“Peeta, this is Katniss. She’s the one who’s going to be subletting my room for the summer.”
Tucking some loose hair behind her ear, Katniss sidesteps Gale’s tall, lanky frame to greet his roommate. Peeta Mellark, the visual opposite of Gale in just about every way, with his blue eyes and blond hair and pale skin, is sprawled out on the couch in the living room, his attention riveted to the TV. Glancing at them, he sits up quickly, however, and stands to greet her, his smile wider and not at all forced like the one she offers him.
“Yeah, hey. Nice to meet you,” he says, squeezing her hand when she offers it to him.
“You too,” she replies, dropping her hand to her side and forcing her eyes back to Gale when she realizes she’s staring.
“You’re cool with this, right?” Gale double checks with Peeta, arching an eyebrow. “She’ll pay through July, and then I’ll be back early August.”
Having just graduated, Gale’s heading across seas to backpack through Europe for the summer, but he doesn’t want to give up his apartment, and, according to Gale, Peeta doesn’t want to go through the hassle of finding a new roommate for his last year. And Katniss needs somewhere to stay until she can move into her new place in August with Madge, when their senior year starts. So this is a win-win for everyone.
“I’ll have this month’s rent next week, after I’ve worked a few more shifts,” Katniss interjects adamantly. She’s a server at The Hob, and she generally makes enough in tips to cover all the expenses her financial aid and scholarships don’t.
Peeta shrugs, still smiling. “That’s fine, no rush. I’ve already paid up for May just to avoid any confusion with the landlord, so whenever you can get me your half is fine.”
She just nods and looks to Gale, who gestures to his room. “Help me finish packing,” he tells her, and she rolls her eyes good-naturedly.
Gale leaves for the airport in the morning, so naturally he’s not ready. But he’s doing her a pretty big favor, so helping him pack is probably the least she can do. She follows him to his bedroom, and Peeta sits back down on the couch, returning his attention to whatever Netflix show he’s watching. As she crosses the threshold of Gale’s bedroom and turns to shut the door behind her, she glances over at Peeta, whose blue eyes dart back to the TV, before they can lock with hers.
But he was looking at her, she realizes, closing the door softly.
Katniss carefully folds one of Gale’s shirts before handing it to him. He scrutinizes her as he stuffs it into his bag, but she avoids his gaze. “So,” he starts, and she already knows where this is going. “Did you think anymore about what I said?”
“Gale…” she trails off hesitantly, not sure how to best answer his question. He’s been her best friend for years now; that’s all that’s been between them—or so she thought, until the other day when he confessed that he’s in love with her. “I just had to tell you that before I left,” he said as she sat dumbstruck on the edge of the pool table at some hole-in-the-wall bar where they were getting drinks.
The truth is, she doesn’t know how to answer his question. She’s never pictured or felt anything romantic between the two of them. He’s attractive, yes, but is she attracted to him? Is the comfort and familiarity of their friendship enough reason to start a relationship with him, especially when he’s going out of the country for nearly three months?
She finally shrugs, helpless. “I still need time to process. I don’t know.” It’s the best she can offer, though she knows it’s not enough for him. Predictably, he sighs in frustration.
“Katniss, are you seriously telling me you’ve never thought about us in that way before?” he asks as he plops down on his bed, and she rolls her lips together tightly. No, she hasn’t. But she’s not sure she’s really thought about anybody in that way before, at least not in a way that’s made her want to start a relationship with someone.
“I don’t know,” she reiterates, trying to keep her own frustration in check. “I’ve never thought about anyone that way—” He scoffs, and she scowls at him. “How you seen me date anyone, seriously? In all the time you’ve known me?”
“You went out with that red-headed guy,” he says tersely, raising his eyebrows, and she rolls her eyes.
“A couple times, but there was nothing there. Darius is just a friend now.” She shrugs again. “I’m just…trying to get through school. That’s what I’ve been focused on. I haven’t had much time or motivation to think about anything else, let alone a relationship.”
Gale is quiet for a moment before he sighs roughly. “I can understand that. You’re usually single-minded. I know how much finishing your studies means to you.” She nods, ignoring his patronizing tone, but he’s back to watching her intently. “Maybe I can…let me try something…”
He leans toward her to kiss her, and she lets him. Why not? She can give him this, at least, before he goes. It might be nice for her, too.
And it is, actually. He kisses her, with lips and tongues and hands—his whole body, really. They end up stretched out on his bed, her underneath him, and she even lets him get her off, when the surging hormones become too much, but she stops him when he goes to get a condom.
“Wait,” she breathes out nervously, pushing on his chest. “I don’t—I’m not ready.”
He inhales sharply through his nose before releasing a hard breath, closing his eyes. “Okay,” he grits out and flops down on his back beside her.
She stares at the ceiling, trying to level her breathing out. “Sorry,” she finally offers. Again, he sighs.
“It’s fine,” he replies before sitting up to crawl over her. “Just go to sleep, I’ll be right back.”
He’s in the bathroom for a while, and she rolls over onto her side and pretends to be asleep when he finally comes back to bed.
Katniss slams her car door with her foot, balancing two boxes in her arms. Unable to see in front of her, she nearly trips stepping up onto the curb. “Fuck,” she curses to herself.
She hears the greeting but can’t see the voice’s owner until she feels one of the boxes being lifted out of her hands. “What the—” She’s ready to curse the person out when she sees that it’s Peeta. “Oh. Hi.”
“Moving your stuff in?” he asks, adjusting the box under his right arm. That’s when she sees that he’s bare-chested, dressed only in red basketball shorts and running shoes, his phone strapped to his firm bicep, a pair of earbuds draped around his neck, and a soaked white t-shirt thrown over his shoulder. His freckled pale skin glistens with sweat, tinted pink from exertion and the sun.
She gives herself a mental shake, directing her eyes up to his face. His very attractive, flushed face. “Uh, yeah, just a few things.”
“Did Gale already leave?” He turns toward the apartment building, and she follows behind him.
“Yeah. 5:30 this morning. Thom drove him,” she says, inadvertently dropping her gaze to the curve of his ass as he climbs the steps.
“Well, I’m sorry I missed him,” he throws over his shoulder. She doesn’t reply, quietly trailing him to the second floor as she thinks back to her conversation with Gale early this morning. She promised him she would think about a relationship with him while he’s gone; she felt bad about the previous night, letting him get her off but not returning the favor, so she thought she could at least entertain the idea of dating him, leaving him with a soft promise that they could maybe give it a shot when he gets back from Europe.
She’s grateful for the two-month reprieve from having to deal with it, though.
Peeta holds the door open to the apartment, and she slips past him, heading to Gale’s room. Her room now. He packed away a lot of his stuff, cleared out space for her to store her clothes and the small collection of personal items like books and toiletries. She sets the box down on the bed, and Peeta mirrors her action with the box he carried.
“You got anymore?” he asks, and she shakes her head.
“No, I’d already moved everything else earlier,” she replies, offering him a small smile. “Thank you for your help.”
He nods, whipping the shirt off his shoulder to wipe his face with, and he peers into the box he carried, reading the title of the textbook on top. “Agricultural Application of Plant Health Concepts,” he recites, looking up at her. “What’s your major?”
“Plant Biology,” she says, and he nods thoughtfully.
“That’s what Gale majored in,” Peeta recalls. “Is that how you two met?”
Shaking her head, she pulls out a photo of her and her sister Prim to put on the nightstand. “No, we’ve known each other for a long time.”
He hums in the back of his throat. “Are you two dating?” he asks.
Her head whips around to look at him, and she stands up straight, taken aback by his question. “No,” she says flatly. “Why would you think that?”
He raises his eyebrows, his lips parting slightly as he wets them. “Ah, well—you spent the night in his bedroom. Guess I just kind of assumed—”
“We’re not dating,” she snaps, despite the blush highlighting her cheeks. “It’s really none of your business anyway, where I sleep. This is my room now. Where else would I sleep?”
She knows she’s being defensive, a bizarre feeling of guilt creeping in, but it’s coming out like vitriolic word vomit aimed at him. Peeta just holds his hands up placatingly, pursing his lips in an apologetic smile.
“Sorry, you’re right. None of my business. I was just…trying to get to know you better, since we’re going to be roommates for the summer.” He scrubs a hand through his damp hair, and she inadvertently watches a sweat droplet trickle down his neck to the hollow of his collar bone. “I guess we can be roommates who just don’t talk, but that doesn’t sound nearly half as fun,” he continues, his voice light and droll, and she licks her lips apprehensively.
She would probably be perfectly fine not talking to him all summer, just keeping to herself, holing up in her room in between shifts at the bar and avoiding Peeta as much as possible. It’s only two months; how close can you get to someone in that short of time, anyway?
But…he’s nice, she argues with herself. And this is more his place than hers. She can at least afford him the same kindness and respect.
It has nothing to do with how attractive he is.
Turning away from him, she busies herself with pulling her textbooks out of the cardboard box. “Gale and I have known each other since I was 12,” she offers, keeping her eyes averted from him. She debates divulging her dilemma to him—it would be nice to talk to someone about it, to dissect out loud what she should do, even—but she can’t bring herself to say any more. She doesn’t know Peeta. It’s not likely she’ll even see him again after this summer.
He nods thoughtfully to himself before heaving a sigh. “Well, I gotta shower. What are you doing the rest of the day?” he asks.
Katniss looks up at him curiously. “Just planning to unpack and get settled in.”
He edges backward to the door. “I can make us dinner tonight, like a housewarming meal for you. What do you think?”
She blinks, surprised. “Uh—sure. I guess I can’t turn down food,” she replies, brushing some bangs out of her eyes, and he smiles as he slaps the door frame emphatically.
Katniss stares incredulously at the bowl of macaroni and cheese Peeta offers her, and she looks up at him. “Are you serious? This is what you made for dinner?”
He looks surprised. “Yeah, what do you mean?”
“A box of mac ‘n’ cheese?” she asks.
“Hey, there’s pepperoni and olives in there too,” he points out the red and black slices in her bowl. “This is pizza mac ‘n’ cheese, okay, not your mom’s mac ‘n’ cheese.”
She can’t help it. She starts laughing. “This is your idea of dinner?” She puts the bowl down on the counter. “When you said you were going to make dinner, I thought—I don’t know. But I could have made this.” She shakes her head. “Actually, no, I would never make this.”
He shrugs, smiling as if he’s not even offended. “I’m sorry, but this is about the extent of my cooking skills. I can bake though. Do you want croquembouche for dinner?” he offers, and she just stares at him dumbly.
“Is this really how you normally eat?” she asks instead, and he shrugs again.
How the hell does he look like that?
Shaking her head, she circles around him to open the fridge. He watches her curiously, heaping a spoonful of mac ‘n’ cheese into his mouth. She surveys the shelves. Beer, milk, cheese, eggs. She pulls open the crisper drawers. Empty. “Do you guys not buy any produce?” she asks helplessly, glancing up at him from her crouched position.
Peeta laughs. “We buy frozen vegetables sometimes. Produce always goes bad too quickly, I never know what to do with it,” he complains and gestures to the counter where a bushel of bananas hang. “I buy bananas though. I can just turn them into banana bread if they go bad.”
Standing up, Katniss shuts the fridge and pinches the bridge of her nose. “God, this is so weird.” She sighs, “This is just not how I grew up. The fridge was always full of fresh food. Farmers’ markets, food co-opts, whatever seasonal animal we could hunt—”
“I’m sorry, what?” he interrupts. “Hunt? You hunt?”
She blinks. “Yeah.”
“And you eat the animals you kill?”
“Yeah. So does Gale. Or we did, anyway. Did he never mention that to you?”
He laughs, shaking his head. “No. All I see him eat is pizza and burritos. So, do you own a gun or something? I feel like I should know if there’s a gun in the apartment.”
“No,” she replies, grabbing her bowl of pasta. Even if it’s crap, she’s still hungry. “I hunt with a bow and arrow.”
“Is it here?” Peeta asks, seemingly excited at the prospect.
She shakes her head, trying not to smile. “I left it back home, at my mom’s. But I do have a machete under my bed.” When his eyes widen, she shrugs. “You can never be too careful, even in the city.” Scooping some of the mac ‘n’ cheese into her mouth, she chews and swallows. A small frown creases her mouth. “This is kinda good, actually.”
He rolls his eyes humorously. “Don’t sound so surprised.”
After that, they settle into a sort of routine over the next few weeks. Most days or nights she’s working, or he’s working, and other times she remains in her room, but still they have dinner together more often than not. Thanks to her, the fridge is stocked with actual food, and because he’s interested in learning, she prepares and shows him how to make legitimate meals. And he wasn’t lying about his baking skills, keeping them in constant supply of sweets and savory treats.
She learns a lot about him in those moments; he mostly just likes to talk a lot, but sometimes she finds herself asking questions. His parents own a bakery. He’s a painter, but he’s majoring in English. He has two older brothers—Rye, who graduated a year ago, is the one who introduced Peeta and Gale. When he’s reading, or baking, or playing a video game, he gets this intense look of concentration on his face, like he’s got a whole other world locked away in his head.
Which is baffling to her since otherwise he’s a fairly straight-forward and open book.
And…admittedly, it’s intriguing.
They cross paths late one night, as she’s coming home from her shift, and he’s on his way out.
“Hey, you in for the night?” he asks, looking over at her from the couch as he ties his shoe.
She drops her apron on the dining table. “Yeah. Where are you going?” she asks, bracing herself on a chair as she pulls off her sneakers and throws them through the open door of her bedroom.
“Out to a bar with some friends,” he replies, standing up. “Wanna come? You should come.”
Her reflex is to say no, it normally is, though this time she actually takes a moment to consider the invitation. The only thing stopping her is that she doesn’t know his friends, and she doesn’t enjoy putting herself in a lot of social situations with people she doesn’t know—and probably won’t like, anyway.
Katniss shakes her head. “Not my scene. But thanks.”
“You sure?” he asks as he grabs his keys from the bar, and she takes a moment to admire him from up close. He smells clean, kind of spicy, and his hair is still slightly damp from a recent shower, though his messy hair is a little more finger-styled than normal. His plaid button-down shirt is rolled up to his elbows and tapers at his slim hips nicely, his jeans riding a little low but otherwise snug on his thighs and calves.
She looks away. “Yeah. I’m exhausted. Have fun,” she says tightly, and he eyes her for a beat longer before giving her a pursed smile.
“See you later,” he says in parting, and then he’s out the door.
It’s well after 2 when he returns, and he nearly whacks her with the front door as she’s exiting the laundry room.
“Whoa,” she barks as he stumbles inside, carefully shutting the door for him as he starts to lumber off, but he spins around to look at her when he hears her, glassy-eyed and rumpled.
“Katniss! Did I hit you? I’m sorry!” His words are slurred slightly, and her momentary irritation is forgotten as her jaw tightens with her amusement.
“It’s okay, I was just putting a load in the wash,” she explains, following him into living room. “Have fun?”
Peeta throws his keys and wallet onto the dining table, oblivious to his keys skidding across the table and landing on the floor. “Yeah! I’m so drunk. It’s funny how everyone wants to buy you shots when it’s your birthday,” he giggles, somehow yanking his shirt over his head without even unbuttoning it and dropping it on the floor
She blinks, suddenly finding him bare-chested. But then she registers what he said. “Wait—it’s your birthday?” she asks to his back, stooping to pick up his shirt. His head bobs up and down enthusiastically.
“The big 2-1. Two-one. Twenty-one. Innit weird that those’re the same number?” he rambles, and she gapes at him wordlessly.
“Why didn’t you say that before? I didn’t know—I would’ve…I would’ve come if I’d known,” she says, almost to herself. It sounds a little conceited to her ears—like Peeta cares if she’s there or not, not when he’s with actual friends.
Still. A birthday. That’s the kind of thing your roommate should be at, right?
“Eh, s’just a birthday,” he dismisses, unzipping his pants even as he heads for his room. Her eyes widen when he starts to push his pants down, revealing a flash of gray boxer-briefs.
“Peeta!” she yells. “Why are you taking off your clothes?”
He freezes, spinning around to face her. His eyes go comically large and round, and then he laughs. “Oh shit, ’m’sorry,” he snickers, pulling his pants up, and he lumbers back toward her. “I forgot you were here! I mean, I knew you were here, but I forgot you were here here.” She tenses as he nears her, unsure what he’s doing, but he just grabs his shirt from her. “Guys are so gross, Katniss. We are so gross.”
She stares at him, mystified, as he struggles to stuff his arms back into his shirt. “You don’t have to put your shirt back on,” she tells him grudgingly, and his arms drop in front of him as he eyeballs her intently.
“Okay. I won’t put my shirt on, but just because it’s your birthday,” he teases with an airy laugh, and an embarrassed heat inflames her cheeks.
“It’s your birthday,” she grumbles defensively, and he tips his head back with a groan.
“Oh yeah. How did I get home? There was a taxi…did I pay ‘im? I can’t ‘member. I think I needa go to bed,” he declares loudly and suddenly, swaying back toward his room and dropping his shirt to the floor again. “G’night!”
Katniss stands rooted to her spot for a moment longer, completely bewildered.
She gets up early the next morning, determined to make a nice, greasy breakfast for Peeta. Part peace offering for missing his birthday, and part hangover cure. He was really drunk last night. Which, when she thinks about it now, is actually pretty funny. And endearing.
She’s just plating the bacon and scrambled eggs when the front door opens and Peeta steps inside, all sweaty and flushed and bare-chested as the day he helped her move. She stares at him uncomprehendingly, and he quirks a small smile at her.
“Hey,” he breathes out, coming into the kitchen to grab a cup from the cabinet.
“You’re already awake?” she asks in disbelief, setting the pan back on the stove. He nods as he fills the cup at the faucet. “I figured you’d be hungover still.”
He chuckles darkly. “I am,” he says before taking a long gulp of the water, then he adds, “That’s how I get over hangovers. Sweat it out.”
“Oh,” she fidgets with the spatula in her hand before pointing at the plates. “Well. I made you breakfast. To help with the hangover.”
His eyes widen as he’s swallowing another gulp of water, and he gasps after he swallows hard. “Breakfast—me? Why?”
She shrugs, grabbing a fork and her own plate and stepping past him to walk to the table. “Belated birthday breakfast. But you don’t have to eat it,” she says, sitting down.
“Oh. I’ll eat it. I’m just…surprised. Thank you, Katniss,” he calls to her quietly from the kitchen, and she gives him a curt nod when he emerges with his plate to sit down with her.
She can feel his eyes on her, but she avoids his gaze as they eat in silence.
“Hey,” Peeta asks her later, knocking on her open door to get her attention. She looks up from her computer, and he smiles at her. “Do you mind if I put your clothes in the dryer? I was going to start a load.”
“Fuck, I forgot,” she swears. She was so rattled by her interaction with drunk Peeta last night, she forgot to dry her clothes. “Yeah, that’s fine. Sorry.”
“No worries,” he calls over his shoulder as he disappears, and she turns back to her screen to finish the article she’s reading, but he returns after a moment. “Uh, actually. You might want to do it yourself.” She furrows her brow, confused, and, rubbing the back of his neck, he says sheepishly, “It’s your, uh…delicates.”
Her eyes widen. “Oh!” She shoots out of her chair and past him, keeping her chin up even as her face flushes. “Sorry about that,” she mumbles once she’s in the laundry room, yanking her bras and underwear out of the washer hurriedly.
“Perfectly okay,” he replies, leaning against the wall behind her. “I just didn’t think you’d want me fondling your underwear. Uh—” he coughs. “Fondling was a really weird choice of words there. I wouldn’t have been fondling—I just meant touching. Respectfully touching. Barely touching.”
She laughs begrudgingly, her face still warm, as she drops her panties into the open dryer. But she holds her bras in her hand and looks back at him. “So…is it okay if I hang my bras up in here? They’re not supposed to be dried…”
He straightens up, shaking his head. “Uh yeah, do what you need to do,” he says and then he smiles at her. “Sorry. This is an adjustment. Like I said, I’ve only ever lived with guys. Bit of a learning curve.”
She nods, grabbing hangers to loop her bras around. She still feels really weird having him even look at her bras, but she tries to be nonchalant. “Yeah. Sorry you were kind of thrust into this situation.”
He laughs faintly. “Don’t apologize. It’s been a pretty informative experience so far,” he tells her, and she smiles to herself. “Actually, I came pretty close to moving in with my ex-girlfriend my junior year. But we broke up, and that’s when Rye suggested I move in with Gale.”
She cuts her eyes to him curiously. “Oh. You two must have been serious then,” she replies lightly, averting her eyes back to her bras. She sees him shrug out of the corner of her eye.
“Stupidly so,” is all he says, and she finishes hanging up her bras and starts her load in the dryer before leaving him to deal with his own laundry.
It happens without her realizing, and it only takes a few weeks of their day-in, day-out routine.
They’re friends now, maybe even more than they’re roommates at this point. She finds that one of her favorite pastimes is watching movies or binging TV shows next to him on the couch. They have similar tastes, but even when she wants to watch something he doesn’t, he obliges. And eventually she returns the favor.
It’s already after 2 in the morning when she gets home from work late one night, and she’s mildly surprised to find Peeta watching a movie in the living room. Pleasantly surprised, even. She gives him a small smile when he looks over at her, nodding in greeting.
“Why aren’t you asleep yet?” she asks as she practically crawls onto the couch beside him, curling up against the arm. Her whole body is sore from working a double.
He shrugs, sipping from a PBR can. “My mom never called to tell me to go to bed, so here I am,” he jokes, sweeping his arms out.
“You rebel,” she says drolly, untying her shoes and tugging them off. They thump against the carpeted floor, and she whines softly. “My feet hurt so bad.”
“Yeah?” He eyes her, putting his beer down, then he holds his hand out to her. “Here, let me rub them.”
Her eyes widen in surprise. “What?”
But he’s already pulling her feet into his lap. The weird thing is she doesn’t stop him, extending her legs out before her. “I was going to major in sports therapy before I changed to English. But I learned how to massage muscles and all that,” he explains as he begins to rub the sole of her left foot.
She inhales sharply and slumps against the arm of the couch, sinking down even further. “Oh wow,” she breathes out, and he laughs lowly, methodically digging his thumbs into her arch. Normally she’s too ticklish to even let anyone touch her feet, but this feels amazing. A delicious sensation curls through her, curving her spine as she takes another deep breath.
“Good?” he asks after he’s been quietly working on her left foot for a couple minutes, and she nods happily. With an amused, gruff chuckle, he squeezes her toes, then switches to her right foot, and she sighs luxuriously.
“Maybe you should have stuck with sports therapy,” she says, her eyes barely cracked open as she stares at him, and he snorts in amusement.
“This is a one-time offer. Don’t think I’m going to do this for you all the time,” he threatens good-naturedly, and her smile splits open wider, but her phone vibrates in her back pocket suddenly, surprising her. Peeta keeps rubbing her foot, watching her as she twists slightly to dig her phone out of her pocket.
It’s a number she doesn’t recognize. It doesn’t even look like a sequence of numbers she should recognize. “What the hell?” she wonders with a frown, and Peeta pauses his massage as she curiously answers her phone. “Hello?”
Her eyes go large. “Gale?”
She feels Peeta tense beneath her, and he drops her feet like she’s somehow scalded him. Inexplicably, she feels like she’s doing something wrong, and she sits up, right as Peeta pushes up off the couch, sliding out from underneath her legs. “Uh, I’m gonna get something to drink,” he whispers, even though he has a beer right in front of him.
“Hey—you weren’t asleep yet, were you?”
Katniss suddenly remembers Gale is talking to her, and she drags her eyes away from Peeta, curling her legs under her. “Uh, no, I’m—no, I just got home from work. In, got in from work.”
“Okay, I thought that might be the case.”
“Um, where are you calling from?” she asks, keeping her voice low. She can hear Peeta shuffling around in the kitchen, turning the faucet on. She can still feel his hands on her feet.
“Barcelona! It’s after 8 in the morning here, I just wanted to see how you were doing,” Gale says, and Katniss licks her lips.
“And how’s Peeta?”
She blinks. “Peeta?” she repeats nervously, glancing over at him despite herself. He freezes momentarily, a cup of water in his hand.
Gale laughs on the other end. “Yeah, your pro-tem roommate. How are things going with him? He’s not giving you a hard time, is he?”
Her breath stalls in her chest, and anxiety drives her off the couch. “Uh, no—I mean, he’s fine,” she answers evasively, watching Peeta from the corner of her eye. He lifts the cup to his mouth rigidly, taking a long sip. She pulls on her braid, unsure why her chest feels so tight, why her stomach is in knots.
She listens absently while Gale raves about his trip, the countries and cities he’s already been to, asking nothing about her in return. Which is fine; she’s too tense to talk much, too aware of Peeta’s presence in the kitchen.
Mercifully, Gale doesn’t push anything about his feelings for her during this conversation, and she’s relieved to end the call a few minutes later, staring at her phone’s screen when she hits the ‘End’ button.
“How’s Gale?” Peeta asks, and her head whips up to look at him through the kitchen bar.
“He’s fine,” she answers vaguely, and he nods, finishing off the rest of his water.
“Good. Well, I’m gonna crash,” he announces before disappearing into his bedroom, not even bothering to turn off the movie he was watching. Katniss just stands there, her phone still gripped tightly in her loosely hanging arm.
Why the hell does she feel so guilty right now?
She expects Peeta to avoid her after that strange incident, but by the next day he’s acting normal. There seems to be no weird tensions between them, and she’s beginning to wonder if she completely imagined the whole thing.
It wouldn’t be the first time she completely misread someone, after all.
Because he’s acting like nothing happened, she’s forced to act like nothing happened as well, and they fall back into their easy, comfortable groove, though she can’t help the prickling paranoia that, regardless, there’s a distance between them now that wasn’t there before.
But this is good. It’s better this way.
Since she doesn’t have to work until later, Katniss decides to take advantage of the pool in the apartment complex. She’s sure there are other people out there sunbathing or drinking, but she’s desperate for a swim. A dip in the lake back home always used to help her relax and calm her mind.
Changing into a simple black bikini, Katniss slathers herself in sunscreen then pulls her hair up into a high ponytail. Slipping on her flip-flops, she grabs a towel from her bathroom and her keys and heads toward the front door.
It swings open right as she reaches for the handle, and she jumps back, startled.
It’s just Peeta, however, back from a run, glistening in sweat and breathing hard. She relaxes, nominally.
But his eyes widen at the sight of her, and her greeting dies in her throat. “Oh my god,” he croaks out, and, worried, she lifts her eyebrows, but he doesn’t give her the chance to voice her question, slamming the door shut behind him.
Then he kisses her, his mouth slanting against her parting lips. Her shoulder blades hit the wall behind her as the momentum of his body propels her backward, and he swallows her grunt, his tongue dipping into her mouth. It’s wet and hot, and there’s a faint taste of banana when he swipes his tongue against hers, repeatedly, desperately, and she’s just beginning to respond, to finally process the kiss unfolding, when he pulls back with a rumbling groan.
“Fuck,” he gasps, taking a step back and tugging at his damp curls. She stares up at him, her mouth agape and lips still wet from his saliva. But he’s not looking at her exactly, his eyes darting around wildly. “Fuck, that was shitty. I mean—not the kiss, but fuck that was a shitty thing to do. I shouldn’t have—fuck, I’m so sorry, Katniss—”
This time she’s the one who lunges for him, practically climbing up his body to press her mouth against his as she clings to his bare shoulders, perched on her tip-toes. She wastes no time getting back to where they were, her tongue in his mouth now, licking his lips, stroking his tongue, tracing the grooves on the roof of his mouth. He wraps his arms around her waist tightly, hoisting her up against his body. Their slick skin slides against each other’s, with sweat and lotion, and she inhales deeply with a moan. Sunscreen and musk. It’s a heady smell, strengthened by his tongue against hers, his erection thickening against her pelvis.
He groans when she shifts against it, and she does it again on purpose, sighing when he moans a second time, because it means he feels it too, the same thing that’s coiling in her gut, pounding between her thighs.
But he breaks the kiss again, though he doesn’t recoil from her at least, just gingerly pries her away. Her feet lower to the floor, and she finds her back pressed against the wall again, her shoulders pinned by his hands. He doesn’t kiss her, just observes her, dark- and wild-eyed, his chest heaving slightly. She gazes at him, grateful he’s holding her up because she’s not sure her knees could support her right now.
“Well…” he drawls before letting out a frazzled breath. “This just got complicated.”
They’re not exactly tip-toeing around each other now. There’s just a tension between them that they only acknowledge in a cursory kind of way. Mostly because she realizes how shitty it is of her to kiss Gale’s roommate while she’s living in his room, especially considering their last conversation before he left.
But holy hell, is she attracted to Peeta. And holy hell, does she want to kiss him again.
This kind of hunger wasn’t there when Gale kissed her. And she’s not sure if that scares her to admit.
The next night, she comes home early from work to find Peeta in a familiar position, laid up on the couch watching Netflix. She smiles wanly when he looks over at her, and he returns it. “Hey,” he greets, and she quietly sets her apron and keys down on the dining table.
“Hi,” she echoes, glancing at the TV as she toes off her shoes. “What are you watching?”
“‘Cosmos.’ Incredibly fascinating. Wanna watch with me?”
She doesn’t particularly care to watch “Cosmos,” but she does want to be around him right now. Energy is already crackling just beneath her skin as she moves closer, but he doesn’t budge from his reclining position. She stands there until he looks up at her.
“You have to move over,” she points out to him, and his mouth quirks slightly.
“No, I don’t. Lie down with me,” he tells her, flattening himself against the back of the couch, and her pulse flutters as she considers this. Tentatively, she sits down on the edge then stretches out in front of him on her side. She has no choice but to rest her head on his bicep, and he settles his hand on her hip. “Comfortable?”
She bites down on her lip, staring unseeingly at the TV screen. It’s an intimate position, and her heart is in her throat, but, yes, she’s strangely comfortable lying this close to him.
“Mmhmm,” she hums, and he gives her hip a light squeeze in acknowledgment.
She drifts off at some point and wakes up hours later. The TV is stalled on the “Are you still watching?” screen, and she realizes Peeta must have fallen asleep too.
That’s when she notices how tightly pressed together they are, her back firm against his chest. She must have snuggled back against him in her sleep. His arm is wrapped around her, and she can feel his warm, steady breaths on the back of her neck, making her shudder. Inadvertently, she wiggles against him, the curve of her ass cradled against his pelvis, and he inhales deeply, his arm tightening around her.
She doesn’t know why she does it—the haze of sleep, maybe—but she wiggles her ass against him one more time, deliberately. This time she’s rewarded with the immediate swelling of his erection, apparent through his athletic shorts.
Peeta tenses behind her, his rate of breathing changing. He must be awake now. She freezes when he moves his hand back to her hip, his forehead pressed firmly at the base of her neck. Then, he thrusts against her shallowly, and she pushes back to meet him, her eyes fluttering closed as he grinds against her, his erection now long and thick on the cleft of her ass.
Abruptly, he pushes her onto her back, rolling her underneath him and shifting on top of her to settle between her legs. Her breath catches in her throat, stalled by the hooded blue eyes illuminated in the TV glow, and they just stare each other down, sizing the other up. And then he begins moving again, swiveling his hips so the hard line of his cock catches on her clit through her pants, and she gasps sharply, delicious explosions of pleasure sparking inside her, from her toes to her fingertips. Digging her heels into the couch cushion, she pushes up against him, and their hips grind together, slowly at first, barely restrained as their gazes remain locked on each other.
She’s wet, and needy, her panties soaking with the building arousal, and she whimpers in the back of her throat as she undulates against him. If it weren’t for the barrier of her work slacks and his shorts, his cock would be sliding through her folds, that’s how tightly they’re pressed together. One particular revolution of her hips prompts a ragged groan from him, and he exhales shakily against her mouth, their lips colliding a second later when he dips his head to kiss her roughly. Their movements are frantic now, like they’re clawing after their fast-approaching releases, and their tongues only barely graze together, their mouths hanging open with their pants and moans.
Peeta braces his hand against the arm behind her head, and he thrusts against her hard, a cry ripping from her throat just as her orgasm screeches through her, heat and electricity blossoming out from her core like a flower spreading its petals to the very tips of her limbs. She shakes and pulses, an aftershock rocking her when his erection catches on her clit again a few more times, and then he goes still above her, his teeth digging into her shoulder as he muffles his grunts. She can feel him throbbing against her, even through the layers of clothes, and she imagines the sticky, damp warmth soaking his underwear as he comes.
He finally stops rocking against her and lets himself sink down into her, carefully. Her hands tighten into fists in his shirt at his sides, and she closes her eyes shut, listening to his breaths, trying to time them, to sync them with her own.
They sleep on the couch the rest of the night, only getting up to clean themselves off respectfully. But for some reason they both return to the couch to sleep, curled up in each other’s arms. They sleep until mid-morning, when Peeta has to get up to go to work. But he kisses her before he leaves, sour morning breath and all, and she smiles shyly at him. Only then when he leaves does she retreat to her own room, crawling into her bed to sleep a little longer.
But it’s not her bed. It’s Gale’s. Even covered in her own sheets, she can’t conceal that from herself. He’s everywhere in this room, even the photos on the wall, with family and friends—she can feel his accusatory eyes on her.
Suddenly, she’s racked with guilt.
What kind of friend is she, fooling around with Peeta when she’s supposed to be considering a relationship with Gale?
Katniss pulls the pillow over head, wanting to hide away for the rest of the day.
She’s glad that she leaves for work before Peeta gets back so she doesn’t have to face him just yet. When she gets home, however, he’s not in the living room. His bedroom door is shut, and she can hear muffled sounds from his TV, like he’s playing a video game.
She debates if she should knock on his door. Instead, she goes into the kitchen and pulls out a bottle of tequila.
Shots are a good idea right now, she decides as she pours her first one. Shots will ease her nerves.
Somehow, she finds herself knocking at his door after her fourth shot. When he cracks it open to look at her, she pushes it open all the way. “Come drink with me,” she demands, and he laughs despite his confusion.
“Uh, okay,” he agrees, and she’s already pulling him into the living room by his wrist, leading him into the kitchen. His eyebrows raise when he sees the bottle of tequila and shot glasses. “Tequila? Are you doing shots by yourself?”
She shakes her head, pouring two more shots. “No. You’re doing them with me now,” she declares, thrusting one at him. It sloshes over the sides slightly, over his knuckles.
“Whoa,” he laughs, lifting his hand to lick the tequila off his fingers. Her eyes are riveted to his mouth now, the way his tongue flicks across his knuckles, and she knocks her shot back, hard. “Hey, you’re supposed to wait,” he chastises, his eyes tinted with mock betrayal. She scrunches her nose at the burn in her throat and pours herself another shot.
“‘Kay, I’ll take another one,” she hiccups, tapping her shot glass against his before taking it to the face. He has no choice but to do the same, quickly sucking down his own shot.
“Ugh,” he coughs, his face twisting in a grimace that mirrors her own. He plops the glass down and shakes his head. “How many shots is that for you?”
“Six,” she answers nonchalantly, running her tongue along her lips to lick up the remaining drops.
His eyes widen. “Six? Fuck, I’ve never even seen you drunk before.”
She’s already pouring him another shot. “I know, so you need to catch up.”
He groans but dutifully accepts the shot. “I wish we had limes,” he mutters then tips it up to his lips, verbally retching afterward. “Okay, no more.” She pouts when he shoves the shot glass away from him, stopping her hand when she goes to pour another one for herself. “Why exactly are you trying to empty our bottle of tequila, José?”
She snorts with laughter, pouting when she grudgingly puts the bottle down and moves closer to him. “Just wanted to get a little loose,” she mumbles, leaning against his chest to graze her lips over his neck. Her head feels woozy, and she closes her eyes, inhaling his clean, spiced scent.
His fingers thread through her hair, scratching across the base of her skull, and she lets her head dip back slightly with a moan. “I think you’re a little more than loose,” he murmurs, his breath hot and boozy on her lips.
She giggles suddenly, peeking up at him. “We dry-humped on the couch. That’s funny. I mean, it was fun. And it’s funny.”
He narrows his eyes at her slightly as he considers her, humming in the back of his throat. “Yeah. Did you like it?” he asks throatily, and her eyelashes flutter.
“Wasn’t that obvious?” she replies, trying to be seductive, but she has to swallow a burp right at that moment. Peeta kisses her lightly anyway, just a teasing press of his lips to hers. She presses back more forcefully, sliding her tongue past his lips to taste his tongue, and she slips her arms around his waist to hold on.
Her head is spinning by the time he breaks the kiss, his teeth tugging at her bottom lip, and she’s glad he’s got an arm around her now because she feels light, like she’s floating outside of herself. “Can we go to your room?” she asks breathlessly, still nipping at his mouth.
His breath fans across her upper lip, and his tongue traces the seam of her mouth teasingly. “Nothing’s going to happen tonight, Katniss,” he tells her.
She’s oddly disappointed, but she nods, burying her face against his neck. She can’t be in her own room right now, not when she’s thinking about Peeta. “I know, I just wanna sleep beside you,” she whispers, her lips imprinting the words on the slope of his shoulder. Her eyes feel heavy. She could hide in the curve of his neck forever.
He inhales deeply, squeezing her hips. “Okay. Let’s go to bed.” They start to head out of the kitchen, but she’s wobbly and bumps into the door frame, so he scoops her into his arms easily to carry her to his bedroom. She giggles, because it’s funny being carried, and kind of hot.
Closing his door with his foot, Peeta lowers her to the floor, only letting her go when she has her feet underneath her. She spins around to survey his room and immediately begins stripping off her clothes.
“Do you want me to get your pajamas from your room?” he asks, and she turns back to him, pulling her shirt over her head. His gaze drops to her bra, and she smooths her hair out of her face.
“No, just gimme something of yours,” she demands then rethinks it. “Or I can be naked,” she suggests, unclasping her bra to let it fall to the floor.
His pupils fatten as he takes in her bare breasts—she must be pretty drunk to feel zero trace of self-consciousness at this moment—and he sighs softly. “Tempting, but you can sleep in this,” he says, dragging his own shirt off his head and flipping it right side out before tugging it down over her head.
She pouts but wiggles her arms through the sleeves, then she kicks off her shoes and pants before flopping down in his bed dramatically. With a moan she snuggles into his pillow, the sheets cool against her skin. She can’t even hold her eyes open at this point, and she feels Peeta pulling the covers out from under her so he can tuck her in.
She’s pretty sure she’s out before he even lies down beside her.
Drinking tequila was her first mistake. Waking up is her second, as her eyes struggle to open. Her head is pounding, and it feels like someone’s stuffed a wad of cotton in her mouth.
“Yuck,” she rasps, squinting when she finally gets her eyes cracked open. This isn’t her room or her bed. It takes her a second to remember she passed out in Peeta’s room.
But where is he? The space beside her looks rumpled, and it’s still warm and indented from his body.
She registers the sound of water running in the bathroom then and realizes he must be taking a shower. She rolls over with a groan and sits up.
The room dips and spins violently, her stomach going along for the ride. Oh god. The bile climbs up her throat, bringing with it the taste of tequila, and she lurches off the bed, crosses the room to his bathroom in two strides and throws the door open before sliding across the linoleum on her knees.
Then she pukes everything into the toilet, loudly.
“Katniss?” Peeta calls out from the shower, ripping the shower curtain back. She just ducks her head into the toilet with another heave of her stomach, like she’s trying to purge a fucking demon from her body.
And she is. Tequila is the fucking devil.
“Shit,” she hears him swear, and he cuts the shower off a second later, stepping out of the tub, naked and dripping wet. She can’t even appreciate or feel mortified at the peripheral shot she has of his flopping dick before he whips a towel around his waist.
She heaves a few more times, liquid and bile burning her esophagus as she gags and grips the toilet seat, praying for mercy. Peeta crouches behind her, his hand smoothing down her back, and when she’s finally silent for a moment, he speaks up. “You okay?”
She groans loudly, lifting her head. “Fuck. Tequila,” she croaks, hanging her head to spit into the toilet one last time. She’s pretty sure she can see him smiling out of the corner of her eye, but she’s too embarrassed to look him in the face.
“Think you’re done?” he asks when she sits back on her heels. She nods pathetically.
“Hopefully,” she coughs, and he helps her to her feet, carefully. After flushing the toilet, she rinses her mouth out with water, and he grabs a wet washcloth from the shower to smooth across her sweat-dampened forehead. Then he helps her back to his bed, and she curls up into a fetal position, holding onto her stomach. This might be the worst moment of her life.
Peeta disappears into the bathroom to finish drying off and changes into sweatpants before climbing over her to lie down. She finally lifts her eyes to his. “Sorry for defiling your bathroom,” she whispers, horrified that he just saw the very awful and disgusting things her body is capable of. He’s never going to want to fool around with her again.
He chuckles, pushing her hair off her forehead. “It’s seen worst, courtesy of me. That’s probably one of the more tame alcohol exorcisms it’s seen.” She laughs but then groans, pressing her cheek into the pillow. He tucks some hair behind her ear. “So, six shots of tequila. Bad idea, huh?”
Her face pales. “Don’t even say that word right now,” she whimpers, squeezing her eyes shut.
They’re quiet for a moment until she feels him shifting around, reaching over her for something. Then he lies back down and starts speaking in hushed tones a few seconds later, “Hey, it’s Peeta.” Cracking her eyes open, she sees he’s on his phone. “Listen, man, I’m supposed to work at 9 today. Can you pick up my shift?” Her eyes widen, and she starts to shake her head at him, but he ignores her. “Yeah, I’m sorry, I just gotta take care of a friend. I’ll cover your shift tomorrow, and the next one after that if you want.” She mouths his name in protest, but he’s nodding his head. “Thanks, man. I appreciate it.”
When he ends his call, she gives him a look. “Peeta, you don’t have to do that—it’s just a hangover,” she protests, but he shrugs.
“It’s already done. Don’t worry about it, just try to go back to sleep,” he instructs, then he sits up. “Wait, let me get you a cup of water. You should try to drink some water first.”
She dozes off and on in his bed, sometimes curled up against him while he watches TV. When she’s starting to feel better, he coaxes her into eating some crackers and drinking more water, and then he strokes her hair as she dozes off again. By mid-afternoon she’s awake and feeling okay, but they just stay in his bed and talk.
She’s surprised when he kisses her, just small, soothing kisses on her forehead and cheeks at first as she recovers, but gradually they slip into lazy kisses, his tongue languidly brushing against hers. She smiles shyly at him every time, very aware that she’s lying in his bed, dressed only in his shirt, pressed against his bare chest. She’s amazed at how cavalier he is in the moment, how normal this seems to him.
“So…you mentioned an ex-girlfriend,” she asks casually, and his eyebrow peaks.
“This conversation, huh?” He looks amused.
“How long were you together?” she presses.
He thinks about it. “A year and half.”
Her eyes widen minimally. “Long time.”
“We met our freshman year.”
She tries to do the math mentally. “So…that was your last girlfriend?”
Peeta props his head up on his elbow. “I’ve only been with one girl. Well, in college. I’ve fooled around with other girls, but I’ve only had sex with the one. That’s what you’re trying to ask, right?”
She shrugs. “I guess.”
“Your turn.” At her confused look, he reiterates, “Give me the sordid details.”
She looks away and rolls her lips together. Why did she start this conversation? “I’ve, uh…there’s no one. I mean, I haven’t had sex. I’ve never had a boyfriend.”
His eyes narrow at her, and she presses her tongue against the roof of her mouth, anticipating his response. “Bullshit,” he scoffs.
She blinks. “What?”
He laughs. “If you haven’t been with anyone, then you must have been actively beating them off with a stick all this time because that’s the only thing that makes sense.”
She’s not sure how to interpret that. She’s really not sure about that, but she briefly thinks of Gale and frowns. “Not really,” she mutters, and he hums thoughtfully.
He waves his hand over her vaguely. “This whole ‘Fuck off’ vibe you’ve got going on tends to work with guys.”
Her mouth purses in a scowl. “That’s just how my face looks,” she says flatly, and he chuckles.
“Yeah, a pretty face helps too,” he teases before kissing her again. She forgets why she’s annoyed and kisses him back fervently. Afterward, he studies her. “How do you feel now?”
“Better,” she admits. “Mostly.”
He smiles. “Know what would push you over the edge?”
“What?” she asks breathlessly, a little hopefully, but his smile widens.
“Let’s go for a run.”
She doesn’t know how Peeta does this every time he’s hungover. She struggles to keep up with him all three miles; she’s normally fast, but he has a longer stride than she does, and plus her stomach roiled unhappily for the first 10 minutes before finally settling down.
Still, watching his ass and back muscles flex and ripple with every step is enough to keep her going, and maybe toward the end she could have caught up to him, but she purposely decides to lag behind just for the view.
When they get back to their apartment building, Peeta comes to a stop and spins around to face her, grinning when she slows down and braces her hands on her hips to catch her breath. “Feeling better?” he asks, and she lifts her face to scowl at him.
“Less better than if I’d just stayed in bed,” she complains, though her blood pumping through her veins feels exhilarating.
He chuckles, sidling up to her. “You’re sweating out all the toxins, I swear.” He makes an exaggeratedly disgusted face as he inhales deeply, and she straightens up. “Yeah, you smell awful, like tequila,” he laughs, and her mouth drops open in offense.
“This was your idea,” she reminds him.
“You need to take a shower,” he says, and she folds her arms petulantly.
“No. I think I’ll just smell like this all day.”
He narrows his eyes at her, staring her down. Then he grabs her and throws her over his shoulder, laughing when she shrieks in horror.
“What the fuck!”
“We’re gonna take a shower,” he says simply, jogging up the steps to their floor. She bounces with each step, and she braces her hands against his sweat-slicked back.
“Oh my god I’m going to puke,” she wails, closing her eyes.
“No, you’re not,” he dismisses, and she groans loudly for effect. He just digs his key out of his shorts pocket and hurriedly unlocks their door, carrying her over the threshold.
“Peeta,” she whines, the carpet sliding through her view as he takes her to his room. She thinks he’s going to finally put her down, but he doesn’t just yet, not until he’s in the bathroom where he unceremoniously dumps her in his bathtub.
She doesn’t even have time to process what’s happening before he twists the faucet and cuts the showerhead on, dousing her in a shock of cold water.
“Peeta!” she screeches laughingly and hysterically, trying to duck out of the stream, but he blocks her way out of the shower. “Oh my god, at least let me get my sneakers off!”
Laughing, he grabs her right foot and yanks her shoe and sock off; she catches herself on the tiled wall behind her when he grabs for the other shoe and pulls it off. Then he rips his own shoes and socks off while she struggles to get out of her soaked tanktop and sports bra. The water is hot now, and he joins her in the tub before he even has his own shorts off, grabbing her wet clothes to throw on the floor. He hooks his fingers into her shorts and drags them down her legs, taking her panties with them, and then he steps out of his own running shorts, dropping them in the wet pile beside the tub and ripping the shower curtain closed.
She barely has time to take in all his naked glory before he has her pinned to the wall and kisses her ferociously. He pulls her tight against his body, stroking his tongue against hers, and she feels his cock steadily swelling against her pelvis. It’s a strangely erotic sensation, and she moans into his mouth, trying to reciprocate the intensity of his kiss, clawing at his chest and shoulders. His hand palms the wet curve of her hip and ass before hiking her thigh up around his, then he cups her breast, squeezing the mound firmly before pinching the taut nipple between his fingers. Katniss gasps and squirms against him, her clit throbbing with the stimulation.
He’s fully hard against her stomach now, and she wraps her hand around his shaft, tugging slightly. Peeta inhales sharply, tweaking her nipple as he thrusts into her hand, and he kisses her again, his tongue twisting around hers. His hand drops between her legs, and he parts her folds with two fingers to rub her clit. “Oh!” she squeaks, jerking against his hand, and he just rubs harder, breathing against her cheek. Her grip tightens around his cock, pulling and stroking experimentally, twisting around his head, and he growls low in his throat, easing a finger inside her. She tenses as he wiggles it in and out, slowly, and her eyes open to lock on his face.
“Okay?” he asks, rubbing her walls, and she swallows thickly with a nod. He slides another thick finger inside her to fuck her gingerly, and she momentarily stills her hand on his cock, her mouth stretching open in a silent moan. “Still okay?” he asks for reassurance, and she just nods, adjusting to the sensation of his digits inside her. He does that for a while, their gazes connected as he watches her face; she can’t look anywhere else, feeling him inside her, everywhere around her.
But eventually he retracts his fingers, and he resumes rubbing her clit, in quick, firm strokes, and the receding orgasm surges suddenly as she comes with a soft cry, fisting his cock in her hand tightly. She feels his fingers inside her again, pulsating slightly as her walls flutter with her climax, and she presses her forehead against his jaw, gasping softly from the pleasurable ripples.
Once she’s done, she resumes jerking him off, his cock hot and slippery in her palm from the water cascading down the sides of their bodies, and Peeta’s solid body traps hers against the wall when he comes, warm spurts of semen filling her hand, warm pants of air filling her mouth. She kisses him fiercely, all teeth and tongue, reveling in having brought him to the brink.
His cock is softening in her hand when she releases him, but he doesn’t seem done yet, kissing down her chest to bite at her nipples before trailing his lips down her abdomen. He kneels in the tub before her, and lifts her thigh up, pinning it out to the side against the wall so she’s spread open before him. An embarrassed flush consumes her chest and face when he presses his mouth between her thighs. “Oh my god—” The end of her exclamation gets clipped in her throat when she feels his tongue licking through her folds, and she grabs onto the soap holder that juts out from the wall for support.
Peeta doesn’t go slow or ease her into it; he eats her out like a man with a purpose, like his tongue knows intuitively what to do to her. He dips his tongue into her, fucking her enthusiastically as he swallows the moisture beading rapidly between her thighs, then he laps at her clit, with broad strokes of his tongue and quick flicks of the tip against the swollen nub. He alternates between her clit and her folds, like he wants to taste all of her.
Katniss can’t even see straight, her head thumping against the shower wall. Her heart pounds in her rib cage as her chest heaves with large, painful gulps of air, and she threads her fingers through his wet curls to thrust her hips against his face like a crazy woman. “Oh my god, Peeta,” she groans. He moans in response, the vibration tickling her clit under his tongue, and she loses it with a gut-deep wail. He continues to tongue-fuck her as she comes, lapping up every drop of her arousal. She can only sputter incomprehensibly in the stream of water hitting her mouth.
Letting her leg drop to the ground, Peeta stands up and braces his arms on the wall behind her. She loops her hand around the bend of his elbow to help hold herself up because her thighs are still quivering, and she blinks hazily at him as he stares at her through hooded eyes. His mouth quirks slightly, and he licks her off his lips before turning his face into the stream to fill his mouth with water. Swishing it around, he spits it out into the drain and then kisses her, his body pressed fully against hers. His cock is starting to get hard again, but he just pulls away, a grin slipping into place.
She blinks heavily, lifting her eyebrows. “Apparently.”
He makes a noise of amusement. “Let’s clean off and order pizza.”
Katniss closes her eyes as Peeta tries to braid her hair; she wants to burst out laughing every time she looks at his face, scrunched in concentration. He’s so serious about it. They’re sitting on the couch face to face, her legs draped over his thighs. She’s got to go to work soon, but he asked to fix her braid for her when he saw her doing it.
“When’s your next night off?” he asks, and she peeks her eyes open to look at him. His eyes are still fixated on his hands in her hair, his tongue trapped between his lips. She smiles.
“I think it’s Thursday,” she replies, and he glances up at her briefly before focusing on her braid again, weaving and unweaving one section in particular.
“We should go out then.”
Her brow knots together. “Out?”
“Yeah. Dinner. Drinks. A movie. Hell, go-karts, putt-putt. Whatever, just something,” he says offhandedly.
“Like a date?” she ventures hesitantly.
“Yeah, I’d like to take you out on a date,” he says, wrapping the elastic around the end of her braid then he smooths it over her shoulder proudly. When he looks up at her, he quirks his eyebrow. “Unless you’re trying to keep this a covert affair.”
Her eyes widen, and she opens her mouth in protest. “What? That’s…no…”
He continues, “Because while that does sound hot, sneaking around and everything, I tend to get restless being cooped up inside. I like to go out occasionally.”
She stares at him. “Okay,” she says uncertainly, smoothing her sweaty palms on her pants. Peeta tugs on her braid.
“I like you,” he admits, and her stomach does a funny tumble. “I’m not just…messing around with you. Normally, I’d think getting involved with a roommate is an incredibly dumb idea, but…” He shrugs with a brusque smile. “Guess you just have that effect on me.”
“I won’t be your roommate for much longer,” she adds absently, and his eyes twinkle.
She feels doubts pressing on the back of her mind, and one very large elephant in the corner of the room, but she just offers him a small smile, forging ahead anyway. “Okay. A date. I’ll allow it.”
It’s nothing extravagant, just dinner at a sushi and Thai food place. They share some sake there, but after he asks if she wants to go somewhere else to get drinks; while she’s not opposed to going to a bar with him, necessarily, she tells him she really just wants to go back to the apartment. He seems to understand the implication and drives her back home with no further objection.
They end up in his bed, stripped down to their underwear. His body anchors hers to the mattress, balanced on his forearms while he kisses her. It feels like it’s been hours, and she thinks they would have exhausted this by now, but she can’t get enough of it, of tasting him, of sucking on his tongue and lips, having him do the same. But she’s painfully aroused, squirming every time his hand squeezes her breast or his erection rubs against her crotch. He finally breaks away from her mouth, his lips red and bruised, his curls disheveled from her eager hands, and he traces a path down to her naked breasts where he sucks a nipple into his mouth. She whimpers in satisfaction, and he scrapes his teeth over the taut bud, slipping his hand down between her legs to rub her through her panties.
“Ah,” she sighs, just about to ask for more, but he senses her need before she voices it, pushing the crotch of the panties aside to touch her bare folds.
“You’re so wet,” he murmurs, placing a kiss to the tip of her breast as he dips a couple fingers inside her gently. “For me?”
She huffs out something between an affirmative answer and a laugh, pushing her muscles down around his fingers, and he sucks her nipple between his lips, worrying it between his teeth. “God, Peeta,” she gasps, reveling in the sensation of his fingers wetly fucking her and his mouth around her breast. But her clit is throbbing painfully, and she rocks into his hand, inhaling sharply through her teeth when the pad of his thumb finally rubs against her clit.
Her climax follows quickly, and he groans quietly when she cries out, her body bearing down around his fingers as she comes. He pumps them inside her until she finishes, and then he sits up to pull her panties off her legs. Rolling onto his side, he shimmies out of his boxer-briefs, his sigh palpable when his cock is freed, bouncing against his lower abdomen.
She doesn’t stop him when he grabs a condom out of his nightstand, pressing urgent kisses to his jawline, which flexes and clenches under her lips as he hurriedly rolls the prophylactic down on his cock. When he settles between her legs, however, he moves down so his face is between her thighs, his palms pressing them open wider. She looks down at him, pulling gently on his curls.
“You don’t—I just came, I mean. We can—we can have sex now,” she fumbles with her words, and his lips twitch humorously, but he looks at her seriously.
“This is your first time, right?” he asks, and she nods. He trails his tongue through her folds, and her back bows to follow him. “I don’t want to hurt you. I want you soaking wet and horny as fuck,” he states bluntly before licking her again, and she laughs breathlessly.
“I am,” she says weakly, but she holds onto him while he goes down on her. He seems to like doing it, so why stop him? Her belly twists deliciously with every pass of his tongue over her, but he doesn’t bring her to the edge again until she’s writhing spastically and begging for it, pleading. He laps at her clit until she comes, and then he positions himself over her, wiping his mouth off before he kisses her deeply.
He pushes into her, and she cards her fingers on the back of his neck, spreading her thighs as he opens her. There’s some discomfort, a pinch that sears slightly, but it’s minimal, and he eases into her, wet and slick, with a blissful groan.
“You okay?” he asks shakily, his hips flush to hers, and she nods, pressing her breasts against his chest.
“You can keep going,” she breathes out, and he does, slow, careful thrusts as she adjusts and stretches around him, and even if it’s somewhat unpleasant at first, it’s still a wonderful feeling, their bodies moving together this way, him thick and rigid inside her. She wishes she could see his face better in the darkness of his room, but she just presses reverent kisses to his lips and jaw.
“Fuck, this is amazing,” he whispers thickly, pushing into her a little more forcefully, though his jaw clenches with restraint. She breathes out a giddy laugh and reaches down to grip his ass, pulling him back into her when he retreats.
“It feels good,” she murmurs, her voice trembling. He gazes down at her intensely, fanning a hand through her hair, his fingers slick against her damp scalp, and he nuzzles his face against her cheek.
“Yeah?” he pants, his tongue and lips leaving wet, desperate kisses on her cheekbone and temple. He rocks into her slowly still, his cock sinking through the tight grip of her walls with each thrust.
Katniss nods frantically, clawing deliberately at his back. “You can go faster if you need to,” she urges, and he does, lifting her thighs up so he can slide into her deeper, his pace more frenetic, though he still refrains from slamming into her. She moans with each thrust, undulating her hips to meet him every time; the wet sounds of their bodies connecting drive her crazy, and she clenches down around him. He muffles his groan on her shoulder. “I want you to come,” she chants, the words wild and needy.
“Say it again,” he growls in her ear.
“I want you to come,” she gasps out, louder, and his unraveling starts, a few quick snaps of his hips before he stills and pulses inside her with truncated grunts and gasps against her neck. She tangles her limbs around him and hugs him close, a sense of euphoria relaxing her body and mind.
Afterward, he helps clean her up, apologizing when he sees the small streak of blood on the washcloth, but she’s unconcerned, just pulls him back into bed so she can fall asleep wrapped in his arms.
Katniss stares at the small calendar hanging in the kitchen, absently tipping the box of Raisin Bran into her bowl. Today is July 24th. She moves out in a week. Gale comes back in two.
Her heart rate ticks up at the thought, anxiety pumping through her veins, and she blindly reaches for the milk to add to her cereal, but she jumps when she feels arms slide around her waist and a broad chest press against her back.
“Hey,” he greets, his mouth against her ear, and she smiles wanly, turning her head so the calendar can no longer taunt her.
“Hi,” she whispers, and he presses kisses to the back of her neck, brushing her hair out of the way. Heat pools low in her stomach.
“I’m glad you didn’t pour milk in your bowl yet,” he quips, and her eyebrows pinch together in mild confusion.
“Why?” she asks, but the creases in her forehead relax when she feels his hand slip under the waistbands of her shorts and panties to part her folds.
“Wouldn’t want your cereal to get soggy,” he hums, and she can feel his smile on the back of her neck. A smile of her own curls her lips as his fingers curl inside her, and she braces her hands on the counter, her back arching in pleasure as she pushes back on his hand. Soon, she’s quivering and panting with her orgasm, and when he withdraws his hand from between her legs, she looks up.
July 24th. Still.
Anxiously, she twists around in his arms and drops to her knees. Sounds of surprise escape his throat when she pulls him out of his shorts, but as she takes him into her mouth, unpracticed and unsure, her name tumbles from his lips in throaty groans. One hand palms the back of her head and the other grabs onto the counter. Despite her lack of skill, it doesn’t take him long to come around her tongue.
Peeta sets one of her boxes down in her new bedroom and straightens up with a huff, swiping his forearm across his sweaty brow. “That the last of it?” he asks her, and she nods.
“Thank you,” she says, giving him a small smile as she runs a hand over her sweat-slick hair that’s pulled into a ponytail off her neck. She and Peeta just spent all morning moving her into her new apartment. Madge wouldn’t be here till later in the day with her stuff.
He crosses to her and kisses her forehead, looping his arms around her waist loosely. “You’re welcome. I’m going to miss you being one room over, but this is good too.”
She’s not sure how to respond to that, so she just keeps her smile in place. He clears his throat suddenly, a serious look in his eyes. “So. About Gale.”
She tenses in his arms “Gale?”
Peeta lets out a breath. “I’m sure he’s going to want to kill me. Dating his best friend and everything, but I think if we talk to him together, it won’t be so bad.”
Katniss just stares at him wide-eyed, panic starting to surge inside her. Blood rushes in her ears. “What? We don’t—we can’t tell Gale,” she sputters. “He can’t—he can’t know about this, he’ll—”
Peeta’s forehead knots together in abject confusion. “What? Why can’t we tell him?” he asks, and when she doesn’t answer right away, her mind spinning with inept excuses, his arms drop to his sides, and he takes a step back to look at her fully. “Katniss. What the hell are you so freaked out about?”
She presses her hands against her cheeks, and she squeezes her eyes shut. “We…Gale and I…I mean…Gale’s in love with me,” she forces out, the words sounding hollow to her ears. “He told me right before he left.” Peeta’s quiet, and she cracks her eyes open to look at him. His face has gone gray, and he finally exhales harshly.
“Fuck! I knew there was—something—fuck, Katniss! Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?!” he spits, running a hand through curls. “I asked you if you were dating, and you were adamant—”
“We’re not dating!” she yells, panicked.
“So—he’s in love with you, and you turned him down?” he asks for clarification. Her mouth clamps shut, and Peeta’s eyes go large. “No. You didn’t turn him down?” he asks incredulously.
Her mouth opens and closes as she attempts to answer. “I…I told him I needed to think about it,” she whispers, her voice small.
His face turns from gray to red then, an angry flush creeping up his neck to his cheeks as he stares at her. “You…you’re planning to b-be with him when he gets back?” It’s the first time she’s ever heard his voice crack, and she’s not sure if it’s in anger or sadness, but it guts her all the same.
“No, that’s not—that’s not what I said, that’s not what I told him,” she insists, and she feels like she can’t get a deep enough breath with how fast her heart is racing. “I just—I didn’t know, Peeta. He’s my best friend, how could I just tell him no? I said—I asked for the summer to think about it, I didn’t give him an answer—”
“So what was I, just some fling to fuck out of your system before he got back from Europe?” Peeta interrupts harshly, and she gawks at him, indignant anger swelling in her chest.
“You think I would have sex with you if that’s all it was? You know I’ve never been with anyone else—I didn’t make that choice lightly!”
He drags another hand through his hair. “I don’t know,” he says roughly. “Why didn’t you just tell me sooner, Katniss? There was plenty of time, and you wait until the day you move out? And it still doesn’t sound like you were even going to bring it up if I hadn’t said something!”
“I don’t know, Peeta, I don’t know,” she says helplessly. “I freaked out. I told Gale I’d think about it while he was gone—before there was ever an inkling of anything between you and I. I didn’t know we’d…I just didn’t know this was going to happen.”
Peeta groans, closing his eyes. “Fuck,” he finally sighs. “I don’t know if I’m being unfair, or if you’re being unfair. You just…should have told me that something might be going on with you and Gale before anything happened between us.”
“Nothing’s going on with me and Gale,” she insists, and he fixes her with a look.
“Then just tell him that.”
She presses her lips together, her mind racing. She could just tell him that. She should. But her stomach tightens uncomfortably at the thought of hurting him; after her sister, he’s the most important relationship in her life, has been for years. How can she break his heart? And over someone she’s only just met, someone she likes a hell of a lot, admittedly, but someone she has no clue will still be in her life a year from now, a month from now?
“I don’t…I don’t know how…I don’t know if I can…” she stutters, wrapping her arms around her stomach. “I don’t know if that’s fair to him.”
His eyes narrow, his lips thinning and he looks away from her, shaking his head. “You know what, you know who’s being unfair?” he snorts. “Gale. I think that’s pretty unfair of him to tell you he loves you and then disappear for months so he doesn’t have to deal with the potential fallout. Actually, that’s really shitty. Run off to Europe while you leave your best friend behind with the emotional crisis of being responsible for your feelings. Real fucking nice.”
She can’t really argue with that, though she feels defensive for her friend. “He’s not shitty—”
“Then why is he in Europe instead of with you?” Peeta volleys back.
She shrugs. “It’s his vacation,” she says plainly.
“You know what I would have done if I’d told you I loved you? I would have asked you to come with me to Europe,” he exclaims, and she huffs, exasperated, ready to object that it doesn’t matter because she wouldn’t be able to afford to go to Europe, but he continues heatedly, “Or, hell, I would have just stayed. Because I’d rather be with you than running across Europe.”
Her objection sticks in her throat as she stares at him, at a loss for words. What is he saying exactly?
He sighs before she can ask, throwing his hands up in defeat. “Well, if you’re done moving, I’m just gonna go. Let me know when you decide what you want,” he says tiredly, and then he turns his back to her and leaves without another word.
Katniss hesitates before she knocks on the door, the door to the apartment that was her home for the past two months. She hasn’t been back since she moved out a week ago, and she hasn’t seen or spoken to Peeta since he stormed out of her apartment.
Determined, she forces herself to knock and keeps her feet planted on the welcome mat, despite wanting to run and hide.
The door swings open a moment later, and her stomach twists into a knot at the sight of Peeta—with guilt, sadness, fear and longing. His eyes reflect surprise at seeing her, but he keeps his face otherwise expressionless. She wants to run, but whether it’s away from him or into his arms, she’s not sure, so she squares her shoulders back. She has to do this.
“I’m here to see Gale,” she says, cursing her shaky voice for betraying her. Hurt flashes so quickly across his face, she’s almost sure she’s imagined it. Peeta just nods and steps away from the door to let her in.
“He’s in his room,” he says flatly as he walks away. Katniss bites down on her lip and walks inside, shutting the door before she heads to Gale’s room. She knocks softly, holding her breath until she hears the muffled “Come in!” and then she opens the door.
Gale looks up from his computer and breaks into a grin as he stands up. “Katniss!” He pulls her into a hug after she shuts the door. She tenses as first but then relaxes in his familiar embrace. It’s good to have her best friend back.
She’s doing the right thing.
She listens to him talk for a while about his trip, a conflicting sense of ease and anxiousness roiling inside her. When he finally sits down next to her on his bed, reaching for her hand, the anticipated question on his tongue, she takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and forces her answer out.
“Gale, I can’t be with you.”
He blinks at her uncomprehendingly. “What?”
“I can’t be with you. I love you, you’re my best friend, but…that’s all I feel for you,” she explains quietly, and his face creases in an unpleasant grimace as he inhales deeply then releases it.
“Okay…” he begins uncertainly, like he doesn’t quite believe it. She can tell he’s about to launch into an impassioned plea, so she continues before he can.
“And I don’t think you really love me, either. Not like that.”
His eyes narrow, and he scoffs. “Excuse me?”
She stands up to put some distance between them but turns to face him, crossing her arms over her chest. “Don’t get mad at me. Just listen, okay? I’ve thought a lot about this. And…I think you got scared—”
“Scared—” he interrupts incredulously, but she talks over him.
“Yes, I think you got scared. You were graduating, and you were going off on a pretty life-changing experience on another continent, and I think subconsciously that freaked you out a little, all these big life changes. So you looked for what was familiar and comfortable in your life, and that’s me. You wanted to make sure I would still be here when you got back.”
His lip curls. “That doesn’t make any sense—of course you’d still be here. Where else would you go?”
She stares at him. “You wanted a safety net to fall back on, Gale. And you didn’t want to lose that.” He doesn’t say anything right away, shaking his head, so she asks, “How much did you really miss me while you were gone?”
“Of course I missed you,” he insists.
“But how much did you think about me? Did you wish I was there with you? You only called me once—”
“I was busy, I didn’t have a lot of access to phones over there!” he yells.
“Did you sleep with anyone when you were in Europe?” she asks suddenly, and his mouth snaps shut, his nostrils flaring, and he looks away. His silence is answer enough. Katniss just shrugs. “It’s fine if you did. I’m not mad, Gale. You don’t owe me anything. And I don’t owe you anything. Just…honesty. And that’s what I’m trying to do, that’s what I want us to do here.”
Gale runs a hand through his hair, exhaling roughly. She chews on her lip, her nerves surging again at what she has to do next. “And…that’s why I need to tell you about me and Peeta.”
His gray eyes cut to her sharply. “What about you and Peeta?”
“Gale—” Katniss yells after Gale as he bursts out of his room and stomps toward Peeta’s. Exasperated, she follows him, grabbing his arm, but he just shakes her off and pounds on Peeta’s door.
“Get out here, you fucking Judas!”
“Stop!” Katniss sighs in frustration, but the door opens, her heart seizing as Peeta assumes a defensive posture, his eyes darting warily between the two of them.
“Gale—” he starts, an edge to his voice.
“You fucked my girl?” Gale growls, his hands balling into fists at his sides.
“I’m not your girl,” Katniss interjects, right as Peeta mutters, “She’s not your girl.” Gale’s eyes flash dangerously, his head swiveling between the two of them, and he snorts angrily, taking a threatening step toward Peeta.
“That’s fucking cute—what sort of bullshit did you put into her head while you wormed your way into her pants?”
Katniss squeezes in between the two of them, holding her hand up to Gale. “Stop it, Gale. Peeta didn’t worm his way into anything. I wanted to have sex with him, so I did,” she says plainly. She feels calmer than she should.
For the first time, she sees hurt on Gale’s face. “You wanted to have sex with him, but not me?”
Her mouth pulls into a small frown. “I don’t feel that way about you.” She bites back an apology, her natural inclination, because she knows she doesn’t owe him one for that reason specifically. But she adds, “I’m sorry for hurting you. I shouldn’t have given you any false hope about us, because I didn’t mean it. And I’m sorry I picked someone so close to you, but…I like Peeta. A lot. And I think he feels the same.”
Peeta doesn’t speak up, probably wisely, but she doesn’t hear him object, so she holds onto that hope that he still feels the way he did a week ago. Licking her lips, she continues, since Gale still hasn’t responded, “I understand if you’re mad at me for a while. But I hope we can move past this eventually. I’ve really missed my best friend.”
Gale makes a sound of disbelief, his eyes looking around wildly. “I can’t believe you’re choosing him over—I can’t be here right now. I gotta go,” he mutters vehemently, and she watches him storm out of the apartment, her heart heavy.
With a sigh, she turns around to face Peeta. He’s looking down at her, his jaw set. “Well, that went about as well as I thought it would,” she says drolly, her face contrite. “I’m sorry he brought you into it.”
Peeta shrugs with a tired exhale. “Honestly, I’d do the same if I was him. I’d want to punch the shit out of me, too.”
She shakes her head, looking away. “I thought he’d be more mad at me than you. I mean, he is really mad at me…” she trails off, a sadness creeping in at the thought that she might’ve just lost her best friend.
“Hey,” Peeta says softly, drawing her attention back to him. “He’ll forgive you. It might take some time, but he’ll come around.”
“You don’t know that,” she objects, her tone brusque, and he fixes her with a look.
“Yeah, I do. You just don’t know the kind of effect you have on people.”
She lifts her shoulders helplessly. “I don’t want to have any kind of effect on people, honestly, not if it means I’m going to hurt the people I care about.” She gazes at him, her mouth pulling into an apologetic frown. “I owe you an apology too.”
He waves her off, a small, dry smile twitching his mouth. “After all that? Consider us even.”
She eyes him skeptically. “So, clean slate?” There’s hope in her voice, and he quirks an eyebrow at her.
“Depends on what we’re cleaning that slate for,” he says leadingly, and despite everything, her face eases into a shy smile. She takes a step toward him.
“Well…you said to let you know when I decide what I want…”
“And what did you decide that you want?” he asks, a small smile clearing the heavy clouds that have been hanging in his eyes, and she tips her chin up to look at him fully.