NEW AUTHOR'S NOTE:
I'm sorry if this is disappointing but this isn't a new chapter. I reread 'Always' and noticed some glaringly obvious errors, and a couple of things that were a bit unclear. That is why I am reposting this new, edited version.
So I read this chapter again to try to get into the writing zone again, to try and psyche myself up and find the time to write some oneshots. I have just been so, incredibly busy, but I really miss writing. I will try to write a oneshot in the next week. I'd love to hear any ideas you have!
Thanks so much for all the reviews. I am so excited to see that some people are still finding this story, and I would love to hear from all of you! :)
The fading sunlight glistens off the twisted fragments of metal as smoke drifts lazily towards the darkening sky.
I whirl around, my eyes constantly searching, frantically seeking out that yellow coat, those golden braids. Instead I see nothing but pain as eyes plead and hands grope at me from the blood-littered snow.
When my eyes land on the yellow of her coat I spring forward, feet flying across the wreckage. My heart leaps to my throat and I desperately seek any sign of life from Prim's tiny frame.
It's too late. I'm too late.
I cling to her lifeless form and silently rock her back and forth. I cry in wet, noisy sobs, unable to quell the flow of tears as I take in her blackened skin, her singed braids and the dark pool of blood on her stomach. The ashes stick to my throat with every ragged gulp of air, when a sickly sweet odor reaches my nose.
I gasp, awake the second the scent hits my nose. My heart is racing as my eyes frantically seek out the empty vase on the mantle before staring at it, taking deep breaths, counting backwards from ten.
Suddenly I feel Peeta's strong arms wrap tightly around me, pulling me closer. My heart rate slows immediately at his touch, and despite the thick summer air I nestle more closely into him, relishing in the strength that I gain from him. I continue counting, but that is really just to finish the routine.
Because, more than anything, it is his arms that bring me back.
It's going to be hot today. Really hot.
Even this early, deep in the woods where it is always a little cooler, the heat radiates from the ground where each beam of sunlight hits it. The sun is quickly climbing the sky and with each minute that passes the number of animals scurrying about dwindles. Even they prefer to rest in the coolest shady spots on days like this.
I take a deep breath and lie back on the grass that remains somewhat green due to its shady position. Despite the heat I need this today; to have a moment to just be still. I need to be out here, connected with the earth.
Last night was exhausting, emotionally and physically. I'm not surprised that the old nightmare resurfaced, even though I hadn't been trapped in that particular scene in over a month.
Because last night I finally took the plunge and started to pack up Prim's old room.
It had been so long since I'd been in there. Just stepping inside the room and seeing her neatly made bed, the wardrobe door lying slightly ajar to reveal her dresses and coats, felt like someone had hit me in the chest. The pain was so real that it forced me to take a step back. But I willed myself forward.
Peeta offered to do it for me – to shelter me from the pain I suppose – but I couldn't bear the thought of someone else packing her life up into boxes. I'm glad I did it, but I'm glad he was there too. He generally knows when I want to be left alone but, more importantly, he also knows when I need him.
We aren't taking much with us to the new house, not really. Some everyday things we need to take, like armchairs and bedding and cookware, but most of the possessions that came with the houses are staying with them.
And of course some things are too precious not to bring with us. Our two books, obviously, and Peeta's paintings and sketches. My father's hunting gear. My mother's wedding dress. Prim's favourite story books and ribbons. The small box of Peeta's family's possessions that were salvaged from the rubble. The locket that he gave me on the beach. The rug, the cushions and the playing cards from the lounge room.
Some memories are too special to leave behind.
I get to my feet, and move off to the side to gather some roots to add to our dinner. I shot a few squirrels earlier, just as the sun was rising, and that will have to do for this morning. I can feel the beads of sweat gathering on my chest now, so I really should get back to the town before the day's heat really sets in.
As I pass the flat plane of rock that was our meeting place for so many years I stop to unscrew the lid of my drink bottle. I can't help but think of him when I am out here; Gale, who is only really alive when he is surrounded by fresh air and sunlight and clean, flowing water.
The thought that he stays away because of me causes my heart to squeeze sharply in my chest.
I am certain that he enjoys his work, but I feel guilty that he hasn't even come back to visit. I know it is because of me. Not his feelings for me – I have no idea about that anymore – but because he knows it would be hard for me. And probably because he can't stand to watch me hate him.
He doesn't know that, while I can't forget, I certainly don't hate him.
And I can't imagine him living his life in District 2. To me he will always be here, in the woods, where he is truly alive and laughing.
The water is now a little warm but it revives me somewhat as I make my way back to the fence line. I slip under it in my same old spot and head back towards the Victor's Village, and it feels strange to know that this will probably be the last time I will walk this path.
The sun still holds its heat that evening as we make our way down the street to see the house that is now ours. The keys were delivered to me this afternoon, and our enthusiasm got the better of us so we decided to see it quickly before dinner. We haven't actually been there since that first night – we have been so incredibly busy with the opening of the bakery – and a little flutter of excitement brews in my stomach as we get closer.
"Hey, is it okay if we do a quick detour and stop at the bakery on the way home?" Peeta questions, his voice interrupting the steady beat of our footsteps.
I nod, "Sure, no problem. How come?"
"I promised Haymitch that I'd bring him over a few loaves before we leave, but then I was in such a rush to get out of the shop that I left them on the counter."
It's not like Peeta to leave the building without everything in order, so I sneak a concerned glance at him out of the corner of my eye.
I can't help but smile at what I see. I shouldn't have worried. He wears a huge grin and he is practically skipping in his excitement to get to the new house.
"I actually can't believe that we're moving in tomorrow," he exclaims. "It feels like just yesterday that we came and saw it for the first time."
"That's just because so much has happened in the last few weeks," I respond, wiping the sweat from my brow, "but I know what you mean. It's strange to think that this time tomorrow we won't live in the Victor's Village anymore."
Peeta's blue eyes are bright and animated, and I allow myself a moment of satisfaction, of victory. During our time in 13 and the Capitol, and even in the long months after we returned here, I never dreamed that he could possibly look this happy again.
I can't help but think of everything that this boy has endured. No one deserves that but especially not Peeta; he has always had so much goodness, so much compassion in him. He still does now, even after he has lost so much.
My face hardens at the thought. Snow has stolen so much from both of us; our family and friends, our childhood... years of our lives. But we will not allow him to take our future. We will endure this, what he has done. We are no longer pieces of his games; we are victors, just not his victors. We have victory over him. Fire beats roses again.
I give a wry smile and squeeze Peeta's hand tightly, relishing the feeling of his rough skin beneath mine. We have survived. Together.
I shake these thoughts from my mind as we slow to a stop and I take in our surroundings like I am seeing the house for the first time. I almost am, in a way; this is the first time I have studied it closely in full daylight. I have glanced into the yard every day since that first night, obviously, but I have not had the time to study the details. Now I devour everything in sight with fresh eyes.
The small patch of browning lawn at the front is dotted with the ghosts of dandelions, and it stretches lazily down each side of the house. I suddenly feel nervous, knowing that we can't turn back now that the house belongs to us, but the feeling of Peeta's hand in mine comforts me. It gives me that steadiness that he has always brought to everything.
"See there?" he points to the fence on the right, "I thought we could replant the primrose bushes there. Or maybe out the back."
I smile gratefully at the suggestion and squeeze his hand, moving forward. "Shall we go see our new home?" I ask playfully, and he grins as we make our way onto the lawn and towards the steps.
It is a modest house, made of simple cream bricks. It isn't huge or gaudy, like our house in the Victor's Village, but it is still a far cry from my family's humble, worn-down home back in the Seam. Peeta turns the key and pushes open the door, allowing a shaft of golden sunlight to spill through onto the hardwood floorboards. He steps to the side to let me take the first step in, and I breathe in a lungful of refreshingly cool air as I enter.
We stand there for a moment, his arm wrapped securely around my waist and my head resting lightly on his shoulder, and we take in the scene that now belongs to us.
The hallway isn't long but it is welcoming; an exposed brick wall lining one side and contrasting nicely with the off-white paint of those surrounding it. Directly in front of us the stairs lead up to the bedrooms, and the front room holds nothing but a fireplace and a huge, cushy couch. Peeta leads me in there first, giving me a meaningful look as he gestures towards the fireplace. "We'll have to bring in the rug and cushions from our place to go in front of that. And a couple of the arm chairs," he says simply.
"I've already arranged for all that," I respond, rolling my eyes a little. "But before we worry about that stuff... let's try out this couch."
I sink into it and feel Peeta flop down heavily beside me, sighing in contentment as the couch moulds around his exhausted form.
We're lucky, really, that President Paylor is letting us do this: selling our houses in the Victor's Village to pay for this one, and buying the bakery outright. She could have been difficult about it, given that the houses were technically a 'gift'. But Paylor is fair. She saw the horrors of the war first-hand so she knows the shadows that lurk for us. And she knows that with every rich family that moves into the Victor's Village comes more sets of eyes to watch our every move.
She understands our need to escape.
Plus, she has poured a lot of government funds into the rebuilding of the Districts – money that Snow was stockpiling in the Capitol – so I assume that any self-funded ventures are welcome at this stage. And besides, some families from District Two have bought the houses; people coming to work in the medicine factory that is under construction at the edge of the District. Apparently they are quite important to the project.
I don't really care who they are, to be honest, as long as they don't bother us. Or Haymitch. And, given his usual inebriation, they'll barely see him at all. Because when he's sober enough he'll probably be with us.
I lightly stroke the couch cushion. "It's pretty comfortable," I state firmly before leaping to my feet and looking down at Peeta. "Let's check out the rest."
He laughs at my impatience but instead of joining me he stretches his arms out behind him, his eyes closing as he lets out a yawn.
I roll my eyes again and walk over to the open kitchen and dining space. The layout of the kitchen is the same as the one we have now, which brings a sense of familiarity and comfort. I'm no great cook but I can recognise a nice kitchen, with shining new appliances calling out to be used.
The dining table in the centre of the room is large – a heavy wood, maybe oak – but not huge or dominating like our one back at the Village. I run my fingertips along the top and gaze out the window over the kitchen sink before moving to sit down on one of the wooden chairs. It is easy to imagine living here. Even the side entrance to the house is in the same place as in our current kitchen, something I didn't actually notice that last time I was here. I lean back, my hands now linked behind my head, and stretch out my legs, taking in everything around me. Yes. We will be happy here, I think.
Despite its simple furnishings, the house is comfortable and cosy. A good size; not too big. And lots of windows.
Peeta thumps in and laughs at my position before taking one of my hands and hauling me to my feet. "I thought you wanted to 'check out the rest,'" he quotes, grinning as I reward him with a scowl. "No sitting down on the job!"
He leads me behind the stairs, past the small bathroom, to a room that is rimmed with floor to ceiling windows and a sliding glass door. This is my favourite part; the section of the house that we have talked about a lot. The space that convinced us to buy it.
"I can't wait to get set up in here," he says to the empty room. "Lucky there are plenty of shelves for me to store everything."
"And you were right," I reply, squeezing his hand with affection, "there is so much light in here in the afternoon. You'll be able to paint after you finish work."
"Yep. I'm right once again. You would think that you'd be used to it by now," he jokes with a grin, earning himself a swat on the arm.
I walk over and slide open the heavy glass door, gazing down at the back of the property. Now this is my place. There is a wooden deck, similar to the porch at the front, with steps leading down to a small yard. It is made up of some garden beds, a small patch of grass and a huge old tree in the back corner. One of my favourite things is that it almost feels like the house was positioned here so the tree wouldn't be disturbed. I like that.
"The yard really is pretty big for a house in town," Peeta interrupts my thoughts, repeating words that we've spoken together a number of times over the last few weeks. "It's probably the biggest I've seen. And I don't think it matters that the house isn't huge."
I nod, turning on my heel to look up at him. "I think it's perfect," I reply simply, a small smile washing my lips. "We don't need more space than this."
He gives a crooked smile and grabs my hand before heading back through the house with me in tow. He leads me up the wooden stairwell, before we come to a stop in front of the three doors. He steps towards one and flips on the light switch.
The room's walls are a simple cream and it is empty, the light fitting lonely in the centre of the room. A large window fills most of one wall, and the soft chocolate curtains shift slightly as the door opens. I turn to Peeta, questions filling my eyes.
"Why are we in here?" I ask. We haven't even mentioned this room since we were here last. "Do you have something that you want to use it for?"
"Oh, I don't know," he replies lazily. "For now it could be a spare room in case Johanna or Annie come to visit. Or your mom." He pauses momentarily, as his voice switches to a knowing tone. "And then, maybe one day we could redecorate and it could be..."
His voice trails off, his eyes hopeful, as I fiercely shake my head. "No," I state emphatically. "I'm happy for it to be a bedroom, but I don't even want to think about kids."
"Okay, okay," he laughs, his hands going up in mock surrender. "I know that's how you feel right now. But maybe one day?" He looks at me hopefully.
At the sight of his blue eyes pleading with me and his gentle smile, I feel myself soften slightly. "Okay. Maybe one day, I might, maybe...consider the idea. Maybe." I let out a huff. "But don't hold your breath."
He simply laughs, and pulls me in for a hug. "It's okay Katniss, I'm just winding you up. You know I want kids one day, but way in the future. I'll wait as long as you need."
"Well, you'll be waiting a long time," I murmur softly into his chest, my heartbeat picking up speed at the thought of having children. "No child deserves to come into this world."
I don't expect him to hear me, but when he pulls back and looks into my eyes I know that he did.
"Don't forget though, Katniss, the District 12 that we grew up in doesn't exist anymore. It died with Snow. This world...it's better. We'll all be safe." His eyes are so certain, his voice so calm, that I want nothing more than to believe him. But it is so typical of Peeta to believe the best, to believe that this peace we have will last. Right now, I can't afford to think that way. There's too much to lose to get complacent.
He can sense my discomfort, the fear starting to rise inside me, so he pulls me in close, rubbing his hands up and down my back. "Okay?" he whispers after a moment, before pressing his lips against my forehead.
The ghost of a smile tugs the corner of my lips at the familiar gesture and I pull away slightly and look up into the face of the boy who has done so much for me. I don't tell him any of the fearful thoughts that are running through my mind. I don't tell him that even the thought of bringing children into this place makes my heart race and my blood run icy cold. That is an argument for another day. We don't need that this evening. So I simply shrug my shoulders before pressing a soft kiss to his crimson lips.
As we part, he smiles down at me and takes my hand. "Let's go see the last couple of rooms. We're almost at the best part!" He throws an exaggerated wink at me, flinging away the light blanket of melancholy that had settled upon us, and I can't help but laugh as he drags me out of the room to stand in front of what will be our bedroom.
He pushes open the mahogany door with a smile and steps aside so that I can see what he has done.
The furniture in here is sparse – a large wooden bed, two simple side tables and a dresser – but there is a small fire crackling in the fireplace on the far wall. The door to the adjoining bathroom, a full walk-through complete with a bathtub, lies slightly ajar and I glimpse the white tiles sparkling in the evening sunlight.
I can't help but smile at the fireplace, the feature that initially convinced Peeta that I would love the house. I turn to him, eyes questioning the need for fire on such a warm evening, but he simply shrugs and throws a boyish grin at me. "I just had to," he laughs, gesturing across the room.
My eye follows his movement, to the open door that leads out onto a small balcony overlooking the yard. There, away from the flames and where a cooler breeze dances lazily into the room, he has laid out a small blanket and topped it with two cushions, a wicker basket and a single wildflower.
I can feel my eyes widen. "How..?" I let the question trail from my lips.
"They let me in during my lunch break to set up," he grins. "So I just had to grab the basket and run upstairs to light the fire while you were in the kitchen." His face glows, gleeful that he has managed to pull this off and successfully surprise me. He takes my hand and leads me over to the blanket, making sure that I am comfortable before settling himself down across from me.
"I just wanted to do something special for our first meal here."
"Meal?" I ask, still shocked that he has organised all of this for us.
"It's not much," he apologizes, "but it will do."
He reaches into the basket and, unsurprisingly, pulls out two cheese buns. He hands them to me and I can't help but tear off a chunk greedily. I sigh in contentment; I can never be sick of these.
As I chew on it I place the plate down beside me, wondering what else he has hiding in that basket. I watch curiously as he pulls out two long stemmed glasses and fills them with a rich, golden liquid that is bubbling and fizzing. I have never seen this before, but it looks suspiciously like Capitol wine to me.
Peeta watches my face intently. "It's okay Katniss, there's no alcohol in there," he says, laughing at my expression. "It's a new type of apple juice. It's like the stuff from District 11, but they added bubbles to it. Don't worry, I'm not trying to get you drunk!"
I reach for a glass and take a sip, allowing just a bit of the fizzy, sweet liquid past my lips. It's nice. The bubbles are strange, hard to get used to, but the flavour is crisp and refreshing. Perfect for this warm evening. "It's good," I grudgingly admit.
"Well, here's to our new house," he says, eyes sparkling as he lifts his glass in the air, "and may our days here be filled with laughter and light." He clinks the rim of his glass gently against mine. "And love," he finishes. His eyes darken as he leans forward to claim my lips in an excruciatingly soft kiss, as the fire softly crackles on the other side of the room.
Peeta sighs contentedly as he pulls away from me, his golden eyelashes slowly fluttering open.
I speak first, smiling. "Finally we have somewhere that is just ours. It doesn't belong to anyone else."
He looks at me in confusion, "What about the bakery?"
"Well, that's yours really, not mine," I respond simply.
A slight frown creases his forehead, the same one that I saw so often in our first months back here in 12. I know now that I misunderstood it; it is really his face betraying his emotions as inner questions sneak their way to the surface. This time, as he often does now, he voices them.
"You don't think of it as ours?" he questions.
"Well baking has always been your thing, Peeta. You know I'm not great in the kitchen. You say so yourself!"
"I guess so," he says, his eyes focusing on the bubbles now slowly rising to the top of his glass. "I guess I just think of it as our place, you know? I guess I think of everything as ours now."
I shrug, unwilling to back down when I know I'm right. "I know what you mean, I guess. But this...this is your thing! It's Mellark's bakery, for heaven's sake!"
"Listen," he starts, putting his glass down and stretching his arms out behind him until he leans his weight on his palms, "do you remember what I said to you about the bakery, on that first day when I showed you the construction site?"
I nod, not really understanding where this is going. "You said that you needed it to be in a different place from the old one because you wanted it to be yours, not what your family had before because it is too hard to remember," I retort somewhat smugly, emphasizing the word 'yours' and sensing impending victory in this little debate.
"Exactly. But things have changed a lot since then. We were just starting out; things had only just started to change between us. I had no idea how you really felt about me and, to be honest, I didn't even really understand how I felt.
"All I knew was that I needed to be near you, and that you scared the life out of me when you hit your head on the pipe that day. And every day after that my feelings grew stronger until I was certain that I loved you."
I can feel a faint blush rise in my cheeks at his words. Even after all this time he still has this effect on me.
"Back then, the bakery was just mine," he continues frankly, "but now? Now it is ours. And in some ways we are just like it. This, what we are now, is new. It isn't forced; it isn't built in the fiery remnants of our past. Just like how we have a completely new bakery."
"I suppose so," I say slowly, my eyes on the floor. I don't even know how he can think of these things to say.
He pauses just long enough for me too glance up into his eyes before clarifying. "I just feel like we have spent these last few months creating something completely new. We aren't simply the baker and the hunter anymore. We aren't Tributes, the 'star crossed lovers of District 12.'" His voice presents its best Capitol accent, before it drops and flattens. He always sounds like this when he talks about things that are painful to remember. "We aren't feigning an engagement to save our families. And we aren't being tortured by the Capitol in order to hurt the other."
I reach out and touch his cheek gently, and he sits forward and grabs hold of my hand.
"We aren't any of those things. We are simply us. Peeta and Katniss. We shared some really terrible things, yeah. We can't deny that. We have memories that we don't want to talk about, and even some that we can't bear to forget. But now, in this new District, we are simply us. It's not that I remember that I used to love you so I am just continuing with that… it's like loving you now is completely new because we are new."
I nod, before ducking my head, embarrassed that a tear is actually pricking the back of my eyes. It's true, what he says. I can't say these things that he says, but I feel them.
"And the new us... we are the Mellarks now, and it is our bakery, just as this is our home."
At the word 'Mellarks', my head snaps up and suddenly I can hear nothing else. My heart pounds in my chest as my eyes roam wildly over the carefully prepared scene: the blanket, the crystal glasses, the fire. I can see that the wicker basket is still partially covered, so who knows what else might be in there, what else he might have planned for tonight.
A fear similar to the one that clutched at my heart in the other bedroom starts to creep up on me again and my mind whirls. He can't be about to ask that. Can he? No! He knows I'm not ready for that. A toasting doesn't need to be public, no, but I can't do this! It's too soon. It's too much.
Oh, but I love him so much. It's what he wants. I should…
But my mother, she couldn't... she lost… and what if?
At even the thought of losing this, of losing everything that I have at this moment, my heartbeat picks up rapidly. I try to fight it, not wanting to ruin our first time in our new house, but panic sets in.
Unfortunately this sudden grip of fear is not new to me. I squeeze my eyes shut and simply concentrate on breathing. I beg my heartbeat to slow down and focus my attention on the strong grip of the arms that are now wrapped around me. His muscles are strong and hard beneath his silky skin, and his heartbeat is steady under my ear. But I still can't slow my heart or steady my breathing. The fear is still winning.
I can feel Peeta's hands gently rubbing up and down my arms as he presses his lips against my forehead, but I can't make out his words through the haze.
I summon all of my energy to focus on Peeta, on all of the good things that I have seen him do. His face leaning over me in concern, blocking out the sunlight as I struggled to sit up, slightly concussed. Him walking with me, night after night, to keep the images of hell away. His strong hand stirring a pot of soup on the stove to take to the workers. His arms, covered in flour but so strong and sure for such a young boy, breaking the burnt loaves of bread before throwing them through the rain to land at my feet.
As each image of good flashes in my mind my heart rate begins to slow. My breathing eases. My shoulders relax.
It's fine. I'm okay. He's here with me.
I jump as the fire pops unexpectedly. My eyes are immediately drawn to the other side of the room, to a small ceramic vase that has been placed on the mantle. I didn't even notice it there before. It is no longer dusty. It is no longer hollow. And somehow, Peeta knew to bring it. He has cleaned it out and polished its surface before filling it with a handful of freshly picked daisies. Their bright yellow faces smile at me, bringing forth the memory of the dandelion from another lifetime, and as I stare at them his voice slowly swims into back focus.
"I'm sorry, Katniss. It's okay, that's not what I meant. I love you so much, and I know that you feel the same way. And that's enough. I promise, it's enough for me. I know it's too soon."
He pulls himself back and looks into my eyes, drawing my attention to nothing but him. "You know me, Katniss. One day, yes, I want to marry you. I want to go to the Justice Building and make it official that I am yours forever. I want us to do a toasting and to dance together and to celebrate what we have.
"But I will wait. You know I'll wait. Because this time when we take that step we will be ready and it will be real.
"So right now? No. This is what I want. You and me. I just want you, our home, our life together. At this moment, I can't think of anything I could want more than that."
I search deep inside me for words, for anything. "But…what if?" I stammer, unable to articulate my concern. "And I'm so…" My words trail off as I simply gesture towards myself, to the fear I still can't manage to keep under control.
He grips onto my shoulders, his deep blue eyes staring even more deeply into my eyes. "This… you… it is all I've ever wanted. It is all I will ever want. And I am never going to let you go. I can't."
As his eyes hold my gaze and he utters these familiar words another scene swims into my mind and I can't help but reach up and run my fingertips over the back of his hand. The spot is still slightly raised; scarred forever from where my teeth broke his skin. Even then, in the middle of our worst nightmare, he wouldn't let me go.
He pulls me back into his arms, pressing his usual kiss against my forehead on the way, and my eyes drift across the room once more.
And as I stare at the vase that he has given a new life, as the scent of the fire and the bread in front of us mixes and weaves effortlessly in the air...I believe him.
He's not going anywhere. I'm not going to lose him.
So I lean slightly away from him, still keeping myself firmly ensconced in his arms, and press a watery kiss against his lips. They are soft but firm and filled with need, and his body is hard and steady beneath me. And as I give in to the sensation and sink into him I know that I'm home.
Peeta locks the door firmly behind us and I walk across the balcony, leaning against the railing as I look out over the grass. The sun has almost set now, flames burning brightly across the horizon, and a summer breeze trickles over my skin. The crickets chirp merrily in the garden bed, and a deliciously savory smell dances across from a neighboring house. I shut my eyes and smile as Peeta's arms wrap around me until his hands clutch mine, and he pulls me close. Inhaling him deeply, I smile in contentment, all worries of the night fleeing from this one delectable moment.
"Okay?" his usual question meets my ear.
"Yeah," I reply, and I feel him smile against my hair. "All is good."
"Okay," he repeats, more firmly this time, before his tone lifts. "Now, let's go get that bread before Haymitch has sends his geese after us!" And he swirls me around, spinning me under his arm once before wrapping it tightly around my shoulders.
And as we begin the short walk towards the bakery I can't help but think about his words, about what he said. About what he wants.
But what do I want? I want to be with him, always. There is no doubt about that. I can't survive without him, and I know now what that means. It isn't weakness. It is acceptance and contentment and passion and forever. And it is real.
So here, walking the road between our new home and our bakery, I wonder about the real possibility of marriage. I don't really understand why he needs it to be official; that won't change what we have. And the thought of it all makes my heart pound harder even now; the fear is definitely there.
But the steady weight of his arm resting across my shoulders reminds me that it is him that is real. That this is real.
That maybe, one day, we could bring home a loaf of bread of our own to toast together. And then that could be real too. And as my mind wanders, I can't help but think that maybe it wouldn't be so bad.
I don't want it right away. Too much has happened, and there's so much to deal with in our lives right now; we simply aren't ready for that. Not yet. But for the first time I allow myself to really think about being the baker's wife. Being Peeta's wife. And I feel a little ghost of a smile wash my lips.
It's funny, when I think about it, because so many momentous occasions in my life have involved bread.
Of course, it began when he threw me the burnt loaves in the rain the first time that he saved me. And then Gale and I shared a bread roll, possibly made by Peeta's own hands, on the day that our fates were sealed.
Later, in a whole new life, bread rolls contained the clues in the second arena, giving warning of the time and day of our rescue. Of course I didn't know this at the time but it was there. It saved me again.
Then, after he returned to me and wrapped his arms around me to ward off my nightmares, I fled under a shadow of fear and uncertainty. But when I returned I found two cheese buns waiting for me; a gesture of friendship. And it saw us move forward.
And now, as we walk towards the new bakery that is ours, that isn't tarnished with anything but is filled with warmth and love… Now it is a symbol of our future. It means that maybe, after everything that we've seen and everything that we've survived, we can make it. That we will win.
I reach up and take his hand, holding on tightly, relieved that I will never have to let go.
And as his fingers lightly squeeze mine my heart gives a little leap, overjoyed with the knowledge that he is mine, and I am his.
ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S NOTE:
Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed this story, and to those who have set up alerts or listed this as a favourite. I'm excited to be finishing this story with so many lovely people reading it. And I would LOVE to know your final thoughts, so please PLEASE review and let me know!
As you know I will be writing a series of oneshots through to the epilogue so if you are interested please add me to your Author Alerts, or head on over to AO3 where there is likely to be some M-rated content.
Big thank yous must to go ahundreddoves, goofy10 and taragaryensnow for writing me such lovely messages and sticking with me in the writing of this story. Having support and well articulated feedback has been so appreciated from all of you, and you have all given me, inspiration, ideas and helped me sort out my thoughts even if you didn't realise it!
But the biggest thank you of all MUST go to curious12. She has been the best support that I could possibly wish for when writing; she puts up with my stresses, my panicked moments where I worry that everyone will hate the story, and a whole lot of mixed up rambling! Plus there are a number of ideas throughout the story, especially in this final chapter, that were initially hers. Her insights and understanding of THG series has made me think about new things, and I really believe this had a positive impact on the story.
Final disclaimer: All characters belong to Suzanne Collins. And it must be noted that this chapter makes specific references to scenes and lines from The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Thanks for reading! :)