Collection of Epilogues
Years of marriage: four
My body trembles against the wooden door with each advance from outside. I can't catch the words anymore; they are just a repetitive blur that mix with my own sobs and tears. Honestly, I don't want to understand what he's saying. It will make me feel worse.
I hug my knees tighter, wanting to disappear in this small darkness. The air is damp, and there's a faint moldy scent. My mind keeps swimming back and forth into the limbo of unconsciousness.
Not a good day.
It feels like there is a cotton ball in my mouth when I open my eyes again. Everything is dark, but since I'm in the closet, I have no idea what time it is … or even what day it is. I open and close my mouth and eyes repeatedly, but the sensation of dryness and the blackness doesn't change. With a shuddering breath, I gather the remainder of my strength to stand. I hit my head on something hard, and I realize how weak I am by noticing that I don't even have the energy to complain.
With a quivering hand, I unlock the door. It cracks under my light push; I use my shoulders to open it completely.
There is a dull, mild light filling the room through the chinks of the closed window. Maybe it's early morning.
I grimace at the rotten smell that suddenly creeps into my nose. Feeling that my stomach is in knots, I need to take a calming breath through my mouth not to retch. My wobbling legs guide me to the window, which I open as fast as I can.
The light hurts my eyes, making me squint. It's definitely morning. I don't remember if it was morning or evening when I entered the closet.
It takes me a few minutes to adjust to the now bright room, though it's easy to get used to the pure air. Supporting myself against the wall, I look at our room; the closet door is a mess, with dents and holes where something heavy hit against it. I shiver, knowing it was probably a fist. The bed is in disarray; the blankets and pillows tossed on the floor. The responsible for the putrid smell is a broken bowl forgotten by the door. There is rotting stew on the wall and the floor.
All of a sudden, the sensation in my mouth is unbearable, and I stumble to the bathroom to drink water from the faucet. The sound of running water reminds me that I also need to use the bathroom.
I drag my feet to the stairs, each step creating a painful thud in my head. The house is eerily quiet. Not even the usual sounds of the morning birds come in. My stomach turns into knots again, but now I know what's wrong.
I feel guilty. When I lock myself in somewhere dark, this attitude seems the only reasonable thing to do. Though, every time I get out, this same suffocating feeling of guilt suppress all the fear and sorrow that made me run away.
"Peeta?" I call weakly, my voice rasping from the lack of use. Nobody responds. The kitchen is empty; the oven is cold. The front door is locked, and all the windows are shut.
I start to head for the painting room and see that the phone in the hallway is off the hook. The door is open, and I enter carefully, the guilt mixing with shame. Bright lights enter from the open window, followed by a soft breeze. I look around the room and find it hard to breathe.
Blank and half-finished canvases spread around the floor between broken paintbrushes and opened paint cans. Both the easels are in pieces, scattering the dark floor with wood. The paintings rip a sob from me; strong, imprecise traces that vaguely remind me of Peeta's talent depict scenes of death and disgrace. Our Hunger Games, mutilated bodies, devils from the most horrifying nightmares. All vivid and deformed, painted by desperate hands.
Completing the mess that is the room, there is Peeta, my spouse, sleeping on the wrecked couch next to the window. I don't remember the couch being torn like this.
He is having a troubled dream; his body quivers lightly, and his arms firmly brace themselves. His hands are wrapped in a makeshift bandage, and another sob flees me when I notice the dried blood under it. The morning light is more than enough for me to see his unshaved, hollow face and red-rimmed eyes.
Part of me wants to run for him, take care of his bruises, and beg forgiveness. The other part just wants to run away, lock myself in another closet, and scream that this is all my fault.
Between disappearing and rushing for Peeta, I remain still, almost not daring to breathe.
Swallowing the lump in my throat and taking a courageous step forward, I head for the couch. Each movement sends a painful bolt through my body, and I'm unable to differentiate physical from emotional pain.
His eyes are shut when I sit on the edge of the sofa, doubt still stirring in my mind. A shaking hand touches his shoulder and he stiffens, though his eyes remain closed.
"Peeta?" I whisper as softly as I can, but my voice is hoarse and fails.
Quietly, wary, he turns to me, meeting my sight with two wide, icy-blue eyes that show me he was having a nightmare. He's scared—frightened even.
Merciless guilt falls on me again.
Incapable of staring at those pools of fear and confusion, I look away. His hands close around mine with lackluster strength.
I glance at him again, watching his dry lips move.
"We will be fine," he says in a tone that matches mine. "Real or not real?"
I don't know what is going to happen. I'm sure I'll have other bad days in the future. He'll have more episodes. It won't be easy.
The first songbird of the morning echoes in the room; maybe it was already here and I didn't notice.
I kiss his bandages. I can't smile now, but I will smile again. He will, too.
So I answer heartily, "Real."
Based on Ninnalop's proposal.
Years of marriage: one
I shouldn't be complaining. It's winter; I won't catch a lot of prey in my snares.
But it's still frustrating to not catch even a skinny rabbit to bring back home after hours in the snowy woods.
The walk back home is uneventful; not a single soul is out of its cozy, warm home this freezing morning. But what can I do? Old habits die hard. I was out of the house hours before the sun rose and watched the faint clearing of the sky from my old hunting spot. Just like old times.
The smell of fresh bread welcomes me when I open the living room door. A can't suppress a small smile at the sight of Peeta, wearing his winter pajamas and apron—and still barefoot!—taking beautiful, crispy bread out the oven. He looks confused when he sees me.
"Why are you back so early?" he asks, and I don't understand his frustration. I thought he would be happy to see me before lunch.
"Not a lot of game in the winter," I mumble, tossing my empty bag on the kitchen table.
"Right," he says more to himself, a wrinkle of frustration between his eyes. It melts into a smile before I can start to guess why he would be disappointed. "I made a cake."
"Chocolate?" My eyes are already darting around the kitchen, searching for the delicacy. He has been baking a lot lately, but just at the bakery. I'm glad that he finally made something at home. I keep telling him to find an assistant so he can have more time to bake things for us … that is, for me.
"Yup." He places his apron on the counter and sits next to me. "I'll prepare a chocolate icing later." His arms sneak around my waist, and he nudges my cheek with his warm nose. "Would you like that?"
"Who wouldn't like more chocolate?" I ask with my mouth full of the bread he left on the table. It burns my tongue a little and I spit it out. He laughs lightly.
"Can't you wait five minutes?" He stands to grab a plate for me. "I just took it out the oven."
"I'm hungry now," I say in a deep, weird voice because my tongue is still aching. He also fixes me a glass of water that I gulp gratefully.
"You know why I made the cake?" he asks out of nowhere.
"Because it's delicious?" I try to respond. He laughs and looks at me, as if waiting for me to continue. I raise one eyebrow. "What?"
He squints at me, as if searching for a better response. My eyes widen. "It's not your birthday, is it?"
"No," he says with a laugh, but now it's less genuine. "It's not my birthday." He clears his throat. "I'm going to take a bath, okay?" He kisses my cheek and heads upstairs.
I hear the sound of his heavy footsteps on the stairs, and, finally, our bedroom door shutting.
Weird. Am I missing something here?
I look around the kitchen trying to figure out what Peeta meant. It's not my birthday. Not his birthday … and I don't really care about anyone else's birthday. Maybe Haymitch's or my mother's, but their birthdays are in the summer.
My tongue is still somewhat numb when I reach for another piece of the bread. I can't quite taste it, but the crispy crust melts in my mouth after I bite it. I wish I could make good bread like this, but I don't have the talent nor the patience for it. The best one I ever made was the one for our toasting. It's been a year, and I haven't been able to repeat it since then.
My fingers are cold, and it takes an entire minute to cut another chunk of the bread. The crust dissolves on my tongue again, and I think I'll eat half of it now.
I'm still chewing when I understand Peeta's attitude.
Our toasting was a year ago! That is what he's celebrating! That is why he made chocolate cake and chocolate icing, and I don't doubt he's preparing a nice dinner too.
I totally threw cold water on his enthusiasm.
I groan, annoyed with myself. I should have written it down on the calendar or something like that. The truth is, I don't really care about dates or holidays. But Peeta does; I should be more careful with that. He's my husband, after all.
Hearing the distant sound of Peeta filling our bathtub, I start to think how I'll amend this. What can I do to make him enthusiastic about it again?
A malicious grin blossoms on my face. I think I know what I can do to make him forget about my memory lapse.
Rubbing my hands together, I make sure they are warm before heading for our room. I carefully close the door behind me and start to undress. The cold floor makes me shiver when I step barefoot on it—I don't know how Peeta does it. I sneak into the steamy bathroom as fast as I can, wearing only my panties and tank-top.
He is kneeling next to the tub, too focused on checking the water temperature to notice my light tread approaching him. His breath catches in his throat when I touch his shoulders, but he sees that it's me and relaxes.
"I entered first, so just—" Whatever he was going to say I swallow in a hurried, hungry kiss. He's taken by surprise and falls on his haunches, but I don't let him laugh. Instead, I straddle him on the floor and pull his shirt off.
"I guess you remembered," he mumbles into my hair as I reach down to kiss his now exposed collarbone.
Damn it. I thought I was going to get out of this unnoticed.
"I'm sorry," I say sheepishly, nudging his neck. He laughs and holds the weight of his upper body on his elbows, making me look at him.
"That's okay. What matters is that we're together. I just want to spend the day with you."
His satisfied smile assures me; I really want to make him feel special and loved today.
"Yes." My voice is low, and I start to lower my head to the spot between his neck and shoulder. "And I just want to make love to you right now."
He groans and pushes himself from the floor, trying to pick me up. I hold him down, pushing my hips forward and pinning him. He looks up, confused.
"The room is cold," I say while running a finger down his chest, idly playing with his golden hairs.
"But the floor …" he starts to say, and I feel my cheeks burning. I tilt my head in the direction of the hot tub, hoping he will understand. "But …" he starts again, showing me a curious smile. "We've never done it there."
"I know." He moans slightly when I caress one of his hardened nipples, pinching it between my thumb and forefinger. "Maybe we should start to explore new places."
The happy face that stares back at me reminds me of a young child receiving a present. Maybe this situation is very much like it.
"I love you." He meets me with another kiss, soft and excited. It warms me from the inside.
Next year, I'll mark this date on the calendar.
Years of marriage: sixteen
She is finally asleep. Her face is peaceful, relaxed. She is so tired she's snoring, and I'm smart enough to not comment about it tomorrow.
I hope she can rest during these precious, few hours of silence before Willow wakes again.
Our daughter is three weeks old. It's still a bit strange to think this, our daughter. I'll get used to it, but for now, I'm terrified. She's so tiny, and so, so beautiful. Her pale blue eyes will change with time, but I hope they won't. She already got her mother's dark hair; I'm honestly cheering for blue eyes—though I won't admit this to Katniss.
Katniss is extremely tired. The final month of the pregnancy was full of back pains, restless nights, and bladder problems. Her ankles swelled unlike anything I've ever seen before. And the labor … both of them were thoroughly exhausted after it. They slept for hours until Willow woke up for her first feeding. The first of many, I can assure you. She eats every couple of hours and cries louder than I thought such small lungs were capable of.
I take a deep breath, settling myself on the chair in our room. Maybe I can use these couple of hours to sleep, too. I look up at our bed, where Katniss is lying on her stomach, wrapped in her jacket and hunting pants. She hasn't changed for twenty-four hours. When Willow finally sleeps, she walks around the room, freaking out. It's when I feel most myself useful, trying to calm her—and myself, too.
We're going to be fine. We're a happy, beautiful family.
Katniss mumbles something in her sleep, but it's just a tired blur. I've tried to take off her boots, but she used her remaining strength to kick me off. I won't try for pajamas; if I wake her up now, she won't stop at just a kick.
My eyes dart back to the cradle by the window. We figured out that her favorite spot is by the window with it slightly open. I can't help but smile; she's just like me in this way.
Carefully, I stand up from my uncomfortable chair. Katniss fell asleep the minute her head touched the pillow, and she's spread over the entire bed. With baby steps, I head for the cot, where our little princess is giving her mother a break. I know I can have a noisy tread, so I try to be discreet.
Under the weak light from the hall, I watch her tiny belly rising and falling, lost in a deep sleep. All the years waiting for this were worth it. This is the right moment for both of us—I mean, for the three of us.
Silently, I watch both girls sleeping until Willow starts to stir, and soon she sounds the alarm. Katniss wakes up in a start, first confused, but soon next to me, scooping our daughter in her arms and heading for her favorite chair for breastfeeding.
We don't talk. There is no need for words; we just share a weary glance that says everything. I stand behind her chair, hugging them both as Willow sucks furiously her mother's milk. She's always hungry.
After the food and the burp—I still need to get it right; I just end up covered in vomit—Katniss sings a lullaby so she'll sleep again. By the time we rest our heads on the pillow, the sun is coming up in the sky—a dull gray starts to fill the room.
It all will start again in a couple of hours. Probably with a diaper change next time. This is finally something I'm turning out to be really good at.
Katniss' eyes close before I can kiss her good-night. But I'm satisfied with a peck on her forehead, above her disheveled curls.
They are the women of my life …
I think it's better to wait for a few months to ask for another one.
Author's Note: That's it, guys! I hope you all enjoyed it!
Special thanks to Project Team Beta and my permanent beta,wandofhawthorn! They are responsible for making this bunch of words something special.
Thank you for reading!
I'm sagacious-owl on tumblr ;D
— By the way, my new story is on, Darker Path. Check it out if you want to read it! Here is the summary:
"The 74th Hunger Games is over, but now Katniss and Peeta have a different battle to fight. Recruited to the lascivious business of Escort Victors, they have to face an entire new set of fears and challenges. What seemed a place for the hopeless could develop into something major as other Victors have plans for Peeta, Katniss … and Panem. Adult Content."