Author's Note: We're reaching the breaking point...but who's going to crack first?
Thank you for your wonderful reviews to the last chapter, and thank you for your patience waiting for this update. Juggling several WIPs, beta work and RL can be quite daunting at times. It goes without saying that I am beyond thankful for this fandom and the lovely people in it.
As always, I must thank iLoVeRynMar for holding my hand through many a late night writing session, helping me get every word just right. And to Streetlightlove, my soulmate, and Pookieh, my cheerleader, for their support.
My mind waffled a lot between Florida Georgia Line's "Stay" and Kenny Chesney's "Somewhere with You" as I worked on this chapter, though I think they also fit Chapter 10, since I worked on them together.
For Annie. For reasons.
I Just Gotta See…
(26 years old)
Peeta trudges back into the restaurant, the image of Katniss glaring at him burned into his retinas. As he passes the bar, he narrows his eyes, yearning for something much stronger than beer. But he has to drive home, so he resists the temptation of ordering a shot of something to numb the pain radiating through him.
He scrubs at his jaw and avoids the curious eyes he knows are following him as he heads back to his seat, where his plate has been cleared and a cup of coffee has been set out.
"Everything okay, Peeta?" Annie asks gently.
"Ah, yeah." He nods as he slides into the chair and stares down at the coffee. He pushes it away. He'll have enough trouble sleeping tonight without the added stimulant of caffeine. What he'd really like is a cup of tea, something to calm his frayed nerves. "I think so. She didn't really want to talk, but she did tell me about her job, about being fired. "
"Yeah, she called me this morning after it happened."
"All week long while she was worrying…I never thought they'd really let her go. I kept telling her not to worry," he says softly, his mind whirling as he tries to comprehend how awful she must feel at the moment. "She's so good at what she did, and for such little appreciation…"
"I know," Annie sighs. "She's having a really bad week, between this and her dad. Anyway, I hope tomorrow will cheer her up a little, let her have a little fun and unwind. If anyone needs that, it's Katniss."
"Do you know anything about that position she applied for…the music job?"
"Just that she applied. I've been sort of distracted around school, Peeta, what with getting things in order to be out for a week, and graduation around the corner."
Peeta falls silent and fixes his eyes on his coffee again. He makes a mental note to stop by Principal Paylor's office on Monday and casually ask about the posting, maybe drop a few hints and put in a good word for Katniss. It's the least he can do for her.
"Ann, where was she?" he asks suddenly, his mind darting back to the mysterious appointment. "When she missed the start of the rehearsal?"
Annie shakes her head at him emphatically. "Nuh uh, Peeta. I'm not going there. It's not my place to tell you about her private stuff if she's not going to tell you herself. I think she only told me because she felt bad about being late and wanted me to know she had a valid reason."
"I thought maybe…" he swallows, "Well, when Cato said it, I thought maybe she really might be pregnant, and she really was at a doctor's appointment…"
"She's not," she replies. "I told you that."
"I know. But I needed to hear it from her." He sighs and slides the coffee cup back in front of him, picking up the spoon to busy his hands. "Is it wrong that my first thought was that if she was…I mean, if there was a baby…well, maybe it would have been the catalyst for us to finally…"
"Whoa," Annie holds up a hand and lowers her voice, though the only two still seated at the table besides them are Finnick and Molly, the rest of the guys having huddled in the corner around Cato's cell phone, where they are inevitably monitoring the NBA and NHL playoff games in progress. "Peeta, come on. You can't be serious. You're smarter than that. Babies are not Band-Aids to patch the holes in a relationship. And you can't call what you two have a real relationship anyway."
"I know," he sighs, scrubbing at his jaw with his free hand, idly stirring the coffee with the other. "But what does it say that I wouldn't have been disappointed or scared or anything if she really was pregnant? Is it wrong to want that?"
"No," Annie says gently, cautiously. "But she has to want it too."
"I don't like that she's going to be all alone tonight."
"Katniss is a big girl, Peeta. She can take care of herself just fine. She's strong. Always has been," Finnick interjects, sidling over to Annie.
"I never said she wasn't…I just meant when…" He coughs and glances over his shoulder, and when he's satisfied no one will hear him, he continues, "When your best friend is hurting, you should be able to offer a shoulder to cry on."
"I don't think she wants that right now," Annie shakes her head. "And with you two, it's never just a shoulder to cry on. Sex can't solve all your problems, Peeta. It's best if you just let her be tonight." She squeezes his hand, offers him another sympathetic smile, and rises from her chair to go mingle with her other friends.
He remains seated, systematically opening half-and-half pods and emptying them into the cup, turning the rich brown liquid a weak, murky tan.
The entire situation with Katniss has him edgy and anxious, and in spite of his better judgment and Annie's advice his need to see her wins out. He needs to be there for her, just as he's always assured her that he would be. Who knows her better than he does? She may say she wants to be alone, but didn't she say that the other night, when she wound up naked in his bed?
And if he's being honest with himself, despite how angry he was with her not even twelve hours ago—and the roller coaster she's had him on over the last week that's had him on the precipice of ending it with her once and for all—he's unnerved by the fact that she has turned to someone other than him for comfort, calling Annie, and not him.
So when the rehearsal breaks up almost an hour later, he drives to the modest complex where, up until a few days ago, Katniss shared a two-bedroom apartment with Annie. Aside from the fact that the place now seems a little too big for just one person, he wonders how she'll afford the rent with no roommate and no income.
Of course, the easiest solution to that potential problem would be for her to move in with him. It's something he's thought about numerous times over the years.
When he arrives at Katniss's building, he pulls into the parking lot, and at first glance, he doesn't see her car anywhere. But she occasionally parks around the side of her building, so he finds a space, jogs up to the series of doors, and rings Katniss's buzzer.
While he waits, he gazes up at the sky; it's a clear night, but the glare from the streetlights washes out most of the visible stars. He remembers all the evenings throughout the years when he and Katniss would drive to the reservoir, lounge on the hood of his car, and look up at the stars. They'd search the skies for constellations together, before lips and hands started wandering and they inevitably wound up in the back seat. There were also one or two occasions where they were so passionate and wrapped up in each other that they had sex right on the car.
Several minutes pass, and there is no response from inside Katniss's apartment. He frowns and hits the buzzer again. And waits. Again.
He has a key to her apartment, but it sits in the little bowl on the table by his apartment door. So he can't let himself in this time.
His throat tightens, and he feels his pulse hiccup. She said she was going home. So why isn't she answering?
Pulling his phone from his pocket, he taps out a quick text, asking her where she is.
Peeta: youre scaring me. answer the door.
Moments later, his screen lights up, and the first notes of "Barracuda" shatter the silence of the parking lot.
"Are you at my apartment?"
"Yes," he admits slowly, trying to discern her tone. It borders on accusatory, but there's also an edge of weariness to it. "I didn't think you should be alone, despite what you said at the restaurant. Please, Katniss, let me in. You shouldn't be alone."
There is a pronounced pause on her end. "I'm not alone."
His stomach knots. "Where are you?"
"I'm at Gale's."
It's his turn to fall silent. "Oh." He gives her apartment door a last lingering look, and then he treks back to his car and slumps into the seat. When he starts the engine, the call transfers to his Bluetooth, and he hears Katniss cough quietly.
"Are you still there?"
He closes his eyes. "Yeah, I'm here. I thought you said you were going home. And I was worried about you, and I wanted—"
She cuts him off again. "I'm fine. I took a little detour on the way home to talk to Gale and Johanna. So you don't have to worry about me. I'm leaving here in a bit, and I'm going home to go to bed."
"I can wait for you, if you're not going to be too long."
"You don't need to."
"I know I don't need to. I want to," he insists, drumming his fingers nervously against the steering wheel. He can't stay mad at this woman. Who was he kidding that he ever could have let her go? He loves her too much, and he wants to hold her in his arms and comfort her.
There's a tiny nagging part of him that is irked by the fact she went to Gale—Gale and his fiancée—but still. He is the one who is supposed to be there for her when she needs someone, and this is the second time today that he hasn't been the first one she's turned to. He doesn't like the feeling at all.
"Peeta," she begins, and he hears her heave a long sigh. "I…I can't talk to you anymore tonight. I just…I'm so tired. I need to go to bed and get some sleep so I don't look like death warmed over in all of Finnick and Annie's pictures tomorrow."
"You could never look anything but beautiful. You are always beautiful. And don't you say that you sleep better in my arms?"
"I'll manage. Good night, Peeta."
"Good night, Peeta," she repeats, emphatically. "I'll see you at the wedding."
He starts to tell her to be careful driving home, but the Bluetooth emits an audible click, and he realizes that she's hung up. He leans his head back against the seat and buries his face in his hands, scrubbing at his forehead and temples in frustration. When has she not wanted to see him? When has one of them ever pushed the other away so blatantly?
Some of the residual irritation from that morning wells anew, but he's resolved not to leave without seeing her. Damned if he's gonna let Gale be the one to comfort her, and to assure her that she's amazing, that she'll find a better job, that he believes in her.
He messes with the satellite radio, finds a station he can tolerate for more than five minutes, and pulls out his phone to mess around while he waits.
Twenty minutes pass. No Katniss.
Gale and Johanna's condo is on the other side of town, so feasibly, even if she had left right when she hung up on him, she'd only just be arriving home now.
But when an hour goes by, and Katniss still hasn't arrived home, he grows restless. He throws the car in reverse and backs out of her complex. Going for a drive might help clear his head, and if he happens to find himself in Gale and Johanna's neighborhood…well…
He hits every light between Katniss's apartment and Gale's subdivision, and as he turns into the small community, he realizes he's only been to Gale's a handful of times and can't remember the name of his street off the top of his head. He'll know it on sight, but he winds up driving around for a while before one of the street signs looks familiar. Turning down the road, he spots Gale's truck in front of the fourth townhouse on the left, and he assumes the Highlander in the driveway belongs to Johanna. But he doesn't see Katniss's car.
There's a large row of parking spaces around the corner from Gale's unit, and he scans it to no avail as well.
She's clearly not here anymore. By now, she's probably back at her own apartment. He should have just waited there for her.
He stops to fill his gas tank up before driving back to Katniss's, and sure enough, when he pulls into her complex for the second time that night, her car sits directly beneath a burned out streetlight.
He shuts off the engine and approaches her apartment, ringing the buzzer.
After waiting nearly two minutes, he impatiently rings the buzzer again.
As if in response, "Barracuda" blares from his phone.
"Katniss, answer the door."
"Peeta," she sounds exhausted, but there is a bite to her tone that wasn't there earlier. "I said I wanted to be alone. I can't talk to you anymore tonight. I meant it. Go away."
"Please open the door. I need to see you, Katniss."
"I don't want to see you right now, Peeta. Please, go home."
He closes his eyes as he hears the click.
Defeated, he trudges back to his car and leans on the hood, training his eye on the second-story window that he knows is Katniss's bedroom. The shades are drawn, but he can tell the lights are still on, and he resigns himself to leave once he sees them go out, clinging to the futile hope that she might change her mind and come outside to see if he's still here.
When the room goes dark just a few moments later, he imagines her crawling into bed and huddling down under the covers.
Begrudgingly, he heads home.
He's just reached the turn for his street when he feels his phone buzz in his pocket. Fueled with renewed hope, he speeds down the road, pulling into his lot, parking his car, and hurriedly extricating the device from his pants. But that hope fades immediately.
Madge: hey stranger are u still up?
He sighs and enters his building, staring down at the phone again. He really owes Madge a reply this time, but given the time—half-past ten—there's something about her message that is a bit unsettling. Generally there are only a handful of people who text him this late: Finnick, Rye, his father, and of course, Katniss.
He throws his keys into the bowl by his door, and they land with a resounding clink against the other set that rests there—Katniss's. Taking his phone with him, he heads into his bedroom to undress.
It's a cool night, so he opens the top drawer of his dresser, looking for a t-shirt to throw on with his pajama bottoms, and as he shuffles the boxer shorts and socks around, his eyes land on the tiny corner of the drawer relegated to Katniss. There are several pairs of panties and a white lace bra, as well as a few tank tops and a pair of yoga pants. He picks up the yoga pants and runs his thumb over the soft cotton. He last washed them with his own laundry, so they don't bear her familiar scent, but in stark contrast to that morning, when the sight of her shampoo and the Gummi bears had raised his ire, this sight is a strange consolation. It's a tiny piece of her here with him, even if she is not.
His phone buzzes again, and he knows it's the same message popping up on the screen, having been ignored the first time.
With a sigh, he places the yoga pants back behind her underwear and grabs a faded grey Penn State football tee, tugging it over his head before crossing to his nightstand where the phone sits. He perches on the edge of the bed, turning it over in his hands repeatedly.
Peeta: yeah, I am. Whats up?
Madge: oh, I just didn't hear from u today. everything ok?
Peeta: Yes, sorry just busy with the wedding. Long day
Madge: I hear ya. I had hoped to relax a little tonite. ;-)
Peeta: I just got home from the rehearsal dinner. Relaxing sounds good to me. Going to be a great day tomorrow, but another long one.
Madge: did u want to relax together? I was just having a drink at this bar, and it's right by ur apartment.
Peeta scrubs at his jaw harshly. He can't deal with this tonight. The only person he'd leave this apartment for is seven-point-four miles away and doesn't want to see him at the moment.
Peeta: Thanks, Madge but Im gonna pass. Just going to watch Sportscenter and call it an early night.
Madge: u don't want company?
He does. But Madge is not the company he wants.
Peeta: no thanks. Ill see you tomorrow, ok?
Madge: ok. see u at the wedding
When he crashes on his couch and tunes the television to ESPN, he can't sit still. His body is taut, strung as tightly as a wire, and the restless feeling only increases with each passing minute.
At midnight, he's still wide-awake, thoughts of Katniss consuming his consciousness.
He finally gives up, shutting off the television and climbing into bed at quarter to one, though his eyes continue to battle him every times he attempts to close them.
Freshman Year of College
(18 to 19 years old)
Other than a few patches of white drifting across the wide, blue canvas of sky, it's a picturesque fall afternoon. Peeta's eyes lower to the sea of navy and silver encircling him, still in awe of the sheer size of Beaver Stadium. He's not sure four years will ever be sufficient to adapt to the enormity of playing Division I football.
Of course, he's not really playing Division I football. He's the backup QB, having outperformed two juniors. Thresh was the only freshman named a starter, and Peeta couldn't have been happier his friend when he secured his position as the team's number-one wide receiver.
The stadium is packed to capacity for Homecoming, and as he scans the crowd of over 100,000 strong, he's reminded that this is not Panem High School. He's not going to find his father seated among the spectators, grinning back at him, giving him a confident thumbs-up before mouthing words of encouragement. Peeta can only assume that his father made the drive successfully and is indeed in a seat somewhere. When they had spoken last night, he had told Peeta he intended to get the bakery open, and then get on the road by eight, which would get him in no later than noon.
His mother has yet to see a game, and when Peeta had asked her why, her reply had been curt: Perhaps she'd come if she knew he'd be doing more than warming the bench. She doesn't understand that a freshman backing up a Heisman-nominated quarterback is pretty much supposed to warm the bench.
His father, on the other hand, has been to three home games so far, and he also made the trek into New Jersey, driving all the way to New Brunswick for an away game at Rutgers. Marvel had gleefully related the experience of tailgating with Mr. Mellark, and Peeta had been glad that for once, his father had some company while watching the game. Finnick had also been in the crowd for an away game at Maryland, and Peeta feels fortunate that at least he has supportive friends.
Of course, the one person he most wishes could be in the crowd never is.
It seems like Katniss is always working when she's not at her classes, and Peeta hasn't seen her since he left for school back at the beginning of August. They talk nearly every day, or on the rare days where they miss each other's calls, a flurry of texts are usually exchanged, but he aches to wrap his arms around her and feel her familiar warmth pressed up against him.
She had been right about the other girls; it actually made him a bit uncomfortable how many of them approach him and flirt with him and hint that a casual hook up would not be out of the question. In fact, the tall blonde who had hit on him at his fraternity mixer last weekend had even used the words 'no strings attached'—which had only served to make him think of Katniss and reject the girl's advances quicker than usual.
And as had become commonplace, he had taken a late night shower when he got back to his dorm, jerking off in the shower to the memories of Katniss gyrating above him and clenching around him.
The roar of the crowd jolts him from his reverie just in time to see Titus, the QB, loft a 56-yard pass to Thresh, who easily evades a tackle and runs the remaining eighteen yards for a touchdown. Peeta grins and celebrates with the rest of his teammates as the band launches into "Fight On, State."
The game is a blowout, and by the start of the fourth quarter, Peeta paces the sidelines, contemplating where he and his dad should go for dinner.
His chin juts up and he meets the eyes of the offensive coordinator.
"Titus is coming out, you're gonna finish the game."
His heart leaps into his throat and kick-starts his pulse, and it sends a thrill ratcheting down his spine when the P.A. system crackles and announces his name. Thresh claps him on the back as the offense takes the field and huddles around him.
Holy fuck. This is really happening.
He calmly goes through the play call before they break apart and get into formation. Peeta takes a deep breath, yells out his count, and braces to receive the snap. It's clean, and once the ball is securely in his hands, he glances up field for Thresh, arcing the ball in his direction. Thresh hauls the football in for a beautiful catch and gets a few more yards before he's brought down. Boisterous cheers and applause rise from the crowd, and a surge of adrenaline pumps through him.
They huddle again, and Peeta rattles off another play, clapping to signal his offense to fall into the next formation. This time, he hands off to one of their running backs, and a botched tackle allows the guy to sprint up the sideline nearly 50 yards before he's driven out of bounds at the 6-yard line. Two plays, and Peeta's already got them to first-and-goal.
On the third play, when he takes the snap and scans his receivers, both are heavily covered, and instinctively he looks for a gap to slip through. He dodges one linebacker and tucks the ball under his arm, running the final few yards himself to take it in for the touchdown.
God, he wishes he could see his father's face right now, but he keeps his celebration subdued, accepts congratulations from Thresh and the others, and sprints off the field so they can kick the extra-point. The noise from the crowd isn't as loud as it was earlier with the game easily in the bag, yet to him, it's thunderous, and the fight song sounds even sweeter when the band starts playing it for the seventh time that afternoon.
He throws for one more touchdown, and they tack on two field goals before the game mercifully ends, 62-17.
The next two hours are a whirlwind, between television interviews and having to participate in the postgame press conference for the first time, and when he finally gets to the locker room and checks his cell phone, he finds a message from his dad:
Dad: I'll wait outside the locker room. Take your time, champ.
There are other messages, but his heart sinks a little when he doesn't find one from Katniss. He doesn't expect her to be able to follow the games, and she's most likely at work anyway, but the foolish hope lingers nonetheless.
He showers and dresses, gathering up his gear, and as he exits the locker room and searches the corridor for his father, his heartbeat—which had undeniably had a quite a workout that afternoon and had only just gotten back to its resting rate—accelerates as his eyes land on Katniss's smiling face from where she stands beside his father. He blinks a few times to be sure she's real.
"There he is," his father grins. "Great game, Peet."
"Hi." Her eyes gleam in the harsh lighting of the tunnel. "You were amazing out there."
He gapes at her and shakes his head. "What are you doing here?"
"I, um…I asked your dad a few weeks ago if I could manage to get a Saturday off, would he mind if I rode along so I could at least see one of your games this year." She rocks on her heels and smiles, almost shyly.
"And she was quite the good luck charm, huh?" his father adds, clapping Peeta on the back, blue eyes shining with pride.
"I can't believe you're here. And you got to see me play," he murmurs, awestruck. "You came all this way, and you didn't even know that I was going to get into the game. It's probably the only game I'll get in all season."
She glances over at his father, and then she steps forward and gives him a quick hug. He's the one who squeezes her a little tighter.
His father is in the mood for Italian, so Peeta navigates them to a popular local place, eschewing the Olive Garden. Katniss insists that he sit in the front with his father, and she remains quiet while he and his dad converse about the game.
She's a little chattier at dinner, and it feels so good to be looking at her in the flesh as they talk, as opposed to only hearing her voice over the phone or reading her texts. He's missed those familiar silver eyes, the way they crinkle just so when she smiles at him, which she's doing a lot. But he wants so badly to reach under the table and put his hand on her leg, or extend his arm and caress her cheek. He wishes he could be as openly affectionate with her as he would like to be—the way he could if she was sitting beside him as his girlfriend, not just his best friend.
When they're finished eating, his father wipes his mouth and drapes the napkin beside his plate. "Well, I'm going to use the restroom since it will be a long drive back. When the waiter comes back to clear the plates, if either of you would like dessert, go for it. And if not, Peet, just ask for the check."
Peeta cranes his neck and watches his father disappear around the corner, then scoots his chair closer to Katniss and closes the distance between them. He brushes his thumb across her cheek, gazing into the wide silver irises. "Can I kiss you?"
She nods, inhaling softly before his other hand cradles the nape of her neck and draws her towards him. Her eyes flutter shut just as his lips make contact with hers, and their mouths meld together naturally. When he deepens the kiss and slips his tongue past her teeth, they both taste of garlic, but he could care less.
She draws back far too soon for his liking, so he rubs his thumb along her cheek again. "I've been dying to do that…I still can't believe you're here." He leans close and angles her face so he can whisper in her ear, "I want to fuck you so bad right now. You could be my dessert."
Even in the dim restaurant with the lights low and sparse candlelight flickering from the domed votive on the table, he can see the blush stain her cheeks. "Peeta…" she warns.
"What? I miss you."
She inches her chair back, and her fingers begin to fumble with the linen napkin. "I miss you, too."
"If my dad wasn't here, do you know how fast I would have taken you back to my dorm, barricaded the door with a chair to keep my roommate out, and made you scream my name?"
"Peeta!" She flushes again. "If your dad wasn't here, then I wouldn't be here." Her expression softens, and she reaches for his hand. "But I'm really glad that I got to—"
He glances up and sees Clove Fields smiling down at him. Her brown hair is pulled back into a neat ponytail, and she's wearing more make up than he's used to seeing on her in biology lab.
"Hi," he returns with a smile.
"Good game today," she grins.
"Yeah, thanks. I was kind of shocked to even get in there."
"Well, you looked great." Clove's hazel eyes flit to Katniss, then down to their joined hands. "I, ah, didn't know you had a girlfriend." She thrusts a hand at Katniss, smiling politely. "I'm Clove. I'm Peeta's Bio lab partner."
Katniss meets his eyes briefly, and then she looks back to Clove. "Katniss," she replies, letting go of his hand to shake Clove's. "I'm not his girlfriend. I'm his best friend, from back home."
"Ah, gotcha." Clove nods then turns her attention back to him. "So are you guys coming to the party at the Zeta house tonight?"
He had actually forgotten all about it in the excitement of Katniss being here with him. "Ah, yeah, I'll probably head there…once my dad and Katniss head back home. They were only here for the game."
"Oh, that's nice." She motions to the back room of the restaurant. "I should get back to my table. Some of the girls and I figured we'd grab dinner before the Zeta bash. I don't get drunk as fast on a full stomach. But I guess I'll see you later?" " She winks at him. "Enjoy the rest of your dinner. It was nice meeting you, Katniss."
He notices that Katniss's eyes follow Clove as she walks away. She reaches for a Sweet 'N Low and begins to play with the little pink packet. "She's nice. And very pretty."
"Yeah," Peeta agrees as his father reappears at the table. "She's a good lab partner. Doesn't ditch class and always finishes the assignments."
They all pass on dessert, and the waiter drops the check with Peeta's father, and Katniss immediately goes for her bag and pulls out her wallet.
His father holds up a hand. "Put it away, Katniss. This is my treat."
"No. No way, Mr. Mellark. You drove me all the way out here, and you wouldn't take any money for gas."
Peeta watches her argue politely with his father, and he shakes his head at Katniss's utter stubbornness. She has never been one to take any kind of charity and has long refused to let Peeta treat for anything—even a frozen yogurt here, or a coffee there.
"Take it, please," she implores, thrusting a twenty-dollar bill toward him. "I wish I could cover the entire check and treat you both, but…"
His father's countenance shifts, and without another word, he nods and accepts the money from her.
When they pull up outside his dorm to drop him off, Peeta opens the back door for her so she can switch to the front seat. His father gives him a wave and tells him he'll see him in two weeks, and Katniss raises her eyes to lock on his.
"Bye," she whispers. "Have fun at that party."
"Thank you so much, Katniss," he murmurs back, drawing her against him for another too-quick hug. "I don't think you know how much this meant to me."
"I do." She climbs into the SUV and waves as she buckles her seat belt, and the car pulls away.
He spends most of the night at the party nursing the same beer, making polite conversation with the bevy of girls who approach him, giggling or fawning about his game that afternoon. He's relieved when he spots Clove. They chat a little more about the game, then about the midterm they took last week, and eventually she persuades him to play a game of beer pong as her partner. But they lose readily; Clove apologizes for not hitting a single cup, insisting that she's usually better than this, and she'll prove it if they get a second game later.
He smiles and assures her it's not a big deal, but all he can think of is how much more fun he would have if Katniss had been there with him.
And he definitely would have stayed on the table longer.
~Thanksgiving, 4 weeks later~
Peeta's on his second helping of mashed potatoes, doing his best to ignore the lecture that Rye is getting about his mid-terms and his impending finals, and not taking school seriously when he feels his phone buzz in his pocket. He sneaks a look at his mother, whose icy blue eyes remain laser beams trained on his brother. He sets down his fork and glances down at the phone.
Katniss: hows your dinner going?
Under the table, in his lap, he slowly and inconspicuously taps back a message detailing his day so far.
Thanksgiving is one of the rare times where his father completely closes the bakery. But they still rise early to take an assortment of breads and pies, which his father bakes the night before, to the local soup kitchen. Peeta has been joining his father on the ride since high school, and this year was no exception.
Katniss: youre such a do-gooder :)
Peeta: how's dinner with the Hawthornes?
Katniss: it sucks. Hazelle invited my mother and Prim, and my mother brought the douchebag and his jackass son. I wish you had come here with me. When are you done?
Peeta: well mom can't serve dessert until shes done reaming out Rye for being a failure. So maybe an hour?
Katniss: ugh lol your mom is the worst. you want to go get coffee someplace? I need to get the fuck out of here. The starbucks will still be open. you wont go back without seeing me, right?
His visit home for the holiday has to be a brief one. His father had picked him up after his last class of the day, but with his second to last game on Saturday, they'll be heading right back tomorrow morning.
Peeta: definitely not
Katniss: ok. Ill be over in an hour.
His father has outdone himself with the ridiculous amount of desserts that he's made for four people—his eldest brother is spending the holiday with his new girlfriend, and he didn't bother to come home—and Peeta really doesn't want to eat too much and get stuffed, hoping that he can get Katniss alone somewhere, even if it's the back seat of his car. He picks at the slivers of pumpkin, apple, and pecan pie, and by the time he's done pushing them around, his plate looks like the remnants of a horrific car accident.
After he helps his father clear the table, he tells his father of his plans to go for coffee with Katniss, and he nods his approval. Peeta dutifully loads the dishwasher, dries his hands, and bolts from the kitchen to head outside and wait for Katniss.
He steps onto the porch, immediately regretting his decision not to grab a jacket first. The November night air prickles his skin, and he shudders involuntarily. A thin ribbon of moonlight bisects the sidewalk as he creeps towards the driveway. Her car is already parked there.
"Katniss?" he hisses, squinting into the dark. He listens carefully. Nothing. "Katniss?" he calls again, a little more loudly. He knows she could easily be skulking around here somewhere with how stealthily she moves.
And then without warning, he feels her hands push him back against the garage door, her body pinning him as best as her slight frame can manage, and her warm mouth is on his just as quickly. He slides his arms around her waist, cupping her ass with one hand. Her tongue pushes insistently at the seam of his lips, and when he opens them enough to draw it inside, she rises onto her toes and grinds herself against him.
"Hi," she whispers when they finally break apart to catch their breath, little jets of steam escaping from their parted lips.
"Hi. Happy Thanksgiving."
"Mmm, you too." She kisses him again. "So where can we go?" she murmurs into his ear.
"Go? I thought we were going to get coffee and—"
"Forget coffee. I want to be alone with you." She nips at the earlobe, sucking it into her mouth. "I need you right now."
His cock throbs at her words, and his jeans become even tighter when she reaches down and grips him through his jeans. "Oh…ah…"
"I was thinking about you all through dinner," she continues, squeezing his hard-on as she trails her lips along the soft skin just below his jaw. "I was sitting there, watching Gale make eyes at his new girlfriend—"
"Gale has a new girlfriend?"
"Shh," she chides, pressing a cold finger to his cool lips, "I don't want to talk about them. So I was sitting there, and I couldn't stop thinking about you." She replaces her finger with her mouth, kissing him sensually. "I started imagining you sitting next to me, slipping your hand under the table to touch my thigh, your fingers inching closer and closer to my pussy, and your lips on my neck…and how you get my nipples so hard when you blow on my ear just right…"
"Katniss…fuck," he growls. He's never heard her talk dirty like this, and it's such a turn on that his dick strains painfully against the crotch of his jeans. He snakes a hand up under her jacket, groping for the hem of her sweater. She flinches when his icy hand climbs the plane of her stomach, then she whimpers loudly when his palm cups her breast, his thumb circling the incredibly stiff peak of her nipple through her bra.
"I was so hot thinking about you and what you do to me that I had to excuse myself and go into the bathroom…" she levers on her toes again, arching herself further into his touch, "And I made myself come, pretending it was your fingers on my clit."
He groans loudly and pushes his hand inside the cup of her bra, pinching her nipple to extract a cry from her.
"So where can we go?" she asks again, and he hears the desperation in her voice.
He stills his hand on her breast and thinks, his eyes closing when Katniss begins to suckle his neck, her tongue licking its way up to his mouth.
"Well, my room is out of the question…we could drive somewhere…"
"Now, Peeta. I want you inside me now."
Holy fuck. "Ab…yeah…okay…" It's getting increasingly difficult to think straight with her hand clutching his erection through his jeans, and her lips everywhere. He can feel her trembling, but he's not quite sure if it's from the cold, or from her desire for him. "Um, the pool shed?"
"Perfect." She steps back, and he slides his hand out from under her layers of clothes, knitting their fingers together as he leads her across the darkened backyard to the little building just beyond the covered in-ground pool. He reaches for the door.
"Shit, the padlock," he mutters, fumbling with it. Katniss steps up behind him and wraps her arms around his waist.
"Here," she whispers, wrenching her hand down inside the front pocket of his jeans, her fingers just grazing the head of his cock through the material as she extracts his cell phone. The display glows, giving him just enough light to dial the combination and free the lock in his hand. As they stumble inside, she angles the phone's screen.
"There's no light in here," he whispers, closing the door, and she slides his phone back into his pocket, this time squeezing his dick deliberately.
"Don't need it. C'mon." Her fingers work his belt and jeans' button free, and she eases them down his thighs before she sheds her jacket.
"Are you wearing a skirt?" She nods in response and takes his hand, slipping it past the hem, and he gasps when he comes in contact with wet heat. "You're not wearing underwear," he says dumbly.
"Aren't your legs cold?"
"Well, you're going to warm me up," she whispers. He clutches her hips and walks her backward, pressing her into the shed door before he lifts her with ease, her legs lock around his waist, and he sheathes himself inside her with one hard thrust.
"God, Katniss, you're so wet…"
"Yes," she hisses, keening softly as he sets their rhythm and uses one hand to fist through her hair. "Mmm, yes, Peeta. Fuck me, please. Now."
He closes his eyes and allows his body to get lost in the sensation of her tight walls welcoming him. "Four months is too long," he grunts, seeking out her lips in the dark. "But I don't know that I'm going to last…cause you feel too fucking good."
"You—ah—haven't had sex in four months?"
He freezes mid-thrust, wishing that he could look her in the eyes right now. "I haven't had sex since that last night with you, before I left for school. Four months without you, Katniss," he says plainly.
She snaps her hips, spurring him to start moving within her again. "Oh…okay," she breathes, clinging to his shoulders.
"Wait. Did you think I went off to school and starting banging girls left and right, just because of what we talked about before I left?"
"Um, no…no, no…forget it, Peeta." Bucking her hips again, she takes one of his hands and places it over her clit. "Forget I said anything." Her lips ghost across his cheek experimentally, searching for his mouth, and when their lips connect, she kisses him hungrily, sucking his bottom lip between hers. "God, you're so strong. I always forget how strong you are…" she mumbles.
"Katniss, hold on," he stops again, her insinuation ricocheting through his mind. He shifts their position, and she lowers one leg to the ground, keeping one leg hooked around his hip. "I need you to know that I'm not just sleeping around with tons of girls at school."
"Peeta," she says impatiently, forcing his hand to stimulate her clit, worrying the skin below his ear with her teeth. "It wouldn't matter if you were. No strings, remember. Just fuck me, and enjoy it."
Her lips seal over his again, and as she kisses him, her free hand wanders to clutch his ass, forcing him to thrust into her deeper. He finds a rhythm, once he forces his brain to stop overthinking things, and the only sounds in the shed are Katniss's moans and the soft slaps of their skin meeting with each thrust. His fingers continue to rub her clit, and her moans escalate to restrained cries. He knows she's struggling to keep quiet.
"I wish I could make you scream right now," he whispers thickly, and she lets out a wail.
"I wish," he continues, slowing the revolutions of his fingers on the swollen bundle of nerves, "that we had someplace better than this to be alone, so I could bend you over and take you from behind."
"Peeta," she moans again.
"And I wish I could see your face right now, because I love watching you —"
"Peeta…fuck!" Her walls contract and grip him with fevered pulses, and as his name leaves her lips again and again, chanted like a mantra, he lets go and spills himself inside her. He clutches her tightly as he rides out his orgasm, and Katniss slumps against him, her breath hot on his shoulder through the cotton of his shirt.
"I told my dad that we were going to get coffee," he says once he's withdrawn from her. She fishes a few tissues out of the pocket of her discarded coat and cleans herself off, swabbing at his groin too.
"So we'll go get coffee," she agrees.
"I'm not going to be able to sit across from you drinking a latte with you going commando, Katniss."
She laughs. "Well, if it's really that much of a distraction, my panties are in the console of my car. I'll put them back on, okay?"
"You're something else tonight," he shakes his head.
"I missed you," she says simply, lacing her fingers through his. "Come on, let's go get coffee."
~Christmas Break, 3 weeks later~
"That's an awfully small box."
Peeta looks up to meet his brother's smirking face. He pulls off the Scotch tape hanging from his bottom lip, and secures it over the flap of wrapping paper that he just folded up.
"Fuck off, Rye."
"What sort of sappy Christmas present did you get your little girlfriend?" He leans against the doorjamb and continues to leer down at Peeta.
"It's none of your fucking business what I got Katniss."
Rye arches a brow at him. "So we're no longer denying that Katniss is your girlfriend, huh? Mom's gonna love hearing this…"
Peeta rolls his eyes and seals the last piece of tape over the small, square box. "She's not my girlfriend. I just get tired of defending myself, and my friendship with Katniss, to you. Now get the fuck out of my room if you're going to be an asshole."
"It's too bad, really. You're probably doing your dick quite the disservice, bro. I bet Katniss is a demon in the sack. The quiet ones always are."
"Get the fuck out, Rye!"
His brother aims one last lascivious grin at him and slams the door shut.
He sighs and studies the brightly wrapped box in his hands. He attaches a shiny silver bow to the top, musing to himself that the adornment kind of resembles Katniss's eyes when she's excited—the way he hopes she'll look when she opens the gift.
Last week, he had been wandering around the mall with Finnick, helping him shop for a present for Annie, and when they had passed one of the jewelry stores, the locket had immediately caught his eye. Peeta had gone back to the shop the next day and bought it.
He and Katniss have always exchanged Christmas gifts, but never before has he bought her something so expensive. But that's the beauty of this particular necklace. It's so simple in its elegance that she likely won't suspect how much he actually spent on it.
It took some persuading—and some lobbying on his father's part—but Katniss will be joining them for Christmas Eve dinner this year. His mother, not surprisingly, had been staunchly resistant to the idea. Peeta practically had to plead with her, explaining how Katniss's mother hadn't said a word to her about the holiday, and since Katniss would be spending Christmas Day with the Hawthornes, a change of scenery on Christmas Eve would be good for her. His father had concurred, and his mother eventually caved, but not before muttering something about 'white trash' and 'deadbeat mothers' under her breath.
Peeta changes into a nice shirt and buttons his jeans then stashes Katniss's gift in his bedside drawer. He straightens up his room a little, since he hopes that he'll at least get a few minutes alone with her before the night ends. It's been almost a month since Thanksgiving, and he craves her touch…and her lips…and the feel of her tight walls fluttering around him…
He hears the doorbell at quarter to six, and he thunders down the stairs to throw open the door.
"Hi," he grins. "Come in."
She holds a poinsettia plant in one hand and a large, flat, wrapped present in the other. He takes the gift and sets it down on the stairs, then she hands him the plant so she can pull off her knit hat and shrug off her coat.
"That's for your mom," she says, motioning to the poinsettia. "I would have brought cookies or something, but I don't dare insult your dad with the crappy store-bought ones, and even if I could bake, Hazelle's had her oven full all day." She shakes out her hair, combing her fingers through the loose waves, and Peeta takes the opportunity to look her up and down.
"This is sweet enough of you," he replies. "God, you look beautiful. You should wear dresses more."
She glances down at the charcoal grey sweater dress, which she wears over leggings that are tucked into a pair of old, soft, black leather boots. "Thanks."
"Mom's setting the table. We're almost ready to eat." He reaches for her hand, and then draws back. Holding hands is out of the question. He gestures towards the kitchen where his parents are, and Katniss follows him.
"Katniss is here," he announces, and his dad looks up from where he is brushing a thin layer of butter over a tray of biscuits.
"Hello, Katniss. Merry Christmas," his father says warmly.
"Merry Christmas," she echoes, the poinsettia jostling slightly in her hands.
"Mom, Katniss brought you something." His mother doesn't turn around an continues stirring the gravy on the stovetop. "Mom?" he says, more emphatically.
"Put it on the table, Peeta," she says irritably.
"Thank you, Katniss. It's lovely," his father interjects.
Peeta rolls his eyes and takes the plant from Katniss, starting for the dining room.
"The kitchen table, Peeta," his mother snaps. "I already have a much larger floral arrangement on the one in the dining room." Her superior, haughty tone irks him, as does the fact his mother can't just say a simple 'thank you.'
"Call your brother," she adds.
"Rye!" he bellows, and his mother finally lifts her head and glares at him.
Dinner goes as Peeta suspected it would. His father makes a concerted effort to ask Katniss about her classes for the spring semester, and she tells them about the second job she got in the registrar's office at Bucks, which will allow her to save some money on tuition. His mother peppers the conversation with patronizing looks and a few coughs. Katniss handles herself as well as can be expected, and Peeta's actually relieved when the conversation shifts and she and Rye begin talking about the state of things at the movie theater. By the time the meal is over and Katniss offers to help Peeta clear the dishes, he's itching to get her upstairs to his room.
But they still have to get through dessert. And unfortunately, that's when Peeta's mother decides it's a good time to bring up his love life.
"So, Peeta, I saw Vivian Hennessey at the dry cleaners yesterday. Leevy was always such a lovely young lady. Did you know she went to Dartmouth?"
Peeta exchanges a look with Katniss. She hides a smirk and drags her fork through the whipped cream on her plate, and he watches her raise it to her lips and slowly lick the tines. He knows Katniss is thinking the same thing that he is at the mention of Leevy Hennessey's name.
"Yeah, Mom, I knew that."
His mother sips at her coffee. "You should give her a call while you're both home on break."
He contemplates bursting his mother's bubble by telling her that according to the pictures he saw online a few weeks ago, Leevy wouldn't want to date him unless he suddenly grew a vagina or sprouted breasts, but it's easier to just ignore his mother.
She doesn't let up, and she changes course.
"I'm having lunch with Gwen Undersee on Friday. I can see to it that Madge comes along with her mother if you want to join us." Peeta notices the quick glimpse that his mother directs at Katniss, but Katniss avoids eye contact with everyone, still drawing patterns in her whipped cream.
His mother continues, "Peeta and Madge would make such a lovely couple, don't you think so, Katniss?"
Peeta wipes his mouth with his napkin, pushes his plate away, and stands up before Katniss can answer. "Katniss, let's go exchange our gifts."
She puts down her fork and dabs at her own mouth. "Um, okay. The cheesecake was delicious, Mr. Mellark. Thank you."
His father winks at her. "I've got one in the freezer for you to take home to the Hawthornes."
"Thank you," she smiles again.
Katniss grabs his present off the stairs on their way up. As soon as his bedroom door is closed, he pulls her against him and kisses her deeply, tangling his fingers in her hair. He can taste the lingering peppermint from the cheesecake on both their tongues when he pushes his way into her mouth, and she clutches at his shirt with her free hand before finally backing away.
"Why are we stopping?" he asks, sliding a few strands of her hair between his thumb and forefinger. "I could kiss you all night." He rubs his nose against hers, then trails it down her chin, nudging it up to expose the column of her throat. As he ghosts his lips over the ridges of her windpipe, she backs up again.
"That's not all you want to do. And your parents are downstairs," she replies, and she takes a seat on the edge of his bed, placing the gift behind her. He smiles and follows her, kneeling down in front of her, and he places one hand on her knee and the other palms her breast through her sweater.
"I can be quiet. Can you? I like a challenge." He squeezes gently, and she fidgets, her eyes slipping closed briefly before she tenses.
"Peeta, stop," she says firmly. "Not tonight." But her eyes brighten a little, and she reaches behind her to grab the gold-wrapped package. "Here. Merry Christmas."
He sits down beside her on the bed, a little taken aback by her tone, but he carefully unwraps the paper, revealing a brown box. Curiosity piqued, he keeps his eyes trained on her as he picks at the cellophane tape sealing one end shut. Katniss jumps up and grabs the pair of scissors from his desk, offering them to him so he can slice open the seal. When the flap of the box is freed, he lifts out a large frame.
He feels the smile lift his lips as his eyes scan the newspaper clippings neatly mounted beneath the glass. Former Panem High QB Shines in Penn State Debut, reads one headline.
"Katniss…" he shakes his head, temporarily speechless at the thoughtfulness of the gift. "This is amazing."
"You like it?" she asks quietly, her fingers tracing figure-8s on the comforter.
"I love it," he affirms, and he leans in, waiting for her to close the remaining distance to initiate a kiss. Her lips twitch and lift into a smile, but she makes no move to kiss him back. Mildly disappointed, he studies the frame for a few more moments before setting it beside the bed.
"Your turn." He reaches over to open the drawer to his nightstand, feeling around for the little box. His heartbeat quickens as he hands her the present with an expectant smile.
Katniss looks at him, then down at the box, then at him again. She fumbles with the tape, ripping the paper in the process, and turns the small velvet box over in her hands.
"Peeta, what did you do?"
"Just open it," he encourages.
She keeps her eyes locked on his as she slowly unhinges the lid, and he hears her audible gasp. His heart knocks anxiously against his ribs, and he waits for her to say something.
But she stares down at the locket, her mouth slightly parted, her eyes unblinking. Then she begins shaking her head. "I can't…Peeta…I-I can't accept this."
"Of course you can," he murmurs, stroking her hand gently.
The shaking becomes more vigorous. "N-no. I can't."
He furrows his brows, his stomach twisting. "Do you not like it?" he asks softly.
"No…that's not it…it's beautiful, Peeta. But I don't deserve something this nice. There's just no way you should have done something like this…I don't…" She snaps the lid closed and pushes the box back at him. "Take it, please."
Hurt lances through him, sharp and swift, much like the times he's had the wind knocked out of him after a hard hit in a game. "It's a gift, Katniss. I bought it for you. I saw it and I thought of you right away." He places his hands over hers, trapping the box between them. "Do you want to see the inside? It's a locket, and—"
"I know what it is," she whispers. "And I can't accept it. Please, Peeta, it's so thoughtful of you, but…"
"But what, Katniss? This is your Christmas present. I want you to have this. It's a gift. No strings attached."
He doesn't realize he's said those three words until she looks away immediately. "I can't." She closes his hand over the box and stumbles to her feet. "I should go. I need to go." Her voice sounds like it's choking on unshed tears.
"Katniss, wait!" He lunges to his feet, dropping the box onto the comforter, seizing her wrist. "What's wrong? Talk to me!"
"I just need to go."
Numbly, he watches as she turns the doorknob and walks out of his room. Sucking in a breath that sears his lungs and causes a fresh ache to clamp down on his heart, he follows her downstairs. She thanks his parents again, and she wishes them all a 'Merry Christmas.'
When he moves to hug her goodbye, she's stiff in his arms, allowing him to envelop her, but she makes no effort to wrap her arms around him in return.
And then she's gone.
He trudges back up to his room and picks up the little velvet box. He never expected she would react the way she did, and the complete rejection of his present stings badly. Had he suspected she might have been uncomfortable that he bought her jewelry? Yeah. Was he prepared that she might have been upset that he had spent more than usual on her? Definitely. But he was wholly unprepared for her to refuse the necklace.
Then he picks up the frame and runs a finger over the smooth glass, gnawing on his lower lip as he stares at the clippings she mounted beneath it. Katniss may not have spent a lot of money on the gift, but she clearly put a lot of thought and effort into it. Did he not react appropriately? Should he have gushed more? Were her feelings hurt? God, he doesn't know how he could live with ever hurting her.
Sighing, he sets it back down, and he texts Katniss.
Peeta: I hope you know how much I love the frame. Thank you again. Please let me know you got home safely. Merry christmas.
He knows she's driving and won't answer him right away, but he hits send, and then takes the little box, cracks it open, and lifts the locket. He unclasps it, and gazes down at the two images he had meticulously slipped into place, photos that had to be scanned and shrunk and trimmed repeatedly.
On the left, there's a shot of them from elementary school, one of the only ones he has of them that young, when they first became friends. It wasn't like his mother was snapping photos of him with Katniss through the years. But they had been positioned side by side at the holiday concert in kindergarten, and so it was one time that his mother had no choice but to get Katniss in the frame.
In the picture, Katniss wears her red plaid dress, her hair in the glossy black pigtails that he loved to tug, and her mouth is wide open in song. He stands on her right, in his white shirt and black pants with the little red tie, gazing at her with an adoring smile that even now reveals just how long he's been smitten with Katniss Everdeen.
For the right side of the locket, he chose a shot that he had his father take of him and Katniss at the restaurant just a few weeks ago. They lean into each other, and he had dared wrap his arm around her shoulder to draw her closer to him. Their smiles are wide and effusive, and every time he looks at the photo, he's reminded of what a 'girlfriend' thing it was for her to do. He had ridden the high of that brief visit for days.
He drapes the locket back on its resting place and snaps the box shut, and then shoves it back in his bedside drawer. Heaving another loud sigh, he flops onto his bed and turns on the television, trying not to think about Katniss, but when he lands on National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, all he can think about is how much nicer it would be to be watching it with her lying in his arms, their laughter ringing out in unison at all the same parts.
His phone sounds about twenty minutes later.
Katniss: Im home. Youre welcome, I'm glad you liked it. nite.
Though there are about a hundred things he wants to tell her and about as many things as he wants to ask her, he taps out a quick 'nite, sweet dreams' and gets ready for bed.
He's still reeling over her reaction to the locket the next morning while he's opening presents with his parents and Rye, and during breakfast, and he picks up his phone twenty times throughout the morning before he settles on the couch to watch the early football game with his father, though he could care less about the Cowboys or the Lions.
The ping of the phone in his hand halfway through the first quarter practically vaults him off the couch.
Katniss: Merry Xmas.
Peeta: thanks. you too.
Katniss: you watching football with your dad?
She knows him so well.
Peeta: yeah but the game sucks.
Katniss: can you talk?
When it rings, he hastily answers his phone and steps out of the room, shutting the door to the laundry room off the den.
"Hey," he says softly.
"Hi. I can't talk long—" she hesitates, and the line is quiet for a few minutes, and he can practically hear her thinking. "Peeta, I'm sorry I…" He hears her take a large breath before she continues, "I'm sorry that I was so rude about the necklace. It was beautiful. But it's too much—"
"Katniss, why does it matter what I spent on it? Are you upset that I spent more on you than—"
"It's not that, Peeta," she says, lowering her voice to a hush. "It's too much. I don't deserve…that's not the kind of gift that friends exchange. It's too much," she echoes.
At once, he understands. The locket is a far more significant allusion to their relationship than she's willing to display on a daily basis. If she wears it, she may have to answer questions. Did he know that subconsciously when he bought it? There were hundreds of beautiful necklaces on display that day—simple gold chains, tiny diamond pendants, monogrammed charms. And he had honed in on the locket, something designed to hold a secret.
"I swear I just wanted to get you something nice. I didn't mean to—"
"Katniss, did you sweep Theater 3?"
He hears her attempt to cover the phone with her hand, and he can barely make out her reply to the deep male voice that interrupted them.
Peeta wrinkles his forehead. "Where are you?"
"Um, work. I have to go, Peeta."
"Why are you at work?" he exclaims. "Katniss, it's Christmas! You told me you were having dinner with the Hawthornes."
"I am," she whispers. "Hazelle is going to heat it up for me when I get back later. It's time-and-a-half, Peeta. I need the money. I'll talk to you later. Merry Christmas."
The line clicks before he can answer her.
He's so profoundly saddened by the thought of her standing around that movie theater on Christmas that it manages to make him forget about the locket for the rest of the afternoon.
Late that night he's lying on his bed on his stomach, playing Madden on his Xbox when there's a sharp scratch on his window. He listens carefully, hearing the shrill whistle of the wind, and he slides his eyes back to the television screen, assuming it's the branches on the windowpane.
But a few seconds later, there's a more pronounced tap on the glass, and when he squints carefully he can just make out her silhouette. He leaps up and raises the window and the screen, gripping her icy hand in his as he helps her inside.
"Katniss, what the—"
Her teeth click loudly as she unbuttons her coat and unwraps her scarf, pulling something from her jacket pocket. She holds up a DVD of Christmas Vacation. "It wouldn't be Christmas without this, without us watching this together. And we have—" she cranes her neck around him to peer at his clock. "Forty-three minutes before Christmas is officially over. If we start it now, it still counts, right?"
"You came all the way over here at 11 o'clock at night just to watch a movie that we've seen twenty times?" he asks softly.
"It's what we do, Peeta. It's a tradition." She thrusts the movie into his hands and climbs onto his bed, adjusting the pillows and settling back against his headboard.
He smiles to himself and starts the movie, taking a spot next to her on the bed, and once he's gotten comfortable, she shifts and curls into him, resting her head on his shoulder, planting one hand on his chest. He flicks off the lamp on his nightstand, and they watch the movie in silence. Katniss has to muffle her laughs into his shirt a few times.
It's while her face is buried in his chest that he lets his fingers thread through her long locks, and she instinctively nestles closer to him. He can feel the residual dampness of her hair in places, and the heady scent of coconut affirms that she showered before she came over.
Her palm starts to wander down to his stomach, and she draws idle circles on the soft cotton, tracing his navel. In response, he lowers his hand from where it's tangling in her hair and massages the nape of her neck, then kneads the muscles just below there gently but firmly.
"Feels so good," she whispers, slipping her hand beneath the hem of his shirt, tickling the sensitive skin right above the waistband of his jeans.
"You smell good," he counters, nuzzling his nose into her hair and inhaling.
She lifts her head and gazes up at him, her eyelids heavy, her lips a curved invitation. The tip of her tongue darts out just enough to moisten them, and her eyes flutter closed as he lowers his mouth to press a kiss to each eyelid before claiming her mouth with his. He sucks lightly on her bottom lip, running his tongue along the inside of it, and she parts them, drawing him inside.
He hauls her atop him, keeping their lips connected, and he frames her face with his hands. She moans softly when his tongue finishes its thorough exploration of her mouth, and he coaxes her tongue into his mouth by sucking on it. She obliges, and as she sweeps her tongue along the roof of his mouth, he slips one hand under her shirt and splays it over the warm skin of her back.
"Didn't I tell you yesterday that I could just kiss you all night," he mumbles when she releases him, and his lips wander to the slope of her neck. "I love kissing you." He feels her shoulder blades bow as his palm wends back and forth between them, and when she straightens her spine and draws back, her eyes are so hazy she can barely keep them open.
"Are you parents asleep?" she asks huskily. He shrugs.
"They were still downstairs a little while ago. Why?"
She purses her lips at him, and then her hands are on the hem of her sweater, whipping it up and over her head in one swift motion, and with their current positions, his eyes are nearly level with her breasts, swelling over the cups of a lacy sheer black bra.
"Because I can be quiet, I promise," she purrs, taking his hands and winding them around her to settle over the clasp of the bra. "Merry Christmas, Peeta. Now finish unwrapping me."
She leans down to capture his lips with hers again, and he unhooks her bra with relative ease—he's gotten better with the increased practice of undressing her. It relieves the tension in the delicate garment, allowing him to slide it down her arms. Her nipples pucker once they're exposed, and he groans his approval when he skims his thumbs up to tease them. Katniss arcs into his palms, maneuvering her torso so their mouths remain fused together. Her kisses are slow and heated, and she rocks along the bulge in his jeans purposefully, stoking a fire in his belly that, in spite of the numerous times they've had sex over the last year, feels new and intoxicating.
Suddenly she pulls back and rises onto her knees, gazing down at him, her pupils dilated, struggling to focus. She grabs his hands again and slithers them down her flat stomach, stopping at the button of her jeans. He stares at her, and she nods, coaching his fingers to work the metal disk through the hole. After he slides down the zipper, she eases the tight denim down her legs and kicks them off, the fabric cartwheeling through the air as the jeans land somewhere near his closet. All that remains is a pair of tiny black lace panties, tied at the sides with satin ribbons.
He gapes at her, dumbfounded. Katniss has never been one for any kind of sexy underwear. It's mostly practical cotton or lace bras and simple panties. "Holy shit, you're beautiful," he whispers.
She starts to settle over his hard-on again, but he has the urge to explore her, to take his time. It's the first time he's had her in his bed—at least for sex—and there are no obstacles or cramped spaces here. He plants his hands on her hips, the little bows smooth under his fingers, and flips her onto her back, a small gasp of surprise tumbling off her lips.
He hops off the bed, locks the bedroom door, and as he walks back towards her, he quickly unbuttons his flannel shirt, shrugging it off before peeling away the grey tee he wears underneath. From her spot on his bed, Katniss watches him intently, her bottom lip caught between her teeth as he sheds his jeans and boxers.
He kneels on the bed and crawls over her, already breathing hard from the anticipation of having her spread before him like this. He leans down and presses a kiss over the sheer lace of the underwear, the heady scent of her arousal invading his senses as he does. He then tugs at the ribbons to unravel the panties, and she lifts her ass off the bed to enable him to toss the scrap of fabric aside. Before she can lower herself down, he grabs her ankles and tugs her toward him, cradling the nape of her neck to keep her upright before crushing his lips to hers. Her arms vine around his shoulders, her nails scraping his scalp as he lets his mouth wander to her earlobe, sucking it softly. "I need to go down on you. It's been too long. Please." He draws out the word, murmuring it in her ear, feeling her shudder against him.
Mutely, she nods and gazes up at him, and he lays her back, tucking her hair behind her ear. He kisses a path between her breasts, down her abdomen, pausing to flick his tongue into her navel, and finally, he grins as he reaches his destination.
He peppers her inner thighs with light kisses, and then coaxes her to bow her legs to either side. Holding her in place with one hand, he swirls a finger over her clit, reveling in the whimper that leaps from her throat. He drags his tongue up the length of her slit. "You taste so fucking incredible," he murmurs, issuing another slow lick.
"Peeta," she whines, grabbing a fistful of his comforter when he uses the pad of his tongue to trace the edges of her pussy, then sucks the swollen nub into his mouth. "Oh…God…" she moans, bucking her hips, arcing off the bed.
"Katniss, shh…" he temporarily releases her clit to admonish her.
"You're t-too good at this," she stammers, screwing her eyes shut as he hums lightly against it.
"Shh," he chides again. "Let me enjoy my present."
He increases the strokes of his tongue, making quick revolutions over the little bundle of nerves, and the incoherent noises she makes in her struggle to stay silent, coupled with the erratic jerks of her hips, tells him that she is close. Her feet brace against the mattress, and when he presses the tip of his tongue directly over her clit, she shatters, pulsing against his mouth.
But he doesn't stop. While she keens and trembles, he continues to lap at her until he feels her spasm again, and she gropes at him, pushing him away.
"Okay," she gasps. "Enough. I can't take anymore." She falls back on the bed, her chest heaving, and he seizes the chance to descend on her breasts, suckling one taut nipple while playing with the peak of the other. "Oh, shit…Peeta…" She opens her eyes, the grey irises glassy, and he can't help but smile at how thoroughly exhausted she looks. "How was that a present for you?"
He smiles against her breast, rolling the nipple under the tip of his tongue before bracing himself on his forearms and lowering his mouth to kiss her gently. "Because I love making you fall apart like that."
"Well, you have a fucking gift, that's for sure," she whispers.
He grins and reaches down, grabbing his cock, and he rubs it against her. Katniss flinches visibly when it grazes her clit, and he trails a finger along her cheekbone. "Are you okay? I kind of want to keep playing with my present…"
"You're kind of having a little too much fun with that," she rolls her eyes. "But if you mean is it okay to fuck me, then yeah, I'm fine."
When he pushes inside her, her velvety heat welcoming him with just the slightest bit of resistance, he has to stifle a groan to keep from screaming her name. Katniss closes her eyes and raises her hips to meet each of his thrusts, seemingly content to let him set the pace. He forces himself to keep his eyes open so that he can watch the subtle changes in her features: the tiny vibration of her eyelashes, the imperceptible quiver of her parted lips, the rising flush on her olive cheeks.
He keeps a steady rhythm pumping in and out of her, reveling in how tight she is. Her eyes are still closed, and when the tingling warmth spreads through his groin, he reaches down to rub her clit. She arches into his touch, plunging him deeper inside her, and her teeth clamp down on her bottom lip. "Katniss," he whispers, "open your eyes, please. Look at me when you come."
Her eyelids raise lazily, and their eyes lock as he succumbs to his orgasm, spilling himself with a silent cry, and she follows him immediately, her body convulsing beneath him. He collapses onto her, careful not to crush her with his weight, and his shallow breaths are lost in the crook of her neck.
Her breathing eventually evens out, and he strokes her hair as she makes a move to leave his arms. "Don't," he whispers, tracing the line of her spine when she sits up. "Stay with me."
"Peeta, your parents are home. I can't stay here."
He sighs and presses a kiss to the bottom of her neck before drawing her flush against his chest and resting his chin on her shoulder. "I know. I'd just like to hold you for a little longer." His lips trail a path along her neck, and she squirms in his arms. "You know you're gonna have a hard time getting me out of your bed when you finally find a place of your own."
She frees herself from his embrace and vaults off the bed, her eyes steely. "What's that supposed to mean?"
He stares at her, dumbfounded. "Katniss, I—"
"It's not like there are a ton of apartments out there that I can afford, Peeta. The few I've seen are shitholes, and no one normal seems to need a roommate right now."
Her eyes continue to flash fire. "Why do you think I'm working so much? Jesus, I'm sorry that my living arrangements are inconveniencing you, and I don't have a nice cozy bedroom to call my own where we can just fuck all the time." She grabs a handful of tissues from his dresser and dabs between her legs and along her thighs before grabbing her underwear off the floor. Her fingers shake as she struggles to re-tie the bows. Then she grabs her bra.
The room spins. Where is this coming from? "Katniss, I didn't mean anything by it. It wasn't—"
"I'm doing the best I can, Peeta. I thought you of all people would respect that." She hops up, jerking her jeans up over her hips, avoiding his eyes.
His chest tightens and his throat closes. "I do. I would never ever disrespect you," he insists. "Please. I lo—"
She yanks her sweater down over the black bra and pins him with a warning. "Don't say it, Peeta. Don't." Her nostrils flare. She reaches for the window, and he tries to move, but his feet won't cooperate.
"Don't go," he whispers.
"Merry Christmas." She then motions to the window. "Be sure you close this. You'll get sick if you sleep with it open in this cold."
But watching her climb out his window and nimbly descend the tree, he doesn't think it's possible to feel sicker than he does at the moment.
The next morning, he's tying up a box of assorted cookies for a customer at the bakery. His fingers fumble with the string, clumsy from his lethargy. He did not sleep much after Katniss left. The bell tolls, causing him to look up from his task, his breath hitches when he sees Katniss hovering in the doorway, remorse etched on her face. Her lips lift slightly when their eyes meet, and she leans against the wall, pulling off her hat and playing with the fringe on her scarf.
After he slips the box into a Mellarks' bag and ties the handle off with ribbon, as his mother has long insisted that they do, he rings up the woman and hands over her change.
Then he's alone with Katniss. Well, not entirely alone. His father and Rye are out back, unloading the morning's larger-than-usual delivery, given they were closed yesterday for the holiday.
"Hi," she says quietly, approaching the counter.
"Hey," he replies, grabbing a tray of cinnamon rolls and several pods of icing.
Katniss slides onto a stool in front of the counter, her fingers continuing to manipulate the scarf, her cheeks a rosy pink, her lips visibly chapped. "You're mad at me."
"Huh?" he plays dumb, slathering icing onto the domed pastries.
"About last night," she lets go of her scarf finally and reaches for the wax paper.
It's hard to stay mad at her. He has such a weakness when it comes to Katniss that it's almost pathetic, but if he's truthful, yes, he's mad—hurt, more really—and confused by her behavior over the past 48 hours.
"I'm not mad at you, Katniss," he hedges, putting down the spatula to reach for the tongs. He lifts the iced buns one at a time and places them into the depleted display in front of the case.
She gives him a pointed look. "Peeta, I can read you like a book. We don't lie to each other. And you didn't text me this morning. You're mad at me. "
"I'm not mad," he insists, "It's more…I don't understand why you reacted the way you did. Why you bolted after…I didn't mean to make you feel bad about not having a place yet, and—"
"My mom's engaged," she interjects.
He drops the tongs. Not that much of what Mrs. Everdeen does surprises him anymore, but Katniss's mom hasn't really been dating her latest boyfriend all that long. Katniss doesn't care for Romulus Thread—she's called him a creeper on more than one occasion, and the two times Peeta has met him, he's definitely gotten than vibe. He can't possibly figure out what Mrs. Everdeen sees in him, or why she'd choose him over her own daughter. After all, he's the reason Katniss was forced out, essentially left on her own, at eighteen, and that alone is enough to make Peeta hate the man.
"Shit, when did that happen?"
"Christmas Eve, I guess. I didn't ask Prim for the details." She reaches over the counter and grabs one of the little pods of icing, swiping her finger through it. She sucks on it thoughtfully. "So I need to apologize for flying off the handle when you made that comment about me finding a place. I was just testy because it's that dickhead's fault that my mom…" she shakes her head and doesn't finish the sentence.
But he knows, because was just thinking the same thing. As usual, even their thoughts are in sync.
She sighs. "Anyway…I had no right to snap at you."
"I really didn't mean anything by it," he says gently.
She sucks another glob of icing off her finger. His eyes follow the digit as her tongue swirls over the tip, and he looks down at the tray before he can get too affected by the gesture. "I know you didn't. It just…it sucks, Peeta. I love the Hawthornes, and they're good to me, but I just hate being a burden to anyone. I need to get out."
This is one time where he feels utterly powerless to help her. If only they were a few years older—if he was graduating and getting ready to move out, they could get a place together. He'd live with her in a heartbeat.
Whether or not she'd ever agree to it…that might be another story.
Thanks for reading.
If you have not found it already, my darling iLoVeRynMar has a brand new story that I am not at all ashamed that I badgered her into writing. You'll see why I couldn't let her NOT pursue a story of Cop!Peeta if you check out Ride Along. You will not be sorry!