We've never kissed like this.

It feels like the cave, like the beach, like the feverish dreams that have been increasing in intensity ever since the day I showed him my father's lake. But somehow it's exponentially more than that. I have no experience to compare it to. It's entirely new and, for the first time in what might be my entire life, newness is not mingled with the thought of fresh horrors dancing just around the corner.

A few seconds ago, we were just dancing in slow circles, listening to Rory trying to untangle his heart from the strings of his violin.

And then, suddenly, we weren't.

His lips feel so different like this. I thought I knew them by heart: part of a terrible charade that we had learned by rote, a routine skirted with the ragged edges of honest moments. Too ripped apart by artifice to ever make anything real. But that feels like a different world compared to this. And he was, in many ways, a different person than the man whose mouth is moving against mine, his full lips all but devouring me.

This Peeta knows who I am. Really and truly. He knows what I have done, sees the scar-ridden woman drenched in the blood of the people we loved. No haze of childhood infatuation, or desperate affection borne of trauma clouds his vision anymore. When he was hijacked, they stripped that away.

He saw everything.

And somehow, despite that, we've managed to gradually grow together so closely that he's the first person I want to see when I wake up, and his voice is the one thing I want to hear before I fall asleep. I don't even know how it happened. After he came back, being with him, trying to help him get better, was the only real task that I had. But it didn't mean anything. With the loss of Prim, my mother, Finnick, even Gale, I didn't want any more attachments to try to fill the void. I didn't expect, or even want, a relationship with Peeta, other than clearing the debt that I still owed him.

But somehow, through all that, he just… crept up on me.

Now I'm clutching him so forcefully that the beds of my nails ache as they press against the rough linen of his shirt. The back of my head is numb and tingling, maybe because the blood is rushing through my veins so quickly. The urge to swallow him up, to pull him so close that he's all but under my skin, is bewildering and intense, so driving that I can't draw our bodies against each other tightly enough. I feel strangely hollow, aching with something I've never experienced on this level before in my life.

If what I felt on the beach was hunger, then this is starvation.

His broad hands are resting against the small of my back, and I can feel the tremor that runs through them. For a fraction of a second, I wonder if he's on the verge of an episode. Then, his fingers gently dig into the fabric of my dress, and I know that this is worlds apart from any episode. We press even closer together and I feel a dizzying rush as the hardness of his erection pushes against my stomach.

He pulls away quickly, releasing a rattling breath as our mouths separate, but I lean into him and kiss him once more, not giving him a moment to stop us, to clarify what's happened, to speak about this thing that, though it's taken long in the growing, has finally bloomed between us.

Talking is his domain, anyway, and we've spoken enough for one night. I still don't think I can verbalize the things that he wants to know. I don't know how to tell him what I feel without dredging up all the ways I've hurt him, all the ways that he's hurt me, even if they weren't even his fault. I don't want to talk about those things.

But I know what I do want and I have been starved, battered, burned, and put through hell for so long that, in this moment, I am sure there is nothing in this world that can stand against me now that I am now certain of it.

Except maybe Peeta himself. He's obviously torn between kissing me back and pulling away. I feel his fingers tug at my wrists, trying to draw my hands out of his curls. I guess he thinks I'm still so pure, that we need to stop before we rush into something we can't take back. Or maybe… maybe he actually doesn't want this and I've misinterpreted the entire situation.

The latter possibility is abruptly and completely terrifying.

"Katniss…" he gasps out softly, winning the struggle to pull away.

A firefly lands on his head, the green luminescence making his hair glow with a strange light and casting shadows on the furrows in his brow. His eyes are dark and his breath comes in short quick pants. It's obvious he wants this. At least I think it is. The symptoms of arousal are not something I'm used to, but at the same time, I've been watching him for months with the same intensity that I would my prey. I've learned to anticipate his moods, and I know what a flashback looks like. And it never, ever looks like this. So it has to be something else. And yes, I don't have a lot of experience in the matter, but I think I can guess.

I know what sex is.

I know how it works. I know where babies come from, and even how they come, thanks to some of my mother's patients. Though the memories seem lifetimes away, all of the efforts to get Lady pregnant and the whispered stories at school served to educate me well enough about the actual logistics. I know that it's supposed to hurt the first time and that men are sometimes selfish and cruel like Cray, or talented like some of the older boys (like Gale, the girls had sometimes whispered sneaking curious glances at me).

I even know what the end result feels like, or at least, the experience of a self-induced approximation. I figured it out on my own years ago, although I didn't really have the drive to do it very often.

But after the war there were some days when the loneliness seemed to crumple around me and there was nothing to do but sleep and then fight off the nightmares that woke me. On those days, the feeling of my own fingers seemed like the only thing keeping me on the side of the living, bringing a warmth that drifted through my limbs and allowed me to experience, if only for a few hours, a blissful dreamless sleep. I never thought about anything specific. At least not at first. But after he came back, when we were trying so hard just to make it through his flashbacks and my crippling despondency, there'd be moments where he would stand a certain way, or make a joke, or our hands would brush, and I'd feel a frisson start at the back of my neck and run all the way down my spine to gather in my belly and stay there. And sometimes, before we started sharing a bed again, I'd remember that spark and urge it into a flame under my covers in the dark.

But Peeta doesn't know anything about this.

I'm also more familiar with him than he realizes. I guess he thought I never caught on to what happened each morning, and even some nights, on the train when I would roll too close and he didn't expect it. But I noticed. It seemed pointless to react to it at all, as long as he thought I was ignorant of the situation. There had been no time for dealing with such things anyway. There certainly hadn't been reason to make the moments between us awkward, when we were each the only comfort the other had. But now, I find myself wondering what would have happened if I had leaned into him instead of lightly rolling in the opposite direction. Would he have pushed me away like he is now, if he thought he was going to die?

Without the Games, with so much space, the dynamic of our relationship has had time, still has time, to grow, but would it have been different during that previous time if the mere idea of intimacy hadn't been completely unbearable to me?

Would either of us even still be alive in that situation?

"Katniss, I…" he begins again, his so voice throaty with desire I can feel it in my toes, distracting me from a line of thinking that will run headlong into the macabre and distressing. He's alternating between looking at me and staring at a fixed point over my shoulder. I know there's nothing there, and I think that he's trying to calm himself down. But I don't want him to.

I don't care if we have all the time in the world. I grab him by the collar and pull him close.

"Shut up," I say, lips a hairsbreadth away from brushing his.

His reaction is explosive, rapidly skimming his hands along the lines of my jaw and under my ears until his fingers are tangled in my hair. When our lips meet, open-mouthed, I can taste him, all sugar and cinnamon, which clashes deliciously with the rough way he begins to worry my bottom lip with his teeth.

I slide my hands down his chest to rest on his hips and he makes a strangled sound in his throat. At the same time, Haymitch's raucous laughter echoes from the tent far behind us. We jump apart at the sound. It's unlikely that anyone can even see us from this distance, tucked behind the walls of the bakery in the dark, but the thought of a single person intruding on this moment drives me to action.

"Come on," I grab his hand and pull. He looks half-drunk, his hair mused and his shirt somehow untucked. But he follows without question.

The trip through town takes forever. The night is balmy with a light breeze that blows my hair. The flying strands annoy me, but Peeta stares, transfixed. He moves slowly, giving himself away to my leading in a way that suggests he can barely even believe what's happening. I can hardly believe it myself.

But as I tug him behind me and we reach the crest of the hill, I realize that there's not much I've wanted more. It's a little bit confusing to sort through, because I know that a great deal of what I'm feeling comes from the overwhelming desire to show him the depth of what I've come to feel the only way that I know how. But the need to express that, it's not for him alone.

It's for me. To rejoice in my freedom to finally make a choice. To live. To experience life for just a small moment the way it was meant to be experienced.

The thought is exhilarating, and he must see it in my eyes because he spins me around and dips me back to kiss me on the porch in such a ridiculously romantic gesture that I'd roll my eyes if I weren't too busy enjoying it so much.

We finally stumble through the door of his house and land on the floor, the fall putting distance between us. The realization of where we are and what could happen, what I want to happen, suddenly hits me. I feel overcome by a wave of inexplicable shyness. Regardless of my theoretical knowledge, I don't actually know what I'm doing. I don't know how to ask him to quench the little fires that are dancing under my skin. I don't know how to make him feel good. I don't know what he wants or likes, and after everything we've been through, the pressure to make this perfect for him stands out in sharp contrast to the delirious excitement I felt just a moment before.

But then, I feel his scarred left hand reach out for mine. Holding my palm lightly, as though it might shatter, he softly kisses the tip of each of my fingers. Taking a deep breath, I look up at him, and watch the thing that might be awe in his eyes melt into liquid desire.

The sudden intensity of his kiss knocks me back, but I catch myself and surge forward, gripping his hair and pressing my body to his. Our mouths move together frantically, and, before I even realize what I'm doing, I've unbuttoned his shirt, allowing my fingers to drag trails across his broad chest. Other than a small whorl of hairs, it's smooth, rippled with the shiny burn scars that cover my own body. I'm about to lean down and kiss the most visible scar, one that starts at his sternum and wraps behind his back, when I realize he's whispering my name.

Something deep in my belly contracts. The hollow, desperately hungry need is back, driving me to trail kisses from his jaw to collarbone.

And then he really stops me.

He's breathing heavily, but his eyes are clear and serious. "Katniss…" he croaks.

I'm terrified. He needs something from me. He needs words. And the feelings are there, but the words, they just aren't ready. It will take time, maybe even years, before I know just how to do what comes easily to him, to say what I feel in a way that makes sense. Even though I've never done this before, I feel more comfortable with the idea of doing than the idea of talking.

"I need you…" slips out of my lips anyway. My words echo in my own head with a vulnerability that feels dangerous. At the same time, my inner voice rages. "Need" was the wrong word altogether. I need him, yes, but more than that. I want him. I choose him. Over Gale even if he had come home, over the safety of loneliness, over the Peeta who idolized me before his capture. I choose this Peeta and his fragile smile and silly jokes and the way he makes me feel like maybe I can be of some use to the world again.

It's more than even that, though. Something beyond just choosing…

But before I can finish the thought, he's kissing me again and it doesn't matter what I feel or think. All that matters is that his lips are on mine and they never, ever leave. He pushes me down until I'm lying on my back, and then lies beside me, curling his good leg over my own and pulling us until our bodies are flush. I feel him pressing hard against me again, and I gasp involuntarily at how much more prominent it is now than before. I know that he notices that I've noticed, because his eyes get wide and he twitches against me. I feel certain that if we were illuminated by anything other than the moon from the windows, I'd see the blush that covers his face.

The curiosity to touch him, to see what kind of faces he will make when I do, hits me in an abrupt rush.

But the floor is maybe not the best place for that, especially with his leg.

We've made it halfway up the stairs when I push him against the wall and unbutton the rest of his shirt. The thought of seeing his bare chest, of feeling his arms around me makes the entire lower half of my body buzz. I scrape my fingernails down his back without thinking about it. I store the noise he makes when I do for future reference. By the time we reach the top of the stairs, he's shaking like a leaf.

He's so distracted that he trips over the edge of the rug and we fall backwards. I land on my back, and he falls to his knees.

And without realizing it, we're both there. Two days ago, when he had his episode.

I remember him, looking at me with the horrible gleam in his eyes, one so obviously not him that my fingers trailed across the handle of the knife in my belt instinctively. Seeing the absolute misery in his eyes as he gained control, begging me to kill him.

The realization that I would. That I would take away the one thing I had left to lose if it meant allowing him to die as himself, not as a monster. The thing that I refused to give him during the Quell.

And that was when everything that had always seemed so obvious to everyone else became clear to me.

But he's remembering a very difference scene, a living nightmare. Something that will likely haunt him for the rest of his life. I sit up slowly, reaching for his hands and showering them with kisses. This gesture, the one thing I remember my father doing for my mother, seems in some way to be the most comforting thing anyone could possibly do.

"Shhhh, Peeta. This is real. You're gentle, so gentle. You're never going to hurt me," I whisper, kissing his wrists, and the soft skin on the inside of his elbows. There's a scar on his arm that reaches up to his collarbone, and I kiss it all the way up to his neck. "I missed you so much," I murmur, in between kisses to his ears. I realize that I've been saying it over and over like a mantra.

And I have missed him. Missed him since the day we came home from the Games and a wall grew up between us.

But I couldn't tell him.

Not until I knew.

I whisper again into his ear, feeling him shudder as my lips graze the soft skin there.

He's pulled me up and into his room too quickly. I spin out of control and he has to catch me in his arms. I think he thinks it's a smooth move, but it takes every bit of strength I have to keep the two of us from falling over as he wobbles on his bad leg.

"How are we even here?" he says into my hair, his voice an awed whisper.

It's on the tip of my tongue, the three simple words, but they won't come out. "We were always going to end up here," slips out instead.

His gasp of laughter sounds more like crying than anything. I decide I'm tired of dancing around this for another moment. If I can't say the words, he has to know. Now.

My fingers fumble with his belt buckle as I kiss him. As his pants fall to the floor, one of my hands grazes the bulge in his shorts unintentionally. I pull away quickly, which is ridiculous, considering the situation. I'm certain he notices, though he's so shocked that I've taken things this far that he says nothing. I lead him gently but insistently to the bed and sit him down. When I sink to my knees, his eyes open to the size of saucers.

It's only when I've removed his leg, kissing the shiny skin where the metal of his prosthetic met his flesh, that I realize what he thought I was about to do. But it doesn't matter because when I lift my head, he's staring at me like I just made his leg grow back with my kisses. I glance down, avoiding the intensity of his gaze, but my eyes fall on the bulge in his underwear, dusty pink skin just visible through a slowly growing circle of moisture. When he realizes where I'm looking, he clears his throat and I see him twitch again before I pull my eyes away and stand up.

It's now or never, I think the moment before I pull off my dress.

I feel so nervous I can hardly breathe, but I force it down and look into his eyes. I don't know why I even feel this way. He saw me like this in the Quell. We sleep together every night. And I want him so badly, and that does, in fact, require at least some level of exposure to take place.

"I hope you don't mind," I say, smiling a little at the memory as my dress falls to the floor with a soft thud. "I wanted us to match."

But then the recollection of that moment during the Quell explodes into something bigger, something dark and dangerous. The locket. The pictures. Prim Prim Prim Prim Prim.

And I catch myself on the edge of the hole that her memory dances over and push myself back into the present. I kiss him forcefully, the sensation of his lips on mine grounding me again. We topple backwards onto the bed, skin touching skin in so many places I can't even keep track. He is firm and smooth, and as we slide together, I feel the shiny, ribbed spots where our scars meet. Without any ceremony, I reach up and unclasp my bra, letting it slide down my arms and then toss it off the bed. My underwear follow, and then I hook my fingers into the elastic band of his shorts and pull down. As I slide them down his legs, his erection brushes against my elbow, leaving a thin line of moisture.

We both gasp at the same time.

"I don't… I don't have anything for…" he says clumsily, grabbing my arm and holding me away from him, as though he can't even bear to look at me without clearing this up first.

I twist free and fall back on my side next to him. Leaning my head closer, I place gentle kisses on his throat, "They gave me a shot," I murmur, trying not to think of doctors and definitely not of babies, "lasts for five years."

The answer seems to satisfy.

And then I don't know what to do.

I roll back onto my side and we lie there, six inches of bed between our naked bodies. We stare into each other's eyes because we're too nervous to look anywhere else. He's visibly trembling, and I realize that I am as well. Between the desire and the nerves, I feel like I might shake myself to pieces.

After what seems like an eternity of this, he chuckles nervously.

"I really, really want to look at you," he says hoarsely. I think it might have started as a joke somewhere, but was too true to stay that way.

"So do it," I tell him, trying to sound bold and daring, but mostly failing.

He chuckles again, and it sounds a little less nervous. "So you'll allow it?"

"I'll allow it," I roll my eyes, still riding out an echo of the trembling.

His eyes sweep downwards once and back, quickly, nervously. It's obvious he wants to stare longer, but I think he's afraid of doing something wrong. Of pushing me too much.

This is not what I expected. My body is still screaming for him, begging me to do something about the insistent buzzing between my legs. My heart is desperate to show him what my words can't. But my mind is caught up somewhere else, in a place where I will mess this up and then he'll never understand what he means to me, and somehow in the mix I'll manage to destroy both of our abilities to ever enjoy sex at all.

"Can I look at you?" I manage to croak out, forcing myself back into reality.

"Yes," he responds immediately, licking his lips nervously.

So I do. But, unlike him, I take my time.

His chest, which I've seen already, is broad and spanned by long strips of scar tissue. The skin there is pinker than his pale natural skin. Unlike mine, which languished in my imprisonment, his smaller scars have faded a great deal. Starting under his belly button is a line of curly dark blonde hair that leads down and down and… suddenly I find myself looking into his eyes again, breathing heavily.

Still six inches apart. Still not touching. Not even kissing. Everything has come to a screeching halt.

He raises an eyebrow questioningly, smirking just a little, and I can't help but laugh.

"I don't know what to do," I confess, a little angrily.

"You don't, we don't, have to do anything…"

And this breaks me.

"Are you saying you don't want me?"

The space between us is instantly gone. I feel him pressing against my leg insistently as his hands span my waist.

"Does it feel like I don't want you?"

Kissing him seems the only logical course of action after that.

His hands slowly slide down over the curves of my body and back up again in a gentle caress. Without even realizing I'm doing it, I push against him, feeling him pulse against my inner thigh. I kiss down his throat and across his collarbones, my exposed nipples grazing against his chest. One of his hands slides up my back and tangles into my hair as he presses kisses into my temple. Every time I move, his whole body stiffens and then he exhales raggedly.

"Show me," I whisper into his skin, incredibly embarrassed and aroused all at the same time. I'm not even going to pretend I know what I'm doing. The only way this can work is if he demonstrates.

He moves his hand from my hair to my jaw and lifts my head up to look at me.

"Show you what?" he asks with mild curiosity. But my ear's still lying against his chest, and I can hear his heartbeat steadily increasing. He's more than mildly curious, that's for sure.

The gesture I make is one of confusion. I can't even explain what it means. But he seems to understand well enough.

"'Hhh'okay…" he exhales.

Gently, almost reverently, he takes my hand and kisses the top of it. Then he slowly moves our joined fingers down his chest, following the line bisecting his abdominal muscles, skimming over his belly button. Then he lets go, wrapping his fingers around his erection, while I explore the soft skin of his thighs with my hand, too nervous to do anything more. He gives a slow tug, bringing his palm all the way up over the head, and spreading the liquid that was beading at the top. I stare as he strokes himself, momentarily transfixed by the near-purple color of the head of his penis, fascination overwhelming my embarrassment. Somewhere behind me, he's making incoherent sounds.

I turn to glance at his face.

As soon as we make eye contact, his whole body stiffens and he cries out a garbled version of my name. I feel a few drops of liquid splatter against my hand, but by the time I turn my head, whatever has happened is over. I find I'm disappointed that I missed it. I feel him relax underneath me, and for a long moment, he just lies in a daze. I want him to touch me so badly I can hardly stand it.

His look of pleasure turns to one of chagrin as he reaches for his underwear to clean the small pool of pearlescent liquid that's gathered on his stomach.

"I uh…" he chuckles nervously, "didn't expect it to happen quite so… but I think I can… I mean… in a few minutes…" I don't want him to feel embarrassed. If he feels embarrassed about this, then what am I supposed to do?

"Shut up," I say, covering his mouth with mine and rolling on top of him.

He kisses me back hungrily, and brings his hands up my sides to just below my breasts.

"Can I…?" he gasps between kisses.

I slide down onto his hands in way of response.

The callous on his thumb catches on one of my scars, then slides up to the tip of my nipple. The sensation is muted, the intensity almost nothing compared to the aching in my belly, but all the same the single touch snaps my head back, and I cry out involuntarily.

I expect him to ask if I'm okay, to be concerned and attentive, but instead, he presses both of his hands against my breasts and begins to knead the flesh there. I moan, I can't help it, when he alternates between firm grasps and the impossibly light touch of his fingers. Then one of his hands is replaced by his lips. The moment I feel the softness of his tongue flick against my nipple, I lift my head back up and stare.

His eyes are closed, and when he opens them and looks into mine, my reaction is immediate and physical. Something about his gaze anchors me to what's happening and I can feel every touch as though it's amplified a hundred times, drawing me out of my head and into the experience. And then, though I thought it could not possibly feel any more intense, he bites down gently.

I sit up abruptly, knocking him away and wrapping my arms around myself.

"I… are you okay? I'm so sorry. Did I hurt you? I'm so sorry I didn't mean…"

I shake my head vehemently, unable to speak. He props himself up on his elbows and looks at me with something that is much too close to terror for my own tastes.

"Do it again."

He sits up and reaches tentatively for my shoulder, exhaling with a small laugh.


I don't know if I can say it again, so I just crawl unto his lap, so that his face is level with my chest. The practicality of this position become immediately apparent, throbbing insistently against my thigh.

For a moment, neither of a say anything, just stare at each other. His mouth is agape, and mine must be too, because I feel myself close it after some time.

His arms snake around my back, and we fall together like an avalanche.

There is nothing in the world. Just him. Just the steady touch of our hips bumping as we rock together, closer and closer with every kiss. My hollow aching has grown into a frenzy. I need. I need. I need.

As though he's reading my mind, he shifts his leg just an infinitesimal amount, and, as my hips rock forward, the urging desperate need explodes when the sensitive spot between my legs glides across the skin on his thigh. I think he notices, because his hands slide down from their previous position in the center of my back, to one resting on each of my hips. I wrap my arms around his neck even more tightly, digging my fingers into his shoulders. His fingers mimic mine, pushing into the taut skin on my hips, and I unconsciously begin moving even faster.

This is what I've wanted, needed so badly, this and more and more. He picks up on the rhythm I've started and uses his hands to guide me as I find it difficult to move on my own. I moan, and whimper, quite beyond my control, into his neck. His lips hover next to my ear, and just as I reach the point where I feel like my skin can no longer contain what I'm feeling, he whispers as though to himself, "I can't believe it. You're going to…"

And I do, clenching his shoulders so hard I'm certain to leave marks.

His arms wrap around me shoulders, drawing me into his chest as I try to catch my breath.

"I think that was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," he says after some time. Not even to me specifically, just to the room, as though such a thing has to be documented.

I kiss his chest in response. It's the only thing I can reach without moving.

"You're ridiculous, Peeta," I whisper.

He chuckles, lying back and pulling me with him until I'm at his side, head on his shoulder, one leg crossing over his thigh.

"Say that again," he grins.

I roll my eyes and comply, "You're ridiculous."

He shakes his head and runs his fingers through my hair. "No, not that part. The part where you say my name and I can still hear the sounds you just made when you say it."

I look down, trying to avoid his frank gaze, only to see that we're still lying there, completely naked. He's still erect, even more so than before, and I feel the rush of heat hit me even stronger, despite the very immediate past.

"Peeta…" I breathe, forgetting all about his request.

He sighs happily, "Again please."

"No… Peeta, I mean…"

"One more time? Please?" I feel him lift his other arm behind his head, ridiculously proud of himself.

Instead of doing what he asks, I reach down and softly touch him, imitating his actions from before. His body immediately tenses, and when I wrap my fingers around him and experimentally stroke, he says my name the way I know he wanted me to say his, and I realize why he wanted it so badly.

I don't really know what I'm doing, and I feel too embarrassed to watch myself, so instead I turn to kiss him, but as I do, he rotates onto his side and pulls me almost flush with him, lowering his hand down my side until it rests on the inside of my thigh. I'm still stroking him, hoping I'm doing it right, but my speed slows as his fingers slide against the tangle of hair between my legs, slick from rubbing against him before.

He pauses hesitantly.

"Is this okay?" he asks. I didn't ask his permission a moment ago, and I wonder if maybe I should have.

"Y-yes…" I manage to say, losing my focus on trying to make him feel good.

When his finger slips through the folds, my hand stops moving completely.

After a brief period of exploration, during which I can sense him watching my reactions, he begins focusing all of his attention on the spot I discovered long ago. I try to keep up, try to keep touching him, but it feels too good, and my hand falls away completely. He doesn't seem to care though, thrusting himself against my thigh while he slides his finger over the bundle of nerves in slow, gentle circles. The fact that he's so close is intoxicating, and I want more than this.

"Peeta…" I begin in a delirious, breathy voice.

"Oh Katniss…" he mumbles into my neck.

"I think we should…" I try to say, but before I've even finished, he's pulled his hand away and rolled away from me.

"… we should stop," he runs his hands through his hair, looking full of remorse. "I'm sorry. I just… I wanted to touch you so badly and I lost control and I am so, so…"

"No," I interrupt him. "I don't want to stop."

"Then what…"

"I want to keep going," I say softly, not sure where to look when I say it. The weight of my words, my meaning, is obvious.

He reaches over and gently touches my face. "Are you sure?"

"Have I ever told you anything when I wasn't sure?" I say, nearly laughing at the absurdity of it. Then, remembering I'm not the only one who has a say in this, I continue, "But… if you don't want to…"

Instead of answering, he pulls me to him, our mouths meeting in a long, languid kiss.

We don't say anything more after that.

It's awkward, a little. I want him closer than he is, and he's very concerned about hurting me, as though he's forgotten the fact that I've been nearly killed more times than I can count. He starts off just leaning on his side, pressing against me, but I reach for him, pulling him on top of me with a frustrated sigh, but too hard, and he rolls over on to the other side, just catching himself before falling off the bed completely.

I can't help it. I laugh at him. He looks at me with feigned annoyance, clenching his jaw as he rakes his eyes down my body. I don't know exactly what he's staring at, other than the obvious fact that I'm still naked, until I realize that my laughter is making my breasts jiggle.

And then he's on top of me, settling in between my legs and kissing me everywhere. I can hardly even reciprocate, he's moving so quickly. His hardness presses against me, sliding where his fingers were before, and I feel so nervous and excited I think I might pass out. My legs slide even further apart, and I scoot upwards, not certain how to move forward, but wanting to with a desperation that I've never known. He moves one of his hands from my jaw down to the place where we're joined, and positions himself just there. I'm trembling in anticipation, grasping his back, trying to pull him into me.

But he stops moving completely, stilling my own motions with his hand on my shoulder. His other hand comes back, and with it he brushes my hair away from my forehead.

I look at him questioningly. His chest is heaving, and lines of sweat are trickling down his temples, strands of his hair sticking to his forehead. The blueness of the tiny sliver of his iris that is visible around his enormous pupils glows almost white in the moonlight.

"I love you, Katniss," he says quietly.

Then he slides into me.

It doesn't hurt. Not like the girls in school told each other it would, just a pinch, and then a feeling of overwhelming fullness. The hollow need from before is finally sated, but in doing so, a thousand other wants have awoken. I slide my calves up his legs, glancing over the empty space where one of them should be and wrapping them around his mid thighs. Every part of us is touching, and he's still looking into my eyes, taking deep heaving breaths, trying to hold still to make certain that he hasn't hurt me.

"Peeta…" I gasp. Though the hungry urge to be filled is gone, I still want so badly. I raise a trembling hand to his face, brushing against his cheek. He leans into my touch, his whole body quivering, a mix of the effort required to hold himself back, combined with the obvious intensity of his emotions and physical pleasure. The moonlight streams in the window, catching on the beads of sweat that roll down his chest, and I don't think I've ever seen anything quite so beautiful.

Right now, is when I should open my mouth and tell him. But words seem weak to describe what I've felt, and what I know feel. So I show him, urging him forward with a press of my hips and my hands scrambling for purchase across the muscles of his back, every movement of my body screaming the same thing over, and over, and over.

I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

I am wrapped around him so tightly that there's no way for me to tell where I end and he begins. The friction of our bodies as they move together is pushing me towards another climax, but I feel overwhelmed by the weightiness of the moment, and I don't think I can reach mine before him. But it doesn't matter, because all I want out of this is to show him how desperately in love with him I am. How the weary world is made bearable, even beautiful, solely because he has somehow remained, despite everything.

He lowers his chest against mine, propping himself on his elbows, holding my face in his hands as he thrusts again and again. His eyes stare into mine over ragged breaths, as though he's looking for something. And I look back at him, knowing that I will never gaze into anyone's eyes the way I'm gazing into his in this moment.

His mouth drops, as though my look is a confession, and then his head jerks back and he groans deeply.

I'm flooded with a sudden warmth and he collapses on top of me.

Almost at the same instant, his hand slides down my side and reaches to the place we are joined, drawing circles against my skin until the explosion of sensation rockets to the ends of my fingers and the tips of my toes. It doesn't take long at all.

With a deep sigh, he rolls off of me, and once more we are lying side by side, looking into each other's eyes, bodies too exhausted to do much more than that.

The last thing I remember before falling asleep is the soft touch of his hand against my cheek.

I wake to find him gazing at me, which makes me squirm with a bit of happy embarrassment. It's dawn, and the light from the windows makes his hair shine like spun gold.

He looks like he's still trying to decide if this is all a dream, a nervous smile teasing the edge of his lips. Even though we're both naked, the smell of sex heavy in the room, he looks just the tiniest bit shy. It pulls my heart in a thousand different directions, and it's all I can do to keep from grinning at him like a maniac. Instead I smile softly, reaching out to graze my finger across the angles of his jaw.

There is a long pause before he speaks, and when he does, it's in a whisper.

"You love me. Real or not real?"

For a moment, I can't say anything, just stare, trying to fathom just how it is that we've managed to make it through everything to reach this moment. I wonder how he even needs to ask such a thing.

You'd think it's pretty obvious at this point.

But I tell him, "Real," all the same.

The kiss he gives me is so full of joy it takes my breath away.