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Still Looking

Title: Still Looking
Paring: Brahm/Marigold Everdeen.  With some Lev Mellark/Marigold in there, too.
Rating: R
Word Count: 3708
Summary: The Everdeen's love story, from the perspective of Katniss' mother.  

The sun is already starting to sink to the level of the shop roofs by the time she’s finishing up her chores.  Marigold hates these winter afternoons when she hurries home from school with the sun hanging lower and lower in the sky.  People don’t need herbs and remedies any less in the winter – in fact, they often need them more – but fresh herbs are harder to come by and more expensive as a result.  They grow what they can in the weak winter light and under lamps when there’s electricity on to do so.  Still, supply is low, and today, like many days, the shop is empty.  On days like these, her chores feel like nothing more than a formality.  Their only customers are the Peacekeepers who can afford the elevated prices and the rare, desperate person who’s willing to pay them.   Her mother insists that she wash the glass, dust the counters, and sweep anyway.

She sweeps faster when she catches a glimpse of the low sun.  The faster she goes, the more time she’ll have to run to the bakery before she has to be home for dinner.  Bumping the door open with her hip, she pushes the small pile of dust and dirt toward the street.  The wind is cold as it wraps around her legs and tries to blow some of the dust back into the shop, but she’s too practiced to let it by.  Stepping fully outside now, she hastily clears the step with her broom, but then she pauses because someone’s… singing in the street.

The street is empty; she can’t tell where the music is coming from until its source appears, catching her staring.  It’s a tall, dark-haired Seam boy.  His grey eyes peer out amusedly at her from underneath his untidy bangs.  Marigold recognizes him as the boy who helps supply the shop with what he finds in the woods.  She doesn’t know his name, and she definitely didn’t know he could sing like that.  She didn’t know anyone could sing like that.  Finally, she drops her eyes as he’s drawing closer to her, focusing intently on the motion of the broom on the step.

“Hello,” he says cheerfully.

“Hi,” she replies politely, turning away from him slightly and sweeping with renewed vigor.

He doesn’t seem to get the hint, because he stops behind her, leaning against the wall of the shop.  “I’ve seen you before.”

“Of course you have.  You bring the plants.”

She’s annoyed that her tone just seems to make him more amused.  

“I’m Brahm,” he says.  “Brahm Everdeen.”

He’s waiting, expectant.  She politely stops sweeping for a just a moment.  “Marigold.”

His eyes are suddenly scrutinizing, looking her over intently, and she’s glad she can go back to sweeping, even though the step isn’t going to get any cleaner at this point.  “Fitting,” he finally says.  

Marigold doesn’t have a clue what to reply to that.  Thank you?  She’s certainly not going to stare at him and try to figure out if his name matches him; she doesn’t know him, and he doesn’t know her.  “Good evening,” she says, reopening the door to the shop.

“Did you like the song?” he asks and she turns towards him, caught off guard by the question.  He’s still smiling but his eyes are wide and questioning.

“Barely heard it,” she lies and ducks into the shop before he can ask her anything else.  She puts the broom away, and she can hear him pick up the song as he starts walking again.  She doesn’t want to, but she listens until the last strains of his voice fade away.

Lev’s waiting on the bench behind the bakery by the time she gets there.  Even from a distance she can see the small wrinkle between his eyebrows that forms whenever he’s concerned about something.  Right now, she knows it’s her.

“I’m late!  I’m sorry!” Marigold calls.  He looks up.  The wrinkle disappears, replaced by the smile that always makes her feel warm, head to toe.

“I was worried,” he admits as she settles into his arms.  She loves being wrapped up in him, smelling the warmth of baking bread on his clothes and feeling safe.  By next autumn, they’ll both be eighteen, and his arms will be hers permanently.  “You’re almost never late.”

“I was distracted,” she replies, draping her legs over his and resting her head against his shoulder.  Nothing can get to her here.  Even the unsettling encounter with the Seam boy seems like nothing against the unwavering security of Lev’s embrace.  “Do you know the boy from the Seam?  The one who trades in town?”

“Mmhmm,” Lev replies, his nose buried in her soft blonde hair.  “Mom and dad trade him bread for squirrels all the time.”

“He caught me listening to him sing,” she goes on.  “Then he felt like he had to stop and have a proper introduction.”

“He’s friendly,” Lev says and she can’t help grinning into his jacket. Even when it’s annoying, she loves how Lev will give anyone the benefit of the doubt.  “He and my dad are always having these long conversations.”

“His voice is... incredible,” she says.  It’s too hard to be negative around Lev.  One more thing she adores about him.  “I’ve never heard anything like it.”

“Uh oh,” Lev says, and she can hear the laughter in his voice.  “Should I be concerned about him singing you away from me?”  His lips lightly brush across her temple.  “I’m not much of a singer.”

Marigold tilts her head up so that his lips find her mouth next.  “Never.”

~*~

Inadvertently, she starts seeing the boy from the Seam everywhere.  He hadn’t even existed before, to her, and now she finds him around every corner.  And it’s not just that she sees him, she’s interested in him.  He’s always singing, a fact that, at first, makes her anxious that he’s noticed her noticing him.  She eventually realizes that’s just who he is.  He sings in the halls of school, in the streets of town, in the woods while he’s hunting (she assumes, anyway.  Although maybe it scares the animals away. How is she supposed to know?).  

Though she can’t help seeing him all the time, she manages to never get caught up in another awkward conversation with him.  That is, until a bunch of marigolds are thrust into her eyeline while she sweeps on an early summer afternoon.

“Hi,” he says, smiling eagerly.  “I saw these, and I thought of you.”

Her hands reach out, automatically, to accept. “Thank you.”

His smile changes to pleasure.  “Then would you like to go on a walk with me?”

Marigold hesitates.  She hadn’t expected an invitation to follow the gift, but since she’s accepted one, it would be rude to decline the other.  Plus her parents rely on him to get things from the woods, so she can’t ruin the business relationship by being impolite. She’ll go, and when they return she’ll let him know that she’s taken.  “I’ll walk with you.”

He offers her his arm as they depart, but she pretends not to notice, falling into step beside him.  They walk, the lengthening silence making her uncomfortable.  She doesn’t want to ask him questions, doesn’t need to know anything about him at all.  He seems to be fairly deep in thought, though, so it’s going to be up to her.

“So, you’re from the Seam?” she asks and claps a hand over her mouth, horrified.  That’s what she came up with?

He throws his head back with a loud laugh, then grins over at her.  “So you’re from town?”

Marigold laughs, too, relaxing slightly.  There is no need to feel the pressure to have a conversation with him.  It is just a walk, and the only boy she cares about is in the bakery, back in town.  The question seems to have broken his silence, though.  He talks about his parents, coal miners.  He tells her about his siblings who never lived past the age of five.  He tells her the only things he loves are hunting and singing, but that soon he’ll be a miner, too, and he won’t have time for them.

She finds herself wanting to talk about her life, not feeling obligated but just wanting to.  “Is that why you sing so much?”

“You noticed.”

A warm blush spreads from the back of her neck. “I guess... I wouldn’t be asking if I hadn’t.”

He doesn’t answer the question.  Instead, he starts singing a song.  Even though his voice is quiet, she feels a hush spread over the meadow from the moment it leaves his mouth, like every plant and rock is listening, too.  Someone else is listening, she realizes, when the birds pick up his song as his voice finishes it.  

She’s gaping at him, mesmerized, which is why his lips pressing so incredibly gently against hers catches her completely by surprise.  Even when she registers it, thinks of Lev, knows she should push him away, she doesn’t.  There’s a stirring in her chest, and there are things she didn’t think it was possible to feel rising up inside of her.  But just as she’s about to lean in and up for more of him, he pulls away.  His gaze reminds her now of when she said her name, like he could look into her and get the answers he wants.

“Another walk tomorrow?” he asks, his hand lightly tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear.  Her pulse races from just that.  Just that.

Marigold knows she should refuse.  She thinks of Lev, the safety of his arms and the love in his kisses, and she has to refuse.  And yet, her voice is steady and confident when she says, “I would like that.”

~*~

The bakery has never seemed so close as it does on the hot summer night when she makes her last visit to Lev.  The air is so thick and heavy that she finds herself fervently hoping that she’ll suddenly be unable to lift her foot, take one more step.  He’s there, on the bench, relaxed and smiling.  She knows that despite the uncomfortable weight of the atmosphere, he’s enjoying the little bit of time he gets to spend in the open air.  He’s looking forward to seeing her.  And she’s going to break his heart.  Selfishly, she watches him, takes in the easy set of his shoulders and the way his blond waves fall across his forehead.  Three years he’s been all hers, since she won him from Hennie Evans, who didn’t deserve him.  Now she’s the one who doesn’t deserve him, which makes her want to cry as she watches him.  She tells herself she can still change her mind, but that thought gets her feet moving again.

His smile grows as she approaches.  “There she is.”  His arms open for her, instinctively, but she doesn’t go to him.

“I- have something to tell you.”

“Tell me,” he replies without hesitation.  “But tell me from over here, because I want to hold you.”

“There’s someone else, Lev.”  She forces the words out before there’s a chance for him to remind her again of how much he loves her, how devoted he has been to her and would always be, if she hadn’t just said that.

His eyes are wide.  “No, there’s not.  I promise.  Who told you that?”

Marigold swallows a sob.  Of course, he’d never suspect.  Of course he’d think she was accusing him, instead of admitting an awful truth.

“I meant I have someone else.”

Her words are gentle, but they have much more of an effect than the abrupt announcement she made previously.  His eyes are full of pain, pain that she’s causing.

“Who?”

She wonders if he’ll do something; he’s strong enough to do something. But she made herself promise complete honesty, as if that could somehow lessen what she’s doing to him.  “Brahm Everdeen.”

The pain intensifies.  His whole face is screwed up, and she can tell he’s fighting very hard not to cry.  She takes a step forward, but he throws his hands up to stop her and she freezes in place.

“I’m so sorry, Lev,” she says, the words tumbling out frantically.  “I didn’t mean for it to happen.  And then it did happen and I tried really hard to forget it.  I wish I could be happy with you, but he just makes me feel alive- You’ve been perfect, always, and I always felt safe and cared for, and I know I always would be.  And he can’t give me that- the safety, not like you, but- now that I’ve felt it, I need it- and I have to let you go for that.  I want you to find that, too, Lev.”  She thinks she sees his mouth move, form the words “I won’t” but she doesn’t hear him.  “What?”

“Okay,” he says, eyes fixed firmly on the ground in front of her feet.  “I said okay.”

“Okay?” she repeats.

He stands.  “Okay.”

“No,” Marigold says, making him pause.  “Hurt me back.  I deserve it.  Don’t tell me okay.  Make me regret it.”

“No.”

She can see it in his eyes so clearly, the hurt and the anger.  She doesn’t want this gift of never knowing exactly what she’s done to him, of being allowed to make this choice without the torture of him fighting back.

“Please,” she begs.

“No,” he says again and disappears into the bakery, closing the door firmly behind him.

~*~

They decide early in their marriage against children.  It’s Brahm’s idea, and she doesn’t question it because when she’s with him, all she needs is him.  She knows enough about plants to prevent it, and he can bring them back from the woods for her.  Once in a while, she sees the two little blond boys in or around the bakery, Hennie and Lev’s children and she wonders, without regret or longing, if that’s what her life would’ve become as the baker’s wife.  On those nights, she’s extra content to climb into Brahm’s strong arms and feel that surge of life that pulled her to him from the beginning.

He surprises her one night, while cleaning a wild turkey in their kitchen by saying, “I want a baby, I think.”

Marigold stares at him, unsure.  “Really?  Why now?”

“All the other men on my crew have children now,” he explains, watching the turkey in a way that reminds her strongly of how she swept that step all those years ago while he tried to talk to her.  She wants to laugh, as if she’d refuse him anything he desired.  “Their children are getting older and they’re learning so many things, and I realized that we know so many things.  I know so much about how to survive and get what we need from the woods, and you know plants and remedies and so many amazing things.”  He chances a little look over at her, a shy smile playing on his lips.  “I don’t think it’s right of us to let that go.  I think we have to pass it on to our son.”

“You’re right,” she agrees and is rewarded with the dazzling smile that makes her feel a little lightheaded and warm.  When he washes his hands and moves over to her, she forgets about dinner entirely.

Marigold finds pregnancy thrilling.  She loves to discover all the little changes to her body and share them with Brahm, to let his excitement about them make her deliriously happy.  When she feels the first stirrings of their child inside of her, he starts singing to her bulging womb every night, and Marigold is convinced that this baby will be the best thing that ever happens to them.  She’s going to give him his son, and she’s going to have a smaller Brahm, with the messy dark hair and clear voice who will enchant her just as much as his father.

The labor pains start over dinner in late spring, dismaying her. She has imagined it so many times, but never without Brahm at her side.  She’s terrified at the idea of being alone, waiting, in pain, and Brahm missing the birth of their child completely.  It can’t be like that.

“I can stay home,” he offers in the morning when she confesses, sensing her fear, but she refuses.

“The baby will wait for you.”  Marigold manages to keep her voice calm, much calmer than she feels, because she can’t have him being distracted in the mines.  “Babies take forever.”

She forces herself to lie still through the intensifying pain all day long, not daring to sit upright or walk or do anything that might encourage their child to enter the world.  She won’t - can’t - do it without Brahm.  The contractions get closer, stronger.  She doesn’t even time them, because she doesn’t want to know how slowly the hours are passing, doesn’t want to know how imminent the birth is.

He arrives home, breathless and covered in coal dust, while she’s digging her fingernails into her palms to get through the latest contraction.  The pressure of the baby’s head, ready to make its passage, is excruciating, but she makes him wash up before letting him help her upright, squatting on their floor, pushing with all of her might.

“Dark hair!” he announces while she feels like she’s being ripped apart. But then, with a sigh of relief, the baby’s body slips from hers, into his hands. The baby’s cry fills the room almost instantly, loud and powerful.

“It’s a girl,” he says, surprised, and then laughs.  “I guess we should’ve at least discussed some names for the possibility.”

“Ash is still okay, for a girl,” she replies as he places the baby into her arms.  A girl is unexpected, but she’s so pleased to see so much of Brahm in their daughter.  That’s all she wanted, anyway.

“No,” he says, thoughtfully, his rough fingers touching the wet curls of dark hair plastered to their daughter’s head.  “It’s a boy’s name to me, now.”

“Well, what does she look like to you?” she asks him, drinking in the fascination on his face as he looks at the baby she made and carried and birthed for him.  

Brahm laughs.  “Honestly?  Right now she’s too purple and lumpy to look like anything other than a katniss root.”

They jokingly begin referring to their daughter as “katniss root” after this, while they wait for the right name to come along.  But even after the signs of birth fade from the baby, while they fade from Marigold’s body as well, nothing else sticks.  

“I think it’s her name now.  I think she’s Katniss,” Brahm tells her one night as he flips through their plant book, the baby tucked into the crook of his arm, sleeping peacefully.  She always sleeps peacefully after he sings to her.

She looks up from mending a pair of his coveralls.  Of course she’ll agree.  “When she asks where it came from, I’m telling her what you said when she was born.”

“How beautiful katniss are?” he asks, eyes sparkling.

Marigold laughs.  “That’s not the version I remember.”

“Well, you were in pain.  You can’t be expected to remember how complementary I was of our beautiful baby.”

She stands and smooths her daughter’s dark hair as she leans down to give her husband a soft kiss.  Their Katniss is beautiful, because she’s Brahm’s.

~*~

“Mari.”

The whisper cuts through her sleep, and she stirs, burrowing her face into Brahm’s chest.  The air in the house is cold; their mild December became a bitter January that she’s eager to put behind them.  His hands are wandering, she realizes as she becomes more conscious.  She loves when he does this, wakes her early, when their daughters are deep asleep still, to make love.  Marigold pushes on his shoulder, straddles his lap in one fluid, practiced movement.  Her heart is already racing.  After so many years, he still makes her feel alive so effortlessly.  A moment later, the ache of longing is gone as he fills her up.  She stifles a gasp, glances at their sleeping children just for a split second before giving her attention fully to him again.  

“I would keep you here all day,” she whispers in his ear when it’s over.  “Right here, in this bed.  It’s too cold to do anything else.”

“Maybe Sunday morning,” he murmurs, sleepily sated in a way she secretly finds adorable.  “We can find somewhere for the girls to go.”

“Sunday morning,” she agrees.  Katniss is eleven, old enough to mind her sister for a few hours.

She grins all morning, watching him, the thrill of being wanted and loved by him fresh in her memory.  Maybe she’ll ask if they can wake up that way more often, like they used to before they had the girls to think about, when he gets home.  

“What’s funny?” Katniss asks, leaning against her side while she braids Prim’s hair.

Marigold turns slightly to catch her older daughter’s expression and can’t help grinning more.  The curiosity in her grey eyes is Brahm, through and through.  So much of Katniss is, physically, anyway.  She catches traces of herself, too, in their daughter’s stubbornness and her devotion to her father.  

“You’re funny,” she finally replies, reaching over to tickle Katniss’ side.

Soon both of them have caught her silly mood, and they’re all grinning and giggling by the time Brahm is ready to walk them to school.  She loves him so fiercely when she sees him holding their daughters’ hands that she can’t help the slow, lingering kiss that happens just before he goes, even when it sets off a new round of contagious giggling.

“I love you,” he says, and it still sends that feeling through her, the thrill she’s come to so closely associate with him.

“I love you,” she replies.  “And you-” A kiss for Prim.  “And you, too.”  One for Katniss.

It’s freezing; she shouldn’t wait to watch them, but she does anyway.  Because as they grow smaller, she can still hear his voice, floating all the way back to where she stands.



Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
devymel12
Apr. 22nd, 2012 03:42 am (UTC)
This was adorable. <3
end_unplanned
Apr. 22nd, 2012 12:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
(Deleted comment)
end_unplanned
Apr. 22nd, 2012 12:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks for finding my typos. ♥
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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