Huge thanks to nonemoreblack and annieoakley1 for their beta skills. All mistakes are mine.
Warning: sex, language and reference to rape.
They said that I used to follow Gale around like a baby duck that had imprinted on its mother.
They're so adorable," Hazelle Hawthorne would gush, flipping through photo albums with my mom while Gale and I drank our still warm cherry Kool-Aid in uncomfortable silence, counting the minutes before we could rush back out into the neighborhood to play with the rest of the kids.
Gale Hawthorne was two years older than me; he should have been too cool to hang out with a scrawny neighbor girl, but he wasn't. While other kids his age had no use for me, Gale always made sure that I was included in freeze tag, street hockey and adventures out in the vast woods behind Seam Avenue, and he never gave a damn about what anyone else had to say about it.
I stand awkwardly off to the side of the group, always waiting on the fringe to be picked for kickball. I toe the ground with the tip of my dirty sneaker and hang my head. This is the worst part of playing games with everyone. I feel a hot prickle of embarrassment creep up the back of my neck when Bristel Norris whispers behind her hand and cuts her eyes toward me.
"I pick Cassius," says Thom Berry, high fiving the other boy as he whoops and moves to stand next to him.
The other team captain surveys the group before looking at me, the edges of his lips curling so slightly that no one else even notices that it's a smile.
"I choose…Everdeen,"an eleven-year-old Gale says casually, looking bored when Thom makes a scoffing noise.
"Of course," Bristel mutters with a roll of her eyes, not even hiding the baleful expression on her face.
Despite a summer tan layered on top of my already olive skin, I turn as red as old man Cray's broken down pickup truck when Leevy Shaw shoots an irritated look my way. We're both almost nine, but she's a good four inches taller than I am and easily the fastest girl in the neighborhood. None of the boys can beat her in a foot race or catch her in tag, but Gale never, ever picks her first.
He claps me on the back as I shuffle to his side. "Don't let me down, Catnip."
Don't let me down, Catnip.
The almost decade-old words echoed as I stared at the boy, no—man approaching the Porsche. I took a moment and inhaled deeply, mentally preparing for an inevitable confrontation. I hastily wiped at my face to make sure no stray tears were visible.
Never let them see you cry.
"License and registration." Gale's voice was cool and detached.
I sighed and tapped the wheel. "I don't have any of that."
He made a noise of irritation in the back of his throat, and I could feel his stare through the dark lens of his sunglasses. "That's definitely a problem. You can't just go around town doing whatever you want to do, Katniss."
I looked up at him then, registering the accusation in his voice and the underlying message there. You and the Mellarks. "It is what it is," I said boredly, knowing it would piss him off.
His face froze over, at least the visible portion that wasn't being blocked by the stern Aviators covering his eyes like an intimidating mask. "Do you have any illegal substances in your car that I should know about?" he asked tersely, the last part added with a heavy layer of sarcasm, letting me know that he was well aware that I wasn't driving my own vehicle.
Not that this was news. Who in town didn't know that this car had belonged to a dead girl?
She had died in it, after all.
"No," I said coldly. Was he really going to play this game? My fingers twitched by my purse, where the joint that Finnick had gifted to me was rolled and waiting to be lit.
"You sure?" he asked, leaning a hand against the edge of the window. I recoiled, an involuntary reaction he didn't miss, if the stiffening of his spine was any indication. "You were swerving off the road and driving erratically. All it will take is one simple call for backup and I can have this car searched."
He snapped his fingers as if to make a point, and I rolled my eyes.
"Good for you," I bit out, clapping slowly. "Don't you have any other innocent girls you could be harassing? Your family is good at that, right?"
I immediately regretted my words. Why had I even brought that up? We did not need to revisit any of that right now. Also- oh no. I blinked as Gale wordlessly turned around and walked towards his patrol car, presumably to follow up on his threat.
I fumbled for the glove compartment quickly, staring at Prim's cell phone for a moment before unlocking the screen. I pressed the "Call" menu option, causing the recent contacts screen to pull up immediately. I did a double-take at some of the listed names, but didn't waste too much time before toggling over to the keypad. I hesitated and typed in *67 before manually entering Peeta's number— I didn't want to freak him out by calling from Prim's phone, because I would probably have had a nervous breakdown if it happened to me.
The phone rang only twice before he picked up.
"You've reached Peeta Mellark," he answered, using the concise, professional voice that he mostly reserved for strangers and distant acquaintances. It was very much a grown-up voice, a politician's tone of speech, and it was beyond strange to hear that aloofness directed towards me, deliberately or not.
I cleared my throat, hesitating, and I could practically feel the impatience he had for whoever was currently wasting his time.
"I need you," I finally said into the phone, realizing it to be true on so many levels.
"Katniss?…Where are you? And are you okay?" Peeta's words tumbled out into a rushed, tripping torrent of concern, and suddenly it was so him again that I felt like I could cry.
I looked up to see that Gale had already returned to my window and was watching the flurry of emotions play out on my face. I tried to school my features. I didn't want to give him anything.
"You stormed out of here without your wallet or your phone. By the time I realized it, you were gone," Peeta was saying, his voice deep with worry. Our earlier argument was obviously forgotten.
"Yeah, I'm driving the Porsche," I said in distraction, trying to keep my voice at a hush.
"With no license?" he sighed in disapproval, though he couldn't hide the concern lacing his words. "What if you're pulled over? Jesus Christ. Are you even wearing shoes, Katniss?"
"About that," I trailed off briefly, glaring up at Gale, "I'm kind of pulled over right now. I need you to bring my wallet and the proof of insurance with my name on it. Your mom said she already had that handled."
He was quiet before speaking.
"Who pulled you over, Katniss?" he finally asked in a low voice.
I was silent, debating on the wisdom of the phone call, after all. Did I really want Peeta storming down here and having a confrontation with Gale when I wanted nothing more than to make my own amends with him? On my own terms?
"Katniss?" Peeta said my name again, more urgently this time. "Tell me where you are."
"Never mind," I said, talking over his protests. "I've got it handled."
I took a deep breath. "I love you," I said, the words spilling out with abrupt honesty. I took advantage of Peeta's stunned silence and hung up quickly, closing my eyes and wishing I were next to him. When I opened my eyes a moment later, it was with a heightened layer of resolve swirling inside me.
The resolve to get back home to Peeta and make things right.
I busied myself with scrolling through Prim's phone for a moment before throwing it back into the glove compartment. I took a deep breath and turned slightly in the driver's seat, leveling Gale with a stare. "Look, I've done nothing wrong. I'm on the insurance. I can prove it and then you'll look stupid, so why don't we just call this a day?"
He scoffed. "What about truancy? Maybe a little alcohol abuse? Pot? I'm sure if I tested you now you'd come up completely clean," he mocked me.
Okay. Now I was getting pissed. "What exactly do you want from me, Officer?"
"I want you to look at me without hatred in your eyes."
My head tipped backward at the sudden weight of his words, and I felt as if the breath had been knocked out of me at the genuine tone of his voice.
I cleared my throat and smiled nastily. "If this is some attempt at redemption then your efforts are pathetic and futile," I ground out, reaching into the console for what was sure to be a stale cigarette. "Maybe you should have thought about that before you fucked me, Officer Hawthorne."
He inhaled sharply. "You were just as gone as I was, Katniss. You were pissed at Mellark and I would have done anything for you."
I was so not going there. "Tell me, how does our old neighborhood feel about your new career?" I chose to needle him instead, lighting the end of the cigarette.
"I imagine they're pretty happy that I'm keeping privileged fuckheads from scoring drugs from desperate guys like my brother was," he said evenly. "Tell Finnick Odair to buy elsewhere, otherwise I will be hauling his ass to the station next time."
I stiffened. "That fuckhead was your friend."
"Yeah, he was," he said pointedly, pulling a pen and legal pad out from his back pocket. I eyed it.
"Nice to know who your real friends are, isn't it?" I sneered.
He pounded the side of my car in a sudden, frustrated move."You're the one who gave me the drink, Katniss."
"What exactly are you trying to say?" I asked in disbelief, angrily exhaling a mouthful of smoke. "You're deluded if you think I actually tried to date rape you."
"Who gave you your drink?" he asked grimly.
I froze. "No." I glared up at him. Not this shit again.
"If Prim was raped, why didn't she report it?"
"No." I shook my head adamantly. Gale had tried to force this conversation on me once before, and it ended with my fist in his face. He left for the police academy a few weeks later.
"None of it makes sense, Katniss," he pushed, running a hand through his dark hair. "Think about it."
"She was ashamed!"
"My brother didn't rape her. He swears he didn't." He shook his head back at me. "Rory is many things, but a rapist? I just don't believe that."
"Your brother is a goddamn crackhead."
He ignored me and plowed forward. "Prim was not an innocent little girl, Katniss. You and Mellark have fooled yourself real good if you think otherwise. Ask around if you don't believe me. I think you won't like what you hear."
My hand was trembling badly. I had officially reached my limit. "Arrest me, ticket me, I don't give a fuck. I'mdone with this!" I practically shouted the words at him, flicking the lit end of the cigarette at his chest for emphasis. He jumped backwards as if I had tried to burn him at the stake, his grey eyes staring at me in shock.
I immediately deflated. "Can I go now?" I squeezed the steering wheel in an attempt to alleviate some of the frustrated energy that was coursing through my veins. I couldn't deny that Gale has given me some things to think about, but I also was not even remotely in the mood to admit that to anyone, let alone him. I pointed at the cigarette that had landed by his feet, and he gingerly picked it up between his fingers and dropped it onto my waiting palm.
Something else was bothering me, too. My eyes drifted to the glove compartment. Later.
"I ought to arrest you, you know?" Gale frowned down at his legal pad, his own fingers as tight around the pen he was gripping as mine were on the steering wheel. I could see the large knuckles were nearly white with effort. I felt as if he was channeling the biting of his tongue into that pen.
"Fine. Do what you have to do," I snapped impatiently, shove the cigarette butt into the water bottle I had been using as an ashtray. "Waste my time and yours. We both know this isn't going to stick anyway."
Maybe I was bluffing a little, but I was channeling Primrose Mellark in a big way.
We had a tense standoff before he exhaled loudly, as if the weight of the world was being expelled with one gusty breath. The scent of spearmint washed over me, the kind of gum we would get from the corner store when we were kids. Nostalgia threatened to poke holes in my steely exterior, but I pushed it back firmly.
"Just go," Gale said tiredly, pushing his sunglasses up to rub at the bridge of his nose. I noticed then that he had bags under his eyes that rivaled the violet streaks under mine. "Go straight home," he added sternly, shoving the pad and pen into his back pocket and pointing towards the direction of the Mellarks. Even he recognized what I clearly refused to accept.
"Trouble sleeping?" The words tumbled out of my mouth involuntarily and I cursed inwardly. What did I care about Gale Hawthorne's sleeping habits? The stunned look he was giving me clearly said that he was thinking the same thing.
He was quiet a moment. "Do you really care?" he asked gruffly, echoing my thoughts.
"No." I turned away and fixedly stared forward as I rolled up the window and drove away.
I only breathed again when the patrol car was far away from my line of sight, Gale just a dark speck in my rearview mirror. I looked briefly to my right, toward the nicer part of town, but then signaled left. Gale was right about one thing. I was going home, but probably not to the one that he was thinking of.
I was going to Seam Avenue, to the shoebox house that for years I had not darkened the doorstep of except to grab a few items or prove a point to Prim and Peeta— that I "didn't need them," a joke of a vow considering that I always, always, always found myself back at their house.
I looked at the envelope on the seat next to me, an ever present reminder of just how much of a joke my declarations were.
I cursed as I almost missed my turn onto Seam Avenue, surprising even myself. Is it possible that muscle memory could fade that much? I made another left, and there I was—home sweet home on the street of my childhood. Small, tatty boxes with windows and twenty year old cars parked in the overgrown lawns. Well, that was being generous. Some were up on cinder blocks, a necessity for the residents with defaulted loans that were looking to foil the collectors that came in the night to sneak their 89' Cadillacs back to their Cash Advance headquarters. It was an effective method for holding onto your wheels— I remember my dad doing it once or twice.
I pulled the last cigarette out of the pack and lit it. I paused before inhaling, and made a quick decision. I pushed it down into the water bottle, feeling a tiny wave of personal victory when it hissed and popped upon contact with the liquid inside. Small steps to success. Peeta would be so proud.
Too bad I was already regretting the loss of the cigarette as I cruised further down the street, shaking my head as I passed houses that were in worse repair than ever. I didn't know if the old neighborhood was looking especially bleak because of my mood, or if it was because of the possibility that I'd soon be back here on a more permanent basis.
But damn. The street was looking more haggard than I ever remembered it being. I passed by Gale's house, a small white clapboard thing with probably the nicest yard on the street, and I resisted the urge to park the car and kick holes in his perfectly green lawn. I was a little surprised that he had decided to stay around Seam after graduating from the police academy, but at the same time, there was a buried part of me that recognized Gale's noble attempt to keep a watch on his mother, who still lived with his little sister Posy across from the street from my own house.
My house. My house. As much as I repeated the words to myself, I couldn't reconcile the image of the place that I parked the Porsche in front of with the sprawling, gilded prison that I had been living within for the better part of my life.
I turned off the engine and slid out of the car after a few moments hesitation. I kicked off Prim's fuck-me heels and tossed them into the backseat. Do as the Romans do, after all— I was going barefoot. I walked toward the front door slowly, feeling like a stranger. I unlocked the front door and gingerly eased inside, wrinkling my nose at the heated, musty air that immediately assaulted my nostrils. Obviously there was no need for the air conditioning, because my mother was never home. I could count on one hand how many times in the past year that she had actually been here when I've crept over for reasons that were always my own. It's amazing to me, ironic and more than a little bittersweet, how she went from a decrepit zombie to a full blown workaholic after I was out of her hair.
Either way, she was never around whether it be mentally or physically, so it's a moot point as to the why.
I opened the refrigerator, thirsty beyond belief. I felt like I had cried out all of my electrolytes and needed a recharge badly. I would love a glass of vodka, but would gladly settle for some orange juice.
My eyebrows furrowed together as I took stock of the pitiful contents of the fridge. Jar of olives. Mayonnaise. Questionably dated Greek yogurt. A half consumed bottle of green tea. How the hell was my mother alive? I could only hope that she was eating at the hospital cafeteria and not living on a diet of olives and mayonnaise. I rifled past a jug of slushy milk and hit pay dirt with an unopened bottle of mineral water.
As I shut the door, I couldn't help but think about the professionally stocked kitchen back at Peeta's house bursting with all of my favorites; Camembert cheese, organic apple juice and artisan breads in a never ending supply. Talia Mellark actively despised the very ground that I walked on, and still she managed to know and understand and anticipate me more than my own mother ever had.
Spoiled, spoiled, spoiled, I muttered to myself as I moved out of the kitchen.
Gale's words from earlier haunted me as I trudged to my room, the tiny space positively suffocating in its smallness. I had nothing but shitty memories here, the ghost of my father and the stark neglect of my mother settling deep into the pit of my stomach and expanding with all the density of a raincloud.
The only good, remotely recent memory that I had in this room took place a few months after the party incident. Peeta had shown up at my door one night after I fled his house, a particularly bad day of silent treatment culminating into a fight.
I shake with barely suppressed rage as I glare down at the message that appeared moments before on Peeta's lock screen. I pick up the phone and stare at it before throwing it at his chest. He flinches at the impact, sparing a glance down and then back up at me before returning to Far from the Madding Crowd. His face remains impassive even as I scream at him about the photo on his phone.
When he finally acknowledges me, it's to speak in a rational, calm tone. "I didn't ask her to send me that photo," he says without looking up from his page. "Delete it. I couldn't be less interested."
"Why the fuck is Delly Cartwright sending you texts of her saggy tits?" I seethe, my hand clenched into a fist. "Is this phase two of your punishment? Ignoring me and getting off on these pathetic sexts?"
He finally looks up and stares at me. "I'm not getting off on anything, Katniss."
"Oh, I know," I laugh without humor, standing up jerkily. "Believe me, I'm painfully aware." His cool blue eyes pierce me, and I falter for a moment before forging ahead. "You clearly don't want to fuck me anymore. You barely even look at me. So are you holding auditions for the next act?" I gesture towards the phone. "Wasn't Glimmer enough?"
A kaleidoscope of expressions flash across his face before finally landing on derision. "You're being ridiculous," he says coldly, looking back down at his book. "Are you even listening to yourself?"
"Fuck you," I say, tears in my eyes as I storm out of his room. I pass a confused Prim as I stomp down the stairs, and I thrust my hand out.
"Give me your keys," I demand desperately, stalking away after she wordlessly complies. I don't stop, not even when she calls my name.
An hour later and I'm still counting the cracks in the ceiling of my bedroom. That is, until a pounding on the front door shakes the entire frame of the house, small flakes of white paint and spackling falling like snow from above to settle on my black tank top.
My phone buzzes again. I don't need to look at the caller ID to know that it's the same person who is currently huffing and puffing and blowing my house down with the force of his knocks. I debate on not answering the door. I owe him nothing. Still, I pause, because it could just as easily be Prim.
I'm still debating even as I am up on my feet and moving down the short hallway. Even as I stomp into the living room. Even as I'm opening the door.
"What?" I ask flatly, my eyes widening slightly as I take in Peeta's manic expression, his haphazard blond waves. He pushes me backwards into the house, kicking the door shut with his foot. I'm too stunned to react as he grabs my shoulders and whirls me around.
"You think I don't want you anymore?" he asks as a greeting, marching me down the hallway. He doesn't bother to shut my bedroom door before pushing me down onto the bed. I land on my hands and knees, and he settles behind me, pulling my shorts down with an impatient hand.
"I want you every day," he says into my ear.
I feel both a thrill of excitement and fear. Peeta is beyond unpredictable right now, but it's the closest I've felt to him in weeks.
I groan as he slides two fingers into my already wet center to test my readiness, a gentleman even in his icy frustration toward me. My body is a traitor for Peeta Mellark, even when I'm supposed to be angry and sulking. I turn my head to look at him, to make eye contact, but he tugs on my hair, sending painful streaks of lightning shooting into my scalp. I drop my head to my forearms. I know what the hair pulling signals.
"Gonna show you how much," he mutters, his warm breath gusting into my shoulder. I hear the clinking of his belt as it drops to the floor, and feel a rustling of material against my bare skin before he pushes into me from behind. I am expecting an exquisite assault, a punishing type of pounding in trade. I would have welcomed it, even.
Instead, he is tantalizingly slow as he fucks my pussy, his death grip on my hair and hip a stark contrast to his tempered thrusts. It's clear in his every measured stroke— this is Peeta taking back control.
This is me letting him.
I groan loudly as he slides out completely, teasing my clit with his swollen erection. I push back against him, a whine of protest squeaking from my throat when he pulls back on the braid wound tightly in his fist. He stills my hips with a squeeze of his other hand.
"So greedy," he says, sliding his fingers down my side to rest on my ass. I wish I could see his face. I wish I could just look at him. Then I'd know. I'd know where we stand. I'd make him stop playing with me, because this is torture.
He rubs a thumb in an ever widening circle on one of the cheeks of my backside before looping out a word that I immediately register on the sensitive flesh there.
M. I. N. E.
I suck in a breathe as his thumb trails over, over, over and oh.
I flinch involuntarily at the foreign feeling of his thumb filling this new territory. I open my mouth to protest when he releases my braid to reach down between my legs, running a soothing finger around the swollen kernel he finds there. I squeak out an inhuman noise at the feeling of his fingers in me, all around me, ubiquitous and gentle in the pleasure. I feel his thumb sink a little further into me, but it feels good. So strangely good, and I'm not sure if I should be okay with that, but I don't care. In that moment, with his fingers rubbing at my clit, I don't care.
I just want more.
"Peeta," I whimper, all dignity gone as I bump backwards, causing his thumb to slide inside of me in its entirety.
"Ooo," I exhale, my eyes popping open. He makes a gentle little noise as he leans forward and kisses the back of my neck, and I feel his erection as he bumps into the waiting lips between my legs.
"Please..." I am mindless with want. I want it all. He slowly slides his thumb out, pushing back in carefully. I pant. I writhe. He pinches my clit, and I feel as if I will come undone any moment. "I'm, oh God, I'm-"
"Shhh," he says soothingly, and I feel the swollen head of his cock replace his thumb, nudging between the plump cheeks of my ass. I stiffen.
"Katniss..." he asks the question. I nod furiously, rubbing my forehead on my arm. He needs this, another first between us to help the healing process.
We need this.
Peeta exhales, pushing forward slowly, so slowly. "I'll take care of you," he says thickly, his voice breaking off as he chokes in pleasure.
He grunts softly into my ear as he carefully works in and out of the puckered cavity, gentle even in this primal claiming. I'm overwhelmed by the painful, throbbing stretch of his dick filling my ass, and the intense pleasure of the knowing, talented fingers working my clit and stroking my walls in tandem with the other invasion.
"Katniss," he says shakily, dropping his forehead onto my shoulder blade. His hand falls away from between my legs, and he comes with a muffled cry.
I feel it, and I take it all.
Afterward, we strip off our clothes completely and lie together in comfortable silence. I'm sore in a new way, and even though I didn't come, the fact that Peeta did satisfies me so much that it doesn't even matter.
We eventually cram together in the tiny hall bathroom and shower away our sins. I'm leaning back against Peeta as he runs as soapy washcloth over my stomach when he suddenly stills, dropping the wet material to floor. His arms wrap around me from behind.
"I've been so mad at you," he says, his voice cracking.
"I know," I say. My head drops and my body goes limp and defeated in his embrace.
"I'm so tired, Katniss." His chin finds my wet shoulder. He sniffles into my hair.
I close my eyes. The pain in his voice physically hurts me. "Me, too."
"I don't want to be mad anymore," he says. "I need you."
We stand there in silence, swaying slightly under the spurting water.
"Come home," he finally says into my ear. "Delete every number in my phone. I don't care about anyone but you."
"You should," I say.
"I tried," he whispers, his wet hands finding mine. "I can't."
I come home with him. We're in the car on the way back to the Mellarks, and we pass by Gale's house. I feel Peeta's fingers thread through mine.
He holds on tightly, and I don't let go.
My eyes popped open at the memory of him inside that new territory, of how tender and sweet the moment had been that passed between us after he collapsed next to me on this very bed. Our breakthrough in the shower.
I rubbed the comforter with my palm and felt a warmth spread through my limbs, cursing this inopportune moment of desire. I had a mission to go on, and it didn't involve getting myself off on in the middle of the day to fantasies of anal with Peeta. It did, however, make me even more eager for a reunion with him, and with a renewed sense of purpose, I popped up from my bed and left the house, stopping by the car for a moment to grab my purse and some cash. I was going to need some money for my next task, and I couldn't say that I was looking forward to it as I crossed the yard next door and walked up the driveway of a house two doors down from mine.
I knocked on the door twice, knowing the doorbell would probably be as broken as it had ever been for the past eighteen years. The door opened after a few minutes, and a face as olive skinned as mine glared out at me.
"What do you want?" Leevy was blunt and to the point, her throaty rasp hostile. She leaned against the door frame, all lush and sloe-eyed like a black-eyed susan growing in a cement garden, the type of flower you just know will soon give way to faded and wilted edges bred by its toxic environment. Her eyes dropped down to my bare feet. "Classy."
"Damn Leevy, is that any way to greet an old friend from the neighborhood?"
"We're not friends, bitch. Never were," she said flatly, looking me up and down. "And you're straight trippin' if you think you're still a girl from this hood," she added, her eyes lingering on my dress.
"Fine. Cousins, then." Second or third cousins, maybe, but I wasn't too proud to pull the string of familial bonds. "How's Aunt Maria?"
We stared at each other a moment. I wasn't backing down. She fidgeted in the doorway, and my eyes zeroed in on the weakness. "What d'you want?" she repeated, her voice still hard, but at least she wasn't slamming the door in my face. Yet.
"You holding?" I asked, even though I could not be less interested in drugs right now.
"Jesus." I frowned at her. "Do you want my fucking money or not?"
She eyed me intently for a moment before scowling and holding open the door. "After you, princess," she said mockingly. I shot a sarcastic smile her way as I brushed past her and moved into the living room. It was very similar to my own house, except spotlessly clean with pictures of herself and her family covering the walls.
"Pretty," I said innocently, nodding at a 10 x 10 glossy photo of Leevy with thick plastic framed glasses and a floral print dress in third grade.
She threw a suspicious glare at me before reluctantly gesturing toward the couch in a halfhearted attempt at politeness. "Y'know, you don't have to bullshit me with the nicey-nice routine to score some drugs. It's not like you people ever come around here for anything else."
"You people?" I raised an eyebrow as I sat down onto a couch cushion, grimacing when it collapsed in the middle and I sunk down into the depths uncomfortably. Leevy snickered as I struggled to maintain some dignity and scoot forward to the stable edge of the couch.
She flopped down onto a threadbare loveseat that was angled caddy-corner to the couch, careful to maintain distance between us. "Yeah, one of your friends stopped by today," Leevy said, licking her lips. She pulled a stubby, half smoked blunt from an ashtray on the coffee table between us and lit one end. "Tell Finn that he's free to come any, any time." Her eyes were lidded with innuendo.
I shook my head at the blunt she offered my way and scowled at the implication behind her words. "Like Finnick would ever touch you. He's got a girlfriend and, honestly, I wish he wouldn't come around here, anyway." I thought about Gale's threat to arrest him and wondered how serious he was. Odds are probably not in Finnick's favor. Bad blood between former friends is a powerful venom.
Leevy's eyes flashed as she inhaled and blew a puff of smoke my direction. "Oh, I'm not good enough for gorgeous ol' Finnick Odair?" she sneered. "You always did think you were better than me. Too good for the rest of us." She angrily stubbed out the blunt before speaking again. "Well, obviously not all of your little rich friends have thought so."
I frowned. "And what does that mean?" She was trying to bait me, and I wasn't falling for it.
She eyed me thoughtfully, the anger draining from her eyes and something like spiteful pity taking its place there. "Ah, you really are a seriously clueless bitch, aren't you?"
"If you have something to say, just spit it out," I said, my face flushing with irritation.
She just shook her head, sitting back against the loveseat. I wondered if I was making up the disappointment in her expression. "Nah. It's more fun to make you crazy wondering."
"You are such a cunt. You know that?"
"Yeah, yeah," she said, waving her hand as if bored with the conversation. "Now tell me what you want so I can kick your ass out of my house."
"Oh." I hadn't really thought this part out in advance. "Um. Do you have any Adderall?"
She rifled through a bag she had pulled out from beneath the coffee table. "Nope."
"Nah. Sold the last half to Finnick."
I rolled my eyes but held my tongue. "What about..." I lifted my eyes to meet her deliberately. "GHB?"
She flinched. "Why the fuck would I have that?" she demanded. Did I detect nervousness in her voice?
"Didn't you get Rory's clientele when he was put in jail?" I asked calmly, but inside I was a wreck. "And word on the street is that he's out of business now, so who is filling the gaps?"
"Look," she said, her voice furious, "I aint't sellin' no fuckin' date rape drug, okay?"
"Fine," I said. Someone did, though. And my bet was on Rory, and someone who had access to a steady stream of it would have no problem dropping it into a glass or two at a party and helping to lubricate his own sick agenda.
And maybe his brother's.
"Why would you even want GHB?" Leevy asked, her eyes darting to the left.
Because I need to know the source. Because I need to know if Rory sold it. I need answers. I need to make sense of things.
"Maybe I just like to party," I deadpanned. And then I go in for the kill. "What about heroin?"
She stared at me then, her eyes wide as they locked onto my own. A clock ticked during the tense moment of silence that I refused to break first.
"I'm sorry about Prim," she said suddenly, rubbing her cheek roughly.
I looked back at her in shock.
"Why?" The word came out harshly, suspiciously. "She was 'one of them.' Why would you even care?"
She shook her head. "I knew her," Leevy said vaguely. "I didn't sell her that heroin, though. I swear."
"Someone did," I repeat, but my words are softer, quieter. Sadder. There was no power behind them.
"Prim was into some wild things," she said, shaking her head. "But as far as I know, heroin wasn't one of them. I was real shocked when I heard about the overdose." I tilted my head and narrowed my eyes.
"You think you're an expert on Prim?" I bit out. "Because you sold her blow or weed a time or two? Heard the local gossip about how she deliberately overdosed on heroin?"
"You don't know shit," I threw out one final jab. One look at Leevy's face made it clear she was done talking to me. I blew it, and now storytime was over.
She sucked her teeth. "I have an eight ball of coke. One hundred and fifty bucks. Take it or leave it." Her voice was stilted.
"I'll take it," I grumbled, digging a wad of cash out of my purse and throwing it onto the coffee table. She did the same with a baggie of white powder, and we glared at each other before I stood and grabbed it.
"I would say nice talking to you, but it would be a lie," I said snidely, shoving the baggie into my purse. Not my most mature moment.
"I would say come back real soon but I'd rather eat shit than see your face again," she said sweetly.
I snorted and headed for the door. "Nice. I'm sure you charm all the boys with that mouth." My tone was heavy with meaning.
"The girls, too," she called after me, spite and satisfaction in her voice. "But you wouldn't know anything about that. Would you, Katniss?"
I stopped. Shook my head. Then kept going.
The door behind me shut loudly as I walked down the cracked cement that served as a walkway in her yard. I lifted my eyes and blanched as a patrol car swiftly pulled to the edge of the grass.
No. Fucking. Way. I stared at the officer as he exited the car and stared at me from ten feet away. I couldn't believe that he actually followed me.
"I told you to go home, Katniss."
"I did," I quipped, cutting my eyes to the house two doors down.
He shook his head. "You don't listen. I tried to give you an out." He sighed and ran a hand down his face. "I need for you to come over here and empty your pockets and purse."
"You can't search me on private property, Gale." I was pretty sure, at least. My knowledge of these type of laws only extended to the police procedural dramas that Prim used to linger on sometimes at night before we fell asleep. I pointed at Leevy's "no trespassing" sign in the yard.
"Wasn't planning to," he said in a clipped voice, crossing his arms. "But you can't stand in this yard forever."
"I'll just walk across the five yards it takes to get to my house," I shrugged with forced nonchalance. Gale was intimidating me, and I didn't want it to show.
"If you do that, I'll arrest you for trespassing." I followed his eyesight to old man Cray's clearly posted "no trespassing" sign tacked to the sad little tree in his litter-filled front yard. "Your move."
"You bastard," I swore. "Is nothing sacred to you?"
"Cray is gonna be so mad if he finds out we were in his yard." I look over nervously at the house in question.
"Land belongs to no one," Gale says gravely, pulling back his make-shift slingshot and expertly hitting four of the empty bottles we found in old man Cray's yard. Gale makes the best sling-shots of anyone in the neighborhood, and on Saturdays he'll buy us a root beer fountain drink and two bags of boiled peanuts to share with some of the money he made during the week.
"It belongs to someone," I say with a shrug, running down to the cement blocks lining the fence at the back of his house. I line the bottles back up and jog back. "Someone paid for it."
"You try." He thrusts the slingshot and a large marble into my hands. I stare at the weapon apprehensively.
"I don't know, Gale. I don't think I'll be any good." I think about all of the neighborhood sports that I fail at with regularity. Our team -Gale's team- lost the kickball game last week. I know it was mostly my fault, even though he never said so.
"Just try," he says patiently, nudging my arm. "Pay attention. Focus."
I take a nervous breath, and raise the slingshot, pulling back and aiming like I've seen him do so many times. "Keep your eye on it," he says encouragingly from somewhere on my left.
I nod sharply. My eyes narrow, and I inhale deeply. This moment seems important. I feel like I have to get this right. Like something depends on it. I pull back even tighter and release my breath the same time as the piece of rubber between my fingers, letting the marble fly into the air.
My mouth drops open as and I barely register Gale's cry of approval when a bottle shatters completely.
"You did it!" he says happily. "See? You can do anything if you put your mind to it, Catnip."
I shrug, embarrassed but pleased. "I dunno," I mumble.
"It's true." He puts a hand on my shoulder. "You just have to open up your eyes."
It was almost impossible to put this grim faced police officer together with the boy from my memories. Stern, unyielding, and immovable as stone, one look at his body language and I knew it was time to fold my cards. He was looking for a reason to take me down, and I just wanted to get it over with.
"Fine," I said, holding my hands up and walking toward him reluctantly. The surprise on his face was palpable as I dug into my jacket pocket and slapped the eight ball of coke into his hand. "There you go," I said, my chin in the air.
Gale stared down at his hand before looking up at me and sighing. "You have the right to..."
I tuned out then as he spouted off the Miranda rights to me, placing my hands behind my back and waiting for the cool metal of the handcuffs to enclose around my wrists.
He didn't disappoint. I jerked away from him as he placed his lower hand on my back and led me toward the back of his police car. "Don't touch me," I snapped. I felt like I was on an episode of Cops.
"Are you serious?" I heard a voice yell from the doorway. I looked over at Leevy, who was half hanging out of the door and shooting an incredulous look our way. "Gale, that's fucked up."
Was Leevy actually defending me?
"Get back in the house, Leevy. You're interfering with an arrest," Gale said tiredly, opening the car door for me to slide into the backseat. "Don't make me pursue this," he said, staring her up and down. "You're on thin ice already."
She scoffed and shook her head, but took a step backward. I thought the look she shot at me was almost sympathetic, but then the familiar scowl was back in place as she slammed the door behind her.
I stared out of the window as he slid into the front seat and started the car. When we pulled out of the driveway and onto the street, I cringed as I realized that I was barefoot in the back of a police car. It was as if my poor trash destiny was fulfilled all in one day. Talia was going to be so irate—not only was I being arrested, but I had also neglected to run the one errand she had requested of me. I really wasn't sure which failure she would be more pissed about.
"I didn't want this to happen," Gale said lowly, meeting my eyes through the rear-view mirror. "You just don't listen. Ever."
"Is that what this is about?" I asked, my voice an arctic breeze. "Making me listen? Well I'm all ears, Officer. Clearly I'm not going anywhere."
He regarded me. "Did you talk to Leevy about Prim?"
My eyes flitted away and I stared out of the window.
"You did, didn't you?" He pushed, sounding validated. "That's why you went there. I don't believe for a second it was for cocaine."
"Can you put a move on it?" I replied sullenly. "I have a date with destiny. And a jail cell."
I perked up as police station came into view. I couldn't believe I was actually excited about it, but I felt like I could barely breathe in the back of the cruiser.
"Shit," I heard Gale curse under his breath. My eyes flitted to a dark town car partially hidden by a van, and I raised my eyebrows in shock. I recognized that particular means of conveyance. Someone from the Mellark camp had been dispatched on my behalf.
"Wow," I murmured. I didn't know if I was more impressed or fearful.
Gale slowly pulled into an available space, and almost immediately was accosted by his superior, Sheriff Thread. "Pull around to the back, boy," he hissed into the window, his eyes darting to me. "We don't need anyone to see this that hasn't already."
"Now." Thread's tone invited no arguments. "Just be grateful it's already nightfall." Gale's lips pressed together into a thin line, but he wordlessly pulled away and drove into the back of the station.
A moment later, the town car and Sheriff Thread appeared, the latter hastily opening my door and gently escorting me out of the cramped quarters.
"I apologize for this mix-up," Thread babbled nervously, looking up at the stout form that exited the town car and walked toward us.
Plutarch Heavensbee, Senator Mellark's lawyer.
"For God's sake," Mr. Heavensbee sniffed. "Uncuff the girl, please."
"Office Hawthorne," Thread said sharply, nodding his head toward me. I stared at Gale as he approached me, his face murderous.
"I told you," I said under my breath. "I told you this wouldn't pan out and you didn't listen." I threw his words from earlier back in his face.
"Is this really what you want, Katniss?" He gritted his teeth, and I exhaled in relief when the metal cuffs disappeared from around my wrists. "To be under the protection of the Mellarks the rest of your life? No control?"
"I don't know," I said quietly. "It looks like I'm the one in control right now."
"No," he shook his head, ignoring the look and muttered words that his superior was directing his way. "They can bury you as easily as they can dig you out of trouble. And that's what this family is, Kat." He looked me in the eye. "Trouble."
"Young man," Mr. Heavensbee said smoothly, placing a paternal arm around my shoulder and leading me away. "I think you'll find that my client has done nothing wrong. It would be within your best interests to forget this ever happened."
Gale looked at Sheriff Thread, and he shook his head in disgust at what he found in the older man's expression. "Officer Hawthorne, go inside and wait in my office," his superior said, sounding terse and harassed.
He nodded jerkily, looking as if he wanted to argue. He didn't, though, and I knew he was thinking of his mother and Posy. He turned and gave me a long, disappointed look before stalking away.
I forced an empty smile to my lips as Mr. Heavensbee cheerfully loaded me into the town car, stopping to speak to the Sheriff for a moment before sliding in after me.
"Justice always prevails," he said with a wink. My eyes widened in shock as I saw a familiar baggie of white powder slip from his hand into a jacket pocket.
I felt the victory knock hollowly against my chest. There were no winners here today.
I listened half-heartedly as the lawyer advised me to basically keep my mouth closed about what he kept referring to as the "non-incident." I nodded absently, but there was only one thing on my mind.
I stared out the window and watched as we approached the oak-lined street of the Mellarks' neighborhood, my heart thumping in my chest as we pulled into the driveway. I felt anxious, downright sick. Like I was being pulled apart. I needed to be put back together again and there was only one person who could do that.
I practically jumped out of the moving car, murmuring a "thank you" to Mr. Heavensbee as I raced toward the house. I noted that the Porsche had already arrived back at the house before I had.
The Mellarks worked fast.
My journey through the house was a blur as I moved singlemindedly toward my goal. I apparently wasn't the only one in a rush, because Peeta's bedroom door swung open before I could even knock.
The sudden appearance of him in front of me almost took my breath away. I hated myself, because despite how pissed off I was at him earlier, despite the fact that he doesn't trust me, I wanted nothing more than to collapse in his arms—to just let him take care of me. Like he always said he would. Like he always had.
"I'm sorry," he said hoarsely, his face a mix of tense panic. His normally impeccable blond waves were ruffled and stressed, his blue eyes pained as they stared at me. "Katniss, I'm sorry."
"Me too," I said quickly, relief flooding my body. It's pathetic how fast I folded, but even more pathetic that I needed him to do it first. Our games.
He reached out to tug at my hand, but instead of pulling me into the room, I landed directly against his solid chest, his arms wrapping around me tightly.
"I messed up. I shouldn't have yelled at you like that," he said into my hair. "Katniss, I don't blame you for Prim. I don't. I fucking love you. I love you so much." He was chanting the words like a mantra, and I wasn't getting tired of hearing it any time soon.
"Peeta." I pulled back to look at him, and was startled to see that he looked absolutely terrified, as if I was going to give him bad news. Like I was going to leave him again. I couldn't take that expression on his face.
I pulled him down by the collar of his rumpled shirt, backing him into the room as his lips touched mine ever so briefly before he leaned away to search my eyes.
"Thank God," he finally exhaled after finding what he was looking for, some sort of assurance that I wasn't breaking up with him. He rested his forehead against mine.
"When you left earlier, I swear it felt like you—" He stopped, his arms squeezing me tighter still, his lips pressed to mine in a pseudo kiss, more like a chaste claiming of my mouth than anything else. I suddenly understood the true meaning of the term lip locking. He didn't even flinch at the taste of cigarettes and weed that surely still lingered on my mouth.
"Like what?" I asked when Peeta finally pulled away, completely breathless as I choked on his affection. It was a good kind of smothering; the best kind of death.
He was silent for a moment, taking his time to push a stray piece of hair behind my ear, to brush a large, warm thumb underneath my eye: any excuse to touch me. "Like goodbye," he said finally. "Like you weren't coming back."
I bit my lip. "You might want that," I said, turning away and staring at my shoes lined up against the wall next to his. So in-sync.
I looked back at him and met his incredulous stare. "Never," he swore, wrapping his fingers around mine and leading me to his bed. Our neutral territory. Our stomping ground.
He picked me up effortlessly and sat me on the edge of the plush mattress, moving to cup my face in his hands. "I thought you understood this by now," he spoke clearly and intently. "There's literally nothing you could do that would make me not want you. That would make me send you away."
"I fucked Gale," I said in a dead voice, not a question, but a statement. It was something we both knew, had talked about in our roundabout way, and a fact that could no longer be ignored. The gentle hands cupping my face stiffened. Not quite squeezing, but more stony than the look that slid across Peeta's face at my words.
But then the stone gave way as the mask dropped briefly, and the way his face crumpled before he schooled his features again hurt me so much more than if he had chosen to slap me, or even crushed my cheeks in-between those rigid fingers.
"I know." His throat worked up and down as he tried to keep his emotions in check, holding back some combination of words that were clearly lying in wait on his tongue. "But I made a mistake, too. We're even, remember?" With that, he looked away, his face a paler shade than his normal golden hue.
Of fucking course I remembered. I thought about it every goddamn day. I started to remember the way he looked as he opened his door, how Glimmer's lips were puffy from Peeta's kisses, and I felt the old rage clawing its way to the surface. But then I thought about what I did, the part I played that led to his betrayal, to his sister's death, and my resolve to absolve him from his past transgression came back in full force.
"Are we?" I finally ask, feeling chilled as his hands dropped from my face, but he only moved to sit beside me on the bed.
"Tell me what happened," he said heavily, head bowed. "Tell me what I did to drive you away, to make you—I need to know how to make sure it never happens again." He lifted his face to meet my troubled gaze. "I couldn't handle it if it did, Katniss. It would break me. I honestly think I would die," he said flatly, his voice raw.
He made a surprised noise in the back of his throat as I swung a leg over to straddle his lap and wrap my arms around his neck. We collapsed backward into an honest, ungraceful pile, and I kissed his lips with a deep tenderness that I could only ever seem to channel when I was with him.
"It won't," I say, pulling back to whisper into his ear. "And Peeta. You didn't do anything. As stupid and cliche as it sounds, it was me," I confess, resting my cheek on his chest. And Prim. And something else. I just don't know exactly what yet.
"Then tell me what I can do to you," his voice grew darker, lower, suggestive. The hand that had slid to the back of my head tightened on my braid. "What can I do to you to keep you? How do you stay mine?"
My breath hitched in my throat as I felt his hips buck upward into mine. I pushed myself up with my elbows and straddled him, easily pulling the black dress up and over my head before tossing it onto the floor behind me.
I stared down into his eyes, blue and fathomless and lidded.
"Let me fuck you," I said, rocking forward. I was desperate for him. "I need you."
He scooted backward and sat up against the lush pillows behind him. I put most of my weight on my knees and tugged on Peeta's pants, indicating that he should lift up. We worked together to pull his pants and briefs down, maybe making it halfway down his thighs before I lost my patience. His cock was already hard and thick and waiting and I was just so tired of being a step behind him.
"Don't you want— oh. Katniss," he gasped. His eyes widened as I tugged my panties to the side and lowered myself onto his erection without fanfare. We both hissed as I buried him inside me to the hilt.
He tugged at my bra insistently, and I spared a moment to unsnap it and let it fall to the bed.
"Thank you," he said reverently, licking one taut nipple as I started to bounce lightly, every lift and drop I made onto his cock filling me with a thrill of pure pleasure. The room was filled with our sounds, the slick joining between us, his grunts of approval, little sighs of discovery and shouts of encouragement.
"We're more than this," he said, groaning loudly when I leaned back onto my elbows and pumped my hips in longer, surer strokes that almost slipped him from my body entirely. I was so wet that friction was practically nonexistent. My mouth was parted and my eyes shut tight, my thighs and abdomen burning with a delicious pain as I undulated on top of him.
"Aren't we?" he asked desperately, thrusting upwards erratically. His thumb found my clit and he rubbed it in furious circles, causing my back to arch in an unnatural curve that would probably hurt later.
I sat up for only a second before collapsing forward, my hands finding his shoulders as I dragged against him in tight, circular motions. The hand that had been between my legs slid out from between us and joined his other one on my back, clutching me to him so tightly that barely an inch of skin between us wasn't touching.
"You're everything," I sighed, crushing our lips together in time with my rocking hips. "Oh, oh. Peeta!" The orgasm hit me hard and fast, and I rode it out as I ground down on his dick, little aftershocks fluttering through my abdomen as I savored the feeling of my walls clenching around his erection.
"I love you," he cried out, his head falling back against the pillow as his back arched, his hands finding my hips and squeezing helplessly as he came inside me. "God. Katniss."
My breath came out in jagged exhales, and instead of rolling off of him like usual, I clung to him tightly.
"Me, too," I said, nuzzling his neck. It was slick with sweat against my cheek, but I didn't care. "I love you." The words were decadent and real on my tongue. He kissed my cheek and sighed happily. I wanted to freeze that moment and live in it forever.
Forever was short-lived, and I grumbled a little when Peeta gently lifted me off of him. I lay on my side and lazily watched as he pulled up his boxer briefs before sliding off his pants completely. I yawned and pointed at his shirt, and he dutifully removed that as well, reluctantly tossing it on the floor next to his pants. I felt at peace as he pulled me back to his chest, dropping my head there and closing my eyes.
"How much do you want to fold those clothes right now, weirdo?" I mumbled, smiling into his warm skin.
"So much," he sighed. We laughed, and I felt the warm tendrils of sleep creeping over me.
I must have dozed off then, because when I opened my eyes again, the clock beside his bed read one hour later.
"Oh," I murmured, the word thick and drowsy. Peeta's gentle fingers carded through my damp hair, almost sending me straight back into a much needed sleep. He must have unbraided while I had slept. "We were cordially invited to Glimmer Paladino's party." My voice lacked its normally vicious inflection.
"Yeah?" His voice rumbled into my ear as I lay against his chest. "And that's something you want to attend?" he added doubtfully.
"Not really," I yawned, snuggling against him fully. "But I feel like we should maybe see our friends."
"Why?" He sounded genuinely confused. It made sense, considering that was normally a line he would try to sell to me. "We'll see all of them next week when we have to go back to school."
I wrinkled my nose at the mention of school. "I guess we should be a little sociable before then. Get used to society again. It can't always just be the two of us, as much as I love it."
"I don't see why not." His arm tightened around me. "I really like it when it's just the two of us."
I laughed drowsily, the words spinning in my head. "You sound like Prim," I said, the moment suddenly becoming very familiar. I felt a sense of déjà vu before stiffening.
We both froze at my words, and I sighed as I resigned myself for what was next. The reality of truth.
"Katniss," he said quietly, his hand sliding down from my hair to rub circles on my back. His voice held a question, but his fingers looped the words onto my skin.
T. E. L. L. M. E. P. L. E. A. S. E.
I swallowed and butted my head against his chest like a calf. "Okay," I whispered.
He waited patiently, kissing the crown of my head while I struggled to find the words. Where did I even start? At what point did I begin this story?
It was time for honesty. It was time to explain what happened.
All of it.
"I like when it's just us," Prim says, reaching out to run a thumb across my cheek.
"I do, too. But...it can't always be just us," I laugh uncomfortably, my head leaning against the trellis behind me. My eyes dart to the left. She's getting close. So close.
I can see the light spattering of freckles across her cheeks that she normally covers with expensive makeup. The flutter of her golden eyelashes, identical to Peeta's.
"Why not?" she asks, her eyes lidded. The dark blue rings around her irises drill into my grey ones.
I know it's going to happen. I see it. I can pull away if I want. There's time. But I freeze.
Her nostrils flare slightly. Her glossy lips part. I can see the tip of her tongue slide past the bottom row of her perfectly white teeth.
She kisses me.
Well, it's been forever and I have no excuse. Thank you to everyone who has stuck with me for months and encouraged me along the way. Everyone who has reviewed and PM'd me…I love you. I'm going to try my hardest to be better about responding. I appreciate my readers in a big way and I wish y'all knew how much your feedback has made me smile and pushed me into forging ahead.
Special thanks to nonemoreblack (obviously), atetheredmind (I owe you a million updates), absnow (plotting rock star), amelia-day (general handholding), annieoakley1 and didntheramble (spirals). Court81981, thanks for the advice. Also, a huge shout out to the THG tumblr fandom. You make it a fun place to be.
Also, thank you to everyone who has participated in PiP (promptsinpanem on tumblr) in the past. I do have another round planned for the future, so I hope to see y'all there!
I'm 'peetaspenis' on tumblr. Come hang out.