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Music: "Truly, Madly, Deeply" by Ray LaMontagne.


Katniss

When I wake up, I see a star. Two stars. They're blue and glittering with tears.

It's Peeta. He's hovering over me. He's blubbering, anguish and relief gripping his features. I don't understand what the problem is. The morning sky is clear, the air is balmy, and the sea laps at my toes. The boy I love is here, holding me as droplets fall from his nose and splash onto my cheeks. Even better, his soaked shirt clings to the hard contours of his body.

Oh, how I adore my imagination. I've had dreams of him before, but they were never this real. I savor the fantasy, hoping to reserve it in my memory, so that I can use it in a story the next time we're at our beach.

But in this dream, we must have been swimming. And something must have gone wrong for Peeta to be this distraught. I'm sure it was my fault, whatever it was. I long to comfort him, apologize for making him worry, but I'm weak, pinned down by exhaustion. My throat is parched, my hair is in tangled clumps, and my splayed limbs are trembling. I feel limp as seaweed. So instead, I gesture toward the ocean and think something that he reads within my expression. It makes him chuckle in between watery gasps of breath.

"Oh, Katniss," he sputters. "Y-you were dead. Your h-h-heart s-s-stopped."

Really? How dramatic. I'm not keen on having to be rescued, though delight swirls in me when he leans over and kisses the spot where my heart beats.

My heart stopped, did it? That must be why my chest feels like it's been battered repeatedly. I can only muster enough strength to pat his wet head. It's okay. It's working again.

I want to say this aloud, yet the words hide in my throat. I'm inconsolable when he crawls away, depriving me of his warmth. I whimper in protest, but he shushes me, promising to come right back. It seems to take forever because I drift off, my vision blurring to a prism of greens and yellows. Then I'm being lifted from the ground, which makes me sad. I was comfortable lying there.

Though I'm not too sad as I sink into Peeta's arms, my cheek lolling against his skin. His pulse quickens as he walks a short distance and lays me down once more, onto a smooth but hard surface. A dark rocky ceiling arcs above me. Where did it come from? Who put that ceiling there?

Where is my waterlily? I'd pinned one in my hair for the protest, an orange one, the petals fanning out and curling at the tips. It's a native Panem bloom, but it had taken me ages searching through foliage to pick the right one. Peeta had once said that I remind him of that flower, ever since he took that picture of me by a waterlily pond after school. The bloom I'd finally found was lovely, his favorite color, and I'd plucked it from the forest, hoping it would bring me luck. I secured it in my hair, just behind my ear, but now as I comb though the nest of tresses, I can't feel it. It's gone. I've lost it.

Peeta begins touching me. His touches are cautious but hurried. The breeze tickles my clammy skin, and I feel myself being stripped of fabric, layers of it hastily peeled from my curves. The freedom of it is nice, though it would be better if I were still wearing my waterlily. I miss it terribly. I'm rolling my head from side to side and making low, needy noises. The urge to hum a song until the flower materializes is so great, but Peeta's hands are now on my cheeks, stroking them as he whispers something. I don't know what he's saying, but his tone is a soft current passing through me.

When I go quiet, his shape moves from my line of sight. I close my eyes, which feels nice. My ears pick up on some rustling sounds coming from him, like he's baring himself too. It's a possibility that I wouldn't have dared imagine. Knowing that I hardly deserve this sort of dream, I wait for the moment when I'll awaken.

A flurry of spectral images and sensations confuse me. His clothes and my clothes laid to rest in the sun. The cavernous walls that surround us. Grains of sand cover my thighs and dry in my hair. I hear his footsteps leaving, then silence for a long time, and then his footsteps return. His breathing is heavy, and he starts hitting something hard, then I hear him cursing and hitting whatever it is again, over and over. Coconut water is poured into my mouth, taking pity on my parched tongue. My ribs expand as I guzzle. Peeta's heat envelops me as he collapses by my side, carefully scooping up my body and holding me close. I smell melted sugar as he murmurs things that dissolve into the air.

A thick, syrupy blackness draws me into its well, engulfing the rest of my consciousness. I melt into oblivion and find bliss. It's dark everywhere, and yet it's a comfort. Too much of a comfort. I begin to question whether trusting the dark is wise. I was doing something the last time I plummeted like this. I was...I was swimming. No, I was drowning. The ocean had tricked me.

I'm submerged within nothingness. I'm beneath the surface of the ocean. I've let the water woo me. Oh, God. Have I drowned? Am I dead? Or can I still save myself?

I try to fight my way out of the sea. Pumping my arms and legs, I swim upward against the suction, until I'm blowing through the surface and splitting the blackness apart.

My lips flap open. I lurch upright, my muscles tensing. My bones ache from some source of exertion. My fingers and knees quiver as if I haven't used them in ages. I feel haggard and used beyond my limitations, like a shredded sail.

A dream. It was only a dream. I'm in a cave that opens up to the beach, the sand stretching out from the entrance and leading toward the sea, the white froth of the waves reflected under the stars. Night has fallen. How long have I been asleep? Where exactly is this cave? I don't recognize this coastline or this cavern, though I get the sense that I should know it somehow.

Heat brims from my left, where a fire crackles within a tiny circle of rocks, with branches and coconut husks used to fuel the flames. It was constructed by an amateur, but it's serviceable nevertheless. I lick my chapped lips, vaguely recalling drinking sweetened water, and spot two pairs of coconut shells lying empty on the ground. They're green, which means they were young and fresh with liquid. There's also a flat, sharp rock beside them, perhaps used to break them open.

Large leaves are tucked beneath me. Palm fronds form a haphazard bed and keep the sand away from my naked body. I jolt at the sight of my bare limbs and breasts in the weak orange light. My head snaps up, searching until I locate my dress laid out on a rock, next to a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. I nearly miss the delicate puff of breath against my hip, I'm so baffled by my nudity. I twist to discover the source. And every secret physical part of me flares to life.

Peeta is here, sharing my makeshift pallet. He's not wearing clothes either.

His shape is beautiful. Because I lack the willpower to restrain myself, my eyes focus on the spot between his legs, putting my previous fantasies of him to shame. It's soft but glorious, the sight of it causing me to ache all over. My gaze feasts on him, moving onto the expanse of his stomach, the whipcord muscles rising and falling with his breaths, the belly button that I'd like to tickle, the fine hairs curling up his legs. I cannot resist touching him, my fingers skating over the splendid tilt of his hipbone.

He smacks his lips in his sleep. It brings me to my senses. Nothing happened between us, I'm certain. We must have washed up here, and he must have stripped us, believing it was best not to sleep in wet clothes. Still, that doesn't mean he would like what I'm doing while he's unconscious.

After tracing the fan of his lashes, I lumber to my feet and stumble out of the cave on jellied limbs, crossing to where the tide meets the shore. The beach is horn-shaped, lit by the constellations poking white holes in the sky. It looks to be a small cove. Where though? I've never been here.

Squinting toward the east, I make out the scattering of lights from the mainland and my village. We're not impossibly far from there but still enough of a distance away, with cliffs separating us, that swimming back would be too dangerous. Only a boat would make it here. I survey the area, the waves bumping together and ramming into the cliffs.

And I know. I know where I am. I've stared at this cove from my beach so many times. I must truly be dazed, because there's no other explanation for why it didn't dawn on me sooner. This is the cove where my parents made me, the spot that Mama once said they came to on one special day. I've always known of this place and yearned to see it, but I could never bring myself to venture here. After Papa's death, I feared how much the memories would hurt. Even now, a flood of images crowd into my heart.

Suddenly, I remember what happened this morning. I dove into the ocean, hoping to swim off my troubles, and I saw Primrose. She was waiting for me, and I drifted without thinking, and I almost reached her. I almost had her. It had seemed so real. Yet it hadn't been. I lost her for a second time.

My knees hit the sand. I hunch over, flattening my palms on the ground. The tears break through and pour down my face, my gasps getting louder by the second. Beyond the waves, I hear his feet pounding toward me. I want to sprint away so he won't see me like this, but I'm no match for the other desire winding around my heart. The desire for him to see the worst of me.

"Heyheyhey," he says, landing by my side and capturing me in his arms. "Katniss, it's all right. You're all right. Shh."

"Peeta," I cry. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I drowned."

"No, Katniss, that's not your fault."

"Primrose" I try to explain. "I was swimming, and I saw Primrose, and I thought, and I..."

And I'd been wrong. In the ocean, my sister had called my name, but I realize now that it hadn't been her voice. It hadn't even sounded like her. It had sounded distressed rather than playful, and much deeper, like a male voice. Something tells me that the shout I'd heard was in fact Peeta. He must have seen me swimming. He saved me.

Everything I'm trying to communicate, he understands without words. He rubs my back, telling me that I don't need to say more about what happened. That he knows.

It's a novelty, how we cling to one another naked while I weep and he whispers. But I don't want to shh anymore. I've already spoken to him, whispered his name in the dark, and I won't hold back anymore. I cry until I've drained myself of each bad dream, each second the ocean had pulled me under. I cry until I return to the surface. The sobs ebb to hiccups, the hiccups to gulps.

I tilt my head back and watch him as his thumbs swipe the last of my grief aside. My throat is raw, but I cannot say whether it's from the crying, or the aftereffects of swallowing heaps of seawater, or from speaking after so long, or from his nearness. Or maybe it's from all of that.

There is so much to question. How had he managed to get to the beach before the ocean claimed me? Where has he been? Did he see the mob? Or did Finnick find him? Is everyone okay?

Intuition says the ones who matter are fine. As safe as Peeta and I are. Also, the look in his eyes affirms that I have no need to worry. That my life hasn't ended, that it can be better, and for the first time, I believe it. That's what Primrose would want. That's what I want.

The past eighteen months lift from me like a weight. My little sister's gone but still sweet in my memory. Meanwhile, I have myself. I have Peeta.

He swallows, reading my mind as he does so well. "You're a dreamer. You're an island flower and a symbol for your people. You like to sleep with a nightlight. You never drink coffee. You always braid a thin lock of your hair." One more swallow. "And everyone loves you."

Everyone. My neighbors, friends, the rest of my family are still alive, still with me. And even if Peeta doesn't feel this love, even if he was referring everyone but himself, his feelings almost match my own. I discovered that when we danced, heard it in the words he spoke. I don't want to forget.

And why should we? We matter to each other.

Tonight, his arms are here to comfort me. And...and also...

He captures the inside of my wrist and skims it with his lips. It brings me back to the night in my bed when he confessed how my wrists had struck him on his first day, when he saw them red and raw and in shackles.

I thought to myself, that it was the only place where you weren't strong. I wanted to touch you here. To make you feel better, or maybe to explore what a wound felt like on you, or both, I don't know. I guess I hoped that I could comfort you somehow and sort of confirm that you were more vulnerable than you seemed. But it was a mistake to think that I could fix you. Your wrists healed on their own.

They did heal, and yet here he is, covering them with his lips. Simply because he wants to.

There is no one to interrupt us but us. His eyes are luminous, wide awake and blue-blue-blue. They travel from my face to my feet, and my body squirms, my chest pumping into his chest, his pulse beating with my own. The impact is all-consuming. I crave his gravely moans against my skin, our legs linked and going wild, and kiss me, please kiss me, kiss all of me.

He does. His mouth brushes my cheekbone, sweeps across my skin to peck my earlobe, then down, yes down, to the indentation beneath my jaw, where he sighs, and I sigh with him. Then please yes, his soft kisses coast across my neck, marking a path along my shoulder. He kisses my nose, my eyebrows. I tilt my head for more, and his eyes open on me. We inhale together, nearer, yes nearer, so that our bottom lips graze. The contact makes us shudder. So much and yet not enough. Come here and please end this. And start this. Kiss me. Yes, kiss me.

"Kiss me," I whisper.

At last. He frames my face, his gaze locking onto me as he gathers his wits and then leans in. And his mouth catches mine.

Fire. Wind. I feel both. We rise to our knees, arms wrapping around each other, our lips yielding, moving with a slow but crazed sweetness made of months and days and hours and minutes. His tongue seeks me out. With each flick, I burn. He tastes of airy things like sunshine and time itself. I want to live in this kiss and never stop. Never stop.

He stops. He pulls away too soon, inhaling unsteadily. "We shouldn't," he rasps.

I blink my way back to earth. "Shouldn't?"

For a second, I think he means that we have no protection, but that can't be it, because Gale Hawthorne once boasted to Peeta that Panem girls are safe, because we get shots at sixteen. To my astonishment, it isn't until my gaze drifts to his chest that I remember Madge, and only because I see that his necklace is missing. Perhaps he lost it in the water. Perhaps it's adding to his guilt. After all, wasn't he with her while I was swimming? If so, what brought him to my rescue?

My palm presses against his skin, where the necklace used to hang. The possibilities churn my stomach, filling me with the worst kind of dread, butI have to know, I need to know... "What happened?"

His hand covers my own. "I took it off. Madge went home."

I go absolutely still. This is not what I expected, never what I expected, because I'd given up on expecting. So all I can do is ask, "Why?"

Beneath our fingers, his heartbeat crashes like a wave. "Because you said my name," he replies.

That answer is a sunset. It's each glance I stole when he didn't notice. It's each time I reached out to touch him when he wasn't looking, then pulled back just before he caught me. It's each time I had to leave the room. It's each time I wanted, but he didn't want back. It's all of that in reverse, like another chance.

"Finnick is gone, too." It would be odd saying this much at once, talking of important things, if I weren't so determined for Peeta to know them. "At the protest, we said goodbye."

I don't need to explain further, not with him. His mouth goes slack for a moment. "Why?"

I smile. "Because I said your name."

A relieved exhalation falls from his lips. It's rare to see him speechless.

"So why must we stop?" I ask.

Our hands haven't moved from his chest. He squeezes them tightly. "This place is. You almost..."

Died. I almost died. He's worried this is the wrong night and place for us, so soon after what happened.

No. It's not the wrong night. I may have been in shock after he saved me, and I may have broken down, but as the tears have subsided, I feel hopeful, released from the past. I want to celebrate. I'm not ashamed, in spite of how we got here.

"Peeta," I begin.

His eyes narrow in a wonderful way. "God, Katniss. Your voice."

He wants my voice. He will have it. "You're a baker," I say. "You're a painter and a fine swimmer. You like to sleep with the window open. You never take sugar in your tea and you hate hot peppers. You always double-knot your shoelaces." I hold fast to his gaze and murmur, "And this is real."

With a sigh of defeat, his mouth swoops down onto mine again. The world spins. I dissolve under his kiss, the angle of his jaw as he grabs my face and fastens me to him, prying my lips apart without delay and stroking my palate with his tongue. The effect is a liquid throbbing from between my legs. I clasp his shoulders and open wider for him.

Peeta makes a shrill wanting sound in his throat. I whimper against his pliant tongue, my fingers diving into the nook where his hair meets his nape, pulling on the blond curls while his head moves attentively with my own.

He tears his mouth away, and I crane my head back as he sucks his way down the tendon of my neck, descending to the curve where it meets my shoulder, drawing it into his mouth until I'm inconsolable. This gets him even more worked up, and he sucks harder, and I get more vocal.

He veers back and gives me a dark, smoldering look. The light from the stars and half-moon reveal the patches of sand scattered over his neck and waist, his nose red from the sun, and his windblown hair. A golden wild child.

My eyes settle on his lips, silently asking for more. His answer is an affirmative groan. He seizes my hips, and his lips knot with mine yet again, our tongues whipping together impatiently. And then we're sinking to the ground. I don't care that we're stranded. I don't care that we won't make it back to the cave, nor that we're getting sandy.

The sea rushes forward to pool around our thighs before retreating. We're eager, panting and grappling to get as near as possible. He pulls me onto his lap, my legs split and wind around him. He's stiff against me, and the sight of him like this, and the contact of it, rubbing, rubbing, sends a white flash of heat through my body.

Peeta cups my breasts, staring at them, captivated. Swearing under his breath, he lets go, palms my ass, and hefts me upward so that my chest is level with his mouth. Clutching the nape of his neck, I fling my head back, the ends of my hair skirting the water, my nipples pebbled and aching. One by one, he draws the peaks into his mouth, lapping at them with his tongue.

"Peeta," I chant. "Peeta."

As soon as I begin, he makes it his mission to conquer my voice, sucking me into a near faint, intent on hearing all the different ways I can gasp his name. Neither of us is able to withstand the friction going on below though, the intimacy of me writhing against his abdomen. The second he releases me, he twists us around to lay me on the damp sand.

I'm in a hurry. I need him much, much closer. Even so, Peeta's hands beg to touch, his expression silently pleading, Let me.

Let him. Let him touch.

He's all fingers and lips on my collarbone, my stomach, the arch of my feet. He fluctuates between immersing himself in the task and checking my reactions often, as though I'll dissolve if handled wrong.

Experimentally, he cups his hand and collects water, then lets each droplet splash onto parts of me that twitch with need. They land on my nipples. They trickle between my legs, at the peak where all my nerves gather. Peeta concentrates on that place, scooping up more of the sea and...one drop...two drops...right where I'm throbbing. I whine as another bead of water dissolves into me, then another falls from his fingertip and shimmies down my center. It's the most erotic thing I've ever experienced. But...but...

"But I can't wait," I say. "Please. Now."

Smiling, Peeta uses his thumb to dab my lips with saltwater and then gives me another kiss before settling on top of me. We may be clumsy, him fumbling to align us, me mapping his body with impatient hands, trying to decide what part I'd like hold onto and constantly changing my mind. But there's no more uncertainty. The two of us shake with nerves and anticipation.

He tries to aim, then meets my eyes. Show me.

Let him. Show him.

Our whimpers collide as I grab him and guide him, and we angle our hips, watching together as he disappears inside me. And pivots all the way. And oh, the fullness of him. Ohhh.

Peeta's back arches as a long-suffering noise escapes him, something like a strangled cry, and it goes on and on. He tries to speak, but all that comes out is a flood of incoherence. I grab his face and make him look down at me. Our eyes meet, and his are rapturous, and I think mine are too. That's how we remain, fixated on one another.

My American boy trembles from within, hinting that he needs to move. I want to devour him, but I struggle to control myself, because he hasn't done this as often as I have. He needs help, otherwise he may not last.

Once he settles, I flatten my feet on the ground and raise my pelvis into him, jutting up and down to suggest a sinuous rhythm. When I do, his mouth falls open and high-pitched groans, soft but laborious, topple from his lips. He sounds surprised by his own pleasure.

"Do you feel it?" I moan.

He nods frantically and loses himself in my slick limbs, his head landing on my shoulder, where he bites down. I'm doing this to him. It's me. No one else.

After a few moments, he catches on, synchronizing with me, allowing my legs to give out and wind around him. He hoists himself onto his elbows, cradling my face close to his, slanting into me from a new angle that tingles my spine. The change in position has us both panting. He withdraws and pitches forward, then does it again, and again, and yes, again.

And then. Suddenly. His tip hits a narrow spot inside me.

We let loose. Our bodies go wild, speeding up and chasing that tiny spot.

Peeta has always been what people would call a nice boy. But in this cove, with the sand at my back and his body stroking through mine, he's not moving like a nice boy. He's moving in a passionate, tireless way, his pace ripping my voice from my body. I clasp his lower back, the hot glide of his length sending me to a new plateau.

"Oh...oh God," I mewl. "My...my God. Oh...Peeta."

I'm unsure how much more either of us can handle. Yet we stare at each other. We sense it, the need for more, more, more. He falls against me, and by now we are shouting over the waves, with the water charging around us and our wet hips pushing and pulling. Everything is slippery and warm. The surf is in my ears as Peeta's weight moves over me, his body stealing my breath.

Peeta squints, quietly beseeching, Finish me.

Let him. Show him. Finish him.

I'm spread out, twisting in the sand, and reaching, reaching. One final thrust, and I seize him. He goes still, his mouth parting on a silent moan, and I catch his lips and tongue. That's what ends me, the taste of him succumbing to it. I join him, the pleasure pitching me off the sand. Gone. Utterly gone.

We collapse. His head lands on my chest, his lips resting at the top of my breast. I could do this with him forever, unraveling him like this. It wasn't long, yet it was an eternity.

Peeta rises to look at me, to see how I am, if I enjoyed myself. He's flushed, a little drugged, pink-painted cheeks and masculine glee. There's wonder, hope, and more than that. I see those two blue stars again, glowing and taking up every spare inch of my heart. As if it can't get any better, his hands find my wrists again, his features reverent as he caresses me there. The reason is not lost on me, nor its effect. It tells me that I'm his and right here, right now he's mine. Like we promised, we protect each other.


All my gratitude to Chelzie and Court81981 for helping me reach the heart of this chapter, for kicking my author-ass when I needed it, and for being stars in my night sky. I couldn't have done it without you guys.

I'm at: andshewaits (d0t) tumblr (d0t) com.