Disclaimer: The Hunger Games belong to Suzanne Collins.
Seriously a huge-ass thank you to fnur for her amazing beta assistance and to misshoneywell for helping me plot and pre-read this story. You both have been so wonderful, a million thanks.
Epilogue: In Which it Has All Just Begun
It's three weeks into the school year and just a few days off from October when I'm sitting in English and my phone vibrates against my pocket.
I glance around the quiet room at the bored and zoned out faces of my peers and at the teacher with his back to me, scribbling madly on the board ahead.
To my right, Peeta eyes me carefully with a slight smirk, glancing down at the bulge of my phone in my jeans.
I pull it out carefully and sure enough, the message is from him, asking how much time we have left until lunch.
You have eyes. Look at the clock. I respond back to him with a smirk.
He reads the message, suppressing a snort before rolling his eyes in my direction. Although he hasn't said it officially, I can tell he's glad to be back at Panem.
It took Principal Snow only two days after the protest aired on television to make a rebuttal statement, explaining how he never meant for things to go as far as they did, and of course Peeta and anyone who wished to join him would be welcomed back into the school with open arms.
With a few requirements, of course.
I glance back at Ms. Coin, who sits silently toward the back of the room, grading papers. She follows Peeta to all his classes now, just in case something happens where she's needed, but for the most part stays out of the way. I'm not surprised Snow enforced the aide rule, and in our minds it was a small price to pay if it meant having Peeta back.
He stuck out the rest of junior year at his alternative school in Capitol and this September as senior year started, him and Annie Cresta both transferred to Panem.
The bell rings just moment after Peeta receives my message, and I watch relief flood his face as he sees the other students rise from their seats and rush for the door.
"I'm starving!" he exclaims as I watch him hurry to pack up his things with a smirk.
Ms. Coin throws her purse over her shoulder and grabs the folder that sits in front of her on the desk before the clicks of her heels grow closer to us and she informs Peeta she'll see him after lunch time.
He gives a quick nod and smile before blowing a large breath as we watch her exit the room, trailing along behind her.
My phone vibrates in my pocket once more and I glance down to see the message flashing from Annie.
Lunch outside today! it reads, ending with a sideways smiling face. In the couple of seconds it takes for me to respond to her message, Peeta is already several paces ahead of me, eager to get into the lunch line.
I roll my eyes at him as he glances back at me sheepishly, several kids in between us. Todays lunch is nothing special, so I opt for a simple salad and grab a chocolate chip cookie by the register, surprised as I make my way back into the lunchroom to see Peeta has actually stopped to wait for me.
Then I realize he's confused because our typical table is free from people. He shoots me a look with a raised eyebrow and I motion with the twitch of my head for him to follow me.
Through the cafeteria doors and down a short hallway, there's another door that leads to an outdoor courtyard students can use in the warmer months.
Today, the sun is shining brightly above in the sky, the only thing keeping the temperatures rising unbearably being the slight breeze that passes occasionally.
I spot them immediately, sitting on top of a blanket under the shade of a nearby tree.
"Hey!" Finnick calls out, moving his arms around chaotically to gain our attention. I wave to him gently as Peeta and I grow closer, wedging our way in between them.
"Hey Jo," I smirk, watching as her mouth opens into a long 'O' shape, mimicking Annie who nods encouragingly with her, moving her hands slowly in foreign movements. She's been trying to teach Johanna sign language for about a month now, and Johanna is determined to learn.
"If Odair can learn it, I'll be damned if I can't!" she snorted when she had first agreed. But now, after just a few weeks in, the frustration has begun to grow and I watch as she slams her fists hard into the ground beside her with a growl, because sign language is fucking hard!
"You'll get it," Finnick encourages smugly, laughing as she flips him the bird. She runs her fingers through her hair wildly, grunting as Annie mumbles words of encouragement.
I glance over at Finnick and Peeta who are facing one another with broad smiles, carrying on a steady flow of conversation with one another. It's so much different than the scene just a couple years ago... or even last year, but for some reason it feels as if this is the way it's always been.
Peeta seems a completely different person with the change. He's grown into his own, so to speak, no longer needing to rely on me for translation purposes. He's much more independent and school is an exciting place for him, one where he's much more included and feels less 'outcast.'
Especially now that he has Annie.
He spots my gaze and grins widely, winking toward me before turning his attention back to Finnick. I sigh deeply, taking a bite into my cookie with a smile.
Because everything has finally pieced itself together.
"Have you turned in any of your applications yet?" Madge asks as I glance down curiously at the checklist that rests on her lap. Down the list, there are about four different schools with lines through them, three remaining unmarked.
"Not yet, I'm still waiting for Peeta," I scowl in his direction mockingly and his eyebrows lift in question.
"Have you even though about any schools you might want to apply to?" I ask. "It's a little important."
He moves his hands like they are mouths in imitation of me and my mouth drops open, feigning hurt to which Finnick rolls with laughter. Peeta only mimics my movements more, pulling his thumb away from the rest of his curved fingers, making me chuckle.
"I'm serious. You need to be more proactive, you know."
"It's September, you know," he replies, and I narrow my eyebrows at him before placing another large bite of food past my lips.
Throughout the remainder of lunch, I'm still thinking about how we're beginning to fall behind in our preparations for next year, and if we don't get a move on, we might not be accepted into the same schools at all.
I swallow deeply.
The bell rings inside the school, signaling lunch is over, and we wave goodbye to our friends who fold the blanket up as we take the extra time to get to our next class.
Peeta watches me suspiciously, acutely aware of silence and touches my arm gently, furrowing his eyebrows in a silent question.
"Are you very worried about our applications?" he finally asks, phrasing it in a way that makes me feel stupid.
"I just want to make sure we have options... options that lead us in the same direction," I conclude. "You haven't forgotten what happened last time already, have you?"
"No, I remember," he sort of smirks. "You went insane."
My mouth opens in a scoff and he chuckles loud enough for me to hear before wrapping an arm around me and squeezing gently.
"You went insane too, you know," I grumble in response, but Peeta only winks. We walk silently until we're in front of his next classroom's door. He gives me one tight squeeze before promising to turn in his applications.
"I don't want to be split up from you either you know," he says, teasingly. "I've got to keep my eyes on you."
"As I do, you," I reply and the smile grows on his face.
He's halfway through the door before he turns back and flashes me our 'I love you' sign and I feel that familiar flutter bubble within my stomach.
I love you, too.
"We should start a rebellion," I mention to Rye as he hangs up the phone with yet another customer. It's been our busiest Saturday all month, with the phones basically off the hook and orders climbing as it grows further into the afternoon.
And, of course, Peeta isn't here.
Galen retired about six months ago, turning the keys over to his youngest son, and by extension, me. Neither Rye nor Bannock neither wanted responsibility of the small bakery, but had no opposition to helping out on the weekends when needed. Usually, between Peeta and I, we had things under control.
But that's when he doesn't ditch, of course.
"Who are you rebelling against now?" Rye teases, brushing his flour-colored hands over his apron before moving over to the flattened dough he abandoned momentarily.
"Your brother," I grumble.
I think back to this morning, when I woke entangled in Peeta's form and he let me know he wouldn't be able to make it into work today.
"Rye will be there to help though."
When I questioned why, his answer was a little too vague for my taste, and I definitely noticed the way his eyes refused to meet mine as he signed. Peeta's never been much of a secret keeper, well, at least not from me. So his suspicious behavior for the past couple of weeks have lead me to believe something is most definitely up.
And with a little help from Rye, I have a feeling it's directly related to my upcoming birthday, especially when mention of having a couple people over this evening (the last Saturday before my birthday) came up.
We've never done much to celebrate my birthday (unless last year when Rye took me out and got me drunk off my ass counts, which it doesn't), but I like it that way. I've never been much for excessive attention. Even as a child, I stopped having parties around eight or nine.
"I'm in," Rye snorts. "What the fuck does he ever do around here? Sheesh, you'd think he owned the place or something."
"What time is it?"
If Peeta had been working today, I could have him convinced to close up shop early for the afternoon. I'm sure with enough persuasion, I could have Rye convinced too, but it's much simpler with Peeta.
All I have to do is drop to my knees.
"What's he doing today, anyway? He's been acting kind of weird these past couple weeks, don't you think?" I try playing dumb, knowing fully well Peeta isn't the only Mellark who has trouble keeping things from me. In fact, when I play my cards right, all those Mellark men are putty in my hands.
Rye adverts his gaze from me, down-casting his eyes to the floor and twitching his lips from left to right as he presses a pan of dough into the ovens.
"What do you mean?" he clears his throat when his words crack and runs his hand over the back of his head nervously.
"I don't know. He's been sneaking around, acting a little funny..."
"I haven't really seen him much lately," he speaks smoothly, though it's his traitorous eyes that give him away as they look anywhere but at me.
"Rye," I sing.
"Yes?" he responds in the same tone.
"Are you hiding something?"
"No!" he frowns, his face flooding with relief as the telephone rings once more. "I'll get that!"
I watch him as he rushes to the phone, chanting out the familiar greeting before taking the pen that rests behind his ear out and jotting down a note with a nod. He chats politely for a long minute before hanging up and sighing deeply.
He jumps slightly when he notices me still staring in his direction.
"Sheesh, Katniss," he grunts, holding his heart playfully like I frightened him. "Nothing is going on."
"All right," I say, putting my hands up in surrender. "I'm just making sure. You know how I feel about surprises."
He's silent, and when I turn around his eyes grow slightly wider, his mouth opening and closing before he finally clamps it completely shut.
"You can't say anything," he hisses and I smirk, knowing he's finally fully cracked.
"Shit, he's going to kill me."
With everyone planning to come over to Peeta and my house this evening, Rye and I decided it'd be best to carpool to work, and drive in his car back to our house as the sky begins growing dark.
Peeta and I found a nice little townhouse not far from either of our previous homes and moved in together this past December, a couple months after we'd finished school.
With so much excitement surrounding us - Peeta gaining ownership of the Mellark bakery, our taking the plunge of moving in with one another, and the news of Finnick and Annie's expected little one this spring - there's hardly been any sort of down time.
This is the first time all of us will have gotten together in months.
We pull up on the small street and I note the several cars leading up our small driveway and parked in the grass along side the house.
Rye spilled everything this afternoon, wide-eyed and red-faced, unable to get his mouth to stop. As suspected, this entire thing is meant to be a surprise twenty-second birthday party that everyone has worked to put together.
We're walking up the wet-stained path leading to the house when Rye reminds me in a hushed whisper that I better act surprised.
"I've got this, don't worry," I say, waving him off with a small wink.
I fight to keep my face neutral as I twist the knob, going over my surprised expression in mind before stepping inside the door. The look of masked neutrality melts to one of pure confusion when I'm met by stares of everyone standing toward the threshold of our small townhouse.
I would have thought they'd be hiding. Rye did say this was a surprise party, right? Looks to me like the surprise is that it's actually an intervention.
To the right of the doorway is a small arch that leads into our kitchen, and Finnick leans propped against it, sipping on his drink casually as he twitches his fingers in a hello. Prim presses past their bodies, her hair pulled back into two tight braids that wrap around the top of her head and she smiles slyly, bouncing her way over.
"How was work?" Johanna questions and my eyebrows knit together as Rye answers for me, explaining how it was a long, tiresome day and we were excited to sit back and relax this evening. I turn to him perplexed and he winks the same way I had moments earlier.
What's going on? My face silently begs for answers, but he presses past me without another word and motions for Finnick to fill him up a cup.
"What's for dinner?"
We chat about mindless, silly things, all the while continuing to congregate in the middle of the hallway area before I finally wonder aloud where Peeta is.
"I think he's in the living room," Johanna mumbles.
"By himself?" I frown, noticing how even Annie stands off to the side, rubbing her protruding belly thoughtfully.
Johanna shrugs and I push past her annoyed, walking briskly down the hall to where I see the television flickering, subtitles on. My heart sinks as I begin to wonder if he's all right, or if something has happened today to upset him. Typically, it isn't like him to segregate himself like this.
I hardly have time to address these feelings, because as I beeline to the living room, I stop in my tracks when I note the way Peeta sits with his legs tucked under his body on the ground.
He glances up to meet my eyes, and quickly repositions himself so that he's balancing on one knee, smiling shyly in my direction before giving me a gentle wave.
It feels like my heart is lodged in my throat, and I'm stunned still, hardly noticing the bodies of people who begin flooding around us. The room is silent; no whispering, no tapping of feet... not even soft breaths can be heard. At least not in my mind, because I'm lost in a different world, one that only holds Peeta and I, who swallows heavily at the small audience.
Slowly, as if unsure of himself, his hands lift up into our I love you sign and I drop to my knees in front of him, falling into a ball by his side and gripping his knee for support. His steady position on one knee breaks and he rests more comfortably beside me. His fingers lift my chin delicately and slowly his face draws closer to mine until our lips are touching.
It's a chaste action, which ends quickly as he keeps one hand on mine and the other digs nervously in his pocket before fishing out a small black box.
Although by this point it's expected, I still find myself gasping as he opens it and I peek inside.
It's much different from a typical wedding ring, because instead of a diamond, it's a pearl that glows up at me, encased by a white gold crown which holds it in place. My mouth falls open at it's beauty and it's only when I look back up to see his red-stained eyes that I realize I'm crying.
He places the box in my hands and I cradle it gently as he shakes his own out and takes a deep breath.
"I've pictured doing this so many times," he says, releasing a shaky breath. "I just never thought I'd actually get to."
I swallow heavily.
"Growing up, I used to stop and think about how lucky I was to have you as a friend. And even though all the while I was secretly wanting more, I never expected it, because... well... I knew it was a miracle we were even what we were."
He reaches over to wipe one of the beaded tears that clings to my cheek and I smile embarrassedly, sniffing before doing the same to his red face.
"But now, waking up with you each morning, knowing that you feel the same way about me as I do you... I can't remember a time before this."
"Me either," I promise and his lips twitch up involuntarily.
"I know we're already living with one another, and I know we've already vowed to be exclusive with one another, and love one another whole-heartedly," again he swallows.
"But can we make it official?"
I nod vigorously and again he kisses me gently.
"Katniss? Will you marry me?"
End of Part One
It's a lot harder seeing this story come to a close than I thought it'd be. Thank you so much for the amazing support throughout this entire project, it's been unbelievable! As I mentioned before, to any of you who are interested there will be a sequel to With Eyes to Hear coming in the near future. It's called: Eyes Wide Open so keep on the lookout!
I plan to post a teaser-type thing on my tumblr page (ivegotthesclaf) along with a couple one-shot type stories from this universe. Thanks again for everything! Take care until next time!