July 22, 1865
Gale Hawthorne walked through the streets of Panem, Pennsylvania for the first time in three years. It was amazing to him how little had changed in that time. Some of the shops were a little more run down, and the streets were emptier than he remembered, with so many still away in the army. But for the most part very little had changed in the last three years. Gale, on the other hand, felt like an entirely different person.
His visit to Panem only reinforced that fact. His six-year-old baby sister was suddenly a nine-year-old young woman who only vaguely remembered him. His twelve-year-old kid brother was now old enough to work at the mine, though thankfully still not old enough to be sent underground. And his fourteen-year-old brother was gone, now a seventeen-year-old army private not due for discharge until the fall. Gale had needed to spend some time out in the woods taking his anger out on the trees before he felt calm enough to return home and discuss that. After everything Gale had done for his family, everything he'd done to preserve their lives in the wake of his father's death, Rory seemed determined to throw his away with both hands. Rory enlisting was almost more of a betrayal than Katniss. But then Katniss had deeper betrayals yet to be revealed.
When she hadn't been at her mother's house, and Prim had told him that he'd find her at the bakery, he thought that maybe he should just leave. Pack up his family and go back to his new life in the nation's capitol, and just write Katniss a letter. Deep down, he knew what it meant if she was spending her days with the baker's son. But some part of him had to see for himself. Some part of him just couldn't believe it until he saw it. Some part of him still thought that in the end it would be him and his Catnip, just like it was always supposed to be.
As he entered the bakery, he was struck again by how little had changed. The same bell over the door announced his presence. The same cookies and cakes sat in the display windows. The same loaves sat in the racks. Everything was the same.
Except the proprietor. "Just one moment!" called a voice from the kitchen that was not the baker Gale had grown up with.
It was about a half a minute before he came hobbling out. He was using a cane, and he clearly favored one leg. His eyebrows shot up in surprise when he saw who was waiting at the counter. "Hey, man," Peeta said as he extended his hand to shake. Gale hesitated for just a moment before taking it. "Welcome home."
Gale grimaced at the greeting, but he didn't want to get into all of that with Peeta. Instead he just said, "Thanks," and moved on to his reason for being there. "Prim said Katniss would be here."
If Peeta took any offense at Gale's brusque manner, he gave no sign of it. "She's out hunting. She's usually back by lunch."
Gale tried to be casual as he asked, "Does she have lunch here often?"
Peeta's brows knit together as he answered. "Um, yeah. Most days. How much did Prim tell you about Katniss?"
"Not much," Gale admitted. Prim had been frustratingly tight-lipped, in fact, only telling him where he could find Katniss and stating that anything more than that he would have to find out from Katniss directly. But he didn't want to talk about any of that with Peeta, either. "Look man…" Gale began, but then trailed off. He didn't have anything to say to Peeta, and he wasn't really interested in anything Peeta might have to say to him. "I just need to talk to Katniss."
Peeta's face was neutral as he replied. "Well, like I said-"
He was cut off by the sound of the back door slamming open. Peeta whipped his head around towards the source of the noise. "Sounds like that's her," he said as he began making his way back. He didn't even turn around as he spoke. "I'll let her know you're here," he got out before disappearing into the back room.
Gale couldn't help but feel insulted by Peeta's abrupt brush-off, but in the end it didn't matter. He was finally going to talk to Katniss; that's all that mattered.
Peeta was taking a tray of cheese buns out of the oven when he heard the bell announce a customer.
Katniss's arm may have finally healed enough that Prim gave the okay for her to hunt again, but it still ached when she overextended herself. Which she did every time she went out hunting, of course. He liked to have something special waiting for her when she came home, if for no other reason then because it would at least get her to sit down and rest for a minute while she ate. After experimenting with different pastries over the last couple of months, he had learned that the cheese buns were her favorite.
Starting the bakery up again had been a lot of hard work, but overall the process had gone smoothly. During the war Peeta had saved a large portion of his pay, since he wasn't supporting a family back home like Katniss was. He had more than enough saved to pay their startup costs. Reconnecting with his father's old suppliers went well; some were nervous about making deals with someone so young operating without the guidance and supervision of his father, while others were quite pleased not to have to deal with his mother anymore. In the end it was a wash.
"Just one moment!" he called over his shoulder as he placed the tray down on the counter directly next to the oven. While he was steadier on his feet after months of practice, he still didn't quite trust himself walking without his cane, which necessarily meant he couldn't carry trays anywhere. It was a bit of a hassle trying to bake and cover the front counter on his own when he needed his cane to walk and he couldn't carry anything too large for one hand, but he'd sooner cut off his other leg than ask Katniss to give up hunting to stay home and take care of him. He could manage well enough. Once more soldiers returned home and business picked up, he'd hire an assistant, and until then he could manage well enough.
He retrieved his cane from where he had leaned it against the counter and made his way to the front of the shop. The morning rush had been busy that day, and he was limping a bit more than normal. But he stopped altogether when he was who his customer was, before slowly continuing to the counter.
Gale Hawthorne looked good, better than he had when they had last met the previous January. Too good, really, for someone sleeping in the mud and living off of army rations. His fine suit looked out of place as well, especially on a soldier, especially on a coal miner from Panem. He was dressed like he was trying to impress some big-city elitist.
Peeta had a million questions, but he swallowed them all for the time being. "Hey man," he said as he extended his hand across the counter. Gale took his hand and shook. "Welcome home."
Gale spoke curtly, sparing no time for pleasantries. "Thanks. Prim said Katniss would be here."
Peeta tried not to take offense at Gale's tone. He's just impatient to see Katniss, he told himself. Wouldn't you be? "She's out hunting," he explained. "She's usually back by lunch."
Gale nodded as he took in this information, and his eyes began to scan the room. "Does she have lunch here often?"
The question took Peeta aback. "Um, yeah. Most days." He knew to come to the bakery looking for her, did he really not know she lived here now? "How much did Prim tell you about Katniss?"
"Not much." Gale returned his gaze to the man he was speaking to. "Look man…" Gale stopped, and shook his head slightly. "I just need to talk to Katniss."
It was clear to Peeta that whatever Gale wanted to talk to Katniss about, he had no interest in Peeta knowing about it. And as far as Peeta was concerned, that meant that it wasn't anything good for him. Still, he wasn't going to come between his wife and her oldest friend. He did his best to wipe his inner turmoil from his face. "Well, like I said-"
Before he could finish the sentence he heard the back door bang against the opposite wall with force. It sounded like Katniss had had a frustrating morning. Peeta left Gale behind as he told him, "Sounds like that's her. I'll let her know you're here."
He found Katniss in the back kitchen. There was an entire deer carcass just inside the door, and while she had obviously made some effort to clean her hands and face after gutting the deer, streaks and smears of blood still adorned her shirt, pants, neck, face, and hair. Her still-healing arm hung limply at her side, and her other hand clutched two cheese buns – well, one and three-quarters cheese buns.
Peeta smiled widely at her. "Hello, beautiful."
Katniss rolled her eyes as she took another bite of cheesebun. "You know I hate when you call me that."
"I know," Peeta said as he sat next to her and began gently rubbing some circulation back into her overtaxed arm. "But you kind of love it too."
Katniss couldn't help the soft smile that sprouted from Peeta's comment. It was one of Peeta's favorite smiles, the kind of open expression of happiness that she had rarely ever allowed him to see before they were married. "Yeah, I kind of do," she admitted shyly.
Peeta smiled to himself as he watched his wife settle back in her chair, relaxing into his touch and continuing to nibble away at her fistful of cheese bun, swatting at him playfully when he nipped a bit for himself. These were the moments he lived for, quiet moments when they could just relax and be happy together. It didn't hurt that Katniss clearly loved them as well. He didn't know if it was the lack of such times in their childhoods or their experience in the war, but they shared this appreciation for peace and contentment.
If the slamming door hadn't already told him what had happened that morning, the presence of an intact carcass would have confirmed it. The butcher, Mr. Rooba, had obviously refused to trade with her today. He was one of the Panem merchants who looked down their noses at mine workers and their families. Peeta had a lot of respect for Mrs. Rooba, she was tough as nails but ultimately a fair-minded woman, but her husband was an elitist snob. He had been a regular buyer of Katniss's game before the war, but now she had committed such unforgivable sins as marrying a merchant, living in town, claiming to have served in the war, and being friends with a black woman. Now Mr. Rooba would sometimes refuse to buy from her.
As with so many things, Peeta thought the situation would straighten itself out with time. Once more soldiers returned home and the demand for good meat went up, Mr. Rooba would no longer be in a position to turn away one of his best suppliers. And in the meantime, the meat would certainly not go to waste. Later this afternoon all of their friends would be receiving venison deliveries. Not just Prim and Mrs. Everdeen, but also the Hawthornes, and the Cartwrights; the Undersees if they would take any; even old Sae, the miner's widow Katniss had grown friendly with over the years. None of them would have any need to visit the butcher's for the next few days.
But all of that could wait for now. "You know I'm dying to ask you about your day," Peeta said, "but you have a friend out front looking for you. Catnip."
Katniss turned to look at him, her eyes wide. "Gale's really here?"
"Yeah," he told her. "And, I don't think he knows about… us."
"How do you mean?" Katniss asked. "He knew about us before I did."
Peeta chuckled, remembering Katniss's mortification when she had told him about that conversation with Gale. "Well, when I told him you'd be back for lunch, he asked how often you eat here. He said he talked to Prim, she told him to come here looking for you, but apparently she didn't say much more than that."
Katniss shook her head. "No, Prim wouldn't say anything. She'd leave it for me."
"Well, he's out front waiting for you," Peeta said as Katniss popped the last bite of cheese bun into her mouth.
She thought for just a moment. "I should probably get some of this blood off of me first."
"There's a bucket of water heating by the ovens for you," Peeta said.
Katniss's lips curled into a scowl, but she bit off her initial reaction before she gave it voice. She was trying to get better at letting Peeta do things for her. "Thank you," she said simply. She pressed a kiss against his lips before grabbing the bucket and heading upstairs.
It had easily been ten minutes since Peeta had hobbled out of the storefront, and Gale was starting to get angry. What was taking so long? Had he even told Katniss that he was here yet? Was he going to tell her at all? Was he trying to keep her away from him?
When he couldn't just stand there staring at the door behind the counter anymore, he took to pacing, angrily striding back and forth across the shopfront. When he felt silly pacing, he stared out the front window at the shops across the street, fighting the urge to barge through that back door and demand-
He spun to find Katniss standing by the door to the back room; as usual, he hadn't heard her silent approach. She looked well, her skin was flushed and her hair shined. There were a million things he wanted to say to her, but only one of them managed to escape his throat. "You're here."
Katniss took a moment to process his statement, everything it said and everything it meant. "You were right," she said.
Gale let his shoulders sag. "I was hoping I wasn't," he replied.
They stared at each other for a long, uncomfortable moment. Katniss didn't know what to say. Gale knew nothing he said would do any good.
Finally, Katniss resorted to her usual tactics: She changed the subject. "I'm surprised to see you so soon. Mrs. March got a letter from Thom saying the 47th wouldn't be discharged till the winter."
Gale let out a deep breath. This wasn't how he imagined explaining this. "I'm not in the 47th anymore," Gale said.
"They put you in a new regiment six months before your discharge?" Katniss asked.
"I'm not being discharged."
The sentence detonated between them like a bomb. Katniss opened and closed her mouth several times before forming a sentence. "What do you mean?"
"I got this offer, a couple of months ago," Gale explained. "A colonel from the War Department named Beetee Hughes, he wants me to work with him in Washington." He began to grow more excited as he described his opportunity. He rounded the counter so he could stand face-to-face with her. "It's a way out, Catnip. A way out of the mines, a way out of Panem. A real chance to make something of myself."
"Leave Panem?" Katniss asked in surprise. She had just gotten her friend back, and he was leaving again? "But you just got back!"
"I'm only here to start making arrangements," Gale said. "I'm moving my whole family to the capitol with me."
Katniss shook her head, trying to deal with too many revelations at once. "Why does this guy want you in the War Department?"
"I guess he heard about some of the stuff we were doing in Petersburg," Gale said. "Me and some of the guys set up these traps to flush out Confederate patrols. Tripwires and wolfpits, that sort of thing. One of the things we did was we took artillery shells and rigged them with pressure caps, then we buried them so they'd explode when the Rebs walked over them. Colonel Boggs loved them. I guess he mentioned them in a report, it got passed to one of the guys in Weapons Development, and Beetee saw it and offered me a job."
It was several seconds before Katniss could form a response. "Weapons development? You're designing weapons? Snares and traps for human beings?"
"Yeah," Gale said, not noticing Katniss's sudden uneasiness. "I'm not doing the engineering part, obviously, though Beetee says he'll teach me that as we go. What I'll be doing is less about the mechanics of the traps than the psychology behind them. Putting myself in the mind of an enemy. Using people's natural impulses against them."
The idea revolted Katniss. "How could you do that?"
"Catnip?" Gale asked, confused by her reaction.
"You were in the war too!" she said, her voice rising. She took a step forward, anger and betrayal flashing in her steel-gray eyes. "After everything we saw, after all the people we watched die, how could you design weapons? How could you possibly let yourself play a role in even more death?"
"You think this'll be the last war we get into?" Gale asked. He couldn't help but take offence at the accusation in her tone. "Don't act like you're above killing people, not after you bragged about all the bloody battles you'd been in." He took his own step forward, leaving them glaring at each other from inches away.
"That was battle. That was in a fight," Katniss said. "But what you're describing, it seems to be crossing some kind of line."
"What line is that?" Gale demanded. "Dead is dead. The point is to make lots of the enemy that way while risking as few of ours as possible. The faster we do it, the faster the war ends and everyone goes home."
"The survivors get to go home, you mean." Katniss felt very cold, all of a sudden, seeing what the war had done to her friend. "So anything goes? I guess there isn't a rule book for what might be unacceptable to do to another human being."
"Sure there is. Beetee and I will be following the same rule book the rebels used when they ran the Andersonville prison."
Katniss and Gale just stared at each other. Each had made what they thought were irrefutable points; neither had swayed the other one bit.
"So that's it, then?" Katniss said. "Is that why you're here? To say good bye?"
"I was hoping not to," Gale said. His shoulders sagged as he looked away, unable to face his old friend. "When I came here, I was hoping you would come with me."
Katniss knew what he was implying. "Gale, don't do this..."
"Just think about it," Gale pleaded. "I don't know where things stand between you and the baker right now, but please think about it. Think about what this could mean for you, for your family. No more struggling. No more hunger. No more coal dust choking the life out of everything in sight."
Katniss gnawed on her bottom lip as she tried to sort through her thoughts. She could hear the passion in Gale's voice. He was acting like he had been given a second chance at life, and when she considered a lifetime spent in the same underground death trap that had claimed both their fathers she had to admit that maybe he had been. But she knew that she wouldn't play a role in his new life. At least, not the role he wanted her to play.
"You want me to marry you," she said bluntly. Sometimes the best strategy was a full-on frontal assault.
Gale blinked once before answering. "Yes."
"I told you before I don't feel that way about you," she said.
"You said you didn't feel that way about him, either, yet here you are."
"You knew I was wrong when I said that," Katniss said.
"And yet you said it anyway," Gale countered. "So how do you know you're not wrong about how you feel about me as well? How do you know you couldn't love me if you'd just give me a chance?"
Katniss sighed. Gale always had been too stubborn for his own good. It was one of the many ways they were alike. There was only one way she was going to dissuade him. "Gale, I'm married."
Gale struggled to form words. "What?" he finally choked out.
"Peeta and I married when we were discharged," she explained.
"That's ridiculous," he said, shaking his head. "If you're married, then where's your ri…" Gale's voice trailed off as he looked to Katniss's hand, and caught a glimpse of silver there.
Katniss fidgeted under his scrutiny. She had to fight the urge to tuck her hand behind her; the whole point was for him to see, after all. Instead she clasped her hands in front of her. Without realizing she was doing it, she began nervously fiddling with her ring.
Gale was surprised at how much the sight of Katniss wearing another man's ring affected him; he felt like he'd been gut-shot. He thought he'd made his peace with this possibility six months earlier at Petersburg. He thought he'd known what he was probably walking into when he'd had to come looking for Katniss at the Mellark bakery. But nothing had prepared him for the sight of Katniss, his Catnip, wearing a wedding ring that he hadn't put on her finger.
Time seemed to stall. He stared. She fidgeted. Neither realized how long the silence had dragged on until Gale broke it. "You haven't ever thought of living anywhere but Panem, have you?"
"This is my home," Katniss said simply. "My mother and my sister are here. Whatever's left of my father is here. Peeta's family's legacy is right here. We want to raise our family here."
"Family?" Gale had to take a moment to let the idea sink in. "You're having a family?"
"Well maybe not right now, but it's only a matter of time at this rate," she said, then clamped her mouth shut when she realized what she was implying. After an awkward moment she added, "Peeta and I talked about it before... um, well, we talked about it and we decided we'd just… let it happen."
"And you're okay with that?" Gale asked.
"To tell you the truth it scares the hell out of me," she said. "But you should see Peeta with kids, he's amazing. It's like he was made to be a father. I want my children to have a father like that. He makes me want it."
Gale was silent for a moment. "You always said you didn't want a family. No husband and no children." He huffed out a humorless laugh. "I used to wonder what it would take to change your mind."
He already knew the answer, but it still hurt when she said it. "The right person."
They stared at each other for a long moment. Gale thought of the girl he'd met in the woods almost a decade earlier. The girl who kept everyone at arm's length. The girl who cared for no one and nothing but her sister. The girl who wanted nothing to do with marriage or children. The girl who would never have chosen to become something as pedestrian as the baker's wife. "You've changed, Catnip."
Katniss considered the man before her. A man dressed in a suit that wouldn't last ten minutes on a hunting trip. A man who was on his way out of town and out of her life. A man who had chosen to dedicate his knowledge and skills to the task of devising new and more efficient ways of killing large numbers of people, and was eager for the opportunity. "We both have."
Gale nodded in acknowledgement. Deep down they both knew what was coming next, but Gale was the one to voice it. "So, I guess this is goodbye, then."
Katniss tried to deny it. "Why does it have to be goodbye? You just got here. I took down a deer today, you should bring your family over and we can all have dinner together."
Gale just shook his head. "My train leaves this afternoon." It was a lie, he hadn't booked his return trip yet, but he wanted to get out of Panem as quickly as possible. As long as he was there the wound on his heart would still be fresh. He could make the rest of the arrangements for his family's move by mail. There had to be a train going somewhere leaving the Panem depot that afternoon, and wherever it was going, he planned to be on it.
Katniss knew that Gale was lying, she could read him pretty well after so many years of communicating silently to avoid spooking their prey. But she let him do it. She knew he was hurting and she didn't want to make it worse for him than she already had, even if she herself was aching from the thought of losing her closest friend. "You'll write?" she asked, her voice small and weak.
"Yeah," he said, not knowing if he was being truthful or not. Katniss just nodded in reply, not trusting her voice anymore.
After another moment Gale gathered himself, straightening his shoulders and pulling himself up to his full height. But when he spoke his voice was surprisingly soft. "Goodbye, Catnip," he said, then paused just a moment before he turned and left the shop.
Katniss stood rooted in her spot. "Goodbye, Gale," she whispered at the closed door.
With her stare locked straight ahead, she didn't see when Gale paused at the end of the building and looked back, stealing one more look through the window at his one-time friend and would-be love, before resuming his walk away.
Her mind seemed to be unable to process what had just happened. Her friend Gale was gone, gone from Panem and gone from her life. And perhaps gone in other, more important ways as well. He was working for the army, building bombs. Instead of working long days in the coal mine where men were often killed in horrible accidents, he would be working for the army devising ways to kill men on purpose. The boy she had once met in the woods was well and truly gone, and even the man he had grown into had left her behind.
Katniss didn't quite understand what she was feeling. She would never have chosen differently, she could never have given Gale what he truly wanted. But she still somehow regretted it. She knew that this would have happened anyway, that even without the war she and Peeta would have found their way together, that even without Peeta she would still never have married Gale. But knowing that didn't decrease the loss she felt when she thought of her friend, or the regret that she didn't somehow fix their relationship before this break.
"Hey." Peeta's voice startled her back to reality. She could clearly see the concern on his face when she turned to look at him; she tried to offer him a smile to reassure him, but her face wouldn't cooperate. She didn't realize she was crying until he began gently wiping the tears from her cheeks. "Are you okay?" he asked softly.
Instead of answering, she threw her arms around him and pulled them together so tightly that he almost lost his balance, needing to steady himself with his cane before he could wrap his arms around her in return. Katniss closed her eyes and buried her face against his chest, taking comfort in all the small details of Peeta's embrace that she was sure would sound silly if she ever tried to explain them out loud: The feeling of his strong arms holding her firmly, yet with gentle reverence. The sound of his heartbeat thrumming against her ear. The soft feeling of his breath gently blowing against her hair. And of course, his smell. She inhaled deeply against his chest and let herself drown in the scent of her husband. He smelled of flour, of course; the smell was ingrained into every fiber of every garment he owned, as she was sure the smell of the woods was in hers. He smelled of cinnamon, from the cookies they always kept a full jar of on the counter by the till; ostensibly they were for sale like everything else in the shop, but far more of them were passed freely into the small hands of smiling youngsters than were ever bought and sold. He smelled of dill, the secret ingredient of the Mellark herb bread he must have been working on a fresh batch of back in the kitchen. He smelled of sweat, residue of a morning spent working hard and passing loaves in and out of the blistering ovens. He smelled of smoke, as he always did after a day of stoking the fires.
And he smelled of something else as well, a scent that was uniquely his own, something she had never been able to put any name to but Peeta. It was the scent of human comfort offered in the midst of inhuman devastation. The scent that soothed her nightmares even before she was fully awake. The scent that calmed her to sleep each night and the scent that welcomed her to each new day.
While she would never admit it out loud, it was her favorite smell. The smell of her husband. The smell of home.
She inhaled it again. Then two more times. Then she was ready to answer Peeta's question. "Yes," she said truthfully, nodding against his chest. Or was she nuzzling herself closer to him? "I'm okay now."
August 29, 1865
They were sitting out back behind the bakery, sharing some tea and watching the sunset together, when Prim found them.
"What are you doing out so late?" Katniss asked with concern, standing to greet her. "Is everything all right?"
"Everything's fine, Katniss," Prim said. Three years away and a marriage had done nothing to diminish Katniss's overprotectiveness. "Rory came home today."
"That's good." Katniss was relieved to hear that, but she could tell that it wasn't the news Prim had come over to tell.
Katniss blinked. "Well, that's great. Congratulations, Prim," she said, and pulled Prim into a hug. In truth she had mixed feelings about the news. Of course she was happy for Prim, and she knew Rory would be a good husband to her. But she was still reluctant to let go of her little duck.
Which made Prim's next bit of news even harder to take. "He's working as an assistant to Gale in the War Department."
"But if he's-" It took Katniss a moment to catch on. When she did, she didn't want to believe it. "Y- You're going to live in the capitol? You're leaving?"
Words began pouring from Prim's mouth as her voice took on a pleading tone. "Please say you're okay with this. This is such a good opportunity for Rory. You know he couldn't do anything here except mine coal. They have schools in the capitol. I could train to be a real nurse. I'd miss you so much. Rory is so proud to be working with Gale. Please tell me you're okay with this. I couldn't bear to go if you're going to hate me for leaving. I'm really excited to see the city. Rory talked to some people-"
Katniss was torn between being happy for Prim and being despondent at the thought of losing her. She looked to Peeta standing beside her, praying that he would have an answer for her dilemma. In the look he gave her, he told her what she already knew she had to do. "Prim, of course I'll support you in whatever you want to do." Prim's face flooded with relief. "Just do me one favor?" she added.
"Anything," Prim said, already nodding her head in agreement.
"Don't go to the capitol and study to be a nurse."
As quickly as the relief had bloomed, it fell into disappointment. "B-But Katniss-"
"Study to be a doctor instead."
Prim's jaw fell open, her mind not able to keep up with the rapidly changing direction of her sister's approval. After a moment, she started laughing. By the time she pulled Katniss into another hug, she was crying as well. "I'll miss you so much. You're the best sister anyone could have asked for."
"No, you are," Katniss replied. "From the way you're talking, it sounds like you're leaving tomorrow," she said, worried that she was right.
"No, not that soon," Prim said, wiping her tears. "Maybe a month or two? Rory wants to find a house in the city first, plus we have to figure out where to have the wedding."
Katniss and Peeta exchanged a look. "If you're going to marry in the capitol, we may have a suggestion about that."
October 21, 1865
The remaining Hawthornes left Panem at the end of September. It was the second half of October by the time the Everdeens and the Mellarks took the Friday train to join them. By Sunday there was one less Everdeen making the return trip and one more Hawthorne staying behind.
"You and your bombs have taken my sister away from me," Katniss complained to Gale upon their awkward reunion. They spent most of the weekend tip-toeing around each other. Gale didn't know how to be around her husband and Katniss didn't know how to be around him without hurting him even more. So they avoided each other as much as they could as best man and maid of honor, and both focused their attention on the new couple.
The reunion between Rue and Thresh almost overshadowed the wedding itself. Rory and Gale and their new friends in the War Department had been able to pull some strings and get Thresh a weekend leave to attend the ceremony, as his unit wasn't scheduled for discharge until the new year.
Prim and Rue were thrilled to meet the man who had married Katniss and Peeta, and grilled Cinna for more details about the sparse ceremony as they prepared for Prim's. Most of the arrangements for the ceremony itself and the party afterwards had been worked out by mail beforehand, or else simply left in Cinna's capable hands. "I'm placing a lot of trust in this man you met once, Katniss," Prim had said with some trepidation as the date approached.
"Cinna won't disappoint you," Katniss had assured her. And indeed, he didn't. The ceremony wowed everyone, with the chapel decked out in colorful floral arrangements and Prim wearing a beautiful white dress Cinna and his friend Portia had sewn especially for the occasion. Katniss had never seen anyone married in a white dress before, though she had to admit that it looked exquisite when paired with the dark blue of Rory's dress uniform. Cinna explained to her that white bridal dresses were becoming very popular among the wealthy elite of the capitol city, ever since Queen Victoria of England had worn a white dress to her wedding a quarter-century earlier. I thought we fought a war to ensure that we didn't have to do whatever their queen does, Katniss mused, but she kept the thought to herself when she saw how much Prim loved the dress. "I figured your sister deserved the absolute best," Cinna said, and Katniss readily agreed with him there.
To Katniss and Peeta, who had married with only the pastor and a witness in attendance, the chapel felt crowded with two dozen people filling it. In addition to the three families and Thresh and Rue, several of Rory and Gale's colleagues from Weapons Development had come. Katniss withstood attempts at conversation by several officers' wives. Most of them ended quickly.
"What did you do during the war? I served on the Sanitary Commission."
"I served in the Army of the Potomac."
"I spent most of the war sleeping in mud, in between the days when the generals asked me to go shoot at the rebels. What was it you said you did for the war effort again?"
"My husband is a captain," one insufferably proud woman declared.
"I was a major when I was discharged," Katniss replied casually.
She was also introduced to Colonel Beetee Hughes, who seemed entirely too much like a nebbish college professor to spend his days imagining how to kill large numbers of people. She even danced with Congressman Plutarch Heavensbee, who she got the impression was invited simply as a courtesy because his committee oversaw the department's funding. The congressman had to leave early to prepare for a late-night planning meeting.
Late in the day Katniss had had enough of the party. She was sitting with Peeta and Rue when Prim came over and joined them after Posy stole her new husband for a dance. "So, are you happy with your wedding, Little Duck?" she asked.
Prim's smile could light the world. "Yes, it's beautiful. You were right, Cinna is amazing."
"See, this is what a wedding is supposed to be," Rue said, giving Peeta and Katniss a pointed look. "Flowers. Decorations. A beautiful dress. Guests."
Katniss mulled over the idea for a moment. "I don't know that there's any one right way to do a wedding. I think each person's wedding has to be right for them."
"Yeah, I agree," Peeta chimed in. "Our wedding just wouldn't have been the same without a sarcastic drunk."
Katniss and Peeta laughed. Rue just rolled her eyes. Prim decided she had indulged Posy long enough and went to reclaim her husband. After all, it wasn't Posy's wedding.
December 31, 1865
Katniss sat cross-legged on the end of the work table in the bakery kitchen, her usual position when watching Peeta cook. "Is all of this really necessary?" she asked with a laugh.
"Yes!" Peeta declared with a happy smile. He shook the dispenser of powdered sugar in his hand, sending more clouds billowing into the air around him and drawing another peal of laughter from her. Katniss had never seen the ingredient before, at least none that wasn't already on a cake, and her primary reaction was to how wasteful Peeta was being with it. So far he had managed to cover nearly everything around them in a fine dust of sweetness, including their clothes, their hair, the table, and the fried pastries that were the ostensible targets of his antics. Katniss would periodically wipe some of the white dust off her trousers or the table surface and lick the sweetness from her fingertip. Whenever she did, Peeta would pause what he was doing and watch her intently. Katniss pretended as if she had no idea the effect she was having.
Apparently satisfied with his work, Peeta plucked one of the confections off the tray and eagerly held it out to his wife, as if she hadn't already eaten most of the first batch on her own. "It's tradition! Doughnuts and beer for good luck in the new year!"
Katniss tried not to laugh again as she took the proffered pastry. "Fine! I don't really want to eat all these fried cakes, but if it's tradition..." Peeta laughed again, and snuck in a quick peck on her sugary lips before he moved to begin frying up another batch.
Peeta had introduced her to several new traditions during the seven months they'd been home. She knew it was a reaction to his family leaving; he was trying to recreate the sense of family he had lost, and in some ways to create a sense of family that his mother had never allowed. Katniss couldn't imagine the stern woman allowing the gluttonous overconsumption of alcohol and fresh pastries, for instance, not after hearing Peeta's stories of living on stale bread. Katniss indulged all of his new traditions, because they made him happy. And because so many of them involved eating, an activity which Katniss appreciated in a way that could only be understood by someone who was rarely assured of their next meal.
There was something else that would give Peeta a sense of family, she knew. Without conscious thought her hand went to her still-flat stomach. With the stresses of war fading and food reliably available to her for the first time in a decade, her monthly cycle was actually coming every month for the first time in her life. But every cycle meant another month in which she had failed to provide Peeta with the family he so obviously longed for.
"Do you think we'll have good luck in the new year?" she asked aloud.
Peeta paused in his work for just a moment as he processed her question. "I think we had pretty good luck in the old year," he said. "At least more good than bad," he added after a moment.
Katniss stopped to consider his words. Her natural inclination was to focus on the negative, and this year had had plenty. The horror of battle, great masses of people trying to annihilate each other. Their horrible wounds. Finnick's death, so close to victory and a trip home. Peeta had lost his leg, and his whole family had abandoned him. She had lost her sister, and her best friend.
But Peeta made her reconsider. He reminded her of everything they had gained, as well. They were home, and safe. They had won the war, and Gale and Rory and Thresh and so many others had all survived with them. They would always mourn the loss of Finnick Odair, but they had gained a growing friendship with Annie; she and the boys were planning a visit to Panem sometime after the spring thaw. Prim wasn't gone, merely elsewhere. She was happy with her new husband, and ultimately she was just a train ride away. She was even reconnecting with her mother; without Prim to act as a buffer between them, they were forced to deal with each other, and their relationship had been steadily improving as a result. And she still thought getting Peeta's mother out of his life was a net improvement.
Most importantly, they had gained each other. She had never imagined her life going the way it had, had never wanted love or marriage. But now she couldn't imagine things happening any differently. A life without Peeta had become unthinkable to her. He was more than just her husband, he was her source of hope. He was her dandelion in the spring, the physical embodiment of the promise that life could go on, no matter how bad their losses. That it could be good again.
Katniss shook her head at herself. The idea was so alien to how she normally thought that it felt foreign in her head. It was sappy and clichéd and trite. Only Peeta could make her truly believe something like that. And he had.
She had to agree with Peeta; despite all the hardships and tragedy they had experienced, 1865 had been good to them overall. And she really thought that 1866 would be even better. In fact, she had one particular idea on how to begin the year right.
"Wasn't there another New Year's tradition?" she asked as Peeta pulled the final batch of doughnuts from the oil and took the pan off the fire. "Something about making as much noise as possible to ward off evil spirits or something?"
"Yeah, I've heard of that one before," Peeta said as he scattered the coals and tamped down the fire. Satisfied that the remaining flame would burn itself out without burning down the bakery, he turned to his wife and cocked an eyebrow in question. "Did you want to bang some pots and pans together or something?" he asked.
"No, that's not what I had in mind." Katniss spun herself around and hopped off the table, and slowly made her way to stand in front of her husband. Without really thinking about it she wrapped her arms around his neck to pull his face down to her level, and his arms naturally found their way around her waist in return. "I want you to make me scream," she told him, then she sealed their lips together.
Quick historical note: While I haven't been 100% historically accurate in this story (pretty sure any military historian reading this would shoot me), it is actually true that the first modern-style landmines were used during the American Civil War. There had been buried explosives for as long as there had been black powder to explode, but they generally had to be set off by lighting a fuse or pulling a tripwire of some kind. The Civil War saw the first use of mines, called "land torpedoes" at the time, that were triggered by the pressure of an enemy stepping on them, and early models were indeed modified artillery shells.
With the war over and Everlark firmly in the HEA phase, this story is winding down. There's one more full chapter left, then a short epilogue. And the chapter is really kind if an epilogue itself, so really there's a long epilogue and then a short one.