Peeta glances at me for my reaction to our visitors. I am not surprised that these officials have come, but at the same time neither of us knows what they are here to do exactly. I give a little shrug of resignation, and my husband gives a slight nod before turning back to the group.
"Yes. Please come in," he tells them. We move out of the way as they enter and lead to the living room. They all find places to sit down and ask us to do the same. They have left a couple of spots on the couch, so Peeta and I take our places there. I feel him take my hand and hold it. I know this is not just for me, but for him, too. We both need the reassurance now.
Eventually, the one who you can tell is designated the leader speaks. "As you know, Dr. Aurelius gave us the results of your examination the other week." He stops, and all Peeta and I can do it nod in assent. So, even though the doctor didn't say anything to us, he passed on what he had learned.
"We were not surprised that you were not expecting yet," the man continues, "but, we were surprised when the doctor mentioned that it was obvious you had not tried at all to conceive. That is why we are here today…to find out the reasons for this lack of effort on your part. We had hoped it was clear our intentions when we announced the plan behind the reaping. We are in desperate need of repopulating."
I am no good with words. I know this, and it is evident now as I have no idea how to respond. Luckily, I hear Peeta answer confidently. I had felt his hand tighten through the speech, so I can tell his emotions are rising.
"With all due respect," he says, "but what do you expect? You force complete strangers together, marry them, and ask that they create a baby right away. Now, I understand that due to the devastation that we are in a population crisis, but this is not the way to solve the problem. People and emotions are involved. Katniss and I have been spending the last month trying to just get to know each other, trying to make some kind of connection so that we could be intimate. It takes time to build a relationship."
"True," the official replies. "In normal circumstances that might be the case, but these are not normal circumstances. We don't have time to make sure relationships are built. It is more important that we get our population growing as fast as possible. As you heard, some have already been successful. And most have at least made attempts."
"I'm sure, but I respect Katniss too much to force her before she is ready." Peeta says.
The man turns to me. "And how does Mrs. Mellark feel about it?"
"We just wanted time to get to know each other." I state simply.
"Well, as I said there isn't time." he starts to get up. "We are here to tell you that you have until your next examination to show us you have at least attempted to fulfill your duties in this regard."
Peeta gets up and stares back at him. "And if we don't?" he asks. I suddenly look up at my husband in awe at his boldness. He is standing up for us.
The official gives a strange smile. "Then there will be some kind of recourse. One or both of you could be sent into service to fight with our soldiers, or more likely, separated and paired with another partner who might be better suited to help push you in the right direction. It's up to you." With that, he looks towards the others gathered and they all rise and follow him towards the door. He gives one last turn to us before exiting.
"Good evening to you both. We will be watching on how things develop here." With that the officials take sharp steps through the door into the corridors. The last one to leave is Haymitch, who right before walking through the door stops for a moment to look at us.
"I would do what they ask," he tells us quietly.
"Is there anything we can do?" Peeta asks. "It's wrong for them to force all of this on us."
"I agree with you. I understand the problems we face, but I don't like how they are going about it. But, let me tell you after listening to the District leadership that they are adamant about doing this and making it work. When they say there will be consequences, it will happen. So, in the meantime, do whatever you can." With that we nod in understanding, and the older man heads off to follow the others.
Peeta turns to me at this point. I can't exactly figure out what he is thinking from the look upon his face. I am still pondering myself on the scene that just unfolded. My main focus is the awe I feel at how this man before me defended us. He stood up to them so strongly and willingly for our rights. After everything that has built between over the past weeks and now this I am overcome with one thought. I think I might just be in love with my husband.
He remains quiet, so I ask him to tell me his thoughts. Peeta runs his hand through his hair. "I guess the first question I have is do you want to stay with me?"
"What do you mean?" I ask.
"I mean, they said if nothing happens then they would just pair us with another partner or send us to the fighting. Would you rather have that then stay with me?" I can see in his blue eyes that he is anxious as he waits for my answer to this.
Would I rather that happen? Not in a million years. "No, I don't want that. What if we try to run off? Go somewhere else where we can live without them controlling us?" I offer.
Peeta's answer is practical. "What about your family? All our friends? Would we be able to leave with everyone? Besides," he says in defeat, "at this point, where would we go? Everything has been destroyed."
He's right. It was a ridiculous idea. We are stuck in this if we want to stay together. And I know I do, and I am pretty sure Peeta does, as well. So now the question is, have we built enough between to be able to take that step? I need to ask the question.
I bring the topic up carefully. "Peeta, do you think you would be able to do it if we tried?"
I have a feeling his answer was going to be yes, but Peeta surprises me at what he does next. He takes both of my hands in his and looks down directly into my eyes. It's as if he wants me to really listen to everything he is about to say.
"Katniss," he begins, "do you know the first time I saw you?" Where is this going?
"Probably at school sometime," I answer.
"The first day," he replies. "You were wearing a red plaid dress with two braids instead of the one you wear now. My father pointed you out to me and told me a story about how he was in love with your mother until she left him for your father after she heard him sing. Later that day in the music assembly, you stood up and sang the Valley song. I swear when you sang the birds stopped to listen just like they did for your father, and like your mother, I knew I was a goner when I heard you. After that, I followed you every day to watch you go home. To make sure you were safe. Over time, my feelings for you have grown, even more so now since we have been together and I have gotten to know you even more." He stops for just a moment. "I love you, Katniss. I have loved you for a long time."
I am so astonished at his confession that I can't speak. I don't even know what to think. He is in love with me. He has been in love with me from the start. I just stand there continuing to look straight into his eyes. Peeta finally has one more thing to say. "So…yes, Katniss. I would most definitely be able to do it. But the question now becomes, would you?"
Would I? Could I? Should I? Do I? The questions come rapidly in my head, and it reels from the implications of what will happen depending on how I answer. Peeta must sense my needs, because he says. "You don't have to answer tonight if you need to think."
With that, he heads off back into our living room. I follow and we sit on the couch together and Peeta turns the evening news on. I sit there not watching the screen, but watching him. Always thinking about my needs. Another reason why I think I love him. He has given nothing but love and kindness to me as we have been put in this situation together. If we were back home, we would take all the time we need for things to develop. But we are not at home. We are here underground in District 13 with a rebellion going on and with no time.
Even in this situation, though, I know I have come to have strong feelings for my husband. Look how he just lovingly rubs my hand to comfort me as we sit here. After it ends, we know it is late and head to the bedroom to get ready for bed. After dressing and washing up, I join Peeta in the bed. I lay down facing him, no talking but looking straight at each other. He gently kisses me then, and the flood of sensations I always feel at his kiss enters me. With that, I know my answer.
As we break the kiss, I whisper, "Yes." He looks at me with a raised eyebrow. "Yes, I would be able to. We can make love together."
In the dark I can see a small smile on his face. "You're sure?" he softly asks as he brushes some hair out of my face.
I nod. "I'm sure. Not now…but soon." I tell him.
"Okay," he replies sleepily. "Soon."
We decide to wait a week before trying anything, mostly because our schedules in the meantime are so hectic. We both have long work hours ahead of us, and the following Saturday would be the first day that we would have some free time. It seemed like the best and most relaxed opportunity.
The anticipation through the week is both exciting and excruciating. On one hand, you can feel the electricity between us each time we touch or kiss knowing what is coming. At the same time, we are having to hold back so that we don't let things get out of hand too soon. It's the most painful at night, as we lie there together waiting to fall asleep. The tension is terrible, wanting to touch and taste, yet also nervous and trying to contain ourselves. I can only hope this will make our union more satisfying when it happens.
In the midst of my frustration and insecurity, I decide to visit my mother. I let her know that I was coming and that I wanted to talk alone. She told me that she would make sure that Prim would be out of the way. When I arrive and she opens the door, she smiles, and leads me to the kitchen table. A cup of tea is already waiting. She must know that I need something to calm me before I can speak about what is on my mind. I take a long first drink and let it soak in.
"There must be something pretty big on your mind," she states simply.
I nod. We let the silence linger for a few minutes. "How did you know you loved Father?" I finally ask her. "Was it when you heard him sing?"
She looks surprised at my question. "Well, I was mesmerized by him then, but I didn't love him. It was only later when I saw him giving up all the food he had hunted for the day to children even hungrier than he was that I knew I loved him. He was so gentle so kind. He took care of others first, and I knew then that he would be devoted always. And he was…" Mother's voice drifts off from the memories. She eventually comes back to the present. "What is this about, Katniss? You and Peeta?"
It's time to say it out loud. "I love him, Mom. I know it with all my heart now. We've decided to take that next step soon. I'm just frustrated and a little nervous."
She smiles. "Honey, that's normal. It wouldn't be if you weren't nervous. Are you sure, though?"
I can be confident at least about this part. "Yes. I'm sure. It's time."
"Then my advice is just when the moment comes to let go. Don't think so hard about everything, but let that feeling of loving Peeta overtake you. I think the rest will happen naturally."
Everything my mother says makes complete sense and gives me a feeling of peace. I can do this. We can do this. I hug her which is something I haven't done in a long time.
"Thank you," I tell her honestly.
"You're welcome, sweetheart. I love you, and I love Peeta too because he loves you maybe even more than I do, " she says.
"Do you think so?" I am curious as to her thoughts.
"Oh yes," she answers immediately. "I could see it as soon as I saw you two the first time you visited. It was in the way he looked at you. You weren't noticing, but I did. I recognized that look he had when he was watching you. I saw it on your father when he looked at me."
I am so happy at hearing this that I hug her again and almost run off without saying goodbye. I hurry to our compartment and go quickly to the Kitchen. Peeta is there baking cheese buns for the morning.
"Hey," he says with a smile seeing me.
"Hey yourself." I go up to him and give him a kiss on the lips, and deepen it more than I have in the past.
Peeta responds with a kind of goofy grin. "Well, someone seems to be in a good mood."
I return the smile. "Yeah, someone is. What's for dinner?"
We go about that evening and the next few in the same routine until the day decided upon arrives. We both wake, and you can feel the nervous aura in the air. Both of us seem to be unsure of exactly how to just act normally knowing what is coming tonight. We clean up and do some chores, and by lunchtime the tension is killing us.
"Let's get out of here for a while," Peeta suggests. I totally agree and we go up to the surface and take a walk into the woods. He takes my hand and soon enough we both calm and relax. We begin to talk about the week ahead and the rebellion news. Forces have moved on to District 3, trying to restore power there to be able to have more communications with 13. It would be nice for those wanting to have more contact with their loved ones than the infrequent letters.
With our walk, hours actually pass, and we head back to the quarters. Peeta starts to rub circles inside my palm to try and make sure I stay relaxed. I am better, though, and we go about making dinner. We had taken some special rations for tonight's meal, wanting it to be special. We take time together chopping up vegetables and putting spices on chicken. Peeta does most of the work as he is better in the kitchen, but I help.
Eventually, we sit down to the amazing meal. I find that Peeta has thought of everything, even having a couple of lit candles on the table as we eat. We have some small conversation, and I am given another surprise after we finish, my husband takes my hand and leads me into our living room where he has pushed the furniture back against the wall. There is some soft music playing and Peeta places my arms around his neck and puts his around my waist. We begin swaying to the music and to me it feels like magic is in the air. All I can see, hear, and feel is him.
As the song begins to end, Peeta lifts my chin and kisses me. I return it, and the anticipation all week has been worth everything. It is an amazing feeling and deepens quickly. After some time, he begins moving from my face, placing kisses along my neck, continuing to head downward. He eventually comes to my shoulder and begins kissing along my collarbone. It is wonderful, and then I feel Peeta bring his hand to my shoulder and slowly guide the strap of my sundress off to where is hangs on the side of my arm. He continues his exploration of the area, before moving over to the other side and doing the same thing. He eventually comes back to my lips and kisses me with even more passion that before.
When we part this time, breathless, he places his forehead on mine. "Ready?" he whispers.
With all the emotion I feel, there is only one answer. "Ready." Then with a last kiss, he takes my hand and turns to lead me into the bedroom...