a/n: My first Everlark update in about six months. But this plot bunny just wouldn't leave me alone. :) This will be a short, four or five-chapter story, including this prologue.
Thanks from the bottom of my heart to Sponsormusings, MalTease, and Salanderjade, without whose unending encouragement and support I wouldn't have had the courage to write this.
I hope you enjoy.
(Trigger warning: Infertility mentioned.)
Katniss Mellark is upstairs in the nursery, dust rag in hand, when the phone by the front door rings.
"I'll get it, Katniss," Peeta calls up from downstairs.
Katniss doesn't spend much time in this room. She only comes in here every once in a great while, and only when she feels it's time to dust the aging furniture again. Given everything, she and Peeta agreed years ago to keep the door to this room closed and locked most of the time.
Peeta comes in here far more often than she does. It's not something they ever discuss but Katniss knows it's true all the same. Sometimes, when she wakes from a nightmare in the middle of the night, she'll look over to Peeta's side of the bed and he'll be gone, the dim light coming from the end of the hallway providing the only clue as to his whereabouts.
Sometimes, all alone in bed in the middle of the night, Katniss will hear him singing quietly from the nursery. Just silly little songs she vaguely remembers from her own childhood, in that terrible singing voice of his that's no less sweet for its tonelessness.
Once she heard Peeta crying from this room. Or at least she thinks he was crying. Whatever he was doing, he was doing it so quietly she wasn't quite certain it was real.
As Katniss dusts the tiny yellow dresser, the crib, the lamp with baby rabbits on its lampshade, Katniss looks up at the mobile Delly gave them eight years ago that still hangs, lifelessly, uselessly, from a hook suspended from the ceiling. "I'm done having children," Delly had told her that afternoon, a smugness in her tone she probably hadn't intended. Delly said she didn't need the mobile anymore – this strange spinning toy with the cartoon sheep and the goats and the chickens that plays sickly sweet music and that had apparently soothed each of Delly's three children to sleep in turn.
"Here," Delly said to Katniss that day, handing the mobile to Katniss across the lunch table in a brown paper bag. "Take it. I know you'll need it someday." She'd squeezed Katniss' hand and gave her a sympathetic smile.
Delly's words - only meant to be encouraging, Katniss knows; only said out of kindness and from compassion - had felt like a knife to Katniss' heart all the same. She'd wanted, very badly, to tell Delly to go fuck herself the day she gave her this toy.
But she didn't. "Thank you," Katniss said instead, forcing herself to smile the way she used to smile for the Capitol's cameras and taking the stupid mobile from Delly, thinking only of how grateful she was that Peeta hadn't been here for this.
Katniss wonders, as she does every time she comes into the nursery to dust, if they should just take the thing down and give it away. If perhaps they shouldn't just give all of these things away – the furniture, the toys, all of it – so that they can finally move past this one, final thing that Snow and the old Capitol took from them.
She and Peeta have no need for any of these things. And they never will. She knows it. Deep down, Peeta knows it too.
Twelve is still the poorest of the districts, even after everything Paylor's new government has done for it. There are many families with babies in Twelve that have not had the financial good fortune that she and Peeta have had. Certainly one of them could make use of these things.
"Yes, I think so," Katniss murmurs under her breath. And this time she means it. Better to do it now, she decides. Right away. Better to get rid of these things now without thinking about it, and without telling Peeta, who'll just talk her out of it again like he always does and who'll make her keep the mobile and everything else just as they are.
Katniss walks to the crib with purpose, biting her bottom lip, refusing to cry. She reaches up over the crib and grabs hold of the tiny smiling woolen sheep, giving it a squeeze as she prepares to take him and his little friends down for good.
Peeta bursts into the nursery a moment later, the force of his entry into the room slamming the door so hard the wall shakes.
"Katniss," he croaks. She lets go of the mobile and spins on her heels to face him. His face is white as a sheet, and his bright blue eyes are utterly desperate. Wild.
Katniss panics. "What is it?" she demands. Is he having an episode? But that can't be it. It's been years.
"That was District Eleven's hospital," he tells her. Peeta leans against one of the brightly painted walls for support and runs shaky hands through his hair.
"Katniss. Oh god, Katniss. She's here."