Title: "When 'Real' is Not Enough"
Summary: One-shots set after the last lines of Mockingjay, pre-epilogue. Katniss finally realizes how important Peeta is to her.
Rating: T
Length: Five parts, approx. 10,000 words
A/N: Here's what I like to think happened after the last lines of pre-epilogue Mockingjay. If you're like me and like to read fluff in which Peeta gets the happy ending (and nice girlfriend) he deserves, read on. This is my first FanFic.
Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games.

So after, when he whispers, "You love me, real or not real?"

I tell him, "Real."

But it isn't enough, not nearly. "I do love you," I say, turning to face him. So much.

Even in the dark, I can see Peeta's smile and his eyes looking into mine. I reach over, find his hand and interlace our fingers. I lift it to my face and softly kiss the back of it.

"And," I continue, feeling like there is so much to say and so much that I should have said long ago, "I want you to know how sorry I am that it took me so long to say it -"

"Katniss -" he tries to interrupt.

"No," I say, "you need to hear this." If not for your sake then for mine, I think. "Peeta, for as long as I can remember, I've told myself that I would never get married because…well, you know."

Peeta nods, intent on listening now that I've insisted.

"And after I was convinced that it… that love… this kind of love was never going to be a part of my life, it was hard to change my way of thinking." Ugh. Could I be any more awkward? One would think that those interviews, and the training for them, would have helped me learn to articulate my thoughts and say them aloud, but no. It's just as difficult to express myself as it was before my first trip to the Capitol. I decide to plow ahead, though.

"But now, looking back on it, I think I've loved you all along. I mean, not as long as you've loved me, but since the Games." Since I realized that I didn't want to go home without you, I add silently to myself. "And I felt something for you even before that. I remember when Effie called your name and you came up onto the stage. All I could think was, not him."

I sit up and turn on the lamp on my nightstand. Peeta sits up halfway. He quickly uses his free hand to arrange his pillow against the headboard so he can lean back against it. "Really? That's what you thought?" he asks with a smile.

I nod, then proceed. "You've done so much for me and -"

"You've done plenty for me, too," he says. Peeta reaches up and brushes a stray lock of hair out of my face. "Katniss, you don't need to be sorry about anything. You brought me to the cave and got me the medicine, you wanted me to win the Quell, and wouldn't give up on me when we were on the mission -"

I shake my head and lean forward, pressing his hand to my forehead and hiding my face from his view. "How can you be so understanding?"

"I love you," he says, as if that is the only explanation needed. Maybe it is, but I still can't forget how upset I got this morning when I started imagining how I would have felt if Peeta had treated me the way I treated him.

Peeta was still asleep, in what I now consider to be our bed, when I got dressed and sneaked out at the crack of dawn to go hunting. He's usually an early riser, too, but we'd been up late talking the previous night and I'm sure he was tired. I was too, but still I'd woken up at my usual hour. Sleeping in was a luxury I'd not been able to accept just yet.

I went down the stairs and outside, to the log where I still keep my bow. I don't need to hide it anymore, but there doesn't seem to be any reason not to keep it in the log. It's just a habit.

I silently made my way through the woods, looking and listening for game, but it was hard to focus. I kept thinking of Peeta, asleep in the Victor's Village. I found myself wishing I'd stayed home this morning and kissed him awake instead of sneaking out. I feel that way more and more every day. I still love my morning hunts and the soothing way they clear my head, but I would rather be with Peeta. In fact, I would rather be with him than anywhere else in the world. But it would have been irrational to go back at that point, when I was dressed and out already. And we did need meat for dinner.

I kept walking around but also kept thinking of him. When I'd finally accepted how much I needed him, it was so easy, so wonderfully easy. I'd asked him to stay one night, a few weeks after he planted the primroses, and he'd agreed almost immediately. In spite of everything, he still loved me more than I deserved to be loved.

My mind continued to wander and I thought of Gale. I still miss him sometimes when I hunt, but never wish he was here in Twelve. I'm glad he's in Two, with a new life. I thought about that time I tried to imagine how I would have felt if Gale and some other girl had been reaped and they had to pretend to be in love during the Hunger Games and get engaged afterward. I decided to do the same thing with Peeta, now.

How would I have felt if there were no Gale and if I wasn't afraid of the consequences of marriage? If I was desperately in love with Peeta during the Games and had loved him since he gave me the bread, perhaps. If he seemed to return my love but then told me, during the train trip home, that he wasn't sure how he felt. If there was some pretty merchant girl who he was friends with and cared for. If, no matter how kind and loving and selfless I was with him, he was cool and reserved toward me.

I heard the footsteps of what sounded like a couple of small animals running away from me, and realized that I'd suddenly begun to cry audibly. I found a log and sat down on it, burying my face in my hands. The scenario I'd imagined was horrible, unbearable. How could Peeta stand it? How could he stand telling me, on the train during the victory tour, that his nightmares were only about losing me and seeing my cold, uncomfortable reaction? How could he stand having to ask if I would allow him to wish he could freeze that moment on the Training Center roof and live in it forever? And I can hardly bear to think of the way I treated him after he was hijacked.

I needed to see him and do something. Even though he seemed happy enough these days, I'd made myself so upset that I couldn't imagine he didn't feel the same way. Maybe we can each just have an extra cheese bun for dinner instead of meat, I thought as I began running back home, or maybe I can come back out again later.

By the time I got back to my house, I'd calmed down a bit and had stopped crying, but I still burst urgently through the back door and into the kitchen. Peeta was there, making breakfast. His hair was still wet from a shower. His face lit up when he saw me.

"Hey, back already?"

I couldn't speak, all I could do was rush over to him and throw my arms around his neck. I'd been trying to think of what to say on the way home, but I was still too upset to come up with anything other than "I'm so glad you're here." Here in Twelve, here in my house, here in my life.

I felt his arms encircle me, warm and gentle and safe. "Me too," he said sweetly, burying his face in my hair.

All day I tried to be extra nice to him and do whatever he wanted. That meant a walk into town, a picnic in the backyard and letting him draw me. We worked on the book in the evening, after dinner, and then went up to bed. When I felt his arms make their way around me in the dark, I sighed with relief. I don't know what I would do without him. But tonight, his embrace wasn't enough, so I leaned over and began to kiss him. And I got that feeling again, like that night in the Quell.

Now, I look up at him. He sees my distressed expression and worry washes over his face. No! I didn't want to make him feel bad all over again.

"Katniss, I know you love me," he says. "You don't have to explain anything to prove it to me."

"I haven't done a very good job at showing you, not the way you have with me -"

Peeta shakes his head and reaches for me with his free arm. I finally let go of his hand and lean forward, resting my head and both hands against his chest. He strokes my hair and caresses my back.

"You have," he says, then pauses and I feel him take a deep breath. "It would have been so easy for you to give up on me, to let me go, after the Quell. I know you cared about Gale and it would have been easy for you to be with him and forget all about me."

"I could never have forgotten you," I say with urgency.

"Exactly," Peeta says, and I can hear a smile in his voice. "Even after I hurt you, you still wanted to be with me and help me."

Not enough, I think, I wasn't nearly as understanding as you would have been if I'd been hijacked. But I remain silent, letting him have his turn to talk.

"Even when I told you I was still a danger to you and asked to be left behind, you wouldn't do it. You kissed me instead." His arms tighten around me as he remembers this. "And now, every day we spend together, that's what matters. The past doesn't matter, it doesn't even exist, really." Peeta cups my face in his hands and lifts my chin so we're eye to eye. "All that matters is waking up next to you every morning and creating new, good memories to replace the bad, false ones. Every day it gets easier and better because of you. Because we're together now."

I feel tears spilling down my cheeks and Peeta gently reaches up to wipe them away. He pulls me toward him and presses his lips to mine for a moment, then says, "I have everything I've ever wanted, Katniss. It's like none of the rest of it even happened." I know he's only referring to what happened between us, because he still has flashbacks, as a result of his hijacking. I've seen them.

He kisses me again and I wrap my arms around his neck. I love you, I want to say, but I can't bring myself to pull my lips away from his.