a/n: For those of you who wanted an epilogue, here it is. :) Thank you all so much for reading and for your support.
It doesn't take Peeta long to pack.
He's not taking a lot with him. After all, there won't be much room in the dorms. Or in Katniss' truck for that matter.
He's bringing his clothes of course, and a few pairs of shoes. Some of his art supplies he worries he won't be able to easily replace in Iowa City. But that's about it.
Peeta knows that if he's forgotten something important, Wheaton can just ship it to him once he's settled. Or he can pick it up himself over winter break.
Peeta checks his phone again. It's 8:45 a.m., meaning Katniss should be here in about fifteen minutes, packed and ready to go herself.
He knows he has everything ready, but he glances nervously at his to-do list one last time just to be sure.
Last night he said goodbye to his parents. The final, and most unpleasant, task he needed to accomplish before leaving. It was the first he'd spoken with them in almost six months – the first words he'd said to them since telling them he was going to college, with Katniss, at The University of Iowa.
During that conversation six months ago, his mother had loudly disapproved of his decision to go to school out of state. She must have yelled at him for a good fifteen minutes. But Peeta stood his ground. And when she was finally finished, he told her, again, and firmly, that he was going to The University of Iowa with Katniss.
Since Peeta is paying for it all through work study and a scholarship that will cover the out-of-state tuition, he'd seen no reason to contact his parents again until it was time for him to go.
It took him two hours to work up the nerve to call his mother last night. But the conversation, such as it was, only lasted about thirty seconds.
Just as Peeta's about to review his to-do-list a third time his phone buzzes with a new text.
It's from Katniss.
Sorry I'm late, P. Just leaving Mom's now. See you soon. Love you.
It doesn't matter that Peeta's been officially "with" Katniss Everdeen for about a year now. It doesn't matter that she's been telling him she loves him for the better part of the past nine months. His heart still races every time she says it.
When Katniss finally arrives, and it's time for Peeta to go, Wheaton breaks down a little.
It makes Peeta feel awkward.
Wheaton and Bristel took him in when he had nowhere else to go last summer, and he'll always be grateful for that. But the brothers are still not close – not close the way Peeta knows some brothers are close, anyway – and he hadn't expected this reaction from Wheaton at all.
As Katniss helps Peeta load his things into her truck, Wheaton pulls his younger brother into a bear hug and makes a choking noise in his ear that sounds like crying.
"Be sure to call us when you get there," Bristel says kindly, patting Peeta on the back as the brothers pull apart.
"Of course," Peeta says, shouldering his duffel bag. He looks over at Wheaton and notices, for the first time, that his eyes are rimmed with red.
He doesn't know what to say.
"I'll see you in a few months," Peeta decides on at last, attempting to reassure the brother and sister-in-law who, until now, he hadn't realized needed reassurance.
Wheaton nods and manages a small smile as Peeta, without breaking eye contact with him, gets into the truck.
Peeta's hand rests lightly on Katniss' upper thigh as she pulls away from the curb.
"Everything all right with your mother?" he asks quietly.
"Yeah," she says, putting her foot on the brake as she approaches the stop sign at the end of Wheaton's block. "Her physical therapy's down to once a month now. And Dad's paying for all of it." She shakes her head. "It's time to go."
Peeta nods in wordless agreement. Because she's right.
Things were dicey with Katniss' mother's health in those early months, of course. And as her mother recuperated, Katniss barely left her side. But with her mother now essentially fully recovered, there's nothing keeping either of them here anymore.
They're eighteen, and there's no reason for them to stay anywhere they don't want to be.
"Do you want to go the same way we went last time?" Peeta asks her. Meaning, of course, the route they took last summer, the route of their road trip that changed everything between them.
Katniss is quiet for a long moment.
"Well," she says, finally. "Finnick, Annie, and Jo aren't expecting us for two weeks, right?" She turns to look at him, briefly, as she comes to a stop at a red light. "Wanna try a different way?"
Peeta squeezes her thigh. He smiles.
"Sure," he says. Why not? There was a lot they never got a chance to see. He opens the glove compartment and pulls out the now-tattered road map that served them so well last year.
"Let's do it."
Let us be lovers
We'll marry our fortunes together
I've got some real estate here in my bag
So we bought a pack of cigarettes
And Mrs. Wagner's pies
And walked off to look for America…
- Simon and Garfunkel, "America"