AN: I had a little trouble uploading this chapter. If you saw another version, I apologize. This is the correct one. Enjoy! Please provide feedback / reviews. This is an important chapter for our characters!
Min catches me stealing a kiss from Cai when she returns to the house from the woods, but she doesn't tease us. Instead, Cai and I glance at each other playfully while Min tries to show Cai some dark colored plant roots she's holding in her hand.
"I think we'll need more than that," Cai tells Min, still paying much more attention to me than her sister.
"Maybe you should go find them then," Min huffs.
"Aww, Min, don't be upset with her," I say "Every bride is preoccupied."
"I'm not sure I want to hear what the distraction believes," Min says gruffly. "Cai needs to get preoccupied with preparing for her wedding instead of staring at her future husband."
I release a note of laughter but quickly stifle it when Cai glares at me.
Min tosses the plant roots into a large pot of water that Cai's been warming.
"What are you making?" I ask, my mouth watering at the prospect of a new food to try.
Out of the corner of my eye I see Cai slowly lowering some light-colored fabric into the pot and using a large paddle-like spoon to push it under the water's surface. I conclude the roots aren't food after all with a disappointed sigh. A few minutes later Cai lifts the fabric up out of the water with the paddle to reveal that it's newly stained a light pink.
"You're right, Cai. I think we'll need as many roots as we can find. I'll try to get some more," Min says.
Cai nods and thanks her sister. I move closer to the pot to watch as Cai works while Min leaves the house.
"I'll ask again since my bride gets distracted easily," I tease. "What are you doing?"
Cai smiles, "I'm dyeing our clothes for the wedding," she says.
"Pink?" I ask with a smirk.
"Right," I nod, laughing.
Of course, red, the color of celebration, joy, and good luck in China.
"What's funny?" she asks.
"Brides never wear red at home," I tell her.
"What color do they wear?"
"White. Maybe blue. They just wear their best clothes if they don't have anything specifically for the wedding. Just not red."
"So strange," Cai says, bringing her arm around for a particularly strong stir of the clothes through the water.
"Not strange to me, Cai."
"White is the color of mourning," Cai says with a shiver.
"I am in China. My bride will wear red. That's fair," I say, pinching her arm playfully. I point down at the colored water. "But those clothes are far from red."
Cai narrows her eyes at me as if I've just challenged her.
"They'll be red," she says. "You'll see."
Min and Cai put more roots in the pot as Min finds them. The clothes soak all day and night. By morning the girls are hiding them from me in their sleeping area and giggling. Min pushes me outside an hour or so later and tells me to find some work to do there. Early spring has brought relatively warm weather, and I enjoy the sunshine before going into the barn to check on some of the tools we'll soon need. Cai has been telling me about the initial planting season.
I catch a glimpse of the girls carrying the clothing out of the house and hanging it from the trees along the edge of the woods where it can catch the sun's rays, but I don't look closely since I know they are trying to hide their hard work from me. They come back carrying the tub we use for bathing. Min accidentally drops the side she's carrying just outside the door. A small bottle she must have also been carrying clangs against the side of the tub.
"Oh! I spilled it," Min says, flustered.
"Don't worry. It was going in there anyway. I'll just smell that much better for him if there's too much," Cai laughs.
I feel a warmth spread across my chest and down my body at the thought of Cai's preparations for me. ThenI make my way over to a piece of cracked glass Cai's family has used to make a window in a dark corner of the barn. The glass reflects a vague image of my face when I look at it. I stare self-consciously for a moment. During the winter the combination of weakness and a need for warmth made me give up trying to shave, but I did try to keep the facial hair that grew neat whenever I felt up to it. I rub one hand down the side of my face, thinking about how I don't look like me with any facial hair at all.
After an hour or so Min appears at the entrance to the barn dragging the bathing tub behind her.
"Your turn," she says.
I wrinkle my nose and shake my head.
"Not now," I tell her.
"Yes now. And I'm going to cut your hair and help you shave."
"Cai will like that?" I ask.
"Cai likes how you look either way, but a man should have a shaved face and a good haircut for his wedding no matter what Cai thinks."
Did Cai actually say she liked me either way? I wonder then blush at the idea of Cai discussing my appearance with anyone, especially her sister.
Min bangs her hand against the side of the tub.
"Let's fetch the water, Peeta. It's getting late!"
So we fetch water for the bath, and Min leaves me to complete it while she goes to get the razor and scissors.
After I'm dressed she comes back and gets to work.
"Do you even know how to do this?" I ask, referring to the shaving part.
"I used to do it for my father. I'll do a good job," she says.
I assume that if she does know what she is doing then she'll be able to do a much better job than me since I haven't yet mastered shaving well without seeing what I'm doing. I already know her haircutting skills are better than mine because she insisted on correcting my haircut after my first attempt to cut my own hair. So, I allow my soon to be sister-in-law to make me look presentable for my bride. Min goes about her work with her usual efficiency, and when she's finished I try to catch a glimpse of the results in the cracked glass.
"Wait!" Min says, turning and running back to the house. She returns with a mirror no bigger than the palm of her small hand. "Now look," she says.
I look into the mirror and find a much clearer view of what I look like right now. Only my eyes truly look like the old me, and even they are a bit sunken and dull. Their characteristic blue has not changed. I look thinner than before the crash, of course, and while my skin looks tougher from all the time in the sun this fall it also looks dry and ashen. I wish Cai knew what I really looked like when I wasn't injured or trying to recover from near starvation.
"Thank you," I tell Min. "Much better."
Min and I carry the tub outside together, and she tells me a little more about the wedding.
"Our landlord sent some special tea for you two," she says. "It's his gift to you for the ceremony."
"Oh, that's nice. Will we drink tea at the ceremony?"
Min stops to give me a mocking grin. She's always amused by my lack of understanding of Chinese culture.
"Oh, yes. You have to drink tea together. That's very important. You have to serve our mother tea also. Cai will make the tea," she says.
"Cai and I drink tea together all the time, Min."
"This is different. This is your wedding."
All of their preparations are endearing, but I can't help but think about my family and how they won't be a part of this important time for me. The fact that I'll be married by tomorrow night doesn't feel real yet. I'm happy. Very happy. It's just that I have to keep reminding myself of the fact that I'm about to marry the girl that I love, Cai, and of everything that means.
The next morning I can hear the girls working on wedding preparations again. I offer to help, and they give me small assignments. I catch a glimpse of Cai sitting in front of her mother and Min at one point. Min is guiding their mother's fingers to tie ribbons in Cai's hair. Cai's eyes are red rimmed and moist, and I'm not sure why. It looks as though Min keeps trying to encourage their mother to do the tying but ends up having to do it for her.
"Here, Mother, like this," Min says, guiding her mother's fingers.
"You just do it, Min. It's alright," Cai finally says.
"But…but…she has to…" Min begins.
"No, it's alright. She's done enough."
I can't help but look over at Cai's mother, who seems to drop her gaze to the floor as if feeling sad or guilty. For what it's worth I think she's become more aware of what's going on around her lately. She's talking more and has even mentioned the wedding a few times. I watch out of the corner of my eye as Min ties Cai's hair in intricate ways around the ribbons and try not to let my longing sigh be heard out loud. I'm looking forward to taking those ribbons out one by one.
By late afternoon Min is rushing everyone.
"Here, Peeta," she says. "This is your shirt. You should wear it over these pants." Min passes the least worn pair of her father's pants to me. "I made sure to wash them along with Cai's things," she says. "Do you want help?"
I look down at the red shirt. It's longer than my other shirts and has stitching around the simple collar.
"No, I think I can do it," I tell her.
"It's not about whether or not you can do it. I'm the only one here to help you on your wedding day, so if you want me to…"
"No, it's alright. Help Cai."
Min pats the clothing with her hand and nods, probably grateful I've given her permission to focus on her sister. I put the shirt on and look down at the sleeves. The shirt is indeed red but not as red as I imagined they might have wanted it to be. I take some time to try to calm my nerves once I'm dressed. Though it will only be the four of us at the ceremony and Cai has told me not to worry, the idea of getting married so far from home and without my family upsets me. Most likely they'll never meet Cai, and I wish they could.
In the early evening when we are all starting to get hungry, Min guides her mother to sit in the middle of the house, a place of honor. She motions for me to come and stand in front of her mother. When Cai's mother sees me she turns her head to the side, and her eyes soften. I'm fascinated enough with Cai's mother's reactions that I don't notice Cai standing beside me until Min places Cai's hand in mine. I turn to Cai and take in the overwhelming experience of seeing her as my bride. Her clothing is red just like mine, but one of the women has made careful decorative stitches all along the front of her shirt. The stitches travel down and lead my eyes over her curves and around the back of the garment. The clothing fits tightly around her so that her figure is more obvious to me than at any time before except when we went to the lake together. Unlike when her mother and sister were tying ribbons in her hair, Cai's dark eyes reveal nothing but joy.
Cai kneels down and encourages me to follow. It takes me longer with my leg, but I do kneel beside her. Min has placed the teapot and cups on a small, raised tray. I watch as Cai prepares the tea, wondering if I'm supposed to help. We have three teacups that are an earthen color and match the teapot and a fourth teacup that is yellow. Cai pours tea to the rim of the yellow one. At first I think she's going to spill it, but she doesn't. She lifts the cup and passes it carefully to her mother. Then she makes three more similar cups of tea for the rest of us.
"Don't spill it," Min says with a nudge to my arm before I take the teacup from Cai's hands. "That'd be bad luck."
Cai told me not to worry about tradition, but we seem to be following a ritual of some kind already. Cai is talking in a very formal way that is different than how she usually talks, and I'm having some trouble understanding her. Maybe the words are older ones that aren't used as much. Rituals often sound "old." She's addressing her mother mostly, and her statements are about respect and permission to marry.
"Thank her," Min tells me quietly.
"Thank you," I tell Cai.
"No, thank mother," Min says, trying not to grin.
"Thank you," I say shyly to their mother.
What does Cai's mother really think of all this? She's impossible to read. Has she truly granted her permission? Then again, she has seemed to understand that wedding preparations were underway and hasn't protested. Still, I wonder if she will eventually become more aware and be angry with our decision to marry.
I knew that I was supposed to give gifts to Cai and her family as part of marrying her. When I mentioned this to Cai she said, "I think the food will be enough" referring to the food I'd earned through working for the landlord. I had other plans.
Reaching for Cai's hand I tell her, "I have some gifts."
I have no idea if this is the right time for gifts, but Cai and Min don't know I want to give any. Cai raises an eyebrow at me but seems happy with this change of plans. There was a wooden box in my sleeping place when I took it over from Gao. Inside it I've been storing the small items I've been carving. I open the box and follow Cai's order of serving the tea by giving Cai's mother her gift first. It's a wooden spoon that's small with a thick handle. I'd once seen my grandfather make one like it for a child who had trouble picking food up, and I thought it might help Cai's mother eat by herself better. For the child who was my grandfather's patient it worked because he could manipulate the thicker handle better than the thin ones on regular spoons. Now that I think of it, Cai's mother might find the gift of a special spoon insulting. I only want to help her, so I'll just hope that she assumes that I'm giving her the kind of spoon I might be used to using at home.
Cai's mother actually thanks me using words, so I know she likes it. She holds it by the handle, her knuckles turning white as she grips it tightly. Then she thanks me again. This delights Cai, and she sits up straighter and watches me as I open the box again. Min knows what her gift is already, but she hasn't seen if finished yet. I tried to make it brown by staining it with some dark mud and rinsing it clean. The little animal does look much more like the water buffalo than it once did, and Min smirks at me when I pass it to her.
The last gift is for Cai. She's folded her hands, waiting for me impatiently.
I take one of her hands in mine and unfold it so that it's flat. I hold it steady and place Cai's gift in her palm with my other hand. She giggles with anticipation, but I don't move my hand right away, effectively hiding her gift a little longer. Slowly, I slide my hand back and let her see it. There's more detail to the carving I made for Cai. I worked on it much longer.
"What is it?" Cai asks. "I know it's a flower, but…"
"It's katniss," I tell her.
Her eyes grow wide.
"Katniss," she says.
"What I can remember about it anyway. It has arrow shaped leaves also. I tried to put one here, you see?" I tell her, pointing to one side of the small carving.
"It's beautiful, and it's mine," she says, her voice unsteady.
"Yes, definitely yours."
After she regains her composure, Cai returns to her prior formality. She pledges her loyalty with a sentence or two and asks me to do the same, giving me the words to say. I say them, not sure if I'm repeating them accurately since they aren't very familiar phrases for me.
Cai grabs hold of my arm and encourages me to stand up as she does. Once we're standing she bows to her mother, and following her lead I bow with her. When she stands up again she does something I'm not expecting. She starts to sing softly, but the song is directed at her mother. As it grows louder I realize that it's a very sad song. It's about longing and losing one's family. Though I don't understand every word it doesn't sound like a song anyone would want at a wedding. Cai starts to cry a little.
Once she stops singing she says, "but I'm not having to leave you mother. Peeta will stay with us here instead." Cai takes a deep breath before turning to me.
"Now we are married, Peeta."
At this sudden announcement I lean forward and give Cai an innocent kiss on the lips.
"Where I come from you get to kiss your wife at the end of your wedding ceremony," I tell a stunned Cai when I pull away from her.
I turn to Cai's mother who doesn't appear concerned about my affections toward her daughter. Min starts laughing.
Cai gives a little shrug and shy smile.
"Can I do that at my wedding?" Min asks.
"No," Cai answers quickly.
Min's still laughing when she goes to fetch the food we're going to eat together. In this still sparse season the meal is a feast. Min and Cai have been cooking for a few days, and they've prepared small amounts of some very interesting foods for us. Some of them were made of what little was left of the preserves and foodstuffs that Cai stored for winter. Others were prepared from the food I earned by working for the landlord. When the meal is over the night progresses as usual until it's time to go to bed. Min assists her mother alone, and I notice Cai slipping into the area where I usually sleep. I nervously wait for Min and Cai's mother to go to sleep while I sip the wedding tea. When the house is completely silent I go to join my wife where we'll be sleeping now.
My sleeping area is admittedly the most private area of the house. Nobody can see my mat from anywhere else unless they round the corner of the partition, and yet the house doesn't have walls in the traditional sense that I'm used to at home. The attempts to section off the house with various dividers and barriers has seemed adequate until tonight. After all, I've been used to living with brothers, dorm-mates, or fellow servicemen all my life. But tonight this setting makes me apprehensive. Oddly, privacy tonight never crossed my mind as a need because it would have been a given to have privacy on my wedding night at home. If Delly and I had married before I left for the war, we'd have lived with either her parents or mine, but we would have had our own walled off room and locked door.
As I round the corner my eyes adjust to the relative dimness behind the partition, and I see Cai sitting on my sleeping mat. I nearly drop the teacup in my hand when I realize to my utter shock that she's completely naked. Cai curls her back so that her shoulders almost meet her knees. Her arms wrap around her legs, and she crosses her ankles so that they more precisely conceal her body from my view.
"Cai," I say in a strangely scolding tone. Immediately I regret it and want to take it back. It's hard to know where a reprimanding attitude would even come from in this situation. She's my wife now, and she's acting like it. I want to look at her, but I've never seen a woman completed naked in person, only pictures.
Cai looks down at the mat. Her eyes close. She doesn't move or speak, but I sense that she's disappointed by my lack of immediate action. I wish I could explain that I thought I would be undressing her. I simply didn't know I'd come into our bed to find her this way, but my mind can't focus well enough to tell her that. My breathing quickens and deepens with each second just from looking at her.
John told me once "Peter, you're so innocent that you won't last thirty seconds the first time."
I thought back then, I'm not as innocent as he thinks. He's wrong.
But as I watch Cai beginning the process of shyly unfolding her arms and legs to reveal herself to me I realize that John might have been right. The fact that I love her so much only adds to the pressure that my inexperience brings. I won't even know if I do any of this right.
Cai shifts her weight a bit as I go about the complex business of lowering myself awkwardly onto the mat with my leg still not quite as healed as it should be. Cai leans back and slowly lies down on her side, and I lie down facing her. I dawns on me that I'm allowed to touch her anywhere. I sigh longingly when I raise my hand and gently rub my fingertips along the skin over her ribs. She flinches, looks up into my eyes, and then closes her eyes very slowly. Suddenly I'm painfully aware of just how much she affects me.
Enjoying the feel of her gentle curves against my fingers, I lean in to kiss her. She lifts up slightly to match my romantic gesture, and our lips meet. The kiss is like so many others, but with even more heat. More kisses follow. I can't seem to kiss her enough, but as I start to lower my hands down Cai's sides her eyes fly open. To me they look frightened. I watch her fall back completely against our pallet on the floor, a look of panic on her face. I instinctually distance myself from her a bit in the hopes that she'll regain a sense of security. She seems startled.
I start to wonder if Cai knows even less about what we're beginning than I do. My grandmother certainly didn't teach me any Chinese words that'd be adequate to explain it to her. I'm afraid Min would overhear me even if I did try to explain. Cai closes her eyes again, and I'm left to wonder what is running through her mind. I don't feel comfortable asking or having her answer here. My hand still rests on Cai's soft skin, though because she's moved, it now rests on her upper arm. I watch her, waiting for a sign to move forward.
None of this uncertainty does anything to decrease my desire for Cai. In fact, the longer my hand touches Cai's bare skin and my eyes glance over her body the more out of control my body feels. I can't imagine what it might be like to experience even a fraction of what I feel and not understand what it means. If Cai doesn't understand what we're about to do then will doing it change everything? Will she become afraid of me? Will she not want to do it again? I…I just want to be a good husband, but I'm not sure how to be that right now. I thought being a good husband in this situation would be about not disappointing her, but now I think it's about protecting her. I'm just not sure why.
I lay my head down by Cai's shoulder and try to slow down my thoughts and feelings. Being completely quiet will probably prove impossible for me. Even now I'm making soft, involuntary noises in Cai's ear that I don't want anyone else to hear. I want her so much, but I just don't think we can do this here. So, I lean my head even closer to Cai's ear and tell her that we should sleep.
"Tomorrow we'll be together," I tell her.
Concern flashes through Cai's eyes and she presses her lips together tightly.
To Cai, living in this house in close proximity to others is completely normal. I wonder if I've hurt her with what I haven't said and done, what I'm not able to say…or do…right now.
Cai's quiet, staring at me for a long moment. "Have I displeased you Peeta?" she asks, her voice sounds nervous.
"No, no!" I try to reassure her pressing soft kisses to her lips. "We aren't truly alone. I want to be alone with you," I continue.
Cai studies my face and whatever she sees there must reassure her. She nods shyly and moves closer to me, resting her head on my shoulder. I kiss her goodnight.
Soon she's fallen asleep in my arms. As I feel her full weight resting against me I exhale deeply, wondering how I can be so happy and so overwhelmed at the same time. I love her so much, and maybe love makes you feel a strange mix of emotions sometimes. Just sleeping beside her in this more intimate way feels incredible, like I'm in a dream. I take one more look at my wife's beautiful body where she's lying right beside me before draping the blanket over us for warmth.
I wake up very early in the morning, but I wait for the sun to shine through the tiny cracks in the wall of the house before I quietly make my way outside. There's only one place I can think of on the farm that I'd truly feel comfortable making love to Cai.
I move a few large rocks and light the small lamp I've brought with me from the house. The light from the cracks in the rocks start to brighten the cave. The blanket Cai gave me the first night she took care of me lies on the ground, and I spread it out evenly. Some scattered rocks are lying nearby, so I sweep them away with my hand. When I'm satisfied that I've made the humble little spot in the cave as nice as it can be for my wife, I walk back to the house. Cai is still asleep when I return to her. She looks so peaceful, but I just can't wait any more. Waking her proves impossible to resist, and I'm greeted with a sleepy expression when she opens her eyes.
"Come with me," I whisper to her, as I pick up her clothes and help her dress, rubbing my hands along her shoulders as I do.
"Where are we going?" she asks as I take her hand and lead her outside without another word. The sun finishes rising as we walk to the cave. Cai smiles about halfway through the walk, probably realizing our destination. I crawl in the cave first, and she follows. When she sees me waiting for her by the blanket her eyes look watery.
Oh, no. I just can't do any of this right!
"You made a bed for us?" She asks in a high pitched whisper.
"Yes," I say. "I tried."
Cai crawls closer to me, and I feel her wrap her arms around me and press the side of her face against my chest. In response, I wrap my arms around her and rest my chin on the crown of her head.
"You were supposed to make a bed for us. For good luck," she says softly.
"Really?" I ask, truly unaware that my efforts would matter this much to her.
"Yes, Min was worried that we might not have any children if you didn't make a wedding bed for us."
These superstitions sound so strange to me, but I'm glad I've done something that pleases Cai so much.
"Well, I didn't know all that. I'm glad you like it," I tell Cai as I run my fingertips down the side of her face and lean down to kiss her. The soft strands of her hair that fell down during the night tickle my face. I feel the familiar urgency of my desire for Cai starting build again, and I know that this time that desire won't go unquenched. I take her hands in mine and kiss her fingers gently. They still smell sweet from bathing.
My father and I never talked about what it was like to get married. Most of the boys at school didn't know that much about girls. Some of them asked me questions. My married brother's comments stayed mostly in the form of jokes and innuendo. John sometimes talked about his exploits with Penny just to tease me, but he wasn't very specific. Men in the army say crude things about women, but they don't talk about how to make love to them. At least, I'd never heard anyone talk about that. It's as if I'm supposed to just know much more than the biological mechanics of it all, and I don't. I suppose Cai and I will just have to learn together.
Two days ago I asked my mother to tell me what to expect of the first days of marriage.
She was quiet for a long time, and I didn't think she was going to answer me at all. Then, before she fell asleep, she said to do as my husband directs. That's all she said. I didn't think that was enough.
Peeta doesn't direct, not the way I expect anyway.
He begins by kissing my hands and then moves to kissing my lips. He kisses me more deeply and passionately than ever before. I respond by running my hands up and down his back which feels natural. Then I slide one hand down his side and up to his chest. He's taken aback, hopefully in a good way.
He shyly plays with the bottom of my shirt. Then he lets his hand slip underneath and run along the soft skin of my belly where my pants come to rest at my waist. His touch on my bare skin feels so good that I gasp, and he stops to look into my eyes.
When Gao and I were young we swam in the lake, and I saw his body on a few occasions. It's not as if I didn't know what boys look like under their clothes, but Gao was just a boy back then. As we grew up we were embarrassed by the way we changed, and we both became very shy about what the other might be able to see if we weren't careful. Even though we'd occasionally stare at one another we didn't share any solitary moments exploring the strange feelings that occur between men and women other than that one time when we kissed in the woods. When Gao rejected me, I didn't want to have anything to do with him even as I hoped he'd change his mind about our plans for marriage. When Peeta was sick I saw more of his body than he probably remembers, but that was different. I was curious while I took care of him but was far more worried that he might die. Only later did I have the ability to notice him in a way that made me sigh longingly. Now I'm overcome at the thought of seeing him this way.
With his other hand, he begins gently unraveling my hair as he whispers in my ear something about touching me or me touching him. I'm not sure which. I suspect that he's directing me, so I rub my fingers against the soft skin around his ears and then move to his neck and jaw before kissing him softly. I allow my hands to run down his arms, feeling them flex as he responds to my touch, and I intertwine our fingers briefly. It strikes me that I have wanted to touch him like this for so long. I bring my open hands to rest on his waist, but it's not enough. I find I can't hold them completely still as let them wander up over his ribs and onto his chest. Peeta's breathing becomes heavy enough that I stop to look up at him shyly. I want to make sure it's pleasure that he feels and not discomfort.
He smiles and presses his lips to my cheek.
"That feels good," he says. "I like it."
Emboldened by his pleasure at my touch, I move back down to his hips and he makes soft, breathless sounds against my ear. He reaches up and deftly pulls my shirt completely off. His hands quickly move all over me. He presses his lips against my skin in most of the places his hands have just touched. I simply try to stay calm and get lost in his devotion to me. We're already beyond anything that's happened before, and I don't know what will happen next. I just know I have to trust him, which is a little difficult since he seems unlike his usual self.
My breaths become mere pants, something that makes me ashamed because it means I'm acting differently too. The feel of his hands caressing me builds feelings within me that I hadn't imagined. There's a deep and simmering warmth inside my body that frightens me, and I start to shake. Peeta doesn't appear surprised by any of this. Instead, he's on a mission of his own and bringing me along with him. Being so anxious, I'm not sure I can join him. He pauses to finish undressing me and himself and must sense my feelings because a moment later he's choking out, "please don't be afraid" in very endearing but broken Chinese. I don't want him to worry about me. He should feel only happiness right now.
"I'm not," I tell him. It doesn't matter that I am. This is what is supposed to happen. Somehow I'm sure of that even if my mother's instructions were lacking. It feels right, and I don't want him to stop.
"Do you know what to do?" he asks me, breathless with what I assume is the same excitement I'm feeling. He closes his eyes, leans a bit forward, and makes a pained expression as I try to come up with an answer. I want to say the right answer but not dishonor him. He sounds tense. I need to answer quickly.
"We are supposed to become husband and wife in this way also," I tell him vaguely.
"Yes," he says as he kisses down my neck before pausing again. "But do you know how?" He asks.
I'm quiet. I do know how, I think. Surely he'd understand my hesitation to answer.
He makes a sound against my skin that resonates through me.
"I need to know you are alright. Are you alright, Cai?"
My muscles weaken at the sound of him saying my name. My arms fall against his chest for support.
"Can I?" He pauses midsentence like he doesn't want to say any more. He holds my arms firmly in his strong hands. Then he looks down thoughtfully into the small amount of space left between us.
"I understand, I talked to my mother." It's a lie. I'm not sure I understand exactly what he's asking my permission to do or why he thinks he would need to ask, but I trust Peeta not to hurt me.
His face shows some relief when he looks back up at me. "Good. That's good," he whispers.
With trembling hands he gently cradles my head as he begins to kiss me again.
His fingers snag a tangle in my hair, pulling at the roots as he tries to free them and causing me to gasp with the sudden twinge of pain.
"Sorry," Peeta breathes out in a drawn-out and penitent whisper, but I wrap my hand around his wrist and push his fingers further into the knot hoping he'll tug at my hair again. His eyes widen for a moment before their heavy lids yield to closing. The hand tangled in my hair pulls steadily against the strands for a long moment.
"Oh," I sigh involuntarily, just as I'm leaning my head to relieve the tugging sensation. Peeta pauses his hand and bends his head to capture my mouth in a heated kiss. When he finally releases my mouth he rests his forehead on my shoulder.
"Cai, I…I, umm…"
I raise my hand to touch his neck, but instinct tells me not to touch him right now.
"You can do what we are supposed to do," I say instead.
He nods against my shoulder and tries hard to stay quiet even though a sound is obviously trying to escape his throat.
As Peeta lowers me completely down onto the bed he's made for us he says a few words I don't understand, probably English words. Then he tells me he loves me in a raspy version of his speaking voice in my language. I hear a sound that's definitely not words as he falls against me more fully, and it's quickly followed by another that's louder and more insistent. Peeta squeezes my hand with one of his reassuringly. My insides pull against one another in a very pleasant way in response. A moment later I'm the one fighting to stay still and quiet.
"No. Do that," he says, attempting to help me end my internal struggle. He draws in a deep breath before adding, "I like hearing you. Whatever you need. Do it."
"You. Too. Peeta." I try to get a deep breath also but find I can't. "Peeta!"
Someday I'll tell Min not to be afraid on her wedding night. What Peeta and I did was not something for me to fear. Maybe with some men it would have been, but not with Peeta. He's quiet now, very quiet. Peeta becomes frustrated easily if he can't make himself understood, which has happened more in the last day than it has in the month before. When he talks to himself in English he sounds so different. In Chinese he often sounds hesitant, occasionally impatient. But what defines him and makes him different than Gao and most other men I have been around is that he likes and wants to talk. Plus, he's never still for long. But he's still now. And calm. Maybe the calmest I've ever seen him.
"'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife,'" Peeta whispers as he stares at the wall of the cave, his pointing finger tracing down a crack in the stone. They are some of the clearest and most confident words I've ever heard him speak in my language. He turns to me and leans his forehead against mine pulling me closer before he continues, "and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.'"
I watch the emotions crossing his face, a little confused.
"That's from the Bible. I had a Bible in Chinese at home. My grandmother gave it to me," he says, back to his usual, simpler manner of speaking in Chinese. "People read that at weddings," he explains. "I couldn't say it to you yesterday."
He looks disappointed with himself.
"I am glad you could say it now," I tell him, boldly dropping a small kiss on his lips.
"I mean it," he says, sitting up suddenly. "I want it to be true. I don't want anybody or anything to separate us. Not the war. Not other people."
"And you believe God has joined us together?" I ask him.
"I asked Him," Peeta says quietly. "I did do that yesterday."
The look on his face draws me in, and I lean into his arms where he tightens his grasp on my waist.
"We have to make plans," he says. "Plans to make sure we are always together."
He sounds so worried, so sincere.
"I'll help you if you tell me what we need to do," I offer.
"I need some things I can use to draw a map, Cai."