A/N: Well this is it guys. I can't believe this is over. I really hope you enjoy how I wrapped things up. Thank you sooooo much to everyone who has ever left a review or followed or favorited...you really motivated me to keep writing. I appreciate all the support! I'm sad to see this story end, but very excited for what's to come. I have a couple of things planned for my new works (a new AU story and a collection of post-Mockingjay smutty one shots) but I'll go into more depth and explain just exactly what I have in mind over at my Tumblr. AND! I'll also have a surprise for ONLY my tumblr followers by the end of the week so if you don't follow me already go do so! Follow me at "love is all we really need to survive" (remove spaces) and then put in dot-tumblr-dot-c0m. Thanks again and maybe we can get this story to 300+ reviews? Pretty please! :) Enjoy!
I hastily wipe the tears from my eyes.
I can see a thousand different emotions registering on Peeta's face: shock, confusion, anger, hurt.
He takes a step closer to me and shakes his head in frustration, trying to force some words out.
I can see this is just as upsetting for him. Suddenly I feel an unbearable weight of guilt for putting Peeta in this position. For putting him in the position of either marrying me or knowing it will have repercussions for my mother and Prim.
If we were to get married everything about the circumstances would be wrong. The fact it was President Snow's idea. The fact that it's for public's entertainment. The fact Peeta would not have much of a choice in the matter because of what it would mean for my family if he didn't.
Finally, Peeta is able to form a clear thought.
"He told you we have to get married? He said all those things?"
I nod my head in confirmation, my heart breaking at the look of disbelief on his face.
I have ruined his entire life. I have put him in the position of either caving to the Capitol's pressure or knowing how it will hurt me. It's bad enough Snow has meddled in my own life, but ruining things for Peeta is unbearable.
He'll go along with it I'm sure, because he's Peeta and he'll want to protect me and it's the honorable thing to do. But that doesn't mean that he actually wants to. We still have the rest of our lives ahead of us and if he marries me on Snow's wishes he'll never be able to meet another woman, he'll never be able to see if there was someone out there that is better for him than I could ever be.
Haymitch speaks up from behind me, his voice rough. I had forgotten he was here.
"Let's find somewhere private to continue this conversation."
He leads us down the hallway and out on a small terrace with steps that lead to the expansive backyard of the President's mansion.
We walk until the lights and music from the dinner party that is still going on fade into the background.
I rub my hands up and down my arms, unsure if the chills I feel are from the slight breeze or the implication we're being watched, based on the distance Haymitch has wandered away from everything and everyone.
I feel an arm come around my shoulder and look over at Peeta who has shrugged his jacket off and is putting it around me in an attempt to keep me warm.
"Thanks," I whisper, shooting him a small smile.
I'm not sure if I'm imagining it, but suddenly I feel like things are a little awkward between us. He won't exactly meet my eyes and the guilt I feel for putting us in this position makes me nervous around him.
"Tell me again everything he said," Haymitch orders me. "This time slowly and clearly," he adds.
I take a deep breath and repeat my entire conversation with the President. How he knew about my hunting. How the competition was essentially designed so I could win and they could bring me here and reprimand me. How he wants me to marry Peeta for the country's benefit, how he'll let my hunting slide if I do. And the threat to take back the winnings from my mother and Prim if I don't.
When I finish there is a long silence where the three of us just let my words sink in, the gravity of the situation weighing on all of us heavily.
Haymitch seems resigned, looking sadly between the two of us.
"I don't know what to tell you kids. It's not worth the risk to defy the Capitol and not do what Snow says."
I close my eyes as the tears start to fall.
"I'm so sorry," I manage to gasp out, finally looking over at Peeta who looks in shock.
His face is blank and I can't figure out what he's thinking which makes me nervous.
"It could be worse, sweetheart," Haymitch tries to reassure me, patting my shoulder.
Of course it could be worse. A lot of things are worse than having to marry Peeta, but that's not the point.
"Now, they'll want the proposal soon. Tomorrow at the event for all the victors would be ideal."
"Tomorrow?" Peeta and I exclaim in unison.
"They'll want it to be as public as possible," Haymitch shrugs.
I drop my face in my hands, squeezing my eyes shut, and wondering how this happened all so fast. A couple of weeks ago Peeta and I were happy together and the most we had to worry about was Madge or Karrick.
Now our lives are about to turn upside down. Now he is being forced into marrying me out of guilt and fear.
"I umm...I'm going to go get ready...you know, um practice...for the proposal..tomorrow," Peeta stutters out, turning on his heel and leaving before anyone can say anything else.
I look to Haymitch in confusion as Peeta's figure retreats back to the mansion, walking at a brisk pace.
Haymitch looks at me with sad eyes, pulling a flask from his coat pocket.
"He'll come around. Just give him some time to get used to the idea," He says.
I want to cry. And scream. I knew this wasn't fair to him, I knew this was an awful situation, but I didn't expect it to be so hard for him to accept. If I'm being completely honest about it, I expected Peeta to embrace the idea, to try and reassure me that everything will be okay.
But I guess something like marriage being thrown on you like this is hard for anyone to wrap their head around.
I don't see Peeta again until the next day when all of the victors and student leaders from the districts are being lined up, preparing to make their entrance for the special event being held out in front of Snow's mansion, around the city circle.
I can already hear the roar of the crowd from the residents of the Capitol who must be lining the streets to get a chance to see us.
Effie is fussing over my hair and make-up, debating whether we still have time to do some touch ups, when I snap.
"It's doesn't matter what I look like!" I burst out, feeling bad for only a few seconds when I see the startled look of hurt on Effie's face. For all her over eagerness and meddling ways, she really is only trying to do her job.
"Well, it doesn't..." I add, feeling a lump suddenly form in my throat. It won't matter what I look like, only that I'm the epitome of a love sick teenage who weeps uncontrollably with happiness when Peeta proposes.
I stare at the ground as Effie walks away, muttering about my ungratefulness.
I look over my shoulder to find Peeta standing a few feet away from me, hands in his pockets, looking unsure of himself. He offers me a crooked smile.
"Hi," I return and my voice comes dangerously close to breaking.
I search his face, desperately trying to get a read on what he is feeling right now. We haven't talked about this at all, he walked away last night before we even got a chance to. My stomach turns uncomfortably when I realize how sad he looks.
I want to break down right here, right now. I want to scream at the injustice of being put through this, of the Capitol controlling our lives this way. Another part of me though is broken, broken and hurt, because I guess I was expecting Peeta to be okay with the idea of marriage. More than okay. I was expecting him to tell me that he more than didn't mind marrying me, that he wanted to.
I want to tell him I'm sorry for everything, but before I can we're interrupted.
"You ready, boy?" Haymitch asks, appearing at Peeta's side and placing a hand on his shoulder.
Peeta just nods at him silently and directs his gaze to the floor.
"Look, don't be afraid to uh...really play to the cameras," Haymitch whispers to the pair of us. "You don't want to give them any reason to be unhappy with your performance."
That words makes me sick. It is a reminder of just what exactly this is, a big performance for the Capitol's entertainment. Our private lives, something that was once so special and just between the two of us, has turned into this huge spectacle, a big joke.
We hear Capitol officials directing us to get ready for our entrance and Haymitch is ushered away.
Peeta and I are pushed into line together, standing side by side.
I keep my eyes trained on the back of the boy's head in front of me, preparing myself for this moment. I am lost in my own world of fear and anxiety when I feel Peeta reach over and take my hand in his, he rubs the back of my hand with the pad of his thumb. I can feel my shoulders relax and a little tension leave my chest.
The line moves forward as each pair from the district are introduced to the crowd outside.
As the victor and student leader from District 11 are introduced we step forward. Peeta squeezes my hand and I look over to him curiously. His eyes search my face, a look of intensity I have never seen before, taking over his features.
And in the moment before our names are called, as Snow makes our introduction to the crowd that is going crazy, explaining about the love story that has swept the nation, he leans over and whispers something in my ear.
"I love you."
My heart is beating frantically as he tugs my hand and moves out onto the stage set up in front of the President's mansion, overlooking the city circle. There are people lining every street, stretching as far as I can see in every direction. The roar of the crowd is deafening.
I smile and wave to the crowd as we take our places.
When we pass the President he surveys me with those snake like eyes of his, a satisfied smirk creeping onto his face.
The ceremony goes by in a blur. There are a lot of speeches by Capitol officials, praising the victors and giving themselves pats on the backs for the importance and influence of the Capitol Programs in the districts. I'm not really paying attention to any of it though because I keep repeating the words Peeta said to me right before we came out here.
He loves me. He loves me and maybe everything will be okay.
"Before we go, one of our student leaders has told me has something very special to ask the victor for his district," Snow tells the crowd, who respond with joyful shrieks.
Peeta pulls me to the center of the stage near the President, right where everyone can see us.
Snow gives him a nod of approval and then Peeta turns to face me so barely a foot of space separates us. He holds both of my hands in his and I feel like he is trying to tell me something when he looks into my eyes. He looks calm, but determined. The intensity of his gaze never wavers and I can feel my stomach doing flips. He loves me, I remind myself.
He slowly lowers himself to the ground, getting down on one knee.
The crowd starts to lose it's mind.
"Katniss..." he begins.
I don't know how, but suddenly his voice is amplified times a hundred, times a thousand, booming through the speakers and letting every Capitol citizen in on this private moment. Out of the corner of my eye I see that our faces are plastered on the huge screens that face the audience.
"I never really thought this was possible...to love someone the way I love you. But now that I have you in my life, I can't imagine a world without you by my side. You're beautiful and strong and amazing and brave."
When my tears start to fall they have nothing to do with worrying about putting on a good show for the crowd.
"I know things aren't perfect, but it doesn't matter how we ended up here, only that we're here together now."
I repeat these words over and over in my head and realize that despite being in the most public venue possible he is speaking to me privately, he's talking about how this marriage was forced upon us.
"And I know, that if you'll let me, I will be by your side through all of it. I'll be there for the good and the bad, I'll be there to protect you."
I look down into his eyes and realize this is not for the public's benefit or to please Snow. He truly means everything he is saying to me.
"Katniss Everdeen...will you marry me?"
I can only nod my head in response, the tears making my vision blurry. Finally, I manage out a 'yes' and immediately lose my composure. Peeta rises to his feet and takes me in his arms. I cling to him as I cry into his chest, feeling overwhelmed by the joy and relief of this moment.
"I love you so much," I mumble when we pull back and he smiles and leans down to kiss me.
I'm brought back to the present moment when I feel the presence of someone by our side. I look over to see President Snow looking between us, a twisted smile on his face. The noise from the crowd is deafening, but he manages to get them to quiet down by just raising his hand.
He places a hand on Peeta's shoulder. "How about you let us throw you a wedding right here in the Capitol?" Snow asks.
The crowd cheers their approval. Peeta, however, surprises me with his response. He pulls me against his side and then looks Snow right in the eye.
"Thanks, but I think we'll want to keep it small. We have a simple ceremony we do back in 12 and I think it would feel more special that way."
Snow's mouth sets in a straight line, all indications that he was pleased and satisfied with the proposal vanishes. The crowd groans in dismay.
"I'm sure you can catch it on camera so the country can see though," Peeta offers after a moment.
I look up at Peeta in wonder. He knows exactly what he's doing. The nerve and strength he has to stand up to the President like this, to dictate the way things will go for our wedding, amazes me. I can't help but grin, and despite standing across from a man who could wipe us off the map if he chose to, I feel like I've never been safer here in Peeta's arms.
Snow softens a little at the idea, realizing it's better than nothing. With Peeta making his intentions clear here in front of everyone he has essentially forced Snow to allow us to get married back in 12.
The President smiles, eyeing us both carefully. "I think we can make that work," he agrees.
He addresses the audience. "Ladies and gentlemen, let's give a great send off to the future Mr. & Mrs. Peeta Mellark!"
The crowd goes wild, there is chaos and commotion, but I can only look into Peeta's blue eyes, seeing the love I have for him so clearly reflected back at me.
With all the excitement from our engagement Peeta and I don't manage to have a moment alone together until the first night on the train when we are headed back to 12.
I close and lock the door to our compartment behind us after we finally drag ourselves away from Effie's incessant talk about floral arrangements.
I stare at the ground, biting my lip to hide my smile as he turns to face me in the privacy of our room. We still haven't gotten a chance to talk about any of this, what it means or how each of us feel about it.
I open my mouth to speak, but before I can get any words out he steps forward and kisses me. When we finally break apart we're both breathing heavily.
"Sorry, I just had to do that."
"Don't be sorry," I laugh, taking his hand and dragging him over to the edge of the bed where we sit side by side.
"So...you're really okay with this?" I ask him just to clarify. I need to know for sure. I want to know I wasn't just misreading his intentions during the proposal
He lifts my hand to his lips and kisses the back of it.
"More than okay," he tells me. "And I'm sorry if this isn't what you want, I know this isn't ideal circumstances, but I promise I'll help you get through it."
I stare at him in confusion for a while, trying to figure out what he means. It's when he drops my gaze and stares at our joined hands, a frown appearing on his face, that I understand.
"You think I don't want to marry you?"
He sighs and seems to struggle to find the right words. "I think you don't like the Capitol telling you what to do. I think you don't want to get married right now, period. I totally understand, but like Haymitch said defying Snow isn't worth the risk, so we're better off going through with it."
"Peeta..." I try and find the right words to tell him that what he said to me today during his proposal made me realize that marrying him is one of the best things I'll ever do.
Marrying him, no matter what the circumstances, will make me happy.
"That's why I was acting a little weird after you told me about it," he explains, "I saw how upset it made you and I didn't want to make you feel bad by letting you see how happy the idea made me."
My heart breaks a little at the idea that Peeta actually thinks I'm dreading this engagement. I keep trying to figure out the right words to explain what I'm feeling, but I keep coming up with nothing. I lean over and cup his jaw in my hand, making him look at me.
I lean over and kiss him softly, our lips just brushing against each other. It soon picks up heat like it always does between the pair of us and his tongue strokes mine and I moan in satisfaction.
I swing my leg over his body and straddle his lap, holding his face in place as I continue to kiss him. His hands go to my hips and when I rub myself against him he breaks away, groaning from the sensation.
"I want to marry you," I breathe heavily, my forehead resting against his.
"I was never opposed to the idea, only scared of how you would react and upset over Snow trying to control our lives."
The crooked grin that appears on Peeta's face makes me feel lighter than I have since we left on this tour two weeks ago.
"I love you," Peeta replies, running his hands up my sides. "And I promise I will do everything in my power to make you happy."
"I know," I smile in return. When I laugh it almost comes out like a sob. I'm suddenly overwhelmed by the idea that this amazing man is going to be my husband. "I love you, too."
Peeta leans in and starts planting wet, open mouthed kisses against my chest, making me forget about everything but his lips. But then he pulls away abruptly. "You know, Snow really messed up..."
He continues when he sees my look of confusion.
"I mean...trying to keep all the districts in line by feeding them some love story between a couple of teenagers...how long do you think that will last? They'll get tired of us pretty quick and then he'll be trying to find another way to hold onto his control."
I let his words sink in and realize he's completely right. I smile at him, running my hands through his hair. "And when you think about it, he may have been trying to manipulate us, but he actually just gave us the upper hand," I add.
"Exactly," Peeta agrees. "By making such a big deal about our relationship, making it public and using it as a way to keep people happy...it just means we're the ones in control now. We can dictate the way things go because his whole fragile little system is now resting on us acting like lovesick teenagers whenever there are cameras around."
I grin, leaning in so my lips hover by his ear. I place kisses on and around it, biting down softly on his ear lobe, before speaking. "And the beauty of this whole thing is that being in love with you is not something I will ever have to fake..."
When I pull back I expect to see him laughing or smiling at me. Instead, he has this look on his face that makes my lower belly flood with warmth, my muscles tightening in anticipation. His eyes have narrowed and have taken on a darker blue color.
He presses his lips against mine and in one swift move, grabs me by my hips and flips me over on the bed so I'm lying on my back. His lips are insistent, his tongue pushing into my mouth and then moving down my neck, sucking on the skin.
"Peeta.." I gasp, because everything is suddenly so intense and fast, the urgency of his kisses, the way my body is screaming to have him inside me.
He must be able to read my thoughts because the next thing I know he's pushing my dress up and over my waist and pulling my underwear down my legs. I spread my legs for him, waiting for him to join our bodies in the most perfect way. He stands up at the edge of the bed and I watch with appreciation as he makes quick work of removing his pants and boxers.
He is already so hard and I can feel a rush of warm, wetness seep down my legs. He moves over me and guides himself inside me. I cry out from the feel of him, hiking my knees up to give him more room to grind into me. His thrusts are steady but hard, pulling almost all the way out before slamming back into me, making me whimper from the pleasure. He uses his hands to hold himself above me and I pull him down to join our lips in a kiss.
The stroke of his hips become shorter and his rhythm becomes even, but relentless, pounding into me at a faster pace. I start to call out his name as the ache between my legs spreads to the rest of my body and builds and builds.
Finally, just when I start to think I can't possibly take anymore, I explode, my body engulfed by flames that make me see stars. I hear him shout, finally stilling his movements and throbbing inside me when he comes.
He collapses on top of me and I cling to him, deciding to never let go.
The ceremony was perfect. It was intimate and special, and besides the presence of Effie Trinket and the cameras from the Capitol capturing the whole thing for the rest of the country, I wouldn't have changed a thing.
We were lucky enough that the only part the cameras were really interested in capturing was the part that didn't mean as much to us. Effie and her team turned the Justice Hall into what I'm sure weddings in the Capitol all look like. There were more flower arrangements than people, I was dressed in a long flowing, white, lace dress, and Peeta was put in a customary tux. Haymitch walked me down the aisle and the district judge performed the ceremony.
It's not that I didn't enjoy standing next to Peeta and signing those papers that made it official, but it just didn't feel as special. It wasn't what we wanted.
Afterwards, when Effie and her camera team disappeared, we had the toasting. My mother gave me the dress she wore on her wedding day and Peeta wore his father's best suit. Only the people that mattered were there: my family, Peeta's family, Gale, Haymitch, and some of our friends from school.
They sang the customary song and gathered around the fireplace in the living room of our new home. It is a small, two bedroom, one story house at the edge of Town that Peeta's father found for us, using his savings for the down payment and telling us it was his wedding gift for us. It is still in Town so Peeta can walk to the bakery every morning and near enough to the Seam where I can see my mother and Prim as much as I want.
For the rest of my life I will never forget how it felt to hold that bread in the fire and then break off a piece of it to feed to Peeta. My entire body quivered, my stomach twisted in a mess of knots and butterflies, overwhelmed by what it meant to be committing myself to this man forever. I could not stop thinking about how grateful I was to have him. I was grateful and happy that I had found the one person who finally made everything make sense for me. The person who taught me that life was not all struggle and pain.
The look in his eyes as he toasted his own bread and fed it to me made me feel a thousand different emotions. Most of all it was that I was loved. I was so very loved by this man and I could not think of anything better in this world. The other was passion, desire, and lust. The way he looked at me made me forget that all of our family and friends were standing nearby. It made me want to rip off his clothes and ride him until I saw stars, right in front of that roaring fire.
It has been 6 months since the toasting and still not a day goes by where I don't smile like an idiot when I remember that Peeta is my husband now.
The cameras still come around, as well as Effie Trinket with requests for interviews and specials highlighting our married life together. It's slowly starting to fade though. Just like Peeta predicted people are losing interest in the 'love story from District 12'. Snow will need to find another way to keep a restless country under his control.
I get home from a long day in the woods completely exhausted.
My feet ache, I'm dripping with sweat, and there are stains on my clothes. When I walk into my house I'm overwhelmed by the smell of fresh bread coming from the kitchen. I'm greeted by the sight of my husband leaning over, pulling a fresh batch of cheese buns from the oven.
He has a very nice butt, I think to myself.
"Hey you," I say, a smile creeping across my face when I realize I've startled him.
"Hey," he grins, placing the tray on the counter and moving over to take me in his arms.
I take a step back holding my arms out to stop him from getting any closer.
"Stay back," I warn. "I'm absolutely disgusting. I've been in the woods since the crack of dawn. I desperately need a shower."
Peeta however is unfazed. His arms snake around my waist and he pulls me against him anyways. "Oh, is that right?" He asks. He crinkles his nose. "You smell pretty good to me."
I roll my eyes at him, but can't help my smile.
"Come on, let's get you cleaned up."
Peeta leads me down the hall to our bedroom. In the adjoining bathroom he starts to run the warm water in the tub. I let him undress me and then decide his clothes should join the pile on the floor too.
We sink down into the water, my back flush against his chest.
His arms wrap around me, touching and teasing. He starts planting kisses against my shoulder and I am lost in his touch.
"You're right. You do stink," Peeta breaks the silence, making me laugh.
He washes my hair, working his fingers through my long locks and massaging my scalp gently. We then take turns washing each other's bodies. When we're finished I start to touch him and he touches me. Teasing caresses that only hint at what we so desperately want.
When our hands have turned clammy we finally let the water drain and I rise from the tub. I grab a towel and dry my hair before tossing it aside. Then I wrap a fresh one around my body and walk back into our bedroom. I am standing at our dresser looking for fresh clothes to change into when I feel a pair of arms come around me.
I grin when I feel his hardness pressing into my back.
"Can I help you?" I tease, grinding myself against him.
He doesn't respond, he only starts kissing my still damp skin along my shoulders and up my neck.
"We should go have dinner," I protest, although it's a feeble attempt to get him to stop. Especially when I lean back into him and tilt my neck so he has better access.
I feel his arm reach down and slip under my towel. When he slips two fingers inside me I gasp and reach behind me to grab his head.
"I'm hungry for something else," he whispers.
He leads me over to our bed where my towel falls away. He sinks down to his knees at the edge of the bed and spread my legs. He starts to lick and suck and taste me until I come, screaming his name.
He stands up and pushes inside me before I can even come down from my high and makes me come two more times.
We lay side by side, panting, basking in the afterglow of our love making.
He reaches over and grabs my hand, lifting it to his lips where he places a gentle kiss to the back of it.
Our lives aren't perfect, but we're together, and that's the only thing that matters.
We may have initially come from different worlds, but we'll move forward, in this deeply flawed one we find ourselves in now, together.