"I believe you have a daughter," Beetee says, "a daughter you don't know exists."
"That's absurd!" Katniss says. "Don't you think we'd know it if we had a child?"
Then Katniss' brow starts to furrow. "At least I would know," she adds with a hint of suspicion. I ignore it.
"Let's not jump to any conclusions before I've had a chance to explain, Katniss," Beetee encourages.
Beetee lays a picture of a young child on the desk in front of us. I lean in to get a better look. The girl has dark hair and blue eyes. Her complexion is medium beige, and her build is slight. She looks like she could be from District 12.
"Her name is Gloria. Her mother was an Avox woman who recently died. That's when officials realized her birth records contained irregularities. So an investigation began. Some of the information from the hospital where Gloria was born lead back to the same prison where you were held during the war, Peeta. Eventually we traced that information directly back to your file."
Katniss pulls my arm and raises her voice an octive, "What are you not telling me?" She asks as I turn to face her.
"Nothing, Katniss. I've told you everything I know about when I was in prison," I say sincerely.
"Katniss," Beetee begins in his most scientific voice, "the cells necessary for Peeta to be the biological father of this child could have been obtained without his knowledge or consent. Remember, he was drugged much of the time. These are biological reactions and processes, and the Capitol could have applied their extensive technology to the natural order of things as well. Lest you think that Peeta had anything to do with the actual conception…let me tell you…this child is definitely not related to the Avox woman who carried her. Katniss, that means that she was conceived artificially. Peeta probably never met the woman who carried Gloria. Based on Gloria's recorded birthdate, Peeta had already been rescued by the time she was conceived."
Katniss looks down and squeezes my arm regretfully.
"Pregnancies in which the surrogate mother is not related to the child in any way are notoriously fragile," Beetee continues. "If the Capitol wanted to produce a child with which to manipulate Peeta only then the Avox who functioned as the surrogate could have been the biological mother. That would have been safer and easier. The Capitol didn't want that apparently; they wanted something else. I think they wanted a child whose mother was Katniss Everdeen and whose father was Peeta Mellark. Nothing else would do. That's why they took a chance on a fragile pregnancy. The records indicate that the pregnancy progressed remarkably well though, and Gloria was born healthy."
Katniss looks up.
"How did they get…what they needed from me to produce a child?" she asks.
"I suspect they collected the cells of reproduction when you were sedated after your first Hunger Games." He said, "The cells could have been made to mature faster while you were sedated and then collected through abdominal surgery. The Capitol could easily have hidden the scars with the skin treatments they used to hide your other scars. You would have assumed any soreness you felt was from your weeks of struggles in the arena."
Katniss puts her hand over the side of her belly and looks down. A certain vulnerable look creeps across her face. She feels violated, and I don't blame her. I do too.
After a minute or so I ask "So you think this child is mine and Katniss' child?"
"Yes, I absolutely do. We won't know for sure until we do genetic tests though."
"If one or both of us is a biological parent, what then?" I ask.
"Then you will have some big decisions to make," Beetee answers solemnly.
She's Peeta's. There's no doubt about that. I got a good look at her eyes, and she has those crystal blue eyes that all the Mellark boys had as kids. Peeta knows he's her father, and that's why he's subtly smiling. He's simply trying not to act proud of her for my sake.
Peeta talks about having children often, but I've refused to consider it. The subject remains a sore point between us, and we avoid discussing it. When Peeta sees a child, his whole demeanor shows how much he longs to have one of his own. He looks over at me hopefully. He points out how cute the child is. Then he brings up pleasant memories of when I was the child's age or when he was the child's age. It's always clear that he's trying to convince me…to have one of our own. He hasn't though.
What will this do to us? How will our fragile little world change from having this child's situation forced upon it?
Oh, Katniss. I say to myself. You are being so selfish. What about her. She's your husband's child! You must care…somewhere deep down you must care.
Peeta won't abandon his daughter. That much is certain. No matter how much he respects my right to have my own personal feelings on the subject of bearing children, he won't abandon the only family he has left in the world.
He's watching the child through the one way glass window. At first she's rocking a doll in her arms. Then she begins running around the room. Peeta turns to me, his eyes glistening with delight. When he sees my scowl, he recoils.
"She really is lovely, Katniss. Have you watched her?" He asks.
"No, and I won't watch her until I know if she's yours."
"Ours," he corrects.
"We'll see," I answer.
He turns his head curiously and stares at me.
What if she's his child but not mine? I ask myself. What would that mean for us?
I acquiesce and look through the window with him. Peeta puts his hand on my shoulder. The child looks like me too. She could be mine. Her dark wavy hair flows behind her as she runs, and I imagine what it would look like braided.
Beetee comes into the small room again. He's carrying a clipboard. He shows us a computerized model of the child's DNA that compares it to mine and Peeta's. The maze of colors and lines makes me feel like my eyes are going to cross.
"Beetee, please just get to the point. Are we her parents?" I ask impatiently.
"Yes. Peeta is her father, and you are her mother."
I sink down in the chair next to me. The soft leather surrounds me in a comforting way.
Peeta resumes his position by the one way window.
"Wow…I can't believe this is happening," he says softly.
"Me neither," I add.
[AN: This is just a short introduction – more to come later. This story will not interfere with my currently underway story "Dead by Morning"]