Day 157

"Real."

—-

Day 1

Peeta is back. Peeta is home.

The sound of the shovel stirs her from sleep, but it's his return that awakens her.

Day 2

He brings freshly baked bread for breakfast, and they sit in silence as Greasy Sae serves them bacon and eggs.

Day 5

He brings freshly baked bread for breakfast, and they sit in silence as Greasy Sae serves them bacon and eggs.

Day 12

He brings freshly baked bread for breakfast, and they sit in silence as Greasy Sae serves them bacon and eggs.

Day 18

He brings freshly baked bread for breakfast, and they sit in silence.

Buttercup mews from under the table. "Where's Sae?" she asks when she finally realizes that she has no bacon for the cat.

He looks up at her like he's just realizing where he is. "I think she said she'd be late today. I don't know why."

The bread grows cold.

Day 34

"Have you talked to Dr. Aurelius yet?" Peeta asks. They're sitting outside, enjoying the warmth. Spring has officially arrived.

She stares down at her hands. They are peppered with tiny cuts from yesterday's hunt. Open wounds on top of scars.

"No. I'll call him today."

Day 39

It really does help.

Day 49

The parchment sheets arrive from the Capitol, and Katniss begins immediately. She writes with great care, her precision betraying her eagerness. It starts with Prim. It has to start with Prim.

It's as if Peeta reached into her mind and plucked the image from her head. Prim and Lady. It's perfect.

He wipes away her tears.

Day 67

It's a bad time for Haymitch. Another train isn't due for two more weeks.

"That's it," he mutters. He rubs his mouth with the back of his hand. "That's all I remember about him."

Katniss and Peeta seal the page with saltwater.

Dalton Kelly, District 12 Male Tribute for the 61st Hunger Games, lives forever.

Day 70

"Happy Birthday," Peeta tells her as they work on the book.

She stares at him with wide eyes, and he panics. "Real or not real?"

She hadn't even realized. "Real," she says. "Real."

Day 78

"Are you ready?" she asks with a whisper and great care.

He nods. He had saved her for last.

She wipes away his tears.

Day 79

Haymitch is at the end of his rope, and the honking geese are doing all they can to sever the twine forever.

Katniss and Peeta grin at each other, at him. It's infuriating.

"You don't have to look so damn pleased with yourselves," he growls. He ambles around his patio, one slipper on his left foot, the other clutched in his arm. The geese follow his every move.

"Leave. Me. Alone!" he yells. The slipper in his hand falls to the ground, and as he bends over to pick it up, the largest goose in the gaggle nips at his rear.

He howls in pain and Katniss and Peeta howl in laughter.

It's a good day.

Day 85

She wakes with a start, drenched in sweat. Another nightmare.

Her bed is empty.

Day 93

Peeta's having a bad day. He grips at the back of the chair with white knuckles.

He breathes in. He breathes out.

He's back.

Day 94

"I can hear you scream," he admits over dinner.

She's not surprised. She can hear him scream, too.

"Will you stay tonight?" she asks.

"Will it help?" he asks back.

"It always did before."

"Then I'll stay."

Day 95

No nightmares. Katniss wakes refreshed and calm.

Peeta is bleary-eyed and nervous.

"You couldn't sleep?"

"I can't sleep," he corrects her. "I don't trust myself with you."

She brushes the hair away from his forehead. "It's okay. Sleep now."

Day 101

"I've tried to let you go."

She looks up from her stew. "What?"

"I've tried to let you go. To forget about you. To move on. But I can't."

She wipes at her mouth to hide her frown.

Day 106

He's baking in his kitchen and the heat is stifling, even with all the windows open.

She has three fat squirrels, and as she walks toward him, he breaks into a wide grin.

"What?"

He shakes his head, his smile still bright. "I was just remembering something."

"What?" she repeats again.

"The way it felt to catch a glimpse of you when you'd come trade with my father." He laughs softly to himself as he wipes his hands on his apron. "It's not that I can't let you go, Katniss. It's that I don't want to."

The squirrels fall to her feet. "Why not?"

"You make me happy."

She kisses him.

Day 107

The bed shifts and his ragged breaths wake her up. She reaches for him.

"You're stuck with me. I'm not the one you want but you're stuck with me. Real or not real?"

"Not real." She climbs into his lap, threads her fingers through his hair and brings his forehead to hers. "Not real. Not real."

He calms, his breathing evens. Together, they fall asleep.

Day 108

"Is it okay?" she asks worriedly. "To be happy? Is it even okay?"

He turns to face her and takes her hand in his. "Of course it's okay. If we don't allow ourselves to be happy, then it was all for nothing."

Day 115

"Today would have been our last reaping," she says off-handedly as she skins the rabbit.

Day 120

The pictures of Annie and Finnick's newborn son arrive. Peeta studies them intently. "He'll never have to go through that, Katniss," he finally says. He smiles at her. "He'll never know the fear of a reaping."

She tries to smile back; the idea thrills her. But the fear is still there, stronger than ever. Stronger than anything else.

Day 147

The meadow is as green as the gardens. But she doesn't dare to inhale the fresh outside air. What if she breathes in death?

Peeta gently tugs at her braid. "Ready to go home?"

She nods.

Day 153

Several of the buttons on her nightshirt come undone in the middle of the night. She knows Peeta saw and her face flushes the same color as her scars.

He wordlessly pulls off his own shirt, and she gasps. They match.

He lies next to her as she traces the marks with her fingertips.

They match.

Day 156

He kisses her goodnight, like he always does, but now it's just not enough. Three nights of exploring each other's skin and scars has left her feverish and eager, and the flames he first fanned back in the arena are engulfing her now.

It's a good kind of heat. It's a fire she welcomes.

She pulls off his shirt, and he peels off hers. She tugs at his pajama pants, and he slowly slides her underwear down her legs. She's fighting him for speed and domination, and he's beating her with patience and tenderness.

She falls to the mattress as he climbs on top of her. He kisses her lips, her face. His mouth sucks on her neck. Her breath hitches as his tongue licks at her collarbone and she's suddenly very aware of her hands, of the way her fingers are drumming against the sheets. She inhales deeply and brings them to his head, knotting them in his hair, digging at his scalp with her blunt nails. But she knows it's okay. She's allowed. 'Mine,' she thinks.

He stops, lifts his head to meet her eyes. "I want to make you feel good," he says.

"You are. You do."

She brings his hand to the apex of her thighs and tries to show him wordlessly what she wants, but even she doesn't quite know. She's a shy virgin; she's frustrated and embarrassed and the once delicious flames are now barely embers.

"Shhh," he whispers against her breast. "Do you like this?" He nibbles at her skin, slowly takes her nipple into his mouth. She moans her approval.

"What about this?" He returns to between her legs, presses the heel of his palm against her. She lifts her hips for more, but she can't find it like this.

She's decided, and she sheds the inhibitions with the same eagerness as she shed her clothes. "Shower with me," she says, and he immediately follows her into her bathroom. Their homes aren't as ornate as those of the Capitol, but the shower is still luxurious by most means. She pushes him to the bench and pulls off one of the many showerheads. She sets the pulse to 'massage.'

"I…I did this once before the Quarter Quell," she admits. "It was supposed to be for my ankle and tailbone." She was so ashamed after, so disgusted with herself for finding such pleasure in the midst of all their chaos. But she won't allow herself to feel that way now. This she's determined to enjoy.

She feels him hard against her backside as she sits in his lap, and she spreads her legs, aims the spray of water right where she needs it. The pleasure is immediate, and she whimpers in delight. Peeta groans in response, any pretenses of tenderness down the drain with the bathwater. He eagerly palms her breasts, sucks the tender skin of her neck. Everything he does is right.

When he hooks his arm under her knee, simultaneously spreading her wider and a changing the angle of the water stream, it catapults her forward, and she's flying, flying, flying. Almost there. Almost.

His finger sliding inside of her sets her off, and she comes with a cry. She shudders in ecstasy for ten of the most blissful seconds of her life before she falls back against his chest.

"That is the best shower trick ever," he pants, and she can feel his lips curve into a smile as they rest against her head.

"Better than rose scented soaps?" she laughs, still chasing her breath.

"Oh, much."

She's ready for him now, and he carries her to the bed. She's dripping wet, a mixture of water and pleasure, and he's home immediately. It hurts, but she knows how good it feels for him, and that far outweighs her own momentary pain.

He talks to her as he moves- tells her how long he's wanted this, how much he's thought about this. Tells her how he fought to get back to her, and promises he always will. He says he loves her, over and over again.

After, they lie in each other's arms and listen to their hearts pounding against their chests. She's never been happier, and she thinks about dandelions and rebirth, promises and goodness. All things Peeta.

She turns to face him, and he must see a reflection of her thoughts on her face. He's stunned. Thrilled.

"You love me," he whispers with a smile. "Real or not real?"

The clock strikes midnight.

She does not hesitate.

-End