Summary: Even though the discussion is staged for the Capitol, Katniss can't help but see just how honest Peeta is truly being.
Author's Notes: Set during Catching Fire, during the Quarter Quell. They're in the arena, just after Madge's death and before they meet up with Johanna and the others. It's slighty AU. This is entirely made up by me. I know this couldn't have happened the way the book was written, but I was really interested in the idea of the baby, and I wanted to play with it a bit more. I haven't finished Mockingjay yet, so I might have something in here that doesn't flesh with the books. Let me know what you think. This is the first time I've written a HG fic, and I have to say, finding Katniss' voice was a bit tricky.
"Wouldn't that be crazy?" he asks quietly. He has one hand tucked under him, flattening his blonde hair in crazy directions about his head. I'm settled against his chest, drawing light lazy circles on the top of his scarred hands with my grazing fingers. It's an uncommonly calm night; in the distance, the waves lap against the sand gently. The sky is a dark navy, lighter at the horizon with what Peeta, in his infinite knowledge of colors, has dubbed cerulean, that eventually blends into the ocean, viridian at the skyline.
"Wouldn't what be crazy?" I ask, craning my head up to meet his eyes that sparkle when they connect with mine.
"To see a little you running around the house," he says absently. "Not the one in Victor's Village, but the one where you grew up." He chuckles. "The house is in bad enough condition as it is, though; I feel like a little you in that place would just break it down to stubs."
I brought him to the house of my childhood only one time, and it was entirely by accident. Now that we're sitting here in the arena again, I feel a pang of regret that I didn't extend him the formality that he extended me back in the Seam; to give him a glimpse of my childhood, an intimate one without lies or fabrications or anything hidden. An honest, detailed account of how my dad and I would sit in that big green chair together and watch the television, of how I would mimic his "tsks" and his sighs when President Snow showed up on the screen. The story of when Prim and I sat in the bathtub together for so long that our skin was completely soggy, and we chased each other around the house, hands extended in front of us, screaming about the Prune Monster.
But like I said, him stumbling across my threshold had little to do with my extending any kindness. In fact, as I recall, I pushed him down the front steps when I found him in the doorway.
It was a few months after we returned from the Games. We were both nestled into the Victor's Village, and although the homes were more than accommodating for me and my family, I missed the familiar, earthy smell of home. After a night of rabid nightmares and a useless fight with my mother about the state of my hair, I had stormed out in the rain and gone back to my chosen place of refuge, the only one I had left since Gale took up his job at the mines. It didn't feel right going to the woods or the Hob by myself; there was always that missing presence at my elbow, and I always found myself longing for the warmth of his arm looped around my shoulders, holding me close as we struggled through the inebriated crowd who had, undoubtedly, just visited Ripper for her best. I had run into Peeta on the trail down to the village, and by the time our shoulders collided with each other, the tears of frustration had well past overwhelmed my eyes. I didn't notice his heavy footsteps over my dizzying thoughts, but I did hear his voice when he spoke, from the doorway, as I doubled over on our worn gray rug in the middle of the empty living room. "Katniss, are you all right?"
Furious, I had stalked over to him, screamed in his face about an invasion of privacy, and pushed him down the front steps. I slammed the door in his face, but I watched from the window as he got up and sat down on the very stoop I just pushed him from. Twenty minutes later, he hadn't moved, so I wrenched open the door and hissed, "What do you want, Peeta?" To which he shrugged his shoulders and said calmly in reply, "Just to know if you're all right. But I can wait for an answer."
I sigh at Peeta, shaking my head and returning my eyes to the stars that pepper the sky above. "It's not going to work, Peeta," I tell him. Though the argument is for the audience in the Capitol, the fight is real; Peeta would still rather have me dead than himself. "I'm not going to change my mind."
Peeta struggles into a sitting position, forcing me to lift my head from his chest and lean back onto my hands, shifting the sand beneath my palms. And again, although the story behind his argument is fictional, the emotion behind his words is real. "Then you're being damn selfish, Katniss," he tells me gruffly. "Damn selfish. That's my kid too, you know. You don't get all the say on whether it lives or dies."
"I don't. Neither do you. All of the others in here, though, they do."
"You didn't have to get Haymitch to turn sponsors towards me."
I feel smaller than I normally do. "You know about that?"
He sighs heavily and rolls his eyes, shifting all his body weight so he's looking me full in the face. "Of course I do, Katniss. Because I told Haymitch just the opposite. I can tell when he's lying, much better than you can."
I might find his words insulting if it weren't for the fact that they were true. Though I have good intuition about people's characters, I can't read people for the life of me. "I don't want to have this discussion," I tell him, with lack of better retort.
"Well, too bad because right now, it's about what I want," Peeta says. "I think I'm entitled to that every once and a while."
"You were. During the last Games when you decided that it was me, not you, who should survive," I snap. He goes silent. "It doesn't feel so great when it's turned around on you, does it, Peeta?" I can practically hear Haymitch screaming at me not to fight Peeta. I just turned a potentially sponsor-earning moment into a squall that could turn interest away. But that starts changing as soon as I feel that ever-present frustration and desperation welling into my chest again that reveal themselves into a thin veneer of tears across my vision. "What if I hadn't found those berries? What if I hadn't thought of that in time, and you…? What if I lost you?" My words are barely a whisper by the time I finish. Because it's true; holding out the berries wasn't an act of defiance towards the Capitol for me. It was honestly just my last resort to make sure that I didn't have to live with Peeta dead.
"That's over now, Katniss," he tells me gently, tucking a strand of my loose hair behind my ear. The softness of his voice almost reduces me to a sobbing mess, but I somehow make it out all right.
"Not if this ends the way you want it to," I say bitterly, casting my glance at the indents our bodies have made in the sand. We fit seamlessly together, according to this outline, like two people who have two separate bodies that are created to be one. "And you know what, Peeta, you know what you're doing here? You are sentencing our child to a life of misery. Did you know that? Do you have any idea?"
Peeta sighs and rolls his eyes, sitting back. "Katniss, you'll be a great mother—" he starts, but I interrupt him.
"No. No, I won't," I tell him firmly. Because I won't. Despite the fact that I practically raised my little sister, I have no maternal instinct. Children make me wiggle in discomfort. I find myself wanting to puke at the idea of changing a diaper or wiping snot from a sobbing child's face. I'm not like Peeta who, in some of the Districts on our tour, managed to get onto all fours, even with his bum leg, and draw in the mud with some of the poor children. Who, in the midst of a rushing crowd, stopped to scoop up a little girl and dry up her tears by spinning her a long tale while we searched for her mother. When I saw that little girl, I just wanted her to stop that infernal screeching. Peeta, he was ready to rescue her, a perfect stranger, at risk of Effie's punishment for being late for an interview. "But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the fact that this child— our child— will have to grow up without their father." I find myself thinking of my own childhood, of coming down to breakfast with that spot at the table cold and empty. Of the hugs and kisses I never got. Of all the times I just needed a dad, and mine was never going to come to my rescue. My voice wavers a bit as I struggle to explain. "I know what that feels like, you know, and I wouldn't want that for anybody."
There's a long silence. The sounds of the jungle click along behind us; the waves lapped against the shore. Finnick sniffs his nose in the distance, and we both know that he's crying. No one says anything about it, like Peeta now, who won't mention the drops that slip from my eyes for the father that I'll never see again. Peeta should get to grow old with someone in District 12. He should get to have his own family, to watch his own children grow up. No one in the world deserves that more than he does. We both know that. He knows what I'm telling him, and his eyes, when they lock onto mine, tell me that he understands. His touch, as he caresses my face, tells me that he could care less what I think. "Isn't growing up without a father better than not growing up at all?" He believes I should have all the same opportunities that I believe he deserves, but he's wrong.
He settles his hand on my lower abdomen, and the look on his face has even me believing in the love he harbors for our unborn child. My hand rests on top of his, and for a moment, I find myself thinking that having Peeta's children wouldn't be such a bad thing; I could definitely get used to seeing this expression every single day. Something sparks inside me, just inside my heart, and I tear my gaze away, slouching against him again. Eventually, he slides back into the sand and watches the sky. His fingers touch the sliver of bare skin between the hem of my undershirt and the band of my shorts. They graze across my stomach, and part of me starts to believe— even wants to believe— that the tingling inside me is his child in my womb. It's fantastical, easier for me to grasp than the idea that they're everyday common butterflies, the ones that occupy schoolgirls and their silly little crushes. I refuse to let myself believe that I've even begun to have feelings for Peeta besides friendship because I know that will make letting him go all the harder. I'm hardwired for survival; if I have to lie to myself in order to do what has to be done, I will.
"So, if it's a boy," Peeta starts suddenly, "what are you going to name it?"
"Peeta," I whine.
"Just... humor me," he asks.
"Cinna," I say, thinking of the stylist who is probably dead at my expense. He deserves so much more than a namesake, a namesake for a child that isn't even real. But for now, it's all I can give him.
"And a girl?"
I'm silent, considering. Throughout my entire life, I've never wanted to have children, never wanted to go through the hell of watching my son or daughter being corralled for a reaping. But sitting here, pretending that this life is so close to being mine, it comes easily. "Liberty," I say.
The tender kiss he places on my forehead says just what I need. Even though this baby isn't real, even though I know this for a fact, the idea gives me a hope for the future generations. One where Peeta Mellark's children will live out of the shadow of Snow and his evil reign. And Prim's. And Gale's. And Madge's and Bonnie's. And every lost person in Panem who needs a beacon in this dark time.
Maybe one day, because of you, they'll have it.