"You're gonna come over early to help get everything ready tonight, right?"

Peeta looked around, surprised, as Finnick came barreling toward him seemingly from nowhere while he was walking past the cafeteria on his way from American History to Art.

"What?" he asked, hiking his book bag higher up on his shoulder. He shrugged, but didn't tell Finnick that he wasn't even sure if he wanted to go to the party at all. "No, I wasn't planning on it."

Finnick had never asked him to come to his house and help out before a party; he didn't get why he should start now. Sure, he had gone early to hang out and to pre-game on a couple of occasions, but Finnick didn't need help setting up. He was pretty sure there was an ulterior motive there and he was suspicious.

"Come on, dude!" Finnick pleaded, slinging a heavy arm around Peeta's shoulders.

"Why?" Peeta said, shrugging Finnick's arm off and looking over to watch his friend's face closely. "What do you possibly need to get ready? Make sure your stereo system is up and running and lay all the alcohol out on the table. Takes like five minutes. If that."

"I know," Finnick said in a pained voice, and Peeta knew he was about to find out the real reason that Finnick wanted him there early. He feared Finnick needed help cleaning his house despite the cleaning service his aunt paid to come by twice a week. "But people aren't coming until nine and I told Annie's dad I would pick her up at seven."

"So?" That was even less motivation for Peeta to go over early than the idea of cleaning Finnick's aunt's mansion. Two hours of being a third wheel? Sign me up!

"So, that's two whole hours alone in my house!" Finnick exclaimed, stopping and turning Peeta to face him. Peeta almost smiled at the panic that showed clearly on his friend's face as he whispered, "What am I gonna do with her?"

"Finn, you have never had a problem coming up with things to do alone with a girl for two hours," he pointed out.

"I know, but it's not the same," Finnick insisted. "She isn't like that."

"Finn," Peeta said, but stopped himself before he could continue. What could he possibly say? Finnick was right; Annie wasn't like all the other girls Finnick had gone out with. She was special. He was glad Finnick recognized that.

"No, Peeta. I don't just want to spend two hours coming on to her and making out with her," Finnick said. "I mean, I do eventually. But tonight I want to talk to her. Just…"

"Then talk to her," Peeta said simply and started moving down the hall again.

"For two hours?" Finnick exclaimed incredulously, like the idea of just talking to a girl for two hours was the most absurd thing he'd ever heard. Peeta just nodded as Finnick trailed along behind him. "About what?!"

"About your childhood," Peeta suggested, glancing back at Finnick, who looked impressed, like he could never have come up with that topic on his own. Peeta rolled his eyes and kept rattling off generic first date conversation suggestions. "About her friends before she moved here. About swimming, for God's sake. You're both swimmers! Dude, just ask her questions. And let her ask you questions. Talk about movies. Hell, you can even watch a movie if you don't want to have to fill all that space with conversation. You have two hours. Do whatever comes to mind."

"But it would be so much easier to talk to her if you were there, Peet. She's comfortable around you. She likes you; she would talk around you," Finnick said pleadingly. Peeta was sure that Finnick would be batting his eyelashes and trying to seduce his acquiescence from him if Peeta were a girl.

"Dude, she likes me, but she likes you," Peeta said. "And I am not hanging around you guys while you're on a date! I'm sorry, but I'm not doing it!" Peeta shook his head firmly while Finnick continued to pout at him. "Look, man. You are the most easygoing guy I know. You can talk to anyone. What's so intimidating about Annie?"

"I like her. Peet, I could barely ask her out. I almost stuttered," he said quietly, leaning closer to Peeta conspiratorially.

"I'm sorry," Peeta choked, turning to face him full on. "Did you say you almost stuttered? How exactly do you almost stutter?"

"I couldn't think for a minute there and I got all choked up and I almost started stuttering and stammering and going all shy. That doesn't happen to me! I don't think I like it!" Finnick said, his voice going high and taking on a slightly manic tone.

"Well…" Peeta trailed off, enjoying the image of his confident and cocky friend tripping over his words talking to a pretty girl.

"Stop it," Finnick said, backhanding Peeta in the chest. "I know you're imaging me losing my cool with her. Stop it now." Peeta only laughed for what must have been the first time since Sunday. Finnick sighed and rolled his shoulders. "Are you sure you don't want to come over early? You don't even have to come at seven. How about eight?"

"Dude, I don't even know if I'm going to your party," Peeta admitted.

"What?" Finnick exclaimed, stopping in his tracks and staring at Peeta like he had just made some truly awful and shocking confession, like maybe he had five kids he hadn't told anyone about. "Dude, why? No, you have to come!"

"Finn, I just don't feel like partying," he said, looking imploringly at his friend.

Please let me off the hook, please don't make me come out tonight, he thought.

"So you're going to spend your Friday night moping instead?" Finnick said, and Peeta knew he wasn't going to win this argument. Still, he argued for argument's sake.

"I don't mope," he grumbled, though he knew that was exactly what he had been doing, locked up in his bedroom, only leaving to eat, shower, work and go to school.

"Please, you've done nothing but mope all week," Finnick said.

"Dude, I convinced Annie to give you a shot," Peeta pointed out, though he wasn't sure if that counted as not moping.

"Okay, I'll give you that one solely because I owe you for it, but other than that, tell me one non-mopey activity you've gotten into," Finnick insisted.

"I've… been… busy with homework," Peeta said lamely. He knew it wouldn't work before the words had even left his mouth.

"Really? Homework is the best you got? Dude, you're coming to my party tonight. You have no choice," Finnick said authoritatively, clapping Peeta on the shoulder.

"Finnick," Peeta pleaded.

"No, Peeta. I need you there," Finnick said before Peeta even had the chance to try to worm his way out of the party again. "Who else can I trust to make sure no assholes fuck up my house when I bring Annie home at midnight? Oh, yeah, that's one of Mr. Cresta's rules. Midnight curfew."

"Hey, at least he didn't say ten," Peeta said somewhat grudgingly. He really wished Finnick would just let him get away with not going to this one party.

"Shit, man, you're right. That would have sucked. Hey, I gotta run. I'm gonna be late for Physics," Finnick said hurriedly. "You're coming to my party tonight. I won't take no for an answer."

"Sure. See you," Peeta said as Finnick turned and rushed off down the hall. Maybe by the time the party started, Finnick would be so distracted after spending two hours alone with Annie that he would forget all about Peeta. Maybe he could get away with not going to his party after all.

Peeta turned the corner by the library and caught sight of a familiar head of long, silky blond hair at a locker about halfway down the hall.

"Hey, Prim," he said as he neared her.

Katniss' little sister glanced over her shoulder at the sound of her name, saw him, and immediately turned back to her open locker, her face taking on an expression that wasn't really a glare, but came too close for Peeta's liking.

"Prim? Hey, is everything okay?" Peeta frowned when Prim acted like she hadn't heard him. "What's going on?"

He didn't get it. He and Prim had always gotten along really well; it was almost like she was his own little sister. He didn't like the fact that she seemed to be upset with him. Wondering if it had anything to do with Katniss, he took a step closer to her so that he could speak quietly.

"Prim, listen. Anything going on with me and Katniss doesn't need to affect you," he murmured close to her ear. Prim just continued emptying her messenger bag of books and stacking them inside her locker. "Please talk to me?" he said.

Prim took a book out of her locker and shoved it into her bag just as another voice called from down the hall.

"Hey, Prim!" a tall, dark-haired boy raised his voice as he jogged down the hall towards them. Peeta eyed him just as the younger boy looked him up and down suspiciously as he drew near; he looked vaguely familiar. "You ready to go?"

"Oh, yeah, Rory. I just need my geometry textbook and then we can go study," Prim said with a brilliant smile at the tall boy standing beside her. She tossed her silky hair over her shoulder and Peeta frowned at what he perceived as a flirtatious move.

"Seriously, Prim? Are you just not going to talk to me at all?" he said angrily. "Just going to pretend I don't exist?"

Her little boyfriend – Rory, apparently – stepped closer to her, glaring suspiciously at Peeta. "What's going on? Is everything okay?"

Prim laid a hand on Rory's arm and nodded. "Everything's fine," she told him with a reassuring smile before she glared at Peeta and turned to slam her locker shut. "He's just my sister's jackass friend."

She started to stalk off down the hall with Rory, but Peeta called out to her again.

"Really, Prim? I don't think you're being very fair to me," he said, not bothering to disguise the hurt in his voice. He really thought Prim considered him a big brother.

Prim whirled around and put her hands on her hips, surveying him angrily as Rory looked on from beside her, completely confused. "Oh, I'm sorry, Peeta," she said in a faux-sweet voice that had Peeta cringing. "Does it hurt your feelings to be ignored? Huh, and I'm just your best friend's kid sister. Or, is she even your friend anymore? Because she has no idea, and it's killing her. You self-righteous asshat."

Peeta stood there in the middle of the hall staring after Prim with his mouth hanging open in shock. The tardy bell rang and he groaned, snapping his mouth shut as he turned and set off down the hall to his class. The Everdeen girls were going to kill him before he graduated high school.

He was so impossibly tired, and he had been all week. It wasn't even a particularly busy week; he only had wrestling practice twice and he'd only worked at the bakery after school once this week. Really, he shouldn't have been so tired. He had experienced far more strenuous weeks than this past one and retained a significant amount more energy than he currently had.

As soon as he got home, he threw himself on the couch, turned on the TV, and slept. And, sleeping, dreamed.

He was at a restaurant, with Katniss sitting across from him holding his hand in the middle of the table around their half-eaten plates of food. Her hair was loose and wavy, having been released from its braid moments before they left the house to come eat and her face was lightly made up. She was, without a doubt, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

She was gazing across at him with adoration, her expression gentler and more affectionate than he had ever seen it in real life. A slow smile stretched across her lips that had Peeta's heart beating faster. He felt his lips stretch to mirror hers without any conscious effort on his part as her hand contracted in his briefly.

"What do you say we get out of here?" Suddenly, the table was clear as Katniss leaned her upper body just a couple inches closer to him across the table with a coy grin. Peeta felt himself leaning in as well, his cock reacting to the intentionally seductive tone of her voice.

"Definitely." He grinned broadly, pushing quickly to his feet and offering his hand to her, but they were already home. It wasn't his father's house or her parents' house, but somewhere else entirely, somewhere distinctly theirs.

They were on the couch watching a movie, but Peeta wasn't paying much attention to what was happening on screen. He was obsessed with the feel of her next to him, her shoulder leaning into his chest, her head on his shoulder, her hand clasped with his on his lap, the soft skin of her shoulder sending an arousing shock of energy through his bare arm that was wrapped warmly around her.

Slowly shifting the arm around her shoulder down behind her, he ran his hand down her bare arm, smirking to feel the goosebumps rising on her skin. Reaching her hand, he covered the top of it with his own and threaded his fingers through hers, grinning at the feel of the diamond ring pressing into his palm over her left ring finger. He lifted the hands they had joined in his lap, and brought hers to his lips. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Katniss shift her head to watch him, her chin resting on his shoulder. Smiling slightly, he shifted his lips along the line of her arm, lightly nibbling at her skin.

"Are you trying to seduce me?" she whispered when he had run out of room to maneuver his neck and met her eyes hungrily, his mouth still pressed to her skin.

"Why? Is it working?" He lifted his head and grinned at her. Katniss grinned right back and lunged for him.

Then they were in bed, both naked. Katniss was on top of him, her legs spread wide over his abdomen as she grasped his hands tightly in hers and held them out to the side and leaned down to press her lips to his. Peeta smirked against her triumphant grin and rolled over on top of her, pressing her back into the mattress. Katniss rolled her eyes at him, but smiled and released his hands to run her fingers through his shaggy curls.

Peeta kissed her lips quickly, then began to kiss a line down her neck. His kisses grew slower and longer the further down he moved, until he pulled her pebbled nipple into his mouth and laved his tongue over the sensitive purple bud. Katniss moaned and shifted beneath him, pressing her hips up against his. Peeta lifted his hips away playfully and moved to her other breast, scraping his teeth lightly against the tip. He sucked it into his mouth and dragged his tongue against her flesh a few times before he pulled away and placed a light kiss on her breast and moved on down her body.

He reached her waist and sat back on his heels, looking up into Katniss' face. Her chest was heaving and she was staring at him, a wild look in her quicksilver eyes as she stared down at him. Peeta grinned, delighted as always with the effect he had on her, and dragged his hands down her body to pry her thighs apart.

Licking his lips, he let his gaze slide slowly downward.

He was in the same restaurant again, but he was alone this time, picking at a plate of pasta as he studied a notebook in front of him. He was doing the books for the bakery in the middle of an expensive restaurant.

"Peeta?" a hesitant voice said.

He looked up from his work and gazed up at a beautiful woman in a deep purple dress through black-rimmed glasses.

"Katniss?" He gaped up at the girl he had loved in high school, suddenly a woman he hadn't seen in almost a decade, and closed the book hastily, pointing to the empty seat in front of him. "Would… would you like to sit?"

"Oh. No, thanks. My fiancé is actually waiting for me." Katniss gestured toward a table on the other side of the restaurant. Peeta recognized the scowling, suspicious man with the dark hair and handsome face.

"Gale Hawthorne?" he said, trying to ignore the way his heart suddenly ached in his chest.

"Well, yeah. After you and I sort of… fell apart, Gale and I got close again," she explained. "It took a while for him to convince me to give it another go because I was so heartbroken over you, but –"

Peeta's heart gave an unpleasant lurch. "What? Heartbroken? Over me?"

"Yeah." Katniss hesitated, then shrugged as if deciding that she probably would never get another chance to tell him how she had felt. "I was practically in love with you, but you just stopped talking to me after I kissed you. I tried to explain it to you, but you never really gave me the chance."

Peeta stared at her, horrified. She had loved him? She wanted to be with him? But that was what he wanted, too. After an awkward moment, he forced a laugh.

"Huh, I was half in love with you in high school, too."

"Well, I guess things work out for the best, don't they?" Katniss gave a short chuckle and shook her head. "If we had gotten together then, I might not have ever gotten back together with Gale. And you! You might not have gone on to open the most successful bakery in the country! Congratulations, by the way."

"Thanks." Peeta nodded, but he felt ill. He could have had a successful relationship with the woman of his dreams if he had only given her the chance to talk to him. Instead, he had a successful business and a steady rotation of gold-digging women sharing his bed. "Congratulations to you, too, by the way. Engaged. Wow."

"Thank you!" Katniss smiled weakly at him and glanced over her shoulder to see Gale watching them closely. "Well, I should probably get back. It's our anniversary."

"Oh. Yeah." Peeta nodded. "It was nice to see you again, Katniss."

"You too, Peeta!" she said, and was gone.

He was in the cafeteria at school, sitting next to Katniss at their crowded lunch table. She was biting her lip and looking around, clearly distressed.

"Look, Peeta," she said. "I just… I didn't realize you felt that way."

His heart beat wildly in his chest.

"I just thought we could have some fun together," she continued, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. "But I really didn't think you would want to actually… be together."

The cafeteria was more packed than Peeta had ever seen it before, but there wasn't a sound except for Katniss' heartbreaking explanation. He looked around; the entire school was staring right back at him, their expressions varying from cruelly amused to pitying.

Peeta shot up to a sitting position on the couch in his father's house. He felt sick to his stomach, lightheaded and clammy all over. Glancing around, he saw that everything looked the same as it did in reality, but still he pinched himself hard just to be sure he was really awake. His whole body jolted from the pain and he hissed, but lowered himself to lie down again, covering his face in his hands.

"Fucking dreams," he grumbled, rubbing his eyes.

His phone chimed in his pocket and he blinked, suddenly noticing that it had gone dark outside. His dad walked out of the kitchen as he was fishing his phone out of his pocket.

"Oh, good. You're awake. Your phone rang a couple times, but you slept right through it," he said and Peeta nodded groggily.

Glancing at his phone, he groaned to see that it was already 9:05. He had slept five fucking hours and he didn't feel even slightly rested. And he had a missed call and two texts from Finnick. Just great.

The first one, from almost half an hour ago, read Party time!

The second one, from just a few minutes ago, said I'm not shitting around, Peeta. You'd better show tonight. You can't mope forever.

He assumed that the first partygoers must have arrived for Finnick to realize that Peeta was late. Even when he didn't go over early to hang out before a party, Peeta was always the first one over.

"Hey, isn't Finnick having a party tonight?" his dad said, his voice suddenly very near to Peeta.

"Uh, yeah. It just started," he said, gesturing to his phone. "That's why he's been trying to reach me."

"You're going, aren't you?" His dad was watching him, his mouth drawn and his eyebrows furrowed. Peeta hated to see the worry on his father's face.

"I don't particularly feel like it," he said, "but Finn will kill me if I don't."

"Well, I think it'll be good for you to go out and have some fun after this week." He didn't say it, but Peeta could tell from his father's tone that he agreed with Finnick and thought that Peeta had been moping all week.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm going." Grumbling, Peeta shoved to his feet and started to trudge his way to the stairs, tapping out a text to Finnick on his way: I'll be there soon. I have to shower.

A little more than half an hour later, Peeta was walking up the steps to Finnick's aunt's house, which was really more of a mansion than anything else. Although only the two of them lived there, Aunt Mags' house boasted nine bedrooms, three sitting rooms, two dining rooms, two living rooms, a library, and seven full bathrooms, not to mention the indoor swimming pool and the basement equipped with its own kitchen and a wide variety of methods of entertainment: pool table, ping pong table, Wii, and Xbox, and PlayStation, and a state-of-the-art home theatre system. When Aunt Mags had learned that she was inheriting her young nephew, it could be argued that she went a little overboard preparing for his arrival.

There weren't as many people inside as Peeta had expected there to be, but then, you could never really get an accurate reading on how many people were in Finnick's house thanks to the sheer overwhelming size of it. He passed through the foyer where a few people were milling around, glanced in the first sitting room, but didn't see Finnick, so he passed on through to the living room. A quick glance-through told him that Finnick wasn't in the living room, either, so he headed for the kitchen.

A couple of people called out greetings to him as he passed through, and Peeta nodded wordlessly, not even taking the time to register who was speaking. The only reason he was even at this damn party was because Finnick had made him come; he wasn't about to spend hours talking to people he had no interest in. If anything, he would find Finnick, say hi just to show his face, then disappear to the basement –Finnick always made sure to keep people out of the basement when he threw parties so they didn't wreck any of the ridiculously expensive stuff there– for a few hours until Finnick got back from bringing Annie home, and then he was leaving. With any luck, he would be home and in his bed by 12:30.

"Peet!" Finnick shouted as soon as Peeta stepped into the kitchen. He and Annie were standing at the sink; she was running a paper towel under the faucet as Finnick leaned against the counter right next to the sink facing her, and the door.

"Hey, guys." Peeta glanced around the kitchen. There were only a few other people Peeta recognized from school in the kitchen, but they were all on the other side of the room fixing drinks and paid no attention as Peeta walked over to Finnick to clasp hands with him in greeting. "Sorry I'm late. I fell asleep when I got home. What's going on?"

"Annie knocked my Coke right out of my hands a minute ago and it spilled all over her jeans." Finnick grinned at Peeta, winking. "She can't keep her hands off me."

"Shut up." Annie rolled her eyes, her cheeks blushing a beautiful pink as she turned around and started dabbing at the large, wet brown spot on her left thigh. Finnick just beamed down at her and swung his arm over her shoulders, pulling her into his side. Annie squeaked quietly as she fell against him, taking a moment to spare him a flirty glare before she continued dabbing at her jeans. "How's it going, Peeta?"

"Alright." Peeta shrugged as he studied his two friends. Their closeness only made Peeta feel lonelier. He hated that he felt sorry for himself more than happy for the two of them. "I guess you guys had a good pre-party date. You look pretty cozy."

Annie and Finnick looked at each other and made identical faux-grossed-out faces before laughing lightly. Peeta forced himself to smile when they turned back to him.

"It was pretty good." Finnick's nonchalant shrug, combined with the way Annie's adoring look mirrored Finnick's, told Peeta that it was more than 'pretty good.'

"Awesome." He cleared his throat. "Well, I'm gonna go mingle and leave you two… to it."

"Oh, you don't have to!" Annie smiled widely at him. "We'd love to hang out with you!"

"Yeah, no. I just saw some people out there that I haven't talked to in a while," Peeta lied. When Annie turned to throw away the paper towel, he gave Finnick a look that told him quite clearly that he still refused to be their third wheel. Finnick rolled his eyes at him as Annie turned back to face them; Peeta forced the smile back onto his face and started backing out of the kitchen. "See you guys around."

He started to make his way through the living room towards the basement, but stopped when he caught sight of a long, dark braid. He started to walk over to her, deciding that it was time they should work this shit out already, but his insides clenched when he saw the tall, dark mass of testosterone walking along behind her. He immediately wheeled around and stalked back into the kitchen.

"What the fuck is Hawthorne doing here?" he demanded. Finnick and Annie both looked up with wide eyes, apparently surprised by his sudden change of attitude.

"What?" Finnick asked, stepping toward Peeta.

"Gale fucking Hawthorne," he hissed. "What is he doing here?"

"Uh, I don't know." Finnick shrugged, and Peeta believed him, but that did nothing to dispel his rage. "He and Kat are friends, aren't they? She probably asked him to come."

"Yeah, and what is she doing here?" Peeta ignored the voice in his head that told him he had been almost happy to see her a minute ago, before he spotted Gale.

"Well, she is my friend. And, as this is my party, I wanted her here," Finnick said firmly.

"You know I don't want to talk to her," Peeta said through gritted teeth. He didn't know why he was so angry. For one, the sight of Hawthorne after that messed up dream of his only served to piss him off. He also just didn't like feeling like his friends were conspiring against him and trying to corner him into doing something he wasn't sure he wanted to do. And he especially didn't like seeing him standing at Katniss' shoulder like a fucking bodyguard or boyfriend or fucking fiancé.

"Yeah, well maybe this isn't about you, Peeta. Maybe I wanted to hang out with all of my friends tonight," Finnick said, stepping back to Annie's side. "Like it or not, Peet, you're not my only friend. And just because you're cutting someone out of your life doesn't mean I'm cutting them out too."

"That's completely..." Peeta sputtered, at a loss for words. "That's be- that's beside the point."

"Is it really, Peeta? Well then, please, inform me. What exactly is the point?"

Peeta didn't know what the point was. He didn't even know if there was a point, other than the fact that he was insanely jealous of Gale Hawthorne. There was no way in hell he was admitting that, so he just turned around and stalked across the kitchen to fix himself a drink.

He poured a significant amount of Jack in a red cup with ice and added just a splash of Coke and left the kitchen. He didn't look up from the brown liquid in his cup, sloshing precariously close to the lip of his cup, as he practically sprinted for the basement door that led to his solitude.

He had planned on watching a bit of TV, or maybe playing a little Skyrim or a solo game of pool, but instead of any of that, he sat on the cold, hard ground in Finnick's dark basement and drank and brooded.

Stupid Gale Hawthorne had to show up at Finnick's party with Katniss less than an hour after Peeta's dream that he had stolen Katniss from him. What a fucking prick.

Oh, shut up, Peeta thought to himself. She isn't yours. You've seen to that yourself.

She doesn't want to be mine anyway, said a dark voice in his head. Peeta scowled and took a large gulp of Jack. Since he hadn't stirred the Coke in, it had all stayed on top of the Jack and was gone after his first sip. Now he was pretty much drinking straight alcohol.

And how the fuck do you know what she wants? You won't talk to her.

She could have tried harder.

How? You've been avoiding her, you idiot! She's texted you eleven fucking times and you haven't replied! Did you want her to show up at your work? Oh, wait, she actually did that. You just weren't there. How about your house? Did you want her to show up at your house and beg you to listen?

Yes, he thought.

No, you didn't. You would have turned her away, said the voice he decided to label Good Peeta. You didn't want anything to do with her. You didn't want to hear from her.

It hasn't even been a week. She's a whore for being with Hawthorne already. He decided to call this voice Bad Peeta.

They're friends, asshat, Good Peeta thought. And since you were so careful to see to it that there was never anything going on between you anyway, there would be nothing wrong with her being with him anyway.

She used me. Bad Peeta was a little bitch, but he had a point.

You don't know that. Okay, maybe Good Peeta had a fair point too.

I don't want to talk to her, Bad Peeta said stubbornly.

I need to talk to her, Peeta thought reasonably.

I just want to talk to her, he admitted to himself.

"I also want the voices in my head to go the fuck away," he said aloud, discarding his suddenly empty cup and pressing the heels of his hands to his eyelids as his head spun. He was so fucked. And he really needed to piss already. Shit.

He struggled to his feet and stumbled up the stairs, fumbling for the doorknob in the dark. And also probably because he was already kind of drunk, but he was going to blame the darkness.

Finally getting the door open, he squinted in the sudden light of the living room and headed for the hall bathroom. He was going to be pissed if there was already someone in there. Much to his relief, the knob turned when he grasped it and there was no one inside.

When he left the bathroom, he went back to the kitchen to fix himself another drink.

"Peet." Finnick's voice sounded from across the room, cautious and worried.

"What?" he said without turning around. He made another Jack and Coke with similar proportions to his first one, then stuck his finger in the cup and swirled it around for a few seconds.

"Dude, are you already drunk?" Peeta didn't like the judgmental tone in Finnick's voice.

"No, I'm not." He sucked his finger into his mouth, licking the Jack and Coke off of himself as he started to make his way back to the basement. He was too busy brooding to deal with people, damn it.

"Peeta." A firm hand on his shoulder turned him around. Already slightly unsteady on his feet, Peeta stumbled and his drink sloshed over the lip of the cup. Peeta sighed and looked up at Finnick. "You've been gone less than half an hour and you come back drunk? What the fuck is wrong with you?"

"It's a party, dude. Chill!"

"That would be fine if you were actually partying and not sitting alone in my basement."

Finnick wasn't supposed to judge him; Finnick was supposed to be his friend and support him even when he did stupid stuff. Peeta didn't like this Finnick. He started to say as much, but stopped short when he saw who stood behind Finnick.

There was Annie, of course, looking worried and a bit scared. Next to her, Katniss stood staring at him sadly. Johanna, Madge, and Gale were all there as well, but they didn't appear to be paying much attention to him, engrossed instead in their own conversation.

"Well," Peeta said shortly. "Don't let me interrupt. Get back to your many friends."

He walked away and had the door to the basement open already when he heard Finnick call his name again. Finnick followed him down into the basement and flicked on the light as Peeta threw himself down on the couch.

"No, really, I wouldn't want you to think you had to entertain me. I know I'm not your only friend, so get back to all your great friends, Mr. Popular." Peeta was conflicted. He didn't want to be mean to Finnick, but he didn't want to be badgered about Katniss anymore.

"Oh, cut your shit, Peeta," Finnick growled. "You've been a real pain in the ass all week."

"Well, then why don't you just cut me out?" Peeta suggested with a careless shrug. It was what he wanted, to just be left alone.

"That's your gig, not mine." Finnick made a sweeping gesture towards the door and Peeta looked up to see Katniss and Annie standing at the foot of the stairs watching them unsurely.

"Are you fucking kidding me, Finn?" He finally exploded, jumping to his feet and stepping towards Finnick. "Can't you just leave it alone? I don't want to deal with this! What did you do? Beg her to come so you could all team up on me?"

"Shut the hell up, Peeta," Finnick snapped, throwing his hands up. "You're being a fucking prick and you know it. You want to work this out. You want to hear what she has to say. So give her a God damn chance!"

"You're a real jackass, you know that?" Peeta growled, clenching his fist. "You just have to get involved where you don't belong!"

"You're shitting me, right, dude? You're the one who dragged me out of my bed at five in the damn morning on Monday to bitch about it!" Finnick's breath was coming quick and Peeta knew he was getting really mad. He should back down and let them both cool down, but he didn't want to.

"If I could take it back, I would. I didn't realize you would be on my dick to be a little bitch about this."

"But you are being a little bitch, Peeta," Finnick shouted. "You're acting like something horribly offensive happened, but there was nothing, nothing offensive there. If you would just listen, you would be fine. Everything would be fine. But, no, you're determined to be a whiny little bitch and block it all out."

"Please, just stop!"

Peeta turned around at the sound of Katniss' voice. He had almost forgotten she and Annie were watching them. She had taken a step toward them. Annie quickly darted to Finnick's side when Peeta turned his attention to Katniss.

"No, I'm pissed off!" Peeta shouted at her.

"Then I'll go, okay? I'll go and you don't need to be pissed off anymore!" Katniss exclaimed, moving closer so that she was standing a couple feet away from him. She was so goddamn beautiful it made his chest ache. "I'll leave here and I won't try to talk to you again and I'll pretend we were never friends, okay? That's what you want, isn't it? I'll do it, just stop this nonsense because Finnick doesn't deserve your shit."

No, that's not what I want, Good Peeta, real Peeta, thought. But he wasn't Good Peeta at the moment. He was Angry Peeta. He was Irrational Peeta.

"Yes, that would be great! Stop fucking texting me and stop staring at me at school and stop trying to talk to me!" He didn't mean a word of it; he didn't want her to take him seriously, but he could see in her face that she did.

"Fine," she said quietly, looking at him with oddly blank silver-grey eyes before she looked past him to Finnick. "I'm sorry, Finn. I shouldn't have come."

"Don't be stupid, Kat. I made you agree to come," Finnick said softly. "Don't listen to him, though. He doesn't mean a word of it."


Katniss trailed off when Peeta rushed up to Finnick and shoved him, hard, in the chest. Annie gave a little shriek of terror and flew back a few steps, away from Finnick, who looked about ready to clock Peeta, away from Peeta, who would welcome a hit.

"Why the fuck won't you stop trying to force me into shit I tell you I don't want?" he shouted, but he did want it. He wanted to talk to Katniss so badly he didn't know what to do with himself.

"Because you do want it!" Finnick screamed, stepping up right in his face. His normally handsome face was red and contorted in almost a grotesque fashion. It was oddly fascinating to see Finnick Odair make an unattractive face. "I'm your friend, okay? And I'm not going to just sit back while you fuck your life up because you're too much of a fucking pussy to admit what you really want."

Peeta drew his hand back, fisted, ready to punch Finnick right in his pretty-boy face even though everything he had said was true.

"Stop it! Stop it!" Katniss screamed, jumping in and shoving Peeta away from Finnick. "This is so fucked up!"

"Why can't everyone just leave me the fuck alone? I don't want to talk about it; can't you people understand? Finn, you're my friend, but do friends really pull this shit? Trying to trick me into talking it all out with her? Well fuck you!" Peeta shouted, but he didn't know why the fuck he kept denying how badly he wanted to talk to her. "And your little sister," he continued, turning on Katniss, "who was a complete bitch to me today."

"Don't you fucking dare, Peeta Mellark," Katniss said, her voice low and dangerous as she stepped closer to Peeta, a fiercely protective glare coming over her face. "You can be mad at me all you want, but don't you fucking dare say a word about my sister. I swear to God, I will kick your ass!" She drew herself up to her full height, just a couple inches shorter than Peeta, and got in his face, her finger drilling itself into his chest. He thought for a minute she might hit him. He probably deserved it.

"Okay, why don't we all just calm down?" Finnick said, reason suddenly returning to him now that Katniss was the livid one. He placed a hand on Katniss' shoulder and looked imploringly at Peeta.

"Man, fuck you!" Peeta exclaimed. He didn't want to calm down. Calming down meant being sad again; he preferred this newfound anger to that, irrational as it was.

"No, fuck you, Peeta!" Katniss exclaimed, practically spitting in anger. He had never thought she looked more like a cat than when she was so angry with him. He hated himself for thinking she was just so damn cute when she was dangerously angry. "You're mad at me and you're taking it out on Finnick? Please, just stop. He doesn't deserve this."

"Stay out of this, Katniss. This isn't about you," Peeta growled, but Katniss just glared at him.

"No, I won't stay out of this because it is about me!" she said angrily. "You've been treating me like shit for the past week and acting like I don't exist. You've been torturing me, and yourself, because you just don't fucking understand what I meant last weekend and you refuse to give me a chance to explain myself so fuck it, and fuck you! I'm done! I don't need to put up with this!"

"Then don't!" Peeta yelled back. "I thought you might get the message when I refused to talk to you or answer any of your texts, Katniss! I don't want to talk to you! So stop trying!"

Please don't stop trying, he thought, but would never say aloud. Don't give up on me. I still want to be your friend. I just need time.

"Fine!" Katniss shouted and, spinning on her heel, sprinted up the stairs.

"Katniss!" he heard a concerned voice call out from behind him, followed by what sounded gut-wrenchingly like a sob, but he didn't turn to see who had come down into the basement behind him. He turned to the side, glaring at Finnick, and pushed past him to pick up his cup from the side table next to the couch. When he saw Annie cowering behind Finnick, clutching at the back of his T-shirt, he almost felt bad.

Then he felt a small, surprisingly strong hand on his shoulder as someone forcibly pulled him around to face them. With her left hand still yanking Peeta to face her, Johanna Mason swung high with her right fist and caught him hard on the eye. His hand came up to cover his eye out of shock more than pain, though there certainly was a lot of that as well, and he stared at her normally intimidating face which was now made to look completely terrifying thanks to her fierce glare.

"I don't care who the fuck you are or how she feels about you," Johanna growled. "No one makes my best friend cry."

She made another fist and started to swing up towards his face. When Peeta leaned his face away, Johanna grinned for just a second before bringing her knee up to his exposed groin.

He hit the ground, his hands moving to cover and protect his crotch a moment too late, and was unaware of anything for the next couple of minutes except for the painful shock vibrating through his whole body. He thought he might throw up. When he opened his watery eyes, coughing, Johanna was gone and Finnick was kneeling next to him, sympathy in his gaze.

"You're being a total dick tonight, but you don't deserve that, brother. No one does," Finnick said, offering a hand to help him up.

Wordlessly, Peeta waved him away, curling up on his side. He just wanted to lie there on the cool basement floor for a few more minutes. Finnick seemed to understand, for he got up and disappeared from Peeta's line of sight. He closed his eyes again and heard Annie whisper something to Finnick. He wished she would leave. It was humiliating enough for him to lie there alone after being sacked in the balls, and even worse to have Finnick there trying to help him out after Peeta had been such a jerk to him. But to have Finnick's new girlfriend watch him try not to cry while clutching his dick protectively? That was just awful.

He heard the sound of a drawer opening, and then a door opening and closing. A moment later, a cold weight was dropped carefully on his chest, a safe distance away from his pained crotch. Peeta cracked an eyelid and looked down to see ice bundled in a white dishcloth from the basement kitchen. He removed one hand from his groin and took the bundle, drawing it down to his aching crotch slowly with a pained groan.

They didn't make a sound, but he knew Finnick and Annie were still there, watching him; he could feel their presence. Not without a great deal of effort, Peeta slowly pushed himself up so that he was sitting against the wall, legs bowed out to the sides slightly, and turned to face them, still holding the ice to his injury. For a moment, Peeta stared at Finnick and Annie as the two of them stared back at him. Then, Peeta cleared his throat.

"Did Jo say I made Katniss cry?" he asked gruffly, his voice thick with pain. Finnick didn't say anything, but he saw the affirmation in his pitying green eyes. Next to him, Annie nodded hesitantly. Peeta closed his eyes, feeling like the dick everyone told him he was being as a huge wave of regret washed over him, and let his head fall back against the wall with a thunk. "Fuck. Me."

I feel like I should apologize to all my lovely readers.
Things have been pretty bleak lately, haven't they? And Peeta just keeps making everything worse!
While things won't be magically all better, I can say that things will start looking up for Everlark in chapter six, okay? So don't write us off yet!
Also, good news (maybe)! I realized that after the (somewhat unplanned) events of this chapter, there is no possible way I can fix Everlark in one chapter and then send them off in an epilogue. It's going to take a bit longer. So, all that stuff I said about this only having seven chapters? I take that back. I've already reworked it so there will be at least ten, but who knows? Maybe I'll get carried away again. You never know.
I rushed a little bit through editing this because I wanted to get it posted before bed. I'm getting my wisdom teeth extracted first thing in the morning, so I wanted to get this up before then!
While things are going to start looking up in the next chapter, I don't know when it'll be up because I'm having trouble writing it (I've already started) and I don't know how much I'll be able to write in the coming days. But I hope to have it out soon!

Thank you all for reading, favoriting, following, and commenting! As ever, I appreciate every single email notification I get for this story.
And, as always, you can follow me on Tumblr. I'm ilikewatchingyousleep. Feel free to talk to me!