Here it is! This is the first chapter of the sequel to By Your Side. If you haven't read that story yet, I would recommend that you read it first, although it's not completely necessary to understand this one.
Timeline-wise, this chapter takes place about five weeks after the end of By Your Side. Enjoy!
I sit impatiently on the edge of my hospital bed, waiting for the burn specialist to come in and take me to remove the final bandages from my arms and chest. They removed all of the tubes and wires about a week ago when I was finally able to eat enough to support both my still-healing self and the baby I'm carrying. The thick bandages that had covered my arm burns were replaced about three weeks ago with beige-colored pressure garments that took two people almost twenty minutes to put on me, and caused my hands to tingle constantly. But today I get to have those removed too.
Peeta's off in physical therapy right now. He amazed the doctors when he arrived with how sick he really was and didn't realize it. He was anemic, which was explained as his body wasn't producing enough of some kind of cells in his blood to keep him healthy. The anemia, along with the stress of watching me in the Quell and his too-short prosthetic, contributed to him developing such a deep infection in the stump of his leg that he had to undergo four of the same type of treatments that I had for my burns. At first the doctors thought that they would need to amputate more of his leg, but the scraping treatments along with lots of strong antibiotics worked in the end, so no surgery was needed at least.
And yet, I don't think I ever saw his smile waver hardly at all. Even when they had to give him a blood transfusion and then an iron infusion, he never complained. Even when his face flushed red and the skin on his entire body started to itch uncontrollably, he never got upset. He just laid there, holding my hand in the bed next to him, staring at my face. He absolutely insisted that we share a room and that our beds be right next to each other so we could at least touch each other, since the doctors had put their foot down on us sharing a bed while in the ICU.
The happiest I've seen him is when they examined the baby. I'm almost fourteen weeks now, and they did a test they called an ultrasound, where they rubbed a cold and sticky gel on my stomach and then used some sort of a wand to see the baby inside me. We could see the baby's head and arms and legs, even his face. They even printed off some pictures for us to keep, and I catch Peeta looking at them several times a day.
Up until now they hadn't had a new prosthesis for Peeta to use, so he's been hobbling around on crutches the whole time he's been here. But Beetee had promised to make him a new one which was just finished today, so he's off in physical therapy learning how to walk again with his new leg.
The door to our room suddenly swings open, startling me out of my thoughts. "Are you ready, Miss Eve-, I mean, Mrs. Mellark?" the doctor says.
"Just call me Katniss, it might be easier," I tell him shortly as I ease off the bed and follow him down the hall into the treatment room. If I never see this place again it'll be too soon. I sit down on the bench in the center of the room and hold out my arms automatically. The doctor and one of the physical therapists carefully peel the pressure garments down and off of my arms and then examine them closely, moving them this way and that, making sure that my range of motion is okay. Apparently satisfied, they stand back.
"Well, that's all we can do for you," the doctor says. "I don't see why you can't be discharged today."
"I only want to leave if Peeta is okay to leave too," I say quickly. The doctor glances at the physical therapist.
"Actually, I just came from working with your husband," he says. "And I don't see why he can't be discharged as well, as long as he still continues with the PT for a few more sessions. He did remarkably well on his first day with a brand-new prosthesis."
I actually think he just can't wait to get out of the hospital, and I really can't blame him. We haven't had a chance to really be alone yet and he's been here for five weeks already.
"Why don't you stay here and I'll get a nurse to bring you some regular clothes?" the therapist says. "I'll bet you're tired of wearing hospital gowns?"
I nod vigorously. "Yes, thank you," I tell him as he and the doctor leave the room. I sit down on the chair in the corner to wait, and in a few minutes nurse O'Connor knocks once and enters the room with a pile of grey clothing, along with a pair of white panties and a white bra.
"I know these pants probably won't fit you for very long," she says as I take the pile from her. "But it seems like all of the maternity pants are in storage somewhere. Once you outgrow these they will have found them again, so you can just switch them out when you're ready."
"Thanks," I say quietly. The pants and shirt that she handed me are both grey twill and look faded, like they've been washed hundreds of times. They probably have actually. I wonder who wore these things before me.
"I'll just leave you to get dressed then," she says. "Just come on back to your room when you're done, I think Peeta is back from PT now."
"All right," I tell her. She nods once and leaves the room. I walk over to the wall where the mirror is hanging and pull the hospital gown over my head, and then gasp in horror at my reflection.
I'd managed to avoid looking directly at my arms the entire time I've been here in Thirteen, and as I study my reflection in the mirror I feel like I don't even recognize myself. My arms are covered with raised, angry-looking scars, varying in color from my normal olive skin tone to pale pink to darker pink. There's no pattern to them at all. It looks like pieces of flesh were just stretched over open wounds and left to hold on. I tentatively run my fingertips over my left arm and it feels bumpy, not at all like it used to feel. My chest is a little better, but not much, as the raised and lumpy scars there extend all the way up to the start of my neck. The mutt fire burned only my exposed skin, so at least my breasts were spared, but even so...
"I look horrible," I whisper to my reflection, tears pooling in my eyes and spilling over. Peeta will be revolted. There's no way he'll ever want to touch me again. I quickly turn away from the mirror and grab my new underclothes. I've never really worn bras before, as my breasts weren't really big enough to need one and I always preferred the comfort of my camisoles. But the pregnancy has made them grow a little, and apparently they don't have camisoles here, so I guess I'll have to get used to wearing one. I quickly pull on the rest of the clothes and swipe at my eyes before leaving the room. If Peeta sees that I've been crying he'll want to know why.
Peeta's sitting on the edge of his bed when I enter the room, already dressed in his own grey clothes. "Hey beautiful!" he says happily when he sees me. His sweet words hit me like a punch to the gut.
"Hey yourself," I manage to say, willing myself to smile at him, trying to act as normal as possible, but he doesn't miss a thing.
"What's wrong?" he asks me, his brow furrowed with concern now and his blue eyes staring intently into mine.
I shake my head. "Nothing," I say quietly. I force myself to smile again. "I'm just looking forward to getting out of here."
He hops off the bed and wraps his arms around me, pulling me close. "Me too," he whispers in my ear. "Did you know today is our wedding anniversary?"
No, I didn't. "It is?" I say, feeling a pang of guilt for not keeping better track of what day it is. Of course he would know though.
His arms tighten around me. "Yep," he says. "And I can't wait till we can be alone."
Just then Prim walks into the room, saving me from having to reply. She's dressed in her medical apprentice uniform and smiles at the two of us before handing Peeta a printed piece of paper with a card clipped to it.
"The next few appointments for both of you are printed on here," she says proudly. "Peeta with physical therapy and you with the maternity doctor and Mom. And there's also a card here for you to give the cafeteria people to get the serving sizes that you need, Katniss. Mom thinks you haven't gained enough weight yet."
Both my mother and Prim were absorbed quickly into the medical staff rotations here in Thirteen. My mother, with her experience as the unofficial midwife for the Seam for the past several years, has been especially useful. Since my pregnancy is the first successful one that they've had here in over eight years, they've forgotten a lot on how to treat a pregnant woman.
"Thank you Prim," I say as I give her a hug. I'm so proud of my little sister.
"Ah, here they are," another voice says from the doorway. It's Plutarch Heavensbee, along with Commander Boggs. "Ready to go? I've been asked to escort you both to your new quarters, but we need to make a stop in Command first."
Peeta frowns and puts his arm around my waist. "Right now?" he says. "We've just barely been discharged, and-"
"President Coin has asked to meet with you first," Boggs says firmly. He gestures to the door. "This way."
Peeta takes my hand as Boggs leads us down a series of corridors and up five levels to the Command Center. I'm not sure how I'll ever get used to finding my way around this place when all of the hallways look exactly the same. We finally reach a red door marked COMMAND and Boggs knocks twice before opening it and indicating for us to enter.
A long, gray, rectangular table sits in the middle of the room, with something that looks like a white chalkboard lining one wall, and several television monitors lining another. President Coin is sitting there, along with Gale of all people, who I haven't seen at all in the whole time that he's been here. Even Peeta looks surprised to see him.
"Gale, it's nice to see you," Peeta says kindly as he pulls out my chair for me. Gale just nods in our direction and turns his attention back to President Coin as Boggs and Plutarch take their chairs.
Never one for pleasantries, Coin gets right down to business. "So," she says in her even voice that always sounds like she's irritated but trying to hide it. "Since the two of you are finally recovered now, it's time for us to put our plans into motion."
Peeta's brow furrows. "What plans are those?" he asks warily.
"We need the two of you to take your place as the faces of this revolution," Coin says. "I want to get you two out there as much as possible before your condition," and she looks right at me, "makes it difficult."
I feel my cheeks flush with anger through the scowl that appears on my face. Peeta notices immediately and grabs my hand under the table.
"That's our baby you're referring to," he says firmly to Coin. I see a look of shock pass over Gale's face. "Our baby is not a 'condition' that must be worked around."
"Nevertheless," Plutarch cuts in. "We don't want to be seen as the people who are sending pregnant women out into combat." He starts to chuckle. "That would be something the Capitol would do."
"Before we agree to anything," I say suddenly. "I want to see District 12, for myself." Now it's Peeta's turn to look shocked.
"Katniss," he says, a look of concern clouding his blue eyes. "I'm not sure that's the best idea right now."
"No!" I say loudly. I clear my throat and start again, squeezing his hand. "No, I need to see it, and I want you to come with me." Then I look Coin straight in the eye. "Before we agree to anything, I want us to see what the Capitol did to Twelve."
Plutarch, Boggs, and Coin start whispering to each other. I can feel Gale's dark grey eyes boring into my skull, but I deliberately avoid looking at him, concentrating instead on studying the tabletop and Peeta's thumb rubbing soothing circles on my hand. I know what Gale is thinking right now, but I honestly don't care.
"All right then," Coin finally says. "You leave for Twelve tomorrow at 0830 from the main hangar. Don't be late." And with that statement, she checks the printed schedule on her arm and sweeps out of the room. Gale stands up and looks down at us one more time, before he too leaves without a word.
"All right, now that's settled! "Plutarch exclaims, clapping his hands. "Let's show you to your quarters then?"
Peeta holds onto my elbow as I get up from the chair, then takes my hand again as we follow Boggs and Plutarch along more maze-like corridors before arriving in the residential section. The door to our new living quarters slides open to reveal a small, studio room with a lofted double bed in one corner, a door that leads to the small bathroom, and a single loveseat in the center. There's also a few cabinets and a small table with two chairs against one wall, but that's it for furnishings.
"I put you two doors down from your brother and his wife," Boggs says to Peeta. "And the Everdeens are two doors down the other way. And Johanna will be next door to them, once she's able to leave the hospital." Johanna, who was injured by Brutus at the end of the Quell before she was able to kill him, is still recovering from her badly broken leg, although due to be discharged very soon.
"And Finnick and Beetee are across the hall and down a little," Plutarch says. "Although Beetee ends up sleeping in his lab most nights anyway, so he's not around all that much. I think Finnick prefers it that way actually."
Just then something beeps on Boggs' wrist. He glances at it quickly and heads for the door. "I need to go," he says to us. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"And I'll be there to see you off tomorrow morning," Plutarch says as he too moves to leave. "Enjoy your evening!"
As soon as the door slides shut behind him Peeta grabs me around my waist and his lips move down to claim my own. "I intend to enjoy the evening," he whispers against my lips. I try respond to his kiss with the same enthusiasm, but my mind can't erase the image of those horrible-looking scars that I saw earlier.
Just then the horn sounds, indicating the start of the evening meal. Peeta pulls away and winks at me. "We'll continue this later," he says. "Let's go feed my baby."
"Okay," I say breathlessly, probably a little too quickly, but he doesn't seem to notice.
He holds my hand again as we make our way slowly down the hall, getting our bearings as we go. We manage to only make two wrong turns before arriving at the cafeteria.
"Katniss! Peeta! Over here!" Rye Mellark's booming voice rings out across the room when he spots us, causing everyone else in the cafeteria to stop eating and look up. Rye's sitting at a table with Gale and Madge. I see the rest of Gale's family at the table next to them. Mom and Prim must still be working.
"It's so good to see you both back on your feet again!" Madge says kindly as we sit down at the table with our trays. She and Rye had visited us several times in the hospital, but lately have been quite busy themselves. Rye was placed, much to his chagrin, into one of the baking rotations in the kitchens, while Madge has been working with the district liaisons from several of the districts that have revolted, trying to set up standards for maintaining an appropriate level of government during wartime.
"It's great to finally be out of the hospital," Peeta replies. "We were both starting to go a little stir-crazy in there."
"Gale tells us you're heading back to Twelve tomorrow morning," Rye says, looking more serious. "Can I ask why?"
"I just need to see it," I say quietly. "President Coin wasn't happy about it, but she finally agreed to let us go."
Gale still hasn't said a word to either of us since we sat down, but I can feel him looking at me as I eat my meal. Finally, I give up trying to ignore him and look him straight in the eye. "Just go ahead and say it," I snap. Peeta looks surprised, but Gale just stares right back at me through narrowed eyes.
"A baby?" he finally says, spitting the word out like it's poison. "Really? Miss-I'm-never-having-kids is actually pregnant? And just how did this happen?"
There's a few seconds of awkward silence as we glare at each other, until Peeta clears his throat. "I really don't think it's any of-"
Just then Rye bursts out laughing, breaking a little of the tension. "Hawthorne, if you don't know by now how babies are made, I think you need to have a talk with your Momma," he chortles, clapping Gale on the shoulder. "Although for how, ahem, busy you were in school, I would think you'd be well aware of how those things work."
"Oh, like you should talk," Gale retorts right back at Rye, but it doesn't stop Rye from laughing even harder at the redness crawling up Gale's cheeks. "What I meant was, why did this happen?" Gale says, glaring at Peeta now. Peeta glares right back at him.
Rye lets out another loud peal of laughter, causing Peeta to roll his eyes and Gale to scowl so hard that he looks dangerous. "Really?" Rye says, barely able to talk with how hard he's laughing. "They're in love! They're married! Marriage often leads to children! I thought you were smarter than that!"
But the joke is apparently lost on Gale as he gathers up his tray and stands up. "Never mind," he mumbles as he stomps away.
"What's he so sensitive about?" Rye asks once he's calmed down a little.
"I told him once that I never wanted kids," I say quietly. I feel Peeta squeeze my hand. "But I changed my mind."
"It's none of his business anyway," Peeta says, looking at me with that fierce, possessive look in his eyes.
"Anyway," Madge says, graciously changing the subject. "Let me tell you what I've been having to deal with lately..." and she launches into a detailed description of how different the views are on government in the various districts, depending on the districts' main trades, population, etc. She's obviously very passionate about her work, but I can tell Peeta is getting impatient after a while.
"I think we'll head out now," he says when Madge finally pauses. "Katniss gets tired pretty easily still and we have an early morning tomorrow."
"Hmm," Rye says as he picks up his and Madge's tray. "Isn't it also your wedding anniversary today?" and he winks at us.
Peeta's face flushes red as he grabs my hand. "Um yeah, that too," he says hastily as he pulls me away. "See you guys later!"
"Have a good night!" Rye calls out as we leave the cafeteria. We can hear his boisterous laughter chasing us down all the way to the elevator.
But as we round the final corner that leads back to our quarters, I can feel my heart start to pound. Of course Peeta will want to make love tonight. We haven't been intimate at all, save for a few kisses in the hospital, since the night before the Quell Reaping. But I fear he's going to be absolutely disgusted by what he sees under my grey twill shirt.
As I expect, Peeta wastes no time at all once the door to our room slides shut. He immediately wraps his arms around my waist and pulls me into a kiss. The kiss, like many others that we've shared, starts out sweet. But then I feel his hands start to roam up and down my back, untucking the shirt from my pants, and I stiffen as soon as his warm hands touch my skin. Peeta notices right away.
"What is it, love?" he says sweetly, kissing the tip of my nose. "I know it's been a while, and I'll go slow if you want?"
Tears well up instantly and spill down my cheeks. "It's not that," I choke out.
"Then what?" he says again. "Please tell me, you know you can tell me anything!"
More tears force their way down my face as he looks down at me, never wavering in his concern and love for me.
"The fire," I sputter as I turn my head away. "It burned my body, and now...now my arms and my chest are covered in ugly scars. They're so ugly, Peeta. They're so ugly that I'm scared for you to see them."
Peeta pauses for a second, then lifts my chin with his hand so I can look at him. "Now you listen to me. I don't care how many scars you have, there is nothing, absolutely nothing in the world that could ever make me think that you are ugly, in any way. Those scars are not who you are, and I am in love with you."
More tears from spring to my eyes and roll down my cheeks at the look of absolute fierce adoration on his face, and those beautiful blue eyes that show nothing but love and want. But I find that I still can't bring myself to relax just yet.
He seems to understand, because he lets go of my waist and takes my hand instead, moving us over to the small couch in the living area. "Come and sit down with me," he says. I sit down next to him and he lifts my legs over his lap, pulling me close. Then he gently, so gently, takes my right hand in his and brings it to his lips. As he lightly brushes his lips over my hand, I feel him wrap his other arm around my hips to pull me flush against him.
His fingers find the button on the cuff of my long sleeve. "Can I?" he asks. At my nod of assent, he undoes the button and rolls it up one time, revealing my wrist and the beginnings of my angry, pink scar. Then he kisses it. Those same soft, sweet kisses that he used on my hand. Once he's kissed his way up to the fabric he again rolls the sleeve, revealing more of my arm and the path that the fire took when it burned my skin. He kisses all around my arm, right over the scar, before continuing his way up my arm until the fabric is bunched up at my armpit.
He looks at me then, those azure eyes of his dilated with lust and filled with love. He leans forward to kiss my lips, just a light brush of his lips against mine. Then he takes my left hand in his and kisses the ring on my finger, his lips so light they're almost tickling me. He kisses all around my hand, pausing again with his fingers over the button on my sleeve cuff. He looks down at me, and I nod.
As he rolls up my sleeve, covering virtually every inch of the skin of my arm with his lips, he looks at me again. His look of desire hasn't wavered at all. If anything, it's become more intense. As he finishes with my left arm he moves his lips back to mine, this time kissing me more firmly.
"You see?" he whispers when he pulls away. "You're beautiful, Katniss. No matter what."
Fat tears start to roll down my cheeks again. He brings his thumbs to my face and lightly catches each tear, brushing them gently from my skin. His eyes don't leave mine as he then slowly unbuttons his grey shirt and pulls it off, discarding it onto the hard, tile floor. Then he takes my hand and brings it around to his back, where I can feel some of the marks left behind by Thread's whip. "These scars don't bother you, do they?" he asks.
I immediately shake my head. "No," I say, more tears streaming down my face. "They're just a part of you now."
Then he takes my hand again and pulls his pant leg up, placing my hand on the cool metal of his prosthetic leg. "And this? Has this ever bothered you?"
I shake my head again. "No, of course not. It's just a part of you too."
"And you love me?" he says. "You love all of me?"
"Yes, I love you. I love all of you."
Then Peeta brings his fingers to the buttons on my shirt and pauses, raising his eyebrow. I hesitate only a couple of seconds before nodding. He carefully undoes each button, gently pressing his lips to the exposed flesh of my chest after each one. His lips make no distinctions between my normal skin and the pink, angry, puckered skin that the fire left behind. He reaches the last button and then carefully slides the sleeves down and off of my arms. I see his eyes trail up and down my body and he licks his lips as his hands move to gently palm my breasts through my bra. A small but devilish grin appears on his face.
"These are a little bigger now," he says, sounding like he just discovered the world's largest supply of peppermint candies. I can't help but smile at him as his hands quickly move to my back and he starts fumbling with the hooks. He manages to get the bra free after a few seconds, and he slowly drags the straps down my arms, throwing it to join our shirts on the floor.
His fingertips gently run over my now bare chest and arms. "These scars aren't who you are," he says softly. He brings my hand back around to his back. "Just like these scars aren't who I am. This," and he brings my hand up to his chest, right over his heart. "This is who I am. And this," and he presses his palm against my chest, right over my heart. "This is who you are."
Then he brings his hand down to rest over my belly, which is just starting to round out a little bit. "And this, this is who we are. And I don't think it would be possible for me to love either one of you any more than I do right now."
Then those eyes, those eyes with the impossibly long eyelashes, those eyes that I think could bore right through me, they look right into mine with a look of such unconditional love and longing that I can't help it anymore. I throw my arms around his neck and bring my lips clumsily to his, any lingering trace of shame dissolving as soon as I feel his tongue running along my bottom lip. I open my mouth eagerly against his, feeling his warm tongue explore my mouth like he's never kissed me before. His arms carefully pull me flush against his chest as we break apart for air, both of us panting slightly.
"Bed," I manage to say against his neck. Peeta doesn't hesitate at all. He slides his arm under my knees and picks me up, bringing me carefully to the bed and laying me against the pillows. He quickly pulls my shoes off and then brings one of his hands up to caress my cheek as the other hand moves to the button on my pants.
"You still have no idea, the effect you have on me," he whispers as he finishes undressing me. Then he kicks off his own shoes and climbs up next to me. He leans off to one side as his hand starts tracing up and down my body, finally reaching my breast.
"They're a little sore," I whisper.
He nods as his hand gently grazes the underside. "I'll be careful," he whispers back.
His lips find mine again as his palm moves to cover my breast. I thread my hands into his hair as his lips kiss a trail down my jaw to my neck and over my chest. His tongue is gentle as he lavishes me, being extra careful to avoid using his teeth. He kisses back up to my mouth as his hand moves down, over my sternum and down to my belly, before moving to the outside of my thigh. His fingers trace the outside of both of my thighs before moving to retrace the pattern on the inside.
"You have an effect on me too, you know," I say, gasping as his fingers continue their movements, setting my nerve endings tingling. I move my hand over to his belt buckle but he pushes it away.
"It's been so long I won't last if you do that," he says. "I have missed watching you fall apart in my hands so much!" His lips find that sweet spot on my neck and it's only a few seconds more before I'm chanting his name over and over.
I feel his lips still sucking gently on my neck as his hand finally undoes his belt buckle. He slides his pants and underwear down over his hips, sitting up briefly to get them completely off before laying down carefully on top of me. "Are you ready, Katniss," he asks.
"Yes," I pant out. "I need you!" He goes slow, allowing me to get used to him again. "Oh God, I've missed you," I cry out as he wraps my legs around his waist and starts to move. "I love you so much!"
"Katniss!" he cries a minute later as his eyes squeeze shut. "You're too much, I'm sorry!" as his climax overtakes him and his head collapses onto my shoulder, still supporting most of his body weight on his forearms. I run my fingers up and down his scarred back, planting small kisses onto his shoulder and jawline.
"You didn't-" he starts to say, but I bring my fingers to his mouth to quiet him.
"Shhh, it's okay." I whisper. "Let's just go to sleep. It's been an exhausting day." I feel him nod against my shoulder and then he moves to detach his prosthetic before grabbing the blanket to cover us.
"I love you, Katniss," he whispers as he pulls my back flush against his chest. "Happy Anniversary." Then he moves his hand to my belly and rests his palm there, kissing my cheek one more time before falling asleep.
Please let me know what you think! :). I really appreciate reviews!