Peeta Mellark has been her next door neighbor since pretty much birth. Their bedrooms face each other, and when they were six they strung up cans on a wire and tried to communicate. When they were eight, they tried to develop flashlight language. When they were ten, they tried playing Frisbee in their separate rooms, only stopping when they shattered Peeta's dining room window.
When they were twelve, Katniss's father died. And she stopped having time for things like flashlight languages, trying to send paper airplanes wooshing through his window. She kept her window shut, her curtains closed.
When they were fourteen, he stopped checking.
When they were sixteen she opened the window one late afternoon to find him pressed closely to a girl on his bed, fingers curled tightly in her dark hair. She's dreamed about it many times since then, only instead of some stranger she doesn't recognize it is her, and he is tugging at her dark braid, and she is the one calling his name…
They are eighteen now, almost completely through with their senior year; sometimes she still peeks through the same green curtains she has had for the last ten years and looks into his room. Wonders what he would do if she twirled her flashlight in a circle and blinked it on five times. He probably doesn't have time for things like that, though — Peeta Mellark is popular. He is the star on the school's wrestling team, captain of the debate club, and in his spare time he works at his parents' bakery. And there have been several girls since the first one she saw him with.
Not that she's been looking. A lot.
She knows he wouldn't have time for her, even if she wanted to make amends. He has friends and clubs and sports and work and girls and the whole world falling open for his beautiful smile that he still flashes her way every time he sees her (which is too often and not often enough). And she is just Katniss Everdeen, famous for her scowl and her perfect aim and for kicking Cato in the groin when they were in ninth grade. They are separated only by the lawn that his father makes sure stays perfectly trimmed, but they are really worlds apart.
But she still catches him looking sometimes — when he thinks she doesn't notice. In Calculus. At lunch. In the hallway, when she stoops down to her bottom locker and her shirt slides up a little in the back. When they pull into their driveways at the same time. When she is on her porch, listening to the crickets, and he comes home from work. Every time, the same thing. He looks at her, something she can't understand in his eyes; whenever he sees she has caught him, he gives her a crooked smile. The one she recognizes from when they were kids. Tells her hello, softly, like he's never sure if he's allowed to.
She wonders if she will ever stop thinking he is beautiful. She doesn't remember when she started thinking he was beautiful. It was sometime between making mud pies with him in first grade and seeing him running along their street shirtless last year, but it is here and it is constant and it makes her breath close up tightly in her chest when she thinks about it too much.
She wonders if he ever thinks about her like she thinks about him, when she lies in bed at night and turns her head towards her window. Knowing if she looked out, his curtains his mother insists stay up would be swaying in the breeze because he likes to sleep with the windows open.
He probably doesn't.
It is a hot April, which isn't unexpected in her part of the south. What is unexpected, though, is the way the air conditioner refuses to click on when it finally hits 80 degrees in their house. Turns out the unit is completely broken; it's almost as old as Prim is, so it's not completely unexpected, but it is still one of the most inconvenient things to piss her off so far this year. Her window stays open more than it has in six years, the curtains pushed back as far as they will go, trying to coax a breeze into her room.
That's how it happens.
One night, a week after the air conditioner broke, Katniss rests listlessly in bed. The moon is bright and full and cars continue to pass by, and with all the thoughts of midterms and graduation and the future, she cannot sleep for anything. She sits up finally, well after midnight, and walks silently to the window. Looks at the full moon through the curtains, and then her eyes flit over to—
His lamp isn't on, but the moon and the streetlight shine in to his room, casting a surreal glow over everything. And there he is. On his bed. Sitting on the edge, eyes closed tightly.
With his hand. You know, there.
Oh god, she can't even say it. Can't even think it.
Can't even tear her eyes away.
It's not exactly the first time she's seen one (god, she can't even think that, either). She has the internet after all. But it's the first time she's seen Peeta's and, holy shit, are they usually that big?
She stares, open mouthed, fascinated by the way his hand pumps up and down, his other hand tightly clenching the bed sheet, his lips a perfect 'O.'
She should be disgusted, shouldn't she? She should close her window and turn away and write his mother a strongly worded letter. But instead, she finds herself wondering if her hands could make his shoulders jerk the same way, if he is panting as hard as she thinks (hopes, what is wrong with her?) he is, who he is thinking about—
Who is he thinking about? Shit. Shit. She is watching him get off to thoughts of another girl, and she is positive he would be horrified if he knew what was running through her head. The realization makes her stumble backwards, and her heel rams against her desk. Hard. "Shit!"
The expletive floats like the beam of a flashlight out of her open window. He freezes suddenly, looks up. Straight at her.
Katniss is too embarrassed to come forward and close her window, too terrified to keep looking at him. She knows he saw her, he must know she saw him, must know—
She slips back on her bed, throws herself back on the pillows. An hour passes by. Her hands are still shaking from sheer mortification. And something else, too, something that she can't admit to that is still crawling all over her. Her legs squeeze tightly together as she remembers the look on his face.
The only time she ever touches herself is when she can't sleep, when thoughts run through her head like too many cars on the road. And her hand creeps down, rubbing through her underwear until she is wet enough. And then she slips under the waistband, fingers quickly circling her clit, over and over and over until her legs shake and then everything else shakes too. It's quick, quiet, effortless. Usually she doesn't even have to think of anyone.
But tonight, it's not like that. Tonight her legs are already shaking from embarrassment, her panties already wet from what she just saw, and Peeta's face as he works himself runs through her mind on loop. And then her mind wanders.
His face when he works her. His fingers circling, dipping, the sound of him moving against her slick skin. His bare chest pressed against hers, the smattering of blond hair that caught the moonlight rubbing coarsely against her. The sound of her name coming from his golden tongue. His lips everywhere.
His lips everywhere.
It hits her harder than it usually does, and a small cry escapes her. Loud in the dead of the night. She lies there, chest heaving, mind racing. The calmness that usually follows orgasm completely escaping her, replaced by panic.
There is no way he heard her. There is no way he heard her. There is no way—
She sits up suddenly, looking through the window directly across from her bed. And he is standing at his window.
Looking straight at her.
. . .
Katniss sits in her first class of the day, calculus, tapping her pencil against the surface of the desk. Her heart has been hammering nervously all morning. She thought all morning about skipping school (forever), but she had to take Prim, and couldn't think of a good lie to divert her. So she is here.
So is Peeta.
She knows he is looking at her, can feel his stare burning through her as Mr. Heavensbee drones on and on about limits. She feels a flush creep up her neck, stinging her ears; she fiddles with the end of her braid. She won't look back, she won't look back, she won't—
She can't help it; it's just for a second, just a twitch of her head to the side, but their eyes lock. And he is staring at her, she was right, and there is an intensity that makes her turn her head even more, looking him full on. Realizes what she's doing, turns back sharply. Doesn't look again.
But he manages to brush past her on the way out, cupping her elbow slightly. "We need to talk," he whispers. She turns around but he has already walked off, heading in the opposite direction.
She spends the rest of the day in a fit of anxiety, her silence more brooding at lunch with Madge, her disinterest more pointed during history. We need to talk. About what? That she caught him jacking off? That she spied on him while he did it, and then got off to it? Oh, god. She literally cannot do this.
So she doesn't. Not for the first time, when the bell rings signaling the beginning of the last period, she slips through the quietest hallway in school, past the art room, shop class, and band room, making her way around the football field to the parking lot and sliding into her car. Prim has cheer practice today and is riding home with Rue, and Mr. Abernathy never takes attendance. No one will ever know.
On the way home she stops at Dollar General and buys the cheapest oscillating fan she can find; when she gets home, she slams her window shut, closing the curtains violently.
Any idiot could get the message she is trying to send. That doesn't stop the sinking feeling in her stomach as the minutes crawl slowly by as she sits on her couch, watching daytime TV and waiting for the sound of his car in the drive.
. . .
She wakes up disoriented, her skin sticking to the leather of the couch in the late afternoon heat; a text from Prim lets her know that she is staying the night with Rue. The house is a mix of sunlight and shadow, and she stumbles to the kitchen for a glass of water, fumbling when she glances through the back door window at the porch.
She is aware of the frazzled state of her braid, tugging awkwardly at the hem of the running shorts she never actually runs in. Pulls open the door and glares at him blearily. "What the hell are you doing here?"
He is fucking golden in the fading sunlight, and the sketch pad in his hands perfectly depicting the light shining through the oak tree in her backyard only serves to piss her off more. His perfection is obnoxious. Why is he here?
He finally looks up at her, swallowing nervously at the obvious irritation on her face. Clumsily wipes the charcoal staining his fingers on his jeans, stands up to face her. "I told you we needed to talk," he says finally, blue eyes catching hers. She twists the door handle nervously, tugging at her shorts nervously; his eyes follow the action and something in her chest tightens. "I saw you leaving school," he adds a moment later. His glance goes to her legs again, and his tongue darts out to lick his lips, and the feeling spreads to her fingers. Shit.
"Look, Peeta," she says, leaning against the door frame and crossing her arms defensively. "Maybe I wasn't really clear enough. I don't want to talk."
Something passes over his face, more like a scowl than anything she has ever seen from him. "Yeah, I got that memo," he says dryly, "about six years ago."
She feels herself flush with guilt. "No, I — Peeta, I want to talk to you. It wasn't ever about not wanting to talk to you. I mean, I — ugh. Just not about what you want to talk about, not that."
Peeta takes a step closer and then steps back, rethinking things. "You want to talk to me?"
She shrugs, turning around and walking back inside. When he follows her, she takes a seat at the counter. He sits beside her; their elbows touch. She remembers eating grilled cheeses with him here when they were younger. They sit in silence, and she wonders what he is thinking.
"It wasn't ever about not wanting to talk to you," she says suddenly. "It was just — God, Peeta. My dad was dead and my mom lost it, and I had to figure out how to use life insurance money to buy groceries. I just — things weren't the same. They couldn't be the same." He stays quiet, but she feels him looking at her. "I used to just wonder…I don't know, whatever. What you would do if I just started talking to you again, if I threw something through your window, if I did that thing with the flashlight again."
"Katniss—" His voice is soft, but she can't look at him, can't listen to what he has to say. Six years of thoughts are exploding from her and she can't stop them.
"But you were just — I couldn't. I didn't know how, and then it was like all of a sudden everyone loved you, and I knew you wouldn't have time for me anyway. And there were all those stupid girls in your room, and just seeing you made me so nervous, especially when you go running, and — last night, I don't know. I didn't mean to see you, I didn't mean to. I know I shouldn't have watched, but I just — you were so—" She jumps up, still not looking at him. Grabs her glass of water but doesn't drink, just holds it tightly.
"I know it was creepy to, uh, you know. Do. What I did. But you seriously just, you were there and you were so — you know." She finally looks at him, accidentally, and his expression is something that she can't understand. His eyes are a deeper blue than usual in the darkening kitchen. She presses her palms tightly against her eyes, thinks her hands might be shaking. "Please just leave."
But he doesn't. Instead he moves so close that she can feel how warm he is, pulls her hands from her eyes. He rolls his eyes, but he is smiling a little; she swallows hard. He squeezes her hands. "Shut up, Katniss."
And then he is pressing against her, his lips soft. Pulls away slightly, waiting, forehead pressed against hers.
She shouldn't. Because really, she barely knows him, hasn't really known him since sixth grade, and isn't this a bad idea? But then his hand slips around, resting low on the small of her back and pulling her harder against him, and he whispers, "You make me nervous too. Always have."
And really, how weird can it be after they've seen each other masturbating?
. . .
Somehow they make their way up to her room; she thinks if she lets herself she would feel embarrassed at how quickly they are moving, but the way his hands trace up her side and brush underneath her breasts erase all thoughts from her mind, everything but Peeta, Peeta, Peeta. He hovers over her on her bed, the warmth of his exhale against the hollow of her throat making her shiver. He smirks, pressing kisses to her neck.
"What?" she asks, her voice embarrassingly breathy.
Peeta grins happily, rolling onto his side. He props his head up with one hand, the other resting hotly against her rib cage. The heat burns through her shirt, in a way that is better than she ever thought possible. "I've just thought about this a lot," he admits, tracing circles on her side. Without even thinking, she squeezes her thighs together. "About talking to you again. Kissing you.
He looks up at her tightly shut window, smiles again. "About being in here with you. A lot."
Her breath hitches a little. "Who were you — who were you thinking about?" He gives her a quizzical look and she flushes again. "Last night."
He laughs lightly, leaning back over her. "Miss Trinket," he teases, hand sliding up from her side and cupping her breast, face turning serious when she lets out a little moan. "You," he says solemnly. "Always you. Since before I was even old enough to think about things like that, it was you." She rolls her eyes at his words and he grins again. "Since the first day we made mudpies together and I heard you singing."
She scoffs, squirming as he continues to palm her breast through her shirt. "We were like six."
He shrugs. "Five," he corrects offhandedly, attention focused on her chest. He grunts in surprise when she pulls him against her, kisses him more frantically than she has before. Moans his appreciation when she pulls away from him to slip her shirt off.
"I wonder if I can get you to make those sounds you made last night," he whispers against her skin, and she laughs. Laughs turning into sighs the lower he slides down. Sighs turning into moans.
. . .