It was just after midnight when his daughter's high, thin wail managed to pierce through the fog of sleep. His body resisted waking as long as it could, tried to fold the sound of her mewling bleat into his dreams, but in the end they burst like soap bubbles.
There's a moment, before he's fully awake, in which he hates the fragile little body asleep in its cradle next to his bed: hates the helplessness, and the need, and the angry drone of incessant screaming. The hatred is fleeting: guilt and pity soon rush in to take its place, and he heaves one sleep-heavy leg after another over the side of the bed.
Katniss is awake in the bed next to him, but she doesn't move toward the sound of their daughter's distress. Whether it was the tuneless cries of the infant that woke her, or whether she's been lying there conscious all along, he cannot tell. He could ask, but she won't answer him. She's hardly said a word to anyone since giving birth three weeks ago.
With a groan, he heaves himself up off the bed, and stumbles to the cradle.
'Hyacinth,' she'd said—one of the last things she said. 'I want to name her Hyacinth'.
"Hush now, my little spring flower," he soothes, almost mechanically. He scoops her up and presses her against his chest, and her sickly cries soften to a whimper. It takes only one hand to hold her tight, she's so very small.
'Katniss, you have to eat.'
He'd tried. Her mother tried. They could never get her to eat more than a mouthful at a time.
His feet settle into the familiar rocking motion of their own accord as he heats her milk over the stove. Back and forth—back and forth. He clutches his baby, now soundless and still, to his chest so she can feel the beat of his heart. Back and forth he rocks, patting her bottom, stirring her milk.
The gentle sway must have lulled them both. First the acrid smell of burning hits his nostrils, and then the angry hiss of steaming milk, and the spell is broken. "Shit!" he snaps, as the liquid bubbles up over the side of the pan. Sleep-deprived and groggy, he wasn't paying attention—he's scalded the milk.
Hyacinth startles at his curse, and sets herself to wailing once again.
Over the sound of the baby's cries, he can hear Katniss singing in the next room. The song is "The Hanging Tree."
'You'll feel differently when it's ours.' He knows he's heard it said before: it must be true.
Solemn brown eyes sweep up to meet his cautious smile. 'And if I don't?'
He has to put the baby down while he scrubs the burnt milk out of the pan. She shrieks her protests over the sound of the running water. As her cries build into a shrill, feeble crescendo of hunger and misery, her mother's song gets louder and louder until she's shouting the words over her baby's wail.
"ARE YOU, ARE YOU, COMING TO THE TREE WHERE THE DEAD MAN CALLED OUT FOR HIS LOVE TO FLEE…"
'Peeta, I think there's something wrong with my pills.'
Fortunately, he isn't facing her when she makes her declaration. He has time to push down the thrill of alarm and compose his face before he turns to her. 'What pills? What do you mean?'
She's staring at the small orange bottle, turning it around and listening to the clink of white tablets against the glass sides. 'The ones I use to keep from getting pregnant. I think there's something wrong with this batch. My body feels…different.'
He drops the pan on his foot and he burns his thumb, but eventually he manages to warm up her milk and make her a bottle. When he picks her up, she's only just whimpering; Katniss has stopped singing and hums quietly to herself, face turned to the wall, away from the corner rocking chair where Peeta settles himself with their child.
She's worn herself out crying, and barely has the strength to suck. He has to jiggle her awake whenever she drowses between gulps. As hungry as she was, he can barely get her to take more than half the bottle before they're both too frustrated to go on. Finally, he lets her sleep, tucked in the crook of his elbow. His head falls back against the chair, and he closes his eyes.
I don't think we should tonight…my pills…I could get pregnant.'
His thumb traces back and forth over the peak of her breast. He presses his lips against hers, firm and demanding. 'Would that really be so bad?'
Instantly, she stiffens; her hands push against his chest. 'You know it would! I don't want to have this argument again…'
He leans into her, pinning her down: one hand reaches up to stroke her face. 'Shh, neither do I! Katniss, I'm sorry…' He kisses her again, softer this time. 'I love you. Don't you love me?'
'I do…' Just the barest hint of hesitation in her voice.
It can't be more than an hour later when he jerks awake at the sound of her cries. His jolt shifts the baby, and her head bumps against the wooden arm of the chair. She's hollering now: a high-pitched, furious banshee wail. He picks her up: soothing her, murmuring—clutching her just a little too tightly. "Shh," he insists desperately, "Hyacinth, baby, please…"
Katniss has started singing again, shouting her song over the baby's din:
"ARE YOU, ARE YOU, COMING TO THE TREE WHERE THEY STRUNG UP A MAN THEY SAY MURDERED THREE…"