Title: "Those Who Wait"
Word Count: 5,868
Characters: Peeta and Katniss
Spoilers: Through Mockingjay.
* * * * *
The first time he tries to bake bread, Peeta discovers that he can’t remember how.
The morning after he plants the primrose bushes, he stands in his kitchen, needing to do something. All of the ingredients are still in their airtight containers from before the Quell. He takes out the whole wheat flour, salt, dried fruit, the small jar of yeast. He puts the kettle on the fire and opens the jar. The same careful, even motions that he’s been doing since he was five years old and his hands were steady enough to hold a measuring cup. As he reaches for the yeast, everything stops. It spills across the counter like weevils. He forces himself to keep going, taking a deep breath the way Dr. Aurelius always instructs. But when he stares at the ingredients, he has absolutely no idea what to do with them. Two cups of flour or three? When is he supposed to add the yeast?
The force of the electrical surge in his brain sends him reeling into the counter. He grapples for purchase, breathes and breathes and breathes until the chaos passes.
Once his eyes focus again, the kitchen is covered in flour and salt and raisins like bullets scattered across the floor. He reaches for a glass and fills it with water, but his hands are trembling too much to drink. As he waits for his brain to right itself again – and for the rage to fade away – he adds that loss to the Capitol’s tab.
It takes two more days and a dozen more attempts for him to remember. He wraps the misshapen bread in cloth and walks over to Katniss’s house. The loaf isn’t perfect, but then nothing is.
* * * * *
For about a week, the primrose bushes stay untended, but Greasy Sae waters them at night. Although he understands why Katniss can’t look at them, it makes him a bit frustrated. He thought it would help, and maybe it does but it’s still another thing he was wrong about.
On the eighth morning, he’s awakened by footfalls on the frost-covered ground between their houses. Peeta puts on his pants and shoes and walks over to the window. She’s standing there with her back to him in the dim light. Her shoulders shake, either from the morning chill or something else. He watches her through the sunrise, until she turns and looks up at him, tilting her head in an invitation that he takes.
It’s so cold, but he tries not to notice. They stand there for a while, with the primrose blossoms curled up tight. Then Katniss reaches for his arm and pulls him close, wrapping him around her the same way they’d slept together all those nights on the train. Of course some not-quite-dormant part of his brain tries to coil up and hiss her name, fighting with the other part that craves her touch and more. Neither part will ever go away. But there’s this new part that feels comfortable. Safe.
Katniss kisses his cheek and says his name. Peeta.
She sounds a little better. Far from perfect, but her voice doesn’t shake like it did when he first returned to District 12. That’s good. If she can get her voice back, maybe there’s hope for him after all.
* * * * *
Life goes on. Sort of. He bakes. She hunts. He begins to remember how to bake, not just the dense, dark loaves once favored by the Seam, but cakes and flatbreads and a pie crust that melts in his mouth. Recipes he never made at his father’s bakery. They must’ve slept at the back of his mind, not that he really cares about the source. He makes enough to keep their tiny community well-fed, if not quite happy. Yet.
When he tells Dr. Aurelius, the man’s pleased, of course. He says something about occupational therapy that Peeta ignores, but he sends a huge parcel of enough supplies to keep him in bread for years.
The doctor also asks after Katniss. Peeta isn’t sure what to say about her, though he wouldn’t spill even if he did. After all they’ve been through, privacy is the only currency they have left. A year ago, he would’ve pushed her to talk to him, but now he doesn’t think he has that right.
At the height of summer, the hot oven is unbearable. A crew of former Peacekeepers has reconnected the power supply, so Peeta sits out on the front porch with an electric fan to take the edge off the humidity. Buttercup is asleep at his feet. It’s mid-afternoon. Greasy Sae and Tyrus have been getting one of the Village houses ready for a new family. Her granddaughter plays in the terrace – now planted with vegetables – and grins when she catches Peeta’s eye. Though smiling back at her makes his still-healing face hurt, it’s a good kind of pain.
Katniss eventually ambles into the square, game bag half-full and a pheasant slung over one shoulder. Instead of ensconcing herself within her house, she approaches him. “Thought you might be hungry.”
He pretends to hesitate. “I don’t know. What’ve you got there?”
She almost smiles.
They spend the next few hours in the kitchen. When they do talk, it’s carefully limited to the food they’re preparing. He shreds one of the pheasant breasts and mixes it with some basil and cheese to spread onto a sliced bun. She prepares roasted eggplant from the community garden. They take their plates out to the porch. He doesn’t mention that the cicadas sound just like the ones from the first Games – not because he wants to spare her the hurt, but because he’s tired of every tiny detail from the past dictating every moment in the present. Cicadas are everywhere. He can’t avoid them forever, but he won’t let them spoil tonight.
Instead, he broaches an idea that’s been on his mind. “Do you think the Capitol would send us some seaweed?”
Katniss nearly chokes on a bite of her eggplant. “What on earth would you want that for?”
“Finnick’s bread.” He continues, watching her face process that. “Maybe some seeds for Rue’s bread. I’m not sure exactly what kinds they had in District 7, but I could call Johanna.”
Her head dips down to her chest for a moment, then she looks up and says, “Yeah, you could probably get some seaweed.” And Peeta earns her second almost-smile of the day.
* * * * *
The day they begin the book, he briefly considers asking Haymitch for some white liquor to help with the memories. After a few hours of the project, Katniss looks up at him. “Will you stay tonight?”
She doesn’t need to ask.
It’s harder than he expects, though. Holding her as the train rocked beneath them last year is different than holding her in this bed with cool sheets that smell of lavender. Back then, they dreaded something to come. Now they fight back the pain and loathing and memories that are so much worse than they could’ve imagined on the tour of the Districts. On that first night, he’s the one who wakes from a nightmare. He runs to the bathroom before she can see that he’s hard from her body pressed into his groin, coupled with a dream of him pounding into her as parachutes fell around them.
Peeta stands in the shower for what must be an hour, icy jets needling him on all sides until his erection goes away. It’s all biology – he knows that much. Doesn’t make it any easier. Doesn’t make him hate himself any less.
She’s awake when he finally comes out, fully clothed and planning to escape. He walks past the open door, but she stops him with his name. “It’s okay. I have dreams like that sometimes.”
Like what, Katniss? Do you rape me and kill me? Do you wake up fearing you’ll do even worse?
“Come back, Peeta. I trust you.” She sits up and draws back the covers. “That is real.”
She’ll never say she needs him, but hearing that in her voice is the only thing that coaxes him to slip off his shoes and climb into the bed. He puts several feet between them, but she scoots over and wraps herself around his body, a hand sweeping arcs over his chest. Her breath eventually evens out into sleep, and her body’s completely still. Maybe tonight she’s been spared the nightmares. He hopes so. Buttercup curls up at their feet. Peeta concentrates on the sound and faint vibrations of the cat’s purr. He doesn’t dare fall asleep.
* * * * *
Like so many things, it gets easier. Sharing her bed becomes normal. As winter threatens, he comes down with a cold and insists upon staying at his own house, even though she rolls her eyes and says she’s probably caught the bug already. He manages one night alone in that bed before conceding and coming home to her. “Should’ve listened to me, you idiot,” she teases as she pours chamomile tea. If getting sick brings back the old Katniss for a few moments, he can live with the cough and chill.
Snowbound, they devote themselves to the book. At first, he dreads the return of all those memories. He knows exactly why she’d asked him to stay with her. Art therapy under the guise of a memorial can be just as harrowing as sitting across from Dr. Aurelius at the Capitol’s hospital.
But it also gets easier.
With the fire casting the living room in gold, he begins to sketch the crease of Portia’s brow as she’d held up the tuxedo for his Quarter Quell interview. The wedding suit. Katniss looks over his shoulder and traces the lines of Portia’s crazy hair. “She was a good stylist. You looked nice in that suit.”
Peeta cocks an eyebrow. “Nice?”
She makes a show of huffing her disdain. “You looked so handsome and sexy that everyone in the audience fell madly in love with you.”
Except you, Miss Everdeen. But he laughs and tears off a corner of a discarded parchment. He sketches two small “o”s above a bigger one, with shockwaves of hair and a few more lines to complete the stick figure.
“The look on your face when I said you were pregnant.”
Katniss swats his arm and returns to the kitchen.
He didn’t know Rue well, but he remembers the footage of her death well enough to draw her covered with flowers, even if that didn’t show up on screen. When he showed Katniss the finished painting last week, she wept for the first time in months. As she describes other memories unfamiliar to him – Prim’s goat, her father teaching her to hunt – her voice almost sings, and the words sound like poetry. Maybe that should’ve been her Talent, rather than those fake dresses... but he knows she treasured the time with Cinna. Even now, he sometimes catches her looking at the few dresses left over in the basement. There’s something to be said for beauty, even in this new, hollow world. Especially in this world.
So far, she has done all the writing while he illustrates. Peeta looks at the portrait of his stylist. Katniss knew her, but this is his memory to share. He picks up the pencil and tries to describe the way she clicked her tongue during his fittings, and the excitement in her voice that first day two years ago when she said she and Cinna planned to set the District 12 tributes on fire.
* * * * *
He was wrong to assume that nobody else noticed. And if they did notice that he hadn’t slept in his own house for months, then who cared? He was through with living his life according to the cameras or public opinion. Life was difficult enough without all that.
Then Haymitch pulls him aside one afternoon and hands over a small bag. “I got these for you in the last supply shipment. Use them. We both know she doesn’t want kids anytime soon.”
Peeta opens the bag to find it filled with small foil packets, and blood rushes to his face. “I’m not– we’re not–”
Haymitch takes a long sip from his bottle. “Whatever. Just be careful.” He salutes with the bottle then stumbles toward his house.
Of course Peeta knows about sex. He’s not that naïve. Back before the first reaping, he’d fumbled around with a few girls in the alley behind the bakery. He has dreams about Katniss that make him wake up hard and flushed. And buried at the back of his mind are fears of what Snow’s lackeys might’ve done to him during the hijacking. Every night that he sleeps with her, he can’t help but wonder “what if?” If Katniss wanted him that way, she’d say so. Sometimes he wonders if those rare kisses might turn into something more. But he knows better than to push. Waiting is hard, but not as hard as screwing everything up between them. He loves her too much to lose her again. Still, he puts the bag in the bottom drawer of their dresser, tucked behind the winter sweaters. Maybe someday.
* * * * *
Their second winter is worse than the last, but spring comes on schedule. Cressida calls in early April and says she’d like to interview them for a one-year-later television special. “You probably don’t want to return to the Capitol, so I can come to you.”
Katniss seems to be doing better these days, but he already knows she’d say no to the request or even to having Cressida here. Sure enough, she glares at him and takes off for the woods with her bow. He doesn’t really want to be interviewed either, but something makes him phone her back and ask, “You’re in District 4 right now? I’ll come to you.”
Katniss avoids him for a couple of days and doesn’t show up when it’s time for the hovercraft to depart, but he tries not to take it personally. The cross-country flight takes several hours. He stares out the window at the country they’ve saved, fingers itching to paint the golden fields, the ribbons of water. And when he arrives, Cressida is there to greet him, along with Annie and a red-haired infant. Peeta sidesteps the camerawoman and approaches his fellow Tribute. Carefully, unsure where her mind is these days. But she reaches for him with her free arm and pulls him into a hug, the child squirming between them. “I’m so glad you came.”
Cressida films them as they walk along the beach. They watch the baby stumble across the sand, and Annie describes the way Finnick would run into the surf with his trident, how the summer sun bleached his hair the color of the sunset. Her eyes glaze over a few times, but she seems as happy as any of them can manage.
When he arrives home, Katniss is waiting for him. He braces himself for her reproach, but she pulls him so close that he can feel her heartbeat against his own. Her voice cracks as she whispers, “Don’t leave me again.”
* * * * *
The way he loves her now is different from their childhood or the arena. Back then, it was this strange sense of hopelessness mixed with a thread of blind faith. Now they’re broken, and he knows every one of her scars and pains. He wears them inside his own skin. She’s never been more beautiful.
The leaves begin to change. Peeta sits on the porch with his art supplies and watches her tend the primrose bushes. He begins to paint her, memory filling in the details when she crouches out of view. Her hair has grown back, but the scars still crisscross her body. She is so strong, though, maybe stronger than she’ll ever know. They’re only nineteen years old, but she seems both ancient and new. As his brush slides across the parchment, her image almost glows. The woman who was on fire.
Later, she takes the painting from him and holds it up, framed by the orange of the sunset. At first, she doesn’t say anything. He’s proud of his work, of course, but her silence makes him nervous. She looks at it like she doesn’t believe it’s actually her. Real or not real?
Then she kisses him there on the porch, a strange new heat in the way she clutches him and opens her mouth to his. Something primal coils in his gut as he follows her lead, first in the slide of her hands across his back and under his shirt, then through the open door and up the stairs.
Their clothes fall to the floor as they climb onto their bed. There’s just enough light for him to watch the way her muscles move under the patchwork of her skin. She straddles him and traces his own scars, a small smile flickering over her face. She is so beautiful. They slide in and around and inside one another. Everything feels liquid and warm and good. So good. She murmurs his name as she tilts her hips and welcomes him inside. He has wondered before if she loved him. Now he knows.
* * * * *
Peeta sleeps through the night. No dreams. She’s still there when he wakes.
He wants to reach for her, be the one to lead this time. Then he remembers the one thing they’d forgotten last night, so he pads over to the dresser and pulls out one of the condoms. Katniss stares at it like it’s a jacker out to sting her, and he curses his mood-killing sensibility. And just as the dread begins to spool through his gut, she flops back onto the bed and begins to laugh. Loud, belly-rumbling laughter that contorts her face and curls her toes and makes her breasts bounce. The kind he hasn’t heard from her in years, maybe ever. Lust shoots through him, and he tackles her onto the sheets. She’s still laughing as they fumble with the rubber and roll it on. He kisses her neck and slides inside her, chanting “love you” over and over.
* * * * *
They exhaust the supply of condoms after a few weeks, and she comes home one afternoon to tell him that she got a shot from the doctor who recently moved to the District. They never discuss what the shots are meant to prevent. He takes out another sheet of parchment and sketches her playing with a child, teaching it to hold a bow and arrow. Long black hair and a fierce expression to match her mother’s. Then he burns the drawing before she can see it.
Good moods seldom last long, but she seems better now. She still has nightmares and sometimes disappears for hours then returns with a haunted face and scratches on her arms. But those days are fewer and farther between. He knows he’ll never heal her, not with his body or his words. That’s okay, though. She’s starting to heal him, and he loves her all the more for it.
Sometimes he stares at the hearth and thinks about the toasting. He bakes a loaf of bread and imagines her holding a slice over the fire with him, then kissing him as her husband. It probably won’t ever happen – he knows her well enough to suspect she won’t want to marry or have children – but he still adds it to his list of “maybe someday”.
And no matter how many times she says she loves him, he still worries. Is she with him because he’s the best available option? Has this become a habit because none of the other men moving back to the District could understand her like he thinks he does? Gale phones them one afternoon in late winter. Peeta talks to him for a few minutes, catching up on the progress in District 2. When Gale asks to speak to Katniss, jealousy flares through him, and he fights the temptation to say she’s out hunting. He pretends not to eavesdrop as the two friends talk for nearly a half-hour. When they finally hang up, he doesn’t look up or say anything. Katniss is quiet as well, and the fire in his belly gets brighter. He hates it. He begins to slice some potatoes for dinner, and cuts his index finger.
Katniss walks into the kitchen. She stares at him for a few minutes then reaches for some ice and a salve. “Gale sounds good,” she says as she applies the ointment. “He and Johanna might get married, if you can believe it.”
Startled, Peeta looks up. She tilts her head and gives him a vague shrug. Relief washes away the jealousy. He begins cutting the potatoes again, more carefully this time. She leans into him, her breath warm on his neck. He doesn’t tempt fate again by imagining their toasting for a very long time, but it still creeps into his mind once in a while.
* * * * *
On the fourth anniversary of the Capitol’s fall, a construction crew breaks ground for the new factory. Of course, nobody is crass enough to mention the date, but Peeta knows that every single one of them is aware of it. Instead of a eulogy, the community turns the ceremony into a picnic. It's a rare sunny winter day, just barely warm enough to venture outside in their coats. He bakes cookies for the handful of children, the icing creating little medicine pills with curlicues and squiggles to turn them into honeybees, flowers, puppies. The kids lick their fingers while Belkan, the construction forewoman, makes a corny speech about healing and new beginnings.
Katniss stays in the woods all day. Though Peeta understands why, he wishes she were here to listen to the speech, eat the cookies, show the others that she’s a part of the life that’s going on for all of them, her included. She’s still the Mockingjay in some small way. People still find comfort and inspiration in her presence, no matter how much she hates it and insists she’s just an ordinary woman. He wants to tell her that being the Mockingjay doesn’t have to be curse, but he knows how to keep his mouth shut.
Supplies for the medicines will be provided by all of the districts, but Peeta begins to gather herbs anyway, in lieu of taking a job there. He doesn’t need the money. He and Katniss will never want for anything. They can feed themselves, and the Capitol never bills them for the provisions that arrive on the trains. Something about working in the factory makes him unsettled and even occasionally panicked, so he helps out by lending a hand to those unloading the supply trains, and he spends long days in the woods looking for herbs. Sometimes Katniss joins him when she’s finished hunting for the day.
One morning he ventures into a copse where he’d recently spotted some St. John’s Wort. Instead, he finds a familiar berry bush. It takes him a few minutes to realize that it’s nightlock.
Memory and a bolt of pain knock him onto his back, gasping with lungs that seem to collapse into his gut. He is in the first Arena, the Circle, the sewers, the District 13 exam room with his hands around Katniss’s neck. He chokes on a scream and blacks out.
When Peeta comes to, his throat is sore and his arms are covered with scratches. The herbs he’d gathered are spilled across the forest floor. It’s always like this, though fewer and farther between now. Small, bitter mercies. He gets up and tries to brush himself off, knowing from too much experience that it’s the only way to move past.
The walk home is long, with a new chill in the air. Katniss asks him where he’s been, but the anger on her face fades when she catches sight of him. She avoids his eyes as she pours him a glass of water and mutters something about dinner later. Peeta goes upstairs and opens their bedroom door then yanks it shut and chooses the guest room. The bed hasn’t been touched in months, but the linens are fresh despite the dust covering everything else. He sleeps for hours, this time with no dreams. Another small mercy.
It’s nearly midnight when he finally wakes. He pulls on his pants and goes out into the hall, stopping at the open door. Katniss is asleep in their bed, one arm flung out as if awaiting him. Peeta wishes he trusted himself enough to crawl in there and take her solace. He shoves his hands into his pockets, like the handcuffs he’d worn back then. And there at the bottom of one pocket are a few berries. Peeta pulls them out but won’t look at them. Nightlock.
Four years ago, he would’ve kept them on his bedside table, a security blanket for when it was too much to bear. Now there’s his bread and the medicine factory and the book. And Katniss. Always Katniss.
Before he can second-guess himself, he goes downstairs and throws the berries into the fire.
* * * * *
Nightmares are more rare now, but they still cut to the bone. The most common is when closes his eyes and finds himself in the arena, with her death as the only escape. One night he wakes up with his hands loose around her throat. He stumbles to the bathroom and vomits quietly while she sleeps.
When it happens to her, he holds her close until she wakes, says her name and “you’re safe” and “love you” over and over. She never tells him what happens in those dreams, and he doesn’t want to know.
Sometimes he wakes to the sound of her voice barely above a whisper, saying names and phrases that he can’t quite make out. Like she’s reciting a list. She brushes the sweaty hair from his brow and kisses him. She looks calmer, almost at peace. Almost.
* * * * *
Peeta still wants children, even more than before. Although he thought he’d made peace with never having them – he knew this about her when he signed on – time doesn’t slake the yearning. He never tells her, but he’s sure she knows.
Delly Cartwright arrives to spend the summer in the Seam, with three children in tow. Travel is still very rare, but she and her husband have powerful enough jobs to get the necessary permits. After welcoming them with cold tea and cookies, Katniss looks at the children, like she can’t believe why the family would want to be here. Delly just smiles. “Life in the Capitol is marvelous now, but I wanted my children to see where I came from!”
For the first few weeks, Katniss treats them like landmines. Laureline is the oldest at seven. She’s sturdy and bright and looks out for her little sister and brother. Ambrose, the toddler, starts to cry when Katniss won’t pick him up. His mother gathers the children and whispers something, with a sidelong glance at Katniss. Then the three kids run off to play in the meadow. None of the adults says anything.
He takes the girls into the vegetable garden, now going strong in its ninth year. Laureline asks him question after question, while Flora carefully examines each sprout with her tiny hands. They eat sandwiches and drink milk. It begins to rain, so they run inside, shrieking and giggling. Katniss stares for a moment then disappears outside. Delly just smiles and joins them in the kitchen, where they spend the afternoon icing a new batch of cookies.
But one morning he catches Katniss telling the three children a story. Flora seems fascinated by the game that Katniss brings home, so Delly assents to a hunting lesson. Hours later, Flora clutches a small squirrel, and Katniss decides to make her a bow and arrow. They all look happy, even with the hint of discomfort still on his love’s face.
Peeta closes his eyes and remembers that sketch of Katniss and her daughter. The world’s safer now, nine years after the war. People talk about the future, and there’s hope in their voices. Back then, he’d been so resigned to his own death that he couldn’t fathom a legacy. Now he doesn’t want to pass from this world without leaving something good behind – something better than the vegetable garden or the recipe book he has begun to write. He wants this. More important, he wants this with her. The yearning in his chest seems to grow into a living thing.
* * * * *
He doesn’t know what changes her mind. He doesn’t dare ask. But she starts to drop clues that make him hope against his better judgment. “Early spring would be the best time for a kid to be born, just after the snow melts.” Her moods begin to shift, and he notices that her menstrual cycle has returned after years of the shots. It might mean nothing – medication delivery can be erratic – but something like hope stirs in his mind.
It’s late June. The first really hot day of the year. He’d spent the spring battling allergies and a persistent flu that she caught as well. She’s been sick all week, and he’s starting to get nervous. He considers going by the factory tomorrow for some fresh medicine.
Katniss comes out to the porch and sits beside him on the first step. Feet tucked under her, she leans into him just like she did as a Victor on that loveseat nearly fifteen years ago. Maybe he knows what she’s going to say, because it’s like the whole world holds its breath. She reaches for his hand. Her voice is steady. “I’m pregnant.”
He has imagined this moment before, usually following that news with a shout of joy then racing her upstairs to make love. But now he can’t speak, can’t breathe. The weight of it all presses into his chest: a legacy, a safe future for their child.
Their child. Real or not real?
Peeta smiles and begins to cry.
* * * * *
When they tell Haymitch, he rolls his eyes and slurs, “Don’t expect me to babysit.” There’s a smile underneath.
He calls Mrs. Everdeen because he knows Katniss won’t. The woman sounds distracted but pleased. “Congratulations. You’ll make excellent parents. You’ve both earned this.” Yeah, we have, he thinks. If Katniss were listening, she’d retort that they’d be better parents than her own mother was, but Peeta thinks he understands the woman now. She wasn’t the best parent, but he knows how he’d feel if he lost his love like she did.
They discuss names. He assumes she’d want Primrose for a girl, but she shakes her head, a familiar pain returning to her eyes. “I don’t want to think of roses when I look at her.” But she airs out Prim’s old bedroom and paints it pale yellow for the baby.
She likes the name Michael, after her father. “How about you? Any family names you want to carry on?” Peeta shakes his head. His own father was a good man but distant. His mother never really loved him, and his brothers were either bullies or indifferent. No, Michael is an excellent name. If it’s a girl, perhaps Michaela.
She claims that pregnancy is easy, but he catches the terror in her eyes. All he can do is hold her close and whisper over and over that it’ll be okay. They’ll be amazing parents. This child will be safe and happy and perfect. He doesn’t know if it gets through to her, but he somehow manages to convince himself.
* * * * *
Michaela Mellark Everdeen is born on a sunny morning in March.
She’s beautiful. Perfect. His eyes and her mother’s hair. She screams, and Peeta laughs. She has inherited her mother’s fury as well. Arms trembling, Katniss looks down at her daughter. Peeta holds his breath. And then she smiles.
* * * * *
They play in the meadow, over the bones of the people they once knew. Michaela is learning to walk. She takes one step, another, and falls onto her face. Peeta scoops her up and tries to assuage the expected tears, but she squirms out of his arms instead of crying. Katniss rolls her eyes. “She needs to learn how to do it on her own.” But he knows it’s all she can do not to hold their daughter tight, away from danger.
A few minutes later, Michaela does start crying, though out of hunger. She crawls into her mother’s lap and begins her lunch. Peeta reaches for his sketchpad and begins to draw their daughter at Katniss’s breast. The curve of her cheek and the hand wrapped around her mother’s braid. The soft look on his love’s face as she feeds the baby. When Michaela was born, Katniss worried that she wouldn’t be able to give her enough milk. Greasy Sae, their rock all these years, just laughed and said that this child would never go hungry.
He has never expected or wanted perfection in his life, but he feels a bit of it now. In the aftermath of the war, Plutarch had cynically predicted an armistice, a “sweet period” of remembering the past in order to prevent the cycle, before it all began again. Sixteen years later, they’re still in that sweet period, at least here in District 12. No more arenas. No more calls for war or vengeance, at least as far as he knows. And if there were, Peeta’s not sure he has that fight in him anymore, as long as it doesn’t threaten his child and the woman he might someday marry. He doesn’t know if Katniss feels the same way, and he doesn’t ask. It’s better to just live here in the present with her, remembering their past and moving forward with their family. Maybe it’s not the best way to live, but it’s the life they’ve chosen. On their own terms, and nobody else’s.
Her belly full, Michaela crawls away and struggles to her feet. She takes a step and falls, then gets up and tries again. Her blue eyes widen, like she’s finally figuring it out. She gets up and begins to run. Tiny steps, tumbling onto the ground and then back up. Over and over. Michaela giggles and keeps trying to run. She has her mother’s fierceness and determination in each of those attempts, but that laugh is all his own.
Katniss slides over and leans into him, just like she did the night after the Games, the morning she told him she was pregnant. She still trembles sometimes. He still has nightmares and flashbacks. But not as often anymore. Michaela is growing up strong and bright. And all three of them are safe and loved.
* * * * *