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With her mother gone, with Prim dead, the house was oppressingly quiet at night.  Katniss doesn’t really sleep much anymore, not without dreams of the bloodied, mutated faces of everyone she’s seen die.  Sometimes, when she’s close to exhaustion but knows her mind just won’t give in to what her body needs, she heads over to Haymitch’s under the pretense of checking up on him and snags a bottle of whatever rotgut he has available.  It always burns as it goes down and she hates how dependent on it it makes her feel, but it helps.  Now, she thinks, she finally understands her old mentor just a little better.  Things were bad before, with the Games, with the war, but it’s almost worse now that there is nothing surrounding her but the quiet that gives her too much time to think, to relive it all every time she closes her eyes.

Sometimes Prim’s mangy old cat wanders in overnight to look for easy pickings, day old bread and the scraps leftover on her dinner plate.  But the cat is always so quiet she doesn’t even know it’s there, the only evidence the small crumbs and licked clean plates left behind.  So when she hears the sound of glass shattering downstairs in the middle of the night, Katniss’ mind retreats, blanks, and she wakes up in the arena.

All she can smell is burnt flesh and the irony scent of blood.  She can feel the fire bubbling her skin, the tracker jackers stabbing into her arms, and she has to bite her lip to keep quiet.  People are dying all around her, all just kids, but she needs to win for Prim, for her mother, for Peeta and Gale.  Katniss has to make it out alive.

Her hands sling her arrows over her shoulder without even realizing it, grabbing the bow and reaching back for an arrow to notch.  She keeps them by her bed, just in case.  Silently, Katniss creeps toward her door, turning the handle and easing the door open.  Hearing a long creak on the stairs, she creeps forward, ready to loose an arrow.

“Katniss!” she hears, and it’s like she’s hearing her name through layers of glass, garbled and corrupted.  She hears it again and again, and then she sees him, Peeta, the moonlight slating in on his face through the gauzy curtains.  He looks pale and watery, his eyes pushed wide, and Katniss feels an icy awareness creep across the back of her neck. 

“Peeta?” she asks, and she’s still uncertain, still disbelieving.  The arena felt so real and she doesn’t know how she could have gotten from there to here so seamlessly. 

“Yes,” he says.  Katniss hears him let out a shaky breath of relief when she lowers her bow to her waist.

“Real or not real?” she asks in a whisper.  It works for Peeta so she hopes it will for her too.

“Real,” Peeta says, and it’s the most decisive she’s heard him since the second Games.

It never fails to amaze her how much people can live through, can survive, and still be left breathing. 

Katniss’ hands give out and her bow and arrow clatter to the hallway floor.  Peeta climbs the rest of the way up the stairs, his prosthetic clunking loudly with each step, and Katniss isn’t quite sure how she missed that.  Her panic is receding, breath leveling out, and she should have known it was him with how many times she’s heard him walking, that extra hesitation before each step.

Tentatively, his fingers brush her cheek, making Katniss inhale sharply.  Her heart is still beating wildly in her chest, but she feels a little calmer now.  They stand there like that for a long time before Peeta grabs her hand and leads her back to her room.  Just as they’re about to climb into bed, Katniss dashes back into the hall to grab her bow and the single arrow that fell to the ground.  She returns with them, replacing them on the floor next to her bed, unslinging the quiver from her shoulder as well before climbing in next to him.

She curls up next to him, almost touching, feeling his breath on her face.  “I can’t sleep without them,” she admits. 

“I couldn’t sleep without you,” he replies.  Peeta’s hand finds hers in the dark and he doesn’t let go of it all night.

--

During the day, District 12 is a mirage, a filled-in crater in the ground, but at night it is a graveyard.  Sometimes, Katniss thinks she can hear a great inhale of expectation, the sharp-drawn breath before the fire bombs dropped. 

The District is rebuilding itself, but she’s not sure if it will ever feel right to her.  Katniss can slowly see it coming together, rising from the ashes.  Some, not many, but some of the people that managed to escape the bombing have come back to rebuild, and there are a surprising number of people immigrating to 12 from the other districts destroyed during the war.  Maybe it is morbid, but Katniss can see the appeal of a leveled land giving people the opportunity to start over in the most tangible of terms. 

A medicine factory goes up, and it’s there that most of the citizens work at first.  The export revenue is enough to have a stimulating effect on the local economy, and soon other business are going up.  No one is wealthy by even the most tentative means, but it’s enough to promote growth and someday, maybe even prosperity.

There are whispers even way out in District 12 of a new government coming together, but for the most part, no one bothers them for once, and it is a relief. 

Katniss spends her days doing what she can.  She helps build houses and has a contract with the butcher to sell him whatever game she doesn’t save for herself, Peeta, and Haymitch, who usually just mooches off of them more often than not.  Sometimes she helps Peeta out in the garden he has behind his house because it’s hard on the hip above his amputated leg.  Not that he’s ever complained about it.  She’s also been teaching him to shoot at targets out in the woods.  So far he isn’t very good at it, but he seems content to keep practicing under Katniss’ instruction.

In the evenings, they work on filling out the pages of her family’s plant book and the memory book they started.  Three or four nights a week, Haymitch sits across the room and watches them with a pensive look on his face until one night when he gives them a list of twenty-three years’ worth of dead children to add to it.  Twenty-four if you count Maysilee Donner, the female tribute from Haymitch’s own reaping. 

--

Hey Girl On Fire,

How’s it going down in District 12?  Rumor has it that you’ve been playing Good Samaritan and helping build schools and shit.  But don’t worry, I’ve been demolishing those rumors as quick as I hear them because we both know there’s no way Katniss Everdeen spends her days building schools and sewing clothes for orphans.  Not when there are walls to brood at and woodland creatures to skin.

I hope everything is alright with you, the drunken lug, and the little baker that could.  I also hope you’re keeping them in line because we both know they’d be hopeless without you, but be sure to let your boyfriend know that if he ever wants a taste of something better, I’m single.  Kidding, Katniss.  Well, only a little.  Truthfully, I have my sights set one someone else at the moment.

I just got back from visiting Annie and the kid a few days ago.  They’re both doing surprisingly well and asked about you Distract 12 lot. I didn’t really have anything interesting to tell her so I may have embellished, but only a little.

Her son looks so much like Finnick it was like being punched in the gut a few dozen times.  I really miss that dumbass.

Anyway, visit sometime if they ever let you leave 12 or whatever.  See you when I see you.

Axes and arrows,

Johanna

--

It doesn’t surprise anyone when Peeta announces that he wants to open a bakery.  

“Well, I think that’s just swell,” Haymitch says, surprisingly without any sarcasm in his voice.  “Good for you, Peeta.”  He helps himself to another baguette from the coffee table, thoughtfully dunks it into his coffee, and takes a bite while watching them.  Sometimes, Katniss thinks it is like Haymitch is waiting for something, but she hasn’t figured out what just yet.

Peeta looks over at Katniss expectantly when she doesn’t say anything.  “What do you think, Katniss?” he asks.

Katniss feels a burning sense of trepidation low in her stomach.  It’s stupid, she knows it is, but after having so much taken from her already, this scares her.  Like maybe this bakery will somehow be the catalyst to taking Peeta from her too when she’s lost nearly everyone else already. 

So she forces a smile to spread across her face, knowing that it probably looks more like a crazed grimace, and says, “I think that’s a great idea, Peeta.” 

“Oh jeez,” Haymitch says, rolling his eyes and downing the remains of his coffee, slamming it down on the coffee table.  He snags a few more of the baguettes and heads for the door.  “Pull your head out of your ass, would you Sweetheart?” he says over his shoulder.  “Later kiddies.”

“Katniss,” Peeta says after they hear the door slam.  “Please, look at me.” 

That was one thing she always liked about Peeta, that he always gave her an option.  Hesitating, she turns her face to look at him.  He’s sitting at the other end of the couch, his leg crossed over the prosthetic, but his whole attention is on her, kind of like it’s always been.  “What’s wrong, Katniss?”

She’s still looking at him and it’s taking everything in her to keep doing so.  After they got back, after they began to try and make a life again in District 12, they promised only honesty with each other.  Because of everything Peeta’s ever done for her, she means to hold to that the best she can. 

“I think…I think I’m scared,” she says finally.  It sounds right to her, what she’s feeling.  She is scarred, she always is.

He exhales, and the look he gives her isn’t quite fond, but it’s close.  “You aren’t going to lose me, Katniss.  It’s not going to happen.  Okay?” 

It still amazes her how well he’s able to read her, and the anxiety settles.  A little bit at least, and she replies, “Okay.”

“I’ll need someone to handle my finances,” Peeta says, and Katniss smiles.  It’s probably the best thing she’s heard in ages.

A few weeks later, after Haymitch goes through the proper channels to put things in motion, they break ground on Peeta’s bakery.

--

Dear Katniss,

Not a single day or maybe even hour goes by that I don’t think about that morning your father went to work and didn’t come back.  It was the last time our lives were anything like normal, and now you and I are the only ones left. 

Prim’s death has left a raw hole inside my chest.  I never thought I could feel any worse than I did after your father died, but it turns out that it’s possible.  More than possible.  The only difference is that now I’m a little bit stronger, and it’s all because of you, Katniss. 

You are the one that fought for our family after I had given up on it.  You survived a hell I can’t even fathom, more than once even, and still you fight on.  It’s because of you that I’m even able to get up in the morning, knowing that no matter how much I hurt inside, there is still something I can do to make sure no one else has to feel what we have and try to leave an impression of betterment before it is my time too.

I don’t think it’s even possible to convey to you how proud of you I am.  I love you, Katniss.

Mom

--

It’s a few days before the grand opening of Peeta’s bakery.  Katniss is at his door, knocking with a few skinned hares in her hand.  He didn’t invite her over, but they have an unspoken agreement to have dinner together nearly every night. 

She sits at the table cutting vegetables for the stew while Peeta kneads dough at the counter.  They make small talk, but are mostly each lost in their own thoughts, and it isn’t until Peeta’s elbow sends the rolling pin to the floor with a loud thud, his body seizing up, that she remembers she is far from the only one still messed up from the Games, from the war.   It’s a hard thing to remember sometimes when it’s on your mind every waking moment and during your dreams as well.

Peeta’s breathing goes ragged and then he drops straight down, his leg giving out.  She jumps from her seat and kneels before him.  It’s been a while since he’s had a panic attack, in front of her at least, and she has to try and remember what Dr. Aurelius told her to do when he had them. 

Don’t crowd him, she remembers.  Speak to him in a soothing voice, distract him.  Never raise your voice because that only makes it worse.  Be reassuring but firm, and above all, don’t panic yourself.

She feels a surge of anger, not at Peeta, but at the people that wrecked him, knowing very well that she’s probably on that list in some capacity.  Panic attacks set off by something as simple as a rolling pin falling to the floor is the result when they break someone so entirely good, and she’s furious, wants to break something. 

But Katniss’ anger isn’t what he needs right now, so she squashes it down into that place she shoves everything too demanding and encompassing for her handle, and focuses on him.

“We’re okay here, Peeta,” Katniss says, the tone of her voice surprising her.  It’s the tone she used on Prim to reassure that the likelihood her name would be drawn was the slimmest possible.  “The Games and the war are both over.  The world is rebuilding.  It’s just you and me here, just Peeta and Katniss.”

It takes several long minutes, but his ashen face begins to go back to its normal color and his breath evens out.  Peeta’s tightly squeezed eyes unclench and open.  She gives him a small smile and hope it looks a little placating. 

“It’s just you and me here, Peeta,” Katniss says again, “and we’re going to be okay.”

“Thanks,” he says in a gust of breath, reaching forward to take her hand.  She can feel his pulse still jumping erratically in his wrist and thumb, but it slows as she holds on before it eventually evens out into a steady, reassuring throb she can feel in her fingertips.

--

The bakery opens and they settle into a routine.  Katniss has to cut back on helping in town, but there’s less to do now than there was, and spends nearly as many hours in the bakery as Peeta does.  She spends a lot less time doing his books than she thought she would, but it’s a small business, for now at least, and takes relatively little of her time.  So when Katniss isn’t sitting in the small office going over supplies order forms and crunching numbers, she is in the kitchen with Peeta learning how to bake.  Katniss is nowhere on the level of Peeta and leaves all the cakes and complicated things to him, but she can soon make decent loaves of bread that don’t even collapse in the middle anymore.

They quickly settle into a routine as the months pass, getting up early to open the shop, working, dropping off leftover bread to the people that need it before heading home for dinner.  Sometimes Haymitch even wanders in during the day, taking a seat back in the kitchen.  Katniss thinks Haymitch has gotten so used to having them around that he’s finally realized how lonely he is. 

After he drunkenly falls off a stool and a bottle shatters on the ground, Peeta puts his foot down and informs him that he isn’t welcome in the kitchen if he’s drunk or drinking.  It’s more forceful than Katniss has seen in a long time, that spark of backbone that used to always surprise her.  It does now too, and she admires it. 

Haymitch stayed away about a week after that, but showed up completely sober and has since then too.  Sometimes he even measures out ingredients and dumps them into Peeta’s giant mixing bowl, leveling off cup by cup so they’re perfectly even.  He’s slow, hardly efficient, but there is something so good about seeing him doing something other than drinking that neither Katniss nor Peeta can bring themselves to say anything.  They just let him pack flour into the measuring cups, chopping at the mountain of extra flour on top with a knife before running the blade flat across the top of the cup.

“It’s the way my mother taught me,” he says the first time he catches them staring.

“Mine too,” Peeta says quietly. 

“My mom tried to I think, but I dropped the sack of flour all over the kitchen and basically got banned.  Prim was the one good in the kitchen.”

None of them say much else the rest of the day, but somehow, with that little bit of common ground, it is enough.

--

It’s in the late spring that they come home from work to find Buttercup dead on the porch. 

As they approach, Katniss thinks he’s only sleeping even though he never sticks around when he hears her approach, but as she gets closer she can see the flies and the way his mouth hangs open.  She rushes forward.

“Oh, Katniss,” she hears Peeta say softly from behind her.

She knows it’s futile, but she reaches forward and shakes him harshly.  He’s so stiff at that point, dead for hours, that he barely moves, so she shakes him harder. 

“Katniss, stop,” Peeta says, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder.  She knows he’s only trying to help, but she doesn’t want any of it at the moment, doesn’t want kind, sweet words when she feels like she rotting on the inside.

So she scoops the dead cat into her arms and heads out back to the garden shed.  She selects a shovel, one that used to belong to her dad before she inherited it, picks a spot near the edge of the back yard, and starts digging. 

She isn’t aware of how much time passes until she hears the back door slam shut.  Looking up from the hole, Katniss realizes that the ground is nearly level with her shoulders. 

“That’s deep enough, Katniss,” Peeta says when he finally reaches her.  She nods and hands the shovel up to him.

He gets to his knees near the hole and sets a few things on the ground.  One of the things is a beautiful piece of fabric her mother left behind.  It’s blue and has tiny vined white flowers on it.  Peeta spreads the fabric out in the grass and lays Buttercup in the center of it, wrapping him up securely in the cloth before handing him to Katniss to lay in the ground.  After that, Peeta grabs her hand and hauls her out of the hole, and they both topple over.  Any other day, and they would be laughing about it, but Peeta doesn’t even so much as crack a smile.

They stand and Katniss begins filling in the hole.  It’s maybe a quarter of the way full when they hear Haymitch’s backdoor slam shut too, and he joins them in Katniss’ backyard.  He doesn’t say anything and just watches with Peeta as Katniss dumps dirt back into the hole.  When the hole is filled back in, she beats the dirt compact with her father’s shovel until Peeta clears his throat behind her.

She turns and he hands her what looks like a wooden sign.  It’s a flat board with a pointed post nailed onto the back.  On the front, Katniss sees that Peeta wrote Buttercup’s name at the top and drew underneath a picture of a little girl holding a cat.

“It’s beautiful,” she says, and suddenly she feels like she choking.  She turns away from them and drives the post into the ground.

It only takes a few seconds before she feels the tears wrack through her body.  It feels really stupid, to be crying over this cat.  What he was alive, she’d hated him and he hated her right back.  But Prim loved him and he was one of the only things still tying Katniss to her sister and now he’s gone too.

Katniss feels Peeta’s arms wrap around her and after a moment, feels Haymitch’s too.  “I miss her so much,” she says between sobs, and they all know she isn’t talking about the cat.

“I know you do,” Peeta says, “but you wouldn’t miss her half as much if she hadn’t been so special.  She died trying to save people.  Death doesn’t get much more honorable than that.”

“Honestly, I don’t know if death is ever honorable,” she replies when she finally settles down.  “But I want hers to be.”

After dinner, she sits down at her desk and writes her mother about Buttercup and her dad and Prim.  On a whim, she writes a letter to Rue’s family too, though she isn’t sure if she’ll ever send that one.

Peeta’s drawing fades a little more each time it rains, but Katniss thinks she’ll always be able to look out her window see a young girl holding a cat in her arms somewhere out there.

--

Dear Catnip,

It’s been a long time since we’ve talked or seen each other.  I’ve tried calling a few times, but no one ever answers your phone.  I need to see you though, Katniss, so I’m going to be coming to District 12 soon.  If you really don’t want to see me, I’ll respect that and you can send me away, but I’m coming anyway. 

I miss you and hope to see you soon.

Gale

--

Katniss nearly crumbles the letter up and throws it away, but she can’t bring herself to do it.  Gale was once so important in her life and she really does miss him when she allows herself to think about it.  Instead, she wordlessly hands the letter to Peeta to read.

He looks it over quickly, and says, “I wish he would have said when exactly he was coming by so I can plan a nice meal,” and that is all.  His nonreaction worries her, and they go about their evening like they would any other night and it kills Katniss.  She isn’t sure what she wants exactly, but it isn’t Peeta unreactive. 

They end up at Peeta’s house the next evening.  Haymitch joined them for dinner, but bowed out shortly after, and they spend the rest of the evening in silence until Peeta announces he’s going to take a shower and go to bed.

She isn’t really sure what she’s thinking, but after a few minutes, Katniss eases open the bathroom door and strips out of her clothes, drawing back the curtain, and stepping in next to Peeta.  He doesn’t look as surprised as she thought he might, especially when she’s never done anything like this before.  In fact he almost looks resigned when she steps right up to him and kisses him hard on the mouth.

It isn’t quite like any of the kisses they’ve ever shared before and isn’t just because they’re naked either.  It’s because it feels like she finally means it too.  They’ve been dancing around it for so long and it’s everything she needs as her hands run down the scars on his chest, pressing her own into them.  Her hands continue down and wrap around his hard cock, making him jolt.

Peeta gives her a pained look, and steps back.  His voice is breathy and strangled when he speaks.  “I won’t be a distraction because you’re confused about him, Katniss.  I need you to be sure it’s me,” he says, before climbing out and leaving the bathroom.

Katniss waits until he’s out of the bathroom before she presses her fingers between her legs, rubbing her clit hard until she comes and slumps against the shower wall.  She finishes showering and towels off before hesitating at the bathroom door. 

While Peeta didn’t flat out reject her, but she isn’t sure if she’s still allowed to sleep next to him like they have been nearly every night since they moved back to District 12.  He makes the decision for her when he calls out, “It’s okay, Katniss.”  She steps out of the bathroom and looks at him.  His eyes are intense when he says, “Sleeping next to you is always okay.  I just don’t think I can handle sleeping with you if you don’t love me.  It would hurt too much.”

She knows that, even though he isn’t showing it, he’s worried that Gale will come blazing in and sweep her off her feet, but he’d never say it because Peeta has never been petty like that.  He’s always wanted her to come to him, but, as he said, only if she really meant it.  And even after essentially living together since they moved back home, he’s never pressured her in one way or another.  Katniss just thinks she needs a little closure before she can give him an honest answer.

Climbing into bed next to him, she replies, “I’ll let you know soon.”

“Okay,” he says quietly, “but I just want to remind you don’t owe me anything.  You’re your own person and you should do what you want, what will make you as happy as you can be.  If being with me isn’t it, then please don’t pretend just for my sake.  I’ll survive it.”

“I know,” she says, and all night, sleep eludes, but it’s better than the nightmares.

--

They’re at work four days later when Katniss hears the front door open and looks up to see Gale walking into the bakery.  Peeta notices her sudden stillness and looks up too before glancing over at Katniss.  “I can send him away if that’s what you want.”  Even though he’s probably hurting, Peeta is still so damned courteous and Katniss doesn’t know how he does it.

With the surge of roiling emotions within her, Katniss is tempted to tell Peeta yes, that she wants him go up there and tell Gale to never come back, but she can’t do it.  Finds that she doesn’t even him want to.  Peeta seems to understand and nods, handing her a wet rag to wipe her hands with.  He wipes his own off too and together they head out to the front of the shop.

Gale doesn’t look at them right away, his eyes first flickering over every inch of the bakery.  “This is quite the set up you’ve got here, Peeta,” he says, and Katniss can tell he actually means it too.  “It’s impressive.”

“He didn’t do it by himself,” Katniss says, stepping toward her best friend.  It’s been a long time since they’ve seen each other and they have another layer of sordid history between them, so she isn’t even sure if that term applies any longer, but Katniss has always liked holding onto certain parts of the past.

Gale is taller, the bags under his eyes darker, but other than that he looks much the same as he did the last time they saw each other, if not sadder.

“Katniss does my books and helps out in the kitchen,” Peeta adds.  “And she helped me build it too.”

“Katniss has always been good like that,” Gale says.  He steps closer to her and she can’t help but fling her arms around him.  It all still hurts so much, but he used to be the person she talked about all her hurts with.  They’re wrapped in each other’s arms for a long time before Gale finally pulls back, his eyes over Katniss’ head and on Peeta.

Peeta clears his throat and Katniss turns to look at him too.  “There are still a few hours till we have to close, but we’ve been a little slow today so why don’t you two catch up.  I’m making a grouse that Katniss caught a few days ago for dinner tonight.”

“We’ll be there, Peeta,” Katniss says.  She slips out of her apron and walks up to Peeta, who takes it from her, his hands lingering.  She thinks she surprises them both when she leans up and softly kisses his cheek before leaving with Gale.

--

They take a walk around the rebuilt District 12, Gale asking dozens of questions and Katniss pointing out all the things she’s helped out on and what’s next for them all.  Somehow they end up on Katniss’ front porch with a jug of lemonade between them.  It’s warm out and the lemonade tastes great before it goes warm.

“How did you even know to find us at the bakery?” Katniss asks.

“Oh, I ran into Haymitch and he told me where to go.  He said he was actually about to head over, but thought we didn’t need him in our hair or something.”

“He comes by the bakery and helps out a lot.  The free labor is nice,” Katniss says, and hears Gale laugh for the first time since before the war began. 

“He looked really good.  Sober.  I was pleasantly surprised,” he admits.

“He’s doing well.  Doesn’t drink as much since Peeta banned all alcohol from his kitchen.”

They lapse into a silence before Gale looks over and gives her a tentative smile.  “So how are you and Peeta doing?” he asks.  Katniss is aware that he thinks that they’re together.  Something inside her keeps her from correcting him.

“It’s hard,” she says, “what, with both of being head cases and all.  But we help each other through it and it really helps.  We’re as good as can be expected I guess.”

Gale nods, and Katniss is struck by the thought that he seems to have burned through all that barely kept anger he had when he was a teenager.  He’s calmer now, sturdier, but he’s still Gale.  However, when he leaves, she isn’t sure if she wants to keep in touch with him or not.

He tells her about a girl he’s seeing and even slips her picture from her pocket to show Katniss.  The girl is blonde, bright-eyed, smiling, and everything Katniss is not. 

“She’s really pretty.”

“Thanks,” Gale says in a distracted voice.  Katniss can feel him looking at her as she gazes at the picture as if to gauge her reaction.  He seems to get his answer when he says, “It was never me, was it Catnip?”

She thinks her heart should start pounding hard in her chest, thinks she should feel something sharp and intense, but she doesn’t.  Rather, she feels like something is finally coming together for her.  “It might have been, for a while at least, before Prim died,” she says.  “But it’s not now.  I don’t think it can be.”

Gale sighs.  “That’s what I needed to hear from you.  I needed you to tell me I had no chance so I could move on.  I think I might ask her to marry me.”

Katniss looks over at him and says, “I wish you all the happiness in the world.”  She thinks she even means it, but she can’t be sure when she’s yet to get Prim’s face out of her nightmares.  The conversation veers off again after that.

Peeta seems surprised to find them on the porch when he gets home from work.  Surprised, and maybe a little pleased.

“Need any help in the kitchen?” she asks when he reaches them, a smile on her face.

The smile he gives her in return is wide and bright.  “The vegetables aren’t going to cut themselves, Katniss,” he jokes, holding the door open for both her and Gale to pass through.

--

Dear Katniss,

It’s incredible how quickly children grow.  After my Game, I honestly never thought I’d be a mother and now I can’t imagine being anything else.  Fin is my bright spot in a life of so much hardship, but having him makes it all worth it.  My only regret is that he will never grow up knowing what a great man his father was, so I suppose it is up to all of us to make sure he knows.  I know you and Johanna and Finnick were all close friends.  I spent awful months mourning him and I never stopped to think about how his death impacted people other than me, so I’m terribly sorry about that and can’t apologize to you enough. 

I didn’t know her very well, but I sometimes think about your sister.  It broke my heart when she died, so I can only imagine how you felt.  However, it isn’t her death that I think about, but her life.  She was so young and so brave and wanted nothing more than to help and save people.  She was always so kind and polite to me even when nearly everyone else treated me like I was going to snap at any moment. 

That’s why I hope my son grows up to be like Prim.  I hope he can be the best of an awful world just like she was.  I think that’s why it’s so important that we never stop talking about them, Katniss.  If we stop talking about them, then we start forgetting and if we forget, then their courage and strength won’t get passed on to the next generation.  With the world rebuilding, that would be a truly awful thing to be without.

Johanna visits me often, but I always miss her when she leaves.  It might seem selfish of me, but I’m thinking of asking her to move in with me here in District 4.  Hopefully we’ll all come out to 12 for a visit soon.  I miss you, Peeta, and Haymitch dearly. 

Stay safe, stay well, and never take for granted the time you think you’ll have tomorrow because you never know when it will run out.

Love always,

Annie and Fin

--

Gale heads home after a few days and things fall back into the previous routine.  It’s unfaltering and steady, but it feels far from stagnant.  Katniss thinks that this simple domesticity is absolutely what she needs in her life, and maybe what she wants too, but she isn’t sure.  It’s hard to be sure of anything anymore, but the one thing she is sure of is Peeta.  That’s why one night after dinner, just as Peeta’s filling the sink with soap and water, Katniss crosses the room and holds Peeta’s hips firmly in her hands, pressing a kiss to the back of his neck under the ends of his golden hair.

“It’s you,” she whispers as Peeta tenses up.  “I don’t pick him, and I don’t pick being alone.”  He turns around so that he’s looking at her and she keeps her hands on his hips.  “I pick you not because I think I have to or because I should, but because I want to.”

Just like that, his entire body relaxes and she has enough time to think about how nice he looks all relaxed like that before he’s leaning forward and pressing his lips to hers.  It starts out chaste, sweet, but it doesn’t stay that way and soon they’re tearing the clothes off of each other as fast as they can.  They make it upstairs and all Katniss is really aware of is that Peeta’s hands seem to be everywhere all at once and it all feels so good and why didn’t she do this sooner. 

They’ve barely come down from the first round when Peeta’s asking if he can go down on her because he’s wanted to do that for a long time.  Sucking in a sharp breath, Katniss nods fervently and then her mind blanks as his tongue and lips brush against her clit.

They lay together after, wrapped in each other’s arms, their hearts beating in tandem.  Peeta turns his head so he can look at her, asking in a soft voice, “Real or not real?”

“Real,” Katniss replies, her pulse spiking.  “Definitely real.”

It’s far from perfect.  They still have the nightmares, the panic attacks, are still taking a cocktail of pills every day, and sometimes Katniss still needs Haymitch’s stolen alcohol to fall asleep at night, but it’s better than it was.  And that’s something.