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Before Dawn

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Chapter 10- Storm

“When did it start again?” I whisper as his thumb slides over mine, sending tingles down my arm.

“Honestly…” he looks up at me, eyes serious. “I don’t really think it ever stopped. I mean, after what Snow did to me…it was like there was another part of me. There was the hijacked part, which gradually got quieter, but there was always the old me in there. And the quieter the hijacked part got, the louder my feelings for you.”

I nod softly, studying him in the window’s light. Unruly hair, pink cheeks- it’s like we were always were, except a note different. Never before have we both been on the same page like this.

“Urgh, you guys are so sappy I think the cheesebuns are coming back up.” Johanna stalks back into the room, and I leap back, recoiling from Peeta as though we were doing more than just holding hands. His eyes rake me up and down in my peripheral vision, and my face burns.

Afterwards, in the woods, Peeta had taken my hand and we had endured more than one of Johanna’s brazen comments when she had conveniently reappeared from around the corner. We didn’t talk much, though I fought my grin the entire way back, and now we sit here, trying to get our bearings.

I am surprised at how afraid I am. We are both broken, both fractured remains of people, and fixing what we have is not going to be easy.

And I’ve never given myself to him before. Not deliberately, not as a conscious decision. I don’t want this to go wrong, to lose him. Everything feels fragile these days.

So I take a deep breath and edge a little closer to him again, and Johanna screws up her nose. “Urgh, I’m going back upstairs.” She turns on her heel and leaves.

“Well, I hope she makes it to the bathroom.” Peeta says after a moment of stunted silence, and I bite my lip to control my smile.

 


 

It is not an easy thing at first, being with Peeta. I’m so unsure of myself, my body much too breakable to contain such a feverous feeling, and for the first few days, we are as awkward as two hormonal high school kids. After all that I’ve seen, and all that I’ve done, it amazes me that such an innocent thing can reduce me to the blushing and clumsy creature that existed all those years ago.

We wave Johanna off at the station a few days later, and despite all the eye-rolling and sarcastic remarks, I can tell that she is happy for us, see it in the smile she tries to hide as the train starts to roll away, its body blurring into an indistinct mix of metal.

Afterwards, Peeta starts to head back, and I go with him. “What are you doing?” I ask as we pass the remnants of the town edges, with are starting to resemble themselves more and more. There are flowers, sprouting from china pots and more often, wooden barrels, buckets, even teacups. I blink as a drop of rain plops straight on my eyelash.

“I was thinking of going to check out Haymitch, see how he’s doing. You?”

I shrug. “I’ll come with you.”

“What’s with all the flowers?” I ask after a moment, eyeing the cream-coloured sweet pea in a liquor bottle on our left.

“Not quite sure.” Says Peeta. “Think it’s some sort of remembrance thing. Each for a different loved one.”

I swallow, thinking of the Primroses he planted back home. My vision starts to get a little glassy, and I press my lips together. I reach for his hand, and he looks up in my direction.

“I want to do something.” I murmur . “For…for her. Something proper. In the woods.”

I meet his gaze and he nods. “We can go tomorrow?”

And we do. I take him out into the most beautiful place I can think of, the only place that can ever be good enough, pure enough, sacred enough, for her. And so though she had never been there, I lead Peeta to The Lake.

The water is still, silent this morning, barely glittering as it comes into view. Wildflowers and grasses blossom and flourish from the sides, all around us, and the blue-toned grass gradients into soft mud, which disappears beneath the mirror- like surface of the water ahead.

We could never afford gravestones here in 12. They were a luxury, only for those who could afford to spend good money on such symbols and materialistic respect. The rich even died in extravagance.

But we, as the poor, made do. And so I suppose the value of physical items began to fade, especially once we found they were not needed to express ourselves. But people still used rocks, bits of concrete, a handful of wildflowers, a sprinkle of spice if they could afford it. The food was symbolic- a prayer that the loved one would never be hungry again, no matter where they were going.

I have my gravestone.

It is a stone, pale pink in the sunlight, the surface rough and gravelly. I run my fingers over it, and close my eyes. There- I spent hours engraving it in, using Haymitch’s knife and a larger rock- and I smooth my fingers over the shallow indention.

P.E.

Primrose Everdeen.My sister.

And this is where she shall rest.

I make my way over to a spot under a large oak tree, its leaves draping over us like a veil. It’s right next to the lake and daisies, round-leaved mints, wild cyclamens and sowbreads blossom here. And, of course, dandelions.

The shade casts a lacey pattern across the grass, meandering through golden sunshine with practiced grace. Peeta looks at me and I nod, so he digs the shovel I asked him to bring into the ground at the base of the tree, emptying out a shallow dip. I sit the rock into it, the initials facing up. Peeta did a good job. It looks just like it was meant to be there.

I kneel on the ground before it, tracing my fingers over its edges and bumps. “Don’t cry,” she might say if she was here. “It’s really very pretty here, this place. I’ve always wanted to learn to swim.”

I bite my lip to force back a choking sound in the back of my throat as hot tears brim over and begin to roll down my cheeks. “Now,” I try to whisper. “Now, you can meet Rue, and all the others. She would have loved you. She- she…”

I break off as a wail wrenches up through me, the sound keening and distant and strange, and I feel myself shaking uncontrollably. Peeta is beside me, an arm around me, gentle, warm, but it doesn’t matter, not right now, because I need to feel this.

This. This sensation of my lungs shredding like paper, the twisting and yanking and tearing of my stomach. The way I feel it, under my tongue, buried behind my voice box, hovering inside the hollow of my eye sockets. Dust has settled into my bones, sour tears blistering their way through my flesh. I feel it. I feel all of it.

“I’m sorry,” I get out, forcing my voice towards my blurry vision of the rock, her initials disappearing in a fresh wave of tears. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to cry, I didn’t mean to.” And then I crumble, in Peeta’s arms, and he holds me as wave after wave hits me, crashing through my middle, drowning me in that feeling, the pure, shattered sensation that is loss, and I lose her again, all over again, in these moments.

“I miss her.” I whisper afterwards, once the storm has finally relented so that I may breathe again, and I close my eyes.

“I know.” He says.

“Every day.” And then it all comes out.

“I miss her when I wake up in the morning, and the right side of the bed is empty. I miss her when I go downstairs for breakfast, and she doesn’t walk in, carrying Buttercup and a jar of goat’s cheese and giggling at me. I miss her when I sit down by the windowsill, and she isn’t there, and she doesn’t come over and join me on the opposite side, asking me what’s on my mind. I miss her when I get dressed, and I can’t tuck in the back of her shirt, because she isn’t there, because there is no shirt to tuck in. And…and I go and eat lunch and dinner and talk to you and check on Haymitch and practice my archery and call Dr. Aurelius and get ready for bed, and then I stand there, I stand there staring at my bed because it doesn’t make sense, Peeta. It doesn’t make sense. Because she is supposed to be there. And I can’t see how I am still here, when she’s not.”

His hands roam up and down my spine softly, smoothly, and then he says,

“I know.”

I sit up so that I can see his face, and I look him in the eye, smoothing my thumb across his cheekbone as I hold him, and what I see, what I see makes it better. I exhale, my breath shuddery and weak, and his hands snake up to hold my back, just beneath my shoulder blades, and I lean forward, resting my forehead against his as I close my eyes.

“I know.” He whispers, and I hold him close.

 


 

That night when I close my eyes, finally relenting to my body’s basic need at an unreasonable hour, I know that I will see her. And I do.

The world is cream and silk, golden sunshine blinking in my eyes, and when I look out we are on a tall hill, green and fresh, glorious mountains rising out beneath us, the wild wind dancing through our hair. Her’s is gold, beautiful in the sunlight, and it is winded back into a thick plait, swinging down her bare back. The white sheets billow around her and I realise it is her dress, floating out and caressing her pale skin. She looks around, eyes two blue crystals inlaid beneath her lashes, and smiles gently as she sees me.

“Prim?” I gasp roughly, reaching out for her.

She turns to face me, a few strands of hair escaping her plait.

“Katniss.”

“Oh, Prim! I love you, I’m so sorry I-“

“No, Katniss.” She says softly. “Don’t be sad.” She reaches up, her hand caressing my cheek, and for the first time ever in a dream, I can actually feel her touch, warm and silky and so real.

“I wanted to say goodbye.”

An iron hand clenches around my heart.

“No, Prim, please don’t leave, please don’t leave me, I need you, I miss you so much.”

“Katniss, I love you. I don’t want to see you sad.” Her voice is soft and melodic, notes tiptoeing across the strands of wind towards me.

“Then come back, please, come back.” I choke, the wetness in my eyes brimming over.

She shakes her head sadly, then gives me a reassuring smile.

“I’m alright.” She says. “Don’t you worry no more, love. I’m at peace now, Katniss…”

“…But you’re not.”

I clutch her hand, holding it delicately in mine.

“Katniss, let go now.”

I shake my head resolutely, tears pouring down my face as I tighten my hold.

“Katniss.” She rests a hand over mine, and smiles at me. “I love you. Trust me.”

She looks deep into my eyes, and I stare at her, until I slowly, slowly, loosen up a little, hesitating.

She nods, and I release my hold a little more. “That’s right.” She says, skirts flying in the wind. “It’s okay.”

I feel her hand pulling away from mine, the gentle slide of her skin as she steps back. “That’s right.” She says, and I’m frozen, paralysed as I watch her move away. My hand goes limp, and she tugs hers out.

“Let me go,” she whispers, and I wake.


 

“Are you okay?”

There’s a clunk as Peeta sits his mug on the wooden table, closely followed by the scraping of chair legs on stone. I nod vaguely, staring out of the large window to my left.

“Katniss?”

I look up to see Peeta staring at me with concern etched into his expression. He purses his lips as he studies me. “Did you have another nightmare?”

I sigh and look down at my lap. “Prim.” I tell him feebly.

I feel a warm hand cover mine, and I look up again.

“…Would you like to go for a walk?” he asks after a moment, and I nod.

The garden’s grown wild. I can see that, apart from the primroses, weeds and long grasses have overtaken the lawn, bursts of colour sprouting up spontaneously in various corners. Peeta takes my hand as we walk past the row of houses, and an odd sense of déjà vu washes over me. Before I can grasp hold of the sensation however, Peeta’s voice interrupts my thoughts.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

I shake my head, and squeeze his hand tighter between us, as if I am a body being thrown out at sea, and he is my safety- line. I feel him swing our clasped limbs back and forth, frowning absentmindedly as he walks, and then I turn abruptly, stopping so that I am face to face with him. He stills, almost walking straight into me. “Katniss?” he asks.

“Just hold me.” I whisper and feel his arms enclose around me as I do, pulling me flush against his body. I can feel his chest rise and fall as he breathes, breathe the smell of his clean cotton top. I wrap my arms around him too, securing him to me to the best of my strength, and then, I close my eyes.

 


 

She’s everywhere.

Down the corridor. Behind the curtains. At my back, in the mirror. I see her. Feel her. In my bones, deep, etched into every pore on my skin. She’s there.

She’s always there.


 

“You need to say goodbye, kid.”

Haymitch swings his bottle through the air and it lands with a thunk on a neighboring table. He presses his feet onto the ground and rocks back slightly in his arm-chair, eyeing me with a surprisingly gentle expression.

“They don’t come back. You know that - not now, not ever. But…”

He gestures to the spot over his heart, stained by drink and filth.

“They don’t ever leave you either. Not really. Not where it matters.”

A grubby hand reaches out for the bottle beside his chair as he speaks, and that’s when it occurs to me that Haymitch is not the hypocrite I so often judged him for, but just the broken remains of a good man. An images that got distorted through shattered glass.

“You know how to survive without the important things, sweetheart. But you never quite figured out how to live.”

 

Peeta spies me as I‘m leaving Haymitch’s.

“How are you?” he asks on greeting, immediately wrapping his hand around mine. I smile constrainedly up at him, watching the way his golden curls fall into his face.

“Good, I think. Better.”

“That’s good.” He breathes, a slight tone of relief hidden in his voice, and as we make it over the threshold as my house to prepare dinner, he runs his thumb over my hair.


 

 

He smells of freshly-washed linen, and of icing sugar and man. That rich, natural scent intoxicates me, leaves me drunk and aching with want. I reach out, calling his name, and he is by my side.

“Touch me,” I whisper, and he does.

He peels off my clothes for me, smoothing his hands over and over my burning skin, and at my request, sheds his clothes just as quickly, until we are both bare. He leads me to the bed, walking me backwards until my knees hit the edge, and then he lays me down, hovering above me. I run my fingertips over his apple-skin lips, the fan of his lashes, down his chin and jawline, across his collarbone, and then further still. I trace the contours of his chest, the scattering of freckles across his pale, milky skin, the golden dusting of hair beneath his belly-button. He gives a quick intake of breath at that, and fire rushes through me and pools right there, at my center, as I listen.

I part my legs and wind them around his waist, my breathing ragged, my heartbeat erratic and ungodly fast. He lowers down to me, his lips finding my neck for purchase, his warm breath and wet kisses worshipping my skin, and then I feel his teeth graze my collarbone as he pulls and sucks at the flesh there. I’m sure I’ll be bruised, and I smile to myself, because my body is so marked already by war and pain that it would be an honor to have a memoir from him.

Desire is coursing through my body so strong it almost hurts, yet this is the sweetest form of torture imaginable, as his lips make their path down my chest, between my breasts, across my stomach and down, down, down, so unbelievably low, and then his mouth meets its destination, and sweet god, this is-

I gasp, sitting up so suddenly my head spins. The room is dim, walls coated in a shade of dull honey-an indicator that the day is far from beginning- and the sheets are twisted haphazardly around me. My heart stutters as the realization hits me.

I close my eyes, trying to unclutter the whirlpool of emotion in me, but it’s impossible, completely out of my grasp as the memory circles so clearly in my mind. Me and Peeta, Peeta and I, naked and…I blush even harder as I recall the thought.

My body is drenched in a layer of sweat, my night-clothes sticking to my body, and I run my hands over my face, feeling how hot the skin is. I swallow thickly.

Disappointment? Yes, there is definitely that, the loss of such euphoria that was so real only moments before devastating…I find there’s a distinctly different ache in the region of my chest.

Shame? Oh, it is there, certain and steady, a sinking sliding sensation down my stomach. Coupled with the mortification, I am forced to bury my face in my hands for a few minutes.

And then there is desire. So real, so rich, spreading through all my limbs like a drug, warmth flowing out from an epi-center that feels surprisingly close to my heart. I pry my hands free from my face and let them fall to my sides.

I want to do something for Peeta. I want to do something right now.

I scrub sleep out of my eyes, tumbling out of bed in my haste, and walk straight over to my closet. I have very few clothes, and a rather ugly voice from inside of me whispers that there isn’t anything that I can do to make myself pretty anyway, but I don’t care, because today I am feeling determined. I rummage through the closet until I come across a plain white dress, breezy and not at all the old-me, and smile, pulling it from its hanger.

I walk over to the mirror and hold it out in front of me. It is pearl-white, the material rumpled around the open neckline and falls to just above my knees. I glance up, thinking it too bright against my skin tone, and that’s when I see it. Bright eyes, shining like glass in the dim lighting, red, swollen lips and flushed cheeks. I look…alive.

I stare, entranced by own reflection. The girl in the mirror, the girl in the mirror…I still don’t know her, but now, she is someone I would like to meet. Yes, the bags under the eyes are still there, yes, her skin is still a poorly designed patchwork mess, yes, her mouth is still turned down, lips still chapped. But…but now, instead of looking like some ghost caught up in between life and death, she looks radiant. Brave. Flames yet to be extinguished.

If this is what Peeta can do to me, I’m going to stick by his side for as long as possible.

I pull off my nightgown and make my way into the shower, hot water chasing away foamy bubbles chasing away the memories of apple skin lips as I smooth my hands over my skin. I step out, and towel off my entangled hair, now smelling of sweet shampoo and dampness. Tucking the large white towel firmly under my armpits, I head back into the bedroom.

The dress is soft against my skin, as if it were spun from the clouds themselves. It gives me curves, a luxury I’ve never before enjoyed, and I smile to myself. I sit down at the dressing table and run a brush through my hair. Facing the mirror, I curl a few strands around my index finger, and let it fall to my shoulders, a curtain of black against the white. Then I pick up a small bottle from the Capitol, unhook the lid, and run the rose-tinted grease across my lips.

There.

I sit for a few moments, silently staring back at my reflection, and then my face breaks into a sort of crazed grin, and I rush off to prepare everything else.

I have a plan in mind.

Once in the kitchen I pull out loaves of bread, a block of cheese, some lettuce and a couple tomatoes. I rinse the lettuce and tomatoes under cold water, humming beneath my breath as I do, and then take a long bread knife and slice the loaves into what my Father used to call “doorstoppers”. I place the thick slices on the chopping board and begin to assemble the ingredients on top of half of them, before firmly squashing it all down with the other halves. Then I stand back to assess the damage.

Well, I’m no baker, but they’ll do.

I wrap them all up in napkins, tying string around the middle, and place them into a backpack. Then I rummage through the fridge, extract a large bottle of apple juice and throw in a box of cookies too.

And then I find I have nothing left to do. After running my fingers through my hair for the fifth time in the reflection of the microwave, there is no possibility of delaying any longer. So I summon up the tattered remainders of my courage, pick up my bag, and go out the door.

It’s still early. There’s a faint, crisp mist leftover from the night, rising up out of the grasses, and dew clings to the walls like teardrops. They expose the hidden spider webs spun across corners of buildings, transforming them into glittering dream catchers and jewelries, while the sun has barely risen from its bedding in the east.

My heart gives an uneven lurch.

I stand outside Peeta’s door, body trembling as if it were frozen in the wind, and struggle to grasp back my breath. There isn’t enough oxygen in my lungs, enough oxygen in the air, enough oxygen in the whole damn world for my rapidly deflating chest, and I clutch myself even tighter. Just do it already, I think, and without giving myself a second chance to escape, I rap loudly on the door.

One second… two seconds… three secon-

“Katniss?”

The door is wrenched open to reveal a haphazardly Peeta, hair ruffled and un-groomed, adorned in blue and white pajamas, with the indentation of bed sheets across his left cheek. I realise suddenly what a sight I must be, with no forewarning here on his doorstep in a dress and all dolled up, a backpack of food in my hands, at 7 o’clock in the morning. I rub my hair between my fingers self-consciously.

“Um.” I say.

He looks at me with a bemused, if slightly alarmed expression, and rubs his groggy eyes. “Um. Is everything alright?”

“Oh, yes, yes.” I reply too quickly, butterflies flurrying up my body as my memory decides now is a good time to replay my dream. I peel my eyes away from his torso as I answer him.

“It’s just-ah, I was thinking…”

“…Yes?” he inquires, an amused smile definitely in place now.

“…if you would like to go out? Into the woods? For a…for a picnic?” I gesture to the backpack wildly, a slightly insane beam fixed on my face.

“Katniss Everdeen,” he says, leaning against the side of doorway. “Are you asking me on a date at 7 in the morning?”

I glare at him. “You have 10 minutes.”

He barks out a laugh and turns away, jogging up the stairs in a comical fashion, his head whipping round to see if I’m watching. I grin as I turn and sit down on his front steps.

My heart is wild. Elation is soaking its way through my every limb- like a drug, and I feel as though I am floating. My grin grows even wider, and I have to smother my sudden round of giggles with my palm.

“Are we ready?”

I swirl around to find Peeta standing there, hair combed and wearing denim shorts, a white top and a smile. He chuckles at my expression.

I pretend to appraise him, raising my eyebrows and shrugging. “You’ll do.” I say, with a wave of my hand, and he laughs and takes my backpack from me. “Lead the way.” He orders me as I try to protest, and I roll my eyes, before walking on.

We get a sunrise. Streams of amber and blush leak across the skies, patches of fairy blue peeking out from beneath. The two of us trudge on, chatting easily as we walk, the ground soft and yielding beneath our soles. I tell him about dreams and he tells me about sub-conscious and I tell him about hunting and he tells me about expression and I tell him about passion and he tells me about baking and I laugh and tell him about stories and it goes on, until we find ourselves buried deep in the woods, encased in a haven of silence and steadiness.

“I love this.” I say quietly, staring fondly at the greenery and light all around us. I place my hand on the trunk of a tree and look back at him.

He regards me curiously.

“Tell me why.”

“What?”

“Why you love it here so much.”

“Well,” I start, slightly indignant. “What’s not to love? The whole world is ugly, rubble and poverty- except from the Capitol, which is just so fake- and here…here it’s beautiful.”

He nods, considering my words. “But what else? Is it just the beauty that draws you to it?”

I stare at him.

“No,” I begin, this time more slowly. “No, it’s…it’s the silence. And how steady it all feels. Strong. Wealthy, without the help of man, or anything else. It just grew out of the earth itself, and…overpowered it. With…life.” I pause, frowning. “And it’s so modest, I just feel…home.”

He looks at me, his lapis eyes twinkling in the sun. A fraction of a second too long. Too long to pretend to still be innocent. I feel my heart pound in my throat.

“I get it.” he murmurs, voice barely above a whisper, and I can’t help thinking, get what, exactly? Because your eyes are still burning into mine, and your breath is still raising goose bumps all over my skin, and I can just feel it, I can just feel the touch of your eyes like a hot iron poker, invisible and yet, somehow, so sweet, so pleasant, I would not hesitate to drown in their flames for a moment.

A small part of brain is aware of the fact that, objectively, we are only two metres apart, and that, objectively, we are only looking at each other, but for a moment, just a moment, every single atom in my body is convinced that he is going to kiss me.

 

“C’mon.” He says suddenly, breaking the spell. “We’ll never get there at this rate.” He grins and turns, heading onwards, and I’m left there, utterly perplexed and unable to fight the sinking sensation in my stomach. I turn, and move after him, avoiding his eyes for the rest of the journey.

The silence stops being awkward and starts being comfortable after a while, and I start to notice the way the sunshine illuminates the leaves again, the way the earth moves and bends in a familiar way, and I realise we are nearing the lake.

“Almost there.” I say, ignoring his gaze and speeding on.

The path predictably opens up, a clearing rimmed with grasses and flowers and bright sunlight spilling out across the grass and bouncing off the water, which has turned a vivid azure blue under the sky. Meadowsweets and water mints and valerian flowers brush past my heels as I stroll forward, swinging my arms childishly. I tiptoe to the edge of the water and dip my fingers in.

I sense, rather than just hear, Peeta behind me, following my footsteps tentatively, but I don’t turn. Instead, I smile deviously to myself, cup my hands, and rapidly spin around, spraying him with a handful of cool droplets.

“Hey!” he yells, stumbling back, an arm outstretched over his grin. “What was that for?”

“You should learn to be more attentive.” I tell him in mock-seriousness.

“I should learn that you are an incredibly dangerous woman.” He mutters, and I smart a little, but relax when I see his cheeky grin directed my way. He places the basket on the ground beside him, and sits, patting the space next to him expectantly. “Come on,” he says. “You can’t drag me all the way out here and not feed me afterwards.” I grin and sit beside him.

“I’m afraid I can’t provide the quality of lunch you must be expecting.” I say rummaging around the basket for sandwiches.

He shudders. “God, Katniss, you didn’t try to bake did you?”

I scowl at him, and reach out to smack him lightly on the chest, but he just laughs and leans into me.

“Anything you make me is more than good enough.” He murmurs in a low voice, his breath tickling my ear, but when I look up, hands frozen in their movements, he is smirking playfully, eyes bright and blue.

“It’ll have to be.” I reply quietly, staring him down as his smile fades away into something else, but he doesn’t move, and I still end up breaking the contact first.

After a few moments he retreats from my personal space, and I visibly relax, regaining the use of my lungs.

“So, cheese or cheese?” I ask, holding up two bundles, and he chuckles, accepting the left.

For the most part, we eat in silence, occasionally sharing a joke or commenting on the scenery, but all that I can really focus on is the short distance between our bodies, the air buzzing with energy, and scent of him, so close. When he turns to throw an apple core, my eyes are glued to his form, draped in a light white shirt, the smoothness of his pale jawline, the fluttering of his eyelashes as he squints into the sun. My head is fuzzy, unable to concentrate, my intellect gone and floating high up somewhere amongst the clouds.

“…I suppose we should head back.” He says after a while, those aquamarine eyes roaming over my face.

“We should head back.” I murmur in agreement, and he watches me intently. I stare at him, at those penetrating eyes, secrets hidden too deep inside them slowly unraveling, and then my gaze drops once again to his lips, red and soft in the morning light. Those lips were everywhere in my dream, tracing a painting onto my skin, smearing a trail of fire across the length of my limbs. They’re everywhere now, all over my mind, beguiling it into an aromatic frenzy, and when I meet those gemstones again, they are deeper than the lake we sit beside. Closer now, too, closer, and he is leaning into me, my tense yet humming body, singing with want, and I am frozen, waiting, waiting as his gaze flickers up to mine once more as if he is asking a final question.

Kiss me.

My lips part on a shaky exhale, and are captured by his on the next, soft, soft lips moving between mine. His hand reaches up to cradle my cheek, the other holding up his weight by my hip, and his mouth moves against me, giving, taking, claiming in a fervently beautiful dance stuck somewhere between desire and desperation. His breath is warm, sweet and hot as I inhale him, and I take his bottom lip and worry it between my own, grazing it lightly with my teeth. I feel, rather than hear his gasp, and finally his apple skin lips are open for me, devouring me in a lapse of control, until slowly, slowly, we part. Our faces are still near, noses brushing, when I open my eyes to meet his wide open ones.

Birds flutter in the trees beside us, whistling in all their naïve delight, and a soft wind rushes over the surface of the lake, rippling it up like a crumpled bed sheet. It dances around us, over my collarbones and across his hair, its touch almost softer than the one Peeta dusts atop my skin.

“At last,” I whisper, brushing my fingertips over his cheek, and he gives half a surprised laugh, his rough thumb moving to trace over my just kissed lips.

“At last.” He replies, confirming the reality of it in my eyes, and I smile, watching my apple tree finally blossom.