Disclaimer: I do not own Hunger Games, Catching Fire, or Mockingjay.
A/N: Sigh…wrapping up this story, and I'm sad to end it. But, my intention all along was to take the final several chapters from Mockingjay and tell it all from Peeta's perspective, but keep it within the framework of the original story, naturally giving a lot more information about their lives along the way. So, I am concluding this with my own epilogue.
I must take a moment to say thank you to anyone who is reading this. I was excited every day to see how many people read the story, and extra thanks to anyone who chose to click it as a story alert, favorite story, or favorite author. And especially, I appreciate the reviews so many of you took the time to give. Even when you questioned my writing or didn't agree with a choice I made, I appreciated it. For a beginning writer like me, any kind of feedback is just incredibly helpful. I want to especially thank those who made multiple reviews, and an extra extra thanks to the following for being so faithful in their reviewing of this story: ThisLittleDeath, TrapperII, roj, and koalakoala9836, who I believe reviewed every chapter!
So, anyway, here it is. Enjoy!
It's ridiculous, really. The way I stare at her. Almost sixty years old, and I still gawk at her like some lovesick teenage boy.
She's different, of course. We both are. Her shiny black hair transformed almost entirely to silvery gray. Weight on both of our bodies that was never there when we were younger. But, she wears it all well, and is still the most beautiful person I have ever seen.
I don't have to look in a mirror to know what my own changes are. I have to be happy for the gray hairs I have, since I prefer the gray to the bare spots. A soft body, much less muscle than my old bakery days. Luckily for me, my current prosthetic leg is much more natural looking than the previous four. Changes, always changes. Except for the scars, of course. We both knew they would never go away.
I watch her as she does some off-season pruning of the primroses, wrapped up tight in a coat and scarf. She wouldn't normally be out here this time of year, but there are reasons. There always are. Which is the other reason I watch her. Not just because she takes my breath away, like she has since we were so little. No, I'm also checking. Checking to make sure she is okay.
I can tell she's better, at least, as I am too. Better after a rough couple of nights. What has it been – about five years? – since it's been this bad. Of course it's been mounting over the last few days, and understandably so. What with what we have to face tomorrow. At least this doesn't happen very often. To hear Katniss's screams again, after these quieter years, is so difficult. For myself, I never wanted to go back to those places the dreams have taken me. To arenas and jungles, to the slaughter of innocents.
As I lean against the porch rail, bundled against the cold, I try to shake off the nightmare from last night, but that's not so easy to do. It was one of the worst. The kind that left me sitting on the edge of the bed, overcome with tremors, my head in my hands.
A violent spectacle of blood, severed parts. All done by our hands. But we weren't kids in this one; no, we were as old as we are now. Which is what made it especially gruesome, because the others were kids. Katniss and I, slaughtering kids.
She didn't tell me hers, but I can't imagine it was any less horrific.
But, in a few days, when this is all over, it should all start to subside again. Like it has all the other times. One of the benefits of aging, I suppose, is knowing that hard times will always come, but likewise, they will always go.
So, today she gardens, digs her gloved fingers into frozen dirt, gently cutting back last year's stalks. Therapy. So different than when she tried it at first, all mania, tearing and ripping. Now, she is smooth, gentle, methodical.
There's a pause in her work. Her words carry over to me: "I thought you had things to do?" Said with humor, an oft-repeated phrase that's a joke between us at times like this. Delivered without even the barest head-turn in my direction. She just always knows.
"I suppose," I answer. And I do, of course, have things to do. Quite a few things, actually. She turns her head then, checking on me too. And then she's up, more slowly than she used to rise, and coming to me. As she removes her gloves, just the slightest glimmer of dim winter light reflects off of it. If it weren't for that, I wouldn't notice it from here. But, I'd always know it was there. Our pearl. Now set in a ring on her left hand. That crazy pearl given by a teenage boy to a teenage girl many years ago, carried by both of us, a symbol of hope that never died. Something that connected us then, and became even more of a connection when we married.
Getting Katniss to agree to marriage, well, that was a challenge just like so many other decisions of ours. I knew it would just take time, that I was ready first, but if I didn't give up, she'd come around. When the time finally seemed right, I knew I couldn't do the standard down on one knee proposal. After all, she's not one for big romantic gestures. And, besides, I'd already done that, when the Capitol was forcing a marriage, and there was no way we were going to relive that memory.
So, instead, I took the pearl to a jeweler in the Capitol, had it set in a ring. Nothing extravagant, just a nice, simple setting. I felt some discomfort, a few winces, as I remembered the time I tried to suggest a commitment between us before, and had shown her the pearl. But, so much had happened between us since then, I knew in my heart it was different. After all, we were in a new place in our relationship, learning so much about each other, in love. It seemed right.
So, after the ring was finished, I didn't make any fancy presentation of it. Just waited until one night when we were getting into bed and presented it to her. Asked her simply if we could get married. Again, wanting her to make that choice, not making her feel forced or mandated to do anything. She accepted, and we set the date shortly after that.
That was all so simple, but planning the wedding, well, that was something else. Ultimately we got what we wanted, a small quiet ceremony with a few witnesses, the District 12 tradition with the toast. But it was a battle to get it to work out that way. Once word got out we were engaged, the whole of Panem wanted something else entirely. Being personally acquainted with President Paylor was the thing that saved us, as she employed some devious tactics to keep our wedding date a secret. Of course we appreciated that a whole nation wanted to rejoice in our happiness, but the truth is, the nation never really knew us, what we were really about.
I'm so wrapped up in my thoughts, my memories, that I don't even realize she's right there with me now. "I thought you had about a hundred things to do?" she teases me as we exchange a kiss.
She looks at me closely, the lines on her face a reflection of the life she's lived, and she sees my worry. "I'm okay, really," she tells me. "Go ahead into town. You've got a train to meet, and you don't want to be late. I'll be here when you get back." Her smile tells me she means it, to stop hovering. It's a hard habit to break, after all this time. But, I agree and head into town. She's right. There's no way I want to miss that train.
I never get over the surprise I feel each time I walk into town, the transformation that's taken place. Sure, forty years is a long time, but it took so long for big differences to really happen. . The town center, filled with shops, houses and apartments of all styles. Schools for the children, community gardens, paths to walk on. Even a few shiny buildings and cars on the roads. I pass the first of three bakeries in town. None of them mine. Not that I never considered it.
As families moved back into Twelve so many years ago, there was some interest, and actually pressure at times, for me to start a bakery, continue my family's business. I had been giving away baked goods, to worker, shopkeepers, new arrivals. Katniss was all for it, continuing my family's tradition. But, after thinking long on it, I decided not to. Baking was a way of life in my earlier years, part of my identity. Somewhere along the way, though, it became therapy, a necessary element of my recovery. Making it a job had me worried it would take that away from me. Besides, to work it would need to be a family business. I laugh as I remember the disaster of Katniss baking bread with me so many years ago. At some point, a person has to recognize their limitations, and well, the baking business is just not part of her blood.
I stop in the market, check over the list given to me by Katniss, and gather up the things we need. Plenty of things, since we'll have quite a bit of company over the next couple of days.
The days we haven't wanted to think about. In forty years, we've managed to avoid it every other time. Always found some kind of an excuse: some plausible, some just barely a thread of an excuse. A friend or relative needing our help. One of us overcome with illness. An appointment in another district. But this time, well, we were out of excuses. So, we're facing what we dread. The 40th Anniversary of the fall of the Capitol, Panem's Freedom Day Celebration. And who is going to be interviewed for all to see? The Mockingjay herself.
Forty years. Of course, it's an important day to commemorate. It's a day of celebration throughout all of Panem. Schools closed, businesses closed. People celebrating the overthrow of hatred, the end of the horrific Hunger Games, the beginnings of freedom. The only problem with this anniversary? Well, of course for Katniss it marks another anniversary as well, one she can never separate from the commemorated day, because how could she? Prim's death was part of the whole thing. So, while the whole of Panem rejoices, it's a day every year that for us is quiet and reflective, no fanfare, no pomp, just us, getting through it as best we can, remembering in our own quiet way.
So, we knew the nightmares were inevitable, and I do have things to do today. Things to get ready for tomorrow, when the cameras descend on us, when we have to assume our roles again. She as the Mockingjay, and us together as the star-crossed lovers. It's not the first time Panem has wanted this from us. The 5 year anniversary, the 10 year, 20 year, 30 year. Each time, their attempt to get their symbols of the revolution back on television, back before crowds. So, why are they getting what they want this time? Well, apart from being out of excuses, it's kind of a favor for an old friend.
He'd never asked before, during all those other years when he was the hotshot anchor at different networks, maybe because he wasn't ready to face it either. But, as his career slows down, even the good looks he bears at his age vastly overshadowed by the new anchors who could be his children, he decided that maybe the time was right. So, Gale will be here tomorrow, ready to interview us, to spend three days with us. We haven't seen him, at least in person, since he last visited, about twelve years ago now. And, there's some anxiety, on Katniss's part, since his visit corresponds with the anniversary of Prim's death. Katniss eventually told me about the association between Gale and the parachutes and Prim. Finally forgave him and was able to forge a peace between them. Maybe my chance meeting with him many years ago helped make that happen.
It was a couple of years after I'd decided not to open a bakery. I still needed work, and helped out in some of the shops in town for a time. But, with some prodding from people we knew around here, I made a decision to try something else – I ran for election as a representative of District 12. I won, handily, and was excited about the possibility of continuing to make Panem not just better, but a country in this world that others would aspire to be like.
I only stayed in the position for two years, though. The politics got to me; the insistence of others in treating me as a symbol, rather than as a guy who wanted to work out the best for his district, his nation. Besides, it involved frequent extended stays in the Capitol, and as much as Katniss and I don't need to be joined at the hip, being apart was hard for both of us. So, after that, I returned to my work here. When the kids got older, I reentered politics, but this time at the local level. A council member for 12. It's satisfying work, inherently frustrating at times, but it helps me feel like I have a hand in making our district one of contentment and opportunity, a place where families and individuals prosper. And, best of all, it keeps me close to home.
Back when I was a representative, I had a chance meeting over lunch one day. Of all people to run into in the Capitol, Gale. He asked to join me, and we sat together eating a meal as though we were old friends. We were both older, but Gale didn't show many signs of his age, still so handsome. When he asked about Katniss, I told him all I could. Better, so much better, but still struggling with nightmares and bouts of depression. That we were hoping to start a family. Still living in the Victor's Village. I asked about him. Not settled down yet, either professionally or personally. When we left, he shook my hand, and his words were, "I can tell now, Peeta. Katniss made the right choice. You're the one for her." Sincere? Yes, I'm sure of it. I told Katniss when I returned home, and her response to his statement? "Well, of course. Anyone can see that."
So, time passed and peace was made, and now we'll be entertaining him as a house guest. Along with more faces from the past, the reinforcements we called in when we knew we'd have to do this thing. Johanna will be arriving tomorrow by train. We've been lucky to see her many times over the years, and in her own unique way, she's been a good friend to Katniss. Johanna's one of those people you just don't have to pretend around. There'd be no point in it. Finn will join us as well, along with his wife, Jos. Can't believe Finn is nearing forty, a happy man with a good life. Annie isn't up to the trip, and it'll be a shame to miss her.
I remember the trip we took, Katniss and I, to see her and meet Finn not long after we were married. Of course, it was a trip that would be impossible to forget. We took advantage of the travel in District 4 to see Katniss's mom. This was where we got blind-sided: upon our arrival, we learned that she was dying. A slow, painful death only eased by her own healing herbs and a good doctor in the district. I cannot possibly forget the agony it put Katniss through, when we arrived and found things were not as they seemed. Katniss's mother, her hair mostly gone, a red rash creeping over so much of her. The emotions that flashed across Katniss's face – confusion, surprise, and shock, then anger. Her fury, at being left in the dark about this most critical point in her mother's life. Her incredible effort to hold in the screams that were trying to tear out of her, hold them in for everyone else's sake.
We were so fortunate to get there when we did. She didn't make it long after that, and the loss of her mother was obviously devastating for Katniss. But, having felt she'd already lost her mother so many years before, well, it left her feeling empty for quite awhile.
It also meant our children would never know their grandparents. They're in the book, of course. All of them, and we shared their pictures and our memories with the kids often. Fortunately, they had a sort of surrogate grandfather in the person of Haymitch. Sadly, he's left us now, but I think we were all surprised how long he stayed with us, given the state of his body and his mind. The last years of his life were among his best. The day he met Lenelia Locken, a waitress in town, his age, but about a hundred times wilder, with her blonde spiked hair, her clothes as outrageous as anything you'd see in the Capitol. She kept him on his toes those years, gave him something to live for.
You old fool, I think to myself. Getting so wrapped up in memories like this. I check my watch, not wanting to be late, not even a minute late, to the train. Of course, memories of the past are always the heaviest when we hit these anniversary days.
I quicken my steps, as I hurry to meet the other two who will be staying with us. The guests we're looking forward to the most, of course. Our own daughter, Primrose Rue, and her husband, Ryis. We were broken-hearted when, after they got married, they chose to live in District 11. But we understood. As quiet as we've tried to keep our life, there's been recurring interest in us, through all our years, just as there is now. It was something Primrose needed to separate herself from, needed the anonymity she could only have outside of District Twelve. So, she and Ryis found work in Eleven, and thankfully it's not so far away. Just a few hours on the train, so we are able to see them frequently. Not the same as if they lived here close by, but it could be worse.
At least Harmon, our son, chose to stay in Twelve. Living alone, but not too far from us. It seems funny, how many years it took for Katniss to decide that she wanted children too. I, in all honesty, was pretty desperate, never able to really imagine our lives without children. But, I tried so hard not to push, not to make her feel like she had to do that just for me. Because that's something that's always seemed too easy for her, the ability, the decision to do something to please me or someone else rather than because it's important to her.
But, after about fifteen years, the day came, the day Katniss felt it might be a safe enough world for us to start a family. We almost waited too long, not sure we'd be able to conceive children in our late thirties. Carrying Primrose was hard for Katniss, all her old fears resurfacing, the nightmares increasing. But, the joy, from the very beginning, that Primrose has given us, is something neither of us could ever imagine being without. Naming her was easy enough. Had she been born years before, it may have been too hard for Katniss to choose her sister's name. But, since more time had passed, it felt right. Then, a few years later, a boy. Harmon Chesley Davon Mellark. A mouthful of a name, but Katniss insisted. It was important to honor not just my dad, Harmon, but both of my brothers as well. So, he's got a mouthful of a name and a big heart.
Watching them grow up, which all happened way too fast, changed our lives. There's nothing like kids to keep you grounded in the here and now, stop you from dwelling on the past. Except, of course, when the days came that we started to tell them about the Games and our part in them. About the rebellion and the Mockingjay.
They had a lot of questions. Harmon, always forthright with his, never holding back. Primrose, more introspective. She'd be quiet, taking in what we'd say, then about three days later would suddenly ask us a question about it. We worried that her mind was troubled with our past, but it's been obvious to us, our children have grown up happy. Happy and safe.
My quicker pace gets me to the train station ahead of the train, and I see the posting that says it'll be about ten minutes late. Enough time to sit and wait. From here I can see a lot of the newer buildings in town, see the memorial. It doesn't make me flinch anymore, neither of us, like it used to. At first, for years in fact, it was too hard for Katniss to bear, the list of names, all the tributes from all the years, all the families lost to the bombing. But, time passes on, and it became more familiar to us, less of something to be avoided, more important to see it, to remember, to reflect.
I hear the rumble, getting closer, train wheels on tracks. It arrives, and folks start to leave the train. And then there she is, bundled against the cold, her beautiful dark hair falling like a waterfall around her shoulders. She spots me right away, quickens her paces, a virtual jog. Her smile, always so warm, so open. The cold has brought out a blush in her cheeks as well. Ryis, her husband, is along with her, tall, sandy-haired, young and eager. He is holding her hand.
I embrace my little girl, my grown-up little girl, shake the hand of the man she loves. Help them with their bags; thankfully they travel light. The light is getting dimmer as we make our way back to our house, talking the whole way of the trip, the weather. We all know better than to mention what begins tomorrow. Tonight is a night not to be intruded on in that way.
By the time we get home, Harmon has arrived and is at work getting a fire going in the fireplace, his blond hair tumbling into his eyes as he does so. Greetings are made all the way around, and Primrose goes to help Katniss in the kitchen. It's funny to still be here, in this house. The Victor's Village, it used to be called. We were so thankful when the sign was torn down, and the areas around us were blended in so our neighborhood didn't stand out anymore as something different.
We'd talked for years of moving to a different house, maybe building. But, the timing was never right, and instead we just worked on this place. Remodeled some inside, extended the gardens outside, chose our own furnishings. Once all the other houses on the street became occupied and the sounds of life and children and activity were around us, it really made the place what it is now and has been for years: our home.
Dinner is soon ready, there's a steady stream of conversation around the table. Any time we have Harmon and Primrose here together it gets loud. Their sibling banter, their debates, always in fun, done in love, but boisterous. Ryis gets a surprise when one of our two cats, Pipsqueak, jumps on his lap to try to get at his soup.
Katniss catches my eye and smiles. She's at her best when her family is around. She needs life around her, always has.
Just before we dig into dessert, Primrose suddenly asks for everyone's attention.
"Ryis and I have some news."
We all wait, wondering, hoping everything is okay. They exchange a glance, then she tells us. "We're going to have a baby."
Silence follows, the news sinking in. Harmon's the first to break the silence. "Whew – thank you, sis. More pressure off me to settle down!"
We laugh, and suddenly the congratulations are flowing. I'm on my feet without realizing it, going over to hug my girl, pat my son-in-law on the back.
Katniss smiles and says softly, "I'm so happy for you," her voice thick with emotion.
After dinner, I see them huddled together, mother and daughter. Talking closely. The bond they have has always been so close. I know this is a special moment for both of them.
Katniss and I sit in the living room after cleaning up the dishes. Harmon's gone home for the night. Primrose and Ryis are settled into the guest room. Many nights, we sit and watch television in the evening, such a new and novel concept for us. But, we won't be watching for awhile, not until this period of remembrance has passed, because we know what we'd see. We lived it, we don't need to relive it. So, instead we drink tea, talk, read. We're quiet tonight, each lost in our own thoughts. She breaks the silence first: "Well, I guess I'll have to start calling you Grandpa Mellark."
"And you'll be Grandma. Honestly, even now I sometimes can't believe that I'd even be called 'dad' let alone Grandpa. How did we get to be so old anyway?"
She just laughs and returns her gaze to the cover of the book she's been reading, tracing the words with her finger. "So," she says, "that was big news. A baby." I think I catch a hint of a smile forming at the corners of her mouth.
"You used to worry so much about babies."
"Used to. Not anymore. This one is just….just perfect. Couldn't be more perfect."
She looks happy, content. But, as always I still feel the need to assuage her fears. "She's strong and healthy. Primrose. She'll….do great. She'll be a natural mother."
"Yes, she will. The best."
"And Ryis. He's a good husband. He'll make a wonderful father."
She nods. "Just like someone else I know," she says, and her gray eyes meet mine. I look right back at her, at that same face I've been staring at for 40-some years.
I've tried to be a good husband, a good father. To be with Katniss, share a life with her, but give her the space she needs as well. Do we argue, have disagreements? Sure, of course. Sometimes she gets irritated with my generally hopeful nature, needs to wrap herself in darkness just for a while, then work her way out. It's one of the reasons we balance each other so well, fit together. Dark and light.
"So, about tomorrow….how do you feel?" I ask.
"I'm okay. Not worried. I can handle tomorrow," she replies, no trace of the old fear and pain in her voice. "Besides, I'll have you right next to me."
I take her hand in mine and reply back, simple and true: "Always."