A/N: MELLARK BABIES! Raw and un-beta'd.
A Remedy Against Nightmares
"...Sometimes I see flames. And sometimes
I see people that I love dying and... it's always..." Sleep, MCR
My sleeping brain kicks into red alert at the first sign of a struggling body beside me. In the darkness of our bedroom, Katniss thrashes against the sheets tangling around her legs. She's asleep, lost in a dream, her subconscious caught in a loop of nightmare scenarios from years ago. She's never been a sound sleeper since the Games. I don't know what it was like before that, except for the few nightmares she's mentioned involving her father.
I wait until the thrashing stops. It might seem cruel to let her keep dreaming, but we've learned the hard way that if I wake her while she's struggling she sometimes wakes up thinking that I'm trying to kill her. I'm ashamed to admit that she has a legitimate reason for thinking that.
So I have to wait until she wakes up on her own. If you've ever heard an animal crying in the middle of its death throws, but didn't know where to find it, then you know what this kind of waiting feels like. Agony. There's nothing you can do to help. The sound wrenches your gut. You might start to go a little crazy too, wondering if it's going to end.
I stare at the ceiling until I feel her hand reaching for me, telling me she's awake and needing me. My arms reach out to hold her. Trembling fingers clench my t-shirt. Her head tucks under my chin; I feel her shuttering breath against my throat.
"Shh. Katniss. S'okay," I murmur groggily. I wait for her to calm down before whispering, "What was it this time?"
"Prim," she gasps against my chest. "Didn't save her."
The usual, then. "Prim lives down the main road with Rory. We saw her yesterday," I soothe. "She's fine."
Katniss gulps air, sitting up, running fingers through tangled hair. "I know," she sighs. "It seemed so real, though." The half-light from the moon leaves shadows under her eyes. They'll be there tomorrow when we get up, I know. The dreams are worse in the winter. Less time spent burning energy outdoors, less light. More time to dwell on the past.
"Come here," I say softly, pulling her closer to me. Katniss clings to my shirt like she'll slip away forever if she doesn't hold on.
"I thought these dreams would go away by now," she moans.
"Me too." It hurts, watching her struggle with this fear - and feeling not good enough because I can't keep them away. How can I help her when I can't keep my own ghosts away on some days?
We try. Sometimes we find release in thoughtless fumbling. Sometimes it's better just to hold onto one another. Most of the time we're too tired for physical comfort and it never really helps us forget. Tonight, I stroke her back as we lie here tempting sleep to return.
"Cold?" I ask, feeling goosebumps on her arm.
I reach for the sheets at the bottom of the bed, pulling them up and over us.
"Shh," she says suddenly.
We both stop to listen at the same time. At first I hear nothing. Then the sounds of muffled whispers come from outside the door followed by a little, sharp cry.
"Stay here." I quickly roll out of bed, crossing the room to the door. It opens on two little urchins with haystack hair and big eyes reflecting a nightlight plugged into the wall. I rock back on my heels, relieved it's not a burglar or Prim showing up unexpectedly again to read stories to the kids. Not because we don't enjoy Aunt Prim, but the sensitive young woman doesn't need to know that Katniss is still such a mess over her.
"Hi, Daddy," says Elodie, my big girl of four years. She regards me with Katniss's solemnity but with eyes that are as familiar as my own. She's got baby Jack in a nelson-like hold under his arms. The poor baby's face is turning purple as he squirms and slips downward into a position that's surely suffocating him.
Papa to the rescue. "Give him here, Lo." Elodie grunts as she tries to lift her brother into my arms. Flapjack's chubby legs pedal the air as I lift him up. He lets one rip in his diaper and looks at me with wide eyes as if to say, "Papa, did you hear that? Good job, huh?" He's reminds me of my brothers sometimes.
"What are you doing out of bed?" Katniss asks Elodie softly. She's tied her hair back and pulled the sheet around her legs, trying to hide how haunted she feels.
Elodie slips past me, into the room. "Me an' Flapjack came because you might be scared," she says steadily. "An' we're going to help you feel better."
Katniss's startled eyes meet mine, then they flick back to our daughter.
"How did you know that, sweetie?" she murmurs, holding out her hand for Elodie.
Elodie shrugs her little shoulders and climbs into bed next to her mama. She pats Katniss's head the way Grandma Everdeen does to her. "I just do."
I settle back on my side of the bed. Flapjack wiggles out of my arms to crawl to Katniss, who scoops him up. He places a juicy, open-mouthed kiss on her cheek that makes it look like he's trying to swallow her face. Fortunately he's got a few years to work on his style.
"I guess the kids know best, huh?" I joke. I mean, it's meant to be a joke, because they're too young to really understand the gravity of their parents' situation. Honestly, though, the moment I opened the door on our two kids, the nightmares seem like they happened years ago. The fear stopped feeling so real.
Elodie jumps on my stomach now that Flapjack's on mama duty. "Can you read us a story?" she asks through a curtain of messy, dark hair.
"Sure, kiddo," I say through a yawn. "What story should we read?"
"Well," she says with feigned innocence, glancing upward like she's thinking. "Flapjack wants to hear Invasion of the Breakfast Food."
I glance over at Flapjack, who only thinks of books as chew toys. He blinks sleepily at me. "I'm sure he does," I say to his sister.
So I read us a book about a pig named Gertie McBacon who saves the town from drowning in a sea of maple syrup.
"Invasion of the Breakfast Food by Quintus McFarlane." I clear my throat. "Once upon a time, a small town lived in the shadow of Marshmallow Mountain. It was very nice and not too expensive..."
Elodie climbs onto my lap so she can see all the pictures. It's her favorite story and also where we got Jack's nickname. Flapjack is Gertie's sidekick pancake. In the end, he sacrifices himself by staunching the flow of syrup down Marshmallow Mountain. I do tear up a little at that part, I admit.
"...and even though they were very sticky, everyone lived happily ever after. The end." I close the picture book and grin over at Katniss and Flapjack, who's already conked out on her shoulder. "Isn't that a good story?"
She purses her lips over Flapjack's head, meaning, the one we've heard a thousand times?
Elodie twists around in my lap to face me. "Does Flapjack live happily ever after, too?" asks she solemnly.
"Oh, especially Flapjack," I tell her. "No worries. Pancakes and syrup go together like...like...um."
"Pearls and coal," Katniss offers, deadpan.
I barely cover up a snort.
Elodie sighs happily, then sidles off my lap onto the mattress between Katniss and I. "Can we sleep here with you and mama, Daddy?" she asks while she thumbs through the book to her favorite illustrations.
Flapjack's forming a small lake of drool on Katniss's shoulder while she strokes his sandy hair. He's already down for the count. The question passes silently between Katniss and I. For a moment, looking at the peace in her eyes as she watches over our children, I wonder if I didn't fail her, after all.
"Sure." I tuck the blanket around Elodie and set the book on the nightstand, saying, "That would be the best remedy against nightmares I can think of."
It's true. Katniss makes it through one more night, and with my family all around me, so do I.