There are many things they don’t need to explain to each other.
It hasn’t been long since the end of the war, and the memories are still fresh. A whiff of cooking smoke brings to Katniss’ mind images of the destroyed District 12. When she approaches Peeta from the wrong angle he’ll glare at her, then sigh and apologize. Sometimes one of them will wake up screaming, and the other never has to ask for an explanation.
So when the nightmares have stopped – or haven’t yet come – and they’re lying together in the dark, they rarely say anything. If Katniss awakens to Peeta sobbing in the darkness, she just needs to envelop him in her arms and he never asks for more. When Peeta wipes away the tears she tried to keep silent and kisses her, she just closes her eyes and concentrates on the taste of his lips.
There are other things they can’t quite say to each other.
It fills Katniss with a petulant frustration. Considering everything she’s gone through, it feels like an insult that she can’t put into words what it means to have this hunger inside her. Hadn’t she pretended to be in love long enough that saying it for real should be natural?
Then again, maybe that’s why she can’t.
Still, slowly, love does happen. It comes at first in short, fumbling bursts. It’s Katniss who starts it. As she holds Peeta in her arms before they fall asleep she lets her hands slip lower. In return he kisses her back, pulls her closer to him. Katniss feels something hard press against her and gasps. Peeta immediately scrunches up on his side of the bed while mumbling apologies.
“It’s okay,” Katniss says. “I was just surprised.”
Peeta shakes his head. “I can’t.”
That’s not true later. They make many other attempts, reaching beneath clothes for minutes or seconds at a time before one or the other makes a sound or says something that makes the other retreat and leaves them both disappointed. Once, Peeta massages Katniss’ breasts for a full ten minutes, and when she asks him if he wants to go further he says only if she wants to and they talk on and on until they’re frustrated.
Then one day, they’re sitting at the kitchen. Katniss looks up from her toast to see Peeta slowly stirring a mug of tea. When he catches her staring at him, he smiles. Katniss takes Peeta’s free hand and squeezes it lightly.
“Let’s try our best not to talk tonight,” Katniss says.
Peeta looks surprised for a moment, then nods, smiling again as he rests a finger against his lips.
The night begins as it always does. They slide into bed together with an undue precision, not looking at each other as they pull off the covers, get undressed, then cover themselves when they get into bed; trying to stick to a ritual that they haven’t quite learned yet. Katniss reaches up out of bed to turn off the light, and as her back is turned she feels Peeta’s thick hands move up her waist. It’s a small gesture, but it goes straight to her need. She wants to gasp, but she remembers.
It is strange how it is difficult. She has had experience being silent.
Katniss lowers herself back onto the bed and wraps her arms around Peeta’s neck as she lies next to him. The kisses come quickly. They’re easy enough to do but sometimes when she has to catch her breath, or Peeta’s grip on the small of her back becomes tighter, she thinks about letting out a little cry …
Instead, Katniss pulls away. Her eyes are starting to adjust to the dark now. She looks at the line of Peeta’s shadowed form, his head turned up toward her and his hands slowly kneading her hips. He’s waiting for her to do something, Katniss realizes, and the full implication of her being unable to ask what that something is hits.
Her hands tremble as she reaches for Peeta. She runs her hands up and down his chest, and as he lays his against her forearms it all feels so ... so …
Staged, Katniss thinks. It feels fake, like she’s back on TV and trying to sell something to the camera. She begins to worry that it’ll always be like this, that they’ll always be somehow broken.
Then Katniss feels a light tug at her hair. When raises her eyes Peeta is staring up at her, his lips a slight pout as he slowly runs his callused fingertips against her forearms. He leans forward and kisses the tense spot between her eyebrows.
Even though it doesn’t quite assure her, Katniss’ chest feels warm. She wouldn’t want to worry him either, she thinks. Katniss kisses her finger and presses it against his forehead.
Peeta tries to hold his smile, but eventually the corners of his mouth droop. He grabs onto Katniss, buries his face into her neck and breathes heavily. She knows this gesture, knows that tears often follow it. She realizes this is all wrong, that even without their voices to startle each other this is something that they can’t do.
Yet that’s not what happens next. Peeta keeps his face down on her shoulder as he runs his hands up and down her back. The hands pause where her back meets the curve of her rear. He moves his right hand beneath her left thigh, and pulls it closer so it’s hitched over his hip. Katniss exhales sharply. It’s barely anything, but the opening of her legs seems to bring the possibility of sex closer than she expected.
On the other hand, not quite … Peeta’s touches are a little rough, almost desperate. It’s an expression of need that calls to her burgeoning lust. And yet … he’s holding back. His fingers skirt about them but never touch inside her or her rear.
Katniss struggles to return his attentions. She runs her hands up and down the muscles of his back, but she’s done that before. And the one time she had tried to touch Peeta’s stump he didn’t take it well. She threads her fingers through his fine blond hair but, really, she’s just delaying the inevitable. It’ll be up to her to move this forward.
She places her hands on his buttocks, and a thrill runs through her as she feels the soft flesh over the hard muscle. Peeta tenses and grips Katniss tighter as she touches him, but he doesn’t make a sound, rubs his face into Katniss’s shoulder in lieu of one.
Katniss bites her lip. Be quiet, she tells herself. But Peeta moves himself so his rear is out of her reach, so his face is level with her chest. Then he kisses her breasts, licks as he reaches her right nipple, and Katniss starts to tremble. It feels so good, it makes her want more, and if she says anything now it’ll be all over. She grabs onto the bedsheet and twists it, gripping tighter with every sound that she strangles before it can reach her mouth.
With her eyes closed and her head bent back, Katniss enjoys Peeta sucking on her breasts for as much as she can. After a while the sensation, while still wonderful, becomes familiar enough that she does not have to cry out. Part of her wants to stay like this, enjoy the moment for as long as she can. Yet she knows that wouldn’t be fair.
Katniss lifts up Peeta’s face, and his blue eyes meet hers with expectation. She shifts downward onto the bed and reaches between his legs. He’s already hard, and when she touches him his eyes roll back in his head. As she strokes it he holds that position, and a fear creeps into her chest. Why isn’t he moving? Is she doing something wrong? Peeta then exhales, long and low, and the relief Katniss feels made her sigh.
Katniss keeps stroking him. Peeta seems like he’s in his own world now, and she wonders if she had this intense but far-away stare on her face when Peeta had been working on her. Despite her concerns about staying quiet and worry that she’s not doing any of this right, Peeta’s reaction excites her. She can feel her skin tighten with need, the place between her legs become wet.
She wants to, and then she doesn’t. Too much could go wrong, and she resents that she has this responsibility. And then she wants to again. Katniss pulls Peeta a little harder and kisses him before he can gasp, all the while the words “decide, decide, decide” echo through her head.
Katniss suddenly wrests herself away. Peeta’s hand brushes against her calf, trying to pull her back. He whines, and it’s against the rules and it makes her flinch but she doesn’t turn back, scrambles for the drawer on the nearby table.
She turns around and lifts a finger to her lips, glares at Peeta. He slumps back onto the bed like Buttercup after … no, she can’t think about her now … after someone scolded him. She pulls a prophylactic made of sheep intestine out of the drawer and holds it up, hoping it works as an apology. When she gets back onto the bed, Peeta stretches out his arms to her.
Katniss returns his embrace with a kiss, then softly pushes Peeta so he’s lying back down on the bed. He glances quickly at what remains of his left leg, a frown on his face, then looks up at Katniss and tries to smile. Katniss returns the smile. She wishes she could say that while it could be different it doesn’t need to be, but she knows how he would react if she said that, knows it’s better to keep going.
Katniss puts the prophylactic on him, and Peeta adjusts it as she positions herself over him. She’s standing up on the bed, trying to crouch down, and she realizes this is going to be more difficult than it looks. (For a moment she wishes she’d asked her mother more questions, but Haymitch shoving the prophylactic in her hands one day while sloshed and telling her not to do anything stupid had been embarrassing enough.) When she gets too close the first time she stumbles from the awkward position. Then, after Peeta offers her a hand to steady herself, she tries again.
He doesn’t quite fit her, at first. He’s a bit too thick and she’s a bit too tight and slippery. Katniss bites her lips, trying to keep the panic rising in her down. It isn’t going to work … It’s all wrong … Then Peeta holds himself steady, strengthens the grip of his other hand around hers, and slowly eases her down. Katniss bites down even harder as she feels herself stretched out, feels herself slide lower so her thighs are resting on his hips. At last, she gets there, and she sighs.
It’s all right, she thinks. In her head the sensation is strange, like it should be an intrusion, but her body doesn’t agree. This is what it wants. This is what it has hungered for all this time. Katniss shifts herself upward, feels herself contract around him as she moves. Oh, if she could cry out, she would. As it is, she has to keep from gasping, holds her hand over her mouth as she tries to find her rhythm.
It’s not easy. While it’s far from the worst physical trial she’s endured, the movement is harder on her legs than she expected. Peeta tries to help her, thrusts up his hips as best as he can. Katniss reaches out and Peeta takes her hand. They move together, neither of them speaking or making noise, but occasionally one of their grips gets a little bit tighter, and they know what it means.
Pleasure comes over Katniss in waves, although it never quite crests the way she hopes it will. She looks at Peeta. His eyes are squeezed shut tight, his head bent back on the pillow. It looks like pain, but it’s not. She’s seen him in pain; most of their time together has been coupled with it. This moment – the feeling of Peeta inside her and his grip on her hand – is so present to Katniss that it must be real. And yet it is so outside of their experience it feels like a fantasy. It feels as if Peeta should be hurt and she should be worried, and yet here they are, silent and alive, moving in the dark. Here he is not Peeta Mellark, the handsome lovestruck winner of the Hunger Games, and she is not Katniss Everdeen, The Girl on Fire and The Mockingjay. Here they are just themselves, and she’s just a young woman who hopes she’s doing it the way it should be, who just hopes it’s all real.
Peeta’s grasp suddenly gets hard enough to hurt. It scares her, even though she knows what’s really happening. Peeta’s hips snap up and Katniss struggles to choke back a shriek. It seems to do the trick. The waves of pleasure feel bigger, and to let go is something she needs, needs so much she can’t think of anything else.
Peeta’s body stiffens underneath her as he rides out his orgasm. Katniss pushes down hard on him and it’s more intense than she expected. She can’t take it anymore.
She cries out, her voice echoing long and loud throughout the dark room. Her heart seizes when she realizes what she’s done but she soon hears Peeta moaning too. She moves Peeta’s hand to her clitoris, and he rubs there firmly until she can’t scream anymore.
It’s all a bit too much to process. She moves off Peeta with the same lack of grace she had when she let him enter her, crawling up on the bed before burying her face into the pillow. The bed buckles a bit as Peeta moves. Katniss adjusts so her cheek is lying against the pillow and sees Peeta sitting up on the bed and folding the prophylactic.
Katniss lifts her head, trying to dissolve the cloud of confusion that hangs over it. “Do you need help with that?” she asks. Her voice sounds strange.
Peeta shakes his head and puts it down on the nightstand near him. “I’ll clean it up later. Don’t worry about it.”
Katniss nods. She watches as Peeta shuffles back down into the bed and pulls the covers over himself. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I didn’t stay quiet. I broke the rules.”
Peeta smiles and Katniss realizes it’s all silly. He spoke a few times as well. Peeta strokes her cheek with his two fingers.
“It’s okay,” he whispers. “From what I remember, you always break the rules.”