'In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.'
"For what? The sex? Thank you too."
"No. Well, yeah, but that's not what I was referring to."
"Well what were you referring to?"
"Thank you for being the love of my life."
I'm rendered speechless. There's simply no words to describe what I feel in this moment. I'm well aware of the implications of those few words spilling from her mouth. One of the first things I ever learned about my girlfriend is that she never, ever lies. When she says something, she means it with her whole heart. She believes it.
Now, she's telling me, in an incredibly beautiful way, that we are going to go the distance.
"Peeta?" She tears me away from my thoughts. I realize I'd been staring off into space and I hadn't responded to her yet.
"Sorry," I mumble apologetically.
"What's wrong?" She asks, nervous. I can see the panic rising in her face. Oh no, she thinks she said the wrong thing. I'm such an idiot!
To show her how I'm feeling, I smile as wide as I can. I look deep into her eyes and try to relay my absolute love, my undying devotion to her.
"Nothing's wrong," I assure her gently, cupping her cheek with my hand softly. "Actually, everything's perfect."
"I didn't, um, say something wrong did I?" She still isn't fully convinced.
"No," I say emphatically. "I was just thinking, that's all."
"What were you thinking about?"
"You," I shrug. Finally she smiles.
"What about me?" She asks.
"Just how lucky I am that you're in my life. How much I love you. How I want to see your face every morning when I wake up."
"I could say the exact same about you," she replies.
"Well that's good, or else I'd be a creepy stalker," I joke.
"I wouldn't mind getting stalked by you," she jokes back.
We both laugh softly, and I know she understands now.
"Come here," I beckon her, sitting up and opening my legs so she can sit between them.
She scoots over and sits, leaning back onto my chest and laying her head back on my shoulder. We both sigh happily. She reaches up and unzips the tent halfway, giving us a spectacular view.
I wrap my arms around her tightly, refusing to let there be any space between our bodies. She lays her hands on top of mine and plays with my fingers.
I tilt my head and give her a sideways kiss. She giggles.
"When you came to Everest, did you ever expect you'd end up like this?" I ask quietly.
She shakes her head.
"This was the last place I ever expected to be." I know she obviously doesn't mean on Everest, she means in love with me.
"Why?" I ask.
"I don't really know," she admits. "I was so young when my dad died, and I saw what it did to my mom. From then on, my priority was keeping us alive. While other girls were chasing after boys in high school, I was chasing down game to feed us."
"I wish I could've done more," I murmur in shame.
"Peeta Mellark," she says in that tone I know never to mess with. "You saved us, every single week, without ever expecting anything in return. I can never thank you enough for that. While the rest of the town basically forgot about us, you went out of your way to help. It's who you are – selfless, caring, and loyal. And you have the biggest heart of anyone I've ever met."
I nod in understanding. She turns her head and nuzzles into my neck, kissing it softly.
"Honey?" She asks.
"What did your parents say about you bringing us bread?"
I open my mouth but nothing escapes.
I know it's time.
I have to tell Katniss about my abuse.
It's easy to see the distress in his eyes. It's written all over his face. He's remembering his childhood, what he went through. Even though I don't know the details yet, I know it's hard for him. I can't imagine how difficult it is to not only live through that, but open up and talk about it.
"We don't have to talk about this right now baby," I whisper. "We can wait until you're ready, or we don't ever have to discuss it. Either way is fine with me."
He sighs deeply, still in thought.
"Peeta, look at me," I coax.
He turns his head and the look on his face makes me want to hold him forever to take the pain away. Tears spring to my eyes. How could anyone hurt this sweet, innocent boy?
"Nothing that has happened or will happen will ever change how I feel about you," I explain firmly. "I'm in love with you, Peeta Mellark, and I'm always going to be in love with you."
I see his eyes welling up like mine. I know my words hit him hard. I know he was scared to talk about this with me. He was terrified I'd think differently of him, that I wouldn't be able to accept him because of his past.
"You have nothing to be afraid of," I continue. "I'm right here." I burrow myself even deeper into his chest and tighten my grip on him. "I'm not going anywhere, not now, not ever. I will always be here to protect you, Peeta. I love you, I love you so much it hurts. Please, let me help you. I want to. You're in pain, and it's killing me seeing you like this. Please, baby, please. Let me help you when you need it, just like you helped me when I did."
"Okay," he meekly answers.
I lean up and give him a kiss on the lips, trying to infuse as much emotion into it as I can, both to reassure him and show him just how much I truly treasure him.
He sighs again and I remain quiet, giving him the time he needs to organize his thoughts and work up the courage to voice them.
"I don't really know when it started," he begins, barely audible. I can hear him clearly though. I've tuned out the world, and my universe currently consists of the two of us.
"Katniss! Peeta!" I hear Annie yell from somewhere to the right of our tent.
"We're here!" I call out. "We'll come see you in a little bit, okay? Go eat some lunch with Dorji. It's delicious, trust me."
"Okay you two," Finnick says. "Don't be too loud now."
I chuckle and turn back to Peeta.
"Sorry, honey. Please continue."
"I don't remember a time when my mother didn't hit me in some form. No matter what I did to try and appease her, or when I repeated something a thousand times just to get it right, it was never good enough for her. If I spilled a tiny bit of flour, she'd slap me across the face hard. If I broke something, like a plate, it was even worse. She broke a few bones that way. Remember in high school when I had that cast on my arm?"
I think back and I can clearly remember seeing him with the aforementioned cast. He told everyone it was an accident that happened wrestling his brothers. We all took him at his word.
I nod but remain silent.
"I'd accidentally baked the wrong kind of bread for a customer. It wasn't really a big deal, because I had plenty of time to bake the right kind, and we could easily sell the one I already did bake. But my mom, when she found out, went on a rampage. Nobody else was home, it was just the two of us. She grabbed the nearest thing off the counter, which happened to be her rolling pin."
"Oh, baby," I gasp. "You don't have to relive this, Peeta. I can guess what happened next."
"No. I need to tell you this. I've never told anyone this before. She – she – well first she hit me across the face with it and I went down. She screamed and screamed until I picked myself up off the floor. She grabbed my arm and laid it on the table, holding it down at the wrist. I begged and begged and pleaded to no avail. It only took her one swing to break two of my bones."
I'm openly sobbing now. I can't imagine what he went through, it's so utterly horrendous. Not only was he beaten, he was beaten by the one person who should love him more than anyone, the person who gave birth to him, his very own mother. It's repulsive.
"She refused to let me go to the hospital or even to call a doctor," he goes on. "It wasn't until my dad got home later that night that we did something about it. He waited until she wasn't looking and grabbed me, hustling me out to his car and speeding off to the ER. By that time I'd been sitting around with two broken bones for about eight hours. When my mom found out where we'd gone, she came storming into the hospital. We tried to tell the staff to keep her away, but she was legally my parent and my guardian. She acted all sweet and caring when the nurses or doctors were around, but once we were alone, just the three of us, she laid into us. She screamed at my father, telling him he was worthless and that it was his genes that had ruined me. She told me I was a mistake, that she'd wanted a daughter but got me instead. That's what hurt the most. Not the broken bones, not the pain in my arm and my face. Hearing that my own mother basically loathed my existence, that she wished I'd never been born, that's what destroyed me."
My cries only get harder, and I'm shaking. He tightens his hold on me, comforting me. Of course he'd comfort me while telling me about his own experiences. He's just that great of a person.
"I'm so sorry," I whimper. "I'm so sorry, Peeta. I'm sorry you had to go through that. I wish I'd known, I could've done something, anything."
"Shh, Kat, it's not your fault," he coos. "Back to your original question, about the bread. The first time I did that, the week after your dad passed, I purposely stayed up late at night to sneak downstairs and prepare the basket for you. I don't know what possessed me to do it, but I just knew I had to help you. Something inside of me told me to, that I could never sit there and watch you wither away if I could do something about it. My dad found out what I was doing after maybe the fourth week."
"What did he say?" I ask.
"He started helping me," Peeta smiles sadly. "He'd bake extra loaves without telling my mother so she wouldn't notice any missing. He'd cover for me when I would leave to deliver them to your doorstep. Even though I never directly told him, he knew why I was doing it, that I was already head over heels in love with you."
"Your dad was always so nice to me," I muse.
"He told me he thought you were an amazing, strong girl. He told me he wished we could do more to help."
"Trust me, Peeta, the bread you brought us did more for us than you could ever imagine. Not just because they fed us, but because it showed that even if it was only one person, somebody else in that town cared deeply about us. I always tried to hide and wait to see who it was, but I never caught you."
"I know," he smirks. "I got pretty good at evading you so I could go unnoticed. I didn't want you to know it was me because then you'd feel like you owed me. I'm right about that, aren't I?"
"Yeah," I admit.
"Well back to my story. My dad and I did that for a long time, working behind her back to make our weekly deliveries to the Everdeen doorstep. Then, one day, out of the blue, she caught us red-handed while we were packing the basket."
He takes a moment, and I stay quiet.
"She demanded to know what we were doing. I surprised myself when I immediately told her the truth. I wasn't ashamed of what I was doing. I didn't feel guilty or like I was doing something wrong. Just the opposite, really. But my mom didn't see it that way. I can't remember ever seeing her than angry. She lost all control, went completely ballistic. She started throwing anything and everything she could grab at us. Pots, pans, silverware, bags of toppings, even a chair. My dad tried to shield me, shoving me behind him, but I was doing the same thing, trying to protect him."
"Oh my god," I gasp yet again. Picturing the scene he's describing, I'm having trouble coming to grips with the kind of person his mother truly is.
"She only stopped when she threw a knife at me and it impaled my leg. I went down, screaming in agony, blood spilling out all over the floor."
"So she calmed down and took you to the hospital?"
"No," he shakes his head. "She walked over, looming over me, told me it was my fault that she did it, that I'd brought it upon myself. She even laughed at me, telling me how pathetic and weak I am."
"If I ever even see her….."
"I know," he whispers. "Once she left the kitchen, still fuming, my dad picked me up and carried me to his car, taking me yet again to the ER."
"When was this?" I ask. I don't ever remember seeing him at school with something wrong with his leg.
"My eighteenth birthday," he replies.
"Oh, Peeta," I say tenderly, turning to cup his cheek in my hand. "I'll never let anything like that happen to you as long as you live. I promise."
"I know, and it makes me fall in love with you all over again," he sweetly answers. "Well we got to the hospital, they stitched up my leg, which thankfully didn't have any permanent damage, and told me I was released to go home."
"What did she do when you got back?"
"I never went back," he explains. "My dad left me at the hospital and ran home to grab as much of my stuff he could, mostly clothes, before my mom could catch him. He came back, gave me all the money in his wallet and went to the ATM to take out as much as he could. He told me I had to leave, that this wasn't the life he wanted for me, that I was a good person with a good heart and I deserved to be happy."
"That's when you left Panem," I deduce.
"Yeah. Right before we parted ways, I made him promise to keep bringing your family food. He vowed he wouldn't miss a single week."
"You're the best person I know," I interject. "Even at a time like that, you were thinking of other people's worries. That must have been really tough, leaving your home behind like that."
"That wasn't the hard part," he breathes. "The only person I could think about when I boarded that bus to Portland was you. I felt like I was abandoning you, leaving you behind to fend for yourself. I know we'd never really spoken all that much, and you probably had no idea how I felt, but I remember being so utterly terrified at the prospect of never seeing your beautiful face again."
Now I'm full on sobbing, the strong emotions racking through my body. I couldn't stop if I tried.
"I'm sorry Kat," Peeta whispers. "I didn't mean to make you cry."
"Don't apologize," I tell him. "Ever. You have nothing to be sorry for, not then and not now."
"But I left you!" He says adamantly.
"No, you did exactly what you had to do, what you needed to do. Say that we did know each other, that we were friends or even something more at that time. I would've done exactly what your dad did, put you on a bus to get the hell out of that town, away from her."
Just then, something dawns on me.
I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my chest, the proverbial monkey off my back. I'd held that in for so long, trying to forget it ever happened, always pushing those thoughts to the back of my mind. I went on in life like everything was dandy, when in reality I was suffering.
But telling Katniss has fundamentally changed something in me. That nagging thought in my mind, that I didn't deserve love or happiness because of what I let my mother do to me, is gone. Vanished.
This wonderful, beautiful girl has fallen in love with me, all of me. She doesn't look at me differently now that she knows what happened. If anything, the look of love in her eyes just got a lot stronger, more vivid.
Katniss interrupts my mind-rambling.
"How come you never talked to me when we were in some camps together over the last few years? I remember seeing you, but we never spoke once."
"I was scared," I admit painfully.
"Scared? Of what?" She asks. Then her face falls. "You were scared of me?"
"No!" I'm quick to deny. "Never. I was scared that you were angry that I'd left, that I just up and left you. I thought you'd never forgive me, so I had resigned myself that I was going to have to live my life without you in it in some form. I just wanted, I still want, you to be happy. I'd do anything to make you happy, Kat."
She beams at me through her tears. She looks so incredibly beautiful.
"You know what makes me happy?" She asks with a smile.
"You," she simply answers. "Just being around you makes me happy. You make me laugh, smile, and optimistic. Every day, you teach me how to live life to the fullest, how to not waste a single minute of it. Whenever I'm with you, no matter what you're doing, that's the happiest I've ever been."
"So right now, you're happier than any other time in your life?" I ask.
"Yes," she nods vehemently. "Peeta, I didn't tell you this earlier, but I meant to. I had a dream last night."
"You did? What was it about?"
She takes a deep breath, and I know some kind of admission or revelation is coming.
"It was about, well, us. You were there, and we were just cuddling, enjoying each other, kissing and caressing. Then, um, well, then two other people walked into the room we were in."
"Who was it?" I try to think of who else she would dream about. I hope it's not Gale. Please don't let it be Gale.
"It was our children, Peeta."
A/N: He He He. How'd y'all like that ending? This was a pretty emotional chapter, and it took place entirely in one scene and one location. I hope it wasn't boring, I sure had a ball writing it.
It's been obvious, at least I hope it has, from the start what I intend to do with their relationship. Suffice to say, there will be a happy ending, of that you can be sure.
I'm fully aware that their relationship is moving ridiculously fast. They've really only known each other on a deeper level for a number of days. But they both realize they have wasted a lot of years they could have been together, that now that they have this opportunity they refuse to waste it. When you fall in love that deeply and irrevocably, time doesn't matter. When you know, you know, and nobody can tell you otherwise. And they know. They've always known.
No notes about climbing this chapter, considering there was no climbing this chapter. Ha ha.
Thanks for reading and reviewing. Every single review is appreciated and cherished. Really, I'm not just buttering you up in the hopes of getting more. Okay, maybe a little.
Have a great weekend! TGIF!