Based on a prompt by thebluelake, please find my first ever Everlark story in a Modern AU setting. The setting is a fictional, non specific modern city, but since I'm from Europe, it might have a little European feel to it, but which should not detract from the main story. I also write in UK English, I hope you don't mind!
I really hope you give this story a chance, and do please feel free to tell me what you think about it. I always reply to my reviews, but please be kind and constructive in your criticism :). I'm also on tumblr - malteaselivesonanisland dot tumblr dot com ... come say hello, I have a habit of replying nicely :).
A big thank you goes to bigbigbigday006, sponsormusings and jeeno2 for cheering me on, supporting me, dealing with my rants and pre reading this chapter. Any mistakes are mine. All the best bits are a result of their input. You ladies are amazing. Please follow them on tumblr and read their work. Everything about them is a joy to discover :)
So here goes ... "enjoy", I guess!
Life goes on as normal outside our window. The shops are open, the streets bustle with traffic, and everyone goes about their business, as if nothing happened, as if my life had not ended, as if my heart had not lost any happiness it could have ever hoped for on that goddamn morning just three days ago.
I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose. Life did go on as it always had for everyone except for me and my husband. But just as outside the window the world lives on, within the four walls of our flat everything has stopped. Our little home should be full of soft whimperings, strange smells, unfamiliar sounds. It should be full of slowly deflating balloons and colourful, happy clutter. Just as my husband promised me so many months ago, our tiny home should be full of love and happiness.
There is nothing though. Nothing in the hall, nothing in the rooms, nothing in my heart. Our flat is empty, emptier than it had ever been, since that horrible morning where everything went wrong. Where instead of giving birth, my body denied life to the child I carried in my womb for nearly nine months. Something went wrong during labour, I was told by the doctor. A knot in the umbilical cord that denied my baby oxygen. It's uncommon, he said, there was nothing that could be done. It was not my fault, not anyone's, he stressed. Not anyone's fault, but it had still happened to us, and the only thing I feel now is regret that I did not follow our child and joined him in his grave. All I can remember is the crippling pain, my screams, the flurry of activity around me, my husband's frantic questions, and my son's silence. My baby's silence that seemed to bounce off the walls of the delivery room as it sank into my heart. All the hours of agony I went through only served to ensure my dead son's body could form part of a world he would never see. I could not even open my eyes as I felt my husband collapse in grief beside me as he clutched at my hand. As newborns wailed in the rooms around us, the wails in our room came from our silent baby's parents.
And that's when I shut down.
I refused to see anyone for the two days I spent in hospital, including Peeta, who I knew was always outside my door, waiting for me to accept the love and comfort I knew he wanted so much to offer. A few hours after labour our doctor came again to my room to recommend counselling, and I made the effort to speak enough words to send him to hell. It's not counselling that I want. What I want is my baby, my little one who my body failed to keep safe until he was ready to see the world. I want the son that my husband asked for for so many years before I could agree to it.
A baby will fill our life with joy. That's what he always told me.
And now I'm home, staring outside the window watching as life goes on without my child. The quiet of our home is enough for me to hear Peeta in the next room, the room that should have been the nursery, as he empties the drawers and folds the little onesies that we had bought just a few weeks ago for our child. I hear my husband sob, but I try to block the sound. I don't want to talk to my husband; I don't want to talk about the child I didn't want, but who I now grieve with every stabbing beat of my heart. I don't want to talk to the man who filled my mind with fairy tales of happiness and dreams of the future.
There is no baby to fill our life with joy. There is no joy, no life, no colour, no feeling...but even though my body is numb, it apparently is not numb enough to dull the pain, the guilt, and the anger.
Our child died inside me. Maybe I failed him for not wanting him enough, for realising too late how much I was ready to love him, too late to fight for him as much as I could have. It's my fault for not fighting for him enough, but I also scream to myself that my misery is also Peeta's fault for wanting a baby so badly. My husband had wanted a child so much; he told me that he would be an addition to our happy ending. The only ending which I see in my life now is that of misery. The only truth I see is that there is no happiness, no light, just death and loss.
He will fill our life with joy he said.
The weeks that follow our return from the hospital are a routine of silence, tension and strained cohabitation. I refuse to answer texts, phone calls, or emails from anyone, and I leave it up to Peeta to deal with the offers of help and comfort that no one really means or expects us to accept. I jump back into my job as a columnist as soon as I can, working full hours to churn out daily opinion pieces and to keep the online blog version of my column as active as possible. I slave away extra hours in my cubicle, trying to ensure that I spend as little possible time at home in that silence that replaces all that should have been. Peeta runs the coffee shop that he co-owns with his brothers in the old city centre. At first he made sure to spend the evenings with me, trying to coax me into talking, sharing, or even touching without feeling like two total strangers in the house. However, after days of trying and being met with my stony reactions, he started taking on his old evening shifts, which means that at least two or three times a week I do not share any waking hours with my husband. The days where we actually are at home at the same time are spent in separate rooms - me dissing some politician or celebrity on my blog, Peeta in the nursery, thinking, painting, or possible praying.
In fact, just as I bury my grief behind an impenetrable wall of coldness, Peeta tries to find solace in prayer. A staunch Roman Catholic, Peeta owes his religious devotion to his grandparents, who emigrated from Belgium and who refused to give up their faith when settling in the city. When I met Peeta, when we were both sixteen and I was employed as a part time waitress at the coffee shop that at the time belonged to his father, he was still a shy, reserved altar boy who served mass every Sunday and who played the guitar at prayer-meetings organised by his mother for the Belgian and Italian communities of the neighbourhood. I was a horrible waitress, but I still caught the eye of the shy owner's son who spent his evenings in the kitchen or at the cash register. His shy smiles and tentative touches allowed me to catch on very quickly, and during the summer before our senior year of high school we lost our virginity to each other in the back of his Focus. To my embarrassment, for the first few weeks of our young relationship he used to go to Confession after every time we had sex, until his daily visits to the Confessional became ridiculous and Father Plutarch ended up calling us both before him, telling Peeta that when he declared in prayer that he repented and would sin no more, he actually had to mean it. Peeta had blushed to the root, spent the evening with me being tormented by an appropriate amount of Catholic guilt until I rolled my eyes and gave him his first ever blow job while threatening to never do it again if he went to confess it. Father Plutarch got a permanent respite from Peeta's sex life ever since.
I cannot say that my presence in Peeta's life really did his Catholicism any good. As a convinced atheist, I tend to view my husband's beliefs as nothing more than fairy tales, and I've been guilty more than once of having teased him for his practices, such as setting up a nativity scene in our living room for Christmas, making the sign of the cross every time we leave home, and his indignant rants after reading The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. I do not share his beliefs, but his faith is strong enough for my views and my teasing to never be really an issue in our relationship, but at the same time I'm also furiously jealous of the fact that he seems to find solace in prayer, while I fight every minute of the day with the constant reminder of my failure. Every minute of the day I need to find a reason for what happened, a culprit, a person to blame. So I blame my husband for wanting our son, even though he knew that I was not ready. I blame him for not listening to me when I asked for more time. If had respected my wishes, none of this would have happened. So I blame him for making me agree to try for and I blame him for giving me the baby that I ultimately failed to give birth to.
It's easier to blame Peeta, because the alternative would be to blame myself.
It's not that I don't love Peeta anymore. He and I have been together for so long that the notion of not loving him is completely inconceivable. In fact, I don't recognise myself in my complete rejection of my husband, but yet I cannot help it. Even though he does not ask me for sex, even the simplest of touches from him causes me to flinch, and there are nights where he doesn't even try to join me in our bed anymore. He's unhappy, and so am I, but I don't have the strength or the motivation to do anything about it, and the more time passes, the more distant we become from each other.
Since words and physical affection seem to have no discernible effect on me, Peeta tries to leave me notes at home, telling me how much he loves me, how brave and strong I am, and how it kills him to see me reject both him and his love. He pleads for me to give us a chance at happiness again and asks me to tell him what he needs to do for me to accept him back as my husband. His words hurt, the sadness in his eyes hurts, but I do not have the strength to react, to come out of this bubble of numbness that I have wrapped myself in. The minute I reach out to my husband is the moment where I would have to deal with the pain of the loss of my child. I am not brave and strong as he sees me. In fact, i'm actually frightened, devastated, and too cowardly to allow myself to feel. The more he loves me, the more undeserving I see myself, and the more convinced I become that my husband doesn't really know me. If he did, he would have realised by now that there is really nothing to love in me anymore.
The world collapses around me again one evening when I come home from the office and hear, to my great surprise, voices in the kitchen. It's been a while since there was any kind of noise in our house and it jarrs my ears, especially since one of the voices is that of my husband, speaking in a tone that seems far too jaded and lifeless to actually come from him.
"I don't know what to do anymore, I can't reach out to her, she blocked me out completely," I catch him saying, his voice breaking with emotion.
"Son, Katniss is a strong, proud woman. She -"
I burst into the kitchen angrily and discover that the unexpected guest is actually Father Plutarch, Peeta's confessor. They both start and look at me with the guilty looks of two people who are conspiring against me.
"What the hell are you doing here and how dare you talk about me behind my back?" I growl at the priest who recovers himself and matches my glare with a steady look.
"Your husband called me," he explains calmly. "He has asked for my help because he doesn't know how to reach -"
"Out for me. Yes I heard that," I finish in clipped tones as I turn coldly to Peeta, who clutches at the kitchen chair, physically pale. "Thanks for coming, but this is a problem that my husband and I can handle alone," I continue as I move from the door and invite the priest to leave with a gesture of my hand.
"That's the problem Katniss, I don't think we can handle this alone," Peeta interjects quietly. "I don't know what to. I don't even know if you even want to be married to me anymore at this point."
I swallow a lump in my throat and look away. I am miserable, distant, and numb, but the idea of actually leaving Peeta never really occurred to me. I've been with him for more than 10 years, and being away from him is impossible. But yes, I can understand how such an idea might have crossed his mind.
"I never considered leaving you," I reply softly. "You didn't need to call your priest here though," I continue with some heat. "What the hell does he know about our marriage? About any marriage, really?"
Father Plutarch smiles at me gently and I feel like I want to gouge his eyes out. "Katniss, I have given advice to many couples in need, especially young ones like you," he answers in what he possibly believes is to be a kind tone, but which for me grates like chalk on blackboard. "The first years of marriage are possibly the hardest, and I do have a particular interest in seeing you both go through this patch. I'm the one who married you after all!"
"Not by my choice. If it were up to me we would have got married in front of the Justice of the Peace, without the religious bullshit," I argue sullenly. Somehow I suddenly feel the need to be spiteful.
"You make it sound as if I pushed you into this!" My husband glares at me, and I return his look with interest.
"What makes you think you didn't?!"
"Good, good. At least you seem to be talking now," interjects Father Plutarch with a smile, much to my annoyance.
"Shut up. This has nothing to do with you," I snap.
"Katniss, please allow me to help you find comfort in your marriage," he pleads and I stare at him in disbelief. Is there something in the vows of priests that includes not being able to take a hint? "The death of your child is a tragedy, but you can learn to find peace again in knowing that your baby is -"
"Do not dare to mention my baby again," I snarl menacingly.
Peeta throws a kitchen towel in the direction of the sink, knocking down a mug and making me jump at the sudden noise. "Gabriel is not only your baby," he cries angrily. "He is my child too!"
I can physically feel my heart break at the mention of our son's name. I had never thought of it, never mentioned it, never made my dead child real with the name that we had planned to give him. The name that was embroidered by my mother on his blanket, and on the paw of the teddy bear that my sister Prim had sent to us by post from whatever country Rory is now stationed in.
"Don't say his name," I whisper. "Don't."
The seconds that follow are silent, except for my heavy breathing and that of my husband as he angrily picks up the pieces of the broken mug.
"Katniss, Peeta, your son is at peace and in a better place, and it is this thought that should be the source of any comfort you might wish to seek from God," Father Plutarch begins.
The mention of Peeta's god angers me and hits me in the face as a dismissal of my convictions. "I don't know what you're doing here. Our child was not baptised, and according to your Church, he has no place in heaven," I reply dully.
Father Plutarch hesitates and steals a look at Peeta, whose lips have now thinned into a white line. "Katniss, Gabriel... is baptised," he replies softly, looking at anything but me. "I - I baptised him in the delivery room, it's something the Church allows, in emergency cases and -" his voice trails off when he sneaks a look at me and catches sight of my face.
As he spoke, a flash of memory comes to my mind. Of me, lying in bed barely conscious from pain and fatigue, screaming as my baby does not emit a sound, and lashing out at the nurses who try to sedate me. I suddenly remember seeing my husband in a corner of the room, pouring water on the head of our silent child, tears streaming down his face as he mumbles "I baptise you my son, my sweet sweet son, in the name of the Father … and of the Son and of …".
He actually had a moment with our child before me, held him first in his hands, spoke to him without me. He created an opportunity for himself to do something for our son. An opportunity which I was denied.
"What the FUCK?" I scream before turning to the priest, "and you, GET OUT!"
One look at me, trembling with rage, is enough. Father Plutarch leaves our flat before I can turn to my husband and continue screaming at him. "How dare you?! How dare you baptise our son without telling me?!"
Peeta bristles and keeps his tone as neutral as possible in his reply. "You would have said no, Katniss."
"Of course I would have said no! You know how I feel about your religious fairy tales," I lash rather cruelly. I'm beyond caring at this point.
"Go to hell. I respect your views and I ask you to respect mine!"
"Not when you decide to baptise my son without telling me!"
"What difference does it make to you?" he yells back. "You would have said no just for the sake of it, while in my case baptising my son ensured that he'd be ...he'd be…safe..." he trails off without exactly knowing how to end his explanation.
"Are you saying that just because I don't believe in god I'm a bad parent?" I exclaim in disbelief.
"Bulllshit. That's not what I'm saying and you know it!" he scoffs as he walks around me and exits the kitchen to walk to the nursery.
"Don't you dare walk away from me!" I warn as I follow him into the room that should have been our son's. I stop with a gasp and lean against the wall as I take the scene in. Peeta has left everything unchanged. The bed, the blanket, the teddy bear, the little blue curtains...everything has remained the same as when I dusted the room a day before I started my labour.
Peeta and I stare at each other for a few seconds, our faces mirroring each other's hurt, sadness and weariness. I breathe deeply and reach out my hand for his. He walks tentatively towards me and from the corner of my eye, I see a picture frame on the dresser, showcasing a drawing of a baby, a smiling black haired baby with grey eyes in the painting style that I would recognise anywhere.
Peeta has drawn a picture of our son, but it cannot be him; how could he know what his smile would look like, what colour his hair would grow to be, his eyes?
"What the hell is this?" I whisper. Peeta grimaces and looks away. "What the hell is this Peeta?" I cry louder, moving towards the picture frame and grabbing it roughly. This seems to startle my husband, who glares at me angrily.
"What do you think it is? It's our son," he snaps.
"We have no son," I growl at him. I can't believe we're having this conversation. The anger and the pain and the guilt are closing up on my lungs and I hear myself gasping shallow breaths as I try to keep from falling apart.
"Gabriel will always be our son, whether you want to admit it or not," my husband replies angrily. I can't look at his eyes anymore, I don't want to see the accusing stare that I'm sure he is throwing at me. I avoid looking at him and throw the frame to the floor, wincing as the sound of glass breaking reverberates around the room.
"There is no Gabriel!" I scream in finality. And in the seconds of silence that follows my action, I take a look at my husband's face, a good look at it, for the first time since we lost our child. He is not accusatory. He is not angry, not sad. He is devastated.
He bends down and cradles the frame, removes the picture and folds it with a tenderness that makes me want to double up in pain. "You've gone too far," he finally whispers, and walks out of the room.
I did. I did go too far. And I didn't mean it. God, Peeta's god, knows that I didn't mean it. Our baby, our baby...how could I have slammed the picture of my child to the floor? How could I have denied his existence? I reach out to Peeta, my tears blinding me as they stream down my face, but the minute my hand makes contact with his arm he shrugs it off angrily and reaches for his keys.
"Where are you going?" I ask tearfully.
"Away from you. Fuck this, fuck you. Fuck our marriage. I'm done," he tells me in a cold, final tone that is not his own. And he walks out.
It takes me a minute, and the sound of the wheels of his car screeching down our street, to pull out my phone to frantically call him, but the sound of his ring tone from the kitchen tells me that he left it behind, and that I have absolutely no way of knowing where he is going.
Are we done? Is this it? Have I finally managed to drive away the man who loved me unconditionally for more than ten years? It can't be. I cannot possibly imagine a life without him, without his presence, his strength, his warmth. The hate and disgust I feel towards myself scares me, and I realise that even in the past months, where I shut him out completely, I was still counting on the fact that he would be there always, in the background, waiting for me to welcome him back in my life. To hear him, to believe him when he said that life could be good again for us. And now, no more. He's finally done with me - he's finally seen me as I really am.
I take a deep breath and refuse, with my final ounce of inner strength, to give up. With a broom I sweep the broken glass from the nursery, and rush out to the hardware store to find a replacement. When I return home, there is still no sign of Peeta, so I fix the frame, and snuggle up on the armchair in the living room, and clutch my phone to my chest, in the hope that he might call me or give me some sign that he is fine somewhere, and that he's coming home. I want him to come home. He has to come home. Any other option is inconceivable.
At some point I must have cried myself to sleep, because when I open my eyes to the sound of the front door opening, dawn is just breaking. Before I gain full consciousness, I'm already throwing myself in his arms, kissing his cheeks, his lips, his jaw, every part of his warm, familiar skin that I craved and missed so much tonight. The minute the cobwebs of sleep clear from my eyes and my mind, I realise however that my husbands arms are not returning my embrace, that his lips are trembling, and when I look at his face, I see that his eyes are bloodshot and that they are swollen with shed tears. I bury my face in the crook of his neck and I inhale his scent, the familiar scent that he carried from his life at the coffee shop and which I love and need as much as oxygen.
And … something else.
Roses? He smells of cheap perfume. Roses maybe, and I feel a wave of nausea hit me.
"You smell … you smell different," I whisper, swallowing the lump in my throat that is making me gag.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he whispers, his blue eyes watering with unshed tears.
"You smell, of someone else," I continue softly. He looks away but I grab his face and make him face me before taking a step back.
"Were you with someone else Peeta?" I ask dully.
Of course he wasn't. Why am I even asking such a stupid question?
"I'm sorry Katniss, I'm so sorry." He is openly sobbing now.
"Peeta, were you with someone ELSE?!" I press on a bit louder.
Now he will deny it. And he will be so angry and indignant, and we'll end up fighting again. Why do I even ask such stupid questions?
Peeta breaks down in front of me and lowers himself on the couch, and I'm oddly mesmerised by his tears as they hit the carpet below his bowed face. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he keeps repeating.
I can't breathe. And I don't think I'll ever breathe again. So this is what it feels when your heart hurts so much that it stops beating. "But...but I fixed the frame," I whisper, as a wave of hurt, disbelief, and betrayal washes my world as I know it away.