Everything will be alright in the end. So if it's not alright, it is not yet the end.

- The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Alternate Ending - 12/12

July 1st, 84

Clove longed for an agonized scream, for a petty victim to beg for their last breaths. The exercise she'd set up was good for her visual tension, but failed to deliver in other departments. Still, Clove couldn't tell Cato that. She had promised to work on loosening her dependence on the parlor tricks, on the cheap magician's paltry efforts that kept her from enfolding on herself.

If Cato knew how desperate she got, he might actually have the gall to leave her, but he was a sucker and she was sweet as pie.

Like any other addict, Clove kept count. It'd been three thousand, one hundred, and twenty-six days since her last hoorah. By war's end, she'd murdered at least 75 individuals in the span of six years. 45 of those preceded her enlistment.

Clove had always relished the way her victims' blood splattered on impact, the high pitch as they begged for mercy, the fear each man had as they faced their death, because in the end they were all the same; cowards under the guise of a brave face.

It was only after her traumatic endeavor with President Coin that the last thread of her cognizance snapped.

She fingered the weapon gingerly. In this tiny space, a 10 x 10 room, she was free. The art studio was hers to do with as she pleased, but only here. She was bound by commitments out of this room, and ultimately they came first.

Instantly, the dulling throwing knife hit the balloon and scarlet paint gushed down the wall, coating it in a stream of color. It was close, but never close enough to trick herself into believing it could be real.

Clove grabbed an empty wine bottle, the neighboring alcoholic's silent reprieve, and threw it against the wall. An ear-splitting shatter filled the room. It helped when she imagined it as Snow's skull, spread across the auditorium floor.

Late in December 75, Clove Holloway was sent to trial. It was a haziness she barely recalled.

The judicial panel found her lacking the mental capacity to have formed the intent to kill President Coin. She didn't bother to correct them.

Clove was declared insane. Had waited her whole life for the diagnosis and there it was, in plain writing, on a legal document for public consumption.

Once the charges had been amended, the boys, along with her father, had taken turns taking her to see the listening doctor, a man who worked with those suffering from mental anguish ranging from melodramatic to histrionic to horribly frenetic.

As her breathing steadied, Clove picked up the last of the pieces of glass, sorted them, dipping them into a variety of paints for ready use. Cato would love his gift. A dedication to their twenty years. Twenty years and he still made her heart race, her lips curve, and her eyes glimmer.

She went into the kitchen, steaming a kettle of water over the stove, and cleaning her brushes.

If her palms ever began to sweat, her wrists ache for a human target, then she was to implement a five minute window, telling herself she'd abstain from hurting others for five minutes. Theoretically, minutes would grow to hours, and hours to days, and eventually (at least, this was what they'd said) she wouldn't be tempted anymore.

Nailed to the splitting plywood was a hanging calendar. She removed the nail and fastened it to the proper month. Today was the first of July.

Written in the next date over, in bright pink marker, was 'Nelly's 23rd birthday! Hooray!' (artfully crafted by her sister herself), and on the following day, the 3rd (in very small print) 'Fix turns 28'.

They had forbidden her from prolonged periods alone. When they'd returned home, Dicey was told to escort her to retrieve her sister.

And it just so happened to be a coincidence that Magnilda wore a teal bow in her hair that day, but Clove would have been all waterworks anyways. At fourteen, her sister was stunning, taller than her already, and nearly the spitting image of their young mother. It'd brought hot tears to Clove's eyes.

Callan had returned with two warm cups of peppermint tea. Dicey was buried in his mother's arms, refusing to let go. Clove had been in hysterics, hardly capable of sipping the warm beverage, so Magnilda had pushed the mugs away, and pulled her sister into her lap, gently running her hands through her hair as her sister had so often done for her.

"Let it out, Loey. It's alright."

Neither spoke of Nero, of their aunt, of what the war cost them. Only grieving together in shaky sobs.

For months, Magnilda was the only thing that could bring Clove close to normal, to keep her from reengaging in crisis mode.

She sat on a stool, pouring the hot water, then steeping a tea bag. Clove jumped off the stool to raid her cabinets as the bag sank into her glass, when she stepped on a crinkly piece of artwork. While certainly not crafted by her own hands, it was equally, if not more, valuable.

Clove looked at the piece with a small smile, before pinning it to the wall, lest it fall to the ground and be damaged irreparably.

"You're out of shape, C," Dicey taunted, a slick grin on his face.

Cato leaned back, chastising, "Hardly. I'll have you know I bench press 350."

The redhead arched his brows. "Which I'm sure comes in really handy for the owner of a book sanctuary, Meathead."

So many things happened at once when they returned to District Two. Hazel said her first words. Dicey had taken up mining. Clove entered into long-term mental treatment, and Cato learned quickly that to survive, one needed a trade to call their own.

One afternoon, when walking along the city line, he'd found a rundown, condemned corner store at the edge of town, right before the market. The owner had heckled him and Dicey in their youth, often accusing them of scaring away his customers by playing too loudly. When Cato had offered to buy it, the owner explained it was inhabitable, but that hadn't been a problem.

After all, it's not like Felix had anything better to do...

So they refurbished the shop, making the necessary repairs, and reopened it as District Two's first book sanctuary. Conceptually, it was simple. One picked up a book, perused it to their heart's content, and then returned it for the next reader when they were finished.

The Wagner family became so infatuated with the concept (and the good PR) that they donated a generous grant to help keep the sanctuary self-sustaining. Felix hadn't been pleased, but Aniston had stepped in immediately as peacemaker ("Just because I like you doesn't mean I have to like your family, An," Felix had spat at her, irritably.)

Cato dodged left, and then agilely swung the old, wooden sword at Dicey's side. "Point."

Dicey sulked. Damn, he'd grown lethargic since ascending to a healthy body weight. At least as a scarecrow, he'd been swift.

The redhead jumped forward, and Cato slid low, before Dicey tripped him up, and pointed his wooden sword over Cato's heart. "Point."

Cato then leaped forward, slashing ferociously at the open air, but never quite reaching him. Dicey's amber eyes glimmered mischievously as he rolled along the wall, and hit Cato's neck. "Who says you don't get lucky twice?"

Cato jumped forward, pushed him to the ground, and smirked, his wooden sword over Dicey's back, "You just don't, Princess."

However, while he bragged, Dicey turned around, swung, and then beamed, victorious, "Don't be arrogant, C."

Easing up, Cato threw him a water bottle. "Good work, Dice."

Dicey had immersed himself in work. Any work. Mining stone, laying bricks, developing blueprints. Anything to keep himself from wasting into nothingness.

In an ideal world, he'd have been a peacekeeper - a real peacekeeper, not a violent fool of a man hiding behind a leather whip and a twenty-year life sentence. Still, he saw the way his sister looked at them, the way her hands shook unwillingly when she passed one in the market, and the tremble in her shoulders made him regret ever having considered the choice.

Years passed, and he explored a very diverse line of work until the year 80, when Felix was nominated as Region Leader of Two West, serving a similar role as one might expect of a mayor in a smaller district.

Once he'd gotten comfortable in his role, Felix had asked Dicey if he would be interested in the position of 'commissioner' as part of his 'crime-reduction task force'. The redhead had been, naturally, suspicious. And when he'd said as much to Felix, the young man had shrugged.

"You've taken so many odd jobs over the years that everyone knows you, and you're one of the only people I know who actually cares about others without expecting anything in return. When you do something, you give it your whole heart, and that's what I want in this position. I want someone who cares about the people in Two West, not someone who will throw the poor to the dirt and allow the wealthy to glide on by without recourse."

Flattery got Felix everywhere.

Dicey's responsibility became to enmesh himself into the community and find why laws were being violated, what services were failing to be provided, what behaviors they'd been encouraging in their youth, where the highest areas of crime were.

His job, in other words, was to be a source of community support.

Though, it was difficult to see so many of the ex-trainees with an abundance of energy and nowhere to expel it. Some had been designated as 'criminals' under Felix's reign, as the raven-haired man had outlawed non-consensual sex (for any age, not just twelve and under), murder (against anyone, not just political officials), violence against children, against animals, against anyone, except to protect oneself and others, and yet, at the same time Felix's office had loosened the reigns on laws and sentencing for petty crimes.

It was only by irony that the training annex had been converted into a community center for youth, funded in part by Felix's own supplementary income, and a generous (and how Felix hated it so) grant from the Pittman Quarry.

The tensions had eased, but only little by little.

Dicey took a sip of water, and then reached into his duffel, throwing an old paperback novel at the blond. "One of our neighborhood thieves thought you might be interested in that."

Cato held the book, "The Great Gatsby? Me and your town thieves should work something out. It's a collectible. Tell them to stay out of trouble and maybe I'll give em' a job."

The redhead snorted, "Yeah, you do that, and let me know what to do if this town is suddenly overrun by over-educated thieves."

"Easy, Dice. You get them to work for you instead of against you."

Oliver wasn't sure if this was the best idea.

Still, with the ragtag team behind him, he didn't have much of a choice. More trail mix spilled to the floor and he got to his knees, scooping most of it up, before giving the assailants a dirty look.

The door knob shook and he took a breath. Too late to regret his choice now.

Cato and Clove entered in a bedraggled state, as if they'd somehow forgotten what day it was. Dicey gave the group a half-apologetic shake of the head.

Before Clove had been kidnapped, she laid out several stipulations to accepting Cato's proposal.

First, they were going to have a long engagement - five years, so she'd safely be out of the teen marriage barometer. Cato talked her down to two years. Second, he had to re-propose when they hit that point. Third, they were going to maintain a very open line of communication. And fourth, there'd be no ceremony until they returned to Two West. Last of all (this had been added in later), she'd be allowed to stab Felix in the throat if he so much as made a peep about her outfit the day of the ceremony.

When they returned home, Cato tried to be the support system Clove needed, but found he couldn't do it alone. Asking for help had been one the hardest things he'd ever done.

On a particularly good night, about a year after they returned, Cato and Clove had been leaning against each other, her sketching, and him nose-deep in a novel, when she had turned to him, and said, with an affectionate grin,"Let's do something crazy. Let's get married."

He'd beamed, surprised, and intoxicatingly innocent as kissed her fervently. "Nothing crazy about that, beautiful."

They'd indulged each other recklessly that night, working to outdo the other's performance, and ascend a higher level of pleasure. It'd been a night of new joys, wild, but memorable, and one that they recalled fondly. Cato had won.

(There were no losers)

A little girl ran from behind the counter, pushing Oliver out of the way, and ran into their arms. "Happy versy' mommy and daddy!"

A prized smile broke onto Clove's face as she swooped up the girl into her arms, "Happy 'versy' to you too, baby."

The two rubbed cheeks affectionately.

The duo got hitched on July 1st, 77, still young at a blossoming 19 and 20 years of age. Clove hadn't broken the teen marriage threshold, but for once she didn't care.

Or at least, at first, she hadn't cared. On their first anniversary, the dark-haired woman had finally surpassed her teen years, but not without a new companion, two-month old Calliope Elroy, a dark-haired, blue-eyed addition to their family.

On their first anniversary, Clove hit rock bottom. Or, maybe, the first bottom of many rock bottoms.

"I can't be someone's mom, Cato! I can barely take care of myself," Clove had screamed at him through tears, rocking back and forth as the baby wailed in the background. Clove screeched at the infant to shut up and grabbed a handful of hair, "I told you I wasn't good enough. I told you!"

Cato had given her a look of fierce dismay, "Pull yourself together, Clove!"

As Clove had looked away, Cato picked up Calliope and taken her to the other room. When he returned with the infant asleep and a look of fatigue in his eyes, Clove had averted her eyes in shame. "I want to get better," she had told him quietly.

He'd sat beside her, still overwhelmed, scared, "Have you talked to the listening doctor about it?"

"I don't need his help."

Cato only shot back grimly, "We all need help, Clove."

I need help, he'd thought.

She'd looked up to him, angry tears in her eyes, "Just say it - you regret marrying me."

"That's not true, but you're being selfish! Look at her, look at our daughter. She's our greatest accomplishment and you're not willing to fight for her." Cato held her, shaky himself, "You were strong for me for twelve years, Clovey, so I don't mind being strong for you, but we have a baby now, a piece of us, and she needs us, so we have to be strong for her, for each other, because I can't do it alone."

The anxious tears that had spilled down his cheeks triggered something fiercely protective in her. "What if she becomes like me?" Clove asked hoarsely.

"Then she'll be smart, and strong, and loyal, and all things I could ever hope for," Cato replied naturally, "But we have to consider the fact that our baby is growing up in a world better than ours, so naturally, we want her to grow up to be better than us too."

Clove had wrapped herself around him.

"Did you plan this?" Cato asked fourteen-year-old Oliver, who looked utterly unenthused by the plethora of attendees.

Cato pointed at the lopsided streamers hanging from wall to wall, which looked pretty half-assed compared to the feast sitting upon the kitchen table.

Hazel ran up to Cato, hugging him. He picked her up as she informed him, "Mommy helped!"

Sundara didn't look like she wanted any credit for the mess, nor did Mr. Holloway or Mr. Elroy, who both looked like they'd rather be anywhere than a room full of kids.

Lieutenant Holloway had been one of their best supporters.

"See, they try to pretty it up. Having a kid is messy and fucking terrifying. You have this ten pound creature that cries and shits and needs you to stay alive, and you're scared you're going to fail them, then you add all the 'new parent paranoia' on top of it. 'What if she trips and breaks her leg?' 'What if some boy fucks her up?' 'What if she's eaten by a bear muttation?' 'What if she's kidnapped or killed or...'"

Cato had gone into internal panic-mode in like 3.2 seconds. He didn't want to think of Calliope in any of those precarious situations.

Lieutenant Holloway had glared at him for his weakness.

But Clove hadn't seemed scared. They were birds of a feather, those two.

And slowly but surely, Lieutenant Holloway had coached his daughter on how to parent, showing her how to bathe, and clean, and hold the child without losing your sanity, proving that in the long-run, he'd been a pretty okay father himself.

There were few hugs, compliments, or kind words - it just wasn't the Holloway way - but you could see the pride in his face as he watched his daughter hold his granddaughter silently, tears springing as she really looked at her daughter for the first time.

He'd only wrapped his arm around Clove and smirked at the yawning infant.

"Mama, mama," Calliope chattered excitedly, "Coriander and I made trail mix with Lolly!"

"Really?" Clove asked, her eyes darting to the floor. Oliver folded his arms, daring her to make a complaint. Coriander came out from behind Magnilda's leg, who'd prodded him along, and handed Clove a translucent bag of trail mix, tied together by a spectacular teal bow.

Just as Clove had grown increasingly confident in her ability to dote on her growing daughter, she fell pregnant again. Once it'd been confirmed, Clove locked herself in their bedroom, refusing to come out.

The doctors had said she couldn't become pregnant while breastfeeding.

They'd lied, just like everyone else.

When Cato had finally gathered the nerve to sneak in beside her and whisper to her under the blanket of darkness, Clove had relayed fears of failure, of hating their second child just as she had initially been with Calliope. Cato had been too afraid to ask if she'd truly hated their daughter initially, too afraid of the answer to even dare.

And while she told him it was the second chance she'd always wanted, it was not at all when she'd wanted it.

27-year-old Felix sat in between Halle and Harriet, the sleeves of his suit rolled up. Though a public figure, it'd take something special for him to wear his clothes the way his publicist pleaded with him to.

He wasn't old money, so why bother pretending he was? That was Aniston's responsibility as his executive project manager, not his.

The raven-haired man smirked at Clove as she accepted the bag of trail mix from her son.

She'd called 22-year-old Felix over, telling him in anxious, excited breaths. "Let's go hunting."

Maybe he'd been a touch gullible, thinking they could tell Clove not to kill and expecting her to comply. They'd been halfway out the door when he'd heard the infant's wails.

"Where's Cato?" he'd asked.


"And your father?"

"Why does it matter?" Clove spat poisonously.

He'd folded his arms, "Who's watching your daughter?"

Clove had barked, "Whatever, we'll bring her along!"

And so the three had embarked into the desert.

There was a man dangling from one of her traps. As Clove had begun to cut down the rope, Felix had clenched his hands around her wrists, and yelled at the victim to run. Clove had screamed in frustration, smacking him across the face, and he'd forced himself not to hit her back, effectively relapsing himself.

"What the hell did you do that for?"

"Were you ever 'clean'?" he'd demanded.

Her eyes had narrowed lethally, "What's the point? It hasn't made me happier. I'm the punchline to every joke you ever made. Twenty-years-old and pregnant with my second baby in two years. I'm a screw up, and I'm going to ruin this one just-"

Felix's animosity had ebbed only a little, and he'd pulled her back, quietly arguing, "No, E, you're not. You won the Hunger Games, won the war, got married, and had a child. I'd say that's a pretty fucking successful life."

"Who cares?" Clove fumed.

He'd arched his brows, suddenly heated, "And despite what you have, you're still ungrateful."

Felix then clarified, the hot air suffocating him, "My parents died when I was eight. Your dad fought a war for your freedom. My sister and niece were ripped away from me. Your sister is almost done with high school. My best friend died, died by someone I'd trusted, and yours lives across the fucking street from you. Me, I can't even go to bed without three layers of clothing, because being naked is being vulnerable and I learned a long time ago that when I get soft, I get hurt. You... you're fucking married, and in love, and have someone who loves you unconditionally.

And best of all, while Snow might have threatened Magnilda, he sure as hell never put his words into action. He could have put Magnilda against Nero, but he didn't. Instead, I had to watch as Nee and Brooke stood side-by-side on stage as they were reaped for the Quell. And damn if I don't miss Nee even more, because he let Brooke go. He let me save her even though he didn't believe me at the time, and by the time he did, he was half-dead, bleeding to death in your father's arms. And I spend every day thinking about how much of an ass I was to him, how I should have been more appreciative, and fair, so, sorry if I'm a little short of pity for you."

The anger written across her face didn't register, and he didn't care. Felix picked up Calliope's carrier, and looked to her.

"Just because bad things happened to you doesn't mean my life was a cakewalk!" she replied acidly.

"No, but if I can stay clean, so can you. You've always had a stronger will than any of us. But whatever, give up. It's not my problem, and it's not my place to stop you, but I hope you think about the blood staining your fingertips and how easily it could be someone you love, because every victim we've ever had was someone's child, someone's brother, sister, mother, uncle, cousin, friend, someone to someone else, and we took that from them."

"Sorry I'm not fucking perfect like you. Sorry I am tempted, and-"

He let out hot air, "Don't act like I'm some saint. I killed 1/3 of the contestants in the 73rd Hunger Games, killed President Snow, killed one hundred fucking people, which is more than you ever did." Felix then added, "Do you know how easy it'd be to crack someone's skull every time they tell me I'm a dirty coward for helping to eliminate the games? How easy it'd be to wrap my hands around some asshole's neck when he cuts me off in line, or tries to start something with me? But I resist. That's what we do. We resist by thinking of all the things we have to lose by giving in!"

He turned away, a redness across his cheeks, and Clove yelled out, "Where the hell are you going?"

"When Cato comes home, tell him I have the baby. Hell, if I'm letting you make her a victim of your relapse too."

"Felix!" she'd screeched on in return, but he'd left her in the uninhabited, dry desert, and she'd fallen to her knees.

As Cato held his kid sister in his arms, grinning, she'd wrapped her arms around his neck, and tattled sweet nothings about Oliver.

He laughed, amused at his siblings' antics, and then pat his son on the head, smiling at him warmly. Clove had given him an equally kind smile. Cato's heart always accelerated at the her stunning smile, because it was so precious, so rare, as if you were someone special to be able to coax one out of her.

She'd stayed clean, resisting by sitting outside of old school #76, and recalling their best moments.

Clove later sought the help she needed. It was days like that she missed Nero most.

Clove became determined to make it through her second pregnancy with her head held up high, and for the most part she did. Coriander Elroy was born two months premature on April 6th, 79, eleven months after his sister.

He'd been so small, so vulnerable, Clove had been terrified of breaking him, of losing him, and that itself had been motivation for her to protect her newborn son with all that she had, but that didn't stop her from doting on her daughter. She carried both in her arms, and kissed them good night, cherished them them together, and soothed their cries.

On their second anniversary, Cato and Clove had two small miracles. They'd jokingly (but also rather seriously) promised each other not to add a third baby by their next anniversary.

That was a promise that stuck.

"Happy versey, mommy."

Clove enclosed her arms around the five-year-old, picking him up along with Calliope, "Happy 'versey' to you."

"Are you going throw me a party on our 'versy'?" Mr. Elroy asked Sundara.

She scoffed lightly, "Don't hold your breath, Orion."

"Mommy and daddy are experts in versies, grandpa! They got a date versy, a marriage versey, an engagement versey, and even a best friend versy!" Calliope informed him, her blue eyes bright.

Felix, Callan, Oliver, Mr. Holloway, and Mr. Elroy snorted simultaneously.

"How about an anniversary of the day you two went soft?"

"Least I don't have an anniversary with my hand," Clove retorted. Cato had smirked in response.

Felix shrugged, unaffected. "Gets the job done."

"As charming as that exchange was, who wants dinner?" Sundara rang out cheerfully.

After getting enough food to satiate themselves for a few minutes, six-year-old Calliope walked up to Dicey, and jumped up, "Hey, Silas, want to play?"

"Silas can't hear you, honey." Silas looked up to his father, his chestnut eyes curious. "Besides, he just ate, I don't want him to run around and throw up."

Months after his son had been born, Felix had made the oh-so-tactful remark of, "Do you think your son is deaf because you gutted your previous kid and this is some twisted form of cosmic retribution?"

For the first time, Dicey found himself unprovoked by the raven-haired man's crass accusations. "He's got ten fingers, ten toes, two eyes, and the world's best smile. If anything, he's the universe's way of sending me back some good energy."

"Calli, go grab the ball from your bedroom and bring it back. He'll understand you, then," Cato replied.


Dicey glared at Cato. "I don't want Silas to get sick."

Cato rolled his eyes. "You are being ridiculous. Your son is deaf, not terminally ill. Now stop being a bitch and let him play, Princess."

Calliope returned with Coriander and a bouncy ball in tow. "Mrs. Dicey's wife, can you tell Silas that I want to play with him?"

It took Dicey a long time to accept the things he'd done. In a way, he'd never be able to fully forgive himself.

It took a good listening doctor and some leeway to make any progress.

His mother couldn't understand why he'd failed to pursue the girl he was so clearly infatuated with when he'd pursued lesser affections at the drop of a hat in his younger days.

They duo went from friends to engaged with no in-between. There was no dating, no second kiss, no forewarning that Dicey was going to up and return one afternoon with an engagement ring.

"Don't people usually date first?" 20-year-old Harriet had stuttered, her eyes wide.

"Do you want to date?" he replied with a self-conscious shrug, looking absolutely bewitching, the kindness in his eyes lulling her in.

"Is this really happening?" she'd replied, still stunned.

He rubbed at his nose, "I mean, maybe, I'm just... I didn't mean to pull a Cato, I just-"

Harriet had leaned in on her tip toes, kissing him, and he'd returned the gesture. "I hope that means 'yes'"

In the spring of 79, following Coriander's birth, Harriet Welsh and Dicey Wilder became engaged, and in the fall they married. Silas Wilder was born on December 24th, 80.

Harriet relayed the request to her son in sign language. He jumped from Dicey's lap, smiling bashfully, and joined the other two children, sitting to the side of the room, and rolling the toy together.

"Where's the wifey?" Dicey asked.

"Whose?" Felix asked, counting his friends on a single hand.

"Quarry girl, Felix. Where's Quarry Girl?"

"I'd marry you first," he shot back.

Magnilda snorted.

Felix and Aniston were nearing in on thirty and were going to spend the rest of their lives alone. Well, okay, he was going to spend the rest of his life alone. Aniston would likely be snatched up by some rich bachelor and he'd end up the 'creepy uncle no one likes'. It was a highest evolution of 'the friend no one likes.'

Clove smirked, "She only wakes you up for work, manages your day, and helps you with your errands - definitely not wife material."

Though Brooke had "subtly" tried to encourage him and Aniston together over the years, he'd been forced to take her aside and explain that though he was fond of Aniston (it left a bad taste on his tongue to admit it), and would never let anyone hurt her, that that was his limit.

Aniston had become his partner, working to help rebuild and reform District Two. It helped being a Wagner/Pittman heir, because alongside the prestige, came the necessary influence to get politicians to listen.

When he'd told Brooke that he and Aniston were only friends, she'd cried on his behalf. "But when I grow up and get married, you'll be all alone."

It was so like a third grader to think the universe revolved around her, and he'd laughed. He'd never been in love, per say, but he'd definitely found love. "Believe it or not, I have friends, B, and sometimes they actually let me hang out with them."

Didn't they realize? Aniston had been Nero's bride, had been Nero's love, and they were looking to him like it wouldn't be a total travesty to his friend's memory to move in on his fiancé.

"You don't like too sweet, say Aniston, but don't like someone who's too much of a soulless bitch either, like Clove-" Harriet smirked at Clove's threatening gesture, "But she can't be too talkative, or..."

"Or too soft, too," Cato added, "Because Felix likes a fighter."

Dicey snorted, "How some 24-year-old with a slasher smile, no trophy wife, or perfect 2.4 kids got elected into public office is beyond me."

"How have you stayed in office since then?" Clove piped up. "Your staff must down a couple of shots of whiskey before you pop in every morning."

Silas reappeared, raising his hands. Dicey pulled him into his arms and signed, "what's wrong?"

"I don't want you to be sad, daddy," the three-year-old replied.

Dicey prayed no soul ever took advantage of his sweet little boy.

"Jealous that you don't spend your day reading complaint after complaint about rabid muttations and neighborhood vandals from lonely old women who have nothing better to do with their time, E?" Felix retorted.

Harriet smirked slightly.

When he'd returned home to Two West, Felix was back to where he'd started. Alone, in Victor's Village. He and Harriet decided they were tired of the old mold and moved out to Two West together, consolidating their funds into a house.

With Aniston as his life partner and Harriet as his confidant, Felix slowly began piecing himself back together. He still missed Nero, and still felt lost without him, but he wasn't alone anymore. He had his own makeshift family.

Felix kept Nero in his thoughts by looking to his photo on the mantle place, and keeping his kindness on his mind.

Clove was about to make a smart remark back, when she heard Calliope scream, and then saw Coriander retreat behind the couch, curling into a ball. She turned to Cato, "Just another reminder to fit in my prophylactic shot."

Cato slumped against the couch, "No kidding."

Her poor prince, Coriander, was hidden in a corner, crying. "You want to tell me what the was about?" Clove asked, bending down his level.

His tanned face looked to hers, his pale green eyes glimmering with tears. "Calliope is mean!"

Clove didn't know how to rebut that. Was cruelty an inheritable trait?

On Calliope's first birthday, Clove pulled her into the bed, planting butterfly kisses, playing with her hair, and holding her gently against her chest.

"Even though I'm not the mother you deserve, I will love you both til the day they bury me six feet under."

The tears that spilled down her cheeks were something she'd shared only with them, because even though she'd come a long way, she still had a long road ahead.

Coriander folded his arms, a trait Clove was sure he'd picked up from one of them. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"She got mad and I got mad and then she got mad because I got mad."

"You know, Cori, it used to hurt my feelings when people got mad at me, too, but you can be the bigger person and not let what they say make you mad."

Clove nearly keeled over at her own advice, because when was last time she'd ever done that? Never. The answer was never.

Coriander looked unsure, repeating, "But she's mean sometimes."

"But sometimes she's nice, huh? Makes you laugh when you're sad, protects you, and introduces you to all of her friends. I bet she's just as upset as you."

He bit his lip, and wrapped his arms around her waist, "I don't want her to be mad at me, mama. Calli-Ali-Ali is my best sister."

Clove smiled, stroking his hair. He really was a prince. "Not much of a competition, little one," Clove reassured him.

"Why is your brother crying?"

"Because he didn't listen to me," Calliope said stubbornly, turning away.

"Being unkind isn't going to make anyone listen to you."

Because if it had, he'd have never endured half of the transgressions that had plagued his lifetime.

Calliope's sapphire blue eyes gazed on at him magnanimously, looking an awful lot like Clove (though the judgment reminded him of Nero), and though she was quicker to anger, it was Coriander's threatening glares that ate away at him, because his hair was the same dirty blond as Mars', his eyes the same pale green as his mother's, and in his anger, Coriander had the same inclination to cruelty.

Cato tried to nurture patience in his son, forgetting it was something he had to nurture in himself first.

At three, Cato had begun to notice his child's insatiable desire to be a part of every conversation, every decision, every plan. He was curious, always asking questions, but to be put simply, he was also a control freak.

When Cato and Clove had had a tiff of their own, Coriander had become increasingly demanding, trying to gather more information. Cato's response of, "This is a grown-up conversation, now go to bed," had provoked a heated response from the dirty-blond.

"You're the worst daddy ever!"

And it struck Cato how many times he'd longed to scream those words when his father had violently struck him for misbehaving, but he'd always resisted. To hear the words from his own son stung considerably.

Hate was a familiar friend, an accomplice of his. He'd hated freely and passionately, but never Clove, not her, not once, and never his children either.

"It will too," Calliope argued, "Because next time he'll be too scared not to listen to me."

Cato had to restrain the anger that coursed through his skin at her words, how sharp, and calculating her angle was for a first grader.

"Cori wouldn't pass the ball to me, and then I told him he had to or I'd tell mommy, and then he got mad and wouldn't play anymore, so I told him he had to play, and he said 'no,' so I pushed him and his arm hit the floor really hard, and then he became a stupid crybaby."

Yep. That sounded about right.

Cato sat down with a sigh, and looked his daughter in the eye, "When I was little, I had this friend, and she was stubborn, annoying, and bossy, but she always helped me, treated my owies, made me laugh when I was sad, but I was like you. I got mad easily and did a lot of things I shouldn't have-"

"But!" Calliope protested.

Cato arched his brows, "Don't interrupt, Calliope. I did things I shouldn't have because I was angry, but that never made me feel better - well, maybe for a couple of minutes - but seeing her sad made me sad, too, and it took me a long time to grow up and be a good friend, but when I did, I got to see her look as happy as she made me.

Don't be like me, Calliope. Show patience and protect your brother, because losing mine was the hardest thing I ever did, and being mean to my friend cost me time I can't ever get back."

Tears clouded her blue eyes, and she began crying. Cato lifted her into his arms, regretting the blunt harshness of words.

Rubbing her back, he said, "Oh, sweetheart, don't cry. It's okay."

"But I don't want to lose Coriander like you lost Uncle Mars, he's my bestest friend!" she bawled.

Cato held her in his strong arms, and kept her protectively against his chest. "It's pretty scary thinking of a world without your brother, huh?" he asked her, softly.

She nodded, her lips still plump, and cheeks a rosy red. "Yes."

Cato kissed her forehead, "I have an idea."

Cato and Clove had never been 'mommy's boy' or 'daddy's little girl.' The closest they'd ever came were 'mommy's punching bag' and 'daddy's little killing machine.' Calliope and Coriander weren't daddy's girl or mommy's boy either, though. They were mommy and dad's little helpers, mommy and daddy's biggest accomplishments, mommy and daddy's best cuddle buddies, and mommy and daddy's baby cubs.

Cato and Clove had come a long way, and hell if they were going to let anyone take that away from them.

As Cato rejoined his friends, he smirked at Clove, remarking, "We got the wild ones."

"Totally unexpected. I mean, we were such docile, compliant little children."

He laughed, grinning at her, and grabbed her left hand in his right. After all this time, she was still his rock.

Cato pointed his other hand towards the opposite wall as Calliope came out of the kitchen with a translucent bag, tied with a teal ribbon. She walked up to Coriander, who was leaning against the wall, sniffling, and lost in his own miserable thoughts. He'd been inconsolable. Fat tears nearly rolled down his cheeks.

Calliope slid down the wall hesitantly, giving him the bag, and he looked up, opening it cautiously, before offering her a handful that she gracefully accepted.

Twenty years ago, a boy and girl sat side by side over a bag of trail mix.

Seems to me, not much has changed.

Author's Notes - And so ends Cato and Clove's twenty year (and 200K) journey.

I would really like to thank each of you that read the whole story and all the feedback I received, especially from some of my most regular and thorough readers: Anla'shok, TwilightCharmedFaie, Zoe Alexandra Morrison, melliemoo, skins, dreamyourwaythroughlife, Clato-crazies, Quinn (anonymous), Emma (anonymous), and twistedfate13.

Leave me your very last review and let me know what you thought of: the epilogue, the story as a whole, but especially the alternate ending in particular.