A/N: This is one of the many different ways I envision P/K reunion after And So We Run Redux. Many thanks to Ceylon205 for beta.
You look like a thousand suns
I want to be the only one left when your day is done
Oh how long till your surrender? – Your Surrender, Neon Trees
Peeta's fingers slip on the water tap as he twists it to the off position. The water makes a glugging sound as the pressure dies. He reaches through the curtain for a towel hanging on a hook just outside the stall and quickly pats himself down before swinging his legs over the side of the tub, testing the feel of the ground under his feet. His leg feels solid enough, but the floor's slippery. He steps gingerly onto the sweating floor, wishing he had a shower mat. Oh well. Peeta wraps a towel around his waist and takes his time brushing his teeth under a curtain of steam that fills the small space.
It feels good to do these simple tasks on his own, especially after the confinement in the Capitol. Even after Gale and his team from the Underground saved him, the staff here just locked him up again in the hospital while his leg healed.
And to make sure that he didn't do anything crazy. Peeta doesn't know what they expected him to do, escape the infirmary to go hijack the ovens on Level Three? Bump people off with the cunning use of bread? The implications themselves were driving him spare.
Katniss helped through the intense supervision as much as she could, but…sometimes Peeta feels like the war outside between the Capitol and the districts isn't real. Or not as real as the war waging in Katniss's own heart.
He sets his toothbrush down, needing a new distraction. He stares at the smooth skin on his face. Almost two years now and still not one hair. No peach fuzz. Not even an ingrown one. He opens the mirror door that hides the medicine cabinet and picks up the razor blade and the can of shaving gel. It's for décor, really.
The trouble is, he muses while he lathers the gel between his hands, that Katniss has been with him every day since the rescue, but she hasn't been present. Like her mind drifts off or like she sits in the chair next to his bed, but scoots to the farthest edge away from him. Something gummed up the works. He doesn't know what. He doesn't know why. The first time he saw her that day when he waited for agonizing hours in the woods, she flew into his arms like she never wanted him to let her go. And he certainly didn't want to let go. Ever. Now they act companionable while stronger emotions simmer below the surface. She comes to him because she has to, he knows, because no matter what, she's drawn to the boy with the bread (or whatever name she's given him). He sort of thought he'd turned into more than that.
Peeta grits his teeth as the same question resurfaces, So what happened?
The razor cuts through the foam on his face in familiar lines, but without the familiar tug he used to feel when he let his beard go a day or two too long.
Saying he's not disappointed would be a lie. He thought all the big questions were answered. How many times do they have to almost die before they stop getting sent back to the start line in their relationship?
That will be the day, when Katniss sits down for some DTR.
Peeta finishes his morning prep before reaching for his cane and limping out into his narrow bedroom. Not hospital room. Bedroom. It's one of those studio getups provided by the Underground. The air of the bedroom feels cold after incubating in the warm, humid air of the bathroom. He shakes the dripping water out of his hair and tries to comb it down with his free hand. He's still clad in the soaked towel, which sticks to his legs.
He limps toward the new dresser that is full of new clothes. All gray. God, he misses color. But when he looks up after running his hand through his hair, he sees Katniss sitting on his narrow bed with her legs crossed in front of her, the dresser quickly forgotten. She wasn't there before he took the shower and he never heard her come in.
They stare at each other for a moment. It might be a trick of the light, but the room seems more blue than grey when she's here. He could almost imagine that this place feels like home. That, he knows, has nothing to do with the lighting.
On a slim side table, Peeta notices a tray of food.
"I let myself in," she says unnecessarily, eyeballing her knees. She gestures to the tray "There's your breakfast."
Peeta gives her a grateful smile. "Thanks."
Then he remembers he's only got on the towel, which has slipped down over his hips. He tries tucking the knot under a little tighter. He's not embarrassed, not after wearing a singlet for wrestling. But, well, that's how Katniss is.
"How is it today?" she asks, gesturing to his right leg.
"Feels good to walk on my own," Peeta replies conversationally. He wonders if it's the towel that's making her act skittish or the issue they've been dancing around after her initial burst of enthusiasm when they were first reunited. It always comes back to the question of what they are now that the whole charade is over. He knows she cares about him. He's told her the truth in front of millions. So what does it all come to now in this strange new world?
Peeta clears his throat. "Er, I'll get dressed in the bathroom." He steps around the bed to get to the dresser. The cane makes a hollow chink sound on the stone floor.
"It's all right."
That's what Katniss says, but he notices she still looks away while he removes the damp towel, which he leaves in a heap on the floor, and reaches for the drawer containing his undergarments. Sometimes it feels like everything familiar to him has changed or been destroyed. But Peeta smiles to himself; despite all the variables, some things stay the same. Like Katniss's aversion to nudies.
She doesn't look up until he's pulled on a pair of drawstring trousers. Then she makes room for him to sit down on the bed once he's wearing a shirt. He props the cane up against the headboard.
"Hungry?" Katniss asks.
"Sure." Actually, he's very hungry. It's closer to lunch than it is to breakfast, but he's been having a hard time falling asleep at night. It's always been difficult for him to sleep in a new place. That being the case, he's had to scrape his body of the mattress the past couple mornings.
Katniss brings over the bowl of steaming oats, an apple and bread that they eat every morning down here.
"Prim snagged these for you." Katniss tosses him packets of sugar she's kept hidden in her pocket, then sits down opposite of him by the metal footboard.
"Thank you, Prim," he says wistfully as he tears open the precious sugar and pours it over the otherwise bland-as-sin oatmeal.
Katniss frowns. "The kitchen staff should tell her no once in a while."
"How can they when you can't?" Peeta laughs at the look of consternation that crosses her face.
"Eat your breakfast," she bosses, though her lips turn up in the corners.
Peeta digs in to the cooling meal, taking looks at her between spoonfuls like he's trying to sketch her every feature in absolute detail, but doesn't want her to know it.
The funny thing is, she's staring at him too, with a bewildered expression crinkling her face.
Peeta's eyebrows rise. "What?" he asks. "Do I have something on my face?"
Katniss leans toward him, sniffing the air. "You smell like shaving cream," she says incredulously.
"Um. Oh?" He purses his lips while she sniffs again. "How about that."
"If I didn't know any better…." Katniss reaches out, wrapping her fingers around his chin. "You didn't try to shave did you?"
Peeta glances sheepishly away. "Well, it's not like I'd be late for anything if I did."
"Peeta," she sighs gently, "it could be years before your facial hair starts to grow back."
"But it must eventually," Peeta says with a stubbornness he usually reserves for the moments when Katniss wants to do something incredibly stupid – like saving his life. He doesn't want to admit it, but it's kind of important to him to deal with five o'clock shadow. After the Hunger Games, he just wants to be normal. "Look at Haymitch."
Katniss grimaces like she'd rather not look at or think about Haymitch's scruffy mug. Or maybe she's hoping Peeta won't use him as a model to go by. "Look at Finnick," she interjects.
"I've already gotten an eyeful, thanks," Peeta replies with a laugh, remembering one particular morning in the arena. "Hey, speaking of unusual - you didn't braid your hair today," he points out.
Katniss fingers the ends of her hair self-consciously. "I was in a hurry."
A hopeful smile spreads over his face. "To be with me?"
"Sure." Then she half-heartedly grouses, "If I'd known you were going to sleep in so late…"
Peeta points to the area below his knee. "Invalid, remember? Sleeping in is one of the few privileges afforded to me."
She rewards him by rolling her eyes.
The conversation lapses as Peeta picks at his apple, sharing a slice with Katniss before tearing off all the crust around his toast. Even though she's had her breakfast already, Katniss eats that too. He's never cared much for crust himself and she can't bear to see food go to waste.
"You know, this is the first time we've had any real privacy since I got here," he muses after a time. "I always felt like a nurse might pop in at any moment when I stayed in the hospital."
"I know," she says grimly. "They're very…helpful there."
Peeta swirls the spoon around in the coagulating oats he didn't finish as he says carefully, "Now we can finally talk."
Katniss looks up from her hands, alarmed. Peeta figures she would. Talking isn't her thing. That's always been his department.
"What do you want to talk about?" she asks tentatively.
Peeta sets the tray on the floor next to the bath towel. He reaches for her hand to pull her next to him. For some reason the right words are suddenly difficult to find. He has so much to say and no economical way to word it. So he sits with her hand in his until she starts to fidget. He can sit and contemplate for hours, Katniss for only mere minutes.
"Well?" she murmurs.
Peeta jumps into the muddle in his head, hoping he'll figure it out as he goes. "I need to know—" the words stick in his throat. "The last time we were sort of alone in the arena, we – you said…"
"That I need you," she quotes with perfect clarity. Where did that come from?
He stares at her after the sudden switch in eloquence. "Yeah."
Katniss picks imaginary specks off of the bedspread. "What do you need to know beyond that?"
"Do you still need me?" he asks, glancing at her sideways. I need you.
The question seems to startle her. Katniss's eyes shift to the floor then back to his face. "Yes."
"So…." He scratches behind his ear. "What does that mean for us?"
Katniss backpedals. Not out loud, but he can see it on her face. She never liked being startled into a confession, or surrender; however you want to word it.
"Peeta," she says his name like he's just a memory. "I'm not sure that now's the right time…"
And so the war goes on. Peeta taps the back of his head against the wall in frustration.
"When is the right time?" he groans. "You said that while I was hospitalized. I'm out now."
"You're still weak."
Peeta makes a grumble-y noise in the back of his throat. "I'm fine now. What does this conversation have to do with my physical well-being? My mouth still works and so does yours." Then he looks faintly seasick as a new idea comes to mind. "You won't talk to me because of Gale."
Katniss jumps off the bed like he's threatened to throw something at her. "You know it has nothing to do with Gale," she huffs. "He spends every day with Madge in physical therapy sessions for her hand, not with me. And I'm here every day with you."
Peeta runs his hands down both sides of his thighs just to give them something to do. "Well, I've been gone for months. I don't know what's gone on around here," he points out. "I guess it would make sense. He's your best friend."
Katniss glares. "That's all he is. That's all he's ever been, Peeta." She takes another step, sidling toward the end of the bed. "I begged him to risk his life to rescue you – and you throw it in my face."
They stare at one another for a tense moment, his face a mask of shock, hers pink with hurt.
Peeta relents first. "I didn't know that. Don't be mad, Katniss," he pleads. "I'm sorry—"
"I'll take your tray back for you," she says hastily over his apology, when she really means she wants to leave before the conversation gets out of hand.
"Come on, Katniss –" Peeta has a moment of revelation as she darts toward the door. He's too slow to keep up with her, but canes have other uses. Like blocking Katniss's exit. It cuts through the air in front of her stomach, effectively stopping her in her tracks. Katniss stares down at the dull metal cylinder with stoic eyes, then they pin Peeta with the stare he's grown accustomed to.
"Don't go," he asks, not begging, but hoping. "Please."
Katniss deflates, looking older than she should. She waits for him to lower the cane before says, "What do you want, Peeta?"
Peeta pushes himself to the edge of the bed, then to his feet using the cane. He wants to be at eye-level, not talking up to her. "You," he says frankly. "Like I've said."
She gives him a sardonic look. He knows she thinks his blunt admissions of love seem too obvious not to be an act.
"You have me already," she says like it's a mundane detail, pointing at the floor. "I'm here."
"But you're not…just listen," he asks of her. He understands that maybe declarations of eternal love are a bit lofty for her right now, or maybe it's something else. He doesn't know for sure. He grasps for something smaller, but still meaningful that he can request that she'll be willing to grant him. Something that will lead to bigger things for them.
Peeta ruffles the hair fringing his forehead before saying, "You gave me a moment on the roof in the Capitol and a moment by the lake in the arena that I locked in my memory. Remember?"
Katniss nods slowly.
"I could paint both of those scenes perfectly," he continues. "So realistic you'd think we were back there sitting under the trees and twinkling lights, or with our hips side by side in the sand." His voice trips over itself here. "I don't want to draw them again, Katniss. I've done that over and over again in my head."
Katniss's face softens. Even though they're vastly different people, she's never been impervious to him. Therein lies his frustration. He knows she feels more than she's able to admit.
"What do you want?" she asks again.
Peeta settles heavily on the mattress as strong emotions leave him suddenly weary. Maybe she's right about this taking its toll on him, but now that he's got her attention he's not going to stop. "A new moment. A real one. No cameras. No imminent danger. Just us," he says
Even the straight set of her shoulders seems to relax. This is something she can grant him without too much risk. He knows she's thinking about those moments too, when they were happy and just present. Not playing a ruse. Not worrying about tomorrow. He knows he's reaching her because those memories are safe. No pressure. It makes her look like the girl he always imagined in his head. The carefree one that didn't have to raise her mother and sister or volunteer her life to save another's. It makes the backs of his eyes burn with the tenderness welling up in him toward her.
"Will you allow it?" he asks, just like he did the first time.
"Yes," she murmurs.
"Come here." Peeta holds out his hand to her.
She comes to stand between his legs, looking for something in his eyes. Her gaze slides down his button nose, to his lips. To his eyes again. Somehow, in the middle of this rock hovel, Katniss stills smells like clover and fresh water. Her scent makes him feel heady and refreshed and hungry for something without satisfaction. The good will he feels for people in general shifts to make room for something else. He's radiating with need to be near her. To be as essential to her as she is to him.
"We've waited a long time to find out what we want," Peeta says as his thumbs draw circles on the back of her hands.
"It's not that I don't know…I've known for a while. It's all I could think about while you were held in the Capitol," Katniss confesses. She squeezes her eyes shut, leaning into him. "It's just that I'm scared, Peeta. I think I always will be. You're here, but for how long?"
Peeta's lips part. Now the truth is out there, he needs to wrap his mind around it. He squeezes her hands. He knows she's experienced loss – extreme loss at a young age. He never fully appreciated just how long a person could hold onto something like that until he or she has to use fear as a shield.
"I'm not going anywhere. I promise." Peeta reaches out to wipe the moisture forming under her eyelashes. "Don't be afraid, Katniss," he whispers. "I can't stand it." In his mind, it's not right. She's the brave one.
That causes her eyes to open. With a small tremble in his fingers, he reaches for the long strand of black hair that's fallen over her shoulder. Her hair grows so fast, he thinks, even after the damage from the acid fog that made it brittle and breakable. That's his last image of her. Clad in her underclothes. Gritty. Hair shorn and full of fly-aways. The scabs on her skin. The salt smell mixing with whatever it is that makes her Katniss and no one else. He remembers the way her chapped lips felt beneath his own and the abandon in the way she kissed him that last night in the arena. Maybe she never would have said she needed him if the immediate reality had been less bleak. But she's said it again, here in this room.
"You can't promise that," she murmurs.
Peeta pushes Katniss away far enough so he can stand on his own two legs. Katniss reaches for his elbow to help, but he doesn't need it. He steps into her, grasping her hips. Her hands rest on his arms.
"Strictly off camera," he says. "I love you. More than anything. I promise I won't leave you alone."
Katniss swallows. "I…" Her lips remain parted as the sound dies in her throat.
"I know." Peeta fills in, sparing her the awkward confession. "You showed me."
She balks. "When?"
Peeta looks over her shoulder, as if he can see the clearing in the middle of the woods just beyond. "As soon as I saw you jump from the hovercraft into the clearing, and when your arms wrapped around me so tightly it hurt. Uh. A lot." He glances at her, "I guess part of me knew."
"Peeta." His name is barely audible as it falls from her lips, but it asks so much.
The kiss starts as kisses do. At first, soft like whispers as his lips seek familiarity and tenderness in hers. The taste of apples lingers on her mouth from breakfast. Her skin feels soft and yielding beneath his own kneading lips, but he also feels her strength and vitality. Katniss's fingers slide up his arms, working into his sandy hair as she surrenders to her need for him. She pulls Peeta closer, demanding more. A muffled moan blends between them as they fall against the wall in a tangle of limbs. He breathes for her.
He's unsteady with his bad leg. She leans in to keep him upright, pushing her leg between his as they stumble against the wall. Peeta's body shudders as he leans over her. He teases her lips before easing them apart, taking her mouth more fully. She fills everything. Every pore, every breath, ever scent and texture – it's all Katniss. He can't tell where she ends and he begins. He's lost in her fingers clutching the hem of his shirt, balling it into fists as their mouths stroke and savor one another. His hands anchor her hips between himself and the wall, burning holes through her clothes. He reaches up to stroke her cheek, following the path of her throbbing throat, running his fingertips over her narrow collarbone till she's melting into him. He doesn't dare let his fingers skim down any further. He knows she could kill him if he moved too fast. He also knows he could make her body forget how to kill him – or that she'd wanted to. Well, maybe an inch more. The soft pads of his fingers trail over the boundary provided by her camisole until he feels the dull chain under his fingers, following the line of her breast bone beneath the fabric of her shirt. The locket.
Katniss's lips slide away from his, as she rested her forehead against his cheek and takes a few gasping breaths. Her loose hair tickles his throat. Peeta doesn't lose any time ghosting kisses over her cheekbone – he's wasted enough of that while rotting in the Capitol. In the hospital they never had one moment's peace together. But now she's here, in his arms. Needing him the way he needs her. He marvels at the way his need felt so one-sided for so long, and how the world suddenly feels just right. All because she's here with him. He cranes forward to find that spot behind her ear that spreads a languor through her entire body so strong that she'd have to cling to him to stay upright.
Peeta moans against her throat as her hands slip inside his shirt, warm on his stomach, his ribs, his chest, sliding a white-hot trail to the bunched muscles below his shoulder blades. He realizes that she is going to kill him anyway. You can't want someone this much without some damage being done. He has a prosthetic to prove the point.
He opens his mouth to say her name, but it comes out higher and more shocked than he would like.
It takes a moment before he realizes that he never had a chance to speak. That the name came from a whole other part of the room.
Katniss pushes him back quickly, though as gently as possible. Peeta turns with a cringe. He recognizes the voice now.
Mrs. Everdeen grasps the doorknob like it's her lifeline, surveying his haystack hair, Katniss's swollen lips.
"What is going on in here?" she gasps, sounding like a true mother.
Peeta scratches his head beneath the haystack. "Sorry, Mrs. Everdeen. I guess I got carried away. And I carried her right with me…," he clears his throat, "she doesn't weigh very much."
"Mom, what are you doing here?" Katniss says with a small, incredulous voice. Like Mrs. Everdeen hasn't seen them kiss before. Though, the TV screen provided some distance all those other times.
Mrs. Everdeen looks both affronted and embarrassed. "Katniss, I promised the nurses to keep an eye on Peeta if they agreed to discharge him, like you asked. I came to see if he felt up to a meal in the cafeteria."
An unspoken argument wages between them. Peeta picks up his cane from the floor and pretends to polish off some of the scratches, feeling like he's eavesdropping, even though nothing's been said.
Mrs. Everdeen shakes her head slowly and starts to close the door. "Well," she sighs. "I left Prim with the Hawthornes. I think I'll go find her before lunch is served."
"Peeta and I will join you. In the cafeteria," Katniss replies. Mrs. Everdeen's eyebrow arches as if to ask when that might be. "In a moment."
Katniss turns to Peeta with a huff once the door closes firmly behind her mother. "I guess that's it, then."
Peeta scratches his head, looking sheepish. "Sorry. This wasn't exactly romantic," he says about the makeout session. "No wind chimes or sunny beaches or whatever. Next time I promise we'll spend time doing something more substantial before, you know…. Anyway, think of it as a precursor to a real moment."
Katniss combs his hair where his fingers messed it up. "We'll have lots of time to create more moments, Peeta," she replies. She leans in to lightly kiss him on the lips to show that she's fine.
"I hope so," he murmurs when she pulls away. "The rest of my life. However long that is."
And as she helps him to the door, Katniss promises herself that it will be a very long life. For both of them. And as long as they're together, it will be a full one.