It was the first day of their Human Anatomy and Physiology lab when he saw her.
She walked into the classroom, all long legs and dark hair. Peeta gulped, actually gulped, when she strolled through the doorway, apparently the last person to arrive. She didn't even acknowledge the instructor as she surveyed the rows of desks, looking for an empty seat. His eyes darted nervously to the vacant spot next to him; there was at least one other empty chair in the back of the classroom, and he kind of hoped she'd take that one instead.
But she plopped down beside him, dropping her messenger bag on the table unceremoniously. She flashed him a polite smile, and his lips spasmed in some sort of awkward greeting before he trained his eyes ahead of him, straining to pay attention to the instructor. He knew he needed to pay attention—but he could smell her beside him, and it was distracting. It was kind of a smoky musk scent, with hints of vanilla and wood, like ebony. It made him feel heady.
He blinked a few times when he realized she was talking to him. He glanced at her, and she smiled wider. "I'm Katniss," she whispered, fumbling through her bag for a pen and a notebook. The bracelets on her arm jingled.
"Uh..." His eyes darted back to the TA, who was still explaining the lab and passing out copies of the syllabus. "Peeta," he whispered, his voice even quieter than hers, afraid of inciting the instructor's annoyance.
"Hi, Peeta. Did I miss anything important?" she asked, keeping her voice low. She pushed her bag out of the way and flipped her notebook open. He just shook his head, eagerly accepting the stack of papers when it was passed his way. He grabbed a syllabus and handed the rest to her. She smiled at him again, licking her fingers to peel a page off from the rest, then she twisted in her chair to pass the stack to the student behind her. Her cut-off jean shorts rode up higher on her thighs, revealing the starting swell of her ass, and he forced himself to look away. He really didn't need a boner right then.
He was relieved when she didn't try to engage him further, and he could focus on the class instruction. But toward the end of the lab, when the TA directed them to pick a partner for the rest of the semester and get acquainted, Katniss turned back to him.
"So, Peeta. You look pretty smart. Wanna be my partner?" she asked nonchalantly, and he tried not to flush. He really didn't talk to a lot of girls—aside from Delly, whom he had known as long as he could remember—and the prospect of having to interact and actually engage in conversations with one as pretty as the girl next to him for five whole months was almost overwhelming.
"Um, um, sure," he finally sputtered when she quirked an eyebrow at his hesitation. Her lips spread into another smile, and she twisted her long braid around her finger.
"Perfect. So, Peeta," she paused, emphasizing his name a little too much. "You a biology major?"
When he didn't elaborate, she continued, "Second-year? Third-year?"
He cleared his throat, fidgeting with his pen on the table. "Third-year."
Her smile widened. "This is my third year, too." He nodded, unsure of what else to say, despite her expectant gaze. She sighed in his silence. "Now's the time when you ask something like, 'Are you also a biology major?'"
This time he blushed. "Oh, sorry. I, uh, are you also a biology major?"
She nodded, leaning back in her chair to cross her legs. He couldn't help it; his eyes flitted down to the naked expanse of her olive-skinned thighs, down her toned calves to her dainty ankles where her flip-flop smacked against her heel as she jiggled her foot. He dragged his gaze back up to her face, lingering only momentarily on her shoulder, left bare by the draping neckline of her oversized shirt. Her black bra strap cut into her flesh, and he noticed a tiny mole on her clavicle. When he met her gaze, she squinted at him, searching his eyes. He was certain his face was red, and he opened his mouth to apologize—for what, he wasn't sure, but she had to have noticed him blatantly checking her out. The instructor cut him off, thankfully, to conclude the lab, and he hurriedly shoved his notebook into his backpack.
"Hold up, let me give you my number," Katniss said suddenly, and he gaped at her as she scribbled on a page in her notebook.
"Uh, why?" he asked stupidly when she ripped the corner of the paper off and handed it to him. She just smirked.
"If we're gonna be lab partners, I'm assuming we might need to communicate on future projects and homework," she explained like it was the simplest thing in the world. She shrugged. "I also included my email—it's my Gmail account, so you can hit me up on Gchat, too, if you want."
Stuffing her notebook into her bag, she stood up and hooked it over her shoulder so it rested on the opposite hip. "See you later, partner," she said with a wink, breezing out of the classroom. Peeta stared after her before he glanced down at the scrap of paper in his hand, his eyes tracing the loops of her neat handwriting; she had scrawled her gmail account, catnip0508, under her phone number.
It was the first girl's phone number he had ever gotten.
Peeta kept the scrap of paper tucked safely between the first two pages of his day planner. He was sure he would never actually use it—Katniss was probably just being polite by giving it to him—but he thought it would be rude to just chuck it. So every time he flipped open his planner to scribble down his assignments, he hesitated on the page, fingering the wrinkled scrap of paper before slamming the little book shut. She was way out of his league, anyway. Way too pretty, way too confident. If he were anything like his roommate Finnick, he could easily message her on Gchat, flirt with her some like it was no big deal, probably even ask her out on a date. But he wasn't a playboy in the slightest.
She had only asked to be his partner because he looked smart. And he was smart; he graduated top of his class in high school, was even the valedictorian (though his school was kind of small, so that helped). He was studying to get a bachelor of science in biology; after he graduated, he hoped to get into his university's med school and eventually become a doctor. His mother wanted him to be a neurosurgeon or a cardiologist, something she deemed "more prestigious," but he really wanted to be a pediatrician. He loved working with kids.
Katniss probably partnered with him because she thought she could get him to do all the work. She didn't look like she took the lab seriously at all, with how late she had strolled in the first day. He was annoyed at the idea, that she thought she could just flash a little skin and smile sweetly at him and he'd just blindly do whatever she asked him to—and, well, maybe he would. His studies were important to him, and he wasn't going to let someone else potentially drag his grades down.
But that didn't mean he had to be happy while doing it.
Unbidden, he found himself looking for her in the instruction portion of the anatomy course. The class was much larger than the lab, about 100 students. He half-expected her not to show up, but he finally spotted her across the way, her raven hair pulled over her shoulder in a braid. She sat next to a blonde girl, and they whispered and giggled occasionally; he couldn't help but scowl. Did she take anything seriously?
By the time the next lab rolled around, he was surprised when she arrived early, sliding into the chair next to him. "Hi, Peeta," she greeted him warmly, and he had to remind himself to actually speak and not just stare at her mutely.
"Um, hi," he said, fumbling with his anatomy textbook. He flipped to the chapter they had been assigned for homework and pretended to read it, even though he'd already read it. Twice. He thought he could feel her eyes boring into the side of his head.
"You ready to dissect a cat today?" she asked, and he was nearly startled out of his skin when she leaned closer, bumping his arm with hers. There was that smell again. She wore a dress today, a little bit longer than her shorts had been, and she also had on a pair of worn, brown, lace-up combat boots, so at least less of her legs were exposed. He swallowed, forcing his gaze to her face. Up close, he could tell her eyes were gray—silver almost—and the bridge of her nose was kissed by the faintest of freckles.
"Yeah, uh, I think so," he said, leaning away from her just a little bit. He wasn't trying to be rude; her proximity just made him uncomfortable, and he could barely think straight. She didn't seem to notice, at least, and she propped her elbow on the table, resting her head against her fist.
"You're not squeamish, are you?" she challenged, a glint in her eyes, and he frowned.
"No, I—no." Did he look like the squeamish type? If anything, he was worried about her freaking out during the dissection and leaving him to do all the dirty work.
Katniss grinned, sitting back in her chair as the instructor started class by passing out quizzes. "Good," she said smugly. He shook his head, pushing his thoughts away so he could focus on the assignment.
After the quiz was over, and once they had donned their appropriate safety equipment and received the bag with their dead cat, he drained it of its embalming fluids before placing it on the tray on their table. Katniss leaned against the desk opposite him, watching as he cut into the feline's fur with a pair of scissors while she sketched out a diagram of the cat. "I used to have a cat that looked like this," she mused, and he glanced up at her quizzically. She was watching his hands closely, but she didn't look fazed. "His name was Buttercup. He got hit by a car, though."
He frowned. "I'm...sorry to hear that." She shrugged.
"Whatever. I never liked the stupid thing. My sister was pretty upset, though. He had gotten out through the back door, and she accused me of leaving it open on purpose."
Peeta's hands stilled, the scissors gripped tightly between his fingers. "Did you?" he asked, and she just smirked at him. Holy shit. Maybe she was a sociopath. His mouth parted in horror, but her laughter cut him off.
"No, I'm kidding. I would never do that to my sister," she said, waving him off, and his face relaxed, relieved. "He was an old cat. He died of natural causes. I was just yanking your chain."
He frowned, anyway, returning to the task at hand. She could still be a sociopath. Sociopaths lied a lot.
Once he'd made all the appropriate cuts, he set the scissors down and moved to remove the skin, but her gloved hand touched his. "May I?" she asked, surprising him.
"Uh, sure," he said, stepping aside so she could slide in front of him. Her ass grazed his groin, and he coughed, quickly moving to the other side of the desk to watch her. His mouth dropped as she quickly, and efficiently, skinned the cat; she didn't even tear up any of the underlying tissue or muscle. "Wow," he breathed, and she grinned at him, handing him the pelt.
"I've skinned a lot of animals," she replied. "I grew up in the mountains. We're a weird bunch."
Shaking his head, he took the fur to the sink to ring it out, and when he returned, she had already skinned the tail and the legs and was working on the head. He guessed he had been wrong about her, after all; she seemed pretty eager to do the work.
At the end of the lab, Peeta was wiping down their table when she sidled up to his side, having put their cat away. She braced her hip against the desk, folding her arms over her chest, and he looked up at her in confusion. "So, I gave you my contact info, but you should probably give me yours, too, just in case. Unless you don't think your girlfriend would like that," she said casually, arching an eyebrow.
His cheeks reddened, and he stood up straight. "Uh, I don't—I don't have a girlfriend," he stuttered, dropping the sponge to the desk and pulling his notebook out of his backpack. Katniss smiled, one corner of her mouth curling upward.
"Lucky me," she teased, and his eyes widened, but he hastily scribbled his information on a page and ripped it out, hoping she didn't notice how flushed his face had become. She plucked the paper from his hand, her fingers skimming his, and she read it.
"Mellarky?" she inquired, reading his email, and he cleared his throat.
"It's, ah, my last name is Mellark," he replied, feeling stupid already, but she smiled toothily at him.
"I get it. That's cute," she said, stuffing the scrap into a pocket on her jean jacket. Then she squeezed his arm. "I'll talk to you later then, Mellark." And she was gone. He stared after her stupidly, the last one in the classroom.
Talk to you later? She wasn't actually going to chat him up outside of the lab, was she? Don't be an idiot, he chastised himself, dropping the sponge into a bucket on his way out.
He was sitting at his laptop in his bedroom, working on an essay, when he decided to check his email for a brief distraction. After deleting some spam, he was just about to sign out when a chat invitation popped up. From Katniss Everdeen. His pulse quickened, and he panicked, briefly debating whether he should sign out and act like he never saw it. But she was his lab partner, and he didn't have a good reason to avoid her—aside from being nervous as hell.
He accepted the chat after a couple minutes, trying not to seem too eager or like he had nothing else to do.
Katniss: you're up late mellark
Sent at 12:13 AM on Thursday
Peeta: working on a paper
should I leave you alone then?
Sent at 12:16 AM on Thursday
Should she? Peeta drummed his fingers on his desk, staring at his screen. He really needed to finish his paper, so he probably should sign off. But he didn't really want to. He'd probably say something to scare her off in a few minutes, anyway, so he could spare a few more minutes of distraction.
Peeta: no, it's cool
Katniss: good :)
what class is the paper for?
A smiley face. His heart skipped a beat. Was she flirting with him? He ran a hand through his blonde curls before responding.
Peeta: molecular basis of disease
Katniss: oh with prof coin?
Katniss: she's a hard-ass huh?
Peeta: yeah she is
Katniss: yea i took that class last semester
let me know if you ever need any help studying for the exams :)
There it was. Another smiley face. Peeta didn't know what to make of it or her offer to help him study. He didn't think he would need it, and maybe she was just offering to be nice. She probably wasn't serious.
Peeta: ok thanks
Sent at 12:17 AM on Thursday
so do you know what you wanna do when you graduate?
Katniss: apply for grad school here
but ultimately, i think i'd like to be a research scientist or something
discover cures for diseases and shit
so watch out, i just might discover the cure for cancer
He smiled to himself. He was sure by that point the cure for cancer would already be discovered—if it wasn't already—but at least she was ambitious.
Peeta: well, then i won't be surprised
and what do you want to do?
Peeta: go to med school and become a pediatrician
Katniss: that's cool
Sent at 12:21 AM on Thursday
my sister wants to be a doctor too
maybe i should set you two up
she's still in high school tho
Sent at 12:22 AM on Thursday
He frowned at the computer, baffled. She wasn't serious, was she?
Katniss: i'm kidding
if you laid a hand on her, i would skin you like i did that cat
Peeta: ha ok
i wanna keep you all to myself ;)
His pulse quickened as he reread her last message four, five times. She was flirting with him, now he was sure of it. He had no idea how to respond, his fingers frozen over the keyboard. Before he knew it, five minutes had lapsed with no response from him.
Katniss: well i should let you get back to your paper
see you in lab tomorrow
Katniss is offline
Fuck. He cursed himself mentally for not being able to think of a reply fast enough. Now she was going to think he wasn't interested.
That thought pulled him up short. He wasn't interested. Was he? Katniss was cute—no, cute was a puppy, cute was a little girl playing dress-up in her mother's high heels. Katniss was...sexy. And gorgeous. And sharp as a whip. And smart, smarter than he'd originally given her credit for. He had misjudged her. She intrigued him, definitely, but he really didn't have time for a relationship.
The thought made him want to laugh out loud. Like Katniss Everdeen wanted a relationship with him. He was awkward and socially inept; he didn't know the first thing about flirting or courting a girl, especially a girl like her. She would eat him alive.
No, Katniss Everdeen had no interest in him. She was just joking with him, like she always did. With a heavy sigh, Peeta signed out of his email and clicked on his Word document. He really needed to finish his essay.
His palms started sweating the moment she walked into the classroom; he had no idea how to act around her now, or how she was going to act around him. He braced himself for the cold shoulder, or at the very least, casual indifference.
So when Katniss smiled at him like they were the best of friends, his mouth went dry. He squeaked out a hello when she greeted him, jiggling his leg under the table nervously.
"Did you get your paper done?" she asked, twisting in her seat to face him. Her knees bumped up against his thigh; her legs were spread casually, but her short, flowy skirt draped just enough to conceal the juncture of her thighs but still reveal a lot of skin. He groaned inwardly, trying to keep his line of sight trained on her face.
"Uh, yeah, I did," he said, his lips twitching into an uncomfortable smile.
"What time did you get to bed?"
"Um." He racked his brain, tapping his pen on his notebook. "It was around 2."
She frowned slightly, her fingers stroking her braid. "I hope I didn't distract you too much."
"No, uh, no, you were fine," he interjected quickly, and his ears grew warm at his own eagerness. She didn't need to know that he'd actually lay in bed long after 2 a.m., thinking about her. She smiled sweetly at him.
"Good. So, what's on the menu today?" she asked, leaning closer to peer over his arm at the syllabus in his notebook. "I forgot to look ahead."
Peeta went to scan the syllabus for the schedule, but he nearly jumped out of his seat when her hand slid over his thigh, coming to rest precariously close to his groin. His first instinct was to jerk away, but when he looked at her face, she seemed oblivious to the situation; her eyes were still trained on his syllabus, as if her fingers weren't in fact inching toward his dick. Where all his blood was suddenly rushing to. His face burned as he cleared his throat, quickly searching the schedule. "Um, looks like—looks like we're dissecting..." His eyes widened slightly as he read the words. Great. "Bull testicles."
"Huh," she said, amusement lacing her voice. "Should be fun." She squeezed his thigh lightly before withdrawing her hand, just as the TA started class. He really hoped she didn't notice how tight his jeans had gotten, and he scooted his chair farther under the table to hide his excitement. Getting through this lab was going to be torture.
Luckily, Katniss kept her hands above his waist the rest of class while they dissected the bovine scrotum. She brushed up against him a lot, though, touched his arm or his back, and every time she did, he was afraid he was going to slice through the spermatic cord. Did she realize how much she was flustering him? He couldn't tell if she was doing it on purpose or not. Maybe she was just a really touchy-feely kind of person and had no idea how much her feathery touches were bothering him.
"Is this your last class of the day?" she asked, lingering behind to wait for him as he packed up his stuff. He looked at her in surprise, shrugging his bag over his shoulders.
"Uh, yeah," he said, heading out the door, and she fell in step beside him.
"Cool, me too. Got plans tonight?"
He glanced at her sharply. "Uh, no, not really. Was just gonna—go home and eat, do my homework." Come up with some excuse to wave off another one of Finnick's invitations to a party most likely, he added silently.
She smiled up at him. She walked so close to him, her arm kept brushing against his. "Well, I need to eat dinner, too. Wanna grab something together?"
He nearly tripped on the steps as they walked out of the building. Was that a joke? He kept waiting for her to start laughing in his face, but she just looked at him expectantly. "Uhhh—"
She cut him off, grabbing his arm. "I won't take no for an answer. Come on, there's this great pizza place off campus; it's not far. Let's go, partner!"
Peeta wasn't sure if they were on a date or not; he was inclined to think not, because she had paid for her own food, and he, his. But he found out a lot about her; she talked about her classes, her roommate Madge and her waitressing job. She mostly talked a lot about her sister, Prim. Peeta could tell she adored her a lot. He told her some about his two older brothers, but he was content with letting her dominate the conversation. He was usually too tongue-tied around women to engage them in anything more than superficial pleasantries, if that, so he was just going to let her steer the dialogue.
He still wasn't convinced it was a date until she asked him to walk her back to her apartment.
"It's not far, I promise," she swore, motioning him in the direction of her apartment, and he followed after her, hooking his thumbs around his backpack straps. They had been at the restaurant for a while; it was nearly 8. He was starting to worry about what was supposed to happen when they reached her apartment. She wasn't expecting a kiss, was she? His neck flushed at the thought, and he quickly shook it away. That was laughable. He was getting ahead of himself.
He was too worked up to really engage in their conversation on their way to her place, but if she noticed, she didn't say anything. "Here we are. I'm on the third floor," she said, turning to head inside her apartment building. He guessed she expected him to follow. Raking a hand through his hair, he followed her up the stairs. She paused outside her door, turning to look up at him. "Thanks for accompanying me to dinner, Peeta. I had a good time."
He looked around anxiously, too scared to meet her gaze directly. "Uh, yeah, I did, too. Thanks for, uh, thanks for inviting me."
Katniss smiled, but she stared at him intently. His heart was racing, unsure what he should do. His first instinct was to run; he had just made up his mind to tell her goodbye when she stepped closer to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and rendering him speechless. She was hugging him. Awkwardly, his hands gripped her shoulders, and she tucked her head under his chin. Her perfume filled his nostrils, that vanilla and ebony aroma, and he thought he was going to choke on his tongue.
She pulled her head back slightly to peer up at him, a playful glint in her eyes, and he didn't realize she had backed him up against the wall beside her front door until his backpack pressed into his shoulders. Dumbfounded, he stared down at her; her hands curled into fists in his shirt, and she stretched up on her toes to lift her face to his. He was frozen in his spot, even as her lips brushed against his. She was kissing him. His first kiss—no, not his first kiss. Some sorority girl who had called herself Glimmer had drunkenly made out with him at a frat party Finnick had dragged him to his second year, but it had been sloppy and unpleasant, and, because he had been drunk, he still didn't know what he was doing. He and Delly had practiced kissing once, too, in middle school, but they were both so grossed out by the fact that they had been kissing each other, they never did it again. This was his first real, sober kiss.
And he was terrified she would realize it, so he kept his mouth slack, letting her guide the movements. When her tongue licked his lip and slid into his mouth, he made an involuntary choking noise in the back of his throat. But she took it as a sign of encouragement, pressing her body against his chest as she touched her tongue to his. Should he reciprocate? He didn't know; he felt paralyzed. Screwing his eyes closed, he tried to focus on the feel of her tongue sliding against his, but his mind wouldn't stop racing.
After a moment, her lips stilled, and she pulled back. He opened his eyes to find hers, silver pools of confusion, mere inches from his. Oh, God, she could tell; she'd realized what a loser he was. "You don't seem to be enjoying this at all. Do you not want to kiss me?" she asked, her voice small.
His eyes widened. "Uh, no, I—no, that's not it! I just—I just..." He swallowed, his eyes shifting around in fear. What could he say?
Then understanding dawned on her face, and she pulled back farther. "Oh, my God...this isn't your first kiss, is it?"
"What? No! No! I've, uh...I've kissed...people...before."
She narrowed her eyes, searching his face. "Have you ever had a girlfriend?"
"Have you ever had sex?"
His mouth hung open, his face red. "Um..."
Her eyes widened incredulously, and she stepped back to stare at him. "Oh, my God. You're a virgin." He opened and closed his mouth, protesting noises sticking in his throat. "You're totally a virgin. I can't believe it. How are you a virgin?"
His eyes darted down the hallway, wondering if he should just make a run for it now. "I don't...I don't know. I just—I had other things to worry about. And I, and I—I just didn't have time for girlfriends, and I just...girls don't like me, anyway." He cringed; why did he say that last part? She was going to think he was absolutely pathetic. He really just wanted to hurl himself down the stairs right then.
She narrowed her eyes at him again, her hands resting on her hips. "Girls don't like you? I don't believe that. You're good-looking, and you're smart." Her gaze swept down his frame critically. "And you've got a good build, like, a really good build. No way girls don't like you."
He blushed, running his hands through his hair. "I'm, uh...I don't know, I'm just shy and awkward, so...look, I should probably go. I think I've embarrassed myself enough tonight, so..."
Her arm shot up, blocking his escape route. She stared at him oddly. "Well, I'm a girl, and I like you. So I think you're wrong about that." He gaped at her, words escaping him. She couldn't mean she liked him, as in liked liked him. Could she? She regarded him thoughtfully. "So, you've really never had sex before. You're not one of those people who thinks oral and anal sex don't count, do you?"
"Huh? No, I, uh—"
"You haven't even played 'just the tip' with your dick?"
He wasn't even sure he knew what the hell she was talking about. "I don't even—no, um, I haven't done—that."
She fixed him with a look, and he began to squirm, sweat breaking out on his forehead. Suddenly, the corners of her mouth curled up into a smile. "So, somehow I've managed to find the most attractive third-year virgin on this campus. Did Christmas come early this year?" She laughed lightly, then she stretched up to press her lips against his firmly. But she pulled away, taking a step back. He just stared at her.
"I'm gonna have a lot of fun with you, Peeta Mellark," she declared, her eyes sparkling. "But I think I've scared you enough for one night. I'll talk to you later, okay?" Her finger tips skimmed his lips in a light touch, and then she slipped inside her apartment.
It took him a few minutes of staring blankly at the wall before he finally regained his composure enough to walk away from her apartment. What had he gotten himself into?