Setting: This fiction is an extension of the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay. Taking place at the end of the novel, Katniss and Peeta's relationship is explored from the moment they both return to District 12.

Rated MA for mature themes and graphic sexual content.

The scene takes place at the end of the novel, after Katniss has returned to live in District 12 following her assassination of President Coin and subsequent trial. Katniss awakes in the early morning to the sound of a scraping shovel, finding Peeta outside her house.

Chapter One

I bound through my front door towards the jarring scraping coming from outside as if still trapped in my nightmares, prepared to encounter a Capitol-engineered monster or a dead tribute come back to haunt me, but my panic quickly subsides as I begin to make out Peeta's form in the faint, early morning light. He is wearing a navy button-down shirt and tailored khaki pants, an unusual outfit to be in while standing with a shovel next to a freshly dug hole, but it seems he has only recently arrived from the Capitol. For whatever reason it does not surprise me to see him here. Perhaps I always knew he would be coming back to District 12 for me, and was expecting his arrival at any moment. Still, this is a strange reunion to have him furiously digging the ground beneath my front windows at barely six in the morning.

"What are you burying, a body?" I ask dryly. To joke about death after all we've been through almost seems tasteless, but lately even I'm surprised by how calloused I've become.

He looks up, giving me a wry smile before motioning to a wheelbarrow of plants next to him. I hadn't noticed it at first, much of the landscape still shrouded in the night's darkness, but upon greater inspection I recognize the wheelbarrow's contents to be primrose bushes, the flower my sister was named for. I expect this realization to result in a sharp onslaught of dagger-like pain in my chest, and am shocked when instead, I feel almost nothing. I have spent countless months isolating myself, torturing myself, wishing myself dead, but at this moment I have gone numb. It's as if my mind and body have made the spontaneous decision to offer me a short, sweet respite from my grief... For months now you been engulfed in a debilitating sadness. Now you have earned the right to feel nothing at all.

Peeta places his shovel down, looking intently at my face. "I went to the woods this morning and dug them up. For-"

"For Prim, I know," I interrupt him.

He nods slowly, suddenly seeming unsure of himself and his surroundings. "I must have woken you, I'm sorry. I can do this another time."

"You woke me out of a terrifying nightmare. I can forgive you for that," I say. I take a step down so that we're on even ground, taking a good look at him for the first time since the explosion in the Capitol that both killed Prim and sent him for an extended stay in the hospital's burn unit. I will never fully comprehend the power of the Capitol's medicine; after enduring what was surely countless skin grafts, he shows little remnants of the third-degree burns that once covered his body. Like me, he still wears a number of battle scars on his hands, arms, and legs, but overall I am struck with how physically similar he is to the sixteen-year-old boy who stood beside me on stage the day of the reaping. It only takes one look into his wounded blue eyes, however, to see that those two years have irreversibly changed him. There is a lifelessness to them I'm not sure one would notice unless they possessed it too. He may have the same wavy ashen blonde hair, the same 5'10" build, the same strong arms, but he can hardly be called a boy anymore after all he has had to see and experience.

"Are you back for good?" I try to ask nonchalantly, but suddenly there is a growing sense of immediacy within me that I have a hard time identifying. Why do I feel light-headed with anticipation? And anticipation for what? Why am I anxious as if I know some life-altering event is around the corner and I may never know myself as I am in this moment again?

"Yes. I would have been back sooner if they had only let me. Dr. Aurelius wouldn't let me leave the Capitol until yesterday. I was worried sick about you." He rushes through his words, taking a small gasp for air as he finishes. Again he looks uncertain of himself, as if he does not want to say too much for fear of saying the wrong thing. He knows how fragile I've become, how I have been hiding myself away from the world, that it would likely only take one misconstrued comment to send me into a tailspin.

I shrug. "It hasn't been easy, but I'm okay. You know I can take care of myself."

My words come out more biting than I intend, and it is only as I see him begin to shrink back that I become aware of the fact that I desperately want him to stay. I have been alone inside my own thoughts for so long, and there was an undeniable comfort in that, but there is something about Peeta standing in front of me now that makes the thought of another night spent alone intolerable. Peeta, who held me all of those nights before the Games, never loosening his grasp as I woke up thrashing and screaming from my nightmares. Peeta, who never stopped loving me, even when the mere sight of me caused him unspeakable trauma following Snow's torture. Peeta, as damaged as I am - perhaps the only other person in this world who can truly understand what I have gone through.

It is not until he turns to leave that I find the courage to speak out. "Peeta, please. Don't go."

He turns back, his eyebrows raised in surprise. Not even I expected my voice to sound so raw with emotion, so vulnerable. I feel my cheeks grow red at my outburst, and I'm grateful it is still dark outside until I can come to my senses and discover what has come over me to cause this reaction.

"Of course I won't go," he says softly, walking forward to take my hand as if to reassure me further. He probes my eyes for an answer to what I may be thinking, but I avoid him, staring down at my feet. His touch. It isn't until this moment that I realize how long I've gone without human contact. How many days and nights I've needed something, but didn't know what, attributing the aching longing to my grief. The tactile sensation of his firm grasp around my fingers gives me an immediate sense of safety. My thoughts wander, wanting to feel his arms around me, wanting his body to once again serve as a protective shield from all that has ever and will ever hurt me.

As if understanding my thoughts, Peeta speaks again. "It's too early still for you to be up, you look tired. Let's go inside. I'll hold you til you fall asleep."

He doesn't wait for a response, instead assuming control and wordlessly leading me back into the house and up the stairs to my bedroom. I follow him, relieved that he is here, but that pesky nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach remains. I want him to hold me, yes, but I want so much more that I can't even properly place into words.

At the top of the stairs, he looks back at me for a moment, giving me a small smile. "I've missed you," he says. Just as suddenly as it came, his smile fades. "I hate that I've been kept from you."

"Me too," I agree, although I do not admit to him that this realization has only hit me now. What is coming over me... why am I allowing Peeta Mellark to lead me into my bedroom? Why am I secretly hoping that we are not just going to lay down and go back to sleep like he said... There is an indescribable bond between us, we have gone through so much together, but I've never really allowed myself the proper introspection to uncover how I really felt about him. Everything was always too complicated to even entertain the thought of Peeta meaning more to me than a friend. Despite the many kisses we shared, despite the warmth that spread throughout my body during some of those kisses, despite the nights we lay side by side, clinging to each other, knowing it could be our last night in this world... Too much of the time was spent contemplating survival to think about romance.

And then there was Gale. I shook my head as if the motion enabled me to physically remove the thought of him from my head. He was not here, and Peeta was. That alone spoke volumes.

We walk into my room, and Peeta sits down on the side of my bed, tugging me gently down next to him. Even once we are sitting, his hand continues to tightly grip mine as he kicks off his dirt-clad shoes and turns to face me.

"Really, Katniss... how have you been? Are you okay?" He raises his free hand to my face, gently cupping my chin, before seeming to think the better of it and letting his arm fall awkwardly to his side. "The thought of you being alone here with only Haymitch to keep you company..." He rolls his eyes. "Well, I can imagine how that has been."

"It's for the best he never comes around, I've wanted to be alone."

"And now?" He implores me with his eyes to answer him honestly. "What do you want now?"

I am taken aback by his straightforwardness, even though the intensity with which he asks me mirrors the tension I have been feeling ever since I saw it was him who stood outside my front door. We have never been quite like this before, the desperation to connect so palpable.

When I open my mouth to speak, my voice comes out in barely a whisper. "I'm not sure."

"Do you hate me for what I did the last time we saw one another?" He frowns to himself, as he once again bravely brings his hand to my face. I shiver slightly at the brush of his thumb across my lower lip. "Do you remember..."

Of course I remember. After shooting an arrow into President Coin's heart at what was supposed to be Snow's public execution, I had tried to release the deadly nightlock that Cinna had expertly hidden in the sleeve of my Mockingjay costume. Just as I had twisted my neck to bite the secret pocket open, Peeta's hand suddenly appeared to block my attempt, my teeth sinking into his flesh instead and the precious violet pill falling to the ground.

"I wanted to hate you. It wasn't your choice to make." I soften my words with a half smile and a squeeze of his hand. He seems to take this as an invitation, inching in closer until his mouth is uncomfortably close to my own. "But I understand why you did it. I would have done the same for you," I say, my voice uncharacteristically breathy. I don't sound like myself, I don't feel like myself. At the same time, I haven't recognized myself in so long, it's hard to tell.

He squeezes my hand in return and somehow manages to further minimize the distance between us. "It's our own fault we're still alive. If I had stopped trying to protect you and you hadn't always refused to leave me behind... well, we could have died like we'd wanted." His words are somber, but a new life has entered his eyes. There's almost a crazed look to them, of yearning, of desire, and for a moment I am afraid.

I move my body sharply away from his as if by reflex. He looks started. "What's wrong? What did I say?"

"Nothing, I just... How do I know you don't still want to hurt me? You've tried to kill me before, Peeta. And there's no one here to stop you anymore if a memory triggers you."

He knows of course that I am referring to his long and incomplete recovery from Snow's hijacking. "I've been having such fewer episodes, Katniss." He reaches for my hand again, pleading with me to come back. "I continued my therapy even after you left the Capitol, since I knew I'd be coming back here for you. I've been trying so hard to get better."

"But are you better?" My voice quivers a little because I know the answer. He will never be completely himself again, the emotional trauma Snow caused him during his imprisonment

was too extensive. He has made so much improvement since he was rescued and brought back to District 13. I can see in his eyes that he is closer to normal than he has ever been, but there will always be that dark part of him that has been brainwashed to hate me, to want to harm me.

"Not completely." He sighs defeatedly. "I guess you're right. I guess you shouldn't be alone with me. I can feel when the flashbacks are coming now. I have much better control over them, I know how to wait them out. But it's asking a lot of you to trust me to do that, isn't it?" He looks so heartbroken, and it pains me to watch him suffer like this, because he never asked for any of this. He was a pawn in the hands of the powerful corrupt when all he ever wanted was a normal life, a peaceful existence.

"It's not your fault what's happened to you." I feel hot tears forming in the corners of my eyes, and I don't even care if he sees them. The urge is stronger than ever now - to be held by him, to be as physically close to him as humanly possible.

"It's not yours, either," he whispers, leaning forward to press his forehead against mine. So he knows. The guilt I've harbored ever since Snow captured him from the arena, knowing every time he was tortured it was a direct message to me.

I force a smile, although I am feeling less and less emotionally stable and closer to tears. "You know, neither the Capitol nor the rebels got what they wanted the most."

"What's that?" His lips are touching mine now, his breathing heavy. His free arm snakes around my lower back, scooping me further towards him.

"They couldn't separate us, no matter how hard they tried. We're here together now, after everything." My own words propel me forward as I finally give in, pressing my lips firmly to his. He hesitates for a second as if unprepared for this unexpected turn in events, but then envelopes me in his arms, plastering my body up against his and attacking my mouth feverishly.

Kissing him is familiar, but this time is undeniably different. This is not for anyone's eyes but ours and there is no taking it slow. He has been waiting too long for this, and I know now that I have been too. My tongue duels with his as I struggle to kiss him even more deeply, wrapping my arms around his neck for leverage. He attempts to clutch my body tighter and tighter, not satisfied with the closeness of our already entwined bodies even though I can already feel every movement of his upper body muscles against mine.

It's not enough. We are both panting, but frustrated. We have fought too much, hurt too deeply to be comforted by a few kisses.

My hand drops to grab his upper thigh but instead finds his growing erection straining against the fabric of his pants. At first, I instinctually pull away, embarrassed, but after a moment's consideration and renewed confidence, return my hand, giving him a tight tug. He grunts at the contact, pressing a long, hungry kiss to my mouth, before murmuring, "I can't do this."

I break away to look at him, my chest heaving. "Can't do what?"

He exhales deeply, shaking his head. "I came up here to hold you so you could go to sleep, not this. I can still do that, just give me a second."

"Peeta Mellark." I playfully kick his foot that still dangles off the side of the bed. "Stop being such a gentleman for once."

His head falls back in laughter. It's been so long since I've heard him laugh... so long since I've seen any emotion on his face other than misery. It takes a moment before I realize I am laughing too, the giddiness of the heightened energy in the room almost contagious. Is this what it feels like to be happy? Is it possible to build a life again from the ashes of our past suffering, to still experience moments of pure, isolated joy despite all we have been through?

I reach for him again, lacing my fingers through his, hoping my body language is adequate enough to substitute for the words I still lack.

"What has gotten into you, Katniss?" His eyes are wide but dancing with amusement.

"Me? You're the one who wants to tuck me in and whisper 'sweet dreams' with a raging hard-on," I retort.

He laughs again, but when he speaks, his demeanor has changed and his voice has regained all of its previous composure. "You know I've wanted this for a long time."

My body tenses, and the atmosphere in the room shifts back to one of weighted anticipation.

Before he can speak again, before either of us has time to change our minds, I release his hand, extend one arm in the air while gripping the collar of my shirt in the other, and remove my cotton night-shirt in one swift motion.

The morning sun is beginning to filter in through my windows, and a beam of light falls across my left breast. He hasn't said a word nor moved, his gaze frozen on my now bare skin.

"Do you mind closing the curtains?" I ask, snapping him out of his stupor.

He swallows hard. "Yeah, of course." He stumbles to the window, drawing the curtains together and returning the room to its comforting darkness. I'm not really sure what has come over me, and I draw my knees slightly to my chest. He has never seen me like this before. No one has besides my family, my stylists from the Capitol, and the many doctors I encountered in the hospital.

He climbs back into the center of the bed, and motions for me to join him. He cannot take his eyes off of me which both excites and terrifies me. What was I thinking being so bold up until this point? It has been fun to role-play the confident air of a seductress, but the truth remains that I have had no experience with men. He must know that, though. We have never discussed it, but I imagine the fact must be pretty self-evident.

"So you have to tell me, Katniss... is this is a test? Because if so, I'm going to fail."

"No test, I promise."

He is lying down now, propped up by his elbows, watching me. I crawl over to him, drinking in his whole body from head to toe. He is gorgeous and he is mine... all mine. I can feel my need for him building inside of me again. I want to touch him, I want to be touched by him. I'm nervous, yes, but there is no denying how much I desire him right now. The thought of that rugged, muscular body overtaking mine is making my heart race.

The second I reach him, he grabs for my wrists, easily pulling my body on top of his own. I don't have time to think about what comes next, because his lips are once again on mine. He kisses me softly at first, the delicate grazing of his tongue along mine sending an aching longing that resonates down to my core. I rest my hands on his chest, losing myself in his embrace. He reaches for my upper thighs, maneuvering my legs forward so that I am straddling his waist. I instantly feel his hardness, now pressed up directly against my own wetness, and the sensation is a delicious torture as I begin to grind myself against him, anxious to feel more. He lifts his upper body to meet my lips again, and I audibly gasp as I feel his touch on my breasts. He cups the left one, kneading it with his hand while stroking the nipple of the other with his right thumb. When he begins to gently tug at my nipple, I find myself involuntarily moaning into his mouth. I can feel every reaction of his body underneath mine and his manhood throbs with every sound that passes my lips. He gives me a lingering kiss as his left hand now follows suit, stroking and tugging until I am feeling faint with pleasure.

My hands fumble for the buttons of his shirt as our kisses deepen. His hands mercifully leave my breasts alone, wandering along the small of my back, my hips, my upper thighs. I feel myself grow wetter with every new patch of flesh he comes into contact with, this sense of lust so new to me. I finally manage to unbutton his shirt, and he assists me in removing it. I trail my fingers along the smooth, firm skin of his chest, pressing kisses to his collarbone, while my other hand drops to the waistband of his pants.

WIthout warning, he rolls me over onto my back. He kneels on the bed, hovering over me as he unzips his khakis and slides them down his legs.

"Those too," I say, nudging his boxers with my toe.

He stops, opens his mouth as if to say something, but then changes his mind, and next thing I know his boxers are tossed to the floor. I don't realize I'm holding my breath until I have to gasp for a burst of air. For the first time I am intimidated, his member thick, pulsating, menacing. He leans over me, and I watch him rolling the waistband of my underwear slowly down, pausing to kiss each new area of skin he unveils. As he pulls it down my legs, he brushes a kiss to my lower lips and I quiver at his touch.

He descends over me, planting a tender kiss on my mouth before leaning in to whisper in my ear. "Tell me what you like."

What I like? I try to comprehend the meaning of his question but my cognition is getting more and more clouded. I can feel his thickness between my thighs, inches away from me, and I'm having trouble concentrating on anything else.

"Huh?" I manage to get out, feeling his wet kisses on my neck, the nudging of his erection into my opening, his hands on my breasts. My head is spinning.

"I want to make you feel good. Tell me how you like it."

I struggle to have cogent thoughts as he nips my earlobe with his teeth. How I like it? How would I know what I like? And then it hits me through my heated daze. He thinks I've done this before. Perhaps I've played the part too convincingly after all.

"Peeta, I..." How do I tell him without scaring him off?

He notices the agitation in my voice and stops what he's doing, propping himself over me and gazing intently into my eyes. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong. Just be gentle, okay?"

Immediately he knows, and I'm surprised at the effect of this knowledge on his face. He looks entirely disconcerted. "You mean you've never...?"

Sensing he's about to move away, I tightly grip both of his forearms. "No. Who do you think I've done this with?"

He shakes his head, but I of course know. Gale. He assumed I had slept with Gale. And I... I had assumed Peeta had never been with anyone else, but it was becoming largely apparent that this theory was also incorrect.

I stare up at him, still trembling from the closeness of his body, wanting to resume where we left off, desperate to leave this conversation behind.

"Do you not want me now?" I sound weak, defeated. I can no longer pretend to be sexy and fearless, because now I understand how truly vulnerable I really am.

He kisses me lightly on the lips. "Of course I do." He kisses me again, longer this time. "But I need you to be sure about this... We don't need to do this now, we can wait."

"I'm sure." He holds my gaze for a few moments longer, as if giving me one more chance to run, but I stare at him steadfastly, determined.

He smiles and the next time our lips touch, we don't break away. His hand lowers to move my legs apart, and his fingers work their way up my wetness with gentle strokes, until he is massaging small circles on my clitoris. I moan into his mouth, the feeling so electrifying, and my lower muscles clench with eagerness.

He has done this before. More than once. I banish the thoughts from my head as soon as they appear.

"I'm going to enter you slowly, okay?" He talks in between kisses, his tongue caressing mine with his words.

"Okay."

Without breaking our embrace, I can feel him positioning himself, his tip grazing me and instantly becoming wet.

"Tell me if you need me to stop."

He eases into me slowly, stopping when he is about half-way inside. I gasp at the feeling of my inner walls surrounding his fullness, the throbbing of his hardness inside of me. He pauses for a moment, letting me acclimate to the size of him. He kisses me tenderly, meaningfully, and his hand finds mine, interlocking our fingers.

He pulls out and then thrusts cautiously back in, and this time the length of him disappears fully. I whimper softly at the same time he moans, his face contorted in bliss.

"Are you okay?" he asks.

I nod, and I must look reassuring enough, because he squeezes my hand before continuing. He skillfully moves in and out of me several more times with the same quiet intensity, pausing after each full thrust to kiss me. I am surprised at how good it actually feels, the pain minimal compared to the waves of tingling ectasy washing over me.

I raise my hips to meet him and he begins a more steady, rocking motion, entering me with more consecutive successions. Just when I think I cannot handle any more stimulation, I feel his fingers again on my clitoris, touching me in rhythm with the increasing speed of his thrusts. I'm not sure how long this goes on before I begin to feel light-headed, my muscles stiffening, a pressure building in my lower abdomen, my back arching... I close my eyes and let my head fall back, unaware of what is happening to me, but basking in the sensation of it as he presses down on my clitoris in one last firm circle paired with a sharp thrust and my muscles release around him. I cry out as I feel my insides exploding into a million pieces and for a moment, a white light blinds me from my surroundings. He grabs my legs, lifting them slightly before pounding deeper inside of me. He does this once, twice, and then on the third push, loudly groans as he climaxes inside of me.

He collapses on top of me and we lie still for a moment. My body is still pulsing with the aftershocks of my orgasm when he lifts his head to look at me. He trails his hand over my stomach and up along my side and I shiver from the contact, the sensitivity of my skin so heightened.

"Now you can hold me," I say, a wave of exhaustion passing over me. I can hear him laugh in the distance, but my eyes are beginning to close as I feel him place a blanket on top of me. I turn on my side, wondering how different things will be when we wake up in a few hours, wondering how I can feel so close to him right now when there is so much we still don't know about one another. He thought I'd been with Gale. I thought I would be Peeta's first along with him being mine... But these thoughts are for another time. I wait until I feel Peeta's arms protectively around me before I close my eyes, and immediately fall asleep.