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Pleeeeeeease?”

 

And that was really all it took for Katniss to agree to a date auction. A sorority date auction.

 

She wouldn’t have done it for anyone but Prim. When her little sister turned those bright blue eyes on her and clasped her hands under her chin and made the pouty mouth, Katniss knew she was done for. It had worked like a charm since Prim first perfected the technique at age five; twelve-year-old Katniss hadn’t stood a chance. Now, though it had become more of a joke between them, it nevertheless still worked. Katniss knew it, and, what was worse, Prim knew it.

 

To her credit, Prim had wielded her power sparingly over the intervening fifteen years. Katniss couldn’t help feeling that this particular use of it was unusually cruel, though. Yes, it was a service sorority, and Katniss liked those girls – they did trash pick-up in the local state park she directed. Yes, Prim had worked her ass off to find other men and women who might want to participate. Yes, the auction was for the local soup kitchen.

 

But that didn’t change the fact that it was a sorority date auction.

 

Sorority. Date auction.

 

“Prim, I’m twenty-seven years old!” she had protested.

 

“We have volunteers of all ages,” Prim insisted. “That’s why it’s fun! Even some singles from the nursing home will be there. It’s really cute and sweet. I just need one more straight woman, Katniss.” And then she brought out the big guns. She brought out the “Pleeeeeeease?

 

Katniss sighed and lowered her forehead dramatically to the kitchen table. “Fine,” she mumbled. “But if some nasty pervert buys me, I swear to God I’ll kill you.”

 

Prim might not have heard the threat because she had flung her arms around her older sister and was jumping up and down. “Thank you so much! You’re the last volunteer I need.”

 

“Yeah, it’s the last thing I need, too,” Katniss grumbled.

 

* * *

 

That was how Katniss Everdeen found herself on stage in the university’s huge auditorium. She had dug up a simple but sexy black dress from the back of her closet, and a number “12” had been pinned to her waist. One of the sorority sisters had done her makeup (“Trust me, you’ll need this under those stage lights!”), and it felt like her face was covered with pancake batter. Her usual no-nonsense braid had been twisted up into an elegant bun by Prim, who pulled her into one more hug before pushing her out on stage.

 

Johanna Mason, a senior, was talking her up in the background, but she barely heard a word. Was it just her imagination, or was no one bidding? An older man from the nursing home, grinning broadly in his wheelchair, had fetched $100.

 

“Five dollars!” came a voice from the back of the room.

 

“Ten!” answered another.

 

“Gentlemen, I know you can do better,” Johanna scolded. “Katniss graduated from this very university summa cum laude! Beauty and brains right here before you! And she’s an outdoor woman! Where else are you gonna find that combo, hmmm? Can I get twenty dollars?”

 

“Twenty!” It was the first voice, the one in back.

 

As she perspired under the bright lights, feeling like a reject, Katniss decided that Prim’s begging would never work again. Never. Not even if—

 

“And she’s a virgin!” Johanna proclaimed.

 

“Forty!”

 

“Forty-five!”

 

Katniss wasn’t sure what happened first. She knew that she ran off stage, and she knew that a new voice called out “One thousand!” Everything else kind of closed in and disappeared until there was nothing but a tunnel that led straight to the ladies’ room. Middle stall. Dinner 2.0.

 

“Katniss, God, I’m sorry,” said Johanna’s voice behind her. “That was a shitty thing to do. It just… came out. I’m so sorry.”

 

Katniss lifted her head and reached up to flush the toilet. Johanna followed her to the sink, still rambling apologies. She liked Johanna, a loud and brash girl – the very opposite of herself, really – and she had always laughed and enjoyed listening to Johanna’s colorful descriptions of her sexual exploits. She had thought nothing of mentioning to her sister’s friend that she was a virgin. It was nothing to be ashamed of, after all, was it? Sometimes it could take a while to meet the right person. Only in rare moments like this one did she ever second-guess herself.

 

“…word vomit – sorry, shouldn’t have said vomit – but all the losers in this town are so pathetic and intimidated by you, and the low bidding was getting under my skin, and, you know, the adrenaline and…”

 

As cool water from the sink slid down her face, Katniss tore off a paper towel and met Johanna’s eyes in the mirror. “It’s okay,” she interrupted, patting her face dry. And, good Christ, that stage makeup was serious, wasn’t it? “I mean, it’s not okay. I mean, I accept your apology. So it’s okay.”

 

“I really am sorry. I know how much you stepped out of your comfort zone to help us with this, and I feel just awful. Prim will probably never speak to me again.”

 

“If Katniss accepts your apology, so do I,” came Prim’s voice from the doorway. Katniss allowed herself to relax a little as her little sister’s arms slipped around her waist from behind. “Are you okay?”

 

“Yeah. I’m good at rising above public humiliation.” She saw her reflection giving a wry smile to Prim and Johanna.

 

“Do you… um… Do you want to know who won the bidding for you?” Prim asked carefully.

 

“Might as well.”

 

Prim stepped back and clasped her hands under her chin. Oh no, this couldn’t be good. That delighted smile just couldn’t mean anything good. “Peeta!” she said, her voice little more than a squeak. “Mellark,” she added, as if Katniss and Johanna were idiots.

 

Peeta Mellark, who had been the richest boy in town when he and Katniss went to school together. Who had become the richest man in town when his father died and left the family business to him.  Who had once shared his lunch with Katniss at recess, handing her a dandelion to accompany her half of the PB&J. Who had asked her to prom and seemed enormously let down when she refused (she was poor; what had he been thinking?). Who had seemed determined to avoid her all through college… who had seemed determined not to avoid any other member of the female sex.

 

When Katniss didn’t react, Prim frowned. “Weren’t you friends with him or something?”

 

“No. How much did he bid?”

 

“Oh, a pittance, really,” Prim replied, grinning. “A thousand dollars.”

 

“So the rich playboy decides to jump in and buy the virgin. Charming.” Katniss straightened her spine and tugged at her dress. “Do I look presentable?”

 

“You look as hot as you did when you first stepped onstage,” said Johanna. She really didn’t have to be overly nice. Her apology had already been accepted.

 

“Five dollars’ worth of hotness? Good enough. Might as well get this over with. How do I meet up with Peeta to arrange all this?”

 

“He’s waiting backstage with the other winners,” Prim said, sounding as if the wind had been knocked out of her sails. Had she expected Katniss to be over the moon about “Peeta… Mellark”?

 

“Katniss,” said Johanna, laying a hand on her arm.

 

“No more apologies, Jo. Really, let’s forget about it.”

 

“No, it’s not that. Just… Peeta is actually a really nice guy. He helps with our projects all the time, and he’s never said no when we asked him for anything.”

 

Katniss smirked. “I’ve gotten the impression that he never tells women no.” She softened a little at the looks on both girls’ faces. “Look, I’m sure he’s nice and all about helping charities. But a nice guy doesn’t make a big show about bidding an obnoxious amount for a woman right after everyone learns that she would be his… his conquest. Paying the highest price for my virginity like this is some gross medieval…” She trailed off, unable to hit on the right word.

 

“C’mon, Katniss,” Prim sighed, holding open the bathroom door.

 

Sure enough, there was a crowd backstage. The winners and their dates were chatting, flirting, and laughing. Most seemed to know each other. A couple of guys were already making out in one corner. Peeta was looking around, and when his eyes landed on Katniss, he immediately started making his way to her. She noticed that Prim and Johanna had conveniently slipped away. She breathed in deeply, steeling herself.

 

“Katniss,” he smiled. “Wow, I know this is so weird, but I saw you up there, and—”

 

“So where and when do you want to do this?” she asked briskly.

 

“Um…” He blinked. “If you want to come over, I’d love to cook for you. It wouldn’t be peanut butter and jelly” – was he actually blushing? – “but it would be edible.”

 

“Don’t you think somewhere public would be better?”

 

His mouth moved, but no sound came out. Good. The more uncomfortable he felt, the more even she felt.

 

“Right,” he said finally. “You’re right. I didn’t even think. Do you have a favorite restaurant?”

 

She shrugged. “I don’t really care too much. Wherever you want to go is fine. You’re the one who paid for all this.”

 

The joy had been gradually draining out of his face with everything she’d said so far, and she didn’t feel sorry for it. Yes, he had been a sweet boy in school. It didn’t change the fact that he was an entitled jerk now.

 

“Okay,” he nodded. Then he smiled. “Let’s go now. The student union is still open. Lots of nutritious fast food options.”

 

“Wait, what, now?”

 

“Sure. Might as well, right? We’re already dressed up, we’re here, the night is young.”

 

Katniss realized she was grinning from ear to ear. She hated herself for it. He was used to this, wasn’t he? He was rich and handsome – he was so handsome, but cute-handsome, sweet-handsome, like the boy next door, like – shit – he was used to charming the panties off women.

 

“I’m not a cheap date,” she said, raising her chin with something she hoped would come off as pride.

 

“Anything but,” he replied. “Have you forgotten how overpriced the union is?”

 

She ground her teeth together to stifle her laugh. She felt her lips quirk but counted it as a victory even so. “Fine. Give me a few minutes to get this gunk off my face?”

 

“Sure. I’ll have the car pulled up outside.” As she turned to go, he took her hand. “Katniss,” he said, and his voice was too earnest, too much what she remembered. “You really look amazing tonight.”

 

She slid her hand out of his and walked away without replying.

 

* * *

 

Trading heels for simple flats, washing off thick makeup, and removing endless bobby pins could work wonders on even the foulest mood, or so she told herself as Peeta sat down and set a plastic cafeteria tray of fries, tacos, and eggrolls between them.

 

“Aren’t you gonna eat?” she asked between awkward sideways bites of a crunchy taco.

 

Peeta blinked as if he had been in a daze. “Sorry, I just… you look exactly the same. The braid and everything.” He dipped a fry in ketchup and stirred it absently, still looking at her. “I’ve always thought you’re the prettiest girl I ever knew.”

 

“What did you tell all the other girls you fucked?” She wiped her mouth daintily with a paper napkin.

 

His face was comical, but his stuttering was even more so. “Uh… um… what?”

 

“Look,” she said, sighing. “I know you shelled out a lot of money for this, but the whole idea of it is offensive, and I’m not someone who can just pretend that everything’s all right.”

 

“If you thought the auction was offensive, why did you volunteer for it?” he frowned.

 

“Not the auction. What you did.”

 

“Katniss, I’m really confused right now. Do you want me to take you home? Or if your sister is still at the auditorium, I could take you back there. The money was for their fundraiser. Spending time with you was an unexpected bonus. I won’t… um… you know, I won’t withdraw my donation if you’re uncomfortable and don’t want to do this.”

 

How he could make those clear blue eyes look any more innocent, she didn’t know. “I’m not a virgin whore who sells her first night for the highest price,” she said, her voice low and dangerous.

 

Peeta leaned forward. “What?

 

“You heard me.”

 

A long, terrible silence stretched between them. Finally, Peeta spoke, and his voice was soft and careful. “I think I understand your version of what happened tonight. Can I tell you my version? If you don’t believe me, I’ll drive you back wherever you want to go, and I won’t bother you again. Deal?”

 

She replied with only a nod.

 

“Katniss, I… I’ll just have to give you the long version. I’ve had a crush on you ever since our first elementary class together. You knew that, right?” He must have seen the look on her face because he continued, “You didn’t know that. Okay. Well… I did. I do. I was in awe of you, really. You’re so… you’re gorgeous. And smart and strong… I barely had the balls to speak to you in the hallway. Asking you to prom just about killed me.” He chuckled without humor. “The rejection hurt. And then college, Christ, my father died, I suddenly had to step up and take over the bakery, and you had that boyfriend who seemed to just fit you, you know, and I kind of had to grow up in a hurry, and… shit. I’m rambling.”

 

“What boyfriend?” she asked quietly.

 

“Well, Gale Hawthorne.”

 

“Not my boyfriend.”

 

“Oh.” His eyes were intent on hers. “I guess I assumed. I mean, everyone did.”

 

“I couldn’t afford to go to prom,” she said. She could almost watch his brain shift gears from Gale to what else she was telling him.

 

“Why didn’t you…” She saw his throat bob as he swallowed and cleared his throat, saw his eyes get a little shiny. “I’m sorry, Katniss. I should’ve known that instead of being an insecure, self-centered…” He shook his head. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be sorry,” she heard herself saying. “If you had asked or hinted about it, I would’ve gotten embarrassed and lied to you, probably. Teenagers are stupid.” He rewarded her with a sad smile. “And the auction?” she prompted.

 

“Tonight, the auction, right,” he exhaled, running a hand through his hair. “I saw you up there and couldn’t believe it. But I couldn’t bring myself to actually bid on you. But then all these jerks I knew were bidding, what, ten dollars on you? And then the announcer said…” Again he blushed, and Katniss found it strangely charming. “She said what she said, and they were still insulting you with those low bids, and I couldn’t bear the thought of one of them winning you that way. Even if a decent guy had been bidding, really, I couldn’t have borne it. Maybe less so.”

 

She bit into a lukewarm eggroll, chewed, swallowed. “Were you really with all those girls in college, or was that all a misunderstanding, too?”

 

“In college. After college… yeah,” he said. There was no arrogance and no shame, either. She appreciated him for that.

 

“My favorite restaurant is Tony’s. On third,” she said. “Tomorrow night?”

 

When he smiled at her – no, beamed at her – she smiled back. “I love Tony’s,” he said.

TBC

Chapter Text

Peeta walked Katniss to her door and stood to the side as she unlocked it and pushed it open. She turned to him. He looked happy and casual, hands in his pockets, smiling pleasantly.

 

“Thanks for supper,” she said. “I honestly thought I’d never eat in that union again. Take that however you see fit.”

 

He laughed. “Well, you could’ve had Tony’s tonight, you know.”

 

“Yeah… I’m sorry. I was such a bitch to you,” she winced.

 

“No, no, I get it. I get how it looked to you. Thanks for giving me a second chance.”

 

She rocked forward on her feet before she was even conscious of doing so. “Thanks for giving me a second chance.”

 

“This whole situation was a second chance. You might judge me if you knew just how giddy I am.”

 

“You might want me to judge you if you knew how favorable the verdict would be.”

 

How was it so easy to flirt with him? She had never flirted with anyone. Never cared enough to, never felt silly or relaxed enough to do it, never thought she was capable of it. And look at her now, turning into Nora Ephron.

 

“Maybe you should wait until you see all the evidence,” he volleyed back. “Pick you up here tomorrow at seven?”

 

She nodded and hesitated for a split-second as he seemed about to turn and go, then she laid a hand on his arm to stop him. He wasn’t too tall for her to step up to him and kiss him, even though she was wearing flats, and she found herself liking that very much. She held onto his lapels with both hands and sighed as she pulled his bottom lip into her mouth, touching it lightly with her tongue. His hand cupped her cheek as they parted, still inches from each other. He traced his thumb over the bow of her upper lip.

 

“Katniss,” he breathed, and the shaky quality of his voice sent a happy feminine thrill up her spine. “I want to do that a lot.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“You’ll allow it?”

 

“I’ll allow it.”

 

* * *

 

“Then he drove me home, walked me to the door, confirmed the time for our date, and, you know.” Katniss shrugged a shoulder.

 

“Oh my God,” Prim sighed, and Katniss could picture her in her dorm, hugging her knees to her chest. “So he kissed you? How was it?”

 

“I kissed him,” Katniss smiled. “And it was pretty great.”

 

“Oh my Goooooood! You better call me tomorrow night. No. Call me the next morning.”

 

“Silly little duck,” said Katniss fondly.

 

* * *

 

“Do you want dessert?” Peeta asked. “Have you ever had their caramel cheesecake?”

 

“This isn’t my first time at Tony’s, Mr. Mellark.” Her eyes fell to her empty plate. “But I am obscenely full. Want to share it?”

 

They placed the order, and he reached across the table for her hand. “I still can’t quite believe this,” he admitted as he traced over her knuckles. “You are…” He trailed off and shook his head, laughing at himself. “I don’t even know.”

 

“Sure, that’s what you tell all the girls,” she laughed. She realized a split-second later that her good-natured ribbing might have come off the wrong way. “I didn’t mean it like that,” she said quickly.

 

“No, I know,” he said. He released her hand and sat back. “I’ve never been in a relationship, Katniss. And I’ve never lied to any woman about what we were doing. Never pretended it was anything more than what it was. Sorry for the awkward information dump, but I really need you to know that it’s different with you. Fuck, I know every guy out there says that when he wants to get a woman into bed, and there’s no reason you should believe me.”

 

The now-familiar pink blush blossomed in his cheeks, and Katniss smiled. “I believe you.” She toyed with one of her forks. “You want to get me into bed, do you?” she asked, eyes downcast.

 

“Yes.” His frank answer took her off guard, and she looked up at him, her stomach twisting into pleasant knots at the expression on his face. “I want to cook for you, kiss you, share cheesecake with you, eat shitty fast food with you, paint you, lounge around in pajamas with you on the weekend, and definitely have lots of amazing sex with you.”

 

“Paint me?”

 

“Yeah,” he smiled. “I like to paint.”

 

Their slice of cheesecake was set between them, and they reached for their forks.

 

“How will I know the sex is amazing if I have nothing to compare it to?” she teased. She expected him to laugh, but his expression was unreadable. “What?”

 

“Are you really a virgin?” he asked.

 

“Yeah. I’m picky and hard to get along with, so you shouldn’t be too surprised.” She set her fork down. “You’re not gonna get all weird about this, are you? I hate when people make a huge deal out of it and look at me like I’m a Martian. Either that or they act like I’m above everyone else. So pure.” She shook her head.

 

“It’s nothing like that,” he assured her. “I just can’t believe the auctioneer would know that about you and announce it.”

 

“Yeah,” Katniss replied, able to laugh easily about it now. “She apologized.” She darted out her tongue to catch a piece of crust from the corner of her mouth and saw him watching with more than a little interest.

 

“That kiss last night… I haven’t stopped thinking about it,” he said.

 

“See, that’s the other assumption. That virgins haven’t done anything.”

 

“Huh? Oh. You were still keeping up with the context of our conversation.”

 

She laughed at him, and he laughed at himself, and weren’t they doing a terrible amount of laughing? But that must be how it goes when your life suddenly turns into a Nora Ephron movie.

 

They finished their dessert, playfully fighting over the last bite, and Peeta paid the bill. As he pulled out of the parking lot, he reached for her hand again. This time she clasped it in hers.

 

After a few moments of relaxed silence, he exhaled slowly. “Okay, I know this is going to sound patronizing, maybe, but I just want you to know that there’s no pressure for anything, you know? What I mean is… like I said earlier, I’m not in this for… Do I sound like a jackass?”

 

“Peeta?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I was squeezing my thighs together at Tony’s almost the whole time. And it wasn’t because of the delicious pasta and cheesecake.”

 

The car swerved slightly, and Katniss smiled.

 

* * *

 

Katniss had never been pinned to her door before. Experiencing it that night, she decided it definitely deserved a positive review on Amazon. The experience, not the door. Though there was nothing wrong with the door. Did Amazon sell doors? Maybe if you were on Prime.

 

“Are you giggling?” Peeta asked, his mouth only seconds from touching hers.

 

“I was thinking about Amazon Prime.”

 

“Wow, I was afraid I might have something stuck in my teeth, but fuck that’s hot. Free shipping just does it for me.”

 

She laughed whole-heartedly (suck on that, Nora Ephron) and shut them both up by pulling him to her. She had kissed only a few men over the years, but Peeta was the best of her small sample size by leaps and bounds. Unlike everyone else, who seemed to be all about tongues, Peeta knew that the sexiness was in the lips. Teasing, pulling, sucking, nibbling. A conversation that could be playful or serious or passionate or angry, just like any other. Not that he didn’t know how to use his tongue, too. He just knew how to kiss, period, and Katniss never wanted to stop.

 

So she invited him in.

 

He closed his eyes, a little breathless. “Not tonight. And before you think it’s because I don’t want to” – he pressed his hips closer to hers, and it was delicious – “you know that I want to.”

 

“Please tell me this isn’t some misguided chivalrous thing about protecting my virtue.”

 

“I have zero desire to protect your virtue,” he answered, and his voice was so low, so dark and dangerous and thrilling, that Katniss swore her knees buckled a little. “Not that virginity makes you any more or less virtuous,” he added dutifully.

 

Katniss made a noise that sounded to her like nnnngh, slid her hands down to his ass, and tugged him even closer. “Then why not? I want you like crazy, Feminist Ryan Gosling.”

 

His head fell to her shoulder as he laughed, and she took advantage of the opportunity to nuzzle her nose into his hair, which was soft, curly, and blond like a cherub’s. She brought her hands back up to his neck, threading her fingers into his hair.

 

“Don’t you want to… deflower me?” she said in her best sexy voice (it was not at all sexy).

 

“God, you have to stop,” he said, still laughing, his breath hot on her skin. That didn’t help anything. At last, he straightened up, smoothed her hair back from her face with both hands, and looked at her seriously. “This will sound corny, but it’s for me, okay? I don’t want to do the same old thing I always do. Just one or two more dates, I promise.”

 

“You’re too hard on yourself. No pun intended.” She smiled, lightly bumping her hips against his. He opened his mouth to speak, but she stopped him with her fingers. “All kidding aside, Peeta. You’re too hard on yourself. Really.”

 

“You’re just saying that because you want me.” Dark as they were with arousal, his blue eyes twinkled. He nipped at her fingertips.

 

“Can you blame me?” she said, her eyes trained like lasers on her fingers between his lips. “You taste like cheesecake. And I’ve waited so many years.”

 

He leaned in and kissed her lightly. “Me too.” Before she could make a smart and ill-advised comment about him not waiting for anything, he added, “For you.”

 

“Mmmm, one more date,” she murmured.

 

“Deal,” he agreed. Another soft, teasing kiss. “I still want to cook for you. My house, Friday night? I’ll text you the address.”

 

“And I’ll text you some stuff, too.”

 

He grinned and shook his head. “Good night, Katniss.”

 

“Peeta,” she said when he had taken a few steps back to his car. She went to him and reached up to touch his cheek. “I don’t just want you, you know. I want… you.”

 

Shit. Did romantic talking skill go away at midnight like a pumpkin coach? And it wasn’t even midnight yet. What a rip-off.

 

Wait, no, he got it. He got it, and he liked it. His smile made her want to hug him and fuck him at the same time. It had magical powers. She backed him up against his car and kissed him one more time.

 

“Leave your mouth here with me,” she mumbled, her lips still touching his.

 

“Ouch. What about my brain, my heart?”

 

“You’d have to cut those out. Could get messy.”

 

“Oh, and cutting off my mouth wouldn’t be too messy, Hannibal Lecter?”

 

She took his bottom lip between her teeth and slowly released it. “Good night, Peeta.”

 

“Good night, Katniss. I’m really going now.”

 

“Okay.” She was grinning like an idiot as she walked back to her door.

 

* * *

 

“I have you on speaker, and Johanna said you should’ve just grabbed him,” Prim said. “She – Jo, what are you –”

 

“Katniss, I’ve got the phone now, and I’m telling you, you should’ve just grabbed him.”

 

“Sorry about that,” came Prim’s voice again. “Call me Saturday.”

Chapter Text

What followed was a crappy week of rain and thunderstorms. As park director, Katniss had to deal with flooding cabins, myriad fallen tree limbs, vehicles stuck in mud, and understandably upset guests whose vacations were being ruined. She collapsed into bed late each night and dragged herself out at the crack of dawn each morning. On Friday afternoon, as she stood supervising the removal of a tree that had snapped and blocked the road to one of the picnic areas, she admitted to herself what she had to do: she had to call Peeta and cancel their date. A gust of wind knocked her umbrella from her hands, and she cursed as it splashed into the mud below.

 

Back in her office, she stared at her phone and tried to talk herself out of it. Wouldn’t she feel better with a home-cooked meal in her belly and Peeta’s mouth on her body? The thought alone made her shiver – the first shiver of the week that had nothing to do with cold rain. But it was 4:00, and she still had another hour at work if she was lucky and no emergency came up. She was an exhausted, disheveled mess with dried mud stuck to her clothes. With real remorse, she dialed his number.

 

“Hi, Katniss,” he answered. His voice. His perfect, masculine, warm, sexy voice… “Katniss?”

 

“Don’t hate me, but I have to cancel tonight,” she said. She put him on speaker and laid her head down in her arms, wondering why bad things happened to good people.

 

“What happened? Everything okay?”

 

“Yeah. No. It’s been hell at the park with this weather. Ugh, and it sucks because all week I’ve been consoling myself with the idea of getting you naked. It was going to be my reward. And now I’m a total mess, and I just want to sleep, and I’ll probably be here past seven anyway.”

 

She heard him huff a laugh. “Sorry you’ve had a bad week.” He paused. “I have a tub, you know. A nice, big one with jets.”

 

“One percenter asshole.” She grinned down at the wood grain on her desk.

 

“And a very comfortable bed.”

 

“What are you suggesting, that I wash up and sleep on our date?”

 

Another laugh from Peeta. “Why not?”

 

“Because it’s lame and I would feel bad?”

 

“Look, I’m still at work, too, so I haven’t gone home to start cooking yet. Let me scrap what I had planned for tonight and make you some soup. You come over whenever you escape work. Relax in the tub while I throw your clothes in the washer. I’ll give you a nice, ratty, old t-shirt and a pair of boxers. You eat some hot soup. We curl up together in my bed, and I rub your arms and back until you fall asleep. Does any of that sound lame? Besides the old t-shirt, obviously?”

 

Katniss picked up her phone, took it off speaker, and held it to her ear. “Does the shirt smell like you?”

 

“I’m sure it does, for good or ill.”

 

“Would you be naked for any of this?”

 

“I could be.” She heard the smile in his voice. “Honestly, Katniss, I just want to see you and spend the time with you. If you really are too tired, it’s okay.”

 

“No, I want to. Even though you’re so sweet that it’s obnoxious and disgusting.”

 

“I’ll try to work on that. See you later?”

 

“Later,” she agreed.

 

She was still smiling when they told her that one of the pavilions had a leaky roof.

 

* * *

 

Peeta swung the door open wide. “7:10! You’re not even that la—You look terrible.” His hand flew to his mouth. “Fuck. I mean… I don’t mean… Come in.”

 

She stood in his entryway, droplets of water and mud dotting his floor, as he yanked a coat from a hook on the wall and wrapped it around her. “Dirty,” she mumbled in protest, but he ignored her.

 

Without another word, he led her upstairs to a large bathroom that looked like something on HGTV. As she watched, he sat on the edge of the tub and fiddled with the faucets. He wore a simple button-down shirt, and his sleeves were pushed up to his elbows. He had on socks but no shoes. Katniss realized that she should have left her soaked shoes downstairs instead of sloshing upstairs in them. Too much thought involved. Oh, she was tired.

 

Peeta held up a container of bubble bath. Brand-new, she noted. “Yes? No?”

 

She nodded. “Please.”

 

He poured in an inordinate amount, and the water level got lost in bubbles and steam. He wiped his hands briskly on his slacks. “I think everything should be where you can find it easily. If you want to jump in the shower after and rinse off or whatever, you know, help yourself. I hope the water isn’t too hot. Sorry, didn’t even ask.”

 

“Peeta,” she said softly. She couldn’t allow him to continue acting like a puppy that desperately wanted her approval. Didn’t he know he was too perfect to be real, while she… Well. “Thanks. I think I’m in heaven.”

 

His mouth curved up. “Okay. If you leave your clothes outside the door, I’ll grab them and wash them. You can see the shirt and shorts draped there on the rack. Any washing instructions on your clothes? Delicates or…” There was that blush she loved.

 

“Just throw everything in,” she smiled.

 

“Got it.” Surprising her, he pulled her into a hug and pressed his face to her wet hair. “I didn’t mean to say you look terrible.”

 

She laughed and hooked her arms under his shoulders, holding him closer. “I know that, dummy. Now get out so I can take off these nasty clothes.”

 

Once he was gone, she turned off the water – though not soon enough to prevent some bubbles from leaking over the sides – and ripped off her clothes. She rolled them up and slipped them outside the door, then sank blissfully into the hot bubble bath. More bubbles sloshed onto the plush mat and tiled floor.

 

She gave an enormous, loud sigh of happiness, not even caring if Peeta heard. She toyed with the idea of “falling asleep” in the tub, and Peeta coming in to make sure she was okay, and her pulling him in there with her... If she weren’t so clueless, she realized, she could have asked him to undress her like they did in the movies. Maybe they could have showered together. Men in books liked to wash women’s hair and breasts before pinning them to the tiles and having remarkably coordinated shower sex.

 

When she felt pink-skinned and pruny and relaxed enough, she stepped out and reached for the towel. It was thick and expensive but somehow lighter than her own towels at home. She pulled on Peeta’s boxers – and fuck if that wasn’t sexy – and a worn, soft t-shirt with a logo for “Panem Paint Supply.” Unable to resist, she lifted it to her nose and inhaled. It just smelled like detergent. No! She detected a trace of cinnamon, closed her eyes, and smiled. Got you, baker boy.

 

She combed her hair out and rebraided it, then appraised herself in the somewhat foggy mirror. She looked scrubbed and clean. The lack of panties or bra made her a little self-conscious. And a little excited. Noticing her shoes by the door, she shrugged and left them there, padding barefoot downstairs to find Peeta.

 

He had thrown an apron around his neck, the ties swirling around him loosely as he stirred the pot on the stove. Was there a polite way to tell a man that you’d rather gobble him up instead of the food he made for you?

 

Peeta turned, saw her, and smiled. “Perfect timing. Soup’s ready.”

 

She slid onto one of the stools behind the breakfast bar and leaned forward on her elbows, watching him.

 

“So, how was your week?” she asked.

 

“Same as always, really,” he shrugged. He set a bowl and spoon before her. “I bake. I look at boring spreadsheets in an office. More of the latter since I was put in charge, actually.” He pulled the apron up over his head and tossed it on the counter before sitting beside her with his own bowl.

 

“Doesn’t sound like it makes you very happy.”

 

“I miss having my hands in the flour and the dough,” he admitted. “You know, actually making things. The physicality… creativity… licking frosting off my fingers. But it’s okay. It really is. It feels good to carry on what my father left us. Do you like the soup?”

 

“It’s delicious. Exactly what I needed.” she told him honestly. He turned and smiled at her, and she leaned forward and kissed him softly. “And so was that.”

 

They were quiet as they ate, and Katniss relished it. Her week had been loud. With Peeta, the silence was comfortable and restful. Everything could slow down. She could just… be.

 

When they finished and Peeta carried their bowls to the sink, Katniss followed him and slid her arms around him, laying her cheek on his back. His hands, large and warm, covered hers. After a moment, he turned and pressed her to his chest, stroking his fingers down her braid and lightly over her back.

 

“Bed?” he asked.

 

In any other context, she would have hitched her legs around his waist and growled, “Yes. Bed. Now.” Tonight, she nodded against him and hummed her assent sleepily.

 

“Upstairs, right by the bathroom you used,” he said. “Make yourself comfortable. I’ll be right behind you. Just gonna put your clothes in the dryer.”

 

Peeta’s bedroom was big, but it was furnished simply. The bed couldn’t have looked any fluffier or more inviting. Something in her was pleased that it was neat but not made up, just as he had left it that morning. This was what Peeta’s bed looked like. It was real.

 

“Katniss Everdeen in my bedroom,” came his voice from behind her, and she turned to him.

 

“About to pass out and drool all over your pillows.”

 

He smiled and held up the covers, motioning for her to climb in. She slid between the sheets and sighed. Noticing that he was about to join her, she stopped him with her hand.

 

“No?” he asked with confused eyes.

 

“Do you normally sleep in khakis and a button-down?”

 

He looked at himself, apparently just realizing that he was fully clothed. “I usually sleep in my boxers,” he said, meeting her eyes again. “Is that okay with you? If not, I have pajamas.”

 

“Peeta, my problem will never be that you have on too few clothes.” Her eyes were heavy, but she hoped they came off as lustful and seductive.

 

Watching him undress in front of her, she didn’t have to do much pretending. She watched, and he watched her watch. Instead of undoing a few buttons and pulling the shirt off, he undid every button. He shrugged the shirt off and then pulled his white undershirt over his head. His eyes, reflecting the dim lights from outside, stayed fixed on hers. He unbuckled his belt and threw it aside. He unbuttoned and unzipped his pants, slid them down, and kicked them away. He must have toed off his socks; when he joined her in the bed, he was down to his boxers.

 

Katniss wasn’t sure her brain worked anymore, and her mouth felt dry. She swallowed. They lay on their sides, facing each other in the dark, quiet room.

 

“I’m scared of how much I want you,” she whispered.

 

He reached between them and stroked back loose strands of her hair. Her eyes drifted shut. “Scared?” he said. Low. Soft.

 

“Of losing you.”

 

He pulled her body against his, and she rested her head on his chest, which was warm. The steady thud of his heart was reassuring. His fingers stroked absently over her hair and neck and back. She marveled at how gentle his fingers could be when he felt so solid under the hand she had draped over him.

 

“Stay with me?” She was asleep before she heard his reply.

Chapter Text

Katniss had no idea what time it was when Peeta’s thrashing and moaning jolted her to consciousness, but it was still dark outside. After the moment it took for her to squint and blink and collect her bearings, she pushed herself up from his chest and shook his shoulders.

 

“Peeta,” she hissed. “Peeta!”

 

“No,” he groaned.

 

She reached over to switch on the lamp at his bedside. Sweat dotted his hairline, and his face had contorted into a terrible grimace. Did he have epilepsy? She had seen someone have a seizure before, but they could look so different.

 

“Peeta!” she tried again desperately, louder this time. His eyes snapped open, his pupils shrinking slightly in the light as his body stilled beneath her hands, and his breath evened. “Are you okay?”

 

“Yeah,” he said. His voice was a little hoarse with sleep. “Sorry if I scared you. Nightmare.”

 

He sat up, leaned forward, and pushed his fingers through his hair. After a slight hesitation, Katniss rubbed one hand in slow circles over his back. She could feel his muscles relax slightly beneath her palm.

 

“Do you get those a lot?” she asked slowly. She hoped she wasn’t overstepping her bounds or prying too much into something that wasn’t her business, but she was in the man’s bed.

 

“Not as much as I used to,” he replied. And that wasn’t really an answer, was it? “Sorry,” he said again.

 

“Nothing to be sorry about.” When he didn’t reply, she said in a soft voice, “Hey.”

 

He looked up, and she saw that there were actually tears in his eyes. A few strands of hair stuck to his damp forehead, and she smoothed them back before swiping her thumbs carefully under his eyes.

 

“Can I get you something?” she asked, both from a desire to help and an eagerness to run from an awkward situation. She was so bad at this kind of thing.

 

“No, I’m okay. Just embarrassed.”

 

“Well, that makes about as much sense as me being embarrassed.”

 

Peeta’s mouth tipped up at one corner. “Why are you embarrassed?”

 

“I feel really uncomfortable and weird when people cry around me. Like I don’t know what to do with myself.” As if to prove the point, she let her hands fall from where they had been cupping his face. “Like I said, it doesn’t make any sense. Just like being embarrassed about having nightmares doesn’t make any sense.”

 

He laughed. “That… makes sense. I am sorry for waking you, though. You were so tired.”

 

“I’m up for good now. I can never get back to sleep. Can you?”

 

“Yes,” he said, and she could tell that he was turning something over in his mind. “And I bet you can, too.”

 

“No, seriously, I can’t. Not trying to make you feel bad, but I—”

 

Whatever she had been about to say was a long-lost memory as Peeta’s hands found her waist and his lips touched hers. He guided her down, still kissing her, and she heard herself whimper. Actually whimper like a little puppy. She could feel him smiling into their kiss, and then his mouth moved feather-light over the curve of her jaw and to her ear.

 

“Can I make you come?” he asked. She felt his teeth tug her earlobe.

 

Fuckity fuck fuck fuuuuuuuuck

 

She closed her eyes and licked her lips and tried to remember some English words. “I don’t know,” she murmured. “Can you?”

 

It was actually a real question; she had never been able to do it herself. Not for lack of trying. Lots and lots of trying. Lots of free gifts from Adam & Eve hidden away under her bathroom sink. She was very familiar with the Ascent of Hopefulness and the Plateau of Despair.

 

Peeta’s eyes found hers. He was serious about this. Her stomach clenched.

 

“Is that a ‘yes,’ Katniss?”

 

She nodded. “Yes. Please.”

 

He smiled and kissed her again, slowly and sweetly. She almost (almost) didn’t notice his hand sliding up under her borrowed shirt, but she definitely noticed his warm palm curving over her breast.

 

“Oh, please,” she whispered. Maybe she was begging Peeta. Maybe she was begging the orgasm gods. Maybe Peeta was an orgasm god. Oh please.

 

Peeta shifted and raised the shirt up over her breasts, his gaze locked with hers as it had been earlier when he undressed. Then he lowered his mouth, swirled his tongue around one of her nipples, let his hand glide smoothly down to the waistband of the boxers – his boxers, so hot, oh fuck – and Katniss didn’t even try to keep quiet.

 

“Please,” she gasped. She put her hand over his and forced it into the shorts, and they moaned together.

 

“Want to show me what you like?” he asked.

 

“No,” she said, withdrawing her hand. “I wanted you to hurry.”

 

He laughed and kissed her soundly, teasing her below with one finger. “Really, though. Will you show me?”

 

“I don’t… exactly… know what I like,” she said.

 

His hand stilled, and he had that serious look on his face again. She had ruined the moment. Of course she had. Why couldn’t she have just screwed some loser in college and gotten all of this out of the way when it didn’t matter?

 

“Oh,” he said. “I mean, I know you haven’t had sex, but I figured you had touched yourself.”

 

“I have,” she said miserably, covering her face with her hands.

 

There was a silence that seemed to last an eternity but probably only lasted a few moments. Katniss couldn’t bring herself to move her hands and look at him.

 

Then he said, “You know what doesn’t make sense? Being embarrassed when others cry or because you have a nightmare or because your body might need something you haven’t discovered yet.”

 

She lowered her hands. Peeta was smiling down at her. “Okay,” she mumbled.

 

“Three things are going to happen,” he told her. “You’re going to come. I’m going to learn what you like. And, most importantly, you are going to learn what you like.”

 

“Okay,” she said again, feeling somewhat better. And very much turned on.

 

His fingers started moving again, but not teasing this time. So deliberate. So much better than her own. She arched her hips up against his hand, and he moaned his approval.

 

“Keep talking to me,” he urged. “Tell me what’s good.”

 

“All…” She sucked in a breath. “It’s all so good.”

 

“Then tell me what’s better. Tell me what’s best.”

 

“When you slide your fingers… long and slow, yes… Your thumb circling… Peeta… oh, yes.”

 

“Fuck, Katniss,” he groaned, watching her face.

 

“Oh!” she cried. “Best! Best… um… when you… your sounds and when you talk that way. Oh, God!”

 

“I’m going to put my mouth on you next time,” he said. His fingers curled inside her. Katniss couldn’t identify the sounds she heard coming from her own throat. “I think I want that even more than you do. Are you going to let me taste you, Katniss?”

 

Ye-ees,” she said.

 

She was climbing, climbing so much higher than she’d ever been before. The air was thinner up here. Her legs shook. Her fingers grasped at Peeta’s soft sheets and strong shoulders and curly hair, whatever they could find to keep from falling. It was all too much. The rope would snap, and she would fall, and what would catch her?

 

“Come for me,” he said into her ear. “I’ve got you.”

 

And then she let herself fall. Only it wasn’t falling. It was soaring, and then it was floating gently back down into Peeta’s bed, into his arms. Back to his lips, which were kissing her forehead.

 

Back to sleep.

 

* * *

 

“Good morning,” Katniss heard as she stirred, stretched, and rubbed her eyes. She turned her head to see Peeta sitting up beside her, resting comfortably back against the headboard. A sketchpad rested in his lap.

 

“Watcha doin’?” she asked, still drowsy.

 

“I was drawing you, actually,” he said.

 

He held up the sketchpad, and Katniss studied the rough pencil sketch of herself sleeping. Her lips were parted slightly, one hand rested under her cheek, and her face was relaxed and peaceful.

 

“Oh, so you really can draw,” she said. “I assumed you were one of those rich people who ‘paint,’” she explained, making air quotes with her fingers.

 

He laughed. “Well, maybe I am. You haven’t seen any of my paintings.” He set aside his pencil and pad and slid back down into the bed, facing her on his side. “Thank you for last night.”

 

“Thank me? Thank you.” She felt herself blushing.

 

“No, really,” he insisted. “You came over here even though you were tired. You helped me deal with that nightmare. And then you trusted me. That’s not a little thing.”

 

“Fine. If you want to thank me for allowing myself to be ridiculously pampered with bubble bath, homemade soup, and an orgasm, don’t let me stop you.” She flashed him a grin, and he returned it.

 

“You hungry? I have a lot of stuff downstairs from the bakery.”

 

After he pulled a t-shirt over his head, she followed him down to the kitchen and watched as he unwrapped several packages of muffins, cookies, and bread. He also opened the fridge and set out milk and V8 juice. “Did you make these?” she asked, lifting a blueberry muffin to her nose. It smelled like heaven.

 

“Not these,” he said. “I mean, I can. I do. But I didn’t make these. Too important in the office now, you know.”

 

“Right,” she nodded, remembering their conversation the night before.

 

He handed her a plate, fork, and paper towel. “Dig in. I’ll get your clothes.” When he returned, he placed her clothes, neatly folded, in a pile on a chair.

 

“This might be the first time those have ever been folded,” she noted.

 

He laughed as he filled the coffee pot with water. “It would’ve been uncivilized to just throw them at you.”

 

“I bet I’d like to see you a little uncivilized.”

 

She stared resolutely down at the bread she was buttering, trying in vain not to smile. When she allowed herself to look up, Peeta’s back was to her, but she could see that his neck was flushed. Her eyes wandered down to this thick, muscular thighs, and her bite of raisin bread felt suddenly dry in her mouth.

 

“Coffee?” he offered as he poured some for himself.

 

“Yuck.”

 

“Good to know.”

 

“Tell me about your nightmares,” she said.

 

Peeta set his mug down. “So you’re into light, cheerful breakfast banter.”

 

“I’m into you.”

 

His face crinkled up into a broad smile. Another blush. Christ almighty, she loved his blushes. Then the lines appeared in his forehead, and he seemed entranced by the swirls in his coffee.

 

“The nightmares are about my dad,” he said. “I was with him in the car when… you know.”

 

“Yes.” She reached over and clasped his free hand. “I’m really sorry, Peeta.”

 

“Thanks. Anyway, that’s it, really. I’m back there in the car with Dad, and the bright lights are speeding up to us. The crash itself never happens. It’s like time slows down until it’s barely moving, and the lights are coming, and there’s no way to stop it.”

 

They were quiet for a long time, Peeta because he seemed lost in thought and Katniss because she (as always) couldn’t think of anything to say. Nothing comfortable, anyway. But then she decided to go for it.

 

“I get them, too,” she said as casually as possible. “Almost… um… almost every night, actually.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

She nodded. “That’s why I know I can never get back to sleep after I wake up. I don’t get a lot of sleep.”

 

“In that case, I’m really glad that you were able to rest here. Sounds like you needed it.”

 

“It’s true,” she admitted. “I haven’t slept that well since Prim was little, and she and I used to snuggle up together in bed.”

 

“And what are your nightmares about, Katniss?”

 

“Things I saw when my mom was a nurse.” She cleared her throat. “Lots of horrible things. The details don’t matter.”

 

Their hands were still clasped between them, and Peeta squeezed hers. Another silence fell, but it was like the one the previous night: relaxed, restful.

 

“Do you have a busy day planned?” Peeta asked, pushing his empty coffee mug aside.

 

“Not really. Some problems I should follow up on at work, but the weekend guys are probably handling it with no worries. They’re great.”

 

“Let me cook for you tonight, then. I had been planning to impress you with something much better than soup.”

 

“Better?” she smiled. “I was hoping for best.”

 

“That’s for after supper.”

 

“I bet you blush all over.”

 

“Seven?”

 

“Seven it is.”

Chapter Text

After a few calls to the park to be certain that the weekend managers had everything under control – they did, as usual – Katniss flopped onto her couch and settled in for a glorious, lazy Saturday of junk food, intermittent napping, and Netflix.

 

Prim phoned shortly after lunch, demanding to know why she hadn’t been contacted immediately and given all available updates. Katniss did her best to sound aggrieved that her privacy was being invaded, but she couldn’t help grinning as she told her sister about the night before. Most of it, anyway.

 

“What are you wearing tonight?” Prim asked. “Oh, you have to wear that little orange sundress with the swirly skirt. It looks so good on you, and it’s ridiculously cute.”

 

“I’ll think about it,” she said. She didn’t have to think about it; she was definitely going with the sundress.

 

“I’m really happy for you, Katniss. Peeta is the best. I’ve always had kind of a little crush on him from working with him on stuff in the past.”

 

“What kind of stuff?” Katniss smiled.

 

“Oh my God, shut up. Call me tomorrow. Do not make me call you. Is that understood?”

 

* * *

 

At 6:55, Katniss stood on Peeta’s doorstep and breathed in deeply before reaching out to ring the bell. Whatever he was cooking, it smelled divine. The door opened to reveal Peeta looking even more delicious than the food smelled. This, combined with the look on his face as his eyes took her in, sent a happy thrill through her.

 

The moment she walked in, she slid her arm up around his neck and used her free hand to press him back against the closed door as she kissed him. If he was taken aback, his recovery was admirably fast. He rested his hands on her hips and pulled her body against his, returning her kiss eagerly.

 

“You look,” he mumbled, running his lips along her jaw, “incredible.”

 

His hands slid down to her ass, and she jumped up into his arms and latched her legs around his waist. “Want you,” she managed to say as she tilted her head back to give him more access to her throat.

 

Peeta turned them around so that she was the one pressed against the door. “Like this?” he asked, pressing his hips into hers so that his erection was exactly where she wanted it – plus some layers of clothes that she did not want.

 

“Mmm, please. Please, Peeta.”

 

He stepped back slightly and unlocked her legs. “Dinner first,” he said with a wink. The bastard actually winked.

 

“You fucking tease!”

 

He laughed. “It’s not my fault you attacked me without so much as a ‘hello.’ Here I’ve been working hard all afternoon to make you this meal, and it turns out you only want me for my body!”

 

“Don’t flatter yourself,” she grumbled, straightening her dress.

 

His fingers slid under her chin and brought her mouth back to his, softly, briefly. “Maybe I want you to eat first because you’ll need to keep your strength up,” he smiled. “And maybe I don’t want our first time to be a quickie against my front door.” Katniss stuck out her bottom lip in a playful pout, and Peeta quickly captured it between his own lips, sucking on it slightly as he pulled away. “Yes,” he murmured, “I definitely want to take my time with you.”

 

“Well, you’re doing a fine job.”

 

He led her to his formal dining room, and it was fancy as hell.  He’d arranged their two place settings across the narrow width at one end of the table. Was that a duck sitting in the center? Yellow dandelion flowers were scattered over the tablecloth, making her heart clench.

 

“Mademoiselle,” he said in a truly terrible French accent, holding out her chair.

 

“I feel like everything’s about to start dancing and singing ‘Be Our Guest,’” she noted as she sat down.

 

Peeta picked up a knife and started carving the duck. “Are you saying I’m the Beast?”

 

“No, you’d be Lumiere.”

 

“Ahhh, so you’re that hot, buxom, little feather duster.”

 

“Well, not buxom. Sorry.”

 

“No,” he agreed, lowering slices of meat to her plate. “But perfect.”

 

“What if I don’t eat duck?” she asked.

 

“That would be unfortunate. But your sister assured me that you do.” He met her eyes and smiled.

 

“That traitor.”

 

“Please help yourself to whatever you want,” he said. “I made several different sides and vegetables. And be sure to leave room for dessert.”

 

“Peeta, this is beautiful, really,” she told him sincerely. “If it tastes half as wonderful as it smells, I’ll be in heaven.”

 

He smiled one of his glorious, obnoxious, sun-god smiles and sat down across from her. “Be sure to try a cheese bun. I think you’ll love those.”

 

“If it has ‘cheese’ in the name, I’m sure I will.”

 

“I could melt some Velveeta to pour over the duck.”

 

Katniss laughed – more of a guffaw, really, to her chagrin. “Next time?”

 

They loaded their plates and set about the pleasant task of devouring a well-made meal. And fuck, was it well-made. Katniss got seconds of the duck, and then she got thirds. She ate several cheese buns. And she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t turned on by the way Peeta watched her enjoy her food.

 

“All right,” she announced at long last, slumping back in her chair. “I’m ready for dessert.”

 

“Maybe we could eat dessert later,” Peeta said quietly.

 

Their eyes met, and Katniss stood up, walked around to his side, and slid into his lap. She leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his neck as she ran her hands up over his chest and shoulders. “Got something else in mind, Peeta?” she asked. He didn’t reply, but his hands found their home on her hips and held on. She kissed her way up his neck and starting undoing the buttons of his crisp blue shirt. She nibbled his earlobe and drew away slightly to look at his face. “You’re not teasing me again, are you?”

 

He shook his head.

 

She pushed his shirt down off his arms and tossed it aside, then pulled up his white undershirt. She couldn’t wait to get her hands on his chest again. Solid, warm, strong, sexy as hell – just like all of him, really. Reaching behind her back, she unzipped her dress and let the shoulders fall loosely around her arms as she leaned forward again to kiss him.

 

Peeta stood up suddenly, taking Katniss with him, and she squealed at the surprise of it. Her arms and legs were wrapped around him like vines as he carried her upstairs. When he set her down next to his bed, she shimmied out of her dress, watching him watch her. Watching him blush in that way that made her want to cuddle him and fuck him simultaneously.

 

He turned her around and unbraided her hair, carding his fingers through it before he draped it over one of her shoulders and feathered his lips over the other. Katniss shivered. She turned to face him again and reached for his belt buckle.

 

“What can I do to make this special for you, Katniss?” he asked as he helped her pull his belt out through the loops.

 

“Are you asking if I want candles and rose petals?” Her hands started working on the button and fly of his pants.

 

He smiled a little sheepishly. “In a way, I guess I am. Everyone has sort of an idea of how they want their first time to be, and I’d like to give you that if I can.” He stepped out of his pants and pulled her close to him, running a couple of fingers along the ridge of her clavicle. “For some people, it’s a certain person… I can’t do anything about that, really. Or a certain location. A position. Fast or slow. Whips and chains, I don’t know. I just want this to be as close to perfect as I can make it for you.”

 

Katniss unhooked the front clasp of her bra and let it fall down between them. “Here’s what I want for my perfect first time,” she said, hooking her arms under his shoulders and pressing her breasts to the solid wall of his chest. Was that moan hers or his? Or was it both of them? “I want to have sex with you. That’s it.”

 

She lay back on the bed and pulled him over her, arching up into his hands as they covered her breasts. He kissed her sweetly and raised his head to look down at her. “Can I go down on you?” he asked.

 

“If you… want?” She hoped she didn’t sound like a squeamish, immature teenager, but she truly had never understood why a man would want to do that, or how she could ever escape her own inhibitions enough to enjoy it.

 

“I want very much,” he replied, kissing a path to her breasts and sucking a nipple into his mouth. He slid his hand down into her panties to caress her the way he had the night before, and when he moved to take them off, Katniss raised her hips to help him.

 

Before she knew it, a man’s face was between her legs, his nose nuzzling her inner thigh, his mouth dusting little kisses, and she was whimpering, “Please…”

 

“I’m the one begging you,” he said, and then his lips and tongue were dancing over her in a kiss more intense and intimate and pleasurable than she had ever imagined. His eyes were on her face, and she thought she might combust from the hotness of that alone.

 

Her hands were in his hair, and she suddenly realized, much to her horror, that she was pulling it. Hard. And slamming her hips up into the poor man’s face. “I’m sorry,” she panted, covering her face with her hands.

 

Peeta stopped and looked up. “What’s wrong?”

 

“I didn’t realize I was pulling your hair and… and… humping your face.” She winced. “I feel really stupid. I’m sorry…”

 

“Katniss, there’s nothing to be sorry for. Both of those things are fucking hot. You won’t hurt me.” He grinned. “By the way, you taste so good, I never want to eat anything else.”

 

She gaped at him, but before she could reply, his mouth was back on her, and she was holding his angelic face and devilish tongue to her body in a way that felt vulgar and thrilling.

 

Her orgasm was stronger and hit her faster than it had the night before. (Did orgasms get easier with practice?) When Peeta crawled his way back up her body and kissed her, she tasted herself. And she liked it. Quite a lot, actually.

 

“I do taste good,” she mumbled against his lips, and that made him groan in a way that rumbled through her all the way to her toes. She reached between them and cupped the bulge in his boxers. “Do you taste that good?”

 

He gasped and laughed at the same time. “I don’t think so. But don’t sample it right this minute if you want me to – what was it? – deflower you.”

 

She laughed with him and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Oh, all right. But I do want to.” With her fingers, she gently brushed some hair back from his eyes. “I kind of want to do everything with you.”

 

“I kind of want to do everything with you, too,” he smiled. “You ready?”

 

She nodded. “I want this. You.” Peeta reached over to his nightstand, opened the top drawer, and took out a condom. She watched as he opened it, then she laid her hand over his. “Can I…?”

 

“Yeah,” he said. He pushed his boxers down over his hips and kicked them aside. Katniss couldn’t help but stare. When she finally lifted her gaze back up to Peeta’s face, he was blushing furiously. “Okay?” he asked. “They’re not the most attractive things, I know, but…”

 

“I love it,” she blurted. What the actual fuck, Katniss? “Um… can we pretend I didn’t say that?”

 

“Are you kidding? I’m going to remember this moment for the rest of my life.”

 

She laughed and slapped his chest. “Ass!”

 

She reached between them, took him in hand – relishing the way his teeth dug into his lower lip – and rolled the condom smoothly down over him. Peeta took a bottle of lube from the nightstand and coated himself with it generously, then massaged some onto her.

 

“Ready?” he asked, stroking a thumb tenderly over her cheek. “I wasn’t really kidding about remembering this for the rest of my life.” A smart comment dangled on the tip of her tongue. Dangled by just its fingertips, struggling not to fall out. “I know that’s corny,” he said.

 

“No,” she said. “It’s sweet. You’re sweet.”

 

It felt surprisingly good to return sincere feelings with sincerity of her own. Maybe Peeta would draw that out of her more often. Sincerity and orgasms.

 

She wrapped her legs around him and pulled him close as he guided himself inside her. It felt uncomfortable, but it didn’t hurt. “Oh,” she breathed out.

 

“Okay?” he asked. He moved his arms under her head so that he cradled her to him.

 

Katniss nodded. “Yeah. This feels good. The closeness of it.”

 

He leaned forward to kiss her. “Tell me if something feels bad or if something could be better. I’m going to come no matter what, so tell me how to make it good for you.”

 

“It’s already good,” she said.

 

“Then we’re going for better. Best. Right?”

 

“Right,” she smiled.

 

He started to move in and out of her, and she sensed that he was being overly careful, overly gentle. It was good, but she knew it could be better. Fuck that, it could be amazing.

 

“Faster,” she said, tightening her legs around him. “Harder.”

 

Peeta followed her directions and slid his hand between them to help her along even more. Amazing was definitely the word for it.

 

“Katniss, you… fuck,” he panted.

 

“Peeta!” she cried out as her body clenched his and the tide of pleasure washed over her. Was this the rush of oxytocin or whatever that made virgins fall in love with their “first”? If so, then yeah, it was strong as hell. “Oh, Peeta…”

 

He followed her with a shudder, falling heavily over her. She loved that. She trailed her fingernails up and down his back slowly.

 

“This was perfect,” she said. “Thank you.”

 

“First time it’s ever been perfect for me, too,” he said, his breath hot on her shoulder. “Because it was you.”

 

“Are you bullshitting me, Peeta Mellark?”

 

“Are there fools out there who even try to bullshit you, Katniss Everdeen?”

 

She smiled up at the ceiling. “No,” she said. “Now, about that dessert you mentioned… does it actually exist, or was this meant to distract me and make me forget about it?”

 

“The dessert actually exists. If you’re in the mood for another orgasm, we can go have some of it now.”

 

“All right,” she said. “I’m sold.”

 

THE END