It took a lot of convincing to get Mom to let Peeta stay over without telling her details, but finally she agreed on a few conditions. One, he sleeps on the couch. Two, no "funny business." Lastly, at any point in time in the future, she will be told what happened. Not now, but one day. I let Peeta decide on the last condition- it's not my secret to tell- and he's fine with it, as long as he doesn't have to say anything right now. We set up a makeshift bed for Peeta on the couch and Mom and Prim left us alone so they can get some sleep.
Right now we're both sitting outside on the front porch steps. The cool night air encompasses us and a lone lantern gives us a quiet illumination. I can tell Peeta is exhausted; I can see it in his eyes. We're sitting facing each other. His arms are wrapped around his knees with his head resting on top. I'm sitting cross legged directly across from him.
"Thanks for today, Katniss. Really," he murmurs as he closes his eyes to lean his head back against the porch wall. "You really shouldn't have come out of there, though. If something would have happened to you, I don't know what I..." He opens his eyes and stares up at the sky. He doesn't finish his sentence. I roll my eyes and crawl over to sit next to him, scouting myself down so that we're at eye level side by side. I let my arm rest against his lightly and nudge him with my elbow.
"We got through it."
"You got me through it." He nudges me back and bites his lip but doesn't say anything more.
"I wouldn't have changed a single thing about what happened this evening, Peeta. I'd do it all again." I pause. "Besides, you've done the same for me. A bit different, but the same, sort of." He lifts his head to look at me, unsure of what I'm talking about, until realization crosses his face.
"Katniss, that was never even a question in my mind. It was only right." My mind flashes back to the bread and the day in the rain. Of seeing him with the welt on his face after. He had to have known even at that age the repercussions of his actions. I wonder for a moment if it started then or if that was something he was already used to. I shake my head.
"It was the same for me." He's silent as I look to him for a reaction. "I'm only sorry I didn't help you sooner."
He sighs and reaches over to lace his fingers with mine. "Don't be sorry. It's not your fault." His thumb absentmindedly runs over mine, and he gives my hand a squeeze. I wait for him to release my hand, but he never does. "And thanks for not giving me that look. You didn't last time and you didn't this time."
"The 'pity me' look." He rolls his eyes. "Our neighbors would always give me that look whenever they would hear her screaming the day before or something. I think everyone in town knows how bad she is, just not the extent of it."
"Well, I do. And I meant what I said, Peeta. Never again. I can't bear to see you in pain."
"It wont happen again. And if it does, I'm leaving. Dont worry."
I lean my head back and stare at the stars up above us. We both let the silence between us linger as the sound of crickets and the breeze in the trees fill the air around us. I smile and breathe in the cool air. "It's so beautiful up there. Sometimes I think it's crazy that everything down here doesn't match what's above us."
"What do you mean?"
I pause, considering my words before I speak them. "Like... It's so peaceful up there. Serene. Perfect. And down here we have so much going on- deaths, sadness, abuse..." I trail off as I shiver.
"It's not so bad though. If everything was always perfect we wouldn't appreciate the really good things that happen every once in awhile."
I scoff and laugh. "Yeah? Like what?"
He stares at me for a moment and I see that thing again, that look he gave me as I was laying down on the floor with him in his bedroom. He smiles and shakes his head. I shiver again, and he runs his hands up and down my arms. "Are you cold?"
Now it's my turn to roll my eyes. "Stop doing that."
"You know what."
He grins again and stands up, brushing off his legs. He steps into the house before I have a chance to ask what he's doing and reappears with a big comfy blanket we had laid on on the couch for him earlier. He wraps it around me and takes his place again next to me on the ground.
"You're not cold?
"Do you want to share the blanket?"
"Oh, no. I can get another," he says as I see him shiver just a tiny bit.
"Don't be silly, Peeta." I roll my eyes and throw the blanket over both of us. It's barely big enough to cover us both so we sit closer together huddled under the blanket. Our sides are pressed together from our arms down to our feet. I wrap one of his arms around me to get more comfortable and smile contentedly as I lean against his chest. He chuckles and rests his head on top of mine, sighing.
"You just don't know how long I've wanted to do this," he whispers into my hair. He pulls me closer, his arm tightening around me. I relax into him and he leans in, his lips brushing against my forehead.
I giggle quietly. "Really now? And how long has that been?"
"Since we were little." He pulls me even closer, wrapping both arms around me. He reaches up with one hand to undo my braid and combs it through with his fingens, burying his nose into my hair. He rests his head on my shoulder and kisses my cheek before resting his cheek against mine. "From the day you sang to our class, I could never get you out of my head. You're all I ever thought about. You're different, Katniss. Even since way back when."
"Different? I'm perfectly normal, thank you very much."
"Mmm. More like perfectly unique."
"Look who's talking."
"Oh, whatever. I'm just a baker boy. Spare me."
"You're an amazing artist. A fantastic baker. And you're brave. So incredibly brave."
"Not so much," he says quietly. He withdraws and tries to pull his arms away but I grip his hands and hold him close. "Katniss, I'm not. Look at my Mom. If I was brave I wouldn't let her do the things she's done to me."
Now it's me that pulls away, but I pull away to face him. "Are you kidding me?" Peeta shrugs, a hopeless look on his face. He bites his lip and refuses to make eye contact with me. "Peeta, look at me." His eyes flicker up to mine and he holds them there. "A weak person would have walked away when he found out that I was getting threatened by Scott. A weak person would have ignored the girl about to have a mental breakdown in the hallway at school, and a weak person most definitely would not have risked his own life to protect me against someone with a knife."
"A weak person would have channeled the energy from the abuse of your mother into drugs, or alcohol, or fighting. You channeled it into art, into baking, into your relationships with other people. You're the best person I know. Don't doubt yourself."
He sighs and pulls me close again, wrapping his strong arms around me. I lean back into him and he's silent again, as usual. "Thank you," he whispers.
"Peeta, can I ask you something?"
"Why did you wait so long to talk to me?"
"To talk to you?"
"That day when you walked me part of the way home. That was the first time we ever really talked. Why didn't you do it sooner?"
He starts laughing. "I don't think you realize the effect that you have on people." I give him a glare and raise my eyebrows and he laughs again. "No, I mean. Okay. Look at it from my point of view. Here's this girl you've watched since you were little kids, and she doesn't typically talk to people. She's quiet, reserved, but has a fire in her eyes, this strength that no one can seem to penetrate. You're terrifying, Katniss."
"I am not terrifying!"
"You're intimidating." He nudges me with his elbow and I huff out a breath of air, rolling my eyes. "You are. And I always told myself that one day I would talk to you, break through your walls and talk to you, and finally one day I did. And... you blew me off."
"I did not! What? When?"
"The day you dropped your pencil in the hallway."
"What? I never..." I pause. He did. He returned my pencil and I totally blew him off because Prim was outside. "Crap, Peeta, I'm sorry! It wasn't on purpose, Prim was outside waiting for me." I cover my face with my hands, blushing. Geez. Poor guy just got denied from the beginning. "Why did you keep trying? I never exactly made it easy for you."
"That was the charm in it, though. I knew it'd be worth it."
"I just don't get it. I mean, I do, but I don't."
"It was you." He smiles. "If it had been anyone else, yeah, I would have given up in a heartbeat. But... It was you."
"I get it." He looks at me quizzically. "I do. When I finally realized what you meant to me, I knew I'd do whatever it took to get you back." He raises an eyebrow. "You know what I mean, butthead."
"I still don't really get what happened with all of that. Did I freak you out? Did I move too fast?"
"Oh geez, no, not at all. You were perfect, that was the problem. I had done a complete turn around since I had first met you. I never wanted to date, or befriend anyone in fear I was going to lose them or get hurt. And then all of a sudden I have this guy who walks me home and protects me and dances in the rain with me, and I didn't know what to do. I got scared. Not of you, but of my feelings. I wasn't used to them. I had never met anyone I felt so at home with until I met you. I knew it was different, and that's what scared me."
"When did you change your mind?"
My mind flashes back to the conversations with Mom and to the dream I had in class. The dream is what sealed the deal, honestly. When I woke up and wanted to be back in that moment of perfection, I knew I had been denying myself. I smile.
"The one in class when you left the room crying?"
"May I ask what that dream was about?"
I burst out laughing, smacking his arm. He chuckles and pulls me to his chest. "Well, Katniss, if it's any consolation I'm glad you changed your mind."
"I was scared that you did for a while."
"Nothing would change my mind. I was just frustrated for a bit is all."
"Next time you're frustrated, come talk to me instead of giving me the silent treatment."
"Right back atcha."
I pause. "Fair enough."
He holds my hand and runs his fingertips over every nook and cranny on it, memorizing the lines and marks and scars. They continue up my arm, pausing over each distinctive mark, until he twirls a strand of hair in his fingers. I smile and turn my head into his neck. He coaxes me into turning around to face him, both of us sitting cross legged directly across from each other. He pulls me forward to kiss me on the cheek again, his forehead resting against mine. He draws one hand up to cup my cheek.
"Katniss... I have to tell you something, but I don't want to freak you out."
"Then tell me. You're freaking me out now."
He pauses for a long time and he draws in a long shaky breath. I can feel his fingers trembling as they run up and down my cheek. He whispers out the words, so quiet that at first I think I imagine them.
"I'm in love with you."
"What?" I honestly think I mishear him as my eyes widen. Did he just... I'm hearing things. There's no way. He... No way. My heart is racing and tingling and my stomach is swirling with emotions.
"I know it's a little weird and probably too fast for you, and I'm sorry, but sometimes you can't really control these things. I've felt this way for a long time and I can't think of anything if you're not around, you're all I think about, and when we didn't talk I was absolutely miserable-"
"No, let me get this out Katniss, I need to-"
"Peeta, I love you too."
"-say this and if I what?"
"I feel the same way. I thought at first it was just a crush, but it's so much more Peeta. So much more. I haven't been more sure of anything in my life." He bites his lip as he studies me.
"Say it again."
I smile, beaming at him. I say it slowly. "Peeta, I love you."
He pulls me close, embracing me so hard I can't breathe.
"This moment could not be any more perfect."
My entire body freezes. There is no way... I didn't tell anyone I thought that in my dream. No freaking way. I look up at him and he just smiles at me, this warm, adorable smile that makes my insides melt. His blue eyes shine at me in the moonlight and his hair falls slightly onto his forehead. I chuckle and reach up to brush it off of him and let my hand drift to the nape of his neck. His eyes go still and flicker to my mouth.
He slowly leans in, his hand cupping the back of my neck as he holds my other hand in his. My heart is racing and I can't breathe, but as his mouth covers mine, I feel myself melt into him, letting out the breath that was trapped in my chest. His lips are soft, so incredibly soft. And warm. Our lips move in perfect rhythm with each other as his hand at the nape of my neck travels to my jawline, tipping my face up slightly to give him better access to my lips. I can feel him trembling as he deepens the kiss, tilting his head slightly and pulling me in closer to him.
This boy, the boy I love, is kissing me.
And it's perfect.
It's slow, a sweet and excruciatingly slow kiss filled with so much more than words can say. It's tender and filled with so much emotion that I know it's a once in a lifetime kind of kiss; one that doesn't happen often. One that I know will repeat itself over and over with Peeta in the years to come.
A fire courses through my body as I wrap my arms around his neck and gently play with the hair at his nape, combing my fingers through his hair. Both of his hands lift to gently cup my face on either side and his thumbs absentmindedly run up and down my cheeks. He brushes my hair out of the way and they slip down to my neck. I sigh into his lips as he takes my bottom one between his, tugging ever so gently.
His tongue brushes against my lip and I meet it with my own without any hesitation. I grip the back of his neck and his fingers react by gently digging into my back. A quiet moan escapes from my lips and he sighs into me. His lips trail down to my collarbone, leaving feather light kisses all the way back up to my ear. I shiver and he smiles, going back to kiss my mouth again. When we pull away, we're both breathing hard and have flushed cheeks.
"Wow," he whispers. I'm speechless as I gaze at him with awe. He leans forward and lightly grazes his lips on mine once again, just a soft kiss this time. He smiles. "Definately worth the wait." He strokes my hair as he rests his forehead against mine.
I just want to give a HUGE heartfelt thanks to every single person who encouraged me and reviewed or alerted this story. I am filled with SO much love for all of you sweet people. You guys have truly inspired me to keep writing! I have another story in mind right now, so be on the lookout and put me on your author alert list! Again, thank you all SO much and you'll be hearing from me again soon!