Author's Note: Set during the end of Mockingjay (after the war). Please give feedback! Thanks for reading.
There's a knock at the door. Peeta, my brain vaguely registers. There's no one else it could be. Greasy Sae lets herself in and no one else comes to visit.
Picking myself up from the rocking chair, I go to the door and open it. Peeta stands just outside holding some sort of confection in his hands. Ignoring it for the moment, I step back to let him in. I walk to the kitchen and he follows me. He places the dessert on the table as I take a seat. He walks off to the cabinets to grab utensils, so I take the opportunity to really look at the dessert. I almost laugh out loud at what I'm seeing, but I'm still a bit too broken for laughter.
Staring up at me from the plate is a cake decorated with the spitting image of Tigris, the Capitol woman who hid my team in her store's cellar while we were on my self-appointed mission to kill President Snow.
"I thought we should honor her for her help," he says as explanation, taking his seat across from me. "None of us may have survived if she hadn't been there."
"So you thought we could honor her by eating her?" I remark teasingly. Peeta's eyebrows shoot up. Surprised to hear me making a joke, no doubt. There's a light in his eyes, a hopeful sheen.
Unfortunately, my attitude fades away quickly like a spark of fire that's been extinguished. My eyes grow dim again and my insides feel empty. I couldn't make a joke or laugh at one now if my life depended on it. Peeta sees this. His shoulders slump a little, but he quickly distracts himself by serving us both a piece of the Tigris cake.
I begin to absentmindedly put small bites into my mouth. It tastes delicious of course.
"Hmm." I look up from my slice. Peeta has a small piece on his fork and is holding it just in front of his face, staring down at it, contemplating something deeply. I pause in my chewing, wondering what he's thinking.
"It does seem a bit wrong, doesn't it…" he muses, "It's like eating a cat, and with Buttercup around, I'm not so sure I can stomach it."
I choke on my mouthful of cake. As I continue choking I feel Peeta slapping my back, trying to help. After a moment, all of it comes out.
"Ick," I say, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand.
"Are you ok?" asks Peeta hurriedly, his eyes full of concern. I can't help but to smile at his adorable expression.
"Peeta, I'm fine. You just caught me off guard. It was… funny." Peeta seems stunned.
"You were… laughing?" I slap his arm playfully.
"Well if you hadn't been talking about eating Buttercup, I wouldn't have been!"
"No, I'm… I'm glad," he says softly. I raise one eyebrow dangerously. He puts both hands up in surrender and chuckles. "Glad that you were laughing, not that you almost choked."
I send him a small smile before directing my eyes back to Tigris.
"So," I say simply.
"No more cake for us, huh?" I snort at his light observation. Suddenly my snort turns into a rather uncharacteristic giggle, which in turns morphs into a chuckle. I can feel Peeta gazing at me in wonder. The chuckle turns into full out laughter.
Above me Peeta lets out a soft, hesitant laugh in response to my own. My head immediately snaps up and his half confused, half amused expression only makes me laugh harder. Suddenly I'm laughing with such force that I fall out of my own chair. Peeta immediately switches back to concerned Peeta and he kneels down to help me up. Grinning devilishly, I grab Peeta's shirt, cherishing his brief look of shock as I yank him all the way down to the ground with me.
I keep laughing, so hard that my sides begin to hurt and tears are leaking out of my eyes. Peeta gives up on his attempts to help me and begins to laugh himself. I can feel all the tensions I've bottled up inside spilling out in one sudden burst of emotional release.
I'm rolling all over the floor, continually grasping at Peeta's clothes or hands or swatting at him playfully, overcome by some strange urge to do so. Peeta's hands are clasped on top of his stomach and his body is quivering. Even as I laugh, I observe him.
Peeta has improved so much from before. The clouds have disappeared from his wonderfully blue eyes, leaving his old light behind. His blonde hair is just the same as always, just as inviting. I reach out a hand and run it through the golden strands before I can stop myself. Our laughter stops simultaneously as our eyes meet in shared surprise.
Then, we lose it once more, releasing another peal of merriment.
When we finally settle down, we both heave ourselves into a sitting position. This is not an easy task given how sore our muscles now are. But it's not as if we aren't both used to much worse. I rest my head on Peeta's shoulder, ignoring whatever this may mean because, right now, it just feels right. Peeta wraps an arm around me, increasing my comfort.
I look up to see Peeta staring at the remnants of the Tigris cake. After a moment his eyes slide away, but now he is staring off across the room, his eyes glazed over. Something's clearly on his mind.
"What is it?" I ask bluntly, sitting back up straight. Peeta directs his gaze towards me and gives a small frown, as if he's trying to figure something out.
"It's just… something that Gale said."
Peeta goes quiet. I stay silent as well, waiting him to finish the thought in his own time. A minute or so later he opens his mouth. Hesitantly, he proceeds to say,
"The kiss… in the arena. The Quarter Quell. It was… honest. Real or not real?"
I give a sad smile, remembering the kiss he's talking about. It was the second kiss with Peeta that left a tingling in my stomach and a fire in my blood. The second kiss to flood me with desires I'd never had before. Never wanted before. Until Peeta.
A shaky smile blossoms on Peeta's face. He seems a bit surprised and relieved. He meets my eyes but then lets his quickly flash back down to the floor.
"Your goal continued to be keeping me alive even after the Games ended. Real or not real?" I ask in return.
"Real," he answers immediately. Though I'd already guessed at this, his honest answer fills me with warmth, the kind I only experience with Peeta.
"Peeta," I say softly. He turns to me, meeting my grey eyes with his blue ones. My question suddenly dies off on my tongue, and my cheeks start to get hot. I turn my face away. "Nevermind, it's nothing."
"No, it's not nothing," he murmurs. His fingers gently touch my chin, turning my face back towards him. I notice the way that my heart violently reacts at his delicate touch and hope he doesn't notice. Or maybe I hope that he does notice? I don't know anymore.
But then I'm staring up into his eyes again. Those beautiful blue eyes that right now hold so much warmth and love that I find myself rendered breathless. Somehow I think that he can read just how I feel in my eyes as well because then he's leaning in towards me, closing the gap between us.
His mouth meets mine in a soft kiss. He doesn't linger, but instead pulls away immediately. Judging my reaction.
My lips are tingling joyfully. There's a warm stirring in the pit of my stomach, a sense of life that I haven't felt at all for so long, at least before the events of today. And it was Peeta who brought it out. I'm overwhelmed in that moment by how much I care for the boy sitting beside me, how much I need him. Without thinking, I cross the space between us to kiss him again.
I sense his surprise but soon his hand is holding the back of my head and he is responding to the kiss. It is still very gentle, neither of us eager to push boundaries just yet. After a few moments, I break away from the kiss and rest my forehead against his. Peeta's hand caresses my cheek softly.
I feel as though I should say something, but nothing comes to mind. Peeta has always been the one with the right words at the right time, not me. So I say nothing. Instead I decide to shift so that my head is lying in his lap. His hand instantly begins to stroke my hair soothingly. I breathe deeply, savoring the feeling. Then I hear Peeta's voice quietly breaking the silence.
"You broke down when you realized how Snow was using me. Real or not real?"
I briefly ponder who told Peeta about this, but whisper the answer, "Real."
Peeta leans down and plants a tender kiss on my crown. In it I feel all the apologies he wants to give but won't because he knows I won't accept them. None of it was his fault, after all. We stay silent for a while, and this time I am the one to speak.
"When I asked you to stay with me, you said 'Always'. Real or not real?"
"Real." He pauses. "I still mean that, you know."
"I know," I whisper back.
"Do you want that? It's up to you, Katniss. I'll always stay with you, no matter what. But the choice is yours in the end."
I take a moment to think. I won't lie to him, so I really need to be sure about this. It surprises me how quickly the answer comes. I realize that I'd already made my decision. As soon as I'd realized how much I care for Peeta, the answer had been clear. I can't survive without Peeta. I don't want to survive without Peeta. I need him.
I love him.
"Stay with me," is all I reply. But I know Peeta can hear it. In my voice. All the things I know now but don't have the courage to say, the strength to say.