I've been a silent observer of THG fandom for quite some time now, and have been in love with Everlark since I first finished the series. To show my appreciation to all the wonderful writers out there, I present to you my thank you for hours upon hours of lovely, perfect Everlark readings with a small story of my own. I was hoping to have this up by New Years, as it is essentially a New Years story, but it turned out to be much more time-consuming than I intended. Beware of shameless fluff, general silliness, and (hopefully) some Everlark swooning. I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! Happy new year :)

Rated M for language and sexually explicit scenes.

Acceptable Payment: A Date With Katniss Everdeen

At Prim's encouragement, Katniss had applied to the Forestry & Botany graduate program at Capital University in mid-spring. It was the same master's program that their father had completed, and too expensive to be covered entirely by scholarship money. In order to supplement the extra cost, she snagged a job bartending part-time at The Hob, courtesy of a strong reference by fellow CapU alumni Johanna Mason.

Their alcoholic boss Haymitch Abernathy's introductory interview question ("so what makes you think you'd be a good fit here at The Hob, sweetheart?") was responded with what her best friend Gale referred to as an "evil kitty" remark ("because I would never over-serve someone to the point of being as drunk as you obviously are").

He loved her immediately. She started that night.

When Prim left their mother and her on a nursing scholarship to a prestigious school up north in late summer, Katniss had been left feeling a little lost. After their father died thirteen years previously, she had been determined to make sure that Prim's future would not suffer when she realized that their mother was lost to depression. Watching Prim leave, seeing her efforts realized as her little sister had excitedly taken a full-ride offer into the program of her dreams, she was torn between feelings of immense pride and overwhelming sadness at her absence.

In early fall, she escaped the dreariness that was now her childhood home without Prim and moved into a small, two-bedroom apartment in the city with Johanna. Their apartment quickly became her new haven, a place where she could devote her energies to now that Prim had gone.

She had settled into her new routine, splitting her time between school and work with ease. On an early October morning, Katniss walked her usual route to CapU, looking forward to another day of fieldwork. The long hours she spent in the woods around the city, collecting plants and analyzing forest beds, were her favorite hours of the day – alone, quiet, and reminiscent of the sights and smells of her father. It brought the comfort and solace needed to ease her into the chaotic messes that were her nights at The Hob. This day had been particularly dirty and difficult, and when she had finally begun her walk home some eight hours later she was satisfied but exhausted.

That's when she smelt it.

A block from her and Johanna's apartment was a tiny bakery. Just as she walked by its little, yet undeniably enticing, window display, the door opened as a happy customer clutched a buttery Mellark Bakery pastry bag tight in their hands. The delicious smells that tantalizingly wafted out beckoned her feet inside before she even realized it.

"Hello there. Anything I can help you find today?"

Her eyes ravaged the rows and rows of cupcakes and creameries long before she turned to look towards the voice. The look on her face at the sight of so many delicious pastries must have been exuberant, as when she finally locked eyes with the clerk he had a beaming smile on his face. Her cheeks blossomed with a burst of color – both at the realization of her undeniable croissant-drooling expression and at the sight of the young man behind the counter.

She was greeted with golden-blonde hair, curling haphazardly across his forehead, and a charming smile. His eyes were an even lighter blue than Prim's and he had a lone streak of flour along the bottom of his jaw. He wasn't particularly tall, but had a wide, stocky build that was thick across his chest, tapering in under a flour-covered apron tied neatly around his narrow waist.

Her blush deepened at the realization that he was very attractive and, consequently, she was blatantly staring.

"Um…sorry. Hi." Katniss shuffled her feet forward, clearing her throat lightly and turning to face him squarely. "I've never actually been in here before. I…well, I'm not really sure what I'm looking for."

"Ah, first timer. Those are my favorite, actually." He smiled again, an almost imperceptible dimple flashing at her confession. "Any particular reason you came in here today?"

His voice was warm and welcoming; she could tell he was genuinely curious and was taken back by his obvious sincerity. He eyed her steadily, patiently waiting for her to respond with an adorably exciting grin on his face. It was contagious – she found herself smiling shyly back, inwardly berating herself for acting so flustered.

"Um, well…to be honest, whatever you have cooking back there smells amazing." She admitted hurriedly to him. To her immense pleasure he chuckled happily, nodding his head in agreement.

"Looks like you have excellent taste! I just finished a batch of a Mellark Bakery specialty, commonly referred to as cheese buns." He started backing away from her, disappearing behind a large swinging door beyond the bread shelves. "Stay right there, let me grab one for you!"

He returned momentarily, hands folding over the edges to her very own Mellark Bakery pastry bag. The smell reached her nose with renewed force and she couldn't help but sniff hopefully into the air. He flashed her yet another dimple-bearing grin and happily held out the bag to her. "I hope they live up to your expectations."

She folded her hands carefully around the package, feeling the still-warm bun spread warmth into her palms. "What do I owe you?"

"Absolutely nothing." He replied smoothly, blue eyes twinkling mischievously.

"No, please," she shook her head insistently, fumbling for her purse, "I can't let you do that."

"I insist. To welcome you as a first-time customer, this one is on me." He said kindly with a smile, crossing his arms across his chest in mock defiance. She stared at him blankly, unsure of what to do and uncomfortable with the free delicacy. Katniss didn't do free; she could afford it and wanted to pay for it.

"There must be something I can do…" she mumbled, hands encasing the warm bun.

"You can come back."


"You can come back." He repeated, a slight blossom of pink hinting at his cheeks. "Seeing you back in here again and knowing you loved that cheese bun seems like an acceptable form of payment to me. Do you accept?"

She was still staring at him. She contemplated. Her stomach wriggled at the thought of seeing him again – stop it, why are you thinking this way, you're being ridiculous – and before she could think better of it she muttered back, "okay."

"Excellent!" He beamed at her, and she couldn't help the slight smile that she felt tugging at her lips in response to his enthusiasm. "Then I look forward to seeing you again sometime soon…"

He looked at her expectantly. She swallowed. Right, her name. "…Katniss."

"Katniss. I'm Peeta." He stuck out one large, floury hand. She shook it. "I hope to see you again soon, Katniss. Enjoy your cheese bun."

She nodded, mumbled a thank you, and retreated back onto the street. She barely remembered the walk home, suddenly being aware that she was simply there, and she jammed her key into the lock. Johanna was asleep on the couch in the few hours they had left until they had to head to work, so Katniss tread softly to her room and closed the door, waiting until she was comfortably perched on her bed before opening the still faintly warm package between her hands.

It was the most delicious thing she had ever eaten.

He'd even put two in the bag.

She tried to ignore the peculiar excitement she felt when she realized she would have to go back for more.

December 17th

It was a tradition every year that when Delly Cartwright came home they got the entire CapU group together to get completely shitfaced and reminisce about old times.

"Hey Brainless, is this too slutty or not slutty enough?"

Katniss looked up from her spot on the couch, took in her friend's attire, and smirked. "That would barely justify as underwear for me. I think it's the perfect amount of slutty for you."

"And that is exactly why you never get laid." Johanna cackled at her, doing a satisfied twirl in the mirror. In typical Johanna fashion, her skirt barely covered her ass and the top of her breasts were spilling out of her shirt; an average day in the closet of Johanna Mason. Katniss frowned as she looked at her own appearance. She was greeted with sweatpants and a spaghetti-stained tank top.

"Does this mean I need to get dressed up too?"

"Of course it does. You can't go to the bar looking like a hobo."

"Thanks, Jo."

"Come on, you never dress up. Tonight will be fun! It'll be good for you to get out, let loose, have some drinks, black out, and wake up next to a stranger you'll never see again!"

"Thanks, but I think I'll leave the blacking out to you and Gale." At the thought of her old friend, she perked up a little. He'd landed himself a fancy job at a law firm downtown and she rarely saw him anymore. The only people she ever saw regularly among them were Johanna, Annie, and Madge. In the case of Johanna, perhaps she saw a little too much of her.

"Whatever. Go get changed, I expect to see at least some ass tonight from you!" Johanna pointed a finger at her with a raised eyebrow. Katniss raised her hands in surrender, heading towards her own bedroom.

"Fine, fine, I'll make a minute effort, give me a few."

Closing her door behind her, she wrenched her closet doors open and sighed. She wasn't one for dressing up and her selections were limited. Clothes had never exactly been a top priority for her – but her closest friends would all be together again tonight, so she felt a need to at least try. As she sifted through her limited selection she could hear a knock and some squeals (definitely not from Johanna) at the opening of her front door – Madge and Annie would be spending the night, as was tradition, along with Delly. Wriggling into some jeans, she bundled up to face the cold and headed out to join them, feeling light with the promise of a fun night with old friends.

The bar was busy, teeming with many others their age who were also happy to celebrate the homecoming of faraway friends during the holidays. The four of them arrived and wormed their way through the crowd, spotting Finnick and Gale at a table near the back end of the bar. Their heads were difficult to miss – both tall and athletic, they dwarfed over many others and were a guiding beacon wherever they went. To Katniss' surprise and delight, a short perky blonde was with them as well, talking a mile a minute and waving her hands around enthusiastically.

"You guys! You're here!" Delly threw her arms around them one by one, to which Katniss reciprocated warmly. She'd grown up with Delly almost as long as she'd grown up with Gale. More recently, Delly began attending the same medical school as Prim up north in her first year of doctoral training. "Don't you worry about a thing, Katniss, I've been keeping an eye out for Prim up there and she's doing fantastic. She was the only first-year offered a volunteer position at the hospital this Christmas!"

"I heard, and I'm not surprised at all. Thank you, Dell. We missed you." Her eyes shifted to Gale, who smiled handsomely at her and opened his arms.

"Hey Catnip, long time no see." He lifted her, spinning her once around and laughing happily. She'd missed him, her oldest friend. "Your little duck may be kicking ass saving the world up there but at least you still got me!"

"Yah yah, from what I hear it sounds like you're turning into quite the hot shot yourself." She responded, grinning ear to ear. He beamed at her; she knew how hard he'd worked to take care of his family over the years just as she had, driven by the same circumstances as herself. Their fathers had worked together, passing away in the same accident so many years before. Upon graduating high school, Katniss had retreated into the comfort and familiarity of her father's old stomping grounds. Gale, meanwhile, had gone into law in order to enforce stricter work site regulation laws. She was incredibly proud of him.

The moment was over when Finnick threw an arm over their shoulders, a devastatingly gorgeous smile upon his face. "What say we all start this night off right with a round of shots! My beautiful fiancé and I haven't been able to celebrate our engagement with all you fuckers yet, and tonight seems like the perfect night!"

They cheered in agreement as Annie shook her head in amusement, eyeing Finnick adoringly.

"Alright losers, let's get this party started. Hey Hawthorne, Undersee, let's get these sickly lovebirds a celebratory round or two!" Johanna waved them over, and the three of them trumped off to the bar. It was their usual tactic: Gale's large body pushed their way through the crowd, Johanna's voice was decibels higher than anyone else's, and Madge's striking All-American good looks never failed to capture the eyes of a passing bartender. Perfected during their days together at CapU, the technique was what Finnick referred to as the drunken triforce.

"So tell me Odair, how did you manage to convince Annie here to agree to marry you?" Katniss asked wryly, turning back to the table. Delly laughed in agreement.

"Ah, my dear sweet kitty Kat, it's simple really." Finnick smiled devilishly. "I took one look at her passed out in your bed after just 2 beers at frosh week in your junior year and I knew, without a doubt, that this woman would be my wife. So I convinced her until she felt the same way –"

"It took you 2 years of convincing Finn, how do we know you haven't brainwashed her." Delly commented, winking at an eye-rolling Annie.

"—which admittedly took longer than I thought it would," He continued, "but we all know how persistent I can be when I really want something."

"There was only so many days I could wake up to a singing Finnick on my voicemail before I agreed to go on a date with him," Annie laughed. "Who would've thought this big handsome lug would be such a softie for Whitney Houston."

They laughed good-naturedly, Finnick's sea-green eyes alight with happiness and cheeks touched a bit pink at their ribbing. He kissed his petite fiancé on her cheek, making her flush with delight, before he turned his bronze head into a conversation with Delly. Annie looked over at Katniss, placing a petite hand over hers.

"What about you, Katniss?" She asked, eyes hopeful and a little bit mischievous.

"What about me?"

"Have you met anyone recently that you felt an immediate connection with?"

"Didn't you just admit you only agreed to date swimmer boy because he practically stalked you?" Katniss remarked dryly, earning a huff of laughter from the smaller woman.

"True," she admitted, "but I only waited so long because I assumed he would be a total jerk. I always felt the same way about him as he did about me." She paused, looking thoughtfully at her. "I know you have a hard time opening up to people, Kat. Madge and I are always hoping you'll find someone that'll catch your eye."

"Unfortunately the only person that's caught my eye is Johanna, and that's because we work the same schedule." Katniss evaded the question, shifting uncomfortably at the question. No one knew about the bakery. No one knew about Peeta. She wasn't ready to divulge that information yet, not even to Annie, not to anyone – to admit it was to make it real. She was terrified of making it real, only to have it end in disappointment.

Annie smiled supportively. "Well one day someone will come along, Katniss Everdeen, and you probably won't even know how special they are until they're already half in love with you."

"I certainly hope someone comes along for her soon, I'm getting tired of being the only one of us bringing guys home." Johanna cut in with a loud laugh, wedging between the two to drop a small tray on the table with seven shots lying precariously upon it. Gale and Madge came up behind her, dropping two more trays.

"The Drunken Triforce strikes again!" Finnick yelled triumphantly.

"Jesus, you guys aren't wasting any time are you?" Delly remarked, eyeing the drinks warily. Gale laughed cheerfully, throwing an arm over a blushing Madge.

"Undersee here had the brilliant idea of celebrating tonight right. One round each for Finnick and Annie in celebration of their engagement –", a sea of cheers erupted amongst them, "— and a third round celebrating the return of our dear old Dell here!"

"And what delectable drink did goody two-shoes over here order for everyone?" Delly drawled teasingly over at Madge, who smirked contritely.

"Why, red dragons, of course."

The table erupted in voices; Annie groaning softly beside her, Finnick high-fiving Gale enthusiastically, Johanna bragging about the Mayor's daughter being a secret badass while notoriously shy Madge quietly beamed, and Delly distributing the three shooters evenly amongst them. They cheered, they toasted, and they shot them back one by one. As the alcohol burned down her throat, Katniss pushed the thoughts of a tousled, blonde-haired Peeta out of her thoughts and focused on the happiness that enveloped her from being amongst her closest friends.

October 11th

Katniss had fieldwork on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. She attended night class on Tuesdays and worked the night shifts at The Hob with Johanna from Wednesday to Saturday. She was busy. She had homework. She had bills to pay. She couldn't stop thinking about those goddamn cheese buns.

She'd first eaten them on a Monday. On her way home from class on Tuesday night, the little bakery was closed, the sweets and pastries in the windows barely visible from the light of the streetlamp. On Wednesday, she had chickened out. She'd walked by the little shop with her head tucked down, braid twisted carefully under Prim's knitted winter hat, and eyes firmly on the road ahead. She wasn't entirely certain if she wanted to go back for another cheese bun or just to talk to the friendly baker again.

The baker. Peeta. Handsome Peeta. Peeta that she hadn't been able to get out of her head. She was attracted to him. She knew it. It frustrated her. She wanted to ignore the little bakery for the rest of her life out of spite.

But after a busy night at The Hob on Thursday night, and living off of little sleep during her fieldwork on Friday, she found herself daydreaming about the little buns as she meandered her way through the woods that afternoon. By the time she was done, she had collected very little samples and her lab instructor had been less than pleased. She blamed it on her lack of sleep, but in reality was having trouble concentrating when her stomach was twisting over itself at the thought of going back to that damn bakery.

So she wasn't all too surprised when she found herself walking up to the storefront of Mellark Bakery on her way home that Friday. She felt embarrassed – should she try and pay him for the cheese buns again? What if he wasn't here today? Had he really wanted her to come back? – but she told herself that she was being stupid and pushed the door open. The door chime echoed softly into the tiny shop as she was greeted by the warm and inviting smells; immediately she felt her mouth water at the sensory overload.

"Katniss! You came back!" A familiar voice greeted her happily from somewhere…below her? Bewildered, she looked around her feet and saw a blonde head peeking out from under the window display. Chuckling at her puzzled expression, he carefully crawled out and pulled himself up in front of her with a sheepish smile. "Sorry about that, I had a little girl in here earlier who thought my cupcake display would look better on the floor."

His hands opened to display the remnants of what could only be bright pink frosting. Katniss smiled in response, feeling an unfamiliar tug in her stomach at having him stand so closely as opposed to behind the counter like before. Being closer to him, she could better appreciate his stature; shorter than Gale and Finnick, he was much broader and stockier, his Mellark Bakery shirt fitting snug across his shoulders. She tried not to stare. Or think about why she noticed this in the first place.

"No problem. Although I think she may have been on to something, pink is a good colour on you." She replied with a smirk, and to her immense pleasure he laughed warmly, dusting his hands off on his apron.

"Thanks, I may have to reconsider my uniform choice." He looked at her steadily again, and just as he opened his mouth to speak she cut him off hurriedly.

"I loved the cheese buns!" She exclaimed loudly, cheeks flushing at her exuberant tone of voice. Calm down, Everdeen, you're acting more like a girl than Madge Undersee does. He didn't seem to notice, however, and he positively beamed at her, dimple flashing.

"That's great! I really hoped you would!" His blue eyes were alight with pride.

"I'm afraid to say that I completely devoured them." She admitted. "I, um…well, I was hoping to pick up some more if you have any."

"Absolutely! Although, if you don't mind waiting a few minutes, I have a fresh batch just about to come out of the oven. They're best when they're fresh." He smiled eagerly at her. "Unless of course you're in a rush?"

"Oh no, no rush. Um…I have a few hours before work, really, so I don't mind waiting." She replied, having difficulty meeting him in the eyes. He had a way of looking at her that made her feel a bit light-headed. She wasn't quite sure what to make of it, and she couldn't decide if she liked it or not.

"Great! Uh, here, why don't you grab a seat." He pulled out a chair from a tiny table in the corner, littered softly with the crumbs of what must have once been delicious Mellark Bakery cookies. She sat down and, to her surprise, he pulled out the other chair and sat down casually next to her. "So, where do you work?"

"…Ever been to The Hob?" She asked warily. He laughed good-naturedly.

"Of course. I used to go there all the time when I came home in the summer from school." He smiled warmly at her. "How do you like it?"

"It's good, I guess. It can get a bit crazy I suppose but it pays well and it's close to home." Katniss paused, feeling oddly as though she had to explain herself. Perhaps because people like rowdy, wild Johanna typically worked at places like The Hob, and for some reason she didn't want Peeta to think that she was like that. "I'm actually in a master's program at CapU. My roommate works there, so she got me a job bartending to help pay for my school fees."

"Wow, you must be busy. Sounds like you're a hard worker." Peeta said genuinely. She nodded, blushing. He continued, "What program are you in?"

"Ah, forestry and botany. I love the woods, and being outside. So, um, if I'm ever covered in dirt that would be why." She answered sheepishly, suddenly aware of the soil under her fingernails. His eyes lit up curiously, and he seemed genuinely intrigued.

"Wow, that's…that sounds fascinating. That's such a unique field. What caused you to get into that?"

When people asked Katniss why she got into botany, she usually just told them that it was a family trade. Telling them the truth meant telling them about her father, about the many hours they used to spend in the woods together before he died, and she didn't like to bring him up. Her father was special to her, a huge part of her life despite not physically being in it, and only those closest to her were lucky enough to know about him.

But for whatever reason, she decided to tell the story of her father to Peeta. Maybe it was the honesty she saw in his eyes, or maybe it was the way he just looked at her like he genuinely wanted to know. So they talked about her father and Prim, about her classes and her fieldwork, and about the many nights she spent waving off drunks at work. He looked her directly in the eyes and asked all the right questions, laughing heartily at her dry sense of humour and prompting her to speak more in twenty minutes than she typically did after an entire shift at The Hob.

So when she left the bakery a short while later with another warm package between her hands, she left with a smile and a spring in her step, feeling light for the first time since the day Prim had left.

December 18th

Katniss woke to the feeling of being squished. Her head pounded, her mouth felt dry, and she was overcome with a wave of nausea from the offensively bright light peeking in from her bedroom window. Why the fuck did I let Gale buy jagr bombs. Why the fuck did I drink them. Johanna better not be naked next to me again. Her eyes opened in alarm at that thought, and she wearily sneaked a peak over her shoulder from her edge of the bed.

It wasn't a naked Johanna, although there were two bodies lying next to her. Closest was a shirtless Gale (what the fuck?) and cocooned in his arms was an equally shirtless…Madge?

Katniss furrowed her brow in confusion. Evidently the boys had spent the nights as well, but the sight of Gale and Madge together was a new one. Just as she was about to decide to not question it and fall back asleep, her bedroom door was wrenched open by a still-drunk Finnick. Gale and Madge shot up abruptly beside her.

"Morning you fuckers! I just ordered us a huge McDonald's breakfast! Get your asses up and come have a mimosa with me!" He smiled lopsidedly at her before taking in the entangled couple beside her, Madge crossing her arms indignantly and Gale shutting his eyes in protest to the copious amount of noise. "Whoa, did you two do the dirty last night?"

"Finn, what the fuck man, get outta here." Gale mumbled, throwing a pillow at Finnick's triumphant grin. He cackled gleefully and shut the door behind him with a flourishing bow and a "you'll thank me for breakfast later!" coming through the door. The room was met with silence.

"So…" Katniss begin awkwardly, clearing her throat.

"Uh…sorry Catnip. Hey, my pants are still on! That's uh, that's…that's good right? I didn't mean to, uh, get personal in your bed." He mumbled uncomfortably back, eyes shifting between the two women beside him. Madge had a curious caught-in-the-act look about her that suggested whatever happened between them last night wasn't a first time encounter.

"Well, how long has this been going on?" She asked with a smirk. Madge flushed, hands scrambling to find and straighten her shirt. In truth, Katniss was happy about whatever had happened with them. Madge had had a crush on Gale since the day she met him in 8th grade, but had been too shy to speak more than two words to him throughout high school, him having been a few grades older than them.

"Ah…about 2 months or so. We didn't wanna tell anyone yet, but I guess the Finnick is out of the bag…" Gale chuckled, his voice raspy. "Jesus, who threw the rock last night? My head feels like I got hit with one."

Madge smiled at that, eyes a bit bleary. "That would be yourself. You ordered the last round of jagr bombs that caused half of us to black out."

"Oh yah, I did do that didn't I. Whoops!" He smiled broadly, looking between the two. "Shit, my head hurts. Sorry Catnip, I don't think I'll be leaving your bed anytime soon." He smiled his biggest best-friend smile at her and collapsed half on Madge, who giggled embarrassedly. Katniss sighed.

"Yah, just keep your pants on please, Mr Hot-Shot lawyer…" She crawled out of bed and threw on her housecoat over her clothes from the night before, sliding her feet into slippers and eagerly awaiting a cup of coffee.

November 4th

Before long, Katniss found herself incorporating visits to the Mellark Bakery into her weekly routine. She stopped by to enjoy a cheese bun with Peeta after her fieldwork on Monday's, Wednesday's, and Friday's, and they both treated the occasion as a normal part of their day. As the weeks went on, she found herself staying just that much longer with each subsequent visit.

Peeta was just so engaging. He made her feel comfortable and personable, feelings that she experienced very rarely with other people. He had a way about him, a way that drug her out of her shell and brought her more to life. He was just so bright, in every sense of the word, and it startled her with the ease in which she opened up to him.

She learnt a lot about him, too. He had lost his father as well; Peeta had been at an art school a few states over when his father had succumbed to a heart attack a few months previously. Consequently, he flew home to help run the family bakery a few days a week while his older brothers split the remaining hours. He also taught an art class at a local high school a few days a week because he "couldn't stand to be away from it for too long", claiming it helped him to focus his emotions after his father's passing. They shared many stories of one another's father's, and found a common respect for one another's loss.

He loved to draw and paint, and he decorated all of the cakes at the bakery now that his father was gone. At her inquiry, he had also shyly admitted that the beautiful murals that danced along the walls of the bakery were done by himself. He'd gone to school on a full scholarship, and only had to complete one last semester to earn his degree, something he intended to finish when things at the bakery settled down a bit more.

He was a year older than her at twenty-six, and he went to the same high school that Finnick had gone to, a few districts over from her own. This news had taken her by immense surprise; she was terrified to mention anything about knowing Finnick in the fear he knew him, too. For now, she wanted to keep their friendship (could she call it that? She wasn't really sure) a secret between just them.

Katniss also discovered a lot about him that she had a difficult time putting into words. Like the way his dimples flashed whenever she told him something new about herself. Or how he was so confident with himself, comfortable with who he was, but still retained an endearingly self-deprecating attitude towards his accomplishments. She noticed he had some of the longest eyelashes she had ever seen, his eyes were the clearest blue, and his smile was the tiniest bit crooked.

And she could not deny the flutter in her stomach when she would come in to witness him hauling hundred-pound bags of flour over his head, the muscles in his arms swelled and coated with the lightest sheen of sweat.

But perhaps what she enjoyed most of all was the look on his face whenever she came in on her usual days, as though he was always pleasantly surprised to see her. He made her feel as though he was genuinely happy to see her, Katniss, not her, the customer. His face lit up, smile beckoning, and they would start their usual greeting.

"Hey, Katniss! It's good to see you again."

"Hello again, Peeta. How's it been going today?"

They were the highlight of her days. She kept the cozy secret all to herself, worried that if she put their friendship into words that the happy void it had filled in her life would vanish as quickly as it had come.

December 18th

She closed her bedroom door behind her, taking in the sight before her with an amused smirk. Finnick was whistling in her kitchen, sipping on a mimosa while brewing a pot of coffee. Annie and Delly were snuggled together on her couch, a precautionary bucket by their heads. Johanna's bedroom door was open, revealing two feet under a mountain of blankets. Muffled grumbling could be heard from underneath the pile.

"I swear to god, Odair, if you don't shut the fuck up…"

"Ah, Katniss! At least someone else is finally awake with me!" Finnick grinned eagerly at her, and she waved dismally back at him.

"Good morning to you, too. How's the coffee coming along?"

"It needs a few more minutes, but in the meantime…mimosa?"

"Mother of god, no." Katniss replied, sitting heavily on the couch at the feet of the other girls and ignoring another round of Finn's raucous laughter. Delly cracked one bleary eye at her.

"Hey. You still alive?" The blonde asked, hair mussed and eyeliner smudged under her doe eyes. Katniss groaned.

"Unfortunately." Shifting a look at Annie's sleeping face, she continued. "I'm surprised the future Mrs. Odair is still asleep. Usually she's the one giving us a wakeup call." At the sound of more whistling from behind her, she grimaced. "Although, I much prefer her version over Finnick's."

"Yah, she wakes us up to warm blankets and hot coffee, not alcohol and obnoxious whistling. Take a hint from your fiancé, Finn!" Delly croaked feebly over the coach with a smile.

"Come on now you guys. Aren't any of you going to ask me why I'm in such a good mood this morning?" Finnick said happily, pulling over a kitchen chair and plopping into it with a hot coffee pot and empty glasses in his hands. He began pouring cups for Katniss and Delly, who both eagerly grabbed a glass while stoutly ignoring him. "Well, I got some very good news when I woke up, and it benefits all of you!"

"And what's that, Finn? The fact that you guys have McDonald's on delivery here is good enough news for me." Delly said over a loud sip of caffeine. Katniss sighed contentedly beside her. From her room, Johanna could be heard shuffling around, no doubt motivated by the scent of coffee.

"You all know my buddy Thom, from the gym?" They nodded. Finnick was on the swim team when they all went to CapU; after graduating with a kinesiology degree he got a job as a personal trainer on campus. Thom was his old high school friend, who graduated from a similar program at a school a few states out. He came back to work alongside Finnick, so they'd heard his name mentioned from time to time by him and Annie. "Well, his dad owns some big construction company and they're totally loaded. Smithson I think? Anyway, it turns out his parents are letting him throw a New Years Eve party this year at their house since they'll be flying out to see his grandparents instead. He wants it to be bumpin' so he asked you all to come!"

"And why would we want to go to a snooty New Year's party with a bunch of people we don't know?" Johanna made her entrance in her bathrobe and bunny slippers, taking the coffee cup out of Finnick's hands and taking a long sip. "Oh my god, that is so much better. Odair, you've redeemed yourself."

"Just because they're rich doesn't make them snooty, Jo." Finn replied, swiping his cup back. "It's going to be awesome. You guys may not know many people there, but you wouldn't even if we went to some shitty bar anyway. Think about it – all people our age, rooms to crash in, a DJ, a huge house…oh, and did I mention that it's going to be an open bar?"

"And I'm in!" Johanna cried, hands in the air. Delly squealed happily, finally awakening Annie from her slumber.

"This will be great! No long lineups and overpriced drinks like last year! Oh my god, we'll have to go shopping, I need a new dress!" Delly hugged Annie animatedly, who looked around with a dazed expression. Finnick laughed, placing a smacking kiss on her forehead before standing up and placing his hands on his hips triumphantly, a mischievous grin on his face.

"Alright, now that Annie is awake for this…who wants to help me rudely interrupt our newest lovebirds, Hawthorne and Undersee?"

November 22nd

It had taken nearly two months, but Katniss Everdeen finally admitted to herself that she was undeniably very, very much attracted to Peeta Mellark.

This was a rare thing for her. It wasn't that she avoided men, per se – she just had a hard time finding anyone to get excited about. Every rare time she had met someone that she'd thought had been attractive enough, normal enough, they had always gone and done some stupid thing or other; whether it was stalking her at The Hob while she was on shift, making out with another girl while she'd gone to the bathroom, or asking her if she wanted to try a 3-way with Johanna, the few men she had "dated" had all ended up failing miserably.

And then there was Peeta. They certainly weren't dating by any means, and she had no reason to believe he was even attracted to her. Hell, he could have a girlfriend for all she knew, and she tried desperately to reel in her imagination before it got the best of her. But it was absolutely impossible to find a fault with him, and consequently she found herself daydreaming about him more often than she cared to admit.

There was, of course, his looks. She had acknowledged to herself on the day she had met him that he was good-looking; you would have to be blind not to admit as much. After a few weeks of getting to know him, however, she now found him to be downright beautiful. His skin was so fair, a stark contrast to her olive tones, and lightly speckled with a hint of freckles along his arms and just across the bridge of his nose. His blonde hair, always slightly tousled and endearingly fallen in slight curls across his forehead, looked soft to the touch. He had a shy, endearing smile, with dimples that she had come to adore. She particularly found herself shifting uncomfortably whenever he lifted heavy packages to and from the kitchen on order days; his teeth would clench in effort and his stocky, chiselled build gave him so masculine a physique that she clenched her thighs together at the sight in order to alleviate some of the pressure she would feel building between her legs.

Then there was just him, Peeta, and who he was. He was just a genuinely good person. He spoiled all of the young children that came in with their parents, sneaking them a cookie whenever their mothers weren't looking, and he made sure to remember all of his customers by name. He simply made everyone feel special. The happy, confident demeanor in which he carried himself was infectious; she had never seen a single person leave the Mellark Bakery without a contented smile on their face. Whenever she tried to tell him as much, he grew flustered by her compliments, as though he wasn't used to receiving them.

It was probably the self-deprecating behaviour about him that attracted her most – it was as though he was completely unaware of how attractive and good he was.

Then again, when she came in one afternoon to find him wearing a pair of nice-fitted jeans and a blue t-shirt as opposed to his usual Mellark Bakery wear, she reconsidered this thought. Obviously, she was attracted to him because he was ridiculously, incredibly hot.

"Oh, hey Katniss! How was your fieldwork today?" He innocently asked her, as though he didn't realize how the blue of his shirt brought out the blue of his eyes. She momentarily lost her voice.

"Uh…good. It was good." She replied lamely. Damnit.

"Is it getting harder to stay warm out there?" He asked with a sympathetic smile. She nodded.

"Yah, but I'm used to it. Prim has sewn me enough scarves and hats to keep me warm for a lifetime." She shrugged and smiled tentatively back. He hummed in response.

"You must miss her a lot." He leaned in towards her suddenly from behind the counter, rearranging a stray piece of hair that had fallen out of her hat to be tucked behind her ear. When he realized she was staring at him, she saw a faint blush rise to his cheeks. "I guess being able to wear all these things she makes for you must help you miss her less."

"It does. I'm lucky to have such a talented little sister." She smiled, fighting the nerves in her stomach that came from his unexpected touch and trying not to actively stare at how the sleeves of his shirt clung to his biceps. Damnit, he is so hot. Try and relax, Everdeen. "So, um, what's with the fancy get-up?"

"Ah, yah, this is kind of out of place, isn't it." He chuckled, rubbing the back of his head absently. "My students are hosting an art gallery tonight with all their work they've made this semester, so I'm headed there after this place closes. Gotta be the supportive teacher and all."

"Yeah right, with the way you talk about them I'm surprised you haven't closed early to help with set-up." She remarked with a grin, silently relieved at his response. She'd been worried that he had a date tonight. With a girlfriend that she didn't know whether or not he had. Fuck.

He chuckled at that. "Yah, who am I kidding, we both know I'm insanely proud of those kids. They're pretty awesome."

"Well, I bet people would understand if you snuck out of here a few minutes early. I'm sure you'd rather be with them." She encouraged him, and he shook his head at her in response, presenting her with a shy smile.

"Who says being here with you isn't exactly where I want to be?"

When she did leave a few minutes later, it was with a warm feeling growing in her chest and an embarrassingly happy smile blossoming on her face.

It wasn't until she was halfway home that she realized she hadn't even bought any cheese buns.

December 21st

"How've you been feeling now that you're gettin' some from Hawthorne every night?"

Madge blushed and sputtered indignantly while the rest of them laughed. They had had a girls night out – shopping for Christmas presents and, now, enjoying a bottle of wine back at her and Johanna's apartment. When Johanna had walked in on them making out furiously on Katniss' bed the morning after the pub, the two of them had become the butt of every joke for the past couple of days. For shy Madge, she had been permanently embarrassed since being found out.

"It's not…oh, come on you guys…"

"I'm just happy I know what you've been up to these past few weeks. She's been so secretive at work, catching rides from a mysterious stranger. Looks like I know who bought you flowers the other week, too." Annie nudged Madge playfully. Annie was a counsellor at one of the local high schools; Madge worked at the same school as a music teacher. They often drove to and from work together, until recently that is. Madge blushed further red at the uproar that came from this admission.

"Gale bought you flowers?"

"I didn't know Hawthorne knew what romance was!"

Katniss laughed, taking another sip of wine and reminding herself to store this information for later. Any chance she could find to rib her best friend for she would definitely find a use for.

"Well, we certainly know what Madge has been up to these past few months. I don't think I want to know about your love life, Jo –" Delly was cut off by a loud, impertinent laugh from Johanna "—but what about you, Kat? Have any boys managed to catch your eye?" She asked with a wink.

"If there has, I'd be the first to know, now wouldn't I. Unfortunately from the sounds of things, I'm the only one who's managed to get lucky in the last little while." Jo said with a smirk. Katniss sighed.

"Sound of things, indeed. You could keep it down once in awhile."

"I'm making up for the both of us!"

"Awe, come on Katniss. Is there anyone you've met while I've been gone?" Delly cut in sweetly. Katniss shook her head firmly.

"Nope. Last guy I went on a date with tried to sleep with both of us." She said with a grin as Johanna rolled her eyes, mumbling something along the lines of "men".

"I dunno…I wouldn't be surprised if there was someone, and you just didn't want to tell us." Madge said thoughtfully. "Not for the same reasons I didn't tell you guys about Gale – we're all friends, and we thought it would be a big change – but because we know you."

"…She has a point, brainless."

"What do you mean?" She inquired, trying to keep a straight face.

"We just mean…that you can be really private about personal things. It takes you a long time to admit your feelings to yourself, and even longer before you admit them to anyone else." Annie said. The girls nodded in agreement, even Jo. "And that's okay. Just know we'll be here ready to listen when you're ready to tell."

"But there isn't –"

Delly stood from the couch suddenly, effectively cutting her off. "Who wants to make a run to the liquor store? It appears we've run out of wine, ladies!"

Katniss didn't fail to miss the knowing smiles exchanged between Madge and Annie, but she couldn't understand what it meant.

December 27th

Despite the fact that school was done for winter break, and Katniss therefore had no real reason for being at the Mellark Bakery at her usual time, she still went and Peeta never questioned it. If anything, their conversations shifted knowingly from discussions of finals and grading to talks about Christmas and ugly reindeer sweaters (of which he wore regularly throughout the month of December). She had happily placed a large order of cheese buns to send to Prim, and took home another batch for her mother and the Hawthorne's, of whom she and her mother spent Christmas with every year.

"Did you talk with Prim? Did she like them?" He asked in a rush as she stepped through the door at her usual time, stomping some snow off her boots on the mat inside. She looked up to see an eager grin awaiting her, and she couldn't help but lift her lips in response.

"She called as soon as she got them just to tell me how much she adored them. Thank you so much! To be honest, I think she liked the buns more than my actual Christmas present for her." Katniss chuckled at him, and he broke out in a beaming smile.

"Excellent, I'll have your whole family hooked in no time. That was my plan all along, you see."

"Yah yah, you just wanted to steal the show."

"I would never!" His blue eyes were filled with mirth as she made her way to the counter. "Seriously though, how was your Christmas?"

"It was good. I really missed Prim obviously, but I'm so proud of her for getting that volunteer position that it's hard to be mad at her." She pulled off her hat and shook out her braid, tucking stray dark strands behind her ears and placing the knit on the counter. He had an odd look on his face, as though he wanted to say something, but instead he smiled encouragingly at her to continue. "But yes, it was good. How was yours?"

"It was okay. A little tough to not have my dad around, he was such a Christmas fanatic and my mom just isn't very…festive, to put it lightly. But my brothers and I would've made him proud with the disastrous tree we decorated for him." He elaborated, about how it fell over several times before they gave up completely and ended up propping it against the wall of their house. His eyes were alight with amusement, and she laughed along with him, feeling that ever-present lurch in her stomach whenever he managed to bring a smile to her face.

Which, she admitted to herself rather annoyingly, was quite often.

"Sounds like a Christmas victory to me."

"I certainly hope so, we spent four hours on it!" He said indignantly, dimple flashing. "Actually, speaking of hours…" He turned around then, jogging through the door to the back of the kitchen. "Give me a sec!"

She waited at the counter, fingering her hat absent-mindedly. She was officially crazy. She was at a bakery for no reason other than to talk to a guy. This was in no way a Katniss Everdeen-like thing to do. She felt like Madge. Maybe even Johanna, with this level of crazy. She didn't even eat the cheese buns anymore because she was worried she was going to put on extra weight, and that was only when she even remembered to order any.

But she had butterflies in her stomach every time she talked to him. She felt warm and fuzzy whenever he remembered minute details about her life, and he looked at her sometimes as though she was the single bright spot in his whole day. She felt this connection with him, somehow, and it had crept up on her so unexpectedly that she realized after it was too late that she didn't want it to stop. So she kept coming, kept seeing him, kept talking to him, and had no idea what she could do to progress things forward. Hell, she didn't even know what forward meant.

There was also the fact that he had become the star of her night time fantasies for quite some time now. Katniss Everdeen was not new to lust, but what she felt towards Peeta was beyond that. It felt like a hunger, deep inside, and she desperately wanted to explore it.

She just didn't know how.

The swinging door burst open again and he jogged back up to the counter, blonde hair curling sweetly from the heat of the kitchen. She swallowed thickly at the unexpected rush of heat she felt between her thighs at the sight of the light sheen of sweat visible through his shirt, trying to prevent a blush of embarrassment from rising to her cheeks. Damn her stupid thoughts. Forget Madge, she was definitely turning into Johanna.

"I almost forgot. I wasn't sure if you'd be coming in today or not with it being so close to the holidays and all, but I made something for you. Think of it as a late Christmas gift. Sorry I couldn't get it to you sooner, I was trying to give it to you when you came in last but it, uh, it took a couple hours longer than I thought it would so it wasn't ready in time." He smiled at her shyly, handing her a Mellark Bakery cake box; she'd seen many a customer leave with one of these but had never eaten one herself.

"You made me a cake?" She asked incredulously. He nodded, a slight tinge of red on his cheeks. He seemed almost nervous about it.

"Don't open it now. I…well, I want you to open it when you get home. I want it to be a surprise, if you don't mind. I hope that's okay." He asked sheepishly, shuffling a bit fretfully behind the counter. She ran her hands carefully down the box, fingering the perfect bow that partially covered the Mellark Bakery insignia on top.

"Sure. I…thanks, Peeta. This was really nice of you." She said as earnestly as possible, trying to convey her appreciation for the gesture. He seemed to pick up on it, because he released a breath she didn't know he'd been holding and broke out in a cautious smile.

"It was my pleasure, really." He was doing it again; looking into her eyes and making her feel like she was something precious. Katniss tried and failed to tame the hope that flared in her chest, trying instead to change the topic.

"So, um, any plans for New Years?" She asked boldly, and he brightened noticeably.

"Yah, actually I do. You know how I mentioned I went to high school a few districts away from here?" She nodded, and felt an anxious flutter with the remembrance that there was, in all likelihood, a strong possibility that he actually knew Finnick. "Well, an old buddy of mine is having a house party at his parent's place. They own the Smithson construction company downtown here; you may have seen some of their work. Thom's parent's are out of town this week so he's having a bunch of people over."

For a few seconds, Katniss was fairly certain that her heart actually stopped. "Thom?"

"Yah, he's their son. I'll be spending the weekend out there and coming home after New Years, so if you come in on Monday I'm afraid I won't be here. I'm actually really looking forward to seeing some familiar faces, I haven't seen any of my old high school friends in longer than I care to admit." He smiled excitedly at her, and she tried her best to return it, but found it rather difficult with the latest thought that entered her head.

Peeta Mellark was going to the same New Years Eve party as she was.

She would be celebrating the New Year with Peeta Mellark, baker extraordinaire, object of her secret fantasies that nobody knew about. She was torn between wanting to throw up and wanting to scream for joy.

"…Katniss? Is everything okay?" His voice brought her back from her thoughts, laced with a hint of worry.

"Sorry! No, I'm fine, just thinking about my own New Year plans. That sounds exciting! I would be excited too." She said hastily. "How much do I owe you for this cake? I can't possibly…I didn't get you anything, I feel bad accepting it."

To her surprise, Peeta laughed rather incredulously at that. "I had a feeling you were going to say that. Don't worry about it. Honestly, when you open it I think you'll change your mind. It's a gift; I want you to have it."

How could she say no? Her skin was buzzing with so many thoughts, and it was the first time since she had met him that she wanted to cut their conversation short. She had a lot of work to do. "Thank you, Peeta, really. It means a lot to me."

"Anytime." He replied brightly, and she flushed under his steady gaze. Nodding her head, she grabbed her hat and carefully tucked her braid back inside, then wrapped her hands carefully around her package.

"Thank you again, anyway. And, um, I hope you have fun at your friend's party. You deserve it after the year you've had." She said sincerely, and he smiled appreciatively.

"Thanks Katniss." She tore her eyes from his gaze and headed for the door, head full of thoughts and an overwhelming grin taking over her face. Just before she stepped outside, she turned her head and called to him, still standing at the counter with his eyes on her, a curious look on his face.

"Happy new year, Peeta Mellark."

"Happy new year, Katniss Everdeen."

The bell chimed behind her as the door shut, and she started her trek home, careful to carry the cake upright and tight in her arms. She didn't want to ruin Peeta's present. It was difficult to concentrate, however, as her mind was abuzz with thoughts. That she currently was aware of, she needed to do two things:

First, she needed to inform Johanna about everything that was Peeta Mellark.

Second, she needed her help to make that sure she was the sexiest, most beautiful version of herself she had ever been for Thom's New Year's Party.

While she wasn't entirely comfortable in the area of dating, she could begrudgingly admit that she wanted Peeta Mellark in a way that she had never wanted anyone else before. And with an opportunity like this presented to her on a silver platter, she damn well wasn't going to waste it.

She opened the door to her apartment and carefully closed the door behind her. A note from Jo on the counter informed her that she was out at a movie with Delly. This was perfect; she wanted to open Peeta's package all by herself before she told Johanna the story.

Placing the box on the kitchen table, she carefully untied the ribbon and smiled at the Mellark Bakery insignia on the top. Whatever she was expecting to be inside the box, what she found was everything she was not.

It was relatively simple, all things considered. It looked like a classic red velvet cake, carefully iced and, despite being a few days old, still had the smell of a brand new delicacy. Peeta had been right; she no longer felt bad accepting his present. Iced carefully on top in what could only be his writing, was a message to her:

"acceptable payment – a date with Katniss Everdeen"

She'd never smiled so brightly her entire life.

December 30th

It had been difficult for her to explain Peeta to Johanna. She had kept him a secret for almost three months, and her roommate had originally been a little miffed that she hadn't told her sooner. After Katniss had admitted that she needed her help, however, Johanna had been ecstatic.

"You want my help to get you dolled up for blondie baker boy? Brainless, I never thought you'd ask."

Which is how Katniss found herself trying on a multitude of dresses, skirts, and high heels; none of which she had ever actually owned, and all of which she felt uncomfortable in. When she had finally settled on an outfit she felt somewhat less opposed to, she still stared at herself uncertainly.

"How do you do this all the time, Jo? I don't want him to think I'm…well, slutty." She cringed at herself in the mirror, turning awkwardly on her heels and unsure about the amount of skin she was showing. Johanna laughed at her from the bench she was perched upon in the dressing room.

"It's New Years. Everyone always goes a bit over the top. Besides, Everdeen, you are still going to be the most covered person there." Johanna eyed her appreciatively from behind her. "Honestly Katniss, he's gonna go ga-ga over you no matter what you wear if all he's ever seen you in before is your fieldwork clothes. I've seen that shit, its all turtlenecks and winter jackets. He might pass out from the amount of body you've got going on here."

Katniss blushed. Coming from Jo, that was a major compliment, but she had to agree with her. She had never been one to care about her appearance in the way that other girls typically did, having always been too busy taking care of Prim to worry about makeup and clothes. Consequently, she focused on what was functional – mainly leggings, her leather work boots, and her trademark braid.

With her olive skin, dark hair, and grey eyes, she didn't think she was as striking as Madge was, but she had been complimented by many people over the years on being a natural beauty, no makeup and all. Despite feeling a little unlike herself, it also felt a little empowering to be dressed so feminine.

Standing in front of the mirror she could admit to herself that she looked…well, sexy.

It certainly wasn't as exposing as Johanna's traditional sort of wear. She had given up on the skirts and dresses after much argument from Jo, settling on a pair of high waisted skinnies – the faux leather felt oddly cool and pleasant under her touch. She had initially argued tremendously against wearing "leather, Johanna, are you serious", but once she had put them on she had to admit that they were very flattering. They fit very snug, ending up over her hips and sitting under her belly button, showing off her slim tummy and legs. She even felt rather shapely in them, something she wasn't used to for having such a slender, athletic build.

Her midriff was exposed in a slight opening of skin between the pants and shirt. But most of all was the bareness of her shoulders – Johanna had battled her into a thin-strapped crop top, showing off cleavage she didn't even know she had and highlighting the toned muscles of her arms. Perhaps most flattering was its color – a deep, pale blue that brought out the grey of her eyes.

She sighed resolutely. "It looks good, doesn't it."


"I look like a girl, don't I."


"You are so happy about this, aren't you."


She sighed again. "You promise it isn't too much?"

Johanna smiled at her, her usual teasing tone for once absent from her voice. "Katniss, I promise you, you look great. Stunning, hot, beautiful, sexy; you name it, that's you. It isn't too much, it's perfect. You're going to knock baker boy's socks off tomorrow."

A shy, appreciative smile appeared on her lips as she slipped back into the dressing room to change, stomach twisting in anticipation.

December 31st

"I've outdone myself." Johanna said triumphantly.

Katniss carefully looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair had been blow-dried and curled loosely down her back; free from her braid, it framed her face and spilled out down her shoulders nicely. Her eyes looked smoky and bright, the grey orbs a stark contrast to her thick black liner and sharp brows. After wriggling into her pants and slipping on the pale blue shirt (overtop of a push-up bra, no less; she was truly going over the top with this one) she could honestly say she had never felt more beautiful.

"Thanks Jo." Katniss smiled appreciatively, turning slightly on her heels. "I think everyone may have a heart attack at the sight of me."

"I know they will. Let's just hope that baker boy will have a similar reaction." Johanna smirked at her, tossing a tube of lipstick at her. "I know you hate the stuff, but trust me on this one. I'm just gonna hop in the shower; pour me a stiff one for when I come out why don't you?"

Katniss grimaced slightly at the little tube as she caught it, sighing resignedly and applying a light sheen to her lips. She busied herself in the kitchen as she heard the shower come on, pouring a generous amount of Jameson's into a glass with ice for her roommate and waiting for the girls to arrive. They didn't disappoint; Delly's voice could be heard coming down the hall before she heard their knock on the door. True to her prediction, the conversation was cut short when they drank in her appearance.

"…Oh my god. You look absolutely stunning, Katniss! What brought this on!?" Delly cried enthusiastically after a moment of shocked silence, hands over her mouth.

"Um, no reason. Just thought it might be nice to put some effort in for once." She smiled awkwardly, uncertain over having so much attention on her. Annie and Madge were positively beaming at the sight of her.

"Oh Katniss, you're so beautiful." Annie said softly, pulling her in for a hug.

"Is there someone you're trying to impress that you aren't telling us about?" Madge teased next to her, eyeing her outfit appreciatively. "The poor boys at this party won't know what hit 'em!"

"No, no, just Johanna wanting to play dress-up is all." Katniss replied uncomfortably.

"Wow, I just…wow. You really do look phenomenal." Delly continued excitably as they scrambled inside. "I can't wait for Finn and Gale to see you. They probably won't even recognize you!"

"Speaking of, they'll be here in an hour." Annie cut in politely, eyes still looking knowingly at Katniss. Both she and Madge had mischievous looks on their faces, and Katniss shifted awkwardly under their gazes.

After enduring an obnoxious amount of cat-calling from Finn when they rolled up in Gale's SUV a while later ("me-OW, kitty Kat is on the prowl tonight!"), to which the other girls had laughed enthusiastically at much to Katniss' chagrin, they made the drive out to Thom's. Living a few districts over, and his parents owning a home in the nicest part of town, the drive itself took a little over an hour. By the time they arrived, Johanna was eagerly awaiting the open bar, but her words were cut short at the sight of his house.

"Holy shit. Finnick, can this guy have a party every year?" She said breathlessly, face pressed up against the seat window. The house was vast and immaculate – people teemed out on the carefully manicured lawn as the house hummed with life, music and light spilling out through the large windows. As Gale found a good spot and put the vehicle into park, they one by one stepped out onto the lawn.

Many eyes followed them on their way in and Katniss didn't have to wonder why – Gale and Finnick always caught the eye of most people they passed, with their tall athletic builds and good looks. They looked particularly dashing tonight; both dressed for the occasion with Gale in dark jeans and a button-up shirt, and Finnick confidently flashing an award-winning smile in a bow-tie and suspenders.

As always, the guys acted as their beacon, leading them into the front doors and them staying a step behind as Finnick stopped occasionally to chat with one person or another, showing Annie off proudly. Gale leant down to whisper something into Madge's ear, who smiled happily and placed her hand through his, blonde head barely reaching his shoulder.

Johanna leant over when they stopped briefly in what Katniss imagined to be the living room; it was difficult to tell with so many people around. Shelves had been cleared and replaced with coolers of seemingly endless beer, the sounds of keg stands could be heard from the kitchen farther down and the dining room was alight with sound and flashing colours as the DJ blasted tunes to a happily dancing crowd. She was admittedly in awe at the extent of alcohol and luxurious décor.

"Alright Everdeen, this is how this is gonna work. You and me are gonna take a walk-around to see if we can spot blondie. Once we find him, he's all yours and I'll be off to enjoy a keg stand with one of Finnick's delicious-looking high school friends we passed in the kitchen."

Katniss nodded, swallowing thickly. Her nerves exploded at the thought of finding him. Would he be surprised? Would he be happy? Of course he'll be happy, he technically asked you on a date. But what if he thought it was creepy that she was here tonight?

Johanna shot her a look. "Stop thinking, he'll be happy to see you. And if he's not, there are at least fifty other guys here who have already thought about you naked to choose from." She winked, causing Katniss to roll her eyes. They snuck off from the rest of the group, starting a long process of walking their way through each of the many rooms.

After forty minutes of sifting their way through each of the many rooms, Johanna having snagged them two drinks along the way, Katniss was beginning to lose hope. Just when she had almost given up on finding him completely, and Johanna was clearly starting to lose her patience, he was simply there.

"Jo." She whispered, eyes wide, hand reaching to tug on hers roughly. Johanna spun around, eyes scanning the room swiftly.

"Do you see him? There are so many people here, I cannot believe how much Finnick undersold the impressive amount of attractive men here tonight." Johanna rambled to her. "Seriously, which one is he?"

Clutching her beer firmly, she rotated from where she'd turned her back to him in nerves and subtly nodded her head. "Over there. By the sink, in the light grey suit. Blue shirt? Do you see?"

Johanna shifted her gaze and widened her eyes, giving a low appreciative whistle. "Goddamn, Everdeen! He is fine! Good work, girl! No wonder you've been so hot over him!" Katniss risked another glance, taking the time to look at him properly.

He was talking animatedly to some buddies, a happy smile on his face. He'd obviously put the effort in to dress up for the occasion; his hair was lightly gelled, the blonde waves more subdued. The blue of his shirt, once again, did wonders in bringing out the blue of his eyes. He had a hint of a five-o-clock shadow coming in, something she had never seen before at the bakery and which unexpectedly caused heat to rush between her thighs. His suit was fitted snug across his broad shoulders and she could just faintly make out the sound of his laugh over the crowd.

He looked devastatingly handsome. She had never felt so aware of her undisputed attraction towards another person than she felt towards Peeta Mellark at that very moment.

"How do I, uh…" She mumbled, face flushed.

Johanna laughed. "Just leave it to me brainless, that's what I'm here for. Keep close to me and he'll see you." She turned around, eyeing the counter for something. After a moment she smiled broadly and grabbed some bottles and empty shot glasses. "I'll take a page out of Undersee's book; never thought there'd be the day." After carefully pouring a large number of shots, Johanna placed them on a tray, lifted it above her head, and yelled over the crowd in a deafening voice only she could accomplish.

"Hey all you motherfuckers! Who wants to do a round of red dragons with me and my friend here to get this party really going!?"

Katniss resisted the urge to put her face in her hands, shaking her head in embarrassment as the momentarily stunned room erupted in cheers. As people began to swarm around them, hands grasping for shooters that Johanna eagerly handed out, she braved raising her eyes to his direction.

He was looking straight at her, mouth slightly open with a look of shock etched upon his face. Her stomach bottomed out at the way in which he looked at her, his face a mixture of surprise and lust.

She watched with bated breath as he started walking towards her, his voice telling his friends some sort of goodbye as he kept his eyes locked on her own, and she could hear her heart beating in her ears.

"Katniss?" He said incredulously, sidling between the crowd of people with a bewildered look on his face. "Is that…how…I can't believe you're here!"

A smile began to take over her face, and she released a breath. "Yah, small world huh?"

"You didn't, um, come here with anyone did you? I mean, other than…" He jerked his head with a laugh towards Johanna, who was now pouring a second round. She shook her head.

"No! No, uh, just with some friends."

"Oh thank god. I mean…shit that was forward, I'm sorry. I just – you look incredible. Stunning. Beautiful. I mean, you always do but this –" His eyes raked over her length appreciatively, pausing to take in her long loose hair and laughing in amazement. "I can't honestly say that I would be able to stay away from you even if you had come with someone."

Her cheeks rose with a blush at his words, a pleased smile budding upon her face at his admission. Calm and collected Peeta Mellark was, for once, struggling for words. Her body thrummed with pleasant tingles at the realization that it was because of her.

"Sorry, I must sound totally creepy right now." He said with a blush, grimacing slightly. "I just – well, I'm sure you've figured it out by now. I knew the cake was probably a little cheesy, I should have just asked you, but you're difficult to read sometimes and I wasn't sure if you…Jesus, I haven't even asked if you even…do you?" He ended a little helplessly.

She laughed, happy he was as tongue-tied as she felt. He smiled broadly back, chuckling at himself self-deprecatingly, shrugging his shoulders in defeat at his rambling. She nodded her head.

"Yes. I mean, yah. I do. Or, I will. You know, take you up on that payment offer." She finally replied, and his face overtook a look of utter relief.

"Really? Wow. Sorry, I'm usually not so, uh, forward. Or, you know, awkward, but you just…" He took a deep breath and exhaled as if to placate himself. "Like I said, I'm sure you've realized by now. I really like you, Katniss. I have for awhile now."

Her stomach felt as though it was rolling around itself at his words. She couldn't remember a time when she'd ever felt so abuzz with sensation; her body felt acutely aware of itself and her head was spinning light-headedly. His words made her feel brave, instilling in her a newfound sense of confidence.

"I really like you too, Peeta." She admitted, voice only wavering slightly. Talking about feelings was not a strong point for her; it was difficult enough for her to admit that she felt them in the first place.

His dimples flashed incredulously at her admission, and he reached a hand up to push a stray lock of hair out of her face. "In that case, I absolutely cannot wait to take you out on a date, Katniss Everdeen." He was looking at her with utter delight. "And on that note, can we start again? I feel like my introduction this evening wasn't very sophisticated."

She chuckled, nodding her head in acquiesce. He took a step back, cleared his throat, and stepped towards her again, a look of mock surprise on his face.

"What a pleasant surprise to see you here, Katniss." He said suavely, his voice more controlled and steady. "If I may say so, you look absolutely gorgeous tonight."

"Thank you Peeta, it's good to see you as well." She replied, cheeks aflame at his compliments. "And, um, you're looking pretty good yourself."

He beamed at her. "Thanks, although if I'd known you were coming I really would've gone all out. Actually, speaking of…you knew I was coming tonight. Why didn't you tell me when I brought up Thom's the other day?" He asked, looking at her curiously.

"Oh. Well, I wasn't sure if you…" She trailed off, giving him a sheepish look.

"Ah, I get it. I guess you got your answer when you got home though, huh." He smiled at her embarrassedly, to which she nodded. He hummed in thought.

"So, who do you know here? I may know them too, you know, going to the same high school as Thom and all."

"Actually, I'm sure you do know him, or at least know of him. He's kind of hard to miss." She chuckled and continued. "Um, do you know Finnick Odair?"

An elated grin overtook his face. "Finnick is here? Yes, of course I know Finnick! We suffered through geography 12 together. I actually see him every now and then, I work with his fiancé." His eyes suddenly widened, as though he had just had an epiphany of some sort. "You…wait, you must know his fiancé then, too."

"Annie? Wait, you work with Annie? But – the bakery, I mean…"

His face looked rather pale at this point. "Not at the bakery, no. My art class. You know, the one I teach? It's at Panem High. The counselling department is right beside the art department. I work there part-time." He explained, a bright blush overtaking his cheeks. "So, uh, do you know Annie pretty well?"

"Yah, we went to CapU together. We were roommates with Johanna, Delly, and Madge…Madge! You must know Madge, then, too? Madge Undersee? She's a music teacher at Panem High." Katniss said in a rush. The pieces were starting to fit together, and Peeta was beginning to realize it too.

"Madge too?" He croaked. "Yah, of course, her and Annie are always together at the school. So, um, you're all close then?"

"Yah, Madge and I grew up together. We met Annie and Finnick at CapU. I can't believe they've never mentioned you." She blushed then, finishing the last part of the puzzle. "They…they told you about me, didn't they. I mean, did they mention me?"

"Um, no, they didn't mention you at all, actually." He admitted slowly. He looked a bit uncomfortable. "Are they here, by chance?"

"Yeah, we all came together. Them, me, Johanna, Finnick, Gale."

He swallowed thickly and sighed. "Well, in that case I feel rather…embarrassed."

"Embarrassed? Why?" She asked in confusion. He looked at her carefully, a blush still staining his cheeks.

"They really didn't mention anything to you?" He asked her with a pained voice, and she shook her head. He took a deep breath, floundering for words, before continuing. "They just…well, they know how much I like you. I may have spoken about you. Um, a lot. They're the only other staff that are my age, and when I found out that Annie is Finn's fiancé we started talking all the time. The three of us have lunch together on my work days. I told them, well, you know. Shit, this is so embarrassing, I wish they had just told me."

"You told them what?" She inquired. He'd talked about her? To Madge and Annie? Why hadn't they said anything to her?

"You know, just about…you." He said lamely, smiling at her in spite of his obvious discomfort. "I just told them about this amazing girl that started coming into the bakery, about how beautiful and strong I think you are and that I thought you were the most fascinating person I've ever met. I've practically had a crush on you since the first time I met you."

"Oh." She paused, allowing the information to sink into her head. Madge and Annie had known about Peeta this entire time. They would have known it was her he was talking about, and yet they hadn't mentioned anything to her. The past few weeks began to make a lot more sense to her the more she thought about it.

"One day someone will come along, Katniss Everdeen, and you probably won't even know how special they are until they're already half in love with you."

"I dunno…I wouldn't be surprised if there was someone, and you just didn't want to tell us."

"It takes you a long time to admit your feelings to yourself, and even longer before you admit them to anyone else."

"Is there someone you're trying to impress that you aren't telling us about?"

They'd known the entire time and they hadn't said a thing, she realized, because they knew that she needed time to figure Peeta out on her own. The last thing she needed was for someone else to guide her emotions; she needed to be the one to guide herself. Annie was right – it did take her a long time to understand her feelings, and she understood now more than ever what she'd meant by that. She had never appreciated her friends more than she did in that moment.

They'd allowed her the time she needed to decide on her feelings for him, and tonight they provided her with an opportunity to act on them. She felt a newfound rush of gratitude and love towards her friends, an appreciative smile overtaking her face.

Peeta had watched carefully the play of emotions that had flitted over her face, and she realized now that she had been silent for longer than usual.

"Look Katniss, I'm really sorry if I've said too much tonight. I know I can be a little intense. I'd be more than happy to give you some time to take all this in if that's what you'd prefer." He finally said, shifting to his other foot nervously and looking at her with a hesitant expression.

"No! No, I'm…Peeta, I'm really flattered by everything you've told me. Really, I'm happy you told me. It…well, it makes me happy to know." She said in a rush. "I'm sorry I'm not as good with words as you are. I've never been very good at explaining myself."

He visibly relaxed, shaking his head a bit sheepishly. "You talk just fine Katniss, don't worry. I just can't believe they let me go on about you and never said a thing. Man, I feel like an idiot."

"Don't be embarrassed, they loved every minute of it I'm sure. They're always trying to set me up with someone or other." She sighed, taking a sip of beer and continuing on. "Honestly Peeta, they didn't tell you for my sake. I…well, I have a hard time opening up to people and I think they thought that if they interfered that I would, well, run off. They gave me time to figure you out on my own, and I needed that. So don't feel bad about it, really."

He thought about this for a moment, finally nodding his head and smiling at her. "In that case I should thank them."

She smiled at him, about to take another sip of beer before realizing she was empty. "This has been…a much different start to the night than I expected."

"In a good way, I hope. It's certainly been good for me." He said with shy smile. She nodded in agreement.

"A very good way."

He flashed another dazzlingly crooked grin and tipped his head to her empty cup. "What say you and I find refills and a better place to talk? I think my back might be bruised tomorrow from all the people bumping into me on their way to those red dragons your girlfriend keeps pouring."

Katniss looked over and smirked at the sight of Johanna in the centre of a circle of boys, flirting animatedly with all of them and waving around the bottle of 151. "That sounds great. Hey, maybe we can catch up with Finnick and them, I'm sure they'd be happy to know we figured them out."

He laughed in agreement and, to her immense pleasure, he placed one large hand on her lower back to guide her, using his other to carefully push their way through the crowd.

They circled around the house until they found Finnick and Gale in the middle of what looked to be an epic beer pong battle against who Peeta informed her were Thom, the infamous host, and another old high school friend Thresh. Each team had only two cups left; while Gale was getting into stance, Finnick could be heard mocking the other laughing men, making obscene gestures at them with a joking grin. Annie, Delly, and Madge were cheering on the boys enthusiastically as they sauntered up, to which Madge squealed excitedly when she saw them.

"Oh my god! Yay! Does this mean what I think it means?" She beamed at them, tugging on Delly and Annie's arms enthusiastically.

"Hello, Madge. And yes it does, well done you two." Peeta chuckled self-consciously, shaking his head. Annie smiled guiltily at them.

"I'm sorry you guys, I hope you aren't upset! Especially you, Peeta. If it's any consolation, you definitely have the best friend seal of approval!" Annie said brightly.

"I should certainly hope so." He said good-naturedly to them. "What about you, Katniss?"

"Not at all. But I will be making you guys take a red dragon with me later as payback, Johanna is currently in complete control over a very full bottle of 151." She said with a wry smile.

"Did you want to play a round after?" Peeta asked mischievously, nodding towards the table. She raised an eyebrow at him.

"You're on, Mellark. I think our good friends Annie and Madge would love to play against us, wouldn't you guys?"

An uproar of cheering erupted then; Gale put his hands up in the air in triumph until, much to everyone's amusement, Finnick leapt into his arms with a loud "I love you, man!"

After setting up another round amidst the growing crowd, they played a brief game of beer pong against Annie and Madge; Peeta turned out to be immensely skilled at the game, knocking them out after 3 turns. They all downed their beer cups good-naturedly, congratulating their success with a round of drinks from a very tipsy Johanna who had appeared mid-game. She watched as Peeta caught up with Finnick, carefully sipping her beer and having a difficult time keeping her eyes off of him whilst she chatted with the girls.

He eventually took off his suit jacket and loosened his tie, offering her a better view of his broad shoulders and the tiniest bit of chest. Much to her pleasure, she often caught him staring back; apparently he was having as hard a time keeping his eyes off her as she was of him.

They grinned rather stupidly at each other through most of the night. The beer had loosened her inhibitions a bit, and she leaned in appreciatively to all of the excuses with which he found to touch her. Fingers skimming her back, brushing his side against hers as they spoke with the others, putting one large hand around her waist as he leant down to whisper in her ear; her body felt alive at his touch and abuzz with excitement and lust.

As the night wore on, they got lost in their private conversation with one another. He had a way about him that caused her to feel so comfortable, and she found herself opening up with him as easily as though she had known him her whole life. He talked animatedly to her about the bakery and his art, expanding upon all the small stories and tidbits they had shared with one another over the past few months.

Katniss felt as though she was a little out of her body. She felt relaxed and confident under his attention, and no longer felt as though she needed to hide her attraction to him. He didn't seem to mind when she would lazily drop her gaze appreciatively down his form, allowing the heat between her thighs to simmer comfortably at the sight of him. He reciprocated eagerly, eyes lingering at the light sheen of sweat that shone upon her chest and keeping one hand wrapped tightly around her waist. He rubbed her side unconsciously as they chatted on, and it was long after it happened that she realized their friends had left them alone in the crowded room, their bodies inches apart and her back pressed lightly against the wall.

At ten to midnight, Finnick and Thom stood up on a couple of chairs and began a beer-chug per minute countdown using not-so-willing participants, much to the amusement of the crowd. The crowd erupted in more cheers when Gale got down on one knee, slammed back three in one go, and stood up with a loud "now where's my woman!?"

When the crowd began to chant down the one minute mark, Peeta stopped talking and caught her eyes, swallowing thickly with a hesitant smile on his face.

"I really like you, Katniss." He leant forward and repeated lowly into her ear, and her body erupted in goosebumps at the warmth of his breath across her skin. She smiled up at him, stomach twisting with nerves.

As the people around them cheered frantically when the clock struck midnight, he finally dropped down to brush his lips against hers, his hand tightening slightly against her waist. She responded eagerly, reaching forward to grasp his shirt lightly between her fingers. His other hand came up to cup her jaw, coaxing her mouth open to teasingly graze his tongue along hers. He kissed her slowly, thoroughly, lazily; she could feel how much he cared for her with the intensity of it.

Yet still he was holding back.

After a few moments he pulled away, lightly placing a few more chaste kisses upon her lips and sighing contentedly. He pulled back to look at her as though gauging her reaction. Her expression pleased him and he broke out into an incredulous grin.

"You have no idea how long I wanted to do that." Peeta admitted with a small laugh.

She took a few deep breaths, eyeing his lips dazedly. She felt both extremely satisfied and extremely unsatisfied at the same time. She wanted more.

"Come back here." She finally said, reaching an arm up to pull his head back to hers. He responded enthusiastically – this was what she had been wanting.

He groaned lightly into her mouth, stepping forward to place his hips flush against hers and bringing his hands to run along her back encouragingly. His demeanor changed quickly; gone was his restraint and in its place she could feel the full force of his attraction to her. He explored her mouth hungrily, playing his tongue along hers and pushing his broad body into hers against the wall. His hands roamed the planes of her back, the length of her hair; he finally pulled her hips into his groin so she could feel him, hard against her thigh as he rocked his hips lightly into hers. It relieved some of the tension that had built between her thighs over the course of the night and she moaned into his mouth under his ministrations.

He pulled away suddenly, eyes dark with lust and hands on either side of her head, trapping her against him. "Katniss…" He said warningly, shaking his head a little with an awed smile on his face. "You're going to need to stop. I meant what I said when I told you I didn't think I could contain myself around you."

His words sent a thrilling tingle down her spine, and she found she was breathing rather heavily. "What if I don't want you to stop?" She whispered back, her voice low.

He groaned, dropping his forehead against hers with closed eyes. "That…you…fuck, Katniss, you have no idea. No idea the effect you can have." He exhaled loudly, locking eyes with her again. "I don't want to rush this. Rush you. I want you to feel comfortable."

She laughed airily, running her hands down his chest, already missing the feel of his length against her body. "Peeta, I do feel comfortable. I wouldn't be here if I didn't."

He stared at her intently, an internal battle playing out on his face. "You…we've been drinking. I don't want you to regret anything in the morning."

Through her contented daze, she acknowledged the thoughtful restraint he was attempting to show towards her and smiled appreciatively. They had only had a few beers each this evening and he knew it. If anything, it just made her want him more. She took a deep breath and, before she lost her courage, looked at him squarely and said in a rush, "I've thought about you fucking me almost every night since we first met."

His entire body froze. He stared at her in wonderment, mouth agape and eyes wide. For a brief moment, she wondered if she had said too much.

And then his hand was dragging her behind him towards the staircase, the other running fingers through his hair nervously, loosening the gel and releasing a few of his golden curls. She followed obediently as he led her down the hall, blood pounding in her ears in excitement.

She had barely stepped into the room behind him before he slammed her up against the door, using her body weight to push it shut, crushing his mouth to hers once more. He lifted her effortlessly to rest on his forearms, prompting her to wrap her legs around his waist as he grabbed her ass enthusiastically. His tongue battled with hers and she moaned eagerly into his mouth.

"Say that again." He broke from her mouth to whisper in her ear, hips grinding into her core. She mewled appreciatively.

"I – I've thought about you – fucking me –" His head ducked down to lathe her throat with open kisses, sucking on her pulse point and groaning appreciatively at her words.

"How often?" He said gruffly into her neck. She gasped as one of his hands slid up to cup one breast roughly, kneading it between his fingers.

"Almost every night since we – since we first met." She fisted her hands into his hair, tugging on the curls and scraping her fingernails along his scalp. He lifted his head, bringing his hands up to slide them into her hair, roughly plunging her mouth with his tongue. She barely noticed when he cupped her bottom again, lifting her from the door and carrying them towards the bed.

With the feral way in which he had ravished her on the door, she fully expected him to drop her bodily onto the mattress; instead he laid her down as though she were the most precious object he'd ever held. He carefully released her weight and pulled back to look at her, his chest heaving in his desire for her. "You mean that?" He said lowly. His eyes were dark and fat, voice gravelly.

She nodded.

"You really want this?"

She nodded.

He stood up sharply before her at the foot of the bed, loosening his tie and bringing it up and over his head. She leant up to help him unfasten the buttons on his shirt, eagerly tugging it loose from his pants, and she released a relieved sigh when he finally shrugged it off of his shoulders.

He was every bit as gorgeous as she had imagined; his chest a smooth expanse of pale, creamy skin, and she greedily took in his wide and muscled shoulders. His pecs dipped tantalizingly in the centre of his chest and she leant forward to slide her tongue between them; he hummed contentedly at the unexpected touch. She couldn't stop touching him, sliding her hands appreciatively down his muscular arms and eyes widening at the deep V that ran down his hips and below his pants.

Fuck, how she wanted this man.

He bent forward to coax his tongue against hers again, hands roaming her body furiously as he crawled on top of her. She scooted her body back farther to accommodate him and he covered her body beneath his bigger build, encapsulating her beneath him.

His hands slid under the slit of skin between her shirt and pants, tugging earnestly at her top. They broke apart, panting for air, and she quickly sat up to pull it over her head. He wasted no time in reaching around to unclasp her bra, tossing it over his head and dropping his eyes to take her in with an appreciative moan.

"God, Katniss, you are so perfect." He groaned against her skin, filling his palms with the small mounds and moulding them under his large hands. Her back arched at his touch, mouth falling open with a breathless sigh when he tugged lightly on her nipples. His lips began kissing a slow, hot trail from her neck down to the valley between her breasts. As she writhed beneath him, he finally dragged his tongue along one small, pert nipple and encased it in his mouth, sucking lightly as she released a satisfied gasp.

He released her and wasted no time in bringing the other to his mouth as well. She could feel how hard he was through his dress pants, and the feel of his hot mouth on her skin had her feeling light-headed as rushes of warmth pooled throughout her body, centering at her core. She pushed her groin against his body desperately, frantic for him to relieve some of the tension.

But he took his time; by the time he was finished with her breasts she was shaking, her body feeling like jell-o. She could feel how wet she was and he hadn't even touched her –

There. As he lifted his head, releasing one hard nipple from his mouth, one of his hands dropped down to cup her lightly through her pants. He watched her expression through heavy-lidded eyes, panting softly and humming approvingly when she moaned loudly at the touch.

"Is this what you want?" He murmured softly to her, his voice low. She nodded frantically, hands coming up to continue tugging on her aching nipples in his absence. He exhaled loudly through his noise at the sight, shaking his head again with a breathless laugh.

"No idea…the effect you can have. Fuck, Katniss, I've never been so turned on in my entire life." He couldn't tear his eyes from her, watching as she touched her self, rubbing his hand firmly along her aching center.

"Please –" she panted, looking up at him. "Please, Peeta, don't stop."

The sound of her pleading his name prompted him forward, he pulled his hand away from her core and brought it up to her waist, grabbing tightly on the hem of her pants and tugging them down her legs. She lifted her bottom off the bed to help him ease them off, and he placed hot, lazy kisses down her legs as he slowly revealed them one by one.

He lowered her legs down to the mattress, feet lightly spread on either side of him. At the look in his eyes, she pulled her hands off of herself and dropped them up above her head. He was drinking her in, the sight of her wonton and needy below him, chest heaving and breasts bouncing with each heavy breath. He took in the sight of her long, dark hair, lightly mussed and spread out along the sheets; her slim, toned belly and the way she was laying there, opened up for him, waiting for him to have his way with her.

He looked quite simply as though he was the luckiest man in the world. She had never felt more powerful, more sexy than she did in that moment.

His large hands ran up along her parted legs, reaching to tug lightly on her panties. She lifted her bottom again obediently, and he slid them up and off without a word. One large hand came up to gently touch her folds, and she gasped at the touch. He moaned at the feel of her.

"So wet already…" He murmured, lazily scooping some of her arousal and dragging it up to rub, finally, along her aching clit. He placed firm, short strokes against her, watching as she cried out in rapture at his touch. Then he withdrew quickly, suddenly pulling his weight off of her and standing at the foot of the bed.

"What –" She began to protest, but her words turned to a squeak when he leant forward to grab her by the legs and roughly pull her to the edge of the bed, her bottom teetering on the edge of the mattress. He dropped to his knees and placed each of her legs over his shoulder, kissing the insides of her thighs hotly.

"I've imagined doing all sorts of things to you since the day I met you, Katniss." He said gruffly from between her legs. "But I've thought most of tasting you. I have to taste you. I want to make you dripping wet for me. I want you to scream my name. I want you to beg for me to fuck you. Do you understand?"

She nodded incredulously, her clit positively aching at his words. And then he lowered his mouth against her and she cried out brokenly into the dark room.

His hands held her hips firmly against his face as he lapped eagerly against her, tongue working its way inside her in masterful strokes. He coated himself fervently in her juices under his ministrations, moaning happily when more of her nectar pooled upon his tongue. He slid it up between her folds, settling on her throbbing clit, finally sucking it into his mouth. She sobbed raggedly above him, crying out as the pleasure began to peak between her legs.

"Come for me, Katniss. I want to watch you come." He mumbled against her, dropping one hand to insert two thick fingers inside of her, stroking firmly in and out. As he dropped his tongue to her clit again she cried out, legs tightening against his head and hands tugging earnestly at his hair.

And she came – the wave of pleasure snapped through her body, arching her back and making her cry out pathetically above him, hips pressing into his face as he hummed appreciatively at the sight. Her vision blurred and she called out in ecstasy, the fire he had ignited inside her momentarily appeased.

He continued to lap eagerly between her legs, pleased with the arousal that seeped out of her. She had never felt so wet before, never been so insatiable towards another man in her entire life. The sight of him between her legs, a pleased smile on his face, nose to chin glistening with her wetness, had her immediately ready for more.

He seemed to agree; just as the last aftershocks of her orgasm were starting to fade, he got to his feet, placing one arm under her knees and pulling them back to pin them down firmly across her chest. He stood almost perpendicular to her now. Looking down at her glistening folds, he hummed appreciatively at the sight of her arousal dripping out and down her cheeks. "I'm not quite sure you're ready yet, Katniss."

He slipped his other hand back between her legs and quickly slid two fingers back inside her, thrusting them rapidly through her folds. It felt so good, and she was so wet; they slid in and out of her with ease. She keened appreciatively on the bed, panting hotly and clenching her insides at the sensation. It was both satisfying and immensely teasing – the feel of his fingers merely forced her to think about how good it would feel to have his cock buried deep inside of her instead.

"Please, Peeta! Oh my god!" She cried out unevenly from the bed, feeling the pleasure build again. He entered a third finger, groaning at how tight she fit around them.

"That's it, Katniss. It feels good doesn't it." He spoke to her evenly, and she nodded fervently, too incoherent to make a response. "You looked so fucking sexy tonight, did you know that? Did you have any idea the effect it would have on me to see you like that?"

"I – I wanted to – oh my god –" She sobbed out as he dropped his other hand to lightly flick at her clit again.

"You wanted to what." His handsome face shone lightly with sweat at the effort of his movements, blonde curls falling haphazardly across his forehead.

"I wanted to – impress you, I wanted you – to look –" She cried out again, the building pleasure almost too much to bear. "Please! Please Peeta, I need –"

She was having a hard time choking the words out, the pleasure between her legs was twisting her tongue. He groaned loudly at her admission. "You have no idea how well it worked, Katniss, how much I looked." His thumb was stroking firmly against her clit, fingers catching that spot right inside of her. "Tell me what you want."

"Peeta!" She cried out, she couldn't handle it; his hands were turning her brain into mush. But he was insistent.

"Tell me Katniss, tell me what you want and I'll let you come again."

His fingers slowed, and she mewled in protest, finally finding her voice to sob brokenly at him. "I want you to fuck me! Please, Peeta, please fuck me! I want you to fuck me so hard, just please, I can't –" He slammed his fingers back inside of her, thumb rubbing firmly and she came, again, wailing into the room. He continued to rub her clit as she rode out the pleasure, her arousal dripping down his hand and body shaking with bliss.

He carefully lowered her jelly-like legs, touching her feet to the floor. He rubbed a hand along her side reassuringly, murmuring sweet words until she gathered her senses back, the other thumbing away the stray tear that had fallen down her cheek in her rapture. When she caught her breath enough to look at him, she reached out to firmly grasp the prominent bulge in his slacks. He thrust into her hand unconsciously, closing his eyes at her touch. She found her voice again for him.

"What're you waiting for?"

His eyes flashed and he grinned at her, standing upright again to hastily undo his belt and drop his pants to the floor. She took him in hungrily, and he watched her eagerly watch him. His briefs were straining against his aching erection, and he hissed lightly in relief when he pulled them out and over his hard cock.

It was her turn to drink him in, and her eyes widened at the sight of him, hard and thick. The briefest look of vulnerability that crossed his face disappeared when she slowly caught her bottom lip with her teeth appreciatively at him. She widened her legs for him almost subconsciously and he stepped eagerly between them, bending forward to capture her lips in a sweet, tender kiss.

"So beautiful…" He murmured against her lips, and she smiled up at him. "I can't believe this is actually happening." He admitted rather sheepishly, and she laughed softly.

He stood back to rub his hands down her sides firmly, catching her eye with a widened look. "Shit, I forgot. Uh, should we…I mean, I don't have a condom or anything."

"Oh." She furrowed her brow in thought. "Um, maybe check the bedside table?" He nodded, and scrambled around her to fish through the drawer on the left side of the bed, then the right. He raised his hand in triumph when he found one single gold packet, then hurried back to her.

"Remind me to thank Thom later for keeping some of these lying around…" He mumbled as he tore it open and rolled it down his length, moving to step between her again. He lifted her legs and placed them against his broad shoulders, sliding lightly between her folds and coating himself in her arousal. She keened when the head of his cock grazed her clit, still sensitive from her previous orgasms. He sighed appreciatively at the sight, marvelling at her wetness before finally placing himself at her entrance.

He slid smoothly inside of her, pushing himself firmly up to the hilt and watching her as she gasped at the feel of him. He was thick; much bigger than she was used to and she moaned appreciatively at how full she felt. His eyes darkened again as he thrust lazily into her, slowly sliding himself out before pushing himself back in, watching his cock enter her again and again.

"Fuck, Katniss." He groaned, hands tightening against her legs. "You're so wet – so tight –" he panted, and she could hear the sound of her arousal every time he thrust himself back into her, watching as his eyes rolled back into his head.

"Peeta…" She crooned breathlessly, her legs tight and her toes curling at the feel of him. His cock felt so good. So, so good, and she could tell that he was still holding back, trying to make it last. She didn't care. She wanted him to fuck her as hard as he could.

"What do you want, Katniss. Tell me what you want." He told her unevenly, voice straining as he increased his tempo a little faster. "Shit, you feel amazing. You're so fucking hot. Tell me Katniss, how do you want to be fucked?"

She gasped at the increased speed, the fire inside her flaming to life once more. She watched as he took in the sight of her, her breasts bouncing with each thrust and her hands fisting the sheets every time he drove himself into her. She saw how beautiful he looked, his strong muscles tight in anticipation and his face slack with pleasure. And she told him.

"I want you to fuck me as hard as you can, I – I want –" He shifted one hand, thumb catching her clit in firm strokes. She couldn't think, she just wanted him to give in. "Fuck, I just want you to pound into me with your cock, oh my god Peeta, please!" She cried out brokenly , too heady with lust to feel embarrassed at her blunt words.

He swore aloud, exhaling loudly above her, and acquiesced. His hands dropped from her thighs down to her hips, pulling her ass clear off of the bed and holding her weight in his hands. He held her in place as he drove himself into her with unrelenting thrusts; the sound of their skin smacking together was almost as loud as their satisfied cries.

She was incoherent with lust at the sight of him, holding her as though she weighed nothing, just so he could pound himself into her over and over and over with satisfied grunts. Her legs began to feel numb with pleasure and she sobbed out in her bliss, back arching, walls contracting hard around him as another orgasm ripped through her.

"Shit, Katniss – I – I can't…" He said brokenly, his voice trailing off into a loud groan.

"Let go." She panted, keening as his tempo began to falter. "Let go Peeta, I want you to come."

"Nngh, fuck, I'm sorry – you, you feel so good, fuck –" He thrust harder, faster, unevenly a few more times and then he buried himself to the hilt, moaning loudly with his head bowed in ecstasy. She could feel his cock pulsing as he emptied inside of her, his body shaking with exertion and muscles tight.

They stayed that way for a few moments, panting into the room, before he regained his senses and slowly, carefully, slid her back up onto the mattress, easing himself out of her in the process. Peeking down at her through his lashes, he flashed her a happy, lopsided smile that warmed her from her head down to her toes.

Lowering her legs gently to the floor, Peeta swayed lightly on his feet and quickly rolled off the condom, tying the end and tossing it unceremoniously into the garbage beside the bed. And then he leant over her, sliding an arm under her back and the other under her knees, lifting her gently from the foot of the bed and carrying her around to the side. He laid her softly onto the mattress and sat down heavily next to her.

She looked at him, suddenly unsure of what to say. Her toes tingled with pleasure, her core ached slightly but in a satisfied way. She worried that she had said too much, been too bold, and her cheeks blushed in embarrassment at some of the things she had cried out to him in her haze of pleasure.

His hand reached out to push some strands of hair away from her face; they were both coated in a light sheen of sweat and she realized, now, how much of a sticky mess they were. He was looking at her intently, his blue eyes bright and intense in the dark room. Just when she was about to apologize, he opened his mouth. "What a pleasant surprise to see you here, Katniss. If I may say so, you look absolutely gorgeous tonight."

She laughed then, her voice hoarse, and he chuckled with her, a broad grin overtaking his features. He crawled over top of her and laid himself down next to her, a proud and contented smile on his face. "Thank you Peeta, it's good to see you as well. You're looking pretty good yourself." She quipped back, quoting their earlier conversation.

"Ah, well, you see, I just had the most mind-blowing sex with this girl I'm absolutely crazy about, so I'm feeling pretty good right now." He replied, and she flushed pleasantly under his words.

"Oh, is that so?"

"Yup. Now I'm just hoping that she doesn't count this as the date that she owes me, because I definitely have to see her again."

"Well, you're in luck. I have it on good authority that she doesn't consider anything a date unless there are cheese buns involved."

He laughed contentedly, his blonde curls falling handsomely across his forehead, and he was still smiling broadly when he leant over her to capture her lips in a kiss. She melted against him, his kisses soft and tender, soothing after such passionate activities.

"I mean it, though." He said against her lips. "I went about this all backwards; I wanted to take you out on a few totally romantic dates I had been planning and then take you home to completely have my way with you."

A smile tugged at her lips, her entire body feeling as light as air. "I know. It's okay. If it makes you feel any better, um, those orgasms you gave me definitely made me like you more."

He chuckled throatily, humming in agreement. "I'm glad. But, I still insist on proving to you how much I respect and admire you while keeping our clothes on." His hand began to rub light, soothing circles on her tummy, and she was overcome with a wave of drowsiness. Her body felt so relaxed, and his body heat next to hers was warm and inviting.

"Is it okay if we…" she trailed off, yawning softly as her eyelids fluttered tiredly. He had completely worn her out. Peeta smiled down at her, and then lightly tugged the blankets down and out from under their bodies, billowing it over them with a strong tug. Immediately she sighed in relief, and he chuckled at the sight of her burrowing down into the pillows contentedly.

After a moment he hesitantly pulled her body towards his, bringing one arm to cradle her into his chest. She could feel his smile when she snuggled into his warm body, and as her eyes finally shut she returned it with a reassuring smile of her own. His fingers idly ran through her hair, stroked smoothly up her back, and it wasn't long before she was falling into the clutches of sleep.

"Happy new year, Peeta Mellark." She whispered sleepily into his chest.

"Happy new year, Katniss Everdeen." He whispered back, placing a kiss on the top of her head and circling his arm tighter around her.

She was fast asleep in moments, oblivious to the loud thrumming of the on-going party below them.

She woke up before he did, in a sleepy haze of happiness. It took her a few moments to remember where she was, and her eyes widened as she remembered what had happened the night before. Suddenly, she was gripped with terror, and she understood what Peeta had meant the night before when he had told her he didn't want her to regret anything.

She certainly didn't regret anything. She was simply anxious that he would. Would he think less of her now, after having been so bold?

She furrowed her brow, replaying the night's events in her mind, and forcing herself to calm down. This was exactly why she had been so hesitant to pursue this – now what did she do? What if she had messed it up?

She ran her fingers idly across his chest, eyeing his taut stomach appreciatively. The blankets were pulled low along his waist, and she felt a warm stirring at the sight of the defined v-shape of his hips disappearing beneath them. Raising her head gently, she leant up on one elbow to take in his appearance.

He was fast asleep, and his face looked boyishly handsome in his slumber. His five-o-clock shadow from yesterday was more pronounced, hair tousled in large golden curls across the pillow. Her face broke out in a small smile at the sight; she couldn't help it, he was irresistibly cute in the morning light.

Perhaps her light shuffling alerted him, because a moment later he broke out in a yawn and opened his eyes groggily, arms tightening instinctively against her. At the sight of her in his arms he stiffened, blinking rapidly before breaking out in a wide smile.

"Mornin'." He said hoarsely, blue eyes bleary and bright. "Sleep okay?"

"Yah, how about you?" She responded tentatively.

"Never better, to be honest." He replied sincerely. He could sense her hesitation, and his brow furrowed in worry. "Katniss…last night was as incredible as I remember it to be, real or not real?"

Her lips quirked up slightly. "Real."

"Good." He sighed, running his fingers through her hair lightly. "You don't…you don't regret it, do you? That's the last thing I want you to feel."

"No…I don't regret it." She said slowly. He hummed thoughtfully.

"But you aren't happy?" He asked with a sad sigh. She shook her head rapidly.

"No, that's not it. I'm just…worried."

"Worried? About what?" His face creased in confusion, and she nibbled her bottom lip uncertainly.

"…I'm not good at explaining myself. I just…it's embarrassing." She blushed, realizing how stupid she probably sounded. She could allow herself to say what she had said to him last night without hesitation, but here, when it should be simpler, she struggled most.

"Katniss." Peeta said hoarsely, chuckling to himself. "After how much of a bumbling idiot I was yesterday at the sight of you, and after finding out I spent months unknowingly raving about you to your best friends, I'm pretty sure I'm going to win in the embarrassed department."

She smirked at the thought, and his cheeks flushed pink again at the memory. She took a deep breath and tried to be brave with her words, like he was. "I'm just worried you'll think less of me, because I was, you know, too bold, or…I don't usually, you know, um, sleep with people like this, I just…" She flushed, floundering for words, and to her surprise he broke out in a relieved grin.

"Is that all?" He shook his head in awe. "Katniss, I could never think less of you. If anything, I feel bad that I couldn't contain myself better." He looked over her face carefully, a shy smile on his face. "You should never feel bad for acting on your feelings. And, for the record, I'm happy that you don't, you know, make this sleeping with people thing a regular occurrence, because to be honest I'd really like to keep you all to myself."

She couldn't help it; she leant forward and captured his lips in a happy kiss, bringing her hand up to cup his jaw. He groaned happily into her mouth at the unexpected touch, relaxing against her mouth and easing his tongue against hers eagerly. His hands dragged up her body lazily, tugging her over to splay across his chest. After a few moments, he pulled away with a contented smile on his face.

"I could really get used to waking up next to you naked in the morning." He said with a laugh, eyes dropping down her form appreciatively, and she blushed happily at his admission.

"Yah? Well, I'm pretty fond of this morning stubble you've got going on, myself. Sounds like a fair deal." She replied, and he pulled her in for another kiss, her hands buried deeply into his curls. Just as he shifted up into her body, allowing her to feel his hard length along her stomach, the bedroom door was opened with a bang by a bewildered Finnick.

"Shit –" Peeta cried out, reaching hastily for the sheet to pull it up over her nude form atop of him, to which Katniss clutched herself to his chest, mortified.

"Finn! Knock!" She cried exasperatedly, who still stood at the door with a look of shock on his face. It didn't take long; a few moments later he had broken out into his infamously mischievous grin.

"Mellark, nicely done! Looks like you really were on the prowl last night after all, eh kitty Kat?" He said with a seductive wink.

"Finnick, come on man! Get out!" Peeta yelled at him indignantly with an awkward laugh. Katniss giggled beneath the sheets, unable to contain herself. After a moment, Peeta joined in, while Finnick grinned at them sheepishly from the door.

"Sorry guys, I don't know what it is about me walking in on people these days…um, I'll let the girls know I found you." He tiptoed exaggeratingly out of the room, closing the door behind them, leaving Peeta looking every bit as bewildered by what had just happened as Finnick had when he'd first walked in.

"At least Gale and Undersee had their pants on when I caught them in the act…" They heard his voice mumble outside the door, and Katniss leant up to kiss Peeta's face again with a happy smile, allowing herself to be lost in the feel of him. He chuckled into her mouth, pulling her body down beside him and crawling atop of her, hands running firmly along her body approvingly.

They stayed there until Gale threatened to leave without them nearly two hours later.

He showed up at her apartment the next night with flowers and a box of cheese buns, dressed in dark jeans and that light blue t-shirt. She took one look at him and tugged him inside, crashing her lips to his. They never made it outside past her doorstep.

When Johanna grumbled incessantly the next few weeks about how little sleep she got, Katniss would smile sweetly back, saying it was only fair. Peeta, being the typically good, kind, and thoughtful person that he was, started bringing her cheese buns, too.

It took them over three weeks to go on an official date.