Author's Note: This is my first ever piece of fan fiction, I am not used to writing at all other than academic documents, so I hope people enjoy the story. Basically, this is a bit of a "quickie" in terms of a fan fic, as in everything happens quite fast, but it seems I am a bit of a perv and wanted to know in detail what went on between Peeta and Katniss before the "After" sentence at the end of Mockingjay... so it kinda flew out like this. I'm hoping to write more in depth fan fiction in the future really trying to get a handle on the characters and their journey, but this is a starting point which scratched the itch to write the dirty stuff... be warned, it IS quite graphic (but done, I hope, quite tenderly).

I would *really* appreciate any reviews or comments, as I said I am a total noob at this stuff :)

As ever, copyright of the Hunger Games and all characters is with Suzanne Collins, and I make no money from this story.

Oratorio


I wake to the sound of screaming and sit bolt upright, sheets slipping from my sweating body and pooling on the floor. Breathing hard, shaking, I stare into the gloom, suddenly afraid to get up, trying to understand what's going on and who is in so much pain. It takes me a few minutes to realise that it was me.

Pieces of the dream come back to me – wolf-like creatures, mouths full of flesh; burning wedding dresses, the flames white hot - and in the middle of it all my sister, stretching her arms out to me…

I should have protected her. How could I have lived and not her, my innocent sister, so much better than I will ever be.

My shudders subside into sobs as I rock backwards and forwards in the dark. I wrap my arms around myself tightly, and gasp as a sudden desire for another's arms overtakes me. Peeta, I think. I remember the nights on the train when his arms made everything feel okay. I feel so alone. "Peeta," I whisper, into the dark, "Where are you… I need you."

I don't remember falling asleep, but I wake to tendrils of sunlight forcing their way through the gaps in the blinds, making my puffy and swollen eyes sting. I groan and turn over in the bed, grasping for the pillow to block out the rays. As I rise from sleep, a noise from outside my window makes me freeze in fear. There is someone in my garden. Thoughts race through my head – who could be here, are they spying on me, have they come for me, is my trial not over? Panic grips me, tight in my throat. I race to my bathroom, lock the door.

Sitting on the cold, tiled floor with my back pressed tight against the bathroom door, I try desperately to calm myself down. Taking deep breaths. Trying to think rationally. Who is in my garden? Haymitch, perhaps. Unlikely. He rarely sets foot outside his own house these days, and if he wanted to see me he would probably just barge straight in. He isn't the sort to lurk in the flowerbeds.

Eventually I manage to convince myself that if this person wished to harm me, they would not be scuffling around underneath my bedroom window so noisily and for so long.

Tentatively, I step back into my bedroom and creep over to the window. Lifting a corner of the blinds, I peer out, blinking in the sudden daylight.

There he is, bending over my flowerbeds, the sun glinting on his golden hair. My breath catches in my throat as I watch his muscles flex as he digs into the black soil. Am I still asleep, dreaming? No, my dreams are never like this. Not any more. He is really here, as if my whispers in the night had called him to me. I press my fingers to the glass. He notices the movement and straightens up, covering his eyes with one hand as he squints and smiles at me through the window. He looks different, he is thinner and I can see the ridges of scars on his arms, but it's still my Peeta.

I half-run, half stagger down the stairs, thoughts tumbling through my head. Joy at Peeta being here again, fear of the memories that seeing him might bring. He is already at my door when I fling it wide. Waiting for me, that beautiful smile that I remember so well. So far from the twisted hatred he flung at me in District 13. He looks like the real Peeta. He has mud on his hands.

"I was planting some of these. I found them in the woods and just thought… I hope you don't mind," Peeta holds up what appears to be a tangle of roots and earth, but I see yellow petals and know what he has brought. Primroses. I feel my eyes fill with tears again. I step forward and without thinking I wrap my arms tight around his waist and bury my face in his chest. I can smell him, warm and masculine, and I breathe him in. So familiar, yet so new. The realisation of how much I have missed him hits me like a physical pain.

"Hey, you," Peeta huffs into my ear, smiling broadly, unable to hide his surprise and pleasure at being welcomed so fulsomely. "I missed you," he tells me, stroking my tangled hair. I smile up at him, "I'm glad you're here". It doesn't seem enough, but I can barely understand the emotions running through me. Right now, it's all I can give him. He seems satisfied, and hugs me tightly.

We're sitting around the kitchen table, smiling at each other, awkward, not knowing what to say. I want to touch him, and I don't know why. It's comforting having him here in my house, but it doesn't feel like comfort that I want to reach out for. There's a knot in my stomach and tears keep threatening to spring from my eyes, but for once I am not sad.

I have made us both hot chocolate and he curls his hands around the warmth of the mug. I watch his long, graceful fingers and feel an odd twinge in my belly. I am remembering again the nights spent in those arms, and how lonely I have been since returning to District 12.

"It's been a long time since I have had this, I had forgotten how good it was," I tell him. He smiles and takes a gulp of his drink, "It really is delicious, Katniss!" But I am not talking about the hot chocolate.

"So…"

What can I say? "How have you been" just seems insulting. I know from inside my own head what the answer to that question would be. I feel helpless; I was never any good with words. I know this man so well, why is this so difficult?

Fortunately Peeta rescues me. "I'm doing OK, Katniss. It's taken me a long time to get to this point, and I'm never going to be the person I was before, but Dr Aurelius has helped me so much. I'm healing. I'm more in control now, and while I don't always like myself much, at least it is me". His hand is on his heart now, and he is still looking at me intently.

Before I can reply, he continues, "But never mind me. I want to know about you. I've never stopped thinking about you, all the time I was cooped up in the hospital. You've been right there with me in my thoughts, pulling me through, just as you always have. But who's been there for you? I feel so bad it's taken me this long to get here to you. I want to make it up to you. I owe you everything and I need to make it up to you."

I stare at the table, flushed. "Haymitch has been here," I offer, weakly. "He's right next door, he came back with me". Peeta tilts my chin back and looks me in the eye. We both know that Haymitch isn't capable of caring for anyone else. He can barely look after himself.

"Well. I'm here now," Peeta says, firmly. "And I'm not going anywhere".

I rise and look out of the kitchen window, embarrassed by Peeta's certainty and feeling that I have done nothing to deserve this man's devotion. I watch the newly planted primroses reaching their golden plumage out from the shade of the kitchen wall to the meet the sun's afternoon rays, and am envious. I can't be in the sun, burning with its love and warmth. I live my life in the shade.


Peeta's declaration earlier seemed to break down the walls between us, and we were soon back to how we used to be, talking and teasing each other, remembering our friendship. He has gone back to his house in the Victor's Village tonight, leaving me sitting alone in front of the fireplace staring into nothingness. I feel more alone tonight than I have for months. It feels as if I have found a missing piece only to drop the whole jigsaw, shattering it into pieces. These feelings are new. I thought I had experienced everything – happiness, anger, raw grief and pain, loneliness and fear. So what is this, that has settled itself into my belly? I am confused and don't know what to think.

It's well past midnight by the time I rise from my chair and stumble up the stairs, weary and wrung-out with emotion. I shower for a very long time – I have still not got used to this luxury –and change into a long grey t-shirt before climbing into my bed, which is still a rumpled mess from last night's bad dream.

I can't sleep. I see faces in the darkness: Finnick's bronze hair and sparkling green eyes and vivid, torn open throat; Prim dancing in agony in the flames, screaming; Snow laughing as he died, blood on his lips, laughing and laughing…

Nothing can stop the whirl of faces, of voices. I try singing, louder, until it turns into a scream. Tears are leaking from my eyes through the fingers I am pressing into them, trying desperately to erase the images.

"Are you, are you coming to the tree

Where they strung up a man they say murdered three

Strange things did happen here, no stranger would it be

If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree"

In the end, I do the only thing I can think of to make the nightmares go away.

Peeta finds me, barefoot and wearing only a T-shirt and underwear, standing shivering and limp with exhaustion on his doorstep in the middle of the night.

"I'm sorry," I tell him, "I didn't know what else to do."

He understands without saying a word, and pulls me into his arms, into his bed. There, I finally sleep, fitfully but without waking, curled into his body that feels like home.


It's another bright, sunlit morning when I wake still wrapped in Peeta's arms. He is asleep, but is murmuring softly into my hair. I cannot catch the words. I have slept better than I have for months, with no lingering memories of my dreams. I sigh deeply, grateful for Peeta's calmness and steady presence. As I gently untangle myself from his arms, trying not to wake him, I kiss him lightly on his shoulder. Returning from the bathroom, I see him peering at me through one half-open eye. He is smiling. I smile back, and he pulls me back down on to the bed. "I love you, Katniss Everdeen", he tells me, contentedly. "I know," I reply, resting my head on his chest.

I must have fallen asleep again, for the sun is in the middle of the sky when my eyes open for a second time that day. I am alone in the bed, the sheets gathered around my legs. For a moment, I panic, wondering where I am, but I hear the clinking of pots and pans from downstairs and remember I am in Peeta's bed. The thought sends a shiver down my spine and I get that odd feeling in my belly again. Peeta's bed. The sheets smell of him and I hug them tightly to my chest and inhale deeply before kicking them off and padding lightly down to the kitchen.

Peeta is bending over the oven, pulling out a tray. There is a delicious savoury smell of warm doughy cheese, making my mouth water. He has made cheese buns. He has not forgotten that they are my favourite. For some reason, this makes my eyes prickle once again, and I quickly rub them and hope he didn't notice.

I hop on to the kitchen table, legs swinging, and grab a hot roll, biting into it and closing my eyes at the taste of the warm comforting bread releasing its flavours into my mouth. "Still my favourite, Peeta," I mumble through a mouthful of roll, "You bake the most amazing things".

"Hey!" Peeta laughs good-naturedly, "Who says I made them for you?"

I grin at him and pick up a roll, weighing it in my hand before narrowing my eyes and throwing it at his head. He catches it deftly, and makes a grab for me as I wriggle off the table and run to the other side of the kitchen. Peeta chases after me, and I hear myself make a sound that I don't recognise for a moment, then I realise I am laughing. It is so long since I have laughed that I almost don't remember the sensation. I surprise myself so much that I stop running, and Peeta catches me, grabbing me around the waist. We laugh together, almost becoming hysterical, out of control. It only stops when I tilt my head back to look at Peeta and he kisses me hard on the lips. I freeze for a moment, my mind goes blank, and then I am kissing him back. He moans as he feels me respond, closing his eyes and melting into my mouth. I feel his tongue start to explore, sending shivers down to my fingertips, to my toenails, and setting my whole body tingling.

I don't know if I really understand what I am doing, but his lips are so soft and his body so warm that I forget where I am and who I am. I am not the Mockingjay now, not the Girl On Fire. I'm just a girl, kissing a boy and trying not to fall in love.

Eventually we step away from each other. Peeta's eyes are moist and sparkling. He is shaking his head gently, breathing hard, and beaming wider than I have ever seen.

"You taste of cheese," he smiles. Then, more hesitantly, "Was it like that before, for us? Did we kiss like that, you know, in the Games?"

I look him in the eye, shake my head, "No". I watch his smile slide away, a small frown line appearing between his eyes. I turn from him, not looking back to see if I have caused him confusion or pain. But it is true. The kisses in the Games, they weren't real. What we have just shared now is something else entirely. But I don't know how to handle that, how to tell him, so I walk away and leave him standing in the floury kitchen among the rolls he had baked for me.

Back at my own house, I sit on the sofa scratching Buttercup's head as he tries to bite my fingers, feeling guilty and unsure of myself. I know I am hurting Peeta, and I know my behaviour is unfair, but I don't understand how I am feeling, how one minute I can feel that he is the centre of my world and I can't live without him, and then I panic and can't even bear to be near him.

I shake my head. I am a horrible person. Haymitch was right. I don't deserve him.