"You've gotten a lot better at that," Katniss said as she leaned back against the headboard, watching Peeta walk around the room, picking up their scattered clothing.
He turned to look at her. "Did you expect me to be celibate?"
She blinked at the harshness of his tone. "Well no, of course not," she said, picking idly at a thread on the blue comforter. "I… shit, I shouldn't have said anything."
Peeta dropped the clothes in the hamper and came to sit on the bed, staring at her. "How many, Katniss?"
Her startled gaze flew to his. "What?"
"How many?" he repeated slowly.
She narrowed her eyes. "How many what?"
He sighed. "How many other men have you been fucking since you left?"
And okay, they were going there apparently. Fine. She squared her shoulders, and tried for a nonchalant look. "Two."
He rolled his eyes. "Two?"
She glared. Clearly nonchalant wasn't working. "Yes, two. You're a hard man to forget Peeta Mellark."
"Obviously not, if it took you five years to find your way back here again." He stood up and stretched, the hem of his boxers slipping down to rest on his hips. "I'm still hungry; I'm going downstairs to finish my chili."
She watched him walk out of the room and heard him going down the stairs. How did they get to this?
"Katniss, get in the truck."
She stared resolutely ahead, pushing her rain soaked hair out of her eyes. Of course the heavens had decided to open the minute she'd started running from that stupid party. Her luck never changed.
Peeta'd followed her out of the party and by the time she was halfway down the block had gotten into his truck and was now keeping pace with her. She refused to even look at him, too angry and embarrassed. She'd messed everything up – as usual.
"Katniss, you're soaked, please get in the truck," he pleaded through the open passenger window, the truck keeping pace with her angry stride.
She turned her head finally, staring at him coldly as she stopped. "Go away; I'm not your problem to fix."
She started walking again and he cursed, throwing the truck into park before getting out, leaving it idling on the side of the road. His longer legs closed the scant distance between them quickly and he wrapped his arms around her waist, lifting her up and cradling her against his chest.
His hand slid beneath her knees as she struggled against him. "Put me down," she demanded angrily, swatting at his shoulder.
"No," he grunted, wincing as her small fist glanced off his jaw. "Not until I get you in the truck and out of this damn rain."
She turned her head to glare at him. "I'm not staying there and I will hurt you if you try to make me."
He shrugged and continued to walk back to the truck. "Fine, hurt me," he said resolutely as they neared where the truck sat. "Doesn't change the fact that you're going to listen to me for once."
"You're not my keeper," she snarled, struggling mightily to free herself.
He only tightened his arms, locking her against his broad chest. "No, I'm not," he agreed, grunting as her elbow connected with his stomach. "But you don't get to judge me and then run off, that's not fair."
"Fair?" she sneered, pushing her hair out of her face again. "Life isn't fucking fair."
"Correct again, but if you have all the facts, you might make a different decision," he said, pulling open the door of the truck and setting her inside. "Now, will you give me ten damn minutes to talk to you and then I promise, I'll take you wherever you want to go, or even let you back out into the fucking rain if you're that pigheaded?"
Folding her arms across her chest, she gave him a curt nod. He stared at her for a long moment, the rain pouring down on him as she sat protected. Whatever he saw in her gaze seemed to satisfy him and he closed the door and ran around to the driver's side, jumping in and pulling the door shut behind him.
They'd ended up talking for the rest of the night, discovering that their lives were more similar than either had realized. From that moment on, they were inseparable – sharing a bed and their lives until the end of the summer came and it was time for him to go off to South Bend and Notre Dame for his football scholarship.
She can remember so clearly how much it hurt to let him go, knowing that he'd move on with his life and she'd still be stuck in this too small town. Peeta'd gotten his father to give her a job so they could spend even more time together, and once he'd left, his brother Davin delighted in showing her pictures and texts that Peeta sent of the cute girls he was meeting. Of course he never mentioned them in his letters or phone calls to her, but Davin kept her well informed. There was one that made her blood boil. Cashmere. Seriously? Who the fuck names their daughter after yarn? Apparently there was a tradition at Notre Dame where the cheerleaders and color guard "adopted" the football team for the season and Cashmere had chosen Peeta, a freshman, over her senior linebacker boyfriend. Davin had gone up for a weekend to visit his younger brother and came home with about a million pictures of the stunning blonde hanging all over Peeta including one of her posing in a navy lingerie set that looked like it cost more than Katniss could earn in a year. She'd broken up with him the next day, calling him and leaving a curt voice mail. She'd quit the bakery that same day, lining up a job at the mines that paid less but didn't have the constant reminder of what could've been hanging over it.
He'd called her about a million times and when Thanksgiving break had rolled around, tracked her down at Abernathy's house, demanding that she speak to him. She'd closed the door in his face and threw the deadbolt, hiding in her room the rest of the night while Haymitch chased him off with the shotgun. She'd left town a week before he got his leg broken so badly he'd never play ball again.
Katniss sighed deeply. That's how they'd gotten here, because she'd never believed that he would've chosen her over the gorgeous, leggy blonde cheerleader, or anyone else that had tried to get close to him.
Throwing the covers back, she slipped out of the bed and padded over to the laundry hamper, pulling out the shirt he'd been wearing and slipping it over her head. It smelled like him and tears pricked her eyes at how good that felt. The shirt fell to mid thigh and she smiled, deliberately walking out of the room without anything else on. Whatever other problems they had, sex wasn't one of them and she knew that he wasn't finished with her yet, he had years of frustration to work through.
She had used and abused her relationships with others as a way to distance herself from the pain and ease her loss. Sebastian Wrottesley had given her a distraction and a much needed shoulder to cry on. Finnick Odair had been both a friend and a way to keep from sinking into the black hole that being away from Peeta had opened up in her soul. They couldn't make her forget. No one could do that. It was time she faced the consequences of her actions, it was time to make right what she'd wronged.
He was sitting at the table, eating steadily, a thick book propped in his hands when she came into the kitchen. He glanced at her over the top of his book and then went right back to eating, leaving her to her own devices.
Walking to the table, she sat down across from him, a smile ghosting over her lips as she realized he'd reheated her chili for her. Taking the spoon, she sprinkled cheese liberally over the top of the bowl and garnished it with a big dollop of sour cream.
She lifted the spoon and took a bite, chewing slowly as she stared over at him, reacquainting herself with his features. His hair was shaggy, in need of a trim because it kept falling into his eyes and he pushed it away impatiently. The firm jaw that she loved to lick and kiss when they were lying in bed together. There were a few more wrinkles at the corner of his eyes, but she thought they only made him look better. Thirty-three looked good on him, she finally decided. He'd been gorgeous at eighteen, but now, with the passage of time he'd only gotten more handsome. His spoon clanked in the empty bowl and he looked up, gaze locking with hers. He knew it was coming, she could see the way his shoulders tensed. Even now, she could read him so easily. "How many?"
He pursed his lips and stared at her for so long she started to fidget. When he finally answered, her stomach dropped to her feet. "Four."
"One a year, or all at once?" she asked crassly, stung. Four? Damn, that hurt.
"Fuck you," he replied calmly, standing up and taking his bowl to the sink. He washed it quickly and set it into the drainer to dry, hands curling around the edge of the sink as he stared out into the night. The rain was still coming down and she could hear the wind howling against the house but none of that concerned her. They were safe in here; the creek would never rise up this high. They might be stuck here for a few days, which depending on how this argument ended could be good or bad.
She turned in the chair to look at him. "Four?"
"Do you want details?"
Her hands clenched into fists. Of course she wanted details! This is what they did, wasn't it? Etched their mistakes and pain on each other's souls? "Who?"
She could hear him sigh all the way across the room. "Glimmer, Delly, Leevy Cutler and someone you wouldn't know."
Fucking Glimmer! One of these days she was going to punch that slag, teach her to find her own man. The rest were unsurprising, there wasn't much choice in a town this small and Peeta would've been the prized stud that she'd stupidly let get away. "Did you love any of them?"
He turned around to face her finally, pain etched into every line of his face. "I tried. Even got to the point of living together with Delly, but she realized pretty quickly that it wasn't going to work out long term."
He shook his head, gaze dropping to the floor again as he leaned back against the counter. "It ended last year, since then there's been no one else." His gaze lifted and she knew it was her turn to bleed. "How long?"
It was her turn to sigh. "A friend in Paris and a doctor, four years ago, not long after I got to Africa."
"Details?" The question was rife with tension and she could see his hands clenched tightly on the edge of the counter.
Katniss shrugged, there was only one reason neither had worked. "They weren't you."
"You didn't ask me to use anything, should I assume you're still on the pill?"
She stared at him, a flush tingeing her cheeks. "No, I quit taking them after I got to Africa, too hard to get them over there."
His hands clenched tightly on the edge of the counter again. "So, you let me come inside of you without any protection?"
She shrugged, twining her fingers together in her lap. "Yeah."
The tension in the air ratcheted up to nuclear instantly at her admission.
"And you're going to let me do it again?"
She nodded slowly. This is why she'd come home, why she'd left Africa behind forever. The chance that maybe, possibly there was something left of the mess she'd left.
Katniss took a deep breath; she'd known this was coming. Time to lay her cards on the table, all of them, even the ones that she'd never admitted even to herself. "When I was in Africa, I saw things that no human should ever have to witness." She took another deep breath, fingers clenched tightly together in front of her. "You can't imagine the suffering, or the pain of watching children starving and drinking filthy water just because that's all there is." He moved closer, leaning against the island as she spoke and she took another shuddering breath, fighting back the tears that pricked her eyes, trying desperately to keep them at bay until she'd said it all. He needed to know the truth, every ugly, painful scrap that she'd been carrying around for the past five years since she'd left him that note. "But through it all, they still have hope. Hope that things will get better and it's not always going to be this way and it made me realize that you're the one person in the world that gives me that feeling. It's why I keep coming back to you, every single time. You give me hope that my life isn't as fucked up as it seems and that things could be different if I just let them."
"And the birth control?"
She turned her head to look up at him. "I thought that's what you wanted?" she asked.
Silence stretched between them, fraught with tension. He finally nodded, fingers clenching tightly around the edge of the counter, as if tethering himself to something would make the words easier to say. "I do, but only if you do too. I can't do that again, Katniss. I barely managed to put myself together again from the last time."
She smiled gently, the tears she'd held off for so long spilling down her cheeks. "If there was anyone who I'd want to bring a child into this world with, it'd be you."
Peeta swallowed hard. "That's good to hear."
"I thought about that day for a long time after I left," she said, sinking down onto the chair behind her as her legs gave out. "I kept having dreams, of you…" her voice trailed off and she closed her eyes, taking a deep, shuddering breath. "And the baby." Opening her eyes, she lifted her head and met his gaze. "He was so beautiful, blond haired and grey eyed." Another agonized breath. "I wanted him so badly, I couldn't think of anything else."
Tears slid down his cheeks and he wavered, pushing and leaning against the counter, but staying where he was, letting her finally let go of the guilt she'd carried for so long. "I couldn't ever touch him though; it was like there was a wall between us. You loved him so much, and I wanted to be a part of it, but I didn't know how." The tears were coming harder now, and she could barely see him through the haze of them coating her eyes.
Lifting her hands, she buried her face in them, sobbing brokenly. His hands closed over hers and he pulled her off the chair, into his lap, falling back on the floor as he rocked back and forth, crying with her. She curled her arms around his neck, burying her face in his chest. He laid his cheek on her hair and they mourned together what could've been.
When they were both spent, tears finally drying, he lifted her chin with one long finger, staring deeply into her eyes. They'd turned the corner, braved the pain and hurt and come out the other side, stronger for it. They climbed awkwardly to their feet, fingers twining together as naturally as they breathed. He stared into her eyes and she nodded, answering the silent question. She needed him, needed to feel his body against hers, easing the hurt and soothing the pain, making new memories to replace the ones that were raw and painful to think about.
He inclined his head towards the hall and she smiled, nodding. It wasn't like earlier, when she thought she'd die if she couldn't feel him inside of her. This was a slow burn, flickering hotly somewhere in her center, coiling outward to lick and tease. He turned and led them down the hall, taking each stair slowly. Katniss watched as he walked in front of her, her mouth going dry at the flex and pull of muscle beneath his skin. When they got into his room and he'd shut the door behind them, she reached for the hem of the shirt she wore, pulling it up and over her head, tossing it towards the hamper.
His breath expelled on harsh groan as he dropped to his knees in front of her, lifting one leg over his shoulder as he buried his face in the damp curls at the apex of her thighs. She gasped as his lips closed around her clit, tongue flicking against the sensitive nub. "Peeta, your leg," she said, clutching his hair as he licked and sucked.
"M'fine," he grunted against her skin, the vibration of his words sending a bolt of heat spearing through her.
"No," she gasped, yanking hard on his hair.
Peeta rose slowly to his feet, wincing when he put his full weight on his bad leg. He walked them slowly backwards towards the bed, easing her down when her knees hit the mattress, covering her body with his own.
Katniss grinned up at him, sliding her hands through the thick curls that she loved so much.
He slid down her body, gently pushing her thighs wider as he settled between them. "You taste so fucking good," he breathed against her pussy before diving back in to where he was before. Her hips rocked up from the bed as he slipped two fingers inside of her, pumping in time with his nibbles on her clit. She screamed when he added a third, flattening his tongue over her and licking from her opening to her clit, worrying the tiny nub with his lips and tongue.
Fire consumed her, burning her from the inside out, crackling hotly along every nerve ending until she was a writhing mass beneath his talented tongue. Two, three, four orgasms later and she lay back against the bed, eyes closed as she fought to find some sort of equilibrium. He crawled slowly back up her body, his cock pressing against her thigh.
Lifting her head, she watched him through slitted eyes as he reached between them, guiding himself to her entrance. Her breath hitched as he slid inside, stretching her to the point of pain, but it felt so good, so right that she nearly cried.
When he was fully seated, hipbones pressing into hers, he framed her face with his hands, staring down into her eyes. She opened hers and their gazes locked as he pulled out and thrust back in, moving her up the bed with the force of it.
"None of them were you," he said softly, hips moving steadily against hers. "Every time, I'd see your face, not theirs and know that you were it for me, the only one I'll ever love."
She shook her head, the tears that had gathered finally spilling over and slipping down her cheeks. "Why?" she sobbed, hands clutching at his biceps as he moved within her, tension coiling hot and hard in her belly, radiating outward like a shockwave.
His brow furrowed and he stilled his movements, thumbs gently wiping the tears from her cheeks. "Why what? Why do I love you?"
She shook her head. "No. Why do you keep letting me come back?
He bent his head, pressing a gentle kiss to her lips. "Because it's where you belong," he said against them, licking lightly along the seam. She parted them and he deepened the kiss, tongues tangling as slowly and intimately as their bodies. He began to move again, hard, deep thrusts that pressed her back against the bed, stoking the fire that he'd built before. Her entire body felt tight, pushing towards the precipice. When he shifted, she flew, bliss radiating outwards from where they were joined, searing through her.
"That's it baby, come for me," he crooned softly, movements becoming more erratic as her sheath fluttered and tugged at his cock. He came with her name on his lips, hips pumping hard against her.
He rolled to his side, immediately gathering her close, tucking her leg between his, her head beneath his chin as they fought for breath. Katniss closed her eyes, breathing deeply. He was right, this was where she belonged. Even now, fifteen years after the first time they'd done this, his arms still felt like the one place in the world she belonged.
Leaning up on her elbow, she stared down at him, tracing the line of his nose with her finger. Blue eyes met hers and she smiled, bending closer to rub her nose against his. "Aren't you tired of this?" she asked softly, heart clenching painfully in anticipation of his answer.
"Being with you?" At her nod, he shook his head. "Never."
She bit her lip, running the backs of her fingers along his stubble laden jaw. "Don't you ever…" She stared at the hollow of his throat, watching the tick of his pulse.
"Don't I ever?" he asked, pulling her from her reverie.
Her eyes lifted to meet his once more. "Don't you ever want more?"
He sat up; staring at her so intently she thought she might die. "Do you?" he asked slowly.
Katniss sat up fully, drawing her knees closer. She'd never felt more vulnerable in her life than she did at this moment. "I asked you first."
He frowned, reaching for her hand and squeezing it tightly. "Don't be an asshole," he said softly. "You know what I want; it's what I've always wanted. You, Katniss. I want you in my bed, in my arms and in my life."
She sighed raggedly. "Why?" she pressed. "What keeps you from making a life with Delly who I'm sure would cut off her right arm to be right here where I am? Or someone else, someone who doesn't know all of our painful past and could love you for just you?"
"I don't love Delly," he said firmly, "or anyone else." She could see the shiny film of tears glazing his eyes and it made her heart clench painfully. "I love you, Katniss Everdeen, you know that." He ran his fingers lightly over her thigh. "You've known it for fifteen years if not longer."
"I do know," she said, more tears spilling down her cheeks.
He pulled her closer, wrapping his arms tightly around her. "So, I'll ask you again, do you want more?"
She leaned back to look at him, her heart in her eyes. "Yes."
"You're not…" He swallowed hard. "You're not fucking with me, are you?"
Katniss shook her head. "No. It's pretty much the only thing I've been thinking about the past few months. I tried to get over you, tried to forget you but nobody comes close and it hurts being away from you. You've owned my heart for a long time now, Peeta Mellark and it's only right that you should know it. I know I've hurt you," she took another shuddering breath. "Hurt us, but I want to try."
He nodded, bending his head to brush his lips lightly against hers. "I want to try too."
She grinned against his lips, sliding her arms around his neck. He kissed her senseless, peppering her face with kisses before capturing her lips in a deep wet one that made her toes curl.
She laughed softly as they broke apart, desperate for air. "It's you, Peeta. It's always been you. It just took me forever to realize it. I love you, Peeta Mellark."
A wide grin split his face. "Say it again."
She gave him a matching smile. "I love you, Peeta Mellark."
He kissed her, framing her face with his hands. "I'm never going to get tired of hearing that, you know this, right?"
She nodded, tears spilling down her cheeks. "I know. Truth be told, she was never going to get tired of saying it, either. Turns out you can find home again, especially if home is in the arms of the man you love more than life itself.