AN: I apologize for the delay. I had some other things come up and hit a road block with the smut in this chapter (YES THERE'S SMUT!) which took a while for me to break through. I hope you guys enjoy this chapter and hopefully the next one won't take nearly as long to update :)
Johanna is uncharacteristically quiet after Haymitch tells her the news. She rolls the bag of pine needles Katniss gave to her over and over in her hand, but otherwise sits completely still. Haymitch offers her a drink of his whisky, something he swiped as his own personal 'thank you' gift from the English, and she graciously accepts, taking a long swig. "Everyone I love is dead…" she mutters.
"Jo," Gale begins, resting his hand on her shoulder.
In an instant, she stiffens and brushes away the tears that stain her cheeks. "Mine won't be the only one, they'll be attacking up and down the frontier. The others here have families out there, too. We can't...we've got to talk to Crane. Heavensbee promised us we'd be allowed back to our homes if this were to happen."
Katniss looks at Haymitch and frowns. "We did, as soon as we got here. But he either refused to believe it or has no intention of keeping Heavensbee's word. My vote would be on the latter."
"Then we'll just have to make him believe it," Johanna snaps. "If the others catch word of what happened, they'll desert before sunrise. England is still the tyrannical overlord. Not even the French can change that fact."
Haymitch puts his hand up. "Enough,"
"No," she continues, "Snow's arm may be long but even he can't keep his hold on us for long. And if they continue to let our people be murd-"
"Enough," Haymitch says with finality.
Johanna shrinks back slightly, but the anger remains all over her face.
"Desertion will get you shot," Katniss reminds her. "Even this conversation is grounds for sedition. They'll beat you, Jo, if not hang you."
"That's a risk we'd all take for our families," she says. "Isn't it?" She stares pointedly at Gale, who averts his eyes. "I'll call the others, we'll meet again tonight, decide what to do. This is our decision," she says as Katniss opens her mouth to argue the point, "and we'll accept the consequences, whatever they may be."
Katniss closes her lips into a thin line, annoyed at her friend's recklessness in this situation. And at Gale for seemingly agreeing with and encouraging it. The Masons were friends and near family for them all, they were all grieving still. But to let Johanna go off half-cocked with a plan that could get her killed as well was too much.
She pushes herself up and walks away from the group, ignoring Gale's calls for her to return. She waves him off, needing space and air and to be away from it. She understood Johanna's anger, she had enough when her own family died, but vengeance wouldn't bring them back. It wouldn't bring any of them back. It would only destroy them further.
No one pays much attention to Katniss as she wanders through the fort, passing by civilians and militia alike. Some nod their greeting, having known her or her kin previously, but most say nothing.
"Ouch! I'm sorry, Miss…oh…hello, Katniss."
Katniss steadies herself against the wall and holds out her other arm to help the woman she just ran into. "Hello, Annie. I'm sorry, I…I must not have been paying attention."
"Oh it's no worry," Annie answers, brushing a stray piece of hair from her face. "I need to start paying attention when I leave our quarters." They both go quiet, unsure what else to say to one another. This is the longest conversation the two women have had since they met, never having had reason to speak before today. "Are you hungry?" Annie asks.
"Because Peeta's in the kitchens. And I'm sure he could fix you something…if you were hungry…or something…" Annie says with a smirk and a shrug.
Katniss tips her head to the side, scrunching her eyebrows. "I…"
"You look a bit stressed. I've found that food helps in times of stress." She points down the hall. "Kitchen is that way, down the stairs and to the left. It's hard to miss." Without another word, she turned and left Katniss alone in the dimly lit hall.
It had been a while since she had a good meal. And Crane promised provisions.
It turns out, Annie was right, it is almost impossible to miss the kitchen. The smells wafted all the way through the lower level of the fort and the sounds of cooking followed soon after. She leans in the open doorway, watching the synchronization of the workers as they prepare whatever meal they're working on. Off to the side, away from the majority of the hustle, she finds Peeta. His shirt is rolled up past his elbows and he's kneading dough, alone in his own world. He's got flour all over his hands and halfway up his arms, the muscles in his exposed forearms flex as he works the dough over and over on the table. Every so often, she gets a peak of his tongue as it slips out to wet his lips. He looks calm, relaxed, not at all like he's in a military fort that's under attack from an army that only needs a few days to overtake them.
"Can we help you, Miss?"
One of the cook's questions breaks her of her hypnotic gaze. "Oh, no, I…I must have just gotten lost or…"
"Katniss?" Peeta looks up from his work at her words. He smiles, perhaps bigger than he should, and wipes his hands off of his pants, leaving flour prints on his thighs. "Hello. What are you doing down here?" It's not accusatory, as she might expect it to be, having been caught staring at him unabashedly, but curious.
"I, um, well, Annie sent me down. She said I looked…peckish, I believe is the word she used."
Peeta laughs and waves her over to his table. "She'll be a great mother someday, always fussing about over other people. I can't tell you how many times she nearly broke cov- um, never mind." He flushes at his babbling. "Are you? Hungry, I mean."
"Oh, no. I don't want to be a disturbance to your work," she answers quickly, though her rumbling stomach argued vehemently. She covers her stomach with her hands and smiles ruefully. "I'm sure we still have food in our packs."
"Nonsense," he says, using a damp cloth to finish cleaning the flour off his hands. He drapes the cloth over the dough he was just working with. "Besides, I've nothing to do until the dough rises. Keep me company."
Time passes relative quickly when she's in his company and in what feels like nothing, he tells her his bread is ready to bake. She tries to hide her disappointment, it was a perfectly enjoyable time and she isn't looking forward to going back to Johanna or Gale. Her ability to mask her emotions must be slipping because he's quick to ask if she has anywhere she has to be or if she'd like to stay for a while. And she's just as quick to accept.
"Tell me about your family," she says, cutting an apple into slices and popping them into her mouth.
"Well, I'm the youngest of three boys. We all worked in our father's bakery until we came of age and joined the military for our civil service. My brothers...one is still part of the Royal Army and the other went back to the bakery."
"And what about you?"
He looks up at her. "What about me?"
"What are you planning on doing when you've completed your 'civil service' thing?" She asks, tossing him a piece of apple.
"I am done," he answers, catching the apple in his left hand. She quirks an eyebrow which makes him laugh. "What?"
"It's just, you seem too young to be finished already," she says. "The leftant is older than you and he's still involved."
Peeta grins and nods his head. "You are very perceptive, Katniss. Finnick is older than I am, but we had different...duties, I suppose."
"What were your duties?"
He looks down at the chunk of apple he's been passing from hand to hand, then back up at her. "So inquisitive. Come along, the staff will be preparing the evening meal for the troops." He holds his hand out to help her off the counter.
"Thank you, Mister Mellark-"
"Peeta," he corrects. "Please, Peeta."
Katniss smiles. "Peeta. I should return to Haymitch and Gale before they worry."
"I doubt they worry too much about you," he says, his thumb brushing over hers.
She aches to leave their hands together, to stay interlocked for eternity, but she knows she can't. It's impossible. It's improbable. It's far too intimate and unnerving. And dangerous. "Still…"
"Still you need to go," he finishes with a sad smile. "Well you know where I'll be if you'd like to keep me company tomorrow."
"I'd very much enjoy that."
She looks back over her shoulder as she leaves the kitchen, wondering just how she's supposed to make it out of here without him.
"Where have you been?"
"Hello to you too, Gale," Katniss says, brushing past her friend's harsh gaze.
"I asked you a question." He grabbed her arm and turned her toward him. "You just got up and left without telling us where you were heading."
She shrugged her arm free. "I needed some space. I'm back now."
"Clearly," he answered dryly. "Come on, Jo's waiting for us."
She rolled her eyes but followed him to where a large number of militia members were crowding around wreckage from the day's battle. Gale stood by Haymitch and Johanna near what must be the head of the group, but Katniss hung back, clinging to the shadows around them. She didn't want a mutiny. She didn't want any of this.
"Anyone caught leaving the fort could be shot, so everyone make their own decision. Those who are going, we leave tomorrow night. Make your preparations."
She doesn't sleep. She claims it's the fighting that keeps her up. It never stops here, the fighting. The army and militia rotate shifts so there are always men on patrol. And women, as Katniss has learned. Many women who are just as, if not more, capable with a gun than the men. But it's not the fighting that keeps her awake tonight, it's her own thoughts.
They aren't supposed to still be here - her, Gale, and Haymitch. The fort was a temporary pause to replenish their supply before taking off again. But now Gale has this desertion. And Haymitch has his white liquor. And she...
She could leave with Johanna and the others. Take off into the dark night back to...back to wherever. Gale would go with her if she asked him too. As would Haymitch, even if he did complain the entire time. But what of Peeta? Would he join them, desert his homeland and risk the wilderness? Would he insist on bringing Annie? And Finnick, who so clearly had fallen for girl, would never let her go alone.
Katniss. Gale. Haymitch. Peeta. Annie. Finnick. The list was too long.
The fort feels different at night. There aren't nearly as many people milling about or going about their business. The stars barely peak through the cloud of gunpowder that settles over them, but it is enough for her keen eyes to pick up on. Enough for her to walk through the halls as quietly as she would in the day. She's not heading anyone in particular, not looking for anyone or anything, but she finds herself drawn back to the hall where she ran into Annie earlier that day. Her quarters. Hers and Peeta's. Katniss isn't sure how she remembers it's the same hallway, but she's certain it is.
A low light slips out through the cracks of a door, the door Annie came out of. Is one of them still awake? Even if it was Annie, company on this lonely night would be nice. She quietly knocks on the door, barely audible over the gunfire outside. It's no use.
She swallows hard at the sight of him, shirtless and only in his breeches, she finds it difficult to speak. She's seen men without their shirts before, well-toned men, but she finds his chest particularly intriguing. Pale skin with a light dusting of blond hair that darkens as it leads down to the waistband of his breeches.
"Kantiss?" He draws her attention back up to his face. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm sorry," she says quietly, taking a step back, "I couldn't sleep and I was just out and…um…I shouldn't be here."
"It's okay," he says, concern etched on his face. "You couldn't sleep?"
"Why are you awake?" She asks, attempting to regain control of herself. "Um, I mean…"
"I couldn't sleep either," he admits, tilting his head toward the sky. "The bombs bring back some, um, unpleasant memories I'm afraid."
He nods. "Of sorts, yes. I suppose that's quite a weak trait in a man, but-"
"No!" She exclaims before covering her mouth with her hand, both at the volume and intensity of her outburst. "No, you…you can't control your dreams. There are nights where Haymitch does not sleep. And…and he's not…weak."
"Haymitch seems to be a fine man, so thank you for the reassurance," he says with the half smile she's come to enjoy. "Would you, um, would you like to come in? Or is that…"
"What about Annie?"
He ducks his head back to look into the room. "She's a heavy sleeper. Unless you're planning on being exceptionally loud I doubt you'll disturb her."
Her face flushes at the thought of being exceptionally loud with Peeta, even though she's sure that's not what he intended. She had enjoyed their time together in the kitchen and had somehow wound up outside his door – of all the doors in the fort. "Yes, I would…I would like to."
He opened the door a little wider to allow her in and led the way to his small bed. She crawled in first, sitting closest to the open window, curling into his side as he joined her. It was hot outside, stuffy with the added smoke and heat from the gunfire. And his bare skin radiates warmth of its own. She should be hot and uncomfortable, but instead it feels perfect, wrapped in his arms.
She wakes up before the sun. "I should go," she tells him. "Before anyone realizes…"
He grumbles something about staying like this forever before reluctantly loosening his hold. "Come visit me later?"
She smiles before she leaves. "Of course."
"Thank you, Katniss."
Katniss spends the next day with Peeta in the kitchen again. They don't talk about the night before, about how they slept better than they had in weeks. They don't talk about how it felt to wake up in each other's arms. They keep it safe, keep it shallow. Favorite colors, funny childhood stories, anything and everything other than what they want to talk about. But Katniss doesn't mind, she enjoys the easy, slightly one-sided conversations with Peeta. He likes to talk, it seems, and she likes to listen to his musical accent, with his trilled r's that he says comes from his mother's Welsh heritage. He never pushes her to tell him stories or answer his questions, but always watches her so intently when she does. It makes her feel naked and vulnerable but it doesn't scare her like it should.
"How long are you staying?" She asks him before she leaves for the night to help protect those who are going back to their homesteads. "Here, I mean."
He pursed his lips into a thin line. "I don't know."
"If…if we, Gale, Haymitch, and I, if we were to leave soon…"
"Tell me when," he answers instantly. "I'd leave tonight if that meant…"
She nods her head. "I'll see you tonight?"
"You know where I'll be."
They keep this arrangement, spending days talking in the kitchens while Peeta works and nights in silence in each other's arms. Both comfort the pair in entirely new and different ways. So when Katniss doesn't knock on his door that night, Peeta goes looking for her. He hasn't been out of his quarters or the kitchens for the duration of his stay, but all British forts are basically set up the same, so it's easy enough for him to traipse about without getting too terribly lost. He quickly finds his way to where they arrived, where most of the fighting is occurring, and scans through the crowds for her. She told him that day that the three often stay with those they know within the militia, but in the dark, with only the glow of gunfire lighting the way, it is difficult to distinguish between them. He is about to give up, believing that perhaps her question about leaving soon meant she already had, when he spots her, sitting up near the top of the fort, black against the pale moon that shines above her.
"You should be getting some sleep," she says when Peeta is only a yard behind her. He pauses until she turns toward him with a tired smile on her face.
"Says who?" He jokes, sitting beside her and offering her the blanket he grabbed from his room. It's hot out, stuffy still, but there is a breeze that blows up here that brings a slight chill. "You know they're fighting on the other side."
She follows his gaze to her bow, with an arrow already notched and ready for her to fire if necessary. "Different battles are being waged all around."
Peeta nods. "So you're a lookout?" He chuckles at her shocked expression. "I don't know that I blame those who left," he continues in a quiet voice. "If I had family out there…"
"You'd desert? Be a traitor to your country? To your duty?" She struggles with the words, with the very notion. It's different for her, she has no real family to protect anymore. And even if she did, she would never have joined the fight for the oppressor. But Peeta, he was one of them, a true citizen of Britain, with deeper ties than anyone in the militia.
He takes a deep breath and stares out into the woods. "You saw what it's like out there, Katniss, the likelihood of anyone in his fort surviving to the end of this battle is remote. If it were me, I wouldn't want them to change me, to turn me into some kind of monster that values loyalty to a tyrannical crown over those I love." He's not angry as he says these words, but definite, steadfast, resolved. As if he's thought of this before and has struggled with how to maintain some sort of identity and purity of self.
It's a thought Katniss has never considered before. The difference in loyalties. How war may change a person in such a way that they wouldn't recognize themselves. "Do you think you'll survive this?"
He lets out a soft chuckle. "I'm afraid not. I don't think I was ever a contender for survival in this world. Not like you." He reaches over and rubs his thumb over her cheekbone. It's an intimate gesture.
"We could survive this together," she says in a hoarse whisper. "If you'd like."
He leans in, cupping her face with his hand, and presses his lips against hers. When he pulls away, she struggles to catch her breath. They're still close, close enough for Katniss to see the dark rings of blue that outline his pupils, for Peeta to count the freckles that splay out across the bridge of her nose, for them both to still feel the heat from the other's lips. She misses his lips already, so she leans forward to kiss him again. Her fingers dig into the thin fabric of his shirt. His hands slip down to wrap around her waist, pulling her onto his lap in one fluid motion. She parts her lips in invitation and his slides his tongue into her mouth.
She gasps into him, having never kissed a man quite like this before. He can't breathe without her.
"Peeta," she pants, pulling her lips away and resting her forehead against his. He opens his eyes and stares up into hers.
"My Katniss," he answers with a smile, rubbing small circles on her back with his thumbs. "You are everything I never knew I wanted in this world. And I want to spend every fleeting night I have left on this earth with you. If you'll allow it."
Katniss isn't good with words like he is. Especially when his words throw her off guard the way they do. She wants to tell him she feels the same, that she can't imagine going back to her life with Haymitch and Gale if Peeta isn't a part of it. That she needs him, maybe even more than he thinks he needs her. Not just in this moment, not just for the night, but for as long as she can think. She needs him to survive.
She's not good with words, but she's good with actions. So she kisses him again, hungry with need and desire. She pulls up at the bottom of his linen nightshirt, running her fingers over his exposed skin.
His hands move to grab her wrists, pausing her motions. "Are you sure?"
If it's possible, his eyes shine even brighter at her affirmation. "Then we should do it right." He kisses her, but slower, more precise. When she tries to hurry him, he stops and waits for her to realize what he's doing. She lolls her head to the side and he trails his lips down her neck, licking and nipping at the pressure points that make her grind into him and let out little whimpers.
"Can I?" She asks quietly, bringing her lips to the same points on his neck. His soft sighs encourage her to continue as she slips her tongue out to trace his skin. It makes her everything inside her burn for more.
So when his hands move from her side to the front of her breeches, untying the laces that hold them up, she doesn't fight. She inhales at the touch on her lower abdomen, but when he begins to pull away, she sucks on the sensitive skin behind his ear, a spot she can instantly feel he loves. His hand slides back down to the soft thatch of curls between her legs and she backs away at his exhale.
"What?" She asks, worried that she may have already done something wrong.
He looks up at her with a curious expression. "You're not…not wearing any…"
She scrunches her eyebrows. "Any what?"
"Anything," he says in a hushed whisper, nodding down to her breeches. "Under."
"Oh," she exhales with relief. "No, we often don't. Is that unusual?"
He smiles and leans forward to kiss her. "I forget how different our worlds are sometimes. Unusual, yes, but not entirely unwelcomed as far as I'm concerned." Once his fingers find their way to her center, her back arches, pushing her chest toward his face.
Peeta takes that as a sign and pulls her shirt up, exposing her bare chest. She looks down at him through hooded eyes, waiting for his response. She's not sure what she expects, no one has ever really looked at her breasts but she's certain that they're nothing all that noteworthy. But the way he's looking at her calms all her nerves and makes her anxious all at the same time.
Her nerves are on fire. His mouth attaches to one of her breasts just as he inserts a finger into her. His hum burns through her skin and she bucks into him, her fingers gripping his blond curls for stability. He releases her breast and pulls her down for a kiss, muffling the moan she releases when he slips another finger inside.
He loves the way she feels around him, the sighs and whimpers she makes, the way she moves her hips as she learns her own body's signs and desires.
She slides her hand down to the tightening in his pants and he swears he could explode right then. "I want to," she tells him, kissing him to confirm her own feelings. "I want you." She fumbles with the laces on his own breeches, pulling them off with some help from him. Katniss has seen a man's penis before, but never like this, hard and swollen. She lightly traces her fingers over the shaft, unaware of how badly she's teasing him until she looks up and sees the grimace on his face. "Bad?"
"Oh no," he answers with a near violent head shake. "Good. So good."
She licks her lips and shifts her hips forward, brushing her clit over him. "Oh," she gasps, repeating the movement over and over. "Is that?"
"Katniss," Peeta groans. "If you don't stop, I'm going to – oooh."
"What do I do?" She asks, pausing long enough for him to open his bright blue eyes again. "How do we do this?"
He pushes a strand of hair out of her face, pulling her in for another kiss. "Lift up for a second." He helps move her into position right above him and with both hands on her hips, he lowers her down until the tip of his cock rests at her entrance. "Go slow at first," he warns, "and set your own pace."
She nods and bites her lower lip as she moves down, feeling more stretched and full than she ever thought was possible. She pauses when she feels resistance, but his nod below her gives her strength to lower herself completely. The pain is nearly unbearable at first and she pauses, gripping his shoulders tightly and squeezing her eyes shut.
"Breathe," he tells her through gritted teeth. It's taking all of his self-control not to lose himself inside her right now. Or worse, to take total control over her. It takes a few minutes, though it feels like a lifetime, before she starts to move again. Slowly at first, she picks up her pace as the pain turns into a dull ache into an unknown pleasure that she desires more of. Once she sets her rhythm, he pushes up into her. He lays back, bringing her down with him. Their arms stretch out beyond his head, fingers intertwining tightly as they move together under the war sky. Love is born in rebellion, fire burning brighter than the gunfire below.
"You have stolen my heart," she tells him, resting her head against his chest as they come down from their chemical and physical high.
"And you mine," he tells her, holding her tightly. "It will always be yours, Katniss. For as long as you'd have it." He reaches down for the blanket and wraps it around them both. "Are you alright?"
Katniss nods. "Sore," she admits. "Are you?"
"Perfect. Like I could freeze this moment and stay in it forever." He runs his hands through her hair which has come free of its braid.
"I'd allow that," she answers, stifling a yawn. "Peeta? How did you know about the desertion?"
He clenches his jaw and breathes deeply. "I was a spy," he says into her hair. "I suppose, in a way, I still am."