A/N: AHH so this is it! I can't believe this story has come to an end. It's been a labor of love of mine for the past 6 months and I'm so grateful for every single person who has read and showed me support. I really appreciate the time it takes to leave a review and let me know what you think, it means so much! I would love to hear from those of you who I never have before, now that things are all wrapped up ;)
To be perfectly honest I don't know when/if future fic writing will be happening for me. I may just need some time to regroup and get inspired or I may have just written all the Everlark I have in me. I really can't say. Regardless, thank you for everything and thanks to my two amazing betas who helped me craft this story from the start (wickedlyclever & Court8198). Oh and if you missed it go read my submission for Prompts In Panem - "The Girl Next Door" :)
Oh and come follow me on Tumblr! (thegirlonpeetamellark dot tumblr dot com)
"So what do you think?"
I gesture to the large empty space that I hope to one day turn into a bakery like my dad's old one.
"Peeta, it's perfect," Katniss tells me, smiling from where she stands by the large windows near the front door.
"I thought over here could be small tables for customers that want to eat in, and I pictured the main counter on that side of the room," I explain, laying out the details that have been floating around in my mind for a while now. "And I want wood-burning ovens in the back, and there's even a small room I could use as my office."
Katniss takes several steps towards me, grinning as her eyes sweep across the room.
"I can see it so clearly," she says. "This is such a perfect spot. It's going to be amazing."
I take a deep, shaky breath and look around, feeling a combination of nerves and excitement twist in my stomach. Despite my uncertainty whether I can really do this, despite my fear that this will be a complete failure, I feel sure that this is what I'm meant to be doing at this time in my life. I feel calm, I feel closer to my Dad, and I feel like this is going to make me really happy.
Katniss spins in a circle taking in the room once again, her arms flung out to the sides, her head tilted back. She laughs, and the sight makes me smile.
Then she stops all at once and looks over at me. She braces one arm on her lower back and uses the other arm to rub her stomach.
"I can not wait to abuse girlfriend privileges and eat everything you make," she giggles.
But I don't really hear what she says because it feels like the wind has been knocked out of me. I can't tear my eyes away from her. The way she's standing, one arm on her lower back and the other on her stomach, is such the classic 'pregnant woman stance' that suddenly I see it so clearly.
I see her 5, 10, 15 years from now with a huge stomach, an achy back and our child growing inside her. I see her barefoot and tired and rubbing her stomach as she whispers to it lovingly. I hear her asking me to go buy ice cream and pickles in the middle of the night. And I hear her telling a little girl with dark hair and blue eyes not to run around Daddy's bakery.
The thought makes me so breathless, so deliriously happy that I have to shake my head to clear it. I can't seem to wipe the stupid grin from my face though, and she notices.
"What is it?" she asks, coming closer to me.
I wrap my arms around her waist and pull her against me.
"Just thinking about how much I love you," I return easily.
She rolls her eyes and scoffs. "Okay, you cheese ball."
"I'm serious," I insist, pulling her closer.
She takes a deep breath and looks at me. Really looks at me. She lifts her hand and traces the line of my jaw and then the ridge of my nose and then the swell of my bottom lip.
She kisses me. She wraps her arms around my neck and parts her mouth just enough so our tongues connect. I pull her flush against me, every part of our bodies pressed up against each other.
"Love you too," she breathes against my mouth when we break apart. "And this place is going to be perfect for the bakery, I know it."
I lean my forehead against hers and take comfort in the fact that the person I love more than anything is going to be by my side as I go down this road. This road with so much uncertainty. I don't know if I'm going to be any good at running a bakery, I don't know if I'll even be half as successful as my dad was, but I know that I have to try. I know that this is what I'm supposed to be doing.
"Come on," Katniss says, pulling away and grabbing my hand. "We got to pick up Prim."
Her sister is currently at the mall with a couple of her friends.
Katniss is getting better at letting her be more independent and on her own, but I know that she still worries. I'm always there to assure her that everything will be okay, that Prim will be fine and that she should give her space to grow and be on her own.
When we stroll into the mall hand in hand, Katniss says that we're supposed to be meeting Prim at the food court. When we get there, I keep my eyes open for the girl with blonde hair and pale skin like my own and I spot her before Katniss does.
But she's not with her friends.
She's with a boy.
I feel this surge of protectiveness and anxiety race through me. I think of Prim like my little sister. I love her because she is so important to Katniss, but we've also formed our own little bond in these past months.
I eye the boy she's with carefully. He has dark hair and olive skin and looks vaguely familiar.
I suddenly imagine him trying to take advantage of her or breaking her heart or a thousand other things that teenage boys do, and I feel like I could puke. The urge to rush over there and put this kid in his place is strong.
"Did you find her?" Katniss asks me, looking around wearily.
She must see where my gaze is directed at because she turns around and makes a noise of surprise and annoyance.
"She didn't say she was going to be here with Rory!"
"Rory?" I ask.
"Gale's little brother," she grumbles, crossing her arms angrily.
I deflate a little. If it's Gale's brother then the kid can't be that bad. She's probably known him for years and grew up alongside him.
Katniss starts to take steps in their direction, but I grab her arm, pulling her back.
"What?" she asks me angrily.
And suddenly I realize I'm the calm and composed one in this situation. I pull her away from the food court and while she doesn't protest, it's clear she isn't happy.
"Come on, let's give her some time," I suggest gently.
"But..." she starts to protest and I cut her off.
"She's not doing anything wrong. Let her hang out with a boy. She won't get pregnant."
She narrows her eyes at me, clearly not finding that joke very funny.
"I just wish she would tell me these things," she says, looking down and crossing her arms in front of her chest.
I throw my arm around her shoulder and start walking with her through the mall, away from the food court. "If you get all upset just because she's hanging out with a boy, then you're just going to make her want to keep those things from you. I know it's hard, but you've got to let her be on her own."
She sighs and leans into me. "I hate it when you're right."
"I know." I laugh, placing a kiss to the top of her head.
We walk around the mall for a bit, window shopping but not really going into any of the stores. We're laughing about something when I see a shop that catches my eye.
"Hey, come here," I urge her, pulling her along with me.
We step inside a jewelry store, and Katniss eyes me curiously, biting her lip. "Um, were you looking for a new pair of earrings?" she asks me.
I grin at her and pull her toward the counter.
"I want to know what your ring size is and what kind of ring you'd like," I tell her, watching her face closely for her reaction.
She doesn't disappoint. Her eyes go wide, and she looks at me in shock, her mouth falling open as she struggles for words.
"Peeta...I...I..." she stutters, looking like she's trying not to panic.
I bite back a laugh and decide to take some pity on her. "Katniss," I say gently, wrapping my arms around her waist and pulling her towards me so we're off to the side and out of the way. "I'm not asking you to marry me."
This seems to relax her a little, and she calms down a bit, placing her hands on my shoulders and taking a couple deep breaths. "Then what..." she starts to ask, but I cut her off.
"I guess I just want to be prepared," I say with a shrug. "I know we're not ready yet, but that doesn't mean I haven't thought about it before. I love you. I already know you're the one. Now it's just a matter of figuring out when we want to take that step together."
She stares at me, gaping in astonishment.
"And what kind of ring you'd like. I'd also like to know that because I want to get something that fits you perfectly."
She bites down on her bottom lip and keeps her eyes cast downward. When she raises them to meet my own, I see that she's trying to hold back tears. She kisses me, hard and breathless. It's not so much a kiss of passion as it is one of commitment. I know that with this kiss that she's trying to tell me that she feels the same, that she sees her future with me, that one day we'll take that step together.
"I love you," she whispers, leaning her forehead against mine when we break away. "And I want to be your wife someday."
I grin, feeling light and happy and lucky. I grab her hand and drag her towards the jewelry counter.
I move behind her as she peers down into the glass cases that display different types of diamond rings and push my chest flush with her back.
"So what do you think?" I whisper in her ear, and she leans into my touch and grabs my hands in her own to place over her flat stomach.
"I think I don't want you to spend a lot of money on it. I think I'm a size 5. And I think that something simple would be just fine," she murmurs as my lips find their way to the crook of her neck.
I smile against her skin.
"I knew there was a reason I want to marry you."
"How do I look?"
I pop my head up from where I sit on the edge of Katniss' bed tying my dress shoes. She emerges from her bathroom in a dark green dress that hugs her curves. It's stretchy and looks like it wouldn't be that hard to get her out of.
I like it.
I stand up from the bed and walk over to her.
"You know it's not nice to upstage the bride at her own rehearsal dinner," I joke, pulling her into my arms.
She rolls her eyes at me but looks pleased with the compliment all the same. "Trust me, no one is going to be able to take their eyes off Annie tonight," she assures me. "I saw the dress she's wearing and if Finn doesn't drag her to the bathroom for a quickie, it will be a miracle."
I laugh, remembering the way Finn looked at her during the ceremony rehearsal earlier today. He always looks at Annie with complete adoration, but today I definitely got the vibe he was undressing her with his eyes. It's like the closer we get to the big day the more in love and enraptured he becomes by her.
Apparently, commitment turns him on. Who would have guessed?
We get to the restaurant where the rehearsal dinner is being held and find our way to the back room where a long table that seats about fifteen is already set up. We exchange greetings with Delly and Johanna and the soon-to-be newlyweds.
Finn's parents are here and Annie's cousin from out of town. There is our old friend, Thresh, from college and a couple other friends of theirs I don't know, but it's a pretty small crowd. There will only be a dozen or so more at the actual wedding tomorrow.
The food is brought out to us in courses, and it's feels so good to be surrounded by my friends and the people who matter most to me. I'm so happy for Finn and Annie, so glad that they've found each other. Every time I see them sharing a private moment together, I'm reminded of the quiet, broken girl who first attended grief counseling sessions with me all that time ago and the flirtatious and cocky Finn I knew in college.
It's amazing how finding the right person to share you life with can change everything.
I glance over at Katniss sitting beside me.
She's mid-conversation with Johanna, laughing and talking animatedly. I reach for her hand under the table and bring it up to my lips, planting a kiss to the back of her palm. She trails off mid-sentence and looks over at me, shooting me that smile she reserves just for me.
When we're just about done with the desserts, Finn and Annie rise to their feet together and grabbing the attention of the whole table.
They thank us all for coming, and they thank us for sharing this experience with them.
"We uh...we realize this might seem a bit sudden or that some of you might think us a little young to being taking this step," Finnick says, his eyes darting over to his parents. "But the truth is I found something good, which isn't something I've always had in my life. I found someone who makes me happy and who I love, someone who I want to spend the rest of my life with."
As he says this, he slips an arm around Annie's waist and looks down at her. His face is full of passion, intense and serious. Annie looks back at him trying to hold back tears.
"And I haven't been sure of many things in my life, but I'm sure about this. I'm sure about you." He almost whispers the last words to Annie who touches his face with her hand and shares a brief kiss.
She pulls away, and I watch as she tries to compose herself. She takes a deep breath and shakes off the tears that were starting to gather in her eyes.
"I just want to say we love you all, and you mean so much to Finn and I. Thank you for being here," she smiles at the table. "I also want to thank one person specifically, one person who has helped both of us so much and without who we might not be here today."
She looks right at me.
"Peeta...you helped me more than you'll ever know. You helped me let go and move forward. You helped me heal and open myself up to the possibility of love. Thank you."
I'm biting the inside of my cheek hard, commanding myself to keep it together.
"Thank you man," Finnick adds. "Thank you for helping Annie. Thank you for helping me wrap my head around the idea of a relationship and actual feelings. Thank you for listening to me freak out over what to wear and what to say and what to do when she and I first started dating. I would have been hopeless without you."
"You were still bit of a lost cause," Annie teases him, and the whole table laughs.
Everyone raises their glasses, and we toast the happy couple.
I get up from the table immediately afterwards to give both of them a hug, congratulating them and telling them how happy I am for them both.
The dessert plates are just being cleared away when Katniss comes up to me from behind, snaking her arms around my waist.
"Can we get out of here? We have to be up earlier tomorrow for the wedding stuff," she whispers in my ear.
I nod my head in agreement, and we say our goodbyes.
Once we're out of the restaurant though, she practically starts dragging me to the car.
"What's the rush?" I tease her.
She pushes me up against the side of my car and wraps her arms around my neck, playing with the ends of my hair.
"I just...I just loved that speech Finn and Annie gave about you. It reminded me of what an amazing and wonderful and caring man you are."
She leans in to kiss me, her tongue reaching out to trace my lips, making little sounds of pleasure.
"I also want to fuck you in the car right now because I can't wait until we get home," she breathes out when we break away.
I laugh at her crass sentiment after saying something so earnest and meaningful, tightening my hands around her waist.
"I could make that happen," I murmur in agreement, leaning in to kiss her again. The passion ignites between us. She presses into me as her tongue starts to explore my mouth. I have just enough presence of mind to grab my keys and open the car door.
We slide into the backseat together, and everything turns into a heated frenzy, hands grasping at clothes, lips searching out lips in the few moments when we break away for air.
It turns out I was right, and her dark green dress is easy to peel away from her body. When we're finally naked and laying across the backseat, her small warm body on top of mine, I let my hands travel down to her behind, squeezing gently.
"Mmm..." she moans, rubbing herself against me.
"God damn you're so wet..."
"I've been wet since they served the appetizers," she laughs breathlessly.
"Let me eat you out."
She pulls away, and her eyes are wide and bright. I can tell she really likes the idea. She starts to sit up, and I scoot down a bit along the length of the backseat, bending my knees to get comfortable.
"I want you riding my face," I tell her, pulling her up towards my head as she bends her knees on either side of me.
I pull her until her center is right over my mouth, and she looks down at me and whimpers.
"Peeta..." she says, running her hands through my hairs, mouth hanging open.
I run my tongue up and down her folds, lapping up her wetness as she slowly starts rocking her hips above me. I grab onto her hips as my tongue starts to fuck her, pushing inside her repeatedly.
She cries out and tugs on my hair just hard enough, and I feel my cock twitch in response.
"Oh my god," she moans, her hips rocking in a circle now.
I flick my tongue at her clit and then take it between my teeth before starting to suck it into my mouth.
"Fuck!" she screams, her hands going to the closest headrest as she tries to hold on. She's starting to lose her composure though, because I can feel her hips starting to buck a little more wildly, pushing into my face involuntarily.
I'm hard as a rock as she rides my mouth. I suck harder on her clit as she starts to tense up. I reach up and grab her breasts, squeezing and kneading the perfect mounds when she releases a piercing scream as she comes.
She rides out her orgasm, and I keep licking her gently until she falls forward and off of my face. I sit up and turn back to her. I pull her into my lap, her back flush with my chest.
I just hold her in my arms, kissing her neck and behind her ears as she slowly comes back down to earth. I don't give her too much time to recover though before I reach down and grab my cock, positioning myself at her entrance.
I slide into her and she mewls, reaching back to cup the side of my face.
I plant my feet firmly on the floor of the back seat and she braces her feet against the back of the front seats. I start pushing into her, one hand finding her clit and the other pulling at her nipples.
"Peeta..." she whines, and I know it won't take long to get her there again.
"Give me another one," I growl into her ear, my fingers beginning their assault on her clit as I pump in and out of her firmly.
"Oh my god, fuck," she murmurs, and I hear that desperate tone in her voice. That desperate tone that means that she's almost overwhelmed by the pleasure.
"Fuck Katniss, I love your pussy, it's so fucking perfect," I'm in a frenzy myself now, punishing her clit as I start to pound into her harder.
She tenses and then spasms in my arms, another orgasm surging through her. She screams, a cathartic sound that tells me this one was fast and intense and she's barely holding on at this point. I slow my pace as she squeezes around me and slumps over in my arms
"You're soaking," I murmur, scooting up a little to the edge of the seat as she falls over the center console, resting her head on it. "And I'm not done fucking you yet."
She moans, and I grab onto her hips and thrust into her, not really taking care to be gentle or careful but I can't help it. I thrust into her, so hard and fast her entire body is jerking forward, sliding over the center console.
I reach out and tug on her hair at the same moment I feel my balls start to tighten. She cries out, and her hand snakes between her legs to where we're joined, rubbing her clit. I pull on her long dark hair again and explode inside her, feeling her tighten around me one last time, amazingly enough.
We are breathless and quiet for a long time.
Finally I come back to earth before she does. I pull out of her and then lean back against the seat and pull her into my lap, cradling her in my arms. She buries her head in my neck, and I know she's hovering on the edge of sleep.
"I've never...that was...I can't believe..." she murmurs these words against my skin, and I can't help but chuckle.
"I know..." I agree quietly. We don't have to say anything, we're both thinking the same thing. We've been together almost 6 months now and the passion hasn't come close to fading. We're still learning about each other's bodies and the way we fit together. And every time we go at it like this, frenzied and intense and mind-blowing, we're both still amazed at how good it can be.
She laughs and kisses the hollow of my throat, her hand flat against my chest, my heart beating steadily beneath her touch. I kiss her forehead and tell her I love her and I know she is about to nod off, but the words she whispers against my skin stay with me for a long time after.
"My mind, my body, my soul. They're yours. Always."
Finnick's dad walks Annie down the aisle.
The ceremony goes by in the blink of an eye.
I feel myself grinning like an idiot watching Finn and Annie exchange vows. They're smiling at each other with looks so full of love it's hard not to feel their happiness like it's my own.
My eyes go past Annie's shoulder from where I stand, lined up beside Finnick and I see Katniss.
She has tears in her eyes.
I watch her carefully, suddenly unable to look away. She looks gorgeous, hair and make-up done, holding a bouquet of flowers, wearing a floor-length purple gown. But the longer I look at her the more it seems to me that something is off.
She doesn't look particularly happy, and I start to question if her tears are about something more. Her mouth is set in a straight line, and she looks almost a little dazed.
Finally, she catches me looking and offers me a weak smile.
There is not much of an opportunity to talk with her though because as the ceremony finishes up, we move on to take pictures for about half an hour. Then we're moving into the dining hall and taking our seats at the head table as Finnick and Annie are introduced for the first time as man and wife.
People are up and about now, talking with the newlyweds and getting drinks from the bar.
I make my way through the small crowd, greeting those I know and making small talk. I lose track of Katniss after a little while though and I start to get worried. I discreetly step out of the dining hall just as the opening chords for Finn and Annie's first dance together start to play.
I walk down a short hallway and then find myself outside on a wrap-around patio with stairs leading down to a garden. I can still hear the music playing softly in the background.
Katniss is sitting on a stone bench at the edge of the garden near some flowers. She is facing away from me so I hesitate for a moment and just watch her. The wind is blowing hair in her face, and she is gazing out in the distance, a blank look on her face.
I approach her slowly, coming to a stop when I'm a few feet away.
She turns when she hears me and offers me another weak smile.
"Can I join you?" I ask quietly.
She nods her head and makes room for me on the small bench. I sit down next to her and just stare out in the direction she's looking, not sure what to say yet.
Luckily, she's the first one to talk.
"It hit me when I saw Annie walking down the aisle with Finn's dad."
I glance at her curiously, wondering what she means, wondering if she's going to continue.
"I...my dad won't be there when we get married," she says in a sort of detached, hollow voice. She talks about us getting married like it's an inevitable fact. I almost smile. She's right.
"And then I realized your dad won't even be there..." she says, her voice cracking at the end. She covers her mouth with her hand, choking back a sob.
I put my arm around her shoulders and pull her towards me.
"Hey...it's okay," I try and assure her. I kiss the top of her head and rub my hand up and down her bare arm.
She's crying quietly, burying her face against my chest as he body shakes silently with her tears.
"We're a couple of orphans," she says when she pulls back with a pained laugh, still fighting off tears.
I chuckle and wipe the wetness from her cheek. "Yeah I guess we are," I admit.
"I'm sorry," she takes a deep breath and shakes her head as if to clear it. "You probably think I'm horrible. I should just be happy for Finnick and Annie today, not be wallowing in my own self pity."
"I don't think you're horrible," I tell her truthfully. "I think what you're feeling is completely normal."
"It's just seeing Annie in her wedding dress and how happy she was when we were all getting ready I couldn't help but start to imagine what it would be like when it was our turn." She's holding my hands in hers now, cradling them in her lap.
"It just hurts because I know my dad would have loved you. He would have been so happy to see me with someone as amazing as you." A fresh wave of tears hit her, and she throws her arms around my neck and buries her face against my shoulder.
I hold her against me and let her cry again for as long as she needs.
"Hey," I whisper gently when she has finally calmed down. I pull away just a fraction to look in her eyes. "I think you're forgetting a key part of this wedding day in our future."
She looks at me quizzically and waits for me to continue.
"Our parents might not be there for it, but guess what?"
I grin at her, cupping her face in my hands and bringing her lips to mine in a soft kiss.
"We'll be starting the rest of our lives together," I whisper against her mouth when we break away. "And I'd rather focus on that. I'd rather focus on the fact I'll be able to call you my wife, not our grief over the parents we've lost."
She smiles back at me. She's still crying, but I think these are good tears this time.
"I love you so much," she murmurs, leaning into kiss me. "I would be lost without you, Peeta. You saved me."
"We saved each other," I tell her because it's true. I can't fathom what my world would be if she hadn't come into it and changed everything.
She stands up and offers me her hand. I grab it and when I stand to join her I put my arm around her shoulders.
"Let's get back to the party," she says, leaning into me. "We've got to get some ideas for our big day."
We walk back towards patio and the steps that lead up to the dining hall. Before we go inside though I stop and turn her towards me, keeping her in my arms.
"You remember what I said that day we met, that first grief counseling session you came to?"
She grins back at me and repeats the words. "No matter how bad our losses, it can be good again."
"It will always be good again for us," I tell her, pulling her into my arms again. "No matter what happens. No matter what we go through. We'll go through it together. I promise."
And when we kiss it's like we're sealing that promise between us forever.