“Can I help you with something?” a soft male voice asked.
Katniss Everdeen jumped nearly out of her skin at the sound. She whirled around from her spot in front of the shelf of books and assumed a defensive posture. But instead of something threatening, she found herself staring through a pair of glasses into two of the most vibrantly blue eyes she had ever seen.
“I was just… uh…” she began dumbly, unable to break free of the frank, friendly gaze. The skin at the corners of his eyes crinkled, as though their owner was smiling warmly, and then the man spoke again.
“Oh, I um, I’m really sorry for startling you. You seemed a little lost,” he ran his fingers through his shock of blonde, wavy hair and looked chagrined. “Or, maybe I just wanted you to be.”
Katniss rubbed her permanently dirty hands across the material of her Carhartts in a practiced, nervous gesture and scowled.
Was this guy hitting on her?
It wasn’t exactly a common occurrence. The men on site tended to rag on her endlessly, or ignore her completely. Outside of that, it was theoretically possible that men (or even women) were coming on to her, but she never paid enough attention to the people around her to really notice. They certainly weren’t falling down at her feet. There was Gale, of course, but he hardly counted at this point. The fact that they had tried, failed, and still hooked up occasionally didn’t exactly fill her with the bewildering rush of nervous excitement that was thrumming through her veins now.
The blonde man laughed a little, as though at his own joke, and explained, “With all these budget cuts, I have to justify my existence somehow.”
His laugh was probably the warmest she had ever heard, but she felt an unexpected twinge of disappointment realizing that he was not, in fact, flirting, after all. His face was handsome. Very handsome, and he carried himself with a sort of shy confidence that was completely unlike the aggressive posturing she was used to from the men she worked with.
“Seriously, I’m sorry for interrupting you like that,” he was saying when she managed to focus on what was actually going on instead of wondering what sort of man laughed at himself in front of a grimy stranger as though they’d been friends for years.
The same kind of man who apparently dressedlike he just stepped out of a J. Crew catalog. She felt self-conscious in her mucky, steel-toed Redwings, patched Carhartts, stained ACDC t-shirt, and worn hunting jacket in the face of his crisp, charcoal slacks, white button-up, navy sweater-vest, and cerulean striped tie. That fact that his sleeves were rolled up to the elbows as though he were ready to get to work was small comfort in the face of her dirty face. Her clothes still smelled of ozone and the acrid tang of metal that settled in the back of your throat and stayed there for hours. She found herself transfixed by the muscles in his arms that seemed unlikely to have developed solely through lifting books. He wasn’t a bodybuilder by any means, but the guy was built.
Annnd she was staring. That had to stop.
“No, you’re right. I’m hopeless,” she huffed with annoyance, redirecting her elevated heart rate and increased breathing into more manageable frustration. “My sister wants this book that the library in our neighborhood doesn’t have, and when she found out I was working here for the next two months, she begged me to come get it during my lunch break.” He listened as she spoke with a kind, earnest look on his face, and she could feel the back of her neck heat up. “So… if you know where the cookbooks are, I’d um, appreciate it,” she finished lamely.
“Well they’re definitely not here in the sex psychology section,” the man grinned.
The flush on the back of her neck took over her entire face.
“Wow…” he stammered, rubbing the back of his neck, blushing himself, “despite its accuracy, that might just be the least professional thing I have ever said.”
Katniss scowled silently, uncertain what to say and hoping he’d just leave so she could wander through the shelves, alone with her confusion at both the system of organization and his behavior.
“Can we start over before I just turn myself into my boss and beg him to fire me?” he asked sheepishly.
Crossing her arms, she lifted her eyebrow, and her scowl faded slightly.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” he exhaled with relief. He took four large steps away from her, then turned around, and regarded her as though for the first time.
“Excuse me, but is there something I can help you find?” he asked in voice so formal she had to frown hard to choke back her laugh.
But instead of smiling, he looked at her inquisitively, as though he was really being serious. When she shrugged, he nodded encouragingly, and there was nothing else she could really do but play along.
“I’m looking for,” she fumbled in her pockets and pulled out the scrap of paper that Prim, groggy from her night rotation in the ER, had scrawled the title on this morning, “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day.”
He lifted his eyebrows in pleased surprise, “Your sister has good taste.” He shook his head and slipped back into his formal voice, “I mean, so you’re looking for the Artisan Breads in Five Minutes A Day book of recipes?”
“That’s what I said, isn’t it?” Maintaining her glowering was taking a surprising amount of work.
“Yes, it is,” he made a gesture leading her toward a computer terminal at the end of the shelving. “But you’d be surprised how often people ask for one thing, when they really want something else.”
“So that’s your job? Figuring out what people want when they haven’t even realized it yet?”
Her breath caught in her throat at the look he gave her.
“Yes,” he exhaled, holding her gaze for about thirty seconds too long.
“Well, I already know what I want. I just can’t find it.”
The kind, helpful, formal tone was back, “Have you looked in our catalog? They’re installed on all of the open access terminals.”
“My hands are dirty. I figured if I found the cookbooks, I’d just find it.”
“That’s probably true, but it might take a while,” he said, focusing on the computer as he began typing rapidly. “Let’s just find the call number.” Blue eyes scanned the screen quickly, “Ah, there it is. Do you mind?” he asked, tentatively reaching out for the crumpled paper in her hand.
“Sure,” she handed it over. Her fingers brushed his, and the exhilaration was back, but quickly extinguished by her embarrassment at the state of her ragged, dirty fingernails. She could feel him tremble, just a tiny bit, and then his touch was gone.
After writing down a ridiculously long collection of numbers and letters, he led her down the claustrophobic spaces in-between the shelves. The stale, vinegary odor of the older books overpowered the reek of her clothes.
It was a nice smell.
“Here we are,” he stopped and knelt, scanning the shelf. She had to force herself not to look at the way his ass filled out his pants when he did. Instead she started reading the titles on the books in front of her.
“And here’s your book. Next time, if she’d like, you sister can order the book online and have it delivered to your local branch. It usually only takes a few days.”
“Doesn’t that put you out of a job?” she smirked, remembering his earlier comment.
He looked at the floor, and then tilted his head and snuck a glance at her.
“No, but it does put me in an unfortunate position.”
There was a pregnant pause.
“It means I don’t get to see you again.”
When she got back to the site, she had never been so thankful to pull down the shield of her welding helmet. It hid the flush that stayed with her for the rest of the afternoon.
“You come here often?” a vaguely familiar voice asked as she waited in line at the food truck.
She swung around so quickly that her braid smacked him in the face.
“What are you doing here?” she asked bluntly, too startled to apologize.
He laughed, “Well, this is the best truck in the city. Not to mention it is directly in front of my place of employment. So… getting lunch? I should be asking what you’re doing here, really.”
“Trying to figure out what Korean barbeque tacos are,” she muttered with embarrassment. “I forgot lunch today and I don’t have a lot of time.”
“Order the pork rib on a steamed bun. Actually… order seven of them. You won’t regret it.”
In fact, she came back for more.
“We really have to stop running into each other like this,” he ruefully rubbed his head, sprawled on the floor after they had collided in front of the ATM in the back of the WaWa.
“It’s not my fault you’re everywhere I go,” she spat defensively as she stood. The shocked look on his face tugged at her heart unexpectedly. He had smacked the side of his skull against the cash machine and the point of impact was starting to swell. He at least deserved a little courtesy. It wasn’t really normal for her to reveal much personal information, but it seemed like the best way to even things out.
“I don’t even know this city. We just moved here in at the end of August so my sister could start med school at Temple. I’ve never had fusion Korean barbeque, or whatever other weird stuff it is around here that you eat. I’m not used to all these people in one place.”
“So you don’t know Philly at all?” he looked at her like a man who was full of ideas.
She shook her head.
“How about this, then,” he started hopefully. His voice held just a sliver of shyness that made it almost unbearably sweet. “If the past week is any indication, we seem to have lunch at the same time every day, neither of us appears to have anyone to have lunch with, and I have an easy way to get to places that are worth seeing. Let me show you around?”
“I mean, I have my truck,” she muttered, not mentioning the fact that typically she preferred to eat lunch alone.
“Trust me, this is better,” he grinned. “Just meet me on the corner of Twentieth and Wood on Monday, same time that you eat lunch. I promise, you won’t regret it.”
“What will I get out of this?”
“At the very least, you can share the knowledge with your sister I understand medical school is pretty stressful. She probably doesn’t have time to explore. I bet she’d appreciate knowing places to go with the new friends she makes.”
Katniss said nothing, just looked at him warily.
“I’m not a murderer, just an art librarian. And my name’s Peeta Mellark, by the way.”
“Fine. But I’m bringing a wrench just in case, and if you try anything, I’ll break all of your fingers.”
His smile lit up the entire convenience store.
“You want me to get on this?” she demanded, rubbing her hands against the rough material of her work pants as they stood in front of a burnt orange, vintage Vespa.
“That’s the idea,” he grinned, zipping up his snug brown leather jacket. “Although it’d be nice if you told me your name first. And obviously you have to wear a helmet.”
“Katniss Everdeen. And are you sure this thing can go fast enough that I need one?”
He handed her a white helmet with a blue and yellow stripe.
“Only one way to find out.”
She wasn’t scared of much, but she found herself wrapping her arms tightly around his waist as he weaved effortlessly in and out of cars, driving into a part of town that was full of converted factories. Turning onto an alley, he drove up on the sidewalk and stopped the scooter right next to a building.
She held onto him for much longer than necessary.
“This is delicious,” she told him in the cafe, mouth full of lemon ricotta pancakes. “I can’t believe they’re still serving breakfast at noon.”
“It’s brunch here,” he laughed, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “It’s what this town does best, trust me.”
“What do you do best?” she blurted out, curious and almost flirty which was so unlike her she wondered if the pancakes had been drugged. Maybe it had been the wind on her face in the crisp fall air. Almost felt like home.
He blushed as red as the strawberries on the French toast he was eating.
She wondered if his mouth tasted sweet.
“I’m a structural welder,” she told him when he asked what it was that brought her downtown every day. “I climb up beams and stick pieces of metal together so buildings don’t fall down.”
“That’s incredible. How do you even learn to do something like that?”
No one had ever asked before. Mostly they just were shocked that a smallish sort of woman managed to pull off a such a “man’s job.”
“I like climbing and I have a steady hand,” she began, attempting to explain something she’d never thought much about. “Years of hanging out in tree stands, waiting for deer, I guess. But I did have to go to school for a bit, and then apprentice with someone. My…” she struggled for the right word, “…friend, Gale, had a job here in the city, we had apprenticed in the same shop back home, and when he found out Prim and I were moving, he got me in.”
“That’s really lucky for you,” Peeta said enthusiastically, but he looked just the slightest bit troubled. After that, they were both quiet for a while.
“So… why did you become a librarian?” she asked through another mouthful of tandoori chicken.
“Can you think of a better way to pick up chicks?”
She laughed until her sides ached.
On the way home they rolled to a stop in front of a tiny, nondescript warehouse with the words “Four Worlds Bakery” on the side.
“If Prim likes bread, this is where she needs to go. Best bread in the city, and definitely worth the trek to West Philly. Unless you want challah, then you need to go to Chestnut Hill.”
She raised her eyebrow, “You know a lot about bread for a librarian.”
He looked at the ground, “My parents had a bakery growing up. Burned down my senior year of high school when I was away on a class trip.”
She took a deep breath, but he didn’t even give her a chance to ask.
“They both died. My brothers too. Ended up living with my uncle.”
“I lost my dad five years ago,” she blurted out. “And then my mom took a bottle full of sleeping pills.”
“Katniss, I am so, so sorry.”
“Me too,” was all she knew how to say. He reached his arm behind him and pulled her awkwardly against his back. They idled there in companionable silence for some time.
It was comforting. Too comforting. When they got back to the site, she couldn’t even look him in the eyes.
“Look Catnip, trust me, I want to. I really do, but there’s something you should know,” Gale put an arm’s length of space between them on his couch. She had tried to kiss him, to deal with the mounting frustration that had been building ever since she went into the library and met that damned Peeta Mellark, but Gale had stopped her for some reason.
She didn’t say anything, just glared. His rejection stung, despite the fact that, if she was brutally honest with herself, she really only wanted to sleep with him in order to avoid thinking about someone else. Gale was always ready to go, and he was good whenever they went. It kept her from having to do any of the legwork required to have a relationship, or even the less intense, but still existent work to have a casual encounter. It was safe. Easy. Familiar.
And now she strongly suspected it was about to be over for certain.
Gale had a habit of always looking in the eyes of whomever he talked to, no matter how hard they tried to avoid him. Now was no different, even under these circumstances, and his grey eyes caught hers and held them.
“This has been great, you know, it’s always been great, but we’re not… we found out a long time ago that we don’t really work being together for real, and…” he took a deep breath, “I met someone.”
“Who?” she asked, not really wanted to know the answer. If Gale was gone, the growing thing she had with Peeta had no outlet, other than to pursue it to its ultimate conclusion. She had played with fire once before, lucky to escape from the experience only a bit singed. The breakup had been mutual with Gale. Understood between them and they were still friends, whether they were having sex or not.
But that sort of luck wouldn’t last with the next man.
She knew how she could end up, if she allowed herself to love and she reallylost, which was inevitable. The ragged hole that her mother’s suicide had ripped into her and Prim’s lives served as a constant reminder.
“This girl… she’s a concert pianist,” Gale began, with a weird sort of smile on his face that Katniss didn’t recognize. It was placid. Stable. It was a new look for him. “We met in a meeting. She had trouble with Adderall awhile back, I guess. But, I dunno, she’s good for me, Catnip. Calms me down. I know it’s been two years since I’ve even touched crank, let alone used, but I’ve never wanted to less than I have lately.”
The sting softened into a soft, nostalgic ache.
“I’m happy for you, Gale. I really am.” And she was.
He leaned back into the couch, put his arms behind his head, and smiled.
“So when exactly were you gonna tell me about that blonde guy you’re trying so hard not to think about?”
Peeta pulled over in front of the lot and reluctantly turned off the engine of his scooter.
“Well… I guess this is it then,” he said softly as they both climbed off. “Your last day as my work neighbor.”
“Yeah…” she breathed. “It is.”
They stood awkwardly for a moment, before she remembered the helmet in her hand.
“Here.” She leaned forward to hand it over at the same time that he stepped forward to say something. They found themselves chest to chest, both breathing heavily.
“Katniss… I…” Peeta started, clearly hesitating.
“Well lookee here,” a sneering voice called out across the lot.
It was Cato. He was leaning against the fence, smoking with Brutus and Marvel, two of the other site engineers. He was a dick of the first order, and made everyone’s life a living hell. The other two weren’t much better in terms of being great human beings, but Brutus was too old to be interested in fucking with people and Marvel was a coward, so she (and everyone else, really) clashed the most with Cato. For her it was probably worse than most because he had sleazily tried to pick her up the first day she showed up on the lot, and she had turned him down on no uncertain terms in front of the entire crew.
He hadn’t let her forget that moment.
“I hope you don’t expect that fancy boy to kiss you, Everdeen. Pretty sure you’re barking up the wrong tree. Unless you’ve had some kinda operation you’re not telling us about.”
Before he even suspected what she was about to do, Katniss had crossed the yard and broken his nose. His blood exploded like a fountain, and splattered all over Marvel’s pristine white hardhat. Cato screamed obscenities, falling backwards into the fence and ripping his expensive trousers.
She found herself in the foreman’s trailer later about thirty seconds later. Her fist ached.
“Girl, I don’t know what’s gotten into you,” Haymitch told her. His feet were propped up on the desk and he smelled like stale coffee and old cigarettes. “Can’t go around punching engineers without some kind of repercussions. Good thing he’s so embarrassed to be hit by a girl, otherwise he’d be pressing charges. Obviously, you’re off the job.”
“But the job’s basically over,” she muttered darkly.
“You’ll never work with Cato again,” he continued, as though he hadn’t heard her. “Lucky for you, ever other contractor in the city hates the bastard so they’d be happy to have you.”
He tossed a wadded-up ball of paper at her.
“There’s their numbers. Now get the hell out of here.”
Her hand was on the doorknob when he added, “Nice job, sweetheart.”
For once, he wasn’t being sarcastic.
When she opened the door, Peeta was nowhere to be found.
He didn’t look pissed. Just thoughtful, sitting behind the desk, slowly turning the pages of an artsy-looking magazine that said “BOMB” on the cover.
“I’m sorry about… what happened,” she muttered apologetically when she reached the desk.
He smiled benignly. “It’s fine, Katniss, really. But here,” he handed her a small piece of paper with another call number on it. “This is the book that I mentioned earlier. You should go and check it out. I’m thinking that your sister would really like it.”
“But I–” she began, only to be cut off as Peeta smiled politely to someone who had come up to the desk behind her. His body language clearly indicated that their conversation was over, at least for the moment. Frustrated by his confusing lack of response to the earlier disaster, she stormed away from the desk to deal with her emotions in private.
The book ended up being located in the most deserted section of the basement, where not even the homeless went to sleep. The silence was thick, and the smell of books, the smell that reminded her so much of him, hung everywhere. She found the one he had suggested fairly quickly. When she yanked it violently from the shelf, a single piece of paper, covered in words, fluttered to the ground. She crouched to pick it up.
It was written in the same handwriting that had written down the number.
“I’m sorry if I embarrassed you earlier.
The fact is, contrary to what your… friends might think, I do want you. Quite desperately. In fact, I’ve been able to think of not much else since the moment I saw you.
Maybe working in the field that you do, you’ve become unaware of the effect you have on people. Specifically people who are attracted to gorgeous, self-possessed women.
Allow me to disillusion you…”
Katniss leaned against the shelves of books. Her heart was pounding in her throat. What WAS this?
“It would be no stretch to say that I think about you fifty times a day. I think about your laugh, your smile, the way your braid lies against the curve of your neck.
But I also think about you naked with staggering regularity.
If this makes you uncomfortable, please, stop reading now. I don’t want you to feel as though you owe me a thing, because you don’t. We can never speak again, if you like. Or perhaps just go back to our casual interactions in the library. I know that might be difficult to do, and it’s quite possible that you will not ever want to see me again, but I had to take the risk. I know your job ends tomorrow, and I’ve been holding back, too scared to damage something so new. But I can’t hold back any longer, especially knowing that your job is over and you’re about to go somewhere across the city and we’ll have no real reason to see each other.
I see you’re still reading.
Do you know what you’ve done to me? I spend the whole day hoping to catch a glimpse of you, and then when you arrive, I spend the rest of the hour trying to hold back, to keep from imagining the sort of sounds you make when you fall apart. I usually succeed, but sometimes it’s impossible.
I want to memorize the swells and valleys of your body with my mouth. I’m certain you taste delicious. You have no idea how often I’ve imagined settling between your legs and running the tip of my tongue across your hot, swollen skin. I want to work you until your voice is nothing but a ragged scream, and you can barely even hold on to me as you shatter.
I want to take you against the bookshelves, to hold your hands over your head and drive my cock into you again and again while I whisper in your ear that you can’t make a sound. And you would try to be quiet. Of course you would try, but you’d whimper just a little. I’d have to go slow. So slow, Katniss, so as not to make much noise. In the end, you’d be nearly sobbing, desperate for me to push you over the edge.
But I want to take my time…”
Everything in the world had come to a stop around her, and when she finally gasped for air, she realized she was clinging onto the edge of the bookshelf for dear life. Her thighs were clenched together so tightly she really did need to hold onto something to keep herself upright.
And she kept reading.
“Sometimes when I’m in the stacks, trying to put things away, I imagine you, on your knees taking me as I gently, but relentlessly fuck your lovely mouth. You’d look up at me with your silvery eyes, when I came, and you’d drink every last drop.
Katniss, can you do something for me? Well, that is if you haven’t ripped this up, or called the police. But… if you want this too, I want you to think about me, and touch yourself. Now, later, I don’t care, but you should know that right now I am sitting upstairs, torn apart by worry and desire, wondering how you’re taking all this, fearing that this is probably the creepiest thing I’ve ever done…”
The restroom was deserted, and she locked the door behind her. Her hands were fumbling with the zipper on her Carhartts before she even found a place to stand.
What am I doing oh god what am I doing?
Her fingers dipped into her underwear, and she was already drenched. With her last coherent thought, she lifted herself up to sit on the sink, and then she was lost.
“I want you to use your nimble fingers to find your clit, and draw tiny little circles on it for me. Yesterday, in Chinatown, that was all I could think about, sliding my hand under the table and getting you off…”
She couldn’t think about anything but his words, spinning over and over again in her mind.
“I tried not to, but you’re all I’ve thought about when I jerk off for weeks…”
Her muscles were beginning to cramp as she grew closing, moving so much faster than she was used to.
“I see you, watching me, as I stroke myself, unable to stop…”
The world was contracting into a single ball of sensation.
“You tell me you want to watch, to see it when I come. And then I lose it completely…”
The cinderblock walls echoed with her cries.
Five minutes later, she ran out of the library, letter clutched in her fist, her mind frantic with confused thoughts.
“812 N American St. APT A. 9pm,” it said.
It was nine-thirty and she was pacing the kitchen of their tiny house in Port Richmond.
“Can you please sit down?” Prim called from the couch. “I’m trying to watch Parks and Rec. This is the first night I’ve had off in a week, and you’re stressing me out more than the ER on a full moon.”
“I’m sorry, Little Duck. I just…”
“You could go and see him, you know,” her sister offered cheerfully, her mouth full of ice cream.
Katniss’ mouth dropped open, “No I can’t! Wait, how do you even know about this? Have you been talking to Gale?”
“Your job is fine, we don’t have any money issues. I’m not even at the hospital tonight for you to worry over. You should be sitting here with me, eating ice cream and laughing about Ron Swanson, but you’re not. The only time I’ve ever seen you like this before is when you were deciding if you wanted to give things with Gale a go.”
“And we both saw how that turned out,” Katniss snorted.
Prim rolled her eyes, “You weren’t as worked up then as you are now. This one must be really special. Please try, Katniss. Just once?”
Her little sister crossed the room, the wide legs of her pajama pants swinging around her bare feet. She pulled Katniss in for a hug, and laid her head on top of hers. It never ceased to jar her, how much taller than her Prim had ended up being.
“If it were nothing, you wouldn’t care,” she said softly. “I want to see you happy, for once. You work so hard. Please try.”
“You don’t understand,” Katniss muttered. “This isn’t some sweet little date.”
“Well then,” Prim giggled and jumping back onto the couch, “I better not see you until Saturday morning when I get home from my shift.”
She paced in front of the door to the tiny row home in Northern Liberties for five minutes before she worked up the courage to knock on the peeling wood of the ornately carved door. The whole house was in a state of artistic disrepair, rustic shutters and peeling white paint covering the original brick. Soft orange light spilled out under the shutters of the front window, illuminated his scooter, which was chained to three anchors that had been sunk into the sidewalk. She stared at the thick chains, figuring how easy they would be to cut with the right sort of oxidizing flame. Really easy, actually. She should probably let him know.
It was with this noble mission in mind that she knocked on his door.
“Someone’s going to steal your scooter,” she said rapidly, looking at the ground the moment it opened. “They can cut through those chains with an oxy acetylene torch in about three minutes.”
“So you’ve shown up at ten at night to discuss my vehicle security?”
She gaped at him. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, just a pair of loose sweatpants. He had a six-pack and a tiny trail of dark blonde hair that started under his belly button and disappeared under the drawstring. The heat from earlier in the day, the sort that had pooled in her belly and never completely disappeared, raged to life once more.
“I’m just kidding,” he smiled. “Come in. How’s your hand?” he asked softly, reaching out to take her wrist. She gave it to him and he delicately touched the rough skin of her fingers, as though her hand was a delicate instrument.
“It’s fine. Prim took a look at it for me. Nothing’s broken. This isn’t the first time I’ve punched someone. I know how to do it,” she pulled back, accidently grazing the fine hairs of on his chest in the process.
“I should probably put on a shirt,” he said sheepishly. “I thought you were the pizza guy. The people in the side apartment don’t tell him the right address half the time. We’re becoming quite close, Tony and I.”
She didn’t know how to respond to his joke, and he seemed at a loss as to what to say next, so there was an awkward silence that lasted far too long, until each moment that passed became even more unbearable.
“I don’t think you’re gay!” she finally blurted out.
He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair, “God, Katniss, I’m sorry. I made this so damn awkward. I don’t know what I was thinking when I left that letter.”
She didn’t know what to say, exactly, so she figured the truth was as good as anything.
“I liked it.”
“What?” he looked a bit confused.
“Your letter. I… liked it.”
“You did?” the corners of his mouth turned upwards, ever so slightly.
She blushed and whispered, “Three times, actually.”
Instead of the positive reaction she had been, frankly, expecting, based on his letter, his face dropped in absolute, utter terror.
“Oh no, oh no, oh no,” he murmured to himself, rushing across the room. He leaned down to reach in between the end table and a chair, and she could see the muscles in his back ripple as he grasped whatever it was he was looking for.
It was a brown leather satchel that was beaten and worn and somehow reminded her of her father. He threw open the clasps and dug around, throwing pieces of paper everywhere, until he found just it was he wanted, and then groaned audibly.
“I gave you the wrong letter,” he croaked, looking like he might actually jump out the window.
He took several deep breaths, as though to hold off a panic attack, “This afternoon a security guard chased me off of the lot. I had wanted to talk to you, tell you… how I feel, but I had to leave, and then I was stuck at the desk for two entire hours. I didn’t know what to do, so I wrote…” he shook his head in horror, “the letter that you found, to try to clear my head. So I could writethis,” he held up an identical piece of paper and shook it madly.
“So you didn’t really mean that stuff?” Katniss felt numb.
For a sharp, fragment of a second, he looked at her like she was a meal he wanted to devour. She felt a jolt of electricity run up her spine and settle on the base of her skull as the look died away. “Of course I meant it, but I…” he sighed with frustration, “god, Katniss, I would never… wait…”
His voice was barely audible, “You said… you liked it?”
She rubbed her hands against her jeans and nodded at the wall.
“You don’t care that I didn’t even get to tell you how much I adore and respect you?”
She shrugged, “I dunno… that all seemed kind of… obvious.”
He laughed, as though he could hardly believe it, then grew serious again.
“And you… did what I asked? Three times?” the laughter was utterly gone, replaced by an unexpected edge.
She nodded. She couldn’t bear to look at his face so she directed her line of sight to his torso instead, only to realize that his nipples were standing up like little pebbles against the pale expanse of his chest.
As it stood, she was unable to look at him at all and maintain any sort of composure. She stared at his tasteful furniture, the dark tan walls against the navy blue of his couch, and his dark mahogany tables. It was nice. Understated, masculine, with quirky little accents: artistic renderings of old sci-fi posters, magnetic sculptures, and very, very old books.
And then her back was pressed against the wall, and his lips were descending on hers.
His mouth was hot and searching as it ravished her own, his tongue probing against her lips, begging for entrance. Gone was the subdued, self-effacing, subtly hilarious librarian, and in his place was a man who was more than capable of picking her up and taking her against the wall.
“Do you want this?” he asked hoarsely. “Will you let me… do what I said before?”
Her body was tight as a wire, but she wanted nothing more than to melt into him.
“Yes,” she whispered, as he kissed down her neck while his hands began to unbutton her coat.
His hips slammed against hers, pinning her to the wall. She could feel his erection, firm and large, pressing insistently against her. He thrust against her, one, two, three times while his hands securely cradled her face and his mouth plundered hers.
“Please take off your clothes,” he growled almost inaudibly in a voice that demanded no argument. Simultaneously he let go of her and stepped away. She gasped and threw her head back, looking into eyes that were predatory and intense, his pupils so fat that only a thin ring of the beautiful blue was visible.
Her fingers fumbled at the zippers and buttons, too crazy with the want that had been building up over the past two months to focus on the task at hand. He made no effort to help, just stood and watched her, his hand reaching down to lazily stroke his cock through the cloth of his sweatpants. She fixated on the motions, getting off on the fact that he was getting off watching her. By the time she removed her bra, his hand had slipped under his own waistband, and she could see him jerking himself off in earnest under the fabric of his pants.
“I would like it very much if you’d come over here and kneel, Katniss,” he said again in that polite, rough growl.
Earlier in the day, she had broken a man’s nose. She could sit casually on an exposed beam on the thirtieth floor of an unfinished building without breaking a sweat. With the exception of caring for her sister, her time was her own, to do with as she pleased and she had done so for her entire life. She was, on all accounts, an incredibly powerful woman who controlled her own life.
And she wanted nothing more than to kneel.
He lowered the waistband of his pants until his erection sprung free to bob slowly against his thigh. With his right hand, he lifted her head until she was looking in his eyes. The wild, feral man was still there in the almost predatory curve of his mouth, but his eyes were soft and questioning behind his glasses.
Is this all right? they asked.
He guided her mouth to him, fingers burying themselves in the base of her braid as he thrust past her lips. He was in control, but he was gentle, soft, as though he could, yes, most definitely hurt her, vulnerable and completely exposed as she was.
But he wouldn’t.
In the face of such unique behavior, Katniss was overwhelmed with the need to make him feel good. She suckled him lightly, and then with more force, running her tongue up and down the ridges and veins of his cock, desperate to bring him to shuddering completion. And she could feel him getting closer and closer, as he told her how beautiful, how perfect, how precious she was. But nothing spoke so loudly to her as the raw desire she had seen in his eyes and the way he had to pause to control his thrusts.
At the last possible moment, he stopped her, picking her up and swinging her over his shoulder, then taking the stairs two at a time. He kicked open the first door he came to, and then threw her on the bed, pulling her to the edge and spreading her legs very far apart.
“Are you okay?” he asked softly, yanking open a drawer, pulling out a condom, and wasting no time in putting it on.
She nodded, and he slid inside her.
It was expected at this point that he would slam in all the way, fucking her as hard as he could until she exploded, which frankly wasn’t that far off, she was so pent up and ready for him.
But he didn’t.
Standing between her legs, his hips moved lightly with very shallow thrusts as his hand found her folds and teased them open to find her clit.
“Reach up and grab a pillow, then put it under your hips,” he instructed her as his finger moved in lazy circles that would have made it impossible to hold her legs open, had he not been doing it for her. With shaky hands, she grabbed a pillow and then lifted her hips. He helped her guide it underneath and then he was there.
It made her feel like she had been turned into a black hole of need. The ridge where the head of his cock met the shaft caught against something halfway inside her that she hadn’t even known existed, as his fingers softly toyed with her swollen clit.
He told her she was stunning, but the words meant nothing in comparison to the steady, insistent throbbing of his flesh inside hers. With every thrust, she felt her body opening more to him, begging him to push further, go harder, but he held back, and watched her as she writhed before him. He looked as though he knew exactly what he was doing, but was still in awe that he was doing it.
The world started to shrink until there was nothing but his fingers and the tip of his cock. Then there was nothing at all but pleasure that mounted and mounted until it swallowed up the world.
She counted four orgasms, one after another, until she lost the ability to count.
Then he was on top of her, slamming his hips so hard into hers that there was no question she would have bruises for days. His hands pulled her hips to him and held them steady as he breathed into her neck, his glasses pressing against her cheek. His breaths were controlled and steady at first, but with each thrust, they became more chaotic, until as she lay there, boneless, she knew he was on the edge.
“You… feel… so… fucking… good,” he choked out, grabbing her face and holding her gaze as he punctuated each word with a thrust of his hips.
The groan that he made was inhuman, and she came again at the sound, clamping down around the entire length of him that was pressed so deeply inside of her she had no idea what it even felt like for them to be two separate beings. She could feel him pulse inside her as he found his own release.
And then he collapsed, his body trembling violently against hers where it lay, motionless, for several long moments.
“Katniss… I really, really like you,” he mumbled drunkenly, pulling off his glasses and clumsily laying them on the nightstand.
Her body was done, completely giving up on consciousness, but she muttered, “I like you too,” right before she passed out. She meant it.
They woke up hours later, wrapped in each other’s arms in the mess of sheets and blankets that had once been his bed. The clock on the bed table said four am, but the sounds of a siren echoed through the house as a police car drove by and the red and blue flashes flickered in through the windows. He rolled off of her a little, then pulled her into him, so that his body was wrapped around hers.
After several minutes of silence, during which they were both well aware that the other was awake, he sighed a little wistfully and said, “I’m not normally… that is to say… I um… I think we did that backwards.”
She rolled onto her other side, and propped herself up on her elbow to look down at him, brushing the hair out of his eyes in the low light from the street.
“Want to do it again just to find out?” she murmured, smiling softly.
He kissed her softly as he chuckled.