Adding another tidbit to my one-shot because I needed more Katniss and Peeta. My muse has been asleep for months, so anything that gets him to come out and play with me is a good thing. Thanks for all your reviews! They brighten my day like a dandelion in the spring. ;-)
The next morning, I smile before I even open my eyes. I had thought that Peeta would be long gone – he often leaves as early as four in the morning to start baking – but I find myself still in his arms. His heart beats just under my ear, my arm is resting on his stomach, and one of my legs is draped over his. When I tighten my arm to pull myself closer, I hear his voice, scratchy and lovely with sleep: "Morning."
"Peeta," I mumble, loving the feel of his warm skin beneath my lips. I turn my head up to kiss his jaw. I slide my toes down over his leg until I reach his foot, and my hand goes up his chest and shoulder until my fingers are buried in his hair. He makes a contented sound and tightens the arm that is holding my waist. I feel quite possessive about his body now that I have made love to it, made love to him. There are so many places I still haven't touched or kissed, and I feel giddy at the thought of learning him.
"I sometimes felt foolish for hoping I could ever have this," he says.
"Love?" I ask, surprised. Peeta never should have worried about finding love. He was born to create beautiful things and to love. If it hadn't been me, it would have been some other lucky woman.
"Your love," he says.
I twist in his arms until I'm propped up on my elbow, looking down at his face. "If fate hadn't thrown us in the arena together and damaged us beyond repair, you would have found someone better… a nice girl who deserves you, who would have been gentle with your heart instead of breaking it and stomping on the pieces." I lower my face into his neck and close my eyes, inhaling the scent of him.
We are quiet for several minutes, and I wonder if he's fallen asleep again. But he suddenly rolls me back against the pillows and strokes my cheek until I have the courage to meet his eyes.
"You listen to me, Katniss Everdeen," he says. "I don't want you because we're both broken or because circumstances have left us nothing but each other. I don't want a girl who would be gentle with my heart, as you put it. I have always wanted you. Only you. You couldn't have broken my heart or stomped on it or even dented it if I hadn't made the decision to give it to you. Is that clear?"
I swallow the lump in my throat and nod. He leans forward to kiss me, but I stop him by laying my fingers on his lips. "I want to make sure you know," I say slowly, trying to put the words together, "that I'm not with you because I think that way – that we're too messed up for anyone else. That isn't what I meant at all."
He kisses my fingers and raises my palm to his lips as well. "I know that, sweetheart," he says gently.
I've been called "sweetheart" before by Haymitch and even by Peeta, but never the way Peeta just said it. It sends butterflies skittering all over my body. It gives me goosebumps.
"I want you," I whisper, sighing as his weight and warmth settle over me. "I'm here because I want you."
He smiles. "I'm all yours."
"What I said on the train after the Games… when I told you it was all an act… that wasn't true." He looks up from kissing my neck, his eyes very blue, waiting for me to go on. "I was confused. I didn't know what I felt, not really. Most of it was an act, it's true." The shame washes through me all over again, as if we're standing on that train, holding hands, and I'm watching his sweet smile disappear behind a wall of pain. "But I've always cared about you. And there was one kiss in the cave that was real. The one we had to stop because my head started bleeding. I meant that kiss, Peeta." I feel my eyes burning, but I refuse to cry. I don't want to be forgiven out of pity. "When we were in the Game, I thought you were acting, too. I had no idea what those kisses meant to you. I didn't know I was hurting you. I-"
"Shhh," he says. "I know all that. And it's behind us now. No more regrets, okay?"
I give a half-hearted laugh. "You have nothing to regret. I have so much."
"Nothing to regret?" He smiles sadly. "Oh, Katniss. I tried to kill you. I said the most terrible things to you and about you."
"That doesn't count. It wasn't your fault."
He takes my face in his hands. "Neither was anything you regret. So stop it. We're here now, together, and we love each other. The rest of it doesn't matter anymore. Let the bad things go, for both our sakes. Can you try?"
I nod. "I love you, Peeta," I say, and I feel the tears finally escaping my eyes. "So much. I'm going to… to take care of your heart from now on. I promise."
Why, why can't I put words together the way Peeta can? At least they sound good to him; he's covering my mouth, my cheeks, and my throat with kisses. He's whispering so softly that I can't hear most of what he says, but occasionally a word falls near my ears: beautiful, love, Katniss. I am too overwhelmed to do anything more than lie there, arch my body closer to his, and sigh my happiness into his hair, into his mouth.
He runs a hand down my side and then back up, covering my breast with it. "I wish I could touch all of you at once," he says, and I laugh. He smiles.
"I think you've touched every part of me there is," I tell him. "It's not fair."
"What's not fair?"
I take a deep breath. "There are parts of you I haven't gotten to touch yet."
Peeta stills above me and drags his gaze to mine. "What would you like to touch, Katniss?" he asks.
I push one hand against his chest, noticing how fast and hard his heart is pounding. "Lie down." He lies back on the bed, and I crawl over him. "Can I touch your leg? The one they…" I trail off with the realization that this might be too personal, too painful for him.
But Peeta's eyes are clear and steady as he says, "I'd like that." Before I move away, he puts his hand on my arm. "It's not pretty." I see the shadow of self-conscious doubt on his face. He looks vulnerable, almost afraid.
I run my hand down his thigh and pull his leg up so that it bends at the knee. I place a kiss there and look up at him over the length of his strong, solid body, carefully avoiding the part of him I am most curious about – the part I'll be touching next. "Peeta, you are beautiful," I say quietly. I run my fingers gently over the folded skin where his leg ends and the artificial leg begins. "Does it ever hurt?"
"Not anymore. But sometimes I feel like it's still there. It's very strange."
"Like Prim," I murmur. Not quite a phantom limb, but certainly a missing piece of my soul.
He sits up and cups my face in his hands. "There are no words for how much I love you," he says, shaking his head.
We meet each other halfway for a hungry kiss that almost makes me forget my purpose. Eventually, I push him back and try to look stern. "You lie down. I'm not finished yet."
"Sorry, sorry!" he says in mock apology, his hands in the air.
I leave one more kiss on his knee before trailing my mouth slowly up his thigh. His body tenses under my hands and my lips, and it makes me feel powerful. I sit up and lay my fingertips gingerly on that part of him I've never really seen before now. He is hard – for me – but I am surprised at the softness of his skin there, like velvet or silk or some other fine material that Cinna might use. If it were fabric or anything else, I would probably press it to my cheek. It's that soft and lovely. But this isn't fabric; underneath that soft skin is the hardness that makes him a man. I tighten my fingers and thumb around him, and he sucks in a breath.
"Sorry!" Horrified, I pull my hand away from him.
"No, Katniss, no… that felt good." He exhales. "That felt really good."
I feel my face flush. "Oh…" I suddenly feel as shy and silly as a little girl in school.
"Please don't stop," he says, and with that, my awkward moment vanishes as quickly as it hit me.
I explore and learn the feel of him, driven more by curiosity than his pleasure, I'll admit. This time. To Peeta's credit, he seems to know this, and he watches me patiently, now and then voicing his encouragement when I do something he likes. After a few minutes of this, I lean forward, hardly thinking, and kiss him there. I love the feel of that soft skin against my lips, and I open them around him.
Peeta's hand reaches for mine and grasps it tightly. I kiss my way up his body, allowing my full weight to rest on him as I go.
"I love you," I whisper when my lips are over his. "I love everything about you."
He rolls us over and slides his hand down between us. He looks at me in surprise and wonder. "You're… you're already ready."
I have no idea what he means, but I do know that I'm ready for the wholeness of having his body inside mine. "Please, Peeta," I murmur.
It's not as uncomfortable this time; in fact, the hints of pleasure that I felt last night are now the dominant sensation. Peeta moves in me with more certainty, his eyes focused on my face. My arms are hooked under his, my hands clinging to his shoulders.
"Good?" he asks.
"So good," I manage to reply.
Some time later, he says, "I'm getting close. Are you – can you – do you need more?"
I am lost in the pleasure of loving him, but I know that I'm not close to that edge. "It's okay. I don't have to… you know."
Peeta slows his movements and kisses me. "I want you to."
He holds onto me and turns us so that I'm on top. It takes me a moment to adjust to the new position, to find a rhythm. At this angle, it feels like he's touching an entirely new part of me. Then Peeta slides his hand down and begins to stroke the little nub he found last night.
I very quickly find that I'm not only near the edge of that wonderful cliff, but hanging on by my fingernails. "Peeta…" I gasp. I let go and allow myself to drown in what I'm feeling.
Peeta finishes just after I do, and I fall over his chest, breathless and happy. He kisses the top of my head. "Wow," he says. I can hear the smile in his voice.
"I don't know how I'm going to get anything done ever again," I tell him. "All I want to do is stay in this bed with you."
He laughs, his chest shaking me with him. "Why don't we start with a shower and try to move on from there?" he suggests.
It's as good a plan as any, and my heart warms at the realization that life will be good from now on. It can never be perfect or free from pain, but it can and will be good.