Author's Note: I can't apologize enough for how long this took. Real life stuff came up, but I won't bore you with excuses. This chapter is about twice as long as the others, so hopefully that goes some way to making up for it. Thanks for your patience and encouragement!

Disclaimer: The Hunger Games belongs to Suzanne Collins

Also, a reminder that this is rated M. Read at your own discretion. ;)

"Katniss," came a soft voice. "You awake?"

The bed dipped next to her, and a small, warm presence pressed up against her back.

"The DVD player was on downstairs. I brought up your phone," Prim said. "You have a bunch of missed calls and texts."

Katniss just grunted. Prim lay quietly by her side, not saying anything or asking if she was okay. Katniss pulled the covers from her head and looked at her sister, who wore a sympathetic expression. Katniss eyed her suspiciously.

"Did you read my texts?" she asked after a moment.

Prim had the decency to look guilty.

"Um, maybe? I'm sorry! You haven't come down since I got home. I couldn't help it."

Katniss just turned back over and faced her window. It was dark out now.

"I don't know what happened, but Peeta seems worried."

She'd willed herself to shut down the feelings that seemed to overwhelm her, but one flared up more intensely than the rest: anger.

He was worried? She seethed.

It was easier to feel anger than anything else. It burned hot and fast, and it helped suppress the ache. She'd only ever done her best to try and read his feelings and understand them. She wasn't naturally empathetic. It wasn't easy for her. He should have been good at it. But she laid herself bare, and he threw it in her face. As if it wasn't enough to reject her, he had to question her as a friend, as well.

She didn't care how other people saw her. She didn't need to be thought of her as smart or talented or kind. But she was a good sister to Prim and a good friend to Peeta, and those were things she had known, without a doubt, and she felt like the rug had been ripped out from under her. Maybe she didn't know him. Not at all.

She took her sister's hand.

"I'm okay, Duck."

Prim snuggled in closer.

"Are we mad at Peeta?" she asked conspiratorially. Katniss only hummed in agreement. She closed her eyes against the pressure in her skull. "Well, fuck him."

Katniss' eyes shot open to find Prim smiling sheepishly. The corner of her mouth turned up.

"You've been spending too much time with Haymitch."

Prim just shrugged. "At least, now I know how to kill a man with my bare hands."

Prim kept a straight face for as long as possible until Katniss snorted, then she followed in a fit of laughter.

Katniss' door swung open. Her anger flared up again; she felt it bubbling and ready to break the surface at any moment.

"Can you knock?" she snapped.

Haymitch just leaned against the doorframe.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I heard a bunch of giggling. Didn't know I was interrupting the brain trust. You sure you girls don't want me to reserve the Situation Room?"

Katniss rolled her eyes, and Prim laughed, earning a smirk from Haymitch.

"So what's goin' on? I don't need to go on a tampon run, do I?" Haymitch asked with a grimace.

"No, please, stop," Katniss groaned, burying her face in the pillow.

"Katniss doesn't feel well," Prim answered, rubbing her back. She took Katniss' phone that had been clutched in her hand and switched the ringer off. "I'll go make you some tea." She walked out of the room, and Haymitch ruffled her hair as she passed.

"So what's wrong?" he persisted. She wanted to scream at him, but she knew from experienced that the more she pushed him, the deeper he dug his feet in. "Plague? Consumption?"

She ignored him.


"Why are you always everywhere with something to say?" she grumbled.

"So that's it, then." He made his way over to her bed and sat at the edge.

"If you're here to tell me it's stupid—" she started, refusing to look at him.

"Well, of course, it's stupid!" She tried to kick him, but he grabbed her ankle through the comforter to keep it from moving. "Always is. Hell, boys are stupid. Doesn't mean it doesn't feel like shit."

"So you have some sage advice, do you?"

He snorted. "Hardly. I probably won't even remember this in the morning." She tried to sink farther into her bed. "You girls are fed, clothed, and your noses are clean. I figure anything beyond that's out of my jurisdiction.

Katniss had never been much of a crier, and she didn't sulk so much as stew. Over the years, Haymitch had learned to deal with Prim when she was upset or sensitive, and he'd progressed beyond just an awkward pat on the back. But Katniss was an entirely different story.

It seemed to Katniss as if she'd been at odds with him since he first took over parenting duties from his vacant, deeply depressed sister-in-law. She knew his reluctance at taking this role didn't stem from worries about his own life goals—he'd already fucked those up good enough for himself, PTSD from his tours of duty transforming him from a promising boy with genius-level strategic skills to a haggard alcoholic, robbed of youth and abilities, left to pay the bills by doing mid-level security jobs.

He'd once drunkenly confessed that if he was worth anything, it rested on any small measure of comfort he'd managed to provide the girls. And even that he figured he half-assed part of the time. It didn't help that one of them could reach the full spectrum of human emotion, generally wreaking havoc on his hangovers, and the other was never short on stubbornness and fire. At least, I'm consistent, Katniss thought.

"You're right," she said. "So you can leave now."

Her face angled toward the window, and he could see dried tear stains on her cheek. He cursed under his breath.

"Listen, you can stew all weekend if you want, but tomorrow we're going to Prim's recital…dance thing…whatever," he said, throwing up his hands. "Because if I'm sittin' through that, then you sure as hell are, too. Then come Monday, you're going to school, as usual."

"Wow, thanks for the pep talk," she said icily. She glowered at him before trying to dislodge him from the bed with her foot.

"Hey!" he shouted, grabbing her ankle again. He leveled her with a stare that stopped all her movements. "This is not the worst thing you've ever been through. Most things can be fixed, if you're not too lazy or stubborn to do it. You may not be an angel, sweetheart, but he's no saint. And you've been through enough to know what people are worth."

He held her gaze for a long moment before she finally softened and brought her arms around herself. He got up from the bed. As he reached the door, he spoke again.

"'Sides, boy's the only one who ever fills up the damn ice cube trays around here," he said, shuffling out.

Prim eventually returned with her tea and a box of cookies. The two hunkered down in Katniss' bed for the night, and as much as she longed for quiet, Prim's voice chased away the pain so that it settled in the back of her mind where she could forget about it for a while.

Prim told her all the junior high gossip—girls getting catty in the bathroom, a boy being sent home from school for having blue hair, guys she thought were cute and ones she thought were annoying. Katniss smiled at this. Because boys really were fucking stupid. And she was dumb enough to get caught up in it.

She should have known better.

She swung by their joint locker early Monday morning, grabbing anything she might need for the rest of the week. She didn't want to be visiting it any more than she had to.

Haymitch had dropped her off early, claiming he'd been up already and just wanted to get the two of them out of the house so he could sleep in peace. She was grateful enough not to give him any trouble in return.

She had managed to avoid Peeta all weekend.

She tried going through her texts from him but only got through two until she had to stop.

Please talk to me.

I never meant to hurt you.

She deleted the rest of them along with the voicemails; she couldn't bear to hear the pity in his voice.

She thought he may have stopped by at one point, but she'd been sleeping the afternoon away and couldn't tell if it was a dream or not—his voice carrying from the front door over Haymitch's grumbles. Either way, it filled her with both hope and anxiety, and she tried to lose herself in sleep before either emotion could take hold.

Madge had tried getting in touch with her, too, and eventually Katniss just wrote her a long email detailing everything that happened in cut-and-dry, emotionless language. That way, Madge could take it as it was without being able to interject or ask searching, sympathetic questions.

Katniss aimlessly wandered the halls, waiting for class to start. She thought about making her way towards her old locker and reclaiming it. She had been observing her surroundings closely, making sure she had a clear exit in case he decided to pop up and surprise her.

But she never saw his fair hair peeking above the crowd. Instead, it was his walk that gave him away. Her ears perked up when she heard his familiar gait and the slight squeak in his favorite pair of shoes.

She refused to turn around and face the source of the noise. She walked quickly, trying to determine how long it would take her to get to her first period classroom, when she heard his footsteps pick up.

"Katniss!" he called out over the crowd. "Katniss, wait!"

Panicked, she ducked into the girl's restroom on her right. It was slowly emptying of people as the first warning bell rang. She pretended to busy herself with washing her hands.

She took deep breaths before moving over to the door, not leaving until she heard the sound of his footsteps walking away.

She took the tardy for her first class without complaint.

It wasn't worth it to do the same for her second. They shared that class, anyway. She hoped that people would be milling around by the time she got there so that he would take the hint to leave her alone. He knew how much she hated being the center of attention. She only hoped he still cared enough to respect that.

When she got to Physics, she ended up taking a seat in the row by the wall as it ensured that no one could sit next to her on her right side. Unfortunately, this meant that the seat to her left was occupied by Marvel.

"Hey, Katniss," he said with a slow smile, seemingly delighted that she had chosen to sit in his proximity.

"Hi," she replied shortly.

He looked around and then turned to her again. She tried to busy herself with her notebook, thinking that he would take the hint. He didn't.

"Where's Peeta-Bread?" he asked. She sighed deeply.

"Don't call him that."

"Sorry," he conceded. "So where is he?"

"I don't know," she said shortly.

"Oh," he said. He seemed to fiddle for a moment, and she prayed more people would come in to fill up the silence. "You have a fight or something?"

She didn't answer him, just crossed her arms and shifted in her seat so he couldn't study her profile so intently.

"Well," he ventured cautiously, "I can be your partner for lab today…if you want."

Normally, she would have scoffed or rolled her eyes or told him to get real.

"Okay," she said.

She heard him exhale, almost contentedly, but she didn't face him again. She kept her face toward the window as people began filing in, dulling her senses until all her attention was focused on the movement of the shadows on the grass as the sun peeked behind clouds—until a figure walked between her and the window, blocking her view.

She didn't have to tilt her head up to know who it was. Her eyes quickly flitted away from blue flannel to face the front of the class again.

"Will you please talk to me?" came his weary voice.

She didn't think she needed to tell him to go away or leave her alone anymore. He already knew that's what she wanted; he just chose to ignore it.

She didn't know what she would say if he did coax her into a conversation. She felt drained and used up somehow, like she'd offered the best of herself, and it hadn't been enough. She didn't even know what she had left to offer, what he wanted, or if she had the energy to give it. She'd never felt her own shortcomings so acutely.

And if that weren't enough, he'd accused her of being shallow and a bad friend, of having some false motive. If that's really what he thought about her after all these years, then why expend the effort trying to make him believe otherwise?

She stared straight ahead blankly.

He crouched down by her desk and tried to grab her hand. She flinched and pulled it away as if his touch scalded. "Katniss…" he pleaded.

"Why don't you leave her alone, dude?" Marvel cut in.

Katniss glanced at Peeta before she could stop herself. He was glaring at Marvel, his jaw clenched tightly. She glanced away before he could look back at her. He ignored Marvel, taking a deep breath before speaking again.

"You're going to have to talk to me eventually. We have lab. Can we just—"

"Katniss already agreed to be my lab partner today."

Peeta looked between the two of them as if expecting her to correct him.

"Katniss…" he said, trailing off. She looked steadily at him for the first time in days. He was running his hands through already disheveled hair; he looked terrible. She shut off any feelings of sympathy and protectiveness before they could take root.

"Is he serious?" he finished, gesturing at Marvel.

"Yes," she finally replied, fixing him with a cold stare. "Now you can pick your own partner. No need to worry about me getting 'territorial.'"

His face twisted in pain. She didn't want to care, so she looked away again.

Their teacher walked in a minute later, and Peeta was forced to take an empty seat across the room.

They were given their instructions for the lab and split into pairs. She ignored Peeta's gaze burning into the back of her head. She tried to focus on the task at hand, but repressing most of her thoughts and emotions made it difficult to do anything else. Marvel stepped in and did most of the work for her, sending her sympathetic smiles. He didn't ask her any questions, just filled the silence with small talk and, for once, she was grateful for it because he didn't seem to expect a response.

Time passed quickly enough, and they were told they could clean up for the day. Marvel gathered up their equipment and took it to the back.

Katniss' stomach tightened with anxiety again when she saw Peeta making a beeline for her station. She straightened up and started packing her bag, ready to bolt at the first sound of the bell.

"Can we please just eat lunch together?" he asked when he reached their table. "I can drive somewhere, and we can talk if you want."

"I don't have anything to say to you," she said, closing her bag.

"Well, then I can talk, and you can hear me out," he persisted.

"You all right, Katniss?" Marvel said, sidling up next to her at the table.

Before Katniss could respond, Peeta fixed him with a fierce look.

"Why don't you stay out of what's not your business?" Peeta gritted out.

"I'm not the one making her uncomfortable right now," Marvel returned calmly. Peeta clenched his jaw.

"Can you two stop talking about me like I'm not here?" Katniss snapped, running a hand through her hair, wreaking havoc on her braid. She squirmed anxiously, wanting nothing more than to disappear.

Peeta ignored her. "You only give a shit because you want to get into her pants," he hissed at Marvel.

"Oh, yeah, that must be it," Marvel said sarcastically. "It couldn't just be that I like her. Mr. High-and-Fucking-Mighty. What do you care, anyway? Are you dating her?"

Peeta's face drained of color. Katniss' eyes darted between the two of them, mortified but unable to look away.

"Or are you just jerking her around?" Marvel continued.

"Shut the fuck up!" Peeta spat.

"Mr. Mellark!"

All three of them turned their eyes towards the front, their teacher gesturing Peeta to the front. His face burned red again in anger, and his breathing was harsh. He sent Katniss an unreadable look before hefting his backup up his shoulder and walking to the front.

Katniss didn't need to look around to know that all eyes were on them. Thankfully, the bell rang a moment later.

Katniss practically sprinted from the room. She heard footsteps racing behind her. Eventually, they caught up and a hand grasped at her arm. She threw it off.


She turned around in surprise. Marvel stood there, chest heaving. He held his hands up apologetically.

"Sorry, I just—" he started. "I didn't mean to get into it back there. I didn't want to embarrass you."

Katniss eyed him skeptically. This new "Aw, shucks" act wasn't impressing her.

"You don't have any problem embarrassing Peeta."

"No, I don't," Marvel laughed. "He was being a dick."

"I don't mean now," Katniss replied. "I mean last year—mocking him and making him feel like shit. Why was that okay?" She didn't know why her protective instincts were kicking in now, of all times—Peeta wasn't high on her list of favorite people at the moment, and he clearly didn't want or need her defending in the first place. But she needed some kind of explanation as to why Marvel could be so kind to her and so terrible to Peeta.

A look of guilt crossed his face.

"I dunno," he shoved his hands in his pockets. "I guess he just rubs me the wrong way. He's so full of himself."

"Peeta?" Katniss laughed, incredulous.

"Listen, I know I was an asshole," he said. "I don't…I shouldn't have said that stuff about his weight. I just—he and I used to be friends, you know? When we were little."

Katniss furrowed her eyebrows. This wasn't the direction she expected this to take. At all. She figured he would deflect or get defensive.

She struggled to remember Peeta before they grew close— who he spent time with and what he was like. But she felt like she had lived an entirely differently life before that—before her father died, her mother went away, and Peeta came into her life. She barely remembered that little girl, or Peeta before he was her best friend, or a young David before he was Marvel.

"Then he found you, and that's great, fine," he continued. "But then he acts like he's too good to talk to me, like we haven't known each other since kindergarten."

He shrugged it off, and Katniss felt a pang of guilt.

"Look, it doesn't matter. I just like you," he said with a small smile, and she felt her face heat up. "I just wanted a shot, and I was stupid about it. I figured…if he wasn't going to do anything…"

She looked at her feet. He may have been trying to reform his act, but she had no interest in discussing her relationship with Peeta with him.

"I see the way you look at him. Just don't let him lead you on forever." Her head shot up, and her anger flared.

"Maybe you should apologize," she shot back.

He looked flabbergasted for a moment before responding, "Katniss, I'm so—"

"Not to me. To Peeta."

He muttered under his breath. "Seriously?"

The warning bell rang, and she shrugged. "Do what you want, but it might be good for your soul or something."

"Thanks," he said dryly.

She started walking, and he followed alongside her until she turned a corner for her class.

"Later, Katniss," he said with a small wave. She eyed him carefully before responding.

"Bye, David."

She and Peeta only shared one more class before lunch. Instead of zoning out, she began this period hyperaware of every movement around the classroom. When he entered, her head snapped up to his. She nervously anticipated what tactic he'd try this time— whether he'd stare at her pleadingly, try passing her notes, or attempt to confront her again in front of everyone. Her stomach twisted in knots. But the moment he walked in, she deflated. His face was drawn, his eyes hooded as he made his way to a seat across the room. He slid into it silently and pulled out his notebook.

She must have been watching him for a while because when his gaze finally lifted, it went straight to her, as if he had felt her eyes on him. Their teacher was speaking, but for how long, Katniss had no idea. The sound was muffled in her ears. As soon as his eyes landed on her own, her breath caught; his expression was startlingly open, almost dejected. He broke the connection first, looking back down to his paper where his hand picked up the familiar, delicate motions of his sketching, a movement she had observed a thousand times.

She shook herself slightly, as if she had just broken the surface of water after holding her breath for too long.

When the bell rang, he left the classroom first without sparing her a glance. Her eyes followed him in a daze until the classroom emptied, and she found herself sitting alone. Feelings of anguish and humiliation roared up anew, as if she were living her rejection all over again. She had unwillingly revisited that moment in her head a million times since Saturday, his voice so guarded and skeptical that it never lost its edge, even in her memory— What brought this on, Katniss?

It was like getting nicked in the same place over and over again, the pain growing more acute and the wound unable to close.

She went through her next class in a guarded haze, an attitude that was becoming painfully familiar.

At lunch, she found herself sitting in a stairwell, unsure of how she got there. It was cold and empty, and every sound echoed against bare walls.

She forgot their heated words this morning, Peeta's growing frustration, her conversation with Marvel—all she could see was the back of his head leaving the classroom without stopping to wait for her or checking to see that she was following close behind. He had never done that before. Ever.

She knew she had pushed him away; she was hurt and confused, and all her instincts of privacy and self-preservation had reared up more fiercely than they ever had. She wasn't sure if it was an apology she was looking for or a time machine. Those vulnerable pieces of herself that she had offered up to him were now in his hands. And she just wanted him to look at her like he had before—easily and without pity, even without heat or affection, if that's what it took, because as much as that hurt, it was better than nothing. It was a kind of pain she could manage.

She should have known he wasn't going to keep trying forever. Now, she was just a friend he wasn't interested in romantically, and apparently, not a very good one by his estimation. He probably saw her as some cross to bear, a clingy girl he had to let down easy, and she'd have to deal with the very real possibility that she had lost more than the vague promise of a romantic future with him—she had lost her best friend. She was smart to keep her mouth shut for so long and stupid to listen to anyone who told her to do the opposite.

Her eyes burned, and she closed them tightly. Eventually, her anger would fade and, she hoped, her embarrassment as well. She could handle not being wanted. It's not like she had ever experienced that, anyway. But to be left behind, after all these years, too much trouble to be worth putting up with? It pricked at something raw inside her that had lived there since she was a little girl, orphaned, with her baby sister clinging to her skirt. She hadn't hardened quickly enough, at least not before Peeta could be let in, where he'd taken root too deeply for her to be able to stand. The loss of him would burn much longer than her anger or resentment.

She pulled her hair out of the braid and ran her fingers through the roots, pulling on it slightly, not caring how it looked. She grabbed her bologna sandwich from her bag and took two bites before discarding it; the sight of it was so disappointingly familiar. She leaned her head against the cold wall, humming to herself quietly until lunch ended.

In her last period, she slid into a seat next to Madge, bracing herself for what was to come.

Madge looked her over briefly before giving Katniss a small smile.

"Need a ride after school?" she asked. Katniss nodded gratefully. "You can come over if you want. I think I have enough material for a voodoo doll."

Katniss laughed almost inaudibly, but her chest lightened with the movement.

"Nah. I think I'll just go home and nap," Katniss said.

Madge nodded with a smile before passing her a piece of gum. At one point, Madge passed her a note; Katniss was reluctant to open it. Bracing herself, she unfolded it to find Madge's commentary on their teacher's bad dye job. Katniss smiled before responding that she was pretty sure Ms. Trinket had a wig collection. Madge had to suppress her snort, and the rest of the period passed mercifully quickly.

They walked together to the student lot, and Madge regaled her with gossip about how Glimmer had failed to find a Homecoming date since being dumped by Cato. Madge did enough talking for the two of them, and Katniss couldn't help but scan the lot as they wove through cars.

She didn't know what to expect or which sight would unhinge her the most—Peeta's parking spot empty or him waiting by his car for her. Maybe he'd even offer someone else a ride home.

But she spotted his car in its regular spot, and he was nowhere in sight.

Katniss didn't realize she had stopped walking until Madge turned around, studying her carefully for a moment.

"You ready to go?"

Katniss couldn't help looking around the parking lot one last time. She exhaled. "Yeah."

Madge had tried to get Katniss to come to her house a few more times, but she declined. She wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon staring at the underside of her comforter.

Katniss found the front door locked and the driveway empty, meaning Haymitch was working a shift; she knew Prim was at a friend's house. She dropped her bag in the living room, grabbed a glass of water and some crackers from the kitchen and trudged up the stairs.

She finished half the box of crackers and the entire glass of water while watching TV shows on her computer. She knew she should go back downstairs to retrieve her books and assignments, but her mind would undoubtedly drift after two sentences of dry text, and she couldn't allow that. Her thoughts had already gone far out of her control for one day, and she was lucky she didn't have a splitting headache. Too many places in her body already ached, and it not in a way that suggested accomplishment, like she'd just climbed a hill or swum laps for an hour. She felt weary and listless, and the day wasn't even over. She didn't know how she was going to get through the rest of the week.

Shutting off her computer speakers, she walked the few feet to her bed before collapsing on top of it. She was too tired to climb underneath the covers, so she grabbed the side of the comforter and folded herself in like a burrito. Her loose hair fanned out on the pillow beneath her, and she drifted off before she could reach for a hair tie to pull it back.

Katniss woke up to the sound of rustling outside her window. She figured it was the wind causing the trees branches to sweep against the exterior of the house, but when she closed her eyes to the early evening light, the noises started again, inconsistently so she couldn't drown them out. She pushed her hair out of her face and got up, reluctantly shuffling to the window.

The tree outside was definitely moving, but it wasn't due to the wind. A shock of blonde hair caught the light, drawing her attention to his stocky frame, which was currently clinging to a low branch with one arm. She threw the window open and stuck her head out.

"What are you doing?!" she shouted, an edge of hysteria to her voice.

Big blue eyes landed on her, wide in surprise, before Peeta lost his grip and fell to the ground with a thud.

She ran out of her room, down the stairs and through the back door. She was sliding on the grass in her sock-clad feet before she could think twice.

Peeta was still sitting on the ground when she got there. He didn't look like he was seriously injured, but as she approached him, he angrily smacked the ground with one hand before running his hand through his hair. She gaped at him for a moment before her mouth finally caught up with her brain.

"What in the hell...?" His ruddy face lifted, and his pained looked gave her pause. "Are you okay?" she asked, trying to sound annoyed so he wouldn't pick up on the concern in her voice.

"Fucking great," he grumbled. She scowled, her sympathy waning at his tone.

"What the fuck were you doing?" she asked.

He heaved a huge, frustrated breath before answering. "Trying to climb to your window."

Her face scrunched in confusion, and she had to stifle the small part of her that was amused at the idea of someone like Peeta trying to climb a tree. He had strength and sturdiness in spades— agility, not so much. He wouldn't look straight at her, still pouting from his spot on the ground.

"What, you haven't heard of a door?" she asked.

At this, he stared at her. His gaze was searching and dejected, and she was jolted back into the reality of the situation and what had brought them there. Suddenly, it didn't seem so funny.

"Would you have let me in?" he asked bluntly.

She sputtered for a moment before realizing she shouldn't be the one feeling out of sorts in this situation. He was the one trying to practically break into her house. "No," she shot back.

He heaved another breath, and she was annoyed at the sound, the way he would often express his frustration in sounds or gestures instead of just coming out with it and saying what the hell was wrong. But then, these past few days were the first in a very long time where she hadn't wanted to hear Peeta talk at all.

He finally lifted off the ground with one arm, and she noticed he was clutching something in his other one. Is that why he was trying to climb a tree one-armed? she wondered, irritated at his stupidity.

"Are you insane?" she asked.

He tilted his head back and shouted at the sky, "I just wanted to give you a goddamn cupcake!"

She stood there, shocked for a moment, before finally noticing the item he clutched in his hands— a smashed cupcake.

She took a step back, the sight of it unnerving her and making her feel small, offended at the idea that this small token could repair everything that had gone wrong between them. She wasn't some scorned girlfriend. He hadn't stood her up or forgotten an anniversary; he had broken her heart. Even if she couldn't find the words to tell him that, he had to know. He knew her better than anyone.

"I don't want your pity gifts or baked goods or..." She trailed off when her voice started to shake, unable to maintain the scorn she tried to force into her words.

The tension in his body seemed to deflate as he looked at her, and the raw emotion in his eyes was enough to have her staring nervously at her feet. If only she could get them to move, carry her back inside where she could curl up in a tight space.

"This isn't some 'baked good,'" he emphasized, almost desperately. "This is a cupcake. A vanilla cupcake with chocolate filling and chocolate icing with a bird done in red on top." He took a breath. "Because when you sing, the birds stop to listen."

Her head flew up. "What?" she asked in a small voice, confused by his words and the overwhelming sincerity in them. No matter how long she had known him, every time he spoke like that, it knocked the breath from her lungs.

"This is the cupcake I made you in second grade. Well, not the exact one obviously, but…" He held it up, studying the wrecked icing on top before looking up at her. "And that was the speech I memorized to say when I gave it to you. Except, I never did because when I caught your eye, you looked away, and I lost my nerve. So when Delly came bounding up, I pretended it was for her."

His words jumbled in her head in different patterns that made no sense to her, and she tried to pick some out so she could get some clue as to what he was saying.

"Second grade?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said, stepping forward and offering her the cupcake, before shoving his hands into his pockets and giving her a self-deprecating smile. She studied it while he spoke, grateful for something to do with her eyes and hands. "I noticed you on the first day of kindergarten. I don't think I've stopped looking at you since."

She clutched the cupcake tighter, glad it was already ruined because surely her hands would have crushed it to crumbs. Her heart clenched, and the glimmer of hope she failed to quell was almost as acute as the heartbreak had been.

"And when you first started singing in those assemblies," he continued, "I was done for."

She studied the now jagged outline of red icing against brown and could just faintly make out the silhouette of a bird. She didn't dare look at him.

"Are—are you cold?" His voice was low and so close to her ear that she startled to find him standing half a foot away. She couldn't remember the last time he'd been able to sneak up on her.

He gestured toward her socked feet, and she realized she was cold, still clad in only her jeans and t-shirt in the cold, autumn air. When she looked up, his gaze was still roaming over her, lingering on her hair that hung in loose waves around her shoulders. It must have looked a mess, especially after she had slept on it, and she cringed to think what she looked like.

She mumbled something affirmative in answer to his question, and his eyes snapped up to hers. She turned to walk into the house, and he followed close behind.

Once they were both standing in the kitchen, they shuffled awkwardly on their feet and every time their eyes met, one of them would look away quickly. She was still processing his words. It seemed like something she had dreamed up, and she wasn't entirely sure any of this was real. And none of it explained his response to her on Saturday.

"You, um, you don't have to eat that," he said, breaking the silence and gesturing to the cupcake. He came closer and took it from her, setting it on the counter. "There's a blade of grass on it anyway."

Before she knew what she was doing, she stood on tip toe and reached up to touch his hair. The wry smile died on his face. "You have one in your hair, too," she said quietly, pulling it from where it was lodged in a soft wave. She looked up and found him gazing at her intensely. It would be hard for even her to misinterpret the look of heated longing on his face, and she wondered if this was new, or if he'd always responded to her this way and she'd just been too stupid and scared to notice. Or maybe he had been good at hiding it.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. She slowly lowered back to her feet. Confusion and hurt still lingered in her mind, and she was now more than eager to hear him explain himself. "I should have given you the cupcake. I should have said something. A million times, I should have said something…"

"Was that why you came to the funeral?" she asked suddenly, the memory invading her thoughts as she recalled their childhoods and everything that had brought them together.

"No. God, no. You think I was crashing funerals at 11-years-old to pick up chicks?" he asked with a grin.

"I don't know. You've always been ahead of the curve," she answered dryly. He chuckled and from the corner of her eye, she saw his hand twitch at his side, but he let it drop again.

"I was just worried about you. You were so sad and strong. You and your dad always looked so happy together and...I just didn't want to see you in pain," Peeta said, reaching out and pushing a lock of hair behind her ear as if he had been itching to do it.

"You didn't seem so concerned about that recently." The words burned like acid on her tongue, but she couldn't regret them, even when he flinched like she'd hit him and dropped his hand. It's not like he had made things easy for her recently.

"I know," he said in a low voice, dropping his gaze. "I'm so sorry. I didn't…I mean, I couldn't—" He trailed off with a sigh and ran a hand through his hair. It was odd to watch him struggle for words. "I was talking to Delly."

Katniss took a step back without thinking. She may have been reassured that the girl wasn't after Peeta, but it was Delly's scolding that made Katniss approach him with her feelings, and look how well that had gone. Peeta smiled at her reassuringly, as if reading her thoughts.

"Not like that. Look, she hinted at some things and said that…well, basically that I had underestimated you." She watched him skeptically; she had to admit that it was somewhat satisfying to see him squirm. "She also said that I'm a dumbass."

She reluctantly smiled at this, and that seemed to bolster him. He rushed on.

"I'm so sorry. The truth is, I didn't underestimate you. I underestimated me. I always have. And I'm working on that, I swear," he said pleadingly. "It wasn't fair to take it out on you. I didn't trust you, and I should have. If for no other reason than you're a terrible actress," he added.

She scowled and suppressed the urge to smack him playfully. The air between them felt charged, and she didn't know where that kind of playful action would lead them. Her stomach roiled at the possibilities.

"Seriously," he said, and his eyes burned intensely into hers again. "I should have trusted you. You've never lied to me. I just…I don't know if I was even capable of believing that you…"

She wanted to break eye contact, but she recognized that, in this moment, he was at least as vulnerable as she was.

"I didn't mean to hurt you," he said, leaning down and resting his forehead against hers for a split second before pulling back. She had to stop herself from grabbing him to keep him in place. As it was, she had struggled to keep her eyes from slipping shut at the feel of him. She was glad they were open, though, when she saw the look in his eyes. "I just spent so long hating myself and loving you that I…"

She breathed in sharply, her eyes growing so wide that they burned. He trailed off, and the corner of his mouth twitched up with a shaky attempt at a smile, but it didn't stay up long on his pale, nervous face. He seemed to be waiting, terrified, for her reaction. She didn't even know what kind of expression she had on her face, just that it was frozen there while she tried to get her lungs to keep working.

"Um, you can kick me out again," he said, shifting nervously while she continued to blink at him. "I wouldn't blame you. I said horrible things, I know. But I didn't mean any of them. It's like there was this nasty voice in my head telling me it couldn't be true, and I just lashed out. I've replayed that moment in my head a million times, and you were so...and I can't believe I fucked it up..."

"I can't believe you gave Delly my cupcake." She had blinked out of her daze and said the first thing that came to mind, interrupting his anxious ramblings.

He exhaled, laughing almost inaudibly, and the crease in his forehead smoothed out. But he was still looking at her in stunned disbelief like she he was waiting for her to bolt at any second.

"That's what you're mad about?" he joked with a wry smile. "I know you take cupcakes seriously, but you got it eventually, Katniss. I mean, it took, like, nine years, and I fell on it and almost broke my arm in the process, but you got your cupcake. Maybe it was more trouble than it was worth…" He shifted from one foot to the other.

"I don't think so," she said softly, studying his face. "Did you mean it?"

"Did I mean...? Oh!" He flushed slightly, and her heart felt like it was going to beat out of her chest. He looked at her steadily as if it was costing him some effort to do so. "Yes, of course, I meant it. I know a lot has changed, and we've both dealt with so much bullshit...but that has been the one consistency of my life. Loving you."

They stared at each other across the small space that separated them, neither of them sure of when they had moved so close. She smiled slowly, and his entire body seemed to melt in response, a similar smile lighting up his face. Her hand reached up, cupping the side of his face, her thumb trailing over the dimple in his cheek. He watched her with a look of such awe that she would have been tempted to tease him for his dopey expression if he had been looking at anyone else but her. Instead, she lifted up on her toes again and kissed the spot where her thumb had been, her mouth so close to his own that she felt him tremble slightly. She pulled back.

"Me, too."

The words had barely left her mouth before his arms went around her, hands pressing warmly into her back as he pulled her body against his and leaned down to reach her mouth. Their lips bumped together clumsily, and when he tried to adjust their position, his nose knocked into hers.

"Sorry," he whispered, and before she could respond, his hands traveled up to her neck, his thumbs brushing the soft skin by her earlobes, before he tilted her head slightly and met her lips once more. They were softer this time and parted so that his lips wrapped around her top one. Every inch of her skin warmed in response, and she opened her mouth wider when she realized she had been holding her breath. She tried to suppress her gasp so he wouldn't notice, but, of course, he did.

"Sorry," he said again, right against her mouth. She sucked in as much air as she could, not wanting to part from him again anytime soon. "Just bear with me...I haven't really had any practice," he added, somewhat reluctantly.

"Good," she said quickly, before capturing his lips again. She would definitely remember to breathe through her nose this time.

She grasped his shoulders over the soft flannel of his shirt, not caring that her calves were starting to burn with the effort of stretching up to meet him. Their kisses started off as relatively tame, and he seemed tentative to push her too far and adamant to perfect what they were already doing, but soon their lips began lingering for longer periods of time, sliding wetly against each other. He drew the cupid's bow of her top lip into his mouth again and ran his tongue over it. She made an involuntary sound in the back of her throat that had him sliding his hands from his neck into her hair before he pulled back. She had to stop herself from stumbling.

She lowered back down for a moment, giving her legs a brief respite. She stared at him in confusion, wondering why he pulled away.

His hands were still buried in her long hair, but he looked flustered, licking his lips, sucking in breaths, eyes closing like he was trying to center himself.


His eyes opened again and locked on hers for a moment before flitting around the kitchen. She couldn't help but notice how good he looked standing so close to her, lips wet and swollen because of her.

"Um, is Haymitch home?" he asked, breaking her from her thoughts. Her face screwed up at this.

"Haymitch?" She couldn't keep the frustration out of her voice. "You want to talk about Haymitch?"

"No, I just, I wanted to know if he was around or..." he trailed off awkwardly, and she picked up on his meaning.

"No. Night shift," she said breathlessly before closing the space between them again. But he stepped back again, removing his hands from her hair.

A look of hurt must have flashed across her face because he quickly grabbed her shoulders and smoothed his hands down her arms reassuringly.

"I was wondering, um," he started, and she couldn't help but let her doubts get the best of her. It had to be something bad if he was going to interrupt this. "Do you want to go on a date with me?"

She stared at him dubiously for a moment.

"A date?"

"Yeah, you know, a date," he said, attempting a brave smile, but she could pick up on his underlying nerves. "You asked me the other day, and if I wasn't being such an insecure asshole it would have been, like, the greatest moment of my life."

The corner of her mouth lifted in response and, in that moment, she could finally feel her worth to him. Not because he kept saying wonderful things, but because she was certain there was no other person in the world who could have followed his crazy lines of thought and tangents and the way he had to overcomplicate everything. At least, she had finally found a good way to shut him up.

"Sure, Peeta," she said indulgently.

"Really?" he asked, genuinely surprised. "You're gonna make it that easy? You don't want me to grovel or—"

"Wasn't that what you were doing when you were dangling from my tree?" she asked, raising an eyebrow at him.

His answering chuckle seemed to stutter nervously in his throat as she moved close to him again.

"So, um, when do you want to go out? Or, what did you want to do?"

"I don't care," she answered, sliding her hands up his chest before leaning up to kiss him. Their mouths met hotly for a moment before he pulled away with a groan. She wanted to smack him.

"It's just, we should work it out, you know?" She gave him a skeptical look, but he forged on. "It'll be our first date, after all."

"What constitutes a date?" she asked. "You pick me up, we go out? That kind of thing?"

"Well, yeah," he answered uncertainly.

"Peeta," she said lowly, hands returning to his chest. "If that's the case, then we've been on, like, 10,000 dates."

"I just," he started, swallowing as her hands roamed softly. "I want to do this right."

"Okay," she said shortly before grasping the fabric of his shirt in her hands and pulling him forward. Their mouths crashed together harshly, but she wouldn't let him murmur out any more apologies. She simply shifted so their lips could pick up the same heated rhythm from before. Her hands climbed until they were around his neck, and she slid her fingers into his hair. She sighed heavily at the feel, something she'd dreamt about for so long, that she couldn't help but run her hands through it and grasp the strands until he groaned in response, pulling tightly at her hips.

Within seconds, he had walked her backwards and pressed her against the nearest surface, which happened to be the refrigerator. She heard something clatter on the tile floor and distantly wondered if it was one of the magnets.

When he nipped at her lower lip, she gasped slightly, and he took the opportunity to hesitantly slip his tongue between her parted lips. Her jaw was slack for a second, eager to see what he would do, but when he started to retract his tongue, she slid her own against it, unwilling to break the connection. They moaned in unison, and he licked at the underside of her bottom lip before drawing it into his mouth.

They both grew braver in their explorations, trying different things, each of them desperate to draw sounds from the other. When he sucked on her tongue, she whimpered and tugged on his hair again. Every time she did this, his hips thrust gently against hers, almost unconsciously, as if her hands caused an electrical current to run through his body and jolt against her own. She could feel his hard length pressed against her pelvis, and she was glad she had imagined this so many times with him; she would have been terrified, otherwise.

She was beginning to think she would never get tired of exploring the inside of his mouth when he pulled away and started trailing kisses down her jaw to her neck. Some of them tickled and felt warm against her skin, but, frequently, the kisses would land on a spot that made her shiver, and he seemed to pick up on it. When he got to the place where her neck met her shoulder, she inhaled sharply, and he sucked lightly on her skin in response. She was breathing like she had just run a mile. When he nipped at the spot with his teeth, she pushed him backwards. He stumbled backward a bit, his wide eyes startled.

Before he could question her, she grabbed his hand and pulled him behind her, out of the room and up the stairs, not stopping until they were both inside her bedroom and she had shut the door behind them.

She turned to find him standing nervously in the middle of her room, still breathing heavily. She hesitated. Her recent confidence seemed to diminish in the quiet of the room. She pulled off her damp socks and threw them into the hamper for something to do. She fiddled with her hands as he continued to eye her warily.

"I, um…I don't want you to feel pressured to do anything…" Peeta gestured vaguely with his hand.

"I want to do everything," Katniss replied honestly. He swallowed heavily at this.

She stepped forward until she was standing in front of him and, pushing through her nerves with sheer force of will, she reached up and began undoing the first button on his shirt.

"I…I'm on the pill," Katniss said quietly and tried not to wince at her clumsy words. "Haymitch dropped me at the clinic one day and, well, I don't really wanna tell that story, but..." Peeta laughed, and she smiled slightly as she began working on the second button. "Anyway, I'm…all clear, and you know, I've never—"

"Me neither," he assured her, reaching up to slide his fingers through her hair. Her hands slipped on the third button. "What, um," Peeta started, staring fixedly at her hair, "what did 'me, too' mean?"

She looked up at him in confusion for a second before recalling her words in the kitchen. Her breath whooshed out of her.

"I…well, I—you said that you…ya know," she fumbled. "And I do, too."

"You love me?" he asked quietly. His face was so hopeful when she looked up at him, that she didn't hesitate to respond.

"I love you," she said.

He leaned his forehead against her temple.

"I love you, too," he said against her hair, before moving to nuzzle behind her ear with his nose.

"Stop distracting me," she scolded gently, a wide grin stretching almost painfully across her face. He laughed, and the breath he exhaled tickled her neck. He pulled back, and they smiled at each other goofily while she worked on the rest of his buttons. He kicked his shoes off.

"This is my favorite shirt," she told him.

"I know," he said with a smirk, and she felt her body responding to his newfound confidence. "You told me."

He kept watching her while she unfastened the final button and began to push it off his broad shoulders. Katniss met his eyes when she reached behind him to help pull it down; they were hooded and glinting with mischief. They looked the way they had that day in her kitchen when he lifted her up, but amplified by a hundred. Her stomach clenched in anticipation, sending jolts of pleasure through her body and between her legs.

She only briefly noted the way the sleeves of his undershirt clung to his biceps before she grabbed the hem and started pulling it up. He lifted his arms, finally breaking eye contact reluctantly when he had to help her pull it over his head.

She tossed the shirt carelessly to the floor. She could feel his eyes on her again, but she was distracted by the wide expanse of smooth skin on display. Her hand lifted to trace the freckles on his shoulder before pressing her palm flat and gliding it down his chest to rest on his pectoral. His heart was thumping rapidly beneath it.

Her eyes finally lifted to meet his, as if coming out of a trance, and she saw that they were filled with apprehension. It only took her a moment to figure out why.

She slid her palm down to his flat stomach and felt the muscles contract beneath her touch.

"I've wanted this…for a long time," Katniss said quietly, staring at her tanned hand against his pale skin. She drew her fingers through the fine hairs near his belly button, and he sucked in a breath.

"Really?" Peeta breathed.

"Why do you think I always tried get you to take your shirt off at the pool?" she asked with a sly smile, glancing up at him only briefly, still inexplicably shy despite her certainty of where this would lead.

"That's kind of amazing," he said in an awed voice.

He was looking at her like she was some kind of living dream, and she would never get used to that. She didn't want to.

"Not really," she said shortly, furrowing her eyebrows. "Made sense to me."

She pushed him toward the bed, and he grabbed her hips, pulling her with him as he walked backward. When the back of his knees hit the bed, he sunk down on it, his hands still grasping tightly to her hips. His thumbs were brushing back and forth across her hipbones and she could feel the heat of them through her jeans.

Katniss' nerves returned when he looked up at her expectantly. Should she sit next to him on the bed? That would be an awkward angle for kissing. Maybe she could—

Peeta interrupted her thoughts by grabbing her hips suddenly and pulling her toward him, wrapping one arm under her ass and lifting her slightly so she had no choice but to straddle his lap.

He squeezed her waist before bringing his hands to her neck, dragging her down for another deep kiss. They kissed for so long, hands wandering and mussing up clothing and hair, that she didn't realize until he broke away for breath that she had been rocking gently above him. The brief pause in their activities made her that much more aware of the hard length that was cradled between her legs.

His hands began playing at the hem of her shirt and her entire body stiffened in response. Peeta seemed to pick up on it because he searched her face intently. She bit her lip in response and couldn't quite meet his eyes. He dropped the shirt and began smoothing his hands over her back before leaning in to bury his face in her neck, kissing and licking the skin. Goosebumps covered her skin, and she shuddered.

She was so lost in the sensations of his lips and tongue and teeth against her skin that she didn't notice that he was slowly inching her shirt up until the cold air hit her back. She stiffened again, and he pulled back.

"Is this okay?" he whispered.

Katniss plastered a brave smile on her face. "Yeah. I mean, I took yours off…" She shrugged in an attempt to be casual, but the serious look didn't leave his face.

He leaned in to give her a soft kiss, but before she could deepen it, he pulled back, inching her shirt up once again and staring at the strip of stomach that was being exposed. She tried not to squirm in response. Her breathing picked up, but this time, it wasn't from excitement.

"You have the most beautiful skin I've ever seen," Peeta said, and her eyes widened in response. He was too busy staring at her skin and lightly running his fingers across it to notice. "I never get sick of looking at you."

With this, he lifted her off of his lap and laid her gently back against her pillows. She squeaked softly in response, but he didn't pause in his fluid movements, getting on his knees and hovering over her, his hands returning to her stomach. He looked up at her, as if testing her reaction, and the longer she looked into the striking blue of his eyes, the safer she felt. Her muscles relaxed, and she seemed to sink into the mattress further.

"The one thing that always frustrated me about painting you was that I could never get your skin just right," he said before ducking his head and pressing a soft kiss to her belly. She shivered. "I would mix colors for hours, and it would never be good enough."

He looked up at her nervously. "Is that creepy?" he asked. She shook her head quickly, but she could feel the flush working up from her neck to her face. One corner of his mouth turned up in a crooked smile. Then he pulled her shirt up, and she was lifting her arms up in compliance without a second thought.

He had just barely gotten it off when his eyes widened, and he buried his neck in her face with a groan. She had a moment of panic, uncertain of what had caused his reaction. Maybe she wasn't what he had imagined, or…

"Are you trying to kill me?" he asked in a strained voice.

She turned her head to give him a perplexed look, and he lifted up again, fingering her soft orange bra strap.

"No?" she said with a nervous chuckle. She had forgotten she was even wearing that particular bra, but then, it was her favorite for a reason.

"No?" he asked, his voice low with a hint of challenge that made her heart stutter in anticipation. His pupils were large in the low setting light filtering into her room, and it made the blue appear much darker.

He leaned into her neck again, dragging his mouth up to her ear. Her hands found purchase on the wide expanse of his back; she could feel the muscles straining, and she gulped in breaths.

"I think you are," he said lowly, nipping at her earlobe. Her eyes rolled back in response. "I think you were that night, too. You knew exactly what you were doing."

One large hand pressed to her collarbone, before sliding slowly down her chest, pausing between her breasts. She could feel the slight callus on his index finger that he got from sketching.

Before she could pass out from the teasing, the torturous anticipation, she steeled herself and took his hand within her own, sliding it over her bra cup so he could grasp her in his palm. His wide eyes flew up to hers, but before he could get out a word, she used her other hand to pull his head down to hers for a crushing kiss. Almost involuntarily, his hand squeezed her breast in response. She felt his movements stop for an instant, as if he was worried he had gone too far, but her answering whimper seemed to bolster him because he squeezed again, circling the hardened nipple through the fabric of her bra.

Somewhere in the middle of their hot kisses and the feeling of his hand teasing her, she had opened her legs to him; he moved between them like he belonged there, hips nestled between her thighs. They were both panting heavily, mouths only breaking apart when one of them would go searching for new skin to taste and redden.

She was sucking at the hollow of his neck when she felt his hand drag her bra strap down her shoulder. He moved his head to kiss the soft skin that was revealed, while his left hand snuck into her bra cup, his thumb running over her nipple. Her head fell back with a strangled moan, and then suddenly, she was pushing at his chest (so broad and solid that she had to force herself not to get distracted).

Peeta looked at her looked at her apprehensively, as if she was about to slap him. Instead, she lifted her upper body, her hands going behind her back to search frantically for the hooks on her bra. He watched her, frozen, mouth agape, and she wondered if he was worried that if he even twitched, it would snap her out of it and halt her movements.

Her shaking fingers finally unclasped her bra, and she brought her arms back around to her front. She paused and let the material rest where it was, taking a bracing breath. She glanced up to find his eyes on her face. He lifted his hand and rested it over her beating heart. She covered his hand with her own for a moment, and they smiled at each other. She let her hand fall away and reached her arms out. Peeta dragged the bra down and tossed it to the side of the bed.

She screwed her eyes shut tightly and licked her lips. The silence wasn't helping. She should have put some music on or something, but what music? Was she just going to make him sit there, shirtless, while she frantically searched through her iTunes? Not that having him shirtless in her room was ever a bad idea.

She wanted to open her eyes to see what he was doing, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. The moment seemed to drag on forever, and she was ready to dive under the blankets when suddenly, she felt him sink down on top of her, her hardened nipples pressing against his chest in a way that made her tremble. He smoothed the hair away from her face and kissed her temple before leaning in to whisper in her ear.

"You're so fucking pretty." Katniss wanted to scoff, but the sound of the curse coming from his strained voice made her throat go dry.

As if Peeta sensed her skepticism, he nipped at her ear in chastisement.

From there, he moved to her chest, pressing kisses up and down her sternum. He caught her watching him nervously and sent her a devastating smile.

"It's true," he said. She had to search her memory for what he was referring to, even though he hadn't said it more than 30 seconds ago. His mouth had some sort of magical ability to put her in a trance as soon as it touched any part of her body. Maybe it was a good thing they hadn't done this sooner. She'd have flunked out of high school.

"You have starred in every fantasy I've had since I was twelve."

Katniss' mouth dropped open and some sort of involuntary squeak made its way out, but she didn't have time to be embarrassed before his head dipped to take a nipple into his mouth.

Her hands flew to his hair. He alternated between licking and sucking, paying attention to the noises she made in response. When he bit the hardened tip lightly, she jumped. He lifted his eyes to smile at her devilishly before moving to the other breast. He sucked hard, on and around her nipple, to the soft underside of her breast, and she wondered if it was possible to get a hickey there.

Her hands were roaming through his hair relentlessly like they'd be happy to be buried there forever, but when she studied the muscles moving in his back, she had to rethink that.

Katniss pushed on his chest until he fell on his back beside her. Peeta looked up at her with wide eyes and pink cheeks and disheveled hair, and she didn't think this could get any better— until she realized he wasn't even naked yet. She went to straddle him again, before realizing it was getting increasingly uncomfortable in her stiff jeans; she was going to take them off eventually, anyway.

So she dropped her feet to the floor, stood by the bed, and, before he could offer a word of protest, she began unbuttoning her jeans. His mouth snapped shut. She pushed them to her feet and surreptitiously snuck a peek at her underwear. She hadn't remembered what pair she had on, but they were blue boy shorts with white polka dots. They didn't match her bra, but, regardless, that would have been a first for her.

She glanced up at him. He didn't look like he minded.

Katniss climbed back onto the bed beside him, sitting on her knees. She glanced down at his own jeans and saw his very obvious erection straining against the fly.

"Do you want to take yours off?" she asked.

"Huh?" His eyes snapped up from where they had been roaming over her body, particularly her naked chest. "Oh, um, yeah."

Before he could make a move, her hands were at his fly. She unbuttoned it with ease as he had sucked in deeply at her touch and seemed to be holding that breath. She got his zipper down and pulled his pants off his hips quickly before he passed out from lack of oxygen. He quickly toed his socks off, too.

This isn't so different, she thought when she'd gotten them all the way off and thrown them to the floor. It's just Peeta in shorts. She studied the fair hair on his legs and drew her gaze up. She swallowed at seeing his erection straining against green plaid boxers. It's not that she hadn't noticed it before. But now it was there, under one very thin piece of fabric. She heard him groan, and her eyes flew up in question.

" did this thing with your mouth," Peeta said quietly, voice tight.

Her lips were wet, and she realized she had been licking them. She smirked at him smugly. She was sitting half-naked in a room with the boy she loved, and she, admittedly, had to constantly suppress the urge to pull the sheet up or grab a shirt, but the way he was looking at her helped. A lot.

She was eager to feel his skin under her lips again, so she straddled his legs and leaned down to kiss his stomach. It was so warm and soft. He sucked in again and held it, and she wondered if it wasn't just an involuntary response; looking up to see his face screwed up anxiously confirmed this fear.

Katniss tickled his side, and his answering laugh made him release the breath he'd been holding. She kissed his stomach again before he could suck it back in. On a whim, she moved to lick along the line of his boxer shorts. Peeta whimpered quietly, and she looked up to find him biting his bottom lip.

"I like your freckles," she said.

Peeta gulped. "I like them right now, too."

Katniss laughed, and he reached down to tuck her long hair behind her ear before caressing her cheek.

"God," he said, staring her with awe again. Before she could think of something self-deprecating to say, he pulled her back up by her shoulders. She rested fully against his body, and she'd never been so warm in her life.

He kissed her deeply, but so slowly that she thought she was going to melt into his mouth with every decadent flick of his tongue. His hands were all over her back as if he couldn't touch enough of her skin. He flipped her on to her back before she could protest, settling between her legs again. They tried to continue their kiss, but they were both breathing so heavily, their hips moving restlessly against each other, that they had to break apart.

Her mouth went straight to his neck, biting at the skin with no thought to the marks she might leave behind, only the noises he was making, which were a variation of soft grunts and tortured groans. Peeta was holding himself up on one arm while his other hand was alternatively pinching at her nipple and then soothing it, all of which made Katniss moan throatily. When she sucked his earlobe into her mouth, he groaned loudly, and his hand flew to her hip, urging her hips even closer to his in their rocking motions.

Katniss threw her head back when he licked at the hollow of her throat. There was no space between them, but she still ran her hands down his back and under his boxers to grasp his ass and urge him closer. At this, Peeta let out a noise that was close to a growl and snatched her hand away. He then pulled her other hand from his shoulder and pinned them both down above her head, her arms stretched above her.

The movement shocked the breath out of her, but if anything, the commanding look in his eyes, practically daring her to move her arms, made her want him even more. Need coiled in her belly and she couldn't wait much longer to have him inside her.

His thinking must have been along similar lines, because he hooked his fingers in the side of her underwear. She swallowed; she knew she was embarrassingly wet, and her apprehension returned.

Peeta looked up to find her waiting patiently, albeit nervously, her hands still resting obediently above her head where he had left them. He dragged her underwear down her legs, and she lifted up in compliance. They were added to the pile of clothes on the floor.

It was his turn to lick his lips. He eyed her intently, and she tried hard not to squirm under his scrutiny. She wanted to make a joke or snap her fingers in front of his face. His comment about her being the star of all her fantasies came to mind, but this time, instead of being hugely turned on and flattered, she was scared shitless. What if she wasn't living up to the image in his head?

Peeta closed his eyes and took a deep shuddering breath. She eyed him uneasily.

"Are you okay?"

"I need a second," he said, lowering his body on top of hers, but this time careful not to let their lower halves touch. "You're incredible. More incredible than I ever imagined." He kissed up and down her neck insistently, as if he was drawing energy from it.

Then he shifted to lie on his side next to her. She tried to move her arms to cover herself or move closer to him, but he pinned them back with a strong hand.

"Keep them there," Peeta said in a deep voice that brokered no argument. She felt herself grow wetter, if that were possible.

As if he had read her thoughts, he let the hand grasping her wrists travel down one of her arms to her chest, over her stomach and down her pelvis to cup her sex. She sucked in a breath. His eyes lifted to hers, but there was no uncertainty in them, only heat. He moved his hand to dip two fingers inside her, dragging them through her folds without hesitation. Her eyes rolled back in her head, and his did the same. He groaned louder than she did.

"Fuuuuuck," he whispered. "You're so wet."

Katniss stiffened, and his fingers halted in response.

"No, that's sexy," he assured her. "It's really, really sexy. Jesus, Katniss, I love you."

"I love you, too," she said, the last word transforming into a moan as he moved his fingers again.

They traveled up and down as if searching for something, and she watched him study her face. Well, she tried to, at least, when her eyes weren't slipping shut in ecstasy.

"There!" she gasped when his fingers reached the hood of her clit. She was amazed she could even speak at this point, let alone have the guts to instruct him, but everything she did seemed to turn him on, and it made her feel incredibly powerful. Her hands scratched against the headboard behind her, and she wished she had one of those wrought-iron ones so she had something to hold onto.

He pressed down against her clit, and she mewled. He started to rub in small circles, and she moved her hips against his hand; he took this as a sign to go faster.

She wasn't sure how long she was moving restlessly against his deft fingers. When he replaced his fingers with his thumb against her nub, she barely registered it except to find she liked the added pressure. But then he moved his already wet fingers to her entrance and slid them in gently. She turned her head frantically to find him watching her. There was a question in his look, and she answered it by leaning closer to him and capturing his bottom lip between her teeth.

They kissed fiercely; she was so distracted by all the different sensations— all combining to cause warmth to spread through her limbs and converge in a fire at her center— that she didn't notice that his fingers were almost completely inside her. She began riding them, uncaring what she looked or sounded like, but then he pulled them out. She pulled back mid-kiss and scowled at him. Her familiar reaction made him smile, but he brought his fingers to his mouth and sucked on them for a moment, his eyes never leaving hers. Katniss' mouth dropped open.

Before she could lodge any protest, he had moved on top of her, sliding down her body so his face was at her center. Panic and uncertainty overtook her, and she finally moved her arms from above her head. But she was too slow. By the time her stiff arms reached his head to try to pull him away, he had licked between her folds from entrance to clit, and her hands clenched instinctively in his hair, holding his head there instead of pushing him away.

He licked at her swollen nub, and she panted, practically pulling out his hair. One hand reached down to claw at his back. She didn't know if he wanted her hands there or was angry that she'd moved them, but he never lifted his head to tell her otherwise. Instead, he sucked his clit between his lips, and she started moaning incoherently. The more he sucked—only pausing once in a while to lick her gently—the higher-pitched her moans became until they converged into a desperate shout of his name. She shuddered around his mouth, coming harder than she ever had before. He groaned in response, pulling back slightly but still licking her slowly until her body relaxed completely.

He crawled back up to her side and nuzzled her ear.

"Fuuuuuck," she said, amazed she hadn't lost her voice.

"Uh huh," he responded, and she could hear the smile in his voice even though she hadn't opened her eyes yet.

When she did, she found him looking at her with a ridiculously proud grin on his face.

"You sure you didn't learn that somewhere?" she asked, only half-serious.

"Only gross boy places, I promise," he said, scratching behind his ear sheepishly.

The stupid grin she couldn't wipe from her face was starting to hurt, but it didn't go away until she glanced down to see his erection.

"Oh!" she said, before she could stop herself. He looked at her in question. "I should, you know…I should have—" She looked meaningfully at his lap.

"No. No, that was for you. 'Cause I'm probably only gonna last about five seconds when we…" He gestured nervously. "You know, if we…"

Katniss laughed and reached up to kiss him. "Good to know."

This seemed to bolster him because he licked into her mouth, giving her a toe-curling kiss before pulling back. "I'm surprised I didn't already go off. That was the hottest thing I've ever fucking seen."

She tried not to preen, but it was getting increasingly difficult around him. He was good for her ego. She smacked him on the ass playfully. "You know, you have a dirty mouth."

"You have no idea," he said, stretching on top of her again, kissing every bit of skin he could reach.

He let his hips fall against hers this time; she was still ridiculously sensitive, so she whined a little, which made him pull his hips back. She took the opportunity to start pushing his boxers down over his ass. He bit his lip nervously but made no attempt to stop her. Once they were down to his knees, he pulled them off the rest of the way, kicking them off his feet.

She didn't have a wide knowledge of penises beyond softcore porn and some cursory Wikipedia searches, but he looked fairly impressive, almost enough to worry her about the pain. Also, it was Peeta. Unless it was two inches hard or had some weird curve to it, she couldn't see herself ever minding. Ever.

Before he could lower himself too much, she reached between them and grasped his cock in her hand. At this, he lowered anyway, groaning as if in agony. She was scared to even move her hand for fear of doing something wrong, but she knew the general motion guys used to get themselves off, so she tried to mimic that, curling her fingers around him and moving them slowly from base to tip, dragging her thumb along the underside, surprised at how soft the skin felt. He cursed softly in her ear. He was leaking slightly from the tip, but when she tried to rub it with her thumb, he reached down to remove her hand.

Her eyes lowered sheepishly, worried she had done something wrong, but he just lifted her chin to look at her.

"That was…too good," he panted. "Can we…I want to be inside you." He said it with a questioning lilt to his voice. She nodded quickly in response and opened her legs wider to let him settle between them.

Peeta was propped up on both arms, but she could see they were shaking slightly, whether with strain or nerves, she couldn't tell. She twisted her head to kiss his forearm quickly. He lifted that arm and moved it between them to grasp his cock. He dragged it between her folds, fumbling for a moment to find her entrance. It soothed her that he seemed as nervous as she was, but more than that, it was his face above hers— his face with the pink cheeks and white scar and furrowed blonde eyebrows—the made her feel so safe. In that moment, it felt like her love for him would choke her, and she couldn't wait to have him inside her so she could express it fully, let him feel it so deeply that it sunk into his skin.

Peeta pushed inside an inch, and she clenched in response. He tried to smile at her, but it came out as more of a grimace. Relax your muscles, relax your muscles, she chanted to herself, knowing the pain wouldn't be as acute if she could manage to do that. It was difficult; it seemed like a natural response to his entering her body, but she wanted him there too badly to stop.

He continued to inch in slowly, pulling back every few seconds to use her natural lubricant to aid the motion. Finally, when he was halfway there, she groaned at him to just do it, so he did. He thrust into her the rest of the way, and she cried out sharply while he failed to suppress a groan.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, dropping kisses all over her face and trying to remain still for her sake.

She throbbed and tried to adjust to the feeling of him inside her, but she had to remind herself to breathe and relax. His soft voice in her ear helped, whispering sweet things she barely registered. This made her think other things might help even more, so she opened her mouth for a deep kiss and moved his hand to her breast.

He was practically panting into her mouth and pleasure was spiking in her body again. She braced her feet against the mattress and pushed up slightly. Peeta broke away from her mouth with a loud groan and squeezed her breast roughly. She breathed deeply and he pulled out a fraction, before pushing back in. When he pulled out, it relieved some of the pressure, and when he pushed back in, the pain had seemed to lessen. She urged him to keep doing this, and she found that the fullness of him inside her gave her some sort of pleasurable relief, and when he grabbed her hip and lifted her up as he thrust in, he hit a spot that made her whine.

The sounds ripped from their mouths mingled with the squeaking of the bed, and Katniss thought she could do this with him forever.

Soon enough, she could feel his entire body shaking, and she knew he was close. She didn't think she'd be able to come again before he finished, but the feeling of his rough thrusts and the taste of the sweaty skin of his neck was enough to bring her very close. But she thought of the way he had buried his face between her legs, torturing her relentlessly with his mouth, and she wanted him to feel that.

"You feel so good," she moaned in his ear. He grunted and began thrusting even quicker, grabbing her thigh and pushing it out, flat against the mattress. The new angle made her call out. "I've thought about you like this, too," she continued, voice straining. "So many times."

At her words, he cried out and thrust into her two, three more times before releasing into her, his chest heaving, before his body dropped heavily on top of hers. She sighed in contentment. After a minute, he seemed to realize he was practically crushing her and rolled over to her side.

"You did it. You killed me," he said, still struggling for breath. She giggled, and though it was a rare sound for her, it seemed appropriate.

He turned to her and stretched out his arm. She immediately curled into his side, using his shoulder as a pillow. His hand moved soothingly through her hair.

"Are you okay? Was that—" She tried to answer, but he kept talking, "I mean, I know it hurt you…"

"Peeta," she said, covering his mouth with her fingers. "I'm fine. That was good. Really, really good."

He nipped at her fingers playfully but looked unconvinced. "But you didn't…you know, finish."

"No, but I did before. And that was…a good one. That'll last me a while," she said, smiling roguishly.

"It won't have to," he said, and though he wiggled his eyebrows playfully, her stomach still clenched in anticipation.

They laid together peacefully, staring at the ceiling while he caressed her hair, and she ran her hands up and down his chest; she'd never get used to the freedom of finally being able to touch him whenever, and wherever, she wanted.

Peeta turned to her to speak; she wasn't surprised. It was a miracle he had been silent this long.

"This was a really great first date," he said.

Laughter bubbled up in her throat, and soon she was laughing so freely that her whole body shook. Peeta seemed mesmerized by the movement at first, his eyes glued to her breasts, before he started to worry for her well-being. Tears were leaking from her eyes. He scrambled out of bed, and she was clutching her stomach; it ached from laughter. When she finally looked up and wiped the tears from her eyes, she found Peeta standing in the doorway with a glass of water. And he was fully dressed.

Her entire face contorted in confusion. He walked over and handed her the glass.

"If you think I'm not secretly terrified of Haymitch," he said, pulling his shirt over his head, "you're mistaken. Didn't want to risk running into him."

She rolled her eyes but didn't say anything when he started to undress again. It was just as enjoyable watching him get naked a second time. Katniss stood up to pull the covers back so they could climb in, and he couldn't keep his eyes off of her. She tugged him playfully into bed after her. He placed a kiss over her beating heart when they had settled in.

"You're so beautiful," he whispered. She rolled her eyes, but felt her cheeks warm in response.

"You're full of it," she responded, but before he could protest, she spoke again. "You're beautiful."

He tried to shrug it off playfully, but she could see the dimples forming in his cheeks. "I'm glad you think so," he said, pulling her tightly against his body.

"I've always thought so," she replied.

He nuzzled his nose against hers. She knew it would take a while for these things to sink in, for him to truly believe them, but now that she could say them freely, without worrying about revealing too much, she was going to do it until he had no choice but to take them in.

"You feel okay?" Peeta asked, kissing her skin like he was afraid she'd disappear if he broke the connection.

Katniss murmured a soft affirmation. "This has been a weird day," she said, recalling the start of it and wondering how only a few hours had passed when really, it felt like years.

"No shit. You know Marvel apologized to me today?"

"What?" she asked, lifting up on one arm. She had told David to do it, and she meant it, but she never expected he would take her seriously.

"Yeah. He didn't mean it, but it was nice, I guess," Peeta shrugged, smiling wryly. "He came up to me before detention."

"W-what?" she asked, her voice stuttering with a laugh. She tried to control it when he glared at her, but she couldn't help it— the idea of Peeta in detention was ridiculous.

"Yeah, well. Mr. Hallman sent me there for 'being disruptive' and 'using offensive language,'" he said, making exaggerated air quotes.

"Well, you were pretty offensive," she replied.

Peeta eyed her carefully like he was trying to gauge whether she was joking or not. She lifted her mouth in a half-smile. His behavior had been mortifying, but she figured she had punished him enough. Neither of them ever relished being the center of attention, positive or negative.

"Anyway," he said, smacking her ass lightly so that she squeaked. "He said he was, 'Sorry or whatever for, like, being a dick.'" Peeta's impression was terrible, but he seemed more intent on making Marvel sound like a moron than aiming for accuracy.

"I think I preferred the air quotes," she quipped, but he merely raised an eyebrow at her and ignored it.

"Know what might have sparked that turnaround?" he questioned seriously.

"I dunno," she said coyly, running her fingers down his chest, making him jump. "I think it's you he's been after this whole time."

"Very funny." His voice was low, and she found she enjoyed the sound of it far too much. But jealousy was more appealing in theory than in practice, she was quickly coming to find.

"I told him it wasn't okay for him to be nice to me and a dick to you," she confessed. "That you didn't deserve it, and, no matter what his reasons, he should apologize. I didn't think he'd take me seriously."

"He wants to get in your pants," Peeta said for the second time that day. She rolled her eyes.

"Well, there isn't any more room in this bed," she replied, crossing her arms over his chest and propping her chin there to look up at him.

He smiled like a guilty little boy, red appearing in his cheeks. She narrowed her eyes at him.

"Thank you, Katniss," he said sincerely. "For...thank you."

She just kissed his skin in response.

Peeta ran his fingers over her back and studied her face like he was on stolen time. Katniss realized this was going to take more than a day (and more than good sex) to smooth over. But she was more than willing to put the work in.

"Don't you think we have something to discuss?" she asked.

His face fell, and he looked like he was bracing himself for a chastisement or, worse, for her to call the whole thing off. She only felt mildly guilty for teasing him.

"These 'fantasies' you talked about?" His ears turned red. "They wouldn't happen to be inspired by any of those 'gross boy things' you mentioned, would they?"

"Well," he drawled, choosing his words carefully. "One of those things is infinitely better and sexier than the other." She willed herself not to blush at another one of his compliments. "But I'd be lying if I said the ideas didn't overlap. My mind is a complicated labyrinth, after all."

"Uh huh," she snorted. "You're a perv."

"Oh, so you're not interested in hearing about these fantasies?" She bit the side of her lip, and he grinned in triumph. "Because I was thinking we could make, like, a day of the week calendar and just assign specific ideas—"

She managed to forcefully pull the pillow out from under his head before smacking him with it. The effect his words had on her body was completely immaterial.

Katniss woke up several hours later. The room was dark, and it took her a second to register everything, but the first thing she noted was the soreness between her legs, followed by the feeling of the warm sheet against her naked body. A smile spread across her face, but when she reached for him, he wasn't there. Noises came floating up from downstairs, like dishes clanking. She had a strong urge to wear his clothes, but she found only hers carelessly strewn across the floor. Instead of putting back on her jeans, she threw them in the laundry and got a pair of cotton shorts from her drawer before stepping into them and pulling her shirt back over her head. She thudded down the stairs happily, stopping short when she rounded the corner to find Peeta (fully dressed, thank god) checking something in the oven, and Prim sitting at the kitchen table doing homework. They were laughing about something, and Katniss forced a neutral expression to her face.

Peeta and Prim both looked up at her when she entered, but she merely walked past them both to grab a soda from the fridge. She turned to find them both watching her.

"What's up?" she asked casually. Prim snorted and rolled her eyes before going back to her homework. Peeta just beamed at her.

She walked over to lean against the counter next to him.

"Knock it off," she said lowly, through clenched teeth.


"Get that look off your face," she warned, eyeing Prim over his shoulder, who looked to be studying her homework way too intently.

"What look?" Peeta asked innocently before the grin returned to his face.

"The I've-seen-you-naked look. Prim's gonna think something's up," she whispered harshly.

"I think the ship has sailed on that one," he staged-whispered so loudly that Prim giggled. Katniss scowled at him.

"What did he tell you?" She narrowed her eyes at Prim.

"He didn't have to tell me anything! He was all smiley, even more than he usually is around you," she said. Peeta conveniently took this moment to busy himself by the oven. "He was singing to himself and everything. It was painful—"

"Hey!" Peeta cut in.

"Besides, I know you wouldn't have let him in the house if you hadn't made up...and more, looks like," Prim added under her breath.

"Maybe you should do your homework somewhere else," Katniss said, using a hard look that Prim knew better than to argue with.

"Ugh, fine!" Prim snapped, but she was unable to keep the smirk off her face. "You two can be gross in here together. I don't wanna watch, anyway." She packed up her books, but Katniss didn't miss the wink Peeta sent her before she left the room.

Katniss gulped her soda, trying not to feel mortified by the whole situation. God, she hoped Prim only assumed that "gross" things included kissing with tongue.

"I have seen you naked, by the way." At his voice, her face snapped to his, which bore an insufferably smug expression. "There's nothing my face can do about that. It's just gonna react."

"You better be making something amazing because, otherwise, you can high tail it out of here. You've served your purpose."

"I'll be your sex slave," he returned easily. "You think I mind?"

"Keep your voice—"

Peeta cut her off with a kiss. It sucked the breath out of her. He kissed her like he'd been waiting years to do it, which she supposed he had. It made her body go liquid. When he brought up one oven-mitted hand to her face, she laughed into his mouth and smacked him away.

"I'm making you cupcakes," he told her.

"Oh, for god's sake."

"Hey, I'm gonna make you this stupid cupcake...or really, a whole batch of them. You're gonna eat it, and I'm washing my hands of the whole thing. You're never getting another baked good from me again."

"Uh huh," she yawned, putting her chin on his shoulder after he pulled the cupcakes from the oven. He reached back to rub his hand up and down her bare thigh.

She lifted the hem of her shirt up to scratch her belly but paused when she saw a black mark on her hip. She read the letters upside down.


"Peeta...what the hell did you do to my body?"

"You want a refresher?" he quipped, and she flicked his ear. "You're a heavy sleeper, and I didn't have a needle and ink."

She jumped on his back without warning, making him yell out, and she collapsed in a fit of laughter; he just narrowly missed knocking over the cupcakes. She was going to eat one of those stupid things if it killed her. She just wanted to snap a picture of it first, once he had iced it. For posterity. He really was amazing with his hands.

Thanks so much to everyone who read, reviewed, favorited, harassed me on Tumblr. ;) Truly, your support meant the world and you made my first WIP a really great experience.

A huge final thanks to misshoneywell, without whom this fic wouldn't exist...literally. It was her idea that inspired it and she was kind enough to let me run with it. Her feedback (and constant stream of good ideas) is invaluable. Also, a huge thank you to atetheredmind for beta'ing. She did a lot of work in a short period of time and my sentences would be a hell of a lot more awkward without her. :)

I'm at pearlofkatniss on Tumblr if y'all wanna chill.