shesasurvivor (shesasurvivor) wrote,
shesasurvivor
shesasurvivor

A House United, Chapter 14

Rating:Explicit
Summary: Follow up to Blue on Grey. Katniss Everdeen has done the unspeakable with Union soldier Peeta Mellark. Now she's agreed to marry him. But first, they must make it through a proper courtship while surviving the trials of the Reconstruction Era South. Historical AU.
Warnings: Explicit sex, some violence, racial issues.
Follows Blue on Grey. Part of the A House United series.
AO3 - FFN

A week passes. Then two. Peeta practices getting around on crutches, with me by his side to encourage him. We leave Atlanta to return home. The trip is far more subdued this time. “I liked being in Atlanta,” Peeta says as we’re leaving the city’s outskirts. “They’ve really come a long way.” He doesn’t say more, but I can tell what he’s thinking. Atlanta has come a long way since he burned it to the ground. I’m glad he was able to see it.

Once home, his rehabilitation continues. It’s a good thing we have Haymitch, because there are certain things I can’t do for Peeta. Things like helping him dress, for example. But in every other way I can help him, I do. Mainly, this is by keeping him entertained, since there isn’t much he can do on his own. Since I no longer have him to help cover for my hunting, I spend my newfound free time to be with him. We begin to work on the family book, which is an old thing put together by someone on my mother’s side. My father added a section on edible plants, which was my guidebook when I began foraging on my own. Even in the few months that I’ve been doing so, I’ve picked up things here and there that I want to add myself. But having no artistic ability myself, it’s been impossible.

That’s where Peeta comes in. Since he’s an artist, he sketches the plants as I describe or show them to him. Then, in my best handwriting, I put everything I know about the plant down on the page. It’s quiet, absorbing work, but I can tell it helps Peeta feel useful. One day he suddenly looks up, and gives me a smile. “It’s nice that we can spend time together like this,” he says. “I almost feel like I have a second chance to court you properly.”

“Yes,” I say. “Nice.”

Soon, a month has gone by. As he grows accustomed to using his crutches, we begin taking walks together in the afternoon. Never anywhere too far out of sight from the house, since disappearing from vision like that would arouse too much suspicion. But we make our rounds over the property, slowly but surely.

It’s during one of these walks that it happens. As the front of the house comes into view, a curious sight waits for us. A horse and buggy are pulled up on the front path in front, and a group of people I don’t recognize are crowded around it. I look to Peeta, but he’s no longer next to me. In fact, he stopped several paces behind me, with an incredulous look settled on his face.

“What is it?” I ask.

Peeta’s mouth opens and closes, like he’s trying to speak, but no sound comes out. His eyes stay pinned on the sight in front of us.

“Do you know them?” I try prodding again.

My words seem to stir some kind of a reaction in him, because his mouth spreads into a wide grin. Finally, he tears his eyes away from the sight of our visitors and he looks at me. “They’re my family,” he says.

“They are?” I ask. Then the meaning of his words sink in. His family. He hasn’t seen them in ages! Not since he’s been here, that much I know for certain. And I’m not even sure when the last time he took leave to visit them was. I twist my head around to get another look at them. Peeta’s family. Here at last. I knew he had written to them, a long letter explaining the sudden drastic changes in his life: becoming engaged to a woman, then subsequently losing his leg from defending her. He had asked them to attend our wedding; we received the response only a few days ago, but were not sure when their actual arrival would occur.

From behind me, I hear Peeta’s crutches in the dirt as he makes his way beside me. He’s still grinning, glancing between the group ahead and me. “Come on,” he says. “Are you ready to meet them?”

“Are you?” I counter; because it’s been so long, I wonder if Peeta will be able to contain himself. But at the same time, I’m not sure what my own answer to his question is.

Peeta just shakes his head, his smile unwavering. “I’m not sure. It’s been so long. But I’m so excited to introduce you to them!” His blue eyes sparkle when he looks at me.

I wish I were as excited as he is. But this is a moment I don’t think I ever could have had enough time to prepare for. I know that Peeta has written to his family about me, and I don’t doubt he was anything but flattering. But how much do they know about me, exactly? About the extent of my relationship with Peeta? I doubt he told them about our more intimate experiences with each other, but do they know I broke off another engagement to accept his proposal? Even those questions are nothing compared to how they feel about the fact that I’m from the South. Could they possibly approve of their brother marrying a girl from the enemy’s side?

These are the thoughts that eat away at me as we make our way to the group. By now, Mama and Prim have made their way outside to greet the party. Prim is the first to spot us. She must say something to the others, because the group turns around to look. Suddenly, my legs seem to turn to molasses. At least, it takes a real effort to keep going. I do fall a few steps behind Peeta, but for his sake I keep moving. Besides, I’ll have to face them some time.

“Peeta Mellark!” A plump blonde woman cries out when we’re only a few yards away. She must be his sister-in-law, the one Peeta said would be like his sister even if she hadn’t married his brother.

“Delly!” Peeta yelps in response, confirming my suspicion. His grin stretches further across his face, if that’s possible, and he quickens his pace to the best of his ability while the blonde woman, Delly, hurries over to him, her arms out-stretched to embrace him. When they meet, she wraps her arms tightly around him, as he attempts to return the hug while balancing precariously on the crutches by situating the handles under his armpits. I stand idly behind Peeta, not sure what to do.

Delly begins chattering excitedly, and as they draw apart, she keeps his hands in hers, all while making a big to do about wanting to “get a good look at him.” Peeta answers her questions dutifully, promising her that he’s eating well, washing up daily, along with a host of other things.

“I’m well taken care of, Delly,” he assures her with a laugh. “I’m getting married, remember? My fiancée looks after me well.” This is when Peeta first seems to realize that I’m not there, as he glances to his side with a confused expression, then searches around until he spots me behind him. “Katniss.” He gives me a strange look as if to ask what I’m doing back here, but smiles at me nonetheless. “Come meet my sister-in-law.”

I nod as I find it in me to move forward to stand at Peeta’s side. “Delly,” he smiles, “This is my fiancée, Katniss Everdeen.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Mellark,” I offer my best curtsey, all the while thinking how ironic it is for me to call her by a name that will soon apply to me as well. But this is the first time I have ever really thought about it. Mrs. Mellark.

Delly Mellark returns the gesture. “It’s a pleasure to meet you as well, Miss Everdeen,” she offers, giving me a quick once over. “It’s so nice to finally meet the young woman who stole Peeta’s heart. He’s mentioned you often in his letters.”

“All good things, I hope,” I manage to smile as I say it.

“Oh, yes! Peeta had nothing but lovely things to say about you.” Delly smiles.

Peeta shifts beside me. “What else could I say?” He smiles at me. “She’s been by my side this whole time since the amputation.”

I give a tight-lipped smile of my own. “How could I not be?” I say.

Delly gives me a look before she begins fussing over Peeta’s leg. I watch her as she does. She really could be Peeta’s sister. Same ashy blonde hair, same blue eyes. She’s shorter than Peeta is; maybe around my height. They even have similar mannerisms. The only real difference is that where Peeta is trim and muscular from his days on the battlefield and helping around here, Delly has some extra weight to spare. Though I suppose having several children might do that. I put my hand on my stomach and wonder if I am carrying a child, will it end up looking the same way?

Peeta’s brother has made his way over by now. The resemblance is almost uncanny, or at least it would be if it weren’t for the fact that they’re brothers. Really, it’s the resemblance Delly has to either one of them that’s truly uncanny. Peeta once mentioned that his family was from a Dutch-dominated settlement in Nebraska, though, so I suppose that would explain it. His brother, though, is built like he is, but with a more angular face. Peeta’s face lights up at the sight of him. When he’s close enough, he attempts to free one arm from the crutches to hold it out for a shake. But his brother surprises him by bringing him in for a hug.

“It’s good to see you again, little brother,” he says.

“You too,” Peeta says. His eyes are closed tight; I get the feeling Peeta is trying to push away tears.

When they break apart, his brother holds him back at arm’s length, his hands still clasped on Peeta’s shoulders. He gives Peeta the same sideways grin that Peeta sometimes gives me when he’s feeling particularly playful, and cocks an eyebrow at him. “So you’re getting married, Peeta? Why haven’t you introduced me to your fiancée yet?”

Peeta chuckles, and turns towards me, introducing me to his brother. “Katniss, this is Ryland,” he tells me, and his brother gives an exaggerated bow.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Everdeen,” he says to me. “I was curious what the woman who stole my brother’s heart would be like.” He gives an amused grin to Peeta. “She’s darker than Ma would have wanted. Still rebelling, Peeta?”

Peeta rolls his eyes. “Stop it, Ryland,” he warns his brother. Then to me, he says, “Our mother had her heart set on us marrying good Dutch girls.”

“Good?” I frown at him.

Immediately, I can see he regrets his choice of words. “Maybe ‘good’ wasn’t the right way to put it,” he explains. “More like, she wanted us to marry within our culture. Like Ryland and Delly here.”

I don’t know what to say to this. Fortunately, Delly comes to my rescue by changing the subject to Peeta’s amputation, asking him question after question until he gives a laugh that quiets her.

“One thing at a time, Delly,” he tells her. “Shouldn’t we at least wait until we’re inside and seated before we discuss that?”

“Yes, of course. You’re right.” She smiles.

We make our way back over to the wagon that they arrived in, where Prim and our mother stand watching. Beside them stand two little boys. They must be Delly’s and Ryland’s sons. Both seem unsure of themselves, but when we reach them, Delly tells them to greet their Uncle Peeta properly.

“He’s been away at war for a very long time,” she tells them. Both walk over, and Peeta, grinning beside me, hugs them both to the best of his ability.

“Shall we move inside?” Mama offers as soon as salutations have been exchanged. “I’m afraid the only one I have to help you with your luggage at the moment is my brother-in-law, but I’m certain he would help you carry it in to your quarters.”

“That’s fine, Mrs. Everdeen,” Ryland smiles. “My boys and I can manage. Just let me know where I can hitch these horses?”

Mama smiles and points him in the direction of the carriage house across the way. She attempts another offer to have someone escort them over, at least, but Peeta’s brother only waves her off while his sons unload the chests from the back and carry them upstairs. As Ryland steers the horses away, the rest of the group heads into the house.

Once inside, Mama ushers the group into the parlor. “Katniss,” she says, rounding on me to give me a pointed look, “Why don’t you bring us our tea?”

My first instinct is to utter some sort of question--why can’t she do it, or Prim? But I catch myself as I glance around the room at my soon to be in-laws. Right. So without a word, I nod and make my way to bring the tea.

By the time I get back, Ryland has returned and everyone is seated. Trying to remember everything that Mama and even Effie Trinket have taught me, I begin to serve the tea.

“No sugar for me, thank you,” Peeta tells me when I reach him.

Forgetting myself a little, I can’t help giving him a smile. “I remember,” I say as I hand him a cup of black tea. His fingers brush against mine as he takes the saucer, and his blue eyes shine as they look up at me.

“Peeta has never cared for sugar in his tea,” Delly comments. “Ever since we were children.”

“How interesting,” I say, and give her the best smile I can muster.

Delly looks at me, then looks back at Peeta. “Peeta,” she says in a serious voice despite the smile on her face, “How are you doing? You poor thing! We were devastated when we received Katniss’s telegraph!”

Peeta and I exchange a glance before he answers. “It was hard at first,” he admits. “But I’ve been well-cared for.” He shoots me a warm smile.

Delly looks me over thoughtfully. “I’m glad she was here to care for you,” she says. But something about her tone lets me know that she isn’t really glad, at least not completely. But I try to brush it off, for Peeta’s sake.

“She’s been doing a wonderful job,” Prim speaks up. “She spends as much time with him as she can, and attends to his every need.” Mama gives her a disapproving look, but I can’t help feeling proud. My sister, at least, is here to defend me and for that, I am grateful.

Delly just smiles and changes the conversation to a more general subject. Small talk is made until finally my mother rises and excuses herself, explaining she has to leave to prepare supper. She brings Prim with her. I move to get up to help them, too, but she motions for me to stay where I am. So I stay in my seat, all alone to deal with Peeta’s family.

Once we’re alone, Delly turns to Peeta and gives him another warm smile. “It’s just so good to see you again, Peeta!” She tatters on. “We’ve missed you back in Nebraska, we really have. Why, the bakery just isn’t the same without your hand there to decorate the cakes and things. Ry, he just doesn’t have the hand for it.” She beams at her husband, who is just coming in with his children and settles down beside his wife with something of a sarcastic grin in her direction.

“That’s right,” he says. “I never did have your hand for it. And Delly never lets me forget it.”

Peeta laughs at this, and joins in on the gentle ribbing. The three of them go back and forth for some time, telling Peeta about all the things that have changed since he left home five years ago to join the Army.

“I hope you will come up to visit us soon, at least,” Delly says.

Peeta glances over at me. “I would like to show Katniss where I grew up,” he says. “But I don’t know when we’d be able to travel up there.” I smile at him and nod. He’s never mentioned any trips to Nebraska to me before, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of ordinary that he might want to take me there. I have to admit, I am a little curious to see what it’s like.

Delly nods, looking slightly crestfallen. “Well, anyway. At least we get to be here for the biggest day in your life,” she says. “Katniss, you must be very excited.”

“I am,” I nod, and try to put on my most convincing smile. It isn’t that I’m not excited, but more that I’m ready to get it over with. So much has happened just to get to this point, that the sooner we’re married, the better I’ll feel. “I think mostly I’m just eager to have it done, though.”

She laughs. “I imagine!” She asks Peeta some more questions, and I’m relieved that I mostly only have to sit and occasionally smile and nod politely for the rest of the conversation.

Watching Peeta with his family is like watching him become a whole new man. It’s as if I’m seeing a side of him I’ve never seen before. Somehow he becomes younger, and the grown man I know seems to become like a boy again in their presence. Seeing this in action during supper, I can’t help letting my mind drift to some of Peeta’s and my more intimate moments like our rendezvous today, and idly I wonder what they would think if they knew about that side of him. But they don’t. That’s a side reserved only for me.

At bedtime that night, I move to help Peeta down the hall to his bedroom, but Delly beats me to the punch, insisting that she and Ry take him down, and Ry helps him get ready for bed. Though I’d rather not, I let them. All it takes is me imagining how I would feel seeing Prim for the first time in ages in such a state, and I know I have to let them.

The next morning, everyone is up bright and early to begin preparations for our engagement party. I want to catch Peeta early so I can get a chance to have a word with him privately, but even though I’m awake before dawn, so is Delly. I find them at the dining table, chatting. At first, I just watch them. I mean to slip away and let them talk to each other alone, but before I get a chance to, Peeta catches sight of me.

“Katniss,” he smiles, his eyes sparkling as he stands up and crosses over to where I stand. He dares a chaste kiss on the forehead. Even as I accept it, I feel Delly’s eyes burning into us from the table.

“Come, sit with us,” Peeta says, and I follow as he hobbles back over. I take a seat between the two of them, and quietly wait for one of them to pick the conversation back up.

“Peeta and I were just talking about when we were children,” Delly says. “Well, we were talking about the war first and how things went for him, but then we started reminiscing and got back on the subject of when we were children.” She pauses to take a breath, and looks back at Peeta. “Remember how your father used to make us dolls made out of dough?”

“Yes,” Peeta laughs.

“I always ask Ry to do the same for our children, but he always refuses,” she continues with slight irritation. “But you will, won’t you, Peeta? You’ll make dough dolls for your children, when you and Katniss have them, right?”

Peeta shoots me a look, trying to conceal his amusement. “Sure I will, Delly.”

Delly beams and looks at me. “Peeta is going to be a great father. Don’t you worry,” she assures me. “And I’m sure you’ll make a great mother, too. What did you do when you were a child, Katniss?” she asks.

I blink, caught off guard. I glance at Peeta before I continue, but he’s just looking at me with curiosity. “Mostly played outside with my sister. Or my friends Finnick and Ga- “ It’s hard for me to finish, after all that’s happened. But I can’t deny the friendship we once had. “Gale.”

Delly nods and continues the conversation. More like dominates it, really. She’s one of the most talkative people I’ve ever met, which is saying something. But really… she’s maybe one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, too. Maybe Delly isn’t so bad.

One by one, our family members join us at the table. Mama and Prim prepare a breakfast, once again refusing to let me help on the grounds that I must entertain my soon to be in-laws. But it’s not so awkward this morning.

The day goes on. Delly proves herself even more useful by helping us prepare for the party. It won’t be much compared to the kinds of things thrown before the war, but with a little resourcefulness, we manage to make do. By early afternoon, we’re beginning to welcome neighbors. Peeta stands by my side as we receive them.

It’s interesting, the people who show up. One man, Seneca Crane, a known Yankee hater, arrives with his wife, whose name I realize I don’t know. She’s always taken second fiddle to her husband’s presence for as long as I’ve known them. Mr. Snow arrives, and gives us a look over before he flashes a poised smile and congratulates us on our engagement. I’m pleased when Cinna and Portia arrive, giving us both a hug as they also congratulate us. I’m relieved when Finnick arrives with Annie and their son, but not so pleased when I see who’s with them.

“Mr. Heavensbee… “ I say, and don’t even bother to smile as he shakes Peeta’s hand. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

“I was invited by the Odairs!” he informs me. “Hope that’s all right, of course. They’ve been very kind to me ever since they let me take their spare bedroom. Too kind to allow me to come along here as well.”

“You’re staying with the Odairs?” I ask, shooting Finnick a look. He doesn’t meet my eyes, but Annie has a concerned look on her face. Good. And they have the audacity to frown on my marrying Peeta?

“Pleasure to be here for such a happy occasion,” Plutarch Heavensbee continues. “Congratulations.”

We nod our acceptance as they move on. Once out of earshot, Peeta looks over at me. “That was the man who offered to buy your property?”

“The very same,” I say.

But Plutarch Heavensbee doesn’t prove to be the most controversial guest in the end. The other soldiers--specifically Thresh--make an appearance that causes everyone’s tails to go wagging. But they clear out quickly enough.

Once it’s clear most of our guests have arrived, I help Peeta up the porch stairs as we make our way back into the house. I make sure he’s settled before I begin mingling with the crowd. It’s not exactly my strongest skill, playing hostess, as I would much rather be with Peeta and his family than doing this. But I know Mama would kill me if I didn’t at least attempt to offer our guests the proper hospitality. “After all,” I can hear her saying, “They came just for you.”

I’m walking past a group of three girls, their blonde heads bent together in conspiring gossip, when I overhear something that makes me stop in my tracks.

“Well, this whole thing is such a disgrace,” one of them, Glimmer, informs the two other girls. “It’s bad enough to break off her engagement to Gale Hawthorne. But to break it off for a Yankee!” She shakes her head as if the shame of it all is too much for her.

“So the rumors are true?” another girl asks.

“Oh, of course!” Glimmer assures her. “I heard it from my mother, who heard it from Effie Trinket. Mr. Mellark asked her to marry him before it was even announced that the engagement was off! She was probably fooling around with him right under poor Gale’s nose. Watch her stomach in the coming months. There’s probably a little Yankee bastard brewing in there now!”

There’s a collective gasp from the group as all three girls shake their heads, scandalized.

“I overheard my father say he thinks that Yankee is just after her for her land.”

“Probably in cahoots with that Heavensbee fellow,” the other one snorts.

Shooting a glare in their reaction that they don’t catch, I move on, feeling sick to my stomach. I suppose Mama was right about everyone suspicious about our marriage. How stupid I’ve been! And I can’t help feeling especially angry with Glimmer for her self-righteous attitude. Wasn’t she the one teasing me for being too pure to spy on Peeta bathing back before anyone even knew about us? Has she forgotten how she said she wanted to do it herself? How dare she be so superior now!

The comment about him only wanting me for my land has me pretty worked up, too. This is the first I’ve caught wind of that particular theory. The thing is, even I have to admit I can see why anyone might suspect that, given scoundrels like Plutarch Heavensbee that have shown up from the North to buy up land from those who can’t afford to pay the taxes, which is most of us. Sure, the taxes are too much for us down here, with the entire economic system collapsed. But the land is probably dirt cheap to the Yankees, who didn’t rely on slavery and servitude the way plantations did down here. And Peeta is a young man looking to start a life after fighting in a war. And he’s such a smooth liar… My feet slow down as I consider this.

Could Peeta be using me for my land?

I frown at the thought of this, not wanting to believe it. But I can’t deny he’d have the motive to do it. I stand there, waging an internal debate over the issues, while my eyes roam across the party and fall on the man in question. He sits with his brother and Delly, the latter chattering away about something, but Peeta clearly isn’t paying attention. Instead he’s focused on watching me. And there’s no mistaking the lovesick look on his face.

Relief rushes through me; of course Peeta is marrying me out of love! I feel horrible for even considering otherwise. He’s gone through so much by now in order to marry me. He even lost his leg for me! No man who just wanted my land would go through all of that on my behalf. My legs begin to move again, carrying me across the way to meet him. His eyes rise to mine as I approach, and he moves to get up. Delly sees his attempts and stops talking, glancing over until she sees me and understands what Peeta is trying to do. Quickly, she leaps to her feet and helps Peeta to his. She watches with a slight frown as he hobbles out to meet me halfway.

“How do you like the party?” I ask him.

Peeta gives a grimace, which makes me laugh a little. “It’s fine,” he says, then lowers his voice. “Except I keep getting dirty looks from people.”

I slowly let a breath out through my nose, then nod. “I don’t think everyone is exactly celebrating our union,” I admit.

“You expected that, though,” he says.

“I did,” I agree.

“But something else is wrong?”

I weigh out whether or not I should tell him what I heard the girls talking about earlier. I decide it might not hurt to be honest with him. “I heard some of the girls talking,” I explain to him.

He checks my face. “And?”

I tell him what they said. “And the worst part is that it might be true,” I sigh. “My stomach could begin to grow in a few months. Then what?”

To my surprise, he just shrugs. “For all they know, you’ll have conceived on our wedding night,” he says. “It happens. My parents conceived my brother shortly after they were married.”

“That’s true,” I admit. “I wasn’t born long after my parents married, either. I guess Mama was right about our wedding being held sooner rather than later.” Now it’s my turn to check his face, thinking over my next words before I say them. “They also said there’s a rumor you’re only marrying me for my land.” I let it out, and realize I’m dreading his response.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Katniss. I’m marrying you for your cooking.”

For some reason - maybe because of the way he says it without missing a beat - I laugh. Peeta retains a neutral face, except I see the gleam in his eyes.

“We’ll just have to ignore them, Katniss. They’ll see the truth soon enough. And even if they don’t, does it matter?”

“No, I suppose not,” I agree.

We’re interrupted when, of all people, Madge Undersee walks up and greets us. And even though her smile seems genuine, I can’t help immediately going on the defensive.

“Congratulations on your coming union,” she tells us.

“Thank you,” Peeta answers. He appears genuinely touched, but I remain suspicious. I give her thin-lipped smile and a curt nod of my head. My arm slips through Peeta’s and I hold onto him tightly.

“Katniss,” she says and takes a step closer to me. “I truly am so happy for you.”

“Thank you,” I say. “Haven’t you begun seeing Gale Hawthorne?”

I can see this has the desired effect. Madge frowns, but, to my surprise, she doesn’t appear offended. “He has started calling on me, yes,” she admits. “But… “ She looks around, checking to see how many might be listening in on us, then seems to decide it doesn’t matter. “I don’t necessarily agree with him.”

“You don’t?” This is not going the way I expected it to.

“No,” she shakes her head. “I know you would never want to hurt him on purpose,” she says. “I think-” She blushes as she glances at Peeta. “I think you really must have fallen in love if you thought the risk of ending your engagement to him was worth it.”

Surprised, I look to Peeta for guidance. He gives me a look that tells me he doesn’t know what to think either, and looks pointedly back to Madge. I do the same. “Th-thank you,” I say, knowing I must look as confused as I sound.

“Anyway, I think it’s better that you’re marrying for love instead of throwing yourself at any single man with money, like some girls,” she says, and I note with both astonishment and amusement that she looks pointedly in Glimmer’s direction. I wonder if she overheard the same conversation I did. “You know, I heard she was flirting with that Yankee soldier, Marvel,” she says with some disgust, then looks embarrassed when she catches herself. “No offense meant, Mr. Mellark,” she tells Peeta.

“None taken.” He sounds amused himself, fortunately.

All this has me finally letting my guard down at last. Maybe Madge is better than I realized she is. Maybe she’s more trustworthy. Of course, she may also be simply grateful that I freed up Gale for her sake. But it’s better than the alternative. I’ll take it, whatever her reasoning may be. Without considering it first, I speak up. “Madge, will you be coming to our wedding ceremony?”

She brightens immediately. “Do you want me there?”

“Of course,” I nod.

She retains her smile. “I will certainly be there,” she assures me. Good. I realize now that this is actually a relief, to have someone else in the community who may actually be happy for Peeta and me.

We’re interrupted by Mama calling the party’s attention. She motions for Peeta and I to join her, so asking Madge to excuse us, we make our way over. With us by her side, she begins to make a short speech, letting the party know how grateful she is that they attended to celebrate the wedding of her oldest daughter. Everyone pays her polite attention, but it’s clear there’s something of a chill in the air. When Mama finishes, motioning for attention to turn to Peeta and myself, the silence is so painfully awkward. The three of us stand there awkwardly, while the party sort of applauds, but only because they want to save face.

Then Haymitch, who has had a little too much to drink, pipes up from off to the side. “Watch out, gentlemen! Better lock your daughters up, because the Yanks appear set to take off with our women!”

The group actually laughs at this, and just like that, all the tension seems to disappear from the room. The party continues as the guests begin chattering with each other once more. Mama fixes Peeta and me with a look, then continues off to speak to some of her friends.

Peeta turns to me and gives me a smile. “If you don’t mind, I think I need to sit down for a little bit.”

“Of course,” I say, and follow him back to his seat. Delly and his brother are still there, but to my surprise, both have become caught up in conversation. I’m shocked when I realize it’s Finnick and Annie. When we reach them, I help Peeta lower himself down into the seat, taking his crutches and setting them aside, but still within reach. Delly looks like she’s going to interrupt the conversation, but when she sees me helping him, something makes her stop. She gives me a long look, like she’s studying me. Then, to my surprise, she actually smiles. And not just a polite smile, either. She actually looks like she approves.

So that’s two successes for us today, which is two more than I thought we would get.

“This is some party,” Peeta says once he’s settled. He smiles at me. “I’ve never had something like this done for me before.”

“Well, get used to it. That’s how we do things here in the South,” I say. “As long as we can afford it.” Which I’m not entirely sure we can. I fought with Mama for days about throwing this party for us, telling her there was no way we could afford it, and I doubted many people were excited to celebrate my engagement to a Union soldier anyhow, and besides, neither of us really cared. But Mama would not listen, and insisted on throwing us this party.

Peeta reaches for my hand, as if reading my thoughts. “Don’t worry,” he promises. “We’ll have money coming in soon, once we get the sharecropping started.”

I frown. “But that’s still a while away, Peeta.” We decided not to begin it until after our marriage. It would be too much to think about otherwise. “Besides, even then there’s no guarantee that it’ll pay off.”

“I know,” he agrees. “But I think it will. And I keep promising I can support us on my soldier’s pay.” But even as he says it, I can see the worry in his eye. Peeta has been on some kind of leave since his amputation. The money is coming in, but for how long? With the war over, he could easily be discharged, and then where would we be? It was one reason we agreed to the sharecropping. But it’s still no promise. Besides, who knows how long it will be before we even see the first profit?

“Try not to worry too much about it for the next week,” he tells me, and leans over to kiss me on the forehead. “This next week is supposed to be a happy one for us.”

Despite the stress, I find myself smiling at him. “You’re right,” I say. So for the rest of the party, I push the thoughts away from my mind and for the first time, allow myself to feel as happy as a bride should feel.
Tags: a house united, au, everlark
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