Thank you for taking this journey with me. This is a much shorter chapter but I hope it packs an emotionally satisfying punch.
The rest of the notes will follow the epilogue.
Peeta's back is to me as I reach the galley. A lantern lights the small space, illuminating him in streaky shadows. My entire body quivers with excitement and anticipation being this close to him again.
I lean against the doorframe and study him in silence for several moments, resisting the overwhelming urge I have to throw myself at him. I watch the way his broad shoulders shift under his thin sailor's shirt and the rippling of the muscles of his upper arms as he dries the dishes. He is complete perfection.
He finally turns around and the look on his face is reward enough for my remaining quiet. I can tell he is stunned speechless, and we stare at each other for what seems like an eternity before he finally finds his voice.
"Are you real?" he whispers, wiping his wet hands against a ratty towel, which he tosses onto the small ledge behind him, his brilliant eyes riveted on mine.
I nod, electricity surging in my veins as he begins to cross the floor and close the short gap between us. He reaches out and gingerly traces the line of my jaw, rubbing the pad of his thumb over my trembling lips, touching his index finger to the tip of my nose.
"Real, Peeta," I murmur against his hand, kissing his palm before he withdraws it and snakes it behind my head, cupping my neck gently.
"Real," he echoes. "You're really here." He smiles, those familiar blue orbs shining with joy. "God, I missed you." His other hand joins the first at the nape of my neck, and he guides my lips up as his mouth slants down.
My lips tingle with recognition as he kisses me, at first tentatively as if he is slowly breathing life back into me. He draws back and his fingers travel down to the brooch pinned at my hip.
"You got it." His eyes sparkle, gleaming with pride. "You knew."
"Yes, I knew it was you right away," I grin, closing my fingers over his atop the pin.
"I was nervous I would get you in trouble, having a package sent to your home. I wanted it to be a necklace, a locket actually, but I feared that you could not wear that as discreetly as you might a brooch. I sent that telegram to the jeweler in the city as soon as we landed in Baltimore." His free hand cups my jaw lovingly.
"How did you get back here to Philadelphia so quickly? I thought it would be months before we could see each other again."
He smiles roguishly. "I might have persuaded Haymitch to take a detour."
"Peeta!" I exclaim, clapping my hand over my mouth. He seizes my palm and presses a kiss to it.
"I'm just teasing, Katniss. Once the ship was repaired, Haymitch received the orders for our departure. It was sheer dumb luck the company who appointed him needed us to depart from Philadelphia. Haymitch loves you, but even he would have been powerless to change an order as such." He steps back from me, holding me at bay, our fingers linked. "I was actually set to sail with another captain from Baltimore to Kingston in the colony of Jamaica. As soon as Haymitch got word of his promotion and his assigned route, I withdrew my articles and signed on with him." His brows knit above his beautiful blue eyes.
"What?" I ask suspiciously as his gaze looks me up and down.
"I'm just surprised to see you wearing that. I mean, I thought you might come dressed more casually than you departed, but I didn't expect you in your sailor's attire."
I bite my lip, excitement flurrying about in my stomach. I realize he assumes I am here for a brief visit and then I will return to the guardianship of my parents, awaiting his next visit. "I'm dressed for work, Peeta," I say slyly, stepping towards him and moving my hands to link behind his head, playing with the soft, short hairs at the nape of his neck. He's recently had a haircut.
His blue eyes reflect confusion at first. "Katniss, what are you saying?"
My smile widens. "I'm here to stay, Peeta. With you. Always."
He shakes his head, stunned. "What?"
"I ran away, Peeta. This is my home now."
"Oh, Katniss, love, you can't do that," he chides me gently, dragging his fingers through his hair. He moves away from me and begins pacing in the small space.
"I did. I did it. It's done," I begin. "I can't live that life, Peeta. It's not me anymore. I can't be the Katniss Everdeen they want me to be." My heart begins an erratic thump, and my throat constricts. "I thought you'd understand. I thought you'd be happier," I whisper, lowering my eyes.
He is before me again at once, wrapping me into a fierce embrace. "I am ecstatic to see you, Katniss. It's not that."
"Then what?" I probe, my voice still edged with sorrow.
"I know what it's like to run away—to leave your whole life behind. Your family...your sister...I didn't want it to come to that for you," he sighs. "I shouldn't have sent that brooch so soon."
I grab his arm. "Don't you dare say that. This would have happened anyway. If not now, a month from now, a year from now…" I trail off and it is my turn to pace. "You can't imagine what it was like, Peeta. From the moment I got home, I was scrutinized and criticized. My face was too brown, my hands too rough. You'd have thought I'd cut off a limb my mother was so horrified over my dirty and mangled hair—"
My blood sizzles and I find myself clenching my fists at my sides as I stalk about the tiny cupboard. The rage and anger that has accumulated within me since I departed this ship a month ago bubbles over, and I can finally unleash it. "They didn't believe me, Peeta," I continue, my heart fluttering painfully at the memory of my journal burning in the hearth, the flames turning the pages to cinders. "They accused me of making up stories about poor Captain Snow and forbade me from talking to my sister about my journey." I continue to ramble, pouring out every injustice I felt my parents had forced upon me in the last thirty-three days. Peeta watches me wordlessly, listening rapt as I vent.
And then I get to Gale. Peeta's eyes widen imperceptibly when I explain the courting began almost immediately and reveal it seemed that my parents had promised me to Gale Hawthorne years ago, never bothering to inform me of such a monumental decision.
"I told you that your parents probably had plans for you," he says softly.
"I never told them about you," I whisper. "I think I knew it was pointless. They wouldn't have listened. Not if they didn't believe me about Snow. And I couldn't bear to listen to them say anything bad about you." My pacing increases. "It was awful, Peeta. I wasn't home for more than a few days and there he was. I think I endured a dozen dinner parties with Gale and his family in the month I was home."
He remains quiet, his expression serious.
"And I should tell you I kissed him, Peeta," I confess, finally stopping my frantic circles and standing before him. There can be no secrets between us, so I know I owe him this truth. "But it's not what you think. I didn't kiss him for any kind of emotional connection, I promise you. I was just so infuriated that night that I had to act out, try to get him to stop being so damn proper. And that was the most shocking thing I could think of at that moment."
"And I'm sure he was plenty shocked," Peeta replies dryly, though I don't sense any anger or betrayal in his tone.
"It was ridiculous," I say softly, reaching for his hands again. "He pushed me away and asked what had gotten into me."
"I cannot imagine a man who would push away a beautiful woman who is trying to kiss him, decorum or not. Especially not one who is to be his wife one day." He locks his eyes on mine, and my breath hitches at the voracious look in them.
"I knew without a doubt that I could never marry him. I felt nothing, Peeta," I whisper, drawing my thumb along the lines of his jaw, which I note is freshly-shaven. "It was like pressing my lips against a brick wall. Nothing like this," I murmur, rising up on my toes and tilting my head slighty so our mouths connect perfectly.
My lips have barely touched his when his hand roughly lands on the small of my back and he draws me against him possessively. He claims me ravenously, his lips moving eagerly, urgently over mine. "You're mine," he growls, nipping at my bottom lip with his teeth, and I whimper, my body reacting instantly to his tone. I have not seen this side of him, and it thrills me.
"I'm yours. Only yours," I reply, parting my lips to welcome his familiar tongue. His kiss slows considerably and turns achingly sensual. Our hands roam each other's bodies, and I gasp when I feel his palms cup my bottom. In response, I boldly snake my hand down between us, gripping him through his pants. He groans and bites my earlobe, bucking against my hand.
"I wish I could have known that I would see you more than just this evening. I only purchased three condoms in Baltimore. They are not cheap."
"Three?" I tease, kissing a trail up his neck to suckle at the soft skin beneath his ear. "If you only thought we had tonight you had lofty plans, Mr. Mellark."
He laughs softly. "Yes, I did. But now I cannot fathom how I am going to make three condoms last two months. It is a long voyage to England. I suppose we can get creative. I can pull out before—"
"Shh." I silence him. "We'll figure it out. But you're going to need one of them right now," I whisper seductively, cupping him again. "I want you. Please."
"They're in the forecastle with my things," he supplies, gritting his teeth as I slip my hand inside his trousers and begin to pump him up and down experimentally. His eyelids grow heavy, and his face is awash in ecstasy with each stroke of my hand.
"What are we waiting for?" I ask.
In response, Peeta scoops me into his arms. It feels romantic and feminine to be held in such a way again, and he carries me as easily as if I was a sack of flour. At this angle, I have the perfect vantage to trail my lips up his neck again and my mouth maps the skin, pressing heated kisses along his jaw. I can feel his pulse thrumming beneath my tongue when it dips under the bone there.
He moves swiftly through steerage and reaches the forecastle in no time, fumbling with the handle before kicking the door open. It bangs shut behind us so forceful is the motion. He sets me down gently and gives me a lusty smile as he slides his trunk in front of the door. My stomach twists in anticipation, and a shudder runs through me with the intensity of his gaze. "We're not going to the cabin?" I ask as he slowly approaches me, those clear blue eyes nearly black with desire.
"The other sailors are not due to report until an hour before departure. We have at least a few bells," he replies, stopping in front of me. His fingers close around my braid and he twirls the plait around his hand. The sensation raises the hair on the back of my neck and slithers down my spine.
"You're overdressed," he whispers, dropping his hands to my waist and tugging at the hem of my shirt. I give him a coy smile, dragging my bottom lip between my teeth as I raise my arms and he slowly and deliberately pulls the blouse from my body. The cool air puckers my nipples and my breasts tingle before the warm wetness of Peeta's mouth covers one tight bud, his tongue flattening it to circle it again and again. I whimper and clutch at his blond locks insistently, molten heat spreading through me. He lavishes my other breast with the same attention before cupping them both in his hands while his tongue traces a lazy path down between my ribs and past my belly.
He keeps his eyes focused on me much of the time; the reverent look that he gives me makes me feel so beautiful. His mouth is the brush, and I am his canvas.
We shed the rest of our clothes and move to Peeta's hammock. It will be a wholly different experience making love in the tautly strung canvas versus the plank in my old cabin—our movements will need to be slow and deliberate. The thought excites me more.
"I want to try something," he murmurs huskily, nipping my earlobe with his teeth before sitting back on his haunches and studying me carefully. The hammock sways slightly with the distribution of his weight. The hungry look in his eyes lights a fire in my belly.
"Okay," I reply slowly. He moves off the hammock to kneel beside me, and I sit up in protest.
He shakes his head. "Uh uh," he scolds, gently pushing me back against the canvas. "Trust me."
My stomach flips uncertainly but my nerves sizzle expectantly . Still, nothing can prepare me for the shock that jolts through me when he coaxes my legs apart and lowers his face towards my most private area. "Peeta," I squeal, struggling to sit up again. He glances up at me, eyes half-lidded, heavy with desire and shakes his head more purposefully this time. One strong hand traverses up my thigh and settles on my abdomen to hold me down.
"Trust me, Katniss. Please?"
"Okay," I whisper, closing my eyes.
Peeta's warm breath ghosts over me, increasing the heat between my legs, and I cry out and my eyes fly open as an unfamiliar sensation sweeps over me. Peeta flashes me a wolfish smile and I gasp as I watch him drag his tongue up the length of me.
"Oh my god," I tremble. "What are you doing?"
"Shh." With another languid lick of his tongue, I arch off the hammock and bite my lip to keep from screaming. His tongue swirls around the damp heat, circling the fleshy kernel, and the feeling that begins to overwhelm me is indescribable.
I close my eyes again and reach my hands down to fist into his hair, scraping my nails along his scalp as he begins to increase the speed of his ministrations. Suddenly, he latches onto me and sucks greedily and I lose my breath somewhere between my lungs and my throat. All that escapes is a strangled moan. I thrash from side to side, fighting against Peeta's steadying hands. I moan again, and Peeta responds with one of his own, which vibrates against me and intensifies the sensations his mouth is creating.
He presses his tongue insistently against the bundle of nerves he has been attacking—the one I stroked so often at night thinking of him—and I come apart, ebbs of pleasure rolling through me and flooding my vision with bursts of color. I pant his name, chanting it over and over again as his tongue slows to tender, leisurely licks. My body finally stops shuddering and when I open my eyes—and it takes some effort—he is smiling at me like a cat who swallowed a mouse whole.
"You enjoyed that," he smirks. My chest heaves as I struggle to regain my breath.
"Yes, God, yes." I blush furiously. "I cannot believe you just did that."
"Good." He straddles me. "Because I enjoyed doing it. And I am going to do it again." He presses a kiss to my mouth. "And again." Another kiss.
"Where did you—"
"I might have done a little research," he says slyly, leaning down to capture my lips fully. He tastes tangy and I realize, shockingly, that he tastes of me. My blush deepens at the recognition. "And talked more with Finnick." He laughs.
"I guess I am going to have to learn a few things on my own if I am to keep up with you," I mumble against his mouth. He smiles down at me while he adjusts himself and enters me slowly, deliciously, filling me as he intertwines our fingers above my head.
"We'll learn together, my love," he whispers, eyes riveted to mine. "We have all the time in the world now. You're home."
Baltimore, Maryland, 1847
My name was Katniss Everdeen.
The summer of 1832 changed the girl I was and the woman I was meant to be.
It has been fifteen years since I last saw my parents and my precious sister. I think about them from time to time, but I do not regret my decision to leave them behind. Not for a moment.
Peeta and I sailed for five years together, always under the captaincy of Haymitch, and I always signed on under an assumed name lest anyone connect me to my father's company. (They did not.) Peeta's dream became my dream, and we were able to save for the bakery twice as fast with his cook's pay and my sailor's wages. That was not to say we didn't manage to enjoy our time, sailing the Atlantic. We saw exotic places as we pulled into other ports of Europe and the Caribbean and we spent many long nights making love anywhere we could be alone together. (The beach on the island of Jamaica was certainly my favorite.)
On the eve of our last voyage, with the sun sinking into the waves behind us, Peeta and I stood atop the quarterdeck where we stargazed on that first fateful voyage. With Haymitch by my side to give me away and Finnick as our witness, Cinna married us. We exchanged simple gold bands; I did not wish for anything fancy. For me, that mockingjay brooch will always be the real token of our commitment to one another, and someday, I will pass it along to our daughter when I tell her the story of how her father and I met and fell in love.
Peeta's smile was wide and vibrant when Cinna pronounced us man and wife, and Haymitch had to clear his throat to get us to cease our euphoric kisses. The older man's eyes glistened with tears, though I couldn't tell if they were tears of joy at seeing us wed or tears of sadness that we were leaving him.
We bade farewell to our fellow sailors when the ship docked in Baltimore. There were sad goodbyes and Peeta reminded the men that there would always be a place for them should any of them wish to visit us. (Most of them have indeed dropped by in recent years, and Haymitch stays with us any time he is between voyages.) Hand in hand, we departed The Mockingjay and headed into the city to begin the next leg of our journey together.
Peeta found the perfect location just a few blocks from the harbor, and we toiled to turn the modest brick front niche into a homey business. He was proudest of the sign that he commissioned to hang above the doorway and the lettering that he painted himself onto the large window that faced the street. It read simply: Mellarks' and underneath in neat script he added the line, "Fine Breads and Pastries since 1837."
It took five more years before our bakery could be considered a thriving success. Business was slow at first, but little by little, with Peeta's able hands punching dough, sculpting pastries and icing cakes, our reputation grew. I was thrilled to discover I enjoyed working alongside my husband as much as I loved sailing the seas with him. And I was still a fast learner and Peeta a patient teacher as he shared his secrets with me.
One cold December morning when Peeta was carefully shaping gingerbread men to display for the approaching holidays, I hinted to him that he might have cause to change the sign, should the baby I was carrying be a son. Once he stopped spinning me around the kitchen and grinning and laughing giddily, he told me firmly he would never change the sign. There would be no Mellark & Son this time. It would just always be Mellarks'—a family bakery.
Besides, he had smiled, if she was a girl—and he seemed instantly convinced she was— and anything like her mother, she very well might surprise people and want to follow in her father's footsteps. I wiped away tears as he kissed me gently and caressed my still-flat belly, murmuring quiet promises to our unborn child.
My name is Katniss Mellark. I am thirty-one years old. Fifteen years ago, I boarded a ship and took a journey that forever altered the course my life was supposed to take. I now have a doting husband who I adore, two beautiful children who bring me joy each day, and a lovely house that truly is my home.
A wise man once cautioned me to be careful of the wind I chose.
I think I chose wisely indeed.
A/N: I felt very strongly that only Katniss's and Peeta's story needed a resolution. The children's novel merely ends with her running away to the ship; a host of questions are left unanswered. Because we are in Katniss's point of view, we only know what she knows. And this is the ending I think she needed. I hope you agree.
A million thanks to the very loyal readers who have stuck with me since the very inception of this story, especially those special few who reviewed every chapter. But ALL your reviews and follows and PMs have been so appreciated. I would especially love to hear your thoughts now that the story has come to an end, so please, please share them with me!
ILoveRynMar and jeeno2, this story would not exist without you. I can't find the words to properly thank you. And I must thank Ro Nordmann and Kismet4891 for their artwork that accompanies this story and Pookieh for being such a wonderful friend and phenomenal cheerleader by always posting these updates to her tumblr since I'm a THG Luddite and don't play on there myself.
Historical fiction is a daunting genre to tackle—but the rewards are infinite. Please continue to support some of the amazing historical AUs in this fandom...including If This Be Treason, Make the Most of It; A House United; The Blind Date; Another Day, Another Dollar; Daughter of Samland, Son of Denmark; and We Have Brought Peace Onto You, among many others.
Keep an eye out for my other stories (I just posted a new one yesterday) and a collaborative effort from a few of my muses, streetlightlove and IzzySamson, and me. We are planning a treat for you all...just not sure when it will be ready yet.