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The Only Time We've Got

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oOo

 

“Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got.”
― Art Buchwald

 

oOo

 

In another world, in another time, Darius doesn’t wait to approach Katniss after her father dies.

 

A few days after the funeral, he reaches out to her at Sae’s stall, buys her a bowl of soup, flirts with her for the first time.

 

Each day, the encounter repeats.

 

Within a week, they’re friendly.

 

After two, they’re friends.

 

He tells her of his life in Four, of his famous brother. He reveals the truth behind the Peacekeepers. All of it. The secrets. The training. The recruits. He doesn’t hide anything. He doesn’t want to. He trusts her. Loves her.

 

She tells him stories of her sister and brother -- and of happier times. She tries not to reveal the family’s secret, that she spends time out in the woods. But hints slip through even though Darius never says anything. Plausible deniability is the word he uses. She likes him. Trusts him.

 

Even if he is a Peacekeeper.

 

He starts bringing her gifts. Little things at first, then bigger, more expensive. During one of his visits, he finds out about her mother. There’s no recriminations. One morning almost a month after her father’s death, he brings a medic instead of a muffin. A Capitol medic.

 

When Katniss tries to protest that he’s doing too much, he waves her concern away. After all, it’s in Panem’s best interest if her mother lives. His eyes flick to Aven as he speaks, and she understands what he means: the Capitol doesn’t need another stolen child soldier.

 

Her mother recovers. Slowly, painfully. But with medicine and proper care, she pulls through and is able to resume her duties as the Seam’s midwife and medic.

 

Katniss is grateful and shows her gratitude to Darius with a kiss. Their first kiss, initiated by her, to the man who saved her mother, her family.

 

She never goes to Cray.

 

She never catches Donaldson’s attention.

 

She’s too well-protected; Darius and his team know her now. Like her. Love her. Trust her.

 

Instead, Donaldson takes out his frustrations on a different member of the Seam. An angrier one. He catches Gale Hawthorne returning from under the fence and splits his skull before hauling him to Cray for his punishment. The Head Peacekeeper’s hands are tied, and even though he knows that the lashes will likely kill the eighteen-year-old boy, he’s forced to go through with it anyway.

 

Gale falls unconscious after the thirteenth strike. He never wakes up.

 

His slips are quietly removed from the Reaping bowl. His brother takes out tesserae. When the 74th Games come around, a different name is called, sparing the youngest baker’s boy.

 

A thirteen-year-old from the Community Home joins an eighteen-year-old from the Seam as that year’s tributes. They both die in the bloodbath. Haymitch watches their deaths with sad eyes before he drinks himself into the inevitable stupor. The boy from Two brings glory to his district. Again.

 

Not long after, Donaldson is transferred. Cray wants nothing to do with him, and the bitter man’s words hold no sway against the long-loyal Head Peacekeeper. He can’t fire him. He can’t demote him. But Cray can make Donaldson someone else’s problem.

 

After Katniss’s last Reaping, Darius approaches her with a proposition. A proposal.

 

She says yes.

 

There’s no signing of papers, no rented white dress. Nothing official. Just the feelings in their hearts. They have their toasting in the new officer’s house he’s just been given.

 

Katniss makes it her home. Their home. Filled with laughter and love. It’s a good home.

 

She has her first child at twenty, her second two years later.

 

Peeta marries the confectioner’s oldest daughter. He doesn’t love her. She doesn’t love him. It’s the perfect merchant marriage.

 

When Nata dies three years later in childbirth, he mourns her death but doesn’t remarry. He’s got his son, his heir. He doesn’t want to spend a lifetime married to a woman he doesn’t love. Like his father.

 

His son is the same age as Katniss’s youngest son. They grow up as friends, playmates.

 

Eventually, Prim moves out. Gets married. Becomes a healer like her mother. While Aven grows up, strong, handsome, a heartbreaker. Like his father. Like his mother. Only to be Reaped in his final year.

 

Aven makes it to the final four before the girl from One does him in.

 

He would’ve had a chance, a good one, if only he’d had a mentor. But Haymitch died soon after the 78th Games. Slipped on an empty bottle and fell down a flight of stairs. He wasn’t found until Effie Trinket arrived for the Reaping almost ten months later.

 

No one missed him.

 

Katniss mourns for her brother but accepts his death as another reality of living in Panem. She names her youngest daughter Ave after him.

 

Katniss and Darius have seventeen joyful years together, almost as long as her mother had with her father.

 

But like everything in Panem, it comes to a tearful end.

 

Darius, by now the Head Peacekeeper, is forced into retirement at the age of thirty-nine. While he could re-enlist, serve another ten years, it wouldn’t be in District Twelve. So he chooses retirement. He’d rather not have the reminders of what he’s lost.

 

By now Katniss is thirty-five, the mother of four children. The oldest is fifteen; the youngest is four. Ave will barely remember her father. Finn will never forget.

 

Darius gives her what he can, what he thinks he can get away with, and more.

 

After he leaves, Katniss tries to find a place for herself. But she’s spent seventeen years taking care of one man and his house. She doesn’t know what else to do with herself. She’s no longer the girl who hunts in the woods. She’s long forgotten where her father hid his bow. Not that it’d matter. Aven was the last Everdeen to use it; for all Katniss knows he hid it someplace else. She hasn’t been under the fence in over a decade. She doesn’t know how she’s going to feed her children.

 

The new Head Peacekeeper is kind. A friend. Twelve is a cushy district for Peacekeepers. Easy. Not like Eleven or Seven. In gratitude, she tries to help her predecessor’s district-wife. She makes sure no one hassles the old Head’s retirement widow.

 

But that doesn’t ease the pain. It doesn’t put food in her children’s mouths.

 

Katniss gets a job working for the baker, first as a nanny, then as a housekeeper, and finally as his wife. She loves Peeta. After all, he’s kind and good and gentle, and he loves her. How can she resist that? Even more, he loves her children. Ave calls him Daddy, but Finn never does. He cannot forget the father who was torn from them.

 

They’re happy together, as happy as one can be in Panem.

 

And when Katniss finds herself pregnant one last time at the age of forty, Katniss is happy too. She loves children. And seeing the way Peeta dotes on their shared brood she wants to give him this.

 

The birth almost kills her. If not for her mother managing a midwife miracle, she wouldn’t have survived.

 

Katniss and Peeta’s daughter is beautiful. Dark hair, peachy skin. Dead eyes. She’s born with the cord wrapped around her neck, and not even her grandmother’s attempts at resuscitation can start her still heart. They name the baby Peace and bury her in the same grave where Aven rests. Another sacrifice on that great altar. Another sacrifice with no answer.

 

The revolution comes quickly. Suddenly. Without warning. Without a spark or a symbol. From a long forgotten District Thirteen, fiery death rains down upon the Capitol. It’s the dying act of a dying district. But it’s the catalyst Panem needs to overthrow their oppressors. Miners, Merchants, Farmers, Fabric Makers. All band together to take out their overseers. Even the Peacekeepers switch sides. Understanding, finally, that they are slaves to a system that keeps their people oppressed. A sentiment helped along by a certain red-headed retired Head Peacekeeper.

 

After the final shot rings out, after the revolution ends and a peace treaty is signed, throngs of people pile onto the trains, eager to seek out a new life in a new district. Darius is one of them. The day he reappears in Twelve is the happiest of Katniss’s life. Her children clamor around their father, leaving the baker and his son standing alone.

 

When she turns to face her husband, there are tears in her eyes. “Please,” she says, knowing he’ll understand.

 

Peeta does. And even though his heart is breaking, even though there are tears in his eyes, he tells her, “Go.”

 

She does. Together with her children, she and Darius join the throngs, making their way to Four and his family there.

 

It doesn’t take long for Katniss to adapt to her new life. And while she feels a twinge of guilt for the baker she left behind, each night when she falls asleep in Darius’s arms to the sound of her grandchildren’s laughter, she knows she wouldn’t change a thing.

 

oOo