Chapter 1 – Loss

December 1849

"No, no," Katniss cried out in her sleep.

She was twisting and turning in the bed, jolting Peeta awake. He sat up, leaning against the brass headboard. He reached his arm out across her body and pulled his wife close in the darkness.

"It was just a dream," he whispered. "You're all right."

He kissed the top of her head, pulling her nearer still. He hoped he was accurate. That she would be all right – that they both would be. But he was beginning to feel as if they were caught up in a bad dream that they couldn't shake.

At the foot of the bed, a baby's piercing cry sounded. He sighed, unwrapped his arms from Katniss, and got out of bed. Soft moonlight flooded the room as he limped to the child's cradle. He picked the girl up carefully and carried her back to the bed.

Katniss had turned away and pulled the blanket over her head. He leaned up against the headboard and rocked the child in his arms willing her to fall asleep quickly so that he could go back to sleep. He was so tired.

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Only a couple of months earlier, Peeta Mellark had been a content man. He'd been the owner of a small bakeshop in Dirty District 12, a gold mining camp in California's Sacramento Valley. He'd been working alongside his wife Katniss, a petite, dark-haired beauty, who he'd married in the spring.

But his life had taken a sudden sharp turn when a freak-lightening storm had struck the mining camp starting a fire that had destroyed his business and most of the miners' tents.

Dirty District 12 had shut down, all of the miners leaving. His brother Rye had headed for another camp with Peeta's friend Finnick Odair and Finnick's pregnant wife Annie.

Katniss' family, her mother and sister Prim, along with her Aunt Hazelle, Uncle Samuel, and cousins Vick and Posy had headed to Sacramento City. Her cousin Rory Hawthorne had joined his brother Gale, digging for gold in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains with a group of men from Sonora, Mexico. Gale had hired María, the wife of one of the miners, to nurse his daughter Lavinia after the death of his wife Madge in childbirth.

Peeta and Katniss had relocated to District 12, the small town closest to the burned-out mining camp. Peeta had accepted a position as a temporary cook at Effie's house in exchange for free lodging. His duties also included teaching Effie's niece Delly to cook and milking Effie's two cows.

It wasn't an ideal living situation, though, because Effie ran the town's brothel. But it had meant that Peeta and Katniss would be living in a house for the winter, instead of a tent.

He and Katniss were also working for Sae, who owned the only restaurant in town; Peeta as a baker and Katniss as a hunter.

The blow of losing his business had been softened by Katniss' announcement that she was expecting.

The first couple of weeks in Effie's house had been fine. But early one morning, just after he returned from milking the cows, Katniss woke up in pain with belly cramps. She'd asked him to get Effie.

He shot out of the room, as quickly as his crippled leg would permit, in search of his employer. He pounded on Effie's bedroom door. She was annoyed when she opened it, but when Peeta explained what was happening she pushed him aside and went to his wife.

"Get out of here and bake something," she ordered him when he hovered near the bed as Effie spoke with Katniss. "This is women's domain."

Reluctantly, he left and went to the kitchen to build up the fire in the stove. He wished Katniss' mother, who was a midwife wasn't so far away.

While the stove heated, Peeta gathered together the ingredients to make pancakes. He also started a pot of coffee. After fifteen minutes, Delly appeared, her hair a mess of blonde curls, her eyes crusty with sleep, and her dressing gown wrapped tightly around her.

"My aunt wants a bucket of warm water."

Peeta got a large pot and dipped it into the fresh water barrel that stood in the kitchen. He put it on the stove to heat.

Delly opened a cupboard and pulled out a pile of clean rags.

"How is Katniss?" Peeta asked, his eyes focusing on the large scraps of fabric Delly had in her arms.

"She's bleeding," Delly muttered.

She hurried out of the room.

Peeta followed after her, but when they reached the bedroom door, Delly turned to him.

"Stay out Peeta," she insisted, as she opened the door.

Peeta reached for the edge of the door, holding it open with his hand as he peered over Delly's head. Katniss was sitting up in the bed. Her face was pale. Hair was falling out of her braid. Her eyes were red rimmed. A rush of emotion came over him and he had the sudden urge to push Delly out of the way and run to his wife's side.

Effie was sitting on the bed next to her, speaking softly to Katniss. He couldn't make out the words, but he could see the tears slowly slip down Katniss' cheeks.

Effie turned and looked toward her niece. "Give me those rags, Delly. Get the hot water."

Effie looked at Peeta. "Help Delly with the water."

"Can I…" he began, but Effie silenced him.

"The water please."

He caught Katniss' eye for a moment, but she quickly turned away.

Frustrated, he went back to the kitchen. He dipped a finger into the water. It was warm, but not boiling. He lifted the kettle off the stove and carried it to the bedroom. Delly opened the door, but Effie stood up immediately and came forward to take the pot from Peeta, not letting him enter the room.

He scowled at his employer and left. He returned to the kitchen and fried a stack of pancakes, setting them out on a platter for the women who worked for Effie. He covered the platter with a clean cloth and set out a cup of powdered sugar and a jar of blueberry jam on the table.

The women slept late because their evenings were spent entertaining customers. But he knew that they'd eventually come downstairs looking for sustenance.

He poured a cup of coffee, and took a couple of pancakes for himself, liberally sprinkling powdered sugar over the top. He ate slowly, but after a few bites he had to stop. He had no appetite.

Instead, he drank his coffee and stared off into space, wondering when Effie would let him see his wife. He only wanted the reassurance that she would be all right.

When he finished his coffee, he threw out his uneaten food. He tidied up the kitchen, washing his cup, plate, knife and fork.

Since Delly was busy, he couldn't give her a cooking lesson. Instead he headed over to Sae's restaurant to do some baking.

The weather was getting colder as winter approached. Only a year ago, it had snowed so heavily that Peeta and Katniss had been trapped overnight in a cave during a storm. That event and their subsequent discovery of a gold vein in the cave wall had been the catalyst for their relationship.

Never in his wildest dreams would Peeta have thought that a year later he'd be married to Katniss with a baby on the way. But, he reminded himself, Katniss was likely no longer expecting.

He'd put that thought out of his head ever since Effie had shut him out of his room. He'd only worried about his wife. But as he stood in Sae's kitchen kneading dough over the table he couldn't help but think of the child.

They'd talked about the baby a great deal among themselves, but they hadn't shared the news with anyone else, mainly because they hadn't seen any of their family or friends lately.

But it didn't matter now. The baby wasn't real any more.

A thought occurred to him; maybe he had caused this. Maybe he had been too affectionate with his wife.

He pounded the dough with such ferocity that Sae came over to watch.

"The bread will be as tough as shoe leather if you keep at it that way," she commented. "Have a fight with the girl did you?"

A tear trickled down Peeta's face, which he quickly brushed away; immediately Sae placed her hand onto his forearm.

"What is it?" she asked.

Peeta hesitated before answering. Gossip had been rife in the mining camp. In fact, Katniss' mother had urged him to quickly marry Katniss precisely because of gossip that the miners had been spreading about them.

He didn't want anything he told Sae to be spread around town. Katniss would be furious if that happened, especially if it had come from his mouth.

So instead of speaking the facts, he simply told Sae that Katniss was ill and that Effie was tending to her.

"What's she got?" Sae asked. "I can't have you working here if she's got something contagious."

"It's women's..."

Sae smirked and interrupted his explanation.

"No need for any details. Well, it's good she's living in that house then, with all those women to help her."

Peeta nodded. Sae was right. If she couldn't have her mother nearby, the next best thing was to be living in a house full of women. Someone would know what to do.

Peeta focused on his work, but his mind was far away. After he finished baking several loaves of bread and a couple of pies, Peeta excused himself to check on Katniss. Surely now, Effie would let him see his wife and talk with her.

But when he got to Effie's house, his employer was sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee. "Katniss is sleeping, don't disturb her," she said firmly.

"Can I see her at least?" he begged.

Effie nodded. "But don't wake her up."

Peeta entered the couple's bedroom as quietly as he was able. He noted that all the linens had been changed. He wondered how much blood Katniss had lost, but he pushed the thought from his mind. He walked next to the side of the bed and looked down at her.

Katniss was lying on her side, her legs curled up. Effie must have combed through her hair and re-braided it. Her face was devoid of color. Her head was resting on a flattened pillow, her hands were fisted tightly around the white sheet that was pulled up under her arms.

She looked ghostly, but Peeta was reassured by the rhythmic pattern of her chest rising and falling. He knelt down next to her and lightly touched her cheek.

He took a deep breath. When he exhaled, a loud sigh came forth, evidence of his pent up fears being revealed.

Katniss startled at the sound. Her eyes opened and she turned her head toward Peeta.

"I'm sorry," she mouthed.

He shook his head. "Katniss, it's not your fault." She couldn't think that. If anything, he was at fault. He should have reined in his exuberance towards her since she was with child.

Tears ran down the sides of her face. Peeta reached up with his thumb to wipe them away.

Katniss scowled and turned her face to hide it in the pillow. Her body shook as she sobbed. He leaned over her, in an attempt to hug her, but the door opened and Effie interrupted him.

"I told you to let her sleep," Effie chided him.

He gave a quick squeeze to her shoulder, before grudgingly standing up to follow Effie from the room.

Once they returned to the kitchen, Effie told him to sit.

"Katniss lost the baby. She needs to rest. She should stay in bed for at least a week."

Peeta nodded grimly.

"She's going to be sad," Effie explained. "She's mourning the loss of a child."

Peeta nodded. Our child, he thought. She's mourning the child we made together.

"She'll be fine Peeta. These things happen. Just give her some time, she'll return to her old self."

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A month passed and Katniss hadn't recovered. Peeta was reminded of Mrs. Everdeen's melancholic behavior after her husband had died in the mining camp. Like her mother, Katniss refused to leave her bed. She huddled under the blankets, eyes fixed on some point in the distance. Once in a while, she'd stir; get up as if moved by some urgent purpose only to then collapse back into stillness. No amount of pleading by Peeta seemed to affect her.

At first Peeta was glad she was resting. She had experienced a physical trauma; she needed to build up her strength. But after two weeks he wondered what was wrong. She barely ate. She'd only spoken a few dozen words to him.

Meanwhile, he'd been doing the chores for both of them. He'd even gone hunting a few times with Sae's husband Ephraim to get meat for the restaurant, a job that Katniss had been doing.

He understood that she was grieving. But he was grieving, too. He'd shed many tears in private, usually while milking the cows. He hadn't spoken to anyone about their loss. He tried to talk to Katniss twice about it, but she'd turned away and hid her face in the blankets.

He'd never seen this side of Katniss. He'd known her for six months before they'd married and she'd never acted like this, not when her father died, not when Madge had died. She had mourned both deaths, but she hadn't given up living.

Frustrated, he pounded the dough in Sae's kitchen. People were asking him about Katniss. They wanted to know what was wrong with her. When would she be up and about? He suspected that Effie had already told everyone about the miscarriage judging by the way people were acting around him, sympathetic and full of pity. He didn't want their pity. He wanted his wife back to her usual feisty, independent self.

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He had been in the kitchen that morning watching Delly sloppily roll out a piecrust with when he heard a rapping at the front door. Effie's house wasn't open for business; it was too early in the day. He'd left Delly, whose hands were covered in flour, and went to open the door.

"You answer the door too?" Gale questioned. Katniss' cousin was standing on the porch holding his daughter Lavinia in his arms. His brother Rory was next to him. Peeta hadn't seen either man since the fire at the mining camp.

Immediately Peeta felt a tinge of grief when he saw the baby and remembered his and Katniss' loss. But he threw the thought away and put on a happy face.

"She's gotten so big," he said to Gale. He opened the door wider so Gale and Rory could step inside.

"She's three months already," Gale said proudly. "Is Katniss around? I wanted to ask her something."

Peeta frowned. "Come into the parlor. We can talk there."

A curious look crossed Gale's face, but he and his brother followed Peeta into the well-decorated room. The men sat down and looked expectantly at Peeta. Gale bounced the baby on his knee.

"Katniss was expecting, but she lost the baby," Peeta began.

"Is she all right?" A panicked look crossed Gale's face, and Peeta wondered if Gale was reliving Madge's death.

"Physically, she's fine," Peeta explained. "But, she won't get out of bed. She acts melancholic."

Rory snorted. Gale and Peeta both glared at him.

"What?" Rory asked, frowning back at them. "It's exactly the same thing her mother does."

Gale nodded. "He's right. My aunt is known for taking to her bed when she gets overwhelmed."

"What would make her get up then?" Peeta asked. If there was something he could say, something he could do to revive Katniss, he wanted to do it now. This. Very. Minute.

"I don't know, but eventually my aunt always comes around," Gale said. "But I know you can't do things for her." He looked sharply at Peeta.

"What do you mean?" Peeta asked, puzzled by Gale's comment.

"Don't make it easy for Katniss to lay abed. I assume you're bringing meals to her."

Peeta nodded, sheepishly.

"Don't do it. Give her a reason to get up and get dressed. Make her responsible for something."

Peeta thought about the many tasks of Katniss' that he'd taken on. Maybe he was making it too easy for her to give up.

"I have an idea," Gale said. "It would actually help out both of us. Our camp broke up for the winter. María and Jaime are moving south with their family. Rory and I are heading to Sacramento City to find our parents. I wanted to leave Lavinia with Katniss."

"No," Peeta said quickly. "She couldn't…"

"We'd have to travel much slower if I take Lavinia and I don't know how I'd be able to feed her," Gale explained. "She can't eat beef jerky."

He laughed at his joke, but Peeta's face didn't reflect the humor. A dawning sense of the huge responsibility Gale was asking of them made him pause. This was much more than letting someone's animal stay in your barn.

Lavinia needed to be fed, diapered, bathed, and watched continuously. Her entire existence would be in their hands.

"She can drink cow's milk now," Gale continued. "You have two cows here."

Peeta shook his head, watching the tiny child on Gale's lap kick her legs wildly. "I don't see how we can do it. And anyway, I don't know if Effie would let us keep a baby here."

Gale frowned. "I'll talk to Effie for you. If she agrees, would you consider it? It would only be for a few weeks. Once I locate my parents, I'll come back and get Lavinia and bring her to stay with them."

Peeta nodded hesitantly, hoping that Effie would put a stop to the entire thing. Even if Katniss had been her old self, taking care of Lavinia would be a big chore.

He went in search of his employer to bring her to the parlor to speak with Gale. Effie smiled broadly and took the child off Gale's lap and began rocking her back and forth in her arms, cooing gently to her. As Peeta watched Effie's behavior, he knew that she would side with Gale.

"I agree it's the only sensible solution," she told Gale after hearing his request. "The baby can stay here until you get back. Business is slack during the winter with men leaving the camps. The girls have a lot more free time and can help out."

She turned to Peeta. "It would be a good experience for Delly."

"I thought she was supposed to be learning to cook," Peeta countered.

"She can do both," Effie said. "Someday she may be a wife. She needs to be prepared."

God help the man who marries Delly, Peeta inwardly snickered. He better be rich enough to hire a housekeeper or he was going to be in trouble.

But then he remembered his own problems and he immediately felt ashamed at thinking badly of Delly's future husband.

Gale sent Rory outside to retrieve a satchel containing supplies for the child, a few articles of clothing and some flannel rags that were used as diapers. He handed the bag to Peeta before retrieving the baby from Effie.

"Papa will be back soon Little Nugget," he said, kissing the top of his daughter's head. "You be good for Katniss and Peeta."

"We need to get going," he said gruffly to his brother. He handed the baby to Peeta, who put the satchel's strap over his shoulder.

"Do you want to see Katniss before you go?" Peeta asked, carefully holding the baby in arms.

Gale shook his head. "No, I'll see her in a few weeks when I return. Remember what I told you."

Peeta frowned. Gale's advice might prove helpful, but Peeta was still concerned about taking on the responsibility of Lavinia.

He followed Gale and Rory to the door and waved goodbye before closing the door.

When he entered the house, a burning smell assaulted him. He positioned Lavinia upright, with her head on his shoulder, and hurried to the kitchen to find Delly pulling a blackened pie from the oven.

"A baby," Delly trilled, her eyes widening. "Oh, let me hold her."

"What happened to the pie?"

"I think the oven was too hot," Delly explained.

Peeta looked around the flour-strewn kitchen. "Clean up in here first and then you can play with the baby."

He carried Lavinia to his and Katniss' room. He knocked softly on the door before entering it. Katniss was lying on her side facing away from him, twisting the end of her messy braid around her finger.

He approached her warily, as if she were a wounded animal. Under different circumstances, he would have enjoyed being a temporary parent to Lavinia. Now, however, she only seemed another burden to bear.

When he was standing next to the bed, Lavinia cooed and then giggled loudly. Katniss turned her head sharply. Her eyes widened. "Where did you get.." she started, before licking her lips. "That baby?" she finished.

Peeta sat down on the side of the bed. "Gale dropped off Lavinia for us to mind her for a few weeks."

A pained look crossed Katniss' face. Peeta wondered if she was feeling the same jealously he'd experienced when he'd opened the door to greet Gale. He hoped it wouldn't send her into a deeper level of grief.

A knock on the door interrupted them. It was Effie.

"Peeta, I have a baby's cradle in the attic. You can carry it down and clean it up for Lavinia."

Peeta looked at Katniss. "Can you watch her while I help Effie?"

Katniss shook her head and a fresh flood of tears fell down her cheeks.

"That's alright," he said, softly. "You'll have plenty of time later." He leaned in and kissed her cheek before standing up and carrying Lavinia out of the room.

Delly agreed to watch Lavinia while Peeta cleaned the large wooden baby's bed, applying wax to it and polishing it to a sheen. He wondered why in the world Effie would have a baby cradle stored in her attic. Without voicing his question, Delly answered it when he was finished.

"That was my bed when I was a baby," she volunteered.

"You've been with your aunt ever since you were a baby?" He'd never given thought to how Delly had ended up living with her aunt.

"Yes," Delly said. "My parents died shortly after I was born."

The thought comforted Peeta somewhat because it meant that Effie had firsthand experience with babies. He certainly didn't and he doubted Katniss had much either. She had only been a small child when her sister Prim was born.

He carried the cradle into his and Katniss' room and set it at the foot of their bed. Effie had given him some bedding and he set it in place so the baby would have a soft surface to lie on.

Katniss was asleep. He was glad of it. He had forgotten to ask Gale if Lavinia woke at night, but if she did maybe Katniss could take charge. She'd certainly be rested enough to do so, if she was willing.

Fortunately, Delly was enamored of the child, which enabled Peeta to milk the cows and make dinner for everyone.

Delly sat in the kitchen, feeding the baby, while Peeta cooked. She tried holding a cup to Lavinia's mouth to drink the milk, but was more successful by dipping a clean rag into the milk and letting Lavinia suck it dry. It was a long process, but eventually the cup was empty.

Per Gale's advice, Peeta didn't bring any dinner into the bedroom for Katniss. After cleaning up the kitchen, he retired early to his room, taking Lavinia with him. The child was nearly asleep when he set her in the cradle.

He stripped down to his underclothes and climbed into bed next to Katniss. He was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, waking only when Katniss cried out from her dream.

Author's Note: Although breastfeeding has been the primary feeding method for babies throughout history, evidence suggests that vessels of all shapes and sizes, made from wood, ceramics, cow's horns and even pewter and silver were also used. Rags, small pieces of linen cloth and sponges were often used as a teat or nipple. During the mid-19th century, glass baby bottles were created and first used in France. The first rubber nipples were introduced in 1845.