A/N: After many attempts, this finally got written. It's about sex, so expect sex. Also, there's mention of prescription drug use. Takes place around a year after the end of Mockingjay. Enjoy!

Cold Embers

Peeta exhales next to me, and for a second I'm irritated. He has such a lumpy, warm presence. On a hot summer's night like this, I feel trapped against him without really having to touch him at all. I can hear everything he does; every exhale, and I can feel his heartbeat on the mattress beneath me (or I think I can).

Still, I can't bring myself to ask him to leave. I don't want him gone, I just want him cool and still and soothing. I turn over onto my back, and for the first time since we climbed into bed, I can see him out of the corner of my eye. It helps. It strokes my irrational anger down to a nagging little tug at the back of my neck.

"It's hot," he says, unhelpfully.

I blow, and send a cool stream of air up over my face. It helps ease some of my hair off my clammy forehead, but a second later the hot air feels as pressing as ever. "Yeah."

Peeta rolls over onto his stomach, and I see him prop his chin up in his hand. I turn my head and find him smirking at me.

"What?" I ask.

"You're annoyed," he points out.


"And nothing," he says. "Do you want me to leave?"

I sigh. "Not really."

Peeta scoffs, and settles back down against the pillows, a little closer to me this time. I tilt my head towards his and he kisses me willingly, brushing my damp hair back from my face, as he has done since those nights on the train. Instantly, I feel my body becoming more willing to sleep. His lips pull back and then return with more pressure, and I tangle a few fingers into the hair at the back of his head.

He breaks away and rests his hot forehead against my own. "Better?" he asks, and I nod.

I try to lie there and recapture the moment, but sleep once again rushes away from me, and all that's left is the unbearable heat of him.

Unable to do anything else, I sit up and tug off my nightshirt. "What are you-? Oh," Peeta realises, but keeps his thoughts to himself. I sigh, letting the cool air against my breasts and stomach, and when I lie back down heavily and arrange my arms over my head, I feel better. It's too dark to be self-conscious, and it's only Peeta. Somehow my scarred body seems as inconsequential as my face or hands. Peeta – judging by the look on his face – doesn't agree. And like a wave crashing down on me, I'm suddenly crippled by insecurity, and I reach down for my sheet so I can cover myself. Peeta stops me with a hand on my wrist.

"Don't," he says, and smiles gently, eyes fixed on my face. "It was a shock; that's all."

"Oh." I nod.

He sits up and tugs off his own shirt. "Now we're even, huh?" he teases.

I roll to face him, and realise that the first, filtered light of dawn is just beginning to press at the curtains. It stirs a nasty ache behind my eyes; the idea that the whole night has passed, and I've missed my window of sleep. We both have.

"I need to hunt," I decide, and make to sit up.

"Wait," Peeta stops me. I find his eyes, pleading and tired. "I never get to see you like this."

"Like what?" I ask.

His knuckles lightly scuff over my upper arm, as though scared to go further; scared to touch my breast. He looks shy, almost coy, and a brief smile crosses his face. It turns sad, and he retreats, his head falling back onto the pillow as though he's quickly resigned himself to my leaving.

I sigh and lie back down next to him, resting my forehead against his shoulder lightly. I can almost feel a pulse there. His fingers lightly graze the top of my head, and then his lips follow in their wake. Everything feels quiet, even my mind. I detest the nights, but mornings I can manage.

"Maybe I can-" Peeta breaks off and I feel him shake his head. "Nevermind."

"What?" I ask, frowning.

"I could help you sleep," he reasons lightly.

I find his eyes, and I can tell from the bashfulness I find in them that what he has in mind is something new; something that makes him nervous. And not only that; something that he thinks will make me nervous too, because he holds his hands as though he's ready to stop me when I try to flee. It doesn't take me long to realise what he must mean, but the finer points of his plan are a mystery to me.

Still, I'm so tired.

"What do you do when you can't sleep?" I ask.

"I-" he hesitates. "It doesn't matter. This is the first night I haven't taken sleeping pills. I was never going to sleep."

"You didn't take them?" I ask, confused.

And then I remember my own experience with sleeping aids; that awful pressure of being held in a nightmare, like a hand on the top of my head holding me under water. Insistent that I drown. The shadows under his eyes speak volumes to me.

Peeta shifts over to me to bury his face in my neck, and I stroke the back of his head soothingly, my previous annoyance at him dissipating. His huffs out a great, warm breath that I feel against my collarbone, and moves away.

"What did you do before? After the arena but before the sleeping pills?"

"I touched myself."


I see a flash of white as he grins, and he lets out an amused bark of laughter at my expression. I'm glad it's dark, so he can't see the blood rush to my face. I look away. "Do that then," I mutter, and rummage around on the floor for my top. The bed beneath me shakes with his suppressed laughter.

"Katniss…" I hear him placate.

"What?" I shoot over my shoulder, agitated and uncomfortable.

"I'm teasing you, lie back down," he says.

I eye him warily, and clutch my shirt against my breasts, draping it over myself once I'm on my back. Peeta hovers over me, a smirk on his face. I realise, with a rush of warmth, that this is the first time since he got back to Twelve that I've really seen him smile. Like a noise in the background that I didn't realise I missed until it was gone. I close my eyes.

His eyes flicker from my own, down to my mouth; once, twice, and again, but this time they don't move, and he ducks his head to press a kiss against my lips. It's soft and lingering; the kind we rediscovered months ago.

But the intensity of the kiss, combined with his previous words about helping me sleep fills me with nervous energy. I think he feels it, because he moves off me and waits.

"You want to help me sleep," I say, unsure.

"It was just an idea."

I bite my lip. "Will it work?" I ask.

"You haven't-?" he asks, eyebrows lifting a little.

"No. Not really." I don't tell him that I've tried. I don't tell him that each and every time, my mind was too preoccupied, and my body was unyielding to my own touch. I couldn't feel hungry for myself.

He smiles softly, and it looks uncomfortably like pity. "Come here."

I clear my throat in an attempt to loosen the tightness that's suddenly taken residence there, and shift a little closer to him. He opens his arms out, and I'm glad that it seems like any other morning; ruffled hair and pillows and sheets, and his sleepy embrace waiting for me. It seems familiar, and the familiar is all that keeps me upright.

Peeta gently moves the shirt away, and then wraps an arm snugly around me, pulling me tightly against his chest. I sigh. I can feel his heart; his slow breathing. The light in the room grows brighter with every second, dyed a light yellow by the curtains that hide us from the District outside. But there's something missing. While I feel warm, and safe, I feel no desire. No hunger. No ache. Not even a little. Not yet, I reason.

Peeta guides me gently, onto my back, and then looks a little unsure of himself. "Ok?" he asks.

My hand shakes a little, and I'm in such a hurry to get rid of all this agonizingly slow dancing around the situation at hand that I grab his wrist a shove his fingers under the waistband of my underwear.

"Oh," Peeta says, eyes widening. "That's cutting to the chase, I guess."

I frown. "Is that not right?"

The corner of his mouth lifts, and he kisses me on the cheek. It seems like such a bizarre act of chasteness, with his hand between my legs. "You're fine. Do you want me to carry on?"

I don't tell him that I'm chasing something that I can't see, hear, or feel. But I nod, certain that I'll catch it regardless.

His fingers move down over the hair, and then press lightly over a tiny rise at the front. He's watching my face, and I watch his in return. His brow is furrowed in concentration, and I wet my lips, realising that they have become dry. "Can you kiss me?" I ask, remembering that feeling on the beach, and the movement of his lips that had enticed it.

He does; a little too wetly, and I resist the urge to pull away. But we find the right rhythm between our mouths, and I feel comfortable again, and safe. His hand strokes and circles again, and I'm really not sure that there's much point to what he's doing. Then his fingers move down even further, and whatever he finds makes him pull away. "Feels like we're rushing things a little," he tells me, and brushes the hair back from my forehead.

"What do you mean?" I ask. "Peeta, I'm not sure if-"

He moves away before I can finish, and he nods. He doesn't look upset, but he looks a little unaccomplished.

"No, wait," I scold. "I just…I can't feel anything. Even when you're doing that. There's nothing there."

His brow furrows, and I think he registers the distress in my voice, because his determination seems to double, and he urges me to shift, propping himself up against the head of the bed and then resting me between his legs, chest against my back. His lips skim across the join between my shoulder and neck, and I sigh, enjoying him. I tell him to carry on.

"I think we should do this slowly," he suggests.

But even as his hands move gently over my breasts, the action feels pointless and unnecessary. It's doing nothing. And if the aim is to help me sleep, I want it done with quickly. I feel no sentimentality for this; no love for it at all. And so again, I grab his fingers and urge them into my underwear, eager to try again. If there's one thing that years of hunting taught me, it's how to persist with my body; to push it that extra mile, run those extra few metres, climb that little bit higher. But never like this; this, I've always been willing to abandon.

I close my eyes and rest my head back against his shoulder, willing myself to get lost against him.

"Katniss," he mutters into my ear, making those circles again. I feel something, like he's scratching an itch I didn't know was there, but it doesn't quite translate to the rest of me, and I'm no closer to desire than I was before. "I think maybe it'll work better if you let me take things slow-"

"It's my body," I snap, and I feel him tense up.

I realise that my hand is clutching his wrist, stopping him from moving, and I suddenly feel an inescapable sense of unease. I feel like this isn't going the way it should be; not even approaching it.

He twists him hand out of my grasp and takes my own fingers, guiding them into place. "Show me, then," he breathes against my ear.

He rests his hand gently over mine so he can feel what I do. But it's useless, and I just end up mirroring what he'd been doing, because there had been nothing wrong with it in the first place. It should have been working, but it wasn't. When I move down, I realise why he had moved away. Between the soft flesh, where there should be at least some measure of moisture, there is nothing but dryness. I gasp, and feel dizzy. The heat rushes to my face, and I feel Peeta's arms tighten as I try to move away. But he's too slow, and I'm putting my shirt back on before he can properly react.

"Hey," he says, and touches my arm, running down it until he holds my hand in his. "Me too."

I turn to look at him, feeling more secure now I'm dressed. "What?" I ask, confused.

He shifts forward, and asks "trust me?"

I nod, and he moves my hand down to his crotch. At first, I'm unsure, but then I realise what he's trying to tell me, as my hand comes into contact with him, and through his shorts, I feel nothing but flaccidity. "Oh," I say, unable to react with anything more.

"I thought it was the sleeping pills," he admits.

"I guess not," I say.

The sun is up now, although it's still painfully early hours. Peeta smiles at me a little sadly, and I return it, suddenly too exhausted to hunt; perhaps I could finally sleep now. Perhaps this problem had been following me without my knowledge, and now it's been freed, I can fight to resolve it. And not alone, either. Maybe. Perhaps.

"What if we're just too broken?" I ask quietly, and he frowns a little.

"Let's lie down again; no more trying to sleep, I promise," he teases.

"Oh, good," I sigh, and then blush. I think the blood has rushed to my face this morning more than it had in three years. It's an uncomfortable, vulnerable feeling, and the numbness between my legs still serves to add insult to emotional injury.

But then, as my head hits the pillow, things seem softer. My body feels lighter, and suddenly I don't give a damn whether or not I want to have sex. I just want sleep; warm, wonderful sleep. Peeta tries to hold me, but I shove him off before he can disrupt my new-found peace. I hear him sigh, and then the warm, wet pressure of him pressing a kiss against my cheek again. I drag my hand unconsciously across the cooling wetness there, and hear him laugh. I think I can feel his eyes on me, but I don't have the energy to open mine and find out, and I don't really care enough either way.

"We're going to be fine," he whispers.

"I know," I mutter, half conscious.

"Seems like I did my job of getting you to sleep, huh?"


"Sorry," he says.

And then, in the last moments before sleep, something comes to me. Something I need to remember to look for; the mind dives into the drawer beside my bed, where little bottles of pills sit, waiting for the morning. "Peeta, the pills are at the side of the bed," I mutter, barely coherent.

When I hear his response, muffled by a pillow, I realise that he's in the same, sleepy state. "What pills?"

It doesn't matter anymore.

The next day we work on a build, and my mind keeps flitting back to the night before. The sun is hot and merciless, and Thom employs several kids to pass around cool cups of water to the workers. I find myself uncharacteristically distracted by the sight of Peeta carrying a large sack of something across the site; the look of the muscles in his back pressing snugly against the white cotton of his shirt. I have to apologize to the man who's trying to teach me to lay bricks, and I vow not to take my eyes off my work again.

It took a while for us to do this; to come out a help rebuild. It was Haymitch who suggested that it could be good for us. Greasy Sae makes enough food for the workers. If I'm honest, I long to hunt, but now the fences have been rebuilt to keep out unwanted predators, and fitted with doors that slide open with the press of a button, many people venture into the woods to bring meat into the District, and there's no shortage.

After a while, my own bricks start to look a little less shabby, and I fall into my stride. I see people staring sometimes, especially on hot days like this when I'm uncomfortable in any clothes to begin with. I can't expose my skin to the sun for another year, and so the long-sleeved shirts and pants make my skin sweat terribly. Peeta, whose burns sit predominantly on his chest and stomach, can get away with short sleeves if he covers the graft on his elbow with a special patch that Dr Aurelius sent over.

I sigh and put down the tools, resting my head back and trying to inhibit the production of sweat through sheer will power.

"Uh, miss?" the tiny voice sounds unsure, and I open my eyes to find a young girl, merchant class, with her hair in two braids and a large, sweating glass of water clutched carefully between her hands. "Momma said to give you this."

"Thank you," I croak, and take the ice-cold glass with gratitude. I down it, and then pour the leftover dregs on my heated face.

"Can you show me how?" the girl asks excitedly. I hesitate. Strictly speaking, Thom is reluctant to have any children working on the site. But under the weight of her light blue eyes, I feel my heart pinch. She looks too much like –

"Maisie! Come here, sweetheart!"

The little girl's head twirls around, and she darts off, weaving her way through the workmen gracefully. I find her mother in the crowd; another woman is whispering in her ear, and the mother's hand shoots over her mouth as though she just realises something, with a sharp sudden impact. I see her eyes dart over to me, wide and apologetic. I don't react. I can't react.

Peeta comes over to me a moment later, his brow heavy with sweat. "How you doing?" he asks.

"Well, I'm not sure bricks are really my calling, but fine. You look hot."

He gives me a withering look and shoves his hand in his pocket. "Here," he says, and gives me a handful of pills. I look at them warily. "We're not gonna be going home for them. We can't really afford to miss any. Not in public, like this."

It's true that we should keep a regular routine when it comes to taking the pills, but after last night, I can't help but feel resentful. The tiny blue one is a painkiller for my skin, the red one aids healing and regulates my blood pressure, the yellow and white one regulates my hormones (I'm told its birth control too) and keeps my periods regular. My favourite is the last; pure white and round, once a day. The mood elevator. It doesn't make me happy, but it keeps me from misery. Glumly, I think that it's probably this one that's causing my problem, because it's this one I need the most.

I dry swallow them, and choke a little. Peeta swallows his own handful. He's really better at regulating this stuff than me. Sometimes I wonder what state I'd be in without him.

I lay another brick and find Peeta smiling down at me. "What?" I snap. "I'm surprise they let me do this at all."

"Thom'll take it off you soon, don't worry," Peeta says, and heaves another sack up onto his strong back. "Want to swap?"

"Funnily enough, no," I say.

He grunts and adjusts the weight more comfortably. "I should've told them I was too weak."

"They wouldn't have believed you."

Peeta laughs, and agrees. He frowns then, and I see his eyes sweep pityingly over my sweat-stained clothes. "Maybe it's too soon," he suggests.

"If it's too soon for me, it's too soon for you, too."

"True," he concedes. "But your skin-"

"It's fine," I bat away his concern. "I just wish I didn't have to cover up."

"Come on," Peeta says decisively, and puts down his load. "Time for a break. You're suffering."

"I don't want a break," I protest.

"We've been working all afternoon," he tells me.

"I'm all right," I say.

"OK," he concedes, with a slight shake of his head, as though trying to brush off an irritation. My heart clenches at how frequently he has to do this, not for just a niggling sense of annoyance, but for genuine hate for me, and fear that I'll hurt him. "I'll see you at dinner time?"

"Yeah," I tell him, and send him on his way with a smile that doesn't quite reach my eyes.

I work until the sun goes down; I do whatever they tell me to. My muscles are sore and they ache profusely despite the pain medication earlier. I realise that I've pushed myself too hard, and when Thom suggests that I go home, I don't object. My knees creak as I stand up, and my pants are covered in sand and dust.

When I finally get home, I practically sob with relief at the smell of dinner already cooking. Peeta is in the kitchen, and although his eyes look as tired as my own, he smiles warmly. These are the best days; the days when we're too exhausted to think, and our bones ache too much to dwell on the stinging tightness of our skin grafts, and we've spoken to too many people to dwell on those we've lost.

I collapse over onto the sofa, and peel off my shirt, wincing as the sweat makes it stick to my skin.

He smiles from across the kitchen and I examine the scars on my abdomen; the ones on my upper arms and the ones peeking out from under my bra. After almost a year, they're still hot and tender, but they're getting better.

"What's for dinner?" I call out.

"Deer stew," Peeta replies, and I sit up.

"Someone caught a deer?" I ask, incredulous.

This upsets me. I vow to go out hunting tomorrow and shirk my building duties. I see Peeta trying not to laugh as he ladles out food onto two plates. Greasy Sae taught him how to make proper stew, and in return she got back some of her freedom. I don't think she minded taking care of me, but it wasn't her job, and it was too much to ask in the long term. I sometimes wonder if it's too much to ask of Peeta too, but I know that – like me – he feels better when he's useful. He hired a few workers at the bakery, and doesn't need to be there all the time any more. I know he misses it, but people need jobs.

"I called Dr Aurelius," Peeta blurts out.

"Oh," I say.

"He says it's the mood elevators," he continues. "They numb us down, so we can't feel anything, good or bad. Have you felt happy or sad since you were on them?"

I shake my head. "He says it could be a little more complex with me, because I'm on stuff to keep me from…well, to calm me down."

I nod, feeling a little uneasy at the discussion he'd had with our doctor. It feels like something private. But then again, I reason to myself, what doesn't Dr Aurelius know about me already?

"I don't want them anymore," I mutter. "I don't want to be controlled."

"They're helping us," he reasons.

"At what cost?" I counter. "I can't feel anything. I can't smile, or cry, or laugh. Not really."

"Do you want to?" Peeta asks, and puts the food out on the table. I heave myself up, and cross the room to take my seat.

"I don't know."

I take a mouthful of stew; it's good. The warmth of food in my belly helps me to calm down, and brings a deep-down contentedness. "I want," I consider my words carefully, "to be able to feel…you."

Peeta tries to hold my gaze, but I refuse to look him in the eye. "I know," he says quietly. "Me too."

"I don't want anything from them." My fist tightens around my fork, and I feel the hard metal bite into my palm.

That night, before bed, we shower. But not separately, as we usually do. When I hear him enter the bathroom to brush his teeth, I grab a handful of his arm and gently tug him towards the shower. He understands, and strips off his clothes quickly. The shower is so small that I don't feel self-conscious. Maybe there's a pill fixing that for me, too. Either way, I'm too tired to stand so I lean heavily into him, under the harsh spray of water. He brushes my wet hair back from my face, and presses a kiss against my forehead that's just slightly cooler than the water. He rinses the suds from my hair and then washes his own quickly, and by the time we're done, I feel as though I could fall asleep on my feet.

With firm hands on my shoulders, he guides me out of the shower and dries me off. For a second, I see what we could have. This intimacy, and the security that comes with it, mixed with intense pleasure. It makes me ache with grief.

However we spin this, it will be hard; that's the baseline. We can make believe that if we stopped taking the pills all our problems would go away, but that's just not true. Already, I can feel the waves of emotions that the pills have been holding back, like a dam ready to break and flood me.

We dress in our nightclothes slowly, facing each other. When we climb into bed, I kick the sheets off and curl up near the centre of the bed. It's another hot night.

"We'll start tomorrow," Peeta tells me, and I nod my agreement before sleep takes me.

"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea,"

I can barely lift my head, but the cold tiles feel so good against my feverish skin. Next to me, I hear Peeta empty his stomach into the toilet again, wretching and choking. He's close enough that I can feel him shake violently as he lies back down on the floor. I wrap my arms around myself to try to stop the shivers. I look at Peeta. His skin is a pallid green, and there are dark rings under his eyes.

"Everything hurts," he croaks, eyes shut tight against the bright bathroom lights.

"I know," I say, trembling.

My head pounds insistently inside my skull, as though something is clawing for release. We've only missed one day; two lots of pills gone and we're already sick. Neither of us wants to ring the Capitol, because we'd be sent for without a doubt, and end up in some sterilized room, hundreds of miles away from home.

"I'm going to get the pills," Peeta gives in.

"No!" I protest, and grab his clammy arm. "We haven't been sick all day so that we can give in at a moment's notice. We agreed; every other day.

"I can't do that! I can't do this!" he grinds the words out from between his teeth. "It's different for me."

It's not, but I understand his pain. All that we cut out were the mood elevators, and they've already done this to us. But still, I'm determined to see this through; I don't want anything in my blood that holds the power to make me feel this sick.

"It's for the best," I reason.

Peeta clenches his fists and holds them over his eyes, rubbing hard enough to bruise. His lips peel back over his white teeth in discomfort. "I hate you."

That stings.

"You don't mean that. You're about to have an episode," I reason, but the tremble in my voice belies the calm I'm trying to instil in the vomit-stinking bathroom.

I get up onto my knees and hover over him, taking his face in my hands. He jerks away from me, but I hold him steady. "It's not real, whatever you're feeling," I tell him. "Peeta!"

He's starting to hyperventilate, and so I slap him smartly across the face. It seems to bring him back to his senses, but he's still breathing too quickly. In that moment, I'm so tempted to just let him have the pills. He's taking the come-down process so much harder than I am. Why are we doing all this, anyway? So perhaps we can have sex? What's the point?

"Promise me that we won't stop," he mutters, sounding a little delirious. "However long it takes."

"I promise," I agree, and try to ignore my nausea as I prop his head up in my lap and stroke his hair back off his forehead. The little blonde strands cling to the sweat on my fingers, but I think the motion is helping, because he doesn't throw up for a long while.

"Your hands are burning hot," Peeta tells me.

My eyes are sore and tired. Just a few more hours, I tell myself, and we can sleep, and wake up tomorrow with a fresh dose of medication waiting for us. Every other day, I think to myself, and silently pray that it won't always be like this.

Peeta's lips part a little, and his breath comes quickly again. "I'm doin' this for you," he mutters.

My hearts softens a little, and I feel a surge of something I haven't felt in a while. It's not completely pleasant, but it's an emotion that greets me like an old friend; guilt. I'd missed this. That little tug at my heart whenever Peeta says anything too sentimental, or something that paints me way above my station. I'd almost missed it.

"But for me, too," he continues shakily, and I shhh him gently.

"For both of us," I agree.

We go to bed that night, and when I wake up, he's gone. I take my pills and settle down, letting them do their work. My body seems to sigh with relief; just the knowledge that today won't be like the previous one fills me with a sweet lightness. I consider going to find Peeta, but instead I find myself staring at the wall. It holds my attention for the longest time. I think of nothing. I feel nothing. I'm dead; surely, I must be dead.

Five minutes later, I dive under the covers and let them hold me together. I wish that Peeta was here, because nightmares hit when I fall back into sleep, and I tumble through dark places that keep showing me Prim's sweet little face burning to pieces.

When I finally find him, after those three days, he's in his bed. My eyes travel over the naked expanse of his back. It's a pill-free day, and I have a splitting headache, and with it, a low tolerance for…well, pretty much anything. I kicked the gate off its hinges on the way up his lawn, and tried to bend the key with my hands when my fingers were shaking too much to get it into the lock (the latter left me with nothing but rage and some angry-looking welts in my palms.

It occurs to me sometimes that perhaps we're doing this all wrong. It certainly feels like it. But I can't deny that things have been getting better. Already, I'm feeling the absence of the pill less and less.

"Get up!" I call to him, and open the curtains. He stirs, burying his face in the pillows to block out the light.

"Go away," he groans.

"No," I say, "if I don't get to lie in bed all day, then neither do you."

I see the toes on his remaining leg twitch, and the prosthetic ones make an attempt at the same motion, peeking out from under the covers, shiny and heavy-looking.

"Fuck off, Katniss," he growls, and pulls the covers over his head. I've never seen him like this, not even after his hijacking. He's acting like a petulant child.

And then something happens; something that starts at the bottom of my stomach and works its way up; I laugh. And it's not forced. It's something that I can't contain; amusement at the sight of him lying there, naked and sulking, with his hair ruffled and his eyes shut tight as though if he can't see me I'll cease to bother him. The sound of it seems to awaken him, and he looks up at me incredulously from under heavy eyelids. "Are you OK?" he asks, eyeing me warily.

"Fine," I say. "You're just…funny."

He sighs and pats the bed next to him. I roll my eyes and climb in next to him. He makes to pull the sheets up over and cover his modesty, but I stop him.

"Baby steps, right?" I reason.

He lets the sheet fall away, his eyes fixed on my face. "Right."

I shrug off my jacket and sit down next to him, lacing my fingers through his. In truth, I missed him the past few days. My bed felt empty; I missed that lumpy, annoying warmth in the middle of a hot night. I missed someone hearing my voice; my breathing; my cries in the night. I missed his arms.

"I missed you," I say.

"How much?" he asks quietly, running his fingers through the gaps in mine.

"A lot," I admit.

"What did you miss?" he breathes.

I open my mouth, but can't find the words. "Most things. I'm not good at explaining."

"You don't give yourself enough credit," he scolds me gently.

I bite my lip, and ask, "Don't you feel exposed, lying there naked?"

"Maybe, a little. Not enough to bother me. Does it bother you?"

"No," I say quickly. Peeta grins.

"You've seen me naked before."

"I know," I say.

"But," he finishes for me, "you've never been in a position to look. So look, if you want. I won't go shy on you."

I blink a couple of times and dart a few looks at his bare chest. I've seen it before, but after a while I begin to feel the uncomfortable itchings of embarrassment worming their way up my chest and neck, heading toward my face, and so I give him a nod as though to say that I approve. He laughs so hard he seems to surprise himself. I know the feeling.

"Listen," I command his attention, anger prickling at the sight of him teasing me. "Just because you've done this before doesn't mean you can make fun of-"

"What exactly is it that you think I've done before?" Peeta interrupts.

"You've had sex," I say, slowly.

"And that's what we're doing?"

"Well, no, but-"

"I've had sex. Not particularly good sex."

I flinch. I don't want to know; I don't want to imagine.

"Whatever you think it is that I have expert knowledge in, you're wrong. Or at least, from what I can remember you're wrong."

Frowning, and brush the blonde hair back from his forehead. It curls away from his skin, and I can see the accumulation of three days of self-neglect on his forehead. He needs a shower.

"I want us to stop taking them completely," he murmurs.

"I don't know if we can," I reason sensibly.

"Since we've stopped I've felt things. Things I thought were gone. Sure, I feel angry, and sad, and I have more episodes than before, but I can feel properly in love with you for the first time since they took it from me. That's worth more to me than anything. It finally feels like I can feel what they were telling me about all along. I can't give that up."

I close my eyes, and his hand finds mine, squeezing lightly. "Now, look?" he whispers.

I meet his eyes and nod, forcing myself to move at a slow pace, and take in as much of him as possible. The scars on his chest that extend upwards and almost, but not quite, graze his neck. The tip of his ear that his hair usually hides, with a small chunk missing as though they thought it so trivial they didn't waste time saving it. His stomach; the worst burns on his whole body, they look deep and could still be painful. My eyes try to flit away, but I force them to stay strong, and finally I look at his crotch. There's a burn on the side of his hip, but the coarse blonde hair there is relatively unscathed. In the middle, looking thoroughly lifeless is his penis. I move down his legs, and my eyes linger on the join between prosthetic and flesh; the two fused together in a couple of long, white scars.

"How does it feel?" I ask him.

"Like my old foot, but colder. Heavier. Less flexible."

"I've finished looking," I tell him. He smirks.

"Now, will you leave me to sleep?" he asks.

"No, you're getting up," I say firmly. "Thom needs your help with the roof of the hospital. And you need to call in on the bakery and pay everyone before they all quit."

"What about you?" he asks.

"Hunting," I say.

"You get to have fun," he mutters resentfully.

I get up and cross over into his adjoining bathroom. At the sound of the shower running, he drapes a pillow weightily across his face, groaning. I pick up a few pieces of clothing off the floor, and a towel, and hope they're right, throwing them into the bathroom. Still, Peeta doesn't move.

"Get up!" I call.

"I was hoping that the sight of my naked body would daze you enough to leave me alone," he jokes into the pillowcase.

My headache is returning, and I don't have time for this. I fill an empty glass I find at the side of the bed and wrench the pillow from his strong grip. He freezes, eyes wide at the sight of the icy water hovering threateningly close to his face. Then, relaxing, he calls my bluff, and tucks his arms peacefully under his head, reclining back as though the threat doesn't bother him. "Go ahead," he taunts, "I need a shower, anyway."

His smile tickles something inside me, but I'm too charged and achy to decipher whether it's a good tickle or a bad.

When I move the glass to hover over his exposed crotch, the smile slips from his face like butter.

"Feel like getting up?" I ask.

"Uh," his voice quivers slightly. "Maybe I'd be a little more inclined to-ahh!"

A tiny drip of condensation glides down the glass and lands on him. It's enough to make him flinch a little, and he grabs the sheet around him as he lifts himself out of bed, muttering curse words on his way to the shower.

That night is a bad one. He gets home from helping Thom on the build, and I notice that he smells like bread, too. He tells me that one of his employees didn't show up, and that he had to alternate between the build and the bakery all day, back and forth until his knees were about ready to give out. I'm already in bed when he gets home at dinner time, too wracked with grief to eat anything. He brings me some soup though, and stands over me until I sit up and eat it. I'm snappy and ungrateful, but he's patient enough, and insists that if I don't eat it myself he's going to have to spoon feed me like a child; something he knows I detest.

"Did you catch anything?" he asks, his face half-illuminated in the late-evening light that streams through the tightly closed curtains.

"A couple of squirrels," I say.

"That's good," he smiles. "We nearly finished the roof."

"Good," I reply shortly, torn between asking him to climb in with me, and telling him to leave me alone.

My hands shake when I hand him the empty bowl, and he sets it down on the side. Then, still in his dirty work clothes, he lifts up the comforter and slides in next to me. I feel tears lift to my eyes at the feel of his warm presence next to me, and those last couple of nights spent wrapped around the duvet in the hope that I could generate the same warmth for myself.

Peeta's heart's beating fast when I rest my ear over it, and his whole body seems to be charged, yet somehow exhausted. I dry-sob into his shirt until my stomach muscles are sore, and he whispers soothing things into my hair that I can't really hear. Still, I make believe that I can. It helps.

Four weeks later, we're completely free of the mood elevators. I feel everything; the pain, the occasional burst of joy (in those tiny moments where Peeta smiles in a certain way, or the sun peeks out from between the clouds while I hunt), the anger. And Peeta's anger, too. The pills he takes to keep him calm still work to some degree, but his scars go deeper than pure, physical rage. Still, we've made do. I think Haymitch notices a difference, but he makes no mention of it.

I hear the door slam, and look up from the stew I'm attempting to make. The hot air wafts up and brings the warm blood to my face, but I like it. Peeta walks in, looking tenser than I've seen him since those days strapped to the table in Thirteen. My throat tightens at the thought of the state he must be in. His jaw is so tight I can see every tendon as he walks past, taking tiny little controlled steps and he rushes up the stairs.

"Peeta," I say cautiously. "Are you all right?"

"Fine," he grits out. "Just…give me a minute."

My lips are dry, and my heart hammers against my chest. Part of me is compelled to run; to get out of there and seek help. Maybe Haymitch or Thom. Someone with the sheer strength to restrain Peeta if that's what it takes to calm him down. I try to tell myself that it's just an episode; it will pass, as it always does. But there's something not quite right about this; the expression on his face spoke of some deeper distress. Almost physical pain.

What if he's hurting himself?

I swallow my resolve and grab a knife from the kitchen, tucking it in the back of my pants, just in case. Noiselessly as I can, I climb the stairs, and creep into the bedroom. The bathroom door is open a crack, and I can hear the same soft gasps he makes when he's trying to claw his way out of a nightmare. A deep, pained moan makes me rush over, and fling the door open, the handle of the knife in my hand, just in case.

Whatever I'm expecting, it certainly isn't what is waiting on the other side of the door.

Peeta is proper up against the counter, his back to me. In the mirror I can see his face scrunched up in what can only be described as blissful agony. On his brow is a light sheen of sweat, and his eyes are shut tight. I can't make sense of it until I see the rhythmic motion of his arm and the reflection in the mirror of –

"Oh. Oh!" I realise, and scrunch my eyes up reflexively to stop myself from seeing any more.

"Katniss!" I hear him complain, and then the scurried motions of Peeta grabbing for something to cover himself with.

"Sorry!" I say. "I didn't know what was wrong-"

"Katniss," he says again, and this time it sounds more amused than startled. "Open your eyes, its fine."

I open them one at a time, and he's wrapped a towel around him waist, but I can still see the bulging evidence underneath. He's smiling, but it looks a little too close to a grimace to really be comfortable. His face is flushed with embarrassment and – I can only guess – arousal.

"So you can-" I note, nodding down at his crotch.

"Would seem like it," he grinds out from between his teeth. "Sort of, uh, took me by surprise."

"OK, well, I'll leave you to it," I say, at a loss. "Unless…you want me to stay?"

Peeta's face seems to fall with relief. "Would you?" he pleads.

He holds a hand out for me to take, and I feel something strong and unexpected rush through me. It's not desire (not quite), but it's something akin to the flame that I had nursed for him before the war. All the pent up tension, and the need for him to be close to me. If I can love - I think - this must be it. I suddenly want to kiss every inch of his face, feel every strand of his hair between my fingers. Wrap him up in my bed and never let him leave, because if he leaves then this feeling might escape.

I take his hand, and it's warm. He tugs me over to the counter next to him, and wraps his arms around me. His chin is sharp against my shoulder. I feel him smile; a full grin. "It worked."

My eyes tear up, and my chest swells, not just with happiness for him, but because it hasn't worked for me. Not yet. I keep that to myself, and focus on Peeta.

I shift, and I can feel the hardness against my stomach twitch slightly. Peeta laughs at the corresponding blush that stains my face. I break away and silence him by wrapping my hand loosely around him. The smile freezes on his face and then slowly slides off, and his knuckles go white against the cold counter.

"Is that…is that right?" I ask, unsure.

He wraps his own hand around mine and guides it up and down gently. Under the firmness, he's warm. Warmer than I've ever felt him. I try to watch his face, but I've always been used to focusing on the task at hand, and my eyes keep flitting downwards. Peeta doesn't seem to notice, with his eyes screwed shut as though he's afraid if he opens them I'll disappear.

"It's been…so long," he gasps out, and then pulls me closer, burying his face in my shoulder. I'm suddenly conscious of the fact that my clothes are muddy from hunting, and there's a stew-stain from earlier down the front of my top. Peeta doesn't seem deterred. "So long."

His fingers are digging into my shoulders, and I gasp with pain. He loosens his hold and mutters an apology, before taking me around the waist and guiding me clumsily onto the counter. My hip collides with the corner and I wince, hoisting myself up instead. He looks a little embarrassed, but is clearly too lost in his own pleasure to stop. He kisses me now that we're a little more level, and it's all tongue and teeth, not pleasant but not unpleasant either. I focus on the shape of him in my hand, and he moves his own hand away to let me touch him on my own. It takes a few moments of uncertainty, but I pick the rhythm back up, and his breath comes quick against my neck.

"I want," he gasps, "I want you to feel as good as I do."

I don't answer, suddenly wondering when this will end. When do we stop? It seems like he's running full-tilt towards something, and I'm eager to help him along, so I move one of his hands to my breast and urge him to squeeze. He seems to hit some sort of a wall, and a great shudder runs through him. He bites down in the crook of my neck, lightly, but I can feel his face contorting against my skin. Something warm and wet hits the back of my hand, but I don't want to look until he's back to his senses. It takes a few moments, and I carry on moving just in case there's something else, but it starts to seem counterproductive, because he's growing soft and heavy in my hand.

He sighs so deeply I'm almost envious of his contentment. "Sorry," he mutters.

"It's OK," I say.

"I didn't expect it all to come rushing back so quick," he admits.

"Oh," I say, not really sure what else there is to say.

I wipe my hand on a nearby towel and take a step back and look at him properly. His pants and underwear around his ankles, penis now limp, and hair tousled from my fingers, lips red from kissing me, cheeks flushed, eyes heavy and almost black from dilation. And it's funny; it's so funny I laugh from my stomach.

Peeta looks scandalised. "What?" he asks desperately, hastily pulling his pants back up and tucking himself back in. He glares at me, and then something seems to catch his attention down by my hip. "What were you going to do with that?"

He's pointing at the short kitchen knife still in the waistband of my pants. It's a miracle I didn't sit on it. I try to bite my lip, but at the sight of his horrified expression, the laughter comes again like hiccoughs. I'm powerless to resist, and just for a while - just for a few brilliant moments – I don't want to.

Peeta eventually sees the funny side, and kisses my smile away. He grabs the knife out of my pants and puts it safely out of reach.

But when he backs me onto the bed a few moments later and flicks open the button on my pants, I can't feel anything. When he looks up at me as though asking for a go-ahead to carry on, I shake my head a little. No embers live inside me tonight, and I can't build the flame out of nothing. He sighs and slots the button back into its hole, resting his head against my thigh.

He stares up at me as though I'm a puzzle he's trying to solve. And for a moment for two, it pleases me to think that if that's the game we're playing, I won a few minutes ago.

It's very late afternoon, and the sun is sinking rapidly now. Everything has a muted quality, and I find that it's much easier on my eyes than the harsh daylight has been. I hoist my game bag higher on my shoulders and walk through the District on tired legs. My heart is heavy and aching, but I feel satisfied and fulfilled. A day of hunting was what I needed; perhaps not the only thing, but I noticed a huge improvement once I stepped out the gates and exhaled the woody air.

The build is packing up in the distance, and I can make out Peeta's broad back in the distance, so I head that way. The hospital building has an outer structure now, and I think whoever lay the bricks did a much better job than I did.

When I get closer, someone points me out, and Peeta turns around. He shoots me a sweet smile and wipes his hands on his pants, dust billowing out around him.

"Hey," he greets, "we're nearly done here. Home?"

"Home," I agree.

He finishes up and we walk home, side by side, not touching. In the golden light, I can see every blonde hair at the back of his neck illuminated as though on fire. The strong line of his shoulders. Shoulders that I want to grasp onto, squeeze, hold. My hand tightens on my bow, and I slow down a little.

I keep my new found interest in him a secret until after dinner. I want to be sure before we try anything, and so I lean up to kiss him deeply, and taste salty mashed potatoes on his lips, and his arms come up around me. The flames start where my hips meet my stomach, and lick up through the rest of me quickly. I almost can't stand it, so I pull away. Peeta pushes against me, and kisses me firmly against the kitchen counter, hands tangling in my hair.

"OK? he asks gently. I nod.

"Should-" my voice breaks off. I try again. "Should we go upstairs?"

"If you want," he agrees.

The walk we take seems longer than it normally does, and his hand twitches a few times in mine. Peeta tells me that he's going to shower, and kisses me lightly on the lips. I consider joining him, but somehow the sound of the running water paralyses me, and I'm unable to do anything but sit on the edge of the bed and contemplate how this will work out.

When he comes out in a towel, I try to smile, but I think it looks like a grimace, because he looks concerned and asks me I if I'm OK.

"I'm fine," I say. "Shall we do it, then?"

Peeta bites his lip as though trying to suppress a smile. I frown at him and distract myself from the nerves, peeling off my shirt and dropping it over the edge of the bed. The air is cool in the bedroom, and when the goosebumps prick up on my skin, I feel all of a sudden too exposed. I stare at my knees and consider holding a pillow against my chest.

Peeta walks up to me, and I see his bare feet – one flesh, one metal - come to a halt in front of mine, and then he gently eases himself to his knees, moving my legs apart gently so he can kneel between them. "You're terrible at this," he tells me jokily.

"What?" I say, feeling defensive.

"Being patient. Taking things slowly."

"What does slowly matter when we've waited all this time, and been through all that?" I demand.

His light eyebrows pinch together slightly. "Haven't you ever wanted this before? But not been able to have it, because you wouldn't let yourself, or circumstances just weren't right?"

His face looks a little expectant, so I nod, despite not really being sure if I have wanted this with him before. He cups half of my face in his hand. "So, we wait a little longer. Take it slowly. Build up to it."

"So you don't want sex tonight?" I blurt.

"Of course I do," he laughs. "If you do."

"I think I do."

"Then let it be my job to make you sure that you do," he suggests quietly, and I feel something flutter deep down. I nod, and wait.

"Are you going to take that off?" I ask, nodding to his towel.

"Do you want me to?" he asks.

"Yes. And come up onto the bed?"

"OK…" he agrees, and discards of his towel, climbing next to me on the bed. He's sideways, so he grabs a pillow and moves it under his head, legs dangling over the side of the bed as he looks up at me. He's half-hard already. I feel as though I'm losing the race, so I take off my bra, feeling awkward.

"I can do that, if you want," he says gently.

"I'm all right," I protest. One side of his mouth quirks upwards. "It's got to come off eventually, hasn't it?"

He laughs. "I guess so."

Peeta leans up, and grazes his lips across the bare expanse of my back. My hands tighten around my bra, and then I fling it away because it's distracting me. I lean back, propped up on one elbow and Peeta's mouth moves to my shoulder. The hunger for him is prevalent now. No longer do I feel that sense of comfortable intimacy at being with him, naked. Now, there's something wonderful - but thoroughly against what I'm used to – bubbling up in my chest. I try to keep my head above water, so to speak, but it's difficult.

"Tell me about that other girl," I gasp, when his lips hover just above my breasts.

"Katniss," he groans, resting his forehead between then in frustration.

"Sorry," I mutter. "I'll try not to speak."

"Katniss," Peeta says, and takes a nipple between his lips, pulling gently. I gasp. "For most of my life, I've wanted to do this. I can't quite remember how I felt, but I can remember that I felt it. And after all they did you me, that's something, huh? I want you to feel good."

"I do feel good," I say, and mean to brush the hair back from his face, but my hand is so unsteady that I end up patting him somewhat patronizingly on the head. "You make me feel good."

His teeth graze my nipple and I cry out. He's not playing games anymore, and his eyes keep darting up to my face, watching my reactions. I lie back fully, and he follows, leaning over me to kiss my mouth in soft, hot bursts.

"Tell me more about how much you want me," I suggest.

He smirks, seeming self-satisfied that he's finally found something that weakens me. In truth, I just want to hear more about what was going on in his head all that time we were pretending to be together.

He moves to take off my pants, and his arms are shaking a little as he tugs them down my legs, along with my underwear. I'm suddenly conscious of the scars on my thighs, so I shut them tightly and hope he'll come back to kiss me. "I think I wanted you first when you were sitting in class, a couple of rows in front. Your hair caught the light, and you were all I could think about all day."

"Oh," I say.

"Does that make you uncomfortable?" he asks.

"No. If I'd known I had an admirer I would've…brushed my hair or something."

Peeta laughs. "No, you wouldn't."

"No, I wouldn't," I agree.

"Are we done with story time?" Peeta asks, and his hands rest lightly on my knees. "Can I-?"

"Yeah," I say, and he gently prises my legs apart. I don't expect it, the rush from feeling not only the air, but his eyes between my legs. And there's something else too; a comfortable wetness that hasn't been there for a long time. I feel my heart twinge with relief in the knowledge that I'm heading in the right direction.

"Show me what to do?" he says, and grabs my hand, putting it between my legs. I hesitate.

It feels strange, doing this with Peeta watching so intimately, but after a few moments, I'm lost. I didn't realise how much relief such small motions could bring. How much pleasure I could derive from just a few tiny movements between, over, through, and back again.

I think Peeta feels left out, because he stills my fingers and replaces them with his own. This makes me call out softly, head throwing itself back, at a loss for what else to do.

"You feel better than I ever imagined," he breathes gently against my thigh.

"Really? What did you imagine?"

Peeta laughs, and stops for a moment. I make a noise that sounds far too needy and shift my hips. He resumes stroking, but watches me with a smirk on his face. Fingers circle around that spot at the front that didn't work a few weeks ago. It certainly works now, I think, as him thumb brushes over it and I feel myself grow wetter.

"I'm back to normal," I breathe incredulously, and Peeta presses a wet kiss against my thigh. I'm almost surprised how good this feels, and so when Peeta stops again, I lift my head desperately.

"We should make sure," he tells me, a smile in his voice, and then I see his lips lower onto me and I'm lost. He licks gently through the length of me and then comes to a halt at the front. I tense up in anticipation, and find that I can't watch anymore, because it's Peeta, and we're already so painfully intimate that watching him do this is something of an oddity.

But I can feel it, in every molecule of my body. My hands tangle in his hair, and I tug. That seems to stop him though, so I quickly remove them and let him carry on.

"Is this good?" he whispers, and when I meet his eyes, they're strangely vulnerable. For all his teasing, he's unsure of himself. "You're quiet."

"It's…it's so good," I say, wishing that I could cultivate the words to tell him just how good. But there's a block, and I just can't say anything else, or anything more elaborate than that.

To my disappointment, he stops, and crawls up the bed so that he's lying next to me.

"I just want this to be good for you. I owe you this."

"What do you mean?"

He sighs and looks at me as though I'm the most frustratingly dense person in District Twelve.

"No, I know that," I scold, thinking back to the other night when I touched him until he finished. "I just mean…I want this to be about both of us."

As though to make my point, I wrap my hand around his erection, but in my haste, and the rush of adrenaline, my hand clenches a little too tightly, and he lets out a strangled ah! I don't think it's a good noise.

"Sorry! Sorry," I say, and grip him with a little less enthusiasm.

Peeta laughs, and strokes my cheek with his thumb. "It's OK," he says, and then a little quieter, "I love you."

I close my eyes and my hand falls away, and I need to shut him up, so I push him over onto his back and climb on top of him, pinning his hands to the mattress. I think he takes this sudden display of dominance as a reaction to his declaration, because he stares up at me as though I'm the sunset itself.

Now that I can feel the length of him, slickly snug between my legs, I feel nerves prickle at my stomach again. My hips feel too narrow, and my legs are flaunting every burn. And he's…such a large presence beneath me…

"You're perfect," he mutters, and his hands cup my breasts. I wish I could ask him to carry on what he was doing before, with his tongue, but amongst the admissions of love and perfection, the request would seem a little out of place and selfish.

One of his hands moves down, and rubs again, and my toes curl and stretch and I'm rocking into him before I really know what I'm doing.

"Do you-" his voice breaks off and he clears his throat. "Do you want to put me inside you?"

I pause.

"If it's too soon, don't worry," he says quickly.

I reach back and take him in my hand, feeling clumsy and a little awkward. Peeta takes pity on me and sits up under me, wrapping a strong arm around my waist for support as I line him up with where I feel hottest, and wettest.

"Wait," he says suddenly, and I freeze. "It might be easier for you if I-"

For once, he seems to be speechless, and he moves himself away from my opening and shifts me off him so that we can lie next to each other. I'm confused and hurt for a moment, but then his fingers are touching me again, going further and further until they echo what he erection had done, grazing me lightly. But instead of pulling away, he pushes forward, and his fingers feel full and restless inside me. I arch my back and he watches me. There's a slight pinch, and I wince, but it lessens the more movement and pressure he uses. I grip his arm.

"OK," I say, desperate, "that's enough."

He lets me go, and sits up again, holding out his arms for me. I want to ask if he can be on top, because I don't trust myself to move properly, but I'm strangely drawn to it this way; it feels like I'm supported, but free.

I straddle him, and suddenly I feel strong. He's mine; captured, pinned down and ready.

His hands hold my buttocks this time, and I moan, reaching under myself and finding him again. I kiss him deeply, and line him up. I feel ready; so ready.

He seems to have a hard time containing himself as I sink down on him. It feels too tight; too full, and I clench my fists against his back, gasping and unable to move.

"Give me a second," I gasp.

"Fine by me," he pants, and buries his face in my hair.

"I lost you," he mutters, taking me by surprise. "I let them change me. I let them take you from me. They just plucked you out like a needle, and you were gone. And I hated you. I let them."

"You didn't let them," I soothe.

"I should've fought. I should've known you were safe."

"It's over, shh."

"I wanted to live. Katniss, I was so selfish, I wanted to live," he mutters into my neck, sounding close to tears.

"Hush," I say, and brush his fringe back from his head in the way that soothes him. He's going a little limp inside me, but it helps with the pressure, and when I rock against him and coax him back into fullness, it's easier to bear, because the stretch seems to come from somewhere deep inside me. I guide my hand down to where we're joined, and touch myself, and then invite him to take over. He does so willingly.

At the touch of his thumb against me, I bite my lip, and work up the courage to move. The first one is the hardest, and the pinch returns when I sink back down. He whispers against my ear, but it's too close to make out what he's saying. It's the sound of his voice that helps when I sink down next time, and there's no pinch from then on.

"You're so…oh, you're the best feeling in the world," he moans.

I wonder how he can retain the presence of mind to form coherent sentences. It's all so overwhelming.

"We're really doing this," I say, stopping for a moment.

Peeta meets my eyes and grins. "Is it OK?" he asks, seeming worried. "Does it feel good?"

I nod.

"I'm going to come soon," he admits.

"OK," I say, unsure whether that means that I should speed up or slow down.

"Are you close?" he asks.

I bite my lip. It feels good, so perhaps I am.

He notices my uncertainty and holds my hips steady, making me still for a moment. He reaches down and with two fingers either side of the rise at the front, gently makes firm, satisfying circles. I almost sob in pleasure and relief. The feel of him inside, comfortable and unmoving, and the brilliant pleasure that his fingers are bringing. It's more than I ever imagined. More than I'd eve hoped for. No wonder people do this. No wonder they do it to themselves. It's like scratching an itch that's been there for years, or simultaneously fanning and quenching an inferno.

I bite down on his shoulder, and he gives a tiny grunt of discomfort, and then a long sigh. "Never go away," I breathe, desperate.

"I won't," he says.

"You're all I've got now," I admit.

"I'm not going anywhere," he says. "Saying here. Like this."

In that moment, the idea of being in this particular situation forever seems blissful and perfect. It's all I'll ever want. I could go for days without eating.

"What about now? Can you come?"

I feel the muscles in my face tighten, and I'm reluctant to admit that I don't feel like I'm approaching anything new.

"Maybe you should just-"

"Not without you," he shakes his head.

"You said this was about me," I reminded him. "Well, what if this is what I want?"


I decide that if I'm going to get him to give in, I'll have to weaken him. I lean him back so that he's flat on his back, and wind my fingers through his, pinning his hands either side of his head. I put my face close to his and let my breath linger over his lips. "What if that's what I want? What if I want you to…to come first?" I ask, trying my best to be seductive.

"What if I don't believe you?" he throws back, raising a dubious eyebrow.

"I'll…I'll convince you."

My stomach hollows out at the word convince and whatever it is that Peeta wants couldn't be further from me now. I even feel the unpleasant pinch again. It makes me desperate to finish this for him, and in a way that he won't be ashamed of.

I put my hands flat on his chest and focus on his blue eyes staring up at me in wonder. I bite my lip as though trying to stop myself from crying out. He holds my wrists lightly, and seems to forget about touching me.

"Good?" I ask.

"Katniss…" he says, sounding strained.


"Slow down," he implores.

"I don't want to slow down. Seems like you don't want me to either," I tell him, speeding up. He lets out a string of garbled words; some curse words, sometimes my name.

I'm truly riding him now, breasts moving with the rhythm. I move my hands down and gently stroke the worst scars that mar his stomach, trying to be some kind of fantasy that he's harboured, trying to get him to a place where I feel less exposed, and where there is less expected of me. I can't finish. That's the baseline. There must still be something wrong with me. But he can. And I'll make him.

He throws an arm up over his forehead and his teeth clench. One hand cups my breast, and then he seems to remember himself and goes back to touching me between my legs. I feel him sliding through me, in and out, right down to the deepest part of me. Somewhere I didn't even know existed. It feels full and satisfying and solid.

"Peeta," I whisper, prepared to bring this to an end. "Come for me."

He squeezes his eyes shut in a last ditch attempt to hold on.

"You come, too," he asks desperately.

"Come on," I growl, suddenly feeling predatory. "I like it when you do."

He lets out a low moan and digs his fingers into my hips, holding me still while he thrusts up into me. I gasp at the new feeling, and feel something wet and warm slide alongside him where he's buried inside me. A new texture; a new warmth; a new feeling. But it's over now, and I can't help but feel a little sad.

Peeta relaxes beneath me, face peaceful, breathing fast. I drape myself over his chest and watch as he comes back to himself.

He looks at me, and rubs away at the skin between my eyebrows with his thumb. "That's quite a frown," he notes.

"Sorry," I say, trying to relax my features.

I climb off him, despite his half-strength attempt to make me stay. I lay on the covers, curl up a few inches away from him so I can still feel his warmth. There's a pleasant wetness between my legs that I'll happily take over the dryness that had been prevalent.

"You didn't come," Peeta says quietly, and I can just about make out his frown in the last light before sundown.

"I felt good," I say, trying to dismiss his concerns.

"Katniss," he says quietly. "You've never had an orgasm before."

For some reason, this prickles at me. "So?"

"I don't mean it in a patronizing way," he soothes, and slips an arm under my pillow so he can lay a little closer to me. "I mean it like; you've never had an orgasm, but you've given me two. You were incredible. You deserve this. Relax, for me?"

"It's too late now," I say, nonplussed.

Peeta laughs, "Katniss…"

"Will you stop laughing at me?" I ask vehemently.

"I don't mean to. I just love you."

"Oh," I say, clueless as to how to respond to that.

Looks like declarations of love are going to be an hourly thing, now. I cringe inwardly.

"Peeta…I don't know if I can. Maybe, the medicine is still…"

"When I was inside you," Peeta breathes against my neck, and trails a hand down my stomach, coming to rest between my legs, "and I was touching you right here, did you feel something?"

"Yes," I gasp.

"Like there was something just out of reach, and if you could've just moved a little faster, or slower, or harder, for a little longer then maybe you could catch up with it?"

"I…I guess so, yeah," I say, and his fingers move in circles.

"Run with it," he says, "wherever it goes, chase it. Whatever you want, tell me and I'll do it for you. However long it takes."

"OK," I agree, feeling more pliant now I don't feel over stretched, and my legs aren't aching from the work.

"What do you want?" he breathes against my ear, rubbing over a nipple with his free thumb.

"I…you choose."

"I can guess," he smiles, and moves down between my legs, moving me over onto my back and opening my legs wide. "My mouth?"

I nod. His lips close on the patch of nerves, and then I feel the gentle pressure of him sucking lightly, and the tip of his tongue moves over and over and over and over. The fire roars to life inside me, and I'm already lost. Whatever I couldn't find the strength to run after before is slowly down and growing languid, and I'm finding it so much easier to catch up with. My breath is sharp and unstable, and he slips a few fingers back. I'm about to tell him that I'm still sore there, but he doesn't slip them in, just rubs in firm circles over my opening while his tongue mirrors the movements at the front.

"Peeta," I gasp.

He changes his approach, moving over me with a broad, soothing tongue. It's not as good, so I make a whining sound and he seems to understand. He has no intention of teasing; he's just trying to find what's best. He switches back to the direct contact, using the tip of his tongue to push and nudge.

I finally feel able to watch him, and the sight seems to give me an almighty shove towards whatever it is that's getting away from me. I'm gaining on it, drawing my arrow back and taking aim. I am strong. I am a hunter.

"You're so beautiful," he whispers against me, and I think he must really be blind with love, but I don't care.

I'll brush my hair every morning from now on, if he wants to watch the sunlight glint off it. I'll tell him I love him (or I'll try). I'll do this for him every day, and let him do this for me. I'll do anything, just as long as he doesn't let go; doesn't stop dragging me towards this, feeding the flames with wood and moans and gasps and fuel. None of it matters. All that matters is this, right now.

I think of the pills inside the beside drawer. I think of droughts.

Peeta's lips join in. He's looking up at me desperately.

Droughts. Dry land.

Water. Rushing water.

A dam, ready to break.

That's it; that's what I'm running towards. In the near-distance I can see a huge dam. My legs ache from running (actually from working my hips up towards Peeta's mouth, and riding him earlier) but it's getting closer, and I'm climbing, climbing, climbing.

Peeta slips one finger inside, and that's just enough fullness for how I feel right now. His hair is in disarray from my fingers, and his lips are a deep pink, wet and as full and they'll ever be.

I know what I want; what I need.

"Pull, suck; anything. I need pressure. Lots of pressure."

And he does; he takes the little collection of nerves between his lips and sucks intently, cheeks hollowing. He watches me, and I watch him. It's so good, and it's speeding me along, throwing me forward. I'll hit the dam soon, surely, and it's so fragile that it'll just-

Waves of pleasure grip me, and I'm so tense that I arch off the bed. I'm spilling surely, everywhere. I'm turning to water, to stone. I grip Peeta's shoulder and cry out, louder than ever, louder than pain. He moans once, keeping up the pressure until I'm worn out and soft on the bed beneath me. He lets me go and smiles at me, kissing me softly between my legs and I jump at how sensitive I am.

He looks like he wants to ask me something.

"Whatever it is, after that, the answer's yes," I joke.

He smiles a little sadly. "You love me, real or not real?"

We sleep that night, as happy as we'll ever be.

A/N: Reviews are appreciated! Thanks for reading.