The first time she really, truly considers it is early May.

The week before The Avengers is released, Gale's as excited as a kid on Christmas Eve. Katniss is more a TV fan than movies, and she knows next to nothing about comics, but she agrees to see it with them because it's not like there's anything else good playing in the theaters.

To Gale's absolute devastation they can't go to the midnight showing. They have school and he has an 8 a.m. lecture the next day and it's too close to finals to blow anything off. But they meet at the Waterfront for the last matinee showing. It's packed.

As her best friend heads immediately for the concession stand so he can load up on a week's pay worth of junk food, Peeta tries to explain some of the backstory to her. It's not an easy feat considering she's only seen the first Iron Man.

Gale rolls his eyes when she repeatedly calls Hawkeye 'Nighthawk' and she rolls hers as they both gasp when Scarlett Johansson appears onscreen for the first time.

"God bless Imax," Gale whispers as Peeta nods in agreement, wide-eyed and open-mouthed.

She tries to stay awake. She really, really does. She loves Robert Downey Jr. and the actress she likes from How I Met Your Mother is even in it, but it's so long and she's exhausted.

She startles herself awake when the end credits are rolling and Peeta's hoodie is draped over her.

It smells so good. Like really, really, really good. Sweet but decidedly manly. And that's what does it.

"Great movie, huh, Katniss?" he asks with a knowing smile.

"Uh, yeah." She's completely dumbfounded by this reaction to him.

Gale shakes the rest of the pack of Snowcaps into this mouth and grunts in reply.

The next time she thinks about it is a week later, and they're in his room. She's copying his AP notes from the previous year for her English class as he tries on different ties for a National Honor Society banquet later that night.

She sifts through his color-coded binder with amusement. Peeta should major in organization at Penn.

He's standing in front of his full-length mirror, deftly working a Windsor knot, when she catches herself staring at him from his bed. His back is to her and his dress pants are…a really good fit.

"Is that what you need?"

She shakes her head furiously. "What? Huh?"

"Those notes. Are they the right ones?"

"Oh. Yeah, they're great. Thanks."

He eyes her suspiciously from the mirror but goes back to his tie.

"Actually, do you mind if I take them with me? Prim will be home soon so I gotta go." She scrambles off of his bed, the binder in her arms.

"Yeah, sure, keep them as long as you need to."

But she's already gone.

It only gets worse for her, all of it nearly coming to a head the following Sunday. He's giving her a lift home from Gale's when they see the old, beat up Dodge parked on the side of the road and the young woman pacing along the passenger side. Peeta takes a sharp left on Bates Street so they can circle around to help her.

She has a little girl and a baby in the car and she knots her fingers together nervously when Peeta's truck pulls up behind her.

"Need some help?" he asks with a kind smile.

She stammers that she's out of gas. "Well that's an easy fix," he assures her. He turns to Katniss as she leans against the hood of his F-150. "I'm gonna run to Sheetz. Mind staying with them? I'll be back in 10 minutes."

She agrees and offers him a small smile as he heads off before the stranger can stop him. "I'm Katniss," she tells the woman. "And that's Peeta."

"Leslie," she replies before stepping closer to her, her head ducked. "Look, this is really embarrassing but I only have a few dollars with me. I…I can't pay your boyfriend back right now. I'm so sorry."

Boyfriend? That's what throws her. "Oh, don't worry about it," she says. She tries to imitate Peeta's easygoing smile. It doesn't come as naturally as his but it seems to do the trick.

She's happily chatting with the little girl when Peeta returns a short time later. He has two large fuel containers with him and he waves Leslie off when she tries to explain her situation. "Don't worry about it," he says, unknowingly echoing Katniss.

They see them off and Katniss has to force herself to not stare at him the rest of the drive home.

Boyfriend. She used to get so annoyed when people assumed she was with Gale just because they hung out together. Then she learned to simply shrug and ignore it. But this time, with Peeta, it sends a small thrill through her. The woman assumed they're a couple. And couples hold hands and kiss and share looks that are just for them.

It's just his innate goodness, she tells herself. Katniss has always had a weak spot for kindness and these new…feelings are simply a manifestation of that. But, she reasons to herself, it's not like she wants to jump on Gale and climb him like one of the trees in the woods behind her old house, and Gale would have done the same thing for that woman. Probably not with nearly a full tank's worth of gas, or without a good-natured lecture on the dangers she just put her engine in, but he still would have done it.

Gale's like family. Peeta…Peeta should be like family, too.

But dammit, he's not.

So she's in a decidedly bad mood by the time he drops her off. "So are you coming over tomorrow to watch the House finale?" she asks.

"Can't. I'm reading to the blind after school."

"Oh for fuck's sake, Peeta!" she snaps, and then slams the door and stomps off to her house.

It's just her hormones, she tells herself. It was bound to happen sooner or later. She's lucky she was able to avoid it for as long as she has.

And of course it's Peeta. Peeta's the one going away, moving to Philadelphia in the fall for college. He'll be halfway across the state. It might as well be halfway across the world. So she'll miss him. She's been fond of him since the day Gale invited him over to play video games after the two met at a science fair. They were in the same class since kindergarten but had never spoken before then.

"Hey, this is Peeta," Gale had told her, his eyes never leaving the screen as he worked the controller. "He's not a total dick." High praise from Gale.

Peeta waved shyly back to her. "Hi. Peeta Mellark: not a total dick."

Her friend is leaving and she'll miss him and that's why she's been wondering what it would be like to lick his jaw.

"I'm going to live on campus," Gale announces the next day. "I figure a couple grand more in loans will be worth the full college experience, right?"

So he'll be in the dorms at Pitt. That's not across the state but they still won't see each other as often. She tries. She really does. But…nothing.

"Full college experience?"

He smirks. "Full college experience." Now she's pretty sure he really means balls deep in sorority sisters. But the only thing she feels for him is happy. He's worked hard at the community college for the last two years and now with his mom's recent promotion, he can finally be a 20-year-old guy.

As a test, she tries to imagine Peeta balls deep in sorority sisters. She nearly has a rage blackout.

She is so screwed.

"Are you mad at me?"

"I'm not mad at you," she tells him, but it's not very convincing.

"You won't even look at me."

She sighs in annoyance but reluctantly meets his eyes. "Happy now?"

"Look, I'm not going to be one of those kids who stops volunteering everywhere because they already got their college acceptance."

"Iknow! I like that you're still volunteering."

"Then why are you mad at me?"

Because, she thinks with a clenched jaw, you're stirring up things inside of me I really don't want to deal with right now.

Hell, the day before at her dentist appointment, she actually read the Cosmopolitan article on blow job tips instead of rolling her eyes at it like she usually did. It's downright uncharacteristic and it's all his fault.

"I'm not mad at you," she repeats.

"Good, because it's our last lunch period together so we should enjoy it."

Yeah, last lunch period together because they'll be graduating soon and then Peeta will be 300 miles away at the University of Pennsylvania. Balls deep in sorority sisters.

Now she's mad.

Everything about him is infuriating, she decides. The way he double knots his shoelaces. His stupid broad shoulders. His favorite pair of worn blue jeans that are fraying at the hem of his left pant leg.

His laugh, which is so deep and rumbling that it nearly shakes her. His perfectly straight, bright white Hollywood teeth that only required one year of braces. The way he helps Prim with her Geometry homework. His Christopher Walken impression which is really the worst impression ever and only makes her laugh because it's just that bad.

She can't stand the way he's so friendly to everyone, whether they're the homecoming queen or an awkward 7th grader or a homeless guy outside of the shopping plaza. Everyone gets the same smile and direct eye contact and a genuine ear for their words. Everyone.

And it's so annoying the way he can quote direct lines from movies he's only seen once. Or how he always saves his DVR'd episodes of Parks and Recreation to watch with her because she usually has to work Thursday nights.

What about that time he almost got into a fight with Justin Cato in Current Events when he made a rape joke? Doesn't it just figure that Peeta would be the one guy in the class to do something about it?

And he actually skipped out on their senior prom when he knew she couldn't afford to go but wouldn't allow him to pay for anything. He missed The Prom, one of the defining moments of their teenage lives, just to hang out with her and watch horror movies. Enraging, really.

He can be so sanctimonious sometimes (though he'd be the first to admit it). And he's not close with his family and probably can't wait to get a fresh start in Philly (though Katniss totally understands that).

She hates how perfect he is, and how when he's not perfect that just makes him seem more perfect.

She hates him.

"You love him," Prim says as she flips through the radio stations.

"What?" Katniss nearly chokes on her indignant laughter. "You're insane."

She was just telling Prim her theory that Peeta was a sociopath, perhaps even already a serial killer, and Prim gets love from that?

Prim shrugs and settles on 96.1 Kiss as the last chorus for Call Me Maybe chimes on. "Aw, we missed it," she says more to herself than to Katniss, then turns the dial again to the next pop station. The same song is just starting and Prim relaxes back in the seat, satisfied.

Katniss's hands tighten on the steering wheel. "I hate Peeta," she declares.

She doesn't have to see her sister to know she's staring at her incredulously. "He's one of your best friends!"

"That changes nothing."

"Well," Prim says, undeterred, "I think you should probably do something about it. You know, before he leaves. Otherwise he's going to eventually move on and you'll just hate yourself for it."

Katniss says nothing so Prim takes the opportunity to continue. "He'd probably end up in a loveless relationship with some Philosophy major. Like her name would be Ashley but she'd spell it with two e's. He'd bring her home for break and you'd have to hang out at Denny's with her, but she wouldn't eat anything there because she's an ovo-lacto vegetarian. And she'd make Peeta take her back to the bakery so he could make her something gluten-free and then you wouldn't be able to watch Doctor Who with him."

Now it's Katniss's turn to gawk at Prim. "What the hell are you rambling about?"

"I'm just trying to paint a possible picture of your future so you can make changes before it's too late." Then she starts singing, before you came into my life I missed you so bad, missed you so bad and Katniss glares at her as she leans forward to turn off the radio.

Madge tags Katniss in a new Facebook photo, and when Katniss clicks on the notification, she sees her and Peeta's smiling faces as they hug at graduation.

Ugh, she doesn't hate him. Not even a little.

Everyone and their mother is reading that god-awful Fifty Shades of Grey tripe. Literally. Katniss found a copy of the book in her mother's nursing bag and then couldn't look her in the eye for more reasons than one.

But there's a comforting realization that comes with that, too, because seeing that damn book cover all over the place kind of just throws sex out there. Sex is a fact of life. It's universal. If it's universal, there's really no reason to feel so embarrassed by it anymore. It just is.

And Katniss is a grown-ass woman. She's now old enough to get tattoos or buy lottery tickets or vote in this year's presidential election.

She's old enough for sex. Sex is a step forward.

And why not with Peeta? He's smart and nice and funny. She cares about him, she can admit now.

And, added bonus, he's good-looking. Okay, more than good-looking, as he's somehow morphed into the physical embodiment of all her fantasies.

Also, the odds are in her favor that he's pretty inexperienced, too. They've been friends since they were 14 and he hasn't had a girlfriend in all that time. Gale used to rag on him about it but he'd just shrug and say he was too busy with school, sports and the bakery.

It could even be nice, she thinks. If she's lucky, there's not anyone to compare her to and that makes her feel better about it. So what if it's even more awkward than it'd be if one of them knew what they were doing? It's not like she expects it to be good anyhow.

So she invites him over for pizza one June night when Prim's sleeping over at a friend's and her mom is working the third shift. Extra cheese and pepperoni. It's quite the seduction scene.

He'll probably laugh her off anyway, she thinks. Or at least insist that they wait for the perfect, most romantic moment. A guy who's such a sap for Jim and Pam probably won't throw her down right there on the kitchen table, right?

Time's a wasting so she decides it's now or never. She takes a sip of coke and then throws the proposition out there. "I think we should have sex."


She freezes. "What?"

He blinks. "Wait, what?"

"What did you say?"

"What did you say?" he asks suspiciously.

"I said, 'I think we should have sex.'" She tries to sound casual but her heart's racing.

He starts laughing, a weird nervous girl giggle she's never heard from him before. "What?"

Now she's getting impatient. "You're leaving soon and I've never done it before and it might be…nice."

He pushes his plate away and stares at her. "Seriously?"



She shrugs. Why not? She even went to the drugstore earlier and bought condoms like a grown-ass woman would. Of course she threw about 5 Twix bars on top of them when she recognized the cashier from school, but she still has the condoms, doesn't she?


She rolls her eyes. "Damn, Peeta. Yes. Here. Now. With you. Do you need me to explain the how, too?"

"Maybe just go over the why again."

She stares down at her uneaten slice of pizza and intently studies the grease puddled on a piece of pepperoni. "Like I said, you're leaving. I'll miss you. I want it to be you."

She looks up to see his Adam's apple bob as he swallows. "God, really?" She nods.


Just as she's exhaling in relief, he adds, "But not tonight." Then he's tugging at his hair the same way he does when he's trying to solve a difficult math problem. "I mean, don't you think this is all happening a little fast? We've never even kissed."

Point taken. But the whole rushing through things is part of the appeal. Katniss doesn't want to overthink things now. It will just confuse her.

"We'll get to that eventually," she says.

He carefully studies her and again Katniss feels like he's approaching the situation like a test. So she might as well ask a few questions. "So have you ever? Before?"


It's the answer she wanted but it still surprises her. He's so…

And so…

How is that even possible? But she just asks, "Why not?"

When his eyes meet hers, she stills under the intensity of his gaze. "You really have no idea, do you?" He breaks the contact first. "I want it to be you, too."

About a hundred different emotions wash over her immediately; everything from pure joy to abject terror. But she also realizes that there's no going back now and when it comes down to it, she wouldn't want to even if they could.

She initiates the first kiss, and it's soft and safe with closed, tight mouths and four shaky hands not daring to touch. She breaks away but he pulls her back, and the next kiss is more desperate than tender. He's quiet when they separate.

"I'm not going to just be practice for you," he says with a warning tone.

Practice? It not as if she's planning on going to the South Side bars after, wearing a sandwich board declaring herself open for business now.

"I'm not going to be practice for you, either," she replies haughtily, miffed that he would even say that. But her reply relaxes him. He leans in for another kiss and then she can feel his mouth against her cheek as it curves into a smile.

"Definitely not," he whispers in her ear.

It's not going to be that night, he declares again. But his parents are going out of town for the weekend in a few days and he'll have the house to himself. If she still wants to. If she's sure.

She's sure.

The anticipation is crazy. They see each other every day before that Friday, but are only alone together for minutes at a time. But they make use of it. The first day is strictly above the neck stuff, but on the next, her hands snake under the bottom of his shirt and her nails trail along his hard stomach. Many murmurs of encouragement later, he slips under her black tank and palms her breast. Gentle and unsure at first, but not for long.

But it's the little moans and sighs and gasps from one that really gets the other going. It's memorizing which spots are most sensitive, how much pressure is most appreciated. It's finally doing something they've always wanted, like kissing her neck or twisting fingers in his hair or feeling the other pressed flush against them. It's their mouths slanted together, just right. Like puzzle pieces.

Katniss also pays a lot more attention to things she never even noticed before. Not so much the Peeta related things (she always noticed those, she can nearly admit to herself now), but the sex stuff. It saturates magazine covers and TV commercials and more websites than imaginable. But it has its uses. She pictures Peeta preparing intensely, the loss of their virginity like an important final. So she studies, too.

Keep him focused with compliments and praise. Swirl your tongue. Don't give away all the mystery so he'll keep coming back for more!

She starts reading an article titled 41 Ways to Drive Him Crazy in Bed and she looks anxiously over the top of the magazine as she slides further down in her seat, silently praying everyone assumes she's looking over the 116 tips on fashion finds.

"Just so you know, I have like zero expectations for tonight," she tells him earnestly. They're finally in his giant bedroom. They're at the door, standing in front of each other. Far from touching.

"It's probably going to be terrible. And that's okay," she adds.

"Wow, thanks for your vote of confidence."

"It's not you!" she insists, ignoring his easy-going smile. "It's just the way it is. Nonfictional first times are always awful. It can't be avoided."

He steps forward, the toes of his Converse sneakers bumping hers. "So you don't have any expectations?" He looks almost hurt. She needs to reassure him.

"Oh no, I think it'll be wonderful. But for different reasons."

She's about to ask how they should proceed. Do they take off their clothes immediately or ease into it? Do they undress themselves or each other? Who's on top? Well, Peeta should probably be on top, she reasons. That's the most logical position for the very first time. But she'd be able to control the depth better if she were on top, she also realizes. That might be more comfortable for-

He kisses her breathless and then whispers, "Stop thinking so much."

"It's hard to just turn off thoughts," she admits.

He grins at her as he pushes her back onto his bed. "Challenge accepted."

They kiss again as he settles on top of her, his forearms bearing the brunt of his weight so she's not uncomfortable. She likes the way those strong arms frame her face as they kiss, the way he's surrounding her with himself.

"I've thought about this so many times," he admits before nibbling along her jawline. "I've got so many plans for us."

She can feel him against the inside of her thigh and she wants to really feel him, so she unbuttons his jeans and fumbles with his zipper. "Like what?" she asks, panting already. "What kind of plans?"

"A lifetime's worth," he says before she wraps her hand around him and he momentarily loses the ability to speak.

He feels amazing to her and she wants to make him feel amazing in other ways, so she begins to pump her hand up and down, trying to make her grip firm but not enough so as to be painful. "Am I doing this right?" she whispers in his ear.

He kisses her in response, and it's the sloppy, wet kiss of a boy out of control. It's an intoxicating feeling, the realization that she's doing this, that she can have this effect on him. "We've got to slow down," he soon warns, though it's barely audible.

"No," she refuses, her hand tightening and speed increasing. She feels brazen, so unlike her normal self that it's addicting. "Come now. I want to feel it."

He does but she doesn't stop. She catches the first spurt in her palm and then with each shudder of his body, she slides her wet and hot hand down and back up, down and up. He mutters obscenities against her ear, things she's never quite heard come from his mouth before, but she can only smile in satisfaction, too pleased with herself for what she's done to him.

They're both a sticky mess after, and he pulls his t-shirt off to clean them. At first she's annoyed that he's ruining one of the Mellark Bakery tees she likes so much, with cotton so soft she usually sleeps in them. But then she realizes he's shirtless so she takes the time to appreciate his broad shoulders and chest, his tight stomach, the delicious V-shape of his torso. He returns the sentiments as she removes her own clothes. When she unsnaps her bra and lets it fall to the bed, he leans back on his heels and just stares. "You're incredible, Katniss," he whispers. "More beautiful than I ever imagined." He pushes her onto her back and kisses down her body. "And I've imagined it a lot," he adds along the way.

"You don't have to say stuff like that."

"I'm not saying it because I think I have to," he corrects her. "It's the truth."

He tugs off her underwear and tosses them to the side, then moves between her legs. Are they really doing this? Less than a week ago, she never even kissed anyone before and now she's naked with a boy. With Peeta. Her legs fall open on their own accord.

"I've thought about doing this about a million times," he says before the first touch of his mouth to her. She's tense at first, unsure of what he's really thinking and worried she won't be able to enjoy it, but she lets him take his time in familiarizing himself with her. She stares at the ceiling and gently threads her fingers through his hair as he explores. When curiosity gets the best of her, she looks down to see the top of his head between her splayed thighs, and that image alone does something to her. He pays close attention to the way she shifts closer when he hits a certain spot, and soon her back's bowing off the bed, her fingernails digging into his sheets.

He crawls back up her body, his mouth wet with her. "I'll get better at it," he promises. "Just give me the chance."

The actual act is just as she suspected- wonderful because it's Peeta and he's…wonderful. But still awkward. There's no getting around it.

He's been fumbling with the condom wrapper for a good minute when he stops to smile down at her. "Ah, I'm just giving you the chance to change your mind, really. I could have had this open hours ago if I wanted."

She beams in response. "I'm not going to change my mind."

"Seriously, how is there not an easy open tab on this damn thing?"

She takes it from his fingers and tries to open it herself with surprisingly steady hands, but it's a struggle for her as well. "Here I thought I could impress you with my finesse."

"I am impressed with your finesse," he assures her with a loving, goofy grin. "I'm impressed with your everything."

Suddenly the condom is out of the wrapper and on him and he's asking her one more time if it's okay. It still is.

It hurts, but it's not the pain she expected. It's more uncomfortable than unbearable.

Peeta moves slowly at first, but she presses her palms against the curve of his back and silently encourages him to go deeper and faster. When he does, and she realizes how much she likes to see him enjoying her body, she uses words. "Oh Peeta," she moans against the skin of his neck. "You feel so good."

His mouth finds hers and then he's moving more urgently against her. It's like fireworks and the grand finale, the explosives erupting faster and louder and closer together as the end nears.

He sags against her and she holds him to her as he catches his breath.

She has absolutely no regrets.

"And this is the gourmet kitchen," he says, aiming the web cam on the microwave sitting atop the mini-fridge. He's giving her an official tour of his new home by carrying his MacBook around the dorm while they Skype.

"Very nice."

"And…that's it. That's my crib. Thanks for stopping by, MTV."

"It kind of looks like a prison cell."

"I think prison cells are larger."

She laughs. "So how are things going with the roomie?"

"Really well, actually. He initiated the awkward conversation about alone time for video chats with long-distance girlfriends. I have to be at the library every Wednesday and Friday night from 6 to 10."

"From 6 to 10?" she asks with a raised brow.

"I'm almost positive they're playing World of Warcraft for at least three of those hours."

She returns his smile, the one that's so happy and warm and always makes her heart flutter. "As soon as I get my schedule figured out, I'll let you know so you can tell him when to take a hike to the library, okay?"

He nods, and then ducks his head and gingerly rubs at the back of his neck; she wishes she could reach through the computer screen to touch him. "I miss you so much already," he admits.

"Me too." She smiles again even though it's harder to do it now. "Hey, only four months until Christmas, right?"

"And only four years until graduation."

"Nothing we can't handle," she vows. "We've got breaks and summers and lots of sexy Skyping sessions to look forward to."

Now he grins. "Speaking of sexy Skyping, you'll be getting something in the mail soon to help out with it. So please don't let your mom or Prim open any packages addressed to you, okay?"

"What is it?" she asks coyly, even though she has a pretty good idea already.

"Nothing that will be able to compare to me, but it'll have to somehow make do on all those long and lonely nights."

"I'm sure," she teases.

The alarm on his phone goes off and he stares at it dejectedly. "I have class in 20 minutes."

"Go on, then. Have fun. Call me when you get a chance."

He leans closer, his chin now resting on his arms. "I love you."

"I love you, too. So much. But I'm not kissing the computer screen."

"Killjoy," he says happily before they disconnect.

Yeah, she thinks before she runs to check the mail, definitely no regrets.