ZERO :: the Fool (annwyd) wrote in archerastar,
ZERO :: the Fool

[The Hunger Games] Messenger

Title: Messenger
Fandom: The Hunger Games
Characters/Pairing: Katniss, some Katniss/Peeta, various others
Rating: PG
Wordcount: 6,084
Notes: Chronologically, this is the first piece in the Iris timeline.
Summary: In the months before their daughter's birth, Katniss and Peeta travel to the Capitol.

I am four months pregnant when word comes from the Capitol. My confinement is over. I'm invited to visit any district I please, or even the Capitol itself. But I can't imagine what prompted it, after over fifteen years of being carefully ignored by the new government. Which was how I liked it.

Peeta looks like he has some idea, but he shies away from voicing it. "If it's not true--I don't want it to be true," he explains, and that's all I can get him to say.

As usual, it is Haymitch who lays it out for us. Haymitch, who has somehow, against all odds, failed to drink himself to death yet. I think he gets a little crankier about this every time he wakes up alive, but he's been a little more upbeat since Peeta and I told him about the baby. Even if it is kind of hard to imagine Haymitch being happy about a baby. Right now, at least, he's not. "You get it, Peeta, don't you," he says as we all sit around the table.

"I hope not," Peeta says.

I look askance at both of them. When there's no reply, I raise my voice. "You're telling me. Now."

Haymitch sets his hands on the table; there is no flask of liquor in either of them. He's serious now. "It's been more than a decade and a half since the Revolution," he says. "The government is starting to worry that people will forget why it's the right one. People do that. Governments get worried about it." He looks, for a moment, like he wishes he did have some liquor on him, or in him. "Remember how people felt about your imaginary kid? Think how they'll react to your real one."

Peeta nods unhappily. I stare at the two of them, not quite comprehending yet.

"You take it from there, father-to-be," Haymitch tells Peeta.

"They want to use us again," Peeta says quietly.

That's when it clicks. I don't need to say anything; I just recoil in my seat. I'm going to be sick--yes, I really am going to be sick. I push my chair away and hurry to the bathroom. While I'm gagging up breakfast, I hear the rough murmur of voices behind me. Bitter, angry voices. Haymitch and Peeta aren't happy about this either. I take comfort in that. But their talk has quieted down by the time I wobble back to my seat.

"I'm not going anywhere," I say. And that's what I tell Plutarch Heavensbee over the phone later that day. That defiance isn't enough to calm me, though. I have nightmares again when I sleep. Nothing new. I've had nightmares every night since I found out I was pregnant, and even then they weren't new. These are the worst yet, though. Images of hands shoving me across a gameboard, through obstacle courses, back into the arena are just the start. The real terror comes when those same hands rip the helpless child from my belly, leaving me bleeding and empty and unable to move as they begin to do to my child what they did to me. Across a gameboard. Through obstacle courses. Into the arena.

The phone ringing wakes me up, but I'm screaming too much to answer it. Peeta does instead. His face sets into a stony mask as he listens to whoever's on the other end. After a while, he hangs up without a word. I've stopped screaming by then, so I look at him for answers.

"That was one of Plutarch's secretaries," he says. "He says if you're too fragile to make the trip through the districts and the Capitol, they can send film crews here."

I want to start screaming again. But I don't. "No," I just say. "No."

"We might want to compromise here," Peeta says, sitting back down on the edge of the bed.

"I won't compromise when it comes to our child," I say. "You know that."

He nods. "I know that. I won't, either."

"I know," I say.

"But before the baby comes," he says, "we should offer them something and make it clear it's all they're going to get. We have the power here, Katniss. They can't force us to do anything anymore." He hesitates. "So if you really can't stand it, we can just throw them all out. But this is an opportunity, too."

"What do you mean?" I can't see any good in this horror.

"There are people we haven't seen in years," he says. "Things to find out at the Capitol. This time, we call the shots."

It takes a while to get me to understand. Peeta's mind is more devious than mine, sometimes. Most of the time. But I'm not stupid. I figure it out, and we set to work on Plutarch. No film crews. Invitations sent to people of our choice. One week in the Capitol, no more. No propos. Not a single one.

"But--" He protests over the phone, and I know that I'm undermining the whole point of my being there with that request.

"I'm not the pretty Mockingjay anymore, Plutarch," I say. "The burn scars didn't just vanish."

"We can fix that," he says.

"No," I say.

Peeta and I, we don't make concessions. We simply set the terms. I'm giving the government one thing only, in return for a chance to see how much has changed, both in society and in the people we care about. I plead off on speeches, on tours. One photo shoot. That's all they're getting. When I tell Plutarch this, I can practically hear the wheels turning in his head as he calculates how much he can get out of that one photo shoot. But I ignore it and think instead of the people I'll be getting to see.

We take a private train to the Capitol. I'm still not allowed on the public trains that have started running, and people might wonder if they saw me there. Well, that's the excuse, anyway. The real reason is the government wants the chance to try to sneak in interviews, and Peeta and I want as stress-free an environment as possible. For the baby. And in case either or both of us have flashbacks, of course--we have to be careful with crowds because of that. It's a careful balance. We don't let them get any interviews.

The flashbacks come when I'm in bed with Peeta as the train rolls on at night. It's too familiar. I cling to him, remembering other train rides to the Capitol, and I drift in a state of uncertainty as to which one this is. Maybe the past sixteen years have been the dream, and we're still on the Victory Tour. The Revolution never happened. Could never happen. I will always be powerless. I struggle to explain this to Peeta, knowing I'm mostly incoherent. He understands anyway and puts both hands on my belly.

"Real," he says simply. The reminder of our child frightens me more than ever, but it also slowly pulls me back to the present. Eventually, I sleep. Nightmares of my child trapped in a world where the Games never went away are my reward. But unlike in most of my nightmares, a part of me knows this isn't real. I would never have agreed to have children in a world where the Games still existed. That is a fact of my life.

At the end of the line, I step out into the Capitol for the first time in fifteen years.

"What do you think of how it's changed?" asks one of our attendants, who's been trying to get us to answer questions the whole way there.

"Where are we staying?" I ask. Knowing it's going to be somewhere showy and extravagant, and that we'll have to find somewhere else.

"Well," the attendant says, "we were going to put you in our finest hotel, but a minor project head insisted that she'd house you instead." He looks miserably awkward. "So we're very sorry, but you'll be staying in one of the rooms over the public library."

"The public library?" Peeta asks.

"You hadn't heard?" The attendant perks up, eager to get our opinion on a new subject. "During her term, President Paylor started a project to round up all the old books and documents that the previous government had kept classified and make them available to the public. It was a big deal at the time, but now they're not finding many new things, so it's just about organizing what they have found and making sure the library is accessible to all." He waits hopefully for our response.

Peeta smiles at him. "The sooner you show us to where we're staying, the sooner you can go home and take a break."

Crestfallen, the attendant leads us to the library. I silently thank whoever's in charge of it for finding us somewhere relatively normal to stay. Then I start to wonder who it is, but I'm distracted by the Capitol around me.

What do you think of how it's changed? The problem is that it hasn't changed much. There are more normal-looking people out and about now, but there are still plenty of people in ridiculous styles. The strange fluting accent of the Capitol is mixed in with the accents of the Districts in the conversations that reach my ears, but it's still there. This place still makes me think of shallow cruelty and untold misery. And war.

Peeta grips my hand reassuringly. "Look at the children instead," he whispers. And I understand why. The children are too new to remind me of anything like that. I try my best.

When we reach the library, which is closed to the public for the day, my earlier question of who our benefactor is begins to rise back into my consciousness. But before I have time to properly formulate it, the doors swing open and a familiar figure bounds out effortlessly in high heels. She's changed so little. Well, her wig is silver. I wonder if this is a concession to age or the latest fashion; I have to suspect the latter.

"Oh, I'm so glad to see you two!" she trills out. "I could hardly bear the thought of you both trapped in that awful District 12 all these years, but I knew you'd be strong enough to come out of it as lovely as ever!" She stops and turns a critical eye on us. "Even if your fashion could use a little work again."

Peeta and I look at each other. "Hello, Effie," he gets out, and then she's on us both, hugging us fiercely. We steel ourselves for the glitz and pomp that's sure to follow.

But it never does. Instead, Effie shows us to what is, by Capitol standards, a simple room on the third floor of the library building. "This was an apartment building before they converted it into the new library," Effie explains. "Of course, it was far too upscale at first, so it had to be stripped down a bit! Apartments like that were entirely out of my league even then. I was so sorry to see it go to make room for books, of all things."

"You don't like books?" Peeta asks. "Working here must be hard for you."

"Oh, the books themselves seem dusty and dull," Effie says. "But you can learn all sorts of interesting facts from them! For instance, did you know that the glue they use to bind books used to be made from cows? Just imagine using a good source of leather for something like that!"

Peeta looks at me and mouths, Horses. Effie hasn't changed.

"Still," Effie says in a surprisingly reflective tone of voice, "I think I like it here. Organizing books all day and not having to worry what impression I'm making on's very soothing." Then again, maybe she has changed. Peeta and I exchange a surprised look, before she continues, "And that's not to mention the best part. I can tell people I'm in charge of one of former President Paylor's top projects!" All right, so she's changed a little.

When we emerge from our room for dinner, someone is already in the third-floor lounge. He seems so old, frail, and small against the stacks of unsorted books that clutter it, I have to remind myself it's not that simple. Beetee might be old, frail, and small, all right, but he's still dangerous in his own way.

I'm glad he got our invitation.

As if on cue, he looks up. "I took charge of sending out the invitations," he says, right on topic. "I hope you don't mind. Plutarch wanted to send them by post with as much fuss as possible, but I wanted to test a new method I have of organizing and sending messages. Or rather, an old method I've brought back. I can't go into the details right now, of course."

"We wouldn't understand them anyway," I point out. "Can I ask you something, Beetee?" He bobs his head in affirmation. I go on ahead. "Why is Effie Trinket in charge of organizing the library?"

"She seemed like she'd put her all into it," Beetee says. "And I personally was tired of her faulty information." He sighs. "It didn't work on that account. Now she knows more incorrect facts than ever before."

"We noticed," Peeta says.

We eat dinner, and we sleep, and we get ready for the next day. The photoshoot won't be for another five days--Plutarch is stretching out this visit for as long as he can. Meanwhile, we're shown around the city, and we learn more about the fate of our invitations. Johanna and Gale declined. Neither one is a surprise. Johanna doesn't come when she's called, and we see her often enough when she visits District 12, anyway. Gale--

I don't think he's ready to see me like this.

But Annie and her son are coming, and so is my mother. Who I haven't seen in fifteen years. I don't know how to feel about this. I can't blame her for not coming to District 12. But...she's my mother. I guess that sums it up.

As we tour the city and at turns tolerate it and marvel at the things that have changed, I begin to get the feeling there's something they're keeping from me. I can't quite pin it down, not enough to talk of it to Peeta. But something is missing. We turn away too sharply from certain avenues. There's a hole in my mind in the new picture of the Capitol that's forming. I'm mulling over this when we come back to the library one day to find Effie rearranging the flowers in the window.

"They're beautiful, Effie," Peeta says. "So many colors."

"Would you like to try to paint them for us?" our tour guide quickly asks. She's from the same school, whatever it is, that produced our earlier attendant. All of our "help" around the Capitol has been. Peeta and I have devised a series of diversions and gambits to keep them from getting the details they want.

"No, I only use the paints I left at home," he says. "The ones here are too fancy."

"Oh, how terribly rustic," Effie says, putting the last flower box in place. "These are called irises. Did you know that Iris was the name of an ancient goddess of peace?"

From behind her, I hear a stifled groan. I turn to see who it is, and as always, I am struck by how beautiful he is. Aisin Odair inherited his mother's coloring, but his father's beauty. It was clear even the last time I saw him, four years ago. Now it's almost painfully obvious. I wonder how Annie can bear to look into that face. A new terror strikes me at the fresh sight of him: what if my child looks like Prim?

"Are you okay, Katniss?" Aisin's voice drags me back to the here and now, and I realize Peeta has put a hand on my shoulder.

"I'm fine," I say. "Just a faint spell for a moment."

"I hope you're not overexerting yourself," Aisin says, shooting a dark glance at the guide. "Effie, why don't you go and make sure dinner's ready?" He's so self-possessed and confident for someone his age. It's a slap in the face to everyone who doubted Annie could raise a child right. Effie bustles off, and Aisin leans forward. "The ancient goddess of peace was Irene," he confides in us.

"Too bad," Peeta says quietly. "I like those flowers."

Aisin holds up a book. "Iris is from the same language, though. She was the messenger of the gods--her name means rainbow. What's wrong, Peeta?"

"It's nothing," he says. "Rainbows are the one thing I still can't paint. That's all."

Dinner that night is just five of us: Peeta and me, Effie, and Annie and Aisin. Beetee is still a very busy man, even at his age, and has already gone back to work. But it's strange; my mother should be here.

"I thought my mother came from District 4 with you," I say to Annie as we finish up.

"She did," Annie says. "But one of the hospitals here needed some help classifying new medicines, so she's taking a day to help them with that, first." I wish I could tell if that was an excuse, but I can't. It's always hard to tell these things with Annie.

"She'll be here," Aisin says with sureness. He must have picked up on my own uncertainty. "She never lets us down."

He can't have any idea how much it hurts to hear him say that. I try to find some solace in the fact that my mother is being a good grandparent to someone else's child, but it's impossible. She never lets us down. I should be happy, shouldn't I?

"I think we need to go rest," Peeta says. "It's been a busy day and we want to spend as much time with the two of you tomorrow as we can." It hasn't really been a busy day, but he knows what Aisin's words did to me, and he wants to get me out of here before I start crying or something like that. It's been easier to cry and harder to rein in my frustrations lately. I hear it's because of hormones, but I don't know. There are so many things that could be wrong with me.

That night I dream of being helpless, frozen in place, as my child slowly wastes away. I watch their bones start to show through papery skin and their stomach swell with hunger. My bow and arrows are right there. I could pick them up and go hunt for food, except that unseen weights press me down. My child starves to death as I watch, and soldiers from District 13 carry them away. "That's what happens when you don't follow your schedule," one of them says. I try to protest that we weren't given schedules, but I look at my arm and there's writing there. Feed your child. Just another body for the Meadow now, as it gapes open under the grass that covers it to reveal scorched bones once more. I try to throw myself into it after the newest emaciated body, but the weights still hold me in place.

I wake up expecting to find the sumptuous covers of our Capitol bed twisted around me, but nothing is preventing me from moving after all. I don't scream, though. The nightmare has left me voiceless for the first time in fifteen years. It will pass more quickly this time, I know, but I take advantage of it while I can, getting out of bed quietly so as not to disturb Peeta. I dress in silence. There's something I have to find. I have to see the place they've been hiding from me these past three days in the Capitol.

By now I know the streets surrounding the library pretty well, and I know what to wear and how to move so that I don't get recognized in the ever-bustling Capitol. It doesn't take me long to get to an alley where our tour guide for the day steered us rather quickly away. This time, I pass through it. Something about the street I end up on is faintly familiar, but I don't let myself stop to think about it. There are times when I only survive by not thinking about why something seems familiar to me. This might be one of them.

It turns out not to be. I should have paid attention after all. Because when I come to the end of the street, I'm somewhere unmistakably familiar. It's the square outside the presidential mansion. I try to clutch at something before the flashback overwhelms me, but it's no use. There's nothing there. I end up crouched into a little ball between two shops, shaking and weeping, feeling the brutal pain of burns and the more shattering agony of loss. Fortunately, this is the Capitol, and it hasn't changed that much. No one notices me in my unlit spot. No one bats an eye when I throw up in the corner. I've been doing that a lot more lately, too. I think I can be sure that's because of the pregnancy.

Eventually, the spell passes, and I wipe my mouth and tentatively venture back out into the thin midnight crowd. I see something else now, too. Something that makes this even worse, so much worse I can't process it. Where President Snow kept the children during the last battle of the Revolution, where the bombs landed, there's now a garden. My feet drag me toward it without my permission. There's a plaque in front. Something about a memorial. Numbly, I step into the path that leads past the flowering trees at the outskirts of the garden. Instantly, I'm surrounded by flowers, and the low murmur of activity from the square ceases. There's a soundproof field around the place. Which is a really good thing, because in a second my voice comes back and I start screaming.

Within seconds, my throat feels raw. I can't let that stop me, though. My vision starts to blur, and then it rushes up at me because I've fallen to my hands and knees and I'm digging in the dirt, digging furiously because I'm surrounded by primroses and I can't let them stay here. They'll die here. They'll burn to ashes and be gone. I dig furiously with my hands, uncaring of the scrapes from thorns and pebbles. I have to get them out.

"Katniss." Peeta's voice is in my ears, and for just a moment I feel lucid enough to try to tell him what's happening.

Or I think I do, anyway. All that comes out of my mouth is, "The primroses. I have to save the primroses. They don't belong here."

And then Peeta's hands are over mine, pulling them away from the dirt and the thorns and cradling them. "Katniss, close your eyes, then open them again," he says. His voice is the only real thing in the world. I do as he says. "Do you see any primroses?"

I start to say that of course I do, there are primroses everywhere, there will never not be primroses here, but I realize I don't. There are a lot of flowers here, but none of them are primroses. The primroses are back in front of our house in District 12, where they belong. I start to shudder with relief, and Peeta wraps his arms around me. "Sorry I ran off like that," I whisper.

"It's all right," he says. "It's a good thing I woke up right after. I almost lost you in the square, but...I knew you'd come here."

"You knew? About what they were hiding from me?"

He shakes his head. I feel his hair brush my face, and its realness soothes me. "I knew they were hiding something," he says. "I didn't guess it was this. But I was sure you'd find a way to get to it. Nobody with any sense tries to keep you away from somewhere, Katniss." I smile wanly and rest my forehead against his. We stay like that for a few minutes before he finally gently pulls me to my feet. "We have to see the rest of the garden," he says. I know it's true.

With one of my filthy hands in one of his clean ones, we walk down the path until it expands into a small clearing. There aren't as many flowers here, but there are a lot of plants. Each one has a little plaque by it. I frown, not understanding. Why would you put plaques in a garden?

Peeta figures it out first. "I've seen these plants before," he says softly. "You have, too."

It dawns on me, and I hurry over to a familiar-looking plant with small, sweet-smelling white flowers. Its plaque reads: Meadowsweet. Excellent for treating pain and fevers. It's the same all around the clearing: plants and explanations of their uses. This isn't just a flower garden. It's full of medicinal herbs. Ones that I've seen used myself, on those occasions when I didn't run away. "My mother," I say. "She designed this garden." At my shoulder, Peeta nods. Some of the weight that's been pressing down on me since the nightmare seems to lift. "I think I can go back now," I say. "And sleep."

The experience has exhausted me. I sleep almost until noon the next day. When I wake up and make my way out to the rest of the library, I see her waiting. My mother. She looks tired, too. I decide that what Annie said wasn't an excuse after all, or if it was, it's a good enough one. "Hello," I say awkwardly.

"Katniss," she says.

I stand there unmoving for a moment. Then I step forward and hug her, there in the public library. I can see today's tour guide out of the corner of my eye, and he looks like he's cursing himself for not having gotten out a camera just yet. I ignore him. "Thank you," I say. She looks at me in confusion. "For the garden," I say.

"They told me they weren't going to let you see it," she says. "Because it would be too painful for you."

"They didn't," I say. "I went there anyway."

"I didn't tell them you'd do that," she says, "but I thought you would."

"It was painful," I say, "but I needed to see it anyway."

"Designing it hurt, too," she says. "But I had to do it."

"I know," I say. My mother comes with us that day. She doesn't exactly feel like family anymore. Not the way Peeta is. Not the way Haymitch is, or even Johanna, who so often drops by District 12. But she's still my mother, and she was once Prim's mother, too. The guide steers us away as always, but I still feel the garden between us, holding us together even when nothing else does.

I wish the day didn't have to end, because tomorrow is the photoshoot. But it does, and once again I sleep fitfully through nightmares. This time they're of the government taking my child away again, so I never see them except on television, surrounded by a menacing army of stylists and film crews. My child looks paler and less healthy every time I catch a glimpse of them on the television. Soon, they'll waste away, used up by the government, burnt to a husk.

By now I don't need to explain what the dreams were about when I wake up screaming and Peeta holds me. He knows. But this time, I can't get to sleep again. So the two of us lie awake until morning, holding each other's hands. "We'll be back home soon," Peeta says quietly after a while. "Was it worth it?"

"I don't know," I say. "I think so, but it's hurt so much." He holds my hand tightly, and it all hurts a little less. "I'm going to count," I say. There's no need to specify what. We know by now. "Help me out." And Peeta and I spend the rest of the night, until the sky lightens, counting all the kind things we've ever seen anyone do. We've memorized most of them by now, but it doesn't matter. We still need to hear them again.

When the morning comes, I'm tired, but ready to deal with the photoshoot. Peeta and I have decided what we're going to do. When we get to the building where it's taking place, we're shown to a room full of new clothes. Sure enough, they're all horrible things, specially designed maternity clothes that are all fire and mockingjays. I throw them on the floor, and Peeta helps me stomp on them. I keep waiting for the door to burst open and a prep team to burst through them to frantically salvage their work and force it back upon me, along with makeup to hide the burn scars. I've already determined that I'm going to make them leave. But they never come.

We venture down to the room where the photoshoot will take place, expecting a huge scene, but there's no one there except for one woman adjusting several cameras. She straightens up to look at us. "Good," she says.

"What?" I say. Once again, I feel something familiar tugging at me. I look at the woman, but I'm sure I've never seen her before. She doesn't look like anyone I've ever known, either. There's just something about the way she stands, the way she looks at me.

"You didn't put on any of those terrible outfits," she says. The way she talks reminds me of something, too. Her accent is not thickly, ridiculously Capitol, but it doesn't sound like any of the districts, either. She doesn't look very Capitol, for that matter: dressed all in black, with just a little eyeshadow for makeup.

"Who are you?" Peeta asks.

"I'm Leda," she says. "Your photographer."

"You're glad I didn't put on any of the clothes Plutarch had sent for us?" I ask, trying to get that straight.

"He sent about thirty stylists to prepare you, too," Leda says. "I dismissed them all. I don't want pictures of an aging symbol. I want pictures of Katniss Everdeen." She pauses. "That's right, isn't it? You didn't change your name." I nod. "I've heard a lot about you," she says. She holds out a hand, and I hesitantly shake it. "You didn't want to do a photoshoot at all, did you?"

I shake my head. "We weren't even sure about coming to the Capitol."

"You should relax, if you can," she says. "I'm not even going to ask you to wear makeup. I want the last public images of you to be as real as possible." I must look surprised, because she laughs. "Well, you're not going to let anyone do this again, are you?"

"No," Peeta says.

"Let's get started," Leda says. So we do. It's not nearly as bad as I'd feared it would be. She poses me, but, she assures me, only for artistic reasons.

"Artistic reasons?" I ask.

"Photography is an art," she says. "I'm very serious about it." And once again I'm reminded of someone or something, but I don't know who or what.

After a while, she finally finishes and starts to take apart the camera. "You can go now," she says.

But I hesitate. "You said you'd heard a lot about me," I say.

"Everyone has," Leda says. "But you think it's different with me, don't you?" She looks at my face for a moment, then adds, "You're not wrong." Something twists in the pit of my stomach. I know her, somehow, even though I've never met her before in my life. How? "My parents and I had to go into hiding during the war," she says slowly. "Because my mother's brother was killed by the government for aiding the revolutionaries. I loved my uncle. I looked up to him so much. I still do."

"What was his name?" Peeta asks, and I can tell the question is for my benefit, not his, because he's already figured it out.

"Cinna," she says. "His name was Cinna."

I can't say anything, myself. Instead, I start to cry. Those hormones again, I'm sure. But it's just too much. The dead are everywhere among the living. Finnick in Aisin's face, Prim in my mother's garden, Cinna in Leda's style. I will never get away from them. But a part of me doesn't want to.

There's something both apologetic and satisfied in Leda's expression. "He meant a lot to you, didn't he?"

"Yes," I say as I gain control over my tears. "They all did."

That night we say goodbye to Effie, Annie, Aisin, and my mother. The train will take us back to District 12. We make Annie and Aisin promise to visit more often. It's a lost cause with Effie, of course, but she says, tentatively, that she might visit once, to bring gifts for my child--"so that they can have a little something of the Capitol's beauty in dreary District 12," she says.

And then we're going home, but Peeta steps off the train at the last moment. "There's something I need to get," he says. "You won't leave without me, will you?"

"I'd stay here before I'd leave without you," I say, and we both know how much that means. So I wait for him, and after a little while, he comes back, carrying a small bag. "What's in it?" I ask.

"I'll show you when we get home," he says.

But when we get home, we're busy settling back in and making sure Haymitch has at least a little sobriety left in him. It's not until the next day that I get the chance to ask Peeta about the bag he left the train to get.

"Let's go to the Meadow," he says. "I'll show you there." I follow him obligingly. For some reason, he has a shovel with him. The thought of digging in the Meadow makes me feel a little ill, and he must see it, because he reassures me, "We don't need to dig deep. I promise."

"What are we going to do?" I ask as we step out into the sunlight of the Meadow. He opens the bag, and I look into it. It's full of flower bulbs. "What are they?"

"Irises," he says. "All different kinds."

The new flowers become a constant for us in the coming months. We dig and we plant them at different times for each type, sticking to one patch of the Meadow--but a large patch, because, Peeta tells me, irises thrive readily and spread easily. I like the thought of beautiful, colorful flowers thriving and spreading in the Meadow.

Eventually, I'm in no shape to work in the dirt, even though I protest. I still walk to the Meadow, though, and watch Peeta tend to the irises. Until one day it's time, and with Peeta's hands wrapped around mine, I bring a baby girl into the world. I hold her, still frightened but no longer terrified, and then I drift off to sleep. I spend a while in bed with her, until finally I feel strong enough to get up and make my way downstairs, holding her all the way.

Peeta is there. He's been working on something. It's something important, or he would never have left my side. Now I see what it is. It's a picture of the blooming patch of irises in the Meadow, with a perfect rainbow stretching out above them. He turns and gives me a fragile smile. "I think I finally did it," he says. "Thanks to her."

"You did," I say. I lift one of her tiny hands. "Peeta, meet Iris."

"Hello, Iris," he says. And before I can rethink it, I hold her out and let her slip gently into Peeta's hands.

I am still afraid. But I trust him. I trust everyone in my life to help raise her into someone wonderful.
Tags: gen, katniss, katniss/peeta, the hunger games, the iris timeline

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