11 years later
The final whistle blows and the crowd roars. A great sense of sadness sweeps through my whole body. I look up at the crowd with pride and the pin pricks of tears at the corners of my eyes.
I have just played the last minute of my professional footballing career.
Slowly, in the main stand, the fans raise blue and white cards above their heads. On some cards there are black markings and by the time the last person has raised the last card I am staring back at a large image of myself with the words "Panem Thanks You" written underneath.
My heart clenches and I have to take a deep breath to compose myself. Rye would never let me forget it if I cry but the reality of the situation hits me. I will no longer play football. I will no longer feel the love of these fans.
I try to smile as I look around the stands. The fans start singing the Panem City song and my team mates come up to me and pat me on the back. Even the opposing fans all stand to applaud me. They recognise my achievement and respect me for it. I close my eyes and try to soak in every last minute of this game. I let the noise wash over me and I feel the pride of being part of this consume me. This doesn't have to be a sad day.
I open my eyes again and turn to applaud the crowd. They cheer even louder as I begin a lap of honour to thank them for their support. They have made playing special these last few years.
The fans and club have come a long way in the last 11 years and I am once again proud to call myself a Panem City supporter. The sectarianism in the city has drastically reduced. Both clubs have put a lot of money into getting people into schools and workplaces and educating them on the merits of working together. There are also programmes that have been set up specifically for United and City fans to work together in various community projects. There is still the occasional violent act on the street but they are few and far between.
The rehabilitation of the city has been so successful that the FA have asked me to lead similar projects in cities and clubs that have similar problems. Once this season is over I will be travelling the country and speaking with fans about the importance of tolerance and acceptance.
Both Panem City and Panem United have flourished as a result of this peace and in the past 11 years the Premier League Trophy has only left the city 3 times. Both clubs are in a period of dominance that the pundits like to debate and analyse constantly on Match of the Day.
Panem City secured the Premier League trophy last weekend when we beat Manchester United. This game is really just a testimonial match for me. A match to celebrate my career and everything I have done for this club. I will get to lift the trophy in a few minutes and savour the feeling of victory one last time.
At 34 my body is getting too old to play high level football every week and I made the decision a month ago to retire from the professional game. It has been a hard decision. I have been playing football for as long as I can remember and I don't quite know how I will cope with not turning up to training any longer. Rye has equated retiring to the like of a loss of a limb. It always feels like part of you is missing.
Though as I walk round the stadium for one last time my main source of joy comes hurtling towards me. My 6 year old daughter, Poppy, comes barrelling across the turf with her two dark braids flying behind her. She wears the royal blue strip of Panem City with my number 12 and the words Daddy sprawled across the back. My 3 year old son toddles behind her in a matching shirt, trying to keep up on his tiny legs. His blond curls fall into his grey eyes and he stumbles a little as he tries desperately to catch up with his big sister. My wife smiles as he gently falls on his bottom and she scoops him up into her arms to carry him the rest of the way.
Several other wives, girlfriends and children have made it onto the pitch now and the players stand about celebrating with them. Poppy collides into my legs and I bend down to pick her up.
"You won Daddy! Do you get the trophy now?" she asks as she wraps her arms around my neck.
I smile at her and kiss the side of her head.
"Yes cupcake. It is almost as big as you!" I reply as I lean into to wiggle her nose.
Poppy giggles as she tightens her grip around my neck.
"Can I take it to school for show and tell?" she asks.
"Maybe I will come in and show it to everyone. Then I can come and see you at school," I reply.
Poppy nods her head excitedly.
"Then I can show you my model of a dinosaur. Miss Trinket says it is the scariest one in the class!" she exclaims.
I chuckle and tell her that I'm sure it is and that I can't wait to see it.
Katniss, carrying our son Ash, finally catches up with us and leans into to give me a soft kiss.
I never thought I would see the day that an Everdeen would be wearing a Panem City shirt but here Katniss stands in front of me today proudly wearing the royal blue strip with my name on the back. But I guess it is her name now too.
Our families are not best friends but they tolerate each other. We can leave them alone in a room together without anyone getting hurt. Rye and Gale still find it the hardest to get on but it has been a lot easier since Rye married Johanna 6 years ago.
The families have begrudgingly accepted our relationship with each other and Katniss and my mum have even managed to form a special bond. They regularly go out for lunch together and discuss the latest books and black and white films they have seen. I'm not quite sure this is a good thing as I think they spend a lot of time gossiping about me but their relationship is more than I could have ever hoped for.
The Everdeens are even here to celebrate with my family today. I can see both families making their way down from the corporate box to come and join us. I am glad that we have reached a point where we can all respect each other enough to come together like this.
The children have made things easier for both families. Neither family want to miss out on time with their grandchildren and Poppy and Ash have proven to be a great ice breaker between the two families. Both sets of grandparents are extremely proud over them and the children have been taught how to support both Panem City and Panem United.
Katniss smiles at me as she rearranges Ash on her hip.
"You did it. Welcome to a life of retirement. I'll call Saga holidays and book you into bridge club," she teases
"You are just jealous that I am going to be a man of leisure while you are still out working," I reply.
Katniss smiles. Once she had finished her training at Panem United she left the club to become a finical advisor for Heavensbee and Coin in the centre of Panem. She didn't want her whole life to revolve around football and made the decision that it would be healthy for the club if she left. Her dad wasn't too happy but after strong words from her mother stating that their children need to have their own lives he backed down. The nepotism at the two clubs was one of the main reasons the hate was able to build up. Both clubs are now reaching out to recruit from out with the family and I know I will not encourage my own children to work for the club.
"You'll be a kept man soon," Katniss replies with a grin. "Don't worry. I'll set up an account for you so you can buy yourself something pretty."
I laugh and Ash reaches out his chubby hands for me. I place Poppy back down on her feet before I reach across to take my son off Katniss.
"We'll just have to make lots of cakes to make sure Mummy doesn't throw us out!" I exclaim as I tickle Ash under the chin.
He shrieks in delight and reaches out to try and tickle me in return.
Our families have made their way down to us now and my mum gives me a watery smile as she pulls Ash and I in for a hug. The tears I had managed to keep at bay resurface again and threaten to break through.
"Don't you start crying Mum or you will set me off," I joke as Mum pulls away.
She smiles at me sadly as she reaches out to stroke a curl behind my ear.
"I'm sorry. I'm just so proud of everything you have achieved," she replies as she wipes a tear from her eye.
My heart clenches at her words. There was a point in my life when I thought none of my family would ever speak to me again. To hear that my mum is proud of me makes my heart swell.
"You didn't cry when I retired," Rye says breaking the tension.
He stands to the side with an arm wrapped around Johanna and their 4 year old twins running around their legs. Mum sniffs loudly as she turns to look at my older brother.
"Yes, well you and your wife are still intent on causing me problems. I'm still scarred by those pictures of you 2 on holiday. I did not need to see that much flesh of my daughter-in-law," she replies.
Rye grins wider and I see Katniss trying to bite back a laugh.
"Yes, yes. We all know Peeta is the golden child of the family. Saved the club and the city. Blah, blah, blah. I hope that halo on top of your head is not hurting you brother," he says to me with a grin.
I smile back at him affectionately and Johanna smirks back at me. Some very suggestive pictures of Johanna and Rye appeared in the tabloid newspapers after their most recent holiday in Sardinia.
"Peeta and Katniss may be the sensible ones but who has the most fun?" Johanna asks with a wicked smile.
There is a round of laughter from many members of the family and Rye grins broadly. Mum just shakes her head knowing she will never be able to curb the slightly crazy antics of my brother and his wife.
Heath Everdeen is the next to come and congratulate me. He gives me a pat on the shoulder and Ash's eyes widen in delight when he sees his grandpa.
"Congratulations. If there was one player we could have had from another team it would have been you. You were a great player and captain," he says.
I smile in gratitude as Ash reaches out for his grandpa. Heath Everdeen's eyes look away from me to look affectionately at my son. He sticks his hands out and I pass Ash to him. Heath's eyes immediately soften as Ash asks him if he is coming to the party later. He listens to my son carefully as he tells him all about my retirement party we are having at my house later. The Everdeens were the first to accept the invitation.
I turn to Katniss and we share a small smile before Poppy tugs on my shirt and demands my attention.
Around me the crowd is still cheering. Both families stand together talking amicably. My team mates jump and shout and spray each other with champagne.
This has been my life for so long. Football and chanting and winning. But my biggest prizes are standing with me now. Their arms wrapped around me and their eyes full of love.
After all there is more to life than football.
A/N: So that it the end! It has been a great journey and thank you to everyone who has read and left me messages about the story. Your support has very much been valued.