A/N: On the fifteenth of July of the year two-thousand, I married a boy. I met this boy when I was six. He was nine and teased me all the time and I would bury my too-long nails in his arms. His little sister and I would laugh as he bravely fought back tears- 'cause boys don't cry. But life grows hard and people grow apart and so it went that I lost track of the boy until I was fourteen. He came and teased me again, but I didn't scratch him that time. I flirted. He said I was pretty. He became the first person to do so in my lifetime to that point, because life was hard. He kept saying nice things to me and at the age of eighteen, I married this boy. Someone whom I respect very much, who does not know me and has never read this, once made a comment that one aspect of my marriage reads like an Everlark to her. It was one of the sweetest comments anyone ever made about my relationship, even if she doesn't know it and I cherish it. Today, on July fifteenth of this year, it is our thirteenth wedding anniversary and I dedicate this epilogue to my husband. Because, through everything we've been through, he's taught me that Everlark love stories are real and they abound.
And Everlark love deserves to survive any and every obstacle in the end...
18 Months After Chapter 10 Ended…
Oh, yeah. That wasn't annoying. Only Delly-freaking-Cartwright would find it adorable to make a screeching toddler her personalized ringtone.
Gather, he thought Phineas was just about the most adorable kid on the planet, too. But his cousin took her obsession with the Odair baby to a whole other stalker level. For the millionth time, as he rushed his way through the lobby of the visual arts building to get to his car, he wished he'd never introduced the bubbly, strawberry blonde to his friends.
When his phone 'rang'(if you could even call the infernal sound that thing was making that) again, just as he was almost to the door, causing a group of girls to turn, giggle and wave coquettishly at him, he rued for just about the billionth time the day he asked Beetee to hire her as his assistant. Why'd he even bother taking his phone off vibrator before leaving campus, again? The girl had no notion how to take a bloody hint.
He huffed out an exasperated breath, stopping six strides before the large double, glassed mahogany entryway. He shifted his laptop to under his left arm, simultaneously dragging the strap of the tote bag with his books further up that arm so he could fumble through his jeans back pocket for his cell. All the while, he could sense the appraising stares from the aforementioned group of coeds out of his periphery.
It was making him increasingly uncomfortable to be gawked at by them. Why couldn't he get to his stupid phone when he had to?
It wasn't as is he hadn't tried. He had. He was trying to move on with his life. Delly'd tried getting him to meet some of her friends, but it turned out they were all just as… um… pragmatic? as she was, and he didn't have the energy to deal with that kind of 'effervescence' at that stage in his life. Finnick dragged him to parties, introduced him to girls he was pretty sure had been some of his former patients at some point, if the sheer insanity that spewed from their mouths half the time was any indication. Then again, Finn had to be the worst wingman on the face of the earth.
On the other hand, maybe he was just making excuses. Maybe he was just broken. He felt broken. Truth was, he didn't particularly feel like getting fixed. At least, he didn't feel like being fixed up. And he definitely didn't feel like having his butt stared at by these ridiculous little girls. Honestly, could they be a little more obvious? They hadn't reached out and fondled him yet. That was about all that was left for them to get to at that point.
Finally, with a violent tug that nearly ripped the denim from the back of his pants (that would've made for a wonderful spectacle for the group who'd apparently missed the orientation on peer harassment in the corner), he pulled the infuriating smart phone out, just in time to see the 'missed call' icon blinking on the screen. He submerged the overwhelming urge to scream out an expletive, barreling through the doors violently while he scrolled down his messages.
Five texts from Delly about two meetings he had scheduled with high profile agents later that afternoon, apparently both exceedingly eccentric men were rearranging the rendezvous restaurant over and over and the rambunctious blonde was losing her marbles over it. Then, there were seven missed calls, including that last one, all within the past half hour… two from a number his cell did not recognize and five from Delly… again.
Finally reaching his car, he pressed the button to unlock it and, with little care, immediately unloaded his laptop and bag into the backseat. Right as he was leaning back from depositing the items there, the unmistakable cry of baby Phinny rang through the half-full parking lot and he found himself slamming the door violently.
He allowed his forehead to fall limp on an arm he had splayed over the roof of his car as he brought the phone to his ear and answered it in indignant, aggravation, "For the love of all that's holy, Delilah. You have my freaking schedule, woman. I had three classes this morning. I'm just getting out now. I don't care if Cato's guy wants to do sushi. No, I'm not allergic to Yam, whatever the heck that is. And, since I've never eaten Thai, I'm guessing I'll have a fun time figuring out if I'm wrong with that one, won't I? I'll be in the studio in fifteen minutes. You can harass me when I get there."
There was a pause, where he could hear her harsh breathing on the other side, before she rounded in a clipped shrill that made his ear throb, "Listen here, you jerk. I told those two snobs it could be Italian or a steakhouse, because if they wanted the tracks finished by the end of the week, you didn't need to be laid up on the toilet crapping yourself from all that weird mess they wanted to feed you, just to make themselves feel self-important or worldly or that heir farts smelled better than everyone else's, thank you, very much. That's the kind of stupidity I have to deal with when you don't have the basic decency to take a minute to return a text all morning and you're fortunate to have me to take care of it for you. So, whatever little mood you're in, you better suck it up and think of a way to apologize to me on the drive here. You know I like sunflowers. And did you stop for a moment to think that maybe if I'm trying to reach you so badly it might just be because it's important?"
Peeta rubbed his eyes back and forth on his arm in growing consternation as he answered flatly, Dell, dude, you and I have very different definitions of 'important'. I really need to get going-"
"It's a call from Panem's Center for Mental Health, you dork," the girl on the other end cut him off with an edge of urgent nervousness to her voice.
Upon hearing that name, he straightened ramrod, eyes widening. He felt something in his stomach tighten as the girl on the other end of the line elaborated, "Whoever it is, she'd called earlier to ask for your number, saying she was interested in submitting some samples of her work to you. It sounded like total bull to me, but she sounded hot and you need some action in your life, so I gave her your number. I figured it couldn't hurt, right?"
Petta swallowed thickly, all the moisture in his mouth mysteriously growing absent. He barely registered the fact that his cousin had just admitted to trying to hook him up with whom she believed to be a complete stranger. Was he really getting a call from the hospital after all this time? What could they want with him?
He adamantly tried to keep the conflicting emotions of longing, hope, apprehension, fear and dread at bay. He couldn't get his hopes up. The disappointment would obliterate him. He had no idea who was calling, after all.
Unaware of the turmoil the man at the other end of the line was experiencing, the young woman continued her redaction unfazed, "But, just as I hung up, I noticed the name on the caller ID. I tried calling right back and, sure enough; it was that mental hospital you told me you used to work at. You know, the one you told me you met that sick girl at you had to leave?" Delly's voice had gone quieter and condoling as she'd said this, but perked up as she continued, "Well, I wasn't able to speak with whomever it was that called me when I called back. It seems there's a bunch of lines to that place. But, here's the good news, Cuz… she called back here asking to speak to you again."
He could hear his heartbeat throbbing in his ears. It was a strong pulsating sound. He had to work through it to concentrate on what Delly said next. "That's why I was trying so hard to get in contact with you, silly. You see, I told her, since you weren't picking up her calls, I'd patch her through to you and, Peeta? She's waiting on the line to speak to you. Do you want me to transfer her?"
He couldn't breathe. He gasped for a second before the ability to communicate verbally was at his disposal again. "Y-yeah," he barely managed to squeak before roughly clearing his throat and trying again with a far more firm, "Yes, please, Delly. Patch her through. Now."
He heard the jittery blonde on the other end giggle mirthfully before the line clicked and then, airy silence followed by soft breathing. After about three seconds of that came a sound he'd never thought he'd hear again.
"Peeta? Peeta, is that you?"
She sounded so small, so lost and it was still just about the most beautiful thing he could remember hearing. He blinked his eyes rapidly to stave off the quickly threatening moisture. Still not willing to make more of this call than what it was. She'd relearned his name before he'd left, after all. She could be calling for any number of reasons. He couldn't allow himself to read more into this than it was. It was just a call… a call a year and a half later…
"Katniss?" He tried to keep his voice from cracking with the avalanche of emotion welling up within, "Is that really you? How have you been doing?" He figured keeping tone conversational, aloof, would be best. He couldn't be hurt if he wasn't attached, after all.
"Well, I call bull…" God, if he could seriously strangle that little voice dude in his head!
Her voice sounded a little confused (and, was that hurt he detected?) when she spoke again more quietly, hesitantly, "Um… I've been good, I guess. It's been quiet here, lonely. I think a lot..."
He stayed quite, ruminating her odd, rather evasive response. Then, he took the opportunity the pregnant pause afforded to think of the best way to ask the only thing he really wanted to know, attempting to word it in such a way that it might be construed by her as a natural segue in this bizarre conversation. Finally, he took a deep breath, and released it in a sigh, "So, why were you calling me, Katniss?"
This time, when she answered, there was no hesitation. Her voice was strong, determined and full of unwavering candor, "Because I remember. I remember walks along trails with trees of every size and color. I remember you holding me when I cried and kissing me until I was breathless. I remember laughing at Finn's stupid jokes. I remember I was willing to die for you, Peeta. And I know it's probably not fair to tell you, to remind you after all this time, after you've done as I asked and made your life without me. But I needed you to know I remember we were supposed to be forever… always."
It was all Peeta could do to keep his trembling hand from dropping the phone as he dashed in his car and revved the engine, skid marks on the campus parking lot pavement, tracing his manic rush for that mental institution.
…for the only the thing he'd ever really wished for.
A/N: So, yeah. Anyone who really knows me saw this coming a mile away. I'd planned this from the moment I visualized writing this, but I didn't quite know how I was going to get us all here. Thank you all for taking this roller coaster ride with me. You're all awesome sports and your support throughout this project was just wonderful.
And a very special thanks to Anla'shok for semi-editing this for me, because lord knows I was not going to bother. Please, any one who reads this HAS to check out her fic Checkmate. It's a brilliant piece of mystery and suspense, centered around one of the earliest games and a very underrated but amazing character in canon. You will enjoy it.