"Does that feel okay?" He asks, his voice low and whisper-like.
I nod, perhaps a little too quickly. I'm still lost in his eyes and he is still looking back into mine. The air between us feels thick. Everything seems a little off kilter and I'm not at all sure that it's due to sickness. I feel his thumb gently rub back and forth across the skin of my cheek and wonder how it is that this beautiful, sweet man managed to stay single up until a few days ago. It seems like every girl in the district should be chasing him. Maybe they were like me and just never stopped long enough to really look at him. That really was the only explanation because I know that the second anyone really managed to look into those eyes they would be lost...I'm sure seems to be like that for me, at least.
A barely audible "yeah" escapes my throat. An answer to his question, maybe? He was asking me something...what was it again?
He grins a little at this and continues caressing my face. Whatever he asked, I must have given him the right answer. His eyes flicker from my own eyes down to my lips and back and I subconsciously hold my breath as he leans in just a little bit closer. He can't kiss me. Not like this. Not after I just threw up. It takes every bit of self control I have, but I manage to look away from his face and effectively break the spell that we both seemed to be under.
"I'll go switch out the water and then we'll wash your hair?" Peeta suggested.
I feel an immediate loss from where his hand had been seconds earlier and try to distract myself from whatever was happening with the two of us by slowly making my way off the bed while my stomach felt relatively stable and over to the chair at the other end of the small room. If I am going to be clean he will need to strip the fitted sheet as well and he can't do that with me on top of it. Peeta waltzes back in just after I deposit myself on the chair with a grunt.
"What are you doing?" He asks, looking perplexed as he sits the basin in the same place on the nightstand.
"I figured it would be easier for you to change the sheets if I wasn't on them."
"You shouldn't keep getting up. You're going to hurt yourself. Your mom told me to keep you still."
I glare at him in my usual fashion. He strips the bed down to the mattress and throws it all to the floor with my dress and the other sheet. Then the baker walks over and picks me up the same way he always did, as if I weighed no more than a baby bird, and walks me over to the bathroom.
"This will be easier if I use the sink." Is all the explanation that he gives me before sitting me down on the side of the tub and waiting for me to establish a good grip before running to the bedroom and back with the chair I had just been in, placing it in front of the sink, facing the doorway. I begin to attempt to stand up and make it the two feet or so over to the chair, but his arms are under and around me before I can get anywhere and the next thing I know he has me in place with my head leaning back and hair in the sink.
The shampoo he uses is the nicer, merchant kind that I still haven't gotten used to yet in my few days here. It is much creamer than what we used in the seam and has a softer, more luxurious feeling to it. Still, I am pretty sure that even if he had been using the cheap kind, this still would feel completely incomparable to any time I've ever washed my hair. When I wash it, I scour it for dirt and ticks and just scrub until I think it's clean enough to rinse out. Peeta's technique is nowhere close to that. I feel like I'm getting a head and neck massage instead of just my hair cleaned. He gently presses and rubs his fingers into my scalp and kneads the skin as though I am a piece of dough, occasionally running his fingers through the length to smooth out any tangles. It feels glorious. I close my eyes and concentrate on his hands at my skull and for a moment I forget about all the other pain throughout my body. For a moment, the sensation he is causing is so wonderful that I have to consciously hold back from moaning.
He does this for what seems like a long time, and yet I am horribly disappointed when it's over. If this is how he washes hair I should get him to wash mine every time it's dirty. I shake my head. What am I thinking? Peeta washing my hair is a one time thing because I'm sick and he probably just wants me to smell better. I begin to wonder if I really am as cheap as Gale said if I'm having such thoughts of Peeta that way. We might be married on paper, but I've barely even gotten to know the man, I chide myself...except that isn't true either. I do know him. I know him in every way that counts. I know that he is a kind, wonderful, sweet man that is much too good for me. I know that he is willing to forgive me when I'm not sure I would if our roles were swapped. I know that he is willing to give me everything he has without a single expectation of anything back that I don't want to freely give him. I know him, alright.
I smile involuntarily at him as I open my eyes and lean my head back up straight as he wrings out the water from the length of it and presses water out with a towel. After, he takes me back to the guest room once again, placing me gently back on the bare bed before going over to the closet and grabbing my clean night shift.
"D-do you need help changing or...or do you think you can finish cleaning yourself?" His stutter is adorable. Everything about him right now is nervous and uncharacteristically awkward.
I nod, not honestly sure, but having every intention of figuring it out for myself. If he could get me this worked up just washing my hair and cleaning my arms and legs I don't want to think of what might happen if I let him do the rest. Besides, he deserves better than having a naked girl in front of him if I can't even let him consummate things. I struggle, but ultimately manage to take off my shift and underthings. Washing myself off doesn't take long, considering Peeta had already done most of the work. I just have to clean all the places that were considered indecent. The washcloth scrubbing the remaining filth doesn't feel the same when I do it. Technically Peeta was only washing me, I think, so why did it feel so magnificent when it was him doing it? It sure doesn't now. Huh.
I reach over to the clean shift and pull it on over my head and down to where it stops mid thigh. My other one is longer, but this one was older and bought before I had completely finished growing. I don't have any underwear to put on within my grasp. Oh well. It won't much matter in here if I'm alone and not walking around the house.
I call out to Peeta to let him know I'm done and he emerges from the other side of the door. The blue in his eyes grow a little darker and I can't help but wonder why until I realize how he is looking at me. My cheeks flood with color and I suddenly feel like a shy little girl, instead of the grown woman I am. I wish my shift covered more. I wish he didn't have to see all these ugly marks and bruises. My usually olive skin looks more like a bright collage of greens, blues, and purples than actual skin right now. When I look down at all of this, disgusted, I wonder how he can look at me at all until I look back up to see that the bruises probably aren't what Peeta is gazing at. His face isn't one of disgust or anger, but more like the look that Prim gets on the rare occasion I have been able to buy her treats. He looks just as Prim did as if in awe of the sweet before gobbling it down as if she were afraid someone would snatch it if she took too long. It would be comical if it wasn't my near naked body evoking it. Instead it's just an awkward mix between flattering, tense, and something else that I don't have a word for.
"Peeta?" I question, feeling more and more shy the longer he looks.
Instantly, he snaps out of it as though he were in a trance before and my words have brought him back to reality. "Oh! Sorry!" He begins to move and then freezes as panic overtakes his face, though I'm not sure what for. The next thing I know he practically leaps for the pile of dirty laundry and grabs it into a ball that he holds in front of his stomach and lower waist.
"I'm just gonna go put these into the laundry downstairs. I'll...be back." I watch, intrigued, as he rushes out of the room. Did I do something wrong?
When he comes back twenty minutes later he looks more than a little embarrassed, though I can't fathom what for. By this point it's getting dark outside. I had thought it was morning time when I woke earlier...I guess I was wrong. "I fed the animals and put the chickens up." He states, walking up to the side of my bed, then bending down and reaching an arm under my bare thighs as he lifts me up.
"Peeta! What are you doing?" I can't help but panic a little. Does he realize that I don't have on any underwear? My shift is already riding up dangerously high on my thighs. I have no idea where he intends on taking me at this point.
"You're sleeping with me tonight. I don't have any extra sheets to fit the bed in here." His tone isn't demanding, but it is firm.
Inexplicably, I find myself resting my head on his shoulder and just giving in. I want to be mad at him or at least make the excuse that I am only letting him do as he wants because I'm too tired to care, but the the truth is that I honestly don't mind the idea of sleeping in hid bed again. Last time it smelled like cinnamon. Besides, I have been bored and lonely in the spare room I claimed. He gently puts me down on the far side of the bed away from the door and nearer to the window. Its the same side I slept on last time. The only problem is that I'm not at all sleepy. I'm tired, yes, and I hurt, but my sleep schedule is really off at this point and I worry that I'll keep him awake. Still, I lay my head against the pillow and take in the glorious smells of cinnamon and vanilla and Peeta. Oddly, the nausea actually abates a little at all the comforting smells instead of intensifying as I had expected. Everything about the smell of this bed is warm and comfortable, just like Peeta is.
Peeta props my foot up with a pillow and then goes to the dresser, presumably to find something to wear to sleep. I watch him from my place in his bed as he unabashedly pulls his shirt over his head and tosses it into a large woven hamper I hadn't noticed before. He is facing away from me, but I can see his perfect skin in the dim glow of the bed side lamp. It's lighter than mine and the muscles in his shoulders and arms are easy to make out. He unfastens his belt and sheds his pants without preamble and my eyes move south over his legs. He is a stocky man overall, but beautiful. I wonder, a little nervously, if he is going to take off his boxers as well. He turns around and looks at me as though it were everyday that he stands in front of a woman in nothing but his underwear.
"I'm gonna go grab your hairbrush." Is all he says. My jaw drops a little. Both of us are in his bedroom, practically naked, with me in his bed watching his strip and he's thinking about getting a hairbrush? Maybe I've been wrong about Peeta. Maybe it isn't his self control I should be worried about.
I wish I was a better conversationalist. As he comes back into the room and I sit up, he goes and sits behind me, brushing through my damp hair. I just sit there, like an idiotic bump on the log with nothing to say. I've never been good with words. I have never wished I was more than right now though. All I can hear is both of our breathing. I can feel Peeta sitting behind me, one leg on either side of where I sat and his breath hot on my neck. Eventually, he finishes and places the brush down on the side table. Suddenly, I am terrified that he is going to move from his place behind me. His body is warm and comforting there and his breath is tickling me a little. I want him to stay exactly where he is. I allow myself to do what comes naturally and just lean back to him, resting my back against his stomach and my head at his chest.
"Thank you." Is all I can come up with to say. I'm more relaxed than I should be in this position. Something about this man...it's almost as though he has some kind of gravitational pull on me. If I get too close it's nearly impossible to move away again.
"Sure..." His voice is shakier than I expected. I can tell he is nervous. I know I should be nervous.
Only... I'm not.
I take in another deep breath of cinnamon and vanilla and my husband. Then I smile to myself at the burgeoning realization that I may be much more of a softy than I ever realized. If a girl wasn't careful she could lose her heart to a boy like this...
Should I have been more careful? I hold back a private chuckle at myself. Maybe it never was a matter of being careful.
Maybe, I think as I feel Peeta gracefully wrap his arms around me, maybe with this man it was always a matter of inevitability.