FOURTEEN MONTHS LATER
Katniss was so excited, she could hardly stand it.
Gale was coming home for a visit today. He had kept his word, and he'd been home about every other month and he always made time to see her. And then, of course, there had been his Victory Tour. After that, she and Peeta and Gale had all been together for the reaping and for this year's Hunger Games as mentors. Fortunately the tributes this year were no one that they knew, because neither one survived. District 12's winning streak was over.
It had been horrible for Katniss, just as she knew it would be. She despised having to be a mentor. She kept having flashbacks of last year, watching Prim and Gale fight for their lives. Her stomach was constantly upset from the stress, her nightmares had returned, she felt worn out all the time from not sleeping. She was relieved when it was finally over once again... at least until next year. The only good thing was that the President had a new victor to torment, so he kind of left them alone now for the most part.
Over the course of the past year, now that they no longer saw each other as rivals, Gale and Peeta had slowly forged their own friendship, which consisted of a lot of good natured sarcasm and making fun of each other. Katniss was just grateful to see them getting along, because they were both so important to her.
It had only been about two months since she'd last seen Gale, when they said goodbye again when the Games ended and she returned home with Peeta. She was glad that Gale had looked well, and that he said he was enjoying doing the work he did with Mr. Harrington.
But this visit was special, because for the first time, Gale was bringing a girl home with him, to introduce to his family and to her and Peeta. She could only assume that this girl was the reason Gale had seemed so happy the last few times she had seen him, and Katniss was dying to meet her.
As soon as they arrived at Katniss' door, she ran and gave Gale a huge bear hug.
"Oh, I'm so happy to see you!" she squealed.
"It's good to see you too!" he laughed. "Katniss, Peeta, this is my girlfriend, Cressida."
She was a pretty girl, the same age as Gale, with long, dark hair like Katniss, but with stunning green eyes.
"Welcome!" Katniss said, as she hugged Cressida too. "It is so great to meet you! I'm sure you must hear this a lot, but you have the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen!"
"Thank you." Cressida said, smiling. "Gale says that too."
"Yeah, one look in those eyes when we first met, and I didn't stand a chance!" Gale agreed, wrapping his arm around his girlfriend's waist.
"Well, come on in!" Peeta said. "We are so excited to get to know you!"
"I am afraid that I have an unfair advantage, since I already feel like I know so much about you, from the combination of what Gale has told me, and from you being so famous in the capitol these last few years." Cressida said. "Your wedding last year was so lovely, by the way...so romantic!"
"Oh, thank you." Peeta said. "We didn't expect to be getting married quite so suddenly, but it turned out to be a wonderful gift. I love being able to call her my wife."
He pulled Katniss to him and kissed her cheek.
"Come sit down at the table, guys. Dinner's almost ready." Katniss said.
Over dinner, Peeta and Katniss wanted to hear about how Gale and Cressida met.
Cressida started, "Well, I had seen Gale, of course, on television...I was so impressed, watching him with your sister during the Games. I thought he seemed like a very honorable, protective man. And during his interview afterward, when he said he was single and Caesar made that joke about having girls line up to date him- I was like, 'I want to get in that line!'"
Peeta and Katniss both giggled, and looked at Gale, who blushed a little.
"Then I saw him again at your wedding, and I just thought that he looked so handsome... But it was like when you see any other celebrity on television. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would ever really get to meet him!"
"So how did it happen?" Katniss asked.
Gale picked up the rest of the story from here.
"Cressida works for Mr. Harrington too, but in a different department, so we had never actually met each other. In fact, she didn't even know that I worked there, until one day about six months ago, I was about to leave for an assignment, when the guy who usually goes with me when I travel out to the districts came down with the flu. So, at the last minute, Mr. Harrington sent Cressida to go with me instead, and the second we met, it was like sparks flew."
Peeta and Katniss squeezed each other's hand as they watched Gale and Cressida glance at each other and smile.
"I couldn't stop thinking about how pretty she was, and that she seemed very friendly and outgoing. That evening," Gale continued, "Instead of having dinner alone at the hotel, I asked her if she would like to join me, and we went out to a restaurant. We ended up sitting and talking until they closed the place down!"
"Gale was just so nice and so down to earth!" she explained. "He was so funny and smart and easy to talk to. I never wanted the night to end!"
"Neither did I!" Gale agreed. "I just sat there with her, lost in those green eyes the whole evening! I think we could have talked until sunrise if the restaurant hadn't kicked us out!"
They both laughed.
"Then we had dinner again the next night, and the night after that." she said.
"Finally on that third night, I walked her back to her room and I kissed her goodnight, and it was like magic...I just knew that I had found someone really special." Gale said.
"Oh my gosh, that is such a sweet story!" Katniss gushed. "Love at first sight!"
"Yeah," Peeta agreed. "Much more romantic than how our story started out..." he chuckled. "Try explaining to someone that you and your future wife were supposed to be trying to kill each other!"
"Yes, it will be a lovely story to tell our grandchildren someday!" Katniss quipped. "Instead of killing each other, we fell in love..."
All four of them laughed at the irony of just how ridiculous that sounded.
When they finished dinner, they moved out to the living room so they could sit more comfortably and continue their conversation. Peeta sat down in a big armchair, and Gale sat on the couch with Katniss on one side of him and Cressida on the other.
"So, Peeta," Cressida said, "Gale tells me that your bakery is quite well known, even with many people in the capitol!"
"Yeah, I've been lucky. Business has been going very well!" he replied.
Katniss chimed in, "It's more than just luck. He is a very talented baker, he's just too modest. Why don't you show her, Peeta?"
"Would you like to see the bakery, Cressida?" he asked.
"Yes, I'd love to!"
Peeta brought Cressida over to the bakery to give her the tour.
"You are our special guest, so you get to pick out anything you want from the bakery for us to have for dessert tonight. Come with me." he told her, with a bright smile.
He wanted to make her feel welcome in their home, but he also knew that Katniss would want a few minutes to visit with Gale alone, so this little trip next door served both purposes.
Once they were alone, Katniss looked at Gale and beamed him a huge smile. She grabbed his hand that was right next to hers and gave it a squeeze.
"She seems really nice Gale. I like her already! She must be very special to you, for you to bring her home."
"Yes, she is special to me. I still can't believe that I found someone as wonderful as she is. I love her Katniss...I really love her."
"Well, if you love her, then I love her. Thank you for sharing her with us." Katniss said.
She hugged her friend tightly.
"I have something to share with you too Gale." she said, as she lifted the bottom of her shirt and showed Gale her slightly rounded belly.
"Whoa, looks like someone's been eating a few too many of Peeta's desserts! Maybe you better stay out of the bakery for a while..." Gale teased.
Katniss whacked him on the arm.
"I'm not fat, you dumbass, I'm pregnant!"
Gale laughed heartily. "I know, I can see that. I was just kidding. I'm sorry!"
She rolled her eyes and shook her head at him.
"That's wonderful news, Katniss. Congratulations." he said, smiling warmly at her. "To be quite honest, I'm surprised that it took this long for you to get pregnant!"
"I was on birth control, Gale. One of the benefits of being a victor...having money and access to health care in the capitol. You can get anything you need. You know, you live there! Aren't you and your girlfriend using some kind of birth control?" she asked with a smirk.
"Well, yes, but we live in the capitol, so it's easy to get. You're only there once or twice a year." He paused for a moment. "Sooo... if you were on birth control, how are you pregnant?"
"It was a hard decision, but we chose to stop using it a while ago. For the longest time, I was adamant that I would never be a mother. I didn't want to bring a life into this world, but Peeta changed my mind. He wanted it so much... I couldn't say no to him, after everything he has done to make me happy."
"He must be so excited." Gale said.
"Yes, he is. He can't wait."
"And you? Are you excited for it?"
"Yeah, I actually am now. I'm kind of scared too, but Peeta's joy is contagious." she said with a smile.
"How far along are you?" he asked.
"A little over four months." she answered.
"Four months! So you were pregnant during the Games a couple of months ago, when we were mentoring and you didn't tell me then?"
"Well, I was, but I didn't know it yet. Remember how tired and nauseous I was all the time? I thought it was just stress and the memories of last year that were turning my stomach upside down, but it turns out it was actually morning sickness. With everything that was going on, it wasn't until we got back home that I realized how late I was. We went back to the capitol last month so I could see the doctor... Peeta insists on taking me there so I can have the best care for the baby. I wanted to tell you then, but you weren't there, you were away for work, so I decided to wait and tell you the next time I saw you."
Gale nodded, then he slid himself down off the couch so he could kneel next to her and be at eye level with her abdomen.
"May I?" he asked, as he reached his hand out to touch her belly.
She nodded and smiled.
Gale put one hand on top of the swell of her stomach, with his fingers spread apart, and softly rubbed his hand back and forth across her skin. For a minute, he just sat there gazing in amazement at her small, pregnant belly as he held his hand there. Katniss found it very sweet and touching, because Peeta often did the same thing.
Gale finally broke the comfortable silence between them, but stayed right where he was.
"Do you know what it is yet? A boy or a girl?" he asked.
"No. We aren't going to find out. It's going to be a surprise."
"Oh, that's nice. There aren't enough happy surprises like that in life." Gale agreed.
"But whatever it is," she continued, "boy or girl, its middle name will be Gale."
Gale looked up at her in surprise.
"Really?" he asked, very touched by her decision.
"Does Peeta know that?" Gale asked sarcastically.
"Yes, of course he does, smartass. We decided it together."
"Thank you, that means a lot to me." he said sincerely.
Gale smiled at her, then he lowered his face closer to her belly so he could talk to the baby.
"Hi baby!" Gale said sweetly. "You don't know me yet, but I'm your Uncle Gale!"
"Uncle Gale?" Katniss laughed. "Are you kidding me?"
"I happen to like the sound of that." Gale said proudly. Then he returned his attention back to her belly. "Anyway, baby, you are very lucky. You have two parents who are going to love you so much. And if they ever tell you that you can't have something, you come see me and I'll get it for you!"
"Great." Katniss frowned. "You're already spoiling my kid before it's even born!"
"It's a tough job being the 'cool uncle' but someone's got to do it."
She just smiled at her best friend, happy that they had come so far from where they were a year ago.
Gale was thinking the same thing. He said softly, "You know, Katniss, if you had asked me two or three years ago to picture the future, I would have envisioned a scene just like this, with me touching your belly as I am now, except that I would have said that in my picture, you were my wife, and this was my baby growing in your belly... But now that I've seen how our story works out, I think I can say that everything happened just the way it was supposed to."
"Yeah, I would say that too." she replied, putting her hand on top of his, which still rested on her belly. "Do you think that you could see yourself having a family someday with Cressida?"
"I think so." Gale answered, his whole face radiating love. "I think she just might be 'the one'."
"Oh, Gale, I'm so happy for you! Come here!" she said, reaching out for him with her arms outstretched. Gale got back up next to her on the couch and held her in a big, warm hug.
Just a moment later, Cressida came walking back in with Peeta, who was carrying a beautiful cake for dessert.
"Hey, Peeta!" Gale yelled out across the room, with a wicked grin on his face. "Your wife here tells me that her favorite baker finally put a bun in her oven!"
Katniss rolled her eyes at his terrible joke.
Cressida's face lit up and she rushed to sit next to Katniss and congratulate her on the news.
Peeta laughed and blushed a little.
"Yeah, it took a while to convince her!" Peeta shot back, as he set down the cake on the table.
Gale got up, walked over to Peeta, shook his hand and then pulled him in for a hug, clapping him on the back.
"Well, it's about damn time! I was beginning to wonder if you had it in you... or more accurately, if you had it in her!" Gale laughed hard at his own joke.
"Gale!" Cressida gasped with wide open eyes, mortified by Gale's crass comment.
"It's okay, Cressida." Katniss assured her, "This is just how they are."
"Fuck off, Hawthorne!" Peeta laughed, playfully giving Gale a shove.
"See what I mean?" Katniss said to Cressida.
Katniss looked up at her husband and her best friend laughing together, and she was so grateful that everything had worked out okay, just as Gale had promised it would a year ago. She was so happy to have Gale by her side to share this exciting news with.
And five months later, she had her best friend by her side again. When the time grew near for the baby to come, Peeta had insisted that they go to the hospital in the capitol, so she and the baby could have the best medical care.
Gale was the very first person she called to come visit when Primrose Gale Mellark was born.
He walked in the room, holding hands with Cressida, and carrying a big vase full of pink flowers in his other hand.
Katniss was sitting up in her hospital bed, holding the baby swaddled in her arms. She lit up with a huge smile as soon as she saw them walk in.
Gale paused to set down the flowers he brought her, and Peeta reached down to Katniss and carefully scooped up the cooing baby. He walked her over to Gale, and proudly placed his baby daughter in his arms. After having watched him in the arena, being so protective of Katniss' sister, Peeta felt that there was probably no one in the world, other than her own proud parents, that he would trust more with his little girl than Gale.
"Meet Primrose Gale." Peeta said to him.
"Oh, she's beautiful!" Gale gushed. He softly touched the few sparse little blond curls on the top of her head.
"Look at that, she's blond like you, Peeta." Gale observed.
"And like Prim." Katniss said.
"Yeah..." Gale sighed, in the bittersweet memory of her sister. "And like Prim. I guess the name fits perfectly, doesn't it?"
Jut then, the baby opened her eyes a little and stretched out her tiny hand, which Gale held with one finger.
"She's got her Momma's gray eyes." he said, looking at Katniss and smiling. "Congratulations, you guys. You must be overjoyed!"
"We are!" Peeta said, sitting on the bed next to his wife with his arm around her.
"Not to steal your thunder," Gale said, glancing sideways at Cressida, "but we have some happy news of our own!"
"What? Tell me!" Katniss pleaded.
Gale smiled at Cressida.
"Why don't you show her instead?" he said with a smirk.
Cressida walked closer to where Peeta and Katniss were sitting, and held out her left hand. On her third finger was a dazzling ring, a sparkling oval shaped emerald, with a smaller, triangle shaped diamond on each side of it.
"Gale proposed to me last week!" she said excitedly.
"Wow!" Katniss exclaimed, as she reached out and held Cressida's hand to admire her ring. "Holy shit, Gale, they must pay you well here! This ring is gorgeous!"
"Yeah, between my winnings and what Mr. Harrington pays me, I do okay for myself." he smiled, as he rocked baby Primrose in his arms. "I chose an emerald because it reminded me of her beautiful green eyes, and I always liked that you had a colored stone for your engagement ring. It has so much more personality than just a plain diamond."
"Hey, you stole my idea!" Peeta said, in mock irritation.
"Well, every once in a while you have a good one, Mellark." Gale teased. Then he looked down at the baby he was cradling. "This little one here was a good idea too. I could just look at her all day." Gale said.
"Yeah, I could too." Peeta agreed. "She's only a few hours old and she's already got me wrapped around her finger."
Katniss reached up and hugged Cressida.
"Congratulations on your engagement you two! This is such exciting news! What a happy day!"
"Thank you!" Cressida said warmly, as she walked back over to Gale and stood up on her toes to give him a kiss. Then she said to her fiance, "Are you gonna let anyone else hold that baby today?"
"Aww, do I have to?" Gale asked, grinning. Then he gently handed baby Prim off to Cressida.
Cressida cooed at the baby, as she sat down in the rocking chair near where Gale was standing, and rocked the sleeping infant in her arms.
"Look at that, Gale. She's a natural!" Peeta said.
Cressida turned to look up at Gale.
"Oh, I want one too!" she said, clearly smitten with the pretty baby girl.
"Uh oh!" Peeta teased. "You better hurry up and marry her, Gale, before it's a shotgun wedding!"
The four of them laughed, and little Primrose slept right through it all.
Katniss looked around the room, and was so thankful for all the blessings in her life. She had everything she could ever wish for... She had Gale, who was once again her best friend, and he was happy and in love with his wonderful fiancee. She had Peeta, who she loved with all her heart. And she even had one little gift that she hadn't even known she wanted, but now, she already wondered how she had ever lived without... her new baby daughter.
She realized that she was no longer the girl on fire... she was just Katniss, the baker's wife, and she had everything she desired.
Author's note- Thank you so much to everyone who read and reviewed my story, even though it got so long! I hope that you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
And of course, all the credit really goes to author Suzanne Collins, whose fabulous characters I borrowed and took creative license with for this story.