The Five Words Peeta Only Says at Night
Their first time was everything that one would think a first sexual encounter between a virginal baker and his huntress would be:
A little awkward and a little quick, but full of shy smiles and carefully calculated concentration. In the rare moments that Katniss’ mind wandered somewhere sweet, instead of somewhere burning and terrible, she lingered on the purse of Peeta’s lips as he’d struggled to find where he was really supposed to go, because it was one thing to know and another thing to be able to map uncharted territory in the dark, one-handed and blind.
He’d touched and felt her and she’d lain with her head on the pillows that smelled like him and watched his face. His blue eyes shone with something more than love and not quite embarrassment when he finally took her hand and put it on him and whispered, help?
Katniss was shocked the first time she paid enough attention to his soft mutterings to notice that Peeta said that word. Peeta had been moving over her in the last, waning, watery blue of the night before sunrise; they’d both had a bad night and –
With everything they’d been through, she didn’t see how Peeta could even remember that the word God existed.
Not in so many words. Katniss would never hurt Peeta, not even accidentally. Not again. Not anymore. But sometimes he made this – this tiny inhalation, high in his chest, and Katniss knew it meant (ouch).
Her fingernails might be ragged and scratch too hard down his back.
She might lean too much weight against the seam of his prosthetic leg; a sensitive spot.
It took her a while to learn how to cover her teeth with her lips. She was determined, though. She wanted to learn to do that for him, something just for Peeta, to give him the leeway for a little bit of selfishness after everything he’d always done for her. She didn’t feel obligated to do it, she was done being a puppet. She just knew that Peeta would never ask and never take, so had to learn to anticipate and to give.
It was new for Katniss. And difficult.
So in the process of learning, sometimes her teeth would come out.
This was Katniss’ favorite of Peeta’s nighttime words. It was the biggest surprise of all, because Peeta was just so innately pure, and that word was just so… luscious. Very few things in Katniss’ world were luscious, or ever had been.
The way Peeta’s mouth looked when she was on top of him, and he was inside her and she squeezed him and he slipped his hands up her sides and into her hair and he murmured fuck –
It was as much decadence as Katniss could ever hope for.
Peeta knows better than to tell Katniss what she can or cannot do. He knows better than anyone that Katniss will do what she can – and sometimes what she can’t – regardless the circumstances, no matter the stakes, and she does everything she can very successfully.
This didn’t change after the Games. After the Revolution. After the War.
Don’t help me! becomes her new favorite phrase around the house: in the kitchen, trying to follow Greasy Sae’s jokes of recipes; under the bathroom sink, trying to repair the plumbing herself. Katniss is used to being the provider. She’s used to being self-sufficient.
She’s not used to being those things in a neat, well-stocked little house in the Victor’s Village, however, and she’s not used to being those things with Peeta.
So Peeta does what he does best, and is patient and quiet and smiles at her, encouraging, whenever she burns dinner. Or doesn’t burn dinner, but doesn’t realize that there’s a difference between coriander and sage, or that you can’t substitute vinegar for water. He offered once to show her how to measure, but hasn’t pushed since then. They always have bread with supper anyhow, and Lugenta in the Hob is more than happy to trade butter for Peeta’s paintings.
Peeta pretends he doesn’t know that Lugenta turns right around and sells them on the black market to the former Capitol; paintings by the Peeta Mellark go for much more than a knob of butter, even fresh. Even properly from proper dairy cows.
He suspects that Katniss is slowly wearing down her own pride and will ask him to show her how to cook someday. He’s giving her three more weeks.
Katniss never pushes him, either, at least not on the things that hurt. The things that matter. When Peeta began baking again, trading and selling his goods to the other people who returned to District 12, it was on his own time. He knew people had been asking after him – well, after bread -- for weeks whenever Katniss herself was distributing the meat of her kills, but she never came home and asked him when he would be ready to do his part.
She never had. Asked him, that is. Katniss lived her life and did what she would, and Peeta followed in her wake, buoying her or carrying her over the currents, but quietly.
At night, Katniss was the quiet one.
She had never been a very talkative girl, but she found ways to share her thoughts with Peeta when it counted (and to Peeta, her thoughts always counted for quite a lot). She was a hard girl, on first blush, but she was always soft and gentle with Peeta – ever since the cave. She likes the way his fingertips always smell of vanilla and sugar and he knows that, although she’d never admit it. A girl like Katniss – always covered in forest dirt and calluses – was not supposed to want a man who smelled of vanilla and sugar.
But Katniss had chosen him over the man who smelled of leather and pine. And Peeta never took that for granted.
Katniss reaches for his hand in the dark, picks it up and brings it to her mouth as she rocks over him, warm and wet and secure that this, at least, is something she can do. She slips the tips of his fingers into her mouth and tastes the vanilla and sugar and her on them. Peeta mumbles something soft to himself, not even words really, at the touch of her tongue.
She’s moving fast, like she’s racing for the end, and Peeta doesn’t like it. He likes it, he just wants it to last; he hates the suffocating darkness of nighttime after they exhaust each other and fight their way through sleep. He’s getting better, but Katniss isn’t, and he can’t sleep when she’s awake and crying out for Prim, for Finnick, for Cinna, for Rue. The part of nighttime that Peeta likes is the parts that Katniss makes all about him.
So when she takes his fingertips from her mouth and moves them, wet, down to where they’re joined, he pulls them away and smoothes her hair instead.
Don’t, he says softly, sitting up to wrap his arms around her and move more slowly. “We have as much time as we want.”