Merry Christmas Eve (day if you're on the other side of the world from me) everyone! I was going to update earlier in the week but I thought it would be a nice Christmas treat if I waited to upload this next Chapter on Christmas Eve.

I want to thank ct522 for expertly beta-ing (during Christmas week no less!) for me and helping to get this up in time for the holidays. I have a little time off so I am hoping to get the next chapter up with 2 weeks from today.

I also want to thank all of the new followers I have picked up in the last month or so. I can't say it enough, I still think that is so cool since I began posting chapters for this story nearly a year ago.

The second Christmas present to you all is that I am finally publishing the winning artwork the wonderful, amazing, brilliant alonglineofbread on tumblr (and half the writing team of husband-wife author team wollaston here on ) created for me based on the choices of scenes to be brought to life that you all voted on! If you don't remember, the winning scene was from Chapter 4 when Peeta and Katniss are in the recliner before their first time and he gives her pearl back to her on the necklace.

I am going to post this artwork on my tumblr page which is under the same username as my author name here so please go check that out, I will be posting it on my tumblr after this chapter is posted!

Have a safe and wonderful holiday everyone!

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die

And where you invest your love, you invest your life

"Awake My Soul"- Mumford and Sons

Chapter 41

Once the trip to the midwife confirmed that I was pregnant (and that I had, in fact, conceived on the night we'd gotten a little…overly sexually adventurous in the bakery) Peeta and I decided to keep the news between ourselves, my mother and Haymitch until I started showing.

After spending so much of our young adulthood under the microscope of celebrity where everyone in the country seemed to know our business even before we did, it felt nice to have a piece of information that could be kept within our family circle for at least a little while.

We kept to our routines and even though Peeta didn't really like the idea of me going out into the woods to hunt without him, I convinced him that he didn't need to worry this early into my pregnancy.

Well, what actually happened was that I ordered short-range communicuffs from the Capitol similar to the ones I'd seen high-ranking soldiers given in District 13 so that Peeta could keep in contact with me while I was hunting. I asked him to keep an open mind when I showed them to him one night over dinner and while Peeta's protective instincts as a husband and soon-to-be father were obviously vying for control, he relented so long as I promised I would wear it every time I went into the woods.

Peeta agreed that it was better than nothing and would at least mean I was only the click of a button away from him if something happened and I needed help. He did threaten (and I secretly loved the stubbornness with which he delivered this particular threat) that if he ever found out I'd forgotten it during a trip to the woods in those fall months before my second trimester and the dangers of winter's bitter cold would keep me out of them, then I would not be going anywhere without him for quite some time.

Seeing the real fear in his eyes each time I left him behind and went off into my woods after he knew for sure that I was carrying his child was what prompted me to order the communicuffs in the first place.

My boy with the bread tried so hard to hide it, but there were just some effects of the hijacking he suffered through years before that wouldn't ever leave him. They might have lessened over time, but we both had come to accept the horrors of our youth as a part of what made us the adults we had become. It had been due in great part to those experiences that we found our way to each other.

We both agreed that while pretty thin, this decidedly optimistic way of looking at our circumstances was better for our mental and emotional health than some other ways we could have viewed them. Besides that we had promised on our knees in front of our fireplace not many years before that we would take each other for better or for worse.

On the night I had first shown the communicuffs to Peeta, I lay on the couch reading the instructions while Peeta painted upstairs in his studio before bed like he usually did a few nights a week. I was adjusting the size of the strap to fit my wrist when a face from the past and a deeply-burried memory crept slowly forward from the farthest caverns of my brain and pounded loudly on the door to my consciousness.

"They'll probably punish you," I say.

"Already have." He holds up his wrist. I stare at it uncomprehendingly. "Coin took back my communicuff."

I bite my lip, trying to remain serious. But it seems so ridiculous. "I'm sorry, Soldier Gale Hawthorne."

"Don't be, Soldier Katniss Everdeen." He grins. "I felt like a jerk walking around with it anyway." We both start laughing. "I think it was quite a demotion."

Gale. I suddenly had a flash of the two of us sitting together on the floor of a supply closet in District 13 I'd escaped to after seeing Peeta's first televised interview since he'd been captured by the Capitol. Gale had tried to keep Boggs from following after me and taken the man's elbow to his nose for his trouble.

If that hadn't been bad enough, President Coin literally added insult to injury by taking away the communicuff he'd been given as a part of the privileged few in District 13 that were kept in constant contact with the President.

Thinking of Gale and his revoked communicuff reminded me of another conversation we'd had that pertained to my circumstances and I touched the small, hard mound of my baby belly that had begun to grow slightly in the month since Peeta and I had visited the midwife and had the pregnancy confirmed.

I suspected that my little pouch was more a result of stuffing my face at the bakery every afternoon to make up for what morning sickness was robbing me of for the early part of most days. Peeta assured me that whatever the reason for the changes to my figure, to him it just meant that there was more of me to love.

The roundabout journey my memories took me on as I lay on the couch circled around from the day in the closet in 13 when Gale lost his communicuff for protecting me, to the morning of the first reaping that changed my life.

Gale and I had shared a warm roll and some of Prim's goat cheese as a pre-reaping treat while resting during our morning hunt. We'd also shared our thoughts on what our lives might be like in a world without the reaping like the one I'd later come to share my life with Peeta in. A world where Peeta's child could be safe.

Gale had been raging against the Capitol in the safety of our forest hideaway for a few years already by that time and I made a rather impulsive and stubborn remark about how I never wanted to have children, to which Gale had countered that he might want them if he didn't live in 12. I'd shot back at him with a rather petulant reminder that he did live in District 12 at which point the conversation ended.

It was the first time I'd wondered if perhaps Gale had feelings for me that went beyond my worth as a hunting partner. I was still at the time (and obviously for a while afterwards once I became aware of Peeta's feelings for me) confused about how far my own feelings for him went. That memory tugged unexpectedly at my heartstrings as I sat up on the couch with one hand holding the communicuff that represented my past and Gale, and the other resting over my womb that held mine and Peeta's future.

I had kept in contact with Gale over the years as much as was possible considering how busy his government job kept him and we'd continued on good terms, but he never visited again after that first time.

Not that I could blame him considering what had happened when he visited 12 after the end of the war.

The two of us hugging at the bottom of the steps after I let Gale in the door had set off one of the worst episodes Peeta ever had. It was only a few months after Peeta had returned to 12 and unfortunately, also the morning after the first time we'd had sex. Seeing Gale and I embracing each other after such a big turning point in our relationship had been just too much for Peeta's still fragile mind.

I didn't know if Gale's reluctance to visit again was because of the effect his presence had had on Peeta, or because of the effect seeing the life I was building with the boy with the bread had on Gale himself. Whatever the reason, it had been his first and last visit to District 12 since the revolution but we talked on the phone several times a year at least.

Our conversations were restricted mostly to mine and Peeta's continued recovery, how our bakery was doing, his job, his mother and siblings. Over the years we had become professional topical conversationalists. The bond of our shared past became just that; past. We were far different people than we'd been in those years spent depending on each other for survival in the woods, but I still felt a certain amount of loyalty to Gale who had lost his father in the same mining accident as I had lost mine and who most understood my life before the Games.

I didn't know and may not ever know for sure whether one of Gale and Beetee's bombs had been the one that took Prim's life. Even so, I figured having lost me to Peeta was punishment enough for my hunting partner who I'd never suspected was in love with me before he'd out and said it. I had depended on him and the fire of hatred for the Capitol that had burned inside of him to keep me going for all those years hunting in the woods and so he had at least earned himself that smallest sliver of a place in my adult life.

He made me brave on days I feared we'd be caught beyond the legal borders of the fence and he'd helped me fill the bellies of my mother and sister which I would never have been able to do alone. In a lot of ways Gale's fire had acted as the kindling for many of my own revolutionary feelings. He'd made me brave enough to be the mockingjay when the crippling fears of what was being done to Peeta in the Capitol made me think I couldn't, and then when I couldn't stand it anymore, he'd gone into the heart of the lion's den as part of the team that rescued him.

He certainly hadn't done that because of any kind of loyalty he felt towards Peeta. He'd done it because he loved me and he knew I loved Peeta. And for all the selfishness I'd felt I'd seen in Gale since Peeta and I became the star-crossed lovers of District 12, saving Peeta to save me from myself had been one of the most selfless things I'd ever seen Gale Hawthorne do. For all the times I had depended on him in the past, he'd shown himself to be the most dependable at a time when doing something for me had also meant saving the boy he'd known he might lose me to.

In those years since the war I'd come to depend not on Gale's fire, but on Peeta's steadfast optimism to keep my innate cynicism enough at bay to enjoy the life we'd made together. It may have been Gale's hatred for the Capitol that roused the revolutionary within me, but it was the hope, the promise that things could be better one day, that Peeta had spent those years paintstakingly working to revive within my battered soul that brought me to a place where I felt safe enough to have a child. That would have been impressive enough except that he was doing so while also doing the same for himself since I had spent most of those years reluctant to think of any future beyond the next day.

Remembering that rather quick but heated debate over parenthood Gale and I had so long ago made me feel as though I at least owed my oldest friend a phone call to share the news of my pregnancy. I set the communicuff I'd been tinkering with down on the coffee table and picked up the phone even as I mentally weighed the pros and cons of making such a call.

I dialed Gale's number before I could talk myself out of it and was a little surprised when a female voice picked up on the third ring asking who was calling. Gale had told me a bit about a woman named Callie he'd been seeing for a little over a year and I assumed this was her. I didn't ask in case I was wrong, instead choosing just to identify myself and ask if Gale was available.

I could have sworn I heard a slight gasp over the line when I said my name, but to her credit, whoever she was recovered quickly and there was only a hint of hesitation in her voice when she said,

"Just a minute, please."

I could hear a slight rustling that told me the phone was being pressed against something to keep me from hearing what I hoped wasn't an awkward conversation between lovers on the other end. I had talked to Gale a few times since he'd begun dating her, but Callie had never actually been in the room or likely the apartment with Gale when we spoke. I know how I would have felt if Peeta received a call from a childhood friend he'd once been in love with and I hoped Gale wasn't receiving the same earful that would be coming Peeta's way under the same circumstances.

"Katniss, hi," I heard Gale say brightly a few moments later. I allowed myself a small sigh of relief when I heard no tension in his voice and assumed whatever had transpired in those seconds the phone was being handed off had been amicable. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?" He asked and I could hear the smile in his voice.

We'd only last talked a little less than a month before that and being as we usually went something more like 3-4 months between phonecalls, Gale was understably curious as to what prompted this one so soon after the last. As usual, he got right to the point, avoiding the small talk he always found to be a waste of time that could be better spent doing something productive.

"Well, actually I called because I have some news from District 12 I wanted to share with you and I'm hoping you can keep it to yourself for now…" I said trying to keep my voice strong even as I remained a little fearful of what his reaction might be. Would he be happy for Peeta and I? Pleased that the revolution he'd been a part of had restored enough of my faith in humanity that I would allow myself to bring a child into this world our society was working so hard to rebuild?

I was hopeful that the time spent mending our relationship over the years and the happiness I heard in his voice when he spoke of this Callie he was seeing meant that he would be.

"Uh…yeah, sure. I think I can do that for my oldest friend." Gale replied after a moment of hesitation. "What's up, Catnip?" he asked softly and I glanced towards the upstairs and caught sight of the closed door to Peeta's art studio where I knew he was painting. He wouldn't let me know what he was working on but he had smiled shyly and said it was for the baby's room before he disappeared behind the door earlier that night.

I smiled, thinking for a moment of the doting father Peeta would surely be and how lucky the child I was carrying was to have him. She would be as lucky as I was on the day he threw me a loaf of bread, or on the following day when dropping my gaze away from his on the school yard had allowed me to spot the dandelion that would give me the hope I needed to keep myself and my family alive.

"Well, so…so well, the thing is…" I rolled my eyes at my usual verbal finesse and finally just spit it out. "…I'm pregnant." I said louder than was probably necessary and sank into the back of the couch waiting for his reply. When Gale didn't answer immediately I chewed on my bottom lip, trying to think of what was going through his mind until one of my usual dislikeable qualities reared its ugly head.

"…well say something you big, dumb ox." I growled and was surprised to hear the easy laughter of the long-lost boy I'd spent hundreds of my younger days with coming through the receiver in my hand.

"Well, as I live and breathe…" He said clucking his tounge and I could almost see the playful smirk that was surely making its way to his face at that moment in District 2. "...Katniss Everdeen a mother." He joked but I could hear the slightly stunned admiration in his voice. "Never thought I'd see the day."

"Neither did I." I answered honestly and nodded even though he couldn't see it. "I'm…I'm happy about it though, Gale." I said confidently. "I really am." I whispered and nodded once more.

"Then I'm happy too, Catnip." He said back and I didn't detect even a trace of sarcasm or bitterness in his reply. "I suppose it shows that we must be doing a pretty good job of fixing the government if you feel our world is safe enough for that. Peeta's over the moon, I assume?" He asked with a chuckle and I snorted a laugh.

"Add the…stars and a planet or 8 and you're a little bit closer to how he feels about it." I chuckled and cast my eyes once more lovingly towards the door at the top of the landing.

"I'm sure it is. Well, I can't think of anyone more fit to be a father than Peeta so I'm sure he'll be great at it." Gale remarked and I smiled picturing Peeta stretched out on the couch beside me with a baby sleeping peacefully on his chest.

"He's already painted a whole field of dandelions on the nursery walls and he's been stuffing me full of goodies from the bakery when I'm not you know, throwing them up with this damn morning sickness." I said with a groan and Gale laughed softly.

"Yikes, sorry to hear that." He mumbled quietly. "Doesn't usually last too long. My mother was finished with all that by the third month with Vick and Rory, even faster with Posey if I remember." There was a beat of silence before he continued on in a slightly less comfortable mumble that I suspected had something to do with his girlfriend being in such close proximity to him during such a conversation.

"Besides, you're a tough lady Katniss. If the Hunger Games and the whole Capitol army couldn't take you down, I think the odds are in your favor against a little tiny baby." He said so softly that I only just barely heard the whisper of regret mixed with longing that had creeped into his words.

Gale and I may have both moved on with our lives since that argument in the woods when I'd vowed never to have children, but it didn't change the fact that we both knew the ones of his own Gale had been thinking about during that conversation on Reaping Day had been the ones he hoped we'd have together.

"Thanks Gale. It means a lot to hear you say that." I whispered back and heard him sigh on the other end.

"So when's the little hell-raiser due? I'd like to come out and meet…him or her when they come along." He joked and I knew the door to any kind of romantic feelings we once had for each other had been eased shut for the rest of the conversation and Gale my friend who teased me about my name and did silly Capitol voices to make me laugh was back.

"In June." I shared and placed a hand over my belly that was barely there at only just two months along. "I got pregnant sometime in early September but only my mom and Haymitch, and now you, know about it." I said and smiled at Peeta who was coming down the steps in paint-covered jeans and a gray sweatshirt with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows.

He frowned when he must have realized I was sharing the news of the baby with someone else and I cringed as it dawned on me that I probably should have run the idea of that particular phone call by Peeta first.

"You mean Effie Trinket doesn't know yet?" Gale asked surprised while I mouthed 'Gale' to Peeta as he plopped down on the couch next to me and tugged me over into his side. "Figured she'd be one of the first you'd contact to make sure you get the most stylish maternity-wear in the country." He teased and I rolled my eyes as I snuggled into my favorite place wrapped in the warmth of Peeta's arms.

"Oh yeah…" I said and plucked at the sweater of Peeta's I was wearing with a pair of his flannel pajama bottoms. "You know high fashion will obviously be my main concern throughout this pregnancy." I joked and felt Peeta's arms tighten just a little bit more around me. I chuckled when he spread kisses down the length of my neck closest to his lips and the extra-sensitivity of my skin caused me to gasp and shoot him a scolding look.

Never one to apologize for being playful, Peeta just shrugged and wagged his eyebrows at me and cut an almost imperceptible glance at the phone in my hand. I sensed that being a little bit possessive of me where Gale was concerned was something Peeta would probably never be able to fully rid his personality of. He had come so far in the years we'd been together but I guess that since even before he knew me formally Peeta had been somewhat jealous of Gale, it made sense that he'd continue to be a little overprotective when it came to my friendship with him.

"She'd probably have a stroke if she knew I've already started wearing Peeta's clothes around the house to give me a little more breathing room." I snorted and Gale laughed.

"You're probably right about that." He murmured with the same hint of discomfort in his voice that I heard in Peeta's whenever Gale's name came up in a conversation and I shook my head at just how alike in that one way the two of them were.

In bringing up who knew so far I'd managed to avoid his remark about coming to visit once the baby was born and decided I'd wait to give him a more firm answer once I could talk it over with Peeta (after apologizing for not letting him know I was going to tell Gale about the baby that is).

"Well…I better get going, I'm taking Callie out to dinner for her birthday and it took a month to get the reservation…" he said and I could almost see him shifting from foot to foot impatiently.

"What you think they'd give away the table of a war hero? Never." I jabbed playfully and Gale grunted a sound of doubt that told me he must not have entirely given up his ways of questioning those in power even after attaining the high rank he'd come to hold in the new government. I turned my head just enough to look up into Peeta's clear and steady blue eyes and silently gave thanks that there seemed to be no episode looming in the wake of this phone call.

"Yeah, well…the war hero thing only gets you so far when it comes to a table at the best restaurant in District 2." He shot humbly back and I had a sudden yearning to continue this banter that had been such a familiar part of our youth.

"Have a nice dinner, Soldier Hawthorne. And I know we haven't officially met, but tell Callie happy birthday for me, okay?" I asked and reached up to stroke Peeta's cheek as he looked calmly back at me with all the love I knew he felt for me shining in his eyes.

"I will. Thanks, Katniss and….also…thank you. For the phone call, I mean." He almost whispered and I wondered if he was doing so because he thought Peeta could be sitting, well, as close by as he actually was as we spoke.

"You're welcome, Gale. Good Night."

When I dropped the phone to the couch beside me I listened to about a dozen of Peeta's soft breaths as he patiently awaited the explanation I knew he deserved. He didn't seem angry or annoyed which made it that much easier for me to find the words that would put his mind more at ease.

"Sorry 'bout that…" I mumbled and rested my chin on his chest after pushing him back until he was lying out lenth-wise on the couch with me stretched out on of him. "I probably should have talked to you before I decided to tell Gale, but…but I really hadn't decided until right before I made the call and I just didn't think, so…so I'm sorry…" I was rambling and toying with my necklace as I laid out on him, unable to look him in the eye just yet.

When I finally did look up Peeta was frowning slightly and I heard an alarm bell or 6 go off in my head until he laughed, jostling my slight frame on top of him.

"I'm not mad, or…" He raised a hand and twirled his pointer finger at his temple and crossed his eyes. "mad." He said and I groaned as I always did when he made jokes that poked fun at his episodes.

"It's not like you were hiding it from me, Katniss." He said and shrugged as a playful smile threatened at one corner of his mouth. "He's your friend. You talk to him a couple of times a year on the phone. You've told me he has a woman of his own in District 2 so I'm not threatened by him in any way…" He said cupping my cheek with one hand and stroking a cheekbone with his thumb methodically as a means to calm me down slightly.

I didn't say anything, instead I continued to search his eyes as I played with the pearl on my necklace nervously. Seeing the tell-tale sparkle in his eyes of a smart-ass comment about to be lobbed my way, I narrowed my eyes slightly, trying to hide my own amusement at the youthful mirth dancing in my husband's beautiful blues.

"Besides, I've kind of grown accustomed to the implusive decision making process you've employed for you know, most of the time I've known you." He teased and reached a little higher to run his fingertips back and forth across my forehead softly.

I dug the point of my chin into one of his pectoral muscles and Peeta grasped my chin tightly between his thumb and forefinger. His lips had descended upon mine before I could even open my mouth to scold him for what he'd said, but remembering I was trying to keep myself out of the dog house over the Gale phone call, I wisely chose to just kiss him back while we were on even footing apology-wise.

Our relationship had been built on a strong base of equality and respect for one another and it was moments like that where we easily kissed and made up, that reminded me how lucky I was to have such an enlightened man in my life. Haymitch ran a close second in that particular department, but I wasn't the slightest bit interested in showing my appreciation for his liberal views of women in any of the same ways I showed Peeta.

Particularly the way I was showing him at that moment with my body pressed close to his and my arms sliding up to wind around his neck as our kisses became deeper and more passionate.

As I kissed Peeta back and felt the warmth of purpose and companionship he'd brought to a life I'd once been fully prepared to drift through alone, it seemed for the moment that any concerns I had about how talking to Gale might affect him were laid to rest—

Especially with the growing evidence of our most recent joint venture snuggled safely between my middle and his.

As if reading my mind, Peeta's hand at my chin slid down my neck to my shoulder and then ghosted over my underarm before it slipped cautiously between us. He stroked the tiny bump that was the only tangible evidence so far of the child I was carrying and I pulled back just enough to watch his eyes dancing with the love he already felt for her.

I sometimes wondered if that brief hesitation between his reaching out and his hand finally landing on my pregnant belly was Peeta playing his own silent version of 'real or not real?'.

I've never asked him, (mostly because I kept my own private edition of the game to myself as well when I felt the realities I questioned would only hurt Peeta to hear of) but I've always known that there were days when he had to work extra hard to make sense of what had once been to his tortured mind such an elusive truth; the idea that I loved him with all of my heart.

In each pause between those tender caresses of my belly I imagined the light side in Peeta whispering over and over again to the dark and untrusting side,

"This is your child. Katniss Everdeen is pregnant with your child. She is giving you the most precious gift she is capable of. She is giving you a piece of herself. She is not a mutt. She is your wife. She loves you. This is all real. They are all yours."

And when that moment of doubt was over and the storm of long-ago nightmares had passed him by for the time being, the look in his eyes as his hand finally rested over the truth of those whispered thoughts was like seeing him realize I loved him for the first time all over again. I realized, of course, that those incidents signaled a brief set-back in his recovery, but a small selfish part of me couldn't help but rejoice in seeing that look of joyous realization each time he came out of it and remembered where we were and who we were to each other.

In a way, it was like I was falling in love with him over and over each time it happened as well.

"I love you, ya know?" I whispered breaking the spell of joy that had come over Peeta as both of his heavy, warm hands came to rest on my belly as I sat up around his hips.

Hands that had been strong enough to hold me on nights when the pain of all I'd lost had just been too much to bear, but gentle enough to create the most delicate flowers out of frosting on a cake or cookie. Hands that had helped protect me from tributes in the Games and myself as my teeth sought a nightlock pill in my sleeve after I'd shot an arrow through President Coin's heart.

Hands that had touched my body in both pain and pleasure but would soon cradle the baby we created together with nothing but extreme love and care.

I imagined him brushing flour or paint off of a chubby toddler cheek as he taught that child how to bake and paint as he did. I imagined him drying tears that slipped down their little face when they fell trying to climb a tree or tripped over a rock while I was teaching them how to navigate the woods I loved and knew so well.

Knowing that these things I imagined would soon be a reality made me smile and place my hands over his as I playfully reminded Peeta of my love for him.

He raised his eyes to mine with that look of rediscovered love I so greedily basked in when it appeared and nodded slowly.

"I know…real…and I love you too, Kat." He mumbled and leaned in to kiss me, taking my bottom lip possessively between his teeth and tugging it.

I moaned and slid my own hands from where they were resting over his at my middle to press them against the hard plane of his abdominal muscles through the sweatshirt he was wearing and then around to grip his hips on either side of his body. I held them still as I pressed my own down into his and Peeta moaned as well.

"Katniss…" He whispered and brushed his nose against mine.

His voice had deepened and roughened over the years so that it carried a manlier rumble when he was sexually excited that did unfair yet wonderous things to highten my own excitement when I heard it. Never one to have been the wilting flower type around men in general it irked me a little to know the effect it had on me. Not enough to care too much though since it was my love for Peeta that was more the cause of the wilting than the masculine power his voice had come to carry.

"Take me to bed, Peeta." I whispered back and he drew a little shriek from me when he sat up suddenly, hooked his arms at my knees, and tilted me so that I landed comfortably on the cushions of our overstuffed couch. I giggled as he settled himself on top of me and used his fingertips to brush my hair out of my eyes so he could look down into them.

His pupils were dilated with want and I could feel his heart pounding against my right breast making me moan and raise my hips to his. Knowing that he still got that excited to make love with me after all this time was a bigger emotional turn-on than physical foreplay sometimes.

"…or here's good…" I gasped and reached for the hem of his shirt while Peeta laughed lightly and began work on the drawstring of his baggy pajama bottoms I was wearing.

"I think…" Peeta sighed between kisses as he gently tugged the pants down my legs and pushed them aside to the floor.

"…that taking my clothes off of you is even hotter now than when we were kids." He said with a nod and kissed down my throat and along the collar of his baggy sweatshirt I had worn that day.

"Oh yeah?" I said squirming beneath his lips as he moved his kisses down to my stomach where he began to push the hem of the sweatshirt up, kissing each new stretch of skin on my torso as it was exposed.

Peeta let me ponder the meaning behind that statement for a few dramatic seconds until he'd pushed the shirt up so it was just under my breasts. He returned his lips to my belly and peppered kisses over the bare skin which tickled and made me laugh.

Peeta smiled playfully and then slid back up my body so that he was looking into my eyes again.

"...because I know you're wearing them so that our baby has more room to grow and you have never looked sexier to me than you do right now carrying my child." He said nibbling on one corner of my mouth as it began to turn up in a sappier smile than I thought myself capable of at darker and more emotionally guarded points in my life.

Never as eloquent with words as Peeta always had been, I opted for not even trying to come up with something comparable to the sweet confession he'd just shared with me. Instead, I pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it aside as I went for the top button on his jeans and kissed him passionately, sucking his tongue into my mouth before moving my kisses across his stubbly cheek and down his neck.

I traced my tongue over one of his more obvious burn scars there making sure to keep to the edges since I knew from my own that he probably had little to no sensation directly on the scarred area. Peeta grunted and ground his hips into my hands which were still busy with the zipper on his jeans and we both sighed happily when I pushed his pants and underwear to his knees and Peeta settled between my open legs.

"Love you…" I whispered and took his face warmly between my hands and gave him the most open and trusting smile I was capable of.

I had no delusions that this next phase of our lives as we brought a child into our family would have its ups and downs for the two of us personally as well as universally within our still-healing nation. I knew welcoming this baby into our lives also welcomed back a certain amount of scrutiny from the public. Haymitch had been right (as much as I am loathe to admit it, he usually is when it comes to the big picture) when he said we would never get off of that Victory Tour we'd been placed on after our first Games.

Our lives would always be of interest to the people of Panem, but having our first child showed that we had finally come to a point in our lives where we were truly at peace with that interest because of the place it was coming from. Or more to the point, because of the place it was not coming from.

In the world before the war, the people had been fascinated by us because we were facing the terror of immenent death, but in this new world where I so desperately wanted to believe a child of Peeta's (and mine) could be safe, the people of Panem would be fascinated by as we experienced the excitement and adventure of new life.

"Love you too…" Peeta whispered back and brought his lips down onto mine as he shifted forward and reached to turn the lamp beside the couch off while entering me at the same time.

I would be the first to admit that I was still frightened by the prospect of the life altering changes coming my way, but I wasn't as frightened when I touched the pearl necklace resting against my throat and reminded myself that I would not be alone in this.

As Peeta and I began to move in a rhythm our bodies knew so well, I closed my eyes as that image of the dandelion in the schoolyard flashed behind my lids and once more gave me the strength to believe that things could be good again.

I smiled widely in the dark as my cheek brushed against Peeta's with each thrust of his hips and it dawned on me that the last 15 years of my life with this man had already shown me that they were.