Spring had officially arrived at Chatsworth. It had felt like winter would linger forever - especially on the evenings when the weather had been cool and the blustering wind had blown down the surrounding valleys and through the hills - but the grass was green, and Thresh's carefully tended gardens were bright and full of roses and tulips and flowering buds of a hundred other species that made the garden feel like it was alive with colour and scent. And although Katniss knew it would be her one and only spring here, she swore she would miss this time for the rest of her life.
"I cannot believe you are leaving," Madge finally spoke up after they had stood beside the readied carriage in silence for minutes, staring across the gardens. Katniss smiled softly.
"Neither can I. Although I believe the Duchess is happy to see the back of me." They both laughed softly, for neither could deny its truth.
The moment Katniss had accepted Peeta's proposal, their plan began to be put into place. She would resign her position within the week, with the explanation that a long lost cousin in America had encouraged her family to move to there for a new start. Peeta would follow, and meet them two months later so as to not arouse any sort of suspicion. Ms Trinket in particular had been surprised at Katniss' announcement, especially with her knowledge of the Everdeen family, but she did not question it. The Duchess, she had heard from Johanna, had simply declared it to 'be about time' and gone back to her tea and scones.
Finnick would allow them to stay in their home until they departed for Liverpool, from where their ship would set sail, and Katniss and her mother had - reluctantly - accepted payment for the sale before they moved, to help cover their basic expenses during that time. She was certain he was paying them far too much for a cottage that she knew required repairs, but Finnick had been insistent, and she had no way of proving otherwise.
She knew Peeta would earn a decent wage with his new position, one that ensured they would not have to worry to excess. They would never live in the ways Peeta had become accustomed to growing up, but nor would they struggle as Katniss' family had done. It would still be a distinct change for Peeta, being responsible and working for a living. However, the more she thought of that, the more concerned she became for what she would do once in America. She had wild dreams of Primrose attending university, perhaps becoming a doctor or nurse, but what did she want to do with her life? Peeta had already returned to Cambridge before these thoughts had begun to plague her, and it caused her so much consternation that it affected her work. Haymitch had pulled her aside, demanded to know if she was having second thoughts, and had shook his head incredulously at her when she admitted her worries.
"Do whatever you want to, sweetheart. That's the beauty of starting over."
And for some reason, his simple response had calmed her. So while, a week later, she still was not sure what she wished to do, she was not as worried as she once was. She still had months to consider it.
"What will you do for the remainder of your time before you travel?" Madge asked softly.
Katniss shrugged. "I suppose we shall sell what we will not need, pack up those items we wish to take with us. Spend some time with mother and Prim, and simply enjoy my childhood home while I can. It will only be two months until I see Peeta and we set sail, Madge. I am sure the time will go quickly."
Madge nodded, and Katniss smiled as she heard a commotion, watching as Johanna and Gale exited the kitchen, whispering to each other.
"Almost ready to go?" Gale asked, reaching for the hat that sat on the driver's seat and plopping it onto his head.
Katniss nodded, felt the lump rise in her throat. She had never expected that first day as the carriage ambled down the drive and she saw the house appear like magic in the middle of rolling fields, that she would find it so hard to leave, that she would find people who had become like family to her. She pulled Madge into an awkward hug, squeezing her tightly once before giving her a sad smile.
"Good luck, Madge. I hope we can keep in touch," she said quickly, before the lump in her throat overtook her.
"We will, Katniss, I am certain," the blonde woman agreed, then lowered her voice, just as a precaution. "I wish you the best. You and Peeta."
Katniss turned to Jo - who looked as uncomfortable as Katniss did at the thought of a hug - but did so anyway. "You be good, Johanna Mason. You be sure to keep these people in line."
She pulled away as Jo snorted. "I'm the last person they need whipping their tails," she retorted, but a grin tugged at her mouth. "I'll see you around, Katniss Everdeen."
Katniss nodded, and turned towards the carriage before a throat cleared. She pivoted, to see both Ms Trinket and Haymitch standing there.
"You did not think we would let you leave without saying goodbye, did you?" Ms Trinket said primly. She stepped forward, enveloping Katniss in a warm hug she did not expect. She breathed in the housekeepers scent - a little lemon, a faint musky perfume and the candied smell of her lipstick - and almost involuntarily felt her arms tighten around the woman's' waist. "Good luck to you, Miss Everdeen. To you and your family in a new world," she whispered in her ear. She squeezed once more, then dropped her arms, reaching into her pocket for a letter. "This is for your mother. Please give this to her, and give her my best regards."
"I will, Ms Trinket. And...and thank you. For everything."
"It was not a problem, my dear," she said kindly. Katniss heard Haymitch snort, and glanced over at him.
"Yes, Mr Abernathy?" she asked pointedly. He smirked.
"You've been nothing but problems since you arrived," he said bluntly, and Effie rapped him hard on the arm, accompanied by a sharp Haymitch! "But you have done a good job here. You certainly will not be forgotten anytime soon." He stuck out a hand, which Katniss took, and he shook them once, twice, three times before letting go. "Best wishes, sweetheart. I hope this new life you have in America will be all you hope it will be." Katniss knew, despite the fact that he had to be discreet, for Ms Trinket could not know what their plans were, that he was telling her he approved.
"Thank you, Haymitch," she replied. "I am certain it will be."
He nodded once, then shoved a hand in the pocket of his jacket. She knew he gripped the flask he kept in there like a lifeline, for she knew that the moment she left, it was only the start of the process, and soon Peeta would be gone too. And Peeta, she had learned, was more his than the Duke and Duchess'. She knew it would break his heart more than anyone's to never see Peeta again.
Katniss turned, waved Gale's hand aside again to a chorus of chuckles, and stepped into the carriage on her own. Gale closed the door behind her, and she leant out the window, a small smile on her face. "I will miss you all, you know."
"We know, we know," Jo groaned, but Katniss could hear the laughter in her voice that told her she was not being serious. "Now bugger off. We have work to do."
With a chuckle, Gale hopped onto his seat, cracked the whips to get the horses started. They moved down the drive, and Katniss raised a hand out the window, watching the figures growing smaller the further they moved away from the house. She did not look away once, kept her eyes focused on the people, and the house, that had brought her to Peeta. She would never, ever forget the magnificence of this house and what it gave her. She wanted to imprint this final picture of it in her mind forever.
They turned a corner, and then it was gone. She would never see Chatsworth again.
Peeta kept himself occupied over the time working on recovery for his leg, as well as his studies, where he would stay up for hours with Finnick learning the ins and the outs of the Odair family shipping business. It was going to be a major shift in his life, but one he was looking forward to. What he did, did not matter.
Being with Katniss did. And that was what was worth it.
He had managed one short, clandestine visit to Katniss after she had returned to her home. A few hours tucked away with her in the woods surrounding her house, the grass beneath his back and her head on his chest had been lovely, though not nearly enough. But as much as he wanted her and he knew - though she did not say in so many words - that she wanted him too, he refused to allow their first time to be a hurried coupling in the middle of the woods. Though, he admitted to himself later, he did not discount it as something he would consider for the future.
Later, he had listened to Primrose as she excitedly told him everything she wanted to do and see in America, had tried not to smile as Alice watched him interact with her two daughters as they played a game of cards.
This was going to be his family, he had thought, and he had no problem with that at all.
"So you are going back tomorrow?" The sharp, bitter voice broke Peeta out of his reverie, and he shifted his gaze from the blazing fire to his mother, who stood silhouetted in his doorway. His initial intention had been to leave from Cambridge, but his heart had tugged at him, had almost begged with him to see his friends and confidants one more time. Of course, this came with the added risk of seeing the Duchess, though with just this evening left before he departed, he thought he had managed to escape. But on this cool, windy night - so unseasonal for this time of year - she had decided to pay him a visit. For what reason, he had no clue.
"Yes. I generally return to Cambridge if I wish to attend classes."
She pursed her lips, and frowned. "I will ignore your obvious lack of respect towards your elders, and remind you, yet again Peeta, of your duty."
"And what duty would that be?" He asked, though he most certainly knew the answer. He was too old now to be frightened of her, to be worried whether she would strike him down with bitter words or a slap to the cheek. It did not matter anyway.
After tonight he would never see her again, and he found himself not bothered in the slightest.
"Your duty to continue our line. I had hoped by now your useless desire to attend university would have waned, and you would be preparing yourself to take over some of your fathers' duties."
"I was quite certain Father was insistent in my completion of my degree before I became involved in the estate more."
The Duchess pursed her lips unhappily, waving a hand to disregard his comments. She moved to stand - prim, and straight and proper - by the fire. "I do not even care for the topic; I refuse to let it entertain my thoughts any longer. I came to you this evening because you have miss-stepped again. And I am not sure how much longer your father and I should have to be subject to humiliation because of your inadequacy to take a wife."
"Subject to humiliation?" Peeta could barely stop himself from scoffing.
"Yes," she huffed. "I had to endure an afternoon tea today where I was advised - quite smartly - that Lady Annabelle is engaged. To someone who is not you, Peeta."
Peeta sighed internally - so this was the reason for her visit to him. "Then it is highly likely she never cared for me in the first place."
"Cared for? Whoever said anything about your future wife caring for you, Peeta? All these romantic notions that fool of a nanny forced into your head." She shook her head. "First you were frivolous with Delilah and lost her to that poor excuse of a man. And now Annabelle...At times I believe you simply do this to spite me."
Peeta rolled his eyes - her words, in some way, could not be truer - and pulled himself to his feet to turn and face his mother.
"I have told you before to leave this topic alone. Your incessant hounding will not make a difference to me, nor to my intentions towards finding a wife. It will happen in my own time, to the woman I choose."
She snorted, such an unladylike sound that he almost blinked in surprise. "Sometimes I wonder how you are even my child. No motivation, no desire, no pride."
"I have plenty of all of that, mother, just not to your satisfaction," he sighed.
"You will likely never be to my satisfaction if you continue to-"
"Mary." The voice was strong, firm and commanding. Both Peeta and the Duchess turned to his doorway to see the Duke, a frown of disapproval on his face. "I have warned you, many a time, not to continue to harp on at the boy on this matter. He does not need to hear it the night before he returns to university."
"He needs to hear it, Henry," The Duchess replied smartly, her eyes narrowing. "By his age, you were already wed. You know as well as I the importance of a match. If he continues to waste time, there will be no suitable women left."
"Rubbish," The Duke sighed wearily. "I refuse to hear any more of this talk tonight."
"You do not have to be here to hear it," she retorted angrily.
The Duke inhaled deeply. "You do not have to be here to say it."
Peeta stood, eyeing his parents, and the way they glared at each other distastefully. Nothing seemed to bother the generally mild-mannered Duke - except for his wife. They were more guilty of benign neglect towards each other than anything else, though occasionally it drifted into snappy interactions such as these in front of others. It was exactly what Peeta had wanted to avoid his whole life.
It was exactly what he was going to avoid.
"Mary, go to bed," The Duke finally ordered.
The Duchess clenched her teeth - Peeta could see the cords of her neck straining against her pale flesh - narrowing her eyes at her husband. "You treat me with as little respect as our son," she hissed as she stalked past him out of the room. Peeta could hear her angry footsteps down the hall, even on the thick carpet. The slamming of a door echoed through the night.
"I am sorry, Peeta," The Duke sighed.
"Do not apologise, for it is not your fault for what she says."
"Indeed, you are correct," he agreed. "But I have allowed her to carry on with this for far too long." He paused, then stepped further into the room, hitching his trousers as he lowered himself to the small loveseat in front of the fire. He gestured towards the seat beside him, and Peeta took his cue. They sat in awkward silence, but Peeta did not speak. He knew the Duke well enough to know he was preparing - carefully - to say something.
"You are going to go after her, are you not?" The Duke finally asked.
It was not what Peeta was expecting.
"I….I am sorry?" Peeta stammered. "I am unsure what you are referring to."
"That housemaid. The one who left here to go to America. You are going to go to her." It was not a question - he was stating it as fact, and Peeta could not stop his jaw from dropping. The Duke sighed, and shook his head slightly to himself. "I knew it all along, Peeta. When I confronted you with the letters, I knew. You are adept at twisting words to your benefit, Peeta, but I have known you since you were a boy. And your feelings for that girl were written all over your face."
"But…." Peeta did not know what to say. He was, literally, at a loss for words.
"I tried to warn you away from her that day, had hoped I could talk some sense and realisation into you. Afterwards, I knew there was no way it would work." He sighed again, turning to his son, his heir. "You are not a Duke, Peeta. I do not believe you ever have been. I tried, Lord knows I tried, and in her own way, so did your mother. All we have done is push you further away."
They sat in silence, the Duke ruminating on his words, Peeta dumbfounded that his father had come to confront him like this. What if everything was ruined now? What if he could not meet Katniss?
"Peeta," The Duke said quietly. "I had hoped one day you would be a great Duke, a shining example of our family name. But….if you wish to go, to leave, and renounce your rights and responsibilities….I understand."
Peeta's eyes widened at his fathers words, even while his heart galloped in his chest and his stomach pitched. He was going to let him go? "I...I….You would let me go?"
The smile that tugged at the Duke's mouth did not reach his eyes, not entirely. "What kind of parent would I be if I did not? Peeta, I do not wish what I have with your mother on you at all. You deserve better. And if this girl - woman - is what you want, then I will not stop you. I would rather you be happy then spend a life half lived, unhappily."
"This is so sudden," Peeta murmured. "Why have you not said anything before?"
The Duke shrugged, then turned to look at the fire. The flickers danced across his face, and Peeta could see the age, the tiredness and weariness that had etched on it over the years. "Because I can see you have already gone." He paused, the crackling of the fire the only sound in the room. "Will we ever see you again?"
Peeta swallowed heavily. This was it. The moment he was honest with his father. "No."
The Duke nodded, and the resignation was clear on his face. "I understand. I….Whatever actions you have in place, Peeta, I understand."
"Will you keep this amongst us?" Peeta asked quietly.
"I will take it to my grave," The Duke promised. "I may not have told you enough, Peeta, but I do love you. And I believe today, while I am sad, I do not think I have been any prouder of you." He stood, glanced down at his son one more time, his hand resting on his shoulder. It was the first physical contact they had had in such a long time it was almost foreign to Peeta, but he reached up and placed his hand on his fathers' almost automatically.
"Good luck son," The Duke said softly.
"And to you, father," Peeta replied. The Duke nodded, his hand squeezing Peeta's shoulder once more, then walked from the room.
For the first time in as long as he could remember, Peeta wept.
2 months, 1 week, 2 days and too many hours.
That was how long she had been waiting.
The weeks had gone quickly at first, as she and mother and Primrose had discreetly sold all of the possessions they would not be retaining, as they packed their bags, as she and Primrose ran about in the fields beside their home. She did not think they would be fortunate enough to live in a place like this in America - she was certain they would be in the middle of a busy city, and while she was excited about moving with Peeta, part of her ached at the loss of the outdoors. So Katniss hunted, relished the time with her father's old bow and arrow - regardless of their use in America, it would go with her to the ends of the Earth - sat with her back to a tree and listened to the birds, made silly flower garlands for Primrose to wear in her hair.
And missed Peeta with a vengeance.
Salacious dreams of him came back to her full force the closer they got to the time when they would reunite. She would often wake blushing, her heart pounding and her mind racing. And wishing he could be there, and that they would be on their way to America. Wishing that he could just be with her.
She was terrified and aching and yearning all at once.
Finnick had helped them to travel to Liverpool two days prior to the departure of The Capitol, where they had stayed in a small hotel at Finnick's expense. It had not been a palace, nor was it a boarding house, but it suited their needs for the short time they would be there. She wondered how they would ever repay him for his kindness and hospitality, and when asked, he had simply smiled and said "look after my business".
So that is what she intended for Peeta and herself to do.
Now, she waited patiently in her lodgings on the steamship, while her mother and Primrose milled about on deck to wave one last goodbye to their homeland. Waited, because Peeta was due to arrive any moment.
The knock on the door was so quiet she almost missed it, but she leapt from her seat on her bed, flinging the door open. There he stood, his blue eyes bright and his blond hair curling slightly over his forehead and ears from the sea breeze.
"Hello Katniss," he said simply, and dropped his two bags by his feet, taking the two steps over the threshold to wind his arms around her and bring his mouth to hers. She could not help the moan that echoed against his lips, the way her arms clung to him tightly. Then she remembered where they were, and that it was not exactly private.
She quickly pulled away, stepping back into the room and allowing him the space to move inside. Peeta reached for his bags, dumping them on the ground again the moment she closed and locked the door behind him.
He did not waste a second, his hands gripping her hips tightly and pressing her to the wall. Her breath escaped in a gasp, and they simply stared at each other, their bodies close, line to line, curve to curve, and she could feel the hitch in his chest as his heart pounded against hers.
"I have missed you so much," he whispered, his fingers digging into her hips, even through the layers of fabric.
"So have I," Katniss replied, then shook her head. "I have missed you, I mean." He smiled, a quirk that had haunted her every day she had not seen him, then dipped his head to her neck.
"I thought of you every day," he mumbled against her ear, his voice warm and soft and low enough to send a shiver down her spine.
"So did I," she echoed.
"I dreamt of you every night," he murmured, and nipped lightly at the skin below her ear. She started - it was the only place on her body she was ticklish, and Peeta knew it - and her body rocked against his, bringing to mind every dream she had had of him.
"Peeta," she managed to gasp.
"M-mother and Primrose could come back at any moment. I...I do not wish for them to interrupt us."
She felt him sigh, and he raised his head, resting his forehead against hers. "Of course, you are right," he sighed. "I should not be found alone in here with you, for your reputations sake. I just...I just do not know if I can last much longer without you. I have loved you for so long."
The surge of feelings she sometimes still had a difficult time trying to explain flowed through her, almost threatened to take back her words. "Do not worry, Peeta. We will be together soon enough. After all, we have waited this long, have we not?"
"We have," he agreed, and stepped back, adjusting his jacket, not taking his eyes off Katniss for a moment. "I suppose I shall retire my room. Will I see you again today?"
"You will see me again today," Katniss confirmed.
It took two hours, a conversation with Mother and Primrose, and a search for the cabin number that Finnick had told her would be Peeta's before she boarded, but she was finally knocking on his door frantically, her hair loose, and her heart running wild.
His door opened, and he looked at her with a combination of confusion and surprise on his face.
"Katniss, what are you-"
"Peeta, my reputation is the last thing I care for," she interrupted him. "May I come in?"
She did not have to ask him twice.
He dreamt of undressing her, of slowly undoing her blouse button by button until it fell to the floor, her skirt and her petticoats following. He dreamt of her bare skin brushing against his, of her moving over him in the shadowed cabin, of her fingers digging into his shoulders. Of her nervous and inexperienced hands drifting over him, of the feel of her breast in his palm, how she would fall apart from the ministrations of his hand. He dreamt of her breath catching close to his ear, of the gentle thrust of his hips against hers, of her sliding her tongue along her lower lip, her silver eyes flashing, as he shattered.
And then he opened his eyes, looked at her sleeping form beside him, and remembered it was not a dream. Katniss was here, and she was his.
Peeta traced a finger down her arm and watched as the skin pebbled under his touch. He had not, in a million years, expected her to come to him, not until they were in America, and they were wed. But she had told him as she had stood in his room, her fingers twisting together nervously, that today was the first day of their lives together and as far as she was concerned, they were as good as man and wife. He had been surprised, but he supposed the biggest cloud that had been hanging over their heads was gone. His family, his duty, his responsibility.
"Peeta?" Her voice was quiet, throaty from sleep.
"Are you alright?"
He smiled down at her, and nodded. "I have never been better in my life."
"Neither have I," Katniss replied softly. She drew the sheet up to her chin, settling under its cover. "Thank you."
"For giving everything up for me."
He cupped her cheek in his hand, his other arm tightening around her shoulders and drawing her closer. "I have not given anything up, Katniss. I have done nothing but gain." He bent his head, pressing a kiss to her lips. "Everything." He kissed her again, teasing her lips with his, feeling his heart beat that little bit quicker, as it had for every moment he had been with her.
He drew her under him again, wishing he could freeze this moment and live in it forever. Only he knew there were many more moments like this to come, and he would never wish to miss those.
The faint orange glow of sunset came drifting in the tiny window. Katniss knew she needed to rise, and dress, retire back to the small cabin she had been allocated with her mother and Prim. But she had been without Peeta for so long already, she did not care; so she stayed. After everything else they had done, and were planning to do, a little lack of decorum right now was nothing.
"I have something to ask you," he said quietly, trailing a hand through the long strands of hair.
"Hmm?" she replied drowsily. She wondered if she would ever be used to the feeling of his skin on hers, the sound of his heart thudding steadily under her ear.
"You are not attached to the Cavendish name, are you?"
Katniss raised her head and glanced at him through heavy eyes. "It is not something I have ever given much consideration to, Peeta. You rarely use your family name."
He smiled. "That is good. I had….another name in mind for when we arrive in America, and when we are wed. Something we can truly start over with."
"How do you feel about being Mrs Katniss Mellark?"
Her lips pursed thoughtfully. "It is….it is a lovely family name, Peeta. But where does it come from? It is not your mothers' name before she became Duchess is it?"
"No, far from it." He slid down, so that they were face to face. "I spoke to Haymitch before we left, to gain his permission. Mellark...Mellark is his mother's family name. She had no brothers, and their direct line was all but gone. I thought it would be a nice way to pay homage to him."
"Because he is more like your father than anyone else," Katniss replied softly, beginning to understand.
"Yes," Peeta admitted. They were quiet as Katniss considered his proposal.
"Of course, yes. I will happily be Mrs Katniss Mellark once we are in America," she finally told him with a smile. Peeta breathed a sigh of relief.
"Then I am more than glad you said yes, for I am not sure what I would have done had you disagreed." He took a deep breath. "You must know I am travelling by that name on this ship. It is less conspicuous, and Finnick did want to book the steerage under the name of his newest employee. I hope you do not mind." He sighed. "I wish you had allowed for us to pay for second class passage for you, Katniss."
She shook her head. "We did not need second class passage, Peeta. Third class is just fine, possibly more than we should have. It was best for us to save our funds for when we arrive."
"I just do not like the thought of you so far away from me."
"I am right here," she countered.
"You understand my meaning."
Katniss reached up, tugging on an errant lock of hair that curled over his ear. "Peeta, it is only for little more than a week. Mother and Primrose and I are fine. Now stop fretting, for we three have been looking after ourselves for quite some time now."
He nodded reluctantly. "I suppose you are right."
"I am right, Mr Mellark."
He chuckled. "That has a nice ring to it."
"It does," Katniss agreed. "Like a fairytale prince."
"I did not take you for one to believe in fairy tales," Peeta said, closing his eyes, and drawing her hand to rest on his bare chest. She yawned, before laying her head on his shoulder.
"I never used to be," she replied quietly. She waited until she heard his breathing even out, as his body relaxed into sleep, before whispering the rest of her words. "But some things change."
Six Months Later
"Peeta!" Katniss ran down the stairs at the sound of the front door opening, and threw herself into her husbands' arms. She planted a happy kiss firmly on his lips, then pulled back, waving a letter in his face. "It is from Madge!"
Peeta grinned at her, undoing the buttons on his jacket and draping it over his arm. "Let me put this away, and we can read it."
Katniss rolled her eyes, and plucked it off his arm, dropping it to the floor in the small hallway, and dragging him into their still sparsely furnished parlour. She pushed him onto the small armchair that angled towards their unlit fireplace, and planted herself in his lap, curling her legs up and wrapping her arms around them. "The maid - or shall I say myself - will pick that up later. Let us read this now."
Their sea journey had been uneventful, lasting a little over a week, and only a slight onset of sea-sickness for Katniss had marred it. They had still been discreet - for they did not know for certain those who may also be making the voyage - but had taken stolen moments when they could. The Capitol had finally docked in New York, and they immediately boarded a train to Boston, where they settled into the small row house Finnick had organised for them to rent for as long as they required. Within 3 days of their arrival, they were wed in their parlour, with only a minister, Primrose and Alice in attendance. It was simple, and short, but it was what they wanted.
In the end, all they wanted was each other.
Peeta was thriving in his position within Odair Shipping, though it had taken some getting used to. Long days, combined with a level of responsibility he had never had before, took its toll, and on his days off he could barely be roused from his bed from exhaustion. But with time came a newfound understanding, and each day Peeta continued to become more used to - and enjoy - this new aspect of his life. It was going to be an ongoing learning process, but they both knew he would find his feet eventually.
After weeks of uncertainty and lack of inspiration, Katniss had managed to gain a number of days work a week as a governess for one of their neighbours. She missed the outdoors, missed the feel of grass under her feet and unending rows of trees. But it was worth it, being here with Peeta, and she simply made use of a park near their new home as often as she could, just to sit and pretend she was back in the woods beside the Everdeen cottage, beside Chatsworth. In addition, now that their social standing was no longer an issue for her and Peeta, she had found an interest in securing women's right to vote.
It seemed Katniss would never let inequality stand.
She smiled as his hand fell on her hip, as it made lazily circles against her skirts. "Very well then. Let us read," he agreed.
Dearest Peeta and Katniss,
We were so thrilled to receive your letters, though I had to be very quick to ensure I hid the letter from the both of you before Ms Trinket saw it. I read the letter aloud from just yourself, Katniss, and everyone was thrilled with the position you have been able to obtain, and that your mother and Primrose have settled well.
I shared your real letter with Johanna and Gale and even Haymitch in Gale's quarters, and we cannot express how happy we are that you are now wed and your new life together has begun. We do miss you terribly - Haymitch I know tries to hide it, though he is very unsuccessful - but that is purely our selfishness.
Things have been quite morose at Chatsworth since your departure, Peeta. Your father was quite distraught to hear of your 'disappearance' from the train station nearby Cambridge, but rallied well to name your cousin, Caesar, as his heir. The Duke is quieter, much more staid, but there is a peace about him I do not entirely understand. Perhaps, in his heart, he knows you are in a better place, no matter where he believes that place to be.
The Duchess has been a nightmare, but not out of grief. I shall say little of the woman, as she boils my blood, only that you are lucky to be rid of her. It would not surprise me if some staff elect to move on shortly, her behaviour is that unpleasant.
Haymitch and Ms Trinket continue to bicker, but it is muted now. Ms Trinket felt your loss deeply, Peeta, and I think Haymitch recognises that. They are a united pair now, though how long that truce may last is anyone's guess.
Gale and Johanna continue to carry on their liaison, and if I may be honest, I have a distinct feeling that one day they will throw caution into the wind and run off and wed. Stranger things have happened in life.
As for myself...I am pleased to tell you I have met a young man in the local village. Since your departure, Katniss, Ms Trinket has asked me to accompany her on trips into the village for supplies. He is not what I expected, this young police officer, but Darius makes me smile, and makes my heart bump just that little bit faster.
I must go, but I give you my love and best wishes. I hope to hear from you soon.
Peeta rested the letter on the arm of the seat, and Katniss sighed. "I do miss them," she said quietly.
"So do I," Peeta agreed. "Much more than I ever expected."
"But I am glad they are finding happiness. Even your father, to some degree."
Peeta murmured his agreeance, wrapping his arms tightly around Katniss' middle. She tucked her head into the space between his jaw and shoulder, and pressed a light kiss to the edge of his jaw. "But I do not regret this one bit, Mr Mellark," she told him.
"Nor do I, Mrs Mellark," He replied with a smile. She nudged his jaw with the top of her head, encouraging him to tip it back, allowing her access to his neck. She nibbled along the soft skin, still amazed that she got to be with Peeta every day. Because she wanted to. Because he wanted to. Because they refused to let society win.
She felt him shudder under her, felt his arms tighten just that little bit more, felt his hand splay against the curve of her back. "Is anyone else home?" he whispered.
"Just you and I," Katniss replied with a grin, and did not stop him as his hand trailed down, and under her skirts.
"Just you and I," Peeta echoed, and pressed his mouth to hers.
One day in the future...
Peeta Mellark stood at the top of the rise, leaning against the corner of the Cascade House. It looked exactly like he remembered; looked exactly like he thought it would. In the time that had passed since, it had not really changed. Some things did, he mused. Others stayed, stood firm against time, against change, against society.
Chatsworth House, in all its grandeur, remained strong, steadfast and glorious.
"So this could have been ours," the voice spoke up behind him. Peeta turned, and grinned.
"It could have," he replied. "But all things considered, if things had gone a different way, we wouldn't be here right now. At all."
His brother nudged him in the shoulder, gazing down at the main house, at the people spilling across the lawn, slowly walking their way up the gradual slope. At the kids running up and down the cascading steps barefoot, squealing as the cold water washed over their skin. "Seriously, dude, imagine all the tail we'd get as Dukes or whatever."
"Only one of us would be Duke, Aaran," Peeta laughed. "And that honour would go to shithead over there." He tipped his head in the direction of their oldest brother, who was struggling with the camera strap that was tangled around his neck, while their dad looked on in amusement.
"Well, then, at least we wouldn't have to worry about repercussions if we got it on with a maid, would we?" His brother winked, and went and joined their dad in his mocking of the oldest Mellark boy.
Peeta smiled to himself and slowly began to make his way back to the main house. He'd been fascinated by the stories of his great, great grandparents for as long as he could remember, had scoured books and family journals and the internet for any piece of information he could gather. He'd watched in fascination as the home of his forefathers had been highlighted on television shows, appeared in movies. Some days he thought he'd be able to draw the estate in his sleep; he'd studied it so much. And when his parents had told Peeta and his brothers that they intended to visit, there had been no question that they would all go, to finally visit this piece of their heritage.
Information – officially at least – on his namesake was few and far between. His disappearance from the train station on his way to Cambridge was documented extensively in newspapers and social columns, and it had been widely understood that Peeta, Heir to the Duchy of Devonshire, had met an untimely and unexpected death. As a result, his cousin had inherited the estate, and the roles and responsibilities that had come with it. Theories and rumours abounded of what had happened to the young heir, but none were ever proven. There was never a mention that he'd sailed to America with his soon to be wife and her family, nor of the friends who had followed them a year later, making new lives for themselves in Boston. And as a rule, their heritage was a closely guarded family secret.
He'd always felt an affinity with his namesake, even from a young age, before he understood the importance of what the man had done. The man who had given up all of this – wealth, a title, a life of absolute luxury - for the woman he loved. And had loved, for the rest of his life, through children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren.
Peeta could only hope he was that lucky. At 24, he'd begun to yearn for something more. He was just waiting for it to find him.
He followed the path to the side entrance of the gardens, smiled at the attendant and allowed her to stamp his hand for re-entry with the symbol of the Cavendish family, the twisted snake that looked like an infinity symbol.
Peeta headed towards the stables, which he knew no longer housed horses, but instead, a group of restaurants and cafes and shops, where their mother was waiting for them. Stopping in front of the stone structure, with its imposing façade and clock tower, he closed his eyes, imagining the smell of horses, of freshly cut grass, of hay. He imagined the people he had been told stories of, of his great-great grandparents' friends, of the butler who had helped them to leave, to run away. Of the carriage driver and his wife who gave up their jobs to join them, to take a chance at a new life in America. Of the great-great-great-grandmother whose temper he was certain his oldest brother had inherited.
The scent carried on the wind, sweet and fresh and lively; it invaded his senses, made his head light and his heart somersault in his chest. His eyes flew open, and he found himself studying the tour group in front of him, a group full of young people with differing levels of enthusiasm as their guide spoke to them in French. It was the long braid that caught his eye first, the dark length that brushed over her shoulder. He vaguely wondered how soft it would be between his fingertips, how it would look unbound and flowing down her back, and was startled at how vivid the image was in his mind.
Then she turned, and his blue eyes locked with her silver ones.
It was only the beginning.
A/N – Well. After just a little over a year and a visit to the real Chatsworth Social Standing has come to an end. I'm a little sad right now, as these incarnations of Peeta and Katniss have been with me for so long, and I'll miss them. But I hope you've enjoyed the ride as much as I have.
I have to thank all of you who have read, reviewed, followed, favourited and showed me so much enthusiasm for the story. I have appreciated it more than you know!
A special thanks to jeeno2, MalTease and salanderjade who have encouraged me, poked and prodded at me, and without whom I'm certain I wouldn't have completed this. Happy birthday Jeeno! *Present*
I'm on tumblr at sponsormusings if you're ever interested in hearing about my other current wips….and the possibility of me revisiting Cambridge!Peeta and Maid!Katniss again in the future.
Now….I'm just gonna go cry a little. ;)
20/12/2013 - In the spirit of the holiday season, I've written a one-shot called Holly, where Social Standing Peeta and Katniss celebrate the dawn of a new year in their new homeland.