A/N: The ideas that are now in this one-shot started forming a few months after I finished Mockingjay. I loved the epilogue, and thought it was beautifully written - I just had to expand on it. Also, some of the scary-unreal-fanon depictions of Katniss's pregnancy wanted me to do some rectifying, hehe. This is my little contribution to the fandom. (I apologise for the lame formatting.) I hope you enjoy :)
"-Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,Yours arms full, and your hair wet, I could notSpeak, and my eyes failed, I was neitherLiving nor dead, and I knew nothing.Looking into the heart of the light, the silence.Oed' und leer das Meer (waste and empty is the sea)."- The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot
Peeta Mellark, the patient boy with the bread. Peeta, the man I love, who waited until I was ready. Until I wanted.
I'm five months pregnant. Outside, a husky twilight glow sweeps across the sky. I've never stopped loving the feeling of Peeta's skin against my own, our embrace intimate even if we're just lying close to one another, fingers entangled. Peeta's warm, bread-making, calloused right hand is smoothing circles over my firm, round belly. His pressure is light but comforting. It starts off as a reassuring gesture, but then his hand travels to my breast, and it turns into something more. He whispers, "Katniss, love," and makes me moan and I know that I'm safe and secure and loved and pleasured and that I shouldn't be scared about our baby. About being pregnant. He knows my concerns and distracts me from them for a moment with gentle kisses and fantastic touches.
It's hard to believe we were once the boy with the bread and the girl on fire. We're so much more together. We combust, we ignite, we live.
Peeta comes up behind me as I set my splay of arrows on the kitchen table. He hugs me from behind and I revel in the closeness. We stay silent for a while, just quietly content in each other's embrace. Finally, we begin to dissect. He asks me how work was, cheekily tells me that he almost sold out of cheese buns at the bakery today. He knows how to tease me good. I mention Haymitch's new flock of geese. Our conversations lately have been nice. My nightmares haven't been too bad, Peeta hasn't had any flashbacks, and it's been a nice change, moving forward in my pregnancy; vomit is no longer burning at my throat, the acidity attempting to freak me out at the prospect of having a child in a world so unsure.
I don't hunt as much as I used to – that type of hunger and passion falls away when the one thing that was once a necessity becomes purely a thing of enjoyment. But that fire in me has not ebbed. I teach the younger kids in the district archery, self-defence. I even teach them how to use swords for fun – wooden swords, of course. Greasy Sae has remarked that you can never tell who's having more fun play fighting – me or the kids. The parents cornered me into the whole teaching thing: I'm not the only one can't just brush those doubts about our future aside. They don't want soldier kids, or mutt kids, or kids who live in fear, or go hungry for days on end like they once did. They want strong, healthy kids.
I guess I do too.
They have started to teach the basics of the Hunger Games and the war at school, I've been told. I'm glad. Time has shown me that I'm betting off knowing, better off having seen the things I've seen. I made Peeta promise me we'd tell our kids ourselves what part we played in the war.
Nothing worse than seeing innocent horror played out on a television screen.
Prim is on our spare bedroom wall, painted in beautiful colours, symbolized by the plant she was named for. Prim is everywhere. Everyone asks tentatively, "Will you name the baby after your…sister?"
The answer is no. A child doesn't need ghosts.
But Peeta and I, we have ghosts. One lurks a few weeks later behind his eyelids. I hadn't slept well, burning flames making me sob in my sleep. So Peeta hadn't slept well. So Peeta turned Mutt.
He stumbles over the words, "Real or not real?" as he eyes me as the enemy. His hair is a sandy mess and his blue eyes spill over with terrified tears. It isn't as frightening as it once was. He gets close, angry, lost, confused, transported back more than ten years ago. I back into the wall. I do not cower, but I keep my distance. Peeta's hand twitches like he wants to seize something of mine. Like my hand. Or my neck.
My swollen belly confuses him. The pregnancy in the Quarter Quell was fake. He came up with the lie.What rests within me is not a lie.
It's Peeta's turn this month to freak out. He resurfaces and brokenly mumbles apologies over and over again. His fists are clenched. He's too afraid to touch me. He thinks he doesn't deserve to – I can recognise the violent feeling in his eyes.
But I'm scaring myself.
I'm too afraid of him touching me. I haven't reacted this badly to one of Peeta's episodes in a long while, and I could probably blame it my hormonal state, but I don't want to. I try not to cry as I run out the door and set off down the road.
Running towards safety. Running away from the safest feeling I'll ever know.
Haymitch lets me sob and feed his stupid over-fed geese for half an hour before he asks me what's wrong. I'd like to think he's being considerate, letting me get it all out first, but I know he's apprehensive because I never cry in front of him. Peeta and I are private; Haymitch doesn't know about some of the nightmares and the pills to stop them, or the memories and the punched walls and therapist calls. He doesn't know all about Peeta's want for children and my uncertainty.
Haymitch drags me into the house with the mutter, "I could use a stiff drink." He has three by the time I explain what happened and I return home.
Peeta's face is red from crying and his hair's more of a mess than usual. He won't let me come near him. I stay sitting on the floor, our bedroom door shut between us with Peeta inside, until he comes out after an hour and attempts to scold me for sitting like that when we both know it's uncomfortable these days. I press his hand to my warm cheek and apologise for being scared and running away. We normally face these things together. Peeta tries not to cry, and keeps stumbling over apologetic words. It gets to the point where he gives up and lets me lean into his embrace as much as I can.
I just need to feel him. We stay close together and stay up all night talking about everything and nothing. I wake up the next morning to find Peeta curled up in a ball on the other side of our bed – I've hogged all the blankets. In my warm and toasty cacoon, I watch my husband and think about how he's grown from the boy I could depend on into the man I will never let down.
We get up, pick up, and move on. Ghosts haunt us and scars do not fade. But I know how to make Peeta laugh and he knows how to make me see and time passes soon enough.
There's an invitation in the mail. An anniversary ball for the end of the war. They hold one every year; Peeta's gone a few times by himself. I've never been invited before. I think the head guys in Capitol think I'm a bit of loose cannon with a chip on my shoulder.
But I'm not. I just remember.
The invitation is for Peeta and guest. I am 'guest'. I call Johanna to tell her I'm coming this year, to which she replies, "God. Finally." Johanna and I share a general lack of interests with anyone who goes to these Capitol functions, except for Annie, and over the years this difference has brought us together. Johanna's relieved she'll have someone to talk to who won't be talking up the type of jobs they used to be disgusted about but now work in, hypocritical district-jumpers. Her words.
I wonder if Gale will be there. Peeta says apart from a battle of raised eyebrows, Gale's never said a word to him at these functions.
I sent a letter to Gale once, and tried to ring him when he lived in District 2 another time. Johanna gave me the address and number: she and Gale had had a thing years ago, which ended with Johanna sobbing on my couch, and started our mutual friendship of difference. I never got a reply from Gale either time.
I guess he's too busy living his new life. I know he has a wife and kids and some form of facial hair that always gets a giggle out of Annie when she's not in her faraway memory-land. I've seen a picture of him in the paper. He looks older, but happy; his wife's a model or something. He looks picture-perfect and so unlike Gale Hawthorne from District 12. It's a shame. It hurts to think about him, and what happened with Prim, but still. I always thought we'd be a part of each other's lives, even if it was just a talk every now and then.
But time has passed. And people have passed you on.
We are staying at my mother's house for a few days before the ball, which is currently in the Capitol. She's getting older and tireder, but still goes wherever the medical system needs her. Our relationship exists on tiptoeing around the subject of my sister and talking too much about our jobs. But she's really excited about the baby. And she understands. She can see the frightened look in my eyes.
"I was terrified when I was carrying you," she tells me as she and I sip on peppermint tea, alone in her little apartment garden in the afternoon light. She laughs lightly, a strange, but not unwelcome sound. "I was terrified when you were born; when you went off to school; when you went hunting with your father; when you in the Games. Having a child in an uncertain world is a challenging and frightening thing."
"It freaks me out when people even want to touch my stomach. The first time the baby kicked I didn't speak for an hour." I swallow, the peppermint now too sweet. "How am I meant to be a good mother if I'm so scared all the time?"
My mother fixes me with a sad look. "I was never much of a mother after…after….the mining accident. I think you will have learned from my mistakes, Katniss."
I look at my mother in some form of abstract horror. "Mom, I…" But I have nothing to say because it's kind of true and she knows it. I rush to hug her and we both whisper apologies dripping with salty tears. Peeta comes out into the garden a few hours later to find a mother and daughter bonded by fright and hope.
I ask her if she'll be by my side for the birth. A smile reaches her tired eyes. A light I've never really seen in them sparks; the girl from the Seam is still in there, somewhere.
Peeta is staring at my exposed back. He's got that look in his eyes. The look that says fuck me.
A wry smile twists on my lips as I smooth my dress down once more, the sound loud in my mom's quiet spare bedroom. The dress is just-above-the-knee and Effie-Trinket-pink. I figured pink was one of the few colours that couldn't directly be linked to some fire metaphor. I don't need a team to dress me anymore, although I've wished for Cinna more than once over the years. Maybe he'd know where to find heels that were just the right height (lowness) for a six-months-pregnant woman. In any case, the ones I'm wearing are small enough that I can walk in them without tripping over, and are a lush cream colour. The heels bring my calf muscles to the fore and the low neckline of the dress shows off my now slightly larger than average bust.
Peeta's hands come to rest on my hips. He stares at my reflection in the mirror. His hands are warm. "You look beautiful, Katniss."
I twist around in his arms and give him a wink. "Zip me up?" I say in a low voice. His hands go towards to zip and the lower part of my back, brush against it, and make way under my dress. We're very nearly late to the ball, in the end.
Happily flushed from Peeta's fuck me moment, my dress is finally zipped up, and I check myself in the mirror one last time.
Pink dress, cream shoes, big eyes. Fuller cheeks and rounder stomach, but my arms are stronger than they once were. My burns and scars stream across my collarbones and upper arms like I've been adorned with fleshy, angry jewellery. I'm not the Mockingjay anymore. I'm not the girl on fire. I'm just Katniss.
I'm just exactly who I want to be.
My mind analyses the night as Peeta and I lounge around the private cabin of the train that takes us back home. Effie Trinket seemed delighted that we were having a baby, exclaiming that I was so, "big, big, big!" and that it suited me. I mostly crouched back into Peeta's hard, lean, reassuring form and deflected the questions about the baby to him. Plutarch was equally excited by the fact that I taught archery and wanted to know if I'd release a filmed teaching series so that people could learn it from the Mockingjay on their very own television screens. I had stared at him until he walked away.
Annie told me the most wonderful stories about her son Finn and the crazy antics he gets up to - I'm sort of glad we're having a girl now instead of a boy. Johanna "accidentally" spilled her vodka and lemonade all over Mrs Hawthorne's dress.
Gale bumped into me at one point and said Hi.
You-you look nice, happy.
Thanks; I think your wife may be plotting to kill Johanna and her drink-spilling ways.
Oh. I better go sought that out.
Yeah. I guess.
You, ah, married Peeta, then?
He makes you happy?
He makes me feel like I have everything I wanted and more, to be perfectly honest. Gale?
I'm sorry I couldn't talk to you…after…after…Prim.
That's all right. I'm sorry I can barely talk to you now.
You should call me sometime. Drop into the old district.
His wife's eyes slide over to us, frowning. Maybe when your wife isn't home.
Gale laughs. See ya, catnip.
Cameras flashed, light bulbs bright and blinding all throughout the night. I smiled because I had fun, not because I was told to.
But inside the train it's dark, the lovely moonlight setting a glowing silhouette over Peeta and I. I shrug myself deeper into the seat, legs propped up as I lay along it, getting into a more comfortable position. It isn't an easy task.
After that, I watch Peeta for a while, who is gazing out the window opposite. Memories prick at my skin. I remember being sixteen, travelling towards the Games. The train ride was new and daunting. I sat near a blond boy who I was sure would try to kill me. I thought of ways to do it first.
Peeta meets my gaze, blue to grey, and he smiles. He comes over and moves so that he's underneath me, his torso supporting my back. I sigh; it alleviates the dull pressure in my lower back instantly. His hands reach over to smooth across my ever-expanding belly. He taps his fingers on the firm, stretch-marked skin that is hidden beneath my silky rose dress; taps out a tune, hoping the baby will tap back. I shift awkwardly in Peeta's embrace as she begins to stretch out inside me, and I can feel Peeta's smile in my hair. We've talked about calling her Mauve, or maybe Ava or Grace or Lila. Something pretty and true and her own.
"I love you, Peeta." The words tumble easily and willingly from my lips. I say them as I turn my sleepy head and press it against Peeta's chest. "I'm so glad I have you. That we have you."
Our hands reach to one another's in the darkness, and find and touch and hold over the womb which holds our daughter.
The train's repetitive noises as it hits across the tracks is like a sweet lullaby. Train, darkness, uncertainty. The boy with the bread and the girl on fire.
Back to where we started. Back to when, somehow, even though it didn't seem like it, the odds were in ever our favour.