a/n: This is a revision/continuation of a drabble that I posted on tumblr a while ago. It could probably use a lot more revising, but I'm sick of looking at it! The title and lyrics are from Snow Patrol's "Run." :)
And I can barely look at you.
But every single time I do,
I know we'll make it anywhere,
Away from here.
She wakes with a start, breathing in sharply at the panic that grips her.
But the mirror rattles on the wall, reminding her where she is. The train, and Peeta's heart pounds beneath her ear. She relaxes, only to frown a moment later: his heart shouldn't hammer like that in his sleep, and his grip on her arm is painful, and his body is tensed beside her.
"Peeta," she whispers, shifting onto her elbow to look at him.
His face is pinched, betraying the nightmare that he must be trapped in. She touches his cheek, uncertain how to wake him up; this is a first. She pushes the curls back from his forehead, and she's alarmed at how flushed his skin is.
She gasps when the hand on her wrist clenches painfully, but his body seems to seize against her, and his eyes snap open. "Peeta, Peeta," she breathes immediately, trying to soothe him. His sour, sleepy breath fans against her face when he looks at her. He breathes heavily, and she doesn't know what to do for him.
Impulsively, she kisses him.
His lips are dry, but his eyes shine in the dark when she draws back to look at him, and she needs to comfort him. To reassure him. They are on the train, safe. Together. She presses kisses to the flush in his cheek, to the sweat that beads at his brow, to the tremble in his chapped, worried lips.
He relaxes at last, and his arms come around her back to hold her to him. "I'm okay," he says.
His voice is hoarse, tired, but there's a softness in it, too, and she knows he means to comfort her.
It makes her throat constrict.
The wind from the crack in the window whips an icy breeze into the hot, stuffy room, and the sweat prickles on her back beneath her shirt when she presses closer to him, kisses him on instinct. She doesn't know why she does, or what to do next when his gaze finds hers in the dark.
"What was that for?" he asks.
"I don't know," she says.
His eyes drop to her lips, and she leans in with him, opening her mouth to his kiss. She knits her fingers into his hair, gasps when he touches his lips to her throat, and this isn't like the kisses for the camera. Hunger tightens in her stomach when he presses closer, and it's like her body knows how to do what's a mystery to her mind, responding to his kisses, his touch, his breath on her skin.
It's her idea for him to propose, and she doesn't expect it to upset him as much as it does. But he knows Haymitch is right: Peeta wanted it to be real. But it can't be.
No matter what, the Capital will always own this, their marriage. Them.
But when Peeta pushes into her that night, she knows that he is real. He is with her, and they are in this together. It's a small mercy, and it's what she clings to. She presses her fingers into his arms at the newness, but he kisses her cheek, her mouth, moving carefully, tenderly. This is real.
The relief at the realization that they've done it overwhelms her.
They convince Snow, and it feels for a moment like it did when Katniss used to come up from the water in the lake where her father taught her to swim; it was years ago that she swam with him, but she remembers how it felt to hold her breath under water until her lungs burned, how it felt when her face broke the surface, how it felt when she took a deep, painful breath in.
But her legs are heavy in the water now, and she knows she'll be dragged back down.
This relief is temporary, and anxiety at what is to follow settles heavily in her stomach.
The Quarter Quell is worse than she could've imagined.
To remind Panem that the strongest cannot always protect the weakest, the tributes for the 75th Hunger Games are to be chosen from among the youngest in Panem. It's impossible for a twelve-year-old to survive the Games, but this year one will.
Only twelve-year-olds are eligible to be Reaped this year.
The tributes from District 12 are tiny, starved creatures that look at Katniss with eyes that beg her to save them. She tries as hard as she can to coach them through the training, the interviews. One could win. After all, they'll be faced only with children as young as they are.
But her boy is killed in the bloodbath when the twelve-year-old from District 4 bashes his head in with a rock, and the mean, scrawny boy from District 2 buries an axe in her girl that night.
Their deaths hurt Katniss worse than she could've imagined.
Haymitch meets her gaze with bloodshot eyes. "Don't worry, Sweetheart," he says. "You'll learn."
Not to care, she thinks. Not to hope. Like Haymitch doesn't, like he learned not to.
Her wedding is two months later.
It's in the Capitol, and Katniss is told where to be, what to do, and when.
She is forced into a large, feathery monstrosity, and the doll her up: they have her in heels that are impossible to walk in, put long, fake white eyelashes on her that curl absurdly against her cheek, and the jewelry they give her has edges that rub the skin on her neck raw.
She isn't able to look at Gale, sitting with his family, and she hates that they were forced to come to this, hates the way that rich Capitol women paw fondly at Prim. But Prim laughs happily when Peeta twirls her in a silly, complicated dance, and her eyes shine with delight when Peeta insists that she needs to twirl him, too. Katniss smiles at the way he bends over backwards to try to twirl under her thin, pale arm.
"Peeta!" Prim giggles.
It's while she watches them that Snow comes to stand at her side.
"You make a lovely bride, Mrs. Mellark," he says.
She tries to smile. "Thank you."
His hand cups her elbow, and he leans in until she is able to smell the sickly sweet roses on his breath. "The fire you started has been quenched, my dear," he murmurs. "But do not think that I will no longer have my eye on you. No more time in the woods, Mrs. Mellark. No more afternoons with your cousin." His fingers dig into her arm, and she nods. Her gaze lands on Peeta, whose worry is clear when he catches her eye. "One last thing, and this is the most important." He pauses, and she is forced to look at him. "I want a baby from you."
The words ram into her like a fist to her stomach, and she chokes.
"But —"She looks away from him, and she swallows back her protests. She can't protest.
"In less than a year, Mrs. Mellark," Snow says. He chuckles abruptly, nodding at a woman who passes them, and Katniss plasters a smile on her face while Snow speaks lightly, carelessly. "I expect there to be a child in your belly on Reaping Day next year," he says. "After all, you are young. I'm certain that conception won't be difficult, and now you are married." His hand slides from her elbow to her back. "Reaping Day next year, or the odds will most certainly not be in your favor. Do I make myself clear?"
Slowly, she nods. "Yes."
"Excellent." He drops his hand from back, only to take her hand in his, pressing his wet, papery lips to her fingers. "I'm glad we understand one another." He smiles. "Have a good night, Mrs. Mellark."
"What did he want?" Peeta asks, but she doesn't want to talk about it, and she mumbles that it was nothing. Snow wanted to threaten her, to remind her to be careful. Peeta takes her hand, squeezing, and the reception wraps up an hour later.
Snow arranges for them to be taken to in a large, ornate suite.
It ought to be awkward, but it isn't. Not at first.
They are exhausted, stressed, and Peeta flops onto the bed with a groan. Katniss is focused on stripping off her dress, on freeing her feet from the heels. She isn't able to take the fake white eyelashes off herself, and Peeta has to do it for her; he winces in sympathy when the stupid plastic things tug at her eyelids as he peels them off. He helps her take the pins from her hair, too.
But when quiet settles at last, the tension creeps up on them.
They sprawl across the bed tiredly, but everything that hasn't been said lingers between them, and makes a wet, dark slickness pool in her stomach at the idea that there could be cameras in the ceiling, that they could be under surveillance at that moment.
Peeta turns to face her, tucking his hand under his cheek. "I know it doesn't make things better, and I know you know this, but—but I need to say that I love you." He swallows thickly, and his gaze is apologetic. Like this is his fault, and it's his love for her that's to blame for their situation.
But he has to know it isn't like that. He has to know that he is what makes their situation bearable.
"I'm glad that it's you," she says. "That I'm in this with you."
He reaches for her hand, lacing their fingers, and his small, shy smile pulls a smaller, shyer smile from her. They stay like that, lying on the sheets rather than under them, and it isn't long before their exhaustion puts them to sleep with the lights on, and their fingers knotted between them.
She moves into Peeta's house in Victor's Village, and she tries to find ways to pass the days.
Honestly, she doesn't really know what to do with herself. She doesn't have school, isn't allowed to hunt, never bothered to have a hobby in the past. Peeta isn't at a loss, though. He bakes, and he draws, and he convinces Katniss to sprawl across the grass in the backyard with him to look at the stars.
She decides to learn how to cook.
But she ruins everything that she buys from the butcher, and her plan to learn how to cook doesn't last a week. Peeta becomes the cook, and Katniss is allowed to peel the potatoes for him, or to husk the corn. Or to dip her finger into the thick, sugary batter for a taste before Peeta shapes it into cookies, which he claims is a difficult, invaluable task.
She takes her bow in hand every once in a while, aims an arrow at a tree in the yard.
Just to remember how it feels.
Prim keeps Katniss company a lot, and Madge. Posy, too.
Rory starts to drop her off with Katniss before he walks with Prim into town to meet with their friends, and Katniss plays with her for hours. They make crowns from flowers while they sing rhymes that Posy likes. "To market, to market, to buy a fat pig, home again, home again, jiggety-jig; to market, to market, to buy a fat hog, home again, home again, jiggety-jog!" It makes Posy giggle until she is breathless, and Katniss stuffs her with food, too: with chocolates from town, with cookies that Peeta bakes, with warm cheese buns that make Posy's chubby little cheeks shine from the grease.
She never sees Gale. She tries not to think about him. She has Prim, Madge, Posy. Peeta.
"I thought that one was the teaspoon," Katniss says, pointing at the stars.
"That's the tablespoon," Peeta says. He likes to pretend that he sees shapes in the stars.
She indulges him.
"Oh. Right." She sighs, shifting to press her cheek to his heart, and a breeze skates over them. Summer's at it's hottest, but the heat will break soon, and winter will come. Prim might be Reaped for the second time. If not Prim, Rory. Or Vick. It'll be his first year. There's Madge, too.
Katniss knows what she needs to do to protect them.
Her mother gave her a recipe after the wedding. "It'll prevent a pregnancy," she explained. "Drink it — after." She touched Katniss on the hand, and Katniss took the recipe without a word.
But she can't use it.
She was with Peeta that way a dozen times on the train, and they were together in the weeks after, too, but she hasn't been able to bring herself to be with him since Snow told her what he expected. She misses the intimacy, though. She misses the kisses that made her warm, needy, breathless, misses the warm, shaky pleasure that thrummed in her at his touch, at his hands on her thighs, at his mouth on her breasts. She misses how full she felt when he was inside her, how nice she felt when she'd curl into his side after.
Three weeks after the wedding, she tries to do it.
She kisses him, and the crickets are a chorus through the open window when he responds, rolling her under him in the dark. His breath is hot against her throat as he trails kisses down her neck, and she arches into his touch. It isn't until their clothes have been discarded that she starts to panic, and she pulls back from him.
"I can't," she breathes. "I — I can't. I can't do it."
He rolls away from her.
It's a few minutes before he says into the dark that they don't have to do things she doesn't want to do. "I know we're married, but don't think that means you have to —" His voice is sad, but there is a determination to it, and she realizes he thinks that she kissed him because she felt like she had to, that she feels obligated to have sex with him but doesn't want to.
"Snow wants a baby," she says, abrupt. She forces herself to go on, explaining what Snow threatened. It's quiet, and she makes herself look at him. "I never wanted to have kids, Peeta."
He nods. Gently, he pushes the hair back from her forehead, and her throat constricts. "I thought he might try to make us have one eventually," he admits. "I didn't think it'd be this soon, though."
Her eyes burn, but she won't cry.
Instead, she does the only thing she can think to do: she sinks into his arms, lying in the quiet with him while he toys absently with her hair, and hours pass before she drifts off at last.
Thick, fluffy snow blankets District 12 when they have sex at last, knowing they have to.
Katniss stares at the ceiling after Peeta is finished. She isn't able to look at him.
But he presses a kiss to her shoulder, and his lips trail to her breasts, making her gasp when he takes a nipple in his mouth; he trails kisses across her stomach, and she curls her fingers into his hair when he puts his mouth on her. His thumb finds her clit, rubbing it the way that he's learned she likes, and her back arches off the bed when he replaces his thumb with his tongue.
She isn't able to think in that moment, forgets how to.
She blinks dazedly when he crawls back up, tastes herself on his tongue when he kisses her.
"I love you," he breathes, and she clings to him.
They have to take the train into the Capitol at least once a month. Peeta is asked to be a judge on a cooking show for an episode, or Katniss is expected to accompany Cinna to cut the ribbon at a new dress shop in the Capitol, or they are invited onto Caesar's TV show to talk about Peeta's art.
The events are always posed like something they might like to do, might choose to do.
It's when she's in the Capitol that Katniss uses Cinna to inform Snow that she did it.
Snow was right. She is young, and it wasn't difficult to conceive.
She's in Cinna's studio, showing him the designs for dresses that Peeta drew for her talent, and she says that she doesn't think she can stomach the lunch he offers her. She's been sick a lot.
"I think I'm pregnant," she says.
Cinna stares at her, and she fidgets with a spool. She looks at him when he places a hand on her shoulder, squeezing. His eyes are soft, sympathetic, and he hugs her tightly before she leaves. She forces a smile for him. But she cries into Peeta's neck that night on the train back to District Twelve.
She doesn't know the children from Twelve who are Reaped two months later. Both are killed within minutes.
Her nightmares have been terrible in the past, but it's nothing to what they become while she is pregnant. She doesn't sleep for more than a few hours at a time before Peeta wakes her from nightmares, and her throat is raw from the screams that woke him.
But the pregnancy isn't a nightmare that she can wake from.
It isn't something she can hide from, and her body swells with the child. Her heart jumps the first time she feels it move. She's paralyzed at the flutter in her stomach, gripping the bannister on the stairs with sudden, wrenching terror. She tries to calm down, coaching herself to breathe in, to breathe out, but she can't.
She sinks to her knees on the stairs, trembling, and that's how Peeta finds her.
Peeta's the reason she manages to hold out as well as she does, but she isn't able to be honest with him, to confess how the baby feels like a stranger in her, how she worries that she'll hate it.
The exhaustion slows her limbs, and the sickness makes it worse, and she doesn't leave the house on most days.
Effie arrives in District Twelve for the Victory Tour, tutting at how sickly Katniss looks.
Her gaze rakes over Katniss's unkempt hair, pale face, the circles beneath her eyes, how bony she remains despite how large her belly is. She stands beside the tub while Katniss showers, insisting repeatedly that Katniss wash her hair at least twice, please! She cakes Katniss's face in powder, plucks her eyebrows, and forces her into green heels that match the silky green dress from Cinna.
The party that District Twelve holds for the victor from District Four is small, but it is as miserable nonetheless, and she ducks from conversation to conversation, munching on pretty little cakes that Peeta made that morning for the occasion.
She manages at last to excuse herself to a chair against the wall, but her reprieve is short.
"There's sugar on your lip," Finnick says, brushing his thumb across her mouth. She jerks away from his hand, and he chuckles. "It's nice to see you, too." His gaze sweeps over her. "Congratulations."
He moves to sit with her. "He could demand a lot worse things from you," he says.
She frowns. "What?"
"Our illustrious leader," Finnick says. "If this is what he asks from you, you don't have it nearly as hard as I suspect you think you do." He steals a lemon square off her plate, eating it in one bite, and he smiles at her. "After all, he could make you be like me."
She doesn't know what he means, but his gaze makes her uncomfortable.
It's once she's in bed that night that it occurs to her what he might've implied. She assumed that Finnick enjoyed his life in the Capitol, that he loved how people fawned over him, loved the ridiculous clothing he wore, the ridiculous TV shows they featured him on, the fame, the wealth.
But he might not.
She presses a kiss to the cotton that covers Peeta's chest, and the baby moves in her like it agrees.
Prim asks her what she wants to name the baby, but Katniss hadn't really thought about a name, or a gender, or the fact that there is a real, living baby in her belly. She shrugs. "What do you think?" she asks. "Actually, why don't you pick a name?" Prim's eyes widen, and Katniss laughs.
"Do you mean it?" Prim asks. "Can I pick the name? Katniss!" she squeals, delighted.
Two days later, she comes back to Katniss with two possible names. In the days that follow, Katniss learns that Prim consulted everybody in her search for a name: their mother had a say, Madge, too, Delly Cartwright, Rory, Mrs. Hawthorne, the girls at school with Prim.
In a way, Katniss likes that. It's like District Twelve picked the name.
When they are guests on his show, Caesar offers to help them pick a name. "How about Caesar?" he asks, laughing, and Peeta chuckles with Caesar before he explains that, in fact, they already have a name for a girl as well as for a boy picked out. Caesar presses his hand to his heart when Peeta says that Prim picked them.
Katniss relishes in it. The Capitol isn't allowed to choose what this baby will be called.
He's born that spring: this tiny, screaming thing with black hair plastered to his head.
Labor takes days, but her mother delivers the baby at last. Katniss slumps against Peeta, who presses a shaky, tearful kisses to her temple, and her mother puts the baby in her arms. Her baby. Her son, and the possessiveness rises in her suddenly. Her baby, with his plain, solid name. His good, traditional, District Twelve name. Ash Mellark.
His tiny, tiny fingers clutch suddenly at Peeta's thumb, and she is madly in love with her son.
The cameras crowd the house before Ash is a week old, driving Katniss to hide with him in the closet. She nurses him in the small, cramped space, whispering a song into his downy black head.
But Peeta finds her, and he coaxes her back to the kitchen. The sooner they talk to the thin, purple-skinned interviewer, the sooner she'll leave, and she'll take the cameras with her.
Katniss allows Octavia to fix her hair, her face, her nails, but she draws the line when the woman wants to touch up Ash, who she says is "cute as a button, of course, but we really need to bring out the pretty blue in his eyes, and a little —" She backs off at the glare that Katniss levels at her.
The interview drags on for hours, but Peeta settles his hand on Katniss's knee, and they manage.
They leave Ash with her mother when they go to the Capitol for the Games.
She thinks they might have a chance to save the boy who's Reaped that year. He towers over her, is seventeen, and wears his anger on his pinched, mean face. There are sponsors in the Capitol who love tributes like that; he's an easier sell than the scrappy, scared tributes they usually have.
He is stabbed in the chest in the bloodbath. She hates that she hoped.
She returns to District Twelve, and Ash blinks sleepily at her when she takes him from his cot.
Snow will put him in the Games, and he'll be killed. She knows it.
It won't matter how old he is, or how strong. Snow will arrange for the Games to kill him.
She isn't able to sleep, and she drinks the wine that's in the kitchen; she thinks it must've been a gift. It's strong, but it isn't as bad as the liquor that Haymitch drinks. She drinks the whole bottle.
But things are calm in the days that follows, and their life grows quiet. They aren't asked to visit the Capitol for months at a time, allowing them to settle into life in Twelve.
Katniss plants a garden in the backyard with Ash, and she tries to read the novels that Madge gives her, but they are as dreadful as she thought they would be. Madge laughs when Katniss admits that she despised what little she managed to read in one. She paints the kitchen with Peeta.
It's how she divides her day. Time with Madge, with Prim.
Time with Peeta.
She learns his body in those quiet, humid summer months in a way that she never really did in the days on the train, or in the months before Ash was born. He learns her, too. Learns what she likes, learns how to make her gasp, breathless, needy, desperate for more, for him, for everything.
He backs her up slowly while she deepens the kiss, and the breath leaves her in a rush when he hoists her up suddenly, hauling her onto the counter. His mouth trails along her neck, and his hands push her skirt up to bunch at her waist. She slides her hands down his back, grasping his belt to bring his hips flush to hers. He groans into her skin, and she fumbles to unclasp his belt.
He tugs at her shirt until one breast is bared, and she surges into him when he pinches her nipple.
In the next moment, her underwear is torn down, and he thrusts into her with one stroke.
She takes his face in her hands to tilt him up for a kiss, only to break the kiss when her elbow knocks a basket off the counter, spilling muffins on the floor. He laughs, and she pushes her fingers into his hair while his fingers dig into her thighs, angling her hips to allow him to hit that one spot that makes her toes curl. She breathes his name, knotting her hands in his hair as he pounds into her.
He starts to talk, murmuring that he loves how tight she is for him, how good it feels to fuck her.
She loses her rhythm at his words, but he knows what it does to her when he talks, knows how his words always push her over; he starts to thrust wildly into her when she clenches around him.
Afterward, she hugs his hips with her knees.
She pushes the hair back from his face, smiling, and he presses a soft, sweet kiss into her palm.
Over his shoulder, she spots Ash in a swing at the table.
He blinks innocently at her, and laughter tugs at her mouth.
He isn't fussy, or loud; noise doesn't seem to bother him, including apparently the noise his parents make when they have sex. His gummy pink smile comes easily, and Katniss adores that about him: the Peeta in him. Katniss smiles at him, and he smiles back.
"Prim was like that," her mother says at dinner that night. "Happy." She pauses, glancing at Katniss, and her lips twitch. "Not you."
She isn't able to taper her smile, and Peeta doesn't try to. Katniss glares at them both.
Prim isn't at dinner; she is with the Hawthornes. It turns out it was a big night for her: Rory kisses her that night, and the story bursts from Prim as soon as she sees Katniss in the morning. She describes it in detail, interrupting herself repeatedly to squeal in delight.
She is happy, and Katniss is, too. It's strange, but it's the truth.
For a short, lovely while, she is able to imagine that her life is one that she chose for herself.
Peeta isn't a mentor for the 78th Games. After all, they need one male Victor to mentor, which means that Katniss can drag Haymitch to the Capitol while she leaves Ash safely in Peeta's care.
She should've known how awful it would be to face the Capitol without him.
She wants to call him, but she can't; the phones are tapped, and they'd listen in.
The Games this year drag on for weeks, taking place in dark passages that twist into small, secret chambers in a cavern under the ground. It's filled with black, putrid sludge; stalactites drop suddenly to impale the tributes, and the worst is the giant, mutated rats that gnaw on a girl's face while her shrieks echo in the cave.
But it's when Katniss without Peeta that she gets to know the other Victors in the Capitol.
She meets Woof from District Eight, who talks about how he likes to work with wood, whittling a whistle for Ash, and he laughs in the rich, booming way that her father used to. Seeder from District Eleven tells Katniss about Thresh's family, and Rue's. How they are safe, unhurt. Unpunished.
She talks to Wiress from District Three after the woman is kind to her.
It's two weeks into the Games, and Katniss watches the boy from District One rape the thin, fourteen-year-old girl from District Twelve, who'd survived longer than anybody thought she would.
He kills her after he is finished with her, and Katniss stumbles away from the screens, vomiting in the corridor, trembling. But Wiress wraps her arms tightly around Katniss, murmuring nonsensical things to her, and cradles Katniss against her chest until the shaking stops at last.
"My poor dear," Wiress soothes. "There, there. My dear, oh. Oh, I know. Let it out."
Three days later, Katniss learns what's done to Finnick.
He explains it to her while they drink sweet red wine from District Four.
Johanna tells Katniss her story, too, with sharp, angry words. It's when Johanna's lips are stained purple from the wine that Katniss sees clearly in her eyes how much she wishes she could've saved her family, how much she wishes she could take back that one refusal when she was a girl.
Katniss is asked to tea with Snow the night that the Games are finished at long, long last.
He says that he thinks Panem would love to see her son with a sibling.
"One year, Mrs. Mellark," he says, and she nods.
She doesn't have a choice, and she isn't going to make Johanna's mistake. She'll do as she's told.
"We have to leave Ash with Prim next year," she says. "I can't be in the Capitol without you."
Peeta nods. "From now on, we go together," he says, his fingers in her hair.
She closes her eyes, listening to his heart thump steadily beneath her ear, and he smells like dill, like cinnamon, and there's mint, too, which means earlier he must've made those chocolate mint cookies that Posy likes. Already, she knows she'll sleep better tonight than she has in nine weeks.
There's a lot she needs to tell him, including the demand from Snow. Tomorrow. She'll tell him tomorrow.
Her pregnancy isn't as bad this time. She isn't as sick, or as scared. But the idea that she's forced to have her children for Snow weighs on her. It isn't supposed to be like this; her children aren't supposed to be a sick, twisted way to control her, but they are. She wouldn't have had them on her own terms, wouldn't have chosen them, wouldn't have risked them.
But what she would've chosen is irrelevant.
She didn't have a choice, and she was forced to have a baby, and he tore her heart from her chest with a tiny, tiny fist. She loves him dearly, impossibly, isn't able to fathom world in which he wasn't born. She loves him, and it'll be the same with the next one. But she didn't choose either.
She knows that it hurts Peeta. This is what he wanted, but it isn't how he wanted it.
They never talk about that, though; it's easier not to.
She reminds herself that it isn't Snow's baby. It's Peeta's.
But the Capitol is ready to take it from them.
Katniss is in an interview with Caesar while five months along, and he asks what this one will be named. Peeta isn't with her, can't come up with a lie on the spot, and Katniss panics. She isn't about to tell the truth, not when it might mean that the Capitol'll have people vote on her child's name like it's a contest. She won't let them have that.
"We asked Haymitch to pick," she says, trying not to look like a panicked, flustered liar.
"How sweet," Caesar says, patting her hand.
She knows that she doesn't really have to ask Haymitch to pick the name, but she does.
Peeta thinks that Haymitch would like to; they're the closest that the man has to family, and he is family to them.
He's in a stupor when Katniss finds him, slumped in a chair on the porch while geese cluck about stupidly in his yard, and she takes the bottle from his hand to splash what's left in it on his face.
He yelps, and one bloodshot eye glares at her. "Something the matter, Sweetheart?" he growls.
"I told Caesar that you were going to pick this one's name," she says. He grumbles that he doesn't care what she told Caesar, and he wasn't aware that she cared what she told Caesar. "I talked to Peeta," she continues, "and he likes the idea. Pick a name. Or two. One for a boy, one for a girl."
He sighs. "Fine. Daisy." He looks pleased with himself. "Or Wheat. Those fit, right?"
She glares at him. "I should've known you wouldn't give a shit," she snaps, and he chuckles.
But Prim mentions at dinner on Sunday that she thinks Larkspur is a pretty name for a girl. She says she hasn't been able to settle on another good name for a boy, though. Haymitch is at the table with them. "My brother was named Davey," he says. He cuts into the chicken on his plate. "My old man, too, and his old man. It was a family name. Got one like that?" He looks at Peeta.
"Actually, I don't think there is a name that runs in my family," Peeta says.
Prim says there isn't a good, old Everdeen name either, or at least she doesn't think there is, and she starts to talk about their father's mother, Tawny, who died a few years before Prim was born.
But the name sits with Katniss that night.
Peeta has it on his mind, too, and he brings it up. He likes it. "What do you think?" he asks. It's an older name, one that existed in a time before Snow, before the Capitol. Before the Games.
Davey Mellark is born a month after the 79the Games, smaller than his brother was, with fine, colorless hair on his head; six months after the Games, Katniss knows that he takes after his father with his soft yellow curls. Haymitch eyes the baby with one bloodshot eye, and he smiles.
Once in a while, she shoots arrows at the trees in the yard, and she tries not to miss the woods as desperately as she does. For a while, the woods were everything to her. The woods, and Prim. She hasn't lost Prim, and now she has things that she could've have dreamed she'd have in the past: food, her boys, Peeta.
He is focused on his sketches, but she nudges his shoulder with her foot.
He runs his hand up her leg absently in reply.
She sighs. "Peeta," she whines, tapping his arm, and he glances at her at last. Immediately, his lips quirk up in amusement. He smirks, pressing a kiss the arch of her foot. She wrinkles her nose, but he places a kiss on her ankle, starting to trail kisses up her calf, and he slides his hands up her thighs.
Suddenly, his fingers circle her knees, and she yelps when he drags her down the bed.
Her shirt rides up, and he presses a wet, sloppy kiss to her stomach. She squeals, pushing at his head, but he nips her skin playfully in reprimand; his head is beneath her shirt now, and she laughs breathlessly while he kisses a line between her breasts. She tugs at her shirt, managing to yank it up over his head. She tosses it aside, and he grins impishly at her, surging up to kiss her.
"I missed you," he says, sliding his hands down her back.
They haven't been together since Davey was born, and she fumbles breathlessly to pull his shirt off, to push his pants down his hips. His fingers strum teasingly at her sides; he kisses his way back to her breasts. She hisses at his touch, tugging at his hair to remind him how sore they are.
He moves to kiss her, and she hooks her ankle behind his leg to flip them.
She brushes her lips against his cheek, leaning in as though to kiss him only to pull back teasingly when he tries kiss her, and he grins at her, squeezing her hips. She grins back at him.
Gale asks Leevy to marry him in March, and the toasting is in April.
It makes her chest tight, looking at Gale. He's a stranger to her.
But it's impossible to take her eyes off him, his hair slicked back neatly for the toasting, his shirt pressed, his smile playful when he raises the bread to Leevy's lips. Katniss hasn't spoken to him in years. He didn't want to be her friend after her wedding in the Capitol, and he didn't look back.
"Do you miss him?" Madge asks, pruning a brown, slumped bud
"I used to," Katniss says. She wipes the sweat from her brow. Summer is miserable this year, and she doesn't know why she bothers to weed her dry, dying garden. She looks at Madge, who sits cross-legged with Davey in her lap. "I used to miss him a lot. But things changed. He's changed."
It's quiet, and Ash runs across the yard to Katniss, thrusting daisies proudly at her. She gives a happy, dramatic gasp. "Thank you, Little Goose!" He beams at her, stumbling off to find more to pick for her.
"When we were kids, I thought I loved him," Madge says. "Gale." Katniss tries to hide her surprise, but Madge smiles knowingly at her. "It wasn't completely unfounded — we'd kissed. But it was years ago, and, well, I think I always knew that he'd never really want to marry a merchant girl."
"Probably not," Katniss agrees. She remembers the way Gale used to talk about Madge.
"I guess it might've in another life. It's strange to think about, isn't it?"
"How things could've been different," Madge says. Her hair has started to curl in damp, frizzy loops, and she brushes it back. "If it weren't for the Games, do you think you'd have married Gale?"
Katniss blinks, startled. She doesn't see a point in dwelling on what might've happened.
But it's something that she was forced to consider years ago, and she knows that it's what Gale thinks, and it's what Peeta thinks. If it weren't for the Games, they assume Katniss would've settled down with Gale eventually. But she wouldn't have. "I never wanted to marry," she says. "If I hadn't been forced to, I wouldn't have. Besides, I never really thought about Gale like that."
"But you might've started to," Madge says, and Katniss doesn't bother to argue the point. "What about Peeta?"
"What about him?" Katniss asks.
"Who do you think he'd have married? I would've said Delly when were kids, but —"
"Delly is like a sister to him."
"Right. I guess he would've ended up with some nice, pretty girl like Flora Margrey, or Poppy Greenan. He used to be friends with them, right?" She shrugs. "I know Flora always liked him."
Katniss doesn't remember Poppy, but she remembers Flora, remembers how the girl liked to giggle with her friends in class, how she always wore dresses that strained against her breasts. "Those girls would've made him miserable," Katniss says, frowning. Peeta wouldn't have wanted to marry a silly, vain girl like Flora.
Madge shrugs. "Guess we'll never know," she says, her lips turned up in a small, amused smile.
Later that night, Katniss asks Peeta about Flora. "Do you remember her?" She tries to be casual.
"Sure," he says. "She was friends with Delly. Why?" He smiles at her.
"Madge talked about her today, and it made me curious. It's nothing." She shrugs to emphasize that it's nothing, and takes Davey from his swing to put him to bed while Peeta washes the dishes. Ash follows her up the stairs, chattering about a cool shiny rock that he found in the yard.
Peeta isn't finished with the dishes when Katniss returns to the kitchen. She doesn't care.
She grabs his arm, turning him away from the sink to face her.
He opens his mouth, and she sinks to her knees.
The warm soapy water on his hands drips to the floor while she unbuckles his belt, and he says her name with a laugh when she tugs his trousers down his hips. She glances at him. "Shush, or I won't put your cock in my mouth."
He presses his lips together pointedly, and she nods approvingly at him before takes his cock into her hand, leaning into swirl her tongue around the tip, and he grows hard quickly under her tongue. She takes him into her mouth, and he curses under his breath, swaying a little where he stands. They figured out how to do this years ago, and he thrusts his hips slightly, fucking her mouth. "Fuck." His hand sinks into her hair. "I love your mouth," he says. "Fuck. Suck it." She does, and he groans, and it isn't long before she wipes her mouth, rising to her feet.
She pulls his pants up for him.
"Just had a hankering?" he asks, amused. His cheeks are flushed.
She kisses him quickly. "Don't forget to wipe off Davey's swing," she says, patting his shoulder.
It's Prim's last year to be Reaped that year, and Katniss isn't able to breathe when Effie takes a slip from the bowl. For a moment, she's positive that it'll be Prim, that Snow always meant to have her sister Reaped a second time, to punish Katniss no matter what she did to appease him.
But it isn't Prim. Her eyes find her sister in the crowd.
She doesn't look at the girl who is Reaped, a thin, trembling fifteen-year-old from the Seam.
Her trips to the Capitol are the same these days. She is interviewed repeatedly on TV about ways to spice up a marriage, and Caesar laughs when she flushes, but he asks about her kids a lot, too, and she hates that she is supposed to share them with the world. That's what she's good for at this point, why she's dragged continually to the Capitol: to share her family with them.
Cinna dolls her up in sweet, modest dresses, pinning flowers in her hair, curled in ringlets.
She mentions it to Finnick.
He grins back at her. "You're supposed to look like a pretty little girl. Harmless. Forgettable," he says. She stares blankly at him, and his grin fades a little. "Haven't you figured it out yet? He wants you to be a boring wife, a boring mother. He wants the Capitol to be bored. To forget you."
"That's a good thing, isn't it?" she asks.
He shrugs, smiling sadly at her. "Depends on what he decides to do with you once they forget."
Once in a while, it's too much for her. There are days when she doesn't leave the bed, staring at the shadows that grow slowly, silently on the wall. It's worse in the weeks after the Games.
Their deaths are like hooks in her skin: a constant dull, throbbing pain that drags her down.
Mostly, she is able to live her life. But she remembers the tributes that thought she would save them, remembers the ones that knew she couldn't, and it's too much. She remembers Rue, remembers Thresh. She remembers the sixteen-year-old boy from the Seam, how he was determined to win the 81st Games, how he had two younger sisters, how his head was lobbed off.
She wakes with a thick, sour taste on her tongue, the sheets twisted around her legs. It's dark, but voices trickle from the small yellow gap at the door, and Katniss wipes the sleep from her eyes.
Her hair is a sweaty, tangled nest, and her reflection is waxy in the small, round mirror.
But she combs her fingers in her hair, fixing her braid, splashes water onto her face, and tugs on a sweater. As soon as she steps into the hallway, Peeta calls her name from the bathroom down the hall. "I lost Davey!" he says, turning in a circle. "Davey! Where did you go? Davey!" He raises his shoulder helplessly at Katniss, who bites back a smile. "He disappeared!" he exclaims.
On the mat beside the tub is a towel with a sizable, giggling lump under it.
"Have you looked in the cabinet yet?" Katniss asks.
Peeta runs to the cabinets, calling for Davey. The towel slumps over, laughing, and a foot peeks out. "He isn't in the cabinet!" Peeta says. "Let's think. Oh! I know! He might've turned invisible!"
Katniss gasps, and Peeta grasps at nothing in the air. "He might be in the corner," she suggests.
Peeta pats his hands along the wall, waving them around the room until at last Davey throws off his towel. "Here I am!" he cries, grinning. "I was under the — the towel the whole time, Papa!"
"The towel!" Peeta exclaims, clapping his hand to his forehead. "I should've known!"
Davey laughs, and he runs to Katniss, who squats to his height. "Mama, I was under the towel, and Papa was looking for me for forever, but I was in the towel the whole time!" He wraps his damp, naked arms around her neck, and she scoops him up. "He would've never, ever found me!"
"Papa's silly," Katniss says, carding her fingers in his curls.
Davey nods. "Yeah. I'm a — I'm a really good hider, too."
"You are," she agrees. She glances at Peeta, who grins back at her.
"Mama, look." Davey pushes his fingers into her face. "Look how pruney my fingers are! Look!"
She's in the Capitol for the 82nd Games when Snow gives her one year to have another child.
He says that he thinks Panem would love to see the Mellarks with a daughter.
She grits her teeth, reminding herself how little he's been in her life lately. How good she has it, and she'll do what it takes to keep her family safe. He hasn't touched somebody she loves yet, and she won't give him a reason to. But she's sick to her stomach that it will always be like this.
He'll always control her, always use her.
She learns from Chaff that there was a revolt in District Eleven.
It wasn't a large, calculated move. But there was a Mockingjay drawn in the loose, red dirt that covers the town, and chaos followed. Seventeen people were shot, and District Eleven is under curfew until the Peacekeepers are certain that those responsible for the drawing are punished.
She wants to go back to Snow, to ask him whether that's what this baby is about. She doesn't.
But she hopes the baby is a boy. It's the best she can do, the only way she can deny him.
"Have you decided who you'll ask for a name?" Peeta asks.
"You," she says. "You pick it."
She should've known he'd choose a flower for a girl, and it is a girl. Pennycress Mellark.
The boys crowd the bed to look at her. "She's pink," Ash says.
"She's wrinkly," Davey says, touching her foot. She is a pink, wrinkly thing, but Katniss brushes her fingers over the dark, downy tuft on her squishy pink head, and her chest is tight at the knowledge that she couldn't stand for something to happen to this little girl, to her boys, to Peeta.
She wouldn't survive the loss, wouldn't survive a day without the pink, wrinkly thing in her arms.
But it's going to happen, isn't it?
Eventually, at least one is going to be Reaped.
That's at best. If she's lucky, it'll be one. One dead, and his siblings allowed to live, to mourn him. Or her. But Pennycress sucks on Davey's finger, and Ash tells Peeta that he wanted the baby to be a dog, and Katniss knows that it doesn't matter how lucky she is: she'll die with the child that Snow takes.
The cameras are at the door within a month, and they invade the house for six days.
It's a strain for Katniss to keep a pleased, pleasant face on. The ladies with the cameras want to watch her in the garden, in the kitchen; they want to watch her while she works on a puzzle with Madge, want to watch her while she nurses Pennycress, and Katniss puts her foot down at that.
But it's worse for the boys.
She isn't allowed to hide them away from the cameras.
Ash likes to talk, which means at first he is pleased to have an audience that hangs on every word he says. But he grows uncomfortable at the questions they ask, tugging nervously on his shirt when they want to know who his favorite tribute in the Games was. "He liked Tabby," Katniss says, stepping into the frame. "The girl from District 12." She smiles. "He wanted Tabby to win."
"Yeah." He nods slowly, uncertain. "She was pretty." He smiles. "Like Mama."
Davey isn't like his brother. He takes after Katniss, and he doesn't know what to do with the cameras. He twists his fingers in his hair at the questions, looking to Katniss for an answer, pressing his face into Peeta's hip when the women coo in delight at what a shy, sweet boy he is.
But the four loud, ridiculous woman leave with their cameras at last.
Davey tugs on Katniss's blouse. "I don't like to be on camera, Mama."
"Me, neither," she says, running a hand over his head.
But the boys are rowdy at dinner that night, are loud, are laughing, are her sweet, sweet boys, and the knot in her stomach unravels. The cameras are gone for now, and that's how Katniss has learned to live. In what's for now. Peeta makes the broccoli on Davey's plate sing to the ham in an effort to convince Davey to eat the vegetable, and Katniss smiles. That'll never be on camera.
They aren't at the house as often as Katniss's sister, or her mother. But around the time that Ash is born, Peeta's father starts come to dinner, and it becomes a regular thing; once or twice a month he'll come, and he'll bring Peeta's brothers with him. Both are married, although neither have children.
It's strange at first, having dinner with them. But Katniss knows how much it means to Peeta.
Bannock is quiet, and he is always a little awkward at dinner. But he teaches the boys a dozen different games to play with cards, and his quiet, awkward wife likes to dote on them. Peeta mentions to Katniss that he wonders why they haven't had a baby yet, but she knows he'd never ask Bannock.
Rye jokes a lot, loves to talk, to have the attention on him, and he's the one that the bakery will go to. He likes to bake, or he says he does, but Katniss doubts he's as good a baker as Peeta is. That's how it seems to be with Rye. He's a lesser Peeta, not quite as funny, or as nice. Not quite as good.
She likes Mr. Mellark the most, but it's hard to forget the way he allowed his wife to treat Peeta.
It isn't something she's talked about with Peeta, but Katniss has always held Mr. Mellark slightly responsible for how his wife abused Peeta, and she doesn't have it in herself to forgive him for it.
Mrs. Mellark never comes for dinner. Or she doesn't for years.
But Katniss opens the door one night, and Mrs. Mellark is beside her husband. Katniss doesn't know what to think, doesn't understand why the woman would suddenly, randomly decide to come to dinner after she'd ignored Peeta for years. But she's there, and she's got her eyes on the small, wriggling baby in Peeta's arms. "Let her grandmother hold her," she says, reaching for her.
Peeta glances at Katniss, but he allows his mother to take Penny.
"Look at you," Mrs. Mellark says, turning away from them. "Look at my pretty little girl."
This is why she came to dinner, and it's their most awkward dinner yet. But they get through it.
"Figures she wouldn't be able to resist a granddaughter," Rye says before he leaves, shrugging.
Once the boys have been put to bed, Katniss says it. "I know she's your mother, but —"
"I know," Peeta says. "I hate her, too. More than I should." He presses a kiss to her shoulder. "She's my mother," he says at last, "but she isn't my family." She looks at him, and she smiles softly when he meets her gaze. He's right. She kisses him softly, nosing his cheek, and he sighs into her neck.
Rory asks Prim to marry him, and Katniss listens to her sister gush for days about the proposal, Rory, the toasting, the house they'll live in, the children they'll have, the future, Rory, Rory, Rory. Katniss is happy for her; it's impossible not to be when her sister is ready to burst with joy.
But a girl from town is Reaped that year. She is dead an hour into the Games.
Katniss has nightmares for a month about the knife in her throat, and her pretty yellow hair, and the look on her face. The nightmares haunt her in the day, too, forcing her to imagine what it'll be like when the girl in the Games with pretty yellow hair is her niece, how it'll look when Rory's eyes in Prim's face are glassy with death, and it'll be her aunt Katniss who's to blame.
She smiles tearfully at Prim after the toasting, drawing her sister into a hug.
"I love you," Prim says, and the happiness in her voice is irrepressible.
"I love you, too," Katniss says, pretending to believe in the bright, happy future that Prim has planned for herself when Prim kisses her cheek, gushes about the cake, is oblivious to the world.
They know better than to allow Penny to sleep in their bed with them.
But when she catches a fever, they bring her into the bed to keep an eye on her throughout the night until she recovers. It isn't for more than a week, but after that she refuses to sleep in her cot without a fight. She wants to sleep in the bed with them, crying when they leave her in her cot, and Katniss swears that the boys weren't this fussy when they were a year old. Penny calls for "Papa!" from her cot between big, gulping sobs, screaming when they continue to ignore her.
Except that Peeta folds easily, trying to sneak Penny into the bed.
Katniss wakes to a fat baby knee wedged in her back, or to warm, wet breath on her neck while a chubby fist clutches at her braid, and she is careful not to jostle Penny when she turns under the covers, glaring at Peeta, and kicks him in the shins repeatedly until he returns the baby to her cot.
"It was to get her to sleep," he says, crawling back under the covers.
"Liar," Katniss says, but he pulls her to his chest, kisses her sleepily, and Penny is quiet in the cot.
She's curled up on the sofa next to Peeta when it happens, and she can't believe it's real.
It isn't possible, but it happened.
The girl from District Seven wins the Games when she buries a pickax in the mean, hulking boy from District One. Katniss sighs into Peeta's chest, glad that it's finished. Only it isn't. The girl stumbles to the boy, yanks the ax from his chest, and slits her throat.
Instantly, she's bled out. She's dead, and the 84th Hunger Games become the year with no Victor.
They are forced to stay in the Capitol for a strange, twisted party to celebrate the mad, mad girl.
That's the story that Snow wants the districts to believe. The girl was mad.
Effie drags Peeta off to talk to a sponsor, and that's when Snow touches Katniss on the back.
He asks her to dance a waltz with him. It's a first. Her heart pounds loudly in her ears with every step, with the way his hand rests on her waist, with every breath. She knew that he'd want to speak with her, but he's never forced her into a dance before, and she's paralyzed at his closeness, is able to see the blood that stains the creases in his lips, to feel his breath on her cheek.
Finnick is at her elbow as soon as the waltz is finished.
Snow kisses her hand, and Finnick pulls her into his chest. She curls her fingers into his sleeve, forcing herself to breathe. She'd prefer Peeta, but she's glad to have Finnick, who sweeps her easily into a dance, and she's able to swallow back the sob in her throat while Finnick holds her.
"What did he want?" Finnick asks.
She breathes in, breathes out. "He says that he knows that I must be eager to remind the districts how important it is to support the Capitol. There was this look in his eyes, Finnick. It wasn't like the times before when he's told me to do something, or to—when he's told me to have another baby."
"He's worried," Finnick breathes. "That girl's death isn't about to be ignored."
She nods. "But that's what he wants me to do," she whispers. "He wants me to distract them."
The dance is about to finish, and there's Peeta. Finnick twirls her before he brings her into his arms, and she doesn't as much hear the word as she feels his lips press it into her cheek. "Don't."
Johanna comes to Twelve for the Victory Tour, sitting on the porch with Katniss in the morning while the district prepares for the party. Ash takes to Johanna immediately, and it's funny to see her interact to him. Ash is in love, and Johanna is baffled at why he feels the need to talk to her, or to show her what he's drawn, or to ask her what she thinks about toads.
It's after Peeta's gone into town with the boys that Johanna takes a paper from her pocket.
She has a pen, too, and she starts to write.
Katniss opens her mouth to ask what Johanna is doing, but Johanna holds a finger up at her.
Finally, she allows Katniss to read what she's written: it's about District Thirteen, how it wasn't really destroyed, how a group in the Capitol is in communication with Thirteen, and there is talk about a revolution to overthrow Snow. The districts are ready for it. After what Katniss did, after what the tribute from Seven did. It's time to put an end to Snow, to the Capitol, to the Games.
It's time for things to change in Panem.
Katniss gapes at Johanna, who takes the paper back to write one more sentence at the bottom.
Just thought you might like to know.
From inside the house, Penny starts to cry, and Johanna pulls a lighter from her pocket, sets the paper on fire, and wipes the ashes into the dirt with her boot.
He writes the words into her palm. It's a way to talk that they developed years ago, knowing that the cameras in the Capitol couldn't see the letters that they traced. There aren't cameras in their house, but there are microphones, and this way they can't hear what Peeta says, what he suggests.
She glances at him. It's a risk, but he's right. It's time to take a risk. She nods.
He gives her a small, quiet smile in reply, squeezing her hand.
Before they leave for the Capitol, she'll take Prim into the woods, show her where the cabin is, and she'll talk to Madge, too, to Gale, to Bannock. They need to be prepared.
Peeta pats her leg before he starts to rise to his feet, and she knows he wants to use the morning to start on the cake for Posy's birthday. But she touches his arm to stop him, and he looks at her.
Impulsively, she kisses him. "I love you," she says.
His eyes widen, and he stares at her until she feels her cheeks flush. But he starts to smile, and her stomach flips at the look in his eyes. He steps in closer to her. "Do you realize that's the first time you've said that?" he asks. "In the ten years we've been married, you've never said it."
"It's the truth," she says. She knows that it shouldn't be.
She knows what love does to you, what it did to her mother. But she loves him.
The boys are with Madge, who is trying to teach them to play the piano, and Prim has the baby, which leaves the house empty. Peeta bakes the bread, and they sit cross-legged on the floor beside the fire; his hand trembles a little when he holds the bread to her lips. They are finished in minutes, but Katniss doesn't want to leave the floor, or the room, or that moment. Instead, she draws her knees to her chest, and he brushes a hand up her calf.
"Can I ask—when did it become real?"
She bites her lip. His eyes are soft, patient, and she reaches up to brush the hair back from his face. "I think — " She pauses. He catches her hand in his, kissing her fingers when they curl against his palm, and she knows. "I think it might have been real the whole time," she tells him.
The night before the Reaping, she isn't able to sleep, and it isn't nightmares that keep her awake.
She tries to assure herself that everything is going to work.
Finnick says that Heavensbee rigged the arena, allowing the revolution to start on camera for the world to see. The hovercrafts are going to rescue the Victors from the Capitol, taking them to Thirteen. Prim knows what to do in Twelve, and when. She'll keep the children safe, and Gale is going to lead those from the Seam to the woods while Bannock leads those from town.
It's going to work.
She manages to sleep for an hour before dawn.
But she wasn't wrong to worry that the careful, calculated plans were going to go awry. They do, and it starts at the Reaping: at fifteen years old, Posy Hawthorne is Reaped for the 85th Games.
Gale catches her before she climbs onto the train after Peeta. "You have to save her," he says.
"I know," she says. "I will." She meets his gaze. "I love her, too."
He nods, and she turns away, but he grabs her arm, turning her back to him, and the anger on his face seems to waver; she moves into his arms without a thought, and his embrace lifts her onto her toes. It's a moment from a lost, forgotten life: his smell, his warmth, his build, how it feels to hold him close. "I know, Catnip," he says, murmuring the words into her hair. "I know."
Posy is her sister, too, and she's going to save her.
There isn't a way to explain to Posy that there are plans in motion to make these Games the last. The cameras are ubiquitous now, and Katniss knows it's impossible to justify the risk. But she tries to prepare Posy: she coaches her to run as soon as the Games begin. Run, and find a place to hide. Don't worry about how you'll win. Take it a day at a time.
Run, and hide.
She draws Posy into a hug when she sees her off at the hovercraft.
It's easy for Katniss to hide her face from the camera in a hug, and breathes the words. "We're going to break into the arena to rescue the tributes. It's been the plan for months, and it means that we're going to rescue you, too. I swear to you, I'll get you out. Just run, and hide, and I'll come for you." She moves away, and Posy stares tearfully at her. "Like we talked about," Katniss says, speaking for the cameras. "Run, and hide."
"Run, and hide," Posy echoes, nodding. She clears her throat. "Got it."
She tries to smile before she turns away to walk to the hovercraft, and Katniss sways on her feet, reminding herself that she isn't allowed to chase after her, stop her, go into the arena for her.
She watches the screens obsessively, waiting for everything to spiral into disaster.
Except it doesn't.
Posy runs, and hides. Survives, and makes allies. The tributes from Four look after her. They are friends with Finnick, know know what's going to happen, and they team up with the tributes from Three. The escort in Three is with the rebellion, and she was able to rig the Reaping to allow Beetee to select the tributes. He trained them, trusts them, told them what to do in the arena.
They are children, but they are able to pull it off.
Lightning strikes the tree, and the revolution has started.
The plan is for the rebels under Heavensbee to commandeer three hovercrafts: one that'll go to the arena to rescue the tributes, one that'll go to Two to bomb the largest, most important ammunitions factory, and one that'll go to Four to pick up Annie before the Capitol reaches her.
Katniss is on the hovercraft to the arena, and Peeta is with her.
She has Posy in her arms as soon as the girl is lifted into the hovercraft. Her arm has start to bleed profusely from where her tracker was cut out, but Cecelia bandages the gash, and Peeta fetches her water, and Katniss explains that they are on their way to Thirteen. To her family. They are able to rescue the tributes from Three along with Posy, and the boy from Four, the tributes from Five, and the girl from Eleven, too, before the Capitol forces them to flee the arena.
They are the first to arrive safely in Thirteen.
Katniss bruises Peeta's hand with her grip when they step off the hovercraft.
But there's Prim with Rory, and Gale shouts for Posy, and Katniss gasps for relief: there's Ash, running to Katniss with Davey on his heels, and Pennycress toddles after them. Katniss sinks to her knees while she clutches Ash, and Davey piles in, hugging Katniss around the neck, and she rains kisses on them. Her boys. Alive, and in her arms. Her sweet, precious, perfect boys. She rises to her feet at last to steal Penny from Peeta's arms. Her baby. Haymitch is behind the children, and he pulls Katniss into a hug, making Penny giggle when she's trapped between them.
"Glad you made it, Sweetheart," he says, swiping a kiss to her temple.
It doesn't seem real that it worked, that they survived, and they made it to Thirteen.
Peeta breathes in sharply, and Katniss follows his gaze to where Bannock stands at the elevator. His wife is with him; she hugs Katniss hesitantly while Bannock hugs Peeta. Katniss returns the hug with an affection for the woman that she didn't know she had. Mary smiles at Katniss when she draws away, but there's a look in her eyes that makes Katniss pause.
That's when Bannock explains.
Peeta's parents didn't make it. Neither did Rye, or his wife.
Pennycress is heavy in her arms, and Katniss is forced to realize who isn't there to greet them: her mother, Vick, Mrs. Hawthorne. Did they make it? Her heart leaps into her throat, and she looks around wildly for Madge. She isn't there, and Katniss tries to tell herself it doesn't mean anything. But why wouldn't Madge wouldn't come with the others to see Katniss arrive safely?
The hovercraft from Four arrives, and there's Finnick. He survived, and Annie is with him.
There's a child at her side.
She's a small, bony thing, hiding shyly behind Annie when people notice her. It takes Katniss a moment to understand, and she blinks wordlessly at Finnick when she does. "Nell," he says. "My daughter." His eyes are bright, matching the wide green eyes in Nell's brown, freckled face.
"How did you keep that a secret?" Peeta asks, gaping.
Finnick grins at them, but he isn't given the chance to explain before the hovercraft that bombed Two arrives, drowning them in noise. Johanna steps off, and she hugs Finnick while Prim sidles up to Katniss for a hug. Penny squirms, and Prim laughs when Penny pushes at her face, trying to push her away. She draws back, tickling Penny's foot. But she keeps an arm around Katniss's shoulders, and she is close, warm, alive.
Katniss starts to ask her about Madge.
But now that everyone's arrived, the soldiers from Thirteen are impatient suddenly to debrief them, and Katniss is dragged with Peeta through narrow, sterile halls to meet with President Coin. Her euphoria trickles away. Like it always has, like it always will.
They rescued Posy from the Games, and they made it to Thirteen.
Peeta is with her, and their children are safe.
This is what they wanted, but Katniss stares at Coin, and she knows the worst is yet to come.
The children pile into the bed with them that night. Davey wraps Katniss's arm around his waist while Pennycress tucks herself into Peeta's chest, and Ash settles between them, holding Katniss's hand where it rests on Davey's waist. His grip falls away in sleep, allowing her to stroke his hair absently, only for Peeta's hand to catch her wrist, and his thumb brushes her palm.
She isn't able to see him in the dark, but it doesn't matter.
He traces designs into her skin, and she doesn't know how to identify the feeling that tightens in her chest. But it makes her want to cry in a strange, needy way; she closes her eyes, and the world narrows into the circles that his thumb draws on her palm, making her curl unconsciously around Davey. The motion makes him turn in his sleep, and he burrows into her arms with a sigh.
She knows the feeling in her now: love for this boy, her baby. Her sweet, sweet baby.
Penny burps sleepily, and it makes Katniss smile.
Nothing's going to happen to them. To her boys, to their sister. To her babies, or to their father. She doesn't care about the war, or Thirteen. She's going to keep them in this bed with her forever.
In the morning, Katniss learns from Prim that their mother isn't dead. Neither is Madge.
Both are in what passes for a hospital in Thirteen.
Her mother is at work, although she manages to spare at hug for Katniss when she sees her. But it isn't her mother that Katniss is worried about. Her eyes find Madge immediately, lying in a bed with her back to Katniss. Prim says that Madge tried to save her parents, but she wasn't able to convince her mother to leave the bed, and her father refused to leave her mother. Madge would've died with them, but Gale dragged her to safety while the house collapsed around them.
According to Prim, she was hurt moments before they reached the door.
The glass in a window exploded with the heat, and Gale wasn't able to shield Madge from it completely: her temple took a blow, her cheek was cut badly, and she was blinded.
"Madge," Katniss says, rocking on her feet.
Madge turns towards Katniss. "You made it," she says, starting to smile. But her words are halting, hesitant. Like it's a question, and she's afraid to believe the answer.
"Peeta did, too," Katniss says, moving to sit on the edge of the bed, "and we got Posy." Madge nods. Her face is bandaged heavily, and her eyes are covered. It's quiet, making Katniss uncomfortable in a way that silences with Madge didn't use to. "I'm sorry about your parents."
"Me, too," Madge says.
Again, it's quiet.
Her chin starts to tremble, and Katniss reaches for her hand, squeezing it tightly when her face contorts with tears. She doesn't know what to say, or do, but Madge clutches her hand, mumbling that she's sorry, and Katniss doesn't know for what. "It's okay," she says. "Madge, Madge." She pulls Madge into her arms, feeling her eyes burn with tears at the way Madge sobs.
"My mother," Madge gasps, and Katniss holds her closer, tighter.
She wants to say that Madge hasn't lost her family completely yet. Not really. She hasn't lost Katniss yet, and Katniss is her family. But she doesn't know how to say that, and she hasn't seen Madge like this, has never known her to be anything other than strong, composed, and brave.
"I'm sorry," Katniss whispers, and Madge cries.
But it isn't long before she quiets, and she pulls away from Katniss. "I'm really, really glad you're okay," she says, trying to smile. "Peeta, too. I don't know what I'd do with you."
Katniss takes her hand. "Can I ask you what—what happened with Gale?" She has to ask.
Madge nods. "He came to look for me when I wasn't at the cabin," she says. "It was stupid, but I couldn't leave my parents. But he didn't listen to me. He stormed in, and picked me up, and dragged me out, and he saved me." Her words are a whisper, and Katniss knows in that moment that there's a lot she hasn't been told about Madge, Gale, and their relationship.
It doesn't matter.
"I'm glad," Katniss says. "That he found you, and dragged you out, and saved you. I'm glad." She smiles, squeezing Madge's hand, and Madge smiles, too.
The rebels want Katniss to be a symbol that'll inspire the country, and she tries to do what they ask. Except she isn't an actor, and her efforts to inspire are dismal. Peeta is better, but Plutarch insists that it doesn't have the same impact when it comes from Peeta that it would from Katniss.
She tries, reading the scripts that they give her.
It comes off stilted, and she doesn't know how not to be.
But when she is taken to the hospital in Eight, she forgets to worry about the camera. She isn't expected to follow a script, or to strike a pose. She joins in the fight, and the words come to her naturally. Fire is catching! Fire is catching, and if we burn, you burn with us. She is the Mockingjay, inspiring Panem to join her in revolt against the Capitol, and Plutarch is thrilled.
Katniss hadn't thought was possible for a person to be as happy as Finnick is in Thirteen. But now that his family is safe from the Capitol, he seems to walk on air, and his smile is easy, constant, goofy, and real. His daughter is at his side constantly, and it's clear that he adores her.
It's impossible not to adore her.
She's a sweet, chatty girl, and seems always to have shiny red scrapes on her scrawny little legs, knees, arms, and elbows; she displays them to Katniss proudly, making up stories to accompany them: a dragon that she woke accidentally, or pirates that chased her until she grew wings, and flew away. "I didn't know you had wings!" Katniss exclaims, and Nell giggles, spinning in a circle.
Finnick grins, and he swoops her up suddenly to hoist her into the air while she flaps her wings.
But Nell isn't with Finnick when he explains to the camera that he was sold in the Capitol.
For the first time since he arrived in Thirteen, he is without his smile. He talks in a soft, steady voice, describing everything that was done to him, the way that Snow controlled him, and he shares Snow's secrets, too, including that Snow poisoned himself in order to poison his enemies.
His secrets aren't news to Katniss, but speaks so calmly, so quietly, and it leaves her sad for him, and angry, too; the anger grows when Johanna explains that Snow killed her family, and Wiress describes the way that her brother was killed, and the abortion that Snow forced her to have. It grows until she burns with hatred, and she knows why Plutarch asked them to talk to the camera.
But she balks when Plutarch gestures at her to take a seat.
She doesn't have a story to share that'll remind Panem what a monster Snow is. They know her story; they saw it play out on TV. Except it isn't the Games that Plutarch wants her to talk about. He wants her to talk about the way that Snow threatened her after the Games, the way that he tried to control her. How he forced her to marry Peeta, and he forced her to have children.
"Isn't that what happened?" Plutarch asks.
"No," she says, shaking her head. "He threatened to kill my family unless I did whatever he told me to, yes," she says, "but it wasn't like —" She falters. Her eyes dart to where Finnick sits with Johanna, and to Haymitch, to Wiress. She wants to say that it wasn't like what happened to them. She wasn't raped, or prostituted. Her family wasn't hurt. But the words stick in her throat.
"I was under the impression that Snow told you to marry Peeta," Plutarch says, frowning, and he glances at Peeta. But Peeta is quiet; in fact, everyone is quiet, waiting for her Katniss to answer.
"He did," Katniss says.
Plutarch stares at her. "Right. He forced you to marry, and to have children. Do you realize how terrible that is? He forced you into a marriage against your will, and demanded that you consummate that marriage," Plutarch says, and anger flares in her gut. "He demanded that you have children for his purposes," he continues, "and you didn't—"
"I'm not doing it," she snaps, and it starts him into silence. "I'm not talking about my children on camera. Or my marriage. I'm not." She pauses, trying to reel her anger in. "I have done everything you've asked. Or I've tried to. But I'm not doing this." She glares at him. "I'm not." She isn't going to equate her marriage with rape, isn't going to imply that her children were forced on her, were born to control her, or to punish her.
Plutarch sighs. "I see," he says. "Well, let's discuss it at another time."
She wants to snarl that they won't discuss it at another time, but he has already turned to talk to Seeder, and she knows there isn't a point. He'll bring it up tomorrow, and she'll refuse tomorrow.
Peeta touches a hand to her back, and she glances at him, feeling her anger dissipate when he smiles faintly at her, and there's a sad, uncomfortable knowing in his eyes.
She isn't able to sleep that night.
In a way, Plutarch is right: it would be terrible to be forced into a marriage with a stranger, or some cruel, wealthy man from the Capitol. But Katniss wasn't forced to marry some cruel, wealthy man from the Capitol. She wasn't forced to marry a man who raped her, or beat her. She wasn't forced to have a baby with a man who raped her, or beat her.
She was forced to marry Peeta, and it wasn't terrible.
That's the problem.
The rebels want it to have been terrible. They want Panem to remember when Katniss decided to defy the Capitol in the Games, and they don't want people to think it was for love. That was what the Capitol wanted, and the rebels want the opposite: they want Katniss to declare that it wasn't about love. That her marriage was a farce, and her children were a demand.
That she didn't love Peeta.
They aren't wrong. She didn't love Peeta when she was in the Games. She didn't know him, and she was a child, and it wasn't foolish, overwhelming love that motived her to do what she did.
But she loves him now. She loves him, and it makes her sick to think that he is supposed to be a cruelty that was done to her, that their marriage is supposed to be something unfair, something wrong, something that'll inspire anger in people, making them hate the Capitol.
The lights that are supposed to signify day haven't come on yet when Katniss slips from the bed, but she isn't going to be able to sleep for the hour until they do, and she wants a shower.
Peeta is shaving at the sink when she steps from the tub, and he smiles at her reflection in the mirror. She towels off, wrapping the towel around herself before she reaches up to braid her hair. It isn't until she's tied off the braid that he touches a hand to her hip; his arms circle her waist, and she leans into his chest, sighing at his kiss to her temple, and she finds his gaze in the mirror.
His fingers curl in her towel, and she turns her head to kiss him.
He backs her towards the wall slowly, pulling off her towel, and his hands brush her thighs.
It surprises her when he turns her suddenly, and he crowds her against the wall, lifts her arms up to flatten her palms against the wall above her. He's rough, digging his fingers into her hips, squeezing her breast, stealing her breath when he pushes into her suddenly from behind. He fucks her in a greedy, possessive way, and she's boneless when he's finished.
Before she can turn to face him, he starts to talk.
"If we hadn't been in the Games, I would've found a way to be your friend," he says, breathing heavily against her cheek. "It might've taken a year, or two, or ten. But I'd have found a way, and I would've waited for you. No matter how long it took, I'd have waited for you." He presses his nose to her cheek, and she turns slowly in his arms, taking his face in her hands to look at him.
She waits for him to open his eyes, and she brushes her thumbs gently against his cheeks.
"I know," she says, hoping that he's able to hear the truth in her voice, that he's able to hear everything that she doesn't know how to say. But she knows he does. He always does. He kisses her palm, and she knows what to say when Plutarch asks her to share her story with the camera. She takes a seat in front of the camera, surprising him when she doesn't try to refuse.
She talks about the way that Snow forced a marriage on them, and demanded a baby from them.
But she doesn't stop at that.
If the rebels want her to tell everyone the truth, she'll tell everyone the truth.
"I love Peeta," she says. "If I'd had a choice, I would've chosen to marry him. I should've had a choice. I should've been allowed to fall in love on my terms, and we should've been allowed to choose when we wanted to marry, and why. But they took that from us. They stole that from us."
Her throat constricts with anger, and the room is quiet when they turn the camera off at last.
"That was good," Plutarch says, nodding. "That was good." He gives her the rest of the day off.
Katniss visits Madge in the hospital, only to be pulled to the side when Prim spots her, and Prim spills the news in a rush, beaming at Katniss with big, bright eyes. She is pregnant. In eight months, she is going to have a baby. She is going to be a mother.
Katniss is stunned, gaping at Prim.
It seems impossible that her sister could have a baby when she is a baby, and Katniss has to remind herself that Prim is older than Katniss gives her credit for: she is older than Katniss was when Ash was born, than Katniss was when Davey was born.
It doesn't seem to matter to Prim that they're in a war.
"It isn't like we planned it," Prim says. "But you know how impossible it is to get contraception here, and, well." She shrugs, and her cheeks are flushed with excitement. Katniss smiles, pulling her into a hug, and tries to be excited for her.
But they're in a war.
If Katniss had known that her sister needed contraception, she would've tried to talk to Coin. She hadn't realized that contraception was a problem in Thirteen: as soon as she arrived, the doctors gave her a shot to prevent pregnancy, and they give her one monthly now at her request.
It turns out that Katniss is an exception to the rule.
Prim is pregnant, and it isn't a week before Katniss learns that Bannock's wife, Mary, is, too.
"I'd started to think you didn't want kids," Peeta says, smiling.
Bannock shrugs. "Never seemed like the timing was right," he says. But when Peeta leaves to see what it is that Davey needs to show him right now, Papa!, Bannock admits that he didn't want kids. Only Katniss is in the room with him, and he says the admission softly, carefully, surprising her. "I like kids. I do. But I couldn't bring myself to—" He pauses. "Do you know that I was responsible for Peeta when he was little?" he asks.
She blinks, shaking her head.
He nods. "Our father was busy with the bakery, and our mother wasn't interested in a boy; he wasn't what she'd hoped for, and, well, I was six, and that meant that the baby was my responsibility. I had to wake him in the morning, put him to bed at night, quiet him when he cried. He started at school, and I had to keep an eye on him. It wasn't hard; he was a good kid. He was—he was my kid. But when he was Reaped, there was nothing I could—I couldn't believe it. I didn't know what to do, or—or what to say. It wasn't until after they took him that I thought of a hundred things that I wanted to say to him. That I should've said to him. Then he came back after nobody thought he would, and I didn't know how to say all that stuff that I swore I'd give anything to be able to say." His gaze is on his knees. "Never have been able to."
"He knows," Katniss says.
He glances at her, and the look on his face in that moment, the crinkle around his eyes, the smile that tugs sadly at his mouth: it makes him look strikingly like Peeta. "She's wanted a baby for years," he says. "But I couldn't have one." He sighs. "Not after Peeta. I guess the world's supposed to be safer now, though. Or it will be soon. There's nothing to worry about now." He raises his eyebrows at her, daring her to try to reassure him that there is nothing to worry about.
But she doesn't have a chance to reply before Peeta returns, and Bannock changes the subject.
Coin agrees to allow Katniss to join a mission to Three. It isn't going to be dangerous, or that's what Plutarch says. He is eager to film Katniss "in action," and a trip to Three to deliver ammunition is perfect. Peeta is going to come, too, along with Finnick, Johanna, and Blight.
"Do you have to go?" Ash asks.
She is surprised at the question. She hadn't realized that Ash heard her mention the mission to Finnick, and she is at a loss for what to say for a moment.
In a way, she's lucky that she's the Mockingjay. It means that Coin refuses to risk her life, and Katniss isn't allowed to go into combat. Neither is Peeta. Instead, they stay in Thirteen with their family, posting for the camera in safety. It isn't a task that Katniss relishes, but she knows that it's important, and she knows that she isn't a solider. That she's lucky not to be in combat.
But she has to go to Three.
Her job is to pose for the camera, and she isn't able to do that properly in Thirteen. Not really. Besides, she might be able to help in Three. She was able to help in Eight.
"I do," she says, squatting to explain.
He doesn't give her a chance. "Why?" he asks, glaring. But his glare is softened with desperation that he isn't able to disguise, and it makes her breath catch when he declares suddenly, desperately, "you're always leaving." He tugs at his shirt, looking at her with big, impossibly blue eyes. "What happens when you don't come back?" he asks.
"Little Goose," she says.
Haymitch used to have geese, and they'd honk madly without reason. Ash liked to honk back at them when he was little, and it made her smile, listening to him. To her little goose.
His stare doesn't waver. "What happens when you don't come back?"
She knows that she's supposed to say that she'll always come back. She wants to say that she'll always come back. But Ash isn't a baby. He is young, but he hasn't been a baby for years. "This isn't a big, dangerous mission," she says. "I'll come back." She pauses. "But if I go on a mission some day, and I don't come back, you have to look after your siblings. It's a really, really big job, being a big brother. If I don't come back one day, it'll be an even bigger, even more important job."
"Can't you just not go?" he asks. "Just stay here."
"I have to go," she says. "I'm sorry. I know you don't want me to, and I don't want to either. I have to, though. I know that you're safe in Thirteen, but there are kids who aren't in Thirteen, and who aren't safe, and I have to try to help them. But you'll look after your siblings no matter what, right?" She waits for him to look at her.
"Yes," he says.
"Good." She smiles, but his eyes have dropped to the floor. "That makes me feel a lot better to know." She brushes her fingers through his hair.
He surges forward suddenly to hug her, and she pulls him in as close as she can. "I love you," he says, mumbling the words into her neck, and she makes a promise to herself in that moment: she'll always come back.
Finnick's wedding is that night. It's a loud, lavish affair with drinking, dancing, and a cake that Peeta bakes, and Katniss is tipsy before the evening's over.
Mostly, she dances with Peeta. But she dances with Haymitch, too, and at one point Finnick drags her into a long, ridiculously complicated waltz. She is flushed, breathless, and laughing when the song draws to a close at last, and Finnick pulls her in to kiss her sloppily on the cheek.
For a night, they are allowed to forget the war, and they do.
Johanna dances with Ash, and Peeta dances with Annie, and Rory dances with Madge.
"Aunty!" Nell cries, skipping towards Katniss. There is a silky blue ribbon in her hair to match her silky blue dress. "Look at my dress!" She twirls, making the dress flare out at her knees.
"It's beautiful," Katniss says, smiling.
But before Nell is able to reply, Peeta gasps. "Nell?" he says, amazed. "Nell, it's you!" His eyes are wide. "I thought when I saw you across the room that—don't tell anyone, but I thought a fairy had come to the wedding!" He says the word at a whisper, and Nell is thrilled, curtsying for him before she races off to tell everyone that she was mistaken for a fairy. Peeta grins after her.
Katniss watches him, and she can't help but kiss him.
He makes her laugh when he breaks the kiss suddenly to twirl her.
Eventually, Prim takes Pennycress to bed, and Katniss finds the boys are with Haymitch; Ash is sleeping on the ground with Haymitch's coat balled up under his head, and Davey is in Haymitch's lap, nodding off. "Can you put them to bed?" Katniss asks, grinning, and Haymitch grunts at her.
She leaves the boys with him, and returns to Peeta.
But it isn't long before she is ready for bed, too. She leans heavily into Peeta while they sway to the music. "I don't want it to be tomorrow," she says, closing her eyes.
He leans down to press a kiss to her head. "It won't last for much longer," he murmurs. "The Capitol isn't going to be able to hold out for much longer."
She tilts her head up to look at him. "Do you really believe that?" He nods, and his eyes are soft, sober. Filled with a fondness that makes her smile inadvertently. "I love you," she says.
He smiles. "I love you, too."
She kisses his chest, closing her eyes while the songs plays softly to a close, and the night is over.
She's about to finish with Penny's hair when everything seems suddenly to shake around them.
But as quickly at it started, it stops, and the room is still.
Penny looks around the room curiously before she looks up at Katniss. "What was that?"
Katniss frowns, tying off the braid quickly. She pats Penny on the shoulder to signal that she's finished, and the ground rocks under their feet. Something's wrong. She grabs Penny's hand, starting for the door a moment before an alarm blares suddenly through the room. The room shakes violently, and Penny stumbles into Katniss while plaster rains suddenly from the ceiling.
She scoops Penny up, turning quickly to shield her from the impact when the dresser crashes into the ground.
In the hallway, people are running wildly, and the alarm blares loudly from everywhere at once.
She isn't give the chance to decide where to go before Peeta is at her side, taking Penny from her arms, explaining that they are under attack, and they have to get to safety in the bunkers before this floor collapses under the bombs. "Bannock has Ash, and they should've made it under by now," he says. She is about to ask him where Davey is, but his eyes widen, and she realizes that he was about to ask where Davey is. Her stomach flips in horror. He's in the hospital with Prim.
They could've made safely it to the bunker already.
Or they might be trapped in the hospital.
"Take Penny," Peeta says, shouting to be heard. "I'll go. I'll find them. Get to the bunker."
But she is faster than he is. She'd get to the hospital quicker, get Davey to the bunker quicker.
If the corridors are destroyed from the bombs, she'll be quicker on her feet, quicker to jump, or to drop to the ground. She knows that, and she doesn't have to say it; he knows it, too. He opens his mouth to protest, and she kisses him quickly, shoving lightly at his chest. "I'll meet you in the bunker," she says, and she ignores the protest in his eyes, sprinting down the hallway before he's able to stop her.
She has to get to the hospital.
She makes it to the stairs before she is knocked off her feet, and her ankle twists under her.
But she is up in an instant, and she is on the floor, is going to be at the hospital in under a minute.
She ducks when the ceiling in the corridor starts to crumble, steadies herself against the wall when she takes a hit to the shoulder that leaves her dizzy for a moment. She is able to see the doors to the hospital when there's a scream. It's a child. She looks around wildly, but the corridor is blurry with heat, and the ceiling that rains onto her back. "Where are you?" she yells, turning in a circle.
Her eyes land on Nell a moment before the girl crashes into her with a sob, wrapping scraped, scrawny arms around her waist.
She tries to pick her up, but an explosion rocks the hallway, deafening her, and everything seems to happen slowly, yet everything happens at once: an explosion in front that blasts them with heat, searing her skin, an explosion from behind that knocks her to her knees, and pain cuts into her back like a knife, but she gathers Nell into her arms, trying to cover her, and she looks up, sees an explosion above them; the ceiling seems to rush for her, and she curls blindly around Nell.
She comes to slowly, sweating in her sheets. She blinks, only to wince at the pain that stabs her back. She blinks, and stares at the canvas above her. Blinks, and sweat prickles on her neck. Blinks, and it hurt to move. Her skin tears, and it burns. She blinks, and a hand stokes her hair.
"Aunty, are you awake?" Hot, wet breath is on her cheek. "Aunty?" Nell asks.
She blinks, and there's Nell, stroking her hair. She has a nasty yellow, starburst bruise on her chin, but it doesn't like she's hurt badly, and Katniss swallows dryly, managing to smile at her. "Hey, Nell," she says, and Nell beams at her. But when Katniss tries to sit up, the pain leaves her dizzy.
She blinks away the dots that pepper her vision. There is a hand on her cheek, on her shoulder, and she blinks, looking into a round, mousy face. "Mary," she says.
"I'm here," Mary replies, smiling.
Katniss doesn't know where here is.
But the memories have started to flood her, and it makes panic crawl up into her throat, choking her: bombs, her baby, Peeta, running, Nell, the ceiling, and a face above her, and smoke, and she was lifted, and she doesn't know whether these are nightmares that she's remembered, or things that happened to her after she blacked out.
She doesn't know how much time has passed, or where she is now. It doesn't matter.
Where's Peeta? Did he make it to the bunkers with Pennycress?
Did Bannock make it with Ash? Did Prim take Davey to the bunkers? What about Madge?
"The Capitol bombed Thirteen," Mary says.
"I remember," Katniss breathes. "Peeta took Penny to the bunkers, and I went to the hospital to get to Davey, but I didn't—I found Nell, and—" She coughs, and Mary holds a glass to her lips suddenly, helping her to drink the water. It burns down her throat, but she is desperate for more.
"Sammy found you," Mary says.
"Cartwright. Sammy Cartwright. He found you with Nell, and he got you to safety. He got you to a doctor. Katniss, you were—your legs were broken, and your shoulder was dislocated, and you had six broken ribs. Sammy says that the doctor set your legs, and fixed your shoulder, and he bandaged you a little, but he wanted to try to find others in the rubble. He left, and he didn't—Sammy says that he must've been killed when the bombs started up again that night."
How could she have survived? The hallway collapsed on her.
"But what about Peeta?" she asks. "Or Bannock? My kids? Did they make it to the bunkers? Where are they?" She tries to look around the room, but it hurts to move, hurts to crane her neck.
"I don't know," Mary says.
"What don't you know?' Katniss asks.
"I don't know whether they made it to the bunker," Mary says. "I don't know where they are, or whether they survived. I'm sorry, Katniss. I don't know for certain, but I don't think—" Tears pool in her eyes. "I don't know. But they aren't here, and—I'm sorry, Katniss. I'm sorry."
She breathes in, breathes out. It hurts to breathe.
Mary reaches for her hand, and she explains what she knows. The bombs dropped for hours, but they stopped eventually, and people found Mary, hiding in the ruins; she hadn't made it to the bunkers. She was taken to safety before the Capitol renewed their attack. The Capitol destroyed Thirteen, but Sammy claims that Thirteen destroyed the Capitol.
Coin ordered a retaliation immediately, and the Capitol was bombed. If we burn, you burn with us.
That was the last that anybody heard from Coin.
They assume that she was killed along with everybody who hadn't escaped Thirteen yet.
But they don't know for certain. The small, injured group that made it from Thirteen hid in the woods that separate Thirteen from Twelve, and they were in hiding for days. They were cut off from the world, couldn't hear anything other than static on the radio, weren't able to communicate with anybody. It wasn't until they ran into a group from Eleven that they learned how the rebels in the districts gave the computers a virus. "I don't know what that means," Mary says. "But a man from Eleven told Sammy that the scientists in Three put a virus in a computer, and it was worse than the bombs. It turned off the electricity, and it made hovercrafts plummet from the sky, and it shut everything down. It—it destroyed the Capitol."
But if Snow was killed in the chaos, she doesn't know.
She doesn't know who is in charge in the Capitol, or that anybody is. She doesn't know who is in charge among the rebels, or that anybody is. She doesn't know what remains of the Capitol, or of the districts. She listens to the radio, but there is nothing to hear. Their group in the woods is small, living off supplies that were scavenged from empty, abandoned houses in Eleven. They are short on food. They don't know how to communicate with others who might've survived the bombs, or the virus, or the horrors they don't yet know about. They don't know what to do now.
If we burn, you burn with us. She'd meant that when she said it.
But she hadn't thought it would really happen. She hadn't thought the world would really burn.
She tries to sit up, wants to talk to Sammy for herself. But the effort makes her faint with pain, and she breathes in sharply, blinking away the tears that have gathered in her eyes. Mary squeezes her hand. "The doctor saved your life, but it'll be a while before you're healed completely," she says. "I don't know how much you're able to feel, but you were burned. Badly."
Katniss knows that she's bandaged heavily. Her skin is itchy, burning under hot, heavy bandages that paper her legs, her back, her arms, her neck. She doesn't care that she's bandaged, or burned.
She has to go to Thirteen.
But it hurts to turn her head to look at Mary properly, and the pain makes her dizzy, makes her faint with sudden, overwhelming exhaustion. "Sleep," Mary says, and Katniss isn't able not to.
Her mind works feverishly in the moments that she's awake, trying to find a way to save them.
Days pass, and she is able to think properly for longer, more certain stretches.
It sounds like the survivors are those who didn't make it to the bunkers, and were forced to hide in the woods away from Thirteen to escape the bombs.
But that means that those who made it to the bunkers might've survived, too. They might've stayed in the bunkers until the bombers were finished. Peeta might've made it to the bunkers, might've survived, and he didn't know where to look for Katniss after the bombs stopped. He might've survived, and their children might've survived. She has to return to Thirteen, and soon.
The hope mixes with her anxiety, and it leaves a heavy, awful feeling in her stomach that rises like smoke, coating her throat in a taste that makes her sick.
Just one, she thinks. Give me one. Let one have survived. But which one would she choose? Her sweet little baby girl? Loud, dark-haired Ash? Shy, yellow-haired Davey? Or Peeta? Or Prim? What about Madge? Posy? Finnick? Just one, she thinks. But she wants them all. Needs them all.
She begs for them all, telling herself it's possible until the pain from her raw, ruined skin becomes unbearable, and she passes out, sinking into nightmares in which everyone she loves is burning, screaming, drying, crushed under the ceiling that should've killed her.
It takes her months to recover completely, but she does. Slowly, she isn't dizzy at the smallest, slightest movement, and Nell keeps her company for hours. She strokes Katniss's hair, sings her silly little rhymes that Finnick loved. Slowly, Katniss is able to sit up, to turn in the bed, to move her arms, and Mary doesn't have to hold the water to her lips for her. Slowly, her ribs heal, and her burns start to scab, and she is able to leave the bed. She is able to walk.
She has to go to Thirteen.
Mary warns her that the ruins are toxic. "Stay for long, and it'll burn your lungs out," she says.
It's clear that Mary doesn't want her to go, but Sammy offers to go with her, and they leave as soon as Katniss is able. She likes Sammy, and she tries not to think about his sister when she looks at his round, boyish face. But Delly could've survived. She could've made it to the bunkers.
Everyone could've. It doesn't have to be just one. It could be that everyone made it to the bunkers, and everyone survived.
They have to walk for days, stopping to rest for longer than Katniss likes.
But they reach what used to be Thirteen at last: a gray, ruined cavity in the ground.
She ignores that awful, acidic smell that rises from the rubble, climbing into the ruins, and Sammy follows her wordlessly. They stumble across body after body, but Katniss can't bring herself to look at them, and she knows there isn't a point: the sun has rotted away their faces. She didn't come to find their bodies. She came to find the bunkers, and she refuses to give up until she does.
Three days, they search the ruins.
Until her hands are cramped, sliced, and bloody, and she is dizzy, dehydrated, struggling to stay on her feet despite the pain from her sore, healing ribs, and the way her scabs prickle uncomfortably at the sweat that soaks her bandages. Until she is forced to acknowledge the truth.
There's nothing for her to find in the ruins.
If she could've found a way into the bunkers, they could've found a way out.
But after three days, it's clear there isn't a way in, and she knows there wasn't a way out. Either the bombs trapped everyone in the bunkers, leaving them to rot under the ruins, or the bombs destroyed the bunkers, killing everyone instantly. It doesn't matter which. In the end, everyone died. Except Katniss. It would take a miracle for somebody to survive, and that was given to her.
She hugs her middle, and her raw, ruined skin stings sharply at the movement, reminding her that she survived. She ran from the bunkers, didn't care about herself, was crushed under the ceiling, but her ribs are sore to touch, and every breath she takes makes her lungs burn, and she survived.
It shouldn't have been her. But it was. It is. She survived, and that's what she's left with. Herself.
The voices pull her from sleep, making her blink groggily at the wall. Her head is sore from sleep, but she closes her eyes, ignoring the noise that woke her, and tries to drift back to sleep.
"Are you going to eat that?" Nell asks, jostling Katniss on the cot. "Aunty, wake up." Tiredly, Katniss turns to look at her, but Nell's eyes are on the food that Mary left beside the cot: an apple next to what looks like lumpy soup, or watery porridge. "Are you going to eat your apple?"
It takes a moment for the words to register. "Have it," Katniss says, managing a smile.
Nell beams, swooping down to kiss Katniss wetly on the cheek before she grabs the apple. But she doesn't run off with it like Katniss expected her to. Instead, she cross her legs on the bed, learning into Katniss's hip while she bites into the apple carefully, licking her lips after every bite.
Katniss stares at her.
Her arms are sticks, and her hair hangs in matted, unwashed clumps around her face.
"It's nice to see you up," Mary says, approaching with a smile.
Mary is heavy with child, yet her bones protrude from her body, moving visibly under her skin. Katniss stares at her, and she knows that Mary is starving, and Nell is, too. They've lived on soft, bruised apples, and hard, unripe berries for months. On mealy potatoes, and soup that tastes like roots, onions, and grass in water, and Katniss hadn't noticed until now, staring at them.
It's been months since she returned from the ruins in Thirteen. Months, and she's spent them in her sweat-soaked, blood-stained cot while Finnick's daughter starved, and Bannock's wife struggled to care for her, and for Katniss, and for the child in her belly. Peeta's nephew, or niece.
It takes a while to make the arrows, and longer to make a bow that'll work properly with them.
But she leaves the camp to wander into the still, quiet woods at last, and her body remembers quickly what her mind has forgotten: how to string a bow, how to shoot an arrow, how to hit a skinny brown squirrel right between the eyes.
There are days when she isn't able to leave her cot, but there are days when she needs to. She needs to hunt, to look after Nell. She needs to learn how to live, and she does.
Mostly, the survivors from Thirteen are strangers to Katniss. But they are a small, kind group, numbering under fifty, and she learns their names, shares her game with them, knows that she owes them her life, and she owes them Nell's life.
Together, the group decides to abandon their small, make-shift camp in the woods before winter settles in, passing barren, bombed land for days before they stumble at last onto empty, forgotten cabins. The cabins are stocked with what they'll need to survive the winter, and they move in gratefully. But winter isn't harsh, and spring arrives before Mary goes into labor.
"I can't, I can't," Mary sobs. But she has to, and Katniss takes her hand, promising her that she'll be able to do this without Bannock. That she isn't alone.
The baby is a small, red-faced boy, screaming loudly at the world before Katniss gives him to his mother. But a contraction grips Mary suddenly, and Katniss takes the baby from her before the reason he was born a month early becomes clear: seven minutes after he is born, his sister is born.
Twins. Katniss is stunned, laughing tearfully with Mary while Sammy gapes at them.
It isn't until later that she allows the sobs to wrack her, and she remembers the way they fit into her arms when they were born, how they smelled, giggles on her neck, a knee wedged into her back, fingers curled in her braid, and "Mama, Mama, did you know that Papa has a pretend leg?!"
She curls up in the bed, and her sobs carry her into sleep.
But she wakes to crying that Mary isn't able to quiet, and she takes the baby from Mary, rocks him while Mary nurses his sister. Morning comes, and Katniss leaves to hunt, returning in the afternoon to a warm, milk-scented cabin. Mary has settled on names for the twins: George for her son, and Lettie for her daughter.
Days pass, and there isn't time to stay in bed when there are twins to care for.
Summer brings awful, overwhelming humidity, and Sammy leaves to explore. "There have to be people out there who survived the war," he says. She doesn't try to argue with him, but she doesn't see the point. If there are people out there who survived the war, what does that matter?
The people they love didn't survive. She tries to think who might be left to find. There's Cinna, and Effie. Neither escaped the Capitol when the rebellion started, and they might've survived.
But she doubts it, and it isn't like Sammy knew them.
"You aren't going to leave, right?" Nell asks.
"Not without you," Katniss says, and Nell gives her a sweet, shy smile.
She takes Nell to the lake for a bath, and Nell is delighted to be in the water, swimming in circles around Katniss, chattering about the ocean at home in Four, squirming with boredom while Katniss washes her long, tangled hair. She is like she was before the attack on Thirteen. "Do you want a kiss from a fish?" she asks, and she puckers her lips, giving Katniss a loud, smacking kiss from a fish before she dissolves into giggles.
Katniss crosses her eyes at Nell in reply, which makes Nell giggle in earnest.
She cuts Nell's hair, and braids it neatly.
Her gaze catches on her reflection in the water, and the face that stares at her is unrecognizable: short, choppy black hair that hasn't grown past her ears yet, and pink, melted skin that fans across her cheek, curling around her neck to disappear beneath the water. But it doesn't matter.
Nell swims off, shattering the reflection, and Katniss starts to scrub the grim off her skin.
"Aunty, look!" Nell shouts. "Aunt Katniss! I know how to do a cartwheel! Look, look! Watch!" She springs easily into a handstand, cartwheeling across the lake. "Did you see? Did you see?" she asks breathlessly, beaming at Katniss, and Katniss promises that she saw, and it was amazing.
Two days later, and it's been a year since the Capitol bombed Thirteen. She doesn't leave bed that day. She can't.
She knows that she shouldn't, but she thinks a lot about what might've happened.
On her worst days, she wishes there hadn't been a rebellion.
She knows that Posy would've died in the Games. Eventually, Davey would've, too. Or Ash, or their sister. But she thinks it would've been Davey. Her shy, sweet boy with yellow curls and dimples in his cheeks. If there hadn't been a rebellion, Davey would've been killed in the Games.
But there was a rebellion, and Davey was killed. Ash was killed, and Pennycress was killed.
She looks at George, sleeping in her arms. Peeta's nephew. He'll never know what the Games are. He'll never have to fear that he'll be Reaped, or that his sister will.
If it would bring her children back to life, would she take that away from him?
It doesn't matter. She can't bring them back to life. There was a rebellion, and she lost everything that she had to lose. The children she hadn't wanted, the husband she hadn't chosen.
It might've been worth it. For George, and his sister. For Nell. They deserve to live in a world without the Games, without the Capitol, and Katniss won't take that world away from them. But she wishes she didn't have to live in that world.
She wishes that she could've stayed with Peeta.
That she could've hugged him in that corridor in Thirteen, refusing to let go, and died with him before she had to know what it was like to live without him.
The leaves start to change, and Katniss spots a deer in the woods. It's a week before she spots it again, but she is ready this time, and she hits it square between the eyes.
She plans to make jerky with the meat, and it'll last them for months.
"Did you hear that?" Mary asks, frowning.
Katniss glances at her. "What?" She didn't hear a thing, especially not in the static on the radio. Mary listens to the static constantly, spinning the dial on the radio day after day in hopes that she'll stumble onto a station that isn't static.
"I thought I heard something," Mary says.
But her gaze is on the radio, and she doesn't seem to expect a response from Katniss. She turns the dial slowly, and Katniss continues to skin the deer, trying to decide what she'll do with the hide. She thinks it would make a good, warm blanket for the twins. Or a coat for Nell.
The static disappears abruptly, and Katniss gapes at Mary, at the radio, at the voice that floods the cabin, speaking calmly about the need to form a community to rebuild the country.
"Is that—?" Mary starts.
"Madge," Katniss breathes.
Madge is on the radio, talking about how it is time to join in community to bury our dead, to feed our children, and to create a government that is just, fair, and good. But Katniss isn't really able to process what it is that Madge says, only that it is Madge, and she gasps when a voice responds to Madge.
Gale is on the radio.
But they were in Thirteen. They were caught in the chaos when the bombs were dropped. They couldn't have survived. Except they did.
Mary claps a hand to her mouth, glancing at Katniss with tears in her eyes.
If they survived, others could've. If Madge made it to safety from the hospital in Thirteen, Prim could've. Davey could've. Did they hide in the bunkers? Was it wrong for her to assume that those in the bunkers were killed despite the safety the bunkers were supposed to provide them?
Mary spins up the volume on the radio, and Madge's voice pours into their small, stuffy cabin, washing over them until Katniss is dizzy with the sound. If Madge survived, others could've. Her children could've. Peeta could've, and hope reaches into her chest like a fist, tightening around her lungs until she isn't able to breathe.
She takes her family on the road with her: Mary, the twins, Nell. She isn't going to lose them.
They are what she knows for certain she has left in the world.
Mary pushes the twins in the rusted old stroller that Sammy fixed up for them before he left, and Katniss carries their supplies in a pack on her back: they have food to feed them for a week, a blanket, a knife, a flashlight, and bottles for water. They don't really know where to go, but they decide to follow the tracks for trains that haven't run in years. Eventually, the tracks are going to lead them into the Capitol, and that's where Madge is.
It's a place to start.
Four hours on the road, and Nell starts to drag her feet, and the babies start to fuss, and Katniss agrees to stop for a break.
"Are we going to be there soon?" Nell asks, taking the food that Mary gives her. She frowns, and she tilts her head at Katniss. "Where is there, Aunty?" she asks.
"Hush," Katniss says. "Eat your pears."
It's quiet. The radio buzzes next to Mary while she nurses George.
The sun reflects off the tracks beside Nell, stinging Katniss's eyes when she looks at them.
She remembers when she kissed him on the train.
He asked her why, and she didn't have an answer for him.
But she knows now what the answer is, and she wishes she could've told him: it was a kiss for how much I love you. For how much I need you, and don't want to lose you. For how you bring out the best in me, and you love the worst in me, and I don't know what I would do if ever I lost you.
He told her once that his nightmares were about losing her. He was okay when he realized that she was there. I'm coming, she thinks.
Nell burps loudly in boredom, which makes Mary tut at her, and Katniss shakes her head to shake away the memories. "Turn up the volume," she says, nodding at the radio.
Mary spins the dial, and Gale's voice floods the air.
"I know things seems impossible right now," he says, "but we can't give up yet. If you don't have the strength to do it for yourself, find the strength to do it for somebody you love." His words are clear, strong, and eloquent, and they sound like something that Peeta could've written.
The thought strikes Katniss suddenly.
He could've written those words, could be in the Capitol right now with their children. Or he could be on the road, searching for her. He could've survived. She knows better than to hope for that, to hope for everything. But she finishes off her jerky, and she rises to her feet. "Come on," she says, taking Nell's hand. "We've got a ways to go."
Light up, light up,
As if you have a choice.
Even if you cannot hear my voice,
I'll be right beside you, dear.