AN: A holiday break From "Redux" in which I play around with the future of my favorite ship, and subtly air some theories about D13.
A fluffy little one shot.
Edit: I've resubmitted this story with some corrections. Oy. Would you believe that I truly read through and revise these stories at least a dozen times before I submit them? Apologies!
Christmas Eve, Year 78, Capitol Reckoning
"Madge, where are my boots?" Gale calls as he comes into the kitchen. He isn't wearing a shirt yet, let alone socks.
"Don't you think you should get dressed before you worry about that?" I pull open the door of the oven and peek inside. Warm air and the yummy aroma of baking cheese envelope me. "I brushed them this morning," I reply. "They're by the door."
"Oh, thanks," he says and walks back down the hall without bothering to check.
With a shake of my head and a smile, I return my attention to not burning the few parts of the Christmas dinner that Hazelle has entrusted to me. Everything's in the oven and I try to clean up the mess in our tiny kitchen, mostly as a distraction from picking at the leftover potatoes that didn't fit into the casserole dish. My baby belly still hasn't gone down completely, and I don't need to encourage it to stay.
"We don't want to be late for dinner," Gale warns, coming around the corner into the kitchen again after a few minutes. He's still walking around without socks on, buttoning his shirt. "Do we have everything?"
I pull out the dish from the oven and set it on the range top. "All right, here's the special Undersee five cheese baked-mashed potatoes and…" I get a good look at him. "…and, Gale, I thought you were going to shave?"
"Nope." He runs a hand over the black hair on his jaw.
He comes over to the stove and grabs a spoon, but I swat his hand before he can dip into the potatoes.
"Facial hair makes you look old, you know."
Gale smirks. "Liar."
I huff, but it's half-hearted. Judging by the glint in his eye, Gale knows that I think his beard gives a smoldering edge to his looks, which he can use to his advantage when Rowan's given me enough sleep. Which is frankly ridiculous because, between the two of them, I never have enough sleep these days. "Well, at least let me trim some of the maverick hairs so you don't look like a wild man when you stand next to Peeta," I say as I hurry into the bathroom and switch on the light.
He follows me with a grimace. "But we'll be late…and Mellark doesn't have to shave. Compliments of the Capitol."
"All the more reason to look presentable. You don't want to look like a border ruffian – or like Bristel – do you?" I push Gale against the sink, using my body to pin him there, then reach around him to grab the small scissors from the shelf. He teases my sides with his fingers and I yelp. We both grimace and wait for the telltale squalling from our bedroom. After a few moments of complete silence we both relax and breathe again.
"Don't do that again or I am liable to cut you," I threaten.
Gale holds up his hands in surrender.
His beard is closely cropped to his face, just long enough to be considered full, but not too long to feel bristly and scratchy. I snip off the long hairs that stick out here and there, then comb the rest down gently with my fingers. "Looks good," I say, stretching up to plant a playful kiss on his nose. "If we bleach it you could borrow my red maternity robe and play Father Christmas."
"It's not that long," Gale snorts, twisting around to inspect my handiwork in the mirror. "Besides, I wouldn't fit into your robe, maternity or not." He pauses thoughtfully with a wicked gleam in his eyes, as he faces me, "Although, I wouldn't mind getting into your robe if you were in it, too."
A blush creeps over my cheeks, more from anticipation than self-consciousness. His calloused hands cup my cheeks before I can move and his lips brush over mine. His whiskers gently graze my skin and the part of my mind that worries about the time switches off without protest. Sensing my compliance, he kisses me again, gently teasing my lips with his own. Gale tastes like peppermint…which I have a feeling means he's perused his family's gifts…and something else that is distinctly him. He's still pressed between me and the sink, but I feel like the one who's been caught as his arms slip down my back. He pulls me in, conforming my body to his. It's so rare to find quiet moments like this lately, just the two of us, and I burrow into his warmth. As the kiss deepens, his hand inches up the hem of my dress, and my fingers scrabble for the buttons of his shirt.
I've almost got him out of it when a throbbing wail pierces the air.
"Rowan." I exhale slowly and lean my head against Gale's chest. His heart beats erratically and I can see my flushed cheeks in the mirror. "I guess we got a little carried away?"
"My mother's going to kill us," he murmurs against my hair.
We part reluctantly.
"Just hold the baby up to her right away and she'll forget all about us and the time," I reply, straightening my dress.
He gives me a wry smile. "I'm afraid that's true."
I leave Gale to button his shirt again and fix his hair while I take care of our screaming infant. In the cradle next to our bed, Rowan's little fists are balled up and flailing above his red race. He quiets a little when I lift him up; but this is a cry for dinner, not attention, and until I maneuver out of my dress, his cries resume with gusto.
"Such a racket for so small a person," I murmur when he begins to feed. His cries melt into the sound of impatient suckling, and the occasional cough when he swallows too quickly. I fluff the soft tufts of unruly black hair with my fingers into some semblance of order. It never works, with him usually resembling a ruffled raven, but I don't need much of an excuse to play with my little boy.
Gale comes in with his jacket half-buttoned and a scarf looped carelessly around his throat. He's holding my wool coat and wrappings draped over his arm.
"Almost ready?" he asks, setting my things on the bed.
He bends down in front of me and gently runs a finger over Rowan's flushed cheek. The baby smiles in reaction to the touch, causing an answering grin to break over Gale's features that brighten his eyes. Wow.
"Gale, where are you socks?" I laugh, glancing at his bare feet. He looks endearingly ridiculous with his winter things on and nothing on his feet.
"Oh." He looks down. "I keep forgetting."
Forgetting? I'm wearing two pairs and my feet are still freezing. How Gale can get away without wearing anything on his feet is beyond me. But then, his body always does feel a few degrees warmer than everyone else's. He literally repels the cold.
"Put them on now while we're thinking of it. Rowan's only just gotten started, anyway."
Gale pulls out the first pair of socks he can find in the dresser drawer and slides them on his feet, balancing on one foot instead of sitting down on the bed.
"What's he supposed to be, then?" Gale asks, nodding toward Rowan, who is dressed entirely in green velvet.
"An elf, I think," I reply. "Your mother sent this over as an early Christmas present. He has a little matching stocking cap in the cradle."
"How can she afford stuff like this?" Gale asks as he fishes the cap out from under the blankets and examines it. He's having a difficult time adjusting to life with a little more plenty.
"I think Rory's been flirting with the tailor's daughter."
Gale blinks. "How long has that been going on?"'
"Since they arrived on the hovercraft together hand in hand," I quip.
"Huh," Gale grunts. "They're too young." He rolls his eyes. "Anyway, we never had anything like this when I was growing up. How many outfits does it come to now?"
"I believe Hazelle has sent over five outfits for every centimeter that he's grown in the last four weeks, which doesn't include all the things she made before he was born," I say as I move Rowan to my other breast.
"And that doesn't include all the other bits of clothing and blankets and nappies that Prim and Mrs. E sent…" Gale's eyes take on a vacant expression. The amount of stuff we've acquired since living in D13 Above always seems to boggle him. "Speaking of which…I found this on the doorstep." He walks back into the hallway and returns with a stained parcel labeled in large, sloppy script:
CABIN 4, ABOVE
There are telltale "water" rings on the package.
"Haymitch," I say as he opens it.
"How can you always tell? Never mind, I see the rings," Gale mutters, tearing open the packaging. There isn't a card. "Oh look. More baby clothes. My son has more outfits in his first five weeks of life than I've had in a lifetime." Gale leafs through the stack of onesies, sweaters, and bloomers while I wonder who had a hand in picking them out for Haymitch. Some of them are dyed very bold colors. Hmm.
"When is twenty-three years a lifetime?" I ask wryly.
Gale ignores the barb. "Why didn't he bother coming himself?" he asks as he sets the clothes down on the bed. "Katniss and Peeta made the trip; I think he should have come up with them instead of spending Christmas by himself. Even if I don't particularly care for his company, he was your guardian."
"Well, he has an ongoing rebellion and fledgling republic to help look after," I mutter with a nonchalant shrug. "And probably because you always have that surly, lemon look on your face when he does visit." And mostly because, as a perpetual bachelor, babies and Haymitch do not mix comfortably. Plus, there's my new theory about the clothes. Haymitch doesn't have a knack for domestic things such as baby sizes and matching pieces. I suspect there's a woman involved, but I keep that thought to myself.
Gale sneers. "I do not look surly. He's probably just reluctant to leave his liquor cabinet."
"Oh dear, look at the time," I say, avoiding yet another fruitless argument about Haymitch.
"Oh!" he gasps. "We need to get out of here."
I hand him Rowan while I fix my dress and run to the kitchen to wrap up the food to bring. I use all of our dishtowels to keep the potatoes warm and rummage for some twine to tie it with. I find our burlap bag with sturdy handles to carry everything and then collect the gifts of peppermint canes, clementines, and nut cakes. I've just put those away when I hear a string of curses from the bedroom.
"Um…Madge," Gale calls down the hall.
"I'm just about ready," I reply sharply, thinking he's upset about the time.
"Madge!" He cries louder, panic threading his voice. "Help me, please."
Recognizing that certain pitch in his voice, I immediately picture my son dead in his arms as I race to the bedroom.
"What happened?" I cry as I slide through the doorway.
Gale's eyes are wild as he holds the baby, quite alive, as far from his body as he can, using his fingers to support Rowan's stubby neck. "I don't know! He just exploded at both ends."
I force myself to take a deep, calming breath.
Which proves to be a mistake.
Ugh. My blue-eyed boy stares innocently – happily, even – into the stricken face of his father, who looks anything but calm. White ooze covers Rowan's face, dribbling down the rolls of skin meant to be his neck and chin. The ooze spreads down his little chest, smeared along by his chubby hands. But it's the yellow goop running down his legs that worries me.
"What did you do?" I demand.
"Nothing!" Gale grouses, glaring at me beneath ominous eyebrows. "I rocked him a little."
My hands fly to my hips, not intimidated by said eyebrows. "A little?"
"I bounced him in the air," he finally admits, still dangling a mired Rowan in front of him. "But only once."
"He just ate, Gale!"
"I didn't know this would happen!" he retorts.
"You had three younger siblings growing up." I hold up three fingers for emphasis. "I was an only child and even I know better."
"But Posy never did anything like this," he sputters incredulously.
Poor man. He's starting to look a little off-kilter with his hair askew and eyes flashing as the baby spreads a layer of spit-up over his chubby hands. It's very difficult to overwhelm Gale. Rowan has now managed to do it twice in his short life. The day he entered the world, and today when he pooped and puked all over it.
"Here, let's bring him into the bathroom," I say, taking control of the situation. Gale follows. "Hold him up for me while I shimmy him out of the soiled clothes."
Gale holds him over the sink as I peel away the green velvet shirt and bloomers, and then the onesie and diaper. The outfit is unsalvageable. What are we going to tell Hazelle? I grab a fresh cloth diaper from the cabinet under the sink while Gale runs lukewarm water from the tap and begins to rinse the baby off.
Rowan gurgles pleasantly in his naked state until the water hits him. Then he squalls like a cat until he's dry again. Next I have to wrestle the angst-riddled tyke into the diaper.
"You'll want to wear a different coat," I tell Gale once I've safely pinned the cloth in place.
He looks down at himself and passes Rowan off to me without a word. It's difficult not to laugh at the sour expression of wounded dignity on his face, but I manage. Just.
I carry Rowan back into the bedroom to dress him, grabbing the first thing available: the gifts from Haymitch. Taking the tamest colored long-sleeved onesie, I start pulling it over Rowan's head without further inspection.
"Hell's teeth! We were supposed to be there twenty minutes ago!" I hear Gale exclaiming from the front door.
While I'm struggling to button the onesie around Rowan's flailing legs and reaching for one of the tiny sweaters to dress him, Gale comes back wrapping a scarf around my neck and pulling a hat on my head. I try brushing the hair out of my eyes with the back of my hand and still maintain a hold on the baby. Gale's changed his coat in favor of two more sweaters and also brought the baby basket.
"Don't bother with that," he says, taking the sweater out of my hands. "Just wrap him up in a bunch of blankets."
I frown. "Gale – "
"Go put your coat and boots on. I've got this," he orders, already pulling out blankets and winding them around our son.
"I don't know…"
"Just trust me. Posy's still alive, isn't she?"
"Go." He shoos me away.
Grabbing the coat from the bed, I leave Gale to finish bundling up the baby. In our front room, I lean against the log wall near the door to pull on my first boot when Gale meets me with the baby basket and bag of gifts and casserole in hand. I've barely got the second one on before we're out the door and walking through the snowy darkness under the fir trees toward the other Hawthorne cabin in D13 Above. I snatch the food and presents out of his grip and hook my arm through his.
"Gale, where are your mittens?" I ask, adjusting my scarf so the snow can't fly down my coat.
"Don't need 'em," he replies stoically. He's only got a hat and scarf on over his layer of sweaters.
"Hmph." I shove my hand into his sweater pocket for warmth. And I'm wearing mittens.
"Pretty, innit?" he says about the woods. The trees are laced in snow, making the darkness seem less dark. Sometimes I'm a little afraid of the woods at night, but the snow makes everything look softer and more inviting, that I think the bobcats and wolves (contrived by my active imagination) might feel a little more neighborly than usual should we happen upon them.
It's our first Christmas together in this new colony, which is actually situated north of the original District 13 in lands that the Capitol never bothered to develop and eventually lost to the rogue district. Gale and I were married in the Underground the autumn of last year and were offered the choice of settling here with the first wave of colonists leaving the overcrowded city. Although the prospect had its own set of dangers and concerns, it seemed like the natural choice for someone like Gale, who doesn't particularly favor life below the crust.
Gale left first with our friend Bristel and a group of other men and women last February. They built many of the houses and buildings standing now. Then a small group of family members and merchants arrived in the summer, including me and a grapefruit-sized future Hawthorne.
Three months ago, another wave of colonists arrived and it was like a District 12 reunion, with Gale's family and other Seam folk following. And the timing couldn't have been better as Rowan was born two month later. I am glad to have Hazelle helping me maneuver this brand new life, and Gale's happy to have his people close.
We pass through the new square and the town. Other families are out, greeting one another while going their various ways. Lights glow in the windows and festive greenery hangs from every doorway. It's beautiful with the snow falling gently overhead, but we haven't much time to enjoy it as Gale quickens his steps toward the lane heading out of town and back into the woods where a few outlying cabins have been built.
We're over an hour late when we arrive on Hazelle's doorstep. Gale knocks and we can hear his mother bustling to the door. She takes in our snow-caked figures and all but pulls us inside.
"Come in, we thought you might have gotten lost in the woods and froze to death. I was about to send Katniss to track you," Hazelle cries over Gale's indignant snort. "Let me see him, Gale."
With a proud grin, Gale holds up the basket containing our son. Underneath a pile of fleecy blankets, Rowan's round, pink face peeps out. He's blissfully asleep, which brings a soft smile to Hazelle's tired features.
While she takes the carrier and fawns over the infant, Rory comes down the hall and takes the packages and food out of my hands. I give him a kiss on the cheek. "Merry Christmas."
"Okay, Rory?" Gale asks.
"Sure," he says, giving his signature carefree shrug. "Everyone's in the other room."
Hazelle carries Rowan off to one of the bedrooms to put away his basket and baby stuff. Gale takes my coat and wrappings, hanging them on a row of hooks, then we follow Rory. The aroma of goose roasting and warm bread waft toward us as we enter the next room.
Vick stomps into the living room at the same time we do, from the opposite side leading to the kitchen and backdoor. In his arms, a precariously full pile of wood hides his face from view, but I can see the tufts of black hair sticking up. He's brought the wood in from the backyard for the fireplace. As he leans backward, Gale lurches forward to help him before he falls and ends up with a bunch of kindling on his face.
"Whew!" Vick whistles. "That was close."
"Make two trips next time," Gale says, taking the wood and placing it in the box on the hearth. He adds a few irons to the fire and stokes the flames up. "That's what Dad used to call a lazy man's load."
Vick winks at me and rolls his eyes.
Posy runs up to give me a hug. Floury patches on her face and dress transfer over to mine. She chatters away to me about the pie she's helping to make when Gale tweaks her braid, teasing her for always favoring her sister-in-law instead of her own brother.
Peeta stands by the Christmas tree arranging the bows and popcorn strands into tasteful patterns, while Katniss frowns at his work with a box of handmade ornaments in her arms. I can tell by the set of her shoulders that she agrees with Gale: trees should stay outside. Preferably loaded with something potentially edible.
We haven't seen them very much in the last few years, with their involvement in the revolution after Peeta's rescue, and our new life here.
"You're into decorating now, Catnip?" Gale asks, peering inside the box. He grabs out a tiny nutcracker before Katniss can hold the box out of his reach. "He has domesticated you, after all."
"Ha. This is easy compared to designing a whole fashion line," she scoffs. A lopsided grin steals over Peeta's face as he continues to pluck off bows and rearrange them. Of course, Katniss never designed anything in her life, even snares which she got from Gale. It's an old joke, but they never seem to tire of it.
"Looks very nice, Peeta," I say, drawing closer to the tree. He wipes his hands off on his trousers and then drapes an arm around my shoulder in a half hug. I get a good look at his face. Peeta may not need to shave, but nobody would mistake him for a boy now. His experiences weigh heavily on his grave, handsome face. "We're glad you two could make it up," I tell him.
"We are, too," he smiles wearily.
Peeta nods at Gale. Gale nods at Peeta.
You wouldn't know it by looking at them, but the two have overcome their differences, and might actually be called friends…or friendly, anyway.
"Is that supposed to be a man greeting or something? Really, the pair of you," Katniss snipes. She shoves the box into Peeta's hands and gives me a hug. "Well, it's good to see you, anyway. Merry Christmas."
"Welcome Above," I reply. In a stage whisper I ask, "Did you have a good time on your honeymoon?"
Katniss blushes and Peeta does his best to not look smug. An appalled frown creases Gale's face, not enjoying the direction the conversation is heading.
She clears her throat, "I guess. Maybe. Yes." Then she whispers in my ear.
"I told you it would be," I reply a little breathlessly, having rather fond memories of my own. And this time Gale looks smug.
"Where's Rowan?" Peeta asks as he starts hanging ornaments. "We haven't seen him since our wedding a month ago."
"Hazelle commandeered him at the door," I reply.
"Does he still look like a potato alien?" Rory asks, coming around the corner of the kitchen. He nudges Posy and she giggles into her hands.
I feel my eyes pop, but then I burst out laughing at the mental image this conjures. "No, he looks like a real baby now."
"Potato alien?" Gale asks, slightly offended. I take his hand and squeeze it; a reminder not to lose his temper.
Vick elaborates with a smirk, "You know, all wrinkly and red and squished and stuff."
"I want to hold him!" Posy pleads, tugging on Gale's arm. "Please, Gale. I don't think he looks like a potato."
A sharp, mewling cry drifts into the living room from the hallway. "Well, he's awake," I sigh.
Hazelle comes in dandling Rowan in her arms and cooing. But when she claps eyes on us, her face grows stern. I swallow nervously, usually not at the receiving end of a fierce mom glare. "May I ask about this?"
Gale blinks and actually takes a step back. "What?"
Hazelle unwraps a bit of the swaddling to reveal the top of Rowan's onesie. "'My Other Bottle's a Beer'?"
Oops. I bit down on my lip.
"Uh…we can explain," Gale stammers under the weight of Hazelle's glare.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! May all your gifts be as festive as the one Haymitch sent.
AN: About D13 - According to a Wikipedia article, the US does not mine graphite. However, Canada is a major exporter. The map showed that a speck of it mined just above the Great Lakes in southeastern Ontario. That has interesting implications for how much of North America Panem includes, as well as the possible location for D13. For my own purposes, I have placed the boundaries of D13 in New York/Ontario, and assume based on Appalachian coal belt that D12 cover some of Pennsylvania and W. Virginia. That is, the district boundaries extend that far, but it seems like SC only had the citizens living in a very close nucleus in a corner of the district.