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HG: The Four Decisions - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: The Four Decisions
Ah, that was a nice several hours of writing. I feel like I'm back in the swing of things, with something that I haven't said most of what I have to say about.

Anyway, another compulsory. Katniss's decision to have kids. I read honorh's lovely Dandelions, but I still had to go on and write my own version.

Given the subject matter, I don't avoid all subjects that I have generally avoided.



The First Decision


It is Peeta who comes to his senses first, as we lie together in the cool early fall breeze that comes in through the window of his studio. Maybe this is because his body is spent, while mine is still fluttering like a swarm of fabulous butterflies, trying to break their way out of a net. The higher functions of my brain imagine them flying up into the sunset, swirling madly into the sky. The rest of my brain is dedicated to maximizing skin contact, whispering to itself, Real, it's real, he's real, we're real, and considering licking the blond stubble that lines Peeta's jaw. I do not know why the latter seems so tempting, but I am not inclined to fight the urge.

He laughs; apparently it tickles. But he sits up and pulls the blanket over me, wrapping me up, bringing more butterfly images to my head. He kisses me, then he says, "That wasn't smart."

I think I manage a "Hmm?" but I am not entirely sure.

He starts to explain, but realizes that I am not processing words right now. Instead, he puts his arms around me, holds me from the other side of the blanket, and kisses and caresses me until the butterflies burst from their net and swirl up and up into the heavens. I fall asleep dreaming of them while Peeta holds me.

My dream butterflies disappear after some unknown amount of time, and I am in the arena, with Peeta and Finnick and Haymitch and Rue. I see Peeta on the beach, in the place where he found my pearl, and he is holding something. I approach him with wonder. It is a baby--a beautiful baby with his eyes, and Prim's smile, and something identifiably mine. I am aware of loving her more than I have ever loved anyone in my life. The moonlight glints on her smooth skin, and when I look up, I see that Peeta is crying. Then there is a commotion on the beach, Effie Trinket is coming toward us, looking determinedly cheerful. She says, "We have a big, big, big day ahead of us!" and then the Reaping Balls appear, and Peacekeepers rip the child from Peeta's arms and--

I wake up screaming. Peeta catches me and strokes my back gently, just as he'd cradled the baby in my dreams, the baby that--

I pull away. "Peeta! We-- we didn't--"

He nods, but there is nothing to say. He knows. We've been careless.

The nightmares over the next two weeks are the worst I have had. I chastise myself for them, because I know the Games are over, and the war is over, and I shouldn't be scared anymore. Effie did bring us the district's Reaping Balls, but she brought them so that Haymitch, Peeta, and I could smash them into glass dust. But I can't shake the dreams.

I see my child--an infant, a small girl, a small boy. A teenager. I see her in the arena. I see him in the war. I see her kill. I see him die. I know Peeta is having similar dreams, because he is sleeping downstairs and I can hear him. He paints during the day, and the nightmares come out onto the canvas. The children I imagine become the children he has painted, and the places I've told him about become the settings of his terrors, and now we are dreaming exactly the same dreams. We walk carefully around each other, as if simple proximity will land us in trouble again, will risk the nightmares becoming real. I try to stay in my house for a night, but it's worse where I can't smell him. Buttercup is happy to have me back, but somehow, it's not the same. It's no longer really my house, anyway. Peeta loves his house. I have never done more than accept mine, so his has become ours. I bring over our memory book, and we work on it nervously to pass the time.

Finally, the day comes when the nightmares turn out not to be true. I tell Peeta. He is as relieved as I am. He gets rid of most of the canvases, but asks if he might keep one, where I am cradling our child, keeping her safe. I know that in the dream she is not safe at all--Peeta told me that in this dream, the mutts came for her--but the painting is peaceful and calm, and he does seem to love it. I tell him it's all right. I also tell him that I am visiting the medic in town in a few days to fix our problem. This also seems to be something of a relief. He kisses me rather timidly, then says, "Katniss, there's something I've been wondering."

"What?"

"Did we ever cancel our engagement?"

"Not technically..."

"Yeah. But I guess the business of trying to strangle you probably didn't inspire you to set a date."

I smile. "Peeta?"

"What?"

"Will you marry me?"

He grins so widely that I don't even really need the "Yes."

We both agree that children are off the table with the nightmares so fresh, and when I get an implant that will last five years, he actually helps me inject it. We have to wait forty-eight hours. He ceremoniously sets an alarm.

We keep ourselves busy with wedding preparations--which seem designed to take one's mind of the actual reason for a wedding--and, on a whim on the morning of the second day, have a small, private toasting. Greasy Sae, Haymitch, Delly, and Thom are there, and they sing the wedding song for us. They all agree not to tell anyone, since people are looking forward to a big party.

We shoo them out before the alarm goes off.

If there's anyone left who doesn't realize that we're married before the wedding two months later, I can't imagine who it is. Even Buttercup doesn't pretend to live at my house anymore, though he still seems to think Peeta has usurped his place in my bed. They all keep up the pretense, though. Our wedding will be the first in District Twelve since the bombing, and in a way, it's everyone's celebration. Friends come from around Panem--Gale and Johanna (who seem to be together, but neither will confirm it; Johanna actually denies it, but I don't believe her), Effie, Plutarch, Beetee, Dalton, even Enobaria (I still don't like her, but I feel somewhat responsible for her). I invite Rue's family, and two of her sisters--Bryony and Laurel--come. Bogg's family does not. Peeta invites the Green family from District Eight, who publicly came to his defense when he was called to task for killing their daughter in the arena, but they can't make it. They send him a very nice little tapestry, which he hangs over our door. On the last day, a train comes in from District Four carrying my mother and Annie Odair, who is carrying her son. He's named for his father. Peeta is very taken with him, and it is quite mutual.

My prep team gives their own time to put me together. They have found a make-up treatment which will cover the worst of my burn scars. Octavia confesses that she and Flavius sneaked into the television studio at the height of the purge after the war and stole all the wedding dresses Cinna made for me, and any of his other creations they could find--"We were afraid the rebels would destroy them!" Octavia explains, then looks around nervously, as though she might be arrested for treason. These belong to the government, technically, but President Paylor has said that I may have one as a wedding present, if I'd like it. I never thought I would be happy to see these things again, but I choose one, and wearing it is like having Cinna there with me, a guest like the others. I feel embraced in it.

My mother gives me away. Haymitch stands up with Peeta, though Delly is his best man--well, woman. Rue's sisters are my bridesmaids. I ask Gale to be my gentleman-of-honor, but he declines, looking sad. Instead, I call on Johanna, who looks stunned to have been asked. To my surprise, President Paylor has sent her good wishes, which are read into the ceremony by Dalton. Annie has woven us a net. She knows it isn't a traditional part of ceremonies in Twelve and expects that it will just be a decoration, but we are both touched by the gesture, and incorporate it to honor her, and Finnick.

After the ceremony, there is a celebration out on the green in the Victors' Village, kept warm by devices Beetee has brought. There is dancing and singing from everywhere in Panem. Bryony has a beautiful voice, and sings one of Rue's favorite songs, which is about a rainbow. Annie wants to dance wildly at my wedding, as Prim and I did at hers, and she facilitates this by handing the baby to me. He is a warm, heavy presence in my arms. Peeta asks to hold him, and I tell him he's already had a turn. There is some good-natured teasing from friends about when we plan to have our own. We both say that we're not thinking about it right now, though, holding baby Finn, I doubt either of is thinking of much else. But I will not let the nightmares in.

The party is still going on when we go into our house. It is still going on the next morning, and we join it, dressed in our everyday clothes, dancing and laughing and eating while people make ribald jokes at our expense. The leaves fall down around us, swirling to their own ancient music, and we are real, and we are happy.

That is all we need.




The Second Decision


Five years later.
I find him at a new house in the area where the Seam used to be, painting one of the hex signs he discovered on the front door. Apparently, these signs used to be painted all over barns around what became District Twelve. Peeta found out about them when we took a trip through the hills and found the remains of a barn that had been preserved under rubble. He painted the sign above our door. Other people liked it, and now, most of the doors in District Twelve have one.

We have adopted a lot of the old ways when it comes to houses. Everyone participates in building them. In fact, the house Peeta and I live in is one of the few in the District that we didn't physically help to build (though he and his brothers built out his studio). The town gathers whenever a new family comes in, and we build the house together. I am a good roof-worker, as I have never stopped liking to climb. Peeta has learned about wiring, which he says will also be useful if his leg ever starts malfunctioning. Delly turned out to be a fair plumber, though her real job is as a peacekeeper. Even Buttercup is in on the ritual. It is considered great good luck if he goes through a house sniffing the closets.

There are many houses now, with a house-raising every few months, and even a store-raising now and then. Thom has a grocery, where we all buy our food. Greasy Sae opened a restaurant. She doesn't serve wild dog anymore, though the name of the place is Wild Dog Stew. Octavia moved here, much to my surprise, and owns District Twelve's first hair and nail salon. I am a regular paying customer.

The town has grown out from the Victors' Village, growing toward its old site along the road. The farmers live on large plots on the Seam, and it is a farmer's home that Peeta is decorating. They are new people, coming in from Thirteen. We built their house when they sent notice that they were coming. I can see them in the fields now, trying to follow Laurel's instructions for preparing the earth for the coming winter. Laurel is technically a new arrival herself, though she has traveled here enough since the wedding that she seems like a local.

Peeta spots me and waves. I come over to him. This sign has the eight-pointed star on it, with raindrops and leaves between the points. He is just finishing the last raindrop.

"For a good harvest?" I ask.

"Seemed like a good idea for new farmers," he says, and puts his arm around me. I am holding a small brown bag, which he must recognize, as he frowns at it, but he doesn't say anything. "Come on, they want to meet the famous Katniss Everdeen."

I roll my eyes. "They're about five years too late."

He smiles and shakes his head as he leads me out toward the field. My insistence on being Katniss Mellark both amuses and pleases him, but unlike me, it doesn't bother him too much when people call me Katniss Everdeen. I suppose it's not really a problem--it's not like I'm rejecting my family or anything--but I like my new name, and my new life, and my clean new slate. Katniss Mellark is just a young married woman in a pioneer town. She was never the girl on fire, and certainly not the Mockingjay. She has cut off her long hair, and even let Octavia dye it green. Katniss Mellark's nightmares are not as frequent, and she takes pleasure in something every day, even if it's something as small as the beautiful red leaf currently stuck in her husband's blond hair. I pluck it away and watch it swirl into the sky, and he kisses my hand as it passes his lips. I put the brown bag in the deep pocket of my coat. It is no one's business but ours.

Laurel sees us first and waves, rising up on her toes, just as Rue used to. I wonder if someday, I'll begin to think of Rue as Laurel's sister, instead of vice versa. I doubt it. I see her, and I wonder if this is what Rue would have looked like as a young woman, what Rue would think of my looking after her after I failed so spectacularly in the arena, if she is still angry at me for not thanking Rue, as she was that day in District Eleven, when Peeta and I spoke on the Victory Tour. I try not to let this show, though I suspect Laurel knows it.

She taps the shoulder of the young wife, and points, and then all three of them are moving toward us, smiling widely. The couple are probably older than Peeta and I are, but they have the flushed, happy faces of newlyweds.

"It's about time!" Laurel calls cheerfully. "Thought you'd never get here. We've got dinner half-ready inside."

"We were invited for dinner," Peeta clarifies, unnecessarily. He smiles at the couple and says, "Katniss, these are Clara and Albert Anders."

"Farmer," Clara says proudly. "We're changing our name to 'Farmer.'"

Laurel suppresses a laugh.

Peeta nods solemnly and says, "Well, Mr. and Mrs. Farmer, this is my wife, Katniss Mellark, who is also very particular about her name." He winks. I punch his arm affectionately.

They gush, and compliment me on the work I did on their roof, which was very obviously pointed out to them. They say nothing about the war or the Games, which probably did not have to be pointed out to them. For a while, I was not well-liked in Thirteen, for obvious reasons, but when Coin's papers came out and they understood what she'd been doing, I suddenly became a celebrity of sorts. Again. That Alma Coin haunts my nightmares as much as any of the others doesn't appear to be a problem for anyone else.

Albert Farmer lets everyone inside, sheepishly saying that he'd show us around if we didn't know our way better than he did. He has roasted a turkey that he bought from Thom's shop, and timidly says that he'd like to learn to hunt, and he understands that I have given lessons before. I tell him I'll be happy to help him. If they are like any of the others who've come from Thirteen, his biggest problem will be not learning to hunt, but learning to function without a schedule tattooed on his arm every morning. When we fail to finish the turkey, he asks where leftovers are to be turned in. Laurel laughs and shows him his refrigerator.

She comes back to the Victors' Village with Peeta and me, as I've given her my old house. She likes it better than I ever did, and has prepared a garden of her own in the back yard. ("And I mean to eat from it, too," she told me fiercely.) She invites us in for a dessert she's made, but we decline. There is a bag in the pocket of my coat, and it needs talking about. I give her a wink and suggest she ask Rory Hawthorne, who's also recently returned to town, and with whom she is very obviously taken. She giggles like the girl she still is and disappears inside.

Peeta and I walk home. I take the bag out of my pocket and put it on the kitchen table. Buttercup gives it a disdainful sniff, then gives me a very nasty look and runs off to his favorite spot on the windowsill.

From here, I can see into the living room, where he's hung the painting he did of me with our imaginary child. He doesn't stop and stare at it, but I see him glance at it as he passes by with a handful of mail. The anniversary cards are starting to come, from the people who know when we really got married. I open two of them, from Gale and Johanna (who send all cards and presents together, travel together, appear together on television, live in adjoining houses in District Two, and still don't admit that they're dating) and from Mom, who saw my hair on television during a special on the rebuilding and doesn't like it much, but otherwise wishes us well.

"I've got one from Annie," Peeta says, holding it up. "She bought a boat. Named it the Trident. She's thinking of sailing it up the coast."

"Alone?"

He nods and sighs. "She says there's a man who's been asking her out, but she doesn't think she can do it. She's not ready. She doesn't think she'll ever be ready." He seems to realize that he's said something that might be relevant to the small brown bag on the table, and quickly changes gears. "Finny drew a picture of the boat." He offers me a little piece of paper.

I take it and smile. The boat is largely a semi-circular brown scrawl, in front of which two figures are waving to us. We are drawn in the corner. My hair is entirely green. Finny has laboriously written his name across the top. On the back, he has written "For Ant Cats" and drawn hearts.

Peeta is grinning when I look up. "Annie says she's sorry, but apparently, Uncle Peeta is not nearly as worthy of hearts these days." He sighs. "I guess I'll have to start being jealous again."

I laugh. "Well, he's certainly cuter."

"Can't argue with that." He sets the letter down beside the brown bag. His eyes find mine, then drop away, as they used to. He says, quietly, "Another five years?" Over his shoulder, I can see the painting, see myself with that child we feared, standing under the peaceful moon of the killing fields.

Suddenly, I am Katniss Everdeen again, a girl in school trying to find a way to give the thanks she knows she should give, but unable to approach the boy with the bread. My short hair, with its green curls by my face, is a lie. My decent clothes are a lie. My new name is a lie. I put down Finny's picture and press the heels of my hands against my eyes to keep the tears from coming. "I'm sorry, Peeta," I say. "I can't."

I feel his hands touch my wrists, caress them. "I know, Katniss." He sighs. "I know."

Then I am in his arms, and it's all right. It's all right, and I am Katniss Mellark, my husband loves me, and I love him, and it is almost enough.




The Third Decision


Five years later.
I've let my hair grow back out, and stopped letting Octavia dye it odd colors, even though the first strands of white have appeared in the middle of the black. There aren't that many white strands, and I like them, honestly. I have even started wearing it in its braid again, at least when I'm hunting. I go out once a week now, with Rory Hawthorne and Clara Farmer (Bert tried to learn, but Clara turned out to be the real prodigy, and of course Gale taught Rory everything when he lived in District Two). It's not strictly necessary now, with a lot of successful farms around, and immigrants from Ten who know how to raise livestock. There is now a functioning ranch near the lake. I no longer really need the entrails, as Buttercup passed away last winter (I cried harder than I have for some people, and Peeta buried him with honors in the back yard, and painted a picture of him with Prim, which now hangs in our upstairs hallway where it can guard us from the night). But it's what I do, and it's good to have friends.

I no longer resist it when people introduce me as Katniss Everdeen, though I introduce myself as Katniss Mellark. Dr. Aurelius took a while to spot it on the phone, but finally realized that I was trying to be a totally new person, and told me I had to stop. He deliberately calls me "Ms. Everdeen." I was angry at first, but I understand what he's doing now. I am not two people. Katniss Mellark is Katniss Everdeen, who was the girl on fire, and who committed terrible crimes, though no one else seems to treat them that way. Even I sometimes can look back on the war and believe that I did nothing worse than anyone else did. This is progress, though I don't think I have any special right to forgive myself.

The nightmares have come back.

I know why, of course. It's time to decide again. I have purchased the new implant. It is sitting in the bathroom, biding its time. I think I am going to send it over to the factory, and they can dispose of it.

This idea fills me with terror, but I imagine Peeta's face when I tell him that I can finally do it, that I am ready. I'm not Annie, pushing away her suitors. I'm Katniss Everdeen Mellark, and I raised my sister, who I loved. I am Finny Odair's favorite pen pal. I take the local children out into the woods to teach them about the plants once a year, and we have a picnic of it, and I sing them silly songs while Laurel plays the guitar. Peeta loves this day. He has painted it many times. The picture of me with our imaginary child has been replaced with pictures of all of us together, in the real world. The old picture is now in his studio. I have been going up there every day lately to look at it and think, Real. I could make it real. Then my hands start shaking and I have to sit down until the wave of panic passes.

I have already put off the implant for four days. This is nowhere near long enough for the old one to be out of my system. I know that. Dr. Aurelius has told me that if I stop, there will be at least three months before I'm clear of the hormones it feeds me. Still, when Peeta makes love to me, the fear becomes something different now, something tantalizing and exciting, and when I lie in his arms after, I can feel my heart racing as it hasn't for a long time now.

Then I fall asleep, and the dreams come. I wake up screaming, and Peeta holds me and soothes me as only he has ever been able to do.

I wake up in the morning to the smell of fresh bread--the smell of my home, of my life. I put on a robe and go downstairs.

Peeta is putting out two loaves of bread to cool, and at first, I don't notice the box on the table. He has made breakfast as well--eggs and bacon and even lamb stew. I sit down, and that is when I see the box. It is supposed to be on a shelf in the bathroom. I push my plate away.

"Peeta--"

He sits down beside me and takes my hands. "I thought it was getting close to that time," he says.

"I'm not implanting it this time," I say. "I mean, unless you want me to."

He looks at me for a long time, then presses a kiss onto my forehead. When he draws away, he doesn't look elated, as I thought he would. He looks concerned. "Are you sure?"

"I thought it was what you wanted."

"It is what I want. But the nightmares are back."

I look at the box. "I can handle the nightmares." I smile. "As long as you're there to help me, anyway."

"I'll always be there to help you," he says. "But they haven't been this bad for a long time."

I look at my breakfast, getting cold off to the side. "They keep taking her away from me," I tell him. "Peacekeepers. Snow. Coin. Mobs. Gamemakers. Everyone tries to take her." I sniff. "Even your mother made an appearance. She said I wasn't fit."

This gets a bitter laugh from him. "That's a judgment I don't think you need to take seriously."

I don't argue. Peeta and his mother made some kind of peace before the Quarter Quell, but he doesn't pretend that they had a good relationship. A woman who blacks her son's eye for burning bread really shouldn't be telling me I'd be a bad mother, even if she has been dead for more than a decade.

But I can't let go of it.

Peeta doesn't press the issue. I think he hopes that I am right about being able to handle it.

We go about our lives as though nothing has changed. I talk to my mother on the phone, but I don't tell her I've made a decision about this. Peeta calls Haymitch, and we both talk to him over the speaker. The subject of babies doesn't come up, at least on our end. Haymitch is talking about getting married and having a child. This doesn't strike anyone involved as a good idea, but he's getting pressure from mysterious quarters that he won't divulge even under extended wheedling. I dream of Haymitch's Quell, but I am there with him, and so is the baby, and he throws the baby at the forcefield and says, "I had to choose one of you." He is indifferent to my sobbing.

We have a letter from Johanna. She and Gale have a two year old son now. He habitually introduces them as "my friend Johanna and our son Caleb." This has made him standard fodder for comedians' jokes across Panem, but I am actually starting to believe him. Johanna says that Caleb is being a terror, and congratulates me on avoiding the whole business, then goes on to talk about every tiny thing he does. She encloses a picture of him with Gale. He is strapped to Gale's back and they are hiking in the mountains. I dream of Caleb finding a parachute on the ground. It explodes, and he is engulfed in a sheet of flame. His bright eyes melt as I watch.

On a cold day in mid-September, we open up one of the empty rooms down the hall from ours. There are many of them in the house, which was designed to be big and grand and impressive, but has never been filled. I have dared myself to get a catalog of baby furniture, and we talk about what sorts of things we will need. I dream of mutts coming out of the closet at night, and the baby screaming as she drowns in the smell of blood and roses.

Annie calls us. She is very excited. She and Finny discovered an island well to the south of District Four's coastline. She thinks it may have once been part of the continent, and might join up when the waters recede, but now, it is empty and it is new, and the government in District Four has given her permission to start a settlers' party. She is calling it Odair Island. Finny adds a letter to me, telling me about all the animals and ocean and how he's helping to build houses, just like Uncle Peeta and I do. I dream that he is exploring his new home, and looks into a pool and sees his father, rotting and implacable, mad from his cruel death. He drags Finny down into the depths while Annie screams in despair.

At night, Peeta and I love each other as well as we can before the nightmares come, but the excitement that originally came is turning back into fear. A month after I should have put the implant in, I find myself shrinking from his touch. I force myself to caress him, but he knows something is wrong, and leaves our bed.

I find him the next morning in the room we've chosen for the baby, flipping through the furniture catalog. He can't be looking at it very closely because he is crying. He tries to hide it when he sees me, but it's too late. I run for the woods and bury myself in the crisp autumn leaves. He comes to get me after an hour or so, and we walk home together. We hold each other as chastely as we did on the Victory Tour train that night, and the night after. I go to the computer and read as much as I can about the best ways to get pregnant if you're having trouble. None of them seem to address my sort of trouble. I call Dr. Aurelius, and he tells me that I should consider putting the implant in. I hang up on him. I dream that he rips my child out of my womb, stares at it clinically, and says, "Clearly, she's not ready." Then he throws it into a waste bin and wheels it away. It leaves a trail of blood on the clean white floor.

Our neighbors don't seem to notice anything wrong. Laurel and Rory want to give us a tenth anniversary party, and we don't object. District Twelve loves its parties, especially when winter is starting to settle in.

Two weeks before the party is scheduled, I come home from hunting to find Peeta in his studio. I think he might be painting the child we're planning to have, but he isn't. He is painting me. He has painted me with dandelions, and he has painted me in starlight. He has painted me hunting. He has, for the first time in years, painted me in the arena.

I look at the paintings. He can't have done them all in a day. I wonder if he has been doing them at night, when he slips out of our marriage bed because I am drawing away from his hands.

"They're beautiful," I tell him.

He smiles wearily. "How can they help it, given the subject?"

I sit down on the window seat and take his hand. He sits beside me. "I'm sorry," I say. "I don't mean to be so crazy."

"I love you no matter how crazy you are." He kisses me. "But I really miss you, Katniss."

I start to cry. "I wanted to give you... what you want. I wanted your baby."

"I know."

"But I can't. I can't do it, Peeta. I'm so scared."

He wraps his arms around me. "I know that, too. And I shouldn't have let it get this far. Katniss, if it comes to a choice between you and a baby, then I choose you. I can live without being a father. I can't live without being your husband."

I go downstairs and get the implant. He helps me put it in.

Two weeks later, we go to Laurel's party. We dance and laugh, and when we go home, we love each other as well as we ever did.

The room we chose stays empty, but as I pass it, I can feel it whispering to me.




The Fourth Decision


Five years later.
Fifteen years have passed since the end of the war, and I find that my love life is once again a matter of great urgency to the presidency of Panem.

Paylor chose not to run again. She has made it through three terms, and announced that she will not be president for life. A technocrat from District Three is running. Gale is running against him.

This might not have aroused anyone's interest in Peeta and me, except that last year, Plutarch decided to air a movie about us. We initially refused to watch the reels Plutarch sent us for approval, but we gave in when it aired. It turned out to be very exciting. Neither one of us knew what would happen next at any given moment. At one point, I scratched my head and said, "I wonder who that stupid girl will choose." Peeta laughed and said he was pretty sure she'd end up an old maid, given how utterly self-sufficient she was and how completely useless the lump of a boy was. Sadly, we weren't entirely joking. With Plutarch's scripts, you can't count anything out.

It was insanely popular.

Unfortunately, the one truth he managed to get in there was that Gale was definitely not my cousin. And when he announced his candidacy, the reporters geared up and headed out to District Twelve. They are now camped out on the green in the Victors' Village. Delly had to have her Peacekeepers sweep them off of our front lawn. They want to know why, when I had a choice, I did not choose Gale. Was it a good enough reason that other people shouldn't choose him? Or was it, as the movie says, simply because I loved Peeta so unconditionally that I was willing to break my best friend's heart?

And what did Peeta think of it? After all their rivalry, could he come to terms with Gale as president?

Our opinions are apparently of great interest. That I assassinated one former president and Peeta was tortured by another are not pressing matters. Suddenly, we are again the fabled star-crossed lovers from District Twelve, and somehow or other, our strange entanglements with Gale are the sole topic of public conversation.

We have managed to "no comment" them for two days, but they won't take it forever, and they won't leave without a solid interview or two.

Peeta is watching them through his studio window. It is deep under an eave, and they can't get a good angle on him here. (Why on earth people would want shots of us looking out the windows is a mystery to me, but apparently they do, because every curtain twitch ends up on the air.) He has painted them rather wickedly, but scraped the canvases, as he knows they are just doing their jobs. He looks over his shoulder. "Do you ever miss Caesar?" he asks.

I nod. We both miss Caesar. He was executed in the early purge of the Capitol, while we were both in the burn ward. Coin woke Peeta up to watch it.

He shakes his head. "It was simple. Three minutes in and out, and he'd let you tell whatever story you wanted."

"What story do we want to tell?" I ask. I sit down on a small love seat, where he's had me posing for him.

He sits on the window seat. "It's more yours than mine."

I bite my lip. "I can't tell them what really happened."

"You can't?"

"No. Gale's not where he was then. It wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't even be true anymore. He's not like he used to be. I think he'll be a good president."

Peeta puts his hand over his heart and affects an expression of melodramatic pain. "You mean you didn't leave him because of your deep and uncontrollable love for me?"

"My deep and uncontrollable love for you is an entirely separate matter, which is none of their business, unless Plutarch plans to start making an entirely different kind of movie." I sigh. "I think we need to sell that again, though. The truth is a lie now. And I do love you deeply and uncontrollably, so that would at least be true."

Peeta gives me a snort of laughter. "Gale will just love that. We play the old angles to get him into office." He stands up and holds out his hand. "What do you say, girl on fire? One more show time?"

I take his hand, and we go out to the green, where we are mobbed by reporters. It is surprisingly easy to slip back into starry-eyed adolescence. Peeta is as convincing as ever. He winks at me at one point, and I want to start laughing. We are finally rescued by Rory, who has apparently forgotten why the reporters are there, as he looks very surprised when they turn away from us and start drowning him in questions until Laurel comes out with Abram on one hip and tells them to get out of her yard before she sics Delly on them again. One man lightly mentions the freedom of the press. Laurel tells them that she wants the freedom of baby's nap-time. This gets a fond laugh, and the whole business fades.

We are all over the nightly news broadcasts, intercut with a lot of old footage.

Dr. Aurelius calls me to ask if I am quite all right, as trying not to laugh at the reporters made me look just this side of crazy. I tell him that, as I've been on the other side of crazy for fifteen years, he ought to be glad to see it.

Peeta and I cuddle on the couch as we watch the reporters decamp outside. They've gotten their sound bytes, and it is time to move on to other things. I tell him about my conversation with Aurelius.

He laughs, but looks thoughtful.

"What is it?" I ask.

"I don't know," he says. "But I feel good. All of that really shouldn't make me feel good. But... I'm fine."

"Me, too."

He starts to say something, then stops and kisses me. "We're okay, aren't we?" he asks.

"As you and me? Always."

"As us, yeah. But as you and as me?"

I think about it. He's right. This business should be making me crazy. But I haven't been swallowed up with panic at all. The nightmares still come, and I think they always will, but if even diving head-on back into my waking nightmare didn't turn me catatonic, maybe I can handle them. Peeta has certainly learned to handle his. I know he sometimes trips across his false memories, but they haven't incapacitated him for years.

"I'm okay," I say, surprised.

"So am I."

That is the whole conversation. After it, we talk about other things. We laugh at the idea of Johanna being the first lady--or the First Very Trusted Extremely Casual Acquaintance, as Peeta calls her. We talk about an upcoming visit from Finny, who plans to sail the Trident up the coast and meet us at the Harrisburg beach next month. We don't talk about the thing that was hanging just beyond our assurances that we're okay. I have thought myself okay before.

Two days later, I get a reminder that it's time to replace my implant. We talk about it this time.

And we keep talking.

I am afraid. Peeta is also afraid. But I wonder if everyone might be afraid when they're talking about something so large. We decide not to order the implant.

Every day, we ask each other if we are still all right. Every day, we admit that we're still scared. There is no reason to lie to each other. I see the medics in town once a month, and ask if there is someone who can see me face to face to talk about my fears. Dr. Aurelius approves this, and sends his apprentice, who finds there is plenty of work in District Twelve other than Peeta and me. But he makes room on his schedule every week for us, and if either of us--usually me--seems about to go off the ledge, he calms us down.

This is helpful, but the real work is at home. We are both still scared, and both of us start having nightmares again. But this time, we don't keep them secret. I tell him my terrors, and he promises to make sure they never happen. He tells me his terrors, and I swear to protect him and our children from them. We do not pull away from each other.

When I tell him that it's happened, that we're going to be parents, his face is transported with joy, and it is worth the nightmares we both know we'll continue to have.

I get a great deal of advice from people, most of it contradictory. Gale even advises me in his inauguration speech, telling me to keep the baby out of politics if I can. Many want to know what I plan to name my child. Finny Odair writes me a letter begging me not to name her after dead people. "I love my father," he says, "but it's hell sometimes when people think I should be him." I take this advice to heart, as I had been thinking of naming her after Prim. I think that would be too much pressure. She'd spend every day looking at the paintings in the house and wondering if she was good enough. She is more than good enough. She is everything.

The nightmares do get worse as the day approaches. My mother comes from District Four to stay with us and help me. Haymitch and Effie come back as well, mostly to keep Peeta from climbing the walls. He bakes and paints constantly, as if he can stave off my night terrors with a perfect shade of green or a batch of cheese buns. I appreciate the effort. I like to go up to the studio and see what he's painted. One day, while he is out with Haymitch and Effie--purportedly buying furniture, mostly getting fresh air--I go up and my eye is caught by the old painting he did of me, during the first terror. I am standing on the beach where he found the pearl, holding our imagined child.

I have not seen the pearl since they took away my Mockingjay costume, where it had been in the pocket. I have had Peeta back, so it has not been as necessary as it once was. But I remember it still, the feel of it, the way I held to it so closely because it was like holding on to Peeta. I put my hand on my swollen belly.

My daughter is born on a windy night in early November, with my mother and Rue's sister in attendance on me. I scream throughout, not because it is painful, but because the terror has gripped me completely, at least until Mom has cleaned her and Laurel has wrapped her in blankets and put her in my arms. Peeta runs in and puts his arms around both of us. I am safe, and my baby is safe in my arms, and our family is here around us. She has black hair and Peeta's blue eyes. They have long black lashes. I name her Pearl.

And I will never let anyone take her away.

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Comments
honorh From: honorh Date: November 19th, 2012 06:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's just beautiful. My little story is a sketch; yours is a tapestry. I love your descriptions of how District Twelve came back to life, and of the people who settled there. Most of all, though, I love how you show Peeta and Katniss coming to their decisions, the way responsible adults do. Makes you feel like they'll be good parents, whatever mistakes they might make.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 19th, 2012 09:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's one of the things I wanted to show the difference in between the third and fourth--her impulsive "I can do this, really! I'm not scared!" to a more thought-out position that accepted her fear without giving in to it.

Thanks!
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: November 20th, 2012 01:30 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm loving how you're taking little snippets of what we know and just expanding so much on it. This was such a sweet look into all of their lives post-Mockingjay.

Keep these little fics coming!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 20th, 2012 02:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! I'm enjoying them for the moment, so I probably will keep them coming.
cleindori From: cleindori Date: November 20th, 2012 01:51 am (UTC) (Link)
Wonderful. You really do have a talent for taking characters we know and growing them up in a way that absolutely works, and makes them seem even more real. I love the change from the third to the fourth decision -- that Katniss didn't just need time, she needed to actually talk to Peeta about the whole thing, and keep talking through the whole process.

I also love the glimpses at other characters and the world of "after". "My friend Johanna and our son Caleb" -- amazing.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 20th, 2012 02:28 am (UTC) (Link)
I can just see Gale insisting that he'll never be in love with anyone but Katniss to a point where it becomes a running joke with whoever he does end up with.

And yeah, that's definitely a major difference that I wanted between three and four--the third decision was almost a dare that she made to herself, and the fourth was an actual decision that they made together.
cleindori From: cleindori Date: November 20th, 2012 04:49 am (UTC) (Link)
Whoever he ends up with...the media...the whole population of Panem! :-)
beceh From: beceh Date: November 20th, 2012 02:46 am (UTC) (Link)
That was wonderful.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 20th, 2012 03:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Glad you liked it!
starnightmuse From: starnightmuse Date: November 20th, 2012 03:43 am (UTC) (Link)

this was healing in a way...

one of the reasons why I never really got into the HG fandom (except for the movie)
is because the books ended on such a depressing, bittersweet note.

so your drabbles have been a sort of little ray of sunlight to sooth the aching sad hole left by the actual books.

this specially was gorgeous and uplifting in a subtle way.

the ending gave a feeling of always sadness filled PTSD-survivors epilogue.

your still had PTSD but with little touches of life and happiness.
like that phrase said "The good things don't always soften the bad things, but vice versa the bad things don't always spoil the good things"

so thanks for that. it makes me deal with the ending of HG a bit better



Edited at 2012-11-20 03:54 am (UTC)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 20th, 2012 04:26 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: this was healing in a way...

I think that I wasn't too bothered by the downer ending just because that seemed like the kind of story it was from the start. I'm inclined to believe things in this kind of world just keep getting worse, so the fact that, in the end, Katniss chose to face her fear and have children told me it was more hopeful than I would have expected in the genre. Though I still don't trust the new government all that much more the old one, at least District Twelve seems to be coming back, and, whatever else, they're a long way from the Capitol.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 21st, 2012 06:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hi Fern, it's nice to read stories from you again! The new HG fics are a great alternative to the HP universe as far as I'm concerned. Keep 'em coming! :)
-Sylvia
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 22nd, 2012 01:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. I just feel like I have lots to say now, as opposed to the sense I was getting that I was talked out in Potter-world and searching for something to say. Of course, since I'm new to the fandom, I'm most likely saying what everyone else has already said, but hey, it's new to me. ;p
valerie_valerah From: valerie_valerah Date: December 5th, 2012 01:35 am (UTC) (Link)
Beautiful story, Fern! You have such an amazing talent for just plain "getting" the characters you write. As with your Potter fic, I will consider your HG fic to be canon until it is proven otherwise :)
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 21st, 2013 11:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Reading this directly after 'House of Cards' makes the latter that bit more bearable.

This is one fic that keeps growing and growing upon me; I liked it at first read, but now I cling to it because this is where the darkness of Panem ends up, more or less.

Thank you for sharing. I do thank God for your amazing talent for characterisation.
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