We've been hiding out for five years now. Five years. Not that District 4 hasn't welcomed us with open arms, but, and I can't believe I'm saying this, I miss home. I miss District 12. And I know Katniss does too. And Haymitch, of course, who's only stuck around in District 4 with us because of the bounty on his head.
Sure, Coin had been killed by Gale at the end of the war, but apparently that wasn't enough. With Gale, Delly and Johanna all locked up along with the rest of the District 13 rebels who had opposed our imprisonment, a new faction had been formed. Panem had split again into a side that wanted redemption and a side that sought retribution.
They'd been fighting it out ever since.
And so we'd stayed here, in our little island home, using Finnick's family as a line to the real world while we hid out. People still offered money for our capture. We couldn't go anywhere, or be seen anywhere. We were trapped.
But at least we were alive. And it wasn't so bad here.
We had our first child here. It had happened in the third year, right after Annie had announced her own pregnancy. Katniss had looped her fingers through mine and squeezed until I felt like my own would fall off. She'd turned to me later that night and stated that she thought she too was pregnant. I'd nearly swallowed my tongue – here was this woman I loved telling me she thought she was carrying my child. A child she claimed she never wanted. A child that we'd done so much to prevent. I wouldn't call him a mistake, but maybe he was a surprise.
"How do you know? We've been so careful Katniss," I'd whispered to her as my fingers stroked through her loose hair.
"We haven't though, I just haven't said anything. Like the other night when you woke me up, we didn't bother then either..." She trails off and I can hear the smile on her lips as she remembers the times where we lose ourselves in each other in the middle of the night.
We'd had a little boy that we'd named Finnegan. When I'd suggested the name from my dream, from my near death, I hadn't given any reason why, but I think Katniss knew. Our boy had been born in the middle of the night in a ramshackle house in District 4 with the sounds of the ocean in the background. Prim had been our saviour, using the skills taught by her mother to assist with the pregnancy. She'd also been elated to become an aunt, almost jumping out of her skin at the chance.
Our family had grown in District 4. But now it was time to stop hiding.
A few weeks ago, the newly stable government operating under Commander Paylor announced that all previously sought criminals would be given pardon based on a redefining of the nation's laws. The initial announcement had brought about discontent, but Paylor had addressed the issue by offering rebuilding programs and establishment grants. The mumblings had, according to Finnick's father, stopped after that point.
We'd stuck it out a little bit longer, each day waiting for news of another uprising or a break out of violence as a group tried to capture a criminal - but there was nothing.
For the first time in years, in decades even, it seemed like Panem was experiencing peace.
It had been with this feeling in our hearts and minds then that we decided to travel back to District 12. To see what remained and if we could build a life there. Though Katniss refused to admit it, she longed for the trees of the forest and the ability to teach her son to hunt. I longed to simply follow her anywhere.
We'd held the discussion at dinner one night, inviting Annie and Finnick, Haymitch and Prim, all to our dinner table to announce our plans.
"We're going back!" Katniss blurted after everyone was seated. Her hand clapped over her lips and her eyebrows shot up her forehead, surprised at her own outburst. We'd planned to announce it slowly, to test the waters first, but she'd gone and just done it.
Finding her hand under the table, I squeezed and smiled at her, letting her know it was okay. "We're going back to District 12. We think it's time." I added quietly, looking around at the shocked faces at our table.
Haymitch was the first one to smile, a small one, but a smile none the less.
"I'm coming too." He added gruffly and shoved a forkful of fish past his lips. My gaze then moved to Annie and Finnick who were watching each other without speaking. Annie's face was scrunched up and tight, her expression familiar from one of her bad days.
"Are you sure it's safe to travel?" Finnick asked, turning to look at us and away from Annie.
"I don't think it will be safe to travel for a long time," I replied, meeting his gaze. Katniss cleared her throat beside me.
"I want Finn to see our home." She stated and her voice only shook a little. We'd wavered on this topic so many times, now that it was actually coming to a head both of us were doubting ourselves.
"I don't think we can go, not yet." Finnick's voice was wistful as he looked back to Annie and smiled slightly, giving her a nod.
"We think... Maybe we'll have another one." She whispered urgently and her smile split her face. Beside me, Prim nearly burst with excitement as she twisted in her seat and clapped her hands.
"Oh! This is so exciting!" She shrilled and went to hug Annie and Finnick tightly. The smile that I felt tugging at my lips was a happy one, I was sure of it.
Distracted by the good news and the delicious meal, Katniss and I never did get an answer from Prim. I realized that the moment I pulled the covers over our entwined bodies that Katniss knew it too.
"She's going to stay, isn't she?" Katniss whispered against my chest.
This was her worst fear, being separated from her sister. It was the fear that had driven her into the Games. The fear that had made her fight in the war. Katniss would do anything for her sister and now she was being forced to decide between her and our future.
"Do you want to stay if she does?" I asked instead, needing to clarify her hopes. The shaking of her head surprised me.
"I want to go back still. I want Finn to see home. Prim is safe here, she can help Annie with the pregnancy. Besides, Finnick would kill anyone who came within ten feet of her if I asked him to." Katniss added with a small note of laughter in her voice.
It was in that moment that I realized how much she had grown. Not from her years as a youth in District 12 – I barely remembered that still – but as a woman who faced down a war, who survived poisoning and bullet wounds, who trekked across half the country to find safety in a village surrounded by water. Now she was a mother, a companion, a strong woman who didn't shy away from love. She'd started to live without fear.
"Then we'll still go, no matter what." I confirmed and placed a kiss on her forehead.
District 12 had been rebuilt. But it was different now. The houses no longer had a severe difference between Merchant and Seam. They all stood proudly around the square before heading down in the direction of the Victor's Village which had also been restored. You could see it from the train windows and the sight made my chest ache for the memory of my brothers.
"Are you ready?" Katniss asked lightly, directing her question towards Finn who was bouncing in his seat.
Just over two years old, he didn't understand that we were coming home. He thought it was an adventure and he was excited. It was almost contagious.
Disembarking the train, Katniss took Finn by the hand while I grabbed our few pieces of luggage. We stood on the platform until the train pulled away, abandoning us in this place that we barely remembered.
"What do we do now?" Katniss hissed lowly, looking out towards the District while Finn played in the dirt off the platform. I stood by her side and shook my head. I almost wished that Haymitch had travelled with us instead of a week before us. He'd know what to do right now. Hell, we probably should have even told someone that we were coming back.
Christ, who would we have told? I felt foolish, standing here on this platform without so much as a plan for my family. I didn't even think about where we would sleep tonight, let alone live. I was such an idiot.
"'Mitsch!" Finn called out, pulling me from my floundering thoughts. My eyes shot to where my son was running across the dirt and towards Haymitch who was almost jogging.
"Sorry!" He called as he neared. I looked to Katniss who was scowling. "Sorry!" Haymitch huffed as he stopped, leaning his hands on his knees and sucking in air. "I meant to get here for the train. Let's go." He gasped and grabbed Finn up by his arms, swinging him into the air and onto his shoulders.
It was the most alive I'd ever seen him and the sight nearly made my heart burst.
Taking Katniss' hand in mine while we shared the luggage, we followed Haymitch down the long dirt road to the Victor's Village. The man seemed oblivious to us, more consumed in his favourite past time of harassing our son.
Over the years, Haymitch had almost sobered up. There was a long stint after we first arrived in District 4 that he spent his time fully drying out. We'd thought it had stuck until he disappeared for a few days in the middle of the summer.
Right around the Reaping.
When he'd come stumbling off the boat and back onto our island, we'd breathed a sigh of relief that he hadn't been captured. None of us had bothered to lecture him – we all had our own demons to deal with. Since then, he'd done well. He kept his drinking away from Finn which was the only stipulation Katniss and I had had. And he'd been an amazing Grandfather, filling the role of four parents who had died too soon.
The Village was no longer abandoned, that was easy to see. Gardens and vegetable patches now lined the lawns and yards that had once been vacant and empty. Children played on the pathways as parents sat on porches. With every house we walked by I could almost feel the conversations pause.
"Haymitch, where are we going?" Katniss asked. She could feel their gazes too.
"They kept a house for you two." Was all Haymitch replied as he disappeared through a row of bushes. Katniss and I followed and nearly stopped dead when we saw Katniss' old Victor's house standing tall and groomed. Haymitch set loose Finn on the porch and turned back to us, a smile on his lips. "They knew you'd come back some day, so they kept your house for you. Sorry Bread Boy, Greasy Sae wanted your kitchen. But here it is, home sweet home."
I tried to shut my mouth that was hanging open from shock, but I just couldn't do it. I couldn't get past the idea that instead of holding us for ransom, they'd held a place for us in their District. The idea floored me, and it floored Katniss too – I could see it in the way she set the luggage down and pulled me against her. I could feel it in the way her body shook as she held me.
"It's good, Katniss," I reassured, keeping my eye on Finn as he crawled along the porch. Katniss nodded against my chest and pulled away.
"Is the fence still down?" Was all she asked before stalking up the steps and towards our future.
I'm kneeling before her now, watching her. She watches me too, her eyes the same grey that used to watch me through the door to my room in District 13's medical ward. Steady, intense.
But we are not who we once were. I am not the boy that forgot I loved her and she is not the girl who tried to let me go. I am her partner and she is mine.
I know what finally brought about this ceremony, this Toasting. It was the birth of Caraway, our daughter. Not three years after coming back to District 12 did she come along to keep her brother company. Just in time for Delly and Gale to return to the District after being released.
Their return was hard. Despite Hazelle Hawthorne welcoming them with open arms, you could easily see without saying a word, that Delly and Gale had gone in strong but been mulched down by the machine of the system.
Gale had returned first, having been let out when Paylor finally got around to giving him a pardon. Katniss had turned the television on for the first time in years after Sae told her about that broadcast. She'd watched every moment of it. Every first step he took into the crowd of reporters as he left prison for the first time in nearly ten years. I'd been jealous up until the moment when he stepped off the train and pulled her into a desperate hug. It had been a familial hug, like brother and sister.
We were the only ones to welcome him back to the District.
It was a few weeks later when Delly was released, walking alongside a disjointed Johanna who slipped past the press and disappeared for good. We'd watched that broadcast too, the second release coverage of the team who killed President Coin. Sitting on the couch with Katniss curled into me, I observed how Delly was thin, almost staggeringly so, when she first stepped into the camera's light. The crowd bombarded her with questions and she waved them all away, refusing to acknowledge them.
Both Katniss and I learned then that it was Delly who was the mastermind of Coin's assassination. She'd coordinated the attack when she learned of what was coming. She'd done it to save us.
When Delly stepped off the train, we weren't the only ones there this time. Gale was there too, standing off to the side, silent. He barely talked now except to Katniss when they hunted on Sundays. He was the one to grab Delly up and together they crumpled to the ground, clinging to each other. Hanging onto each other, Katniss and I watched as Delly and Gale reunited.
Everyone was home.
Now it's later in the day and both Cara and Finn are sound asleep upstairs. I'm sitting, watching, as Katniss stares into the flickering flames of the fire.
It was silently decided when we returned home from the station that I would bake the bread and we would Toast tonight. Even Haymitch had known at dinner, having smelt the fresh bread and commenting that I never baked in the afternoon heat. But that hadn't stopped us.
It had only spurred us on.
"Are you ready?" I asked lowly, offering her the bread.
"I already feel like this has happened. That we've already made this promise." Katniss responds quietly taking her side. I nod, knowing what she means. We've done this in reverse. We've already promised each other forever.
"It'd be a waste not to have this delicious bread though, don't you think?" I joke and together we hold it over the fire, feeling the flames lick at our fingers. When the crust is browned, we pull back and break the bread in two, offering our piece to the other. "Stay with me?" I prompt quietly. It brings a smile to her lips.
AN: And that's it my lovelies. I hope you enjoyed it. Seeing as I leave the country in a week I really, really, wanted to get this tied off before I disappeared. I hope you enjoyed it and that you don't feel like I've just wasted hours of your time. If you have any questions etc, please feel free to message me or review, I'll do my best to respond before I go away. Much love and thank you for reading, lollercakes.