It is with both a happy and heavy heart that I sit here to write the final feedback thank you note of this story. Gdreams, Lizzle96, ErinAbernathy, KlarolineMyMokingjay, Guest, Minerva-Amantine, All For Jesus, MiniMischl, blueskyblues, allonsysilvertongue, Kat, lii-mao, mac-reye, Duchesslolaxo, MioneSevShipper, Iani, homicidalhufflepuffs, SassMonster, TazzieLuv13, Rissa, Bluestarisawesome, moonlight goose, Deadlyrose70, My Beautiful Ending, Morzan's Elvish Daughter, Savysnape7, RonaldGarcia91, rubandepluie, Caro, HogwartsDreamer113, HannahKellogg1, Anastasia The Goddess of Drama, meantimegirl, ShortySC22, Kat-Knife, Right Hand Blue, Skye, PLEASE READ, Sara, DrGiggles, TheBlondeAvenger, PotatoMaddie, M-dog14NCISgeek, XmadlyinloveX, CrazyThought, crescented, Cathy, SamiJaneRen, Guest, Abby and Liv Snigglebottom, theloverofanime, guest, and randomhoosp123 for your lovely and tear-bringing-forth reviews left for the last chapter. And seriously, a huge thanks to those who have ever reviewed, alerted, and favorited this story all together and have stuck with it. None of this would have happened without your support. You guys have really changed my life more than you'll ever realize and I'm really grateful to have had such wonderful readers such as you. Alright, enough of my gushing, here's the epilogue.
Epilogue: Three and a Half Years Later
Sleep. A meaningless void of thoughtless dreams and darkness. A place where I sometimes forget that there is no reality. That my nightmares are not real. That I am safe. We are safe. And I pull myself from the terror, half dragging, half carrying my consciousness back to the surface. My eyes open, taking in the dust gathering on the cabinets or the sunlight streaming through the dirty window. My thoughts change. Always. I need to clean. Need to do something. It's then that Haymitch's arm tightens around my waist and my excitement simmers down. Four years, has it really been that long? Four...
It's a sound that I am so familiar with and yet, sometimes it seems so foreign. My head lifts, the rest of me too tired to do the same. And I see her. She hurries towards me, her head of blonde curls in disarray from the previous night's slumber, but her alertness great. Small lips pulled into a smile, gray eyes wide and bright with anticipation. How. What had I done to deserve her? Neither my life nor Haymitch's were ever innocent. Why, in the end, had we become so fortunate?
"Someone's up early," Haymitch drawls beside me. "Technically you weren't even born til mid-afternoon. Go back to sleep."
"Haymitch," I scold, swatting at him lightly as she clambers onto our bed. "Be kind, it's a big, big day today. Her day."
He groans as the child flings herself onto of him, pretending he is unaware of the importance of today. I smile softly, watching as she giggles, pushing up one of his eyelids when he closes them. He looks back at her, the amusement hard to hide from his features as he wraps his arm around her middle and flips her onto the bed.
"Careful!" I warn, never really a fan of any sort of roughhousing. "She's still a baby, Haymitch."
"I'm not a baby," Olive says in between laughs, trying to push Haymitch's arm off of her. "I'm four!"
"That's right," I nod, inhaling sharply. "That's so very right. How could I forget?"
I'm not sure what's harder: watching her grow up so fast or not being able to stop it. She's safe. We're all safe. It's silly how often I keep having to remind myself of that. No more Hunger Games. No more wars. No one can ever harm her. And yet, as I look on, I can't suppress the fear in my heart. But today is her day. Her birthday. I mustn't dwell on the other events that took place on this anniversary. We can be happy now. Some things are best left forgotten. But doing so is the most difficult part.
"Come now, let's go get you dressed," I finally say to her, slipping my legs out from underneath the covers. "After all, it wouldn't be right to keep your guests waiting."
I watch as she scurries up the path leading to the meadow, her tiny legs cloaked by pants rather than the dress I so desperately tried to coax her into. She holds no similar interests that I held as a child. No fashion. No makeup. If it were up to her, she'd be outside playing all day long in the mud or scraping her knees against the backyard walnut trees as she tries to climb their trunks. I see Haymitch in her. His stubbornness. His expressions. There's no denying that she is her father's child. Sometimes it scares me how much alike they are. And yet, mostly I would not want it any other way.
It's Haymitch's voice that pulls me from my thoughts. I look to him, noting how he appears to be out of breath from just simply walking the short distance from our house to here. His body is not what it used to be. And the doctors warn that if he continues drinking like he does, there won't be body to worry about. But I don't like to think about that. I don't want to think about that. He's been working on it though. Lessening his intake as the months go on. For Olive's sake. For mine. Yet when night comes, he regrets his decisions and I sometimes find empty bottles shoved up underneath the furniture where he thinks I don't look.
"Of course," I tell him, glancing quickly ahead of us just to make sure that our daughter is still in sight. "Just have a lot on my mind, is all. Not that that is unusual by any means." Suddenly Olive stumbles to the ground but before I can open my mouth, she's back up and running. "Sometimes I cannot help but worry how reckless she is."
"She's a kid, Princess," Haymitch smirks. "They fall down. Break things. Break themselves. Each other. Sort of a requirement of childhood."
"I never conformed to such behavior," the words come out more defensively than I mean them to. "And I don't see any reason why Olive should as well."
"Let her live a little," Haymitch says as we reach the top of the hill. "We can't always be there to protect her."
Haymitch's statement doesn't bring me much comfort as Olive rushes towards the two people waiting in the center of the field. My gaze follows her, reaching the couple before her chubby legs can carry her fast enough to their sides. Katniss and Peeta stand together, a picnic blanket sprawled out behind them decorated with sandwiches and a large, white cake that Peeta made special for today's occasion.
I catch his stare out of the corner of my eye and he offers me a tired smile. Today isn't any easier for him as it is for me. The memories. The incarceration. I needn't be told that he had an episode last night. Dr. Aurelius's medication still courses thickly through his blood stream and I know secretly, he'd rather be asleep than be out here.
"Uncle Peeta!" I hear Olive call out. "Aunt Katniss!"
"Hey Olive," Peeta smiles, kneeling down to catch the girl before she can topple him over. "Happy birthday. Tell me again, how old are you?"
"Guess!" she chants. "Guess! Guess! Guess!"
"Hm..." his lips purse. "Thirty?" She shakes her head. "Well, how about fifteen?" Again her head shakes. "Twenty?"
"Four!" she corrects. "I'm four!"
"Oh, that's right!" Peeta exclaims, acting as if this well known information has just dawned on him. "Four years old. Well, that's a big birthday. Look," he points over to the cake that is situated securely on the blanket. "A big birthday deserves a special cake. Do you like prunes?"
Olive makes a face, shaking her head, "No! Uncle Peeta, that's gross."
"Phew," he replies. "Then it's a good thing I went for buttercream."
It's evident how much Peeta desires a child of his own. The way he interacts with Olive. His eagerness to offer any of the neighborhood children to come to the bakery during the holiday celebrations to decorate dough boys and girls. But Katniss is not so keen on the prospect herself. Married for a little over a year and has yet to even consider the idea despite Peeta's persistence on the subject. Perhaps one day she'll be ready. Haymitch thinks she just needs more time recover. Assimilate to this new life style. I can only hope for the best for them. For all the happiness in the world. After all, they deserve it more than anyone else.
"Married life is looking good on you, Sweetheart," Haymitch mumbles as he takes a seat on the ground. "But I'd lay off the sandwiches and cake today if I were you. Don't want to get too comfortable."
Katniss's eyes flicker over to Haymitch at the jab about her weight, but her expression is neither angry nor humorous. She merely just presses her lips together and joins him on the blanket. By now, Olive has left Peeta's embrace and has taken to romping about in the fields. There's no telling how many stains I will be fighting to remove from the knees of her pants tonight. But every tumble or trip she takes makes me visibly wince and as I open my mouth to call out for her to cease her activities, Haymitch rests his hand on my arm.
"Her birthday," he reminds me. "Turn down your anxiety a few notches and enjoy yourself too."
"If she breaks her arm," I mutter, easing down onto the blanket. "I don't want to hear about. Let it be known that I tried to stop it. I tried-"
"Here," and a sandwich is thrust into my hands. "Try and eat, why don't you. You get a little hyper when you're hungry."
He's right. I do tend to be a little more alert when my blood sugar is low. But Haymitch's deductions don't save him from a glare of disdain as I bite into the turkey and swiss sandwich. The food is delicious. Warming. Decadent. And I'm taking in my third mouthful when Peeta finally joins the three of us.
"Hard to believe she'll start school next fall," Peeta comments, a word of gratitude slipping from his lips as Katniss hands him his own sandwich. "Thought about how you'll both spend your free time when it happens?"
"Sleeping," Haymitch answers before I can. "Kid is up at the crack of dawn. Sometimes even earlier than Effie. Not quite sure how she does it."
Four pairs of eyes turn and fixate on the little girl squatting down in the tall grass. She's playing with something. A bug? Butterfly? Hopefully nothing too sinister. My throat itches, the urge to go over there and check on her growing immensely. But Haymitch is right. It's her birthday and she deserves a day off from me hovering over her. Fingers digging into the skirt of my dress, I turn back to delve into the second half of my sandwich.
"So," I begin, resting the crust of my meal on a napkin. "Hazelle told me you both were planning to go to District Four soon?"
"To visit my mother," Katniss replied. "Not for very long. A week at most. And to see Annie and her son."
"A honeymoon of sorts," Peeta says, pouring himself a glass of water. "Since we never did take one when we got married. Most people don't but with everything being a lot safer than it was, I think it might be...fun."
"What about you?" Katniss suddenly inquires, her eyes locking on Haymitch. "You already have half of the picture perfect family down," she nods towards Olive. "When's the marriage part coming in?"
A sense of uneasiness slips over the air. Silent tension tightening the bonds over unsaid words. I tend to the crumbs that have fallen onto my lap, brushing them off with the back of my hand as my gaze catches a strange look Haymitch is sharing with Peeta. They say nothing, just look at each other as if they both know something that Katniss and I don't. I want to question them. Know what they do. But as my lips part, the words on my tongue, a voice calls out before mine can.
My head turns to see Olive hurrying towards me with several small dark objects slithering up her arms. Caterpillars, I realize, when she is close enough for me to recognize. She grinning, the hideous little beasts making it appear as if she suffers from some rare skin condition from how they situate themselves on her. She extends her arms, holding them out towards me in earnest.
"Can I keep them?" She asks, trying to catch a loner as it plops down onto the blanket near my feet. "Please?"
"I think we have enough pets at home with your geese, darling," I tell her, trying to nonchalantly flip the bug away as it crawls towards me. "Besides, what if their mother comes looking for them? I'd be sad if someone scooped you up because they wanted you as a pet."
"They don't have a mama," Olive informs me. "I found them all alone in the grass so I caught them!"
There is absolutely no way that I plan to allow her to bring any sort of larva infestation back into our household. The last thing I-or really any member in our family needs-is to open the closet one morning only to find moth holes in every article of clothing we own. My lips press tightly together; my mind working twice as fast as usually in an attempt to figure out a way to bring her down easy.
"They need to be free, Olive," I try to explain. "They wouldn't be happy being locked up in your room. How about you go put them back where you found them and we can have ourselves a nice big slice of that cake Peeta made?"
There's reluctance in her eyes as she gazes down at her new found friends. It's taking all of my willpower not to brush them off of her where she stands. That, of course, would result in tears and possibly flattened caterpillars if I'm not careful with my methods. Instead, a second idea comes to me. Something far more appealing than dead, brushed off bugs and a sorrowful four year old.
"And we can open those presents of yours as well," I say. "So aunt and uncle can see what you got as well."
The hesitation immediately slips from her expression and she's off. Hurrying back towards the grassy plain to release those disgusting things back where they belong. I turn back to my company, watching as Haymitch removes the knife that he so unfortunately often carries around under his belt. He holds it out towards Peeta, motioning for him to take it.
"You'll do the cake slicing honors?"
The daylight is nothing more than a glow of smooth orange sunset when we finally pack up to leave the meadow. Olive hangs partly over Haymitch's shoulder, completely passed out from what we all decided to assume was a successful birthday celebration. Peeta bundles up the remaining slices of cake in parchment paper and hands them to me. Perhaps Haymitch will give them to the geese in the morning if most is left by then.
"Thank you for everything," I tell the children (though quite frankly, they really are adults). "It's nice to be able to do something simplistic. I doubt the parties will be as intimate once she begins making friends her own age. Not that I'm complaining. I always did love parties."
Haymitch mutters something in disagreement, but I am too busy embracing Katniss and Peeta to pay much mind. Promises of gathering again soon are shared, and soon we head our separate ways back to the houses. My eyes fall on Olive, watching as she breathes slowly from Haymitch's shoulder.
"Do you think she had a good day?" I ask, picking stray twigs away that have nestled themselves into her curls. "I really-drat, there goes another one." Frowning, I knock off a caterpillar that begins to make its way out of Olive's pocket. Something, I assume, she sneakily slipped in there when she thought I wouldn't notice. "Nasty things. Remind me to check her clothes when we get home, yes?"
"It's not like they lay eggs or anything at that stage, Princess," he muses, shifting Olive's weight in her arms as we continue on. "And to answer your question, she's four. We could have just as well given her a plain box for her birthday and she would have been over the moon with excitement," he pauses, catching the unamused expression. "Yeah, sure. She had a great time."
"I just want everything to be perfect," I explain, turning down the cobblestone path that leads to our home. "I know it sounds utterly ridiculous, but I just always worry that her life isn't good. That we aren't good parents. That we-"
"Shit!" Haymitch hisses, stopping in his tracks.
I follow his gaze, noting the dark and light leaf-like objects that lie scattered across the ground of the yard. Geese feathers. Haymitch's jaw clenches, a mixture of pain and rage evident in his expression as he maneuvers our daughter into my arms. She makes stirs softly, but her eyes remain closed.
"Something's gotten into the damn coop," he grumbles. "Take her inside. I'll try to figure out how it got in and block off the hole."
I nod, leaving his side to go into the house. Haymitch hasn't really ever had much he cares about. There's Peeta and Katniss. Olive. Liquor. And of course, there are the geese he and Olive came across when she was just around two years old. It has become sort of their thing. Feeding the geese every morning. Tending to them. This year, the flock has grown from the six last year to fourteen. Well, at least there were fourteen.
Olive's room is not too far off from mine and Haymitch's as I make my way up the long flight of steps. Setting the package of sliced dessert by the banister, I carry her in, taking great care not to jostle her as I set her down on her bed. She looks so peaceful, so still, I almost regret attempting to remove her shoes and her jacket so she can be more comfortable. Her lips part, a soft sigh escaping as pull the covers over her small frame.
She's growing so fast. So very fast and I can't stop it. My stomach clenches, a lump forming in my throat at the thought that in just a matter of years, she'll be all grown up. How butterflies can just abandon their little caterpillars, their offspring, is beyond me. I can't even bare to let my own out of my sight. Oh Olive, I only hope she knows how much I truly love her.
The low, quiet greeting catches me off guard and I whip around to see Haymitch standing in the doorway. His pants are caked with mud at the knees as if he's been kneeling hard on the ground. Mouth pressed into a thin line, he steps into the room, the floorboards creaking softly underneath his weight.
"Are the geese alright?" I ask quietly.
"We're down to twelve," he mutters, brushing his hands on his pockets. "Fox or something. Don't know. Found the hole and blocked it so hopefully that'll take care of the issue." His eyes flicker over to Olive. "She's stayed asleep?"
I nod, glancing over at her as well. "Yes," I whisper. "She didn't even wake up when I took her shoes off and tucked her in. Reminds me of you."
The corners of his lips twitch into a smirk. We look at each other, not bothering to utter a single word. Then, with the nod of his head, I follow Haymitch out of the room, gently closing our daughter's door behind us as we leave. Once out of earshot, he turns to me.
"Nice night tonight," he mumbles. "Don't suppose you want to sit out on the balcony and join me for a drink?"
"Maybe just this once," I say, my own lips curling into a smile. "But only one bottle. We can split it." He doesn't look to pleased about the one drink idea I've proposed. "Please, Haymitch. Neither of us should really be drinking anyway."
"Alright," he agrees. "Go wait for me outside and I'll bring everything."
The air is cool when I step out onto the upper deck. With what little sunlight still peaks over the horizon, I find my way to the set of chairs that sit looking out over the property. In the distance, I can make out the tiny houses from the towns further up in Twelve. Since the rebellion, life here has expanded so much. Mining has been brought down to a minimum. No more child labor. No more mass casualties due to mine collapses. It's peaceful. Quiet. And though I sometimes miss the excitement of the city, I wouldn't dream of raising my child anywhere else.
The door opens behind me and I am joined by Haymitch. I take the small glass of amber colored liquid he holds out to me and take a sip. It's bitter, strong, but it warms me nevertheless. Haymitch grunts a little in pain as he sinks down into his chair, slouching back as he raises his own cup to his mouth.
"It seems like only yesterday she was a baby," I say, setting my drink down on the arm of my chair. "And now she's four. Four... I must be getting old. Time seems like it's moving so quickly."
"Least we've still got some years before she's a teenager," he comments. "Doubt that time will feel like it's going fast at all."
The use of my first name catches me off guard and I look to Haymitch. He's playing with the rim of his glass, foot tapping nervously against the boards of the porch. Why does he seem so nervous? What could possibly be on his mind that looks as if it's eating away at him?
"There's something I've been meaning to talk to you about," he continues, not meeting my eyes. "I...You know I'm not good with words. I've never been good with words," he inhales. "And I'm sorry if that has impacted you negatively because I've never meant for it to. You and Olive-"
"I know," I interrupt, resting my hand on his knee. "Haymitch, I know you care about us. I do. It's alright. It's-"
"No," he says quickly. "No. No you don't. Just..." he scratches the back of his head. "Just let me finish. It's hard enough to do this as it is. Not...not hard like that. I mean...I'm not good with words," he finally meets my gaze. "I never told my mother that I loved her or my brother before they...you know... And I regret it. A lot. I don't want it to happen this time." He swallows, foot tapping even more rapidly than before. "I love you."
Of any statement that has ever been uttered to me before, those few words caught me the most off guard. I stare at him, unsure what to say or how to react. In the many years of our relationship, not once has he said something of that magnitude to me. And even so, I've known. He hasn't needed to and yet, my stomach forms knots when he does.
"I'm not done," he says. "And don't look at me like that. It's probably one of the only times I'll say it but I do. I love you and I love Olive and I'm sorry that I struggle so much to say those stupid words. But know that even when I don't, you both are my family and I'd do absolutely anything for you." He exhales, taking a rather large gulp of his liquor. "You should know that it's hard being so damn sentimental when you only give me this much to drink."
We fall silent again, our gazes focused up towards the sky where the stars have just begun to show through. My mouth hurts and I can only guess it's due to the fact I'm smiling so much. Inhaling, I lower my gaze, reaching for my drinking when something else catches me off guard.
"So marry me."
Something shatters near me and I know it's my glass. My breath hitches in my throat, confusion and alarm swarming in my mind as I look to Haymitch wondering if I could have possibly heard him wrong. But he merely just looks back at me, his face void of any emotion.
"That was perfectly good liquor you just-"
"What?" I interrupt. "Did you-"
"Marry me," he repeats. "Do I need to spell it out for you?"
So this why he and Peeta seemed so strange at Katniss's joke about marriage. They knew. Or at least, Peeta must have had some idea this was going to happen. But for how long? Did Katniss know as well? Was that the reason she even brought it up? Questions form a hazy in my mind as I exhale slowly, meeting Haymitch's awaiting gaze.
"Haymitch Abernathy," I exclaim. "You are the most horridly unromantic man I have ever met in all my life."
"Look," he says, slowly rising from his chair. "You don't have to be an ass about it. A simple 'no' would have sufficed. Just forget I said anything. We can go to bed, pretend that this never happened-"
"No," it's my turn to interrupt. "Now let me finish. You are the most manner lacking, unromantic man that I've ever had to deal with," and I inhale. "And I cannot imagine my life with someone who was any other way. So yes. Yes, of course I'll marry you, you incredibly, wonderful brute."
The moon illuminates overhead, marking the end of an era. Four years. No, it's been so much longer than that. An eternity all in itself. I feel Haymitch's hand take mine, the last of the lights fading in the distance. Where has the time gone? Has this moment really come? Yes. Yes, and it's good. It's so, very much welcomed. I breath in deeply, the familiar smell of wood, earth, and pine entering my nasal passages. Olive sleeps inside, unaware of all that has happened. But here we are, alone in such a vast world. The two of us watching the night sky in silence. There is so much to say and yet, there is no need. There has never been a need. Haymitch squeezes my hand and I return the gesture.
All is finally right.
So for months I've been thinking and thinking how I would finally say my goodbye to all of you lovely readers. But now that the time has come, I am at a loss for words. Thank you. Just thank you for everything you all have done for me. This story has really changed my life in more ways than you'll ever know. Each one of you is so truly amazing and know that you people mean so much to me. Thank you for sticking with me until the end. It would never have come without your help. Thank you for bringing Olive to life and any bit of this story as well. To my friends who are not readers but nevertheless stayed up into the wee hours of the morning listening to me panic about how I wasn't sure if this writing was good enough. Thank you. All of you. For everything.
As for a sequel, I have decided against doing something official. However, on my FFN profile page, I have a story called "Of Aprons, Geese, and Little Feet". Basically, it's a continuation of sorts of this story. Except, it's drabbles and one shots. How it works is that if there is a plot you'd like to see involving Olive, Effie, and Haymitch (AU or not) you send it in and I write a mini story about it. For those who follow me on tumblr, you're already well aware of this and I still have about forty prompts I owe you that are sitting in my inbox. But I swear I'll get to those. Also, I have a story called "The Indigo Summer" I'd really appreciate you checking out if you like my writing. It's Hayffie and it is another family story (except it's an AU where Haymitch is the single father to a six year old Katniss Everdeen and Effie is her teacher). So if you have a chance, please check it out!
Alright, final time I'll ask this. Feedback is greatly loved and appreciated. Now that the story is finally over, I'd really love for you, the readers, to leave a review. This story has had so many followers and even if you've never reviewed before, please consider taking a moment of your time now. It would mean the world to me and I'd love to know your final thoughts. Thank you so, so very much again. I hope to see all of your wonderful usernames soon as I continue to write. With much love to each and every one of you. -Jen