This story was inspired by A marriage between victors by optimus-pam. In her AU, Katniss and Peeta were forced to marry by the Capitol, and they gradually grew together. Before reading that fanfiction, I hadn't really considered what would've happened if Peeta and Katniss had gotten married – but suddenly, I couldn't get this storyline out of my head. It took on a life of its own.
Angst and smut alert! If you can't handle it, turn back now.
This won't be a happy wedding day.
Your wedding day is the day every girl dreams of, isn't it? Ever since she was little. The flowers, the attention, the music, the rings, the reception. The love. The beautiful white dress, making you look like a princess. Marrying the man of your dreams, the one who makes you feel like a princess. Living happily ever after.
Sounds like a dream, doesn't it?
Except it was never my dream.
I never dreamt of getting married. It was something I never allowed myself to do. I only dreamt of going to bed with a full belly.
I never asked for this. Yet here I am. I'm 18 years old. It's my wedding day, and no one asked us.
I'm woken at dawn by my prep team, Effie and Cinna.
Effie insisted that Peeta and I didn't sleep in the same bed on the last night before we got married. We tried protesting, but it didn't help. Effie claimed that it meant "bad luck" to see each other on the morning of the wedding, and that was the end of the discussion. She's found our "sleeping arrangement", as she puts it, most improper from the first time she found us in the same bed in the train compartment on the victory tour. Little does she know that there is nothing but sleep and relief from nightmares taking place in our bed at night. For Effie, having grown up in the Capitol, where sex is flaunted and shared publicly, Peeta and I only comforting each other at night is unthinkable. She doesn't know that sharing a bed with Peeta is the only thing that helps keeping my nightmares at bay. For the last year or so, I've refused to sleep without him, even for one single night. It got even worse after the Quarter Quell, when we were forced to mentor two poor teenagers from District 12 in the Greatest Hunger Games Ever.
Not that they were great for District 12. 13-year-old Genna and 14-year-old Benjy never stood a chance. They were just Career fodder. Genna was killed after a mere four minutes in the initial blood bath by the Cornucopia, when she took a knife in the neck. She was perhaps the fortunate one, even though I've never felt like a bigger failure than when I watched her die on live television. Ben lived for nearly two days, until he was caught by the District One careers, who had teamed up. They caught him alive, and they took their time killing him. Slowly, bit by bit.
Peeta didn't sleep for nearly a week afterwards.
As I had feared, on this last night before our wedding, I didn't get much sleep without Peeta. I had horrible dreams of mutts in wedding dresses, smelling of roses. I'm still feeling sick to my stomach just remembering that overpowering smell.
I'm sure there will be lots of genetically modified roses today.
My prep team aren't happy about how I look, the night has clearly taken its toll. "No wonder you couldn't sleep last night, no bride can on the night before her wedding day!" Octavia giggles. "All that excitement! Oh, you're so lucky!" I can't bring myself to tell her why I didn't sleep.
Only Cinna truly sees, the way he always does. He brushes a sweaty strand of hair away from my forehead, and looks me deeply in the eyes. He looks sad. He's sad for me. I have to fight to hold my tears back.
Today is not a day for tears, it's a day for forced happiness. The lives of our families depend on my performance today.
But my prep team do make wonders with me. They manage to take me back to Beauty Base Zero, and then beyond to somewhere I've never even been before.
I wouldn't be surprised if Cinna has orders on how to prep me, but if he does, I suspect that he ignores them. I don't even know what my wedding dress looks like – I didn't pick it myself. All of Panem did, in numerous rounds of voting on live TV, and I could never be bothered to watch any of them. All I know is that Cinna designed them all, so I hope it's not too terrible. Not too over-the-top-Capitol. I was afraid they'd do my make-up Capitol style, but thankfully they don't.
"You know what I want you to look like today, Katniss?" Cinna asks me. I shake my head. "I want you to look like the 18-year-old you are." He doesn't say anything else, I guess he doesn't dare to, but he doesn't have to.
Let them see you how young you really are.
Eating sufficient amounts of food, as well as simply growing older - from 16 to 18 - has changed my body. I'm curvier, more womanly that I was before. The curves that hunger stole from my body are now back, and my body is strong and fit from training. I'm not allowed to hunt anymore, the electricity on the fence in District 12 is on 24 hours a day now, and I know it's because of me. But instead of drowning my sorrows in Peeta's baked goods, I decided to keep my strength up, keeping my body in top shape. Learning different fighting and survival techniques. Skills to hopefully pass on to future tributes from District 12. I decided I owe it to them to learn as much as I can. Perhaps I, too, will one day be able to do what Haymitch did for Peeta and me: Get a tribute out of the arena. Alive.
When I take a look at myself in the mirror, at first glance it looks as if my face is free of make-up, but it's only an illusion. The make-up is done so subtly it looks like it's not there – but what it does, is accentuate my features, making my eyes look bigger, my lips fuller.
My face is glowing.
My hair is flowing in lazy curls on my back, held back by a single primrose. Some pearls are scattered in my dark hair. My face is framed by a few loose strand of dark hair, they look nearly accidental, but they are not.
I look beautiful.
So un-Capitol-like. I look… fresh. Like a fairytale princess, but not one from Capitol fairytales, which are full of extravagance and glamour. District 12's fairytale princesses are naturally beautiful, our fairytales are as understated yet strong and resilient as our district is. They don't need a prep team to make them look beautiful. They just are. And that's what I look like.
Despite the burden that's placed on my shoulders today, I can't help but feel pleased at the job my team has done. "Thank you," I say to them with a big smile. "I look… beautiful."
"You really do," Effie says, she's crying already. She is genuinely moved, I realize. I have a feeling this is going to be a long day. "Aren't you excited to see your dress?" I'm not, really, but feel obliged to nod, so I do.
How sick is it that the bride hasn't seen her wedding dress before the wedding day? And never had anything to say in what it should look like?
I brace myself for what's to come. I'm fully prepared for something full of glitter and feathers in Capitol style – but I'm relieved when Cinna brings out a dress which is a lot simpler than I thought it would be. It's in cream white silk, with an intricate but very subtle pearl embroidery of primroses going down over my chest, all the way down to the hem.
"It's beautiful," I whisper.
"That's not the dress they voted on, is it?" Effie says, surprised. She narrows her eyes, scrutinizing it.
"It is," Cinna says with a sly smile. "I just… took off some of the decorations. The feathers and… a few other things. This is what was underneath it all." He winks at me. I feel grateful that he knows I wouldn't want something garish and extravagant, but at the same time I feel afraid for him. What if…? He just shakes his head at me, placing a finger on my lips. "It's okay, don't worry," he whispers in my ear, so no one else can hear. I know I'm walking a tightrope today, and I'm suddenly terrified that Snow will view Cinna's manipulation of the winning dress as an act of defiance.
There is too much at stake today for me to be defiant.
Cinna helps me into my dress, and for the first time I get to take a look at myself in a full length mirror.
I really do look like a fairytale princess. My prep team is ecstatic, and Effie makes a high-pitched sound which is really annoying, but I know she means well. And Cinna… He just looks at me with approval in his eyes – and there's something else there as well.
He knows. He knows about the sword having over my head. He knows why I'm here today.
"You look perfect," he says.
"Are there any hidden flames or anything else I need to know about in this dress?" I ask him, and Cinna shakes his head.
"No, this is just an ordinary wedding dress. You don't have to have special effects to stun everyone today, Katniss. Just being you is enough."
There's a knock on the door, and to my surprise my mother enters the room. She tears up at the sight of me in my white dream of a dress. "Primroses," she whispers, and smiles. Prim is being prepped in another room, together with the other bridesmaids. My mother also knows that ultimately, me volunteering for Prim is what brought me here today. She then surprises me by saying: "Do you mind if I have some time alone with Katniss?" I'm done with the prepping anyway, the ceremony starts in less than one hour. We're scheduled to be in the limo in 26 minutes. Everything has been planned meticulously down to the smallest detail. Nothing has been left to chance. Everyone leaves the room, one by one, kissing my cheek and wishing me the best of luck.
In the end there is only me and my mother left. This conversation just before the wedding ceremony is a District 12 tradition. I'm somewhat surprised that she's doing this, it wasn't on the time schedule. I'm also a bit nervous about what she's going to say. Traditionally, this conversation was meant for the mother telling the daughter about her duties in the marriage bed. It is not uncommon for girls in District 12 to have premarital sex, but it's still frowned upon. And even though we now learn the basics of sexual intercourse in school, children in District 12 in particular are pretty sheltered. There are the ones who go to the slag heap, of course, but the majority don't.
She knows, of course, that I've shared a bed with Peeta for a year. We've lived partly in our hourse, partly in his. She doesn't know, however, that we've never been intimate. That the only things that are going on in our bed are sleeping, talking and comforting. I know that our sleeping arrangements have been subject of much gossip in District 12, and I suspect that quite a few mothers have been criticizing my mother's lack of control over her daughter, resulting in the immorality of Peeta and me in effect living together before we are married.
"I just wanted this last moment together with you, alone, before you… become a married woman."
I look down at my hands, perfectly manicured. They are shaking.
"I know that today isn't what you'd thought it would be. I know that you're doing this at least in part to keep Prim and me safe, and I want you to know that I really appreciate what you are doing." My mother must be more perceptive than I'd thought. I've never discussed Snow's threats with her. "Haymitch told me," she explains, as if reading my mind. I didn't even know they'd talked.
She pauses, I can see that she's struggling to find the right words. "I'm sorry to have to ask you this question, Katniss. I don't want to embarrass you, but… Have you two been intimate before?"
I blush. "Mom, I…"
"I should've talked to you about this months ago, when you started sleeping in Peeta's bed. I've been a bad mother – again – for not doing it. But I talked to Haymitch back then, and apparently he'd had a… talk with Peeta. About birth control." I frown. I had no idea that talk had taken place at all. "And Peeta had told him that you weren't involved sexually. But he promised that he'd get something from Haymitch if the… need arose." I wonder why Peeta never told me this. "I talked to Haymitch again yesterday, and he said that Peeta never came back to talk to him about it. And you've never asked me for… help or advice. And I doubt that you're pregnant. So… am I correct in assuming you've never been intimate?"
I close my eyes. I've had quite a few awkward conversations with my mother throughout the years, but this one is by far the most embarrassing. I see that it's very uncomfortable for her as well, though, and I know that she's doing it because despite everything, she cares. So I fight the urge to scold her, and answer her truthfully. I somehow find the courage to answer: "Yes." My voice is so low and insecure, I sound like a little girl. Not the girl on fire, the victor, the experienced killer – certainly not a woman, madly in love, on her wedding day.
"Do you know… how it's done?" I never ever thought I'd have this conversation with my mother. Or at least I always hoped I wouldn't have to. I'm absolutely mortified, and my mother looks quite embarrassed, too. Being a healer, I had perhaps expected her to be a bit less embarrassed - after all, she deals with life and death every day. But we've never had a close mother-daughter relationship, and I think that's overriding her training.
"Mom! We learned about it… In school. I know what goes where," I mutter.
"Making love is much more than what body parts go where, you know." My mother pauses. "It's nothing to be scared of. It's one of life's greatest experiences – making love with the man you love." Her voice has a strange undertone, of loss and longing. "Peeta loves you. He always has. You couldn't wish for a better man. I'm not quite sure… Where you are in all of this, and I'm sorry you didn't get the chance to figure it out in your own time. Make your own decisions about your life partner. But Peeta's a good man – hold on to that. Take your time, don't rush anything. You don't need to do anything tonight, you know?" She reaches out one hand, lifting up my chin so that I meet her blue merchant eyes. They are full of… Love. Of caring. My mother has almost never looked at me like this, at least not since before my father died. "Don't be afraid. Talk to him. Tell him how you feel, how what he does makes you feel. As long as you communicate, you'll be fine. And take your time. Okay?"
I have to fight back my tears, I don't want to ruin my make-up. Portia said it was tear resistant, but you never know. "Okay. Thanks," I whisper, recognizing how difficult this conversation must've been for her as well.
"Take one of these pills every week." I want to protest when she hands me a bottle of pills, but she stops me. "No, please, Katniss, take it. Take one pill every week, and you won't conceive. You don't want children now, do you?" I shake my head, embarrassed, and hide the pills in my overnight bag.
There is a gentle knock on the door. It's Prim, looking lovely and a bit too grown-up in her light pink dress. She's already 14, I realize. Almost a little woman. "We have to go," she says, beaming. She's so excited about today. I haven't told her anything about why we're getting married today. She's very perceptive, I don't know what she suspects - but she loves Peeta, and she knows we've spent a lot of time together since our return to District 12. At least after the first difficult months after the Hunger Games, when I avoided him as much as possible. After the victory tour, though, and after Snow putting even more pressure on me to make our relationship seem real... Not to mention after finding out that the only chance of getting a decent night's sleep was sleeping together… We've been inseparable.
We hurry down to the limo, Effie is talking constantly about how we are almost ninety seconds behind schedule. "We need to hurry up, won't want to keep Peeta waiting!" I know she's not really worried about keeping Peeta waiting. She's concerned about the TV schedule, which is meticulously planned, down to the last commercial break.
To my surprise, there are three limos waiting. I thought there would only be two. Me and my bridesmaids in one, my prep team, my mother and Prim in the second.
Then I see them.
Snow's body guards.
"There's been a change of plans," one of them says. "You're to ride in this limo alone, Ms Everdeen. Your bridesmaids will ride in limo number two without you."
I don't have to ask who's in the first limo.
I take a deep breath, and step into the limo, carefully making sure not to ruin my dress. The air inside the limo reeks of roses. I have to swallow back the vomit which is rising up from my stomach.
"Ms Everdeen," an all too familiar voice says, and I brace myself, finally looking at him. President Snow. I meet his snakelike eyes. "Congratulations. This is a big, big day for you." I don't know if he's using Effie's favorite phrase on purpose, or if she perhaps adopted it from him originally.
And the way he's looking at my dress… He knows it's not the one Panem voted on. I shiver.
"Thank you, Mr President. It certainly is."
"It is also a big day for all of Panem. And for me. It's not every day Panem's favorite star-crossed lovers get married, after all."
I feel like I'm suffocating. I can't get any words out. I just nod.
"I wanted the two of us to have a little talk before the wedding. In private." I dread what's coming – whatever it is, it can't be good. "You've done well this last year, Katniss. You've kept up the act very well. Everyone in Panem seems convinced that the star-crossed lovers are real. This wedding is important to them."
Act. He knows it's an act.
"Oh yes, Katniss. I know it's an act, at least on your part. You still haven't managed to convince me. Which is why I'm here talking to you now, and not to Peeta." I can hardly breathe. My eyes are fixed on his, it's like he's hypnotizing me. I'm unable to look away, even though I want to. "I know that you sleep in the same bed every night. I also know that you have not had sex." There is no talk of "making love" here. I want to ask him how he knows, but there is no point. He'd never answer. Besides, I know there is only one possible answer to that question anyway – he's bugging our bedrooms. Perhaps even filming us.
I can't lie to him. "No."
"In another 37 minutes, you'll be a married woman, Katniss. And you do know what's expected of married women."
I'm starting to feel desperate. This conversation, although dealing with the same topic as the talk with my mother just a few minutes ago, is still so very different. I feel like an animal trapped in a corner. "I'm sure we'll… Get around to it."
"Do you know what the other victors do? Well, most of them, anyway. The ones who are reasonably young and attractive. Do you know about their envelopes?"
I narrow my eyes. I'm confused, I don't really know what he's talking about. Why did he suddenly change the subject? I've seen those envelopes, but no one's ever told me what they mean. I've seen Finnick getting them – lots of them – during the Quarter Quell. He, like me, didn't do much mentoring, as he lost both his tributes in the initial blood bath by the Cornucopia. Johanna got them, too. And Enobaria. And…
"Clearly you don't. You've always been so pure, Katniss. But you're 18 now, and the time for purity is over. Welcome to the real world."
"What do you mean?"
"I sell them," he says. His voice is so matter-of-fact he could've talked about selling chairs or carrots. "I offer their bodies to whoever opens their pockets to the Capitol. Sometimes they go on silent auction, too. And the most generous sponsor during the Hunger Games will get the honor of having the victor first after winning the games. There were only two exception… Peeta and you. We couldn't sell you two, because of the star-crossed lovers lie. The two top sponsors weren't happy about it. You will of course appreciate that I made quite a sacrifice for you."
My head is spinning.
"Deep breaths, Katniss. We don't want you to faint." I obey his order, hating myself. "You're fortunate, Katniss. If you play your cards right, you two won't become Capitol whores like the rest of the victors. At least not now."
"What do you want from me?" I'm finally able to say. The only reason I haven't broken down is that I don't want to give Snow the satisfaction of seeing my tears.
"I want you to consummate your marriage to Peeta. Tonight."
"Okay," I find myself whispering.
"And don't try to fool me. I'll know if you do. If you try to make me look stupid, if you try to disobey, both you and Peeta will have envelopes waiting for you at the breakfast table tomorrow morning. I have two sponsors ready who would be more than willing to take both your and Peeta's virginities."
Only my deep breaths are keeping me from vomiting all over my dress.
"Plus the 76th Hunger Games are coming up, the reaping is in less than two months. Disobey me, and I'll make sure Prim's name is on every single slip of paper in that bowl. Am I making myself clear?"
"Good. You've always been a sensible girl, Katniss. You do what you have to do to keep your family safe. Just look at this as just one more thing you have to do to keep them alive and happy. It's pretty simple, really, all you have to do is make sure that this marriage is real. Close your eyes and think of the Capitol if it helps."
I can't stop a strangled sound from exiting my throat.
"Don't cry, Katniss. This is the happiest day of your life, remember? "
I look out of the window, and realize we're almost there, on the square outside the presidential palace.
In a few minutes, I'll get married. And tonight, I'll have to sleep with Peeta.