Yes, I know. It took a lot longer than two weeks. But at least it's three times longer than I said it would be!
This epilogue takes us back to where the story began. To Peeta. Because even though most of the chapters are written in Katniss's POV, TMW is Peeta's story.
The 92nd Annual Hunger Games were different.
Peeta saw the female tribute from 11 for the first time in the Training Center during the first day of training. He knew right away that there was something different about her. He thought it was simply because she looked eerily familiar.
"She looks just like Rue," he said under his breath to Chaff.
Peeta had never been able to forget the little girl, whose bloody fingers he had closed a single flower around before the hovercraft picked up her body. She still featured heavily in his nightmares.
"She's Rue's cousin," Chaff told him, his voice low. He, too, had never been able to forget little Rue. "She's different, though.," Chaff chuckled lowly to himself. "She pinned me to the wall with a knife on the train," he explained as he tugged on the shoulder pad of his jacket.
"Really?" Peeta could hardly believe his own ears. "Why did she do that?"
"To get my attention," Chaff chuckled. "Ruined the mahogany accent. Madeline was furious."
"Effie would've been furious, too."
As they watched the girl shoot, taking down one Capitol simulation after another with her arrows, Peeta realized that he was witnessing something – or rather, someone – quite extraordinary. She had an elusive quality that Peeta couldn't really put his finger on; something that went far beyond her obvious prowess with the bow. She had a quiet strength, an air of defiance.
"Interesting," he said.
Peeta's eyes met with Chaff's. "Very interesting," Chaff agreed.
As Snow's health deteriorated, the President gradually lost control, and his prospective successors were fighting amongst themselves. Their battle was stealthy as they fought with words, policy-making, and poison - but never with weapons. Not yet. And while the Capitolites fought one another, drawing on the Capitol for resources, the resistance grew stronger, waiting in the shadows.
It only took a few days from Chaff alerting the rebellion of the girl's potential to receive confirmation that the time had come. Peeta didn't know if the decision was made because the girl was considered extraordinarily promising, or if the President's health had deteriorated to the point where they felt they had no other choice but to move ahead.
Secret plans laid long ago were set into motion.
Alliances were made. Gamemakers were being paid to look the opposite direction at critical moments. Anonymous donations were made, enabling Seeder and Chaff to provide their girl tribute with weapons, food, and medicine.
Cinna was reassigned to 11. The other designers pitied him, but Cinna claimed he had requested the transfer himself. Making the handpicked and well-trained tributes from 1 look beautiful was easy. Cinna said he wanted to make poor, overlooked 11 shine in order to prove his talent.
And shine they did. Cinna took inspiration from the vast fields of grain in 11. He designed parade clothes for the tributes that appeared to shimmer like a wheat field on a late summer day. When the girl twirled during her interview with an aging Caesar Flickerman, it looked as though the dress was illuminated by the sun.
She became known as the golden girl.
Soon after, possibilities presented themselves that weren't part of the rebellion's original plans. Although initially less interesting, it turned out the girl's district partner was not one to overlook. The boy had a way with words, and he was intelligent as well. He devised a plan to reveal his secret love for his district partner on live TV, and Panem immediately fell in love with them both.
The girl was furious, and behind the stage after the show, the boy was stunned into silence as he watched the girl protest vehemently. Peeta couldn't be sure, but the expression on the boy's face hit close to home. The boy's feelings were hurt.
The girl had no choice but to play along, though.
"I can't believe I haven't thought about the star-crossed lovers thing myself," Haymitch said to Peeta one night in the bar. "It's genius." But of course, 12 never had a pair of tributes that could have been passed off as lovers, let alone someone who had an actual chance at winning the Hunger Games.
Never had Peeta gotten less sleep in the Capitol than he did that year. Mentoring his own tributes, both 16 - the girl Seam, the boy surprisingly Town – made him feel sick inside. As mentors, he and Haymitch were the only ones in the Capitol the two children could trust. Peeta had never managed to save one of his tributes, not once, but he always tried. But this year, he knew he would be sacrificing his tributes' lives to save someone else. He just hoped it would be worth it.
Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee expertly set up the Games to show off the pair. To maximize the attention, Heavensbee even managed to change the rules of the Hunger Games. For the first time in history, there could be two winners - if the two last remaining tributes came from the same district.
Panem loved it.
But Snow did not, and no one could go against the President's last minute orders during the very last night of the Games. Maybe the dying President had spies among the rebellion? Or perhaps he simply didn't care for the star-crossed lovers? Either way, the rule change was revoked. There could only be one winner after all.
Peeta could see that something died in them both as the two children looked at each other, knowing that one of them would have to murder the other. The girl quickly drew her bow, aiming the arrow at her district partner's heart. All of Panem held their collective breaths.
The boy threw his knife away.
"It doesn't really matter if she kills him," Peeta thought to himself as he helplessly watched the drama unfold with his fists clenched. "She will see his face in her dreams every night for the rest of her life, but at least she will be alive."
Until then, the girl had been nothing but a piece in the Games that, unbeknownst to her, were rigged by the Gamemakers so that she would win. But at that moment, faced with having to kill her district partner, she did something unexpected.
The arena was full of an array of poisonous plants that year. Apparently, this was one of the few things the President had specifically asked for in the design phase of the Arena. The properties of some of the plants were taught to the tributes during training, but not all. With very few other sources of food available in the Arena, unless you were a Career, it was a particularly cruel twist; several tributes had already died a long, painful death from eating poisonous plants. The tributes from 11 were fortunate enough to live in a district with a similar climate to the arena, and as a result, they had been able to identify and avoid the poisonous plants relatively easily.
Peeta watched as the President's preference for poison worked against him.
The girl reached down and plucked a handful of leaves from one of the plants. The boy, holding her eyes, followed suit. Before any further announcements could be made, they placed the poisonous leaves into their mouths. Peeta watched the star-crossed lovers embrace each other, both bloody and their clothes torn, as chaos erupted in the training center, and probably all of the Capitol as well.
No victor? There had never been any Hunger Games without a victor. The Capitol needed its victor. And what's more, the rebellion needed the victor, too. Peeta felt his heart pound in his chest. Was the revolution going to end before it had even begun? As he stared at the screen, unable to avert his eyes, he couldn't help but notice one thing.
Neither of them had swallowed the leaves yet.
Heavensbee hastily declared them both victors of the 92nd Hunger Games, and as the star-crossed lovers spit the leaves out of their mouths, their fingers still intertwined, the live feed was cut off from all of Panem.
As Peeta stood in the hallway of the infirmary between the rooms of the new victors, he couldn't believe it himself.
"At the end there," he said to Chaff. "They looked almost real."
"I know," Chaff replied.
A small group of victors, summoned by Heavensbee, discreetly slipped away from the festivities that always followed the end of the Hunger Games in the Capitol. Beetee's device disabled the bugs. They could speak freely, at least for a little while.
"This is it," Plutarch Heavensbee said, nodding towards the screen. The girl's brown eyes were surprisingly calm as she lifted the deadly leaves to her mouth, ready to die instead of following the rules of the Games set by the Capitol. "She is the face of the revolution."
Peeta wondered if the golden girl even knew yet. Did she even have a say in this? Would she want to be the symbol of a revolution? He couldn't imagine how anyone could want that.
He met Cashmere's eyes from across the table, and there was a small smile on her lips.
"All Panem needs is a spark to light the fire," Heavensbee said, his voice triumphant. And Peeta realized that the Head Gamemaker didn't care what the golden girl wanted.
Did he himself care? Peeta wondered. He realized he probably didn't. The girl would never be free, anyway. She was a victor. She was destined to be used by someone; it was just a question of by whom and for what purpose. Was being the symbol of the revolution better than being a prostitute against your will? To mentor children destined to be murdered, year after year?
Maybe, maybe not.
That night, Peeta had a dream. Surprisingly, it wasn't a nightmare.
It was spring, and he was in the Meadow with Katniss, Ivy, and Arrow.
There was someone else there, too. A young girl, maybe five or six, with black hair and blue eyes. She held her brother's hand. The boy was little more than a toddler, with blond hair and Seam gray eyes. As he and Katniss watched their children play, Katniss looked up at him with laughter in her eyes. She had a dandelion tucked behind her ear, and she smelled like sunshine. He leaned down to kiss her, and she smiled against his lips.
That's when he woke up, in a cold, lonely Capitol bed. He kept his eyes closed as he was - for once - unwilling to let go of a dream. He tried to hold on to the feeling of Katniss in his arms, but the touch of her soft lips against his own slowly faded. In that moment, he knew.
Whatever the rebellion asked of him, he would do it. He would do anything for the chance to watch his children play in the Meadow.
Ending a multi-chapter fic and saying goodbye to a universe and its characters is always emotional. This has been an amazing ride. When I first started writing TMW, I did so almost reluctantly, because I thought that surely someone had done something like this before. Victor!Peeta and widow!Katniss – it didn't really seem all that original. I couldn't help it, though, I HAD to write this story.
I initially thought TMW would be ten chapters long, but it just kept expanding as the storyline became clearer. I realized the characters needed to be fleshed out, including the supporting characters. And most importantly, Katniss and Peeta needed time to grow together. TMW ended up being 26 chapters long, not 10, and it took me almost a year and a half to write it. Now that I'm posting the epilogue, it feels strange – but right – to finally let this universe go. It's time. But writing this story has been a team effort, and there are a lot of people I need to thank.
First of all, I'd like to thank Lbug84, my extraordinary beta and online best friend, for all the hours you've spent on this fic. Without your superb betaing skills ("this needs work"), who knows how this fic would've turned out!
Thank you to Chelzie for prereading. You're the best!
Thank you to shininalltheway, who made the banner. When I got your anonymous PM on Tumblr, I was incredibly touched that someone loved my story enough to make me a banner – and one that was just perfect for TMW, at that! I was so happy when you revealed your identity after a while, so I could thank you properly.
Thank you to everyone who has reviewed, liked, followed, subscribed, left kudos, and sent me PMs on Tumblr and on FFN. You're a big part of the reason why I write for this fandom. It's so inspiring to read your feedback - to hear your thoughts on my story, to realize that my characters touch you.
I'd also like to thank everyone who's read the story without leaving feedback, because it's very inspiring to see the story stats too. Knowing that I've reached so many people with my writing is amazing. When I posted the last chapter of TOM, I asked people who had read, but not yet reviewed, to please give me their thoughts on the story now that it was over. Many of them did, and I loved hearing from my silent readers – so I'd like to ask the same thing this time, too.
I have a lot going on in RL right now, and I plan for this to be my last multi-chapter fic. I'm not planning on leaving the fandom, but I'll have to focus on other things. I am still planning to finish my WIPs though, and maybe I'll write a few one-shots, who knows. I'm going on vacation now though, and nothing will be updated until after summer – September at the very earliest. The next update will probably be Midwinter.
Thank you all for reading!