Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to The Hunger Games. If I did there would be at least four more chapters about healing from the war. But I don't. So, just read this. It will fill that void for you.
A/N: This story takes place in between the last chapter and the epilogue of Mockingjay. I started reading The Hunger Games last Wednesday. I finished Friday. I started writing this on Saturday and now it's Wednesday and I'm done. If you see any errors (grammatical, plot related, tense issues, etc.) please let me know! I want to correct anything I missed.
"It's been a tough year, I don't think she'll be willing," I tell Plutarch over the phone. "We've just barely gotten into a comfort zone, both of us, together. I don't think she's ready to face anyone from the war."
He understands and says a few words about time to heal, but soon enough we'll be expected to attend these Victor's day events. The new government is working hard, but it's still trying out new things and it's always on shaky ground with the populations of the Districts.
After hanging up I turn to see Katniss has joined me in the front room. Her face guarded, her shoulders tense. "I could have told him myself," she says shortly. "I'm not an invalid, Peeta." I used to wince at this tone she takes. But since she's been living in this house, my house, our house, for two months, I'm feeling pretty confident.
"Of course," I appease her and smile just a little. "But I didn't think he needed to hear those new curse words you've picked up from Greasy Sae." She matches my smile and her eyes twinkle.
"You didn't seem to mind them last night," she says coyly and I can feel my body react.
I was surprised when she mentioned sharing a home a few months ago. Surprised might be an understatement. I was kneading some dough with my fists, as a child I used to imagine the dough was an enemy, a boy at school who shoved me in line, my mother who shoved me constantly, and then as I grew, more than I'd like to admit my fists contacted with dough that took on Gale's dark face.
"It's just silly for us to occupy two of these lavish houses," she said leaning her back against the counter next to me. "People are still living in rebuilt shacks in the Seam." My fist hit the wood of the countertop with a force I'd forgotten I had. "I understand if you want your space though, maybe, maybe I'll just bunk with Haymitch," she said this with both vulnerability and a little defiance.
"No!" I said forcefully. "Haymitch's house is…it's just not fit for anyone except him. You'd be miserable there anyways. And then I'd have to sleep there because…" I stopped; worried I might bring up the wrong serious subject while we were discussing this larger point.
When I finally made it home, we might not have been close emotionally, but after a nightmare where I could hear her screaming from my house, three houses away from hers, I'd taken to staying with her. At first, neither of us trusted me enough to sleep next to each other. I stayed in the spare room of her house, then I felt comfortable enough to drag the sofa from the study into her room and slept there. Eventually, one night when she had fallen asleep at my house, she woke frantic and begged for me to join her in my own bed. I didn't sleep that first night. But I've gotten over it. Whether it was my home or hers, we slept together. It was just better that way. There was no way I was sleeping in Haymitch's pigsty though.
"Packing my things shouldn't take long, I'll move in tomorrow," I paused still a little worried about her reactions. I added hastily, "If you're okay with that."
"Actually I'd like for us to stay here," she turned somber. "I can't, it's just better if I'm…"
I understood. Her home holds the memories of her mother. Of her dead sister. Of President Snow's terrifying visit. "That's probably better," I said. "Between my paints and my loaf pans it would take me more than a few days to pack."
"You just said you'd be ready tomorrow." Katniss said with a slanted look.
"I was being optimistic," I said with a smirk. I tried to salvage the dough but gave up and tossed it back into the bowl. I covered it with plastic and turned to wash my hands but Katniss hugged me from behind. Despite the damaged loaf I sighed and covered her hands that rested on my chest with my own that were sticky with flour and dough. I felt her sigh into my back and enjoyed the contact. She doesn't usually initiate an exchange like that unless I'm in some kind of pain.
"Haymitch would be a terrible roommate," she said with a giggle.
"Victor's Day is a terrible name for the memorial of the end of the war. Rebel's Day maybe?" I say to Katniss as we sit at the kitchen table. She scrunches her nose at my suggestions. "You're so vain," I say with humor. "You'd be happy with Mockingjay Day." For just a minute I think she might be angry with me, but she's clearly having a good day because she lifts her chin into the air and sniffs like royalty.
"I like the sound of it," she smiles. I love the smiles. They used to be so rare. They still aren't common, but they're becoming more frequent. "Maybe we'll call Plutarch and tell him if he renames the day, we'll come."
The next year Plutarch does phone again. He's insistent this time, more so than last year. I know he thinks we've had plenty of time but who really knows how much time we need? I tell him we'll talk about it. And we do. But this time Katniss is ready. I think I am. That's close enough, right?
At the reception, I see people I haven't seen since the war. The Victors, the surviving ones I know are all here. They all ask about Katniss. I have to relay that she became ill after the ceremony. I don't tell them she took a bottle of wine and a case of expensive cheeses and locked herself in our hotel room. Haymitch is the only one who doesn't believe me, but he doesn't say anything. He knows most what it's like for her. He would probably join her if he weren't required to make the rounds and rub elbows with all the elite.
Even after the Capitol fell, the parties are still classy. Of course, things aren't wasted like they were in the city I despised. And the music is better. People actually dance but not with strobe lights. They dance with lutes playing and people laughing and feet tapping. It's a welcome change from the last high society reception I attended.
"Is she really sick?" I turn to see Gale in a shiny uniform and slicked back hair holding a glass of something bubbly. "Because if she's really sick, you should tell her mother."
"Sick of all this," I reply evenly. "She's fine. Just wasn't up to seeing all the people."
He looks me up and down and extends his hand. "Are you taking good care of her?" he sounds so very military.
I'm not going to tell him about an incident a few weeks ago. A rabid dog found it's way into town while I was out delivering bread. I ran through the square to entice it away from the school children walking home. I ran until my chest pounded in pain. It took me right back to the Games. I thought I might die from this dog that brought gruesome images of the muttations coming after us. By the time I'd reached the break in the fence the hunter's were returning, Katniss included, and killed the animal. I didn't notice. I kept running through the woods. It was almost an hour before she found me huddled under some vines. I'd vomited everything in my stomach and the sight of her brought back an itch in my hands. An itch to kill her. Hijacking recovery has its small relapses. She saw my eyes and knew to be cautious. I don't think either of us slept that night. Both too concerned about our safety and both reminded how our lives would never be normal or completely healed.
"Just like she takes care of me," I say shaking his hand. "And how about you? How's your wife? Is she here?" I look around for effect.
"She stayed home," he looks glum. "The baby will be here soon and I didn't think she should risk the travel."
I'm confused because this party is in District 2, Gale's new home. "Is it particularly dangerous for pregnant women to travel here?" I don't know these things. I have no experience.
"No, well, I just…" he looks embarrassed. "I like to keep her safe. I'm still a little paranoid about some dangers." Gale means the dangers that we hope don't exist anymore. Letting the government get to your family and friends.
"You just didn't want her to run into Katniss," I say trying to lighten the mood. "Worried there might have been some kind of cat fight." I laugh at my own pun but Gale looks genuinely offended.
"Was she upset?" he says. "That I just sent the invitation? I picked up the phone a hundred times, I just didn't know how to tell her."
Now I'm uneasy. She wasn't upset. Not really. I think. I hope. She had a bad day or two after. But it was just that. A bad day. Nothing to do with Gale's wedding announcement. She didn't even consider going. At least if she did, she didn't tell me about it.
"I don't even remember. It was a non event to her." It's harsher than I meant to sound but I get my point across. I'm looking around the room for my exit. I don't want to stand with him another minute.
"She doesn't want kids," Gale says abruptly. It's meant to shock me, but I've been through enough with her to not be surprised. Hell, I haven't even thought of children. Not until now. And only because he's brought it up.
"Good thing that's not a deal breaker for me," I say coolly and walk away.
Not a deal breaker. Except now I can't get it out of my head. Back in our room Katniss is passed out on the bed. When I first come in I try to swallow my panic and remember she's just sleeping. But sometimes when I see her like this my blood pumps faster. Placing my hand on her chest I feel the rise and fall. A quick kiss to her forehead gives me the excuse to feel her breath on my face so I know for sure she is breathing.
Once I've covered her up, I walk to the balcony and search the stars. I'm glad District 2 is conserving energy tonight. It means I can see the lights of the sky without difficulty. I feel safer when I can see the stars. The arenas never had the real light of the sky, always the fake radiance of lights meant to give the best illumination for cameras. Perhaps I'll cut a sky light into the roof of our bedroom. Katniss would love to lie in bed looking at the stars with me. Then maybe it would be a lovely spot to cuddle with children. The same ones Gale's just informed me she doesn't want.
We're both still so young, even if we feel light years older than even our parents. Well, the one parent we have left between the two of us. Maybe as time moves us away from the barely scabbed wounds left from the Games and the revolution she'll change her mind.
"It's a blessing the street lamps are out," she says startling me from my thoughts. Despite the summer month, the valley is crisp and she's hardly dressed to be outside in her underclothes.
"Go on in, you've got to be freezing," I say but she doesn't move. Just folds her arms over her chest.
"Are you coming?" she asks meekly. Most people don't get to see her like this, mild and soft. I love that little part of her that I get. I lean down and kiss her lightly, then spin her towards the door with my hands on her shoulders.
"Let's go," I say. As I lay with her in my arms she asks about the party. If anyone noticed she was gone. When I tell her everyone noticed she feels badly and then I have to assure her it wasn't too much trouble for me to lie about it. "I saw Gale," I say cautiously. I'm afraid of what she might say about this. I can admit I still feel some jealousy over her feelings for him. Even if she has none. Even if he's married with a baby on the way and she and I are living in the same house sleeping in one another's arms every night. Old habits die hard. He got all those years with Katniss. All the years of hunting, all the stories about hard to bring down animals or days without food.
Then again, I feel unequivocal connected to her through the time we spent together in the arena. It's sick, but Gale doesn't get that part of her. Even if she was thinking of him instead of me, he wasn't there. I was. It's a disgusting strand that ties she and I together. But who else would have either one of us? We're both broken beyond repair. With the fall of the Capitol, we aren't even rich anymore.
Katniss turns to face me, placing her hand over my heart. "Did he look nervous? I'd be nervous if I was expecting a baby soon." She laughs but I can't. A half smile is all I can manage. How did she bring up the one thing that was niggling at my mind more than her possible affection for a married man? She must have noticed my suddenly tense muscles because she looks confused. "Did something happen to his wife?" she asks which only causes me more pain. Would she be happy if he were available?
"No," I say curtly. "She's fine. Or so he said. He also felt the need to relay the information that you never wanted children." Katniss sits up and looks down at me.
"That's hardly his business to be sharing," she says irritated. "And so what? You must understand the fear. Children? In a world like this?" It feels like an argument that she's had before but not with me.
"Two years ago I would have agreed with you," I say sharply while I sit up on my elbows. "The world is different now. We made it different. You made it different."
"Hardly," she scoffs. "There's still a central government over us, our children could be taken away at a moment's notice without our permission. They could reinstate the Games whenever they like! Coin tried to do just that!"
Now I'm angry. "You voted for the those Games!" I reply sharply. "Whatever your sister has to do with it, I don't know, but you were thrilled at the prospect to gain some revenge by killing Capitol children." I know it's not true. I saw the look on her face as she fought within herself over the idea. But it's just too easy to say it. They don't call her The Girl on Fire for nothing. She catches flame faster than dry grass.
I'm shocked when she doesn't rise to my bait. She shrinks into the blankets and curls into a ball. I knew I pushed too far, but this is wrong. "Fight back," I hear myself say. "Fight back, don't cry," I say harshly and to my relief she does. She snaps up quickly, her face covered in tears.
"We would be awful parents!" she shouts. "Who would want the two of us? Killers? Master manipulators? I don't deserve to be a mother."
I swallow hard and try to avoid tears myself. She's right. We shouldn't have children. If one of us had a bad day, if both of us had a bad day, our children would be defenseless. I remember the way my mother would hit me and I can't imagine doing that to a child, but I still worry about hitting Katniss sometimes. Wringing her neck like a chicken. The two of us are too broken for the task. I'll leave the repopulating to people like Gale and his wife and I'll just thank my lucky stars I have Katniss to grow old with.
My reaction must be obvious because she deflates again. This time I grab her and hold so tightly I might be hurting her. But I just need her to know that I need her. I'm relieved when she holds me just as tightly.
Years have gone by since that night. District 12 is growing. Slowly. Beetee has worked tirelessly on alternative sources of energy for Panem and 12 has sprouted large windmills the size of skyscrapers from the old Capitol. One of them can provide power for our whole district and we've got six more surrounding us. Katniss put up a fight when they drove trucks out through her favorite spots in the woods, but I held her back forcibly and Haymitch convinced her she needed a day of drinking to make herself feel better.
The vegetation that was disturbed has just started growing back and vines of ivy are crawling up the structures now. The sight of it made her jump and giggle like a child. Something so rare I wish I had a camera to document it. We walk through the forest together sometimes. Not when she's hunting of course, I'm too loud for such work, but today it's so hot that she wants to show me something in the woods. I know this is a big deal so I don't argue about the heat.
The pool is beautiful and I can't complain when she strips to her under things and jumps in. I remove my shirt and shoes and wade in, careful to stay where I can stand. I can't swim and I balk at her idea to teach me today. I'm pretty sure two legs would be better for such an activity and I don't think my prosthetic would help any. She swims back and forth across the pond and I can't believe how happy she looks.
"My father brought me here," she says in between laps. I didn't know but I'm glad to hear it wasn't Gale that brought her here. That jealousy doesn't visit me often these days. It's been so long. And yet a trip to the woods can remind me of the relationship I know little about. I smile and splash some water towards her. "He would have been 42 today. I wish," she sighs and I wait. She shakes her head and seems to toss whatever she was thinking aside. "He wouldn't like what I've done, what I've become." The utter despair in her voice might be disconcerting for someone else. But I know the feeling.
"No chance he wouldn't like you. He loved you then and he'd love you now," I try to catch her but like a fish she swims to out of my reach. Sensing she doesn't want comfort I change tactics. "He certainly wouldn't want you sitting around dripping with pity." That was the right thing to say because she rolls her eyes and swims back to me.
"Why don't you ever talk about your father?" she says easily. "He was a good man, wasn't he?"
"Yes, if you don't count the fact he let my mother beat me when she was angry about anything, other than that he was perfect." It sounds snide and I don't regret it. The loss of my family is mostly superficial to me. With the exception of being utterly alone in the world, I hardly think about them. But she's right. He was a good man. It's just easier to not dwell on it.
"Was it just you she didn't like?" Her question catches me off guard. I was prepared for a quick discussion about my father. I suppose it's my fault she's asking about my mother.
"Don't laugh," I say and she looks serious. "She wanted a girl. I was just one more mouth to feed that had the audacity to be male." I can see she wants to laugh. Her lips are pressed together tightly and she exhales through her nose loudly. "Fine, laugh about my tragic childhood of abuse," I relent. To her credit, she doesn't' laugh. Just coughs uncomfortably and inhales deeply.
"It wasn't fair to take it out on you, she should have been mad at your father," she says evenly. I am confused for a moment until I remember school and science and I smile. "She hated me too if it makes you feel better."
"It doesn't, but thanks for trying."
"She wouldn't even look at me after the Games," she says as we both get out of the pool and head for our discarded clothes and shoes. "I suppose that story about your father and my mother didn't play as well with her as it did the audience."
"God no," I say shaking my head. "She never mentioned anything but I knew. She hardly looked at me after the games. I think she was just glad she didn't have to feed me anymore."
"I'm so relieved I don't have to worry about ruining a child's life," she says and immediately her eyes flash with something that looks like fear laced with embarrassment. She opens her mouth to say something but flounders.
"It's fine," I say shaking my head and trying to keep my face neutral.
There was a lengthy documentary broadcast last night about orphans of the war. It's been five years and those children live in the worst poverty still, despite the surge of growth the Districts are having. I didn't say anything, but it ripped my heart out to see the images. So much so that I spent all morning trying to find a good number for Cressinda, she'd made the documentary and I just wanted to do something. Anything. Ideally I would have taken 10 of those kids away from the orphanages but one look at Katniss' face now and I knew kids were still out of the question. Even ones she didn't bear. I could have easily played on her guilty conscience and her part in the war, but this wasn't a battle that would be won and I didn't have the energy to dig up the feelings myself.
I'd have to settle for donating bread and maybe a morale visit. Not that any of those children would recognize me, but they didn't get many visitors. Maybe I'd let Cressinda film it in exchange for some kind of fundraiser.
As we walk back she takes my hand. She's apologizing. When we get home she pulls me to our bed. I'll accept this physical manifestation of her apology even if it is a reminder that she wants no fruit to come from this union. I lose myself making love to her so I don't have to tick off the reasons why she's right. We aren't fit to be parents to anyone. Especially not the children of a war we helped cause.
Walking up the road to the house I see him, sprawled out over the porch stairs. Haymitch hasn't made an appearance outside his house in at least a week and he smells like he hasn't bathed in much longer than that. I kick his leg to rouse him. He sits up more alert than I expected and glares at me.
"Where's the ball and chain?" he says squinting at the sun.
"In the woods, hunting game so you have something to eat," I say as I tilt my head. Something is off about him and it's bothering me. "She'll be back soon, maybe an hour, I've got some of those fruit tarts you like." I pass him and head into the house. As expected, he follows.
"Plutarch's gonna call you," he says while spitting pastry crumbs all over the table. You would think after all these years I'd learn to ignore his manners but they are just disgusting. "He needs a new candidate."
"For president?" I ask concerned. This must be the reason Haymitch isn't on the couch in his house. "What's that got to do with us?"
"Not the two of you, dumb ass." He wipes his mouth with his sleeve and takes a swig of his flask. "Just you."
"You must be joking." Katniss would be the perfect person to run. She'd be crap at the job, but aren't the cabinet and staff really responsible for running the country? I'm just a baker. One that was brainwashed and almost ruined an entire rebellion. Or so Gale likes to point out whenever we have the misfortune of "catching up."
"Peeta Mellark is the smooth talker," Haymitch says in a great impersonation of Plutarch. "He's got brains and he can win the crowds." He breaks the accent and shakes his head. "The man seems to forget that bit with you and the hijacking. And quite frankly I don't think you have the balls for the job. But I thought I'd warn you about the impending call. Especially since Katniss is gonna blow her top about it."
I glare at him for a moment. Is he saying she's in charge around here? Because she's not. It's a partnership but what would he know about that? The only friends he's got are she and I.
"Blow my top about what?" Katniss walks to the table and sits down next to Haymitch and looks calmly at him. She turns to me, "Can I have some water, Peeta?"
Normally a request like this would not cause me to huff in frustration but she's making it look like she is the lead in this relationship and I'm livid. It's not her fault. She didn't know what Haymitch had just alluded to. He laughs and I narrow my eyes and give him my harshest face. He just laughs louder.
"Lover boy is about to get a request to run for president," he says as he gets up and strolls out the door. "Try not to burn the house down you two."
I finally turn to her. I expect a fight. Screaming about political policies, lengthy diatribes about being used as pieces in a game that isn't any less gruesome than the Hunger Games, even maybe hurt feelings from the fact that they're asking me and not her. I didn't expect the boisterous laughter. There are tears in her eyes from laughing so hard. If I had gotten her that glass she might have sprayed water out of her nose. As much as I love to see her laugh, this only serves to infuriate me.
Katniss doesn't think I can do it either. She and Haymitch are too alike. "Why are you laughing?" I manage to ask through gritted teeth. It takes her a moment to catch her breath and she at least seems repentant.
"I just can't believe it's finally happened," she says still smiling but not mocking. "I always thought it should have been you. From the very first interview, I knew you were the one cut out for the public eye. People love you."
"Really?" My face heats from the compliment and the tension leaves my body. "So you're not angry? You don't think I should do it, do you?"
"God no!" she says a hint of disgust in her voice. "You don't want to, do you? Because I would not stand in some Effie Trinket suit next to you while you gave campaign speeches. Not to mention, we're not married. That would not play well in a lot of the Districts. And weren't they trying to groom Haymitch for that? I mean, it was a ridiculous idea, but isn't that what they were trying for? When did Plutarch give up that idea?"
The anger is replaced by an intense fondness for this woman that I've loved since I was a child and yet I realize everyday how I never knew her before the Games. How our biggest tragedy actually brought me so much happiness.
"Are you finished or did you have more comments about this absurd turn of events?" I ask playfully. She shakes her head. "No, I don't want to do it. I've got no aspirations for power."
"Then why were you so angry?" I couldn't tell her. She didn't need to know about my feelings of inferiority or the jibes that Haymitch baited me with. I touch her check and kiss her quickly.
"It's nothing," I lie. "Were you productive today? It's starting to get cold out, I can't even remember, is that good for hunting or bad?" Before she can answer the phone rings and we look at each other for a moment unblinking. Then we both race after the phone. She's closer to the front room so she's got an advantage but I grab her braid and tug. It doesn't hurt her so much as annoy her and gives me a moment to step in front of her. We're both laughing and out of breath as our hands both land on the phone. I pull it up and we stand ear to ear to listen. "Hello."
It's Plutarch and he asks the dreaded question and I refuse and when he doesn't take me seriously Katniss interjects. "We don't want to be involved in this," she says forcefully and then pulls back a bit. "Peeta doesn't want this," she pauses and looks at me. "Right?"
I whisper "real," she smiles fondly and I take the phone again. "I've got things to take care of here. See you at the next Victor's Day."
Every year we visit Katniss' mother in District 4. At first Katniss didn't want anything to do with her mother. Not because she was angry, but because of the guilt. It's been over 10 years and she still feels the weight of Prim's death. Obviously her mother doesn't blame her. Or she's very good at hiding it. She welcomes us every visit with a large meal and a thorough medical exam. She frets over our scars from the Games and spends hours combing Katniss' hair.
As we step off the train and into the warm breeze that the ocean provides, Katniss holds my hand tightly. There's a large crowd of people at the station. She's been nervous about losing me in large crowds since the final days of the war. I just don't care for large crowds so it works for both of us to cling tightly to one another.
I take in the people of District 4. Despite the autumn season 4 is warm, it's always warm, and people dress in far less clothing than those of us from other districts. Garments made for water and land use are prominent and some of the clothing is scant, leaving little to the imagination.
I can see why Mrs. Everdeen would like it here. The weather is always warm, I've spent more than enough months shoveling snow and cursing the weather to see the appeal.
The crowds aren't thinning as we walk away from the station. Is this what cattle feel like as they are herded? People are pushing and shoving and then something happens. Katniss pulls away but not by choice. She's screaming my name and I have to fight against the moving crowd to get to her. I yell for her and I see that all we're doing is drawing more people to us. The legendary Victors, the Mocking Jay herself. She's being pulled away by someone forcefully and my breathing is coming in short gasps as I try to get to her, my arms reaching out, luggage long forgotten. Katniss seems to snap out of her fear and turns from me. I don't know what happens but I see her double over, but she's stopped moving and I can finally catch up to her.
I can't decide if I want to hold her and never let go or kill whomever it was that tried to keep her from me. This results in my searching the faces around me, most of whom have stopped to gawk at us, the disturbed celebrities, and my hands all over her body checking for blood, pulse, breathing, and listening to her sob. I give up looking around and focus on her completely.
"What happened, what did they do? What did you do? Where does it hurt? Should I call the authorities?" I continue my rapid questions without waiting for a response from her. Her crying has stopped and she sighs heavily into my chest.
"It's a good thing it was a man," I barely understand her because she's muffled by my shirt. "Women just don't have the same response to a swift kick to the groin." I chuckle but only to cover my own release of adrenaline.
"Everyone clear out," I tell the crowd harshly. "Unless you know saw the bastard that did this, go back to your business." When the camera flash goes off I shake my head and huff. We're sure to be on the broadcast tonight. I don't even bother with the authorities. I lift Katniss to her feet and she molds into my side as we head through the slowly retreating crowd. Once I find our abandoned luggage I notice that she's clutching her side. But when I reach towards the area she recoils and won't remove her hand. "What is it?" I say concerned. "Should I call someone?"
"No, it's just a cramp," she chokes out. "Let's get to my mother. She'll be worried."
After an uneventful and quick bus ride, we make it to the apartment. The attack has already been broadcast and her mother is frantic. She whisks Katniss away into her bedroom apologizing for not being able to retrieve us from the station. I plop onto the simple couch and try to make sense of what has happened to us. The talking head on the television drones on.
"The attack went unreported and we only know of the event because of onlookers' photos and one who even caught some video, lucky for us someone was returning from vacation with a new camera. The authorities have no leads on why the couple was in town and have stated that if they were alerted to the visit, they could have had ample protection for Peeta Mellark and Katniss Everdeen Mellark."
We still aren't married and I always smile when they refer to her like that. The public prefers to think of us that way and I do also. It's not like we haven't done the traditional ceremony. But her name is still Everdeen and I wouldn't try to take it away from her.
"We here at Broadcast 4 expect that the couple is in town visiting The Mockingjay's mother who has resided here in the city since the end of the war."
I must have dozed off from the exhaustion and adrenaline but a knock at the door rouses me. Scrubbing my neck with my hand I answer the door. I'm surprised to see Gale standing in his spiffy uniform and a stern face. "What are you doing here?" I try not to sound accusatory. Doesn't matter, after all these years, we aren't friends. I'm not even sure he and Katniss are still friends. He brushes passed me and turns off the television.
"I was at a conference, I saw what happened and I rushed over here," he said shortly. "Why didn't you call the authorities? Better yet, why didn't you warn them you were coming here?"
"We've never let them know before," I say shaking my head and trying to stay calm. "If this is an unsafe place for people, why isn't it on the broadcast daily? Why isn't the government warning people?" I see him clench his fists and release. It doesn't bother me, this is what we do, we can't stand each other but we're bound by Katniss.
"There isn't much crime in the area!" he shoots back. "But there is a small faction of people growing throughout the country that are for the reinstatement of the Capitol. If the two of you needed a vacation you should have told someone. I saw the footage, you could have avoided this if you'd only…"
"If we'd only what? Reported all our movements? Given an itinerary to the proper officials? Requested Effie Trinket to chaperone us. We don't travel like that for a reason. If there's such a faction, logically speaking it's better for us to blend into the crowds. Not draw attention to ourselves with armed guards."
"The constable will be here shortly," Gale says. "He wants to depose you two. We need to find out who did this and punish them." He stops for a moment and scrubs his hands over his face. "I can still hear her screaming for you. The footage was awful."
This is odd. The footage that has been broadcasting is so short, just 15 seconds or so. It was hardly long enough to haunt anyone, except maybe she and I, but only because we lived it. "What do you mean? The footage was so short."
"That's just the released video. The cameras in the station picked up the whole thing, it was terrifying to watch." He sounds genuinely concerned.
"What do you mean they had cameras up in the station?" I'm steaming. One of the things we Victors have taken away from the Games is an intense paranoia. It was well founded. Looks like it still is.
"Cool it," he says condescendingly. "They've been there since the old regime. Meant to fill the Games coverage with B roll. The tributes leaving their Districts, the homecoming, the Victor's Tour, all those events. They just happen to still work so we use them."
"For what?" I growl. "To spy on people? To see who doesn't favor the new government or the local officials?"
"No," he says with a roll of his eyes. "To catch criminals mostly. To keep people safe from things like today's events. How is she anyways?"
I don't really know. Katniss and her mother have been holed up in the bedroom since we got here. Not wanting to admit that I haven't any idea, I skirt around the question. "Do you have any leads? Did you get a photo or something?"
"I won't know until the constable comes, just like you," he says coolly. "Can you please go tell her I'm here?" I jump at the chance to check on her without losing some high ground in the argument. Knocking lightly on the door to the room, I enter without permission but her mother was on the way to me. She pulls me into the hall after a quick wave to Gale.
"Well? Is she okay?" I ask anxiously. Her mother looks tired and frail. Did she look that way when we came in? Is it Katniss' health or is it just old age changing her face?
"She'll be alright," she says cautiously. I sigh with relief and wait for her to continue. "It's just some bruising on her arm and some tenderness in her abdomen."
"Her abdomen? Did he hit her? Punch her in the gut?" She was clutching her side but I still don't know the extent of the attack on her.
"Yes, but there's," she pauses, and then drops the thought. "You should speak to her, she's asking for you. I'll make some food for everyone."
"That's not necessary," I hear myself say despite my immediate hunger. It's been hours since we've eaten. But Mrs. Everdeen just shakes her head.
"You both need something to eat and with Gale here, he probably will also." She turns to go but I remember something.
"The Constable is on his way."
"I'll be expecting him," she says while she walks to the kitchen.
Katniss is sitting on the bed, her back against the plain headboard. When I come in she tries to smile but it's false. She fiddles with her braid and when I sit down on the foot of the bed she crawls to me instantly. I pull her onto my lap and she nestles into my chest.
"Are you going to be alright?" She nods and I kiss the top of her head. I try to lift her chin to kiss her properly but she glances down again.
"Is someone else here?" she asks pulling away from my chest and looking at me. "I heard you talking to someone." Maybe that's why she didn't kiss me. She was never one for public displays, not since the Games and our so public false courtship.
"Gale's here," I say stiffly. "He's very worried about you."
"He should be worried about both of us." She strokes my face. "Are you okay?" I'm not okay. I can see my hands shake and I don't want to leave this apartment and I don't want to leave her side now that I've got her, but I'm not going to tell her this.
"Fine." I kiss her and this time she let's me. I deepen the kiss but she pulls away again.
"Not real." She's caught me. It must have been the kiss. I take so much comfort in her that I must have given myself away. "You're allowed to be upset about it, Peeta. I'm sure we'll both have nightmares tonight. But we'll survive, right?"
I lean my forehead against hers. "Right. This shit hasn't killed us yet."
When Mrs. Everdeen lets us know, we both come out for dinner. The constable hasn't shown but Gale is still hanging around. Katniss doesn't pay him much mind except for some pleasantries about his family. Turns out he and his wife have four kids now. He glances at me, probably thinking I'm jealous of his family. I'm not. Katniss and I are doing just fine without kids. If anything, today's attack solidified my stance. We are too screwed up and too much of a target for us to have children. It's just safer this way.
As I help clearing the plates, there's a knock at the door. About time the constable got here. After some questions and some tart that I brought from home, he departs, as does Gale. As soon as they leave Katniss runs for the bathroom and I head after her but Mrs. Everdeen stops me.
"I'll go, do you mind cleaning up in here?" She usually isn't this protective of Katniss. I'm a little offended. Is she mad at me for not preventing the incident? I tell her I'll clean up and she barely hears me as she runs for her daughter.
I go to the spare bedroom, dragging our bags. It's unusual for someone who lives alone to have two bedrooms but being the mother of The Mockingjay has some perks. The landlord gave her an apartment with a spare room hoping Katniss would visit often. Apparently he's a big fan. I bet he's regretting that decision since we only come once a year.
Katniss finally comes in, but she's looking pale and I'm instantly worried. "What happened? Did the food make you sick?" She shakes her head and starts to cry and I can't do anything but pull her to me. She was right earlier; it's going to be an awful night. I just hope the neighbors don't complain about the screaming.
I just hold her while she sleeps fitfully. Just like the first nights I held her, I'm afraid if I sleep she might be gone when I wake. I see sunlight peeking through the shades right before I fall asleep. When I wake it's because I feel something sticky around my middle. There's blood and it seems like it's everywhere. I jump up in shock hoping this is just a nightmare but it's not. Katniss is covered in blood, it's on her stomach, her pelvis, her thighs, I can see it seeping from her clothes and I try to shake her awake. I scream her name and keep shaking her for a minute until her mother rushes into the room. She opens the blinds for light and I cover my eyes for protection from the bright light. She begins to strip off Katniss' clothes. She's tearing them and grabbing a wet towel that seems to appear in her hand like magic.
"Hand me that bottle," I look around frantically and see a dark bottle on the nightstand. Did she know this would happen? That bottle has been there all night. She pours the liquid across Katniss' pelvis and it's only then that I realize where the blood is coming from. It's like a monthly but far too heavy.
"What is going on? Why is she bleeding like that?" I can hear the panic in my voice and my hands shake. It's only when I see her mother flinch that I realize I was yelling. I feel bad about it but not enough to apologize. I feel like I was lied to. Or I wasn't told the whole truth.
"Her uterus is purging it's lining and the sack," she says it so evenly. Sack. Sack? Oh God.
"She's losing a baby." As I say the words the bile rises in my throat. I look for something to empty my stomach into and see a trash bin and take it into the hallway, but not too far. I can't move too far away from her. Once I've finished I feel woozy but lean against the door jam. "Why isn't she conscience? Is that normal?"
"She's lost a little more blood than I expected. I need you to help me," she has the mask of a physician on. This woman has saved many lives and she doesn't look like she'll be letting her own daughter go so I pay close attention. "She needs some blood." I roll up my sleeves immediately.
"She can have mine," I say, quickly. She shakes her head.
"No, it won't do, I need you to go into the kitchen, in the ice box. On the bottom shelf there is a box, bring it here." It bothers me that she has it in house. More evidence that I wasn't told everything last night. After I've retrieved it she gives me more instructions and I follow them. I bring warm water and I clean her up as her mother inserts the tubes that will deliver the lifesaving blood. In minutes her color starts to return and I feel comfortable enough to ask the question.
"Why didn't she tell me?" Mrs. Everdeen turns away from me now. She's back to cleaning up Katniss and massaging her stomach. "Did she think I'd be angry?"
"I don't know why," she says firmly as she alternates thumping Katniss' abdomen and removing clots of blood from her womb. The scene makes me heave again, but I've got nothing left to give.
"Was it the attack, did it bring this on? Did she know about the baby, before?" I'm still so confused about everything. Surely she didn't know, surely she would have told me if she did.
"It was the attack. She was so early that it wouldn't take much. And she didn't know, it was just too soon to tell." She's sincere and I remember that this must be breaking her heart as well. As if she knows what I'm thinking she adds, "it was nothing more than a jumble of cells, nothing to mourn." But she swallows hard and I think I see a tear stream down her face.
I situate myself next to Katniss, my back propped against the headboard and cradle her head in my lap. I brush her hair away from her forehead and wait for her to wake up. Then it occurs to me. "She will wake up, won't she? I've heard of women dying from this."
"She'll wake up," her mother says. "She's too stubborn to let this kill her."
It's three hours later when she finally comes to. I'm so happy to see her eyes open I pull her up unsteadily and kiss her face. All over. Cheeks, forehead, chin, eyelids. I know I shouldn't, she's still barely conscious but I just have to reassure myself that she's okay. At least physically. Emotionally I'm sure she'll be a wreck. Or maybe she'll be relieved. Katniss has never been quiet about not wanting children.
I still don't know how I feel about it. But I'm not the important one.
Katniss glances down and then clutches at her belly weakly. "Not a nightmare was it?"
"No," I say with a heavy sigh. "Are you feeling alright?" She avoids my eyes and just a little bit of anger bubbles within me. Anger at whoever did this to her, frustration and hurt that she didn't tell me.
"I'm sorry," she mumbles. "I should have been more careful." I'm confused.
"More careful? Do you think this is your fault?" I try to control my anger but the words practically fly out of my mouth. Just like Katniss to blame herself for something she couldn't control.
Pulling the blanket up around her she pulls away from me and finally looks me in the eye. "I knew something was wrong. I felt differently but I didn't know why, it never occurred to me, we're always so careful. And you want children and I don't and it must have been some kind of sign."
Tilting my head I watch her face crumple. I pull her to me and stroke her hair. "Is that why you didn't tell me, last night?" I feel her nod against my chest.
"I thought it would hurt you and I just wanted to protect you from the pain."
"When are we going to stop doing that?" I ask wearily. "Surely when we share the hurt we can help each other get better. Isn't that what we've been trying to do?" The words seem to calm her and she promises to try. So do I. We have to stop hiding things from one another. I learned a long time ago happily ever after doesn't exist. You find whom you want and then you muddle through together. It's usually messy and the two of us couldn't be more broken if we tried, but we have each other and I hope that's enough.
Over the next few days we stay inside. We don't usually do anything different when we visit her mother but this time she's got the both of us under house arrest. Between Katniss' recovery and the still unsolved attack we're reduced to card playing and long conversations about nothing. Oddly it's peaceful and despite a little cabin fever it's probably my favorite visit so far.
On the last day the constable swings by to let us know they've apprehended the man who attacked Katniss. They don't even need us to identify him because he's confessed. My stomach turns because something feels wrong about letting a man be punished without a victims' positive ID. But I let it go because I don't want her to have to face the man who took away some of our sanity, but also stole a life that almost was.
When we finally return home it feels like we've been gone months, not just five days. Haymitch is waiting at the station and has some choice words for us. "They caught that fucker but he swears he was acting alone." His voice is dripping with disdain. "I think when you two travel you need to have an escort, keep me in booze and I'm willing to fill that position." I roll my eyes but understand the sentiment. He was worried about Katniss. But when we start to walk back to Victor's Village he puts an arm over my shoulder and squeezes. "Are you okay? I know everyone is fretting over her, but she was…" he pauses. "Just, if you need anything, or if you…I've got lots of liquor and it was a rough thing so I'm willing to share." I snort. Haymitch offering his alcohol is about the nicest thing he'll ever do.
"You still like her more than me," I say as she walks five paces ahead of us. She's desperate to get home.
"Yeah, but she doesn't make pie." He chuckles. "I had this drink that was strawberry and it made me think of pie. Can you make me a pie?"
"Find me the fruit and I'll see what I can do."
At home, when we're both lying in bed I hear a voice so small it can't possibly be from Katniss. "Would I be a terrible mother?" The question is tricky but instead of answering based on her lack of desire for children I tell the truth. Despite all our flaws and issues.
"You would be a great mother," I say softly but confidently. I hear her scoff. I pull her to me and let her rest her head on my chest. "You would teach a child to hunt and how to survive. I think you'd be the best mom because you could teach a child about grave mistakes and to value life. Children should learn that the world isn't perfect and I can't imagine a better person to teach that than you." I feel the tears on my chest and realize I must have said too much. "But you don't have to be a mother. It's completely up to you and no one can fault you for not wanting it."
She swipes at her eyes and kisses the side of my mouth. "I might want it." I try to stamp down the excitement that rises in my chest. There's a chance, but I don't want to get my hopes up. I tell myself that if she's ready, I'm ready and I try not to hope for too much.
In the early morning hours I get up carefully. Hoping not to wake her. She's still not well enough to hunt but I need to start on the bread for the day. I promised Greasy Sae I'd have loaves ready for sale this morning. She heard what happened and has offered to take the loaves to the regulars so I don't have to leave Katniss.
She joins me just after I've put the bread into the oven. We've never been able to sleep alone for long and today is no different. As she puts water on to boil I clean up the mess of flour and bowls. We do our chores in comfortable silence until she speaks suddenly. "I didn't want children." I'm surprised we're still talking about this. I thought she would sleep and dream the conversation away. My eyes find hers and I wait expectantly for what she'll say. "It hurt to have one stolen from me. It seems I don't know what I want until it's taken from me." The corner of her mouth rises in a half smile. "It was the same with you." I smile fondly and then consider the sad statement. That's how our lives have been for so long. Things are taken from us and we have to fight to get them back.
As a child I loved her, but I didn't know her. It wasn't until she was pulled off the pedestal I'd placed her on that I really loved her. Really knew her. She's imperfect. And it makes me ache for her. I walk to her and lift her chin. I smile and her eyes twinkle back at me. Before I can move she captures my lips. Kissing her has always felt heated to me. Even in the beginning. Even now. I feel fire with her. I thank my lucky stars that her fire hasn't been extinguished.
We decide to wait a year. I suggested this because I just can't have her regret her decision. And I don't want her to resent a child. It might have been our best year yet. The bad days are so few that we're lulled into a false sense of security. When it's finally happened I'm cautiously optimistic. She seems happy about it, but I still can't help but worry she'll regret this decision and I may be blamed.
Katniss still goes out to hunt. So when she doesn't get out of bed I'm worried. In our room I find her sobbing under the covers. She won't tell me what's wrong and she's inconsolable. I make the local healer come check her out. Katniss throws the guy out. Physically pushes him out of the room and almost down the stairs. She's screaming, "You can't take my baby!" And I realize it's not a problem with the baby. It's a problem with her.
The grief and depression keep her under for weeks at a time. Sometimes she'll surface but it's not for more than a day or two. There are days that I have to force food into her. I'm so afraid that she is starving. The other hunters take to bringing us game for trade. It's the only baking I can be bothered to do, the rest of the time I just try to help her. There's nothing I can do, but sit with her. Talk to her. Assure her no one is taking our child. The Games are over. No one is coming for us. The problem is sometimes I don't believe those words myself. Sometimes they feel like a lie. But I tell her every night before she falls asleep that I'll keep them safe. I'll kill, I'll maim, I'll die. The problem is I don't think that helps any. It probably hurts her more. I say it anyways, selfishly, because it makes me feel better.
Mrs. Everdeen would have gladly come to us, but in one of Katniss' rare clear days she shrugs off the idea. "Maybe it will do me some good to come to you." So two months before the delivery day we pack our bags and head for District 4. Haymitch travels with us. I don't know how much help an aging, drunken bodyguard is, but to his credit he's very alert and only mildly intoxicated on the train.
After a full day of travel Katniss is nervous to exit the train. I'm sure she's thinking of what happened two years ago. I know I am. Pulling her to me, I get off the train. Haymitch has our bags and is walking behind us. Outside we see a car marked for us and get into it. We didn't want protection here, but Haymitch phoned in a favor and got us a car so we wouldn't have to take the bus. Mrs. Everdeen is waiting on the street of her building and Katniss practically collapses into her arms. We all head upstairs and then the two women disappear. Probably for a medical exam. She's called weekly to check on the status of the pregnancy and even grilled the healer from District 12.
Haymitch sticks around for dinner and then heads out. He's staying the night with a friend and then going back tomorrow. We'll call him after the baby is born and he'll come back for us. We settle into a routine here quickly. And even though the first few days Katniss seemed to give herself over to the sorrow, she begins to act more like herself. She's taking care of her mother's veranda garden and that seems to help. I wonder if it's the sunshine. In District 12 it's winter, but here, winter is much more mild. The vegetables and medicinal herbs thrive under watchful eyes. We've received many gifts here. Neighbors, fans, and friends we knew from the old days, like Annie. After hearing about Katniss' fondest for gardening, she brought Katniss a few plants including an ivy pot and some daisies. In just a few weeks Katniss had coaxed the ivy plant to wrap around the veranda trellis and it was growing like crazy.
After the landlord discovered we'd be staying a while he came to me requesting bread. People knew of my talents with paints and brushes, but many people preferred my practical talent of baking. By the end of the second week I had more than 10 regular customers who would come by in the morning to collect their loaves and goodies. I didn't complain, they paid me and flattered me saying the bread was much better than the local bakery.
So we spend our days baking and gardening. It feels like home and it's nice to have Mrs. Everdeen around to relieve some of my anxiety. She tells me it's common for some women to be sad during pregnancy. Especially someone who had prior trauma like Katniss. For the first time I hear about Mrs. Everdeen's own bout with sorrow and depression. I've never heard the story but it's so melancholy I'm not surprised Katniss hasn't shared it. Katniss even weighs in on the tail end, connecting the lines of our own story with her mother's painful time. I don't think the two of them have ever discussed it because this heart to heart ends in the two women weeping for an hour and I'm left to collect cheese buns and chocolate croissants from the kitchen because what else do you do for crying women?
Four days before the expected birth, I wake with an eerie sense of déjà vu. I'm wet around my middle and as my heartbeat quickens I'm relieved to see there isn't any blood. It's moist and it's coming from Katniss, but she's conscious and looking very embarrassed. "I need you to go get my mother," she says quietly and then she groans. It's clear something is happening and she's not happy about it. After retrieving her mother I'm shuffled out of the room. Mrs. Everdeen insists this is a long process and I need to make the bread for the neighbors. I pull the dough from the ice box and begin to work it into shapes for pastries. They'll have to do without loaves today because I need something I can concentrate on and tarts and petit fours are time consuming and mind numbing. Every time I'd hear a particularly loud scream I rush for the door, but I'm not allowed in. Katniss throws something at me (with the aim of a champion) and I'm exiled again by Mrs. Everdeen. She promised to bring me in when it was important. I finish my baked goods and place them in a basket outside the front door with a note saying we were busy and we didn't want to be disturbed. I probably won't be paid for those treats but I'll take my chances.
The screaming has increased exponentially and then I hear Mrs. Everdeen pop her head out the door and call for me. Katniss tries to throw something else at me but she seems to be out of projectiles and her mother does something I've never seen before. "Katniss Everdeen Mellark! You will let Peeta in this room because he deserves to be here!" We both look to her mother in shock and then look at each other. Katniss seems to relax a bit and she lets me take her hand while I sit on a stool next to the bed.
An hour later Katniss is holding our daughter. She's purple and she's covered in goop but she's amazing. Katniss holds her and whispers to her things that even I am not privy to and I can't help but look at these women, my family, and feel such peace. Our lives have been chaos for years but now it feels calm.
When we finally bring Ivy home, I relax. The day of traveling sent both Katniss and I into panic attacks. If Haymitch hadn't been with us we might not have made it back. He has a surprise for us, he's made a cot for Ivy. It's a tiny thing, but so is Ivy so it works. I didn't know he had this kind of skill but he waves off our compliments and heads back to his house. I spend the next few days painting her room with foliage and a few animals. Katniss rocks her in an old rocking chair Greasy Sae brings. I don't know where it came from, almost everything was destroyed in the bombing, but she doesn't reveal her sources. Just adds a hand sewn cushion to the chair and fawns over the baby.
Ivy is four today and the time seems to have slipped away from us. She's bright and resourceful and funny and compassionate. Who knew you could describe a child with all those qualities, but she is. At the dinner table she tells us a story of a mouse she found near Haymitch's house and how she wanted to keep it but Haymitch chased it away and sent her home, but he gave her a piece of candy for the road and she hugged him tightly even though he says he hates it.
Simple toys seem to have multiplied in our house. She has more than Katniss and I ever had growing up. But people love her and we still receive gifts every time we visit District 4 and again more gifts for her when we attend the Victor's Day events. Tossing a toy into a wooden box across the room, I nod my head arrogantly as I see the toy has hit its' target. Katniss comes downstairs after putting Ivy in bed and helps me pick up. "I want another one."
"Another what? She's got so many toys, I'm sure another wouldn't fit in this house," I tease. It's only then that I see she that's not her meaning. "No." I say finally.
She looks at me, confusion evident in her eyes. "You don't? She'll be so lonely, no siblings."
I never expected to have this conversation so I'm agitated, it feels like an ambush. The things that Katniss went through, just in the pregnancy alone, it's laughable that she would want another child. Our family is perfect just the way it is. Especially since the both of us seem to have come to a happy plateau in our relationship and our mental health. "She'll have us," I try to say calmly but it comes out curt.
"Not forever, we'll die eventually." She's joking but it's not funny. "And don't you wish she could have the feeling of closeness with someone else. Like I felt for-"
I cut her off because if she starts talking about Prim, really talking about her, she'll work herself up. "Having siblings hasn't helped us. We have no one, they're all gone," I yell. This feels so strange to be having this fight with the sides swapped. "We're sick. Both of us. And you were so screwed up when you were carrying Ivy. You wouldn't get out of bed, you wouldn't eat. I can't take care of you again like that. It scares me. I can't lose you because you needed to feel better for giving her a brother or a sister."
Katniss walks right up to me and slaps me, hard across the face. Then she turns and leaves. In all of our time, I don't ever remember her hitting me like that. I can only imagine what it means. How angry she is. But I don't care. I'm right. She's too sick to go through pregnancy again.
When I crawl into bed that night she pulls away from me. "You really want to?" I say.
"Yes. And you saying all of those things, it hurts. I'm not weak. I can do it," she whispers. "I just feel like our family isn't finished. Someone is missing and I can't dwell on the fact that our family is obviously broken. I don't have Prim. I don't have my father. You don't have your parents or your brothers. When I think about that, it hurts."
"Having another baby won't fill the holes they've left," I say as she touches my cheek. "I just want to protect you. It's all I've ever wanted."
"Ivy is so perfect. She's you and she's me and she's untouched and not damaged and we haven't even screwed her up yet! I just want more of that. We've gotten the hang of being parents and I'm not ready for it to be over. I didn't think I'd like it, but I love it. I love her." All valid points, so I concede. But again, I make her wait. Another year. Just in case.
As before she's happy for a while when we find out the news, but then she starts sinking. I keep pushing her outside. We walk, we garden, I beg her to hunt, to set traps when her body doesn't really support hunting with her bow. These every day tasks seem to keep her head above the water. Things are a little bit better. But I still have to whisper to her to get her to sleep. "I'll protect you. No one's taking our family. No one can hurt us. You can fight back if they tried. You're stronger than they are."
Mrs. Everdeen comes to us this time. Despite our willingness to go to her, she insists. "Ivy is in school and that apartment is so cramped when you come for just a week." It's been almost twenty years and Katniss and she face the ghosts together. They go for long walks and they cry together more. I don't understand it but I just keep the pastries coming.
When Lane comes, he's late. Almost a whole week late. As we're walking into Victor's Village the process begins. He's coming so fast I fear he might be born right there, on the small road. Thankfully we make it home in time. The delivery is much smoother. Nothing is thrown at me so that's a plus. Katniss is also better. She instantly perks up and she looks more beautiful than I've ever seen her. When I take my turn holding my son I realize how happy I am that she wanted him. "You're perfect little man." I turn to her and say firmly, "We are done."
She smiles and says "Real."