And don't be afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,
He's just a sheep underneath those teeth
And don't be afraid of the Wicked Witch
She ain't so bad, she ain't no bitch
~Laura Jansen "Wicked World"
"Daddy, Daddy wake up," Ever whispers as she kicks the bed. "We're almost in 9, we have two hours to get ready."
I mumble into the pillow, something about it being too early and a string of expletives, and pull the blankets further over my head.
"Fine," Ever mumbles, grabbing my hand and – no, no, not that god-awful feeling of-
Telling her that pregnant people freak me out was a stupid decision, because now she can use it against me. I'm too lethargic to register where she put my hand until I feel the baby kick. I swear under my breath and slowly move to sit up.
"See? It's a bit stronger than it has been before, is that supposed to happen?"
"Mm hm, baby's moving and growing. Good observation," I mumble with a bit of a bite.
I feel her frown before I see it. "It's a big deal."
"I'm sorry," I apologize and motion for her to sit on the other side of the bed. "I forgot how excited Rose was when you were –" words either escape me or I've become too lazy to form them and I wave my hand in a nonspecific, senseless gesture. "-you know. That is great, sweetheart. Are you feeling better about it all?"
"Yes," she says. "I just hope I can be as great a parent as you are."
"Sweetheart, I wish I was half the man you thought I was," I mumble and yawn. "It's too early in the morning for a conversation this serious."
Ever seems almost offended. "You are amazing, you brought me up all by yourself and I can never thank you enough for all that you've done," Ever hugs me and damn near makes me tear up with this last bit. "He's going to have the best grandad that a kid could ask for."
"You hush yourself; don't be tellin' lies. And goodness, don't let her call me grandpa."
"What can he call you?"
"Haymitch, for all I care, and I'm sure he's a she."
"I've never guessed a baby wrong before," I say, winking at her. "I knew you'd be a beautiful little girl."
"That first adjective is debatable."
"No, it isn't," I say, with that final yawn between barely awake and awake-as-you-can-be.
"I'm scared," Ever whispers, leaning against my shoulder.
"You are going to be just fine, we all are, I promise."
She isn't convinced. "I read somewhere that age affects what can happen during labor, that it's dangerous to be young like me."
I swallow and am silent for a short time because it is true; age can be a factor in what happens during childbirth. Even Rose was in a tricky age range, having had Ever at 18. Granted, no matter the age, every woman's experiences with labor are unique but the risk of complications does increase within certain age ranges. The most pressing concern I have had since my daughter discovered her pregnancy is how her body will handle childbirth in hopes that it would go well.
Ever's small hand covers mine and she turns her head so that she's staring at the ceiling. "What if something bad happens?"
"It won't," I say with finality and refusing to even entertain the thought of something happening to Ever. She's been through so damn much, the universe owes her this one.
She smiles a little and pushes her messy brown hair from her eyes. "I am going to go get dressed. You should do the same before Effie's the one hounding you."
As the train nears District 9 and I finish up eating, Effie rattles on about interesting facts about 9 that she surely had drilled into her head, some of which were wrong, but most of which lined up with what Raewyn and Eri have told me. I am not paying attention to the fun facts, not on purpose at least, and try to finish what it on my plate before we get to 9.
In her excitement over something, Effie accidentally kicks my chair, and the force is enough to move me so that I drop the fork I am using onto the floor. I smile at her and tell her not apologize when she begins to and move to bend down.
Peeta hurriedly swallows the food in his mouth and shakes his head as he, too, bends down. "No, no, I'll get it," he flashes me the same friendly smile he wears for everybody and offers me the fork. "But it's been on the floor, I'm not sure if-" momentarily, he pauses when I take it and eat with it anyway "-well, I suppose you could always use it anyway."
I smile at the blond and shrug. "You know," I say, rolling my eyes. "I find it ridiculous that it is more socially acceptable to put somebody else's genitals in your mouth than it is to eat with a fork that's been on the floor for a total of 2.2 seconds."
Peeta's face grew a tad red at my overt reference to sex acts, but the initial shock didn't stop him from laughing until he was laughing so hard that no sound came out and he was just sitting there clapping like a seal.
"That's good, that was actually funny," he said, composing himself.
"The hell do you mean that was actually funny – what, my jokes are usually unamusing? Peeta," I feign offense. "I am wounded. Fuck you, I'm hilarious."
"Well," he chuckles, polishing off his meal. "I haven't heard you make jokes very often."
"Then you, dear sir, are in for a miserable few decades. This victor business? Yeah, you and Katniss are in it with me for life. There are shitty jokes and bad puns galore," I pause, grab the last piece of meat from his plate, and smirk. "You may want to learn how to properly guard your plate; most of us victors have the same your-food-is-my-food mindset as I do."
Effie makes a comment about how uncouth it is for a lady of such 'high-society upbringing' to act so unrefined, although this particular dig sounds borderline affectionate. For a Capitol citizen Effie Trinket isn't all that bad. The woman is infuriatingly difficult to deal with but is a walk in the park compared to the men. At least she is mostly well-intentioned.
I button up my long coat over my belly and shortly after the train comes to a halt. My father appears freshly shaven and neater than usual to give our new victors a final warning to stick to the script and the five of us exit the train where a detail of District-assigned Peacekeepers is waiting for us, loaded guns in their hands, but not held in a threatening manner. We're lead through the streets of 9, eerily familiar to me from my tour. Residents who have found themselves running a little late to the ceremony quicken their pace upon seeing our armed escorts.
The baby moves and I widen my eyes in the irrational fear that people around me can sense his movements and know she's there. My father isn't looking at me but he has always had this sixth sense for me and laces his fingers with mine and squeezes lightly before quickly releasing. In little ways, my father has always shown he cares, and sometimes those mean more than the big gestures because they show he cares all the time and not just when it's convenient or will stop my crying.
I follow our peacekeepers into the justice building while Katniss and Peeta are led to the stage and try to make myself comfortable in the viewing room but the baby and my bladder will have none of it. At first, I think it's possible to wait until before our meal, but after ten minutes sitting in there without the speeches even having started, I stand to leave the room and a peacekeeper grabs my shoulder when I take two steps forward.
"Sit," he demands.
"I have to pee," I say bluntly.
"Hold it," he's rather unsympathetic.
"I think I just started my period," I lie, if only he knew how laughably untrue that was. "So unless you want to soak this place with my uterus liquid I suggest you tell me where the nearest toilet is."
"I'll escort you," says the second peacekeeper.
I hold up my hand to stop him from grabbing my arm and firmly decline. "I am a big girl and I have not fallen into a toilet bowl since my father was potty training me. Kindly tell me the way and I will walk myself there and back."
The first peacekeeper reluctantly tells me the way and informs me that if I am not back in an acceptable amount of time he will send somebody after me. Sure, whatever, at least I get to pee. Straight down the hall, a left turn, double doors on the left, down the hall, more double doors, another hall, and a right turn later and I'm at one of the building's bathrooms. I linger inside the stall longer than is necessary because I like having the liberty to leave my jacket unbuttoned and on the floor. Although it was my decision to keep the pregnancy under wraps and hidden from the public eye, wearing baggy layers was quite suffocating even in the cold of late winter and early spring.
I pull my sleeve back to glance at my watch – it's been ten minutes – it's about time I return. I'm not even entirely out of the bathroom when something collides with my head, bounces off, and falls to the floor with a light crunch!
"Dammit," a familiar whisper says.
The owner of the whisper appears from behind a plant to the right of the bathroom's entry and they are quick to offer up an apology.
"Sweetie, I was aiming for your shoulder, but balls of paper aren't exactly as precise as knives," said the victor who had taken down several tributes in her Games by throwing knives at them.
"Raewyn! My gosh, am I glad to see you," I run over to her and hug her. "Victors aren't supposed to be socializing this year."
"The mayor and I go way back; even if we didn't, it's your birthday, well it almost is, and I promised you Eri and I would give you gifts somehow," she kisses my forehead and returns my hug.
"You didn't have to," I say, but I take the small wrapped items she offers me anyway and stuff them inside coat pockets.
"We wanted to, and also," her eyes dart a little downward, to my carefully concealed belly, and she smiles sadly. "You seemed so afraid last time we talked. I had to see if you were any better. I also promised that, didn't I?"
"Here," she takes my hand and pulls me into a room near the bathrooms. "If we're quick nobody will find us."
"I would have thought you would try to kidnap my father," I tease.
She snorts laughter and says "That's later, but frankly, you're more important."
I am well accustomed to the men in my life doting on me and putting me high on their priorities list, but a woman, especially one with plenty of her own children, and one who has taken over care of Eri and her blind sister after their parents bailed, is still strange to me. She has enough to worry about and why she would voluntarily add me to her list of burdens is beyond me but it's also humbling.
"How do I know if something's wrong?"
Raewyn smiles and grabs my hand. "You'll know," she promises. "If something hurts worse than normal, if something feels wrong, then something probably is."
"Katniss's mom says I'm due around The Games, I've seen people that pregnant who can't leave bed…but as much as I hate to admit, I'd like to give birth in the Capitol for the better medical care, you know? But if I get put on bed rest then I wouldn't be able to travel, would I?"
"You know your father would disobey physicians' orders in a heartbeat if it was what you wanted."
"Yeah," I shrug and crack my knuckles. "I'm afraid of what'll happen to her. Him. Whatever. R-Rae, will –" -iam raped me more than once and our children might be half-siblings. " – will the Capitol want to parade my baby around like me?"
"You baby is the child and grandchild of two victors, so I think it's unavoidable."
My face pales because I had not even thought about her being the descendant of not one victor, but two victors, and all of the implications of that fact. Of course he'll be reaped after she's of age, of course, because how fantastic would that be if a family had three generations of Hunger Games victors?
Being an Abernathy is a death sentence at best and a lifetime sentence at worst. My father has known this for years, and the evidence has been staring me in the face for years but I've been too stupid to see it.
"No, no Raewyn, not…not my…they're going to be lucky to make it to their thirteenth birthday, aren't they?"
"Sweetie, I didn't mean to upset you, f-forget I said – "
"But you're right, you're right and she…he…she's never going to be safe, or happy. Is he?"
"Ever," Raewyn tries to fix it, but loud footsteps in the hallway bring our conversation to an abrupt end.
I'm able to slip out of the room without the peacekeepers seeing me and sneak down the hallway back to the room we're supposed to be in. I arrive in time to catch the last twenty seconds of the dry and rehearsed victory speeches.
My father can tell I'm even less okay than I was five minutes ago, but he doesn't say a word, only grabs my hand. Honestly, that is world's more comforting than his words ever can be.
I suppose my father sees Raewyn at some point during the following twenty-four hours we spend in District Nine; there's a three hour time period where I couldn't find him anywhere, good for him.
As the train pulls away from the station, I groan, because I have to go through four districts full of victors I don't care about until I get a chance to see the one I really want to see, my hug-buddy Finnick.
I could really use one of his bear hugs right now, just one.