Author's Note: I started this story for Prompts in Panem's Seven Deadly Sins week. It was supposed to be my entry for "Lust" but it evolved into something entirely different. It's completely unbeta'd so any mistakes are my own.
And if anyone is wondering about A Marriage Between Victors, I am actively working on the next chapter. I'm not dead, nor is the story abandoned. ;)
Exposure therapy. That was how Coin justified it. She explained that the ink schedules tattooed on their arms were synchronized because the doctors believed it would help. By exposing Peeta to the subject of his hijacking, it would help him recover.
So as the weeks wear on, Katniss sees more and more of Peeta. She sees him in training, in the dining hall, in command and at their standing weekly appointment in the medical ward. Katniss isn't sure what the doctors had imagined would happen but it probably wasn't 60 minutes silent staring.
Until one day, it isn't silent staring.
She's heard about this, Peeta's "Real or Not Real" game. It seems at one time or another he'd asked most everyone some random question or another. Sometimes they were innocuous, like asking Delly if they made dough boys and girls as children; asking Finnick if he resuscitated him in the arena. Other questions were more difficult. It seemed Haymitch had the unfortunate task of explaining that no, there was a never a baby.
They warn her that eventually he will ask her. That she is the only person who can resolve some of the uncertainties in his mind. They tell her if he asks, it means he probably trusts her enough to believe her answer.
They tell her it will be a good thing.
Except, the questions don't make Katniss feel very good.
"You tried to kill me in the first arena? Real or not real?"
"It looked like you were trying to kill me when you dropped that tracker jacker nest."
"Well I thought you were with the careers, you had me treed. I thought you were trying to kill me!"
"So you did drop the nest on me knowing I might die?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
At the next session he asks about sleeping together on the trains.
"All we did was sleep. It…it helped with the nightmares."
"Ok. I thought so."
They talk about all manner of things. Their history of Panem class; the exact shade of Effie's hair; Buttercup's squished face; Cinna's designs that she passed off as her own.
The session where he remembers the bread is particularly rough. After, Haymitch finds Katniss crouched in a broom closet, shaking as tears stream down her face.
Weeks pass and Peeta bluntly asks about all manner of things. Katniss does her best to answer honestly and completely. She owes it to him, after everything he's done for her.
There is one topic, however, that he is sure to avoid. He never asks if her feelings were real, if the kisses were real.
Months pass before the question passes his lips, mostly because it is the only question left.
So when he asks if any of it was real, Katniss immediately knows what he means. The only problem is she has no words for him. She can't give him an answer when she doesn't know it herself.
She skips their weekly appointments after that.
In the weeks since their sessions stop, Katniss thinks she has come to understand the looks he gives her, to know his moods.
Pitch black eyes with bulging pupils are a sign of Peeta's rage. It is those eyes she remembers seeing right before steely fingers locked around her neck.
Those eyes held no trace of the impossibly blue, impossibly clear eyes she had known before. Blue eyes that had solemnly stared at her from across a pillow on dozens of sleepless nights on a speeding train.
Blue eyes that shined bright with fever in a cave.
Blue eyes that she feared would never reopen after he struck the force field in the arena.
But the look in his eyes now is none of those. They are cloudy as is their usual state since the hijacking, but they hold a brightness, a warmth that Katniss vaguely remembers but can't place.
Besides, she has better things to do than decipher Peeta Mellark's moods.
She returns her focus to the trainer before her, adjusting her feet and preparing for the next round of attacks she is intended to deflect.
Despite her marksmanship and the technological advantage of the bow Beetee designed for her, Katniss still has to train in all other forms of combat alongside everyone else.
Hand-to-combat isn't her strong suit. In fact, most of the members of her training squad feel more comfortable with weapons than with a straightforward attack. Finnick wields his trident with deadly accuracy. Johanna can bring down anything or anyone with her axe. Gale quickly adapted to using guns and his marksmanship is improving each day. And Katniss, well her aim has never been better.
In fact, the person who seems to truly excel in hand-to-hand combat isn't a member of their squad. He isn't even cleared for duty. And Katniss already knows what his hands were capable of...
Peeta's solitary training is always the same time as that of Squad 451, part of his exposure therapy, they say. President Coin doesn't think his "condition" is an excuse not to prepare him for his eventual service as a soldier to District 13.
So Katniss watches as she, Finnick, Johanna, Gale and the rest of their squad cool down after drills. She watches Peeta spar with a very large, muscular, dark-skinned man named Apollo who throws a flurry of punches directed at Peeta's face and torso.
He is adept at blocking the blows coming his way. He seems to anticipate the punches, to read the lines of his opponent's body and deflect the blows so most of their impact was lost on him. Katniss can't help but think where this awareness, this experience at taking a beating comes from. She supposes Apollo's fists aren't too much different from Mrs. Mellark's rolling pins.
At least now Peeta can fight back.
His movements aren't nearly as graceful or as easy as she remembers from his wrestling matches, but considering his prosthetic and the abuses his young body has withstood, Peeta is holding up exceptionally well against his opponent.
"See!" Apollo calls across the gymnasium. "This is a fighter! A bare-knuckle brawler as we say in the ring."
Apollo nails Peeta in the ribs just before Peeta manages to knock Apollo's left leg out from underneath him. Peeta crawls over the hulking man and twists their limbs together like a pretzel before exerting force on Apollo's throat with his leg.
Katniss can't tear her eyes from the sight of their brawl. Peeta's muscles twist and bulge underneath the thin, gray cotton of his District 13-issued shirt.
A line of sweat forms on his back and trails from his shoulders down to the waistband of his camouflage cargo pants.
His curls are damp with sweat and his face is flushed but what Katniss can't tear herself away from is the look in his eyes.
Peeta doesn't look murderous. He isn't in a fit of rage. Despite the physicality of his current circumstances he almost looks...amused, as if he could have been tussling with his brother on the living room floor or in the middle of match in the school gymnasium.
But then Peeta catches sight of her staring and that same look from earlier comes back. The cloudy, vaguely familiar look that causes inexplicable warmth to wash over her.
It's the same moment when she catches the look in his eyes that Apollo gets the upper hand.
After the match, Apollo dismisses their squad as well as Peeta. They head off to the locker rooms while Peeta is taken back to the medical wing.
Katniss stands under the warm spray of the shower while Johanna — still avoiding water — simply applies an extra coat of deodorant before slipping back into her uniform.
"He looks better," Johanna says over the spray of water.
Katniss says nothing and continues to quickly and roughly scrub her body in the few minutes of warm water District 13 allots for her shower.
"I'm talking to you, Brainless," Johanna says, going as close to the water as she dares. "I said your boy is looking better. Not quite the homicidal maniac."
"Yes, Johanna, I heard you."
"Well? What does our Mockingjay think?"
"Oh I don't know. The fact that he isn't foaming at the mouth anymore, the fact that he can stand to be in the same room with you — while you wield a weapon no less, or the fact that his muscles practically ripped through his T-shirt while he and Apollo went at it."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Katniss says as she turns off the shower, wraps a towel around herself and steps out of the stall.
"Listen Brainless, I know he wrapped his hands around that pretty little neck of yours and the Mockingjay damn near didn't sing for this rebellion. But I was in a cell right next to that guy for months. Even my imagination isn't twisted enough to know exactly what they did to make someone make those kinds of sounds."
"Johanna I don't want to know," Katniss interrupts.
"Maybe it's about damn time you did know. He wanted to kill you Katniss. Snow took him apart piece by piece and put him back together so he wasn't Peeta anymore. But do you know what I see? Each day, he's a bit better, more like his old self. Maybe not the Peeta you knew, or even the one I met in the arena. But he's come a damn long way from that mutt they brought me back from the Capitol with. And I think you see it too. You just don't want to admit it."
"Of course I don't!" Katniss snaps. "No one has ever recovered from hijacking—"
"—Hardly anyone's survived it!"
"Exactly, Johanna. What if this is how it works? Starts and stops. An inch forward, a mile back. Yes, today he didn't want to wring my neck, tomorrow who knows."
"He looked like he wanted to ring your bell, not your neck." Johanna mutters under her breath as they exit the locker room.
Over the next several weeks Katniss sees all manner of looks from Peeta. Disdain and wrath grow less frequent. More and more she catches him staring at her with a bewildered expression. She's see him across the dining hall, pale eyebrows furrowed in thought. Or in training, wearing a look of steely determination. But sometimes, she catches a hint of something else, something that reminds her of melting butter, and she looks away.
One day Katniss shows up to training and is greeted with a smug grin from Johanna, a nervous smile from Finnick, and gritted teeth and furrowed brows from Gale. She doesn't understand until she sees Peeta being led across the training center, flanked by two large, nondescript-looking guards. One holds a piece of paper, which Commander Boggs looks over before muttering an oath under his breath.
"It says here President Coin authorized Peeta to join Squad 451. Says he's recovered enough that we no longer need to waste resources on separate training."
"Are you kidding me? He tried to kill her! You expect any of us to be okay with him watching our back?" Gale explodes.
"Soldier Hawthorne has a point, sir."
"I'm aware, thank you Jackson."
Boggs looks Peeta over. He sees the boy's strong body but he also sees the slight shake in his hands and the way that he doesn't look in anyone's eye for more than a second at time.
"Alright, it says here you are to perform your drills with the squad. I'm fine with that, but if you feel even the slightest bit twitchy you better say something or I'll put a bullet in you, got it?"
"Makes more sense than most other things around here," Peeta mutters.
When they run laps to warm up Katniss makes sure to stay as far ahead of Peeta as she can. She's always been small and quick but she notices that Peeta runs much more smoothly than he did in the weeks they trained for the Quell. The footfalls of his left leg are more sure, more natural than she remembers.
"Beetee fitted him with a new leg," Gale pants as they finish their last lap. He drains a bottle of water and continues. "He felt so guilty about leaving him behind in the arena he worked on it the whole time he was in the Capitol. A gift, you know, kind of like your bow. I didn't think he'd still give it to him all things considered."
"Just because his brains are scrambled doesn't mean he should suffer," Johanna chimes in.
"Will you still feel that way when he turns on us like the rabid dog that is?" Gale spits back.
Gale and Johanna aren't exactly arguing quietly and Katniss sees Peeta's jaw twitch. As the Mockingjay she knows what it's like to have people talk about you like you aren't in the room. To discuss your fate as if weren't your own. She knows the impotent rage that must be coursing through his body.
"The both of you just shut up," she growls through clenched teeth. "It's not up to you so just shut up about it."
She stalks off to the next station and sets off through the obstacle course with Finnick at her side. They crawl under netted wire, through a simulated minefield of pods and are scaling a wall when Finnick catches Katniss' eye. "He'll be safer now."
"I know," she nods while cresting the wall.
"Probably more dangerous too," he adds as their feet hit the ground, completing the course.
After the obstacle course they convene in the center of the room, waiting for Apollo to arrive for their sparring session. Katniss' stomach lurches when he walks through the door in conversation with President Coin. She glances quickly at where Katniss, Peeta and the others are standing before nodding to Apollo and leaving the room; her steel grey curtain of hair unmoving.
"Alright, today's line up: Finnick and me, Johanna and Gale and then Katniss and…Peeta," Apollo announces uneasily and immediately Katniss knows this was what President Coin discussed with him.
Everyone's eyes are wide at the unexpected news. Even Johanna has the courtesy not to laugh at the absurd situation they are being put in.
Gale's is furious, his face red with unconcealed anger, but he can't say anything. It's obvious the orders are coming directly from Coin.
Finnick is large and strong and a competent fighter, but it's clear he misses having the trident in his hands when Apollo bests him.
Johanna and Gale are surprisingly well matched. He is much larger than the petite brunette but her quickness and unpredictability work in her favor. After a long tussle she finally pins Gale to the ground. When Apollo declares the match over, Gale rises quickly. Johanna smirks and smacks his ass in triumph. Rather than head for the showers after their match, everyone sticks around waiting for the main event. At least that's how Katniss feels as she and Peeta approach each other in the center of the mat.
"Now it's real hand-to-hand combat but the goal is to subdue to your opponent but nothing more than that. You understand?" He looks at Katniss, awaiting her confirmation. She nods.
"You understand?" He asks Peeta.
It takes him longer to respond, but eventually the word "Yes" tumbles from his lips. Apollo looks relieved, but only slightly.
Katniss and Peeta circle each other for long moments. She is transported back to an afternoon in District 12, when they sparred in the manicured grass of the Victor's Village in preparation for the Quarter Quell. She hears Peeta's voice in her head, reminding her to keep her body sideways, to stay a smaller target. Suddenly, his voice is flowing over her. All the things he'd taught her in a desperate hope to keep her alive.
"Size up your opponent and attack their weakness first. Gain the upper hand as quick as you can. It'll give you the best chance of winning, or at least escaping."
With his words in mind, Katniss sweeps Peeta's prosthetic leg quickly. He falls to the ground but she hesitates. In that moment, he grabs her ankle and brings her tumbling down next to him.
He flips her over, digging his elbow into her back and pinning her shoulder to the ground.
"Still ruthless, I see," he whispers in her ear.
She manages to swing her leg back and get him the ribs, causing him to lose his grip. She grabs his biceps and pins his arms to the ground.
"You're not exactly holding back, either," she says.
"Oh believe me, Sweetheart, I am," he says. They fight for a long time, neither gaining ground until Peeta thrust his hips up and to the left, tossing Katniss aside. Then his entire body covers hers. His hips pin hers to the ground, his heavy chest is flush against hers making it difficult to breath. She runs her hands along his sweat-soaked back, trying to find purchase so she can gain the upper hand but her hands just glide over the taut muscles covered by his thin shirt. She tries to bring her legs up, to wrap them around his neck, to force him off of her, but his strong hands wrap around her thighs and hold her in place.
Suddenly they both freeze. Their breaths stopping and then speeding up in unison. Their bodies are no longer positioned like fighters, but like lovers. Katniss feels Peeta's hardness pressed directly against her center and she can't help but shudder at the frisson of pleasure that courses through her body at the contact.
Sweating, panting and throbbing with unanticipated need their eyes lock. His aren't cloudy but startlingly blue and another shudder goes through Katniss, causing her hips to ever so slightly rock into Peeta's. His eyes close at the contact but he tears away from her so swiftly she doesn't see them reopen. Doesn't see the way they darken, not with madness but with something else entirely.
It all happens so quickly, no one but she and Peeta realize the shift between them. To everyone else, it looks like Peeta withdrew from the fight. Everyone holds their breath, fearing that Peeta is on the brink of madness. Maybe he is. But if he is, so is she.
"Peeta," she whispers.
"No," he shouts and Katniss flinches when he turns on her, staring at her. Katniss can't help but be captivated by him. His beauty and fury both hold her fascinated.
"It's not real, it was never real," he says before turning away and walking over to his guards.
She watches Peeta breathe a sigh of relief as the cuffs are slapped on his wrists. She winces at their tightness but it seems to calm Peeta, to soothe him in a way pain should never provide comfort.
She doesn't see him again that day or the next. Not in the dining hall for meals or at the squad's training session.
On the third day, she corners Haymitch.
"Boy had a bit of a setback is all."
"Because of me?"
Haymitch looks at her like she is an idiot, his face plainly telling her that of course it was because of her.
"Look Sweetheart, I'm not his doctor but all I can tell you is that boy is very confused when it comes to Katniss Everdeen. One minute he wants to kill you, the next he wants to kiss you."
"Oh," is all Katniss says. Her mouth hangs open in surprise long after Haymitch leaves, long after she finds a supply closet to hide in, long after she pulls the pearl from her pocket and clutches it tightly in her hand over her heart.
Images flooded Katniss' mind, of the hundreds of kisses and caresses they shared for the cameras. Her thoughts linger on the kisses that made her want more, a fevered kiss in a cave and passionate embrace on a beach.
She and Gale had kissed too, but it had never been like that.
"One minute he wants to kill you, the next he wants to kiss you." Peeta isn't alone, Katniss had felt it too. That hunger she felt on the beach, she had felt an echo of it the other day while twisted with him on the ground during training. What did that say about her? That she could want someone who wanted to kill her?
She supposes only one other person knows the answer to that question. And it's tearing him apart.
He is back at training the next day. There is no hand-to-hand combat but they are once again partnered, this time for the obstacle course.
Because of Peeta's upper body strength he breezes through the monkey bars, taking two at a time, much faster than Katniss or even Gale and Finnick can.
She catches up to him at the tires though and when his prosthetic causes him trip on the last one, she instinctively reaches down to help Peeta—her fellow tribute, her district partner, her star-crossed lover — up.
The pod minefield is next and one of them, Katniss or Peeta, she doesn't know, trips a pod that blasts them backwards. Katniss lands on top of Peeta, but the minor explosion stuns them and neither moves for several moments. She hears him faintly hiss when she moves to get up and she pauses, thinking she's hurt him but as she becomes more aware of her surroundings, she realizes her backside is pressed into Peeta's hips, their bodies once again aligned, thrumming with desire. She moves swiftly in the aftermath of her realization but not before her face can flush with color.
The smoke from the fake blast clears and the other members of the squad as well as their trainers are there immediately to assess the damage. Katniss runs her hands through her hair distractedly, trying to calm her nerves when she notices Johanna and Finnick looking between her and Peeta with knowing expressions on their faces.
She skips out on the rest of her schedule for that day and finally makes her way to her and Johanna's shared quarters.
Usually Johanna is passed out on morphling by then, it's the only way many of them can sleep. But Katniss is still quiet as a hunter as she slips into her sleeping clothes. She grabs the pearl from her pocket before settling in between scratchy District 13 sheets.
She rubs the smooth, cool surface of the pearl against her chapped lips. It feels nothing like soft, warm lips that taste faintly of salt but it is all she can do, all she can have of him.
"Fighting and fucking are a lot alike you know," Johanna calls from her side of the room.
Katniss groans internally. The last thing she wants is advice from Johanna Mason.
"I'm just saying you know that feeling when your ax or arrow hits the mark perfectly? When you're fighting and you finally get the upper hand? That moment when your blood is pumping and your heart is racing and your whole world is narrowed down to almost nothing but the next strike or the next arrow? That's what fucking is like. Except the whole world is you and the guy between your legs."
Katniss' thighs unconsciously clench together at Johanna's words, at the whole world of possibility contained within them.
"It doesn't matter Johanna. I don't-I can't think that like."
"If it were me I would have had my way with blondie a long time ago. You two should have been fucking like bunnies since the moment you won those first games. That's what I would have done, it if had been me."
"Well, I'm not you," Katniss huffs in annoyance.
"No shit, Brainless."
"Look," Katniss finally turns to face her, "I wasn't ready for it before and now it's never going to happen because every time I'm near him he has to fight the urge not wrap his hands around my neck and kill me!"
"Yeah, well from what I see and hear that's not the only impulse he's fighting, Brainless. Seems like he's also trying not to wrap his hands around your throat and fuck you senseless."
They glare at each before lying back down. Several minutes tick by before Katniss speaks again, barely above a whisper. "People do that? They wrap their hands around your throat in bed?"
"Oh fuck you're clueless. That boy deserves a medal for putting up with all the blue balls I bet you gave him," Johanna says before turning away to try and sleep.
Katniss is able to avoid Peeta the next few days. Training is canceled in preparation for Finnick and Annie's wedding.
She finds herself in mother and sister's compartment the day of the wedding. Prim's hair is no longer in two braids, but done in a long elegant fishtail style over her shoulder. Prim blushes prettily when she asks Katniss if she thinks Rory will like it.
Her eyes widen at the realization that her sister has a crush on Gale's little brother. Rory is a good boy, a lot like his brother. Katniss can't fault with her sister's affections.
Katniss' mother is still slender and pale, but she looks more alive and lovely than she has in a long time. Her place in District 13 suits her, Katniss thinks.
Her mother holds out a dress for her, one of Cinna's designs, a soft blue dress much like what she wore at the first reaping. But the material is silk rather than faded cotton and it hugs her slender curves in a way her mother's worn dresses never did.
When Mrs. Everdeen offers to style her hair, she can't refuse.
Though, later, when Peeta's eyes focus on the complicated braids at the back of her head she curses her mother for recreating her reaping look.
Coin decides that Peeta has progressed enough to attended Annie and Finnick's wedding. He's wearing a suit that she knows was made especially for him by Portia and wonders who the hell thought it was a bright idea considering he watched his stylist and prep team get executed on live TV.
Coin probably, she's full of bright ideas.
Finnick's wearing one of Peeta's old suits too. Katniss remembers dancing with Peeta in at their reception in District 4.
The ocean blue fabric makes Finnick look like a sea god.
And if Finnick looks like a sea god, then Annie, in one of Katniss' old dresses, looks every bit his sea goddess. Her brown hairs flows in waves down her slender back and her bright green eyes sparkle as Dalton, from District 10, officiates their ceremony.
It's strange to see them there, in their hand-me-down clothes. It could almost be her and Peeta standing in front of the assembled crowd and in another life, it was supposed to be. If she had convinced President Snow she and Peeta would be married by now. Instead of being hijacked, he would be her husband. For all her fears before, her heart aches at the thought.
Peeta's eyes are glued to Katniss' as Finnick speaks his vows and she thinks she sees a similar longing there. It isn't exactly the fate they wanted—a pretend wedding, a fake marriage, playing house — but there are much worse games to play.
When the cake is wheeled in Katniss knows immediately who made it. She pushes through the crowd to get a closer look at Peeta's work and what she sees steals her breath away. It's a dazzling creation with blue-green, white-tipped icing waves swimming with fish and sailboats, seals and sea flowers. Katniss is overwhelmed with pride at his beautiful gift to Finnick and Annie. She doesn't stay there to watch them cut into it or share their first bite of what she's sure is a delicious confection. No, Katniss is far more interested in the baker than the cake.
Later she finds him in a corner, away from the crowds. Only one guard standing sentry by his side, he's watching people on the dance floor, tapping his foot idly to a song being played by one of the District 12 survivors.
"Dance with me," she says. It isn't a request and when he rises neither she nor Peeta look to his guard for permission.
The wedding is being filmed for a propo so Katniss knows she doesn't have a lot of time before Plutarch realizes the star-crossed lovers are in a prime photo opportunity, but she can't bring herself to care.
She waits for Peeta to put his hands where he feels most comfortable and breathes a sigh of relief when he wraps them both low around her waist, his forearms settling on her hips, allowing her to wrap her arms around his broad, sturdy shoulders.
She always preferred dancing this way, rather than the formal way Effie taught them.
Effie said it wasn't proper form to dance all wrapped up in each other like that. Katniss didn't care then and she couldn't care less now.
"The cake is really beautiful," she says. "Would you…would you have made the cake for our wedding?" She dares to ask.
His hands twitch at her waist before Peeta answers. "I don't…I don't know. I don't remember."
"You're lying," she says bluntly. "In all those weeks, all those questions you asked, I never lied to you."
"No, you just chose not to answer," he spits back.
"Is that what you're doing now? Choosing not to answer?"
"Of course I would have made the cake! We were getting married. Real or not, you honestly think I didn't have every detail of that cake planned?"
"What would it have looked like?" She asks quietly.
"Why? Why does it matter?" He asks, hanging his head.
"Because, Finnick and Annie's cake, what you did, it's them. It's so perfectly them and I need to know…I want to know what you thought of for…" she trails off.
"For us?" He asks quietly.
"Nightlock seems appropriate."
She stops dancing suddenly. "Stop. Stop lying. Stop staying things you don't mean."
"Really Katniss? After everything you're the one telling me to stop playing pretend? That's pretty rich coming from you." He keeps his voice quiet, but his tone is hard as steel.
She is playing with fire and she knows it. She is pushing him right into an episode, but Katniss doesn't care. She hasn't cared about anything in so long but right now, she cares about his answer to her question. She needs to hear Peeta tell her about these things. She needs him to dance with her and whisper sweet things in her ear…she needs something from him she can't even begin to describe and she doesn't care if he doesn't want to play along.
Katniss grabs him closer, her arms tightening around his neck and shoulders, her hands raking through his hair. "Tell me, please," she whispers in his ear.
He too, wraps his arms around her tighter and in this moment Katniss doesn't care if it is because he wants to hold her close or kill her. She needs to feel his chest against hers, needs to feel his large hands warm against the small of her back, she needs to feel his breath against her ear as he answers her question.
"It would have been silver like your eyes. Eyes I couldn't get out of my head for 11 years. Eyes I still can't get out my head. There would have been dozens of flowers, katniss flowers and primroses and rue flowers – beautiful flowers, just like the girls whose name they bear. "
Katniss closes her eyes as she listens to his rambling description, it is perfect and it hurts to hear but it also makes her smile. Peeta remembers every detail. He isn't confused and he isn't angry and while his arms are crushing her to him, it's the good kind of hurt. The kind of crushing where you need to be closer than skin and bones allow.
She pulls back to look in his eyes. They aren't cloudy with confusion or black with rage, they are clear and Katniss sees in them the same need she knows is reflected in her eyes.
Finnick catches her eyes and motions toward an exit where Johanna is standing. He winks at her then and Katniss understands. His words from so long go pop into her head, "Lucky thing we're allies. Right?"
Apparently Finnick and Johanna are still on her and Peeta's side. She grabs his hand and stealthily makes their way through the crowd to the exit where Johanna stands lookout. She smirks at their joined hands.
"Bye bye bunnies," Johanna says as she waves them off, unnoticed by the rest of the people in the room.
Katniss leads Peeta back to her quarters. Her stomach is in nervous knots but it doesn't matter. For the first time in so long Katniss feels something other than fear and dread.
It is a confusing jumble, a mix of need and nerves and something else. Something suspiciously like hope.
Katniss can't read all the emotions on Peeta's face. She can see that he too is tired and scared and angry—but she sees a flicker of something else too. Maybe the same feeling that is slowly burning inside her.
"Bring me here to finish me off, Sweetheart?" He asks and she can't tell if he is being cruel or clever.
"No. I'm tired of having audience."
"We only exist in front of an audience, right Katniss? Turn the switch on when the crowds and cameras are around?"
"Ask me again."
"What are you talking about?"
"Real or not real. Ask me again."
"Dammit Katniss don't do this to me!" He yells, quickly crossing the room, pinning her against the door.
"Just ask the question and I'll answer," she pleads, whispering into his hair.
It feels like centuries pass before he finally speaks. He closes his eyes and the words pass through his lips, "You love me. Real or not real?"
Peeta punches the wall by her head, frustration, anger and pain written on his face.
She looks into his haunted eyes as tears streak down his face and whispers, "Real, real, real," over and over again.
"They said it was a lie, they said you were a liar. I can't…I want so badly for this to be real," he whispers into the crook of her neck.
"It's real Peeta. I didn't even know how real until they took you away from me and then you came back and you weren't you but it doesn't matter anymore. Finnick and Annie showed me it doesn't matter. She went mad and he still loves her."
He smiles through his tears. "So even though I went mad you still love me?"
She nods her head. "Always."
She feels it the moment he believes her. His entire body relaxes and sinks against her, so tired after such a long war with himself. She sees it in his eyes, in the light that shines there. A light she never thought she'd see again. She feels it in his kiss, in a kiss that swallows her whole.
Their mouths clash hotly, lips and tongues fighting to explore and please. Hunger sweeps over them completely. Katniss rises on her toes, drawing Peeta down to her as his arms slide around her body, gripping under her legs and lifting her into the air. She instinctively wraps her legs around his waist before raking her hands through his hair. His lips leave hers to place a trail of kisses across her jaw, down her throat, to the juncture where her neck and shoulder meet. He worries the sensitive flesh there before bringing his hands up to her neck. But she knows, unlike last time, he means no harm. He caresses the delicate skin with feather light touches and places his lips where each of his fingers had dug in, kissing his apologies into her skin.
Katniss moans at the gentle contact, pulling Peeta in impossibly closer. Her hands clutch at his jacket, pulling it down his arm to puddle at their feet. His tie and shirt follow and he makes quick work of her blue dress.
She flinches when her bare back hits the cold concrete of the wall and so Peeta carries her over and lays her down on the small, lonely bed she slept in these past months. She watches with rapt attention as his hands unbuckle his belt, and then slowly lower the zipper on his trousers. She bites her lip so hard she nearly draws blood when Peeta removes his last bit of clothing and stands completely naked before her.
When he was rescued from the Capitol he'd been so skinny, his body so abused but he now he is so strong and beautiful that Katniss wants to cry at the sight of him, her boy with the bread. He crawls over her and his hands ghost along her sides, from her ankles to her calves, over the smooth skin of her thighs, past her hips, along her sensitive to ribs, the sides of her chest to her bra straps, which his warm fingers remove with tender care.
Soon her breasts are laid bare to him and the only piece of clothing separating their bodies is her sensible, gray, District 13 panties.
She sighs at the first touch of his soft, warm palm against the underside of her breast. But the sigh quickly turns into a moan as his hand kneads the tender flesh, his fingers paying special attention to her hardened, pebbled nipples.
She whines when Peeta tears his lips from hers but cries out when they latch onto her nipple, suckling and nuzzling at her breasts. They feel aching and heavy but so so good under Peeta's ministrations. It feels like there's a tether connecting the sensations in her chest to the place between her legs, which too feels heavy and achy. When she rubs her thighs together to alleviate the tension they're slick with desire and suddenly Katniss wants nothing more than for Peeta to shed the panties from her body and touch her where she needs him most.
She drags his hands from her chest—which is heaving with her breathlessness—down to her hips. Together, she slips their thumbs below the waistband and looks up at Peeta, biting her lip, willing him to understand the depths of her need, the impatience of her desire.
Peeta's hands are swift and sure as they peel the small garment from her body. His eyes are clear but dark with lust as they look down at her naked and spread before him. Her skin glistens where it is slick with her arousal and she and Peeta release a loud chorus of moans when his hand delicately grazes her folds. She jerks her hips spasmodically when the pad of his thumb grazes the hood of her clit.
"Oh…Peeta…" she whispers breathlessly. Her arousal reaches a fever pitch and she wants Peeta so badly she thinks she might burst.
Her hands cling to his bicep as his fingers dance over her, making her cry out in delight or moan in pleasure.
Her lips attack the hollow of his throat as he slips one finger inside her.
"You're so wet, so fucking wet Katniss," Peeta whispers hotly in ear.
"I've been waiting for you to finish what you started since that day on the beach," she smiles against his cheek. Her voice a breathless whisper that catches as plunges a second finger inside her.
His head snaps up at her words, his eyes boring into hers. "Really?"
"Real, P-Peeta, so real…" she moans. Katniss can barely get the words out of her mouth, between Peeta's fingers and thumb working her core and the friction of his chest rubbing against her sensitive breasts, she is in sensory overload.
"I've needed you Peeta…oh… Ever since they took you away, I've...ugh…needed you back," she whispers in his ear as she speeds up the rhythm of her hips against his hand.
"Come for me Katniss. I want to feel you, I want to see." He increases the pressure of his thumb and the pace of his fingers and suddenly her body explodes with pleasure. She feels it pulse through her, from the tips of her fingers to her toes. Katniss can't remember feeling more relaxed than she does in that moment, in the aftermath of her orgasm being cradled in Peeta's arms.
He presses hot, wet kisses to her neck and collarbone, waiting for her return to Earth and when she does she feels Peeta hard, heavy and needy against her thigh and she wants nothing more than to make him feel that same pleasure she just felt. To have light burst behind his eyes and his heart beat out of his chest.
Katniss takes him in her hand and he sucks in a sharp breath at the contact. She likes the feel of him in her hand, so hard and soft at the same time. He's feels even larger than he looked and Katniss bites her lip in trepidation. She wants him, she know she does and she's wanted him far longer than she'd let herself admit. She wanted before heated sparring sessions in his hijacked state. She wanted him before the beach. If she thinks hard enough she wanted him before the cave, before she even knew what wanting was.
She hasn't cared for him all their lives, not like Peeta has for her. But sometime after the day he threw her bread but before the reaping Peeta Mellark rooted himself inside her. Between shy glances across a school yard and long stares through a bakery window she came to want the boy with the bread. But it wasn't until after the reaping, after the rebellion even that Katniss could allow herself to want something.
But oh how she wants him now.
He settles between her thighs, his hips flush against her and his eyes flutter the moment his hardness comes in contact with her slick folds.
She trails her hands up his forearms, over his shoulders and buries them in his thick, blond hair. Her tight hold forces him to open his eyes, to stare into hers. And what he sees might be his undoing. Her orgasm has left Katniss completely unguarded and Peeta can see everything in her eyes. She's looking at him in a way she's never looked at anyone else. It reminds him of the way she looks at Prim, like he's loved and precious but it's somehow more. And if he had any doubt before, he doesn't now. It's real, absolutely and completely real.
He enters her with the word real on the tip of his tongue and nothing in his life has ever felt so right, so delicious.
She winces at the intrusion, but it's welcome. Her body adjusts to him and he carefully, slowly moves inside. His first tentative thrusts give way to a gentle rocking that eventually becomes forceful pumping. Katniss raises her hips in time to meet his and she feels him, every inch of his body inside and all around her. She's overwhelmed by him, by his size, by his warmth, by his scent which is both sweet and masculine. She drags her tongue along the column of his throat, tasting him as his hand moves up to cup her breast.
They're so close but at the same time they don't want it to stop, they don't want it to ever end. It's taken so long for them to be here, together like this. The rest of the world is forgotten and they want it to stay forgotten. The whole world is them and this moment and this indescribable pleasure flowing back and forth between, growing in intensity with each stroke, each touch, each moan.
But they know it can't last forever and Peeta brings his down between their bodies, presses his thumb against Katniss and she comes screaming his name, the only name that will ever fall off her lips in ecstasy. Peeta follows seconds after, his hands gripping her hips tightly as her fills her with his warmth.
Peeta trembles as they lie there sated and breathless. She knows tonight was a gift, that between Snow, Coin and Peeta's hijacking there are going to hellish days to come but in that moment—clutching her dandelion in the spring tightly to her chest—she can't fight the feeling of hope within her.
So after, when he once again whispers, "You love me. Real or not real?"
A thousand times over she tells him, "Real."