AN: This might be in the end, folks. I'm sorry about the long wait, and here are three reasons why this took longer than even I'd previously estimated:

I. (Ha, I love Roman numerals!) I rewrote this chapter three friggin' times! I'm talking about several few thousand words out of line every rewrite. What you are going to read now is what I really feel is most accurate out of all, and as result you get lemons. Yum, you're welcome. [;

II. Have any of you ever taken a Business Diploma when all you really want to do is art, music, and English literature? Yeah, it sucks.

III. Why you all no give me nice reviews? Except for three or four exceptionally kind people, I had no idea if the rest of you thought the previous chapter was wonderful or if you thought that everything about this story sucked. You guys, this works both ways. I need to know that you want me to finish writing this!

Okay, okay, I've rambled my heart out. Without further ado, a big thank you to Snapcrackle for her endless encouragement – you should thank her too, I think she's the only reason why y'all are getting this. /serious nod

Fun fact: I listened to Vienna Teng's Gravity a total of 60 times over and over again while writing this, so if you want to truly get into the mood of this chapter, I DEMAND YOU LISTEN FIRST. REALLY. OPEN YOUTUBE. GO.

Hey, love

Is that the name you're meant to have

For me to call?

Look, love

They've given up believing

They've turned aside our stories of the gentle fall

But don't you believe them

Don't you drink their poison too

These are the scars that words have carved

On me…

Hey, love

That's the name we've long held back

From the core of truth

So don't turn away now

I am turning in revolution

These are the scars that silence carved

On me...

Her arm drifts down the sofa and onto the floor, her fingers searching for her bra. She's slipped on her underwear already, feeling awkward that he's watching her with his own pants still on. The fact that they've even undressed on this sofa and done, well, something, brings an uncomfortable, churning feeling of embarrassment to her insides, and she gives a start when she realizes that while she was lost in worried thought, he'd found her bra for her.

She moves to take it from him with an awkward, "Thanks."

"Um…" he holds on to it by its straps, smiling shyly. "I could use some practice with the clasp…"

So she moves her arms so he can slide the bra onto her, and she happens to catch the look on his face and he begins to work on clasping it - his tongue pokes through his lips just a little, his eyebrows draw together in concentration, and a laugh suddenly finds its way out of a place within her she's not sure existed before. In spite of the apprehension brewing in her stomach, his dedicating so much care and patience to learning how to clasp her is so endearing she turns on impulse to wrap her arms around him and kiss him, forgetting what he was working on.

He sighs and lets out a laugh of his own against her lips, mumbling, "Katniss, I was just getting it."

"Sorry," she frowns and pulls away, wondering what possessed her. "I don't know why I did that." And she usually never does something without knowing why, to say the least. When did that change? And how did it change without her even noticing? Apparently he has an effect on her too - making her forget to think. Stupid, she thinks in frustration. Don't kiss him if you don't have a reason to.

His fingers find their way to her back again while he shrugs and gives her a smile. "You don't have to know why you did it."

"Sure I do," she answers as the churning becomes stronger and the laugh that had filled her to the brim begins to shrivel up and die.

He shakes his head. "Always the careful, calculating huntress."

"That's not a bad thing," she defends herself.

"No, not at all," he agrees with a satisfied exhalation as the clasp catches the hook. He gathers her shirt and sweater from the floor and lifts her arms so he can dress her. "But I guess - there doesn't have to be a reason for kissing me, Katniss. If you feel like it - you know how much I like your spontaneity." There's a shy smile on his lips again as he says this, and she's relieved that he isn't teasing her about all the times she's attacked him.

He likes it, she realizes, and even though the right response should feeling warm inside or reaching for a beaming smile from deep within that place she'd just found a laugh floating out from, the churning only becomes worse as she tries to understand how she feels knowing that he likes her pouncing on him and kissing him.

Why me? she groans silently. Why inexperienced seventeen year old Katniss Everdeen who knows nothing about kissing?

Why can't she be hunting in the woods, looking forward to seeing Prim at home, living a normal life which would stretch on into ignorant, unmarried adulthood? And why is she instead allowing Peeta to dress her after a very, very intimate half-hour of touching, kissing, fondling, and other things that should belong on a wedding night, not to two seventeen year olds who had set fire to a rebellion and came away with more than third degree burns?

"Are you sure?" she forces herself to say. "Because I think it's really annoying to be kissed when you don't feel like it…"

He gives her a little smile that somehow creases a dimple into the side of his chin. She had never noticed he had dimples when he smiled. "I know you don't like being disturbed by me kissing you, but I don't think I mind so much if you disturb me."

She shakes her head, laughing at his answer, but she's caught the undercurrent of his meaning.

You can kiss me for no reason.

Please kiss me for no reason.

I like kissing you.

She blushes and he laughs too, knowing the message he's too abashed to say out loud has worked its way to her after all.

He's preparing a rushed lunch for them in the kitchen when he realizes what the vague sadness weighing on his chest is for. Clutching his breadknife and staring outside into the snow, he remembers an older, laughing male voice and can almost picture his older brother leaning against the back doorway. Suddenly he isn't in Katniss's and his house in the Victor's Village - the windowpane he's staring at belongs to the now demolished bakery, all the way in a now demolished town. "So, Peeta," the voice teases merrily. "I saw Everdeen looking at you today."

His own reply was the customary, "Shut up. She wasn't anywhere near me."

"Seriously, though." The voice lowers into something resembling solemnity. "Are you going after her or not? Are you just going to let Hawthorne sweep her off her feet?"

"No one sweeps Katniss off her feet," he rolls his eyes, embarrassed that he's even having this conversation with his older brother of all people.

"Ooh, on first name terms now, are we?" Kirsch raises an eyebrow, sniggering, but he ignores him and continues, "She isn't the kind of girl you can sweep off her feet. You have to be sort of - there, all the time. Earn her trust. Help her. Just let her be whatever she wants. And maybe, one day - well. So I basically don't stand a chance. Can we not talk about this?"

"So you're practically handing it over to Hawthorne. That's what you're saying, aren't you? What happened to putting up a fight?"

"You think Katniss appreciates guys fighting over her?" he kneads his frustration into the dough harder than he should.

"Stop teasing the kid, Kirsch," Rye's voice - even deeper than Kirsch's, which should be impossible - saves him. "Honestly, you think liking the toughest, most unlikeable Seam girl is easy?"

"Hey!" he protests, but Rye just waves him off. "I think Dad needs you up front, Kirsch. Doing something more productive."

Kirsch makes a face and heads out to the front of the shop, and Rye shuts the door behind him and takes a look at his dough. "I think that's enough, Peet. You'll overwork it if you aren't careful."

He sighs and tosses the dough aside, collapsing into a chair.

"I know it isn't easy."

His head snaps up to find Rye still watching him, arms crossed. Then he says quietly, "But if you like her that much - do what you have to."

He blinks and suddenly Katniss is at his side, cutting the bread he's forgotten in his reminiscing.

"Oh - sorry, it's okay, I'll do it." He reaches for his knife but she just shakes her head and goes on slicing.

"Go sit down." She puts the bread on a plate and he knows she can see his thoughts are elsewhere. Making his way to the dining table, he wishes he could explain how badly he wants to see his brothers now, to put his arm around Katniss and introduce her to his family. He wishes he could announce the news to their surprised faces when they finally plan to marry, or something - because he still wants to marry her so much and heaven knows when that'll happen. He can nearly see the knowing looks and nudges Rye and Kirsch would be giving him and each other, the grins and thumps on the back and congratulations and ragging, and again he realizes that that's a sight he will never behold. Ever.

It hurts him, a dull ache in his chest.

As he watches her eat, the list of things he wishes for grows. He wants her to be his, really his. He wishes that the fake story he'd fed to Caesar about their toasting were real, and while he knows he'd said that pieces of paper would never determine how married he feels towards her, he yearns now for her signature next to his, folded away and dusty in the records of their demolished Justice Building. He wishes he could call her his wife and that her face would glow to hear him. He wishes that what they had just done was after their toasting, in the dark of night - their night. Their first night together, tethered, married, bonded as one. He wishes for all of these things because he knows it's foolish to actually want them.

Because she doesn't want them.

Later in the day, after her bath, she climbs out of the steaming tub and stands dripping and naked in front of the bathroom's full-length mirror, shivering at the sudden switch in temperature from burning hot to icy cold. The fading evening light casts a soft orange glow on her skin - his favourite colour - and she chews the inside of her cheek and examines herself. Before, all she could notice were scars and skin grafts and discolourations, a piece of patchwork made out of living tissue. Herself, who she was. Her war-torn body.

But now… now, things are different. She can nearly see his kisses all over her, tangible and visible. Loving her neck, nuzzling her breastbone, sucking lightly on the delicate pink tips of her breasts, trailing softly down the sensitive skin of her stomach and then lower, lower, lower, to where he'd thrown her into heaven and caught her when she tumbled back down into his arms.

The hairs on her skin stand on end as she shivers - though whether it's from the cold or from remembering, she isn't sure. Her body isn't just her own anymore, it's his too now. He's seen all of her, has practically worshipped all of her, never forgetting an inch of her skin.

What's wrong with that? she asks her worried reflection in the mirror uneasily.

She wraps her bathrobe around her and sits on the edge of the tub, trembling slightly. It's stupid to sit here and stare in the mirror, wet and freezing, but she can't describe how terrified she is of having to unlock the door, get out of here, and face him again.

She's only delaying the inevitable, she knows. With a sigh she stands up abruptly, and blood rushes into her head and clouds out her vision for a second or two. I can't believe I forgot a towel and just sat here freezing myself to death, she thinks in frustration, waiting for the room to stop spinning. As soon as she can see, she marches to the door, unlocks it, and steps out into their room, but the sudden momentum she'd built halts as she catches sight of him.

He's lying on their bed, asleep and still in the clothes he had been wearing all day. Deep orange light from their windows makes his blond hair seem to shine softly, and he looks so peaceful with his eyelashes brushing the skin below his lids and his lips parted slightly as he sips the air and breathes it out again with every rise and fall of his chest. She has to smile a little in spite of herself, her insides warming till she imagines she's glowing from the inside out, the same colour as the sunset.

Then - she loses her balance a little, still dizzy, and accidently backs into a chair, wincing as it clatters backrest first onto the floor.

He opens one eye, focusing slowly on her. He chuckles tiredly, his voice scratchy. "Hey."

"Hi." Her face burns as she struggles to regain the balance in her head. She reaches down to pull the chair back upright, but her bathrobe falls open and she nearly tears it pulling the fabric so tightly back around her body. It takes several moments to remember that it doesn't matter, he's seen pretty much everything there is to see. And he loves it, a voice inside her taunts. Every apprehensive emotion she'd felt in the bathroom comes rushing back till she feels sick in more ways than one.

She crosses her arms over her chest and then freezes, wondering if he'd rather she just pull the bathrobe off so he can love her all over again. How many times a day do people do this? And how do they know when's the next time? Do they follow their instincts?

Hers tell her she's had enough of this for awhile, at least until she's figured it out.

Maybe her common sense is off. She's never had any experience in this. What if he really wants to do it again, right now? She inhales and shuts her eyes, pressing her fingers over her eyelids like Portia had once done. She sees sparks and fireworks and they make her dizzy again, swaying slightly. She presses harder. Her head feels light and tingly, and there's something else, too.


Well, that's a welcome change from whatever she'd felt that morning that is so hard to understand. Nausea's a safe sensation, she'll take it.

He sits up, resting his weight on one elbow, and watches her in concern. The springs in their bed squeak as he shifts his position, more alert now. "Katniss? Are you okay?"

Still swaying, she gives a tiny nod, hiding behind her wet hair. "Yes," she whispers. Liar, the voice whispers back.

He frowns. "Was the water too hot? Do you want to come lie down?"

Lie down so he can do it again, she panics. Lie down so he can take away her bathrobe and feast on her skin. That must be what he's asking. "No! I'm fine!" she argues, swaying harder. "I'm fine…"

She starts violently when she feels his arms around her, steadying her, but there are no kisses like she'd feared. He just gently scoops her up, carries her to the bed, and lays her down, pulling her fingers away from her eyelids. "Don't do that," he tells her firmly. "It makes you dizzy. Have you dried yourself?"

"No," she mumbles. "I have the bathrobe though, it's fine."

He opens his drawer and chooses a clean towel, bringing it to her on the bed. "Katniss, you've been through winters before. It's important you get dry before coming out into cold air, especially if you've been in hot water."

The gnawing starts within her again, like an itch so deep down she can't reach. It's not like she doesn't know sensible things like that! And who thinks about those things anyway when they've just had a traumatizing first time? She's being stupid, she knows - their first time was hardly traumatizing - but she's too confused to question the way she feels at the moment. She snatches the towel from him, muttering, "Thanks. Can you turn around?"

His eyes widen in confusion, and she snaps, "I can't have you watching me, right?"

"Oh." He blushes, because he really had forgotten for awhile that she'd have to take off her bathrobe. "Sorry." He faces the wall, slightly concerned that she's so suddenly moody. It's not like he wouldn't turn around in the first place if he had remembered - he respects her. He always has, always will. But the way she'd said it… I can't have you watching me, right? Almost as if she'd expected him to.

Is it because of…?

The air is hard to breathe all of a sudden.

He shakes his head, convinced he's over thinking - he must be getting paranoid. That morning had been the best morning of his life, and well… she hadn't seemed unhappy about it at all either.

But still.

He's highly aware that the girl behind him isn't ordinary in any way - she's Katniss, after all. The girl who doesn't care for being swept off her feet or being fought over. Who can say what she really feels when she's so different from any other girl he's ever known? And if what she feels is what he's most afraid of, he won't waste his time feeling sorry for himself.

When she's changed and feeling better, she reaches for his shoulder. "You can look now," she whispers apologetically, upset with herself now for being unkind to him when he was being nothing but kind.

He gives her a half smile and asks, "Do you feel better?"

"Yes," she avoids his eyes, ashamed instead of proud that she's finally telling the truth. Her eyes focus on the fullness of his lower lip before hurriedly looking elsewhere. What is getting into her? Awhile ago she'd just decided she'd had enough of kissing him for a long, long time - right now, though, she wants his kisses. More than his kisses. Suddenly the bathrobe feels stifling.

He washes the plates after dinner, and she dries them quietly as she stands by his side. Nudging him with her shoulder so he turns her way, she purses her lip and mumbles, "Sorry about just now. When I got mad at you."

He just smiles and nudges her back gently. "S'okay." He rinses off the back of the last plate and hands it to her thoughtfully. "Would you like to take a walk?"

She looks at him expectantly. "Where are you thinking of?"

He tests the word on his tongue, feeling every movement of his lips as he says, "Town?"

He looks over to her to see her eyebrows raise slightly. Then she takes a deep breath and says, "Okay."

So much unsaid by their lips within that conversation but spoken with their eyes. They'd never seen the point of traipsing through a place of ashes and misery, not even when people started to rebuild it. And they'd nearly never been seen together in public ever since they had returned to Twelve, much less being seen taking a walk purely for the sake of just taking it.

Yet he feels like he's ready to see the place where the bakery had once stood - and he thinks she knows that. Well, maybe he isn't ready, but he needs to remember a little more of his family after the vivid picture that came to his mind before lunch. He just needs to remember - just a little more before he closes his eyes tonight. This is tempting fate, he knows. Tempting flashbacks, tempting him to hurt Katniss in whatever emotions overcome him.

But he has to see. He hasn't seen yet.

It's nothing short of strange standing by the door and putting on their things together. She struggles into the winterwear Cinna had given her and he helps her with the stubborn jacket, easing her into it. The search for his misplaced boots takes another five minutes.

Just before they open the door, though, he leans his forehead against hers and gives her a grateful thank-you kiss for agreeing to join him, his lips still soft in spite of the cold air. She forgets her worries for a little, letting her hands slip under his winter coat and grasp his sweater with a sigh. In spite of her confusion before, nothing has ever felt more right than it does right now to be close to him again.

It's funny, she thinks, resting a hand on the expense of solidity that is his chest. These things which seem unnatural and awkward and easy to fear when seen from a distance, but she loses her mind so quickly, so effortlessly, when he's doing them with her. He's backing her against the wall and running his hand down her back to caress her waist, and when she pulls away slightly for air they're both panting just a little.

She chases his lips again, wanting to stay in this moment, the moment where she doesn't care about figuring out what this is and how she should feel about it, where the only kind of emotion that truly matters is the one that's making her heart beat so furiously within her chest. Her fingers lose themselves in his hair as he grips her face, kissing her deeper, and the vague realization that she can hear them kissing is nearly enough to make her blush before the hand he has on her waist slides lower down behind her hip and squeezes gently.

She lets out a surprised gasp and then he stops and pulls away, shaking his head as if to clear it and frowning like he's trying to remember something. "Were - were we going out?" his voice is husky.

"No," she breathes back, her fingers edging his coat off his shoulders.

He laughs, his eyes so blue, and stills her hands with his own, bringing them to his lips and kissing her fingers. "You're a very bad liar."

Rolling her eyes, she tries to kiss him again but he moves away, looking sorry with every step he takes. "Come on, we should go."

She swallows the sudden giant lump of disappointment that is stuck in her throat and follows him out of their home, onto the road that will take them into town and into a place she's never actually ventured into since she had been allowed to come back.

What will it be like, now that things have changed and she isn't the Seam hunter girl making her way to the Hob to trade her kills for something to keep the rest of her family alive?

There is no more Hob, no more family except for this boy whom she clings to in desperation. And, ironically, there is no more need to trade when she has all the money she could ask for.

How will it be to face staring eyes which barely mask their hatred for her impulsive stupidity of the berries, and then the force field arrow, and then the shooting of President Coin? She is sure she hasn't been forgotten, hasn't been forgiven by the district or by Panem.

She turns her head slightly so she can see his profile out of the corners of her eyes. Does he forgive her, really? For every single mistake she'd made that had earned him his stay in the Capitol and wiped out his family in one fell swoop? The more she broods, the less she is sure of what this morning had showed her. She knows he is kind and gentle and easily moved with pity - but she doesn't want his pity.

Because it is out of pity that he is staying close to her. It must be. And yet part of her pulls back, hurt, unable to think of him in that way. Surely he must feel something for her to have done what he had done this morning. Surely it wasn't a lie.

She takes her mind off the heaviness of her thoughts with great effort - there is a reason why they are walking into town, and it is to see his old life. She won't think about herself, she promises. She will be strong for him if the need ever arises. She will forget about her own stupid problems.

There are strings of little lights guiding the way along the paths, and she wonders out loud, "Did the Victor's Village have these before?"

He shakes his head and catches a snowflake in the palm of the hand that's not holding hers. "I think a very kind person must have set them up for us."

The idea of anyone living in this dead-end district and putting pretty little lights along pathways for Victors of the now demolished Hunger Games is so foreign to her that she tells him so. He grins and replies, "I think it's time we found out who's living in Twelve for real, then."

As they make their way out of the immaculate, mostly-empty Victor's Village in the light snowfall, he undoes her braid in spite of her protests. "I like it this way," he tells her with a soft smile, watching her long brown hair fall over her shoulders and down her back.

He tucks a little of it behind her ear the best he can with his glove and leans in to murmur, "You're so distracting, do you know that?" She knows he's talking about the wall by the front door, and as the memory of his hand sliding down her hip ignites a spark in the pit of her stomach, the warmth of his arm around her waist now coaxes the little flame straight into a blazing fire within her. So when she whispers back, "So are you," it is the truth. Completely. Whatever thoughts she had before this hasn't changed the fact that he is a hundred percent undeniably distracting.

She can't tell if he's blushing or if it's just the chill of winter, but his flush turns a deeper red when she stands on her tiptoes and whispers in his ear, "I want you, Peeta."

Then she pulls back in embarrassment, upset that she'd just voiced her desire so thoughtlessly. Why does he always have this effect on her, the effect which makes her even more impulsive than is actually safe?

"Maybe later," he promises, kissing the side of her mouth, and she throws her goddamned caution to the wind in exasperation. She wants him - so what? What the heck is wrong about wanting him? She moves her head a little so his lips are on hers, needing to feel their softness and his gentleness, but he pulls away, laughing a little. "Katniss, don't tempt me. You know we can't do anything out here in the beginning of winter."

She sighs, releasing a white puff of steam into the night air. "Then let's just go to town and come back quick."

"Sounds like a plan," he teases, but the gentle squeeze he gives her waist lets her know he's looking forward to it too.

If she'd thought the lights near home were pretty, the town is blazing so brightly through the gentle flurry of snow that the long-drawn gasp that escapes her is purely involuntary. It nearly seems as though everyone in Twelve is celebrating the winter, which in turn seems unreal, because Twelve never celebrated any kind of season.

Winter brought blizzards and a shortage of fresh meat. Spring hardly seemed to come soon enough for whatever meager crops planted to grow. Summer - while the closest anyone came to being grateful for - threatened to dry springs and send game fleeing for cooler weather. Autumn jeered of winter's coming once more, robbed of the pathetic harvest it deserved which was sent to the Capitol instead.

Then Peeta laughs, and she can hear such happiness in the sound of it she can't help but feel happy herself. "I love this," he tells her. "This place feels more - joyful somehow."

She smiles in understanding and tucks her hand more securely in the crook of his arm. People here do celebrate winter - and he is the first of them.

As they follow the road which leads through town, the first thing she realizes is that from the entrance, the place is nearly fully rebuilt. Twelve's residents have been busy piecing their lives back together - or settling down in a chance for new beginnings. Icicles hang from the sign above the shut-up florist that's awaiting spring, the smell of warm food wafts from simple buildings that call themselves "Restaurants" on their signs.

"We never had those," she remarks wonderingly.

"Yes," he agrees. "I've only ever seen them in the Capitol. Paylor's really helping everyone pick themselves up after the war."

"Snow really hoarded so much if Paylor can keep supplying us Victors with our winnings and offer generous amounts to the whole nation," she realizes in contempt. Even though the old President is dead, his memory will never cease to disgust her.

He knows her so well, and she turns to see him smiling and shaking his head at her. "Katniss, you've got to look at the bright side. It's because he hoarded it all that the after-effects of the war aren't as devastating as they should be."

"But still." She isn't done arguing her point. "I'd rather he have been honest and then we really and truly fend for ourselves now. That way everyone's honest, and no one needs charity."

He holds up a gloved finger. "Point one." She realizes that she's picked the wrong person to debate with. "If Snow'd been honest, we wouldn't have had a rebellion. Point two - the role of the President is to help the people, Katniss. Not everyone's as capable as you are." There isn't a hint of sarcasm in his words, not even at the end.

She sighs again, sending another puff of steam into the dark.

"What's wrong with charity, anyway?" He prompts her, and she catches his hint. There it is again - her old problem with owing and selfless kindness.

She looks at him and rolls her eyes. "Okay, fine." He recognizes it as code for Thanks for the reminder. I'm trying.

"Well," a dry voice interrupts them. "I'm glad to see you both out and about, I'm sure." Greasy Sae's smiling from where she standing from the doorway of one of the restaurants. "And I'm not the only one," she adds teasingly.

Both of them blush to see furtive glances from passersby and people dining and chattering between spoonfuls of Sae's beef soup about how the Mockingjay and Peeta Mellark - two rarely sighted public figures - are now standing outside on the road, arguing. But none of them are glaring at her, she realizes. Strange.

In an effort to forget their stares, she averts her eyes and takes a good look at the homely place with its red-and-white checked tablecloths and a merry flame crackling in the fireplace. It makes her ache for the untouched fireplace in their own home, and she promises herself she'll light a fire there one of these days. "This place yours, Sae?" she asks, and the knowing look on her face touches Sae's heart.

"Yep, girly. My very own," the woman says proudly. "That man, Heavensbee, he gave me the money for taking care of you. Mind you, I wasn't expecting it! Tell me, has he called you about that singing nonsense he wants you to film?"

Any joy at seeing a dream of Sae's fulfilled is squeezed out of her stomach as it twists at the sound of Plutarch Heavensbee's wretched name. She steals a glance at Peeta's face and is surprised to see his jaw set, lips in a straight line. "No," he answers Sae for her. And that's all. They seem to share some silent exchange before Sae is interrupted by her underhand who tells her she's needed.

"I'll see you two around," she says with one more gap-toothed smile. "Young man, when you come around to it all of us could use some fresh bread. The ones that come from the supply train just ain't the same." With that, she makes her way to her kitchen and leaves them outside her restaurant.

"What was that about?" she asks him pointedly. "Did Plutarch call?"

He tugs her along, past the restaurants, so they can have a break from the people within staring at them. "Yeah, he did," he admits.


"And I told him you weren't interested, simple as that," he shrugs. "Hey, Sae didn't invite us to try her soup."

"There's probably dog meat in it then," she smiles halfheartedly and then laughs a little at his shocked expression. "Peeta! I'm joking."

He looks relieved until she asks, "What exactly did Plutarch say?"

"You really want to know," he realizes with a sigh, earning an eye-roll in his direction.

"Of course I do. I just found out from Greasy Sae of all people that the man who's been hounding me for entertainment called up and my very thoughtful…" their eyes watch each other while she figures out what to call him - "housemate," she gulps, "took care of him and never told me." What can she call him? Boyfriend? She hates that. Fiancee? But they're not even engaged.

"I figured it would bother you," he speaks in his defense as they meander past poorer and poorer excuses for actual buildings.

The air is quieter and less people are hanging around this part of town - the part which reminds them all of something so bombastic and so sadistic it could've been a nightmare but was entirely true. They're closer now to the shops that never recovered from the assault and were never salvaged, and she falls silent and forgets Plutarch at the sight of the remainders of life before the Games.

Her feet crunch past a pile of ashes that used to be the butcher's store, and yet another pile that had belonged to the medicine supplier, and still yet another pile that had held the tailor's bundles of cloth.

All that cotton must have been easy to burn… She realizes it's the first miserable thought she can manage out of the sudden numbness that clutches at her heart.

His face has aged in the few minutes they'd taken leaving the new and full of hope and making their way to the old and forgotten. Any trace of happiness he'd felt in the last few moments is gone from his features - or maybe, she realizes with a pang in her chest, it was never there to begin with. While she had been cross-examining him mercilessly about Plutarch, he'd willingly entertained her complete disregard for the fact that he was here to see where his family died. She hates herself for forgetting her promise to be strong for him, switching roles so that, as a result, he had to be strong for both of them.

She catches sight of his trembling hands and takes both of them in hers in an effort to comfort him. He gives her a grateful look. Not a smile, just a look - the only thing he can muster at the moment. They find themselves at a pile of rubble, with the only indicator of it ever once being a building the ruins of one wall. She frowns at it with a sense of déjà vu. There was something about this wall - if only she could remember, everything about it seems so hazy…

He shakily releases the breath he didn't know he'd been holding in. "It's hard to believe that this was where…" He breaks off, unable to speak, and shakes his head.

She gives his hands a squeeze, and in her silent sympathy he finds the courage to continue.

"Is this really it?" He turns to look at her, trying to subdue his desperation as much as he can. "Was this really the place I grew up in? It can't be. My home's still around somewhere, along with the bakery - Dad and Mum and my brothers are still somewhere out there…" his voice cracks. "Tell me this isn't it, Katniss," he breathes, blinking away his tears.

She just shakes her head mournfully.

He'd thought he could face this, after so many months of hiding away from the truth. He'd thought the time had healed him, that it had taken away the pain. But now the truth is staring in him the face, plain and stark and ugly, and through his pain he registers vaguely that he hadn't felt such a pounding grief since he had visited Prim's room.

His eyes focus on Katniss, who is staring, troubled, at the one wall that is left of the bakery - the remainder of his past life. She's all he has now… and she's always been what he's wanted. And yet… how would it have been if they'd never created the controversy of the Star-Crossed Lovers?

Would it have saved her? Would it have saved her family, and his? He would die, of course, but that wasn't the point. Everyone would have been safe. That was what he had argued for, hadn't he, that night on the beach - that she go home to Prim, her mother, and Gale, and that consequently his family and all of District Twelve be spared?

She fired her arrow. She made her choice. And he realizes all at once that he was her choice.

She loved him more than she loved anyone else in all of Panem, and in doing so she'd unknowingly chosen his life over theirs.

He doesn't even know how to feel.

A sweet musical refrain drifts gently towards them, and she turns to look at him with concern in her grey eyes and an attempt at a smile. "Do you want to dance?" she offers halfheartedly, trying to cheer him up, he knows - if not for this, she'd never be caught dead dancing.

Her finger indicates the direction of the square, and he can just make out couples moving gracefully and happily in time to a fiddle's tune.

He squeezes out a horrible croaking laugh. "Why should I?"

"Because…" she looks down, gulping. "Because you're happy we're still alive?"

He wants to open his mouth and honestly say I'm not, but he catches sight of the look on her face and it hits him squarely in the chest. She's blaming herself for the bombings and for the death of so many people they'd known and loved. And if there's one thing he's sure of, it's that it isn't her fault! She had never planned for Snow to retaliate so swiftly, she'd never even known what the rebels were planning, she'd just followed what Beetee had been working on before he was knocked out -

"I'm sorry," she chokes out. "This is all my fault. I killed all of them because I was so impulsive - " she stomps the frozen ground - "and stupid" - another angry stomp - "and stupid enough to follow what Haymitch said -"

"Katniss," he interrupts her softly, reaching out his hand. "Let's dance."

She stops dead, staring at his tear-streaked face in shock. "Why should we?" she gets out through gritted teeth.

"Because I'm glad I'm alive," he whispers. "And I'm so glad you are too." There's silence except for her laboured breathing.

He takes her hand and rests his other on her waist, and she ducks her head and mutters, "Right here?"

Right here, in the dim streetlight that falls on the single broken-down wall of his home and his life before the rebellion?

Right here, in front of the ruins of Twelve and the ghosts of the people who had once trodden on this road and lived?

"Yes," he says firmly. She bites her lip and slides her hand up his chest to rest on his shoulder, and as the fiddle's laughing voice fades into a slow, mournful song, they begin to dance.

"Do you remember the last time we did this?" he asks with a carefully applied smile, more for the sake of distracting her than anything else. Her face still holds a grief that pains him to look at. "The pie plate dance," he prompts her when she doesn't answer.

"I remember, all right," her voice is tight. "After our fake engagement announcement, in Snow's mansion. Prep team was throwing up so they could keep gorging on the feast. I was planning to take Gale and our families and run away - "

"And we were engaged," he answers his own question with a disappointed sigh. "Happiest day of my life."

"More like the worst," she counters bitterly as he twirls her around. He can't help noticing how graceful she is, even in winter clothing and boots. "It wasn't even real."

"Katniss -" he begins desperately. "It's not your fault that - that all of this happened. It had to happen, sooner or later, and you were what brought it to pass. That's a good thing, I swear it is."

They're still moving in the pie plate circle, and her fingers grasp his like what he's said is what she wants to believe with all her heart. "Killing your family is not a good thing," she says, sounding like a broken record. "Wiping out District Twelve was not a good thing."

"We already had this talk two days ago," he reminds her sadly. "When we made the cake for Prim and Rue."

Her eyes meet his, the grey glimmering with unshed tears as she remembers the passion of his kisses and her back against the kitchen wall, and then him gently undressing her, and his fingers slipping in and out as his blue eyes watched her, and the awe-filled smile on his face...

She pulls herself out of his grasp with a start, furiously wiping away the tears that have begun streaming down her face. "I don't know why you love me, Peeta," she manages to get out through her heaving sobs. "I'm responsible for everyone who's died in this bloody war."

"Katniss - " he tries to reach for her, but she brushes past him and takes off running away from this awful place impregnated with awful memories of times she's sure he's been happier in - a lot happier than dancing with the person who'd caused his world to crumble, anyway. She races down the street, into the square, dodging slow-dancing men and women who look so impossibly happy too. How can anyone be happy after the rebellion? Why aren't they tying her to the whipping post and repaying the debt they owe the Mockingjay - the debt of a slow, excruciating death? Isn't that what she deserves?

How can anyone be happy picking up the pieces of their shattered lives?

She keeps running, on and on and on, out of town. She doesn't stop, not even when a stitch in her side develops painfully - she doesn't want to see anyone, least of all him. She doesn't want him following her.

And he watches her go, tears on his face, his heart cracking within his chest and piercing his lungs in sharp, merciless shards.

He comes home to a warm, crackling fireplace.

She's sitting on the rug, knees drawn up to her chest, dressed only in a thin nightgown, her hair still falling halfway down her back just the way he likes it. He smiles sadly, remembering the "plans" they'd made previously - nothing will be happening tonight now, he's sure. But with the warm firelight reflecting off her face, making her eyes dance, she's so beautiful it hurts him.

"Hi," he whispers.

She turns to look at him with red-rimmed eyes. "Why are you here?"

And may she never know how much she just hurt him. "What do you mean?" he manages without stammering as he pulls off his boots and joins her on the rug, sitting down heavily. "I live here."

"Why would you want to?" she shakes her head and toys with the ends of her hair listlessly.

"Because you're here," he says simply, playing with the seams in the rug, running his finger around the patterned threads. "I don't need any other reason."

She inhales through her nose, throwing back her head and closing her eyes, and his eyes rest in a daze on the long graceful arch of her neck; he has to shake himself out of it to realize she's speaking. "Peeta, there isn't any point in not being honest with you anymore," she's saying in frustration. "You deserve so much better. You deserve someone who didn't singlehandedly start a rebellion."

He can't help himself.

He leans in slowly to kiss the delicate skin of her neck before opening his mouth to taste her with a satisfied sigh. She gives a start, but it's all she does, and something tells him she wants him to go on, no matter how conflicted her emotions are. It's only been a few hours, but oh, how he's missed this.

In spite of herself she begins to breathe a little faster, and he can tell it's taking all her self-control not to pull him closer. His lips kiss their way wetly up to her jaw line, lingering there for a moment, before he finds her earlobe and takes it into his mouth, sucking it gently. Her mouth is open and she lets out a single gasp, and he whispers into her ear, "You're wrong. I'm the one who doesn't deserve you."

"Stop," she breathes heavily and pushes him away. "That's not true. You're just saying that because you're stuck with me."

She should be proud that she has finally voiced the crux of the matter after so much effort, but the look on his face is so pain-stricken she forgets to feel anything happy at all.

"You think I don't love you," he rearranges her sentence. There's pain in his voice too. "Why?"

"You shouldn't love me! I killed your family!" she cries out, gesticulating wildly. "Isn't it obvious? I took away every goddamn thing you loved! Your whole life - the bakery…"

"You didn't take away anything! It wasn't your fault!" he exclaims back in frustration. "And the people who were actually responsible for this - they didn't take everything, either! You're sitting right here in front of me! You're still here!"

"Stop lying," she protests, wishing that he would stop. First he creeps into her heart and steals it, and then he realizes that the girl he's loved as a child is not the monster before him now. Tears begin rolling down her cheeks again and she wipes them away roughly on the back of her hand. She can't afford to believe anything this skilled liar of a boy tells her out of pity.

"Why would I lie? I love you! I love you, okay? I've loved you ever since we were five and don't you dare tell me that's a lie either. I've been dreaming of marrying you my whole entire life - "

"Stop it," she buries her face in her hands, sobbing, making the choking sounds he remembers hearing in the Quell when Finnick had revived him. She can't give in, she won't give in, but she wants to, so badly she can't even stop for air as she weeps.

He pulls her hands away so she'll look at him, and her scrunched-up face is still so beautiful it still hurts him. "I can prove how much I'm in love with you, Katniss Everdeen," his urgent whisper is hoarse. "Please - will - will you - marry me?"

She gasps, but still he rushes on, "Because I really want to marry you, so much - so much," he squeezes out an awed laugh - "you have no idea. The effect you have." He takes a deep breath, trying not to stumble over the words that usually flow so smoothly from his lips. "I - Katniss - damn it, I want to call you my wife - and - and I want to be your husband, if you'll have me - "

"I don't deserve you," she argues feebly.

"But do you want me?" he asks desperately. This is the only thing he has to know - the only thing she needs, really, if she has any idiotic notions about requiring some sort of qualification for his love.

Finally she looks him in the eye, and he catches the previously absent defiance he's always loved about her: the defiance she has when she stands up against whatever her common sense is warning her against. "Yes," she intones and drops her gaze in a blush. "I do want you, and it's killing me."

"Why?" he lowers his voice. "Because you think you don't deserve me?"

"I don't think I don't deserve you, I know I don't," she snaps.

"It isn't a question of deserving."

He's said this only once before, but he can still see she's brought back to what they had done just that morning on the sofa.

She looks down at her lap, twisting her fingers together. There hadn't been anything more amazing than what he had done for her, how gently he had caressed her… and she remembered knowing so tangibly that he loved her.

"Real or not real?" she raises her eyes slowly back to his. A double question - one to his statement, one to the memory.

"Real," he breathes back. "Real to both. Real, real, real." The words, though soft, burn and imprint themselves in her mind, branding themselves there forever.




She's tired of not trusting him when she had promised him she would. So she trusts him now, knows that it's the truth he speaks. She unfolds her limbs, unfurls like a phoenix rising from a bed of ashes, and stands, the fabric of her nightdress falling to her knees. Feeling clumsy and overdressed in his snow covered clothes, he whispers, "Don't leave me again. Please."

She kneels back just for a second and takes his hands in hers. "I'm not." And the slightest look in her eyes could make his heart burst out of his chest. She lets his hands go carefully and makes her way to the kitchen as he sits back and stares at the fire, wondering if Katniss Everdeen had just agreed that she would marry him.

The answer is in the plate she brought back with her, balanced carefully on her palms as if it held a fragile, easily broken thing. And is it turns out, the unevenly sliced bread does hold the hope he had lit within her, like a little flame shivering against a gale - almost like she was trying to call his non-existent bluff, but with a quiet desperation flickering in her eyes all the while, hoping against hope that he would really want her, really want to do… this.

Whatever answer she needs from him is seen in his face - his eyes widen, his mouth opens in the largest grin she has ever seen, and then he ducks his face in embarrassment. "I'm sorry, Katniss - " his voice breaks a little. "You're just so beautiful."

If only she could know how she'd looked kneeling in front of him, clutching a plate of his bread and smiling so unsurely. She wanted to be his.

"So are you," she mumbles back, her hand slipping to his face, and he leans his face against her palm. She feels the light scratchiness of stubble beside her skin and can't help but smile that he hasn't managed to shave.

As he holds a piece of bread to the fire and toasts it lightly, she twists the hem of her nightgown and says, "Peeta. When you give me the bread - don't say anything. Please. I know you want to, but just… don't."

He looks at her in surprise before letting a laugh escape him. "How did you know I was planning a speech?"

"Because I know you, Peeta Mellark." Her lips twist into an unwilling smile.

He shakes his head and holds the bread to her. "Okay, then. Say 'ah'."

She rolls her eyes and opens her mouth, and he feeds her bread while their eyes meet and hold the longest of gazes. Bread. It had always been bread, even from the first two loaves that he had thrown her that day so long ago in the rain. Bread is him - and he is a provider. He is life.

And she is his now.

She ends up burning her fingers as well as the bread, but he eats what she feeds him without a grimace and kisses her tender fingertip lightly where it hurts. Now, he is hers too.

Just like that, in this simple action they have just performed, he has proved to her that he loves her not out of pity, and she has proved to him that she loves him too after all of their past disagreements in the Games and with Gale and basically with everything. None of those things matter anymore. Feeding each other his bread is an actual event to mark their change of mind.

They stare at the empty plate for what seems like eternity before looking at each other with hesitant smiles. He moves closer, lifts her chin, and pauses before kissing her shakily. "They used to do that a century ago, you know," he whispers shyly. "They'd say, 'You may kiss the bride.'"

"Hardly a bride," she has to laugh.

"You're wearing a dress," his eyes involuntarily flicker down to catch her delicate neckline dipping lower and lower. He gulps and looks back up again. "So it counts."

"Any other century-old traditions?" she gives him a smirk when she sees him looking, and suddenly, somehow, when he hadn't been aware - her old self had come back.

"Well, yes," he grins back, going along with her. "After the kiss, they'd announce, 'Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Mr. and Mrs. Mellark.'"

The firelight reflects in her widening eyes. "Katniss Mellark," she says quietly. "I'd forgotten."

"You can still be Everdeen - " he begins to say, but she shakes her head.

"What else?" she asks quietly. "What other traditions do you remember?"

"Well," he replied softly. "The man and woman would drive back to their new home after the wedding dinner, and he would help her out and then -" she gives a surprised yelp as he scoops her up, smiling, "he'd carry her over the threshold."

"The threshold's over there," she groans, pointing towards the door. "A bit late for that."

"Maybe," he whispers sweetly against her ear and she shivers in spite of herself. "But there's still the stairs."

She turns to look at him and he holds his breath, waiting to see how she will respond. Her mouth curves into her signature smirk, making his knees go a little weak, and she leans into his ear, whispering, "Take me up, then."

So he carries her up to their room.

He sets her gently on the bed and moves to take off his sweater, but her fingers stop him. "I want to." And she pulls his sweater and undershirt over his head for the second time today, smiling as she takes in the sight of his bare skin pebbling just a little as it meets the cool air. There's more that she seems to notice this time, even though bright sunlight has been replaced by cold blue moonlight that filters gently through their windows. Her eyes hover over a little scar that has slashed its way across his heart, to the firm muscles below, back to the sparse blond hair on his chest which trails down to his navel and lower. She finds her eyes on his belt buckle, which she takes in her hands and undoes deftly.

His breath has caught and he watches her carefully as she pushes his pants down his hips, letting it fall to the floor. He steps out of them in his boxers, and she realizes this is the closest she has ever been to seeing him naked. He climbs onto their bed to join her, and they're so close - not that they've never been close before, but there had been something about the bread he had fed her, something that made his closeness even more intimate and the shivers and tingles within her so much greater.

His lips find hers; her second kiss as Katniss Mellark, and the thought alone pushes a little sigh through her lips. He bites her lower lip gently, taking it into his mouth, and her hands find his back as she tries not to dig her fingernails into his skin.

He buries his face in her hair and murmurs, "I love you. I love you so much."

"I…" she tries to reply, but he starts placing soft, sucking kisses at the side of her neck, and she promptly forgets herself when he finds the skin behind her ear and touches his tongue to it, earning a gasp. His hand travels up her thigh, beneath the hem of her nightgown, to rest on her bare hip and just above her underwear, and he's so close to where she's aching for him that it's hard to control her breathing. She breaks away to rip her nightgown off but he stills her hands, breathing, "Let me."

He knows he's undressed her before - this morning, in fact. But tonight, this moment, this nightgown is so different, so significant; because she is actually his wife. He's undressing his wife, in their bed, on their wedding night. Nothing could have prepared him for the freckles on her skin, which glow softly in the moonlight, and the scars he has memorized and ones he has forgotten under his gaze. His eyes travel slowly up to her face, and the smile she gives him wrenches him inside. Beautiful.

This time, she leans in to kiss him, tangling her fingers in the blond locks of his hair, pulling him as close to her as possible, still thrilling from the fact that after all that she had done to him, he could still want her, still want to be married to her. He smiles against her lips and slides his tongue between them gently to find her own. He nips the tip of her tongue slightly so she momentarily weakens in surprise and pleasure, goose bumps on the skin of her thighs which he gently caresses away before lowering his head and nuzzling the soft flesh there lovingly. She sighs again and keeps her hands in his hair, gasping when he kisses her through her underwear.

"Not yet," she breathes, tugging him back up. "Not tonight."

He breaks away, panting, to look at her as his heart sinks. "Not tonight?" He prays he hasn't heard her correctly, but she nods in affirmation so his heart sinks even lower. "Then… do you want to just… sleep?"

She begins to laugh - to giggle even - which makes her shake her head, furiously embarrassed. "I want this to be about you."

"What do you mean?" he asks, confused, because making her feel good is about him too. She smiles simply and doesn't say a word, and he understands that she doesn't know how to say what she means.

She can only show him.

Her hand rests on his chest, and he closes his eyes and shivers, his breathing a little shallower. She relishes the feel of the firmness of his muscles, then softly makes her way lower as he tenses, and she follows the faint dusting of blond hair which trails down to his stomach, and then beneath. He sips a breath in surprise, his head tilted back involuntarily and his eyes squeezed shut when her hand touches him through his boxers. Oh.

They shed his last piece of clothing together, and then the room is silent as though everything is holding its breath while she takes him in - her husband, her boy with the bread, her Peeta, all of him. She has never seen a man in this way before, she has never felt the need to see as much as she does now, and nothing could have prepared her for the overwhelming emotions that flood her at the unhidden sight of him. He is hers. Then her eyes meet his again and she blushes. "Sorry, I'm staring."

He shakes his head even though he's so embarrassed he doesn't want to look at her. "It's okay, Katniss." And it is okay. She's entitled to this. He is hers.

He can't help the low groan that escapes his lips when she takes him gently in her hands, and she can't believe she is doing this either. Everything that they'd ever explored together, she realizes, was for her benefit. And while that was so decadent an experience in itself, she is in awe that for the first time, she is the one to make him feel good.

He is like silken steel, hard and yet tender, and warm to the touch in her still hands. Slowly she begins to move them, and the restraint and thickness in his voice surprises her when he gets out, "Katniss - "

She takes a deep breath to calm the excited fluttering in her stomach, because everything about this, about him, about how she makes him feel is amazing. She's a little unsure of how to go on, but she learns quickly that he responds with a gasp and a jerk when she moves her hands along him, and that when her fingers accidently brush past the tender under-skin of where his length meets the rest of him, his mouth hangs open and his head falls back in ecstasy as he bucks into her hands.

Soon she discovers that he is leaking wetness, and experimenting, she runs her thumb cautiously over his tip. Her reward would have been called a whimper if it hadn't been so deep and so hoarse and so low, and he seems to be trying to say something but she shuts him up effectively when her now moist hands caress his skin again. He forces himself into a sitting position, their foreheads bumping together as he moans, "I can't - be the only one - you too…"

He kisses her shakily while she keeps her hands moving slowly and tenderly, and soon his lips are still and open against hers as he gulps great breaths of air. He buries his hand in her now loose hair, holding her to him, while his other hand struggles with her bra clasp. The straps slip down her shoulders and he sighs in relief. She lets go of him for a second as he slides her bra down and off her hands, and he yearns for her touch, the touch that makes him forget himself just as he makes her forget herself. He mouths her collarbone and then the tops of her breasts sloppily in an attempt to pleasure her as well as her hands return to what they had been doing before. Although he's unable to do more than kiss her nipples and take them in his wet mouth, licking them feebly, it's more than enough for her at this point, and she whimpers as he hardens even more in her hands.

He isn't far, he knows, what with this being the very first time anyone had ever touched him and "anyone" - of all people - being Katniss. But he doesn't want to get there in her hands.

"Katniss," he breathes against her chest, but she has begun to slide down his body, leaving his face cold and bare and sweaty as she kisses his nipples, and then his navel, her tongue following the blond trail of hair to where her hands are working, and he loses his mind and cries out when she takes him into his mouth. He can't think of anything except of how overwhelmingly wonderful her wet lips feel around him, and her tongue flicking at his tip, no matter how hesitantly and cautiously, forces another cry out of him that is longer, louder. Then his previous thought registers suddenly in his mind - he doesn't want her hands, or her mouth now. He wants - her. He needs her to share this with him.

"Katniss," he tries again, pulling himself away from her. She withdraws in surprise, apprehension on her face.

I'm sorry - " she begins to stammer, but he shakes his head and pulls her to him, trying to catch his breath. "Katniss…" he pants into her ear, the undertone of shyness still clear, "I want to be inside you."

"But I want this to be about you," she argues, breathing in the sweet scent of his clean hair.

He pulls away to look her in the eye. They're both flushed, disheveled, and so undeniably happy that he's struck at how their worst night together had somehow turned into their best. "And I want this to be about both of us," he says softly.

The hands she rests on his back tense, he can feel it. The hard tips of her breasts graze against his chest with every breath she begins to take faster. And faster. And still faster. She bites her lip and looks away, and seeing this, he places his finger lightly at the tip of her chin and lifts her face back to his. He looks searchingly at her, and she looks back at him nervously. "What's wrong?" he whispers.

She lets out an unwilling laugh. Her fingers play absentmindedly with the curls at the nape of his neck, and he has to remember not to lose himself in her touch. "I'm just… scared," she admits softly. "But I want to."

"We'll go slow," he promises her gently. "Don't be afraid to tell me if you want to stop, okay?"

"Okay," she says hesitantly. The smile he gives her brings the dimple she'd never noticed until only recently, and something about that is endearing. She gives him a light kiss and whispers, "I love you, Peeta."

His smile breaks out into a joyful, boyish grin. Somehow, he can never get over those three words that she tells him off and on and usually at the most unexpected times. He lays her back down on the bed, leaning over her, and says, "I love you too, Katniss." He follows his words with a gentle kiss, and then another, and another, and soon they've both lost count as she hooks her thigh over his hips, drawing him closer, feeling the cool metal of his prosthetic over her skin. He gasps into her mouth to feel himself rubbing against the dampness of her underwear, but she draws his attention back with the frantic way her hands are sliding across his back. In turn, he presses kisses to her neck, to where it meets her shoulder, and then sucks a little of her left breast into his mouth and can't help but feel proud to feel her arch into him, keening.

Then her hands are pulling her underwear down her legs, and she manages to throw it beyond their bed to meet the rest of their clothes. He gathers her in his arms to kiss her again, and then he lays himself on top of her gently. She gasps as how the entirety of his bare skin against her own feels, her heart hammering out of her chest, and she can feel his thumping steadily to meet her own, and she feels something else… the tip of him is brushing lightly against her. They both moan at the sensation, and his voice is thick once again as he manages to get out, "So wet…"

She lets out a cry of surprise to feel his fingers slip between her dripping folds gently, and then as he finds the nub he knows she loves and rubs against it slowly, she shivers violently, turning her head to the side and moaning, "Peeta…"

"Will you say my name again?" he pleads huskily. Not that he needed to, his gently exploring fingers give her more than enough reason. She realizes she's been holding her breath as she moves against his fingers, and she exhales his name again in a long, drawn out sigh so he groans against her neck, his breath hot on her skin. He slowly pushes a finger into her and is surprised when she makes a noise he has never heard her make before. "Was that a meow?" he teases her breathlessly, feeling himself harden helplessly again at how she clenches around his finger.

"Shut up," she manages, pulling him back up to kiss her, but his second gentle finger's entry coaxes another long hum from her that, all obvious relation to her name aside, strangely resembles a pleading meow. He laughs against her lips but is surprised when her hand pulls his fingers out of her. "It's supposed to be about us," she pants, looking into his eyes. Please, her grey irises say. I'm ready for you.

"Okay," he whispers simply, and as they hold each other's gazes, he begins to press into her inch by inch, as slowly as he can, watching her. She has closed her eyes, breathing deeply, trying to keep calm even though he's sure this must hurt.

"Are you okay?" he manages to ask through his awe that he's in her and through his struggle to keep his self control up now that she is clenched around him in the most exquisite way possible.

She nods, trying to adjust to how he is stretching her and loving him still more for moving so slowly. Surprisingly, there is no barrier to break through - he has buried himself nearly entirely in her and they've not felt resistance.

His eyes see the grief in hers as she croaks, "The rebellion…" She isn't why she would be crying over the loss of something that had contributed to her fear of doing this in the first place, but the thought that she had been so stretched to her limits and thoroughly broken by the heartless, inhumane Capitol brings hot tears to her eyes. She can't even be whole for him, has no tangible guarantee that she has never been with anyone else except him.

"I've never - " she tries to say, then gulps down a painful lump that had been closing up her throat.

But he brushes his thumb across the softness of her cheek, kissing her tears away with gentle lips. "It's okay, Katniss. I - I know."

She sniffles, and he places one more kiss on her lips. "I know," he sighs. In the time he had taken to comfort her, she realizes she's now used to the fullness of him within her, filling her in a way she had never known possible. They had been made for this, to fit together so perfectly; she can't imagine what it would be like once he withdraws, and she begins to panic when she feels him slide out of her.

"Don't - "

"I'm not leaving," he promises her, blushing. "It's just… I need to move a little." And when he's pulled nearly all the way out, he thrusts back in to meet her. She can't help but let out the largest gasp she's ever heard herself release, feeling him fill her up again, and he groans as she clenches around him, inevitably hurtling him nearer the edge. He can't let that happen so fast, he tells himself as determinedly as he can manage; it's an unspoken, even un-thought-of promise he had unknowingly made to her and to himself that he never finish before she has had the chance to. This - the first time - will be nearly impossible. But he has to try.

He lets his head rest on her chest, burying his face between her breasts. He places wet kisses on her sensitive skin, tracing patterns around her nipple with his tongue, and her hyperventilation becomes openmouthed panting. "Oh, Peeta…" she moans, writhing beneath him as he builds a steady, comfortable, and unbearably slow rhythm. Her hips buck against his, colliding and out of tandem, and they exchange breathless laughs before she tries again to find a rhythm that fits his.

Soon they are rising and falling like the tide, dancing complicated steps they had never been taught but find so right as they connect and move together as one. He is frowning in deep concentration, drops of sweat beginning to trace their way down his face. She opens her mouth and catches his sweat on her tongue for no other reason except to taste the sweetness of his labour, and his hand, which had been squeezing her breast gently, moves to caress her stomach before slipping down to where they are joined.

Her head falls back against the pillow with a loud cry when she feels his fingers fondle the hot, slick flesh between her legs - it's nearly too much to handle when he's already hard within her and filling her entirely. She lifts her leg to wrap it around him, rubbing her ankle against the small of his back; he gives a muffled shout, burying his face in her chest once again, and thrusts faster and harder. Just the way she likes it, she discovers.

One of her hands slides up his neck to bury itself in his hair, and the other clutches at the firm muscles of his lower back, now with a thin sheen of sweat covering it. "Please…" she whimpers as he does his best to keep being gentle although he's starting to lose control. "Don't - hold - back," she gasps, understanding the brief look of panic on his face immediately. She brings a hand to his neck, pulling him down to kiss her although their lips mainly just brush against each other, too overcome to kiss. "Let go." The tremble in her weak voice is enough to let him know that she is so much closer than he had thought.

So he lets go. He pulls her hips high off the bed, thrusts again, harder and deeper than before; and with that he finally reaches the place where she needs him most, where no one, not even he, has ever touched.

Hearing her shout his name so loud in ecstasy is nearly enough to send him over the edge too, it's the most beautiful sound he's ever heard. His fingers find their way between them again, teasing the little wet nub between her legs, and her single shout lengthens into a euphoric, prolonged sob of pleasure. Her walls are pulsating around him, merciless in their design to make him forget himself and forget her. Just a few more seconds now…

"Let - go," she struggles to regain her breath, gripping his shoulders and holding his gaze. The tears that glimmer in her grey eyes are his final undoing, and he buries his face in the crook of her neck, yelling her name as he finally, finally releases himself. She feels so warm, so full of him, and so wet, and he thinks he's off his head, completely in love with her all over again.

The night is now silent to the extreme that it seems loud in their ears as they breathe hard, trying to recover. He has no words to tell her how fantastic that had just been; she will never find the words in the first place to thank him for sharing this with her. So they lie, entwined, feeling their hearts beat furiously against each other's chests. He makes a move to slide out of her, but her legs wrap around him, holding him in place. "Not yet," she says softly. She wants to relish the sensation of completeness for just a little longer, never wants to let go of him and return to feeling hollow.

He blushes and whispers back, "Okay." Then, even softer and more shyly than she's ever heard him, he puts his lips to her ear and says, "Will you… will you please sing for me? The last time I heard your voice was in the propo where you were singing The Hanging Tree."

She frowns a little, and he has to say that he likes lying so close to her, pressed against her and dormant within her. He likes being so near her that all of her emotions and expressions are magnified.

She has never sung before just for him, it's true, and she understands that he wants to hear what made him fall in love with her and never recover again. "You want me to sing The Hanging Tree?"

"No," he shakes his head, his overgrown bangs tickling her forehead so she laughs a little, flinching. "Sing something happy."

"I only know one happy song," she whispers, her eyes on his, memorizing the way his irises furl and his pupils dilate and contract slightly, delicately.

He smiles. "Then that's the one I want."

She clears her throat and lets out a small cough which in turn causes her to squeeze him slightly, but they both pretend they don't notice as it's embarrassing to try and figure out, anyway. Then she parts her lips, and he forgets even the sensation of being inside her at the sound of the voice he has always loved. "Deep in the meadow," she begins, softly, hesitantly.

She looks for a response from him, a smile or a word or anything, but he's staring at her transfixed, mouth slightly open. Biting her lower lip, she continues, "Hidden far away; a cloak of leaves, a moonbeam ray…" At this he closes his eyes, inhaling the scent of her through his nose, trying to picture rustling grass under cool blue moonlight. She has to smile at this - he will always be painting a picture in his mind.

"Forget your woes and let your troubles lay," she begins to relax, her voice sweeter and clearer. "And when again it's morning, they'll wash away." Nothing except the smallest of sighs from him.

Here it's safe, here it's warm

Here the daisies guard you from every harm…

Her voice trembles a little at the highest note, remembering how resonant and poignant her father's bass had sounded in harmony with hers. She can feel Peeta's gaze on her now, telling her she can stop if she wants, but she chooses to continue, taking a deep breath.

Here your dreams are sweet and tomorrow brings them true;

Here is the place where I - she falters, suddenly overcome with emotion - where I love you.

It had been first her father's song, and then Prim's, and then Rue's. Now, she has given it to her husband, her Peeta, and she knows the significance isn't lost on him. He shakes his head as if in a daze while she finally lets him withdraw from her, telling herself that it won't be long before they find themselves with the need to feel whole again. He nuzzles her neck with a deep sigh, murmuring, "Thank you. You have never sung for me before, do you know that?"

"I'm glad I have now," she whispers back, and he catches her hand to press a shy kiss against her palm.

"You love me," he says in awe, sounding so young, so innocent.

So whole.

So healed.

"Real or not real?" he adds softly with a twinkle in his eye. She catches the faint teasing lilt in his question and huffs, pulling the blankets away from him in mock exasperation and wrapping herself in them so he's left completely exposed. She pulls the comforter up to cover her bare chest just as his eyes drift towards it, denying him his viewing rights. "What do you think, dummy?" she smirks and takes a leaf – pun intended – out of Johanna's book, reminding him of just how bare the two of them are. His response is a gulp and a telltale sign that he might be ready for another round.

After all, she reasons happily as he attacks her, two can play this game. Which game she's referring to will always be a mystery, but she's done thinking.

And they make love throughout the night until they fall out of bed.

This is the same place

No, not the same place

This is the same place, love

No, not the same place we've been before...

Hey, love

I am a constant satellite

Of your blazing sun;

My love,

I obey your law of gravity;

This is the fate you've carved on me,

The law of gravity;

This is the fate you've carved on me,

On me.

AN: Your call. Would you like me to continue? (Because I think this is a perfect place to stop.) Leave a review and let me know, please.