I stare out of the filthy window of an automobile called a bus. I’ve never been inside of an automobile before, and it’s a luxury I’d rather not experience at all if it means being shuttled to a fate worse than death.
No. Not worse than death, I remind myself. Don’t be so dramatic.
I’m a survivor. Everdeens are made of sterner stuff than the tears that have threatened to spill out of my eyes for the past two hours of the bumpy, sweat-and-fear soaked ride to the Facility for Youthful Improvement, otherwise known as FYI.
FYI, I’m totally screwed .
That’s the joke whispered on playgrounds and school hallways and in the privacy of your own room, when you’re not the one being carted to certain doom with dozens of other criminals.
FYI, did you hear who is going for a ride? Katniss Everdeen. She stole fruit from the market. FYI, she’s so dead. Hope it was worth it .
FYI is a detainment center for the juvenile delinquents of Panem, where anyone between the ages twelve through nineteen are sent for their crimes—those who aren't old enough for the death penalty, but not quite young enough for the lesser punishments doled out to children of the districts. Of course, "lesser” means being lowered into mile-deep holes to scrape for resources that the adults are too large to access, hours of cleaning the dirt encrusted cobbled streets under the hot sun or picking fruit from the viper-infested fields of our district.
I once saw a little boy no more than six-years-old polishing a window over five stories high, tottering precariously on a scaffold—all because he dared to tug on the pristine skirt of a Merchant wife and beg for a scrap of food.
Obey is the watchword in Panem. Because once you age out of FYI, the punishment for your crime, any district crime, can spell death.
“Pssst.” A warm breath is hissed into my ear, and I jump when a sharp fingertip digs its way into my side. “That’s you, brainless. Answer if you don’t want a club to the back of your head.”
“Here,” I croak, my throat unbearably dry from disuse as much as the dry heat inside of the bus.
“Pull your head out of your ass, maggot,” sneers the guard, a mean-eyed woman with a buzzed head and arms thicker than my waist. “If you want to survive the next,” she pauses to look down at her clipboard, “year of your life, you’ll learn to dig the wax out of your ears.”
I swallow at the reminder of my sentence at FYI. One year. One year without the forest at my back, the wind in my hair and a bow in my hands, or the sweet smile on my sister’s face.
Better me than her. Only thirteen-years-old and more delicate than black market silk, she would have never made it out alive for the duration of a six year sentence. But I’m eighteen, having had a birthday only just last week, and 51 weeks from now, if I can just hold it together and keep my head low, I’ll be out of FYI. I’ll be up for review and hopefully deemed acceptable to enter into society again when I'm nineteen.
51 weeks. I can do this.
“Answer me, maggot!”
I clench my handcuffed hands. “Yes, ma'am. I’ll be sure to clean the wax out of my ears with haste,” I reply politely. A few gasps ring out into the bus.
There goes keeping my head down.
Mean-Eyes glares at me. She’s had it out for me ever since I stepped foot on this bus.
“So you’re a smartass little rebel, are you?” the guard growls. “Shut your mouth before I wreck that pretty face of yours.” A few appraising faces of the male persuasion turn toward the back of the bus, and I flush. “You’re gonna need it where you’re headed.”
Mean-Eyes snickers when the bus starts to slow down. My breath catches in my throat when the desolate, tree-lined dirt road spills into a field, revealing a network of grey, square buildings surrounded by layers of towering chain-linked fences that are accessorized with barbed wire. In the center of the buildings is a massive dome.
“Welcome to FYI, maggots.”
The bus goes through a series of check-points before stopping at a loading dock toward the back of the facility, and I start to shiver when it becomes obvious that we’ve reached the end of our journey. Our bus pulls between two other buses that are already empty, the inmates that once occupied them already forming lines a short distance away.
I tense in my seat when a huge boy with light hair and a scar over his left eye leans across the aisle and into my face. His grey jumpsuit reads Inmate #32.
“Want to partner with me?” he suggests, his cold eyes raking me up and down. “I’m Cato.”
I cringe backward, causing my seatmate to push at my shoulder.
“You’ve heard of the buddy system,” Cato says, standing when Mean-Eyes shouts for us to evacuate the bus. He stares down at me. “You aren’t gonna last a minute in there without me, little girl.” He touches my hair with his chained hands, making my skin crawl.
I shudder when he finally moves down the aisle, following our fellow bus mates. The FYI 'buddy system’ is notorious. The concept is simple– two people come together to support each other, one supplying protection and while the other trades…whatever it is they have to give. Supply and demand. Give and take.
“Classic brawn for booty,” says my seatmate, Inmate #57. She shoves me so hard that I slide off the seat, forcing me to stand lest I fall. “You should maybe take him up on it, brainless.”
“I’d rather die,” I mumble, shuffling off the bus and onto the scorched, dry earth. I quickly fall in line when a few other guards join Mean-Eyes, and I try to make sense of the jumbled orders they’re screaming at us.
“You just might,” she mutters back lowly, bringing her clasped wrists together to run a hand across her short, dark hair. “I’m Johanna, by the way.”
“Katniss,” I reply absently, taking in my surroundings. I stare off to the left, where a guard has a girl pressed against the building, his hand running down her side. I have a terrible taste in my mouth. “Katniss Everdeen.”
“Well, Katniss fucking Everdeen. You’re a real chatty girl, aren’t you?” I flinch when a man with heavy, black boots, thick eyebrows and furious eyes stops in front of me. His badge reads Officer Thread. “And you think you’re above the rules. Think you’re special? Someone gave you a pass, huh?” He reaches out and roughly yanks on my braid, and I try not to yelp with pain. “So special that you don’t even need orientation, I bet.”
It’s my braid. I should have cut it when I had the chance.
I was warned by my FYI representative that it would be best to shave my head before they did— to just accept the idea of conformation. To make that first step of obedience. Hair is a luxury at FYI, and one that is earned through time and good behavior.
But I just couldn’t do it. I could still feel my mother’s gentle fingers in my hair as she patiently plaited the strands, and the comforting weight of the braid on my shoulder kept me sane all the way up to being booked into the system.
When it was my turn for 'grooming’ at the FYI arrival station, I balked.
“Sit down,” the guard said coldly, gesturing to a swivel chair. A dirty mirror revealed my terrified expression, my hand clutching the bottom of my braid.
“I-I” I stared at the razor. My new jumpsuit itched terribly. Everything smelled. I could hear crying and the buzz of razors in the air.
“Don’t fucking think. Just do what I goddamn say.”
I took a deep breath, and an alarm sounded. A robotic voice intoned that all available security was needed at the front of the building.
“Shit,” the guard said, dropping the razor onto the counter in front of the mirror. “One of you little bastards always has to fight back, don’t you?” She looks back and forth from me and the hallway where the freshly 'groomed’ girls with shaved heads are lined up to go outside and load the buses that will take us to FYI headquarters. “Just go. They’ll deal with you at HQ.”
I should have never let it get this far, and now I’m about to find out what it means to be ‘dealt’ with by what appears to be the head FYI guard.
My heart drops when Thread pushes me out of line and marches me toward a set of doors that leads into the facility. Where we’re headed completely bypasses the set of steps that lead to the dock, where lines of other inmates are already filtering through.
Dread rises. “No, I-”
He stops and glares at me. “What the hell did you just say to me?”
Someone steps out of line, a boy who offered me a hand when I tripped onto the bus when I was first picked up from my district. He has kind eyes.
“Sir. She didn’t mean any disrespect,” he says, holding his hands out in supplication.
“No?” Officer Thread asks mockingly, stopping in our tracks. He pulls out a firearm from a holster at his side. The other guards, including Mean-Eyes, smirk at each other.
My stomach rumbles in fear, but no. Surely he wouldn’t-
The gun goes off. The boy drops. I turn and throw up.
“Let’s just get the ball rolling, then,” Thread says calmly, dragging me behind him.
I look back and meet Johanna’s eyes, but she just glances away. Any sympathy or commiseration I was searching for is lost. A few faces are scared, some are accusing, but mostly all I see is relief.
They’re just glad it’s not them.
The last face I see before the door shuts behind me belongs to Cato, a knowing sneer on his face.
“See you soon,” he mouths.
I’m completely numb as Officer Thread drags me down a faded yellow hallway, a few curious eyes of staff members and errant guards regarding us as we breeze past. I guess it’s not normal procedure for an inmate to be haunting these halls.
There are maps on the walls that appear to be blue prints, and a telephone mounted by a window that leads to what looks like a clinic. I eye it longingly, fantasizing about picking up the receiver and calling my mother and Prim.
Not that our phone has ever been in proper working order. The power in the Seam is spotty at best, and the phone only ever rings to deliver bad news. I would know— I picked it up myself when FYI called to deliver my sentencing date.
All this for a piece of fruit .
“Don’t even think about it,” Thread growls, catching me eyeing the phone. He picks up his pace, and my shorter legs struggle to keep up. I’m already a little weak with hunger and exhaustion, but it’s nothing I’m not accustomed to— I can go for days without a proper meal. “If you’re even caught breathing near a phone, or these back hallways, period, you’ll be shot dead on sight.”
I nod wearily. I have no fight left in me.
We take a few turns that make me dizzy, and then we’re approaching a set of reinforced steel doors that positively vibrate from the noise resounding behind it.
“Home sweet home,” Thread says, a grim smile on his face. He pulls something that looks like an air gun out of one of his holsters and quickly injects me in the arm, causing a shooting pain that runs all the way to my shoulder blade. “That’s what I like to call 'tagging the rats.’ In case you get any bright ideas of escaping,” he clarifies as if I’m an idiot. “Or breeding with other rats.”
I’m barely listening to him, though, because my mind is on the unbearable noise beyond the door.
“Wait,” I hear a woman say, slightly out of breath. Her name tag reads Miss Trinket. She has a bedroll in her arms. “Romulus, this is completely unorthodox. This girl needs to be sent through orientation. She-”
“Does it really matter, Effie?” He sends a bored look her way. “Trust me. This one needs to learn a lesson about who is in charge. Or have you already forgotten your lesson about misplacing trust in these pieces of shit?” He eyes her neck, where a jagged pink scar wraps around her neck.
Her eyes shutter, and just like that, I know I’ve lost any semblance of an ally in this woman.
“Just do the proper paperwork,” Miss Trinket mumbles to him. She thrusts the bedroll into my arms without looking at me.
“I have an idea,” he says. He shoves me toward the woman, and I stumble. “You take her inside since you’re so soft for these brats.” He takes out a thick set of keys and goes to work on the intricate lock system. The door opens, revealing a caged walkway that has another door at the end.
“Wait-” the woman protests, but Thread is already pushing us toward the walkway.
She sighs and presses on a wall panel, and the second door clicks open automatically. The noise is deafening when we emerge into another caged box.
What lies beyond the box, however, is the heart of FYI.
The enormous area is circular and domed, and as far up as the eye can see are cells with barred doors lining the walls, much like the inside of a beehive I once cracked open to steal the sweet honey within.
Except inside this room, there isn’t honey. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of inmates, and most of them hardened criminals by necessity if not by nature. And they’re not locked up behind cell doors. They’re walking around, free. They’re lounging against the railings. They’re playing games with dice at battered cement picnic tables. They’re picking at the bones of what looks like roasted birds. I even see couples kissing and writhing in corners.
FYI, I’m fucked .
You don’t last the week at FYI unless you’re a ruthless animal— or the buddy of one. Horror rises when I realize what I’m going to have to do. I’m 5 foot nothing and only moderately clever on my best day. I have no strength or special skills to survive in a place like this. Maybe in a forest with a bow I’d have a chance, but inside a place like this, I’m easy prey. My choices are limited, and my future is looking bleak.
It dawns on me that it’s gone almost silent in the dome, and I flinch when I realize that I’m now the center of attention.
“Fresh meat!’ I hear someone shout, and I want to drop through the floor.
"Pssst, little girl.”
“Look at that hair.”
MIss Trinket is already reaching for a button on the side of the cage, and I look up at her in a panic.
“Wait- I. What do I do?” I stare at her with imploring eyes. I don’t want to beg this woman for anything, but I’m desperate. “Where do I sleep? What do I do?”
She looks everywhere but at my face as she takes out a key ring and unlocks my handcuffs. I’m shocked at the lack of worry on her end, but then I see Thread staring at us impatiently back down the walkway.
“I’m going to give you some advice,” Miss Trinket says lowly. “Normally I wouldn’t, but…” I wait for her to finish, hungry for wisdom. “You’re a pretty girl. I’d find the biggest person in the room, and—have you heard of the buddy system?”
I gape at her.
She steps back into the walkway, the door shutting behind her. I see her conflicted expression through a small glass panel right before the door to the cage whooshes open.
I inhale and move into the center of the hive.
Catcalls ensue. Disdainful looks come from girls with dead eyes and make-shift dresses made from remnants of what was once a regulation jumpsuit. A group of guys with sloppy, matching neck tattoos shoot furtive looks my way. I can tell that I wouldn’t care for their discussion.
“How’d the fresh meat get away with that hair?” a girl hisses from a few feet away. She looks up at boy with muscles the size of my head. “Get it for me,” she pouts to him, her hand running down his chest.
I exhale sharply. I’m going to piss myself any second now.
A shadow falls over me.
“Hey, girl,” rumbles a boy twice my size in height and weight. His brown hair reaches the top of his shoulders. “I’m Blight.”
Right. That’s a heck of a name. I squeeze my bedroll to my chest and cast a longing glance behind me, but I blink when I realize the caged entrance is gone. It must collapse into the floor. Or the wall?
I’m pulled out of the science of it all when the mountain in front of me grabs my arm. “Are you listening to me?” he demands. I jerk away, and his eyes flash. “I said, you’re mine now. You don’t have to worry about a thing, sweetness.”
“Uh,” I stammer, taking a step back. I feel a million eyes drilling holes into me from all directions. Where are the guards? “Thank you, but I’m going to pass.”
“Oo-ee!” a pale boy chortles with dark hair that hangs to his ears. “She’s gonna take a pass on you, Blight.”
Blight flushes darkly when laughter rings out around us, and his large hand makes a fist at his side.
“I don’t think you heard me right,” he says with slow menace. He takes a step toward me, and I realize I’m quickly running out of space before I will inevitably land against a group of cackling people behind me. “I’m your new buddy. So get your little ass over here and gimme a kiss.” He smirks. “Soften me up, girl.” The smirk fades. “Because you’re pissin’ me right off.”
My breath comes out in panicked little pants, and I lift my eyes above his head, searching in vain for escape.
And then my eyes land on a face I haven’t seen in five years. One that I never in a hundred years thought I’d see again.
FYI, did you hear Peeta Mellark killed his mother ?
Time stops as we regard each other. The jeers and laughter fade. The mountainous Blight disappears. It’s just Peeta and I, twelve-years-old, and he’s tossing me a loaf of bread in the rain.
I never believed the rumors about Peeta— that he was a psychopath who chopped his mother into tiny pieces for no reason. The gentle baker’s son that I’d known in passing since we were five would have never done such a thing. Besides, everyone in the district knew his mother was an abusive witch. As far as I was concerned, the world was better off without her.
I never had much hope that sunny, artistic Peeta, the boy who iced the fanciful designs on his father’s cookies, had made it to maturation inside of FYI. In fact, it was the memory of a thirteen-year-old Peeta being hauled away by FYI agents that helped me make the already-easy decision to take the fall for Prim when she stole that fruit from the market.
I was so certain Peeta Mellark was dead by now that I never once considered what it would be like to see him again.
But then again, it’s not really him I’m seeing right now. It’s clear that in the place of the boy I once knew is someone else entirely. Even from my view from below, I can see that the boy leaning against the railing of the second level has changed.
He’s older, for one. Taller. That’s a given. The once rounded planes of his face have given way to sharp cheekbones and a cut-glass jaw that is intensely defined. His once kind blue eyes are two narrowed flints of stone that appraise me and find me lacking. His blond hair is shorn close to his head—not quite buzzed, but the waves and curls that I know would spring forth if only given the chance to grow are suppressed by their lack of length.
And he’s big. His arms are crossed over his chest, straining against a plain white shirt that is most definitely not a jumpsuit like mine. His chest is broad. There’s an overall air of muchness to him, a confidence that is hard-earned. And, oh. The scars.
The scars are intimidating. And heartbreaking.
I don’t know this Peeta Mellark. And from the way he’s staring at me, I don’t think he wants to know me, either.
“I’ve had it up to here,” growls Blight, reaching out to push me. I suddenly find myself on my backside, the bedroll spilling out of my hands. I stared up in shock. Snickers and cheers ring out when he crouches in front of me, and I feel like I’m drowning.
I close my eyes and decide to just let it all go. I’m toast.
It grows quiet, and I open my eyes at the sound of the familiar voice, now deep with age.
Everyone is staring at Peeta. Including me.
Blight stands and turns to address the insouciant boy leaning over the railing. “Stay out of this, Mellark.”
A door creaks open in the silence that follows Blight’s warning, and I see a group of my bus mates standing at a doorway in the distance, their mouths wide with shock and fear. I have no pity or sympathy for them. I’m going through my own crisis right now. I turn my attention back to Peeta, who is looking down at Blight impassively.
“Are we fighting?” Peeta asks him. I stare at a scar that starts at the corner of his right eye and extends to his chin. It doesn’t detract from his looks.
A chorus of shocked whispers explode around the dome, and Blight turns a dark red. “You’d fight me over this piece of ass?” he returns in disbelief, gesturing toward my sprawled form. I’d be insulted if I wasn’t so terrified.
“You mean, my piece of ass,” he corrects him, jumping the railing. He walks over to us, and I’m living in a surreal moment where Peeta Mellark is standing in front of me, blocking me from Blight’s view. “This is my buddy.” He turns and looks down at me. “Nod your head.”
I make a split second decision. “Yes,” I say quickly. “I-”
“Don’t speak,” Peeta says, and my mouth shuts so hard my teeth click together. He turns back to face Blight. “All clear?”
“All clear,” Blight says between gritted teeth. “My mistake, Mellark.”
And then, just like that, he walks away. He grabs a girl with hair that swings in her eyes, dragging her by the elbow up the ladder-like staircase that runs through the center of every level of the dome. I don’t envy her fate.
But then again, mine is iffy as well. Because Peeta is staring down at me with flared nostrils, one hand extended.
“Get up,” he commands. I take his hand. My fingers tingle at his touch, confusing me. He leans down and grabs my bedroll, maintaining his punishing grip on my hand. He leads me toward the stairs, and I feel like a battered toy as I follow him, completely dazed. I pass Johanna, who stares at me with wide-set brown eyes.
“I’m in cell 622,” she tells me quickly, eyeing Peeta warily. I can’t help but notice that in addition to a bedroll, she and the other new arrivals are clutching a sack of items that I didn’t get. Missing orientation was a blow. “What about you?”
For a moment, I want to kick Thread in the face. Somewhere out there, I have a cell with my name on it. But then, I think, this would've probably happened anyway.
“I don’t know,” I tell her honestly as I’m pulled toward the staircase. “I’ll find you.”
“210,” Peeta says.
“Oh,” I reply awkwardly, as we climb to the second level. I quickly realize his room is in a prime location. Inside a building that is a circular dome, there’s basically zero chance for any level of privacy. However, Peeta’s room is located right behind the staircase that leads to level three, giving a modicum of relief from prying eyes.
He pulls a key out of his pants, and I raise my eyebrow in surprise. He catches me staring.
“It doesn’t keep out the guards,” he says, voice curt. “Not that they come around often.” He yanks open the door and motions me inside. “But it’ll keep out the other inmates.”
I walk inside, and the door shuts and locks behind me.
The cell is small, but bearable. A few shelves line the left wall. A medium sized, cot-like bed juts from the right-hand side of the room, and a small sink and toilet is recessed into the back wall. Not very private, but I try to tell myself that it could be worse. I don’t know how I’m ever going to use the bathroom in front of Peeta Mellark, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
He takes the bedroll out of my hands and unravels it on top of the cot before placing the cell key onto one of the shelves. Then he turns to me.
“Take off your clothes,” he says shortly, reaching up and grasping the neck of his shirt. He pulls it over his head, reveals a body that he most certainly never had when he was twelve.
I stare at him. “What?”
“Take.” Off goes his pants. “Off.” His shoes are next. “Your.” Goodbye, socks. “Clothes.”
He’s standing in front of me in blue boxer shorts and my mind is racing. Are they regulation underpants? They can’t be. Mine are plain cotton. They’re boring. I have on a plain white bra they threw at me in the arrival station. I don’t even think it’s new. I’m-
“Katniss,” he says, and I jolt at my name on his lips. He looks…disgusted. Furious. “What are you doing here?”
“I stole some fruit,” I say idiotically.
“Jesus.” Peeta stares at me, and then he barks out a laugh that is humorless at best. “Keep that to yourself.”
“People who steal fruit don’t last the week,” he says with brutal honesty. “It’s the murderers, rapists and psychopaths that dominate here.”
“That’s why I have you, right?” I say impulsively, and he gives me a blank look. “I’m sorry.” I bite my lip. “Peeta, I didn’t mean that. I’m grateful-“
“Don’t be grateful,” he snaps, stepping closer. It’s hard not to look at his sculpted body. “This isn’t a charity.”
“I know,” I say, dismayed. I cross my arms over my chest. “I just-“
“I really don't like repeating myself.” I hear movement outside of our cell, and Peeta sneers menacingly at someone behind my shoulder. I start to turn my head, but Peeta grabs my chin with fingers that are surprisingly gentle, a sharp contrast to his black mood. “Learn to ignore them,” he warns me.
“Are we having sex?” I ask him, my lips trembling. But I already know the answer. I’ll do anything Peeta Mellark wants as long as I can stay in this cell, away from the monsters that lurk outside. Because they are lurking, not even pretending like they’re walking by Peeta’s cell to do anything but spy on us. To take a look at the show inside.
This is my life now. But at least it’s not Prim’s.
“Do you know what the buddy system is?” Peeta asks, crouching in front of me and untying my shoes.
“Yes,” I whisper, sitting on the edge of cot when he puts pressure on my knees.
“Then you know,” he says, pulling off my shoes, “how this works. Clothes off.”
I unzip the front. I stand and he helps me out of it. We’re both in our underwear now.
He unhooks my bra expertly. “You’re not very big,” he says flatly.
My olive skin burns brightly under the harsh lights of the cell. It’s daytime, I think. This isn’t something you do in the daytime.
“But you are,” Peeta continues, “and always have been…” He stops and pushes me down onto the cot, pulling his undershorts off before hovering over me. His cold blue eyes rake over my face. “The prettiest girl I’ve ever seen,” he finishes, almost resentfully. And then he kisses me.
I jerk back. “I threw up earlier,” I tell him, my heart racing. I feel like I’m in a very strange dream that I can't wake up from.
His lips pull to the side, the closest I’ve seen of a smile yet. “I don’t care.” He tugs my underwear down my legs. “Katniss, we’re going to know every inch of each other. We’re only allowed showers twice a week,” he says bluntly, biting my collarbone. “There’s no more politeness. Not in here.”
“Do you have any other…buddies?” I ask, breathless when his hand reaches between my legs. No one has ever touched me there before.
“No.” He watches my face. “But I’m not a virgin. I’ve been with girls here. A lot of them.” His finger flicks my clit lightly, and my eyelashes flutter. I try to disregard the stares that I know are focused our way and accept that is my new reality. It’s Peeta, or the Catos and Blights of the world. “Are you a virgin, Katniss?”
“Yes,” I choke out, twitching when he eases a finger inside of me. It pinches when he adds a second, but it’s not unpleasant, especially when he closes his lips around my nipple. I’d probably enjoy it more if I wasn’t in jail and in front of an audience, but his fingers and mouth are so skilled that I’m wet anyway.
“So,” he sighs. “I’m your first.” This he says in a way I can’t identify, but when he pushes into me a moment later, he’s so hard that I know he can’t be disappointed with the news.
“Peeta-” My head lands violently back against a thin pillow, and a bead of sweat rolls down my temple.
“Fuck,” he grunts, his head falling into my neck. “You feel-” He slides out and then back in. “Ah, god.”
“Oh,” I gasp, my eyes watering at the fullness of him inside of me. It’s not unbearable, but it’s not comfortable either.
“It’ll get better,” Peeta promises me, his voice rough like gravel. His hands are braced on either side of my head, and he leans down to kiss me sloppily. “Wrap your legs around me.”
I obey, and he rewards me with a hand that slides down to work at my clit with nimble fingers, and I can’t believe that I’m going to come my first time. Noises that would have normally humiliated me pass my lips, and Peeta seems to revel in the sound. A shallow orgasm racks my body, and he picks up his pace.
“Um,” he groans lowly, thrusting into me hard as he loses control. His jaw clenches, an expression of tortured pleasure on his face. I can’t believe I’m seeing Peeta like this. “Oh, I’m- oh fuck!” And then kisses me deeply, one hand cupping my face with startling sweetness. “Damn you, Katniss,” he mutters into my lips.
He pulls out and collapses beside me after he finishes, and I stare up at the crumbling white ceiling of our cell. I just had sex with fellow inmate Peeta Mellark. His cum is sliding down my thigh.
“Oh,” he says, reaching over me to grab his shirt from the floor. He cleans me first before taking care of himself, and I’m embarrassed at the blood and wetness on the white material when he finishes, but then I let it go. Like Peeta said—there’s no more politeness.
I briefly worry about pregnancy, but quickly remember that the tracking implant I was injected with is also a form of birth control. I mentally check off one small but very important box from my list of concerns about the next year at FYI as Peeta's…buddy.
I hear applause and catcalls somewhere behind us, and I flush with shame.
“Ignore them,” he says harshly, pulling a blanket from the end of the bed over my body. He grabs my chin and looks down into my face, hovering over me. “You have to toughen up,” he tells me. “No other choice.” He leans over me and runs his hand under the mattress, and something shines between his fingers. I’ve only just identified it as a razor blade, alarm running through every system of my body when he pulls me up by the shoulders, the blanket slipping down perilously close to my breasts.
His hand winds into my braid, and then with a swift sawing motion, my hair is severed at the chin.
He calmly stands and walks to the front of the cell, completely naked. The dome is silent as he wraps the remnant of my braid around one of the bars and tucks it into a knot before straddling my body again. I’m speechless.
“You probably hate me right now,” he guesses impassively. I don’t know how I feel. I’m still in shock, I think. “But that was making me a target,” he says, speaking the words into my ear. “And if I’m a target, so are you.”
I stare up at him.
“We’re in this together now,“ Peeta says, his fingers running through my shorter hair. “Nod if you understand.”
“Are you sore?”
“A little,” I admit.
"I’m going to fuck you again,” he tells me, easing the blanket away from my body. “They need to see.” I close my eyes when he slides a hand down my side. “Everyone has to know you belong to me.”
He lips touch mine. It’s almost sweet.
I open my eyes. “Okay.”
He nuzzles my neck. “Katniss Everdeen,” he says, something a little like wonder in his voice. His eyes are bright blue and feverish. “I never wanted to see you again.”
And then he pushes into me.