A/N: Soooo I'm kinda obsessed with Peeta&Katniss and they have like officially become my new OTP haha. This is my first Hunger Games fic and I freaking looooved writing this. The idea behind this one-shot was that it could technically all kind of take place during that last chapter of Mockingjay (you know if Suzanne Collins had been a little nicer to us and gave us more detail about their lives when they got back to District 12 lol) Also, I'm a review whore so please leave lots and lots of reviews and I can maybe be convinced into writing another part to this :) Enjoy!

I'm living some sort of half life. I'm breathing and sleeping and eating just enough to get by, to continue being physically alive. My heart continues to beat inside my chest, under the scarred skin, like some sort of haunting reminder. A reminder that after everything I've endured I was not one of the lucky ones who had the benefit of succumbing to the quiet, peacefulness of death.

I've been thinking a lot like this lately, about my dad, Prim, Finnick, Rue, the list goes on. Instead of focusing on on my own pain, the overwhelming guilt and despair and loneliness that their deaths summon in me, I almost...envy them.

They are gone, at peace, and away from this world where nothing can hurt them anymore. They don't have to keep up this hoax I've been putting on since getting back to District 12. Getting out of bed everyday, forcing food into my mouth I don't want to eat, and trying to see some sort of reasoning as to why I was the unlucky one who survived. I try to figure out why I have to keep living a life that only brings you pain and more pain, and at best a reprieve for a while before it's ripped away again.

I stay like this for what seems like forever, but is probably a few weeks, maybe a month. I guess it's the debt of obligation I feel towards the poor souls who just seem more concerned for me than I can stand. I hate that they feel like they have to take care of me. I've already ruined enough people's lives, can't they see I'm just not worth it? But because they do care, because they just seem so earnest and dead set on seeing me, if not get better, at least not self destruct, I make an effort. It's the weakness in me.

Greasy Sae and her self-appointed role as my house-keeper keeps me from wasting away. She cooks all my meals, tidies up around a house that is much too large for only one person to live in, and even washes and braids my hair like my mother used to when I was little. Haymitch and his geese and his alcohol occasionally all make unexpected visits where he blabbers on and on about something I'm not interested in. I guess he thinks he's helping, keeping me company, trying to get back to some sense of normalcy, but it's just all too easy to shut him out when he's not patronizing me or calling me sweetheart.

Even people from around the District will stop by once in a while with a gift or kind word. Their visits almost break me. Some are familiar faces from my trading days around town who have migrated back to rebuild and some are just total strangers. It's hard to stomach. I guess they think they owe me a debt of gratitude, as if I single-handedly took down the capitol. I try to smile and be polite, but it's mostly just awkward. I still don't have even an ounce of charm.

It is Peeta though that is my complete undoing. It is always Peeta. I try and fight it. I see it coming from a mile away, like a freight train moving towards me in slow motion. I have plenty of time to fight it and get away, but my feet stay rooted to the spot. I am helpless.

It is some time after he planted the primroses outside in garden. I assume Greasy Sae invited him over for meals. Or maybe Haymitch suggested it to him, knowing what a mess I was. But part of me feels that he is doing this on his own, that he has his own agenda. He shows up for breakfast most mornings, brings freshly baked bread and cheese buns to dinner later on, and even helps Greasy Sae clean up. He makes himself a constant presence in my life.

I know what he's doing. He is doing what he has always done: take care of me. Beside the wave of guilt and self-loathing I struggle with knowing that despite still trying to recover from his hijacking he is the one looking after me, I fight to try and suppress all the emotions that Peeta Mellark evokes out of me. His dependable presence at breakfast every morning, his genuine smile when he comes back in the evening with fresh baked goods, his watchful eyes studying me when he thinks I'm not looking, they remind me of how good he is. They remind me of what a caring, honest, genuine person he is.

It stirs up emotion inside of me I am not even close to knowing how to handle. It feels like an odd and somewhat nauseating combination of hope, desire, insecurity, passion, doubt, pain, and something else I can't quite identify.

And this, this rampage of emotions Peeta's mere presence has engulfed me in is not part of my plan. It is not part of the half life I decided I was destined to live as some sort of homage to my dead love ones who are free from earthly pains. The half life that keeps me from feeling the pain and agony and everything else that a real person has to endure. I thought I could keep going at the rate I was, but Peeta Mellark has an effect on me I can neither control or explain.

It becomes like my own personal brand of therapy.

Even more so than when I start baking again. I get to her house every morning before she gets up. I help Greasy Sae make breakfast or clean up around the house while she works. It's always the same. I hear her coming down the steps and my heart does a funny little lurch in my chest as I try to compose myself. I seat myself at my usual spot at the table before she appears and greet her with a 'Good Morning' that on the best days she returns with a less than sincere 'Morning' and on the others with a half grunt.

I don't try and make conversation initially. I know that what she needs isn't someone running their mouth 24/7 to try and make up for her lack of communication. I do let myself study her on occasion though. If she's momentarily distracted I let my eyes drink in the sight of her. I note the bags under her eyes (she's not sleeping much), the pajamas she didn't bother to get changed out of (she's going to stay in bed all day), her much slender than usual frame (she's not eating enough) and her matted hair (she's not taking care of herself).

I know I can't be the one to magically pull her out of this though. Only Katniss can be the one who makes that decision. So for now I settle on just being around, eating breakfast in the morning, bringing fresh goods back in the evening, and stopping by when I can just to help around the house. I don't want to push her into coming back before she's ready. I'm more than fine with her just allowing me to constantly be around.

As she works through her own demons and struggles I do the same.

The more time I spend with her the better I feel. It feels like the tracker jacker poison is slowly being purged from my mind and body the more time I spend in this new life, this new routine I have made for myself that essentially revolves around Katniss Everdeen. A small part is still there, a part that can still cause episodes and visions that can range from mild to severe and that I fear will always be there no matter what I do, but hopefully in time will fade.

I do everything to work on being able to control it, to control how I respond and react when one unexpectedly hits, determined not to let the Capitol's poison have that kind of control over me for the rest of my life. I've found that being around Katniss is the best thing I can possibly do. The more time I spend with her the more I'm able to remind myself that she is good and innocent and not trying to kill me. If those shiny memories of Katniss as a mutt who killed my family hit I take slow, deep breaths and think about the quiet, sweet girl who thanked me so shyly when I brought her cheese buns and who looks so lost and tortured on a daily basis I know that she is just as broken as I am.

We so easily fall into this pattern of being around each other without actually being with each other that it catches me totally off guard one day when this routine changes completely. I had gotten so used to breakfasts eaten in silence and the evenings in front of the fire not exchanging more than a few words that when she is actually the one to initiate some kind of conversation I'm momentarily at a lost as to what to say.

"I think I'm going to go hunting today," she says as we are finishing up breakfast.

I look up at her in amazement. I notice Greasy Sae freeze in the kitchen, intensely listening and afraid to move as if any sudden movements will scare Katniss back into her shell. I notice Katniss fiddling with her fork, the nervous way she is biting down on her bottom lip, and how her eyes are glued to her plate. It's like she isn't exactly talking to anyone in particular, just merely forced herself to announce her intentions before breakfast was over and she lost her nerve to do it.

"That's a great idea," I finally manage to get out before adding on a whim "Can I come?"

She looks up at me in surprise. When she sees my dumb grin and laughter in my eyes and realizes I'm just joking she breaks out a genuine smile that literally makes my heart do another lurch in my chest. It's the first real smile of hers in longer than I can remember. It feels me with such a rush of happiness that I can't wipe the smile off my face for the rest of the day. I forgot how much I love her smile.

"You'd scare away all the game," she explains with another grin that fills me with hope; hope that maybe she isn't lost forever and can find her way back to me.

"I think it's a great idea," Greasy Sae adds, "We haven't had fresh meat in so long. I'll cook a feast tonight."

As she disappears upstairs to get ready I help Greasy Sae clean up and try to contain my ridiculous amount of excitement at the morning's developments. She comes back down dressed in her old hunting gear and I can see that she looks a little unsure and hesitant.

I give her an encouraging smile, hoping to calm any nerves or second thoughts she might be having about returning to the woods today.

We exit the front door and head down the front steps. We are about to part ways, her towards the fence into the woods and me into town where my family's bakery is being rebuilt, when I stop her with a question.

"What made you want to go hunting again?" I ask before she turns away.

She looks at me, studying me carefully for a moment, before replying. "I don't know," she shrugs, "Dr. Aurelius told me I need to go through the motions. Figured this was a good start."

I nod, stuffing my hands in my pocket and literally fighting myself not to lean forward and kiss her on the cheek before she leaves.

One step at a time.

"Have a good day Katniss. I'll see you tonight." I turn and make my way into town before she can respond.

I walk towards the familiar fence in a daze. It feels so strange to be out of the house and doing something so normal. It's almost as if I'm back in my old life, ready to spend the day hunting and making sure that my mom and Prim have enough to eat for the week. I slip into the woods and walk past my old meeting spot with Gale without much thought. Gale is like a fleeting memory now. Other than when I first heard about his fancy government job in District 2 I haven't thought much about him. The war changed everything between us. I don't think we could ever go back to the way we were.

I walk without really paying attention to where I'm going but I guess my body has already chosen my destination for me. I get to the lake just as the sun peaks out from the clouds on this pleasantly warm fall day. I sit on the rock near the water that I was at with a camera crew not that long ago.

I put down my bow and arrow and just sit quietly for a long time. I look at the glistening surface of the lake's water, tempted to strip down and jump in. I relish the time alone in the familiar setting to try and clear my head. I spent all of last night tossing and turning in my sleep. Besides not wanting to endure another hellish round of nightmares I find myself thinking about Peeta more and more.

I've slowly come to accept that just his comforting presence in my life these past few weeks, despite my best efforts to shut out the world and wallow in my own pain, has been enough to pull me from the darkness. I still don't know what I'm feeling, but I know that he still means something to me. He is like a reminder that there is some good in this world and I don't think I'm ready to throw away all hope that I can enjoy it and maybe even be happy one day.

I know though that I have a responsibility to not let the deaths of my loved ones be in vain. I need them to mean something and I need to always remember every person who I loved and lost, every person who fought beside me so we could one day live without the cruelty of the Capitol and the barbarity of the Hunger Games.

I fiddle with some plants at the base of the rock. My mind flashes back to the exact picture in my dad's old book. I remember every detail about this particular plant. I smile. After all this time, I still remember.

The idea comes to me and I feel a jolt of excitement. For the first time in a long time I feel passionate about something.

I grab my bow with a new sense of purpose, determined to make some good kills so we can enjoy a big dinner tonight.

We work on the book almost everyday.

During the day she hunts and I bake. We meet back up for dinner and then afterwards we curl up in the living room and get to work. It feels good to draw again. It helps me feel like myself, like the person I was before the Capitol's hijacking. It gives us a sense of purpose.

It makes me glad to see Katniss not just going through the motions anymore. She is much better off than she was a month ago but she's still trying to work through some issues. I can tell how much this means to her. She had that fire in her eyes when she first told me about the idea; that look she gets when she truly cares about something and makes me realize why I'm so drawn to this fiery, passionate girl and why I always have been.

I finish my drawing of Rue, checking it over and contemplating adding any finishing touches.

"It's beautiful," she whispers from over my shoulder.

"Thanks," I shoot her a smile as I hand it over to be added to the book.

She takes a deep breath and I can see that despite how important this is for her it's also really hard. It practically kills her to turn the page for a new person to be added. It's almost like she feels like it's a dishonor to them to simply flip past their page, like they are nothing more now than mere memories that can be acknowledged or ignored when we choose to.

I put my arm around her shoulder and give her a gentle squeeze in reassurance. It feels good to be able to touch her again, to be physically close to her. There was a time after my hijacking when I was starting to get back to normal that I was worried I would never have this opportunity again. That I would forever be banned from getting close to her in fear that I would snap and hurt her or worse.

"Who's next?" I whisper relishing the feel of her body against mine.

"I don't know," she says before adding, "Oh, wait, Haymitch dropped off this envelope today. He said it was important.

She rips open the envelope and pulls out its contents: 2 pictures and scrap of paper.

She reads the paper first, "Finnick Odair Jr. Born October 17th. Love Annie."

The impact of the words hit us as we look at the pictures of the blonde hair, blue eyed infant. He is grabbing at his feet and smiling in one picture and sound asleep in the other.

"Oh my god," Katniss whispers covering her mouth.

I feel a wave of emotion hit me like a punch to the gut. My mind immediately goes back to that time in the capital, running through the sewers, trying to get away from the mutts, struggling with my memories as Finnick sacrificed himself without a seconds hesitation so we could go on.

The shame, guilt, and agony over this child growing up without his father almost makes me sick.

Before I have time to cope with my own emotions though Katniss dissolves into a sobbing mess at my side. She covers her face and buries her head into my chest as she lets the emotion pour out of her. I don't know if she's really let herself break down like this since we came back to District 12. I rub her back and hold onto her as I whisper comforting words into her ear.

She eventually quiets down some and we just hold onto each other knowing that tonight we got another painful reminder of the effects of the war. I kiss her forehead and wipe the tears from her face.

"Can you stay the night?" She whispers so softly I'm at first convinced that I imagined it.

"Of course," I assure her, glad for the suggestion.

With my free hand I place the pictures inside the book and close it, putting it aside. I stand and gather her in my arms. As I carry her upstairs to the bedroom an odd feeling that I've done this before hits. I bring her into her room and place her on her bed before bringing her a pair of sweats and a shirt to change into.

I sit on the edge of her bed as she changes, looking the other way to give her some privacy.

"I've carried you up to your room like this when you were asleep once. Real or Not Real?"

"Real," she answers and her voice his horse from all the crying. "It was after I hurt my foot."

I nod, remembering that day clearly now, how she asked me to stay with her.

"I can sleep downstairs on the couch or..." I trail off, unsure what the parameters are for our new relationship. I remember us sleeping in the same bed on the train before the Quell, but things have changed. Especially after my hijacking I don't know how comfortable she is with the idea of me being that close.

"Sleep here, with me," she says as more of a commandment than a question.

I nod, and slip out of my jeans and shoes. I slip into bed ready to keep a respectable difference but she curls up to my side and rests her head on my shoulder while draping an arm across my chest.

I try to relax, but I'm all too aware of how close we are. We haven't shared this level of intimacy since my hijacking and it feels strange, but good. The familiar smell of her hair and the warmth of her body and her steady breathing are all too intoxicating.

I drift off to sleep after a few minutes.

Since the night we found out about Finnick and Annie's son Peeta has spent every night in my bed at my side. It has helped me leave behind the days of despair and darkness that plagued me right after the war. I no longer feel so broken that I can't see the point of moving on because what makes me not want to give up is there at my side every morning now.

What initially started as just wanting his presence as a source of comfort after learning about Finnick's son that he will never know, has turned into the one thing in my life that keeps me grounded. Sleeping in Peeta's arms keeps the nightmares from coming every night and even on the nights that they do come he is there to wake me and hold me until the terror is over.

Every day it gets a little easier to breathe and the pain from the war and the games and all the lives lost loosens its grip on my heart just a bit. I start to think less about the past and my struggles and more about how Peeta makes me happier than I thought would ever be possible after all we've been through. Whether he's trying to make me laugh or smiling at how fast I eat his cheese buns or wrapping his arms around me after a day apart like he never wants to let go, I realize my feelings for him are growing stronger every day.

We're sitting in front of the fire after dinner doing our usual work on the book. We are sitting in such peaceful silence, each of us preoccupied with our own tasks, that I almost jump out of my skin when Peeta snaps his pencil he was using to draw and curses loudly.

I look over at him in alarm and see that he has pulled his knees to his chest and is putting his hands over his ears. He is muttering something quietly to himself and I finally realize that he is having a flashback.

I am instantly terrified. He hasn't had an episode since getting back to District 12 that I know about and I stupidly and naively thought they just became non-existent. I berate myself for being so dumb and immediately wish I had been less selfish and asked him more about them and how they were still affecting him. The fact that he is having one now after all this time being seemingly flashback-free unnerves me. I don't know how strong it is or even what to do.

I watch in horror as his shaking and muttering get worse and I don't know whether to run away or comfort him. I end up tentatively reaching out a hand to lightly rub his back as I whisper his name, unable to turn away from him in a moment of need, even if there is a chance he could attack me at any moment.

The second my hand touches his back it's like I set him off. He flings his arm out and immediately pushes me away grabbing onto my arm in vice grip as he growls, "Stop!". I meet his eyes and see the mixture of anger, pain, and most of all confusion.

I try not to whimper as my arm throbs from the pain of how hard he is grabbing it. I know he isn't so far gone into the flashback that he wants to seriously injure me. I can see it in his eyes that he is in pain more than anything else and so confused he can't seem to think straight.

"Peeta, it's okay, it's just me, Katniss," I whisper, desperate to bring him back to me. "It's okay, you're having a flashback."

After a moment his grip loosens on my arm and he pulls his hand away visibly deflating. He seems to have regained his sense as he mutters out an 'I'm sorry' and takes a few shaky breaths. I try not to rub my arm despite the pain, not wanting him to see that he's hurt me, even unintentionally.

"Are you okay?" I ask after a minute scooting a little closer to him.

He immediately moves away from me and I flinch, hurt and confused. "I should be asking you that," he mutters and I can hear the pain and self-loathing in his voice.

"It's not your fault," I protest not wanting him to beat himself up over something he can't control.

"Does it matter? I still hurt you," He shakes his head and I can see he is not letting himself off the hook for this one. He makes a move to stand up from the floor, "I think I'm going to sleep at home tonight. I'll see you tomorrow."

"No!" I almost yell grabbing his arm and keeping him from getting to his feet. "I don't want you to go home." I say, cringing at how much of a little child I sound like.

"I can't be here," he mutters trying to pull away.

"Peeta, I need you to stay," I whisper, bizarrely and suddenly on the verge of tears.

He softens a little, but I can tell he still doesn't like the idea. "Katniss, just for tonight. I can't put you in that position if another flashback hits. I don't want to hurt you."

"It is not your fault the Capitol hijacked you Peeta," I begin now feeling the emotions swell inside me and tears threatening to fall, "you are not responsible for the flashbacks and you can't blame yourself. I'm not scared of you. I don't look at you any differently. You never treated me any differently when I was barely alive those first few weeks back in District 12. So if you could take care of me when I was broken and in pain I'm going to do the same for you."

I lose my composure and his arms are there to encircle me as I put my head on his shoulder and let the emotions pass. I wipe my eyes feeling silly and stupid but better because Peeta is stroking my back and placing a kiss to the curve of my neck.

"Stay with me," I whisper as I pull back and search his face.

"Always," he responds immediately and before I even have time to consider it Peeta is leaning forward and capturing my lips in a kiss. I'm a little taken off guard at first but I quickly regain my footing and return the kiss with passion. Our lips just brush against each others innocently at first as we taste each other, getting reacquainted with the familiar sensation.

It occurs to me we haven't kissed since the time in the sewers in the capital when he was in the middle of a flashback. The irony hits me as the kiss becomes more involved and Peeta's tongue softly strokes mine. Soon I'm not able to think about much of anything except the feel of Peeta's hands on my hips and how good he tastes and how right this feels.

We break apart just for a moment to rest our heads against each other and take a breath of air. I realize that this kiss feels different than all the other ones I've ever shared with Peeta. It is not in front of any cameras, it is not in the middle of the Hunger Games or set against the backdrop of the war, it's just us and it is real. The feeling of privacy and intimacy and this kiss being truly the first one we have ever shared that is just ours fuels my desire. I bit softly down on his lower lip and can't help but grin when I hear him moan.

I continue kissing him like I could never get enough of him, like his lips are literally breathing life into me, like I'd die if I was ever denied the privilege of doing this. My hands run through his hair and I instinctively push him so his back is up against the base of the couch. I swing one of my legs over his body and straddle his waist. His hands move up from my hips to my back and down again and I'm not sure who is moaning this time, him or me.

That different kind of hunger I felt on the beach during the Quarter Quell seems even more intense now and I'm overwhelmed by how badly I want Peeta. Our lips continue moving against each others in a passionate dance and I instinctually grind my hips into his.

He breaks apart from our kiss and stills my hips with his hands.

He smiles as he regains his breath and composure. "Don't tempt me, Katniss," He whispers with a grin and I blush, suddenly embarrassed by my actions, but filled with a certain pride that he wants me so bad.

"I told you I wanted you to stay," I reply with a smile,

"If I can look forward to more of that you may never get rid of me," Peeta says and we spend the rest of the night before bed sharing soft kisses in front of the fire.

I spend my days at my family's old bakery that I rebuilt with the help of a few original District 12 survivors that knew my dad. They build in return for food and a small wage that I'm more than happy to pay. I convince them to stay on board and they help to run the store when I'm not there.

It isn't long before the place looks practically identical to the old one and it becomes a fixture in town again. The community relishes the ability to buy freshly baked bread or enjoy a decadent cake, no longer just a luxury to a select few.

Towards the end of the day I'm preparing some baked goods to take home to Katniss and tidying up around the shop. I must have been so focused on my task because I don't notice anyone else in the kitchen until I almost jump out of my skin when two arms snake around my waist.

"Hi there," I hear Katniss purr as she plants kisses along my neck and shoulders.

I take a few deep breaths as I recover, trying to calm myself from the sensation of her arms around me and her lips against my skin. Even without the war and the demons she faced trying to recover, I would never have believed Katniss Everdeen could ever be...like this; could ever be so affectionate and open about expressing her feelings. The darkness in her eyes is gone, replaced with a warmth that burns so fiercely I can literally feel it when her eyes connect with mine.

"What do I owe this surprise to?" I ask as I turn around in her arms.

"I got done hunting early and realized you would still probably be here," she says with a smile.

"Well I'm glad you came," I say before capturing her lips in a kiss that we both get lost in. My hand tangles in her hair and I lean back against the counter, relishing at how good it feels to hold her in my arms. Every kiss we've shared since that first one after my flashback has been like this, passionate, intense and always leaving me wanting more. It feels different, but good to have her kiss me this way, so open and not shy at all about what she wants.

We break apart suddenly when we hear the little chime that signals someone entering the store. I peek around the display case and am surprised to see a familiar face: Delly Cartwright.

"Hi guys," she says cheerfully pulling off her scarf and mittens.

"Delly!" Katniss exclaims, and she seems genuinely happy to see her.

An older woman in her late 40s, with the same shade of dirty blonde hair as Delly trails behind her. She is inspecting the store curiously until her eyes find me and Katniss and I can see them widen in surprise.

"Guys this is my Aunt Linda," Delly says with a smile turning to the older woman, "Aunt Linda this is-"

"Peeta Mellark and Katniss Everdeen," the woman finishes for her niece. "I remember the star-crossed lovers of District 12," she says and I can see the swirl of emotions play across her face as she tries to contain her excitement over meeting the couple she had surely seen and heard so much about over the past couple years. I feel Katniss shift uncomfortably beside me and she stays silent, clearly uncomfortable being gawked at.

"It's nice to meet you," I tell her politely, trying to spare Katniss from any unwanted attention.

"Delly, you didn't tell me this was Peeta Mellark's bakery," the older woman playfully chastises her niece.

Delly shrugs and I can't tell if she is either purposely ignoring or not picking up on her Aunt's overly enthusiastic response to our presence.

"It's really just a pleasure to meet you both," the older woman continues and I can see she is being earnest, even if she is too eager. "I was just heartbroken when I heard about you losing the baby," she speaks to Katniss who looks like she's ready to bolt out the back door. "Are you two going to try for more children?"

"Aunt Linda leave them alone," Delly finally speaks up, tearing her eyes away from the pastry section, but she is smiling and I can see that she finds her Aunts prying more amusing than intrusive.

"We're happy just as we are now," I respond diplomatically, not wanting to give her anything to work with.

"Oh, but you two are just so great together," she continues like she can't help herself. "I used to live in the Capitol you know, before I came back to take care of Delly, and everyone just could not get enough of your love story. I actually have a friend who works for the new government, Capitol-District Relations, something like that. I bet she would love to talk to you both, see where you are now kind of thing!"

"Um, I have to go," Katniss mumbles before anyone has a chance to say anything and she heads for the back door before I can stop her.

"Uh thanks for the offer," I smile, trying to still be polite, "but we like our privacy."

Delly takes the chance to change the subject and picks out a cake and few loaves of bread to buy. I stay to help them with their purchase and finish with the food I was baking to bring home. I clean up at the shop and wait about a half hour before deciding to close early.

When I get home Greasy Sae is just leaving and Katniss is sitting at the table staring at the food, but not eating. I strip off my jacket and take a seat beside her, helping myself to the food on the table.

"It was nice to see Delly," I begin carefully, trying to get a feel of where she's at. This is one of the first times since she's gotten better where she's really had to face the past in such a real way. She doesn't respond and I know I'm not helping by avoiding the issue.

"Listen, about what her Aunt was saying-"

"I hate the feeling of being gawked at" she cuts me off and I can hear the fire behind her words, "after everything we went through, all the pain and sacrifice-" her breath hitches and I can see just how strongly she feels about this. "It was real and only you and I know what it felt like and for those people it was just some cute love story they saw on TV. They don't know how much we suffered, how hard we had to work our way back to one another."

"I know," I say placing my hand on top of hers and trying to reassure her.

"I want what we have to always be ours, I want it to be private and special. I will never have what I feel about you be made into some sort of spectacle again," she says with passion behind every word and it's in this moment that I know that despite the Capitol's hijacking, despite the war and everything we lost and how much we both struggled, I love this girl more than anything. I always have. I always will.

"I don't think that will be the end of people interested in the fates of the star crossed lovers," I explain, making sure she understands this won't just go away. "I'm sure Plutarch will be in contact sooner or later, looking for a great publicity campaign or something, but I'll do whatever I can to keep them from invading our lives."

She gives me a soft smile and we lean in to share a chaste kiss. Without really meaning to the kiss quickly gains heat and our hands explore one another. We forget about dinner entirely and I carry her upstairs to bed. The girlish squeal she releases when I toss her on the bed only fuels my desire.

We kiss without restraint, her hands are everywhere and I try and kiss every inch of her exposed skin. She moans slightly and lifts her hips up to mine, grinding against me. I'm painfully hard and I have to pull away and take a few deep breaths to try and calm down, but she just pulls me back against her.

I am throbbing in my pants and I'm sure she can feel the effect she is having on me pressed against her inner thigh but she doesn't stop. Since growing closer over the past few months I see Katniss more and more as the beautiful woman that she is. I don't know if she's quite there yet, but the way her eyes sparkle when she meets mine and the way she kisses so deeply, so clearly wanting more from me, shows me how far her feelings have come. It makes me feel good to see her happy more than anything else and even better that I could have been the cause of it.

"I love how much you want me," she whispers into my ear as she pushes her hips against my hardness.

I literally gasp, scared for a moment I might come in my pants. "You have no idea," I manage to get out as I roll onto my side and she giggles.

"I think we should slow things down just a bit though," I propose and I can see the disappointment in her face, but the fact that she doesn't protest tells me she isn't quite ready for that next step anyways. "If we keep going at this pace, you might kill me," I add and she grins, far too pleased at how she literally has me dying in wanting her.

It's one of those rare days where Peeta and I spend the day at home rather than out in the woods or at the bakery. It usually doesn't happen like this very often so I relish the time we get to spend alone together. If there is one thing that these past few months with Peeta have taught me it's to appreciate the good parts of life because they are earned through the struggle and pain and they can so quickly be taken away. I'm finally learning how to be happy and I have Peeta to thank for that. I savor every moment with him because when night comes and the nightmares shake me to my core with fear and haunting memories of the past I'm reminded of the demons that will never really go away, that will probably always try to tear me down.

We start out working on the book, but soon are too distracted with the other one's presence to concentrate. We share soft kisses and talk about nothing and everything and it reminds me of the the day on the roof before the Quarter Quell. All I want to do is be in this moment forever.

Naturally, we are interrupted by none other than our favorite neighbor and former mentor.

Haymitch knocks loudly at the door a few times and then lets himself in without waiting for an answer.

"Hope I'm not interrupting," Haymitch says as he walks past us in the living room and takes a seat at the kitchen table.

"Not at all," Peeta responds sarcastically and I have to bite back a laugh at how genuinely annoyed he looks.

"What do we owe the pleasure of this visit?" I ask Haymitch as Peeta and I rise from the living room floor and come over to the table to join him. "Did you run out of alcohol and come to annoy us until the next train comes?" I ask offering him a falsely polite smile.

Even after all this time my relationship with Haymitch hasn't changed. We can be rude, sarcastic and curt with each other, but we understand one another better than anyone. Almost anyone, I amend my train of thought as my eyes find Peeta.

"Nope, I'm good and liquored up right now," he grins and from the smell of his breath I can tell he's right.

"I'm here cause I have some news," he announces and then adds, "and a question."

"Oh yeah, and what would that be?" Peeta asks.

"I'm going to the Capitol tomorrow. Plutarch wants to bring me in for something they're working on. And they want to improve relations with the districts. Maybe something about planning the celebration of the end of the war too, I think," he rattles out and he says the words so much like a question that I wonder if he's making it all up because he's drunk. But no, they sound too true, they make too much sense to be the ramblings of a drunken Haymitch.

"And you're what? Happy to help them?" I question a little skeptically.

"Hell no, I'm perfectly fine here with my geese and alcohol but they're just so damn insistent. And they told me it was either me or you two," he says straightforwardly. "I figured neither one of you would be up for that considering how you two are finally acting like the lovesick teenagers you used to pretend to be. And judging by the deer in the headlights look you both have on your face right now I was right, so I told them to take me. It's only for a couple of weeks and as long as they didn't keep the liquor from me I'll be fine."

Peeta and I sit in awkward silence for a moment, not sure how to respond to Haymitch's selfless act. Even without asking him he is still being our mentor, still looking out for us.

"Thanks," Peeta says and I can see how glad he is not to have to deal without that whole mess.

"Yeah, yeah," Haymitch waves him away, "just take care of my geese when I'm done."

"We will," I laugh and I feel a wave of relief as I realize what Haymitch has sparred us from, reliving the horrors of the war, going back to where my sister died, the glare of the public eye.

"But I'm supposed to ask you something," Haymitch says looking directly at me, "the train I take tomorrow will be making a few stops at a couple districts, namely 2 and 4," he says and waits until this information sinks in. "Thought you'd might like to pay a visit to your mom," he explains as I feel a kind of panic and dread rise up in my chest. "There's another train heading back to 12 to bring supplies in a few days that you can take back."

"I - I don't..." I stutter out not knowing how to deal with what I'm feeling in this moment.

"Well, if you don't want to see your mom, you could go see Gale," Haymitch offers and I don't know if he's being completely dense or is just this ignorant about what this idea he has proposed has done to me. He has always known everything about my relationship with Peeta, but when it comes to my mom and Gale that's a part of my life he doesn't quite understand. "He said he wanted to see you," he adds and I feel like he has just hit me with a ton of bricks.

I meet his eyes trying to see if he's really telling the truth, but despite in his drunken haze he doesn't seem to be lying. "He said that?" I question skeptically.

"Talked to him on the phone yesterday," Haymitch replies nonchalantly. "He's a pretty big hot shot now, practically running the Defense Department with Boggs. He's quite popular with the ladies too, from what I've heard," he grins stupidly.

"Why would I want to go see Gale and his new girlfriend?" I bite out finally letting my panic and anger and confusion over every emotion that has risen up in me at the prospect of seeing Gale again. After a moment Peeta gets up from the table and disappears upstairs but I'm too worked up to notice or care.

It's hard to explain, but I guess I haven't entirely worked out my feelings for Gale still. I know I never loved him the way I love Peeta, but I did love him and he was such a huge part of my life growing up, he meant so much to me and still does in a way. He's someone who has always understood me the way others can't and it feels like since the moment I volunteered for Prim at the reaping and got sent into the games with Peeta our relationship has never been the same.

I try to push away the feelings of anger and hatred when my mind wanders to Prim's death and Gale's bombs, but the two are linked in my mind no matter what I do. I never blame him, but I can't absolve him of any wrongdoing at the same time.

"Alright it was just a suggestion," Haymitch responds rolling his eyes at what I'm sure he think is just me being overly emotional. He rises from the table and heads for the front door, shouting before he leaves, "don't forget about my geese!"

I take a few minutes to breathe and calm down, before I realize I'm sitting at the table alone. Slowly I get up and make my way upstairs to the bedroom. I open the door and find Peeta sitting on the edge of the bed staring out the window. He turns when he hears me come in and offers me a less than sincere smile.

"Did Haymitch leave?" He asks in an odd tone that masks something I can't quite identify.

I nod my head yes and come over to sit at his side.

He doesn't look at me and I know something is wrong.

"You should go see your mom and Gale," he says quietly.

I sigh, realizing what that little interaction downstairs must have looked like to him. I grab his hand in mine and hold it in my lap. "I don't want to," I explain, "I'm more than happy right here with you."

"Katniss," he sighs and I can tell he's trying to figure out how to approach this subject. "Your mom would love to see you, and Gale...I'm sure Gale misses you."

"I remember the last time I kissed Gale," I hear myself saying before I realize what I'm doing, "It was during one of the last missions before the Capitol was brought down. You were still recovering from the hijacking." The look of complete confusion on Peeta's face makes me falter, but I continue talking, determined to try and make him understand.

"You hated me. You thought I was a mutt and just the way you looked at me hurt so much because I was so used to seeing such warmth and kindness in your eyes," I say and I can tell he wants to say something, but I need to get this all out before I lose my train of thought. "I knew it wasn't your fault, but it still hurt and I was so scared, so terrified that it would be that way forever, that you would never come back to me, never look at me like you used to."

"I think I kind of made myself believe that you were going to be that way forever because I didn't want to get my hopes up and I remember just feeling so lonely. I had lost the one person who I cared about more than anything. So I let Gale kiss me. I let him kiss me because I was alone and weak and just tired of it all." I sigh looking up into Peeta's eyes. He is looking at me with a hundred questions on the tip of his tongue, but he lets me continue.

"With Gale it was never really like what you and I have. He was a source of comfort, a friend I could depend on. I haven't always realized it, but I know it now it without a doubt. I want you. Nobody else."

He leans in and catches my lips in the softest of kisses and I finally feel relaxed and at peace for the first time since Haymitch walked into our house.

"I want you too," he whispers and pulls me back onto the bed where we curl up against each other.

"Are you positive you don't want to see either of them?" He asks, and I know that if I were to change my mind he would happily send me off with his blessings because he only wants what will make me happy.

"I'm sure," I reply taking a deep breath, "maybe sometime in the future, but not right now. Right now I'm happy right where I'm at."

"Me too," he agrees and we spend the rest of the day in each other's arms.

I don't know how it happened.

I feel like there was a stretch of time where I felt at peace and all I had to do was steal a kiss from Peeta or spend the whole day in the woods to really be happy. Sure, there was still the pain and struggle from the past I carried around with me, but it felt more like a scar; a mark that would always be with me, but that I didn't have to let define me.

It started a few days ago. I woke up from a nightmare without the usual terror and shaking and crying that so often accompanies my more horrific dreams. I woke up from a nightmare with this overwhelming sense of sorrow I just could not shake. This kind of depression wrapped itself around me and will not let go. I can not stop thinking about every single person that I have loved and lost, every person who died as a result of the war. I can focus on nothing but the pain and grief; it's unbearable.

The first day I didn't go hunting Peeta didn't think too much about it. He simply kissed me on the cheek and left for the day at the bakery. The next day when I wouldn't even get out of bed he tried to ask me what was wrong, but soon gave up after receiving no response. Over the next several days things didn't get much better.

I hate feeling like this, but I just cannot make it go away. I feel so lost, like I have no purpose or sense of self. It feels like I'm drowning and the worst part is that in the back of my head I can hear that small voice telling me to fight, telling me to get to the surface, but I can't do it, I'm just not strong enough.

After more than a week of this I can start to see the effect it is having on Peeta. I can tell he is trying to be patient and supportive of me, but he can only take so much. Seeing me in pain hurts him too and shutting him out only makes things worse.

I sigh, looking up at the ceiling in bed. It is still early morning and Peeta is fast asleep, breathing deeply beside me. Despite the small distance that separates us it feels much larger. There has been such a disconnect between the two of us lately and I feel so empty without him. I miss the small pleasures, like how his smile can ease all my worries or how his lips can erase any doubt or pain from my mind.

I want so much to be okay again because he doesn't deserve this, he doesn't deserve a girl who can't return all his love and passion in full force. I hear him stir slightly beside me and I immediately shut my eyes, pretending to be asleep. I cringe at what an awful person I am, but I don't want to face another morning confrontation with him, we've already been having too many of those lately.

He wakes up and I freeze, trying not to betray the fact I'm awake. He scoots closer to me on the bed and hovers over my body. I'm scared to move a muscle and I wait for him to get out of bed and jump in the shower. Instead he places soft kisses on my forehead and nose and across my cheeks and it feels so impossibly good I can't help but to sigh.

He must think it's just an instinctual reaction in my sleep though because after a moment he does slide out of bed and I hear the water running in the shower moments later. I stay in bed listening to the rhythmic sound of the water and let my mind wander. Not long after he is back in our room getting dressed and he slips down the stairs and out of the house before I even have time to consider it.

I roll over in bed and try to deal with the fresh feelings of guilt that have appeared this morning. If I could just be better and stronger and less selfish I could be the kind of person Peeta deserves to be with.

I fall back asleep wishing I was half the person Peeta is.

It feels like seconds after my eyes close I'm startled awake by a hand on my shoulder.

When I come to I recognize Greasy Sae at my bedside with a look of concern.

"What is it?" I mumble out, still half asleep.

"It's Peeta. It's not good. You need to get down to the bakery," she explains and the words are barely out of her mouth before I literally jump out of bed, throw on the closest pieces of clothes I can find and leave the house in a full-on sprint.

I suddenly have the odd sensation of being somewhere and I don't remember how I got there.

I am curled up in a ball on the floor the bakery. There is flour everywhere. The ovens are opened. There are pots and pans and measuring cups thrown across the room, scattered on the floor. I am just slowly regaining the sensation of being present in my body and aware of who I am. I feel a dull, throbbing pain on the back of my left hand and along my right side, down my torso. My knee seems to have twisted the wrong way too.

I shift uncomfortably trying to remember what the hell just happened when I hear the voice that instantly calms me down.

"Peeta? Peeta? Oh my god," I hear her voice getting closer as I note the tone of panic. I look up as I see Katniss making her way towards me from across the kitchen. She sinks to her knees as she reaches me and I close my eyes at the feel of her hand pushing the hair away from my face.

"Are you okay? What happened?" She asks sitting down beside me and taking my hands in hers to inspect the damage I've done.

"I was just trying to figure that out myself," I respond, swallowing thickly as I close my eyes and try to concentrate. Small flashbacks start to come back to me and I can pretty much guess that I must have had another flashback, and a bad one at that.

The last thing I remember was taking fresh loaves of bed out of the ovens and putting a new batch in. I remember thinking about Katniss and how worried I've been over the state she's been in for the past week and a half. I must not have been paying attention to what I was doing and made a mistake. The burns on my hand and side are proof enough. I must have just lost it after that and turned the place upside down. The combination of pain and thoughts of Katniss can sometimes trigger flashbacks, but this was the worse I've had since I can remember and it unnerves me that I could do this much damage just from one bad episode.

"You must of had a flashback," Katniss announces breaking me from my train of thought. "You hurt yourself pretty bad," she adds lifting up my shirt slightly to inspect the burn on my side.

"I'm okay," I mumble, ashamed and embarrassed that she has to see me like this.

"Come on, let's get you home," she says helping me to my feet and bringing me over a chair to sit down on when I can't put much weight on my knee.

As she tries to bring some order back to the bakery I try to hold back the feelings of anger and self-loathing that overcome me whenever I have a flashback. The thought that the Capitol has turned me into this monster, this former shell of myself, makes me sick. The fact that Katniss has to see me like this, has to endure my unstable fits of rage in a moments notice, is almost more than I can handle.

She finishes tidying up around the kitchen and getting the bakery back to an acceptable state and I'm too weak to protest or offer to help. When she's done she helps me up from the chair and aids me on our walk home. When we get home she sits me at the kitchen table and I don't realize until she's applying ointment to the cuts and burns on my skin that she's being my healer. I give her a small smile of appreciation as our eyes meet.

"Are you hungry?" She asks tentatively and I shake my head no in response.

She nods and I can feel her timidness as she shuffles awkwardly around the kitchen, cleaning up. The sun is just starting to set and I still can't shake that hollow, angry feeling I get after a flashback when I'm reminded of the Capitol's poison that still lives inside me.

She fusses around the kitchen without much purpose and I sit stoically at the table with no energy to move or do anything. Finally she puts a few plates of food on the table and sits beside me. "You should really eat," she says gently, "it'll make you feel better."

I shrug and attempt to force a few bites down to appease her, but I can barely stomach it. After dinner she cleans up and helps me up the stairs to our room. Instead of leading me over to my side of the bed though she directs me to the bathroom.

"I think you need to take a cold shower," she says and she won't even meet my eyes. "It will help with the pain from the burns," she explains still looking anymore but at me.

"Sure," I agree figuring the cold water will feel good against the raw skin.

She leads me into the bathroom and I lean against the counter as she turns on the water for the shower. I look up at her a little helplessly, hoping she sees I'm a bit at a loss at the moment. She seems to understand after a moment and she slowly and gently helps me remove my shirt, taking extra care with the burn on my side. It's not until she reaches down to my pants and slides down the zipper that I'm fully aware of her hands on my body, her closeness, the gentle way she tugs the material down my hips.

I suck in my breath as she stands up and looks me in the eye. There is only the thin material of my boxers separating my naked body from her now. She looks away shyly and I'm instantly reminded of that day in The Games when she found me in the river and cleaned me up. I try and spare her the embarrassment and attempt to rid myself of my boxers and make it to the shower. The burn on my side makes it too hard to bend over though and my twisted knee isn't helping either.

I look up at her hopelessly, "Um, sorry, but I kind of need your assistance."

She is hesitant, but she comes to my side after a moment. She meets my eyes and I can't help a small grin. The action takes her off guard and she looks at me questioningly, a smile playing on her lips. "What's so funny?" She asks.

"You're still so pure," I laugh feeling the tension ease from my chest for the first time in weeks. "Even after everything we've been through you still don't want to see me naked," I say, smiling at the look of shock and annoyance she instantly adopts.

"I'm not that pure!" She protests and I love seeing her get worked up like this. "And I have no problem seeing you naked," she finishes before reaching down and grabbing the waistband of my boxers. She pulls them to the floor in an instant and I think we're both caught off guard because we just stand there for a moment not sure what to do, me totally naked and her fully clothed. Her eyes travel down to the area she just uncovered and I literally see them widen in surprise as she takes in the full sight of me for the first time. I grow harder by the second and I can't really help it because she's standing so close and looking at me in a way she never has before.

She swallows thickly and then finally drags her eyes up to meet mine, a blush creeping up her cheeks when she realizes I caught her looking.

"I'll just hop in the shower now," I say, hoping to spare both of us any more embarrassment because I'm so hard for her and she just saw more of me than she bargained for.

I let the cool water of the shower ease my damaged skin and use the opportunity to try and get myself to calm down. I have to take long deep breaths and try to think of anything other than Katniss and the way she just undressed me and being naked in front of her.

When I get out of the shower I smile at the shirt and pair of sweats Katniss has left out for me to change into. When I finally crawl into bed next to her she is sitting up dressed in nothing more than a night gown, her hair down in soft waves.

We sit in silence for a moment, both awake, a million things left unsaid between us.

Finally I break the silence. "Thanks for taking care of me," I whisper not sure what else I can say.

I turn and meet her eyes and she is leaning on her side looking at me with great interest. "I was a real mess today and you were there for me," I add holding her gaze for a moment before looking away. "Just thanks."

"You would do the same for me," I tell him and I realize that he has been doing the same thing for me for over the past week. I've been drowning in this depression and he's been trying everything to get me to feel better, but I haven't accepted his help. A shame of guilt washes over me and I roll onto my back looking up at the ceiling.

We sit in silence for a while, but I know he's not asleep. I try to work through my feelings, sort out all the jumbled thoughts in my head so I can make him understand. I want him to know that whatever has been going on with me lately is in no way related to him. He's the only thing that serves as a reminder that if I can pull myself out of this mess I can feel normal and be happy again. My brain moves a mile a minute and despite everything I'm feeling I just can't express it all.

"I'm sorry," I blurt out at last, settling for what I think is the most important thought.

He sighs and rolls over on his side, "You don't have anything to be sorry for Katniss," he begins and I turn to meet his eyes. "It's okay to be sad and not feel okay, there are always going to be times like that. I just wish you didn't shut me out. All I want to do is be here for you. I want to make you feel okay again."

I reach up and stroke the side of his face suddenly feeling close to tears. "Peeta you're the only thing in my life that makes me feel good. I wish I knew how to be strong like you, but it's just so hard for me some times." I feel the tears fall and all the pain and sadness I've been holding in for the past week comes rushing out in one wave of emotion.

He holds me to him and strokes my hair whispering words of comfort. He start to planting kisses up the curve of my neck and along my cheeks and when our lips finally meet there is no despair, only passion. The kiss deepens and all I can think about is wanting more of him, wanting to kiss and taste and touch and feel as much as possible of Peeta Mellark.

"Make me feel good, Peeta" I whisper into his ear and he pulls back to meet my eyes and I let him know with a look that I want to be with him tonight, really be with him.

I pull him back in for another kiss and let my hands slide under his shirt exploring the warm skin and firm muscle. My fingers trail their way up his back and I hear a groan escape his lips. The sound of his pleasure only fuels my desire for him.

Before I know it Peeta pulls my night gown over my head, exposing me entirely to him and leaving me in nothing but my underwear. I don't even have a chance to consider being embarrassed because his lips and hands are everywhere, touching, caressing, and exploring the newly discovered area. I throw my head back and groan, wondering how he can be so unbelievably good at this. I am literally throbbing with desire in my center and I buck my hips up towards him, desperate for him to find some kind of release for this passion he has built up inside me.

His lips return to mine and he whispers to me in between kisses, "Tell me what you want." I'm so turned on by this commanding, forceful side of Peeta, I have no problem being made to ask for it.

"Touch me," I plead lifting my hips up to him again.

He reaches a hand down to my core and softly strokes me over my underwear. The friction only causes me to groan even more and he finally rids me of my last piece of clothing. When his talented fingers find the little bundle of nerves I cry out, unable to contain myself any longer. "Oh my god, Peeta.."

He leans down and kisses me and I feel a kind of burning inside me that is unexplainable. Right now I literally AM the girl on fire and all I want to do is to make Peeta Mellark mine. I push him by his shoulders down onto his back and roll on top of him. I want to explore his body, I want to touch and kiss every inch until he is calling out my name.

I strip him of his clothes and kiss every inch of skin I can find, letting my hands roam across his strong and scarred chest. "Katniss," he breaths out but I've already moved down his body to the part I got to see up close for the first time a little earlier. He is so big it's almost intimidating but it makes me feel good that he wants me this bad.

I wrap my hand around the warm flesh and he immediately bucks his hips. I smile and slowly work my hand up and down until I hear him moaning and I can tell that I'm doing something right. I love the feel of him in my hand so much, alive and throbbing, that I feel bold enough to lean down and let my lips cover his hardness. After just a few moments I can feel his body tense and he pulls me back up to him, sharing a kiss before rolling me onto my back.

He hovers above me and we lock eyes for a moment. I nod my head and let my knees fall to the side as he positions himself at my entrance. I wrap my arms under his shoulders and cling to the strong flesh of his back as he pushes inside me. The pain and discomfort is only momentary and I gasp at how right it feels to be connected with him like this.

"You feel...so good," Peeta manages to get out as his hips slowly start to push into me.

I lift my hips up towards him and he quickens his pace until we find the perfect rhythm. I start to cry out his name as I feel the tension building and building inside me. He reaches down in between us and finds that bundle of nerves again and I practically scream as my whole body convulses and my insides tighten around him and the waves of pleasure don't stop rolling through me.

Peeta quickens his pace and after a few frantic thrusts he cries out and then collapses on top of me, his body trembling. I hold him against me, our sweat dampened skin sticking to each other as I push the hair away from his face.

When he finally regains his breath he rolls over onto his back, pulling me into his side.

"You've never done that before," I say drawing patterns on his chest, "Real or Not Real?"

"Real," he laughs and just the sound makes me smile.

"Me neither," I whisper against his chest.

"You wanted to do that with me for a long time. Real or Not Real?" I question again, not sure where this spontaneous need to play our old game has come from.

"Real," he admits sheepishly, "but for you I would have waited forever."

"It was as good as you imagined it," I continue apparently unable to stop talking, but I feel so content and drowsy lying here in Peeta's arms, "Real or Not Real?"

"Even better," Peeta answers without hesitation and then adds, "Now it's my turn to ask a question."

I look up at him curiously and when he wants to know if it's real or not real that I love him it seems so strange and silly to me that I ever doubted it, that I was ever not able to shout it from the roof tops and tell him every single day.

So I tell him, "Real," and capture his lips in a kiss and repeat that word that sums up what Peeta is to me over and over again.