A/N: We have reached the end of "Speed Date". I just wanted to take a second thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for reading this story, reviewing, following and adding it to your favorites. When I started writing fanfiction last April, I had no intentions of ever writing an entire story, let alone an AU story, so to be in a position where I've not only written one, but completed it is pretty big for me.
A very special thanks goes out to for-prim for being my sounding board from day one with this story. I'm not sure I would have been able to finish this story if it weren't for her support, honesty, and help all of these months.
I will be starting my new story, "The Only Lake is Erie" in a few weeks, as well as posting outtakes from the "Speed Date" universe over on my Tumblr pages (writeintheblanks/mellarkloaves).
Alright, on with the final chapter!
The strong breeze brings the smell of burning charcoal across the picnic table where Katniss sits, smoothing the page of her notebook down when the breeze threatens to take it away. As the air around her calms, she sighs loudly and pushes her hair away from her eyes before attempting to concentrate on the page in front of her.
"How's the studying going, Katniss?" Neil asks, plopping himself down on the seat across from her.
"Done," Katniss remarks. She taps the top of her textbook with her pen and then looks down at the notebook page in front of her. There are words scrawled on the page that look as though they were written with the wrong hand, and large sections of black ink appear between the words having been scratched out in frustration. "I'm trying to work on my vows."
"Ooh," Neil says quietly. "What do you have so far?"
"Nothing," Katniss answers sharply. "Remind me again why I thought it would be a good idea to write vows?"
Neil looks at Katniss sympathetically, but she looks away, irritated by the way he is looking at her with pity. Her eyes sweep across the park and land on Gale across the grass, tossing a football with Spencer while talking loudly so Spencer can hear him. Peeta is off to the side, sitting on a blanket with Naomi and Sadie, who is now ten months old. Peeta and Naomi talk busily while Sadie holds onto Peeta's fingers and stands on the blanket.
It has been six months since Neil and Spencer had their talk. To this day, neither one of them will tell anyone what was said, but it seems to have done them a lot of good. Peeta has commented on several occasions that for the first time in his life, it feels like the three of them are really brothers - a team.
"I don't know," Neil cuts in, causing Katniss to whip her head back around to meet Neil's gaze. "I think I remember you telling us something about wanting this whole wedding to be specific to you and Peeta, and only you and Peeta instead of based on old traditions. Does that sound familiar?"
Katniss groans and drops her head into her hands, remembering that day. It made so much more sense back then, but now it just feels silly. She wonders if it's too late to change her mind, but then remembers that Peeta already finished his vows.
Neil grabs Katniss's notebook before she can protest and begins to read what little she has written that has not been scratched out.
"I probably won't use any of that, I was just jotting down ideas," Katniss lies. She can feel her cheeks and neck heat up as Neil's eyebrows furrow while he reads the words. "I wish I had a gift with words like Peeta does. He finished his weeks ago."
Neil looks up from the page, his expression unreadable. "You make me want to be a better person? Isn't that a line from As Good as It Gets?"
"What? No!" Katniss says defensively, just as Jack Nicholson's voice begins echoing through her head, and all at once she realizes that Neil is right. "Okay, maybe it is... a little. I don't know what to say, though!"
Neil gives her a stern look and shakes his head disapprovingly. "You two wanted to write your own vows so you can do it your way, right?" Katniss nods quickly, deciding not to argue. "This doesn't sound like you. Speak from your heart, Katniss." He turns to a fresh page and sets the notebook back in front of Katniss. "It doesn't matter how you say it, but tell him what's in here," he says, pointing to his heart. "No matter what it may be."
"Thanks," Katniss says as she watches Neil rise from the table.
"You're welcome," Neil smirks. He taps the top of the table with the palm of his hand and begins to walk away, but stops mid-step and turns back around. "And for the record, Peeta isn't done with his, either."
Katniss stares blankly at the back of Neil's head as he walks away from the picnic table and back over to the blanket with Peeta and Naomi. He plucks Sadie up and lifts her high into the air over his head before bringing her back down and blowing raspberries on her stomach.
Peeta wasn't done with his vows. The more she thought about it the more she realized that she had only assumed he was done. In fact, he never did tell her that he had finished writing them, she just suddenly didn't see him writing them anymore and took it to mean that he was finished.
Katniss lets out an angry puff of air and turns back to her notebook. The fresh, white page stares back at her tauntingly. She hovers her pen over the page for a second before closing her eyes and pulling the first word that comes to her mind: Risk.
She underlines it twice and then moves to the next line, writing quickly while taking in the sounds around her. She can hear Sadie's laughter as Neil runs with her, making a revving motor sound with his mouth. Naomi calls out for him to be careful, because Sadie just ate. Peeta's laughter cuts through the air and then his voice is calling out encouragingly for Sadie to puke on Uncle Neil. Katniss laughs to herself and tunes her ears to the muffled sounds of Gale and Spencer's voices across the lawn and suddenly, the words are pouring from her pen, covering the once blank page in black ink and curling it under the pressure of her hand.
The day that Katniss told her father that she wouldn't be walking down the aisle, he wasn't angry. Truth be told, there wouldn't be an aisle for them to walk down in the first place.
His response to Katniss's revelation that day was a simple nod before he confessed that he somehow expected that Katniss would try to break away from traditions, but he supported her decision as he always had.
Not long after that day, however, Joe called and told Katniss that if he couldn't walk her down the aisle, he at least wanted to bring Katniss to the ceremony. Katniss talked to Peeta about it and he liked the idea and coaxed Katniss into agreeing, though the guilt Katniss felt denying her father the chance to walk her down the aisle was enough to get her to agree, even without Peeta's urging.
Joe's approach was unexpected. A few days after his original request to bring them to the venue, he called again and informed Katniss that he would be renting a luxury car for the day and picking her and Peeta up at the apartment so he could escort them to the venue.
Katniss tried to tell him not to go through all of that. His presence for her wedding day was all she needed, but he insisted, stating that he wanted to give his little girl the grandest entry that she would allow. Finally, Katniss relented and agreed.
And now here Katniss and Peeta are, sitting in the backseat of the rented black Cadillac CTS, their hands linked together tightly as they rest in Peeta's lap.
Katniss catches her father's eyes in the rearview mirror and he smiles at her. "Are you nervous yet?" he asks.
"Getting there," Katniss replies meekly.
Peeta squeezes her hand. "Don't be nervous," he murmurs, resting his forehead against the side of Katniss's head. "I'll be by your side the whole time." The car pulls up to the venue and Peeta quickly drops Katniss's hand and begins to slide out of the car.
"You should let your dad help you out of the car, though. I'll be waiting for you on the other side," Peeta winks at her and exits out of the back passenger door, and suddenly Katniss understands what Peeta is trying to do.
The door to her left opens and she sees her father crouched over and peering in at her. His smile is large as he extends his hand toward his daughter. "Are you ready?" he asks gently.
Katniss knows her answer: To see everyone? No. To marry Peeta? Yes. She takes her father's hand and scoots across the seat, smoothing her dress down after she stands.
Joe pushes a strand of hair out of Katniss's eyes and smiles at her. "I love seeing you so happy, so sure. You have a good man here." He turns to Peeta and shakes his hand exuberantly. "You can take it from here."
Peeta offers Katniss his hand and she smiles at her father as she laces her fingers through Peeta's. He may not be able to walk her down the aisle, but she can tell that his involvement today has made him happier than he will admit. It reminds Katniss of herself, and her smile grows wider at the realization.
"Make sure you say hello to your sister when you get in there," Joe says. "She was really mad that I wouldn't let her drive with me."
"I will find her," Katniss says with a laugh before beginning to walk toward the venue, hand-in-hand with Peeta.
Katniss and Peeta spot Gale and Neil first, wildly waving their arms above their heads to get their attention. Katniss adjusts her grip on Peeta's hand as they make their way through everyone to get to them. She can hear light whispering as their guests start to notice that she and Peeta have arrived.
As they walk, Katniss scans the area and finds Prim and her mother sitting comfortably on one of the couches on the sandy side of the venue. Prim waves enthusiastically at Katniss and Peeta, and they return the gesture happily before Katniss puts her finger up to Prim, indicating that they'll be back around to talk to her and their mother.
Neil and Gale finally stop waving when Katniss and Peeta approach them. They each have a martini in their hand and look sharp in their light khaki colored suits that match Peeta's pants.
"Cocktail hour and dinner before the ceremony was probably the best idea ever," Neil compliments. "Next time I get married, that's what I'm doing."
"What?" Gale asks, bewildered.
Neil laughs and shakes his head, bringing his hand to rest on Gale's shoulder before giving it a gentle squeeze. "I'm kidding. And you guys say I'm the worst at sensing sarcasm."
Despite the lighthearted conversation, once Katniss spots the photographer off to the side snapping pictures of her and Peeta, the nervousness begins to reach the breaking point. Walking in and seeing everyone, no matter how small their guest list is, is beginning to intimidate her, but she smiles at Gale and Neil, chuckling nervously.
"I really thought you were joking with me when you told me that you were wearing this," Neil says, eyeing Peeta's outfit choice. Katniss turns her head to look at Peeta as he shrugs his shoulders and laughs.
They decided together that he should wear a Hawaiian shirt to the wedding and Katniss bought it special just for today. White on white with black buttons, and light khaki pants - it is comfortable but sharp.
"I wasn't joking," Peeta says, pushing his hair out of his eyes with the hand that still clutches Katniss's.
"I like it," Katniss says smiling.
"You always did." Neil shakes his head once more. "You guys look great."
They begin to turn and head back to where Prim and Abby sit, but suddenly, Peeta stops and looks back to Gale and Neil. "Wait," he says, pulling Katniss back. "We haven't gotten to talk to you guys in a few days so I didn't get to ask you, did you guys get those papers filed?"
Gale and Neil look at each other and their faces break out into large grins before they look back to Katniss and Peeta and nod.
"We met with the agency on Thursday and turned in the paperwork," Gale explains.
"Wow," Katniss says, almost stunned. "So you guys are adopting a baby..."
"Eventually," Neil corrects her. "For now, we wait."
"Well enjoy yourselves tonight, might as well do it before the craziness begins," Peeta says, extending his free hand to Neil and then Gale. "Congratulations."
They head back to Prim and Abby, and as they make their way toward the couch, Katniss notices that her father has now joined them. Katniss and Peeta let go of each other's hands only briefly so that they can hug Prim and Abby.
Abby takes in the sight of her daughter and immediately begins to blubber and coo over how beautiful she looks. It is doing nothing to calm Katniss's nerves, but the sight of Prim standing behind Abby making faces helps a little.
"How is school going, Katniss?" Abby asks.
School. She didn't want to talk about school today, but she knew this question was coming, and it probably won't be the only time she hears it today. "Not so bad. I'm on a short break right now before fall semester begins in a couple weeks. I'm just waiting for grades from the summer sessions to post. I think I did well, though." She had practiced that over and over again in the days leading to the wedding, and it's what she will continue to tell everyone that asks her.
She really is doing well in school. Great, even, but she did not want to talk about it on her wedding day. Her first semester was tough between getting in the swing of being in school in addition to working full time and planning the rest of the wedding, but she and Peeta made it work. It went so well that she decided to knock a couple classes off of her list by doing summer sessions as well. At this point she has settled into a comfortable routine that Peeta helps her with every step of the way.
"You guys did an awesome job," Prim says, changing the subject. "I mean, couches instead of those uncomfortable chairs? This is great!"
After Peeta asks three times if they are comfortable and enjoying themselves, they finally tear themselves away to continue greeting their guests. They move to Peeta's family next, spotting Colin and Bev standing and talking to Spencer and Naomi.
Naomi holds twelve month old Sadie, who is fidgeting and trying to break free, in her arms.
"Don't drop my niece," Peeta says, getting everyone's attention. Sadie squeals delightfully and squirms even more at the sight of Peeta. Katniss nods to him and lets go of his hand just in time for Peeta to put his arms out to Sadie as she practically throws herself into them.
Sadie is dressed in a sleeveless white dress, while a white headband is wrapped around her head just above the light blonde hair that has begun to curl at the nape of her neck.
Peeta greets Sadie warmly and plants a soft kiss on her tiny cheek. "Thanks for coming, everyone," he says, not taking his eyes off Sadie.
Colin is beaming at Katniss and Peeta while Bev is a bit more subdued. She doesn't look angry, or even particularly cold, but her expression is unreadable. She looks as though she wants to say something. Peeta seems to notice the same thing as he is now starting right at her.
"You look very nice, Mom," Peeta compliments. Katniss suspects that this is simply his way of getting her to say whatever it is that she feels that she needs to say, but Bev doesn't seem to notice.
"Thanks," Bev replies, sounding a bit caught off guard. Her eyes fall to Katniss's dress and she braces herself for whatever abrasive comment Bev is about to make. "Where did you get your dress, Katniss?"
"I found it online, actually," Katniss says, knowing that this will be the answer that gets the remark. "I'm not one for dress shopping."
Bev nods. "It's a very nice dress. You look like you fit right in out here in the sand," she says, finally pulling her eyes from Katniss's dress and bringing them to Peeta's outfit. "You both do."
The shock is palpable among the entire group and Bev, sensing this, speaks again. "The ceremony is at sunset, correct?" she questions.
"That's right," Peeta confirms.
"Just like the invitation said," Peeta says, his tone slightly biting.
"A little backwards..." Bev's tone isn't entirely condescending, but Katniss can tell that she wants to go there.
"I know. Because that's what we wanted, Mom," Peeta says confidently, grabbing hold of Katniss's hand while holding Sadie with his left arm.
Katniss can see the realization flash over Bev's face as though she remembers that day at the bakery over a year ago, as well as the constant reminders from Peeta telling her that he no longer cares what she thinks of his choices.
After that day at the bakery, there were several more encounters with Bev where Peeta made it clear that he was not going to let her push him around or make him feel bad for the choices he makes. Little by little, Bev has been less harsh when talking to him, but she still has moments where she falls into her old habits. Luckily, Peeta's confidence has grown by leaps and bounds since Katniss first met him, and he never hesitates to remind Bev that his life is his, not hers.
As the afternoon wears on, Katniss and Peeta make their way through to each guest, having brief but meaningful conversations with everyone. Delly looks so happy to see them and almost crushes Katniss with the force of her hug. Katniss understands Delly's happiness. There were times when she probably wasn't sure Peeta would ever see this day. Delly grabs Thom's hand and smiles widely at the bride and groom, telling them time and time again how happy she is to have been invited to share this day with them before they are finally able to sneak off to greet others.
Katniss and Peeta walk around, keeping their hands tightly linked together, supporting each other, and dropping them only to give hugs or handshakes to everyone they are greeting. Katniss begins to feel the nervousness dissipate with each person they talk to.
All at once she is extremely glad that they decided not to have a grand entrance or wait to see their guests until the ceremony began. This makes more sense for her and Peeta. There would have been no time for them to get their bearings and work up their nerve to get through the ceremony without messing up something or stumbling over words and embarrassing themselves if they hadn't done this.
Katniss and Peeta sit at the center of the head table under the large, white pavilion where dinner and dancing will be held. Neil is at Peeta's side while Gale and Prim are at Katniss's. The guest tables are situated in a half circle around the large dance floor in the center. Everything is pristine and white, with simple black sashes tied around each chair.
After the Caesar salads have been distributed, Peeta grabs the microphone from the DJ and calmly asks for everyone's attention. As the guests begin to quiet, Katniss hoists herself up to stand next to Peeta. She has no plans to speak, but she still wants to support Peeta's words so everyone knows how grateful she is to all of them.
"First of all, I wanted to thank all of you for coming today. We wanted to make this a very small affair with only the people who are closest to us, so to see you all here supporting us tonight really means a lot to both of us. I think Gale has a few words to say before he will allow any of you to eat, so I'm going to let him talk, thank you all again," Peeta says, handing the mic over to Gale who immediately brings it to his mouth and clears his throat before he speaks.
"Thanks everyone for letting me talk," Gale begins. "I am sure you're all very anxious to start eating, but you had to be expecting this. These two did an amazing job with their planning, don't you think?" The guests begin to clap, and Spencer catcalls from his seat, causing Katniss and Peeta to smile at each other. "They worked very hard to reflect what they wanted their day to be, so even if it isn't the way a wedding traditionally goes, know that it was done that way because these two crazy kids wanted it to be that way." Katniss rolls her eyes at Gale, but can't hold back the smile at how happy he sounds.
"When I got married a little over a year ago, Katniss made a speech that I know I won't be able to ever top, and it would only be an embarrassment to me if I even tried. All I want to say right now is this," Gale takes a deep breath and looks at Katniss. "Let's marry them, then we can be related." Everyone begins to laugh, but nobody is laughing harder than Gale, Katniss, Neil, and Peeta. Swiping a hand over his face, Gale continues. "Peeta, even though I was too stupid to see how happy you made Katniss at first, I take all of that back now. I can't imagine a more perfect match for my best friend. I love you both very much and I wish you every last bit of happiness you have worked so hard far."
As Gale falls back into his seat, he hands the microphone across the table to Neil who stands up abruptly and brings it to his mouth. "I see you chewing Spencer!" he yells. "Give us a few more minutes, man. We're almost done." The laughter grows louder around the pavilion and Neil stills, waiting for everyone to calm down. "I'm actually joking, you guys can eat if you want, but I do have some things to say and I'm pretty sure that Prim does, too."
Prim stands up and Neil puts the mic to her mouth. "I don't have much to say, I'm not a speech giver," Prim begins nervously. "I just wanted to wish my sister and Peeta the best. I knew just from the sound of her voice the day she first told me about Peeta that we'd be here one day, so the day Peeta drunkenly told me he was going to propose to my sister was one I'd been expecting, even if he doesn't remember it." Prim sits back down quickly amidst another round of laughter, and Neil brings the microphone back to his mouth.
The sound of forks hitting plates is evident as the laughter once again subsides and Neil nods at everyone, looking satisfied. "Good, good, eat up! Enjoy this food, you wouldn't believe the trouble they went through deciding what to serve all of you." He flashes a charismatic smile to everyone quickly before growing serious. "The first time I met Katniss, I mean really met Katniss, I really had this feeling that she might be someone that would be good for my brother.
"That said, I did have to maintain my distance early on. I still had a little brother to protect. I needed to be sure, you know, but little by little, the more time I spent with her and saw the way she and Peeta interacted, even when things were tough, it was special. Every moment I spent with both of them was like peeling off another layer revealing more and more of how truly beautiful Katniss is, inside and out.
"Peeta, you are the strongest person that I know and though I probably have never told you before, I want to tell you now... you inspire me every single day. You have a girl here that is protective, loving, and as genuine as they come and I'm so glad that you're the one who gets to reap all of the benefits of her big heart. It couldn't have happened to a better person." Neil's lips quirk up into a proud smile. "One last thing, Katniss. Since you said it to me, I will say it to you... take care of my best friend and I will take care of yours."
As everyone begins to applaud, Neil passes the microphone back to the DJ and sits down, stabbing at his salad and shoving the leafy greens into his mouth without looking at anyone.
Katniss looks at Peeta and the floored expression on his face probably matches her own. She did not know what she expected from Neil's speech, but for some reason, that wasn't it. It was taking every ounce of willpower not to jump across the table and hug him for saying what he did. For now, she is going to have to be content with nodding at Neil and mouthing the words thank you after Peeta puts his arm around Neil's shoulder and pulls him into a hug.
All of the guests have found a place to sit amongst the couches as nightfall begins to engulf and darken the area. Everything is being illuminated by dimmed lights and the glowing fire pit that sits on a large circular platform at the front.
The lineup mimics the way they sat at the dinner table: Katniss, Gale, and Prim stand on one side of the fire pit while Peeta and Neil stand on the other. Gale and Neil hold the rings, just as Katniss and Peeta did for them at their wedding, and even though Katniss feels bad that the wedding is so low key that she did not have anything special for Prim to do, Prim is happy to simply be included and stands happily at her sister's side, smiling widely.
Everyone stands on an angle so that the fire can still be seen between Katniss and Peeta as Cinna, the wedding's officiant, clears his throat to call attention to everyone and indicate that ceremony is about to begin. Things begin quietly and without fanfare or music. Cinna welcomes everyone and thanks them for coming to witness Katniss and Peeta's wedding, and just as Portia did for Gale and Neil, Cinna shares a few stories about the bride and groom.
As Cinna speaks and the crowd listens, Katniss lets her mind drift to the last two years of her life with the man standing in front of her. The difference in him is astounding. The way he stands before her confidently with a smile on his face that she knows won't be going anywhere anytime soon is vastly different from the way he stood at her door, shoulders slumped and head downcast the day he picked her up for brunch.
The nerves Katniss felt earlier begin to return as the time for her to speak draws nearer. Peeta seems to notice this, because she can see his arm move as though he wants to reach out to her. Cinna stops talking as his eyes flick down to the movement and Peeta looks at him sheepishly.
"I'm sorry, but... can I hold her hand?" Peeta asks, causing everyone to laugh.
"Of course," Cinna replies with a smile.
Peeta reaches out and takes Katniss's hand, squeezing it in his own tightly. "Don't let me go of me," he whispers.
As Cinna turns to ask Gale and Neil for the rings, Katniss takes a deep breath, going over the vows she has committed to memory, hoping that her nerves won't cause her to draw a blank. Cinna announcing that she and Peeta have decided to write their own vows breaks her from her thoughts and she looks at him, scared. He nods gently, coaxing her to begin.
Katniss steadies herself the best that she can, looks at Peeta, and begins. "Before I met you, I never took a single risk in my life. I did everything that I could to protect myself from getting hurt by people. I was an expert at running away and a novice at going after what I wanted... and then you came into my life.
"I started taking risks that first night simply by agreeing to take that walk with you, and then I took another by admitting to myself that I did not want the night to end. Eventually, I found myself takings risks by telling you things I've never told anyone else before and allowing you to work your way inside my heart and rooting yourself there, and by admitting that I am in love with you. The biggest risk of all was realizing that I was all right with the idea that I would do anything that I could to protect you, and doing just that from that day forward.
"We were given reasons to carry on from unlikely sources sometimes, and we did it." Katniss does everything in her power not to look over to Bev, choosing instead to squeeze Peeta's hand to remind her what she is supposed to be doing. "All of the ways I have had to make myself vulnerable for this to work have been worth it. You have been worth every single risk I have taken these last two years, and even on days when it feels like we've taken a step backward, I know that I am exactly where I want to be, always."
Quietly, Cinna turns his attention to Peeta and nods, indicating it's his turn to recite his vows.
Peeta squeezes Katniss's hand so hard that she feels as though all of the blood has stopped moving through it. She tries to squeeze back but is unable to move at all. Just as she is about to ask him to ease up, he releases the pressure and begins to speak.
"I rewrote my vows at least a dozen times. Each time I started it off simply by saying that I wished I could freeze this moment, right here, right now, and live in it forever, but each time I finished and thought what I had was it, I was unhappy with it. It wasn't until I realized one very important thing that I understood why the vows weren't working: I don't want to freeze this moment and live in it forever.
"At first I thought it would be the perfect life to be able to see you smiling like this forever. I wanted to see that light that your eyes seem to get in them, but the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to freeze anything, because what good would come from that?
"I'd miss so many other smiles, laughs, eye rolls when I crack a joke with a bad pun in it, and I'd even miss the tears that you so desperately try to hide. I want to experience everything with you, the good and the bad. Every new smile and laugh, every scowl, eyeroll, and tear, I will be there, because I see now that love isn't just about the smiles, but rather is about everything, and what makes us strong is the way we grow as a result.
"Freezing one good moment won't keep us together. Allowing ourselves to live life and grow old together will, and that's exactly what I intend to do."
As Katniss takes in everything Peeta just said, Cinna takes over once more, stating that their rings do not have an end, and that they symbolize the ceaseless love that Katniss and Peeta share. Katniss is still so entranced by Peeta's words, that she almost doesn't hear Cinna declare that it is time to exchange rings.
Without words, Katniss carefully slips the platinum wedding band over Peeta's knuckle and smiles at him, feeling her heart begin to beat so hard she fears it may fly straight out of her chest, and as Peeta sets the wedding band on her finger, nestling it against her engagement ring, he lifts her hand to his lips and places a gentle kiss on her ring finger.
The feeling of Peeta's lips linger on Katniss's finger as Cinna closes up the ceremony by declaring Katniss and Peeta husband and wife. Their kiss is tender and sweet. Peeta places his hand on Katniss's jaw and gently tilts her head up to meet his mouth - they smile against each other's lips when they hear everyone begin to applaud.
Cinna's final words are short and sweet, introducing the newlyweds to their guests as Katniss and Peeta Mellark for the very first time.
Relief floods through Katniss's body. They did it, and the best part about it is that nothing feels any different. They're still Katniss and Peeta as they always have been, and the declaration of marriage has done nothing to alter either of them. Everything feels as though it is fitting perfectly with the way they wanted their day to go. Their terms, their wedding, their love, and nobody was going to change that about them.
Now, they were free to celebrate and have fun with their guests.
"That Delly can dance to anything, can't she?" Gale asks. He leans against the sturdy leg of the pavilion and laughs at the sight of Delly in the middle of the dance floor, dancing to a song that she clearly requested.
"She even dances when there's no music," Thom confirms, draining the last of his beer from the bottle. "I better go out there and dance with her or I'll never heard the end of it."
As Thom walks aways from the group to join Delly on the dance floor, Neil scoots over closer to Peeta. "I've met them before, right?" he asks.
"Yeah," Peeta nods. "One of the times you came to visit me when I was in college. Then you called me after you left to tell me that you thought Thom was hot."
"Oh yeah," Neil chuckles. "I knew he looked familiar."
"He kind of looks like you, Gale," Katniss observes, laughing at the similarities between the two men.
"Awe," Peeta croons, playfully. "Neil has a type."
"Simmer down over there," Neil retorts. "Katniss and Gale look like they could be brother and sister sometimes."
"Would you date me, Neil?" Katniss asks, taking a sip from her drink. Peeta lets out a bellowing laugh at the question, and looks to Neil, waiting for his answer.
"Am I even allowed to answer that considering you're now basically my sister?" Neil says in attempts to avoid the question.
Gale laughs before setting his chin down on Neil's shoulder and looking at Peeta and Katniss. "You've made him uncomfortable, I hope you're happy."
"Very," Katniss and Peeta reply in unison.
"Hey." Gale nudges Neil's head with his own to get his attention. "I dare you to go up to the DJ and request Wake Me Up by Wham!"
Katniss watches Neil's face contort into the biggest cringe she has ever seen before he turns his head abruptly, forcing Gale's head off his shoulder. They stare each other down for a minute until Neil leans in and presses a kiss to Gale's lips. "Fine," he says with a smile. "I'll do it, but only because I know you love it so much."
"I do not love it!" Gale yells at Neil's form that is now walking confidently in the direction of the DJ.
Neil looks over his shoulder and smirks. "I've seen your iPod playlist!" he yells back.
Katniss can't help but laugh at the exchange, feeling grateful for the small guest list for the evening. When most couples would still be making their rounds to talk to their guests, Katniss and Peeta were already finished and now the rest of the night is theirs.
The smile on Neil's face when he returns is wide and unyielding. "I did it," he says confidently. "Now Gale has to go dance to it when it comes on."
"No way," Gale scoffs. "This is my dare, you can't dare back."
"Says who?" Neil retorts
"Says everyone that has ever given a dare before." Gale crosses his arms, refusing to budge.
Gale and Neil go back and forth every so often for the next few minutes, and when the song comes on Neil continues to urge Gale to go out to the dance floor, but Gale won't agree. Katniss knows that it's hopeless to get Gale to agree to anything when he has his mind set, but it doesn't stop Neil from trying.
"Fuck it," Peeta says throwing his arms in the air. "I'll do it, but I need a partner." He looks at Katniss but she immediately shakes her head. She loves Peeta, but there is no way she was going to go out there and dance to this song. Peeta huffs and looks around the area quickly, smiling at himself and walking off quickly.
Katniss, Gale, and Neil watch as Peeta makes his way toward the table the Mellarks and Everdeens are sharing. He sets his beer down and starts talking to his mother who is holding Sadie in her arms.
To their surprise, Peeta and Bev start laughing together and Bev quickly hands Sadie over to Peeta. They can't hear him, but Peeta says something to Sadie before she starts squirming a little. Then he walks with her out to the dance floor. Sadie's tiny hand is nestled in Peeta's larger one, while his other hand rests on her back as he spins her around the middle of the dance floor. They can see Sadie laughing from across the room.
The warmth that spreads through Katniss's body as she watches Peeta dance with Sadie is overwhelming, and before she realizes it, she's setting her own drink down on the empty table in front of them. "To Hell with dignity," she says as she marches out to the dance floor to be with Peeta and Sadie.
Katniss waves to Peeta when she reaches them, and he smiles widely at her presence.
"Want a turn?" Peeta asks. With Katniss's nod, Peeta hands Sadie to Katniss. She emulates Peeta's motions, placing her hand on the toddler's back and grabbing her hand before beginning to dance around with Sadie, who is still laughing.
Katniss's eyes meet Bev's from across the dance floor briefly, and she is taken aback when she notices that Bev is actually smiling at them. While it's not a particularly large smile, and could maybe even be considered more of a smirk, it's there and despite making eye contact with Katniss, Bev is making no attempts to hide it.
Peeta is missing when Katniss turns around, but she quickly spots him talking to the DJ, nodding his head animatedly before shaking his hand and making his way back to the dance floor. He smiles innocently at Katniss when he reaches her and places his hand on her back as the song finally ends and is immediately replaced by another uptempo song. Katniss continues to move to the music, but Sadie has begun to rub her eyes tiredly.
"Someone looks tired," Peeta says just loud enough to be heard just before Katniss feels a light tapping on her shoulder. She turns around and is face to face with Bev.
"May I?" Bev asks, pointing to Sadie.
"Sure," Katniss says with a nod, handing the tired Sadie over to her grandmother.
As if they hadn't been surprised enough for one day, rather than taking Sadie back to the table, Bev begins to move to the music, mimicking the movements that Peeta and Katniss had been doing. They hear Bev ask Sadie if she likes to dance, but Sadie has already set her head down on Bev's shoulder, her eyelids quickly drooping lower and lower. Katniss looks to Peeta and sees him smiling at the scene.
Unlike Neil, Peeta doesn't want to dance with his mother. It was never a concern to him and Katniss suspects that Peeta's therapy with Dr. Aurelius is what helped bring Peeta to this decision.
Peeta and Katniss begin dancing to the song, and Bev stays out on the dance floor the entire time, though she moves slower than everyone else, using the rhythm to lull Sadie to sleep.
When the next song begins, Katniss knows what it is immediately. She looks up just in time to see Peeta close the space between them and put his hand out to her. "Dance with me," he says.
Katniss smirks at him. "To this song?" she says, taking his hand.
Peeta pulls Katniss even closer to him, their bodies flush as they begin to sway to the sounds of For Me This is Heaven by Jimmy Eat World. "Sure, why not?" Peeta asks.
"It's not much of a dancing song," Katniss replies, watching Peeta's smile reach his eyes at the realization that she remembers their conversation from the night they first danced to this song.
"Who cares?" Peeta says calmly.
"Not me." Katniss rests her head in the crook of Peeta's neck and neither of them say another word.
As the song ends and fades into an even slower one, Katniss and Peeta continue to dance. Katniss notices that Bev has left the dance floor, and is now back at the table talking to Abby while holding Sadie who is asleep on her shoulder. She also notices that Joe and Colin seem to be wrapped up in a conversation of their own and she smiles at the feeling of calm that washes over her.
"May I cut in?" Gale's voice rings out behind Katniss and Peeta pulls back, looking at Gale with a smile.
"Sure," Peeta says, letting go of Katniss. She spins around and grabs Gale's hand, moving in close.
"So," Gale begins, moving in time with the melody. "You're someone's wife now."
"And you're going to be someone's dad, soon," Katniss adds.
"Crazy, isn't it?" Gale laughs. "And look at your sister. She's dancing with my brother again."
Katniss looks around the dance floor and spots Prim and Rory slow dancing not far from them. Katniss knows that Prim and Rory have been in contact over the last year, but Prim has been very tight lipped on what is going on between them. Katniss smiles at the pair, feeling content."Where's your husband?" she asks Gale.
Gale cranes his neck and looks over Katniss's shoulder. "Over there, eating some cake," he says. "By the way, you guys suck for not smashing it in each other's faces."
"Peeta didn't want to waste good cake," Katniss explains. "He's still a little strange about money." Her tone grows low at the revelation, and Gale nods, understanding.
"Well I guess I can forgive you then," Gale says, looking over Katniss's shoulder once more. "There's an intimidating looking man standing behind you that I think wants to dance with the bride." Katniss knits her eyebrows together in confusion. "I won't keep her from you, Joe." Gale places a chaste kiss on Katniss's cheek and rushes off, leaving Katniss and her father standing in the middle of the dance floor.
"Do you have the time for a quick dance with your old man?" Joe asks.
"Sure, Daddy." Katniss smiles, taking his hand.
"You haven't called me that in years," Joe points out as he spins Katniss around.
"It feels appropriate today," Katniss says with a shrug.
"I was really scared that you would choose not to share this day with people," Joe admits sadly. "I know how you are about this sort of thing, but I think the way that you and Peeta approached this wedding felt very much like you two."
"You're not mad that we decided not to have designated dances, either?" Katniss asks, concern evident in her tone.
"Hey, I'm still dancing with my little girl, aren't I?" Joe asks. "I'm just glad you two decided to share your special day with all of us."
Any trepidation over their decisions for the wedding are completely washed away with her father's words. Like Prim, he was happy to just be there watching his first daughter get married. Katniss and Peeta are spending their wedding day with the people they care about the most, and in the end, that is all that matters.
"I can't believe they're still dancing," Katniss says, grabbing the bottle of champagne from Peeta's hand and taking a long pull. "My feet hurt and I wasn't out there nearly as long as they were."
After dancing with her father, Katniss escaped the dance floor and went to sit with Peeta who had joined his own father at their table. The three of them had a nice conversation about things ranging from Peeta's painting, to Katniss's favorite songs to sing for karaoke.
Now, with the crowd beginning to thin, Katniss, Peeta, Gale, and Neil, occupy an empty corner of the pavilion, each possessing a leftover bottle of champagne. They laugh as they watch Delly and Thom continue to dance - they've barely left the dance floor all night.
"They're really into each other," Peeta says. "Always have been."
"I can tell," Neil say, slurring his words slightly.
"Ok, ok, do it! Go!" Peeta chants, drumming on the tabletop.
Neil stands up and walks a few feet away before turning around and sauntering back to the table, sitting down across from Gale as Katniss and Peeta watch from the side. "Hey, my name's Neil," he says, cordially.
"I"m Gale. Have you ever been speed dating before?" Gale purses his lips together, as though he is trying to hold back laughter.
"No, this is my first time, what about you?" Neil replies, a grin spreading across his face.
"First time as well." Gale's tone is cool and collected. "So, are you a top or a bottom?" At Katniss's gasp, Gale begins to laugh. "No, no I'm kidding! I didn't ask him that!"
"Do it right!" Peeta whines. He is drunk. Katniss knew that when he began to whine, he was officially drunk. "You're supposed to be showing us how you met!"
"But why?" Gale questions. "This is your wedding, you should be showing us!"
"Fine," Peeta says resolutely. He turns to Katniss and they stare at eachother for a long moment before they both burst into laughter. "I can't remember what I said!"
"Who cares, just get to the good stuff," Gale coaxes. "Like when you kissed her like a gentleman on the threshold of her apartment."
"You guys kissed on the first night?!" Neil chimes in, almost jumping across the table to slap Peeta's arm. "You never told me that, Peeta!"
Peeta is roaring with laughter. He brings his finger to the corner of his eye and wipes away a tear that has formed as a result of his laughing. "You told Gale that I kissed you like a gentleman?"
"Well you didn't try to stick your tongue down my throat," Katniss says defensively, holding back laughter of her own.
"No, that was later," Peeta reminds her.
"Tell us more," Gale urges, moving closer.
"Let's not!" Neil cringes.
Peeta ignores Neil's comment and bites the inside of his cheek, as though he is thinking of what to say next. "And then we had sex on the couch."
Neil makes a disapproving noise and grabs the bottle of champagne. He takes an extra long pull and slams it on the table before turning to Gale "See! I told you we should be leery of that couch!"
"You should be leery of the dining room table, too," Katniss says quietly, slapping her hand over her mouth after she realizes what she just said.
"Okay, now I've really heard enough!" Neil groans.
Gale is laughing loudly as he reaches over and rips the champagne bottle from Katniss's grip. "That's enough for you. Champagne apparently gives you diarrhea of the mouth."
"That's an attractive visual," Peeta cringes.
As everyone begins another round of laughter, Katniss pauses briefly to look at the three men sitting with her. With her and Peeta now officially married, and Gale and Neil getting ready to embark on a journey that will bring a child into their lives, it hits her just how much has changed in the last two years with all of them. But despite the jealously, misunderstandings, distrust, and lessons they've all learned, the four of them are still a family. Katniss knows that no matter how many more changes they will go through in their lives they will always be there for one another defending and supporting each other through all of it, and she can't think of anything better than that.