Author's Note: Welcome to the revised version of Grey Skies. I have taken the time to go back and edit parts of the story and revise others. I want to thank those of you who might be rereading and welcome the newcomers. Please enjoy.
"It took five, ten, fifteen years for me to agree. But Peeta wanted them so badly. When I first felt her stirring inside of me, I was consumed with a terror that felt as old as life itself. Only the joy of holding her in my arms could tame it." ~ Mockingjay epilogue
It's hard to miss the look of longing on Peeta's face as the family leaves the bakery, the little boy and girl waving their sticky hands and begging for the treats hidden in the white bag their mother carries. I guess I feel a twinge of it, too. It's been years since the rebuilding of Panem, since the end of the Games. The Districts are no longer starving. Children no longer go hungry or fatherless. It is the best possible time to bring a new life into the world by all accounts.
But still I tell him no.
Peeta and I have been married for twelve years now. It took a while for me to say yes to him on that one, too. Though it didn't take long for us to find our way back to each other after the events in the Capitol, once he had healed and I had pulled myself from that dark prison in my mind – Dr. Aurelius calls it post-traumatic stress disorder, I just call it hell - and he moved into the house awarded to me in the Victor's Village. We had lived together for a year, in love and content, when the question of marriage came up. Peeta was eager, I was terrified. In the end I made him wait - wasn't I always? - until I felt that we were truly stable, that it wasn't an illusion caused by desperation. Two years of him asking me to marry him every other night, and then every Sunday, every other Sunday, every first Sunday of the month... until he finally stopped asking. He just waited patiently until one day, while I was cleaning up our room, I found the small box in his top drawer, shoved inside a sock that had no partner. I opened it to find my pearl, the one he had given to me in the second arena, set in a simple white gold band and surrounded by small chips of diamond that sparkled brightly in the light coming through the window. I stared at it for a moment, tucked carefully in its little velvet box, and then I darted out of the room. I found him in the yard, pulling weeds from the little herb garden he had started. He stood when he saw me coming, brushing his hands off on his pants and smiling. I smiled back and handed him the box.
"Ask me," I had said, and when he'd seen what I had given him, he'd gaped for a moment and then his face split into a grin. He knelt down and pulled the ring from the box and had slid it onto my finger.
"Katniss, will you-?"
And then he had laughed and kissed me and muttered something like "about damn time" and kissed me some more.
We signed the marriage certificate in the new Justice Building. Haymitch was there, mildly sober, and Sal and her granddaughter. My mother had come from 4, bringing Annie and her son Finn, who was by then a rambunctious toddler who already resembled his father so much my eyes threatened to spill over every time I looked at him. Even Effie came from the Capitol, insisting that she wouldn't have ever missed such a big, big, big day. Johanna was there, and Beetee, and Cressida and Pollux, who offered to tape the ceremony. Plutarch tried his best to make it a nationally televised event, but Peeta and Haymitch promptly told any of his cameramen to fuck off, and for that I was grateful. We had invited Gale, but he declined, blaming some important business in 2. He sent his love and best wishes, though. I didn't mind his absence.
I wore my mother's wedding dress. Before I went out to the main hall, we held each other and cried, grieving those who should have been there but weren't: my father, Prim. She had put up my hair and told me I looked beautiful, and I was genuinely happy that she was there.
The signing was short. Haymitch walked me to the table where Thom, the new mayor, and Peeta waited. He had worn a fresh white shirt and newly pressed slacks, and he looked so like he had on the day of our Reaping, on the day our lives together began. Except here he was grinning ear to ear. He and I signed the paper, and Haymitch and my mother signed as witnesses, and we all had a glass of champagne to celebrate.
After, Peeta and I went home, and he baked a fresh loaf of bread. Sitting on the hearth in the living room, we sliced off two pieces and toasted them over the fire, and repeated the simple vows. And then we shared the slightly burnt bread, and slipped plain gold bands onto each other's left ring finger, and we were married.
I glance down at the rings now, worn and perfect.
Peeta had wanted children right away. I had said no. Being married was one thing. Bringing children into a world that was still so vulnerable and uncertain was another. He fought me for a while, but after a few years he gave up. He knew he'd just have to wait. I don't think he anticipated me making him wait for so long.
So now here we are, married twelve years and childless. Peeta works at the bakery, I help harvest plants for medicines and sometimes hunt. The world is good again.
So why do I still tell him no?
I watch him, staring after the family as they walk away from the bakery and down the street. He is very much still the boy with the bread, optimistic and bright, though now and then he'll cling to something solid and fight a flashback. I can't see the lines around his eyes from where I'm sitting, but I know they're there. Those and the ones across his forehead. Faint, but visible up close. The flashbacks take their toll, my nightmares do the same on me. I know I'm not getting any younger. We're both just past thirty. I think about how things used to be, the way women my age then would bemoan a child, another mouth to feed, and the wrinkles it would add to their skin. Maybe I've made him wait too long.
I jerk out of my thoughts and find Peeta staring at me, his brows creased.
"You okay? I'm ready to close up."
I nod and gather up the berries I had been washing and dump them into a bowl. "I'm fine. I'll just put these up."
He nods and goes to lock up the back door in the storage room. I put the bowl in the ice box and put my hunting jacket, and then wait for him to return. I'm overwhelmed with guilt. It's not the first time. Every time we pass a family, when a child comes into the bakery, when we hear of a new birth in the district, I see Peeta light up and see the longing in his blue eyes, and I feel so guilty for denying him what he's wanted for so long.
Maybe it's time to give him a new answer.
He emerges from the back with a loaf of bread for our dinner and puts his arm around my shoulders, planting a kiss on my forehead. "Shall we?"
I smile at him and nod, and we head out the front door. As Peeta locks up, I look out across the Square. The children from earlier are playing in the new fountain, their faces smeared with the chocolate frosting of the cupcakes their mother bought for them. I bite my lip. What would it be like to sit on a bench and watch our children play? I wouldn't have to count down the days till their names were entered in the Reaping, wouldn't have to watch them descend into the mines at 18. I could send them to school in clothes that are clean and new instead of in rags. I could keep their bellies full. I could sing to them.
Peeta sees me staring and takes my hand in his.
"Cute kids," he says, his voice lighter than it should be. He's waiting for me to shoot him down. Out of the corner of my eye I see him watching me carefully. I'm usually not so silent about it. Let him sweat it out, though. I'm still thinking.
I don't look at him. I'm watching the little boy splash water at his sister. I hear their squeals of delight and the high peals of laughter and it brings a smile to my lips. We could be a family. I could have a family again, safe and whole. I'd never let the idea sink in before, had never let the thought finish forming until now. I was too scared. But now I let myself see the possibility. A family.
"Katniss? You okay?"
"Peeta, I want a baby."
I think he nearly falls down the steps in shock. I finally look at him, and he's staring at me like I've grown wings.
"Come again?" he sputters. He even sticks a finger in his ear for good measure and wiggles it to dislodge whatever has apparently affected his hearing.
"Peeta," I scowl, and then my expression softens. "I think I'm ready. For a baby."
And then his eyes light up and he's kissing me and laughing and asking over and over if I'm serious, and I laugh with him, saying yes, yes, now can we go home? People are staring. He practically drags me down the street. When we reach the Victor's Village he pulls me up the steps to the front door and unlocks it as fast as he can without breaking the key. I'm yanked inside, the loaf of bread is tossed onto the entryway table, and then I am pushed against the wall and his lips are crashing onto mine. I respond immediately but break the kiss just as quickly, laughing at him.
"What about dinner?"
"Dinner can wait." His fingers go to work at the buttons of my shirt.
"Peeta, it's been stewing all day, it'll be done-"
Against my collarbone I feel more than hear him mutter, "It can wait a little longer."
I sigh, both from exasperation and pleasure, and eventually manage to push him away a bit, laughing breathlessly. "And so can you." I start buttoning my shirt back up, much to his dismay. "Don't you think we should talk about this-?"
"No." When I raise an eyebrow at him, he rolls his eyes. "Katniss, we've been talking about this for years. If you say you're finally ready, then why wait?"
"Dinner's burning, that's why."
His nostrils flare and he sniffs the air, and he mumbles "dammit" as he rushes into the kitchen. I laugh again, but this time from nerves. He's right. There's no need to talk about it. We've talked about it enough. He's wanted it so badly and I've been so selfish... I guess I just need reassurance that I've made the right decision.
I follow him into the kitchen. He's ladling stew into bowls, sorting out any pieces that simmered too long on the bottom of the pot and burned. I turn around and grab the bread then move to the counter to cut slices from it. Peeta sighs.
"Saved it just in time," he says, setting the bowls down on the table. "But anyway..."
I shake my head. "Let's eat first. Please?"
He agrees, but when we sit down, neither of us have an appetite. Peeta's leg is bouncing beneath the table and my stomach is churning. Eventually we snap.
"You're sure about this?"
I meet his eyes. "We've waited long enough." He raises a condescending eyebrow and I scowl. "Fine. I've made you wait long enough."
"What made you change your mind? The Mackey kids?"
I nod. "Partly. The rest..." After all this time it can still be hard for me to open up so deeply, but he's my husband and knows me better than I know myself, so I continue. "I know it's safe now, for them. That it's a safe place to have a family. It's not a bad idea anymore."
He's giving me that look, the one I first saw in the cave all those years ago, the one that is only for me. The one full of awe that it's possible for me to love him back, to give him such a gift.
"I want this," I whisper, loud enough that he can hear me from across the table. "I just wasn't ready before. I was afraid. You know that."
He nods and reaches out to take my hand. "But you're ready now? Really ready?"
I nod, and the grin that spreads across his face is infectious and I have to shake my head and smile back. Then he's jumping up from the table and pulling me from my seat. I shout as he picks me up and throws me over his shoulder like I'm a bag of flour.
"C'mon. We've got a baby to make."
I laugh at his enthusiasm. "Peeta, put me down! I haven't even stopped taking the pills I've been on to prevent-"
"So don't take them tonight and from now on." He hefts me up with a grunt and starts to climb the stairs. "Problem solved."
I roll my eyes and give up on trying to get down. "I won't get pregnant overnight, you know."
He pushes open our bedroom door and dumps me unceremoniously onto our bed, then yanks his shirt over his head and tosses it to the side. The look in his eyes is like fire.
"Well, Katniss, we can damn well try."