DISCLAIMER: All of the characters, plots, places, and everything else Hunger Games-related belongs to Suzanne Collins. I own none of it, and I am in no way associated with the Hunger Games franchise. No copyright infringement intended.
A/N This is the final chapter of Playing With The Odds. I can't even begin to say how sorry I am for how long it took me to write this. I have the very best readers and reviewers in the world, and I would like to thank each and every one of you. You've helped to inspire me and make me a better writer with each review. So I hope you enjoy this last chapter! :')
"Katniss, it's nearly ten o'clock! People are going to be here soon and you need to get ready! Get up!"
Prim's anxious voice would have sent me into action on any other day, but instead I pulled a pillow down over my face and groaned. It was no ordinary day because I was getting married. I had barely had time to process it before everything started falling together. The date was set for early summer, my dress was ordered from a book Effie Trinket sent for Peeta, the guest list was made, and the toasting was arranged all within the blink of an eye. I mostly had Prim to thank. She was the best maid of honor anyone could ask for.
"Katniss, I'm serious! The wedding starts at two, and we have a lot to do before then!" Her voice was crossing the line from worry into full-blown panic, and I knew it was time for me to do something.
"I'm coming!" I yelled. "Calm down!"
She sighed, clearly frustrated, but walked away anyway. I had to chuckle as I heard her stomp down the hallway and start giving mother instructions about how the flowers were to be arranged. Her usual bubbly personality was all business when it came to my wedding. Sometimes I thought she was more excited about me marrying Peeta than I was. She was only sixteen, but she had a way of getting things done.
Following Prim's orders, I fumbled into the bathroom and showered. I brushed my teeth and washed my face but did nothing else to get ready. Even if I tried to put my hair in its usual braid, Prim would make me take it down. So I left my hair hanging loosely down my back and stepped into the living room.
To say that it was chaos would be a complete understatement. Flowers covered every flat surface of the living room and the kitchen, the bridesmaid dresses were hanging in the doorway, and at least four bags of bows were sitting by the door. The flowers were all orange and white and the bows were made of a pale orange silk. The only request I had given Prim was the color scheme. Orange was Peeta's favorite color, like the sunset. Prim was hesitant at first. She had originally envisioned lots of pink, but she quickly obliged once she found what she considered the perfect shade.
I busied myself with examining a flower, and Prim finally took notice of me. "Oh good, you're done!" she exclaimed, her face lighting up with a bright smile. "And you even remembered to wear a button up shirt so it doesn't mess up your hair! Now sit down over here so mother can get started."
I followed her to the only vacant kitchen chair and sat while mother went to work on my hair. After a stretch of silence interrupted only by Prim's occasional rant, mother asked, "Are you nervous?"
Biting the corner of my lip, I answered, "A little."
It wasn't that I was having second thoughts about marrying Peeta. It was the actual ceremony I was worried about. I had been to a wedding once when a friend of my mother's got married. At the time, I was very young and didn't really understand the concept. But like every other wedding in District 12, it was pretty low-key. No one ever makes a big deal about weddings here. Until now, of course.
All I wanted was to sign the papers at the Justice Building and to do a traditional toasting with our families, but Prim wasn't having that. I told her we couldn't afford a big wedding, but I made the mistake of saying that in front of Peeta. Of course he immediately offered to cover everything, saying that he had more money than he knew what to do with from his victory in the Hunger Games. I had scowled at him but finally agreed when I saw Prim's excited face.
"It's normal to be nervous," my mother said. "I was terrified the day I married your father."
"Really?" I asked, truly surprised. She had said very little about him since the accident, and even this small piece of information piqued my curiosity.
"Oh yes," she said with a small laugh. My mother rarely laughed, but she looked at least ten years younger when she did.
"Why were you scared?" I asked, hoping she would continue. I always loved hearing about my father, and talking was doing a lot to help my own nerves.
"His mother," she answered immediately. I was stunned into silence at first, but then we both burst into laughter. First because I had heard many stories about my late grandmother's antics and second because I could relate. She continued, "I'm joking, of course. Although she did give me reason to be anxious, I was mostly nervous for the usual reasons that accompany marriage."
After I managed to catch my breath from laughing, I asked, "What did she do at the wedding?"
"Well," she began. "She came over to my house three hours before it started to make sure we had everything 'just right' and then broke down crying during the service because I was stealing her little boy!"
I laughed a little, and she continued. "Don't get me wrong, honey. She was a wonderful woman who loved her son very much. She just had an… unusual way of showing it."
I rolled my eyes, thinking of my own soon to be mother-in-law. "I know what you mean," I grumbled.
We would be lucky if Peeta's mother even showed up. She wasn't overprotective; that would be better. She was just downright rude. The only time Peeta had taken me with him to visit her, she had done everything short of kicking me out of her house.
"Mrs. Mellark has never been known for her subtlety," my mother said, sounding almost amused. Peeta once told me his father's version of what took place between his parents and mine years ago. The shared history of our families made our relationship impossibly ironic.
My mother's voice roused me from my thoughts. "Regardless of her opinion, Peeta loves you. Anyone can see that. So try not to worry about his mother, dear. Maybe she'll come around someday."
"Maybe," I said, not the slightest bit hopeful that it would actually happen. It would be nice if she did come around, but it was also very unlikely.
With a gentle squeeze of my shoulders, mother said my hair was finished. I stood to look in the mirror she handed me and gasped at what I saw. The top part of my hair was intricately braided with tiny, white flowers weaved throughout the strands, and the rest of my hair was cascading gently down my back in flowing waves. The white flowers created a brilliant contrast with my dark hair.
"What do you think?" she asked.
I turned around and hugged her in response. "It's beautiful," I whispered. "Thank you."
She squeezed my shoulders and said, "You're welcome. Now you had better go to your room because I think I see Madge and Delly coming."
I looked and saw that she was right. My two other bridesmaids were making their way through the Seam and quickly approaching my house. When Prim asked me who else I would like to be a bridesmaid, they were the obvious choices. Madge was my only friend from school as well as Gale's girlfriend, and Delly was Peeta's oldest childhood friend. During the years Peeta and I spent together, she had also become a close friend to me. Delly was even more unbelievably optimistic than Peeta, and that wasn't easy to do. By the time they reached the door, I was waiting for them on the edge of my bed.
"Hey guys," I said as they entered the room.
Madge smiled brightly, and Delly gasped. "Katniss, your hair!"
I couldn't help but smile as she fussed over it. With undeniable pride in my voice, I told them it was my mother who braided it.
"She did a lovely job," Madge said with a genuine smile.
"Yes, she did," Delly added. "And now it's time to do your makeup! Come on Madge, let's get started!"
I groaned. "Is that really necessary? Peeta knows what I look like."
Delly leaned down to make eye contact with me. "Yes, Katniss. It is necessary. It's your wedding day, and you are going to look absolutely stunning. Now stop complaining so Madge can work!"
I sighed and resigned myself to wait as Madge began to apply the makeup her mother ordered straight from the Capitol. "Not too much," I warned her. "I don't want to look like those girls in the magazines."
"Don't worry," Madge smiled reassuringly. "I wouldn't dare."
With Delly's careful supervision, Madge finished in about half an hour. Both of them smiled brightly as I stared in my reflection in the mirror. I really was beautiful. Madge had paid attention to my request to ignore the crazy trends of the Capitol and simply used the makeup to accentuate my natural features.
"So, what do you think?" Delly asked.
"You did a great job," I said, smiling at Madge.
She replied, "Thank you! It was actually a lot of fun."
Everything happened quickly after that. Prim left with my mother to set up, and Delly and Madge finished getting ready. After about an hour, mother and Prim returned to change into their dresses. Prim was appalled that I was the only one not wearing mine yet and ushered me into my room before I could even ask how the decorations turned out. As I unzipped the bag my dress was hanging in, I simply stood there once again in awe of its beauty. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. I've admittedly never been someone who cared about the latest fashions, but this dress caught my attention for some reason I couldn't explain. I carefully removed it from the hanger and looked at the tag. It was designed by a man named Cinna. According to Peeta's escort Effie, he was "absolutely the best."
The dress was sleeveless with a line of pearls along the top. It was, of course, white. Not everyone in District 12 always wears white, but apparently it's an essential tradition in the Capitol. It was fitted around my waist but flowed down to my ankles and out into a short train. Simple, yet perfect.
Dressed, makeup on, and hair done, I stepped out into the living room to see everyone waiting for me. They all fell silent, and I began to worry I had forgotten to do something important when Prim stepped forward and caught me in an embrace.
"You look so beautiful," she said.
"You do too, little duck," I said, smiling at her. Madge had painted a soft blush on her pale cheeks that complimented the light orange dress she was wearing. She looked much older than sixteen.
"Are you ready?" mother asked.
I sighed nervously and Prim smiled reassuringly.
"Yes, I am."
The wedding was in the field at the edge of the Seam. The guests from the Capitol wanted a much bigger affair in the town square or the Justice Building, but Peeta and I agreed that the field would be more appropriate. It was the most attractive place in the Seam, and it looked even better in June with flowers still blooming and the grass a bright green. As we approached, it became obvious this was no small event. Practically everyone who frequented the Hob was sitting there in the chairs with bows wrapped around them, along with most of my neighbors. Greasy Sae sat next to Gale and his family a few rows from the front. On Peeta's side, there were lots of people I recognized as regular customers at the bakery and other store owners. Even his mother was in attendance, sitting next to his father. His adoring fans in the Capitol were not allowed to attend, but his prep team and stylist stood out among the crowd. Effie and Haymitch sat in the row behind them.
"This is it," Prim said, turning to me. "Are you ready to start?"
"I think so," I said.
She quickly assessed me before finally saying, "Don't worry about the people. Just look at Peeta. Oh, and don't trip."
I laughed, and said, "Okay, I'll try."
With that, she signaled to Peeta's youngest brother that we were ready to start. He nodded and disappeared behind the white veil that served as our backdrop. Then Peeta stepped out, followed by his two brothers and Finnick Odair, who was possibly the most famous victor. He and Peeta had become good friends after two years of mentoring.
Soft music began to play, and Posy walked down the aisle spreading white flower petals. The bridesmaids were the next to go. As I watched them, my pulse began to race wildly. Remembering Prim's advice, I looked at Peeta. And when I did, my heart nearly stopped. His face was lit up in a breathtaking smile and his eyes were the same deep blue ones I looked into that fateful day of the reaping four years ago. Except, this time, they were smiling too.
My mother appeared at my side and wrapped her arm through mine.
"Are you ready?" she asked.
I nodded my head and let her guide me down the aisle and place my hand in Peeta's. Everyone sat down, and the ceremony began. I know, or at least I assume, the man from the Justice Building repeated the traditional lines. I didn't hear a word he said because I was too busy trying not to cry. I almost laughed when I thought of all the times I had scowled at people who became emotional at weddings. Looking into Peeta's misty eyes shattered every bit of resolve I had, and I did laugh a little when Peeta reached up to catch a stray tear on my cheek.
Then came the part when I knew I would have to speak. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. In what surprisingly wasn't an intelligible mumble, I recited the vows it had taken me at least three months to write.
"Peeta, you are quite possibly the only person in the world who could have me standing in front of the whole town wearing a dress. That in itself is an accomplishment." Everyone laughed and nodded their heads in agreement. Peeta grinned, and I continued, "But kidding aside, I honestly love you. You always know exactly what to say to make me smile. I can be having the worst day of my life, and it all changes as soon as I see you. My heart has been yours since we were fourteen years old, even if it took me awhile to realize it. I'm so happy to be spending the rest of my life with you. Do you take this ring as a symbol of my love?"
"I do," he answered, and I slipped the ring on his finger.
"Katniss," Peeta began. "I can't even describe how much you mean to me. You know me better than anyone else ever has, and somehow you are still standing here." Everyone laughed again as his brothers jokingly shrugged behind him as if they didn't get it either. He continued, "You are the reason I wake up each morning and feel like life is worth living. I would be so lost without you. I love you more than anything. Do you accept this ring as a symbol of my love?"
"I do," I replied, and he slipped the ring on my finger.
"I now pronounce you husband and wife," the man said. "You may kiss your bride, Peeta."
He didn't hesitate to lean forward and kiss me. It was sweet and passionate and only cut short by Prim clearing her throat behind me. Blushing, we turned and stood hand in hand to face our smiling friends and family. Everyone cheered as we walked down the aisle to begin the rest of our lives as Mr. and Mrs. Mellark.
-10 years later-
"Dinner is ready, honey!" I yelled to Peeta as I chased the laughing toddler across the living room. At three years old, Autumn Mellark was into absolutely everything. I finally caught her and fought to hold on as she giggled and squirmed in my arms.
"You need to eat, silly," I said, tapping the end of her nose with my finger. With her dark hair and olive skin, she was unmistakably my daughter. Her eyes, however, were blue just like her father's.
"Are you causing trouble for mommy, sweetheart?"
Autumn nearly jumped from my arms when she heard Peeta's voice. I looked to see him carrying our six month old son, Mason, down the stairs. Autumn ran to meet him and replied with a mischievous, "Maybe!"
He laughed and ruffled her hair, stopping to give me quick peck on the cheek before placing Mason in his highchair. Mason looked exactly like Peeta with his light hair and pale skin. The only feature resembling me was his gray eyes.
I turned to see Prim walking in with a sleepy Avery Hawthorne trailing behind her.
"In here!" I called.
Prim took a seat next to Peeta and said, "She's been asking to see Autumn all day. You'd think they were sisters instead of first cousins!"
We all laughed and watched as the two girls played with their food. They certainly looked like sisters. Both had dark hair and blue eyes. But Avery had her mother's light skin.
"How's Rory?" Peeta asked.
"He's fine," Prim answered. "He got called in for an emergency surgery. I was hoping to spend some time together on our night off, but he would never turn down a patient."
"Sounds like someone else I know," I said, smiling at her.
She smiled back before turning to stop Avery from pulling Autumn's hair. It would only be a matter of time before one of them started crying and the other would be put in time out. But at the end of the day, they were still best friends.
I looked around the table at my family and, as usual, couldn't believe how lucky I was. Our life together wasn't always easy or fun. Sometimes it still felt like we were still catching our breath.
Shortly after our two year anniversary, all of Panem erupted with the flames of rebellion. With his status as a victor, Peeta was swept into the action by the officials in the previously unheard-of District Thirteen. Our time in Thirteen was filled with both fear and hope. My relationship was Peeta was pushed to the limit, but somehow we survived.
Gale volunteered his services, and Madge and I leaned on each other a lot. Finnick Odair's wife, Annie, found her way into our little group too. She was also a victor, but her games had left her too rattled to do much for the cause. Aside from appearing in propaganda shots occasionally, she stayed on the edge of the action as much as possible.
After three long years, the rebels won. President Snow was assassinated, and a woman named Paylor from District Eight was elected as Panem's new president. Finnick and Annie returned to District Four, upon Annie's request. She could hardly stand being away from the sun and the sea. Gale and Madge moved to District Two, where Gale accepted the position of mayor. As for Peeta and I, District Twelve will always be our home. Neither of us wanted to live in the house in Victor's Village because it reminded us of the Capitol. So we built our own in a new neighborhood near the woods.
My resolve to never have children remained for years after the rebellion. With a fragile new government and fresh memories of a war-torn country in my mind, I was still more than hesitant. But Peeta wanted them. And after four years, I finally gave in. It was the best decision I ever made.
Ten years ago, Peeta and I could have never imagined the life and the love we would eventually have. We were just two kids hoping for a chance at happiness, and both of us knew the risks we were taking even in getting married. Sometimes I found it hard to believe how everything fell into place for us. But then again, we've always been good at playing with the odds.