A HUGE thanks (as always) to my lovely, punctuation-correcting beta, katnissinme. She is just so very good at this.
And a thanks to you, the reader, for your patience. If you'd like to hang around in between chapters come see me on Tumblr (erin-babbit DOT tumblr DOT com)
The rain just will not stop.
Large drops have been falling for a whole day now, preceded by two days of a bothersome drizzle. I sit by my bedroom window, my chin cradled in my palms, listening to the steady rhythm. I have been hoping all day it would cease so I may take a walk, despite Effie claiming she would faint if I drug my dress through the slush. It is normally twilight at this time, but with the heavy weather, it is far darker. The rains have brought a startling coolness to the air that makes me pull my robe a bit tighter. I run my fingers through my damp hair and create a simple braid down my back for sleeping. Haymitch has long been in bed and I heard Effie's creaking door downstairs not long ago. But just as last night and the night before, I find it difficult to sleep. The words in my letter to Peeta seem to chant themselves in my head.
I decide to go down to the library to find a book to occupy my time. With candle in hand I creep down stairs and into the room to the right. My uncle's library is quite small compared to most. It was built after Prim, my mother and I came to live here. It was part of his study, which used to hold just a few measly shelves of literature. He did it as sort of a gift to us, and while he grumbled the entire time construction was going on, it seemed he brought home a new book every day to fill it. It remains one of the kindest gestures that anyone has ever done for me.
I make my way to the corner, behind a pair of high back chairs. I am unsure of how these books came to find a home here, but they are quite obviously hidden by Effie or Haymitch. The spines do not reveal titles, but I know what each one holds: stories of passion and erotic encounters with attentive men and lush women. I look around out of guilt to see if anyone is peering over my shoulder. It is absurd really-I'm more than old enough to read these books. I believe society has tried to make me feel otherwise.
I settle back upstairs under the covers, leaving my robe on for warmth. With the wind howling and the rain coming in sheets, I begin to read about a woman of high esteem who seduces a servant boy. I bite my lip through most of their encounters and the tension that builds between the two characters. It seems as my heart beats faster, the storm churns louder. I am just to the part when the stable boy begins to lift the skirts of the woman against the kitchen counter when a banging startles me, causing the book to fall from my fingers. The banging is the familiar sound of the knocker on our front door. I nervously twist my hands together as I wonder who could be so frantically knocking in this sort of weather and at this late hour. I hear Haymitch stumbling from his room, his voice ringing, "One moment!"
As I climb from the bed and into my slippers, I hear the noisy door of Effie's room as well. Deciding to join them, I creep across my room and slip out into the hallway. I stand at the top of the stairs as Haymitch opens the heavy door.
"Boy, what in the Lord's name are you doing here like this?" he asks.
My uncle's form shifts to reveal the stranger at the door.
Which turns out to be no stranger at all.
It is a very drenched Peeta Mellark.
His coat is missing, making his cream-colored shirt under his vest mold to the muscles in his arms. The blonde of his hair is darkened from the water and falls in unkempt waves on his forehead.
I do not remember my feet moving down the stairs. I am suddenly in front of him as he steps over the threshold. I fling myself at him in total abandon. He clutches me to his body tightly, his cane dangling from his fist. The rain that has soaked into his clothing makes mine damp in turn. I only pull away when I hear Effie's shocked gasp. I will no doubt receive a lecture on the complexities of acting lady-like later.
We pull away from one another, smiling like fools.
Effie puts a hand on each of our shoulders. "Why don't you go get a fire started in the sitting room, Miss Everdeen? I shall fetch some hot tea. Oh, and Mr. Abernathy, see if you can gather some clothing that is too small for you."
Haymitch goes to say something smart but Effie continues on, "Let's not pretend you have not put on weight now, shall we? I've put some items in the trunk at the foot of your bed."
We disperse ourselves to start our tasks, Peeta following me. I bend to put the kindling into the fireplace but Peeta stops me, "Here let me."
I take his hand and lead him to the settee. "Sit, I insist. I can manage." I smile again as he brings my hand to his mouth. His lips are cold but it does nothing to extinguish the heat spreading across my body.
I start the fire as I have a hundred times before but my hands are unsteady. I can feel his gaze following my every move. I stand to face him as Effie brings the tray in. Haymitch soon follows, tossing a pair of slacks, a bath towel and a much-faded shirt next to Peeta. We stand in an uncomfortable silence then.
Effie attempts to take a seat but Haymitch stops her. "Let us leave these two alone, shall we?"
A horrified look graces Effie's prim face. "Mr. Abernathy, you cannot be serious?"
"You would like us to leave Miss Everdeen, in her night clothes, and Mr. Mellark, who will be changing, in the same room? Together? Unattended?"
My uncle quirks his eyebrow, "That is indeed what I am proposing."
Her look is challenging.
Haymitch rubs his hand across his face. "Miss Trinket, we are in a private home, not a public forum. Not to mention that Katniss is a grown woman. Just let them be." He gestures with his hands for her to proceed before him. She sets off with her arms crossed in front of her. Haymitch turns to close the double doors, a smirk playing across his lips.
Peeta stands then, abandoning his cane, and opens his mouth to speak.
I do not give him a chance to start. "You must be quite cold. Let us get you dry and in comfortable clothing, shall we?" The clutch I have on my robe falls and the fabric parts. I move to push his waistcoat from his shoulders as he stares down at me. It's as if his gaze holds weight and I want to crumble beneath it. He will mention the letter, I'm sure. I blush even thinking about his reaction when he read it. Did he read it multiple times? Did it send a thrill through him to see the words as it did for me to write them? I begin to slip the shell buttons through the slots of his shirt. A slight smattering of light hair is revealed as the fabric parts. Once I am to the bottom, I pull the end of the cloth out of his trousers and nudge that from his shoulders as well. I take a step back.
The gleam from the fire bounces off the remaining dampness from the rain. His skin is pale, like ivory and I wonder for a moment if it tastes like cream. He is lean at the waist but broad at the shoulders and I feel my mouth go slack at the sight. I allow my eyes to fall to the faint ridges of his stomach and farther still to another trail of golden hair leading into his trousers. No matter how many explicit novels I have read, my imagination could never create the figure I see before me.
"Katniss?" His voice comes through the drumming in my head.
I jerk my head up. He limps the few steps I took away from him and takes my fingertips in his hands.
His voice is just above a whisper, "You wrote that you missed me."
"So you really…did…miss me?" His head bends to mine and his breaths come out in puffs across my cheeks.
"I did. Very much."
It seems as though time has stopped and I do not mind it. His eyes bore into mine, lustful and eager. I involuntarily lick my lips and his gaze flicks to my mouth.
"Katniss." It sounds like a plea. The sound of my name falling through heavy breaths and off his lips makes me feel divine. It has been too many months since I have heard the melody of his voice and I desperately need him to keep speaking.
This time, however, my dear Peeta seems at a loss for words. I feel my body sway and my breasts, cloaked in my thin cotton nightgown, brush against his bare chest. It is the match that lights the fire.
"Katniss," he repeats, his hands engulfing my waist underneath the silk of my robe and bunching my gown. "I am afraid…that…that if I do not feel your lips against mine, I may combust."
The heat that spreads through my body from his declaration is instant. My retaliation is to tip the weight of my body forward on my toes and whisper against his lips the one word that I needed to say each time he would look at me like this. "Please…"
He brings his hands to the sides of my face, his fingertips brushing my cheekbones tenderly before bringing his lips to mine.
If I were ever happy before this kiss, I cannot recall it. This touch from his lips sends a spiral of desire that I feel from my eyelids and downward through my toes, which curl in my slippers. My hands find purchase along his shoulders which seems to urge him on. The slick heat of his tongue slides across my bottom lip, and with a whimper I taste him back.
I am unsure if it is my feet or his that move me unsteadily to the wall. The molding digs into my back as he presses against me, and yet I still need him closer. My hands move down to the top of his trousers and I crush his lower half to me. His next breath is taken in sharply.
It is then that I feel his arousal pressed fully against me. I squeak in surprise.
He pulls away slightly. "Please forgive me. I…I did not mean…to…" His eyes are downcast.
"Please do not apologize. I beg you." I move my head, dipping to catch his sight, "I have never felt more desired…"
He speaks swiftly, "I do desire you…in a very ungentlemanly way, Katniss."
It is my turn to cast my eyes to the floor. He pulls my hands up to his mouth, kissing each knuckle before saying, "But I also adore you more than anyone I've ever known. Katniss, I…I love you. I became smitten with you when you told me you didn't care for dancing," he laughs nervously. "Truth be told, I fell hopelessly for you when I saw you climb your tree. Your spirit…your laughter…your strength," he shakes his head slightly; "I did not have a chance. I was a goner almost the moment I met you."
My mouth twitches into a smile. I then unceremoniously, cast myself at him, causing him to lose his footing and fall with a grunt onto the couch.
"Oh! Your leg! I'm so sorry…"
His voice sounds raspy. "I find it difficult to be bothered when you are perched upon my lap in your night clothes."
My cheeks flame at his comment.
"I should take my leave, my love."
"I do not wish you to go just yet. Let me get you the dry clothes and then…would you…"
He smirks, "Would I…?"
"Stay? Just for a little while?"
I turn my back while he dresses, twisting my gown in my hands to withstand the temptation to turn around. We spread his damp clothing out on the hearth to dry. Peeta settles in on the couch, propping his feet up on the next cushion, and spreads his arms out. I go to him like a magnet.
"Does this mean you have finished your portrait?" I inquire, my cheek upon his chest.
"Alas, I have not. I am afraid I have two more months to spend in the company of Lord Snow."
"How ever did you get away?"
"I claimed sickness of a fictional family member."
"And how long will this relative be ill?" I jest.
"I'm afraid a few days at most. His Lordship was not very pleased to have a stutter in his plans but I persisted."
He pulls the fabric knot from my hair and runs his fingers from my scalp and down through my braid. Between the warmth of his chest, the crackling of the fire and the motion of his hand through my hair, my eyelids grow heavy.
I slip into a most contented sleep.
Dawn breaking through the windows wakes me from my slumber. The sun shines brightly, replacing the gloom of days passed. Peeta's heavy breaths assure me he is still asleep. I become aware of our legs tangled and his arm wrapped securely around my waist. I smile, drunk off the heat of his body. I lie watching the flecks of dust float through the beams of light and just let myself be.
"KATNISS EVERDEEN!" The shrill voice of Effie pulls me from my reverie and has me bolting upright in seconds. Peeta thrashes upward, still half asleep and we both tip ourselves onto the floor in a heap. We look to the doorway to see Effie, freshly dressed and coifed, and menacing at the same time.
"What in the name of all that is decent is he still doing here? Haymitch! Haymitch Abernathy! You get down here this instant! He stayed all night, ALL NIGHT!" She is pacing between the stairway and the sitting room, her hands clutched into fists at her sides.
Peeta and I scramble to right our clothes and smooth our hair. Our cheeks are so red, we look ill. He reaches for my hand and nods at me reassuringly.
My uncle comes tumbling down the stairs, still belting his robe. "To what do I owe this screeching arousal, hmmm?"
Effie points to us. "Look! Look at them! Snuggled together on the couch as if they are wed! I will not have it Mr. Abernathy, I will not!"
He puts his hands up defensively, "Just hold onto your skirts, Effie." Haymitch shuffles to stand in front of us and speaks in a whisper so as not to rile Effie further. "Mr. Mellark, I understand that when you are with someone you love, time gets away from you. I do. But I was hoping you'd have enough sense to be gone before the tightly-wound housekeeper arose." He claps Peeta on the shoulder, "Not to mention, I am a little surprised to see you still here myself. A little indecent, wouldn't you agree, Mr. Mellark?"
Peeta scrambles. "My apologies, sir. I did not mean to…"
Haymitch holds his hand up to stop him. "All is forgiven because, frankly, it is far too early for a speech and I trust you are a man that learns from his mistakes. Now, don't test my patience by upsetting my housekeeper again. I've got to go calm her now, no thanks to you two or she will hide my liquor." He turns towards Effie. "All is well, my dear Ms. Trinket. Katniss' virtue is still intact."
I pale at his choice of words and Effie looks livid.
"Now, if you would be so kind as to set an extra place for breakfast for Mr. Mellark and see that his clothes get pressed."
"Mr. Abernathy, I think he should leave!" Effie protests.
"Now, now. He cannot leave, wearing too big clothes this early in the morning. People will talk. But if we make it seem as though he came early to have breakfast with us and he leaves in his own clothes, I think we could keep the hens' mouths in this village to a dull roar." Haymitch looks at Effie expectantly.
With her lips tight, she walks over in front of us to retrieve Peeta's clothing. Stopping at the door, she states, "Breakfast will be served within an hour. Miss Everdeen, you and Mr. Mellark are welcome to freshen up upstairs…separately."
The three days Peeta stays goes by quite quickly. But we make them count. To my disappointment, and at Effie's insistence, we get no more nights together. Peeta goes home after he's had dinner with us, always with a whisper of "I love you". Even after just one night in my love's arms, I find it difficult to sleep as I used to. I crave his warmth.
While we do steal kisses in private, none gather the momentum of our first one. I am not very lady-like in the way I long for his body to once again be pressed against mine. Effie would give me the scolding of a lifetime if she knew.
People in the village seem in high spirits at Peeta's return. They ask of Lord Snow and Yorkshire. Everyone seems to genuinely adore him, which in turn makes me adore him more.
When he leaves this time, it is a happy farewell.
And perhaps, for the first time in my life, I think of my future: one with Peeta by my side and perhaps children playing in the fruit trees at the Wheat House. It is clear as crystal and I am hopeful.