A/N: Well, here we are, guys. The end of it all.
I have gotten many requests, threats, and pleas from you guys to continue this series with a post-Mockingjay installment. I am so incredibly grateful and honored that you guys would be willing to stick with me for another story, but, alas, as of this chapter, I am leaving fanfiction.
I posted the first chapter of my first fanfiction November of my sophomore year in high school at the age of 15. Here I am three years later, 18 years old (nearly 19!) posting my last chapter at the close of my first year of college. It's crazy to think how much you can change within those measly three years. In three years, I've made some wonderful friends. Friends I've never met and probably never will. That's you guys. The readers. The reviewers. You guys, you are a part of what makes writing such a joy for me. To know that people are waiting at their computers, all over the world, just to read a chapter of my story, is incredibly humbling (not to mention epic), and I will never coherently be able to convey the depth of my gratitude. These three years on fanfic, particularly while writing this series, has molded both myself and my writing in a way that I don't think I could have achieved any other way. It's you, the readers, that I owe. You guys kept me going, kept up the praise and the criticism, making me strive to continue to better my writing, and I will never be able to thank you enough.
As for me and what comes next? Well, as some of you know, I am working on my book, hopefully the first of a trilogy that will involve magic, heinous creatures, alternate dimensions, prophecies, an insane power-hungry sorceress, a rather famous warlock with a pointy hat, and none other than Rye! Well, he has a different name, of course. I'm tremendously excited to pursue this, my dream, and I hope to finish it over the summer and then start looking for publishers.
So, you may still read my writing in the future . . . you just won't know it's me!
Before we get to the epilogue, there are just a few people I have to thank. Some have been with me since the beginning, some have followed me through fandoms, some just tuned in last chapter, and I appreciate every single one of them. So, cheers to my reviewers! The least I can do is recognize you for the awesomeness that you possess:
nelly1coco, Amybooks, dazey186, Last-Catastrophe, crazyrawrx3, SpaztasticalMaiden13, MenaLovesPeeta, SakuraDrops141, Arri09, 3PeetaAndKatniss3, Texas-Devil-Or-Angel, i'mJayJay, sadiemayk13, MockingJay0221, Indigold10, sweetStarre123, , Loveable Leo, Mocking Verse, Skye Allison, BluebirdintheSnow, Mindmapped123, Clara Meliza, LoveHungerGamesJH, Dancinghld, Speeder9319, Empty Thoughts, peeta's girly, MockingJayWriter, luvTHG334, ShutterbugMom, mythoughtsareconstellations, vane-.-16, Lgwater27, Breathingbooks274, johanna2011, raghzy, Soccergirlx1810, Sangheili Mockingjay, streetlightlove, SkyStarVenus, LiveByDaWordz, lucypeckie, AlwaysToStay, Oh-My-Sherlock, jmjames, Abigail25, PMLover, Norbert's Mom, KatnissEverdeen, TitanNegro, schur655, HungerGamesLoverr, PAFSoeiro, Jenna Red, sasuhina gal, Naverra, XxMockingjay, CatchingPeeta, can'tgetenoughof23, Peetasmylife, Bemac, Hungergames101, Mooglez, PrincessRedfern,Critterwitter, Hevy135, OreoMonstah, kexc, penquin44, , SchoolGirl123, kami 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jessiemarie48, Aileigh, RedAugust102, Reaper98, hungergamesfan77, lovegirl45, me, Precious R, Happy Jello, ncv144, Mrs. Peeta Mellark 97, Well the thing IS, Shan, INEEDMORE, HungryForPeeta, Random person in wonderland, shygirl, heycarmichael, Empty Thoughts, Alaee301, D-dey, WACKYROSE, THGFan3413, Kpopisawesome, Ellie, peetagoreantheorem12, Percabeth Fanatic, Sangheili Mockingjay, I'm a hamster with big cheeks, TowerOfEnvelopes, Amybooks, Jessie0275, KaaMM, Peregrinus, gopha-gurl, llamajo, , Nope, vane-.-16, mickeymouse12299, JuliaMindedx, lambtastic, AlanaWrites, Brilliant sparks, AlwaysForJC, person, SassMonster, Well the thing IS, bookreader9722, IWUnurse2013, LonesomeLullaby, nlamazing, JJK38, heyarenticool, Bertie Bishop, Sjemmott83, gulce, Elina, mrsmellark97, Fuzzylogic11, pearlwings, katty, LoveAlways, Dez, Shygirl, perdita4321, Peetasmylife, CheekyMonkeeeey, hgismylife379, JenniferVo, cutuptwo, Hevy135, Gallagher girl1811, Emag13, Ebony, i hate u, A Battle Inside My Heart, nlamazing, EZ11, Stevie, chucchuu, TheCatchingJay, , 15, BookLove, mrsodairmockingjay123, ncv144, Lilyannete, Loli-pop0394, aurora12345pm, JustinBiebersGal, wuteva4eva456, Alana, , PlainOldChels, Fantasydream17, Elina, shygirl, jessy0622, Mockingjay0221, ILove2Write13, storyfrikk, peeta74, GirlOnFire4Eva, BurntBreadAndShinyPearls, Panda-Crazy-19, lambtastic, TheDeathlyHallows-123, bettybops89, Amber Kay, MysteryRiddle, Stephanie, Really, Icestorm711, Hi, Jinx, mbogue99, the-true-mockingjay, Bagpuss7142, erin myers, Dick, Sjemmott83, Eagle-Eyes, Cici46, RedAugust102, kexc, maryclumsykatherine, fuzzysocksandwriting, The Forgotton Stark, Vibrator, S.A., Innocent-Youth, Katniss4Peeta, DeezNuts51, Chia, i4i, Va3442, JayxFeather, lovesreading, kikistimi, Heehee, MY MILKSHAKES, Claire, carcrash87, I love peeta, pumpkinking5, SammyMusicManiac, DivergentHalfBloodMaurader, Gulce, Safety-Hazard, Jen, Morkie251, ItsAllInYourHeadMyDear, Kylria, ME, PeetaRocks, spankleapords, RubanDePluie, TST, NeedAUserNameWhyNotZoidberg, crimp1, Sarah, pearlwings, Da Kid, anon, Chelhb, preshypie, PMLOVER, Alli-Loves-Glee, JenniferVo, lol, CheekyMonkeeeeey, StayingAlive223, Random reader, fanta, JJK38, Such, lovegirl45, Schweigen ist vergessen, MetaLizzie, Peeta's a stalker, imstillaliveafterall, maga, Dezzikins, TooLazyToLogIn, Willy's friend, Peeta M is mine, goodalld, dysirahsmith, LonesomeLullaby, Jennie, NeedStories, reesephinney, kanga, Hmmm, Lightning Eterna, emeraldgrey9722, Alaee301, pokips, harrypotternut91, mickeymouse12299, AlanaWrites, person, IWUnurse2013, Bertie Bishop, alileigh, Fuzzylogic11, Dez, BatGirlTheMockingjay13, crazyrawrx3, Maryshann, HungerGamesLover1234, Ava Dahlia, mbogue99, GetAwayUCreep, DeezNuts51, Random person in wonderland, SVGS, PeeOnCarl, we'reonfire, StillWaiting, RemainNameless, rosegniseb, sasuhina gal, .906, StoriesOfAnInsomniac, handsdowntoo, ACfan, littlehughesy, Wolfgal201, Cici46, Stefani Acosta, Zoologist, erin mellark, Stephanie, wacky rose, Latinoman117, fatlips, ShikenFreiRye, and, of course, all of my GUESTS.
And if I forgot anyone . . . shoot me, dismember me, set me on fire and dance manically around my smoking pyre . . . MY BAD. Seriously. I love you guys.
Random Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games Series. As the past two stories show, my version of events would have been quite different.
Me: (teary) Well guys, this is it.
Katniss: Hey! I'm still wondering whether I'm actually dead or not.
Peeta: Yeah, you weren't really too clear on that last chapter.
Rye: Seriously. Have a heart!
Me: Guys, I'll miss you.
Haymitch: Yeah, yeah, we will too. Now get on with the damn happy ending already.
Epilogue: This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)
I'm so glad he found me in time
And I'm so glad that he rectified my mind
This will be an everlasting love for me, oh
Loving you is some kind of wonderful
Because you've shown me just how much you care
You've given me the thrill of a lifetime
And made me believe you've got more thrills to spare, oh
You've brought a lot of sunshine into my life
You've filled me with happiness I never knew
You gave me more joy than I've ever dreamed of
And no one, no one can take the place of you
Ten years ago today I died.
In fact, I was dead for nearly seven minutes. It took Peeta that long to restart my heart. Eventually, after nearly five minutes of CPR, with me showing no sign of coming back, Finnick and Rye had tried to pull him away from me. Peeta had only paused long enough to shove Finnick into the alley wall and punch Rye in the face.
Then he continued to force my heart to beat and breathe air into my lungs. Two minutes later, I came back to him, gasping for air and completely unaware that I'd died in the first place. I will never be able to forget the look on Peeta's face when I opened my eyes. The desperation. The determination. The relief. Tears of despair became tears of joy.
At the memory, I feel overcome with a sense of gratefulness as I look upon my situation at this very moment. Lying in bed with Peeta, my back to his chest, safely secured in his arms. The feel of his warm breath against the back of my neck. The soft light of the early morning sun shining on my face through the window. The peaceful stillness of the house. Everything is perfect.
Suddenly, I feel soft lips on my bare shoulder. "Good morning," I say with a smile.
Peeta hums in agreement, before murmuring against my skin, "It's about to be."
Before I can protest, he's hovering over me and claiming my lips in a heated kiss. Even after twelve years with Peeta, he still makes my heart pound and my stomach flutter. I tangle my hands in his hair, keeping his lips glued to mine. Peeta's hands are already roaming my body, lingering in all the right places he knows so well. I allow my own hands to wander, caressing the broad expanse of his chest before moving further south to trace the chiseled muscles of his stomach. If anything, the last ten years have made Peeta's body even more desirable.
I am one lucky woman.
Peeta finally releases my lips, beginning to trail slow, wet kisses along my neck, sucking and nipping at the skin occasionally. I feel his hands slip beneath my shirt, caressing the soft skin of my stomach as he slowly inches my tank top higher and higher.
And then we freeze, our ears picking up the sound of shuffling little feet.
Peeta groans in defeat, burying his head in my neck. "Damn it," he mumbles. "They always ruin my plans."
I laugh quietly. "Remember? They're staying with Haymitch tonight."
"It's the only way I'll make it through the day."
Both of us fall silent again, listening intently to the hushed whispers just outside our door. "We have maybe five seconds," Peeta guesses. "If they're ruining my surprise, I'm going to ruin theirs. I'll take one. You take the other."
I gently shove him off of me and make myself presentable. "Well then close your eyes and pretend to be asleep!" I whisper quickly. Suddenly, I hear the door knob twist and dart back under the covers, lying on my side. I shut my eyes just as the door opens.
"Ssh!" a young voice whispers. "You get Mommy."
"Got it," another voice answers seriously. "On the count of three."
It takes all my self control not to laugh and keep my face expressionless.
I hear them creep closer to the bed.
One of them is right in front of me. Perfect.
"Three!" Peeta and I suddenly shout, reaching out to grab the child that is in front of us. Immediately, the boys are squealing in laughter as Peeta and I throw them onto the bed between us. A tickle war begins, which Peeta and I always win.
After all, we've always been a great team.
"Surrender!" Peeta demands with a smile at the giggle-ridden Michael trapped in his arms.
"Come on," I laugh as Matthew continues to squirm in my arms, trying to twist away from my deadly, tickling fingers. "Give up!"
As the fun-filled seconds pass, I decide to side with my boys. "I want to join your team!" I declare. "What do you say, boys? Allies?"
The twins think it over for a minute, and I pretend not to see Peeta's narrowed eyes. He knows what's coming. Finally, the boys say in unison, "Allies!"
"Great! Now, let's get Daddy!"
The three of us converge on Peeta, who puts up a brave fight, but eventually falls to our tickling prowess. Minutes later, the four of us are lying in bed, breathing heavily. I take the moment to look over my boys, all three of them. Michael and Matthew's golden blonde hair matches Peeta's perfectly, although while his is curly, the twins' hair is straight. Their grey eyes mirror my own and dance with a playful, sly and mischievous light that instantly caused their kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Olive, to label them as troublemakers. She was right too, of course. My twins are trouble, but they're trouble of the best kind.
They're also a miracle. The bullet that killed me (however briefly) did some serious damage to one of my ovaries, so much so that it had to be removed. Due to other complications, Dr. Riley informed me that while I would still be able to conceive, the odds of a successful pregnancy were not in my favor. So when I told Peeta that I was pregnant five years later, both of us were excited and fearful. The pregnancy was tough. The morning sickness was terrible, and multiple times I had to be put on bed rest for fear of miscarrying.
But the twins and I made it through.
Peeta's eyes meet mine as Matthew snuggles closer to him. I know that he's thinking the same as I am. We share a smile.
Of course our moment of peace is interrupted, as a five year olds' energy never disappears, and within the next few minutes, both of them are jumping on the bed, chanting. "Get up!"
"We'll get up when we're good and ready!" Peeta replies with a grin before snatching Matthew from the air and hugging him tightly to his chest.
Michael turns to me and says seriously, "You have to hug me now. Mattie can't get more hugs than me."
"You have no shame," I mutter, before giving him a big hug that makes him laugh. "Now why don't we all get up and fix breakfast?"
But as Michael and I are climbing out of bed, Matthew suddenly asks Peeta, "Daddy, why do you have so many scars?"
I pause, freezing at the foot of the bed. At his brother's question, Michael leaves my side to climb back onto the bed to see what has captured his brother's attention. Together, both of them start to tentatively touch the plethora of scars that adorn Peeta's upper body. While some of the scars have faded over the years, others are still just as prominent as the day they were received. The two of us share a heavy look that the twins don't see, and I merely shrug. It's up to him to tell them what he wants.
"Daddy got into a big fight," he finally says. "It was really long and a lot of people were a part of it."
"Was Mommy with you?" Michael asks. "She's always with you."
Peeta smiles sadly. "No. This fight was just me."
"But you won, right?" Matthew asks earnestly with wide eyes. "You always win."
"Yeah, 'cause you're, like, super-strong, Daddy," Michael agrees.
Peeta and I share another look, both of us remembering that time. It still makes my heart ache to think of the month and a half that I spent without him, haunted by nightmares of his torture. To this day he still has flashbacks, but they're few and far between, and I'm always able to talk him through it. Luckily, neither Matthew nor Michael have ever been present during a flashback, and Lilly was too young when they occurred more often to remember them.
"Yeah, I won," Peeta finally answers. "Just not without a few . . . souvenirs."
Michael traces a long, thin scar along Peeta's collarbone with his finger. "Did it hurt?"
"A little," Peeta admits softly, before smiling. "But I'm, like, super-strong, remember?"
"Right," Michael nods seriously. "You're the best Daddy ever."
Matthew nods in agreement, and then looks to me. "Right, Mommy?"
I smile softly as my eyes meet Peeta's. "Yes, he is," I agree before shooing them both out of the room. "Now, let your Daddy get ready. We'll meet you in the kitchen."
The twins rush out of the room in a flurry of stomping feet, leaving Peeta sitting on the edge of the bed, staring after them. He runs a head through his hair and looks at me wryly, "Guess we can't avoid that question any longer."
"Hey, they're right, you know," I tell him as I sit down next to him. I kiss his shoulder. "You're super-strong and the best Daddy ever."
Peeta chuckles, but quickly becomes serious. "What are we going to tell them?" he asks. "Honestly."
"When they're old enough, we'll tell them the truth," I say seriously. "When the time is right, they'll know everything that happened during the war. About the Games. Everything that we fought for. We'll tell them."
"And when they find out we're famous?" Peeta questions. "What then? You do realize we're actually in history books."
"We'll take it one day at a time," I say firmly. "That's a long way away, Peeta. But when the time comes, we'll tell them the truth. Now, put a shirt on and get downstairs."
"Nearly eleven years of marriage and you still order me around," he grumbles playfully. "It's like you use me."
"Hey, I told you a long time ago that I only want you for your body. You were forewarned."
I leave the room with a smile and walk down the hall of the second floor. Peeta's old studio is now Lilly's room, although that doesn't necessarily mean that the paint left the room. Lilly, now ten years old, inherited her father's artful skill. Together, they've painted her walls with whatever pictures she felt the need to create. It's their bonding time.
Silently, I open the door to her room and peer inside, smiling at the sight in front of me. Lilly sits propped up against her pillows, a sketchbook in her lap. Her hand grips a pencil, ghosting over the page in front of her. She looks so much like Peeta. As she grew, she just seemed to resemble him more and more. The only hint of me in her features is her raven black hair, but it isn't straight like mine. Her hair falls in princess curls down her back.
Sensing my presence, she glances up at me, her blue eyes curious. "Did Mattie and Michael attack you?"
"We were ambushed," I confirm. "But we won in the end."
Lilly nods, like it's exactly what she expected to happen. "They wanted me to help them," she explains. "But I wanted to finish this."
"Do you mind if I see?" I ask hesitantly. Sometimes she is just as secretive about her artwork as her father.
"Sure," she says and turns around the sketchbook so I can see. I smile at the sight of the lake. What used to be mine and Peeta's getaway has become a family retreat. Peeta and Rye built a small cabin on the shore, and we use it whenever we need to have time to ourselves. The kids simply like to go swimming.
"It's beautiful," I praise. "Are you going to show it to Dad?"
Lilly nods. "Yeah, but first I want to fix a few things."
I smile. She works so hard to please him. Peeta praises her endlessly, but Lilly is a perfectionist like me. While she looks like Peeta, she's inherited much of my personality. Stubborn, quiet, adventurous, and short-tempered. Thankfully, she didn't inherit my impulsiveness.
Regrettably, the twins did. Mischievous isn't a strong enough word for those two.
"Well, come down to breakfast when you're finished," I tell her, kissing the top of her head. "We've got a busy day today."
Today is Independence Day, the tenth anniversary of the Rebel's victory in the War of Panem. There's a big celebration today in the square, and naturally, Peeta and I have to be there. We may be able to avoid the Capitol, but here at home in District 12—at least on Independence Day—our neighbors refuse to let us fly under the radar. Peeta and I don't necessarily mind. Their intentions are good.
Breakfast, as usual, ends up being a complete mess. Michael and Matthew steal a handful of flour each when Peeta and I aren't looking and ambush Lilly when she comes into the kitchen. Lilly, of course, resorts to chasing the twins around the kitchen table, screaming at them the entire time. Knowing that they will be caught eventually, Matthew darts under the table while Michael seeks refuge behind me.
All the while, a pair of purple eyes watches the scene unfold with an exasperated air. Maya lies on her quilt in the corner, her head on her paws as she follows the three children running around the kitchen. Years ago, she would have joined them, chasing after them and playfully nipping at their heels; but time isn't on Maya's side anymore. After eleven years, she's old and not as spry as she used to be; however, that doesn't keep her from following loyally by my or Peeta's side whenever we go out.
After a few more minutes of children-induced chaos, a clear command from Peeta stops the ruckus immediately. When I first met Peeta, I thought I would be the strict parent. Peeta, at the time, seemed so care-free and cheerful that I simply couldn't imagine him ever holding any sort of authority. It's not to say that he wasn't authoritative back then, because he was. Just not like now. Peeta can command an entire room now. And he doesn't even need to use his gift for words. He just emits that aura now, commanding.
It's just another byproduct of his time in the Capitol dungeons.
After a flurry of pancakes, bacon, eggs, and an unfortunate incident with a stick of butter, breakfast passes smoothly for a typical morning in my house. I enlist Michael and Matthew for helping with clean-up, while Lilly takes the time to show Peeta her latest drawing. As I carefully hand another sudsy plate to Michael, who dutifully rinses it off, I smile at the soft, warm praise of Peeta's voice as he studies Lilly's drawing. Out of the corner of my eye, I see her beaming with pride. The wide smile on her face reminds me of Peeta before the Capitol. It's the exact same care-free grin.
At noon we begin our walk toward town. Lilly walks ahead of us with Maya trotting by her side. Michael is sitting atop Peeta's shoulders and Matthew's little hand is held in mine. I glance around our surroundings, noting how much has changed over the years. The Victor's Village is no longer bare with the exception of Peeta and I and Haymitch. Instead of being reserved for victors of the Games, it became the place of residence for war heroes. Rye moved into the house next to ours and Hazelle and the kids took the house next door to Haymitch. A few other war heroes from other districts who decided to relocate to 12 after the war occupy the remaining houses. Each lawn is green and spotted with vibrant, flowery color. Children's toys litter the front lawns of some.
It's so different from when I first moved here all those years ago. It actually reflects life now. A happy life.
Peeta sets Michael on his own two feet as we enter the town. Although few can see it, I immediately notice the subtle change that comes over him as we slowly filter through the party crowd in town square. Even ten years after his torture, Peeta is still uneasy in big crowds. Too many threats to assess in too little time. Too many ways for him to be caught off guard. I watch out of the corner of my eye as he scans the crowd in his peripheral while at the same time keeping an eye on the kids. After a particular scare years ago, when Lilly wandered off on her own, he hasn't ever let his guard down again.
Peeta's protective, alert stance continues as we move through the crowd. People greet us jovially and express their thanks for all that we did with the war. The children don't understand why this is, they only know that their parents are very well-liked. Although, their innocent eyes see more than perhaps I know. Last year, a drunken fight at the punch table caused Peeta to intervene. He only needed to toss both men away from each other and give them a cold glare that could rival my own to end the fight. After observing the scene, Matthew had looked up and said, "They're scared of Daddy."
Yes, they were. Peeta's torture was no secret. How could it be? Especially in the first years after the war, when the flashbacks still plagued him, people were wary of him. They still are, and Peeta does nothing to assuage their feelings. It's to his advantage for them to respectfully fear him. He doesn't necessarily like it, but he knows the tactical value. Yet another trait carried over from his time in the Capitol. Always be vigilant. Always look for an attack. Protect your family.
I lace my fingers with his and give his hand a reassuring squeeze. Peeta's eyes meet mine briefly and he offers me a small smile before bringing our joined hands to his lips and placing a soft kiss on the back of my hand. Our hands stay clasped as we steer our brood toward a picnic table occupied by a few friendly faces. A pair of blue eyes light up when they spot us.
"And here we are folks! The Mellark family! Right in front we have the munchkin and the two devils! A mischievous lot they are! I take only partial credit. Oh, who am I kidding? I'm the reason they're so awesome. On our right you'll see the lovely leading lady. Sweetcheeks, I call her, but that's only because I'm so special. And on our left we have Mr. Still Blonde, Buff, and Beautiful! He's also my brother, by the way." Wearing a cheeky grin, Rye ambles over and slaps Peeta on the shoulder. "Hey, babe."
Peeta rolls his eyes. "Will you ever grow up?"
"God, I hope not. Sounds so boring."
I laugh. "How Katie puts up with you, I'll never know."
Two years ago, Rye finally bit the bullet and got married to his girlfriend of four years, Katie Odair. Yes, she was Finnick's cousin. She was tall, nearly as tall as Rye with a lithe build and sandy blonde hair and the very same startling sea green eyes as Finnick. Rye met her when we made the trek to 4 to visit Finnick and Annie, who had just given birth to their second child, another boy. Rye and Katie's love story is incredibly short. Rye told a bad joke. Katie actually found it hilarious. They've been telling bad jokes together ever since.
"Lots of patience," Katie replies from her seat at the table. I don't blame her for not getting up to greet us. I sympathize with her nine month pregnant belly. Hauling yourself up with that big a stomach is more trouble than most realize.
I laugh. "Better you than me. I definitely picked the right brother. No offense Rye."
"Very little taken, sweetcheeks."
Simultaneously, all our heads turn to watch as Lilly races over to her grandfather in all but blood. In a move they've perfected over the years, Lilly jumps into Haymitch's arms just as he tosses her up in the air. "Hey, sunshine." Haymitch smiles genuinely. "Long time no see."
"It was only yesterday!" Lilly retorts smartly. "You missed me already?"
"The very minute you left."
I smile as I watch the two of them interact. Haymitch has changed so much since I first met him on the train to the Seventy-fourth Hunger Games. No longer is he a bumbling drunk. In fact, since Lilly was born, I haven't seen him drink a single glass of alcohol. He has another coping mechanism now, a healthier one and one that brings him more joy than any bottle of spirits ever could: Lilly, Michael, and Matthew. They've put a shine in his eye that only seems to brighten as the days pass. Now, don't get me wrong. There are still dark days. Days when he wants nothing but to be left alone so he can suffer the harsh memories of the Hunger Games and all his lost tributes in silence . . . but we all have those days. It's the price we pay for being Victors.
"Where are Mattie and Michael?" Rye frowns as he looks around.
Immediately, my back stiffens as my eyes begin to search frantically for my twins. Not again. Michael and Matthew are far too sneaky and have slipped away from me more times than I care to admit. The day they learned to walk, I learned a whole new meaning of the word 'worry.' Like when Michael tried to climb the banister when he was two. Or when I caught Matthew hiding in the cabinet under the sink after being worried to death for a solid fifteen minutes.
However, before I can fully work myself into a panic, Peeta squeezes my hand. My eyes meet his and he gives me a small smile before glancing surreptitiously under the picnic table. Michael and Matthew are wearing matching sly grins as they hide behind Katie's legs beneath the table. They wave cheerily at me before adopting an expression many would deem far too serious for a child of only five years. Slowly, they begin to inch forward toward an unsuspecting Rye.
"Seriously, where did they go?" Rye asks, getting worried. He looks around again, scanning the crowd. "Don't you think you should be panicky? Come on, let's panic together. It can be a family panic event."
"Is this how you're going to react Rye?" I ask. "When your kid gets here? It should be any day now."
"Oh, god," Rye's face pales. "Don't tell me that. I'm still getting used to the idea."
"Rye as a father." Peeta shakes his head. "Oh, brother."
"The horror that awaits," Haymitch agrees solemnly, causing Lilly to giggle.
All the while, the twins have been using our distraction to advance on their uncle. They're standing on the bench now, waiting to spring. "Oh, look I found them!" I exclaim and point behind him. Rye spins around in relief, only to be knocked to the ground by two flying blonde-haired missiles.
"Gotcha!" The twins squeal in unison.
Rye's expression is comical as he lays on the ground on his back, the twins perched atop his torso looking incredibly smug. "Wha—"
Michael smiles. "Hi, uncle Rye!"
"We were sneaky—" Matthew grins.
Michael nods. "—just like you—"
"—taught us," Matthew finishes.
"That's really creepy when you guys do that," Rye mumbles. "Is it a twin thing?"
Michael and Matthew merely stare and shrug.
"Okay, okay." Rye makes a shooing motion with his hand. "Get off me. You do realize you've started a war, right?"
Michael and Matthew nod. "We know the terms," they say in unison.
"Again, that's really creepy."
"Okay, boys," Peeta laughs. "Let him up."
After we're all settled at the table, we begin to devour the food that Rye and Katie had commandeered from the refreshment tables. Everyone is bright and talkative, the conversation mainly revolving around the impending birth of the newest Mellark. Katie and I compare notes and I assure her that everything will go smoothly when she confides her fears. After all, Dr. Riley is the best doctor in 12.
After the war, Dr. Riley was offered a prestigious position at a hospital in District 4, but she turned it down and chose to relocate to District 12 instead. She opened up a small clinic in town and her children and grandchildren help her run it, along with help from a certain very important person.
"Sorry we're late," Prim apologizes as she takes a seat on the other side of me. "Rory got distracted."
"I wasn't distracted!" Rory retorts as he takes a seat next to her. "I was absorbed."
"In an old car!"
"It's a classic!"
"It's a piece of junk!"
"Take it back!"
"Will you both shut up?" Peeta demands lightly. "Obviously, Prim is right. It's an old piece of junk." Before Rory can open his mouth to protest, Peeta adds, "But it won't be for long. It's a classic."
Thus, begins an hour long conversation between the boys about cars. Katie, Prim, and I merely shake our heads and indulge the men in our lives.
After we've all consumed far too much food, the Mayor of District 12, a man by the name of Mark Milkins, who was a commander from 12 in the war, takes the stage. On cue, everyone in the square falls quiet as he taps the microphone in front of him. We listen as he begins to speak of what all this day means, how all of the districts rose up to take back their freedom. He speaks of how we must honor those who died fighting for that freedom. At his words, my throat feels thick and my heart heavy as I think of the two people who I wish could still be with me: Gale and Johanna. How I wish they could still be alive. I wish that Johanna could be here with a sarcastic retort locked, loaded and ready to fire. I wish that Gale, my best friend, could be here to see his little brother marry Prim this coming summer. Selfishly, I wish both of them could be here for me, to add to the happiness that my life has become. I wish I could share it with them.
Peeta's arm wraps around my shoulders as he kisses my temple, and I lean further into his embrace, seeking the comfort that only he can give me.
The Mayor goes on to speak about Alma Coin and how it was her grit that helped guide us to victory and we honor her loss. Everyone at our table, with the exception of the children who are trying vainly not to squirm in impatience, share a look. We all know what really happened. Eventually, I told Prim, who told Rory. Rye told Katie. We all know that Alma Coin did not die in a tragic accident as her death was depicted. Her car was not ambushed by rogue Peacekeepers. Peeta and I, with the help of her guards, did not try courageously to fend them off. However, it's true that we could not save her. I was shot. Peeta was my savior. The Mockingjays triumphed one last time.
Commander Paylor assumed the presidency a few weeks later, having been elected by the people of Panem in the first ever democratic election. Her first order of business was to abolish the Hunger Games. Of course, the people of Panem do not know what went on behind the scenes. They don't know that we almost had one last Hunger Games, except with the Capitol children as tributes. It had come to a close vote. I had been the deciding vote. All it took for me to decide was looking down at Lilly in my arms.
Enough children had died. I voted against the Games.
And so the Hunger Games officially ended.
"And now," Mayor Milkins says with a slight smile. "I would like to ask Peeta Mellark to come up to the stage and say a few words."
Naturally, the suggestion is met with riotous applause and cheering. Michael and Matthew perk up and begin to urge their Daddy to go talk because, "It would be so cool!" Lilly is all for her father speaking as well saying, "Please Daddy?"
And being the strong man that he is, Peeta immediately caves to his daughter's wishes.
He gives me a quick kiss that makes the children cover their eyes in horror, and then begins to make his way through the crowd. When he reaches the stage, he and the Mayor shake hands and exchange a few words before Peeta steps up to the microphone.
"I'm doing this for my kids, so don't think you're all that special," he begins with a smile, causing everyone to laugh.
Peeta waits for everyone to quiet down but before he can speak the silence is broken as Lilly, Michael, and Matthew shout, "WE LOVE YOU, DADDY!"
Light laughter trickles through the crowd, and Peeta chuckles. "I love you, too," he says softly before seeming to be struck with inspiration. He addresses the crowd. "It's a crazy thing, isn't it? Love. It can happen in an instant and in the most unusual places. Trust me on that." Again, the crowd laughs. "Love is an amazing thing. It can change things. It can change people. It can change society. It can change a nation. Ten years ago, that's exactly what happened." Peeta take a moment to scan the crowd. His eyes land on mine. "Ten years ago, I fought for something . . .someone, really, and I don't think it's a big mystery as to who I'm talking about." Once again, the crowd laughs. "Katniss." Peeta's eyes meet mine once more and I know that his next words are just for me. "After all that we've been through, I really hope you know that I love you. Otherwise, I seriously need to sit down and regroup."
I laugh and mouth, "I love you, too" knowing that he will understand.
Peeta smiles. "I fought for love. I fought for my family. I fought for a better life for my kids. I fought for nothing different than all of you. And look where we are now. Ten years of peace!" Everyone erupts into cheers and applause. "If there is one thing that I hope to teach my kids, it's that love is greater than anything real or imagined. Of course, I know this because a wise woman once told me that love was a gift. It's true. Love is a great gift, and I hope that all of us can continue to use that gift, to cherish that gift. Because without love, we have nothing. Nothing to fight for. Nothing to strive for." Peeta takes a deep breath. "Love is what kept me alive. It's what gave me strength. It's what I believe in more than anything. Love is worth fighting for. It's what brought us to where we are today. And that, I think, has made all the difference."
Peeta steps back from the microphone, giving the crowd a slight wave as everyone erupts into cheers, whistles, and applause. Eventually, after shaking hands with multiple people as he tries to make his way back to us, he plops down beside me with a heavy sigh.
"Babe, that had me in tears." Rye theatrically wipes a tear from his eye. "Oh, it was so beautiful."
"He's right, you know," I say softly. "It was beautiful. And I do love you, though sometimes I wonder why."
"Thanks," Peeta replies wryly, but nonetheless gives me a gentle kiss. He pulls away and then whispers huskily in my ear, "I'll just have to remind you why later."
I shiver. When is this thing over, again?
The rest of the celebration passes by in a happy blur. Michael and Matthew run off with Rye under the guise of "lessons in pranking." And I will swear before President Paylor herself that I have no idea who stole Mayor Milkins pants after he good naturedly agreed to participate in the Dunk Tank.
Lilly sits in Peeta's lap, curled into his chest, as she fights not to drift off to sleep after playing a long-lasting game of freeze tag with her friends. Rye eventually wonders back with the twins in tow, and I pretend not to notice their muddy clothes that I'll have the pleasure of washing later. Michael comes over to me and nestles into my side. I kiss the top of his head and smile as I notice Matthew can hardly keep his eyes open as he rests in Rye's arms.
"I wore them out," he says proudly. "Be thankful."
"Oh, I am. Haymitch is, too."
Haymitch looks up from his conversation with Peeta. "Talkin' about me, sweetheart? Only say nice things. There are children present."
"Not for long," I retort. "They're staying with you tonight."
Katie's eyes light up. "Good. You two need some time to yourselves."
Prim nods in agreement. "Really, Katniss. You need a break."
"What about me?" Peeta asks in mock outrage. "I have to put up with the kids and Katniss."
I scoff. "Please. Who was rolling around with them on the floor yesterday fighting monsters?"
Peeta lifts his chin arrogantly. "They were dragons. Not monsters. And I slew three by the way. I saved the kingdom."
"My husband, the Dragon Slayer," I say dryly. "Fantastic."
Katie smiles. "I can only imagine the games Rye will come up with once ours gets here," she says as she rests a tender hand on her stomach.
Rye waggles his eyebrows. "Baby, you have no idea."
After another hour of conversation, the sun begins to sink lower in the sky and all of us decide to call it a day. After parting with smiles and laughter, it's just me, Peeta, Haymitch, and the kids. Maya sits beside me, leaning against my leg as I scratch her behind the ears. Peeta and I go over some last minute things with Haymitch in order to prepare him for the chaos that stems from having three small children in your house, particularly when you have a devious set of twin boys. After assuring us, yet again, that he has it covered, Haymitch shifts Michael in his arms and calls for Matthew and Lilly, who come running over. "Let's go, kids," he says. "Say bye to Mom and Dad."
"Bye Mommy." The twins rush over to me and hug me tightly.
I give them both a kiss. "Be good, you two," I order firmly, but with a smile. "I love you."
They giggle and reply, "Love you more!"
"Love you most."
Lilly gives both Peeta and I a hug and whispers something in Peeta's ear that makes him chuckle and tickle her sides, causing her to squeal in delight. He kisses the top of her head and then gently pushes her toward Haymitch who's waiting with an outstretched hand.
"Come on, Maya!" Lilly commands and Maya immediately springs forward to obey the order. Lilly takes Haymitch's hand while the other rests along Maya's back as she walks beside her.
Peeta and I watch them walk away in silence. Only once they're out of sight do we turn and begin a leisurely walk through the town. Peeta wraps his arm around me, tucking me into his side. I wrap my arm around his waist, hooking my fingers into the belt loop of his jeans. As we walk through the town, I take in all the new sights. So much has changed in ten years. All the buildings are new and fresh since nothing was salvageable after the bombing. Some are still under construction; plans are being made for more.
We pass the bakery that Peeta and Rye reopened eight years ago. It's where I spend most of my time. I man the counter while Peeta and Rye work their baking and pastry magic. Business is good. I have my own little side business, of course, and that's hunting. It's no longer illegal and while there is still a fence that surrounds District 12, this new fence has a gate. One that I can pass through anytime I please.
As we make our way through what used to be the Seam, I can't help but feel a slight pang in my heart. So many people died here. Friends. We pass by where my old house used to be. In its place is a freshly painted white house with blue shutters. A white picket fence covered with climbing roses borders the small green yard. It will be Prim and Rory's house once they're married.
When we reach the Meadow that's now been turned into a park—complete with slides, swings, a jungle gym, and other parksy things—I finally speak. "You think they'll give Haymitch a hard time?"
Peeta chuckles. "Definitely."
I smile. "The twins will get him up at five in the morning."
"Lilly will want waffles."
"Michael hates waffles."
"And Matthew will stick with his clone, so they'll revolt."
"Which will spawn a waffle batter war."
"In which Haymitch will lose."
Peeta and I laugh at the eventful morning Haymitch is sure to have. "I almost feel bad for him," I say with a smile.
"Almost. Key word, there."
We wave at Bennie Goodman, the guard at the gate. He smiles and without a word opens the gate to let us into the woods. If it's even possible, I relax even more as I let the greenery of the forest surround me. Peeta and I are silent as we trek through the woods, enjoying the sounds of the birds and the insects. The mockingjays flit around us and Peeta whistles his own little tune that they sing back to him after a moment of debate.
"However much trouble those damn birds caused us," he says with a wry smile. "I kinda like them."
I just laugh.
Eventually, we make it to the lake. The sun is just setting over the water, making it seem to glow with swirls of pink and orange and yellow. The stars in the sky slowly start to sparkle as the sun continues to descend and we make our way around the edge of the lake to the cabin. It's nothing too amazing, although Peeta and Rye turned out to be surprisingly good contractors. The cabin has a small kitchen and living area, along with our bedroom. A ladder leads up to the loft that is surrounded by a tall railing. That's the kids' realm.
The moment the door closes behind me, Peeta's lips seek mine. The kiss is unhurried, wonderfully languid and delightfully teasing. When we separate, I simply smile and rest my head against his chest, listening to his steady heartbeat as his arms hold me tightly to him. We stand in the middle of the cabin, holding each other for a few minutes. If there's anything when it comes to intimacy that we've learned over the years, it's that there is no rush. Of course, back then we were, admittedly, extremely hormonal teenagers who were pretty sure we were going to die. In the back of our minds, we thought that each time we made love might very well be our last.
Bu it's different now. Now, we have all the time in the world.
"I love you," Peeta says softly, breaking the silence.
"I know," I reply. I pull away slightly so I can look up at him. "I love you, too."
"Great! Let's get naked."
"Peeta!" I chastise although I'm caught in a fit of giggles.
"What?" Peeta grins as his hands slip beneath my shirt. He kisses me lightly. "The kids are gone." He pulls the shirt over my head and tosses it without a care behind him. His lips graze my collarbone. "That means no interruptions."
I laugh. "What a foreign concept."
"Exactly my point. We should cherish this moment."
"By getting naked."
"See? Now, you're getting it."
"I hope so."
"Don't tempt me, beautiful," Peeta replies lightly as he playfully nips the skin of my neck. By now, we've made it to the bedroom. Suddenly, Peeta tosses me up and both of us land in the middle of the bed laughing. However, my laughter suddenly becomes a moan as Peeta's lips capture mine. We kiss slowly, but passionately. I try to force my fingers to cooperate and undo the buttons of Peeta's shirt, but when he sucks my bottom lip into his mouth I lose my concentration completely.
Damn, he's a good kisser.
I finally rip the shirt open in my frustration, sending buttons flying everywhere. Peeta pulls back and chuckles before attaching his lips to my neck. From there, he begins a trail of kisses down my body, removing all the clothes that get in his way. His lips retrace their route, lingering in places, using every bit of skill he's gained over the years. Trust me when I say that's a lot of skill.
His lips finally meet mine once more, and I tangle my hands in his hair to make sure he's not going anywhere anytime soon. The moment his lips part, I deepen the kiss and our tongues begin a sensual dance we've both perfected by now. I allow my hands to roam over his bare torso, my fingers automatically seeking out the many scars that I now know by heart. I caress them, love them, to show him that I haven't forgotten, nor will I ever forget, all that he suffered to save me and Lilly.
The love we make is sweet and slow, playful and light. We laugh and sigh contentedly, holding each other as close as we can. When we finally collapse against the pillows, our breathing delightfully labored, we simply smile. Peeta pulls me into his arms, his lips ghosting over my shoulder to nuzzle my neck. We lay peacefully in each other's arms, and I revel in the happiness that seems to tingle throughout my entire body.
All the carnage, all the horror of the Hunger Games, the Quarter Quell, the Rebellion . . . all of it was worth it.
Because although it was the darkest of times, I found a light. A warm, loving light that saved me. Peeta's love. Love that changed me. Molded me. Love that made me a better person.
Peeta is right. Love is worth fighting for.
And it truly makes all the difference.
And the curtain falls.
And there we go. :)
You guys didn't honestly think I would kill Katniss? Well, permanently kill her at least. No. She can die briefly, but that's it. Besides, Peeta shall always be around to save the day!
So! That's it, folks! Just in case you're wanting a bit more background: This is set ten years into the future, Katniss and Peeta are both 28, while the twins Michael and Matthew are five. Lilly is 10. Lilly is a miniature girl version of Peeta, but her personality is all Katniss. Michael and Matthew are a sort of even split between Peeta and Katniss in both looks and personality, although they have a fondness for pranks and mischief brought on by everyone's favorite uncle. Michael is the oldest by two minutes and inherited Katniss's singing talent, while Matthew (in a few years) will prove that he's unmatched with a bow. Prim is the head of surgery at Dr. Riley's clinic. While her arm is severely scarred from her burns, she made a miraculous recovery (take that Capitol doctors!). She and Rory, both 24, will be married next summer. Rye (30) and Katie (27) are expecting their first baby any day now. Rye helps Peeta out at the bakery while Katie teaches swimming at the local pool (yes, D12 has made some wonderful progress). Hazelle and the rest of the Hawthorne clan were provided with a house in the Victor's Village in Gale's honor. Dr. Riley moved to District 12 after the war and opened up her own clinic, which she runs with her family and Prim. She has also become a surrogate grandmother to the Mellark children. Haymitch has been transformed into a softy due to his grandkids and spoils them rotten with great glee, although his inner demons still haunt him.
Long summary short: They lived happily ever after, the odds finally in their favor.
Once again, thank you so much for all of your love and support throughout this entire series. It's been a blast, guys. These past three years have meant more to me than I ever thought they would, and that's due in no small part to you guys. So, thank you. Truly.
I guess I can't prolong this any longer. I'm signing off. Drop me one last review. ;)
Lots of love, Always,