Hello! Thank you for clicking on this story.

Warning: This story is rated M for a reason. Reader discretion advised.

No lemons in this chapter (I know, I know, I'm sorry) but it will earn its M rating in Ch 2.

Thanks for reading! Enjoy!

Obligatory disclaimer: I don't own anything but the plot. So no suing, please.

The knee-length shirt I sleep in poses no problem to Peeta's wandering fingers. They slither down my side, leaving goose bumps in their wake, until they reach the hem of the cotton tunic. My eyes open wide of their own accord, fixing themselves on the dim outline of the window across the room. Tonight, while the blizzard rages silver outside, it is closed. The wind blasts against the side of the house, hissing and howling like a mutt, and I know that any noise we make will not escape the confines of our bedroom. A conversation held out loud will not be overheard by Haymitch, as it might be in summertime. However, as Peeta draws lazy circles on the exposed skin of my lower thigh, it dawns on me that a heart-to-heart may not be what he has in mind.

I think back to the past months as a particularly violent surge of wind sends a loose shingle rattling. Peeta's hand stills and I close my eyes.

"Katniss?" he murmurs, thumb running over the prominent bones of my knee. "Are you awake?"

In the spring, we kissed for the first time since the Capitol. In the half year since then, the kisses have changed. But very slowly. In the week that ladybugs swarmed over the meadow, Peeta shifted his hands from my waist to my hips. Some weeks after that, I took to pushing my fingers through his hair as our lips tugged at each other. By midsummer, his hands found their way to the strip of skin between my pants and shirt, gently massaging the muscles of my back, and soon after, he developed a habit of kissing my neck as we got ready for bed. A gasp here, a flick of the tongue there. He moved in with me, officially, at the tail end of summer, though he had been practically living in my house for much longer. Chestnuts ripened and fell from the trees, and it was there, in the forest, that Peeta's episode hit.

We were wandering between the trees, not twenty yards from the fence, baskets swinging from our elbows. The chestnuts, like furry, green fruits, lay on the ground along with crunching leaves. We wore protective gloves, leather ones left over from my father's days in the woods, as we stooped to gather the spiny pods. I had just peeled one open, revealing the nuts inside. Dark, round and shiny, they gleamed within their pithy hulls. I grinned up at Peeta, only to realize that Peeta was no longer there.

My head snapped around, sending the tendons in my neck throbbing. He had been by my side seconds ago.


I took a step one way, then the other, unable to choose a direction in my mounting panic. My voice rose to a breathy cry.


The basket of chestnuts fell to the ground, forgotten, and I slipped on the round, fruit-like husks as I stumbled forward. I scanned the leaves for a trail, a broken twig, anything to let me know where he went. Nothing.

By some cruel trick of fate, the steel-gray clouds above chose that moment to send forth a single, deep clap of thunder. In my frenzy, I didn't see the lightning flash, didn't hear the following growls of thunder. I registered the sound as a cannon.

I shrieked his name, abandoning logic in favor of sprinting in the direction from which we'd come. Memories washed over me like cold sprays of seawater, steadily wearing away at my control. A cannon, then Peeta with hands full of nightlock. A cannon, and then bursts of bright color across the sky as a claw descends over me. A cannon and Peeta dead, Peeta mangled, Peeta's throat ripped out by a mutt with my eyes…

I slammed into something, maybe a tree trunk, and sprawled on the ground. My chest froze up and I struggled to breathe. In the seconds that I lay there, staring up at the clouds, waiting for my lungs to expand again, a noise drew my attention to the left. I quickly disregarded it as the muscles of my chest relaxed and allowed me to suck in a spicy lungful of Autumn air, but as I panted, the noise came again. I turned my head slowly, still bleary from my impact with the tree, and it took a moment for my eyes to focus on the shape some yards away. As soon as they did, I was on all fours and lurching to my feet, then falling to my knees again as soon as I reached my destination.


His hands were clenched in his hair, face half-hidden behind his arms. He rocked on the forest floor, heels digging into the soil, knees drawn up to his chest. I knew the reason without having to ask. Thanks to time and to Dr. Aurelius's counseling, his episodes were less frequent, but I had seen enough to recognize the signs. I forced myself to take three deep breaths, letting them out slowly, before I reached out to place a hand on his shoulder. He tensed, and his quick breaths changed tempo, but otherwise he didn't move. I shifted my hand to his back and began to rub in slow, gentle circles. This routine was familiar. When a shiny memory overwhelmed him and he held on to the nearest object to keep himself in the present, I would rub his back and murmur comfortingly until it passed. I almost prided myself on being able to bring him back from the brink so quickly, when it often took an hour or more for him to calm down by himself.

But this time it was different. I knew as soon as he raised his head from where it had been resting on his knees. His eyes glimmered from between his forearms, two dark pools ringed by a halo of hyacinth blue. My own breath was sucked from my throat as our eyes locked. In the fat pupils, which nearly eclipsed the blue, there was that glint of cruelty that hadn't shown itself since the Capitol. He held my gaze, lip curling in disgust as I watched Mutt-Peeta take control. My hand, still frozen on his back, began to tremble, and all I could think was, This is it. We're out in the woods with a storm coming and no one is here to help me. He really will kill me, this time.

I felt a yank on my shirt and the base of my skull hit something with enough force to send black spots spreading over my vision. I blinked them away in time to realize that Peeta had shoved me against the nearest object, which happened to be the sturdy trunk of a maple. His arms flanked my head, hands braced on the bark on either side, and his body kept mine in place. But he didn't move. Pressed against the tree, disoriented from the two successive blows, I sought out his gaze once again. His eyes were closed tightly, brow furrowed, breath coming in harsh bursts. Hope sparked in my chest. He was fighting it off.

I waited, silent and still, terrified of doing anything that would make it worse. Rain began to fall, landing on us in small, icy drops and rolling down my skin until I shivered. It seemed like an hour or more went by, but I know it couldn't have been more than a few minutes. As the seconds ticked by, my eyes drifted to some point over his shoulder, fixing on empty space. My thoughts quieted, smothered under a haze of some emotion I couldn't name. I knew I needed to stop, to come back to myself, before it was too late, but I couldn't muster the will to do it. I half expected to feel the old kitchen rocking chair beneath me as my mind slipped towards the deep, empty track I'd walked so many times before. Before Peeta came back. Before he pulled me out of the shadows of my own mind. Before.

At last I felt his body relax, bit by bit, and then sway away from me. I slid down the trunk, no longer fixed in place by his weight, as my knees buckled. I hit the ground, curling into myself, and Peeta sat down next to me heavily.

"I'm sorry," he choked. His hands landed on either side of my face, light as the touch of a moth's wing, their warmth easing the cool burn of my frozen skin. "I'm so sorry." He began to pepper my face with kisses, and as he did, I numbly raised one hand to rest over his. "God, I'm so sorry, Katniss," he wept, and cradled me to his chest.

Only then did I stir, dragging myself out of the haze of unresponsiveness that had been gathering since the rain began to fall. I forced myself to open and close my fists, then breathe in and out, then lift my head. Peeta's eyes found mine, blue once more. They were red from crying, and it was this detail that pushed me far enough from my mental rut to respond.

"No," I muttered, shaking my head laboriously. "'s not your fault."

"Did I hurt you?" He was turning me around, lifting my arms, checking my neck and wrists for injuries.

I shook my head again.

A breath pushed from between his lips and his forehead nudged against my own. "I'm sorry," he said again.

As I drew further away from my vortex of numbness, my stubbornness returned full-force. "Would you stop apologizing?" I said crossly. "It's their fault, not yours."

He flinched and his eyes darted down, then back up to my face. I could tell he was about to make another argument against himself, or apologize again, and that was no good at all, so I stopped his words with a kiss. He responded immediately, wrapping his arms around me as was our habit. Maybe it was the aftereffects of the episode, but Peeta's kiss was demanding. For the first time in my recollection, he pressed me down into the leaves of the forest floor and lifted himself to hover over me, supported by his knees and elbows. His arms and legs formed a sort of cage around me, making it impossible to roll to one side or the other and escape. But I didn't want to escape. Peeta's tongue flickered against my bottom lip, then slipped past my teeth without permission, tracing the contours of my mouth. He withdrew briefly to nip at my lips, then plunged in again, pressing me further into the earth as his weight settled on me. Somehow, one of my arms found its way around his neck while the other curled over his back. He hummed appreciatively and pushed his tongue against mine.

This new, bold Peeta was and foreign and forceful and, at once, familiar. I could still feel the inherent sturdiness of the Peeta I knew in all his actions. I could feel the warmth and affection that had grown between us like a dandelion seed since the spring. But never before had he kissed me while lying on the ground. Never before had his tongue swirled against mine quite so daringly. Never, it occurred to me, except for once. On the beach.

Just as the thought entered my mind, Peeta's teeth closed over my lower lip, pinching it quickly before his tongue flicked over the newly sensitive area. Inexplicably, my legs squeezed together of their own accord as something at the apex of my thighs throbbed deliciously. A whimper escaped me, and Peeta, mistaking it for one of pain, drew back instantly. The alien sensation abated and I breathed deeply, bewildered.

"I'm sorry," he said again. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have… I was too rough." His cheeks colored as he sat back on his heels and helped me up, his shyness in stark contrast to the bold boy that just kissed me.

We found our baskets of chestnuts and headed for home after that, quiet and with eyes turned to the gathering storm. I led the way, my steps a bit less confident than usual, still dazed from what occurred under the maple tree.

The next time Peeta kissed me, I waited hesitantly for the strange tug low in my belly. But it didn't come. Half disappointed and half relieved, I all but forgot about the incident, turning my attention to more important things. Autumn was going along at a nice clip, after all, and winter would be there sooner rather than later. There were meats to smoke, fruits to can, vegetables to freeze, blankets to find and bows to oil and store away in closets for their long inactivity over the blizzard months. Peeta, busy with his baking, made enough loaves and delicacies to hand out for free in the new town square, earning him the love of each and every child in Twelve.

Now, we're well into the winter and the biggest blizzard we've seen this year is snarling at every door and window. The curtains have been closed tight for days, to preserve heat, and Peeta has turned out at least half a dozen paintings in the last week. Tonight is no different from any other night in the past half month. We ate dinner, attempted to phone Haymitch and Doctor Aurelius again, only to find the phone lines out, and then got ready for bed. Peeta kissed my neck as we slid beneath the heaps of sheets and quilts. I snuggled against him, keeping warm, as the storm continued beyond the walls. The only thing different about tonight is Peeta's touch, lingering on my leg, raising goose bumps.

And now, he murmurs, "Katniss? Are you awake?"

Fun stuff to come soon, my lovelies! ;)

If you have time, a review would be greatly appreciated, especially since this is the first chapter. Thank you ever so much. :D

Until next time!