WARNING: SPOILERS - If you haven't read all three books in the Hunger Games series, my story will be full of spoilers. Also, you might not understand what's being talked about, nor understand the significance of each reference to the original books. Anyway, what I'm writing about here expands on some things Suzanne Collins merely alludes to on page 388 of Mockingjay.
Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games series and I am not making any money by writing this.
Rated M for Mature.
There is laughter in the meadow, flowers, and sunshine. The voices I hear are familiar, so I begin walking towards them, trying to find their source. The ground is soft beneath my feet, cushioned by a carpet of new spring grass, and as I get closer, I see spread out upon it a blue and white checkered blanket with a picnic basket on top. Warm and steaming bread and freshly picked fruits and berries are already laid out on some white ceramic plates.
They're still laughing and talking to each other like they're the best of friends, but in spite of how involved they are in their conversation, they catch me from the corner of their eyes and their wide, sweet smiles turn to me and are forme instead.
"Katniss, we're so glad you made it!" they tell me. "Come and sit down. There's plenty for all of us!"
So I sit down between the two of them and nibble on some sweet, ripe strawberries, barely listening to what they're saying because all I really care about is being with them at this very moment, listening to their laughter, soaking in their smiles, feeling the warmth of their presence. I'm content and happy and don't ever want to leave, don't ever want this to end.
But the darkness in my room is beginning to give way to daylight, and as badly as I want to stay in this meadow with them forever, my own body cruelly pulls me away, forcing me to slowly open up my eyes and wake up.
It's only when I feel Peeta turn around in my bed and wrap his arms around me that I realize that I'm crying. It's the kind of full out crying that makes you gasp for air and your entire body tremble out of control. All I can do is bury my face in my hands and sink against Peeta's chest, hoping that my grief and my tears will die out on their own.
It wasn't even a nightmare. There was no death, no gore, no horror. In fact, it's the first time in a long time that I've actually dreamt of something pleasant...Prim and Rue alive and happy. And for a moment, for the shortest moment in time, I was a part of their happiness and I was a part of theirs.
And that is why I'm crying. Because none of it is real. It never has and never will be. They're gone and I'm all alone. Forever and always, utterly alone.
But Peeta is holding me so close and so tight right now that I can barely breathe, smothered between his arms and his chest that I actually have to push him away a little just so that I can get some fresh air to breathe, but in doing so, we're now looking at each other face to face.
I want to bury my face in my hands again because I'm still completely out of control, hot tears streaming out from my eyes, lips trembling from trying so hard to keep the heavy sobs in.
Peeta doesn't give me the chance, however, because he reaches his hand out to my face and begins to gently rub the tears away from my cheek with his thumb. I'm an absolute mess, but this doesn't seem to bother him at all. Instead, he continues to caress my wet cheek for a bit longer before moving his caresses down to my lips. First, he carefully traces the curve of my upper lip before rubbing the pad of his thumb across my bottom lip. It's a cooling, soothing sensation considering how hot and flushed my entire face is from crying so hard and for so long.
It's only when he slowly begins moving in that I realize that I've stopped crying. I'm so focused on what he's about to do that instead of trying to catch my breath, I'm holding it. Then, I feel a different sensation...The gentle caress of his thumb on my lips replaced by the gentle caress of his own lips against mine.
His kisses are light and sweet and slow, and my eyes automatically close so that I can focus completely on what he's doing. It's been such a long time since we've kissed like this. Ever since his mind was hijacked, I could barely stand to be alone in the same room with him, much less allow him to ever kiss me this way again.
Up until this point, everything we've ever done has been in the smallest of baby steps: Allowing myself to be alone in the same room with him. Allowing him to touch me. Allowing him to come into my bed at night so that he could hold me in his arms and keep the nightmares at bay the way he used to so many times before, before I lost him to the Capitol's tampering. I had been so afraid of losing Peeta by him dying in the arena or tortured to death in the Capitol, that it never occurred to me that I could also lose him just by someone wiping his mind clean. But after years of trying to recover, I finally have my old Peeta back. The kind, sweet Peeta who holds nothing but gentleness for me. The one who once admitted to me and the entire world that he's been in love with me since he was five years old.
I surprise us both when I start kissing Peeta back, slowly and gently at first, mimicking the way he's been kissing me, but I can feel that burning in my chest again, the same feeling I had when we kissed in our little cave in the arena, and again on the beach before Finnick interrupted us. But there's no one here to interrupt us now and the burning in my chest is spreading out to every cell in my body. And once again, I'm the girl who is on fire.
The fire spreads as Peeta's kisses move away from my mouth and on to other places. The first brush of his lips against the side of my neck sends a shiver through me, tickling and arousing me at the same time. This is more than we were able to do when we were still in the Games and yet I still want more. As if reading my thoughts, Peeta pulls down the loose collar of my night shirt and begins to spread warm kisses on the exposed flesh of my collarbone and shoulder. It mollifies me for the briefest moment, but soon enough my mind is silently begging yet again "More."
When Peeta's mouth returns to mine, I wrap my fingers around the nape of his neck and kiss him back, hard. I want him to feel what I'm feeling, that desperate, insatiable hunger that's eating me up inside. Maybe if he knows, maybe if I can get him to feel it too, we can work together and do something about it. That's how it was in the arena: If either of us was ever in need or want of something, we would work together and almost always succeed at getting it. Now, alone in this room, what we both need and want is the same thing and it's something only we can give to each other. So this time, when our lips meet, I press our lips together in a way that forces both our lips to part open, forcing our innocent kisses into something far less innocent.
Peeta is breathing heavily now. He is male, after all, and he knows exactly what I'm trying to tell him, what I'm finally allowing him to do.
At the same time that he rolls both of us over so that he can be on top, I feel his tongue slip past my lips and into my mouth. I welcome the intrusion by touching my own tongue against his, letting them gently glide against each other. He cups my head in his hand as he kisses me, pulling me up ever so slightly so that he can kiss me harder. Meanwhile, I cradle his own head between my hands, pulling him down to me at the same time.
I can't think straight anymore because all I can do now is feel, feel Peeta so close and coming on so strong. Besides, I don't really want to think right now. The alternative is facing a reality without Prim and Rue, and if there's anything the past few minutes have proven, it's that I'm not handling that so well. So instead, I'd prefer to focus on the only thing that's both good and real at the moment: Peeta.
As if to emphasize the reality of his existence, I feel almost his entire weight on top of me. He isn't purposely crushing me, and yet he isn't exactly keeping his distance from me either. He's merely trying to get as close to me as possible, as close as two human beings can possibly get, and yet, I want him closer still.
I tug at the edges of his night shirt, trying to pull it up, and Peeta releases me for a moment so that he can do just that.
I've seen Peeta half naked before, back in the arena when I had to wash him free of the camouflage that hid him so well that even I wouldn't have found him if he hadn't called out my name. It's difficult to fully appreciate the way someone looks, however, when they're hot with fever and bleeding out, but it's not like that now. He's alive and whole and healthy, and I can soak in every inch of him without fearing for his life or mine.
I run my hands over his chest and notice that there are still faded burn scars from the explosion that killed Prim and several others years ago. I have similar burn scars on my own body. Funny, how even in this, Peeta and I are a match.
Beneath his scars, however, the muscles are hard, especially now that they're tensed with him half hovering above me. I smooth my hands up his arms, chest, and shoulders, appreciating the fact that in spite of everything we've been through, because of everything we've been through, that he's still strong. Then, I wrap my hands around the back of his neck once more, pulling him down towards me for yet another heated kiss.
I'm glad for the high tech pills invented by the Capitol, the ones that will prevent me from conceiving a child no matter what happens between Peeta and me now. The arenas are torn down and there will never be another Hunger Game. Any child that Peeta and I may have will never be in danger of losing his or her life to the Games the way our own lives, and the countless lives of other children, were endangered. But even though I know all this, I'm just not ready yet. I never even planned on falling in love, much less having children. Maybe in time it will be just another one of those many things that I'll allow Peeta, but just not yet.
And so, the morning after his first night of slipping back into my bed, I made the order for the pills at District 12's very own medicine factory. Although Peeta has shared my bed for what seems hundreds of times before, I knew that from now on it would be different. If we got carried away, this time there would be no cameras to keep us in check, no allies to interrupt us. If Peeta wanted me bad enough, I knew I would let him have me, and I already knew from past experience that I badly wanted him in that way also.
So when his hands find their way beneath my shirt, I don't push him away. Instead, I egg him on, kissing him deeply in encouragement.
Slowly, piece by piece, what little clothing remains on our bodies is stripped off, made to disappear as they're haphazardly flung in the air and left to fall where they may somewhere on the bedroom floor.
Finally, there's not a single thread of fabric left to keep us apart. It is then, and only then, that Peeta stops us from the frenzy of kissing and caressing and exploring each other's bodies, to look me straight in the eyes for a minute as if to ask me, for one last time, if this is what I really want.
In response, I cup his face with my hand and give him the smallest of nods. The seriousness on his face melts into a warm smile, which I return with my own. Then, we both close our eyes and softly kiss once more before I feel him begin to slowly sink into me.
At first, it's okay. If I learned anything in school, it's that the human anatomy was made just for this purpose and I can feel my body automatically stretch to accommodate him. And it's also okay because he's taking it slow, letting me adjust to the feel of him while allowing himself to adjust to the feel of me as well. If the expression on his face and small groans that escape from his mouth are of any indication, the tightness of my body is something that is also taking him some getting used to. For a while we both just lay there unmoving, simply taking pleasure and satisfaction in finally being joined. It has taken years upon years for it to finally happen, and it's probably safe to say that it's one of the longest foreplays in human history.
Lovemaking is something meant to be done actively, however, and as patient as Peeta is, it isn't long before his primal self is urging him to do more than just lay on top of me like a lump on a log.
I can't help but wince as he slowly begins to pull away, only to slowly sink himself back in again, but the true test of my endurance to pain comes when he gently pushes himself completely in, tearing something deep inside of me.
This, too, was something I learned in school when all the boys and all the girls were separated into two rooms to explain the changes occurring in our adolescent bodies, why the changes were occurring, and what happened when two and two were put together. Knowing all this, I also know that what Peeta just did is something that I can never get back, nor do I want it back. I had already thought long and hard about who I wanted to give myself completely to. I had literally thought about it for years. Now, I refuse to do anymore thinking, or in my case, overthinking. In the end, I chose Peeta. And in the end, it was my conscious decision to let him take away my innocence.
At the moment, however, I feel like I'm being punished for that well thought out decision as searing pain rips through my body. I've had so many physical injuries in my lifetime, due in large part to the Games and the Rebellion, and yet this pain is different, maybe because it's the result of something I sought out myself rather than something I unwillingly had inflicted upon me.
Peeta immediately senses something is wrong and starts to push himself off, but I wrap my legs around his waist, lock them together at the ankles, and hold him right where he is. I look up into Peeta's face and meet his slightly distressed eyes with my own determined ones. Even though we both hate it when the other one is in any kind of pain, through this act I wordlessly tell him, "No, we didn't go to hell and back, suffer more than any human being should be made to suffer, only to immediately quit on something amazing just because I'm feeling a little bit of pain. Okay, it's more than a little bit of pain, but if I can survive a couple of life threatening explosions and live to tell about it, then I can sure as hell survive this!" To get my point further across, I wrap my arms around him and pull him back down so that he can't help but cradle his head in the crook of my neck and allow the rest of him to completely sink back into me. This is one fight I'm not going to let him win.
Eventually, Peeta feels comfortable enough to begin moving again and soon there is a rhythm to what we're doing, slow, careful, and gentle at first, but it's only a matter of time before we're both losing ourselves to the sensations that overwhelm us and drive us to move faster, as if hurrying things up will give us the friction needed to match the frenzy we're feeling inside.
Peeta, who has always been so gentle and careful with me, is practically unrecognizable now. His movements are spastic and increasingly desperate while his breath comes out in quick hot puffs against the side of my neck.
I squeeze my eyes tightly shut because he's going so fast and so hard that it hurts, but there's nothing I can do about it. It doesn't help either that the sounds that involuntarily escape from my lips come out more as moans of pleasure rather than groans of pain, which is what they're actually meant to be. So instead of telling him to take it easier on me, my own body betrays me by encouraging Peeta to go faster and harder until he's so lost in trying to reach his own climax that he's too blind to see the pain etched on my face. And if by chance he did see it, once again my body betrays me by making it look like I'm merely lost in reaching my own climax the same way he is.
And then, something occurs to me.
When I was young and still learning how to hunt and fish, I couldn't understand how I seemed to always scare the animals away no matter how quiet and still I was.
"You're too tense," my father explained. "Animals are extremely sensitive and they can sense that sort of thing. You need to relax and they'll just come to you." And sure enough, once I learned to let go of whatever stress and tension I was holding on to, the animals would more often than not automatically come, and my family and I were able to eat.
It's a strange thing to remember in the middle of lovemaking, and yet, the memory was brought up from the recesses of my mind for a reason...to help me. So instead of clenching my teeth and trying to endure the pain I feel now, I relax my jaw, let my mouth fall loosely open, and try to find pleasure in what Peeta is doing to me instead, and honestly, what he's doing does feel amazing. Now that I've relaxed my muscles, I can feel him moving inside of me so strong and so deep, but rather than causing pain, I can feel a different tension building up inside of me. One that's excited and fueled by Peeta's own energy. One that wants him to do exactly what he's doing, only faster and harder. And so, the next time a moan escapes from my lips again, this time it really is in complete and utter pleasure.
Peeta hears and feels the change in me and it isn't long before he groans his own pleasure into my ear as he releases himself deep inside of me.
Sweaty and exhausted, Peeta and I lay motionless on the bed with the exception of our rapid breathing. I feel satiated and complete and enjoy the feel of his heart pounding so quick and so strong against my own.
There was a time when I had laid my head against Peeta's chest and heard nothing, felt nothing. It was one of the most terrifying days of my life. I honestly believed that I had lost Peeta for good and the mere thought of it might as well have killed me the same way the arena forcefield had killed Peeta.
That day, I had an idea of what my mother went through when she lost my father, a pain so sickening that it immobilizes you and leeches away your desire to go on living. When it had happened to my mother, it angered me because it felt like she was being selfish by forcing Prim and me to fend for ourselves, but now...Now, there's still some of that lingering anger and resentment, but at the same time, I better understand what she must have felt because for just a little while, I felt that same kind of heartwrenching, devasting loss when I lost Peeta.
Back then, I wasn't sure where I stood as far as my relationship with Peeta went. All I knew was that I cared deeply for him and never wanted to lose him, but the part I wasn't sure of was whether or not I felt that way because I saw him as a true friend and ally, or because I saw him as something more.
Ironically enough, it would take several more times of Peeta being stolen away from me before I truly came to terms with what he is to me, but even then, even when I realized it, I still fought that realization because whenever good things come into my life, it all just seems a matter of time before they're simply snatched away. The thing about Peeta, however, is that no matter how many times he's taken away from me, he always finds his way back to me, and there's something to be said about that persistent, tenacious quality of his. It reminds me of a particular yellow flower that I associate with Peeta anyway, one that always manages to pop up in the spring, no matter how long and bitter a winter it has had to endure. Have I ever mentioned how much I love dandelions in the spring?
So after, when Peeta whispers, "You love me. Real or not real?"
I tell him, "Real."