Seize Me

Chapter 14

Die, withdraw,

Hide in cold sweat,

Quivering lips,

Ignore remorse.

Ten Years-Wasteland

I'm frozen, stuck petrified in this room so long that I hear both the screams of excitement as the band takes the stage and the screams of sadness as the band exits the stage. I expect someone to eventually come looking for me, and the idea sends frissons of horror down my spine. Those shivers flood life into my limbs, bringing me back from the zombie-like state Peeta's proclamation had left me in. Panic seizes me at the idea of having to face Peeta—or anyone else right now. I'm not ready to see the expectant look in his eyes. Surely he'll want an answer now, but I'm nowhere near ready to give it. In fact, all I want to do is run.

The impulse seizes me suddenly and I lurch to my feet, lunging to grasp the handle of the door that seems to be holding me prisoner in this room. I yank the door open and start to take off, but I immediately collide with a tall, hard body. Fearing the worst, I look up to address the person with the best blow-off comment I can come up with, but it's not Peeta. Instead, I'm face-to-face with Johanna. I inwardly groan, ready for the tirade that will come from her lips due to me smacking into her.

But she surprises me, complaining about something else instead. "Can you believe that bitch?" she asks, hands on her hips while her eyes blaze with a fierce anger. "Or that bastard for inviting her here? How would he feel if I invited one of my ex-boyfriends here? Not happy, I expect."

Normally I'd point out the fact that I didn't think Finnick would care in the slightest. But over Johanna's shoulder, I can see Gale being ushered our way by Effie, who is probably trying to pull the band together for the VIP meet-and-greet scheduled for tonight. Which means Peeta is sure to be not far behind him.

I shove past Johanna, who curses colorfully at me, and run the opposite direction from which the band is coming. I bump into a few people as I sprint past, but the backstage pass around my neck keeps any of them from stopping me. It takes me a few minutes of careless turns and changes of direction, but eventually I locate a door. To my surprise and relief, I find myself facing the back lot of the stadium where the tour buses are parked. I recognize a few of the buses from bands we'd met along the way, including the repugnant Operate Alive. But the sweetest sight for my sore eyes is the line of idling taxis waiting to pick up the VIP guests. I sigh and wave one over, the first one in the queue eagerly zipping up to the street curb in front of me. I waste no time leaping inside, gasping out the name of our hotel. Just before I close my door behind me, I hear the shattered sound of my own name in deep, worried male tones.

"Drive," I insist to the driver, who is looking at me curiously. I think for a minute he hesitates, glancing at whoever had shouted my name, and I worry for half a second I'll need to bribe the man. But to my relief, he quickly pulls away from the curb, professionally turning toward the front of the taxi and minding his own damn business. I don't look back at the stadium until we're turning the corner. All I see as we pull away is a small person with brightly colored hair pulling someone with broad shoulders and soft blonde curls back into the building.


Even before opening the door to our hotel room I can hear the sounds of soft sobbing, sobs I recognize as belonging to one of my very best friends. I hastily jam the plastic key card into the lock, cursing the two times it flashes red in denial. The third time, the light flashes green and I quickly turn the handle of the door and ram my shoulder into the wood to quickly push it open.

Portia and Madge are on the couch, and Madge is sobbing onto Portia's shoulder. Portia is patting Madge's back comfortingly, murmuring to her softly. Madge is wearing a pair of grubby sweats and a rumpled, worn Misery's Fortune shirt. Her hair is limp and dull, and I can tell from the bit of her face showing around Portia's shoulder that her face is red and her eyes puffy with tears. Both of their heads snap up as I stumble unceremoniously through the door, tripping over the guard strip (at least, I think that's what they're called...the thing on the edge of carpet between rooms?) in my haste. I'm overtake with anxiety as I stare at the two of them, Portia's eyes sympathetic and Madge's bloodshot.

"Madge?" I ask, letting the door fall closed behind me and the small purse over my shoulder slips to the ground. "What's going on?"

Calmly, Portia extracts herself from Madge's arms and stands, a soft smile on her face. "I'll just leave you two alone," she says warmly. "You have my number, Madge, if you need anything."

Madge doesn't answer, instead nodding once with a glum look on her face. Portia brushes past me, giving me a comforting squeeze of the arm but refusing to meet my eyes. I stare at her until the door closes behind her, then whip my head back around to stare down at my best friend.

"Madge," I repeat. "What's going on?"

Instead of responding, Madge flings her hand over her mouth, a decidedly green tinge coming over her face. She leaps to her feet and races past me toward the bathroom, slamming the door in my face. She takes a moment to turn on the water, but I can still hear the sounds of her getting sick into the toilet.

"Talk to me, Madge," I sigh, turning toward the door of the bathroom, resting my face against the cool surface of the door. Should I go in there, or leave her be? Madge doesn't respond, instead continuing to get sick. "Do I need to take you to the hospital? Did you get food poisoning?"

As I ask, I bend down, reaching for the small clutch I'd dropped on the ground when I'd arrived. I fumble with the clasp, trying to get to the cell phone stashed inside.

Madge sighs, and I hear the sound of the toilet flushing as the sound of the running faucet stops. I wait for the door to open, but it doesn't. Instead, from the other side of the door I hear Madge say the last words I'd ever expected.

"I'm pregnant, Katniss."

I'm stunned, the words taking a moment to settle in. Pregnant. Well, I suppose that certainly makes sense. I suddenly feel foolish, having assumed everything but this obvious conclusion. That's why Portia was here. Perhaps she'd brought Madge a test, or maybe she'd just come for moral support.

Struggling to come up with something to say to make Madge feel better, all I manage to do is rest my head back on the cool wood of the bathroom door and mutter, "Peeta told me he loves me tonight."

"Oh, Katniss," Madge sighs, the door suddenly pulling out from under me to reveal my friend, pale but wearing an exasperated smile. "Of course you would rank that in the same category of as awful as an unplanned pregnancy."

My balance is thrown momentarily, the door I had been leaning on now gone. I nearly fall on my face, but I quickly manage to throw my arms out to grab either side of the door frame to stop my fall. Madge ducks under my arms, maneuvering around me to make her way back to the couch. I groan and follow after her, flopping down beside her.

"I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say to him," I grumble roughly, crossing my arms angrily in front of me.

Madge lets out a strangled, hysterical little laugh in response. "Well, there's one thing we have in common," she gasps. "Neither one of us knows what to say to our boyfriends."

"Peeta is not my boyfriend," I snap without thinking, instantly regretting it when Madge rolls her eyes at me.

"Would you lay off it?" Madge snaps back, leaning forward to rest her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands. "Your denial is irritating and, frankly, it's making me nauseous again."

"Sorry," I say gently, immediately chastised for my selfishness when her hair falls around her face, and I see the sheen of sweat on the back of her neck. God, morning sickness. How awful. I lean forward and put my hand on Madge's back, rubbing soft circles on it as she begins to cry.

"What am I going to do, Katniss?" Madge asks, her voice woeful and choked with tears.

"Do you really think Gale will respond that poorly?" I ask, thinking over my own question as I ask it. No, I can't see Gale responding badly at all. Maybe if it were five years ago, when Gale was still a kid himself without two coins to rub together. But now? I can't see Gale being anything but thrilled.

"Come on, Katniss," Madge sighs, raising her face to reveal tear-stained cheeks. "What up-and-coming rock star wants to be tied down to a baby?"

I snort, a little indignant for my friend. "Do you really think that little of Gale? That he'll abandon you when he finds out? You surely know him better than that! Plus, you have lots of time to figure it out. How far along do you think you are?"

Madge's face is pained as she looks away from me to stare dismally at the trendy curtains hanging from our hotel room windows. "Almost three months."

"Three months!" I gasp, unable to help myself. I do a quick bit of math, counting backward nervously. I do it twice, praying I'd done it wrong the first time and reached the wrong conclusion. But I hadn't. "Madge...we've only been on this tour a little over a month. Is it Gale's?"

She turns back to me, her expression disgusted as she surveys my shocked face. "Of course it's Gale's," she hisses low and furiously. "What kind of person do you think I am?"

"Hello!" I nearly shout at her, indignant myself. She wants to act like I've done something wrong. "Note the expression of disbelief on my face. Gale wasn't around three months ago. Forgive my confusion."

Madge sighs, leaning back into the couch and resting her head on the back cushions. She wipes a hand exasperatedly over her face, rubbing at a night's worth of tears and running makeup. "He came to see me two months before the tour as a surprise. I didn't know he was coming, and I'd gone off my birth control for a few months to give my body a break. We've never had to use condoms, so he didn't bring any to the hotel. I didn't think one night would be a problem, so I didn't think...and I did the math...how could I be so stupid?" she gasps at the end, running a hand through her neglected locks.

It takes all my power to not purse my lips at her miscalculations. Madge has always been very careful about things in all aspects of her life, and I'd never considered that she's fail in one of the most important areas of precautions. But the tortured look on her face softens me, and I realize she's already beaten herself up enough about it as it is.

"How did you go three months without knowing?" I ask, vaguely remembering how ill my mother had been with Prim. "Did the sickness just start?"

"No," Madge sighs defeated. "But it's definitely gotten worse, especially since the tour started. And all the lights at the shows don't do much to help. Especially that night at the club. I've been in denial, to be honest. I tried to convince myself it was just motion sickness from the bus, and that I was just stressed and excited and it was making me nauseous. I don't usually actually throw up, but with all the changes from coming on this tour I was able to ignore it pretty well."

Remembering the club we'd gone to on one of the first nights with the guys, I have a moment sick fear that flows up my spine. Madge had been sick that night...from drinking.

"I know what you're thinking," Madge says softly. "There's been no shortage of alcohol on this trip."

"Are you going to see a doctor?" I ask, Google images of babies with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome swirling in my brain, making my stomach turn.

"Yes," Madge says slowly, "but not for that reason, Katniss. I may have been in denial, but I think part of me was operating on a rational level. I haven't had a drink in over two months. Not even at Prim's party."

"But the night at the club," I say, remembering escorting a drunken Madge into the hotel. "You were drunk. Sick-drunk."

Madge shakes her head, a wry smile playing at her lips. "No, not sick-drunk. Just sick. I poured all those drinks Gale gave me in the plant by the bar. And those lights really were making me dizzy and sick. So I played it up so Gale wouldn't worry about what was making me sick. It also helped get me out of sex that night too. Serves him right, too, trying to get me that drunk." As she says the last bit, I smile with her, scooting over and pushing my shoulder into her companionably.

"What about Prim's birthday?" I ask, remembering another distinct event involving Madge drinking.

Madge shrugs, looking a little sheepish. "I did have a few sips that night, even though I was starting to suspect...I don't know. I thought if I just ignored it and acted like everything was normal, it would be. Talk about a classic ostrich moment. I almost told you about it that night, too. Remember when we were talking about Gale, and you told me to not worry about my weight? I almost told you then, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I think that's the night it really started to sink it. I haven't had a drop since that night."

"You bitch," I say, my tone somewhere between teasing and angry. "You should have, you know. We could have avoided this whole mess."

Madge snort. "If by whole mess you mean coming on this tour, you're damn wrong. This was going to happen whether I told you or not. You and Peeta were going to happen."

"So everything's okay?" I ask quickly, flinching at Madge's inference. I'm not ready to talk to her or anyone else about this right now, and for a moment I'm grateful Madge has her own crisis for me to help with to divert attention from my own.

Madge sighs. "Physically, I think so. Portia picked me up some prenatal vitamins at the store to start taking. I think she knew what the results were going to be. I finally had to face it the other day, when my I had to use a hair tie to get my pants buttoned. I'm bloated as shit. But I'd still hoped..."

I give her another small smile and wrap my arms around her shoulders, squeezing her tightly. "It'll be okay, Madge. Gale's going to be over-the-moon happy."

Madge's eyebrows knit in thought. "I don't want to tell him yet, Katniss. I need to find a doctor, first. I haven't been monitored, and we don't even know if the baby will be healthy. I'm far enough along they can run tests and find out if the baby will be disabled...I'm not going to tell Gale until I know how many bombs I'm going to be dropping. And I'm not out of the woods for a miscarriage yet. I'm not officially out of my first trimester."

Her words shock me. "Madge," I gasp. "You shouldn't keep this from Gale. He has a right to know, and you're going to need his support either way. It's his baby too. You should at least tell him about the pregnancy."

The sound of a slamming door makes us jump, and we look over to see Gale standing in the doorway of the room, face ashen and eyes wide. "You...you're pregnant?" he gasps, the jacket in his hand falling to the ground as he asks.

Madge's face pales to match his, her eyes starting to shimmer with a fresh flow of tears, wearing an expression comparable to a terrified wild animal. "Yes," she sighs, staring at her shell-shocked boyfriend and looking more defeated than I've ever seen her.

A strangled cry wrenches itself from Gale's lips, and within a second he's pulled Madge up and has her in his arms, holding her tight to his chest while he tries to cover every inch of her tear-stained face with kisses. Madge lets out a surprised sort of gasping laugh, fresh tears of relief falling from her eyes as she stares down at me with a baffled look on her face. I raise my eyebrow at her with a clear 'see-he-still-loves-you' expression, and she gives me a sheepish smile.

"What are you doing here?" Madge asks, his tone soft as Gale's hold around her squeezes the air from her lungs.

"I skipped the stupid meet-and-greet thing," Gale grumbles into Madge's hair. "They only ever come to see Finnick anyway, and I wanted to check on you."

"Gale," Madge sighs, exasperated, "you know that's not true. Those people paid money to meet you."

Ignoring her, Gale asks, "How far along are you?" He finally releases his desperate grip on Madge, holding her out at arm's length to thoroughly inspect her. "How long have you known?"

"I'm just about three months," Madge says softly. "I found out for sure today, but I've been in denial for a while."

"Three months," Gale says softly, counting backward in his head. A dreamy sort of smile takes over his face as he asks, "The Ritz?"

Madge's face turns a faint shade of pink as she quietly answers, "Yes."

Gale's grin is wider now, stretching so far cheek-to-cheek that my own face aches just watching him. "I have to say, that night is now officially the best night of my life."

"And that," I say, my own face flushing red at the passionate look in Gale's eyes, "is my cue to leave." I take a few steps back toward the small foyer of the room and fumble for the small purse I'd dropped. I can see the thin leather strap poking out from under Gale's jacket and I grab it. To my frustration, the clasp comes undone, spilling the contents of the small purse onto the floor of the hotel room. Sighing, I grope at the scattered lipstick, wallet, keys and random scraps of paper that seems to have rolled every possible direction.

"You don't have to go, Katniss," Madge says quickly, her voice a little panicked. "We can celebrate, the three of us. Like it's always been."

"Celebrate...," Gale says thoughtfully. "Madge, how have you been drinking alcohol while you've been pregnant?"

I can't help it. I let out a loud snort of laughter as I grab the last stray object, my cell phone. The screen shows three missed calls from Peeta and one from Prim. I hastily shove the phone in my purse and stand, giving Madge an apologetic smile.

"I think you guys should celebrate alone. You have a lot to talk about, and all I want right now is a nice shot of whiskey down at the bar. Can you let Prim know that's where I am when she gets back? She'd called me, but I don't want to bother her if they're still doing the VIP thing."

"Sure thing," Gale says with a nod, oblivious to the worried expression on Madge's face as she watches his closely. "Peeta was looking for you too."

"No," I snap quickly, throwing the purse quickly over my shoulder. "No Peeta. I need to be alone for a while. Just...just tell Prim where I am, okay? Only Prim."

I don't wait for their response, knowing Madge's will be patronizing and Gale's will be curious, instead hastily throwing open the door and getting out of that room as fast as I possibly can.


The whiskey burns as it slides smoothly down my throat, adding to the pleasant little fire that's starting in my belly. I'm decidedly intoxicated at this point, not able to bring myself to nurse the single glass of liquor I usually stick to when wallowing in my own self-pity. With Peeta's words ringing in my head and the band's tab open for use, I've had a little more to drink that I should have.

"Enjoying yourself?" a voice asks, a hint of a smile in the tone.

I whip around in my bar stool, the sudden movement making my head swim. It takes my eyes a minute to focus on the blurry form in front of me, and the first thing I'm able to make out is a pair of soft blue eyes. I don't even need the rest of the image to come into focus to know who's just snuck up on me.

"Peeta," I sigh, turning back about around in my stool, more slowly this time. "What are you doing here? Don't you have a VIP thing tonight with fans?"

Peeta sits on the stool beside mine, shrugging. "I ducked out a few minutes early. Most of the fans wanted to see Finnick, so it was easy for me to slip out. The rest of us are all but invisible around him."

"I highly doubt that," I say darkly, remembering the girls from the first festival, particularly the one who'd kissed his cheek. I'm momentarily struck by the similarity between his statement and Gale's. Is that really how it is in the band? What would happen if Finnick left? Would they still be famous, or is Finnick's pretty face what's bringing in the fanbase?

Peeta ignores my comment, instead asking, "So...want to talk about why you bailed?"

"I wasn't feeling well," I mutter tersely, tipping my head back and letting the last of the burning liquid fall down my throat. Fuck, that's got bite. My blood sings happily in my veins, and it occurs to me the bartender, knowing how limitless the tab is for the band, has probably been giving me the good shit. God bless bartenders and their mood-sensing skills. I could kiss that man.

Peeta snorts. "So, logically, drinking is the solution."

"I didn't say it was my stomach that was the problem," I snap, setting the glass down heavily and nodding at the bartender. He gives Peeta a questioning look, as if he needs his fucking permission to refill my glass. Peeta gives me a subtle nod, and I growl under my breath, glaring at the bartender as he fills the glass again. He's just lost his chances of a thank-you kiss.

"Can I get you anything, sir?" the bartender asks Peeta politely.

"Yeah," Peeta says, reaching into his back pocket to pull out his wallet. "A Guinness, please. Draft."

The bartender hardly looks at the ID Peeta hands him before gently tossing it back to him. He quickly grabs a tall glass from below the counter and expertly fills it three-quarters full and sets it down on the bar to let it cascade for the necessary 119.5 seconds. I have to hide a smile when he actually hits a stopwatch. Peeta doesn't speak the whole time, just watches the bartender with a look of mild surprise. When the small bell of the stopwatch goes off, the bartender places the glass back under the tap and fills it up the rest of the way, stopping when the head is just proud of the rim. He then sets the glass down in front of Peeta with a satisfied expression on his face.

"Excellent work, Tyler," Peeta says thoughtfully, a small smile on his face.

I'm confused for a moment until I see the gold bar glistening on the bartender's chest. It's a name tag engraved with the name Tyler. Huh. I wonder why I didn't notice his name before. Probably because the name didn't matter so much as the efficiency with which he could pour my Jack.

"We don't serve it unless we can serve it right," Tyler says with a slightly smug smile before turning and walking back down the bar to help another patron.

Peeta takes a moment to lift the glass to his lips, taking a fairly large gulp of the brew. His face is screwed up into a worried expression as he places it firmly back down on the bar and suddenly asks, "Have I fucked everything up?"

I'm surprised by his bluntness, then realize I shouldn't be. If I've learned anything about this man, it's that he's to the point in almost all matters. I take a moment to consider the expression on his face, wary about where this conversation is going to take us. I'm seduced momentarily by the eyebrow ring glittering in his brow. I'd been distracted by the ring in his mouth so much lately I'd nearly forgotten all his other ornaments. And then thinking of the tongue ring becomes a distraction...hmm...

I'm too drunk for this. I voice this to Peeta, but the words don't come out right. Instead, it sounds more like, "Too dank drumn."

What the fuck did I just say?

What am I trying to say?

Damn drunk.

Shit.

His eyebrow stud rises as he gives me an amused expression. His startlingly blue eyes are sparkling with mirth as he asks, "Dank drumn? Indeed."

"Fuck you," I say saucily, lifting my glass to my lips again for another hearty swig. "How did that sound?"

Peeta's expression is no longer amused. Actually, it's somewhere between annoyed and angry. "It sounds like it's time to take you back to the room."

He stands from his stool reaches for my arm, as if he intends to pull me off my barstool like a child, which infuriates me. So, naturally, I act like a complete child and rip my arm from his grasp and seize the lip of the bar firmly to avoid being pulled away again.

"No," I say, my tone carrying a decidedly whiny tone to it that almost makes me cringe. "I'm waiting for Prim."

"Prim's not coming," Peeta says exasperatedly. "She's still with the others. They're still probably about another half an hour away from getting here."

I snort and turn away from him, snapping, "Well, I'm staying here until they're back. So you might as well finish that beer and leave, because I'm not interested in the company."

"Oh, no you don't," Peeta says, sliding back onto his stool and picking up his Guinness again. "You're not chasing me off. I'm not the one running here, Katniss."

Dear God. What do I have to do, beg?

"Peeta," I sigh, turning toward him sluggishly in my intoxicated haze. God, moving is disorienting. "I'm not running, okay? That was just...a huge bomb you dropped on me. And I'm not ready to talk about it right now, okay? I'm drunk and you've got sexy piercings and...fuck." I trail off into a curse as Peeta's expression of amusement returns.

"Just the piercings?" he asks, his smile teasing. "Not the tattoos?"

Mmm. The tattoos. I don't know why I'd never examined them very closely before. Maybe because there were other things on my mind. Like the fact I'd never been with a man with a tongue ring before. And then, how great it was to be with a man with a tongue ring. The tattoos, having no stake in my sexual pleasure, hadn't even been on my radar.

No. That's wrong. I remember noticing them that first night at the club for Prim's birthday, when he'd first seduced me with the impressive figure he'd cut on stage. Remembering that night sends a thrill of excitement down my spine, and I remember the moment fondly now, a time when sex had been the goal and love had seemed such a far-off notion.

I examine his tattoos carefully, scrutinizing the one around his left wrist first. It's a pattern of black swirls wreathed in fire. It's beautiful and powerful, and I'm surprised I hadn't paid more attention to it before. On the underside of his wrist, on the delicate flesh at his pulse, is the recognizable design of the Mockingjay, their band logo and the name of the tattoo parlor where we'd gotten my nose pierced. And as I study the black swirls in the flames I start to recognize the shape of a few of them.

"What does it say?" I ask, examining the text. It's hard to see in the bar light and with the angle his arm is twisted at, but I know for sure there's words within the flames.

"Six string scream," he says softly, a small smile on his face as he watches the words sink in.

I raise my eyebrow at him now, the alliteration not lost on me. "Six string scream. I'm guessing there's a story there."

"Isn't there always, with a good tattoo?" he asks, the smile on his face widening to a grin. "It's just be a permanent mistake, otherwise.

"Care to share?"

Peeta shakes his head softly. "How about I tell you the story after we talk."

"Peeta," I sigh, rolling my glass back and forth between my palms. The click of my two rings hitting the glass centers me, the repetition soothing against the maelstrom in my head. "There's nothing to talk about."

"You ran away," he says bluntly, his tone indicative of his hurt. The wounded way he says it makes me flinch.

"You scared me," I say, equally blunt.

Peeta sighs. "Of course love scares you." The way he says it comes of as exasperated and resigned, and it worries me a little for some reason.

"Well," I say softly, "love really hasn't made a great impression on me."

Peeta turns his head to the side slightly, giving me a quizzical expression. "I thought your parents were in love."

A dry, sarcastic laugh crawls up and out of my throat at his words. "Yeah, and look where it got my mother. Love destroys people."

Peeta's face morphs from curious to astonished. "You don't really think that, do you?"

"I do," I say hoarsely, the words burning my throat angrily as they form. "My mom loved my dad so much it almost killed her when he died. She was so sick with grief I had to take over caring for Prim. I refuse to give myself to someone like that, to the point I'm nothing without them. It seems like a half-life, living that way."

Peeta's quiet for a moment, considering my words carefully. His next words surprise me. "Do you love Prim?"

"Of course I do," I say, horrified at the question. "She's probably the only person I've ever really loved."

"And would it kill you if she died?"

I start at his words, which take a few seconds to process. And as they do a sick, terrified feeling of dread slides over my skin. Prim, my sister. Dead. My eyes suddenly start to burn, and I'm shocked to realize it's from the welling up of tears.

"Of course," I say again, softer this time. "Prim is my everything."

"Would you stop loving her," Peeta asks, equally as soft, "if it meant you'd never have to hurt if you lost her?"

"I don't think I could ever do that," I say, turning back to stare glumly in my drink, which only has a swig or two left in the bottom of the small glass. "Loving Prim is like breathing. It just...is."

"So, why is love so bad? Isn't better to have and love Prim than to not have her at all?"

"To love and have lost is better than to have never loved at all," I say, repeating the clichéd phrase echoed in his words. "I'm familiar with the concept. With Prim, yes. But I'm content to only have one great love. The odds of losing one person is less than the odds of losing two."

"Katniss," Peeta says in an urgent tone. "I'm not asking you to love me. That statement was just that, a statement. No strings attached. I just wanted you to know I'm serious about you, that I'm not just a rock star using the nearest girl for his own pleasure. I wanted you to know you matter to me." His tone is dark as he adds, "But now I'm starting to wish I hadn't said anything at all."

I turn my head slightly to look at him out of the corner of my eye. He's brought his lips back to his drink and is taking another long swallow, the muscles in his neck clenching as the liquid moves down his throat. A warm, familiar sensation begins between my legs, and I have to fight a groan as I watch him. Why is it, no matter how much this man has managed to freak me out, I'm desperately attracted to him?

"It's not what you said," I say, willing the rising heat on my chest to not creep up to flush my cheeks. "It's the expectation that usually comes with those words."

Peeta gingerly sets his drink back on the bar counter, a small smile sneaking onto his face. He turns to look at me, and his eyes are brighter, his expression less dejected. "Finally, something I can work with." He gives a little laugh and shakes his head. He leans forward and brushes his fingers across my cheek, pushing back a stray lock of hair hanging on my face. "Let's just forget I said what I said, but with you still knowing I care about you. That this isn't just a meaningless affair on a screwy tour. You'll accept that I care, and I'll accept that you're not ready to fall in love."

His smell is intoxicating now, soaring to my body and setting it on fire. God, just being within three more inches of him is overwhelming, especially with the intensity in his stare. Those eyes haven't lost any of the power they held over me since that first night at the club in Panem. If anything, their hold over me is stronger, more sure now.

"I don't know if I ever will be," I say, my voice breathy as I force each word out, the liquor and lust rolling through my body making speech seem daunting.

Peeta chuckles and slides his hand down my cheek to the column of my throat. As his cool fingers meet my overheated flesh, I know the flush I've been trying to mentally beat back has surfaced and is obvious to him now. I feel the skin heat up more with my embarrassment at having been caught.

"I'll accept that, for now," Peeta says kindly, his fingers sliding to the back of my neck. "But I'll win you over eventually, Katniss. You can't fight this forever."

And then, before I have a second to protest, Peeta's lips are on mine. I start at the sudden contact and fully intend to push him away, but my body takes over before my brain can seize hold of the situation. Every cell in my body begs me to press my body up as tightly to him as I can, barstools and public space be damned. The kiss is never sweet, and I think that was his intention. He wants this kiss to consume me and all thoughts I may have of objecting. My hands grab at his hair roughly, sliding through his curls desperately. His tongue pushes insistently against my lips, and I instantly grant him entrance. His tongue slides over mine smoothly, the small ball of his tongue ring tickling the sensitive flesh. I groan as lines of pleasure ooze through my limbs, making them heavy. It's a strange mix of frantic lethargy, the tingling pleasure of desiring Peeta. My body calls out to collapse into a bed so I can fuck this man with a passion. My awareness of the bar around us falls away, and all I can think of his how soft his curls are between my fingers and the growing pulse between my legs. I fight the urge to shimmy off of my bar stool and into his lap. The hunger inside me grows, demanding his body, starving to be skin to skin with this man.

"Peeta Mellark!"

The shout rips through the fog of my lust, and I rip my lips from Peeta's and turn toward the sound. I'm instantly blinded by a bright flash of white. There's a low murmur of several people talking quietly, and my fingers tighten in Peeta's hair reflexively, my nerves jumping to high alert. Peeta's hushed curse and push on my shoulders brings me back to myself, and I drop my hands from his hair and onto his shoulders, gripping the leather of his jacket instead. Another brilliant white light flashes at us, followed by a series of others.

"Peeta Mellark! Who's the girl?"

"What's your name, miss?"

"Is this your girlfriend, Peeta?"

"Anything to say to your devastated fans, Peeta?"

Peeta curses again, louder this time, and I can feel the panic rising in me. Completely surrounding us is a sea of what I guess to be about a dozen paparazzi, but between all the flashes of light it's hard to discern one person from another. I can't bring myself to do anything other than sit there, jaw nearly on the floor while the panic paralyzes me. But Peeta's all action, seizing my hand and attempting to drag me to my feet and away from the flashes of light. I numbly let him pull me, and we move to dart down the bar and away from them, but the mass of people surges with us, moving to block our way.

And in the process, I'm somehow separated from Peeta.


.x.x.x.


Hi everyone! Hopefully you haven't all forgotten about me and this story during the long hiatus. It's been an insane couple of months for me, but I'm hoping (hoping!) to get this wrapped up by the end of February before baby Jude gets here. So here's to hoping that actually happens.

Thanks to everyone who supported me and pestered me during my hiatus, particularly Phsco13 and my amazing beta Court81981. You guys really are the best.

Follow me on tumblr as simplyabbeycat to keep up on when the next chapter will be coming, pester me about updating and get the upcoming scoops on new stories coming.

Thanks again for your support, everyone. It really does help!