For their daughter's first birthday, Peeta bakes enough cakes and cookies and muffins and rolls for the entire District. That isn't an exaggeration. Granted, Twelve has never really grown back to the size it was before its destruction, and it wasn't huge at that point in time, but it's still a lot of baking, a lot of food.
Katniss lasts less than an hour at the celebration before she's fleeing into the woods, to get away from memories of abundant food and smiles that weren't her own. Sometimes, she wishes that, like Peeta, she could ask "real or not real" and have the answer be the latter, but her memories are as real as the human mind will allow. She sits in a copse and clasps her bow to her. She doesn't even want to shoot anything, not when they have so much already, and it will just go to waste. But she feels like she can breathe out there, and her stomach settles.
Peeta finds her there. The sun is making its way to hide under the trees and she imagines the party is over. "Sorry," she says, at the sound of his footsteps.
Peeta shakes his head, his expression understanding. "I should've thought. You were never good with crowds."
Katniss curls tightly around the bow, aware Peeta has more right. "Zinnia upset?"
"Zinnia's a year old and spent the day smearing her face with cake. You'll tuck her in when we go back and she'll be none the wiser."
"I—I do love her." Katniss makes herself say the words aloud, because Peeta likes hearing them, and he deserves that from her. That, and so much more. "I wanted it to be a nice party."
Peeta sits down next to her, putting a hand to her lower back. "It was a great party, Kat. And she had a great time, and you're the only mom in the world for her."
She wants to have him right there, in the copse, this space where she was never poor or scared or powerless. He must see something in her body language, because he says, "Sae's watching her, you know?" his tone languid, inviting.
She takes the invitation.
Buttercup dies a month after Katniss becomes pregnant with their second child. She blames it on the hormones when she loses it for three days straight, alternating between sobbing grief and catatonia. When she comes to, Peeta's buried the cat under the primroses. She runs a shaky hand over her face and says, "She was old."
Peeta nods. He says softly, "She had a good life. You gave her that."
"In the place of Prim," Katniss says, not even realizing she's speaking aloud.
Peeta shakes his head. "No. No. We do what we can."
"I'm tired," she tells him.
He carries her to bed and stays with her until she is asleep.
In her eighth month, Peeta has an episode. He hasn't had one in so long that at first, Katniss isn't even sure what's happening. Then he's got her on the floor, his hands around her neck and she panics because, baby.
She kicks him clear across the room, even the madness of the hijacking no match for her fear. He slumps, unconscious, and when he wakes up, he has to vomit in the sink. He says, "I should go. For the next month, at least, I should go to the other house."
His house, the one he hasn't lived in since Katniss stopped locking her door to him. She says, "No."
"No," she repeats. "They don't get that. They got my childhood, and your childhood, and Prim and Rue and Finn and—" She makes herself stop, because the list is too long, because she'll bleed herself dry naming them all. "They don’t get our adulthood, our marriage. They don’t."
"I could have killed you and the baby," Peeta says.
"But you didn't." Because this all that matters, and they both know it.
He's still for an eternity, but when he moves, it's to close his eyes, nod, give into her. "Okay."
Ruven is born in the middle of the night, under a waning moon. Haymitch has taken Zinnia so she won't have to hear Katniss scream. Katniss will keep the sounds of pain and hunger and terror from her daughter until she has no choice. She worries that perhaps that is the wrong approach, that it will cripple Zinnia, and yet she finds herself incapable of doing anything else.
Ruven cries once free of her, just as Zinnia did, and Katniss watches as Peeta takes him from the midwife, wrapping him in towels, wiping his face, cooing at him. Peeta's smile is wide and if the shadows are there—they always are—they have the decency to recede into the background.
He sits beside her, taking her weight so she can take Ruven. She thought she would be prepared this time, but holding him is still something new, something perfect. Peeta kisses the top of her head, and says, "Every time I think you can't amaze me more."
Katniss breathes in, and for once lets the feeling of being safe surround her, the feeling of having everything she needs. She says, aloud, to both of them, "Love you."