Author's Note: I'm baaaack.. Wow, that was incredibly creepy. Whatever though:) Here's a bit of mediocre Peeta/Katniss fluff. Don't anyone bitch at me for not calling them by their shipping name; I hate it. Love you guys!

Disclaimer: It's not mine goddammit.

He asks it right after we've spent the night together for the first time. He's been in my bed before, and I in his. He was always there to keep away the nightmares, but at some point he would always go. Maybe his own nightmares were too much for him. Maybe I just wasn't enough.

But I was so sick of not being enough for him.

"Why do you always leave?" We sat by the fire, a fire that was fed by the coal miners deep, deep under ground. When I saw fire, I thought of my father. I thought of the man who gave me the strength to be the mockingjay.

Peeta's hand, which had been presently twirling a tuft of hair that had fallen from my braid, stilled. In the silence, I allowed myself to observe him. He was apparently getting used to his prosthetic, for it looked perfectly at ease brushing against my knees as they curled against him. I listened to the beat of his heart which had symbolized so many things to me. My eyes wandered along the scars left bare and open to the world by his sleeveless black shirt, the one he wore when baking. I realized he must have come straight over from the bakery; a bit of powdered sugar was splashed across his stomach.

It was so good to see him baking again. I felt that every time he put another cake in the ovens, a bit of his old self came back to him. And in that way, came back to me.

"Katniss…" I realized he was looking at me now and swallowed. His eyes were so, so very blue. They weren't the icy blue of the Capitol people either, they eyes that haunted me in my sleep, but a deep indigo color. A color all his own.

He took my chin in his hand, gently and swiftly all at once, and I felt his breath caress my forehead as I looked up at him. A shiver took me over, one I could not control. This wasn't the first time I had felt this way with Peeta. What I had thought during Quarter Quell was true, now more than ever. I needed him.

"It's a simple question Peeta. Why? Why do you go?" I could tell by the way his jaw stiffened that he knew what I was asking. His hand slide to cup the back of my neck and I closed my eyes. I knew what he was doing, stroking a nearly fatal scar just beneath my hairline. I leaned forward, allowing him access to the sensitive skin there as I balanced my forehead against his chin.

"Staying never seems like much of an option." His answer came back in a breath. "When the nightmares are over, I take it as my cue to leave."

It happened before I had time to stop myself, though as I learned years ago, I wouldn't ever want to stop myself. My body shifted so that I was against him completely. I brushed my nose across his incidentally and watched the smile that spilled over his mouth. Warmth radiated from him.

"Peeta, you know better than that." I wanted to watch him. I had never been an overly affectionate person, aside from Prim. But I wanted to be with him, right now. I wanted to accept his embraces and be embracing. While this wasn't new for us, I could feel a newness in it.

Suddenly his mouth was on mine and I felt myself melting. He overwhelmed me with a sweet sensation, and he always tasted look grain and frosting. Even in the pits of hell, when he kissed me, he always tasted like some far off dream. But he was here, and the dream was real.

I slid my fingers over the heavily muscled arms that had kept me safe for so long as I felt his hands cup the small of my back and the gap between my shoulder blades. He pulled me down into him and deepened the kiss. This was familiar territory. This was comforting. This was not what I wanted at the moment.

I wrapped my hands around his shoulders and pushed him down into the plush of my couch. As if he had been anticipating this, Peeta brought me down with him and rolled so that I was beneath him. However, just as the tingling had flowed out to the very tips of my fingers and toes, he was pulling away with that far away serious look in his eyes. It was a look so different from what I remembered. I missed his face from the first time I kissed him. The way his eyes had lit up and he'd inhaled so slow I could barely even feel. But there had been nothing but happiness in his eyes. Now, there was only caution.

"Don't Katniss." I felt my heart shrink into my chest cavity. There was a stoniness to the way he had said it, as though he was on edge for another flashback.

"And why should I stop? Peeta, what if I want this? What if I want you?" He hesitated, considering the idea, and for a moment I thought I had won.

But no, he pulled away and slid to the floor of my living room, running a hand through his blond curls. "You don't know what you want."

A flame boiled up against my stomach. "Excuse me? How could you say that?"

Peeta groaned and I watched his knuckles go white in his hair. They were shaking. I realized I was right when I thought he was on the edge. I leaned over, brushing my fingertips across his hand. Instantly they relaxed.

Very rarely did he let me see him this way. Normally, when his flashbacks slipped into his mind, he would growl something indiscreet and remove himself from a mile radius of me. But not today. Perhaps I took that as a positive omen. Perhaps I forced it to be one. Regardless, I made the conscious decision to act on it.

I placed my hand on his shoulder, pulling him to lean against the couch and closer to me. I buried my lips into his hair and kissed his cowlick. His body eased and the tension appeared to exit his torso as he leaned himself closer to me. We sat like that for God knows how long before I felt him turn against me.

Those innocent, deep blue eyes turned back to me. The coldness was gone, replaced only by heartache.

"I know you still think about him. You must. I hear you whisper his name when I hold you. You cry out for him in your nightmares, Katniss." His voice wavered, but Peeta held my gaze. I felt my own heart crumbling in my chest.

It had never occurred to me that he would be jealous of Gale. It had been nearly two years since we last saw Gale, but he still wrote on occasion. It had taken much convincing from his letters and those that Johanna sent as well, but I had finally come to the conclusion that Gale was a good man. His actions had not been out of hatred for his people, but there's, and for that I could forgive.

My mouth suddenly felt dry. I didn't breath for a long moment, afraid of looking tearful, but finally I released the breath through my nose.

Peeta continued, his shoulders shaking and his arms clenching in frustration. "Don't you understand? I love you. Alright? I love you. I have always loved you. When I hated you and when they tried to take my memories you wouldn't leave. I couldn't make you go. And so they took you and they morphed you into something that made me hate myself."

I had never heard him speak that way. I had never heard any of it, but when I watched the shadows fall over his eyes, I knew whatever he was telling me was something he needed to say.

"You never left my side. The memory of you and us and everything about this, this right here, stuck with me. You have no idea, Katniss. You have no idea what sort of haunting things they morphed those memories into. You don't know what they made me see."

I watched him shake like the sixteen year old boy on the floor of the cave, dying from blood poisoning, cold and sick and alone. I felt with familiar yearning the way I had then. Hopeless, helpless, and broken. But there was something I could do this time. I wasn't the helpless little girl I had been in my first games, but a woman who had survived one of the worst rebellions of all time and stood proudly on the other side, alive. I needed him to live with me.

I reached forward, taking his head in my hands as I slid from the couch onto the floor beside him, forcing him to look at me.

"God Peeta, I can't even imagine. But look at me, here and now. Peeta Mellark, I did not run off with Gale at the end of the war. I did not run into his arms at the end of the war. I do not allow him to hold me when I'm at my worst and I do not hold him when he falls. No, Peeta, I hold you, and you hold me."

I pressed my forehead gently against his and closed my eyes, breathing in his scent deeply. "I loved him. But never did I ever feel this way about him. He was my best friend, and in a lot of ways he still is. I will never forget what he did for my family. But I never felt this for Gale. We kissed out of fear, out of dangerous need for attention. Out of rebellion."

His hand cupped my neck again and he pulled us closer. I could almost feel his heart beating with mine. "But we're not in a war anymore, Peeta. We aren't fighting anyone or anything for any reason. We're picking up the pieces, all of us. And you're the only one who can help me pick mine up. Not Gale and his anger, you and your peace. I need you. I've always needed you. Peeta, I love you."

And it occurred to me then, when I opened my eyes to that beautiful face, the one with indigo eyes and thin, white scars across his tanned face and flour on his cheek a small gap between his two front teeth, the one that stared back at me in shock, that I had never said that to him off-camera before. But I had never meant it there.

Here, in this moment and every moment leading up to it, I meant it.

His lips found mine like the moon finds the stars, innocent, but ready for its embrace. I kissed him and he kissed me, and the whole world lit up like fire. I felt the world spinning around and I couldn't breathe and didn't want to. His hands found my hips and pulled me against him, before lifting me up all together. I broke away for just a moment to realize I had found myself straddling him against my couch. Breathing heavily, he simply wheezed, "Will you let me love you?"

I knew what he meant. Perhaps I had been waiting for him to ask for months now. It was just such a Peeta thing to do. "Stay the night with me, Peeta."

And when he carried me to my bed, I knew that he loved me. And when he kissed my skin, broken and scarred and ruined, I knew that he loved me. And when his hands slipped under my clothes and my body was revealed, I knew that he loved me. When he pressed me down into the bed and showed me, I knew that I loved him.

And as we laid there, glistening and glowing and laughing quietly for the first time in what felt like so long, the blanket pulled up over us, our bodies uninhibited by clothes or failure or the war, we stared at one another. And he pulled me even closer to him and whispered against my hair, "Real or not real?"

I smiled into his collarbone and kissed the skin I found there. "Real."

There was a ruffling as I felt him shift. I couldn't help the groan that slid out of my throat and I reached back for him, before feeling him settle back into my skin. I looked up to see him holding his pair of pants.

"Peeta, what the hell are you doing?"

I watched him swallow hard, and then reach into the limp back pocket. From it's depths, Peeta pulled a simple, silver ring with the pearl he had given me so long ago on the beach. The ring's bindings were a wrap of silver around the pearl and forming a single circle. He held it between his fingers and watched me silently.

"I've waited so long to do this. Really do this, I mean. Katniss, if you love me, if you really love me, then please marry me. Once and for all. For real this time."

I stared at the ring and could feel a cold breeze slip through my mouth. Tears slid down my face and I laughed at myself. Peeta grinned.

I slipped my hands up to touch his neck, sitting now so that we were face to face. I kept him close to me, my laughter catching in my throat through my tears.

"Real or not real, Peeta?"

His grin widened and he pulled me into his lap, whispering, "Real."