a/n: title and lyrics from Augustana's "Sweet and Low" :)
The rain is gonna fall, the sun is gonna shine,
The wind is gonna blow, the water's gonna rise.
She said, when that day comes, look into my eyes.
No one's giving up quite yet,
We've got too much to lose.
It starts with a mistake.
She usually tunes out the gossip when she delivers her fresh catches around town, but she can't entirely ignore the woman who sits beside Sae and tearfully hiccoughs her way through some kind of sob story. Katniss doesn't want to listen, but she hears more than enough accidentally.
The woman is pregnant for the fourth time, and it was all an accident.
Her prevention shot was faulty, apparently.
Katniss doesn't think to question that unfortunate mistake. The woman finally leaves, and Sae turns to Katniss. "At this rate, I'd say all that hogwash about a Capitol conspiracy might be true," she says, and Katniss frowns. "I think poor Lottie might be the sixth woman pregnant this week," she adds, as if that will explain everything, but Katniss still doesn't understand.
"Oh, child, you really haven't heard? The last batch of pregnancy prevention shots were faulty, and the word around town is the Capitol purposely ruined the batch to increase our population. We still aren't big enough to support the industry they want us to support, even with our shiny new name."
Katniss stares at her for a moment. "All of them?" she asks. "All the shots were faulty?"
"The doctor," Sae tells her, "that fellow from District 6, he announced it this morning, didn't you hear? It's all around town. The whole batch that was delivered two weeks ago. Faulty." She starts to say something else only to stop, and her eyes widen a little when she realises.
Katniss stalks out of the shop.
After all this time, after all her adamant protests, a stupid mistake might have landed her pregnant.
She doesn't call on the doctor; she knows he must have two dozen women at his heels right now.
But she doesn't know what else to do, either. She strips off her clothes, caked in mud, sweat, and turkey blood, looks in the mirror, and runs her hands over the flat plane of her stomach, where faded burn scars dance in designs across her ribs like an elaborate pink tattoo from the Capitol. It can't be possible. She can't have a child, not like this, not at all. And what if it is a conspiracy?
She doesn't want to bring a child into a world that at any moment could fall right back into darkness, into mutts and starvation and depression and terrible, terrible games, and suddenly that world, so thickly drenched in manipulation, is the reason she might be pregnant. No. She can't be.
An hour later, Peeta is home, and she is dressed, flat on her back on the bed, waiting for him.
He stands in the doorway for a moment, and she knows he knows. It was announced across town, after all, that was what Sae said. "Are you?" he finally asks, stepping hesitantly into the room.
His voice is careful, but something else tints it, too, and she takes a moment to identify what.
He wants this. But she knows that; he has always wanted this, has hinted at it. He has been patient about it, has waited and waited and waited, even when she shouted that it would never happen and that he was welcome to leave her for a woman who would happily, carelessly have his babies.
(But Peeta will never leave her; she knows it like she knows how to breathe. And as if to make that clear, he had looked at her plaintively and replied that he didn't want a baby, he wanted her baby.)
"I don't know," she finally replies. "But my shot was from the faulty batch. So."
The bed shifts as he sits down beside her. She stares stubbornly at the ceiling.
His hand touches her leg. "Would it be so bad?" He sounds like a lost little boy, and he moves his hand up her leg, over her hip, slipping easily under her shirt to span her stomach. His hands are warm and heavy and she sucks her stomach in, away, but it doesn't work. "Katniss."
She looks at him. "Some people think it might be a Capitol conspiracy for a higher birth rate."
"I know," he replies. "But whatever the reason, if you are pregnant, would it be so bad?"
Her jaw clenches. "I can't bring a baby into this world, Peeta." Her words come out weaker than she wanted, almost broken, and his eyes are large and soft as he looks at her. He brushes his thumb against her belly button, and she reaches out to grasp his wrist, to still his hand.
"What world?" he asks. "A world where a baby born in the district can so easily fall sick, starve, lose a father to a mine accident? A world where a baby might grow up to be reaped, to be thrown into the Hunger Games? A world run by a man like Snow or a woman like Coin?"
She stares at him. He doesn't understand. "A world with a father who sometimes desperately hates his wife and a mother who is forever on the brink of depression," she says, trying to be cold. If she upsets him, he'll leave her alone, and she doesn't want to talk about this anymore.
But he only shakes his head. "You don't have to be scared, Katniss," he says. "You aren't like your mother. If you had a child after the war, you wouldn't have let yourself start to fade away, I know it. You would have fought to stay alive just to take care of your baby, and if you are pregnant —"
She closes her eyes. She doesn't want to look at him anymore than she wants to hear this speech.
He sighs, and he pulls his hand from under her shirt. She misses the warmth, the weight. He leans forward suddenly, and he kisses her cheek lightly. The bed shifts, and she hears his heavy footsteps fade down the stairs and into the kitchen. She opens her eyes, stares at the ceiling, thinks.
If she is pregnant, what? This isn't like their other talks over the years about whether or not she might want to try for a baby. A baby could well be inside her right now, and she can't change that. But, of course, if she really wants, she can. As soon as she thinks it, though, she feels a little sick.
She could never kill Peeta's baby. Never.
She thinks of pictures of Finn when he was a little kid, with chubby cheeks and fluffy hair. She imagines little blue eyes in his chubby face, and she can see cookie crumbs on his face, and she pictures paint on his fingers, and he laughs when Peeta laughs, sure to be just like his papa.
She closes her eyes. (The picture doesn't disappear. It only brightens in the darkness of her mind.)
She walks downstairs. The radio is on a music station that crackles too much, out of range, but plays the songs that Peeta likes best, and he hums a little under his breath as he cooks the rabbit she skinned and left in a pot on the oven earlier. She can see bread already in the oven, can smell it.
"I don't want to name it after anyone," she announces.
His head snaps to her.
"The kid. He shouldn't be haunted by ghosts. He should be his own person. Or her own person. And no flowers for names. And I want to have him, or her, here. I don't want to set foot in a hospital. And I want a healer, not a doctor trained in the Capitol. And no cameras. Ever. Okay?"
He nods, his eyes wide and serious. "Okay. I promise. All of it. I promise."
"Okay," she says. She clears her throat a little, feeling awkward. "Okay, if I am pregnant, fine." He nods a second time, hand tight around a wooden spoon. She sighs and resists the urge to roll her eyes. "You can smile, Peeta," she tells him, and the happiness stretches across his face instantly.
She pretends not to feel the tears on his lashes when he kisses her.
But she isn't pregnant.
A constant costumer at the baker is Constance Hoptay, an older woman from District 11 who used to be a healer, back before she started fresh in District 12 with her two grandsons after the war. Peeta asks her to look over Katniss, and she readily agrees, refusing to let Peeta pay. She comes by the house, says most of the signs don't point to pregnancy, but if Katniss goes to the hospital —
"No," Katniss interrupts firmly.
The woman, wispy white hair loose around her face, touches Katniss gently on the hand. "If you want, dear, I can go for you. I don't mind at all for you. But I'll need a cheek swab from you. I'll have it tested, and I'll let you know. How does that sound?" She smiles a little, encouraging.
Katniss reluctantly agrees. And, two days later, she learns she isn't pregnant.
She tells Peeta that night, and he can't really hide how crestfallen he is.
"It's better," she says, and she wishes she hadn't a moment later.
She hates the look on his face, and she thinks what she doesn't often allow herself to think: how much better it would have been for poor Peeta Mellark to fall in love with someone better than cold Katniss Everdeen, someone who had enough goodness and kindness to match his, someone with more faith in people, with more love for people. Someone who would willingly have his babies.
He asks her what kind of bread she wants for dinner, and her answer sticks in her throat.
She takes another bath, just to avoid him, and the lights are already off as she climbs into bed.
But he isn't asleep, and he tugs her wet hair out of its fresh braid as soon as she settles down next to him. It'll tangle, and this is a constant battle between them, but she lets him win tonight. He wraps an arm around her waist, presses his nose into her hair, and it's quiet as he sighs a little.
They've slept like this for so long she doesn't think she can fall asleep without him.
He won't ever leave her. She knows this. No matter what she does or says, no matter what she costs him or refuses him, he loves her so stubbornly it drives her nearly mad. But, oh, the thought that he must know how much better he deserves and still he sticks around, it's her salvation.
She turns, and she kisses him.
His eyes flicker open.
"I haven't had a new shot yet," she says. And she kisses him a second time, trails her lips along his jaw, nips at his throat a little, and his hands slides down to her waist as he moves her onto her back. She opens her legs, and the motion pushes her nightgown up her thighs, welcomes him.
"Are you sure?" he asks, and he looks like the little kid she wants him to have.
She nods. "Yes. I'm sure. But I reserve the right to change my mind, so hurry up."
He laughs into her mouth, and he peppers kisses against his face, whispers "thank you" over and over. He tugs down the straps of her nightgown, pressing kisses to her small, scarred breasts, and she arches up against him. They can do this so easily, know each other so well, and all her thoughts flee as the kisses and the love and the fire and the hunger consume her instead.
She thinks of a lot of ways to tell him.
This is all for him, after all, and this isn't about to happen more than once, so she ought to make it something special. But special revelations aren't really among her strengths. She can't seem to catch so much as a single, measly squirrel, though, so she sits out at the lake, bakes under the summer sun, and tries to come up with some beautiful way to wrap this gift for him.
It has to be about him. She doesn't know how to be a mother. This is for him.
He will be the best father this world has ever known, she knows it, and she clings to that. If she somehow fails this child, he will make up for it. He will love the baby, protect the baby, be the kind of parent that she never can be, and she knows it. This is for him. This is his baby. She can do this.
She finds him already home when she returns, a carrot in his mouth and flour all over his hands as he bakes. She stares at him, and his lips turn up when he sees her. "I traded for fresh turnips and carrots this morning," he tells her. "You have to try them. I don't think I've ever had a carrot that tastes like this before. They're like carrots from God, Katniss."
"I'm pregnant," she replies.
He chokes on his carrot.
And suddenly his hands are on her face, and his eyes search hers. "You are? Yeah?" She nods, and she laughs a little, because she can't not be some kind of pleased when he looks like he might burst at the seams from happiness. He presses kisses all over her face, her nose and her cheek and her eyebrow and her mouth, and he hoists her up to sit on the counter. "I love you," he says.
"I know," she whispers, running a hand over his blonde curls.
And he whips up her shirt, ducks down, presses his face into her stomach. "I love you, too!"
It makes her heart beat a little faster, because this is real, his baby is really inside of her.
She nearly chokes with terror at the realisation, but his lips find hers, and he kisses her and kisses her and kisses her, and his smile never fails. So she clings to him and lets all his ecstatic mumbled words, thank you and I love you and a baby, Katniss, a baby,wash over her until her fear fades.
The district is largely rebuilt.
All the streets in town are fresh and clean and new, and ten dozen neat rows of houses, small, sturdy homes built from ruins, have reclaimed the Seam, and it doesn't like look a place where so many lived and starved and died. The medicine factory is the tallest building in the whole district, large and white and so unlike the dark, dirty sealed mines hidden away from tourists. It's visible no matter where a person walks, the beautiful medicine factory, a symbol of the new district.
If that's what the tourists who flock town want to see, fine.
Katniss loves the new school best, large and bright; windows line every wall, and dandelions pepper the grass that grows behind the fenced in schoolyard. Katniss passes the school on her walk from her house to the woods, and she likes the sight of the chubby little kids that play.
They're still familiar to her, with dark hair and dark eyes and that unchangeable Seam look, even without coal dust between their fingers and threaded into their clothes. They aren't quite so gaunt now; they might not live with all the opulence of the Capitol, but they live with enough to eat, and that's plenty.
The littlest children, small and unabashed and friendly, call out to her when she happens to walk too closely to the fence, a gleeful shout of "Mrs. Mellark! I won hide and seek!" or "Mrs. Mellark, do you have any biscuits?" or "Mrs. Mellark, look at my knee! I skinned it!" And she smiles indulgently at them, listens to tales of their adventures, and always keeps a few biscuits with her, just in case, even if she never tells Peeta why she wants him to bake them for her.
(She doesn't want to give him any ideas. But that doesn't matter now, does it?)
As she passes the next morning, she tries to imagine her own child among them.
A few years, and it won't be her imagination.
She can't decide if she wants a dark little child, dark hair and dark eyes, easily hidden among the others, not someone tourists could pick out as her child, or if she wants the baby to look like Peeta, to be one of the few yellow or brown or red heads scattered among the Seam kids.
A little yellow-haired baby, she decides, as much like Peeta as possible.
She makes Peeta promise not to tell anyone, because she just isn't ready for all of that yet.
She isn't so much worried about the gossips around town, about whatever crude comments Haymitch will have or the way Johanna will tease her when she visits. She thinks of the Capitol, of video crews, of pleas for a special on the Mockingjay today, and she won't ever be ready for that.
And for a while, honestly, it isn't hard to pretend this isn't real. She still hunts every morning, eats out in the woods, sometimes allows a few older kids to find her in the woods after school, and she shows them a few tricks. She makes her rounds with fresh meat, trades at the marketplace in the Merchant Quarter where Sae holds court, and stops into the bakery to help Peeta close shop.
She snags a few cheesy buns, asks him about his day, and kicks a few geese on the walk home.
Peeta doesn't like to pretend. They cleared out the other bedrooms years ago, mostly so that Johanna and Annie would have a place to stay whenever they visited, but Peeta picks the biggest room, and he wants to paint the walls, put up new curtains, build a cot and buy blankets.
"It's a nursery," he explains happily, "just for the baby."
She nods and lets him have that. This is more real than anything for him, so he should enjoy it.
And her life finally does begin to change so much she can't ignore it.
She hates it. Her breast swell, sore and sensitive against every shirt she wears, and the smell of blood makes her so sick she feels dizzy and has to lean against the nearest tree and sometimes even abandon her latest kill, and she finds herself randomly sick at every hour.
Peeta bakes her all different kinds of crackers until he discovers what kind she likes best, and he starts to keep a supply in their bedroom, so she can have them when he isn't around. It's sweet, but he still isn't the person sick over the toilet basin because a little person is inside him. A month and a half into her pregnancy, she eats every cracker she can find in the house, and she falls asleep curled against the tub, her hair sweaty and loose around her shoulders, the taste of sick in her mouth.
She wakes up to the sensation of familiar arms around her as he carries her like a little doll.
She keeps her eyes closed while he pulls off her clothes, brushes her hair, and drapes a blanket over her. He kisses her forehead, and she finally looks at him. His smile is soft, and he offers her a cup of water. She holds her hand over his on the glass as she drinks. "Sleep," he tells her.
She doesn't want to, but he strokes her hair, and that's nice. "Okay," she mumbles, eyelids heavy.
A few hours later, it's dark out, and her nightmare is fresh in her mind as she stares into darkness.
The mutts had bright green eyes that belong to Finnick, and they tore open her stomach, and Peeta choked her, leaving bruises, crushing her lungs, because it was her fault, she killed his baby, and Snow laughs as Coin whips Gale, and Prim tries to steal the bloody, squealing baby back from the mutt, but another mutt only tears all the skin off her innocent back, and Rue tries to help, and —
The wind from the open window feels cool against her cheek even as Peeta feels warm pressed against her. His hand is warm too, soft and large against her stomach, his breath hot and wet on her neck as he sleeps. She touches her hand to his, and he mumbles something.
Her nightmares haven't been this bad in years.
She can feel the broken pieces of herself with fresh pain. She turns and cuddles closer to Peeta, buries her face in his chest, and tries to dull the pain as she hides from the whole world.
Her clothes become tighter, and she grits her teeth and ignores it.
Haymitch hollers at her from his porch, asks what she did to her breasts. She starts to cry, and she can't stop, and she just wants something sweet and sugary so much, and why does Haymitch bully her so much, and she just can't stop crying, and she slaps Haymitch when he awkwardly tries to pat her shoulder, and she cries and cries and cries until he fetches Peeta.
"You finally did it," Haymitch declares, chortling, "you finally knocked her up, didn't you?"
Peeta kisses the crown of her head, and she hiccoughs sadly, still so upset, and she doesn't know why, her clothes or Haymitch or her own stupid self. "Come on," Peeta murmurs. "I'll make you something sweet and sugary." He helps her back into the house, and she hates this, all of it.
"I feel too much," she tells Peeta, swiping at still more tears. "It's all too much."
He makes the cookies a double batch.
A few months later, and she refuses to look at herself in the mirror.
Her whole body is different, from thicker thighs to a rounder face to stretched scars across her swollen belly and her swollen breasts, and she doesn't feel like herself, feels almost invaded. Her body is not her own anymore, and she hasn't felt like this since she was sixteen.
The entire district knows now, because they can't not know when her stomach is so round and so obvious, and they're all especially nice to her. They don't try to touch her stomach anymore, not after she loudly shouted at the butcher that she would cut off his hand with his own knives if he didn't take his hand off her stomach that instant, but she can't make them ignore the baby entirely.
Her boots don't even fit over her swollen ankles anymore, and Sae offers to trade some of her meat for some dresses that will fit her new shape. They remind her of the Capitol, the light, soft material Sae finds for her, but at least they don't make her breasts hurt to wear, and it's easier to breathe.
It doesn't matter what she wears, honestly, because all she does now is putter around the house.
She can't hunt, not anymore. She tries to despite the baby bump, but a string of welts on her arm and the face Peeta makes when he sees them, well, it's a wonder he didn't hide her bow from her.
Her nightmares are worse every night, and she can't really sleep at all, doesn't even try.
She can't stand it, any of it. She just wants it to be over. She knows that Peeta can tell how upset she is, how unhappy, and they don't talk about the baby ever to appease her. But his hand still finds its way to her stomach every night, and he works on the nursery every evening, and this is real.
She wants to take it all back so badly, but she can't. It's too late.
The kitchen feels especially warm when all the windows are frosted with snow, and a loaf of raisin bread is already on the table for her. Peeta smiles at her as he pulls another loaf from the oven.
"Morning," he greets, and she offers a small smile. She cuts herself a slice of bread as she settles at the table, relishing the sweet smell that rises up to meet her. She closes her eyes, curls her toes in the wool socks that she stole from Peeta, and tries to wish away her sore back. And she opens her eyes, a little happier, only to realise the butter is on the counter. She forces herself back to her feet.
As she passes Peeta, she runs a hand along his shoulder blades.
Peeta touches her shoulder, kisses the side of her head, over her messy hair, falling around her shoulders. It takes too much energy to braid it back constantly, and it's not like she has any reason to. She smiles a little and picks up the butter dish. But his hands are on her waist, and he trails a few kisses along her neck before she feels his hand unsnap the button at the back of her blue dress. "Peeta," she warns, but his other hand cups her breast lightly, his lips wet on her neck.
"I miss you," he whines, "you barely even let me kiss you anymore."
She pulls back from him. "I'm pregnant," she reminds him. Her body isn't her own, and she doesn't want his hands on her, doesn't want him to kiss her stretched scars or feel the baby between them. She can't think about sex when her body just isn't her own, not right now.
"I made sure it was okay," he teases, reaching a hand out to brush her arm, "you can still kiss your husband when you're pregnant, Katniss." He smiles a little, more serious. "And we can still —"
"I don't want to," she snaps at him, drawing her arm back.
He stares for a moment before he sighs. "I'm sorry. It's fine." His smile isn't quite so genuine.
"After the baby is out," she says, softening.
He touches her hair lightly, and she lets him. She kisses the corner of his mouth.
Johanna stalks into the house on a Wednesday, snow in her glossy hair, her cheeks pink from the cold as she drops her bags unceremoniously in the kitchen. She kisses Peeta wetly before she turns to Katniss, and she looks a little manic when she grins. Katniss feels her heart sink at how she must look to her abrupt guest, all swollen limbs and messy hair as she sits sprawled on the sofa.
"I didn't believe it," Johanna says. "A different rumour about you two springs up every year, and I just didn't believe the latest tall tale, but, oh, Katniss, you finally broke." She laughs loudly, her eyes bright, and Katniss remembers all their talk of how they couldn't imagine bringing a baby into this world, even a baby as sweet and cute as little Finnick Odair, the spitting image of his father.
"Always a treat, Jo," Peeta says, picking up her bags. "How long this time?"
Katniss braids her hair, forces her feet into her boots, and takes Johanna out to the woods with her.
Johanna still isn't married, but she finds ways to keep busy, too stubborn to abandon her hard won life but too broken to do much more than be too stubborn, even after all these years. But she isn't alone anymore; she has people to love, has her small, adopted family of fellow victors, has little Finn, who calls her "Aunt Jo" and worships the ground she walks on, even if he isn't so little now.
"Let's hear it," Johanna says, stretching out on the grass, "what changed your mind?"
Katniss shrugs, leaning back against a tree as comfortably as she can. It turns out comfortable is something of a relative term for her these days. "He wanted a baby so much," she finally murmurs.
"And you said no easily enough for fifteen years," Johanna replies, rolling onto her side and propping herself up on her elbow. "He didn't trick you, did he? I wouldn't think he had it in him."
"All those years ago in the arena," Katniss explains, "I imagined the long life he would have if I could save him, how he would be able to recover, how he would finally find someone to love him, would finally be happy, have children. And now that he has survived, and I'm the person who loves him, shouldn't I at least give him this, after everything that we've been through?"
She doesn't mean the words to come out as desperate as they sound, and she looks at the grass.
"Are you scared?" Johanna asks, surprisingly gentle.
"Terrified," Katniss admits.
Katniss meets her gaze. "Myself. Starvation. Manipulation. Trackerjacker venom." She swallows thickly. "Prim. Mutts. Nightmares. A baby. All of it, Johanna. It's all too much." She closes her eyes, tries to block out the world. "I mean," she says, voice strangled, "imagine me as a mother."
"You'll make the rules," Johanna says. "And you'll be the one to enforce them, too."
Katniss opens her eyes. "What?"
"Well, it isn't as if you can count on Peeta to be a strict disciplinary," Johanna says. "Also, the kid will be fat. Peeta will feed him cookies like it's his job. It is his job, matter of fact. But I'm sure you'll still love your fat, spoiled baby." Her eyes soften. "You love too fiercely not to, trust me."
Katniss chokes a little on all her stupid feelings, her eyes burning with tears.
Johanna reaches out, touches her knee. "And, hey, if anyone does try to hurt your kid, think about how many people he'd have to fight first. Annie would scream the attacker deaf, Haymitch would train his geese to attack, I would whip out my old throwing stars, and you and Peeta — God, Katniss, a kid couldn't possibly be safer than the kid that has the two of you for parents."
She smiles a little, crinkling the laugh lines around her eyes, and Katniss tearfully smiles back.
Johanna asks before she leaves if she should mention the baby to Annie.
She asks as if it might be a weighed question, and Katniss realises it is. If she mentions it to Annie, then that means her mother will know, and she hasn't found the courage to call her mother yet. She knows she should; her mother will probably want to know. But it's not as if her mother will ever meet the child, not when Katniss can't leave District 12, and her mother won't ever return.
"I'll call Annie myself," Katniss replies.
She does, and Annie actually squeals in excitement. She makes Katniss swear to call as soon as the baby is born with the name and the gender and every little detail, "but you don't need to send any pictures," Annie says brightly, "because I'll be on the first train with Finn to come visit!"
And Katniss assumes Annie will somehow pass the news on to her mother.
She tries to teach herself how to knit.
A baby needs clothes, right? She orders some yarn from the capitol, and Sae finds her some needles and shows her the basics. She starts with a scarf for Peeta, just for practice. It comes out rather lumpy, the stitches too loose and mismatched, but Peeta wears it, a cheeky smile on his face.
It takes her seven more scarves before she feels ready to tackle a hat. She makes one for Haymitch.
He makes a face at her, but he takes the odd, lumpy attempt. He stops by the house the next day, though, and he thrusts a blanket at her. It doesn't really have any colour, is more of a simple kind of soft cream shade, and the material is stretched a little thin is some places, old and loved, but it's clean, and it's soft under her fingers. She looks at Haymitch for an explanation.
"It belonged to my kid sister. I'm not about to use it. And the less you knit, the better."
She can't find the right words, and his unshaven cheeks start to turn red. "You still cart around that little pearl of yours," he says. "So take the blanket." And he stomps out of the house.
She holds the blanket to her face, and she smiles into the soft, neat, loved stitches.
Effie calls, just like she was bound to do eventually, and Katniss lets Peeta talk to her.
She knows what Effie will want, a wonderful television special, to plan a baby shower, to show the world how happy her old tributes are with a new addition to their family. As begrudgingly fond as she is of Effie after everything, Katniss isn't about to let the world have any piece of the baby.
And Effie tells Peeta if Katniss wants, Effie can probably pull some strings to have her old restriction to District 12 lifted. "You've done your time in that dreadful place," Effie says, "a new government is in place, and the whole country would love to see you raise your child here!"
Katniss glares so furiously Peeta has to remind her that Effie said it, and he only repeated it.
It doesn't take long for Plutarch to call, too. Katniss doesn't know what he says, but it makes Peeta slam the phone down violently. Katniss rewards his adamant refusal with a kiss, completely uninterested in what Plutarch must have wanted. If she has any say whatsoever, and she does, the baby will never know even what the lens of a film camera looks like, thank you very much.
The sudden fluttering jerk inside her paralyses her.
She can't move, and she is all alone; the house is empty, afternoon sunlight too blindingly bright on her face as she works on the plant book, and she doesn't know what to do. She feels frozen in panic, and she reminds herself to breathe, but the effort hurts.
The closest person to her is Haymitch.
She forces herself to her feet, and she makes it over to his house, bangs on the door, screams for him. She needs him to fetch Mrs. Hoptay. He starts to protest, but she tears the bottle out of his hand and threatens to smash his face in with it if he doesn't find the healer that instant, because —
Her stomach flutters, a strange sensation inside her, and the bottle shatters as it hits the ground.
She grips the doorframe. "Now, Haymitch," she hisses, panicked. "But not Peeta. Not yet."
Mrs. Hoptay looks her over half an hour later, running soft, cold hands against her stomach, asking her questions, feeling her pulse. "You're fine, dear," she finally announces. "If all you felt was a little movement, you really have nothing to worry over. The baby just wanted a stretch."
Katniss stares at her. "It moves? The baby moves? Inside me, it moves?"
"Yes, my dear," Mrs. Hoptay murmurs, her lips twitching. "Is this the first time, then?"
"I've felt a — a weird — flutter before," Katniss admits, "but I thought it was just an upset stomach. This time, though, it was —" She can't believe this. She knows she should have expected as much; she isn't totally unaware what pregnant women experience, expect apparently she is.
"And you'll likely feel more in the months to come," Mrs. Hoptay warns. "It'll be painful at times, and a little scary, too, if the child catches the hiccoughs or is a little restless, but it's all normal. It's nothing to fuss over, dear, I promise you that." She smiles.
Katniss nods, and Mrs. Hoptay leaves. The terror doesn't. It stays with Katniss.
Peeta looks worried when he arrives home, and she knows some sort of gossip must have reached him at the bakery. But he finds her safe at the kitchen table, where she has sat firmly planted since Mrs. Hoptay left. He kneels down in front her, finding her hands. "What happened?" he asks.
His eyes search her face. "The baby?" He hesitantly reaches to touch her stomach, only to pause.
Her heart seizes a little. "It's fine, Peeta. You touch my stomach every night when I'm supposed to be asleep. It's fine. You're my husband. You're the — the father." She takes his hand and presses it over her stomach. The baby calmed a few hours ago and hasn't moved since, but it'll happen again.
"Are you okay?" Peeta asks softly.
"Mrs. Hoptay says it was normal," Katniss replies.
"I know," Peeta says, "but are you okay?"
She finally looks him in the eye. "This baby is actually inside of me," she whispers. "And I know that, I have known that, but it's all suddenly so painfully real, and — and what if it comes out, Peeta, what if this baby comes out, and I don't — what if I can't love it like I should? This world might not be full of twisted Games and poverty and — and all of that, but what about me?"
"You already love this baby, Katniss," he says, "you just don't know it yet."
She shakes her head. "I hate this entire pregnancy, but I'm supposed to love the actual —?"
"It's not about what you're supposed to do," he murmurs. He shakes his head. "You think you're this cold, hard person, and you are tough, but you're not — you sell yourself short. You think someone who couldn't love her own baby would be able to handle Johanna as a best friend? You think someone who couldn't love her own baby would clean up after Haymitch year after year? You think someone who couldn't love her own baby would have the nightmares you have?"
He stares at her so intently. "You think someone who couldn't love her own baby would have practically raised her own sister?" He speaks at a whisper, and her heart clenches. Prim. She would have been a wonderful mother, a natural, so sweet and so loving. She deserved to be a mother.
And Katniss —
"You always think the best of me," she tells Peeta, shaking her head at him.
But he shakes his head right back at her, and he reaches up to cup her face. "You don't even understand, do you? I've never met anybody who loves as much as you do, who loves so fiercely."
The words echo in her head. "Johanna said that, too," she whispers. "That I loved fiercely. But —"
"It's because it's true," he insists, his thumb stroking her cheek.
She grasps his wrists. "I need you to promise me that you will love this baby enough for the both of us, okay? That you will be so good to him, or to her, and love him enough for two — promise."
"I won't have to," he starts.
"Just promise me," she insists. "Promise."
He nods. "I promise, sweetheart."
She presses her face into his neck, clings to him. And her stomach flutters as the baby moves.
She holds Peeta tighter.
The winter starts to thaw. Katniss is bigger than ever, and the house seems smaller than ever. She waddles rather than walks, much to the amusement of Haymitch. She is ready to be finished with this pregnancy. She misses the woods, misses the freedom, misses the sight of her own feet.
The baby moves a lot now, sometimes painfully so, sometimes random jerks like hiccoughs, and Katniss starts to grow accustomed, but she wishes the child would just stay still, perhaps sleep.
If she can't sleep, the baby might as well. The nightmares exhaust her, and that's only after she spends hours awake, unable to fall asleep simply because she feels so restless, so unable to make her heavy, bloated limbs stay still, so unable to coax her own tired mind into sleep. Peeta worries.
She misses the weight of him, so much better than the weight on her now. She misses the way he kisses her, misses the heat, the fire, the only kind of fire she wants. She thinks about him, about the smooth planes of his back, his history mapped out across his skin in faded scars, soft to the touch.
And the warmth pools in her, and she just wants — needs —
She hates the way she feels in her own skin, and she hates how she feels so out of control. He sleeps beside her, soft snores hidden in his heavy breath, his mouth wet and warm against her shoulder, his leg half tangled with hers. She stares up at the ceiling. The baby flutters.
She tries to sleep. She shifts a little, her back sore. His leg shifts against hers. She just needs —
She slips her hand down, cups herself, and her whole body shudders. She thinks of his hands, his thick fingers, sugar and flour and something sweet always caught around his nails, small, shiny pink burns from the ovens hidden in the lines of his knuckles. She rocks against her own hand.
And she moans. Aloud.
The sound slips out, and she bites down on her lip, tries to calm herself down, but a larger hand covers her own, and his mouth moves sloppily along her neck. "Let me," he whispers, a plea in his voice, and she nods. She misses his closeness, and she needs some kind of relief, and he is big and warm and here and hers. She finds his lips, kisses him, tries to press closer to him.
She arches off the bed when his fingers slip into her, half a scream torn from her throat, and he mumbles senseless words against the flushed skin of her cheek. She bucks against his hand, and somehow she finds his free hand, and she holds it over her breast, squeezes. Oh. Yes. Oh —
"Katniss," he breathes, "I just — you're so —" His hands are on her hips suddenly, and she wants to cry at the loss of contact, the emptiness. She was so close. He shifts, and he bends her legs, and she feels heavy and useless in his arms, but she snakes a hand down to touch herself.
He stops her hand, and she finds herself astride him. He lifts her up, lets her sink down.
Her heart stutters, her breath catches, and she scrambles for purchase, grips the headboard tightly. Her eyes find his, so dark as they glitter from moonlight and stare up at her, his mouth parted just slightly, his lips glossy with spit. His hands burn her hips as he holds her painfully tight, shifts her up, and she rocks on her heels and slams back down, because she needs him inside her.
It doesn't take long before she unravels completely; it's already been too long since they've been together, and his movements become jerky quickly as he follows after her. He doesn't take his eyes off hers when he finally finishes. She feels him soften inside her, and she brushes his sweaty hair from his face. He needs a haircut. "I feel fat," she tells him. He chuckles, and he moves her easily off of his lap, laying her back against the pillows. He kisses her cheek as he pulls his pants back up.
"You're beautiful," he replies.
She falls asleep to his hand running along her arm, to the feel of his steady heartbeat against her shoulder blade, and she doesn't have any nightmares as she sleeps through the rest of the night.
The nightmares return, of course. Snow sits in her kitchen with a faceless little girl on his lap, and Cato begs her to help him, even as he carries off the little girl, and Katniss screams and screams and screams for help but no one can hear through the flames, no one except Boggs, who can't move from the puddle of his own blood on the floor of her old house in the Seam, and her father sings to try to calm her down, but she can see her daughter on the television screen, in the Games.
And she can't do anything; she is so painfully helpless.
She wakes up to the sound of her own screams. That hasn't happened in so long.
Peeta wipes the sweat off her forehead, rubs her back, and tells her it was only a nightmare.
Peeta covers her eyes with his hand before he pushes open the nursery door.
She hasn't stepped foot in the place since he started all the work on it, but he finally finished and wants to show it off to her, and apparently he needs to make a whole production out of it. He nudges her foot, his back to her chest, and guides her into the room. He slips his hand off.
The window is open, pretty yellow curtains fluttering in the wind, and the room is bright and clean, the walls painted like a sunrise, all soft pinks and oranges, this amazing piece of art. Peeta put in shelves, too, and she realises those heavy boxes he ordered from the Capitol last month must have been filled with books just for children. Katniss still can't really read much herself, not beyond crude basics, but the baby won't be raised like she was, not even close.
The cot is tucked against the wall, painted a simple white to match the simple white dresser and the simple white table, the baby blanket from Haymitch draped over the side, a pretty stuffed bear on the cushion. A fan circles softly overhead, and the room is clean and quiet and made for a baby.
"What do you think?" Peeta finally asks, impatient.
She leans back against him. "It's . . ." She isn't sure how to say it. "It's a whole room for a baby."
He nods, his cheek brushing hers as he leans down at little, his arms wrapped around her stomach, and he must understand. Peeta always understands what she can't seem to say, and she feels herself tear up a little. But she doesn't want to cry. "I like it," she finally adds. She feels him smile.
A camera crew rolls in on the six o'clock train.
Katniss hides in the upstairs closet. They've harassed her before, only a few years ago on the tenth anniversary of the war, but she stayed hidden away as Peeta and Haymitch distracted the cameras.
It isn't as easy to curl up in the closet now; she can't even pull her knees to her chest. She knows that she shouldn't make Peeta face the cameras alone, because he hates them as much as she does. But she can't help it. She feels sick, and she thinks she might actually be sick. Her stomach churns.
A little while later, Peeta appears. "They've left. I told them I would do an interview, and Haymitch promised the same, but I don't know if it will be enough. Apparently," and he pauses to smile a little, "the whole district has ignored the cameras, and no one will talk about you."
She knows she should like that, but she can't think about it all right now. Peeta holds out his hand, but she doesn't want to leave. The camera crew is probably just fooling him, waiting for her to leave the sanctity of her closet. He sighs, and he moves to sit beside her as he pulls the door closed.
She leans her head against his shoulder, trying to shift her uncomfortable weight.
"It's you that they really want," he tells her quietly. "They're desperate for it, Katniss, for the Mockingjay on camera for the first time in fifteen years, and pregnant to boot." He pauses, the silence apologetic. "And you can't hide in here forever." He wraps an arm around her shoulders.
She might not be able to hide in here forever, but she can certainly last a while.
"If you do an interview while you're pregnant," Peeta says, "it'll be easier to keep them away when the baby is actually born. And we're kind of low on time for that." She only shakes her head. He moves his hand to rub the knots out of her lower back, and she closes her eyes.
She falls asleep beside him in the closet, and she wakes up safely tucked in bed beside him.
She doesn't know what Peeta and Haymitch talk about in their interviews, but apparently Peeta convinces Mrs. Hoptay to do an interview about the pregnancy to appease the minions that Plutarch sent. It's always Plutarch. Katniss stays stubbornly inside the house, the curtains drawn, until finally Peeta announces that the camera crew has left. He sounds as relieved as she feels.
"I'm sorry I made you handle them," she says, and she really is.
He nods. "I know. But as long as you have my baby inside you, I think I can handle the cameras for you both." She melts a little at his sweet words, but it isn't hard to make her melt these days.
As it turns out, though, they fooled Peeta. Because most of the camera crew might have left on the train that night, but as she walks outside the next morning, just to stretch her legs a little and feel more like a person and less like a beached whale, she hears cameras suddenly, and they flash brightly. "Katniss Everdeen!" a man shouts, and she spins around in horror to see two strangers.
The baby jumps inside her, a sudden kick that jolts her, and she runs as quickly as she can, her arms around the baby, down the path between the houses. They chase after her, but she finds the back kitchen door of her old house, still empty after all these years, even unlocked, because no one would dare touch the awful old place. She slams and locks the door, slamming down the shades.
They bang on the door, but she backs her way into the dusty sitting room, and it's quiet.
She takes a deep breath and tries to calm her heart. The baby kicks her, and she runs a hand over the spot. "You were frightened, weren't you?" she murmurs. "They startled you, too." A tiny kick hits the palm of her hand, and she looks down at her stomach, and for the first time she actually tries to imagine a little baby curled up inside her, safe and sound.
And completely helpless, too, a life dependent on Katniss.
"I won't let anyone hurt you," she whispers. "This world, it isn't so wonderful, but you won't be alone in it, you know. I can keep you safe. I'll make sure of it."
Her mind flickers to what Peeta said the week before, when the cameras first arrived. If she talked to them while she was pregnant, she might not have to deal with them when the baby was born. He isn't wrong. If she talks to them now, she can protect the baby later.
She frowns a little. She hid in a closet like a little kid, made Haymitch and Peeta face the cameras, and they let her, because they always indulge her like that, always take care of her, even with all their own nightmares. She didn't used to be like that; she didn't let other people fight her battles.
She used to take care of her own. And she still will. She has to; this baby needs her protection.
"I should call Plutarch, shouldn't I?" she murmurs, she runs her hands over her stomach. "I'll talk to him. We'll make a deal, and he won't bother you, okay? I'll take care of it."
She puts on a pretty green dress, pins her hair up, and sits beside Peeta on the sofa. Plutarch wanted to send her old prep team, but she refused. If the country deserves to see the Mockingjay today, like he loftily claims, then they'll see the Mockingjay exactly as she is. Peeta wraps an arm around her shoulders. The baby aims a random kick, always moving these days.
And the little blinking light on the camera suddenly stills to record her.
She rests a hand over the tiny toes that just barely peaked out to greet the world, Peeta squeezes her hand, and Katniss offers the best smile she can manage. "My name is Katniss Mellark," she starts.
She doesn't read the script Plutarch sent. She talks about her life, how she hunts in the forest, helps Peeta at the bakery, lives her life. She shows the plant book, before Peeta displays some of his artwork. She claims that she loves the cheesy buns he bakes best, and he laughs, kisses her cheek.
And she leaves out the kids who hunt with her, and how much she hates the tourists.
She wants to leave out all talk of the baby, too, but that isn't really an option.
"After all these years, why did you finally decide to have a child?" the camerawoman asks. "Or have you only just now been blessed after years of struggles for another child of your own?" It would make for a beautiful story, but Katniss didn't agree to tell pretty stories.
(She completely ignores the veiled reference to her fake pregnancy.)
"I never wanted children," she tells the camera. "It took Peeta a long time to change my mind, to convince me that this world isn't like the world that raised me. After everything that happened, after everyone I lost, after the Hunger Games, I was afraid to have a child of my own. But we fought a war to change the terrible world I knew so that future children could know a better life."
Peeta covers her hand on her stomach with his own, and the camerawoman seems torn. She was probably supposed to ask about the pregnancy next, about mood swings and cravings and any possible names, so as to show all of Panem that the Mellarks are just like any other parents.
But this is just the perfect opportunity to ask about the war, about the crazy shot to the wrong president. According to Haymitch, half the country pities her moment of insanity and half the country believes she acted with knowledge kept secret from the public.
It doesn't matter to her what they think, and it's all old news now, anyhow. Katniss smiles at the woman and waits. She leans a little against Peeta. And, flustered, the woman finally decides.
"How has your pregnancy been so far?"
It'll happen soon, she knows.
The months have ticked by. And every part of her always aches, and she can never eat enough, and everything makes her anxious. She worries when her belly button suddenly pops out, and she worries when the baby moves less and less, but it's all normal, Mrs. Hoptay says, because it's almost time. Another month, and the baby will be born. Katniss is more terrified than ever. She knows how awful birth is, how painful, how dangerous, how easily it can kill her and the baby.
Her mind flickers to Peeta, to what he would become were she and the baby to die. And all she knows is that if she has to die, the baby has to live, because Peeta won't survive otherwise.
He is more excited than ever, and he barely lets Katniss out of his sight. He bakes from home whenever he can, leaving charge of the bakery to someone else. If she wants a chance to waddle around a little, he walks with her to the bakery, where she ends up on her ass, just like at home.
She loves Peeta so much, but he starts to make her want to tear all her hair out.
And, yes, Peeta, she can lift her own arms up to brush her own hair, and it won't hurt your baby.
This is his baby, though, the baby he's wanted for years and years and years. It makes her soften towards him, and she lets him hover and brush her hair and ask her how she feels every five minutes, even if she sometimes snaps her answer at him. It doesn't bother him when she does; it's just the hormones, he tells her, delighted, because hormones mean his baby and he loves his baby.
Still, if he would hover just a little less, she would appreciate it.
Haymitch is at the house when it happens.
A sudden crash alarms Katniss, and she looks over from the kitchen table to see the bread that Peeta had started to pull from the oven is now splattered across the ground. Peeta is completely still, his shoulders tight, and her heart stops for a moment, because she knows that posture well.
"What's the matter?" Haymitch asks, sprawled in a seat across from Katniss
She ignores him. "Peeta," she murmurs softly, and she uses the table to help her stand. Haymitch repeats his question. Katniss still ignores him. She walks carefully towards her husband. "Peeta."
He turns to face her, and his hand is fisted around his oven mitt, his eyes strangely blank in his pinched, angry face. She reaches out to touch his hand. He doesn't respond. She tries to uncurl his fingers, even as she holds his gaze. "Peeta." It works best like this, when she offers a soft and simple call back to reality, to what's real, to her. His hand unclenches but suddenly snaps around her wrist with a sudden jerk. His lips curl a little, and his eyes bore into hers furiously.
She stares back, and she thinks about the baby room he made, and the pearl he had set in a ring for her for their tenth anniversary, and the taste of burnt bread in the overheated living room on a Friday afternoon when they finally made it real, and she hopes all those moments shine in her eyes.
If not, she'll say them aloud to him, a reminder.
His hand loosens. His shoulders slumps. He blinks a little and takes a shaky step back. She smiles, relieved, and reaches for him. But he only backs away further. "No," he says, shaking his head, and before she can think that maybe the episode isn't over, his eyes flicker to her arm.
Angry red marks already bloom across her bony wrist, and she knows what the problem is.
"It's fine," she says dismissively. "It'll fade in a day."
"You're pregnant," he says, voice strangled. "And if I did that, think what else —"
He hasn't had an episode like this in nearly a year, she realises, if not more than a year. He hasn't had to deal with this since before she was pregnant, and she starts to shake her head at him. He can't be afraid to hurt her. They already dealt with that particular fear of his fifteen years ago when they first found their way back to each other. But she wasn't pregnant fifteen years ago, was she?
"I should check in at the bakery," he says, and he ducks around her. He needs air.
She lets him have his air, and she looks at Haymitch.
He doesn't make any comment as the front door slams, and she can be thankful for that, at least.
But he doesn't want to sleep in the bed with her that night. He can't look her in the eye, and he won't touch her, won't even let her take his hand. It doesn't take long for her frustration to rise. He can't do this. She needs him to hover, because she needs him to be Peeta, and he can't be afraid.
She finally corners him in the bathroom. "You can't do this," she says. "You can't take it back."
"What?" He frowns, uncomfortable. "Take what back?"
"This baby," she says. "You wanted a baby. And I'm giving you a baby. You can't change your mind. You can't be scared. I'm already terrified enough for the both of us." She tries to keep her voice level and calm, because she needs him to hear her. "You can't take it back."
He deflates a little. "I don't — I thought I was finished. I thought I had finally —" He swallows thickly, his eyes pained. "I hate that I hurt you, and I will never forgive myself if I ever hurt —"
She reaches for his hand, and he doesn't pull away. "You will always have scars, Peeta. I'm not the woman that lets her husband beat her. That's not what this relationship is. That's not what happens. You're sick, Peeta. It won't ever be finished. I'm sick, too. I still have days when I can't leave bed."
He starts to say something, but she doesn't let him.
"When that happens, though, when I can't leave bed, you'll take care of our baby, won't you?" she waits for him to nod, searching his face. "So why can't you trust that, if you take care of me and protect our baby when I'm sick, I'll take care of you and protect our baby when you're sick?"
She brushes her thumb across his knuckles, and he finally looks at her.
"We're in this together, right?" she whispers. "Because I didn't volunteer to do this without you."
Again, he nods, and his eyes are watery. She tugs his hand, and he finally moves towards her.
It isn't until after, as he lies asleep beside her in bed, his hand on her stomach, that she realises.
All this time, all these months, it's been the baby, or his baby. It's never been their baby. It's never been her baby. But it is. This is her baby, too. Her heart almost stops at the thought, and she isn't sure the terror of it all, of a child all her own, will ever really fade. She can't take it back, though.
The next morning, Peeta brings her breakfast in bed. He plans to work from home. He hovers.
Her mother calls.
She tells Katniss that she saw the special on television. Annie must not have mentioned it, if her mother had to hear about it on television. "I thought you never wanted children, but I'm so glad that you changed your mind," her mother says, her voice quiet, almost shy.
Katniss doesn't really know what to say. "Peeta really wanted a baby," she finally replies.
"I'm sure he'll be a wonderful father," her mother says, a smile in her voice now.
"I know," Katniss says. It's quiet. Katniss looks at Peeta, pretending not to eavesdrop as he paints, and she smiles a little. "I'll send you a picture," she tells her mother. "Of the baby. When it's born."
"I'd like that," her mother murmurs.
And that's the whole conversation.
She starts to feel changes. She can breathe a little easier, she realises, but that terrifies her when she thinks about what it might mean. It's all normal, Mrs. Hoptay says. Katniss wakes up to flecks of blood on the sheets, but Mrs. Hoptay promises her that's normal, too; it means it'll happen soon.
It consumes all her thoughts. Soon.
A flood of letters come from all around the country, mostly well wishes now that everyone knows she is pregnant. She doesn't bother to read them. But Annie sends boxes of old toys, and Katniss arranges those around the nursery, and a few men from the Seam who helped Peeta rebuild the bakery make her a rocking chair that Peeta proudly places in their bedroom, right by their bed.
The sudden pain somehow isn't so sudden, as alert as she is. She touches a hand to her back and grits her teeth. Mrs. Hoptay warned her that pain would probably mean soon had finally begun.
"Haymitch," she says. He grunts from his chair beside her on the porch. "Haymitch."
His eyes widen as he looks at her, and he nearly drops his bottle.
"I need Peeta. And Mrs. Hoptay. Now."
Haymitch helps her to her house, up to her bed, and he stumbles out of the room. She almost doesn't want him to leave, doesn't want to be alone, can't be alone, can't do this, but Peeta must sprint to the house, because he appears breathlessly in the doorway before she can start to panic.
"Mrs. Hoptay is on her way," he tells her. "What can I do? Anything?"
She shakes her head. She doesn't even know what she can do. Mrs. Hoptay arrives moments later.
"I already set Haymitch to boil some water and collect some fresh towels for us," she announces.
She has Peeta prop Katniss up against the headboard, and she knows just what to do, so Katniss tries to focus on her instructions, spreads and bends her legs like she says, breathes in and out like she says, doesn't panic when she feels something trickle down her leg, just like Mrs. Hoptay says.
But she starts to panic when the pain becomes constant, when Mrs. Hoptay says that this is it, and Katniss clamps her legs closed. "No," she breathes. "No. I've changed my mind." She looks at Peeta, sitting beside her on the bed, an arm around her shoulder, a hand clenched in hers.
"Katniss," Mrs. Hoptay starts.
"It's safe inside me," Katniss whispers, her throat raw, sweat dripping into her eyes. "It's safe."
"You can't think like that," Peeta says, a soft reassurance in his voice. "You —"
She screams in his face, the onslaught of pressure unbearable, and Mrs. Hoptay clucks a little. "You can't keep your legs closed, dear; I'm afraid nature won't allow it. This is going to happen."
"No!" Katniss shakes her head. "If it stays with me, I can keep it safe. I will keep it safe. But if you take it, I can't — I can't let you — I can't lose —" The pain shoots up her back, and she sobs.
"Look at me, sweetheart," Haymitch says suddenly, and her eyes snap to his. She thought he left after he did his chores and delivered the clean towels. But he hasn't left. He sits on the bed, and he takes her hand, his eyes intent on hers. "We'll keep it safe. I promise. I managed to keep the two of you alive, didn't I? We'll keep it safe, you hear? We'll keep it safe."
She nods, taking a deep breath, and she lets Mrs. Hoptay pry her legs open. Haymitch and Peeta are on either side of her, holding her hands, and she squeezes and she pushes and she screams, and it hurts, it hurts so much she can't imagine why anyone would want this, would willingly do this.
"Katniss," Peeta breathes.
She bites down on her lip until she draws blood, and she wants to slap Mrs. Hoptay, and —
And it's all a blurred, painful, terrible rush, before another scream rises in chorus with hers. She nearly faints against Peeta. She closes her eyes, taking ragged breaths as her ears flood with the sound of loud, angry screams that aren't her own. She feels Peeta press a shaky kiss to her temple.
"Look," he whispers.
She looks, and Mrs. Hoptay holds it out. "A girl." Mrs. Hoptay holds her out, wrapped in the cream baby blanket, little, squashed face red, a dark layer of hair plastered in gunk to her fat head.
She takes the baby, the little girl, heavy and soft and warm, tiny limbs flailing. Peeta touches her tiny hand, and her tiny fingers clamp around his thumb. Katniss can hear his breath catch. "She's an angry little thing, isn't she?" Haymitch says. "Yours, for sure, sweetheart."
Katniss looks at Mrs. Hoptay, unsure, and Mrs. Hoptay unties the front of Katniss's dress.
A tiny little head turns towards her, and a tiny little mouth clamps onto her breast. Katniss is almost afraid to breathe at the strange sensation. She doesn't want to disturb her daughter, who uncurls her little fingers, releasing Peeta, and lets her little eyes flicker closed. Her tiny eyelashes are dark, too.
"We'll need to make sure you wash up properly," Mrs. Hoptay says, "and drink plenty, and rest plenty, and I'll check to see that your recovery isn't too hard. But for now —" She smiles.
And Katniss watches her baby, and she understands what Johanna and Peeta must have meant.
It warms inside her, this feeling, so sure, so instinctive, as if it had never not been inside her, so very much a part of her heart: real, overwhelming, fierce love. She won't ever let anyone touch this baby, this perfect, precious new life, completely untainted, her baby.
Her baby looks at her, blinks a little, contented, face pink now, and her big eyes stare at Katniss.
"Oh, that's a lovely blue," Mrs. Hoptay says. "I suspect that's the colour her eyes'll stay."
Katniss finally looks at Peeta, who gave her this baby. Her baby. Their baby. Hope.
"I think I want to name her after a flower, after all," she whispers.
Peeta nods. "Dandelion," he says. He smiles. "You love them."
"Actually," Haymitch says, "that's a weed."
It starts with a mistake.
Katniss returns from the woods to find Haymitch on the porch, just like always, wearing a dandelion necklace, and she smiles at him as he glares back at her. As long as he looks after her daughter while she hunts and Peeta bakes, she'll keep her mouth shut.
And then Dani stumbles over to Katniss to offer her a necklace, too.
It isn't made out of dandelions, though.
"Mama, I made you a 'specially pretty necklace!" She holds it up, so proud, and Katniss stares.
The little girl doesn't know she isn't supposed to pick the primroses, doesn't know that only Katniss touches those, just to tend to them, just to keep them alive. And she smiles at Katniss, waits, her soft black curls falling down over her shoulders and glittering nearly blue in the sunlight, freckles scattered over her little nose, her eyes such a bright blue. "Mama? I made it for you!"
Katniss kneels down, and Dani giggles in delight as she drapes the primrose necklace on Katniss.
(And, don't worry, Dani assures, she made a necklace for Papa, too.)
She tells Peeta that night. "At one point, my little sister was all I had," she whispers into their dark bedroom, her head on his shoulder. "And, despite everything, I'm glad I had that person, that someone, an unwavering friend to count on, an unquestioning ally to trust, a — a sibling to love."
"Katniss," Peeta says, a question in his voice.
"So if you want to have another baby," she continues lightly, "I might be okay with that."
He kisses her. "I might be okay with that, too."
Hold me down, sweet and low, little girl.
Hold me down, sweet and low, and I will carry you home.
Hold me down, sweet and low, little girl.
Hold me down, and I'll carry you home.