My lovelies: here's the very end. I'm both honoured and humbled by the way you've all stuck with me. I feel so blessed. Thank you for all your favorite-ing and reviews and love.
For anyone who's interested (you need to take the spaces out):
Katniss' dress from last chapter: images?q=tbn : ANd9GcTEvmed EeqwnoTq ZynnUY9n0P_6WvFcDo_X ASsPc7w5wm D5FDuLug
Katniss' dress from this chapter: images?q=tbn : ANd9Gc TTFGzicm QlGN5aGBU Whuv3o5Bdsr Rt6JuYu WMdTwi694iryK2P7A
Enjoy. It's a bit fluffy, but I feel like they've earned it.
The Hunger Games belong to Suzanne Collins, not to me, though I do enjoy playing with her characters.
She stomps into Haymitch's house, furious, two weeks after their trip to the Capitol, throwing meat pies on the counter with unnecessary vigor. She can't find him, finally looks in the backyard, and sees him corralling geese, of all things. She stares.
"What the hell are you doing?"
He glowers at her, smacks a goose that snaps at his heel.
"Effie said I needed a hobby."
"Oh, and farming geese is what's in nowadays?" she asks, her fury subsided for the moment.
He jumps onto the porch with her. "She cut off my alcohol until I find something else to fill my time with. Do you have a camera?"
He catches on a moment later, because normally Haymitch-the-goose-trainer would have her rolling on the ground laughing. She's happier now.
"Sit," he demands, pulling out a deck chair. "And shut up!" he yells at the geese. She cracks a smile.
"Now, what the hell's wrong with you? Are you mad that Delly's doing so well with the herbs?"
She stares at him for a moment before the meaning sinks in. It's true that Delly is doing incredibly well: will probably take over heading up the job from Katniss in a month or two. She doesn't have the book memorized the way Katniss does, but she has a natural talent for finding the right plants, much in the same way she has a natural talent for finding the good in people.
"No," she assures him, "Of course not. I'd rather hunt anyways."
"Is it town, then?" he asks. "Things are really going up over there. You still wanna make a run for it?"
She rolls her eyes, swats at him half-heartedly. Running off into the woods had been the perfect solution in a Capitol-run, Games-filled world. She isn't living in that world anymore.
"I don't want to make a run for it," she tells him. "At least, not now. You keep training those geese, though—"
"Then why the hell'd you come stomping over here, looking for attention first thing in the morning?"
"It's four o'clock in the afternoon."
"Whatever! What do you want?"
And now that it's come to this, she crosses her arms and pouts, rethinking whether she really wants to talk about it or not.
He glares at her. "Out with it, sweetheart. I don't have all day." The geese honk as if to verify this statement.
"He hasn't asked me," she spits out, her cheeks flaming.
He stares at her, then throws back his head and laughs, the geese honking with him, making it sound magnified, like the whole world is laughing at her. She gets up, furious, embarrassed, but he pulls her back down, wipes tears of laughter from his eyes.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart, I am. It's just—this is the first time you've ever come to me with a normal problem. I was caught off guard."
"This isn't normal!" she insists.
"Oh, woe is me, my boyfriend won't propose," he whimpers, mimicking her voice. She swats him and he dodges it.
"Well, he won't! What the hell? He's the one who actually cares!"
Haymitch chuckles. "Yeah, you're over here telling me all about it because you don't care, right?" She glares at him. Haymitch takes a deep breath, clearly trying to calm himself.
"Sweetheart, who was in on that conversation we had in the Capitol?" She sighs, thinks back.
"Just you and I," she recites. She hates this, feels as if he's being condescending, but all he's doing is mentoring her. He's still their mentor.
"Have you told Peeta anything about that conversation?"
"Of course not!" she snaps, angry that he would even need to ask. She realizes, a moment later, that he didn't need to ask, knew the answer all along.
"He doesn't know that I…" She trails off, lost in memories. Haymitch interrupts her thoughts.
"You're the one who changed your mind," he explains, and he looks at his flask for moment before taking a reserved sip. She smiles; maybe Effie's onto something. "And for the record, this is not the first time you've changed your mind." She blushes, thinking of their feigned romance. "I don't think it's the last either, but that's not the point. You've changed your mind, over and over, and he waits for you pretty damn patiently. Besides, if you really think about it, he's already proposed to you."
"That wasn't—" He raises his eyebrows at her as she stops short, realizing his meaning. Peeta has already proposed to her. He's the one who's already thrown himself unreservedly into this. He was always all in, has never changed his mind. She gets up, determined to find the right kind of bread, and Haymitch clears his throat.
"Thanks," she mutters.
"You want me to walk you down the aisle?" he teases. She smirks. "You seem a little busy with these geese, so I'll pass for now," she teases.
"If you two can tear yourselves away for five minutes, call Effie?" he requests.
"I'm not getting in between you two!" she giggles. She scampers off, dodging the empty bottle he throws at her.
The only place to get their bread is the bakery (logical, though she searched every cupboard before she gave in). Peeta isn't out front when she gets there: apparently he's baking faster than humanly possible while he lets Sae run the till. She wants to see him though, so she takes a bowl of Greasy Sae's soup, gulps it down sitting on the counter like old times. When he still hasn't come out front, she realizes it might be the best surprise she could ever give him. So she buys a loaf of bread full of nuts and raisins, feeling more nervous than she's ever felt in her life.
She gets home and, for the first time in over a year, heads into the basement and gazes at Cinna's gowns. She's come to realize that losing people does not mean losing their memories and it cannot mean forgetting them or ignoring what they've given. She'll never heal if she walks away: at some point, you have to turn around and face not only what wants to kill you, but what wants to keep you alive. And their memories will keep her alive, if she'll let them.
Her closet seems to be color-coded, so she heads away from the darks and toward the light colors. She wants to avoid the plethora of wedding gowns at the end of the rack but finds herself inexorably drawn to them. She wonders if her Mockingjay dress is here, even though the sane part of her mind insists that it's not. Drawn to something dark on a white dress, she pushes past chiffons and silks and a mess of crinoline to find a black envelope.
She pulls out the dress it's tacked onto. It's a beautiful white gown, nothing like the ostentatious dresses that surround it. It's simple, but elegant, and it's impossible not to feel Cinna's presence. She's sure he did the embroidery by hand: swirls that conjure up leaves in her forest, plants in her Meadow. She opens the envelope, unfolds the note inside. It makes her ache, but not entirely in a bad way.
Remember, girl on fire, I'm still betting on you…but know that I was always betting on him.
Cinna's last words, repeated and combined with an assurance that Peeta was always right for her, that those who knew her best never doubted, assures her more than anything else. She puts on the dress, looking in the mirror and giggling. Her cheek is smudged with dirt, her eyebrows unkempt, her hair coming out of its' braid. But in so many ways, it's perfect: her dress is not a dress for a Capitol bride with waxed eyebrows and shiny hair. It's for her. She will match Peeta's sweaty work clothes and flour-smudged cheeks perfectly. This is their wedding, and no one else's.
She slices the bread, sets it on a plate, gets tongs ready for the toasting, sets out tinder and firewood, scrubs under her nails. She's stalling. She has not lit a fire, not touched a match, since she was lit on fire herself. She's not the girl on fire anymore. She takes a deep breath, closes her eyes.
The first match goes out immediately. The second one lasts long enough for her to shriek and drop it. The third she throws at the tinder, missing, and it lands among ashes from a very long time ago. When was the last time someone lit a fire in this grate? And the fact that it might have been Prim gives her strength to light the fourth match, set the tinder ablaze, and wait for him.
It's dark when she hears his footsteps on the porch. He's wary; must've seen the smoke from the chimney.
"Katniss?" he asks, looking for her.
"I'm here," she calls from the living room, sitting on the couch in her white dress. The moment he sees her, she just asks.
"Will you marry me?"
She sees his shocked eyes take in the bread, the dress, and most of all the fire, which was always going to be the hardest part. A tear falls from his eye, but he wipes it away impatiently.
He goes to her, kissing her gently, tantalizingly. He sees the bread she's chosen, grins at her, gets a slice on the tongs, but she stops him. She has something to say. When did she become the one who was good with words?
"I'm done putting on a show for the Capitol," she whispers. "I'm done putting on a show for anyone or faking anything. Never again will I pretend I feel something I don't. I'm not doing this because I'm supposed to, or because I think I should, or because I think I owe you for anything, from then—" She gestures to the bread, "to now. I am doing this because I love you more than anything. I need you, Peeta. I can't survive without you."
The way she says it changes Gale's words, makes them romantic, beautiful. She takes the tongs from him, toasts her piece, and feeds it to him. His tongue licks her fingers.
She puts his piece on the tongs, hands it to him. He's gazing at her in wonder.
She's just realized that this is unfair: that she had so much time to think of what she wanted to say, and that he's had none, when he begins to speak.
"I have wanted this forever," he begins, eloquent as always. His lack of prep time is clearly not an issue. "I can't remember a time when I didn't want to marry you. I know that we're broken, that a part of us always will be. But you are the only one who makes me feel like I should keep on living. I need you to survive. I love you more than life. I can't imagine choosing to exist without you. The last time I told you I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you, I thought I'd only live a few more days. When I say it now, I say it with the expectation that we will live for years, and that we will heal and love and grow old together. Katniss, I will always want to spend every single moment of the rest of my life with you."
He toasts his piece, feeds it to her. They cling to each other, breathless and exhilarated.
And in a moment so beautiful, she gazes into his eyes and sees her whole life come full circle: from the bread he tossed her to feed herself, feed Prim, to this moment, right now, tears shining in both of their eyes, she has needed him. Now they are married, not for anyone else but for themselves. And for the first time since they were reaped, Peeta and Katniss are more than just pieces in the Games.
(My) reviewers make me smile.