Chapter 50. The Epilogue

Ten years. It had been ten years since the walls had burned and the former President had perished on the floor that surrounded him. It was so long ago, but hardly forgotten. Nobody in Panem could ever forget.

The new President sat back in his seat behind the desk of mahogany, loosening his tie and counting the tiles on the ceiling. The job was stressful, but compared to the stresses he had felt before, it was tolerable. He was finally able to do some real good there, anyways. It was well worth it.

No sooner than the second he put his feet on the desk, the door to his office swung open. The President blinked and looked over, spotting a very annoyed looking Effie Trinket and her assistant, Lavinia. She stared with a pointed look towards the man's feet, which he couldn't help but sigh at. Ten years hadn't changed Effie's habits one bit. If anything, living in the Capitol again had only reminded her of the importance of manners. He was still uncertain what importance they held, but wouldn't question it to her.

Effie stepped forward and began to make signs with her hands, a form of communication Pollux had taught to her, Lavinia, and everybody who wanted to communicate with the two women. He had been one of the ones to learn, thinking it would be useful since Effie managed his schedule.

"President Hawthorne, you really need to mind your manners,"she signed so rapidly and frustratingly fast that Gale almost missed what she said entirely. But he could figure it out without the signing. Her expression had said it all.

Gale straightened up slightly, wanting to avoid any arguments with the woman. He gave her a small smile as he stood up, running a hand through his shorter, layered dark hair. "I wasn't expecting any other visitors, especially since I'm leaving early tonight."

Lavinia furrowed her eyebrows a little. Her red hair was pushed back off her face in a high ponytail and, while the years had mostly healed her emotional scars, a physical one still ran down the side of her throat. It was always there to remind her of the torment she had gone through until that night Gale rescued her. It reminded her that, no matter what she did, she would always be indebted to him.

"You're leaving early?" she signed, though less rapidly than Effie had, towards him. While her natural fingers could never return to her obviously, she had received fake, prosthetic fingers during her stay at Bonum.

Gale pulled his tie off the rest of the way - the damn thing always felt like it was trying to strangle him - as he pushed his hair back mostly for Effie's sake. "I can't miss my little brother's bachelor party, now can I?"

"Yes you can," Effie signed, the annoyance on her face never vanishing. "You still never returned your messages back to President Odoacer and-"

Gale, however, grasped on to Effie's hands to interrupt her, having walked around the desk. "I rarely put up struggles against your schedules anymore, Effie. Come on, one day. Tonight and then the wedding day, that's all."

Effie pulled one of her hands back, holding up two fingers, symbolizing that he was asking for two days to go against her schedule, not just one. Gale just gave her a heavy sigh. Lavinia smiled a little at the two of them.

"Come on, Effie. Rory and Prim are adorable together. I know there's a romantic still down there somewhere," she signed quickly to her friend, her fingers moving faster when aimed at Effie than they would have at someone who wasn't an Avox. When Effie simply threw her arms up in frustration, Gale knew he had won. He gave the two of them a wide smile before mouthing the words 'thank you' to Lavinia. She gave Gale a brief, discrete thumbs up in reply, smiling back up at him.

The President's smile never faltered as he stuffed the tie into his pocket before checking his watch. "I better be heading out now."

Effie looked over at Gale's watch as well, as if checking to make sure he wasn't trying to weasel out earlier than he should have. When she decided he was correct, she gave him a nod. "Fine. I suppose I could use the extra time to prepare Chaff and Sherry before they head back to school."

Gale's smile only grew wider, as it did every time Effie mentioned her children. He began to walk towards the door, taking off his suit jacket as he did and slinging it over his shoulder. "I think Vick's bringing Posy over the house later on before we all head out so all the girls can get things ready while we're out. You should drop by with the kids. You can too, Lavinia."

Lavinia smiled a little more, but her cheeks stained pink as she signed to Gale. "Thanks, President, but I can't. Darius is taking me on a date."

Gale rose an eyebrow at her, giving a minute for that statement to sink in. "Darius? Really?"

She shrugged a little daintily, her face going redder at his reaction. She really liked Darius when he wasn't flirting with other girls. They were still just getting to know each other, but he was cute and they looked good together with their nearly matching hair. Gale gave her another small smile before clearing his throat, trying not to look so surprised.

"Darius is a good guy. Have fun and feel free to hit him if he does anything inappropriate."

"Been there, done that."

Gale let out a small laugh before finally exiting his office and starting to walk home. His house wasn't far from the manor, which served only as an office building now. The new government had done away with all the excessive buildings that served purpose to the Games and only kept the bare minimum that was required.

The new Panem government had changed a lot over the past decade. All the Districts had been opened and the fences surrounding them were torn down, making transportation between them legal and less difficult. New trains had been installed, making the transportation between the Districts easier and, while they still weren't up yet, Gale had plans to build roads for vehicles to travel between, if he became elected for another term.

The Capitol seemed to cope surprisingly well with the changes. At first, there were some issues about Capitol citizens not taking well to District citizens, but all the turmoil eventually died down and the Capitol residents were starting to visit some of the lower Districts themselves. District 4 had become a rather popular vacation spot with its beaches actually.

When Gale finally reached his house, a package was sitting on the porch. It was square and flat, wrapped in tan colored paper wrappings with a return address from District 9 on it. The President picked up the package almost expectantly before walking in. Receiving mail from District 9 was a common occurance though it was always nice to see something new waiting on the doorstep.

Katniss sat curled up on the couch, her hunting boots still on and her hair in its signature braid. There was a skinned turkey hanging up in the kitchen and she was polishing her bow, the same bow Beetee and Wiress had made her ten years ago. It had held up remarkably well with the amount of care she put into it, though she feared it wouldn't last much longer. The Mockingjay symbol was long gone, but that didn't bother her. That wasn't who she was anymore.

She glanced up when Gale walked in and gave him a smile, a true smile, one that hadn't appeared until years after she killed Coin. She had a rough time coming back from the brutal way she had assassinated the President and the way she had killed the muttation Willow without thought. But both she and Gale had healed each other and ended up all the stronger because of it. "Another package from Peeta?"

"Seems like it," Gale walked over to her, holding the package out for her to take. They were never addressed to anyone in specific, but he knew who it was for.

"We're going to run out of wall space if he keeps this up," Katniss said, taking the package carefully. Although Peeta was now a baker and living with Delly in District 9, he still painted the most beautiful paintings. She unwrapped it quickly and precisely before looking down at it. The painting this time was of a garden filled with katnisses and roses of all different colors. In the garden was a white archway with the silhouettes of two women, one taller than the other with long braided hair and the other with a ponytail, both in dresses but the one with the ponytail also wearing a veil.

Gale looked over her shoulder briefly towards the piece. "Only Peeta would send bridal gifts to people related to the bride," he laughed as he threw his suit jacket to the corner of the room.

"At least he knows how to be a nice guy," Katniss shot back teasingly, pulling on a chunk of his hair before unfolding her legs and standing up from the couch.

"I'm nice!" he replied, putting on a false hurt look on his face.

She rolled her eyes, setting Peeta's painting down gently on their coffee table before grasping the front of his shirt where his tie would have been. "In what country? If you were nice, you'd remember how I like to drag you down by your tie to make you kiss me, but you took it off and denied me the pleasure."

Gale stared down at her for a brief moment before putting his hands on her hips, shaking his head slightly. "You know I hate wearing that thing, Catnip. But I'll put it back on, just for you, if you want me to."

"You can't create romantic situations, Gale Hawthorne. I would have thought you would have learned that by now," Katniss smiled at him, slipping her hands behind his neck. Gale's hands slid to her lower back as he leaned down, kissing the side of her neck once. And once was all he had time for before someone from their back yard began hitting the storm door loudly.

Gale paused, giving a small defeated sigh. "Well, someone sure knows how to ruin them. Was Will playing out back?"

Katniss groaned in frustration, her forehead falling onto his shoulder briefly. She dropped her hands from the back of his neck, nodding once and pulling back. "Yeah, better let him in."

The President leaned forward once, giving her a quick kiss before dropping his hands from her hips and heading to the back door. Once at the door, he pushed it open, standing aside for him to enter. "Alright, Daddy's home, come on."

Instantly, a red haired bloodhound pushed his way inside, bounding around Gale. Freshly out of his puppy years, Will was still a handful and he circled Gale several times quickly, his long floppy ears bouncing happily. While he was a great hunting dog for Katniss and Gale when they went into the woods together, when he was off duty, he was a bit goofy. He jumped up, setting his over-sized paws on Gale's chest as his tongue immediately found the President's face. Gale couldn't help but laugh as he reached down, scratching behind the dog's ears. After another minute or two, Gale leaned down on one knee, pushing Will's paws off his chest but petting him a few more times before getting up.

"Come on, let's go bother Mom now. I already gave her kisses, now it's your turn," he laughed before starting back out towards the living room again.

Will bounded after Gale quickly, his paws sliding across the floor awkwardly as he rounded the corner into the living room. His head hit the wall hard and he shook his head suddenly, his ears whipping around wildly. But then he caught sight of Katniss as she was finishing hanging Peeta's newest picture with the rest of the paintings he had sent her.

Like a rocket, Will was across the room. He had been the runt of the litter, but had quickly surpassed any of his siblings in size. Easily 120 pounds, Will's paws hit Katniss square in the shoulders as she turned around and she stumbled backwards. But even as she tried to look at him sternly, her lips quirked upwards at the dog's enthusiasm and a small laugh escaped her as he licked her neck.

"Will! God, Gale, you need to stop feeding him or something. When you said, 'hey, let's get a puppy!', I thought you meant a small-ish one."

"I never took you one for wanting a small puppy. Seems like something that Effie would prefer," he laughed, watching the two with a heartfelt smile.

Katniss gave up and wrapped her arms tightly around the dog as he tried to jump into her arms, licking her ear desperately. "I said small-ish. Like seventy pounds instead of a million."

"You know you love him and are glad we got him."

At the front door, there was a brief knock. "Katniss!" Prim's voice called out before the woman knocked again. "I need a hand!"

Gale looked back towards the door before coaxing Will off Katniss. "C'mon, boy. Mommy needs to go help Prim doing boring wedding planning now."

"Tell her I'm sick," Katniss immediately hissed, setting a hand over her forehead. She wanted to help her sister, she really did. She was just never cut out for this kind of stuff. "I think I have a fever."

"Katniss! Open up!" Prim's voice called out again, more urgent. "I'm carrying a lot!"

"She's carrying a lot. You really want me to make her turn around and go home?" Gale mused.

"I hate you," Katniss mumbled in reply, heading slowly toward the door, having no choice. "I hope you get some disease from the women I'm sure Rory's going to have at that damn party."

"You'd only get it in return. And what do you think I'm going to do?" he called out, forcing the most innocent tone he could out.

"I would never touch you again and you would sleep on the couch! And I know you're a pervert, Gale. You're not fooling anyone," She called back toward him before opening the door for her sister. "Prim."

The instant the door was open, Prim forced a large bag into her older sister's arms. The younger sibling had lied, carrying only that bag and one other but she knew if she hadn't, Katniss wouldn't have let her in. "You're trying on your dress."

Gale let out a loud snicker in the background. Katniss almost dropped the bag, but closed the door behind her sister. "What? Prim, no!"

"You're trying it on, and when Posy and Serena get here, they're trying theirs on. We're doing this today, you can't keep putting this off!"

"If you girls need me for anything, please hesitate to ask. Will and I will be outside," Gale pointed out as he started for the back door, whistling for the dog to follow. Will immediately ran after Gale, obediently walking at his side.

Katniss, however, growled. She ignored Gale; in fact, it would be easier if he was out of the house so she didn't have to hear his snide comments about her appearance. "Prim, I haven't wore a dress in ten years and I don't want to now. Can't I just wear what I normally wear? That's what we would have done in District 12."

"No, Katniss! You know this is important, otherwise I wouldn't ask you to do it," she pouted.

Her older sister furrowed her eyebrows, tightening her arm around the garment bag. "I've spoiled you. I've spoiled you and now I have to suffer the consequences."

Immediately, the blond's face lit up slightly. "If it's any consolation, Cinna and Portia designed all the dresses for the wedding?"

"At least it won't be too bad, then," Katniss mumbled angrily, though she looked slightly mollified. "Can I wear my boots?"

The light in Prim's eyes immediately vanished and was replaced with disbelief. "No," she said simply.

"What? Why?" Katniss instantly replied, stomping her boot against the floor. "Prim, compromise, please?"

"Katniss, no."

The bickering between the sisters never seemed to end until, after an hour, Prim finally reached a compromise with Katniss. Prim promised Katniss could wear boots but not her hunting ones and that the only reason she was compromising at all was because Serena and Posy needed to try on their dresses soon. The girls would be there at any minute with Finnick and Vick, and Haymitch would probably drop by with his family too. Prim didn't want to hold everybody up because of their argument.

When there finally was a knock at the door, Prim rushed to answer for Katniss. Finnick lowered his fist when Prim opened the door, Posy, Serena, Vick, and Rory behind him. He smiled at her in the same old Finnick way. Being a father to Serena hadn't changed him much except for he toned down his flirting in front of her. "Prim. Got Katniss in her dress yet? We wanted to laugh at her expense."

"She's putting it on now, but try to be nice, okay? It was hell getting her to agree," Prim sighed before smiling back to him. She held the door open for all of them. "Come on in, she'll be out in a second."

The group filed into the Hawthorne house, though Rory stopped briefly to set a gentle kiss on Prim's forehead. The woman beamed up at him before giving him a just as brief hug. "Thanks for stopping by. Gale's out back, I know this can't be any fun for you guys."

"It's not," Rory admitted, running a hand through his hair. "But it makes you happy, so I'm cool with it. I'll leave you guys to your girly stuff, then."

He grabbed Vick by the arm and quickly ran out through the back door. However, Finnick stayed, sitting on the couch and crossing his ankles. Beside him, the sandy haired, now 12 year old Serena sat down. The girl was tall, much too tall for someone her age and the height almost made her look intimidating if it wasn't for her soft facial features. She sat, patiently waiting for Katniss to walk out or Prim to tell her what to do. But Katniss didn't walk down the stairs. The 14 year old dark haired Posy sighed loudly, setting a hand on the banister impatiently. "Katniss! Will you hurry up?"

Katniss's voice came floating down the stairs. "NO!"

Almost immediately, Prim's arms crossed tightly over her chest. "Katniss, get down here right now! Posy and Serena need to try on their clothes too!"

"I'm not wearing this! Gale will laugh at me for weeks!"

"If you don't, you're not coming to my wedding!"

"You wouldn't do that!"

"Try me!"

There was silence for a moment before Katniss stomped down the stairs in her dress and hunting boots, arms crossed tightly. The dress was a darker blue color, which Prim had made sure to give her sister since she never took well to bright, pastel colors. It was short, shin length but strapless and had a rippled ribbon tied around the stomach under the bust. Overall, it didn't look terrible, but Katniss's body language was what made her look the most awkward.

Prim smiled widely though as she ran over to her. She began to circle around her sister, almost like she was inspecting her. "Katniss, you look great! Except for the boots."

"The boots are the best part," Katniss mumbled, shooting a glare at Finnick as he began to snicker at her. She pointed at the ribbon. "What is this?"

"It's there for show, Katniss," Prim grumbled.

Suddenly, a gruff voice came from the back of the room. "Ha! Nice dress, sweetheart."

Katniss groaned and fell back to a sit on the stairs, crossing her arms tightly over her chest and, more importantly, that damned ribbon.

Prim just sighed but looked back towards Haymitch. At the older man's side stood Effie as well as two olive skinned children - one boy and one girl, presumably Chaff and Sherry. The boy looked no older than nine and shyly stood behind his dad's leg. He looked up to him with bright blue eyes matching Effie's. "Dad, shouldn't we have knocked? Mom says it's rude not to knock first."

"Rudeness is a state of mind, Chaff," Haymitch said, setting a hand on the boy's shoulder. "What's rude to your mother isn't considered rude to me."

"That's not what Mommy said," the 7 year old girl, Sherry, raised her Seam eyes to Haymitch's, confusedly. She looked almost exactly like Katniss had as a child, her hair in two braided pigtails that fell down her chest, and her voice was stronger than Chaff's, surprising for a girl her age. Effie smiled down to both Chaff and Sherry, before shooting a threatening glare towards Haymitch. She had taught the two well and leaned down, giving them both brief kisses on the tops of their heads. Haymitch pressed his lips together against a comment about how he wasn't sure these kids were even his, the way they behaved, but he kept it to himself. It probably wasn't wise to tell that to a 7 and a 9 year old.

As Effie ushered her children inside and Serena and Posy both came walking down the stairs in their blue dresses, Gale and his brothers finally emerged from the backyard. Vick turned to Finnick then Haymitch, waving them over. "You guys ready? We're heading out now."

Finnick immediately stood up. He kissed the top of Serena's head briefly before walking over to the Hawthorne brothers with Haymitch. "Let's go."

Vick smiled, obviously more than a little excited for the party as he was the first one out the door. Gale couldn't help but laugh at his youngest brother before turning back towards Katniss. He blinked a few times, staring at her dress and holding back any comments on it. She looked miserable enough as it was and he didn't want to somehow make her feel more so. Instead, he walked over to her and kissed her briefly.

"Don't have too much fun now," he joked.

"I still hope you get herpes," Katniss mumbled back, pouting up at him.

"Love you too," he simply replied with a smile before rushing off after the rest of the men for the party.

That night, it had gotten late and Gale still wasn't home. Regardless of the years that had passed, the Hunger Games and the war still haunted Katniss's dreams. She needed Gale to hold her and be there when the nightmares happened to help her get back to sleep. It was the one thing unhealed about her, something that would never be healed, and it made her feel weak and immature at the age of 29 to still have trouble sleeping.

That was why, at midnight, Katniss was laying in the middle of her and Gale's large bed. She was just in one of his large t-shirts, her usual sleeping attire, her legs folded under her. She stared out the window, her arms tightly around Will's neck as he laid in front of her, snoring loudly. She became more nervous as every minute passed, but she couldn't sleep. Not without him.

Finally, after another fifteen minutes, the door to their bedroom opened slowly. In the clubs of the Capitol, Rory's party was still going on and probably would be for the next few hours, but Gale couldn't stay. He had to be there for her, though was slightly angry with himself for showing up as late as he did. Silently, he walked over to the side of the bed, lightly brushing his fingers down her hair and smiling down at her. "Hey, Catnip."

Katniss jumped. At Gale's voice, however, she relaxed a little. She instantly lifted her cheek off of Will and released him, causing the dog to make a small noise of discomfort before continuing his snoring, and she turned her eyes up toward Gale. She smiled a little, as if she hadn't been waiting up for him. "How was the party?"

"It was okay," Gale shrugged a little as he got up and began to change his clothes. "They're all still out, but I was getting bored."

"Oh, okay. Well. You could have stayed," she replied after a moment, although in her mind she screamed that he couldn't have. "You're not getting in this bed until you've assured me you're disease free."

However, the second he had his pajama pants on, he fell back onto the bed, not bothering with a shirt. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Gale, gross," Katniss sighed, grabbing Will and moving him away from Gale. Will made a noise of protest, pawing at her arm. "Now I have to go sleep on the couch because you can't keep it in your pants."

"Katniss, I'm joking," he sighed, reaching over and grabbing her hand. "I didn't do anything, I promise."

Katniss paused but released Will with a small sigh, tightening her hand around his. "I know you didn't." No, you didn't. Always so insecure he'll leave you for someone who isn't so weak, so reliant on him. "I'm glad you came home early."

Gale gave her a small smile before moving in, closer to her. He let go of her hand only to wrap that arm around her waist, kissing her forehead lightly. "It's just like before, you know. I'll always come back to you, Catnip."

Katniss immediately pressed her cheek against Gale's bare chest, nodding. She wrapped her arms tightly around him, securing her hands at his back. "I know, Gale. And I'll always be with you, even if you are a bit corny."

He let out a small laugh, but still leaned in and kissed her on the forehead lightly. When he pulled back, he rested his forehead against hers, staring down into her eyes. "Let's just get some rest."

"Y-yeah," Katniss began shakily, but cleared her throat after a moment, forcing the nervousness back. Between wearing one of Cinna's dresses and waiting up for Gale in the darkness, Katniss knew her dreams wouldn't be pleasant tonight. "You're a better pillow than Will anyway."

"Are you gonna be okay?"

"Yeah, you're here. Just hold me, okay?"

"Anything you need," he promised as he pulled her in closer against his bare chest and rested his head over hers. Katniss pushed them both backwards onto the bed, immediately curling her body up against his and wrapping an arm around his waist. As they laid there in the darkness, slowly fading into sleep, Katniss's mind flitted, as it always did, to Gale. She knew he had come back for her. He knew she couldn't sleep alone. Her heart nearly burst from the amount of care and love he showed her, even all these years later. She was completely, head over heels in love with Gale. The butterflies had never stopped.

There had never been another Games or another war. And most of all, Katniss was happy. As happy as she could be anyway, after what all of them had been through. She knew it wasn't normal or traditional, but this family was what she had always wanted and Gale had respected that. He never forced her into anything she didn't want and she knew, completely for the first time in years, she had made the right choice and she wasn't crazy or blood thirsty. She was happy and with Gale and that was all that mattered.

A/N: That's it! Thank you to everybody who's stuck around with us from the beginning! We really do appreciate all the wonderful reviews, responses, and lovely comments you have sent us! If you want to stay in contact with Libby and I and keep updated on the novel the two of us will be writing, all our contact info is on my profile here on ffnet.

Again, we couldn't have asked for a better response and following! We love you all and hope you enjoyed every part of the story!