Hi all! So, this story is basically my take on Katniss's decision to have children with Peeta. This story is pre-epilogue, but it will eventually go through to post-epilogue. I think that's all that needs saying. Hope ya'll enjoy!
Disclaimer: I own absolutely nothing. Suzanne Collins owns all the things. I'm just playing around with her awesome characters.
When Peeta first asked me about it, I gave him a short, flat 'no,' and rolled over, my back to him. He didn't say anything in return. He knows not to argue with me. My decisions are always definitive, always final. I thought he might be a bit peeved with me when he didn't immediately cuddle up behind me. But when I woke up in the early, dark hours of the morning from nightmares, I found my hand clutching his, vice-like. Even in sleep, he knows when I need him close. Just like I know when he's seeing or hearing things not of this world; things that are a product of old mental scars the tracker-jacker venom left him. We are each other's' crutch. Both messed up beyond recognition, but able to keep each other going, limping along. It's not the most romantic arrangement, but it works for us. And there is love there. Beneath the scars and nightmares and delusions and fear, it's there. We take care of each other. It's been that way since our first games – and it will always be that way.
We glean bits of happiness from our life together, like wringing little droplets of water out of an old rag. And we try as hard as we can to keep the fear away from the other. It's always there. Fear. People can only lose so much before they can't be happy without fear that it will be taken away. We learned what triggers the other, what to say, and what not to say. How to minimize the breakdowns, the pulling out of hair, the curling into a fetal position. Which is why I am surprised when Peeta mentions it again a few months later. He knows it scares me. Why does he ask again? I give him the same answer, harsher this time. But he doesn't stop asking.
Every time he mentions it, it's the same nightmare. Always the same. I dream of reaping day. I dream that the Games never stopped. I dream of mentoring child after child, and watching them all die year after year after year. Bloody, wasteful deaths. I awaken shaking enough to wake Peeta. His arms tighten around me sleepily; he whispers kind words to me. He doesn't realize he's causing this particular nightmare.
The next time he mentions it, I say more than just 'no.' I try to explain.
"Peeta, I can't. You know it scares me."
"Yes. But I also think it would make you happy. I really do."
"It would make you happy. I'd never stop being afraid."
"Katniss, I really don't think anything bad would happen. I don't."
"Every time you even talk about it, I have nightmares about it. Please, Peeta, leave it be."
It is the tone of the word and the look on his face that makes me backpedal. Total defeat. A little bit of shame. And really, what he's asking isn't shameful. It's so sweet, and bright, and innocent. So Peeta. I feel bad. I sigh and Peeta's eyes brighten. He knows the look on my face means I've rethought something.
"I'm not saying yes," I warn him. He nods once, but his excitement isn't tempered.
"You can ask me once a year. Once. I can't think about it more than one day a year. You may never get a yes from me. But you can ask me. And I promise I'll really think about it."
"You'll really consider it?"
"Once a year, yes."
He kisses me so sweetly I want to cry. I hold it in because it would disturb him. He'd think I was upset with him. I just try to kiss him back as warmly.
"Thank you," he smiles.
"I do love you, Peeta," I joke.
"Oh, I know that."
I decide, from then on, to try harder to make sure Peeta knows I love him.
Peeta remembers the date that I said he could ask me. He asks every year on that day. The first time, I can't believe he remembers exactly what day it was. He always asks casually, trying to act as if he isn't hoping I'll say yes. Never any sweeping gestures, although the cheese buns he makes tend to taste a little more robust on that day of the year. He never looks me in the eye either. He doesn't want me to see first the hope, and then the defeat, in his eyes. I try my hardest to say no nicely. I always say no. And he always says the same thing afterwards.
"Alright." It's always quiet and kind. It makes me feel sick with guilt.
I keep count of the years. One, two, three, four. On year five he asks if I'm ever going to say yes. I tell him I'm not sure. Keep asking. Six, seven, eight. It surprises me when it hits year ten. Peeta has diligently asked me the same question once a year for a decade. He never presses it. He always leaves it up to me. I think of what Haymitch said to me once. That I could live three lives and still not deserve him. I feel like he's more right every day.
Year eleven he stops smiling when he asks. Year twelve, he's quieter. Thirteen, fourteen. On the fifteenth year, Peeta asks me in the middle of the day. He's fiddling with some kind of bread in the kitchen. I've just come in from the woods. This year he sounds a little different. A little more urgent, but also a bit defeated. I know what he's thinking. I'm getting older. I'm not old yet, but the years he has left to ask this of me are dwindling. He asks, for the first time, as if he knows the answer will always be 'no.' I didn't lie to Peeta. I really do think about it every year. But I've never thought about it as hard as I do this year. I don't answer him immediately. I go upstairs, take off my father's old hunting jacket and hang it back up. I twiddle my thumbs for a few minutes on the bed, just staring at the ceiling. I am still terrified. I will always be terrified. I was waiting to see if I'd ever feel better about it. I never will. But I try to come up with more reasons to say no to Peeta, reasons beyond just, "I'm scared." And I can't. I can't anymore. I think back on all these years with Peeta. I love Peeta. I think, though, that sometimes I'm too cold to Peeta. Sometimes I think I'm mean to Peeta. This one gesture will be one of the few really nice things I've ever done just for him. He's done more than enough for me.
I sit up, decided. I walk downstairs and lean in the doorframe. Peeta is still fiddling with his bread, but his face has fallen since I went upstairs. Peeta thinks I've said no. He thinks by walking out of the room I've said no. I realize he thinks I've said a final no. I just blurt it out.
Peeta doesn't look up. "Hm?"
It takes a second for it to hit him. His hands freeze.
"You said yes. Real or not real?"
Poor Peeta. My saying yes to him is so unusual that he thinks he's not in his right mind at the moment.
"Real. I'm saying yes."
Peeta laughs. It's a thick laugh that speaks of tears.
"I didn't think you'd ever say yes."
"Neither did I. But I'm saying it now."
One moment he's standing across the room from me, and the next my feet are about a foot off the ground and Peeta's clutching me as hard as he can without hurting me. I let my feet dangle, let Peeta sway back and forth with me. He's crying full force now. In this moment I'm not sure how I've said no to him for fifteen years. I expect Peeta's wanted a baby since he was one himself. He kisses me for I don't know how long, my feet still dangling. Then he pulls back and smiles at me. I start crying then. Peeta Mellark hasn't smiled like that since the day on the rooftop of the Training Center before the Quarter Quell. I didn't know how badly I missed that smile. All I can think about when I kiss him is how I don't ever want it to slip away again.
It takes a few months. I stop policing the amount of contact I have with Peeta. Before, everything had to be extremely careful. Now, when that hunger I get climbs up from my belly, I let it take control. Sometimes the feeling reminds me, perversely, of the acid mist in the clock arena. It creeps up on me, slowly, silently. My brain feels foggy. Close, thick air speaks of rain forest and I inhale deep lungfuls of it and, for once, am glad for its heat. Muscles start to quiver and twitch. I can't control it. It's getting closer. Keep moving. Breath shortens. Shallows. Quick. Desperate. Cling to Peeta, don't lose him. Not again. Never again. My own heart thundering in my ears. Can't form words. Just rough sounds, the kind Avoxes are forced to make. Muscles seize. Lungs burn. Humid heat. Keep moving. Don't stop. Breathing hard. Don't stop. Panting. Don't stop. Almost to the water, almost there. Don't stop, don't stop. Water is visible. Can't stop. Collapse in sand. Can't keep my eyes open. Oh. Gasp as the first wave hits. Then another. Another. Another. Another. They lap at skin. Hear Peeta's quick breath. Sigh. He's still here. Breath starts to calm. Water cures. Muscles relax, fingers unclench. Eyes slowly open. Lock eyes with Peeta. Thank God. He's alive. He's here. He's not leaving. Nuzzle Peeta's shoulder and don't move until morning.
At first I'm afraid that I've waited too long. That I'm already too old, despite being in my mid-thirties. But the day that I feel like fire is crawling up my throat all day, the day I smell the wrong thing and have to throw up in the kitchen sink because I don't have time to make it to the toilet, I know. I don't need a strange test like women in the Capitol used to use. Even without the upset stomach, years of hunting has given me an animalistic instinct that tells me things before I can work them out myself. I just know. I am pregnant.
And I panic.
It doesn't take Peeta long to find me. I've run to the woods, as I usually do in crisis. I'm high in a tree, chased there like a scrawny cat fleeing from a slavering dog. I hear Peeta's faint voice far below me, calling.
I don't think Peeta really likes the woods. But he'll still tramp through them to find me. He always does. I watch him look up into the tapestry of branches and brush, trying to find me. His eyes light up when he spots me. He immediately lunges for a branch and begins a slow, clumsy climb up the swaying hardwood I've lodged myself in. Bless him, he can't climb trees. He's never been able to. And he's still trying.
"Don't hurt yourself, Peeta. I'll come down." I hear the quaver in my voice. It has lost its normal volume, its fortitude.
He gratefully stops his ascent, dropping unceremoniously into a pile of leaves and pine needles underneath my tree. I skitter down, landing lightly on my feet beside him. I take his hand, warm, wide, and strong, and lead him somewhere we can sit and talk more comfortably. I take him to a hill with minimal tree cover and long, soft grass. We sit together, me and Peeta. I say nothing. For a while, Peeta takes his cue from me and also remains silent. Maybe it's the shaking hands, or my biting my lip, or my ripping grass out of the ground. Whatever the case, Peeta eventually has to ask.
"What's wrong, Katniss? You haven't been this shaken up in years."
I place my trembling, fisted hands on each side of my face, clenching my eyes shut.
"I'm pregnant, that's what." I force out of clenched teeth. Peeta tries to disguise the grin that threatens to envelop his face. But try he does. I'm obviously not happy about it and Peeta isn't about to make me more anxious than I am already.
"I thought that was the goal?"
"It was," I growl.
"So what's the problem? I'm sorry, I don't understand."
"The problem is that I didn't really think about it beforehand."
"You didn't...Katniss, what?"
"I told you it scared the living hell out of me! What did you expect me to do?"
"I didn't expect it to be easy, but I didn't expect a breakdown, either. I thought you meant it when you said yes. I wanted you to be alright with everything. That's why I left it up to you. It was all you-"
"Well, it wasn't all me..."
Then the hysterics start. Words tumble out of my mouth without stopping, sentences come pouring out with no breath in between.
"What! What was I supposed to do? You look at me like you do, with that face you do, and you ask me all sweet and quiet and patient for fifteen years running, and I know you want a baby so bad you're going to burst, and I just want you to be happy and I don't feel like I'm nice enough to you and I wanted to give you this one thing, so I said yes, and now I'm freaking out because I didn't really think about it on my end! Okay?"
"You did it for me?"
I nod, embarrassed that there are tears on my face now.
"Katniss, I wanted you to be happy, too. I didn't want you to do it if you didn't want to. That was the whole point of asking the way I did. Do you not-" Peeta swallows hard, as if gathering courage to say it. "Do you not want this baby? Do you want-"
I shake my head, cut off the end of his sentence.
"I do want it. That's the problem."
The odd choking sounds I make when I sob start then. I haven't cried like this since Prim died. Not in fifteen years.
"That's why you're scared?" Peeta whispers. I've never told him why I didn't want children. Peeta has probably just assumed that I'm not the motherly type. My problem is that I am. I care too much. All I can think about is how I can't have my child end up like Rue or Prim.
"You're afraid someone will take it away."
I nod vigorously.
"Who is going to take it? The capitol is gone. Real or not real?"
"Real. But why not? They took everyone else! The whole of District 12, save 800 people! Everyone in our first games save us, half the people in our second! All of our friends! Almost everyone in the Hob! Your parents! Madge! Finnick! Rue, Prim..."
The last two barely escape me before I can't really speak anymore. Peeta puts a heavy, warm arm around my shoulders and presses me to him. He is the only thing keeping me together.
"I wouldn't let that happen. I'd die first."
I know he means it, but it doesn't help.
"But, Peeta, they took you, too. For a while at least. They even took you."
Peeta clenches a fist around a handful of grass and shuts his eyes for a moment, wincing. When he opens his eyes he shakes his head, as if trying to dispel some sort of confusion.
"You loved me by then. Real or not real?"
He nods. Peeta just sits there and lets me dissolve into hysteria, unable to do anything else. The best he is able to do is pick me up and put me in his lap where he has more access to me. He knows in moments like this, he is the glue keeping me from shattering. The more of him I have to cling to, the better off I am. Soon my tears turn into hyperventilation. Usually, Peeta would be handing me a paper bag at this point, used to this. But this time Peeta appears to be thinking.
"What...are you...thinking...about?" I gasp between breaths.
"I think I've thought of a game. Like my real or not real game. But for you. See, you're so convinced that everyone is going to do the worst they're capable of. Which I can't blame you for. You've seen it happen. I've seen it happen. But what would happen if, when you started getting scared, you thought about all the good things you've seen people do?"
I nod a few times. I have to do something or I'll never survive this.
"Let's try it right now. What's the first good thing you saw someone do? Ever. Something they didn't have to do, but did it anyway."
"That's easy. It was you."
"What, the bread I gave you when we were children?"
I nod. "I've told you before, you saved my family's life."
Peeta smiles very softly. Lovingly.
"Right, so that's one.. But we can do more than that. Another."
"Everyone who took care of my family when I was gone. During the first games. Gale and his family and others."
"Yeah. Maybe from someone you didn't expect?"
"District eleven sending me things my first games. And Thresh, who didn't kill me when he should have. Although, he did kill Clove right before that, so maybe that's not a good one."
"No, I think it is. He only killed Clove because she was cruel. Thresh had a heart."
"He did. But so many of those people died. The people who did nice things."
"Yes, but a lot of them are still here. And there are people you haven't even met who are the same. Is this working?"
"A little," I admit.
Peeta sits with me on that hill for the rest of the day. We keep our list going. Sometimes he mentions things from his own experience, or things I've forgotten. Sometimes I remind him of things. He lets me think, or talk, or not talk. For the last hour, neither one of us says a thing. We just sit in the orange pre-dusk and hear the woods rustle as a temperate, gentle breeze blows. I rest my head on Peeta's shoulder, enjoy the mingling scents of Peeta and my woods. Two of my favorite things. As orange fades to the blue-black of impending night, Peeta shifts.
"Should we go back?"
I nod and fluidly rise. He follows me. I have to go a little slower than normal because Peeta doesn't know these hills like I do. I lead him along, my hand in his. Once we're past the old fence, Peeta clears his throat.
"So, am I allowed to be excited now? If you're still upset, just tell me no."
I am by no means alright. But since the hyperventilating has ceased, I decide to give Peeta his moment of elation. It was all for him anyway.
"Yes, you're allowed to be excited."
Peeta's grin looks like it'll split his face in two. He stops dead in the middle of our path and kisses me and I can feel him smiling through it. I can't help but smile back a little, despite my unease, when Peeta leans down and kisses my belly.
"So are you gonna be mad when this doesn't stay flat?" He grins up at me, one hand a little under my shirt on my stomach. I roll my eyes.
"I don't care what it looks like. But expect me to be pretty pissed when I get too loud and too clumsy to hunt."
"Yeah, your tree-climbing days are numbered."
"I know," I growl. I loathe the idea that it will only be a few months before I'll be physically unable to traipse through the woods like I usually do. I can nearly read Peeta's mind. He can't wait to watch me get awkward, uncoordinated, round, and slow. It will probably be hilarious on Peeta's end to watch quiet, calculating, stealthy Katniss turn into the human equivalent of a roly poly.
"I said you were allowed to be excited, not to humiliate me. We are making a rule right here, right now, that Peeta says nothing when Katniss gets too big to function normally."
Peeta doesn't stop giggling for a few minutes. I don't laugh with him, but Peeta can tell I'm not angry because I let the corners of my mouth quirk up.
"Peeta. Seriously. It'll be bad enough for me not to be able to go into the woods. I need you to help me preserve a shred of dignity, please."
He nods, although a chuckle escapes every now and then.
"I promise I won't say anything."
Peeta and I meander back to the old victor's village, hand in hand, watching smoke snake up from chimneys in town. So few houses are occupied now, but District 12 is growing again, albeit slowly. I think about what District 12 will look like when this child is grown, and when their children are grown. I hope one day, one of my grandchildren, or great grandchildren, will know the District 12 I knew. Or maybe one that's even better. It makes me smile, to think about it. I look over and Peeta's smiling too. I don't know if he's thinking the same thing, or if he's just smiling because I am. It doesn't really matter. I take in the blue-green twilight, with a line of orange on the horizon the exact hue of Peeta's favorite color. I smell woodsmoke and keep watching it curl up towards the sky just like the mist does around the low, round, tree-covered mountains here in 12. I lean into Peeta, close my eyes, inhale gentle, balmy air and I feel safe. I'm home.
If you have any thoughts/feelings about the first chapter, review and tell me what they are! I'd love to know what you thought about it! Hope you enjoyed. :) Until next time!