Author's Note: This story is set after Ch 27 of Mockingjay, with this chapter set the day after the "You love me, real or not real?" exchange. The rest of the chapters will probably move forward chronologically from this point. I don't really have a solid plan for this story, so we will see how it goes. Hope you enjoy.
I wake up feeling very warm. Peeta's breath puffs against my neck and suddenly the events of the previous night come rushing back to my mind. I immediately begin to panic and try to escape the bed, but Peeta is draped half way on top of me and his arm is hooked around my hip, causing the both of us to tumble to the ground in a sea of blankets.
We scramble for a moment before his curly blonde head pops out from a fold in the quilt and gives me a bewildered expression. It seems that he is slowly recalling last night as well, but instead of trying to run, a lazy grin spreads across his face. I feel a furious blush crawl from my cheeks down my neck, and his gaze follows the reddening of my skin down to my bare chest.
His sleepy eyes are suddenly wide awake and he raises his head to look at my face. "Katniss," he sighs, plopping backwards on to the quilt once again. I lean over to look at him and his hands grip my waist, pulling me down with him. A small laugh escapes my lips and I feel silly for trying to run. But Peeta doesn't question why we are on the floor, so I don't mention it and rest my chin on his chest.
"Hey," he murmurs, threading his fingers into my hair. "What you said last night... Real or not real?"
I can understand his uncertainty. Over the past year I've thought about all the lies that I've told him since our Reaping and it made me question whether I should stay with him, for his own good. But he always convinces me to come back, that he loves me, that he always has and always will. Now it's my turn. I press my palms against his cheeks, watching his thick eyebrows arch in confusion, his eyes infinitely patient. Always waiting for me.
"I love you," I say simply, because I've never said those words in that order and really meant them. It frightens me when I feel the weight of them pass my lips, but I know that Peeta deserves them, and before I can say anything else he pulls me down into a lingering kiss. His hands move up my back and I start feeling that thing welling in my chest again, and I think that Peeta wants to move back to the bed, but the mood is interrupted when we hear Haymitch outside hollering after a stray goose.
We both laugh and I rest my forehead against his. "I really do, though. For real."
"I know," he replies, pressing light kisses to each of my cheeks. "It's nice to hear, though."
"I'll tell you more often."
"Ha, you don't need to do that. Just be you. That's all I've ever wanted, is for you to be yourself. And to be with me, of course."
I smile. "Of course." Standing proves to be difficult as both of our legs are wrapped in the quilt. A thread catches on the edge of Peeta's prosthetic and he starts apologizing profusely at the small rip. I wave him off and we start getting dressed.
I can't help but watch him for a moment. Last night was sudden and I didn't really get much time to really look at him. He is still thinner than before we went into our first arena, but his arms are strong from baking and gardening over the last few months. His skin is patched with light pink splotches and raised scars, like a road map of the past two years, and I think he's so beautiful. The stump that was his leg never bothered me, since I had seen much worse things when my mother had preformed operations on our kitchen table when I was a kid. It is just one more part of Peeta. Plus, I know how he lost his leg and I never take for granted that he is still here. At least, I don't anymore. His blonde curls shine like gold in the morning sun and I press a kiss to the back of his neck before walking to my closet.
Now I feel his eyes on me and I blush again. I'm trying to not feel self-conscious in front of him, but I can't help but try to cover myself slightly while I look for my clothes. He just laughs. "No point being modest now, Katniss," he teases, and I turn back to him, a bundle of clothes in my hands. Peeta is sitting on the edge of the bed clad in boxers and the t-shirt he wore yesterday, putting his pants on slowly.
"Whatever," I reply, giving him a half scowl as I pull on my underwear. I deftly clasp my bra around my rips and adjust it so that my breasts sit in the cups properly. Since Peeta started baking and making me eat regularly, I've gained weight to the point where I look healthy again. My breasts have grown and I my bra lifts them nicely, and despite the scars and patches of tender flesh I feel like a normal girl for a moment. I hadn't even needed a bra for months after returning to District 12, I was so skinny.
Peeta is dressed and stands, approaching me with a smile on his face. He rests his hands on my hips and dips his head, kissing the tops of my breasts lightly, and I feel my face reddening but I can't help the little grin on my face. "What are you going to do today?" he asks.
"Hunting," I reply, moving to put on my shirt. "You?"
The sun has completely risen now. I put on my pants, then we head downstairs and put on our shoes in a comfortable silence. We part, him heading to his house and me heading to the woods. I know that we need to have a talk about what exactly our relationship is at this point, but it can wait until later.
I come back in the early afternoon with three rabbits, five squirrels, and a turkey. I distribute the squirrels to the few families that have tried to rebuild our little District. There are plans for a medicine factory and the reopening of the mines (with proper safety equipment this time), but for now there are only a hand full of people that have begun to dig through the rubble left behind by the firebombs.
Thom waves at me and I wave back, calling out that I've left his wife a squirrel. He thanks me and gives me a genuine smile. I stop by Greasy Sae's and give her the turkey and a rabbit in exchange for some cheese and several sprigs of fresh herbs from her personal garden. Although supplies come in every two weeks from the other Districts, both Peeta and I prefer to trade in town when possible.
The road home is still covered with debris. Fortunately the bodies have already been gathered in the Meadow, and neither Peeta nor I could help in that effort. It was too painful. I make a mental note to come into town soon and help with the rebuilding.
Walking through the gate to the Victor's Village, I see Peeta's windows thrown open wide, letting in the beautiful day. I look at the sky and allow myself a small smile. It is late April and the weather is nice. Days like this are when I miss Prim the most, and it makes me physically ill to know that she'll never soak up the sun again.
I feel my mind starting to slip away, so I focus on the mass of geese roaming through the center circle of the Victor's Village. Haymitch is passed out on his front porch and I sigh. Those geese keep messing with Peeta's flowers, stomping on his little seedlings.
I automatically gravitate toward the scent of fresh bread coming from his kitchen. The door is already open and I don't knock; we've been beyond knocking for years now.
"We need to build a pen for those stupid geese," I grumble as I walk in, plopping down at the kitchen table. Parchment is already spread to protect the surface, a cutting board and knives waiting for me.
Peeta is bent down, exchanging pans in his oven. "Probably a good idea. The garden is suffering. I'm too afraid to try and plant anything edible, since it'll just go to waste at this point."
"Oh yeah. I got some cheese and herbs from Sae," I tell him, pulling them out of my pack and putting them on the table.
He stands and looks over my wares as I plop the first rabbit on the board. "These are nice," he says, picking up the bunches of leaves. I can see the excitement in his eyes as he thinks about all the things he can bake, and he begins gathering the familiar ingredients used to make my favorite snack. Peeta pretty much weaned me back to eating regularly with cheese buns, and now he makes them whenever we have fresh cheese.
We fall into a comfortable silence as he mixes ingredients without even measuring and I effortlessly clean both rabbits. He quickly chops up some vegetables and I cube some meat, throwing everything into a pot on the stove for dinner.
Now there is nothing to busy our hands, and we look at one another without really knowing what to do. But when have we ever known?
"Let's go to the back porch while we wait for the food," he offers and I nod.
The back porches of the houses in Victor's Village have become my favorite places, whether it is mine or Peeta's or on occasion even Haymitch's porch. They face out into the woods and they are the best place to sit on a warm spring evening, with their low chairs and wide awnings.
I plop down into a chair, my legs splayed everywhere. Peeta laughs as he sits next to me, and I frown. "What?" I ask, wondering what he could be teasing me about this time.
"If Effie saw you sitting like that, she would have a heart attack," he offers, and I just shrug. This just makes him laugh again, and I smile. It's nice to hear him laugh so freely. It was a while before either of us could laugh at all.
I'm not sure how to broach the subject that has been on my mind since I woke up naked in bed with him this morning. But I'm tired of always thinking about what I should say, so I just decide to talk. "Peeta. What are we doing?"
He looks confused for a moment, and I just blush. But, as per usual, he understands me better than I understand myself sometimes. "I dunno," he mumbles, and my heart sinks slightly. "Not that I regret it!" he quickly amends, both of us thinking back to last night. "I would never, ever regret that. Katniss, I love you. I've always loved you. I just want us to be happy together."
I look up at the awning, watching a spider slowly spin a delicate web in the corner. "Are we allowed to be happy?" I ask, and I realize that I have been holding on to this question since coming back to District 12.
His hand reaches out toward me and I automatically interlock my fingers with his. "It would be a dishonor to those who died to be miserable and waste the gift of life."
I look back to him, and he has a weary smile on his face. He has thought about this before too, I realize. Deep down I know that Prim would never want me to be unhappy, but the weight of the war and of loss is painful. "I... I'm not a good person." Peeta's mouth opens to interject, but I give him a look that makes him shut his mouth again. "I've done so many horrible things. Primarily to you," I add, a sardonic smile on my face. "So sometimes I don't understand why I'm still alive. I was the girl on fire, the mockingjay; why didn't I burn with the rebellion?"
"It doesn't matter," he says. "What matters is that you're alive, and I'm alive, and that we need to help build the world that they died to create."
"Prim didn't die for the good of the rebellion," I hiss, clenching his hand tightly. I feel the familiar heat of tears pressing behind my eyes, but I don't fight them. There is no point in hiding from Peeta anymore.
His thumb rubs my knuckles slowly. "No, she died trying to save lives. She knew the risk of going to the front lines, but she did it proudly because she believed in life and helping others above everything else. And she would want you to live and be happy," he says, reflecting my earlier thought.
"She would want me to be with you, right?" I ask, trying to lighten the mood as a tear slides down my cheek.
He leans over and wipes it away carefully, lifting my hand to his lips and kissing my fingers lightly. "Of course," he replies with a grin. Then his face falls into a more serious expression, his eyes fogging over in that way that tells me that he is remembering something. "She told me once... when she was helping me in District 13..." he says, closing his eyes as he tries to concentrate, "Prim told me that you loved me."
I can't help the broken laugh that escapes my lips. "She would! She would..."
The question is difficult, and I decide to be as honest as possible. I've lied to Peeta enough. "I don't know," I reply. "After the hijacking I thought I had lost you. I thought the boy with the bread would never come back to me. And I didn't think that I could love you."
I look at him and see the pain in his eyes. The truth hurts more than the lie would have, I think, but there is no turning back now. I grip his hand tighter, bringing my other hand to rest over his. "Believe it or not, it was actually Haymitch that made me see how horrible I was treating you. He told me to reverse the situation and think about what you would do if I was in your position. And I knew. I knew that you would have never given up on me until I was okay again. And then I realized that everyone had been telling me to give you more of a chance, from Prim to Johanna, even Gale, in his own weird way.
"But back then, it wasn't about you and me. It was about the war, and the Capitol, and Snow, and Coin. Love wasn't on the table," I tell him, leaning down and pressing my forehead to our interlocked hands. The horror of the war is pressing against the back of my mind and I can't help but shiver in fear of the memories. "It was about survival," I practically choke out, a few more tears springing to my eyes. "I just wanted you to live. Maybe because I loved you, but mostly because you were – and still are – my Peeta. You give me hope. Especially after... after Prim... I needed that hope more than anything."
"Katniss..." he mutters, his free hand weaving into my hair gently. He doesn't know what to say, and honestly, neither do I. We just sit there for few minutes and I silently let the tears drip on to our hands, letting myself feel the pain. Dr. Aurelius has told me multiple times that I have to let myself grieve, or I won't get better. So I'm trying. But it's still so damn hard.
I feel something welling in my chest. Something that is heartbreaking but warm at the same time, and my mind focuses on the fingers moving along my scalp. Comforting me, even though I know that he is hurting, too.
"I love you," I say for the second time today. The words don't erase the pain, but it lifts a little, and I feel like I can breathe again. "I love you, so much." It is getting easier to say each time.
I finally lift my head to look at him, only to find tears streaming down his face. "I love you too, Katniss," he mutters, moving his hands from mine to wipe the tears off of my face once again. His palms cup each side of my head and he pulls me close, kissing me gently. I can taste the salt on his lips and I sigh in contentment, allowing the pain to be forgotten. For now, at least.
After a moment I pull back, pressing my forehead against his. "This conversation went in a very different direction than I had intended," I tell him, and he chuckles.
"Come on, the soup is probably done," Peeta says, pulling me up with him as he stands. "Let's have dinner."
He slips the cheese buns in the hot oven and I set the table. We eat our soup and some bread that Peeta had baked that morning, and I find myself smiling for no reason. It's just simple, to be with him, doing mundane things. It's nice. After the hell we have been through, simple is nice.
After we do the dishes and eat the cheese buns for dessert we amble outside, finding Haymitch running around the central circle of Victor's Village through the flock of geese that call his yard their home. He is swinging a mostly empty bottle of white liquor at their heads, but since he is still very drunk, they dodge him easily. Two of them run into the backs of his legs, sending him sprawling to the grass. I want to just leave him there, but Peeta has that look in his eyes that says that he is about to be a good person, and I just sigh.
We drag Haymitch back to his house, plopping him on the couch that now sits on his porch. With the warm spring weather a constant now, he practically lives on his porch, sleeping on the couch nearly every night. Peeta says he just likes the fresh air, but I think that his house has finally become too vile for even him. We leave him there to pass out by himself and head back to my house.
"Wanna work on the book?" he asks, closing the door behind us. We pull off our shoes and leave them by the door, my dirty hunting boots next to his clean sneakers.
"Not tonight," I mutter, my mind too preoccupied with the present to think about the past at the moment. It's kind of nice, I realize. Plus I've thought enough about the past earlier today. It's too much.
"Peeta," I say, but then I stop. I don't know what I want him to tell me. We have been growing back together for months. Small kisses here and there, hugs, holding hands, sleeping in the same bed, but nothing like last night. And I'm confused, because I know that he loves me and I love him, but I don't know what that means, and it makes me feel like I'm using him. Again.
"Katniss. We're together, and that's what matters," he says, and I'm still amazed at his ability to read my expressions. "I don't expect anything from you. Just... be with me, but only if that's what you want." I can tell that this is hard for him to say, and his smile is a bit subdued as he continues. "I love you, and I just want you to be happy."
My body is moving without my permission, but I don't try to stop myself as I wrap my arms around his neck, pressing my body against his chest. "You're still trying to protect me. Real or not real?" I whisper.
He remembers the words instantly and a true smile crosses his face. "Real," he replies. "Because that's what you and I do, protect each other."
My lips crash into his before he can even take a breath, and the same feeling I felt in the cave and on the beach and in my bed last night comes back to me, more intense than ever. His arms wrap around my body and hold me so close that my heels lift a few inches off the ground. My fingers dig into his back and I push my tongue into his mouth, because I need to taste him, to feel that all of this is real.
He responds by moaning and picking me completely up off the ground by grabbing my hips. I wrap my legs around his waist and he lugs me upstairs, moving his mouth to my neck so he can see where he is going and press kisses to my skin at the same time. I grin as he throws me on the bed, all the hesitations of last night forgotten.
Our first time was beautiful, but it was also awkward and full of pauses. He was so afraid of doing something that I didn't want and I was afraid of doing something wrong and we were both so shy and inexperienced. I didn't even really see him completely naked until this morning.
But now all the fear is forgotten. He moves over me, pulling my shirt off of my body with sparks in his eyes, and I realize that if I'm the girl on fire, he was the one to set me alight. My fire was for everyone, but his flame burns only for me, and I moan as his lips graze over my collarbones. His hands are already behind my back, fiddling with the clasp on my bra, and I laugh as his expression becomes disgruntled.
I lean forward and press my lips to his ears. "Want some help?" I whisper. He nods and pushes his face into the nook between my neck and shoulder, his tongue darting across my heated skin. I reach back and easily unclasp the restrictive garment. Peeta quickly throws it across the room and he wraps his arms around my shoulders. His face moves to nestle between my breasts for a moment before he presses a kiss to one of my nipples. Now he looks up to me, gauging my reaction, and I don't disappoint. My fingers dig into his hair and I pull him closer, my breath coming in harsh bursts. A lick sends my head tilting back and I moan.
Suddenly it isn't enough. I grab his shoulder and flip him on his back, pulling off his shirt quickly. My hands run over his chest, his ribs, his stomach, and I lean down to kiss him hard. His hands are on my hips, his fingertips resting just inside of the waistband of my hunting pants. I press down, grinding myself against his obvious erection, and we both gasp.
In the space of a moment he has pulled off my pants and I've pulled off his shorts, and then we're naked. Last night he had leaned over me, but now I'm on top, and I don't know what to do. "Katniss," he pants, his hands massaging my breasts gently, "you don't have to-"
And there he is, thinking of me. It's so very Peeta that I can't help myself. I shift my hips and sink down on to him, moaning loudly as he fills me in a way that is different from last night. His mouth is hanging open and his hands drop to my hips, holding them lightly as his gaze travels over my body. Those blue eyes that I know so well are clouded over with lust and desire, and the heated look spurs me to move. I rock my hips forward gently, hissing between my teeth at the intense feeling of him so deep inside of me.
His fingers dig into my skin and he groans, his eyes glued to my body. Instead of making me uncomfortable, his attention make me feel sexy, and I move over him quicker and press my hands to his chest to keep my balance. "Katniss," he whispers, his voice rising to the ceiling like a prayer as he pulls me down for a kiss. His hand holds my hips in place as he flips me onto my back and pushes into me quickly.
The feeling is overwhelming and I wrap my legs around his waist to keep him close. He presses his forehead against my own and I stare into his eyes as he hits his climax, unable to look away. It takes my breath away to see the passion that only I can cause as he holds himself inside me for a moment, pressing kisses to my damp skin.
He grins at me. "Katniss," he sighs, nuzzling his face against my neck before moving down my body. My heart beats harder against my ribcage as he comes to rest between my legs, and his fingers and mouth quickly bring me to my limit.
My body arches off the bed and he holds my hips down, his name passing through my lips over and over again. It is overwhelming and leaves me limp and unable to move, and Peeta kisses his way back up my body to rest next to me. His head is on my shoulder and his arm is slung lazily over my hips. He kisses the top of my breast and broken "I love you"s float through the air, his breathing still ragged.
"I love you, too," is all I can say before my eyes close and I drift off into a blissfully dreamless sleep.
I wake later that night to the smell of freshly baked cookies wafting up the stairs. Wrapping a renegade bed sheet around my body, I roam downstairs to find Peeta pulling a baking sheet out of the oven in nothing but his boxers. It is a sight that I wouldn't expect to find so attractive, but it stirs something in me that I push away. My body is still tired, and the thought makes me blush.
"Hey, you," he says as he looks over at me. "Cookies?"
I nod and shuffle over to sit at the table. "Why did you make cookies?"
"I wanted them," he answers simply, setting a plate of the cookies on the table before fetching two glasses and the bottle of milk from the refrigerator.
We eat the whole dozen together, sharing the milk and a few chocolate chip kisses here and there. After the snack we make our way back up to bed. I throw on a pair of shorts and a tank top before crawling under the blanket next to him, snuggling my head against his chest.
"Goodnight, Katniss. Love you," he mumbles sleepily, pressing a kiss to the crown of my head.
"Night, love you too," I reply, closing my eyes and yawning.
Even though we have come so far, we still have a long way to go. But I think it will be okay, as long as we are together, and this thought allows me to drift off to sleep again.