The appointment is at 2 p.m., and I wake before dawn. Since Peeta is sleeping in his own room again, the nightmares are back, and I never feel well-rested, no matter how early I turn in. Last night, a part of me was tempted to ask him to stay just one more time. But I couldn't take anything else from him. He's already given too much.
Like always, he's up before I am and already hard at work. It somehow doesn't feel right to go out into the woods this morning, so I dress and make my way down to the bakery. When Peeta hears me in the kitchen with him, he startles. "Did I wake you?"
"No," I answer honestly, slipping an apron over my head.
We work together in silence. I still haven't spent much time learning how to bake, but after all the hours I've spent watching Peeta, I'm a capable assistant. I stay with him until late morning, seeing him through the early rush of customers and waiting until it slows before I head back upstairs. I'm too nervous to eat, so I make some tea and sit at the table Prim and Bryce gave us after we signed the papers. It really is a very nice piece of furniture, and definitely the fanciest of anything we've bought together. For the first time, I take notice of all the intricate details, like the tiny leaves carved along the sides, linked together by delicate rosettes that I trace with the tip of my finger.
The tick tock of the clock hanging above my head is the only sound I can hear. It's louder than any of the sounds from the bakery below, noisier than Peeta could ever dream of being. Tick tock. Tick tock.
By noon, I can't stand it anymore, so I wash up and put on my mother's green dress. As I'm pinning my braid up, I hear Peeta walking the steps, loud as ever. He pokes his head in the doorway and manages a smile, but he's quiet as he leans against the frame. There's a part of me that wonders if he's trying to think of a way to back out now before it's too late. Maybe he's finally realized what he's offered, and just what it all means. Maybe he's remembered that I'm not the girl he wanted to do all of these things with in the first place.
"I just talked to Delly," he finally says, our eyes meeting again in the mirror.
I wait for him to continue, but he looks away. "And?" I ask.
"And she spoke to the official when she arrived today. They're concerned that we've only been married for a month."
"Oh." It's not surprising, really. Adoptions in our district are rare, but when they happen, it's usually after a couple have been together for years yet unable to have a child of their own.
My mind's racing with a million different thoughts, and Peeta straightens, stepping fully into the room. "Katniss," he says. "I can handle this. I'll do the talking."
I nod and try to finish pinning my hair. "The woman isn't going to drag this out," Peeta adds, watching me. "Delly says she'll be leaving for the Capitol this evening, so the decision will be made quickly."
"Well, at least we'll know," I say, turning to leave. As Peeta showers and dresses, I sit in my room and stare at the wall until it's time to go.
Outside, it's humid, the sun hot and bright. Peeta reaches for my hand, and our fingers tangle together as we walk toward the Justice Building for the second time this month. When we arrive, a District 12 worker points us in the direction of the official's office. The door is already open, and Peeta and I share a meaningful look before we enter together.
The office is as dingy and depressing as the rest of the district, and the Capitol official stands out, with her magenta colored skin and obvious wig. She rises as she greets us, and I'm sure she says her name but I've already missed it. I look past her green bouffant hairdo to study the series of posters on the wall behind her. It's more Capitol propaganda, this work featuring the community home, with close-up shots of the desolate children captioned with the tagline, 'Sponsor Tomorrow's Tributes Today!' I've seen similar commercials running during the Games, urging the people of the Capitol to send help to the parentless children of the poorest districts. If they do donate, I don't know where any of the money goes. It's definitely not being used to help the children.
On the second poster, there's one photo featuring a tiny girl that reminds me of L, with the same dark, matted hair and sad eyes. I don't recall ever seeing her at any of the visits, and I can't help but wonder about her fate…
I feel Peeta at my side, gently cupping my waist and squeezing to gain my attention, but I'm so taken back by the contact that I lose myself again. It's the most intimate touch since we filled out the forms at the Justice Building.
"You'll have to forgive my wife," Peeta says with a laugh. "I don't think she's quite used to that name yet. As far as Katniss is concerned, Mrs. Mellark is my mother."
I manage to plaster on a smile. "It will take some time."
"About that," she says, taking the seat at her desk. "I was reading over your application earlier, and I have to say, I'm surprised you're applying so soon. Why, you've only been married a month." She bats her ridiculously long eyelashes, looking at us expectantly.
"A month is the minimum, right?" Peeta asks innocently, dazzling her with a grin.
"Well, yes, that's true. But surely you want to enjoy your time together now, first. Perhaps even try for your own children?" Her arched brows rise with the lilt in her voice, and my teeth grit at the shrill sound of her affected Capitol accent.
"Ms. Welldine, can you keep a secret?" Peeta asks, leaning forward conspiringly. The woman looks at us curiously, and I can only hope that I don't seem as confused as she does.
"I'm not sure I under-"
Peeta smiles, cutting her off. "Katniss and I have been married for nearly two years now."
I have to look down at the folds of my skirt to hide my face. Where on earth is he going with this obvious lie? "But…how?" she asks, and I can hear her rummaging through her papers, looking for the date to confirm.
"Oh, it wasn't an official marriage," he says. "We didn't go to the Justice Building until last month. But are you familiar with the marriage ritual in District 12?"
I look up to see the woman shaking her head.
"There's this thing we do," Peeta says, and he goes on to describe a toasting. Our toasting- the one that never happened, the one he insisted we didn't need. He looks over at me reverently as he tells her about this fictional day that we shared together, and there's so much love in his eyes, and so many lies in his words. He can still surprise me.
"To us, we were more married than any piece of paper could make us. And we've certainly enjoyed our time together," Peeta continues, turning back to her now. "We'd have everything we wanted, if only we could have a baby."
"You can't have your own?" she asks, her voice softening.
Peeta shakes his head sadly, and again I look down. "Katniss's mother and sister are both healers, and they don't think it's likely if it hasn't happened already. So we've decided to open our home to a child in need of one. The license was really just a formality we had to take care of before applying to adopt."
"Well," she says, seemingly appeased. "I see that you own the bakery in town." Then she looks at me. "And you help him run it, I assume?" I nod along, because I can't very well say that I go into the woods every day to hunt. Suddenly I feel the need to talk myself up. "I take care of most things around the house, too. And my younger sister runs an apothecary shop in town, and sometimes I help her with that."
"She also visits the community home a lot," Peeta adds. "Lately, she's been there nearly every day."
"For all the children," I say. "But especially L."
Her brow furrows. "L?"
"That's what everyone calls her, from her case number. We don't know her real name."
"And she's the one you want to adopt?" she asks, again leafing through the sheets of paper on her desk.
"We'd adopt them all if we could," Peeta says, and it's one of the few honest things he's said to her.
She smiles at us, the paperwork forgotten. "You know, I don't really see a point in delaying this any further," she says with an air of finality. "I'll be heading back to the Capitol in a few hours, but I'll stop by the home after I attend to some business about the reaping." She stands from her desk, and we both rise from our seats, neither of us sure what's going on. "I'll inform the director that you can take her home this evening, if you wish. But first I have to get a few more papers for you to sign."
She leaves the room, and we stare at each other, stunned. Can it really be this easy? Everything seems to be happening so fast, and even though I feel overwhelmed by it all, I grin. We were approved. We can get her out of the home. At least one child will be helped.
Peeta wraps his arms around me, pulling me to him, and I relax in his embrace. "We're going to be a family," he whispers against my hair.
"Yeah," I say, my throat tightening.
We're going to be a family.
A/N: This fic will be 10 chapters and an epilogue. Chapter one will be posted next week, and it goes back to begin the explanation of how Katniss and Peeta got here.
Many, many thanks to Court81981 for the beta, and to misshoneywell and didntheramble for prereading! ILY, guys!
Come find me on tumblr as cinnamonanddildo. I post previews and other stories there, and I'll be happy to answer any questions. Thanks for reading!