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The First Smile

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I can't remember the last time I took a shower, or changed my clothes, or brushed my hair, or even slept longer than thirty minutes at a time. Sage is almost six weeks old now, and since Peeta's been in training and meetings for over twelve hours a day lately, prepping for the final push into the Capitol in less than a week, I've been letting him sleep as much as possible at night while I take care of Sage. But right now I'm so utterly exhausted I feel like I'm going to snap if I don't get some sleep soon.

Mom calls it a growth spurt, but with the way this boy seems to eat he's been growth-spurting ever since he came out of me. Every ninety minutes around the clock since he was born, and even more often when he's fussy, which happens to be right now. My breasts are sore and my lower back hurts with the way I hunch over to feed him when I'm so tired. I've tried nursing in the lying down position a couple of times, but I don't think he's quite big enough for that yet, or I'm still too small. Either way, it wasn't comfortable for either of us.

We're doing our all-too-familiar dance around our compartment right now as he fusses against my shoulder. I can feel drool pooling on the sleeve of my pajama top, which is actually just a repurposed hospital gown designed for easy nursing access. My mom had to sew flaps into my bras for me to nurse in, but during times like these I just skip the bra since Sage is so impatient when he's hungry.

Mom also says that I was like this as a baby, meaning cranky, unless I was eating or sleeping, until I was over three months old. I think I cried when she told me that, because it means I have at least two more months of this, and right now I'm not sure I will survive even one more day of it.

"Please little guy, you can't be hungry again already, it's only been 45 minutes!" I plead desperately with my crying son. If only he would smile at me. Just one little smile, then this would all seem worth it. Let me know that I can make him happy from time to time. Let me know that he doesn't hate me. Because now all he seems to do is let me know when he's mad. And he's so mad right now. So, so mad.

I hitch him up further onto my shoulder as I bounce around the room, patting his back at the same time and occasionally running my fingers along his downy soft curls at the nape of his neck. Blond curls, just like his daddy's, although not quite as thick, and a shade darker and more ashy in tone. His eyes, when he deems fit to let me see them, are a slate-grey color. Not quite the dark blue they were when he was born, but not quite my shade of grey yet either. Mom says a baby's eye color isn't set until they're more of a toddler, so it'll be interesting to see where on the color spectrum his eyes fall, but I think they'll lean more towards the grey side than blue.

I'm just sitting back down onto the couch to feed him again when the door to our compartment opens and Peeta walks in, sweaty and exhausted from his intense evening training session. His eyes widen in adoration when he sees the pair of us.

"Hey, how's my little family?" he says as he leans down to kiss my forehead and run his hand over Sage's little head.

"He's hungry, as usual," I say quietly, willing the tears welling in my eyes to stay there. I don't want Peeta to see me crying right now. Not when he has so many other things to worry about, with the mission to the Capitol coming up so soon, and the fact that he's still recovering from the three broken ribs he sustained on his mission to District 2. I cannot wait until this war is over and we can go home to Twelve, and start rebuilding the bakery. We still keep that first drawing that Peeta made of his dream bakery up on the wall, right next to our bed so we can see it when we wake up, to remind ourselves that we won't be here forever. That this war is only temporary.

Peeta crouches lower now so his face is level with mine, just as I get Sage latched on and his frantic cries blessedly stop for the moment. Peeta's striking blue eyes take in my ragged appearance and exhausted face and his jaw tenses.

"When was the last time that you slept?" he asks me, moving his hand up to caress my cheek. I instinctively lean into his hand and the tears of relief and exhaustion start to automatically run down my face.

"I don't know," I whisper. "I can't remember, he's been so cranky today."

His brow furrows and his lips purse. "Katniss," he says reproachfully. "You know you can always ask Prim or your Mom to take him for a while if you need to sleep and I'm not here. Or Haymitch, or Madge, or practically anyone else that we know."

I just shake my head. And Peeta knows it, too. He knows that I don't feel comfortable with just anyone holding or even touching our son. He knows that if I think Sage might cry and I'm not there with him that I can't relax until I'm with him again. He knows that no one else can feed him right now except me, and that I'm very selfish with those feedings most of the time. For how exhausting it is to be the only food source for this tiny human, nursing my baby really is one of the most precious things I've ever done and I love that I'm able to do it.

Peeta's shoulders slump and he glances up to look at the clock on the wall. It's almost 2000. Apparently Sage and I were so distracted by his fussiness that I missed dinner. "Did you at least get to eat dinner?" Peeta asks.

I shake my head again, and Peeta drops his chin to his chest. "Katniss, you have to eat, love, or you can't make enough milk for Sage, you know that! The boy's just going to suck you dry!"

"I know, Peeta," I say, a little too harshly. "But he's been crying so much today that I didn't want to take him anywhere, much less the cafeteria where everyone would just be staring at us!" Sage is already something of a celebrity here, with Peeta and I being his parents, and the fact that he's the first baby born in Thirteen in over eight years. We have enough eyes following us around when Sage is in a good mood, I don't need the added scrutiny on me when he's in a bad one.

Peeta swallows and wipes the tears off my cheeks. "All right then, here's what we're gonna do," he says. "I'm going to take a quick shower while you feed him, then I'm going to take him with me while you sleep for a while." He raises his hand up as I open my mouth to argue. "Haymitch and Rye are down in the rec room playing chess right now. Sage and I will go and visit them while you rest, and then I'll bring some food for you when we come back."

More tears make their way down my face. "Peeta," I start to say, but he puts his finger on my lips to shush me. I want to tell him no, that he needs to rest and heal his body so he doesn't get himself killed on this Capitol mission coming up. That I probably won't be able to sleep anyway with Sage not next to me on the bed. But I can see by the set of Peeta's jaw that arguing with him will be useless, and I'm so tired, so, so tired, and arguing takes up so much energy anyway. So I just nod my head.

Peeta smiles and kisses my forehead again. "All right then," he says, and starts to strip his sweaty clothes off so he can get into the shower. I watch him intently as he undresses, as even in my overly emotional, hormonal, exhausted and touched-out state, he's still the most beautiful specimen of a man I've ever seen. He senses my gaze upon him and throws me one of his signature grins that still makes my knees feel weak. "I don't care if you see me," he chortles as he steps into our tiny bathroom, which causes me to burst out laughing in spite of myself.

Exactly six minutes later Peeta comes out of the bathroom, and I switch Sage to the other breast as Peeta pulls his grey shirt and pants on before sitting down next to us and wrapping his arm around my shoulders. I lean against him, burying my nose into his neck and inhaling his comforting, sweet scent, where, even after all this time in Thirteen, I can still make out the traces of cinnamon on his skin. I close my eyes for a minute, grateful for his strong chest and arms that always make me feel so safe.

"I'm sorry," I mumble. "I probably smell like spit-up right now, but you feel so good."

Peeta kisses my cheek and then turns my face to kiss my lips. "I don't care," he says. "I love you anyway."

Sage pops off a couple minutes later, all milk-drunk and drooling. Peeta takes him from me before I've even had a chance to sit back up. "You go and shower now, love," he says as he stands up, grabbing the burp rag off the back of the couch and draping it over his shoulder. "Then you crawl up into that bed and I'll tuck you in before we go. And I want you to sleep, not keep yourself awake by fretting about the baby. He'll be fine. I'll have him in the wrap and I promise I won't let anyone touch him without washing their hands first."

"Okay," I whisper, grabbing a clean pair of underwear and a fresh pajama top from my drawer before heading into the bathroom. I hear a loud belch coming from the direction of the couch as I turn on the water.

"That's my boy!" Peeta says, just as I step under the shower spray, causing me to giggle. I don't remember a shower ever feeling this luxurious, even if I can't crank up the water as hot as I'd like it. I scrub shampoo into my hair and massage my scalp for a couple minutes, being careful to keep the shower spray from directly hitting my sensitive breasts.

The water shuts off just as I've finished rinsing my hair, and I quickly towel myself off and dress before running my comb haphazardly through my hair. Then I exit the bathroom and find Peeta trying to fold one of the diapers with one hand while holding our son with the other, before laying him down to change his diaper. I usually try to pre-fold the cloth diapers that closely resemble cleaning rags, but I've been too overwhelmed to think about it lately, so they're all just piled up in a basket next to the couch.

"No, no," Peeta says to me as I move over to try and help. "You just get ready for bed, I've got this." And he does. As I watch in fascination, Peeta cleans up our son's dirty diaper, remembers to use the tiny washcloth over Sage's private parts so he doesn't get sprayed, and expertly places the almost perfectly folded flat diaper under him before pinning it just right and sliding the cover back up. If you didn't know any better, you'd have no idea that Peeta had never changed a diaper or even ever held a baby in his life before our son was born. "I think he just pooped enough for three babies," Peeta says. "I wonder if that's why he was so fussy?"

"Maybe," I say, still in awe of my amazing husband and how much better I feel with just a six minute, lukewarm shower and a clean shirt. "Peeta, I feel a lot better now-"

"Nope," Peeta says, softening his word with a kiss. "You just help me into the wrap and we'll leave you to sleep for a while."

I finally acquiesce, nodding my head. "Okay, give it here," I say. Peeta hands me the forest green baby wrap and positions Sage upright against his chest. Our son snuggles right into him as I carefully wrap the woven length of fabric around my two boys, over both of Peeta's shoulders and crossed behind his back, tightening it just right and tying it off under Sage's little fluffy bottom. "How does that feel?"

Peeta leans down and kisses the top of Sage's head. "He's close enough to kiss and I don't feel any pressure points, so I think everything's fine," he says happily. This is one of those times when I wish I could draw more than a stick figure, or that I knew how to work a camera, because the sight in front of me right now is absolutely too precious for words.

"Now you get into bed," Peeta says quietly, because in the two minutes it took me to get the wrap tied around them, Sage has fallen asleep. I climb up into the bed and Peeta tucks the blankets around me, leaning over carefully to kiss me while supporting our baby's head. "Sleep now, my love. And don't worry, Sage will be fine."

"I know," I whisper. "Thank you Peeta. I love you both so much."

"You know I love you," he says. "And Sage loves you too, even if he doesn't show it very much right now." And just like that, he can sum up almost my entire mothering experience so far. It's not easy to feel like my son actually appreciates anything that I do for him when he spends so much of his time telling me how unhappy he is. Just one smile is all I'd want. I watch the door slide shut behind them and close my eyes, allowing my exhaustion to finally win over.

I jerk awake suddenly, blinking my eyes against the dim glow of the nightlight. I automatically reach my hand out to feel for Sage, but he's not in the bed with me. Neither is Peeta, actually. I sit up in a panic and instantly cross my arms under my breasts, which feel like they weigh about ten pounds apiece. I quickly jump down from the bed, wincing at the pain in my chest, and find Peeta sitting on the couch. He's asleep, with Sage still snuggled in the wrap, snoozing comfortably on his chest, although I can see him starting to root with his mouth a little. I glance at the clock and see that it's just after midnight. My son has slept for over four hours for the first time, which means that I've slept for four hours straight for the first time since he was born. If not for the intense pressure in my chest, I'd feel like I could take on the Capitol myself right now.

I gently place my hand on Peeta's shoulder and he wakes with a start, glancing down at Sage before snaking his hand behind my neck so he can kiss me. "There's some bread and fruit on the table for you," he says. "How do you feel?"

"So much better!" I say happily. "But I need to feed him now or I'll explode, and you need to get to bed."

Peeta wraps his arms gently around our son before standing up and untying the double knot from under his bum. He kisses Sage on the forehead before handing him to me. "We had a good time," he whispers as he drapes the wrap over the back of the couch. "I'm going to miss this little guy when I have to leave. And you of course," he adds, winking at me.

I lay Sage on the couch to change his soaking wet diaper as Peeta heads for the bathroom to brush his teeth, but instead of heading for the bed he comes and sits back down next to us as I get Sage latched onto my breast. "You should get some rest," I say, knowing Peeta has to get up early tomorrow. More training and more meetings.

"I will in a bit," he says, running his fingertip along Sage's tiny cheek as the baby suckles greedily from my nipple. I've shoved a burp rag down my shirt to catch the milk flowing from my other breast, as I don't think I've been this engorged since my milk first came in.

Suddenly Sage pops off of me and opens his eyes, such a beautiful, striking color in the artificial moonlight filling the room. They flick between Peeta and me a couple of times, and then, with milk trailing out the side of his mouth, his tiny lips curl into a smile. His first smile.

"Oh Peeta," I exclaim. "He smiled at us! He finally smiled!" I look up at my husband with shock and joy and see his blue eyes shimmering with tears.

"You see Katniss?" he says as he kisses my temple. "He does love you."