Reposted with permission. This was originally a one-shot, but may at come point be continued into a multi-chapter fic.
I stand in front of Peeta, watching him tend to the rose bushes, pruning and pulling up weeds around the roots. I've left them in his capable hands because I know, under my care, they would die. And under his touch, they are thriving.
I'm nervous and my hands are sweating and for a moment I wonder if I turn and go back inside, will he ever realize I was standing here? I've haven't done this yet and don't know how or where to start. It's warm and breezy and because he's Peeta and he hurts when he watches me shake and fall silent and get lost in the past, he's trying to make our home warm and comfortable and ours. Right now though, I want something else entirely and even though it took me two hours to work up the nerve to do this, I'm here. In front of him. Wearing only his shirt.
So I simply wait for him to look up and see me. He trims and fusses with the branches, and the confidence of his movements calms me. Reminds me that he handles my thorns just as easily.
Finally, he looks up and at first sees only my face. He smiles. "Hi."
And then he sees. Sees my hands reaching forward slightly, fingers twitching. Sees the way my eyes train on his lips before flickering up to meet his gaze. And finally sees my legs, bare beneath the hem of his nightshirt that has not seen the world outside his dresser in many days.
He shared my bed in a new way just over three weeks ago and I can't seem to stop the way I need him now. I am unable to give him anything more than a fractured and tangled heart but he takes such good care of it. Peeta treats it as if it's new and unblemished. As if he doesn't want another scratch on it. In return I've taken on looking after the same part of him. Except taking care of him feels so easy. It can't be a fair trade.
His eyes darken and I can see his breath catch. I don't have to say anything. Even if what I'm doing is new, it's clear what I am here for. Over the past weeks we've come together again and again but always at night, lights off, blackness all around, when we're curled around each other and it just feels like the natural progression to be intimate before we tackle the terrors that come behind closed eyes. This is the first time I've ever asked for this outside of our bed, and he's not making me do it out loud.
Peeta stands and wipes his hands on his pants before moving to me, cupping my face with hands that smell like the earth and memories that are both sweet and unbearable. His tongue tastes of blackberries and springtime, the quiet sound he makes sounds like our bedroom, like night time.
He presses me backward, leading me to the house with a firm grip on my hips while he kisses me. He never stops, pulls back, or asks if I'm sure about this because he knows I am. He stops in the mud room, washes his hands, and follows me upstairs, down the hall. He follows me to the room that was never used before and is now the only space not occupied with memories other than this. Other than us, fighting the demons of the night together. In an attempt to make the house feel lived in, I've put a few of his paintings on the wall. A dandelion. A portrait of my hand. A sketch of a river.
Our clothes are slipped off. Over my head. Down his arms. Over his hips. We share small smiles and laughs as he trips his way out of his socks. It's daylight and doing this now is new, but neither of us bothers to hide. My hands have been hungry; my eyes know what to expect.
Our bed is more than wide enough for the two of us but at night we barely take up more space than one body alone. It is covered in a dark blue bedspread that is soft and warm. A small relic of the comforts our skin has known. Right now I know we won't fall asleep. I scoot back onto the bed and he follows, climbing toward me on hands and knees, hunting in that gentle way of his that is infinitely more lover than predator. He hovers above me, making me meet his eyes as this moment is marked for its significance. He knows I don't have nightmares during the day, at least not the kind that make me scream and thrash. He knows we're here because I simply wanted him. It feels decadent.
He lowers his head to kiss me, the rest of him still braced above, and when he pulls away I look down the length of him in the light.
"Say it," he whispers, bending and moving his nose along my jaw line.
I don't need him to clarify. These words, in my voice, are his only necessity for survival. This is why he is so easy to take care of. There is nothing to do but give him truth and he is happy. "I love you."
He hums, happy, whispering, "Say it, again," into my neck. In the dark at night, with fevered breaths and slick hands he asks me over and over, perhaps hoping my voice will drown out any programmed dissent that still screams inside his mind. But even I can feel that in the light of day, the declaration carries more weight.
"I love you."
We kiss and this is also different during the day. It makes my hunger flash differently. I am chasing him, not being chased by demons and that knowledge makes my body do new things like grab his shoulders, make whimpering sounds, and lift my head when he takes too long looking at me to return to my lips. I am impatient.
And he is, too.
"Touch me," he whispers when he is trembling and his brow is damp with sweat from want and spring. "More. Please."
I reach for where he is smooth and unscarred. I touch him how he's shown me and how I've learned in the past few weeks. I've watched and paid close attention, the same attention for detail I might use if I'm searching for traps or stringing a new bow. Because now without him I can't survive. I know how to touch him because it's what keeps me from becoming unglued, from bursting at every new seam.
His eyes fall closed and his lips part, and I say the words again before he can push the question out, though I can see he's trying. He nods and opens his eyes and looks at me. His look calms me, and I can't help but always think at this point - when my limbs relax then gain a new kind of tension, when an aching urgency overtakes a darker kind of desperation - of the fog leeching out of my limbs submerged in the salt lake. Of the relief of pain leaving my body.
Then he says my name. At night, this is when things become more pleasure than survival. And it isn't just one thing, like how it ends in quiet tangles and disjointed whispers or how his touch makes me feel. It's also the quiet sounds we make together and how, no matter what is happening, we never have to hurry. It's knowing no one is watching.
He is mumbling and I move faster, sensing somehow that I should. But he shakes his head and I am stilled by his hand on mine. He moves my hand off of him and it finds its own way around his neck, into his hair. He bends to kiss me once before turning his attention elsewhere.
Peeta touches me as if he's painting my skin, words and images that attempt to cover the pain and horror and scars. They do. For brief flashes of time, he takes it all away and each time he touches me the relief lasts longer. Someday, at some point, he will have touched my life more than have the horrors of these two years and that has to count for something.
His lips find my jawbone and more sensitive places. My breasts, my abdomen, my hip. Lower.
This we have come to know: his mouth, my body, this kind of kiss.
He returns to me slowly, kissing his way back up, finding me still gasping. Despite what he's given me, I am not yet sated. I am hungrier. Starving now. His mouth still tastes of blackberries now mingled with my want, and this time I need no prompt. "I love you," I say.
"I know," he says, smiling at me, his mouth and breath over and around mine.
I realize what I've just done. "Was that bad timing?" I ask, laughing. He has teased me for being most expressive in my emotions when he does that.
"No," he says and his kiss is slow and soft. "I like that you always say that after I kiss you there."
I tug at his hips but for the first time, he resists. He surprises me by rolling off of me and onto his back. I stare at him, smiling a little. It's all I can give but he takes it as if my grin spreads from ear to ear, smiling back. Shaking my head, I say, "I don't know what..."
"Sure you do," he says, reaching for me, not caring what would have ended my hesitating sentence.
I climb on him, my legs bracketing his waist, and kiss him to build my courage. This isn't like sleeping curled around him or threading his fingers with mine. It's not even like taking him inside me, above me, his sturdy shoulders moving over me in the dark cloak of night. This is me, giving him myself, letting him watch me without anything to hide behind. I am not covered or camouflaged.
"Katniss?" he asks. Without needing clarification I know he wants to know if it's okay to ask this of me. Pushing my intimacy this way. He wants to know if what he gives me is worth the threshold I have to cross to lead this moment.
I nod and run my hands up his torso to his neck.
When I lower myself over him, taking him in, he pushes his head back into the pillow. Every cord in his neck appears, tense and pronounced. His teeth are clenched and he hisses through them, stilling my hips with his fingertips. I feel fuller this way and bite down on my bottom lip to keep quiet.
I wait, running own fingers along his neck, finding that I like how much he's struggling to not lose himself. I like this sign of how I make him feel. When his fingers relax and slip around to pull me forward slightly, I begin to move. I'm not self-conscious anymore about the vulnerability of this act, positioned over him in this way. If he wanted it different, he would ask me. We have so little need for pretense, it is as if our bones make love to bones, muscle to muscle, skin to skin. Inside out I am bare with him and it is the only security I know.
He gasps and winces but it isn't from pain. I am learning him and I know he is already close.
"No," he says, sitting up underneath me abruptly.
"Yes," I say. I push on his chest, willing him to let me give him something - anything - without taking in return.
But he stays sitting up, kissing along my collarbone as he reaches between us to touch me. I make the sound he likes, the sound that tells him I'm his.
"That it?" he asks. "There?"
I nod and move some more, feeling him adjust his hand to accommodate my movements.
He presses harder as I move over him, his jaw tense as he struggles to wait for me.
"Is it nice?"
I nod and gasp, locking my eyes with his. He is my rock, grounding me. His eyes are my tether.
"Say it, Katniss."
"It's good," I manage to say. He smiles because he knows how much effort it takes me to find soft words even when he's not touching me like this. "I need you," I say without thinking, but I don't want to take it back.
His face seems to fall but I know it's from the weight of my admission, and that he knows exactly what I mean.
Peeta presses his face to my neck and he kisses me. Soft sucking kisses that I feel in a trail of fire along my skin. Then the pleasure sneaks up on me like it always does. It's like my body is still unconvinced that anything can trump the pain. But this does, always. I cry out, bite down on his shoulder, feeling his hands push and pull my hips. And it's so good, his chest against mine and his lips so close pressing and retreating from my skin. The room his hot and we sweat against each other and there is nothing in the world I love more than his sounds, than his face as he watches me. He never lets go before me. Never even lets go with me.
After I finish and I take his face between my hands, he shakes and groans and I love the sound. Maybe it is that sound that convinces me that life goes on, ours specifically. That sound can only come from something good.
I still and the silence reverberates through the room. Peeta flops back on the pillow. He is glistening and smiling as he shoves his hands behind his head.
"That was unexpected." He surveys me, looking at every feature. It's like I can see the questions flickering behind his eyes but he doesn't press. "You actually took off what you were wearing to put on my nightshirt." He grins. This is a victory he can relish. "Then came outside and found me. There were a lot of steps involved."
I shrug and smile a little, staring at his shoulder. There's nothing to admit, of course I did what he says.
"I know it's only been a few weeks but I wondered if it was only for night time... if you really wanted me in that way." His smile remains but his eyes have grown tighter, betraying the anxiety underneath.
"I do," I say, drawing a spiral around a circular burn mark on his skin.
I cough and feel my body squeeze him. He bites back a laugh and this new intimacy is disorienting. I purse my lips at him, daring him to tease me. He doesn't.
"Why today?" he asks.
I mull over his question for a while before saying impulsively, "Are we getting married?"
He knows me so well and knows that if I've asked this, we have already skipped several steps. "Yes," he says.
"When?" I ask.
"Today," he answers. "Tomorrow. Next year."
"The weekend." I'll be eighteen. He's been eighteen for weeks. I realize we haven't celebrated it. And then I'm frozen at the thought. I haven't marked a birthday with more than a nod and a smile since Prim turned twelve. I choose distraction. "What do you want for your birthday?"
He stretches, and his whole body tenses with it. He is still inside me. "I want you to come find me in the garden and take me upstairs. I want you to tell me you love me and then show me you do. I want to watch you move over me. So, basically this."
Peeta. I smile and it lingers. For some reason, making him happy with me is satisfying beyond explanation.
"When did you first think I loved you?" I ask. Something has changed and I want to talk about these things. He's in my head now. Why pretend otherwise?
He looks at me for several long moments before he shrugs and looks confused. "I don't know. When I asked you?"
I hate this answer. It was so late into everything. Running my hand down his chest, I whisper, "Sorry." I wish I could have spared him any hurt. I wish I could have protected him from myself and my inability to find space for feelings and devotion beyond Prim but I know he doesn't blame me. "Ask me anything," I say.
"When did you start to love me?"
I should have anticipated the question but I'm wholly unprepared. I honestly don't know. I didn't get it, for a long time. I had no context, no space. I had no skill letting people in. My walls were too high, too strong. "Maybe when you gave me bread? Maybe when I thought you might die in the cave?"
"When really?" he asks.
I shrug. "The first time you saved me." It could mean a million things. I remember the first time my brain let my body decide. "Or, maybe the beach."
He nods and when he stares at me he seems to be struggling to piece together the truth from the manipulation. "Real," I whisper. "I wanted you... like this... on the beach."
He exhales and watches me. I can tell that this realization - that my body has wanted his for a long time - is reassuring to him. He believes now that I love him and maybe he can tell by my actions since he was rescued from the Capitol that it must be true. But he is fighting so many memories of our kissing and touching and even in the reality of those moments he wasn't sure how much I meant it. Add in the Capitol's manipulation and the confusion no doubt lingered despite my breathless insistence at night.
I know he has a million questions but we are starting to accept that we have more than just this moment to answer them. "I'm still inside of you," he says. Each night we come together, then roll apart just as easily and he curls up behind me as we sleep.
Is it a question? Yes. He wants to know what it means, how this piece of information changes things. Since he first came into my bed and tentatively put his hand over my heart, under my shirt, and bent to kiss me, he is the only happiness I have. So by extension this, his body still in mine while we talk, is everything.
My parents were in love. I remember hearing them talk and touch. I remember seeing them kiss. I remember my father's eyes when he watched my mother. I remember my mother's blank stare when he died. As strange as it sounds after everything, I want that. I have believed I have no room for love but I want to push everything out and fill it with Peeta and the spring outside and the people returning to District 12. Instead of voicing any of this I just ask, "Are we really doing this?"
He glances down to where I sit over him and then back to my face, determining my meaning. "You mean making it real?"
I nod, meeting his eyes. No more Capitol watching. No more show for the audience. Real kisses. Real moments, like this, just us. "I mean choosing each other."
"Yeah," he says and no arena could contain his smile.
The image of my parents slips from my mind and his parents flash before my eyes. "I don't want quiet and lonely and convenient."
"No," he agrees, bursting. His body wants mine again and I tease him, just a little. I roll my hips and touch his lips with the tips of my fingers. He smells the wild berries and bread he fed me not three hours ago. He probably also smells his own skin on my hands.
"So ask me already," I say, biting back a smile.
"Marry me, Katniss?" he whispers.
"Okay," I say.
Peeta laughs and as he rolls over and onto me, I feel the darkness ebb away from every hidden corner.