Author's note: 4/28/12: Several recent readers have found this content too graphic. This story is in no way meant to condone any dubious consent or sexual aggression. If you are offended or distressed by this subject matter, it was purely unintentional, and please discontinue reading this fiction at this time.

For my other readers - thank you for my many review; each helps me become a better writer.

Original note:

This is so lemony and angst-ridden it's ridiculous. This is the second fic I ever wrote and was too embarrassed to finish or publish at the time. But now that it is completed, I see that some evenings just need a pint of Rocky Road (or a bottle of Barefoot zinfandel) and a good smutty, fluffy love story.

So don't judge too harshly. It's all for fun.

Thank you, TLCullen and eeg01 for your beta-ing! Thank you, Ro, for your beautiful banners. Remove spaces to view:

h t t p :/ tinyurl . com/7t79y9s
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Fear choked her throat as the snow crunched beneath her wobbly footsteps. She nearly stopped walking for the fifth time; overcome by nausea and terror. She closed her eyes and steadied her pace, thinking of Prim's gaunt cheeks and her mother's hungry stare. She had to do this.

She rounded the corner to the street where she knew Cray's house stood. It was a dark night with no moon, but in the lamplight of his front window she could already see three other starving girls waiting outside. Humiliation burned her heart to be joining them. Her steps faltered again. She slipped behind a tree twenty yards away beside a merchant shop to spy on her competition. The merchant's pig snorted at her; she gave it a sharp glare to be silent.

She took in the tall blond girl who had curled her hair for the evening. Then the girl with red hair that couldn't be her true color; it was garish even under the lamp. Then the girl who clearly had as little resources as she herself had; brown haired and plain, but with larger endowments noticeable even under her winter coat. She was glad to know her advantage was her virginity. Something the others could not offer and of higher value to scum like Cray. He would pay her handsomely this time to take her innocence. Maybe to make up for the suffering she would surely face in his careless hands, but deep inside she imagined he would enjoy her tears.

She tasted bile in her throat again visualizing his red and sweating face over hers, the rupturing and tearing of delicate tissue, his hands on her skin. She choked and spit on the tree's roots. Resting her face against the bark, she breathed in the cold night air, trying to keep her screams inside and regain confidence. She raised her eyes and saw the light over his front door click on. It was time to go to him. Dread weighed down on her like an anvil.

She wanted to run. She couldn't. There was no food to be found in the woods. The snow had been packed so thick and high last week there was no way to hunt. The animals that weren't hibernating through this agonizing winter had starved or frozen. Not even Gale could help. What little food he was able to trap barely fed his siblings and he and his mother had gone without longer than she had. She hadn't seen him in weeks since he started taking double shifts in the mine to make extra income for his strained family. This was the only solution she found before her time ran out.

The merchant door to her left open suddenly and she was caught in the orange glow of their kitchen light.

"Katniss?" a soft voice called out into the night air, barely audible but reaching her ears in the still night air.

She gaped up at the young man in horror. She knew him from school. How he remembered her name was beyond her. Though they hadn't truly spoken since they were small children, by no means did she want someone she even remotely knew seeing her now, in this state, in her shame and desperation.

She saw a smile sneak across Peeta Mellark's face, his blue eyes lighting up in surprise at seeing her hiding outside the bakery's back door. He hadn't seen her pained expression. "What are you doing here?" he asked her quietly, minding his family resting upstairs. He held a bag of garbage in his hand and his apron was untied.

The door to Cray's home opened the three girls darted into the light to vie for his attention, culling and begging him to choose them. Katniss' face turned to the door and she stumbled out from behind the tree, managing one step towards his door before she froze again.

"What…?" she heard Peeta start his question then his voice caught in his throat. He saw the dress she wore, a relic from her mother's day as a merchant's daughter; something saved for a special occasion. The red lipstick applied thickly with clumsy hands. The high-heeled boots that gave her such an uneven gait.

"Katniss, no," he breathed, glued to the spot where he stood.

She managed one more step towards Cray's home and faltered again. She gasped for air, the fear crushing her lungs.

She didn't realize he'd dropped the bag and was at her side until she felt Peeta's fingers on her wrist.

"Let me go," she sputtered out, tears threatening her voice.

"No, please, no," he begged, pulling her back behind the tree.

She watched helplessly, with one eye from around the tree as Cray stepped onto his porch. Her tongue was numb and Peeta too went silent as they hid in the shadows. The Peacekeeper looked up and down the street for nosy onlookers, selected the blond girl and moved back inside. The other girls moved away quietly, shuffling back to wherever they came from empty-handed through the thick snow. Cray's door slammed with a malicious boom.

Katniss dropped her head. There went her chance. Her one chance to get something to buy food for her starving sister and vacant mother, but she had let it slip through her fingers. She turned angrily to the baker's son and shoved his hands away.

"Why did you stop me?" she gritted through her teeth, pushing him again. "I needed that!"

He stumbled in the light from his doorway. "Katniss, no. He's…please, no."

She stopped attacking him and started to panic in earnest. The fear of disappointing her family had replaced the fear of Cray's touch. Could they survive another night without food?

"Please," she heard Peeta's voice. "Come inside."

He put his hand on the small of her back to guide her towards the bakery, but she jerked away, still seething. Stepping reluctantly inside, the smell of fresh bread stabbed into her stomach and made the hollowness more tangible.

Closing the door behind them, Peeta gestured for her to take a seat on the worn wooden chair by the fire. Wiping his hands with his stained apron, he pulled two dented tin mugs from a rack on the wall. She sat senseless and mute as the grip of terror loosed, watching as he poured tea for them. He handed her the cup and she smelled peppermint wafting from the cup. She didn't drink. She stared at the fire.

"Katniss?"

She refused to answer. What could she possibly say?

"Katniss."

She turned her eyes to him. She hated him for discovering her. No one was supposed to know. Not even Prim or her mother. They may have suspicions when she came home with a few coins, but they would never ask if she didn't want to speak of it. Now this young man knew she was willing to trade herself for food.

His eyes were not full of venom. They looked sad. She hated him even more for his pity.

"He's a monster," he finally said, dropping his eyes. She knew he was right. The girls he took in were frequently seen bruised, sometimes even limping. She had no idea what Cray did to cause it, but her imagination had nearly driven her mad thinking of what he would do to her.

She turned her eyes back to the fire while Peeta stood next to her awkwardly.

"Wait here," he said suddenly. Putting his mug down on the work counter and pulling his apron over his head, he slipped to the door leading to their family quarters. He listened carefully, making sure his parents and brothers were asleep before he disappeared upstairs.

Katniss slumped back in the chair and took a sip of the tea. It tasted wonderful. It made her sad again. What was she going to do now? Would she lose Prim the community foster home? Would her mother drop dead in their cramped bedroom?

She looked around the bakery irritably. The smell of cinnamon and pumpkin invaded her nostrils. Smells that reminded her of her childhood when her father would bring her here. There were rolls in baskets behind the counter ready for the miners' breakfast rush in a few hours and a few sitting on a tray next to a large wood fire oven. Wood. Her family could never afford wood. Here was a family who would never go without while hers starved to death. Why did they deserve luxury while she had to sell her body? Why did this boy have to spot her at that moment? She closed her eyes and gripped the cup, wishing she wasn't too weak to crush it in her fist.

She heard his footsteps return and she opened her eyes to see him crossing to her, holding a tiny canvas bag clutched in his palm.

"This is all I have right now," he said worriedly. "It's not much, but…" he trailed off. She took the bag and stared at it. She could feel coins in it.

He turned and moved behind her to the work counter. He pulled a paper bag from a stack behind the counter and swept the six rolls from the just-baked tray into the paper bag. Rolling the top, he turned and thrust the bag at her.

She stared at it. "Do you think I want your pity?" she felt the bile threatening to return.

"What?" He shook his head as though he must have misheard her.

She threw the moneybag back at him, striking him squarely in the chest and he fumbled to catch it. "I don't need your charity," she growled.

"Shhh, Katniss," he eyed the door to the living quarters. "I'm trying to help you," he said, frightened. "You're dying."

The remark caught her off guard. She knew it to be true. Her bones were visible below her translucent skin. Her hair was dry and wiry. When she had stopped menstruating two months ago she knew she had grown dangerously frail. But dying was something she had not yet accepted for herself. Because if she died, Prim surely would.

She eyed Peeta up and down, wary like a wounded animal ready to attack. She knew him. Everyone knew him. He was kind and generous, sweet and shyly flirtatious. Gentle. Something about this kindness now, treating her like an incapable child, built up a rage within her.

Peeta pushed the bag of rolls and the purse towards her again. "Please. If not for you then for them." Most everyone knew her family was in dire straits as well. Wrath devoured her as he used them as weapons against her pride. He was inches from her chair now.

She knocked the bags from his hands again and they fell to the floor. Before he could reach for them, she stood and roughly grabbed his groin.

His startled cry was muffled as she pressed her lips to his, shoving her tongue into his mouth. She knew she was being awkward and rough but she hoped that he knew as little as she did about sex.

He pushed her groping hand away from him and pulled his face away, his expression panicked. "No!" he nearly yelled, then quieted as her remember his sleeping family. "You don't have to do that," he stammered in a whisper. "I don't want that."

"The hell you don't. I know what boys want. I know what they'd pay for," she replied viciously, stalking closer as he backed into the wall.

"No-" he started, but she grabbed his waistband and yanked open the fly to his pants, ripping the seam along the zipper. He released a startled cry and she shoved her hand into his pants and grasped his erection growing despite his fear. She rubbed him faster. She moved in to kiss him so his moan would be muffled. His hands were still trying to push her away, but weakly. Maybe in fear she would hurt him in this extremely vulnerable position.

She released him and he exhaled, opening his eyes and looking for escape. He looked at her with an injured expression. She reasoned he couldn't feel as horrible as she felt right now, dropping to her knees and pulling down his pants and shorts without warning.

She took a deep breath while he was reeling in shock and took him into her mouth. She couldn't manage much, but judging by his reaction it was enough. He clamped his hands over his mouth to keep from crying out while she wrapped her hand back around the shaft, keeping the head in her mouth. Guessing on what to do from what she'd heard older girls whispering about behind the Hob as they passed around stolen liquor, she moved her tongue around clumsily, bobbing her head back and forth.

The taste and texture of him was unexpected. It wasn't as awful as she had envisioned it would be with Cray, but then again Peeta was much younger and fitter than the Peacekeeper. His body was firm under soft, warm flesh. Even on her knees she could smell the cinnamon flour that seemed to come from his pores. She tried not to think of the person attached to this action as she worked. She tried to stay focused. Her jaw was sore, even after only a few minutes of movement.

His legs started to tremble when she realized she didn't know exactly what was going to happen. She knew he was going to ejaculate from their Family Planning classes, but oral sex was not exactly a follow up topic at school.

His hand was at her cheek, gently pushing her away from him. She complied, coughing spittle as he pulled himself out of her mouth. He was grunting and moving his own hand up and down the shaft as he grabbed a tea towel from a sideboard and covered himself as his whole body tensed, then quivered and relaxed. He was whimpering and holding the towel against his groin while she slumped on the floor, panting.

She had done what she came to do. Made a trade for food and money to survive and accepted no handouts. But listening to Peeta start to cry was not comforting. She didn't feel any sense of triumph while he stumbled away from her, sobbing and pulling up his pants and underwear. She felt like the monster.

He was behind her, pulling her to her feet and sniffling in her ear.

Peeta pushed her to the door, into the snow covered evening. She turned around, knowing she should apologize, beg his forgiveness, but her tongue was paralyzed with disgrace. He drove the purse and bread into her arms and shut the door on her face.

She stood silently in the night. The door of Cray's house opened and she turned her face to the sound. The girl half stumbled, was half thrown from his house. Her coat was unbuttoned, her boots untied. The moonlight was reflected in the sweat and tears on her face. Cray's door slammed and she lurched away, dazed. Katniss listened to her muffled cries fade as she disappeared into the darkness, until she could only hear Peeta's sobs on the other side of the door.