Together By Chance, Together By Choice

Chapter 14

Epilogue

Five Years Later-Katniss

"Can we go for a picnic today, please Mom? It's so nice outside!" I felt the movement of the bed as I knew not one but two little bodies were getting up on it.

"Pwease! Pik-nic," a second voice called out. I gave up and opened my eyes to see two other sets, one blue, one grey, looking directly at me. I smiled at them as I finally decided to greet morning.

"Hey there you two," I answer. "Already planning our day?"

"Yes, and the sun is out, so Zander and I think we go to the meadow and eat outside today. Pretty please?"The girl and boy look at me pleadingly. I laugh inside, thinking that if only every day could be like this where the easiest decision is whether to have a picnic or not.

"I think that is a great idea," I tell them, and excitement spreads over their little faces. "We can stop by the bakery and let Daddy know and maybe he can join us for a while."

"Awesome! We'll go get dressed now." The two tumble off the bed, and Hope runs while her little brother toddles behind her out the door of the bedroom. I decide to give my children a few minutes to attempt to dress themselves before I intervene. I wash up a little bit and get my usual hunting gear on. I need to at least attempt to catch some game this morning before we have our fun.

When I'm ready and find them, Hope is all decked out properly, and desperately trying to help Zander get his shirt on. Unfortunately, his head is stuck in an armhole and my little tiger is screaming at his sister to stop pulling on his head. I stop them and quickly fix the problem.

"You ready to get out of here?" I ask them. Both of the children nod their heads wildly.

With shoes on and hair brushed, I grab my bow, arrows, and old hunting jacket and the three of us head out the back of our home. We take it pretty leisurely since it is hard for Zander, who is only 18 months old, to keep up, although five year old Hope runs ahead and then comes back to us to tell us what lies waiting for us. In time we finally reach the woods. As always, I drink in the smell of the trees and instantly feel comfort overtake me.

It's the first time we have really been outside in quite a while. This past winter was pretty rough, so we were indoors for most of it. Now, spring is finally here and it is warming up. Gale would have loved this kind of day.

Gale decided to stay in Two after the rebellion. He got the high profile job of watching over Coin's punishment, and after that he has been given a variety of other assignments that have kept him close to the government. He is respected by all in the Capitol, which is why they keep giving him the best jobs. Johanna joined here there not long after they had also appeared before the council and declared that they wanted to stay together. They still argue often and loudly, but love just as fiercely, and their passion is evidenced in the four children they have already with one more on the way. When she has not been pregnant, Jo helps with the administration offices for soldier training. We usually see their family two or three times a year when Gale comes to visit his mother and sister.

The three of us walk along the pathways between the trees. The kids have early on learned to tread quietly through the trees, something their father still has yet to pick up after so many years. Hope points out different things to me, and I am when she spies a gathering of rabbits. They would make a great stew. Sae would appreciate having them.

Greasy Sae is still around, busy as ever. With all the reconstruction, she never actually picked a house to stay at herself. The old woman just goes from place to place, wherever she is needed most. When I was due to give birth for a second time, she came back to us in our time of need, helping with cooking and cleaning while I tended to the baby. I have come to treasure her help, and her wisdom. She has continually guided me to look forward, not back.

I grab a few of the rabbits and sometime later also bring down a couple of squirrels. The kids just follow along, happy as larks to be helping me hunt. When I decide we have enough for the day, I tell them it's time to head back. They groan, but obediently follow my lead.

As we enter the town, I still stand amazed at how it has come back literally from the dead. The town center is completely full of shops and restaurants, surrounding the new brick Justice building. From there, smaller shops and homes dot the streets that come off Main. While there were about only 50 people who returned at first, over the next few years that number grew into the hundreds. We are now a small, yet thriving community. Some have gone back to the mines once they were workable again, but we have added making medicines to our industry, as well.

All of this led by Thom, who was the obvious choice for Mayor of District 12 when elections were finally held. He has done a remarkable job of leading the efforts here and also promoting the area so that more people would come to live here. It has paid off, not only professionally, but personally. He and Delly are the epitome of happiness. Their son, Tommy, was born not long after our toasting. Since then they have added another daughter. Lila has heard about Fred, but considers Thom her father, and only her red hair makes the beautiful girl stand out from the rest.

My children and I make our way up the street and I smile as we enter the bakery. The so familiar smell of bread fills my nostrils and the kids dash inside when the door opens.

"Daddy! Daddy!" they both cry. "Come look what we caught today." Within moments, my husband comes out from the back, hands and apron covered with flour. His hair tussled as he tries to brush it away out of his eyes. Hope and Zander show him our haul and he smiles that winning grin only Peeta can give.

"Great job guys," he gushes. "Sounds like you were great hunting helpers today."

"Yeah," Hope states, "and now we are going to go on a picnic. Can you come with us?" She and her little brother give him the puppy dog looks they had given me earlier. I know Peeta. There's no way he can say no to that.

Peeta thinks about it for a minute. "Why not?" he finally answers as he looks up at me. "I've got some extra hands today, and I think they can take care of things while we go have lunch."

"Gweat Daddy!" Zander squeals and goes to give him a hug. Hope quickly follows, and after giving their thanks they run upstairs to get ready. Peeta comes over to me then and puts his arm around my waist to bring me close. He kisses me long and deep. I don't think I will ever get tired of being kissed by him.

When we finally part, I yawn. My husband laughs. "Are you tired, or am I have become that boring at kissing?"

"Well…" I reply nudging him in the ribs, "someone was feeling fairly amorous last night and kept me up really late."

"Oh, you know you loved it," Peeta replies tickling me a little.

"Yeah, I did," I answer, "but I'm just tired and your children are VERY energetic."

He sighs, "I know. That's just another reason I am going on the picnic. I'll clean up a little here then meet you upstairs in just a few minutes." I nod and he returns to the back. I go up to the second floor and begin to make sandwiches and cut up some fruit for our lunch. By the time I have it all packed, Peeta is up and we are all ready to go.

We walk towards the meadow hand in hand. All four of us together, with Peeta's fingers linked with mine. The kids let go here and there to run around, but stay with us generally. When we reach the open area, I have to give a small gasp as I see the difference between what it looks like now compared to how it was that time I came after we returned.

Where there was once ash and mud all around, now the field is covered with green and the dandelions that signal the season. The children jump excitedly as they see it and ask to be let go. We allow it and they begin to run through the grass. While they play, Peeta and I place a blanket out and sit down upon it. I lean back into his strong arms as we watch the two products of our love. The girl dances, twirling around and around with her hands high in the air. Our boy tries to imitate her, but almost completely falls down on his uncoordinated feet. We just sit there, taking in the joyous moment.

"Oh, I forgot," Peeta interrupts at one point. "There were some letters for you." He takes out of his bag a few envelopes and hands them to me. I look them over to see what news they bring. I open the first one, which comes from Rue. She returned back to her home in Eleven, who is teaching young children there. Thresh managed to make it home finally, and together they have helped in restoring the agriculture in the district. She writes that she hopes to come to Twelve when Prim does so that we can all catch up together.

Speaking of, the next envelope is more of an invitation size than a letter one, and when I open it, I am not in the least surprised. My sister stayed in the Capitol after we left, learning all she could as an intern of the good Dr. Aurelius. She continued to grow in her skills and education, until she finally managed to become a certified doctor herself. From there, she decided to open a practice in District 8, where the destruction from the bombs was the worst, and therefore where Prim felt she was most needed. She had begun dating Rory Hawthorne while finishing her internship, and he followed her when she settled. The announcement in my hand is telling me of their impending wedding.

"Look at this," I tell my husband and hand over the card to him. He takes it and glances at the words.

"That's wonderful," he states. "Looks like I'll have to have another chat with Rory." Peeta had taken it upon himself to act as big brother and talk with the Hawthorne boy about how she should treat Prim.

"Yeah," I sigh. "I'll need to call Mom. She's going to be thrilled." My mother stayed in Thirteen for a little while after the invasion, but afterwards has been taking her healing powers on the road. She floats around the districts, helping the local doctors. Sometimes she has even assisted my sister in her practice. I think being nomadic keeps her from lingering in the sadness. Both she and Prim come to Twelve a few times a year to visit with us.

The last letter I open comes from District 4. Finnick and Annie have been an inspiration to us. They had returned home not long after he had recovered from his injury. They opened a seafood market, which with their skills brings in the best fish and crab in the country. Little Finn has grown into a sweet and charming boy, and although the couple have been trying for quite some time to conceive again, they have struggled through a few miscarriages. The last one really threw Annie into a depression and Finnick was desperate about how to help her. We were really worried about them, until a couple of months ago they hesitantly announced that Annie was pregnant again. There were extremely nervous at first, but their last letter was full of hope as she passed the first trimester and seemed to be out of danger. I quickly read over their latest news.

"Annie says that she is finally over the morning sickness now, and that they have a new vendor who wants them to provide all the seafood for their restaurants." I relate all that I read from our friends to Peeta.

"I'm so glad for them," he replies. "If anyone deserves it, they do." I can't help but agree. Things really have turned around since that night everything was destroyed. Life is turning out for the better. So is our country.

About six months after our return to Twelve, elections for a new permanent government for Panem were held. After effectively leading the invasion and her fair dealings while on the Council, Paylor easily won to become President. She has led the country well, and her efforts have finally brought prosperity to the land. Programs to boost economy in each district have been started, such as the one to produce medicine here. That, along with continuing to work the coal has added to the district's ability to market goods. Construction has been a priority, and steady progress has been made everywhere to rebuild. The new government, with Haymitch as a representative for our district, continued to put forth new plans and laws to build the people up, not tear them down.

Paylor has also dealt with the population issue. In their investigations, the Council looked at each and every matched marriage that Coin had arranged. Like us, all of the couples were allowed to choose whether or not they wanted to stay together. It turned out about half decided to remain in their marriage and the other half separated. While everyone who was married was not forced to have children, there were incentives put in place. Tax breaks and discounts on food and clothing were started so that people would continue to feel comfortable adding to their families and help the populace to grow.

These thoughts bring me back to my own children. My eyes turn back on them as they continue playing, carefree from any worry. I turn to Peeta who is lying on the blanket with his hands behind his head.

"They really are special, aren't they?" I say nodding towards Hope and Zander.

"They really are," he agrees. He slides closer and puts his arm around my waist to bring me closer. "What do you think about maybe having another one?" He places a hand on my stomach which is not as flat as it was before giving birth.

"Not right now," I reply with a little nudge, "but maybe in a year or two I might be able to be convinced."

He smiles wickedly at this. "Oh, I bet I can persuade you. I'm very good with words."

"Is that a challenge?" I ask. Two can play at this game.

"One I'm very willing to take on," he states. He is so close that his face is just inches away and of course his lips take mine. It's sweet and familiar, tasting of bread and sugar that is completely Peeta. I get lost in it when I hear a high pitched voice.

"Ewww! Kissing!" Hope calls out.

Zander can't help but put in his own comment. "Kissy!"

We look up at them guilty at being caught, but not ashamed. "Somehow," my husband says as he sits back up, "I think that come ten years from now you won't be saying that."

"Yes, I will!" our daughter argues. "It's gross. Boys are yucky anyway."

"Really?" I say. "What about Zander? Is he yucky?"

Hope rolls her eyes as if we really don't get it. "Zander's no boy. He's just my brother." At this, we can't contain ourselves any longer as Peeta and I laugh out loud. Both kids look at each other in total confusion as to why this would be funny to us. They decide after we continue on that we are no longer interesting, so they run off to play again.

When our laughter dies down, I turn to look at Peeta. He is watching them, and a very serious look comes over his face.

"Penny for your thoughts?" I inquire.

He turns to me. "I was thinking of them growing up, and finding their own love. I just hope they will be able to love as freely as we do now."

"That's what we fought for, isn't it?" I offer.

"Yeah," he sighs. "Do you think they will understand when we tell them how we were matched? I don't want them to think their births were an obligation."

"They won't," I promise. "We'll make them see that we may have been forced at first, but afterwards, we made the choice to stay together out of love." I look straight into those blue eyes and I can see all that Peeta feels for me in them.

He touches my cheek, and then brushes it with his lips. His head drops until he is kissing my neck. "And I would choose you," he finally says between kisses, "over and over again."

"Always," is my breathless reply.

We stay like that for a few minutes, until Peeta gets up from the blanket. "Come on," he extends a hand towards me, "I've got to get back soon. Let's go enjoy this while we can."

I take his grip in mine and he helps me up. We walk over to where our children are and, smiling, join them in their game…together.

THE END


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