didn't have any intention of having it land on him. In fact, I wasn't really even aware of spinning the bottle. Madge must have pulled me back down beside her again, and I think I was too dazed from fear or anticipation of the next boy, or caught in thick, choking memory, that I didn't even give it a second thought before spinning.

And it landed right back on Peeta before he'd even gotten back to his seat.

"Tongue this time!" someone yelled. People laughed, Peeta did finally get that shocked look back in his eyes, and when I glanced at Madge, she just shrugged like, them's the rules.

I couldn't even pretend I didn't know those were the rules. I did. I might have looked them up once on my computer, just to be prepared. Just to get an idea of what this game was really supposed to entail in case I ever had to play it again. There were too many different variations to keep track of, which makes sense because it's not like we were in a chess match. This was just a way for antsy adolescents to get some human contact. It's not like they were going to assign referees.

And I wasn't about to draw more attention to myself by arguing.

This time it was me giving him a comforting, sheepish smile as we leaned in. Before my eyes slid shut though, he whispered so that only I could hear him under the murmur of voices and distant music playing.

"Katniss, I don't…we don't have to. We can just pretend. I'll just move my head to the side— they won't even known."

"Whatever," I said quickly. Dismissively. But despite the stiff way I lifted my shoulder, I could hear the tone of my voice and it came out as something else. Something breathier and more full of…possibility. Like I was giving permission for whatever.

My eyes shut against the intense look he was giving me. I waited for the press of his lips, but a split second before I felt that, his hand came up to cradle my face— fingers sliding past the skin behind my ear to find purchase in my hair, his thumb whispering lightly across my jaw. Then I felt his lips against mine. And I focused on that and let him do what he wanted. Let him tilt my head just slightly, let him adjust his lips so they were wrapped around my bottom one, more than the light pucker I was used to from him. I just waited for him to play-act— to pretend that we were sharing some steamy, open-mouthed kissed that everyone seemed anxious for.

Except, just as I opened my mouth a little to get more air in (my nose definitely wasn't doing a sufficient job because my chest was almost heaving with the effort of taking in oxygen), he moved his lips to capture my top one instead and just when I expected the kiss to end, I felt a smooth swipe of his tongue under my top lip. The movement so slow, but so measured that only I probably knew it had happened.

And I could feel myself shudder. But his hand didn't leave my face until he had fully pulled back and my eyes were open again. Open and focused on nothing and everything. I plopped back into my seat.

I heard some disappointed groans. Clearly, this crowd was used to the kind of tongue swirling, jaw gaping, alien-like make out sessions courtesy of people like Glimmer and Cato.

But my lips were numb like they'd been rubbed with peppermint salve and I'd never been so aware of how many things could, and should, go into a kiss. Lips and tongues and teeth all together. Not just a showy display of spit swapping.

That's also the moment that I realized Peeta seemed way too good at this.

This was maybe only the third one of these parties I'd been to, and it was the second time I'd played this game. Peeta was far more popular than I was. How many parties had he been to? How many rounds had he played? Just because I never saw him at school with a girl on his arm didn't mean I knew anything about his experience. Aside from knowing that I was his first kiss.

"Oh...Peeta!" Madge laughed, interrupting my thoughts. I found her scrunching up her nose and covering her mouth with her hand.

I cut a quick look to the bottle, already knowing what I'd find. When I looked back at Madge, her features were screwed up tentatively, almost cowering, like she was afraid of my reaction. And why should she be? I may have been scowling, but I always scowled. It wasn't a big deal. She could kiss Peeta just like I did. It was part of the game. He could even use the opportunity to try out more techniques, of which he probably knew many.

I felt his eyes on me even as he moved toward Madge. Was he sizing us up, considering how different it would be to kiss Madge with her full lips that were pink with gloss? Sticky, I imagined, but nothing that boys weren't used to. He'd probably have it smeared all over his mouth when they were done. The idea turned my stomach.

I only watched the kiss out of the corner of my eye, but it ended quickly enough, and I noticed Peeta wiping his mouth afterward with an apologetic look at Madge.

The downside of this game— one of the many downsides— was that it was like Monopoly. It never seemed to end, no one really knew the point, and it usually led to drama and hurt feelings.

I merely crossed my arms and waited for a good excuse to leave. After Darius landed on me and tried to grab my waist before I pushed him away with barely a peck, I was ready to take my opportunity.

Except, of course, I couldn't, because everyone insisted I had to take my turn.

So I spun the bottle and landed on Peeta Mellark. Apparently, the one boy in the universe God had destined me to kiss. Four times.

I remembered Madge's lip gloss and cringed when I realized I'd probably find out how it tasted if Peeta hadn't done a good enough job wiping it off.

I got to my knees and made my way toward Peeta like I was being led to slaughter. He must have noticed, because he didn't look so frightened as he did…sad. Or regretful. Or whatever he was trying to tell me with those ridiculous puppy dog eyes.

"Nope, nuh uh!" Darius called, his eyes mischievous and bug-like under nearly translucent lashes. "The third time means you go in the closet. Seven minutes in Heaven!"

I could have killed him. He was probably still smarting from the half-kiss I gave him. It served him right for being an overeager pervert.

"Wha—" Peeta started, clearly one of the few people who didn't know what that meant, as everyone else was hooting and making crude gestures.

I put him out of his misery because he looked so lost. Also, because if he didn't know what it meant when you landed three times on the same person, then maybe he hadn't played this game as often as I thought.

I stood from the floor, my chin high and proud, ignoring everyone around us, and held out my hand to him. He scrambled quickly to his feet and took it without a word, his eyes wide but trusting.

"Seven minutes and no more, you pervs," I called, and everyone laughed harder.

I found the closet where some of us had hung our coats. Thankfully, there weren't so many that Peeta and I couldn't fit inside. The thought occurred to me that if it were overflowing with coats, then maybe Peeta and I would be off the hook.

But hypotheticals didn't matter. We were here, everyone was waiting for us to go in, and there was room.

I stepped inside and pulled Peeta in behind me.

"We're supposed to stay in here for seven minutes," I explained.

"Well, yeah, I figured that," Peeta answered, fumbling for the light. It lit up overhead and the waves hanging over his forehead shadowed his face. "But what are we supposed to do in here?"

I raised my eyebrows at him. A flush bloomed across his cheeks.

"Okay," he managed after a moment, staring at his shoes, "but like, just kissing, or—?"

He trailed off and then looked up at me, expecting me to finish. Like I was the expert on makeout games and fooling around in closets.

"I don't know, Peeta," I said. "Whatever."

Whatever.

That word again.

Whatever you want, a small voice in my head urged.

My face filled with heat like he could have heard that. I didn't even understand what it meant. I was still getting used to my body, and changes, and ick— cringe-worthy health class lectures, and seeing boys look at me when I bent over and my shirt rode up my back.

I didn't know how to dress my body, or what to do with it when I saw the wrestling team coming back from practice with bare chests on display and my hands itched for something to do, and I had to hastily wipe dirty thoughts and images from my head. Images I didn't really even know the origins of except for a few R-rated movies I'd watched late at night after Prim was asleep and my mom was working a shift.

And here I was, mentally offering it up to Peeta Mellark to do with as he liked. Whatever he liked.

I cleared my throat, and hopefully my face too, of all the expressions that had probably crossed it as those horrible, confusing thoughts raced through my head.

He was just looking at me, hands in his pockets.

"It's already been a minute or two, probably," Peeta said shyly. "We can just...keep standing here."

"Right," I nodded.

"Except—"

"Yeah?" I asked quickly. He stepped closer and I had to crane my head to look at it. He'd grown more than a few inches in the last two years.

"Well, usually when people make out, their lips are all red and swollen, right?" I nodded. "I mean, when you and I—" He cleared his throat and looked away. "And their hair is a little messed up." He gestured to mine. "I dunno, if you wanna make sure they don't send us back in here for not following the rules…"

"Right," I said, like I understood what he was saying. But I just stood there, at a complete loss for what to do.

After a second, his hand raised in the air. I expected it to land on my jaw again. I tilted my head back just a little, unthinkingly.

His fingers came up to my hairline, his palm just glancing off the skin of my temple. He pulled at a piece of hair, so gently that all I felt was a small tug as it came loose from my braid and probably stuck up an inch or so at the top of my head.

A breathy laugh escaped me as I realized what he was doing, and he smiled. His other hand came up and ten fingers carded through my thick hair, pulling it away from my neck and loosening my braid. A piece fell into my eye and before I could flick it away, Peeta gently swept it aside, his hand trailing across my forehead as he smoothed it back in place, his fingers lingering right above my ear, which was searing hot.

"That kinda defeats the purpose," I teased, my voice thick.

"Right," he said with a short, breathy laugh, but he didn't move his hands.

I moved mine. Right into thick, ashy blond waves. We both let out a deep exhale at the same time. Loud. Shaky.

I tried to rumple his hair, but it was so light and silky, and he used almost no product, that it felt right back into place, which was already kind of messy and askew. I realized that I could run my hands through Peeta's hair for hours and no one would be the wiser.

"Maybe, um," he whispered, "you should bite your lips. Make them look red, ya know?"

"Yeah, sure," I nodded. This seemed like a good plan of action. "You could, too."

"What?" he asked, his eyes wide, almost black in the low light.

"I meant you can bite yours…I mean. That's what I meant," I stammered.

"Oh, right," he said, but it didn't seem like he really heard me.

His eyes were on my lips now, there was no helping it. Two inches away, hands in each other's hair, his eyes on my lips. My brain really didn't stand a chance.

"Either way," I shrugged, which was difficult since my hands were in his hair. Really, it just made my chest rise, like I was offering myself up to him. "Whatever."

His lips were on mine. Hard. Fast. Hard and soft. Soft lips that were insistent. I tugged at his hair, strands falling through my fingers, and his mouth opened a fraction. This time I took his bottom lip. It was full and amazing and I'd never cared so much about a lip in my life. A pink, soft bit of flesh and it was the best thing I'd ever had in my mouth. Peeta lips.

He tasted like peppermint. So did I. Clearly we both came to this party prepared for the possibilities.

I would have forgotten to ever relinquish his bottom lip, but he did that thing again. Dragged his tongue inside my mouth, just under my lip. I whimpered. The sound was loud in the space between us, but I was glad that it was probably muffled by the door and the people making noise outside. It wasn't for them. It was just for him.

"Is that okay?" he asked. I scowled at him, resenting that he was wasting his lips on words when we only had 420 seconds in here and we probably wasted half of them playing with each other's hair.

But yes. Yes, it was okay. It was especially okay because he looked so hesitant about it. Like it was maybe only the second time he'd had his tongue in a girl's mouth. My mouth.

"Mmm." It was a "yes" against his lips because I drew him back by his hair before I could form the word.

I wanted to try it, too. With anyone else, it seemed weird. My tongue touching their teeth, saliva and hot breath.

But I wanted to know what the inside of Peeta's lip tasted like.

And as soon as I made the attempt, my tongue met his— he was probably in the middle of repeating the same motion on me since I had clearly liked it so much. This was good too, though. We both moaned and he tilted his head so he could better stroke my tongue with his. His hand cradled the back of my head, his callused fingers moving against my scalp. It was weird. It also made my arms break out in goosebumps.

He seemed to miss my lips, because he pulled away just a fraction and worked his around each of mine frantically, pulling and nibbling so much that I was sure they were red. Redder than I ever could have made them myself. I just let him do what he wanted, liquid in his arms, darting my tongue out to taste any part of his mouth I could, whenever I could.

A loud thump at the door made us both jump, but we stayed connected, arms wrapped around each other, mouths frozen mid-motion, but still touching.

"Time's up, lovebirds!" someone called.

Peeta's eyes were needy. Reluctant. Desperate. But the person outside the door kept thumping, and he stepped away, turning his back to me for a moment and facing the wall.

I frantically smoothed my hair down and when Peeta turned back around, he gave me a shy smile, but his eyes were amused, his brows furrowed.

Oh, I thought. This is the look I was going for in the first place. My hands dropped from my messy hair and I smiled at him. He reached out to squeeze my hand and let me out first.

We ended up leaving the party at different times because Gale had promised my mom he'd pick me up after his shift at the gas station. He wouldn't be happy if he knew I'd walked home alone, especially since I was a good mile and a half away.

The nervous eye contact with Peeta was still there, and even though we blushed and fidgeted like always, this time we shared secret smiles across the room. That is, until Gale came to the front door and yelled for me, telling me it was time to get going.

I said goodnight to Madge and a few other people, but when I turned to find Peeta's eyes, there was no smile on his face. He looked almost…guilty. And he turned back to his conversation with Delly Cartwright and I walked out the door with sweaty palms.


I felt bad for Madge. It wasn't that she didn't know what high school parties were supposed to be like; by the beginning of our junior year, she'd been to plenty of them. Even I had been to a few.

She knew what they were like, it's just— the whole party scene sort of went against everything Madge was. Clean, polished, refined, understated. Classy.

The best parties were usually thrown in someone's basement, or in their big backyard, where people mixed up red Solo cups and sat wherever they wanted to, and the lights were low and the music was loud. I wasn't a huge fan of them myself, and I'd probably never had more than 5 beers in my life, but once in a while it was nice to unwind, to feel anonymous in a dark corner. And, my traitorous heart reminded me, I had some good memories of these kind of parties.

But that was kid stuff. And sitting in what was clearly Madge's formal living room on furniture that was beautiful to look at (and probably cost more than Gale's car) but uncomfortable to sit on— it just felt a little more adult dinner party than any of us were used to, and Madge looked frantic.

She ran to dim some of the lights and told people not to worry about leaving rings on the coffee table. She even tossed some throw blankets over the pristine white couches— not to keep them from getting dirty, I could tell, but more because she wanted people to feel comfortable. Like they could plop down and relax.

It wasn't quite working. And it didn't help that Gale was there. He had graduated last spring and was working his way through community college. He said he felt stupid coming to a high school party. Madge said I didn't have to invite him, that he'd probably hate it anyway. Which is how I knew she was desperate for him to come. Desperate, but scared shitless. She had always liked him. I may be oblivious when it comes to some parts of that wide range of human emotion, but I wasn't stupid enough to miss that.

"The keg's been tapped," Gale declared, wandering into the living room, managing to look big even in the giant, high-ceiling'ed space.

"Oh, thank you," Madge breathed and relaxed against the wall. A group of kids fled as soon as he'd finished his pronouncement. I was feeling pretty certain that even after they'd filled their cups, they'd be lingering in the large chef's kitchen.

Gale approached the couch, lifted the end of a blue blanket and peered under it curiously. He glanced at me in question. I widened my eyes. Just sit the fuck down, Gale.

He took the hint, only shifting once to pull up a decorative pillow that looked about as soft as a brick.

"Just throw that anywhere," Madge said quickly, like he'd found a stash of pot or a condom wrapper under there, instead of a beaded pillow.

Gale shrugged and tossed it over the arm of the couch. Madge beamed at him and he scratched the back of his head, his forearm only partially covering his smile. I rolled my eyes at them.

The doorbell rang and Madge jumped up to answer it.

"You can probably just leave that cracked open, Madge," he called. "No need to run every time some freshman can't figure out how to open a door."

"Oh…right," she said, like this had never occurred to her.

"Let's get some music going," he told me and I was glad to lift my sore ass from the divan.

An hour later, the bottom floor of her house was filled with people and the situation didn't look quite so desperate. People were talking and drinking, and the music was going. But no one was quite drunk, definitely not enough for dancing, and even though she'd managed to talk to Gale without blushing the whole time, Madge was still having to run away to tend to things every few minutes and I could feel her tension.

I didn't understand why. For me, this was the perfect party. No one was grinding up on each other, things weren't being trashed, girls weren't running from the bathroom with mascara streaks down their cheeks, and guys weren't pounding their chests and acting like apes.

I could just talk to my friends and relax.

Except I wasn't relaxed.

I don't know why, exactly. Maybe it was because Gale was acting weirder than normal, probably equally distracted by his newfound interest in Madge. Maybe because her jitters were airborne and I couldn't escape them. Or perhaps because Delly talked loudly, and with her hands, right in your face, drunk or sober.

Or maybe because Peeta Mellark had just walked in the door and I could feel his gaze on my face like someone had turned on a spotlight and aimed it right at me until my vision went streaky and my forehead perspired.

I couldn't judge Madge for the way she went all soft in the head when Gale was around. Fixation was a dangerous, all-consuming thing that even smart, rational people can be towed under by. But right now her life— or her love life, to be exact— was full of possibilities. Gale was attentive, offering more smiles than he usually offered anyone, and stepping in when she needed help with something.

My fixation was like an itch under my skin. Something that I scratched at until I had red flesh and still no relief. Mine seemed to avoid my eyes and sit on the opposite side of the classroom from me and give no indication that we knew each other at all. That we'd had classes together since kindergarten. That we'd shared saliva.

And he was still the only fucking boy I'd ever kissed.

I don't know if it felt worse being ignored or like I was his dirty little secret. I used to feel almost powerful being able to make him blush. Now, I just felt exactly like what a blush represented— embarrassed. I was embarrassing. He was embarrassed to have kissed me, or embarrassed to let it go so far, or embarrassed that I had clung to him like he had the answers to all of life's questions in the hollow of his throat. In the hot depths of his mouth. In the soft space between his thumb and his forefinger.

I heard how girls whispered about him in the locker room. They whispered about other boys, too, but Peeta's name was the only one that made me fumble with my lock and crane my head. They mostly talked about how hot he was, how good he looked in his wrestling uniform, or how killer his smile was. I always thought it was kind of crooked. Crooked smile, too wide eyes, rounded nose.

I never heard anything too specific. If I had heard about some girl making out with him in the movie theater, or going down on him in the backseat of his car, I would have—

I don't know what I would have done. Hurled? Pushed that girl's head into a locker?

I don't know. Nothing, probably. I would have just suffered in silence, like I have too long about this—

I don't even know what to call it. A crush, I guess.

A crush I could have gotten over by this point if I'd just grown the balls to stick my tongue down another guy's throat.

I just never felt like that kind of person. I still had much bigger things to worry about, and I wasn't someone who gossiped about boys in the locker room, or even noticed them walking down the hallway, no more than I noticed anyone else, and certainly not enough to contemplate their hotness or wonder what it would be like to have their weight pressing down on me in the dark.

I did get…urges. And feelings. And I took care of them as I'm sure most teenagers did when they were alone, but mostly it was just faceless guys, imaginary scenarios that, well, if they weren't quite romantic, they were at least full of tension and build up and more than just mindless rutting. And okay, admittedly, sometimes the guy wasn't faceless.

I knew I should just try it, though. Kiss another guy and realize they're all exactly the same and my over-inflated imagination and inexperience built up this one guy in my head until I had nothing else to focus my stray teenage hormones on.

It didn't help that Peeta was a nice guy. A smart guy. The kind of guy who helped a teacher jack up their car when they found they had a flat tire in the parking lot. The kind of guy who wrote award-winning essays that no one would even have known about if teachers didn't submit his work for him. He was the kind of guy who had a kind word and a smile for everyone. Everyone but me.

It had been too many years now. I wasn't going to spend any more time wondering why he didn't like me; or why he did like me and was ashamed of it. I'd focus on bigger things, and if faceless guys and fictional ones didn't satisfy my curious thoughts, then I'd just find one in the flesh. Hopefully, one who wouldn't take up too much of my time.

"Should we play a game?"

Madge had materialized behind me, frantically whispering the suggestion into my ear.

"I dunno," I said unhelpfully. "People seem okay. But if you want to."

"I just feel like they're gonna leave."

"Beer pong?" I offered.

She huffed exasperatedly. "I thought of that, but I don't really have a good surface."

"I can take one of your doors off its hinges. Do you have any saw horses I can lay it flat on?" Gale asked, appearing beside her and bracing his arm on the wall above her head.

She was too busy looking horrified to notice the sly smile on his face.

"He's joking," I assured her.

"Yo, everybody! Who wants to play a game?" Gale boomed over the top of the crowd.

"What game?" someone shouted back.

"Hell if I know."

People started shouting suggestions. Charades earned a groan. Flip cup had the same requirements as beer pong. Someone shouted "Spin the bottle!" and my face turned to stone. I would kill that person.

"Oh, no!" Madge said, and I relaxed gratefully. Before she tacked on, "We can step it up from there— Seven Minutes in Heaven!"

"Are you fucking kidding me?" I bit out.

Madge had the decency to look sheepish. She didn't know about the extent of my experiences with Peeta— not beyond the two kisses she bore witness to the last time I played that game. But Madge was perceptive. She didn't push me or ask personal questions I didn't want to answer, but I'm sure she observed enough times how Peeta and I would purposely seek each other as if only to avoid the other person's gaze.

And even if she didn't know that, she knew me well enough to know I was not up for the bullshit of this game.

"Sounds like some of these horny assholes wanna play," Gale said.

"What is even the point of you?" My tone was poisonous, but he merely smiled at me. "Don't you have to play Spin the Bottle to get to that part anyway?"

"Nah," Gale said, arm dropping over Madge's shoulder, making her eyes light up. "Just write down a bunch of names, put 'em in a hat, then pull two and shove them in the closet."

"You've learned so much in college," I said dryly.

I did not write my name on a slip of paper.

Madge did.

I threatened her, said I was going to leave her party, but even as she scrawled my name down, all the horrible possibilities were outweighed by the good ones. What if this was my chance to try kissing another guy? Just to see what it was like, to say that I'd done it. Especially since I wasn't all that likely to go out and find a guy on my own, for lack of both motivation and ability— if I'd ever flirted in my life, it wasn't on purpose.

Maybe I would be put with Darius, who'd try to get handsy, or that kid Thom, whom I swore started growing a beard at age 11. But it could also be Thresh, who was kind of cute. Or Beetee, who had acne, but was still nice to talk to.

It couldn't be Peeta. There was no way. It was too far fetched to even believe that to be a possibility. Especially if he wasn't playing.

But he was. I saw him quickly jot his name down while Madge loomed over him, and the surge of anger in me renewed.

I was under duress. He didn't have to play. He could have gotten any number of girls to fool around with him, closet or no. I could have named them for him. Written them down on a sheet of paper next to their bra sizes.

I bit down on the inside of my cheek, glaring daggers at Madge when Gale hiked her up to stand on a chair so she could pull the names.

"Okay," she started. People cat-called and told her to hurry up and pick. She grabbed one sheet of paper from the hat. "The first person going into that closet is…Katniss Everdeen!"

As if there were another Katniss. Another Katniss whose life she could ruin.

I'm gonna kill you, I mouthed. She tried to look apologetic, but I could see the smile on her face.

"Beetee or Thresh, Beetee or Thresh," I chanted to myself, closing my eyes like I was making a birthday wish.

"And Peeta!"

This time Madge avoided my eyes completely. It was like she had swapped bodies with Peeta because he had magically regained the ability to meet my eyes. I just leveled him with a blank, bored stare. If he thought he could charm me with a sheepish grin, or a hangdog expression, or brightening cheeks, he was wrong. I was already over it. Zero seconds in.

"Just, um, use the closet down the hall," Madge pointed, finishing on a squeak as Gale lifted her around the waist and planted her back on the floor.

"Maybe you should use the closet down the hall," I bit out as I walked past her. This time she had the decency to look scared of me.

I walked down the long entry hall to the closet under the stairs. It was large, clean and organized, if a little low in height. I didn't even check to see if Peeta was following behind me. I stepped in and leaned against one of the walls, finding him right on my heels. He had to duck to clear the doorframe, but once he was inside, there was just enough space so he didn't have to bend his neck.

"Wow," he said, pulling the door shut behind us like it was no big deal. "I was afraid I wasn't gonna fit in here."

"What a shame that would have been," I said dryly, crossing my hands across my chest.

I could see his Adam's apple move in his throat when he swallowed. But he merely smiled and tried again. "Glad I didn't bump my head."

"Yeah, well, the taller guys probably wouldn't have cleared it."

He dropped his head and I tried not to feel bad. I called up every memory of the times we met eyes accidentally and I had silently begged him to hold contact, to grin at me, to try to catch up with me after class. And he never did.

"Katniss," he started, finally looking up at me, his eyes doing that painfully earnest thing that I'd learned not to trust. "I'm not doing this on purpose, I swear to god. I mean, it's not like…it's not like I'm upset about it or anything. I think I lucked out, but—"

My fingers dug into my biceps.

"But I don't want you to think this is by design. It's just a weird coincidence over the years."

"Mm," was all I offered him. He kept looking at me beseechingly, his eyes running over my features like he was trying to decipher sanskrit. "Well, we've already been in here a minute or two. We can just keep standing here." I echoed his words from two years ago and I could tell he remembered them.

"Okay," he said quietly.

"Okay?" I echoed. I hadn't meant to say anything. I'd as good as shut him up, made him think I was miserable to be stuck in here, that I hated him. And I did hate him a little bit, enough to want to claw at his skin and get inside. To discover all the secrets he hid behind his smiles. To know why he kissed me hotly and touched me like I was some sacred thing. Like I was the first girl he'd ever looked at. The girl he wouldn't stop looking at.

"Yeah…" he ventured, brows furrowed. "I, well— I'm not gonna make you do anything you're not comfortable with just because of some stupid party game."

"You clearly never thought this game was stupid, first of all, because you keep fucking playing it." He opened his mouth to answer me, but I cut him off. "And secondly, who says you have to make me do anything? Why wouldn't I just be doing what I want to do?"

"You can—"

"And how would you even know what it is that I want?"

"What do you want?" he asked eagerly. He hadn't cowered at my anger, and the confusion on his face was replaced by something that burned hotter. As hot as my skin did in his proximity. As hot as my ire every time he looked away from me.

"What do you want?" I threw back at him.

Before I got the whole sentence out, I was pressed against the wall, hard enough to make a thunk and have the coats in the closet swinging on their hangers.

Both of our mouths were open, tongues hot and searching without the slightest hesitance. His hands were in my hair again, ruthless this time, pulling at the tie on the end of my braid. He grasped the strands firmly enough in his large hand near the base of my skull so that it didn't hurt, but it did force my head back so he could get deeper into my mouth, letting his tongue and teeth travel inside and out, even past my bottom lip and over my chin in playful nips.

I detoured to his hair, just to remind my fingers of what it felt like so they could remember late at night when this was all over and he was back to ignoring me. But they didn't stay there. I wanted new, undiscovered territory; everything I could get in less than six minutes. Every inch of golden hair and skin I could grab onto.

I grasped at his waist under his shirt, making him shudder and run his teeth along my tongue in response. My hands grazed the cool metal of his belt before moving up to his pecks, hard under my hands just like I knew they would be. Asshole. And he still sometimes walked around shirtless after practice, giving the locker room girls something to swoon at. I pinched his nipple and he gasped.

He pulled back and looked at me in a daze. "Jesus Christ," he whispered. I thought he would stop me right there, and ask me why I was acting like a wild animal.

But he leaned forward, captured my top lip, and ran his tongue underneath it. I had to squeeze my eyes shut to stamp out that stupid urge to cry.

Thankfully, he distracted me enough to help with the cause. His hands left my face, travelled down my sides, his thumbs purposely brushing the sides of my breasts as they went, and then grabbed my ass. They move just a little lower and I knew what he wanted, what we both wanted. So I grabbed the shoulders that had broadened so much it was inhuman and vaulted myself up with his help, winding my legs around his waist and essentially climbing him like a tree.

And he felt so fucking good. His scent was surrounding me, his mouth was soft but responsive under my explorations, and he let me rub up against his erection until I was panting and cursing the two layers of stiff jeans between us.

He let me do all this and groaned through most of it. Groaned. Moaned quietly into my mouth. Cursed against my ear and then laved the flesh around my earlobe with his tongue like he was apologizing for the filth he'd let into it. He grunted and shifted me higher so I didn't slide down, and even still, I felt weightless in his arms. He panted.

"Fuck, you smell so good," he said into the meager cleavage at the top of my shirt. "You always smell. So. Good."

His hands left my hips, trusting me to hold on, and they slid up under my shirt and over my stomach. He looked up at me under lowered lids, his eyes drugged and dark and full of intent despite their question. It was the hottest thing I'd ever seen. So I nodded, and he slid his hands up over my bra.

"Oh, God," I moaned quietly, attaching my mouth to his neck. It was rough with stubble. That was new. There were so many things on his body I never had time to discover, and things were already changing. They were only getting better— the bastard— but I hated that I had to miss any of it. That I hadn't been sucking at the skin of his neck for the past two (four) years and tracking the changes with my tongue.

He cupped my breasts and they filled his hands. My breasts didn't feel too small, and the hands that I knew were large and strong and, fuck, capable, didn't feel too large. It was all just right and I wanted to live there in his grasping hands, wrapped around his sturdy waist.

He pinched my nipples, just how I had pinched his. Well, maybe gentler, because I had been rabid and he was always careful with me. Too careful. But I shoved that thought to the back of my mind because there weren't enough seconds for it, and there'd probably be years later for me to agonize over it.

"Peeta," I whispered, his name carried out of my mouth on a ragged breath.

He squeezed his eyes shut tight. "Say it again," he begged.

"Mmm, Peeta." He didn't even have to tell me.

"One minute!" Gale called from outside the door.

We froze, sharing air and wide-eyed, desperate expressions.

I sagged against him. Peeta's eyes went wild and he begged me with them just like he had to say his name. "We have a whole minute," he said, brushing the hair from my face, following it with his lips across my cheek. He said it with a sad smile.

And I knew a minute wouldn't make a difference. If he ended it in a minute, or 5, or 60, it didn't matter. It was still ending tonight. Just as it always did. We'd go back to being what we'd always been to each other— a secret, a few shared glances, the promise of some future party, and barely an attempt for more outside of it.

There'd never be enough time to explore every inch of him. He didn't want to give me that. He didn't want to give me anything outside of this closet. I wasn't good enough for him, or maybe I was too good, because I wasn't going to let this happen anymore.

I unwound my legs from his waist and dropped back to the floor. I straightened my hair and my clothes and ran my tongue along my lips to capture one last taste of him, because I was a glutton for punishment. When I looked up, he was just standing there staring at me. I didn't know if he was just shocked, or if he knew this was the last time he'd see me like this and he was trying to commit it to memory.

"Was that what you wanted?" he finally asked. His voice wasn't accusing, just curious. And resigned. His shirt was halfway off his shoulder and I couldn't stop myself from stepping forward to fix it.

"Does it matter?" I asked flatly, and before he could answer, Gale pulled the door open and I left Peeta behind.

The next day when I helped Madge clean up, I found the slips of paper with mine and Peeta's name on them. They'd both been subtly dog-eared.

I crumpled them up and threw them back on the floor, leaving her to finish cleaning up on her own.


I didn't know why I was here.

Well, that's a lie— I did. It was because of Madge. She begged me to be her "date," as such, since Gale was still finishing finals. It was because of my mom, who got someone to cover her night shift so she could watch Prim and I could celebrate my high school graduation at this party.

This party at Peeta's house.

I couldn't very well tell Madge (or Prim or my mom, for that matter) the reason why I didn't want to be near Peeta in any space outside of school, not if I could help it. Not at a party. And definitely not at a party held at his house.

But there was no getting out of it. At least not for a good half hour. Then I'd make my escape.

His house was not unlike Madge's— large, ritzy, and filled with knickknacks that served no real purpose. What was a silver ampersand as a bookend even supposed to mean? And what?

But it seemed that Peeta was better prepared than Madge had been. He had the formal dining room cleared out so that only the long table remained, covered in a dingy sheet, an enthusiastic game of beer pong already in progress when we walked in.

He also had most of the nice furniture pushed back against the wall, replaced by folding chairs and dingy bean bags.

Madge and I made our way to the kitchen and lined up around the keg. They didn't even charge us at the door for a cup— Peeta had probably taken care of it all. If he didn't have the money from his parents, he'd likely earned it himself from all the hours he put in at the bakery. I knew this because every time I had to make a trip there, I found an excuse to send Prim in instead when I saw him through the front window. Just another way for me to avoid him. To avoid having us together in a space where we'd have to deal with each other, and I'd have to answer for the fact that I acted around him like a jilted ex-girlfriend when, in reality, I was just a girl he'd shared four solid kisses with and one heated, groping make-out session. All in the name of a party game.

My attention was caught by a tentative hand on my shoulder that dropped as soon as I looked up.

"Hey," he said warmly, crooked smile kicking up to one side.

"Hi, Peeta. Congratulations," I offered. It had been over a year since I left him in a closet. In fact, I think that's the last time I'd even spoken directly to him. The least I could do was be civil now, pretend that he hadn't kind of stomped on my heart's version of first love (or first fixation, at the very least). Especially since I had no idea when I'd speak to him again, beyond some accidental run-ins in town, or maybe our high school reunion.

"Yeah, you too!" he said, his face brightening. Maybe he was just thrilled I hadn't slapped him. "Thanks for coming, by the way."

"Oh yeah, well, thanks for having us." I looked over to Madge, who hadn't said anything but was watching us with a grin on her face.

Sneaky bitch. I glared at her and it stopped the smiling; she was probably remembering my reaction to the last time she tried to meddle.

"Do you two want something better than beer?" Peeta asked.

"Like what?" I asked skeptically.

"Um," he ran his hand through his hair, moving backward toward the double door fridge. "Well, what do you like?"

"I dunno," I answered, unhelpfully.

"It's just—" he continued, stopping to rummage through the freezer, "I've seen you drinking beer, but you always scrunch your nose up after every sip, so I just figured you were never a big fan."

I wasn't. Not of cheap keg beer, anyway. But I wasn't about to admit that I liked fruity beer, the kind with blueberry or raspberry. And I wasn't going to let myself feel anything about the fact that he paid attention to what I drank.

I shrugged.

"Rum?" he asked.

"Is it the dark kind?"

"Spiced? Yeah. But we have both kinds, I think. There might be some Bacardi in there."

"No, this is fine," I said quickly as he brought out the bottle. He shot me a smile. I looked behind me to find Madge on the other side of the room, still standing in line at the keg. I glared at her, waiting till she looked back and me, and raised my eyebrows accusingly. She just pointed at her Solo cup and gave me a thumbs up. I sighed.

"I guess Madge is a beer kinda girl. I wouldn't have guessed that," Peeta joked.

"Because pretty girls can't like beer?" I challenged.

"No," he laughed, his brows lowering as he poured rum into my cup. "Although I have evidence to support that. I meant because every time I run into her at a party, she usually has a straw."

I laughed at this, hair falling into my face when my head ducked to hide it. When I looked up again, he had a large bottle of ginger ale poised over the cup.

"Is this okay?" he asked.

"Sure?"

"It's good, I think you'll like it," he said, pouring almost to the top and then handing it to me. His fingerprints showed up in the condensation of the cup, and when I wrapped my hand around it, mine occupied the same space, with a few inches left to account for the long span of his fingers.

It was spicy and a little sweet, just the way I liked my drinks. It also wasn't too strong, which I appreciated.

"It is good, thank you."

He nodded and just watched me, not bothering to get himself a drink. I smiled. The best one I could manage for him in the moment. I smiled, and he smiled back, and I ignored the tiny white buttons on his heather gray oxford shirt.

"I should get back to Madge," I said finally.

"Oh," he said, smile faltering. "Okay. Well, um…I'll be around."

"Sure. Have a good night."


Madge had enough beer to make her giggly, but this mainly resulted in her sitting in a corner glued to her phone as she exchanged God-knows-what-kind of messages with Gale.

I figured I'd put my time in, but I really didn't want to leave without her. Besides, she could sext from the privacy of her own home.

I made my way across the room, ready to pull her away, willingly or not.

"Katniss?"

I turned to find Peeta making his way toward me. He looked the same as he had an hour ago— his eyes were still clear, his shirt sleeves pushed to his elbows, but clean of any curious party foul stains, and he still didn't have a drink in his hand.

I'd seen him mingling, moving around and laughing with different people. That was the magic of Peeta. He was popular without being the Prom King. His popularity was in the general sense— every knew him and he knew everyone, and he flitted from group to group with ease, never quite belonging to one specifically. Everybody liked him. And even though he didn't have a girl glued to his side, there were enough of them who looked at him with starry eyes as he passed.

"Yeah?" I asked shortly when he approached.

"Um, are you heading out?"

"Yeah, I just need to grab Madge. It's getting late."

"It's only 10:30."

"Peeta—"

"Can I just talk to you, maybe?" He made it sound like a casual request, but his eyes were pleading with me. He grabbed my hand and his palm was sweaty. I'd never felt it sweaty before.

"Okay. What's up?"

"Somewhere private?" I raised my eyebrows skeptically, but he just squeezed my hand. "It's just noisy down here and I know you don't like being the center of attention. It shouldn't take long."

"Fine," I conceded.

He led me upstairs and down a long hallway, opening a door at the end. There was a large bed set against a window, over twice the size of the one I had at home. He had a MacBook on the oak desk in the corner, and a small flatscreen TV across from the bed. It was all a little daunting, but at least there were no decorative pillows. And the artwork tacked to the wall made it seem more human. More Peeta.

"At least it's not a closet," I said, looking at him from the corner of my eye.

"Yeah, I um," he coughed, shoving his hands into his pockets, "I sort of banned any games of that sort from this party."

"Good plan."

"If it would make you more comfortable, though…" He walked across the space to a set of double doors and opened them to reveal a walk-in closet.

"Oh, for God's sake."

His crooked grin was shy as I walked in, more fueled by curiosity than anything else. My fingers traveled over a group of pressed shirts on hangers.

"You've got a thing for organization, huh?" I asked, noticing the way the shirts hung in order of color gradient.

"More like a thing for color, I guess," he said.

"So what did you want to talk about?" I asked, turning to face him before I could get lost in the clean linen scent that opened up a sore in my chest.

"Well, um—" Peeta moved forward and tried to grab for my hand again. I took a step back. His face fell, even more visibly than it had in the kitchen.

"We should probably give each other a wide berth in here," I joked. But my face was serious.

He sighed. "That's what I wanted to talk about." He struggled for words and I shook my head, raising my brows near to my hairline. What? I wanted to know. "I just don't wanna leave things like this," he finally managed.

"Like what? There are no things to leave, anyway. There's no thing."

"There is a thing," he insisted, moving close to me again, ignoring my scowl. "This— you and me in a closet. The way you seemed so…angry with me last time. It's a thing. It's like, the only thing I think about."

I shook my head, dubious. I had Prim and my mom and college looming and a summer job to find. Peeta had college, his awful mother, his brothers, his art that was too good to be hidden away in his bedroom. We both had things. This wasn't the end all, be all. It just couldn't be. I couldn't let it.

"Peeta, it doesn't matter. Like you said last time, it was just a coincidence. We got thrown together a few times. It clearly doesn't mean anything outside of here," I gestured around his closet, "so if you're feeling guilty, or—"

"You think it doesn't mean anything?" he cut in, his face almost angry, a foreign expression on his handsome face. I couldn't answer that. "You think it doesn't mean anything to me?" he clarified.

"Why would it?"

"Katniss," he pleaded, screwing his eyes shut for a moment, long lashes crowding together before he opened them again, "what did I do?" I gave him a bored look. If he was going to force this issue, I wasn't going to offer up all my insecurities on a platter. "I mean, forget about all the things I didn't do. Just tell me what I did to make you so angry. I know you were never like, crazy about me. But you never looked at me like this. Especially after we kissed."

"Don't flatter yourself," I shot back.

"Don't," Peeta said softly, cutting off my natural defensiveness. "Don't do that. I'm not looking for a fight. I just wanna know what I did. I want to make it right."

I didn't feel angry, necessarily. I just felt…riled up. Like my blood was too hot in my veins. Like I was a raw nerve terrified of being touched and provoked.

"I want to know," I started slowly and deliberately, "why you don't look at me." He gave me that cute, confused look that wrinkled his nose, but I refused to let him off the hook.

"Don't look at you?" He seemed completely astounded. "Katniss, all I do is look at you. I don't think I've gone a day since kindergarten without looking at you."

"Fine," I cut him off before his words wrapped around my heart in a vice grip and didn't let go. "You look at me, but then you look away. You don't talk to me. You treat me like a stranger. Why don't you do any of those things you admitted you don't do?"

His face went slack, but his eyes were as expressive as always— devastated and vulnerable and everything I didn't want to care about. I couldn't quite meet them.

"I know," I began, swallowing the lump in my throat, "I know I'm not an easy person to talk to. But I could have talked to you. I wanted to."

"Katniss, God." He came to stand right in front of me and ran his hand down my arms until our hands met and our fingers linked together. "I've always wanted to talk to you. I've always wanted to— just, everything. I always wanted to talk to you and I was scared. Scared I wouldn't know what to say. Scared that you didn't like me. Scared that I liked you too much. And after our first kiss, I dunno, I was even more terrified." I laughed at this and he dragged his lips across my forehead. "I know this is all making me sound really attractive and not at all spineless." He shook his head to himself. "And then we kissed the second time—"

"And third and fourth."

"And third and fourth," he confirmed with a laugh, his breath warm at my hairline. "And I thought, this is it. We're gonna leave the closet together, and the party together, and it's just magically all going to fall into place. And then…"

"Then what?"

"Then Gale came to the door to pick you up. And the way we'd blushed and been awkward when other people were around— I thought it was on purpose, not just because we were dumb kids. I thought he was your boyfriend and I was like, this secret forbidden kiss in the closet that you never wanted him to find out about."

"Our first kiss was in front of him!" I said, trying not to smack his dumb, pretty face.

"Yeah, but you were 12!" he protested. "And he was 14. He probably thought of you like a kid sister still. But that second time, you were both in high school, he was always around, always wherever you were…"

"Because I am like a kid sister to him!"

"Well, I know that now!" Peeta said, trying to gesture with hands that were still attached to mine. It made me have to stifle a laugh. "Now that his hand's up Madge's skirt every time I see them."

"Gross," I muttered, biting back a smile. He nudged my nose with his to get me to look up at him. I closed my eyes. "That's just— that's not good enough, Peeta. Even if you thought we were together…how could you like a girl who'd cheat on her boyfriend? I know we're not friends, but you should know me better than to think—"

"That's not what I thought! Not…I mean, not exactly. I guess I just figured— I dunno. I figured a million things. Enough to drive myself crazy. I figured maybe you two weren't officially together, but that you liked Gale, and that I was just some fun at a party, ya know? Or a way to gain experience. The way everyone else plays that game— so that it doesn't matter."

"We're not like everyone else," I said quietly.

"No, we're not." He rested his chin on the top of my head. "But I don't think there's anything wrong with people like that. If anything, I thought there was something wrong with me for not just being able to kiss a girl at a party and let it go. And I thought you were one of those people, and I didn't judge you for it." I could hear his swallow in the quiet space. "And then I thought, too, that maybe you and Gale were together, and you were just kind of taking pity on me. Like, after you knew that you were my first kiss, you thought, 'Jesus, I have to throw this kid a bone. He's not ever going to get to second base without a lucky spin and some good-natured assistance.'"

I snorted and looked up at him in disbelief. "That is so stupid."

"Well…yeah." Peeta tugged at his hair. "When Madge drew our names at her party, I was scared again. But in a good way— because Gale had been all over Madge that night, and I realized that I'd been an idiot all along. Just making up reasons in my head not to go for it."

"Did you think—" I started and then paused. I tried to think of the Peeta that was in front of me— the one who was kind and honest and pouring his heart out no matter how vulnerable it made him. But the Peeta I'd made up in my head, the one who wanted nothing to do with me and brought out all my insecurities— he was the one fueling all my worst thoughts until they were bubbling out of my mouth without permission. "Did you think we'd be all wrong together? Or that people would look at us funny walking down the hall? Or that I was this cold bitch who was—"

"No!" he said quickly, bringing a hand up to cover my mouth. "I thought living with the possibility of you was better than hearing out loud, once and for all, that you had no interest in me at all."

I pursed my lips against the softness of his palm. It was dry again. He moved it away from my mouth so that his hand was cradling my jaw instead.

"But I swear, after seeing Madge and Gale together, I was so happy to be in there with you. Not just for…that." He flushed; such a silly response for a guy who was almost 18, to be embarrassed about 30 seconds of second base and some grinding. "But I was so ready to just talk to you. And you were so mad." His eyes grew comically big and I couldn't blame him for looking scared, for looking just like that 12-year-old boy on the brink of his first kiss in a room full of people. I'd been told my temper was kind of a fearsome thing to behold.

"I felt used," I said simply, knowing that he already understood. "I thought things were going to change after that second— fourth— kiss, too. And then they didn't and I just felt…shameful."

"God, I'm such an asshole," he breathed, leaning his forehead against mine.

"You're just confusing," I said with a frown. "And a bad communicator."

He laughed, his smile right in my face with its imperfections, making my whole chest feel light, like my bones were the only things weighing me down.

"So are you," he accused, happily.

"I don't help run the debate team. I don't have a way with words like I'm 'spinning them on a magic loom," I quoted in monotone.

His smile widened so obscenely that it brought out a dimple. "Delly wrote that about me in the school paper."

"I know," I cringed. "It was ridiculous."

"You remembered," he taunted.

"I have good memory and reading comprehension," I said, chin jutting out.

He dipped his head down to whisper in my ear. "You have good lots of things."

"Peeta," I protested. Or begged. It was hard to tell from my tone of voice. Even I wasn't quite sure.

"Please don't go," he said, wrapping his arms around me.

"We've been in here more than seven minutes," I joked.

"Time doesn't exist in this closet," he said matter-of-factly. I pulled back to lift an eyebrow at him. "Or it does, but it goes way slower than the time we're used to. It's like in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

"They have to actually go through the wardrobe and get to Narnia for time to change," I argued.

"Yeah, but," he paused to tuck a piece of hair behind my ear, "I think we're close enough."

We stared at each other and I could count the freckles on his nose that had only been a blur in my memory before.

"You're taller," I blurted.

"You're still so small," Peeta replied. I lifted my arms to shove him playfully, but he just ducked underneath them, got his arms around my ribs and lifted me so I had no choice but to wrap mine around his shoulders. Broader every time I touched them. My sneakers rested on top of his so that now only a few inches separated us.

"When we were 12," he started, his voice low and serious, eyes unblinking, "I was gonna tell you you had pretty hair." My mouth dropped open, but he refused to let me interrupt, squeezing my waist to keep me quiet. "When we were 14, I was gonna tell you that smelled like wildflowers and honey. And when we were 16—" he trailed off, his grin turning roguish, "I was gonna tell you your ass looked amazing in those jeans."

I grabbed a fistful of his hair and tugged until his grin broadened and his nose scrunched up.

"What are you going to tell me now?" I asked, breath catching.

He shrugged and screwed his face up in mock concentration. "That I like like you." He nudged my nose with his. "That you're more beautiful every time I see you…the closer I get." His hands trailed from my waist up my back, under my shirt. "That I want you."

I pulled at the hair threaded through my fingers, dragging his lips down to my so he could pour the rest of his words into me. I didn't need to hear them out loud. I knew with every blush, every shy smile, every catch of his breath, every time his hands shook when he touched me. I just had to make sure he stayed this time. Until he was out of words and we were both just broken sounds and exhausted body parts.

"I missed kissing you," he breathed against my mouth, planting kisses alternatively on my top and bottom lip, "so much." He did the thing with his tongue that I loved. The thing that made me his when I was too young to know what that meant. I chased his tongue, captured it so I could suck on it. So he could be mine, too.

My hands measured the breadth of his shoulders, studied the shape of his ears, reacquainted themselves with the strands of his hair. The way I took it all in sounds careful and measured, but it was more like a lifetime of desperate exploration crammed into seconds and minutes of mindless, frantic touching.

His hands traveled over my bare back, even dipped to my ass, if a bit shyly.

As hard as it was to leave his shoulders, our mouths kept us in place while he tilted my head in that weird alien way I used to think was disgusting, and nibbled on my lips when he needed to catch his breath. My fingers made their way down to those taunting white buttons and released them one by one. I shoved the shirt off his shoulders with a lot less finesse. Before he could pull back with a question in his eyes, or toy shyly with the hem of my top, I merely tugged it over my head, ruffling my braid so that I just ended up pulling the damn tie off and shaking out the plaited strands.

Peeta watched me with his hands frozen in the air, like I'd turn to sand and fall through his fingers if he touched me.

I put an end to that, grabbing his hands and bringing them around my back to the clasp of my bra. I felt him fumble with it, having to bite my lip to hide my smile, and we both laughed like children when it finally slackened.

His too-big eyes widened in wonder, but he didn't hesitate to slide the straps down my arms, his calluses dragging gently across my skin like it was fine silk and he was afraid to snag it. The bra dropped to the ground.

We both exhaled at the same time, bare chests heaving. The newness of it seemed to strike us both at the same time like there was electricity in the air— the bittersweet exploration of things we already knew about each other was replaced by the simmering, buzzing possibility of everything new, everything we could still learn. Everything we could do to each other. And how it seemed like we finally had the rest of our lives to do it.

And it probably had a little to do with us both being hormone-fueled virgins with over six years of pent-up longing.

Peeta grabbed me and dragged me up against his body again, my feet dangling while he kissed me. My arms were trapped between us and the only thing I could think to do to stop his frenzy— or at least redirect it— was to deliberately drag my bare chest against his, so that my nipples traced the hard lines of his chest where there was a light sprinkling of fine hair. I didn't expect the effect it would have on me; I shuddered and gasped into his mouth and he put me back on my feet, but only so he could give me one quick peck— like a, Goodbye, for now, I'll make my way back up here later— before he dragged his hot tongue down my neck, over the space where it met my shoulders (the one that always gave me goosebumps when he sucked on it, and somehow he knew that), and down to my breast. He licked my nipple slowly, decadently. My hands flew to his hair. Both of his hands came to my breasts, holding them up and giving him better access for his ministrations.

"Peeta," I moaned. It was thoughtless, but when he bit down it was a sharp, powerful reminder of what that word from my mouth could do to him. He soothed the sting of my nipple with a soft suck and I couldn't stop myself from laughing, my chest lifting even with his mouth all over it. "I remembered your weakness," I taunted him breathlessly.

He groaned like he was in pain, but his eyes lifted and they were bright. "You are all of them."

Having his mouth and his eyes and his tongue on me all at the same time was almost painful; I couldn't imagine what it was like for him. So I told him to take off his pants.

"Katniss," he paused, standing to his full height. "Do you wanna—" he gestured with his head back to the doors of the closet, "I mean, I have a bed in there."

"Since when are we too good for a closet?"

"You're crazy," he laughed, looking at me in some way that made me stupidly think he loved me. Or could someday.

But first, sex. Before my head could run away with that idea, one way or another, and never come back.

I kicked off my shoes, then unbuttoned my jeans and shoved them down over my hips. I wasn't graceful in the way I pulled the stretchy fabric over my ankles and tugged at them violently until they came off with my socks, but Peeta didn't seem to mind. The movement did kind of make my boobs shake and his mouth hung open like a dog.

I had to tug on his belt to remind him of what he was supposed to be doing. The metal buckle of the belt was cool, especially against the hot skin of his abs, which is where I let my hands stray while he got his pants off over trim hips that I wanted to mark with my teeth.

So I did. I bent over and nibbled on the soft skin over hard muscle and his head fell back with a groan.

"You should probably," he gasped after a minute, "get your head away from there if you want this to last."

We both laughed. I was still getting used to this secret, teasing, dirty side of Peeta that I'd never known before. I didn't want to get used to it. I could spend years of my life being shocked by every dirty thing that came out of his pink, angelic mouth. I couldn't see how that could ever get boring.

He disappeared into the next room without a word and all I could do was watch his ass in navy boxer briefs, the muscles moving in his broad back, and it held onto my attention before I could panic. He returned a moment later with his comforter, which he threw onto the floor.

"Lie down," he said with an easy smile, but his voice was hard. I could feel my skin pebble in response.

I kneeled down on the blanket before slowly lying back. I felt particularly small lying there splayed out on his king size blanket, watching as he loomed over me. I felt like some ancient offering and even though it made me swallow a gulp, Peeta reminded me of how much I loved when he looked at me with dark eyes and heavy lids and wet lips slickened by his tongue.

"Come here," I said, holding out my hand. Before he grabbed it, he shucked off his boxers and my eyes nearly jumped out of my skull.

Peeta kneeled down and braced an arm on either side of my head. Normally, I'd probably be distracted by something like his biceps and the way his muscles moved, which was base enough, but now he was between my legs with his hard cock on display between us and I could not tear my eyes away. I was a pathetic, drooling mess.

"You act like you've never seen a penis before," he teased with a smile, but his eyes measured my reaction. I scrunched up my nose at the word "penis" and he laughed.

"Well," I began, forcing myself to be brave, "I've never touched one before."

I reached my hand down between us and his eyes flew there and followed along like they were on a tether. I grasped his length in my hand, the skin so much softer than I could have imagined. It was everything that made up Peeta— soft and hard and hot.

"Oh god," he babbled. "Oh god. Are you sure this is okay?"

"That's the last time you get to ask. And yes."

"Okay," he said, giving me the sweet, earnest look. He held it for about two and a half seconds before his eyes shut at my hand moving up and down his length, gathering the moisture leaking from the tip and spreading it down his shaft. "Okay, okay, okay," he said, grabbing my hand and pulling it away like it pained him.

I let him so that I could use both my hands to drag my underwear down my legs. I flung them to some far corner of the closet.

"Oh, shit!" he said suddenly. "Condoms."

"Well, don't look at me."

"No, I think…I think I have some."

"Okay," I said quietly. I had no right to care.

"No, it came in like, this gag gift box my brother got me for graduation. I haven't even taken them out."

He pushed up over me, stretching for something and giving me an opportunity to nip at his chest. When he returned, it was with a shoebox that he rummaged through quickly.

"What else is in there?" I asked curiously. "Some cigars and a dirty magazine?"

"No," he said, sparing me a quick, amused glance. "Because this isn't the 1950s."

I tried to bite him again, but he pulled away, shoving the box across the carpet and coming back with a proud smile on his face and a gold foil packet in his hand.

"Now see here, Bugsy," he said in a voice out of a black and white gangster movie.

"Shut up," I laughed.

He finally got the thing open, and we both went still and serious again. He got back on his knees and rolled it down his length. When his eyes lifted, they stilled on me in wonder, as if he'd forgotten I was naked. "Wow," he breathed, dragging a hand up my calf, over my hip, dipping his fingers teasingly into my mound until I gasped, and then continued his ascent over my stomach and my breasts. He ended with his hand framing my face softly.

Before he opened his mouth to say some wonderful, dopey thing that would so easily and embarrassingly turn me to mush, I said the one thing I really need to.

"I'm glad it's you."

His head fell in a pleased, breathy laugh until our foreheads were touching and our eyes crossed when we tried to look at each other.

"I'm glad it's you, too."

I felt his hands grasp my thighs and nudge them further apart and I waited for him to push in, mentally commanding my muscles to relax and just breathe through the pain. But when he got up on one arm over me and his hand dropped between us, it wasn't to grab his length. Instead, his fingers slid through my folds easily, exploring me and finding me soaking wet.

"Oh," I moaned, cutting off an embarrassing whimper by biting my lip.

Peeta studied my face and dragged his fingers up and down, clearly enjoying the way my hips lifted to chase the movement. He wasn't full of intent at first, just curiosity, as if he'd be happy to to touch every part of my aching flesh while I expired underneath him in breathless want. He even brought his fingers up to his mouth and sucked the moisture from them, groaning while he did it. I did whimper. Helplessly.

"You're the sexiest thing," he panted, "I've ever seen." His fingers went back to my mound. "Or tasted." I writhed under him. This time his fingers went right to my clit, like he knew where it was all along, but he was just biding his time.

It wasn't enough, though. It made my muscles clench, and my breath come out in pants, and my flesh become even slicker, but even when he pressed down harder, it just wasn't enough. Not with him there between my legs, hard and as ready as I was. It was too light, too teasing, not punishing enough.

"Can you—" He stilled and looked at me, willing me to say the words, "come inside me?"

"Dear God, yes," he answered quickly, then bit out a near painful laugh.

His hand left me to grab his cock, still sheathed in latex. I nodded my head before he could ask the question I'd forbidden him to ask. He dragged the head up to my clit once, teasingly, but before I could scream at him, he lowered it to my entrance and pushed in slowly.

It felt good at first, taunting pleasure. But when he started meeting resistance, we both stilled. I urged him to keep going and dragged his head down for a kiss to distract us both. Our tongues met and it soothed me, this invasion as slick and heated as the one below. It hurt— not sharply, just this feeling of dull pressure, making my skin throb even more, but I urged him to keep going, and once he was finally all the way inside, both of us breathed again.

"This is," he said in broken words across my face as he kissed me frantically, "the best thing I've ever felt."

It was. The feeling wasn't mindlessly pleasurable yet, probably not as searingly perfect as it was for Peeta, but it felt right. It was all I wanted.

I lifted my hips and urged him to move. We were sloppy at first, trying to get our rhythm, but I let him take over, let him pull me against him in a steady motion with his hand guiding my hips. His tongue found my breasts again, his thumb my clit.

Every time he thrust back inside me, the movement felt easier and I was building to something, especially being surrounded by his scent and worshipped by his mouth and— yes, incurable kink that it was— doing this in a closet.

I was building to something, but not as rapidly as Peeta clearly was, with his eyes squeezed shut and his thrusts growing harder and less steady, his hand slippery on my perspiring skin.

"Let go, Peeta," I whispered, sucking at his earlobe, worrying the skin behind it with my teeth. "I want you to come."

"Oh!" he shouted after a moment, after a few more sloppy thrusts. He buried his head in my neck to stifle his noises. My hands grabbed for his ass, taut in my hands, forcing him not to pull back until he was finished. "Oh, Katniss, Katniss," he chanted in my ears. I kissed the sweaty lock of hair at his temple.

After a moment, all the bliss from his voice was gone. "You didn't come," he said flatly, pulling his limp body up from mine. "It sucked."

"It didn't suck!" I said, almost offended. "Did it suck for you?" I accused.

"No! God, no. Those were the greatest few minutes of my life," he said, running his hand through my hair. "I want to live inside you."

"Okay," I said, suppressing a shudder at his words and the lingering tension in my body.

"But you need to come."

"Peeta, I don't need—"

"I need to make you come."

Well, okay. My mind was apparently as pliable as my body.

He didn't stay looming over me like I imagined he would though, his searching, needy fingers between us while he watched my face. Instead, he tied off the condom and threw it in a plastic bag he found, then made his way down my body until his face was in between my legs.

"Peeta," I gasped, sounding scandalized, forgetting that it was a little late for that.

"I want between your legs," he said boldly, only looking mildly sheepish at the confession. "My hips, my cock, my face…my tongue."

"Fuck me," I breathed letting my head fall back to the carpet with a thunk.

He didn't take the bait of my words, and I loved him for it, because I was thinking with half a brain. But he did do exactly what he said he wanted. He dragged his tongue through my folds— exploratory, just the way his fingers had been— up and back until I was begging for him, every breath a syllable of his name. When I grasped his hair tightly in my hands and dragged him up right where I wanted him, he laughed and I felt the breath against my aching flesh in the most taunting way. He put me out of my misery and took my clit between his lips.

I let go of his hair just so I could push up on my elbows and watch him. Watch him manipulate that tiny piece of flesh with every part of his mouth— hard strokes of his tongue, soft sucking from his lips, even a glance of teeth that made me shudder. I don't even know how he kept his attention focused there so intently with the way I was writhing shamelessly underneath him, throwing my legs over his shoulders, even digging the heels of my feet into his sides, and squeezing his head with my thighs.

But none of it fazed him. I knew this especially when he opened his eyes while he worked me and let his hooded, deep blue gaze meet mine— his eyes as wild and unyielding as his tongue. I screamed. I just barely caught the noise by throwing an arm over my mouth, but he never ceased through my entire quaking, mind-numbing orgasm.

I went boneless beneath him and he kissed me down there gently like he was wrapping up a gift.

"I feel better now," he said, plunking down next to me.

I laughed drunkenly. "Good. Me, too." We were both too hot and sweaty and breathless to spoon up against each other just yet, but he found my hand and we let our fingers interlink between us. "Didn't it…" His brows lifted. "Didn't it taste funny?" I finished. Thank God I had no spare blood left to make me blush.

"No," he said with a smile, his face scrunched up like I was being cute. "Well, a little like latex at first, and then it was just you. You and me." He sighed happily. "Next time I wanna taste you before the latex."

His words made my body rear up like it hadn't just had a blissful release.

But my mind seized on his words. Next time.

He kissed my nose and I whispered his name.


"We need to clear this out."

"Yeah, yeah, can we think about that later?" he asked, biting my neck. If he left a hickey, I'd kill him.

"We say that every time, and afterwards, we forget—"

"Thank God for that. If you're thinking about decluttering right after I make you come, then I'm not doing it right."

"You know you're doing it right," I said impatiently. I felt his smile against my skin. "Arrogant ass."

"I don't see why we don't just get rid of this junk altogether."

"Oh, because it makes so much more sense for us to get rid of stuff we need so we can have an empty closet on hand just for sex."

"Makes sense to me," Peeta mumbled, dragging his tongue over my clothed breast, nipping at the tip while I moved up and down in his arms, wondering why we always got in this position before taking our clothes off.

"Mommy! Daddy!"

"Oh fuck," Peeta cursed, sagging and resting my weight against the wall.

"I told you she'd wake up."

"Maybe we can pretend we're not here."

"Sure," I said with mock brightness. "Much better to let our child think we left her alone in the house."

It was hard to look chastising, though, with my legs still around his waist, relying on him not to drop me. Which he did, but gently. He placed me on my feet, and before I could let out another sarcastic reply, his hand went to the space between my legs, cupping me there roughly over my leggings.

"Stop pretending you're not so wet for me right now that you're squirming," he said roughly, and I melted against the wall. "She needs to learn to nap, and you need to learn not to be so haughty; it only encourages me."

Peeta gave me a hard kiss on the lips and opened the door, the light streaming in making me blink dazedly. His shadow filled the door, dragging my attention back to him.

"Don't even think about moving from this closet."