Every day that we draw closer to the draft notices being served, I retreat more into my own self. My fear rises each moment that Peeta will be sent to the fighting, and the nightmares that come are the worst that I have ever had. I can't bear the thought of losing him Peeta now that I have just found him.
The dreaded day arrives, though, and hours actually pass without any notice. We dare not hope to dream that the odds might be in our favor for once. But, by the time we have cleaned up after our evening meal, we are fairly confident that Peeta's number was not drawn. Before bed, I breathe for the first time that day and lay down to be close to my husband. His warmth is the reminder I need that I am not dreaming. Peeta is still here, still real.
The next morning I get up and squeeze his hand. It reflexively squeezes back and the blue eyes open.
"Hey," I say to him.
"Hey," he replies as he places soft kisses on my face. "Still here."
"Yeah," I answer. "I guess we can breathe easy."
Peeta smiles at this. "For now. I can only imagine that some are not as lucky as we are this morning."
As I leave to go to my work assignment, I soon get reminded how true that is. I am not the only who could have lost someone to the war. As I pass by the community dining area, I see Delly and Fred huddled closely together at one of the tables. He has his arms around her, whispering to her while there are tears in her eyes. Oh, no.
The scene troubles me, and I can't focus on hunting at all. My aim is terrible when I do find any game. When noon comes, I practically run to the dining area, where I find the entire group already seated for lunch. Peeta walks over to me, takes my hand and talks to me quietly while leading me over.
"Fred and Finnick both got notices yesterday," he states.
"Finnick too?" I barely manage to get out. "I can't believe it. Annie and Delly must be in agony."
"They are." Peeta acknowledges. "Both of them are practically hysterical and Finn and Fred are trying all they can to calm them." I am practically shaking at this point. My husband takes my other hand and looks me in the eyes. "Don't you lose it too, okay? I'm here, and we both have to be strong for the girls."
I nod at him, and take a moment to compose myself, before putting a strong face on and begin to face the group. Tears are streaming down both Delly and Annie's faces, and their husbands are holding them and looking lost as to what to do. Johanna sits nearby; tapping her fingernails as anger is obviously bubbling under the surface. After a while she finally can't stand it.
"This is insane!' she practically screams. "Force us into relationships to become baby making machines, and then take the men away as soon as they knock us up." She is seething. "I almost rather go back to letting the Capitol be in charge."
"You don't mean that," I say. "I hate it as much as you do, but things will change once we win the war, won't it?" I'm sure my voice betrays how unsure I am.
"It better be," Johanna continues. "Or I am getting out there, pregnant or not, and taking my axe to a few people myself."
We all laugh. Johanna just has that way. The girls finally calm down and we all quietly eat together trying to talk of anything other than the inevitable. Eventually, we have to bring some things up. With the men leaving, plans have to be made to make sure Delly and Annie are taken care of.
I watch as Finnick leans over towards Peeta "You'll watch out for them, won't you? Make sure they eat enough? You're the only male left in the group."
Of course my husband promises. There is no way he wouldn't. I ask my own question of the bronze haired Adonis. "I'm surprised they picked you. We were assuming that they were going to draft those whose wives are already pregnant. They want babies so badly."
Finnick looks over at his wife sadly. "Annie is pregnant," he tells us so softly we almost don't hear it.
"What?" I am shocked. "Why didn't you tell us?"
"Annie wanted to keep it quiet," he explains. "And since we're not really part of their so called 'program,' the leadership hasn't been keeping a tab on us like they have the rest of you. We have thought she might be a couple of weeks ago and confirmed it."
"Congratulations, Finn" Peeta says. "It really is wonderful."
"I know," our friend states. "We were over the moon until now." He looks directly at us. "Please look after Annie. She's so fragile."
"We will," both Peeta and I tell him. Then, the group regretfully breaks apart as both husbands lead their wives to their rooms for their last night together. Peeta leads me to our own compartments and when we enter, both of us place our arms around each other, holding as tightly as possible.
"I just want to hold you close," I explain.
My husband just simply says, "I know." We just continue to stand there hugging and my head on his chest. Holding on to each other is all we really have right now.
The next day is excruciating as we watch about 40 men, some single, most married say tearful goodbyes to their loved ones. I came to say goodbye to my friends, but the looks from some of the other women are painful. They can't stand that I'm here knowing that my husband is one of the few who is staying while theirs are heading off to battle. I don't blame them for feeling that way. Both Fred and Finnick wave to us and they load on to a hovercraft that is taking them to where they will be trained. As it takes off, Annie just covers her ears, tuning out all the voices around her. Delly just sobs.
"I'm going to help them get back to their rooms," Peeta tells me. "Meet you back at our place?" I nod, and my husband lovingly leads both of our friends out, already keeping to the promise he made.
Over the next few weeks he continues to do so, taking extra loaves to each of their compartments, and making sure they eat at least some of their food when they join us for lunch. I try to help, as well, by keeping our gatherings light. I tell jokes and other funny stories about Prim or others from back home. They laugh politely, but I know it doesn't make much of a difference. Peeta, loving as always, tells me, though, that he is proud of me for trying.
We are so busy in our efforts for our friends that we almost totally disregard the duty that we had been assigned. It's only when Dr. Aurelius arrives again that I am reminded that I am supposed to get pregnant. Peeta must have not been thinking about it either, because he looks as surprised to see them as me.
"Why don't you come with us Katniss. We will get you set up for the usual tests." I walk behind them into the bedroom with the door closing behind me. As always, they first ask me for a urine sample which is for the big test. I can see the assistant place a pregnancy test in the yellowish liquid. While waiting, the doctor does a quick vaginal exam, which I don't think will ever be comfortable, no matter how many times I have it done.
Finally, the assistant takes the test out and hands it to Dr. Aurelius. He takes a quick look at it and looks at me, shaking his head. I am not pregnant this time. It's not a shock, but I was still a little hopeful, only if for no other reason than to get the leadership off our backs. Afterwards, they clean up, and we walk back out to where Peeta is. Once more he is sitting with Haymitch, who seems to continue to be the go between the leaders and us. My husband raises his eyebrow at me, and I shake my head. He shows that understands, and I can see that he wanted it too. Someday. I silently promise.
They all walk out, Haymitch last as always. "Just keep on trying," he tells us. As the door close, I walk into Peeta's arms. He gives me a kiss on the forehead.
"I love you," I say.
"I love you, too," he replies. "It's still early. We'll be fine." We redouble our efforts in that department over the next month, but at my next examination it's just the same. The fifth month is also, and by the sixth month, I can begin to see concern on Dr. Aurelius' face. At the next examination, when the test is negative, the doctor and assistants begin to ask questions to both Peeta and I. Extremely private and personal ones, at that.
"How often? What positions?" they inquire, amongst other things. They get more blood to do some extra testing, and even some samples from Peeta. I am given ovulation sticks that I am instructed to use to help with timing, as well as advice on different techniques we might consider trying that are known to be effective in conceiving. By the time they leave, I think we are so red in the face from the embarrassment that it will take at least a day or two before we are our normal color again.
"Oh, please let's get pregnant by the next time," my husband says to no one in particular, "because I never want to have to go through anything like that again."
"Me neither," I agree. Although for the most part we keep that part of our life much like it was, I do use the ovulation sticks. I let Peeta know when it shows that I am at my peak time, and we make our best attempts. If this doesn't work, then I don't' know what else to do.
But at my eighth month examination, the test is still negative. I look at the stick in disbelief. One line only. I had been so sure that we had done it this time. When my period comes a few days later, though, I know the test was true. Now they pump us with more questions about our activities, and provide us videos and other material to as they put it 'inspire us.' We do watch one of the films, and both of our eyes widen at the visuals we see. Horrified, we turn it off, and don't even attempt to look at any more.
The next month is busy preparing a baby shower for Johanna, Delly, and Annie. All three decided that it would be wasteful to have three separate showers, and that a combined shower would be more efficient for all. More fun, too, for them to be able to open presents and celebrate together. As I help them with planning, I have to admit it is difficult to sit there during their conversations.
"I've gained like 15 pounds in the last two weeks." Delly moans.
"Yeah, I've gained around that much too." Annie adds.
"If this kid doesn't come out soon, I'm just going to rip it out. I can't get comfortable no matter what I do." Johanna complains, now in her last couple of weeks before the baby is due.
"So, I'll just go blow up these balloons," I say and start to walk off. I wanted to get out of there before they could see that I was upset. When I finally get to my own rooms, I find Peeta and it only takes him one look to know how I am feeling. Automatically, he opens his arms.
"It's so hard to listen to them, going on about their pregnancies, when I'm….when I'm..." I am trying hard to hold myself together.
"You're so stressed out, sweetheart." he tells me while stroking my hair. "I think that is the main problem. We need to relax."
I know he's right, but with life as it is, we have to press on. The shower goes off without a hitch, and the girls all get lovely gifts. I go about my days still hunting and being with Peeta, but now counting down and dreading the days until my next examination.
When it arrives, I once more walk back to my bedroom slowly. The usual tests are done, and I finally lose it when again it is negative. I cry and cry. Dr. Aurelius pats my back patiently and he, along with the assistants takes me out to Peeta. All he can do is hold me. Because there is nothing he can say to reassure me. The doctor gives more advice which I barely take notice of and leaves. Haymitch gives us his own concerned look before following.
"You're right." I say once I finally calm down enough to speak. "We just need to relax. Any suggestions?"
Peeta thinks it over for a minute. "What if we just take a day to go to the meadow again? Forget about things here for at least a few hours?"
It sounds good to me, and we plan it for the following weekend. It turns out to be a beautiful sunny day. We head out and enjoy the food Peeta had prepared. We find a secluded spot to make love and it is the easiest I have felt in months. Late in the afternoon we are laying there, my head in my husband's lap, when there is a rustling through the trees.
"Katniss? Peeta? Are you here?" It's Annie. Out of breath with her huge stomach in front of her. "There you are! You've got to come with me. Johanna is in labor!" We practically run to get back, just in time to hear our friend screaming at the top of her lungs.
"Get it out!" We can hear her through the doorways from the waiting room of the medical wing. About an hour later, the cries we hear are different. Within minutes, a doctor comes out and announces that Johanna has had a baby boy. We go to see him through the nursery window. Dark hair and grey eyes exactly like his father.
"Oh boy. Jo is going to love that." Delly remarks with a smile. We spend the next days helping the new mother get into a routine. When the baby is a couple of weeks old, she has it down pretty well. We bring Johanna some bread since it is hard for her to get out right now. Peeta and I are just getting ready to leave when there is a buzz at the door. Johanna seems puzzled at who it could be, and when she opens the door, her face at first shows shock, and then almost ecstasy.
"Oh, baby!" she cries, and leaps into a pair of strong male arms. When we are clear of obstacles, we are surprised to see it's Gale. His wife is kissing his with no reservation, and we just stand there until Peeta gives a little cough.
"What, oh hey there." my friend says upon noticing us. "It's good to see you. How are you?"
"Fine," I answer. "What are you doing here?"
"I got a couple of days leave from my group." Gale explains. "My commander has a special assignment for me, and he thought this would be a good time for me to do it, so that I could see my wife at the same time."
"Well, I guess we will leave you two alone then," Peeta says. "Don't get into any trouble now," he says jokingly.
"Oh, hush!" Johanna says shooing us. As we walk out I see her turn to her husband. "Come on. I want you to meet your son." She leads him into the baby's room and I can only smile as we leave.
My happiness is short lived, though, as when we arrive at the door to our own rooms, four familiar faces meet us. Oh yes, time for the ten month examination. I have no idea if I am pregnant or not, but I can't stop to think about that now. I know the routine so well, that within moments I am already done with most everything. When the allotted time has passed, Dr. Aurelius hands the test over to me. I take a quick glance at it, and upon seeing the result, simply throw it across the room. I walk out, anger clearly on my face and Peeta knows it as soon as he sees me. The group leaves without saying a word and I go into our bedroom.
Five minutes pass and my husband quietly comes in and sits on the bed. He places his arms around me.
"It's no good," I say defeated. "There must be something they are missing that I have keeping me from getting pregnant. You should just leave me. It would be easier for you."
"Don't say that," Peeta states almost angrily. "I love you, and I'm staying right here. So just get any thoughts of my leaving out of that head of yours."
I completely fall into his embrace. "I don't deserve you."
"Yeah, you do," he replies, "but you have me no matter what."
In the next month, Peeta and I do try to focus on just being together. Gale's visit is short. He obtains the supplies he needs for his squadron, and heads right back out again. We get to speak to him only enough to know that the battles are tough, but he is confident that they are going to invading the Capitol within the next six months.
The happiest moments are those when my husband and I are simply alone in each other's company. There are others, too. Delly and Annie both have their babies within days of each other. Delly's is a strawberry blonde and blue eyed girl who is a perfect miniature of her, while Annie has a boy with dark hair and sea green eyes that leaves no doubt to who his father is. They are both enamored of their children. Like with Johanna, we help them settle into motherhood.
Things are so busy that I barely notice when it is time for Dr. Aurelius and his group to arrive. It has been eleven months. By now I am just numb to all the emotion about this exercise. I am back and am through the tests in no time. When he picks up the stick, the doctor just shakes his head, and walks out the door without saying anything. I eventually follow, planning to escort them out of the room, when I notice that they are still there standing in front of Peeta and Haymitch. I quickly shake my head to let them know that things have not changed.
"Now that we are all together, I have to inform you that due to your circumstances, the leadership has made a decision in your case. They have been watching over what has been happening here and I was given this message." He stops for a moment, and then breathes out before continuing. "If you are not pregnant by your next examination, then the leaders have no choice but to consider your marriage a failure in being able to conceive and will take action accordingly."
"What kind of action?" Peeta asks.
Dr. Aurelius shrugs, "I don't know." With that, the group silently leaves, with Haymitch at the back.
"Is there anything you can do?" I plead with him.
"Not in this case. This is too important to them," the older man says. "So my advice is two words…get pregnant." All we can do is nod our heads as he walks out.
Both Peeta and I just slump into the couch. We look at each other in desperation. "So, what do you think?" I ask him.
He signs. "I think we just need to forget all of it. Let everything go and just be."
"Easier said than done," I tell him.
"I know," Peeta replies with a kiss to my forehead. "They might dictate our lives right now, but they still can't dictate how we feel about each other. Just remember that."
And I do. You might think that with all the pressure around us that we would be hindered, but I find that that by letting go the opposite happens. Our lovemaking is more intense and frequent in the coming days than ever before. I guess the idea of being pulled apart makes us want to make each moment more special. Other than that the days roll on. I hunt, and Peeta bakes.
We are almost happy, until the reality of our situation invades once more. We are sitting with the girls at lunch. They are all discussing the ups and downs of motherhood while Peeta and I listen. Sleepless nights and spitting up are all they can talk about. I know that we are both happy for them, and at the same time wishing for our own joy yet scared if it doesn't happen. We are all lost in the conversation that we don't even realize until he is almost upon us the soldier that is heading our direction. He is tall, with a uniform not that of the battle forces, but the administration. A messenger, and one with a familiar object in his hands.
Over the past months, we had seen the soldiers not every day, but often enough to know what their duty is. They are bringing the message that someone has died in the line of duty for the rebellion. And now one of those soldiers is coming our way. He walks purposefully until he stands directly before our table. All three women with us begin to visibly shake.
The man begins to speak, but before he does Peeta stands up to stop him. "Maybe I should take it," my husband calmly says.
"I don't think that is proper protocol," the soldier protests.
"I won't tell anyone." he offers. "I'll make sure it's given to the right person." As always, Peeta's way with words wins. The messenger hands the envelope over and leaves, obviously wanting to get out of there as fast as he can. Peeta takes a deep breath before opening the notice. He takes a quick glance and I can see the look of sadness on his face at whatever the news is.
Then, he carefully walks around the table behind the girls. "I'm so so sorry Delly," he quietly states as he holds the message out to her. Tears immediately fall on her face as the rest of us are stunned in place, unable to move. When we all finally get our heads on, I try to get up with Jo and Annie to come over to Delly and comfort her. But before we can do anything, she stands up and silences us.
"I have to go," she says abruptly. "I need to see Lila." Delly wipes her face and walks away from us, the tear stained message in her hand. The next days are filled with trying to assist our friend in her grief. We have a ceremony and bury Fred in an area above District 13. We go to visit Delly every day as she doesn't want to come out. We encourage her to eat and take care of herself, which I think she only complies with because Lila needs her.
Helping my friend takes my mind off my own situation, but I know that the day is coming. One night as Peeta and I are talking together in the kitchen, the buzz of the door finally comes I look at my husband and he immediately takes my hand.
"No matter what, okay? Together." With me shaking, we get up and tentatively walk towards the door as Peeta continues to try and calm me. As the door opens, I see the four somber faces staring back at us. They don't waste time on pleasantries, because they know that it is pointless to try to make this any easier. Silently I go into the bedroom and quickly manage the needed tests.
I sit on the bed waiting for what I know is only a couple of minutes, but what feels like hours. Finally, Dr. Aurelius picks up the stick and takes a look at it. He doesn't say anything, and his expression is unreadable. He walks slowly over to me and simply places it in my hands. I don't want to look. I don't want to face what it might be. But, I know I have to, so I finally look down. Only one line.