The months that followed our wedding were tougher than we would have liked. We started the sharecropping a month into our marriage. Peeta, still unable to attend his duties because of his leg, was offered a position working in the new Freedman's Bureau, an agency instituted by the federal government to ensure the newly freed slaves were able to find employment and education. If folks around here were already suspicious of him, taking that job did nothing to help matters. But after several heated confrontations, it became clear that neither Peeta nor the Freedman's Bureau were going anywhere.
This sparked a change in the community. Some merely accepted that this was simply the way things were going to be now. Others made it clear they wouldn't allow such a thing to happen without a challenge. Some, like Snow, actually up and moved to Atlanta, vowing to become involved with politics. Rumor was that he swore he would drink poison himself if it would get him a position where he had power to change things as he saw fit. Plutarch Heavensbee immediately moved in on his mansion, snapping the place up, rose gardens and all. It made him stop sniffing around our place, at least for a while, which was one burden off my back. Though it didn't help our financial struggles any.
Peeta's family stayed another month after we were wed. Maybe it was the way she saw me take care of Peeta, but Delly opened up more and more as the days went by. I soon learned she had been suspicious of my intentions when Peeta first told her of our love affair. Evidently, she's now convinced that my feelings for him are real. At least she came around.
The troop Peeta was assigned to disbanded not long after he was assigned to the Freedman's Bureau. We have officially entered in a time of peace, and the soldiers are no longer needed. The other soldiers who were stationed around took off immediately. At the news, I finally confessed, telling Thresh everything I knew about his sister. How she had been a house servant assigned to Prim before the war. How the two became so close, it was hard not to consider her as another sister, especially when the blood I carry is partially from the Indians that came from this land. I felt awful for not telling him before, but it was too hard for me to talk about. Though that pain can be nothing compared to what he must be feeling. Thresh accepted my information graciously, and set off early the next morning to search for her. He promised to write Peeta regularly, but so far nothing has arrived.
After a few months, the stump of Peeta's leg has hardened enough that he can now be fitted for a prosthetic. Peeta is ecstatic to finally be able to move around on his own again. I have to admit, it's a relief for me as well. In my condition, it would be nearly impossible to help him up if he fell with the crutches. Besides, something tells me Peeta will want to be able to carry around our newly arrived bundle when the time comes.
Entering society as a proper wife was not a comfortable task for me. As an unmarried girl, it was easy for me to do what I had to do in order to keep my family alive. No one blinked an eye when I slipped off to the woods, dressed up like a man to do a man's work in hunting. No one was paying attention, not with their own troubles to keep them distracted. But once I became a wife, things changed. All eyes were on me now, especially with my choice of a husband being so unsuited to their tastes. The ironic part is that I no longer have the authority I once did, even if it was only because there was no one around at the time to take it. Now I'm supposed to stand quietly behind my husband, supporting him as he makes the decisions which were once mine to make.
My stomach swells, and I become more and more uncomfortable. After a certain point, I'm no longer even allowed outside. My condition is considered too inappropriate for modern sensibilities. So I stay confined inside while Peeta works long hours, desperate to feel the fresh air of the forest on my cheek. I'm terrified the first time I feel the baby stir inside me.
One day, I've taken more than I can bear. When I'm alone in the house, I slip out and make a dash for the trees. I can't move very fast, but I still manage to reach them undetected. I only wander a short distance away until I reach a small meadow in a clearing in the woods. It's remote enough that I should be undisturbed for quite a while. But Peeta should be able to find me if he comes looking.
And find me he does. I don't even look up as I hear his footsteps approaching. "I'm not in the mood for a lecture," I warn.
"I'll try to keep it brief," he says as he sits down next to me. "Bad day, huh?"
I stare off into the space in front of me before I answer. "I couldn't take being cooped up any more," I say.
"I don't blame you," he says.
I study him for a moment. "You know I'm not supposed to go out in my condition…"
"I do." He smiles. "But I also know that keeping you confined inside is about as useless as trying to keep the mockingbirds from singing. I'm surprised you lasted this long. Or have you been sneaking off all this time and I only just now found out about it?"
"No," I admit. "This is the first time."
He takes my hand in his, and I stare down at our entwined fingers as he speaks. "Then I'm flattered you're trying so hard. But you don't need to."
I tear my eyes away from our hands and look up into his gentle blue eyes peering back at me. "I don't?"
He shakes his head. "I never expected you to, Katniss. I don't care if you want to go outside. Just tell me where you're going so I don't panic and think something horrible has happened to you."
I nod. "All right," I murmur. Peeta frowns.
"But there's something else bothering you, isn't there," he says plainly. It's an observation, not a question. I'm reluctant to answer, but with a sigh, and his patience encouraging me, I begin to open up. About how much I dislike the dynamic of being a wife, about how much I miss him when he's gone. And how afraid I am of being a mother.
"I'm scared, too, Katniss," he admits quietly when I'm done.
"But you're so excited," I counter. "I wish I could be as excited as you."
"I am excited," he agrees. "But I'm terrified at the same time. After all I've been through with the war, how could I not be?"
There's no good answer to that, and because of it, I say nothing. Peeta wraps an arm around my shoulder and pulls me close. "But I don't want to let that fear control me for the rest of my life, Katniss," he says. "And between the two of us, we should be able to protect our child."
I nod, and, to my surprise, feel my eyes begin to prickle with tears. He's right. Of course he's right. Because that's what he and I do. And of course our baby will grow in that same protection.
"As for missing me," he continues, "I'm here now. And I would be happy to make up for lost time." Then he kisses me, and kisses me again. And that night, after he takes me back home, we reconnect in our bed. After, we curl together, Peeta's hand clasped on my stomach as we feel the baby's movements.
After that, things aren't quite so bad. Peeta makes a point of coming home earlier, and joins me when I go out for air. Marriage is trickier than either of us expected that first night together when he proposed. But slowly, we learn how to make it work.
Late one night, just after we've gone to bed, she comes. Peeta jumps up immediately to fetch my mother and Prim, then waits patiently outside for hours while they tend to me. The sun has already risen on the sounds of my screams when she finally leaves the safety of my body and enters the world at last. My mother cleans her while Prim cleans me, calming me, assuring me that I did well, that she's safe and beautiful. And then my mother places the bundle in my arms, and Prim was right.
My daughter is beautiful.
I'm so wrapped up in her tiny blue eyes and the dark tufts of hair on her head that I barely register when Peeta comes running in. He stops just short of the bed, watching us, and that's when I finally force myself to look away from my daughter and into the eyes of her flustered father, who stands panting as he looks on. And we both smile. No, grin is more like it. Peeta settles in beside me on our bed, and together we welcome our little girl into the world.
The war is over, but that doesn't change the fact that our world has changed forever. Each night, I welcome my husband home; join my Yankee in bed where we coo over the daughter that our union has given us. There are still times when our divided nation makes me afraid, and wonder how on earth we're going to raise our child in a house uniting the South and the North alike. But Peeta says it will be all right. We have each other. And a house united within itself can withstand anything.
A/N: Wow. So, we have finally reached the end of this story. First of all, I really want to give my most sincere THANK YOU to every single person who has stuck with this story through to the end. I know updates became sparse and scattered through out months of nothing, so if you kept reading even despite that, then seriously: thank you SO much. And thank you to everyone for all their support. This is the first bigger, multi-chapter story I've ever finished before, so this is a big deal for me. :)
I also want to apologize, because in all honesty, I had planned for there to be another five chapters to this story. But I realized as I finished chapter 15 that it really was time to end it. The lack of motivation that contributed to said delays in updates was the major sign. I think it ended in a good spot, though, and hopefully I wrapped up loose ends enough in this epilogue. I'll probably write oneshots here and there as well, as inspiration hits. But honestly? I kind of want to rewrite the story all together. If I were going to start this story today, I would have taken it in an entirely different direction than I started out with, and I of course, now I actually want to write out those ideas. :P
However, for now, I honestly intend to play exclusively in the canon universe. I'm going to shift focus to The Tigers Come at Night, and various other projects that are set in Panem, including my own 'grow together' type story I've been planning on for ages. So I hope you'll stick around, if you're interested!
Last but certainly not least, I want to give a huge, huge, MAJOR shout-out to my three faithful betas: feeding_geese, allies-person, and Chelzie. Your contributions, insight, feedback, and hard work are everything, and this story wouldn't be what it is without you. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you. And thank you, again, to you the reader! I hope you enjoyed this!