I'm still breathless as I try to speak. "I-" My breath hitches "I was just kissed."
His handsome face passes through elation, rejection, hope, dismay, and then finally settles firmly on confusion. "What?"
I can't help but smile and shake my head at this. In an instant I have him pulled back to me, his chest close, my hand at his shoulder and the other at the back of his neck at his hairline. Doesn't he know by now that I'm no good at the whole talking thing?
"I told you I'd tell you the next time someone kissed me." I managed, still a bit breathless, a little smug, and not nearly done with him yet. I wonder what he thinks of all this, or whether he minded me being a smart ass, but I don't have nearly the self control required to give him enough time to find out before I pull his head closer to mine, kissing him again. This time more confidently than before. I feel like I'm on fire and the only thing that can soothe the scorching heat is his lips, his skin, his arms holding onto to me as we kiss. He is supporting both of our weight at this point as my leg is no good to lean on and I know if he hadn't been such a strong man we would have fallen over many times by now. I can't think. I can't process what I'm doing. I don't want to even try. All I want is to feel this unexpected bliss that only his mouth is able to provide. How will I ever be able to stop? Would it matter? Could we just do this forever? Our arms and hands are everywhere at once and yet I need more. I needed so much more...whatever it was that came after kissing. Was it sex? Was that what happens after people begin doing this? At this point I'm honestly not even sure if I care. If simple kissing feels this rapturous, than whatever else it is he wants to do to me has to feel euphoric.
I slow down a little.
Wait! The small bit of reason I have left screams at me.
I drop my arms away from his body.
Sex leads to children. "Stop!'' I push him away almost violently.
He is kiss swollen and breathless and flushed and too beautiful to make any sense. Both of us try to catch our breaths. As soon as I'm physically able I blurt out "We can't do this! I can't...I can't do this."
This time he doesn't even look confused so much as concerned about me. "Are you okay?" He reaches over to the end of my braid and fiddles with the end before moving his hand up a little to caress the side of my cheek.
Um... He lets his hand drop to my hand when it becomes clear I'm not going to answer and folds his fingers around my own, gently enveloping my hand and bringing it up to his lips to kiss before scooping me up into his arms as he seemed to do so often in the five days since he had signed my papers. I am beginning to think he likes carrying me around bridal style.
He doesn't take me to his bedroom as I half thought he might. He doesn't do anything to me except for take me down the stairs and then out to the porch where he has a stool pulled up to the chair I always sat in with a pillow on the top. In front of the chair was the small kitchen table he must have dragged outside covered with food. The coal oil lantern hung overtop on its ceiling hook. Immediately I feel at ease at being outside again in the fresh air with the crickets singing and the dog sprawled out on the lower step. I feel at home here.
Five days. Was that really it? I shake my head, recounting, sure that I must be mistaken. I feel like I've been with Peeta a lot longer than that.
"Dad made us squirrel stew." Peeta motions toward the steaming pot on the table. Beside it sits a plate of bread.
"It smells delicious." I reply, trying to have a conversation that didn't center around my sleeping or not sleeping with him...in a way we haven't done yet.
Peeta smirks as he pours a generous portion into my bowl and hands it over, always eager to get me to eat as much as possible.
We eat in silence. Whether or not its comfortable even I'm not sure of. He doesn't appear the least bit angry at me for the sudden breaks I had pulled at our intimacy. But I still feel confused at myself and embarrassed. How can I make him understand that I can't risk it?
I smile at him, though not for any particular reason really. Immediately I know its odd. I'm not exactly a smiley person. He looks up to me from his mostly empty bowl and smiles back easily with that stupid half crooked grin of his. The infuriating thing is I know he doesn't even do it on purpose. He isn't trying like I am. He just is. It isn't fair to everyone else for him to be this perfect. A person can't be as kind as he is and be successful and be beautiful too. They just can't. It isn't how the world I know works. I look down at my own darker skin on my arm with all its scabs and old scars and newer bruises.
"You're beautiful, you know." Peeta breathes, his tone low, serious. He looks up at me again and then down to the table shyly.
"And you're flattering." I protest automatically. I know what I am. I'm sturdy. I'm a decent marksman. I'm not "pretty" and I'm certainly not "beautiful".
"You really have no idea, do you? The effect you have..." He trails off unwilling to explain and instead looks off into the trees.
"Peeta, you really need to stop that." I know the last thing I should do is criticize him, but I'm not sure how much protest I really have left in me and I need to use it while I still can.
"Stop what?" He looks back at me, as if genuinely puzzled.
Of course, I have no idea how to explain it to him. "That night when you told me you took me on so no one else could hurt me, was that the truth?" I ask, not sure how to make him understand what I so desperately needed to get across.
"Yeah. I didn't want some old drunk guy to take advantage of you. I might have also done it a little for myself though. I wanted you here. Was that so bad of me?"
"No!" I almost yell at him. This is already going all wrong. "I...you...you're so good to me Peeta. You're so, so good to me." By this point I'm irrationally beginning to tear up. I turn my head to look at the tree line in hopes that he won't notice.
He does notice, immediately, and he comes over and actually gets down on his knees beside where I sit in order to force me to look at him. "Katniss, I don't mind. You're worth it. You're worth everything. I want to take of you. I- I love you and I know that you don't love me back, but that's okay 'cause I get to see you everyday and I get to talk to you and that's more than I ever thought I would get before."
"It's not that I don't care for you, Peeta. It's too much for me. I didn't sign up for this. I signed up for some drunken old bastard that could help me support Prim, not you. I know what I would have done then. But with you...I can't give you the babies you want. I can't-"
His lips are back on mine again in an instant. Not with the needy, frantic kisses of earlier, but with a soft soothing feeling. Reassurance that he loves me anyway. It is difficult...very difficult, but I refuse to kiss him back. This time the look he gives me nearly pushes me to sob.
"Do you...can you not carry children?"
The question takes me by surprise. "No, I mean yes, I mean I think so. It's not that. It's just..." I search for what my real reason is. Prim? No, actually Peeta already took care of that. He promised me a job for her. Then I realize that I have absolutely no clue why I'm so afraid of it. I still am, the realization doesn't change that, but now I suddenly don't have Prim to focus all my worries on.
I look up at him and met his eyes with my own, letting him see my uncertainty and hope that he doesn't judge me too harshly for it. "I don't know."
"Katniss, I want you to understand something that's very important to me. I love you. I want you in every way possible. I want to kiss every inch of your body. I want to feel every inch of your skin. But I don't want to rape you. I don't want to bed you. I don't want to have sex with you. I want to make love to you. I want to show you how much I reverently love you. And I can't do that if you're afraid or not sure about me or if you only think you have to do it out of guilt or trade. I want to make love to you, but I only want to do it if you love me too."
Through all of this I watch his eyes. I'm drawn speechless for a long moment as he gets up without even waiting see if I had planned to respond and begins clearing the plates as if he had only commented on the weather just now. When he comes back out with the usual milk and cookie he's apparently decided I have to eat every night, I decide to try again. "I'm not really good at explaining myself am I?" I joke, already knowing the answer.
"I have an idea." Peeta offers "Why don't we come up with a system, like a game, to help me understand better."
"Like what?" I ask curiously.
"I'll say what I think you're thinking and you tell me if its true or not true. Okay?"
It sounded kind of stupid, but sure. I'll try anything at this point if it will help me be less of an idiot.
"You feel bad about drinking that milk right now because you don't think you're sister has any. True or not true?"
"True." I answer. That was easy.
Peeta nods. "You miss Gale."
"True, but not in any romantic way." I clarify, feeling like it is important for him to understand the colossal difference.
"You liked kissing me earlier."
"True." I reply again easily.
"You feel really pressured from me to...do more."
I think about this for a moment. "Not true." I don't want him to feel like he's forcing anything on me...aside from the cookie I am munching on despite already being full. He smiles at this.
"You don't like children."
"Not true." I have no problem with children, I think to myself. I just never imagined myself producing any. "It's just that I never grew up thinking I would have the money to raise them without it being like with Prim." I manage. Finally, I get the issue out.
He takes in a big breath. "It hasn't even been a week. You have time to think of it as much as you want. We have time." He responds soothingly taking hold of my hand and rubbing my palm with his thumb. It actually makes me feel a lot better. I have time to think about it. After a while, he takes me back upstairs and helps me to bathe again, only this time I can manage to scrub myself so he only retrieves the supplies for me and lays out my other (now clean) shift before leaving the room to give me some privacy. I don't know whether to be relieved or incredibly disappointed.
Later, as we lay down in bed (Peeta's again, I didn't even ask about the sheets for the spare room) I can't help but wonder what on earth I should do. The thoughts of children run through my mind a million times. If that hadn't been enough to keep me awake, Peeta's words certainly were. For the first time I have a difficult time getting comfortable in his bed. I try to turn as best I could without hurting my leg, but that positioned my back flush up against Peeta's bare chest. I flopped back on my back, but that only made me more uncomfortable. Finally, I turn back onto my side, snuggle up even closer to Peeta for warmth, and give up on sleeping entirely.
Before long, his hand comes around my waist and finds my stomach covered only with my short shift again. His fingers begin rubbing soft, comforting circles as if I were a small babe he is trying to soothe asleep. It's soothing and it feels wonderful, but it also makes it impossible to stop thinking about hypothetical children. I feel wide awake.
"Peeta?" I whisper out into the dark, not at all sure of whether or not he was fully asleep yet.
"Yes?" His warm breath tickles my ear and makes rise to goosebumps down the flesh of my exposed neck near his mouth.
"I want to...I think I might want to..." I struggle and finally land on "It might be nice to have some kids around one day...since they'd be yours."
I know it isn't anything eloquent, but maybe just letting him know will be enough. I feel his hand stop his pattern at my belly and pull me a little tighter to him. His lips press against the back of my head is a soft, sweet kiss and then he resumes the circle pattern he has been rubbing across my belly. His body feels warm and soft, despite the hard muscles of his chest behind me. I allow myself to press up as closely to him as possible and then turn my head to his and press my lips to his as well, kissing him softly for no other reason than because I want to. His lips are sweet like honey and warm like the bread he makes directly after it comes out of the oven.
"You don't have to do anything-" Peeta breaks away to explain as if he is worried he is pressuring me into it even though I'm the one who started it.
"Peeta just shut up and kiss me." I demand, breathless, as I re-situate myself yet again to gain easier access to his lips. He notices my dilemma when I move my plastered leg the wrong way and accidentally put pressure on it. Instead of allowing me to continue to struggle with it he simply moves over me, supporting himself with an elbow and kissing me from above. I rub my hands across his warm bare back and move my lips with his, kissing him until I am so breathless that I have no choice but to come up for air or faint. The intense need I had felt earlier is back again and, judging from what I can feel jutting out of his anatomy, I can tell he feels similarly.
"Is it okay if we stop?" I ask a little timidly. I'm really enjoying this, but I don't want to rush things, especially after what he said earlier.
He nods, giving me one last peck on the lips before wiping the hair out of my face that has fallen into my eyes. I can't see much, the faint cloud filtered light of the moon being the only reprieve from the total darkness, but I can see my husband's smile. As he turns and lays back onto his side facing me and I tuck myself into his body, finding myself not only willing, but happy to be snuggled up to his warmth. His smell of cinnamon, vanilla, and just Peeta are the last things I process before falling asleep.