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Synchronicity

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My movements were slower than usual as I worked the sleep out of my joints and focused on what was sitting before me; on top of me. Petite, but harboring a commanding presence that still makes me weak, she slowly runs her hands down my chest, letting the tips of her fingers linger and causing my skin to heat up under her touch.

Katniss wasn't always like this. This playful woman I now know had far more rules at one time. Love making never occurred spontaneously like this in the beginning. There was always a routine. Hunt, cook, eat, clean, bed and always in that order, never straying. Part of it was her healing. A clear routine helped her avoid breakdowns. There was nothing she had to doubt, second guess, or be blind-sided by. Another part of it was learning to trust not only me, but her. She had herself and the idea of being in a relationship so far separated that she didn't even know how to behave. She used to tell me that she didn't deserve my love, or anyone else's for that matter. The rules helped her learn just how false that kind of thinking was, and also taught her how to love in return… physically.

Other guys may have not been so patient with her, but the reality of it was that it was a learning experience for me just as much as it was for her. We came out of the war with more experience in killing than having sex and we knew that, even if neither of us said it out loud. We used this time to learn everything we could about our bodies and what they could do together. I learned that if I curled my fingers inside her, she would arch her back and make the most beautiful sounds I've ever heard, and she learned that all she had to do was gently suck on my left earlobe and I would be hard almost instantly.

Early on she used to cry a lot afterwards. At first I thought I hurt her; that maybe I'd been too rough on her, but she always shook her head when I asked her if I did something wrong. The truth was, she cried because she never knew that something like sex could feel the way it felt with us. On the nights she cried, I gently reminded her that what we did was more than sex. We were making love. After a while I learned that crying meant progress. With each passing month she slowly started to believe that she deserved this; that she deserved me. The rules lessened, the routines broke and eventually it was me that was wondering what I'd done to deserve this.

She became a different person in all the best ways. She laughed more, her smile became infectious, and even though many nights were filled with her screams of terror rather than pleasure, and she had days where she felt it was best to stay in bed all day, it was nothing compared to the smiles and laughs she gave me. It was everything I had ever imagined before The Games; to love her and be loved in return fully.

However, not even in the outrageous erotic fantasies that my 16 year old self often conjured in those days before The Reaping did I ever imagine walking into the front door of our home only to be screwed almost senseless by her right on the floor of the entryway the very first time she broke her rules and routine. While that isn't a term I normally use, there is no other way to describe what we did that evening as anything but screwing. We had each other for dinner that night, carrying it over to the couch in the living room and retiring to the bedroom for several more hours and one more time just before the sun rose. Neither of us walked right for days. It's always different with us now. The rules are simply a memory and routine stops when we cross the threshold of our bedroom, or if we're not in the bedroom, whenever our clothes come off.

Haymitch learned rather quickly that he now needs to knock before entering our home. He says that he still has unwanted mental pictures of the time he barged into the house the night of our Toasting. Katniss couldn't look him in the eye for weeks; since then he has never barged in. Now he waits until we answer the door before stepping foot in the house.

Six years later and it still feels brand new every single time. She is straddling me, replacing the hands that were on my chest with light kisses and a cool trail of saliva that she stops to blow on from time to time, causing me to shudder as she slowly begins to grind our hips together.

We still have the clothing on that we went to bed in, so all I feel is pressure as she rocks her hips. I know she feels me, the sound she makes each time she moves tells me so and the urge to feel her is beginning to take over more and more as the sleepy fog clears from my mind and body.

It's a quick and dirty move that I learned when I wrestled, but it's effective. In one fell swoop I've hooked my good leg up and around her back and push up, flipping her onto her back and pinning her arms above her head. She lets out a small squeak when she realizes what happened, a squeak that only I ever get to hear in our most intimate moments. I release her arms and she immediately snakes them up around my neck and buries her hands in my hair, pulling me down in an open mouthed kiss; our tongues playing together.

When we break apart I sit up on my knees as best as I can, intent on getting rid of the clothing both of us still has on. I run my hands up the front of the button down pajama top Katniss is wearing. It's mine and it's all she's wearing besides her underwear. I stop for a moment and take her breasts in my hands, giving them a gentle squeeze; as if we were instructed to do so, we both let out low moans when I do this. This makes me unbutton the top faster than I normally would, I need my skin on her skin and I can't do that with the top in the way.

A grin spreads across my face now as I take in the vision before me. Katniss underneath me in nothing but her underwear, smiling. She's smiling because she knows she's got me. She knew she had me the minute she decided to wake me up by reaching her hand to the front of my boxers and squeezing, but she sees what's in my eyes now and she knows her job is done. Now, it's up to us to let our bodies become one in perfect synchronicity, the phenomenal act of expressing our love that we've perfected over the years.

I close the space between our bodies now and am on top of her. My skin on her skin, her nipples grazing my chest as she breathes beneath me. Taking a page from her book of foreplay, I begin to grind into her in a rhythm that I know does her in. The more I do it, the heavier her breathing becomes until finally, her hands drop from my hair for the first time since I flipped her over and she immediately repositions them down the back of my boxers, each hand cupping and squeezing my ass. This is a silent game that we play. We tease each other just enough until eventually one of us gives in and begs for it. Right now, I'm winning.

Suddenly, she isn't squeezing anymore, but pushing me closer toward her. It's something she often does when one of us has already given in and I'm buried deep inside her. She does this to coax me to go deeper, even if I can't possibly do so. When I've gotten as close to her as our bodies and undergarments will allow, she stops pushing and holds me there, and I stop as she starts grinding underneath me. She cranes her neck upward and takes my left earlobe in her mouth and gently sucks and few times before trailing her tongue down my jaw and settling her mouth on my neck to resume sucking. She's cutting out all the stops tonight, because this is going to leave a mark and Haymitch is going to give both of us a hard time about it, because he misses nothing. She hates the idea of Haymitch even acknowledging the things we do in the bedroom let alone present him with evidence, so I know she really wants to win tonight.

I prop myself up with my arms on either side of her and give her a smile. She raises her eyebrow at me, suspicious of what I will do next; she knows I'm not ready to give in. Relying on only one hand now to prop me up, I take my right one and move it down to the front of her underwear and graze my thumb very gently over the material that is covering her most sensitive spots. It's wet and warm, and she's been ready for a while, but I know she won't give in so easily and either will I. Two can play at this game.

I move my hand back up to the top of her underwear and put my hand underneath the fabric to cover her entirely. It's even warmer under the fabric and I know that I'm just as ready as she is, so I have to do this correctly or I will be the one to give in. Tracing her outer folds with two fingers, I caress her; watching her as she begins to relax and enjoy the sensation. Then, without warning, I drive those same two fingers inside her and work them in and out, switching from a straight plunge to curling my fingers to tickle the spot that I love so much. She gasps now and arches her back, removing her hands from my boxers and throwing them down on either side of her to grip the sheets. Then she does it, she makes that sound that I love. The half gasp half moan in the most delicious tone that I've ever heard as she orgasms and her body contracts around my fingers. It's almost like she's singing a song that only I'm allowed to hear.

When I take my fingers out, I look at her and we share a drunken smile. Her smile from being brought to the edge and back, mine from hearing my favorite sound. I bring my fingers to my lips and lick them clean, letting out moans of satisfaction as I do it. This causes Katniss to writhe underneath me, still not satiated. Her hands are moving again, back to my boxers. She curls her index fingers under the top of my boxers and looks into my eyes. She's giving in.

I won't let her off that easily, though. I want to hear her beg for me to take off the rest of our clothes and finally bury myself inside of her. I say nothing and she now moves both of her hands inside of my boxers and grips my shaft tightly, letting her thumb graze over the head. I inhale a deep breath but hold my ground, not moving or saying a word; waiting for her to realize what I want. Finally, after minutes of stalemate, I hear it, "Peeta. Peeta, please… I want to feel all of you."

And she means it. Katniss is shy to talk about this part of her life with anyone, so the day that she told me that she didn't want to use condoms anymore and was going to talk to Dr. Aurelius about finding a doctor that would prescribe her birth control pills, I knew we had hit a breaking point in our relationship. Her reasoning for this decision was a simple one and one she reminds me of often and it's the same reason she gave me just now, "I want to feel all of you."

When she says this, my mind immediately switches out of play mode and enters into the intense expanses where all things sex resides. In seconds, I've removed her underwear and my own and was now hovering over her. I take my fingers one last time and place them inside her, gathering her wetness and rubbing it on my shaft and head, mixing it with my own juices that have begun to leak.

I position myself and enter her in one swift motion, her hands go immediately to my ass and she whispers, "Deeper." into my ear. I readjust my legs so that I'm still kneeling, but I'm lower now, the space that was between our lower halves was now gone. My upper body was flush with hers, skin to skin once more and my arms came up under her arms, and I placed my hands underneath her head, linking them together at the fingers.

Burrowing my head in the crook of her neck, I pull out and then drive my hips back towards hers, using my hands and her head as leverage to bury myself as deep as I can inside of her. She's told me before that this is her favorite thing, it makes her feel like we're one body and when we are in this position she forgets where I end and she begins. When she instructs me to go deeper, I know this is what she means.

We move together like one being, never faltering, and never stopping. I trail kisses along her neck and moan softly into her ear as I continue to push myself inside of her. The way her body is shaking now when she exhales tells me that she's almost there, she's almost ready for the big one. The orgasm I gave her with my fingers was just a prelude to these big ones she has. It feels as though they could go on for hours and maybe in a way they do. A woman's body is a masterpiece, especially this woman's.

She gives a final shuddering breath and I feel her contracting around me as I continue to move in and out. She pulls my head down so that my ear is in line with her mouth and she moans, and then whispers "Come for me, Peeta." I moan in return and continue my thrusts until finally I feel myself bubbling over and I stop moving, burying myself and my seed deep within her walls. She doesn't want kids, and even though I hope that she will change her mind one day, the act of filling her up this way cannot be any more intimate.

After a minute I finally pull out and move back to my side of the bed, post-coital bliss taking me over. Katniss is on her side now, head propped up by her hand and she's looking at me, smiling. She takes her other hand and brushes my sweaty bangs from my forehead, trailing her hand down to cup my cheek. Though we never talk about our game out loud, we know it exists and no matter how badly she hates to lose; there are really no losers in this game. Her smile says many things "I love you," "Thank you," and most of all "I'm happy."

For the longest time I wasn't sure we would ever get to a point in our lives where I could look at Katniss and truly believe that she was happy. There will always be demons plaguing both of us, but as we've learned over the years, there comes a time when you have to learn to exist in a world that isn't perfect, in a life that isn't perfect and start to create a new reality for yourself. We are doing just that and it's that fact that gets us through the bad days; that and each other.

Chapter Text

I don't know how I ended up standing at the threshold of Haymitch's house getting ready to knock. Katniss was up early and went into the woods, and the lack of her presence in bed unnerved me to the point of getting up and leaving the house myself. She said she was going to hunt, but I doubt that she'll actually do that today. Most likely, she'll go into the woods and hide for a few hours, and I don't blame her. I'm not one to run and hide when things get complicated, but since I'm standing here at Haymitch's front door, one thing is certain: I need to talk it out.

I reluctantly knock and immediately regret doing so. What if he was asleep? Haymitch doesn't sleep any better than Katniss and I do; if I wake him I'm in big trouble. I'm slowly backing away from the door, hoping that I can turn around and go back where I came from to avoid Haymitch's knife when I hear commotion on the other side.

"What do you want?" Haymitch's voice leaks out from the closed door. There's more commotion and the sound of empty bottles clanging together as he makes his way towards the front door.

"I'm sorry, Haymitch. I didn't wake you, did I?" I call out, sounding louder than I'd ever want to be at this time of the morning. The door flies open and I'm met with an angry looking Haymitch. He doesn't look like he's been sleeping, but he looks perturbed nonetheless.

"No you didn't wake me, but who knocks on someone's door this early?" Haymitch asks. Irritation is present in his voice and he's staring at me, waiting for a quick answer.

"I just need to talk." I force out. "About… stuff." I can't get anything more than that out right now. Not while I'm still outside. I see Haymitch's face soften a bit. He may be tactless and rude, but he also has become some sort of father figure to me, and he knows that there's nobody else for me to confide in.

"I'm going to need some nourishment before I tackle any difficult topics today, kid." This is his way of apologizing for being so short with me. He knows that I wouldn't have come over this early if it weren't something important to me.

"Come over to my house. I don't have much, but I can fix you some breakfast." I tell him. He shrugs and nods and we walk over to my place in silence. "Have a seat, how about some milk?" He laughs at that and pulls a flask from his pocket and takes a swig.

I make him a quick breakfast of toast and eggs, and I still pour him a glass of milk, just in case he wants a switch. After I set the plate in front of him, I shrug, feeling sheepish, "It's the best I can do." I explain. When he digs in without a sarcastic retort, I know he is content.

It takes him a few minutes, but when half of the food is gone he looks up from the plate and finally speaks. "So, what's wrong? I don't see Katniss around, so I assume this is about her."

"Well, it's about… us." I explain. "Or, what's happening with us." Haymitch sighs at this, he knows what I'm trying to say and I know he won't answer me until I spit it all out. "Last night, we sort of slept together."

"You sleep together every night, boy. Tell me something I don't know." Haymitch answers, finally noticing the glass of milk I set in front of him and rolling his eyes.

"No, I mean really slept together. You know…" Why can't I talk today?

"Oh." Is all Haymitch can say when he realizes what I'm getting at, "Well how do you sort of do that?" he questions.

"Okay, we didn't sort of sleep together. We did sleep together. We went to bed the same as any other night and she woke up having a nightmare, so I was trying to calm her down and it happened. I don't know what came over us, but she got up so early this morning and left to go to the woods. I don't know if we should have let this happen. She probably hates me now and we were just starting to connect again. Why didn't I just stop it?" I can't stop the words now; the flood gates have been opened.

"Whoa, whoa… slow down!" Haymitch stops me. "And this is really the first time anything like this has happened?" He questions now, suspicious.

"I swear, Haymitch. I never get into bed with her with anything on my mind other than sleeping next to her." I explain. I can tell he doesn't believe me. "I mean it." I stare at him now, not blinking. How can he not believe me? Why would I come to him today if something had happened before this?

"I'm just thinking, calm down." He says when he notices I'm trying to convince him I'm telling the truth. "So, what's the problem?"

"I think she hates me." I reiterate. "She left so fast this morning."

"What did she say to you?" Haymitch asks. By this point, he knows Katniss as well as I do, sometimes maybe even more since they're so much alike.

"She just said she was going hunting, and then she left." I explain.

"Anything else?" Haymitch asks.

"I was half asleep, Haymitch." I explain.

"Think!" He's yelling now, clearly frustrated with me. "If you're so worried she hates you now, you need to think, Peeta. Was there anything else?" His voice is calmer now. Why do the two people I am closest to have the shortest tempers?

"I don't know…" I say, trying as hard as I can to remember anything else. Suddenly it hits me, "She was smiling."

"Katniss Everdeen was smiling? Well, boy, sounds like you did just fine." Haymitch says with a laugh. I groan and cover my face.

"This is new to me Haymitch; please don't make me any more uncomfortable than I already am. I'm not exactly thrilled having to talk to you about this." I grab his untouched glass of milk from in front of him and drink half of it. My mouth has suddenly gotten very dry and the air in the room felt thick.

"Well excuse me, Lover Boy." Haymitch says, putting his hands up defensively.

"Don't call me that!" I snap. "That's what The Careers called me."

"Right, I'm sorry. Peeta." He replies. I think he's still scared that I'll slip into a flashback when he says certain things, so this slip up has him momentarily walking on eggshells, careful of what to say next. Nobody is ever sure of what will set me off. Not even me.

"It's fine. I'm fine." I tell him, trying to steer the conversation back to where it needs to be. "My father had the sex talk with me when I was 13, but a hypothetical situation when you're 13 is a lot different when you're in the middle of the real thing at 18, and it's not like I can go and talk to him about it now. My brothers were nothing short of worthless. They'd tell me things and when I would ask my dad it turned out they were just lying to me. I don't know if she liked it or how I get her to like it? I feel so stupid." I stop myself before I am the culprit of inducing a flashback. When I look up, Haymitch is looking at me like I'm a lost dog that just wandered into town.

"Alright," Haymitch sighs. "I don't want this to get uncomfortable for either one of us, but it probably will. I don't want to hear anything more than I need to know, but there are things that I think you need to hear. So, why don't we agree to be as discreet as we can here?" I'm not exactly sure what he's getting at, but I nod and agree with his suggestion. "I'm not normally one to take this sort of thing very seriously. Jokes are my way, but I'll give you this one and not make fun of you." His eyes grow serious now as he continues to speak, "You two have been through enough these last 3 years that it's no wonder you're partially clueless as to where to go from here. I do know how important this is to you, Peeta." I know that, but hearing him say it means a lot to me. It's not every day that Haymitch will reveal his motives.

"Thank you, Haymitch. I just don't want to ruin this. I don't want her to ever think that this is the only reason I've stuck around. I want to make her as happy as she can possibly be now and I don't want the introduction of sex in our relationship to become something that completely tears us apart." Haymitch nods and sits up straighter in his chair, putting his flask back in his pocket and for the first time, devoting his attention to me completely.

"The first thing you have to remember is that you're not normal teenagers." Haymitch starts. "The second thing you have to remember is that even though mentally, you're not normal teenagers, physically, you are. There are hormones, there are desires, and things like this will happen. Let's just appreciate that Katniss smiled this morning; not only because of what it could possibly mean for you two, but simply because she's smiling."

Haymitch has transformed into the person that I only saw once before. It was the night before my first interview with Ceaser Flickerman, when I confessed to him that I was in love with Katniss. At first I thought that The Capitol had kidnapped the real Haymitch and replaced him with an imposter. He was genuine and understanding and so very wise. That's when I knew I could trust Haymitch. It's when I knew that even if he didn't show it on the outside; he knew a lot. We have had many conversations where his sarcastic remarks and exasperated looks weren't present, but this is different. It's fatherly; something I've missed since my family was killed.

"I'm going to ask you some questions. I don't really want to because it's not something that I want to think about with you two, but who else is going to help you?" His words are laced with discomfort and it scares me. What is he planning to ask me? Is it really worth putting us both is such an awkward situation?

"You don't have to do this if you don't want to, Haymitch. I'm sure I can figure it out." I say. Maybe I don't want to add this new dynamic to whatever it is we have. Friendship? Irrevocable bond?

"Trust me, kid. With a woman like Katniss you want to keep that smile on her face. I can't hold your hand and I don't want to, but I can give you some pointers." Suddenly I'm wondering if I want pointers from Haymitch. He seems to be able to read this on my face. "I had a girl once." He begins, "before I went into the arena. Beautiful girl, but the complete opposite of Katniss; we had our fun. I do know a thing or two even if you don't want to believe it."

I feel like I've been scolded and the only thing I can do is mutter an apology before asking my first question. "If your girl wasn't like Katniss, how are you going to help me keep her smiling?" I think it's a valid question, but Haymitch seems to disagree.

"Women are women. It's not about what you do, but how you do it. I'd tell you to talk to Katniss and ask her what she likes, but I doubt she has any idea. This is my first piece of advice for you. Find out." You would think the word "How?" was written across my forehead, because Haymitch has my answer before the words were ever out of my mouth. "This is where it gets uncomfortable. Just answer my questions, ok?" I nod. "Did she finish?"

"Haymitch…" I give him a look, but then remember what he said. This would be uncomfortable. I'm not quite sure that uncomfortable is the word for it, but it's in the running. I take a deep breath, ready to answer whatever Haymitch asks and maybe even ask a few questions myself if I can get them to come out without fearing Katniss will hear us talking about our brand new sex life all the way from the woods. "I don't know."

"You don't know." Haymitch repeats. He mimics my deep breath now and stands up. This can't possibly be good. He begins to pace and I realize that he's waiting for me to speak.

"How do I know?" I ask. It seems like the obvious thing to ask, but when Haymitch cringes I know he was hoping I wouldn't ask.

"You'll feel it." Is all he offers; he spits it out quickly. When I don't answer him, he finally continues. "When you're… when you two are… having…" he's struggling.

"When I'm inside her?" I ask abruptly. Haymitch immediately turns his back to me and puts his head in his hands. This is definitely more difficult than I expected it to be.

"Yes, Peeta. Exactly." His back is still turned, but he continues. "If she is having an… if she…"

"Has an orgasm?" I offer.

"DAMMIT, PEETA!" Haymitch yells.

"I'm sorry! I thought I was helping. How am I supposed to understand what you're trying to tell me if you can't even get the words out?" I know he doesn't want to think about us having sex, and I don't blame him. I wouldn't want to be forced to think about him having sex with anyone either, but if he can't even talk then how is he supposed to help me? "Maybe you should finish what's in your flask." I suggest, hoping more liquor will make things less horrific for him.

He takes my advice a grabs the flask from his pocket and finishes what was left in there with one long gulp. Turning back around, he finally looks at me again. "Now, what was I saying? When she isclimaxing," he emphasizes the word as though it's much more proper to use in this conversation. "You will be able to feel it. I'm not going to draw it out for you, but pay attention next time. When you feel that, you know you've done your job. If you can't do that, then don't bother at all. You'll want to listen to her too, she may get loud or her breathing will change. Everyone is different. Let's assume that based on her smile this morning, you did what you were supposed to do."

I'm nodding, mentally taking notes for later, or what I hope will be happening later. I won't tell Haymitch this, but I loved it. I wish I were still in bed with her now continuing where we left off. "So listen to her and feel for a climax." I repeat, emphasizing the word to mock him. Seeing Haymitch this uncomfortable is actually helping me stay relaxed.

"Now, pay attention, this is where the real advice starts." Haymitch says, finally calming down enough to sit back down. The last of his liquor from the flask must be settling in. I wonder if I should offer to grab him one of the backup bottles I keep for him under the sink when he begins to speak again. "The most important thing for both of you to worry about right now is learning. Sex is instinctual, but everyone likes different things. It's up to the two of you to find out what you like. You have to learn about her, she has to learn about you and you both have to learn about yourselves."

I think I understand what he's saying to me now. He's looking more relaxed by the second. That last bit of liquor was just enough to keep him on the right track but calm him down at the same time; I figure now is the time to pull out all the stops and see what he thinks of what my mind has done with his words. "So, I've learned a fair bit about myself over the years by… masturbating." I say the word slowly to gauge his reaction, but he simply nods.

"As most boys do," He says. "Let's be honest here and say that you've probably got the one up on Katniss in that department, but don't take that to heart and be patient with her. She's shut off…"

"Turn her on." I say suddenly, thinking out loud.

Haymitch begins clapping slowly as he gets up from his chair once again. "Poetic," he says sarcastically. "One minute, I'm just going to help myself to one of those bottles of booze under your sink." I never told him they were there, but he figured it out. He always figures it out. He opens the bottle in record time and takes a swig, walking back over to the table he sits down and sets the bottle down loudly. "And here I thought I would get through this without a drink. Thanks for the suggestion." He tips an imaginary hat in my direction and takes one more sip. "So, continue…" he says.

What was I saying? He can't possibly be talking about turning Katniss on, so I back my brain up a little more and think; masturbation. "If I learned about myself by masturbating than wouldn't it be safe to assume that Katniss can do the same?" I ask.

"You're right. And you can learn too." He adds. This is much easier with booze and I'm not even the one drinking it. "Here's a suggestion and don't punch me for talking about your girl this way, I'm simply trying to help, I don't like myself talking this way about her any more than you do. Have her do it while you watch her." He says, nodding. I think he's nodding more to himself as congratulations for actually getting a full sentence out without stuttering.

The idea of watching Katniss masturbate causes all kinds of heat to surge through my body. "How will that help me if she's doing all the work though?" My question is clearly one of innocence and Haymitch's face tells me so.

"Just let her go, but never take your eyes off what she's doing. She's going to be learning about what she likes at the same time you are, so learn together. It's a hell of a lot more fun than doing it alone, trust me." I cringe at that and now I know how he feels having to acknowledge things about someone you didn't want to. "Do the same for her. Show her how you do it, show her what you like. It's the only way you will succeed."

"Maybe I'll get to do it for her." I say, not realizing I'm speaking out loud. Haymitch's loud laugh brings me back to reality.

"Get that look out of your eyes; wait for her to get back from the woods first." He laughs again, the liquor is making this more amusing for him, but I'm not mad; I'm glad that he's talking to me about this. I hope that he knows how much I appreciate it.

"What about protection?" I suddenly blurt out. "I have no idea where to get anything."

Haymitch's face drops at this very valid concern. "Tell you what; tonight focus on what I was telling you about and by tomorrow I'll have an answer for you."

"Do you want money?" I ask. I remember the talk around the District; most families couldn't afford to buy birth control. They couldn't even afford to eat. Haymitch declines my offer.

"Don't worry about that. I'm going to do this for you once and then after that it's up to you, but I want to make sure I know where you can go. I'm not going to send you all over the District looking around for condoms, because that'll get back to Katniss in a hurry and then she'll know that all of District 12 knows what you two get up to in your bed." Haymitch explains. It makes sense; I've never done this before and it appears that Haymitch has, so any help he is willing to give is help I am grateful for.

"Thanks, Haymitch." I say. "I mean it."

"Don't mention it, kid." There's a small smirk on his face. "She does love you. She has for a while." He says. I'm not sure where this came from, but I don't plan to waste an opportunity.

"What makes you say that?" I ask, not trying to look like I doubt him too much.

"Let's just say there was a lot that you missed over the last year or so between the Quarter Quell and your time being Hijacked. See this mark right here?" He's pointing to a light scar on the left side of his face. "It's from your girl. She gave it to me when she found out the Capitol had you. So you can say that I've got a token of her love for you stuck with me forever now." He laughs a little at his attempt at a joke and I can't help but smile too. I never knew Katniss attacked Haymitch.

"She told me she did last night." I confess.

"Well it's about damn time." Haymitch says with a smile. He looks proud and I realize that this is something he has known all along; even when Katniss doubted it, when President Snow doubted it, and most of all, when I doubted it.

"What if she wants to have sex tonight?" I ask. I know she doesn't want to get pregnant and at this point I don't want to get her pregnant, but the risk didn't seem to matter to her last night and I wonder if the same would happen tonight.

"Exhaust her." Haymitch replies simply. "Don't put the idea of her getting pregnant in her head or you may never get laid again, so just distract her with other things." When he sees the questioning look on my face he has an equally simple answer. "Use your imagination. You're a teenage boy, I trust you have one. I'm going to leave it at that right now, I don't want to overwhelm you, and by you I mean her. Maybe she'll surprise you, but don't hold her hand. Let her explore."

"Everything?" I ask.

"Everything." He repeats. I nod. "And don't worry, I won't tell her what we talked about. As far as I'm concerned I'm a clueless old man that thinks you two will die virgins."

"Thanks once again." I reply. Suddenly there's a knock on the door and we both know that it can only be one person. "Come in," I say and the door slowly opens and Katniss peeks her head in the door.

"Peeta?" she says, walking into the house.

"I'm right here," I say from the table. "How was hunting?"

"Fine. Still not a whole lot out there. Why are you guys here?" she asks, realizing Haymitch is here too.

"I fixed Haymitch some breakfast." I explain. It's not a lie; I just didn't tell her everything.

"And thanks for that, kid." Haymitch says, getting up from his seat once again. "I'm going to head back to my place and check on those geese. Mating season has started, you know." The joke hangs in the air for a second before he gives me a smug smile and walks to the door. "See you kids later." He calls out as he closes the door behind him. I notice he didn't look at Katniss once. I suddenly feel bad that I made him talk about her that way; if he's like a father to me then she must be like a daughter to him. I have to remember to apologize to him for that as soon as I can.

The silence in the house is deafening and I feel that I have to say something, anything. I just don't know where to even begin. Do I avoid mentioning last night or does she want to talk about it and that's why she's not moving or talking right now? I decide to start simple. "Are you hungry? I have enough left for one more plate of food."

She nods but stays rooted to the spot, looking at her feet. "Are you going to have some?" she asks. Her voice is so low and I can't help but feel like it's my fault she's acting this way. Haymitch said her smile this morning was a good thing, but the way she is acting right now, like she hardly knows me, doesn't reassure me that he is right this time.

"Come sit down, Katniss. I'm not hungry right now." I remove Haymitch's empty plate and replace it with a clean one and pull out the chair for her. She sits and I push the chair in. I so badly want to touch her and tell her things will be alright, but I'm afraid that she'll think the worst of me. Her moods are still so unpredictable and I understand how others feel not knowing what to say to me for fear of inducing a flashback. Neither of us are stable, and I'm back to wondering if last night was a good idea. I push the chair in for her and walk back over the stove to cook the last two eggs that I have in my house. I don't keep a lot of food in here because I don't normally stay here; I'm always with Katniss.

Once the eggs are done I scoop them into her plate and sit across from her at the table just as I did when Haymitch was here. I let her eat, but vow to bring up last night when she's done. We sit in complete uncomfortable silence as she eats; after she finishes her last bite, I take a deep breath in preparation for this conversation.

"Last night…" Katniss says softly. "I don't regret it." She's looking down into her plate as she waits for me to answer her.

"I don't either." I reply. She looks up at me finally and I'm surprised to see that smile on her face again, the same one from this morning that I almost let my sleep addled brain forget. "You don't have to be so quiet, Katniss. Talk to me." I urge. "After all, we're in love, aren't we?" I let myself smile now at the thought of it. No more games, no more convincing; we're in love, and Katniss loves me back not because she's told to, but because she truly does.

"We can't do that again." She says finally. My smile quickly drops. "Not until we do something to make sure I don't get pregnant."

My smile is bigger now when I realize what she's saying. I nod in agreement; I certainly can't say that Haymitch is already going to take care of that for us, but there is something that I can say, "So… you want to do it again? When we've got protection?" I ask. My voice sounds more like an unsure child's than my own, and I clear my throat hoping it'll rid my voice of any sounds of naivety.

She simply nods at me, giving me that smile once again. "Do you?" she asks. Her voice has the same tone as mine did just before and then I don't feel so bad. We're both new to this and we'll learn together, just like Haymitch said.

"Of course I do, Katniss." The words are out before I can think of how I just said it. "You have to know though," I start, attempting a recovery, "I never planned for this. When I started sleeping in your bed again that's all I wanted to do. I wanted to be near you and I wanted to help you; protect you from the nightmares. I don't want you to think that I had intentions beyond that." I explain, hoping she believes me.

"I don't think that, Peeta. I wanted to protect you too." We sit in silence again for a few minutes before Katniss speaks up again. "Do you want to go upstairs?" is she really suggesting what I think she's suggesting?

I stand up from my spot at the table and walk over to her; she's look at me now, still seated. "Let's go upstairs." I say. The naïve tone in my voice is replaced now with a darker one, and I see Katniss take a deep breathe in when she hears it. I put my hand out to her and she takes it, rising from her seat and following behind me across the kitchen and up the stairs to my room, never letting go of my hand once.

As soon as we're in my room she drops my hand and is in front of me, grabbing the hem of my shirt and pulling it over my head. She knows we can't have sex right now, so why is she doing this? I keep remembering what Haymitch told me and decide that now is as good a time as any to introduce his suggestions to Katniss. I look at her staring at me; she has a look in her eyes that could rival the dark tone of my voice earlier. "Katniss, can you trust me?" I ask.

"I trust you, Peeta." She answers, never taking her eyes off of me. It's something I need to hear more since my Hijacking, just to know that even after that, she still trusts me.

"Good." I say. "We can't have sex right now, you said it yourself." Her shoulders deflate when I say this and I'm surprised to see that she's genuinely disappointed. Last night brought forth an entirely new side to Katniss and I think I'm going to have fun learning all about her. "We can do other things though." I suggest. I really hope she goes for this. "Katniss, have you ever touched yourself when you are alone?"

She's silent for a moment and I fear what her answer will be. Just when I think she's going to storm out, she speaks. "Only a few times." She confesses.

"Do you think you could show me?" I ask gently. I don't want to sound demanding, but I want to let her know that I do have plans. She's silent again but doesn't look mad. She looks shocked that I'd want to see that, so I continue. "I want to see what you like, Katniss. Where you like to be touched, what turns you on…" I stop before I say the final thing that's on my mind. I don't want to push the boundaries too far, but then I decide that I'll never find out how far I can push the boundaries if I never start in the first place, so I finish my thought, "I want to see what makes you come."

Katniss visibly shudders at this and I take it as a good sign. Within a few seconds she's taking off her hunting jacket and removing her boots. Then, she closes the space between us, and for the first time since last night, we kiss. There's a heat behind it that's even more intense than it has ever been and my hands find themselves pulling up Katniss' shirt over her head quickly. I break the kiss and go over the mental notes from my conversation with Haymitch. Learn about her body. The room is lighter than it was last night and I take the opportunity to appreciate Katniss standing in front of me in her bra and pants. She looks apprehensive, knowing that in this light I can see the full nature of the scarring on her upper body. "Beautiful," I mutter, not realizing I said it loud enough for her to hear. I step forward again and get close to her ear and then I whisper, "You're beautiful, Katniss."

She shudders again and moves to my left ear before she whispers back to me, "So are you." Her lips graze my earlobe as she whispers and I feel a sensation that can only be described as electric jolt from my ear down to my groin. We've barely even done anything yet and I'm already getting hard. Here's my opportunity to begin to show Katniss what I like too.

"I want to show you how I touch myself too, Katniss." I'm still whispering though I'm not sure why. I take my pants off and throw them down next to my shirt, "Your turn." I instruct, pointing to her pants. She slowly moves her hand to the top of her pants and begins to remove them slowly. "Don't be scared, Katniss. We're doing this together. I love you." Her head shoots up to look at me after I say it, and then I realize; this is the first time I've ever said that to her that way. It was never a secret that I was in love with her from the beginning, but even after 3 years of being near her, I never said it in those words.

She has a look now that is a mixture of the dark look she had earlier and a softer look that I can't put my finger on. She opens her mouth to speak but stops and takes a deep breath before trying again. "I love you, too." She finally manages to say. She sounds as though by saying it out loud that way that she's finally realizing the truth of it.

Hearing her say that sends me over the edge and suddenly our lips come together with a force that knocks Katniss off balance. To keep her from falling over I pick her up and lead her to my bed and lay her down. She hasn't gotten her pants off yet, so I take them and pull them off her, dropping them with a loud thud on the floor right next to me, and her underwear quickly follows. As I'm taking off the last of my clothing, Katniss reaches up and removes her bra, flinging it to the side.

Then, I'm on top of her. I push my tongue into her mouth and she responds eagerly, returning my kisses with fervor. "Touch yourself, Katniss." I tell her through open mouthed kisses. "Show me."

I feel her remove her hand from the back of my neck so I stop kissing her. I want to see everything; I push myself off her now so she can have room. I'm kneeling in front of her as she slowly begins to touch herself. She starts out gently rubbing the tips of her fingers in circles, taking quick intakes of breath when it seems like she's hitting a spot beyond her folds that excites her.

"Peeta," she moans. I feel myself twitch again. Suddenly, Katniss stops, sits up on her elbows and looks at me and then at my erection. I feel stupid sitting here on my knees in the middle of the bed naked with my erection pointing at nothing but the ceiling and my hands down at my sides. "It's your turn," Katniss interrupts. "Show me now."

I'm grateful for her suggestion and I quickly take my right hand and wrap it around myself. I look up at Katniss and she's looking at it with a fascination that makes me want to take her right then and there, but I have to focus on the task and show Katniss what I'm doing. I begin to move my hand up and down my shaft while I stare at Katniss. A small moan escapes my lips and it seems to break Katniss out of the trance that she was in watching me.

She surprises me by speaking. "How does it feel?" She asks. The one that barely speaks is the one to ask the questions here.

Even her interest in how this feels for me turns me on, so I speed up a little before I answer her. "So good," I choke out, "So, so good." I see her moving her hand back down to resume her task, but this time she places her fingers just beyond her folds and begins the same circular motions as before.

She lets out a hiss as she does this. "This feels good too," she moans now "Right… here." I watch as she continues the same motion, letting out small sounds as she does. I've never seen anything so amazing. She stops again and takes her hand away. She's back to watching me now.

I make sure she notices that I've moved my hand up to gather the pre-come that has started to leak from my head. Her eyes widen at this and I see her crack the tiniest smile as she continues to watch me work. I'm moving slowly again, helping to ensure that I don't finish too soon. I'm not ready for this to end.

"Can I?" Katniss asks, sitting up but not taking her eyes off what I'm doing. "Can I help?" She's different when we're like this; I like it.

I stop what I'm doing and remove my hand, moving it towards her. She's watching me intently as I grab her hand and lace our fingers together. We look at each other, not moving, and I give her a small nod as I move our hands toward my erection. As we get closer I can feel her arm tensing up and I stop. "It's ok," I tell her. "It's ok." I hope that repeating it will help her relax. I let go of her hand and grip myself once more then look into her eyes. "Watch me." I instruct. Once again, I move my hand up and down slowly as I did before but only a few times, just so she can see again. I grab her hand again and bring it closer towards me silently and place it on my shaft, taking my other hand and closing her fingers around me, so now I have both of my hands on each side of her one hand to secure her.

I can't help but moan at the feeling of it. Her hand feels so different from my own; it's smaller, her skin feels different and my mind is in overdrive at the reality that Katniss Everdeen is touching me like this. Slowly I take my hands that are still covering her hand and begin to move them up and down in the same motion that I was showing her earlier. Neither one of us speaks; the only sounds are my moans and her breathing. I look up at her and smile; she returns it and it seems like just something as simple as a smile has given her a new confidence when she takes her other hand and puts her thumb to my head and begins to swirl my pre-come around the same way she saw me do it. Involuntarily, I drop my hands from hers but she doesn't stop. She keeps going, placing her other hand on my shaft above the one that was already there. Now, she has both hands working on me and she's moving faster than we were together.

I know I can't last much longer; between what's happening, who it's happening with and my inexperience, I haven't quite mastered the art of lasting very long yet. I decide to finally break our silence. "I'm almost there." I tell her, and I notice her eyes widen and she slows her place. I can't help but smile at her then. "Don't be scared, it's what supposed to happen."

"I know that." She says sounding slightly offended.

"Then do it, Katniss. Make me come." I order. Now it's my turn to look scared, because I don't know where that came from and I'm expecting her to stop all together, but to my surprise this seems to encourage her. It almost seems as though she liked it when I told her what to do. She increases her pace once again and for her first time doing this, she isn't half bad. My mind slips off into thinking about how good she can eventually become with practice and all of the other things that we can possibly do in the future when I feel her thumb brush back over my head again and I gasp loudly as I'm brought back to the present with Katniss sitting in front of me, both hands working me to completion.

When I feel that familiar sensation that tells me there's no going back, I know that I need to warn her. "Katniss…" is all I can manage to say before I'm pushed off the edge and her hands are covered with my come. When I finally catch my breath and begin to focus again I see that's she is sitting there; hands dirty, not sure what to do. "I'm so sorry; I tried to warn you in time so you could move your hands." I apologize.

She shakes her head at me. "It's ok… I just don't know what to do now." She laughs a little and I laugh with her knowing that she's never had to clean up like this before.

I look around the room for something for her, but all I can find are our clothes on the floor. "Use my shirt." I tell her, jumping off the bed and quickly grabbing it for her. She watches me the entire way then gives me a nod of thanks when I hand her the shirt and she wipes her hands off. "Remind me not to put that back one back on." I say and she laughs.

It's so good to see her laughing again. I lean in and kiss her, cupping her cheek with my hand. "It's your turn now." I tell her when I pull away. "Touch yourself some more. I want to watch you." I move back and sit in front of her, ready to watch and learn as much as I can. She goes right back to the now familiar circular motion that I saw her doing before, but this time she stops pretty quickly and inserts a finger into herself then quickly adds a second. She's moaning now as she takes her other hand and resumes the circular pattern; then she stops again. I look up at her and she's eyeing me with a look that's so intense I could feel it in my bones.

"Touch me, Peeta." She murmurs as she grabs my hand and brings it toward her. "Do for me what I did for you." The way she worded it makes me smile and I wonder if she can't quite find it in her to say the word "come" yet.

"Only if you're sure," I tell her. "I want you to be completely comfortable." She says nothing in response to that but keeps moving my hand closer to her middle, until finally it's there.

She's still holding my hand as she grabs my pointer and middle fingers and guides them inside her. She gasps as she does it and whispers "Your fingers are bigger than mine." I hope I'm not hurting her too badly, she's only had sex once and I'm sure that she's sore from that in addition to not being used to anything but her own fingers. "Should we stop?" I ask her.

"No!" she shakes her head quickly and pushes my fingers in even further. It's so wet and so warm; it brings me back to last night when I entered her for the first time and I smile to myself at the memory. I hope Haymitch can find condoms soon because that's where I want to be again as soon as I can. Katniss is reaching for my other hand now, and I give it to her willingly. She leaves my fingers to work on her and she guides by other hand to the top of her middle. "Touch me here." She says as she once again takes my fingers and places them on the spot she kept touching when I was watching her. "Be gentle."

I do as I'm told and have to stop myself from laughing. It seems that she knows a little more than Haymitch gave her credit for. I move my fingers in the same circular motion I watched her doing and I can feel now what I'm touching. I instantly remember the conversation with my father about this spot on a woman and I feel like I've just struck gold.

"Just like that, Peeta. Don't stop." She tells me. I love when she uses my name when we're intimate. Even though this is only the second time we've done anything like this, I already know that it's something I'm going to enjoy more and more. I find a good rhythm and keep with it as I pay attention to her breathing like Haymitch told me to. The longer I work on her, the quicker her breathing becomes until eventually she's squirming underneath my hands; then I feel it. Her inner walls are contracting around my fingers and she's moaning in a tone that I've never heard before. This is what Haymitch meant, I know now without a shadow of a doubt.

I pull my fingers out and they're coated with her juices. She's offering my shirt to me to clean up, but I have a different idea. "I want to taste you," I tell her. "I bet you taste amazing." Then I put my fingers in my mouth and suck them clean while she watches. I nod. "I was right. Amazing."

She looks embarrassed when I say this, but pleased at the same time. "Take a nap with me?" she asks innocently.

"Of course," I answer, smiling widely and getting under the covers next to her. "Are we always going to be sleeping naked now?" I ask.

"Maybe." She answers with a grin in her voice, and I wonder how long this will last. I love to see her smiling and hearing her laugh, I've missed it, but most of all I think I've missed hearing her remarks that are always slightly sarcastic. "Goodnight, Katniss." I tell her, cuddling up behind her and draping my arm around her stomach.

"Goodnight, Peeta." She answers with a yawn.

We say nothing more and within minutes I can feel Katniss' breathing even out and she's asleep. I finally allow myself to rest easy with a note to remember to thank Haymitch for the advice the next time I see him.

Chapter Text

The sun is unrelenting today; it's beating down on the tops of our heads as we work outside on the garden. We started this garden the summer after we returned to District 12, and since then it's become our pride and joy. We were never able to get seeds for planting before the war, but that's all changed now. In late winter, we put in an order for what seeds we'd like to plant that year and The Capitol fulfills our request, sending over our seeds on the weekly train that brings goods to each of the districts. Word is that they'd like to set up a system that allows each district to have a market for these things where each district contributes to the supply of every market around Panem. They say it will create jobs that pay and change the flow of what they call "the economy". Everything used to go straight to The Capitol, but now the new government wants to give everyone access to goods and services right in their district, the way our ancestors did.

Katniss is leery about this. She thinks anything that our ancestors did couldn't have been good considering what became of them, but I think it'll be something we should try to embrace. It'll feel good to not have to rely on The Capitol for the first time in our lives.

We've been back in District 12 for four years now, and things are slowly but surely coming together. I re-opened the bakery two years ago and it's doing better than it ever was when my family ran it. This of course is most likely due to the changes after the war, but I also like to think that I'm a good businessman. It's not the family run bakery that it used to be, but we've got a great team working there, and I'm at a point where I can finally take the weekends off. In the beginning I worked 7 days a week in order to rebuild the customer base not only with the old residents of District 12, but with the new ones that migrated here after the war.

We spend most of our weekends out here working on the garden in the spring and summer. It's relaxing for both of us. Katniss does most of her hunting during the week and brings home enough game so that she doesn't have to spend time hunting on my days away from the bakery; the weekends have become our time.

Hot days like this one always remind me of one thing; Reaping Day. It wasn't long ago that the children of District 12 would line up on a day just like today and wait to see which of their friends would be sent off to die while hoping they don't end up being that unlucky friend themselves. For Katniss and me, reminders of Reaping Days have an even more significant meaning, and we try our best to keep our minds from going there; the garden is one way we can accomplish that.

We've been out here for several hours now, taking small breaks for water and shade so we don't dehydrate. The only part of the garden that isn't food is the Primrose bushes I planted when I came back to District 12. Everything else that we grow, we eat. Now, instead of only having bread and a squirrel, we can have a salad and a side of fresh vegetables. We have actual full course meals that we both contributed to in different ways. It's rewarding in a way we never knew growing up and gives us even less reason to depend on The Capitol beyond the shipment of seeds they give us every year.

"Do you want to steam some carrots tonight?" I ask Katniss. We're finally finished for the day and the last thing left to do is decide what we're going to pick to bring in for dinner tonight.

"Can you make that glaze for them again?" Katniss answers from across the garden. I can see her just barely through the growth of the plants. I want to laugh, because even though all I can see is one eye and the side of her mouth I can tell she's trying very hard not to seem too excited about the idea of glazed carrots. I made them once as an experiment and she had three helpings. I think she's been waiting ever since for me to bring up having carrots again so she can request the glaze.

I nod at her and smile, "I can do that." Walking over to the row that houses the carrots, I pull a few and place them in the basket, along with the lettuce and tomatoes we put in there earlier and then set the basket by the front door.

"Is the garden club finally finished for the day?" Haymitch calls out. He's standing in his front door, leaning up against the door frame. I can't decide if he's leaning on it to look even more self-satisfied than he already is, or if it's the only way he can stand up without falling over in a drunken stupor.

"Don't stay in the sun too long, you'll sweat alcohol and burst into flames." Katniss retorts walking over to stand next to me and stare across the way at Haymitch's hourly show. He's been out here to pester us every hour on the hour since we started working out here.

"Oh don't you worry about me, Sweetheart," Haymitch slurs. "My skin is flame retardant." He laughs at his joke, salutes us with his half empty bottle of liquor and retreats back into his house, leaving me and Katniss standing there, staring at his now closed door.

Katniss shrugs, turns, and begins walking towards the house, grabbing the basket with our dinner items. I stand behind for a minute, contemplating if I should go to Haymitch's and offer him a dinner invitation, but I decide against it.

As soon as I walk into the house I know that I can't make or eat dinner until I clean up. Going from the heat outside, to the cool inside makes me notice just how much I was sweating today and every inch of my body feels like it's covered in a layer of dirt. "I feel disgusting; I think I'm going to need a shower before I start on dinner."

"I need one too, but you can go first. I'll clean and chop the carrots while you're in there." Katniss likes to make a regimen even out of the simplest things, so I'm not surprised to hear that she's worked out a system to get us showered, fresh, and ready to start dinner without worrying about the prep. I think it's a method that has become ingrained in her brain after relying so heavily on routine in our early days back in District 12. She's come such a long way since then, but old habits die hard and there are still moments where she'll want to create a list or plan things down to the minute.

I give a slight nod, letting her know that I have heard and understood her plans and walk upstairs to our bedroom to find some clean clothes. When I hear the bedroom door close loudly behind me, I initially think that a cross-breeze from the open windows in here pushed it shut. When I turn around and see Katniss standing in front of the door, I'm surprised. I thought she was cleaning and chopping our carrots?

"What's wrong?" It's the only thing I can think of to say. Why else would she be up here? Something must have happened. I take a step closer to see if I can read her face, but the only thing I can see in her eyes in something I wasn't expecting to see right now; desire. I'm familiar with this look and I've seen it a lot over the last four years, but to see it right now catches me off guard.

"Nothing…" It's a simple reply. A typical one word Katniss type answer, but I know she's up here for a reason. "Don't shower yet." She adds.

"Are you sure? I'm really dirty." I say, emphasizing the word dirty. If she's up here for the reason I think she is, the emphasis won't be lost on her and she won't roll her eyes at me like she normally would.

A small smile crosses her face and she nods at me. If there's one thing about Katniss that people would probably never guess it's how playful and adventurous she can be when it comes to intimacy. I would have never guessed it myself if I hadn't been witness to it the last few years. By discovering this side of Katniss I've also discovered things about myself that I may not have known otherwise. There are versions of us that come out only in the bedroom and right now, I'm standing here trying to figure out which Katniss I've got in front of me.

We never quite know which version of ourselves will show up on any given day, part of the fun is figuring out what the other one wants at that moment and compromising in such a way that we are both satisfied. Some days Katniss doesn't let me move and insists on taking control of everything, other times it has to be slow and full of words that are laced with love and beauty; words that will allow her to cry and feel everything, and other times she wants me to control everything right down to telling her what to do. I didn't anticipate her coming in here like this, but that doesn't mean I won't be a willing participant in whatever she has in mind.

I smile at her, inviting her to move closer to me, but she doesn't. Her head is slightly lowered, but her eyes are looking up at me, and she's breathing so hard that I can see her shoulders moving in rhythm with each breath she takes. Her refusal tells me that today this is my show to run and we'll both get what we want without compromise.

"Come here…" my voice is low, testing the waters to make sure that I picked up on her signals properly. I point my finger to a spot on the floor and when Katniss notices this, she finally lifts her head up completely and begins to walk forward; stopping at the spot my finger is pointed at.

This version of Katniss took a little getting used to. Never did I expect someone like Katniss to ever be in a mood to submit or listen to anybody, but this is where we don't have images to uphold. It's where we can be free to express ourselves in whatever way we are feeling at that moment and Katniss takes this to heart, eager to explore every aspect of love making that she can and I am there right beside her exploring my own secret desires.

She's close enough now that I can touch her, and I don't waste time. It's a simple touch, my pointer finger on the bottom of her chin, tilting her head up and sending a clear message that says "Kiss me." I don't have to tell her, she just knows. Her hands come up to grab my hair and she forces my mouth down to hers, letting me know without words that this is why she came up here and this is what she wants. I keep my hands at my sides, because if I touch her then I'll lose focus on what I'm supposed to be doing. Breaking out of the kiss, I move my head to her ear and whisper, "Do you like being dirty, Katniss?" I hear her exhale loudly and nod against my mouth on her ear. "Good…" I say.

Talking to Katniss like this is always different, and taking control this way wasn't something I initially felt comfortable with, but I eased into it the first time we tried it and I found that I was better suited for it than I had originally thought and I enjoyed it more than I could have ever imagined.

I place a small kiss on her neck under her ear and continue down until I'm at the curve of her neck and shoulder before moving back up to her ear. "How long have you been thinking about this?" I ask her.

"All day…" she replies quickly, her voice cracking at the end of her sentence. There's a heat between us that is familiar and unyielding, and now I know that Katniss felt it even before I did. "Watching you working outside… and sweating…" her voice fades out and she bites her lip. She's offered me more than I anticipated and I have to fight the smile that I can feel creeping up. Now is not the time to smile like a fool in love; this is where the fun begins.

"Did it make you wet?" I move my hand down and rub between her legs. I know this has the desired effect when Katniss lets out a low moan as she nods again, but there is too much in my way. I move my hand back up to the top of her pants and pop the button and pull on the side so the zipper comes down too. "Take your pants off, Katniss. I want to feel how wet you are."

Without a word, Katniss has pulled her pants down and kicked them off to the side, standing back up straight and looking right into my eyes as if to tell me to continue.

I step forward, dip my hand into her underwear and waste no time before I'm pushing two fingers into her and pulling them out just as quickly and give a nod of approval before putting my fingers in my mouth and sucking them clean. She lets out a small groan of protest when she realizes that I've already removed my fingers, but I silence her with a deep kiss that makes her grab my hair again. I begin to walk forward, willing her to move with me and we turn in the direction on the bed before finally pulling out of the kiss. "Sit down…" my words are short, but not forceful, and she sits right down and looks up at me, waiting for my next move.

I lean over slightly, placing my hands at the hem of her shirt and give a quick tug to pull it up and over her head, then push each one of her bra straps down as Katniss unhooks the back of it and takes it off. As she finishes taking her bra off, I rip my own shirt over my head and unbutton my pants and pull the zipper down, stopping so Katniss can notice that I'm waiting for her to finish.

She reaches up and hooks her fingers into the top of both my pants and my boxers and gives a rough pull, taking both garments down in one move and helps me step out of them. She moves back up, dragging her hands over my thighs, stopping when she gets to my hips. She slides off the bed and drops to her knees on the floor before moving her right hand to my dick and taking it in hand. She gives it a few pumps before she moves forward and lowers her mouth over me, moving her hand down to massage my balls. She lets a moan escape and it feels so impossibly good that it sends a jolt through my entire body and I moan in reply. "That feels so good, Katniss." She pulls back and swirls her tongue around the tip before putting her whole mouth back over me again. I can feel myself getting harder and harder in her mouth as she sucks on me.

I take a step back, knowing that if I don't stop her now I won't stop her at all. I grab her under the arms and help her to her feet, then lift her up just enough so that she knows where to go. She jumps up a little, wrapping her legs around my waist and her arms around my neck. I kiss her, walking forward, back toward the bed and when I run into the edge of the bed I drop her down onto the top of it, cover her body with my own and resume kissing her, opening my mouth to let our tongues taste each other.

Even these minimal actions have the sweat forming already and I can feel our bodies sticking where our skin touches. I break the kiss and sit back on my knees, letting my eyes linger before moving back down to take a nipple into my mouth while my right hand comes up and cups the other. I move back up to her ear once more while I move my hand down and begin to rub her through her underwear, the only piece of clothing either one of us has left and I whisper in her ear "Do you want me, Katniss?" she nods, but that isn't enough for me right now. I need to hear her say it. "Then tell me. Tell me you want me."

"I want you, Peeta." She chokes out. As she says this I've moved down and pulled her underwear off and spread her legs.

"Do you want my mouth on you?" I ask, moving down and stopping when my head is between her legs. "Do you want my tongue inside you?" These were things that used to be so hard for me to voice when we first started getting intimate. I always relied on unspoken communication until Katniss, of all people, taught me that it was okay to say what you were thinking even if what I was thinking was something I'd consider to be unromantic; it didn't always have to be the epitome of romantic. While these things aren't the most romantic to say, the connection that we have and the intensity in what we're doing makes them so. I don't talk to just anyone this way; only Katniss. It's that fact that allows me to speak my mind without fear of offending her or sounding like a pig.

"I want your tongue inside me." She's speaking so low I can barely hear her.

"Say it louder."

She reaches down and grabs hold of my hair once again, shifting my head upwards so that we're looking right at each other. "I want your mouth on me, your tongue inside me, and I want you to make me scream."

That's all I need to hear before my mouth is on her middle, gently sucking on the bundle of nerves at the top. She lets out a loud moan now and I briefly wonder if she even realizes or cares that both of the windows in here are wide open and certainly at least half of the Victor's Village is going to hear her. Haymitch has made comments to me before hinting that he's heard us on more than one occasion, and I can only wonder how many others have.

She still hasn't let go of my hair and even though she's gripping so hard that it's beginning to hurt, it's a pain that wills me to keep going; a pain that shoots from the top of my head and stopping at my groin before moving down to the tips of my toes. I pull my mouth away from her before looking back up as she finally removes her hands from my hair. I have to wipe the sweat off my forehead with my arm before I lean back in and this time place my mouth at her opening and use my fingers to rub her nerves.

"Peeta…" hearing her say my name only encourages me to keep going. I speed up my actions until the sounds of her breathing echo throughout the room and she finally reaches the breaking point and she's moaning my name over and over again as she comes. I'm not done though. She said she wanted to scream, so I remove my mouth from her and replace it with my fingers this time, giving her no time to recuperate. When I curl my fingers inside her a few times, I know it won't take long. Within two minutes of her last orgasm, she's coming again, this time with double the intensity and she's moaning louder than I've heard in a long time that I have to wonder if she does realize the windows are opened and it is part of what's got her so turned on.

I finally give her a break after her second orgasm, moving back up to kiss her mouth. We're both covered in a thin sheen of sweat now, and after hearing Katniss have back to back orgasms, my erection is painful. I deepen the kiss, trying to give Katniss time to recover before I start again, but she breaks the kiss and pulls my ear to her mouth.

"Fuck me, Peeta." She growls, giving my earlobe a light bite before she pushes my head away and sits up on her elbows.

I can't take the pain in my groin anymore, but when I hear this I almost jump off her like I've been electrocuted. I move over to the bedside drawer and grab a condom, quickly unwrapped it and placing it on myself as I get situated at the end of the bed in front of Katniss. She scoots down, getting ready for me to move on top of her when I shake my head, grab her hips and flip her over onto her stomach. I move my hands under her stomach and lift her up a bit then position myself under her, then without another thought I plunge into her. I move in and out at a frantic pace, making me sweat even more and I can't keep my grip on her hips anymore, because they keep slipping off

"Up…" is all I can manage to say when I stop thrusting and pull out. Katniss looks at me confused, not sure of what I'm trying to tell her. I'm sitting in the middle of the bed, my legs curled directly underneath me, gasping for air. "Sit on me," I tell her between breaths. "Come sit on my lap." She looks concerned for a moment, knowing that with my legs underneath me like this, my prosthetic will probably start to hurt me when she sits on me. "Do it." I tell her, I'll worry about my legs later.

She climbs up and hovers over me, taking me in her hand and positioning herself just so as she lowers herself onto me then immediately throws her arms over my shoulders, resting her upper arms on them and bringing her hands together at the back of my head.

I have one hand on her lower back and the other on her upper back; it's still slippery from the sweat but I can hold her to me easier this way and we're working in a perfect rhythm. When she moves up, I pull back and then she drives her body back down on mine and I thrust up to meet her. My hair is plastered to my head from sweat and my skin is burning from the heat between us, but I don't stop. When I feel myself finally close to the edge, I grab Katniss' hair and give a gentle pull and she throws her head back, exposing her neck and I can't help but suck on it. She's calling my name again and a few thrusts later I feel her contracting around me once more; that and the knowledge that I made her come three times is all it takes for me to finally come myself; moaning loudly and recklessly.

When we've both come down from our high, I don't want to move. "Do we have to leave this bed?" I ask her. Between the sex and working outside all day, it's all caught up with us; neither one of us has any desire to do anything. It's only then that I realize my head is throbbing. "I just want to go to sleep."

"We're filthy; we can't go to sleep now. Besides, I'm hungry and you promised me glazed carrots." Katniss answers.

"Did I promise? I don't remember promising."

She hits me and finally moves off of me, scooting to the end of the bed. "I don't think either one of us are fit to start dinner without cleaning up first." She adds.

"We can take a shower together," I suggest "You wash my back, I'll wash yours."

She thinks about it a moment before nodding. "No funny business though."

"You should talk about funny business. I'm pretty sure you were the one that came in here with funny business of your own in mind. I was up here to shower."

I love these moments after sex. They're precious and different from conversations we have at any other time. I hear Katniss laugh as she stands up from the bed, taking her hair down as she walks into the bathroom. I follow behind her, a little slower than I normally would be since my leg is hurting, but I won't admit it because then she'll just get worried and feel like it's her fault.

I am dreading seeing Haymitch tomorrow. There's no way he didn't hear us and I'll be the one that has to deal with the teasing, because he'd never bring it up to Katniss. I push that thought to the back of my mind and worry about what I've got here right now. Katniss, waiting for me in the shower.

Chapter Text

It's just after 6pm when I finally make my way up to the front of the bakery. I'm doing my nightly walk around to double check that all the ovens and lights have been turned off so that I can finally go home. I re-opened just over six months ago now, and it's exhausting but fulfilling work. I've been working seven days a week since the grand opening, sometimes from open until close. There are nights when I don't even remember eating dinner I'm so tired, but I keep reminding myself that it'll all pay off in the end.

Re-opening was tough. Not so much the decision to do so or the building and preparation, but the actual work itself. Being back in a bakery after all this time served as a reminder that I was alone in this; my family was gone. I had a lot of flashbacks in those first couple months after opening and I wasn't sure that I would be able to go through with running the place for a while. I was exhausted, running on only a few hours of sleep per-night, and everywhere I looked made me think of my family and the shiny visions would appear of them being killed by Katniss. There was a span of time where Katniss and I hardly saw each other at all. Between working the hours that I did and the flashbacks, I didn't trust myself around her. They were the worst that I'd experienced since leaving The Capitol and I knew the only way not to get sent straight back there would be to stay away from her until I learned how to control these episodes.

What actually solved it in the end was Katniss herself. We hadn't seen each other for over two weeks at that point, and it was misery. Before the bakery opened we spent almost every minute together and now here we were living in separate houses and sleeping in separate beds for the first time in a while. I was busy in the back of the bakery preparing some dough when I heard the bell at the front door ring letting me know that a customer had come in. When I walked up front, I was surprised to see that the customer was Katniss, standing in the lobby of the bakery, looking around at the place like it was the first time she saw it. She looked nervous and unsure and I knew that it was because this wasn't normal for her to visit. Since the opening, she hadn't set foot in here because it would throw her off of her carefully crafted routine that she has set in place to get through her days.

The fact that she was standing there in the middle of the afternoon when I knew that she should have been in the woods at that time made something snap in my brain. I felt logical and calm for the first time in weeks. If Katniss was willing to break her routine to stop in here to see me, I must be pretty important to her. It was that idea, as simple as it was, that helped fight the flashbacks and allow me to see her again after I finished work. Since that day I haven't had to spend a single night at my house away from Katniss and we're both happier for it.

When I've completed my nightly check over the bakery, I finally lock up and start my journey home. It'll be a long walk home tonight. I am so tired and my leg is bothering me from being on my feet all day, so I make sure to take it slow so I'm not in even more pain in the morning. I start thinking about what I'll come home to. My dinner will be on the kitchen table waiting for me, covered with a towel and cold. Katniss will have already eaten and moved on to the next task in her routine; cleaning. I'll walk in and find her washing the dinner dishes, cleaning the fireplace, or washing the floors on her hands and knees. She always finds something to clean. There's nothing that I hate more than the two of us eating separately. Katniss has dinner ready and on the table promptly at 5pm, and for most people it'd be easy to just ask her to wait until I get home to serve dinner, but with Katniss, I know this is part of the process. To ask her to wait until I get home would be like her telling me I'm stupid for having flashbacks.

Her routines are what keep her sane at this point. When she has nothing to do with her day it makes her mind wander and she begins to think about things that she shouldn't and then the guilt creeps up on her and she'll disappear. Physically, she's still here but mentally, she's gone; curled up in a chair or in bed staring off at nothing while she tells me that she doesn't deserve me and doesn't deserve to live. I know these routines are to help her heal as much as she can and I help her just as she helps me when I'm having a flashback. It's rare I have to leave all together, and when I don't, Katniss is there talking me down and holding my hands until it passes. We are aware of the fragilities in each of us and at the end of the day the knowledge that we help each other through episodes makes up for not being able to eat dinner together.

When I reach the Victor's Village I notice that Haymitch is out on his front porch. I want to ignore him and go straight into the house, I'm too tired to listen to him tonight, but I know that he would never allow me to sneak by him.

"Hey…" I greet him weakly. I'm limping by this point; I don't know how I'm going to get through work tomorrow if I'm still in this much pain.

"What's going on, kid?" Haymitch asks, noticing the limp.

"It's nothing. I've been on my feet all day… all week actually." I correct myself. "The prosthetic is starting to cause trouble."

"Then sit down." Haymitch offers. He makes it sound so simple.

"I'm the boss, Haymitch."

"That gives you all the more reason to sit your ass down." Haymitch motions for me to sit down on the steps with him. If I weren't so tired and aching, I wouldn't, but the invitation it too tempting so I sit down and remind myself it'll only be for a minute; Katniss is expecting me.

"I can't just sit there and make everyone else do the work." I would never use my handicap as an excuse to be lazy and Haymitch of all people should know this.

"Nobody said that," Haymitch corrects me. "But you're the boss, that's your bakery. How are you supposed to run a bakery and a crew if you run yourself into the ground and make yourself sick? And how do you think she would react if you collapse on the job one day?" He motions his head over to Katniss' house and at that moment, I know he's right.

"I guess I never thought about it like that. I just keep thinking about how this is for our future. It's my way of making a living without The Capitol's interference." It's the truth. Katniss and I still get the money that Victors are entitled to after winning The Games, it's the least they could do, but neither of us want it. Katniss still hunts and trades to help put food on the table and I bake. Before it was just for us or to do some small trading of my own but now that the bakery is open it's for profit. The money I make there is mine and I'm more proud of that than any money The Capitol could ever throw at me as a parting gift.

The downside that I try not to let myself think about is where everyone else's money is coming from. During the rebuilding of District 12 the Capitol set up a trust for the residents. Each family gets their own version of Victor's winnings, though it's not nearly as much. I know at this point I'm still accepting money from The Capitol, but it feels less despicable.

"Just take it easy, kid. The last thing we need is for both of you to go off the deep end."

"Thanks, Haymitch…" I say, getting up slowly from his steps. I'll probably wonder for the rest of my life how a person who is so unstable himself could make so much sense all the time.

Finally, I'm at the front door. I'm thankful that I made it and soon I'll be eating and starting a fire to relax in front of with Katniss before we go up to bed for the night and start this all over again in the morning. When I open the door though, I don't see Katniss cleaning anything. Instead, she's sitting at the kitchen table with her dinner in front of her, untouched; my dinner is sitting on the other side looking exactly the same. Clearly, something is wrong. Something must have happened today that brought her to this. It's close to 7pm now and she still hasn't eaten, the dishes are still in the sink, and the fireplace still has the soot in it from last night's fire.

She hasn't even heard me come in, so I slam the door behind me to let her know I'm home. She jumps at the sound of the door and she looks at me, finally noticing I'm here. I don't know what to say just yet; I need to figure out where she is mentally before I try to fix anything, so I just look at her. Waiting for her to show some kind of sign as to what she's thinking, but I get nothing. We look at each other without speaking for what feels like days, until finally, Katniss begins to get up from the table. The sound of the legs of the chair scraping along the floor is the only sound that has graced these four walls since I slammed the door shut.

I still haven't said a word, when Katniss is like this it's best to just wait until she's ready to say something, and so I wait. Suddenly, she's walking toward me at a pace so quick she is almost jogging; when she finally reaches me, she lunges at me, wrapping her arms around my neck and kissing me so hard that with the pain I'm feeling in my leg, I can't hold us up and we fall to the floor in front of the door. This doesn't seem to faze Katniss one bit, because she's still kissing me with fervor.

"I've missed you." She says finally; pulling away for a brief moment before she starts peppering my entire face with kisses and repeating the words over and over. "I've missed you, I've missed you." I have no idea what's happening, but if this is one of her episodes it's new to me and I have no idea how to handle it beyond letting her do as she pleases.

She is straddling me, sitting just above my waist; her kisses haven't stopped since she started. If I weren't so confused I would laugh. I have no idea what's come over her but I'm definitely not going to complain. When she stops, she sits up straight and looks at me with a wild look in her eye that I've never seen before and suddenly I'm almost scared. I want to ask her if she's alright and to see if something bad happened today that would make her act this way, but what could have happened that'd make her act like this? Before I can think anymore she moves her hand behind her and grabs hold of me through my pants. I let out a loud gasp, both because it was completely unexpected and because it feels amazing.

By now I know what she wants, but this is unlike anything we've ever done. We've never been outside of the bedroom, and ever since Katniss and her doctor decided on a routine, it has never been broken for sex. While it was never part of the routine, it was often worked into the routine but not until everything else was finished for the day. Yet, here we are with uneaten food and unwashed dishes, on the floor at our front door, getting ready to have sex.

I move for the first time, placing my hands on each of her breasts and squeezing them hard through her shirt. The noise she makes in return makes my groin ache. Katniss is still kneading the front of my pants, occasionally smoothing her hand over the bulge that's formed; then she stops and scoots herself backwards so that her middle is directly on top of my arousal and she begins to grind on it, quickly and aggressively. I can't help but moan while fighting the urge to speak. I fear that if I do say something, Katniss will realize what's happening and stop, and I'm too far gone for her to stop now.

Then she does stop. I'm just about to protest, even beg, when I notice that she's taking off her pants, then her underwear. I prop myself up on my elbows and watch her shimmy out of her bottoms. When the task is complete she kneels down at my side and begins to work on my pants.

It doesn't seem as though she's going to stop now, so I take a chance and speak, "Thank you." I say with a sigh. In return I get a mischievous smile over her shoulder. She has my pants undone completely and is pulling them down. She pulls them down just enough to free me from the confines of my pants before she climbs back on top of me.

I know I shouldn't, but I have to speak again. "Katniss, wait…" she looks up at me, her focus broken. "What about protection?" She can't get pregnant, not right now. Neither one of us could handle it. I see realization wash over her face and she hops off me. I know it's over now, but I try to convince myself that I did the right thing. I know I did, but the ache in my groin is trying to tell me I'm wrong.

She runs off and up the stairs quickly, and at this point I'm sure she won't be coming back down for a few days. I've ruined everything, but it can't be worse than an accidental pregnancy and the breakdowns that would cause. When Katniss returns less than a minute later holding a condom, I realize that I haven't been giving her nearly enough credit. I reach my hand out to grab for the condom, but Katniss swats my hand away.

"I'll do it." She says confidently. She's never done this for me before, and I would love to know where this is all coming from, but now is not the time to ask. She kneels down at my side again in the same spot she knelt to undo my pants and I watch her slowly tear open the wrapper and pull the condom out from the foil. She looks at me and I nod for her to continue. She grabs me in one hand and has the condom in the other as she slowly brings that hand up to the tip. I make a pinching gesture at her to remind her to pinch the top of the condom, and she knows what I mean, having seen me do this plenty of times before, then she unrolls it over my length. I give her a quick smile before she is back to straddling me. Reaching behind her again, she grabs me and places my tip at her entrance, rubbing it up and down her middle before finally pushing it inside her. It feels so good to finally be here, one with Katniss.

I'm lying flat on my back, legs outstretched and closed together on the hard floor, but I don't care. Katniss is on top of me, leaning back and using her arms for support. She's controlling all of the movement now, so I bring my hands up, and with the way she is leaning backward I can just get my hand in between her legs to play with the sensitive nerve.

She's moving quickly, and coming down hard on my hips. My fingers between her legs are moving just as quickly, matching her speed and rhythm when I hit an area that seems even more sensitive than the rest.

She gasps loudly "Right there, Peeta." She calls outs as she drives back down on me. I continue to rub in the same way until I feel her hands grip my thighs so hard that it makes my leg hurt even more, but I push the pain away when I feel her contracting around me as she comes. She rides out her orgasm, and then slows down when it subsides, pacing her movements now and focusing on me. She leans forward, placing her hands on my chest and she grinds her hips in small circles once, twice, three times before she uses her legs to lift herself up again and drive herself back down. She does this several times until I finally let go, calling her name out as I come and she rides out my orgasm as well. She leans forward again and lays her head down on my chest.

"What was that for?" I finally ask, breaking the silence that had swept across the room.

"I told you, I missed you." She replies matter-of-factly.

"But the routine…"

"I hardly see you anymore, Peeta. You spend so much time working and I know it exhausts you and it's hard on you, so if you can do something that is tough for you every day, who's to say I can't?" Her tone tells me she's still not quite sure of herself, but what's done is done.

"I don't need to have sex with you to be close to you. You should have just told me and we could have worked something out that fit with your routine."

"That was my plan. I was so lost in thought that I didn't even know you came in. Once I heard the door and saw you standing there, something just came over me and I didn't care about talking it out. I wanted to do something that wasn't expected of me for once. I want to leave those dishes there until morning, eat dinner late, and have sex with my boyfriend on the floor instead of the bed." She sounds like she's getting upset now, so I know I should cut her off.

"There's nothing wrong with that, Katniss." I reassure her. "This is a good thing, you know. This is progress for both of us. I'm fighting the flashbacks better than ever and you're able to do things out of order. I think the doctor would be proud of us. Are you going to tell him?" I ask.

"Yes, but probably not all of it. I don't think he has any right to know where we have sex." Typical Katniss… nobody is allowed to know anything about sex.

I can't stop the laugh that creeps up and she pushes herself off my chest to give me a look. "You know when I came home Haymitch was sitting on his front porch." I tell her.

Her face goes white as a sheet. "If he heard anything I'll cut his ears off."

"I wasn't talking about that. He probably went inside. If he heard any commotion he probably would have been knocking on the door, don't worry about that. I had a talk with him and he made me realize that I'm working too much. I need to take care of myself as well as the business, so tomorrow when I go in, I'm going to try and work something out with the crew so that I don't have to be there so much." Katniss is smiling now, I feel like a fool for not realizing how much this affected her.

"Thank you." She whispers, laying her head back down on my chest. I don't move, and I have no plans to move yet. I'm just going to lay here on this floor no matter how uncomfortable it is and enjoy this step forward that Katniss and I have made. The dishes can wait and the food can be warmed up, what matters most to me right now is laying right here in front of me.

Chapter Text

"I have to get off this floor." It's the first thing either of us has said in a while. Katniss, who is still lying on top of me, jumps at the sound of my voice. She lifts her head up to look at me.

"And maybe eat." She adds.

"That too…" I had completely forgotten how starving I was when I first walked in the door. Between confusion and arousal, hunger seemed to get lost in the shuffle. However, it was still being overpowered by the ache in my left thigh. "And maybe get a warm compress for my leg." I add.

"What's wrong with your leg?" Katniss asks. She's sitting next to me on the floor now with that look on her face that I've seen before when I'm hurting. She has this idea that pain will induce a flashback, especially if it is her that caused the pain in the first place.

"It's just sore from being on my feet all day, it's nothing you did." I answer the question before she can ask it. I don't need her to feel responsible for this after finally working up the nerve to break her routine.

"You still should have told me." She gets up from the floor and finds her underwear, pulls them up then quickly walks back over to me and offers her hand to help me up off the floor. I could have gotten off the floor myself, but I appreciate the help anyway. I'm just about to thank her when she starts laughing.

"I'm sorry; you just look ridiculous right now." She puts her hand over her mouth so that she's not openly laughing in my face as I look down and realize what she's laughing at. There I am, standing in the entryway with my pants down and the condom we used still on. I crinkle my nose and try to act offended, but I can't help but laugh myself. Katniss is walking around in her underwear and I'm standing there naked with a condom on. Nothing about tonight is normal.

There's no way I'm doing anything until I clean myself up, so I tell Katniss to get started on warming up our cold dinner that still sits at the table. I pull my pants up and walk uncomfortably to the downstairs bathroom, abandoning my pants and opting to join Katniss in wearing just underwear and a shirt before I come back out, I don't want to be overdressed. When I'm out of the bathroom I notice that Katniss isn't in the kitchen and our food is still sitting there untouched. Her pants are no longer on the floor, so she must have gone upstairs. I'm getting ready to go up to find her when she calls for me from the living room.

As I walk over to the living I see that she's sitting on the couch, her legs are folded underneath her and she just looks more relaxed than I've seen her in a really long time. I also take a moment to admire her legs. She'd tell me they're awful with their scars and uneven skin, but I don't see that. I'll never see that.

"I'm proud of you." I tell her as I walk into the living room to join her.

"What for?" she has a small, confused grin on her face that tells me she knows what I'm talking about but wants to hear me say it anyway.

"For breaking your routine…" I start. "And for waiting to eat your dinner, for not cleaning, for that sex back there." I motion with my head towards the front door. She narrows her eyes at me, but she doesn't look mad. Instead, she pats the couch cushion beside her.

"Come sit with me." When I sit down she turns her body towards me and begins to speak again, "Have you thought about what you said before?" She's looking down at the couch, embarrassed by how she must sound; desperate, dependent… in love. It's still so new to her, to admit that she's in love and that she needs someone; that the happiness she's trying to rebuild is affected by whether or not I'm part of her life.

Before the war I would have mistaken this for doubt. I used to have these fantasies laced with idealism and romance; fantasies that she would fall in love with me in the midst of a war that she was forced to be the face of, and that somehow, that would take precedence over everything else. It was selfish more than anything, but what I came to learn not only from my observations, but from Haymitch filling in the blanks for me is that to a certain extent, that did happen. It just wasn't how I pictured it to be.

The romanticism of my fantasies was stripped away and when it happened, I wasn't even around to witness it. Part of the time I was at The Capitol, losing almost every shred of love that I had for her, while she was in District 13, letting every shred of love she had for me slowly begin to destroy her. The other part was spent in District 13's hospital trying to figure out if she wanted to kiss me or kill me.

I know now that President Coin put me in Squad 451 with hopes that I'd kill Katniss so she wouldn't have to, but I still don't know what it was that prevented me from doing it. Deep down I'll always believe that it was love. That no matter what, love cannot be erased, or wiped out with Tracker Jacker venom, but that's the idealist part of me speaking again; it's not something I would ever say to anyone but myself.

It wasn't until last year that I realized how important it was for me to let Katniss figure things out on her own. We were forced together by The Capitol; there was war, betrayal, death, loss beyond measure. After all that, she still wanted to be around me. The fact that she could even look at me let alone ask me to help with the memory book spoke volumes, and when she asked me to stay overnight and sleep in her bed the way we used to, the only thing we ever had that was not Capitol designed, that's when it made sense. She did love me, she still loved me and she was finally realizing it.

The night she confirmed what I had been suspecting, I knew that it had to happen this way. She was never going to embrace her feelings as long as The Capitol was telling her she had to. It wasn't until President Snow figured out that the one thing other than Prim that would break her was me, and it wasn't until Snow's Capitol was destroyed that she would even think twice about what she truly felt for me, and I can't blame her for that. The two of us regard our feelings very differently, and it would have been unfair of me to expect something of her simply because it's what I would do.

I owe a lot of this to Haymitch. The things he told me about his time with Katniss in District 13 that I'd never know otherwise helped get me from a point where I thought she was only including me because I was the only one left, to a point where I could see she really did love me. Haymitch isn't the kind of person that tells people what they want to hear, and that's why I trust him.

I feel a pair of eyes focused on me and suddenly remember that Katniss asked me a question. "What?" I say when I can't come up with her question.

"I said, have you thought about what you said before?" She looks at me funny, tilting her head to the side and squinting as if that will let her read my thoughts.

"Oh!" Of course, she wants to know how I'm going to get out of working so much so I can be with her more. It's the question that started the train of thought that derailed my attention in the first place. "Well, I figured that tomorrow when I go in I can talk to the crew about giving them all more hours. We should be able to divide the time between them so I can at least get weekends off or don't have to be there from open until close." It sounds simple enough and really, it is.

"Can you do that, though? I don't want you overworking everyone else because I'm needy." Katniss says, sounding ashamed even asking this of me.

"You're not needy, Katniss. It'll be fine, I'll figure it out. I think the crew is ready to handle more responsibility." Her face calms and she rests her head on my shoulder.

"How's your leg?" she asks.

"Not bad. This couch is way more comfortable than the floor."

"Are you hungry?" Her head is still resting on my shoulder, and she moves her hand down and begins to gently massage my left thigh.

"Not really." It's not a lie; I'm more content with sitting right here with Katniss massaging my thigh. The heat that her hands are bringing to my body is better than any food or warm compress could ever do. "Are you?"

"Nope…" I notice the short answer and that she hasn't looked at me once since she put her head on my shoulder. She's focused on her task, almost calculatingly. "Not for food, at least."

I could be dumbfounded, I could be questioning whether or not Katniss really said that or if it's just something my mind worked up, but I ignore all of that, because the first thing I feel is turned on. It's like something snaps in my brain letting all of my thoughts loose to mix and mingle. The way she ambushed me in the doorway earlier, her need for me, her laugh, her questions despite how vulnerable it made her feel to ask. I grab her hand that is massaging my thigh and still it. For the first time, she looks up at me, her eyes wide in shock. I grin at her, so that she doesn't think I'm trying to hurt her and use my other hand to grab and pull down my boxers forcefully.

"Touch it." I instruct her. My voice is forceful, maybe more than I'd like it to be, but Katniss growls and takes a deep breath in as I move her hand from my thigh to my dick. She grasps it in her hand, smoothing her hand down my length and I suck a breath in through my teeth when she squeezes it and lets go. I watch her as she stands up from the couch abruptly and without and word rips her own underwear off, throwing them back down to the floor and this time, she pulls her shirt and bra off.

She drops to her knees in front of me and sets herself between my legs, putting her hands on the tops of my thighs and running her nails down both of them just hard enough to leave red marks in their wake. Then, she moves her hand up to the collar of my tee-shirt so quickly and grabs hold of it, pulling me to her and kissing me forcefully, biting my bottom lip before licking it and letting our tongues explore. I'm disappointed when she breaks the kiss, but then she's tugging at my collar again and very quickly pulling my own shirt up over my head and throwing it to join her shirt on the floor and then just like that, she is straddling me for the second time tonight.

Our lips find each other like magnets and we're beginning to lose any sense of control. We're moaning into each other's mouths and our hands haven't stayed in one place for more than a few seconds. It's as if we're doing this for the first time… or the last.

"Am I hurting you?" Katniss asks between kisses. She's still concerned about my leg, but it's the last thing on my mind right now.

"No…" my answer comes out more like a moan, but this affirmation that she's not hurting me only seems to make her spiral further out of control. She puts her hands in my hair and clenches her fists, causing my scalp to ache and surprisingly, causes my dick to twitch.

"You're making my dick hard doing that." The words are out of my mouth before I can even stop them, but it only seems to make Katniss even crazier and she pulls my head back and her mouth is on mine once more.

"You like that?" she asks, clenching her fists in my hair again and I let out another growl before my hands find her ass and I squeeze; now it's her turn to growl.

"Why did you stop touching me?" I ask her. Without a reply she removes her hands from my hair and moves them down, trailing her nails over my chest as she moves her hands down to touch me again. She grips me with both hands and gives that same squeeze she did earlier, before she begins to move her hands up and down my shaft. "Faster…" I tell her. Her hands are moving as quickly as they can with as little space between us as there is and then she scoots off a little, shifting her hips upwards on my lap and placing one hand on the side of the couch to hold herself up. She takes my dick in her hand again and presses it to her folds and lets the head slip in before she starts to move it up and down the length of her slit.

"Do you feel how wet I am?" she asks, "Do you see what you do to me?" hearing her talk like this has my mind racing. I have no sense of reality in a completely new and arousing way.

"You…" it's the only word I can get out; everything sounds like I'm under water but feels like I'm on fire. I take one hand and slip it between us and under her hand and easily find the bundle of nerves that are waiting for me. Judging by how wet she is, this won't take long and I begin to rub her quickly, but gently. "Tell me when you're coming." I instruct her. She nods as she moans and closes her eyes; I keep rubbing, waiting for the signal.

"Peeta, Peeta… I'm coming." She calls out with a shudder; I quickly take my other hand off of her ass and put two fingers insider as just in time to feel her contract around me. She's so wet that my hand is almost covered by the time I pull it away from her. I take that same hand and wrap it around my dick using her wetness to allow my hand to slip up and down noisily. "I love how that sounds." She says suddenly. I have to let a small laugh escape at that statement, but then I know what she means.

I grab her around the waist and stand up suddenly, taken over by an urge I can't even describe. She's hanging on with her legs around me and her arms around my neck before I sit back down on the couch, turned in the other direction so that my legs lay flat across. I bend my right knee and lift Katniss up and set her back down so she's balancing on my right leg and her chest is level with my face. I waste no time before I bury my face in her chest, peppering it with hot, wet kissing and nibbling at the top of her breasts. She's getting loud again which makes me feel even crazier and I lower my head further and take a nipple into my mouth and suck on it hard. She lets out another loud groan before speaking.

"Get the condom, Peeta." It's not what I expect her to say. I look up at her and she's pointing somewhere. Following her finger she's pointing at the small table at the side of the couch. I didn't notice it before but there are an entire strip of condoms sitting there, waiting. She must have grabbed them when she brought her pants upstairs; it had nothing to do with the pants, she went up just for these. She knew we weren't done.

As quickly as I can I've got a condom unwrapped and put on before I'm position myself back to the way we were. Katniss propped up on my right leg, her chest eye level with me. Her right arm is wrapped around my neck and her hand is in a first around my hair again, clenching then letting go, over and over; coaxing me.

Without a word I lift her up by her hips and enter her. We both let out moans of relief at the feeling of me sliding into her once more. I'll never get tired of this feeling. My hands are resting on her ass now as she uses her legs on either side of the couch to push herself up and then back down on me. When I feel her legs shaking from the effort I lift her up again and pull into her, driving in deeper than I've ever been before. She's moaning so loudly now that it sounds like shouting and she doesn't care.

"How does that feel?" I ask her.

"I love it." She chokes out the words in between moans and gasps for air.

Once again I bury my face in her chest and bite her nipple, which causes her to shout again and bring her left arm around to my back; digging her nails in. I crane my head up and nibble at her jaw as I continue to lift her up and pull into her with a force that makes our skin stick together each time we connect.

She's moved her other hand down to my back and scratches a long line from between my shoulders down to the middle before she digs her claws in once more as I thrust as deep as I can. She moves her head down to my left earlobe and takes it in her mouth, nibbling and sucking on it. I didn't think I could get any harder than I already was, but this action proves me wrong and I feel myself stiffen even more. I squeeze her ass again as I lift her off of me and pull her back down, our bodies making a loud smack at the impact and I feel her begin to contract around me again.

"Peeta…" is the only thing she manages to say as she keeps contracting around me, squeezing me harder than I've ever felt before. I groan loudly at the feeling and keep lifting her, using my hips more as my arms grow more and more tired.

Katniss is helping me, swirling her hips and bucking them forward in a pattern that's bringing me close to the brink. When she leans forward next to my ear and whispers, "I love you so much, Peeta." I'm done for. It's always her telling me that she loves me that gets me. I shudder and moan loudly as I come in strong waves. The volume between the two of us has me pretty sure the animals in the woods are now awake.

I let go of Katniss and drop to a laying position on the couch, gasping for breath. Katniss is getting off from on top of me and immediately sits down on the couch, lifting my legs and setting them on her lap.

"I can't feel my legs." She says through her own gasps. "I was going to take the condom from you so you didn't lay there with it on forever again, but I can't trust myself to walk just yet."

I start laughing, still blissed out from the afterglow, the reality of the boundaries Katniss and I pushed just now beginning to reveal themselves. "We got kind of lost there." I offer, taking the condom off, throwing it in the garbage bin under the table with a mental note to clean that can first thing in the morning.

"Yeah… it felt good… free." Katniss answers. I'm relieved that she doesn't regret it. I did and said things that I never have before.

"It felt amazing. Like we finally let go and allowed our bodies to do what they wanted." I say.

"What were we so afraid of?"

I shrug. "I don't know. Hurting each other, maybe. Pushing too far and taking a step back." We've never shied away from talking about our problems. It's not like we don't know what is wrong with the other, we witnessed all of it together. My back is starting to feel like it is sunburned where Katniss was scratching me, but I'll consider the inevitable marks a temporary gift.

"Can I come to work with you tomorrow?" She asks suddenly.

"You're always welcome there." I want to finish the sentence by telling her the bakery will be hers someday too, but I think we've pushed enough boundaries for one day.

"I can't bake or anything."

"There are other things you can help with. Or you can just sit there and look pretty and I can stare at you all day." That earns me a light slap on my good leg. "You don't have to stay the entire time if you don't want," I tell her. "Whatever you feel comfortable with. Don't try too much at once. This is nice; I don't want us to take a step in the wrong direction by trying too much. Like Dr. Aurelius said, there will be good and bad days; just because today is good doesn't mean tomorrow will be." I hate to be the one to put a damper on such a perfect evening, but I don't want Katniss to feel that she now has to be something different. She still needs to continue to gauge her moods and work within the boundaries those moods create.

She nods and gives me a small smile, a silent thank you for understanding her and her needs. "Come on," she says, standing up. "Let's go upstairs."

Chapter Text

I'm lead up the stairs by Katniss, hand in hand, still naked; not paying any attention to the fact that our food still sits cold on the table, the living room has clothing and a condom wrapper on the floor, and the couch cushions are askew. Our minds seem to be elsewhere, not caring that the house looks like it belongs to someone else.

We enter the bedroom in silence, and Katniss is still holding my hand, now leading me to our bathroom. When she finally lets my hand go, she wordlessly walks to the sink and finds her toothbrush; I guess we're washing up. I follow suit, brushing my teeth and giving myself a second scrub down, and Katniss does the same; we don't speak a word the entire time.

She finishes first, running her hand down my arm slowly as she departs from the bathroom, a silent message telling me not to be long. I glance at her over my shoulder and give her a nod of affirmation as she closes the door behind her. When I'm finished, I throw the wash cloth in the laundry basket and step into our room. It's dark, but not pitch-black. The moon lets in enough light so I can see where I'm going and I can see that Katniss is already in bed; curled on her side and quiet. I think she is already asleep until I go towards the dresser to grab something to sleep in and she finally speaks.

"No…" is all she says. I turn around and look at her, but I can't make out her face in the dark. "Just come to bed."

I find myself nodding but realize that she probably can't see it. "Ok…" We're no strangers to sleeping naked, but it's usually something that happens after we've already gone to bed with clothes on. We've never purposely gotten into bed without them. The thought is exciting; while it may not be the biggest event to have transpired today it's just another new thing to add to the ever growing list of milestones that we've surpassed; every little thing matters.

I slip into bed next to Katniss and close the space between us; she pushes back towards me and wedges herself perfectly in front of me so our bodies are flush, her back to my front. I slip my arm underneath her and bring it up to her hand and our fingers lace together, while my other hand rests on her hip.

"You're happy." Katniss says. It catches me off guard; I'm not quite sure what she's talking about.

"What?"

"You're happy to have the bakery back." She elaborates.

"I am… even if it's not what it was before." I stop myself there, not interested in bringing memories of my family up after such a good evening.

"Well it's yours now to make better, but you have to let people help you." I scoff at this, Katniss of all people telling me to accept help, but it doesn't matter who said it because she's right.

"Yeah, that's what a certain old drunk was trying to tell me earlier." I reply, kissing the top of her shoulder.

"Then you'll have more time to paint again." She's got me again. I've had no time to paint over the last six months and I miss it a lot. Decorating cakes isn't the same. It scratches the itch to paint, but when I'm decorating a cake it's for a customer and it's their vision, not mine; that's what I miss the most. "And you'll get more rest." Katniss continues.

I know Katniss means well, and I'm glad that she's talking to me about this, but I know that deep down she's saying a lot of this to also convince herself that this is for me more than it's for her. "This is for both of us, you know." It's easiest to cut to the chase.

"I just don't want you to feel like you're doing this for me." I can hear the guilt in her voice now.

"I'm not, I'm doing this for us like I said, and it's not healthy for me to spend that much time there. It's not healthy for a person whose brain isn't damaged to work that much, so it's definitely not safe for me."

"Don't talk like that." It's the truth, but she hates when I say it. I'm damaged, I'll always be damaged, and she still blames herself for it.

"You have to admit that it's probably a bad idea for me to get too run down. It could trigger… something." I hate saying the word flashback out loud and I hardly ever do.

She squeezes my hand tighter and I faintly see her nod in defeat. This time, it's her that has to admit I'm right. However, I wouldn't have even had that train of thought if Haymitch hadn't planted it in my head and I suppose I owe him one… again. "This is for us, Katniss." I tell her again. I didn't want to say it earlier, but here in the dark in bed and the level of relaxation and comfort that I'm feeling, I decide to say it, "You know I'd like the bakery to be yours one day too; to be ours. I'm just making an investment into our future."

I fully expected her to stiffen at hearing me mention marriage even in the thinly veiled way that I did, but she doesn't. Instead, she sighs. It's not exasperated or frustrated, but content. It seems that my explanation puts her at ease instead of scaring her.

"As long as you're sure." She says finally. I can't help but notice her tone, it's hopeful but coated with something ethereal. This is her thinly veiled way of asking me if I'm sure I want to marry someone like her. I can almost hear her thoughts; "Does he really want to spend the rest of his life with someone as battered as me? He'll get sick of me soon enough and then he'll leave when he realizes just how broken I am, and then I'll be alone the way I deserve to be."

"I'm sure." I promise.

"We should get some sleep." She says, giving my hand another hard squeeze before moving backwards even further; I hold her hip to keep her there. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight." I give her shoulder another kiss and not another word is spoken.

When I wake up again it's still dark; the clock on the bedside table tells me we've been asleep for 3 hours. I'm not sure what woke me up, neither of us had any nightmares and the air outside is still and quiet. I use this quiet time to think about the course of the day. I woke up this morning to go to work thinking it'd be just like any other day. I knew the work was getting to me and that I wouldn't be able to continue like I was for very long, and it seems like Haymitch and Katniss knew this too. I'm glad now that I stopped to talk to Haymitch tonight. There's just something in his words that comfort me and guide me. I suppose I will always look at him as my mentor, but now he's also a father figure. I may not want to model myself after him like I did my own father, but Haymitch means well; I'll just have to refer back to memories of the man my father was to help me become the man I want to be.

"Are you enjoying yourself?" I'm broken out of my thoughts by the sound of Katniss' voice and I realize that the entire time I've been awake; I've been rubbing her upper thigh.

"I'm sorry… I was just thinking." I apologize.

"About what?" She asks.

"My dad..." I admit.

"That's kind of creepy, Peeta."

She's right. It is creepy, now I have to figure out how to talk my way out of this. "I know, but I didn't even realize I was rubbing your thigh until you spoke… sorry." I feel like a fool.

"You don't have to apologize, it was an accident. It felt nice, though." She reaches her free hand back and mimics the pattern I was rubbing on her leg. "See?"

"Yeah…" my response is dazed and lazy. It feels very good, maybe better than it should feel considered we've already made love twice tonight, but I feel that familiar sensation in my groin for the third time tonight and I shake my head, not believing it.

Katniss pushes herself back into me, making sure to get full contact with my front before she moves her hips back and forth, teasing me. She's ready to go again too and I have to question whether or not this is a dream. "You want me again. Real or not real?" I ask her.

She laughs a little at the question and then says "Real." Before moving her hand from my thigh to my front and grabs hold of me gently. I'm already half hard and her gentle grip on me allows me to buck my hips forward, so I slide through her hand with ease, the light contact with her hand getting me more and more aroused by the minute.

"Am I not satisfying you enough and that's why you want more?" It would be a valid concern if I weren't also ready to go again.

"I think it's the opposite." She says, still lightly gripping me. I move my head down to her neck and begin to gently suck on it. She pulls away with a quick apology as she opens the drawer of the bed side table to grab the condom and hands it backward towards me. This is the first time we've done this without looking at each other, and for some reason it seems to make every touch burn that much more.

She wraps her legs around mine and I separate them with my knees, pulling my arm out from under her so I can get the condom on easier. I'll never tell Katniss this, but I hate the condoms. I've only been inside her once without one on, but there is still a noticeable difference in what it feels like. I hate having to worry about putting one on, especially now that we seem to have crossed into territory where spontaneous sex is a distinct possibility, but they do their job and they keep Katniss from being too scared to do this, and in the end that's what matters because I want her to enjoy herself.

We waste no time before I'm pushing into her middle, her hand moves back again to grip my thigh and my hand finds her breasts and gives them a gentle squeeze. Things are so much calmer and gentler than they were on the couch. My hips are moving slowly, taking my time to enjoy the feeling of being inside her. Our touches are light, but the feeling they leave behind linger like our fingers were made of hot coal.

"You feel so good." I tell her, pushing into her as I move the hand that was on her breast down to search for the bundle of nerves between her legs. "So warm." I bite her shoulder lightly and she whimpers.

"Deeper…" she says, using her hand on my thigh to try and pull me forward. I remove my hand from her middle and grab her hip, using it for leverage to bury myself deeper. When I push up into her this time, she lets out a moan that sounds like a mix of satisfaction and relief. "Thank you." She says, her voice hitching at the end of the sentence.

"Don't be afraid to talk to me, Katniss. Tell me what you want." I'm not demanding anything of her this time, I'm encouraging her. I know she wants to tell me something, but she's hiding behind single words and polite responses.

"It just feels so good…" she says. She trailed off, though, and I know that wasn't all of what she wanted to say.

"Talk to me." I whisper, pushing into her again. "I'm so deep inside you right now. Tell me what that feels like."

"Nothing feels better." She replies. "Nothing feels better than when you are with me." Her voice keeps hitching in her throat as she tries to talk and I realize that she's crying. I don't ask her why, I just reach up and wipe a tear and plant soft kisses on her neck before moving up to her ear.

"Don't think, just feel." I whisper to her as I push up in her again "Feel that?" I ask, and she moans steadier in response. I move my hand back down to rub her middle and after a few minutes of steady rubbing and moving into her as deeply as I can get myself, I feel her breathing change and get quicker before my names tumbles from her lips and she's contracting around me once again.

"I love how you feel when you come." I tell her, content that she was satisfied and now focusing my attention on finishing myself. "So tight and wet." I talk as I thrust and she still keeps her hand on me, not letting go and still panting and moaning even though she's had her orgasm. I move in silence now, focusing on the sound of Katniss' light moans as I feel my body tense up and I come with a low moan and deep sigh. This feels like something sacred, like this is a moment so private that we can't take a chance of letting anyone hear our moans through the open bedroom windows.

We lay in silence for a while, enjoying the stillness of the night and the sensation of being wrapped up in each other. I want to laugh, but laughing would ruin the moment. The thought of how we've spent our evening, combined with what at this point has become pure exhaustion from exertion amuses me more than it should.

"Maybe we can stay asleep the rest of the night now." I say. I quickly remove the condom, tie it up and let it fall to the floor, making yet another mental note to not only pick up that one in the morning, but to empty that garbage can in the living room too.

"I'm tired enough now, I think." Katniss answers. I can't hold the laugh in any longer and I let it out, sighing when I'm done. I give her shoulder another kiss and settle back in behind her.

"Goodnight, again…" I tell her "I love you.

"Love you too," she grabs my hand and laces our fingers together again like we were when we first went to sleep. "Goodnight."

This time I know that neither of us will wake up until the alarm sounds in the morning.

Chapter Text

I'm jolted out of a deep sleep by the sound of the alarm clock blaring loudly from the bedside table. As fun as yesterday was, it's going to come back to haunt me now that this alarm clock is bellowing at us at four in the morning. Between staying up later than usual last night and then waking up again a few hours later, we probably got a total of five hours of sleep.

I wake up for work every morning at 4:00am. I shower, have breakfast with Katniss and then I leave at 5:00am. It takes me a half hour to get to the bakery by foot, so I get there at 5:30am to give myself time to get everything out that I've prepared the night before and put new things in the oven before we open at 6:00am.

Katniss is awake, but making no effort to silence the alarm, so I take it upon myself to do it and reach over her; hitting the top of the clock, reveling in the instant silence.

"Sorry, am I crushing you?" I ask her. I didn't realize that in order to get to the alarm I draped myself directly on top off her. She shakes her head no and moves her hand up, smoothing the front of my hair which is sticking up from sleep. I move my hands down and prop myself up so that I'm hovering over her. "Good morning."

"Morning." She says back.

"How's today?" I ask.

"Sleepy." She yawns and gives a weak smile, moving her hand down from my hair to cup my cheek. She doesn't move from that spot for a while, content to just stare at me.

"What?" I ask finally.

"Your eyes…" she starts, "they look different in the morning. Smaller."

I have to laugh at her for noticing something like that; only Katniss would. At the sound of my laugh both of her arms reach up around my neck and pull me down in a kiss that quickly intensifies and I know immediately that this is not an ordinary good morning kiss. I pull back; giving her a look that I hope conveys my disbelief. After almost a year of being intimate with each other under a strict routine that lacked any kind of spontaneity, here we are today presented with a fourth opportunity in less than twenty-four hours.

"Really quick, before your shower." Katniss says. This freer version of Katniss is going to take some getting used to. When she moves her leg between my own and brushes up again me, her satisfaction is evident. "You're already hard."

"Yeah, well… I just woke up." I remind her, trying to play it off. I figured that by this point, especially after the little bit of sleep we got, I'd be completely spent in the erection department, but the opposite has proven to be true. Katniss pulls me down again, bringing my left ear to her mouth and grabbing the lobe with her teeth. She knows exactly how to break me down. "Okay…" I hiss "Quickly."

We scramble to get situated. I pull myself off Katniss and sit back as she sits up and grabs a condom from the bedside drawer.

"We're going to need more soon." She notes.

"I wonder why…" I answer. She ignores my remark and hands me the condom, getting up on her knees to kiss me again while I put it on. When I finish I push her back on the bed and grab her legs, placing them over my shoulders and quickly enter her. I put my weight on my hands and she grabs my forearms, using her nails to scratch up and down my arms. In this position, I'm in deep almost instantly and her whimpers let me know it's what she wanted this morning. We're breaking my routine now too.

"We're never going to get anything done if we keep ending up like this." I tell her.

"Shut up." She says. She digs her nails into my shoulders and drags them down; the pain feels good and makes my hips move faster.

"You know, my customers may get nervous if they see their local baker with scratches down his arms."

"Shut up!" she says again, but she's not mad; she's laughing. Laughs from Katniss have been rare over the last two years. That's not saying she never laughs, but she doesn't give them away too freely. I join in the laughter, because hearing her laugh these days is infectious.

I take her legs off my shoulders and lower myself on top of her so that our bodies are touching and continue thrusting. Katniss moves her hands from my arms and places one on my ass and one on my back, running her thumb over a spot.

"Did I do that to you?" She asks. She must feel one of the scratches she left on me from our encounter on the couch. I nod against her neck. "I'm so sorry…"

"Don't be, it felt good." I say. In an attempt to prove this, I move my head down to her collarbone and bite down. Her gasp turns into a moan and her grip on my ass gets tighter. "See? Feels good, doesn't it?"

We're silent after that, I bite and suck my way up her neck and to her jaw, continuing my thrusts in a rhythm that soon has Katniss contracting around me, which causes me to reach my peak soon after, not having much left in the way of control after these last 10 hours.

I waste no time getting out of bed. Unfortunately I have a bakery to open in an hour and a half. It's when I'm completely out of bed that I realize that not only is my bad leg is bothering me, but both of them. Katniss steps out of bed and winces herself. Today should be fun. Remembering the condom on the floor, I pick it up and throw it out along with the one I just took off and I walk into the bathroom.

"I'm showering with you." Katniss says, not far behind me. "I'm not going to spend the day with you at the bakery without one." I don't put up a fight and I know there will be no time for both of us to shower separately. I start the shower and climb in when the water is adjusted. Once I'm in, Katniss steps in behind me.

"Hand me the washrag." She says. "I'll clean your back; it's the least I can do." I had the washrag and soap back to her and she begins to gently wash my back as I wash my hair. "Do they hurt?" she asks.

"Not really. My legs hurt more." She makes a noise that sounds like agreement.

When I'm done washing my hair we switch places so Katniss can wash hers and then we're quickly out of the shower, brushing our teeth and for the first time since I got home last night, getting fully dressed.

"It's almost five, we need to get going really soon." I tell Katniss as we walk down the stairs. I quickly run into the living room and grab the small garbage can that sits by the table and empty it into the main garbage in the kitchen.

"We never ate last night." Katniss says. She's standing by the table looking at our full plates of cold food. Her stomach growls as she grabs one of the plates and throws the food into the garbage, I grab the other one and do the same.

"We can eat at the bakery; I'll make you something." I take the plate from her and throw them both in the sink. "We have to go now."

We walk out of the house to darkness. It's so quiet at this time of the morning. Haymitch is never out and most everyone else is still asleep.

"I never realized how early you left." Katniss says. She glances around at her surroundings. She wakes up with me every morning, but it must be different now that she's actually leaving the house with me.

"Baker hours…" I tell her, holding my hand out to her. "Ready?" She nods and takes my hand and we begin the 30 minute walk to the bakery. "My dad used to wake up at 2am and bake until noon."

"Why don't you do that?" she asks.

"The customers," I explain. "There are only a few that come in really early and they're regulars, so I make sure to have what they need ready the night before."

"What if they want something fresh?"

I shake my head at the question. "These customers don't care. Everyone has a little more money than they did, but these are the people that are still struggling; it's why they're up so early. They're trying to find work. If it's not fresh, I can charge them less and they don't know the difference. They refuse handouts. Well, except for the free cookie I give Janan's son. It's Friday, so you'll probably see them today. They usually come in Wednesdays and Fridays."

She nods at my explanation. I see a lot of this happening today and I love the idea of it. Finally getting to share this part of my life with Katniss has been something I've been thinking about for a long time.

"What are you going to make me do today?" She asks. She sounds a little scared.

"You can do whatever you want, I told you that." I laugh at her nervousness. "I don't plan to have you baking on your own or anything."

We reach the bakery at almost 5:30am exactly, even with our slower walking today. I unlock the door and let Katniss in, and she stays at the front while I turn on all the lights and get the ovens running. I begin taking out ingredients to get some bread, muffins and cookies started before walking back to the front to get Katniss.

"You don't have to stand there like a customer, come back here with me." I tell her, coaxing her over to me. "What do you want to eat?"

"We can just eat something you already have made." She says.

"Cinnamon raisin bread?" I offer. She nods. "Alright, well we'll have to make it."

"Peeta!" I knew she would never agree if she didn't think it was already made.

"Come on, it'll be fun. You can help." I tell her, grabbing her arm.

"You have more important things to be making right now." She argues.

"I just have to prepare the dough then leave it to rise. Muffins and cookies can be done while we wait for that, it is fine." Her shoulders slump in defeat and she joins me at the long steel table in the back of the bakery. I begin on several different batches of dough for the different breads I'll have ready today. Katniss measures out the ingredients for the various breads and has them waiting on the table for me when I finish up with one type of dough. It's too bad she won't come in with me every morning, I'm getting things done twice as fast and we work well together and the dough is done and set aside in no time.

I go to the back and retrieve the boxes of muffins I made last night. I call them my discount muffins, but Hakan, a member of the crew, just calls them sneaky, even though he understands and respects why I do this. I have Katniss getting ingredients together for fresh muffins for my customers that come in after the 6am hour, while I go up front to put the discount muffins in the display case, but not before putting aside a blueberry muffin for Katniss.

When I go back to the table where Katniss is looking over the list I gave her, I hand her the muffin. "Eat. This should tide you over until the cinnamon bread is ready."

"Aren't you going to have one?" She ask.

"No, I have work to do; by the time I finish, the bread will be ready." She looks at me, debating if she should eat it or not. "Just eat it, Katniss." She takes a bit and sighs as she chews. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"

"Thank you." She answers with a mouth full of muffin.

When 6:00am rolls around, I unlock the front door and flip over the sign on the door to "open" before I go back to the ovens and remove a batch of muffins and set them down to cool. It's not long before I hear the sound of the bell at the front of the shop telling me a customer has arrived. I grab Katniss' hand and lead her to the front with me, where we are met by a couple in their 60's, Serina and Latif.

"Good Morning, Serina, Latif." I say.

"Morning, Peeta…" Serina says, looking over and noticing Katniss "…Katniss." She smiles.

Katniss needs no introduction, but I don't want to make her uncomfortable at the thought of this. "You noticed my guest," I smile "Serina, Latif, this is Katniss. Katniss, this is Serina and Latif, a couple of my most valued customers." Katniss nods at them cordially.

"Peeta talks about you a lot," Serina says. "It's nice to finally meet you."

"What can I get you two today?" I ask them.

"Got any of those strawberry muffins?" Latif asks.

"As a matter of fast, I do, right here." I say, pointing to the display. "One or two?" I made them last night, knowing this is their normal request, and even if they didn't come in today, I've never had trouble selling the products.

"Two, please." Latif replies.

I grab two strawberry muffins from the display and put them in a bag. Latif pays and they are out the door. When I'm sure they're out of earshot, I turn to Katniss and smile.

"Do you really talk about me a lot?" She asks.

"Of course… Serina and Latif are regulars from the old bakery; they've been coming in for as long as I can remember." I explain. "Naturally, they're going to ask questions about how I am. I can't exactly tell them much without including you, now can I?" she knows I'd never overshare anything with customers, but she'll probably always fear everyone in the district hates her. "They're good people. Back when they used to come in to the old bakery, they could only afford one muffin at a time and they'd split it. I always wondered if it was the only thing they'd have all day, but it wasn't my place to ask. Sometimes we saw them a few times a week, sometimes it'd be a month, but they always came back for that one muffin; they were the first ones here after I re-opened."

"And they can afford two now-" she starts.

"-because of the trust from The Capitol, and because I make their muffins the day before so I can charge them less. That way they can afford lunch and dinner too." I shrug at my explanation. "It keeps them fed and spares their dignity. Latif is a proud old guy; he'd never accept a handout."

Even with the trust set up, a lot of families are still struggling. The idea of a trust is better than the reality of it, but with having to rebuild an entire district, anything helps.

It's not long before the bell is chiming again and we're met with Janan and her son Waylon. Janan is in her late 20's and Waylon just turned 3 a few weeks ago. They come in every Wednesday and Friday for a half dozen biscuits; I give Waylon a free cookie that his mother keeps for him until lunch.

"Good Morning, Janan. Waylon, are you taking care of your mama?" I ask the pair as they walk to the front counter. Waylon just laughs at my question and nods before looking at Katniss. She stares back and him and gives him a tiny wave, and he blushes in return. "Are you flirting with my girlfriend, Waylon?" He looks back to me, confused.

I introduce Katniss to Waylon and Janan before I ring up their biscuits, complete with a cookie for Waylon and they are out quickly. Janan isn't the most talkative, but I don't take offense.

"I think I saw them in 13 once." Katniss says when they leave.

"They were there for a while; they just came back a few months ago. Janan's husband died when District 12 was bombed. Waylon wakes up at 5:00am every morning looking for his dad. That's why they are here so early all the time. Janan does cleaning around the district, but she has to bring Waylon with her." I explain.

"Oh." A look of guilt creeps up on Katniss' face.

"It's not your fault, Katniss." I try to tell her this all the time, but I wonder if she'll ever believe me. We're interrupted by the sound of the bell once again and when I look up, I smile at who has entered the bakery. "Sae! I'm glad you stopped in today."

"How are you today, Peeta?" she asks. She's in here a few days a week to ask how I'm doing and see how Katniss is. She never orders anything, but I always make sure I give her something to take. I owe her much more than that, but it's something.

"Very good, I have a co-worker today." I tell her; for the first time her eyes travel to my left and she notices Katniss standing there.

"Katniss, it's good to see you out and about." This coming from anyone but Sae or Haymitch would probably offended Katniss, but she rewards Sae with a small smile.

"How have you been?" Katniss asks before Sae can ask her.

"No complaints. Things are really coming together around town, it's starting to feel like the old District 12 again… minus the Peacekeepers and Capitol rules, I mean."

"What's the plan for the day?" I ask her. She's always up to something. Helping someone out or teaching her grand-daughter how to run the soup stand in the new Hob.

"Hakan's wife is sick, nothing serious, but I told him I'd bring her some soup and keep her company for the day." She says.

"Hakan's wife is sick? Why didn't he tell me?" I ask her. Hakan was the first member of my crew to be hired and a great worker. He'll be here at 7am to help out and he's the first one I plan to discuss scheduling with so I can have time off.

"Don't worry, he's still coming in." Sae answers.

"It's not that; if he needs to be with his wife he should be with her." I say. I don't need any bitterness because Hakan had to come to work.

"Don't be silly, she just has a cold and you know Hakan. He wouldn't miss work for a cold, not even his own." She answers.

"Well take some muffins for her, will you? Tell her I said get well, and have some for yourself too." I pack up some of the older muffins and pass them to Sae. She gives a nod of thanks and with a wave is out the door and off to Hakan's house.

"The dough should be ready by now." I tell Katniss. We head back to the steel table in the back of the bakery and she sits down and watches as I start removing all of the dough from the bowls they had been proofing in and start getting them ready for bread pans and finally, the oven.

"Are you alright?" I ask Katniss as I work. "You're quiet."

"I'm fine." She replies. "I just like watching Peeta in his natural element."

"That makes me sound like wildlife." I laugh.

We have more ovens here at the new bakery than the one I grew up in, and it allows me to bake more at once. When all of the dough I prepared this morning is safely in the ovens, I take a minute to sit down like Haymitch told me.

"The cinnamon bread will be done in about thirty minutes." I tell Katniss. Maybe I should have taken a minute and had a muffin with her, I feel like I could eat the entire loaf of bread myself right now.

"Hey, Peeta! I'm here." Hakan is here, early as usual. He walks through the back of the bakery having used the back entrance like the rest of the crew and he stops when he notices Katniss is here.

"This your girl, Peeta?" He asks.

"This is Katniss. Katniss, this is Hakan." He extends his hand and Katniss gives it a quick shake.

"The infamous Katniss Everdeen." He starts. I see Katniss tense at this, assuming he's going to mention her days as the Mockingjay. "Peeta never shuts up about you!" he cackles. "I need to close on time, Katniss has dinner ready. Katniss got a deer in the woods yesterday. The carrots Katniss and I planted are finally growing." He mimics me.

I hear Katniss laugh at little at his impression, her shoulders losing that upright and tense look they had just a minute ago. I hear the back door open again and Monte walks in, yawning.

"Morning, boss." He says.

"I told you not to call me that, Monte."

"Hey Monte, look who's here!" Hakan says loudly. "Katniss Everdeen!" Hakan is a nice guy, but a little rough around the edges and very, very loud.

"Well, Katniss, it's nice to finally meet you." Monte says, offering his hand.

"I've heard that a lot today already." She answers.

"Alright, Hakan and Monte, I have something I want to talk to you two about, sit." Hakan's face drops a little at this. "It's nothing bad, but I want to run it by you two first before we gather the others." They sit down and wait for me to begin. "Well you guys know how much time I spend here…" I begin.

"Yeah we do." Hakan says, shaking his head and looking over to Katniss. "That must drive you crazy."

"It does." I answer for her. "So we need to change that. I haven't thought it all out yet, but I think everyone is ready to run things without me here all the time. I think we should work on a schedule. It'll give everyone more hours, give me time to sleep, and I'm sure customers are tired of seeing me all the time." I explain.

"I think that's a good idea." Hakan says. "It's not good to neglect the woman in your life." He winks at Katniss and I cringe, but Katniss just rolls her eyes.

"What do you need us to do?" Monte asks.

"Well, I'd really like to get this taken care of today. Monte, I was hoping that you'd go and get the others so we can figure things out. Hakan, I'll work out your availability now so you can look over the bakery while I'm working things out with everyone else."

"No problem." Monte says. He gets up from his seat. "I'll start now." He straightens his shirt and walks out the back door. People in District 12 don't have phones, so Monte is going to have to go to everyone's houses to gather the rest of the crew.

After I've worked out what times Hakan is available, he grabs the muffins off the table that have been cooling and without instruction begins to rotate the stock in the front display case while I grab the bread from the ovens and allow them to cool.

"How long before we eat?" Katniss asks. She sounds so childlike right now.

"Just let it cool a little. I'll go tell Hakan to keep an eye on the front so we can eat, I'll be right back." I excuse myself and find Hakan admiring his work on the display case. "Hakan, can you keep an eye on the front for a little while? Katniss and I are going to eat; we didn't get dinner last night."

"Sure. No dinner last night?" he gives me a strange look.

"Don't ask." I answer, turning around and walking back to Katniss.

We eat the entire loaf of cinnamon bread without giving it a second thought, and I don't say it but I still feel a little hungry when we're finished, but before I can suggest we have something else, Monte is back with Chelle, Ismene, Linas, Clancy, and Anani following behind him.

"Got them all, boss." Monte says. He'll probably never call me Peeta.

"Thank you, Monte." I say, giving him a nod. "Alright, everyone, it's time that we change things up here a little. Once we get things sorted you can all go back home, but I wanted to get this done before the new week begins." We all sit down around the table and discuss the new scheduling I have planned. Each crew member gives input on the times they are available and I write them down. It's not until I look up from my paper after everyone has given me their availability that I notice Katniss isn't at the table anymore. I don't say anything immediately, because I don't want it to look like I'm keeping tabs on her, but I give the bakery a quick once over and notice she's with Hakan in the front grabbing a bag for a customer's cookies.

It takes another half hour before we get a schedule in place, and when I finally feel confident that we have everything in place, I let everyone leave.

"Remember, this is effective tomorrow, so Ismene, you'll be here with Hakan 6-12 and Monte and Chelle, you'll be here from 12-6." Everyone nods and begin to file out to leave. "Monte, you've helped a lot today, you can go home too if you want."

"Peeta, you should go home too. I'm sorry honey, but you look like something the cat dragged in right now." Ismene says from the doorway. Ismene is a nice woman, but so brutally honest that if I didn't have thicker skin I'd take offense. She's only in her early 50's but the stress of living in District 12 has caused her hair to go completely gray already. "Both of you go home and I'll stay here with Hakan for the rest of the day."

"Are you sure Ismene?" I ask her, feeling bad.

"Yes I'm sure, now take your girl and go!" she yells. Katniss turns around when she hears the noise and looks concerned.

I walk over to Katniss and grab her arm. "Looks like we're getting an early dismissal" I tell her. "Hakan, you're on with Ismene for the rest of the day. If it's too much just call, I know you guys open the rest of the weekend. If you need a break just give call me at home, my number is by the phone." Even though most of the district is without a phone, I insisted that the bakery have one in case Katniss or Haymitch ever needed to reach me quickly.

"Oh just go!" Hakan yells. "We've got it under control."

"The extra key is in the lock box. We'll talk about getting you your own copies during the week." I start again.

"GO!" Hakan yells once more.

Katniss is laughing at Hakan now and Ismene is standing in the back shaking her head at me. Before we leave I grab two muffins from the display and hand one to Katniss.

"For the walk home." I tell her.

We make our way back to the Victor's Village, talking casually about the crew. Katniss liked Hakan, despite his loudness. When we close in on home, we notice that Haymitch is outside as usual.

"Oh great. I'm too tired to listen to him today." Katniss groans.

"Don't worry about it, I'll talk to him. You go inside and lie down." I tell her. We walk into the Victor's Village and he notices us right away.

"Whoa, whoa! What's going on here?" he yells at us. Katniss stays a few steps behind me as I walk towards Haymitch's house.

"Got to knock off early." I tell him. He nods his approval and then looks at Katniss with a strange look. He has no idea what went on last night, so Katniss walking home from the bakery has him perplexed.

"I'm going to go lie down." She says then and excuses herself to the house.

"Well what the hell was that?" Haymitch asks when Katniss is in the house.

"When I came home last night she wasn't cleaning, she hadn't eaten yet. She was just… not following her routine." I leave out the other details; that is explanation enough.

"Really? She was walking kind of funny, what'd you do to her last night?"

"Haymitch, please!"

"Hey, I'm just calling it as I see it and she was definitely walking like you guys were up to something last night." He answers, holding his hands up in mock surrender.

"Well stop observing for a minute." I warn him.

"Fine." He says. "Let's talk seriously for a minute."

"Let's. Please."

"So you said she wasn't doing anything in her routine?" He asks. I nod. "That's good, but don't take it for granted."

"I know."

"As long as you know." He says. "There will be good days, like today and there will be bad days. That's just how it works. If you remember that, it'll make the bad days easier." He looks at the front door of my house before he flips a mental switch and is back to Haymitch again. "What'd you do to make her walk like that?"

"I'm not talking about this with you today." I answer, shaking my head at him. "I'm going to make good use of my free time and go take a nap." I turn and start walking away towards my house.

"That's fine, but next time, you should try to be a little quieter!" he yells at me as I walk away. I turn around and give him a look and he gives me a knowing smirk in return before turning around and walking back into his house.

So he did hear us. I was confident that he had already gone into his house before the noise started, but obviously I was wrong. There's no way I'm going to tell Katniss that he heard, she doesn't need to know. Thankfully when I get into the house and up to our room Katniss is already asleep in bed; jacket and shoes still on. I crawl into bed next to her and relax knowing that I have the next two days away from the bakery to catch up on sleep, painting, and anything else that may come along; before long I drift off to sleep myself.

I wake up a few hours later and notice that Katniss is no longer in bed, but the side she was sleeping on is still warm, which means she must not have been awake for too long. The bathroom door opens and Katniss steps out in her hunting clothes and notices that I'm awake.

"How's your leg feeling?" she asks me.

"A lot better, actually." I tell her.

Katniss nods and smiles at me, "I'm going into the woods…" she stares at me for a moment before finishing her sentence. "Do you want to come with me?"

I'm taken aback by her suggestion. She's never asked me to go into the woods with her before. That is her sanctuary. It's where she goes to get back in touch with herself, find food, and relax in a place that could once be described as a second home. I've never asked to go into the woods with her because I know this. I know I scare the animals away with my heavy footsteps and I don't want to disrupt the peace of things that are so calming to her.

I finally find my voice and give a reply that's not an answer, but another question. "You want me to go into the woods with you?"

"I just asked you, didn't I? You don't have to if you don't want to, I just figured…" her voice trails off and she looks down at her feet, embarrassed at her suggestion.

"No, no, I do!" I stammer. "It's just… you've never asked me that before." I get up from the bed and walk over to her, putting my hands on her shoulders.

I could hate The Capitol for making us this way, but I don't. I could hate them for forcing us to take even the simplest of things as huge milestones and for making Katniss feel as if she's done something wrong by progressing; for healing. So Katniss asked me to go into the woods with her, what's the big deal? Normally, it wouldn't be one at all, but with Katniss and me, it has to be. Dr. Aurelius would tell me that this is another step in the right direction and that Katniss is becoming more willing to share her life with me and include me in things that are important to her, simply because she asked me to go to the woods with her, but maybe it's a good thing and that's why I don't hate The Capitol. They may have taken a lot away from us, but what they didn't realize is that they are now forcing us to appreciate everything we have left and treat each new moment in our lives as though it were the biggest thing to ever happen to us. It may not be what most would consider normal, but maybe most would be happier if they focused more on what they do have than what they do not.

"I'll go with you." I tell her.

She nods and turns toward the door and I follow her quietly down the steps and into the kitchen where she now keeps her bow and arrows. She hitches them up on her shoulder and we walk out the front door; I breathe a sigh of relief to see that Haymitch is still inside and won't be holding us up. It's not long before we're under the fence and in the woods. I try to be as quiet as I possibly can be so I don't scare away what could potentially be tonight's dinner, but with my prosthetic leg, it isn't easy to do.

"Don't worry about being quiet," Katniss says. "I want to show you something, follow me."

I move a little quicker, catching up with Katniss and keeping pace with her now that I'm not trying to focus on being quiet. "Where are we going?" I ask her.

"Just follow me." She replies.

We walk for a long time; more than an hour it seems, but I've lost track of time. I want to ask again where we're going but I don't want Katniss to regret asking me to come out here with her.

"There it is." Katniss says, pointing and breaking the long silence that lasted almost the entire duration of the walk. I follow her finger and am surprised to see a small concrete shack standing next to water. "The lake," she says. "My father found it while hunting once."

I walk forward taking in what she's showing me; it's better than any broken routine. She's showing me a part of her childhood that she had long since buried away. I look at the small shack that still stands and shake my head. "I can't believe this is still standing..." I stop myself there, but Katniss knows I mean after the bombing.

"It seems to be pretty tough, but it did lose the last window." She says giving the shack a once over. "That window over there used to be the only one that still had glass in it, but now that's gone too. Maybe it's just so far out that it wasn't really impacted as much."

"If it could talk I bet it'd have a lot of stories to tell." I say, I notice Katniss wince a little when I say this and I realize that she's probably remembering all of the time she spent here through the years.

"There's a fireplace inside we used to light." She tells me.

"Can I go in and look?" I ask. I don't want to take advantage of this moment and impede on her secret place.

She nods at me. "Go on. I'm going to stay out here." I smile at her, letting her know that it's alright. She hasn't told me, but I assume that there are a lot of memories attached to this spot; some good, some bad but all bittersweet in their own way. I have memories like that of my own. Some of them I'm glad I was able to regain after the Hijacking and some… some I wish would have stayed gone.

I walk into the shack and see there really is nothing to it, but there is a fireplace. I can see Katniss in here as a little girl in front of the fire with her father; enjoying herself regardless of what life was like back home. When I walk out of the shack I see Katniss sitting in front of the lake, lightly twirling a twig around in the water. I walk over and sit down next to her.

"Thank you for bringing me here." I tell her. She shrugs again. "No, I mean it. This can't be easy for you."

"It's not a big deal." She says defensively.

"Katniss…" she stops twirling the twig around and looks up at me, her eyes scared. "It is a big deal, don't act like it isn't. There's nothing wrong with admitting that something is difficult for you. You know that, right?"

"I know, but I still don't like to admit it." She confesses.

"It's not like things aren't difficult for me too." I tell her. "That's part of the process though, isn't it? To work through things when we're ready, so thank you. I know you wouldn't bring me here unless you were ready."

She gives me a small nod. "You're welcome." She mumbles before scooting closer to me and resting her head on my shoulder while staring off into the water. We're quiet for a long time before she speaks up again. "We used to come here and stay all day." She begins, not moving her head off my shoulder. "Then when we went home we'd have dinner that was all from right here. There should be Katniss roots near the edges of the water if we look. There are still waterfowl around. I've seen their eggs and they probably aren't too far away from here, but they hide when they know people are around. My father would go find them when I gathered their eggs."

"That sounds really nice." I tell her. "Did your father come up with the idea to name you after the flower?" she nods.

"I could teach you how to find the roots… if you want." She sounds so timid right now, like she's scared to even suggest something like this. There was a time when she would have told me she was going to teach me rather than offering, but I know this is a little more difficult for her to do. "Then I can go see if there are any waterfowl around."

I give her a look then as what she's doing dawns on me. She's going to teach me to help her recreate the meals she used to have with her family. Now I see exactly why this was so difficult for her. "I'd really like that." I tell her. "But only if you want to."

"I want to." She stands up and holds her hand out to me to help me up before taking off her boots, socks, and rolling up her pant legs to walk into the water. I do the same and she shows me what to look for and how to get them out of the ground in one piece. After I've got the hang of it she takes a small bag that was hooked to her belt and hands it to me to keep the roots in. "You stay here and I'll look for the waterfowl. Don't venture too far because you will scare them even further into the woods." She looks up after she finishes tying her boot and smirks before grabbing her bow and heading off.

I fill up the bag with Katniss roots, get out of the water, and wait for Katniss to return. When she does I'm happy to see that she's got two waterfowl with her; she looks pleased as well.

"Dinner." She says, holding them up for me to see. I smile at her and hold up the bag full of roots, and she nods her approval.

"I'm useful after all." I say. "Should we start heading back now so we can get dinner started?" she nods and leads the way back to District 12 in a comfortable silence that has become common over the last 24 hours. I want to thank her again for bringing me out here and showing me something that is very much connected to a life that she probably feels is not her own anymore, but I let it go.

When we make it back to the Victor's Village, Haymitch is sitting outside again, but luckily for us he seems to be passed out. I really don't feel like talking to him right now after finding out he heard me and Katniss last night. His knowledge of our sex life doesn't bother me the way it does Katniss, but I'm still going to need a few days before I face him again.

We cook dinner together tonight, which was something I've really been missing since opening the bakery. It used to be part of the routine and was something I came to look forward to everyday. This is the first time we've cooked together in months. Katniss cleans the waterfowl while I give the Katniss roots a quick rinse in the sink before we begin cooking.

We eat in relative silence; the only exception is when we bring up how good the food is. By the time are done eating, the sun has set and the small burst of energy I got from our nap earlier is quickly wearing off. I look and see that Katniss is yawning.

"Should we skip sitting by the fireplace tonight?" I ask her. "We should catch up on our sleep."

She yawns again before nodding and rubbing her eyes, squeezing them shut for a second after she's done. We place the dishes in the sink, once again ignoring the nightly routine of making sure they're clean before we even think about going to bed. I take Katniss' hand in mine the same way she took mine last night while heading up to bed and we take to the stairs once more.

We change our clothes quickly and Katniss pulls back the covers on the bed while I check to make sure the windows are open; then we climb in the bed and pull the covers back over us. I lay on my back and Katniss curls up along my side, resting her head on my chest, putting her arm across my stomach and grabbing my hand. I give her a kiss on the top of her head and we exchange quiet goodnights. It doesn't take either of us long to fall asleep tonight.

Chapter Text

I don't know how long I've been stuck in this hospital. Well, at least that's what they call it. It looks like no hospital I've ever been in. Not after the games, and not in 13. It looks more like our rooms in the Training Center. It has furniture, dining tables, and a TV that's never on. It's not until you want to sleep or relax that you remember it's a hospital; it's the only part of this place that looks like one. I guess the bright side to being stuck in The Capitol is that these rooms have more color. If I weren't already crazy, I would have gone crazy in that sterile white room in District 13. Crazy. That's right. That's why I'm here. Me, and dozens of other mental cases, wandering around wondering what happened to them.

When I finally go back to my room, Dr. Aurelius is waiting for me; clip board in hand, a patient smile on his face. I don't want to see him right now. I never want to see him, but he keeps showing up. I know I'm a hopeless case, but he seems to think I'm wrong. Funny how everyone seems to be able to know what's best for me but myself. He gives me a slight nod of greeting when he sees me walk in; I don't give one in return.

"I was just about to come and get you." He says, extending his hand to shake it. I ignore it.

"Why didn't you?" I ask. "I was just walking around aimlessly like everybody else."

"You know that's not how it works here." He says sternly.

"Right, I forgot. Let them walk around confused and hope it makes them feel independent." I shouldn't be snapping at Dr. Aurelius, it's not his fault I'm here, but I can't stop myself.

"Get comfortable, Peeta." I obey, sitting down at the edge of my hospital bed. I begin to open my mouth to speak, but he stops me. "We have to do this. It's my job to administer treatment and it's your job to cooperate. I did you a favor by convincing the rest of the staff to take your restraints off when you were brought in here in hysterics after the assassination, so do me a favor and talk to me."

"Where's Katniss?" I ask.

Dr. Aurelius frowns at me, but nods. "In hiding until her trial is over." That's right, she assassinated the wrong president.

"Where?"

"There's a reason it's called 'in hiding', Peeta. I can't say and I really already told you too much. Let's focus on what really just happened here." He says. There's a small smile on his face that irritates me for some reason.

"And that is?" my voice doesn't sound like my own and I'm getting agitated quickly. I'll never get used to this. "Just spit it out!" I yell.

"You mentioned Katniss and didn't need me to call for restraints. You know that's progress from where you were. You're getting more upset by me taking my time explaining things. Call it a small victory." I glare at him. "I could still call for those restraints." He threatens.

"Is that all?" I ask him.

"No, but I will let you be right now, because next time I'm here your real treatment will begin." He explains.

"When?"

"Day after tomorrow. I will explain more then. Use the next day and a half to relax. I know you can't help being angry and you have every right to be even if you were capable of controlling it, but I'm here to help. The sooner you realize that, the easier this will be." I know when he leaves I'll feel guilty about snapping at him like I always do, but it never fails. When he comes back I just do it all over again. He says it's from the Hijacking, but I question if this is just who I've become; bitter, angry, and resentful. I nod instead of opening my mouth for fear of something awful coming out.

Dr. Aurelius leaves and I lie down in bed. It's small and barely comfortable, but I've slept in worse places before. Some rooms are singles and others keep two or more people at once depending on who you are and how severe your condition is. I'm in a single room, the lone occupant where I get to sit and stew in my thoughts all day without any interruption unless I go out to the main living quarters where most people spend their days. I haven't figured out yet if I'm in a single room because of who I am, or because of what's wrong with me.

I wonder how Katniss is. I tried to go after her after she killed President Coin, but they whisked her away so quickly, that I didn't get the chance. That's when I lost it. Up until then I had been doing well at controlling my temper and the flashbacks, but seeing Katniss being dragged away like that, kicking and screaming and then being blocked from going after her made me snap and I was being dragged off by men in gray uniforms in the opposite direction. That's all I remember before blacking out and waking up in this room.

In a way, Dr. Aurelius is right. I have come a long way from where I was. I tried to go after Katniss to help her. The thought of harming her never crossed my mind. When I stopped her from eating the Nightlock pill, the look in her eyes was desperate, tired, resigned; all I wanted to do at that moment was take her and run away; to keep her safe. Now I have no idea where she is or more importantly, how she is and it's all I can think about. The single room comes in handy for that very reason. Some nights I remember nothing, but other nights it's agony. Going back and forth from hoping Katniss is safe, to hoping she's dead, and every emotion in between. I haven't been here long, but I've trashed this room at least 4 times since getting here.

I have yet to tell Dr. Aurelius the reason why I've torn up the room, though he's asked every single time. "Nobody rips a pillow in half for no reason, Peeta." Of course not, but the Peeta that used to be able to talk to anybody is gone. All that comes out of my mouth now are short answers and rude retorts. I know it's not me, Dr. Aurelius knows it's not me, but I don't have the first idea how to fix it and what does it matter? I have nothing left anyway. I'm probably better off here, spending the rest of my life with people who are out of their mind, just like me.

In a way, I do as Dr. Aurelius tells me. I relax, but mostly it's because I have no interest in doing anything but staying in bed. Doing nothing also keeps the flashbacks away. The more I sleep the less my mind wanders and the better off I am. I don't get visitors, since I don't have anybody, but the staff of the hospital drops in to check on me and the state of the room every few hours when I'm awake. They try to make small talk, but I have nothing to say. What can I possibly say to these people anyway?

When Dr. Aurelius comes back at his usual time, he has another member of the hospital staff with him, wheeling a medicine cart behind her. She has a smile on her face, but I can tell instantly that it's forced. There's fear in her eyes; fear of me. She must have been told what I do to this room.

"Peeta, this is Nurse Fenn, she'll be helping with your therapy today." Again I'm reduced to nodding so I don't say something awful. Nurse Fenn is standing back further than she probably should be and I can see the apprehension she has to come closer and introduce herself.

"Are you scared of me?" I ask her, not able to stay quiet any longer.

"What? Of course not!" She's lying.

"You don't have to lie, I won't be offended. I'm afraid of myself." I tell her. Her face softens when she hears this. "I'm not looking for sympathy, just honesty." She puts her head down and looks at her feet, silently confirming my suspicions. "That's what I thought."

"Alright, let's get started." Dr. Aurelius says, trying to change the subject and clear the awkward air that has rushed into the room. "Peeta, what we're going to work on is Reverse Hijacking. I know you had a few rounds of this therapy done while you were in District 13, and I want to continue with that approach." He explains.

"Run it by me one more time, I can't really remember what that involves." I admit. I feel silly for having to say that I can't remember something that happened only weeks ago, but I am the one that insisted on honesty just a minute ago.

"Well, what we're going to do is talk about your memories for a little bit. Things you remember, things you can't remember and anything in between that you can think of. Then Nurse Fenn is going to give you a small dose of Morphling while I show you a video." He shows me that on top of his clip board, there is a device that looks like a very small TV.

"And if I get violent?" I ask. I don't need to terrify Nurse Fenn any more than I already do by just sitting here.

"I will gauge your reactions and decide if restraints are necessary. We have other members of the staff right outside to help if it's needed, but I'm hoping it won't be." He says.

"Fine. Let's do it." I tell him. I just want to get this over with. It didn't work in 13; it's not going to work here.

Dr. Aurelius sits down in the chair next to my bed and begins. "What's on your mind, Peeta?"

"Where's Katniss?" I ask again.

"You know that's not what I mean. I can't tell you anything else about Katniss right now. We need to work on your memories." His voice is stern, but not mean.

"These scars on my hand." I tell him, lifting up my hand to show him. "Katniss bit me."

"That's right, she did." Dr. Aurelius confirms.

"She didn't know my hand was there, trying to stop her from killing herself." I say, taking my hand back and looking at the white marks that have formed where her teeth bit into my flesh.

"Correct, and what do you think of that?" He asks. "What do you think about the fact that you were trying to save her and not kill her?"

"Good, I guess." I shrug. "I finally did something right."

"You've made progress, Peeta. That's what we need to focus on. You were able to discern that she was not a threat to you even after witnessing her kill someone that wasn't supposed to be killed."

"But I still lost control." I say.

"You have to think about why you lost control. Tell me what you remember about that." He urges.

"Katniss bit my hand and yelled at me to let her go."

"And what did you say?" his voice is low and patient. Not like mine when someone drags out details.

"I told her I can't." I answer.

"What did you mean by that?" When I don't answer he continues. "Did you mean you couldn't let her go physically at that moment, or did you mean that you couldn't let her go emotionally?"

"Both, I guess."

"Then that's progress. You go from wanting to kill her to admitting you can't let her go. This is working, Peeta, don't think it isn't, but it's going to take time. You have to be willing to give that time." He lectures me like this every time we meet.

"And for what? I have nowhere to go and nobody to go to. The place I grew up in is gone, my family is gone and for all I know, Katniss could be getting executed as we speak. What's the point?"

"To not let them win." I know he means Snow and the old Capitol. Snow is dead, he'll never know the difference, but to make Dr. Aurelius happy, I resign and allow him to continue. "Are you ready for the Morphling?" I nod. "Nurse Fenn." She approaches me hesitantly, syringe in hand. "We're using a smaller dose than they used in District 13. I'm hoping it'll leave you less confused in the end. After the dose is administered, I'll play you the video and you are going to describe to me what you remember about it." I nod again.

"I'm not going to hurt you." I tell Nurse Fenn. "Please just hurry up. I want to get this over with." I stick my arm out in her direction and glance at Dr. Aurelius. He's giving me a disappointed look. The look tells me that he knows I'm not taking this very seriously and am only doing it to appease him. "Please." I ask again.

Without another word, Nurse Fenn plunges the syringe into my arm and releases the drug into my body. Almost immediately I can feel my shoulders relax and the tension it usually leaves behind it melts away. I look over to Nurse Fenn and smile. "Thank you."

"Peeta? Look at me, Peeta." It's Dr. Aurelius, I think. It sounds like him anyway. I look over in the direction that the voice is coming from and see that I'm correct. My head is starting to clear and adjust to the drugs in my system and things start to get less cloudy, but my head still feels like it's floating. "Tell me what you remember about this moment." He speaks again. He's shoving that little TV in my face now and I see Finnick, Mags, Katniss and myself walking through the arena at the Quarter Quell.

"The Quarter Quell." I say; Dr. Aurelius nods and motions with his hand for me to continue. "We were looking for water."

"Just keep talking and I'll stop you if I need to." Dr. Aurelius says with a smile.

I am silent for a few minutes, simply watching the scene in front of me. I've got a knife and I'm cutting away at vines as we walk and then I remember. "Force field." I say just as the tip of my knife hits it and I'm flung backward. I continue to watch as Katniss screams my name and Finnick moves forward and pinches his fingers over my nose. "He's trying to revive me?" I ask. Dr. Aurelius nods. I see Katniss lunge for Finnick, trying to get him off me. "Katniss didn't want him to save me. She wanted to leave me there dead."

"Wrong." Dr. Aurelius stops me. "She does not want you dead."

"I know what I'm seeing!" I yell. Nurse Fenn jumps at my shouting. "She wanted me dead! She wanted Finnick to stop trying to save me so that I could die and she could win! It's right there, right in my face."

"More Morphling." Dr. Aurelius orders. He has the video paused on the small TV and stands up and grabs my arm. "Now." Before I can protest, Nurse Fenn has another needle in my arm and I feel my fists unclench.

"I know what I saw." I choke out. I didn't realize it before, but I'm crying.

"Peeta, I'm going to resume this video and I want you to pay attention. Voice your thoughts, and we'll talk more when it's done." The video resumes and I see Finnick pinch his fingers over my nose once again and Katniss has an arrow pointed at him, she's going to kill him for trying to save me.

"She wants to kill Finnick because he's trying to save me." I say.

"No." Dr. Aurelius says.

Then Finnick puts his mouth to mine and begins to blow air into my lungs, but Katniss never lets the arrow fly. "I've never seen this part." I say.

"Then you need to keep watching." Dr. Aurelius instructs.

Finnick unzips my jumpsuit and presses on my chest with his hands, over and over and I see Katniss slowly begin to lower her bow and watch Finnick work. When I cough, Katniss flings herself at me, but not to hurt me. She moves her hand over my forehead and moves my hair away and my eyes open before choking out the words "Careful, there's a force field up ahead."

"Why can't I remember this?" I ask.

"Just finish watching, we'll discuss when we're done." Dr. Aurelius says.

Katniss laughs at me, but she's also crying. She doesn't look mad that I'm alive, she looks happy. So happy that she's sobbing. I watch as we talk about a force field at the training center, but she still keeps sobbing. Then Finnick speaks up. "It's okay. It's just the hormones from the baby."

"What baby?" I ask, alarmed. "There was a baby?" Dr. Aurelius ignores me. Katniss keeps sobbing uncontrollably and Finnick looks troubled. Then Dr. Aurelius stops the video.

"Now let's talk." He looks almost as troubled as Finnick did in the video and has since I asked about the baby. "You really don't remember anything about a baby?" I shake my head. "I hoped you would have started to regain your memories by now."

"There was a baby, real or not real?" I ask.

"Not real." Dr. Aurelius answers quickly.

"Katniss told everyone there was a baby so they'd feel sorry for her and want her to win." I say.

"No, Peeta." Dr. Aurelius shakes his head, almost violently. "You did."

I say nothing. I can't get my mind to move beyond his words, so I just stare at my lap. My breathing has quickened and I can feel that familiar tension returning to my shoulders, and tears prick my eyes. Dr. Aurelius is frantically searching the small TV for something and motions to Nurse Fenn to give me another shot of Morphling.

"This is your interview with Ceaser Flickerman before the Quarter Quell." Dr. Aurelius says. He begins to play another video. I'm seated next to Ceaser and I'm explaining to him that Katniss and I were already married, and tell him about the tradition of toasting in District 12. I vaguely remember this tradition, but not enough to explain it like I am in the video. Then, after Ceaser tries to convince me that even being married to Katniss for a brief time is better than no time, I say it. "Maybe I'd think that, too, Ceaser, if it weren't for the baby." Dr. Aurelius stops the video and sets down the TV and begins writing something on the chart attached to his clip board.

"It was you that started to rumor about the baby." He says, looking up from the clip board. "This is going to be a little more difficult since we can't have Katniss help fill in the other blanks, but we will get your memories back, no matter how long it takes." He sounds determined. More determined than I feel right now.

My head is still floating and there are visions of Katniss pushing my hair from my forehead at a different angle than the one I just saw. The vision isn't shiny so I know it must be my memory of what happened when I woke up after hitting the force field.

"Did you observe how Katniss reacted to you waking up?" Dr. Aurelius asks.

"She seemed happy." I say.

"Elated. If she wanted to kill you, why would she be that relieved that you were alive again?"

"I don't know. They showed me that video, I know they did." I explain.

"The Capitol?" Dr. Aurelius asks.

I nod. "But they never showed me waking up. They just showed Katniss trying to get Finnick off me and kept telling me it was because she wanted me to stay dead."

"Now you have the truth." Dr. Aurelius says. "How are you feeling?"

"Tired and confused." I answer.

"Your chart from 13 says the first time they did this you were so confused that you couldn't even speak, but you're speaking to me now, so once again…"

"Progress." I finish his sentence.

"Progress. And I tinkered with their approach a little. I think giving you the Morphling in small doses throughout the session will be much more productive than the entire dose right away, so we're going to keep doing it that way."

"When?" My question sounds weak.

"Not for at least a week. I want you to have time to think about what you saw today. I'll be in every other day to talk to you and see where you are at, but we won't show you any more videos until I feel you're ready to move forward. Does that sound fair?"

"Fair enough." I shrug.

"Don't sound so excited." Dr. Aurelius says, attempting a joke. "I want you to rest and I'm going to leave you a pencil to write with and some paper so if you have any questions between now and when I come back, you can write them down and I'll answer them."

"Aren't you afraid I'll try to stab myself with the pencil?" Now it's my turn to attempt a joke, as morbid as it may be.

"I know you better than that, Peeta." He stands up from the chair now and puts his hand out; I shake it this time. "I will see you in two days, get some rest. You did well today." He turns and begins walking towards the door, Nurse Fenn following behind him. I forgot she was even in here.

"Dr. Aurelius?" I call out. He stops and turns back to me. "Thank you. Will I see you again, Nurse Fenn?" I smile at her, it's dopey and groggy from the Morphling, but it's a smile. She nods her head and cracks a small smile in return. She still looks terrified, and the way she rushes out the door proves it, but at least this smile seemed genuine, unless that's just the Morphling making me think that.

It's nine days before Dr. Aurelius feels that I'm ready to try another round of Reverse Hijacking. In the time between, we talk every other day. He has stopped telling me anything about Katniss entirely, even though I ask him every time I see him. I know he has answers for me, but he keeps saying it's against the rules for him to tell me anything about another one of his patients. I understand that he has to do the right thing, but if he could just give me something, anything, that lets me know Katniss is alright, I would feel a lot less on edge. With each day that has gone by, and the more I talk with Dr. Aurelius I feel something towards Katniss that I can't explain just yet. A bond that feels familiar and comfortable. It's what made me stop her from taking that pill after the assassination and it's what is urging me to get Dr. Aurelius to tell me how she is now, but I can't bring myself to try and understand it until I know how she is.

The morning of my next Reverse Hijacking session, seven days after my second session, I'm sitting on the couch in the main living quarters staring at the TV that nobody will turn on. "Excuse me?" I say to a staff member walking by. He looks at me with one of those pity smiles that I see on the face of the other members of the staff when they have to talk to one of the patients. "Can we put the TV on?"

"Not in here." He says, shaking his head.

"Why?"

"Because the coverage of what happened is all that's really been airing, and we don't want the patients to have to see that again in their fragile state." He explains.

I have no argument against that. If my flashbacks are any kind of indication into the mental state of the other patients here, then the TV shouldn't be on, but I can't help but wonder and hope that if it were on, I could find out where Katniss is.

"Hey, Vid, did you hear about The Mockingjay?" It's spoken in a whisper, but I know what I heard. My head snaps up immediately, but only briefly before anyone notices I overheard. I put my head back down and stare at my lap, focusing on nothing but the whispering to my left.

"Yeah, how about that? It took long enough for the…" and that's all I hear as the two staff members walk off to another part of the hospital. I immediately get up from where I was sitting and go to my room to wait for Dr. Aurelius.

When he arrives with Nurse Fenn, it's clear by the way she gasps at the sight of me that something is wrong.

"Stay here." Dr. Aurelius whispers to Nurse Fenn as he takes a tentative step in my direction. "Peeta? What's wrong?"

"Where's Katniss?" It's the same question I've been asking for weeks, but this time I'm determined to get an answer.

"You know I can't…"

"Don't!" I yell. "Don't tell me that again!" Dr. Aurelius motions for Nurse Fenn to come forward, and she pulls out the Morphling as she inches forward. "NO!" I yell again. "Don't you dare… I asked you a question!"

"A question I can't give you an answer to." Dr. Aurelius replies. When I sit up quickly, he wastes no time pressing the button on the wall to call for restraints. Three staff members run in and before I can even attempt to protest, a large man has my chest pinned to the bed, while the other two are tying my arms to the railings. I don't tell them that I had no intention to do anything but sit up, because I want answers. I co-operate with the staff and let them restrain me, and I close my eyes and take deep breaths until Dr. Aurelius tells them they can leave.

"Please," I whisper when I'm sure the others are gone. "Where's Katniss?"

"I can't tell you anything, Peeta." Dr. Aurelius answers calmly. My eyes are still closed and I'm working to keep my breathing even, but I hear him walk over to the door. He's going to leave and I'll be here restrained for the rest of the night, still without answers. "Nurse Fenn, we're going to skip the Morphling and treatment tonight, I'm just going to talk Peeta down and we'll try again tomorrow, okay? You can leave." When she leaves, I hear the door close and footsteps come closer to my bed, then the legs of the chair drag closer. "What happened, Peeta?" Dr. Aurelius asks. "You've been asking about Katniss for weeks. Why is today different?"

I open my eyes for the first time since the restraints were put on and I look at Dr. Aurelius. His face is concerned, but also confused. "I overheard something." I confess. "The staff was talking about The Mockingjay."

"You shouldn't have heard that." He says.

"But I did, and I can't sit here and act like I didn't. Please, just tell me something… anything." I plead.

Dr. Aurelius is silent for a long time. I don't know if he's contemplating if he should tell me anything at all or if he's trying to decide what to tell me. "She's alive." He finally says. "I will give you one question to ask and I will answer it, but no more after that."

"Is she alive in the sense that she's still breathing, or can she actually live her life?" It's a roundabout way of asking if she's been put in prison, or even sentenced to death at a future date, but I can't seem to get those words out of my mouth.

"She's at home... in District 12." He tells me.

"District 12 was bombed, real or not real?" I ask him. "Or does that go over my one question limit?"

"That question is fine to ask." Dr. Aurelius says. "Real."

"My family is dead."

"Yes. Real." He answers.

"Katniss didn't kill my family."

"Real." A smile spreads across his face. "That's the first time you've gotten that one right. The Victor's Village in District 12 was spared, they're rebuilding and Katniss is at her house. I can't tell you any more than that right now."

"I want to go home." I tell him.

"You can't."

"I want to go home." I repeat.

"You can't… right now. You're not ready." Dr. Aurelius says.

"Will I ever be ready?"

"That's up to you. If you cooperate more than you have been then yes, you can, but if you go along with this treatment to appease me, then no. You'll never improve enough to go home." He explains.

"But I feel like I've improved." I tell him.

"And you have, but from what I can see from your progress and our treatment here, you have the potential to not just improve, but recover." We've never talked about my long term prognosis before, and I don't know why.

"Recover completely?" I ask.

He shakes his head. "You will probably always have flashbacks, but getting your memories back and learning how to fight them is what we need. You're the first person in the history of Panem to undergo treatment for Hijacking. Your progress is the only thing we have to go off of, but you have to want to remember. You will regain small things with time, but not everything if you're not trying."

"What do I have to do?" I want these restraints off. I want to sit up and take in everything Dr. Aurelius has to tell me. I have to go home.

"Talk to me." Dr. Aurelius says. "You haven't been. You give me short answers and you barely explain anything that you're thinking or feeling unless I force you while you've got Morphling running through your body."

"And the Reverse Hijacking?"

"My goal is to increase how often we use the technique and increase the videos we show you while decreasing Morphling as time goes on. Eventually, we'll repeat the videos to see if you can give us an accurate account of the events that took place instead of the altered memories." I nod at him.

"Let's do it then. Let's start now. Call Nurse Fenn back." I begin to ramble.

"I don't think you're ready today." Dr. Aurelius warns.

"I'm ready; I want to do this." I insist. Dr. Aurelius stands from his chair and removes my restraints, standing for a minute in silence to make sure I don't jump up and attack him. When he sees that I'm calm, he turns and walks to the door, and leaves, returning a moment later with Nurse Fenn. She looks even more nervous than the first time I met her and it's my fault. "Can we talk a little before we do this? Nurse Fenn, I want to talk to you too."

Nurse Fenn nods and Dr. Aurelius smiles at my eagerness and takes his place in the chair next to my bed, while Nurse Fenn stands where she usually does to give me the Morphling.

"It's good that I explain what's going through my mind, right?" I ask Dr. Aurelius who nods. "Well, I think I owe you two an apology. Nurse Fenn, you're terrified of me and that's nobody's fault but my own. I haven't exactly been giving you any reasons to trust me, and I don't know if it's because of what happened to me, or if it was just me being bitter and angry, but right now I feel guilty and I want to apologize to you and thank you for coming back every week even though I've given you no reason to believe in me."

She smiles at me. "This is the Peeta Mellark I remember seeing on TV." Her face falls as she says it, probably fearing that her mentioning watching me in The Games will trigger some sort of anger or even a flashback, but I don't let it get to me, I refuse to let anything get to me today.

"Dr. Aurelius, I owe you an apology for not trying more. You've had nothing but my best interest at heart and I've given you nothing in return. I want to go home, and I understand now that there's no way that will happen if I don't put just as much effort into my treatment as you do. Knowing now that you believe I can recover makes me want to put that effort into fighting this, and knowing that Katniss is alive..." Without another word, I motion to Dr. Aurelius to show me a video so we can begin the treatment for the day.

We work like this for the next several weeks. Dr. Aurelius bumps up his meetings with me to daily, and we work on Reverse Hijacking every three days, using less and less Morphling each time, keeping my mind clearer and avoiding a Morphling addiction all at once.

After about three weeks of working like this I start to have dreams. I mention this to Dr. Aurelius during one of our sessions and he gives me a notebook to write down anything I can remember from these dreams. Sometimes the dreams are full. A dream about Prim looking in the window of my family's bakery, a wrestling tournament at school, or watching videos of past Hunger Games on the train to the Capitol. Sometimes the dreams are just fragments. A flash of Katniss running her fingers over my forehead and through my hair until I fall asleep, finding a pearl in an oyster, Katniss kissing me. It's not until I have a dream about the day I hit the force field that I realize these dreams aren't dreams, but my memories trying to force their way back.

When I tell this to Dr. Aurelius, he doesn't seem surprised or doubtful. He tells me to continue to write down every last detail from the dreams that I can remember and we talk about each one. I lose a lot of sleep waking up several times a night to jot down the tiniest detail that pops up and I keep everything together and read them over and over as much as I can. The more I read, the more I remember. The fragments turn into full scenes in my mind which I relay to Dr. Aurelius when we meet. The videos he shows me during our Reverse Hijacking sessions begin to echo my dreams and for the first time in a long time, things make sense.

It's not all smooth, though. I still have flashbacks, but Dr. Aurelius seems to encourage them right now. He says that he can't teach me to fight them if I don't have them. Together we devise a plan. Deep breaths, remembering my dreams and the truth they show me, and keeping my hands steady. Right now he has me grab the railings of my hospital bed when a flashback happens during our talks. It's a lot more effective than handcuffs cutting into my wrists, and I haven't needed restraints since I agreed to try harder with my recovery.

I don't ask about Katniss. I know Dr. Aurelius did me a favor by telling me what he did and it was all I needed to know. That doesn't mean I don't think about her. Truth be told, I think about her all the time and I talk about her all the time, trying to piece together my memories that are coming back to me and trying to understand what our relationship was before my Hijacking. The connection I feel with her has never left, but I'd be lying if I said I knew exactly what that connection was just yet and Dr. Aurelius says I probably won't until I go home.

Home. I ask when I can leave every day, and it's always the same answer: "You're not ready." Weeks pass by with the same answer. It's too soon, you need to let your memories work back into your mind longer, and you have to learn to combat the flashbacks better. Just when I think I'm never going to leave and everyone is just telling me I'll get to go home so that I don't cause trouble, Dr. Aurelius gives me the good news.

"You can go home tomorrow." He says. "Well, you can go home under one condition."

"What is that?" I ask, ready to hear an impossible request.

"You have to prove to the other doctors on staff that you're no longer a threat to yourself or others." He explains. "They've read my notes on your case thoroughly, and they have finally agreed to observe you. I'll run you through a series of tests, maybe even attempt to induce a flashback so that they can see that you now know how to fight them, and if they give you the green light, you'll be on the train back to District 12 in the morning." He smiles. "Are you up for it?"

I nod. "I've never been up for anything more than I'm up for this." I'm elated. Dr. Aurelius leaves and returns an hour later with a team of Capitol doctors ready to observe my behavior.

We begin with the videos of my memories that were tampered with the worst. Katniss dropping the Tracker Jacker nest on me and the Careers. When it causes no reaction and I can confirm with Dr. Aurelius that I understand why Katniss did it, we move on to the next video. The two of us in the Cave, talking about Prim's goat. Dr. Aurelius asks me what I thought Katniss was feeling in that moment and though I admit to him and the doctors that I don't know, I also tell them that I don't hate her for any of it anymore because I have memories that have come back to me that prove to me that she never wanted to kill me and I can recognize now where my memories were altered, and give them a few examples.

The doctors leave after about two hours of talking and videos, and Dr. Aurelius tells me that he will be back as soon as the doctors give them a decision on whether or not they think I'm fit to leave the hospital. When he returns, the smile on his face is the only answer that I need.

I go to bed early, knowing I have to be up early to get on the train headed to District 12. Train service just resumed between districts, otherwise I would have had to take a hovercraft home; I've never felt comfortable in them.

"Ready to go?" Dr. Aurelius asks, giving the door frame a light knock. I nod and he walks in. "I'll walk with you to the train, we can go over the steps the fighting a flashback once more."

We walk out of the room in silence, all I have to bring home is a small bag full of with a couple of shirts and my notebook full of memories that I read at least once per-day. I pass Nurse Fenn when we're walking and give her a wave and a smile. While we walk to the train we talk about how I can fight flashbacks at home.

"This is my number, if you ever feel like you're in trouble, call me. I will be calling you once per-week to check in on you, Haymitch gave me your number." He says, handing me a card with his name and phone number on it. "Can you also tell Katniss something for me?" he asks.

"Sure." I smile at the thought of being able to tell Katniss anything.

"Tell her I can't keep pretending I'm treating her forever, she needs to pick up her phone." His smile is weak and it worries me a little, but I just let the thought of going home take over instead.

"I'll tell her. Can I call you when I get home?" I ask. Dr. Aurelius nods and shakes my hand before I board the train back home to District 12.

Chapter Text

"My family owned the bakery in District 12. We lived upstairs." I turn the page. "I used to wrestle in school." I've been sitting here reading the notebook out loud almost non-stop since the train departed from The Capitol yesterday.

"Mr. Mellark?" I'm interrupted by a woman who introduced herself when I boarded, as Zoya, a train attendant. "The train will be in District 12 shortly. You should gather your things and come to the front." She smiles and leaves without waiting for me to answer.

I'm not sure what she means by "my things" since she saw me walk in with one bag of belongings. I close my notebook for the first time since the train departed yesterday and put it in my bag. I haven't slept much, I have an odd sense of discomfort on this train; the little sleep that I did get produced images of a train that looks exactly like the one I'm in now and because of that, I'm sure it must be the same train that we traveled in during The Games.

When the train pulls up to the station in District 12, it's dark and I'm not sure what I expected. It looks deserted, and the station appears run down and dirty in the darkness.

"What time is it?" I ask Zoya.

"Almost 5 Am." she replies, smiling proudly.

"This is District 12?"

"Of course it is. Does it not look familiar?" she says.

"Not really." I admit.

"Well the station was barely spared in the bombing, maybe that's why." She says nonchalantly, giving me a fake smile and patting me on the shoulder as the doors open and I walk out.

"Thanks." I call out to Zoya over my shoulder. I don't look back long enough to see if she acknowledges me. The train doors are barely closed before the train begins to move back in the direction of The Capitol, but I don't move off the station platform. I can't seem to get my legs to move.

I take a deep breath and close my eyes, trying to bring up any kind of memory I have of District 12, but no matter what I do, I can't seem to place where I am. I just have to get to the Victor's Village. I remember what that looks like, I remember what the bakery looked like, the woods, and The Seam, but I can't remember how to get anywhere from this indistinguishable train station, and to make matters worse, it's dark. The only thing I can do is start walking until I find something that looks familiar.

The more I walk the more I wish Haymitch would have been here to see me off and remind me how to get to the Victor's Village. I really thought he would be, but I guess now that the war is over and everything is said and done, he's not responsible for looking after me anymore.

"Peeta!" I whip my head around at the sound of my name and squint in the dark. I manage to see a woman walking towards me. She looks familiar, the little bit of lightning that District 12 has right now makes me just able to see her, but I don't move toward her. Instead, I stand and stare at her, trying to place her face. She stops walking, sensing my trepidation. I really wish Haymitch was here.

I can feel myself growing more and more frustrated with each passing second. Not only do I not know my way around the place I call home, but a woman that I should know looks more like a stranger. She still hasn't moved, content to stand and allow me to teeter on the edge of a breakdown. Someone must have told her how I get. Probably Haymitch. The only thing I can do is close my eyes and try to will the memories forward.

The good thing about reading my notebook as often as I do is that, according to Dr. Aurelius, it keeps my mind moving and makes it more able to allow even more of my memory to come back. I open my eyes again quickly to take another look at the woman before closing them again. With my eyes closed and breathing steady, I let my mind take over.

Then I see it. The same woman, standing in the old bakery, trading meat for bread with my father. She works in The Hob and though I've never been there, I've seen her around. Fire. There's a fire in The Hob, and I remember suddenly that I have been there before. With Katniss; it was on fire. Then, the last thing I need to connect the dots presents itself. Katniss saying to me "I want to check on…"

"Greasy Sae." I finish the sentence from my memory. I open my eyes and immediately know it's her. She's started walking toward me again and this time I move in her direction as well. "I'm sorry" I say apologetically. "My memory isn't what it used to be." I crack a smile, hoping the attempt at a joke will put her at ease.

"That makes two of us." She says. "You look lost."

"That's because I am." I confess. "I can't even find my way home." I'm now wondering if I was ready to leave the hospital after all.

"It looks different since the bombing." She tells me. "I'll take you home."

"Thank you." She leads the way through areas that are now completely unrecognizable. A few spots are bare, some still full of rubble, and a few have buildings that are only half standing. Greasy Sae tells me that she has been cooking for Katniss since she returned to District 12, and she'll be heading over there in a few hours to make her breakfast. I don't ask about her, even though it's the first thing I want to do.

When we reach the path to the Victor's Village I sigh. Finally something that looks familiar. I thank Greasy Sae again, and she nods before walking into Haymitch's house without knocking. I'm alone again. Once I'm sure Greasy Sae is out of sight, I steal a glance at Katniss' house; it looks dark and empty. The baron state of the house makes me turn away and walk to my house. The door is unlocked, which isn't normal, but I'm glad it is, since I had no way of unlocking the door myself.

I walk in to see the place looks freshly cleaned. Objects that should be covered in dust are free of even a speck of it. Greasy Sae must have been in here too. Suddenly I feel restless. It's been so long since I've had actual free time to do what I want without being observed that I can't remember what that was like. I go into the living room and sit on the couch, the only sound is a clock ticking on the wall.

The ticking grows louder and louder in my ears and is then replaced entirely by the voice of a woman repeating the words "tick tock." Immediately my mind is overtaken by visions; they're not shiny so I pay extra attention to them. Wiress. Fog. Mags walking into it. Lightning. Blood rain. Monkeys. The Quarter Quell.

Before I even realize what I'm doing, I've ripped the clock off the wall and have thrown it across the room. Once I'm sure the ticking has stopped, I grab the notebook from my bag and write down everything I just remembered. I read it over out loud 3 times before I fall asleep on the couch.

"Get up!" It's the first thing I hear before I feel pushing on my shoulder. I open my eyes to see Haymitch standing above me. "Welcome home, boy."

"Doesn't anyone sleep around here?" I ask, rubbing my eyes.

"That's a stupid question. You should know that answer already." He looks across the room at the floor "What'd you do to that clock?" he asks, pointing to it.

"I threw it." I tell him. "The ticking was getting to me."

"Well if I ever get to you let me know before throwing me across a room, alright? I've heard about how far you can throw a person." I give Haymitch a look and he just shrugs before hitting my legs. "Move over." I move and he sits down next to me. Waiting for me to speak.

"I was hoping you'd be at the train station today." I start. "I had no idea where I was."

"Dr. Aurelius said it would be better if I weren't there. He called me last night." Haymitch confesses.

"I don't see how getting me lost is going to help me at all." I say angrily.

"Don't look at me, kid. I just did what the doctor asked of me. If you have a problem then you tell him."

"I will, when I call him. I told him I would when I got back here."

"Well don't let me keep you from it. I just wanted to say welcome home." He stands up and walks towards the door but stops before leaving. "I'm surprised you didn't ask me about Katniss."

"I want to." I reply.

"Well then why didn't you?"

"I'm afraid of what you'll tell me." I say, grabbing my bag and looking for the phone number Dr. Aurelius gave me.

"She needs time." He tells me. "We all need time. Remember that." He tells me before walking out the door.

I find the card with the phone number on it and dial it, listening to the ring.

"Dr. Aurelius." He says, rather than saying hello. His voice is thick with sleep and I immediately remember how early it is.

"I woke you up. I'll call back later." I say into the receiver.

"Peeta? Don't hang up, I was expecting your call, but I also wanted to sleep a little. You can call me anytime you want." Dr. Aurelius says.

"Why did you tell Haymitch not to come to the train station today?"

"I thought it would force you to use your head. To rely on memories not solidified in your mind to get yourself home. Was it not successful?" he asks.

"I guess it was in a way." I tell him, finding it hard to be angry at him when he was just trying to help me further. "I ran into a woman that knew me. I didn't remember her too well or her name, but I was able to concentrate really hard and come up with her name and how I knew her."

"Good! That's exactly what I was hoping for. I want you to expose yourself to situations like this often, Peeta. Do you understand? If you get too comfortable, you'll never regain all of your memory back."

"I understand. I was thinking of doing something." I offer.

"What's that?" Dr. Aurelius asks.

"I think there are Primrose bushes in the woods. I mean, that's what I can remember. I don't know if they're still there, but they definitely used to be." I explain.

"You went into the woods a lot?"

"No, but before the Quarter Quell was announced and I was spending a lot of time at Katniss' house; Prim mentioned it to me. She told me that there are bushes full of yellow Primroses out in the woods because it was how her dad thought of her name. He'd see them while he hunted all the time." I continue. "So I thought maybe I could go and look for them and dig a few up to plant in Katniss' yard. For Prim."

Dr. Aurelius is silent for a moment before he speaks. "That's an amazingly detailed memory, Peeta."

"Some things are clearer than others. I'm not sure why that one is, but I'm glad it is." I tell him.

"You should do it then, but talk to Katniss about it first." I wasn't planning on that. I just wanted to do this for her and leave it at that.

"I will." I lie. "Talk to you next week." I say before hanging up the phone.

Before I can talk myself out of it, I go up to my room and look through the dressers, picking out clothing that I used to wear all the time. I grab a pair of boots from the closet and am back downstairs quickly, leaving the house and walking around the back to see if there's anything I can put the bushes in when I spot a wheelbarrow and a shovel. I throw the shovel into the wheelbarrow and wheel it out to the front of the house before stopping. I look over at Katniss' house again and it still looks deserted, so I pick up the handles of the wheelbarrow and push it in the direction of the woods. As I walk further from the Victor's Village, I notice carts. They're empty right now; it's still too early for anyone to be out working, but I know that they're for the dead. I decide to focus on the fence and the woods as I look for the spot that Katniss always talked about.

The sun has fully risen by the time I enter the woods, quickly, pulling the wheelbarrow underneath the fence with me. It'll be tough maneuvering it back out if it's full of Primrose bushes, but I think I can manage. Since it's early spring, the trees aren't as full as they would be in the summer, and I can easily see where to go without getting lost. I've wanted to do this for a while, so I notice the sea of yellow flowers immediately. I begin to dig, careful not to damage the roots and fill up the wheelbarrow. It can hold 5 snugly, so I stop there and begin to wheel the bushes back toward the Victor's Village.

When I get back, I get to work quickly, digging up a spot underneath the window, along the side of Katniss' house. I'm not sure how long I'm digging when I hear footsteps run toward me. And then a voice I haven't heard in so long.

"You're back." It's Katniss. Standing in front of me, staring at me. If I didn't know her voice so well I'd swear it wasn't her, though. She looks so fragile and dirty, and her hair is matted into clumps. I want to ask her how long it has been since she showered, but I know those are not the first words I should speak to her after all this time.

"Dr. Aurelius wouldn't let me leave The Capitol until yesterday." I explain. Those weren't the first words I wanted to speak either, but I can't take them back now. "By the way, he said to tell you he can't keep pretending he's treating you forever. You have to pick up the phone." She stares at me for a minute and I can't help but frown slightly. I knew things would be bad, but I didn't think it'd come to this.

She tries to push her hair out of her eyes, but it doesn't move. Finally, she takes her eyes off me and looks beyond my shoulder to the wheelbarrow full of Primrose bushes.

"What are you doing?" she asks. Her tone is defensive.

"I went to the woods this morning and dug these up. For her." I tell her. "I thought we could plant them along the side of the house." She continues to look at me, a glare of anger paints her face briefly before it softens and she simply nods at me. I take this to mean that what I'm doing is alright. She turns and runs back into her house, and I hear the click of the door's lock.

As I'm planting the bushes, I can hear commotion from inside the house. A thud, breaking glass, and the sound of windows opening. As much as I want to go and find out what's going on, and help her, I know right now it's not my place to do it, things are far too fragile between us right now, so I just continue planting the bushes.

When I'm just about finished up, Greasy Sae is back. She notices me at the side of he house, wiping sweat off my face with my shirt.

"I thought you'd be asleep." She says, walking over to me and admiring the bushes. "You did this?"

I nod. "For Prim." Her eyes look sad at the mention of her name, so I try to change the subject. "Katniss came out for a minute. Looked at the bushes, said a few things and ran back inside and locked the door." Greasy Sae shakes her head and reaches into her pocket, pulling out a ring of keys.

"I better fix her breakfast. Not that she'll eat it." She says sadly.

"Hey," I start. "I want to bring her some bread in the morning. Do you think you could help me get some supplies later?"

"Check your kitchen." She says with a smirk "I'll stop by your place in the morning so we can come here together. It's probably the only way she'll let you in right now." I smile and thank her before taking the wheelbarrow and shovel back to my house.

I didn't even look in the kitchen when I first got home. It turns out, not only did Greasy Sae clean my house, but she has it pretty well stocked with food and baking supplies.

"She's something else, isn't she?" Haymitch speaks up from the doorway.

I wave him in and he crosses the doorway. "You should marry her. Her husband died, didn't he?" I tell him.

"Is that your idea of a dirty joke?" he asks me, crinkling his nose like he just smelled something horrible.

"I don't know, you seem pretty smitten; just thought I'd make a suggestion." I shrug. "Think of it, 3 meals a day, a clean house…"

"Enough!" Haymitch says, throwing his hands in the air. "I didn't come here to talk about holy matrimony with Greasy Sae." He tells me.

"Then what did you come here to talk about?" I ask, already knowing the answer. "Katniss? I saw her today. She looked terrible, which I'm sure you already knew, but apparently I'm too fragile to know these things ahead of time." I can't help but raise my voice.

"You said you didn't want to ask because you were afraid of the answer." Haymitch says defensively.

"I don't care what I said! I'm tired of people treating me like I can't know things; like the slightest thing wrong will send me in a downward homicidal spiral or something."

"Well you're not better…" Haymitch begins, but I cut him off.

"I know that!" I snap. "Of all people that should know that, it's me. This is happening to me, not you. I know what I can handle and I know how to fight the flashbacks. You tell me to give Katniss time, and I will, but you could have at least warned me."

Haymitch throws his hands up in the air, an exasperated look on his face. "Do you still love her?" he asks quietly.

"That's none of your business." I tell him, turning my back to grab a glass from the cupboard.

"Since when?" Haymitch asks. "Because I remember you being more than willing to share before."

"What do you care?" I ask; my voice is cutting. "Did I offend the impenetrable Haymitch Abernathy?"

"Look, I just want to help you." He says.

"Why? Your job is done. You don't have to act like you care anymore." He laughs at me now, but it's not an amused laugh. It sounds sad, hopeless.

"Don't you get it, boy? My job will never be done." He shakes his head and turns to the door. "When you get that through that Hijacked brain of yours, you come find me." He says before he walks out the door.

Instantly I feel guilty. I haven't even been home 24 hours yet and I've made Haymitch angry. The one person who would probably listen and understand. I want to run out the door after him and apologize, but I don't, because he'll ask me that question again. I can't answer it yet, because I don't know the answer. I still can't figure out what my feelings are in regards to Katniss. There is too much that I still don't remember. The best I can do is to admit that I know she isn't out to hurt me; she isn't a mutt.

When I heard her voice earlier I felt something, but I can't be sure of what it was. It felt like all of the blood left my body and was replaced with boiling water, and then I saw her and all I felt was pity and the overwhelming urge to help her, like when we were 11. I'll see her again in the morning; maybe I can start piecing things together.

I wake up before the sun rises the next morning and go straight down the kitchen to start making bread before I get dressed for the day. Thankfully, this is one memory that seems to have never left and I prepare the dough without a single hesitation, leaving it to sit in a bowl on the kitchen counter until it's ready for baking. There's an unfamiliar feeling of nervousness in me today that has me wondering if it's because I know I'm going to see Katniss again. Yesterday was a surprise and now I know what I'm going to be seeing when I walk in her door in a few hours. Will she even allow me in? Does she trust me anymore? There are so many questions going through my mind, none of which I have the answers to, and it only makes the nerves worse.

While the dough is proofing, I shower and dress and come back down stairs to put the bread in the oven. It should be done just before Greasy Sae comes by, so it'll still be warm when I bring it to Katniss. I take a quick peek out my front window to see if Haymitch is outside, but he isn't. I really want to apologize, but instead I just wait for Greasy Sae to show up. When she knocks on the door, I jump. I'm not used to someone knocking.

"Thanks for knocking." I tell her when I open the door. "I'm so used to people just barging in, even when they do knock."

"You're the only one that'd let me in if I knocked." Greasy Sae confesses. "Those other two wouldn't answer the door if I did, so I have to just barge in there." I have to laugh, because I know she's right. "The bread smells great."

"There's a loaf for you too, don't forget to take it home." I say, motioning to an extra loaf on the counter cooling off.

"Thank you, Peeta. You didn't have to do that." I shrug at her and grab the loaf for Katniss. "Are we ready?" she nods and grabs the keys from her pocket and we walk over to Katniss' house together.

I stay behind slightly when Greasy Sae opens the door, not wanting to impose, even though I probably am regardless. When I walk in the house I see Katniss sitting at the kitchen table, an orange cat at her side sleeping. It can't be the cat I think it is, but it definitely looks like him.

"Good Morning, Katniss." Greasy Sae calls out from in front of the stove. This all looks routine to them, but since it isn't to me I stand just in front of the front door, holding the loaf of bread, unsure of what to do with myself. "Peeta made you a loaf of bread. Come put it over here, Peeta and sit down at the table, I'll make you breakfast."

"You don't have to do that; I'll just go home and make myself something." I protest.

"I won't hear it. Sit down." Greasy Sae instructs again.

"No, I'm going to go."

"Sit down." Greasy Sae and I both stop at the sound of Katniss' voice. "Just sit down." There's that feeling again, like my blood has been replaced by boiling water and I nod and swallow hard, even though Katniss has her back to me.

I sit down at the table in the chair across from Katniss. For the first time, I notice that her hair isn't matted into clumps anymore, but brushed out and clean, along with the rest of her. Her head in down, eyes focused on the wood grain of the table and I tilt my head downward a little to try and catch her eye. She must feel my stare, because she looks up right into my eyes and I can see her eyes are rimmed in red; she's been crying.

"Is that…?" I ask, not using Prim's name, but looking at the cat. She nods and gives me what I think is half a smile, it's quizzical, but still a smile. I smile back. "Tough cat." The room is silent after that until the sounds from the stove where Greasy Sae is making toast, eggs, and bacon finally fill the air and I use the opportunity to fill the room with words again. "Smells great." I say. "Thanks for cooking for me; I could have done it myself." Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Katniss lift her head up again to look at me when I speak, almost like she's observing me. I turn my head quickly and catch her eye, but only for a split second before she's looking down at the table again.

I want to tell her to look at me. I want to tell her to ask me all of the questions that are surely on her mind, but I can't yet. I'm supposed to give her time, and I will do that, but I can't help but feel that her skittish actions are my fault. I need to apologize to her, it's part of my treatment, but not with Greasy Sae here. There is so much that I need to tell her, and the urge to do so right now is almost overwhelming, but I don't say a word.

When Greasy Sae sets the plates of food in front of us, I immediately dig in. It's not the most delicious meal I've ever eaten, but it's better than what I had yesterday, which was nothing. I glance up from my plate and notice that Katniss isn't eating. She's just moving her eggs around with her fork and sneaking pieces of bacon off her plate and giving them to the cat.

"Not hungry?" I ask her. She looks up from her plate. "Because if you're not, I'll eat your food." It's meant as a joke, but the look that Katniss gives me tells me that she didn't find it very funny. She takes her fork and gives her eggs a violent stab, picking up a large portion and stuffing it into her mouth, watching me as she chews. I laugh as she takes a second bite. Going back to my food, I take a scoop of my eggs and put them on my toast and then fold it in half and take a bite. Katniss mimics my actions.

The awkwardness that was in the air earlier lessens, and though it's not gone completely there is a feeling familiarity filling the space. We finish our food in silence, and Greasy Sae takes our plates and gives them a quick wash.

"I have to go check on Haymitch now." Greasy Sae announces when she's finished with the dishes. "I'll be back to fix you lunch." She says to Katniss. I rise from my seat and follow Greasy Sae to the front door. Just as I'm about to walk out the door, Katniss speaks up.

"You can come back… for lunch."

"Are you sure?" I ask her. I thought I was supposed to be giving her time? I came here to give her bread and suddenly I'm invited for lunch.

"Greasy Sae cooks and leaves at lunch time, so I usually eat alone." She shrugs. "We could have lunch together, unless you have someone in your house to have lunch with."

"I don't." I shake my head.

"Then have lunch with me." Katniss says. Her voice cracks, but she sits up straight and determined.

"Alright." I smile. "I'll see you later." I say before walking out the door. When I close the door, Greasy Sae grabs my arm and pulls me down the front steps.

"How'd you do that?" She asks.

"Do what?" I answer, confused.

"Get her to eat. She has hardly eaten in weeks." She explains.

"I wasn't trying to get her to eat; I just said if she wasn't going to eat her food, I would. I think she ate just to spite me."

"Do you think she showered, brushed her hair, and went hunting yesterday just to spite you?" She asks me then.

"She went hunting?" I ask.

"Yes. All of it after she saw you." She tells me. With that, she walks off in the direction of Haymitch's house, and I return to my own home, a smile on my face. Maybe she doesn't hate me after all. Maybe it's up to me to show her that I'm getting better.

I return to Katniss' for lunch, and just like she said, Greasy Sae cooks the meal and serves us, then shuffles off to accomplish her next task. It's just me and Katniss alone now. She doesn't look scared, but maybe a little apprehensive. Like she doesn't quite know what to say to me anymore and I can't blame her. I don't think I'd know what to say either, so I break the ice.

"She's always on the go, that one." I say in regards to Greasy Sae.

"I think it gives her worth. Sometimes she has her granddaughter here helping, but she hasn't been here for a few days." Katniss explains. This is good, keep her talking, and don't let her dwell on things.

"I told Haymitch to marry her." I say with a laugh.

"No you didn't." her smile is a little larger than it was this morning and I can feel my stomach flip flop at the sight of it. It's good to see in person instead of in the memories that come to me when I close my eyes.

I nod. "I did. He didn't like the idea though."

"Do you see a lot of Haymitch?" she asks suddenly.

"Not really. I saw him twice yesterday, but I made him mad so he stormed out and I haven't seen him at all yet today." I explain.

"He comes here from time to time and just sits here. He doesn't say anything, but I don't either." She explains in return. I'm glad she doesn't ask what I did to make him mad, I'm not quite ready to explain to her the extent of my therapy and what I am still working on. I don't think either of us is ready to talk about any of that yet. Time, just like Haymitch said. I'm just glad that we can talk like this, even if we are avoiding talking about anything serious.

This becomes a daily occurrence with us. I bring Katniss bread in the morning, have breakfast and then return for lunch. Our conversations are all light, we obviously skirt around the evident issues, but the feeling of familiarity I had on the first day grows ten-fold over the next few weeks.

Greasy Sae teaches me how to order supplies from The Capitol and I talk to Dr. Aurelius once a week, telling him the progress I've made both personally and with Katniss. Eventually, I have to ask for a second notebook to write down my memories in because I fill the first one. Memories are returning quickly now, sometimes when I sleep and other times in the middle of the day out of nowhere.

One afternoon while putting away bread pans another memory comes to me. Cheese buns, and then Katniss. It hits me all at once what this is. They are her favorite and I haven't made them for her yet since coming back home. I wonder if she's been waiting for that. I bring her bread every morning and though she hasn't made it known, I have to suspect that she's waiting for me to bring cheese buns.

I catch Greasy Sae the next morning and ask her if she has any cheese. I put in an order with The Capitol, but the train isn't due to stop here for another week. Fortunately, Greasy Sae does have some cheese and she happily gives it to me when I tell her what it's for. She's noted the difference in Katniss since my return, and is happy to see that something is finally working.

When I get to Katniss' house for lunch that afternoon, I have a basket full of cheese buns on my left arm. I test the doorknob and see that she has the door unlocked today. This has been happening more often and she has been allowing me to walk in without knocking lately.

"You beat Greasy Sae." She says from the couch in the living room when I walk in. She still doesn't act like the Katniss that I can remember, but when I think about it, maybe that's because my memories of Katniss hves been through the ringer. "What is that?" she asks, noticing the basket.

"Cheese buns." I say, lifting up the basket. I look at her and her face is blank. Then, her eyes soften and a tiny smile creeps up on her face. "Your favorite, right?" I ask. She nods. "I just remembered." I say with a frown. It's the first time that I've ever alluded to my broken memory, but Katniss just nods, understanding. "It's funny how I could remember some things, like throwing you the bread that day or Prim telling me about the bushes in the woods, but I couldn't remember that you loved cheese buns or that my favorite color is orange."

"Prim told you about the bushes?" Katniss asks, her voice small, almost a whisper.

"Yeah. The day you came home late, when you broke your heel. She told me while we were waiting for you, just before the Peacekeepers showed up." I tell her. "I never forgot that one." Tears spring up in Katniss' eyes and I immediately regret telling her that.

"Thank you for telling me that." She says. Never mind, I take that back.

"There's still a lot I don't remember." I confess sheepishly.

"What do the doctors say? Will the memories every come back?" she asks.

"They say yes, I just have to be willing to let them, and read through the ones I've gotten back." I explain.

"Read through?" she says, confused.

"Dr. Aurelius had me write down every memory that comes to me, and I read through it all the time. It helps solidify the memories and allow others to present themselves." She nods at my explanation and grabs my arm, pulling me down to sit on the couch next to her before reaching into the basket, grabbing a cheese bun, and splitting it in half, handing me one half and then taking a bite of hers.

"That sounds a little like an idea that I had, actually." She says through chews. "Do you remember the plant book we worked on before The Quarter Quell?" I close my eyes to try and bring up the memory.

"I colored the pictures." I say, eyes still closed. "And I carried you up to your room." I feel her hand on my arm again and she gives it a gentle squeeze, letting me know that I'm right. The feeling of her hand on me sets my skin on fire and an electric jolt to my groin, the way it used to. That was another memory I never forgot, but it's not one I'll tell her. I shift my position before opening my eyes again to see Katniss staring at me.

"Are you okay?" she asks, she moves her hand up, but stops herself, setting it back down on my arm.

"I'm fine." I smile. "Closing my eyes makes the memories clearer. I like to see them as clear as I can. It helps when I need to recall them later."

"I want to create a memory book." She says suddenly. "Like the plant book, but for our memories. Would you help me?" she asks.

I nod, not trusting my voice at the moment, this is the deepest conversation we've had since I came home and it's overwhelming me more than I had expected it to. Confused feelings are turning familiar again, and I didn't realize how much I missed her touch until she grabbed my arm. She smiles, it's still smaller than I remember it being, but it's a smile, and then her arms are wrapped around my neck in a silent thank you.

The sound of the door opening pulls us apart and we both leap off the couch and walk to the kitchen and sit down at the table without another word. I place the basket of cheese buns in the center of the table and we have them with lunch. It's a quiet affair, but not awkward, just… tapped out. We took a big leap today and the rational side of me knows that it was more than enough, almost too much. I know how I still tend to get when I'm overwhelmed and I don't doubt Katniss has issues of her own that she has to battle when she is overwhelmed by too many emotions being brought to the surface.

When our food is eaten, we silently wash the dishes so that Greasy Sae doesn't have to do them later, and then I know it's time for me to go home.

"I don't have any cheese left, so I can't make you more cheese buns until The Capitol train brings in another shipment of supplies." I explain.

"It's okay." Katniss says. "I'm just glad you brought these." She stops for a minute and looks down in that skittish way she did the first day I came for breakfast. "I'm glad you remembered."

"Me too." I tell her. "See you tomorrow, Katniss." I say, walking toward the door.

"Tomorrow." Katniss says, wistfully. I turn and walk backward the rest of the way to the door, Katniss follows until we're both in front of the door frame. This time, it's me who grabs Katniss' arm.

"Bye." I say, echoing the tone that was just in her voice. I have to stop myself before I do something that I'll regret later. The one thing Dr. Aurelius has been repeating is to not bite off more than I can chew, and I'm about one nibble away from that point. "I have to go." I say, and with a smile, I turn back around and walk out the door, careful not to look back.

Chapter Text

The next few days carry on as they have been, with light conversations that never go deeper into the problems that Katniss and I both have. We eat, we talk about everything but what we should be talking about, and then I go home. We're getting along, but we regard each other in a way that's polite. Too polite. We've reached a stalemate.

I know they say that if it isn't broken, don't fix it, but I can't help but feel that even though things don't appear broken and we are spending time together, they're just as broken as they ever were. We are broken. We're avoiding too much; I thought the step forward we took the other day would allow us both to open up more and lay everything out on the table so we can start fresh, but all it did was send us ten steps backward. I feel as though I'm walking on eggshells, too afraid to say what I really want to say, and by the way Katniss behaves, she's doing the same thing. There's only one person that I know can help me; Haymitch.

I've only seen glimpses of Haymitch since he stormed out of my house a few weeks ago. I didn't make an effort to seek him out and he's so stubborn I know he'd never be the first to try to resolve things, and since this is my fault, it's my job to make things right.

After lunch at Katniss', I leave and walk directly over to Haymitch's house and knock hard on the door. He may be asleep right now, but I don't care. This needs to be fixed and I need his advice. I didn't realize how much I had come to rely on it. The door opens with a bang and I'm face to face with a very sober looking Haymitch. Greasy Sae did tell us this morning that he ran out of liquor.

"Well, well… I've been wondering when you'd show up." Haymitch says.

"Save it, Haymitch. I'm sorry, okay? I yelled at the wrong person, and I'm still not myself. I'm working on it." I say quickly, before I can get mad again and make things worse.

"Apology accepted, but I wasn't mad at you. I just told you to come see me when you realized I'm here to help you, so I was just waiting for it to dawn on you." He's got a smug look on his face, telling me "I told you so" without actually saying it out loud.

"Can we talk?" I ask.

"That depends…" he says, considering my question. "Are you going to yell at me or are you going to talk to me?"

"I really need to talk." I say, trying not to sound like I'm begging. He opens the door wider, inviting me in. Greasy Sae has been doing a nice job keeping this place looking clean and more importantly, smelling clean. He motions for me to sit at the kitchen table, and he takes a seat across from me, propping his elbows on the table and resting his chin on his hands.

"So… you've been spending a lot of time with the Mockingjay, I've noticed. Just because you don't see me doesn't mean I'm not paying attention." I ignore him.

"Greasy Sae told me that the day I planted the bushes, Katniss brushed out her hair, showered and went hunting. She thinks it was because of me, but I don't know." I shrug.

"She saw you planting Primrose bushes in honor of her sister. Of course it was because of you." Haymitch says nonchalantly.

"We just seem to be at a standstill right now and I don't know how to approach any of the conversations we need to have. We talk about the weather and about the food we're eating. The air in that house is just so thick that I can't stay long, I feel like I'm suffocating on something." I explain.

"That's all you ever talk about?" Haymitch asks.

"We talk a lot, but it's just too cordial, except for a few days ago." I say. Haymitch raises his eyebrows, urging me to continue. "Out of nowhere I remembered how much she loves cheese buns, so I made her some and brought them over for lunch." Haymitch nods. "When I brought them to her and told her that I had just remembered, she just seemed to relax a little bit. We talked a little about my memory and prognosis, it was the most genuine conversation we've had since I came back, and then she hugged me."

"Did you tell this to Dr. Aurelius?" He asks.

"Yeah, but he just repeated the same thing he always does 'Give her time, Peeta.' I've heard it all before." I say. "I'm not trying to rush her or rush anything; I don't even know what I'd be rushing, but I know that there is a lot we need to talk about and I just can't stand the tension anymore. It's getting so bad that I have to fight with myself every time I'm there so that I don't slip into a flashback, but it doesn't always work and I know she notices it. It's too much. I just think that if we can get things out in the open, it would help, I just don't know how to get myself to do it."

"Well what about when you brought her the cheese buns?" Haymitch asks, clearly plotting. "That was your catalyst to open a new door, so find another one."

"But I didn't bring them to her with any intentions of deep conversation; I just wanted her to have some."

"So what? Did you lose your will to plan out ways to handle situations? Do something different. If you keep yourself in a safe zone, you can give her all the time in the world, she won't budge. You have to catch her off guard, just like you did with the bushes and the buns. If she's catching you having flashbacks, I can understand why she might be afraid to say something that could get intense for you. You did try to kill her. She needs to know you're okay." This is why I needed Haymitch. Maybe if the Hijacking never happened I would have been able to figure that out myself, but after everything that has transpired I'm left as a bundle of nervous energy, too eager to prove that I'm getting better but neglecting to figure out how to mend everything else around me.

"She wants to start creating a memory book." I tell Haymitch. "Before the Quarter Quell we worked on a book of plants together, and she wants to do something like that, but for things we've lost. She asked me to help her with it."

"Do you think you'll be able to?" Haymitch asks.

"I thought about that, and I don't see why I can't. I'll contribute where I can, and I'll help with pictures." I explain. "It can't be that tough."

"What about flashbacks?"

"I didn't think about that." I say. My memory book is different from the one Katniss wants to make. All I do is write down any memory that comes to me, but working on this book with Katniss is going to force me to think about things that may not be stable in my mind yet; the odds of one of them inducing a flashback are incredibly high.

"Well you should think about it and then you have to ask yourself if you're ready to include Katniss in that part of your life." It's a warning and an idea all mixed into one and I remember a moment with Squad 451 when Katniss helped me through a flashback. I let what Haymitch said sink in.

"Thanks, Haymitch." I say absent-mindedly, too focused on what I'm planning to do much else. I get up from the table and extend my hand to him, an act of both gratitude and apology. "I'll see you later."

When I walk into Katniss' for breakfast the next morning, I'm both nervous and excited. I went over what I was going to say countless times last night before I finally allowed myself to go to sleep, and I'm feeling confident that I can approach things with poise and care. Haymitch is right; Katniss needs to know that I'm okay, and trying to hide flashbacks from her isn't very convincing. I need to be honest and I need to make her part of my recovery if I expect our relationship to evolve beyond cordial conversations.

She's sitting on the ledge in front of the kitchen fireplace gently running a brush through Buttercup's coat. I stop walking and take a minute to observe the moment. She looks so serene, and I smile at what's going on. "You've taken a liking to that cat." I say, finally interrupting the moment.

"His coat was ratty, I was just brushing it out for him." She puts the brush down quickly and stands up, shooing the cat away.

"Always an excuse." I tease. "Do you mind if we have a talk after breakfast? I don't want to start now and have to stop when Greasy Sae gets here." She shrugs at my question, the look of nervousness and anxiety that has been present for weeks has returned. "I just want to talk about some details regarding the memory book." I may have stretched the truth a bit, but this conversation needs to happen.

Mentioning the book seems to relax her, and she nods. "Sure. After breakfast." She repeats my words. We eat quickly and tell Greasy Sae that we can take care of the dishes; with an appreciative nod, she leaves. That thickness is in the air again as we both get up from the table and don't move.

"So… do you want to help me do the dishes?" Katniss asks. Her voice is dripping with apprehension, and I can't take it anymore. Before I can stop myself, I'm saying things that I did not practice at home.

"What happened to us?" My tone is shaky and I can't stand anymore; dropping back down into the kitchen chair, I ask again, "What happened to us?"

"You know what happened to us." Katniss answers. I hear her chair being pulled away from the table and I look up at her as she sits back down.

"Not individually…" I say, shaking my head. I point at myself and then at her. "Us." I can see her shoulders slump down. "It wasn't always like this… was it?"

The expression on her face is sad as she shakes her head. "No… it wasn't."

"How do we get back there?" This is not what I was planning at all.

"I don't know…" she answers, tears pricking her eyes. I reach my hand out across the table and graze hers.

"Is this okay?" I ask, and she nods quickly. I grasp her hand in mine and try to speak words that I never planned to say right now. "Everything is so confusing." I admit. "I want to talk to you and tell you things so you know that I'm okay now, but there's just something that lingers when I'm around you that prevents me from doing it."

"You're scared." Katniss says. She breaks eye contact and looks down at our hands linked together. "…of me." I'm taken aback by what she's saying. How could she think I'm scared of her?

I shake my head trying to keep tears away, but my voice cracks as I ask the question. "Why would you think that?"

"Look at me." She says. "I don't look like myself, I don't act like myself. I can't blame anyone for tip toeing around me, what else are they supposed to do? I'm being treated like a wounded animal because I am. I don't deserve anything else."

"You're wrong." I tell her. "If anyone should be scared it's you… of me."

"I'm not scared of you, Peeta. I wouldn't have invited you to have lunch with me alone if I were scared of you. Do you think I'm stupid?" she asks.

"I just thought you were being polite."

"Greasy Sae looks at me with pity, like I'm a horse that should be shot, and Haymitch sits here and says nothing, but looks at me like he's condemning me. I just wanted to sit with someone who doesn't look at me like that." She explains. I want to ask her how I look at her, but instead I simply nod, because I get it.

"That's why I got so mad at Haymitch when I first came back. Everyone is hiding stuff from me and giving me sad looks or studying me, trying to determine when I'm going to snap next. They think I'm too fragile to hear bad news and wouldn't be able to handle anything too intense."

"Can you handle it?" Katniss asks.

I nod. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. I want you to know that I'm okay. I'm not better, but I am okay. There may be days where I'll slip into a flashback, but part of why I stayed in The Capitol so long was so that I could learn how to control them." I hate saying the word flashback out loud, but I've been forced to say it a lot lately.

"You've had a few here." Katniss says. It's a statement, not a question.

"Yes, and I fought really hard not to, but it still happens sometimes." I hate that she noticed them. I want to apologize for being weak, but I know that won't help right now. "The honest answer is that I'll probably always have them, but Dr. Aurelius thinks they will decrease as time goes on." Now that I've said it, I don't know why I tried to hide them. Maybe it was embarrassment, or maybe it was fear of what Katniss would think of me; maybe it was both.

"Do you think working on the book is going to induce more of them than usual?" Katniss asks. She seems to know exactly where my mind is.

"It might, and I'm not saying this because I don't want to help you. I still do, but I just wanted you to be aware that it may and probably will happen. I don't want to try to hide them from you anymore, it only makes them worse." I explain. "So if you still want me to help, I will."

"I still want you to help. Is there anything that I can do if you have one?" she asks.

"Be patient…" I tell her. "And understand that I can't help it. That's all I ask." She nods at my request. "And I'm sorry for everything that I did to you and said to you in 13 and with Squad 451. I won't blame you if you don't forgive me, I can hardly forgive myself."

"I forgive you." Katniss says. She gives my hand a gentle squeeze. "I blamed you for it then, and for that I'm the one who is sorry, but I don't blame you anymore."

I breathe a sigh of relief knowing that all of this is finally out in the open and finally allow myself to smile and then start to laugh. "It's kind of silly, really." I say. "We were getting so upset at other people for treating us like porcelain dolls, and here we were doing that exact thing to each other."

"I guess we did." Katniss says. She shakes her head. "If you ever want to bring your notebooks over, I can help you go through what you've written down. I mean, so you don't have to do it alone." She says.

"I'd like that." I tell her. The air in the room feels less heavy, it's a huge step forward that I hope continues to move in that direction instead of going backwards like it did before. It feels different this time too, like I'm gaining something back little by little that was never truly lost but hiding somewhere in the depths of my mind that is, for the first time since my Hijacking, beginning to come alive again.

I stay with Katniss through lunch and we talk about things we'd like to put into the book. Katniss has a lot of memories of Prim that she wants to include, and I let her talk about them without interruption. The look in her eyes as she talks about Prim is a mixture of sadness and adoration, and I know she needs to do this and she needs someone there to just listen without interfering. When she's done, I talk about my family and some of the things I'd like to include. Then, she tells me that Dr. Aurelius is sending over a box of parchment sheets on the next Capitol train that we can use to start the book, and since I have to go and get the cheese and other things that I requested, I offer to get her box as well, but she says no, then quickly suggest that we go together to get our things. The idea appeals to me so much that I can't help but smile as I nod at her. I've been out to walk around District 12 a lot since coming back in attempts to remember where everything is and learn what it looks like since the bombing, but since Katniss went hunting on my first day back, I don't think she's left the Victor's Village since. It'll be good for her to get out.

"I should probably go." I say a short time later. I don't really have anything to do, but I feel like I'm overstaying my welcome since I've been here since early this morning and didn't make my usual retreat back home between breakfast and lunch. Katniss nods slightly when I stand from the table, she gets up and follows me to the door.

"Thanks for staying," she says. She'll never admit it, but no matter what she's been through she does not want to be alone. "You could come back for dinner, you know." She suggests then. "Bring your notebooks."

We really must have hit a new point today. She's never suggested I stay for dinner before. Never even alluded that the idea was something she ever entertained. At first I plan to decline. I don't want to overstep my boundaries in just one day, but I can see the loneliness in Katniss' face; it's a look I see in my own face when I look in the mirror, so I tell her I'll be back for dinner with my books.

When I walk back in the front door a few hours later, Greasy Sae is already at the stove, tending to a frying pan that has food sizzling in it. She looks over her shoulder and gives me a smile.

"She's out back getting some logs for the fire." I didn't ask where Katniss was, but Greasy Sae must have assumed I was going to ask anyway.

"Thanks." I tell her, setting my books down on the table. "I'll go see if she needs any help." When I walk out the back door, I see Katniss adding a few logs into a small pile that she has on the top step of the porch. "Need any help?" I call out to her. Her face is flushed and her breathing is heavy from exertion when she walks over to me.

"Can you bring these in and put them by the kitchen fireplace?" she asks. She wipes sweat from her brow.

"Sure." I say leaning over and picking up the entire bundle. I walk back into the house and set the logs down where Katniss instructed me too. Katniss comes in a minute later with a smaller bundle of logs that she brings to the living room fireplace, and Greasy Sae scoops food out onto our plates that she's set on the table. We sit down to eat and she stands at the head of the table for a minute before she begins to speak.

"Alright, do you kids have it from here?" there's a look on her face that I can't quite read. There's a smile that isn't big but still goes straight to her eyes. We both nod to her and she quickly grabs her coat, says goodbye, and leaves.

"What was with her?" Katniss asks.

"Maybe she has a date." I joke and take a bite of my food. "The food has a little more flavor today too. Maybe Haymitch put my idea to marry her into motion…"

"Gross…" Katniss makes a disgusted face before trying her food. "It does have more flavor, though." I raise my eyebrows at her and nod and she makes that same disgusted face before we agree not to think about that anymore.

We finish eating and do the dishes quickly, working in a silence that's now comfortable instead of tense. It's dark outside when I glance out the window, and Katniss is in front of the kitchen fireplace arranging logs to start a fire.

"I usually start a fire every night. For some reason it calms me down before I go to bed." She explains. The large ledge that juts out from the floor of the fireplace is big enough and high enough for us to sit on; it's where I found Katniss brushing Buttercup this morning. The fire is roaring and she's sitting quietly staring into the flames, so I grab my books off the table and sit down opposite Katniss; she looks up at me when she notices me set my books down between us wordlessly.

She slowly reaches for the top book, which is the fuller of the two, and picks it up, setting it in her lap. She looks at me, as if to ask permission before opening it. "Go on." I tell her. She opens the book to a random page and begins to read through the page.

"Your dad taught you how to decorate the cakes." She says. Her head is still down, looking at the words on the page.

"Yeah…neither one of my brothers had hands steady enough to learn." I tell her.

"How long did it take you to learn?" she asks, looking up from the book and looking at me.

"A few months, I guess. Not too long." I say with a shrug.

"Prim loved them." I knew she picked this memory from the page for a reason.

"Turn the page." I tell her. She does and begins to read the next page. By now, I have a lot of the book memorized and I know on the very next page of that one I wrote about how Prim used to look at the cakes in the window. She still hasn't said anything; it seems like she just keeps reading the same thing over and over. "You should have brought her in. I could have gotten a cake for her."

"And taken another beating?" she asks me. When she looks up her eyes are sorrowful.

I shrug. "I would have, you know."

We spend the next two hours looking through my notebooks. In a way, it feels like I'm studying for a test in school and Katniss is quizzing me, and in other ways, it feels like she is getting to know me even more than she ever did. She reads memories of mine out loud that I have never told her, and I explain to her what they are about. Other memories she already knows and she doesn't spend as much time on them. Right now she's more interested in what she doesn't already know. I could sit in front of the fire with her all night, but when I see her yawn into the book, I know I need to go home.

"You're tired, I should go home." I say. Katniss' head snaps up quickly from the page she was looking at. There's a strange look on her face; almost fearful, but then it disappears.

"It is getting late." She agrees. "And we have to be at the train station early to get our stuff." She sounds more like she's trying to convince herself that it's the right thing to do, but I keep the thought to myself.

"I'll meet you here in the morning and then we can head to the station after breakfast." She closes the notebook she was looking at, and stands up, holding it out to me, but when I grab for it she doesn't let it go; instead she takes a step forward and closes the space between us by putting her head on my chest, trapping the arm that holds the notebook between us while the other stays at her side. Instinctively, my arms move up and wrap around her small frame and I move my head down and rest my cheek on the top of her head. Her breathing is steady against me as I begin to rub circles on her back with my hand; she takes a deep breath in. We stand there for a few minutes, not speaking, barely even moving. I let the smell of her hair fill my nose one last time before I pull away. "Time to go." I whisper; she shakes her head in agreement before finally giving me the notebook and grabbing the second one off the ledge to hand over as well.

When I walk away, her hand catches mine and grabs on, holding it and walking behind me to the door; when we reach it, I turn around keeping her hand in mine. "See you in the morning." I tell her. The corner of my mouth lifts up into a small smile, remembering the moment a few weeks ago that is now being echoed by this one.

"Bye…" Katniss says in that same tone she had that night… wistful, almost dreamy; like she's on the edge of two worlds, unsure of which one she is supposed to be in. When I begin to walk away, neither one of us wants to be the first to let go; we keep our hands touching until we can't reach anymore. My fingers graze hers as I walk away, until our hands are too far apart to touch. Every time I touch her I get that feeling that part of my brain is waking up again and when I feel that, the first thing I want to know is if this is the part of my brain that was in love with her coming back to life and remembering what I used to feel. Every time I see her I feel something and it gets stronger and stronger every day, I just wish I could fully understand it.

As promised, the next morning Katniss and I leave the house right after breakfast to walk to the train station to pick up our things. The train arrives in the middle of the night, complete with Capitol employees who spend the next few hours counting and dividing our things. When we get there, we simply have to tell them our name and they bring us our things. Larger orders get carts while small orders get a basket that we can then take back to our homes. Further down the line at the station is a cart and basket return where you can deposit the cart or basket you used from the previous week so that it can be reused. My order last week wasn't very big, so I only have a basket to return to them; I hold it with my left forearm as we walk out the front door.

"Well look who is outside!" Haymitch yells from his front door. Katniss shoots him a glare that would scar a normal person for life, but Haymitch just laughs it off, jogging down his front steps and over to us. "Good of you to show your face, Sweetheart."

"I assume your giddiness is due to the fact that you're getting more alcohol today." Katniss retorts, deadpan. "Aren't we lucky?"

"Aren't you, though?" Haymitch says smugly. "After the endless puking from not having my liquid diet, I feel like a million bucks, except for these shakes." He shrugs and begins walking. "Let's go, we can't keep them waiting." When he says "them", I'm not sure if he means The Capitol or his bottles of liquor.

"I guess we're walking to the station with Haymitch." I whisper to Katniss. She grumbles but complies, and begins walking in step with me. Haymitch is a few steps ahead of us, eager to get to his precious liquid.

The body recovery efforts finally stopped a couple weeks ago, but the carts that held the bodies still remain, now used for different cleanup jobs around the District. I don't like seeing them around, knowing that my family was probably in one of them, but when we see one come up the road both Haymitch and I are shocked at the loud gasp that escapes from Katniss' mouth as she grabs for my hand frantically. Once our hands find each other she looks down at the ground, intent on not looking at the cart at all and depending on me to lead her. Haymitch is watching us over his shoulder, and I look at him briefly and see a small smirk on his face before he begins to walk even faster, distancing himself from us and disguising his respectful gesture to give us privacy with his eagerness for a drink.

"Are you okay?" I ask Katniss quietly. I have my head turned away from the cart, but keep my eyes on Haymitch's feet ahead of us until we pass it.

"I just can't look at them." She says. "…even if they're not for bodies anymore."

"All I see is my family when I look at one." I confess. She squeezes my hand tighter when she remembers.

"Are you okay?" she asks in return.

I nod. "I'm fine." We walk for a little while longer and finally pass the cart. "We passed it." I tell Katniss and she raises her head back up then looks at me.

"Thanks." She says, but she doesn't let go of my hand.

The time at the station goes quickly compared to how it was when I first came back. They've worked out a better flow to getting people in and out quickly and it finally seems to be paying off. District 12 doesn't have many residents, but when everyone is gathered in a small, rundown train station, things are bound to get chaotic.

When we return to the Victor's Village, Haymitch goes to his house with his liquor and slams the door, leaving me and Katniss standing there alone.

"I'm going to skip lunch today." I tell her. She looks disappointed, until I tell her why. "I'm going to make you some cheese buns; I'll bring them over for dinner. That is, if I'm invited to dinner again."

"As long as you bring cheese buns, you're invited for the rest of your life." I laugh and bid her farewell, I take my cart of supplies into my house and Katniss brings her cart of parchment into hers and we shut the door on each other.

I start to get everything ready for baking cheese buns when I hear my door fly open and hit the wall on other side.

"Alright, what was that?" It's Haymitch holding a half empty bottle of liquor and looking like his sober state is diminishing at an alarming rate.

"What was what?" I ask innocently.

"The hand holding and the whispering!" he says raising his voice slightly, but not angrily. "I thought you two were barely speaking?"

"Yeah, well, we had a talk last night and agreed not to do that anymore." I tell him. To my surprise, Haymitch gives me a look of approval.

"So…" he starts before taking a long drink and wiping his mouth on his sleeve. "Are you still in love with her? Can I ask that now, or are you going to get all pissy again?" He wastes no time before he's back to chugging on the now almost empty bottle of liquor.

I don't want to answer him, but I'm not mad that he asked. I think deep down I wanted him to. I want to talk about this out loud with someone that isn't Dr. Aurelius. I don't want my concerns to be met with medical jargon and requests that I vow to give things time. I know we need time, my brain won't allow me to do it any other way, but I still need to say it out loud. "I think so…" I answer and immediately feel stupid. It makes so much more sense in my head, but putting into words is harder than I imagined it was going to be.

"You think so?" Haymitch hiccups. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I guess it just means that I'm starting to remember part of why I fell in love with her in the first place." I tell him and this seems to satisfy him.

"And you're making her more of those things she likes." He notes, looking at the ingredients that are spread out on the counter.

"I'm taking them over with me when I go for dinner." I explain.

"Having dinner together now, too? How romantic. Are you going to bring candles too?" I give him a look that tells him I'm not amused, but he laughs at himself anyway before giving a quick grumble when he notices his bottle is empty. "Time for number two." He says, and walks out the door.

I make it over it Katniss' house, cheese buns in hand, before Greasy Sae gets there and find her in the living room, putting logs into the fireplace. "What's wrong with the kitchen fireplace?" I ask.

"Nothing, but-" she stops herself from finishing her sentence.

"What is it?" I ask her gently. "You can talk to me."

"I don't want to just assume that you'll stay longer, but I was hoping we could talk more about the book and start it tomorrow?" she looks like a child standing there as she asks me. "It's just that the couch is more comfortable than the cement ledge in the kitchen.

"I think Haymitch wanted me to play cards with him tonight." I say jokingly, and then turn serious. "Of course I'll stay, Katniss." It's nice to see her eager to do something other than hide in her house all day.

The evening begins the same as it did yesterday. We eat, we clean up and we retire in front of a fireplace to talk, but instead of sitting on the ledge in front of the kitchen fireplace, we are on the couch in front of the living room fireplace. Katniss is right; it is a lot more comfortable. We are both sitting on opposite ends, facing each other while we talk about what we'd like to start the book with, other materials we're going to need, and figuring out if we have photos to use or if I'll have to draw certain memories.

As we talk, the space between us grows smaller and smaller until eventually, Katniss is sitting directly next to me. I'm still sitting sideways, my right leg on the floor and my left propped up against the back of the couch, but Katniss has turned forward and has her legs crossed in front of her; when I look down I notice that she's somehow managed to move herself over close enough to me that she's sitting right in the space between my legs.

This time when she yawns, I make no effort to leave. Instead, I move my body back and prop myself up on the throw pillow before contemplating my next move. I reach my arm up and take Katniss' hand in mine and gently pull her toward me, testing the waters to see if she'll go with it. She straightens out her legs then and turns to her side, moving her head down and laying it on my chest, and I bring my hand up and lightly brush the hair around her ear.

"My hair is hideous." She says.

"It's not." I tell her, still using my fingers to trace around her ear. "I think it's beautiful."

"Easy for you to say, you don't have to deal with it every day." She says then. "It's uneven; parts are still really hard to brush through because it was burnt. I'm a mess." I shush her then and rub my thumb over her cheek. Neither one of us says another word; I'm not sure what time it is when we fall asleep together on the couch.

Chapter Text

I can feel the sun on my face when I wake up, but it's not until I open my eyes that I notice I don't recognize where I am. My body feels stiff and there's a weight on my chest pushing down on me so that I can't get up. When I lift up my head, it hits me. I'm still on Katniss' couch… and so is Katniss.

The last thing I remember is lying down with her; we must have fallen asleep shortly after that. My right leg is now also up on the couch rather than planted on the floor, and Katniss is lying on her stomach, still between my legs, with her head on my chest, while her arms are wrapped around my waist. It can't be comfortable, but she looks so relaxed that I can't bring myself to bother her just yet. The fact that we both slept until the sun came up without either of us waking the other up with a nightmare is not lost on me either.

It's at least another half hour before Katniss wakes up. I watch as her eyes open without lifting her head and see the same moment of confusion that I had briefly cross her face before she finally sits up and begins to nervously fix her hair. I take this moment of silence to push myself up and put my leg back down on the floor. When Katniss finishes with her hair, she turns her head slowly to me.

"I don't even remember falling asleep." She says. Her voice sounds amused, but her face looks nervous.

"I don't either. I didn't even wake up until I felt the sun on my face." I tell her. I notice a small smile cross her face when I say that, and the nervous look disappears with it. "I'm going to run back to my house to change and wash up, but I'll be back for breakfast." I leave out the fact that I should probably have different clothes on when Greasy Sae gets to the house. It may be a long shot that she would even notice, but I don't want to take the chance of giving anyone the wrong idea about Katniss or about me.

When I return, Greasy Sae is already there cooking and Katniss is sitting at the kitchen table, also in a fresh pair of clothes. Her hair is down and damp, so she must have taken a shower. I can't help but stand in the doorway for an extra minute to stare at her with her hair down. How could she ever say it isn't beautiful? I must not be doing a very good job of hiding the look of enrapture on my face, because when Katniss looks over her shoulder at me I'm met with a look of bemusement.

"Good Morning," she says with a smirk. She hasn't gotten any better at playing things off, but as long as she keeps her face turned away from Greasy Sae, she won't know anything is amiss.

"There you are, Peeta. I was beginning to worry. Lately you've been here before me." Greasy Sae says while bringing the pan of food over to the table to begin dishing out breakfast.

"I overslept today, everything is fine." I tell her. I look at Katniss out of the corner of my eye and see her shoulders relax. Neither one of us is ready to be on the level of staying at one another's house overnight. What happened last night was an accident. I don't regret it, in fact, I haven't slept that well in a really long time, but I know it's too soon. Katniss is just beginning to move forward and while I know now that my feelings for Katniss are still there, I'm not at the point where it all makes sense yet.

Greasy Sae leaves shortly after breakfast has been dished out. She stays less and less each time she's here, which we appreciate. Katniss doesn't like feeling that she's being taken care of and I just prefer to talk to Katniss without an audience right now. Katniss brought up the idea of telling Greasy Sae that she doesn't have to come over at all anymore, but I convinced her to wait a little longer before she does that.

When we finish eating, we immediately get started on the book, deciding to start with smaller memories first and then easing into bigger ones. Katniss has a small box of pictures of her family that she plans to use, and she already has plans to write to fellow survivors asking for pictures that they may have to contribute as well.

Katniss decides to start the book by writing about how her father taught her how to hunt. She has several pictures of herself as a little girl with her father that she has spread out on the table, unsure of which one she wants to use for the book. I sit across from her as she writes and look at the pictures before me. She looks so much like him, and seeing pictures of her as a little girl make me smile. I remember when she looked like that, those memories came back and I'm so glad that they did. She smiled and sang so much more back then. A lot of times I don't think she even realized she was singing in school, it just came out. The day the sound of her voice while she sang came back to me is one I'll never forget.

"Which one do you like best?" Katniss asks, breaking me out of my reverie.

"I like them all." My reply is honest but unhelpful. "You look so innocent," I tell her. "…And happy."

"Because I was." Her answer is quick, but not angry. "What about this one?" she holds up a picture of herself sitting with her father on the front steps of her old house in The Seam; she has to be about 8 years old. They're laughing about something and look so happy despite how dire their situation was.

"I like that one." I tell her with a nod. She takes the picture, glues it into the book and then seals the page. "I think I'll talk about my dad teaching me to bake. It follows yours well."

"Did you want to do the writing for this one?" Katniss asks as she begins a new page.

"No, you can write it so it's all in the same hand," I tell her. "I'll just talk out loud and you can write whatever you think is important. I'll have to draw a picture though since everything I would have had was lost with the bakery. I didn't take anything like that when I moved here to the Victor's Village."

Katniss shakes her head in understanding. "Whenever you're ready, just start talking." She tells me.

"Alright, well… the earliest memory that I have I think I was about 3 years old. I don't remember anything before then. My father was making dough really early in the morning, he always did, but I woke up and went down to see him for the first time this particular day. Since my mother was asleep upstairs he let me stay down there with him and help him. He taught me how to crack eggs without getting shells in the dough and started teaching me measurements and when I got older he taught me the conversions." I stop, unsure if I've said too much too quickly. When Katniss notices that I've stopped talking, she looks up from the parchment she is writing on.

"Go on," she urges. "I can keep up."

"I was 5 when he let me start setting the temperature on the ovens. That was a big deal when you're 5. I didn't always go down to help that early in the morning, especially after school started, but I did it as much as he would allow. I learned to make all the variations of bread and cheese buns when I was 10 and cakes and pastries when I was 11, then the next year was when he started to teach me to decorate them. He always said I was a natural, so decorating the cakes and pastries quickly became my job at the bakery and that's pretty much what I did until The Reaping." I finish. I watch Katniss as she writes out the rest of my speech and then looks up at me.

"Do you miss it?" she asks. "Decorating the cakes?"

"Every single day," I admit.

"You did a really nice job on Annie and Finnick's wedding cake." She says attempting to sound encouraging.

"I just wish I could have been able to enjoy that with everyone." I tell her. "I said some awful things to you that day."

"It's over now." She says shaking her head. "There's no use worrying about it anymore." She pushes the parchment in my direction then. "Do you want to draw your picture?" she asks reaching over the table and grabbing the inks I used when we worked on the plant book.

We continue this pattern for the next few weeks. Katniss writes and I draw. We've gotten a few pictures in the mail, but most memories have to be drawn. It keeps us busy and it helps me since I'm still regaining more and more memories of my life every single day. I can say for the first time since my Hijacking that I'm really starting to feel like myself again. I don't feel trapped inside a mind that isn't mine anymore and my feelings for Katniss is getting harder and harder to ignore. I catch myself staring at her far too often and when I close my eyes at night the only thing I can think about is the night we fell asleep together on the couch and the small touches we share from day to day.

"I found this picture today." Katniss says one morning after breakfast. She hands me a small picture of Prim with her goat Lady. I smile at it, and then look at Katniss.

"Are you going to write about Prim today?" I ask. I know she's been putting this off.

"I think so." She answers. "I can't avoid it forever." I nod and take her hand, silently letting her know that I'm here for her and will always be here for her; she gives my hand a squeeze which I take to be a thank you.

I watch as she writes in silence, stopping only to read what she's always written to make sure that it sounds perfect. I take a peek at the page and notice that she's writing about when she first got Prim her goat, a memory that when last told to me caused me so much confusion that I couldn't speak. Reading it now however is familiar and in a way, comforting.

After we place the photo on the page, Katniss begins writing more. I don't recognize the memory she's writing about this time. It happened before The Games and very simple. Katniss and Prim taking a walk, Prim telling her about a boy at school that she thought was cute and Katniss telling her she was too young to think that way. When she finishes writing, she looks up at me with sad, nostalgic eyes.

"Can you draw her?" she asks. When I nod she pushes the parchment over to me and I read what she has written down once more. I think about the innocent little girl that would stand at the window of the bakery to look at the cakes, and then I begin to draw, not stopping until I am satisfied that it's perfect.

The next day when I return to Katniss' house for breakfast, I'm surprised to find the door locked. At first I start to wonder if I am up way earlier than I normally am. I shouldn't have broken my clock, because I never know what time it is when I'm at home. I don't want to knock and wake Katniss up if it really is earlier than usual, so I sit on the porch and wait for her to come and unlock the door. When I see Greasy Sae walking towards the house, I know something is wrong.

"What are you doing out here, Peeta?" she asks, stopping before the first step.

"The door is locked. I thought maybe I was up earlier than usual and Katniss was still asleep, but I guess not." I explain. Greasy Sae's face drops when she hears this and she reaches into her pocket to grab the ring of keys that she carries around from place to place. She unlocks the door and walks in, I follow behind her. The house is dark and quiet and Greasy Sae shakes her head.

"I was worried this would happen." She says, going to the steps.

"What's going on?" I ask, but she shushes me and continues up the steps, while I wait for her at the bottom. After a minute she comes back down the steps and I ask again, "What's going on?"

"She's holed up in her room. What happened yesterday?" she asks, going to the stove and starting breakfast anyway.

"We worked on memories of Prim for the book." Greasy Sae nods as if she has all the answers.

"Then she'll probably be up there for a while. This is what she did before you came back; she'd mope around all day. Only back then she wouldn't even go upstairs. She'd sit over there in that rocking chair and do nothing. She ate sometimes, other times she didn't. Before you came back I was only coming twice a day, because it was useless to cook for someone who ate so little, and I'd bring my granddaughter, but eventually she stop wanting to come, so it's just me now." She tells me. "Seems like thinking about those memories of Prim set her back. It's normal though, I remember going back and forth from alright to devastated for a long time after my husband died. There are some days when it's still tough."

"Is there anything that I can do?" I ask. I didn't see this Katniss, and I want to help I just don't know how."

Greasy Sae shrugs "I don't know. That's up to you what you want to do. When it was just me here with her every day I let her come around on her own." I nod and sit down at the table to have breakfast anyway. Greasy Sae places a plate of food on the other side where Katniss usually sits, in hopes that she'll come down sometime soon to see it and eat. I leave as soon as I finish eating and go back home to make cheese buns. I'm going to bring them over anyway; maybe Katniss will be able to smell them from her room and come down.

When I get back to her house just before lunch, the door is still unlocked from when Greasy Sae unlocked it this morning, so I just walk in. Katniss' breakfast is still sitting on the table, untouched. I set the dozen cheese buns down on the table and leave the house before Greasy Sae gets there, but instead of going home; I go to Haymitch's house. He lets me in without a word, sensing that something is wrong.

"It's Katniss, isn't it?" He asks, sitting down on his couch and opening up a started bottle of liquor.

"She's been up in her room all day. She won't come down, she hasn't eaten. I don't know what to do." I sound frantic, and I'm not sure why. I should have known something like this was going to happen, but it doesn't make things any easier.

"First of all, kid… you need to calm down. That is, unless you're looking for a night of flashbacks." Haymitch says. "Sit down."

I take a seat on the couch next to him and take a deep breath. "I just feel so helpless. It was the book that did it. She wrote about Prim last night. I knew it was too soon." I look at Haymitch and see he's shaking his head at me.

"If you think that way then it'll never be the right time. You have to let her grieve." I want to ask Haymitch when he became a head doctor, but I stop myself. I don't need a fight right now. "This is what happens when you grieve. Don't you ever have days that are a little or a lot worse than others when you get to thinking about your family?" he asks.

"Sure, but I don't lock myself in my room." I answer.

"Everybody grieves differently. Me? I prefer to grieve with this." He tilts the liquor bottle in my direction before taking a sip. "It's up to you how you help her through it. You have options."

"Greasy Sae said she just left her alone when she got like that, but I can't do that. I can't leave her up there alone and upset." I say.

"Then go see her." Haymitch says like it's the most obvious answer in the world.

"I have no idea what to say to make it better."

"Nothing you say is going to make it better." Haymitch tells me. "The best you can do is to show her that you're there for her, and that you understand. Grief makes you feel like you're more alone than you will ever be in your entire life." I nod, understanding what he means. "You may not even need to say anything, just let her know that you're there when she's ready to talk."

"Thanks, Haymitch. You could put Dr. Aurelius out of a job, you know." I mean what I say.

"Don't make me laugh." Haymitch replies. I get up from the couch and walk to the door to leave when I hear Haymitch again. "Peeta," he says. I turn around and look back at him on the couch. "Are you still in love with her?" This time, the answer is obvious.

"Yes." I answer, before walking out the door. I really want to go and see Katniss, but I don't want her to feel like I'm smothering her, so I decide to wait until morning and see how things are, and if she's still hiding, I will go see her.

When mornings comes, I leave my house quickly and go to Katniss', hoping to be met with a locked door again. This would at least mean she's come downstairs since I left yesterday afternoon. When I turn the door knob and the door swings open, I know what that means. There's a sandwich on the table where Katniss would normally sit, and the basket of cheese buns that I left. I throw away the sandwich and take a look in the basket, quickly counting how many cheese buns are there. I brought over 12, but when I count them I only count 8. Unless Greasy Sae made her lunch out of Katniss' cheese buns, then maybe Katniss was down here at some point yesterday.

Greasy Sae arrives right on time and makes breakfast, setting down two plates of food once again, even though Katniss has not made a peep from upstairs.

"You didn't have any cheese buns yesterday, did you?" I ask. I need to be sure.

"No. I know you make those just for Katniss." She replies.

"Some are missing, so at least we know she ate those. I'm going to bring her breakfast up to her when I finish eating." I tell her.

"Well, good luck." She tells me as she leaves.

I shovel my food in my mouth quickly, and before I'm even finished chewing, I've got Katniss' plate and am making my way upstairs. I know it's useless, but I knock on the door anyway and wait. After a minute of nothing, I turn the knob, fully expecting to be met with a locked door, but for the second time today, the door opens. The room is dark, and I see Katniss burrowed under her blankets in bed, curled in a ball, The room is stuffy and warm from everything being closed up. I set the plate of food down on the bedside table without saying a word. She appears to be asleep, so I turn to leave the room.

"Peeta?" I hear the muffled sound of my name from the bed and I turn around, hoping I wasn't hearing things.

"I'm here." I tell her, walking back over toward her.

"Thank you for the cheese buns." She says, still under the covers. I can't stop the laugh that comes out. Out of everything she could have said, she thanks me for bringing her cheese buns.

"You're welcome." I say, standing there for a minute waiting for her to speak again. When she doesn't I turn around again and begin walking to the door, but stop when I hear the blankets rustling behind me. I look over my shoulder and see Katniss sitting up in bed now, her hair is down and a mess; it's the only thing I can make out in the darkness of the room. "It was the book, wasn't it?" I ask her quietly. I can just make out her nod. "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to." I tell her.

"Dr. Aurelius says that I should." She counters.

"When you're ready," I correct her. "But then Haymitch says that if you wait until you're ready you'll never talk about it at all."

"Is that why you rarely talk about your family?" she asks.

I nod. "I'm just trying to do what Dr. Aurelius says, but the more that times goes on, the more I realize that Haymitch probably has better insight into our situations than Dr. Aurelius ever will." I say. I'm not trying to put Dr. Aurelius down, he has been a major help to both of us since the war ended, but sometimes there are things that you can only know if you experience it yourself.

I hear Katniss take a deep breath in before she scoots over on the bed; then she pulls the covers back and pats the spot next to her, telling me to sit down. I sit at the edge of the bed with my back to the door and my right leg tucked underneath me, keeping my hands in my lap to try to stop myself from touching her.

"It's the nightmares." Katniss begins looking down at the tangle of blankets in front of her. "They've always been bad."

"I remember." I tell her, confirming that this is a memory I've regained.

"They just keep getting worse. Bombs and fire and reliving seeing her die over and over again; being buried alive by the dead. It's non-stop." She confesses.

"Is that what your nightmares were the other night?" I ask. She shakes her head.

"Worse. It started out the same, with me standing there, calling out her name and watching her blow up. That's usually where it ends and goes to the next nightmare, whatever it may be, but this time it continued. Prim walked out of the explosion, skin burnt off and oozing from burns and she was yelling at me. Telling me this is all my fault; it's my fault she's dead, that I don't deserve to be happy and the only thing I should get is a life of misery; even death would be a favor to me. She sounded so hateful." Her voice is shaking as she relives her nightmares.

"You just have to keep reminding yourself that she'd never say that to you. She loved you and she wouldn't blame you." I tell her, finally giving up trying to keep my hands away from her and I take her hands in mine; they're shaking.

"It felt so real." She stammers.

"I know." I tell her, running my thumbs over the tops of her hands.

"What are your flashbacks like?" she asks. "What do they feel like?"

"They're like nightmares while you're awake." I explain. "Sometimes it's just a visual, sometimes there's sound."

"And the bad ones are shiny?" she asks. "You said that once."

"The memories The Capitol tampered with are shiny, yes, but sometimes the flashbacks aren't memories at all." I say. "Sometimes they're entirely new scenarios, being played out for me. Just like a nightmare, but while I'm awake."

"How do you know one is coming? What does that feel like?"

"I don't always know," I say. "But usually I'll get quick visions of things before one starts that takes my focus off of whatever I'm doing at the time. Other times I just fall immediately into the full blown flashback and there's no stopping it."

"But you know how to fight them. I've seen you do it." Katniss says.

"I can get them to go away most of the time, but sometimes I just have to ride them out and let them pass. Some are still too powerful for me to ward off."

"I wish I could fight the nightmares." She admits.

"You just have to remember they're not real." I tell her. She smiles at my choice of words and leans forward, resting her forehead on my shoulder.

"Tell me when you're about to have a flashback next time." She says.

"I will, I promise." I tell her, reaching slightly to grab her plate of food from the bedside table. "Please eat something other than cheese buns." I say, putting the plate in her lap. She complies, quickly finishing everything.

We agree not to work on the book today to let Katniss have a chance to put the nightmare behind her. Instead, we enjoy the summer day by going outside and taking a walk around District 12. We pass Greasy Sae on her way to Haymitch's and she's happy to see Katniss out and about again and tells us she'll see us for lunch.

After dinner we return to the couch we fell asleep on two nights ago and light the fire. Katniss scoots herself closer to me and curls up next to me; I take a chance and put my arm around her, pulling her in closer to me. When she doesn't object, I relax. This reminds me of how things used to be before The Capitol and the war changed us. I want to tell her how grateful I am that we're finding each other again, but if she doesn't feel that way too I don't want to risk setting myself up for something I'm not prepared to deal with.

"I wonder why the fire relaxes me so much." Katniss says. "You'd think after… everything; I wouldn't want to even look at it."

"It's a different type of fire." I say with a shrug. "It's not set to hurt anyone or intimidate people." She seems to accept this answer, because she doesn't object. We sit in silence staring at the fire, listening to it crackle and watch as parts of logs burn and fall. I can feel my eyelids getting heavy and Katniss has been yawning. I give her shoulder a squeeze and pull away, standing up. "I should go." I tell her. "I was starting to get drowsy."

Katniss says nothing. She just looks at me with an expression that I can't quite make out and before I am able to walk away, she grabs my hand and pulls me back down onto the couch. "Stay with me." She says. The words hit me like a ton of bricks and I'm brought back to another time when she asked me the same question under the influence of sleep syrup. When I don't answer, she says it again, "Stay with me." And I remember the last time she said it to me, after Finnick was killed, right after the last time she kissed me.

My mouth is dry, but I manage to choke out the word that I know she's hoping to hear. "Always." I tell her, nodding. She stands up from the couch, still holding my hand and I stand up with her before she leads me to the stairs. We let go of each other's hands and walk up and into her room in silence. Without changing, Katniss climbs into bed while I walk to the other side and climb in next to her, moving close enough to reach my hand out and touch her shoulder, but I don't move any closer.

We lay still and in silence, Katniss on her back while I'm on my side. My hand rests on Katniss' shoulder, and every so often I'll move it up and lightly drag my fingers along her neck and up to her cheek, lulling her to sleep. I make sure she's in a deep sleep before I allow myself to finally drift off.

Weeks pass in the same way. We work on the book during the day, relax in the evening in front of the fire, and then we go to bed. At first we hardly touch; the knowledge of someone being there is enough. Sometimes I'll place a protective hand on Katniss' shoulder and Katniss' places her hand on my chest in return. Often we'd wake up holding hands. As the time goes on, however, the space between us at night closes considerably until falling asleep in each other's arms becomes the only thing that feels right.

I start baking in Katniss' kitchen, barely going to my own house from day to day. The day I return to my house to pack up clothes to keep at Katniss', I hear Haymitch laughing at me from his porch.

"Moving in, already?" He asks, amused.

"Not moving in." I correct him. "Just keeping clothes there."

"Same thing!" Haymitch calls out, leaning over the porch and almost falling off into the gaggle of the geese he has been raising for The Capitol.

"Be careful, you don't want to bust your head open. I can't promise that anyone would want to help you." He scoffs at me and laughs once more as I walk into my house.

We let Greasy Sae know that she doesn't have to come over to cook for us anymore. She still stops by several times a week to see how we are, but most of the time it's just me and Katniss. She's started going back into the woods, not nearly as long as she used to, but long enough to bring fresh game back that we can cook.

Katniss can recognize my flashbacks well now. The way I clench my fists and jaw when I feel them coming. When she notices it happening, she helps me through my version of a nightmare.

She has nightmares often, waking up screaming and thrashing around. Sometimes she screams for Prim, sometimes she just screams, and other times she wakes up begging for someone or something to stop. I can usually get her to calm down after a few minutes of screaming; I know she's finally snapped out of it when I feel her body relax against mine and she buries her head in my chest.

One night, it takes me over an hour to calm her down. She will not stop screaming and shaking. Telling me, "It was bad," when she finally stops, only to start the process all over again. After she finally calms down she refuses to go back to sleep, and we start our day with a silent breakfast before the sun is even up. Katniss looks at me from time to time, ashamed. I know she feels small for putting me through that.

"It's alright, you know." I say to her.

"No it's not." She shakes her head. Nothing I say to her right now is going to convince her otherwise, so I shrug.

"Either way, I'm here." I tell her.

We begin work on the book after lunch that day. Katniss is writing about Rue, while I sketch a picture of her in the trees the way Katniss described it to me. She tells me about how it was Rue that pointed out the Tracker Jacker nest in the tree she was in and it was Rue that suggested she cut it down.

I know that this conversation won't end well as soon as Katniss says Tracker Jackers. There's no time for me to warn her or for her to notice it happening, I'm just immediately driven into a vision of Katniss cutting down the Tracker Jacker nest with intentions of killing me, and only me. I can't fight this one; I have to just let it happen.

When the visions finally stop, I notice that Katniss has her chair pushed up next to me. She has one hand gripping my wrist and the other brushing the hair off my forehead soothingly. "It's not real, Peeta." She whispers. I can't manage to form words, so I just shake my head. "Look around. We're home. It's okay." She moves her hand from my forehead, down to cup my cheek, rubbing her thumb underneath my eye. "We're here together." She says.

I come to my senses after a few minutes, but I still feel unstable. Katniss backs up silently and waits for me to speak. "That was a rough one." I tell her, trying to manage a smile. The look Katniss gives me in return tells me that I didn't do a very good job. Before I realize what I'm doing, I'm standing from the table and walking out of the house.

"I'll finish the picture later." I say without looking back.

"Will you be back for dinner?" Katniss asks, clearing her throat when she finishes the sentence, like she didn't expect her tone to sound so desperate.

"No," I say, and close the door.

Once I'm at home, I take a deep breath in and hold it, trying to settle myself down, but it still isn't working. I'm sweating and my heart is racing; I hate to admit it, but I don't trust myself right now, which is why I left Katniss'. This has been the worst flashback since before I left The Capitol.

I stay in my house for the rest of my day, calling Dr. Aurelius to tell him what happened. Over the phone, we go through all of the exercises that he taught me in the hospital, and when we finally hang up, I'm starting to feel better. I go to sleep alone in my own bed and it already feels foreign to me.

When I wake up the next morning, I feel guilty for walking out on Katniss the way that I did after promising her that I'd be there for her, even though I know deep down that I did the right thing when I felt that I didn't trust myself. I walk in to Katniss' house to find it dark again and I immediately panic, thinking that Katniss has retreated to her room to hide again, but once I look closer I notice that she's down here. She's sitting in the rocking chair, curled up and asleep in front of the kitchen fireplace's glowing embers. She must have stayed down here all night.

"Katniss, wake up." I say, giving her shoulder a gentle nudge. I can't wait for her to wake up this time; I need to apologize right away. She opens her eyes quickly, and blinks a few times trying to focus.

"Peeta?" she asks, her voice drowsy.

"It's morning. Did you sleep in this chair all night?" when she nods, I shake my head at her. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have left like that."

"Are you alright?" she asks, reaching her hand out to smooth my hair.

"I am now. I had a long phone conversation with Dr. Aurelius and he set me straight." I manage a proper smile this time and take her hand. "I just didn't trust myself."

"Did you want to hurt me?" Katniss ask, more curious than scared.

"No, but I couldn't be sure I wouldn't get to that point if I stayed here." I explain. "I wanted to be sure. I don't want to hurt you like that ever again."

"Are you hungry?" I nod and she uncurls herself from the chair. "Then let's make breakfast."

We proceed through the day as normal, cooking breakfast and resuming work on the book. I finish the sketch of Rue and after Katniss gives her approval I re-draw it onto the parchment and we seal the page. We have lunch and dinner during breaks from the book and finish for the night after sunset.

"We could sit outside on the back porch tonight, it's a little warm for a fire." Katniss suggests. The summer heat has made its way to District 12 and I don't protest the idea of skipping a fire tonight. The front porch is bigger than the back, but I know without asking that Katniss wants to avoid Haymitch right now. His remarks are almost too much on a good day let alone on a day like today where things aren't exactly running smoothly.

We sit down on the steps, each with a glass of water in hand and look out at the bare yard. "I was thinking about maybe making a garden." Katniss says. "Maybe not right back here, but along the side of the house, by the bushes." It's the first time she's ever mentioned the bushes since I planted them and I smile when she does.

"I think that's a nice idea. We can grow our own vegetables and stop ordering them from The Capitol." I say. "They'll definitely stay fresh longer that way."

"We'd have to get the seeds from them though, but that's it." Katniss replies. We're silent after that, listening to the birds and the wind rustling through the trees. It's peaceful out here; the smell of summer has taken over the lingering smell of burnt wood, grass, and most likely… bodies.

"Did you mean it?" Katniss asks then.

"Mean what?" I say, unsure of what she's referring to.

"When you said you'd have taken another beating to get Prim a cake." She says.

"Of course. She loved those cakes…." I trail off, unsure if I should continue with what I was going to say.

"What is it?" she urges.

"I would have done anything for you." I say. "I know how badly you must have wanted to be able to get a cake for her. I would have gotten her one for you in a heartbeat." I lower my head, scared of what her reaction will be to what I just said.

"Hey," I hear her say lightly. Her hand snakes up and cups the side of my face, moving it so that I'm now looking directly at her. Her hand lingers for a moment before she leans in and presses her lips to mine. It doesn't last very long, but the heat I feel on my lips after she pulls away does. She moves her hand from my face, down my neck and shoulder, and settles on my chest.

"Thank you." She says with a smile.

It takes me a minute to speak, but this time it isn't because I can't get my brain to work through a flashback; it's for a much better reason. "Thankyou." I reply. I don't know what the kiss meant, but I'm grateful for it whatever its meaning.

Chapter Text

Every time I close my eyes, I can feel her kisses again. One kiss on the back porch turned into another kiss at the table after breakfast the next morning, then every night before we fall asleep in each other’s arms. They never last longer than a few seconds and don’t go any further than a peck, but it feels so good to have her lips on mine again; maybe even better than ever, because these kisses aren’t for show. There are no cameras, there is no audience; we are kissing because we want to, not because we have to. Because of that, they feel different. They stay on my lips longer and I can recall them at a moment’s notice just by closing my eyes.

The physical effects of the kisses are more difficult to deal with now that I spend almost all of my time with Katniss. I try to keep the feelings of the kisses from traveling from my lips down to my groin, but I’m not always successful. It’s like fighting a flashback; sometimes the emotions are just too strong to stop it. She’s never asked why I take so long in the bathroom when it happens, and I don’t know if she even suspects anything, but it’s the only way to relieve the ache that develops after ignoring it for a few days.

I’ve started painting again, little by little. Up until a few weeks ago, I was afraid to go into my room where I used to paint. I didn’t want the paintings that I’d left there to induce any flashbacks, so I waited until I was absolutely sure I could handle it. I spent the day there cleaning up the room. Paints were dried out after not being used for so long, cobwebs had gathered in the corners of the room, and there was a layer of dust an inch thick on the tops of all of the surfaces.

Katniss came over half way through my cleanup and helped. I was thankful for the extra hands, but even more thankful that she came here. She ventures out more and more every day, and even though my house is so close, this is the first time she has been here since we came back. Together, we took all of my old paintings and set them in a pile in the corner of the room. I’m not sure what I’ll do with them, but until I figure it out, that’s where I’ll keep them. We had dinner at my house that night, and fell asleep together in my bed; just another first in this new beginning.

As time has gone on we’ve been spending time at each of our houses. Haymitch has told us to make up our minds on where we want to live, but neither Katniss nor I have even admitted to the fact that we’re living together. There’s a title that comes along with the admission that may be too hefty for us to undertake right now; we’re just taking everything one day at a time free of titles and formalities.

Katniss always joins me now on the weekly walk to the train station to pick up the orders I’ve put in. We ordered the seeds for the garden a couple weeks ago, and they’ve just started to sprout. These days, our time is spent either working in the garden, or working on the book. I’ve spent a few days holed up in my painting room in my house, but it seems isolated and lonely now that I’ve spent so much time collaborating with Katniss on the book and the garden, so I don’t paint as often as I’d like to.

When we reach the station, we get in line behind others who are here to pick up orders, and wait. There are two people ahead of us, and when it’s my turn it’s very simple. They are starting to learn who we are now and most people don’t even need to give their names anymore before a Capitol worker is off to gather their things. I’ve never had to give my name, so once the Capitol worker sees me, he nods and is off to get my cart. I move over and wait for it to arrive when I notice Katniss let go of my hand.

When I turn around, I see her standing in front of the Capitol worker who has taken the place of the man who went to get my things. “Katniss Everdeen.” She says, even though I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have to tell anybody here her name either. The man simply nods and walks to find her order.

“I didn’t know you ordered anything.” I say to her when she walks over to me to wait.

“Then the plan worked.” She says dryly. I’m about to ask her what plan when a worker appears with my cart full of supplies. In my cart are eggs, cheese, a large sack of flour, liquor to hide in my house in case Haymitch runs out too early, and a hose so we can water the garden easier than we have been.  I grab the cart and move out of the way so others can have room to wait for their orders. While I wait for Katniss, I start to wonder about what she could have possibly ordered and why she kept it from me. Before I can let my mind venture too far, she is walking toward me with a basket over her arm and an accomplished look on her face.

When we reach The Victor’s Village, I decide to speak up. “So, what are you keeping from me?” I ask her, trying not to sound suspicious of anything.

“I’m not hiding anything.” Katniss states, “It’s all right here, I’ll show you when we get in the house.”

She helps me put away what I ordered. I’ve taken over Katniss’ kitchen with baking supplies, but she doesn’t mind. She says it actually makes the place look lived in, unlike when it was just her and Greasy Sae stopping in to cook. I want to ask again what’s in the basket, natural curiosity taking over my mind, but I don’t want to harp. Luckily, as soon as we’re done Katniss grabs the basket.

“Sit down.” She tells me, motioning for me to sit down in the rocker by the kitchen fireplace. I sit down and wait. “Here,” she says, pushing the basket in my direction. “For you.”

“You got me a gift?” I ask.

“You can call it that if you want. I just think it’s something that you needed and probably wanted.” She reasons.

“That’s a gift then.” I look down at the basket that is still covered with a gray cloth and pull it away. “What is all this?” I ask.

“Don’t ask what it is, just look.” Katniss scolds me.

I begin to pull things out of the basket. New paints, a set of paintbrushes, 2 sets of pencils, one colored , one lead, two sketchbooks of different sizes, and folded up at the very bottom is a bag to carry all of it in.

“I know you had to throw out almost all of your old paints and brushes.” Katniss says. “The smaller book is for drawings and the bigger one is to be used for painting. The back cover props the book up on a table.”

“You did all this for me?” I ask. She nods.

“Well, Dr. Aurelius helped. I told him about helping you clean your painting room and how you hardly ever go there. He thought that if you had a way to paint and draw where ever you were, you’d be able to do it more.” She confesses. “Everything should fit in that bag once you unfold it. Then you can take your stuff anywhere.” She looks embarrassed now, glancing down at her feet after she finishes talking.

“I don’t know what to say.” I begin. And I don’t. I told Dr. Aurelius that I missed painting and how lonely it felt in the room now, but to know that Katniss thought not only the same thing but of a solution for me has me speechless.

“Just tell me you’ll use it?” She asks.

“Of course I’ll use it.” I tell her. I stand up from the chair and walk over to her, scooping her up in a hug and briefly lifting her off her feet. When I put her down, I plant a small kiss on her lips and smile at her. “Thank you.” I begin. “Really, it means a lot.”

I get started right away, propping the larger sketch book on the kitchen table and setting up the paints just the way I like them. I decide to start painting a memory that recently came back to me. It’s an old one from when I was really young, maybe 4 or 5 years old. My brothers were cleaning off the table after dinner one night and I was crawling around on the floor, playing. Not knowing that my brother was standing above me with his arms full of dinner plates, I stood up quickly and knocked my head right into the plates. I started crying, and my brother got in trouble for hurting me, even though he tried to tell them what really happened. It’s a strange scene to be painting, but it’s a memory that is fresh in my mind after being lost.

“Peeta, look…” I hear Katniss say from the front door. She’s just walked in and is holding what looks like an unopened letter in her hand.

“What is it?” I ask, getting up from the table and joining her at the door. She hands me the envelope and I take a look in the top corner and see the words “Annie Odair” scrawled on top. It’s a letter from Annie. We wrote to her months ago and we had given up ever getting a reply from her, but it looks like it just took her awhile to get back to us.

“Open it…” Katniss urges. I motion for her to follow me to the table, and I push aside my painting and supplies so we can spread the letter out on the table for both of us to read together. I rip open the top of the envelope and pull out the neatly folded letter that feels a little fatter than it should, and when I unfold the letter I find out why. A picture falls out and onto the table of a little boy with the smallest amount of dark hair and eyes that resemble the sea. I move the picture to the center of the table and Katniss looks at it, reaching out and turning it so that she can see it right side up.

“Well now I see why she took so long to get back to us.” Katniss says, bewildered. “She had more important things to worry about.”

“His name is Dylan,” I tell her, setting the 3 page letter out on the table. We sit in silence and read the letter, each taking a page at a time until we’ve finished all 3. In the letter she explains that she and Finnick were one of the rare couples that conceived Dylan on their wedding night. Annie didn’t even know she was pregnant when Finnick died. For a while, the knowledge that Finnick never knew he was going to be a father haunted her, and she blamed herself for not knowing sooner. It wasn’t until Dylan was born that it stopped bothering her; the minute she looked into the baby’s eyes she realized that somehow, Finnick knew. She got our letter right away and was eager to get back to us, but didn’t want to until Dylan was born so she could send a picture of him since she doesn’t have any of her and Finnick.

She goes on to tell us how life is now in District 4. The train comes weekly just as it does here in District 12, and the new hospital is coming along nicely. She’s kept in touch with Mrs. Everdeen, she comes to see Dylan often and Annie mentions that when she does, she talks about grandchildren; neither one of us mention that part of the letter right away.

When we wrote to her, I apologized for talking to Finnick the way that I did in District 13, since I can’t apologize to Finnick. Thankfully, Annie accepted the apology. She closes the letter by wishing us well and hoping that we’ll call her sometime. She gives us her phone number at the bottom of the letter and then signs her name in small, neat cursive.

Silently, Katniss gets up and grabs the book and a new piece of parchment and writes at the very top “Annie Cresta Odair.” She writes until everything that can be said is said, moving the parchment over to me to draw a picture of her, nodding when I show her the rough draft I’ve sketched while she wrote. Quickly, she takes another piece of parchment, writes “Finnick Odair” on the top and begins furiously writing once more.

This time, when she finishes writing, she waits for me to finish drawing Annie and watches as I start on Finnick, giving me the same nod of approval when I show her his sketch, so I begin to draw it onto the parchment.

“Before you color it, let me see it?” She asks. “We have to get his eye color just right.” I nod and she grabs a third piece of parchment and writes “Dylan Odair” on the top, writing down everything that Annie wrote to us about him. When she finishes, she carefully pastes the picture of Dylan into the book and focuses on me, prepping to color Finnick.

I take drops of ink and place them on a spare piece of paper, blending two colors. “What about this? Is that close?” I ask Katniss.

“Almost, but I think it needs a little more green.” She replies.

I place another drop of ink on the paper and swirl the colors together again and smile when I see the familiar color of Finnick’s eyes appear. “That’s it.” I say, looking up at Katniss. She’s nodding.

“Perfect.” She says.

When I finish coloring Finnick, we take the 3 pages we did today and seal them in the book, then Katniss puts the book away. “Have you talked to Haymitch to see if he wants to add anything in here?” Katniss asks me.

“I haven’t yet. He’s usually too drunk to give me an honest answer when I see him. I’ll go ask him in the morning before he has a chance to get too drunk.” I tell her.

We make dinner and sit down to eat, both of us with Annie’s letter and the picture of Dylan at the forefront of our minds.

“So your mom wants grandchildren.” I say.

“Well she’ll have to adopt a new daughter then.” Katniss answers quickly, not looking up from her plate.

“Why?” I question. “The Hunger Games has been abolished; the war is over, what’s the problem? Isn’t that why you didn’t want children?”

“It’s over for now.” She states. “Who’s to say that The Capitol won’t reinstate The Hunger Games in 10 years? I could never bring a child into the world unless I knew for sure they’ll be safe.”

“If everyone had children because the world was completely safe, the population would have died out a long time ago, Katniss. You can’t live your life based on something that may or may not happen.” I retort.

“I won’t do it again. I won’t watch another child die.” She says, slamming her fork down in her plate and pushing it away.

I don’t say anything else. I knew her refusal to have children before was so that they would never have to experience a Reaping Day or worse, being a Tribute in The Games, but I did not think that her refusal would evolve with the end of both of the things that scared her out of wanting children in the first place. However, it’s silly for me to even be thinking about right now. We’ve shared luke-warm kisses over the last few weeks, it’s not like we’re married. It was stupid of me to even bring it up. It’s way too soon.

“I’m sorry, Katniss.” I say apologetically. “I didn’t think that it still bothered you that much. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“You don’t have to apologize,” she says “I’m not mad at you.” She looks at me with sad eyes. “I’m mad at her.”

“Your mother?” I ask.

“How dare her to leave and then say something like that to Annie. She has no right to wish for that from me.” Katniss’ relationship with her mother will always be strained, but now it’s teetering on irreparable. They mourned as best as they could together for Prim, but only for Prim. Katniss only answers her calls because it’s the only attachment to Prim that she has left in the world.

I reach across the table and take her hand, circling my thumb over her knuckles. “Let’s not talk about it anymore.” I suggest. “Why don’t we go try out the hose I got for the garden?” Katniss nods, and gives a small smile, silently thanking me for changing the subject before we both get up from the table and head out to work on the garden again.

The next day, as promised, I am knocking on Haymitch’s front door bright and early with hopes of catching him before he’s too drunk to understand what I’m going to ask him. His sleep is so erratic that it’s a shot in the dark and a surprise every time I visit, but my hope is that he has sobered up after a night full of drinking and I’ve caught him before he goes to sleep.

“Come in!” I hear Haymitch call out. His words don’t sound very slurred, but the fact that he wouldn’t get up to answer the door worries me.

“Haymitch?” I say, walking in the front door.

“Oh it’s you.” He answers, walking in from his living room.

“Don’t sound so surprised!” I exclaim.

“I just thought you were that insufferable nag.” Haymitch explains throwing an empty bottle into the trash can. It clanks against the others.

“Greasy Sae?” I ask. “I thought she just walked in?” I sit down at the table.

“Well I made sure she never does that again.” Haymitch laughs as he sits down across from me.

“I’m not going to ask.” I say, repulsed. “I have something to talk to you about.”

“Katniss again?” he asks with a sigh.

“Not really.” I answer. A small smile creeps up on my face, and Haymitch notices it before I can even hide it.

“What’s that smirk for, boy?”

“Nothing… things are just going really well, right now.” I begin. “I mean, she still has horrible nightmares, I still have a few flashbacks every week, but we’re really learning how to get through it together.”

“That’s good. We all have to find ways to get through it.” Haymitch says looking at his kitchen counter stacked with bottles of liquor.

“Why don’t you visit Katniss anymore?” I ask. I didn’t intend for the conversation to take this turn, but if I’m going to convince him to help us with the book, I’m going to have to find out why he won’t visit. I guess this is about Katniss after all.

“It just seemed like a lost cause. Besides, she has you now.” Haymitch answers with a shrug.

“A lost cause?” I say incredulously. “So you’d give up on her that quickly?”

“She hasn’t exactly made it easy, kid.” Haymitch responds.

“She’d like to see you.” I tell him.

“Well now you’re lying.” Haymitch laughs.

“No, I’m not. In fact, that’s why I’m here. She wants me to ask if you’d like to come over and help with the book we’ve been working on. If she didn’t want to see you, she wouldn’t have asked me to do this.” I explain.

“Then why didn’t she just ask me herself?” Haymitch asks.

“Because she’s Katniss. Out of anyone, you should understand that. She can say that she doesn’t care if you don’t come around or suggest we sit in the backyard to avoid you all she wants, but she wants to see you. She wants you to see the book; she wants you to see the progress she’s made. She’s trying, Haymitch and that’s more than I can say for you right now.” I lecture. Haymitch doesn’t deny my accusation.

“I’ll think about it.” He says with a tone of finality in his voice.

“Please do.” I say, getting up from the table and walking to door to leave.

When I get back to Katniss’ house, I tell her Haymitch’s answer and she shrugs indifferently. We don’t talk about it again. The day carries on as normal. We have breakfast, and Katniss leaves to go hunting for a few hours and I paint in the kitchen while she’s gone.

Katniss returns in time for lunch with a few squirrels and plants she picked in woods, stopping to look at my painting before she begin prepping her haul.

“What’s that one of?” she asks.

“Another memory that came back the other day.” I tell her. “The first cake I ever decorated entirely on my own was my 13th birthday cake.”

“You decorated your own birthday cake?” Katniss asks.

“It’s not as sad as it sounds, I asked to do it. My dad always did them. This was the only one he didn’t do.” I say quickly.

“It’s very nice.” She says when suddenly, the front door flies open, making us both jump.

 “Did I scare you?” Haymitch bellows. “Sorry. I think this door is lighter than mine.” He walks into the kitchen, stands next to Katniss and looks at my painting. “What do you think, Sweetheart? Do we have an artist on our hands?”

Katniss turns and walks away from him and to the sink, grabbing a knife to work on the squirrels. “Are you staying for lunch?” she asks, keeping her back to us.

“How can I say no after that warm welcome I just received?” Haymitch says. I get up front the table and turn to him.

“Sit down.” I whisper. “And keep quiet.” He obeys without a peep and I go to Katniss at the sink, putting my hand on her back, gently rubbing it and I feel her relax. “Are you okay?” I ask her. She nods.

“He just makes my head hurt sometimes.” She admits. “Why can’t he just act human?”

“Because he’s Haymitch.” I laugh a little remembering saying almost the same thing to Haymitch this morning about Katniss. “But he came here, so that’s something, right?”

We cook lunch together while Haymitch sits at the table in silence, when I glance at him he’s just looking around the house, observing. Lunch starts off with awkward silence until Haymitch can’t take it anymore and finally speaks.

“So, where’s this book?” he asks. I breathe a sigh of relief because he finally said the right thing.

“I’ll show you after lunch.” Katniss answers. “It’s almost finished.” Well, at least they’re talking.

“We added Finnick, Annie, and their son Dylan last night.” I tell him.

“Who?” Haymitch asks, raising his eyebrows.

“They had a son.” Katniss joins in. She pushes her empty plate away from her and gets up from the table, disappearing to the living room briefly to grab the book and supplies. When she gets back in, she sets the book down in front of Haymitch and opens the book to Dylan’s page. “There.” She says, pointing at the picture of the baby and hands him the letter from Annie.

Haymitch reads the letter and the text that Katniss wrote on Dylan’s page. “Well I’ll be.” Haymitch says when he’s finished reading everything. “I had no idea.”

“We didn’t either.” I tell him. “We just got the letter and the picture yesterday.”

Haymitch looks at the picture again and shakes his head. “So what do you want from me for this?” he asks, looking at Katniss.

“Anything you want to add.” She answers. “Anything we may have missed. You were part of The Games longer than we ever were.”

“Maysilee Donner.” Haymitch says quickly. Katniss nods and leans down to grab a fresh piece of parchment from the box and writes her name on top of it.

“I’ve been doing all the writing, and we want to keep it all in the same hand.” Katniss explains.

“So, I just tell you what I want you to write?” Haymitch asks. He sounds oddly young, like he’s channeling a part of himself that died a long time ago.

“Can you do that?” I ask quietly. Haymitch nods. “Then just tell Katniss what you want her to write and then I can draw a picture.”

Haymitch spends the next half hour giving a detailed account of Maysilee Donner during the 2nd Quarter Quell, then goes on to talk about Terra Baxwoll, a female tribute from the 1st games Haymitch mentored. “She had the potential but not the nerve.” Haymitch says. “She got nervous during the countdown and fell off her platform, and that was the end of Terra. If she could have gotten her nerves in check though, I think she could have won.”

Every day for the next three weeks, Haymitch comes for lunch and stays until he’s told us everything he can remember about the male and female tributes from all 23 years he mentored The Games. He finishes with Eunia Fairbain and Talon Dunbryll, the tributes in The Games before mine and Katniss’s and we close the book. We’ll never be finished with it, but everything that had to be said has been said. From this point forward we’ll be adding smaller things as we remember them.

Now we put even more effort into the garden, ordering more seeds to plant that will be ready in the fall. I’m baking and painting more than ever since returning home, taking baskets of bread and pastries to families around the district and have started creating welcome packages for families that are finally beginning to move back from District 13. Katniss contributes to the packages by gathering berries and edible plants from the woods to include, and we start sitting on the front porch at night, no longer avoiding Haymitch. It’s a nightly tradition now to watch him chase his geese around The Victor’s Village trying to gather them into their pen every night.

“Why does he do this again?” Katniss asks, giving a genuine laugh.

“I think he mentioned once that it’s the only way The Capitol will send him more liquor.” I answer, joining her with a laugh of my own.

By the time Haymitch has all of the geese safely in the pen, it’s completely dark. He walks over to us, trying to catch his breath. “I would have appreciated a little help back there, you know. You guys just sit there every night and laugh at me.” He says, wiping his brow.

“That’s your arrangement, not ours.” Katniss reminds him. We laugh once more as Haymitch turns and walks back to his house in a huff. We sit outside a little while longer, enjoying the cool breeze that has come in with the darkness before heading up to bed.

My eyes fly open at the sound of her screams. When they adjust to the darkness, I can see her facing me, her expression pained as she clutches the bed sheet and yells for Prim. When she starts screaming for me to run, I grab her shoulder and shake it, but it does nothing.

“Katniss!” I yell trying to drown out the scream. “Wake up!” but she just keeps screaming.

She does this every so often. Has a nightmare so bad that she can’t even be woken. I reach out my arms and wrap them around her, pulling her close to me, preventing her from thrashing around.

“Shhh, Katniss, I’m right here.” I whisper into her ear. “Wake up. There’s nothing to run from.” I repeat the words over and over until I feel her body relax in my arms. I say it one more time before I pull back to look at her face. It’s covered in sweat but no longer looks pained; I reach my hand up and move her sweat soaked hair off her forehead. “You’re okay.” I tell her. “Just breathe.” I take a deep breath in, encouraging her to breathe with me and let it out slowly through my nose. In time, her breathing slows and she is relaxed again. “I’m right here.”

“It was the mutts from the first games.” She tells me. “Chasing you, catching you. Ripping you into pieces.” She stammers.

“It wasn’t real.” I tell her. “Look, I’m right here.” I tell her again. “I’m not going anywhere.” I lean in and give her a quick kiss, hoping it will solidify what I’m telling her. When I pull away, Katniss leans back in quickly and mimics my kiss; then she pulls away and stares at me silently before leaning in again.

This time, she keeps her lips planted on mine and doesn’t move, snaking her hand up from between us and placing it on my cheek before she opens her mouth and deepens the kiss. I respond by opening my mouth allowing her tongue to enter and explore.

We lay there wrapped in each other’s arms, tongues moving together in a rhythm that has quickly become familiar as Katniss takes her hand off my face and slowly moves it down across my chest and further to the skin between the hem of my shirt and the top of my pants. When she removes her hand from my waist, she reaches behind her and grabs one of my hands, moving it to her chest and placing it on her breast.

For the first, time, she breaks the kiss, pulling back so that she can nod, telling me that it’s okay to let my hands to roam too. I give her breast a gentle squeeze, which causes Katniss to gasp and smash her lips against mine again. She moves her hand back down to my waist, rubbing my hip with her hand before grabbing and tugging on the bottom of my shirt.

I stop and pull away, looking at her, not knowing what to think about what is happening, but all I see in her face is that same look of allowance. I move back a little and sit up, bringing my legs up under me just so, so that my prosthetic doesn’t bother me. Katniss mimics my actions, also sitting up on her feet. We stare at each other for just a second before she places both hands at the hem of my shirt again and starts to move it upward. I place my hands over hers and pull up, helping her take my shirt off. She throws it to the side and begins to lean in for another kiss. I reach out, grabbing her head with both of my hands and bring our lips together roughly.

We stay like this for what seems like hours, Katniss’ hands moving up and down my bare chest, lingering now and then at the top of my pants, sometimes snapping the elastic band before moving her hands back up. When I feel her hands disappear from my skin, I open one eye and see that she’s now fumbling with her own shirt. I pull away again, and watch her. Wanting so badly to reach out and pull the shirt off her body, but fear is stopping me; until she looks up at me with a look that I’ve never seen before. I saw a hint of it from her once before during a kiss we shared during the Quarter Quell, but it wasn’t nearly this intense. Before I realize what I’m doing, my hands are clutching the hem of her shirt and quickly pulling it over her head.

 

 

She breaks my gaze for the first time and looks down at herself before grabbing her for shirt, but I stop her. Keeping her hand in mine, I take my other and graze the skin on her stomach gently with my fingers, not lingering over a single scar; moving them slowly upward until they are between her breasts, stopping there for a moment to look up at her. Then I continue, tracing the contour of her breast before moving back down between them; I can feel the goose bumps on her skin.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see her let go of the shirt and move her hand back to my chest and down until she has three fingers under the elastic band of my pants. This time, she doesn’t move them away, but gives a gentle pull forward and down, stretching the elastic and moving it lower and lower on my hips. I take my legs out from under me and sit with them stretched out in front of me and lie back, swiftly pulling the bottoms off, leaving me in just a pair of boxers. I can just make out Katniss looking at me from top to bottom, stopping at my boxers when she notices my erection. Just when I am convinced that I’ve ruined everything, Katniss loops her fingers under the waistband of her own pants and pulls them down, kicking her legs until they finally fall to the floor.

She moves quickly, throwing her leg over mine and sitting on top of me, scooting up my thighs slowly until her middle is on my erection. I push myself up and grab the back of her head, bringing her lips down to mine once more. It’s not until I hear Katniss whimper between kisses that I even realize that I’ve been driving my hips up into her the whole time she’s been sitting on top of me.

We continue on this way until I can feel that aching. The same aching that I’ve felt the last couple of months and have to disappear into the bathroom to relieve. I don’t want to beg, but I need to relieve this ache soon; I can only ignore it for so long.

Katniss puts her hands on my chest and pushes me down, leaning over me and giving me one more deep kiss before sitting back up. I see her reach back behind her and then her bra is loose around her frame. I can’t stop myself, I have to reach up and pull it off; she doesn’t object. She leans back down again pressing our bodies together and I shudder as she moves her body down slowly, her nipples lightly touching my chest as she does.

When she reaches my hips, she brings her hands up to my boxers and doesn’t hesitate in pulling them from my body, down my legs and off my feet. She freezes when she sees me, her breathing gets noticeably heavier. Before I can tell her that there’s nothing to be afraid off, she’s lying on her back next to me, looking at the ceiling. We lay there together, her breathing hitched and my erection throbbing, for quite a while before she takes deep and audible breath in and swiftly removes her underwear.

Is she trying to tell me what I think she’s trying to tell me? I sit up again and look at her lying there stiff as a board, like she’s frozen and unable to move. She can’t possibly want this. I reach my hand out and brush hair out of her face and look at her. Her eyes still have that look, but her body doesn’t match. It’s like the two parts of her brain are fighting against each other; the part that wants this and the part that is too scared to let this happen.

I lean in and kiss her again, slowly, trying to tell her without words that this isn’t something that she has to do right now, but rather than getting that message, she deepens the kiss again, darting her tongue out and into my mouth before pulling me down. I’m not directly on top of her, but my erection presses into her thigh and it’s me that is whimpering now. I want this so badly. Without realizing it again, I buck my hips forward a few times, rubbing my length against Katniss’ thigh until she moves her leg to the side causing me to drop down between her legs. I break the kiss and sit up quickly on my legs and look at her. Was she telling me to stop or to go on? When I look up as see the hunger consuming her eyes again, I know what is trying to tell me, but I don’t move.

She reaches out to touch me but I’m too far from her, so she drops her hand down on the bed with a thud. She’s still looking at me as I inch forward and grab her knees, pushing her legs apart further so I can get closer between them. Before I do anything, I lean over her, trying to balance myself on my arms as I hover over her, shaking, and plant a quick but deep kiss on her lips, without words, the kiss she returns tells me that she wants this and pull back and off her before my arms can give out and I crush her.

I grab myself and position my tip at her entrance, but can’t get myself to go any further because I’m shaking so badly. I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths trying to steady myself and when I finally have the shaking down to a slight tremble, I press my head to her center, but nothing happens. I can feel her wetness where we are connected, but I still can’t get myself past this point. I begin to shake again and can’t even keep myself at her entrance anymore when she reaches toward me, propping herself up on one elbow as the other hand reaches out to me and she places her hand over mine in attempts to still my shaking, but she’s shaking too.

I look up at her, checking her eyes again for any signs of trepidation, but none are to be found. I take a deep breath in again and she takes one too and slowly, our hands move together and press my head to her middle again. I slowly feel myself pushing into her, and I hear a sharp intake of breath and look up to see Katniss with her eyes shut tightly, biting her bottom lip and I stop. I’m hurting her, there’s no way I am going to keep going, but when she notices me stop, she squeezes my hand and pushes her hips toward me, taking more of me in.

When I’m halfway in, I pull back, removing myself completely before trying again, this time on my own, without guidance from Katniss. I continue to push forward slowly and stopping whenever I hear Katniss gasp, but every time I stop, she begins to push her hips forward again. I stop again when I feel that I can’t possibly go any further without truly hurting her and I pull back, but I pull too far and I slip out. Starting over again, I position myself for the third time and push forward, this time it’s a little easier, but Katniss still gasps a few times before I’m in as far as I’m willing to go. I pull back slower this time, careful to stay in and then push forward and stop.

I continue this slow rhythm until I don’t hear Katniss gasp when I push myself in. Feeling confident, I take my eyes off of where we are joined and I move up to lay on top of Katniss, bringing our lips together in an intense kiss as I pull back and begin to move again, finding a rhythm that is just the right speed. Katniss has her hands wrapped around my neck and is moaning directly into my ear. Hearing that makes me stomach feel like it’s dropped into my toes, and the ache in my groin has turned into a pleasurable pain as I get closer to the edge. With one final kiss I burying my head in her neck and groan as I’m pushed into the point of no return; Katniss grabs my hair and moans with me.

After a few minutes of regaining my senses, I push myself up and pull myself out, plopping down to lie next to Katniss. She turns her head to me, her eyes sleepy, but satisfied and I can’t help but ask the question that is nagging at my mind.

“You love me. Real or not real?” I whisper.

“Real.” She tells me.

 

 

Chapter Text

When a bedroom door closes, a new person emerges. Right now, there isn't a statement out there that is truer about Katniss Everdeen. To everyone else she's distant and rigid, but to me she's passionate and curious; a willing participant. The routine that Dr. Aurelius told her to start to establish now includes setting aside time to lie in bed and touch me, and to let me touch her in return.

It's been 4 days since our relationship became intimate, and we can't keep our hands off each other. While the intimacy does follow within the routine that Katniss has started, it doesn't lessen the magnetism that is present between us right now. The first thing we do when we wake up and the last thing we do before we go to sleep is explore each other. It's like we can't possibly start or end the day without it.

The things she says when we're exploring leave me stunned. She tells me it's all she thinks about; that she wants to go into the woods everyday still feeling my touches on her skin, and remembering the feeling of my erection in her hands. I never thought I'd hear her say things like that, but then I remember, when a bedroom door closes, a new person emerges.

It's all I can think about too. The way her small hands wrap around me and slide up and down my length so perfectly, the way she contracts around my fingers like a vice when I've brought her to the brink then pushed her beyond it, and the look on her face as it happens makes me delirious.

With each day that passes, we learn more about each other's bodies. Our confidence has grown, things are becoming familiar, and we are learning to communicate both with and without words. We're both lying on our sides this morning; Katniss has her right leg draped over my left hip so our middles are perfectly aligned. This is also making it easier for my hand to fit between her legs. Our pace has started off slow, my two fingers inside her, gently moving in and out, working with the wetness that is accumulating, as my other hand cups her breast, alternating between softly squeezing and pinching her nipple with my fingertips. She has both hands around my shaft, pumping up and down trying to match the rhythm my fingers are making.

"Faster, Peeta." She urges me, removing one hand from my shaft and carefully squeezing my balls. I moan and then speed up, repeatedly pushing my fingers into her until my knuckles hit. She takes me with her left hand and rubs my length, moving the head up and over the delicate bundle of nerves between her legs and down, stopping at my fingers before moving back up again, she moans out loud as she does it.

She has taken a liking to taking me in her hand and rubbing up and down between her folds. It's as close as she can get to having me inside her right now, though she comes closer and closer to pushing me in every time, she always stops before she goes too far. She moves her head forward and gives me a deep kiss, sighing when she pulls away.

"I want you inside me." She says. Her voice is heavy with lust and frustration. She would never say that outside of this room, and as badly as I want to, there's nothing I can do to satiate her need. Haymitch has been looking for someone with condoms for days and has found nothing. We put in an order for three boxes with The Capitol since they no longer ration birth control among the districts, but we missed this week's cutoff and won't get them until the train comes back next week; a week is a long time when the only thing you care about is having that feeling again.

"Close your eyes," I instruct as I take my two fingers out and come back with three, pushing them into her with controlled pressure. "Just imagine it's me." I whisper. In return, she grips me harder, pumping and squeezing quickly.

She comes first, calling out my name as she does; I'm not far behind spilling all over her hand and thigh. I remove my fingers and bring them to my mouth, cleaning them off and reveling in the taste of her. She takes her hand off of me and surprises me by bringing it toward her mouth and licking my come off the back of her hand. Usually when we finish, she goes to the bathroom to wash up and put her clothes on, but not today.

"Not bad." She says, licking her lips.

"Not bad? Should I be flattered or insulted?" I ask.

"Flattered." She states.

"What made you do that? You didn't have to, you know."

"Well you know how I taste, so it's only fair that I know how you taste." This sends a shiver up my spine. Our unrestrained conversations after pleasuring each other is almost as good as the act itself; it's this that urges me to ask her something that has been on my mind for the last four days.

"Katniss?" I begin. "What if you get pregnant?"

"How would I get pregnant?" she asks. "We're not doing anything that would get me pregnant."

"Not right now, but we did." I remind her.

She shakes her head quickly. "I'm not pregnant."

"How do you know?"

"I took a test." She says.

"It's only been four days."

"My mother still had things here." She starts. "She had fertilization tests that she kept in case she ever needed them for a woman she was treating."

"Fertilization test?" I ask. I've never heard of it. "And that's not the same as a pregnancy test?"

"No. They accomplish the same thing, but a fertilization test is done differently and can be done right away. They're not common in District 12 because of how expensive they are. Pregnancy tests are the common practice here because they're cheap. My father traded and sold extra for months so my mother could have the few she did. He even had to use the name of a merchant so The Capitol wouldn't get suspicious as to why someone from The Seam would have enough money to buy 5 fertilization tests. I think my mother only used one the entire time. I always thought it was a waste of my father's time, but now I understand it a little better." She explains.

"So you took one?" I ask. She nods. "How do you know it was right?"

"The instructions say that it's 99% accurate within 30 minutes of intercourse." She says.

"When did you take it?"

"That next morning. It's why I left the room so fast. I knew you would think I was upset about what happened…"

"Were you?" I interrupt suddenly.

"No. I was upset over the fact that we could have made a baby and I was upset at how irresponsible we were, but I didn't regret that it happened. I just had to know. I wouldn't have been able to handle waiting to find out naturally." She explains. "I called Dr. Aurelius when I got back from the woods and saw you weren't here."

"What did he tell you?"

"Well, I thought maybe you were having an episode and left again." That explains why she entered my house so timidly that day. "He told me that I should have stayed and talked to you instead of running off."

"He's right. Why didn't you tell me?" I ask.

"I didn't want to drag you into it." She answers with a shrug.

"It wasn't just your mistake, Katniss. And then you didn't even tell me you took any kind of test." I say angrily.

"I know that now." She says.

"Do you? You let me wonder if we made a huge mistake for four days now and didn't say a word. What if it came back positive? What were you planning to do? Run off into the woods looking for Nightlock? Kill yourself and leave me here wondering when you're coming home?"

"I wouldn't have done that." She sounds offended. "And you should talk; you could have said something earlier. It doesn't seem to be an issue when you've got me here in bed with you."

"Don't try to turn this around on me, Katniss." I start. "We both could have done things differently."

"I just didn't want to cause any trouble." She says. Her voice is low and scared.

"Trouble?" I ask. "You wouldn't have caused any trouble. I just want to be there for you, but when you don't tell me things, I can't do that."

"I'm trying, Peeta, okay?" she says. She takes a deep and unsteady breath, trying to hold back tears. I wrap my arms around her and pull her to me. "You should have said something sooner."

"It shouldn't only be up to me, Katniss." I remind her. "It's okay."

"You're mad." She says.

"I am, but I'll get over it." I assure her. "Don't be afraid to tell me things."

"I don't want to be responsible for a flashback." She admits.

"Is that what this is about?" I ask, looking at her as she nods and finally lets a tear fall. "Katniss, you can't worry about that. Keeping things from me isn't going to protect me from them; they'll happen anyway." She scoots in closer, burying her face in my chest.

"Hey! Is anyone here?" Haymitch calls from downstairs. Katniss and I both jump at the sound and then roll our eyes.

"He'll learn to knock one day." I say. "I'll go deal with him. Get ready for breakfast." Katniss nods and heads into the bathroom and starts the shower. I jump out of bed and search the floor for my pajama bottoms that got thrown across the room by Katniss when we woke up this morning. "Haymitch?" I call from the top of them stairs.

"I don't sound like Greasy Sae, do I?" he yells back.

"Sorry," I tell him as I walk down the steps, tying the draw string on my pants.

"Really?" Haymitch asks.

"What?" I say, looking up at him.

"Put some clothes on." He says with a disgusted look.

"I do have clothes on."

"No, you have a pair of pajama pants on." He corrects me.

"Better than what I had on a few minutes ago." I say smugly.

"That's enough." Haymitch says, putting up a hand. "I'll make this quick," he reaches into his pocket and pulls out 3 condoms. "This is the best I could do, kid, and I'm never doing it again."

"How'd you get these?" I ask.

"Don't worry about it." He answers. "I know there aren't enough to last until the train next week, but at least you have something now."

"Thanks, Haymitch. Hey," I call out, stopping him from leaving. "Have you ever heard of a Fertilization Test?"

"Sure. Capitol designed, hardly used." He tells me. "Which is pretty stupid, if you ask me. I think they made them just to say they could." He stops and looks at me, eyes widening. "Why? I can't get you one of those."

"No, I don't need one. Katniss already took one, I had just never heard of them before." I explain.

"She took one?" Haymitch asks eyes still wide. "And?"

"Negative." Haymitch nods.

"How did she get one anyway?" he asks then.

"Long story. Her mother had some from a long time ago that they saved up for and they were still here, so Katniss used one the morning after…"

"Yeah, yeah. I get it." Haymitch stops me. "Well, I'll let you go put some real clothes on." He turns and starts walking to the door, but stops. "By the way," he says "you might want to tell Sweetheart to be a little quieter, or at least close the windows before you get down to business." He laughs and turns back to the door and leaves.

I put the condoms in the pocket of my pajama pants and wash my hands before starting breakfast. I know I just lectured Katniss about talking to me, but I also know that I can't tell her that Haymitch has heard us. At least not right now. When she comes down she's in full hunting clothes and looking more relaxed than she did before her shower.

"What did Haymitch want?" she asks, sitting down at the table.

"He had something for me." I answer, finishing up the eggs and bringing them to the table. Katniss doesn't say anything for a minute, she just watches as I dish out the food on our plates and sit down.

"What did he have for you?" she asks finally. I reach into my pocket and grab the condoms, setting them down in the middle of the table. She looks at them for a minute before looking up at me. "You TOLD him?" she asks angrily.

"I asked him for help." I correct her. "When you ran out of here that morning, I thought for sure that you hated me and regretted everything. I didn't know what else to do. This is why I tell you to talk to me, so I don't have to run to Haymitch." Katniss covers her face with her hands and lets out a long breath.

"I can't believe that he knows." She says, shaking her head.

"Well, if it's any consolation, he had assumed it was already happening." I say.

"It's not." She says shortly. "This is my fault." I don't want to tell her that she's right, so I say nothing in return. We could have figured things out just fine on our own if she had just talked to me instead of running off to take a fertilization test without me and then hiding in the woods all day.

"He would've figured it out eventually, he's not stupid." I tell her. "Besides, he helped us, didn't he?" I say pointing to the condoms. "Would you rather that I went around District 12 seeing if anyone had any condoms? Then EVERYONE would know our business." I remind her. "This way, just Haymitch knows."

She seems to relax at this realization and she nods. "I wonder how he got them." She says, almost amused. "Who would he need to use them with?"

"Greasy Sae." I suggest.

"Not this again." Katniss says rolling her eyes.

"Or maybe Effie made a secret visit." I add.

"Effie Trinket?" Katniss says with a laugh.

"Sure, why not? I saw them eyeballing each other more than a few times." I tell her.

"You're crazy." Katniss says, taking a bite of eggs.

"Maybe," I reply. "But I know what I saw."

I walk Katniss to the front door when she is ready to leave to go hunt for the day; before she goes I stop her. "Are you mad that I told Haymitch?" I ask.

"I don't like that he knows," she says "But at least it's only Haymitch. I'm just ready for some privacy after having none for so long. I'm ready to have things be just between us."

"Me too." I agree.

"Haymitch is going to make remarks, isn't he?" she asks. I nod at her. Then, as if on cue, Haymitch yells from his porch.

"I told you to put clothes on!" Katniss glares in his direction and then back at me.

"Ignore him," I whisper, leaning in and giving her a kiss. Haymitch makes a gagging noise, and Katniss spitefully deepens the kiss and runs her hand down my chest before breaking away, giving Haymitch another glare and then storming off in the direction of the woods.

"You think you can pick on us for kissing now that our lives aren't in danger?" I yell back over at Haymitch. "Or are you just jealous that Effie Trinket wouldn't kiss you like that?" Haymitch barks with laughter and throws the cap of his bottle of liquor in my direction, but only makes it a few feet.

"I should come over there and slap you for that one." He says, still laughing.

"You should give her a call; I bet you can get her number." I say with a wink, though I'm not sure he can see it. "She would probably be happy to hear from you." I add before walking back into the house.

While Katniss is out hunting, I put together a few more welcome baskets to deliver, shower, and get some bread started for dinner. I decide not to dwell on our conversation from this morning. It's not worth it to stay mad over. This is new for both of us and we're bound to make mistakes along the way. That and the fact that she now knows I told Haymitch about us, we are even and have clean slate starting today.

Instead, I'm keeping my mind on what may or may not transpire tonight when we go up to bed. I don't want to assume that we'll use any of the condoms tonight, but I can't help thinking about it. Touching her, tasting her, hearing her, and feeing her again are the only things I can think about anymore.

I can't help but hope that Katniss is thinking the same thing. I know she's thinking about my fingers inside her this morning and how I made her come thinking about my length filling her, but I hope that her need to truly feel me is still present right now while she's in the woods, consuming her, so that later when we go up to bed we can get lost in each other once again but take it further until we both have what we want. There is nothing more amazing than Katniss when she lets herself think about what we do together and how we make each other feel. Part of me wishes she were that open all the time, but another part of me is glad that only I get to see that side of her.

When I get back from delivering welcome baskets, Katniss is already home. We've taken to having light lunches since Katniss is back to hunting full swing; our dinners tend to be larger than they had been before. There is a plate of cheese and fruit in the middle of the table, and Katniss is at the sink cleaning off the game she brought back from the woods today.

I walk up behind her and put my arms around her waist while resting my chin on her shoulder. I hear her sigh as I do this and I take it to mean that she likes it, so I don't move. "Looks like you got a lot today." I say. My voice is lazy and low. I could stand here like this with her forever, I think.

"Things are really starting to come alive in there again." She answers. "Did you get the baskets delivered?"

"Yep, all finished. Well, until more people come back." I say, untucking her shirt so my hands can touch her skin. "Stop for a minute and have lunch with me." I whisper, dragging my fingernails lightly along the skin on her sides before finally removing them and walking to the table.

The air in the house is thick with anxiousness and longing; both of us are thinking about the moment when the sun finally sets and the clock indicates it's time to retire for the night. We make small talk over lunch; then prepare dinner together in silence, stopping for only a few moments when one of us purposefully grazes the other. I stand beside her as she cuts up the meat, resting my hand on her lower back before dipping the tips of my fingers in the back of her pants. She returns the favor later while I cut bread, by putting her fingers in the front of my pants and lightly touching the crease where my hip meets my thigh.

These simple acts of touching have not helped to lessen the longing in the air at all. Dinner is quiet; we're unable to even make small talk anymore. The only thing we can manage now is to catch each other staring across the table before quickly looking away. I don't know if it's the knowledge of the condoms that has us acting this way, or if the fixation on simply touching one another has reached a boiling point, but these next few hours waiting for the routine to hit bed time will be excruciating.

Even though Katniss is just as on edge as I am, her legs jumping anxiously on the porch floor while we sit outside enjoying the last bit of summer, we go through the motions of the routine. It helps Katniss to have this structure right now and no matter what we may be feeling, we will not take that structure and sense of security away. It's what has gotten us this far in the first place.

We sit outside for an hour, listening as the sounds of the evening come alive, catching each other in a sideways glance, neither one of us wanting to be the first to stand up and lead the way to bed. Finally, it's Katniss who stands up.

"I'm getting tired." She announces, and I stand up next following her back into the house and watch her as she makes sure everything has been taken care of. When she's confident that everything is as it should be, she walks upstairs, not looking back to see if I'm behind her.

We make it upstairs and I close the door behind us, then we stand there staring at each other, until finally, I have to laugh. "Why are we acting so nervous?" I ask, shaking my head.

"Reality…" Katniss answers, letting out a deep breath. "Where are they?" she asks then. I don't have to ask her what she's talking about, I simply walk to the bedside table and open the drawer, taking out a condom and handing it to her. She looks at it closely, as if she's examining it for flaws and then looks up at me. "Do you know how to use one correctly?"

"Yes," I tell her. "My brothers had a box a few years ago, I don't know how or where they got it, but every box has directions on how to use them. I found the box when they were out one day and…" I stop, but Katniss is looking at me, waiting for me to continue. "I kind of tried one on. I don't know why, it's not like I had anyone to use them with, even if they were mine." Katniss starts laughing.

"I'm sorry," she says. "It was just a funny mental picture."

"If I knew that talking about my lonely adventures with boxes of condoms would be an ice breaker, I would have told you that a long time ago." I say, putting the condom back on the table and then closing the space between us. Katniss moves her arms up and around my neck, bringing my head down until our mouths find each other.

The kiss quickly deepens and just as quickly, Katniss' arms leave my neck and go to my chest and she wastes no time taking my shirt off. I return the favor and pull her shirt off and undo the button on her pants, allowing her to pull them down and step out of them, taking my own pants off while she does.

When she stands back up I hastily move toward her, reaching behind her and, after a few attempts, unhook her bra. She lets it fall and I immediately bring my mouth down to her nipple and nibble gently. This causes her to groan and bury her hands in my hair. I trail my tongue from her nipple upward to her neck and begin to suck on a spot just below her jaw while bringing my hands down to her underwear. I snake my hands underneath the fabric and take her ass in my hands, pull her to me so that our bodies are against each other, then thrust my hips forward while pushing her toward me so she can feel that I'm already half hard.

We move to the bed, Katniss lying on her back with me hovering over her as we kiss open mouthed and hungry. I pull her underwear off and she lifts herself up and grabs the elastic of my boxers, shoving them down. I don't bother pulling them off yet. Instead, I sit back and spread her legs, going in with my thumb first, gently rubbing circles around the nerves at her middle.

After a few minutes, I stop and move further down, pushing two fingers inside her, to see how ready she is. "Already so wet," I say to her, putting my pointer finger in my mouth and sucking off all of her wetness. Something about the thought of her already being this wet ignites a spark deep in my gut and suddenly, I'm pushing three fingers inside hard and using my left hand to rub her nerves on top.

Something tells me to curl my fingers, and when I do while pulling them out, Katniss cries out so loudly I think I've hurt her. Then I see the look on her face; it can't be described as anything but blissful. I try again, watching her as she cries out again and arches her back. Over and over I do this until I can feel that now familiar sensation of her contracting around my fingers.

I pull them out and bring them to my mouth again. I can't resist doing it. "You taste so good." I tell her. "Did you like that?" I ask.

She nods while trying to catch her breath. "But I still want the real thing." She manages to say. Once again, I feel that spark ignite in my gut and before I can stop myself, the words are out of my mouth. "Then come over here and make me hard." I immediately want to apologize, but I stop when I see the effect this has on Katniss. She sits up quickly and walks toward me on her knees, almost purring before wrapping her hands around my half hard shaft and squeezing.

She works me for several minutes; I watch her concentrate on her task and then watch her hands smoothing over my length over and over before I finally find my voice. "Katniss," I say. "Get the condom." She moves back to the bedside table and grabs it, silently bringing it to me.

I rip the package open carefully and place it on me, pinching the very top of the condom before beginning to roll it down my length. I look up and notice Katniss watching me intently as I do this, biting her bottom lip. I doubt she even realizes she's doing it. When I am finished, I look up at her. "Ready?" I ask her. She nods before moving backward and lying on her back again.

I kneel in front of her and reach out, rubbing her nerves once more and moving my fingers down. "Still nice and wet." I murmur, and then place my head at her opening and this time, with more confidence and control; I ease into her slowly, watching as I disappear inside her, inch by inch.

I start off moving in and out slowly, trying to remember the feeling. It's different this time with the condom, but still better than just using my fingers. I keep this pace for a while before I notice it. The bedroom curtain moving with the breeze outside indicating that the windows are still open. I remember what Haymitch said this morning and for the third time tonight I feel that spark in my stomach; while I want nothing more than privacy and to be left alone after spending so long dealing with Panem's scrutiny, there's just something about people hearing Katniss that sets me on fire and I want to make her scream again like I did before.

I begin to move faster, bringing my left hand up and placing it on her nerves like I did earlier, and I begin to rub in circles that match the rhythm of my thrusting and I begin to lose sight of everything. My brain is telling me to make her scream, to tell her to scream and to say my name and I get so overwhelmed with the fire that is now covering my entire body that I have to stop. I pull myself out and back away from Katniss, closing my eyes and covering my face with my hands.

"What's wrong?" Katniss asks. I can feel the bed shift as she sits up and scoots toward me. Her hand comes up around the back of my neck and into my hair.

"I just feel strange." I confess. "Like I'm someone else. I couldn't focus on anything but being rough with you and hearing you scream." Katniss runs her fingers through the back of my hair, soothingly. "It just feels like it's because of the Hijacking. I don't want to get that rough with you, but something in me wants to, like I was slipping into something I shouldn't be. I don't want to hurt you."

"Look at me, Peeta." Katniss says, lifting my chin. I pull my hands away and look at her. She's shaking her head. "You didn't do anything wrong. We're different people in here." Hearing her say that reminds me of what I've been saying all along; when a bedroom door closes, a new person emerges. "Besides," she adds. "I was enjoying it." And then she makes that sound again, that sounds like a purr, before falling back on the bed.

I move swiftly and grab her legs at the knees, bringing her feet to rest on my chest. She puts her hands down and grasps my thighs as I push into her again. Our gasps our loud and instant, at this angle I'm deeper than I've ever been before and Katniss arches her back again and moans when I pull back and push back in hard and fast, using my grip on her knees to push me in as far as I can go.

She brings her left hand off of my thigh and brings it to her front, then begins to rub her nerves as I thrust in and out. The visual of us working together like this is amazing and I can't control the sounds that come out of my mouth, and Katniss is making no effort to control hers; letting out low moans when I pull back and loud moans when I push back in.

I close my eyes and slow down again, this time trying to keep my orgasm away for just a little while longer, I can hear Katniss' breathing becoming faster and faster, and I know she's close, so I open my eyes and watch her rubbing her nerves in quick, short circles and I pull back slow but crash back into her with force that moves her a few inches up the bed. I repeat this a few more times before I feel her contract around me for the first time like this. I've felt it on my fingers before but never like this and the sensation is too much for me to ignore any longer and I come, letting out a moan and exhaling loudly, and shuddering when I'm finished. I pull out and take the condom off, throwing it in the trash next to the bedside table and go back to lay next to Katniss who is still trying to catch her breath.

"Not bad." I say, covering us with the blanket.

"Should I be flattered or insulted?" she asks, remembering our conversation from this morning.

"More than flattered." I answer. "I like this." I tell her then.

"What?"

"When it's just us like this in here. Being ourselves. Not worrying if we're going to say the wrong thing." I explain. "Like you said, we're different people in here… I'm still trying to get used to it."

"So am I." she confesses.

"You're doing a good job." I compliment her. "Telling me what you want and what you like the way you do. You should be that free more often." She scoffs at my suggestion, and I know that getting her to use her voice more beyond this room will take a lot longer, but I'm willing to wait as long as it takes to get her there. "There's only one problem." I add.

"What's that?" Katniss asks.

"How are we going to make two condoms last until the train comes in next week?"

Chapter Text

“Have you given any thought about other methods of birth control?” I speak slowly, but clearly; careful not to sound like I’m trying to push anything on Katniss that she may not be ready for.

“What do you mean?” she asks. Evidently, she hasn’t given this topic as much thought as I have.

“Well, the condoms…” I begin and then stop, making sure the words I choose are delicate. “They do the job, right? It’s been almost 3 years since we started using them and we’ve never had a scare.” I stop again and look at her, trying to gauge where her mind is right now, but I can’t tell. Her face is completely blank. “It just seems that since you aren’t following your routine anymore and haven’t been for close to two years, maybe we could talk about trying something different.”

“Why?” she asks, shaking her head. “You just said they do the job, why try to change that?”

“I just think we know more now to try something else, that’s all. We are finding ourselves in situations more and more where we almost don’t use one because they’re all the way upstairs and we’re down here in the living room, or in my painting room, or at the lake. Don’t you remember that day at the lake?” She nods.

“We should just have them with us at all times then.” She counters.

“But we don’t have to, that’s the thing.” I say. “There are so many options out there for us that will protect us even better than a condom would and we’d have that freedom to go to the lake and not have to worry about who did or didn’t pack a condom. We wouldn’t have to stop anymore.”

“I don’t see the point of changing something that’s been working for almost 3 years.” She repeats.

“There are things out there that are so much easier.” I try to explain. She knows this, she was in school the days we learned about all of this, I don’t have to tell her any of it but I find myself doing it anyway. “We have doctors here in District 12 now; you wouldn’t even have to go far. A shot, a pill, a patch, an implant; there are so many options.” She shakes her head.

“I can’t.” she says. “I’m comfortable with what we have now. I can see we’re being protected.” She finally admits. “I hate the idea of a pill, I’m tired of being stuck with needles, I refuse to have anything implanted in my arms ever again, and a patch? Do people actually use those?”

“I’m sure there are people that use a patch.” I answer. I don’t know what else to say. How can I argue the points she’s making? It may have been 3 years since we came back to District 12, but that doesn’t mean that either of us have come to terms with what happened to us. Condoms are the only thing that doesn’t scare Katniss.

“Well they don’t seem very reliable to me. You put a sticker on your skin and it stops pregnancy?” she shakes her head again. “I don’t trust it.”

“I’m sorry, Katniss.” I say. Now I feel guilty. I was more concerned with being spontaneous and having it feel better for me. I didn’t think about how these other methods may affect her mentally. “I should have thought about all of that.”

“Don’t apologize, there’s no reason too. It’s not like we’ve talked about this before.” She shrugs. “But I can’t do it. I can’t hold that responsibility on my shoulders. What if I mess something up?”

“What if I mess something up?” I reply. “It’s not only you that worries about that.” She says nothing in return.

That first time I brought it up; I brought it up for the wrong reasons. For days I found myself wishing that I had never said anything, and weeks after that first conversation, things were tense every time either of us went for a condom. It was like she was waiting for me to start trying to talk her into using something else again. Things went back to normal after a while, and it became a non-issue again, but not before I talked to Haymitch.

“I don’t want to have to bring you into this again, but I think I screwed up.” I say to Haymitch.

“You didn’t knock her up, did you?” Haymitch answers. I make a face at his choice of words and shake my head.

“No, but we got into a little discussion about birth control about a week or two ago and things haven’t been right since.” I explain.

“Let me guess, you don’t want to use them anymore because they don’t feel the same and you don’t like having to stop in the middle of something to put one on.” When I put my head down and look at my shoes, he starts to laugh. “I could have told you that would happen. I’m surprised it took this long.”

“I have hated them for a while now, but I just never said anything. I still haven’t actually told her that I didn’t like them, I just tried to discuss other options, but she wouldn’t hear it. They all scare her so much. Condoms are the only thing she trusts because she can see we’re protected and she doesn’t have to take a pill, get a shot, or have something implanted. I realized after I brought it up that it’s so much more than that.”

“You either use them or you don’t get laid. Haymitch says. I make another face at his choice of words, and then nod.

“Right,” I answer. “And now it’s like she is waiting for me to say something again.”

“Why don’t you?” Haymitch asks.

“Because it’s selfish,” I begin. “I’d feel like I was more concerned with how it feels for me than how badly the change scares her.”

“Do you believe that is true?”

“I don’t know.” And I don’t. I’m not sure what to think.

“She’s never going to heal if you allow her to remain comfortable and dance around the issue. You’re not going to cruise through life without any conflicts with her. You both want different things right now and you have to figure it out no matter how upset it may make her, you have to talk things out. Your relationship will never evolve if you don’t.” Haymitch lectures. He sounds just like Dr. Aurelius when he gets on one of these tangents.

“So you’re saying that I should confirm her fears of bringing it up again by doing just that?” Haymitch nods at me. “And if she doesn’t want to talk about it?”

“Make it known that she has to.” Haymitch replies.

It’s 8 months before I mention it again. A few weeks after talking to Haymitch, Katniss seemed to calm down. She stopped looking at me like I was going to refuse to use a condom, and she was enjoying herself again. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It wasn’t until we ran out of condoms and didn’t have another box that I decided to bring it up.

“I think we’re out of condoms.” Katniss says flopping onto her back on the bed.  We woke up this morning with the same thought in mind, but neither one of us bothered to keep track of how many condoms were left in the drawer, so here I am with a throbbing erection and no condoms. “I thought we had a few left.” Katniss says. “I can get some later.”

I will give Katniss one thing, since the medicine factory opened here in District 12 and we don’t have to put orders in with The Capitol for them anymore, she has been the one to get condoms for us. They provide medicine, first aid, and birth control to the district; it’s a quick walk out of the Victor’s Village and we have another box.

Katniss scoots over closer to me, taking me in her hand and begins to gently run her thumb over the tip of my erection. Usually this does me in, but it’s too late. I grab her hand and remove it, shaking my head. “Don’t worry about it, Katniss.”

“What?” she asks.

“See, this is what I mean. If we didn’t have to rely only on condoms anymore, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen.” I regret the words as soon as they’re out of my mouth, but it’s too late to take them back now.

“So you’re blaming me?” she asks, sitting up in bed.

“No, I was just making a point.” I reply. “I wish you would talk to me about this.” I don’t know if there’s a magic number of times that I have to ask her to talk to me about things, but if there is, I haven’t found the right number yet.

“What is there to talk about?”

I take a deep breath before speaking. “Tell me why it scares you. I want to help you. You don’t want to have kids, and I respect that. Even if you did want them, we’re not ready to have them right now, so we need to be protected. Condoms were alright in the beginning, but I don’t feel as close to you as I’d like to with them. There’s a barrier that I’m not comfortable with anymore.”

“So all that matters is what you’re comfortable with? Forget what makes me comfortable, right?” she answers.

“I didn’t say that!” I reply, raising my voice. Katniss jumps. The one thing since my Hijacking that I still can’t fully control is how certain things make my temper spike instantly. I lower my voice and say it again. “I didn’t say that. I just wanted to discuss it with you properly.” I run my hand through my hair. “Doesn’t it bother you that the only way I can be inside of you is if there’s a barricade between us?”

“It just scares me.” She says. Her voice is almost a whisper. “What if my body doesn’t work with anything else?”

“That’s what the doctor is for. We can go together; ask questions and get all of the information we’ll need. We have that luxury now.” I tell her. I think we’re getting somewhere until she doesn’t answer me. I wish she’d just say something to acknowledge that she even heard me talking, but she doesn’t and I feel myself growing more and more frustrated by the minute. “Forget it, Katniss.” I say, getting up from the bed and walking toward the bathroom. “I’ll go see the doctor after work and just take care it for good. I have to take a shower and get to the bakery.”

When I come down after my shower, Katniss is sitting at the kitchen table. There’s a plate of toast, eggs, and bacon on either side. We eat in silence, neither one of us even bothering to look at the other and I get up to leave. It’s not until my hand is turning the door knob that Katniss finally speaks up.

“Peeta…” I stop and turn around, looking at her, but not speaking. “Don’t go to the doctor.” I go to say something in return, but she puts her hand up, stopping me. “I need some time. Can you give me that?”

“I’ll give you the world if you’d just talk to me.” I tell her, opening the door and leaving for the bakery.

It hasn’t come up since then. The days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months and though there were a few times when I thought Katniss was going to say something, she never did. When she asked me to give her time, I didn’t think she meant we’d still have the matter unresolved 9 months later.

I’ve talked to Haymitch plenty of times since then and he keeps telling me to bring it up again, but I won’t. I refuse to be the one to bring it up again. She already thought the only reason that I brought it up the last time was because I wanted it to feel better for me. How can I bring it up again without her thinking the worst of me? The issue is far deeper than birth control now; it’s about how her past has scarred her not physically, but mentally and how she refuses to let me help her get better.

It goes back to what Haymitch said last year, our relationship can’t evolve if she can’t heal and I don’t know how to help her anymore. In the bedroom she’s attentive, communicative, and open. Despite still not having a solution to our disagreement, the intensity of our love making has not faltered, but her avoidance of the topic that silently crowds the rooms can feel suffocating at times and I fear every day that she will begin to shut down completely.

I’m closing up the bakery tonight, a rare occurrence these days, especially on a Friday night, but there’s a flu bug going around the District and half of my crew has it. Friday nights at home are my favorite these days. The knowledge of not having to get up early to go to work is intoxicating and Katniss and I stay up far later than we do during the week, just relaxing. In the summer we sit outside and in the winter we start a fire in the living room.

Friday nights are usually the nights when I can get Katniss talking the most; some nights she talks about Prim, other nights it’s her dad. She has yet to open up about The Games or The War, but the fact that she is sharing anything and not shutting me out completely is a step in the right direction. I like listening to her talk about her family before her father died, but at the same time it upsets me to hear about how happy she was as a child and how that happiness was taken away from her so young.

When I get home, Katniss is already in the living room. There’s a fire already lit and she has a blanket spread out on the floor. I peek in and she gives me a small wave.

“Dinner is on the stove if you want some.” She says.

“Did you already eat?” I ask her, sitting down next to her on the blanket that she’s sitting on.

“Not yet. I’m not very hungry.” She replies, scooting closer to me. I put my arm around her and hold her close. Her body is tense, and she’s not relaxed at all.

“What’s wrong?” she’s not acting right and there’s no way she can try and deny it. Instead of answering me, she removes herself from under my arm, turns, and throws her leg over me and sits in my lap. Before I can ask her again, her lips are on mine. The kiss is frantic and desperate and I’m even more confused than I was before.

I stretch my legs out in front of me, temporarily lost in the kisses Katniss is now peppering my face with. Wet kisses along my mouth and across my jaw until she ends up at my left ear. Knowing what it does to me, she gently bites my earlobe before moving up and whispering to me.

“I called Dr. Aurelius a few days ago.” That’s not what I was expecting her to say at all, and it snaps me out of the trance she had me in.

“Why are you telling me this right now?” I ask her, using my arm to keep her at a distance so I can figure out what’s going on without getting lost in another kiss.

“I wanted to ask him if he knew the doctors that came here.” She explains.  “I wanted some recommendations.” The smile on her face now doesn’t quite match what she’s saying.

“Are you sick or something?” I ask her, seriously. She gives me a perplexed look in return and she cocks her head to the side, as if trying to decide if I’m joking or not. “What’s going on, Katniss?”

“You said we could talk to a doctor about birth control.” She says, and then it hits me what she’s saying.

“Of course we can.” I tell her. “If that’s what you want. You already know my opinion.”

“I should have talked to you sooner about all of this.” She confesses. “I’ve been talking to Dr. Aurelius about it a lot the last few months.”

“I’ve been talking to Haymitch.” I confess in return. Katniss crinkles her nose at my admission but says nothing more about it.

“Dr. Aurelius yelled at me a lot.” She says.

“He yelled at you?” I ask.

“As much as a head doctor can yell at a patient, he did. He kept telling me how it was unfair to you because I wouldn’t talk to you about it. He acted like I didn’t understand that. I know it was unfair, but I just couldn’t. Things have been going so well and I didn’t want to ruin it.”

“Katniss, you can’t think like that. We’re in this together, I always tell you that. Nothing that you say or do is going to change that.” I tell her.

“It’s because I’ve experienced a lot of abandonment in my life and deep down I’m afraid you’ll leave me too.” She says. When I look at her, taken aback, she starts to speak again. “That’s what Dr. Aurelius said.” She shrugs and gives a sad, uncomfortable laugh.

“I’m not going to leave you.” I say, pulling her to my chest.  We sit there in silence for a few minutes swaying back and forth. I can feel Katniss slowly start to relax against my body.  “Did Dr. Aurelius give you any recommendations?” I ask finally. She takes her head off my chest and looks me in the eyes.

“He said Dr. Huld is a great doctor. She specializes in this kind of thing, so she’d have all of the answers for us.”

“Okay,” I say with a smile. “Do you trust Dr. Aurelius’ judgment?”

“Yes,” she nods. “I have an appointment for Monday afternoon.” Her smile is uncomfortable and timid. “You’re going to come with me, right?”

At first, I can’t answer. With my crew at the bakery sick I’ve been there running things virtually by myself. Monte and Ismene are already working full days the whole weekend to cover for those who are out; I can’t ask them to cover for me on Monday. I already offered to help out this weekend, but they wouldn’t hear it. With only the few of us healthy and able to work, there’s nobody to cover on Monday. The earliest any of the crew will be back is Wednesday.

“Peeta?” Katniss asks when I haven’t answered her. “You’re going to come with me, right?” she repeats.

“There’s nobody to cover the bakery…” I say. My voice small and ashamed. Katniss knows that half of the crew is out, but it doesn’t make me feel any better.

“Oh.” She says, putting her head down. “That’s right. Everyone’s sick.”

“No.” I blurt out, shaking my head. “No. I’ll close early on Monday.” I say.

“You can’t do that, Peeta.” Katniss argues.

“Yes I can. It’s my bakery. The customers will get over it.” I state. “Monday afternoon, I’ll be with you.”

“Thank you.” Katniss mutters, wrapping her arms around my neck and leaning in for a kiss. She resumes where she left off, kissing her way back to my ear and biting it once more. This time her whisper is a little more of what I was expecting earlier. “I thought about what you said before,” she starts. Stopping her sentence to kiss my neck. “About there being a barricade between us when we’re together.” She stops again to plant yet another kiss on my neck, then sticks her tongue out and trails it upward back to my ear. “You’re right. I don’t like it. I want to feel all of you.” When she says this she grinds her hips into me, causing me to groan not only at the feeling, but because of what she just said.

****

The night before the appointment is a rough one for both of us. She wakes screaming several times; each time it takes me longer and longer to snap her out of it. With each nightmare, I can feel my own stability begin to waver. I can’t have a flashback right now, not with Katniss like this. What kind of message would that send her?

“Katniss!” I say in a loud whisper, grabbing her shoulders. “Come here.” Lying on my side I pull her to me and lace my fingers with hers with both hands. The contact between our bodies is soothing for both of us almost instantly. The flashback is still fighting to take over, but Katniss has stopped screaming and she’s looking at me now; I can see the realization of what’s happening wash over her face as I open and shut my eyes, trying to ward off the images that keep flashing before me.

“Peeta, it’s okay.” Katniss says, squeezing my wrists. She sounds like she’s underwater, but I can just make out her next sentence. “This is my fault. Peeta!” she squeezes harder. She’s saying something, but I can’t understand it anymore. After a minute of loud noises in my head drowning out her words, her voice comes back and I can hear again. “You have your own bakery. We are home….”

“It’s not your fault.” I manage to say when I feel the last of the flashback finally relent. “It just happens.”

“You can’t tell me that one wasn’t because I’ve been keeping you up with nightmares all night.” Katniss argues. 

“Too many hours at the bakery,” I reply with a shrug. “It all just caught up with me.” I know she doesn’t believe me, but now is not the time to make either of us feel worse. I pull her even closer to me and hug her. “Let’s just go back to sleep. It’s over now. I’m okay… we’re okay.”

When the alarm blares at the usual 4am, it feels like any other day, but I know it’s not. Today represents another step forward in my relationship with Katniss. It’s probably a step most couples take for granted, but for us, every small step should be treated as a colossal jump forward.

Katniss wakes up with me, just like every morning, but I shake my head at her. “You can stay asleep.” I say. “Get some extra rest.” Since neither of us slept well last night, and the stress she’s inevitably going to put herself through today, she should stay asleep, but she shakes her head.

“No. I’m fine.” She replies. “I’ll make breakfast.” It’s clear that she’s not fine. She seems nervous and withdrawn. She won’t look me in the eye and she keeps her head down as she leaves the room.

When I enter the kitchen, I can’t help but ask the question. “Hey, are you alright?”

“I said I was fine.” She snaps, still not looking at me.

“Well you’re not acting fine.” I reply.  “Katniss, look at me.” She hesitates briefly before looking up. “Are you only doing this for me?” I ask her then. “Because if you are, I don’t want to do it anymore.”

She shakes her head. “I meant what I said the other night. I’m just…”

“You’re what?” I urge. “Talk to me.”

“So scared. What if there’s something wrong with me? Something even worse than what is already wrong. The nightmares last night were about the doctor finding something wrong with me, and then Prim was there, laughing and telling me I was getting what I deserved. She couldn’t wait for me to die.” She takes a deep breath before continuing. “I never even thought about something like this and now these nightmares are giving me something brand new to fear. Like I don’t already fear enough now.”

She’s had nightmares like this before, where Prim would appear and say awful things to her; they’re always the nightmares that affect her the most. “There’s nothing wrong with you.” I tell her, getting up from the table. I put my hand out to her and pull her up from her chair after she takes it. I wrap my arms around her tight and rub her back. “You’ll be fine.” I whisper. “We’ll be fine.” She moves her arms up from her sides and slowly moves her arms to my waist, snaking her arms under my unzipped jacket and wrapping them around me.

“Are you okay?” she asks then. “After last night.”

“I’m fine now.” I reply. “Will you be alright? Maybe I should just keep the bakery closed all day.” I say.

“No.” Katniss stops me. “I’ll be fine and I’ll meet you at the bakery at one.”

“Call if you need anything, okay?” I tell her. “If I don’t leave now, I’ll be late.” I finish, grabbing two pieces of toast from my plate and heading out the door. The weather is starting to get colder now, especially in the mornings. Almost all of the leaves have turned yellow and orange. Fall color should peak soon. Even with the chill in the air in the morning, I love this time of year and these quiet walks. It helps clear my mind and I need a lot of that today.

I can hardly focus on work all day. I keep wondering if Katniss will show up and every time I think that I feel bad for thinking that way. Will she ask questions today or sit there while I do all the talking? Will she agree on anything or will she need to think even more? My mind is racing but is interrupted at the sound of the bell at the front door. It’s Katniss.

“Hey,” I say, walking up to the front and giving her a quick peck on the mouth. “I’ll be ready in a couple minutes. I have to give the ovens one last check to make sure they’re shut off.” I begin my normal walk around the bakery, checking to see that the ovens are shut off and everything is cooled down.

“You do this every time you close?” she asks me.

“I have to.” I explain. “I don’t want to deal with this place burning down.” When I finish, I walk to the front door and lock it, then tape a note to the window explaining that the bakery is closed for the rest of the day due to illness. Katniss and I leave through the back and head off in the direction of the new care clinic in District 12.

It is right next to the medicine factory. The factory gives the clinic supplies and medicine and the clinic keeps patients coming for prescriptions. The clinic is smaller than a hospital, but has all of the same things. They do everything from general checkups, to delivering babies and tending to emergencies. It’s the biggest building in District 12, with several floors for each area of care.

“What floor is Dr. Huld on?” I ask Katniss when we get to the clinic.

“The first floor. I was told to go in the front door and make a right.” Katniss says, reciting her directions from memory. We enter the doors and make a right; I notice the sign on the wall says that emergencies are to take a left and Obstetrics and Gynecology patients take a right. There are no elevators in the clinic; I figure that it’s set up this way so that women in labor don’t have to climb flights of stairs.

We walk down a long hallway before we reach a door that tells us we’re in the right place. Once inside we see a woman at a white desk with a headset over her head. Katniss walks up to her, and gives her name. The woman nods and tells her to take a seat; the doctor will be with her in a moment.

Katniss chooses a chair and sits down, and then I sit next to her taking her hand and giving it a reassuring squeeze. “Still alright?” I ask.

“Nervous,” she says with a deep breath. “But alright.” She squeezes my hand back. We sit in silence for several minutes and observe the room. There is a very pregnant woman across from us who looks uncomfortable; she’s looking at us with a smirk but doesn’t say anything. I didn’t think about what this might look like to the other residents of District 12. In the end it’s none of their business why we’re here, but that isn’t going to stop them from speculating why the star crossed lovers are at the clinic for an appointment with a doctor in Obstetrics. The only thing I can hope is that this woman keeps to herself and District 12 doesn’t have Katniss pregnant with fictional baby number two by the end of the week.

“Miss Everdeen?” A voice calls from the doorway to the exam rooms. “You can just follow me.” She smiles. “Will your… your… Mr. Mellark be joining?” she stammers, not sure what to call me.

“Boyfriend and yes, he will.” Katniss answers. I want to kiss her right here in the middle of the waiting room for being so up front with this woman, but I don’t. I stand up from my seat and take her hand as we follow the nurse to beyond the door.

Everyone in the District knows who we are and at this point, they know we are together, but with our refusal to grant The Capitol any interviews to catch up on us, nobody quite knows just how together we are. I think that is all about to change, though.

After the nurse weighs Katniss, she leads us to an exam room. “Right in here, Miss. Everdeen.” The nurse tells her. “Have a seat up on the table here. Mr. Mellark, you can sit in one of those chairs.” I do as I am told and sit down. Giving Katniss a look to let her know it’ll be alright.

The nurse goes through all of the motions that both of us are used to now after spending so much time in and out of hospitals. She checks Katniss’ blood pressure and temperature and then opens up a folder and begins writing.

“Alright, Miss Everdeen, just a few questions and then you’ll be done with me and Dr. Huld will be in.” I watch as Katniss nods for her to continue. “When was your last period?”

“October 3rd.” Katniss says quickly, not looking at the nurse.

“Okay, and are your periods regular or abnormal?” I can see that Katniss is extremely uncomfortable with the questions, but she takes a deep breath and speaks.

“They are regular now, but they weren’t for a long time.” She explains.

“How long have they been normal?” The nurse asks.

“A little over three years.” The nurse nods and makes a note in her folder.

“And you’re sexually active?”

“Yes.” Katniss says quickly.

“Have you had intercourse in the last 48 hours?”

“No. I was told not to before the exam.” Katniss says.

“Perfect.” The nurse smiles. “Were you told about the blood draw?” My head shoots up when I hear the words and I am immediately on my feet and standing by Katniss. She didn’t tell me anything about having blood drawn, but to my surprise, Katniss nods.

“I was told on the phone they’d need a blood and urine sample.” The nurse smiles again.

“You’ve come prepared, I’m happy to see that.” The nurse turns around and grabs a small plastic container and hands it to Katniss. “The urine sample goes in there; the bathroom is out this room and up the hall to your left. I’ll let you go and do that before I do the blood draw, just in case you get woozy.” Katniss takes the cup and leaves the exam room.

After a few minutes of silence between me and the nurse, I speak up. “She’s doesn’t like needles.” I tell her.

“It’s nothing I’ve never seen before.” She says, not batting an eye. “All I need is her arm. From my experience, if you can keep her focus off of the needle, that works best.” She smiles at me and turns back around.

When Katniss comes back in, she sits back up on the table and the nurse turns around once more, but this time she has the needle and vial in her hand.

“Peeta…” Katniss says, whipping her head around to look at me. I get up from my seat again and go over to her, scooping her in my arms and holding tight.

“Shhh, she just needs your arm.” I sooth. “Keep your focus on me.”

“Okay, Miss Everdeen, just hold your arm out for me, please.” Katniss does as she’s told. “Perfect.” The nurse says in a sing song voice.

Katniss has her free arm wrapped around my midsection, and her head buried in my chest. I lean my head down and place a kiss on the top of her head and begin to speak in a calm tone. “We should go to the lake next Sunday.” I say, placing another kiss on her head. “Bring lunch, go for a swim. I’m getting better, don’t you think? I don’t sink nearly as much.” I hear a small laugh against my chest and I smile as I look at the nurse, who is nodding at me with approval. “Maybe I can make a strudel. I haven’t made one of those in a while.”

“All finished, Miss Everdeen. You did great.” The nurse says, moving back to the counter behind her and placing the vial of blood on a tray. “Are you feeling alright?” Katniss still has her head buried in my chest, but I just barely notice her shake her head yes before moving away.

“I’m alright.” She confirms.

“Good. That’s all I’m going to need from you. The doctor will be in as soon as the results are in from your samples. They don’t usually take longer than 15 minutes with the new equipment. If you could put this gown on before then, that’d be great.” She bids us farewell and leaves the room, closing the door behind her.

“You did a good job with the blood draw.” I tell her, grabbing the gown from the counter and bringing it to her. “Why didn’t you tell me they had to do that?”

“I think I blocked it out of my mind, because I forgot until she brought it up.” Katniss admits. She takes off her shirt and pants and I take them from her, folding them up and placing them neatly on the chair next to me.

“We really should go to the lake Sunday,” I tell her. “I wasn’t just saying that.”

“And the strudel part? Was that true too?” Katniss asks, handing me her bra before shimmying out of her underwear.

“Every word.” I reply. Even though Katniss is standing here naked in front of me for medical reasons, it doesn’t stop me from staring at her; she notices, because she is hesitating to put on her gown. “I’ve got you here naked and I can’t even do anything to you.” Part of me is trying to ease the tension that is very clearly coursing through her mind right now, but another part of me finds this extremely attractive.

“Stop that.” Katniss saying, trying to be serious but cracking the tiniest smile. We haven’t done anything since Friday night and I know it’s getting to her too. “You act like you’ve never seen me naked.” She says, trying to cover up the smile that was just there.

“But I’ve never seen you naked in a doctor’s office.” I remind her like this makes it alright. “It’s kind of exciting.”

“Peeta!” Katniss says in a loud whisper.

“Don’t act like you haven’t thought about it.” I say, looking her up and down before speaking again. “If you didn’t, you would have put that gown on by now.” Her face drops the serious expression at my declaration and she puts her head down to try to hide another smile. “Let me touch you.” I whisper.

“We can’t in here, Peeta. If the doctor walks in…”

“The doctor won’t be in here for at least 10 minutes.” I say, cutting her off. I walk toward her and get close enough so I can lean my head down and kiss her neck. This does the trick, because after a few seconds of this, her hands are tangled in my hair. I reach up and take her breast in my hand and give it a few squeezes, while sucking on her neck.

“Okay, you have to stop.” Katniss says, pushing me away and grabbing the gown. “I have to get an exam done in a few minutes, not you.”

“Good thing…” I say retreating back to my chair.

“Happy now?” she asks.

“Very, but a little uncomfortable now.” I answer, shifting in my chair. She rolls her eyes at me and hops back up on the table. “Did it take your mind off of all this?” I ask then and she nods. “I’m glad. I don’t want this to be horrible for you, Katniss.” My tone is serious again.

“We’re doing alright so far.” She says with a deep breath, her mind back on the real reason we’re here.

A few minutes later the doctor gives a light tap on the door and walks in. She’s an older woman, probably in her 60’s and very short. She reminds me of Greasy Sae for some reason and I’m not sure if this is something that would put Katniss at ease, or make her more tense.

“Good Afternoon, Miss Everdeen.” Dr. Huld says with a smile. She opens a folder that looks like the one the nurse had and begins to read from it. “All of your tests came back fine. Negative on pregnancy, white and red blood cells are fine, and platelets are at a perfect level.” I have no idea what any of that means, but it doesn’t matter because I see Katniss’ shoulders relax almost instantly.

Dr. Huld conducts the exam quickly and professionally. Katniss looks only mildly uncomfortable with the invasion of privacy, which puts my mind at ease as well.

“Your chart here says that you’re interested in altering your method of birth control?” Dr. Huld asks. Katniss nods. “What are you currently using?”

“Condoms.” Katniss answers.

“Did you have any preferences? You’re perfectly healthy, so everything is available to you.” Dr. Huld explains.

“Not really,” Katniss begins. I stand up and walk to the table. “We had some questions if that’s alright?”

“Of course it is.” Dr. Huld smiles.

“What’s the least invasive?” Katniss asks. “I’m not really comfortable with a whole lot.”

“If you’re looking for the simplest course of action I would recommend the pill. It has the lowest instances of side effects compared to the others. Implants have the highest. If you get one in the arm there can be swelling, burning and possibly migration of the device. If you were to get an intrauterine implant, you may notice more cramping and heavier periods.”

“No implants.” Katniss says quickly, Dr. Huld nods.

“What are more permanent options? For me.” I ask. Katniss gives me a look that shows she was not expecting me to bring this up. “Katniss doesn’t want to have children, so maybe it would be simpler to take care of it for good.”

“No.” Katniss says abruptly. “I’m not interested in that.” She clears her throat and continues. “What are the side effects of a shot and how often would I have to do that?”

“A shot is the same as the pill but injected. You would come here every 3 months for your next dose. You may have some localized burning at the injection site for a day or two after, but that is the only side effect that is different than the pill.” Dr. Huld explains.

“And the pill? How would that work?” Katniss asks. I stand back and let her ask all of the questions she needs to before I say a word.

“I would prescribe you a one year supply,” Dr. Huld begins. “Like the shot, it is one dose every 3 months. After the year is up, you’ll come back here for another exam and then I can prescribe you another 12 month supply.”

“And the side effects?”

“You may gain a little weight at first, feel nauseated, your breasts may feel sore at times.” Dr. Huld explains. “You’ll still get your period as normal, but it may be lighter due to the hormones in the pill and the changes it will produce.”

“Okay,” Katniss says. She looks at me. “What do you think?”

“It’s your decision, Katniss.” I tell her. “What do you think?”

“I think I can handle taking one pill every 3 months.” She says confidently.

“How long before it is effective?” I ask Dr. Huld.

“Give it a week before you throw away the condoms. Some say a few days, but I tell everyone a week, just to be sure. It works quickly and effectively, but just to be safe.” I nod.

“I think I’ll go with that then.” Katniss says. She doesn’t look scared anymore and her shoulders aren’t tense like they were earlier.

“I’ll get you your prescription written,” Dr. Huld says. “Just bring it next door and they’ll be able to fill it.” Dr. Huld reaches into her pocket and writes on a small pad very quickly. Ripping the slip of paper off the top, she hands it to Katniss and puts her hand out. “It was nice to meet you, Miss Everdeen.” She puts her hand out to me next “Mr. Mellark.” Once she leaves, Katniss puts her clothes back on and we leave the clinic and head next door.

Katniss took the pill that evening after we got home; noting that it was so small she barely even noticed it was there. The week that follows proceeds as normal, I go to work, my crew starts coming back making my schedule a lot more flexible which gives me more time with Katniss.

We follow Dr. Huld’s recommendations to wait a week before we stop using condoms; even though neither one of us counts down the days out loud, it’s obvious that we are both keeping track very closely as the days pass. Our trip to the lake on Sunday is relaxing and whimsical; we finish off the day by making love on a blanket we brought from home.

“One of these days I’ll get you in the water.” Katniss says. Her tone is relaxed and satisfied. “You just have to learn how to stay afloat. We don’t need you drowning while we’re making love.” I laugh and shake my head.  

“We may have to hold off on that. We don’t have many nice days left.” I note. The weather is back and forth these days with the last of Indian summer starting to fade into full-fledged autumn. “We were lucky to get a warm day today.”

“Something to look forward to.” Katniss says lazily. She moves over and curls up on my side as I grab the unused half of the blanket and cover us.

“Tomorrow is a week, you know.” I say.

“Have you been crossing off the days on your calendar?” Katniss asks, amused.

“My mental calendar.” I reply.

“I appreciate your honesty,” she says with a laugh. “Are you going to be able to contain your excitement?”

“It hurts when I try to contain it.” I say, jokingly. “Sorry, you walked into that one.” She rolls her eyes, her usual response when I crack a joke like that.

“I’ve been keeping track too.” She says finally. It’s one of her responses that are only for me, an honest admission that she wouldn’t say in front of anyone else and I smile before pulling her closer.

I make it a point on Monday morning to not seem so eager. We wake up at the usual 4am and I immediately get out of bed and shower instead of lingering in bed. As much as I’d like to lay there all day with Katniss and not leave while taking full advantage of the freedom that not having to use condoms brings us, I don’t.

I don’t want to do this just to do it. I want to take it slow, make sure that Katniss is alright and connect with her in a way we haven’t been able to since that very first time we were intimate 4 years ago.

Katniss walks me to the door before I leave and I turn around, wrapping my arms around her waist as she places her chin on my chest. “You need an umbrella.” She says, looking up at me. The weather has done a completely 360 from where it was yesterday. It’s windy, cold and raining.

“I’ll be fine.” I tell her. “And my schedule is back to normal.” I remind her. “A little rain won’t take that from me.” I lean down and give her a kiss, which she deepens almost instantly. There’s something behind the kiss that is different today and it tells me that I’m not the only one that wanted to stay in bed all day today.

When I get back home that afternoon, Katniss is in the kitchen looking over her bow and arrows.

“Hey,” I say, shaking the rain off my hair. “It’s ridiculous out there.”

“I said you need an umbrella.” Katniss says sarcastically, setting her bow down on the table and getting up.

“Maybe you’re right this time.”

“This time?” Katniss asks.

“Just this time.”

“You should probably take your clothes off.” She says then. And my eyes widen at her bluntness. “You’ve been out in the rain. You don’t want to catch a cold.” She says with a shrug.

“You just want to see me naked.” I say with an innocent tone. “I don’t know if I can take them off by myself,” I say then. “I may need some help. Wet clothes stick, you know.”

Katniss gives me her signature eye roll at that, but walks toward me and grabs my hand, leading me into the living room where I see she has a fire started already. All joking aside, I am starting to shiver. My clothes are soaked through, and my hair is dripping; the warmth from the fire feels good as I stand in front of it.

Katniss takes my words to heart and she walks up to me and pulls my coat from my shoulders. She gives another tug to free the wet material from my body and it falls to the floor. Next she untucks my shirt from my pants and pulls it up and over my head. Pulling the shirt over my head causes my hair to stand up and Katniss smiles before reaching up and pushing it back down.

She pulls her own shirt over her head and places it on my head, rubbing my hair and messing it up again before smoothing it once more. “That’s better.” She says, throwing her shirt down. She places her hand on my chest and looks at me “You’re so cold.”

“Warm me up.” I murmur; my voice getting stuck in my throat.

She runs her hand down my chest and stops at the top of my pants, reaching in quickly and grabbing hold of me. She reaches with her other hand and unbuttons my pants then pulls down the zipper, giving her more room to move her hand that is gripping me now.

When she stops, I want to protest, but I don’t. She seems to want to run things tonight and I’m going to let her. She takes her hand out of my pants and with the help of the other, pulls my wet pants down and kneels, removing them completely before jumping back up and putting her hands on my chest again. She pushes me toward the couch and when I reach it, she puts her hands on my shoulders and coaxes me down to sit on the edge.

“I’m feeling under-dressed.” I say, looking at Katniss standing in front of me in her bra and pants, which I sit on the couch completely naked. She reaches behind her and unhooks her bra, looking at me straight in the eye as she does. Stepping closer to me, she drops to her knees and grabs me again. She wraps her hand around my shaft, pumping up and down slowly before her mouth is on me.

She starts with her tongue at the base of my shaft. She licks from the bottom up to the top and moves her lips over the head and sucks briefly before moving her head down taking more of me into her mouth. Her hand covers where her mouth can’t reach and the rhythm she has gotten into makes it hard for me to tell where her mouth ends and her hand begins and I groan as I tangle my hands in her hair, resisting the urge to push her down further.

She stays there for a few minutes, sucking and stroking until she finally seems content; she stops, standing up again and wordlessly removing her pants and underwear together, kicking them off and walking towards me until she hits the couch. I reach out and grab her around the waist, pulling myself forward and planting a kiss on her stomach.

I want to move her to where I am on the couch so I can taste her as well, but she won’t let me. She moves back and then sits herself down in my lap and wrapping her arms around my neck and putting her forehead to mine.

“Are you ready to do this?” I whisper. She nods and kissing my nose.

“Tell me how it feels.” She says quietly, before moving up and grabbing me again, then slowly guiding herself down onto me; then she leans back, placing her hands on my thighs and using them to move herself up and down, swirling her hips as she does.

I move my hands behind her, placing them on her ass and squeezing, pushing deeper into her. The sensation is entirely new; I don’t even remember it feeling like this the first time.

“I can feel you so much better.” I choke out. I can barely see straight, the feeling is so different after all this time with condoms.

“Me too.” Katniss whispers as she comes down on me slowly; then I feel her walls clenching around me and I moan. She does this over and over as she moves on me. It feels like she has a grip on me that she never has before.

I move my hands up and around her back, putting my hands together and locking my fingers together as Katniss speeds up. I can feel the muscles in her back working as she moves up and down.  I want to keep going, but the rush of new sensations is almost too much; I feel like this is brand new again and I have to learn how to last longer all over again.

“Katniss…” I say, pulling her closer. “I’m almost there.” I don’t know why, but I feel like I have to warn her. If she doesn’t want me to finish inside of her, now is the time to stop before it’s too late.

“So am I.” she answers, as she speeds up even more, her grip on my thighs making her knuckles turn white. She’s not stopping, so I allow myself to get lost in the feeling of her around me. How much warmer it is, how she feels so much wetter.

I feel Katniss clench around me again in the familiar pattern that is only hers, and I feel myself reach the point of no return, my orgasm ripping through me and into her as she continues to ride through her own orgasm.  She removes her hands from my thighs and places them on my chest, pushing me back on the couch and laying on top of me, breathless. I’m quiet for a few minutes as I listen to our breathing come back to normal.

“How are you feeling?” I ask Katniss.

“Incredible.” She answers. “I didn’t think it’d feel different for me, only you. I was wrong. Everything was more intense.” She rests her head between my neck and shoulder and kisses it. “Thank you for putting up with me.”

Instead of answering her verbally, I place my hand on her neck and lean down, kissing her forehead. Her eyes are closed and she looks so peaceful. My silent fear of her regretting this moment has passed and I find myself laying my head back on the back of the couch and closing my own eyes. Slipping off into the world where sleep and lucidity meet; all I can hear is our breathing and the crackling of the wood in the fireplace that is now making me sweat. 

Chapter Text

Should I or shouldn’t I?

 It’s the question that has been occupying my thoughts constantly these days. I’ve been thinking about it for years, but over the last few months, it seems to be the only thing I can think about: Asking Katniss to marry me.

She never wanted to get married. Marriage brought on the inevitable question. “When are you going to have kids?” In District 12, it’s what was expected of you. Find a partner, get married, and have children, but that District 12 disappeared the day The Capitol destroyed it, and I hope that Katniss’ refusal to get married vanished with it.

We’ve never talked about it directly, but there have been moments where one of us would bring it up in a very vague way. A hint that neither one of us takes the bait on. I tell her often that I want the bakery to be hers one day too and her answer to that statement has been the same since the first time I said it: “If you’re sure.”

I think about conversations like that, or the things she says to me when we’re alone and I know in my heart that she would say yes if I asked her, but it feels like the more my heart knows what’s true, the more my brain wants me to believe that it isn’t and I’m frozen in limbo, wondering if I should or shouldn’t ask her. What if she laughs at me? What if I’ve been reading her wrong all this time? 

Katniss is still out in the woods when I get home from work. I waste no time and leave for Haymitch’s before she comes back. She knows I go to Haymitch to talk about our relationship, and she would know something was up if I came home and left again just to go to Haymitch’s house.

I don’t knock today. When I walk in, I let the door slam loudly behind me as a warning to Haymitch that someone is in his house.

“Who’s that?” Haymitch yells from his living room.

“Peeta!” I yell as I follow the sound of his voice and walk into the living room to find Haymitch lying on the floor staring into an empty fireplace. “Everything alright over here?” I ask.

“What are you doing just walking into my house?” he demands.

“You always walk into ours, so I figured why not return the favor?” I sit down on his couch and sigh. “Greasy Sae cleans this thing, right? I’m not going to catch anything by sitting here?” I joke.

“Look at this comedian over here.” Haymitch growls. “What do you want?”

“I thought we could have one of our famous chats.”  I say growing serious but trying to keep the mood light.

Haymitch gets up from the floor and sits next to me on the couch. “Am I going to need a drink for this?” he asks.

“I don’t think so.” I say, shaking my head. “I’ve just been doing a lot of thinking lately.” I begin. “I think I want to ask Katniss to marry me.”

“You think?” Haymitch says.

“I know I do, but I’m just not sure she even wants to get married.” I explain.

“You guys haven’t talked about that?” Haymitch asks, giving me a look of confusion.

“We have, but only in a roundabout way. The word marriage has never actually come up, only allusions to our future.” I tell him.

“Sounds like cowardly bullshit to me, Peeta.” Haymitch answers. “Both of you.” He adds. “How are you going to get married, or even ask her, if you can’t even say the word to each other?”

“I just don’t want her to think that I’m assuming she would want to get married.” I answer.

“That’s too damn bad.” Haymitch says angrily. “I thought you said you two are communicating better?”

“We are… just not with that, I guess.” I say sheepishly.

“Well you better talk to her about it if you want to ask her to marry you. Make sure you’re on the same page.” Haymitch says.

“So I have your blessing then?” I ask with a smirk.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Well, her real dad is dead and you’re about the closest thing she has to one…” I say. “You know how it used to be here. Ask the father for his blessing before you ask the girl. So I’m asking for yours.” I explain.

“You don’t need my blessing…” Haymitch begins. “But I’ll give it to you anyway.” He says nodding. “Not until you talk to her and actually say the word marriage, though.” He warns.

“You got it.” I tell him, rising from the couch and making my way to the door to leave.

My visits with Haymitch are never long and sometimes I wonder if I should try to change that. He would never ask me, but sometimes I get the feeling that he likes the company. His grouchy exterior is one he’ll never completely drop, but in the years I’ve known Haymitch I’ve seen glimpses of the boy he was before winning The Games. I’ll never know that Haymitch, but just the idea that he’s still in there somewhere makes me want to put more effort into having him around.

When I get in the house, I notice Katniss’ hunting gear propped up next to the door. She’s home, and I hear commotion coming from upstairs which tells me that she’s showering and changing out of her hunting clothes. I take the time to contemplate how I’m going to talk to Katniss about marriage when I remember that I worked on a wedding cake today. It’s the perfect way to ease into a talk about marriage.

“Hey.” Katniss says, trotting down the stairs a little while later.

“Hey, you beat me home. I was with Haymitch.” I say with a smile, giving no more information than that. I get up from the kitchen table and walk over to her, wrapping her up in a hug and placing a kiss on the top of her head. Her hair is still wet from the shower and it gets my lips and nose wet. “You smell so good.” I whisper.

“You smell like bread.” She replies, sniffing my shirt.

“I can’t imagine why.” I say, moving my hands down her back and slipping them into the back of her pants. Sometimes I just can’t help it, and she has never complained when I touch her like this.

“Are you hungry?” she asks, moving her own hands down and pushing them into the back pockets of my pants and looking up at me. 

“Yeah,” I say, dazed. “Very.”

“I mean for food.”

“That too.” I reply.

She laughs into my chest and pulls her hands out of my pockets, moving to around to my chest and pushing me back. “Let’s make dinner.” She says, but before she turns away from me she runs her hand down my chest and dips her four fingers into the front of my pants, and pulls me with her to the kitchen.

This could be a good thing or a bad thing. It may be the perfect night to mention marriage, or by mentioning it I’ll be ruining this beautiful mood she is in. There’s no way I can avoid bring it up any longer, especially now that Haymitch knows my plans. He’ll heckle me until I do it. As we sit down to dinner, I decide not to jump straight into the marriage talk and bring up something else that has been on my mind since my visit with Haymitch.

“We should start having Haymitch over more.” I say. “He may not say it, but he seems lonely. When I was there today he was laying on his living room floor, staring into the fireplace.”

“Was he sober?” Katniss asks. It’s not a joke, it’s a valid concern.

“Yes.” I reply with a nod. “I think he was just so… bored or lonely. Or both.” I reply.

“Should we invite him to dinner a few nights a week or something?” I give another nod.

“That sounds good. He may not even accept, but I don’t feel right knowing he’s in his house sprawled out on the floor while we’re in here having a nice dinner together.” I explain.

“Do you want me to invite him tomorrow?” Katniss questions. “I can stop before I go hunt.”

“You’d do that?” I ask. She used to not like to stop by Haymitch’s house, always asking me to do it for her when we had something to tell him, but after 5 years, the Katniss of back then is vastly different from the Katniss of now.

“Sure, why not?” She begins. “You’re off to work too early to ask him, and I’m here all day until I go to the woods.” She shrugs. “It just makes sense.”

“Okay,” I smile. “That sounds good.” A few silent minutes go by before I work up the nerve to start the next conversation. I take a sip of water and a deep breath and begin. “I worked on a wedding cake today.” I say.

“Was it really fancy?” She asks.

“Not really.” I say. “Very basic, like a birthday cake. Those fancy ones are rare.” I explain.

“I really like those fancy ones. The stacked ones.” She says.

I smile. “The tiered cakes?” she nods. “I like those too. They cost a lot more though, people just can’t afford them.” I stop there, debating if I should push any further when I hear Haymitch in my head telling me that I will not have his blessing until I talk to her about this. “We can though.” I look up. “I mean, if you wanted one.”

“Do we know enough people to have a wedding cake that big? We’d have to invite the entire district.” Katniss says, almost shuddering at the idea of the entire district celebrating our marriage, but my mind is more pre-occupied with what she’s saying to think about who we’d invite.

“You’ve thought about that? About marriage and who we’d invite?” I ask quietly.

She blushes, but nods. “It’s crossed my mind.”

“I just remember you being against marriage.” I say.

“People change, Peeta.” She reminds me. “Even the idea of marrying you before The Quell didn’t seem like such a bad idea.” She confesses.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me?” I ask her.

“There never seemed to be a right time.” She says with a shrug. “But I’m telling you now.”

“Thank you.” I say, grabbing for her hand across the table.

The next day when I get to the bakery, I know I have a lot of planning to do. I want to do this right, without pressure from The Capitol to put on a show. Something that is just for us; we deserve that. After I get things ready for the day, I grab my sketch book that I brought with me today. I snuck it in my bag before I came downstairs for breakfast, so Katniss didn’t wonder why I was planning to draw while I should be working.

I make a quick sketch of an idea I’ve had in my head for a while. I could very easily order wedding rings from The Capitol, but that just doesn’t feel right. I don’t want anything Capitol made being the symbol of our marriage. My plan is to have them made right here in District 12, only depending on The Capitol to provide the compound that will later become the ring itself, but only because there’s no other way to get it.

I plan to stop by Saxon’s to see if it’s something he can produce. He has done metalworking and basic jewelry for years, and I’m hoping that what I have sketched out and the promise of ample pay and materials will be enough for him to do this for me.  I already told Katniss I had errands to run after I left work, so she knows not to expect me at my usual time today.

By late morning I have my sketch finished and ask Hakan to look over things so I can make a phone call. He knows I’m up to something but hasn’t asked me yet. I’ll tell him, but I need to make this call first. The phone rings 4 times before I hear the other end connect.

“Hello?” I hear Annie’s small voice answer.

“Hi, Annie. It’s Peeta.” I say with a smile in my voice.

“Peeta! It’s good to hear from you. How are you?” she asks.

“Everything is good here. How are you and Dylan? We got the new picture a few days ago, he’s getting big.” I reply.

“We’re both good.” Annie says with an air of longing in her voice.

“Is he swimming yet?” I ask her.

“Like a fish, just like his dad.” Annie laughs.

“Hopefully we’ll be able meet him in person one day soon.” I say. “Annie, I have a question for you and a favor to ask, if you don’t mind?”

“Of course not, Peeta. What is it?” she answers.

“Well, first… and I hope this isn’t too forward of me, if it is you can just tell me so. How did Finnick propose to you?” I say quickly

“Peeta!” Annie screeches into the phone. “You’re going to ask her?!”

I laugh at her excitement; it’s nice to hear Annie like this. Phone calls with her are often cut short due to her zoning out, but I’m going to try and keep her on the line long enough to get all of the information that I need. “Yes, I’m going to ask her, but I have a lot of things to plan first and I hope you’ll help me.”

“I’ll do whatever I can.” Annie replies. “And Finnick didn’t do anything too special, we didn’t need that. It wasn’t long after….”

“It’s okay,” I tell her. “You can talk about it.”

“It wasn’t long after we were rescued from The Capitol. We were in our room in 13 and he just blurted out the words ‘Marry me’ and without a second thought, I told him I would.”

“So I shouldn’t prepare a speech or anything?” I ask.

“I don’t think you need a speech. Just ask her.” Annie replies.

“Thank you, Annie.” I say genuinely. “Now for the favor. I was wondering if there was any way you could send me some mollusk shells that have nacre in them.”

“Is this why you wanted me to send you those books about the sea and marine life?” Annie asks. “You’ve been planning this for a while.”

“Yes.” I reply. “I’ve been doing my homework. Now I’m finally ready to put my plan in motion.”

“I can do that for you, Peeta.” Annie says happily. “When do you need them?”

“Whenever you can get them to me.” I tell her. “Send them to the bakery; I need to keep this part a surprise at least.”

“I’ll send some over as soon as I can. Good luck, Peeta.” Annie says. We say our goodbyes and hang up. I’m feeling more at ease now that I have that out of the way. Next is to go talk to Saxon.

“Alright, Hakan.” I say, coming back to the front of the bakery. “Thanks for covering. It’d be a lot harder to be sneaky if you weren’t here.”

“So what’s the secret?” Hakan asks.

“I’m going to ask Katniss to marry me.” Before Hakan can yell I put my hand up. “But you have to keep it quiet! Please don’t tell anybody else in the bakery, okay? I don’t know how long it’ll be until everything is ready for me to do it. I don’t need anyone slipping and saying something when Katniss visits.”

“Your secret is safe with me.” Hakan says, putting a hand over his heart.

“I want to have the rings made, so I’m going to talk to Saxon after I leave today.” I explain.

“Saxon does a great job.” Hakan says with a nod. “He’s done rings before, really elaborate ones too, I’ve seen them.”

“That’s good to know.” I say. “Hopefully he can handle what I have in mind.”

When the phone rings a little while later, I jump at the sound. It’s rare that anyone calls the bakery since most of the district still doesn’t have phones. Hakan runs to grab the phone when he notices my hands are covered in flour, answering professionally with the name of the bakery.

“Hey, Katniss,” Hakan says. “Peeta? I don’t know anyone by the name. There is this one guy here though, pretty good looking. Blonde, broad shoulders, good with his hands. Want to talk to him? Maybe he’ll take you on a date.” I can see Katniss rolling her eyes from here as I towel off my hands and head to the phone. “Here he is now!” Hakan says, “You take care Katniss.”

“Hey, Katniss. What’s up?” I say. “Everything alright?”

“Everything is fine.” She answers. “I just wanted to tell you that Haymitch said he’d come for dinner tonight, so if you could bring home some extra bread…”

“I can do that.” I reply. “Did he say what time he’s coming over?”

“I told him dinner is usually between 5 and 6 and he grunted at me,” she explains “he was very drunk, so let’s hope he even remembers we had a conversation.”

“If not I’ll just drag him over by his shirt collar.” I say, I hear Katniss laugh.

“Okay, I have to go make sure we’ll have enough food for tonight, we’re low on meat. How long will your errands be?” she asks.

“I don’t know, but probably not too long. I’ll be home in time to help you with dinner.” I answer.

“Good.” I can hear her smile. “I love you.” I don’t think I’ll ever be immune to hearing her say that.

“I love you too, Katniss.” I bet she can hear my smile now too. “Bye.”

Keeping this ring designing a secret is going to be tough. Just how many times can I tell Katniss I’m simply running errands before she starts to get suspicious? It’s not that she would think I was up to something bad, but she will start to wonder why I’m not telling her what those errands are.

By noon, I’m leaving the bakery and walking over to Saxon’s to talk to him about getting these rings made. Now that I know he has made more elaborate jewelry before, I feel a lot better about this meeting. For a while I was afraid that he wouldn’t know what to do and I’d be forced to order something from The Capitol anyway.

Saxon used to run his business from his house, designating a small area in the back to his metalworking, but thanks to the rebuilding efforts in District 12, Saxon now has a full home for him, his wife, and their 3 children and a separate shop for his metalworking. The Capitol has been very accommodating to the tradespeople here in the district, and I’m happy to see everyone doing so well.

I walk in to Saxon’s shop, and I hear a bell ring, just like the one I have attached to the front door of the bakery. I stand at the front and wait as I hear shuffling coming from the back of the shop. When Saxon appears, he has a smile on his face and is looking good. It’s been a while since I last saw him, but he seems to be doing well.

“Peeta, good to see you.” He says, extending his hand. I take it and give it a vigorous shake.

“You too, Saxon. Thanks for meeting with me.” I say.

“Happy to do it. Why don’t we sit down over there at that table and we can talk about what you’re looking to have made?” Saxon suggests, motioning to a small table at the side of the shop.

We sit down and I grab my sketch book from my bag before setting down my things. “Sorry I have so much stuff.” I say motioning to the bread I’ve brought in, in addition to my bag. “Dinner things.” I laugh, Saxon nods in understanding.

“Don’t worry about,” he says. “You said you were going to make a sketch of what you’re looking for?” he asks then, eyeing the sketch book. I open the sketchbook to the right page and set it on the table in front of Saxon. “Wedding rings?” he asks and I shake my head yes. “You two engaged?”

“No.” I shake my head. “Planning to propose.”

“Well congratulations in advance.” Saxon smiles. “Did you want an engagement ring too or just the wedding bands?” he asks, flipping the page looking for another sketch.

“No engagement ring.” I answer. “Katniss isn’t really the jewelry type to begin with; I’m not sure a ring with a setting would survive long with her hunting, so just the band will be more than enough.”

“Smart man,” Saxon says. “Sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into this.”

“I have.” I smile.

“Now, tell me what you’re looking for exactly. I can see here you want two simple bands with inlays, but since it’s just a pencil sketch that’s all I can tell.” Saxon asks.

“Okay,” I say taking a deep breath, readying myself to try and explain this. “I’m taking a shot in the dark here hoping you can do this, if you can’t it’s alright.” I start. “I have a friend that’ll be sending me over mollusk shells with nacre in them.” When I see the blank look on Saxon’s face I begin to panic. “It’s the same stuff that you’d find on a pearl. You may have heard of it as mother-of-pearl.” Finally, I see realization dawn on Saxon’s face. “I was hoping that you can use the shells to create the inlay. Two simple lines of nacre. One representing each of us.”

“You really have thought this out. I’m impressed.” Saxon says with a proud smile. “I’ve never worked with shells before, but I don’t see it being a problem, especially with all of the new equipment I got when my shop was built. Even got an order for a few pieces of jewelry from a Capitol lady.”

“Capitol lady?” I ask. “Was she here inspecting the shop?” I remember before the bakery officially opened, The Capitol sent two of their employees over to inspect the place. One to make sure everything was safely built and installed and a second to make sure that everything was delivered and installed.

“No, I don’t think she was here on Capitol business.” Saxon says. “I didn’t question her, but she came in and only asked about making her some things, so I just assumed she was visiting.” He shrugs. “It was Effie. That clown faced woman that always came here on Reaping days.”

“Effie Trinket was here?” I ask, and Saxon nods. “In District 12?”

“It was her, got her name down on her order and everything. I didn’t ask why she was here.” Saxon explains. I say nothing more on that topic, but tuck the knowledge away to bring back up later.

“So you think you could do this then?” I ask.

“Absolutely.” Saxon answers. “What compound were you looking to use? I don’t have much here, I’d have to order it from The Capitol, but whatever you want I can probably get you.”

“I was thinking tungsten, can you get that?” 

“Sure, that one won’t be a problem. It’s really popular among those Capitol people because it’s really tough, so they have a lot of the raw material. You do know you’ll have to pay for it, right?” Saxon asks then, sounding uncomfortable.

“Of course,” I say. “Can you give me a price today or do you need the shells first?” I ask.

“Tell you what,” Saxon begins. “I’ll get you the price to get the compound here so we can get that part taken care of, and since you’re a good man I’ll charge you wholesale instead of the markup price, then when you get the rest, just bring it up here and I’ll quote you for the labor and sale. Sound alright?”

“Sounds perfect. If you need to contact me, do it through the bakery. I don’t want Katniss to know about this yet.” I reply. “Thank you, Saxon.” He gets me the price for the compound and I pay him. I leave the shop feeling like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I was so worried about not being able to do this, but now that I know it can be done, I feel a whole lot lighter.

When I get home and walk in the door, Katniss has three waterfowl plucked, gutted and ready for cooking. When she notices I’ve walked in, I hold up the bread to show her I didn’t forget to grab extra.

“Do you think we should cook all three? Or will that be too much?” Katniss asks.

“I think two will be enough. Freeze the third.” I say, with a smile as I walk into the kitchen. “If we have too much left over, I’ll take it to work for lunch tomorrow.” I grab her around the waist and pull her into me, the relief I’m feeling to have the most difficult aspect of my proposal plan almost full taken care of has me feeling bold and I kiss Katniss with fervor, slipping my tongue into her mouth as I trail my hands up and under her shirt, finding nothing but skin. “No bra?” I whisper into her mouth.

“Just for right now.” Katniss says in return, pulling me back in for another kiss.

“Are you trying to kill me?” I ask. She shakes her head no against my mouth and flicks her tongue out, grazing it across my bottom lip before planting another kiss and then trapping my lip between her teeth and pulling gently. I moan at the feeling it’s sending through my body. “We should get dinner started.” I tell her after she lets my lip go.

“What if I don’t want to?” Katniss tries so hard to be the strong one when it comes to moments like this, but today she isn’t even trying. I say nothing in return. Instead, I choose to silently take pleasure in the great mood Katniss has been in the last few days. She runs her hand down my chest, stopping at the front of my pants, pushing into me with her palm. “It doesn’t feel like you want to either.”

She pops the button on my pants while looking at me straight in the eyes and I see the corner of her mouth pull up mischievously before pulling my zipper down. She drops to her knee on the floor in front of me, reaching her hands up and pulling down until I’m completely exposed. She runs her hands up and down my thighs and then grabs me quickly, moving forward and taking me into her mouth, swirling her tongue everywhere she can reach.

She continues this for several minutes before pulling back and replacing her mouth with both hands. One on top of the other she works me in an irregular pattern. Gripping me one second and then letting me go so she can run her hands all over me.

After a minute, she changes her rhythm again. One hand is working my length while the other explores my thighs and rubs the underside of my balls. Then, she moves both of her hands to the base of my shaft and lightly runs them over me in a back and forth motion before moving her one hand back to my length once more. She repeats this for several minutes, using the sounds of my moans to determine when she should speed up and slow down.

I move my hands back and find the counter, gripping it hard so I don’t lose my balance as she continues to work me to my limit. When I feel myself close, I know I have to speak up “Katniss,” I say with a ragged tone. “Almost there.” She doesn’t miss a beat, finishing her touches and quickly putting her mouth back over me, moving back and then forward again until I can’t hold back any longer and I come, shuddering and mumbling incoherent words.

She stays on the floor for a few minutes as I catch my breath and she composes herself. When she moves off the floor and gets back up, she pulls my pants back up for me, but leaving them unbuttoned and unzipped.

“Thanks,” I tell her with a smirk. “What was that for?”

“Finishing what you tried to start the other night before dinner.” She says with a simple shrug. “Now you can spend the evening trying to come up with a way to return the favor.” So that’s how it’s going to be today. She knows we’re having Haymitch over and I won’t be able to do anything until he leaves. She wants to play today and right now, she’s winning.

In the beginning, I thought that Katniss acting like this would be a rarity; that she’d be much more subdued where it came to initiating intimacy or getting playful, but over the years I found out quickly that she’s like this a lot. The further apart her bad days get the more playful she has become and I’ll never get tired of this side of her. It’s indicative of good days, trust, and contentment.

We finish dinner with just enough time to go upstairs and make ourselves look presentable. When we come back downstairs, Haymitch is walking into the house. He closes the front door and sniffs the air, rubbing his hands together. “Smells like domestic bliss.” He says, walking to the kitchen table. “I would have brought some dessert, but I was fresh out.” The sarcasm in his voice is thick and he laughs at his own joke.

“Saves us from food poisoning.” Katniss retorts. This just makes Haymitch laugh more.

He seems to be feeling pretty good, most likely sleeping the entire day to sober up, and the liquor in his flask is now acting as the bridge between sobriety and “just getting a buzz” as he likes to say. We sit at the table, which has been set with the china that comes customary in a Victor’s Village house; Haymitch notices this right away.

“Well you didn’t have to go all out for just me.” He says, looking around the table.

“We never use this stuff otherwise, so why not?” I answer; watching as Katniss begins to cut into the first waterfowl. I stand up and begin to scoop potatoes into my plate, offering Haymitch some when I’m finished.

We each have two helpings while keeping the conversation light and away from sensitive topics that we’ve all talked about enough for one life time. Tonight, we’re relaxing in a different way than we usually do, but it has been nice to have Haymitch over. Despite his wise cracks, he can be good company, never afraid to speak his mind even over the simplest of topics.

Haymitch excuses himself to the back porch after dinner, sitting on the steps and warming himself up from the cold, late February air by taking long pulls from the bottle of white liquor he retrieved from under our sink while Katniss and I wash the dishes.

“You can go out there with him if you want.” Katniss says, handing me a plate to dry.

“Are you sure?” I ask.

“I can take care of this; I need a little break from him, so this can be my excuse. I’ll be out there when I’m done.” Katniss answers.

“Thank you.” I say, putting a plate down and walking to the back door. “Now I really owe you one later!” I yell over my shoulder as I walk out onto the porch.

“Save your foreplay for later.” Haymitch says, not turning from his place on the steps.

“Sorry,” I say as I sit down on the top step next to him. “Thanks for coming.”

“A free home cooked meal and no sign of Greasy Sae? How could I refuse?” Haymitch answers, taking another pull from his bottle. We’re silent for a minute before I say anything else.

“I brought it up.” I blurt out. “Marriage talk.”

“You wasted no time.” Haymitch says with a nod, looking impressed. “Judging by your comment when you came out here, the conversation must’ve gone well.”

“She said she’s thought about it. Even thought about what our cake would look like.” I explain.

“She wants a cake?” Haymitch asks, surprised.

“A tiered cake.” I say with a smirk.

“I didn’t imagine Sweetheart wanting any kind of party.”

“She made it clear she didn’t want anything big, even though she wants the big cake.” I clarify. “I’m sure she has her reasons, but we didn’t discuss that far ahead. All I wanted to know was if she’d thought about it.”

“When are you going to ask her?” Haymitch asks then.

“When I get the rings.” I answer. “Does this mean I have your blessing now?”

Haymitch chuckles and shakes his head. “You have my blessing, kid.”

I tell him about my plans to have the rings made, doing the best I can to describe them, but I left the sketch with Saxon so he can study the design. There’s one thing that I have to say before Katniss finishes the dishes and comes outside.

“Hey,” I begin. “Did you know that Effie was here?” Haymitch is silent for a second; his face contorts in various unreadable expressions before he speaks.

“Nope.” He says quickly. “Did she still have Reaping Day penciled into her schedule or something? She’s early though.”

“I don’t know. Saxon told me he was making jewelry for her when I was there this afternoon.” I shrug. “I just thought it was strange.” I say, dropping the subject.

Katniss comes out a few minutes later, holding two mugs of tea. “I didn’t make you one, Haymitch. You seem to be taken care of already.” Haymitch gives a non-committal grunt and takes another sip. “Here,” she says, handing me a mug. “No sugar.” I take the mug with a smile and begin to think about how I’ll return Katniss’ favor.

****

Over the next few weeks, things start coming together. Saxon gets the compound for the rings and designs a prototype for me to approve. When I see the amazing work Saxon has done for me I am floored. If I didn’t know better I would think he pulled my drawing right off the page, and it makes me proud to know that this kind of talent resides in District 12.

When Annie’s package arrives at the bakery, I open it as quickly as I can and peek inside. I’m met with a half dozen shells, all lined with that same iridescent shine. Annie’s note tells me that she found as many as she could, as quickly as she could and hopes what she sent will do. She ends her letter by wishing me luck. She has done more than enough to help me, and I can’t possibly ever repay her.

I make a quick run to Saxon’s shop after I leave the bakery that afternoon and present him with the shells. He is glad to see that there are more than one, just in case he can’t figure out exactly how to make the inlay on the first try.

It’s early April when I get the call from Saxon, letting me know the rings are finished and ready to be picked up; after asking Hakan to cover the shop for a little while, I go straight to Saxon’s shop.

“Peeta!” Saxon says, holding out his hand for me to shake. “The rings look great, but I’ll let you be the final judge of that.” He grabs two small boxes and sets them down on the counter in front of me. “Take a look.”

I open the first box and see it. The final version of the ring that I drew all those weeks ago. The tungsten shines brilliantly at me, and the two iridescent inlays practically glow. I check the other box and find a second ring, identical to the first, but smaller in size.

“If the size we decided for her ring doesn’t fit, bring it back and we’ll figure out how to fix it. No charge.” Saxon explains. I thank him and get the final price of the rings, throwing in extra for his amazing talent. “There are still 4 shells left if you want them.” Saxon says, motioning to the box I brought in. “I only used two, you should take the rest back home, they’re yours after all.”

I return to the bakery and quickly show Hakan the rings. He hoots and hollers over them in a way that is only Hakan’s “That’s fancy stuff, Peeta. Almost too fancy for District 12.” He laughs, showing me his small wedding band. It’s bent and misshapen, with dirt on it that looks as though it’s embedded into the metal.

“Maybe Saxon can fix that up for you.” I tell him.

When I go back to work that morning, I can’t stop thinking about everything. I have verbal confirmation that Katniss wants this, I have Haymitch’s blessing, and I have the rings; there’s only one thing left to do. Propose.

 

Chapter Text

I leave the bakery in high spirits, periodically putting my hand over the spot in my bag where the two ring boxes reside, just to make sure they’re still there. I don’t know where they would go with me keeping a close eye, and grip, on the bag, but that doesn’t stop me from checking anyway. The weather is finally warm enough to walk home without a coat, so I sling mine over my shoulder and make the walk home.

When I reach the Victor’s Village I decide to stop and see Haymitch so I can show him the rings.  I walk in without knocking once again and give the area a quick scan, but Haymitch is nowhere to be found.

“Haymitch?” I call out, walking into the living room, but not seeing him.

I call out two, three more times before I hear the study door slam shut and see Haymitch walking down the hallway grumbling under his breath. I can’t make out much of what he’s saying, but I do manage to hear the words “walking into my house” and “privacy.”

“You still walk straight into my house. We’d like privacy too, you know.” I remind him.  He grumbles again and walks into the living room, sitting down on the couch and letting out a heavy sigh. I walk in behind him and stand in the middle of the room before I begin. “I got the rings today.” I say.

“I was beginning to think you got cold feet.” Haymitch says, looking up.

“It just took some time to have them made, that’s all.” I reach into my bag and take out the boxes, slowly handing them over to Haymitch. “Be careful.” I tell him as he grabs for them. “I’m going to ask her tomorrow night after dinner.”

“What do you think I’m going to piss on them or something?” Haymitch asks, shaking his head and opening the first box.

“They both look the same, but Katniss’ ring is smaller.” Haymitch whistles and holds up the larger of the two rings, moving it from side to side, fascinated by the changing colors of the inlay. He hands the ring back to me and grows serious. “Are you ready for this?” he asks, his tone reflecting the look on his face.

I put the ring back in the box and in my bag and step forward, finally taking a seat next to Haymitch at the couch. This couch has been privy to many talks between me and Haymitch and it will probably be privy to many more to come. “I’ve been ready for this for a long time.” I finally answer. “When did you realize she loved me? You always talk about it like you knew longer than anyone.” I ask then.

“Everyone watched her fall in love with you.” Haymitch starts. “What I did know longer than anyone was that she had feelings for you from the beginning. She didn’t even realize it.”

“You’re lying.” I say, amused.

“I’m not lying. In those days before the first games, I watched her. The way she looked at you and always had this look on her face like there was something there, but she wasn’t sure how to act.”

“That’s only because I gave her bread when we were 11.” I say.

“No. It was more than that. She regarded you differently from day one.” Haymitch says. “It was just beyond her understanding at that point. Her guard was up too high for too long.”

“Like yours?” I ask then.

Haymitch nods.  “Like mine.”

“Is that why you saw it before everyone else?” He nods again.

“You can recognize yourself in other people far quicker than anyone else is going to.” He says.

It’s not until now that I feel nervous. Before, I was confident and ready to do this. But now that Haymitch is telling me all of these things that I neglected to notice, I feel overwhelmed with the idea that Katniss had feelings for me all along. It’s just a conclusion by Haymitch, but when Haymitch gets his gut feelings, they’re rarely wrong.

“It’s amazing,” I start. “You can be as close as you can possibly get to a person and still have no idea what they’re thinking.”

“I don’t know if amazing is the word I’d use for it.” Haymitch replies.

“It’s terrifying.” I say.

“That’s more along the lines of what I was thinking.” Haymitch says, leaning back on the couch.

A few minutes pass in silence. The nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach growing larger and larger with each silent second.

“So what were you doing in the study?” I say, deciding to change the subject entirely. “I’ve never seen you in there before.”

“I didn’t know you were keeping tabs.” Haymitch says. “A guy can’t use the phone in his own house?” All Victor’s Village houses come with a phone in the study. We moved ours from the study to the kitchen, because Katniss doesn’t like going in the study. It’s just a door to us and it hasn’t been opened in months.

“Were you talking to Effie?” I ask, half joking, half serious.

“Why would I be talking to her?” Haymitch asks.

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because you like her?” I state with a small laugh.

Haymitch matches my laugh and shakes his head. “Like her? What is this, grade school?”

“Well I didn’t want to say feelings. I’m not sure that you have any.” I retort. I know this isn’t true, but when Haymitch starts with his remarks, I won’t hesitate to throw a few back at him. “So,” I say, leaning back on the couch and looking over at Haymitch. “How is Effie doing?”

Haymitch is silent. Looking at me with a face that I think he assumes is intimidating. A few years ago, it may have been, but now it just makes me smirk at him and try to hold in a laugh.

“How’d you know?” Haymitch finally cracks. His voice is lowered to a whisper, like if he says it out loud all of District 12 will hear.

“You mean between her being here in District 12 of her own volition and not coming to see me and Katniss, and your reaction when I asked you if you knew she was here?” I ask. “I can read people too sometimes.” I state.  “Oh,” I begin. “And that jewelry box on your kitchen counter that looks just like the one I got from Saxon.”

“I told her to take that damn thing with her!” Haymitch yells.

“Too late now.” I say with a laugh. “You know I have to tell Katniss.”

“No you won’t.” Haymitch says, shaking his head wildly.

“I think you owe us this one. Between how many times you’ve heard us and for all of your comments? I think we get a freebie.”

Haymitch sighs and puts his hands up in mock surrender. “I find out that anyone else knows, I’ll see to it that you never have sex again.”

“You have my word.” I cringe. “She’ll be invited you know.”

“What?” Haymitch asks.

“To whatever celebration we end up having for the wedding. Even if it’s just a small dinner, I want her to be there. You can bring her as your date.” All Haymitch does is grumble at this. “Is it just about sex with you two, or is there more to it?” I ask then. Haymitch gives me a look that this time really is intimidating. “Right,” I say. “I already got my freebie. I won’t ask again.” I say, getting up from the couch.

“Damn right, you won’t.” Haymitch says, crossing his arms. He looks like a little kid and I laugh.

“I’ll leave you to pout.” I chuckle. “I’ll see you in a few hours for dinner.” We’ve been having Haymitch over for dinner 3 nights a week since we first decided to start inviting him.  He seems to enjoy himself, and food that isn’t from a can or that comes with Greasy Sae at the stove, and the conversations are always a surprise. I leave his house with a smile on my face, eager to get home to tell Katniss what I found out today.

When I walk in the house, things are eerily quiet. As usual, Katniss’ hunting gear is propped up next to the door way, but Katniss isn’t in the kitchen, and I don’t hear any movement upstairs. I set my bag down next to Katniss’ bow and walk further into the house. Looking over my left shoulder, I see Katniss in the living room, sitting on the couch still in her hunting clothes; she looks down about something.

I sit down on the couch next to her, hovering on the edge so I can turn toward her easier and look at her. “What’s wrong?” I ask.

“The Primrose bushes are blooming.” She answers, looking at me with a look of longing. I nod at her and give a sad smile. “It’s been 5 years and I still can’t help but get upset when I see it.” She explains. “It’s just another reminder that it’s another year without her.” She sighs then, and grits her teeth, frustrated.

“You know there are still days at the bakery where I’m making something that I’ve made dozens of times since re-opening, and out of nowhere I’ll get hit with this empty feeling because I’ll remember the day my dad taught me how to make it.” I confess.

“Really?” Katniss asks, moving forward to sit on the edge of the couch, mimicking my posture.

“Really.” I answer. “I think it’s normal.” I shrug.

“Dr. Aurelius keeps trying to tell me that.” Katniss says. “I just wish he was wrong.”

“He tells me that too.” I reply. What we talk about with Dr. Aurelius is the one thing we don’t completely reveal to each other, even after 5 years. He says it’s best that our therapy be conducted separately, so that we don’t feel the urge to suppress anything we may want to say by having the other in the room. The most we talk about our therapy sessions are during moments like this, where we are trying to remind ourselves that all of these hurdles we’ve crossed and all the ones that lie ahead are part of the process and part of moving forward.  “It doesn’t feel normal.” I add. Katniss shakes her head, agreeing.

“Do you think it’ll ever go away?” Katniss asks. Her voice sounds like a child’s; hopeful, scared, asking to be lied to in order to spare her the disappointment, but I won’t lie to her.

“I don’t think so.” I shake my head. “Not unless we forget about all of them.”

“What makes you feel better when you start feeling empty?” Katniss asks.

“I just remind myself I’m coming home to you and that this is our family now.” I say. “Haymitch included.” Katniss nods in agreement.

“I couldn’t wait for you to get home.” She says then. “I guess for the same reason.” She’ll never have it in her to explain matters of the heart eloquently, but I don’t mind. I know what she means. I sit back on the couch and pull her back with me. She sits sideways, resting her head on my shoulder and wrapping her arms around my torso. We sit like that in silence for a while, enjoying each other’s company, even if it’s silent.

“What were you planning for dinner?” I ask, remembering that Haymitch is coming over tonight.

“Leftovers.” Katniss says dryly. “I got a wild turkey this morning.” She adds then. “There isn’t enough time to make that today though.”

“We should break it down so that we can have multiple meals from it.” I suggest. “Then put everything in the freezer. Do you know how to do that?” I ask, because I don’t. She nods. “Maybe you can do that while I get everything else ready for tonight’s dinner. Then we can have some turkey tomorrow night when it’s just us.” I’m suggesting it partly for convenience, but also because it would be nice to have something different like turkey tomorrow night when I’m planning to propose. I’d never get away with planning a big meal myself, so having turkey instead of leftover waterfowl or squirrel is the next best thing.

We finally get up from the couch and begin working in the kitchen. Me, thawing and re-flavoring the extra meat we’ve had stored in the freezer, and cutting up the last of our winter batch of Brussel sprouts from our garden. Katniss, prepping and cutting up the wild turkey she caught this morning. Wrapping sections up to be put in the freezer for future meals.

“We can’t forget to take some out of the freezer tomorrow morning, so it can thaw out naturally.” I say, moving the Brussel sprouts around in the pan. Katniss nods. Her mood has improved, but still isn’t quite right. It’s then that I remember what I wanted to tell her about Haymitch and Effie.

“So I got some news today,” I begin. “I paid Haymitch a little visit after I left the bakery today and we got to talking.” I stop then, not sure of how to word this next part.

“Go on,” Katniss says. “News from Haymitch.”

“Well it appears that Haymitch is… seeing someone?” I say with uncertainty in my voice over my choice of words. I hear the clang of the knife as Katniss drops it into the sink and I look over at her to see her scrambling to pick it back up and resume her task.

“You’re lying.” Katniss says, shaking her head.

“I’m not lying, he confirmed it himself.” I reply.

“Is it Greasy Sae?” Katniss asks, a look of disgust flooding her face at the realization of what she just suggested.

“No!” I laugh. I stay silent for a while to make the reveal more dramatic.

“Who is it!?” Katniss finally demands.

“Effie Trinket, of course.” I say looking back over to Katniss and seeing the amused grin spread across her face like a wild fire; straight to her eyes and through her entire body.

“How did you manage to get that out of Haymitch?” Katniss asks then. She stifles her amusement for a minute, thinking I may be joking.

“Evidence.” I say first. “Another merchant in town mentioned to me that she was here in District 12 recently and she went and had jewelry made. I mentioned that to Haymitch a few weeks ago and his reaction was really weird, so that was my first clue. Then I started to think about why she didn’t come to see us if she were here.”

“Because she was hiding!” Katniss yells, beginning to connect the dots.

“Exactly.” I smile. “Then when I was at Haymitch’s today he was in his study ‘on the phone’ and before he came out I saw a jewelry box on his kitchen counter.”

Katniss is almost giddy at this news. She puts her hand over her mouth to stifle the laughs that won’t stop coming. “Are they….”

“Having sex?” I ask. “I think so.”

“Wait until I get him!” Katniss says, her voice is laced with mischief and I know she’s preparing to get him back for every dig he’s made at us over the last 5 years. The revelation about Haymitch seems to have done wonders for her mood and by dinner, she’s in good spirits; giving Haymitch a look as soon as he walks in the house. That earned me a snarl and Haymitch telling me that I waste no time spreading news around.

As the night progresses, Haymitch becomes the butt of all of the jokes for a change, and not even his retorts can save him. It is 5 years’ worth of retaliation and by the time Haymitch leaves to go home, my cheeks hurt from laughing.

“That was probably really childish of us.” Katniss says, but the smile still on her face.

“Probably.” I agree. “But it’s not like he didn’t have it coming.” I add, hoping that reasoning will make it alright.

“And he agreed to bring her by next time she’s here.” Katniss says.

“I want to know how he snuck her into the Victor’s Village without us noticing.” I question then.

“I want to know why he felt the need to hide her in the first place.” Katniss replies.

“To avoid all of this, probably.” I laugh. “Do you think he needs some condoms? I think we still have some upstairs.”

“Don’t!” Katniss yells throwing her hand over my mouth. “Don’t even start talking about that, I want to sleep tonight.” She removes her hand from my mouth slowly, waiting to see if I’ll say anything else about it, and when I don’t, she gets up off the front step of the back porch and begins to head to the door. She stops and turns to me. “I’m going up to bed.” Her voice has an alluring tone and she smirks when she sees my face register her hint.

I jump up from the step quickly and follow her into the house, vowing to keep the thought of Haymitch’s sex life as far away from Katniss’ mind as possible so I can continue to enjoy moments like this.

When I wake up the next morning I am immediately struck with a sense of nervousness and panic. I’m proposing to Katniss tonight and not even poking fun at Haymitch will help me to forget that. This is the rare sort of nervousness that results in me not being able to speak and withdrawing.

Mornings are usually a quiet affair before I head to the bakery, so it’s easier to keep my nervousness from Katniss. My daily walk is consumed with all of the bad things that can happen tonight. Katniss saying no, thinking I’m crazy, running out of the house, not wanting to see me. Even though she told me weeks ago that she has thought about marriage, it doesn’t help stop these thoughts.

My nervousness doesn’t go unnoticed by Monte as we work together that morning either.

“Everything alright, Peeta?” Monte asks. He’s barely been at the bakery an hour and he already picked up that my mood is different.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” I tell him. “Just really tired.” I lie.

“Gotcha.” Monte answers. “Just making sure.” My crew knows all about my Hijacking and flashbacks. Before any of them were hired it was something that I discussed with each of them individually and as a group. While I’ve never had a flashback at the bakery, I wanted to be sure that they were aware of the possibilities. We had several meetings over the first few months so that they could learn to recognize a flashback, and while none of them can help me out of one the way Katniss can, they also had to know how to help me. If this was something they were unwilling to deal with, I could not hire them.  I wanted to be honest with my crew and have their support in return and so far, everyone has been very accommodating.

I can’t tell Monte my plans. It’s not that I don’t trust him, but the more people that know, the higher the chance is that Katniss will somehow find out. Things only need to remain a secret for one more day. When the bell at the front of the bakery rings, I don’t pay any attention to who may have walked in until I hear Monte talking from the front counter.

“Hey stranger, haven’t seen you in here for a while.” Monte says, happily.

“I didn’t hunt today, so I decided to pay a visit. Where’s Peeta?” It’s Katniss. I jump up from the stool I was sitting at in the back of the bakery and walk out to the front, attempting to push the nervous feelings away and plaster a grin on my face.

I’m glad she’s here, but seeing her right now just adds to my apprehension. Of all days for her to stop in, this is the one she picks. She doesn’t stop in as often as I’d like due to the hours that I work and the hours she hunts occurring around the same time. She could always go hunting later, but we’ve made it a point to try to both get home around the same time, so I’ll take less visits if it means both of us being home together more often instead of us in there alone while the other is off doing their own thing.

“Hey you,” I say with a smile, walking beyond the front counter and wrapping her up in a hug. “Surprised to see you here.”

“We have enough turkey in the freezer so I didn’t have to go out to the woods today.” She explains “Speaking of which, we forgot to take some out before you left, but I did it before I left the house.”

“Thanks,” I say. “No trading today?” In the past when Katniss and I have had a freezer full of food from her hunting, she would go out to the woods anyway and bag some game to bring around town to trade.

“I thought about it, but decided why not take a day off?” Katniss explains with a shrug.

“We all deserve those.” I answer. The more I talk about other things, the easier it is to keep my mind from wandering into proposal territory, and that helps keep me calm. Katniss stays for about an hour, having a mid-morning snack of tea and a blueberry muffin with me.

“She’s looking good.” Monte says after Katniss leaves. When he sees the sideways look I’m giving him, he corrects himself. “I mean healthy. She’s looking good and healthy.” Everyone knows what Katniss went through, the way she lost her sister after trying to protect her, they know how she assassinated President Coin and stood trial and came back to the District a shell of who she once was, and they’re all concerned about her well-being. Since Katniss is so private now, it’s hard for them to get an update on her. Letters from both Plutarch and President Paylor have either gone unanswered, or sent back with a simple statement of “Decline to comment” written in red ink.

Dr. Aurelius and his team have been trying to get me to come back to The Capitol for years now. They want to interview me in person and put me through more tests to see and document a Hijacking victim that has done heavy rehabilitation and therapy, but I have yet to agree to it. I understand their need, and the need of others that may find value in my case one day, but I still can’t get myself to agree to ever go back to that place.

“How’s she doing?” Monte asks then, breaking my train of thought.

“She’s good.” I answer. “We still have off days, both of us, but the stretches between them are getting longer and longer and we bounce back from them quicker.”

“That’s good to hear, Peeta.” Monte says with a nod and a slap to my shoulder. Sometimes I forget that my crew members were once spectators. The people that sat around and watched things unfold before them until their homes were destroyed and they were thrust into the middle of a war, homeless and scared.

On my walk home from the bakery that afternoon, I start to think about all the ways I can ask Katniss to marry me tonight. I’m not planning a speech, but I’m not planning to blurt out the words “Marry Me” the way Finnick did either.

I get home a little before 1 and find Katniss in the living room on the couch once again, but this time she is in comfortable clothes and freshly showered, curled up and reading one of the old baking cook books that used to be my father’s. It’s one of the few I still have, having brought it and 2 others to my house in the Victor’s Village after the first Hunger Games. My father kept the rest and when the bakery was bombed, the books went with it.

“You look comfortable,” I say, sitting down next to her and putting her legs in my lap. “Find anything interesting in there?”

“As a matter of fact, I did.” She answers, pushing the pages of the book back to one she had folded over. “These.” She says, handing the book over.

“Red velvet cupcakes?” I smile. “Have you ever had them before?” she shakes her head no. “I’ve had them once. We used to make them sometimes at the old bakery for special occasions, but only if we were able to afford the extra ingredients.” Merchants weren’t as poverty stricken as people in The Seam were, but we still struggled with money too, pouring almost everything we made back into the bakery. Getting any special ingredients was usually a treat and very rare.

“They look really good.” She says, gazing at the page that has a picture of the finished product.

“Want to make them?” I suggest.

“How? We don’t have everything that’s needed.” She replies.

“Of course we do. At the bakery.” I say with a grin. “I can go get the stuff and we can make them to have after dinner.” I don’t have to skimp when ordering supplies for the bakery these days, always trying to change the selection of baked goods every few weeks. Katniss smiles when I say this and I know I couldn’t have planned this. Things are unfolding so naturally that it’s just enough to make the evening different and special without causing Katniss to become suspicious or overwhelmed.

“Let me change really quick and I’ll come with you.” She says. Her voice is bordering on excited, and I have to laugh at how little things still cause her to turn into the little girl from The Seam. The little girl who has never had a red velvet cupcake before because her family could never afford one when we made them.

While Katniss is upstairs changing out of her lounging clothes I make a dash to my work bag and take her ring out of the box, placing it in my pocket so I can take it out and give it to her after we eat, and before we have the cupcakes.

As we walk to the bakery, I remember that Hakan is working tonight and silently hope that he doesn’t say anything about my plans to propose. This does nothing for the nervousness that is slowly returning. To come this far only to have the surprise ruined by an over enthusiastic Hakan who wasn’t aware that I hadn’t asked her to marry me yet.

When we walk in the front door of the bakery, the bells rings and Hakan comes out from the back smiling when he sees us. I quickly shake my head at him and point to my ring finger, hoping he’ll understand what I’m trying to say.

Fortunately, he seems to get it. He nods slightly as he stops at the front counter. “What brings you two here after Peeta’s normal work hours?”

“We’re here to steal a few ingredients.” I reply.

“Hey, you’re the boss.” Hakan says with a laugh. “Help yourself.”

Many of the ingredients we have at home, but the ones we wouldn’t normally use at home, like cocoa powder, vanilla, red food coloring and the liners are things I’ll have to swipe. I’m in and out of the pantries quickly, gathering what we need and throwing them into a spare basket used to deliver bread.

“Got everything.” I say, returning to the front where Hakan was entertaining Katniss by talking about his wife’s terrible cooking. “We’re making cupcakes tonight. Red velvet.” I add with a smile. I raise my eyebrows at Hakan and he seems to understand what I’m hinting at.

“Sounds delicious. You guys have fun.” Hakan says waving at us as we head toward the front door. “Good luck!” he yells loudly just before the door swings shut.

“I’m not good at baking.” Katniss says when we get back home and I begin to arrange the ingredients together.

“That’s alright; we’ll just follow the recipe. It’s simple.” I encourage her. “Grab the book and read me the first part.”

“Pre-heat the oven.” Katniss reads, walking back into the kitchen, book in hand.

“Simple enough. Go on.” I urge her. “What’s next?”

“Beat the sugar and oil.” She reads, setting the book down on the counter next to me so I can read along.

“I’ll take care of that.” I say.

We work through the recipe together, switching back and forth after each step.

“Now fill up each cup in the pan until right about here.” I say, pointing to a spot on the pan. Katniss nods and begins her task while I start making the frosting.

“Done!” Katniss says, stepping away from the pan looking proud.

“Perfect.” I smile, looking at her work. “Now just put them in the oven and set the timer.”

I keep the bowl of frosting on the counter as the cupcakes cook and we get started on dinner. Over the last few hours, I’ve been able to distract myself enough so that the nervousness doesn’t take over, but now that we’re getting closer to dinner and closer to the moment when I plan to propose, there isn’t much that I can do to keep the nervous feelings from taking over.

By the time we sit for dinner, I can barely even focus. I am so consumed in my thoughts and taken over by the terror that she’ll, for some reason, say no and I will have ruined what we have, I can’t shake it. We eat in a silence that is foreign and tense, I only look up from my plate a few times and see Katniss looking at me with a confused look on her face, but she says nothing.

“I’m done.” I say, pushing my plate away from me when I can’t take the pressure anymore. “I’ll frost the cupcakes.” Before I can control the tone of my voice, my last sentence has escaped my mouth and sounds flat and unenthused with having to do it, and I can’t take it back. Katniss clears the table silently, slamming a plate every so often to send a message that she’s not thrilled at my sudden change in behavior. It’s a message that says “I know this isn’t a flashback threatening to take over; this is just you ruining our evening.” This is not normal behavior for me and I can see by the looks that she is giving me that she’s more scared than she is mad and she’s trying as hard as she can to figure out what is wrong with me.

When I finish the cupcakes, I leave the kitchen and go into the living room, unable to look at Katniss, because I know by this point that I’ve ruined our night with my inability to contain my nervousness and terror.  This was not how things were supposed to be, and at this point I’m unsure if I should even attempt the proposal tonight.

I light a fire and sit on the couch, staring into the flame as they grow larger and engulf the logs that are stacked in the grate. My mind begins to race with thoughts and for a minute, I’m scared for a whole new reason. What if this stress induces a flashback and I truly ruin the evening? I close my eyes and listen to my breathing, not noticing Katniss walk into the room and sit down on the floor with her back to me, her knees pushed up in front of her, close to her chest.

I stare at her back as she sighs, her shoulders rising and falling. I want to speak, but I can’t get the words out. I want to apologize for ruining what was shaping up to be a really nice day, for all the times I got upset with her for being elusive but doing the same thing myself, for doubting that she’d want to marry me even though she more or less told me that she wanted to. My mind is at a complete standstill. With one final, large sigh, Katniss turns around.

“What is your problem?” her voice is impatient but shaking, as though she’s trying not to sound as scared as she is and at that moment I can just hear what she is thinking: “He’s finally had it with me. He made cupcakes with me to help soften the blow when he tells me he’s leaving.”

Before I realize it, I’ve jumped up off the couch and am next to Katniss. She looks alarmed at my abrupt movement, but she doesn’t flinch. I stare at her for a minute and see her eyes soften at whatever it is that she sees reflected in mine, and this provokes me into taking out the ring. Sitting up on both knees, I reach down into my pocket and grab the ring, pulling it out and keeping it in my hand while deciding what to do next.

In the end, I decide to stay how I am. During our fake, public proposal before The Quell, I got down on one knee and gave a speech before I proposed and I don’t want to do anything that is going to remind either of us of that day. I put my hand out, opening it slowly as Katniss stares at it, trying to make sense of everything. The ring rests on my palm, the light of the fire bouncing off of it and I look up at Katniss who is now staring at the ring with an unreadable expression on her face.

She looks up at me, and then back down at the ring, reaching out her hand; I push my hand forward, telling her she can take it. She picks it up from my palm with her pointer finger and thumb, and quickly does the same with her other hand, holding the ring up and looking at it, moving it from side to side, watching the inlay change colors as it moves.

Then, she puts the ring to her lips. I don’t understand why, but I don’t question it because when I look at her closer, she’s smiling.

“Katniss,” I say, breaking her out of her trance so that she’s looking at me. “Marry me.”

With the ring still to her lips and the smile still present, she nods. Closing her eyes and breathing in deep before finally removing the ring from her lips.

“Should I wear it now or should I wait?” she asks.

“Whatever feels right to you is right to me.” I answer.

She holds the ring out to me then and looks me in the eye “Put it on me?” I grab the ring from her and she puts her hand out to me; as I go to grab her hand I notice for the first time that I’m shaking, and as I slip the ring onto her finger, past the knuckle and down, seeing it fits perfectly, I let out a nervous laugh and shake my head.

“To think,” I begin. “I had a lot more I was going to say but in the end I ended up saying exactly what Finnick said to Annie.” Still holding Katniss’ hand, I use it to pull her toward me, and I place a soft kiss on her lips and she returns it eagerly, bringing the hand with the ring up to caress my hair; I can feel the ring brush my face as she does it. That’ll be a feeling that I won’t ever get tired of.

“How do you know what Finnick said to Annie?” she asks after we break apart.

“Annie told me.” I state simply. “She helped with the ring.” And finally, I can explain everything to her. How I asked Annie for the books before the New Year, the shells, Saxon making the ring, Haymitch’s blessing and my plans that made me act the way I did earlier.

“She should be here then.” Katniss says then. “She helped you so much; we should invite her to celebrate with us.”

“Celebrate?” I ask, taken aback that Katniss would want to do that.

“Just a small get together with a few people. Haymitch, Effie, Greasy Sae, Annie and Dylan…” Katniss says.

“What about your mother?” I ask.

“I’m not sure she’ll come.” Katniss says. “But I’ll let her know.”

“Johanna hasn’t answered a letter in months, but we should probably invite her too.” I suggest.

“I’d like to see her,” Katniss nods. “Maybe she’ll pick up a phone call.” We’ve been in touch with Johanna these last 5 years, but she’s a little harder to get a hold of than Annie is, sometimes slipping into unresponsive periods for months at a time and then emerging again like nothing happened. I’ve hoped that she would relocate to be near someone that can help her more, but she refuses.

“Do you still want the tiered cake?” I ask then.

“Yes.” She smiles. “Would it be strange to ask you to decorate it? I just remember how nicely you did Finnick and Annie’s cake.”

“I can do it.” I smile back. “It’s for us and that’s all that matters. We can design it together, and then I’ll put it on the cake.” Katniss nods at this, liking the idea.

“What about the cupcakes? Do you still want those?” I ask, reminding her that there are a dozen cupcakes in the kitchen waiting for us. We get up from the floor finally and head upstairs first, washing up and changing into sleeping clothes and bringing down the blanket that usually lies at the foot of our bed.

I grab the platter of cupcakes and Katniss brings the blanket into the living room, laying the blanket on the floor in front of the fire and sitting on it. I set the platter between us and sit down, grabbing a cupcake and handing it to Katniss, and then grabbing another for myself.

We spend the evening eating cupcakes, periodically feeding pieces to each other and sharing frosting filled kisses. For tonight, we’re normal, pushing aside all of the bad things and focusing on the milestone we created today. We’re getting married, for real this time. 

Chapter Text

“So! The wedding is in two months?” Effie asks. Her smile is wide and her eyes twinkle at us. She and Haymitch are over for dinner for Katniss’ birthday, and in typical Effie form, the first thing she wants to talk about is what we have planned for the wedding.

“That’s what we decided on, yeah.” I answer, passing a bowl of carrots to Katniss who nods at my answer.

“A summer wedding… how fabulous!” Effie squeaks. “What are your theme colors? I’ve always thought that yellow and blue were great for summer weddings. What kind of decorations?” I look across the table and see Haymitch rolling his eyes, but saying nothing and Katniss is staring at her, dumbstruck.

“Well, Effie,” I begin, looking around the table for some support. “District 12 doesn’t really do that sort of thing for marriages.”

“It’s a lot simpler.” Katniss adds.

“We’ve decided that we’d like to keep it as close to a traditional District 12 wedding as we can.” I finish.

“Oh.” Effie says, looking a little disappointed at this revelation.

“We want you and Haymitch to be there, though.” Katniss says. This seems to brighten Effie’s mood.

“What?” Haymitch asks. He looks as though someone just punched him in the stomach.

“We want you to be our witnesses when we sign the form at the Justice Building, and we want you to be part of the toasting afterward.” I reiterate. Haymitch says nothing once again. He sits there, staring into his plate.

“Oh that sounds lovely! Haymitch!” Effie says, grabbing his arm. “We’ll be their witnesses!”

“Yes, Haymitch,” Katniss says, echoing Effie’s tone. “It’ll be lovely.” Effie doesn’t seem to notice what Katniss is doing, and I can’t help but laugh at it. Katniss, openly teasing Haymitch over his relationship with Effie Trinket who is sitting at our dinner table as his date while we discuss our wedding. The scene is surreal.

I know that Katniss is doing this to make Haymitch feel more uncomfortable, and it’s worth it. We have been using every chance we get to make fun of Haymitch the same way he has made fun of us for the last 5 years. We are finally even.

The truth is, we both really like Effie. She may be squeaky at times and she sticks out like a sore thumb here in District 12, but she means well. Even her bemusement when learning just how simple everything is here is endearing. She’s trying, and she’s trying for Haymitch which is something that I may never get used to.

We’re still not sure exactly what is going on between them. They behave mostly as they always did, but with a few touches that they think are sneaky but are almost always noticed by Katniss or myself. She visits on the weekends every couple weeks and we don’t see a lot of Haymitch when that happens. I’ve never asked him again what is going on, but I hope he’ll feel comfortable enough to tell me someday.

“You need to teach her the song too, Haymitch.” I say then, remembering that Effie is not fully aware of our traditions here.

“What song?” Effie asks, looking between me and Haymitch.

“There’s a song that we sing after couples are legally married, before they cross the threshold of their home for the first time as husband and wife.” I explain. “Haymitch will need to teach you that before we get married.”

“I’m not teaching her that song.” Haymitch begins to protest, but Effie puts her hand on his arm again and he quiets down immediately.

“I want to learn the song, Haymitch.” Effie says, the squeak in her voice that is almost always present has disappeared and she’s looking at him with a gaze that I’ve never seen the two of them share before. I almost feel like turning my head and looking away; like I’ve interrupted a moment I shouldn’t be seeing.

“Fine.” Haymitch relents. “I’ll teach her the song.”

****

“What do you think the deal is with them?” I ask Katniss after Haymitch and Effie have left.

“I don’t know.” She answers, taking the dirty dinner plates from me and depositing them into the sink. “I saw that look she gave him though, when we were talking about the song.”

“I wonder what that meant.” I think out loud. “We shouldn’t gossip, though.” I say quickly, trying to recover.

“What, like they don’t talk about us when they get back to his house?” Katniss scoffs. I shrug.

“It’s just that they don’t really act any differently than before.” I shouldn’t be observing them as closely as I do, but I can’t help it.

“You said once that you saw them eyeballing each other on the train.” Katniss reminds me.

“Yeah, I did, but… that’s different.” I answer.

“How?”

“I just thought maybe it was some weird sex thing.” I explain. “Quickies when everyone is asleep or just something that was only alright when it was because of the games. Her coming out here to visit every other weekend doesn’t strike me as something someone like Effie does when it’s just sex. She can get that in the Capitol. And the games are done, so it can’t be that.” Katniss gives me a look, urging me to continue. “A Capitol Citizen, traveling across Panem twice a month for an entire weekend and spending it here, holed up in a drunk’s house? There has to be more to it than sex.”

“Maybe.” Katniss agrees. “But he still picks on her like he always did, don’t you think that would change?”

“Maybe not. Maybe that’s part of the attraction.” I suggest.

“Like their foreplay?” Katniss asks. I raise my eyebrows at Katniss, shocked that she’d say something like that, but she just laughs. “You have to wonder.” She says with a simple shrug.

Since I proposed to Katniss, something has been different about her. Her words come a little easier and she seems freer, less tense. It’s like she finally believes me when I tell her I won’t leave her like the others; that she is finally starting to see that she’s not as hopeless as she once thought.

She has been present and involved in every aspect of planning this marriage and some of the things she’s offered while making decisions have truly floored me. Not because I didn’t believe she had these thoughts in her, but because she is voicing them confidently.

We decided to get married in July. The suggestion came from Katniss. Her reasoning both simple and symbolic. A summer wedding could be a way to create a positive memory, rather than always associating summer with Reaping Days. Since I’ve mentioned that my favorite month is July, now that the games are over, she felt it would be special.

She has already given me a few ideas for the cake that we will completely design ourselves before July, and she says she wants to be there when I decorate it. She is taking this wedding very seriously and putting her entire heart into it.

Dr. Aurelius guessed that it is because she is ready to make new memories and start a new chapter in her life, and Katniss confirmed this the day she told me that she wanted to change her last name.

“You know I’m going to take your last name, right?” Katniss says suddenly. Her announcement seems to come out of nowhere while lying in bed, coming down from our high after making love, listening to a spring thunderstorm that has blown in with the night. She lays naked on her stomach, the white cloth of the bed sheet rests over her lower back. Her head is turned in my direction and I can just make out the relaxed expression when the lightning fills the room.

“I didn’t know that, actually.” I say, running my fingers up and down her arm that is draped across my chest. “I figured you’d want to keep Everdeen. For your sister and your father.”

“No,” she says quietly. She moves her hand up from where it was hanging over my shoulder and rests it on the side of my head, tangling her fingers in my hair.  “New life, new name, new memories.” I smile at her response, remembering Dr. Aurelius’ words to me.

 He referred to that as a breakthrough and it certainly felt like it. The small steps we’ve been taking to get to where we are today have been worth it. The broken kids we were will always live in us and show their faces, but the important thing is that we’re here today, together. Two different versions of the people we came home as, and while the physical and mental scars remain, it’s clear that we’ve healed. We’ll never be better, that doesn’t exist for us and we’ve accepted that, but we’ve found a way to go on, live, and be happy.

****

“Hello Peeta and Katniss!” Effie says walking into the house one Saturday morning.

“Good Morning, Effie. Where’s Haymitch?” I ask from the kitchen table. We were just finishing breakfast when we heard the knock on the door. We knew that it couldn’t be Haymitch since he never knocks, but we weren’t exactly expecting to see Effie standing there when Katniss opened the door.

“Oh he’s just going to bed, you know how strangely he sleeps.” Effie says with an uncomfortable laugh. “I wanted to talk to you and Katniss about the wedding a little more.” She walks further into the house, Katniss behind her giving me a look that says “Don’t let her take this over.”

“Sure, Effie. Have a seat.” I say, motioning to a chair at the kitchen table. She sits down and waits for Katniss to take her seat again before speaking.

“Now, I know this is your tradition.” Effie begins, and I cringe slightly, afraid of where she is going to try to take this. “But I would like to help you out at least a little bit. Haymitch told me to stay out of it, but I can’t. You two are very special to me, as I’m sure you know.” I nod at her. “Alright, so what are you two planning to wear?” she asks then.

“Katniss?” I say, looking over at her. This was one thing we hadn’t discussed yet.

“Well,” Katniss starts, trailing off. I can see her mind trying to come up with an excuse so that Effie doesn’t force us into Capitol costumes for a walk to the Justice Building. “We haven’t really decided on that part yet.” Katniss finally says when she can’t come up with anything else.

“Oh good!” Effie squeals, clapping her hands.

“Wait,” Katniss says quickly. “We don’t want anything extreme.”

“I think I know you guys well enough by now to know what you like.” Effie smiles.

“That’s what scares me.” Katniss whispers in my direction. I put my finger over my lips, trying to shush her.

“When I come to District 12 in July for this… this toasting as you call it, I’ll bring a few outfits for you both.” she begins. “If you don’t like any of them, then… well I guess you can wear any old thing that you have.” She says, with a little edge in her voice when she sees the horrified expressions on our faces after she brings this up.

“Casual, Effie. You wanted to know our theme, that’s it.” I tell her. “Casual.” Saying it again for emphasis.

“Casual.” Effie repeats, making a face as if the word tastes bad. “Your wedding, your wishes.” She says, resignation in her voice.

“Thanks, Effie.” I say as she stands up from the table, smoothing her skirt and walking to the door.

“Should we come up with a backup plan?” Katniss asks after Effie closes the door.

“Yes.” I answer, nodding quickly.

****

“So the final count is 6?” I ask.

“Haymitch, Effie, Greasy Sae, Annie, Dylan, and Johanna.” Katniss answers, reading off the list of people that have been invited to our dinner.

The tradition in District 12 is to have the meal and cake before the toasting, but we decided that we only wanted Haymitch and Effie to be there, so we agreed to make the meal a week after the toasting. It doesn’t follow the tradition exactly, but we also agreed that even if it isn’t in order, it’s still honoring what the district has always done, which is what we want to do.

This biggest difference is that we can afford a meal and cake to feed all six people plus us, and we are inviting people from outside District 12 to have this meal with us, but it’s necessary. It’s a way to get together with people that we care about, that we’ve been through hell and back with, and celebrate something happy. Katniss will get to see her mother, we’ll finally get to meet Dylan and spend more time with Annie, and hopefully Johanna will write back or call soon.

She’s the only one that hasn’t sent word or called to let us know she would be here, but we are including her in the count anyway just in case she decides at last minute that she will be here, and I really hope that she does.

“Annie, Dylan, and my mother will get here Friday afternoon.” Katniss says. “No word from Johanna yet.” Katniss confirms having gotten then mail before I got home from the bakery.

“We’re really doing this.” I say, still in disbelief that Katniss would want to have what can really only be described as a party.

“It’s good for us, right?” Katniss says. “All of us.” I nod.

“I like seeing you like this, Katniss.” I say, unable to hold my tongue anymore. For her to recognize that this is good for all of us to get together with a reason to celebrate something happy makes not only me proud, but would make Dr. Aurelius proud too. That girl that wouldn’t pick up her phone to even speak to him is long gone now.

****

The day of the wedding is a hot one. District 12 is 4 days into a typical July heat wave.

“We probably should have taken heat waves into consideration when deciding on a date.” I say exiting the downstairs bathroom after changing into the pants I picked out from Effie’s collection. She has kept her promise and brought over several outfits for each of us to try on. When I set the zippered bags down on the living room couch, I was scared at what I might find, but to my surprise she not only listened when we told her casual, but really put together outfits that are classy and not anything like the flashy Capitol clothes that I’m so used to seeing.

In the end I chose an outfit that consists of a white dress shirt, navy blue tie, and a vest and pants in a very light gray. I walk back into the living room with just the pants and my t-shirt on when I see Effie turn around abruptly.

“You!” She snaps at me, pushing my chest. “You cannot see the bride’s outfits until we’re ready to go!”

“What?” I ask, perplexed.

“You can’t!” Effie snaps again. “Katniss, let’s go upstairs and get you ready so prying eyes do not ruin things.” I turn around and see Haymitch standing in the archway of the living room, arms cross over his chest, shaking his head. He shrugs and smiles when he notices me looking at him, confused.

“She’s been going on about that all morning.” Haymitch explains. “It’s some old marriage tradition. It’s supposed to be bad luck to see the bride in her dress before the wedding.”

“Well, I guess we could always use good luck.” I say with a shrug, sitting down on the couch. I reach into the black bag that has the rest of my outfit in it and pull out the tie. “Do you know how to tie one of these?” I ask Haymitch.

“You don’t know how?” He answers.

“No. I never had a reason to learn and in the Capitol, my prep team took care of it for me.” I tell him.

“Give it here.” Haymitch says, putting his hand out. “Put your dress shirt on.” I get up from the couch and do as he says, buttoning the dress shirt all the way and tucking it in. Haymitch walks up to me then and puts the tie around my neck, tucking it up and under the collar, and he begins to tie it for me. When he finishes he stands back and admires his work. “There.” He says.

“Thanks, Haymitch.” I answer, feeling foolish for not knowing how to do this on my own.

“I’ll have to teach you that one day. If you ever have a son of your own one day, you’ll have to teach him.” I’m not sure what to react to first, Haymitch bringing up me and Katniss having children or the fact that he just referred to me as his son.

“I doubt I’ll ever have a son.” I say.

“Says who? Katniss?” Haymitch asks. “Tell me,” he begins, sitting down on the couch. “If that was so final, why haven’t either of you had anything permanent done to prevent it?” I sit down next to him on the couch, moving the bags of clothes off to the side.

“I don’t know.” I shrug, and I don’t. “I brought it up when we went to see the doctor last year, but she refused.”

“Uh huh,” Haymitch says with a nod. “She’s thought about it. Don’t count it out just yet.” I give Haymitch a brief smile before grabbing my vest and standing up again, slipping it over my shoulders and buttoning it up, then rolling the sleeves of my dress shirt up to just below my elbows.

“Look alright?” I ask Haymitch, spreading my arms and looking down at myself.

“Not bad, kid. You clean up well.” Haymitch answers. With nothing else for me to do, I take a seat back on the couch and try to let myself relax.

“Did you teach Effie the song?” I say, remembering that Haymitch’s job was to make sure she knows it by today.

“Yes, I taught her the damn song.” Haymitch answers grumpily.

“Good,” I say with a smile. “Don’t want her to feel left out, right?” Haymitch gives me a look like he’s about to slap me, but then his expression changes.

“How’s she handling all of this?” He asks, motioning to the ceiling with his hand.

“Katniss?” I say and he nods. “Fine. So fine that it’s almost scary.” I answer.

“No breakdowns or locking herself in her room lately?”

“None. She hasn’t had a breakdown like that since just before Christmas.” I explain.

“But that happens every year.” Haymitch adds.

“Yeah. Christmas isn’t easy for either one of us.” Christmas in District 12 isn’t about Santa Claus, gifts or lights, it’s about family. It’s a day that now reminds both Katniss and me that the families we were so used to spending Christmas with are gone and every year like clockwork either one or both of us fall victim to the realities that the holiday brings.

Haymitch nods in agreement, looking into the empty fireplace before asking his next question. “Did she invite… Gale?”

“No.” I answer, shaking my head. “She wouldn’t. I told her she could and she refused.” I continue. “She said it was the past, and that there’s no use in bringing the past into the present in an attempt to make it part of the future.” Haymitch looks at me, shocked.

“Sweetheart said that?” He asks, mouth agape.

“Sweetheart said that.” I repeat his words, nodding. “She been uncharacteristically thoughtful since I proposed to her.” We both laugh and I put my hand up to try to silence Haymitch. “That sounded mean, but you know what I’m trying to say. We know Katniss.”

“She’s starting to sound like you and that doctor.” Haymitch teases.

“Hey, that’s not so bad, is it?” I laugh.

Haymitch shakes his head, growing serious. “No, it’s not.”

“Here we are!” Effie chirps from the bottom of the steps. I start to laugh and Haymitch covers his face before standing up from the couch and following me out of the living room. “Come on, Katniss! Everyone’s waiting!”

I stand just at the end of the stairs, Haymitch behind me as we see Katniss’ feet begin to descend the stairs. Her feet are covered very simply with a flat sandal that is tied around her ankle with white lace.

“So far, so good, Effie.” I hear Haymitch whisper behind me. It’s then that I realize that Haymitch is pulling for Effie to do well and maybe this is the difference between then and now. He’s being supportive in his own way. He cares about her and wants to see her do something and succeed, even if it’s just picking out clothes for us to wear to our wedding.

Finally, Katniss is in full few. She has an apprehensive look on her face as she walks down the final two steps and stands at the bottom, waiting for us to speak. She’s in a simple white sun dress, thin straps come up around her neck and tie in the back, and the neck line forms a “V” on her chest. The length comes down to just below her knees, the skirt is designed in layers with thin, ruffled fabric, and her hair is pulled up and gathered on the top of her head with a white flower on the right side.

I walk forward and go to her, putting my hands on her shoulders and looking straight into her eyes. “You look beautiful, Katniss.” I whisper, moving in and laying a soft kiss on her lips.

“Are you sure?” she whispers back. “My scars.” She moves her hand up to touch a scar on her chest that peeks out from behind the fabric of her dress.

“No.” I say placing my hand over hers and pulling it away, lacing my fingers with hers and putting our linked hands down at our sides. “You can’t possibly look any more beautiful.” This time she leans in and kisses me, lightly trailing her tongue along my bottom lip. I hear Effie squeak and clap again, but all I can seem to pay attention to right now is Katniss. Right now, nobody else is in this room.

“Alright, alright! Save it for later.” Haymitch bellows, temporarily breaking us out of our trance. Katniss pulls back and surveys me, finally noticing that I’m fully dressed now too.

“You don’t look so bad, yourself.” She says with a laugh. She runs her hand down my arm and takes my hand again.

“You ready?” I ask.

“One minute,” she answers, pulling away from me and walking to the kitchen fireplace where a fresh loaf of bread, a fireplace poker, logs, a towel, and the box holding my ring sit, waiting for the toasting. She opens the box and takes off her ring, carefully placing it in the box and shutting it, setting it down and taking a deep breath before walking back over to me. “I’ll put it back on during the toasting.” She explains. “When you put yours on.”

“Okay,” I answer, reaching my hand out to her. She grabs it and I pull her to me. It seems like neither one of us can focus on anything for very long that isn’t each other; like we are only just now realizing what we’re about to do and we’re getting caught up in the emotions of the day.

“Are you two ready or are you just going to keep standing here undressing each other with your eyes?” Haymitch cuts in again.

“Haymitch!” Effie scolds. “Manners!” I turn away from them to stifle my laugh as I hear Haymitch mumble what I think is an apology.

“Ready?” I ask Katniss again, this time she nods and tightens her grip on my hand as we head to the door.

“Take this umbrella.” Effie says, shoving it into my hands.

“We don’t need this, Effie. We’ll be fine.” I protest.

“I won’t hear it.” Effie argues back. “You have to wear these outfits again next weekend for the dinner party, let’s not ruin them with sweat.” I shrug and keep hold of the umbrella, opening it up finally and holding it above me and Katniss, then the four of us set off for the Justice Building.

The new Justice Building is larger than the old one; when we walk inside we can see the inside is vastly different as well. The ground floor is open, with a large information station right in the center. On either side of the building, each of the three floors can be seen, a large railing goes around each floor like a ring and marked doors designate what the rooms are used for.

The way the government works in District 12 has changed as well. Instead of the mayor being the one to present and file your wedding form, District 12 now has judges. While the new building was being built, The Capitol sent in government workers to school and test old school teachers to become judges. They are paid directly from the Capitol for their services to the district.

Now, instead of having to schedule to sign your wedding form with the mayor, which could sometimes take weeks, you can now schedule to sign them with a judge who is there during normal district hours instead. You are no longer assigned a house when getting married, but if the couple does not have one, the Justice Building helps them obtain one.

I walk up to the information station and catch the attention of a woman I don’t recognize. Her name tag says Vica. “How can I help you?” she asks, looking at the four of us standing there.

“We’re scheduled to sign marriage forms today.” I answer. She nods and looks in a book. “The name is Mellark.” I say.

“I know.” She says, nodding again. I’ll never get used to everyone knowing exactly who I am. Before, I was just the baker’s son. Some knew my name, but most never learned it. Now, everyone knows it. “You’ll be on the second floor, room number 7, with Judge Ginette Stoja.” She informs us. “Congratulations.”

I turn around and take Katniss’ hand again, walking to the stairwell to make our way to the second floor. “Ginette Stoja, that sounds familiar.” I say out loud as we begin to climb the steps.

“Third grade.” Katniss says. “She was our teacher.” 

“The pleasure of living in a small district.” Haymitch says sarcastically.

When we make it to the second floor and find room 7, I give the door a gentle knock and we are instructed to enter. We walk in to a medium sized room with a large wooden desk that Judge Stoja is sitting behind.

“Peeta Mellark and Katniss Everdeen.” Judge Stoja says with a grin. The grin seems to reflect that she remembers us as her students, rather than the Victors of the 74th Hunger Games. “Good to see you two. Are you ready to get started?” We nod and she stands up.

“First, I’ll briefly explain how this will be conducted. As you know, we now require two witnesses.” She explains motioning to Haymitch and Effie. She disappears for a moment and returns with the form, setting it down on the desk in front of us. “It’s still a very simple process,” she says. “I’ll have you stand here in front of the desk, and the witnesses on either side and I’ll go over the legal changes that will occur with this union. I’ll make sure you understand everything before you sign and once that is done, the witnesses sign and you’ll be married legally in District 12.”

“Sounds good.” I say. I see Katniss nodding next to me. This is why the tradition of the toasting began. When signing forms at the Justice Building, even with the changes, it’s all very legal, formal, and to the point. The toasting was created in order to give couples a chance at a more personal union that doesn’t require talk of legal aspects of a marriage and gives them the freedom to speak to each other from the heart in whatever way they choose.

“Katniss, will you be taking Peeta’s name?” Judge Stoja ask.

“Yes.” Katniss answers, her voice sounds small and nervous. I give her hand a reassuring squeeze as Judge Stoja takes out another form that Katniss will fill out on her own to have her name legally changed. I nod to Judge Stoja, letting her know we’re ready to begin.

“Witnesses, if you’ll please step forward.” Just Stoja instructs. “If each of you will stand on either side of the couple, we can begin.” Haymitch and Effie do as they’re told and Judge Stoja begins. “Peeta Mellark, by signing the document below you are agreeing to enter into a legal union of marriage with Katniss Everdeen. She will be legally entitled to any money or valuables owed to you. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” I answer. I have to wonder if others have had to listen to the same speech in the past when money and valuables were a thing of dreams for most couples, or were these forms written specifically for Victors who decide to take a husband or wife?

“Katniss Everdeen, by signing the document below you are agreeing to enter into a legal union of marriage with Peeta Mellark. He will be legally entitled to any money or valuables owed to you. Do you understand?” Judge Stoja repeats.

“Yes.” Katniss answers. Judge Stoja wastes no time moving straight into the next order of business.

“Katniss Everdeen, by signing this document you are alerting District 12 that you have taken the last name of your husband and request to be referred to as Katniss Mellark from this point forward. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” Katniss answers again.

“Peeta, if you will please sign this document on the left hand side. Katniss, the right, in addition to the name change document here. On the top, you will sign your old name and on the bottom, your new name.” We quietly grab the pens off the desk and I sign first, finding the line marked with an “X”, waiting for us to sign. When I finish, I push the form over to Katniss. I watch as she scribbles her name on the first and then second form, changing her name. “Peeta and Katniss if you’ll step back momentarily so the witnesses can now sign the document.” We step back and watch and Haymitch and Effie slide over to the spots we just occupied and Judge Stoja begins speaking to them. “Witnesses, state your names.”

“Haymitch Abernathy.” Haymitch states first. Effie follows after.

“Haymitch Abernathy, Effie Trinket, by signing this document you can attest that these forms were signed in person by Peeta Mellark and Katniss Everdeen, and they have both entered into this union of their own accord. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” Haymitch and Effie say in unison before picking up the pens and signing the form.

“Peeta, Katniss, if you’ll please step back forward.” Haymitch and Effie move back to the side and we are back in front of the desk and Judge Stoja. “With the signing of these documents by both parties and their witnesses, you are now legally recognized as husband and wife. Congratulations.” At that moment, Judge Stoja’s legal persona fades and she smiles at us, grabbing the forms from the desk and stacking them on top of each other. “I’ll file these today and your official marriage certificate should be ready in about a week. We can either mail it or one of you can come pick it up here.”

“I work right around the corner, so I’ll come pick it up when it’s ready.” I say.

“That’s everything then.” Judge Stoja smiles again. “It was really nice to see you two, congratulations again.” She says, any trace of the serious judge we saw have disappeared.

“Thank you.” Katniss says, grabbing my hand . I give thanks of my own and just that quickly we are legally married and heading home to begin our toasting, the part of a wedding day that District 12 residents truly value.

The walk back to the Victor’s Village is a silent one as the reality of what just happened sinks in. My right hand is clasped around Katniss’, while my left hand holds Effie’s umbrella above us. I feel as though I’m walking home mindlessly, too consumed by the knowledge that the woman to my right is now my wife. Every so often I glance over at Haymitch and I catch him looking at us and smirking, like he knows that neither one of us are thinking clearly right now, and he finds that funny.

When the moment has arrived to begin the toasting with the traditional song, we all seem to freeze in place, standing in front of the porch steps, staring at our front door. I look around quickly and see that nobody seems to be the one to start singing. Effie looks confused, as though she’s unsure if this is normal or something is wrong, and Haymitch has a look on his face that tells me he refuses to be the one to start. Just as I go to look at Katniss, I hear it. It’s faint, but I hear it. She’s started singing, it’s just enough to get Effie to begin singing as well, and Haymitch, though he stares at the ground as he does, begins to sing as well.

Katniss stops then, and lets Effie and Haymitch continue the song and she begins to move forward. I feel my feet move beneath me, following her up the porch steps and to the front door. I move forward, still holding Katniss’ hand and open the door, pushing it as far as I can so it doesn’t close. Effie and Haymitch walk up behind us and wait for us to go into the house.  We step forward, and walk in without a word, not stopping until we get to the kitchen fireplace.

I hear Haymitch and Effie’s footsteps enter the house, as Katniss and I silently arrange the logs in the grate of the fireplace, careful not to get any dirt from the logs or stray soot from the grate on our clothing. We don’t need Effie ruining this moment by screaming at us for dirtying our clothing.

We light the fire and sit on the fireplace ledge, the ring box, bread, and poker lay between us. I move first, grabbing the poker and using it to stoke the fire, moving things around just enough to get the fire to burn freely. I look back at Haymitch and Effie, who are looking back at us, watching intently. Then, I look to Katniss, who nods, telling me she’s ready to begin.

I grab the bread and unwrap it, holding it up so Katniss can grab the other end. Once we both have a hold on it, we pull slightly, tearing it in half. Katniss sets her half down and grabs the end of the half in my hand and we pull again, this time breaking off a smaller chuck of bread. I set down the bread and pick up the fireplace poker and clean off the end with the towel, and Katniss secures the piece of bread we broke off onto the tip of the poker.

Moving her hand down, she places it over my hand and we guide the poker into the fireplace and begin to toast it. Together, we slowly rotate the poker, making sure that the bread doesn’t burn and that every part looks toasted before pulling back and taking it out of the flame.

We let the bread cool for a brief period before I pull it off the end of the poker and rip it in half, handing one half to Katniss and all at once, we eat the toasted bread, letting the knowledge that we are married sink in with it as though we’ve hammered the final nail into the structure of a house, making it a home.

I smile at Katniss briefly, and she smiles back, say without words that this was what we needed and we did it right. Grabbing the box that now holds both of our rings, I open it and take out her ring. She puts her hand out to me and I grasp it with my right hand, and slip the ring back on her finger with my left, taking a moment to admire it on her finger now that we are truly married before pushing the ring box over to her.

She does the same, taking my left hand in her right and slipping the ring on ever so slowly, watching as it passes my knuckle and finally settles at the base of my finger. She keeps hold of my hand, staring at the ring for eve longer than I did. This is the first time she’s seen it on me, and she’s gazing at it intently. Finally, she squeezes my hand and lets go, looking up at me as though she’s in a daze.

We chose to say a few words to each other before we finished the toasting. Some couples do this, but some do not, and I wasn’t expecting Katniss to agree when I mentioned it, but I’m glad that she did. We decided  not to write anything, feeling that it was better to speak from the heart and in the moment, no matter what. I take a deep breath, prepping myself to begin speaking.

“Do you remember the first time we sat here?” I ask. “When we looked through my memory book?” Katniss smiles at me and nods at the memory. “We talked about my dad and Prim and how much she liked the cakes.” Katniss nods again. “They’d be proud today.” I say, giving a smile of my own.

“My dad would be proud of me for never giving up. For fighting to get better and being supportive and patient to you even on our hardest days. He would be proud to see me here with you, the one that he knew I wanted all along, and he would be proud to know that it worked out for me, even if it didn’t for him.” At that moment it all hits me at once that he can’t be here to witness this day. Not him, not my brothers, not my mother. The realization overwhelms me for a moment and I have to stop and close my eyes, lowering my head in an attempt to keep myself composed, and then I continue.

“Prim and your dad would be proud of you today.” I say, noticing that Katniss has tears in her eyes. “Proud that you’re doing this, that you’ve let yourself heal, for keeping them in your heart. Your dad would be happy to see his daughter loved and supported and, I hope, happy.”

“I’m happy.” Katniss says through tears, her voice cracking. I smile at her before continuing.

“But most of all, I am proud of us.” I say, taking both of her hands in mine. “Look at what we fought against and are still fighting against. Look at what we’ve done. Look at what we have. We have every right to be proud.” I stop, feeling tears prick my own eyes, my voice hitching on the final word. I look down again, and back up. “I love you.” I tell her, finally letting a tear fall as I shake my head and shrug my shoulders. I’ve run out of the things to say.

Katniss knows it’s her turn and she takes a deep breath, trying to steady herself and stop the tears that she can’t seem to stop. She clears her throat before she begins.

“Even with everything I’ve done and everything I lack… you love me anyway.” She shakes her head, like she can’t possibly understand how I can love her so much. “And I want you to know that you can say that about me too, because no matter what you say about yourself, you’re perfect to me.” She begins to cry harder now and I can do nothing but stare at her in shock at the words that she was able to put together, for me. She squeezes my hands, willing herself to continue, no matter how badly she probably wants to stop right now.

“And I’m sorry for taking so long. I’m sorry you ever had to be alone. I’m sorry I can’t give you everything you need. I’m sorry you had to suffer because of me… but I’m not sorry that you came back here.” The words tumble out of her mouth like there’s no controlling them, each sentence marked with a heaving sob as she speaks. “I’m proud of us too,” she says “and of our new family.” She gives a weak smile through her tears, before saying her final sentence “I love you.”

Seeing her sit here, fighting to get these words out through both fear and sobs, has broken me down and I’m grab the back of her neck and push her head toward mine. I put my forehead on hers as she closes her eyes and a few more tears slip down her cheek, I close my eyes and feel my own tears drop.

We sit there like that for several minutes in complete silence, as if we’re afraid to move, but I finally manage to pull myself away, opening my eyes and turning in the direction of Effie and Haymitch. Effie is sniffling and blotting her eyes with a handkerchief and Haymitch is looking up at the ceiling, a look on his face that seems to indicate he had to fight off his own tears. I didn’t expect this to be full of tears, but when you feed off the emotions of the day, you never know what you’re going to end up with.

I stand up and put my hand out to Katniss, helping her off the ledge. When Effie and Haymitch notice us stand, they walk over to us. Haymitch comes at me and extends his hand and I shake it, but then he pulls me toward him into an unexpected hug as he slaps me on the back and says “You finally did it.” He doesn’t sound like Haymitch, the gruffness in his voice is gone for the moment; all I can hear is tenderness and pride. I take note of this sound, because I’ll probably never hear it again.

Effie finishes her embrace with Katniss and she and Haymitch switch places. Effie sweeps me up in a hug, still sniffling and Haymitch gives Katniss a hug and I can just hear him tell her “Congratulations, Sweetheart.”

They leave shortly after. We bid them farewell, with a promise that we’ll see them in the morning to bring Effie to the train station. She will be back next weekend for the dinner party. After they are gone, we begin to clean up the fireplace. I wrap what’s left of the bread back up and put it away, and Katniss puts the fireplace poker in with the rest of the fireplace tools. I walk back over to the fireplace and see Katniss sitting on the edge of the ledge, watching me. I smile at her.

“You really do look beautiful.” I tell her, kneeling down in front of her. A piece of hair has fallen down from where it was pinned and I move it behind her ear, bringing my hand back from around her ear to cup her face, then I pull her in for a kiss. She opens her mouth, allowing my tongue entrance and runs her hands up and down my chest before grabbing hold of my tie and pulling the knot.

“Take it off.” She says into my mouth. I move back and grab the tie, pulling it over my head quickly and setting it down on the ledge, and then my mouth is right back on hers, more intense now. She nips on my bottom lip briefly and then pulls away, reaching out and unbuttoning the first three buttons on my dress shirt before grabbing each side of the collar and pulling me toward her, gently biting down my neck until she reaches my collarbone where she bites harder and sucks on the skin.

I move my hands down and up under her skirt, gliding my hands up her thighs. Keeping one on her thigh, I move the other between her legs, rubbing the warm spot on her underwear, she moans against my skin and I remove my hands, placing them on either side of her on the ledge and I push myself up to stand. I put my hand out to her and pull her up, grabbing her around the waist and lifting her up, she gasps, not expecting it and I walk her over to the kitchen table and set her down, pushing her dress up and pulling her underwear down quickly and without a word.

My left hand goes to the back of her neck and pulls her into a deep kiss, using my right hand to move back up her thigh and dip down to her middle, rubbing gently, feeling the wetness that has already begun. “So wet for me.” I whisper, kissing her again. I run two fingers up between her folds, coating my fingers and grazing her bundle of nerves before pushing them inside of her. When I curl them and pull back, she gasps again.

The noises that she makes will never cease to make me hard; as I continue to push in and out of her at a balanced pace, I have to take my left hand off her neck, unbuckle my belt and release myself from my pants, the pressure becoming painful.

“Peeta,” Katniss whispers, noticing what I’ve done. “I want you inside me.” There’s no need to get her ready tonight, she’s ready now. Pulling my fingers out of her I comply, quickly using my hand to stroke my length slipping my wet fingers over myself before pressing the tip to her center and pushing in gently, feeling her walls stretch around me. I start off with slow, shallow thrusts, listening to the small whimpers that escape from Katniss every time I push into her.

She wraps her legs around my waist, using her tem to pull me into her. “What if we get our outfits dirty?” she asks, sounding more sarcastic than concerned.

“I don’t care.” I growl moving forward to suck on her neck, running my tongue from the bottom of her jaw, downward.

She tangles her hands in my hair, relying on me to keep her rooted to the table. “Harder” she requests with another whimper and then a sharp intake of breath as I slam into her.

“Like that?” I ask, slamming in her again.

“Yes.” She answers with ragged breath, tightening her grasp on my hair. We must be so caught up in each other that we don’t hear the door open. It’s not until we hear Haymitch’s voice that we realize someone else is in here.

“Effie said she – oh hell!” I lift my head up quickly, and see Haymitch with his back turned to us and his hand on his forehead. I can’t seem to move. If I move too fast with my pants down like this and my leg, I’ll fall and most likely take Katniss with me, making the situation even worse. She manages to bury her head in my chest, but other than that, we remain frozen on the spot.

“I warned you about walking in here!” I yell at Haymitch, who grabbing for the doorknob with his hand over his eyes. “Did you think we’d be in here drinking tea tonight!” I yell louder as Haymitch flees the house, slamming the door loudly behind him. We still haven’t moved; neither of us is sure what to do.

“Well, he probably won’t be walking in without knocking anymore.” Katniss says grimly. The only thing I can do is laugh, relieved that she isn’t trying to jump off the table and run away.

“Do you want to go upstairs and change out of these fancy clothes before we ruin them?” I ask, getting ready to move back and finally pull out of her, but she shakes her head no and puts her arms around my neck, pulling me down into a deep kiss. I feel her clench around me, as she wiggles her hips a little, her warmth and wetness still apparent.

“You’re still hard.” Katniss says.

“You want to finish?” I ask, stunned.

“I don’t want him ruining this.” She answers. She pulls me down into another kiss, and at the same time, clenches around me again, silently sending the message to keep going. I pull back and slowly push into her again; trying to find that same rhythm we were in before our interruption.

After a few minutes of this, Katniss is asking again to go harder, and I waste no time fulfilling this request. I reach down between us and gently rub her nerve, watching myself disappear inside her and listening as her breathing quickens. I use these sounds to perfect the rhythm between us as break my focus on what we look like together and lean forward close to her ear. “Come on, Katniss. Come for me.” I whisper, pushing in to her with so much force that the table legs make a scratching noise as it moves slightly across the floor.

After another minute, Katniss is clenching around me again, this time involuntarily, moaning my name and tightening her grip around my neck. “That’s it.” I coax her, still rubbing her nerve and pumping into her. “Just like that.” I keep moving, sucking on Katniss’ neck as I focus on myself.

“Your turn,” Katniss murmurs, pulling my head down to her mouth. “Now you come, for me.” She whispers into my ear before biting the lobe. Listening to her talk like this always does something to me, and I continue to slam into her, feeling my orgasm reach the breaking point. With one final thrust, I’m grabbing Katniss’ hips and spilling into her.

For the next few minutes, we’re silent as our breathing begins to even out and our heads clear.

“We should probably wash these outfits before next weekend.” Katniss says after we’ve both composed ourselves.

“Probably.” I say with a laugh, pulling Katniss off the table.  

****

The next morning we meet Haymitch and Effie outside, immediately I notice that Katniss avoids Haymitch and walks up ahead of everyone after we begin walking.

“Good Morning, newlyweds!” Effie chirps after us as I jog to catch up to Katniss. I take her hand and walk ahead of Haymitch and Effie.

“Him catching us didn’t seem like such a big deal last night.” Katniss admits. It’s clear that last night she was too caught up in the moment to care that Haymitch walked in, but today now that her mind is clearer, she is upset that he did.

“It’s his own fault.” I remind her. “I’ve been telling him to start knocking for years and he wouldn’t listen. It was an accident waiting to happen.”

“That doesn’t make it less embarrassing.” She says, kicking a stone.

“He’s an adult, he’ll get over it. It’s nothing he’s never done before himself. It’s just what people do.” I try to reason with her.

“Well it’ll take me awhile to get over it.” She says with finality in her voice.

When we get to the station, the train is just getting ready to leave. Since they’re in public, Effie and Haymitch’s farewell is casual and almost business-like; she quickly shuffles over to me and Katniss.

“Thank you for making me part of your special day,” she says. “It truly was beautiful.” She hugs Katniss again.

“This is yours,” I tell her, finally having a minute to hand her the umbrella she made us use yesterday. Shortly before Katniss and I went up to bed last night, I noticed it sitting on the kitchen chair and I realized that was probably the reason that Haymitch came back over, to get her umbrella. “It appears that you left it over at our house last night.” Haymitch stays off to the side, not looking in our direction, but I can see his face contort at my sentence.

“Thank you, Peeta.” Effie says, grabbing the umbrella and pulling me into a hug. “Congratulations again you two.” She says, and with a wave and a wink in Haymitch’s direction, she is on the train, just before it departs.

Once the train is out of sight, Haymitch tears off and walks quickly ahead of us. We don’t even bother to try to catch up. When we reach the Victor’s Village, we spot him, sitting on his porch with a freshly opened bottle of liquor, taking long pulls and staring off at nothing in particular.

We are almost up the porch steps when we hear him clear his throat behind us. We stop in our tracks and I turn around, Katniss keeps her back to him.

“Look, I’m sorry.” Haymitch says loudly, standing up and walking over to us. “I wasn’t thinking. Effie kept harping about that damn umbrella and I just wanted her to shut up, so I came to get it and I should have knocked. I know I will be from now on.”

“It’s fine, Haymitch.” I say first, knowing how rare it is for Haymitch to apologize for anything he’s done. “Katniss?” she turns around finally, but keeps her gaze to the floor.

“It’s alright.” She mumbles. It’ll probably be awhile before she can look Haymitch in the eye again, but at least she’s accepted his apology, the rest will come with time.

“Well don’t let me keep you two from doing… whatever it is that you two do. You’re newlyweds; that’s what you’re supposed to do.” Haymitch says trying to lighten the mood. “I’ll go drink until I can’t see straight. There’s nothing Effie can do to stop me now.” He gives a sad laugh and turns around walking back to his porch and planting himself on the top step.

“Come on,” I say, grabbing Katniss’ hand. “Let’s go inside.” 

Chapter Text

I sit at in the bakery after hours, concentrating on the first tier of our wedding cake. Katniss watches quietly as I meticulously pipe small, white bead-sized dollops of frosting over the surface. We’ve been coming to the bakery after closing time for the last two nights to work on the cake together. Katniss helps where she can, but more often than not I catch her staring at me as I work on the more delicate details.

Hakan was kind enough to bake the actual cake for us and keep it in the walk in fridge until we got here to start working on it. That first night, I taught Katniss how to frost a cake, letting her take the smallest tier and follow along, silently spreading the buttercream frosting. The second night, I taught her how to fondant a cake. Tonight, we are adding the final details to all three tiers.

Everything we chose for the cake has meaning. Three tiers to represent the past, present, and future and we kept the fondant covering the tiers white to represent our new beginning. I colored strips of fondant green and wrapped them around the bottom of each tier. Not only is the contrast of the green fondant and white nice, I wanted Katniss’ favorite color in there somewhere. When I revealed this idea to her, she immediately wanted to add orange to the cake, asking for a few days so she can figure something out.

When she came to me with her idea, it put mine to shame; orange dragonflies, both to showcase my favorite color and to bring good luck. We decided that they would go on each tier. One dragonfly on the first, two on the second, and three on the third, six total. Each tier will be covered in white frosting beads, and when the cake is put together I will pipe more between each tier.

“Want to try?” I ask Katniss, holding up the piping bag. “The tier you’ve been working on still needs piping.”

“Do you trust me to do that?” Katniss asks.

“Sure, why not? I trusted you to do everything else on that tier, didn’t I? Might as well finish it up, then you can tell people you did that all by yourself.” I smile.

“I was enjoying watching you work.” She admits with a shy smile. I don’t know why she still acts shy to tell me these things.

“Yeah?” I say, making my voice low and raising my eyebrows. “How much were you enjoying it?”

“Stop!” She laughs. Her tone is playful. “We’ll worry about that later.” She adds, looking away shyly again.

“You don’t have to look away when you talk like that.” I say with a smile. “Sometimes I think you’re still a bit pure.”

“I am not!” she yells, slamming her fist on the table.

“You’ll have to prove that to me later then.” I tease.

“Don’t worry, I will.” She says, almost threateningly, grabbing the piping bag from my hand angrily, but smiling at the same time. I watch as she begins to slowly pipe beads onto the smallest tier that she has worked on almost entirely by herself and I feel proud that she has been trying so hard to make this cake with me.

“You’re not going to try to take my job, are you?” I ask.

“Don’t talk, you’ll mess me up.” She answers, not taking her eyes off the cake.

When she finishes, she eyes me, looking for approval. “Perfect.” I say, giving her a smile.

“You’re not lying to me, right?”

“I’m not lying, Katniss.” I take the piping bag back from her and work on the last tier. “I see you eyeballing me again.” I say without looking up.

She’s always done this while I work on things, but since our toasting last week, things have been different. The way she looks at me, the way she touches me, and more often than not, the way she says things. She’s open in ways she never has been before, and even though that openness is still coated with hesitation, it feels as though we’ve turned a page.

“Am I not allowed?” She asks sarcastically.

“You can look at whatever you want.” I reply, my voice taking on that low tone again. Haymitch called this the honeymoon phase. He’s noticed the looks, even if he hasn’t heard the comments. I continue piping the final tier when Katniss walks behind me and wraps her arms around my neck. “Don’t, you’ll mess me up.” I say, mocking her, but continuing without a problem. She begins to move back, but I stop working and grab one of her arms. “No, don’t. Stay.” I continue the last dozen frosting beads with Katniss’ arms around me, and her head resting on my shoulder.

“Done.” I say, admiring my work.

“It’s great.” Katniss says, kissing my cheek. We cover the tiers and leave them on the table until tomorrow night when we come back to finally assemble the cake and make the dragonflies out of sugar. It’s a technique I haven’t done too much of, and I hope I am able to make them look like dragonflies.

It’s dark outside now, and we walk back to the Victor’s Village hand in hand, enjoying a comfortable silence as I think about going straight to bed, but not straight to sleep. We’re just about to walk up the porch steps when we hear a familiar voice.

“Hey, Brainless. You finally realized you were in love with him, huh?” The voice says, followed by a laugh that is unmistakably Haymitch’s. “Congratulations on being the very last one to notice.”

“Johanna?” Katniss says, rushing up the steps. I follow her. Johanna stands up from the chair, handing Haymitch the bottle of liquor they seem to be sharing, and puts her arms out.

“That’s me.” She says.

“We didn’t know you were coming.” I say.

“Surprise!” Johanna calls out, Haymitch laughs again and stands up.

“It was good to see you Johanna, I’ve got a date with my couch.” Haymitch says, shuffling between everyone and staggering down the steps towards his house.

“Come in the house, Johanna, we’ll get you set up in one of the spare rooms.” I offer, motioning for her to follow us in.

Katniss takes Johanna’s bag and brings it upstairs while I get a pot of water on the stove for tea.

“How have you been, Johanna?” I ask, sitting down at the table with her.

“Can’t complain.” She answers. It’s short and to the point and her tone makes it clear that she doesn’t want to talk about herself right now. “So you’re really married now, no more lies to stick it to the Capitol?” she asks.

“We’re really married now.” I say with a nod and a smile.

“Your bag is in your room, Johanna.” Katniss says, coming down the stairs. “It’ll be the very first door you see when you go up the stairs.” Katniss sits down at the table next to me and grabs her mug of tea, holding it between her hands gently.

“So explain to me what’s going to happen on Saturday?” Johanna asks.

“It’s just a traditional District 12 meal and cake.” Katniss says.

“Normally it’s done before the couple goes to the Justice Building, but since we invited people from outside the district, we had to wait.” I finish.

“Nothing that is going to make me gag then?” Johanna jokes.

“Nothing like that,” I assure her. “No speeches or dances or anything. We’ve been keeping it very simple.”

“We don’t need a show.” Katniss adds.

“I’ll drink to that.” Johanna says. “Even if it is just tea.”

“Everyone else will be here tomorrow morning.” I tell her.

“Who else is coming?” She asks.

“Annie and her son, and my mother.” Katniss says.

“Have you seen your mom since…” Johanna trails off.

“No.” Katniss says quickly. “This will be the first time.” Johanna nods, understanding.

“Did Haymitch tell you he’s seeing Effie while you two were out there talking?” I ask.

“What?” Johanna says, mouth agape. “No he did not! You have to tell me everything.” She laughs and shifts in her seat, putting her legs underneath her and propping herself up on her knees.

“He’s weird about it.” Katniss says.

“It’s almost like he wants to give people the impression that there is nothing going on between them, yet she comes all the way from the Capitol to hang out at a drunk’s house all weekend.”

Johanna has her hands over her mouth, trying to stifle laughter. “He’s a prick for not telling me!” She says finally.

“I’m not sure that he would have told me if I didn’t figure it out.” I explain. “He has been sneaking her into the Victor’s Village for who knows how long and never said a word.”

“Please tell me you guys tease him about it.” Johanna says.

“All the time.” Katniss says with a mischievous grin. “He does it to us, so we do it back.”

“Maybe you’re not so brainless after all.” Johanna says with an approving nod.

****

“I’m glad Johanna came after all.” I say later that night as I slip into bed with Katniss.

“Me too.” Katniss says. She is curled on her side, her usual sleeping position, and I come up behind her and move my hand up under the old t-shirt of mine that she wears to bed these days. I drag my fingers along her stomach lightly, and feel it move inward at my touch.

“So ticklish.” I say with a laugh, moving my hand down further, slipping my fingers into the top of her underwear.

“We have a guest, Peeta.” Katniss reminds me.

  1. “Does that matter?” I ask. Katniss nods, but makes no effort to move as I continue moving my hand down. She rolls on to her back to give me easier access. “We’ll just have to be quieter.” I whisper as I slip my middle finger between her folds quickly and she lets out a moan. “Shhh. Quiet.” I remind her, before pushing two fingers into her.    

“You have an unfair advantage right now.” She says, grabbing my arm to stop me. She rolls over to face me, taking my hand with her, and bringing it up to her mouth, and then she looks at me right in the eyes as she puts my fingers in her mouth, sucking gently, tasting herself. I let a moan escape at the thought of what Katniss is doing and the feeling of her lips around my fingers. I see her lips pull up into a smile as she removes my fingers from her mouth. “Quiet.” She says. She’s ready to play tonight.

I flip her over quickly, pinning her arms above her head at the wrist and straddling her hips, making sure not to put all of my weight on her. “Is that your way of proving that you’re not pure anymore?” I ask.

“Did it work?” she asks in return, looking up at me.

“I don’t know, I think I need to see it again.” I answer. Katniss laughs.

“That was a freebie.” She says and now it’s my turn to laugh. I lean down and kiss her, pushing my tongue in her mouth before taking her bottom lip between my teeth and biting gently. I let go of her arms and she moves them straight to my boxers, pulling them down quickly, and then goes for her own underwear, hastily pulling them down and opening her legs to tell me she’s ready; I’m not.

“Not yet.” I tell her, pulling out of the kiss. “We’re not done.” I smile, moving downward until my head is between her legs, and I drag my fingers down her stomach lightly, eliciting another laugh. I still have the advantage. When I put my mouth to her middle, she gasps loudly; I look up at her from between her legs and I can see her trying to stop herself by biting her bottom lip.

My mouth finds her nerve and begins to suck on it gently; my fingers move down and I push them into her, while using my mouth on her at the same time. I can hear her breath becoming shallower already, and I speed up my fingers, pushing them in deeper while I alternate between moving my tongue in circles around her nerve and sucking on it. When I feel her begin to constrict around my fingers, I lift my head up to watch her, keeping my fingers moving.

She throws her head back, and bites her lip even harder while her hands grip the sheets. As hard as she is trying though, she still can’t seem to stop the sharp moans that escape each time she exhales. When I finally feel the clenching around my fingers stop, I pull them out, this time putting them in my own mouth.

“Not bad,” I say. “You were almost completely quiet… but not quite.” I smile, amused. “Think you can do better?” I challenge. I see determination wash over her face when she realizes that I’m provoking her. When she gets like this, there’s no telling what she’ll do to be the one that has the last laugh, but I’m excited to find out.

She sits up quickly, forcing me to sit up with her, but she quickly grasps my shoulders and pushes me backward; my back hits the bed with a hard crash. She hasn’t even done anything yet and she’s forcing me to make noise.

I prop myself up on my elbows and watch as Katniss crawls forward towards me, sitting on my hips and bringing her legs up to hug my torso when she reaches me, grabbing at my shirt and forcing me to sit up further to pull it over my head. When I finish, she pushes on my shoulders again, pinning them down. We both know I could easily sit up again, even with her pinning me down, but I can understand the message she is trying to send without saying it: “Don’t move until I tell you to.”

When she feels my shoulders relax in surrender, she lets go, scoots herself down, and then takes her own shirt off. She grinds herself into me a few times and then leans back, grabbing my leg with one hand and raising her lower half up while using her other hand to grip me and direct me inside. In one motion, she lowers herself on me until our bodies touch, not allowing her to go any further. She puts her other hand back to match the first, leaning so far back on my legs, her upper body is slanted.

She’s quiet and calculating, swirling her hips in wide circles then pushing herself up and back, driving herself back down, hips first, before repeating the motion again. The force feels good, but she’s going to have to do better than that to get a sound out of me.

“Peeta,” she says, as though she heard my last thought. “Look at us.” She instructs. Her voice is just barely above a whisper, clearly taking this call for quiet very seriously. “Look…” she says again. I lift my head up finally, and I can see what Katniss has done.

The position that she’s put us in gives me the perfect view of the two of us together, and all I have to do is lift my head. I watch myself disappear inside her over and over, feeling the composure I had such a tight grip on a minute ago slowly slipping away from me. She’s taken something that she knows I love to watch and used it for her advantage.

I lift my hands up and place them on the either side of her thighs as I continue to watch her move in ways that make me weak and I moan low in the back of my throat. Loud enough for Katniss to hear, but no louder than her whispers were.  She doesn’t have me just yet.

Then she stops. Using her legs only, she pushes herself up slowly, stopping just before I am completely outside of her, and then she begins to move down again, even slower as I stare at the two of us fused together.

“Stop,” I gasp, louder than before. My tone is both pleading and playful, her advantage over me growing more and more definite, and she shakes her head in response to my surrender. She wants to finish this, she wants to claim bragging rights.

She swirls her hips again, then pushes her upper body forward, lying down directly on top of me and moving her head to my ear. She bites my earlobe for a minute before whispering again.

“Let me hear you come.” She lingers over my ear, biting down again and then moving her head up to look at me.

“No.” I reply, shaking my head and smiling. I’ll fight this as long as I can. I sit up and wrap my arms under her legs, pulling her into me. She moves her hands behind her again, holding herself steady as we begin to rock back and forth together, letting the friction between us build until our breathing is heavy and growing louder by the second.

I kiss her, and we both take advantage of this and moan into each other’s mouths to keep the sound down. Katniss begins to rock her hips wider, closing her eyes tightly and pursing her lips so tightly that they disappear, in attempts to stop the cadent moans that emerge every time she moves forward and I hit that spot deep inside of her.

“Let it go, Katniss.” I moan into her ear, on the verge of breaking myself. I can’t take seeing her fight this anymore. “We’ll let go together.” I assure her. “We both win.” She continues to move as I pull my head back to look at her just in time to see her nod through her pained expression. “I’m almost there. Wait for me.” I say.

We continue our movements for a few more minutes before I can feel my orgasm ready to boil over. “Let it go,” I tell her again. “I’m there.” I bury my head in her chest and abandon the challenge, calling out Katniss’ name as I come with a force that I’ve never felt before.

Katniss mimics my behavior, moving her head to rest between my neck and shoulder, pressing our bodies together as she cries out in a way that sounds like a mix of pleasure and relief; her whole body begins to shake involuntarily as she continues to moan into my neck.

We collapse on the bed, still out of breath and say nothing as I grab the bed sheet and pull it over us; we don’t even bother to move to the right end of the bed, opting instead to fall asleep where we landed.

****

We wake up on our own the next morning, the alarm on vacation until Monday morning when I go back to work. When I open my eyes, I’m briefly disoriented and confused as to where I am due to falling asleep on the wrong end of the bed, without a pillow. I look over at Katniss and she’s awake, lying on her back staring at me and I smile.

“Good morning.” I say. “How is today?”

“Thinking about last night.” She says. I can’t decipher her tone.

“That was amazing.” I reply, remembering the intensity of our orgasms, but when I look at Katniss again, I can see she’s rolling her eyes.

“It doesn’t bother you that we did that with a guest in the house?” she asks, sounding generally curious.

“You didn’t seem too bothered by it when you were trying to get me to make a sound.” I remind her. “And no, it doesn’t bother me. It’s just Johanna.” I assure her. “If it helps, I don’t think you’re pure anymore.”

“If I had my pillow, I’d throw it at you.” She’s silent after that, staring up at the ceiling blankly; then she begins to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” I ask, propping myself up on my elbow.

“You.” She answers, laughing again. “Your face.”

“What’s wrong with my face?” I ask, pretending to sound offended.

“Nothing,”  she shakes her head. “But last night, when I told you to look.” She’s laughing again and has to try to compose herself before continuing. “I thought your eyes were going to fly out of you head.”

“You’re terrible.” I say, more amused than anything. “Unlike someone in this room, I can take a joke so I’m just going to laugh with you, ha ha ha.” I deadpan. The truth is, I love this moment. Lying in bed next to Katniss, completely naked and with just the thin sheet over us while she laughs and jokes around. It’s a beautiful sound that I’m hearing more and more these days, and I listen to her intently, so that I can always remember that sound, even on bad days.

“I can take a joke.” She says, and laughs again when she sees the look of disbelief on my face. “Are you hungry?” she asks then, rolling onto her stomach.

“Extremely.” I answer, moving my arm over to rest it on her lower back.

We reluctantly get out of bed, quickly dressing in t-shirts and lounge pants before going downstairs to start breakfast. Annie, Dylan, and Mrs. Everdeen will be arriving on the late morning train, and will all stay here in two of the remaining spare rooms. District 12 Victor’s Village houses typically have five bedrooms; between our bedroom and Mrs. Everdeen’s old room, which we converted into my art studio, there are 3 spare rooms remaining; we’ll be at max capacity.

Johanna comes into view quickly as we descend the steps. She is sitting at the kitchen table, hastily writing something down in what appears to be a small journal. When she hears our footsteps she looks up, quickly closing the journal.

“Good morning.” She says with a cordial nod.

“Good morning, Johanna. Did you sleep okay last night?” I ask, trying to make small talk.

“About as good as always.” She replies, moving her journal off the table and into her lap.

“Hungry?” Katniss asks, walking to the stove. “We were about to make breakfast.”

“Count me in.” Johanna answers. She watches as Katniss and I begin making breakfast and I hear a light laugh escape from her. “Do you guys do this every morning? Like cute little domesticated, normal people?”

“For the most part.” I reply, cracking an egg into the frying pan. “We like to give the illusion of normal around here.”

“I’m familiar with that one.” Johanna says.

“We’re getting pretty good at it.” Katniss adds. And she’s right, we are getting good at it.

When the food is done we set down the plates on the table and begin to eat in silence; it’s Johanna that decides to speak first.

“What time is everyone else coming?” She asks, scooping up some eggs on her fork.

“The train is supposed to arrive at 10:30.” Katniss says.

“You’re more than welcome to come with us to get them.” I offer; Johanna nods in acceptance.

“It’ll be weird to see Annie with a kid.” Johanna admits. “Or maybe I just think it’ll be weird because Finnick won’t be with her too.” It wasn’t something I’d thought about before, but she’s right.

“I think it’s good for her.” Katniss says out of nowhere. “She still has a part of Finnick with her all the time, living and breathing.”

“That’s deep, Brainless.” Johanna says with her eyebrows raised. “If we could all be so lucky, huh?” Neither of us have to answer that question. If any of the three of us could have at least a small part of our lost loved ones back with us, it would be good for us too. “Do you guys mind if I do the dishes?” Johanna asks, changing the subject. “My therapy requires me to put myself in situations where water is present at least three times a day.”

“Is that working for you?” I ask.

“Not really.” Johanna answers, giving a slight shrug and bitter laugh as she gets up from the table and grabs our plates.

“Let’s go get changed.” I whisper to Katniss. “Give her some time to herself with this.” Katniss agrees and we get up from the table and head toward the steps.

“By the way,” Johanna calls before we’re out of sight. “When you’re trying to have sex, don’t worry about me being here. Be as loud as you want.”

Katniss exhales loudly and trudges up the steps, shaking her head; all I can do is follow behind her, laughing.

An hour later, we’re leaving the house for the train station. We start by walking together, but soon, Katniss and Johanna fall behind. I make no effort to fall in line with them, taking this as a hint that Johanna wants to talk to Katniss without me right there. Unfortunately for them, I can still hear every word.

“Why so quiet, Brainless?” Johanna asks after a minute of walking behind me.

“I wish you’d quit calling me that.” Katniss answers, monotone.

“Are you still upset over the comment I made earlier?” Johanna asks then. Katniss doesn’t answer her. “Lighten up. You’re an adult, if you forgot. You’re also married. It’s not exactly a big mystery that you have sex with your husband. Stop trying to present yourself to the world as a virgin, nobody is going to believe you and it makes you look foolish.”

“Well that isn’t exactly anyone’s business, is it?” Katniss snaps.

“Of course it isn’t, but don’t try to fool people into thinking something they know isn’t true, and what does that say about what you think of Peeta? Are you ashamed of him?” Johanna lectures.

“I am NOT ashamed of Peeta, I just want privacy. You of all people should understand that.” Katniss says, raising her voice just enough so it’s clear that she doesn’t care who hears her yelling anymore.

“Privacy and acting like an adult are two different things. I acknowledged that you had sex with your husband last night and you huffed up the stairs like an upset child. I thought you’d be over that kind of thing by now.” Johanna continues. “Peeta loves you too much to tell you any of this, but I won’t hesitate to. You were laughing, you sounded happy. Why try to hide that?”

Katniss says nothing in return again, and I know when she gets silent like that after someone brings up a good point, it means she agrees, but is too proud to admit she was wrong. I stay ahead, knowing that the conversation probably isn’t over until they catch up with me. After a few minutes of walking in silence, Johanna begins to speak again.

“So, is he good?” she asks. I can tell she is trying to keep her voice low, but I’m not entirely sure that Johanna can keep her voice very low at all.

“What?” Katniss ask.

“Is he good in bed? Compassionate ones like him are usually really intense.” Johanna answers.

“You’re worse than Haymitch.” Katniss says, amused. Johanna laughs at the response.

“That doesn’t answer my question, but I’m going to take that as a yes.” Johanna says. “Has he ever gotten you so exhausted that you fall right to sleep when you’re done?” She truly has no filter, but to my surprise, Katniss answers.

“Yes. Last night, actually.” She says, her voice timid but trying to sound confident in answering a question that personal. She would probably rather not, but she also would rather not get yelled at again and be called a child.

“I thought so.” Johanna replies, sounding pleased. “Alright, Tiger, you can stop pretending that you’re not listening now. It sounds like you give it to her good, you pass the test.” She calls up to me. Katniss groans, displeased with Johanna’s loudness and choice of words. “He didn’t put me up to this, by the way,” Johanna says to Katniss. “Don’t take it out on him, I do this to everyone.”

I stop walking so they can catch up with me, and the rest of the walk to the train station is silent. I want to laugh at Johanna’s blunt questions, relieved that she stopped where she did, and I also want to assure Katniss that it’s perfectly alright to have conversations like that with a friend, but I don’t. Not yet. I’ll give the conversation some time to sink in before I add to it.

The train arrives on time, we stand on the platform waiting to see a familiar face. Annie is the first we see, looking around nervously for someone that she recognizes. Attached to her hand is Dylan, looking around curiously with eyes that are so like Finnick’s that I have to remind myself it isn’t him. Behind them we see Mrs. Everdeen; the look on her face is less curious, and more apprehensive.

Katniss, Johanna, and I make our way closer so they can see us, a smile spreads across Annie’s face when she recognizes us and I’m the first to wrap her up in a hug.

“It’s so good to see you.” I tell her, “Thank you again for all of your help. I know I’ve told you about a thousand times by now, but I wanted to thank you in person.” I explain. “This is what we got.” I show her the ring that still rests on my finger, and Annie grabs my hand, examining it closer.

“You did a good job, Peeta.” Annie compliments. “Never take it off.” She advises then, lifting up her left hand and showing me a ring on the same finger. “Almost six years later and it hasn’t left my finger once.”

“I won’t, Annie.” I promise. “And who is this?” I say, acting as if I don’t know Dylan.

“Dylan, this is my friend, Peeta. Can you say hello?” Annie says, looking down at her son.

“Hello.” Dylan says, I squat down in front of him and extend my hand and he grabs it, shaking it wildly.

“Quite a grip you have there. You’re a strong one.” I say, amused. He laughs at me and then I get up, making my way to Mrs. Everdeen.

“Mrs. Everdeen,” I say cordially. “Can I take your bag?”

“I think you’re supposed to call me mom now, Peeta.” She says. “I’ve got the bag, but thank you for offering.”

“Okay… mom.” I say, trying out the word I haven’t used to address someone since before the Quarter Quell. We both look when we see Katniss squat down in from of Dylan the same way I did.

“Hi Dylan, I’m Katniss.” She says, shaking his small hand. He is much gentler with her than he was with me and I want to laugh at his charm. “I like your shoes.”

“Does she want kids yet?” Mrs. Everdeen asks, not looking away from her daughter.

“Not yet.” I answer, staring as well. It’s moments like this that I know she would be an amazing mother. I just wish that she could see past her fears long enough to think about that. She stands up and notices me standing next to her mother and begins to make her way over. “Could you please not mention the kid thing to her? It’s a very touchy subject.” I ask politely, turning to her before Katniss reaches us. I step to the side, allowing Katniss to reach her mother easier.

“Mom.” Katniss says, leaning in for a hug. The hug is long and full of words that can’t be spoken out loud right now. When they finally break apart, Mrs. Everdeen gives Katniss a good once over, running her hand through her hair and down her face. Katniss grabs her hand and pulls it away from her.

“You look good, honey.” Mrs. Everdeen says finally. “Healthy and happy.” She smiles. “Can I see your ring?” Katniss lifts her hand up and her mother looks at it, eyes wide. “It’s gorgeous. Peeta, you had  this made?” she asks, looking at me. I nod. 

“He has one to match.” Katniss says, sounding proud. I can’t help but smile.

“You did a wonderful job.” Mrs. Everdeen says.

“Thank you,” I reply. “Is everyone ready to head back?” I ask, walking over to Dylan. “It’s kind of a long walk, want to take a ride on my shoulders?” I say to him. He nods quickly with a smile and I grab him under the arms, lifting him up and over my shoulders then setting him down. “Hang on tight.” I lead the way out of the train station, Dylan on my shoulders; Katniss and Johanna are behind me and Annie and Mrs. Everdeen are behind them.

“How’s the weather up there, Dylan?” I ask.

“The same as it is down there.” Dylan replies quickly. He’s witty, I like that.

“Good to know.” I say. “What’s your favorite food?” I ask next.

“Shrimp!” Dylan says happily.

“Why am I not surprised?” I laugh. “We don’t have any of that here, but we’re having a big ham tomorrow. Have you ever had ham?”

“Mommy! Have I ever had ham?” Dylan yells, echoing throughout the District.

“That’s what you had on Christmas, Dylan.” Annie replies, her voice much softer than his, but still audible.

“Oh! Then yes, I have. I like ham.” Dylan answers confidently.

Dylan and I make small talk on the walk home, I ask him if he is excited to start school soon and what he likes to do for fun. We are so wrapped up in conversation by the time we reach the Victor’s Village that I barely notice Katniss yelling at someone. I turn around quickly and see Katniss has rounded on her mother, and is yelling inches away from her face.

“What happened?” I ask Johanna as I walk up to her.

“I’m not sure,” Johanna begins. “We were talking one minute and I think I heard her mother mention that it was hard to be here in the Victor’s Village, and Katniss turned around and went after her.” Annie is walking towards me now, and I pull Dylan from my shoulders.

“Hey bud, I’m going to hand you over to your mom for a minute, okay?” I say, passing him over to Annie and quickly making my way to Katniss.

“And do you think it was easy for me to come back here? Alone?” Katniss yells, arms flying.

“Katniss,” I say, grabbing her shoulder. I knew this would happen sometime during Mrs. Everdeen’s visit, but I didn’t expect it so quickly. “Come on, Katniss. It’s alright.”

“Let me finish, Peeta!” Katniss says, voice shaking. “You think it was easy for me to have to come here and see all of her stuff she left behind? To have to get rid of it? Take care of her cat? And where were you? You come back five years later and talk about how hard it is for you? Do you even care how hard it was for me?” Katniss throws her hands down and turns away, enraged.

“Hey, hey, hey,” I sooth, grabbing her by the hand and taking her to the side, away from the middle of everything. “Don’t let her do this to you, Katniss.” I put my hand on her cheek and tilt her head up so she is looking into my eyes. “Just remember who the stronger one is.” I tell her. “Remember who didn’t run away from Prim.”

She exhales loudly, and I place my forehead to hers. “I love you.” She says. I move my hands down to her waist and she brings her up around my neck and for a moment, we’re the only ones out here, wrapped up in each other, calming each other, loving each other. It doesn’t matter that everyone is staring right at us.

“I love you too.” I whisper.

“I don’t want her ruining our day.” Katniss says. “I shouldn’t have invited her.”

“We’ll get through it.” I tell her. “Maybe you should talk to her when we get home, and tell her how hard it truly has been for you, so she understands that.” Katniss has never gone into detail with her mother about her therapy or what she has had to deal with since the war; maybe it’s about time that she does.

“I’ll do it, but only because I don’t want her to ruin things.” Katniss agrees.

“And that’s fine,” I reply. “It’ll still get things out in the open between you two.” I run my hands up her sides and move them up to cup her cheeks, covering her face in small, reassuring kisses. “Let’s go home.”

When we make it to the front porch of the house, I stop and turn around. “Annie and Dylan, your room will be the second on the left, Mrs. Everdeen, yours will be the third. Sorry, we converted your old room into my art studio.”

We all shuffle into the house, Annie and Dylan gravitating towards the living room, not bothering to take their bags up just yet, Katniss follows, sitting on the couch trying to silently take in everything that’s going on. Mrs. Everdeen says nothing more, and heads straight upstairs when she gets in the door.

“I’m going to go bother Haymitch.” Johanna says, standing in the doorway.

“Ask him what time Effie’s train comes in.” I tell her.

“Oh I will definitely be bringing up Effie.” She says, laughing as she walks away. I walk into the living room and sit down on the couch next to Annie, who is watching Dylan pretend to fish on the carpet.

“Did Katniss go upstairs?” I ask, Annie nods.

“Just before you came in here. I didn’t realize they hadn’t talked about any of that after all this time.” Annie confesses. “I had no idea what was happening.”

“Katniss never wanted to, she didn’t think she owed it to her to let her in on her recovery, but I guess they can’t avoid it now.” I explain. “How are you doing?” I ask her, ready to talk about something else.

“I’ve been alright, how about you? How’s your… you know.” She says, not saying the word.

“The flashbacks?” I ask, she nods. “For the most part I have control over them. I can’t say complete control because some days I just can’t get a handle on them and it gets bad, especially if I’m sleep deprived or under a lot of stress. The first few months after opening the bakery were terrible.” I admit. “I wasn’t sure we’d make it.”

“What happened?” Annie asks, her voice concerned.

“So many flashbacks.” I tell her. “Too many. I was working twelve hour days, seven days a week and only sleeping a few hours a night on top of it all and I just couldn’t do it for a while. I stayed away from Katniss for a lot of that time, because I didn’t trust myself.”

“Did you feel like you wanted to hurt her?”

“Not really. I haven’t felt like that in a really long time, since before I even came back here, but I wanted to be sure that I wouldn’t. Just because I haven’t felt like hurting her since coming back doesn’t mean that a flashback can’t snap me back into that at any time. That’s what scares me the most, the unknowns of everything. I never know when one will come, I can tell you what seems to induce them but sometimes they just happen spontaneously without a trigger. I never know how I’m going to behave if one is really bad; there’s too much of a gray area and it’s terrifying.” I admit.

“Does Katniss know this?”

“Yeah. She says she’s not afraid that I’ll hurt her, but who knows what she really thinks. That’s another thing that I can’t stand. I’ll never know if she really is afraid, because she’d probably never tell me. She’d try to be strong and act like it doesn’t bother her. I don’t want her to ever be leery of me.” It’s nice talking to Annie. She listens well and seems genuinely interested in what people are feeling and is very attentive when you talk. It’s when you start asking her about herself that she starts to disappear.

“I’m sure she understands, Peeta.” Annie assures me. “She’s here with you, isn’t she? She knows it’s not perfect. We’re all damaged. None of us came out of this without issues.”

“Thank you Annie.” I say with a smile. “So this little one starts school soon, doesn’t he?” I ask, testing to the water to see how much she’ll talk before she needs a break.

“Already, I don’t know where the time went.” Annie says, sounding sad.

“Has having him made it easier or harder for you?” I question, hoping that it isn’t too heavy of a question for her.

“Both at times, I guess.” She starts. “In the beginning it was definitely both. Looking at him made me think of Finnick and depending on the day, that was either a good thing or a very bad thing. Some days I couldn’t even hold him without breaking down. Now it’s more that he helps me. He looks and acts so much like Finnick it’s almost like he’s still here sometimes.”

“I bet that’s really nice.” I say.

“Are you and Katniss going to have children?” There’s the question of the century.

“She doesn’t want children.” I answer.

“Really? She seemed comfortable with Dylan.” Annie says.

“She’s scared.” I tell her. “Before, she didn’t want her children to ever have to experience a Reaping day, now she’s just terrified that something will happen. She’s still so convinced that she failed her sister and let her die that she can’t bear to think of something happening to another child, especially one that is her own.” I shrug. “I’d really love to be a father, though.” It’s a fact that Katniss knows even though I’ve never said it to her, and even saying it to Annie seems a bit strange. “Now isn’t the time though, even if she did want them.”

“I will tell you one thing, Peeta.” Annie begins. “If you wait for the right time, the right time will never come.” I think about her situation and the circumstances under which she got pregnant. In the middle of a war, in a nation whose future was uncertain, and having to go through the entire pregnancy alone after her husband was killed. If anyone is an example of the phrase “Not the right time,” it’s Annie, but she’s also an example of someone who was able to overcome that, and I admire her for it.

I smile then notice Annie’s eyes trail off to a spot over my shoulder and think that she’s finally disappeared into that little world that only exists for her, but then she speaks up.

“Hey, Katniss.” Her voice is sweet and calm, but the look on her face seems concerned. I turn around and see Katniss standing in the archway, eyes red from crying. I stand up to go to her, but there is a knock at the door before I can reach her. “I’ll get it, Peeta.” Annie says, jumping off the couch and stopping me.

“Thank you,” I call out to Annie before turning my attention to Katniss. “Are you okay?” I ask.

“Yes.” She nods. “Can we wait until later to talk about it?” she pleads. She sounds worn out and tired of talking about it for the moment.

“Sure, Katniss.” I reply, rubbing her shoulder.

“Peeta?” Annie says, standing a few feet away looking as though she doesn’t want to interrupt. “There is someone here for you. Hakan he said his name was.” I completely forgot that Hakan volunteered to bring us a table and some chairs from the Justice Building.

“Stay here and relax, I’m going to bring the table and chairs to the backyard.” I tell Katniss. She nods and walks into the living room, sitting next to Annie on the couch. Before I walk away I hear Katniss thanking Annie for the help she provided while I was planning the rings.

“Hakan, I’m sorry. Things have been a little hectic today and I completely lost track of time.” I put my hand out and shake his, walking over to the truck that’s parked in front of the house. District 12 doesn’t have or need many cars, but there are several different types of trucks available for hauling and delivering. Hakan was able to get this truck to bring over the table and chairs we’re going to use for tomorrow. We could fit everyone at our table, but we thought it would be nicer to have dinner outside.

“Don’t worry about it, Peeta.” Hakan says with a smile. “Looks like you have a full house in there.” We unload everything from the truck and within 3 trips, everything is piled up in the backyard, ready to be set up. “I hope you don’t mind that I took a peek at the cake. It looks great.”

“Thanks. We have to go back tonight to put it all together.” I tell him.

“What time were you thinking for me to deliver it tomorrow?” he asks. Hakan is such an amazing help. Not only is he bringing the table and chairs today, but he is delivering the cake to us tomorrow after dinner.

“We should be done with dinner around seven. Does that work for you?” I ask, always afraid that I’m going to be asking too much of him.

“Whatever time is good for you is good for me.” He says. “Seven it is.”

“I wish you’d let me give you a raise.”

“Don’t be silly, I’m just doing my job.” Hakan says, shaking his head.

“You’re doing a lot more than just your job, Hakan. You’ve really been a big help to us over the years.”

“I’m going to let you get back to your guests,” he replies. “I’ll see you tomorrow at seven.” He hops into the truck and with a wave, drives off and out of the Victor’s Village. The noise that fills the house when I go back inside is overwhelming, but in a really good way. It sounds like family, something I haven’t heard in long time.

I give the place a quick scan and see that Mrs. Everdeen has come back downstairs and is in the kitchen with Katniss, making enough sandwiches that they can probably be eaten for dinner as well. The two are talking, but things still aren’t comfortable with them, but I give them credit for trying.

“Have a sandwich, Peeta.” Katniss says when she notices I’m back in the house. I grab a sandwich off of the top and thank them, peeking into the living room to let Annie know that there are sandwiches ready if she and Dylan are hungry. We all eat, scattered through the house, trying to relax from the commotion this morning.

Johanna walks in the door a little while later, and finds us in the living room. She holds up her arm and shows us all the two bottles of liquor that she brought back, a proud smile spread across her face at her accomplishment.

“I don’t drink.” Annie says, shaking her head.

“Make that two.” Mrs. Everdeen adds. Johanna looks at me and Katniss, expecting a better answer.

“We don’t really drink either.” I say, trying to let her down gently.

“Oh come on!” Johanna cries out. “It took me almost all afternoon to convince Haymitch to part with his precious liquid. Don’t make it for nothing! Someone has to drink with me later!” I shrug at Johanna, unsure of what to say. It’s not that we refuse to drink, we just never have; the only time Katniss has tried it was that night with Haymitch after the Quarter Quell announcement. “You don’t have to get drunk or anything, just let it loosen you up a bit.” Johanna coaxes. “We all know Katniss needs a little of that.” I want to laugh but I hold my tongue, I can see Annie looking around the room for signs of others laughing, the amusement at the comment clear in her eyes; even Mrs. Everdeen looks like she wants to laugh.

“We’ll think about it.” Katniss says, her voice short. Clearly she’s picked up on everyone’s amusement over Johanna’s comment. One thing you don’t want to do is challenge Katniss, and with Johanna’s comment, that is what she just did.

“By the way, if you wanted alcohol you should have just asked.” I tell her. “We have a cabinet full under the sink for Haymitch.” Johanna’s face falls as my revelation.

“Don’t tell me that, Peeta.” Johanna says, exasperated. “Now you have to drink these, I told him they were for you guys anyway.”

“And you think he bought that? He knows that liquor is here and he knows we never drink it.” I laugh.

“He was messing with me, wasn’t he?” Johanna asks, defeated. I nod and laugh at her again, Katniss joins in happy to be the one doing the laughing this time.

At six, Katniss and I leave and head for the bakery to assemble the cake. We give our guests full run of the house and there are plenty of sandwiches left over for them to eat while we are gone. Johanna warns us that she’ll be waiting for us when we get back and I know there is little chance that we’ll be able to get through the night without having at least one drink.

At the bakery, we uncover the three tiers, and I show Katniss how to stack the cake by inserting dowellings, so that the tiers do not crush each other, and after going through the process with her several times, she is confident that she can place the final tier on the cake.

“There,” I say standing back and making sure the tiers are centered. “You decorated and assembled an entire tier from start to finish.” She stares at the cake and nods in approval. “Do you think you can handle the last of the piping while I melt down the sugar?” I ask.

“I can try.” She says apprehensively.

“I think you can.” I assure her. I asked Hakan to have a piping bag ready for us, and as usual, he did not disappoint. I grab it and begin to pipe pea sized dots in between the first and second tier. I stop and hand the piping bag to Katniss as watch her mimic my approach; I nod at her. “That’s exactly it.” I smile. “Just do that between all of the tiers and that’s it.”

As she works on that, I begin to work on melting down sugar to turn it into sculpted dragonflies. I know this is a task Katniss won’t be able to help with until we put them on the cake, so I turn around and laugh a little.

“What are you laughing at?” she says, head still down and focused on piping.

“I was just thinking that you get to sit around and stare at me while I’m making these dragonflies. I should have dressed better.” I joke.

“Well then maybe I just won’t look at you at all.” Katniss retorts. I laugh louder and turn back to the sugar, knowing that no matter what Katniss says, I’m still going to catch her watching me.

Sure enough, when the sugar has cooled enough for me to begin working with it, I see Katniss out of the corner of my eye, watching. “What’s so interesting tonight?” I ask, molding the orange, pliable sugar into wings.

“Your hands.” She answers. “I could never do that, my hands aren’t capable of being that delicate.”

“Are you thinking about when I touch you?” I ask, not taking my eyes off of the sugar.

“Are you always aroused?” she answers my question with a question.

“Only when you’re around.” I reply.

I finish all six dragonflies a little while later, placing them in a container to keep them from humidity until Hakan brings everything over tomorrow after dinner. We cover the now assembled cake and lock up the bakery, walking home with a sense of relief that we were able to finish the cake and there were no disasters.

When we make it back home, Johanna, Haymitch and Effie are all sitting on the front porch.

“Where are the others?” I ask, walking up the steps while Katniss trails behind me.

“Mrs. Everdeen went to sleep, and Annie is up with Dylan, putting him to bed. She’ll be back when out when he is asleep.” Johanna explains.

“Effie, good to see you.” I say with a smile. Katniss gives a wave of greeting. “I’ve got the table and chairs set up in the back if you guys wanted to go back there.” I suggest. “There’s more room for everyone.” We all go into the house for a minute, Katniss runs upstairs and tells Annie that we’ve moved to the backyard.

“Where do you keep your glasses?” Johanna asks, showing me a bottle of the liquor she brought back earlier. I look to the steps as Katniss comes down.

“What do you think?” I ask her. “We can have one glass each.”

“Just one.” She repeats, looking at Johanna.

“The glasses are in that cupboard.” I tell Johanna, pointing.

Katniss and I walk out to the back, Haymitch and Effie are already seated at the table, talking to each other in low voices that I can quickly tell is not meant for our ears. I clear my throat loudly, letting them know there are other people out here, and they both turn around quickly. Haymitch is holding his own bottle of liquor, and a glass that is half full sits on the table in front of him. When he settles, he picks up the glass and takes a small sip before placing it back down and setting the bottle on the table.

“Look at that,” I whisper to Katniss. “All this time all we needed was Effie to make him a little less gross.” Katniss laughs lightly at that and shakes her head.

“It doesn’t seem right though, Haymitch drinking out of a glass and taking small sips. What has she done to him?” We make our way to the table then, sitting down side by side and across from Effie and Haymitch. Johanna comes out soon after, holding two bottle of liquor and two glasses which she sets down in front of us along with one of the bottles and then she sits next to Effie on the other side of the table, unscrewing the cap to her bottle and taking a long swig, letting out a deep breath when she finishes.

“What kind cheap shit is this anyway, Haymitch?” Johanna asks, wiping her mouth. “You’re a Victor.” Haymitch simply shrugs at her question and Effie looks at Johanna with a horrified look, and I can hear her right now struggling not to scream “Manners!” right in Johanna’s face.

“So!” Effie says, a little too chipper. “What has to be done tomorrow?”

“Not a whole lot, really.” I begin. “Besides the cooking.” I see Effie look a little disappointed that we aren’t asking for her help for this, but we’ve already gotten everything taken care of. “We just want you here as our guest, Effie.”

We hear the back door open and see Annie step out and walk towards us. “I won’t be able to stay out here long,” she begins. “Dylan is a little nervous about staying overnight away from home, so I’m going to go make sure he’s comfortable.” She sits down next to Katniss and looks around and I begin to wonder if it’s not just Dylan that is nervous about staying away from home tonight.

I grab the bottle of liquor that Johanna has set in front of us and break the seal, grabbing one of the glasses and filling it up. Katniss looks at me before handing me her glass and I nod at her, letting her know that this isn’t like the last time she drank. I fill her glass and put it down in front of her; it feels like everyone is staring at us, waiting for us to take that first sip. I go first, taking a small sip to get my mouth used to the harshness of the liquor. It burns going down but with a sip so small, it isn’t bad. Katniss follows suit, taking a sip and setting her glass down, perhaps in hopes that this single sip will satiate Johanna.

“So did Peeta and Katniss tell you two about their little toasting?” Effie asks Johanna and Annie, they both shake their heads. “Oh it was beautiful! It made me cry!” she continues. “The things they said.” She puts her hand over her heart and sighs wistfully. “I felt the love.”

I look over at Johanna and see her head is down, looking at her lap while she tries to hold in a laugh at Effie’s theatrics. Annie just stares at Effie, unsure of what to do.

“We should probably get going now.” Haymitch says quickly. He clearly wants Effie to put a sock in it, but knows better than to expect that to happen; his only other option is to remove her from the situation before she makes a fool out of herself. “We’ll see you guys tomorrow.” He grabs Effie’s hand, pulling her along behind him as they disappear through the back door.

“What do you think their sex is like?” Johanna asks, after they’re gone.

“You need to get a private life of your own so you can stop worrying about everyone else’s.” Katniss says, half fed up and half amused.

“I do have a private life, just not the one you’re referring to.” Johanna answers, taking about long pull from the bottle before looking at our glasses that are still full on the table. “I bet they’re loud.” She leans forward across the table, eyebrows raised in excitement. “Have you guys ever heard them?!”

“No!” Katniss yells out quickly, not wanting to go any further with that topic.

“This is my cue to leave.” Annie laughs, getting up from the table. “I’ll see you guys in the morning.”

Now, it’s just Johanna, Katniss, and me. We’ve started taking bigger sips of our liquor now and have even poured ourselves a second glass. I can feel my mind getting a little fuzzy, but in a good way. “How did your talk with your mother go?” I ask Katniss. I know she may not want to talk about it with Johanna present, but if that’s the case, she’ll tell me.

“We had a good cry.” Katniss begins. “I showed her Prim’s old room, showed her it still mostly looks the same it just doesn’t have all of her stuff in there now. She apologized to me, she said she was selfish to only think of her feelings and she really only realized when I started screaming at her that she wasn’t the only one in pain.” Katniss shrugs and takes another sip of her liquor, setting the glass down before continuing. “I wasn’t sure if I should have been happy that she realized it, or mad that she admitted it.”

“Be glad she took her head out of her ass.” Johanna says with a nod. “You already knew what was true, so it’s about time that she does too.”

“I agree with Johanna.” I add. “I think it’s a good thing that she both realized and admitted it.”

“Sounds like something my therapist would say.” Johanna says with a chuckle. “He does a good job though, considering he has me for a patient.”

“Has he helped at all?” I ask, remembering our conversation from this morning about her water treatment.

“Sure.” She says, taking one more sip of liquor. “I can sit in a bathtub long enough to wash myself, but I have to be quick about it; I still can’t stand a shower.” She explains. “Then there are the nightmares. That journal you saw me writing in was part of my therapy for the nightmares. I have one and I write down what happened in detail and below the description of the dream, I have to write about what wasn’t real about it and why it was just a nightmare and can’t harm me.”

“I still have nightmares.” Katniss says, her voice monotone. Then, Johanna looks at me and I nod.

“And flashbacks.” I say.

“You’re both lucky to have each other, you don’t need a stupid book to try to explain to yourself that these things aren’t real, you can tell each other that.” It hits me then how hard it must be for Johanna to have to deal with this sort of thing alone. Even Annie has Dylan to distract her, all Johanna has is herself.

We are silent for a few minutes after that, listening to the sounds of the night and the liquid in Johanna’s bottle as she brings it to and from her lips. When I realize that my own lips are tingling, I look at the bottle Katniss and I were sharing and notice that somewhere during these conversations, we’ve drank almost the entire bottle.

“We should probably head to bed.” I say, looking at the vacant expression on Katniss’ face. I can tell she’s feeling no pain either. “We really are glad you’re here, Johanna.” I tell her, my voice rising and falling between octaves as I talk. She smiles at me.

“You’re drunk, Peeta.” Her smile gets wider as she looks at Katniss who hasn’t said a word, but is still staring off into space. “So is she.” She laughs at us for a second and waves her hand toward the door. “Go to bed, both of you!”

We get up from the table and head towards our bedroom, taking a little longer than usual, but we still aren’t swaying nearly as much as Haymitch does when he’s drunk. Based on this I can guess that we are drunk, but not drunk enough for it to be a problem that a good night’s rest won’t help.

When we make it into bed, we are both curled on our sides, facing each other. Katniss is still staring and has barely spoken since our conversation with Johanna ended.

“What?” I ask her when I notice she’s been staring directly at me.

“You.” She says, her voice making the same changes in pitch that mine are.

“What?” I ask again.

“I love you.” She states.

“I love you too.” I smile.

“I love you sooo much.” She says, dragging out the word “so” in her tipsy state. I chuckle at this and counter with the same.

“I love you sooooo much.” I repeat, dragging the word out even longer. “I said it longer. I win. I love you more.” Katniss shakes her head at me.

“Never.” She says. “Come closer to me.” I scoot closer to her, our bodies almost touching. She smiles at me with that same dazed expression she’s had since talking to Johanna. She brings the back of her hand up to my forehead and pushes my hair away. “Touch me.” She whispers.

“But we have company.” I remind her, remembering our conversation from this morning. She grabs my hand and puts it between her legs, the only barrier is her underwear.

“Touch me.” She says again, the dazed expression now melting away to one filled with longing. I begin rubbing the outside of her underwear gently, and she wastes no time reaching out and grabbing me through my boxers. The pressure she puts on me forces me to moan out loud; she quickly moves in and kisses me, muffling the sound, pulling away when I stop. “I want to touch you, not your boxers.” She moves her hand up and fumbles with the waistband, pulling one side down, accidentally dragging her nails across my skin.

“Ow,” I laugh. “You scratched me!”

“Shhhh!” she puts her finger over her lips.

“That was a loud ‘shhh’. You’re drunk.” I accuse.

“No I’m not!” Katniss says even louder. “You are.”

“Well I’m not.” Katniss insists.

“Then get on top of me.” I challenge her, sitting up just enough to rest against the headboard. It’s the only way I’m staying upright after laying down. “Ride me without falling over.”

“Fine.” She says, arrogantly, snaking her leg over mine and scooting her body over and laying across me.

“What’s wrong?” I tease. “Can’t lift your head up?”

“Shut up, I can do it.” Katniss says, brushing me off. “Give me a minute.” She adds, reaching out and pulling on my boxers again. I lift up and she pulls them down, stopping when her body gets in the way of pulling them down further. “What can I do with this anyway?” she says, grabbing me. “Only a liiiiiiittle bit hard.” She adds, pumping her hand up and down, staring at her hand as she does it.  Before I can stop myself, I’ve let out a laugh so loud that I have to cover my mouth to stop myself, and when I throw my head back, I hit it on the headboard, which then makes Katniss laugh. We’re doing a really poor job of being quiet tonight and we’re not even trying to get each other to make a sound.

“Help me out then!” I whisper loudly as she resumes moving her hand up and down my shaft. “Just like that,” I hiss. “Keep doing that.” She works me steadily for a few minutes and I harden in her hand, finally ready. “Can you work with this” I ask, thrusting into her hand.

“That’s a lot better.” She says, taking her hand away.

“Now let’s see you sit up and sit on it.” I remind her. She puts her hands on either side of the bed and pushes herself up and then forward, bringing her legs up. She sits up on her knees first and then lifts up into a squat before she stops and shakes her head.

“What’s wrong I ask?” I’m more concerned than my voice sounds, but I’m having trouble talking normally right now.

“I forgot to take my underwear off.” Katniss replies. I bring my hands up and cover my face, laughing into them. She grabs my legs and pushes them apart, sitting down in between them. “Help!” she says, falling backward onto the bed. I take my hands away from my face and bring them down and pull her underwear off, throwing them in whatever direction is easiest, then I grab her legs and pull her closer to me.

“Can you sit up?” I ask her, putting my hand out to her to help her.

“Yes!” She says, determined. She grabs my hand and I pull her up into a sitting position. She wraps her arms around my neck quickly and I feel the weight of her body begin to pull me forward, but I stay rooted to the headboard as I reach underneath her and take hold of myself, using my other hand to find her opening as I guide myself into her.

We move together at first, slowly and smoothly with only the sounds of our breathing between us. It’s one thing for Johanna to hear us, but tonight we have Katniss’ mother right up the hall and a 5 year old boy that doesn’t need to be scarred for life, we’re working extra hard to keep the moaning to a minimum. No games tonight.

The weight Katniss is putting on my neck is getting heavier and heavier with each thrust. Eventually, Katniss starts to fall backward, keeping her arms tight around my neck, causing me to fall forward until Katniss is lying flat on her back between my legs and I’m hunched over, resting my head on her stomach; all I can do is laugh.

“This is difficult,” I say, placing a kiss on her stomach. “I thought you said you could do this?”

“I did… a little bit.” Katniss replies, tangling her hands in my hair.

“I have an idea.” I bring my hands down and grab her hips, lifting my head slightly as I pull her off of me gently, then I pull her back toward me. “This,” I say, repeating the motion, watching as I disappear into her body “I can do something with this.” It’s easier than trying to move more of my body right now, as lazy as it may be.

I continue working, leaning even further down every so often to kiss and suck on her stomach, only stopping when her grip on my hair gets painful.

“Stop, you’re going to rip my hair out.” I whine.

“Help me up then.” Katniss says, pulling again. “I’m going to finish this sitting up.” Determination creeps into her voice between the up and down pitches of drunkenness. I grab her hands and remove them from my hair, switching so that both of her hands are held in my one as I reach back to the headboard and grab it, pulling myself back up to rest against it.

This time, Katniss grabs the back of the headboard and uses it to keep herself upright as she slowly begins to move up and down on my arousal.

“See,” she says, moving steadily now. “I said I’d do this.” She moves her head down and rests it on my shoulder as she begins to speed up her movements, her breathing getting heavy. She lifts her head up and positions her mouth to my ear. “You know what I love?” she whispers.

“Besides me?” I joke; she bites my ear, hard. Wrong answer. “What?” I ask.

“How you get extra hard just before you come.” She murmurs. “And the way you twitch inside me while do it.” She grinds down on me and tonight, with the combination of her movements and the things the alcohol has her saying, I’m the one biting my lip, struggling not to cry out loudly. “Kiss me when you come.” She instructs, and I nod silently. She puts her forehead to mine and swirls her hips wider, then rocking back and forth a few times before I watch her face change and feel her walls tighten around me.

She seems frozen there, unable to move as her orgasm rips through her, but all I need is the feeling of her around me, tightening and relaxing in a firm rhythm. My mouth finds hers quickly, silencing the moan that tries to escape as I empty inside of her. She collapses on top of me, which makes me fall to the side, and I can’t help but laugh again.

“So that was drunk sex.” I state. “Or are you still not drunk?”

“Yeah, yeah, I guess I’m drunk.” Katniss grumbles. “It’s definitely not like that last time though.” She adds. She rolls to her side, over me and back to her side of the bed, pulling the covers back and getting under them, and I straighten my body and do the same. “I have to sleep now.” she says, her voice groggy.

“Me too.” I reply, closing my eyes.

When I open my eyes the next morning, I’m met with nothing more than dire thirst and a small headache. I look over to Katniss, who is still asleep and she looks peaceful. I hate to have to wake her, but we have are cooking dinner for 9 people including ourselves and we need to start getting things started.

“Katniss,” I murmur, gently rubbing her shoulder. “Time to wake up.” She grumbles and shifts a little, trying to get away from me, but it’s no use. I just scoot closer to her and continue to rub her shoulder, soothingly. “Come on, lazy.” I tease.

“Alright, I’m up.” She says, her voice clogged with sleep and sobriety. “I’m thirsty.”

“So am I.” I laugh. “Let’s get up and downstairs so we can have some water and Aspirin; then we need to get things started.” Katniss nods and stretches before sitting up and slithering out of bed. We find clothes and walk downstairs, listening for sounds from others and hear Annie and Dylan in the living room, singing a song.

“She’s a really good mom.” Katniss comments quietly, I nod in agreement. We head straight for the kitchen, not wanting to interrupt. Katniss goes for the glasses and I go for the Aspirin; we sit at the table trying to fully wake up and discuss everything that needs to be done today.

“We’ll need fresh bread,” I start and Katniss nods her head, letting me know that she’s listening. “I’ll start getting the dough ready for that. We’ll also need some carrots from the garden, enough for 9 people.”

“I’ll do that.” Katniss says. “What about the potatoes?”

“They need to be washed still.” I say. “Maybe you can do that with the carrots?” I ask.

“Sure. And you can take out the China and cloth napkins. The ham can stay in the refrigerator until it needs to go in the oven.”

“Sounds like we got it all covered, then.” I smile. We finish our glasses of water, and Katniss fills up another to take outside with her and we go our separate ways. Katniss to the garden and me to the counter to start the dough. Before she is out the door, Katniss stops and turns to me. “You’re making that glaze for the carrots right?” she asks.

“Yes,” I nod. “I’m making the glaze.” She smiles wide and heads out the door to the garden.

“Do you need any help?” Mrs. Everdeen is coming down the steps now, headed straight for me in the kitchen.

“No, you’re our guest.” I reply, kneading the dough I’ve started to make for later.

“And it’s your special day, you shouldn’t have to do all the work.” She points out. “I insist.” My shoulders deflate in defeat.

“You can get the China, silverware, and napkins out. Enough for 9.” I explain. She nods and moves swiftly through the kitchen, gathering all of the items I mention. It’s like she has never left here. She sits down at the kitchen table with a rag and begins to clean every piece of silverware and China that she has taken out.

“You make her very happy, you know.” Mrs. Everdeen says, breaking our awkward silence.

“Is that right?” I answer, turning around.

“I haven’t seen her look like this since before her father died, and the way she responded to you yesterday on the walk home. She hasn’t done that with anyone.” She explains. “Thank you. I may not be the best mother out there after what I put her through and still seem to be putting her through, but I like to see her happy. I know I’ll never be the person to give her happiness, so thank you for being the one that is.” I don’t know what to say to that, so I answer with the first thing that comes to mind.

“She makes me happy too.” I say, covering the bowls of dough and washing my hands.

“I know, Peeta.” She laughs a little, like it’s so obvious I would never need to say it. “You two remind me of me and my husband.” She reveals. “ I mean that in a good way.”

“Thank you.” I say. “I’m sorry… about him.”

“It’s not your fault.” She says with a shrug. “I’m sorry about your family too, that must be hard.”

“It is.” I answer quickly. Mrs. Everdeen nods, understanding all of the things I’d like to say without ever needing to open my mouth. I guess that’s the strange thing about death. When it happens to someone you love you feel like nobody else will ever understand you again, but then you encounter someone who has also lost someone and there is an unspoken understanding. Sighs that seems to say “I know how you feel.” Or downward gazes that let you know you’re not alone anymore. “I’m going to go help Katniss in the garden.” I say then, and when Mrs. Everdeen smiles and nods at me, I turn on my heel and leave the house.

“How’s it going out here?” I ask, walking off the porch.

“Do you think this is enough?” Katniss asks, showing me a basket full of carrots.

“Maybe a few more?” I answer, walking over and looking for a few more carrots in the ground.

By the time we go back into the house, the scene is completely different than the one I left. Mrs. Everdeen is still working meticulously on making sure each piece of silverware and China are spotless, Annie is sitting next to her folding napkins, and Johanna is looking for a table cloth. Katniss tells her where it is and she shuffles off without another word to get it.

I take a quick peek at the dough while Katniss empties the carrots into the sink and grabs the potatoes, but before she can even start running the water to wash them, Johanna comes into the kitchen and sets the table cloth on the table before heading to the sink.

“I’ll clean those.” She says. Katniss begins to object, but Johanna cuts her off. “My therapy.” I know this isn’t the whole truth, but it backs Katniss off and she allows Johanna to clean the carrots and potatoes.

“Why don’t you two go and relax for now?” Mrs. Everdeen says from the table. “We can take care of this stuff.”

“We can’t ask you guys to do all of this for us.” I object.

“You didn’t ask us,” Johanna says from the sink. “We want to.” We have no arguments to make, so Katniss grabs the table cloth from the table and looks at everyone.

“We’ll put the table cloth on, that way we won’t feel completely worthless right now. Annie, you can bring out the napkins when you’re done folding them.” Katniss says, everyone laughs at her reasoning as she walks out the door.

“Do you mind if we take Dylan out back with us, Annie?” I ask.

“Of course not.” Annie answers. “Dylan, do you want to go play out back with Peeta and Katniss?” Dylan nods happily and jumps off the kitchen chair, barreling through the back door before I can catch up with him.

Dylan watches as we put the table cloth evenly on the table, making sure that everything is centered and correct; then he begins jumping around, and making noises that are only cute if you’re 5. He runs around the table, rolls on the floor and picks at the grass for a while before he comes and finds us sitting on the steps watching him.

“I’m tired.” Dylan says, out of breath.

“Do you want to go up to your room and sleep?” I ask him, but he shakes his head.

“No, I just want to relax.” He answers, putting the back of his hand over his forehead. Katniss and I laugh at his acting. We scoot apart and Dylan walks up the porch steps, sitting down between us; before long, his head is resting on Katniss’ arm and he’s staring off in the distance, fighting sleep.

I reach my hand over him and tap Katniss on her shoulder, getting her attention, then point at Dylan. She leans forward slightly and looks at his face just as he begins to close his eyes. She places her arm around him and asks again. “Dylan, do you want to go upstairs to sleep?”

“No,” Dylan answers again. “Can I sit on your lap?” I can’t help but smile at this, Dylan looks up at Katniss with his big sea green eyes and Katniss can do nothing more but nod and allow the little boy to climbs into her lap and curl up, resting his head against her.

“That is definitely Finnick’s son.” I comment. I can’t help but watch Katniss with Dylan. She’s very gentle, bringing her hand up and tickling his face. It seems almost instinctive, like she’s done this before. Maybe it’s how she would help Prim get to sleep some nights.

I know she doesn’t want children; I will respect her opinion and consider her fears, but every so often I let myself think about what Haymitch said to me a week ago. He sounded so sure that she had at least thought she may possibly want a child someday. I know better than to mention it out loud today, but without words my mind wanders to the thought of sitting on this porch with a child of our own one day.

The sound of the door opening breaks me out of my thoughts, and Annie comes out holding the folded napkins, then notices Dylan sleeping in Katniss’ lap.

“You guys didn’t have to keep him. You could have come and got me.” Annie says, handing the napkins to me.

“It was no trouble, he’s sweet.” Katniss says as Annie reaches down and plucks him from her lap.

“Thank you guys for looking after him.” Annie whispers. “I’m going to take him up to bed.” She smiles as she leaves.

By late afternoon, everyone has migrated to the backyard. Katniss and I go back into the house to get the food started. I bake the bread first, and leave the oven on for Katniss to put the ham in; while she does that, I begin making the glaze that will go over the carrots.

“What needs to be done?” Mrs. Everdeen says, walking back into the house.

“Carrots and potatoes, if you’re sure.” I say.

“Of course.” She goes to the stove where I show her the glaze and tell her to put that onto the carrots as soon as they are finished cooking.

“Hello?” we hear Greasy Sae’s voice call from the front door.

“Come on in.” Katniss calls out to her. She walks into the kitchen, giving me and Katniss hugs and congratulations.

“Do you guys need any help with anything?” she asks.

“Absolutely not.” I say. “You can go in the backyard with everyone else, please just relax today.”

“Do you want anything to drink?” Katniss asks before she goes.

“Water, please.” Greasy Sae replies.

“I’ll have Peeta bring out a pitcher of ice water and glasses for everyone. It’s starting to heat up out there.” Greasy Sae nods and heads out to the back while Katniss takes out the water pitcher that we’ve never used, enough glasses for everyone, and a tray to hold everything. When she finishes, I walk it outside slowly and set it down on the table, letting everyone know they’re free to help themselves.

“Peeta,” Greasy Sae says, stopping me before I can go back into the house. She walks up to me, and speaks low. “I’m really happy for you two. I’m especially happy to see Katniss so… functional. All I can see is that broken girl she came home as five years ago.”

“Thanks, Greasy Sae.” I give her a hug and she sends me on my way to finish up the final details before it’s time for dinner to be served.

By the time Effie and Haymitch arrive, dinner is just about done. Mrs. Everdeen helps me and Katniss bring all of the food from the kitchen to the table outside. There is ham, glazed carrots, mashed potatoes and fresh bread.

“Before we eat, I just want to thank you all for coming,” I begin. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to make a big speech, but I did want to let you know how grateful I am that you all came.”

“Thank you, everyone.” Katniss says from her seat. I sit down and we all begin to dig in. Things are silent at first, everyone is focused on their food and enjoying what they’re eating. Dylan has three helpings of mashed potatoes, while Haymitch continues to sip his alcohol as slowly as he did last night. When everyone has cleaned their plates and some have had second helpings, light chatter begins.

“Tell everyone the story about the rings!” Effie says, doing her familiar excited clapping and bouncing in her seat like a toddler.

“Well, I’ll need Annie’s help for this one.” I begin. “I asked her to send me a few books, it had to be almost a year ago now, wasn’t it?”

“It was some time last fall.” Annie clarifies.

“I wanted to get some information on marine life, because I knew that I wanted to design a ring that resembled pearls in some way.”

“Because of the pearl he gave Katniss during the Quarter Quell!” Effie reminds everyone, beaming from ear to ear. Haymitch gives her a sideways glance but says nothing.

“Right.” I say, giving Haymitch a knowing smile. “She sent me the books a few weeks later and I kept them at the bakery and read them during free moments and that’s where I learned about nacre. Some call it mother of pearl. It’s found inside some shells and is made of the same thing a pearl is, in a sense. I knew then that I wanted the rings to have an inlay with that material, so I called Annie again and asked her to send me some shells if she could find any.”

“I did of course.” She smiles.

“She did.” I laugh, then continue. “I took the shells to Saxon, he makes jewelry and his shop is right by the bakery. We worked together and got the rings made, and that’s really it. I couldn’t have done it without Annie, though.”

We all take part in cleaning up, making it a quick and simple task with so many hands working together. We finish just as I hear the truck Hakan is using to transport the cake. We send everyone back outside so that we can make sure the cake held up overnight and during transport. I run out and help Hakan lift the cake and bring it in; we set it on the kitchen table to look it over.

“It looks good.” Hakan says. “I gave it a quick once over before Monte and I loaded it up, but I’ll leave it to the expert to decide. The sugar held up fine too.”

“Great. Thank you, Hakan.” I say, inspecting the cake. Everything looks good and in order, so I grab the container of dragonflies and call Katniss over to the cake. “This was your idea, so you should add them.” I explain. Katniss nods and carefully picks up the first dragonfly, gently placing it on the top tier. She repeats the process for the second and third tier, until they are arranged on the cake and the orange pops out nicely. “Perfect.”

“Nice job.” Hakan adds. “Ready to take it out back?” On my count we pick up the cake and Katniss guides us through the kitchen and through the backdoor; she holds the door open for us as we make our way out and guides us down the steps. By this point, everyone has noticed the cake and have collected around the table to admire it. After we set it down, I look at everyone’s faces. Most looked impressed, but when I look at Annie I see a different look on her face. She looks like she’s off somewhere else, and that’s when I remember that I made her wedding cake too.

“You did this, Peeta?” Effie asks, stars in her eyes.

“Katniss helped, but yes.” I answer.

“He definitely got the cake decorating talent from his father.” Mrs. Everdeen says. She clams up quickly after saying it, almost like she didn’t mean to bring up my father or the fact that she was once very close with him. I decide that instead of making her feel uncomfortable for saying it, I’ll just act like it was a perfectly normal thing to say.

“He taught me everything.” I say proudly. “Katniss did do this entire top tier on her own, though. Let’s not overlook that.” I smile as Katniss looks at everyone admiring her own work. “It’s a bit big for the amount of people here, but Katniss wanted a tiered cake, so a tiered cake she got.” Katniss shrugs, embarrassed at my revelation. I walk over to Hakan who is standing away from the crowd. “Will you stay for cake?” I ask him.

“No, I don’t want to impose.” Hakan answers as Katniss walks over to us.

“Please stay, Hakan.” She says. “You’ve helped us so much. Have some cake.”

“Well,” Hakan says. “I can’t refuse a pretty lady, I’ll stay for a piece.” I clap Hakan on the back and bring him over to the table to introduce him to everyone. We all sit down at the table once more and cut into the cake.

*****

“So this guy,” Hakan says, his arms moving around wildly. “All he talks about is Katniss at work.” He goes on to mimic some of the things I say through the course of a day at the bakery, the entire table is in stitches over Hakan’s antics.

Dylan is lying on Annie, eyes closing once again and she gets up from the table, excusing herself. “I need to put him to bed. I will see you guys in the morning. Dinner was delicious.” She quietly disappears into the house, and I relax at the table, letting dinner and dessert settle.

The table is quiet for a while before Effie leans over to Haymitch. “Are you ready to go home?” she says softly, rubbing his arm. Nobody at the table moves; it’s the most affection we’ve seen the two of them share since we found out about them. Haymitch nods quickly and gets up from the table, shaking my hand. He walks over to Katniss and gives her a hug, and then leaves with Effie.

“Their clothes will be off before the front door is closed.” Johanna blurts out. “Weddings must make her horny.” Everyone begins to laugh at her comment, I even notice Mrs. Everdeen laughing. “He’s a lot quieter when she’s around, almost not even fun.”

“I’m going to have to get going soon myself,” Hakan says changing the subject. “My wife is waiting for me at home.”

“I’ll need to head out too.” Greasy Sae chimes in.  

After Hakan and Greasy Sae leave, it’s just me, Katniss, Johanna, and Mrs. Everdeen remaining at the table.

“Has Katniss ever told you guys how she used to sing instead of talk when she was a little girl?” Mrs. Everdeen begins. Katniss shakes her head and looks down at the table, but doesn’t try to stop her. I shake my head at Mrs. Everdeen. “If you asked her a question, she wouldn’t answer you with a sentence, but with a song.”

“You should do that more often.” I tell her; I’m rewarded with a smack on my arm.

“Her first word was tree.” Mrs. Everdeen continues. “Her father was very disappointed. He thought for sure she would say dad first.”

“Tree?” I say, looking at Katniss and laughing. “Really?”

“And she used to play dress up with my clothes.” Mrs. Everdeen reveals.

“No way!” Johanna calls out with a laugh. “You played dress up?”

“So I’m told.” Katniss says, her words dripping with embarrassment and resentment.

“I’ve said too much, I think.” Mrs. Everdeen says then, getting up from the table. “I’m going up to bed. Goodnight everyone.”

“I could have yelled at her for thinking she could just come in here and tell happy childhood stories, but I don’t have the energy.” Katniss says when Mrs. Everdeen is out of earshot. “She’s going home tomorrow, and that’s what I keep focusing on.” Even though they did clear the air a little yesterday, I doubt things will ever been normal for Katniss and her mother.

“Well here we are again.” Johanna says. “No alcohol tonight, though I could go get some out of the kitchen if I wanted, but I have a train to catch in the morning.”

“Good thinking.” I say.

“For two people who said they’d have one glass each, you did a pretty good job of almost finishing that bottle last night.” Johanna laughs.

“It was a special occasion.” Katniss replies.

“Did you guys enjoy your drunken sex?” Johanna asks.

“How did you know?” I ask her. We made every effort to be quiet last night, but maybe in our drunken state, we weren’t quiet at all.

“I didn’t,” Johanna laughs. “You just told me.”

“That’s all you talk about.” Katniss says, shaking her head. She still seems a little on edge from her mother’s stunt, but doesn’t sound too angry.

“Well, when you’re not getting any yourself, you want to talk about it with people who do.” Johanna shrugs. “But seriously, this was a really nice night, I just want to thank you for letting me be a part of it. It’s been nice to be around everyone again.”

“You’re family now.” I tell her.

“Quite a dysfunctional little family we are.” She replies.

“A family of misfits.” Katniss adds with a nod.

“Right you are, Brainless.” Johanna agrees. “Well, I’d love to stay up as late as last night chatting, but I do have that train to catch early in the morning.” We all get up from the table and bring the last of the plates in, then take the table cloth off and bring it inside. We wish Johanna goodnight and tell her we’ll see her in the morning before we separate and go to our room.

****

The next morning at the train station, Katniss, Haymitch and I stand on the platform saying goodbye to our friends. Effie boards the train first, blowing kisses in our direction as she does. Johanna goes next, giving us each a hug and slap on the back before she disappears into the train. Annie and Dylan follow, with promises of more letters and pictures and hopes that we’ll come visit them in District 4 sometime soon.

Mrs. Everdeen is last, standing on the platform knowing she is leaving her home once again. Her face looks both sad and relieved. She hugs Katniss first, smoothing her hair with her hand and saying she will call when she gets home. She hugs me next, thanking me again for making her daughter happy and making me promise to take care of her since Katniss won’t let her even try to do it. She knows she’s made too many mistakes in her life to ever regain Katniss’ trust.

The train leaves minutes after Mrs. Everdeen has boarded, and once it is out of sight, the three of us turn on the platform and begin walking back to the Victor’s Village; back to where it’s just the three of us.

Chapter Text

It was dark when I left my room this morning, and it is dark now when I come back. As I open the door and walk in, I don’t smell lunch cooking. I don’t see Katniss in the kitchen cleaning the game she brought back from her daily trip to the woods. All I see is a dark room, the outline of a bed, and a slice of the evening light pouring in from the small space between the drawn curtains. I am in The Capitol.

Dr. Aurelius has been asking me for years to come back to see him in person, and it’s only now, 10 years after I left to return to District 12, that I agreed to come back. I still don’t want to be here, I’m not comfortable despite the fact that President Snow’s Capitol is only a memory. There are only two reasons that I agreed to come back. The first is to help document what a recovery from Hijacking entails, and what the flashbacks are like after 10 years. Just because President Snow is gone doesn’t mean that the practice of Hijacking is gone too. The second reason is that Dr. Aurelius promised not to bother me about coming back for at least another 10 years.

I grab the remote that sits on the bedside table and use it to open the curtains of the picture window that overlooks The Capitol. I don’t bother to turn on the lights before falling into bed and throwing my arm up, covering my eyes. I’m hungry and tired, but I don’t feel like eating or sleeping, and I’m restless being alone with my thoughts after being subjected to medical testing all day. The only solution is going home, but I’m stuck here until tomorrow afternoon; then I remember what Katniss told me before I got on the train: “Call me when you are done for the day.” Taking my arm away from my eyes I look and notice the telephone sitting next on the bedside table. I grab it hurriedly, dialing the number that I’ve had memorized for years and listen as it rings, with hopes that Katniss is around to pick it up. After only three rings, I hear the line click and connect when she picks up.

“Hello?” Katniss says on the other end.

“Hey,” I answer. “You picked up fast.”

“I knew you’d be calling.” Katniss replies. “Are you okay?”

“Mentally drained.” I don’t want to tell her that I feel as though I can slip back into a flashback at any second, but I think she notices it without me even saying it. I can hear her sigh on the other end.

“You shouldn’t have gone there, Peeta.” She says, sadly. “You don’t sound like yourself right now.”

“I’m alright,” I assure her. “I just need to relax.”

“Do you have more tests to do tomorrow?” Katniss asks.

“No, I’m finished.” I tell her.

“You’re finished?” Katniss repeats, sounding startled. “How are you done already? What did they do?”

“They asked me a bunch of questions at first,” I begin to explain. “Then the videos, the same ones I’ve seen a hundred times. When they didn’t induce a flashback, they started telling me lies, to see if I’d believe them after they said it a few times, and then they did all three at once. Questions, lies, video, until I started slipping into flashbacks.”

“They did what?” Katniss does not sound happy. She was against me coming out here in the first place, and I know this isn’t helping to change her mind. “Why did you let them do that to you?” her voice is raised, and even though I know it’s not meant for me, after the day I’ve had, I can’t help but get upset at her tone. That, mixed with my surroundings, and the knowledge that she is so far away when all I want to do is lie next to her and see her face and hear her tell me it’ll be alright overwhelms me and before I can stop it, tears prick my eyes and I’m struggling not to break down.

“I just want to come home.” I blurt out, my voice cracking, and that’s when I finally hear myself. I can hear the fear, the loneliness, the sadness, and above all… the innocence. I sound like a lost child wandering around trying to find his way back. “Please. I just need to hear your voice right now.”

“Did Dr. Aurelius tell you when you can come home?” Katniss asks. Her voice is softer and more patient now.

“Tomorrow afternoon, he said.” I answer, taking a deep breath, trying to steady my voice. “I have to meet him in the morning and he’ll check me over, then he will authorize me to go home.”

“Authorize.” Katniss repeats. The softness in her voice is gone again. “He has to authorize you to come home.” It’s not a question, and it sounds like she’s talking to herself more than she is talking to me.

“He just wants to be sure.” I try to explain.

“He wouldn’t have to be sure of anything if you didn’t go in the first place.” Katniss reminds me.

“I’m just trying to help, Katniss.”

“At what cost?” she asks, the last of the patience in her voice disappearing. “This messed you up, I can tell. Do you hear yourself? You sound lost and scared. You can’t tell me it’s worth this.” She’s silent for a second and then begins to speak again. “I shouldn’t be yelling at you when I’m angry at him.” She won’t even say Dr. Aurelius’ name.

“It’s okay…” I tell her.

“It’s not okay. I don’t like what he did to you.” Katniss says.

“I’m a big boy.” I remind her. “I’ll be fine.” My sentences are short and almost rude, no matter how hard I’m trying not to be.

“It’s more than that, Peeta.” She says. Her tone tells me that she feels I do not understand her right now, and maybe I don’t. She goes silent again, as though she is searching for the words to make me understand; then she finally blurts it out. “It hurts me too when you’re in pain. I hate it when you’re like this, and I don’t like…” she trails off, running out of steam. I hear her take another deep breath before trying again. “I don’t like people trying to make you like this for the hell of it.” And with one last deep breath, she finishes her explanation. “It’s one thing when you can’t control it, it’s another thing entirely when it’s done on purpose… and you let them.”

“And you love me too much to let this keep happening?” I ask. On any other day my tone would be joking and fun, but tonight when I say it, my voice only sounds uncertain. The more I talk to her, the further I get from the comfort I was seeking.

“Don’t say it like that.” She says, her voice breaking this time. “Don’t say it like you’re unsure.”

“I didn’t mean to say it like that.” And I didn’t. I’m not sure what made me say it like I was unsure of her love for me, but I don’t like it. I don’t like what this testing has done.

“I hate him for making you go through this and for making you talk this way.” She blathers.

“I won’t do this again. I promise. I was only trying to help.”  I don’t say it to appease her or back her off. I say it because I mean it. I will not be back here for this reason again. “Maybe I should go to sleep.” I suggest. “Dr. Aurelius said all disorientation should be gone by morning.”

“Rest your mind.” Katniss soothes. “Call me in the morning?”

“Wait, wait…” I say. “Stay on the phone until I fall asleep?”

“Okay, Peeta.” She answers, I can hear the smile in her voice now.

“I’ll call you before I go see Dr. Aurelius in the morning.”

“Shhh, I know.” She whispers. “Rest now.”

“I love you.” I tell her, closing my eyes and curling up on my side, trapping the phone between my ear and the pillow so I don’t drop it.

“I love you too. I will see you soon.” Katniss answers; it’s the last thing I hear her say before I wake up the next morning.

The early morning sun beating down on my face wakes me up, and when I lift my head from the pillow, the phone falls. I must have slept so deeply last night that I didn’t even move from the position I fell asleep in. When I pick up the fancy Capitol phone to hang it up, I notice a blue light still blinking, indicated that the call is still connected.

After I sit up and bring the receiver back to my ear, I hear the slight sound of breathing on the other end. Katniss must’ve fallen asleep too and never hung up. I don’t want to bother her, so I sit there for a moment listening to her even breaths as I begin to wake up. I immediately notice that my mind feels so much clearer than it did last night. I don’t feel drained or confused, and the tightrope I was walking between clarity and flashbacks is gone.

“Katniss…” I whisper into the phone, hoping that it is still near her ear rather than lying in front of her. “Katniss…” I say again, louder this time. I hear her breathing change and a faint, confused “What?” as though in her sleep addle mind, she thinks I’m there with her.

“The phone.” I say with a smile. My joking, playful tone has returned and I hear her suddenly scrambling with the phone, then hear a clatter and Katniss swearing before getting back on the line.

“Sorry, I dropped the phone. Is it morning?” She asks, sleep  and confusion clogging her voice.

“Yes, we both fell asleep without hanging up.” I tell her. “Good morning.” I laugh. “How’s today?”

“I should be asking you that question first today.” She replies, seriously. “How’s today?”

“Good.” I assure her. “I feel like myself again. Sorry I upset you last night.”

“Dr. Aurelius will be getting a piece of my mind during out next phone session.” Katniss says coldly. “I’m glad you’re feeling better.” She adds, sounding happier. “How long have you been awake?”

“Just a couple of minutes.” I tell her. “Where are you?”

“On the couch in the living room.” She replies.

“Have you been sleeping there since I left?” I ask.

“Yes.” She replies reluctantly.

“Katniss…” I begin, but she cuts me off.

“I don’t like sleeping up there alone anymore.” She admits. “It’s easier down here, there isn’t as much empty space next to me when I’m on the couch.”

“I wish I was up in bed with you right now.” I say, my voice coming out more flirtatious than I had expected.

“I do too…” Katniss says. Her tone filled more with longing than flirtation.

“I wish I could touch you right now.” I say, keeping that same flirtatious tone, thinking about mornings with Katniss. The way I wake up aching for her and the way she wakes up ready for me every morning. “And feel how wet you are.”

“Peeta…” Katniss says, suspicious. We’re not strangers to talking like this, but it’s usually when we’re face to face, so I can understand her hesitation, but I can’t ignore that familiar morning ache that she usually takes care of for me. “Clearly you must be feeling better.” Her tone is amused, but still has that hint of hesitation behind it.

“I’d feel better if your hands were in my shorts.” I say then, cutting all corners.

“Well I can’t exactly help you with that from here, can I?” Katniss retorts.

“Maybe not with your hands.” I reply, suddenly remembering what I found in the bedside drawer the night I got here, while looking for an alarm clock before I realized that it was built into the lamp on top of the table. I hold the phone to my ear as I swivel around to the side of the bed. “But you can with your words.” I add. Opening the drawer, I pull out three different colored bottles. Each of them have the words “Personal Lubricant” in large letters, but underneath, they all say something different. The red bottle says “Warming”, the green “Tingling”, and the blue “Original”. I throw all three bottles on the bed, unsure of which one I want to pick and wait for Katniss to answer me.

“With my words.” She repeats, trying out the words like they’re a new pair of pants. “What if I mess up?” she asks apprehensively.

“You can’t mess up.” I tell her. She’s so scared of embarrassing herself when we try new things, but she’s talked me through masturbation before, I know she can do this. “It’s the same as when we’re touching ourselves together, we just have a phone and thousands of miles between us.”

“Okay…” Katniss says, taking a deep breath in.

“Talk to me.” I instruct, popping the button on the wrinkled pants I slept in, and pulling down the zipper.

“You’re always so hard in the morning.” She begins. Her voice is gentle and low now, and I shimmy out of my pants and undershorts and take myself in hand, waiting for her to continue. By now, my body seems to expect sex in the morning; morning erections that used to last a couple of minutes after waking now last much longer, like it’s waiting for Katniss’ hand every morning. “I love how my hand fits around it perfectly and how warm you are.”

“You’re warm too.” I say, slowly pumping my hand up and down my erection. “And wet... every morning.” I add, grabbing for the red bottle on the bed next to me. “Are you wet right now?” I ask. She sighs deeply before answering.

“Yes.” I already knew the answer, it’s the same every morning unless one of us is having an off day; I just wanted to hear her say it.

“Take your pants off, Katniss.” I urge. “Touch yourself; think of me being inside you.” The silence on the other end is interrupted by shuffling and I know she’s doing exactly what I asked. I pop to top of the red bottle and bring my shoulder up to trap the phone and keep it to my ear while I squeeze a large amount of the liquid into my hand and then wrap that same hand around my erection, quickly moving it up and down, coating myself. The warm sensation is instantaneous and I can’t hold back the moan that escapes. If I close my eyes as I move my hand up and down, it almost feels like Katniss if I don’t think too much.

“You always feel so good inside me.” She says then. I don’t have to ask if she’s touching herself, I can tell that she is by the sound of her voice. “When  you’re in so deep  it’s like I can feel every inch of you.” I groan out loud at the way she says inch. She’s gotten good at this. From a girl that would never tell me how things felt for her 10 years ago, to a girl talking me into an orgasm over the phone, she has grown by leaps and bounds.

“What would you do if I were inside you right now?” I ask then, keeping my eyes closed and focusing on the feeling I’ve created. It’s the closest thing I can get to Katniss without actually it truly being her.

“Pin you on your back and sit on you.” She begins. “Then bring my legs up and lift myself up, so you can move your hips up and push back into me.”

“You want me to do all the work today.” I say, continuing the scenario we’re beginning to create. “I’d hold you down on top of me so that you couldn’t move while I plunge into you.”

“And pull my hair.” She adds. The words run straight through me to my erection and I speed my hand up and lift my hips in attempts to mimic what we’re describing; the sound of my hand moving over my arousal with the lubricant only encourages me to continue this.

“I’d bite your neck lightly after I pull your head back and then push myself into you as deep as I could go.” This is what gets her to moan. If anything will get to Katniss it’s the idea of me burying myself deep in her. She said it a few minutes ago how much she loves it and I don’t pass up the opportunity to use it to help her along. “How wet are you?” I ask.

“So wet.” She says; if I didn’t know better I’d think she was on the verge of tears her voice is that vulnerable right now. “My fingers are soaked.” She adds.

“Taste yourself.” I direct her. “Let me hear you suck on your fingers.” I put the phone between my shoulder and ear again, adding even more lubricant to my already wet hand in preparation for the sounds Katniss is about to make. I close my eyes tighter and listen to the light sucking noises that are coming from the other end and imagine that her mouth is around me, sucking me and using her tongue to wet every inch of me.

 “I wish it was you in my mouth instead.” She says after she takes her fingers out of her mouth. A shiver runs through me at these words. She’s gotten very good at this over the years; sometimes I forget that. Having to rely on only listening to her has helped me notice this again. She’s still a woman of few words for the most part, but she makes those few words count. “But I’d rather have you come inside me.” She adds. “Do you want to come, Peeta?”

“Yes.” I can’t say anything more than that, and my voice sounds desperate, ready to bring myself to the brink with Katniss’ voice guiding me over the edge. “Tell me what it feels like.”

“It’s warm,” she starts. “And you throb inside of me,” She adds. “You know I love that feeling. Especially when you’re deep.”

“I’m almost there.” I tell her, shutting my eyes again and moving my hand quickly up and down my erection. The warming sensation has disappeared, but my mind has switched gears now and is thinking about the exact moment when I reach the breaking point and come inside her.

“I’m so wet for you.” She says, taking matters into her own hands. “I wish you could feel how wet I am.” And with that, I moan loudly and call her name as I come, spilling all over my hand and stomach.

“I need to make you come.” I breathe, suddenly desperate to hear that moment when her body gives in. “I should have waited for you to come first.”

“It was your turn to go first for once.” Katniss says then. “But now I’m ready.” She laughs a little at her words, but then grows serious again. “Make me come, Peeta.”

“I love hearing you.” I tell her. “The way your moans sound and how you murmur my name; the way our bodies sound together. Everything.” I continue. “Let me hear that, push your fingers deep inside yourself make yourself come for me.” Aside from her heavy breathing and the light sounds of her doing just as I asked, she’s silent. “Come on, Katniss.” I urge her, my voice soothing, and she begins to moan lightly. “That’s it, keep going.”

“I’m there,” she gasps before breaking into a full moan, muttering my name every so often between her sounds.

“Beautiful.” I say when she finishes. “You sound so beautiful.”

“Did I do alright?” Katniss asks, never convinced that she’s able to do something like this.

“You were perfect.” I tell her. “Beyond perfect.”

“So were you.” She says, trying to take the attention off herself.

“I need to shower and clean myself up now.” I laugh. “I don’t think Dr. Aurelius wants to shake my hand right now.”

“I need a shower too.” Katniss agrees. “You’ll be home in the morning then?”

“As long as I get the all clear to leave on the afternoon train, yes.” I explain. “I’ll let you know how it goes.”

“I don’t know if I trust you to call again.” Katniss says.

“Don’t worry,” I begin. “I’m saving everything for you for when I get home. I have a present for you.”

“I’m familiar with that present.” Katniss deadpans.

“Not that.” I grin. “You’ll see soon enough.” 

“That just makes me nervous.”

“You’ll love it, I promise.”

“Go take your shower.” Katniss scolds, her tone playful.

“Let me off this phone then.” I joke back.

“Okay, call me later.”

“I will.” I promise.

“I love you.”

“I love you too. Bye.” I set the phone down in its proper spot for the first time since last night and move off the bed, grabbing the three bottles I took from the door; as I make my way to the bathroom to shower, I drop all three bottles into my bag to bring home to Katniss.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“It’s cold out there.” Hakan says, closing the front door of the bakery.

“Well, it is January.” I reply.

“Coldest January I can remember.” Hakan says. “I’m an old man and I can’t remember it ever being this cold.”

“You’re not that old.” I remind him.

“Older than you.” He retorts.

Behind Hakan, the door opens and the bell rings, bringing along with it a bitter cold that quickly threatens to invade the entire bakery.

“Welcome to… oh it’s just you.” Hakan says with a laugh before moving to the side to reveal Katniss standing in the doorway. Her cheeks are bright red and she is sniffling while trying not to reach her gloved hand up to wipe her nose with her sleeve.

“What are you doing here?” I ask, grabbing a few napkins from the counter and rushing over to her.

“Too cold in the woods.” She stammers, teeth chattering.

“You walked all the way here from the woods?” I ask as she grabs the napkin from my hand and wipes her nose. “You should’ve gone home.” She shakes her head, trying to object and I bring my hands up and cup her cheeks, then move down and touch her neck. “You’re frozen.” I say, shaking my head at her. “Want some hot chocolate?”

“Yes.” She answers, smiling up at me.

“Go sit down at one of the tables, I’ll be back in a little bit.” I instruct, leaving the lobby while Katniss sits at one of the small tables that are set off to the side for customers to use during their visit. I move to the back of the bakery and ladle the hot chocolate into two mugs.

“We’re going to need to make more of that soon.” Hakan says, walking toward me. “We’ve sold more of that today than anything, I think.”

“I’ll start more before I bring this to Katniss.” I assure him.

“You really light up like a fancy chandelier when she walks in here.” Hakan points out.

“I should probably work on being a little less obvious, huh?” I ask with a laugh.

“No, don’t.” Hakan says, shaking his head. “Then I can’t make fun of you.”

“Oh we can’t have that, can we?” I ask, laughing.

“Of course not. Go bring your wife her hot chocolate, I’ll put more on.” Hakan says, shooing me out.  

I leave the back and find Katniss sitting at a table near the corner of the room, her arms wrapped around herself and her face buried in her coat. “Here,” I say, setting the hot chocolate down in front of her and take the seat across from her. “It’s very hot, be careful.” She wraps her hands around the hot mug and smiles

“Thank you.” She says, moving her now warm hands to her face and putting them over her cheeks.

“You shouldn’t have walked all the way here from the woods.” I tell her.

“I wanted to see you.” She answers. I smile at her statement and reach out for her hand. Taking it away from her face, she grabs onto mine. Her hand is still colder than mine, but not as cold as when she first came in here.

“Are your hips alright?” I ask. “I didn’t mean to push your legs so far apart last night.” The smile drops from Katniss’ face and she quickly looks around the room.

“I heard nothing!” Hakan calls out from behind the counter before he turns and heads to the back of the bakery once more.

“I’m sorry; I thought I whispered a little lower than that.” I laugh. Katniss is laughing too as she shakes her head.

“They’re fine now,” she answers. “They just hurt last night right after.”

“Let me know next time if something I’m doing is hurting you.” I tell her.

“It felt kind of nice in the moment. Besides, you looked like you were enjoying it.” Katniss points out. We’ve been married for six months now, and little by little her shyness is beginning to melt away. She is learning to say things like this without looking away afterward. Right now, she stares at me intently, challenging me to continue the conversation.

“I was enjoying myself. I always enjoy myself with you.” I say low. “We should go to the back office and I’ll warm you up better than the drink can.”

“You have to help Hakan.” Katniss reminds me.

“There’s nobody here. He won’t mind.” I say. “There’s a lock and everything, and with the exhaust fans going, nobody will hear a thing.”

“Are you sure?” she asks, sounding interested.

“Positive.” Just as I’m about to get up from my seat, the front door swings open and the bell rings. Hakan comes out to the front counter quickly, motioning for me to stay with Katniss and he’ll handle things.  I sit back down and look at her from across the small, circular table. “After they go.” I whisper. Katniss nods and moves her chair around the table, bringing it next to me before sitting back down and leaning forward, placing her forehead against the side of my head.

“I guess my mouth wasn’t enough for you this morning.” She murmurs.

“I think the problem is that you’re too much.” I reply, keeping my voice as low as I can without becoming inaudible. “I always struggle to control myself when you’re around.”

“It’s not working very well today.” Katniss says against my ear.

“It’s not.” I say with a deep breath.

“Peeta?” Hakan says clearing his throat. He’s standing next to the table, looking at me with a regretful expression. “I’m sorry to have to bother you, but these ladies here are looking to have a wedding cake made and they requested you personally.”

“Don’t apologize, Hakan.” I assure him as I get up from my chair, trying to adjust my pants so nobody notices the erection that was just beginning. “I’ll be right back.” I tell Katniss. “Don’t go anywhere.”

I quickly walk over to the two blonde women and extend my hand. “Good morning.” I say cordially. “Peeta Mellark.”

“Arin,” the taller of the two says. “This is my sister, Tanzi.”

“I’m told you’re looking to have a wedding cake made?” I ask.

“Yes,” Arin says, smiling. “Tanzi is getting married, and I want her to have the best cake. We know you’re the best.” She winks. “So here we are.”

“So, Tanzi, did you have anything in mind?” I ask, turning my attention to the bride to be.

“She’s fine with anything.” Arin interrupts.

“Well I asked Tanzi. Is that true, Tanzi?” I ask, she simply nods and looks in the other direction.

“I’m paying for it,” Arin states. “It’s my gift to the happy couple.”

“Alright, well, when is the wedding?” I ask, looking at Tanzi for the answer.

“In two weeks.” Tanzi says.

“Wow… well, luckily we don’t get a lot of wedding cake orders this time of the year so we could do that for you.” I explain.

“Oh good!” Arin squeaks, reaching her hand out and touching my shoulder, trailing her fingers down my arm. I take a step back and give Arin a confused look, but she doesn’t seem to notice it. “So how does this work?” she asks. “Do I pay you now or later?”

“We usually ask for a deposit while the cake is planned out.” I begin to explain. “That way, if something falls through we’ve at least been paid for our time. When all is said and done you can use that deposit towards the cake, but we won’t have a final price until after it is done.”

“That sounds fine.” Arin nods. “I think the cake should be blue, don’t you Tanzi?” Arin asks, turning to her sister. “Blue like Mr. Mellark’s eyes. Aren’t they a beautiful shade?” she says, turning back to me, grinning.

“Please, it’s Peeta.” I say. When people call me Mr. Mellark, it just makes me think of my father, but that’s not something Arin and Tanzi need to hear about.

“Alright, Peeta.” Arin smiles again. “A beautiful blue cake to match your eyes. Just let me know how much the deposit is and we’ll be out of your hair for today.” I walk around and go back behind the counter and write up an order slip for Tanzi’s cake, writing down the details we discussed, and then let Arin know the amount for the deposit, which she happily pays.

“Thank you, Peeta.” Tanzi says politely, walking toward the door.

“You’re welcome.” I reply.

“Yes, thank you very much.” Arin says, extending her hand. I take it and give a brief shake before trying to let go; Arin hangs on and pulls me toward her slightly. “I’ll be in touch.” She says with a smile, finally letting go of my hand and joining her sister at the front door. “Bye, Peeta.” She says, looking over her shoulder and waving.

I put my hand up and give a cordial wave in return, and when they are both out the door and gone, I turn back to Katniss and smile as I walk toward her. “Where we were?” I ask, wrapping my arms around her waist.

“I have to go.” Katniss says, grabbing my hands and pulling them off her.

“Wait, why? Just stay here until I’m done working and we can walk home together.” I call after her as she starts to walk toward the door.

“No. I’m going home.” She answers, not turning back as she shoves the front door open and storms out, leaving me standing at the front of the bakery, confused.

“Sounds like someone didn’t like Arin.” Hakan says from the back.

“What?” I ask. “That can’t be what that was about.”

“You didn’t see if from our vantage point. She would have crawled down your pants if you let her.” Hakan explains.

“Yeah, but Katniss knows better than to get upset about that.” I tell him. “She’s just a customer; I have plenty of female customers every single day. Why get mad now?”

“Maybe because your average female customer doesn’t request a blue cake as beautiful as your eyes?” Hakan suggests. “I should have just taken care of it and let you take her in the back office like you wanted to.” I give Hakan a look; he wasn’t supposed to hear that. “Hey, I don’t judge.” He says putting his hands up. “I was a newlywed once too. Get it while you can.”

When I get home that afternoon, Katniss has lunch made but still isn’t acting right. She won’t look at me; she is giving one word answers, and is carrying herself as though something has disappointed her. Like I’ve disappointed her.

“I’m sorry you had to leave so quickly this morning.” I start. I don’t want to directly accuse her of being jealous of a woman I only just met and is nothing more than I customer. I want her to be the one to admit it. “I wanted to show you what we were planning for Valentine’s Day at the bakery.”

“Is that before, after, or in between pushy customers and sex in your office?” Katniss answers sarcastically.

“Whichever you would have preferred.” I answer back, equally sarcastic. I don’t know why, but the fact that she is actually upset over Arin’s actions makes me mad. “It could have been a nice morning.” I add.

“Yeah, it could’ve been.” Katniss snaps back.

“What are you mad about?” I ask, finally.

“I didn’t realize the bakery had so many touchy feely customers.” Katniss says.

“It doesn’t, that was a first.” I explain. “And I’m sorry you had to see that.”

“So it would have been just fine had I not?” Katniss asks.

“No, that’s not what I meant.” I take a breath and try to reiterate. “She’s a paying customer. Yes she was a little too friendly, but that shouldn’t affect you, and I hate that she did that with or without you there.”

“Hakan should have taken it.” Katniss says.

“They requested me.” I remind her. “Don’t let it bother you. She seemed pretty desperate.” I say, trying to make a joke. Katniss is looking down at her plate sheepishly.

“I just couldn’t help it.” She says. “I just got so mad watching her flirt with you.”

“Awe, Katniss. You’re jealous.” I tease, hoping that my disregard will make her see how trivial this all is.

“I guess I was.” She says with a guilty grin.

“I wanted to show you that we are planning to make red velvet cupcakes for Valentine’s Day.” I say then, changing the subject back to the original topic. “You should spend the day with me there and we can make them together, like last time.” I smile. “Then maybe I can get you in that office this time.”

****

“Do you want a lot of carrots again this year?” I sit in the office, the phone to my ear while I talk to Katniss about what we want to plant in our garden this coming spring.

“The more carrots we plant, the more opportunities you have to make your glaze.” Katniss says happily. She seems to have gotten over her issue from yesterday morning, and I am happy to move forward and away from it.

“Of course, your favorite carrot glaze.” I laugh. “I just wish it were spring already. These walks to and from the bakery are torture.”

“And some days it’s too cold to even hunt.” Katniss adds.

“Hakan says this is the coldest he ever remembers it being. Maybe there’s some truth to that. I don’t remember walks to work ever being this bad.” I say. There’s a knock on the door, and I see Monte standing outside. “Hang on a second, Katniss.” I put the phone down on my shoulder. “Come on in Monte, what’s up?” I ask.

“There’s a woman out front that wants to see you. Something about a wedding cake, she said her name is Arin.” Monte says. I let out a large breath and nod.

“Thanks, Monte. Tell her I’ll be right out after I wrap up this phone call.” Monte turns and leaves. “Katniss? I have to go, a customer needs me.” I say.

“Who is it?” Katniss asks with a troubled tone.

“What?” I ask in return. She’s never asked me something like that before and it catches me off guard.

“Who is the customer?” she asks again.

“If you must know, it’s Arin.” I tell her honestly.

“Right.” Katniss says, her tone changing completely. “Bye.” The phone line disconnects before I can even say goodbye. I compose myself and try to swallow the anger that I feel bubbling up inside me before I walk out to greet Arin.

“Good morning, Arin.” I say cordially. “What brings you here today?”

“Tanzi has these pictures she wanted me to bring you. She was hoping you can frost them onto the cake.” Arin says with that same smile she was giving me yesterday. I want to roll my eyes and tell her to stop, but this is business and I have to be polite.

“Sure, I can do that. I’d like to meet with her before getting started on the cake just to get everything straight with her. When do you think she’d be able to come in to talk about it?” I ask. Arin’s smile fades and she looks as though she’s trying to fight a grimace.

“I don’t know,” Arin begins. “She’s very busy you know. That’s why I’m here today with the pictures. She’s given me control of the cake.” She smiles again and bounces on her heels. “I can meet you some time though.” I take a deep breath, already sick and tired of all of this. At the moment, I’m considering if cutting her loose and taking the hit in reputation and profit is the better idea here, but I don’t want to let down my crew if Arin were to bad mouth the bakery.

“How about Monday morning?” I ask. “We can get everything situated with the design and then I can work on it through the week to have it ready for Tanzi by the wedding day.”

“What about tomorrow?” Arin counters.

“Can’t do tomorrow. I’m closing tomorrow and have another cake that needs to be done before Saturday morning.” I explain. “It’ll have to be Monday.”

“That’s fine then.” Arin says. “Thank you, Peeta.” There’s that smile again. She may think it’s cute, but it is only making me angrier. “You better take care of those pictures. I’ll see you Monday.” She giggles, and since her back is turned, I can drop my fake smile and finally roll my eyes.

****

When I walk in the door that afternoon, I find Katniss at the stove making lunch. I walk closer to her and see if I can read her expression, but I can’t.

“Hey,” I ask, trying to get her to look at me. “Look at me, Katniss.” When she looks up, she gives me a look like I am bothering her. “Is everything alright?”

“Everything is fine.” She answers. Her tone is cold. Everything is not fine. I make my way to the steps to change out of my work clothes and try to think of how to approach this conversation with Katniss, since yesterday’s approach didn’t work when Katniss speaks up again. “How’s Arin?” she asks, sarcasm dripping from her words. I throw my arms in the air, turn around and go back into the kitchen. If she’s ready to talk now, we’ll talk now.

“I wouldn’t know.” I tell her. “She came is to give me pictures that her sister wants on her cake.”

“Right.” Katniss says. It’s the same way she said it on the phone before she hung up on me this morning.

“Katniss, she’s a customer. They’re paying a lot for this cake. I cannot refuse to speak to her, it’s bad business.”

“Well I don’t trust her.” Katniss finally admits. Hearing her admit that should make me feel better, but it only makes me feel worse.

“Then that means you don’t trust me.” I point out.

“I didn’t say that.” Katniss replies.

“No. But it was implied.” I say, turning around and walking upstairs without another word.

After that, Katniss is less cold. We have lunch and make small talk, but something still doesn’t feel quite right between us, and until Arin is gone, I don’t know if it can be right. I toss and turn almost all night trying to think of a solution to the problem. Arin is persistent and short of telling her that I refuse to do business with her, I can’t think of any other way to avoid her until the cake is done and I can finally tell her that her behavior has been bordering on inappropriate.

A lot of people probably wouldn’t be too bothered by it, but it bothers me because it bothers Katniss and forces her to doubt my dedication. It’s something she should never have to doubt, but Katniss will probably always have some issues with trust, even though I’ve told her and proven to her time and time again that I’m not going anywhere and I do not want anyone else. It bothers me because Arin knows I’m married, there’s nobody in the district that doesn’t know anymore, and even if the information somehow missed her, I saw her looking at my wedding ring. The fact that she doesn’t care that I have a wife at home is low.

Katniss and I spend the entire morning together, wrapped in a large blanket in front of the fireplace in the living room. I switched shifts with Ismene today, which gives me the morning to lounge around with Katniss.

“I’m not keeping you from hunting, am I?” I ask, pulling the blanket around us even tighter.

“No, I’ll just go when you leave for the bakery. I’d rather be here right now.” Katniss replies.

“Good.” I smile. “Me too.”

“I do trust you, you know.” Katniss says suddenly.

“Then don’t let Arin bother you so much.” I advise.

“I try not to, but every time you say her name I just feel so…”

“Jealous?” I finish for her.

“Yeah…” Katniss admits.

“There’s nothing to be jealous of. I told you she’s desperate, that’s not attractive, even if I were single.”

“Oh let’s make the cake blue like your beautiful eyes, Mr. Mellark.” Katniss says, mocking Arin.

“That’s what I like to hear from you.” I laugh.

“I still don’t like her.” Katniss adds.

“You don’t have to.” I assure her.

I hate having to leave the warmth and comfort of the blanket to go to work. Especially when I know I won’t be coming home until after dark.

****

“It’s really coming down out there.” Monte says, looking out the front window.

“Why today?” I complain. “Now it’s going to take me double the time to get home trying to walk through the snow with my leg.”

“Should we close early?” Monte asks. “Before it gets dark? Or worse?”

“I would if I didn’t have to finish this cake by morning.” I reply. “You can go home; I doubt we’ll get many customers.”

“Are you sure? I can stay.”

“I’m sure. Go home.” I tell him.

“There’s at least half a foot out here,” Monte calls from the doorway. “It’ll probably be worse by the time you leave.”

“Thanks for making me feel better, Monte!” I call back to him.

I work on the cake that needs to be done by morning uninterrupted and don’t even realize how much time has passed. When I put the final touches on , I look up at the clock and notice it’s 5:45. I finished just in time to clean up and close up. I can hear the wind whipping around outside and the snow is coming down so hard that it can be heard hitting the windows. In my haste to get everything cleaned up, I don’t hear the front bell ring.

“Hey, Peeta.” I jump at the sound of a voice and turn quickly to see Arin standing in the back of the bakery.

“Sorry, I didn’t hear you come in, I’m getting ready to close.” I tell her. “And… only employees are allowed back here.”

“I’ll be quick.” She smiles. “Tanzi had some more ideas for you.”

“Can it wait until Monday? My wife is expecting me for dinner, and I have a long walk home.” I ask.

“Well I had a long walk over here in this storm too, but I did it. For my sister.” Arin answers. I close my eyes and take a deep breath.

“Fine.” I look at the clock and see it’s five minutes to six. “Let me call my wife first, excuse me.” I don’t wait for her to answer and walk back to the office, sitting down and dialing the number. When Katniss picks up, I waste no time.

“Katniss, I’m sorry. I’m still at the bakery, Arin decided to show up with more cake ideas. I’ll be out of here as soon as I can.” Katniss is quiet on the other end and I hear her take a breath in.

“Okay, Peeta.” She answers. Her tone isn’t mad and I know that she’s trying to prove that she trusts me.

“I’ll see you soon.” I tell her before hanging up the phone and going back to where Arin waits. “You really can’t be back here, let’s go to the tables.” We sit down at the small round table and I wait a minute for her to speak. When she doesn’t, I speak up. “So what were Tanzi’s new ideas? They had to be important if you came all the way here in a snow storm.”

“Oh, right!” Arin says with a laugh. “Well…” she says, hesitating. “She wants grapes on it. Can you do grapes?”

“That’s what brought you here? Grapes?” I ask, dumbfounded. “You could have told me that on Monday.”

“Well I wasn’t sure.” Arin giggles again. “I thought you’d want to know now.”

“It could’ve waited until Monday.” I say seriously.

“Well I have another picture for you too.” She says then, as though she forgot until right now. She reaches into her coat pocket and pulls out another picture and setting it on the table. “Tanzi really likes these flowers.

“So you want these flowers, and grapes, and the three other pictures you brought in yesterday?” I ask. “That’ll be awfully cluttered. Are you sure?”

“It’s what Tanzi wants.” Arin states. “Anything for the paying customer, right?” The way she says it does not sit well with me. It’s one thing to flirt, but another to imply something more than that. I stand up from the table and square my shoulders.

“I’m closing up now. You can come back Monday morning as we planned and we’ll finish talking about the cake.” I walk to the front door and open it, the wind threatens to blow it shut even with me holding it open. “Have a nice night.”

“Bye bye,” Arin says with a giggle. “See you, Monday.”

As soon as she’s out the door, I slam it, causing the open sign to fall off the door. I don’t even bother to pick it up. I glance at the clock while turning off the lights and notice that it’s now after 6:30. The snow hasn’t stopped all day, and now it’s completely dark outside. I begin the long trek home through snow that goes up to my calf. 

It takes me at least double the time it usually does to reach The Victor’s Village, and as I get closer I noticed that Haymitch is on his porch sitting on a chair and looking in my direction. My pants are completely wet with snow and my right leg is starting to go numb, but I go over to his porch anyway to see why he’s out here.

“Hey,” I say to him. “Why are you sitting out here during a snow storm?” Haymitch’s face is serious and he doesn’t seem very happy. When Haymitch passes up the opportunity to supply a witty retort, I know something is wrong.

“You better go talk to your wife.” He says. His voice is dark and filled with something I can’t decipher.

“What’s wrong?” I ask. I already know the answer, but how Haymitch became part of the problem is where I get lost.

“She ran over here, in the storm and through the snow… barefoot, desperate to talk about some Arin woman.” Haymitch says, looking at my face to see what I’d do when he mentioned Arin.

“You’re kidding, right?” I ask, floored.

“I’m not kidding, Peeta.” His tone has not changed once since we started talking. “She was really upset, probably even worse than I could imagine if she came crying to me. Literally.”

“She was crying?” I ask. Haymitch nods. This has gone way too far and for no reason. The anger that has been building for the past two days comes roaring to the surface.

“She said you were probably off fucking another woman. Her words, not mine.” Haymitch tells me.

“This is ridiculous!” I’m trying to stay calm. This isn’t Haymitch’s fight, but before I can stop myself I’m slamming my hands on his porch railing and pushing it forward until I hear the base begin to crack. I turn and hike back down the steps and back into the snow towards our house, my right leg feeling like it’s both frozen and on fire all at the same time.

“Peeta!” Haymitch calls after me, but I don’t turn around.

“I’ll talk to you later!” I yell back angrily.

“Should you be going home right now?” He calls back.

“Leave me alone, I’m fine!” I know what he thinks. He thinks he’s induced some sort of flashback, but he hasn’t. I’m perfectly lucid, the only thing I’m feeling is true, genuine anger.

I storm up the front steps of our house and throw the door open, letting it slam against the wall before grabbing it again and slam it shut.

“Katniss!” I yell. She’s not on the first floor anywhere, and I notice that dinner is on the stove, still in pans, but the burners are all turned off. I can hear her walking upstairs loudly and I know just by this that she is upset. She never walks loudly. She appears on the stairway quickly, almost jumping down before she rounds on me.

“Where have you been?” she asks, venom dripping from her words.

“I told you where I was.” My reply is equally venomous; I won’t let her get away with this one.

“Then why did it take you so long to get home?”

“Did you fail to notice how badly it is snowing when you went crying to Haymitch? You know that snow slows me down. You know that!” I yell, frustrated that she didn’t think of something so obvious.

“Perfect excuse.” Katniss says, shaking her head before walking off into the living room.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask, following behind her. She doesn’t turn around. “Do you really not trust me that much that you think I’d do that to you?!” She stops in front of the fireplace and crosses her arms, keeping her back to me. I sit down on the couch, the pain in my right leg still screaming and getting worse by the second now that I’m in the warm house. “What kind of person do you think I am, Katniss?”

She doesn’t answer and I’ve run out of things to say to try to get her to talk to me. Instead of trying again, I lean forward and put my elbows on my thighs, allowing my hands to find my face and I rest my head in them. After a few minutes, Katniss finally speaks.

“Is this the moment where you leave like I’ve been expecting?” her voice is filled with sadness now, but it does nothing to extinguish the anger that has now bubbled so far over the surface and I’m afraid I might explode. I jump up from the couch and grab her elbow, spinning her around to face me, but she takes her hand and slaps my hand off of her. “Don’t touch me!”

“Why not?” I ask angrily. “Do you really think I was, as you said to Haymitch, fucking another woman at the bakery?”

“I saw how she looked at you and how it didn’t seem to bother you. You probably enjoyed it. Did you bring her in your office like you wanted to bring me?”

“I treat her no differently than I would any other customer. In fact, I think I treat her worse.” I explain. “I even kicked her out of the bakery tonight so I could come home, to you!” I stress. “If I refuse her business she could drag the bakery’s name through the mud and I won’t do that to my employees, and I won’t tarnish the reputation of the family’s bakery for a person that doesn’t even matter.”

“You’re the only bakery in the district, Peeta. How bad could it be?” Katniss says.

“It has nothing to do with that! My father would never treat a customer differently because she was too flirty.” I point out.

“Well we all know your dad had eyes for someone else anyway, didn’t he?” Katniss snaps.

“Just because you don’t like yourself enough to believe someone wants to be with you forever doesn’t mean that you can take it out on me.” I say bitterly. “And don’t bring my father into this. It’s not his fault that you can’t possibly believe that I don’t want anyone else but you.”

“Well, I hope she was worth it.” Katniss says, turning away from me. She begins to leave the living room but I grab her arm angrily and push her against the wall so she can’t run away from this.

“She’s nothing!” I yell in her face. “What do I have to do to get you to realize that?!” Katniss says nothing in return. She looks at me with fury in her eyes and I do the only thing I can think of. I kiss her hard on the mouth, shoving my tongue through her lips. I wait for Katniss to shove me away, to deny me the kisses I’ve come to depend on, but she never does. Instead, she returns the kiss with evenly matched anger and ferocity, adding to it by reaching her arms up and burying her hands in my hair, pulling my head back roughly.

“Prove it.” She provokes. I waste no time before kissing her again as confirmation that I know what she’s daring me to do. Her hands leave my hair and go straight to the front of my shirt; without looking she tears it open, ignoring the buttons that begin to scatter across the room. This prompts me to reach my hands up to the neckline of her shirt and pull, listening as the fabric stretches and tears, and then I pull my lips away from hers and move my head down to her collarbone and bite, hard.

She lets out a loud hiss then glides her hands around my torso beyond the two sides of my shirt that are now hanging freely and digs her nails into my back, dragging them around to my chest before taking both of my nipples between her fingers and squeezing forcibly.

With my hands tangled in her shirt collar, I pull it up and over her head letting it drop straight to the ground when I release it and bring my hands right back up to her bra and rip it off. When she stops squeezing my nipples, she digs her nails in once again and claws down my chest, to my stomach and stops when her hands hit my belt. I follow her lead and squeeze my arms between hers and pop the button on her pants as she undoes my belt.

When we’re both unzipped, we pull down each other’s pants and underwear in one motion. Neither one of us succeeds in pushing the other’s pants all the way down, but they’re down enough. I grab my erection and begin to rub it up and down Katniss’ stomach as she moves her hands back up to grab my hair again, forcing me down into a harsh kiss. I bend my knees slightly, so that my erection is in line with her center and I slip it between her legs and grind against her.

I don’t think she’s expecting it when I grab her shoulders and forcibly pull her away from the wall and push her down to the living room floor. I kick my pants completely off, then kneel down in front of her, pulling her pants off vehemently.

I crawl over her body, and push my forehead against hers, pinning her head to the floor. I flick my tongue out and over her lips before speaking. “Don’t. Move.” I warn, as I pull my body off of her and sit on my legs in front of her.

Grabbing her knees, I pull her legs apart and scoot in close, nestling myself between her legs. I position the tip of my erection at her opening and push into her with force, then cover her body with my own and prop myself up with my hands on either side of her and I drill into her deep and hard.

Katniss brings her legs up and wraps them around my waist, squeezing them together forcing me to go even deeper as she sinks her nails into my neck and down my chest.

“Don’t you ever think I’d want this with anyone else.” I say forcibly as I plunge into her, causing her to move across the carpet. “Ever.” I say again. I pin her head down with my own again and look into her eyes. “Do you understand?” I ask, my tone is commanding and I pull my head back to see Katniss nodding.

“Yes,” she whimpers, squeezing her legs even harder around me.

“Do you understand?!” I ask again, louder, expecting the same in return.

“Yes!” Katniss yells back as I feel her entire body reach the peak and shake beneath me. I move my head down and begin to bite her neck again as she cries out my name and digs her nails in even deeper. I continue to pound into her and almost right after she finishes her first orgasm, I feel her legs shaking around my waist as she comes again, screaming out even louder.

She’s so wet that I almost slip out of her with the force that I’m using to hit every spot I can. Her hands go up to my hair and pulls so hard that it feels like she’s actually ripped my hair out, but this only encourages me to go even faster and she crushes her legs around me even tighter in response, and then she begins to shake again, her middle clenching around me forcefully as her entire body convulses underneath me. I bury my head in her neck and give one more hard bite before it’s my turn to shake as I empty myself deep inside of her.

I pull myself off of her and sit, but she doesn’t move. We say nothing for several minutes and as I start to come down from the adrenaline rush, all I can feel is pain. My lips are throbbing, my chest, back, and neck are burning, my right leg is still in pain from walking through the snow, and my waist is sore from Katniss wrapping her legs around it so tightly.

“I’m sorry.” Katniss finally says, still lying on the floor. “You’re right. I hate myself and I think everyone else does too.” She admits. “Like everyone is looking for the first chance to get away from me.”

“You know that isn’t true about me.” I tell her.

“I know.” She says, ashamed. “I couldn’t help it though. I thought of all of the good things she’d offer you that I can’t.”

“I don’t care about that.” I say. “She’s not you, and that’s the only thing I want. She can’t offer me that.”

We’re quiet again for several minutes, but then I can’t help but start to laugh.

“Look at us,” I say. “We look like we got into a fight with Buttercup.”

“My back hurts.” Katniss says, finally getting up and moving over to me. I look and see that her entire back is red from rug burn.

“I am so sorry.” I say, sadly, but then begin to laugh again.

“Don’t be.” She says. “You don’t look any better than I do.” She laughs. “Have fun going to work with scratches all over your neck.”

“Is it really that bad?” I ask. She nods.

“And I kind of ruined your shirt.” She laughs again.

“I have more.” I smile. “Let’s go get cleaned up and have dinner.” I add, trying to push myself off the floor. “I can’t get up.” I say, embarrassed. “My one good leg isn’t even a help right now, it’s still numb from my walk home.” Katniss gets up and puts her hands out, helping me off the ground.

“How about a warm bath?” she asks.  

****

When Arin arrives at the bakery Monday morning, I’m ready to get her out as soon as possible. She sits down at the table and begins to talk about the cake. Rambling off ideas that she never mentioned before.

“You know we can’t possibly put all of that on the cake, right?” I say, setting my pen down and waiting to hear what her answer is going to be.

“How long have you been married?” she asks. “I mean, really married. Nobody believed you before The Quell, you know.”

“Six months.” I tell her firmly.

“So, not long enough to be tired of her yet, huh?” she replies.

“I’ll never be tired of her.” I state. She gets up from her seat and laughs as she walks over to me.

“What happened to your neck?” she says, reaching out to try to touch it.

“Nothing.” I say, getting up from my seat. “Excuse me.” I move quickly to the back of the bakery and find Hakan by the mixers.

“Hakan,” I say, shaking my head. “You have to take over for me, I can’t tolerate that woman anymore.”

“Arin?” Hakan asks. “Will she go for that? They did request you specifically.”

“I don’t care. She has no respect for me or for Katniss and I can’t work with her anymore. I’ll help you with the cake, but could you please finish this meeting?”

“Sure, Peeta.” Hakan smiles. He leaves the back and goes to meet with Arin, while I take over mixing dough.

A few minutes later, Hakan comes back shaking his head. “She left.” He says. “She said she’ll take her business elsewhere if you refuse to work with her… even though there is nowhere else to go.” He laughs.

“No big loss.” I shrug. “Katniss and I had a huge fight about her Friday night.”

“Well that explains your neck.” Hakan says.

“Sort of.” I smile.

“Ahh, one of those nights. Okay, tiger.” He laughs again.

We work for the next few hours as usual, until we hear the bell at the front and see Tanzi walk through the door.

“I’ll handle it.” I tell Hakan, walking up front. “Good Morning, Tanzi.” I say, hoping I’m not about to get screamed at.

“Peeta, I’m sorry.” Tanzi says. Definitely not the response I was expecting.

“Shouldn’t I be the one apologizing?” I ask.

“No.” she shakes her head. “I’m not engaged. I don’t even have a boyfriend.” She admits. “This was all some plan Arin hatched. She’s had her eye on you since The Quell and she thought that if she came in here and batted her eyelashes that it’d actually get you away from Katniss Everdeen…. Sorry, Katniss Mellark.”

“So there was never a cake?” I ask, dumbstruck.

“No.” she confesses. “She made me go along with it. I hope you don’t hate me, but you don’t know how Arin can be.”

“I’m pretty sure that I do.” I laugh.

“Here is some extra money for your trouble, put this with the deposit that she gave you. I’m so sorry.” She apologizes again.

“No, Tanzi. Keep your money, it’s fine, but tell your sister that if tries anything like that again, she won’t be allowed back to this bakery ever again, alright?” Tanzi nods.

“Thank you, Peeta.” She says, turning and heading to the door. “Sorry again.” She adds as she leaves.

I immediately walk back to the office and pick up the phone, hoping Katniss is back from the woods. When she picks up the phone I don’t even say hello.

“I cut Arin loose today. Gave the job to Hakan.” I tell her.

“You didn’t have to do that.” Katniss replies, sounding guilty.

“Yes I did, but that’s not the best part. I’ll tell you the whole story when I get home, but I just wanted to tell you that.” I explain.

“You sound happy.” She says.

“Happy to be rid of her.” I laugh.

We’re quiet for several minutes, the relief apparent, even though the phone line.

“You know it’ll always be you, right?” I ask.

“I know, Peeta. I know.” Katniss answers.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

I like to look at the trees in the distance when I walk home from the bakery and think that if I watch them long enough I’ll see them change with the seasons, but I miss it every year. One day the trees are dormant, void of anything, and then seemingly overnight I notice they’ve grown leaves.

It happened earlier than usual this year. The lush green trees that signal summer already looked like that when our son Atem was born in early April, and now it seems that the leaves are changing colors early. It’s only mid-August, but some trees already have spots of gold, and the roads from the bakery to the Victor’s Village are littered with fallen leaves.

Next year when the leaves are green in June, my daughter will turn 5; when they begin to change, she will be walking to her first day of school, and it will be the end of her spending days at the bakery with me. Helping, learning, growing; it’s still a year away, but I miss it already; maybe it’s because lately, Zuri has been choosing to stay home with Katniss when I offer to take her to work with me.

When I walk in the door of the house, I spot Zuri, sitting at the kitchen table with an empty bowl in front of her, waiting for lunch to begin. Katniss is at the stove, stirring the left over soup from last night’s dinner.

“Hey Bunny,” I say, walking over to Zuri. “Are you hungry?” She nods her head wildly and hops off the chair, throwing her arms around my neck. When I stand up, she is still hanging on. “There’s something stuck on my neck!” Zuri giggles, but stops when Katniss speaks up from the stove.

“Zuri, let go of your father’s neck before you hurt him.” She says, sounding tired and resigned. Without a word, I remove Zuri’s arms from around my neck and set her back down in her chair.

“Where’s your brother?” I whisper to Zuri. “Did he cry a lot today?”

“Yes.” Zuri nods. “He’s in there.” She points to the living room and I crane my neck to see his cradle planted in the middle of the living room.

“Don’t even think about going in there.” Katniss speaks up again. “He did not sleep at all this morning; he needs to nap.”

“Alright,” I say, putting my hands up defensively. I move to the chair next to Zuri and begin to sit down, but she stops me.

“No, daddy.” She shakes her head. “I want mommy to sit next to me.” I nod and move around to the other side of the table.

“Can you help me with this?” Katniss asks, turning around to look at me as I move to the other side of the table. “Maybe I can have a hot meal today.” Her voice is forced, like she is struggling to remain polite; I grab Zuri’s bowl silently and bring it to the stove so Katniss can start dishing out the soup.

She rarely gets to eat a hot meal these days. It seems that every time we sit down to eat together, Atem is ready to eat too. When Zuri was born, Effie sent us boxes of baby things straight from The Capitol, which included a pump and bottles so that Katniss doesn’t have to be the only person to feed the children when they’re small, but she refuses to use it. She says it’s her job to feed them the first year, and she won’t hear any arguments to convince her otherwise. That doesn’t mean I still don’t try.

“Well you know I can’t feed him for you.” I point out. “Even though I wouldn’t mind doing it.” When Zuri was old enough to eat table food, I reveled in finally getting to feed her for the first time and having that time to bond with her. I know Katniss was relieved that she didn’t have to be the only one that fed her anymore, even though she would never admit it.

The three of us sit at the table and have lunch together, but Katniss is somewhere else. Every time I try to say something, I notice her turn her gaze to the living room. She gets up to check on Atem three times before I give up on speaking all together.

The last 4 months since Atem was born have been difficult. It feels as though it has been one long day where it’s the same thing over and over again with no conclusion. Katniss is so preoccupied with the kids that by the end of the day it leaves no time for us. Even on days like today when I go into the bakery early so I can be home for lunch, she’s still preoccupied. No matter how many times I offer to help, it doesn’t make her any less exhausted by the time we go to bed at night.

I’ve been doing a lot of painting alone lately. Before, Katniss used to sit in there with me and watch me, gazing at me, fixated on something with a look in her eyes that told me everything that was on her mind without her having to say any of it. After Zuri was born, we’d all sit in there together, and as time went on, it turned into just Zuri sitting with me. Now, she doesn’t even come in to watch me paint, preferring to spend her time following Katniss around the house.

I was the bath giver in the house, scooping Zuri up an hour before her bed time and carrying her up to the bathroom for her nightly bath. When Atem was born, I expected to be the one to give both of them baths before bed, but now, Zuri requests Katniss give her a bath while I take Atem and give him a bath in the kitchen sink. It’s nice to have that time with my son, but the picture in my head about what this would be like and what it truly is do not match up.

There’s a distance that has formed between me and Katniss over the last few months. I feel like I’m not doing enough and am not able to do enough to help her with the kids, and in return she has no time for me. I’m afraid she’ll start to resent me and my lack of involvement. I do everything that I can while I’m home, but it still doesn’t seem to be enough. Sometimes I feel like an outsider in my own home, watching as Katniss cradles Atem in her arms on the couch and Zuri curls up next to her. It makes me wonder where I fit in this picture.

That night, as we slip under the covers and lie down to sleep, I can’t stop myself from saying something.

“Remember when we’d come to bed, but not go straight to sleep?” I ask. “I miss that.”

“Well, we have two kids now.” Katniss says. “Two is a lot more demanding than one ever was, and I’m tired.”

“I know.” I say, feeling guilty for even bringing it up. “I just keep waiting for you to have some time for me.” I admit.

“You had 15 years of my time, Peeta.” Katniss shakes her head. “Things are different now.” I want to ask her what she means by that, but before I can get the words out, Atem starts crying from his room down the hall. Katniss gets up quickly and sprints out the door, returning a minute later with Atem in her arms.

“I’m just going to keep him in here tonight, maybe he’ll sleep better.” Katniss says.

“Katniss…” I speak harsher than I intend to, and she notices right away.

“What, Peeta?” She says, laying Atem down between us before pinching the bridge of her nose. “Do you have a better suggestion to get him to sleep at night? Because I’m all out of ideas.”

“Nothing,” I say, lying down and reaching out to Atem’s hand, letting him wrap his small hand around one of my fingers.

“No, why don’t you tell me?” Katniss demands.

“Well… this is our room.” I state. “Our room. For us.”

“So let our son cry in his room just so you can have me all to yourself in here?” Katniss says, sounding disgusted.

“That’s not what I meant.” I begin. “I just meant that we shouldn’t teach the kids that coming in here to sleep is allowed. We need a place for privacy too.”

“He’s 4 months old, Peeta, and it’s one night. Surely you’ll survive.” Katniss says, lying down herself and scooting Atem over to her, causing his hand to let go of my finger. We go to sleep without another word.

When I get to work the next morning, I decide to try to talk to Hakan about what is going on. He doesn’t have children of his own, but I’m hoping that he has gone through something that can compare.

“Do you think it’s normal to feel disconnected from your wife?”  I ask him suddenly.

“I guess it depends on what you mean by disconnected.” Hakan answers.

“Like you have two different lives and you can’t seem to bring them together anymore.” I explain.

“What’s wrong, Peeta?” Hakan asks, motioning for me to follow him to the tables at the front of the bakery. We sit down and I look down at the table, too ashamed to admit that I’m failing.

“I don’t know.” I admit. “I just feel like Katniss has no time for me anymore.”

“So make time.” Hakan says simply. It’s easy for him to say that, he doesn’t have kids that need her attention as well.

“I’ve tried, but it isn’t exactly easy to do after she’s been with the kids all day and just wants silence and sleep after they’ve gone to bed.” I explain. “Making time just isn’t as easy. Especially when she doesn’t even seem interested in my efforts to do so.”

“She just had a baby, Peeta.” Hakan reminds me.

“I know that.” I’m starting to get frustrated, and I don’t want to bring my problems to work and then take them out on Hakan, so I get up from the table and walk to my office without another word. I can’t help but wonder what is wrong with me and why suddenly, my wife and children seem more content without me.

When I walk home from the bakery that afternoon, I decide to stop by Haymitch’s. Maybe he has a better idea of what to do than Hakan, even though he has never been married. Sometimes he just knows about things, and I’m hoping he’ll have answers for me.

I knock on his door, taking a step back just in case I’ve woken him up, but when the door swings open and I am face to face with Haymitch, he wordlessly steps aside, inviting me in.

“To what do I owe this visit?” Haymitch asks, following behind me.

“A fool seeking advice.” I answer.

“So what makes you a fool this time?” Haymitch replies. “Sit down.” I let myself drop onto the couch and rest my elbows on my knees.

“I don’t know,” I shrug. “I have the woman I’ve always wanted, the children I’ve always wanted, and lately I’ve been feeling like they don’t want me.”

“What’s that supposed to me?” Haymitch says harshly.

“It’s like the three of them have their own little world that I don’t fit in to.” I explain. “Katniss has her quiet moments with Atem while she feeds him; Zuri follows her from room to room and asks for Katniss to sit by her at lunch instead of me, and I’m trying to keep up with them and include myself in all of the little things that they do, but whenever I try it just feels like I’m not welcome.”

“You know you sound completely ridiculous, right?” Haymitch says.

“Do I? Because it doesn’t feel very ridiculous at that house right now.” I snap. “Katniss and I hardly talk; we hardly do anything together anymore. She’s always with the kids. Sometimes I’ll get to give Atem a bath, but I’m on one floor and Katniss is upstairs on the other. I change his diapers and all he does is cry, but he doesn’t cry when Katniss changes him and then at the end of the day I just want to know where my wife went.”

“She’s still there, but she’s also the mother of your children now. You know, those children that you wanted so badly.” Haymitch lectures before adding, “With her.”

“I just didn’t expect them to take Katniss away from me.” I mumble.

“So you’re jealous.” Haymitch states.

“What?” I ask, incredulously.

“Do you need me to spell it for you? You’re jealous of all of the time the kids spend with Katniss and all of the time she spends with them.”

“No I’m not.” I shake my head. “Why would I be jealous of my wife and my children?”

“Because you’re gone at work while she bonds with them and they bond with her?” Haymitch suggests.

That’s completely ridiculous.” I say.

“Is it?” Haymitch says, raising his eyebrows.

“Yes.” I answer firmly.

“So tell me a little more how Katniss has no time for you anymore?” Haymitch says. His tone is sarcastic and implies that he still thinks that I could possibly be jealous of the time my wife and children spend together.

“You know what? Forget it.” I snap, standing up from the couch angrily and walking toward the door, letting it slam loudly behind me as I go. How dare he suggest that I am jealous of my family? What kind of man would feel that way?

As I approach the house I can already hear Atem screaming. Part of me wants to keep walking and go back to the bakery. I could call Katniss and tell her Monte got sick and I have to stay and work for him. I’ve never dreaded going home before and as I stop, just as I’m about to walk up the steps, I start to think about what Haymitch said. Could I really be jealous of something that I should be happy about? The kids love their mother and their mother loves them. What’s so bad about that?

But, the more I think about that very thing, the more I feel my blood begin to run cold at the idea of them spending time together without me, and when I think about Katniss and how far away she seems right now, I have to sit down on the steps and calm myself down.

I’m not sure how long I’m sitting out there, but by the time I feel a hand on my shoulder, Atem is quiet.

“Peeta?” Katniss says, squeezing my shoulder. “Are you okay?” When I turn around I can see the concern on her face. It’s the look she gets when I have a flashback.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” I say. “Just thinking…”

“Hakan is on the phone in the house.” She says. “I didn’t know what time it was until he called and asked for you. Then I realized you weren’t here.” Great, now she doesn’t even notice I’m not in the house. “Atem has just been so…”

“It’s fine.” I say shortly, standing up and walking into the house.

When I get in the house, I notice Atem and Zuri on a blanket in the living room. Zuri is playing with a doll and Atem is lying on his back, staring up at the ceiling and kicking his legs wildly. When Zuri hears the door close, she looks up and smiles when she sees me. I wave at her and smile back, wondering how I could possibly be jealous when Katniss wants to spend time with her and Atem. I push the thoughts out of my mind and head for the phone to see why Hakan is calling.

“Hakan?” I ask, wondering if he’s even still on the line.

“I was getting ready to send a search party.” Hakan laughs over the line.

“Sorry, I was outside and Katniss had to come and get me.” That sounds a lot nicer than telling him she didn’t realize I wasn’t home yet.

“I’ll make it quick; I know you’ve got your hands full over there.” Hakan begins. “Monte and Ismene both need to switch shifts on Friday. I told Monte I’d switch with him, but Ismene still hasn’t found anyone that is available. I told her I’d call you, she thinks you’ll be mad for asking.”

“That’s fine.” I say. “I’ll switch with her.”

“Alright, Peeta,” Hakan says. “And tell Katniss to come up with the kids at closing time. Wren is coming up to go to dinner in town; we want you guys to join us.”

“I’ll try, Hakan. I can’t promise she’ll agree.” I reply.

“Well if she doesn’t, let me know and I’ll have Wren talk her into it. She’s good at that.” Hakan says. We say our goodbyes and I hang up the phone, walking back into the living room and seeing that Katniss has joined the kids on the floor. She’s holding Atem’s feet and moving his legs up and down. Every time she does it, he laughs and gives a crooked, toothless smile.

“Hakan and Wren want us to have dinner in town with them on Friday.” I say sitting down on the couch. Katniss stops playing with Atem’s legs and looks at me.

“Just like that?” She asks.

“Yeah, just like that.” I answer coldly. “Hakan and I have to close the bakery, so Wren is going to come up at 6, and then we can go. Simple.”

“And the kids?” Katniss asks, as if I forgot to include them.

“Well they will be with you, won’t they? They’re invited too.” Before the kids were born we often had dinner in town with Hakan and Wren as couples; it seems Katniss was assuming that this was what the invitation implied. Katniss sighs and looks at Atem for a minute, trying to decide if he’s ready for an outing like that yet.

“Fine.” Katniss says. “But if he is cranky, we’ll have to leave.”

“Fair enough.” I nod.

By the time Friday comes, I can tell that Katniss is doing everything to come up with an excuse not to make this dinner, but when I don’t receive the phone call I was expecting, I assume she just couldn’t come up with anything believable.

Wren arrives first, and even though I know that Katniss would call if she isn’t going to show up, there is still a nagging in the back of my head that worries she won’t come.

“She said she’d be here, right?” Wren asks, taking a seat at one of the bakery’s tables.

“As of this afternoon before I left, yes. I don’t think she wants to, though.” I say honestly.

“It’ll do her some good to get out of the house.” Wren points out.

“I know,” I nod. “It’s Atem. He’s not as calm a baby as Zuri was.”

“He’ll be fine.” Wren says, brushing off my reasoning. “Don’t make excuses for her, Peeta.” I know she’s right. Her brutal honesty, like Hakan’s, is both helpful and harmful at times.

“I think I see her.” Hakan says, peeking out the window. I move from behind the counter and take a spot next to Hakan to look with him and sure enough, I can see Katniss in the distance. It’s another minute or two before I can see her clearly. On her left, she has Atem in his sling and on her right, Zuri who seems to be struggling.

“I better go out there.” I say quickly, bolting out the front door and jogging up to Katniss. When I get close I can hear the reason for Zuri’s struggling.

“Please, Zuri. Just walk this tiny bit. Look, daddy’s work is right there.” Katniss says, exhausted.

“No!” Zuri whines. “I’m tired!”

“Hey!” I call out, jogging up to them. I can see relief flood Katniss’ face.

“Look, daddy is here. He can carry you the rest of the way.” Katniss says.

“Come on,” I say to Zuri, holding my arms out. “Hakan and Wren are waiting for us.” Zuri topples over Katniss’ arms and into mine, putting her head down on my shoulder as we walk the rest of the way to the bakery.

Before we’re even up the steps, Wren is out the door and pulling Atem from his sling.

“Hello, peanut!” Wren coos, tickling his chin, finishing up by making strange noises at him. Atem smiles widely at her and gives her a laugh straight from the gut for her efforts. “Oh he looks just like you when he laughs, Peeta.” Wren says wistfully. “Look at that smile you’ve got.” Wren says, turning back to Atem. “When did he last eat, Katniss?”

“Just before we left.” Katniss says, glancing at the clock. “So, a little less than an hour ago.”

“And how often does he eat?” Katniss gives Wren a puzzled look at the questioning, but answers anyway.

“Usually every 4 hours if he nurses until he’s full.” Katniss says.

“Did he?”

“…yes.” Katniss says cautiously.

“That’s all we need then.” Hakan chimes in. I look at Katniss and she looks back at me; Hakan and Wren both must be seeing the same look of confusion on the our faces, because Wren starts to laugh.

“You didn’t tell them, Hakan!?” Wren laughs.

“No, I wanted to surprise them.”

“What are you guys talking about?” I ask, Zuri still in my arms.

“We’re going to take the kids for a few hours.” Wren says then.

“Says who?” Katniss says, almost alarmed.

“Relax, Katniss. We’re just going to take them for a walk around the district for a little while so you and Peeta came have some time together. Go to dinner, take your own walk. Take a nap together if you want! Just do something together.” Wren lectures.

“We can’t let you do that.” I say, shaking my head.

“Of course you can, Peeta.” Hakan says, giving me a look. He planned this all. Ismene and Monte never needed to switch, that’s why Ismene didn’t call me herself. Hakan orchestrated this to give me and Katniss alone time.

“We’ll have them back before Atem has to eat again, we promise.” Wren says raising her eyebrows. Katniss and I look at each other again and when neither one of us can think of a reason to say no, Katniss shrugs.

“Are you sure?” she asks.

“We wouldn’t offer if we weren’t sure.” Hakan says. Without a word, Katniss removes Atem’s sling from around her body and hands it over to Hakan, who helps Wren into it.

“Zuri, get up, you’re going to take a walk with Hakan and Wren.” I say gently. Zuri’s head shoots up and she smiles and moves forward to indicate she wants to be put down. We follow them out the front door and watch as they begin to walk away.

“Be careful and watch where you’re going, Zuri!” Katniss calls out to Zuri, who is now skipping behind Hakan and Wren.

“She doesn’t seem so tired now.” I point.

“She was never tired to begin with. She was just being difficult.” Katniss answers.

“Should we go to dinner?” I ask, walking back into the bakery. Katniss follows behind, considering my question.

“Do we have to?” she asks.

“No. We could just go home.” I shrug.

“Then we’d have to come back to get Zuri and Atem from Hakan and Wren, I’m not going to make them walk the kids all the way home too.” Katniss counters.

“I guess we can just stay here then.” I shrug. I glance at Katniss and notice that she’s barely paying attention to what I’m saying. “Hey,” I say, grabbing her hand gently. “The kids are fine. This is our time.” I pull her to me and hug her, feeling how tense she is. “Relax.” I whisper, rubbing circles on her back. She doesn’t speak; we stand there in the middle of the bakery, swaying back and forth.  

“Your hair smells nice.” I say with my cheek on the top of her head. She lets out a shaky breath and laughs. I push her forward and look at her face. Her eyes are red and filled with tears. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing,” she says, shaking her head. “I’m fine.” She takes a deep breath and wipes her eyes, forcing herself to stand up straight. “Let’s go to the office.” She turns quickly and begins to walk to the back of the bakery, not looking behind to see if I am following her.

When I make it to the office, Katniss is sitting on the couch. She looks like she’s somewhere else and I can’t figure out why she suggested we come back here, but I sit down next to her, hoping she’ll talk to me. Instead, she lunges at me, grabbing my face and kissing me, but it doesn’t feel like one of Katniss’ kisses. It’s lazy and unfeeling, and over before it really begins.

Her hands are on my belt before I can stop her, and just as quickly she has my pants down around my ankles.

“It’s still in the drawer, right?” Katniss asks.

“Yeah, but Katniss…” I begin. “What are we doing?”

“Having our time.” Katniss replies monotone, opening the bottom drawer of the desk and pulling out a half used bottle of lubricant. She drops to her knees in front of me and wordlessly squeezes the liquid into her hand, bringing it to my front and slathering it over me from tip to base, keeping the rhythm going. Despite how wrong this feels, I can’t help the arousal that is slowly building. It has been so long since she has touched me like this.

After a few minutes, Katniss stops and gets up from the floor, removing her pants and underwear before climbing up and straddling my thighs. She grabs the bottle and squeezes out more, applying another layer to myself and then reaching down between her own legs and applying the rest to herself, and then she returns to my erection, lifting herself up, positioning herself above me and then lowering herself down.

She moves up and down in a rhythm just as lazy as her kisses, and I’m having trouble concentrating on simply enjoying the feel of her enveloping me after such a long time.

“Are you close?” she asks after a few minutes of the same, quiet rhythm. She sounds bored and tired.

“No.” I reply honestly. At this response, she speeds up, clenching around me when she moves up, but when this still does nothing, I close my eyes tightly and remember what it used to be like. The way she’d linger over every inch of me without hurry, the sounds she’d make when I’d enter her for the first time and the way she felt when she came. It’s this and only this that helps me to finally finish quietly and without warning. “Do you want me to...?” I begin, reaching my hand out to touch her but she moves away quickly.

“No, it’s fine.” Katniss says. She grabs her pants and underwear that lie in a heap on the floor and quietly puts them on as I lean forward and reach for my own pants and pull them up.

“Are you hungry?” I ask. “We can still go out to dinner if you’re hungry.”

“What do you have here?” She asks.

“Besides pastries? Day old bread and some cheese.” I reply. Katniss makes a face at the limited selection, but then shrugs.

“What if they come back when we’re gone?” She asks.

“Then I guess we’ll stay here.” I mumble. This time together has not gone the way it was supposed to, and rather than making a bad situation better, it has made it worse. I walk to the refrigerator and grab the cheese, setting it on the steel table in the middle of the kitchen, and then grab a loaf of bread. “Dinner is served.” I say dully, throwing the loaf on the table.

A few days later, the negative effects of our forced time together are noticeable. Katniss is even more distant than she was before, and I can’t stop thinking about how unnatural everything felt. I don’t know how to talk to her to fill the awkward silences that crowd the house these days. Every time I look at Katniss and try to think of something to say to her, I notice the vacant expression on her face and I know that nothing I can say will take that away instantly.

The only solution is to force her to talk about the problem, and the only time to do that is after the kids are in bed. While Katniss nurses Atem in his room, I tuck Zuri in and tell her goodnight, moving over to Atem’s room to repeat the process, but I leave the room before Katniss is finished and sit on the bed waiting, hoping that forcing her to talk about this is the best idea.

Katniss sighs loudly when she finally comes into the bedroom, flopping down on the bed and not bothering to pull the covers over herself. I have to act now before she falls asleep.

“We need to talk.” I say, breaking the silence.

“Can’t it wait? I’m really tired.” Katniss asks.

“No.” I say firmly. “We need to talk now.” She sighs again and turns to me, looking at me with an impatient stare. “When are we going to have time as a couple?” I ask. “Time because we want to, not because we were forced to.”

“I don’t know.” Katniss answer, her tone just as impatient and irritated as her stare. “There are two other people in this house that need time with us too, you know.”

“I understand that, but that doesn’t make it okay for us to lose touch with each other.” I see Katniss’ face contort to resentment instantly.

“They are our children, Peeta. What would you like me to do? Send them back?” She asks angrily.

“We’re just doing a really poor job of making sure everyone has time together.” I tell her. “I miss having time with you as my wife. You’re still my wife you know.”

“And the mother of your children.” Katniss adds.

“Why does everyone keep telling me that like I don’t realize it?”

“Because you’re not acting like you realize it.” Katniss says.

“You can be both. You used to be.” I point out.

“It’s different now.” Katniss replies, her voice growing sad.

“How is it different?” I ask, confused.

“We have two people who depend on me now.”

“We have two people who depend on me now, too.” I say.

“It’s easier for you.” Katniss argues, shaking her head and looking away.

“What makes you say that?” When Katniss shakes her head like that, I know it means she wants to stop talking, but I can’t let her. This is the most we’ve talked about what is going on, and we need to continue.

“You get up every day and go to the bakery. You’re away from the house and the kids and you have other things going on. You run a business, you’re Peeta Mellark there. Then come home, and you’re dad. I’m mom all the time; it’s not as easy for me to just stop being mom.”

“You choose to have it that way, though.” I begin. “You could get someone to come and stay with the kids for a few hours. How long has it been since you’ve been in the woods?”

“Since Atem was born.” She speaks so quietly, like she’s ashamed.

“See? It doesn’t have to be like that. You let Haymitch stay with Zuri so you could go out there, even when all you did was walk around. What’s different now?” I ask. Katniss shrugs.

“It just feels like I’m leaving more behind now.” She answers.

“But you’re coming home.” I say, confused.

“I know, but I still can’t help but think about…”

“Your father.” I answer for her, finally realizing what this is about. “He left two children behind.” She nods and is silent for a minute.

“I feel like I have to spend every minute with them, so they will remember me.” She admits.

“You can’t think like that. You’re not going anywhere.” I tell her. “This is what happens when you let yourself think that way.”

“It just scares me.”

“It isn’t any better growing up in a house with parents that are completely out of touch with one another. Trust me, I know.”  I say. “I miss you.”

“I miss you too.” Katniss says, her voice sounding even sadder than before.

“I miss sitting with you outside at night or in front of the fire.” I start. “Remember that?” She nods. “I miss making love where ever we felt like.” She gives a small laugh at this before I speak again. “I miss kissing you, just to feel your lips.”

“You can do that now.” Katniss says, sitting up and scooting closer to me, reaching out and running her fingers through my hair. I cup her cheek with my hand and lean in, anxious and worried that it will feel forced like the kiss at the bakery, but when my lips touch hers I can feel those worries melt away. I pull away and smile at her, and she smiles back. The look she had the other day is gone, and she is the one who leans in and kisses me again. Gently, and as she begins to pull away again, she takes my bottom lip between her teeth and bites down lightly, following it up with a gentle kiss before running her thumb over the spot her teeth had captured. These are the kisses I remember. The kind that leave my lips hot and wanting more.

She trails her hand down my chest and grabs a handful of my shirt, holding it like she doesn’t ever want to let go. I rest my forehead on hers and close my eyes, taking in every ounce of electricity between us right now.

“We have to figure this out.” I whisper; I feel her nod in response. “Let’s get some rest.” As we lie down, I hope for her sake she doesn’t have nightmares tonight.

The next few days are easier than they had been. It’s still not anywhere near perfect, but Katniss is communicating more than she has been in months. I’ll take any sign of progress at this point.

One day after lunch, I walk in the living room to find Zuri, lying on her belly in the middle of the living room, coloring a picture.

“Can I color with you?” I ask her.

“Okay.” She answers, scooting over so I can reach the other page of her coloring book. I pick up a green crayon and start coloring a tree, but mostly, I just watch her color a picture of a flower.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I think you may be ready to work in the painting room.” She stops coloring and looks at me, a smile spreading across her face. She’s wanted to paint with me for a long time, and I think it’s finally time to let her. “Maybe we can do that this weekend.” I suggest. “What do you think?” Zuri’s face drops at the mention of this weekend and she pushes herself up from the floor and nods, but quickly flees the room.

“What’s wrong with Zuri?” I whisper to Katniss when I find her in Atem’s room rocking him to sleep.

“What do you mean?” she asks.

“We were in the living room coloring and I told her she could paint with me this weekend and she got up and left. She looked upset.” I explain.

“I’m sure she’s fine. She’s probably just tired.” Katniss says, brushing it off.

When Zuri continues with the same behavior over the next few days, I know something must be wrong. I can’t understand why Katniss isn’t concerned. Zuri usually talks a mile a minute, but lately she only talks to Katniss; whenever I say something to her, she clams up and barely answers me.

That Friday after closing the bakery for Hakan, I decide it’s time to sit down with both Katniss and Zuri and figure out what is wrong. Just when I thought things were slowly beginning to improve, a whole new issue has now begun.

When I approach the house I immediately notice that all of the shades have been drawn on the windows, which immediately causes me to grow suspicious. We never draw the shades. I open the door slowly and am met with a pitch black house that is completely silent. It’s clear that nobody is home. Where could they have gone?

I close the door and stand there, trying to adjust my eyes to the darkness, but I can see nothing. I can feel the panic just begin to rise into my chest when Katniss speaks from the direction of the kitchen.

“It’s too dark in here, isn’t it?” She says. “I should have lit the candles first… now I can’t see them.”

“What’s going on, Katniss?” I ask. The panic begins to subside, but is replaced by confusion.

“We’re having a night to ourselves.” Katniss answers.

“Where are the kids?” I haven’t moved from in the spot in front of the door, the same place that so many years ago Katniss pushed me to the floor, made love to me, and broke her routine.

“They’re with Hakan and Wren until morning. Don’t you ask your employees why they need time off?” I can’t tell in the dark, but it sounds like she’s smiling as she tells me this.

“But what about nursing?” I ask, wondering how Atem can stay with Hakan and Wren overnight.

“I’ve been using the pump from Effie all week.” Katniss says proudly. “I know you never look in the freezer unless I ask you to, so I’ve been keeping milk in there for the last few days. There’s still some in there if you want to feed him sometime.”

“You did that for me?” I ask, taken aback.

“For us.” Katniss corrects me. I move back a little, grabbing the shade that is pulled over the front window and pull it up, filling the room with light. “You’re not mad that Hakan and Wren will get to feed him before you, are you?”

“No,” I shake my head. “I’m grateful they’re doing us this favor.”

“Maybe we should light the candles now.” Katniss suggests. I stand there and hold the shade up while Katniss grabs a box of matches and lights the two candles on the kitchen table. She has it set with the plates we used for our wedding meal, and now that the panic and confusion are gone, I can smell dinner cooking.

After the candles are lit, I let go of the shade and let it darken the room again, and begin to walk in the direction of the table.

“Do you want help?” I ask.

“No, sit down.” Her tone is so much more relaxed than it has been, and the look that I see on her face is nothing like the look I saw at the bakery. This is different. I take my seat and watch as Katniss reaches into the oven, pulling out a cast iron pot, slowly walking it to the table and setting it down on a pot holder. I lift off of my seat a little and peek and see a pot roast complete with potatoes and carrots.

“Hang on; I have a salad in the refrigerator.” Katniss says, moving quickly to the grab it.

“Katniss, you didn’t have to do all of this.” I say, looking at the meal, the table, and the candles. She ignores my comment and sets the salad and tongs down next to the pot roast before sitting down across from me.

“Hi,” she smiles. It’s such an endearing smile, that I can’t help but laugh and smile widely in return.

“Hi,” I reply. “Did you find the place ok?”

“I got a little tripped up due to some darkness, but I made it.” She says, going along with my antics. “You look good. How have you been?” She puts some salad onto her plate as I cut into the roast, dishing out portions for two along with some potatoes and carrots.

“A little hurt, actually.” I say, opening the door for discussion but keeping things light.

“Why have you been hurt?” she asks.

“Well,” I take a deep breath, ready to dive in head first. “My wife has been a little distant lately.” I begin. “We just had a son 4 months ago. He’s beautiful; remind me to show you a picture of him.” I smile. “But since he was born, things have been a little… disconnected.” I want to stop there, but I force myself to keep going. “I feel like she spends more time with our children than she does with me.”

“I’m sure she doesn’t do it on purpose.” Katniss says.

“Probably not, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling a little jealous about it.” I admit. “I hate myself for it and I feel like the worst father in the world for admitting that.”

“Well that can’t be true.” Katniss shakes her head. “You seem like a wonderful father.”

“My daughter doesn’t seem to think so. She hardly even talks to me anymore.”

“Wait,” Katniss says putting her hand up. “I should apologize for that one.”

“What?”

“She knew about going to Hakan and Wren’s a week ago and I told her very specifically not to tell you, even if that meant not talking to you.” Katniss explains. “I guess she took it more seriously than I expected her to.”

“So she doesn’t hate me?” I ask.

“She could never hate you. She talks about you all day long.” Katniss tells me.

“Then why does she always want to be near you?” I ask. Katniss smiles and shakes her head, amused at the offense I’ve taken to our daughter requesting Katniss over me.

“Because of Atem.” She replies, sounding shocked that I did not realize this. “Every time I do something for him, Zuri wants something done for her too.” Instantly, I feel like a fool. All this time I was too worried about my own issues to even think about how Katniss’ split time would impact Zuri.

“I really am the worst father in the world.” I say, staring into my half eaten plate of food.

“You’re not.” Katniss responds firmly. “We all need time to adjust.” I nod, understanding that things aren’t as clear when your emotions are all over the place, but I still can’t help but feel that I messed up by not noticing Zuri’s own jealousy, but instead of ruining the evening being upset about it, I change the subject.

“So,” I ask, leaning back in my chair. “How have you been?”

“Tired.” She says with a sigh. “I’ve had to remind myself of good things a lot lately.” She admits. “Each morning has been getting more and more difficult to get going for the last couple of months.” She looks down quickly, but right back up into my eyes. “I didn’t want to worry my husband, so I didn’t tell him.” She shrugs. “So I reminded myself of his support through the years and the way our daughter’s eyes and son’s smile look just like his, and the sounds of their laughs. That helps me.” She has slipped back into our banter, and I let her go. It seems to be easier for her to talk this way.

“I bet your husband would have liked to know about all of this sooner.” I reply.

“My husband doesn’t need my problems weighing on his shoulders right now.” She says sadly.

“That’s what your husband is there to do.” I remind her. “Although, he’s probably not a very good husband if he made you feel like you couldn’t tell him something like that.”

“He’s a better husband than I am a wife.” Katniss says.

“I have trouble believing that one.” I reply.

“It’s true.” Katniss nods.

“Do you love him?” I ask.

“Very, very much.” She replies. “What about you? Do you love your wife?”

“More than she’ll ever know.” I say. “I hope you’ll forgive him for being a big baby.”

“He’s human.” Katniss shrugs. “He told me once that everything would be alright as long as we had each other.”

“Did you believe him?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“Good, because he’s right.” Katniss laughs suddenly and looks up at me, shaking her head.

“We sound ridiculous.” She says.

“First date jitters.” I joke.

“We’ve been on dates before.” Katniss argues.

“Not since Atem was born.” I remind her. “We’re out of practice. You should have warned me, I would have brought home dessert.” Katniss looks down at the table and smiles; it’s a look I haven’t seen from her in a long time. Shyness.

“You did bring it home.” She replies, flashing the shy smile that used to be so prevalent when we were first married and it’s this, coupled with the intense gaze she follows the smile with that makes me realize what she is referring to.

“I like to hear that.” I laugh.

After dinner, Katniss goes into the living room and lights a fire. Even though it’s still summer, we decide to just stay in tonight. While she is getting the fire started, I run over to Haymitch’s hoping he has what I need.

“What now?” He grumbles when he answers the door.

“You wouldn’t happen to have any unopened bottles of wine, would you?” I ask.

“Why do you ask?” Haymitch pries.

“Katniss and I are enjoying an evening alone, and since she doesn’t have to nurse Atem tonight; we wanted to have some wine together.” I explain. I see Haymitch smirk a little at my explanation and he nods, turning and disappearing into his house. I stand in the doorway, waiting for him to return.

“Here,” he says when he returns. “Try to keep the noise to a minimum. An old man needs his rest.”

“Like you sleep at night anyway,” I laugh, taking the bottle from him. “Thanks!” I call out as I walk back to the house. Over the years we’ve gotten into drinking wine some nights, but since Katniss got pregnant with Atem and has been nursing, we haven’t had the chance.

After I get in the house, I move to the kitchen and grab two wine glasses from the cabinet that houses all of the fancy China that we rarely use, and swipe the corkscrew that hangs above the sink. I bring everything into the living room where Katniss is sitting on the floor, staring at the flames dancing in the fireplace. I set the glasses down and open the bottle. Carefully, I pour the wine into the two glasses and set the bottle down.

“Scoot back here.” I say to Katniss. She looks at me over her shoulder, but begins to scoot back in my direction, stopping just before her back hits the couch and she settles herself between my legs. I grab her glass of wine and hand it to her over her shoulder. “It’s warm.”

“It’s okay,” she says. “Thank you.” I take a quick sip from my glass then set it down and reach out for Katniss’ shoulders with both hands and squeeze them, rubbing my thumbs in small, deep circles.

“That feels good.” Katniss sighs, letting her head fall forward; I move my thumbs up and gently rub the skin on the back of her neck where her hair has fallen away. Leaning forward a little, I move my hands down to the small of her back, noticing the tense knots that reside there. I press the heels of my hands into her back and slide them up the ridges of muscles until I reach her shoulder blades.

I do this over and over again, feeling the knots slowly loosen. I can feel the heat of her skin through her shirt, and every time I slide my hands up her back, she lets out a moan that I can feel affecting me to my core. Moving forward slightly, I press my lips to the back of her neck lightly, planting kissing down and over until I reach the space between her neck and shoulder. I bring my right hand up and move her shirt to the side and kiss the crook of her neck, using my tongue to wet the area before bringing my mouth back down over her skin, sucking gently. I move back and Katniss lifts her head up for a second before letting it fall back.  She looks up at me and smiles; it’s so blissful that I look to see how much wine is left in her glass, but it’s still almost completely full.

I lean forward and place a kiss on her forehead; she reaches her left hand up, running it through my hair while letting her nails lightly scratch my scalp, the relaxing feeling it induces causes me to sigh out loud. Then, she turns her body around taking her hand out of my hair. I want to object and tell her not to stop, but I don’t. She gets up and sets her wine down next to mine and sits next to me on the couch, her body is turned toward me as she reaches out and grabs my shirt collar, gently pulling me toward her; I turn my head just in time to meet her lips. The kiss is slow, but urgent, and I turn my body completely toward her as the kiss intensifies.

She takes my head between her hands and pulls away from my lips, moving her own to my cheek where she plants soft, wet kisses along my jaw and then up to my temple. She doesn’t miss an inch of my face, even making sure to kiss my closed eyes. She moves back down the other side of my face and moves to my neck where she licks a trail from the side of my neck, up to my earlobe and bites down gently, before taking it in her mouth and sucking. I’m already becoming aroused, and she seems to sense it. She throws her leg over me and pulls herself over, straddling my hips. Instantly, I’m reminded of her doing this same thing in the bakery, and hope it doesn’t go down that road again.

She unbuttons my shirt and I help her pull it from my shoulders and off my arms, but when she throws the shirt down, her face looks disappointed.

“You had to wear a t-shirt underneath today, didn’t you?” she whines.

“Sorry,” I laugh. “It was chilly this afternoon.”

“Should’ve just put your coat on.” She mumbles, untucking my t-shirt from my pants.

“I refuse to wear a coat in August.” I state.

“Shut up…” she leans in and kisses me deeply, running her hands under my shirt. “Your skin is so hot.” She says, breaking the kiss and pulling away. She lifts my shirt up further, and moves her head down to my chest, flicking her tongue out and dragging it across my nipple, blowing on it when she moves away which causes me to shudder.

She then begins to kiss my chest, moving downward until she can’t bend any lower. With her open mouth on my skin, she grinds into me. I can hardly stand it; the groan that escapes from my mouth is loud and full of yearning. She moves back up and looks at me as she does it again, watching my face, smiling and letting out a relieved laugh when I stop.

“After the other day I wasn’t sure I aroused you anymore.” She confesses.

“That can’t be any less true.” I assure her, shaking my head. I bring my hand up under her chin and wrap it around to the back of her neck and pull her to me and into another deep kiss, then push her head to the side making sure her ear is in line with my mouth before whispering into it.

“I thought the same thing about you after that day.” She shakes her head.

“I couldn’t concentrate on anything that day. Hakan and Wren did the right thing but went about it the wrong way.” She replies. I pepper gentle kisses across her jaw and neck as she talks. “Sweeping the kids off like that, I didn’t like it. I needed more warning.” I continue kissing her neck as she goes quiet, content with her explanation. “Please,” she murmurs, grinding into me again. “I need to hear you.” She begins moving her body over my arousal again, this time not stopping. I hold her head steady with my hand and press my forehead against the side of it and moan into her ear as she rubs up against me.

“Can you feel me?” I ask, my words coming out ragged. In response, she moans too and presses down harder as she drags her lower half over me. “Can I touch you?” she nods against my ear and I move my free hand down between us, bringing it to her front and rubbing her through her pants. The warmth there is immediately apparent and every fear I had that this would be like last time vanishes instantly.

I release the hold I have on her head and use my other hand to move up and under her shirt, caressing her stomach with my thumb gently before moving up to her bra, where my hand stops.

“Is this ok?” I ask. After Zuri was born and Katniss began nursing her, she was very sensitive about her breasts. It took a long time for her to let me touch her there again. She nods.

“Gentle.” She whispers, looking into my eyes. I squeeze one tenderly, watching as Katniss’ face turns from serious to lively. She responds by taking my head in her hands and kissing me deeply, running both hands down to my chin. “Let’s go upstairs.” She says when she pulls away.

Taking my hand, she leads me to the stairs, but we stop and begin to kiss again before I turn us around and I descend the steps backward, leaning forward slightly to continue kissing Katniss as we walk up the steps. When I reach the top, I underestimate where the step begins and my left leg gets caught. I topple backward and land on the second floor; Katniss starts laughing, dropping to her knees a couple steps below me, setting her hands on my legs.

She moves her hands up my thighs and spreads my legs apart, scooting forward as much as she can and settles herself there.

“Lean back a little bit.” She instructs and I don’t hesitate or ask question. I lean back, putting my arms behind me as Katniss resumes moving her hands up my thighs, bringing them together at my belt and unbuckling it slowly while looking up at me. I want her to hurry, the pressure of my erection is beginning to hurt, but I don’t want to rush her, so I let her go.

One hand leaves my belt and lifts up my shirt; she holds it up while she finishes undoing my pants with her other hand. Quickly, I push myself up enough to move my hands from behind me and bring them to the hem of my shirt. I pull it over my head and throw it down the steps, Katniss looks over her shoulder, watching it cascade to the floor.

When she turns back around she begins to tug on my pants and I lift up a little so she can pull them down. She takes them off completely, crumpling them up in her hands and flinging them over her shoulder to join my shirt.

“I’m feeling a little under dressed.” I joke, relieved that the pressure on my front has been relieved. She ignores me, choosing instead to rub her hands over my stomach and down to the crease where my thigh meets my groin. Then she leans in, kissing those same spots before moving to my erection and kissing the tip. I hiss at the feeling of her lips on me.

“Do you want me to go grab your pants then?” she asks, finally responding to my earlier statement. She kisses the head again and looks up.

“No,” I moan, shaking my head. “Keep going.”

“With what?” she asks feigning ignorance.

“This.” I answer. “Put your mouth on me.” She stares at me for a moment, as though she is waiting for something else. “Please.” I finally say and without another word she leans her head down further and lifts my erection slightly, taking her tongue and lightly dragging her it from base to tip before coming up and over, lowering her mouth over me completely, taking me in as far as she can go, moaning as she does, causing me to involuntarily thrust my hips forward and into her mouth further, but I pull back quickly and let her continue to move her mouth over me.

Her hands explore, touching my legs, up to my stomach and down again, until one hand is gently cupping my balls while the other is wrapped around my length, moving up and down in sync with her mouth. I want her to keep going, I could sit here like this with her mouth wrapped around me forever, but I know I can’t.

“Stop,” I gasp. “I don’t want to finish like this and if you keep going, I will.”  She pulls back, removing her mouth and hands from me, making me feel cold and empty immediately. She looks at me with fire in her eyes and I grab the railing of the stairs and pull myself up, offering Katniss my hand and pulling her up and to the bedroom behind me.

I turn around when we make it to the bedroom and watch as Katniss strips herself down to nothing, but stays back in the shadows.

“Come here,” I tell her gently, putting my hand out to her. Reluctantly, she inches forward and puts her hand in mine. I pull her to me and she quickly moves her arm over her stomach. I place my hand on her arm but don’t pull it away. “Put your arm down, Katniss.”

She avoids my gaze as she does it, dropping my hands in the process. Standing there in front of me with the last bit of daylight shining on her from the open window, she couldn’t look more beautiful.

“You’re perfect.” I tell her.

“No I’m not.”

I move in closer to her. “You are.” I lean my head down and kiss her neck and shoulders, down to her breasts and in between, moving my hands to her hips as I go down to the floor and kneel in front of her and pull her body to me. I rest my head on her stomach and move my hands from her hips to her middle, running my fingers between the folds  and push two into her gently a few times. “Your turn.” I murmur against her stomach. I pull my hand away from her and grab her hands. She knows what this means and when I feel her arms lock tightly, I pull myself up, stumbling slightly as I regain control over my left leg after getting up.

She wraps her arms around my neck and closes the space between us, planting a kiss on my lips. When I’m absolutely sure that I have my legs in control I hoist her up and she wraps her legs around me only slightly as I walk us to the bed where I throw her down playfully and crawl on top of her.

I kiss her deeply, letting my erection rub against her thigh a few times before I move down between her legs, hovering over her middle. Bringing both hands up to find hers, I lace our fingers together and move my head down and kiss her inner thigh a few times, then move my mouth over her middle, finding her nerve and sucking on it gently.

Her grip on my hands gets tighter as I continue to kiss, suck, and lick every part of her, reveling in the taste of her that I haven’t gotten to indulge in for so long. I can hear her breathing becoming heavier as I work on her and when she comes, she squeezes my hands so hard they feel like they could break.

“I wanted to make sure you came first this time.” I say a little sadder than I intended, once again remembering the night at the bakery.

“I promise that was not your fault.” Katniss assures me when she notices the tone of my voice.  I move up from between her legs and kiss my way up this time. Spending extra time on her stomach that has faint lines now after two children. She thinks they’re repulsive, but I can’t help but think they make her even more beautiful. I know why they’re there, and they only make me love her more.

“Can you sit and cross your legs?” Katniss asks, getting up and walking across the bed on her knees.

“Sure.” I answer and move to sit in the middle of the bed, doing as she said.

“It won’t hurt you if I sit on your legs, right?” she asks then. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been together, she will always ask if something we do is going to hurt me. She knows this is fine, but it never stops her from asking.

“It’ll be fine.” I nod. She moves over me, sitting in between my legs. My erection is between us and she reaches out, smoothing her hand over it while looking straight into my eyes. Her looks says so many things; “I’m sorry”, “I love you”, and most of all “I need you”.

Just when I feel like I’m going to pass out after having no relief from this arousal, Katniss moves up and guides herself onto my erection, setting herself down and moaning as she does it. It’s the sound I missed at the bakery, that low hum from the back of her throat whenever we find ourselves connected again and I feel myself twitch just at the sound of her.

We sit there for a few minutes, not moving. Content to enjoy the feeling of us together. Finally, Katniss begins to move slowly, pushing and pulling her hips forward and back; I join in, emulating her movements perfectly. Our moans are full of joyful relief, and Katniss keeps her mouth to my ear, biting and sucking on the lobe between moans that penetrate my entire body. I hug her tightly, pulling her close, never wanting to let go. I know this won’t last long, it’s been too long, and so I burrow my face into her neck and nip at her collarbone, listening to each and every sound that escapes from her mouth as I move inside her.

The second I feel her walls close around me, I’m done. I keep my head down, doing the best I can to stifle the loud moan that escapes as I pour into her. She stops moving, and I know she’s doing nothing more than enjoying the sensation that she gets when I finish inside her, so I let her go, allowing my head to clear.

When we finally break free from one another and lie down, we don’t speak. Instead, we reach our hands out across the bed and trail our fingers over each other’s skin. Tickling each other lightly and shuddering when we hit certain spots. We fall asleep without another word.

We wake up the next morning wrapped in each other’s arms. We must have moved closer together some time during the night. Still in silence, we get out of bed and get dressed before heading downstairs to start breakfast. The house is quiet without the kids, but it’s a welcome silence; free from the awkwardness and tension the last four months have brought. It is now replaced with contentment.

Just before breakfast is done, Hakan and Wren return with the kids.

“How were they?” I ask from the table. Zuri runs over and hops into my lap and I wrap her up in a hug, trying so hard to let her know how sorry I am for not noticing she was having trouble of her own.

“Perfect little angels.” Wren replies with a yawn. “Though it’s very tiring getting up for feedings.” She hands Atem off to Katniss who showers him with kisses; the sound of his laugh fills the room.

“Tell me about it.” Katniss says, “But daddy’s going to start doing night time feedings too now.” She says to Atem. “Did he take the bottle alright? I’ve been working with him all week trying to get him used to it.”

“It took a minute or two for him to start eating, but he did alright.” Wren nods. I set Zuri down and stand up, giving Wren a hug and thanking her. “Don’t hesitate to ask us to take them for a little while, even if it’s just an hour.” I notice Hakan standing outside of the living room, looking at me like he wants to talk to me, so I excuse myself and follow him into the living room.

“Did that go better than the last time?” Hakan asks. “You definitely look happier.”

“It did, thank you for helping out.”

“Oh and I guess your clothes at the bottom of the steps indicate a good night too.” Hakan adds with a laugh; all I can do is grin.

“Stay for breakfast?” I ask.

“No, no. You need time as a family.” Hakan replies. He calls for Wren and they leave quietly, letting us get back to breakfast.

“Zuri, why don’t you go sit next to daddy for breakfast?” Katniss suggests. Zuri obliges, but when I look at her I see her continually looking at Katniss with Atem. Now that I’ve put my issues to rest I can clearly see just how much trouble she is having adjusting to Atem.

“You know what?” I say. “I think after breakfast, I’ll take Atem for a walk over to see Greasy Sae. Then Zuri can help mommy in the garden. How does that sound?” I look up at Katniss and she mouths the words “Thank you.” Then I look at Zuri who is grinning from ear to ear.

“Then can we paint, daddy?” Zuri asks. “You said this weekend.”

“I did say that, didn’t I?” she nods. “Sure, but only if mommy and Atem can paint too.”

“Will you come to the painting room too, mommy?” Zuri asks, hopefully.

“And Atem?” Katniss asks in return.

“And Atem too.” Zuri confirms.

“We can cover your hands in paint and put them on some paper.” I say. “Then we’ll hang it up somewhere.”

 And that’s exactly what we do. When I return from Greasy Sae’s with Atem, Katniss is waiting for me with a bottle; I feed him for the first time and I can now see why this is so sacred to Katniss. When Atem finishes his bottle the four of us go upstairs. Zuri paints a picture of the family, something she does often, but for the first time, she includes Atem.

Then, we cover Zuri’s hand in green paint and have her press her hand to the top of her painting, leaving behind a perfect print of her hand. We do the same for Atem, but with blue paint, I hold his arm while Katniss gently presses his hand to the paper. Once it dries, we have Zuri write her name next to her hand, and I write Atem’s next to his, dating the bottom; then we take it downstairs and hang the small canvas above the kitchen fireplace.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Swim to the rock!” Katniss calls out, waving her hands above the water. She’s teaching me how to swim again and she just keeps going further and further away, making we swim to her. The water is up to her neck and she smiles at me as her body bobs with the current. “Come on!” She goads.

“My leg is going to drag me right down to the bottom!” I call back, trying to think of any excuse I can so I don’t have to do this.

“It will not!” She’s not buying it. She’s been teaching me long enough to know that the Capitol designed prosthetic is built for light physical activity. It works perfectly well in the water. I push myself forward and begin to kick my legs lightly, bringing my arms together and then quickly apart again to propel myself forward.

My breathing is slightly labored by the time I reach Katniss at the rock, but the smile on her face is so big, and so proud that I don’t care. She throws her arms around my neck, splashing water in my eyes and squeezes tight.

“I knew you could do it,” She says proudly. “That’s the furthest you’ve ever swam.” She wraps her legs around me and we start to sink before I grab onto the rock to keep us afloat.

“Do I get a reward?” I ask, teasing.

“Depends on what you had in mind.” I don’t answer her. I press my lips to hers and taste the water that is there as she opens her mouth slightly, allowing my tongue entrance. Her tongue matches mine stroke for stroke at first before she pulls away.

“Why’d you stop?” I ask, leaning forward to try to capture her lips again, but she moves her head back so I can’t reach her.

“Let’s go back to the blanket.” She says. The blanket – the one we’ve been bringing to the lake ever since she first took me here. The extra-large blue blanket that keeps us covered when we make love outdoors.

“I don’t want to go to the blanket. Let’s stay here.” I suggest, capturing her bottom lip quickly with my teeth. She whimpers as I suck on it and then let go. “Hop up on the rock.” It’s plenty large enough for two people and smooth enough to be comfortable, but rough enough to keep us from slipping off.

“Peeta…” She gives me a look and then looks at our surroundings. “What if someone sees us?”

“Out here?” I ask with a laugh. “Who would see us? You have the mountains over there, a thick of trees halfway around the lake and the daisy hill in front of the rock. Nobody is going to see anything. Has anyone ever come here when we were under the blanket?”

“No…” she shakes her head, still apprehensive. “We could just swim back really quick and…”

“No.” I tell her firmly. “Why should we?” I move in quickly and claim her mouth before she can move away again and she melts into the kiss, running her tongue over my teeth and bringing her hands up from around my neck to gently tug on my hair. I moan into her mouth as I pull away. “Come on,” I growl. “Hop up on the rock.” When I see her getting ready to protest again I remove one hand from the rock and trail it down into the water, along the soft skin on her stomach and stop when I reach the thin waistband of her underwear. “Want me to go first?” I ask. I slip my hand past the elastic and dip my fingers into her just enough to gently catch the nerves near the front a few times.

She jerks her hips forward, wanting me to go further, deeper, but I pull my hand away, taking it out of the water and putting it back in its original spot on the rock.

“Not yet,” I shake my head. “You have to earn it.” I let go of the rock and submerge myself under the water, using the skills I’ve been learning to swim off to the lower end of the rock. I hoist myself up, sit on the edge and quickly, without care, shuck my undershorts off and ring them out while Katniss watches. We stare at each other in silence for a minute before she disappears under the water, taking the same path I did to the rock where she finally joins me, following my lead and removing her underwear and bra, ringing them out, and setting them down near mine.

I don’t call her to me. Not yet. I told her she has to earn it, so I lie down flat on my back and take myself in hand, not breaking eye contact with her while I run my hand up and down. She bites her lip and shifts her body so that she’s sitting on her feet and when I see her hips move slightly in quick circles, I know she’s being sneaky. Touching herself without being obvious about it. She won’t beg unless I ask her to.

We continue this without words for several minutes. Katniss is getting worse at trying to hide what she’s doing, and I’m throbbing in my hand watching her licking her lips as she gyrates on her feet. It can’t possibly be comfortable for her.

“Come here,” I instruct. She moves across the rock quickly, sitting down next to me, not once taking her eyes off of my hand wrapped around my arousal. “Use your hands.” She finally tears her eyes away from my hand and looks at my face.

“What?” she asks, sounding as though she didn’t understand my directions.

“I want to watch you touch yourself some more. But use your hands.” I reiterate.

“How?” she understands me perfectly now, but she’s following along. Waiting for my instruction before doing anything further.

“Get on your knees,” I say deeply. She does as I say and lifts herself up and settles on her knees, taking her hand and cupping her middle. I know she’s pushed her fingers in when she hisses lightly and begins to thrust against her hand. “Just like that.” I nod. “Make yourself come.”

I slow my hand down, not ready to finish yet and watch her. She’s biting her lip again and looking down at my erection with hungry, desperate eyes as she continues to move. She reaches her other hand out, but quickly puts it back down to her side because I didn’t tell her what to do with it.

“Touch me with your other hand.” I’ll have to concentrate to keep myself from going over the edge, but I need to see her. One of her hands cupping her middle, rapidly pushing her fingers into herself and the other wrapped around me, working me just enough to keep the need to feel her around me at a breaking point. “Are you close?” I ask, watching her small hand grip me tightly.

“Yes,” she murmurs. “So close.” I watch her speed up her movements for a minute until she shudders, and I can tell that she’s hit the peak when she lets go of me and doubles over, moving the hand that was gripping me to my stomach to hold herself up and she rides out the tremors that have taken over her body.

When the waves have finally stopped, she straightens her body and begins to move her hand back to my erection, but it’s time for something new.

“No,” I say. “Get on top of me.” She moves and throws her leg over me, hovering over my arousal, but that’s not what I want yet. “Sit on my stomach.” I instruct. She does as she’s told and settles herself just under my belly button. My hardness brushes up against her back side and I have to resist the urge to buck my hips in response to the sensation it brings. “You made yourself come, now it’s my turn to get you there.” She’s never one to complain about coming more than once, even though it exhausts her. I take this into consideration only briefly before I move my hand between us and wedge it between her middle and my stomach, palm up. I curl my fingers up and enter her, and use my other hand to rub her nerves for a few minutes before I move it up to her breast and squeeze it gently.

My body was mostly dry before she moved on top of me, but her hair is still dripping wet and out of its braid. Water is dripping from her hair, down her shoulders and over her breasts, to her stomach and down on to me, her body starts to glide over mine, making it even easier for me to move my hand and reach new places inside her.

She doubles over for the second time, laying her head on my chest as her walls spasm and contract around my fingers. The more she glides her body across mine and my arousal rubs against her back side, the more I need to be inside of her. I don’t give her much time to recover from her orgasm before I’m putting my hands on her thigh and guiding her down closer to where she needs to be now.

“Put your legs up, feet flat.” I tell her, pushing her legs up so she can plant them on the rock, and I move my legs up the same way. I lift her up slightly so that I can see her middle hovering over me. “Guide me in, I want to watch it.” I urge.

She reaches between her legs and grabs me, squeezing me briefly which causes me to groan out loud. I watch as she places the tip at her entrance and slowly moves herself down as I disappear inside of her.

“Move faster.” I coax, cupping her upper thighs and lifting her up, thrusting my hips up toward her as I let her back down. She pushes herself up with her legs and crashes down on my hips. It hurts a little against the hard rock, but that only makes it better right now. “Tell me what it feels like.” I request, choking out my words, struggling not to get lost in the sounds our wet bodies are making.

“Like I’m full,” She answers. “Full but I want you deeper, even if you can’t go any further.” She stops moving then and pushes herself down onto me, almost crushing me into the rock, purposefully clenching her walls around me as she moves her hips in a circle. “I always want you deeper.” She places her hands on my shoulders when she finally starts to move up and down on me again.

“You’re so wet.” So wet, that I can feel it dripping down my length -- At first I thought it was the water from her hair dripping down, but I know better now. I quickly take my hand away from her thigh and grab her breast again, squeezing it a few times.

When her legs start to shake I know she’s running out of strength to stay in this position much longer. Rather than forcing myself to finish, I sit up quickly, grabbing her shoulders and spinning her around, setting her down against the rock gently. She throws her legs over my shoulders as I begin to drive into her rhythmically. Every time our hips make contact her whole lower half lifts up off the rock and she cries out loudly, echoing through the outdoors.

This just causes me to drive into her even harder; she reaches out for me, grabbing my hands that are wrapped around her knees and she grips them tightly.

“Are you ready to come again?” I ask, knowing the answer. We’ve discovered over the years that once she comes once, it’s easy to get her to do it again. She nods, but that’s not what I need. “Say it.”

“I’m ready to come again.” She repeats me. I thrust as deep as I can go. “Peeta…” she arches her back as her legs start to shake over my shoulders. “I want to hear you.” She manages to say through the tremors that continue to surge through her.

With that, I stop trying to hold back my moans and soon it’s my voice that is echoing across the lake and through the trees. Katniss runs her hands over my chest and stomach as I continue to move, letting go of the will power I’ve had the entire time.

With a few more thrusts, I drop my hands from her legs and fall on top of her, forcing her legs to fall from my shoulders. I wrap my arms around her and grab her head, pushing into her with my hips and pulling her even closer with my hands as I feel myself begin to empty inside her.

“Can’t we just stay like this forever?” she asks after a few minutes.

“We might get cold in the winter.” I reply, slipping out of her and rolling to the side.

“This is the part where I feel empty for a while.” She admits. “I hate this part.”

“Hey,” I whisper, scooting in close and placing a kiss on her shoulder. “I’m right here.”

“Not close enough.” She shakes her head. “It never feels like you’re close enough, or deep enough.” I don’t know how to answer her. There’s no way that I can fix this for her, so I kiss her shoulder again.

“Maybe not, but I’ll always be right here to hold you.” I offer. She turns to her side and curls into me, nestling her face into my neck.

“Do we have to go home?” she asks.

“I think Haymitch would miss us if we didn’t.” I answer. “Besides, our bed is way more comfortable than this rock.”

“I don’t care,” she says. “Let’s just sleep right here.”

“Naked in the sunshine?” I laugh.

“Naked in the sunshine.” She confirms. “I couldn’t move my legs right now if I tried.”

I wrap my arms around her protectively and close my eyes. A naked nap in the sunshine it is.

Chapter Text

“Closing up shop?”

I turn the key in the lock of the bakery’s front door and wait to hear the click before looking to my right.Thom stands at the bottom of the steps. In his left hand is a bucket with small gardening tools in it, and in his pocket hangs a pair of dirty gloves.

“It’s about that time,” I reply with a nod.

I sent Hakan home over an hour ago when we thought we were ready to close up. He was already gone by the time I noticed the sink in the kitchen had sprung a leak. It took me almost an hour to clean up the mess, and there’s still a bucket under the pipe to catch any water that may continue to leak before I can find the problem tomorrow morning.

Descending the steps, I clasp Thom’s hand and give it a firm shake.

“How have you been, Peeta?” he asks.

I sigh and run my fingers through my hair as we start to walk away from town.

“Busy,” I finally say. “I’ve been at the bakery since this morning, and should have been home almost an hour ago.”

“Short staffed?”

“You can say that.”

Scheduling shifts at the bakery hasn’t been as easy as I would have hoped. With three of my employees out for various reasons and two others that don’t have a flexible schedule to help cover, the bakery is being run solely by me and Hakan this week.

“How’s Katniss doing?” Thom asks.

Katniss. When I called to tell her I’d be late again tonight, I could tell she was upset even if she wouldn’t admit to it over the phone. In just three weeks, the new schedules I implemented at the bakery in order to give myself time off went from a thrilling probability to a near impossible undertaking.

It has been a nightmare trying to juggle everyone's separate requests for hours, and unexpected illness and injury haven't helped one bit. After working open to close the last eight days in a row with no end in sight for at least a few more days, the exhaustion weighs heavily on my body -- and my mind.

We had plans for that time off. Staying in bed beyond sun up, baking lessons, more trips to the lake. Katniss wants to teach me how to swim. I want to spend a day with her where neither of us even bothers to puts on a stitch of clothing, but we’re still waiting for that time we thought we were going to have.

I don’t blame her for being upset and I hate being away so much, but I have a business to run. If my employees can’t be there, it’s up to me to cover for them and keep the place in operation. I know it’ll pass soon, and I've been trying to get Katniss set her sights on the day when things finally fall into place, but there are only so many times I can tell her this will be over soon before she stops believing me.

“She’s good.” I smile to let Thom know that I’m telling the truth, but offer nothing more. “Probably waiting impatiently for me to get home.”

“I won’t keep you then,” Thom laughs. “Tell Katniss I said hello.”

“I will. Goodnight, Thom.”

The sun is just beginning to dip behind a row of houses by the time I reach the Victors’ Village, bathing the area in orange and harsh, elongated shadows. I see our house in the distance. The ground floor is lit and the porch light is on, a sharp contrast to the darkened dwelling that is Haymitch’s on the other side of the cobblestone.

When I walk in the front door, the house is still and quiet. The table is set and there is a pot on the stove, but Katniss isn’t in the kitchen. She had to cook alone again. Suddenly, I’m overcome with guilt. Maybe I could be doing more to find people to cover these shifts while we’re short staffed. Spending all of my time at the bakery isn’t doing either of us any favors.

The sound of a page turning in the living room causes me to turn. I noticed Katniss sitting on the couch, looking down at a page in our memory book. As I take my steps closer to her, I notice quickly that she’s looking at Finnick’s page of the book.

“Hey,” I say gently, trying not to startle her.

“We got a new picture from Annie today,” Katniss says. She doesn’t look up from the page but scoots over just enough to tell me that she wants me to sit down.

Once I’ve settled into the couch cushion Katniss moves the memory book so that one side rests on her lap and the other in mine, and then pushes a small photograph of Annie and Finnick's son across it in my direction.

“Wow, he’s growing fast.”

“Annie wrote in her letter that he just turned two,” Katniss says. “He looks just like Finnick.”

I clutch the photograph between my thumb and forefinger and stare at it. The toddler’s skin is lighter than Finnick’s was, but his face could be identical right down to their decieving, mischievous smirks.

“How’s Annie doing?” I ask.

“She sounded like she’s doing okay in her letter,” Katniss replies. She pulls the book from my lap and closes it. “You can read it after dinner. I’m starving.”

Katniss doesn't like eating without me and usually waits until I'm home to have dinner, but more often than not lately she has been eating alone.

I follow behind her now, watching her dark braid sway back and forth in tandem with her soft steps across the floor. I’m suddenly struck with how long it has been since we’ve had time at night to relax together. I can count on one hand how many times we’ve had a full evening to ourselves since I opening the bakery a little less than a year ago.

“I’ll get the food, Katniss,” I say. “Sit down.”

“It’s fine,” she answers shortly. “I’ll get it.”

I can tell she’s still upset by the sound of her voice -- flat and low. Reluctantly, I sit down and observe Katniss’s stiff movements as she gathers the pot from the stove. Her anger is a culmination of so many different things. What little time we spend together now, the plans we haven’t gotten to follow through with yet, the effect the long hours have had on my mental state, and what so much time alone with her thoughts does to hers.

She’s not going to like what I have to tell her next.

“Lamb stew?” I ask. I already know the answer, I could smell it as soon as Katniss pulled the cover from the pot. My smile is met with an expressionless nod, and Katniss’s eyes fail to meet mine no matter how hard I try to get her to look at me.

As much as I don’t want to, I know I have to tell her. Once our stew is ladled out into our bowls, I take a deep breath, steeling myself before I let her down again.

“I have to work tomorrow,” I blurt out.

Katniss’s eyes finally meet mine. All I can see is bitter disappointment in the gray that glares back at me.

“What time?” she asks evenly.

We had planned to go to the lake tomorrow morning before the Capitol train came in with our shipment. We had planning to have breakfast out there, relax, and enjoy the quiet moments of down time that we thought were finally coming. I’ve known all week, but I couldn’t tell her. I didn’t want to see the disappointment that I’m seeing now, and even though I knew it was a long shot, I was hoping something would change and I wouldn’t have to go into work on the one day I was supposed to have off in almost three weeks.

“All day,” I tell her. “And I’ll probably be late again.”

Katniss’s spoon drops into her bowl with a loud clang. She presses the heels of her hands into her eyes and exhales loudly.

“I thought you were supposed to be off tomorrow?” She says. I can hear her voice cracking, and even though her hands still cover her eyes I can just imagine the tears that are welling in the corners. Because of me.

“That was before the schedule fell through.”

“Can’t Hakan do it?”

“He needed the day off,” I explain. “Besides, he has been working just as much as I have this past week.”

“And you don’t need time off?” Katniss asks incredulously.

“It’s my bakery, Katniss. If there’s nobody to work the shifts, I have to cover,” I say, trying not to raise my voice. “What do you want me to do?”

“We were supposed to have more time.”

Even though I couldn’t have predicted all of the conflicts that would arise once I implemented a schedule for my employees, I can’t help but feel like it’s my fault that Katniss is once again struggling to keep it together because of my absence.

The last time this happened turned into a two day stretch of unpredictable events topped off with Katniss asking me to go into the woods with her where she showed me her coveted lake for the first tim. But this is different. This is negative. A damage has been done that has left Katniss feeling hopeless and without anything to look forward to. A damage that gives her more time to think of the things that plague her.

“I know. I’m sorry,” I say. “We’ll have time soon, I promise. We just have to get over this set back.”

"You keep saying that, and it still hasn't happened. Why haven’t you hired more people?” Katniss questions.

“I already told you.”

“Tell me again,” she demands.

This time it’s me who drops my spoon into my plate angrily.

“Because I don’t like the look on some people’s faces when I try to tell them about the flashbacks.”

“So you’re never going to hire another person because of that?” Katniss says. “You’re going to kill yourself by working impossible hours because you don’t like how people look at you?”

"This is ridiculous," I sigh, pinching the bridge of my nose. “How would you like to sit down with a person you barely know and tell them one on one all of the things that are wrong with you?” I say forcefully. “How would you feel if they looked at you like you shouldn’t be trusted to run a business, or worse, go out without supervision?”

Before I even opened the bakery I made a vow to myself that anyone I hired would know the full extent of my flashbacks. For the sake of maintaining an open and honest relationship with anyone that I hired, I wanted them to know that while most of the time things will run as normal, there may be hiccups along the way.

More than once during my hiring process I had potential employees change their mind about working for me entirely. A few told me that they would let me know if they wanted the job and never came back. The people here know what we went through, but for some, learning the full extent of the damage done has been a reality they didn't seem ready to deal with.

Katniss’s silence tells me that she wouldn’t like it any more than I do, but even so, I know she’s right. I need more employees. I can’t cover every shift that others may not be able to work.

Neither of us speak for several minutes. Katniss stares down into her bowl of lamb stew like it’s about to whisper the answer to this problem to her. We can’t keep this up.

“Why don’t you come with me tomorrow?” I suggest. “Like you did a few weeks ago.”

“I have to go to the train station in the afternoon for our shipment from the Capitol.”

“I have one to get for the bakery,” I say. “We can close up around lunch for an hour or so and go get our things. Then you can help me put the bakery’s shipment away after closing. It won’t take nearly as long with two of us.”

Katniss chews on the inside of her cheek. Her eyes dart around the table as though she thinks she’ll find her answer written in the wood grain. Finally, with a loud sigh, she begins to nod.

“Alright.” Without another word, she picks her spoon back up and continues to eat.

It doesn’t solve the problem that still lingers at the bakery, but this will at least enable us to still spend the day together as we had originally planned.

XXXX

Despite how tired I’ve been, I wake before the alarm and take a moment to enjoy the stillness of the morning. It’s a luxury I haven’t been able to enjoy in awhile. Katniss is still asleep, burrowed under the covers and curled up on her side with her back facing me. I inch across the bed and close the space between us, draping my arm over her body to caress the raised scar on her hip with the tips of my fingers.

This is another luxury I haven’t been able to enjoy. These chance, drowsy moments that only come when we first wake up and before either of us let the burdens of the day creep in. We bask in these moments. Move slowly and touch deeply, re-committing every crease, dip, and scar on our bodies to memory.

Katniss begins to stir when I trail my fingers lower and push beyond the waistband of her panties. I hear a faint, sleepy moan when I make contact with the warm skin of her inner thigh.

“Good Morning,”  I whisper playfully. “Did I wake you?”

I’m caught off guard when Katniss turns around to face me. The warmth of her breath spreads across my neck and I can feel her stiff nipples graze my chest when she presses her body into mine.

“Yes.” She sighs when I grip her ass and push my hips forward, making sure she feels my erection. “But I don’t mind.”

I use my free hand to find her lips in the dark, tracing the soft swell with my finger before covering it with my mouth. Katniss inhales loudly in response, opening her mouth to allow my tongue entrance while slipping her hands underneath my t-shirt. Her short nails brush across my skin idly as our tongues meet and swirl around each other. I can’t hold back the shudder when her hands advance past my hips and find their way into my pants.

“Lower,” I whisper, smiling against Katniss’s lips when a soft laugh escapes from the back of her throat.

The pad of my thumb finds Katniss’s nipple through the thin fabric of her shirt. I rub light circles against the hardened nub as Katniss’s hands travel lower in my pants. When I finally feel her small hand wrap around my shaft I roll on top of her quickly and allow her to push my pants low enough to free my erection.

As much as I’d like to spend the entire morning teasing Katniss, tasting her, and feeling her hands work my dick until I can barely stand another second and want nothing more than to be inside of her, we have to be quick about this. There’s no telling when the alarm will go off and tear this moment away from us.

I pin Katniss’s arms down and kiss her neck eagerly, rubbing the head of my dick against the fabric that covers her middle.

“Take your panties off,” I whisper into her ear.

Letting go of Katniss’s arms, I move off of her to allow her to slip out of her clothing. It’s not until I’m reaching toward the drawer of the bedside table that I notice the clock.

“No,” I mutter. “No, no, no!”

“What’s wrong?” Katniss asks. "What happened?" She sounds frightened as she sits up and grabs for me.  

“The alarm never went off! We overslept,” I lament, jumping out of bed. I strip my pants off the rest of the way and quickly pull fresh clothing from the dresser, struggling to tuck my erection into my work pants. “We should’ve left for the bakery twenty minutes ago.”

Katniss dresses just as quickly, letting out a loud, frustrated sigh as she hurriedly brushes and re-braids her hair. There’s no time for anything else and we’re downstairs and out the door within minutes.

We walk in silence as fast as my prosthetic will allow -- there’s no time for talking right now. The closer we get the bakery, the more frustrated I grow with how quickly this day has turned sour. The last thing I need is to be late when I’m the only one there to prep and open for the day.

The clock on the front wall of the bakery shows that I’m twenty minutes late when I we walk through the door. That gives me ten minutes to try and prep everything before the bakery opens and a sink that is clearly still leaking that has to be fixed sooner rather than later.

I can’t decide where to begin. Every mundane task that I've grown accustomed to performing are in disarray in my mind, bogging it down and adding to the frustration I'm feeling and setting me on edge. I start walking toward the back room storage to grab a sack of flour. I want to at least get the first prep going for some fresh bread, but then I stop mid-stride and change directions toward the pantry when I suddenly remember that I haven’t put out any of the day old pastries yet.

There aren’t many customers that arrive right when we open, but the few that trickle in are looking for something quick and cheap before they head off to work themselves. They are the ones who purchase anything we may have left over from the day before.

“Peeta!”

Katniss’s voice, full of urgency, rings out through the bakery. I dart out of the pantry and quickly find Katniss near the sink, staring at the bucket that is now filled to the brim with water.

“This bucket is about to overflow,” she says.

I can feel the events of the day already closing in on me. The persistent throb of a headache is building behind my eyes and with a light beep from the watch around my wrist, I know it's time to open the bakery -- and nothing has been done.

The containers of pastries I carried out of the pantry leave my hands in a hurry and slam against the large, steel table in the middle of the bakery. I bound towards the sink with a huff and step in a puddle of water that surrounds the bucket.

“I tried to move it, but it was too heavy and it started to spill,” Katniss says.

“Can you just get those pastries set out in the display at the front?” I snap, turning away from her. I don't even pay attention to see if she is still watching.

Despite picking the bucket up as carefully as possible, water still spills over the sides and soaks not only more of the floor, but my shoes and pants as well. The sloshing as I walk causes a trail of water to leak behind me on my way out the back door where I am finally able to dump the water down the sewer.

I don't go back into the bakery right away. My heart is beating so violently that I can hear it in my ears. This schedule and this burnout is threatening to swallow me whole. I know I have to calm down before I slip into a dark place that I don't want to be in.

Pressing my forehead against the cool brick of the building, I count backwards from twenty slowly, inhaling deeply through my nose and exhaling from my mouth with each number. While it doesn't help completely, I at least feel in control enough to go back into the bakery to work.

When I walk back into bakery I almost run into Katniss as she mops up the long trail of water that followed me out the door.

"Sorry," she says, stepping aside to let me through.

"Thanks for mopping," I reply, heading back toward the sink. "I guess I needed a bigger bucket for overnight."

"That's a pretty bad leak."

The sound of Katniss's footsteps behind me bothers me more than it should.

"I know," I say, gritting my teeth. I don't need the reminder that there's yet another thing to deal with today.

"What's causing it?"

I turn abruptly, stopping Katniss in her tracks.

"If I knew, don't you think I would have fixed it?"

Katniss stares at me searchingly. Her eyes glide over mine and she furrows her eyebrows and tilts her head to the side.

"Peeta?" She asks gently. "Are you okay?"

Her hand reaches out for mine but I turn away and grip the sink and focus on the drain at the bottom. Rather than making me feel better, her tone seems to be making me feel worse.

"Did you forget to set the alarm before we went to bed last night?" I mutter.

"I-- does it matter anymore?" Katniss asks. "Is that what you're upset about?"

"You made me late, Katniss."

"You're blaming me?" Katniss asks incredulously. "The time didn't seem to matter to you when you were preoccupied with other things this morning." She throws the mop to the ground. “You can start setting the damn thing yourself from now on.”

I feel her breeze by me as she stalks off toward the bakery's office, slamming the door behind her and leaving me staring down into the sink foolishly.

I'm left scrambling. The shades over the front windows are still drawn, there isn't a single thing prepared for the day. I haven't even turned the open sign over, and all the while, the guilt is building heavily in the pit of my stomach. Every time I think about the way I yelled at Katniss -- blamed her for ruining the morning, I feel my stomach drop a little further. I let myself snap enough to ruin yet another aslect of the day. But there's no time to try and mend this right now. I have a bakery to open.

The morning crowd wasnt any heavier than usual, but with how behind I have been all day, I was constantly one step behind everyone. In between customers, I would sneak off into the back and work on the sink. It took hours, but I was finally able to clear what appeared to be an excessive amount of flour clogging the pipes. It had to be Hakan. I've worked in a bakery my whole life and know better than to try and wash flour down the sink. I'm going to have to tell him not to do that anymore the next time I see him.

I haven't seen Katniss all morning. Every time I've looked down the hall toward the office, the door is still shut tightly. The sight does nothing to lessen the guilt that I still feel for lashing out at her earlier. I need to go in there and apologize to her.

During the first slow moment of the day, I toast a few pieces of fresh bread and slather it with butter and strawberry jam -- a peace offering and late breakfast for Katniss, but just as I'm about to take the plate into the office, I hear the familiar sound of a customer entering the bakery, forcing me to abandon the plate of toast in order to take care of the customer.

One by one, more customers enter. The rush isn't unusual, but when I'm the only person working, and products are still behind on being prepared, things get overwhelming quickly. It feels like I will never get the line to go down. After several weeks of working almost non-stop, I have to finally admit that my resolve is slipping. I need a break soon.

"Half dozen blueberry muffins?"

There is just one woman left in the bakery now. I push the bag of muffins in her direction and smile sheepishly as she walks to the counter to claim them. I send her off with an apology for the wait and a discount for the time it took to get her order ready and soon the bakery is customer free once more.

I move to the back of the bakery before another customer can come. I snatch the plate of toast from the table as I pass it on my way to the office. I’m relieved to see the door is finally open. Maybe it won’t be as difficult to talk to Katniss as I thought it was going to be, but when I enter the room, she’s nowhere to be found.

Did she sneak out the back door and walk home while I was busy with customers?

“Looking for me?” I turn in the doorway and find Katniss standing in the hallway. “I had to go to the bathroom.”

“Oh.”

Katniss’s body tenses when I take a step forward. She looks at me anxiously, searching my eyes for trouble. It makes me feel worse than I already do.

“I’m sorry,” I mutter. “I made you some breakfast.”

I attempt to take another step forward slowly, holding the plate of toast out to Katniss while observing her reaction. She stands uneasily, but allows me to approach her and takes the plate from my hands.

“Thanks,” she says dully.

“It’s probably cold now,” I explain. “I had a rush of customers before I could bring it to you.”

“I don’t mind.”

We sit at the table and stare at eachother. A quick apology and cold toast isn’t going to excuse the way I acted this morning.

“I shouldn’t have taken things out on you this morning,” I begin. “It’s just... these hours. I’m exhausted and I wasn’t thinking straight.”

“I don’t want it to be the way it was when you first opened this place,” Katniss confesses. “You were having so many flashbacks. I really thought things were going to start changing.”

“So did I. You know I want this to change, right?”

“You can make them change, Peeta,” Katniss reminds me. “But you’re not.”

I open my mouth to speak but am cut off when the sound of the bell at the front of the bakery rings. Katniss looks over my shoulder and nods, silently telling me to go take care of the customer. It’s not like I have a choice in the matter, but when I get up and leave Katniss with her toast, I know that we are far from done with this conversation.

The older woman who waits for me at the front counter tells me that she’s looking to have a birthday cake made for her grandson and wants to iron out every detail today. I grit my teeth and nod, showing her to a table where we can sit and discuss her order while I head to the back to grab a pad of paper and a pencil.

“It’s a cake order,” I tell Katniss when I see her still sitting at the table. “This may take awhile.”I give her an apologetic look before I head back out to the table, but she’s not looking at me. “I’m sorry.”

The cake order takes the rest of the morning. We go through colors, the grandson’s interests, how many people this cake will be expected to feed, and pricing. When I finally feel that I have enough information to see the order through, I make a quick sketch of what I could do for the woman.

It takes a few adjustments and extra notes, but we finally come to an agreement on the design just in time for me to close up the bakery during the lunch hour so Katniss and I could head to the train station to pick up our shipments from the Capitol.

“Did you get that cake order sorted out?" Katniss asks while she waits for me to lock up the bakery.

"Yes," I reply, taping a note to the door that says the bakery will re-open at one. "I'll show you the sketch I made when we get back."

"Are you going to have to spend extra time at the bakery to get it made?"

I take Katniss's hand in mine as we walk toward the train station and wrap my free hand around our clasped ones.

"I don't know that I could spend any more time there than I already am," I say. "I just don't want to let anyone down. That's why I've been covering these shifts."

Katniss stops walking and forces me to look at her. When I look at her face, all I can see is anger among the stormy gray of her eyes.

"But it's fine to let me down?" She asks bitterly. "Because that's really all you've been doing lately."

Her words cut like a knife, and there’s no way I can try to talk my way out of it. She’s right. I’ve been letting her down for months now. I think about it all the time. I regret it every second im awake. I’ve put the bakery and the demands of my employees before the one person who means the most to me in this world.

Two days in the last three weeks won't make up for the way I've been putting everything into the bakery and almost nothing into my relationship with Katniss. In the beginning, she understood. There was a lot of work to be done, but here we are close to a year later and I'm still spending all of my time working.

It's not good for either one of us and Katniss knows that. My flashbacks have doubled since I began working again, and the more time Katniss spends alone, the more time she has to let her mind wander to places it never should.

I can't blame her for being upset. My failure to find a happy medium between work and home has forced Katniss to do things she may not have been one hundred percent ready for.

"So you said she wasn't doing anything in her routine? That's good, but don't take it for granted."

I remember my conversation with Haymitch three weeks ago. He warned me not to take advantage of Katniss’s progress. He warned me there would be bad days, but he didn’t warn me that it would feel like three weeks worth of bad days. Probably because those bad days are my fault.

Before I get a chance to say anything else to Katniss, she drops my hand and begins to walk in large strides toward the train station, leaving me trying to catch up the rest of the way there. It’s not until we reach the platform at the station that she allows me to approach her.

“Katniss..”

“I’ll get our shipment, you get the bakery’s,” she says quickly.

I take a step to the side in attempts to stop her from walking away again, but it’s no use. Her small frame ducks under my arm and she pushes past me, leaving me standing on the platform alone.

Embarrassment rushes through me when I notice Hammil staring at me sympathetically a few yards in front of me. Hammil has been helping the bakery with Capitol shipments for months now. I walk toward him, intending to collect my cart so I can go and find Katniss.

“Hey, Peeta,” Hammil says, offering me his hand. “Your shipment isn’t off the train yet, but if you wanted to go find Katniss I can bring your cart to you after it’s unloaded.”

“Are you sure?” I ask.

“Go, it’s fine.” Hammil peers around my shoulder toward the crowd at the other end of the platform. “She looked pissed.”

“She was.” I turn on my heels and begin walking in the direction Katniss went. “Thanks, Hammil!” I call out.

I find Katniss in a line of people waiting for their things. There are two people in front of her, so I stand off to the side and wait for her to gather our things and move away from the crowd before I approach her.

Our shipment this week is small enough to fit snugly into a medium sized bag which the attendant hands off to Katniss without fanfare when it’s her turn in line. At first I didn’t think Katniss knew I was waiting for her, when when she immediately begins walking in my direction without a second thought, I realize she knew I was here all along.

“Did you get the bakery’s stuff?” Katniss asks dryly.

“It wasn’t ready. Hammil is getting it together and he’ll bring it over when he’s done.”

Katniss nods and turns her head away from me to stare at the silver Capitol train stopped on the tracks. I can’t let the rest of the day go like this. I know she’s angry, and I can’t blame her for being so, but her anger is reigniting the fire that burned in me this morning. If I can at least attempt to save what’s left of our day together, I need to try.

“Katniss, look at me.”

She turns her head to meet my gaze. Her eyes no longer hold the anger they did on our way here. Instead, they’re sad.

“I want to go home,” she whispers.

“I thought we were going to spend the day together?” I say.

“I thought so, too.” Katniss shifts her weight from one foot to the other and grips the bag in her hand a little tighter. “It hasn’t been a very good day,” she admits, lowering her head.

Immediately, I know that she isn’t talking about the way the day has progressed. Did she feel low when I woke her up this morning, or was it all those hours alone with her thoughts in the office that brought her down? I wouldn’t know, because I haven’t even asked. I was in such a hurry to get out of the house this morning that I didn’t even think to ask her how she felt today, a question I’ve been asking her every morning for the last two years.

Asking wouldn’t have helped, but maybe it would have opened my eyes and enabled me to see beyond the bakery so I could help her. Instead I yelled at her, accused her of ruining the morning by forgetting to set the alarm.

"It hasn't been very good for me either," I admit, though I think it is obvious. "I've been fighting with myself all day."

I grab Katniss’s wrists and pull her to me. At first, she resists but soon I feel her body relax against my chest.

I spot Hammil slowly wheeling the cart for the bakery toward us and I wave him over. He’s quick about it, parking the cart adjacent to where Katniss and I stand and leaving with nothing more than a nod.

“Don’t go home,” I whisper to Katniss, kissing the top of her head. “Come back to the bakery with me. There’s that little place up the road that just opened up where we can grab some lunch. Their soup is delicious.”

“Do they have broccoli and cheddar?” Katniss asks. Her voice is muffled from her face being buried in my chest, but I can understand her question just fine.

“Yes,” I chuckle. “Come on. Let’s just try to get through the rest of the day, okay? Put our bag on the cart.”

With a slight nod, Katniss pushes her body away from mine. She stuffs the brown, handled bag in between two sacks of flour then takes my hand. Her grip is tight, almost desperate. Was it like that on our walk here? I want to scold myself for not paying closer attention today.

The walk back toward the bakery is calmer. Our free hands clutch the handle of the cart and navigate it up the road and toward the bakery while our other hands stay clasped between us. Even so, there is an unspoken tension that still sits heavily between us. All I can ask for is that the rest of the afternoon progresses without another incident. I’ll worry about lessening the strain between us later.

We make a quick stop into the bakery and leave the cart with our things there while we head over to the new eatery that recently opened here in town to pick up lunch. I’ve only been here once, but the soup selection is overwhelming compared to the one choice of Greasy Sae’s hot slop that we used to have.

I want to laugh at the look of awe on Katniss’s face as she lets her eyes skim over all of the choices. She may have planned to come here for broccoli and cheddar soup, but it’s clear that she’s not sure what to choose now.

It takes close to twenty minutes, but in the end we leave the eatery with two bowls of potato cheddar soup.

“What happened to broccoli and cheddar?” I ask as we walk back to the bakery.

“I don’t know,” Katniss shrugs, clutching the paper bag in her hand. “This just sounded better for some reason.”

When the bakery comes into view, my heart drops into my stomach when I notice the line of people lined up outside the front door waiting for us to re-open. It’s rare that we close the bakery at all during the day, but with me being the only one working and the shipment waiting, there was no other choice.

I stop walking and turn to Katniss.

“I’m going to have to take care of the customers before I eat,” I tell her. “You can start eating without me. Hopefully this won’t take long.”

At first, Katniss nods. I know that she understands that right now, I have no other options, but the disappointment in her face is like a slap to the face. Suddenly, she goes from nodding to shaking her head, her eyebrows furrowed.

“No,” she says resolutely. “I want to help you.”

“I don’t want to make you do that if you’re not having a good day, Katniss,” I protest, but this only seems to make her want to do it even more. She sighs and moves the bag of our soup from one hand to the other.

“This seems to be the only way I’ll get to spend any time with you today,” she says. “And I’m tired of eating alone.”

I decide not to argue the point. We resume walking and come up to the bakery fast. Several people that stand waiting to be let in greet us when we pass.

Even with two people working the front counter the rush becomes almost endless. With each person that leaves, it seems that two more appear in their place. I’ve never noticed just how many people come to the bakery in the afternoon. When there are three of us working who know the ins and outs of the place, things flow that much easier. When it’s just me and Katniss, and I have to keep showing Katniss which pastry is which and calling out what temperature to set the ovens on for whatever we are making, the rush of customers can be felt that much more.

Despite the chaos and confusion, Katniss does great. I keep my eye on her as the hours tick by, paying close attention to see if she seems overwhelmed with the people and the constant activity, but it seems to be good for her. It seems to be keeping her mind off of the fact that we still haven’t exactly resolved our issues yet.

Little by little, the amount of times Katniss has to ask me where things are decreases, and things begin to flow a little more smoothly. It takes close to four hours and a lot of juggling, but we manage to get through all of the customers without complaint.

As the final customer departs, I make my way to the back of the bakery and drop down onto the stool near the table.

“The soup is definitely cold by now,” Katniss says. She peers into the abandoned paper bag that sits near the stove. “Do you want me to heat it up?”

With an hour left until closing and the busiest part of the day behind us, I get up from the stool and grab a pot that hangs above the stove. Katniss and I pour both of our soup containers into the pot and let it sit on the flame.

We’re quiet as we work. I stand at the stove, stirring the thick mixture of potatoes and cheese while Katniss grabs some bowls from the storage closet. It reminds me of home and I realize all at once that I miss doing this night after night with Katniss. I understand what she meant now when she said she was tired of eating alone.

“What else has to be done tonight?” Katniss asks.

She sits across from me at the table in the middle of the bakery and brings a spoonful of the hot soup to her lips, blowing on it while looking up at me. I can’t help but focus on her lips, pink, pursed, and slightly wet.

“Wipe down the counters, pass the broom, empty all the trash, do the dishes, and then after closing we have to put the Capitol shipment away and make sure what they sent us matches the copy of the order we sent over,” I say.

“Want me to do the dishes?”

“Sure,” I smile.

The rest of the meal proceeds in silence. Both of us are so hungry that conversation doesn’t seem important right now. By the time we’ve both eaten enough soup to fill us up, there isn’t much time left before we can close up the bakery. The sound of the front door’s bell causes me to groan audibly and throw my head back.

“We couldn’t just have these last five minutes of the day without another customer, could we?” I grouse. I stand up from my spot at the table while Katniss begins to gather our bowls and the pot to begin washing them.

“Can I help you?” I say absentmindedly. I’m not paying attention to who is in the bakery until I hear the familiar sound of Hakan’s voice.

“Rough day?” He asks with a laugh.

“Something like that.”

“You should have called, I would have come in.”

“It’s alright, I had a good helper today,” I reply, craning my neck in the direction of Katniss at the sink.

“Hey Katniss!” Hakan calls out, looking around the corner to see her. She waves at him and gives a timid smile, but says nothing before going back to the dishes. “I stopped in to see if you wanted any help with the delivery from the Capitol. Better yet, why don’t you two just go home and I’ll close up?”

“It’s alright,” I say shaking my head. “I’ve got it under control.”

There’s a loud crash from where Katniss stands at the sink. I peer around the wall quickly and notice her shoulders rise and fall heavily where she stands. I can’t call attention to her anger with Hakan here, so I move back to my place behind the counter and clear my throat, gaining Hakan’s attention.

“I do have something that I need you to do for me, though.” I reach under the counter and pull out and large stack of papers. “I need you to go through these. It’s the name and contact information of people who have come in here looking for work.”

“Thinking about hiring more people?” Hakan asks, thumbing through the top few sheets of paper.

“We need people who have flexible availability,” I explain. “We shouldn’t have to run this place with just one person if someone isn’t able to work their shift.”

“So you need people who aren’t requesting certain hours?”

“Yes,” I nod. “Tell the ones who are still available to come in on Monday afternoon so I can talk to them.”

“You got it.”

“Two more things,” I say, stopping Hakan from heading toward the door. "You can't wash flour down the sink anymore. I had a clog and leak so bad today it took me hours to fix.

Hakan's cheeks redden. "Sorry. That was stupid of me."

"Don't worry about it, just try not to do it again." I smile, letting him know I'm not angry. “And, um.. could you take the whole day tomorrow?” I drop my voice so Katniss doesn’t overhear how much I share with Hakan. “Things haven’t been so great at home because of this place. I have to figure some things out.”

“Sure, Peeta,” Hakan whispers back sympathetically. He reaches his hand out and slaps my shoulder before giving me a nod.

Following Hakan to the door, I thank him as he leaves and lock the door behind him, flipping to opened sign to closed. The last thing we need right now are last minute customers right before closing to extend the day even further.

“The bakery is officially closed,” I announce after I make my way to the back.

Katniss doesn’t acknowledge me. She keeps her back to me and her shoulders squared while she aggressively scrubs the pot we used for our soup. I don’t even think she’s paying attention to what she’s washing anymore.

“That pot is going to get a hole in it if you keep scrubbing it like that.”

My attempt at a joke goes ignored and Katniss doesn't budge. Up until now I've understood her frustration, but this is too much. The anger that has been simmering inside of me all day now threatens to boil over.

“Katniss...”

She shrugs me off as soon as my hand makes contact with her shoulder, but rather than backing off, I try again. This time I place both hands on her shoulders and spin her around to face me.

“Don’t!” Katniss threatens, twisting to try and escape. “Don’t try to make this all better with a hug and kiss on my head! It’s not going to work this time.”

“Do you hear how ridiculous you sound right now?!” I shout.

“No, Peeta. Why don’t you tell me again!” Katniss hisses. “I think I need to be reminded a few more times how silly it is for me to actually want to spend a little time with you.”

“How am I supposed to spend any time with you when you won’t even let me explain myself?” I ask, frustrated. “Instead you just throw a fit when something doesn’t go your way!”

“You should’ve just let me go home,” Katniss says. I don’t miss the defeated edge in her voice, but it does nothing to stifle the anger that is now coursing through me.

“You’re right. I should have,” I agree. “Why don’t you just go now? I’ll come home whenever I finish here. Don’t wait up.”

Katniss still clutches the soup pot in her hands, dripping soapy water onto her shoes, but she doesn’t make for the door. She doesn’t even try to move. The icy glare that stares back at me feels like a challenge.

“You didn’t think I’d say that, did you?” I start. “You’re not the only one having a bad day, Katniss. Maybe you should think about that before getting mad at me for trying to make things right.”

“How does sending extra help home make things right?” Katniss asks dryly.

“It’s pretty ridiculous that I even have to explain this to you,” I say shaking my head. “If you didn’t fly off the handle so quickly you would know the answer to your own question.”

“Ridiculous,” Katniss repeats. “You really like that word, don’t you?”

“When you get mad at me for running my business, yeah,” I say. “That’s pretty ridiculous.”

“Then run your business, Peeta,” Katniss scowls. “Because you’re not doing it now. Look around!” She turns, throwing the pot into the sink with a loud crash. “Where are your employees, Peeta? They’re at home while you are here working yourself into exhaustion and forcing me to worry about you every single day.”

She moves away from the sink and begins to pace the length of the table, staring at the ground as she walks.

“I always wonder, Which Peeta am I going to get when he comes home tonight?” She sounds like she’s talking more to herself than to me. “Will he be so tired he doesn’t even want to eat? Will he have that fake smile plastered on his face just so I won’t worry? That one doesn’t work, by the way. Or will be he so exhausted that I spend the entire night staring at him, waiting for him to snap?” She stops pacing a looks at me, a look of desperation on her face. “This affects more than just you, Peeta. When are you going to realize that?”

“You think I don’t realize that?” I ask. I walk toward her, but she turns her back to me and presses the palms of her hands against the cool steel of the table. “I beat myself up every single day for letting you down again and again. How could I not realize that? I saw the disappointment in your face earlier, and I hear it in your voice every time I call to tell you I won’t be home in time for dinner.”

“Then why don’t you care?” Katniss asks.

Her words light a fire in my stomach that unexpectedly extends to my groin. How could she accuse me of not caring? Closing the space between us, I press my body into her back and cover her hands with my own.

“You think I don’t care?” I hum into her ear. “You think it doesn’t hurt me to think about how much time you’ve had to spend alone over the last few months?”

My fingers wrap around Katniss’s hands and squeeze them tightly, daring her to move.

“You think it doesn’t cut me to think about all the times you’ve probably cried while I couldn’t be there to help you?” I take a chance and release Katniss’s hands and ghost my fingers up her arms. “You think it doesn’t kill me leaving you to sleep alone? Not knowing if you’ll wake up needing me to hold you...” I press my lips to her ear and speak just above a whisper. “To fuck you.”

Katniss whimpers and makes her first movement since I released her hands. She pushes her body back further into mine, grinding her ass against the front of my pants at the last second. I’m sure she can feel how hard I'm already becoming.

“We didn’t get to have each other this morning,” I murmur.

“I remember.”

My fingers make quick work of the button and zipper of Katniss’s pants. She makes a small grunt of protest, stopping me in my tracks.

“What if someone can see through the windows?” Katniss asks.

I turn my head and notice that in my haste to lock the front door, I neglected to draw the shades.

“Don’t go anywhere,” I say, steadying Katniss’s hips and moving away from the table.

Quickly, I rush to the front of the bakery and draw all of the shades, making sure each window and the front door is completely free from prying eyes before heading back to Katniss. I grab her hips again and press my hand against the middle of her back.

“Lean forward,” I coax.

Katniss places her hands back down on the table and braces herself, leaning forward while I drop to my knees.

My fingers slip past the top of her pants easily. I tug on them and Katniss twists her hips, allowing me to pull them down her legs and remove them completely. I discard them and her panties off to the side and out of our way.

I stay on the floor and position myself just between Katniss’s legs. With gentle pressure on the insides of her thighs, I spread her legs further, exposing her to me. I spend a few minutes running the tips of my fingers up and down her thighs and around the curves of her ass, making up for the time we lost this morning.

Soon, my fingers find their way to her middle. I smooth my hand over the hair covering her folds and notice the heat that radiates against my hand. All at once, I’m eager to feel more. My cock throbs achingly against my pants when I think about how wet and warm she will feel when I push my fingers between those folds and find my way to the bundle of nerves that make her cry out.

I slip them in easily and find that spot I was looking for. Katniss’s knees buckle and she lets out a shuddering breath when I begin to rub, using the wetness that coats my fingers to easily slide over the nerve in circles.

As I continue to rub, my mouth finds and covers her center. I drag my tongue across where the wetness pools and taste her, uttering a moan of satisfaction as I drink her in.

Katniss slams her hand on the table and presses herself down against me when I push my tongue into her. I work up an uneven rhythm, circling my wet fingers along the taut and sensitive nerve while thrusting my tongue in and out of her center. She begins  muttering what sounds like please don't stop repeatedly. I pull my mouth and fingers away from her and wait for her to protest.

“Touch yourself, Katniss,” I say. “I got you close, now I want to see you make yourself come.”

Katniss groans. She’s clearly unhappy with the way I’ve left her to her own devices, but she doesn’t object. I sit back and watch her hand snake down between the table and her body, quickly turning up between her legs. She runs her fingers between her folds and pushes them into her center, moaning my name hopelessly.

“Keep going,” I instruct.

As I watch her move her wet fingers up to rub her nerve, I unbuckle my belt and quickly pull my erection from the confines of my pants. I begin to stroke myself in time with Katniss’s movements while practically begging for her to continue.

It doesn’t take long before Katniss’s sharp breaths turn into soft moans. Her legs tremble underneath her so fiercely she has to drop her chest onto the table to keep herself standing.

Watching Katniss’s orgasm consume her urges me to speed up my pace, but the longer I stroke and the faster I move, I know that the only thing I want to do is bury myself inside of her.

I should’ve pushed every last ounce of arousal from my mind while we were still here, but the frustration and anger manifested itself into something I could no longer control and somehow we ended up here in a position where I want nothing more than to feel Katniss’s walls envelop me, but I know she’d never let me without protection.

We could have been almost home by now if we had just ignored the anger that simmered between us and put away the Capitol shipment like we were supposed to.

The Capitol shipment.

I remember all at once that we got our own shipment today. I push myself up into an unsteady standing position, tucking my throbbing erection half-heartedly into my pants and pausing until I feel my prosthetic will be able to hold me.

Katniss calls after me when she notices that I’m walking away, but I’m in too much of a hurry to explain. I retrieve our bag from the Capitol and hastily tear through the contents until I come across the boxes of condoms. I grab a box and make my way back to Katniss who is now standing normally again.

A confused expression plays on her face but is quickly replaced by one of understanding when I wordlessly show her what I brought back.

“I forgot these were here,” I explain. I lean in and kiss Katniss hard on the mouth and bring my free hand down to cup her ass. “Turn back around like you were before.”

I run my hand up and down Katniss’s back and down the outside of her thighs, feeling goosebumps rise from her skin and brush against my fingertips. I fumble with the box of condoms in my free hand, eventually maneuvering the box between my body and my hand enough to produce a condom.

Tossing the box onto the table, I pull my pants down and let them fall to my ankles before tearing into the wrapper of the condom and rapidly rolling the slippery latex down my length.

“Spread your legs a little more,” I say, bending my knees.

I press the tip of my cock to Katniss’s entrance and grasp her hips, pulling her down as I push my hips forward. Her warmth encapsulates me so quickly. The moan that falls from my lips is one of both relief and atonement, and Katniss’s whimpers hold the same notes.

Any plans to take this slowly are lost on me almost instantly. The grip I have on Katniss’s hips enable me to thrust deeper, harder. It’ll surely to leave marks, but Katniss’s lack of objection coupled with the way she grips the table and pushes off and back against me roughly, urging me to go harder keeps me going.  

As I edge closer and closer to my orgasm, I release Katniss’s hips, freeing my hands to touch her. I push my them under her shirt and beyond her bra, pinching her firm nipples between my fingers as we move together, rolling them teasingly before covering the swell of both breasts with my palms and squeezing.

Katniss’s hand finds mine against her breast and pulls it away. She leads me down between her legs and presses my fingers against her folds.

“I want you to make me come this time,” she says breathlessly.

Before I know it, my fingers have slipped between her folds again. I sweep my them back and forth, making sure to hit the swollen nerve with each pass as I continue to move inside of her. I use her sounds to gauge how close she is, knowing that when her exhales mix with a moan, she’s close. When I hear it, it sends me over the edge.  

I feel the familiar pull low in my stomach and I know that I’m not going to be able to hold on and wait for Katniss to come first. My movements still completely and I shut my eyes tightly as my orgasm hits me. I spill into the condom and drop my head, resting it in the middle of Katniss’s back as the each pulse courses through my body.

Once the spasms have subsided, I bring my attention back to Katniss, rubbing her eagerly as my arm wraps around her torso and presses our bodies together.

"Focus on my fingers and nothing else," I instruct just as I rub I'm a different direction, causing Katniss's hips to buck.

"Right there," she breathes. "Stay right there."

Katniss follows quickly with a second orgasm that seems even stronger than the first. She sways from side to side while her body quivers involuntarily.

It feels like an hour passes before either one of us makes a move. I pull away first and dispose of the condom. The commotion my movements cause seem to break Katniss from her bliss and she jumps away from the table quickly, scrambling to put her clothes back on when her arousal subsides enough for her to realize what just happened

“We’re kind of behind now,” I point out. “Even more than before.”

“At least the dishes are done,” Katniss replies. She walks to the sink and retrieves the pot she threw earlier, checking it for any signs of damage before putting it away.

“I’m exhausted,” I admit. “Good thing I’m off tomorrow.”

Katniss turns around quickly. “You’re off tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” I laugh. “I asked Hakan to work for me, but I guess you were too busy slamming my pots around to hear that part of the conversation.”

“Oh.”

“You also missed the part where I told him to spend some time finding people that could work on a more flexible schedule so I can interview them when I come back here on Monday.”

“I guess I did miss those parts,” Katniss says sheepishly.

We stare at eachother for a long time before we both blurt out the words at the same time -- I’m sorry.

“It will be better from now on,” I say. I look Katniss straight in the eye and make sure she’s listening. “I promise.”

XXXX

“I will get you in that water one day,” Katniss laughs.

She curls up against my chest and runs her hand up and down the length of my torso.

“Well that day won’t be today,” I retort. “Tomorrow isn’t looking so good, either.”

It really is relaxing out here by the lake. I could lay out here with Katniss all day listening to the wind rustle through the trees and the water lap against the soft embankment.

In the month since I promised to make things right with Katniss, we’ve gotten to spend a lot of time together out here in the woods. The new hirings have allowed me to have entire weekends off for the first time since I opened the bakery, and when I do work I am always home with plenty of time to make dinner with Katniss every single night, the way we used to.

“We should have soup tonight,” Katniss says suddenly. She sits up and I see her smirk at me when I open one eye to look at her.

“What kind did you want to make?”

“None,” she says. “I was thinking we could go back to that eatery in town and try a different kind tonight.”

“Of course you were thinking that,” I laugh. “Sure, Katniss. Soup sounds good.”

Katniss lays back down against my chest, and it’s not long before I realize that she’s fallen asleep. I wrap my arm around her, grateful for another good day. I could definitely get used to this.

Chapter Text

When Katniss and I agreed to invite Haymitch over for dinner tonight, we didn’t anticipate him staying most of the night. I can usually tolerate extended exposure to Haymitch Abernathy better than Katniss can, but that wasn’t the case tonight, and it seems that Haymitch knew it. Words came easier for him than they normally did, and the weak glint in his eyes as he spoke told me that he just knew we were itching for him to leave. Every second of his visit that ticked by felt like a second wasted later. 

I couldn’t have asked him to leave, though. What would I have told him? “I’m sorry, Haymitch, but I’m planning on taking Katniss up to bed as soon as possible. Can you please leave now?” It didn’t matter if he already suspected that we wanted him to leave, and telling him why would never be an option. Neither would lying. You don’t lie to Haymitch. He sees right through it every time - and so we waited for him to get bored.

It was only after the large flask of white liquor had been completely drained that he finally tucked it back into his pocket, rose to his feet, and wished us a good night. 

Peering out the front window now, I watch as Haymitch stumbles back to his house and through the front door. I don’t allow myself to relax until his windows light up. That’s how I know he’s in his house for the night and won’t come bumbling back over to steal a bottle of liquor or ask us to help him with his geese. It doesn’t look like he’ll be tending to the geese at all tonight.

Finally,” I mutter to myself, turning the lock and smiling when I hear the loud click.

The sound of glass plates clattering turns my attention to Katniss at the sink gathering the dinner plates from where she left them drying. She arranges them by size, paying no attention to me as I walk toward her. There’s a sense of calm in the air since Haymitch left, but at the same time there’s something else. An underlying buzz that doesn’t need her attention to crackle between us. 

She clearly remembers the challenge she gave me earlier after she caught me in the kitchen and brought me to the brink with her mouth: “Now you can spend the evening trying to come up with a way to return the favor.” I’ve been playing her words back to myself from the moment she said them this afternoon up until I came up with a way to give myself the advantage in this game we play. 

In truth, nobody truly loses this game. It’s just a matter of who can show restraint the longest that determines who can gloat and who has to try harder next time. This afternoon, Katniss had me under her thumb, but tonight I plan to change that. Nevertheless, in the end, we both get what we want and the fun that we have together makes it that much better.

“Hey,” I murmur, pressing a kiss to the top of Katniss’ head. I run my hand across her back from side to side, observing how her tense muscles relax under my touch. “Don’t worry about putting the dishes away tonight. There’s no rush, we can do that in the morning.” Dropping my head to her ear, I whisper, “Let’s go upstairs.”

Katniss stills next to me, inhaling deeply through her nose. She sets the stack of plates back down on the counter and nods. 

“No rush,” she agrees, stepping away from the sink. 

Neither one of us is eager to let the other see that getting upstairs to the bedroom is our only concern. But I can tell by the way Katniss moves with haste, gripping the railing and practically pulling herself up the stairs that she’s ready and waiting for me to make some kind of move. My attempts to remain aloof are far easier with Katniss several steps ahead of me. She’s probably expecting me to get right to it, knowing full well that I’ve been waiting for this just as long as she has. That’s not the plan tonight, though. I have something else in mind. 

Katniss is usually the first one rummaging through the dresser drawers for night clothes. Tonight, however, she looks at me as though to ask if she should even bother putting clothes on at all. I answer her by finding a pair of black and green flannel lounge pants and a white undershirt to change into.

“I think I’m going to take a shower,” Katniss says, setting her pajamas on the end of the bed. 

“Okay,” I reply, keeping my tone even and amiable. 

She’s expecting too much right now. I imagine the relaxation that passed through her in the kitchen was all for nothing, and the choked muscles have returned, keeping her body on high alert for whenever I decide to spring the night's plans on her.  I know that this alone, this state of hyperawareness I’ve worked her into in just a matter of minutes without even trying, should be enough to consider the evening a success. But it’s not. I notice her lingering in the bedroom doorway like she’s waiting for me to start to follow her into the shower. 

“I’ll just wash up when you’re done.” Is the only thing I offer her.

Katniss leaves the room seeming a bit disappointed and I have to laugh at her a little. She thought this was going to be easier than I’ve made it, and it hasn’t even been ten minutes yet. 

While Katniss showers, I slip out of my clothes and put on my pajamas, deciding at the last minute to stay shirtless. I carry on with my routine as I do every night and climb into bed, grabbing my sketch pad and pencils from my bedside table and resume work on the sketch of the backyard I’ve been working on for the last few nights. It’s nothing special. Just a pencil sketch of what I see when I look out the back door. The sketching helps settle my mind before Katniss and I retire for the night. It doesn’t stop my own nightmares, but since I started, they seem to be easier to rouse myself from when they do hit. 

It’s not long before Katniss ambles back into the bedroom, a towel wrapped around her body. Her hair, wet hair twisted, hangs over her shoulder. I smile when I see the change in the way she moves now compared to before her shower. Her shoulders and face remain relaxed, and she walks toward the pile of clothing she’s left on the bed without looking at me with pause. Now’s the time to begin. 

“Come sit next to me for a minute,” I say, setting my sketch pad and pencils back on the table and sitting up. 

“I’m not dried off yet,” Katniss protests. “The sheets.” 

“I don’t care about the sheets.” I smile at her. “Come sit next to me.” 

I gently pat a spot on the bed next to me, leaving my hand there until Katniss sits down and curls her legs to the side, holding on to her towel tightly as she looks at me. Catching a droplet of water that cascades down her upper arm with the tip of my finger, I trail it up over her shoulder and across her chest. I idle there for just a second before moving my finger to her chin and tilting it upward. 

“Come closer,” I murmur, guiding her lips toward mine. I stop suddenly, hovering as closely as I can without making contact and grin. “We’re going to play a little game.” 

Katniss groans. “I should have known that was coming.” 

I can’t stop the smile that spreads across my face knowing that for as much as she anticipated this before, I waited just long enough for her to let her guard down and relax a little.

“Do you want a kiss before we start?” I ask. “It was kind of mean of me to deny you like that after asking you to come over here in the first place. You can consider it a freebie.”

“No,” Katniss says adamantly. “I don’t want to kiss you that badly.”

“Are you sure?” I press. “You sounded pretty disappointed a minute ago.”

“Nope. I’m fine without your kisses.”

She has her arms crossed over her chest now, securing her towel to her and sending me a message that she’s ready to play along and that she’s not going to give in as easily as I may have hoped. I lick my lips, ready for the challenge, and lean back in. My lips are millimeters from Katniss’s again. 

“Suit yourself,” I say haughtily, settling back in against the pillows. “I’m not going to give away any more free kisses after this.”

Katniss narrows her eyes at me. “I don’t like the sound of this.”

“There’s nothing to be worried about,” I say, flashing an impish grin. “It’s a pretty simple game. All you have to do is ask me questions.”

“Questions..” Katniss repeats, sounding dubious. She leans in closer, clearly interested in what I’ve just suggested. “What kind of questions?”

“Well,” I start, shifting my body toward her. “I’ve had all night to think about how I wanted to return the favor tonight. I thought it might be fun if you asked me questions to figure it out.”

Fun?” Katniss asks. The unease is clear in her voice. 

I knew this would happen. If I’m being honest, it’s part of what helped me decide I wanted to play this game with her in the first place. Katniss tends to rely on letting her body talk for her. While it doesn’t bother me, it would be nice to hear her speak up more in the bedroom every now and then. And maybe it’s a bit cruel, but watching her wriggle around uncomfortably while she tries to string her words together is endearing to me in all the right ways.

“It’ll be fine, Katniss,” I assure her. For only a moment, I decide to drop the teasing tone. This won’t be enjoyable for either one of us if Katniss isn’t comfortable. “It’s only me.” 

This seems to relax her a little. She still looks at me with apprehension, her eyes flitting back and forth between my face and the mattress.

“Okay,” she says, breathing in deeply. “How do we start?”

“With the rules.”

I see Katniss’s face fall.

“There are rules, too?” She shifts, pulling her towel even tighter around her body. “Peeta, when I said think of a way to return the favor I didn’t mean this.”

“I promise it’s nothing difficult. Just hear me out,” I say soothingly, reaching out to rub her bare shoulder. Katniss looks at me expectantly, waiting for me to continue. “There’s no limit to how many questions you ask. You can ask two questions or you can ask ninety two if you need that many, I’m not keeping count.”

“But..” Katniss says, waiting for the catch.

“But,” I smile playfully. “You cannot be vague. The more detail you provide, the more fun this will be.”

“There you go using that word again,” Katniss sighs. “Is that the only rule?”

“That’s the only rule,” I nod, watching as Katniss inhales deeply and prepares herself. “Ready?”

With her shoulders squared, Katniss looks me in the eyes and smiles nervously. 

“Ready.”

I settle in, training my eyes on Katniss's face. The nervous smile that played on her lips just a second ago is gone and has been replaced by a slack jaw and vacant stare. She brings her hand to her mouth and begins to chew on her thumb nail as she tries to think of a question that’ll get the ball rolling.

"Are you.." She mumbles, hesitant to take her hand away from her mouth and look at me. Forcing her eyes to meet mine, she tries again. "Are you.. really making me do this?"

A deep laugh bursts out from my mouth and I nod, smiling sympathetically at Katniss while she stretches her legs out straight and nervously runs her hand up and down her calf. 

"Why?" She asks. 

There’s no insolence of any kind to be found in either her tone or on her face. Her eyebrows are knit together in confusion, not defiance, and her eyes search my face for some kind of answer that would help her understand how I could possibly think asking her to do something like this could be fun. There’s only one solution to this problem -- I have to make her understand. 

“Do you remember that one night last week?” I ask, extending my arm out, inviting Katniss to move in closer. I wait for Katniss to scoot over to me and curl up against my body before I wrap the same arm around her and pull her in. With her head now resting on my chest and her hand anxiously roaming between my shoulder and upper arm, I decide to continue. “When we were lying here, just like this, and I told you all about the different ways I wanted to make you come?”

Katniss’s hand stills on my shoulder. “Yes.”

“Do you remember how wet it made you?” I continue in just a whisper. “Remember how easily I slid my fingers into you after that? Remember how good it felt when I finally made you come exactly how I said I would?”

“Yes,” Katniss mutters again. 

“Do you know what else felt good?” I ask. “Knowing that I got you that wet, that ready, just by talking to you. It almost felt better than being inside you.” My fingers toy with the slit the edges of her towel create, gently tickling the delicate skin of her thighs. “That’s why.” 

Katniss pushes herself up, gripping her towel that still covers her body. She swallows hard and looks down at me with curious eyes. 

“How long have you been wanting me to do this?” She asks. 

“You’ve done it before,” I remind her. “I was just hoping for a little more detail this time.”

A coy smile springs to Katniss’s lips. “Does that..” she stammers briefly before clearing her throat. “Does that turn you on?”

“Does it turn you on when I do it?” I challenge. Katniss looks away and smiles again, making her answer very clear. “Then I guess you just answered your own question.” 

Katniss goes silent, concentration written all over her face. “Did you enjoy yourself in the kitchen earlier?” 

“What happened in the kitchen?” I ask, feigning innocence. Katniss narrows her eyes as though she’s irked. I try to smile at her in hopes that it’ll remind her that this is supposed to be fun, but I’m afraid she’s getting herself so worked up over what she’s going to ask that she’s going to forget that. I’m not even sure if she even believes that this can be fun, yet.

With a sigh, Katniss steels herself and tries again. 

“Did you like having my mouth on you in the kitchen earlier?” She asks, her voice deadpan and rushed. But before I can answer, she begins speaking again. “I liked it. I always like it. Feeling you get harder while I… suck on you.” 

Her voice sounds far away. Like she’s allowed herself to slip into a place in her mind that has been so closed off that she has to virtually disappear to find it. I reach my hand out and begin to pull her towel from around her body. Katniss removes her hands and lifts her arms, allowing the thick, cotton towel to slip down her body. I pull it away from where it pools at her legs, admiring the way her breasts rise and fall with each deep breath she takes. 

I’m already aching to touch her. Cup her breast, roll her slightly pebbled nipple between the pads of my fingers and listen to the way she responds, but I won’t. That would be too easy. Instead, it’s Katniss, who still seems to be lost in that uncharted sliver of her mind, that does the touching. 

She trails her hand down her chest, over her breasts, and down her stomach and stops just before she reaches the juncture of her thighs. 

“Do you want to touch me?” she asks, finally allowing her hand to disappear between her legs. 

I watch her fixedly, unable to see exactly what she’s doing but I know right away when she reaches the tender cluster of nerves with her fingers. Her thighs tighten around her hand, and with a sigh, she looks at me. “Do you like watching this?”

“I do,” I nod. “Tell me what you’re thinking about.”

“You,” she admits. “Your fingers. Rubbing me instead of doing it myself. I feel this shock when you touch me that I never get when I touch myself. Like I can’t control myself as long as you’re touching me.”

My mind wanders to thoughts of the warmth and wetness between Katniss’s legs. The way she writhes against my hand when I sweep my fingers over her clit, and the deep gasps she doesn’t even try to hide when my fingers are pushed against her walls, pressing on the spot deep inside her that causes her to come undone, destroying any reserves she has.

“Do you want to feel how wet this is making me?” Katniss’s voice breaks through my thoughts, forcing my attention back to her.

“More than feel,” I croak. 

I see her eyes widen with realization. “Do you want to taste me?” she asks. 

To my surprise, she pulls her hand from between her thighs and brings her fingers to my lips. I suck in her two fingers and swirl my tongue around them, groaning when my tongue picks up on the taste that I can only describe as Katniss. 

“That’s exactly what I want to do,” I murmur when she pulls her fingers from my mouth. “See? That wasn’t so bad, was it?” 

“I guess not,” Katniss admits, scooting down the mattress. She begins to lie down, but I stop her, pressing my hands against her shoulders to keep her upright. 

“Not like that tonight,” I tell her. 

Instead, it’s me that lies down, propping my head on one of the pillows and smiling at Katniss. We’ve done this a few times before, so Katniss isn’t confused when she notices the way I’ve situated myself on the bed. She moves without words or further questioning and crawls on top of me, settling down on my stomach. 

“Is it alright to kiss you?” She asks, ghosting her fingers across my torso. 

“Yes,” I nod. “You earned it.”

She crinkles her nose in distaste. “Oh, I have to earn kisses?” 

“Just for tonight,” I say. “As part of the game.”

For a second, it looks like she’s going to remain headstrong and shun the opportunity for a kiss, but she doesn’t. With a terse shake of her head, she leans forward and presses her lips to mine. I open my mouth in hopes of deepening the kiss, but Katniss pulls away and smiles. 

“If I have to earn kisses tonight, the same should go for you, too,” she says, pressing her hands against my chest. “This might be your game, but don’t think you’re going to get away with doing nothing while I do all the work.”

A smile pulls at the corners of my mouth at her boldness. Katniss hates being at a disadvantage. Over the years, I’ve come to learn exactly how far I can push her before playfulness turns into anger. Tonight, I’ve got her at just the right combination of frustrated and aroused that she fights back with vivacious teasing that sends a flurry of warmth to break out across my body. 

“Get over here then,” I dare, brushing my hands across her thighs. “So I can work.” 

As Katniss moves further up my body, I take a chance and cup her breast in my palm, and when she leans low to brace herself, I take her nipple into my mouth for the briefest moment and then let go, allowing her to continue moving. She settles down high on my chest, pushing her knees over my shoulders and hesitates before settling into a kneeling position, her middle hovering close to my waiting mouth.

I’m just barely able to reach her like this. After craning my neck in attempts to begin and not being able to taste nearly as much of her as I’d like no matter how hard I try, I know I have to adjust the way I’m lying down if I want to save myself from a stiff neck in the morning. I almost laugh thinking of how I’d explain that one to Haymitch.

“Hold on tight,” I warn, hooking my arms around Katniss’s thighs and scooting downward, taking her with me.

Her hands drop to my head, the only place she can easily reach, and holds on until she’s forced to clutch my hair when I move abruptly again. She fists two particularly large tufts in her grasp while I situate our bodies sideways on the bed. 

“Ouch!” I laugh. “Are you trying to make me go bald?”

“You told me to hold on tight,” Katniss answers, her voice dripping with fake innocence. 

It did hurt, that wasn’t a lie, but the sensation didn’t register so much as pain as it sent a searing jolt of electricity straight to my groin. 

“You’re right. I did.” I shift again, purposefully clunky so Katniss will be forced to pull my hair again. I see her smile drop suddenly when the feeling she may fall hits her, and just as I’d hoped, her fists tighten around the hair in her hands again. I groan, but not in pain, and she knows it right away, because her thin, jaunty grin returns immediately. “Feel free to keep holding on,” I whisper.

I act without further conversation, tightening my hold around Katniss’s legs before burying my face between her thighs. I’ve been waiting all night to taste her, anticipating the unique tang that only seems to grow sweeter the more aroused she becomes. 

I catch Katniss’ eye for a moment. She’s looking down at me, watching my mouth as I lightly draw my tongue around her clit. Her breaths are growing irregular, and it’s clear she’s trying to keep any noises of satisfaction from slipping from her tongue. She’s challenging me again, urging me to cut out all the stops. 

With my thoughts concentrated on making her fall apart, my whole mouth envelopes her middle hungrily. I can’t stop the moan that escapes at the mere taste of her; so sweet already. I give every part of her equal attention now, using the softness of my tongue against her clit and then changing pace by thrusting it into her center and sucking.

Abandoning any sense of defiance she may have gone into this with, Katniss begins to respond. Her hands find mine gripping her thighs. She covers them, trailing her fingers across my hands and over my shoulders until her fingers are curled through my hair again and she’s pulling with a force that’s both firm and tender, but soon grows unbridled. 

And then she does it. Her hips begin to move, pressing her middle against my mouth so wholly that I can finally let go of her thighs to free my hands to explore. There’s nothing I wanted tonight more than this. All night, all I thought about was Katniss above me, her hips swirling against my mouth as she became so immersed in her pleasure that she forgot all about being self conscious. I groan against her, the vibration from my mouth making Katniss’s grip on my hair tighten even more and causing my cock to twitch. 

My hands start to roam. One cups her breast and teases her nipple, rolling it between my thumb and forefinger while Katniss pulls her hands from my hair. She touches her own breast, then moves to her thigh where my other hand still resides. She stops to clasp it, throwing her head back and rolling her hips even harder, driving my tongue deep into her center.

Her whole body is wracked with tremors when she comes, and I continue to drink in every last drop of her sweet wetness greedily while her cries burn white hot in my ears. My cock, now hard and aching, throbs in response to each shock that rips through her trembling body. 

I have to laugh when, after her orgasm has stopped causing her body to jerk wildly above me, she throws herself back, lying flush against the length of my body, spent, her arousal leaving my chin and lips wet. 

“Did you enjoy yourself?” I ask, running my hand across her thigh.

“Yes,” she replies breathlessly.

“Good. Because we’re not done.” 

“Can I catch my breath first?” Katniss asks, a light laugh peaking at the end of her question. 

She seems a lot more relaxed now, and I plan to take advantage of the opportunity to tease her in return for the rest of the night. 

“Can I take that time to tell you how much I love how you taste?” I answer back. “I think I’d be completely content being between your legs all day.”

Katniss sits up, scooting back so her ass rests on my stomach and her legs are folded up on either side of me. “You must want me to do something for you now,” she says, narrowing her eyes at me. “You’re really laying it on thick right now.”

“Oh, come on,” I laugh, propping myself up with my elbows. “It’s pretty simple this time. I could do it myself, but it’d be a lot better if you did it for me.”

“Does it have anything to do with this?” she asks, reaching her hand back to cup the bulge in my pants. 

“Yeah,” I breathe, lifting my hips to press my cock against her palm. “Everything.”

“I can’t do much if you still have your pants on,” Katniss says, disappointed. She slides off of me and gets between my legs, setting her palms down on my thighs and bunching the fabric of my pants in her fists.

“That one only took you one question,” I smile. 

“You want me to take off your pants for you?” She smiles, still playing the game.

Just take them off,” I confirm. “Nothing else. I told you it was pretty simple.”

She looks at me with an amused grin and a wily twinkle in her eyes as she reaches her hands up to the waistband of my pants. She doesn’t waste her time, though I didn’t expect her to. She already had this in mind long before I did. Just as I’d hoped, she pulls the pants from my waist desperately, reaching in to pull my cock out before she advances past my hips and thighs. She works them all the way down, careful not to snag them on the seam of my prosthetic, and pulls them off, abandoning them in a heap at the edge of the bed. 

And then she’s on me in an instant with her mouth poised less than an inch away from my cock. Even quicker, she slips the head into her mouth and sucks, swirling her tongue around it once. My hiss morphs into a laugh when I realize that she’s still doing everything she can to fight me for power.

It’s a good move, but it doesn’t work. I grab her arms and pull her down on top of me, wrapping my arms around her to keep her from squirming away. 

“You did a good job,” I murmur. I turn to my side, flipping Katniss over onto her back, holding her arms above her head. “One last round and that’s it.”

“More questions?” Katniss asks, trying to free her arms from my grasp. 

“No,” I answer, a smile evident in my tone. “We’re done with questioning.”

I bow my head down, pressing my lips to the warm skin of her neck and kiss a line up to her ear. “I’m going to let go of your arms,” I whisper. “Don’t move.”

We stare at each other as my fingers loosen and fall from her wrists. I wait to see if she tries to move before resuming. When she merely stares at me, daring me to make my next move, I push myself down her body. 

“You really caught me off guard this afternoon,” I say, slipping my head between her breasts, licking the space between them and kissing the side of the soft swell. “I liked it, but you know I had to one up you.”

“You didn’t have to,” Katniss says, shifting on her side just enough to cause my lower half to drop between her legs, trapping my cock between our bodies. I resist the urge to make a sound to let her know that it’s getting to me. “Return the favor doesn’t mean one up me.”

“That’s exactly why I had to,” I laugh. My tongue finds her nipple, and I just barely run the tip of it over the nub while squeezing her breast in my palm at the same time. Her hands drops from above her head in attempts to guide my mouth closer to her nipple, but I stop her. Grabbing her wrists with both hands, I place her arms back above her head and look up at her. “No hands,” I instruct. 

I hear Katniss sigh. I think she finally realizes what I’m trying to do. 

“Just let me know when you’ve had enough of this,” I explain even though I know she won’t give in this easily. I pull myself up and off of her, sitting back on my haunches. “All you have to do is tell me what you want and we’re done.”

For a fleeting moment, I think she might actually do something other than resist. Her eyes begin to travel the length of my body, halting when she reaches my cock. 

Knowing that she’s watching, waiting for my next move, I take myself in my hand and make sure she’s still looking as I begin to slowly draw my hand up my length. Her eyes dart away, and she looks back up at me, her eyes scanning my face as though she’s waiting for me to concede, and  I return her gaze, making it clear that there will be no reneging tonight.

“Whenever you’re ready,” I remind her in a whisper.

Katniss fights me for what feels like hours. I nip at her collarbone, lick and suck on her stomach, blowing on the moistened parts of her skin and watching the small pebbles form under my ministrations, but nothing seems to be enough to ignite her body to the point where she can’t possibly stay silent any longer until I push two fingers inside her and curl them just enough to press against her wall, forcing her hips to leave the mattress. 

I have to hide the smile that threatens to take over my face while I admire her response. I see her fists clench and release as she tries desperately to keep them above her head, but they come crashing down against the mattress, pawing at the sheets more and more the longer I work her with my fingers. 

“Peeta,” she pants, writhing underneath me, finally giving in. “Peeta, make me come. Please.”

At her request, my fingers take on a new cadence, switching from a gentle rubbing to a rapid tapping against her upper wall. Her response is immediate, urgent. All of the muscles in her body seem to relax all at once as she lets her guard down and the last ounces of fight drain from her limbs. 

Her legs fall open, granting me easier access to press against her wall with a pressure that she seems to welcome easily, and I can tell by the way her breathing deepened that she’s about to hit her peak.

My cock aches just looking at her. Her breasts, rising and falling under the harshness of her breathing. Her nipples, firm and dark. If she weren't so close to coming I'd stop to take one in my mouth. Tease it with the softened tip of my tongue, nip at it gently with my teeth. Her hands are still caught up in the sheets, twisting and pulling at them. Her eyes are shut so tightly, as if the sheets are the last place she wants her hands to be. As her body finally seizes and her moans ring sharply though the room, the tremors in her body have barely even ceased when words that I rarely ever hear from her fall from her lips.

"Fuck... me," she gasps.

I don't hesitate. I don't stop to ask her to repeat what she said for fear that it'll break this moment of euphoria she seems to have slipped into. I simply grab her leg with one hand and my cock with the other and push myself into her, groaning at the warmth and wetness that envelops me, dulling the ache that has been persistently gnawing at me just enough for me to enjoy this. Enjoy how wet she is, how gone she is, how she looks up at me, her legs tucked snugly under my arms. Just enough to enjoy the noise she makes when I begin to move inside her. A moan sweeter than the first sounds of life after the harshest of winters. 

And then she’s begging me to go deeper. Her hands frantically roam my chest, nails scoring my skin, legs wrapping around my waist to pull my hips in closer. I drop my head, finally able to reach her nipple and take it into my mouth, wetting the nub with my tongue and snagging it between my teeth. 

My mouth drifts over Katniss’ burning skin, dropping wet kisses over every inch that I can reach before settling at her mouth. I slip my tongue past her lips and lightly caress the top of her tongue, allowing her to do the same in return after I’ve pulled away. I can feel my release building deep in my stomach. I thrust harder, faster, desperate to feel relief wash over me.

When Katniss's walls begin to clench around my cock and her body arches off the bed in delirious bliss, the room slips from my vision and a satisfying numbness flows through my body, right down to the tips of my toes just before my orgasm surges through me. With my head burrowed in the crook of Katniss’ neck, I nip and suck at the skin as I spill into her. 

I settle in on my side of the bed, propping my head up on my hand and I look at Katniss. Her hair, now dry, is in disarray, and her breathing is still coming in ragged gasps. 

“You tired?” I laugh, moving in to kiss her neck again. 

“Yeah,” she says, sitting up and relaxing against the headboard. She tries to run her fingers through her knotted hair, but ends up settling for gathering it in her hands and twisting it over her shoulder. “A little hungry, too.”

“Cookies?”

Katniss nods emphatically, pulling the covers over her body as I slip from the bed and exit the room. Just as I reach the first step, I hear Katniss calling from the bedroom.

“Chocolate chip if we have any left!”

I shake my head as I descend the stairs, pleased to hear the easygoing tone of her voice. I’m reminded of our conversation yesterday. She sounded so composed and sure of herself when she admitted she’s thought about getting married, and tonight I got Haymitch’s blessing. A rush of excitement runs through me at the thought. Now, all I need is the ring.