Epilogue: Two Months Later
Katniss admired the bright autumn colors on display in the woods outside District 12 and breathed in the wood smoke-scented air, happy to simply be alive. For a second, she felt her mind slipping to the tributes who had died in order for her to be here, but she willed away the gloom that threatened to overtake her. Enjoying her life was a much more appropriate way to honor their memories.
And today, she vowed, would be a joyous day.
When she arrived home from the woods – if that big Victor's mansion could even be called home – she was greeted by her little sister, clad in a beautiful blue bridesmaid dress that brought out the sparkling color of her wide eyes.
"You're not ready at all!" cried Prim, her mouth open in a perfect 'O' of horror.
Katniss kissed her sister on the top of her head.
"I've never been more ready for anything in my life."
After washing and dressing hastily, she and Prim made their way to the Justice Building, where their mother was already helping to set things up. Camera crews and reporters skulked outside the building, which had been transformed by large amounts of tulle and white roses from a stern concrete structure into something almost cheerful. When they spotted Katniss, the reporters burst into excited commotion.
She gave the cameras a half-hearted wave and smile but didn't pause as she walked swiftly inside.
"So sorry!" she called in what she hoped was not an obviously insincere manner. "I can't be late for the ceremony!"
As she passed under the rose-covered trellis outside the front door, she tried not to gag at the sweet floral smell. She resigned herself to the fact that she'd probably never enjoy the smell of roses again.
Katniss heard him as soon as she walked through the doors, and she separated from Prim to follow the sound of his low curses. They led her to the room where she said goodbye to her family and friends after the reaping. The memories threatened to overwhelm her, and she hesitated a couple seconds before she pushed through the heavy door.
She found Gale wearing a shiny black tuxedo and looking quite handsome – if irate – as he scowled into a mirror and struggled with his tie. Katniss thought it was probably the first time in his life that he had ever worn one.
"Need any help there? You look lost."
He growled and gave his tie a frustrated tug. She walked over to help him tie it. It was one way to put all that knot tying practice to use.
"I have no idea what I'm doing here, Catnip," he confessed sullenly.
"You're doing the right thing," she said firmly. She reached onto her tip-toes to kiss him on the cheek. "You're going to be a great father."
Gale's future father-in-law walked in then and said coldly, "We're about ready to start." But his stern face broke into a large grin when he saw Katniss standing next to Gale.
"There's my favorite Victor!" Mayor Undersee said happily. "Madge said you'd arrive just in time."
Katniss nodded and gave Gale's shoulder a reassuring squeeze before she linked arms with the mayor and let him lead her to the main courtroom where the ceremony would take place.
Prim, Rory, and Gale's friend, Thom, were already waiting for her.
"Cutting it close, aren't you, Katniss?" teased Rory.
Katniss shrugged. "I made it, didn't I?" she responded, just as organ music filled the hall.
Prim took Rory's hand. Katniss narrowed her eyes in in suspicion when Rory blushed scarlet as the pretty blond girl smiled up at him and began to walk him down the aisle.
The whole elaborate ceremony with bridesmaids and groomsmen and formal clothing and processions was a Capitol import. In District 12, things were usually much simpler. Couples usually wore the cleanest non-mining outfits they owned – or could rent. After filling out some forms at the Justice Building and being assigned a house, the couple crossed the threshold of their new home while family and friends sang a special song. Then, after the couple made their first fire, they toasted a bit of bread and shared it. As far as any celebration went, guests might gather to share a meal or bit of cake, if it could be afforded.
But with all the cameras that would be covering the wedding of the two best friends of "the Girl on Fire," the mayor had insisted on many concessions to Capitol tastes. Since the reaping he had been careful to tone down his overt displays of district pride.
But Katniss had spied the mayor leaving Haymitch's house several times in the middle of the night, and it made her wonder how sincere his recent efforts to appease the Capitol really were.
Her cue was given and Katniss took to the aisle alongside Thom. She then stood at the altar and watched Mayor Undersee walk his daughter down the same path. Madge had never looked more beautiful, and the wedding dress Cinna had designed hid her small baby bump perfectly. Her face looked perfectly composed and only her paleness signaled that she was feeling more nervous than usual.
At the reception, Katniss leaned against a far wall and watched Gale and Madge sit down at a table at the head of the room. They looked stiff and a little awkward as cameras flashed around them.
She heard the clod-clod-clod of approaching footsteps and smiled. She moved aside just as Peeta's arms were trying to wrap themselves around her.
"You know you're too loud to sneak up on anyone, Peeta."
"I got close. I would have been able to grab you were it not for this thing," he lamented, tapping his fake leg.
"Please." She rolled her eyes. "Even before the new leg you were never quiet. You only got close because I let you get close."
He chuckled and pulled her into an embrace anyway. "And I can't tell you how happy I am that you let me get close." He kissed her neck and she felt that warm stirring in her stomach.
"You promised me a dance," he whispered in her ear.
She nodded distractedly. "Later. I just want to watch for a moment." He followed her line of sight to see Gale scowling and adjusting his tie. The groom looked obviously awkward and uncomfortable in his black tux.
"He still loves you, you know," Peeta said softly.
Katniss took a few moments to process that. It might be true, but she couldn't help being uncharacteristically optimistic about this marriage. She knew both Madge and Gale would love their baby. And although Madge appeared indifferent, Katniss suspected her feelings for Gale ran deeper than even Madge wanted him to know.
She thought one day Gale would likely realize that he loved his baby's mother, too. It was more than duty. It was who Gale was. Madge was part of Gale's family now, and for Gale there was no stronger bond than family.
Though she once thought the two had little in common, Katniss had recently revised her opinion. After all, Madge and Gale were two of the strongest, most passionate people she knew. Madge didn't carry that fiery spirit on the surface, like Gale did, but she did, after all, stand up to her parents when they tried to pressure her into an abortion. And when they tried to get her to change her mind about marrying Gale. During the Final 8 interviews, she bravely confessed to all of Panem just why Katniss had volunteered for her at the Reaping, and Haymitch told her the corresponding influx of sponsors had likely saved her life.
It was only then, when the mayor realized his daughter wasn't going to fold, that he reluctantly accepted his new son-in-law… and created a cushy new job for him as "District 12 Peacekeeper Liaison." It was now Gale's duty to make sure that the justice meted out by the Peacekeepers was in line with District 12 laws and that the populace maintained a good working relationship with its Peacekeeping force. The irony of Gale obtaining such a position was lost on no one, and Katniss expected he'd fulfill his job obligations as effectively as Darius did his.
Katniss and Peeta watched Gale take his new wife out for a spin on the dance floor. They began stiffly, but she said something and he began swinging her around as if she was weightless. She laughed and he actually smiled and reached down to place his hand on her stomach.
"Have you changed your mind?" Peeta asked softly. "About marriage, about having children one day?"
Katniss shook her head.
"As long as there's a chance my children could be reaped… I don't think I could do it." She turned to Peeta with a serious expression. "Is that going to be a problem one day?"
"As long as I have you, I don't care about anything else." He kissed her cheek, and when he spoke again, his voice was teasing. "Besides which, look how easily you changed her mind about having a boyfriend."
"Right. Easy. It only took a tragedy, several heroic sacrifices, you capturing the hearts of the whole country, an unprecedented rule change by the gamemakers, the loss of your leg, and a handful of poison berries."
"If that's all it took to win your heart, I'd do it again several times over. I still have three good limbs left."
"You're a fool, Peeta Mellark," but she smiled and said it as if she were saying three other words, three words she had not yet told him, at least not out loud.
But her smile fell from her face as she remembered the serious situation they still found themselves in. Her voice dropped to a whisper.
"Don't forget that Snow is not happy that our threat with the berries forced the gamemakers to allow us both to live. He doesn't seem like type to let go of a grudge easily."
Peeta sighed and nodded.
"I know things won't be all sunshine and rainbows just because we're out of the arena, but at least we'll face whatever we have to together."
She nodded. "Together," she confirmed. And with that, she smiled and pulled him out onto the dance floor.
"Come on," she teased, "I think I owe you a dance."
A/N: That's it! I know some of you were probably hoping for the storyline to continue throughout the whole Hunger Games, but that was never my intention with this fic. Suzanne Collins did a great job with the Hunger Games, which was already from Katniss's POV, and I didn't really want to rewrite that. My intention was to sort of imply that things went down fairly similarly to the original storyline – except of course that Katniss consciously fell in love with Peeta.
Since it's not explicit, you can imagine how things happened yourself, but here's how I sort of saw it: This time around, Katniss knew from the beginning that it was Peeta's intention to save her. But I think she'd probably try to stay away from Peeta in the arena, not because she didn't trust him, but because she's still angry at him for volunteering and because she's afraid of being forced to kill him or watch him die. But I think his devotion in the face of unrequited love would still be so popular with the audience that the gamemakers would try to trick them into interacting by announcing the rule change. And once that happened, once she realizes Peeta's life doesn't need to be forfeit, all those emotions she kept denying would bubble up to the surface and she could once again devote herself to saving the boy with the bread. And loving him.
Remember, a number of outtakes will be coming soon – most from Peeta's POV, although they'll be at least a couple from Gale and Madge's POV. Maybe I'll even do a future-take or two from the games. I probably won't be able to publish these quite as quickly as I was able to work through these chapters, but the first one, which provides a few glimpses of Peeta before his father dies, has been posted today. Check out my profile for the separate story.
I started this fic believing that reviews were mostly meaningless, but I have to admit that I loved reading each and every one. More than once, I sat at my computer, refreshing my browser, hoping that someone had left a new one. Thanks to everyone who felt a deep enough connection to the story to reach out and tell me so. Your words were incredibly rewarding and encouraging.
If you're desperate for more Hunger Games fanfic, check out anything by aimmyarrowshigh or monroeslittle. The latter is in the middle of an AU Civil War piece called "Knot Your Fingers Through Mine" with which I'm totally in love.