DISCLAIMER: I do NOT own the Hunger Games. Here's the last chapter of this story! Thank you all for reading!
I can feel the tension as I look over my district. The cold, greyness of it all is still there, despite the hot summer. No doubt all of the citizens had to been ousted out of their homes and into the square to celebrate the return of their beloved married victors.
Slight problem for the Capitol, though. They're not celebrating.
Their cold, hard and grey faces look back at us, straight from the Capitol. While living in the lap of luxury, they're here with their dirty mines and abundant amount of punishing tools and so many Peacekeepers.
They look straight at us, and I can feel the guilt even though they say nothing. All eyes are on me. The instigator. Because of me, District 12 is like this.
Peeta's hand feels tighter and I spot Madge in the crowd. Her white dress and blonde hair and blue eyes stick out to me as she looks at me. Oh, great. Having Madge mad at me is not something I want. She's practically my only friend that I can count on, and she's looking my way with a poker face.
I can feel Effie's nervousness as she says brightly so that the whole district can hear, "Hello, District Twelve!" The cameras are still rolling, and someone has to get the show going. "It's so great to be back here. I know that Katniss and Peeta were looking forward to coming home as well. Congratulations!" She turns to us and claps, hoping to get everyone to clap as well.
They don't. Madge instead puts three fingers from her left hand to her lips and then raises them as far as her arm can reach. Her face is still set as poker, though, but her rebellious statement is all that is needed. Miners, people from town, small toddlers, everyone in District 12 does the same gesture. All looking cold, for the cameras are on the entire district. This is airing live. Everyone in Panem is going to see that District 12 is going to rebel. The time? Who knows. But the message is clear. Snow cannot control the districts much longer.
I see arms near me pop up, and it's Gale, and it's Rory and Vick. Even if they haven't gone into the mines, they're still doing it. I watch in amazement as Cort does it, and Bryce. Hazelle and Posy, who despite not knowing the gesture does it. Mr. Mellark. Even the surly Mrs. Mellark. Prim and my mother. Haymitch watches, looking surly for a moment before he too does the same. Even Haymitch.
There's safety in numbers. The Peacekeepers can't punish all these people. It's over 10,000 people. Too many. They can destroy the district, but that would just make the other districts rebel. 8 already has. District 13 was already made into an example. All they can do is send in more Peacekeepers, but what more can they do? We already endure their beatings, their stocks and whippings. Gale already has, and look at him now. There's nothing the Capitol can do.
Overcoming my shock and amazement, I look to Peeta. He nods. He understands.
Without a word between us, I use my left and he uses his right and we do the gesture. Our joined hands are raised as well and the whole district is in a manner of all understanding. Effie looks at us, surprised. I feel victorious. See this, President Snow. See how you can break us down and how we build up again. See how you can make even the victors not safe, and see how we come back. Watch, President Snow. Watch as your country starts to fall.
Effie somehow finds her voice. She knows she needs to bring back some sort of something. "What a lovely way to welcome home the new couple!" She finishes up with the speech she had planned. She turns to Peeta and I and says, "Shall we take you home?"
A car shows up and we get off of the train and head into the car. I'm the last one in, and I catch a glimpse of Madge as the crowds disperse, the Peacekeepers walking around with their guns. I give her a smile, which is a rare thing for me to do. She nods and smiles back before she hurries away. I watch her leave and head into the car. Once on the soft, plush seat, I hope that the Peacekeepers don't find her out as the person who started the salute.
We pull up to Victor's Village. Attendants get out and bring the few things from the Capitol for Peeta and I into Peeta's house. The car disappears with the Hawthornes and Mellarks and I watch it leave. Hope it makes it to its destination. Wouldn't it be just funny if the car disappeared or got into an accident? Take away the victors' family who did the salute?
I shutter and look to the white house. My eye catches sight of my mother and Prim getting led into the Victor's Village house by Effie and attendants. Suddenly I'm concerned. I want to go with them. I have to get them.
"Katniss?" Peeta asks.
"Peeta," I say, turning to him, "they're taking my mother and Prim to the house."
"Yeah. So?" Peeta says, honestly having no idea what I'm saying.
"Peeta, the only reason they're allowed to live there is because I lived there. Now that I'm living with you . . ." I say, trailing off. They should be ousted to our old house in the Seam. Are they in there to get back their things?
I look at Peeta with pleading eyes. He quickly says, "Go. Check it out."
I nod and run into my old house. Everything looks the same. If not better. The place must have been cleaned when we were gone. I see Prim's sewing and her books carefully set away on the shelf as if they belong there.
I search the house but I can't find Effie. My mother's in her bedroom, getting unpacked, and she looks at me, concerned, as I peek in and then hurry out of her bedroom. I find Prim in her bedroom, unpacking our father's mirror.
"Where's Effie?" I say, trying to look calm.
"She's in the office," Prim says, and I bolt out. Thoughts run through my head as I skirt down the stairs. Not the office. Not the place where Snow came and talked to me. Forced me to act in love with Peeta. Forced me to get married or else. Why that room?
I stop in front of the door. A plain white door for a plain room. So many memories attached to it. Painful, terrifying flashbacks to when the President simply came into my house and told me what to do. Threatened me. Threatened my family.
Taking a deep breath, I open the door and say, "Effie?"
"Hmm. Yes, Katniss?" Gulping and fighting every urge I have to not go into this room, I walk into the office. The desk looks the same. The chairs look the same. It's the fresh rose in the vase that makes me blanch and want to throw up.
"Katniss?" I hear, and Effie's smiling at me. "What is it?"
"Um," I say. That's all I can say. I gulp and look away from the smelly flower and look to Effie and say, "I was just wondering why my sister and mother are coming back here."
"Why, the President DID say this was their house," Effie says, looking concerned. "I was told to bring them back to their home in Victor's Village, and here I am!"
I nod and force a smile. "Of course." Effie's just following orders. Orders from Snow to take my mother and sister back to their house in Victor's Village. Why? He knew that I would move in with Peeta. It would make more sense just to shove them back into the Seam. Why bring them here?
Effie smiles in relief and looking to the vase, says, "The President told me to bring something to brighten the place. Make it more delightful. I was given this to bring in by an Avox. Doesn't it look beautiful, Katniss?"
I mutely nod and Effie says, "And why are you here?"
"To get my stuff," I say quickly.
She furrows her eyebrows and says, "Why? All of your things are already at Peeta's house!"
Oh. Apparently there was a reason the place was clean. All of my things were taken and they cleaned the house in the process of cleaning me out. I nod and she hurries out after kissing me goodbye on the cheek, something about the train.
I look at the rose, breathing heavily. It's so innocent looking. A fragile, delicate white rose in a tall, clear vase. Only Snow and I know its true meaning. He knows how it unhinges me and makes me want to curl up into a ball on the floor.
The wind from an open window blows through and I quickly turn away. The breeze sends the smell to me. Taunting me. Reminding me that I am still, despite the district's sign of respect, the Capitol's victor. The Capitol's tribute. And there's nothing I can do to get away from them.
I head back to Peeta's house, and I give it a good look. Same white door. Same steps, walk and chimney. Entirely different house.
Going through the door, I look inside. I haven't actually been in Peeta's house more than once or twice. It looks like mine furniture-wise. It has the same green sofa and soft armchair, same kitchen table and floating island. It's a bit lighter, and I see that Peeta's turned lights on. It's getting dark outside. I didn't notice.
I can already see the things that are mine set about the house. Set about in places they should go. My boots all lined up near the door. My jacket on the hook. My book with Peeta's drawings of herbs on the coffee table. It almost looks like a home. Like a married couple could live here.
Seeing Peeta in the kitchen, I say, "Unpacked?"
"Just about," he says. I walk over and look at what he has out. Flour and yeast are on the counter. A bowl and steaming water. He changed into a tee shirt and tan pants. His hands are covered with flour as he starts mixing things.
"What are you doing?" I ask him cautiously. Married life isn't something I'm used to and I don't know how to approach it.
"Making bread," he says.
"We have some from the train," I say, looking over near the sink. There's a basket of bread on the counter. Effie had told attendants to drop things off when we exited the car. Wouldn't want us to come home to an empty cupboard. An empty cupboard like practically all the other houses in District 12.
"Thought we could have some homemade," he says. He looks back to his dough and I say, "Heading out to the bakery tomorrow?"
"Aren't we going to train tomorrow?" he asks.
"I . . . I thought with the Peacekeepers, and . ." I trail off. He has a point. What more can Snow do at this point? Why not train for the fight of our lives? Give the Capitol a good show. Just like our wedding.
"Why not?" he says with a laugh.
"Sure," I say. I nod and add, "Why not?"
"Great," he says, and he looks back to the dough. "Bread should be done in an hour."
"Got it," I say, and I walk away to turn on more lights. Flipping switches on the walls. Letting an orange glow cover the bottom floor of our house. Our house. Not the house I share with Prim and my mother. Our house. The house that Peeta and I share.
I close the curtains and avert my eyes from the office that's identical to the one in the other house. I look out a window and see the white curtains of Haymitch's house play against golden light. He must be moody after having so much alcohol and now having none. I close the curtains with unneeded force. I don't feel sorry for him. He has a secret, a secret involving other tributes, and he's not telling me. I made a deal with Snow so that we wouldn't lie to each other. I should have done the same thing with Haymitch.
Heading up to the bedroom, I pause on the stairs. Even though Peeta and I have shared the same bed together numerous times before, I somehow feel strange. What nightmares will haunt me tonight? What happens now?
Taking a deep breath, I turn to the bottom of the stairs and tell Peeta I'm going to go bathe. He says fine, and I head upstairs.
Soaking in the warm water, I wash myself with the silky soaps straight from the Capitol. I pause as I lather up a washcloth. I wonder which district this is from. Maybe from 10 where there's animals to make soap from. Maybe 2 or 1 or something. They're closest to the Capitol and closest to their soap.
I towel off and put on a tank and shorts. It's warm outside, but the evening is dark and my pajamas comfort me. Remind me of home.
Heading downstairs, I can see that most of the lights are off. I can already smell the comforting smell of bread baking. I haven't smelled that smell very much. At home in the Seam we rarely were able to make bread by ourselves. In the other Victor's Village house, before the Quarter Quell announcement, Peeta used to bring bread over that he baked at the bakery. I've only been in the bakery itself a few times. It smells wonderful. It smells comforting and homey.
The whole house, despite itself, looks cozy. The bread just adds to it. I see Peeta in the living room. The TV is off so we don't need to watch ourselves get married over and over and he's over by the fireplace. He's building up a fire, setting a match on fire and adding papers.
He notices me and says, "Hey, c'mon."
"What?" I say, kneeling next to him.
"Look at the coals," he says excitedly. I look at him strangely until he says, "They look like we did. On the chariot."
"The tributes on fire," I say, and he smiles and says, "Yeah." His blue eyes smile along with him as he looks back to the fire and adds more wood. I can't help but watch him as he does so. His hands, baker's hands, are rough looking, despite the Capitol's ways with them. He must have washed off their lotions and powders, leaving his baker's hands raw and real.
It doesn't really feel like we're married. We've been in such a weird relationship for so long that it's weird to think that we have the opportunity to have a different one. We've been friends, lovers, enemies, acquaintances and classmates. We've been numerous things. When he threw that bread to me that day, I can bet neither he nor I would have thought that six years later we'd get married. At the Capitol, no less. But married still.
Married in a place where nothing in District 12 reigned. There was nothing from home there except people. There was no toasting of the bread, no signing of the sheet, no renting a dress or anything. I had thought before that if I ever got married, that would be how I would get wedded. Apparently not.
Peeta walks away, saying something about the bread being ready. I'm left looking into the flames. Without that bread, who knows where we'd be? Strange as it sounds, it's almost like bread brought us together.
Maybe it will. I stand up and walk over to the kitchen. Search through one of the drawers. Pick up two metal sticks called skewers or something. Look to Peeta and say, "Come here."
He calls as I walk back to the fire, "What are we doing?"
"Bring over the bread and I'll show you," I say.
He looks uncertain but obliges. A loaf of piping hot bread in his hands, he bounces it back and forth as he sits down cross-legged next to me. Looking at me, he says, "Now what?"
"Haven't you ever seen a toasting, Peeta?" I ask him.
"T-toasting?" he says, incredulous. He looks at me with a confused sort of look, like he's asking me if I really want to do this. I give him a slight nod. I might be legally married, but I want to be wed by my own terms.
He nods and manages to break off a piece of the bread without burning his fingers. He hands some to me and I stick some on my skewer while he does the same. Into the fire they go, the flames licking at the crumbling bread. Once they're a fried sort of brown on either side, we draw them out.
"You first," I say. He nods and takes off the bread, crumbs falling into his palm. He holds it up and, like the wedding cake tradition in the Capitol that we didn't do, carefully makes sure it gets into me. It's brown and tastes of hard work and fire. Fire. Smoky.
I do the same for him and watch him as he chews, his blue eyes never wavering.
"That's it, then," he says when he clears his throat and sits up straighter.
"Yeah," I say quietly. We're now officially married.
The fire crackles and he says quietly, "Are you happy?"
I look back at him, and he's Peeta. Just watching him now amazes me. The way that he can look at me with such sincerity of love. I wonder now if I have the same look on my face.
I give him a smile, a real smile, a smile like I would have in the woods, doing my favorite thing.
"Peeta," I say, leaning near him, "I think I am." The Capitol can take our freedom, our lives, but they can't take our fight. Look at us now. Defying the Capitol. Defeating it. Being victorious. I have only a few weeks left. But I'll have them with him.
"Really?" he says, leaning close.
"Really," I say, and I lean in, closing the gap between us.
The fire crackles in the fireplace as we end the kiss and rest our foreheads against each other. Soon after this we'll be forced into the arena, killing for the Capitol.
But we now have this moment to ourselves.
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. THE END. MY BABIES I CAN'T EVEN. Thank you all for your lovely reviews and alerts! Good night!