I don’t believe Katniss’ love for Peeta was ever a question, perhaps even before the Games (starting with the bread, it’s obvious she kept tabs on him throughout the years). From these passages, we see that one of her biggest fears is having children. Actually, it’s not having the children themselves that she is so dead-set against - it’s the possibility of losing them. Katniss is a protector, loves deeply (though builds defenses in trying to convince herself otherwise), and easily sacrifices herself to protect those she loves from facing harm/death, as witnessed with her volunteering in Prim’s place and going into the second arena determined to keep Peeta alive instead of herself. It’s evident that Katniss is already protective of the children she hasn’t had yet, so she feels never giving them life will prevent their lives from being inevitably taken.
I believe this is partly why she avoids Peeta after the first Games - not necessarily because she’s confused of how she feels about him (I think, deep down, she knows she cares deeply for him. Otherwise, why risk her life to save him in the arena? Why go into the Quarter Quell, prepared to die so he can live?). She says herself that she has spent years building up defenses, convincing herself she doesn’t want marriage or children. She’d seen what happened to her mother when she lost her husband, saw children reaped and killed her entire life. She knows very well that with she and Peeta being victors, the chances of their children being used against them by being reaped/killed are extremely high. This is why she is wary of marriage to Peeta, because of the children that will inevitably follow. The children they will surely lose. So she avoids Peeta, tries to avoid acknowledging how she truly feels for him, in order to prevent future heartbreak for both of them.
This is why the beach scene is so poignant. It shows how much she needed him, how if he died she’d ‘be damaged beyond repair’, how marriage and children with Gale was ‘never a part of her plan’, and for a moment, she drops her defenses and allows herself to show/convince Peeta of the love she has for him, if not for the fact that she believes it’ll be one of the last chances she’ll be able to.
So, in the end, it speaks volumes that they wind up having not only one, but two children. She finally felt safe with the world to face her greatest fears. She let down her defenses when it came to Peeta, finally acknowledged to Peeta the love she’s had for him all along. He was hijacked, tried to kill her, and no one would have faulted her for walking away from him for her own safety. Or she could have merely been his friend - but she obviously wanted more. With all the walls she’d built up by that point, the only one who could convince her she wanted more with Peeta was herself. Saying anything else, such as she was forced to stay with him, is a huge insult to her character as it’s basically calling her weak and a liar - because she says herself that she loves him and that he’s the only one who can give her the “promise of life being good again.” To say otherwise is misconstruing canon to fit your own bias.
Katniss cared enough for Peeta not to walk away from him when he was at his worst and when he needed her the most. And she needed him as much as he needed her. She loved him enough to spend 15+ years with him and start a family (20+ years in the epilogue). She loved him enough to stay with him. Always.
“Peeta and I grow back together. There are still moments when he clutches the back of a chair and hangs on until the flashbacks are over. I wake screaming from nightmares of mutts and lost children. But his arms are there to comfort me. And eventually his lips.
On the night I feel that thing again, the hunger that overtook me on the beach, I know this would have happened anyway. That what I need to survive is not Gale’s fire, kindled with rage and hatred. I have plenty of fire myself. What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that. So after, when he whispers, “You love me. Real or not real?” I tell him, "Real.”
Peeta takes care of Katniss
Its beanie season :)
Saw Catching Fire last night and I am 97% sure this is what happened when Katniss left to get snow and then came back- cause this is what happened.